“It’s… um, lovely.”
Becky looked doubtfully at the spiraling Plexiglas thing in her hands. Her sister Naomi sighed dramatically, and took it back.
Reaching into the box on the trunk of the Torino, she withdrew a heavy black square base. Becky helped
her brush the packing peanuts off of the item and then occupied herself with trying to corral them back into the box while
her sister inserted the object into its base. Hearing her sister make a satisfied sound, she stopped chasing the uncooperative
Styrofoam and looked up.
It gleamed like something from a futuristic
space epic, diffracting the late afternoon sun. It was a clear shining pillar, twisting to a height of over eighteen inches,
seated inside of a triangular black base.
“It’s your very first objet d’art,”
said Naomi, satisfaction in her voice. “You’re a married woman now. You’ll need to start developing a sense
of style, so you can entertain in a suitable manner.”
Becky peered closer as her sister expounded
on the unique qualities of the piece. The artist had signed his name on the base in silver pen. Evidently the thing, which,
to Becky’s eyes, looked like nothing so much as a giant triangular prism which had suffered an unfortunate transporter
accident, was both a rare acquisition and an investment in her future.
She’d never understood art.
“I’m worried it’ll be embarrassed
by my place,” said Becky, at what seemed to be an appropriate pause in the conversation.
Her sister gave her a perplexed glance, and
then shrugged, dismissing it as another Becky-ism.
What Becky had meant was that the sculpture
looked as if it belonged on a coffee table in some fashionably elegant SoHo loft. She couldn’t imagine where it would fit in among the flotsam and jetsam of her little cottage. Then again, I don’t even know if I’m going to be living there much longer, she thought, sadly.
The problem with selling a place like the
cottage was that there were far too few people who saw any profit in a single duplex, surrounded by so much land. Bayside
real estate was too valuable these days to waste on one- or two-family dwellings. Condominiums, hotels and high-rises had
been sprouting like misshapen mushrooms all up and down the coastline.
Belatedly, she realized that Naomi had asked
her a question.
“I said, congratulations, little sister!
You did it. You got married.” Naomi raised an eyebrow at her. “I do hope you realize what you’ve done to
Becky had no idea, and her expression conveyed
“I’m the only one still unmarried
now, aren’t I?” Naomi rolled her eyes dramatically. “You’ve got at least a year before Mother starts
in on the whole ‘where are my grandchildren’ thing. But as for me, I’m sure she’s already making up
lists of suitable prospects.” She propped her hands on her hips and frowned. “And you just had to go and marry a nice Jewish boy, didn’t you? He’s already her favorite son-in-law!”
“Well,” protested Becky defensively,
“You know she’s never liked Judith’s…”
“Poor Roger never had a chance,”
interrupted Naomi with a snicker. Judith’s husband was a mousy man whose face inevitably took on a stunned expression
whenever he had the misfortune to be trapped in the same location as his wife’s noisily exuberant family. She strongly
suspected that Judith had chosen the man because she had expected she would be able to dominate him. Roger, however, had an
element of quiet steel about him that caused far more friction in their relationship than most outsiders ever suspected.
“So, that’s why you’re
flying out tonight?” asked Becky, as she removed the pillar from its base and tried to fit it back into the box. “To
The packing peanuts were jumping and clinging
to her fingers. Static crackled, raising the hair on her forearms, and giving the smooth plastic surface of the sculpture
an oddly fuzzy feel.
Naomi tossed her hair back, and stood straighter,
looking every inch the elegant and sophisticated traveler. “This is my big chance, kiddo. San Francisco! One step from the world marketplace. There’ll be no glass
ceilings for me! I’m going to put in my time, watch my step, and the next thing you know, I’ll be CEO of my own
Becky believed her. Naomi was the toughest
of all of them, and perfectly capable of doing whatever it took to achieve her goals. “I hope your job interview goes
well,” she said. “But I’m sorry you won’t be staying for the reception.”
“What you’ve got planned,”
said Naomi with icy precision, “is not a wedding reception. It’s a beach party. You’re just lucky Mother
was so completely charmed by that absurd caterer you dredged up.”
“Huggy Bear?” Becky remembered
the way the man had bowed elaborately on being introduced, and how quickly the alarm in her mother’s eyes had been replaced
with delight as he kissed her hand. He was a little strange, sure, but she didn’t think she would call him absurd.
“Right,” said Naomi. “What
a ridiculous name!” Dropping her sophisticated reserve, she suddenly embraced her sister and said in a completely different
tone of voice, “I know I told you that you didn’t have to marry the guy just to get him into your bed, but…”
she paused. “I think you two are going to be very happy together.”
