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A Devious Mind

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MONDAY - FIRST WEEK

Well, well, well, look at that! Her posture has changed, her step has slowed, she’s trying not to glance around. Is she aware of me? That’s not possible. None of the others has ever exhibited a response to my presence. None of them! And I’ve done everything exactly the same as always.

My research was flawless; I knew everything about her before I watched her for the first time, two weeks ago. But, even then, as I now recall, her whole demeanor altered as soon as I got close enough to verify her identity. I missed it then, but I remember it now. She stopped smiling and clutched her purse tightly to her side. I put it down to nervousness at her impending tooth-extraction appointment; I would never have believed it had anything to do with me. Now, however…

Maybe she’s a sensitive. That must be it! I’ve read that some people have an intuition about things like impending danger, or an approaching ill-wind. But it won’t make any difference. Even if she feels me watching her, she only has her roommate, and that pitiful excuse for a woman won’t do her any good at all. I’ll take that bitch out, too, if necessary. She’s only a fan of martial arts, not a practitioner; I could snap her neck with one hand. That would complicate the situation unnecessarily, though, so I really need to leave the roommate out of it.

Too bad my target cut herself off from the rest of the world and has no one to turn to. Still, that’s what makes my job so easy. She’s mine, just like all the rest of them.

Wait! What am I doing? I’ve been to that stupid store enough times already. Organic! What the fuck is that all about? No, I don’t really need to follow her again today. Especially since she seems to be aware of me. I’ll just go back to my room and wait for her to come home. I haven’t decided how to arrange this one yet, the perfect choice hasn’t come to me. It will, of course, it always does.

*******

“Hutch! Will you get a load of these portabellas! They’re huge!”

“Starsky, I can remember when you couldn’t tell one mushroom from another. Now you know the names and can even comment on the unusual size of these particular specimens!”

“Comes from hanging around you so long, partner. Some…” Starsky cocked an eyebrow, “sophisticated knowledge had to rub off, sooner or later.”

“Too bad it couldn’t have been sooner. We spent a great many years arguing about food choices.”

“Wasn’t arguing, Hutch… it was… discussing.”

“Disgusting’s more like it, Starsk. You never had a good word to say about my protein shakes or --”

“Desiccated liver, Hutch! Even the words still turn my stomach.”

“The same way your cold pizza for breakfast and extra spicy dog-meat burritos turn mine.”

“I don’t eat dog meat and you know it.”

“Could have fooled me. That place you loved so much over on Fourth was closed every other day by the health department.”

“Once!” Starsky protested. “Only once. And it wasn’t because of the meat.”

“Oh, was it because the cheese had green edges and the tomatoes were well past expiration date?”

“Be reasonable, Hutch, you know Pedro was having trouble getting his supplies that week.”

“I don’t know any such thing, Starsky. All I know is that, whenever I offered you healthy food, you turned up your nose.”

“‘Course I did. Kept you on your toes, didn’t it?”

“‘On my toes’? How do you figure that?”

“From the first day at the academy, when you found me with a piece of cold pepperoni pizza and a root beer float in my hands, you rode me about my eating habits.”

“I did. I admit it.”

“So I chided you back. Every chance I had. We both got pretty good at playing that game.”

“Yes, we did.”

“But now we don’t need that competition.”

“Took us long enough.”

“Wouldn’t’a been ready before, Hutch. I gotta believe that.”

“I know you’re right, Starsk. But it does feel good to fall back into that old routine once in a while. With a little less edge to the banter. Have to keep you on your toes, too, you know.”

A soft voice broke into the patented routine. “Gee, you two should take that act on the road. It’s wonderful!”

Hutch turned, expecting to find their San Francisco cop-friend, Linda Williams, behind them. Instead, it was a woman who appeared to be in her late-forties, possibly early-fifties. She was almost as tall as Starsky, wearing tan slacks and flat-soled shoes, a loose white blouse and hip-length rust-colored jacket. Her black hair, streaked with gray, was jaw-line short and matched arched brows over dark brown eyes. Her expression was pleasant but Hutch sensed she was nervous and wondered if she approached two men in a food store very often.

“Hello!” Hutch extended his hand. “Ken Hutchinson.” She gripped it for a second too long and a bit too tightly. “This is my partner, Dave Starsky.”

Starsky stuck out his hand and she grabbed onto it, too. “Do you shop here often? The mushrooms are terrific!” Starsky’s impish grin made it obvious that he’d used the pick-up nature of the line deliberately.

She actually blushed. “I have seen you both here before.” She took a step back and glanced around so casually Hutch was pretty sure nobody else would have noticed. He decided she was good at masking both her tension and guardedness. “Jerry, the manager, tells me you’re cops. Is that true?”

Hutch knew his partner sensed the woman’s anxiety and was doing his best to put her at ease when he dropped the bag of exotic fungus into their cart and turned his most competent smile on her. “That’s right, Ms…?”

“Willa Beth Bellkey. My friends call me Betsy.”

“Nice to meet you, Betsy,” Starsky said. “Most of my friends call me Dave, and this is Hutch.”

“I know.”

“Okay.” Hutch was on alert now. “You’ve checked us out. Care to tell us why?”

She glanced around for real this time and lowered her voice. “I need to talk to you. I think I’m being followed.”

Hutch fought the urge to do his own search of the vicinity. “Have you reported this to the police?”

“No. I… I can’t.”

“Sounds ominous.” Starsky’s face was bland and his tone merely curious.

She laughed, lightly. “Oh, nothing terribly dire, I hope. I guess what I’d really like to do is ask your advice.” She cast another look around the store. “But not here.”

“Where, then? You started this conversation, Ms. Bellkey.” Starsky’s voice wasn’t harsh, exactly, but it wasn’t all that soothing, either. Hutch knew that, if it came to it, he’d be expected to be the ‘good cop,’ while his partner played the heavy.

“My apartment is two blocks away and my roommate claims I make a vegetable lasagna to die for.” The look on her face was one of determined appeal.

Hutch was impressed. Here was a woman who would probably not shake easily but who was, quite clearly, shaken. Starsky leaned against his arm and Hutch felt agreement in the pressure. “We’re at your disposal, Ms. Bellkey.”

“Betsy, please.”

Hutch nodded. “Betsy. Do you already have everything you need? Or can we bring something?”

“How about a bottle of Chianti, Hutch?” Starsky glanced at him. “It’d go good with lasagna, right?” He gestured toward their cart. “And these portabellas?”

The smile she gave them was the first that didn’t appear forced. “Both would be great.” For a moment, she seemed embarrassed. “Would you mind walking? I parked in the garage at our building before coming back here, hoping I’d have the chance to talk with you.”

“My car’s in back,” Starsky offered.

“No. Actually, if it’s all the same with you, I’d rather we walked. I need to see if I have the same watched feeling as I’ve had lately.”

Hutch silently checked with his partner. “Whatever you want.”

*******

The apartment was neat and well-organized. Hutch carried the dinner supplies to the kitchen, set the bag on the counter, and went to the closest of the two side-by-side windows that overlooked the street. Without moving the only covering, a gauzy curtain - why don’t people realize these flimsy things are useless at night? - he scanned as much of both sidewalks and visible buildings as he could see. He hadn’t noticed anyone tailing them as they’d walked the short distance from the store, yet he checked for shadows in the doorways anyway. He would never had said he harbored anything in the way of extra sensory perception but he had definitely felt… something, as they’d neared the apartment building; a darkness that was not part of the twilight, a heaviness in the air. Whatever it was, it had made him uncomfortable.

Starsky had plainly felt it, too, and they had exchanged several questioning, appraising glances during the two block trip.

Hutch watched from the window for several minutes and didn’t see anything to arouse his suspicion. He could hear Starsky prowling the rooms behind him. When he turned, he received a brief head-shake from his partner and replied in kind; neither of them had detected anything in the way of an imminent threat.

“You say you have a roommate?” Hutch asked Betsy, whose back was to him.

She was already getting ingredients out of the refrigerator and cupboards, a baking dish from under the sink, and setting out everything they’d bought. “Yes. Her name’s Myra and she’ll be home soon. We’re both teachers at the Barclay Academy. She tutors there on Monday afternoons, which is why she isn’t home yet.”

“Hmmmm,” Hutch hmmmmmmed. “That’s a pretty ritzy institution, from what I’ve heard.”

“Yes, it is, but it’s an excellent school and they treat their teachers much better than any other place Myra or I has ever taught.”

“Glad to hear it.” Starsky was at the bookshelf, perusing titles.

“Would you both like a beer?” She turned from the fridge with two clear glass bottles in her hands.

Starsky perked right up. “You bet!” He left the bookcase and took them from her. With the church key she offered, he uncapped both, tossed the caps into her recycle bin, and gave her back the opener. He crossed to Hutch and handed him one. With his back to Betsy as she dumped vegetables into the sink and began washing them, Starsky leaned in so their shoulders were touching and their heads were close enough that they could talk sotto voce. “You got a reading on any of this, yet?”

Hutch took a swallow of his Corona. “Nope. You?”

Starsky shook his head. “Two bedrooms but only one of them is being used. I recognize the staging. It’s like when we moved into my new place, after Gunther, and wanted everybody who came for a visit to think we each had our own room. The second one here’s not… inhabited.”

“We can’t exactly throw stones, buddy.”

“Oh, hell no, Hutch. That’s not what I’m saying. What I mean is, if Betsy’s scared --”

“And she is.”

“No argument. But, if she’s scared, Myra knows why. I don’t think Betsy would try to keep it from her. Not if they’re as close as I think they are.”

“You may be right, partner. We’ll see what they say.”

*******

Through a hole in the shade, I watched them with my spotting scope. I knew when I rented this room across the street that it would be perfect. These two guys, though, had me more than a little curious. They looked familiar but I couldn’t remember why.

The way they had walked her here, one on each side, carrying her shopping bags, moving like big hunting cats, aware of everything around them; it made me think they could be cops so I was glad I’d decided not to follow her to the store.

Cops! Yeah, that’s what they felt like. How did she…? Wait a minute! This could be the choice I was looking for - a scapegoat. I’ve used them more than accidents and suicides. If I’m careful enough, I can set one of them up for this and have him take the fall. It’ll require a little more time, a lot more patience, and even some luck, but I have all of those things. And I’ve got one more week before I have to be back at work. She’s not going anywhere and I’m beginning to hope she’ll hook one of them into being her protector. I simply love it when I can lay the blame on an unsuspecting fool. I’ve never tried for a cop before, but it could make number sixteen even more exciting and satisfying. Send a cop to the one place in the world he would never want to go! Oh, yeah, this is going to be interesting.

*******

Myra Hull had arrived and been introduced, and the dinner had garnered all the praise Betsy had said would be warranted. Now, the two women were sitting, legs tucked underneath them, at each end of the sofa, while Hutch and Starsky occupied arm chairs across the cocktail table from them. All had glasses of wine in their hands.

Hutch cast as non-threatening a look as possible at Betsy. “You said you needed to talk to us.” He glanced at his partner and got a go-ahead nod. “We’re here, and we’re listening.”

Betsy reached her hand toward Myra. Without hesitating, Myra put her glass on the table in front of her and scooted next to Betsy. With her arm around Myra’s shoulders, Betsy sent Hutch, then Starsky, a tense look. “We’re… together. Have been for almost twenty years.” The intensity in her eyes asked for acceptance. “You’ve already figured that out, right?”

Hutch smiled. “My partner did, when he toured the apartment. He’s a good detective, Betsy.”

Myra retrieved her wine and settled within the curve of Betsy’s arm again. “Thanks for not making us feel uncomfortable with it, fellas. It’s difficult sometimes, when we meet new people.”

“We’re not here to make either of you uncomfortable, Myra,” Starsky assured the petite, sweet-faced, dark-haired, John-Lennon-glasses-wearing woman. “We’re here to listen to what you both want to tell us.” He sat back, affecting a more relaxed attitude than Hutch knew his partner was feeling. “Whenever you’re ready.”

Betsy set her glass on the end table and drew in a deep breath. “For the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the feeling that I’m being watched. And I’m sure someone’s been in this apartment. Twice.”

Hutch sat forward. “Tell us exactly why you believe these things.”

“I’m what’s called a sensitive. I don’t have visions or anything like that, but I can tell if someone’s lying, or if a person has a nasty streak and is going to hurt someone. I avoid people like that, if possible.”

“Would that we all could.” Hutch added a small smile and nodded for her to continue.

“You believe me?” Her voice was laced with surprise.

“Oh, yeah,” Starsky said, quickly. “We know a guy who’s got even more of a gift than you. Visions, the whole enchilada.”

Betsy shuddered. “I wouldn’t necessarily call what I have a gift, but it does make things easier if I don’t need to convince you that I’m not crazy.”

“Oh, no, Betsy,” Hutch said. “Even if we hadn’t already had personal experience with the ability, we’d never disbelieve you out of hand.”

“Thanks.”

“So, tell us, what’s going on.” Starsky swallowed another mouthful of wine.

“For about two weeks,” Betsy began, “I’ve had the feeling that a presence… I’ll even go so far as to say an evil presence, has taken an interest in me.”

All Hutch’s cop instincts went to Red Alert. “Where? At work? On the street? In stores?”

“And do you always feel it?” Starsky added. “Or is it at certain times?”

“Excellent questions. Let me think.” Betsy picked her glass up and sipped. “Never in school. I can’t believe anyone we don’t know could get on the grounds. It’s too well protected and secured. I’ve noticed it during my walks, mostly. You see, I go for a two-mile power walk every morning, but I haven’t been able to spot a tail.” She raised an eyebrow as if asking if that was the correct word.

Starsky grinned and nodded, at which point, she seemed to relax a little.

Hutch filed the information away. “Where else?”

“The grocery store where I met you? Definitely there, whenever I go, which is almost every day. Myra and I like Jerry’s vegetables so I stop on my way home most afternoons.” She shrugged. “I’ve never been sure if any of the people around me is the one who’s making me nervous, though.” She paused for a moment. “I didn’t sense him there today.”

“Maybe he saw you with us and kept his distance,” Starsky said.

Hutch had another thought. “He could have had practice, Starsk, which might make him difficult to detect.”

Betsy blanched. “I don’t want to hear that!”

Starsky raised a placating hand. “Don’t panic. That was just something we cops have to think about.”

“I’ve noticed it, too.” Myra’s voice was soft but it didn’t sound as if she was unsure. “Ever since Betsy told me, last week, I’ve kept my eyes open. I’ve definitely felt it when Betsy and I were together, but also when I was alone, walking on the street, or getting in or out of my car, if it was parked at the curb and not in the garage. It’s… unsettling.”

“I can imagine it would be,” Hutch agreed.

“You say you think this person’s been in the apartment?” Starsky asked.

Betsy nodded, firmly. “A woman knows how she arranges her clothes, how her underwear is folded and exactly what belongs in each drawer.”

Every word Hutch was hearing deepened his disquiet. “And you’ve found things out of place?”

“Twice. The first time was only a day or two after I began paying attention to my instincts; the second was yesterday. Last night, after Myra and I talked about it, we decided we needed help and I remembered Jerry telling me you two were cops. I’ve only seen you a couple of times so I was really hoping I’d be lucky enough to find you there today.”

“I asked this before, Betsy,” Hutch reminded her. “Why can’t you go to the police? This sounds like you may be the subject of a stalker.”

Betsy shook her head. “I’m sorry. That’s the one thing I can’t tell you.”

Hutch exchanged a charged look with his partner. Hmmm. Curiouser and curiouser.

Starsky emptied his glass and set it on the table. “Just what is it you’d like us to do, then, Ms. Bellkey? You’re kind of tying our hands.”

Betsy wasn’t immune to the change in Starsky’s tone of voice and grimaced. “I’m really sorry.”

Hutch figured his partner was nearing the point when he’d decide this wasn’t going anywhere and want to leave; he jumped in, not bothering to hide his own irritation. “If you can’t tell us an important part of this equation, how do you expect us to help you?”

She twirled the stem of her empty glass in obvious frustration. “I don’t know! I guess that’s what I wanted to ask. What should I do? I can’t go to the police and I won’t pull up stakes and leave town! Myra and I have worked too long and hard to get where we are. I refuse to be chased away from my life here by some… unknown entity!”

“And we take it you feel the same way, Myra?” Hutch searched the eyes of the diminutive meek-looking woman.

Myra surprised him by straightening up and scowling with what was probably her best detention-class-subduing expression. “You bet your ass I do! Betsy and I live here! We work here! We want to stay here!”

Hutch didn’t know where the idea came from but it seemed reasonable and he voiced it immediately. “How about if Starsky and I hang out with you both for the rest of the week? After you get home and we get off shift?”

“Oh, would you? Could you?” Betsy looked like someone treading water in the middle of the ocean who’d been thrown a life preserver. “Maybe, if the someone sees that we aren’t alone, he’ll back off. That’s what I guess I was hoping for. Some way to make him just… go away! Leave us alone!”

“We’d really hate for you to put yourselves out,” Myra said, “but it might help us get over this rattled feeling we have.”

Starsky quirked a mock-sinister grin at her. “What makes you think Hutch and I aren’t dirty old men ourselves?”

Both women laughed. Betsy gently disentangled herself from Myra and got up. “Sorry, Dave, that won’t work.” She went to the kitchen and came back with the Chianti bottle, pouring what was left into each of their glasses. “After Jerry told me you were cops, I did some research.” She put the bottle on the end table and gathered Myra to her again. “Turns out I was somewhat embarrassed when I discovered how famous you are.”

Starsky grimaced and drank from his half-full glass. “Oh, here we go.”

Betsy shook her head. “Nope, we’re not going to fawn all over you, or demand a blow-by-blow description of all your exploits. We’re simply thrilled that you sometimes shop at the same grocery store we do.”

Hutch thought it through again and couldn’t find any negative aspects. “Well, I’m not dating anyone at the moment, and neither is Starsky. I don’t see why we couldn’t spend some time here.” He got an affirming nod from his partner. “Do you feel safe enough alone at night? Or would you like one of us to move in… temporarily?”

“Oh, no, that’s not necessary. Really!” Betsy vowed. “But, if you could come around each evening for a few days - make whoever’s watching believe Myra and I have boyfriends - that should cause him to lose interest. Shouldn’t it? You’re younger than we are by about a decade or more. Maybe our neighbors will think we’re dirty old women.”

A negative thought crossed Hutch’s mind. “Will our spending time here cause you any problems at the academy?”

Myra laughed. “Oh, hell no! Betsy and I have been there for years and years and our students love us. I think we could probably come out of the closet if we wanted to, but we’re happy the way things are. If rumors floated around that we were seeing a couple of young, gorgeous guys, our approval ratings, at least with the kids, might climb through the roof!”

Everyone laughed before Betsy cast another worried look at Hutch. “It should work.” She transferred her concern to Starsky. “Shouldn’t it?”

“Hopefully.” Starsky’s smile was grim but the women wouldn’t know that.

Hutch raised his glass to Starsky and got a similar salute in return. “We’ll be here tomorrow evening.”

Myra smiled. “Betsy’s a really good cook! You won’t be sorry.”

*******

I watched the two guys leave and walk back toward the grocery store. Now all I had to do was discover who they were, and work out a plan to set one of them up for the murder of Betsy Bellkey. Oh, yes, this was going to be very interesting.

I put tape over the hole in the shade, turned on the desk lamp, folded the tripod and leaned it and the scope in the closet. Waiting for my computer to boot up, I congratulated myself, yet again, on my foresight in rescuing it from the discard pile when the Justice Department upgraded its equipment. As soon as the old thing was finally ready, I began to search newspaper files and it didn’t take me long to find them. Yes, of course. I should have recognized their faces right away but I almost never pay attention to the news, unless it’s to watch the fallout from one of my exploits.

These guys, though, I should have tagged them; I watch enough news to remember the brouhaha surrounding the fall of James Gunther. So, that was Starsky, the miraculous survivor of an assassination attempt, and his partner, Hutchinson, the one who actually brought Gunther down. Well, well, well. It was going to feel so good when I sent one of them away for the rest of his life! Or possibly even to death row. One of my earlier scapegoats was sitting there now. I had a feeling it would be Hutchinson this time and, for some reason, that made me quite happy. The tall blond was entirely too good looking, too self-possessed, too arrogant; he needed to be taught a lesson. And I was damn sure that getting sent to prison would do exactly that. I couldn’t help but smile as I began to make my adjusted plans. I do have such a devious mind.

*******

“Hutch?”

“Hmmmm?”

“Why do you think she can’t go to the cops?”

Hutch tightened his arms around his partner. He was sated, blissfully happy and very tired after a weekend they should have had off but hadn’t, and a busy Monday. He wasn’t really in the mood to talk about their impending unofficial work. Especially since he still had a nagging feeling that they could be getting into something neither of them was anticipating. “Oh, lord, Starsk. Could be any number of reasons.”

“Name three.”

Hutch sighed, realizing his lover wasn’t to be dissuaded. “Her ex-husband’s a cop and he’s looking for her.”

Starsky snuggled closer. “Okay, that’d be a good one. What’s number two?”

“She’s in the Witness Protection Program.”

“Even better. And three?”

“She’s really an alien and just walking into the precinct would disperse the shield that’s keeping us from seeing her true reptilian form.”

Starsky chuckled. “That’s the best! But all those would be pretty unusual. Not your normal, I-won’t-go-to-the-cops reason.”

“True.”

“Why, then?”

“Before this week is over, maybe we’ll convince her to trust us enough to tell us.”

Starsky looked up at him with what might have been humor in his deep blue eyes. “And in the meantime, we baby sit?”

Hutch stroked his partner’s muscled, scarred back. “They’re both nice, and it’s obvious they’re in love with each other. Therefore, no pressure on either of us to… perform.”

“Think they figured us out?”

Hutch considered the question seriously. “I doubt it. It seemed as if they were totally focused on Betsy’s problem and just grateful that we didn’t give them a boatload of grief.”

“I’ll bet they have to be as careful at that academy as you and I do.”

“No question. If that undoubtedly straight-laced board of directors got even a whiff of… impropriety, they’d both be out before they could take a second breath.”

“You believe them when they say robbing the man-cradle won’t be enough of a whiff?”

“Lots of reverse May/December romances these days.” Hutch ruffled the curly hair. “They’ve got tenure, Starsk, plus their students’ approval. I think it might take them actually being outted before they’d have to think about retaining a lawyer.”

“If that happened, and they lost, they’d be black-balled from a teaching position anywhere in the state, wouldn’t they?”

“More than likely.”

“They have a lot to lose.”

“You’re right. And, yes, I’m feeling a kinship with them.”

“Neither of us has spent much time with a woman in a while. Wonder what it’ll be like.”

“Only a few days, Starsk. Shouldn’t be too much of a burden. And they aren’t asking either of us to stay there overnight. Just to make ourselves highly visible until Betsy loses her… discomfort.”

“If this guy’s a genuine stalker, don’t you think we should try and take him off the streets?”

“That’s the thing about stalking, as you very well know. We couldn’t do anything until he makes a move.” Hutch gently pulled the dark-haired head back to his shoulder. “No, let’s try to convince him to go away. Then he’ll be somebody else’s problem in some other jurisdiction.”

“You’re not usually so off-hand about a potential crime, babe. What’s got you spooked about this one?”

“I don’t know. But, if we can get through the next few nights at their apartment, and get Betsy over her feelings of nervousness, I’ll be happy with that. Something about this whole thing has my hackles up and I don’t understand it.”

“Hmmm, can I smooth a few of those hackles?”

“What you’re doing right now is definitely helping.”

“Uh huh… and what about this?”

“Oh, yeah, lots more of that!”

 

TUESDAY - THURSDAY - FIRST WEEK

I’m always methodical and meticulous but, this time, I would need to be even more so. I was going for my most important score yet and couldn’t afford to take any chances. If the authorities ever found out what I’ve been doing, they’d send me away for consecutive lifetimes. No, I’ll have to be perfect, more perfect than ever!

I tested the compound on a rat I’d baited out of the alley and closed in a jar. It went to sleep almost instantly so I knew the stuff hadn’t lost any potency since the last time I’d used it. Good thing, too, because I couldn’t get any more. I’d need to be circumspect with the little I had left.

My Tuesday night viewing of the foursome’s activities - Monopoly? Are you kidding? How childish! - told me the blond had more or less paired off with my target, exactly as I’d anticipated. They were all so predictable! Now I needed a believable way to get the other one, Starsky, and the roommate out of the picture for an evening.

The made-to-order opportunity presented itself the next day when I scanned the sports section. Myra Hull was a martial arts enthusiast, an interest my research told me Betsy didn’t share. I prevailed on an acquaintance for seats at the regional championship matches to be held on Friday night at the Civic Arena.

The tickets were delivered to Ms. Hull at the Barclay Academy Thursday morning, supposedly compliments of her grateful board of directors. I knew she’d try to thank her benefactors and that they’d simply accept her gratitude and not bother to question why, or for what, she was thanking them. People like that were always oblivious.

That afternoon, while the women were still at the school, I put on my nondescript plumber’s uniform and gained easy entrance to their building. From there, it was no problem to get into their apartment, as I’d already done twice. The new locks the cops had brought and installed the night before didn’t hinder me in the least.

I positioned the canister, containing just enough of the compound to do the job, under the cocktail table, with a tiny listening device taped next to it. If my friends in the DOD ever found out what I was using their toys for, I’d be in really deep shit.

Satisfied that the stage was set, I went back to my room across the street.

 

FRIDAY - FIRST WEEK

“Hutch, you sure Myra and I should go to this kick-fest?”

“Of course, I’m sure, Starsk. We can’t have her go alone and Betsy really isn’t into that sort of thing.”

“Really not!” Betsy repeated, with a smile at her roommate.

Starsky glanced down at his worn jeans, sneakers and leather jacket. “Am I dressed okay? You said it wasn’t fancy.”

Myra punched his arm lightly as she pulled an old cardigan off the coat tree and picked up her purse. “Of course you are, Dave. We’re not going to the opera!”

Starsky chuckled and opened the door for her. “Lock up behind us, Hutch. We’ll see you later.”

“Have fun, kiddies.” Hutch stood at the door, scowling like a domineering father allowing his favorite daughter out on a date with a dubious suitor. “Curfew’s at ten, don’t be late bringing her home… boy!”

“Up yours, Hutchinson,” floated from the stairwell before the street door closed with a bang.

Betsy was laughing when Hutch double-locked the door, hung his jacket and holster on the coat tree where Myra’s sweater had been, and came into the living room.

“You guys…”

Hutch smiled, took the coffee cup she offered and sat on one end of the couch. “How are you doing?”

She sank into the cushions at the opposite end and drew her legs underneath her. “I haven’t felt him close in a couple of days but he hasn’t gone away. It’s as if he’s watching from a distance again.”

“Have you thought about what you and Myra will do if this guy doesn’t take the hint?”

“Not really. Myra’s dead set against leaving, and so am I. And, please don’t suggest I go to the police again. I’ve been checking it out and you know as well as I do, now, that they couldn’t even do anything until, and unless, he tried to harm me.”

“Unfortunately, that’s true. There are precautions that can be taken, of course, and you’ve addressed most of them. We’ve chanced your locks, you and Myra don’t go anywhere alone, you don’t open the door to anyone you don’t actually know. Plus, each of you now carries mace and you know how to use it. You’ve said you’ll buy opaque curtains this weekend.”

“Even though our decorating tastes don’t always match, we will.” She sipped her coffee. “The waiting is the worst part. When… If… What…?”

Hutch set his cup on the table, scooted closer, and put a hand over her white-knuckled one. “Starsky and I’ll stay as long as you need us to, Betsy.”

Her smile was forced and riddled with anxiety but it was a smile.

*******

I turned up my receiver and listened to their stupid conversation. As if either one of them was smart enough to escape me! As soon as their words, and the view through the scope told me they were in a good position, I pressed the button on my remote. In my head I saw the canister open, the gas form and, within two seconds, they fell unconscious.

In my disguise as a utility repairman no one ever notices, I knew I was essentially invisible but it wasn’t even necessary. I entered Betsy’s building and crept up the stairs, having encountered not a single soul while exiting my room, walking down the rear stairway, out into the alley, and around two blocks, to enter by the back door of Betsy’s building. I’d spent days making sure all locks would yield to my picks quickly and soundlessly. I pulled on a pair of surgical gloves, then a second pair. The fingertips of my right glove had split on a job years earlier and I’d been double-gloving ever since.

As usual, they were so tight I knew my fingers would be blue and aching before I’d finished. They were the largest I could find though, and doing what I was about to do without them would be unthinkable. Cops weren’t the brightest creatures on the planet but if I ever left a print behind, I’d most likely be caught.

I knew from experience that the time it had taken me to leave my building, make my way around to the back of this one, and climb to the second floor, was enough to have dispersed the gas. It was one of the reasons why I took a circuitous route.

Betsy’s new locks were no match for my liquid graphite and picks. The door opened in under a minute and I walked in. The scene in the living room was exactly as I had pictured, intended, and caused: Betsy Bellkey was leaning back in her corner of the couch, a cup of coffee spilled in her lap.

Hutchinson was slumped beside her, his head near her left thigh.

The first thing I did was remove the transmitter and canister from under the coffee table. Opening my tool box, I lifted out the tray and put the devices in the bottom. I rolled up the pieces of tape and threw them in, too.

Next, I ripped the phone out of the wall behind the couch’s end table and set the whole instrument back down where I could reach it easily.

Now for the difficult but, I hoped, really enjoyable part. I maneuvered the blond cop onto his right side - his long legs extending off the couch - lifted the phone’s receiver and fitted it into his left hand, clasping his fingers firmly around it. I knew he was right-handed but the way the two bodies had come to rest on the couch meant I didn’t have a choice. I couldn’t take the time, and waste all the effort it would require to move them around. Besides, the rest of the evidence was going to be so overwhelming, this detail could certainly be argued away by a good prosecutor.

Raising the cop’s left arm by the hand gripped around the phone, I swung the receiver against Betsy’s head. It made a very satisfying thunk. I released Hutchinson’s fingers and the phone fell to the floor, still attached to the base unit by its spiraled cord.

I stood back and dragged in a few deep breaths. This was going better than I had hoped. Only the next-to-last task remained. With my knees on either side of Betsy’s legs, I placed the cop’s hands around her throat, glad he had long arms. Hutchinson’s hands were bigger than most people’s, but mine are even larger. I grinned. This was definitely going to be fun!

Covering his hands completely with my own, I squeezed. Betsy was so deeply under the influence of my compound she never moved. The blow to the head may have had something to do with it, too, of course. Damn! That’s always been part of the rush: feeling the victims struggle, fight, try to stay alive just one more second!

I didn’t allow myself to regret what this killing was not giving me. Instead, I reveled in what it was! I was strangling the life out of my sixteenth subject, and using the hands of a decorated cop to do it! Wow! This high could last a long time.

Only after I was positive that Betsy Bellkey was dead, did I make as big a mess of Hutchinson’s face, hands and arms with her fingernails as I could. When I was satisfied that she appeared to have fought savagely for her life, I began the final positioning of the players in my lovely little drama. I overturned the end table, placing the lamp next to it, and put the phone’s base unit where I wanted it; everything needed to look as if it had been part of a scuffle. I did all this quietly because I did not want anyone calling the cops before I was ready.

I dragged Hutchinson into the small foyer and laid him out on his face. The scuff marks his heels caused bothered me a little and I did my best to rub them out. Finished, I double-checked to make sure I’d left nothing of myself behind and surveyed my creation one more time. Perfect.

I picked up the framed photo of Betsy and Myra from the end table I hadn’t turned over, and put it in my tool chest.

With one final look around, I lifted my box, stepped carefully over the unconscious cop, and walked out. My picks quickly locked the knob and dead bolt. Once I was outside on the street, the gloves came off and went into my pocket. I’d dispose of them tomorrow, on my way home, in a trash can far away from here.

My fingers ached, as usual, but I was pleased. All I had to do now was get back to my room, take off the uniform, and wait until I figured Hutchinson would be waking up. At that time, I’d walk to the corner phone booth. When I was sure no one was around to take note of me, I’d call in an anonymous tip and watch the resulting circus.

*******

Hutch came to out of a deep well of pain and confusion. What the hell had happened? He was lying on a floor, a carpeted floor… somewhere. He had a headache but it wasn’t bad enough, he didn’t think, that he shouldn’t be able to remember where he was and what the bloody hell had happened?

Both sides of his face felt as if they had been clawed; he had blood in his right eye and smelled it under his left cheek. Struggling with limbs that didn’t want to function properly, he sat up, realizing he was in the foyer of Betsy Bellkey’s apartment. He remembered that he’d been sitting on the couch with Betsy, drinking coffee. Starsky and Myra were at a martial arts competition. He remembered that, too, so he didn’t have amnesia.

When he glanced at his watch, he noticed that his hand, both hands, in fact, and halfway up his forearms, had deep scratches on them. A couple were bleeding. He dug a handkerchief out of his back pocket and blotted the wounds. The cloth came away with evidence of serious trouble. Where was Betsy?

A fist pounded on the front door. “Police! Open up!”

Hutch pushed himself to his feet, dropping the handkerchief in the process, and tried to get his balance. Drugged. He must have been drugged! Why would Betsy…?

“This is the police! Open the door,” the voice yelled. “Now!”

“I’m coming,” Hutch said, as loudly as his dry throat allowed. “Just a minute.” As soon as he’d drawn the dead bolt and turned the knob, the door was flung open so forcefully, Hutch stumbled backward.

Two uniformed officers came in, both with hands on the butts of their weapons. The first one, B. Wilcox, according to his nametag, stared at Hutch, his eyes taking in the damage to Hutch’s face and hands. “We had a report of a disturbance.”

“I… uh…” As Hutch reached for his jacket on the coat tree behind the door, Wilcox stepped back and tightened the grip on his gun. “Officer Wilcox,” Hutch said, as calmly as possible, “my name is Hutchinson, I’m a detective with the Ninth.”

As soon as his I.D. wallet was out of the pocket, the officer grabbed it.

The second uniform walked warily past them into the living room and hollered immediately. “We got a body, Wilcox! I’m checking for life signs. Get downstairs and call it in!”

Wilcox grabbed Hutch’s wrist and spun him around, forcing him against the wall. “Hands behind your back!”

Hutch knew he was in deep trouble. Betsy hadn’t been the one to drug him, she was probably dead - the thought made him sick to his stomach - and he was the obvious suspect. He moved both arms behind his back and his wrists were quickly cuffed. While immobilized, he was roughly searched. When nothing else incriminating was found, he was dragged into the living room and pushed into a chair.

“Keep an eye on him! I’ll get some help.” Wilcox sprinted out the door and down the stairs.

With sadness making it difficult to breathe, Hutch stared at the form on the couch that had been Betsy Bellkey. He and Starsky had let this woman down in the worst possible way. Their supposed intervention hadn’t done a damn thing to keep her safe.

It wasn’t long before sirens screamed onto the block and lights flashed through the windows. Running footsteps heralded the arrival of additional uniforms plus a pair of plain clothes detectives. Hutch didn’t know any of them but that wasn’t surprising; he was out of his usual territory.

EMTs came through the door and were waved toward Betsy.

One of the detectives, wearing an ill-fitting brown sport jacket, conferred quietly with the uniforms before he walked over and stood in front of Hutch. His expression did nothing to disguise the fact that, in his book, Hutch had already been tried and convicted.

Hutch kept his voice level. “I’ve been drugged, detective. I need one of these medics to draw some blood. It was fast-acting, so it may be fast-disappearing.”

Activity swirled behind them but the cop didn’t move or blink. “You’re Hutchinson?”

Hutch nodded, already knowing this guy wasn’t going to be amenable to a reasonable discussion.

“Why'd you kill her?”

For the first time that night but not for the last, he knew, Hutch shook his head. “I didn't. I didn’t even know she was dead when I opened the door for the first two officers.”

“They had a report of a disturbance.” The detective’s voice held no trace of understanding. “Looks like the report was right.”

“Huuutchhhhhh!” Starsky’s yell echoed up the stairs, accompanied by thunderous steps. Seconds later, Starsky pushed between officers stationed at the door and flew inside. He took in the sight of numerous uniforms, the two detectives, paramedics, overturned furniture, and Betsy, all in the space of a few heartbeats, before he knelt next to Hutch’s chair. “What happened, partner?”

The detective standing over Hutch, grabbed Starsky and pulled him to his feet. “This is a crime scene, Starsky! Yeah, I know who you are. Every cop in this town knows who you two are. But this ain’t your beat so you can’t be here. Get out!”

A scream sliced through the testosterone-laden air as Myra, somehow having gotten past the door guards, caught sight of Betsy’s body. Without another sound, Myra’s eyes rolled up and she slumped to the floor.

One of the EMTs rushed over and began to take her vital signs.

Starsky glared at the detective. “You may recognize me but who the hell are you?”

The guy pulled his I.D. and held it up, arrogance and smugness the only emotions showing in his expression. “Dutton, Sixth Precinct, and I’m about to put this piece o’ shit partner of yours under arrest.”

Hutch couldn’t get his head around what was happening but he knew, without a doubt, that he and Starsky had badly underestimated Betsy’s stalker. The man had killed her and had set things up so that he, Hutch, was going to pay for it. He hadn’t felt this inadequate since Van’s death.

Dutton hauled Hutch to his feet and turned to the other plainclothes officer, keeping a bruise-causing grip on Hutch’s arm. “I’ll take this slime ball to the station, Bill, and get the paperwork started. Wait here for the crime lab and make sure they log every spec of dust, every hair and stain. This creep’s already in a coffin and we’re gonna nail it shut!”

While Dutton continued to issue orders, Starsky stepped to Hutch’s side. “The minute they’re through booking you, I’ll get you out and we can talk. You are not goin’ down for this, Hutch. Trust me.”

“You know I do, Starsk.” Hutch turned away from Dutton and lowered his voice. “My handkerchief’s on the floor over there. It’s got my blood on it. I asked these clowns to do a draw here but they’re not going to. By the time I’m booked, whatever the guy used may already be gone from my system.”

Starsky glanced toward the door and Dutton didn’t seem to notice. “Okay.”

“Take it to Cheryl. She should be able to tell you if Betsy and I were drugged. Nothing else makes any sense.”

Dutton turned around and shoved Starsky away. “No talking!”

Starsky’s reaction to the thrust was to lose his balance, stumble backward, and fall, right next to the handkerchief. Hutch almost smiled as his clever partner stuffed it into his jacket pocket before scrambling to his feet.

Dutton smirked. “I may let you see your friend after he’s been processed but I won’t tell you again, get out! This is my crime scene and I’m not gonna have you fuckin’ with my evidence, or my suspect!”

Starsky stalked into Dutton’s personal space. “You know something Dutton? You’re a disgrace to the department, and it’s going to be my pleasure to prove you’re an incompetent asshole, too!”

“Why, you…” Dutton sputtered.

“See ya, Hutch.” With a quick stroke of Hutch’s arm, Starsky was gone.

Hutch was alone with the body of a women he had failed to protect and what seemed like half the Sixth Precinct, all of whom appeared determined to find enough evidence to convict him of murder.

Dutton was so angry, he shoved Hutch back into the chair and stalked over to his partner. They put their heads together and Hutch couldn’t hear a word they said. The M.E. arrived and his crew began doing what was required before the body could be transported.

Crime scene people showed up next and still Dutton continued to preside over his personal fiefdom, getting in everyone’s way and making himself visibly disliked.

Hutch was left in the chair, a uniform stationed on the front-door side of it. He knew, in his head, that he wasn’t responsible for Betsy’s death but, in his heart, he ached. He’d liked her, and had wanted to help her.

*******

My scope and tripod, along with my radio receiver, computer, monitor and keyboard were already packed into the custom sections of my suitcase, since they weren’t needed any more. All I’d have to add in the morning were the few clothes I’d brought.

With no light on, I wadded up the piece of tape I’d also no longer need, tossed it in the trash and raised the shade. I dragged the uncomfortable desk chair over and sat. The spectacle of official vehicles accumulating, plus legions of cops and techs moving in and out of Betsy’s building, was riveting. The arrival of the bright red car, and the two occupants’ hurried entry, were delightful to see.

I smiled even wider when Starsky stormed out the front door a few minutes later, ran down the steps and jumped into his car. He must have left fifty dollars worth of rubber on the street when he peeled out. Ah, what a wonderful night!

*******

Starsky used the Mars light and siren all the way to Dobey’s house. He knew he shouldn’t have but he didn’t want to waste a single second. When his captain opened the door, Starsky barely noted the pajamas, robe and slippers, or his superior’s disgruntled expression.

“Starsky! What’s the idea of showing up at this hour?”

“Hutch is in trouble, Captain, and we need your help.”

Dobey stepped back immediately, closed the door behind Starsky and led the way into the living room.

Edith appeared, a blue chenille robe clasped tightly over her own pjs. “Coffee, Harold?”

“No thanks, honey. Starsky’s already wired and I shouldn’t start this early.” She disappeared and Dobey motioned Starsky to sit in the arm chair that flanked his own recliner. Starsky sat on the edge of the seat while Dobey dropped into the comfortable lounger, leaving it upright. “Tell me what’s happened?”

“Hutch has been arrested for the murder of a friend of ours but he didn’t do it, Cap!”

Dobey didn’t even blink. “Of course he didn’t.” He pulled a pad of paper and a pen out of the pocket on the side of his chair. “Before you start at the beginning, tell me who took him into custody and where he’s been taken.”

“Dutton, a Detective out of the Sixth, was about to transport Hutch to his station when he kicked me out of the crime scene.”

Dobey made notes. “The Sixth. Their Captain is new. I’ve met him but I don’t know him.” He didn’t look up from his scribbling. “Tell me what you can.”

Edith brought two tall glasses of water, left them on coasters, on the cocktail table, and went back upstairs.

“Thanks, Mrs. Dobey!” Starsky called after her. Then he told his captain everything he could think of about Betsy and Myra, how they’d met, the fact that Betsy was sure she was being watched, and how he and Hutch had decided to spend some very-visible time at their apartment in the evenings. When he got to the part about why he and Myra hadn’t been there that night, Dobey wrote down, and underlined, the complimentary tickets. With a jolt, Starsky realized those had been part of the set-up. Dobey had tumbled to it right away, Starsky hadn’t.

He finished with Hutch’s request that Starsky take his handkerchief to Cheryl Jennings. “Hutch asked to have one of the EMTs draw his blood but Dutton wasn’t interested.” Dobey got up, went to the kitchen, and brought back a clear plastic sandwich bag before dropping into his chair. Starsky sealed the purloined evidence in the sleeve.

“I hope we’re both wrong about Dutton’s intentions.” Dobey continued to make notes. “But, from what you’ve told me of his attitude, we probably aren’t. It sounds as if he couldn’t care less if Hutch was drugged. You know I don’t approve of removing evidence from a crime scene…” He looked up, kindness and understanding in his dark eyes. “In this case, I’m sure it was necessary. Cheryl’s a good idea!” He jotted one more note. “Get down to the Sixth now, Starsky, and keep an eye on the situation.” He got up, holding tightly to his pen and paper.

Starsky got up, too and Dobey escorted him to the door. “The cops there probably won’t talk to you but make your presence felt so that they’re aware that someone’s looking out for Hutch. I’ve got calls to make if we’re going to get a lawyer for him, set up a bail hearing first thing in the morning, and find a bondsman willing to foot the bill.”

“Thank you, sir. I really didn’t know what to do, except come to you.”

“Glad you did, Starsky. I’d have hated to have heard about this from anyone else and I need to get on it right away.” He opened the door and held it.

“Thanks, again, Cap’n.” Starsky hurried to his car.

*******

Out of Betsy’s apartment and on their way to the Sixth, at last, Dutton let his partner drive. He half-turned in the passenger seat and fixed Hutch with a hard stare. “She didn’t put out for you? Was that it, stud?”

Handcuffed in the back seat, Hutch kept his voice neutral as his eyes bored into Dutton’s angry gaze. “You’ve neglected to read me my rights, Detective. And until you do, with a witness other than your partner present, I’m not going to say a word.”

