Part Three

"It took all the strength I had

Not to fall apart,

Just trying hard to mend the pieces

Of my broken heart,

But then I spent so many nights

Thinkin' how you did me wrong,

And I grew strong,

And I learned how to get along..."

-- "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor

Words & Music by Fekaris & Perren

The next morning's wait in the doctor's office was nothing out of the ordinary. It is rare to actually go in at one's appointment time, so it should have been routine to Starsky to sit and flip through magazines and make small talk with his partner for the better part of an hour. It wasn't like he hadn't been there before, waited sometimes as long as two hours if things were backed up. But today was different, and every moment seemed to drag painfully. He was glad to have Hutch there for moral support, but talking with another person became more of a strain than his nerves would handle. He finally lapsed into a jittery silence which he knew his partner would understand. When the nurse finally called his name, Hutch only made one quiet remark.

"Remember, whichever way this goes, we'll be okay."

"Thanks." Starsky smiled slightly and followed the nurse.

Hutch resumed reading his article, which he had been working on finishing for the past hour. Considering it was only two pages long, it was safe to say he was as nervous as Starsky. He finally tossed the magazine aside and just sat there and waited. The casual reading act had been for his shaky partner's benefit, and now he could luxuriate in a full blown attack of stress. They finally had their heads on straight again, knew what they wanted, and it could all be blown out of the water in one word from the doctor. Starsky had been doing very well with his rehabilitation. He was in good shape physically, and the physical therapist had been quite positive about his achievements in the relatively short span of time since being released from the hospital. Maybe all this panic was useless...a waste of stomach acids, Hutch thought as he felt his breakfast churning again.

A half hour passed like an eternity. And then Hutch barely caught sight of Starsky as he raced through the waiting room and out to the parking lot. Instinctively Hutch leapt to his feet and followed him, but he was too late to catch either Starsky or the Torino as it roared out of the lot onto the street.

With no car, Hutch stormed angrily back into the office to call a taxi. He had to get home, get his car, and go looking for Starsky. All manner of possibilities ran through his mind, but the most obvious one was that the verdict had been the one they had feared and dreaded and tried to tell themselves wouldn't happen. What could Starsky be thinking, and were would he go? How in hell could he even be responsible behind the wheel with what must be going through his head right now?

Setting out in the LTD, Hutch stopped first at his friend's apartment, which he found empty, and then started out for any familiar haunts that came to mind. Huggy's and a couple of greasy little restaurants yielded nothing, the park was a total zero, and the beach wasn't even an option. There was no way Starsky would be wandering around amidst the din and merriment of summer beach-goers. That left only one other place Hutch could think of--a quiet spot on a hillside road that overlooked a ravine, where Starsky seemed to like to go and think, or take the occasional special lady. Desperate for any lead as the morning grew old, he drove toward the spot determinedly.

He almost didn't see the solitary figure sitting on the edge of the bluff over the ravine. There was no sign of the Torino anywhere. He pulled up near the spot where his partner sat, and got out of his car. He just stared at Starsky for a minute, noticing that the other man had made no acknowledgment of even hearing the sound of a car pulling up behind him.

"Starsk?" Hutch hesitantly took a seat on the edge with his friend. "Starsky?"

"Yeah, I'm here," he responded, staring straight ahead.

"Not good news, eh?"

"'Bout the worst it could be."

"How'd you get here? Where's the car?"

"Down there." Starsky nodded toward the valley below, and Hutch saw the crumpled mass of red and white metal on its side.

"Dear God, what happened? Are you all right?" Hutch was just focusing now on the dirt on Starsky's red shirt, the dust in his hair and the scrape that had bloodied his knee and torn his jeans.

"I came out here to think...but when I started to pull over, and I saw the edge, I stepped on the accelerator instead of the brakes."

"You were upset--distracted..."

"I wasn't distracted, Hutch. I put the pedal to the metal on purpose. I wanted to fly right off the edge. Changed my mind at the last minute...thought I was too was kinda like James Dean, ya know? Remember 'Rebel Without A Cause'? The race scene? James Dean gets out of his car but the other guy goes over the side? Well, I got out just before it went over."

"You tried to kill yourself?" Hutch felt his chest constrict at the concept.

"If I'd followed through on tryin', I wouldn't be here, pal."

"Tell me what happened," he responded, resolving to stay calm.

"The long and short of it is the doctor told me if the department offers me a desk job I should take it because I'll never be fit to work any job that demands any significant level of physical exertion." Starsky's gaze remained fixed on the open space in front of him.

"He said it that way?"

"Those were more or less his exact words. When I bolted out of that office, I wanted to self-destruct." Starsky stared down at the mess that used to be his car. "At that last minute, I couldn't do it."

"Thank God. But why not, pal? What changed your mind?" Hutch asked gently.

"I remembered what it felt like when I found you under your car at the bottom of that ravine a few years ago, and I couldn't do that to you. That made me jump out of the car. Since I've been sittin' here, a lot of things have gone through my mind. My mother...the case--I won't work a desk job, Hutch. Not after this case is finished. But we owe something to's unfinished business."

"When I think about how close you came..."

"Don't think about it. If the car wasn't down there I wouldn'ta told ya at all because it doesn't do any good. You're just gonna worry yourself to death that I'm going to jump off the next bridge we cross. I won't. I looked death in the face and I didn't want it. But I don't wanna live right now either. And it hurts so bad I can't even cry or scream or throw things...I've just been sitting here...letting it...throb inside me." Starsky turned to face his partner. "We almost had it all again, Hutch. Now it's all gone...down there with the car."

"We're still here. We've still got the music. We'll finish this case and then we'll go back to what we started. You know what the Stones said-- 'you can't always get what you want'--and then something, something, but 'you can get what you need'."

"Something, something?" Starsky grinned a little.

"I don't remember all the words, okay. But you know what I'm driving at." Hutch stared out at the open space in front of him. The gravity of this situation baffled even his deepest thinking capabilities. He was so shocked by Starsky's short-lived suicide attempt that he found himself at a loss for anything profound or meaningful to say. "Maybe the department's doctor will have a different opinion."

"Nah. My doctor would've been the easy one. He was always real upbeat about my recovery. The department's doctor isn't going to go against the recommendation of a specialist who's been treating me for months. I'm dead in the water, pal. It's over."

"I don't know what to say, buddy. I want to make this better for you somehow," Hutch said honestly, putting an arm around his partner. Starsky leaned against him, resting his head on Hutch's shoulder.

"I've gotta tell Dobey."

"We've gotta tell Dobey. Me and thee, remember?" He squeezed Starsky's shoulder a little. "We'll be okay. We made it past the big obstacle--twice, thanks to that stupid stunt you pulled a few minutes ago. You survived. We survived. "Well," Starsky straightened up, "guess I better go home and change my clothes. Can't go in lookin' like this."

"You need some time to pull yourself together before we go back into the station? We could go somewhere--"

"We've got a murder investigation just starting, and Eric's depending on us to get to the bottom of this mess. As much as I'd like to, I can't seem to fall apart. It's like when a cut is so deep it won't bleed? 'Course when it does, it can hemorrhage and kill you. I don't know when my hemorrhage is gonna come over this, but it ain't now."

"Did he give you any specific reasons why you couldn't go back?"

"He said something about the EKG results showing that my heart wasn't strong enough to sustain me through prolonged, extreme physical exertion like I might get into with a foot chase, or a lot of climbing. At the gym, I'd only push myself to a point, but I wasn't chasing anybody, so when my heart rate got as high as I was comfortable with, I stopped. But you can't do that on the street. He said it looks like the cardiac arrest did some permanent damage. He also said he didn't expect my lung or my liver, where a lot of the original repair work was done, would be salvageable following some other severe trauma. Nice, clinical, tidy little explanation that translates into 'you're a cream puff'."

"A cream puff would have died on the ground next to the Torino that day. If you weren't such a tough, stubborn bastard you'd be dead now."

"Sure. That all sounds good, but all I really need now to make the picture complete is the lap robe and the rocker."

"I really am sorry, buddy."

"I know you are. Give me a ride back to my place?"

"You got it. How about I give Merl a call to send somebody out to fish that out of the pit?" Hutch indicated the Torino.

"Whatever. It's totaled anyway."

"You don't sound upset about that."

"It's minor compared to everything else. Ever since I got shot I kinda hated that car anyway...and now it would just be a worse reminder of what used to be. To hell with it. Leave it there to rot." Starsky stalked off toward the LTD and got in the passenger side before Hutch could say anything else. They rode to Starsky's apartment in silence.

Hutch waited in the living room while his partner showered and changed his clothes. Starsky committing suicide. The thought nagged and tormented Hutch's mind. If he hadn't changed his mind, or the door had jammed, or he had realized too late that he didn't want to die...and a damn doctor with all the finesse of a wrecking ball. With one or two phrases you shatter a man's whole life, and it's all in a day's work. "If the department offers you a desk job you better take it, because you aren't fit to do anything else." Well, maybe it wasn't said that cruelly, but Starsky was no liar and he wasn't in the habit of misquoting people, so it must have been pretty close. Starsky didn't want to die, but he didn't want to live either...where does that leave you? Hutch queried.

"Ready?" Starsky asked, emerging from the bedroom in clean clothes.

"Starsk," Hutch began, standing up. "Promise me you won't ever try anything like you did this morning. Not ever again."

"I'm not going to kill myself, Hutch."

"Promise me. I want you to say it, because I know you've never broken a promise to me, no matter how impossible it seemed to keep it." Hutch watched as Starsky's expression softened greatly.

"I promise," he replied with a slight smile.

"Good. Now I'm ready to go."

It seemed to Starsky that the desks loomed at him like fanged monsters as they made their way through the building to their own work area. Desk duty. Fat old cops with beer bellies and bald spots who either "took one in the back'' or "the old ticker went bad", boring younger detectives with tales of past glory days. Suddenly he saw a portly version of himself eating a beef burrito and explaining to some new guy how he used to kick some serious butt on the streets until Gunther took him out of the game...nope, won't happen, he vowed. I'll quit before I'll do that.

"You ready to face Dobey?" Hutch asked as they reached their desks.

"Won't get any easier." Starsky led the way to knock on their superior's door.

"Come in," a voice barked from the other side. Starsky pushed the door open, and when he and Hutch were inside, and the door was closed again, it seemed like his throat constricted. "Well, what's the verdict?" Dobey asked, appearing to assume that it was a good one.

"I'm all done." Starsky sunk into one of the chairs, and Hutch took the one next to him.

"Meaning what?" Dobey probed.

"The doctor told me all I could ever handle would be a desk job because my heart won't take the possible exertion of street action and my lung and liver will never survive another trauma." Starsky could feel a little emotional blood seeping out of the wound now, but he made up his mind his ultimate explosion would not take place in his captain's office.

"Dear God." Dobey slumped back in his chair, as if reacting to a verbal bullet. "That wasn't what we expected."

"I know I'm not 100% yet, but I've felt so much better, and I thought my stamina was coming back...guess I was wrong."

"Well, you still have to see Dr. Schneider next Tuesday."

"Starsky was right about one thing," Hutch spoke up. "Schneider isn't going to go against the recommendation of Starsky's doctor. The man's one of the best in his field, and I doubt the department's physician is going to go against him."

"We'll see. Meantime, it's not official yet." Dobey looked at Starsky, wishing he could find some small encouragement to offer him, but this little refusal to give in until after the final medical opinion was garnered was the best show of support he knew how to give. "Don't you two have some work to do on this case?"

"Plenty of it," Hutch responded, standing. Starsky followed suit, and the two of them left the office without further comment.

"He doesn't want to accept defeat," Starsky concluded, sitting at his desk , looking over his list of calls and paperwork assignments. There was plenty of desk work to this case.

"Give me half of those and let's rip through 'em so we can go talk to some folks." Hutch reached across toward Starsky, who unceremoniously ripped the list in half and handed part of it to his partner. The activities they were engaging in now would provide them with another sea of paper to swim through by that evening.

By mid-afternoon, they set out to visit Misty Armstrong, Matt's ex-wife and mother of his two-year-old son, Wesley. A call to Eric had given them a little fast and dirty background information on the situation. Misty was a groupie who had traveled with the band for the better part of a year, wound up marrying Matt, and then having the baby. Their marriage had been rocky at best, and there had been some question as to whether either one of them would be a fit parent for the child. Eventually traditional wisdom prevailed, and the mother won, though there was some suspicion she had a significant cocaine habit. She was looking a bit the worse for wear when the detectives arrived, lounging by the pool in an expensive one floor contemporary house. She had wrung a pretty settlement out of her famous ex, and she appeared to be enjoying it to the fullest. She might have even been pretty prior to too many drugs and too much booze. Her frizzy blonde hair contrasted with a tan that verged on leathery, and she was nursing a bottle of vodka to a certain death when she greeted the visitors her housekeeper led to the poolside.

"Detectives Starsky and Hutchinson," Hutch flashed his ID and made the introduction. "We're investigating the murder of your ex-husband, Matthew Armstrong."

"Sit down," she waved a lazy hand toward a couple of patio chairs nearby. "So you're trying to find out who killed Matt? Bet you've got a lot of possibilities."

"Meaning what?" Starsky probed.

"Meaning he was a creep. To know him was to want to kill him."

"You had a hostile relationship following your divorce?" Hutch asked.

"Ooh, you're a sharp one. No wonder you made detective." She took another gulp of her drink. "He tried to get Wes away from me, but I kicked his ass in court. He was cheating on me a few weeks after we got married, and my lawyer proved it, so here I am." she made a grand gesture at her surroundings with her hand. "He really fed me a line of crap--he was gonna love me forever, not even see all those other women...yeah, right."

"Where were you--"

"The night he was killed?" She cut off Hutch's question, and there was a laugh in her voice as she continued. "I was in the sack with my boyfriend. Trust me, he can back me up on that."

"And your boyfriend is?" Starsky had his pen poised on his notepad.

"Buck Dunston."

"Come again?" Hutch thought the name was a bad joke, but she repeated, and spelled it, as Starsky took it down with a slight quiver of the corners of his mouth.

"How long have you known this Buck Dunston?" Starsky asked.

"About six months or so."

"Wesley is the sole beneficiary of most of your husband's life insurance, and is the most significant heir in his will. Were you aware of that?" Hutch probed, thinking back on the estate information they had garnered that day from Armstrong's lawyer.

"No shit?" She shook her head and laughed. "Hell, I got most of his money from the divorce. Guess Wes'll get whatever's left. How much?"

"I'm sure the lawyer will be in touch with you," Starsky replied. "Were you aware your husband was having financial problems?"

"That's the second time one of you has called him my husband. We're divorced, remember?"

"Sorry," Starsky apologized without the slightest sincerity. "Were you--"

"I heard you the first time. I didn't know what his set up was exactly, though my lawyer keeps a pretty good eye on him. I know he shoots most of his money in his arm or snorts it up his nose or smokes it, so I'm not surprised."

"But you never shared his drug habit?'' Hutch asked.

"There's something about a 5th comment," she responded, looking triumphant, as if she had managed a major strategic coup. "He gambled too, did you know that? Got hooked on it in Vegas, and he was into some leg-breaker for I-don't-know-how-much. Started whining to me how he couldn't make his alimony payments...asshole."

"Well, he won't be making 'em anymore," Starsky retorted, flipping his notebook shut. The thought seemed to be a new one to her. "His estate's close to broke, and what's there goes to the boy...something about trust funds supervised by the lawyer... Well, I can't remember exactly." Starsky left the implication of poverty hanging in the air, and she was sufficiently unsettled.

"Well, we appreciate your cooperation, Mrs. Armstrong. Oh--and where could we get a hold of Mr. Dunston -- to corroborate your alibi?" Hutch asked innocently.

"He's not here right now, but he lives here. Should be back tomorrow. He's a sound man."

"We'll be in touch then," Hutch concluded, leading the way off the property.

"Suddenly I feel sorry for Armstrong," Starsky commented as he got in the car.

"Kind of a gutter-variety Vanessa," Hutch responded.

"Well, who's next?" Starsky looked at his list.

"I'd like to know who the leg breaker was he was into. Eric never mentioned that." Hutch started up the car on the second try. No snippy remarks from Starsky about the laboring engine. "We gotta find you another car, partner."

"I s'pose," Starsky responded absent-mindedly, staring out the window. It seemed like the doctor's verdict had sent his state of mind back to what it was when he was first released from the hospital: quiet, depressed and withdrawn.

"Think there's any point in asking Eric about the loan shark?"