Becky was startled to hear something wistful
in her sister’s words and she looked up at her with a puzzled frown. But whatever it was had vanished in the passing
of an instant, and a wicked light now danced in Naomi’s eyes. “Anyway, I certainly can’t fault your taste!
I couldn’t help but notice that he fills out a suit very nicely, especially from
clearly heard Becky’s outraged yelp right across the parking lot. Glancing over at her, he said to Hutch, “I think
I should go rescue her from her sister now.”
“Are you going to tell her about the
house?” asked Hutch, his hands in his pockets as he leaned casually against his car.
Starsky examined his partner for a moment.
Hutch was looking almost relaxed. Some of the tension of the past few days had eased, though his gaze still restlessly searched
the parking lot and the surrounding buildings. It had been hard on both of them, knowing that Reg was out there somewhere,
always waiting for the other shoe to drop. But something about that last set of pictures had hit Hutch with particular force,
and Starsky thought he could guess what it was.
It was about time his friend realized he
“Ah, I thought I’d let you tell
her,” Starsky said, lightly. “After all, it’s your idea.”
He gave Dawn a curious look before heading
taking his leave of them, but her expression revealed nothing but polite interest. She seemed absolutely sincere in her acceptance
of the plan.
went a lot easier than I’d expected, thought Starsky as he walked over to Becky and her sister. I must be growing
Since that scary day when they’d had
to sit in the hospital waiting room together, wondering if Dawn’s pregnancy was over, he hadn’t been able to feel
anything but a kind of reluctant sympathy for the woman. He gave himself a mental shake. After all, there was no sense in
continuing to dislike a person all the time. Especially not someone so important to Hutch.
“Hi, Naomi. Are you leaving already?”
The look she gave him was coolly amused,
while Becky’s cheeks were flaming. He wondered what they’d been talking about, but Naomi only said, “My
plane’s leaving in an hour.”
“Oh well, good luck with that job.”
He shifted his cane over to his left and extended his hand, politely.
She took hand and leaned in for a friendly
peck on the cheek. “I’m sure you two will be very happy together.”
Starsky caught the look she sent her sister’s
way. Becky appeared as if she might expire of embarrassment at any moment. That’s
odd, he thought. She only gets that way when… Oh.
He suddenly knew what they’d been talking
Becky was still trying to figure out what
to say in the uncomfortable silence her sister had left behind, when Dave leaned over and poked at the box. “What’s
“I’m not sure,” said Becky,
grateful for the distraction. “She says it’s art.”
“Oh,” he said, sounding nonplussed.
“Well, you’ll probably like my present better.”
“You got me a present?” She sounded
dismayed. “But I didn’t get you anything!”
He leaned backwards, tilted his head to the
side, and gave her a significant look. “It’s not that kind of present.”
He felt his breath catch in his throat as
he took in the whole image of her. She was in her wedding gown, perfection in white against the ruby red of his car. She’d
discarded her veil, but a few flowers still remained in her hair, and long strands had worked their way loose to curl softly
around her ears. The bodice was low-cut, designed to enhance what was already ample enough…
She felt his scrutiny and he saw her eyes
widen slightly as a thought occurred to her.
“Not that,” he said, quickly.
“That’s later.” He gave her a grin that caused the color to flush in her cheeks again. And… elsewhere.
How was it that he’d never noticed she could blush right down her chest? He brought his eyes up quickly. Right, stay focused.
“Your present is over there,”
he said, waving his arm vaguely. “Wrapped in a big, blonde package.”
watched as Starsky dragged a very confused-looking Becky over to where he and Dawn waited. As they got closer, he could hear
him saying, “I would have slapped a bow on his forehead, but I couldn’t get him to stand still long enough…”
Dawn gave him a mystified look and he shrugged
in response. It was just Starsky being Starsky, again. And frankly these days he couldn’t imagine ever getting tired
of hearing him carry on. After all the junk they’d had to put up with lately, it was like turning his face to the first
rain after a long drought to see his friend bouncing happily again.
Hutch stopped, and took a closer look at
his partner. Yes, he still had that cane gripped in his right hand, but he wasn’t relying on it nearly so much as before.
His arm was around Becky’s waist, and he was walking with a stride that very nearly approximated his old bounce.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was still
“Hutch, tell her!”
He opened his mouth, but Starsky evidently
felt that he was taking too long, because he continued almost without pause. “Hutch, here, wants to buy your cottage.
He and Dawn are gonna live in the other half!”
“Really?” asked Becky, her voice
a wondering half-whisper.