Dutton spun around and stared straight ahead, seething silently.

Hutch hoped Starsky had gone straight to Dobey so that their captain wouldn’t have to hear that Hutch had been arrested from someone else. Besides, Starsky would have realized they needed Dobey’s help! Hutch was sure Starsky, and possibly Dobey, maybe even Huggy, were, at that moment, trying to get the best lawyer they could find, late on a Friday night.

Hutch let his mind drift back to his partner’s confrontation with Dutton. He knew he was in deep shit but Starsky’s stance and expression had given him hope. Things might be bad; worse, even, then when Van died, but with Starsky in his corner, ever and always, they’d get through it. Hutch replayed his mental video tape of Starsky’s voice and stare drilling into Dutton with his years of pent-up disgust for bully cops. He almost smiled.

By the time they arrived at the Sixth Dutton had worked himself into a state of high dudgeon.

The booking process began and lived down to all Hutch’s expectations. He was told to strip and was thoroughly searched. It was beyond humiliating but, at least they used a probe, not their fingers. If he was sent to prison, he knew he’d have to get used to such things. His clothes were taken and an oversize orange jumpsuit - no underwear - and scuffs were provided.

Dutton was never off the edge of his sight. He didn’t attempt conversation, though, and Hutch was grateful. He couldn’t have said a civil word to the self-satisfied cop if his life had depended on it.

Mug shots were snapped, then prints were taken. Hutch’s entire fingers, as well as the tip ends, and palms were inked, pressed to appropriate boxes on forms, and meticulously measured. A police photographer took many close-up shots of Hutch’s hands and fingers. Next came full shots, then close-ups of each and every one of Hutch’s wounds. He didn’t understand why Dutton was being so demanding and exacting but was sure he’d find out, sooner or later.

After all that, Hutch’s blood was finally drawn by the jail’s nurse. He was pretty certain, given how carefully Betsy’s killer had planned everything else, that the exercise was pointless; whatever had knocked him out was probably long gone from his system.

The scratches and gouges on his face, hands and arms were treated last. The worst one, above his right eyebrow, required two stitches. The killer, using Betsy’s hands as his instruments - Hutch was sure his blood and skin were under her fingernails - had done a number on him!

As he was led away from the clinic, Hutch wasn’t surprised to be taken directly to an interview room where he figured he’d be left to stew for a while, then questioned for the rest of the night. He hadn’t been given the chance to make a phone call and if no lawyer appeared to represent him, it would be a long, quiet-on-his-part night. He had no intention of saying another word until there was someone sitting on his side of the table. His handcuffs were secured to the rail running across the table before he was left in the room by himself.

Hutch knew that one of his chief traits was thinking too much at times like these but it was a habit he wasn’t going to be able to break - not tonight anyway - because he couldn’t derail his mind from the track it was speeding along. He was sure that, after Dutton was finished with him, representation or not, sometime in the next who-knew-how-many-hours, he would be taken to a cell until a bail hearing could be arranged. Was that even possible on an early Saturday morning? Or would he spend the weekend in jail?

Hutch was no stranger to nightmares but he usually experienced them when he was asleep. This one was turning into the worst one since the morning he’d found his ex-wife, dead, on the floor of his Venice Place dining area. The awful thing about this particular bad dream was the lack of his partner’s presence. That time, the situation had never progressed to the point where he was booked, and Starsky had been there through all of it. Tonight, he’d been kept away and Hutch was alone. He knew his best friend was around, close, even though he wasn’t allowed to see him or talk to him. Starsky was waiting, somewhere, until Dutton and company were through with Hutch, whenever that turned out to be.

Hutch’s mental clock told him at least an hour had passed when the door was opened and a man he’d never seen before entered, followed by Dutton and his silent partner. The man walked to the table. “Detective Hutchinson, my name is Ted McLaughlin. Captain Dobey has asked me to represent you, if you have no objection.” The man was tall, slender, gray-haired and eyed, clean-shaven and dressed immaculately - at one o’clock in the morning!

Hutch couldn’t stand or shake hands but he nodded. “I have no objection whatsoever.”

“Excellent. Let’s get started then!” He put his briefcase on the table, opened it, took out a legal-size pad of yellow paper and a pen. Sitting down in the chair next to Hutch, he looked expectantly at Dutton. “Have you read my client his rights, Detective?”

“Not yet,” Dutton snarled.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” McLaughlin clicked the knob on the end of his ballpoint pen several times.

Dutton stated, loudly, that the interview was being recorded, audio and video. Then he specified the date, time, case number, his name, plus his partner’s, Hutch’s name and the lawyer’s. Finally, he said the word, murder, for the first time, along with Betsy’s full name. He began reciting the Miranda statement but had to stop, and Hutch was secretly pleased that he needed to extract his card in order to get the wording right.

Dutton’s partner moved to the corner and leaned against the wall under the camera while Dutton plopped his heavy frame into the chair across from Hutch and McLaughlin. “Tell us how it went down, Hutchinson. Give us a confession, here and now, and maybe the D.A. will take the death penalty off the table.”

Hutch knew he and McLaughlin were in for a long night and he was correct; the questioning, badgering and undisguised contempt went on for hours, covering the same ground over and over.

At four a.m., McLaughlin insisted on a ten minute break, and water. Dutton’s partner walked out and brought two paper cups back before he and Dutton left the room.

McLaughlin made a few notes at the bottom of a full page, the third or fourth he’d filled up, Hutch had lost count.

“I’m not going to say anything about the case right now, Detective.” McLaughlin’s voice was conversational. “Or ask any questions. We’ll get to all that later. Right now, we’re going to sit here and relax. I want them to see that you’re completely at ease, not the least bit concerned about whatever evidence they may have accumulated. This is their show but we’ll have ours. Believe me. Your captain told me, in no uncertain terms, that he knows you didn’t do what they’re claiming. So I’m here to see that everything is done by the book and that you are, in no way, abused.”

“I appreciate that, Mr. McLaughlin.” Hutch drank his cup of water.

A few minutes later, Dutton and his partner came back in the room. The partner walked to his corner while Dutton slouched into his chair. “Take us through it again, Hutchinson. From the beginning.”

McLaughlin cleared his throat, undoubtedly preparing to object. Hutch put a hand on his arm and shook his head. “It’s okay, Mr. McLaughlin, I’ve been on the other side of this routine so many times I know what Detective Dutton is trying to do. I’m happy to go over it again if it’ll get us out of here sooner.”

McLaughlin shrugged, drew a line under his notes, and turned the page over to a fresh sheet. He marked the time at the top.

Once again, Hutch started at the beginning. “My partner and I met Betsy Bellkey at the organic grocery store on Tenth Avenue. It’s out of Starsky’s and my neighborhoods but their produce is exceptional. It’s worth a few extra miles’ drive.”

Having mentioned his partner, Hutch closed his eyes and pictured the love in Starsky’s midnight blues. With the comfort of that vision, he looked back at Dutton and continued repeating what he’d already said many times.

“And you remember nothing during those two hours you say you were unconscious?” Dutton’s voice sounded more disbelieving than ever.

“Nothing, Detective,” Hutch said. “How many times do I have to say it? Betsy and I were sitting on the couch, drinking coffee. We were not having an argument, there was no contention between us. On the contrary, in the few days since I’d met her, she’d become a friend. We were simply having a conversation. Then, two hours later, I was on the floor in the entryway of her apartment, with my face and hands bleeding.”

“You say you met her in a grocery store.” Dutton’s voice was bored but angry.

“Yes.”

“Never saw her before that? She just picked you and your partner up in the vegetable aisle and invited you back to her place for dinner?” Dutton’s sarcasm could have sliced through a ream of paper.

“Detective, Dutton,” McLaughlin broke in, “my client has already been over this four times, by my actual count. This is the start of the fifth. If you have no new questions, I’d suggest we stop for now and allow you to begin your investigation. Up to this point, all you have done is rehash the statement my client made three hours ago. Either find some new things to ask, or let us begin the process of getting Detective Hutchinson out of here.”

Dutton sneered. “Hope you brought your piggy bank, scum. If a judge sets bail at all, which I’m gonna argue against like there’s no tomorrow, it’s gonna cost you!”

“Detective Dutton…” McLaughlin got to his feet. “You have done nothing since the three of us entered this room except demonstrate deliberate biased antagonism worthy of law enforcement a hundred years ago. Be advised, as soon as my client is cleared of this charge…” he leaned over the table into Dutton’s face, “and believe me, he will be, we’ll be filing our own charges against you for your inept handling of this case.”

McLaughlin put his legal pad in his briefcase and closed it before turning to Hutch. “I’ll be in touch, Detective Hutchinson. And don’t worry. Captain Dobey, your partner, and everyone else in the Ninth, is in your corner. We’ll get this straightened out and get you back on the job, where you need to be. This city can’t afford to be without its best officers.” He sent a dismissive look at Dutton. “Are we finished here?”

Clearly reluctantly, Dutton nodded.

 

SATURDAY - FIRST WEEK

Hutch never found out what favors Dobey had to call in but, at eight a.m., a few hours after Dutton had had two uniforms take Hutch to a cell, he’d been brought before a judge. His partner and his captain were in the back of the room but Hutch didn’t meet their eyes. He faced the bench, focusing on the black-robed figure, not his support squad. Yet.

Dutton argued himself blue in the face but the judge decided a bail of one million dollars was appropriate.

Hutch swallowed hard. He would never, ever, ask his parents for the ten percent required. He’d much rather stay in jail until the trial.

“I’ll pay the ten percent, Your Honor,” a voice at the rear of the courtroom hollered.

Hutch swung around and stared at the short, paunchy man standing next to Dobey and Starsky. Hutch recognized him but couldn’t pull up the name.

“Mr. Yates?” the judge asked.

“Yes, Your Honor, Barney Yates, bail bondsman to innocent people!” He bowed slightly.

The judge banged his gavel. “See the bailiff.”

Yates made his way through a side door and a few minutes later a uniformed officer removed Hutch’s cuffs and chains. Starsky materialized at his side, offering a pile of clothes that Hutch recognized as his own. The officer went with them to the men’s room next to the judge’s chambers and waited while Hutch changed. He then left with the jail apparel.

Hutch drew in a deep breath; okay, that part was over. He knew it was only a temporary reprieve, but he was out on bail and now he, Starsky and Dobey would begin to take this seemingly perfect frame apart.

Starsky put a gentle hand on Hutch’s back and walked with him out to the main hallway, where Yates and Dobey were waiting.

“Don’t skip out on me, Hutchinson,” Barney pleaded. He barely came up to Dobey’s shoulder but his facial expression was serious. “It’d ruin me if I lost that hundred thou.”

Dobey slung an arm around the diminutive man’s shoulders. “Don’t worry, Mr. Yates. You have my personal guarantee that Hutch won’t leave town. We’re going to clear his name and you’ll get every dime of your money back!”

Yates looked marginally better and skittered away.

Hutch stared at Dobey. “I hope you haven’t given out too many IOUs for this morning’s work, Captain, but I thank you.”

Dobey huffed. “More like I used up a few I was owed and you’re welcome.” He pulled a pad of paper out of his pocket. “I’ve got news and it’s not very good. I’m told the autopsy’s been performed and --”

Already?” Starsky was clearly as surprised as Hutch. “It’s a Saturday morning, Capt’n! What’s the big hurry?”

Dobey guided them to an alcove. “I talked with Captain Montrose, Dutton’s superior, a while ago.” Dobey was displaying a mix of emotions Hutch had never seen him show simultaneously before: disbelief, disgust, contempt. It was an interesting combination. “It seems as if Montrose is as anxious to get Hutch tried and convicted as his detective. He’s pulling every string he can lay his hands on. The autopsy’s been done, the tox screen’s on priority, and the lab’s been working since last night to get Hutch’s prints matched to the victim’s throat, and the blood and skin under her fingernails positively identified as Hutch’s.”

Hutch was stunned. “What did I ever do to them, Cap’n?”

“Clear cases, probably.” Dobey lifted his wide shoulders. “You two have done more than your share to keep our streets and citizens as safe as possible, and put bad guys in jail. A lot of cops, at every level, I’m afraid, would love a chance to set you down. It seems as if Dutton’s going to take advantage of the fact that he and his partner were at the top of the roster last night. Putting you away is going to be his ticket to the Chief’s chair, if he has anything to say about it.”

“We’ve seen it before, Hutch.” Starsky said. “We’ll just have to teach Dutton the right way to be a cop by finding Betsy’s killer ourselves.”

Hutch turned to Dobey. “Did Captain Montrose say anything specific about the autopsy, sir?”

Dobey shook his head. “No, and he’s not going to. He made it a point to let me know that he won’t be sharing any information with either of you, or me. He says if he hears of anyone in the Ninth interfering in his detective’s investigation, he’ll file complaints with I.A. and the commissioners.”

What investigation?” Starsky growled. “Dutton’s ready to lock the cell door on Hutch and throw the key away right this minute! You heard what McLaughlin said about the interrogation. Dutton’s not going to investigate a damn thing!”

“Let’s see what happens, Starsky.” Dobey looked decidedly unhappy but was plainly trying to make the best of a horrible situation. He smiled at Hutch but it didn’t reach his eyes. “It’s time you let your partner take you home, feed you, and tuck you in bed.”

Hutch shot a quick look at Starsky; did Dobey know about their actual relationship?

Dobey didn’t elaborate; instead, he put a paw on Hutch’s shoulder, his face as solemn as Hutch had ever seen it. “This is a hellava mess, Hutchinson, but we’re going to fix it! That’s a promise.” He dropped his hand as if embarrassed. “I’ve got calls to make and people to see but I’ll stop by your place this afternoon. We need to talk.” Without a backward glance, he strode away.

“Home, food, bed.” Starsky’s voice was grim, but his eyes sparkled. “You heard the man, Hutch.”

Hutch straightened his shoulders. “Men’s room first, partner. Dutton never offered a potty break and I wasn’t about to ask.” He lifted his hands and stared at the scratches. “The nurse cleaned the blood off but I need to scrub.”

“Right this way, then.”

*******

Starsky checked the parking lot behind the courthouse for reporters and didn’t find any. The news that a cop had been arrested for murder couldn’t have hit the media. Yet. Starsky knew that wouldn’t last long.

He turned and motioned Hutch out and they walked to the Torino. Starsky knew his partner had been through Hell during the past twelve hours and didn’t attempt conversation. Once upstairs at Venice Place, behind a locked door, he drew Hutch into his arms and simply held him.

For quite a few breaths, Hutch didn’t move. Finally, his arms snaked around Starsky and he slumped onto the welcoming shoulder. “Don’t coddle me, Starsk. I’m afraid I’ll fall apart.”

“I’ll catch you. Put the pieces back together.”

Hutch straightened up and actually smiled. It was thin but Starsky was pleased to see it was a smile. “You always do.” Hutch moved to the couch and sat down in the middle.

“What do you want, first, Hutch?” Starsky started toward the kitchen. “Food? A beer? Sleep?”

“None of the above. I need to tell you exactly what I told Dutton, four times, make sure we’re on the same page. You’ll never see a word of my statement so we have to work without a net.”

“You need sleep, Hutch.”

“I’m sure you do, too! Don’t try to tell me you went home last night.”

“Nope. After I woke Dobey and gave him the news, stopped here and picked up some clothes, I never let more than a couple of walls get between us.”

“Thought so.”

“But I wasn’t drugged unconscious for two hours - I heard McLaughlin tell Dobey - before being put through the wringer by Dutton, either. And you know me, babe, I can keep going as long as necessary, until we put this behind us.”

Hutch leaned back. “Beer.”

“You got it!” Starsky went to the fridge and came back with two brown bottles. Uncapping them both, he handed one to Hutch and sat down close to him. “Talk to me. Tell me exactly what went down after Myra and I left, and everything you said to Dutton.”

Before Hutch could say a word, there was a soft knock on the door. “Hey, you guys in there? Dobey called and said you could use some food.”

“One of these days,” Starsky said, grinning, “we’re going to have to figure out how to repay Huggy for all the times he’s had our backs.”

“And brought food,” Hutch added with a grin.

Starsky laughed, got to his feet and opened the door for Huggy Bear. “You are definitely a life saver this time, my friend.”

“‘Course I am!” Huggy crossed to the table and deposited a picnic basket. “Didn’t know how many I’d have to feed, so I brought lots.”

Hutch got up and walked over. “What Starsky said, Mr. Bear. You may have just saved my life. Again.” He put his arms around the skinny black man and hugged him. Tight.

“Hey, hey, hey, m’ blond brother, don’t wrinkle the jacket.” Affecting annoyance, Huggy moved out of Hutch’s embrace, went to the refrigerator and took out a beer. After sitting down at the table, he scanned Hutch up and down. “You ain’t lookin’ too good, Hutch, in case nobody’s tol’ ya that already.”

“Not in so many words, Hug. My thanks for pointing it out.” Hutch went to the coffee table, picked up his beer, came back and sat down.

Starsky opened the basket and began distributing the containers of food. “We could use your help, Hug. But we wouldn’t hold it against you if you wanted us to leave you out this time. It’s a mess and you could get burned.”

“I’m offended that either of you would think you need to ask, Starsky. You and Hutch are my best friends, if one of you’s in trouble, you know you can depend on me.”

Hutch clinked his bottle against Huggy’s. “Always have, Hug, and I am truly grateful for the offer this time.”

Huggy drank half the bottle in one long gulp before smacking his lips and fixing his gaze on Hutch. “Okay. Lay it on me.”

Starsky pulled out a chair and sat down. “We’re all ears, Hutch.”

*******

They were more than half way through the meal, Starsky and Hutch each having made copious notes in their respective notebooks, when there was a knock on the door. “You decent?” It was Dobey’s voice.

Starsky let him in and filled a plate for him while Dobey sat heavily in the fourth chair around the table. Huggy jumped up and got fresh beers for each of them before sitting back down.

“What have you found out, Cap?” Starsky scraped the last bite of coleslaw from the tub and ate it. “Any good news at all?”

Dobey shook his head, tearing a hunk off a drumstick with his teeth. “Montrose is playing it close to his vest but I found out there was an anonymous phone call about a ‘disturbance’.” He finished the leg and grabbed a thigh. “A male voice - I’ve heard the recording - said ‘Sounds like somebody’s dyin’! You better come quick!’ Could have been anybody.”

“Have they traced it?” Starsky asked.

“Came from the booth on the corner,” Dobey told them. “And even I’m aware that sending a tech would be futile. We all know this perp doesn’t make the kind of mistake that would allow him to leave his prints there.”

“Did the knock-on-doors produce anyone else who heard this disturbance?” Hutch scribbled more notes. When the point broke off the pencil he threw it aside and picked up another. “Or find the person who made the call?”

Dobey wiped his mouth. “Montrose told me there was no knock-on-doors.”

What?” Starsky tried to keep the outrage he was feeling out of his voice but knew he’d failed.

Dobey shot him an understanding look and reached for corn bread. “One of the uniforms tried the apartment across from Ms. Bellkey’s and there was no one home. At Dutton’s orders, they didn’t bother with anyone else in the building or on the block.” He split the golden slab in two and buttered half before he stuck it in his mouth. “Montrose actually said it would have been a waste of time, since his detective had already arrested the guilty party.” He buttered the second half and ate it in one bite, before giving Starsky, then Hutch, his most intense visual promise. “Believe me, you two, when this is over, I am personally going to see to it that Montrose and his detectives are made to pay for the shoddy, unacceptable police work they did last night, and are apparently continuing to do. If they think they can railroad one of my men, they have another think coming.”

Starsky did his best to swallow his fury. “So, after an anonymous tip, the cops show up, find a dead body and Hutch - all torn up - with no memory of what happened. Sound like a set-up to you, Cap?”

“Of course it does but it’s not our case.” Dobey polished off another square of bread and nodded at Huggy. “You’ve outdone yourself with this meal, Huggy. These guys have a better friend in you than they realize.”

“Oh, no, Captain,” Hutch broke in, “Starsky and I have already tried to let Huggy know how grateful we are.”

Huggy’s dark skin flushed beet red. “Hey! Cut it out, fellas. We’re friends, I run a restaurant and bar; what am I supposed to do when my buddies fall in a barrel o’ shit, sit around and twiddle my thumbs?”

Starsky and Dobey forced smiles and Hutch managed a chuckle. Dobey got his game face back on first and glared at Starsky. “You can’t be involved in the investigation, Starsky. You know that.”

“Yeah, Cap’n, I know. But I’m like Huggy; I’m not going to twiddle my thumbs while Dutton and his friends do only enough to get Hutch convicted, and let a murderer get away. Hutch didn’t do it, but they’re not even looking for anybody else. They think they’ve got a slam-dunk and that’s all they care about.”

“What are you going to do?” Dobey asked. “No, wait, don’t tell me. If I don’t know, I won’t have to lie. I’m officially putting you on desk duty, starting Monday, until Hutch is cleared. Set your own hours.” He stood up. “Thanks for lunch, Huggy. Hate to eat and run but I’ve got lots more phone calls to make.” He threw a hard look at Hutch. “Keep your head down Hutchinson!”

‘Thanks, Cap,” Starsky and his partner said at the same time.

After Dobey left, Huggy got up and began consolidating the remainder of the food. “I’ll put the rest of this in your fridge, Hutch.” He glanced at Starsky. “What are you two cats gonna do ‘til Monday?”

Starsky helped with the cleanup. “We’re going to hole up here this weekend. Even Dutton isn’t going to accomplish anything on a Saturday afternoon and Sunday. Would you stay here and keep Hutch company while I go to the hospital and find out how Myra’s doing?”

“‘Course I --”

“No!” Hutch stood up, an almost angry expression on his haggard face. “I don’t need anybody holding my hand!” He turned his frustration on Starsky. “Huggy’s got a business to run and I’m not an invalid!”

Starsky’s flash of irritation melted under Hutch’s undisguised anguish. “We know you’re not. I was only trying to make sure you didn’t have a chance to get yourself mired down in guilt. If Huggy stays he might be able to piss you off enough with his blathering you won’t have time to wallow.”

Huggy scowled. “I’ll have you know I do not blather.” Relenting, he cocked a small grin at Hutch. “I will admit I’d have done my best to keep your mind off your troubles, Blondie.”

Hutch tried to grin back. “Thanks for the thought, Hug.” He picked up his beer and moved to the couch. “Seriously, Starsk, I’m okay. I’ll just sit here and try to think of anything I’ve missed, anything that’ll help.”

“Well, then,” Huggy said, “I’m outta here. If you need…” He took the basket and closed the door softly on his way out.

Starsky sat down next to Hutch and rubbed the nearest thigh. “What can I do?”

It was obvious that Hutch wanted to make some sarcastic or dismissive remark but the darkness he was fighting wouldn’t allow it. He shook his head. “Nothing. I mean it, Starsk, just leave me here to think for a while.” He put his hand over Starsky’s. “Tell Myra… Well, you’ll know what to say.”

Starsky leaned over, turned Hutch’s face and kissed him gently, lingering a long time. When he sat back, he ran a thumb over Hutch’s nearly invisible stubble. “Please believe me, Hutch, we will figure this out and make it right.”

Hutch kissed the thumb. “Can’t make it right, Starsk, Betsy’s dead.”

“I know that. And I’m as sorry as you are. But we will get the scumbag that did it and put him away for the rest of his life.”

“If Dutton has his way, I’ll be there waiting for him.”

“Fuck Dutton!”

“No, thank you.”

Starsky touched Hutch’s soft lips again with his own before smiling as tender a promissory smile as he’d ever managed. “I’ll do it myself then, but is it okay with you if I use an implement? I don’t ever want to touch that poor excuse for a human being with any part of my body!”

Hutch’s return smile was weak but it was a smile. “How about with his own baton from his uniform days?”

“Oh, that would be poetic justice, wouldn’t it? Love the way you think, Baby Blue! So keep that up while I’m gone. Think, Hutch! We already have the key, I know it! We just haven’t recognized it yet.”

*******

Ah, the media had finally gotten the word and it was all over the latest edition and every newscast. This was the best coverage I’d ever gotten! And I guess I owe it all to those two cops! Hutchinson’s face was everywhere and his name was already being spoken with contempt. I loved it! But, wait! Here was a live interview.

I settled back in my La-Z-Boy and turned up the volume on my large-screen TV, glad to be out of that no-frills room across the street from the kill zone. I sipped my scotch and watched.

“Now let’s throw it out to Kevin Porter, on scene at the Sixth Precinct,” the anchorwoman said, glossy hair perfectly coiffed, makeup expertly applied, caps gleaming brightly. “You’re up, Kevin. What can you tell us?”

I’d never seen this handsome young reporter before but he was so juiced with his assignment, I knew he thought it’d be his admission slip to a national network job. “Well, it seems I’ve made a bit of a coup here, Marlena. I have with me the arresting officer from last night’s murder, Detective Everett Dutton.” The camera lens widened out to include the plainclothes cop I’d watched drag Hutchinson downstairs, hang onto him with a vice-like grip while his partner went for their car, then stuff the blond into the back seat. Kevin held his microphone out. “What can you tell us, Detective Dutton?”

Dutton squared his shoulders and, with a smug expression on his face, looked directly into the camera. His mud-brown eyes were too close together and his chin too narrow and angular; his nose was straight but was already showing signs of too much alcohol. I could tell that this cop wasn’t nearly as competent as he wanted the world to believe but that he was going to use Betsy’s killing as his stepping stone to bigger and better things. More power to him, I thought! Let’s get this show on the road!

“Well, Kevin, and everybody out there, you can rest easy in your beds tonight because my captain and I believe the perpetrator of this ghastly crime is already in custody. Kenneth Hutchinson, a detective from the Ninth Precinct, was found in the victim’s apartment shortly after what the M.E. tells me was the time of her death. The deceased’s name is being withheld until after notification of next of kin.”

“Can you tell us why you think Hutchinson is the killer?” Kevin Porter was all but salivating.

“Yes, I can, Kevin.” Dutton’s smile was sly, smug, and nasty, all at the same time. “Hutchinson had multiple scratches on his face, hands and arms. Bruises that will match his hands were around her throat. In addition, the skin and blood found under the victim’s fingernails are going to turn out to be his. You can do the math for yourselves, I’m sure.”

“That sounds like an open and shut case, Detective.”

“You said it, Kevin, not me.”

“Are you looking for any other suspects at this time?”

Dutton sent the reporter a withering glance before staring into the camera. “Why should we?”

I turned the TV off and sat back in my chair. Oh, yes, indeed, I did excellent work last night and now I’ll get to watch as one of Bay City’s finest is sent to prison for the rest of his life.

*******

Starsky felt so badly for Myra he could have wept. Instead, he sat by her bed and held her hand as tears continued to course down her cheeks. The head nurse had told him Myra hadn’t stopped crying since she woke up but insisted the TV in her room be kept on the continuous coverage being broadcast on the local news channel. She didn’t want to miss a word.

Myra had had the nurse turn the volume down when Starsky came in but pictures of Betsy, Hutch, and the scene outside her apartment building the night before, plus talking heads, dominated the wall at the foot of the bed.

When Myra’s tears finally slowed, she managed to meet Starsky’s gaze, her eyes as empty of life as it was possible to be and still be part of a breathing body. “Betsy was right, wasn’t she, Dave? Despite everything the three of us could do, he still got to her. And he killed her.”

“I’m so sorry, Myra.”

“Will you get him for me? Please?”

“Yes. I promise.”

“Thank you. And tell Hutch I know what they’re saying about him isn’t true. I know he didn’t kill her.”

Starsky gripped her hand tighter. “Thanks, Myra. That’ll mean a lot to him.”

She jiggled his hand. “Go on, now. You don’t have to sit here with me. Hutch needs you. Go catch the bastard that murdered the best person I’ll ever know.”

Starsky stood up, leaned down and kissed her forehead. “You hang in there, Myra Hull. I’ll stop by and see you tomorrow.”

“I won’t be here, Dave. They’re going to release me this afternoon and I’ll be staying with a friend from school. Should I let you know when the memorial service will be?”

“Yes, please. Hutch and I will definitely come.”

“Okay. Go on now, go!”

*******

When Starsky got back to Venice Place, he was more physically and emotionally drained than he could ever remember being. He’d driven himself relentlessly during the days Hutch had been in Ben Forest’s hands, and then while they were both enduring the withdrawal. But, after he’d found him, he’d known Hutch was, eventually, going to be all right. The two days Hutch had been trapped under his car in that canyon had been pure hell, but there hadn’t been the added burden, in either case, of the death of one friend and the emotional devastation of a second. Betsy, dead, and Myra, distraught, were heavy loads. Hutch’s potentially freedom-ending situation, though, weighed him down like nothing he could remember.

Hutch was exactly where he’d left him, except the beer bottle was empty and resting, crosswise, on his right knee. When Starsky came in, Hutch’s mile-long stare found him and it took a moment before the eyes focused. “How is she?”

“Holding on.” Starsky shed his jacket and holster onto the coat rack and went to the kitchen with the twelve pack he’d picked up on the way home. He had no idea how many people would be dropping by, parched. “Ready for another beer?”

Hutch glanced at the empty in his hand and nodded. “Sure.”

Starsky stuffed the dozen in the fridge and took out two cold ones. He uncapped them both and crossed to the couch. Sitting down close to Hutch, he took the empty and put it on the coffee table before handing him a full one. “She knows you didn’t do it.”

Hutch leaned back and closed his eyes. “I was afraid she’d believe…”

Starsky put an arm around Hutch and drew the blond head to his shoulder. “She’s a strong lady. And she’s definitely got her head on straight. She knows that whoever was stalking Betsy is the one who killed her. And she made me promise to get him.”

Hutch chuckled. “Don’t suppose you had to dig too deep to make that promise.”

“Sure didn’t.” He gulped down his beer in three swallows and nudged Hutch to do the same. “Drink up, partner. Then let’s jump in the shower and get that jail smell off you. Afterward, we’ll get some sleep. I know you have to be runnin’ on fumes, babe.”

“No funny stuff, okay?” Hutch glugged brew.

Starsky put on an offended face. “‘Funny stuff’? I know we laugh a lot during sex, but when have you ever considered what we do together as ‘funny stuff’?”

“I stand corrected.”

“I should hope so!” Starsky took all three bottles to the kitchen, came back and pulled Hutch to his feet. “How about if I wash your hair, Hutch? That’ll make you feel a whole lot better, won’t it?” He took Hutch’s hand and pulled him toward the bathroom.

“Don’t expect too much, Starsky, I still feel those jail attendants’ hands on me.”

“I know. And in order to make those feelings go away, I’m going to wash you all over with your favorite spring woodlands soap, then I’m going to shampoo your soft, silky hair and make it shine again. Make you shine again. You’re my golden angel, Hutch, and we’re gonna get through this!”

“I like your attitude, partner.”

 

SUNDAY - FIRST WEEK

The phone woke Starsky mid-morning. He and Hutch had fallen asleep in each other’s arms sometime around midnight, after talking the situation nearly to death. As far as Starsky could tell, neither had been assaulted by bad dreams. He stumbled out of bed and hurried to the living room where he answered.

“Hey, Starsky, this is Greg Gregson, crime lab. I was one of the techs at the scene Friday night.”

Hutch came to Starsky’s side and he cocked the phone so his partner could hear. “What can you tell us, Greg?”

“Listen, I’m finally heading home. We’ve been on this for almost thirty-six hours - been catching naps in the back room - and I shouldn’t be talking to you.” Gregson lowered his voice. “But I found some things that are more than likely going to be swept under the rug. My boss is no great fan of you guys. I think he was considering telling me not to include some stuff in my report but he changed his mind; told me to go ahead and put it all in - way down at the bottom - but to keep my mouth shut about it. And I was most definitely not to talk to you!”

“We appreciate your disobeying his order.” Starsky turned around and leaned his butt against the back of the couch, moving the phone to his right ear.

Hutch leaned next to him so he could hear, too. “What kind of stuff?

“That you, Hutch?”

“Yeah, Greg, it’s me. Why kind of stuff?”

“There were two sections of tape residue under the coffee table. I scraped as much off as I could, but it wasn’t possible, at the scene, to tell if it was fresh or had been there a while. And by the time it could have gotten tested it had dried out even more.”

Starsky didn’t realize he was gripping the phone so tightly he might be in jeopardy of crushing the plastic until he heard it crack. He took a breath and made himself relax a little. “Go on.”

Gregson lowered his voice. “It was as if something, no, two somethings had been hidden there.”

Hutch leaned closer to the phone. “You got any ideas what?”

“I’m thinking one of the somethings could have been a small gas canister.”

Starsky found he could hardly breath. “Gas…”

“Yeah. My buddy, Shane - he was there, too. He was the lead tech, I was just the grunt. Anyway,” Greg continued. “Shane said your partner told one of the first uniforms he thought he’d been drugged.”

Even though he knew Gregson couldn’t see him, Starsky nodded. “That’s right. He tried to get an EMT to draw his blood right there but the uniform put him off; said it could wait ‘til he was downtown. I’ve got a handkerchief he used to wipe the blood off his face when he came to. I’m going to have that tested by a friend of ours tomorrow, if I can.”

“Well, I guess the uniform hadn’t been ordered to keep Hutch’s request quiet yet, because he mentioned it to my buddy. Dutton overheard and made it quite clear that they were both to keep that to themselves and tell no one. Dutton had already decided the claim was bogus and we weren’t to gather any kind of evidence except prints, blood, hair and fibers. That’s all we were supposed to look for and collect.”

“Swell cop work,” Starsky muttered.

“I sure hope your friend proves Hutch was drugged.” Gregson’s voice was tense as well as soft, now. “That might mitigate some of the rest of the evidence, which is pretty heavy against him.”

“Spit it out, Gregson,” Hutch snapped into the mouthpiece. “We know it’s bad, just tell us.”

“Three very not-good things, Hutch. Clancy had all the measurements and tests done twice, so he’d be sure of his pin-headed position. First, you were apparently holding the phone’s receiver when it impacted the victim’s temple. Second, the blood and skin under the woman’s fingernails are yours… and, third, the bruises around her throat are from your hands.”

“You’re sure?” Starsky barely got the words out. Hutch had mentioned the possibility of these things the night before but, until they had verification, they hadn’t wanted to dwell on it. Coming from Gregson’s mouth as facts, they fell like bricks into Starsky’s gut. And, shit! Hutch had undoubtedly been thinking about nothing but all this while Starsky was at the hospital.

“Sure as can be without actual ridges and whorls,” Gregson said. “The size of the palms, the length of the fingers… they match.”

Hutch took a deep breath. “That’s why Dutton was so compulsive when he ordered the tech to take all those measurements.”

“Yeah, Hutch,” Greg confirmed. “But I’m going to ask Shane to call you, too, because he tells me something’s not right about both the phone and the marks on her neck.”

“What does he mean, not right?” Starsky asked.

“I can’t speak for him, Starsky. I’ll have him call you! This number work?”

“Yeah. We’re here all weekend. Anything else?”

“Actually, there is.” Greg sounded really unsure of himself. “You may think I’m crazy --”

“This whole thing is crazy, Greg,” Hutch broke in. “Anything you can tell us is going to help.”

“Okay.” Hutch’s reassurance must have soothed his nerves because Greg’s tone was firmer. “What if the second something under the table was a listening device?”

Starsky exchanged a quick look and nod with his partner. “That would have allowed our perp to hear every word Hutch and Betsy said.”

“With a transmitter under there,” Hutch added, “he’d know when to trigger the device.”

“My thoughts exactly!” There was a smile in Gregson’s voice now. “And that’s not all.”

Hutch leaned closer. “We’re listening.”

“On the carpet under the table was a light dusting of some sort of really fine white powder.” Gregson was whispering now. “I’d have missed it if I hadn’t been looking under the couch before I turned my head. There it was, right in front of my nose. I almost inhaled it.”

“What do you think it could be?” Starsky asked.

“I didn’t have any idea at the time but, after I vacuumed it up, I got to thinking. It might be a residue of the gas, if there was a gas. Clancy’s never seen anything like it and our machines haven’t identified it. Doesn’t match any substance we’ve ever heard of. Clancy’s discounting it entirely; says it has nothing to do with the murder.”

“Who died and made him God?” Starsky’s instant fury wanted to erupt but Hutch put a hand on him arm. After a moment, he swallowed his rage. “Could it be military, Greg?”

“Maybe,” Gregson mused. “Or foreign. Definitely something we wouldn’t have expected to find in a private school teacher’s apartment.”

Starsky tried to keep his voice calm. “Can you get me a sample of that dust?”

“Aw, gee, Starsky…”

“In for a penny, Gregson. You’ve already done what Clancy told you not to, why not take it one more step?”

Greg sighed audibly. “How big a sample you need?”

“Only enough to take to our friend, along with Hutch’s handkerchief. Maybe she can match the powder to something in the blood.” Starsky hoped his tone had been persuasive, not coercive.

“I’ll go back in, get Shane to distract Clancy for a minute. As tired and grumpy as they both are, it shouldn’t be difficult.”

“Terrific!” Starsky couldn’t keep the grin off his face. “You’ve got a mail cubbyhole, don’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“Slip it in there and I’ll stop by as soon as I can. Thanks, Greg.”

“Don’t thank me yet, Starsky! If I get caught I’ll be out. And listen, I’m sure I don’t have to say this but please don’t let Clancy know I’ve talked to you; he’d fire my ass without a second thought. I really think he wants Hutch to go down for this and that’s just not right. Dutton’s a jerk and couldn’t find his ass with both hands at the scene. He’s not gonna be looking at anything that doesn’t conform with his pre-conceived ideas. I know you guys. All of us here in the lab do and, whether it helps or not, Clancy’s the only one who thinks Hutch is guilty.”

Hutch cocked the phone in Starsky’s hand. “It does help, Greg. Thanks!”

“You’re welcome, Hutch. I’ll ask Shane to call and explain his reservations. And I’ll leave the sample in my box, Starsky.”

Starsky hung up the phone and sprinted to the coat tree where he slipped on his holster and jacket. Turning a baleful eye on his partner, he raised his version of ‘the Hutchinson finger.’ “Do not leave. Not for any reason! If Dutton catches you out and about, he’ll haul your ass in again on general principals. And you know he’s got eyes on you.”

Hutch moved around the couch and sat down. “I failed her, Starsk.”

“Bullshit! But we’ll talk about that later.” He headed for the door. “On my way back I’ll stop at Huggy’s and pick up more grub. Any requests?”

Hutch shrugged. “Surprise me.”

It only took an hour to get down to the lab in Sunday-light traffic, then stop at Huggy’s, and get back to Venice Place. Almost as soon as Starsky had Hutch’s front door closed and locked behind him, the phone rang. He dumped the take-out bags on the coffee table and grabbed it before Hutch had a chance to fight his way out of his contemplation. “Starsky!”

“Shane O’Connell here, Starsky. Greg asked me to call you. He says Hutchinson’s there, too.”

Starsky sat down close to Hutch and shared the receiver. “He sure is. Thanks for calling. Gregson tells us you have some reservations about the evidence at the scene.”

“I do, but since I wasn’t at the autopsy, Clancy, my boss, has told me I’m not to pass my… fantasy, as he calls it, on to anyone else.” Shane’s voice was a little more forceful than Greg’s had been and it gave Starsky hope. “I thought the crime scene was so bizarre, though, I made as thorough an inspection of the victim’s injuries as I could. I even snapped a dozen Polaroids of my own, before they took her away.”

Hutch spoke for the first time. “Why bizarre?”

“Well, Clancy says the finger and handprints on the victim’s neck definitely belong to you, Hutch.”

Hutch stiffened but his voice stayed smooth. “We’re aware of that.”

“What you’re not aware of is the fact that, for me, the angle’s wrong. The pressures, as well. I noticed it at the scene and I’ve been studying my photos since I got home. The autopsy would bear me out but, if Clancy has his way, I’ll never see the report. He says we do our jobs and let the docs, detectives, and D.A. do theirs. We can’t take any part in determining what’s suspicious, or relevant, and what’s not. I’m forbidden to offer my opinions, ideas or theories to anyone unless specifically ordered.”

“But that’s exactly what Clancy’s doing, isn’t it?” Hutch asked and Starsky was pleased that his partner could be facetious at a time like this. “Deciding what’s suspicious and what isn’t?”

“Clancy’s motto has always been ‘do as I say, not as I do,’ Hutch,” Shane responded.

Starsky was already getting sick of hearing Clancy’s name. “What are your opinions, ideas and theories, Shane? The ones Clancy doesn’t want us hearing?”

“Hutch was off to Ms. Bellkey left side when she died. The most intense bruises are all located on that half of her throat, and they’re rotated toward the back of her neck, as if Hutch was kneeling beside her.” O’Connell paused and took a breath. “Now, I admit I haven’t gathered evidence at every strangulation murder in this city, but I’ve done my share, and I have never been involved in a case where the killer was beside the victim. It doesn’t make any sense, and it would be really difficult to maintain a grip like that if the woman was fighting, as the scratches on your face and hands, Hutch, seem to indicate. During the struggle - unless you were behind her, and that wasn’t the case - you and she would have had to come face to face. The bruises and prints would have been centered.”

Starsky looked at Hutch but could tell his partner didn’t understand what Shane was telling them, any more than he did. “What are you saying?”

“I admit, it may sound unreal,” Shane continued, “but this is what I visualize when I picture the scene. Especially with the evidence Greg found. I believe a third person got into that room Friday night, after Hutch and Ms. Bellkey were unconscious. Someone with really huge hands. He put his on top of Hutch’s, wrapped Hutch’s left hand around the phone, and hit the victim with it. Then he used Hutch’s hands to strangle her.” Shane took another breath. “After that, he used her fingernails to rip the shit out of Hutch.”

Starsky took a moment to digest what he’d heard. “That’s some scenario.”

“I know, but there’s this, too. Hutch, you’re right-handed, yes?”

“Correct,” Hutch said.

“Well the phone was wielded with your left hand.”

Starsky figured that had to be significant. “Really.”

“I kid you not,” O’Connell chortled. “Of course the prosecution is going to claim that, in the struggle, Hutch grabbed the instrument with his free hand and swung it. But, as we all know, aiming and delivering an incapacitating blow to a small target, such as a temple, with the wrong hand, isn’t easy. And I can’t even imagine what it would be like if one was being clawed and gouged at the same time.”

“Thanks, Shane,” Starsky told the tech. “We appreciate all this information. Plus the vote of confidence you and Gregson have given us.”

“And there’s one more thing,” O’Connell added.

“Go on,” Hutch prompted.

“Drag marks. I suspect they were made by your heels, Hutch, as the killer moved you from the couch to the foyer. I think he tried to smooth them out but they’re definitely still there.”

“And just what did Clancy say about that?” Starsky was pretty sure he knew the answer but needed to ask.

“No way to determine how long they’d been there,” Shane answered, “or what had made them. Unimportant. Forget it.”

“Should we be surprised?” Starsky muttered.

“We’re not all idiots down here, Starsky. We know you and Hutch, and we know he couldn’t have done this. If you can use what I’ve told you, and what Greg’s given you, to clear him, we’ll be happy. Clancy won’t, and that will make the rest of us ecstatic.”

“Thanks again, Shane.” Starsky had almost hung up before he heard Shane holler. He put the phone back to his and Hutch’s ears. “What was that?”

“I almost forgot. After Dutton left - and if I never have to work with that asshole again it’ll be too soon - I did what I always do at murder scenes. I checked the door locks.”

“And?” Starsky and his partner said at the same time.

“I found liquid graphite inside both the knob and dead bolt.”

“What the hell is liquid graphite?” Hutch demanded.

“Just what you might imagine,” O’Connell said. “A slick substance that allows for relatively easy lock-picking.”

Starsky checked with Hutch and got a head-shake. “We’ve never heard of it.”

“Neither have most people,” Shane replied. “It’s spy stuff.”

“What did Clancy say?” Starsky asked but, again, he already knew.

