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In the Shade of the Linden Tree

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In the Shade of the Linden Tree

by Mystic Whim

 

 

"Huggy, where ya been?" Starsky cheerfully greeted his chum. "Haven't seen ya in a week."

Huggy slid into a chair at the head of the table, and nodded at his gathered friends. "Just got back into town, Starsky. I was checking out my new house."

"New house!" Frankie exclaimed. "You bought a house, Huggy?"

Shaking his head, Huggy explained, "No, didn't buy it. It was my aunt's house. She died a few months back, and I inherited her place. It's a big, old house, 'bout a hundred years old. It's got a big yard, too. No neighbors for miles in any direction."

"For someone who just was given a free house, you don't seem too happy about it," Malo observed.

Huggy looked at the friends seated at the long table in his bar. He gave a short laugh and shook his head, knowing the teasing he would invite by telling his story. "You wouldn't believe it if I told you, Malo."

"Problems with the house?" Hutch asked.

"Oh, yeah, I got problems," Huggy sighed. "Big problems. Trouble is, I don't know what to do about 'em."

"What's wrong, Huggy?" Grace asked.

"I'll tell ya what's wrong. The place is haunted, that's what's wrong."

Hutch chuckled as Starsky tried to suppress a smile.

"Come on, Huggy," Frankie laughed. "You don't honestly believe you have ghosts in your house, do you?"

"You weren't there!" Huggy shot back angrily. Frankie lifted his hands in a surrendering gesture, making Huggy feel embarrassed about his outburst. "I'm sorry, Frankie. It's been a long week. I'll tell ya, if that house ain't haunted, then there's something else happening there, and I can't for the life of me tell you what."

Grace reached out and placed a gentle hand on top of Huggy's. "What happened, Huggy? Why do you say the place is haunted?"

"I don't know, Grace. I don't know if I can explain it all." Huggy grabbed the pitcher of beer on the table and poured himself a drink. After a long gulp of the cold drink, he stared off, not really focused on anything, seeing something in his mind's eye. "I got a bad feeling the minute I walked into that place. There's something bad there. Something watching me. And weird things were going down. At first it was all harmless enough, but when you add them all up...."

"There ya go, Hug," Starsky chirped, "they probably were harmless problems. Stuff you can easily explain, huh?"

Huggy sighed. "I thought so at first, Starsky. But I'm not so sure anymore."

"What kind of problems, man?" Flower Pot asked.

"There's some kind of drafts in that place," Huggy exclaimed, wide-eyed. "All of a sudden, you'd be standing there and, man, you'd swear you were in a freezer. It got so damn cold! Bone chilling." He shivered at the memory. "I know, you're gonna tell me it's a drafty old house, and I dig it. But this was pretty weird, man. And it wasn't like it was cold outside. No wind or nothin'."

"Cold spots," Hutch mused.

"Yeah, I hearda that," Frankie snapped his fingers. "They say haunted houses have these cold spots, and that's where the spirits are. The spirits take the energy from the air in the room, and that's supposed to make it real cold."

"Not only the drafts," Huggy continued, "but the thermostat. The temperature in the house kept diving. I'd turn up the heat, and a while later the place would be cold again. I'd check the thermostat, and sure enough, it was messed with; turned way down. I was the only one there. I sure as hell didn't turn it down again. That happened every day!"

"Probably a faulty thermostat," Starsky offered.

"Could be," Huggy nodded. "But I don't know how to explain the ceiling fan. I went into one of the bedrooms and had a look around. Just after I leave the room, I hear a bang. I walk back in, and one of them fan blades from the ceiling fan is laying on the floor."

"In an old house, those ceiling fans could be quite old, couldn't they?" Grace inquired.

"Oh, yeah, they're old," Huggy agreed. "And I wouldn't have given it much of a thought, except that the brace holding the blade to the motor was what broke. The brace was metal, and thick. It was just snapped in two. It's not like the screws stripped or nails fell out or anything. This is the metal that broke. Scared the shit outta me. And that ain't the half of it."

"There's more?" Malo pressed.

"Yeah, there's more," Huggy nodded. "I heard screams. Ear-piercing screams. A woman. And one night, I woke up and had a weird feeling I wasn't alone. I looked at the foot of my bed, and there was a man standing there, all dressed to the nines with top hat and tails! Before I could say anything, the dude just up and floats right over me, over the bed, and right out the window! The closed window!" He looked at his beer, not wanting to see the doubt in their faces. "The water would turn on by itself, and I could hear horses in the dark. The piano would play in the middle of the night. Doors and windows would open or close by themselves. Got me locked out at one point. I coulda seen getting locked out as an accident; my own fault. But the deadbolt was turned! The keys were inside. I couldn't have locked the deadbolt." He picked up his beer and downed the rest of it in one long chug. "I had to book. Too damn spooky for me."

"So what are you going to do, man?" Flower Pot asked. "You going back?"

Huggy shrieked, "By my lonesome?!" Glancing at his friends hopefully, he said, "I want to go back next weekend. I was hoping you guys would all come back with me...?"

"Sure, Huggy," Hutch replied, gently backhanding him in the chest. "You can count on us."

"Huh?" Starsky sat forward, looking at Hutch questioningly. He shrunk when he saw the pointed look Hutch cast his way. "Uh, yeah, Hug. Count us in," he added reluctantly.

"Count me in, too!" Frankie replied. "Can't say I've ever been in a haunted house before!" His grin was broad.

"That goes for me, too." Malo lifted his glass. "Count me in."

"I'm sorry, Huggy," Grace apologized. "I can't make it that weekend. I already made plans to take Garrett and visit my sister." She looked to Flower Pot. "Gino?"

"Sure, sure. I'll go. Might as well camp out with you guys since my lady's gonna be gone." He smiled at Grace, who kissed him in return.

Huggy looked visibly relieved. "Out of sight. Thanks, you guys." He refilled his glass and took another swig of beer. "I'm actually hoping you'll tell me that I was imagining all this. It's a neat old place. Big, too. I think I'd rather hear tell that I took leave of my senses, and that the place is cool." He smiled. "And if not, then I got me some witnesses to tell me I ain't crazy."

"Naaah," Malo drawled. "We'll never tell ya that, Huggy. You're crazy, all right. But we will tell you if you have a ghost problem or not." He smiled at his friend.

* * *

After dinner Friday night, the group gathered at The Pits, Huggy's latest bar and grille, then headed out to the house that Huggy had inherited.

During the drive, Starsky turned to Hutch and wondered, "Do you think there really could be ghosts at Huggy's place?"

Hutch shrugged. "You know I don't believe in that stuff, Starsk. I suspect it's just his imagination run wild, and some possible structural problems with the house. Could be that all he needs is a good carpenter, electrician and plumber, and all his problems will be solved."

"No such things as ghosts, huh?"

"I've never seen any evidence of any," Hutch grinned. "Have you?"

"Hell, no," Starsky smiled, relieved that Hutch saw little to warrant concern.

Starsky pulled the Torino up behind Malo's truck. He and Hutch got out of the car and surveyed the curious building.

"Wow," Hutch remarked. "What a place!"

"This is really nice," Starsky whistled. The two men made eye contact over the roof of the car, surprised that Huggy was now the proud owner of such a lovely vintage home.

"Welcome to Margail House," Huggy announced. "Owned by yours truly, and inhabited by persons or spirits unknown."

"Margail?" Malo questioned.