"I think we're relying on the state's key suspect for all our leads, and even though I firmly believe he's innocent, that's not solid police work. I think we ought to track down the rest of the band, see what they have to say."

"How about Tim Drew?"

"The one that got hauled in for punching out a cop? That could be fun," Starsky responded, grinning a little.

The Drew estate was unusually elegant and tasteful, considering the young and somewhat wild inhabitant. They identified themselves to a security guard at the gate, and were flagged through electronic gates. The sprawling tudor-style mansion was highlighted by an elaborate fountain opposite the main entrance. This guy had taste, if nothing else. A Jaguar and a Lambourghini were parked in the circular drive.

The strains of electric guitar-generated live music was wafting on the summer breeze...and it was pretty good. A little melancholy, perhaps, but technically brilliant. The two detectives looked at each other, shrugging in agreement that this wasn't a bad way to live.

"Gosh, Starsk, it'd be a shame if giving up this job meant we wound up living like this, wouldn't it?" Hutch queried. He feared at first that a reference to their job situation would be too painful for his partner, but Starsky smiled back and responded by stopping to peer in the window of the Lambourghini. A voice startled him back to an upright position, and Hutch moved to join him where he stood, faced by an honest-to-God black-clad butler.

"The guard at the gate informed me you wish to speak to Mr. Drew?" He was a tall, imposing figure with a thick mop of white hair carefully styled.

"I'm Detective Starsky, this is my partner, Detective Hutchinson, LAPD. We need to speak to Mr. Drew regarding the murder of Matthew Armstrong."

"It's okay, Wells, I'll take it from here," a voice called from the shadows of the entry hall.

"Very well, sir." The butler disappeared, and a tall man with a shaggy mane of reddish-brown hair replaced him. Dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, Tim Drew was a wild contrast to his employee.

"Come on in, guys. I've got some food out back on the patio. We're working on a song for Matt's funeral." He extended a hand and smiled. "I'm Tim Drew, by the way. I already heard your names--which is which?"

"I'm Starsky, he's Hutch," Starsky responded, not quite sure why he liked this guy. There was just something unusually friendly in his demeanor, much like Eric.

"Okay, Starsky and Hutch, follow me." He led the way through a large entry hall, past an elaborate open staircase, and out a set of patio doors. Another musician was generating the music they had heard when they pulled up. Tim made a throat-cutting gesture to his companion, who ceased playing and set the instrument aside. Also dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, the shorter of the two men had long blond hair and a mustache, and a less personable demeanor. He took a long drink out of a can of beer before approaching the group for introductions. "Mick, this is Starsky and this one's Hutch. They're cops--about Matt's case."

"So whadd'you want from us?" A cloud of beer breath enveloped them.

"Well, we'd like to ask you a few questions about Matt's life. We have to understand that before we have a clear picture of why someone wanted him dead." Starsky waited for the effect of his explanation. Mick stared for a long moment, as if he were processing the information through a booze cloud.

"Eric March offed him...what're you trying to prove?" Mick returned to his chair near the pool.

"You wanna sit down?" Tim asked. "There's cheese and crackers and beer on the table. Dig in. My cook thinks she's gotta make a tray for twenty every time I have a snack." Tim led the way, piling a small plate from the large tray, and plopped in a chaise lounge. Figuring they had at least one friendly prospect from whom to draw information, and having missed lunch, both detectives took him up on the food, but passed on the beer. "Oh, shit, you guys are on duty. Wells!" he bellowed in the general direction of the house.

"That's not necessary," Hutch interrupted.

"It's hot out here," Tim protested. "Hey, Wells, these guys need something dull to drink. How about a couple Cokes?" The butler nodded, a little chagrined, and returned to the interior of the house. "So what can we tell you?"

"Do you think Eric killed Matt?" Starsky asked.

"Hey, you're the guys who are in Eric's new project. I knew the Starsky and Hutch part sounded familiar."

"I think he did," Mick spoke up from his slouched position in a patio chair.

"Why?" Hutch probed.

"He was there, he had blood all over him, and they were at each other's throats right before. Eric wasn't too happy about getting knocked on his ass when he had that fight with Matt."

"Did he fight back?" Starsky asked.

"He started, but we broke it up before he got a swing in. I s'pose fair woulda been to let him have his shot and then break it up, but before they killed each other...guess he just waited for a better chance."

The Cokes were served and the butler slipped back inside the house.

"Why would he kill Matt? What would be the motive?" Hutch asked.

"There wouldn't be one," Tim spoke up. "Eric loved Matt. He was mad as hell at him, but he loved him. They were like brothers. They could be fighting like crazy, and if anybody attacked one of them, the other one would stick up for him. Eric couldn't have done it. He's getting fucked by the system because he's in this business."

"You think he's guilty?" Starsky continued to probe Mick. "Why?"

"I told you."

"That's old news." Starsky took a drink of his Coke and ate another piece of cheese. "Everybody's heard the DA's party line. I wanna know why you think he did it."

"If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a freaking duck. He had the blood on his hands, and he's got no alibi, and before he left the studio that day they had their big blow up? He told Matt it wasn't over, and he'd pay him back."

"If we assumed for a minute that Eric didn't do it, is there anybody else who would have a motive you know of?" Starsky asked Tim, who shook his head through a swallow of beer.

"Not any one specific person. Matt was a pain in the ass, and most people didn't like him. He was heavy into drugs...I remember what he was like before, and he had enormous talent, and I suppose that's why it hurts like hell that he's dead. We used to be real good friends."

"Misty told us he had some heavy debts--that he gambled," Hutch stated. Tim shrugged.

"Oh, he gambled. We all did when we stopped in Vegas. I was ready to mortgage the family jewels to keep playing Roulette myself," he remembered with a snicker. "But, yeah, Matt kept it up and I know he was running short on money. 'Course that bitch he was married to got most of it."

"Did you know of anyone who was loaning him money--either of you?" Hutch probed.

"Nobody but an idiot would loan him anything," Tim replied with a laugh. "He maxed out his credit cards, ran through his money like there was no tomorrow, and he never could balance his checkbook. I loved the guy, but he was a flake when it came to money. Mismanaged the hell out of it, and what he didn't gamble or spend or give to Misty, his accountants probably stole, 'cause I swear he wouldn't know the difference."

"Matt said he took out a loan," Mick spoke up. "He told me a couple of months before he died that he was going broke--bankrupt. I told him to see a friend of mine who gave out high interest loans."

"A legit friend?" Starsky prodded.

"Sort of. You didn't get this from me. T.L. Marcovitz is his name. He's got a really cool car dealership just outside of Beverly Hills, all the hot foreign models...he sometimes loans money for about 25% interest to guys who need it quick and without credit checks. I borrowed a little myself to get out of a sticky situation with this girl in--anyway, I told Matt about him, so I figure that's where he got the loan."

"What's the name of the dealership?" Hutch asked, ready to jot it down.

"Wheels," Mick replied. "Look, I think Eric did it. I just didn't want to not be straight with the cops."

"We appreciate that, Mick," Starsky responded.

"Say, you guys finished a demo together, didn't you?" Tim asked.

"That we did," Hutch answered, with a slight smile.

"I've got some acoustic guitars in the house--wanna jam?"

"Thanks, but we really should get going." Starsky smiled as he stood up, and Hutch followed suit. "Hey--Mick--was that you playing before we came out here?"


"You're good, man. Real good."

"Thanks. We're trying to come up with something real special for Matt's funeral. Hard job...writing a song for a friend's funeral. It sucks."

"No argument to that," Hutch answered, thinking how close he came to making funeral arrangements that very day. "I'm sorry to ask this, but it's routine, you understand--"

"Where were we when Matt was killed?" Tim anticipated. "I was at a lady's apartment in Malibu--I can get you her name and number. Mick?"

"I was home, with my wife. We were asleep, but I didn't go out or anything."

"Thanks," Hutch jotted down the responses. "The lady's name?"

"Jamie Henderson. She's a secretary at our record company--Goldmine. You can get a hold of her there during business hours."

"That'll do," Hutch concluded.

"Thanks for the refreshments," Starsky said to Tim. "This is quite a place."

"Thanks. I'll walk you out. I had the house built--patterned after one I saw in England on one of our tours about five years ago. That fountain was moved from an old estate just outside London," Tim explained as they arrived back at the front of the house.

"Exceptional," Hutch moved closer to get a better look at it.

"If you need any more info from us, feel free to call or stop by. Mick's real wiped out about Matt...I am too. We might fight a little but we were a pretty close group."

"There's one more band member--"

"Adam Kelly," Tim responded, cutting off Starsky's probe. "He's in New York--his dad's been real sick, so he wasn't even in town when Matt died. He'll be back for the funeral in a few days. Whenever you guys release the body to Matt's family."

"I could ask the M.E. and give you a call," Starsky volunteered.

"Thanks, man. Just seems like he deserved to get buried pretty soon."

"You're right. Thanks for your time," Hutch led the way toward the LTD.

"Quite a car you got there, detective," Tim teased, leaning on his Jag.

"Hey, we're not famous yet," Starsky responded with a grin.

"Tell Eric I said 'keep the faith', okay?"

"Will do." Starsky joined Hutch in the car and they made their way back down the long driveway.

"If you hadn't made fun of Belle until I felt like I had to get rid of her, we might not have been so embarrassed driving in here," Hutch chided Starsky bitterly, referring to the compact convertible he had owned briefly following the destruction of his previous LTD. He had purposely chosen this horrid-looking grey sedan, which bore sores of rust down both sides to get revenge on his partner for ridiculing the little car which he himself had to admit was too small and not very practical...of course that admission had never been vocalized to Starsky.

"I wouldn'ta been riding in that car up anybody's driveway, pal. I've seen three-year-olds riding down the sidewalk in cars bigger than that one." Starsky's teasing brought a grin only marginally visible under Hutch's mustache. Mission accomplished. He had his partner bantering about something as trivial as a car after feeling suicidal a few hours earlier.

"Where to? Wheels?" Hutch asked.

"Wheels," Starsky agreed.

The Beverly Hills car dealership was all it should have been. Three posh showrooms displayed cars which often boasted six-figure price tags, and expensively-dressed salesmen made their presence subtly felt. As Starsky made a careful inspection of the leather upholstery on a Mercedes convertible, a light-suited man approached them.

"May I be of service?"

"We need to speak to Mr. Marcovitz." Hutch flashed his ID.

"I'm afraid he's in a meeting at the moment. May I refer you to his secretary for an appointment, gentlemen?"

"No, but you can get him out of his meeting," Starsky responded. "We have a few questions about one of his clients. It would be in his best interest to cooperate at this point."

"Please have a seat in the lobby. I'll tell Mr. Marcovitz you're here." He turned and headed for the back of the building.

"I was thinkin'," Starsky began, sinking into a white leather couch, "about takin' that guy out in the old beat up used Caddy to find out where Fifth Avenue was--remember that? Man, I'd love to do that with that Mercedes over there."

"Can you picture this guy sitting still while I drove us into a pile of crates?"

"Maybe we can try that on Marcovitz if he won't cooperate," Starsky suggested with a devilish grin.

A tall man in a light blue three-piece suit approached them. His receding grey hair matched his mustache. He appeared to be in his mid-fifties.

"You gentlemen are police? T.L. Marcovitz." He extended his hand as both detectives stood, and each shook hands.

"I'm Detective Hutchinson, this is my partner, Detective Starsky. We'd like to ask you a few questions about a client of yours, Matthew Armstrong."

"Armstrong..." he muttered, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "Isn't that the singer that was recently murdered?"

"One in the same," Starsky retorted.

"Mr. Armstrong took out a loan from me," he stated, shocking both detectives with his candor. "It was all very legal, I assure you. You would be most welcome to review the terms of the agreement if you like. I have a signed document on file in my office."

"You're in the banking business?" Hutch probed.

"Not really. Occasionally I will make personal loans to individuals referred to me by other clients who appear to be good credit risks. They provide me with some type of collateral, an agreement is signed, and installment payments begin. Please, allow me to show you," he said, gesturing toward his office, which was apparently located at the back of the building. "You see," he continued as they walked toward the office, "part of our service here at Wheels is providing a very liberal financing program for individuals who wish to...reach a bit for their new vehicle. Any loans I make are written along similar guidelines, the only difference being that they receive cash instead of a vehicle." He opened a glass door and waited while the detectives passed through it into a poshly appointed waiting area, and not pausing at his secretary's desk, led them into his own inner office. "Of course, this is hardly a business for me. I am not in the habit of making large numbers of loans. I only do it as favors to personal acquaintances. Being my liquid assets are tied up, you can certainly understand it is necessary for me to require some interest." He waved a hand toward a pair of leather chairs across from his desk. Everything was white leather and chrome and glass, the white carpeting almost like fur and thickly padded from beneath. They sat as invited, and waited while he pulled a number of manila folders from a file cabinet. "This is Mr. Armstrong's agreement. There are a few others here if you're interested. I have only about four loans actively out now. As I said, this is more a favor for friends than a business."

"$1 million? Hell of a favor." Starsky handed the folder to Hutch. "I see you only require 10% interest. Quite reasonable."

"On large sums such as Mr. Armstrong's, it is adequate to offset any loss I might experience by not having the money invested, at least for the most part."

"Payment record here looks pretty spotty." Hutch looked up. "What are your collection procedures?"

"If you're implying I send out thugs to beat it out of my clients, I assure you I do not. Fortunately I am not faced with many defaults. Mr. Armstrong had fallen on some hard times...I was told later he had a propensity for gambling." Marcovitz sat behind his desk. "I was planning to initiate legal action against him soon."

"We appreciate your openness, Mr. Marcovitz," Hutch concluded, handing the man his pile of folders across the desk and standing.

"I don't have anything to hide from the authorities. It was no trouble. Now, I really should get back to my meeting."

"Of course. Thank you again." Hutch led the way out the door Marcovitz opened.

"Deanne will show you out, gentlemen. Best of luck with your investigation."

"Yeah, thanks," Starsky responded as the man left the room.

"Right this way." Deanne, a tall brunette in a light business suit, stood and led them back the way they had come.

When she had returned to her office and they were standing just outside the doors of the building, Starsky's attention was caught by a flash of red hair in a white Porsche convertible that made a hasty turn into the lot and pulled up in front of the showroom window. Rhiana jumped out, not having spotted them yet, and headed toward the door. He noticed a hesitation in her step when she saw him, but she recovered quickly.

"Rhiana, I'm so sorry about--"

"Save it, Detective." She tried to push past him but he grasped her by both shoulders and pulled her back.

"Just hang on a minute."

"I'll wait in the car," Hutch offered, hurrying to give his partner some privacy to settle what was obviously to be a significant problem with his new girlfriend.

"Rhiana, look, I'm so sorry for the way I acted at the precinct. I had no right to ignore you that way. I didn't really mean to--we were so intent on getting the case, helping Eric...and it was pretty intense for me to be back there again after all this time. I just messed up, and I'm really sorry. Can you forgive me?"

"You're a cop again?"

"Well, yes, but not--" he was going to explain what had happened with the doctor, but she cut him off.

"Look, what happened between us was a big mistake on my part. I was mistaking the rush of the project for something else."

"What are you saying?" Starsky certainly was getting the point of her words, but he didn't want to accept the meaning of them.

"It was a heat of the moment thing, Dave. Nothing more. And let me tell you the reason I didn't want anything more than friendship from you before: look at me, look at this," she said, gesturing toward her car and the dealership. "This is the kind of world I live in, and I thought you wanted to be a part of that--"

"I still want to be a part of your world. What difference does it make what I do for a living?" Starsky knew the answer, but again, he didn't want to accept it, and so made her spell it out.

"Get real, Dave. Do I strike you as the type of woman who wants a station wagon, a house in the suburbs, kids and a bunch of belching cops lying around my living room watching Monday Night Football? I thought you were headed somewhere, and I thought you were an artiste at heart. I saw you and Hutch click into your 'cop mode' at the station. No one and nothing mattered except your cryptic little communications with each other, and whether or not you could get some other detectives bounced off the case. You make me sick." She turned back toward her car.

"Rhi, please, don't do this," he pleaded with her, keeping pace with her brisk walk back to the car. "What we said to each the had to mean more to you than what kind of job I do."

"Just because you showed me your scars doesn't mean I have to marry you." She got into the convertible and slammed the door.

"I love you," he said helplessly, not wanting to say it or feel it, and too wounded by what she had said to be as angry as he knew he should have been.

"Get a little dignity, Dave. Don't beg. It doesn't flatter you." She started the engine.

"Rhiana, you can't be this angry with me because of what happened at the station."