“Told me to forget it and not to put it in my report. Said it could have been there a long time. Besides, the killer was already in the apartment having coffee with the victim, so he wouldn’t have had to jimmy the locks.”

“‘Could have been there a long time,’ according to Clancy, but nobody’s ever heard of the stuff?” Starsky knew his sarcasm was showing.

“I didn’t say Clancy was intelligent, Starsky,” Shane grumbled. “I think he got where he is by guile and brown-nosing. His menial techs do the work and he decides what’s important and does all the testifying.”

“Just the kind of person we need running the crime lab,” Hutch said.

“You’re preachin’ to the choir, Hutch, but I’m with you. Good luck!” Shane cut the connection at his end.

Starsky put the phone down and slipped his arm around Hutch. “Boy am I glad Greg and Shane are on our side!”

*******

The media circus had most definitely come to town and I was happier than I could ever remember being. None of my earlier successes had generated this kind of attention. Hutchinson’s face was on every channel, the grisly facts hashed and rehashed by anchors and reporters.

I walked out to my garage, got in my car and drove to the market where I bought a copy of all the papers I could find. This was going to require a new scrapbook, one devoted to Betsy Bellkey’s demise, plus Hutchinson’s trial and incarceration.

 

MONDAY - SECOND WEEK

Although Starsky hated to leave Hutch by himself he had to get the handkerchief, and the sample Gregson had appropriated, out to Cheryl.

Hutch was sitting at the dining table, looking through all the newspapers Huggy had brought the evening before. It wasn’t pleasant reading, none of it, but they both needed to know what was being said, implied, and claimed. When Hutch was cleared, it would all be ammunition for a possible civil suit against the cops who were behind this rush to judgment.

“I’ve got a bunch of stops to make, Hutch, but I’ll be back as soon as I can.” Starsky plucked Hutch’s keys off the top of the piano. “Mind if I take your wreck?”

Hutch stared at him. “When have you ever voluntarily driven my car?”

Starsky grinned. “I don’t want Dutton finding out I was anywhere near Betsy’s apartment and the Torino is rather distinctive. Can’t imagine he wouldn’t hear about it.”

Hutch waved a hand. “Fill her up, if you get the chance.”

“Do not leave,” Starsky admonished, again. “I mean it, Hutch.”

Hutch’s eyes flashed anger but it was quickly gone and he was again concentrating on his reading. “I already said I wouldn’t Starsk. This is where I’ll be until they take me back to jail.”

“That’s not going to happen! We’ll find this turkey before then.”

“Maybe not, the way Montrose is hurrying things. Ten minutes ago Dobey told us the preliminary hearing is set for Wednesday. When have we ever known a murder case to move that fast?”

“Never. So that means I gotta get my ass in gear.” He dashed over and kissed Hutch quickly. “Later, babe.”

Starsky could tell Hutch was shoring up all his defenses against despair. That emotion would do neither one of them any good.

*******

Cheryl Jennings’ office at the university was, of course, in the chemistry building. Starsky got there early, hoping to have time to fill her in on what they needed before her first class.

Dressed in a pants suit, not a lab coat, she threw her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek before stepping back, a serious look in her eyes. “Is this about Hutch’s arrest?”

Starsky pulled the plastic bag, plus a small vial, out of his jacket pocket. “We need your help.”

She waved him to a chair and took the one beside it. “Freely given! Ask!”

Quickly, Starsky explained what he was hoping she could do for them.

She accepted the bag and looked closely at the rusty-spotted cloth inside. “Circulating blood will work to disperse a toxin. Once it’s outside the body, though, it tends to hold onto whatever it contains.” She looked up at Starsky, a gleam and determination in her eyes. “If there’s a drug or some sort of chemical on this, I’ll find it.”

Starsky handed her the vial. “This was found on the rug under the cocktail table. One of the techs thinks it could be left over from whatever put Hutch and Betsy out.”

“I’ll have my assistant analyze it right away.”

Starsky raised an eyebrow. “You have an assistant now?”

“Sure do! A lab assistant and a teaching assistant. I’ve come up in the world, Dave.”

“I’m really glad to hear that, Cheryl. No one deserves good things more than you do.”

“I’ll try to have at least preliminary results by late this afternoon. Would that be okay?”

“Whenever you can. I don’t want to put too much pressure on you but we need this a.s.a.p.”

“Go on, then! The sooner I get started, the sooner I’ll have something for you. My T.A.’s going to love taking my classes today. He says I don’t give him the chance often enough!”

“Thanks, Cheryl. I’ll check in with you later.”

*******

Dobey was in his office when Starsky got there. He knocked on the hallway door, rather than go in through the squad room because he didn’t want to encounter any of his and Hutch’s colleagues, yet. “Come in,” Dobey yelled, more quietly than usual. He had piles of folders on his desk but looked up. “Sit down, Starsky. Last night, when I talked to you, you said you had heard from two of the techs that had been at the scene. Tell me what they said. All of it.”

Starsky sat on the edge of his regular chair, feeling the emptiness of not having Hutch in the other one. With as many details as he could remember, he told Dobey everything Greg and Shane had said.

Dobey leaned back and laced his fingers across his stomach. “So, there was definitely evidence at the scene that Dutton and Clancy are ignoring. I wish that surprised me.” He shared a conspiratorial look with Starsky. “You took Hutch’s handkerchief and the powder out to Cheryl this morning?”

Starsky nodded. “Just came from there.”

“How long before she can tell us anything?”

“She said she’d try to have something by this afternoon.”

“Good. And, in the meantime?”

“I’m going to pick up Huggy and we’re going to check out potential sites where the killer could have watched Betsy. I’m thinking the building directly across the street would be a good place to start.”

Dobey opened the top file on his desk. “I didn’t hear that. As far as I know you’re buried under paperwork. Now, go on, get outta here!”

Starsky gave back the grin Dobey sent him and left. Unfortunately, instead of exiting through the hallway door, as he had intended, he went out his usual way, into the squad room. Kicking himself, he tried to soft-foot it along the files and get out before anyone noticed his presence. He didn’t make it.

Simmons looked up from his typewriter. “Hey, Starsky!”

Starsky stopped and returned the greeting. “What’s up, Sims?”

Simmons beckoned him over and his partner, Babcock, plus every detective and uniform in the room gathered. Minnie Kaplan dropped the stack of files in her arms and joined the group.

“We’re here for you, Starsky.” Simmons gestured around. “All of us. Anything you need, you won’t even have to ask.”

“Thanks, guys --”

“Don’t thank us, Starsky,” Babcock broke in. “You and Hutch would do the same for any of us.”

Minnie wormed her want to the front of the pack. “Everything we’ve read in the papers and heard on the news is bullshit, Starsky, and we know it. Where can we start to help you find the real killer, since those slugs in the Sixth apparently aren’t up to it?”

Starsky was blown away; he knew he and Hutch had friends in the precinct but he hadn’t expected this show of confidence. “I say again, thanks. I’ve got some ideas but I can’t talk about them yet. Just as soon as I can, though, I’ll ask for help.”

“We’ve all got comp time piled up,” Simmons said. “Just say the word and you’re covered.”

“I can’t tell you what this mean, fellas… and lady,” he grinned at Minnie. “I know Hutch’ll appreciate it, too.”

*******

Huggy was waiting for him on the sidewalk when Starsky got to The Pits. He piled into the passenger side of the LTD almost before Starsky had brought the car to a stop. “You put the bright red machine out to pasture, m’ brother?”

“For right now, Huggy. I don’t want Dutton hearing about my invasion of his turf. This is our subtle disguise.”

Huggy chuckled. “Never thought I’d hear you even imply a good word about this automobile.”

Starsky pulled into traffic. “Don’t tell Hutch, okay?”

“My lips are sealed.” Huggy watched the streets for a few minutes. “Where we goin’ in the Sixth?”

“The Silverton Residence Hotel.” Starsky made a sedate turn, he wasn’t about to subject the car’s suspension to more than it could handle. “It’s the building across the street from Betsy’s apartment. She knew she was being watched and, if I was the stalker, that’s the place I’d choose.”

Starsky parked half a block away from the elderly but well-maintained structure. As they walked toward the canvas awning over the entrance, Starsky pointed out Betsy’s two front windows across the street.

Once inside, Starsky showed his shield and I.D. to the man behind the counter. Without a word, the guy retreated down a hallway and came back a minute later with a cheerful gentleman. He was about five feet six inches tall, had brown hair, eyes, and mustache, and was wearing a brown suit. His smile was bright as he held out his hand. “Gordon Lyle. My desk clerk tells me you’re the police. Does this have anything to do with Friday night?”

Starsky and Huggy shook the proffered hand. “Possibly.” Starsky tilted his head toward the ceiling. “You have rooms overlooking the street, don’t you?”

“Sure do! I’ve got a vacancy at the moment, too. Second floor, front. The tenant moved out first thing Saturday morning. Said all the commotion was too much for him.”

Starsky attempted to hold down an instant surge of adrenaline. Beside him, Huggy tensed as well.

The manager didn’t seem to notice and didn’t wait to be asked. “Come on, I’ll show you!”

He led the way through the gracefully aging lobby, to the old but serviceable elevator where they rose to the second floor. The manager took a pass key out of his pocket and opened the door to #21. Standing out of the way, he ushered Starsky and Huggy inside before following them. “It’s not much, but it’s clean.”

Starsky didn’t move and Huggy waited silently beside him. Starsky turned in a slow circle, studying the space. There were two closed doors - almost certainly a closet and bathroom - a small kitchenette, a double bed, one window, a small desk next to the bed, and a dresser. An armchair with a floor lamp sat in a corner. When he finished his survey, he turned to the manager. “How long had he been here?”

“Almost three weeks,” Lyle replied. “No problems with him. Left the place spic and span, even the kitchen, and that’s unusual.”

“What’d he look like?”

Lyle shrugged. “Like anybody, I guess. About your height, Detective, brown hair, not long, not short. Brown eyes, I think, but I’m not sure. Maybe hazel. I think he was clean-shaven but, if you made me swear to it, I couldn’t. Never really looked at him close.” Lyle was suddenly uncomfortable. “Not after I saw his hands.”

Another surge of adrenaline shot through Starsky’s veins. “His hands?”

The manager lifted his own and spread his fingers. “His were half again larger than mine. Kept them stuffed in his pockets most of the time because I imagine he gets stared at if people notice them. Almost looked like some giant’s appendages had been grafted onto his arms. Those were big, too. Guess they’d have to be to control those massive hands.”

Starsky hadn’t told Huggy about Shane’s information yet, so the manager’s revelation didn’t mean anything to the Bear. Starsky stuck out his own hand and Lyle shook it. “Can you give us a few minutes in here, Mr. Lyle? We’ll stop by your office when we’re finished. Please write down his name and address, license plate number, and a forwarding, if you have one?”

“Can’t give you all that, Detective,” Lyle said. “He didn’t have a car. Which surprised me a little when he checked in because of his suitcase. It was awfully big, like some I’ve seen at the airport when people are going out of the country for a couple of months. Since it had wheels, though, it must not have been too much of a problem.”

Starsky was confused. “I thought you said he was only here for three weeks. Why would he need a European-vacation-size suitcase?”

Lyle’s face lit up. “My cleaning lady said he had a big ol’ computer on the desk. Maybe the case was for that, plus a few clothes.”

“Yeah, maybe.” It didn’t sit right with Starsky.

Something was bothering Huggy, too. “I thought everybody in this town had at least one car. If he was from out of town, he’d have a rental.”

“My tenant was your second choice,” Lyle told Huggy. “The address he gave me, if I remember correctly, is in San Diego. He went everywhere by shank’s mare or bus while he was here.” Lyle shook his head. “So I didn’t get to charge extra for parking.”

Starsky needed to get started on the room. “Okay, thanks, Mr. Lyle. We’ll be down in a few minutes to pick up whatever you have for us.”

“Sure thing, fellas. Take all the time you need. I’ll have the information ready for you.” He turned and left.

After he heard the elevator start down, Starsky let out a whoop. “Huge hands, Huggy! One of the techs who called yesterday told us the killer has really large hands. This is the guy! I know it!”

Huggy moved to the window. “And he had a computer. Not many people have one of those for their own personal use. Good for finding stuff out, tracking people down.” He lowered the shade and ran his slim fingers up under the roller.

Starsky joined him. “What’re you doing?”

“A place to hide paper,” Huggy said. “Thought if he was in a hurry to leave, he mighta forgot somethin’.”

“That’s a little trick I never knew, Hug. Thanks!” Starsky dropped his gaze to the carpet.

“Lookahere, Starsky! There’s a hole in the shade that gives a great view of Ms. Bellkey’s windows.”

Starsky looked through the aperture before dropping to his knees. “Three impressions in a triangle here.”

“A tripod, m’man,” Huggy crowed. “A spotting scope or monocular mounted on a stable platform.”

“Monocular?”

“One magnifying lens, not two. Didn’t the army have those in ‘Nam?”

Starsky shook his head; sometimes Huggy’s fount of information amazed him. “Scopes on our rifles, that’s what we had.” He stood up and studied the single hole in the shade. “There’s residue. Probably from duct tape.”

“Sure. He wouldn’t want light showing through a great big hole in his shade at night. Kept it rolled up during the day ‘cause, otherwise, the cleaning lady might have noticed.”

“We need to find that tape, Hug. His prints could be on it.” Starsky headed for the door, Huggy right on his heels.

Downstairs in Lyle’s office, the manager handed Starsky a three by five card. “That’s what I have, Detective.”

Starsky read the printing. “Ralph Majors, three-three-five-seven Ocean View, San Diego, CA.” He glanced at Lyle. “No zip code, no phone.”

“I don’t require those. He paid cash, in advance, for each of the weeks he was here, so I don’t have credit card information, either. And since he didn’t have a car, I can’t give you a license plate number.”

Starsky stuck the card in his shirt pocket. “This is good, Mr. Lyle. We have a name now, at least. Would you be willing to come down to the station and work with an artist?”

“I don’t know, Detective, I’m not very good with faces.”

“You’d be surprised what Neal can help you remember.” Starsky tried to sound convincing without being pushy.

“You think my tenant could be your killer?” Lyle appeared both intrigued and apprehensive. “He watched her from that room upstairs?”

“It’s possible.” Starsky waited, giving the manager all the time he needed.

“All right.” He didn’t sound very happy but he agreed. “I’ll come down as soon as Glenda, my cleaning lady, leaves.”

“Thanks, Mr. Lyle. I’ll tell Neal to wait for you.” Starsky put a hand on the manager’s arm. “And, since it is possible the killer was in that room, could I ask you to keep everybody out until I can figure out an official reason to get a crime scene crew in there?”

“How long might that take, Detective?”

“I honestly don’t know, sir. You see, I’m not part of the investigation.”

Lyle appraised him. “That’s because you seem to know what you’re doing and, from what I’ve seen on television, I’m sure you’d cramp Detective Dutton’s style no end. Yes, of course. No one will enter that room again until you give me the word. I have nearly a full house right now and can afford to lose a week or two’s rent on twenty-one.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Don’t mention it, Detective. Civic duty and all that.”

Starsky shook himself, mentally. With all the scum of the earth he and Hutch had to deal with it was easy to forget that there were lots and lots of good, honest, helpful people in the world. He definitely wanted to remember to tell Hutch about this one.

Yanking his thoughts back to the present, he addressed the manager again. “Now we’re looking for something he may have left behind. How do your residents dispose of their trash?”

Lyle brightened. “Oh, that’s easy. We provide white can liners for the wastebaskets. Tenants either bring them down and throw them in my Dumpster out back, or Glenda does, once a week.”

Starsky’s stomach clinched. “Has the Dumpster been emptied since Saturday morning?”

The manager was clearly pleased he could offer good news. “No, sir! That happens on Wednesday. Let’s go take a look. I’ll recognize his bag because he used his own and it was black with green ties.”

Out in the alley, the Dumpster provided Ralph Majors’ trash bag without anyone having to do any diving; it was almost on top at the left hand side.

Starsky pulled the black plastic sack out and turned, grabbing the manager’s hand. “Thank you, Mr. Lyle. You’ve been a terrific help!”

“Glad to be of service, Detective.” As Starsky and Huggy headed inside, Lyle stopped them. “Hey! How come Detective Dutton hasn’t been around asking these questions?”

Huggy quickly put a hand on Starsky’s arm, stopping the scathing remark Starsky was about to make. “That’s because Detective Dutton’s focus is elsewhere, sir.” He stuck his hand out and shook Lyle’s, before slinging an arm around Starsky’s shoulders and hurrying him through the building, past the mute clerk.

When they reached the LTD, Starsky popped the trunk and set the bag inside before he released his anger in a long breath. “‘Elsewhere,’ huh? Good one, Hug!”

Huggy shrugged. “Best I could do on short notice.”

Starsky stared up at the second floor window. “I can’t bring a crew in here to scour the room, so let’s find that piece of tape!”

Starsky unknotted the tie and dumped the contents into the trunk. Within minutes, they uncovered the wadded up silver adhesive amid take-out food cartons and frozen dinner trays; all of them with deliberately smeared fingerprints. Evidently, the perp didn't take any chances. As a bonus, there was no wet garbage. Starsky handed the vital piece of evidence to Huggy and stuffed the rest of the killer’s trash back in the bag. Later, he’d search it thoroughly for receipts, jotted phone numbers - anything Majors might have discarded.”

Sliding behind the wheel, with Huggy climbing in on the passenger side, Starsky picked up the radio’s mic and keyed it. “Zebra Three to control.”

“Go ahead, Zebra Three,” came through static.

“I need wants and warrants on a Ralph Majors, three-three-five-seven Ocean View, San Diego.”

“Stand by, Zebra Three,” the voice said.

Starsky and Huggy waited silently.

“Zebra Three,” the voice came back, “no wants or warrants on Ralph Majors and the address doesn’t exist.”

“Thanks.” Starsky clicked off and hung up the mic. “That would have been much too easy anyway. Name’s probably phony, too, but I’ll ask Minnie to check.” He turned to Huggy. “The sonavabitch was right there, Hug, the whole time. He watched her for two weeks. After Hutch and I showed up, he probably decided to make one of us the fall guy.”

“Awful slick, brother. You figure he’s done this sort of thing before?”

“Oh, yeah. This wasn’t a first kill. He was letter perfect. If I was one of the cops who responded to the scene, and didn’t know Hutch, I’d have bought the whole thing.”

“But you wouldn’t have forgotten to look for other possibilities. And deliberately ignored evidence presented to you.”

“I like to think I wouldn’t have, but…”

Huggy shook his head firmly. “You wouldn’t.”

Starsky dropped into ‘what if’ thinking until Huggy broke the silence. “Do we take this to Dutton?”

“Not on your life. He’d just come up with a reason to bury it. We’ll take it to Cheryl. She may know of someone who can check it for prints.”

“Would they be admissible?”

Starsky shrugged. “No. But we’ll use them to find the bastard. Confessions are admissible.”

“Oh, yeah.”

Starsky fired up the engine and hurried to the university. Cheryl was just coming out of her lab when they walked toward her office. She ushered them inside. “You remember Huggy Bear don’t you, Cheryl?”

She held out her hand and Huggy bowed over it. She blushed and covered her mouth with her other hand. “We’ve never met but I know who you are, Mr. Bear.”

Huggy showered her with one of his dazzling smiles. “Just Huggy, fair lady, just Huggy.”

She motioned then to seats. “What have you got for me now, Dave?”

Starsky gestured for Huggy to hand her the ball of tape. “We found the killer’s hiding place across the street from Betsy and Myra’s. He’d been watching them for two weeks. For the final four nights, Hutch and I were part of the play he was writing.” He gestured to Huggy. “My very good friend, here, discovered the hole the perp had cut in the window shade.”

“I figure he was using some sort of spotting scope,” Huggy explained.

“There was tape residue around the hole that led us to his trash.” Starsky nodded to the object in Cheryl’s hand. “The manager helped us find that.”

“You think his fingerprints are inside?” she asked.

“That’s my fondest wish at the moment,” Starsky admitted. “I know this is out of your field of expertise, Cheryl, but do you know anyone who can check it out for us? If his prints are on it, we need them. But we can’t do this through official channels.”

Cheryl went behind her desk and flipped through her Rolodex. “I have a friend in Sacramento. I’ll UPS this up to her, overnight. She’ll do it for me, under the radar. After that, though, you’re on your own. I don’t know how you’ll be able to check anything she might find against databases without a case number.”

“We’ll worry about that when we have to,” Starsky told her. “Let’s find out if there are any prints first. We’ve got a name, although it could be as bogus as the address we have. If we get his fingerprints that’ll give us his real identify.”

Cheryl laid an index card on her desk and placed the tape on top before looking up at Starsky again. “Now let me tell you what we’ve discovered about the powder, and Hutch’s blood.”

Starsky and Huggy sat forward as she came back to the chair next to them.

“I’ve never seen this compound before, Dave,” she began. “None of us here has. It might be something the DOD’s come up with but I haven’t heard a whisper.”

“And Hutch’s blood?” Starsky was hardly daring to breathe.

“It’s a good thing you got the handkerchief to me when you did. The same compound’s there, too, but I suspect it wouldn’t have been detectable for long. The stuff, whatever it is, dissipated as we worked with it.”

Starsky knew things were beginning to fall into place but he was very much afraid Hutch could be running out of time.

*******

Just before shift change that afternoon, Starsky was filling Dobey in on his day’s activities when Neal knocked and stuck his head in the door. Dobey waved him inside.

The sketch artist handed Starsky a sheet of paper. Starsky looked at it briefly before handing it to Dobey with a shake of his head.

“I know, Starsky.” Neal’s expression was glum. “It’s not gonna be much help.”

“This could be anybody!” Dobey roared.

“Yes, sir, I realize that.” Neal shrugged. “The more I pushed the more Mr. Lyle vacillated. I think he found the hands so disturbing he never really looked at the face.”

Dobey came around the desk and patted the artist’s shoulder. “Not your fault, you did the best you could. We’ll try to find someone else with a better memory.” He opened the hallway door and closed it behind Neal.

Starsky studied the image that, literally, could have been almost any male person. “I’ll bet he counts on the fact that his face is ordinary. He blends in and he knows it.”

“Except for his hands,” Dobey pointed out.

Starsky let out the breath he’d unconsciously been holding. “Yeah, except for those.”

Dobey reached for the sketch. “We’ll keep this in reserve.”

*******

Starsky, Hutch, Dobey and McLaughlin sat around the dining table that night, finishing off the ribs Dobey had picked up on his way over.

McLaughlin wiped sauce off his fingers and addressed the elephant in the room. “We can’t say anything about the powder or tape under the table.”

“Or the liquid graphite,” Hutch added.

“Not the drag marks, either,” Starsky said.

“That’s right.” The lawyer scooped up a forkful of baked beans. “We’re not supposed to know about any of those things. We’d ruin two good, honorable techs’ lives if we did.”

Starsky ate the last bite of a corn muffin. “I can ask Gordon Lyle if he’d be willing to contact the D.A. about what Huggy and I found in the room; things he could say his cleaning lady discovered.”

“Styles wouldn’t want to hear about that, Starsk,” Hutch said. “Besides, we need Lyle to testify for our side.”

Starsky turned to McLaughlin. “If the judge allowed you to put him on the stand, he could describe the perfect location for a stalker, talk about the hole in the shade and the marks in the rug.”

McLaughlin made a note on his legal pad. “That’s a good idea.” He looked around the table. “What we really need, of course, is the man with huge hands.”

“Cap…” Starsky waited until he had Dobey’s attention. “I think we ought to keep the size of the hands to ourselves for now.”

Dobey was plainly surprised. “They’re his most distinguishing features! We need to get that information around.”

Starsky nodded. “To our own people, yes sir. But if we let the newspaper or TV reporters get a sniff, and they broadcast or publish it, he’ll split. We’ll never find him.”

Dobey sat back. “You’re right. We’ll make sure everyone working it from our side knows, but no one else. For now.”

“Thanks, Captain.”

*******

Making love with Hutch that night, Starsky wished his partner would just take his pleasure and not ask permission. Starsky wanted to submit utterly and be a receptacle for every emotion Hutch might dump on him. Instead, Hutch was like a soft, pliant sponge, soaking up all the kindness, tenderness and soothing kisses Starsky lavished on him while not actively participating. He stroked a rigid arm. “This isn’t like you, Hutch.”

“I’m sorry, Starsk.”

“Oh, shit, don’t apologize. That’s the last thing I want to hear. Be pissed. Hell, hit me, if it’ll do any good.”

Hutch threw himself out of bed and stood at the window. “I am pissed! And staying angry, not giving in to my fear, may be the only thing that’s going to get us through this. But I could never deliberately hurt you.”

“Hmmm. I remember a sore jaw after I had to tell you Gillian was a hooker.”

Hutch’s shoulders slumped. “That was different, Starsk. That was --”

“I know.” Starsky slipped his robe on and draped Hutch’s over the tense shoulders. “Hitting me was just a stupid suggestion.” He put his arms around Hutch’s waist and rested his forehead between the stiff shoulder blades. “Myra called, huh? While I was out?”

“Yes. The memorial’s tomorrow at two.”

“They released the body?”

“No. Myra will have it cremated when they do and scatter the ashes herself. She mentioned something about Big Bear. She decided to have the service tomorrow, though. I got the impression she wanted to try to counteract the news reports. I tried to talk her out of it but she said Betsy would want her to. Expect her to.”

Starsky shuddered. “She’d do that for us?”

Hutch turned in Starsky’s arms. “I’m not sure I’m up to fending off the looks we might get.”

“We’ll stare them down, Hutch. You’re not guilty and we won’t let them make you feel like you are!”

“What if Dutton shows up?”

“Like I said before, fuck Dutton!”

Hutch kissed him lightly. “May I watch?”

“Front row seat, love. That’s a promise.” Starsky dropped his robe on the floor and got back in bed. He was pleased when Hutch joined him. Starsky pulled the still-tense body into his arms and pillowed the blond head on his chest. “So, what were you thinking about all day?”

Hutch wrapped his arms around Starsky and let out a deep breath. “I keep coming back to my second reason.”

Starsky ran the conversation he knew Hutch was referring to through his mind. “You mean you think she was a protected witness.”

“It would fit. She couldn’t tell anyone - that’s the first rule, as I understand it, for the program. A person has to sever all ties with their families, everyone they’ve ever known, forever.”

“But somehow, someone she testified against, found her.” Starsky buried his face in Hutch’s silky hair. “You are definitely the brains of this partnership! It fits everything we know, and every cop sense I’ve got tells me you’re right.”

“I’ve had a lot of time to think, Starsk, ever since Friday night.”

“We’ll tell Dobey first thing in the morning! He’s bound to know someone in the Marshal’s Service we can talk to.”

“I wouldn’t count on that. I’m pretty sure the Protected Witness Program doesn’t let information about its participants get out to just anyone. It has to be pretty damn secure for it to work.”

“We’ll find someone, now that we know where to look.” He rolled on top of Hutch and kissed him deeply. “I knew you had the key, babe. I just knew it!”

 

TUESDAY - SECOND WEEK

Dobey knocked lightly on their door early the next morning. Hutch already had a pot of coffee brewed and they all sat around the table, drinking, and eating the muffins Edith had baked and sent along.

Between bites, Dobey started with what he probably thought would be a bombshell. “Dutton can’t find Betsy’s next of kin. Except for her years at the Barclay Academy, he can’t find her at all!”

Hutch exchanged a quick look with his partner before nodding at Dobey. “It’s one of the things Starsky and I talked about the first night after we met her.”

Dobey was apparently lost. “What was?”

“We think she might have been a federally protected witness.” Hutch dropped the idea softly and waited for Dobey’s reaction.

Dobey put his cup down and his eyes lost focus for a moment before understanding crept into them. “Well, now…”

“It fits, doesn’t it?” Starsky asked.

“It certainly does.” Dobey grabbed another muffin.

Hutch reached for his first and broke off a piece. “Anybody you know at the Marshal’s Service, Captain?”

Dobey was silent for a few seconds. “I had a friend, long time ago, who was with the Justice Department. Went to D.C. before I teamed up with Elmo. I’ll find someone here in town who remembers him, see if I can get a current number. But don’t hold your breath. Every person who goes into that program disappears, becomes someone new, and that information is a highly guarded secret, as I understand. It’s part of the Marshal’s Service but anyone we try to talk to there may not be very forthcoming.”

“Betsy’s dead, Cap’n,” Starsky pointed out. “Murdered! They should be willing to help us.”

“Unless they read the newspapers and figure the guilty party has already been identified.” Dobey hadn’t looked at Hutch when he said it.

Hutch swallowed a bite of muffin, his stomach clinching. “Yeah. That’s certainly a possibility.”

Dobey pulled a small notebook out of his pocket and scanned his scribbles. “I sent Simmons and Babcock to the Arena yesterday and they found the guy…” he flipped a page, “Aaron Burgess, who had the tickets delivered to Myra last Thursday morning.”

“Did he say why?” Hutch asked.

“As a favor to someone named Randy Moseler. He’s never actually met the man, just sends tickets to people Moseler tells him to, once in a while. He figures Moseler has connections. Simmons ran the name but it’s fake.”

Hutch glanced at Starsky. “Randy Moseler, Ralph Majors.”

Starsky silently agreed. “Lots of perps keep the same initials.”

“That’s what I thought.” Dobey wiped his mouth and got up. “So I’ve asked Simmons and Babcock to keep on both names when they have time, see if they can find anything on either one.”

Hutch got up. “Thanks, Captain.”

“Don’t say it yet, Hutchinson. We have a long way to go but we’re closer than Montrose and Dutton! I’ll accept your thanks when we have Randy Moseler, Ralph Majors, or whoever he is, in custody!”

*******

It wasn’t long after Dobey left that the phone rang again. Starsky answered, in case it was another reporter. “Starsky!”

“Jerry Dupree here. I’m the manager at the store you and your partner seem to like for your veggies.”

“Sure, Jerry, we remember.” Starsky motioned Hutch over to listen. “What can we do for you? Have any fresh shitakes this morning?”

“Of course, but that’s not why I called.”

“Hi, Jerry, this is Hutch. How can we help?”

“Maybe it’s me who can help you, Hutch. I’d like to talk but not over the phone.”

“You’re there at the store now?” Starsky glanced at his watch.

“Yes, I am. It’s a bit slow today and I’m hoping my clerks can give us enough time for me to give you the information I have.”

“I’ll be right there,” Starsky said.

We’ll be right there, Jerry!” Hutch took the receiver and hung it up before facing Starsky’s ire. “I can’t stay cooped up here all the time, Starsk. I need to go with you!”

Starsky knew there were good arguments against it but also knew his partner was right: being confined to his apartment was giving Hutch entirely too much time to mire himself down in worry and recriminations; he needed to get out!

Starsky parked the Torino in front of the store and they found Jerry waiting for them in a rear corner, near the wide variety of exotic produce.

Without a word, Jerry held his hand out to Hutch. “I don’t believe everything I read in the papers, and I don’t trust the networks. I know you didn’t kill her so let’s move on from there.” Hutch shook the offering and Jerry held on, staring down at the clasp. “You’ve got big hands, but the guy I’m going to tell you about has bigger ones.” Jerry let go.

Starsky glanced at his partner before drilling Jerry with intensity. “He’s been in your store?”

“Many times over the last few weeks, only bought shelled, salted peanuts. And I haven’t seen him since last Thursday, the day before Betsy was killed. He wasn’t here when the three of you were on Friday.”

“What made you think of all this, Jerry?” Starsky asked.

“My delivery boy, Clem, and I were talking yesterday, about everything we’re hearing and reading. That’s when I realized every time I noticed the guy, Betsy was here, too. I just wish I’d had that revelation sooner. She might still be alive.”

“Don’t do that to yourself, Jerry,” Hutch said. “Help us find him and put him away.”

“Do you know his name?” Starsky dug in his pockets for paper and pencil.

Jerry shook his head. “No. But Clem walked home with Betsy one day, carrying the extra bag she couldn’t manage. When he came out of her building, he noticed Big Hands going into the Silverton Hotel. Clem and I figure he could have been using that place to watch her, when he wasn’t following her to and from here.”

Hutch put a hand on Jerry’s arm. “Would you be willing…?”

Before he could finish, Dutton burst through the front door and made a beeline toward them, his partner trailing behind. “I told you two to stay out of my investigation!”

Jerry rounded on the detective. “As far as anyone who’s paying attention can see, Detective Dutton, you aren’t doing any investigating at all.” He gestured at Starsky and Hutch. “My customers are here to do a little shopping.”

Dutton’s face was so red, Starsky was marginally concerned about a coronary. Casually, he turned to the display of produce behind him, selected a dozen shitake mushrooms, dropped them in a paper bag and held the bag under Dutton’s nose. “Shopping.”

With a smile, Hutch took the sack and headed toward the cashier. “I’ll get this, Starsk. Detective Dutton doesn’t want me in his field of view. You talk to him for a minute and then we’ll go back to my place.” He waved a hand over his shoulder. “Always a pleasure, Detective.”

“I forbid you to go to that service today, Hutchinson!” Dutton shouted.

Starsky could have sworn smoke was issuing from Dutton’s ears as Hutch strolled away and he simply could not resist adding to the prick’s irritation. “Going to the memorial this afternoon is what a good cop would do, Dutton, just to see if the perp shows up. But since you’re already convinced my partner killed her, I’ll save you the trouble. Yes, Hutch and I will be there. And you have no authority to dictate where my partner can and can’t go while he’s out on bail. Except back to the crime scene, of course.”

At a loss for any comeback, Dutton stalked away, his silent buddy again bringing up the rear.

Starsky turned to Jerry. “Thanks for calling. We really appreciate your help. And, as Hutch started to ask, could you come down to the station later? Work with our sketch artist?”

“Sure. How about after the service?”

“That’d be great! I’ll ask him to wait for you.”

Jerry watched Dutton climb in his car at the curb before turning back to Starsky. “Listen, if this nonsense goes to trial, I’d be happy to testify. Until you find Huge Hands, it might help you cast the needed shadow of a doubt.”

“We’ll definitely keep that in mind, Jerry. Thanks for the offer. And, in the meantime, could I ask you, please, not to mention the hands to anyone? Clem, too?”

Jerry thought about it for a moment. “You’re thinking he’ll run if he finds out we’re looking for those.”

Starsky was grateful for the manager’s quickness. “Yeah, that’s what I’m afraid of.”

“Sure, no problem. Listen, I’m closing the store so that all my people can go to the service. We’ll see you there, right?”

“You bet.”

*******

Myra had reserved the largest room in the funeral home for the memorial and the place was packed!

Hutch and Starsky stood with Myra next to an easel which held a photo of Betsy. Myra had tears in her eyes but they weren’t falling. Many people Hutch assumed were colleagues from the Barclay Academy approached to offer their sympathy but a few, mostly grim-faced women, angled off at the last moment.

Students had no such reservations. They crowded around, their voices subdued, as was appropriate, exuding compassion and support as they talked to Myra. She seemed to absorb their positive vibes and grow stronger.

Before the service itself could begin, Dutton thrust his bullish way through the crowd. He walked up to Hutch and stood toe to toe with him. “I thought I made myself clear, Hutchinson, you were not to show up here!”

“He was invited.” Myra’s voice was controlled but carried over all the conversations in the room. Talk quieted and everyone turned to observe and listen. “It’s you are aren’t welcome. This is a private service and I want you to leave.” When Dutton didn’t move right away, she raised a hand toward a uniformed security guard at the door. “Do I need to have you physically removed? Because I will.”

Dutton waited another ten seconds but, when Myra showed no signs of changing her mind, he left.

Myra shuddered. “That’s the first time I’ve met him. He didn’t visit the hospital and didn’t call me to come to his station house for an interview. He wasn’t within three feet of me just now but, for some reason, I feel as if I need to take a bath.”

Hutch was surprised. “He didn’t show up at the hospital for an interview?”

Myra shook her head. “No, he didn’t.” She took a deep breath, scanning the faces of her friends, colleagues, and students. Straightening to her full five-foot-nothing, she addressed the gathering. “I notice some of you casting surreptitious glances at my friends, Ken Hutchinson and Dave Starsky, as if you believe what you read in the newspapers and hear on television.”

She took one of Hutch’s hands and one of Starskys before moving to the center of the room. “Marvin? Will you please being me Betsy’s portrait?”

A young man, plainly one of her students, darted to the easel. Reverently, he lifted the frame and brought it to Myra, before stepping back into the circle of people surrounding her, Hutch and Starsky.

“Thank you.” She held the photograph to her chest, Betsy’s smiling eyes looking into those of the guests. “Willa Beth Bellkey was the best friend anyone could ever have. I’d known her for almost twenty years and every day was an adventure, an experience, and a pleasure.”

She nodded to Hutch on her left, and Starsky, before continuing. “We met these gentlemen just over one week ago and they both became immediate friends. Now, if you believe what you’ve read and seen, please leave. There is no room for you here when every one of the rest of us will be remembering Betsy with love, regret, and hope for her eternal rest.”

She looked around again. Some of the faces appeared embarrassed but a few held decidedly unconvinced expressions. Without seeming to, she singled each of them out with her stare. “Ken Hutchinson did not kill Betsy Bellkey. I know this as surely as we’re all standing here. He and his partner are doing their best to find the man who did, and bring him to justice. If you can help in any way, please stay and do so. If you are still of the mistaken opinion that the officer who was just here is right, I’ll say this one more time. Please leave.”

Four people did. The rest assumed varying degrees of smiles and stayed.

After the service was over, Myra shook the hand of every attendee, Hutch and Starsky at her side but taking no part in the greetings. When the last person had left, she collapsed on a chair. Hutch sat on her right, Starsky on her left.

Starsky reached for her hand. “You are one courageous lady.”

She smiled sadly and the tears began to flow, slowly, softly, unchecked. Without waiting for them to stop, she took Hutch’s hand and held it, too, not looking at either of them. “I have something to tell you.”

One tortured word at a time, Myra told them that Betsy had helped the FBI clean up a corrupt East Coast teachers union. However, she had received so many death threats, and one attempt on her life, the feds had decided, after her testimony was complete, that a new program the Department of Justice was in the process of setting up was the only option.

Betsy had moved to California where her manufactured credentials and genuine skills had resulted in a position at the Barclay Academy. Myra had been hired the following year and they have become close friends.

The tears slowed and Myra dug tissues out of her pocket. “We never even considered taking our relationship further until the winter, two years later, when we vacationed in Big Bear and got lost in a blizzard. We thought we might die and declaring our love suddenly became more important than living.”

Hutch and Starsky stared at each other: much more in common than they’d realized.

“We were rescued by the ski patrol and spent the night in the local clinic, defrosting, and talking ourselves hoarse. That’s when she told me her history. She said she needed to be honest with me about potential dangers that might, one day, crawl out of the woodwork. We’ve never kept a secret from each other since. But don’t ask me for details because I know nothing about the program, itself. I haven’t had any contact with anyone, wouldn’t know them if I fell over them.”

“No one from there ever contacted Betsy?” Hutch asked.

“No, and she never asked them for anything. We made good salaries, had our wonderful apartment, our terrific lives - we never thought about them at all, after she told me her story. Not once did the subject come up.”

“It didn’t occur to either of you that her suspicions about a watcher could have anything to do with her being a protected witness?” Starsky asked.

Myra shook her head. “No. It had been so long. In all our talking about what she sensed, we didn’t think of it. Only when I was in the hospital that night did the possibility present itself. I should have told you, Dave, when you came to visit, but I wasn’t tracking very well that day.”

Starsky squeezed her hand. “We understand. We know now, though, and we’ll dig until we find the person who got into the system and found her.”

She wiped the last of the tears and blew her nose. “If she’d told you the first night you came over, do you think she might still be alive?”

Hutch put his arms around her. “We’ll never know. The best any of us can do is go on from here.”

She pulled away and sat up straight. “You’re right, of course. Thank you.” She took another deep breath. “Thank you, both, for coming today. I’m not sure I could have gotten through it without you.”

Hutch leaned over and kissed her cheek. “I can’t tell you what your speech did for me, Myra. It felt like you lifted a ton of weight off my shoulders.”

“I’m glad.” She started to get up but paused. “One more thing. When I went to the apartment this morning, to get my dress for this afternoon, I noticed that there’s a photograph missing.”

“A photograph?” Starsky’s tone was tense.

Myra folded her hands in her lap. “The one of Betsy and me.”

“It sat on the right end table in the living room?” Hutch glanced at Starsky and got a nod of memory. “In a silver frame.”

“Yes.“ Tears were back in her eyes. “In all the years we’ve been together, it’s the only one we ever kept. And now it’s gone.”

“Souvenir,” Starsky said and Hutch knew he was right.

*******

That night, Hutch insisted that Starsky clip and pull the two stitches above his eye. "If I end up back in jail tomorrow, I don't want anyone there having a reason to touch me. Do it now, okay?"

Starsky wasn't able to refuse. Afterward, they thoroughly wore each other out but Starsky could tell Hutch wasn’t ready for sleep. “Did I tell you? When I checked back in with Dobey, he said Jerry’s sketch wasn’t much better than Mr. Lyle’s.”

“How can this guy be invisible, Starsky? He lived across the street from Betsy for three weeks and the people he did business with can’t remember what his face looked like?”

“You just said it, Hutch. What his face looked like. Neal mentioned it after he gave Dobey and me Lyle’s sketch. Neal thinks, after they spot his hands, people don’t see anything else.”

Hutch sighed deeply. “Could be, I suppose.”

With his partner a little more settled, Starsky pressed his lips to the furrow between Hutch’s eyebrows. “Should we call your parents?”

Hutch reacted like he’d been hit with a cattle prod. He bolted upright and stared at Starsky. “No!” When Starsky only gave him a rueful smile, Hutch fell back into his arms, shaking his head. “Sorry, didn’t mean to react like that.” He snuggled. “If the worst happens, you can call, but not until. My conviction will give them the perfect excuse to disinherit me.”

Starsky didn’t like it but he had to accept his partner’s decision. Damn the elder Hutchinsons anyway!

 

WEDNESDAY - SECOND WEEK

At ten a.m., the preliminary hearing was convened. Hutch had tried to prepare himself but, sitting next to McLaughlin at the defense table and watching the D.A., Martin Styles, stand behind the prosecution table arranging evidence folders, with Dutton, a smug smile on his face, beside him, Hutch knew he wasn’t ready. The rest of his life was going to be decided in the next few weeks and he would have no say in the matter. The best he could do was encase himself in his innocence, beat back his fears, and be patient while his partner and Dobey found the killer.

Dobey and Starsky had vowed, that morning, that they’d be turning over every rock in their efforts to find the elusive Ralph Majors; Hutch was not to give up! Smiling inwardly at his partner’s and captain’s words, Hutch vowed he’d use this experience as a lesson in how to be a really bad cop. Dutton was giving him all the examples he’d ever need.

It hadn’t surprised Hutch when the District Attorney, himself, arrived in the courtroom. It was an election year, after all, and he was apparently not about to miss the opportunity to prosecute the case. His critics had been unkind in their evaluation of his tendency to make too many deals and not try cases that might not result in convictions. This was Styles’ chance to step up to the plate and hit a home run! Or more sports-appropriately, run down the court and execute a slam-dunk!

Thirty minutes was all it took for Clancy to present the reports detailing skin and blood under the victim’s fingernails that matched the injuries to Hutch’s face and hands, as well as his blood profile. The photographs that showed the bruises on her neck that appeared to match Hutch’s fingers and hands were presented almost as an after thought. Clancy relished every word of his testimony.

Hutch couldn’t remember breathing during the presentation. When the judge declared that there was sufficient cause to have the defendant bound over, Hutch felt a jolt of near-relief. At least he wouldn’t have to wait any longer for that decision.

“Your Honor…” Styles rose to his feet. “I request the earliest possible trial date be set.”

Judge Mendelssohn shot Styles a surprised look. “What’s your hurry, Counselor? Can’t wait to show everyone what a skilled prosecutor you are?”