"It was named for the couple that built the house," Huggy responded. "Marshall and Abigail Harris. He was a well-to-do politician that came to California from Alabama. He came out here when he was a kid with his family during the gold rush. Here he met Abigail Roberts, and built the house as a testament of love. She was a dancehall beauty, but good ol' Marshall made an honest woman out of her." He waved them all to follow him, and he took them around the house to view the neglected garden. "This whole valley used to be vineyards, in Marshall's day. He worked in a winery after he bombed out seeking his fortune in gold. He was pretty successful at it, too. Worked his way up until he finally made partner. Then he got a taste for politics."

Hutch wandered around the garden. "You know, Huggy, it wouldn't take too much to bring this garden back up to form. You've got some great plants in here. Looks like somebody took pretty good care of this place for a long time. It couldn't have been neglected for long." He admired a healthy blooming vine that had overgrown the archway it draped over.

"Aunt Tillie was working on restoring the place," Huggy explained. "She didn't live here. There was an old gardener that worked for her until a few years ago, but he retired. She's had various construction firms work on the place from time to time, when the cash was there. She thought about making this a hotel or a restaurant or something."

"Did your aunt ever talk about the place being haunted, Huggy?" Frankie asked.

Huggy shook his head. "No, never heard talk of it before. But then again, she didn't actually live in the house. No one's lived here for a long time."

"Did she own the house for long?" Malo wondered.

"She had it for about 25 years. It was left to her by her grandmother."

* * *

While the others were in the back yard chatting about the house and its history, Flower Pot wandered around to the front of the house again. He figured on indulging in a little marijuana while the rest of the crew was busy. He didn't mind keeping his habits a secret from Starsky, Hutch and Frankie, but he did not intend to do without for the entire weekend, either.

Sitting on a porch swing near the corner of the house, Flower Pot lit his joint. He scanned the house with appreciation. There was a wide wrap-around porch that covered three sides of the house. The windows were large and framed by black shutters, and there were several large pots under the covered porch, that must have been planted with flowers which had long died off from lack of water. The front door was painted an inviting red, with beveled glass panes near eye level and down each side of the door. The home had style, and a simple flair that impressed him. He could tell that there was a lot of love in this house over the years, and that the house hung onto that love, offering it to its visitors. He was certain that whatever it was that Huggy felt, he was wrong about something bad residing here. Maybe something bad had happened here, but there was strong love in this house.

No sooner had that thought crossed his mind, than a cool chill enveloped him. This was no ordinary cold, but a bitter cold that penetrated right to his very core. Casually, Flower Pot took another hit of his joint, and tried to discern where the cold was radiating from. He sensed it emanating from his left, as if something or someone stood beside him, their cold temperature chilling him in turn. Looking up, he slowly exhaled the smoke from his lungs, and saw a transparent figure revealed in the smoke. A man attired in 19th century dress stood over him, looking down at him, watching him.

Flower Pot smiled. "Far out," he chuckled.

The apparition disappeared as quickly as it had appeared, taking the icy cold with it.

Gino finished his smoke, then lit another, wondering if the chilly visitor would return.

* * *

In the garden, Hutch was enjoying his exploration of the flower beds. He stopped and was admiring the fountain that graced the center, brushing away the leaves that had gathered in the bottom of the dry fixture. The artistic griffin atop the basin had one front paw extended upward, as if pawing at the air, while standing on his hind legs. His graceful wings extended, looking regal and magnificent. It would be a stunning fountain, once the water was restored, pouring from the creature's eagle-like beak to the basin below.

Starsky came and stood beside Hutch, looking back up at the house. "Looks like a new roof," he observed. "And if I'm not mistaken, I think there's only one layer on it. That's good."

Hutch stood up very straight and still, then turned to his partner, excitement blazing in his eyes. A big smile burst across his face as he reached out and snagged Starsky by the hand. Surprisingly, he spoke with a thick Southern accent as he said, "Come, my love! Let me show you the rest!" He dashed toward the house, dragging a shocked and baffled Starsky by the hand.

"Hutch?!" Starsky yelped, worried about his friend's odd behavior. "What is this, a joke?"

Hutch appeared not to hear him, and continued to quickly lead him to the back entrance of the house. He continued to speak in the Southern accent. "Here, darlin'! See? This is where we shall plant your herbs! The sunlight would be most pleasing to them, do you not agree?  And convenient to your needs as you tend the cooking." He gestured toward a large open area that must have at one time been planted, but now only contained a few trash cans and some stacked firewood. "I'll direct Bessie to assist you in planting." Hutch glanced around the house, as if looking for something. He stopped and pointed toward the front of the house. "I shall plant a linden tree before her, so we shall dwell in the loving shadow of the heart-shaped leaves, and it shall grow large and strong as our family grows, protected beneath the reaching limbs!" He cupped Starsky's face and placed a kiss on his forehead. "Come! I'll show you where I shall plant it!"

Hutch started off toward the front of the house, but Starsky dug in his heels, refusing to go forward. "Hutch!"

Hutch stopped and smiled at him again. "And here I shall plant a lemon tree. I will make for you lemonade as my grandma'am taught me." He looked away as if seeing a lemon tree growing on that very spot.

"Hutch! What's the matter with you, huh?" Starsky asked again, flustered.

As Hutch looked back at Starsky, the grin and the intense blue faded from his eyes. "Hmm? I'm sorry, Starsk. What were you saying? My mind wandered for a second."

By this time, Malo, Frankie and Huggy had gathered close to watch the strange spectacle. They looked at each other in confusion.

"What was I saying?" Starsky blurted. "What the hell have you been goin' on about? And why were you talkin' like that? What's all this about herbs and lindens and lime trees? Damn! I'll say your mind wandered!"

Hutch stared at Starsky. "What are you talking about? You were just saying something about the roof. That it looked new...?"

Starsky's jaw dropped. "Hutch! You just dragged me up here, rambled some nonsense about planting stuff for me, kissed me, then told me you'd make me lemonade!"

"What?!" Hutch burst out laughing. "Starsk, I think you need a rest buddy. You don't expect me to believe..." Suddenly Hutch noticed the rest of the group gathered around watching them, all with serious and worried expressions on their faces. He looked back to Starsky. "You're kidding, right?"

Starsky held up his hand that was still clutched tightly in Hutch's. "Does it look like I'm kidding?"

Hutch released Starsky's hand and stepped back, bewildered. He looked around him, realizing that he was not standing where he expected to be. Hadn't he just been looking at the fountain?

"What happened?" he asked, alarmed.

"Maybe we should go inside and sit down," Huggy suggested.

Starsky reached up and patted Hutch on the back. "Come on, pal. I'll tell ya inside."

The men all began walking toward the house when Flower Pot came around the corner.

"Huggy, man, I just met your ghost," he grinned.

"You, too?" Huggy exclaimed

"Yeah, he sorta appeared on the porch," his friend replied. "Tall white guy, black hair, mustache?"

"You saw him?" Huggy cried. "That's the dude that flew over my bed!" He shook his head in disappointment. It was beginning to look like his fears had been justified.

* * *

Once inside, Huggy made iced tea for the group as Starsky detailed for Hutch and Flower Pot what had occurred in the garden. Hutch insisted that he recalled none of the events, and could not explain the accent or the declarations, nor the kiss; though he was rather relieved to find out the kiss Starsky had spoken of consisted only of a smooch on the forehead.