"Look, I don't love you. I was infatuated with an image I created myself with a leather jacket and a pricey recording studio. That isn't you, and quite frankly, you aren't what I'm looking for. Now please get away from my car." She gunned the engine and raced out of the lot, leaving him standing there in a daze.

The LTD pulled up closer to where he stood. Hutch. One person I can count on, he thought, the pain of what Rhiana had said, and the betrayal by the only person he had let that close to him since the shooting, being almost as intense as the bullets from Gunther's hit men ripping through him. When he didn't move from where he stood, Hutch finally got out of the car and walked over to him.

"Starsk? What happened?"

"I just got dumped."

"She's probably just angry. She'll get over it."

"She's already over it, Hutch. She's over me, that's for damn sure. Can we get out of here, please? I don't belong here," he said with a catch in his voice. While Hutch didn't understand the remark, he didn't make an issue of it.

"Sure thing, partner." Hutch squeezed his arm briefly as he passed him to go back to the driver's side. Starsky climbed into the car and they rode in silence back to Starsky's apartment. Hutch wasn't sure of where to take his partner, but home seemed logical. Whatever happened, it had capped a day of horrors that had to be stopped. It was getting late, and it was time to set the investigation aside for a few hours to let Starsky recover a little from what the day had brought him.

Once inside the apartment, Starsky tossed his jacket on a chair and dropped into a corner seat of the couch. Hutch went to the refrigerator.

"Want a beer?" he asked his partner, who only shrugged in response. Not sure how to interpret that, he pulled out two bottles, opened them and joined Starsky on the couch, occupying the middle cushion. He wouldn't have ordinarily plopped down so close to his friend, but it was the only thing he could think of to show some moral support. He handed Starsky one of the bottles.

"I really thought she loved me. She said she did. The morning Eric was arrested, we came up here, and we were on the couch, and one thing led to another. She wanted to see the scars," Starsky explained, his voice trailing off a little. "I was real nervous about're the only person besides the medical people to see them. I didn't know how a lady would react to it. She talked me into it, and she said all these really beautiful things about it--about how they all were symbols of some kind of healing...she said it better, but that was the gist of it." Hutch watched a tear slide down his friend's cheek slowly, and Starsky took a gulp of the beer. "She told me she loved me, I said I loved her--I did love her...God, even after what she said to me, I still do."

"What happened today, buddy? What did she say?" Hutch asked softly.

"We would have probably been lovers if Eric hadn't called right then..." Starsky rubbed his eyes with one hand and looked at Hutch. The infinite sadness in his face both moved and unnerved Hutch. Starsky had tried to drive off a cliff once that day, and that was before Rhiana took her shots at him. "She claims now she was never in love with me, only with what she created with 'a leather jacket and a pricey recording studio'." He made quote marks in the air with his fingers. "She more or less told me I wasn't good enough as a cop, that I should take a look around at her world, and she said some stuff about not wanting a station wagon and belching cops in her living room..."

"What?" Hutch was trying to just let Starsky pour it all out, but he couldn't help asking for clarification.

"She said all I could give her was a station wagon, kids, a house in the suburbs and 'belching cops in the living room watching Monday Night Football'...or something like that." He paused, then looking away, said, "She told me that just because I showed her my scars she didn't have to marry me." Hutch reeled at the cruelty of the remark, and having set the beer aside, Starsky leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, and buried his face in his hands. Hutch watched a moment as his partner's whole body trembled with sobs that seemed to emanate from the pit of his soul. Only after Terry died could Hutch remember seeing such complete devastation in his usually resilient partner. How many cruelties can life push on you in one day before you snap? Hutch wondered.

"Starsk, come on," he put his arm around the other's shoulders. "Come here." He waited while his partner hesitated a little, and then turned to him, clinging to him tightly and crying into his shoulder. "I'm so sorry, buddy. I'm so sorry you had to get hurt like this. Damn it, you don't deserve it. You don't deserve any more. You're the last person who ever deserved to be hurt at all." Hutch could feel tears stinging his own eyes. After all the months of waiting and praying and watching and hovering and protecting his partner while he healed up from Gunther's murder attempt, seeing him come alive again in the recording studio, but then so much more in working on this see him crushed so mercilessly again was almost unbearable pain. In one day, he'd lost a career and a woman he loved, the first woman who had so deeply infiltrated his heart since Terry...and had been treated so heartlessly. If Starsky loved you, he was the most loyal, gentle, kind person in the world...God, how he didn't deserve to be betrayed this way. Hutch patted the shaking back gently. "I'm right here, buddy. I know it hurts...but we'll get through all of it, one thing at a time. Nobody thought we'd come this far, but we fooled 'em all. Damn her." Hutch couldn't help the remark as he felt no lessening in his partner's crying. "You've come too far to let her drag you down, buddy."

"For what?" Starsky asked in a broken voice.

"For me." He tightened his hold on his friend. "Because I don't ever want to lose you. You hear me?" Starsky nodded a little. "Your life is precious to me, Starsk. I count on you--you know that. You're my best friend...all the stuff I do, it's no fun without you...well, okay, a few things I do are more fun without you," Hutch paused when he heard a muffled chuckle from Starsky. "But even picking out that damn gray car wasn't any fun until you started needling me about it."

"I can't be a cop anymore, Hutch. And I can't go back in a recording studio again...ever," Starsky emphasized the last word, a new little shudder of tears coming from it.

"So we'll be unemployed for a while. Hell, after we've laughed in the face of death, I think we can handle job-hunting." He detected a calming in his partner, and he continued. "Maybe we'll even open that PI office after all. So what if we follow guys around who cheat on their wives? They probably deserve to get caught, and we can charge big hourly rates to sit and do what we do now--all night stake outs, except the client'll pay for your burritos." Starsky laughed out loud that time, and straightened up, moving back a little from Hutch, stunned to see tears on his face as well. Kind of like looking in some sort of weird mirror, Starsky thought, a little smile lingering on his face.

"Hey, what're you cryin' about, Blondie? I'm the one who got dumped here." Starsky looked away a moment. "I'm sorry flipped out like that. It's just the doctor and Rhi...Rhiana, and it all just piled up. I guess I shoulda gone with my first instinct and kept my shirt on."

"This has nothing to do with scars, Starsk. I know you love her, but she's a shallow bitch who doesn't deserve you. I know what I'm talking about. I was married to one, remember?"

"Not nice to speak ill of the dead, or so my mother says."

"Your mother never met Vanessa. And if she met Rhiana, she'd probably chop her up in little pieces."

"Yeah, probably." Starsky had broken the embrace, but had stayed under one arm that rested around his shoulders. "This has been a real bad day, Hutch." He paused. "The damn car didn't even blow up."


"Well, when I made the stupid decision to head for the cliff at warp speed, I thought I'd rather go out in one big blaze of glory than rot away at a desk. When I saw the car hit bottom, I expected this big impressive explosion. The damn thing just fell on its side like a dead bug. I'da probably lived and just spent two more months in the hospital anyway. I swear to God, Hutch, there are some days you can't get anything right." Starsky had an ironic smirk on his face, and Hutch couldn't help but smile at the horrid dark humor.

"At least you knew enough to bail out."

"Yeah. Ruined a new pair of jeans too."

"Like you said, pal, one of those days." Hutch took another swig of his beer. "Starsk, we never thought all those wounds were going to heal from the shooting, and they did. This wound from Rhiana--it will too."

"Oh I know that. This day has just been like a one-two punch. For a couple days I felt like I had my whole life back--not just part of it. I had my job back, a great lady in my life, I felt really good about was just a big body blow. After Terry died, all this stuff with getting dumped or breaking up with girlfriends--it looked like a walk in the park. Nothing'll ever be that hard again...well, almost nothing. You and Terry have been the two most important people in my life. Losing either one of you is big stuff...all the rest of it, I'll get past it eventually. I'm just tired, ya know what I mean?"

"I sure do, buddy."

"Thanks for always being there for never let me down." Starsky had been staring straight ahead when he said it, but he finally looked Hutch in the eyes. "I can always count on you."

"Don't you forget it either." Hutch smiled and squeezed Starsky's shoulder a little and then withdrew his arm. "Hey, you getting hungry at all?"

"I feel like I have a lead weight in my stomach. I don't know if I can eat anything."

"Not even something big and greasy and toxic at Pancho Villa's?"

"You're volunteering to go there?"

"I'll even treat. Come on, partner. It'll cheer us both up a little. Maybe we can even go see one of those God-awful movies you're always trying to drag me to."

"They're running 'Psycho' at that little theater not too far from here."

"If we get a move on, we can grab dinner and still make it for the show." Hutch stood up. "Look, I know it's like tossing a grain of sand into the ocean to expect dinner and a movie to fix everything that's wrong, but there's no law against us having a little fun once in awhile. We'll get back on the case full tilt tomorrow."

"Until Schneider sidelines me permanently."

"Then you're going to come down with the flu, take a week off, and ride around with me while I work on the case. Hell, we've snuck around worse restrictions in our lives. We'll get around this. Go wash your face. You look like hell."

"Thanks a lot." Starsky stood up with a slight grin and disappeared into the bathroom.

The spicy Mexican dinner and the movie did seem to have a positive effect on both of them. By the midpoint of the meal, they were recalling an old case they had worked on to bring down a crime boss named Amboy, and remembering their experience eating his caviar and sampling his expensive champagne made them both snicker. Of course, busting a prostitution ring working out of a funeral home was one of their more amusing experiences. Amboy was a dirtbag, but he was a colorful dirtbag.

"Remember Anton--the old guy we thought was killing the strippers?" Starsky asked, savoring a mouthful of a cheese enchilada drowned in hot sauce.

"Oh, yeah...the girls weren't bad either." Hutch chased a bite of tostada with some wine. "Remember playing that phone trick on Dobey?"

"'Is this Starsky or Hutch?"' Starsky mimicked Dobey's frustrated gruff tone. "Whatever happened to Anton anyway?"

"I think he's in a retirement home...his office is shut down now." Hutch shook his head. "You meet so many people, lose touch with them..."

"Remember Sugar?"

"The transvestite lounge singer? Who could forget her--him---whatever," Hutch finished with a laugh.

"And that crazy ballet dancer who thought he was a vampire? We've had some weird cases, Hutch." Starsky shook his head, smiling.

"Psycho" provided the kind of mental release they both needed, each having seen the classic thriller more than once. Hutch remembered with a smile the first time they had seen the movie centering on gruesome slayings in a roadside motel, launched by a horrific scene of carnage in a shower. They were staying in a motel (of all places) and Starsky had waited until Hutch was in the shower, turned out the lights, and called "Oh, Norman..." in his best Mother Bates voice, mimicking the killer to startling perfection. Hutch had maintained his composure and verbally chastised his companion sufficiently once he ventured out to turn the lights back on, but the stunt had been a chilling one. He had to admit as practical jokes went, it was one of Starsky's more inspired moments.

For his part, Starsky was munching popcorn almost in tempo with the music as the killer stalked the next victim. You'd never know this guy tried to drive off a cliff earlier, Hutch thought. Maybe that old resiliency was still there after all. Hutch watched his partner for a couple minutes, happy to see that he seemed transported to the Bates Motel for awhile, and then turned his attention back to the screen. Maybe he really could dismiss the cliff incident as a moment of temporary insanity.

It was around midnight when they returned to Starsky's apartment.

"Any chance I could crash on the sofa bed tonight? Otherwise I'm gonna have to double back and pick you up in the morning anyway." Hutch had gone back to his own apartment for much lesser spans of nighttime hours, but he thought Starsky might be glad for the company, and he was.

"Anytime," he responded, getting out of the passenger side of the car. They were both surprised to see a red Ferrari parked nearby. "Hey, that's Eric, isn't it?" Starsky asked Hutch, who was now out of the car and part way around the front of it. The interior lights of the Ferrari confirmed that it was, and Eric got out of his car and headed toward them.

"Anything wrong?" Starsky asked.

"Nothin' new," Eric responded. "Just wondered what was going on with the case. I know I've probably got the plague as far as the cops are concerned to give me any information, but I'm really goin' nuts."

"Come in." Starsky led the way up the steps and unlocked the door. When all three were settled in seats, and it was established no one wanted anything from the kitchen, Eric continued to elaborate on his reason for being there.

"I saw Rhiana earlier," he began.

"Bet she had plenty to say," Starsky leaned back in his seat on the couch and rested his feet on the coffee table.

"She said she broke it off with you, that you were going back to being a cop, so she wasn't going to waste her time anymore--man, that really sucks. I'm sorry."

"It's been a lousy day, Eric. Get to the point, will you?" Starsky snapped, leaving the other man a little at a loss for words. "I'm sorry. I'm taking it out on you."

"Hey, what're friends for? I just wanted to tell you that there might be more to why she doesn't want to date a cop than just wanting you to have a fancier job."

"Meaning what?" Hutch interjected.

"Meaning Rhiana was Matt's supplier."

"What?" Starsky straightened up suddenly.

"The boutique is a front--it's the best-known high-class drug pick-up in the entertainment industry. She could buy and sell me about four times. Anything you can shoot in your arm, snort up your nose or smoke, you can get from Rhiana."

"Oh my God." Starsky ran his hands through his hair and looked back at Eric. "You're positive about this?"

"That's why I wouldn't name Matt's supplier in my statement. I knew you two were starting something. And I like Rhiana--she's been a good friend to me."

"So why are you turning her in now?"

"Because I see a path of destruction ahead for a lot of people in my life. Matt died because he was into a bunch of stuff that was dangerous--dope, booze, gambling...and Rhiana was part of that problem. She's part of that world of suppliers and crooks."

"And that's why you didn't belong in her world," Hutch said to Starsky. "Why a cop didn't belong in her world."

"Look, I'll testify--anything you need. I went with Matt once when he picked up his stuff. And I heard Rhiana tell him he was late with his payments, and that she wasn't a charity." Eric sighed. "I was afraid to do anything about it at the time. I was afraid to go to the cops, because I didn't want some drug lord to show up and blow my brains out for turning his front lady in. But Matt's dead, and he was my best friend, for better or worse, and all bets are off. If nailing Rhiana will do anything to get his killer, then I'm all yours."

"We've gotta do some thinking, strategizing." Hutch stood up and started pacing. "We can't just rush in and bust her if there's a way to get to something bigger through her."

"She deals in a huge volume, you can be sure of that. And it's top quality stuff, 'cause her customers can really pay." Eric looked up at Hutch. "I'm not doing this to get myself off the hook. But if somebody killed Dave, would you care what it cost you to nail them?"

"Not for a minute. But there's no guarantee he was killed due to something related to the drug situation."

"He was in debt, he was a junkie, and there was pressure on him to pay up. I didn't want to say all this in my statement because I didn't want to trash what was left of Matt's reputation. He was a brilliant songwriter, a gifted singer...he deserves to be remembered for some of the good things he did. Not chalked off as another dope fiend who met his maker and deserved it. When this all comes out, all anybody'll see is the negative stuff. Damn it, I didn't want to do that to him."

"Letting his killer go free would be worse, wouldn't it?" Starsky asked.

"That's what I figured. That's why I'm here now."

"Do you know anything else about Rhiana's connections?" Hutch asked.

"No. I just know she's a supplier, and a big one. She also seemed pretty confident she could make threats about him paying some back debts to her, so I assume she either had big connections or some significant muscle she could call on."

"You ever heard of a guy named Marcovitz?" Hutch ventured, feeling he could trust Eric, even if he was the prime suspect in the DA's case.

"I bought a car from him about six years ago."

"And that's all you know about him?"

"I know as soon as I established some bank credit I paid him off. That bastard charged me 25% interest and told me somebody'd break my arms if I missed more than two payments. I wanted the car and the image, and a friend of mine told me I should go for it...that everything'd be fine as long as I made the payments on time. I did, and then I paid him off early, with the interest I would have had to pay anyway, because that's how the deal goes, and that was that."

"How'd he operate? Did you sign anything?" Starsky asked.

"A dummy loan agreement for something like 10% interest, and was told to pay those payments by check. The balance was paid in cash, based on a verbal agreement. Why do you ask?"

"Because that was the same deal Matt had," Starsky responded. Having decided Eric was the least likely suspect in the case, both detectives were ready to trust him. "Matt owed Marcovitz big money, and the agreement he signed was similar to what you're describing, and based on information from another source--"

"Mick? He was into Marcovitz for $100,000 for about six months while he was having a cash flow problem. He needed to buy off this sixteen-year-old girl who was making noises about a paternity suit. Truth is, I don't think Mick did it. He had just gotten married, and his big worry was that his wife wouldn't believe he hadn't done it. So he paid off the girl and as soon as we got some royalties in, paid off Marcovitz $125,000 in cash. That way, his wife never had to see evidence of a bank loan, and most importantly, didn't hear about Tina or Tiffany or whatever the hell her name was."