“With that remark, Your Honor,” Styles stated, haughtily, “I also request a different justice be assigned to this trial.”

Mendelssohn huffed. “Request away, Mr. District Attorney, that isn’t going to happen. You drew me, you’re stuck with me.” Styles sat down as the judge flipped a page on his calendar. “Next Wednesday, ten a.m. Jury selection.” He shifted his gaze to McLaughlin. “Can you be ready, Counselor?”

McLaughlin stood up. “Perhaps, Your Honor, but I have a request of my own to make.”

The judge didn’t look pleased. “And that is?”

“A change of venue.” McLaughlin cast a disparaging glance at the prosecution table. “As you undoubtedly know, Your Honor, Detective Dutton has been publicly spouting his certainty that my client is guilty. I don’t believe we’ll be able to seat an unbiased jury.”

The judge was less pleased now and stared at Styles. “The defense counsel has a valid point, Mr. Styles. You will instruct your detective to keep his mouth shut from this moment on. Am I clear?”

Styles nodded, his aplomb somewhat shaken. Red-faced, Dutton fumed.

Mendelssohn turned back to McLaughlin. “We have a large jury pool, Counselor. I’m sure we can find twelve people able to put whatever they may have read or heard aside and listen to the evidence with an open mind.”

“Your Honor, I’m not willing to risk my client’s --”

The judge raised his hand, cutting McLaughlin off in mid-word. “If it turns out I’m mistaken, and a panel, plus alternates, can’t be seated, I’ll grant your request. Now, can you be ready next week?”

“This new definition of a speedy trial is a bit unseemly, don’t you think, Your Honor?” McLaughlin was plainly trying every card in his deck.

“I’ll admit it is unusual, but as I have an opening in seven days and my calendar is not generally so accommodating, I have no choice but to acquiesce to Mr. Styles’ request. I ask again, can you be ready?”

“The D.A.’s office hasn’t even provided us with a copy of the crime lab’s report yet, Your Honor.” McLaughlin stared at Styles as he continued. “And samples. We’ll require our own samples for independent testing!”

The judge’s eyes turned positively steely as he glared, now, at the D.A. “You will provide defense counsel with everything he needs immediately, if not sooner. In your race to obtain a guilty verdict, Mr. Styles, you seem to be trampling on every one of Mr. Hutchinson’s rights you can get your foot near.”

Styles surged to his feet. “Objection!”

“We’re not in trial phase yet, Mr. Styles. You’ll have your chance to object at that time. For now, you will provide defense counsel with what he needs within one hour.”

“Of course, Your Honor.” Styles was gray-faced. “Everything was already being prepared.” He slumped into his chair.

“Good. Expedite it!” Mendelssohn jotted on his calendar before looking up and scanning every face in the room. “Now, I’m going to go on record here at the very beginning of what promises to be a contentious case. I will allow no grandstanding in my courtroom. I expect witnesses to be available when called, and questioning to be courteous and to the point. A certain amount of leeway will be granted on both sides but do not try my patience!” He waited until he received grudging acknowledgment from Styles and a nod from McLaughlin before he sat down. “The defendant is remanded into custody.” The gavel came down. “Court’s adjourned.”

Hutch stood up as two uniformed officers approached and cuffed his hands behind his back. He locked eyes with Starsky but neither of them said a word. Their love, commitment, and hope were conveyed silently.

The officers led Hutch through the courthouse, down in the elevator, and across the street to the jail. He was stripped, searched, and given prison clothing before being escorted to the cell he’d occupy until his trial was over.

*******

Starsky was standing in the hallway outside the courtroom, listening with only half an ear to Dobey’s and McLaughlin’s conversation. He’d known it was coming; they all had. Still, the fact that Hutch had been taken away in restraints was almost enough to send him to the men’s room to void the little breakfast he’d managed to choke down.

Dobey’s voice got through Starsky’s mental black pall. “You went to see Styles this morning, right?”

“I had to give it a shot, Harold.”

“But he wouldn’t talk to you?”

McLaughlin shook his head. “Oh, he talked to me, but his attitude was one I haven’t encountered before. In all my years as a cop, and now as a lawyer, I have never seen this kind of blind refusal to listen to any possibility, if it’s something that runs counter to what his detective believes. Styles said we could present our… and here he actually curled his lip… evidence, and witnesses at the trial. He didn’t want to know anything about a supposed room across from the victim’s apartment where a - his words here - mythical stalker could have watched her for two weeks. I was almost to the point of begging him to have Dutton at least go and look when he laughed in my face. I was glad I’d saved myself that embarrassment.”

“So the preliminary hearing we’ve just sat through was an exercise.” Dobey’s voice was harsh.

“They usually are but, yes. Styles presented only enough to get Hutchinson bound over.”

“What do we do now, Ted?” Dobey’s tone was nearly plaintive.

“We wait for the crime lab report and whatever samples they send us.” McLaughlin looked pointedly at Starsky. “At which point, your clandestine investigative team has to dig deeper and faster. We have one week before jury selection and I may not be able to drag that out for longer than a day or two. Prospective jurors are going to swear they never listen to the news or read the papers and I’ll be allowed a limited number of preemptions for those I’m sure are lying.”

He shrugged in futility. “Certain types of people love sitting on juries when they’ve already made up their minds. It gives them a thrill to hold a defendant’s future in their hands.”

Starsky and Dobey exchanged a look. They knew the lawyer was right.

“My biggest hope right now,” McLaughlin went on, “is that the judge will realize an unbiased jury can’t be seated, and grant a change of venue.”

“I’m betting you don’t think that’s very likely.” Dobey sounded pretty discouraged.

McLaughlin shook his head. “No, I don’t. So after we’ve got a panel, it will be Styles and his experts and, since all they have is physical evidence, but it’s crucial, their portion may only take a day - two at the most. We’re going to have to counter that supposedly overwhelming evidence with our proposed mystery man and we have only two potential witnesses, so far. We could have Mr. Lyle, the man who rented a room overlooking Ms. Bellkey’s apartment where there’s a hole in the shade and three marks in the carpet.”

Starsky jumped in. “You'd have to make sure Mr. Lyle doesn’t mention the hands.”

“Yes, that’s right,” McLaughlin agreed. “The grocery store manager, too. Jerry Dupree can testify to a skulking someone who was present when she was there, but we keep the large hands to ourselves.”

“What about Clem, the delivery boy?” Starsky asked. “Can you use him? He saw the same guy going into the Silverton. Ties him to Betsy at the store and across the street from her.”

“I forgot about Clem,” McLaughlin admitted. “It’s thin, but it might help. Styles is going to object to our attempts to create a shadow of a doubt so be prepared to have one or more of our witnesses refused, or their testimony abbreviated.”

People poured out of another courtroom and filled the hallway. Dobey, McLaughlin and Starsky moved back against the wall.

McLaughlin lowered his voice. “Once we have the lab report and samples in our hands, we’ll be able to use what Ms. Jennings has discovered. But it’s smoke and mirrors, Harold. We have nothing concrete to offer until we can give them the real killer. All the hard evidence points to Hutch and believe me, Styles is going to hit the jurors over the head with it. I won’t be able to stop him.”

Dobey muttered unintelligibly for a few moments before getting himself back under control. “Call me as soon as you get that report, Ted. Starsky and I’ll come right over.”

McLaughlin nodded and walked away.

Barney Yates came out of a door down the hall and approached, folding a check. His look was one of relief, tinged with sadness. “I’d have been happy not to get this money back for much longer, Captain Dobey. Looks like you're really up against it this time.”

“That’s a fact Mr. Yates. But we’re grateful for your help.” Dobey held out his hand and Barney shook it before shuffling away.

One of the officers who had led Hutch from the courtroom approached Starsky and handed Hutch’s clothes to him. For a moment, the shadows hovering at the edge of his vision tried to smother him. When Dobey put a hand on his arm, Starsky jumped.

“Sorry, son, didn’t mean to startle you.”

“That’s okay, Cap’n.”

“Let’s get back to the station.” Dobey began walking toward the elevators and Starsky fell in step beside him. “I’m not going to be able to be here during the trial. You realize that.”

“No, sir, but I will be. I won’t leave Hutch alone in there until I’m needed to arrest the real killer.”

“Well, then, let’s get started on that.”

*******

In Dobey’s office, every member of the squad who wasn’t actively on another case, plus Minnie, was crowded around the desk. Dobey, in his big chair, had his hands clenched on top of a stack of folders. Starsky and Minnie occupied the two guest chairs in front, while Babcock, Simmons and the others held up the walls.

“For those of you who aren’t already aware of this, Starsky, Hutchinson and I have a theory that Betsy Bellkey was in the Witness Protection Program.”

Starsky knew that got everyone’s attention.

“I’ve learned that my old friend at the Justice Department died last year,” Dobey told them. “Does anyone else have any connection to that agency or, more importantly, the Marshal’s Service?”

Minnie raised her hand. “I do, Captain. A woman I went to school with is in her second year as a Deputy. I don’t know if she can access that program, but I’ll ask.”

“Call her, now, Minnie. If Ms. Bellkey was one of theirs we need that confirmed, plus anything they can tell us about her background and who might have been able to get into her file.”

“Yes, sir.” She bolted from her chair and left the office.

“What can the rest of us do, Cap’n?” Babcock asked.

“Don’t stiff your other cases but take copies of the poor sketches we have and cover that area between the grocery store, the Silverton Hotel, and the victim’s apartment. Find us anyone who saw Huge Hands, as we’re calling him right now. We have two names but they’re both turning out to be fictitious. Facts, and a better description than the one we’ve got because the most distinctive thing about this guy, his hands, we have to keep under wraps for now. Try and get anything else you can.”

After the others had left, Starsky sat forward. “I need to see Hutch.”

Dobey shook his head. “I’m sorry, Starsky. While you were in the men’s room barfing up your breakfast a few minutes ago, I called Styles. He’s forbidden access to Hutch by anyone except Ted McLaughlin. You’re not part of the investigation --”

“There is no investigation, Captain!” Starsky jumped up. “You and I both know that!” He began to pace and Dobey waited him out. After a few trips back and forth across the room, Starsky slumped in the chair. “How can Styles do this?”

Dobey dragged a pad of paper out of the stack of folders and began writing. “Good question. And one I’m going to follow up.”

“It’s not right, Cap’n. I’m his partner. I need to know, myself, not through McLaughlin, if Hutch has thought of anything else that might help. We’re in this together!”

“I know, Dave. And I’ll do everything I can to get the order rescinded.”

“It’s… what’s the word I’ve heard Hutch use? Draconian! That’s it. This is Draconian!”

Dobey tried a small smile. “I’ll have to look that one up, Starsky, but I think you’re probably right.”

Being agreed with didn’t do Starsky one bit of good.

*******

Hutch had seen the jail’s cells before, of course, but never as an inmate, one who couldn’t leave when he wanted to. The space he’d been assigned was ten feet deep and eight feet wide. It contained two sets of steel-framed bunk beds which were bolted to the concrete floor. A lidless, seatless, metal toilet - the bowl was flared out at the top to form as comfortable a sitting surface as possible - and tiny metal sink occupied the far corner. There was no writing surface or chair.

Two men were sitting on the edges of their respective beds on the left hand set of bunks, a third reclined on the lower half of the right hand set. None spoke but Hutch didn’t get violent or angry vibes from any of them.

His survey of the cell and its occupants was interrupted by the door clanging shut behind him. He attempted not to flinch but wasn’t sure he’d been successful.

Hutch intended to avoid claiming the open top bunk as long as he could. Once he did, he’d be past the entrance to a void he might never escape, and all his centered resolve might not be enough to keep him sane. He slid down the bars and sat on the floor, dumping his pillow and blanket next to him.

Picturing his partner’s expressive face, Hutch lost himself in memories of the indigo eyes.

“My name’s Bo.”

The soft words intruded into Hutch’s vision. “I’m sorry?”

The man sitting on the left hand lower bed repeated the introduction. “My name’s Bo.” He gestured to the guy dangling his legs off the top bunk. “He’s Ernie. And that one over there is Skip. We don’t use any other names in here, want to keep as much privacy as we can.”

That made sense to Hutch. “I understand.”

Bo got up and offered his hand - he didn’t have to move far to do it. After a moment, the other two approached and did the same. Hutch shook each one. It surprised him, though, when they sank to the floor around him, crossing their ankles, Indian style.

“We know who you are,” Bo said. “Jail telegraph’s been swamped for days. The blond cop who took James Marshall Gunther down!”

Hutch had nothing to say but he met each of their eyes with as open and unguarded a look as he could.

“What we figure,” Ernie said, “is you’ve been royally screwed.”

Skip nodded enthusiastically. “Yep, that’s what we figure, all right.”

Hutch was stunned. Of all the cellmates he might have drawn, these three seemed sympathetic, not interested in threatening or hassling him, as he had been expecting. The stories about what happened to cops who were put into prison populations were legendary. And frightening.

“So, tell us, Hutch…” Bo gulped. “Uh… can we call you that? Is it okay?”

Hutch managed a smile. “Sure. It’s my name.”

Bo exchanged a pleased look with the others. “Can you tell us how it happened? We’ve all heard the bullshit goin’ around but we got no one to give us the real scoop.”

Hutch studied his cellmates. They were in their early- to mid-twenties, lean, tense, and scared. Bo had short blond hair and light blue eyes. Ernie’s hair and eyes were brown. Skip’s black hair was long and tangled, his eyes so light blue they were almost clear.

Hutch told them the few facts he knew about his own case and listened to them, in turn. Their stories were achingly familiar. Bo had been drinking in a bar and had lost his temper. He was charged with assault with a deadly weapon - a broken beer bottle - and was awaiting trial in a cell because there was no one to pay his bail. The court that handled assaults was ridiculously backlogged.

Ernie and Skip had both been part of a car theft ring and were busted in stolen vehicles. Ernie’s parents were trying to scrape his bail together while Skip’s parents had told him he was on his own. GTA cases were in another over-burdened section of the judicial system.

When a loud claxon sounded, Ernie pulled Hutch away from the bars a moment before the cell door slid open behind him. Climbing to their feet, Skip picked up Hutch’s bedding. “You can have the lower bunk, if you want it. I don’t care, one way or the other.”

Hutch shook his head. “Upper’s fine with me.”

Skip threw the pillow and blanket onto the top mattress and followed Bo and Ernie out into the corridor. Hutch followed. Almost as if they’d practiced it, his cellmates surrounded Hutch on the way to the cafeteria.

The walkway was crowded and, if he hadn’t been within his protective circle, Hutch knew he’d have been shouldered, shoved, and possibly tripped by the glowering prisoners around them.

Again, Hutch pondered the good luck that had allowed him to have an understanding threesome in his corner.

Lunch was eaten without anyone saying anything. The food was tasteless and Hutch ate very little. His new friends gladly shared what he left on his tray.

Murmurs and unintelligible words floated to Hutch’s ears during the meal but no one spoke loudly and Hutch was able to ignore them.

When they were back in their cell, Hutch shook Bo’s, then Ernie’s, then Skip’s hands. “Did you guys practice that?”

Bo plopped on his bunk. “Naw. We’ve all been hassled ourselves and figured, since you’re new on the block, and such a big deal, you’d get it worse.”

“But why would you risk yourselves? For all you know, I could be guilty.” Hutch really didn’t understand.

Skip sat on the side of his bed and studied Hutch for a few seconds before he broke into a wide smile. “Look at you, man. In my brief criminal career, I’ve learned to be a pretty darn good judge of people and, if you’re a stone killer, I’m the Shah of Iran!”

Ernie hopped up onto his top bunk. “What they’re sayin’ is, we don’t think you’re guilty, Hutch. We made a pact before you got here that we’d listen to what you had to say. If we believed you, Skip would offer you his bunk. If we didn’t, he’d make you take the top.”

“But… nothing was said,” Hutch pointed out.

Bo shrugged. “We’ve been in each other’s pockets for a while now and don’t actually have to say much in words any more.”

Hutch shook his head in wonder. “Well, all I can say is, thank you.”

When the others stretched out on their bunks, Hutch knew he couldn’t put it off any longer. He spread the thin blanket and crawled onto the top mattress. He needed sleep.

*******

Starsky and Dobey were in Dobey’s office, hashing over their next possible moves, when a call from Mr. Lyle at the Silverton was put through to Dobey’s phone.

Starsky took the receiver when Dobey held it out. “Starsky here, Mr. Lyle, what can I do for you?”

“I have something I believe you should know, Detective. Can you come?”

Starsky put his hand over the mouthpiece. “Lyle wants to tell me something, Cap. You need me here?”

Dobey waved a fist. “Go! Find out what he has!”

“I’ll be right there, Mr. Lyle.” Starsky hurried out of the building and, without thinking about stopping at Venice Place to exchange the Torino for the LTD, lost no time getting to the venerable hotel. Not waiting for the clerk to announce him, he strode to the manager’s office.

“You made good time, Detective.” Lyle came out from behind his desk and went to a small refrigerator. “Would you like a soft drink?”

Starsky was anxious to hear whatever Lyle had to say but he curbed his impatience. “No, sir. Thanks, I’m fine.” He sat in one of the straight-backed chairs. "Let me say this first. You don't need to keep room twenty-one vacant any longer. I'm never going to get permission to bring techs in. Thank you, though, I really appreciate your keeping it closed off until now."

Lyle got a can of Coke for himself, took it back behind his desk and sat down. "You're welcome, and I thank you. I've had any number of requests to stay in that very room. Some people are ghouls." He pulled off the tab and sipped before resting the can on his blotter; his expression was solemn. “I called Detective Dutton after I worked with your artist on Monday, and I’ve been thinking about what he said ever since.”

Starsky opened his mouth, but the manager hurried on. “I didn’t mention that you and your friend had been here, or that I’d worked with Neal, because you said something about your visit being unofficial. I figured you weren’t supposed to be involved - Hutchinson being your partner and all.” His expression was unreadable. “I keep up with the news, Detective Starsky, I know what they’re saying about your partner, and I thought it was my duty to provide information that might send the investigation in the right direction.”

He drank more cold caffeine and Starsky waited. “I was going to tell him about the hole in the window shade and the marks in the rug, those being things Glenda could have found.” He took one more swallow. “I also intended to point out the fact that that window has a perfect view of the victim’s apartment.”

He put the can down again and his gaze hardened. “He blew me off; said I needed to forget about claiming my fifteen minutes of fame because he didn’t require anything I could tell him. He already had the killer.”

Starsky sat forward. “Would you be willing to talk to Hutch’s lawyer? Maybe he can figure out how to get you on the stand.”

“You bet I would!”

Starsky stood up and extended his hand. “Thank you, sir. I’ll have Mr. McLaughlin get in touch with you.”

Lyle stood up and shook the hand firmly. “You do that, Detective.”

Before he reached the door, Starsky had another thought and turned back. “I have one more question, sir.”

“Of course.”

Starsky went back to his chair and sat. “How did Glenda get a look in that room?”

“She smelled something burning one morning about a week after Majors checked in.” Lyle finished his Coca Cola, got up and pulled out another. “By the way, in case you weren’t aware, his name and address aren’t real.” He walked behind his desk and sat. “The check I sent, returning the two days’ rent I owed him, came back. It was hand-lettered, ‘Unknown person, unknown address’.”

Starsky thought it was an indication of the manager's honesty and integrity that he had tried to send a refund. “Yeah, we know.”

“Good.” Lyle appeared pleased. “Now, about Glenda. It turned out Mrs. Gaylord, in twenty-three, had forgotten she was making oatmeal when she went to take her shower. Glenda tried room twenty, then twenty-one. Majors didn’t answer her knock so she used her pass key. The room was neat, she said, and the only unusual items were a big light gray box, a keyboard and a funny shaped TV on the desk.”

Starsky thought about it; the tripod and scope must have been in the closet. “Thanks. I was just wondering how she’d seen the computer, that’s all.” He stood up.

Lyle stood as well. “And I believe that, Detective Starsky, is one of the many things that separates you from your opponent in this case; you track down the details, you question what you’re told, you don’t simply accept.”

Starsky felt his neck reddening; he wasn’t comfortable with compliments. “Well, thanks again, Mr. Lyle.”

When Starsky got outside he found Dutton leaning against the rear fender of his unmarked, which was parked firmly against the front bumper of the Torino. The silent partner was in the plain wrap’s driver’s seat.

“You’ve been warned, Starsky,” Dutton growled. “An’ I ain’t gonna tell you again. Stay outta my investigation!”

Starsky raised his eyebrows. “If you were conducting one, Detective Dutton, I would certainly comply.” He moved around the rear of his car, stood at his door, and sent calm contempt Dutton’s way. “However, since you made a public statement that no investigation is necessary, I don’t believe I’ve crossed any of your lines.” He waved a hand toward the Silverton. “I was visiting a friend at the hotel.”

With Dutton speechless and fuming, Starsky got in and backed the Torino far enough to allow him to pull around Dutton’s car. He made a mental note to remind himself to be in the LTD if he needed to come back again.

*******

Hutch’s first night in the cell passed with very little sleep. Whispers and murmurs filled the corridor and seeped between the bars.

“Just wait ‘til you get upstate, cop, you’re gonna find lotsa friends there who’ll greet you with open arms.”

“You got your pack around you here, sweet face, but it’ll be different up there.”

“I’m bettin’ you won’t find a single protector.”

“Nobody’s gonna be willin’ to go to bat for you, fuzz. You’re gonna be blond meat!”

When the threats finally died down, Bo whispered, “Hey, Hutch, you and your partner sent a buncha guys up there, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, Bo, we did.”

“Sounds like they’ll all be waitin’ for you.” This was Ernie’s observation.

Skip’s small voice quavered. “I sure hope you can find some help.”

A few minutes later, Hutch had an idea. “Does any of you meditate?” Silence met the question. “Well, tomorrow, you’ll have your first lesson. I’m going to need it and I think it might benefit you three, as well.”

“I don’t know, Hutch…” Ernie whispered. “Meditation?”

“Wait and see, Grasshopper.”

 

THURSDAY - SECOND WEEK

“Starsky!” Babcock stuck his head in the squad room doors and beckoned. “You’ll want to hear this.” Starsky was thrilled to get up and leave the job of going through his own, and Hutch’s copious notes one more time. He joined Babcock and they walked down the hall. “Sims and I found two panhandlers a couple of blocks from the Silverton. They remember our guy.”

Babcock opened the door to Interview #2 and ushered Starsky inside.

Simmons was handing sodas and donuts to two scraggily looking men slouched at the table.

Starsky took up a position in the corner; he didn’t want to take an active part in the interview, he just wanted to hear every word.

Babcock and Simmons sat across from the men who were most likely homeless. “Tell us, again, please, fellas,” Babcock began, in his most soothing, cajoling voice, “what you told my partner and me. Then we’ll get you both some lunch before we sit you down with an artist.”

“An artist?” one of the men asked.

“Yes, Mr. Grady,” Simmons replied. “A police sketch artist. We need you to describe the person you saw so that he can draw his face.”

“That way,” Babcock added, “we’ll be able to show the picture around and find someone who can tell us what his name is and where he lives.”

“He used to live in that hotel,” the second man said.

“We know that, Mr. Sayers,” said Simmons. “But he moved out last Saturday morning.”

Sayers nudged Grady. “That’s why we ain’t seen ‘im lately.”

“So, tell us about him again. Everything you remember.” Babcock pushed another donut closer to Sayers’ hand.

“Snob,” Sayers declared. “He never even looked either one of us in the eye. Always had his chin in the air as if he was better ‘n anybody else.”

Grady nodded. “Not so much as a by your leave.”

“Slapped my hand out of the way,” Sayers added, “when I dared to hold it out toward him.”

“That’s when I noticed his,” Grady said. “Huge they were! Stuffed ‘em in his pockets as soon as he saw me lookin’.”

“Did either of you ever see anyone speak to him, maybe call him by name?” Simmons asked.

The two men conferred silently and shook their heads.

Starsky decided he couldn’t stay out of the conversation after all. Dragging a chair from the wall, he sat next to Simmons. “Did he appear to be following anyone either time you saw him?”

Sayers nodded. “Now that you mention it, the lady that got killed was walking in the same direction, about a block up on the other side of the street, both times.”

“She was nice,” Grady said. “Always had coins for us.”

Sayers finished his donut. “Can we work with the artist, now?”

Starsky got up, trying to keep his hopes in check. “Detectives Simmons and Babcock will take you down there as soon as you’ve had some lunch.”

Before Starsky could get back to his desk, he was called into Interview #1, where officers Gerhardt and Riley, dressed in casual wear for this canvas, instead of their uniforms, had brought in a lady of the night. She was a statuesque athletic dark-skinned knockout, sitting sideways in her chair and showing off her mile-long legs. “Who’s the cutie?” she crooned, as soon as Starsky walked in.

Starsky walked straight to her and held out his hand. “Detective Starsky, ma’am. I really appreciate your helping us.”

“Oh, I just love gentlemen cops.” She smiled with her perfect mouth. “You can call me Ebony.”

Starsky drew up a chair and sat with Gerhardt and Riley. “You’ve told these officers that you saw a man with very large hands in the vicinity of the Silverton Hotel, is that right, Ebony?”

“Saw him, solicited him, and roundly cursed him when he turned me down.” The smile turned into a pout. “He had no taste at all!”

Starsky smothered agreement and listened as the hooker spent the next few minutes describing the man they were looking for. When he asked her to help Sayers and Grady with the sketch artist, she readily agreed.

Starsky checked in with Dobey. “This is good!” Dobey declared. “If we can just get a decent likeness out to our patrol cars and street cops…”

“Yeah. We’ll see what they come up with, Cap.”

Starsky went back to his notes, only to be interrupted again when two more uniforms brought in a pizza delivery boy. Information was piling up but Hutch wasn’t going to be granted any additional time.

By late afternoon, the vagrants, the hooker and the pizza kid, with Neal’s help, had generated a face. And it didn’t look non-descript, it looked like a real, identifiable person.

“How is it you four were able to help Neal draw this, when two other witnesses couldn’t?” Starsky asked.

Three of the contributors appeared uncertain but Ebony raised one elegant eyebrow. “Maybe it’s because we have to watch people’s eyes, Detective. On the street, if you aren’t aware of what a person’s saying with his eyes, you can get dead pretty quick.”

Grady nodded. “You got that right, honey.”

“If I close mine right now,” and she did, “I can see his ordinary features like he was standing in front of me. So I open ‘em,” and she did, “and describe what I saw.”

Starsky took her hand and kissed the back. “That makes perfect sense, Ebony, and we are in your debt.”

“Oh I do love gentlemen cops!”

The four were cautioned not to mention, to anyone, their participation in the afternoon’s activities, nor the unusual size of the man’s hands, since he was extremely dangerous. If he heard that they had taken part in trying to identify him, he could track them down and dispose of them.

Each solemnly promised to keep his or her mouth tightly shut and went off with the fifty dollars the department had provided as thanks.

Starsky took the sketch to Dobey. Both knew that all they could do with it was distribute it to the cars, detectives, and foot patrol officers in their own precinct, with the strict proviso that cops in the Sixth not see it. They couldn’t give it to the media, either, because it was information gathered by forbidden means.

“I just wish we could broadcast this everywhere, Captain! Somebody knows who this bastard is!”

“I understand your frustration, Dave. We’ve got more than we had before, though, and with this in the hands of all our officers, we’re bound to pick him up soon.”

Dobey’s understanding did nothing to soothe Starsky’s rattled nerves. His need to see his partner, to look into those sky-blue eyes and sink into the love there, was gnawing at his gut.

*******

Hutch’s first full day in jail passed the way the afternoon and night before had: glowers, whispers, menace, and heavy silent threats from the prisoners nearby.

He tried to sleep after breakfast and decided he might have managed a couple of twenty-minute intervals when he wasn’t being pursued by demons with oversize hands. While deep sleep refused to come, he reviewed every minute of the four days between the afternoon when he and Starsky had accepted Betsy’s dinner invitation and the moment Officer Wilson pounded on her front door. The answer was there, somewhere.

After lunch, Hutch talked his cellmates into joining him on the floor. He instructed them in the correct posture and position and began explaining the reasons for meditation, a bit of its ancient history, and why he practiced it himself.

One or two minutes at a time were as long as the three were able to maintain their concentration but Hutch was encouraged that they were willing to give it a try.

“You do this every day, Hutch?” Skip murmured at one point.

“If I have time. Just like I try to go for a run every day.” Hutch opened his eyes and met the questioning gaze. “However, as you might imagine, Skip, I don’t always get the chance.”

After another minute, Ernie broke the silence. “Grasshopper?”

“Kung Fu, stupid,” Bo hissed.

“Shhhh… center.” Hutch smiled and closed his eyes.

*******

In Dobey’s office, Minnie sat on the front edge of the guest chair while Dobey waited to hear what she had to say and Starsky paced.

“I was finally able to talk to my friend, Sheila, Captain. She’d been on vacation and only came back last night. I caught her before she went to work this morning.”

Starsky sat on the arm of the second chair. “Can she help?”

Minnie didn’t look happy. “She says she’ll try but, as she’s told me before, the Marshal’s Service is pretty much a cowboy outfit. Women are tolerated. If she makes any waves, she could lose her job.”

Dobey didn’t look happy now either. “We don’t want it to come to that, Minnie, but we need the information.”

“I know, sir. I’ll call her again this evening and make sure she understands.”

Starsky put a hand on Minnie’s arm. “Whether or not she’s able to come up with anything, please thank her for us.”

“I’ll be sure and do that, Starsky.”

*******

Starsky had never slept in Hutch’s bed, alone, before, and Thursday night wasn’t any better than Wednesday had been. It was turning out to be something he wasn’t looking forward to doing for the rest of his life. He missed those long blond arms and legs wrapped around him more than he’d have thought possible; hearing the strong heartbeat against his chest.

You had the key, Hutch, you figured it out, and now it’s up to me to find this guy. I won’t let you down, babe, I swear it! I just wish we had more time. I wish Styles and Dutton weren’t so hell-bent on getting you convicted. I can’t say what I’ll do if I hear ‘guilty,’ any time soon. I may be joining you in The Big House, if that happens. No, I hope I’m kidding. But I promise I will hunt down the sonavabitch that did this to you.

 

FRIDAY - SECOND WEEK

First thing in the morning, Starsky took the new sketch to Jerry at the grocery store.

“That’s him!” With a quick look around, Jerry led the way to his office, Starsky following.

Inside the tiny space with the door closed, Jerry dropped into a chair and studied the image. “This is a whole lot better than that thing Neal drew from my pathetic description. How’d you get it?” He motioned Starsky to a folding chair.

“We blanketed the area around here with our Ninth officers in plain clothes. They found two homeless men, a hooker, and a pizza delivery boy. Apparently, they look closer at eyes, and faces, than most people do. They worked with Neal as a team.”

“Well they sure did better than I did. You got him!”

“Thanks, Jerry.” Starsky stood up. “Are you still willing to testify?”

Jerry handed him the drawing. “You bet!”

“And you and Clem aren’t mentioning the hands to anyone, right?”

“I told you we wouldn’t, didn’t I?” Jerry sounded offended.

Starsky put a hand on the manager’s shoulder and apology in his eyes. “Yes, you did, and I’m sorry for doubting you.”

Jerry led the way back into the store. “I can’t imagine the kind of pressure you’re under so I’ll give you a break. This time.” He smiled. “Just don’t do it again, okay?”

*******

Hutch actually achieved some meditation time because his students managed to stay quiet for long intervals between bouts of sometimes awed, sometimes hilarious remembrances.

“Carradine looked about as Chinese as I do,” Ernie quipped.

“Half-Chinese, lamebrain,” Bo corrected.

“Remember the time Kwai Chang got involved with…?” Skip began, and they were off again.

The few periods of silence that did occur allowed Hutch much-needed deep, strengthening thought. As soon as he had time to himself, he’d thank the jail gods for sending him these three young men. And after he got out, he’d do whatever he could to help them.

*******

That evening, Starsky tackled a task he’d been dreading but knowing it was one he couldn’t put off. Picking up the phone at Hutch’s, he punched eleven numbers. “Hi, Ma.”

“Hello, David.” Her voice was chipper, as usual. “How has your week been, dear?”

“Not so great, but I can’t really talk about it.”

“Oh, really? And whyever not?” Now there was a note of suspicion.

“It’s… complicated.”

“Well, let me talk to Ken, I’m sure I can wheedle it out of him. You were both fine last Friday. You were looking forward to that… that marshal something.” A determined tone had crept in.

“Martial arts completion. I went. It was fine.”

“And Ken? He didn’t go?” Confusion.

“No, he didn’t.”

“Did he have something else more important? Let me speak to him.” Not to be put off any longer.

“He’s not here right now, Ma.”

“Not there?” Surprise and concern in her tone. “But… you two are joined at the hip, aren’t you? Has something happened? Have you and Ken had an argument?”

“No, Ma, it’s nothing like that. He’s just not here.”

“David…” She was firmly in her no-nonsense mode. “There’s something you’re not telling me and I’m not letting you hang up until you do. Now… what’s this all about?”

Starsky had known he wouldn’t be able to shine her on indefinitely but he had hoped to put it off until later. With a sigh, he realized that later was now. “Hutch has been arrested.”

Her silence was enough to break down the last of his barriers and he told her everything. She listened with hardly a single interruption and, when he was finished, he felt somewhat better. “That’s it. That’s all I can tell you for now. Until we find this guy and clear Hutch’s name.”

“Are you sure you can do that, dear?” She sounded just a tiny bit afraid.

“I will do it! Hutch ain’t goin’ down for this.”

“I know you’ll try, honey, but you should prepare yourself for --”

“Don’t, Ma! Don’t try and tell me I have to prepare myself for a life without Hutch.”

“I’m sorry, dear. I didn’t mean to upset you. I only want you to think about the possibilities.” She was cajoling now.

“I have, believe me. And the only one I’m willing to accept is getting Hutch off and putting the real killer behind bars!”

“Of course, David. It just may take a little longer than you’d like it to, that’s all.” Conciliatory.

Starsky really needed to end this conversation, it was getting him nowhere and he was afraid he’d lose his temper if she kept at him. “I have calls to make, so I need to hang up. Thanks for listening.”

“Would you like me to come out there, honey?” Plaintive. “You’re probably not eating enough and I --”

“No, Ma! Definitely not! I’m too busy and you’d be a distraction Hutch and I can’t afford right now.”

“I understand, dear.” She was audibly upset but trying to hide it. “You’ll let me know if there is anything I can do, won’t you?”

“‘Course I will. And I’ll call you next week.”

“All right.” Resigned. “I’ll be praying for better news by that time.”

“Me, too. Love you. G’bye.”

After he hung up, he sank onto the couch. He was glad he’d told her, and also glad he’d staved off the visit he knew she’d propose. That was the last thing he needed at the moment: his mother urging him to eat and sleep. He’d do both things when Hutch was free. And maybe not until then.

 

SATURDAY - SECOND WEEK

Saturday at the jail meant showers.

After breakfast, Bo, Ernie and Skip surrounded Hutch on the way from the cafeteria to the bathing facilities. Bathing! There was a joke if Hutch ever heard one! A line of bare shower heads protruded from a tiled wall over drains in the concrete underfoot. There were no partitions or curtains. Clothes were shed onto immovable benches ten feet behind the wet part of the floor. Liquid soap - no bars or cakes to ‘slip’ on - evidently also meant to be used as shampoo, was dispensed from a spout adjacent to each shower head. Skimpy towels were stacked on both ends of the bench.

There were no guards in the room, they were stationed outside in the corridor. Everyone in here was on his own, unless an altercation broke out, at which point, the guards might intervene. Or, perhaps not.

Upon entering, Hutch saw half a dozen inmates already standing under sparse flows of water. They were at opposite ends of the long wall, leaving the center four spaces open. None of them was paying obvious attention to Hutch and his cellmates, but Hutch could tell they were wary.

“You go first.” Bo pushed Hutch gently toward the bench. “We’ve got your back.”

Hutch scanned the three faces and saw concern overlaid with resolve. “Thanks. And I’ll do my part for each one of you.”

Bo nodded. “We were hopin’ you’d say that.”

Hutch stepped out of his scuffs and shed his jail clothes. The water was only tepid and he figured the county couldn’t take the chance that an inmate might scald himself. Tepid would have to do. He used the soap on his body and hair until he felt moderately clean before rinsing off. The towels were sadly lacking in size; one barely fit around his hips while he stood in front of the metallic mirror over the sinks and used the simple electric razor provided there, the cord disappearing through a hole in the ceiling. There was no stopper in the sink so the basin couldn’t be filled; the razor’s cord wasn’t long enough to have allowed it to reach that far anyway. No possibility of self-termination or murder by electrocution here. No indeed!

A palm full of baking soda was discharged from under a lever and Hutch used it to scrub his teeth with his right index finger.

When he was as clean and groomed as it was possible to be, without a comb, he dressed and took his place with the others while Bo, then Ernie, then Skip duplicated the process. The shower room was empty by the time they were all finished.

Hutch had felt antipathy and barely concealed hatred from all the prisoners who had showered with them but no one had given any overt sign of violence. Still, Hutch was glad to have the activity over with. If he was here the following Saturday, it would all have to be done again; a prospect he wasn’t looking forward to. He did wonder if he’d be given a chance to spruce up Wednesday morning. And, if so, would his three bodyguards be allowed to screen him? He knew he’d have to wait and see.

 

SATURDAY - SUNDAY - SECOND WEEK

Starsky barely remembered getting through the weekend. He knew Huggy had come by and forced him to eat something. Dobey and McLaughlin were next and Starsky was sure they’d all discussed what they needed to do, but he couldn’t have said what any of it was.

He was in limbo as much as his partner and he only hoped and prayed that Hutch was handling it better than he was.

Huggy came on Sunday and brought beer. Dobey and Edith arrived just after that with home cooking and they all drank and ate too much. Edith made herself the designated driver so that the other three could feel free to imbibe, as needed.

Starsky ate very little but drank himself into a near-stupor and actually slept that night.

 

MONDAY - THIRD WEEK

Monday morning I was back at work. My immersion in the newspaper and television coverage of Betsy’s death had taken me cheerfully through the weekend but now I needed to focus on research again. In six months, I’d have another three weeks off, and would need to be ready; number seventeen awaited.

“Did you have a good vacation, Richard?”

I didn’t allow irritation to show. “Sure did.” Charlie was a jerk but I couldn’t afford to piss off my co-workers. I was in a good position here and needed to keep it until after I’d run through every protected witness in Southern California. Why do they all want to come here, anyway?

“Where’d you go?”

“Nowhere. Stayed home, read, and daydreamed. Numbers all day get to me after a while, know what I mean?”

“Sure do!” Charlie leaned his forearms on top of my cubical partition. “Did you catch all that shit on the news?”

I didn’t look up. “What shit?”

“Some skirt’s murder by a cop! Imagine that, will ya? Famous dude, too, commendations out the wazoo, and he loses it over an older woman! If that’s not shit I don’t know what is.”

I waved a hand, hoping he’d leave. “Didn’t pay any attention.”

Charlie wandered away. “Naw, I don’t expect you did.”

My smile was all inside.

*******

Dobey went to the chief’s office and, after a fifteen-minute wait, was admitted to the inner sanctum.

“What is it, Captain?”

Dobey sat, uninvited in a guest chair and waited until his superior met his gaze. “Is there a reason why I couldn’t get in to see you until this morning, Chief? I’ve been asking since last Wednesday.”

The chief had the decency to appear embarrassed. “Sorry, Harold. I wanted the time to check things out, talk to different people, get their reading.”

That pissed Dobey off even more. “Then I’m sure you know everything that’s been happening with Hutchinson, but it’s possible that you’re not aware of the order the District Attorney gave.”

The chief put his pen down. “What order was that?”

“He said no one, and I mean no one except his lawyer, is allowed to see Hutchinson.”

“And who else would want to?”

“His partner, Detective Starsky.”

The chief sat back. “Of course. Where one goes the other won’t be far behind.”

“The D.A. is already steamrolling the case, sir. Not allowing Starsky access to his partner is adding to the difficulty I’m having in getting to the bottom of all this.”

“You think Hutchinson is innocent?”

“Yes, sir, I do! I’ve known these men for years. They’re the best I’ve ever had under my command. They’re the best this department’s ever seen and you know it!” Dobey sat forward. “With Starsky not being allowed to talk to Hutch, we may miss something and I don’t want that on my conscience. If Hutchinson is convicted, I want to know I’ve done everything in my power to prevent it. He’s innocent, Chief. I know it.”

“Captain Montrose doesn’t think so.”

“Captain Montrose is an idiot!” Dobey knew he shouldn’t have said that but he didn’t apologize. “You’re getting bad information, sir, if he’s the kind of people you’ve been talking to.”

The chief pulled a pad of paper to him. “The jail isn’t in my purview. Who’s the judge on the case?”

“Mendelssohn,” Dobey said.

The chief wrote it down. “I’ll talk to him. If he agrees, I’ll give you a call.”

Dobey stood up and straightened his shoulders. “Thank you, sir.”

*******

Starsky was pacing Dobey’s office when the call came. Dobey listened for a minute, hung up, and looked up at the suddenly stationary Starsky. “You’ll have ten minutes.”

Starsky was already headed for the door. “Thanks, Cap!”

At the jail, he gave up his Beretta and was ushered to an interview room. Hutch was brought in minutes later. Starsky visually devoured his partner’s face and was thrilled to see that the ordeal of the last few days hadn’t succeeded in beating Hutch down. The blue eyes were flashing, the long, lean body stood tall and undefeated. Fuck you, Dutton, Starsky thought one more time.

He sat down at the table and waited for Hutch to do the same on the other side. “We only have ten minutes so let me tell you what we’ve found out.”

Hutch glanced around. “This room, Starsk --”

“It’s for suspects and their lawyers, Hutch. I’ve been promised there are no microphones.”

Hutch appeared to relax a little. “Go ahead, then.”

Rapidly, Starsky detailed everything. During the recitation, Hutch asked no questions, he simply absorbed the information. When finished, Starsky waited for whatever Hutch would say.

Hutch clasped his cuffed hands on the table. “This isn’t the guy’s first killing, everything was too perfect. But I’ll bet you won’t find him by searching unsolveds. He set me up so beautifully, I think he did the same thing for each of his priors.”

Hutch sat back, his expression rueful. “His planning and attention to detail were better than any crime we’ve ever investigated. If I didn’t hate every molecule in his body for having murdered a lovely, valuable woman, I could almost admire him.” He sat forward again. “He researched her, stalked her, killed her, and set me up for it. Now, if he hasn’t already left town, he’s most likely gleefully watching the results of his meticulously executed plan.”

“Scapegoats arrested and convicted. Jesus, Hutch, those will all be closed cases. How are we going to find them?”

“Hear me out, Starsk. What if he’s killing protected witnesses and Betsy was only his most recent?”

The pieces fell into place for Starsky like a self-assembling jigsaw puzzle. He threw a brilliant smile across the table. “I said it the other night, Hutch, and I’m saying it again. You’re a genius!”

Hutch sent the smile back. “I don’t believe you used that word, but I’m happy you think so.”

“I know so! Listen…” Starsky reached across the table but stopped a few inches short of Hutch’s hand. “Minnie’s asking a friend of hers, a Deputy Marshal, for help. It’s admittedly a good ol’ boy clan but if we tell them we suspect a serial killer is eliminating their people, they’ll have to give us the information we need. Won’t they?”

“Since it’s my neck on the line, Starsk, I certainly hope so.”

A knock sounded on the door and a voice bellowed, “That’s it!”

Starsky got to his feet at the same time Hutch did. “Don’t say anything, Hutch. Just trust me. Okay?”

“Always.”

Starsky left his partner there, walked out of the room, retrieved his weapon, and left the building. He was not pleased to find Dutton waiting for him in the courtyard.

“How dare you disobey the District Attorney’s orders, Starsky?”

Starsky walked right into Dutton’s angry face. “I dare because you’ve got the wrong man, Dutton, and I’m going to prove it! And, let me give you this piece of advice. Never mess with my partner again.”