Flower Pot told of his experience of seeing the apparition on the porch, and how he had waited, hoping for a repeat appearance, but had been disappointed in that regard. He didn't bother to clear up the misunderstanding when the group assumed the smoke he exhaled was cigarette smoke instead of pot.

"What am I gonna do now?" Huggy fretted. "Not only do I have a ghost, but now it's possessing my friends!"

"Now wait a minute," Hutch protested. "We don't know that I was possessed. Maybe it was some form of channeling, or a means to get a message to you from a spirit. It sounds like I re-enacted a moment of history."

"You mean some haunt thinks it's important that I plant herbs and trees in my yard?" Huggy said doubtfully.

"No," Hutch chuckled. "I would think it was something more important than that. Maybe it wanted you to understand him better, relate to him."

"Maybe he wanted ya to know who he loved," Flower Pot offered.

"Abigail?  He calls her 'darlin', so it would have to be her, right?"  Starsky suggested. The group grew quietly thoughtful.

"Don't give up yet, Huggy," Hutch soothed. "We just got here. Maybe we can help this situation by finding out more about your ghost."

"Yeah," Starsky chimed in. "We could see if we can figure out why he's here, what he wants." He turned to Flower Pot. "Did he talk to you, Gino? Say anything?"

Flower Pot shook his head. "No, man. The dude just stared at me."

"Hey, why don't Malo and me go to the library tomorrow?" Frankie offered. "Maybe we could dig up some info on good ol' Marshal and Abigail?  You know, see if there were any old newspaper articles on them, or how they died, stuff like that?"

"That's a great idea, Frankie," Hutch approved. "And Starsk and I can dig around the house, check out the attic and the basement, see what we can find out."

Starsky looked to Hutch. "We could also give Minnie a call and see if she can dig up anything."

"I could call my cousins and see if anyone knows the family history," Huggy added. "Maybe they know some gossip that could help here, too."

"What do you want me to do, man?" Flower Pot inquired. "You all have something to do but me."

"Gino, I want you to stick by me," Hutch requested. "You and I have had the closest exposure to the ghost. Maybe together we'll learn something."

Flower Pot nodded.

They continued to toss out ideas for investigating into the history of the home and the past inhabitants until it grew late. Huggy rose and stretched. "Time to call it a night, compadres. I got four bedrooms upstairs with five beds, and there's six of us. A pair of us is gonna have to bunk together. You wanna flip for who has to share a bed?"

"Hutch and me'll share," Starsky volunteered. "We do it on stake out all the time. You guys take the other beds."

"You're just worried about leaving me alone after that stunt in the garden," Hutch accused.

"I gotta agree with Curly on this one," Huggy replied. "I don't think it's such a good idea for you to be alone, either. For that matter, neither should Flower Pot. You wanna bunk with me, Gino?"

Flower Pot shook his head. "No way, man. I already met the dude. He's cool. Let Frankie and Malo take the room with two beds. I'll be fine by myself."

The group laughed at Flower Pot's comment, but Huggy suspected that the man really wanted to be alone so that he could smoke his weed in private, away from Bay City's finest.

As the men stood to leave the room, Starsky approached Hutch. There was a strange expression in his eyes as he reached out and laid a hand on his friend's shoulder to turn him around.

Hutch jumped. He had not recognized the touch, and was startled to realize it was Starsky's. For a moment he was baffled why he didn't know Starsky's touch, but when he saw Starsky's eyes, he became worried. There was a blatant sexuality blazing in his eyes. His gaze raked Hutch from head to toe and back again. Hutch wasn't sure, but he thought he saw a flash of green in those eyes.

Starsky walked up close to Hutch, very close. He reached up and stroked his fingertips up Hutch's arm, from elbow to shoulder, sending goosebumps across his skin and arousal straight to his groin. Hutch gasped in surprise, red coloring his cheeks.

"My, aren't you a comely lad," Starsky's voice spoke softly, seductively. "Handsome as the devil himself." He started to walk away from Hutch, trailing his hand across Hutch's chest, deliberately brushing against his nipples.

Hutch reached out and grabbed Starsky by the shoulder as he turned his back. "Starsky!" he cried, frightened for his friend.

As he whirled Starsky around, the look was gone. Starsky grabbed Hutch's arm for support, momentarily knocked off balance by Hutch's rough grab. "Hey! What'sa problem?" he yelped.

Hutch grabbed Starsky by the shoulders and stared into his eyes, looking for any sign of the expression he had witnessed only a moment before. As he did so, a woman's laughter echoed in the room, freezing all six men in their tracks.

"Uh, Huggy? You got any beer?" Frankie asked.

* * *

The six sat around nervously chatting for a while, nursing their beers, until the shock of the evening's activities had faded. Hutch had hardly spoken the remainder of the night, and was still quiet as he and Starsky undressed for bed.

Closing their bedroom door, Starsky decided to confront Hutch.

"You okay?" he asked.

"Yeah," Hutch replied quickly. "Yeah, I'm fine."

"You're awful quiet," he mused. "I thought maybe you'd prefer it if I took the couch downstairs instead."

Hutch's head shot up. "What? No! Why would you say that?"

"Thought maybe you didn't trust me here."

"Of course I trust you, Starsk."

"Yeah, I know. But do you trust Abigail?" he asked with a grin.

Hutch chuckled. "I don't know, but I'm hoping she's had her fun for the evening." He laid back in the bed, folding his hands behind his head.

Starsky turned off the light and climbed in beside him. "Mmm, soft bed," he observed. "I'll sleep good on this. Not so good for you though, huh?"

"I'll be okay," Hutch replied quietly.

"I really freaked you out," Starsky prodded.

Hutch glanced Starsky's way in the dark, able to see only his friend's outline. He smiled sadly. "Yeah, I guess you did," he sighed. "It shocked me that I didn't recognize the feel of your hand on my shoulder. It was as if a stranger touched me." He paused for a moment before continuing. "And when you touched my arm... It was a simple gesture, but it really turned me on. Your touch was so...sensual."

"Not my touch," Starsky corrected.

"Right. Abigail's," Hutch agreed. "But she sure looked a hell of a lot like my partner."

"Ah, she's a sexy little vixen," Starsky teased.

"Shut up, Starsk."

Starsky laughed. "You gonna be okay with this?"

Hutch smiled. "Yeah. But if you ever look at me like that again, or touch me like that, I'm not making any promises."

* * *

Several hours later, the two men sat bolt upright in bed, listening to the tortured screams of a woman in the night. Without a word, they both got out of bed and stepped into the hallway, only to find the rest of their group all gathered there as well.

"Where's it coming from?" Malo whispered.

Flower Pot was wandering from one end of the hallway to the other. "I can't tell. It's just as loud here as it is down there."

The screaming stopped as quickly as it had started. But as they turned to return to their rooms, the sound of a galloping horse could be heard. As the hoof beats faded, every light in the upstairs of the house suddenly came on and the windows blew open on their own.

"Maybe we should just go home," Huggy suggested, obviously frightened.

Flower Pot put his hands on his hips and looked up toward the ceiling. In a loud voice, he announced, "Hey, Marshall? Abigail? Can you guys cool it for a while? You're freaking us out here."

Instantly, all the windows slammed closed and all the lights but the one above them went out. The house became as peaceful as it was when they entered. The six men stood around in disbelief for a few minutes before accepting that the spooky entertainment had truly ceased for the time being. They all looked at Flower Pot.