"Only problem I have with loan sharks as killers is that dead men can't repay--especially if they're broke," Hutch stated, sitting on the arm of the couch.

"If Marcovitz has a signed loan agreement, he could make a claim against the estate. Over time, there's no question the estate will be paid that and more from royalties, plus the usual hype sales that take place after a death." Eric yawned and stretched in the chair he occupied. "Of course that's assuming he wants to be brought into this at all."

"For small stuff, he probably wouldn't chance it. For a million bucks, he might show up with his legit-looking loan agreement and give it a whirl," Starsky commented. "Eric, what do you know specifically about Rhiana's operation--anything?

"Just her code name system."

"Oh, is that all?" Hutch asked sarcastically. Eric had casually tossed out what could be the key to nailing her like it was an incidental piece of trivia.

"She names her drug orders like outfits. For example, coke is white leather, heroin is brown suede, pot is green lame. The size of the order determines what kind of clothing it is. Matt's order was for a 'brown suede jacket', 'white leather boots' and a 'green lame shirt'."

"So he got mostly heroin, a moderate amount of coke and a smaller batch of pot?" Starsky asked.

"Exactly. And she brought out three softly wrapped packages, about the right size for what she was saying was in them, loaded them into a couple of those flashy gold shopping bags she uses and hands them out right in front of a store full of customers. Matt walked out of there looking like any other shopper."

"Clever lady." Starsky shook his head. "What a system."

"It's late. I think we all need to sleep on this for a while, and we'll start following up on it first thing in the morning," Hutch suggested.

"Yeah, I'm beat," Eric agreed, standing up.

"We don't think you did it, Eric. This whole thing is a mess right now, but your lawyer's probably filled you in on the implications of the coroner's report," Starsky walked with him toward the door.

"Oh, yeah. He keeps telling me I shouldn't worry. Little tough when you're up for a murder rap. He'd lay an egg if he knew I was here. He told me not to say anything to anybody without him present. But somebody has to break the chain here."

"Look, Eric, neither one of us thinks you did it. We're going to take what we have to the DA and try to get him to drop the charges. I think it's just going to save him from looking like a bigger idiot when the case really breaks." Starsky sighed.

"Matt's body was released from the morgue this afternoon. I called and asked. Gave me the creeps, thinking about him just lying there in a drawer. Doesn't seem right."

"Any word on when the funeral is?" Starsky asked.

"He'll be at the funeral home day after tomorrow, the funeral's the day after that."

"How's the situation with the band?"

"Tim's at least speaking to me, but Mick thinks I'm guilty as hell. I haven't talked to Adam yet, so I don't know how he feels about it. Matt's parents won't return my calls..."

"If you'd like some company to go to the funeral home or the funeral, just give us a call, okay?"

"That means a lot. Thanks. I'm going to head home."

"Eric--we will get this thing resolved, maybe at least get your charges dropped before the funeral."

"I'd really like to walk in there and sit up front with the band, you know? Can't very well do that when I'm the accused murderer."

"We'll do everything we can. I promise."

"Thanks, man. I'll be in touch tomorrow. Maybe we could get together and jam a little sometime--I mean, I know you're back on the force and everything--"

"Not for long."

"Why? Oh, wait, you saw your doctor this week didn't you?"

"This morning. I'm all done. Best I can have is a desk job, so after this case, I'll be hanging up my badge and doing something else. I don't know after Rhiana if I really want to go back to music."

"Hey--don't let what happened with her derail you. I think her breaking up with you had more to do with being afraid of getting busted than it did with you personally. Rhiana'll go up for a long time if she ever gets caught."

"I suppose. But I don't think Gary'll let us in his studio anytime soon without her."

"I've got a studio at my house. It's not as fancy and posh as Gary's, but there's enough room for us to all fit in there and bang away for a while. Might be fun."

"Sounds like it. I'll give you a call as soon as we know anything new, or if we get some time we could jam for a while."

"Okay. I'm sorry about the doctor thing. Are you gonna get a second opinion?"

"Yeah, the department doctor will look me over next week, but he won't go against my doctor's opinion. He's considered one of the best internists and surgeons in the area, and he's been on my case since they brought me in from the shooting." Starsky looked up at the panorama of stars in the clear summer night sky as they walked out to Eric's car. "I think I've just gotta accept this."

"Like hell you do. If somebody told me I couldn't play the drums anymore, I sure as hell wouldn't take one guy's word for it. What's supposed to be wrong with you, anyway? You look healthy."

"Thanks," Starsky responded with a faint smile. "My heart won't take the 'possible extreme exertion street action may lead to, i.e., extended foot chases, climbing, etc.', and my lung and my liver, where most of the repair work was done, won't survive another trauma."

"So go see a cardiologist and see what he says about your heart. Then go see another internist and find out what he thinks about the rest of your guts."

"My doctor has been with me every step of the way--he oughtta know."

"He's only human, Dave. God knows we all make mistakes." Eric paused, leaning on the open door of the Ferrari. "Selfishly, it wouldn't break my heart to see you guys stick with the music, because I think Passages would be a hell of a band, with or without Rhiana. She wasn't our sound. We did that by ourselves." Eric exhaled loudly. "But you know, living your whole life feeling like you're missing out on the one thing you love to do the most isn't going to make you a good musician. It's going to turn you into a drunk or a junkie--or at best, a bitter old jerk who whines about the good old days."

"You think I should see another doctor?"

"Why not? See ten more if you think it'll help. Don't let one guy's opinion ruin your life. He's not God."

"I'll look into it."

"Do that." He got into the car. "Hey--you like cars, don't you?"


"You and Hutch should come over sometime when I'm not under suspicion for anything. I've got a Porsche and a 'Vette at home, plus this baby. We could give Sunday drive a whole new meaning."

"We'll do that. Same day we jam, huh?"

"Okay. Talk to ya later." Eric gunned the engine and roared out of the driveway onto the road.

Must be hard to lose most of your friends, Starsky thought to himself. One's dead and most of the others ostracize you because they think you did it. It's easy to get smug and complacent when you have one friend you can always count on, he thought as he mounted the steps back to his apartment.

Hutch was in the shower when Starsky got back inside, so he sat at the kitchen table with the yellow pages and looked for cardiologists. Eric was right. His doctor was only one man, and the diagnosis was one man's expert's opinion...based on months of evaluation and testing...still, Eric's conviction that he owed himself a second opinion made Starsky flip through the directory.

"Eric gone?" Hutch came out toweling off his hair, wearing an old pair of sweats he had left at Starsky's from his prolonged stay.

"Yeah." Starsky looked up from the directory. "He thinks I should get a second opinion."

"That's probably not a bad idea. I'm not trying to negative here, buddy, but I'd hate to see you get your hopes up again..."

"I know I'm probably washed up, but just in case...I just don't know who to go to."

"It's gotta be somebody good--tops in their field."

"Eric thought I should see both a cardiologist and an internist."

"He's right. If your heart is the big problem, you should be seeing a cardiologist anyway. Maybe Dobey knows somebody."

"He's healthy as a horse." Starsky flipped the pages.

"Well you're not going blindly to somebody out of the yellow pages. We'll do some checking...find the top in the field. If we have to get on a plane and go out of state..." Hutch seemed to drift in thought for a minute.


"Mayo Clinic. We should go there, get you taken through the paces. If they say you can't work the streets anymore, we know it's true. But if they say you can..."

"Schneider sure as hell wouldn't argue with them."

"Bingo. I'll call my mother--it's in Minnesota. We might be able to stay with them."

"Hutch, it's gonna be after midnight there."

"Oh, right. Well, first thing in the morning then."

"Ah, it's probably useless anyway. Besides, who's gonna pay for it? My insurance isn't going to cover it--"

"Unless we can get Schneider to order it."

"Why would he do that when he's got Dr. Dennison's opinion?" Starsky asked, referring to his own doctor.

"Because Dobey doesn't want to give up on you, and he's pretty good friends with Schneider."

"I guess it's worth a shot."

"Anything we have to do for this is worth a shot. We don't need to roll over and die."

"I guess I'm real glad Eric came by tonight."

"Me too. Rhiana a dealer--now there's a shocker."

"Kinda puts a whole new spin on the break up." Starsky slouched back in the chair. "But then maybe I'm just reaching for a different spin on it. I don't want to think she just dumped me because she wasn't interested."

"I think she isn't interested in going to prison for the rest of her crooked little life."

"Maybe. I think I'll turn in."

"Good idea. I'm ready to get some sleep. We have a lot to do tomorrow. All these new leads on the case, checking into the Mayo Clinic option..."

"Getting the DA to drop the charges against Eric."

"I thought we were going to let that ride until we had an alternate suspect."

"Hutch, the funeral home and funeral services are coming up in the next couple of days. I think Eric deserves to attend his friend's funeral without being ostracized as the killer. I told him we'd go with him, but we're a sorry substitute for his band and Matt's family."

"I guess that's one more thing for the 'to do' list then."

"Quite a list we've got going." Starsky stood up and headed toward the bedroom. "Hutch?"


"I watched Eric leave here tonight, and it dawned on me that it would be real rough to go through what he's going through all by himself, and I guess even as lousy as things are right now, I still feel pretty lucky. He invited us over twice--he seems pretty lonely."

"This has been rough on him."

"Maybe we oughtta take him to Pancho Villa's one of these nights, pal."

"I thought you wanted to help the guy, not poison him," Hutch retorted, laughing a little.

First thing the next morning, Hutch was on the phone to his mother in Duluth, in hopes she could fill in a few blanks about the Mayo Clinic. All she was able to tell him was that it was located in Rochester, which was in southeastern Minnesota, and a pretty long drive from the Hutchinson household. She did grace him with several mind-numbing stories of friends who had gone through the battery of tests there for everything from heart problems to hemorrhoids, and the primary thing he gleaned from the conversation was that it was a busy place, you were far better off to have the tests prescribed for you rather than elective, and that it was too far a drive to be practical for them to land in Duluth. Hutch related all this information to Starsky as he moved around the kitchen, gathering various unseemly things for his breakfast.

"I guess we're back to depending on Schneider then."

"Well, it would be a lot easier if he'd prescribe the tests."

"I won't go anywhere until we get Eric off the hook, and I wanna be here for Armstrong's funeral."

"Let's see if we can meet with Dobey and catch him up on the investigation so far. At the same time, maybe we can get him to work on Schneider to prescribe the Mayo tests."

"Okay. You hungry?" Starsky asked through a mouthful of cold pizza.

"No thanks. I'll get something from the cafeteria at work."

"I didn't mean you had to eat pizza." Starsky maneuvered into his shoulder holster and pulled on his jacket.

"You're in good spirits this morning." Hutch grabbed his own jacket and followed his partner out the door.

"Well, I've got some stuff in perspective this morning. Yesterday I was just way too shocked to get a grip on anything."

"Starsk--I hope you're not counting too much on different test results. I mean nothing would make me happier, but I just don't want you to go through the letdown all over again if things don't change."

"I crashed yesterday. Today I'm coping. If things change about my status as a cop, I'll be thrilled. If they don't, well, my life isn't over. Incidentally, I probably should call Merl about my car."

"I kind of ignored you and did that anyway yesterday."

"Thanks, pal. I don't know as I want it back, but I need the paperwork out of it if nothing else. Maybe if something changes, and I can go back...I dunno. Haven't thought that far yet."

Dobey was finishing off a substantial jelly donut when the two detectives arrived at his office with their mountain of paperwork and information on the case to share with him. They described their experiences interviewing the remaining band members and the charming ex-wife, Misty. They filled him in on Marcovitz's car dealership and creative financing services. They also shared with him everything Eric had told them about Matt, Marcovitz, and Rhiana. Hutch added that they had seen Rhiana at the dealership the day before, and that because she thought Starsky was a cop again, she ended their relationship. He also posed the question of why exactly Rhiana was there in the first place, and wouldn't a connection between Rhiana and her drug operation and Marcovitz and his loan-sharking activities be logical?

Dobey processed all this information in silence, for the most part, nodding and taking a few notes. When they finished, he looked up from the papers in front of him.

"I'm calling the DA and advising him to drop the charges against Eric March. We've got insufficient evidence against him, and everything we're gathering is pointing away from him. We can always reinstate charges at a later date if we find more evidence. I think we're letting ourselves in for a press disaster if we keep him on the hook much longer. He's famous, just like the victim, so the whole damn country's focused on us."

"That's great news, Cap. We were kinda hoping you'd say that," Starsky responded, smiling.

"There's something else, Captain." Hutch began, and then proceeded to explain their desire to put Starsky through the paces at the best medical facility in the country just in case there was any chance that Dennison's opinion was incorrect. He also said the only sure fire way for Starsky to get in, and for his insurance to pay for it, would be for Schneider to prescribe it. Dobey seemed a little hesitant at first, but then picked up the phone and dialed Schneider's office. After a few moments, he was connected with the doctor.

"Phil? This is Harold Dobey...fine, and yourself?...Listen, I'm calling about Dave Starsky's case. You've got him down to see you next week sometime...right...he's waiting for a verdict on whether or not he's going to be going back to street duty...yes, he did, and the news wasn't good...right, a desk job at most. I'm not ready to accept that so easily. Starsky's one of my best, and I think given what he's been through related to the Gunther case, he deserves the best shot he can get at getting his old job back. I want to send him out to Mayo Clinic for a second opinion...I certainly respect your evaluation, Phil, but you and I both know a treadmill, an EKG machine and a stethoscope are no match for the facilities they have at Mayo. Doesn't matter how good you are--you don't have the kind of equipment to work with, or the support staff...That's right--I'm asking you to prescribe the Mayo tests...I think so...I understand that, but we're talking about the career of a fine young officer here, and I'm not about to toss him on the scrap pile without a damn good reason." Dobey looked perplexed, and rubbed his forehead as the other man elaborated on something he obviously considered a valid point. Dobey rolled his eyes, and then tackled a response. "Well, the bottom line is this: we're sending Starsky out there. If we don't get your OK, the only difference is that we'll all be tossing some money in a hat to pay for it. I'd like to see the insurance company cover it...Fine. I'll send him right down. Thanks, Phil." Dobey hung up.

"Well?" Starsky asked hesitantly.

"Go down there and let him listen to your heart. Then he'll write up the necessary forms, and help you make the arrangements. He said he has a friend out there, so he thinks he can slide you in ASAP."

"Thanks, Capt'n. I don't know what to say."

"You must be sick," Dobey retorted with a little snort of a laugh.

Dr. Schneider was a short, slightly-built man in his late fifties. He had bristled considerably at his opinion being passed over completely in the transition between the well-known local "expert", Martin Dennison, and the Mayo Clinic. He was aware, however, that Harold had a point about their facilities. There had been times he had rendered a verdict of desk duty for a recovering officer and had to live with some plaguing doubts about the decision. David Michael Starsky was an interesting case to say the least. A healthy young man in his mid-thirties, in excellent physical condition, who had survived multiple bullet wounds. A cardiac arrest had left him clinically dead for over a minute, but he had been revived. His left lung and his liver had been in real jeopardy of being destroyed by the automatic weapon turned on him at close range, but the wizard of the local medical scene, the renowned Dr. Dennison, had led a surgical team in working some sort of magic with this man. But their magic was nothing without his will to live, which had become almost legendary among the medical personnel who dealt with him. His partner, Hutchinson, had joked that he was just too damned ornery to die, and while that wasn't terribly clinical, it was pretty accurate. That he could make a complete recovery wouldn't have surprised Phil Schneider even a little. Of course, Starsky was human, and sometimes no matter how indomitable the spirit, the flesh succumbs. He gathered up the paperwork and went into the examining area to see his patient.

Starsky was sitting on the examining table in his jeans and a hospital gown, looking generally unconcerned about the whole encounter. Well, how much worse could anything I say be than what Dennison told him? Schneider reasoned. He had only seen the young detective twice previously: once when his partner dragged him in with a high fever and the flu, insisting he should see a doctor, and once to evaluate his fitness to return to work after being shot during a hostage situation in an Italian restaurant. This Starsky was a little older, perhaps a little more world-weary than the almost playful personality he had had to deal with previously, but he certainly didn't give off a sickly appearance.

"Good morning, David," Dr. Schneider greeted, shaking hands with his patient. Starsky smiled in response.

"Morning, Doc."

"Captain Dobey told me you got some bad news yesterday," he stated, reviewing the notes he had made after Dobey's phone call.