*******

As soon as Starsky got back to Dobey’s office, he asked to have Minnie come up. While they were waiting for her, Starsky related Hutch’s theory. The excitement was plain on Dobey’s face when Minnie knocked, opened the door, and stuck her head in. “You wanted to see me, Captain?”

Starsky ushered her inside and seated her in Hutch’s usual chair. “Your friend, Shelia is going to put all her cowboy detractors to shame when she hands them the results of her search.”

Minnie looked for an explanation from Dobey. “What’s this all about, Captain?”

Dobey gestured for her to pay attention to Starsky. “Listen to him, please, Minnie. Then you’ll need to light a fire under your friend.”

Starsky sat next to her, trying to contain his impatience. “Hutch believes,” he glanced at Dobey before turning back to her, “and we agree, that Betsy Bellkey’s murder was only the most recent in a series, all of the victims protected witnesses. And all of them set up so that an innocent person paid the price.”

Minnie digested the statement and Starsky was pleased to see that she didn’t have any trouble connecting the dots. “Sheila has to find out if protected witnesses have been dying under circumstances other than natural causes.”

“Exactly!” Dobey got up and came around the desk, took her elbow and escorted her to the hallway door. “Be your usual persuasive self, Minnie, and get us that information.”

“Yes, sir!”

 

MONDAY - TUESDAY - THIRD WEEK

For the rest of Monday, and all day Tuesday, Starsky, Babcock, Simmons and any officer wanting to participate on his own time, talked to everyone they could find within a four block radius of Betsy’s apartment. They were careful to avoid any Sixth Precinct uniforms but were able to find a clerk at a Ralph’s Supermarket who remembered the face he was shown.

“Always nearly the last customer, just before closing,” the clerk said.

“Do you remember what he bought?” Starsky asked.

The clerk shrugged. “Frozen dinners, I think. Only one or two at a time though. Probably didn’t have much of a freezer.”

Starsky remembered the kitchenette at the hotel, with its tiny refrigerator, and the empty food trays in the black trash bag. Ralph’s receipts, too. Even if he could have gotten the different items checked for prints, the smudged state of the containers told him such an attempt would have been a dead end.

At a Chinese take-out place, Babcock and Simmons took a statement from the owners, a very short husband and wife.

“Fried rice,” the woman said.

The man nodded. “Sometimes pork, sometimes shrimp. But only fried rice.”

Simmons asked how the man had paid.

“Cash.” This from the wife.

The husband shook his head, unhappy. “No tip. Never leave tip.”

A bus driver was found. He remembered picking the suspect up at the stop around the corner from Betsy’s but couldn’t recall where he’d gotten off. “Did he ride with you more than once?” Officer Riley asked.

“Nope. I’d have remembered those hands.”

Starsky realized they’d confirmed the guy’s presence in the area but they were no closer to finding out who he was, or where he’d gone. It was infuriating!

 

WEDNESDAY - THIRD WEEK

Hutch was allowed to shower and make himself presentable, and he was alone. Good thing, too, because Bo, Ernie and Skip had not been allowed to accompany him. Only whispers followed him to and from the facility.

His go-to-court sport coat, slacks and shirt, plus fresh underwear, shoes and socks, had been delivered to the jail very early that morning by Starsky, Edwards, the guard who handed them to Hutch, told him. Glad to have a little bit of comforting familiarity around him, he got dressed. He was cuffed and chained again for the walk to the courthouse but those were removed before he sat at the defense table. McLaughlin shook his hand, wordlessly.

Starsky was in the middle of the first row behind the rail, directly in back of Hutch’s chair. Hutch felt himself immediately bolstered and buoyed by the most consistent, deep-seated love he’d ever known. Their eyes locked for only a moment but it was enough, for now. Hutch took his seat.

Jury selection required the entire day and when, at the end, twelve men and women were empanelled, with three alternates in reserve, Hutch was fighting depression. Even though each person swore to an ability to judge the testimony they would hear without bias, Hutch harbored serious doubts.

McLaughlin had used all his preemptions, yet had been forced to accept more than a few he and Hutch, in whispered conference, had decided were lying. Mendelssohn had agreed to the final selection, though, so a change of venue was out.

“No despondence, Ken,” McLaughlin whispered. “We have a few believable witnesses and juror number twelve looked, to me, like a possible candidate for a not-guilty vote.”

Hutch almost smiled. “Maybe his admitting to spending all his non-stock-shelving time playing Pac-Man is actually in our favor.”

“Besides,” McLaughlin went on, while Styles and the judge were shuffling papers, “if your partner keeps working his fanny off like he has been, all this may be over before long.”

The mental image of Starsky’s fanny gave Hutch some very nice moments.

By the time the jury was sworn in, told to return at ten a.m. the following morning, warned not to discuss the case with anyone, and left, Hutch was almost looking forward to getting back to his cell. He had met each prospective juror’s eyes with determined innocence but staring into more than eighty judgmental gazes had drained him.

With one final look at his partner, Hutch turned to the officer waiting with restraints.

 

THURSDAY - THIRD WEEK

Starsky delivered another of Hutch’s shirts, plus fresh underwear and socks, to the jail, retrieving those already worn. These he stashed in the Torino before he walked across to the courthouse. He was very early but he wanted to make sure he was in his seat before Hutch was brought in. This would be his routine from now on, for however long this circus lasted.

Starsky had heard more opening statements than he cared to remember but, since his partner’s life might depend on these two, he paid attention. And he took notes.

Styles was in grand form, striding around the open space as if he owned it. ‘Pontificating’ was a word Starsky had never used in his life but it crept into his mind and lodged there as he watched the D.A. expound. He wrote it - thinking he might have spelled it wrong - at the top of his first page. This guy was going to milk the trial for every minute of air and print time he could get; Starsky was sure of that.

‘Overwhelming evidence’ was repeated so many times Starsky lost count. Exactly as McLaughlin had predicted, the jurors were being hit over the head. Starsky hoped at least one of them would see through the bullshit and be willing to cast a negative vote. One was all they needed.

Styles spoke for so long that when he finally stopped talking, Mendelssohn glanced at the clock and adjourned for lunch.

Starsky went back to Dobey’s office. His replay of the prosecutor’s opening volley did nothing to lower Dobey’s blood pressure or calm Starsky’s nerves.

McLaughlin’s statement that afternoon was far more reserved; he didn’t pace at all. Instead, he leaned his butt against the end of the defense table closest to the jury and talked to them. “I freely admit that the District Attorney has sufficient evidence to convict the guilty party. However, you must believe me when I tell you that my client is not that person.”

He drew a detailed picture of a dedicated teacher who had no enemies, and a police detective with so many closed cases and convictions to his and his partner’s credit, it was difficult to image him being able to walk upright if he were wearing all his medals and commendations.

“These two people,” McLaughlin told his listeners, “met in a grocery store. Ms. Bellkey had been told by the store’s manager that my client and his partner were police officers. At the time, Ms. Bellkey feared she was being watched, and defense will produce witnesses who will corroborate the fact that she was right. Ms. Bellkey decided to introduce herself to these officers and ask for their help in persuading the unknown lurker to leave her alone.”

McLaughlin straightened up but didn’t move from his position. “The prosecution is going to downplay, demean, and potentially ridicule the idea of a stalker but we will provide testimony and evidence that he was real.”

McLaughlin began to walk slowly back and forth in front of the jury box railing. “After meeting Ms. Bellkey for the first time, my client and his partner spent the next four evenings at her apartment in an attempt to convince the unknown subject to abandon his mission, whatever it was, and leave Ms. Bellkey and her roommate alone. During those four evenings, the officers become friends of the victim. Not enemies, friends!”

McLaughlin then dropped hints that this unknown subject had been present in the apartment on the night of the murder. He stated that this person had been the one to kill Betsy Bellkey and that, afterward, he had arranged every detail of the scene, going so far as to call in an anonymous tip, to make sure the defendant was arrested for, and convicted of the crime.

“Such machinations are impressive,” McLaughlin admitted. “What I’m going to ask you to do is look beyond the obvious. We will be presenting witnesses and evidence to support our theory of a third person.” He stopped walking and peered at each face, one at a time. “The victim was stalked and killed. My client was set up. The murderer is out there, somewhere, possibly waiting to do it again.” He approached the jury box rail. “Believe me, ladies and gentlemen, ‘beyond the shadow of a doubt’ will take on new meaning in this trial.”

When McLaughlin sat down, the judge checked the clock. “How long do you anticipate taking with your first witness, Mr. Styles?”

Styles stood up. “Our only witness, Your Honor, and I believe his testimony, and any cross examination, will require a full day. Perhaps two.”

“In that case, we’re not going to start this afternoon. Everyone be back in this room tomorrow morning, ten a.m. We’re adjourned for today.” The judge gaveled one time, got up and left the room.

Starsky remained seated while Hutch was cuffed and led away. This was tearing him apart and he was pretty sure Hutch was feeling the same. Hang on, partner, I promise we’ll get through this.

 

FRIDAY - THIRD WEEK

The next morning Styles called Alphonse Clancy’s name. Jeez, Hutch thought, no wonder the guy had a capital A attitude and only let people use his surname.

Clancy took the stand and was sworn in. Styles walked him through his professional resume and qualifications as an expert witness. Clancy made the most of it, proudly showing himself as the person Styles wanted the jury to see: a man whose word must be believed, without reservation.

Hutch wished it didn’t make his skin crawl just to look at the pompous self-important son of a bitch.

Numerous photographs, a few excruciating in their detail, were introduced as evidence and placed on easels around the jury box before Styles asked each juror if he or she could see all of them. They assured him that they could.

The next exhibits were blow-ups of Hutch’s hands and fingers, as well as the prints these had produced. Each was entered, accepted, and numbered, before some of the enlargements were pinned to the easel photographs in proximity to the wounds on the victim’s neck and throat.

McLaughlin took copious notes but never interrupted the presentation.

Hutch watched the jury. Most were horrified and fascinated at the same time. A few of the more attentive were breathing deeply and had hard glints in their eyes. He knew those jurors were ready to hang him on the spot.

By noon, even the most prurient of the captive audience was beginning to wilt and Mendelssohn must have realized it. When Clancy came to a stop, after a particularly grizzly detail, the judge interrupted. “Excuse me, Mr. Styles, Mr. Clancy, but it’s almost noon and I can tell the jury needs a break. We’ll recess for one hour.” He let his gavel fall.

Hutch was cuffed and allowed to go with McLaughlin to a room across the corridor, as he had the previous two days. Again, two box lunches were waiting. Hutch had no idea where his partner had gone during lunch on Wednesday, yesterday or today; he only hoped he’d be getting something to eat. As usual, the officer who had led them here didn’t leave; he stood just inside the door.

McLaughlin pulled a chair out for Hutch and indicated the containers. “If Mr. Bear doesn’t stop providing these, I’m going to gain ten pounds.”

Hutch didn’t have any more appetite than he’d had either of the days before but he forced himself to eat half the turkey and Swiss on whole wheat, plus a few chips.

“We haven’t really talked about it, Ken, but I don’t think you should take the stand.”

Hutch had known this was coming. “I can’t tell them anything except that I didn’t do it.”

McLaughlin nodded, taking another bite of his club sandwich. “And they’ll be hearing Clancy’s testimony to the contrary for the rest of the day. If you did testify, I don’t know how lenient this judge would be. He might allow Styles to bring up your more… illustrious activities as an officer. Especially since I mentioned some of them in my opening statement.”

“You’re saying he’d tear me apart.”

“If Mendelssohn allowed it, yes, he’d try. I’d object vociferously and continuously and, eventually, the judge would call a halt to it. But, what I’m suggesting is that we don’t put you in that position in the first place.”

Hutch took one more bite and pushed the box away. “No argument.”

The cuffs were removed again when they both got back into the courtroom. Starsky was already in his seat and Hutch wondered if he’d left at all. The jury was brought in and the judge took the bench. Clancy paraded to the witness box and was reminded of his oath.

The afternoon session was taken up with Hutch’s fingerprints on the phone receiver, which was entered in evidence, and the match of the rounded end of that phone to the wound in Ms. Bellkey’s temple.

“I’m going to preempt defense counsel here, I’m afraid.” Styles said, a sly smile on his face as he looked at McLaughlin. “My worthy opponent will undoubtedly wish to bring this up in cross examination and, therefore,” he turned back to the witness box, “you and I will talk about it first, Mr. Clancy. The prints on the phone are from a left hand, is that correct?”

“Yes, sir, that is correct.”

Styles put the smile away. “Are you aware that the defendant is purportedly right-handed?”

Clancy tried to hide a smirk of his own. “Yes, sir, I’m aware of that.”

“And what explanation can you provide for such a discrepancy?”

“Heat of the moment.” Clancy sat up straighter. “Ms. Bellkey fought, sir, she didn’t go down easy, as Hutchinson thought she would. She was an older lady, he might have figured --”

“Objection!” McLaughlin’s voice wasn’t loud but it cut through Clancy’s harsh words. “Even if my client had been conscious at the time, which he wasn’t, Mr. Clancy can have no idea what Detective Hutchinson might have been thinking.”

Mendelssohn didn’t hesitate. “Sustained.”

Styles backtracked. “Keeping to facts and evidence only, will you give us your considered opinion about why the defendant used his left hand instead of his right in the circumstance?”

“He was in a vicious fight, wasn’t he?” Clancy’s tone had turned belligerent. “The phone must have been on the table beside the couch, since they both ended up on the floor next to each other.” He gestured to an easel. “You can see it in the picture showing that part of the room. Hutchinson wasn’t going to reach across her body to pick it up with his right hand. His left was closer. Once he’d hit her and she was quiet, he dropped the phone and used both hands to strangle her.”

“A compelling scenario, Mr. Clancy, thank you.” Styles appeared eminently satisfied with the exchange.

Hutch knew McLaughlin had been hoping to make a point of the wrong handedness but had just had that opportunity taken away from him. The lawyer didn’t show distress but Hutch felt it from him.

Next, Styles guided Clancy through examination of the photographs which detailed the scrapes and gouges on Hutch’s face, hands and arms. While each was pointed out, Clancy told the jury that the skin and blood found under the victim’s fingernails exactly matched Hutch’s profile.

When Styles finally ran out of steam he turned and opened both hands to McLaughlin. “Your witness.”

McLaughlin leaned close to Hutch. “Here we go, Ken, I’m going to plant the first seed.” He got up and moved to an easel displaying a blow-up of the bruises on Betsy’s throat, moving it a little closer to Clancy and the jury. “When I look closely at this image, Mr. Clancy, it would seem that the prints are rotated somewhat toward the back of her neck. That’s not what I’d expect if the killer was in front of Ms. Bellkey. Is that what you see?”

Clancy laughed. “I’ve proved they were Hutchinson’s hands, Counselor. Who cares where they were?”

“All I’m asking, sir,” McLaughlin continued patiently, “is if I’m reading this photograph correctly. Are the prints rotated, or not?”

“Maybe,” Clancy mumbled.

“Clearly again, if you please, Mr. Clancy,” McLaughlin persisted. “For the jury. Are the prints rotated?”

“Yeah. Could be.” The tone was surly.

McLaughlin walked back to his seat. “No further questions.”

Hutch had anticipated every word of the day’s testimony. Still, when he was led back to his cell, he knew he needed to re-charge. Maybe, after the evening meal, he’d be able to talk Bo, Ernie and Skip into an hour or so of practice. He really needed a little silence, peace, and non-judgmental eyes.

*******

Cheryl was waiting for Starsky in the hallway. “There wasn’t anywhere in there for me to sit, Dave.”

Starsky led her to a bench at the wall while the spectators who had exited the courtroom filed into elevators or made for the stairs. “What have you got, Cheryl?”

She took several sheets of paper, clipped together at the top, out of a folder. “Is Captain Dobey still in his office?”

“I’m sure he is.”

She stood up. “Then let’s go there. I’d like to tell you both at the same time.”

Starsky grabbed her hand and sprinted for the stairs. He asked no questions during their brief trip to the precinct, nor on their elevator ride upstairs. Knocking on Dobey’s hallway door, Starsky didn’t wait for an answer before bowing Cheryl inside.

Dobey stood up and moved from his desk to shake her hand and lead her to one of the guest chairs. “Do I understand correctly from your expression, Cheryl, that you’ve got information for us?” He went back behind his desk and sat down.

“Yes, sir.” Cheryl sat and waited for Starsky to perch on the front edge of the adjacent chair. She handed the pages to Dobey. “My friend not only lifted a full thumb and four partials from the fingers of a right hand, but was able to identify the person they belong to.”

Wide-eyed, Dobey scanned the information. “How did she manage to do that?”

Cheryl looked pleased that her friend had been so clever. “She used the number of a very old file that no one had looked at in over two years.”

Dobey flipped back to the first page. “Richard MacIntosh.”

Starsky caught Dobey’s eyes for a moment - another R.M.

Cheryl smiled at Dobey, then Starsky. “Yes, sir. The fingers are only partials but having four of them, plus the thumb, and as unusually large as they are, my friend’s positive it’s a match.”

“Yes, I can see, these partials are bigger than any full prints I’ve ever seen.” He handed the documents to Starsky.

“The man’s a civilian accountant with the U.S. Marshal’s Service,” Cheryl told them. She seemed to sense that this piece of information was important, but not why.

Starsky looked at Dobey again. “This is our guy, Cap’n. His job would give him access to people like Betsy.” When he noticed Cheryl’s uncertainty, he turned to her and quickly explained what the WPP had to do with everything.

As with Minnie, Cheryl didn’t need anyone to draw her a picture. “MacIntosh had an inside track to everything he needed in order to find Ms. Bellkey.”

“Why are his prints in the system, though?” Starsky asked.

She took the pages back. “All government employees, sworn or not, are printed these days.”

Dobey folded his hands on the desk. “This is incredibly good news, Cheryl, and we’re indebted to your friend, but --”

“We can’t pin it to this case,” Starsky broke in, “because I came by the prints unofficially.”

Cheryl understood. “And my friend did an unsanctioned search using the wrong case number.”

“True,” Dobey agreed. “We have no basis for a warrant.”

“We need to find MacIntosh right now, Cap!” Starsky’s nerves were fraying and he knew it. “Put eyes on him, make sure he’s not getting ready to rabbit.”

Cheryl held the papers up. “His address is right here. I don’t know if it’s current or not, but you can certainly check, can’t you?”

“We’ll do more than check,” Dobey vowed. “I’ll send Dietrich and Taylor out to sit on the house tonight. With our good sketch, they can find out if the address is current and, if so, keep tabs on him. Tomorrow morning, Starsky, first thing, take Babcock and Simmons with you and begin talking to his neighbors. We’ll have round the clock surveillance on him from now on.”

“We can’t afford to spook him, sir,” Starsky cautioned. “If what we believe is true, he’s killed before. He may be wary as hell and spot a stakeout.”

“Dietrich and Taylor are pros, Starsky,” Dobey flared, “as is everyone else I’ll put on this assignment. You know that. It’s not like they’ll be rattling his cage. I’ll make sure they know to watch him from a distance tonight. When you talk to the neighbors tomorrow, you can find out what they have to say about him.”

“We could tell people he's applied for sworn status and we’re doing a deep background check,” Starsky suggested.

Dobey began jotting notes. “Good one.”

Starsky tried to tamp down his impatience. “Once Styles and Clancy run out of steam, McLaughlin’ll only be able to drag the trial out another couple of days. We need to find the other kills!”

“I’ll ask Minnie to call her friend again.” Dobey was still writing. “Court’s adjourned until Monday. We have the whole weekend to work this.”

*******

Starsky’s call to his mother that night was, if anything, more difficult for both of them than the one the week before had been. Ruth was nearly begging Starsky to allow her to come and Starsky felt bad about his adamant refusal.

“Ma, I know you want to help but there’s nothing you could do out here.”

“Are you staying at Hutch’s apartment or your own?” Careful query.

“Hutch’s.”

“I realize you don’t have many plants, dear, but is anyone watering them for you? What about your mail. Who’s keeping your bills paid?” Wheedling. “I could do those things.”

Starsky sighed. “I go over for a few minutes every other day or so, Ma. I collect my mail and water the plants.”

“Who’s doing your laundry? Ken needs clean clothes each day --”

“Ma, please! Just keep praying for us, okay? That’s the best thing you can do. For both of us.”

“Yes, dear, of course.” Sadness.

“Thanks, Ma. Talk to you next week.”

 

SATURDAY - THIRD WEEK

After breakfast and a shower, which was no more worrisome than the week before, Hutch was escorted to an interview room where McLaughlin was waiting. For the first time since this whole thing began, the counselor’s face showed an emotion that Hutch could almost call anticipation. As soon as he sat down, McLaughlin slid a piece of yellow, legal-size paper across to him.

“Your partner must have put this in my mailbox very early this morning,” McLaughlin said.

Hutch unfolded it and read:

H - we found him! Name’s Richard MacIntosh. Yeah, R.M. again. He’s a civilian with the Marshal’s Service, so perfect access. Lives out in Desert Heights. Sims, Bab and I are going there now. Can’t arrest him yet but he’ll never be out of sight until we can. Minnie’s friend is digging. Hang on, partner! Just a little longer. S.

Hutch read the message again, memorizing every word, before folding it carefully and sliding it back to McLaughlin.

“How’re you doing in here, Ken?” McLaughlin’s tone was concerned.

“Could be worse, Mr. McLaughlin. Could be a whole lot worse.” Hutch studied his lawyer carefully. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course.”

“Most attorneys Starsky and I have encountered have been less than caring when it came to supposedly dirty cops. They can’t seem to wait to slam a cell door on them. You’re different, and I’m wondering why.” He spread his cuffed hands. “Sorry if that’s intrusive. Starsky tells me I think too much.”

McLaughlin put Starsky’s note in his briefcase and folded his hands on top. “Your captain and I go back a long way. We were at the academy together, thinking we’d eventually be partners, until Elmo Jackson came along.” McLaughlin smiled reminiscently. “They just… clicked. Fit together from the first case they worked. Their wives were immediate friends, too. It didn’t bother me because I found my own life partner in the Second Precinct at about the same time.”

Hutch bore into McLaughlin’s gaze, needing to verify what he’d just heard.

The lawyer nodded. “The day I met Sam, I understood why my marriage had failed. He was the gentlest, bravest, most loyal, dedicated, honest man I’ve ever known. We were partners for fourteen years until the night we were caught in a drug ring crossfire.” He closed his eyes for a moment before opening them and returning Hutch’s intense look. “He died in my arms. I lost a lung and one kidney. Pensioned off, I went to law school.” He raised both hands in a ‘no more to tell’ gesture.

“You and Captain Dobey have obviously stayed in touch.”

McLaughlin chuckled. “We were down to Christmas cards until he called three weeks ago. Believe me, Ken, I was more than happy to come on board.”

Hutch stood up and extended his cuffed hands. “Thank you.”

McLaughlin rose and shook. “I hope you can get some sleep this weekend, you look as if you could use it.”

“Thanks for bringing Starsky’s note.”

“My pleasure. See you Monday morning.”

Lighter of heart, knowing Starsky was closing in on Betsy’s killer, Hutch went back to his cell.

“Good news?” Bo asked.

“It will be eventually, Bo.” He climbed up on his bunk. “For now, though, would you guys mind not talking for a while? My partner sent me words of hope and I need to sleep on them.”

“Sure, Hutch,” Ernie piped up. “We’ll be quite as little mice.”

“Stuff it, Ernie,” Skip stage-whispered.

“You, too, Skip,” Bo hissed. “Shut up, the both o’ ya. Master Po needs to rack up some zees!”

Hutch drifted off, smiling.

*******

The house that matched the address Cheryl had given them sat near the end of a street whose homes stopped at the edge of the desert. It was in a development that was unmistakably unfinished because paved, curbed, and sidewalked roads ran into the distance with leveled, staked lots on either side, awaiting house construction.

At six a.m. Starsky parked the LTD - he didn’t want to take the slightest chance that MacIntosh would recognize the Torino from the night of Betsy’s murder - around the corner, behind Dietrich and Taylor’s sedan. He got out, walked to the passenger side and squatted next to the rolled down window. “It’s him, right?”

Dietrich nodded, pointing to the sketch on their dash clipboard. “Sure looked like that face. Got home about six last night. Drives a Chevy Caprice.” He pointed out his windshield. “Fourth house on the left.”

“He never stuck his nose out all night,” Taylor added.

Starsky saw Simmons and Babcock’s car coming and patted Taylor’s arm. “Thanks. Get some sleep, we may need you out here again.”

“Anytime, Starsky,” Dietrich said. He started the engine and pulled away.

Simmons and Babcock’s unmarked eased in behind the LTD. There were sedans, station wagons and sports cars parked in driveways and on all the nearby streets and Starsky hoped the addition of two more wouldn’t be worthy of attention. He climbed in the back of his friends’ car.

“Jeez, Starsky,” Simmons eyed Starsky’s disguise. “Where’d you get the threads? You look like you could make the cover of GQ.”

“I don’t want this clown to recognize my jeans and sneakers while we’re walking around out here, Sims. Besides,” he brushed a spec of lint off his lapel, “we’re supposed to be investigators for the Department of Justice.” Checking through his side window to make sure they could see MacIntosh’s house from their position, he settled back.

“Love the hat, very Bogart.” Babcock handed him a clipboard. “Here’s the phony questionnaire we made up.” He gestured toward MacIntosh’s street. “What do you suppose he does on a Saturday morning?”

“Goes to the zoo?” Simmons quipped. “Returns library books?”

“Scouts his next victim?” Babcock offered, his voice serious.

“That’s what we’re here to find out.” Starsky took his hat off and got comfortable.

Two hours later, MacIntosh’s garage door slid up and a tan Chevrolet Caprice was backed out. As the door closed automatically, Starsky and the others ducked down in their seats. Peeking, Starsky identified MacIntosh when the car passed. Yep, the sketch they had was good. He wrote the license plate number on the top sheet of his clipboard.

When the Chevy turned left at the next intersection, Starsky grabbed his hat and jumped out of the car. “Don’t lose him!” Babcock joined Starsky on the sidewalk.

“You guys do your part,” Simmons hollered. The unmarked set out after the Chevy.

“I’ve got the other side of the street, Bab,” Starsky said. “Let’s not take too long, we have no idea when he’ll be back.”

Babcock patted the radio on his belt. “Sims’ll let us know if he’s coming this way before we’re through.”

Starsky pulled his own radio from underneath his suit coat and checked the batteries. “Let’s do this!”

They walked around the corner and Starsky crossed the street.

By eleven, Simmons hadn’t radioed a warning, MacIntosh hadn’t returned, and Starsky and Babcock had finished their canvas. This early on a Saturday morning, someone had been home in every house.

It wasn’t long after they were back in the LTD before Simmons radioed to let them know MacIntosh was headed their way. They slid down in their seats again and covertly watched the Caprice make the turn onto its block, wait while the garage door lifted, then disappear inside.

Simmons parked behind the LTD and joined them. “Gas station, where he filled up, paid cash, then a supermarket, inside for half an hour, and an electronics store, a full hour. No idea what he bought in the last two places; couldn’t take the chance of him spotting me.”

“Nice work.” Starsky wished he could tell them how much he and Hutch valued their involvement but he knew words really weren’t necessary. He checked his clipboard and tried to keep the sarcasm to a minimum. “Richard MacIntosh is a regular guy.”

“Yep,” Babcock concurred. “Goes to work Monday through Friday. Not very friendly or sociable, but doesn’t cause any problems. Kinda quiet. No parties, no visitors.”

“That’s what I got,” Starsky agreed. “The guy who lives next door figures he makes a pretty good salary since the houses aren’t cheap around here and he drives a decent car. He keeps his property looking good, too, which the homeowners association appreciates.”

“Pays one of the local boys to do that for him,” Babcock added. “Kid by the name of Sylvester. Lives on the next street over, according to Mrs. Kindoll, who’s the neighbor on the west.”

Starsky made a note. “Maybe we’ll talk to him. What else?”

“Takes trips every six months.” Babcock checked his own clipboard. “Goes away for three weeks at a time. Mrs. Kindoll collects his mail. No indoor plants that need watering.”

Simmons shook his head. “Bet we know what he’s doing on those trips, three weeks at a time.”

Starsky turned in his seat so that he didn’t have to look in the rearview mirror to include Simmons. “One of the people I talked to was kind of surprised when I said MacIntosh was looking to become a Deputy. Said he didn’t think our guy had enough… what did he call it?” He searched his scribbles. “Gumption! He didn’t think MacIntosh had enough gumption to be a law officer. Actually, he didn’t think much of our suspect at all; said he was stand-offish and sullen, never looked you in the eye.”

“What is it we find out too often?” Simmons asked quietly. “It’s the loners you have to watch out for.”

“This time, for sure.” Starsky put his clipboard on the seat. “Are you two okay for the rest of the day? Miller and Dresden are scheduled to relieve you at six. Got enough to eat and drink? Pee bottles?”

Babcock gestured toward the rear car. “Cooler and stakeout relief containers are in the trunk.”

Simmons sat forward in the back seat. “You want us to follow him, right? If he goes anywhere?”

“Like hounds on a bitch in heat, Sims. We can’t let him get away from us now.” Starsky knew his tension was showing but couldn’t help it.

“Don’t worry, Starsky,” Babcock said. “We’re his new best friends.”

They got out of the LTD and into their own plain wrap. Starsky headed back to town.

*******

Meditation hour turned into two hours, then three on Saturday afternoon. Bo, Ernie and Skip had gotten so interested in the new activity they were able to remain quiet and contemplative for long stretches. Hutch was proud.

In between silences, however, his cellmates detoured into a discussion about whether or not David Carradine knew what he was doing when he fought the bad guys, or if it was a stuntman.

“Stuntman,” Bo declared.

“I don’t think so,” Ernie countered. “I’ve heard that Carradine was really into it; did most of his own fighting.”

“Ain’t nobody like Bruce Lee, though, if you ask me.” This from Skip.

“Oh, yeah, he was fantastic in The Green Hornet!” Ernie was apparently a Bruce fan as well.

“Remember him in Longstreet?” Skip asked. “That was so cool the way he was teachin’ the blind investigator how to fight.”

Hutch realized he was going to miss these three.

 

SUNDAY - THIRD WEEK

Dobey called early. “Throw some clothes on, Starsky, and make a pot of coffee. You’re about to have visitors.” Without another word, he hung up.

Starsky ran his fingers through his hair and dry-scrubbed his face. The few periods of deep sleep he’d gotten had been dream-free but the other interminable hours of the night had been riddled with endless, looping thoughts about why this was happening and how to make it end!

MacIntosh was their killer, Starsky knew that in his gut. But he and Dobey had no proof! And it was going to take better proof than the overwhelming evidence MacIntosh had left behind to convict Hutch before Mendelssohn would stop the trial. They needed to get into the house and find the souvenirs Starsky was sure he’d taken. Better yet, they needed a confession!

He showered quickly, stuffed his tired body into jeans and a t-shirt, gathered clothes for Hutch in the morning and collected laundry he’d have to do that afternoon.

The coffee was ready when there was a knock on the door. As soon as it was open, Dobey pushed in, followed by Minnie and a woman Starsky had never seen before. “Sit yourselves down, ladies.” Dobey headed to the kitchen counter. “Make the introductions, please, Minnie, while I get us all some coffee.”

“Dave Starsky? This is my friend, Sheila Jarvis.” Minnie chose one of the chairs around the dining table and sat down.

Starsky held out his hand and the tall, chestnut-haired, freckle-faced Deputy U.S. Marshal took it. The grip was firm and dry, as he’d expected. She wore slacks, a blouse and an unbuttoned jacket; the holstered weapon on her hip wasn’t hidden. Her smile was full, while guarded.

By the time Dobey came back, his thick fingers threaded through the handles of four large mugs, Sheila and Starsky were seated. Dobey passed the mismatched cups around. “Sugar? Cream?” he asked the table in general. When silence was all he got in response, he sat, too.

After his first sip, Dobey nodded to Minnie. “Before we get into the nitty gritty, why don’t you bring Starsky up to date?”

“Sheila called me last night and asked if she could come over. It was after three when we finally stopped talking so she stayed at my place. She has documents, Starsky, ones you’ll want to see.” Minnie picked up her cup and nodded to her friend. “You tell him the rest.”

“Ever since Minnie called on Friday and told me the theory you’d all come up with, I knew I had to get off the fence.” Sheila gulped the strong brew. “I resist the male-dominance of my agency every day and I think my work in fugitive retrieval has gained me some respect. Still…” she took another swallow and put the cup down firmly. “You don’t need to hear all that. Suffice it to say, I decided to dig. Yesterday I went in on my own time, ostensibly to research the latest rabbit I’m looking for, but in fact, to find out if what Minnie told me is true.”

She pulled two sheets of paper, folded lengthwise, out of the inside pocket of her jacket and laid them on the table. “It’s not only true, it’s worse than any of you may have suspected.”

Dobey reached for the papers and skimmed. When he looked up, his eyes were wide. “Sixteen.”

Starsky took the two pages from Dobey as soon as they were offered and scanned the names. Brief information about each death was included but he was struck by the first thing he noticed. “He’s killing alphabetically?”

Sheila nodded but Dobey snatched the pages before she could speak. He looked more closely at the information and flushed. “I hadn’t noticed that. Good Lord! He’s wiped out sixteen protected witnesses and only reached the first part of the Bs?”

The deputy appeared almost embarrassed. “What can I say? They all want to come to Southern California.”

“Sure they do,” Minnie said lightly. “Sun, sand, bikini-clad starlets, palm trees, movie studios… What more could someone who’s running from the mob want?”

Sheila shook her head, took the pages back and ticked off a couple of names. “Ms. Bellkey testified against her union leaders. This one was with the IRS and blew the whistle on a ring of his co-workers who were taking huge payoffs from clients who didn’t want to pay their taxes. There are one or two others like that but, yes, most were trying to avoid retribution from the crime lords they ratted out.”

“Why are there so many named Adams?” Starsky asked. “And why didn’t anyone in your agency, Sheila, in the media… Hell, in all the cop shops that must have been involved… why didn’t anyone notice these people were dying?”

“Adams is a common surname, Mr. Starsky, --”

“Dave,” he interrupted. “Call me Dave.”

Her face softened. “Okay, Dave.” She drank more coffee before pointing at the first page. “They lived all over Southern California and the death dates, six months apart, spanned two and a half years for the name Adams alone.”

She started down the list. “Here’s Arthur Adams, a charter boat captain in Ventura, drowned when his Kingfisher was lost twenty miles off the coast. Then there’s Burton Adams, a CPA in Redlands, committed suicide. He’s the one who turned in his IRS co-workers. Carlton Adams was a stuntman in Hollywood, killed when pyrotechnics went off early.”

She pointed to the fourth name on the list. “This is the first death that was an obvious murder. Morton Adams ran a garden nursery in Ojai. The suspect broke in, possibly to steal some of his really rare orchids, Adams was there later than usual, and ended up dead. The victim had fought, though, and had gotten in some licks, so the perp was unconscious when police arrived.”

She ticked off another name. “And finally, we have Stephen Adams. He owned a tuxedo shop in San Diego but was a known patron of illegal gambling dens. He was knifed to death, supposedly by a homeless man outside a warehouse that had hosted a roving casino the previous night. The vagrant was wearing Steve Adams’ overcoat when arrested.”

Minnie got up, went to the Mr. Coffee and came back with the pot. After she’d refilled their cups, it was empty. “I’ll make more!”

Starsky didn’t need additional explanation. “Okay, I got it. Two accidents, one suicide, and two murders where the prime suspect was handed to the cops on a silver platter.”

Dobey took the papers back and looked through them again. “Scattered all over this part of the state, no connection - except one nobody knew about - between any of the victims…” He looked up. “And all that time lapse. No reason for law enforcement to look beyond what was presented to them.”

Minnie came back to the table while the coffee dripped. “The media, either, it sounds like, Captain. We can’t blame them.”

“No we can’t,” Dobey agreed. “None of these deaths would have caused much of a ripple, I’m afraid.”

Sheila took the pages back. “Sad, but true.”

Starsky caught Sheila’s attention. “Did you go past Betsy Bellkey’s name? You should put whoever’s next on that list in protective custody.”

Dobey shook his head. “Look at the dates, Starsky. Six months apart. MacIntosh isn’t going to be ready for his next kill for quite a while.”

Starsky finished his coffee. “You’re right. He has a lot of research and planning to do. He didn’t take Betsy out and set my partner up on the spur of the moment.” He got up and began to pace. “We need those files, Cap’n. All of them. The investigating officers were given cut and dried crime scenes and an obvious suspect; they didn’t look any farther. We have to go through those files with a fine-toothed comb. Something is in one or more of them that’ll let us get a warrant for MacIntosh, and allow us to search his house.”

“Those officers aren’t going to be happy with you for reopening their closed cases and possibly overturning them,” Dobey pointed out.

“I don’t give a flying fuck about that, Cap! Hutch is this close…” Starsky held up his pressed-together thumb and forefinger, “to being found guilty and sent to prison. There are guys up there who would give every second of the rest of their lives for the chance to get their hands on him. I won’t let that happen, sir! Hutch is innocent and we have the chance to prove that with those files!”

Minnie got up and brought the fresh pot of coffee, filling everyone’s cup again. “I’ll get on the phone first thing in the morning, Captain. We have four separate fax lines and I’ll have every one of them humming by ten o’clock. That’s a promise!”

Starsky appreciated her attempt to break the tension he’d created with his rant. He sat down and swallowed one very hot gulp. “Sorry, Cap. Didn’t mean to lash out at you.”

Dobey’s rigid posture and expression relaxed. “No apology necessary, son. I’ve never been in your position but I think I understand where you’re coming from.” He picked up his fresh cup and turned to Minnie. “I’ll help you make those calls and so will Simmons and Babcock.”

“Me, too,” Starsky offered. “Court doesn’t convene until ten.”

Minnie smiled her thanks. “I’ll divide Sheila’s list four ways. You won’t have as much time as the rest of us, Starsky. You can take one of our names in the morning and another if you can come back at lunch.”

Dobey cocked his cup at her. “That sounds like a plan, Minnie.”

Starsky bolted to his feet. “I can’t wait to tell Hutch.”

“Do you think you should?” Dobey sounded concerned. “We don’t have proof yet, maybe getting his hopes up isn’t a good idea.”

“I couldn’t keep this from him, Cap’n. He needs to know we haven’t quit, that we --”

“He knows, Starsky,” Dobey interrupted, calmly. “He knows.”

“Yeah. But this could make the next few days a little easier.” Starsky sat back down. “Don’t you think?”

“He’s your partner. I’m sure you know best.” Dobey didn’t sound convinced but was plainly trying to hide his doubts.

“I hope so.”

 

MONDAY - FOURTH WEEK

Starsky went to the jail with Hutch’s fresh clothes. The officer he had handed them to each morning had lost most of his contentiousness over the days and Starsky figured it was worth a shot to ask a favor. He placed a folded piece of paper on top of the slacks, shirt and underwear the guard was now holding. “Would you give that to Hutch for me, Edwards?”

Edwards stepped back. “I don’t know, Starsky.”

“It’s not an escape plan, I swear. Read it yourself. It’s just something he needs to know. Will you do it?”

With one hand, Edwards unfolded the note and read it. After a moment he nodded and put it back on top of the shirt.

“Thanks!” Starsky tucked the bag of Hutch’s soiled clothes under his arm, turned and left, wishing he knew, for sure, if Edwards would follow through. Hurrying to the Torino, he visualized the note he’d written:

H. Fifteen! Before Betsy. We’re getting the files today. Hold on! S.

Starsky raced to the precinct hoping he’d be able to convince at least two sets of detectives to send their files before he had to be in court in time for the morning session. He burst into the squad room and ran smack into a cacophony of angry, or placating, or pleading voices.

Simmons and Babcock were at their desks, copies of their portions of Sheila’s list in front of them. Minnie was at Hutch’s usual place with her own four names. Dobey’s near-bellow came through his open office door. He did not sound happy.

Minnie handed him her list, pointing to the last name without interrupting her conversation.

Starsky sat and picked up his phone. A surly voice finally answered his shunted-around call to San Diego. “Bailey here. What can I do for the BCPD?”

Starsky used his most non-threatening tone. “This is Dave Starsky. You and your partner investigated the death of Stephen Adams a little over five years ago. Do you remember?”

“Yeah… maybe… think so.” Bailey sounded wary. “Stabbed, right?”

“Correct.”

“Open and shut!” The San Diego detective was decisive now. “Homeless guy was wearing the vic’s coat and had the murder weapon in his crate.”

Starsky held onto his calm. “I’m sure you dotted every i and crossed every t, Detective, but I need to see the file.”

“Why?” Pissed now. “You ain’t messin’ with one of our closed cases. Not if I have anything to say about it.”

“Your closed case was number five of a serial, Bailey!” Starsky knew his voice had risen and consciously reined himself in. “The wrong man was convicted. Number sixteen happened here, almost a month ago, and an innocent cop is on trial for it.”

“What the fuck are you talkin’ about?” Bailey sounded as if he was losing his temper, too. “Our case wasn’t part of any serial. My partner and I didn’t miss a thing!”

“You’re right about that,” Starsky said. “You found everything you were meant to find. It just wasn’t the truth.”

“I’m not listenin’ to this shit,” Bailey growled. “And there’s no way you’re gettin’ the file.”

“Climb off your high horse, Detective, and hear me!” Starsky sat forward, his elbows on the desk. “You didn’t miss anything because there was nothing to miss! What you didn’t have was a personal knowledge of the suspect. We do. We know the suspect in our case is innocent. So we started looking for the real murderer.”

“And you think you found him in my closed case?” Sullen now.

“We know we did. But we need that file. Now. Today. My partner’s on trial for a crime he did not commit. We know who the killer is but we don’t have a way, yet, to prove it. We need your file! And,” he went on quickly, “as you can probably hear in the background, we’re asking for all the files from each of the other murders we believe the perp committed. You’re not the only one giving us shit about reopening closed cases so get in line. But my captain will call your captain, if necessary, and demand that you send yours up here. Don’t make us go that route, Bailey.”

Bailey was silent for a few seconds. “If your suspect is your partner and you know he didn’t do it, why is he on trial?” The SDPD detective had turned argumentative.

Starsky gritted his teeth. “Because the murder happened in a different precinct and the cops in that part of town are assholes. They believed what the killer wanted them to believe and didn’t look any further.”

“Like my partner and me?” Subdued.

“Yeah.” Starsky relented; he knew he wouldn’t be reacting any differently if some clown was asking to review one of his and Hutch’s closed cases. “Help me now, okay? If we can get this guy, and clear your homeless suspect, maybe you can take him to lunch after he gets out. Apologize.”

“Like that’s ever gonna happen.” Bailey’s voice had a touch of humor.

“Can I give you our fax number, Bailey?”

“I guess so.” Unhappy capitulation from San Diego. “I’ll have to pull the file from Records and check with my captain first but… what’s the number?”

After Starsky hung up, he inked a check in the box next to Stephen Adams’ name, then looked at his watch. No time to make another call. Giving his unfinished list to Minnie, he headed for the doors.

He made it to the courthouse but was only just in time to capture his regular seat. Waiting for everyone else to arrive, Starsky replayed his conversation with Bailey. The San Diego detective’s reaction hadn’t been surprising; it could be exactly what Dobey, Minnie, Simmons and Babcock were fighting.

As soon as Hutch was escorted into the room, Starsky could tell from the springier step and taller-than-lately posture that his partner had gotten the note, and had taken heart. We’ll get through this, babe, he promised silently and Hutch smiled.

When the judge was seated Styles stood up. “Your Honor, the prosecution rests.”

Mendelssohn appeared somewhat surprised but he covered it well and looked at McLaughlin. “Is the defense ready to proceed, Counselor?”

Starsky couldn’t tell if Hutch’s lawyer had been shaken by the D.A.’s move but it didn’t appear so. He rose to his feet. “Defense calls Gordon Lyle.”