Flower Pot shrugged. Grinning, he said, "Hey, it couldn't hurt to ask."

Slowly they all wandered back to their rooms. The rest of the night was uneventful.

* * *

Hutch awoke in the morning on his stomach and pulled the covers over his head to block out the sunlight. He groaned softly, feeling the effects of the too-soft bed on his sensitive back. He ached fiercely from the soft mattress and the stress of the previous day.

Starsky patted Hutch on the arm and said, "Hang on. I'll give ya a backrub. Let me see if there's some lotion or oil or something in the john."

"Thanks, Starsk," Hutch replied, relieved. A backrub would do him good.

Returning quickly from the bathroom, Starsky placed a bottle on the nightstand. Hutch felt him peel back the covers and nudge his side to have him move closer to the center of the mattress. Obliging, he relaxed in the middle of the bed, his face nearly buried in a soft down pillow.

Starsky straddled his back and went to work, smoothing the oil on his back. His movements were relaxing, efficient and tender. Hutch melted under his care, feeling the pain get worked from his tense muscles.

Loosened up from the massage, Hutch murmured, "That's real good, Starsk."

Instantly, the touch slowed, softened. Instead of working the muscles, Starsky's hands now caressed and glided down his oiled skin. The touch became decidedly more sensual, more erotic, and he instantly became aroused. Hutch's eyes flew open.

Starsky slid down Hutch's body further, his straddled legs pushing down Hutch's boxer shorts past his buttocks. As he did so, he pressed the heels of his hands down into Hutch's back, sliding them upwards, putting just enough pressure into it to keep him from raising off the bed. Hutch was now quite aware that Starsky was naked atop him, also aroused, and obviously not under his own control.

"This isn't Starsky, is it?" Hutch asked.

Starsky chuckled. "Is the handsome devil feeling hampered now?"

"Hampered!" Hutch exclaimed. "I'm a damn sight more than hampered!"

"What reason have you to cavil?" Starsky replied amused. "Has your pain not improved?"

Hutch paused a moment, cataloging his aches. To his surprise, he felt no pain. "My back feels better," he conceded, "but I don't trust your intentions. Do you plan to do more than give me a backrub?"

"No, simply admiring your handsome form." Starsky leaned down, nearly laying full length atop Hutch. "I feel my lover is strong with you. I can smell his pipe tobacco in your hair." He placed a light kiss in the blond strands behind Hutch's ear.

"I met Marshall last night," Hutch admitted. "He told me about you."

Starsky sat up, pulling away from Hutch. "What did he speak of?"

Hutch turned and faced his friend, pulling up the blanket to cover himself as he did so. "He told me he planted you an herb garden, and wanted to make you lemonade like his grandmother taught him."

Starsky smiled. "He made delicious lemonade." The smile disappeared, replaced with a longing, pained look. "I miss him so."

"You aren't together?" Hutch asked.

"I cannot follow Marshall," Starsky answered mournfully. "Though I feel him in close neighborhood. I am tied to this world. I am unable to find rest, for I was murdered."

"Murdered! By whom?"

"I am completely graveled," he admitted. "I know not who ended my life." Starsky looked at him pleadingly. "Will you dispatch a message to Marshall?"

"I'll try."

"Tell him I look for him always, in the shade of the linden tree."

"The linden tree is long gone, isn't it?"

Starsky smiled again. "I can still see it."

At that moment, all the windows in the bedroom burst open, and a light breeze filled the room. Hutch looked back to Starsky, and the expression on his face was once again quite familiar.

"Shit, here we go again," Starsky muttered, jumping out of bed. Closing the window on his side of the bed, he latched it snugly and fluffed the curtains back into place. Glancing down, he suddenly realized he was now without clothes, and he glanced around the room confused.

"Looking for your shorts?" Hutch guessed.

"Oh, God," Starsky gulped, running a hand down his chest. "Looking for my shorts, and wondering why I'm covered in oil. I remember going to look for lotion..."

"Abigail decided to give me a backrub," Hutch informed him. "I think you'll find your shorts in the bathroom."

"Did I...uh..." Starsky stammered.

Hutch shook his head. "Relax. Nothing happened. You gave me a good scare there, for a minute, but I think Abigail just wanted a good peep show. When I mentioned Marshall, she backed off and became all ears."

"So what happened?"

"Get dressed and I'll tell you downstairs. Everybody should hear this. Turns out our little Abigail was murdered."

* * *

"Murdered!" Huggy blurted. "No wonder the place is haunted."

"That tells us why Abigail is here," Malo noted, "but why is Marshall here?"

"Looking for Abigail?" Flower Pot ventured.

"Can't we just tell Marshall where she is and everyone lives happily ever after?" Frankie questioned.

"I don't think it's that simple," Hutch replied. "I think it's like they're on two different planes. Abigail knows he's near, but she can't find him."

"Let's stick with the original plan," Starsky suggested. "Hutch and Flower Pot and me call Minnie and search the house, Malo and Frankie hit the library, and Huggy calls his cousins. Whaddaya think?"

"Sounds like a plan," Frankie answered, slapping his hands together. "Let's get on it."

* * *

The search of the house had been long and tiring. Most of the residence had been emptied of personal belongings long ago. All that now remained was the furniture and the decorations of Huggy's late Aunt Tillie, along with a selection of her mementos.  From Huggy they had learned that the house had been fairly well closed up when he obtained it, with drop cloths covering the furniture. He had spent his first week in the house cleaning it up, assuring them nothing had been thrown away.

Starting in the basement, Starsky, Hutch and Flower Pot worked their way upstairs. In the kitchen pantry, they discovered a box of antique kitchen gadgets, some of which they were unable to identify. To amuse themselves while they searched, they tried to come up with uses for the unknown items.

"I still say it's some kind of tea ball," Hutch offered. "And that little plate is for catching the draining tea."

"I think it's some kind of incense burner," Flower Pot countered. "The plate thing is to protect the table from the heat."

"Will you two knock it off already?" Starsky asked in irritation. "You've been throwing out the same old ideas for hours now, and it's really getting old!"

Flower Pot had disappeared into the attic, and called to them from behind the partially-closed door. "Hey, guys? I think I found something."

Starsky and Hutch ran to the attic, anxious to see what Flower Pot had discovered. He was standing in the back, flipping through a few portraits that were propped against the far wall. A canvas had been covering them, and he had cast it aside.

As they came up next to Flower Pot, he pulled out a portrait and propped it for them to see. "This is Marshall," he announced.

"Let's take these back into the other room," Hutch suggested. "I want to see these where the light is better." They each grabbed a frame and started to head for the door, when it suddenly slammed shut with a loud bang.

Hutch took one step closer to the door before he felt the enveloping cold surround him. "Uh, Starsk?" he called in a nervous voice.

"I smell smoke!" Starsky cried out, looking around in alarm.

"Wait, man," Flower Pot held up a hand. "That's tobacco. Someone's smoking a pipe."

"It's Marshall," Hutch said quietly, frozen in place.

Starsky and Flower Pot heard the odd tone in Hutch's voice and turned to look at him. He was standing stiffly, as if afraid to move.

"Marshall is here," Hutch repeated, still unmoving. "He's next to me."

Flower Pot quickly took out a pack of cigarettes and lit one. He walked up to Hutch and blew the smoke beside where Hutch was standing. In the dim light of the attic, the face and shoulders of Marshall Harris were clearly visible in the swirling smoke. Starsky watched on in horror as the man stepped right into his partner, as if melting into his body.