"According to Dennison, I'm about as good as useless except behind a desk."

"Well, I've got his reports here. His office sent over your files. Let's have a listen to the old ticker. Deep breath," he instructed, and as they repeated the procedure, checked the heartbeat and respiration on both Starsky's back and chest. "Any discomfort, trouble breathing?"

"No. Not anymore. Not even at the gym."

"Okay, a big deep breath--deep as you can," the doctor instructed, listening carefully. He followed this procedure by checking blood pressure and pulses. He finally set his stethoscope aside and made a few notes on the chart. "I feel perfectly comfortable sending you to Mayo Clinic, David."

"Meaning what?" Starsky looked at him worriedly.

"Meaning your heart sounds strong and the heartbeat is very regular. Your blood pressure is right on target, there're no irregularities in your pulses. Your respiration is strong...I quite frankly don't agree with Dr. Dennison's assessment. If your heart was as badly damaged as his reports imply, I don't believe you'd feel as good or sound as normal as you do. But then I wouldn't presume to override the opinion of someone like Dennison on my own. He's a damn fine specialist, and he could be seeing something I don't. But I will tell you that these physical therapy evaluations and his findings would indicate a much worse level of cardiovascular fitness than just this preliminary exam would indicate to me."

"That's the best news I've had all year," Starsky responded with a wide smile.

"Well, don't get your hopes up until you get your test results from the clinic, but I wouldn't think of myself as a lost cause either, if I were you."

"Thanks, Doc."

"Look, you've made a remarkable recovery from your injuries. Please be aware of how fortunate you are--"

"I know, 'to be alive'." Starsky smiled a little to soften having cut the doctor off mid-sentence. "Everybody tells me that: my mother, Hutch, Dobey--I guess I want more than that."

"Understandable. Now, let's see if we can get you set up at Mayo for the first part of next week."

Starsky had the usual bounce in step when he met Hutch in the parking lot near the battered gray car. He even had his old sarcasm back in action at the sight of his partner leaning against the rusted carcass of a vehicle.

"Don't lean on that thing. It'll probably tip over."

"What'd Schneider say?"

"That he doesn't agree with Dennison, because he thinks my heart should sound a lot worse than it does if I'm really in as bad a shape as the physical therapy evaluations and Dennison's opinion claim I am. But he also made about twelve disclaimers about how wonderful Dennison is, and that he would be glad to send me to Mayo Clinic because he wouldn't dispute someone like Dennison without extensive testing."

"Maybe we're onto something here."

"If they get those charges dropped, I think we oughtta round up a few girls and take Eric out someplace and celebrate. The second opinion was his idea."

"Girls? You're ready to take on the female race again after Rhiana?"

"Rhiana was a bad mistake. My guard was down, and for a while yesterday, I really thought what she did was going to kill me, it hurt so much. But once I took a look at everything good I had to be happy about, she just wasn't worth the misery anymore. Like that Gloria Gaynor song says, 'I Will Survive'. Let's get going. Busting her would be a nice cherry on top of my sundae today."

They made a trip to Mick Bradley's house. Eric had already agreed to testify, and if Mick would corroborate the charges against Marcovitz, that portion of their case would be on solid ground. The next step would be busting Rhiana, which would involve a little undercover skullduggery, which the angry part of Starsky was relishing with a salivating delight.

Mick was quick in answering the door, looking considerably less inebriated than he had the first time they'd met. He was dressed in a blue dress shirt and a pair of dark jeans. His demeanor was also considerably more cordial.

"I'm going to have to make this short and sweet because I'm supposed to meet the Armstrongs and Tim over at the funeral home. Matt was an only child, so we're gonna help his folks make the arrangements. Have a seat." He led them into an attractively decorated room, furnished with very traditional, conservative items. "My wife the decorator," he explained. "That's the career du jour," he said with great affection. "So what's up?"

"We expect the charges against Eric to be dropped by the end of the day. I hope you'll pass that on to the Armstrong family. He didn't kill Matt--the evidence all points away from him," Starsky explained, raising Hutch's ire a little that he was more concerned about playing peacemaker among the members of Kingpin than questioning a potential witness.

"I hope the evidence is right. I never liked thinking Eric did it. But things looked so bad..."

"And he was arrested too damn fast based on how things looked at first glance."

"Off the subject of Eric a moment," Hutch interjected, "you made some allegations against T.L. Marcovitz yesterday. I realize the problem that led you to use his services was a... sensitive situation in terms of your marriage, but it would be very helpful to us to be able to count on your testimony if we press charges against him."

"God, I don't know. I've been through two bad marriages already, and I really love Ellie--my wife. She's pregnant, you know. Just found out a couple weeks ago. This could destroy my life."

"Don't you think she'd trust you enough by now to believe that you weren't responsible for that girl's...problem?" Starsky probed.

"I've been living a lie ever since then. I didn't tell her the truth then, and I've never come clean with it. She'd probably never trust me again." He looked down at the floor, seeming to contemplate the pattern in the carpeting for a long moment before continuing. "If Marcovitz is somehow responsible for Matt's death, I'll testify. If it's just a loan-sharking thing, that's not worth trashing my marriage, so please don't blow my cover with Ellie for that, okay?"

"Okay," Starsky responded before Hutch could get his mouth open. "So what do you guys want?"

"Huh?" Mick looked puzzled.

"A boy or a girl?" Starsky clarified. The other man's face broke into a huge smile, uncharacteristic of his usual straight-faced demeanor.

"Well, you're supposed to say it doesn't matter, and it really doesn't, but I'd kind of like a girl--you know, spoil her rotten and beat off the boyfriends 'til she's about thirty? Besides, Ellie's so pretty I'd love to see another pretty little version of her."

"Mick, we won't use you as a witness unless it's absolutely necessary, and then only if it involves Matt's murder."

"Thanks--Starsky, right?"

"That's me."

"I'll give Eric a call later, and I'll let the Armstrongs know the charges are being dropped. This has to be tough for him going through Matt's death on his own."

"I think it has been," Starsky agreed. "Well, we'll be on our way so you can get going." He stood, and Hutch followed suit.

Once in the car, it was obvious to Starsky that something had his partner out of sorts. Finally, after about five minutes of the silent treatment and a couple of monosyllabic answers to complex questions, Starsky prodded him for the cause of his surliness.

"I just wondered when you started making decisions on your own, partner," he queried, putting an unpleasant emphasis on the final word.

"What? You mean about Marcovitz? What the hell should we do? Trash the guy's life to bust a loan shark? Eric's testimony would probably cover that. I mean if his wife doesn't believe him, we could be breaking up his family."

"We never hesitated to expose some guy who couldn't keep his pants on with sixteen-year-old girls before."

"You're just automatically assuming he did it."

"The guy drinks like a fish and has burned his way through two marriages. How are we supposed to believe he's a choirboy?"

"Why do we have to assume he's a pervert? You know, Hutch, while you're looking down your nose at these guys and their lifestyle, you almost were one of them--we have a demo tape, remember? Does that mean that if we got a record deal, we'd automatically turn into statutory rapists with no morals?"

"You're missing the point."

"Enlighten me, oh great master," Starsky shot back.

"You don't have to be a smart ass."

"Hey, if you want to start something about this, fine. I'm getting a little sick of your superior attitude where these guys are concerned. Even with Eric, you've got this sort of self-righteous attitude."

"That's not true."

"Yes it is. If he's an informant, you think that's fine. And as a back up musician, he's okay, but you've never really acted like you thought too much of him as a friend."

"Look, everything I've got, I've worked for. And damn hard. I've spent most of my adult life getting shot at, working sixteen hour days--and here're these lounge lizards lying around poolsides, screwing teenage girls in their spare time, making more money than I'll ever see. Quite frankly to see a sleazebag like Armstrong, with his statutory rape charges and drug habit have his lifestyle catch up with him is no great surprise--or loss."

"I don't believe you." Starsky sat back in the seat and looked out the window. "What makes you so damn self-righteous? Like you've never made a mistake in your life? What about--"

"Don't go there, buddy." Hutch shook his head. "We start using what we've got in our arsenal on each other, neither one of us is going to be left standing." Hutch's admonition sentenced Starsky to silence, because he knew it was the truth. When you open up your very soul to another person, it can create a beautiful friendship, but it's also dangerous as hell.

"Hutch, I don't want to fight with you about this. But I don't understand you sometimes."

"I see all this glitz and glamour, and then I see what jumping into it and trusting it does. You trusted Rhiana, and so did I. Granted, you got hurt a hell of a lot worse than I did by her betrayal, but she took one of my dreams with her too. And so now I look at these guys, who are 95% flashy clothes and hairspray, and wonder what the hell we're altering our usual m.o. for."

"Maybe because while Rhiana trashed my faith in women one more time--not that I intend to swear them off or anything--Eric has been a good friend to me--to both of us. He showed us a very human side to all the flash and phoniness of the whole music business. He's ethical, he's sincere, and I think of him as a good friend. When it mattered, he came forward and offered to testify and gave us the leads we needed to go after Rhiana."

"Okay, so Eric's an exception."

"And Eric cares a lot about Mick and Tim and even Matt, degenerate that he was toward the end. Hutch, it wouldn't matter what you did or how life changed you...I'd still care what happened to you. I can understand what Eric's going through over Matt's death. These guys are human beings just like anybody else. Some of 'em are creeps just like the rest of the people out there, but some of them are good people, and they deserve to be respected just like anybody else. I don't think we can lump them all together."

"Okay, I give up. Let's just drop the whole damn thing. We'll play it your way."

"You're still mad at me, though."

"No I'm not," Hutch snapped back.

"Could'a fooled me," Starsky needled. "You look mad," he persisted, a little grin tugging at the corner of his mouth. "You've got those lines in your forehead and your jaw's real set and --"

"Oh, Starsky, shut up, will you?!" he snapped angrily. Having gotten the rise he was looking for, Starsky smirked triumphantly.

"Told ya you were still mad," he ventured, and then fell silent following a homicidal glare from his partner, who was at the end of his rope. When Hutch's gaze returned to the road, Starsky couldn't suppress a grin. That'll teach ya to shut me up so I lose an argument, Starsky thought to himself.

"We got a tail." Hutch was watching the rearview mirror.

"How long?"

"Since about a mile ago."

"I'd suggest trying to lose him, but in this car..."

"For God's sake, Starsky, give it a rest before I shove you out the door at the next bus stop."

"I'm a convalescent yet, remember?" Starsky snuck a peek over the back seat at their pursuer. "You can't rough me up."

"Yeah? Well after you get a clean bill of health at Mayo, I just might beat the hell out of you for all the shit you've gotten away with hiding behind this 'convalescent' thing."

"You're assuming I'm just gonna lie there and take it. I might kick your ass, partner."

"That'll be the day, burrito boy." Hutch was sparring good-naturedly with his partner now, even throwing in teasing him about his eating habits. The angry tension was passing quickly, but the problem of the tail wasn't. "Well, I've had enough of this." Hutch hit the accelerator and started weaving through the traffic. The car's big V-8 engine was noisy and at times not too pleased to start in the morning, but once it was rolling, it was capable of some pretty good speeds. The blue Chevy sedan behind them kept good track of them as the two cars moved through traffic.

"We wanna lose 'em or confront 'em?" Starsky asked.

"Loose 'em."

"Since when?"

"Since until we get test results on you, I don't want you getting killed in the middle of a mess you can't handle."

"You just worry about yourself. I can't take care of myself." Starsky realized as he said this that his old confidence was there, and the fear and apprehension of getting in the action again was gone. "I wanna know what they're tailing us for. Now let's figure out how to trap these turkeys."


"They turned off!" Starsky looked behind them. "Damn it!"

"Somebody must've called 'em off. A confrontation must not be in the cards just yet." Hutch hit the steering wheel with his hand angrily as he slowed the old car down to a more reasonable speed. "Well, we better get something set up for Rhiana," Hutch stated.

"Dobey said he had a guy in vice that has just the right look--long hair, dresses the part."

"She knows everybody, so we better have a damn good cover story. Damn, if Matt Armstrong were alive--"

"We wouldn't be in the middle of any of this and we'd still think Rhiana was a great gal."

"True, but we need someone to nail her. Eric's testimony will be vital, but it might not hold up by itself. Besides, I'd still like to establish that link between Rhiana and Marcovitz."

"We could be talking about months in an undercover operation." Starsky shook his head. "There's gotta be something better--faster. I might not have much longer on the force, pal."

"We need to nail Rhiana as a supplier, and we want to nail Marcovitz as a loan shark, but we want to tie both of them in to Matt Armstrong's murder." Hutch was quiet a minute. "We need someone with an established connection to her--or to Marcovitz. I hate to keep relying on Eric for every source of information in this."

"Well, we can trust him, and if he knows someone else who's a user..."

"If Rhiana ever finds out he's feeding us information--"

"He's as good as dead," Starsky finished the sentence.

"Maybe tailing Rhiana is the answer. After all, she did show up at Marcovitz's dealership while we were there."

"She bought her car there. Just her going in and out wouldn't prove anything." Starsky sighed loudly. "We know she's dealing. I just don't see a fast, easy way in."

"We need somebody to make a buy, and also to express money problems and see if she'll refer him to Marcovitz."

"But who? She knows everybody in the business. It can't be Eric because she knows he isn't a user."

"Tim?" Hutch suggested.

"He was busted for possession of marijuana a year ago. Wonder if he got it from Rhiana?" Starsky queried.

"Yeah, and if we can trust him the way we can trust Eric."

"If he tipped her off..."

"Well, maybe Eric can tell us his thoughts on Tim as a player in this little escapade." Hutch pulled the battered gray car into a parking spot near the station.

"Hey, that looks like Dennison's car up there," Starsky said, pointing to a black Mercedes coupe.

"Wonder what he's doing here," Hutch responded, getting out of the car.

"Let's go find out," Starsky said, bounding up the front steps to the door.

When they arrived in the squad room, Dobey flagged them into his office. The doctor was seated there, dressed in a grey business suit, fidgeting nervously with the tip of his tie. His usually cool countenance was definitely rattled.

"Dr. Dennison was informed by Dr. Schneider that you would be going to the Mayo Clinic for testing next week, Starsky. He has some information to share with us that may make that unnecessary," Dobey explained, as the detectives were seated.

"Meaning what?" Starsky asked eagerly.

"Meaning I falsified my records and gave you an inaccurate diagnosis," the doctor responded, looking up to meet his patient's incredulous expression. This tall man with his striking dark hair and usually imposing demeanor, seemed smaller than usual, slumped slightly in his seat.

"But why?" The betrayal was obvious in Starsky's voice. This man had pulled him back from the brink of death and had managed his recovery every step of the way. "What verdict should I have gotten?"

"You've made a full recovery, David. You should be able to go back to your old job anytime you like. Your heart was not damaged by the cardiac arrest and the surgical repair done to your lung and your liver was successful. While it is true that I can't predict what another trauma would do to either of those organs, and how the fact you had previous repair surgery done on them would affect you if you were injured again, there's no positive evidence that your risk of death would be a great deal higher because of would all depend on the circumstances and the injury. There's no question there's some increased risk, but that becomes your area of decision-making, not mine.

"So you lied to him?" Hutch demanded. "You let him leave your office thinking his career was over? Do you have any idea what you almost--"

"Hutch, take it easy. Let's just get an explanation, okay?" Starsky knew his partner was thinking about the Torino heading for the edge of the ravine, and the thought had chilled Starsky to the bone himself. Would have been a stupid enough thing to kill myself, but then to do it for nothing...whoa, talk about really stupid, he thought to himself. "Why did you do it?" Starsky asked the doctor.

"I have a wife and two young daughters. About two days before your appointment, I was contacted by a young woman who strongly suggested I should give you a negative evaluation."

"Contacted how?" Hutch asked.

"She came to see me. She told me it would be in my best interest to cooperate on this point, or my family would suffer serious consequences. Of course, I told her threats were pointless, and that I was a physician, and I had no intention of having her dictate my course of treatment with a patient. I also told her I would report her to the police. She told me that would be unwise, and then proceeded to describe in detail the daily schedules of my wife and daughters. She said if I made contact with the police, they would pay the price." He rubbed his chin nervously and then continued. "I needed time to think. I didn't know what to do. My family's never been threatened before...and I wasn't about to compromise my ethics, but she seemed to know my family so intimately...I kept a close eye on my wife and the girls, but they got to us anyway. We had a dog, a big old mutt the girls adopted at the pound a couple years ago. He disappeared from the yard the next afternoon, and by that night, a package was delivered to my door, addressed to my youngest daughter. When she opened it, the dog's severed head was inside. There was also a note explaining that I would be given one more opportunity to cooperate before I received another box, which would be addressed to me and would contain a head, but not of a dog." He shook his head wearily. "I panicked. Your appointment was the next morning, and it seemed so simple to alter the records and tell you what they wanted me to tell you and get them off my back."