Starsky didn’t turn and look as Lyle made his way past; he didn’t want to put any more pressure on the hotel manager than he might already be feeling.

Lyle walked to the stand, took the oath, and sat down.

McLaughlin had Lyle tell the jury who he was, plus the full name and location of his hotel.

“Why are you here today, Mr. Lyle?” McLaughlin asked.

“Room twenty-one,” Lyle said, his voice steady, “second floor front, is directly opposite Ms. Bellkey’s windows.”

“And how do you know that, sir?” McLaughlin’s voice was a little sharper.

Lyle’s expression was open and guileless. “I know my hotel, Counselor, and I watched, along with the rest of the residents of my street, as events unfolded the night of the murder. I knew several of my rooms overlooked the site, including twenty-one.”

“Go on, please,” McLaughlin urged.

“I had a tenant in that room until early the next morning. He checked out, saying all the commotion the night before had been too much for him.”

“How long had he been a resident in your hotel, sir?”

“Not quite three weeks,” Lyle replied.

“Thank you. Now, can you tell us why you believe the fact that room twenty-one overlooks Ms. Bellkey’s apartment is significant, Mr. Lyle?” McLaughlin asked.

“I didn’t, at the time,” Lyle admitted. “It wasn’t until early the next week, when Glenda, my cleaning lady, went in to get the room spruced up for the next renter. She called me to come up and see the damage Ralph Majors - that’s the name the man who moved out had given me when he checked in. She wanted to show me the damage he’d done to the window shade, and the deep marks he’d left in the carpet.”

“Objection, Your Honor.” Styles was on his feet but his voice was level. “What conceivable relevance does this testimony have? Injury to a window shade and stains on a rug?”

“Not stains, Your Honor,” McLaughlin corrected. “Marks. Depressions. If the District Attorney will allow my witness to proceed, I’m sure the relevance will become apparent. Even to him.”

Faint laughter could be heard behind Starsky and he hoped the defense had just scored a few points.

“Overruled.” Mendelssohn nodded to Lyle. “You may continue.”

“Thank you, Your Honor.” McLaughlin turned back to Lyle. “Please tell the jury what you found when you went to that room? The one that overlooked Ms. Bellkey’s apartment.”

“Mr. Majors had cut a hole about two inches in diameter in the middle of the window shade.” The manager’s voice had taken on an angry edge.

“You’re sure it was your former tenant who did this?” McLaughlin asked. “It couldn’t have been someone else? An earlier occupant of that room?”

Lyle shook his head. “Positive. Glenda is scrupulous about maintaining each and every room in my hotel in the best possible condition. She keeps a check list and notes any damage, not only so that I can follow up with the previous tenant and ask for recompense, but also to make sure that nothing needs to be replaced before the next person moves in.”

“Go on, please,” McLaughlin prompted. “What about the marks on the carpet?

“Three of them, in a triangle maybe a yard across.” Lyle held his hands three feet apart, indicating the width of the marks. “Directly under the window.”

“And what did you suppose might have made those?” McLaughlin’s tone was conversational.

“A tripod, of course.” Lyle looked as if everyone should have known the answer.

Mendelssohn raised a hand, forestalling an objection by Styles.

McLaughlin leaned casually against the front of the defense table and crossed his arms. “Can you tell us why you think your tenant, Mr. Majors, would have had a tripod set up under a window whose shade had a two inch hole in it?”

Lyle sat up straighter. “Looking through that hole, he’d have had a perfect view of the front windows in Ms. Bellkey’s apartment.”

“Objection!” Styles tone was more strident this time. “Again, what relevance can this have, Your Honor?”

McLaughlin straightened up and turned to the D.A. “Relevance, Mr. Styles? Defense has contended from the beginning that there was a third party involved in Ms. Bellkey’s murder. A third party who watched her during the three weeks of his residency in the Silverton Hotel through a hole he had cut in the window shade. He was probably watching her through a spotting scope mounted on a tripod.”

“Speculation, Your Honor. Pure speculation!” Styles’ face was slightly flushed.

“The District Attorney is correct, Mr. McLaughlin,” Mendelssohn noted. “This testimony is supposition and does nothing to refute the prosecution’s case. The law requires that I sustain the objection.”

“Your Honor, in my opening statement, I outlined the defense’s position and I’ll state it again. We are convinced that a third party was involved in the death of Ms. Bellkey. Mr. Lyle’s cleaning lady discovered evidence which could, if followed up, have introduced a viable alternate suspect. Evidence which the police department never found because they had decided that no investigation was necessary.”

“Your Honor…” Styles moved around in front of the prosecution table. “The police determined that Detective Hutchinson, apprehended inside Ms. Bellkey’s apartment, bearing bleeding wounds, was their prime suspect. Overwhelming evidence found there substantiated that determination and I, as the prosecuting attorney, agreed. Mr. Lyle’s suspicions in no way disprove any of that evidence. Therefore, his testimony is meaningless.”

“I’m afraid I have to agree, Mr. McLaughlin.” Mendelssohn sounded as if he was sorry. “Objection sustained.” He turned to the manager. “Mr. Lyle, this court thanks you for your time. You may step down.”

After Lyle had shuffled along the aisle, and taken a seat in the last row of spectators, Mendelssohn looked at McLaughlin. “Do you have other witnesses to present, Counselor? Witnesses with pertinent information?”

“In the defense’s opinion, yes sir.”

“We’ll see.” The judge didn’t sound convinced.

Starsky feared that Jerry’s testimony would be objected to the same way and he was correct. McLaughlin only got as far as having Jerry tell the jury that he had noticed a man in the store each time Betsy had been there.

Styles got the testimony stopped with his relevance objection.

While Jerry walked to the back of the room and sat down, Mendelssohn lifted a hand to McLaughlin. “Do you wish to call another witness?”

“Yes, Your Honor. The defense calls Professor Cheryl Jennings.”

Cheryl was summoned from the hallway, walked to the witness stand, was sworn in and took her seat.

“You are a professor of chemistry at the university, is that correct?” McLaughlin was, again, leaning against the front of his table.

“That is correct, yes, sir.” Cheryl folded her hands in her lap and Starsky knew she was nervous.

“And will you tell the court how you have come to be involved in this trial?” McLaughlin’s earlier irritation was unmistakably under tight control.

“A sample of powder, provided to the defense by the prosecution, was brought to me for testing,” Cheryl said.

“To what purpose?” McLaughlin asked.

“I was supposed to determine what it was.”

“And did you?” McLaughlin was still reined in.

“No, sir, I did not.” Cheryl looked at the jury. “Every person on my entire staff was a party to our testing and I can state that not one of us, nor any database we checked - and we checked every one we had access to - has ever seen the substance before.”

McLaughlin straightened up. “And what significance do you give this extraordinary fact?”

“I and my staff believe it could be something the Department of Defense has produced, or acquired, to render unconsciousness.”

“Objection, Your Honor.” Styles was red-faced again. “More speculation.”

McLaughlin nodded to the judge. “True, Your Honor, but it adds depth to the evidence the prosecution has chosen to ignore. And to the defense’s postulation of a third party.”

“More supposition and suspicion you are free to pursue yourselves,” Styles declared, “but not until after this trial is over. For our purposes, this witness’ testimony is completely pointless.”

Cheryl was thanked and dismissed. Starsky studied the jurors’ faces as she made her way toward the back. Many of their expressions were closed but a few appeared as if they’d heard and were thinking about the three witnesses they’d seen, so far, that day.

“Anyone else, Mr. McLaughlin?” Mendelssohn asked.

“One final evidentiary witness, Your Honor,” McLaughlin replied.

“Proceed.”

“Defense calls Shane O’Connell.”

O’Connell took the stand and was sworn.

“Mr. O’Connell, you are the crime lab’s senior technician, isn’t that correct?” McLaughlin was Mr. Congeniality himself now.

“Yes, sir.”

“And you were in charge of the evidence collection at the scene of Ms. Betsy Bellkey’s murder?” McLaughlin was checking his notes but Starsky knew he didn’t need to.

“Yes sir.”

McLaughlin shuffled paper. “The prosecution delivered a sample identified as tape residue to the defense but I can find no documentation that a determination was made regarding its origin.” He looked up at Shane. “Is that correct?”

“Yes, sir.”

McLaughlin leaned back against the table and crossed his arms. “And why not?”

Shane shrugged. “My boss, Mr. Clancy, decided that it wasn’t necessary. He said it would have been a waste of time because it could have been there since manufacture.”

McLaughlin didn’t move. “Under the coffee table, wasn’t it?”

“Yes sir.”

McLaughlin sent a quick look at Styles before approaching the witness box. “I’m going to anticipate Mr. Styles and ask if there was any way at all to have determined the length of time it had been under that table. If, that is, such information had been deemed of importance, and the testing requested.”

Shane shrugged. “Possibly. But it wasn’t. Deemed important that is.”

“It could have been there for years? Months? Or conceivably only a day?” McLaughlin asked.

“Yes, sir. Any of those.”

McLaughlin walked back to his table and leaned again, his palms on the table’s edge. He was a study in composure. “Did your tests or machines identify the powder that was found under the same table?”

“No, sir.”

“It’s completely unknown?” McLaughlin persisted. “Your extensive resources couldn’t tell you what it was, any more than Ms. Jennings’?”

“That is correct.” Shane was the consummate well-spoken witness.

“Now, on a different subject, please, Mr. O’Connell. Are you a medical expert?” McLaughlin walked to the easel showing the photograph he’d asked Clancy about on Friday.

“No, sir.”

“But you have investigated many strangulation deaths in this city?” McLaughlin clearly wanted the jury to understand that this tech knew his stuff.

Shane’s answer was reserved. “Thirteen, sir.”

McLaughlin nodded at the jury before returning his attention to Shane. “So we’ll assume you know that type of murder reasonably well.”

“I believe so, sir.”

“I asked Mr. Clancy this question on Friday and he gave me his grudging agreement that --”

“Objection!” Styles was on his feet.

Mendelssohn didn’t wait for McLaughlin’s input. “Overruled. I think we can all agree that Mr. Clancy’s response was grudging. Go on, Counselor.”

McLaughlin moved closer to the photograph. “Could you please tell the jury if, in your opinion, the finger and handprints on the victim’s throat are rotated toward the back of her neck?”

Shane nodded once. “Yes, sir, I would say they are.”

“Thank you, Mr. O’Connell.” McLaughlin walked back to his table and sat down. “No further questions.”

The judge looked at the D.A. “Cross, Mr. Styles?”

Styles stood up in place. “No way to determine if the tape residue was fresh, is that right, Mr. O’Connell?”

“We weren’t asked to,” Shane replied. “That’s not the same thing, sir.”

Styles passed the correction off with a negligent wave and his hard gaze didn’t leave Shane’s face. “And are you a medical expert?”

“No, sir.”

“No further questions.” Styles sat down.

Mendelssohn nodded to Shane. “You are excused, Mr. O’Connell.”

As Shane moved down the aisle, McLaughlin rose, stepped around the table and stood in the center of the room. “Your Honor, I would like to go on record as having attempted, with the four previous witnesses, to divert this trial from the course the prosecution has set and is pursuing with a veritable vengeance. A course which will end up requiring a great deal of time and effort in the future to put right. My client is innocent and, once that has been proven, by the apprehension of the real killer, we will take all actions necessary to obtain exoneration and redress for Detective Hutchinson.”

Mendelssohn regarded McLaughlin for a few moments before nodding. “So noted.” He wrote for what seemed like a long time before looking back up at McLaughlin. “You have approximately two hours before lunch, Counselor. How do you plan on using them?”

“Character witnesses, Your Honor.” McLaughlin opened a folder and Starsky could see a list of names.

“Call your first.” Mendelssohn sounded tired.

“Defense calls Sarah and Hennie Wilson.”

*******

Hutch’s heart tripped a few beats as the old couple walked forward hand in hand.

“Your Honor,” McLaughlin approached the bench as the two elderly people stopped at the rail separating spectators from participants. “Defense asks the court’s indulgence for the next few minutes. Please allow these good people to be sworn together and to testify as one. They have been married for over half a century and experienced a single fraught Sunday afternoon together six years ago. It will take less of the court’s time to hear them as a unit.”

“Any objection, Mr. Styles?” the judge asked.

“I suppose not, Your Honor.” The D.A. didn’t attempt to hide his irritation.

“Proceed, Mr. McLaughlin.”

Hennie and Sarah were sworn. Sarah sat while Hennie stood behind her, his hand on her shoulder. Clearly and concisely, they described the part Hutch had played in their near disastrous attempt to get recognition for the appalling conditions that had existed at their senior living center. They reinforced each other, never contradicting, and had only praise for Hutch’s professionalism, compassion and willingness to work on their behalf; not only that day, but afterward. Sarah never took her eyes off him and Hutch found it difficult to absorb that kind of admiration.

Styles knew better than to object to or interrupt the couple’s recitation.

Hutch didn’t turn around to look but he heard Starsky get up and follow Sarah and Hennie out of the room. He sincerely hoped his partner would convey their gratitude for today’s appearance and made a mental promise to himself: after this was all over, he and Starsky would pay an unhurried visit to the retirement home. They’d take Huggy, too, plus lot and lots of food!

The testimony of Tom and Ellie Cole, questioned separately, caused Hutch to replay that long terrible day. They each described their part in the hostage situation they’d been involved in and the fraught circumstances under which each of them had been rescued. McLaughlin didn’t need to draw words from either of them; they both enthusiastically told the jury they believed Hutch to have the highest moral character of anyone they’d ever personally known.

Hutch met their eyes as Tom, then Ellie walked past, thanking them silently. Ellie smiled, detoured the few steps necessary, and touched his arm.

Again, Starsky followed them out and a minute later, as he came back and sat down, his partner whispered, “their little girl is beautiful, Hutch.”

“Mr. McLaughlin,” Mendelssohn said when the gallery had settled after the Coles’ departure, “I’m quite sure you could present us with such witnesses to the defendant’s excellent character from now ‘til doomsday but if none of them has evidence contradicting that which has been presented by the prosecution, I’m afraid I must call a halt to the procession. Is there anyone else you wish the jury to hear?”

“Many people, Your Honor. They are all waiting outside and are anxious to testify. However, since none of them has physical evidence to present, I will not subject them to the prosecution’s derision.” McLaughlin met Hutch’s eyes and held them. “The defense rests.”

“We’ll break for lunch and hear closing arguments immediately after.” The judge rapped the gavel once.

*******

When Starsky got back to the precinct, he had barely enough energy to project his voice over the babble. “McLaughlin rested the defense!”

The noise stopped abruptly. Dobey straightened up from Hutch’s desk where he and Minnie had been poring over a file. “But we had character witnesses lined up for the rest of the afternoon and tomorrow.”

“I thanked them all and sent them home.” Starsky walked to his own desk and dropped into his chair. “The judge said Sarah, Hennie, Tom and Ellie were all he could allow. Closing arguments after lunch.”

Dobey stalked to the end of the row of tables, turned and faced the crowd in the room. Squaring his shoulders, he put the most determined expression on his face Starsky had ever seen. “Okay! We already knew we were in a race against time, so let’s not waste a single second.” He turned his focus on Starsky. “I skimmed each of the files before distributing them and what I discovered is, as we expected, they’re all just too damn perfect! Exactly like Ms. Bellkey’s.” He gestured to Minnie. “You start, please, Minnie. Then we’ll all quickly being Starsky up to date.”

As Starsky listened, equal parts impressed and infuriated, each officer in the room briefly related what he or she had found: ten murders, not counting Betsy, three supposed accidents and two declared suicides. All were perfect. If the detectives in the room hadn’t known Betsy’s murder was a setup, they wouldn’t have questioned the conclusions and verdicts of any of the cases.

During the briefing, calls had continued to be made by those not speaking.

“Hey, listen to this,” Simmons hollered, interrupting Babcock in mid-sentence. “I’m going to put you on speaker, Carlson, you mind?”

“Not at all, Detective Simmons.” Carlson’s voice filled the room.

“Repeat what you just told me,” said Simmons.

“We don’t get very many no-question cases, you know?” Carlson’s tone was full of what sounded like self-deprecation. “The evidence was all there and we didn’t see any need to dig deeper.”

Starsky jumped up and moved to Simmons’ desk, where he sat in the guest chair. “This is Dave Starsky, Carlson. Don’t beat yourself up over it, just tell us anything you can now.”

“It was an obvious suicide,” Carlson began. “Not that we get that many out here in Redlands, but we’d seen a few. This one had all the indicators, including a note still in the typewriter.”

“Read it to them,” Simmons urged. “I’ve got it here in the file you faxed over but let’s hear it out loud, please.”

Carlson could be heard shuffling papers before his uninflected voice read the message. “‘I can’t do this any more,’ exclamation point. Next line, ‘I’m not a very strong person, I guess,’ no punctuation. Next line, ‘I’m ending it now,’ period. ‘My way,’ period.’”

“Pretty believable,” Starsky admitted.

“That’s what we thought,” Carlson said. “But now Detective Simmons tells me the thing he found in my notes that matches your series, could take our case out of the closed column and dump it into unsolveds.”

“What thing,” Starsky asked.

“A missing photograph.” Carlson could be heard moving papers around again. “The landlady said the dead man had a framed picture on his credenza but she noticed, when she went in to clean the office a few days after he hung himself, it was gone. She admitted she hadn’t been there for a couple of weeks and we figured the ex-wife had taken it at some point. We didn’t think it was important, so we didn’t track her down in Phoenix, where she’d gone with the ashes. The picture was no big deal, right? Don’t know why I even put it in my report.”

“Sure glad you did,” Starsky told the detective.

“No reason for you to figure a missing photograph meant it wasn’t suicide, Carlson,” Simmons said. “Just be ready to change the status of your case from Self Termination to Solved Murder, once we catch our perp. And, like Starsky said, don’t beat yourself up over it.”

“Thanks, Detective Simmons. I’ll inform his church here, too. Since the coroner said he killed himself, his body was buried in unsanctified ground.”

“I hope it’ll help his family, at least a little, to know he didn’t,” Simmons told the Redlands cop.

“Starsky!” Dobey pointed at his watch. “Hadn’t you better get back to the courthouse?”

Starsky bolted.

*******

Since the morning he’d been bound over for trial, Hutch had known it might come to this. As he sat at the defense table, with McLaughlin making notes beside him, all he could do was try not to let the jury see how scared he was. He knew Starsky and everyone at the Ninth was doing his or her very best to find enough information to arrest Richard MacIntosh; that it was only a matter of time. But, suddenly, Hutch had run out of that particular commodity.

Styles strode around the courtroom, exactly as he had done during his opening statement, repeating almost the exact same words. Only this time, he told the jury they had only one choice. “Shadow of a doubt cannot be allowed to subvert overwhelming evidence.” He stared at each juror in turn. “Betsy Bellkey is dead.” He turned slowly and glared at Hutch for what seemed, to Hutch, like an eternity. Finally, he walked to the end of the rail and stood next to the foreman, gazing down the length of the two seated rows. “Do not allow her killer to go free. He sits there in front of you. Guilty is the only verdict you can, in good conscience, return.”

Styles’ walk to his table took almost twenty silent seconds - Hutch timed it to the beat of his heart - and not a sound interrupted the majestic stroll.

McLaughlin didn’t look at Hutch, for which Hutch was glad. McLaughlin walked around his table and faced the jury. Half turning, Hutch did, too. If any of them wanted, or was willing to meet his eyes, he was damn well going to defy their condemnation.

“My client is innocent,” McLaughlin began, leaning casually against the front of the defense table. “I stated that at the beginning and I’m repeating it now. My client is innocent.” He straightened up and walked to the middle of the jury box rail, scanning slowly back and forth across the twelve faces. “If you’re as tired of hearing the phrase, overwhelming evidence, as I am, I sincerely hope you’ll consider another you’ve heard during the last few days. Shadow of a doubt.”

He moved to the center of the room and turned to look at all of them as a group. “The real killer is not sitting in this room, ladies and gentlemen, he’s out there, somewhere. Defense has produced witnesses who have seen him. We attempted to introduce evidence to indicate his presence in the Silverton Hotel, directly across from Betsy Bellkey’s apartment, as well as at the grocery store where she shopped. He stalked her, he killed her, and he set my client up to take the fall. Shadow of a doubt, ladies and gentlemen. Shadow of a doubt.” He pointed at Hutch. “My client is innocent. I beg you to return a verdict of not guilty. Allow Detective Hutchinson and his partner to find Betsy’s killer.”

McLaughlin walked back to his chair and sat down. He still didn’t look at Hutch and Hutch was still glad.

Mendelssohn glanced at the clock on the wall. “The jury will retire to begin deliberations. Should you need to examine exhibits, ask the guard and they will be brought to you. If you haven’t reached a unanimous vote by five o’clock, which gives you three and a half hours, we’ll adjourn and you will continue tomorrow.” He nodded to the uniformed officer at the Jury Room door. The twelve rose and filed out of the box and into the room beyond. The guard closed the door behind them, remaining outside.

McLaughlin finally looked at Hutch. “The longer they’re out, Ken, the better our chances.”

Hutch knew that was true but he couldn’t think of a thing to say. He stood up and waited for the cuffs. At the last second, before being led away, he looked over his shoulder. Starsky’s eyes bored into his and Hutch felt himself almost lifted off his feet by unconditional love.

*******

Starsky raced back to the precinct.

“We’ve got a plumber’s uniform seen in the neighborhood in two files, Starsky,” Babcock hollered as soon as Starsky had cleared the squad room doors. He hurried to Babcock’s desk. “Big red pipe wrench on the back of otherwise nondescript gray coveralls. No company name or logo. I’ve got one in file number three, Michael Adams in San Bernardino, and Sims has one in number eleven.”

Starsky took two steps to Simmons’ desk. “Nathan Anderson, Barstow. Never followed up in either case.”

“More missing photographs, Starsky,” Minnie shouted. He hurried to Hutch’s desk. “File number two, Nick Albers in Coachella, number ten, Susan Anderson in Beverly Hills, and number fourteen, Charles Baker in Long Beach.”

Starsky held out a hand to the room in general. “Gimme a file! The jury’s been sequestered and may come back at any minute. We need to find something!”

Minnie pushed a folder across the desks, Starsky grabbed it and sat down. A note was clipped to the front cover: powder and tape residue under kitchen counter. When he finally reached Detective Dortelli in Santa Barbara, he didn’t waste words. “Detective Starsky here, Bay City PD. You sent us a file late this morning covering your investigation into the murder of Albert Baker last year.”

“That’s right.” Dortelli’s voice was wary and unpleasant. “Whaddaya want now? Your machine malfunction? You didn’t get the pages or something?”

Starsky didn’t have time for the attitude. “No, Dortelli, we got the faxes, just fine. I’m reading them now. And I see where your techs found tape residue and a white dust under a kitchen counter. Is that correct?”

“Yeah, so?” The detective sounded like he was prepared to be completely uncooperative. “Didn’t have nothin’ to do with the case.”

“I need you to send your evidence box down here immediately because I don’t have time to drive up and get it!”

Dortelli’s snort was clearly audible. “No way! That case is closed. The suspect was convicted and is sitting on death row.”

Starsky’s jaw was so tight he could barely talk. “Your suspect was innocent, Dortelli, and your evidence box contains the residue and powder we need to prove it. You will send it, and you will send it now!”

“Over my dead body.” Dortelli’s tone was loud, icy. He wasn’t even on speaker and Starsky thought the whole room might be able to hear the lack of cooperation the SB detective was dishing out. “My partner and I’ll fight you on this. You ain’t gonna screw up our closed case!”

Starsky hadn’t been aware that his captain was hovering until Dobey’s hand grabbed the phone. “Dortelli, is that your name?”

“Yeah, who’s this?” Dortelli was quieter now, probably having sensed the authority in Dobey’s tone.

“Captain Harold Dobey. My detective told you what we need and you have refused to cooperate. Therefore, I require you to transfer me to the highest ranking officer in your department. Right now!”

When Dobey was obviously put on hold, the room erupted in applause. Looking almost embarrassed, Dobey handed the phone back to Starsky, picked up the file, and headed into his office. “Hang this up after I’m on the line, please. Then grab yourself another folder. I may be a while with Santa Barbara.”

Starsky waited until he heard Dobey pick up and punch the blinking light before hanging up. Minnie passed him the next name.

As the hours passed, Starsky talked to other detectives who were outraged that their cases were going to be re-opened. “There were no other suspects! We got our conviction. Case closed!”

“You had a serial killing and you missed it. Live with it!” After a while, Starsky found he had very little sympathy for the whining.

Dobey finally came out of his office and gave the file to Babcock. “Detective Dortelli will be driving down from Santa Barbara with their evidence box as soon as his shift is over. I told him to speak with you two.” His gesture included Simmons, who was on the phone again.

“Yes, sir,” Babcock said. “We’ll be looking for him.”

Dobey’s glance at Starsky contained amusement. “Seems Detective Dortelli would rather not have to deal with you or me again, Starsky.”

Starsky couldn’t even work up a smile; he was weary to the bone. He got up and was pouring himself yet another cup of coffee when Babcock answered a ringing line, listened for a few seconds, and caught Starsky’s eye. “Jury’s coming back.”

Starsky sucked in a breath and put the cup down. Without looking at anyone, he ran for the doors.

*******

Hutch’s cuffs were removed again and he dropped into the chair next to McLaughlin, who was staring at the empty bench at the front of the room. During the previous three and a half hours, Hutch had sat on the floor in his cell. Realizing his need for quiet, his protectors hadn’t said a word.

Hutch hadn’t come close to centering himself or finding peace but he had managed to keep the fear in check. How long he’d be able to do so, if the verdict went against him, he didn’t know.

What he did know was that, if he’d been one of the jurors and had heard all the testimony against him, he might vote guilty. He wouldn’t blame any of them if it turned out they had.

He couldn’t look at Starsky but basked in the waves of strength and encouragement being sent from the seat behind him.

The jury filed in and took their places, after which Judge Mendelssohn entered from his chambers and stepped up to his high-backed chair. He looked at the man seated at the end of the first row of jurors. “Mr. Foreman, has the jury reached a verdict?”

The foreman rose. “We have, Your Honor.” The ritualistic passing of a small piece of paper from the speaker’s hand to the bailiff’s, from his to the judge’s, back to the bailiff, and its return to the speaker took place in dead silence. Elapsed time: twenty seconds.

The foreman, one of the prospective jurors Hutch and McLaughlin had been sure was lying about being able to be unbiased, didn’t look down. He fastened his hard gaze on Hutch. “We, the jury, find the defendant, Kenneth Hutchinson, guilty.”

The words fell into dead silence as the speaker sat down, a satisfied look on his face. Movement out of the corner of his eye caught Hutch’s attention and he turned just enough to see Number Twelve looking at him. The young man’s expression shouted the inaudible words: I tried! I swear to God, I tried! But I got beat down. I’m sorry.

Hutch sent the kid a small smile and Number Twelve wiped his eyes.

“If that the decision of each of you?” Mendelssohn asked.

One at a time, every juror said yes. Number Twelve’s answer couldn’t have been heard more than feet away but he didn’t look at Hutch again.

Mendelssohn stared toward the back of the room for a very long time and no one moved or made a sound. Finally, he looked at the foreman. “The court thanks you for your time. You are dismissed.”

With most of the individual jurors still looking sanctimonious daggers at Hutch, they filed out through the Jury Room door.

Mendelssohn spent another long time contemplating, Hutch supposed, what he would say next. At last, he nodded toward the defense table. “Will the defendant please rise?”

Hutch and McLaughlin both did.

The judge looked down, possibly to check notes he may have written, before looking straight at Hutch, his expression solemn, his eyes tired. “I didn’t approve of the District Attorney’s balls-to-the-wall approach to this trial, but I did nothing to delay him, as I begin to suspect I should have.”

He took a deep breath. “Be that as it may, you have been judged guilty by a jury of your peers and it is now my duty to pass sentence.” He dropped his eyes again for a moment.

When he raised his head, Hutch thought he looked as if he had aged ten years in those few seconds. “The state has guidelines and those say that, for a first-offense murder without rape or mutilation, the recommendation is twenty years to life. So ordered.” He raised his gavel and let it fall.

His fathomless gaze wandered around the room for another long moment before he looked back at Hutch. “You will be transported by bus to the state penitentiary tomorrow morning at eight a.m., there to begin your sentence.” The hammer fell again. “This court is adjourned.”

McLaughlin leaned over. “We’ll appeal immediately, Ken. And I’m told your partner’s close to arresting the real killer. One way or the other, this won’t stand!”

Hutch’s hands were pulled behind his back but he almost didn’t feel it. He was floating in a sea of ‘it’s happened. Now I have to deal with it.’

Starsky’s shout rode over the spectators’ general commotion. “We’ve almost got him, Hutch! I swear I’ll get you out.”

Hutch turned and locked eyes with his partner. I love you, Starsk.

*******

Guilty! The six o’clock news talked about nothing but the afternoon’s verdict. Guilty!

I had been concerned when I’d watched the noon newscasts in the break room at work. They’d been a bit unsettling. The hotel and store manager had put me close to the scene. Should I run? Was it time?

I had gotten up and paced the empty room; none of my co-workers ever brought their own lunch. I was alone, and unusually undecided. No one had ever suspected I exist before; how could this be happening? I’d executed my plan exactly as I’d always done. I was sure I hadn’t made any mistakes.

What should I do? I really didn’t want to leave my perfect job. My house was convenient to the places so many of my intended subjects lived. I’d never find another position like this one and would have to give up my mission.

I really wasn’t ready to live on a beach in the Caymans on my inherited and accumulated wealth; I had more work to do!

I went back to my desk and tried to concentrate but the afternoon had been difficult.

Now, though, at home, watching all the different channels, I was ecstatic!

Every obstacle Hutchinson’s partner had tried to put in the prosecution’s way had turned out to be mere bumps in the road. Starsky’s career would go down in flames as collateral damage to Hutchinson’s conviction. Two for the price of one! I poured myself a celebratory scotch!

 

MONDAY NIGHT - TUESDAY - FOURTH WEEK

Starsky didn’t know how he got to the precinct with himself and the Torino still in one piece but he did.

He drew a cup of water and fell into his chair. A folder was on his desk and he opened it immediately, paying no attention to the name of the victim or those of the investigating officers. What he needed was the evidence list. On the last page he found a fingerprint document. The fax machine the page had come through on downstairs had been running out of ink so the image wasn’t great but Starsky’s heart skipped several beats. In the upper left corner, in the box marked, Right Thumb, was a partial print. Even showing only half the digit, it was huge.

Starsky skipped back to the first page and scanned the data before grabbing his phone and dialing. “Detective Bailey, please. Detective Starsky calling again from Bay City.”

Bailey finally answered. “What is it now, Starsky? Didn’t you get the file?”

“We did, and that’s why I’m calling.” Starsky turned to the last page. “Your lab found a partial thumb print on a button.”

“That’s right. Adams was seen wearing a really good cashmere overcoat that night at the gambling den. The suspect had it on when we woke him in his Frigidaire carton.” Bailey’s voice was wary. “But, shit, it wasn’t even a full print, and only the one. Could have come from anybody! We didn’t bother to run it.”

“I need that button, Bailey. I need it now. Can you bring it up here?”

“Oh, come on, Starsky. It’s only half of one print. You think it’s gonna match this serial you’re chasing? Is that it?” Bailey’s sarcasm was blatant.

“Do you remember how large the print was?” Starsky asked.

“Yeah, I think so. It was big, right?” Bailey didn’t sound as sure of himself.

“Huge! That’s why I know it’s our killer. Witnesses here saw a man with oversize hands in the neighborhood of the victim’s apartment.”

“Won’t the fax work?”

“No, Bailey. I need the item itself. My lab techs have to lift a non-blurred print and compare it to a set we got… unofficially.”

“Ah, ha!” Bailey ah ha’d. “So you’re coloring outside the lines yourself, is that it?”

Starsky’s throat closed around his retort and he almost couldn’t get the words out past his anger. “My partner has just been convicted, Bailey; he goes to prison first thing tomorrow morning. Do you have any idea how many felons will be waiting for him there?”

Bailey was silent for almost ten seconds. “I’ll bring the evidence box up myself. Give me the address.”

As soon as Starsky hung up, he dashed into Dobey’s office. Dobey was on the phone himself and held up a hand. Starsky paced until the captain disconnected. “San Diego has a button with a partial of MacIntosh’s right thumb! Detective Bailey’s bringing the evidence box up now.”

Dobey grabbed his phone again and dialed three numbers. “O’Connell, this is Captain Dobey. Is Clancy there?” He activated the speaker.

“No, sir, he’s not.” Shane sounded sad and angry. “He went home early and we all know he’ll be celebrating tonight. Lousy bastard.”

“If Starsky brings you an object, can you find out if the single partial on it matches one from a set we’ll send along?” Dobey’s voice was taut. “And can you find out tonight?”

“You’ve got a real suspect in the Bellkey murder?” All the sadness was gone from O’Connell’s tone. “You know who did it?”

Starsky jumped in. “We do, Shane. We got a set of his prints, unofficially, and we need you to match the print of a right thumb coming up from San Diego to that set. Can you do it as soon as it gets here?”

“Greg and I’ll stay as long as you need, Starsky. We know the verdict came down and it was the wrong one so we’ll do whatever we can.”

“Thanks, Shane.” Starsky made sure his appreciation came through in his words. “We’re trying to get other hard evidence from the first fifteen killings and, if we do, we’ll send it along.”

“Fifteen? Did you say fifteen?” The question was whispered.

“‘Fraid so,” Dobey said.

“Shit! Send everything you’ve got Starsky; we’ll tie it up in a bow for you.” O’Connell was all determination now.

Dobey disconnected. “Make a copy of those documents Cheryl gave us so we can include it with the evidence boxes when they get here. We can’t let the Bellkey file out of this office but Shane has to have that set of prints.”

Starsky headed for the door. “Yes, sir!”

“Starsky, wait!… Close the door…. Sit down.” Starsky did, his heart rate increasing due to the suddenly concerned look on Dobey’s face. “I just realized something. This I.D., if we get it, is fruit of the poisoned tree. We obtained MacIntosh’s identity from a set of prints off a piece of tape you found outside the official investigation. The search for that identify was done without sanction. If we get a warrant and go through his house, even if we find everything we need to lock him away for life, it could all be thrown out of court.”

Starsky realized it was true. “What if we get him to confess?”

Dobey shook his head. “That, too, could be overturned by some ambulance-chasing lawyer who couldn’t care less how many people MacIntosh had slaughtered. He’d point out that there was no legal way that we could have known who we were looking for. Therefore, our warrant for his arrest, and the search of his house, were illegal, and nothing we found there admissible. His confession wouldn’t matter, either.”

Starsky was glad he was already sitting down. “What can we do, Cap?”

“Find some other legitimate way we could have found out who he is. We need a work-around. Is there any other misplaced, not-followed-up, misunderstood piece of evidence in any of those files that could have led to him? Anything we can officially find, now, to I.D. him?”

Starsky bolted out of the chair. “We’ll look again, Cap. We’ll go back through every word!”

*******

Hutch didn’t eat a single bite of his dinner and, for the first time, none of his cellmates was hungry, either. They hadn’t said anything since his return from the courtroom because they hadn’t needed to ask; the verdict was all over the jail.

Whistles, hoots and hollers had floated through their cell door and filled the corridor on their way to the cafeteria. Faces there were smug. Hutch knew things would be much worse at the prison.

*******

Amid the tension of putting every one of the files back under a microscope, Huggy showed up with bags of hamburgers, cheeseburgers and fries. Even a few salads, one of which Minnie snagged before heading back to Hutch’s desk. Starsky couldn’t eat but everyone else took advantage of the fare.

“Huggy, you’ve been feeding all of us for weeks now.” Dobey stuffed a few fries in his mouth. “You sent lunch to Hutch and McLaughlin every day. When are you going to let the department know how much we owe you?”

“As soon as Hutch is back at that desk, Captain.” Huggy pointed to the place Minnie currently occupied. “I’ll be more than happy to present a bill to the chief, myself. Only one precinct in this whole town supported Hutch and the rest of ‘em oughta have to pay for that betrayal. Doncha think?”

“Took the words right out of my mouth, Mr. Bear.” Dobey, with his burger, plus a full basket of fries, returned to his office, leaving the door open.

After the roomful finished their meal and the detritus had been cleaned up, an unknown face pushed through the doors. “Is this where I can find Detectives Simmons and Babcock?”

Babcock got up, gesturing to his partner. “That’s us.”

“Dortelli.” The new man carried a cardboard box into the room and shook hands with Simmons and Babcock. “I’ve got the evidence from the Albert Baker case. Santa Barbara.”

With a glance at Starsky, Simmons got up, drew a guest chair to his desk, and took the armful. “Have a seat, Dortelli.”

Before the room’s tense search could gear up again, another man entered. “Anybody here named Starsky?”

Starsky hurried past the file cabinets. “Bailey?”

Bailey shifted the carton he carried and shook Starsky’s hand. “That’s me.” He held up the box. “Got everything from the Adams case right here.”

Dobey came out of his office. “Where’s that copy of Cheryl’s pages you made, Starsky?”

Starsky eased past the captain’s bulk to his desk, grabbed two stapled pieces of paper, came back and handed them to Dobey.

Dobey gestured to one of the uniforms. “Jones! Get these,” he gave the copies to the officer, “and both of those boxes to the lab right away. O’Connell and Gregson are waiting for them!”

The officer stacked Bailey’s carton on top of the one Simmons held, took them and left.

Simmons and Babcock sat down. Starsky shoved the chair Dortelli had been going to use aside, dragged over the nearest table and butted it against the partners’ desks. Then, as Simmons repositioned Dortelli’s chair, Starsky brought two more for himself and Bailey. Introductions were exchanged and four files were opened; the Santa Barbara and San Diego detectives had brought their own original copies.

Dobey delivered a mug of coffee to each of them before shaking Dortelli’s hand. “Sorry to have been so rough on you, son, but this is really important to us. Hutch is ours, and he was framed by the man who orchestrated your case, Detective Bailey’s, and fourteen others. ”

“I think I understand now, Captain, and apologize for my attitude, earlier.” Dortelli had lost all his antagonism. “I can only hope, if something similar happened to me, my colleagues would rally round like you people are.”

Dobey pointed to their files. “Find us something!” He went into his office.

Bailey opened his folder and looked at Starsky. “I haven’t been able to think about anything else since you called. Did we convict the wrong guy?”

“Talk about wrong guy.” Dortelli sipped his hot coffee. “Ours is on death row.”

Starsky and the others absorbed that for a minute before Starsky mentally shook himself. “Well, let’s get him off!” He opened his faxed file.

Simmons’ phone rang and he answered, waited a beat and punched the speaker. “We’re all here, Shane, talk to us.”

“I’m working the button, and Gregson’s put the powder in our analyzer. That’ll take a while. In the meantime, he’s going to find out how the residue from Santa Barbara compares with the sample from Ms. Bellkey’s cocktail table. Just wanted you to know we got the stuff and we’re on it. Give you a call the minute we have any results.”

“Thanks, Shane!” Starsky hollered.

“Thank me when we’ve got enough to overturn Hutch’s conviction!” O’Connell disconnected.

*******

Hutch couldn’t sleep. He had no idea what time it was but knew he’d been awake for hours. Whenever he closed his eyes, the darkness contained faces leering at him out of the shadows. Faces of men he and Starsky had sent to the same prison Hutch would be driven to at eight o’clock. These were men Hutch knew would very likely welcome the chance to torment him, physically and emotionally.

He turned on his side and wrapped the pillow around his head but that did nothing to block out the insidious voices that never stopped. They weren’t raised now but were, somehow, more threatening in their soft sibilance. Rolling onto his back again, he stared at the black ceiling.

“Hutch…?” Bo whispered, just loud enough to be heard over the continuing intimidation.

“Sorry, guys.” Hutch kept his voice low, as well. “You won’t have to put up with this after tonight.”

“Can we help?” Ernie asked.

“If we all concentrate really hard,” Skip whispered, “maybe we can… not hear it.”

“Is that possible?” Bo asked.

Hutch slid off his bunk and crossed his legs on the floor. “I honestly don’t know. But it’s worth a try.” The others joined him.

The voices didn’t stop but Hutch felt himself calmed and insulated within the circle of his new friends.

*******

Dortelli opened his folder on the additional table. “Albert Baker was a real estate agent, scheduled to show a property to a prospective buyer named Peter Graves.” He grinned quickly. “No. A different Peter Graves.” He turned a few pages. “We got an anonymous tip that something bad was going down at the For Sale house.”

“Did you trace the call?” Simmons asked.

“It came from a phone booth a quarter of a mile away,” Dortelli said. “And, before you ask, our tech wasn’t able to retrieve a single usable print.”

Babcock’s smile was rueful. “Surprise, surprise.”

“Our captain wasn’t too worried about finding the tipster,” Dortelli continued, “because Graves was still at the scene when we got there.”

“Conscious or un-?” Starsky was tense, time was slipping away and Hutch was only a few hours from that bus ride.

“Un, lying next to the victim.” Dortelli replied. “Al Baker’s brains were splattered all over a newly refurbished kitchen by a cast iron frying pan. There was an empty hook in the middle of a rack of similar pans hanging from the ceiling over the center island.”

“Wait,” Babcock interrupted. “I thought you said this was a house for sale.”

Dortelli gestured to the faxed copy of his file Babcock had open on his desk. “It’s in there somewhere. The house had been fully furnished in order to appeal to buyers.”

Babcock scanned and nodded. “Got it.”

“Back to the skillet.” Starsky knew, in his gut, the murder weapon was more important than they were thinking. He just couldn’t figure out how. “I’ll bet Graves’ prints were around the handle.”

“Better than that,” Dortelli said. “The murder weapon was clutched in his hand.”

“But why is he on death row?” Simmons asked. “That’s usually reserved for special circumstances.”

“Baker was beaten so viciously the M.E. said more than half the bones in his body had been broken. He said he’d never seen evidence of that kind of rage before.” Dortelli put his cup down. “The D.A. asked for the death penalty and, after the guilty verdict, the judge granted the request.”

Babcock was reading the first page in his folder again. “Did Baker’s office confirm the appointment with Graves?”

“Yes.” Dortelli checked his initial page. “He had been through the house with Baker a few days before and this was his second tour. Supposedly, he was ready to sign on the dotted line.”

“Says here,” Babcock continued, “he’d been seen in the neighborhood a few times, checking on schools, shopping, churches, that kind of thing.”

“Our perp,” Starsky chimed in, “had undoubtedly been watching all that for a couple of weeks. Setting the poor guy up must have been almost too easy.”

Dortelli nodded. “I think I can actually see what you mean. What we found was just too perfect.”

“Why was Graves unconscious?” Babcock was skimming the rest of the file again. “Was that determined?”

The Santa Barbara cop shook his head. “The doctor at the jail ward where he was sent said it could have been shock or some sort of blackout. Couldn’t find any drugs in his system that would account for it.”

“‘Course not,” Simmons mused. “The stuff was gone by the time his blood was tested.”

“You know what it was?” Dortelli asked.

Starsky fielded that one. “Best guess is something from spy novels.”

“No shit?” Dortelli looked back down at his file. “And I thought we had an open and shut case of aggravated murder.”

Starsky held his hand out to Babcock and received the folder. “The tape residue and white powder were found under the built-in desk in the corner of the breakfast nook?”

“Sure were,” Dortelli answered. “Since the kitchen had been completely renovated, we figured both were leftovers from that, and meaningless to us.” He studied his counterparts. “Not, huh?”

“What probably happened in your case,” Starsky began, “as we’re pretty sure it did in ours, is this: the killer taped a canister of unidentified knockout gas and a listening device under that built-in. Once he knew that Baker and Graves were in the room - he might have been watching from outside, too, which is what he did here - he triggered a valve and released the gas.”