Hutch looked at Flower Pot and gave a small smile. Then he turned his undivided attention to Starsky. Hutch approached Starsky, reaching out a hand to grasp his forearm. "Abigail?" he asked, his voice thick in anguish and with a Southern accent. "Where is my Abigail?"

Starsky swallowed hard. "She, uh, gave us a message for you. She said she looks for you, always, in the shade of the linden tree."

Hutch's face lit with a beautiful smile. "Yes. My Abigail." He closed his eyes.

The attic door creaked as it swung open, and a breeze blew through from no known source, clearing the room of the smell of the pipe. Hutch opened his eyes and looked at Starsky in confusion. "Did something happen?" he asked.

"Marshall paid us a visit," Starsky explained as he grabbed Hutch's arm and directed him out of the attic, the artwork tucked under his arm. Flower Pot grabbed Hutch's frame, along with his own, and brought them both out of the attic where they could look at them closer.

Starsky related to Hutch what had happened with Marshall in the attic, and looked to Hutch with hopeful eyes. "Do you think that'll be the end of it? You think he'll find Abigail at the tree and leave the house alone?"

Hutch looked at Starsky doubtfully. "I don't think so, Starsk. I think if it were that easy, they would have found each other a century ago. I think it's Abigail we need to help here. I think she's unable to rest until we find out what happened to her."

The three men turned their attention back to the paintings that Flower Pot had discovered. One was of Marshall, one they presumed to be Abigail, and a smaller painting of a beautiful black woman with almond-shaped eyes.

"Wow, Hutch," Starsky whistled, "Abigail was one beautiful woman."

Standing proud with her hand resting on the staircase banister, Abigail Harris stood in a low cut deep green velvet gown that showcased her ample cleavage and her tiny waist. Her long, wavy, auburn hair was pulled back with combs, and fell down her back to her waist. With glowing green eyes, and a sexy Mona Lisa-type smile, she looked as though she'd left a trail of broken hearts in her wake.

Marshall was a debonair man, with straight, coal black hair and a mustache. His keen, dark eyes looked penetrating, yet there was a glint of good humor in them, even in a painting. He stood tall and self-assured, a man of confidence and intelligence. His clothing was well tailored, and as dark as his hair.

The portrait of the black woman with the almond-shaped eyes was intriguing. She was dressed much less formally than the other two paintings, more in the dress of the working class. But there was a distinct pride in her expression, indicating a woman to be reckoned with. Her features were lovely, with high cheek bones, a classic jaw line, and a long elegant throat.

"Look at her eyes, Starsk," Hutch observed. "She looks like she could be a relative of Huggy's."

"Do you think that's Aunt Tillie?" Flower Pot asked.

"No, the clothing would indicate this painting is older than that. Perhaps the grandmother that left her the house," Starsky surmised.

* * *

By the dinner hour, most of the group had returned to the house, with Malo bringing groceries for their meal. Huggy returned with his cousin Cleo, an older woman with extremely short hair, and a serious nature that tolerated no nonsense. She walked directly up to Flower Pot and extended her hand to him, smiling indulgently at him, much as Hutch had earlier under Marshall's influence.

"What is your name, sir?" Cleo inquired of Flower Pot.

"My name is Gino," Flower Pot replied. "It's good to meet you, Cleo."

"It is definitely my pleasure to meet you," she said sincerely. "You have a wonderful aura about you, Gino."

"Oh, thanks, I guess," Gino laughed. He didn't quite know what she meant by the comment, but assumed it to be complimentary.

"Cleo is a psychic," Huggy explained. "She sees and hears things that the rest of us don't." He gave his cousin an affectionate smile.

Returning her cousin's fond glance, Cleo corrected him. "That's not quite true, dear Huggy. Gino here sees and understands a lot more than any of you realize. His abilities may be undeveloped, but they assist him nonetheless." She turned to Gino and spoke expectantly. "You have good instincts about people, and your friends find you insightful, isn't that so?"

"That's very true," Starsky answered for Gino, smiling broadly.

Cleo turned to Starsky and studied him openly. "You and the man beside you are very interesting to me," she spoke absently to Starsky and Hutch. "Very complex. You are quite spiritual," she said directly to Hutch. "And you are very open..." she commented to Starsky. Her voice trailed off as if there was much more behind her words.

She continued around the room, introducing herself to Frankie and Malo, communicating little else in words, but looking as though she were evaluating them all. When she returned to Huggy's side, she shook her head. "Something awful happened in this house," she said sadly.

Huggy related to his cousin what they had been told by the ghost of Abigail, that she had been murdered.

"She was murdered," Cleo nodded, "by someone she loved and trusted."

The six men looked at each other confused. "By Marshall?" Hutch said disbelieving.

"No!" Starsky insisted. "Not by Marshall. Not deliberately. I can't believe that."

Cleo shook her head, her brow furrowed. "I can't see who did the act, but I know it was a loved one. Betrayal cloaks this home."

"Cleo, do you know anything about the original owners of the house? Did you ever hear stories about this place, or the people who lived here?"

"No, dear. I only know that when the owners died, they left the house to our great-grandmother. She had worked for the family for years. Since there were no descendants, they left everything to her."

Starsky jumped up and fetched the portrait they had found earlier in the day. He showed Cleo the painting, and inquired, "Could this be your great-grandmother?"

"Yes," Cleo frowned. "That is Elizabeth." She gave a small shudder. "Cold woman. I do not care to look at that." She passed the painting back to Starsky.

"Bessie..." Frankie murmured to himself.

"Elizabeth was called Bessie when she was young," Cleo clarified. "She preferred to be called Elizabeth once she became a woman of property. I remember family stories about her. She married later in life, to a kind man, but she was always a rather bitter woman. She did not care much for her children, who were raised by their father, or for anybody but herself, from what I gather. She was never spoken of in a happy light."

Cleo wandered about the room, examining the furnishings, touching the woodwork. At one point she stopped, flinching, as she stood on the very spot that Abigail had first appeared within Starsky.

"There is deep sadness here," she announced, flinching again. She stepped away from the spot, and looked up directly at Starsky. "You. You have had contact by a spirit! Come here!"

Starsky approached her, and she reached out and took both his hands in hers. "You have a connection to this spirit." Suddenly, Cleo smiled. "She is fond of you!"

Laughing nervously, Starsky shrugged. "That's good to know."

In an uncharacteristic display, Cleo squeezed Starsky's hands with kind regard. "She means you no harm. She is rather the prankster, however." She turned to Hutch and gave a nod in his direction. "She likes to tease your friend, likes to see him rattled." She quietly spoke just to Starsky, "She is a lot like you in that regard, I suspect."

Starsky's eyes twinkled as he tried to suppress a grin.

Walking from the room toward the back door, she commanded, "Show me the places where the spirit appeared outside."

Hutch leaned in close to Huggy and asked, "How did she know it was outside?"

Shrugging, Huggy replied, "I have no idea. I just told her I wanted her to check out the house, and she met me here. I haven't had a chance yet to tell her what's been going down. The woman's always been on the spooky side."

They went outside to the garden, and gathered around the fountain. Cleo reached out and grasped Hutch by the forearm, and gripped tightly. "Oh, this is not good!" she declared. "Not good!" She glared intently at Hutch. "There is a spirit who is linked to you, who needs you. He is very troubled. There is tension in the air. Be very careful!"