"And ruin his life," Hutch interjected. "Make Starsky the sacrificial lamb to save yourself."

"Hutchinson, that's enough. Let him finish," Dobey intervened.

"Can you describe the woman who came to see you?" Starsky asked.

"She was average height, long straight dark hair, dark glasses...pretty, I suppose. She didn't seem very pretty to me, but from an objective standpoint, I guess she was." He was quiet a moment. "My daughter was very traumatized by what happened. She's only seven years old. It was a knee-jerk reaction for me to go along with it. I guess my instincts as a father overrode my instincts as a doctor...even as a rational adult, for that matter. I should have known it couldn't work."

"So why did you come forward now?" Hutch asked.

"I was notified by Dr. Schneider that he did not concur with my opinion and was sending David to Mayo Clinic for a full battery of tests. I never assumed the department's doctor would dispute my opinion, and I further didn't anticipate he'd refer you to the Mayo Clinic. I knew it would only be a matter of time before the truth came out anyway."

"So you're clearing your conscience? You'd have let my life go down the drain if you hadn't figured it would catch up with you?" Starsky shook his head. "'Course, if my kid opened up that box, I don't know what I'd do either."

"Thank you for that, anyway. I don't know what kind of charges you want to pursue against me, but I wanted you to be aware of the situation."

"Would you recognize the woman again?" Hutch probed.

"Well, she was wearing dark glasses, like I said, but possibly. I did see her up close for about ten minutes while we talked."

"Think you'd recognize the voice?" Hutch asked.

"Most likely."

"I'll be right back." Starsky got up and hurried out to his desk. He didn't have time to think about the news he had just received about his condition. He needed a photo of Rhiana, and a couple others of other women, so as not to be accused of biasing the doctor's ID. He found a few other shots in his desk drawers from various other cases, and shuffled in the one of Rhiana, taken during the publicity photo session. She had agreed to pose for one photo, and Starsky had been so stupidly happy to have a small one for his wallet...what an idiot, he chided himself. He returned to the office and handed the stack of photos to the doctor. "Do any of these women resemble the woman you saw at your office?" The doctor took the photos and sorted through them, lingering on the one of Rhiana.

"This one. This is her. The hair's different, but I'd know that smile anywhere. She looked a little more sadistic and self-satisfied when I saw her, but this is her." He handed Rhiana's photo to Starsky.

"Did anyone else in your office see her?" Hutch asked.

"Only my receptionist, but I don't think she saw her up close for very long. I'm sure she'll be willing to look at the photo. I saw her in my examining room, which has very bright lights as you know, and I could see quite well through the dark glasses."

"Okay. Captain, we need to talk," Starsky said to Dobey.

"Dr. Dennison, we will provide protection for your family, and the case will be reviewed. My assumption would be that your most serious threat of charges will come in a professional capacity, rather than from us. However, all this information will be reviewed with the district attorney."

"If you need to reach me, I'll be at home." The doctor stood.

"Thank you for coming forward, Doctor." Dobey nodded in his direction, and the man left the office with no further comment from either detective.

"He ID'd Rhiana Blake." Starsky handed Hutch the photo.

"The drug dealer?" Dobey asked.

"Right on," Starsky responded. "Hutch and I were tossing around an idea." Starsky didn't know how Dobey would react to dragging a civilian in as an undercover operator, but there didn't seem to be a lot of choice in the matter. "We're going to run into one serious problem with nailing Rhiana via any kind of routine undercover operation. Most all of her clients are celebrities or tied in somehow to the entertainment industry. Now if we send in a phony, she's going to know it right away. Our best bet would be to use someone genuine...a real celebrity."

"I suppose this is heading somewhere specific?" Dobey prodded.

"Well, Eric March gave us the tip off on Rhiana in the first place, so we can't use him. Furthermore. he's not a user and she'd know that. But we do know of someone who used to be, and if he's willing..."

"Starsky, get to the point."

"We want to approach Tim Drew, the bass player from Matt Armstrong's band. He's stayed out of trouble for over a year now, but he did have a pot arrest in '78. I don't know yet if Rhiana was his supplier, but I would guess she was. He would probably be able to get her to sell to him without too much trouble. We'd also like her to refer him to Marcovitz for a loan--you know, he could use the old story that his money's tied up in investments, he needs some quick cash to make another buy..."

"You've been awfully quiet over there, Hutch." Dobey addressed the silent half of the duo, who had been watching his partner and his captain as if he were a spectator at a local tennis match. "Do you concur with your partner on this?"

"I concur that we're in a bad place with a woman as well-connected as Rhiana, and that if we want to bust her, we're going to have to throw out the rule book and use someone she can't discredit as a phony."

"I don't like the idea of expanding our circle of civilians in the know about this," Dobey stated, fidgeting with a pen and then tossing it on his desk. "I think this is known as building your house on sand--one misjudgment in trust here and we could blow the whole operation, or worse yet, get someone killed."

"We can trust Eric," Starsky spoke up. "He used to be friends with Rhiana, even when he knew about her activities, but his ultimate loyalty is to Matt Armstrong--living or dead. It's his fear that she's tied into Matt's death that made him turn her in."

"What we're proposing to do is have a talk with Eric about the feasibility of using Tim," Hutch explained.

"I wasn't aware that Eric March was Captain of Detectives here." Dobey was not pleased at his men's newest circle of trusted confidantes, and his ire was coming through now. "You expect me to approve this operation based on the word of the DA's favorite murder suspect that one of his pals, a former and possibly current user who punches out cops from time to time is a trustworthy undercover agent to bust a major drug operation?"

"You've read Tim's file," Starsky stated a little sheepishly.

"Hell yes, I've read his file."

"Look, Capt'n, I know this is pretty irregular--"

"Starsky, this case gives new definition to the term irregular. I should've never allowed you two on this when you were such close friends with March."

"But Eric didn't do it- -you said yourself the evidence--"

"Starsky! Don't start telling me what I said. I know perfectly well what I said. And now I'm not saying that he is the killer, but I am saying this investigation is getting out of hand, and I get the feeling you two don't have a clue what to do about it, because quite frankly, basing it on Tim Drew is nothing short of absurd!"

"We have to use someone with a reputation. Someone she probably won't even suspect of working with the cops." Hutch believed in their plan of action, even if he wasn't as comfortable trusting the musicians as Starsky was.

"Captain, this is a matter of loyalties. This band was formed on some very strong ties of friendship, and there's no question when you talk to these guys that they loved Matt Armstrong like a brother." Starsky paused. "They're really torn up over his death, and now that the shock is wearing off, they seem to be willing to do whatever we want them to do to bring his killer to justice."

"And you're convinced that loyalty is genuine and that we should base an undercover operation on it?"

"One of the guys in the band is willing to testify for us against Marcovitz as a loan shark if the guy had something to do with Matt's murder. Testifying will probably wreck the guy's marriage because the loan he took out was to take care of a situation with a girl who was making a paternity claim against him shortly after he was married. He says he didn't do it, but was afraid his new wife wouldn't believe it. Now they've been married a while and she's pregnant, and he doesn't want to blow it to nail a loan shark, but when it comes to nailing the person who killed Matt, he's ready to do what it takes. And with Eric, he blew the whistle on a friend when he turned in Rhiana, but again, his loyalty was to Matt. I think Tim would be the same way."

"You two are convinced about this?" Dobey asked, still not happy, but seeing less and less point in arguing. The men had a point about the type of undercover operation that was necessary, and refusing to take a chance on it would only prolong the investigation and possibly ruin their chances to make a major bust out of the whole thing.

Both detectives simply nodded.

"All right then. But don't take any foolish chances on this. And keep me posted."

"Thanks, Captain," Hutch replied, standing to join his already pacing partner.

"Oh, by the way, Starsky," Dobey began, "welcome back to active duty. We were only waiting on the medical opinion to reinstate you."

"You mean I'm official?" Starsky asked through a big grin.

"Of course that's what I mean! Now get your butts out there and put this operation together!" Dobey retorted.

"Thanks, Cap." Starsky reached out to shake hands with Dobey, who smiled broadly and shook the extended hand. "Thanks for not giving up on me so fast."

"Just doing my job. Now get moving," Dobey ordered, not doing terribly well at erasing the pleased look off his face. Things seemed truly to be set right now, as he watched his best team head out the door of his office to launch what was one of the shakiest undercover plots the captain had ever allowed.

"Hey, buddy, how's it feel to be official again?" Hutch asked, as close to gleeful as his reserved demeanor ever came. He was jangling the keys to his jalopy, and suddenly Starsky was pining for his dismembered car.

"It feels TERRIFIC!" Starsky yelled at the top of his lungs, attracting the attention of a few cops moving through the parking lot toward their cars. "YES!" He bounded up over the trunk and stood on the roof of Hutch s car. "HEY EVERYBODY, DAVE STARSKY'S BACK!" he shouted again, raising both arms in the air. Hutch was almost too amused with the gesture to yell at him for jumping on the roof of his car. Starsky looked down at him with a little laugh, still standing on the roof of the battered LTD, with his arms finally back at his sides now.

"Will you get off my car now?" Hutch asked, smiling himself.

"Like you're gonna even be able to tell if there's another dent," Starsky needled, bouncing back down a little more roughly than necessary.

"I was going to do something to celebrate, but if you're going to berate my car..."

"Like what?" Even after all these years, and everything we've both been through, Hutch thought, I can still get an almost child-like reaction out of him by dangling the promise of some sort of surprise in front of him.

"Nah, we've got work to do anyway. It can wait." Hutch got into the car, trying to hide the smirk on his face. Poor Starsk, he's still such an easy mark.

"Come on, Hutch," he goaded, getting into the passenger side. "That's playing dirty and you know it. What were you gonna do?"

"We should get over to Tim's place and--"

"Hutch." The word was as close to a whine as Starsky's adult dignity would allow.

"Oh, all right." He started up the car.

"Where're we going?" Satisfied now, Starsky was settled into the seat with a big grin on his face.

"You probably won't like it." Hutch was wondering if he had done the right thing, and hoped his assumption of how well he knew his partner's feelings about things was accurate. As they pulled into Merl's, he felt a little surge of trepidation.

"Merl's?" Starsky looked crestfallen. He had obviously been expecting some exotic eatery or maybe even a store that would hold some coveted piece of merchandise that would be his. Merl's garage wasn't on the list of hoped for destinations.

"Just follow me." Hutch led the way through one of the open doors into the work area, and spotted Merl instructing one of his young mechanics on the finer points of tuning the engine on an expensive sports car. "Hey, Merl," Hutch greeted. The other man looked up and smiled.

"Didn't expect to see you 'til tomorrow, Hutch. You either." He nodded toward Starsky.

"Are we too early?" Hutch asked worriedly.

"Just finished her up 'bout an hour ago." Merl led the way.

"How did you plan something if you didn't know--?" Starsky looked at Hutch quizzically.

"This wasn't really a 'welcome back' present. It was just something I was doing that it seemed you ought to find out about now."

"Your partner told me to use my imagination," Merl announced to Starsky, which sent shivers of dread down both men's spines. Merl approached a tarp covered vehicle, and with the flair of a showman, snatched the fabric away. Starsky was left dumbfounded at what he saw.

It was the Torino, painted a solid shiny black with the same Mag wheels, with the back tires being slightly larger than before, giving the car an even more souped-up look.

"Now, aside from the amazing reconstructive surgery on the body of this little gem, you are now boasting a brand new, customized engine, conforming to the specs of your original engine, with a few upgrades chosen by yours truly," Merl explained proudly, popping the hood. "You've also got some hydraulics, my man."

"Oh, God, no," Hutch rolled his eyes and turned away momentarily. "Merl." It was his turn to whine now. The last thing Starsky, the perpetual overgrown kid, needed was a toy that would make the front end of his car bob up and down. Oh well, the horse was out of the barn now, and the kid was in the candy store. Hutch could only stand back and smile with a mixture of friendly affection and apprehensive dread of the future as Merl taught Starsky the fine art of bouncing the front end of the Torino. Great. Next time we chase someone we can challenge them to a race at the stoplight first, Hutch thought to himself.

"Hey, Merl, phone call!" The younger mechanic yelled to his boss, and Merl left his position crouched by the open driver's door to take the call.

"Well, what do you think, buddy?" Hutch leaned on the roof of the car and looked in at his partner, who seemed totally enraptured by the vehicle.

"I don't know what to say." He looked up at Hutch. "This has to have cost you a small fortune. I can't let you pay for this."

"I wanted to do it, Starsk. We worked a lot of overtime on the Callahan case. I saved some money."

"You said you were gonna invest that money, Hutch."

"I played around with a couple of stocks, and starting out with about $1,000, I ended up with more like $5,000. It was a great fluke--some high risk stuff a friend of mine suggested that paid off."

"And you spent it all on this?"

"Why not?"

"I can't accept this, Hutch."

"What do you wanna do? It's not like Merl can scrape the paint back off it and rip the engine out and give me a refund. Come on, buddy, I want to do this. Call it a get well present. Now if you don't take it, I'm going to be insulted."

"Can't have that happen, can we?" Starsky got out of the car. He put an arm around Hutch's shoulders and squeezed quickly. "I'll follow you to your place-"

"Yes, Starsky, and I'll dump my car there and we'll take yours." Hutch started for the entrance of the garage. "But don't you dare bounce the front end of that car--you hear me, Starsk?"

"Sure, I hear ya," Starsky replied devilishly, jumping back in the car and gunning the engine. Even more power than before, he thought delightedly.

Starsky followed Hutch in his new toy, irritated by his partner's deliberately slow and cautious driving. He couldn't resist pulling up alongside his car at the first stoplight, rolling down the window, and bouncing the front end. Hutch rewarded him with an unpleasant hand gesture, and laughing, Starsky blasted away from the intersection at the first sign of green.

It amazed Starsky that his partner knew him quite this well. He had regretted totaling the Torino, because it held so many good memories. But at the same time, every time he saw that red and white vehicle, it brought back nightmarish memories of the shooting that he couldn't get rid of no matter how hard he tried. Somehow, this was the perfect solution. He knew the same metal was around him, but it looked new and different, more powerful, stronger...kind of like he felt himself. The engine and paint job were new, so he could look forward to a long, happy love affair with the car he thought was approaching its twilight years. With all the parts of his life seemingly back in place, Dave Starsky felt on top of the world again as he pulled up behind Hutch's car at Venice Place and waited for him to get in the passenger seat. Everything is the way it should be...finally!

"Think Tim and Mick would be done at the funeral home by now?" Starsky asked, resisting the urge to tear away from the curb in a squeal of tires. He would show Hutch that his newfound maturity did indeed extend to being able to pull away from a curb quietly.

"Probably. But I want to talk to Eric first. Let's take a ride out there."

Eric March's estate was similar to Tim Drew's with its automatic gates and long, winding drive. The intercom allowed them to call the house from the gates, and Eric himself answered on the second ring.

"Hey, come on back. I'll release the gates." Eric sounded upbeat, but then he usually managed to, even in his current state of tension. He was standing on the front porch of his sprawling contemporary house when they pulled up near the entrance. The home was a huge two-story conglomeration of wood and glass, a complete antithesis of the traditional flavor of Tim Drew's mansion. "Cool car!" Eric exclaimed as he approached the open driver's window. Starsky demonstrated the bouncing front end. "Now I know I never saw a cop car do that before! When'd you get it?" Eric was backing away from the side of it to get a better look.

"Today. Hutch got my old car fixed up for me--it was in an...accident. Totaled."

"Wow. Hey, how do I get on your Christmas list, man?" he asked Hutch, who had joined Starsky in getting out of the car.

"I'm really thrilled with the mechanic who fixed up that front end," Hutch shot an accusatory look at Starsky, who had tried out the new feature several times too often for Hutch's taste.

"Wait'll you see the engine, man." Starsky was about to pop the hood when Hutch interrupted.

"I hate to bring up something vulgar like police business here, but--"

"Oh, I gotta tell you guys--I just heard from my lawyer--they're dropping the charges."

"That's great news, Eric," Starsky responded.

"And Tim called me a little while ago and invited me to come over tonight to work on the song we're gonna do--together as a band--at Matt's funeral."

"Tim's who we need to talk to you about," Hutch responded. "Can we talk somewhere?"