Starsky could almost see what he was describing. “Then he went in and beat Albert Baker to death, made sure he didn’t step in the blood, removed his devices, and left. As soon as he got to the phone booth, he called in his anonymous tip, without waiting two hours for Graves to wake up.” His voice grew even harsher. “In our case, he waited because he wanted my partner to be completely aware of what was happening. You know it’s a cop’s worst nightmare: found at the scene of a brutal murder and considered the prime suspect.”

“That is the coldest thing I think I’ve ever heard,” Dortelli said.

Simmons held up one of his folders. “You should read some of these others. Our perp has been killing for eight years and many of the details are just plain gruesome.”

“What kind of motive could he have?” Dortelli wondered.

“We’ll be sure and ask that question.” Starsky knew his tone was snarly and he didn’t care.

“You say you know who it is, right?” Dortelli asked. “Why isn’t he in custody?”

“Long story,” said Babcock. “He’s never out of our sight, though, and all we’re waiting for is a call from O’Connell.”

“In the meantime…” Bailey sat forward. “Let me tell you the extent this killer went to in order to frame Jonas Hemmings.”

Starsky got up, grabbed the fresh pot of coffee someone had made and refilled everybody’s cup. Gesturing toward the double doors, he put the pot back on the base unit. “Men’s room is down the hall to the right, fellas.” He sat back down and waited for Bailey to begin.

“Before you get into that, Starsky,” Minnie piped up from Hutch’s desk, “I’ve got another missing photograph. Number Twelve, Wilson Armstrong, Lake Arrowhead. Trophy trout picture gone from above his fireplace. The mention’s buried at the end of the report - it wasn’t followed up.”

Dobey’s voice roared from his office: “I’ve got another plumber’s uniform reported in the neighborhood of the fourth killing; Morton Adams, Ojai. It was never checked out.”

“Thanks, Captain, and Minnie.” Starsky saluted her with his cup, since she was the only one of the two he could see. “We’re building his cell, iron bar by iron bar.” He turned back to the San Diego cop.

Bailey opened his file. “I’ve read through this every time I had a break all day. I can see, now, that we should have questioned some things, but we didn’t.”

Starsky opened his copy of Bailey’s case file.

“Jonas Hemmings was homeless,” Bailey began. “He lived in a refrigerator carton under a freeway interchange near some abandoned warehouses. One of them was used every month or so by an illegal gambling outfit. The night of the murder, it had been open and operating at full capacity.” Bailey took a moment to sip coffee and probably remember that night.

“Stephen Adams owned a tuxedo shop in downtown San Diego and was a known patron of gambling dens. Witnesses saw him at the warehouse that night, wearing a black cashmere overcoat. Just before dawn, Adams was found at the side of the building, dead. He’d been stabbed numerous times. Uniforms scoured the homeless settlement under the interchange and came across Hemmings, asleep in his carton. He was wearing the victim’s blood-soaked overcoat.”

“Of course he was,” Dortelli muttered.

“Hold the sarcasm, Dortelli,” Simmons said. “You missed yours, too.”

Dortelli ducked his head in acknowledgement. “You’re right, we did.” He looked at the San Diego cop. “Go on, Bailey.”

“Hemmings’ blood alcohol level tested off the charts,” Bailey continued, “and he freely admitted he’d downed an entire bottle of Thunderbird wine.”

“Where the hell did he get that?” Babcock asked.

Bailey lifted a shoulder in a half-shrug. “Said he found it at the corner of the warehouse. He was known to hang out there whenever it was in use, panhandle the patrons, even hassle a few. He confessed to mugging and robbing a gentleman a few months earlier. This… gentleman never reported the crime because he undoubtedly didn’t want it known that he frequented such places.”

“So, Hemmings lived in the vicinity, if you can call it living, and was known to approach gamblers.” Simmons shook his head. “Poor guy had no idea he’d made himself the perfect patsy.”

“Wait, there’s more!” Bailey added.

“Isn’t there always?” Dortelli brought the pot of coffee over and refilled cups.

“One leather glove, right hand,” Bailey went on, “covered with what turned out to be Adams’ blood, was found in a corner of Hemmings’ crate.”

“Of course it was.” Babcock duplicated Dortelli’s earlier sarcastic tone and, this time, everyone accepted it. “And the murder weapon?”

“Next to the glove.” Bailey flipped a page in his folder. “Neither of them hidden.”

“And this didn’t smell like a setup to you and your partner?” Simmons couldn’t hide his disbelief.

Bailey shook his head. “Not at the time. We thought we got lucky.”

“What size was the glove?” Starsky asked.

“Biggest any of us had ever seen,” the SD detective told them.

“Too big for Hemmings?” Babcock asked.

Bailey nodded. “Way too big. But, if you’re homeless and don’t have gloves at all, one that’s too big is better than nothing. It gets cold in San Diego at night sometimes.”

“So, let’s visualize.” Starsky closed his file and scanned the faces of his old and new friends. “Our perp leaves a bottle of wine outside the warehouse where he knows Hemmings is going to be cruising. I’ll bet, once we have our guy in custody and he starts bragging about how smart he was with each of his hits, we’ll find out he hung around the interchange for the three weeks leading up to Adams’ murder, maybe even talked to Hemmings, himself; certainly to everyone in the settlement. He knew exactly what to leave at the corner of that warehouse, positive Hemmings would find it. On the night in question, the poor sap does, goes to his crib, doesn’t share, and gets soused.”

Simmons picked up the thread. “The killer waylays Adams on his way out of the den and stabs him to death. Then he removes the coat, walks the short distance to the underpass and stuffs the passed-out Hemmings into it. The knife is ditched inside the crate.” He sent a questioning look at Bailey. “And nobody saw any of this happen?”

“You have to understand what it’s like there,” Bailey said. “It’s darker than pitch under that stack of overpasses. The folks that live there try to sleep as much as possible, day or night, so I find it completely believable that none of them saw anything. Also, they’re vagrants and want as little to do with the police as they can manage. In addition, the den being illegal, the patrons scurry in and out without meeting anyone’s eyes, or seeing anything outside the circle of their feet. It’s I-can’t-see-you-so-you-can’t-see-me territory.”

“The glove would have hindered him.” Starsky was thinking out loud but he could almost picture this scene, too. “Difficult to button buttons with a heavy blood-soaked leather glove on. He took it off and dropped it next to the knife. He thought he was careful, but his right thumb left half a print on the back of one of the buttons.”

“With you all describing everything, I can see it clear as glass,” Bailey admitted. “But we didn’t see it at the time.”

“I’m guessing,” Babcock said, “that he went with some sort of medical or surgical gloves after that one. He’s left no prints at any of the other scenes.”

“Wait a minute.” Starsky paged to the back of the Albert Baker file again and felt a jolt go through him as his brain noticed something his eyes had skimmed over half a dozen times before. “What’s this?”

When the others looked at him, he put his finger on a notation at the bottom of the sheet containing Peter Graves’ fingerprints. “Says here there were thin partial prints on the under side of the murder weapon’s handle.”

Dortelli turned to the same page in his original file. “Yeah, so? One of the designers staging the house would have hung the pan up.”

“I don’t think so,” Starsky said. “Something about this makes my skin crawl.”

Dortelli read the notation. “‘Slivers of four anomalous partials. Not enough to run.’” He looked at Starsky. “I remember now, but what about it?”

Before Starsky could answer, Simmons’ phone rang and he grabbed it. “Simmons!”

“Put me on speaker,” Starsky heard O’Connell yell. As soon as Simmons did, O’Connell’s up-beat voice continued. “You gave us more than you thought, Starsky. I’m going to talk about the unreal one first because it was the most difficult. Did you know there are partial prints on the back of this skillet handle from Santa Barbara?”

“We just found the notation a minute ago, Shane,” Starsky said. “What can you tell us about them?”

“It’s one of the two weirdest thing I’ve ever seen. Each of the prints is from a finger of a right hand, and each is beside Peter Graves’ corresponding finger. In other words, it’s like what I visualized at Ms. Bellkey’s. Somebody with a great big right hand gripped Graves’ right hand and pressed it around the handle. Only whatever glove Big Hand was wearing had split at the tips of the fingers and narrow slivers of his own prints ended up next to those of Graves.”

“Cheap gloves?” Simmons speculated. “That doesn’t sound like our perp.”

Starsky shook his head. “More like the beating he’d given Baker stretched them too much.”

Dortelli’s face had reddened. “I remember reading the notation but, since our lab didn’t include copies of those slivers, my partner and I didn’t pay any attention to it.”

“Maybe they had a Clancy of their own,” Starsky offered. “Anyway, now that we’ve found them, what can we do with them, Shane?”

“That’s where it gets really good, Starsky,” O’Connell went on. “I cheated a little but since I knew, from the unofficial pages you sent, that the man we’re after is a government employee, I didn’t waste time searching other databases; that might have taken hours. I pulled a set of the slivers off the frying pan, and ran them. MacIntosh’s fingerprints are so distinctive, even with only narrow partials, the positive match came back in under half an hour!”

“That’s terrific, Sha --”

“I’m not finished, Starsky!” O’Connell interrupted. “The icing on the cake came next. And this was the easy one. While I was waiting on the run, I dug into the box from San Diego. Guess what I found?”

“Don’t do this, Shane,” Starsky begged. “I don’t have a lot of patience right now.”

“Sorry, Starsky.” O’Connell’s voice was apologetic. “I forgot for a minute how important this is to you and Hutch. What I found was a full set of MacIntosh’s right hand prints on the inside of the leather glove.”

What?” Starsky and Dobey shouted the word simultaneously and Starsky realized the captain had come out of his office to listen.

“You heard me,” Shane said. “Nobody in the lab down there bothered to check since they had so much other damning evidence. But I did because I knew we needed to find the real guilty party.”

“But… inside?… They were on the inside?” Dobey demanded.

“It’s one of those reverse-skin work gloves, Captain,” O’Connell explained. "The tanned side is sewn inside, for comfort, I guess.” Starsky could almost see the tech shrug. “Whatever the reason, it held five only-slightly-blurred prints.”

“You just saved the case, Shane O’Connell,” Dobey said.

“Yeah.” Shane probably nodded. “I figured somebody up there had thought about fruits of deadly trees, so you don’t have to worry about that any longer.”

“Shane….” Dobey seemed to be having trouble finding words.

Starsky knew the captain needed a minute, so he jumped in. “What about the rest of it, O’Connell. We need absolutely everything you can give us!”

“Okay, here’s the mundane good news,” Shane said. “Greg believes the residue came from the same roll of duct tape as the sample from Ms. Bellkey’s coffee table. The roll is old! He may still be using the same one he started with eight years ago. If you find it, Greg can match it to both samples. The powder from Santa Barbara is an exact match with that found on Ms. Bellkey’s carpet, too.”

“Do you know what it is, yet?” Dobey asked.

“No, sir. It’s still unidentified,” O’Connell replied.

“And the button from San Diego?” Starsky asked.

“Its partial print,” Shane said, “is an unmistakable match to MacIntosh’s right thumb.”

“No doubt about any of it?” Starsky held his breath.

“None whatsoever! You got him!”

Dobey faced the room. “Who do we know that’ll give us a warrant tonight?” He scanned faces. “Anybody?”

Babcock spun his Rolodex. “Salter. I’ll call him. He’ll want to see the proof.”

Shane hadn’t hung up. “If you fill out the forms, I’ll meet you there. I’ll have hardcopy graphs from the machines for the tape and powder, and the print matches from all three items are so apparent, even someone who’s never done a comparison before would understand.”

“Starsky will bring copies of everything we’ve found here, so far, Shane.” Dobey looked toward Minnie but she was already at the copy machine. “We have to make Judge Salter understand the kind of serial we’re dealing with.”

Babcock held up a hand. “Just wait a second. It’s the middle of the night and his phone’s still ringing. Let’s find out if he’ll even see us.” He suddenly brought the mouthpiece closer. “Sorry to bother you so late, Your Honor…. Yes, sir, I guess it is early. Detective Babcock here, sir, and we need you to sign a warrant. I’m going to put you on speaker, okay?” As soon as he got affirmation, Babcock’s next words were amplified. “Captain Dobey’s here, too, Judge.”

“What in the world are you doing there this late at night, Harold?” Salter bellowed. “Or this early in the morning. What time is it, anyway?”

“Just after three, sir,” Babcock replied.

“We’ve identified a suspect in the Bellkey murder, Your Honor,” Dobey said.

“You found your shadow!” It was a statement, not a question.

“Yes, sir, we did.” Dobey stepped closer to the speaker. “Just tonight we’ve been able to bring together physical evidence and numerous witness reports that pin Richard MacIntosh as the real killer. A sixteen-times killer, sir.”

“Good God!” The judge could be heard shuffling around. “Okay, I’m going to get dressed. I’ll be waiting and, if what you show me is compelling, you’ll have your warrant.”

“We’re on our way, Your Honor,” Starsky yelled.

“Is that Starsky I hear?” Salter asked.

“Yes, sir!”

“Going to haul your partner’s coals out of the fire, are you, son?” There was humor in the voice now.

“Or die trying, sir,” Starsky vowed.

“I hope it doesn’t come to that.” Salter hung up.

*******

Hutch was so grateful to his cellmates he knew he’d never be able to express himself in words when it came time to leave. The four of them had achieved a level of calm self-awareness he wouldn’t have believed possible under the circumstances.

However, after a particularly ugly raised-voice threat managed to break their concentration, none of them was able to regain his previous state of grace. They gave up and crawled back in their bunks.

Hutch knew Bo was angry at having been interrupted and wasn’t surprised when he exploded. “Shut the fuck up!”

*******

On the way to Judge Salter’s house, Dobey called Starsky on the radio. “As soon as the warrant’s in your hands, have O’Connell follow you out to Desert Heights. I want him heading the tech team when they arrive. I’m jumping the gun and sending them now but you’re already half-way there. Benson and Alvernon are on the suspect’s house tonight. Simmons and Babcock are heading there now. Make sure your three cars keep him contained. Don’t use Shane’s.”

“What about the undeveloped section of the Heights, sir? That’s county, isn’t it?”

“Yes. I’ve informed the sheriff’s department of the situation and they’ve said they’ll have units all over it within thirty minutes. MacIntosh won’t get away if he tries that direction.”

“Sounds good, Cap. I’ll let you know as soon as we have the warrant. I’m there now.” He keyed off the mic and hung it up.

O’Connell was waiting for him, climbed out of his car with a briefcase and joined Starsky on the front walk. Judge Salter answered the door and led them to his den. It didn’t take long for them to present their case and for the judge to sign the warrant.

“I followed the trial, of course,” Salter told Starsky as he escorted them to the door. “Never believed Hutchinson was guilty but it sure was a tight frame.”

Starsky held out his hand. “Yes, sir, it was. It’s worked fifteen times before.”

Salter’s grip was firm. “Let’s make sure he doesn’t get to try for seventeen.”

O’Connell patted his briefcase. “That’s the plan, Your Honor. With what’s in here, plus witnesses and evidence still being gathered by Captain Dobey and his team, we’re going to put him so far underground the light of day will be a fond memory.”

The judge actually smiled. “I like that allusion, Mr. O’Connell. Go for it!” He closed the door.

Starsky sprinted toward the Torino. “Follow me, Shane. Dobey’s already called for a crime scene wagon. You’re the lead.”

“I’ll be on your back bumper, Starsky!”

The trip only took ten minutes. Starsky motioned for Shane to park his car around the corner while he positioned Alvernon’s and Simmons’ unmarked at the end of MacIntosh’s driveway with the Torino parked directly across it.

Simmons, Babcock, Alvernon and Benson climbed out of their cars and joined Starsky and O’Connell on the front walk leading up to the house. Pre-sunrise was just beginning to lighten the eastern horizon. Starsky put the hours, counting down to the moment Hutch would have to board that damn bus, out of his mind! The next few minutes would be critical in their efforts to clear, and free his partner and he needed to make no mistakes!

Alvernon and Benson split up and crept down the sides of MacIntosh’s house to cover the back and each other.

Starsky, Simmons and Babcock, hurried up the front walk, and stepped onto the porch. Starsky drew his Beretta and held it down by his leg before pounding on the door. “This is the police, Richard MacIntosh. We have a warrant for your arrest. Open up!”

Starsky’s heart counted the seconds, with scurrying sounds coming from inside, and it took almost sixty before the door opened a few inches. The man he knew was a serial killer looked out at him, surprise and what might have been embarrassment in his eyes.

“Shit, shit, shit,” MacIntosh muttered. “Shoulda split.” With a deep sigh, he stepped back and opened the door. “Already saw you have the back covered so I suppose you’ll have to come in.” He led the way into a spacious, well-furnished living room and gestured them toward chairs.

Starsky motioned for Simmons to stay and for Babcock to search the house for other occupants. He pulled the warrant out of his jacket. “Would you like to look at this?”

MacIntosh waved it away. “Oh, I’m sure it’s in order.” He sat in a recliner.

With Simmons backing him up, Starsky holstered the Beretta and walked to within five feet of MacIntosh. “Stand up and turn around. Spread your legs and lean your hands against the wall.” MacIntosh did as ordered. Starsky patted him down thoroughly and didn’t find any weapons under the robe and pajamas. He pulled MacIntosh’s arms behind him but discovered that the wrists were so thick, his standard restraints wouldn’t close. “My cuffs don’t fit!”

Babcock, shaking his head to indicate no one else was in the house, came into the room and Simmons gestured toward the street. “We need our pair of extenders, partner.”

Starsky took a few deep breaths, held MacIntosh in place, and waited for Babcock’s return. As soon as the rarely-needed accessories arrived, Starsky and Simmons managed to secure the large wrists.

Alvernon and Benson came in. “Nobody outside, Starsky,” Alvernon said.

Starsky turned MacIntosh around. “Richard John MacIntosh, you are under arrest for multiple counts of premeditated murder. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right…” Starsky continued to recite the Miranda ruling he and Hutch knew by heart.

Starsky pushed MacIntosh back down in the chair. “Would you like to waive your rights, MacIntosh, and talk to us?”

The killer appeared to be only mildly put out. “You surprise me, Starsky. I thought you’d crash and burn when your partner was convicted. But you have nothing on me and I have nothing to say.”

Starsky pulled Babcock aside and lowered his voice so that MacIntosh couldn’t hear them. “Would you stay here while Sims and I take him to the precinct? I’d like you to work with Shane and the crime scene people when they get here. You know what we need, the souvenirs, the plumber’s uniform, and whatever the hell he put Hutch to sleep with!”

“We’ll find it, Starsky,” Babcock assured him. “Just get him locked up!”

On either side of MacIntosh, Starsky and Simmons walked him out to the Torino. Lights were coming on in neighboring windows and people were peeking from behind curtains. Just wait ‘til you find out who’s been living in your nice quiet development, Starsky thought.

Simmons got in the back seat with MacIntosh and Starsky raced into town. He radioed Dobey and told him they had the suspect in custody.

"That is the best news I've heard in four weeks!" Dobey said. "I'll thank the sheriff’s department and let them know the situation's under control. You'll also be happy to hear that I stopped Clancy’s attempt to be part of the crime scene team."

"Thanks, Cap. We'll see you soon!" He hung up the mic.

MacIntosh said nothing during the trip and neither Starsky nor Simmons spoke to him.

When they got to Metro, Starsky had a couple of uniforms hold MacIntosh while he drew Simmons aside. “Walk him through booking, let him call his lawyer, and then lock him in an interview room. Nobody says a word to him until I get back! Not even his mouthpiece. Keep whoever shows up out of that room until I say so. Tell him you’ve lost the prisoner if you have to, but keep them apart!”

Simmons was cheerfully on board with that. “You got it, Starsky. Where are you going?”

“I’ve got to let Hutch know. It’s too late, now, to get a confession, get the verdict overturned, and keep him from having to get on that bus, but he needs to know we won’t be far behind. He ain’t gonna spend a single goddamn day there if I can help it!”

“Go! I’ll take care of MacIntosh until you get back.”

“Thanks, Sims.”

Starsky tore through the no-traffic-yet streets to Venice Place. Upstairs, he folded the final pair of Hutch’s nice cords - he really needed to do laundry - a light yellow shirt and a tan jacket. Shorts and socks went on top, along with a worn pair of loafers. He dashed off a note, folded it, and slipped it into the shirt pocket.

Back in the Torino, he sped to the jail. Edwards was on duty, as Starsky expected, and accepted the clothes, in exchange for yesterday’s. “Last time for this, Starsky. He’s outta here at eight.”

“Thanks for everything you’ve done, Edwards,” Starsky told the guard. “I won’t forget it and neither will Hutch. We’ll come take you to breakfast soon.”

Knowing he’d left Edwards confused, Starsky hurried to the precinct. There, he found Simmons standing outside Interview #2.

Starsky nodded toward the door. “He inside?” Simmons nodded. “His lawyer?”

Simmons shook his head, a sly expression on his face. “He’s down in booking searching for his client. Seems there’s been some sort of snafu and the paperwork on Mr. MacIntosh is missing.”

“Aw,” Starsky didn’t try to affect sympathy. “I’ll just go keep him company until the slick shows up. When that happens, being him in and we’ll do this together.” He reached for the door knob.

Simmons held his arm. “Dobey and the chief are behind the mirror.”

“The chief?” Starsky couldn’t hide his surprise.

Simmons looked smug. “Dobey called him, got him out of bed. Told him we had Ms. Bellkey’s killer in custody and were about to nail his ass to the barn door; if he wanted to watch, he was more than welcome.” Simmons raised an eyebrow. “Showed up twenty minutes later. Never knew he could move that fast.”

With a genuine smile on his face, Starsky walked into the interview room.

*******

Hutch wasn’t allowed to shower. He knew he couldn’t swallow any food but he went with his cellmates to the cafeteria anyway and sat with them while they ate. They didn’t have much of an apatite, either.

Back in the cell, Hutch found that Edwards had brought a pile of his fresh clothes. When had Starsky even had time to do laundry? he wondered. There was a slip of paper in the shirt pocket but something told him not to read it. Yet. He’d save it until the bus was on the road. He was positive it was another encouraging missive from his partner and he wanted to read it with a little more privacy.

*******

MacIntosh’s lawyer, Jerry Silver, had been ushered into Interview #2 and was sitting next to his client, whose extended handcuffs were attached to the center rail. Starsky and Simmons were on the other side of the table.

Silver sorted through his briefcase, seemingly paying no attention to anyone else in the room. “My client has nothing to say, Detectives. My firm…” he glanced up, “we’re on retainer to the Marshal’s Service…” his attention went back to shuffling, “is arranging a bail hearing. Afterward, we’ll talk.”

“That’s fine, Mr. Silver,” Starsky responded. “But you might want to know that we have your client locked as the perpetrator of more than a dozen murders and don’t really need his cooperation. We have more evidence and witness statements than we can use, honestly. All we want to do is give him the chance to tell us his side of the story.” Starsky stared at MacIntosh while the killer remained mute.

Silver closed his briefcase. “We’ll wait for the bail hearing.”

Starsky stood up. “When the judge sees what we have, Mr. Silver, your client isn’t going to be granted bail. Not in any amount.” With a nod to Simmons to stay seated, Starsky walked out.

Dobey came out of the adjacent room, checking his watch. “We don’t have much time, Starsky. The bus leaves in half an hour.”

“I know, Captain. Believe me, I know. What’s it going to take, exactly, to get Hutch’s conviction overturned?”

The chief, coming out of the viewing room, joined them, clearly having heard the question. “Barring a confession, Detective, you’ll need the actual accessories of his killings. Harold tells me a team is searching his house for a plumber’s uniform, some sort of unknown substance, and a number of stolen photographs.”

“Sixteen, sir.” Starsky noted.

“Yes, that’s right. Sixteen.” The chief was visibly upset by the number, yet kept his focus. “Those items would almost certainly convict him of the murders but that would require a lengthy trial, during which Hutchinson would remain in prison. What you want, as I understand it, is to have your partner’s conviction vacated immediately.”

“Yes, sir, that’s what I want!” Starsky didn’t even try for deference; his deference was all used up. “Hutch is innocent, Chief. He was always innocent, but he was railroaded. Now I want his name cleared. I want the news people to know that all charges against him have been dropped and that he’s been exonerated!”

“Sounds reasonable,” the chief admitted. “But if you want all that right now, you’ll have to get a confession.”

A uniform stuck his head out a doorway down the hall. “Starsky! Babcock’s on the phone.”

Starsky ran to the room and took the receiver from the officer, activating the speaker at the same time. “Starsky!” Dobey and the chief listened from the doorway.

“Sorry it took so long.” Babcock’s tone was apologetic. “We finally got into his safe room, though, and it’s all there. Want to know what he used as his souvenir in the San Diego case? He enlarged a newspaper photo of Jonas Hemmings, in handcuffs, being led into the jail.” Excited voices could be heard in the background. “We’ve got the photo of Betsy and Myra, an orchid grower in his greenhouse… there’s one of a guy on the bridge of his deep sea fishing boat… we’ve got all of them.”

Babcock must have held the phone away from his mouth because his next words, although shouted, weren’t as loud. “Hold it down! I’m trying to have a conversation here.”

Starsky’s fingernails were digging ditches in the palms of his hands as Babcock’s voice came back to him. “We have six scrapbooks full of news articles from the first fifteen deaths. Betsy Bellkey’s murder and Hutch’s trial have a book all their own.” Babcock took a breath. “We have a gray uniform with a red wrench on the back, a sleeve of triple-x-size surgical gloves, his tool box, something in a small squeeze bottle with a hand-printed label that says ‘liquid graphite,’ and his computer.”

Gregson’s voice could be heard. “Tell him what I found in this old beauty!”

“Greg got through the firewalls and passwords,” Babcock said, pride in his voice, “and says it has separate folders on MacIntosh’s victims, all his research, tracking and surveillance. Sixteen are marked Done, and there are twenty-three others marked Future. He’s toast, Starsky.”

It wasn’t over yet but Starsky found he could breathe again. “Fantastic!”

“We also have a small sealed container,” Babcock said. “No idea what’s in it.”

“Don’t open it!” Starsky shouted.

“Don’t worry. Shane’s bringing it to the lab exactly as it is.”

Taking a deep breath, Starsky softened his tone. “Once you’ve got it all collected, bring it back and log it. Ask Shane and Gregson if they can start on their part as soon as possible or do they need to go home and get some sleep first?”

Babcock chuckled. “O’Connell’s already said they’re not quitting until MacIntosh is wrapped up tight as a drum.”

“Thank them for me, please,” Starsky urged. “And, you, too. Good work!”

Starsky hung up the phone, patted the uniform on the arm in thanks, and went back to Interview #2. The door to the viewing room was closing on Dobey’s heel; he and the chief weren’t going to miss the next phase.

“Mr. Silver,” Starsky began, after he sat down, “you might want to save your staff some time and call them off any attempt to set up bail. Your client is within an hour of facing a preliminary hearing where we will present the judge with the souvenirs he collected during his eight years of snuffing out lives, a uniform with a red wrench on the back, the substance he used to render people unconscious --”

“You broke into my hide?” MacIntosh tried to stand up but the cuffs wouldn’t let him. After a few ragged breaths, he slumped back down. “My contractor swore that place was impregnable!”

“Richard, please,” Silver put a hand on MacIntosh’s arm. “Let me handle this.”

MacIntosh shrugged it off. “You’re useless to me, now. Get out!”

“What?” Silver was genuinely shocked.

“Get out!” MacIntosh repeated. “I don’t want you here. You can’t do anything for me anyway. Get out! Get out! Get out!”

Silver packed up and left the room.

Starsky sat forward and laced his fingers on the table. “Want to tell us about it now, MacIntosh?”

“Sure. Why not? I was only trying to save my agency some money.”

Starsky shot a glance at Simmons, who shrugged. Starsky looked back at MacIntosh. “Excuse me?”

“You wouldn’t believe how much those mooches drain from the Marshal’s Service.” MacIntosh sounded as if he believed he’d done a good thing. “First they want their own business, a house, car, money to buy things, go places. It never stops. Self-sufficiency is a term they don’t understand. They expect the agency to give them the lifestyle they were accustomed to.”

Starsky was having trouble processing what he’d just heard when Simmons spoke, softly. “You stopped all that waste by killing them.”

MacIntosh nodded emphatically. “Yes, I did. I’m an accountant, I saw how much was being flushed down the drain every year on those scumbags. Ratted their bosses out for money and a new life! I put an end to some of that. If you hadn’t discovered me, I’d have stopped a whole lot more, too!”

Starsky bit back his anger. “Betsy Bellkey was a lovely woman. A respected, valued teacher. Her roommate told us she hadn’t taken a dime from the program in twenty years. She made her own way and never asked them for anything.”

MacIntosh’s face showed no emotion at all. “She was next on the list.”

*******

Edwards arrived at the cell door as it slid open and Hutch knew it was time. He shook each of his cellmate’s hands and silently attempted to convey his gratitude for everything they’d done.

“We won’t forget you, Hutch!” Bo said.

“We’ll keep practicing!” Ernie added.

“Watch your back!” Skip’s voice broke on the final word.

*******

Dobey started the arrangements for the preliminary hearing from the viewing room. MacIntosh sat quietly at the table on the other side of the window, Simmons across from him.

“Good, yes! As soon as you can, please. He's in Interview Two with Detective Simmons.” Putting the phone down, Dobey hurried to the elevator, Starsky only a step behind.

With the hallway door closed behind them, Dobey went to his desk and picked up the phone. “Get me the warden at the state penitentiary, please.”

Starsky drew two cups of water from the cooler in the corner, handed one to Dobey, and sat down in his usual chair.

“Okay, the Assistant Warden, then…. This is Harold Dobey, Captain of Detectives in the Ninth Precinct, Bay City P.D.” He switched on the speaker.

“Good morning, Captain Dobey.” The A.W.’s voice was silky. “What can I do for you?”

“I was hoping to speak with Warden Gibbons. Can you tell me where he is?”

“In San Francisco, with his very ill wife. I’m Assistant Warden Summerall. Until Warden Gibbons returns, I’m in charge here. What is it you need?” The A.W.’s tone had become more officious.

“One of my officers,” Dobey began, “Detective Kenneth Hutchinson, is on his way up there.”

“Ah yes, I was told he would be one of the prisoners on today’s bus.” Summerall could be heard shuffling papers. “He’ll be processed, along with three others, as soon as they arrive.”

“That’s just it, Mr. Summerall,” Dobey continued. “Hutchinson is innocent. We have the real killer in custody and he’s just confessed. I need you to keep my detective away from the other inmates until I can send his release papers.”

“I’m sorry, Captain.” Summerall didn’t sound sorry at all. “That won’t be possible. He’s a convicted murderer and he’ll be treated as such until I have the vacate order and the rest of the paperwork.”

“What’s your fax number?” Dobey reached for a pad and pen.

“Oh, no, no, no. I’ll require the originals of all documents, in my hand, before I’ll turn Hutchinson over to you.”

“But he’s not guilty!” Starsky shouted.

“That isn’t my concern, whoever you are.” The A.W.’s tone had hardened. “This prison receives convicted felons on the first day of their sentence. Only when, and if, appropriate documents arrive, do we let them go. No exceptions. Your man will be processed as usual. Good day, gentlemen.”

Dobey disconnected and punched another line. “I need that switchboard operator again, please…. This is Captain Dobey. I need to get in touch with Dale Gibbons in San Francisco…. Yes, I know he’s there with his sick wife, but it’s urgent that I speak with him…. Please, ma’am, call him, give him my name and number and ask him to call me. It could very well be a matter of life and death…. No, ma’am I am not kidding.”

Dobey didn’t bother to hang up after ending that call, but punched the first line again and dialed. “Ted, we need a meeting with Mendelssohn, right away. Starsky got the confession but the Assistant Warden at the prison says he won’t keep Hutch out of the general population until he has documentation of Hutch’s innocence in his hands…. No, he won’t accept faxes. Originals only…. Call me as soon as you can set it up.”

*******

The bus seats were rigid and hard but Hutch didn’t feel discomfort. He watched the passing landscape, aware of his companions only as objects at the back of his mind. He knew there was an armed guard in the last row, and another behind the driver. He also knew there were three other prisoners spaced evenly on both sides of the aisle. Hutch’s hands, and he presumed theirs, were cuffed to the railing that ran along the back of the seat in front of him.

The hills of the Grapevine passed but he barely noticed the shapes and colors. His calm center was holding, barely.

As the route flattened out into the Central Valley, he leaned forward and with the restricted movement of his right hand, took Starsky’s note out of his pocket, unfolded it, and read.

H. We got him! We’ll be right behind the bus with your Get Out of Jail card. See you soon. S

*******

While Dobey waited for call-backs, Starsky paced. The warden’s came first. Starsky leaned on the edge of the desk.

Dobey punched the line he was told was waiting and the speaker at the same time. “That you, Dale?”

“Yes, Harold, I’m here. Sorry you had to wait while they tracked me down. With Jeanine so sick, I’ve been more or less out of touch for a while. What’s going on?”

Dobey took a breath. Starsky had figured out that Gibbons and Dobey had some sort of history and that Dobey’s innate compassion required sympathy first. “How is she?”

“Much better, thanks for asking. That’s not why you called, though. Tell me what’s going on.”

Niceties out of the way, Dobey didn’t mince words. “We’ve got a situation down here, and you seem to have one at your prison, too.”

Gibbons sighed. “What’s Summerall done?”

“One of my detectives, Ken Hutchinson --”

“No need to explain,” Gibbons broke in. “We have newspapers and TV up here, you know. I’ve been following the case. Couldn’t believe your man was guilty.”

“That’s just it, he’s not!” Dobey took another breath and calmed himself. “We’ve caught the real killer and he confessed an hour ago. But Summerall says he’s going to process Hutch into the general population as soon as the bus gets there.”

“That’s not good,” Gibbons said. “I’m aware of how many of our inmates are there due to the excellent efforts of Hutchinson and his partner. What can I do?”

“Would you call Summerall?” Dobey asked. “Order him to keep Hutch out of harm’s way until his partner and I can get there?”

“The asshole’s a stickler, Harold,” the warden replied. “Even an order from me wouldn’t do any good. He’ll want the original paperwork. But here’s what I can do. I’ll go myself! Jeanine is much better and I think I can be away from her the rest of the day. It’ll take me an hour or so to arrange for her care until I can get back here but, once I’ve done that, I’ll call a friend at the CHP and get one of their helicopters to run me over. I’ll try to arrive as soon after the bus as possible. If I get there before you do, I’ll keep Hutchinson in my office until you show up with the papers. Even if I have to appropriate one of the guard’s guns to do it!”

“I sincerely hope it doesn’t come to that, Dale,” Dobey said, “but thanks. I really appreciate it.”

Starsky shouted toward the phone: “We really appreciate it, sir!”

*******

The half hour spent approaching the prison, contained some of the longest minutes Hutch could remember. The structure was visible from miles away in the flat country. Its barren, fence-enclosed, multi-storied windowless facades, clearly designed to intimidate, were as menacing as any building could be.

Hutch was thankful he had Starsky’s note in his pocket. He simply had to hang on a little while longer.

*******

Mendelssohn met them in his chambers. He didn’t don his robes or sit behind his desk, he joined Starsky, McLaughlin and Dobey in the Spartan conversation area. Starsky thought he looked much older than he had only the day before.

“I read through the brief you sent in before these gentlemen arrived, Mr. McLaughlin,” the judge said. “Thanks for putting it together so quickly.” He transferred his gaze to Dobey. “I think I knew this was coming and I’m glad you’ve managed it so soon, Captain.” Mendelssohn held out his hand for the folder of documents Dobey extended. “Mr. McLaughlin says you have Ms. Bellkey’s real killer in custody. Is that true?”

Dobey nodded. “He’s confessed to her murder and fifteen others, Your Honor.”

Mendelssohn visibly shuddered and closed his eyes. When he opened them, he sent Dobey a look of deep remorse. “That was not in the brief and I’m very sorry to hear it.” After another moment, he read through the paperwork, picked up a pen and signed in every necessary space. “There! On my authority, Hutchinson’s conviction has been vacated, all charges against him have been dropped, and he has been fully exonerated.” He stood up and handed the folder back to Dobey, who rose, too.

Mendelssohn put the pen in his breast pocket. “That was my last official act as a justice. I’ll be stepping down as soon as the press conference I’m going to call is over.” He walked behind his desk and sat, heavily. “I know I should have put the brakes on Styles, slowed that whole thing down, but I had the space on my calendar and it did seem as if it was an open and shut case. I made a mistake, and I won’t allow that to happen again. I’m off the bench as of this afternoon.”

“What about Styles, sir?” McLaughlin asked.

“His presence is going to be required at the press conference,” the judge assured them. “I’ll be demanding his resignation and officially requesting the Bar Association to begin an investigation into his actions. It’s my hope he’ll be disbarred. The way he handled Hutchinson’s case, ignoring vital evidence and manipulating testimony, must be made public; he will have to pay the price for his exuberance.”

“And Detective Dutton?” Starsky asked.

“That’s not my purview, I’m afraid,” said the judge. “I will ask the chief to be there, and I’ll do my very best to insure that an investigation into the way Dutton and his superior ran roughshod over your detective, won’t be put off for even a single day. Such unacceptable police work cannot be tolerated. If I can’t persuade the chief, perhaps the media can. I’m quite sure they’re not going to get tired of this one very soon.”

“That’s all we ask, Your Honor,” McLaughlin added. “Justice for Hutch, and sufficient reprimand for the ones who orchestrated the debacle.”

“You’ll have it. That’s a promise.” As they turned to leave, Mendelssohn stopped them. “One more thing. If your detective decides to seek redress in civil court, Captain, please tell him I expect to be included in the suit. I was remiss, and I’m sorry.”

Starsky took a step forward. “Your Honor, I sat in that courtroom every day.”

Mendelssohn nodded. “I remember. You’re Hutchinson’s partner, aren’t you?”

“Yes, sir. David Starsky.” He advanced another step. “You tried, sir, you did, but the law was against you. The murderer set it up that way, and Styles took advantage of it. You allowed character witnesses when another judge might not have, and you were kind to those who attempted to explain our shadow of a doubt. Don’t blame yourself for what happened, Your Honor. I know Hutch doesn’t.”

Mendelssohn stood up, came around the desk and extended his hand. “Thank you, David Starsky. I’ll hold that in my heart.”

Starsky shook the hand firmly.

*******

As soon as Starsky and Dobey pushed through the doors in the squad room, Minnie looked up from Hutch’s desk. “Did you get it?”

Dobey handed the folder to Jones, the uniform who had taken the evidence cartons to the lab. “Sure did. Let’s have half a dozen copies, Jones. I have lots of people who need to see them.” With Jones hurrying to the machine, Dobey scanned the rest of the crowded room. “Now, how do we get up there in the next hour? That bus has to be getting close!”

Minnie pushed the speaker button on the phone she was holding. “They’re back, Sheila, tell them what you just told me.”

Sheila Jarvis’ voice floated happily through the room. “My boss is so embarrassed and thrilled that you guys put this all together --”

“We couldn’t have done it without you, Sheila!” Starsky hollered.

“That’s true, Starsky,” she chortled, “and I’m taking all the credit I’m due around here. Haven’t had a back-handed compliment or sneering referral to my gender all day! But listen to this. My boss is so happy with the fact that you’ve saved almost two dozen protected witnesses’ lives, he’s put one of our helicopters at your disposal. He understands that you need to get to the prison a.s.a.p. It should be landing on your roof any minute.”

“I don’t know what to say, Ms. Jarvis, I --”

“Don’t thank me, Captain,” Sheila interrupted. “Just go rescue Hutch!”

“That’s exactly what we’re going to do.” Dobey grabbed his folder of documents from Jones and headed for the double doors. “You ready, Starsky?”

Starsky zipped his jacket. “Hutch is really gonna owe me. I hate choppers!”

*******

Why didn’t I see this coming? Did I get too complacent? Convince myself that I was invincible? Just like my supposedly safe safe room? He promised me that no one would ever find it and, if they did, they wouldn’t be able to get in. Well, it guess it wasn’t safe, and I’m not, either.

Wonder what it’ll be like in prison? I probably won’t face the kind of hatred Hutchinson would have but I’m sure it won’t be enjoyable.

The two detectives - Simmons and Babcock? - walked me to the men’s room after Starsky left, watching me every minute. Then, after I was secured at the table in Interview #2 again, they provided a cup of coffee and a bagel. Saintly of them.

The first bargaining chip they threw at me was my choice of victims. “If you want the needle off the table,” Babcock said, “you’ll have to agree never to mention, to anyone, how you came to select the people you did.”

I couldn’t hide my smugness. “The Marshal’s Service is worried their little program’s going to lose funding? Is that it?”

“You had better realize you’re on shaky ground here, MacIntosh.” Simmons’ voice was icier than it had been. “California may not have executed any of its death row inmates since seventy-two, but you could be the first!”

That brought me up short. I’d read about the awful way you die from lethal injection and I did not want to go out that way. “Okay. I agree. No mention of how I chose them.”

Simmons pushed a piece of paper over. “Sign that. If you renege…”

I picked up the nearby pen and scrawled my full name. “Don’t worry, Detective Simmons. That’s something I don’t do.”

Babcock slid the signed form into his folder. “Where did you get the stuff you used to knock out Hutchinson and Ms. Bellkey?”

I shrugged. “Had a friend in the DOD but he got cashiered last year for malfeasance.” I raised my cuffed hands. “Can’t get any more.”

“This friend just gave it to you?” Simmons drew a pad of paper toward him. “What’s his name?”

I shook my head. “Nope, I won’t tell you that. He’s in enough trouble as it is and I’m not going to add to it.” I smiled my perfect smile at them. “You would not believe the gadgets and crap they come up with over there! The lovely little microphone? That’s one of theirs. The liquid graphite, too. People are going to find lots of uses for it, eventually. It’s James Bond stuff ‘til then.”

“Why did you take the photographs?” This was from Babcock.

“To remember them by, of course. You found all the scrapbooks, too, right?” They nodded. “Memories. I did good work and nobody ever suspected I was around. Like other people, I guess, I like to relive my successes.”

Was that too much? Referring to those dead people and ruined families as successes? Who cares? Memories are all I’m going to have from now on.

A uniformed officer stuck his head in the door. “Judge Mortimer’s ready. And they’ve found a public defender for Mr. MacIntosh.”

Simmons unlocked my cuffs. “Showtime, Richard.”

That cheeriness was uncalled for, I thought. Ah, well, I suppose they think I deserve derision when, in my eyes, I’m simply a person who was trying to save his agency some money. I wonder what the public would think. Perhaps I’ll write a book.

*******

Hutch and his bus companions were formed into a line abreast across a wide space in the tunnel leading from the outer gate to the inner one. Doors to either side were closed. Five surly guards, armed with holstered weapons and unholstered Billy clubs surrounded them. Their leader, ‘Atkins’ stenciled on his shirt, watched as their cuffs and chains were removed.

A door on the left opened and a medium height, slight, balding man stepped out. He walked to within ten feet of them and surveyed each of their faces, superiority in his expression and stance. “My name is Assistant Warden Summerall and, in the absence of the warden, who is in San Francisco attending to his very sick wife, I’ve been in charge for the last few months.”

The A.W. approached and paced back and forth in front of them. “As such, I have instituted a few changes in the way this facility receives new inmates.” He stopped in front of Hutch and did his best to intimidate from his five foot seven inches. Hutch was not impressed.

“You will all be taken to our clinic where you will be stripped, intimately searched, and scrubbed. Then blood will be drawn and you will be given an enema. After that, every hair on your body will be shaved off. We can’t have lice infesting our community.” Summerall paced slowly again. “You will eat no solid food for two days, drinking only purified water. At the end of that time, your blood will be drawn again and you will be given a second enema. If tests reveal no germs, parasites or other nasty critters in your body, you will be allotted prison attire, and join the general population. Questions?”

Hutch stared, unblinking, into the pale blue eyes in front of him. “Not a question, a few observations.”