At those words, the wind whipped into a frenzy, blowing dust and leaves and such around in a whirling tempest. The people gathered in the garden bowed their heads, covering their eyes against the blinding, dusty winds, unable to see to flee. Within a flash, the winds were spent, and the storm abruptly quieted. No sooner had they recovered from the outburst of nature, than the fountain suddenly sprang to life, with water gushing from the beak of the griffin in great force. The basin filled too quickly, and began to overflow. As the visitors watched in horror, the water changed from clear to red, chasing them back from the splattering liquid. The fountain was full of blood.

"My God!" Frankie yelped. "What's happening?"

"Inside!" Malo called out, and the others ran at his heels into the house.

"You will not be safe in here," Cleo warned, as she, too, followed.

As if in answer to her warning, the kitchen faucet turned on, the force so strong it rattled the pipes, the water spraying out of the sink as it pelted the basin, too rapid and strong to be handled adequately by the drain. The group cleared out of the kitchen, fleeing into the living room in fear.

As they scrambled into the room, Hutch stopped dead in his tracks, causing Starsky to crash right into his back and sprawl to the floor. The force had no impact on Hutch, however, and he stood rock still, his arms and legs rigid.

"Hutch!" Starsky cried out. To Cleo, he shouted an appeal, "Help him!"

Cleo ran up to Hutch and placed a hand on his back. Her hand was thrown off of him, as if an electric current had surged through it. Cleo squealed in pain.

Hutch turned slowly about, eyes blazing in fury. He looked from face to face with contempt until he spied Starsky on the floor. "You!" he screamed, pointing his finger at Starsky's face. "Come to me!" Hutch's fingers splayed out and Starsky rose off the floor and flew into his grasp.

He gripped Starsky by the front of his shirt, pulling his face close to his own, raising the man so that his feet cleared the floor. The wrath in those eyes terrified Starsky and he shrank from his friend's rage in fear.

"Where is my Abigail?!" Hutch bellowed.

Starsky opened his mouth to reply, but couldn't answer. Hutch threw Starsky away from him with such force that he slammed into the wall, his feet well above the ground, and crumpled to the floor in a heap. Every window in the house blew open and a great gust rushed through. Then they slammed shut again in a terrible bang.

"Abigail!" Hutch screamed, then collapsed to the floor unconscious.

Huggy ran to Starsky, and found the man unconscious as well. There was a knot already forming on his forehead, a trickle of blood running down his hairline.

Flower Pot had run to Hutch and gently laid him out straight, pillowing his own jacket under his friend's head.

Frankie and Malo had dared going into the kitchen to get ice and wet cloths for their friends. They found the water had shut off and all looked normal. Through the window, they could see that the fountain was once again dry, and the water and blood had vanished. Frankie put a handful of ice into a towel for Starsky, and Malo wet a washcloth for Hutch's forehead.

Starsky was the first to awaken, moaning with the pain. He gratefully took the ice pack from Frankie and held it to his head himself.

"He's gone," Cleo announced quietly. "For now."

A groan from the middle of the floor drew their attention back to Hutch. He sat up slowly, holding his head in his hands. "My whole body hurts," he whispered.

Flower Pot helped him up and eased him onto the couch. Starsky limped over carefully and sank to the floor beside him, letting his head fall back to rest on the cushion near his partner's side.

The four men and Cleo aided the injured men, easing their aches with aspirin and massage, ice packs and bandages. As all recovered physically and mentally from their experience, the mood began to lift a little. Huggy went out to cook the food that Malo had brought, and the normalcy and the good meal helped raise their spirits. Over dinner, they chatted about what they had discovered during the day.

"Minnie did a search on the house," Hutch told them. "All she could find was vandalism. Apparently, Tillie and her grandmother complained of vandals chopping down trees on the property. The reason there are no trees in the front of the house is because every time one was planted, it would be cut down. No one was ever charged. Police figured it was kids."

"Or ghosts," Frankie mused.

"We found out something interesting," Malo announced. "We found Abigail's obituary. It says she died of appendicitis. We found Marshall's, too, but it didn't say how he died. He died a couple years after his wife."

"He died of a broken heart," Cleo supplied, her eyes closed. "There was a medical explanation. A heart attack or some such nonsense. But it was Abigail's death that took away his will to live."

"We also found this." Malo held out a photocopy of an ad for the dancehall that Abigail worked at. "When we told the librarian what we were looking for, she found all kinds of interesting stuff. This was one of the flyers that was passed out to advertise the local dancehall. Abigail was a featured performer."

The flyer showed a drawing of Abigail, wearing a rather risqué outfit for the time, low-cut and form-fitting, revealing a pair of very shapely legs. Her pose was like that of a pin-up girl.

Huggy whistled. "She was a fox!"

"The librarian was full of all kinds of information about our little friends here," Frankie added. "She found us the gossip columns. Their romance was quite a scandal, it seems. He was just getting into politics, and he marries this dancehall beauty. Word has it that she was a prostitute, and it nearly killed his career. But Marshall was a smart guy, and he turned it around. He got her the finest clothes, the best hairdressers, you name it. Had a woman brought in to teach her how to behave like a lady. Brought her to every shindig in the city, and to church every Sunday. Sat in the front row. After a while, people warmed up to her. People started to approve of the couple, and applauded Marshall's ability to turn her around.  His popularity finally began to rise among the townfolk.

"A regular Pygmalion," Hutch mused.

"Yeah, but you know how that kind of story never dies," Malo pointed out. "The gossip never did completely die out. Seems there was talk that our little Miss Abigail entertained men here, when old Marshall was out canvassing votes."

"No way!" Starsky declared, shaking his head. "She was faithful to him, I'd bet on that. She loved him."

"Yeah," Flower Pot agreed. "Whatever she was before Marshall, she was true to him after they were married."

Cleo rose and addressed the group. "I'm going to have to leave you now. Please be careful." She looked pointedly at Starsky. "You most of all. Marshall's anger is directed at you. This is nothing to be scoffed at. Your life could very well be in danger."

Huggy asked Cleo, "How come Starsky and Hutch have been targeted by these ghosts? Why them and not us? Or are we next?"

"No," she answered emphatically. "These two men have been chosen because they are very open, and they are very passionate. These are not malevolent spirits. Not normally. They could not connect with someone who is bad or evil. The spirits needed to find contacts like themselves, full of love and open to love. It was perfect that Starsky and Hutch were also such close friends, linked to each other. It made them the ideal contacts. They are open to each other, love and trust each other implicitly, much like your spirits." She looked at the two men in question. "I wouldn't be surprised if the two of you could read each other's minds. Especially Starsky."

Starsky raised his eyebrows and looked to Hutch with an expression of innocence. Hutch's eyebrows waggled up and down, and the two broke into smiles, looking away at exactly the same moment.

"Mm-hm," Cleo murmured knowingly. "Very interesting, indeed."

Frankie and Malo looked at each other in confusion, not understanding what she meant or what Starsky and Hutch's expressions had meant.

She said her goodbyes, and left them, offering to come back if needed in the future. She also suggested bringing a friend with her who was a rather powerful psychic, more so than herself.

Once the dinner dishes had been cleared away and washed, the men pulled out a deck of cards to get their minds off the upsetting events of the day. As they played poker, they chatted about the idealistic couple they were researching.

"I think it's romantic," Flower Pot asserted, "that they got together and stuck together against the odds."

"Yeah, and turned their lives around," Huggy agreed.