"Sure. Come on in." Eric led the way into the house. The last time they had been sprawled in his living room, they had been picking a name for the band. This time Eric led them upstairs to a recreation room that boasted a full wall of windows overlooking an elaborately landscaped garden. "My mom designed the garden, if you can believe it. She's pretty good with that stuff, so I turned her loose. She had a blast putting it together."

"Quite a view," Hutch commented, lingering over the sight of the ornamental trees and myriad of roses.

"So what about Tim?" Eric asked, plopping down in a beige leather couch. The two detectives occupied matching chairs across from him.

"First, I've got some news. And I have you to thank for a big part of it," Starsky began. "I'm back on active duty."

"What?" Eric's face broke into one of his usual big smiles. Starsky explained all that had happened that morning, and how the fact he was seeking a second opinion had been the catalyst to the doctor admitting what he had done.

"I guess this a day for miracles, huh?" Eric asked, genuinely delighted at such a double dip of good luck for himself and one of his new good friends. Me and a couple of cops, pals. Who'da thought? Eric queried to himself.

"We want to send Tim undercover to bust Rhiana. We wanted to know how feasible you thought that was. Was she his supplier before?"


"Think she'd sell to him again?" Starsky asked.

"I'm sure of it. Tim's been clean about six months now, but he could just as easily slip off the wagon. And he has had a couple of girlfriends who were into coke, and he got some from Rhiana before. You're not going to bust him for that, are you?"

"Not if he helps us out with this," Hutch responded. "We're building one hell of a case against Marcovitz: we've got you, Mick and Matt's loan agreement. But over here," Hutch gestured a distance of separation between his hands, "we've got Rhiana. Now Matt was tangled up with both of them."

"And you want someone alive to be tangled up with both of them so you can bust both of them."

"Once we bust both of them, we can go through their bank records, you name it, and probably find the link between them. I just don't want to see one of them tip the other one off. If one or the other goes down first..."

"The one left standing'll run for the hills," Eric completed Hutch's thought.

"I know it's probably hard for you to be objective, but do you think we could trust Tim not to tip off Rhiana?" Starsky asked.

"If he knows why, he'll cooperate. If I tell him it could be about Matt, he'll do it."

"You willing to go out to his place with us now and talk it over?" Hutch asked.

"Sure. Only thing is, I think Mick should know too. If all of us know, we can stick together and cover each other. I don't want Mick to give it away that Tim's still clean--or anything like that."

"When're you supposed to meet them anyway?" Starsky asked.

"In about an hour. Why don't you guys come and we'll talk this out?"

"Good idea," Hutch responded.

"Hey, Dave, show me how to do the thing with the shocks in the front of your car, will ya? We've got a while."

Tim and Mick were more than willing to cooperate with any plot the detectives could hatch to nail Rhiana if there was the slightest possibility that she and Marcovitz were responsible for Matt's death. Tim would go to Rhiana's boutique and enact the old code, telling her he needed to place a special order for an important personal appearance. That was the lead-in to a drug order, which allowed Rhiana to talk to her customers openly at any time, even with others milling around the boutique. He would order a green lame shirt and scarf (a moderate amount of marijuana) and a pair of white leather boots (a smaller amount of cocaine). Upon picking up the order, he would pay for it, but would express concern about his financial situation, friend to friend, and hopefully, this would motivate Rhiana to refer him, since getting him hooked up with Marcovitz would give him more drug money and also turn a profit for the loan shark. Everyone would benefit, and Starsky and Hutch would be there for all of it, with a wire on Tim and stakeouts in the new black car, which Rhiana would never recognize as theirs. It was unanimously agreed that nothing would happen until after Matt's funeral, since the bandmembers all stated they were in no moods to play-act convincingly until they had completed the grim task of burying their lead singer and good friend.

Starsky and Hutch's friendship with Eric was a well-known fact to Rhiana as well as several other musicians, so they did not hesitate to show up at the funeral home to pay their respects and show their moral support. Eric seemed like a fish back in water surrounded by his bandmates again, and the detectives were finally introduced to Adam Kelly, the band's keyboardist. Adam was a bit on the quiet side, but under the circumstances, that wasn't unusual. He was another tall blond, resembling Matt more closely that the rest of the group. Having him informed of the operation was a scary prospect, since they had to rely fully on Eric's instincts, but they didn't argue this point. These guys were willing to get in the middle of this mess to bring Rhiana and Marcovitz down, and the detectives could hardly refuse every request they made.

During the next two days of inactivity on the undercover operation, Starsky and Hutch filled out reports and filed paperwork on this and other cases. Hutch had a backlog of unfinished work from before Matt Armstrong was killed, and even before his leave to take care of Starsky during his recovery. There had been a few filing details he had managed to let slide until now, and these dull days were the best time to catch up.

The news that the doctor's verdict on Starsky had been reversed was not without its shockwaves. Dr. Dennison's family was moved into protective custody after shots were fired into their home as they ate dinner one evening. Thankfully, no one was injured, and the family was taken to a safe house pending completion of the investigation.

The swiftness of the information reaching the enemy made the police nervous, and made Starsky and Hutch a little jittery about the outsiders who knew the inside information. Then an interesting tidbit showed up in an old set of notes on Gordon Callahan.

"Starsk, take a look at this," Hutch said, laying a pile of handwritten notes in front of Starsky, who was just finishing up a phone call. He followed his partner's instructions and noticed a notation of Callahan's work history. One of his jobs had been a mechanic's job at Wheels.

"You thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?" Starsky asked, standing up.

"Callahan did more than tinker with engines for Marcovitz?"

"And the connection he had to get him sprung and armed with a .45 the day he escaped had to be a damn good one--better than that dirtbag could have managed on his own." Starsky headed for the file cabinet and started to pull all the folders on Callahan. There were several, one ceasing to be enough many months earlier.

"Callahan only had two male victims." Hutch took half the pile and started hunting. "Makes you wonder, doesn't it?"

"Well, he was a sicko, so who knows? Maybe he was half-and-half--liked it both ways." Starsky found information on one of the male victims. "Allen Kendall."

"Here's the other one. Mark Baxter."

"Baxter was a rich kid, wasn't he?" Starsky asked.

"Umm, 23 years old, parents were old money...Mark was into girls, cars, drugs--perfect client for our friends Rhiana and Marcovitz, huh?"

"Allen Kendall was pretty much the same. He was 26, but he was living high on the hog on a trust fund from rich grandparents. A real nothing except for the family money."

"You know if claims were made against either of these estates by Marcovitz..."

"Hutch, if Callahan did this for Marcovitz, and he was arrested, Marcovitz may have paid to spring him before the connection was made."

"Which means Marcovitz made a connection in the department--"

"We gotta talk to Dobey. This operation has to be top secret, even here. If there's a contact in the department, that would explain why Dennison's family was attacked so fast." Starsky ran a hand through his hair and rubbed his eyes. They had been poring over paperwork all morning and into the afternoon, and what they were finding was as frustrating as it was enlightening. They still needed a little thing called evidence.

After meeting with Dobey and explaining the new and bizarre twist in this already badly convoluted case, the detectives set out to visit the family attorneys for the Baxters and the Kendalls.

Starsky and Hutch stood out vibrantly against the heavily padded, dark plush carpeting and rich wood walls of the attorney's office. Everyone milling around this law firm was in some form of a dark business suit, until a visitor almost felt as if he were in some sort of military establishment. Jeans, leather jackets and sneakers were definitely not regular visitors inside these walls.

"Mr. Garner will see you now," the secretary announced, after letting them cool their heels in the waiting room for a good half hour. "Mr. Garner, Detectives Starsky and Hutchinson," she introduced, backing out of the office and closing the door behind them.

"Please have a seat, gentlemen." The somewhat elderly attorney rose long enough to shake hands with the detectives and glance at their ID. "How can I be of help?"

"I'm sure your secretary must have mentioned that we were here about Allen Kendall," Hutch began.

"Yes. You were interested in claims made against his estate." He thumbed through a substantial folder on his desk. "Mr. Kendall did not have an extensive estate in his own right, but his family has made it a point to preserve his good name by meeting any outstanding commitments." He scanned the folders.

"May we?" Starsky asked, reaching across the desk from where he sat. The older man hesitated, then passed the information to him. "Hutch," he said, holding the folder where his partner could see the paperwork involving a $500,000 claim from Wheels, Inc., T.L. Marcovitz, President. It was listed as a personal loan, and there was a copy of the same type of dummy loan agreement, plus a payment record showing the man was in arrears on his payments by several months. Loan-sharking was always an enigma to Starsky. It's bound to end in the leg-breaking--or killing. Desperate people who don't have the money they need borrow it at some phenomenal rate of interest and somehow have to keep paying for it with money they don't have. They inevitably default, and we pick up the pieces, he thought.

"Thank you, Mr. Garner," Hutch was the first to stand, handing the file back to the attorney.

Back in the Torino again, they headed toward the attorney for the Baxter family. This case seemed to keep offering them little teasers of what could be a phenomenal bust, but never quite gave them all they needed. They had a proven connection between Callahan, one of his victims, and Marcovitz, but the connection at the department would be a major missing link, and busting Rhiana might lead to catching yet a bigger fish. The thought of cutting her any slack at all wounded the vengeful streak in Starsky, but perhaps Marcovitz was the worst of the crime organization that appeared to exist here, and if so, maybe Rhiana would do more good losing a few years off her sentence but fingering him. Fingering, Starsky thought bitterly. She's good at that, he pondered with a resentful snort, thinking of her tracing his scars, using the one area where he was the most vulnerable to hurt him when she broke it off. How could I be such a damned idiot? he asked himself. And why did she suddenly hate him so much...well, I'm just a dumb cop.

"What's the matter?" Hutch was studying his partner's odd expression carefully.

"I was just thinking about Rhiana."

"That explains it."

"I was thinking that maybe she could finger Marcovitz to save her own neck."

"You want her neck saved?" Hutch asked.

"No. I want her to rot her ass in prison until she's so damned old and ugly... Reality is that if she's a dealer, even an important one, she's not as big as a killer, and not as dangerous as the connection in the department could be."

"So you're thinking if we bust her, we should let her cut a deal?" Hutch probed further.

"I guess. If it's gonna tell us something for sure we can't find out otherwise. I don't want to do her any favors, but I won't let my bruised pride screw up this bust either."

"That's a good attitude, buddy."

"I told ya I grew up a little." Starsky was watching for a stoplight to change, and bounced the front end of the car.

"Not a hell of a lot, but a little," Hutch responded.

"Ah, you wouldn't like me anymore if I was predictable."

"You could never be predictable, partner," Hutch retorted with a laugh. "I gave up on that about a week after I met you."

The office of the law firm housing Arnold Mellen, the Baxters attorney, was not as intimidating as Garner's office, but it was still elegant. Another annoying wait in a sitting room which boasted such periodicals as The Wall Street Journal and Business Today ensued, but they were finally "worked in" to Mr. Mellen's schedule.

"I understand you are interested in information regarding Mark Baxter's estate," the stout, middle aged man began.

"Specifically, any claims against that estate," Hutch clarified.

"Well, I have some misgivings about discussing--"

"Mr. Baxter was a murder victim, Mr. Mellen. Certainly you recall that," Starsky interjected. "We can get a court order to go through all his financial records. But our goal here is to catch a killer--"

"It was my understanding that Gordon Callahan was dead."

"He is, but like you, we have certain limits as to what we can discuss," Hutch explained. "However, we have reason to believe Mr. Callahan may not have acted alone."

"Very well." He opened a folder on his desk and began explaining various claims against the young man's credit. Unable to stand the mind-numbing boredom of the list, Starsky cut to the chase.

"May we see that for a moment? We know what we're looking for." The man grimaced a little, but handed Starsky the information. Hunching over the folder together, Starsky and Hutch scanned it for any reference to Wheels. They were not disappointed. Mark Baxter owed Wheels, Inc. $700,000. The identical loan agreement was there, again showing considerable default on payments. After thanking the attorney for his time, the two detectives left the office.

"So now we have Gordon Callahan working for Wheels, two of their debtors showing up as his victims, Matt Armstrong connected to both Rhiana and Marcovitz, and he's dead," Hutch summarized. "Dennison identified Rhiana as the woman who threatened him, and then someone took pot shots at his house when he went against the threat...and of course the leak in the department is our missing link there."

"It has to be someone with good inside information, who can move around the jail and the precinct at will."

"Sounds like another cop," Hutch suggested.

"Nothing is scarier than that thought. At least we tipped Dobey off not to discuss this undercover project with anybody else."

"It was lucky that the guys in the band were willing to put up the money for the buy. Otherwise, we'd have had to open this up to more people at the department."

"You know, it's weird when you think about how we wouldn't have ever gotten involved in all this if we hadn't tried our hand at being musicians," Starsky reflected.

"Yeah, and Eric would probably be headed for a murder trial at warp speed right now."

"And Rhiana and Marcovitz would be free and clear."

"Of course that's what they wanted to happen, so much so that they were probably trying to do anything to derail us from this case, including falsifying your diagnosis." Hutch shook his head. "When I think about what almost happened..."

"Hutch, please don't get all bogged down thinking about that. I won't ever pull that stunt again. I don't want to. I was upset, so upset I didn't know what I was doing. I knew, but I wasn't thinking clearly enough to think through what it really meant."

"When all this is over, I hope you're planning to go after that guy...get him out of the profession."

"Because he lied to protect his family or because I almost killed myself?" Starsky looked away from the road a moment at his passenger. "I was responsible for that bone-headed move, not him. If somebody sent my kid her dog's head in a box, I'd probably lie, cheat, steal or kill to protect her from anything else happening. Yeah, I'm plenty mad at him for what he put me through, but I don't know as I want to ruin the guy. He did have a reason."

"I guess." Hutch exhaled loudly and stared out the passenger window. "I think we should take a look at the files on the people Dobey investigated for being Callahan's contact. I'd feel a lot better if we knew."

"Good thinking."

Back at the precinct, they began going over the list, which was extensive. Dobey had investigated anyone that had access to the prisoner or the facility itself. There were dozens of people, including maintenance people, clericals, guards and several detectives and uniformed officers.

While Hutch waded through the data on each person, Starsky was studying the reports regarding the actual escape. Feeling his partner would not be too fond of reliving Tony Sheridan's murder several times over that day, he volunteered to dissect this set of information.

One question nagged at Dave Starsky's mind almost painfully. Where were the other cops while Callahan was breaking loose, shooting Sheridan? Sure, the guy was brandishing a .45 around, and some level of self-preservation was excusable. But there should have been someone...some attempt to do something... Tony was killed almost instantly, and another uniformed officer injured. That other officer, Craig Miller, had drawn his weapon and aimed at Callahan but wasn't fast enough. The prison guard had been behind Callahan, but had protected himself from injury rather than attempting to disarm the prisoner. He hadn't been reprimanded, but certainly hadn't earned himself any commendations. Miller, on the other hand, had won a commendation for his attempt to stop Callahan. Wonder of Tony got one for dying? Starsky pondered.

Mitch Daniels: the detective who had worked with Tony Sheridan once Hutch had officially taken his leave to stay with Starsky. Who was this guy, and where the hell was he when his new partner was shot? If that had been Hutch, I'da been all over that bastard no matter how many times he shot me, if I had to crawl on my hands and knees...Starsky thought to himself. Of course, these guys had only been together a few days. But still, there was a responsibility, a loyalty in being a man's partner, even if you didn't know the guy very well, or like him, for that matter. Mitch Daniels had leapt for cover behind the open door of the waiting police car, and only fired on Callahan from this relatively protected position. He had to be close enough to see the weapon, realize the prisoner was breaking free...


"Yeah?" Hutch looked up from his own research.

"You got Daniels' file handy?"

"Mitch Daniels? Right here." He handed it to Starsky.

"Read it yet?"

"Not yet. I was going through the prison guard's stuff."

"Yeah, he wasn't exactly a hero, was he?" Starsky started perusing Daniels' records. His face drained of most of its color, and he looked back up at Hutch, who had returned to his reading. "Hutch?"

"What?" He looked up at his partner, a little concerned. The tone of that one word had contained something fearful and shocked.

"Mitch Daniels was head of security for Wheels, Inc. before he came here. He was a cop in San Diego, then moved here and couldn't get a position on the force right away, so he worked for Wheels. Then he applied again, and got in because we had those two retirements about six months ago."

"I guess we don't need to look any further for our leak." Hutch shook his head. "Poor Tony. He walked right into the middle of that one, didn't he?"

"Don't start looking for a way to blame yourself for this."

"It just seems like this one really fine cop kept getting short-changed in the partner department."