“Yes,” confirmed Hutch, smiling
affectionately at the stunned expression on her face. “I’ve talked to the bank and they’re willing to clear
me for a loan…”
He heard an amused snort and glanced over
at his wife. She was looking at him with one eyebrow raised significantly. He inclined his head towards her apologetically,
acknowledging that yes, this was one more thing he had neglected to talk to her about. “We’ll be buying it together.
The bank confirmed that it can be in all of our names, so we’ll each own basically a quarter of the property.”
He sent another worried glance Dawn’s
way. That’s all right, isn’t it? Her nod this time was approving, and
he relaxed. He really didn’t want to fight with her again, not about this.
“Dawn and I will put up the initial
investment, and you two can chip in monthly until we’re all squared up. How does that sound to you?”
Becky was speechless. She looked at each
of the three of them in turn. They were all smiling at her and she didn’t know what to do. Without thought, she suddenly
launched herself into Hutch’s arms. She embraced him fiercely, wanting to convey how happy she was, but unable to come
up with anything more coherent than, “Thank you, thank you!”
Her face buried in Hutch’s black suit
jacket, it was several seconds before she realized that Dave was talking to her. “Hey, hey! When I said he was your
present, I didn’t mean you’d get to keep him!”
Suddenly realizing that she was hugging a
man who was not her husband, Becky abruptly released Hutch and backpedaled swiftly. Unfortunately, this caused her to collide
with Dave, tripping as her heel came down on the toe of his dress shoe. He dropped his cane and caught her waist, but her
momentum carried them both down to the ground.
He landed solidly on his rear, with Becky
in his lap.
“Are you all right?” asked Hutch,
Starsky was laughing almost too hard to answer.
He wrapped his arms around his mortified wife as she tried to hide her face in his vest, and beamed up at his worried best
“I’ve never been better!”
got to go back to the house!” Becky had recovered from her earlier embarrassment and was now arguing her case eagerly.
“I want to show Dawn what she’ll be getting.”
Starsky checked his watch. “Shouldn’t
we head down for the reception?”
Most of the wedding guests had already gone,
heading to a park on the beach. His mother had left early, with Becky’s mother and Huggy in tow, to organize things.
Even Dobey had finally cleared out, after
stammering his bashful best wishes to a broadly grinning Starsky. It amused him no end to see his large captain so discomfited.
He was so clearly out of his element and uncomfortable, but also genuinely happy for Starsky. Edith seemed to know it, too.
She laughed quietly as she patted her husband’s arm. Rosie congratulated him very prettily. She was growing up at an
alarming rate and lately Starsky had noticed a helpless expression in Dobey’s eyes every time he looked at his daughter.
Calvin hung back, trying very hard to maintain his hard-earned teenaged coolness without earning the censure of his parents.
“Oh, it’ll take them a while
to set up. We’ve got time,” persisted Becky.
“It’s not as if you’ll
be able to tour the house,” continued Starsky, reaching for rationality. “Sunday’s when Mrs. Green plays
bingo at the church, remember?”
“That’s okay! Dawn can see our
half. It’s nearly the same. And the yard, and the path down to the ocean.” Becky paused, sensing she needed more
ammunition. “Plus, I should really drop Naomi’s present off, right? I’d hate for it to get damaged or something.”
She considered that it was totally beside the point that the thing was probably indestructible.
She got her way, of course. There was no
way he could say no to her. Not in general, and certainly not today. She even arranged it so that she and Dawn would be in
one car, while he and Hutch would be in the other. When he tried to muster a protest, she simply pointed at Dawn, smiled,
and said, “Girl talk!”
Dawn had her eyes on Hutch, as she firmly
added, “If you two want to play bodyguard, you can do it perfectly well from your own car.”
Starsky thought, that woman certainly has a way of making you feel like you’re about three feet tall. They were united against him and he was outmaneuvered and off balance. He had no chance at all. Dawn
and Becky walked off together towards his Hutch’s car, talking animatedly the entire way.
Hutch gave him a sympathetic look and said,
“If you want to reconsider buying the house…”
“Oh, no!” said Starsky, quickly.
“No, we’ve dug our bed and we’re stuck in it.”
The mangled metaphor caught Hutch’s
attention and he grinned at the clear evidence of just how rattled his friend was. Becky might occasionally seem like something
of a pushover, but she clearly had effective methods of getting her own way when she really wanted it.
He was still considering this as he climbed
in on the passenger side of the Torino. Starsky slid in behind the wheel. Hutch was distracted
enough that it took him a moment longer than usual to notice that something seemed to be bothering his partner.
Starsky shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
Shuffled his butt to the side as if trying to find a comfortable position, and then finally settled on something that looked
rather less than ideal. Puzzled, Hutch eyed his friend.