"Love conquers all," Malo added.

"Not quite," Frankie noted. "She was murdered, after all, and they have been separated in death."

"Love may yet conquer that," Hutch pointed out.

"Do you think that's out there for everyone?" Malo wondered aloud. "That soulmate?"

"I should hope so," Hutch stated. "It's what I'm looking for; a soulmate. Someone to share my life with."

"That is not the truth," Starsky commented.

"Huh?" Hutch looked up. "What do you mean?"

"You do not seek a soulmate. You seek women who could never possess your heart."

Hutch grinned. "Ah, Abigail! So glad you could join us!"

Starsky smiled. "You greet me chivalrously, Kenneth. I am honored."

Hutch tossed his cards onto the table. "Tell me, Abigail. Is it you who has been kicking my ass at poker tonight? Or Starsky?"

"Ah, Kenneth. Your chivalry fails you. Why do you believe I desire to gull you? I shall not be complaisant to reveal who has truly proven to be superior at cards. Be it what it would, you do not seem to be on friendly terms with the truth this night."

"I'm not lying," Hutch defended. "Why would you think that?"

"You do not seek the companionship of women who are your equal. You avoid such women with deliberateness."

"That isn't true."

"I am sensible of your actions. Our complexions are not so different. Neither marriage nor love held interest to me, until I met Marshall."

"You think I'm not interested in finding love or being married?"

"I believe you are politic, and do not seek love, nor marriage."

Hutch stood from the table and walked to the fireplace, leaning his arm against the mantle. "You're mistaken, Abigail."

"I did not wish to harrow up melancholy," Starsky offered apologetically. "I merely observe that you court women who are inferior to you."

"Inferior?" Hutch chuckled.

"You are a strong man, Kenneth. Strong in morals, strong in body, strong in intellect, strong in passion." Starsky eyed him knowingly. "The women you court are not strong, as you are. They are not your equal."

"So you think I should find a girl who is my equal."

Starsky's eyes twinkled, a flash of green evident. "I believe you do not seek."

"Why?"

Starsky rose from the table and stood before Hutch, very close. He cupped Hutch's face and ran his fingers down his jaw, down his throat, down his chest. In a tantalizing voice, he replied, "I think you do not seek a soulmate because you have already found one." He removed his hand and started to walk away.

"Abigail," Hutch spoke as he took Starsky's arm and turned him back to face him. Hutch stopped abruptly when he saw Starsky's confused expression. "Starsk?"

Starsky quickly looked around the room and back to Hutch. He shook the cobwebs from his thoughts. "Damn, this is freaky."

Hutch laughed weakly  "Not just for you, pal."

* * *

Starsky sipped his beer, and placed it back on the table. "I'm starting to get a strong feeling about this Bessie character. Do you believe she had something to do with this murder?"

"Are we even so sure it's murder?" Frankie asked. "It sounds like it was a natural death."

"Abigail is sure," Hutch countered. "So is Cleo."

"And it was someone close to Abigail, someone she loved and trusted," Malo stated.

"We don't know that Abigail loved or trusted Bessie, do we?" Frankie questioned.

Starsky was thoughtful. "We know that Marshall did. He told Abigail that he would have Bessie plant herbs for her. I get the feeling he felt close to this woman."

Huggy went into the other room to use the telephone. He dialed one of his great aunts. After a lengthy conversation, he rejoined the group.

"I got the scoop on Bessie," he informed them. "My great aunt Flora is into finding her roots, poking around the family tree. I asked about Bessie the Ice Maiden, and found out that she was with Marshall's family back in Alabama. Her mother was their housekeeper. The family brought her with them, when they came to California. She was like family to Marshall, he'd known her since they were kids."

"So she was close to Marshall," Frankie said thoughtfully. "I wonder how close...?"

"You think maybe the two had something going?" Huggy asked.

"Could be," Frankie nodded. "Would give her motive...."

Starsky shook his head. "Marshall didn't cheat on Abigail. I can't see that."

Flower Pot leaned forward. "What about before Abigail? Maybe Bessie was jealous...?"

"How do we find this out?" Malo wondered.

"Cleo," Huggy offered. "We could ask her back, with her psychic friend."

* * *

Starsky stood beside the bed and looked at Hutch. "You sure you don't want me to hit the couch?"

Hutch laughed. "Come on, Starsk. I don't think she's gonna pull anything like that. It sounds like she's just having a bit of fun at my expense."

"You think that's what she was doing earlier? Having a bit of fun with you? Or do you know what she meant when she said you had already found a soulmate?"

Hutch scratched his head. "I don't know. That was weird. Maybe she meant Gillian...."

"Maybe she was just playing with you."

"How about you, Starsk. Do you think Gillian was my equal? My soulmate?"

Starsky was quiet for a long moment. He knew his answer was not what Hutch believed. "No," he finally admitted, "I don't. And not just because of the hookin'. She kept secrets, lied to you. You can't build on a foundation of lies."

"That's good to know. That would mean that my soulmate is still out there. I still have a chance."

Starsky grinned. "And you already found her, if Abigail is right. That's half the battle."

Hutch closed his eyes and fell into a peaceful sleep.

* * *

Starsky awoke to the piano playing dance hall music. He sat up in the bed, suddenly aware that he was alone in it. "Hutch?" He glanced around the room, his eyes spotting his friend looking out the window, his hands braced on the window frame. "Hutch?"

When Hutch didn't respond to the second call, the hairs started to rise on his arms. He slowly got out of the bed and walked carefully over to the man at the window. A few feet away, he stopped. "Hutch?"

The music downstairs seemed to get louder, and more animated. The smell of tobacco filled the room.

Starsky took a deep breath. "Marshall?"

Hutch straightened, shoulders pulled back sharply, he looked upon Starsky with contempt. "Abigail does not wait for me under the linden tree," he growled.

Starsky's mouth was dry. "She loves you, Marshall. She does wait for you. She can't leave this world right now."

Hutch approached Starsky, looking down at him threateningly. "Why is she unable to leave?"

Huggy opened the bedroom door, and in the corner of his eye, Starsky could see the other four members of his group slip inside the room. "Abigail tells us she was murdered. We're trying to find out who did it."

"Murdered!" Hutch bellowed. "Who would hurt my Abigail?!"

Starsky took a step back from the menacing man. "We aren't sure yet. Maybe you could help us figure it out."

"You suspect someone," Hutch accused.

"I need more information," Starsky replied.

Hutch reached out and grabbed Starsky's arm, yanking him close. "You will tell me who hurt my Abigail."

"Marshall," Flower Pot stepped forward.

Hutch straightened and slowly turned his gaze from Starsky to Flower Pot. "This is not your affair," he snarled. "Leave."

"Marshall, what happened the night Abigail died?" Flower Pot pushed.

Hutch curled his hand into a fist, his other hand tightening around Starsky's arm. His breathing became hard, uneven. The words came between clenched teeth. "She was in pain. Screaming. Holding her belly, a gripe upon her. My ministrations did not aide her."

"Were you the only one here with her?" Flower Pot asked.

"No, my housekeeper was assisting us."

"Bessie," Huggy muttered.

"Marshall," Malo stepped forward, "would Bessie have reason to be jealous of Abigail?"

The lively piano music came to an abrupt halt. The deadly silence of the house chilled them all. Hutch released Starsky. He walked to Malo, and gripped him by the shoulders. "Do you accuse me of infidelity?"