“I’m sure we’re all dying to hear them, Prisoner Hutchinson.” The A.W.’s voice dripped with disdain.

“First, your name is Summerall. Your title is Assistant Warden. For now. My name is Hutchinson. My title is Detective Sergeant, Bay City Police. One of my hobbies is the study of the California penal system and I happen to know that the changes you have initiated in the way inmates are welcomed have not been approved by the Board of Prisons. As such, they are illegal, and you and every member of your staff who has taken any part in your stated introductory procedures is subject to arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment, if found culpable.”

The guards looked at each other, plainly worried. Summerall’s expression hardened.

“When I boarded your bus this morning…” Hutch made sure his expression and voice were neutral. “I was a convicted murderer. However, during the time it took to reach here, Captain Harold Dobey, has obtained a reversal of my conviction because my partner arrested the real killer last night - a man who had claimed sixteen lives - and he has confessed to all of them. I have been cleared of all charges and fully exonerated.”

“I guess I heard something about that,” Summerall admitted. “But how do you know? It supposedly happened after the bus left the jail.”

Hutch lifted one shoulder “I’m a telepath. As we speak, Captain Dobey is on his way here with my release papers.” He raised his voice a little and enunciated each word so that everyone listening would hear. “If you, or any member of your staff, so much as lays a finger on me before my captain gets here, he and my partner will make it their life’s work to see to it that each and every one of you becomes an inmate here.”

Summerall stepped a few paces away and Atkins joined him. The A.W. wasn’t worried enough to keep his voice down; Hutch could hear them clearly. “Who’s in the yard?”

Atkins looked at his watch. “C Block. They just started their hour.”

“Good.” Summerall nodded at Hutch and his companions. “Get these four into grays and send them out there.”

“You sure you want to do that?” Atkins was visibly not sure.

“He only said I and my staff couldn’t touch him; he didn’t say anything about our residents.” Summerall laughed. “If one or two members of C Block take exception to his presence, it won’t be any skin off our noses.”

Atkins’ smile was evil as he walked back to Hutch and the others. “Right this way, gentlemen.”

They were led toward the inner gate.

One of the bus passengers sidled close to Hutch and kept his voice down. “Was any of that true?”

Hutch kept walking. “Not a word.”

“Could you do it?”

Hutch shook his head. “Probably not.”

The prisoner chuckled. “At least you saved us from the clinic. You’ve got a pair o’ balls on ya, Hutchinson.”

“We’ll find out how long C Block lets me keep them.”

In a small room off the tunnel, an older con brought prison clothes for each of them: scuffs, a used-to-be-white t-shirt Goodwill would have rejected, and gray coveralls.

Hutch and his companions folded their clothes neatly. “These’ll be kept for you and returned when you’re released,” the elderly con told them.

Atkins escorted them through the rest of the tunnel. The final gate was unlocked and Atkins mock-bowed them through.

The yard was large, probably at least a hundred feet square. Solid block walls rose five stories on all sides, broken only by one arched doorway in the center of each at ground level.

Hutch’s bus companions eased away from him, leaving him alone. Without warning, Atkins shoved Hutch from behind and he took several running steps forward, barely managing to keep from falling.

“Lucy!” Atkins parroted Desi Arnaz as he backed to the gate, “I’m home!”

At the back of his mind, Hutch heard a helicopter, possibly two, but he couldn’t afford the distraction of thinking it might be Starsky. If he couldn’t stay alive for the next few minutes, it wouldn’t matter anyway.

There were at least a hundred men, clothed as he now was, scattered around the space. With Hutch well away from the gate, they moved toward him until they formed a semi-circle in front of him. Some had recently-shaved scalps. None approached closer than ten feet, yet their ragged voices were clearly audible.

“It’s over for you, Pretty Boy.”

“This is our turf, cop, and we’re --”

“Ex-cop, Skree, remember?”

“Oh, yeah, ex-cop! No badge for you, no gun, none o’ your pig friends to run interference for you in here!”

“You’re ours now.”

“Every peaceful night’s sleep you ever got’s just a memory. Every minute of every day and night, from now on, you belong to us!”

“Whenever we want you.”

“Whatever we want to do to you.”

“You’ll never see it comin’.”

“Never hear it.”

Hutch stared at the hate-filled eyes and realized his mental barriers were beginning to crack. The stress and lack of sleep over the past four weeks had taken their toll; he was nearly drained. Only his iron will kept him on his feet.

The figures drew closer. Hutch didn’t recognize any of the faces but years in prison could have altered those of the men he and Starsky has sent here.

“We’re gonna --”

“Maybe you better shut up, Skree! Looks like you’re scarin’ ‘im.”

“Hell, I ain’t even got started yet.” Skree glanced around at the hungry faces of the cons. “Anybody else wanna step up here and give me a hand? We got a ex-cop needs a bloody introduction to the way things are gonna be from now on.”

A fist was launched toward Hutch’s head and he only managed to duck in time to avoid being felled. He stumbled to one knee, expecting a kick, but it didn’t come. Scrambling to his feet, he dropped into as defensive a stance as his tired body could achieve, his fists clenched, and waited. The pack closed in, sneering, jeering, egging each other on.

“Take ‘im, Skree!”

“Yeah, put him on both knees so we can fuck him.”

“Can’t wait to shove my cock up that blond ass!”

Hutch didn’t move a muscle; he had no idea where the next attack would come from.

“Back o’ the line, pansy. You couldn’t get it up if your --”

“This is the warden speaking!” The amplified voice echoed off the walls and brought instant silence and frozen movement. “Step back! All of you…. Now!”

Guards swarmed the yard, hustling the grumbling group out through the archways.

Hutch hardly dared breathe until… A gentle hand touched his back and his partner’s soft voice filled his heart.

“It’s okay, Hutch, I’m here. It’s over.”

*******

Starsky never left Hutch’s side during the time it took to change back into his own clothes, and spend a few minutes in the facilities relieving his bladder and loose bowels.

In the warden’s office, Gibbons fired Summerall and all five guards and had them taken to a cell until the sheriff’s department could arrive, arrest them, and haul them away.

After they were gone, the warden gestured to chairs and Starsky, Hutch, and Dobey sat down. He filled cups at his cooler and passed them around. “When the former warden retired, I’m sure Summerall thought he’d get the job. However, I was brought in from out of state and he never got over it.” Gibbons sat behind his desk. “I didn’t realize how radical and dangerous his thinking had become.” He stared at Hutch. “All I can do is apologize for what he put you through, Detective.”

Hutch raised a hand. “Not your fault, Warden. I’m just really glad your wife is doing better and that you were able to get here in time.”

Gibbons nodded toward Dobey. “You can thank your Captain for that.”

Hutch sent Dobey his silent gratitude. “Yes, sir, I do.”

“I promise you,” Gibbons went on, “that each member of my staff who took any part in Summerall’s grotesque welcome ceremony, will be demoted and disciplined or fired. And those fired will find it difficult to get another job in this field, anywhere!”

Dobey nodded. “That sounds like no more than they deserve.”

Gibbons finished his water and stood up. The others did as well. “You need to get back to Bay City, Harold, and I need to do many things here before I can leave. I guarantee if any of you has reason to deal with this prison again it will be operating by its mandate!”

Dobey held out his hand. “Give my best to Jeanine and the next time you two get down our way, make sure to give me a call.”

“We’ll do that, Harold.” Gibbons escorted them out of the prison before turning back to take care of all the details he undoubtedly had to attend to.

When they rounded the building into the side parking lot, with it’s two motionless helicopters, Starsky wasn’t very surprised that his partner’s steps faltered. Hutch turned to him and lowered his voice. “You rode up here in one of those, Starsk?”

Starsky grinned. “Yep.”

Hutch leaned closer. “You must really love me.”

With Dobey’s back to them, Starsky slipped an arm around Hutch’s waist. “You have no idea.”

Stepping quickly away, Hutch’s smile was radiant. “Oh, I think I do. And, if not…” he stroked a hand down Starsky’s arm. “I’ll find out pretty soon, right?”

Starsky, Hutch and Dobey boarded the Marshal’s Service helicopter. The motor turned over and the long, drooping rotor blades began to turn. Starsky knew he wouldn’t enjoy the trip home any more than he had the one getting up here, but at least he was going home with Hutch!

*******

There was a welcoming party on the roof of Metro the likes of which Hutch never expected. Starsky and Dobey had shouted themselves hoarse during the hour’s homeward flight, trying to make themselves heard over the chopper’s bone-rattling noise. Hutch knew they were only touching the surface of the efforts everyone had put in, trying to gain his release, and it humbled him. Still, the standing-room-only crowd robbed him of breath. Hutch wondered if anybody was inside answering phones and taking care of police business.

Starsky put a hand on his thigh as the engine noise spiraled down. “They wouldn’t let it happen, partner; wouldn’t let you go. Any more than I would.”

Hutch covered the hand for a moment and squeezed. He had no words.

From the seat in front of them, Dobey leaned into the cockpit and patted each of the pilots’ shoulders. “Tell your bosses how grateful we are and if either of you ever needs anything from the BCPD, give us a call!”

The walk down to the squad room only took an hour or so longer than it should have but Hutch didn’t regret a second of it. He met the eyes of each person who welcomed him back, shook every hand and absorbed every good-natured punch. He’d never let himself forget the time and energy all these people had put in to see him safely brought home.

Starsky didn’t leave his side and an arm or a hand or a shoulder was almost always in contact. Until they were behind closed, locked doors, that was enough.

Hutch was having difficulty separating people’s shouted questions from their congratulations when Dobey’s bellow silenced all voices. Standing in the doorway of his office, he was trying to glower. Hutch wasn’t buying it.

“Every one of you can be proud of the work you did over the last four weeks, so give yourselves a pat on the back. But… we’ve let cases slide and need to get back to giving them the attention they deserve!” His gaze found Hutch and the pride there was clear. “Glad to have you back, Hutchinson. You and Starsky take the rest of the day off. I expect you back at your desks first thing in the morning, though!” With an obviously fake scowl, he went into his office and closed the door.

Starsky put a hand under his elbow. “You heard the man, Hutch. Let’s go to your place and get drunk.”

Hands pumped his, smiles greeted his, and his back was thumped so many times during the push through the crowd, Hutch was sure he’s be sore for a week. And that was okay, too. Just before they reached the doors, Minnie ran up and planted a kiss on his mouth. “Thought I’d do that, since I’m the only one who could get away with it. We missed you, Hutch! Welcome back!”

“Thanks, Minnie.” Hutch scanned the room. “Thanks, everybody!”

Starsky dragged him through the doors. “Jeeez, Hutch, come on! Traffic’s gonna be terrible!”

Hutch didn’t remember the ride to Venice Place. Starsky understood that he needed a few minutes of simple calm quiet. His partner’s hand on the back of his neck was all that was needed. Hutch’s gaze slid across the familiar landmarks, not really seeing anything, and he realized the emotion he was feeling was… contentment. It hurt that Betsy was dead; it would always hurt, but he and Starsky had come through a war they could so easily have lost. And they hadn’t. They’d battled what might have been unassailable odds, and won. Hutch’s plan, now, was to make the next twelve or thirteen hours unforgettable.

With the door closed and locked behind them, Starsky shed his jacket and holster onto the couch, straightened items on the coffee table, threw clothes into a corner, dumped cups and plates into the sink, kicked shoes under a chair and, in general, flitted around the room like a demented dragonfly. Hutch knew his partner was nervous and that, more than anything else, banished Hutch’s own anxiety.

As soon as his partner passed within arm’s length, Hutch grabbed him, drew him firmly into his arms and kissed him. Within moments, Hutch felt the muscled body relax and strong arms enfold him. The kiss deepened and Hutch lost track of time.

“Mmmmmmm, mmmmmm,” Starsky moaned before breaking free and stepping back. “We need to get horizontal, babe. Got so many things I want to do to you, with you, for you, I’ll never get half of ‘em done if we stand here much longer.” He grabbed Hutch’s hand and started toward the sleeping alcove. “Wanna lick you and suck you and kiss you over every inch of your body before I fall asleep inside you.”

Hutch allowed himself to be led because his plan had been something very similar. “When we wake up after all that, Starsk, it’ll be my turn.”

Starsky spun around and blasted him with one of his rare full-face, dazzling smiles. “That’ll work!”

Hutch stripped his partner out of his clothes - he’d lost weight - damn! - Hutch realized he must have, too - as fast as he was divested of his own. Falling backward, Hutch pulled Starsky down on top of him in a tangle of limbs. “Slow down, Starsk. We’ve got all night.”

“Nuh uh,” Starsky muttered. “Gonna need every second to do the things I’ve been dreaming about, no time to waste, full speed, not slowing down for anything. Gonna eat you right up!”

Hutch pinned the frenetic arms gently. “Shhhhh… easy.” As Starsky settled slightly, Hutch tightened his embrace. “I’m here, Starsk. You saved my life and we’re okay now. We have all the time in the world.”

Starsky shuddered and buried his face in Hutch’s throat. “Almost didn’t. We almost didn’t get there in time.”

“Shhhhh. You did get there. And I’m fine. Not a new scratch on me.” Hutch put his arms out to the side and spread his legs in wanton invitation. “See? Untouched.” He caught Starsky’s eyes and sent love and lustful wishes. “Would you like to begin licking and sucking now?”

The indigo eyes, as they scorched over Hutch’s body, lit up every nerve ending and sent an already-pounding pulse into overdrive.

 

WEDNESDAY - FOURTH WEEK

The newspapers, next morning, were full of details from Mendelssohn’s press conference: Hutch’s innocence, first and foremost, which pleased everyone who greeted Hutch and his partner on their way up to the squad room.

“Can you believe it, Starsky?” Simmons shouted as soon as they entered. “They spelled all our names right!”

“Good pictures, too!” Babcock added.

Hutch poured cups of coffee for each of them, handed Starsky’s to him and walked around to his own chair. Sitting down, he caught his partner’s eye. Yeah, neither of them had been sure he’d ever sit here again. It was a moment.

Babcock brought the front section over and spread it out on top of the combined surface of their desks, pointing out articles and sidebars: a serial killer’s apprehension and confession; that killer’s plea of guilty to sixteen counts of murder, without the necessity of a trial, which kept him off death row; Styles’ resignation; Captain Montrose and Detective Dutton, relieved of duty and under investigation for their mishandling of the case against Hutch; McLaughlin’s interview with a reporter where he enumerated the two cops’ dereliction; Judge Mendelssohn’s stepping down. It was heavy reading.

Hutch was happy to see that no mention had been made in any of the articles about the WPP. He supposed that could have been a condition required of MacIntosh to keep him from the death penalty; no public disclosure of how he selected his victims. The less information that got out about that program and it’s people, the better.

Dobey stormed out of his office. “Didn’t I say we’ve got cases to solve? Save your palaver for the party at Huggy’s in three and a half weeks. Couldn’t get an earlier date but Mr. Bear tells me he’ll be able to put together a shindig we’ll never forget by that time. So, quit gabbin’ for now and get to work!”

Babcock folded his paper and slunk to his desk. Hutch shared a smile with his partner and opened his top folder.

Everywhere Hutch and Starsky went that morning - tracking down leads and interviewing witnesses - bums, street people, prostitutes and shopkeepers stopped them, offering smiles and handshakes.

Grabbing a hurried lunch at Huggy’s proved to be interesting. Hutch knew many of the ‘we never believed you were guilty’ statements were lies and more than a few who offered to shake his hand wished the conviction had held. He filed the knowledge away for the future.

Sweet Alice took time from her usual place of solicitation and came to offer her genuine commiseration for what he’d been through and gratitude that he was back where he belonged. “I was gonna offer t’ testify on your behalf, Handsome Hutch, but then I figured your lawyer wouldn’t put someone like me on the stand.”

“Alice, just the sight of you would have made me smile,” Hutch told her. “But I’m glad you didn’t come. It was ugly, and you didn’t need to be subjected to it.”

“Thanks.” She kissed his cheek. “Sure am glad you’re back.”

After a final few shoulder punches, Hutch and Starsky headed for the door. Huggy got there ahead of them and opened it as if he were a doorman. “Like everybody else has said, m’ blond brother, welcome home!”

“Starsky’s told me some of what you did, Huggy, and… I’m grateful!” Hutch put his arms around Huggy and held on tight. “Remember a few weeks ago when I did this?” Huggy nodded within the embrace. “Well, the appreciation is doubled today.”

Before Huggy could say anything, Hutch hurried out the door. Behind him, he knew Starsky and Huggy had exchanged smiles. Hutch climbed in the Torino and waited.

The afternoon passed with one suspect taken into custody and a good lead on an assault case. Not a bad day.

Finishing up their reports that evening, Hutch’s typewriter was very nearly smoking. He couldn’t believe how good he felt! When Dobey opened his door, a little of Hutch’s euphoria evaporated due to the guarded expression on his captain’s face.

“Hutch, Starsky, have you got a few minutes?” Dobey left the door open and went back to his desk.

Starsky, looking mystified, got up. Hutch followed his partner into the office and closed the door. They took their accustomed seats.

“I don’t want you to hear this from anyone else.” Dobey’s expression and voice were solemn. “Captain Montrose has been relieved of his command and has resigned.”

A part of Hutch wanted to cheer but another part felt sad.

“And Dutton?” Starsky asked.

“Reduced to uniform and assigned to traffic detail. Whether or not he’ll ever be promoted again is anybody’s guess.”

Hutch wasn’t as glad to hear it as he thought he should be. “I almost feel sorry for him.”

“That’s just stupid, Hutchinson, and you’re not stupid!” Dobey looked and sounded almost angry. “You’ve got a big heart and you feel for people but that compassion’s misplaced when it comes to Dutton. If he’d had his way, you’d be in prison for at least twenty years! I’d have fired his ass if it had been my decision.”

“I know, Captain, it’s just…” Hutch couldn’t articulate what it was just.

“Anything else, Cap’n?” Starsky asked, clearly attempting to ease the sudden tension.

“As a matter of fact, there is.” Dobey actually smiled. “Clancy’s been given his walking papers and O’Connell’s the new chief of the crime lab.”

Starsky grinned. “Now that is good news!” He got up and headed for the door. “Thanks for saving it for last.”

Dobey looked down at the stack of folders on his desk, the interview over. “Good work today, you two. It’ll be great to get Templeton off the streets.”

Hutch followed Starsky into the squad room.

Starsky lifted his jacket off the back of his chair and slipped it on. “Ready to head out, partner?”

“Mind if we take a detour?” Hutch picked up his own jacket.

Starsky looked at him with compassion and just a little disgust. “You want to find Dutton, don’t you?”

Hutch shrugged. “I only want to talk to him.”

Starsky moved in close and lowered his voice. “Don’t tear yourself up over him, Hutch. He had all kinds of chances to take the right road and he turned his back on every one of them.”

Hutch held the door open. “I know. I just want to talk to him.”

They found Dutton cleaning out his locker in the basement of the Sixth’s station house. Except for one officer who deigned to give them directions, not a soul spoke to them. Hutch hoped whoever took over for Montrose would be able to pull this precinct together.

Dutton straightened up from zipping a duffel bag and glared at Hutch as he slammed the door of his locker. “Come to gloat?”

Hutch wanted to hate the man but discovered he didn’t have the energy. “You need to learn from this Dutton. You were a conceited, arrogant ass, and you caused an innocent man, me, to go through four weeks of Hell.”

Dutton curled his lip. “Guess you aren’t the hot-shot Superman everybody thought you were.”

Hutch felt Starsky tense and put a hand on his arm. “I got this, Starsk,” he whispered.

When his partner nodded and withdrew one step, Hutch turned to the former detective. “You haven’t learned anything, have you? You’re still arrogant, and you’re still not listening.” Hutch put all the appeal he could drum up into his voice. “Make the effort, Dutton; try to put yourself in other people’s shoes for a change. Get your head on straight in the next couple of years and then try for detective again. You might make a good one if you could only figure out how to see things, and people, without your blinders on.”

Dutton flung his bag onto his shoulder and shoved past. “Save your sermons for somebody who wants to hear ‘em preacher! I sure don’t!”

When the door swung shut, Starsky put a hand on his shoulder. “Can’t save ‘em all, Clark.”

 

THURSDAY - FOURTH WEEK

The next morning, Hutch called Barney Yates and asked him to meet him and Starsky at the jail. The indefatigable bondsman was happy to oblige.

In an interview room, Hutch and his companions waited for Bo, Ernie and Skip to be brought in.

“Hutch! We heard!” “Last minute rescue, huh?” “We knew you’d be okay!” overlapped and echoed. Finally, Hutch got them calmed down and seated across from him, Starsky and Barney.

“This is my partner, Dave Starsky, and my friend, Barney Yates,” Hutch told his former cellmates. “Mr. Yates is a bail bondsman and he’s offered to pay each of your bails so you can get out of here until your trials.”

Bo and the other two exchanged wide-eyed looks, carried on a silent conversation and, somehow, came to a decision. Bo shook his head. “Thanks, Hutch, really! But we’ve got a pretty good thing goin’ here.”

“We’ve been holding classes,” Ernie said. “Every day since Tuesday, after breakfast, a bunch of us sit on the floor in the cafeteria and try to find our centers.”

“Not that it’s working very well yet,” Skip added. “Because none of us knows what we’re doing. But we’re all trying!”

“A few more guys stayed around this morning.” Ernie looked really pleased.

“And we want to keep it up when we get out!” said Bo. “Could you find us a master to study with, Hutch? Once we all serve our time, we want to come back here and…”

“Become masters ourselves,” Ernie finished. “If we live that long.” He grinned.

Skip and Bo laughed and Hutch realized this was a better outcome than he could have hoped for. He’d talk to McLaughlin. Maybe a good attorney could get reduced sentences or even probation for these three. None was a hardened criminal, after all.

When they were on their feet and heading in their opposite directions, Starsky stopped them with a question. “Would it be okay if Hutch and I joined your group once in a while? Until you get out, that is.” Hutch’s mouth nearly fell open but Starsky’s smile washed over him. “I mean,” Starsky continued, “I haven’t been keeping up with my own training lately and I need some motivation. You three sound like you’ve got that in spades.”

“Sure,” Bo said. “If you can talk the jail authorities into it, you and Master Po are welcome any time!”

Outside, having shaken hands with Barney and watched him walk away, Starsky began to bounce around on his toes. “Used the Master Po routine on ‘em, did ya?”

“Starsk…”

“Guess we’ll be playin’ Kung Fooey tonight, then. Snatchin’ stones from each other’s palms.”

“Pebbles, Starsk. Pebbles, not stones.”

“Pebbles, stones…” Starsky was still dancing like a manic elf, his blue eyes sparkling. “I know how to get your rocks off.”

Hutch could no longer smother his laughter. “Yes, you do. You certainly do.”

 

FRIDAY - FOURTH WEEK

Starsky almost felt like the tip they got that morning, which led to the arrest of their suspect in a jewelry store heist went too easily. The booking, questioning and confession took only an hour. They were happily headed to Huggy’s for lunch when Dobey stuck his head out of the conference room at the end of the hall. “Starsky! Hutchinson! In here!”

Sensing their easy morning was coming to an end, Starsky followed Hutch into the room. Six men, that any two-year-old would identify as plain clothes cops, sat around the table, with Dobey at the far end. Everyone stood up and Dobey made introductions: Detectives Rogers and Stallings from Ojai, Martini and Johnson from Long Beach, and Bassett and Hale from Beverly Hills.

When they’d all taken seats, Dobey gestured to the new faces. “These are some --”

“Yeah, Cap,” Starsky interrupted, feeling his up-beat energy draining away. “We recognize the names.”

Hutch shook his head. “I don’t. Enlighten me, please.”

Starsky tried to keep his tone neutral but was afraid he hadn’t. “These are six of the clowns who did just exactly what MacIntosh wanted them to do in each of the supposedly open-and-shut cases they supposedly investigated.”

“Starsky!” Dobey bellowed.

The man to Dobey’s right, who’d been introduced as Detective Stallings from Ojai, laughed out loud and everybody took a breath. “It’s okay, Captain Dobey. I think I understand where Detective Starsky is coming from.” He gestured around the table. “We blew it. We all took the evidence at face value and ran with it. We got innocent men convicted and sent to prison.” His look, when it stopped on Starsky, was imploring. “We came here to try and find out how to keep that from happening again.”

Dobey got up. “I’ll leave you gentlemen to it, then.” As he walked along the table toward he door, he stopped at Starsky’s chair. “Should I have Huggy send over eight Specials?”

Before Starsky could think of a reply, Hutch smiled his newly-restored million-watt room-lighter. “Yes, please, Captain. Tell him to put it on our tab.”

Chuckling, Dobey left.

Stallings clasped his hands on the table. “When I received the call on Monday, from someone here…”

Starsky shrugged. “Wasn’t me so it was either Minnie Kaplan, Simmons, Babcock --”

“That was the name, Babcock,” Stallings interrupted. “Anyway, he tried to break it to me gently, not get my dander up, but when he said he needed our file because our case had been part of a serial and we’d missed it, I was pissed!”

Starsky grimaced. “A whole bunch of people we called that day weren’t happy with us.”

Rogers smoothed his hands on the top of the table in a ‘calming the waters’ motion. “How do you suggest we handle what looks like a sure fire slam-dunk the next time?”

“I can answer that one.” Hutch scanned his listeners and ended with Starsky, so much gratitude in his sky-blues, Starsky almost blushed. “Don’t ever take a case like that for granted. Listen to people, if they tell you the suspect couldn’t have done it.”

Starsky sat forward, all his irritation forgotten. These cops wanted to learn from their mistake. “We had something you didn't have. We knew the prime suspect didn’t kill our victim.”

Hutch cocked his head. “Maybe that’s the key. Find out as much as you can about the victim and about the suspect. If something doesn’t mesh, doesn’t feel right, even if everything points to one conclusion, look deeper. If you have any doubts at all, dig!”

*******

They went to Starsky’s place after shift, not only to assure his few plants that he hadn’t died, but because Starsky’s sheets were reasonably clean. Those on Hutch’s bed had been used heavily and Starsky hadn’t done laundry in much too long.

As soon as jackets and holsters had been hung on the coat tree, Hutch took the phone off the hook and handed it to his partner. “Know what you’re going to say?”

“Nuh un.” Starsky hopped up on the counter while Hutch dialed. When the ringing began at the other end, Hutch slid his butt onto the counter next to Starsky’s hip and leaned his head in.

Ruth’s voice, when she answered, was taut, braced for bad news. “Is that you, David?”

“Yeah, Ma, it’s me all right! Got someone here wants to talk to you.” He put Hutch’s hand around the phone and jumped down, headed for the fridge.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Ken? Is that really you, dear?” Her voice was audibly choked with happy.

“Sure is. You son’s amazing. He couldn’t keep the jury from convicting me but he and Captain Dobey got things straightened out the very next day.”

“All this happened in only a week?” Her loud surprise spilled out around Hutch’s hand.

Starsky handed him a beer and grabbed the phone. “All that and more, Ma, but we’ll tell you everything when we come see you! How’s a month from today sound? Hutch and I should be able to wangle a weekend off by then.”

“That would be wonderful, dear.” Even happier now. “I’ll mark it on my calendar. That should give all your aunts, uncles and cousins time to cook and bake.”

“Aw, Ma --”

“Don’t you ‘aw, Ma,’ me David Starsky. I’ve really been worried these past weeks so I won’t allow you to rain on my plans for a celebration.”

Hutch leaned close. “He wouldn’t think of it, Mom. We’ll bring the noise makers.”

 

SATURDAY - FOURTH WEEK

The phone was ringing when Starsky climbed out of the shower. Snatching a towel and avoiding the reaching hand of his partner, who still had a head full of shampoo, he dashed across the room and plucked the receiver off the wall. “Starsky!”

“Oh, hi, Dave. It’s Myra Hull. I hope it’s not too early to call.”

Starsky wrapped the towel around his waist, leaned back against the counter and watched through the open bathroom door as Hutch sexily rinsed his hair and entire body. Starsky had a very difficult time concentrating on what Myra was saying. “Sorry, Myra, say that again, please?”

“Would it be possible for you and Hutch to stop by the apartment this morning? My students have done a marvelous job and it’s all clean again; not a speck of fingerprint powder left anywhere.”

Hutch walked, gorgeously naked, out of the bathroom toward him and, again, Starsky lost what he was going to say. Hutch motioned for the phone. “Myra… Wants us to come over.”

Hutch put the receiver to his soapy, dripping golden ear. He was eating Starsky alive with his eyes but his voice was as smooth as glass. “You’re back in the apartment, Myra?” He leaned in so that Starsky could hear.

“Sure am, Hutch. The students have all been wonderful. Staff, too.”

“That’s great news.” Hutch’s left hand reached around Starsky’s shoulder and latched onto the left nipple. “We’ll be there in… oh, how ‘bout… two hours?”

Myra chuckled. “Don’t hurry.”

Two hours passed much too quickly, from Starsky’s point of view, but he knew that if he and Hutch didn’t drag themselves out of bed, into another shower, and get dressed, they wouldn’t make it to Myra’s at all!

When she opened the door and ushered them into the living room, Starsky was only a little surprised that she hadn’t rearranged a thing. Every piece of furniture, lamp and accessory - lacking only the photograph which hadn’t been released from evidence yet - was in its usual place.

She noticed his appraisal. “I’m keeping everything as it was. We were happy here and I know that, this way, she’ll come back whenever I need to talk to her.” She sat on the couch exactly where she’d sat the first night they met her.

Starsky sat in the arm chair he’d occupied for three nights, Hutch dropped into the other.

“I wanted to give you both the news before you read it somewhere else.” She pulled her legs underneath her.

Starsky realized that she wasn’t as settled and comfortable, yet, as she was trying to appear so he sat forward and gave her his most encouraging look. “Must be important, that’s a pretty satisfied expression I see.”

She smiled at that. “Yes, I think that's what I am.” She dropped her feet to the floor, scooted forward and opened a folder that was sitting on the coffee table. Passing the top sheet of paper to Starsky, she sat back in her corner. “Nudge closer and read it together.”

Starsky moved his chair a few inches as Hutch did the same, and read. Starsky had never seen a document quite as officious and flowery but he understood the gist: The Barclay Academy would be creating and funding the Willa Beth Bellkey Scholarship for gifted students who wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to attend the academy.

Starsky smiled into her glistening eyes. “This is terrific, Myra.”

“It is, isn’t it? She’d be so proud.”

“Myra…” Solemnly, Hutch handed the page back. “My attorney, the one who damn near managed to get me out of that trap MacIntosh set, even before my partner got to be a hero, has been urging me to file suit in civil court against former District Attorney Styles, former Detective Dutton, former Captain Montrose, and former lab chief Clancy.”

When Hutch glanced at him, Starsky sent all the approval and reinforcement he’d been trying to put into words for days: Yes! Those four deserve to pay for what they did!

Hutch turned back to Myra. “If I decide to do it, I’ll donate every penny of the award, if there is one, to the fund.”

“Oh…” Tears suddenly overflowing, she lunged off the couch, knelt in front of them and pulled them both into a fierce hug. “She’d be pleased.”

 

EPILOG - THREE WEEKS LATER

The date of the Ninth’s celebration of Hutch’s miraculous escape from the machinations of Richard MacIntosh was held on a Sunday so that more people would have a chance to attend.

Crepe paper garlands, balloons, party hats, noise makers, plentiful delicious food and varied spirits combined to set the mood of good cheer and thankfulness.

As the first official piece of business, the Chief of Police presented Huggy with a check covering all the food he’d provided to Hutch’s apartment, the precinct, and the courthouse during those hideous four weeks. Including a generous amount for making all the deliveries, and a healthy tip!

Huggy crowed and pranced, making a big show of folding the check and placing it in his cash register. “Guess I’ll jus’ have t’ take back most of the things I’ve said about you, Chief.”

Everyone, including the chief, laughed. Hutch could tell Huggy was touched though, and was trying to hide it.

Starsky never left his side, except for trips to the men’s room, and Hutch was more than happy to make up for all the days they’d missed being in each other’s back pockets. A few times, he was tempted to make the trip with his partner, just to keep him in sight, but he resisted. That’d be a little too much.

After making an initial circuit of the room, greeting Babcock, Simmons, Minnie, Jones, Alvernon, Benson, Dietrich, Taylor and all the others who had taken part in the real investigation of Betsy’s murder, Huggy escorted them to their favorite booth in the rear corner, setting a beer and glass in front of each of them. “These will be replaced as needed, m’ brothers.” When Huggy moved away, Hutch decided that hadn’t too bad. He wondered what would come next.

What came next surprised both Hutch and his partner. Officer B. Wilcox slid into the booth across from them, humility and sadness in his expression and body language.

Hutch nudged his partner. “Starsk, this is Officer Wilcox, from the Sixth. He responded to the disturbance tip.”

“I’m sorry for crashing your party, Detective but, if you hadn’t already heard, I thought I’d bring the news in person.” Wilcox was clearly uncomfortable.

“What news is that?” Hutch asked.

Wilcox glanced around and lowered his voice. “Dutton’s dead. So is his partner.”

Hutch hadn’t been prepared for that and it shook him. Under the table, Starsky’s hand gripped his thigh.

“Didn’t think you’d heard, yet,” Wilcox said. “Happened real late last night. Well, early this morning, I guess.”

“What did?” Starsky asked.

“Dutton and Follett - that was the partner’s name, you know,” Wilcox began. “Bill Follett.”

Hutch nodded. “Dutton stated it at the beginning of my interrogation, the night of the murder, but I hadn’t heard it since.”

Wilcox nodded. “Not many people have. But he was a friend of mine. He wasn’t happy when he got paired with Dutton but he tried to keep the guy in line and do his job the best he could. I talked to him a few times during that mess with you, Detective Hutchinson --”

“Hutch.”

Wilcox appeared to settle a little. “Hutch. Well, Bill said he couldn’t reason with Dutton. That Dutton was on a crusade to finally put you in your place. He hated you both with a passion. He was always griping, to anyone who’d listen, about how you managed to snag all the high-profile cases and get your faces in the paper all the time. He was so jealous he could hardly see straight. I knew, when he and Follett came to the scene that night, that he’d do everything he could possibly do to take you down.”

“Hatred like that’s a heavy load,” Starsky muttered.

Wilcox nodded again. “It sure is. And, after that night, when he thought he’d caught you red-handed, he poisoned anyone who’d listen in the Sixth. I just hope our new captain is able to get us past the bile Dutton spread. With him dead, now, that could be easier than it might have been.”

As much as he really didn’t want to, Hutch figured he needed to hear more. “What happened?”

“I was there, at the Sink Hole,” Wilcox said. “It’s our precinct’s hang out. Dutton was coming off what must have been a lousy day in traffic and was three sheets to the wind by the time he showed up. Follett tried to calm him down but all Dutton did was argue and curse both your names. Sometime around midnight, I think, those curses turned to threats.”

Hutch hadn’t noticed when he showed up but suddenly Dobey was standing next to his shoulder. Wilcox paused. “Don’t mean to interrupt, here,” Dobey said, “but I just heard about it myself. Go on, Wilcox.”

Wilcox took a breath and continued. “Follett tried to get Dutton to go home but he had a full head of steam up and wouldn’t listen. I didn’t hear what was said to trigger it but, between one breath and the next, Dutton pulled his ankle gun and shot Follett in the chest. We were all so stunned, nobody moved for a few seconds. In that time, Bill managed to draw his piece, ram it into Dutton’s gut, and pull the trigger. Bill was dead before he hit the floor; Dutton died on the way to the hospital.”

Glancing around as if realizing he was in enemy territory, Wilcox jumped to his feet. “Just thought you should know.”

Dobey put an arm around his shoulders and guided him away. “No need to rush off. Stay and have a beer.”

“Well…” Starsky lightly rubbed Hutch’s thigh. “Maybe the Dutton worshippers in the Sixth will have second thoughts now.”

Hutch drank the rest of his glass of beer in one long swallow. “We can only hope.”

Shane O’Connell and Greg Gregson slid into the booth with fresh beers for Hutch and Starsky and ones for themselves. “You two look like you’re not living up to the theme of this party!” Shane declared. “No hang-dog faces allowed, didn’t you know that?”

“Dutton’s dead,” Starsky said, quietly.

“Oh, shit.” Greg gulped beer.

O’Connell stared into his. “Didn’t like him. Didn’t want him dead, though.” He looked up at Hutch. “Don’t tell us what happened, we’ll find out from someone else.” He raised his glass and held it in obvious preparation for a toast. Hutch and the others raised theirs as well. “Allow Greg and me to tell you how much everyone at the lab is thoroughly enjoying the new grouch-free atmosphere.” He clinked his glass against the other three.

Hutch couldn’t help but smile. “Happy to hear it. And congratulations on your promotion. You and Greg helped save my ass and I’ll never forget it.”

Gregson finished his beer and dragged O’Connell out of the booth. “See that you don’t!” The two of them disappeared into the throng.

Judge Mendelssohn and Ted McLaughlin were the next to approach and, with them came a group of men. Hutch counted ten by the time the judge and lawyer dragged chairs over and seated everyone in two arcs at the end of the booth. Mendelssohn and McLaughlin sat opposite Hutch and Starsky.

Huggy, Anita and Diane brought beers for everyone before heading back to the bar.

McLaughlin lifted his glass. “These men, Dave, are out of prison due to your unstinting diligence and dedication to the pursuit of truth!”

Starsky opened his mouth to protest but Hutch squeezed his arm at the same time Mendelssohn spoke. “Oh, we all realize you had ulterior motives but the end result is the same. These men are free because of you.”

McLaughlin saluted them, and Starsky, with his glass. “We thought they should have the chance to thank you, personally, before they went home and took up their new lives.”

“New lives?” Starsky asked.

Mendelssohn passed one business card to Starsky and another to Hutch. “Ted and I have formed our own law firm. We’re representing these men in their negotiations with the state. We’re asking restitution for wrongful convictions and time spent in prison.”

“Also,” McLaughlin said, “we’re petitioning the Cayman Islands for the return of all funds deposited to the numerous accounts MacIntosh had there. So far, they’re cooperating nicely.”

Hutch exchanged a look with his partner, before staring at McLaughlin. “He was rich?”

“Oh, yes!” McLaughlin was definitely in a good mood. “Wealthy would be a better word. Inherited quite a lot from his folks and added to it himself with an understanding of the stock market.”

“He doesn’t seem to have spent much of it,” Mendelssohn went on, “just accumulated it.”

“Waiting, I guess,” Hutch mused, “until he’d wiped out every person on his hit list in this part of the state.”

“We also wanted you to know,” McLaughlin continued, “that each of these men has been sponsored by one or more people in their community, they have jobs, a place to live, and some new friends.”

“That’s… wonderful!” Hutch was nearly at a loss for words.

McLaughlin leaned back. “MacIntosh told his public defender he’s thinking about writing a book.” Hutch nearly choked on his swallow but Ted went on blandly. “I reminded the twit that, in California, felons can’t profit from their crimes. Any money made from a book, or other media property, would go to these men, plus the families of the five victims who have been reclassified from accident and suicide to murder. He’d never see a dime.” McLaughlin finished his beer, a satisfied smile on his face. Then he motioned to the man on the right end of the front row. “Tell the detectives your news, Jonas.”

The slender, pallid man nearly jumped out of his seat. However, after an encouraging look from Mendelssohn and McLaughlin, he sat up straight. “San Diego has had a problem for years with abandoned RVs. People buy them and, when they can’t make the payments, they leave them in parking lots, shopping centers, anywhere they won’t be noticed right away. They take the license plates and registrations and hope the authorities won’t track them down too quickly. Many move out of state.”

“That’s the bad news, Jonas,” McLaughlin laughed. “Now tell them the good news.”

Hemmings actually smiled. “The city has parked eight of them, so far, under our interchange. None of our people sleep outside any more. It’s a little crowded but more old RVs keep showing up every day.”

McLaughlin was visibly proud. “They’ve come together and formed a real community. They elected a leader, several former military men and women guard the area. Churches are bringing food on a regular basis and a local free clinic sends a mobile unit once a week.”

“Many of the former vagrants,” Mendelssohn added, “have acquired jobs and are bringing money into the project. Some have volunteered their services as cooks, cleaners, mechanics, anything the group needs. It’s turning into a genuine community effort.”

“And none of it would have happened if it wasn’t for you guys.” Jonas was red-faced but he met Hutch’s and Starsky’s eyes with a smile.

Peter Graves, short and balding instead of tall and gray-haired, never said a word but didn’t take his grateful eyes off Starsky, either.

Hutch realized he was becoming overwhelmed and decided he’d drink no more beer that day. Still, he did his best to greet and listen to Sheila Jarvis when she stopped by to brag about the staff of two she had in her new Fugitive Retrieval Task Force.

Jerry’s store was busier than ever!

Mr. Lyle’s hotel was full every night and the reservations for Room #21 - he had to restrict each stay to one week only - were booked for a year! “I thought about raising the rate but decided that would be wrong. Instead, I’ve asked every person requesting that particular room to donate a hundred dollars to the Bellkey Scholarship Fund. Haven’t had anybody turn me down yet!”

In between visitors, Hutch noticed a group clustered in a corner. The elegant Ebony, portly Barney Yates, scruffy Mr. Grady and Mr. Sayers, the young pizza delivery kid, and Cheryl Jennings made an interesting clutch. Hutch wondered what they could be talking about.

Late arrivals were Bo, Ernie and Skip. McLaughlin led them to the booth and acted like a mother hen when they pulled up chairs.

“Mr. McLaughlin got us out, Hutch!" Bo said, as soon as they sat down.

“Somehow, he cut through all the backed-up red tape,” Skip added. “Represented each of us at our trials --”

“And got us off!” Ernie finished.

“Well…” Bo temporized. “Not quite off, Ernie. You and Skip are on probation and I got a suspended sentence.”

“Close enough,” Ernie insisted.

“Mr. McLaughlin found us a place, too,” Skip added.

“It was a closed up storefront on Addison,” McLaughlin said. “I talked the landlord into giving it to them in exchange for their keeping the street in front of that block - he owns all the buildings - and the alley behind, clean and looking decent. The windows get washed now, too. Nearby shop owners have already reported an increase in their foot traffic.”

“We cleaned our place up, took the paper off the window, painted ‘Con’s Center’ on it instead, and have guys coming in almost every day to sit with us. They come when they can, pay what they can.”

“Got our own room in the back,” said Ernie. “It’s smaller than our cell but it has a window!”

“You’re both welcome any time, Hutch,” Bo said. With hand shakes all around, the three got up and left.

The place eventually cleared out and, partly to work off the beer they’d consumed, Hutch and his partner stayed to help Huggy, Diane and Anita clean and straighten up.

For some reason he couldn’t explain, Hutch wanted to stay at his place that night and Starsky had no objection. However, there was little or no sleep because they kept finding interesting, innovative, exceedingly satisfying uses for every flat surface. When Hutch finally pulled the covers over their satiated bodies, he put his hands on either side of Starsky’s face and took a long moment to look into his partner’s deep, deep, deep blue eyes. “Thank you for being the best cop in the world, Starsk. I’d be in prison right this minute if it wasn’t for you.”

Starsky wrapped both legs and both arms around Hutch’s body. “I had help, babe. But…” The kiss was sweet and gentle, with passion sizzling underneath. “You’re welcome.”

 

MONDAY - AFTER THE PARTY

The celebrity status I’d enjoyed during the past few weeks was rather pleasant. The jail accommodations sucked but the constant interviews I’d given to reporters, meetings I’d taken with lawyers, statements I’d given to more lawyers, meant I was getting the attention I’d always deserved.

Detectives from all my murders came to see me. I was allowed, even encouraged to explain, in detail, how I’d planned out my killings and set up my fall guys. Couldn’t talk about the WPP, though, which was a bummer. I was always sorry to see those people go.

This morning, as the final change in my life began, I was on the bus, going where he went for a few hours. It seems as if, instead of being my crowning achievement, the selection of Hutchinson was my downfall. And I never saw it coming. Well, well, well….

 

END