Starsky started the car. Then he slid down
in his seat, cursed under his breath and finally leaned forward and reached under the tail of his jacket to retrieve the pistol
that had been digging into the small of his back.
He handed it to Hutch without a word, his
attention focused on following the girls out of the parking lot.
Hutch stared at the weapon in disbelief.
“You packed a gun to your own wedding?”
Hutch’s voice shot up several registers.
Starsky glanced sideways at him and then
shrugged. “Yeah. So? I bet you got yours under that jacket somewhere.”
“Yes!” snapped Hutch. “In
a shoulder holder, not stuffed down the back of my pants!”
“Well, if I wore a holster, every cop
in that room would have known. Including Dobey.” Starsky’s expression was deliberately bland. “I’m
not cleared to carry a weapon yet, you know that.” It was interesting following Dawn. She was a surprisingly considerate
driver, passing up on an easy yellow just so she wouldn’t lose him at the red.
Not that he would have let that happen, in
any case. But he appreciated the effort she was making.
“You’re just lucky you didn’t
shoot your ass off,” said Hutch, angrily. He was wishing now that he’d confronted Starsky properly about the weapon
that first time he’d noticed it on his bedside table. But it hadn’t seemed like such a big deal at the time, just
a pistol to help him sleep at night.
a certain teddy bear named Ollie, perhaps. Only, deadlier.
Easily following most of Hutch’s current
line of thinking, Starsky glanced skyward in silent annoyance. Some people and their
“And just where did you get this thing
from anyway?” asked Hutch, examining the pistol for the first time with a critical eye. “For God’s sake,
Starsky! The serial numbers have been filed off!”
“Hey, I didn’t do it!”
“That’s not the point,”
said Hutch, grimly. To find out that his partner was carrying around an illegal, unregistered weapon…
“No, the point is I thought Reg might
make an appearance and I wanted to be ready for him. Speaking of which, where do you suppose he is, anyway?”
Hutch shot him a look that clearly conveyed
‘don’t think you’re getting off that easily’. But what
he said was, “I guess he thought twice about trying to crash a wedding in which more than half the guests were members
of the BCPD. C’mon Starsky, we had some pretty tight security going there and there’s more of the same down at
“He’s smart. He’ll figure
out a way.”
There was quiet in the car after that statement.
Starsky carefully eyed his partner, and considered the fact that it was almost possible to see him steam, little cartoon heat
waves rising from the top of his head. But even mad as he was, he was sure that Hutch couldn’t deny the truth. Reg would
find a way. So far he’d been one step ahead of them the entire time, somehow managing to stay out of sight and unidentified
while apparently maintaining free movement around the city.
what is he? Some kind of over-sized phantom?
It was unnerving. In a case like this you
wanted to be the hunter, the one with the upper hand, calling the shots and forcing the bad guy to react to you. It wasn’t
supposed to be the other way around.
“Dumb-ass,” said Hutch, finally
breaking the heavy silence.
Starsky suppressed a grin. If Hutch had begun
slinging insults, it meant he was nearly over his temper. And coming on the heels of his other comment about shooting himself
“My ass is in fine shape, thank you.”
He sensed rather than saw Hutch’s head
whip over to stare at him. He continued to watch the road, to all appearances unconcerned with anything other than the driving
conditions. Keeping an iron grip on his composure, he waited, mentally counting down the seconds to the inevitable reaction.
Then, just as Hutch was opening his mouth
to ask what the hell he meant by that, Starsky glanced over at him and said, with studied innocence, “Because I had
the safety on, of course.”
At which point he lost any semblance of self-control,
and nearly his grip on the wheel, as he began laughing helplessly. He ducked too late as a very angry Hutch introduced the
back of his hand to the back of Starsky’s head. Starsky truly thought he might never recover when the man snapped, “Asshole!”
Wiping the tears from his eyes, Starsky took
a deep breath, pointed a trembling finger at his partner and said, “Buddy, you’ve got issues!”
did what?” asked Becky, laughing.
“Ran out of the house unshaven, uncombed,
and with his shirt untucked, all because he was too nervous to let me go anywhere by myself. I think this is the first time
in a week I haven’t had him wrapped around my ankles!”
Smiling at the memory, Dawn glanced in the
rearview mirror. A flash of red in her mirror marked the constant presence of the Torino, and she had to admit to herself that she found it comforting to know the guys were back there.
It wasn’t that she wanted to drive Ken away - she just didn’t want him quite so close all the time.
She frowned for a moment, as the red car
seemed to bobble a bit, swerving in the lane behind her. What are they up to back there,
“What I don’t understand,”
continued Dawn, dismissing the question for the moment, “is what happened Monday night to unsettle him so badly?”