Malo shook his head. "No. I ask if you had a history with Bessie."

Hutch stared into Malo's eyes without reply. His jaw muscles flexed in anger. His head whipped around and the icy gaze penetrated Starsky. "Is this the information you seek?"

Starsky walked up calmly beside Hutch and Malo. "Yes."

Hutch took his hands off of Malo. Speaking to Starsky in a somewhat calmer voice, he answered. "I did have relations with Bessie in my youth."

"Was she in love with you?" Starsky asked.

Hutch nodded. "I cared deeply for the woman."

"And then you met Abigail...?"

"A few years subsequent."

"The night Abigail became sick, what did Bessie do?"

"She tended her, as did I. When Abigail became more distressed, Bessie advised me to retrieve Doctor Samuel."

"So you left Abigail and Bessie alone..." Starsky said quietly. "What happened when you returned with the doctor?"

Hutch closed his eyes. His voice was choked with emotion. "She was gone."

Starsky reached up and automatically squeezed Hutch's shoulder in comfort. "Marshall, after Abigail's death, did Bessie ever...approach you, about resuming your relationship?"

Hutch opened his eyes. "Yes. I told her I could not. I could never love another."

Starsky sighed. "Marshall, I think Bessie may have killed Abigail after you left to get the doctor. I believe she was jealous, and wanted you to herself."

Hutch's eyes fell upon Huggy, standing off to the side. He strode forward until he was face to face with him. "You! Who are you?"

Huggy gulped. "Me?"

"You are of Bessie's line! I see her eyes upon you!"

Huggy backed away from the man until he had backed against the wall. Hutch grabbed him by the shirtfront and raised him off his feet against the wall with one hand.

Hutch growled, "I shall avenge Abigail's death with yours." He snapped up his free hand into a strangle hold about his neck.

"Marshall," Starsky implored, "let 'im go! He didn't do anything to you!"

"It is my right!" Hutch ground out, tightening his hold.

"It isn't right!" Starsky insisted. "He isn't responsible!"

"It is my right!" Hutch proclaimed.

"Marsh," Starsky spoke calmly. "Allow this man his breath."

Hutch's head whirled about to look at Starsky. "Abigail?"

Starsky laid a gentle hand upon his arm. "He is a friend to this man. He has served me in friendship, through this man. He has served you in friendship through the man you govern. He has paid for my spilt blood a thousand fold. He aided in my quest to find you."

Hutch released his hold on Huggy, without a second thought. Huggy unceremoniously dropped to the floor, rubbing his badly bruised throat.

Hutch pulled Starsky into his arms. "Abigail, my love." He embraced Starsky tightly.

The rising sun peeked over the hillside, flooding the bedroom with the morning's first light. Malo nudged Flower Pot and Frankie, and nodded in the direction of the bedroom mirror above the low dresser. In it they could see, not Hutch and Starsky, but Marshall and Abigail, in each other's arms. Flower Pot smacked Huggy's shoulder, directing him toward the same vision.

"Leave us," Hutch commanded.

The friends looked at one another unsure.

"Leave our home!" his voice boomed again.

The men pulled Huggy to his feet and scrambled out the door. They didn't stop until they were in the front yard. Huggy sank to the ground, still shaky from the lack of oxygen. Malo and Frankie joined him. Flower Pot walked out in the yard, calmly lighting a smoke. He turned to look up at the window to the bedroom.

In the window, he could see the pair. Not Starsky or Hutch, but Marshall and Abigail, lost in a passionate kiss. He smiled at the loving couple, deeply pleased at their reunion.

* * *

Hutch opened his eyes, to find himself in bed. He looked to his left, expecting to see Starsky asleep, but nearly jumped from the bed in fright when he saw Abigail looking up at him with her flashing green eyes.

Hutch sat upright in a panic, seeking his friend.

"Kenneth, calm yourself."

"Abigail, where's Starsky?"

"He is here beside you, but you are able to see me in his stead."

"What happened?"

"You and your companions uncovered the truth. I have been freed from this world."

"Where is Marshall?"

"He waits for me, under the linden tree." She smiled sweetly. "I wanted to stay a moment to thank you."

Hutch looked at her, shocked to realize she was naked. He quickly pulled the sheet up to cover her.

Abigail giggled. "Why, Kenneth, you are a man of honor."

A disconcerting thought came to him. "Abigail, did we...?"

She shook her head.

"Did you and Marshall...?"

Again, she shook her head. "Kenneth, I assure you, your body has not been defiled by myself, Marshall, or your companion."

Hutch was obviously relieved. "And the same can be said for Starsky's body?"

"Yes, of course."

"Then why are we naked..?" he asked suspiciously.

"I confess, it is my wicked humor. I thought for once you would appreciate lying with a soul who is your equal."

Hutch laughed. "Abigail, I'm gonna miss you."

"And I shall miss you. But perhaps we shall meet again."

"I'd like that."

"I pray a favor from you," she grinned.

"Ask me, lovely lady."

"Will you kiss me farewell?"

"With great honor and deep pleasure," he smiled.

He cupped her face, and lovingly kissed her. As he pulled back and opened his eyes, it was Starsky's face he held in his hands.

Starsky jumped back in shock. "Hutch! What the hell r'ya doin'?!"

Abigail's laughter filled the room, and Hutch fell back on the mattress, laughing heartily.

* * *

After dressing quickly, the two men hurried from the house to meet up with their friends on the lawn. They started to hear a recap of the night before from the ones who had been able to witness the events, when their discussion was abruptly interrupted by a strong gust of wind.

All eyes looked back at the house, only to see a ghostly Marshall and Abigail standing on the porch, arm in arm. They proceeded down the front steps, like a bride and groom descending the church steps, dressed in the same clothes from their portraits. They both glowed with happiness, walking with quick and purposeful steps across the lawn. Suddenly, a huge linden tree appeared before them, and the couple walked laughingly into the shadow of the tree, disappearing from sight. A gentle breeze stirred the heart-shaped leaves of the tree, as the tree slowly faded from view.

The six men stared after the tree, happy grins on each face.

* * *

Hutch pulled the rented pickup truck up in front of Margail House. The two men jumped from the vehicle, excited as two elves at Christmas. Hutch shooed Starsky away. "You go get Huggy. I'll get this."

"Yeah, right!" Starsky slapped him on the back and dashed for the house. He rapped on the front door with the heavy brass knocker, yelling, "Huggy!"

"Starsky, what's happ'ning?" Huggy greeted his friend.

"Hutch and me brought ya a housewarming gift," Starsky declared happily. He stood aside so Huggy could see past him to his partner out front.

Hutch was clumsily carrying a tree from the truck, with a big green bow tied around it.

"Starsky, is that what I think it is?" Huggy asked excitedly.

"Uh-huh!" he grinned. "It's a linden tree."

"Hey, we better go help him before he gives himself a hernia!" The two men dashed across the lawn to give Hutch a hand with the awkward sapling.

They spent the afternoon digging a hole large enough to accommodate the large root ball, until it finally rested in its place. The hole was filled in, and a hose was brought to give it a drink. When all the work was done, the three men lay in the grass, weary, dirty and sweaty. Yet all were giddy with delight. The tree was planted exactly where the ghostly tree had appeared when Abigail and Marshall had finally left them.

Huggy went in and brought out three beers, passing a bottle to each friend. They clinked the bottles together and raised them in a toast. "To Abigail and Marshall."

 

 

The End