“Well, that was when those pictures
showed up at my house…” Becky shifted, trying to adjust the weight of her sister’s present on her lap. The
art-thingy hadn’t packed back into the box neatly, so she’d eventually given up and decided to carry it.
Becky was surprised to learn that Hutch hadn’t
told Dawn about the photos. She quickly filled her in on what she knew, while Dawn nodded thoughtfully. Becky discovered that,
in a way, it was kind of nice to know that she wasn’t the only one being kept out of the loop. It suggested that Dave’s
reticence with regards to the case wasn’t a judgment of her character or her competence, it was simply the way they
“You know what I suspect the problem
is…” said Dawn. She waited for Becky’s nod before continuing. “I think those two have been in each
other’s pockets for so long they don’t even realize when they aren’t talking to the rest of the world. Dave
knows what Ken knows, and Ken knows what Dave knows, and that’s all that matters to them.” There was a slightly
acerbic edge to her words.
“Well, what I’d like to know,”
said Becky emphatically. “Is what’s so terrible about that first set of pictures? Both of them were so relieved…
It doesn’t make sense.”
Dawn considered how Ken’s behavior
had changed since seeing the second set of pictures. “When did the first pictures show up?”
“I don’t know…” Becky
stopped. “No, wait! I do know! It was the morning after -” She cut herself off again, suddenly seeing the connections
she'd overlooked. A brown envelope, just like the one that had shown up at her house last Monday. Dave, rushing out into the
storm. His comment on looking at the second set of photos, “At least this time, he had to shoot from a distance.”
She’d been so focused on ‘this time’ that she’d missed the implied meaning of the rest of his words.
balcony door, visible from the bedroom, the dark night outside and the lights on inside...
“Oh,” said Becky, suddenly deeply
grieved for her lover, as the pieces came together and she realized what had to have been in those first photos. “Poor
Dawn looked over at her. “What is it?”
“Just… poor Dave.” She
shook her head. “I’m sorry. Can we talk about something else?” He
must have been tearing himself up inside. I should have figured it out sooner.
“Well, we’re here already,”
said Dawn, pulling smoothly onto the gravel road that wound down past the little cluster of homes by the bay. It was a little
frustrating having Becky cut the conversation off so abruptly, but at least she now had some idea what had been messing with
Ken’s head. Or rather, that would be ‘who’. Wouldn’t I love
to get my nails on this Reg character…
It was the bright red color of it, gleaming
in the long, low rays of the setting sun that caught her eye first. Like flowers or ribbons, something cheerful. Celebratory.
Then she heard Monster’s frantic howl
from inside the house and saw the door shake under the repeated impact of his body. The thing nailed to her front door danced
like a puppet, its head lolling and mouth opening in a grisly grin.
She thought it was a cat, at first.
In the horror of the moment, all she could
think was that someone had killed one of her cats, and with a sob, she was out of the car before Dawn had a chance to bring
it to a complete stop in front of the house. She stumbled on the gravel, the long skirt of her wedding dress tripping her
up. Someone was shouting, but she couldn’t understand them through the roaring in her head.
It wasn’t until she was much closer
that she felt the pain in her chest ease. It wasn’t a cat. It wasn’t.
Its face was too long, and the teeth were
all wrong. At the end of the skinny limbs, small hooves rattled against the wood of the door. She wanted to laugh with hysterical
relief. It’s just a pig. It’s no one I knew.
Then the horror of what she was seeing slammed
into her again and she stumbled backwards. Strong arms caught her and, panicked, she tried to pull away until she realized
that it was her husband who held her. His hand cupped the side of her face and she let him turn her away from the gruesome
sight, finding refuge in his arms.
The piglet had been flayed, its skin hanging
in long strips, white fat and blue-purple muscle tissue laid bare, the fresh blood still trickling down the door. Hutch, satisfied
that Dawn was safe back at the car, knowing that Starsky would look after his wife, stepped back and tried to take in the
scene as a whole. This was not the time to get indignant about it, or to question the sort of inhuman cruelty that could inspire
a man to leave a present like this on a girl’s wedding day. Anger could wait, while the detective took in every piece
of information he could.
There was something deliberate about the
way the blood had been smeared above the small pig’s head. It almost looked like letters. C, O, N, and what looked like
part of a C… or a G…
Hutch stopped, an alarm going off in the
back of his mind. Congrats, or Congratulations, it didn’t matter. The writer hadn’t had time to finish the message,
Before he had a chance to speak, to warn
them, even before he had a chance to turn around, Dawn screamed.