"He got you for a while. That's not short-changed in my book."

"Thanks, buddy, but it was. I wasn't thinking clearly at the time. Then he gets Daniels. Poor bastard never stood a chance."

"We better fill Dobey in on this one." Starsky picked up the file and headed for his superior's office, with his partner on his heels. "We found him," he announced, tossing the file on Dobey's desk.

"Who?" Dobey seemed a little irritated, interrupted from a form he had been laboriously filling out.

"The leak." Starsky waited until Dobey's eyes met his, and then went to the folder on his desk.

"Daniels? Starsky, he came highly recommended from San Diego. He has a flawless record--"

"Not exactly. Note his previous employer--in the six months he lived in LA and there were no openings on the force." Starsky waited while Dobey scanned the file.

"Marcovitz's outfit?"

"One in the same. Guess who worked as a mechanic there a while back?" Hutch asked.

"I suppose you're going to tell me?" Dobey retorted, in no mood for guessing games.


"At the same time?"

"Possibly. We still have to pull Callahan's file and compare, but it looks like they overlapped by a month or so, if memory serves," Hutch responded. "Besides, the connection would be Marcovitz. There have been some new developments..." Hutch proceeded to explain the fact that two of Callahan's wealthy male victims had been in debt to Marcovitz, and that this led them to believe that Callahan had been a hatchet man for Marcovitz. Obviously not wanting to risk being exposed, Marcovitz activated his contact at the department, Daniels, who arranged the escape. " to turn all this conjecture into fact, I think we should bust Rhiana and lean on her real hard for information on Marcovitz. If we have to let her off a little easy, it would be worth it to nail him. And if she's a major player, she can probably do just that."

"Proceed with your undercover plan, and I agree with you about the woman. If she can give us Marcovitz, we'll work something out with the DA. Not immunity, but a decent reduction in her sentence, anyway." Dobey was silent until they were almost out of the room. "By the way, good work."

Matthew Armstrong's funeral was one of the LA music scene's biggest events in years. The large church where it was held was packed to its capacity with family, friends and music business insiders. Crowds of fans, held back by police, stood in relative order watching for the hearse to arrive, many holding candles, some holding roses or other pieces of memorabilia.

The hearse arrived, and sounds came from the crowd, though they could hardly be interpreted as cheers. Some roses flew in the general direction of the hearse, while the funeral directors transported the casket inside the church.

Starsky and Hutch had been required to flash their police ID to even be allowed to squeeze into a couple of end seats in a back pew. Both feeling considerably out of place among the jet set, they continued scanning the room for Rhiana. She arrived late, and joined a crowd of people who were most likely record company execs, standing in the back of the church.

"Rhiana in basic black and pearls. Hypocritical bitch," Starsky muttered to his partner. "I can't believe she showed up here."

"It'd look more suspicious if she didn't under the circumstances." Hutch looked up to the front of the church. Eric was slipping out of the pew where he sat with his bandmates and hurried toward the back of the church. He stopped at their pew.

"Thanks for coming." He greeted them with a slight smile, but in the grim atmosphere of the church, he had obviously been crying. Starsky stood up and hugged him.

"How're you holding up, pal?" he asked, stepping back.

"Not as good as I wanted to, but I'm makin' it. I see Rhiana's here."

"Isn't that nice of her?" Starsky asked sarcastically.

"I better go play the role. Look, don't let security brush you off. Stick with us for the graveside service, huh?"

"Wouldn't do anything else," Hutch spoke up.

"Thanks." Eric left them and wove his way back to Rhiana. They embraced, and she was obviously offering her usual soft-voiced, consoling niceties. She was good at that, Starsky thought bitterly.

The funeral was impressive, not only from the huge crowd, but the genuine outpouring of sorrow from family and friends. Matt Armstrong had fallen from grace in recent months, due to a downward spiral of drugs and the wild life, but he had obviously once been very special to a large number of people. The song the band wrote and performed just before the casket was removed was a soft acoustic ballad that left most of the mourners in tears. The bandmembers themselves were in very little better shape.

Joining his bandmates as a pall bearer, Eric made brief eye contact with Starsky and Hutch as the procession made its way through the church. The huge crowd was very orderly in exiting the church, and after navigating a nearly impossible jumble, the newly renovated black Torino was in the funeral procession, which wound around the church for blocks.

The group at the cemetery was smaller than the church crowd, though not by much. The green hills were blanketed with people in all directions. The fans had been excluded from even spectating at this stage, and perhaps that was as it should be. The Armstrongs and the band needed a few moments to not be in the spotlight.

Matt's parents led the procession of mourners who each placed a single red rose on the already flower-laden casket that waited to be lowered into the grave. The band went up, as a group, and in unison laid their roses on the casket, as if to demonstrate their strength as a unit that still included Matt. All four laid their hands on the casket and lingered a moment. It was a dramatic gesture, to say the least, and one that conveyed a deep sense of love and loss.

Hutch was tiring quickly of funerals. Though Tony Sheridan had been laid to rest better than a month ago, it was still too damn fast to be back in a cemetery feeling lousy. Starsky's aborted suicide attempt had jangled his nerves, and caskets and cemeteries were not his favorite things. There were times going back in the business seemed absurd, but neither he nor his partner had felt this alive in years. They were cops, like it or not, no matter how hard they tried to be something else.

As the group of mourners dispersed, the band was mingling with Matt's family, planning to ride with them and be seated with them at the funeral dinner, which was being held at an elegant banquet room of a local hotel. Eric was very solicitous about roping his two new friends into the group, though they found themselves feeling a bit awkward in the midst of all this grief. Not knowing Matt personally, it wasn't a terribly emotional time for either one of them. Of course, once the Armstrongs learned they were the detectives on the murder case, they were more than willing to welcome the new additions to the family table.

Several long banquet tables were filled easily, and uniformed wait staff served salads, followed by filet mignon and lobster, which Matt's father announced was his son's favorite combination of foods.

"You see Rhiana at all?" Eric asked Starsky as the hum of the conversation was adequately loud to cover their exchange.

"No. I saw she was there, but I avoided her." Starsky took a sip of the red wine that accompanied lunch. To hell with being on duty later. Rhiana required large quantities of some substance to even think about for very long.

"So when do we get started on the operation?"

"There's more I have to tell you about later. I think we should have a strategy session with everybody involved tonight around seven. Think everybody's free?"

"Probably. None of us are exactly in the mood to go out and party. Where's a safe place?"

"Don't know for sure," Starsky responded, pondering the question. Maybe this guy should be a cop...he thought of most everything.

"There's always my place. It's pretty remote, and since I'm still officially a suspect, I don't suppose it would be all that weird for you guys to show up there."

"Okay. Your place it is. We want to get this thing going. There's more going on here than I've had a chance to fill you in on."

The group that gathered at Eric's house was a grim-faced lot at best. The detectives were sobered by the potential danger of all the tentacles this case seemed to have, and the musicians were still in the post-funeral stupor. Starsky and Hutch shared the duty of explaining all the details to their civilian "operatives". It was important that they be aware of what they were getting themselves into, but none of them seemed the least deterred, even by the thought that Marcovitz employed people the caliber of Gordon Callahan. They already knew he was employing someone who was willing to stab Matt Armstrong to death, and that was the only catalyst they seemed to need.

Tim was to approach Rhiana at noon the next day, in her boutique, wired for sound, and propose to make a buy. He would say that all the pressure over Matt's death, plus the habit of a new lady in his life for the white stuff was propelling him to fall off the wagon. It usually took a day or two for the goods to come in, but when he made the pick up, he would pay Rhiana without complaint, but say that he wanted to make another buy. They'd discuss his "wish list", but then he'd drop the hint that he was very low on ready cash. Hopefully, she would feel the desire to be of help, and make the right referral. Tim would then go to Marcovitz, take out a loan, sign the dummy agreement, and again wired for sound, would be advised of the real terms of the deal. When all this was complete, and money and drugs had all changed hands, Rhiana and Marcovitz would both be arrested. Then Rhiana would be leaned on heavily to provide additional evidence on Marcovitz in return for lenient sentencing.

Tim seemed to be anxious to get the show on the road, and the two detectives almost thought they picked up on a little spring in his step as they watched him go into the boutique right on schedule.

"Hey, think the department would spring for a new leather jacket if this works out?" he whispered into his wire. Starsky and Hutch couldn't help but snicker. These guys were going after this case with all the enthusiasm of little kids playing cops and robbers, and all the cool and finesse of experienced agents.

It seemed Tim had missed his vocation. Acting might have been more suited to him, as he chatted casually with Rhiana, charmed her, and ultimately set up a buy from her, pushing it to include some heroin as well. Once he saw she trusted him, he opted to push the envelope, and it worked. Though he had no history of heroin use, and had never purchased it from her, she agreed to supply him with the small quantity--brown suede gloves--he requested. He left the boutique with a satisfied smile on his face. And now the detectives would watch Rhiana and wait. A tap on her phone line was providing their audio entertainment. Getting the big supplier at the same time they brought her down would be a real boon.

An hour after Tim left, Rhiana made a phone call.

"Hello," a male voice answered the ring.

"Yeah, it's me," she replied. "Got a special order for you." She proceeded to list off the clothing items which camouflaged the drug order. No names were exchanged between her and her source, and the call was too brief to trace.

"Stake-outs." Starsky yawned loudly and looked over at his partner, who was slouched in the seat reading a magazine. Something about current events. "This is the one thing about this job I hate. Well, this and getting shot."

"Don't joke about that, Starsk. It's not funny." Hutch's response reminded Starsky of the tone he used to get from his parents when they were vaguely annoyed with what he was saying but not enough so to take action. Hutch's eyes never left the page.

"Aren't you sick of that yet?" He tapped the cover of the magazine, and finally an irritated Hutch looked over the top of it at him.

"Not especially, no. You know it wouldn't hurt you to be a little better informed about what's going on in the world." Hutch returned his eyes to the page. "Says here disco's on its way out."

"Now there's something I wouldn't want to have missed hearing about." Starsky yawned again. "Come on, Hutch, I'm bored."

"It's not my fault you didn't bring anything to read."

"How can I read and watch the boutique at the same time?"

"It isn't that hard. You just need a trained eye, that's all," Hutch retorted, continuing to ignore his partner's pleas for company.

"So read to me, then, and I'll watch the boutique." Starsky was quiet a moment, and Hutch made no response. "Hey, whatever happened to that book you had--the one when I first got home from the hospital? You read me some poetry, remember?"

"If you think I'm going to read you poetry on this stakeout, you've got another thing coming."

"I just wondered who wrote it."

"Nobody important."

"They must have a name. I liked it. I never told you, but it really helped me get back in this car again and come after you when Callahan had you. And the one about the boat--"

"'Passages', Starsky. It has a title," Hutch snapped.

"Okay, 'Passages' then. I really liked those. Why won't you tell me who the poet is?"

"I wrote it, okay?" Hutch finally responded, keeping his eyes riveted on his magazine.

"You did?" Starsky hooked his forefinger over the magazine and pulled it down so his partner had no choice but to look him in the eyes. "Why wouldn't you just say so?"

"It isn't very good, Starsk."

"I know I'm no great literary critic, but I liked it. I liked it because it meant something. Just to read somebody's meditation on the ripple in a lake or how many veins are on a leaf doesn't do much for me. But that poetry meant something, and for the first time, I actually thought about a poem when I was in a bad situation and needed to think my way out of it. Don't sell yourself so short, Hutch. I liked it."

"You said yourself you weren't a great critic." Hutch mildly regretted the put-down, but he didn't retract it. "It was just some stuff I wrote a few years ago.

"What made you write it? Where'd you get your ideas?"

"Starsky, why do you care about my stupid poetry?"

"Well, I'm beginning to ask myself that very question, but I'm still curious."

"I'm sorry. It's just that it's very personal. I wouldn't have read it to you at all, but I thought maybe it would help at the time."

"It did. What'd you think I'd do, laugh at it?"

"No, I thought you'd do what you always do when I perform anything--tell me how good it is, cheer for it--regardless of what it sounds like."

"There's a difference between giving a friend some moral support and encouragement, and really liking something. I liked this stuff. It made me feel better. I was in real bad shape for a while there, Hutch." Starsky stared back at Rhiana's storefront briefly. There was a black and white watching the back entrance, but they hadn't radioed with any news. "I was actually afraid to go outside that day you came to get me from the hospital. I was scared of the parking made me think about the last parking lot I was in, and I was really afraid. I was afraid of this car. Maybe that's why I drove it off a cliff--to kill it, not me. And this is great now, because what freaked me out about it was remembering what the side of it looked like while I was being shot. Now that it looks different, I'm thrilled to have it back." Starsky paused and looked down for a moment. "Those nightmares, about the shooting, and just the thought of going to sleep because I might have one, scared me to death...I was actually afraid I'd have another cardiac arrest and die in my sleep having one of those dreams. But that poem--'Passages'-when you read it to me that afternoon, and I fell asleep listening to it, I didn't have a nightmare. And when you read me that other one--don't get mad, but I don't remember the title, but the one about having dominion over your dreams and memories? It gave me courage. It helped me face this car again and get in it and drive it, and it helped me to understand that the dreams were just that--they were harmless. They couldn't kill me. They couldn't shoot me again just because I dreamed about it." Starsky looked up at his partner a little hesitantly. "It means so much to me to know why you wrote those, because they reached right into my soul and healed it--and a whole team of specialists couldn't seem to accomplish that."

"The heroin."


"Right after I went through the withdrawal, or I should say we went through it, I still had a lot of nightmares--"

"You never said anything."

"Starsk, at a point, I had to take some responsibility for myself again, take a hold of my own life. You couldn't be watching me 24 hours a day. I wrote 'Passages' less about nightmares than about the withdrawal itself. There were so many awful visions and thoughts and fears and pain to go through. Do you remember that first night, when you were trying to get me to go to sleep, what you talked about?"

"I was just rattling on, like always. Something about camp when I was a kid. Man, that was a rotten experience." Starsky laughed a little at the memory of the somewhat cheesy camp his parents had saved up to send him to one summer. He had griped and complained for a solid week until he was allowed to go home early.

"You had one good experience while you were there, remember?"

"Vaguely. I stole a canoe and went up this stream by myself..."

"And you told me that story. You told me how peaceful it was and about the water rocking the canoe gently, and I just drifted for a little while. That story gave me a few minutes' break from all the pain and the horror I was going through, and I could drift. But all through it, there was this one anchor I held onto, and that was your voice. It was like a mental anchor I could hold onto and feel free to let go of the pain for awhile and just lie in that canoe and feel the breeze and the motion of the water..." Hutch seemed almost transported for a moment. "And later that night, when I was having a real rough time, you told me I should think of all the stuff I was seeing as just part of a horror movie--you were joking about how I was always hating the movies you dragged me to see--and you said I should think of whatever it was that I was seeing that was scaring me right at that moment as one of those cheap horror movies, and that all the stuff with Forest was just bad memories, and that I was alive and safe and had overcome all of it, and that they couldn't hurt me. I don't know as I was mentally capable of fully believing that, but it pulled me through. And those were some of the thoughts that went into the poetry."

"I didn't think anything was really registering with you while all that was going on," Starsky responded. "I thought you were pretty much out of it."

"I was, but a few things got through. You never told me you were worried about having another cardiac arrest."

"I'm not--not now, anyway. And I really wasn't when I was awake and in my right mind. That pain medication was powerful stuff. The first time I realized I wasn't an emotional, jittery basket case was when I stopped taking it for a while to look for you. It hurt like hell but I had my mind back, and I had some emotional strength. Those pills were like some kind of truth serum...they just seemed to open up my emotions and fears and just leave them exposed. When I had those nightmares, they were so real...I could feel the pain all over again. Knowing my heart had stopped for a period of time in the hospital, I was scared that maybe it still wasn't as strong as it should be, and that if I got as upset as I did during the dreams, it'd kill me. I'd wake up and my heart would be pounding so hard I could hardly breathe."

"I know they were pretty intense. The first night you were home from the hospital, it worried me, too, because when I was close to you, your heart felt just like this little fist beating on my chest."

"I'm not sorry all that stuff's over. We've had a lot of good times, pal, but we've had our share of garbage, too." Starsky looked back at the boutique. "Speak of the devil." Both watched while Rhiana exited the boutique and walked to her car.

"This oughtta be interesting." Hutch settled in for the ride as Starsky waited to start up the engine until Rhiana was on her way slowly down the street.

The white Porsche was in no particular hurry, and Rhiana seemed to be enjoying the breeze toying with her hair in the little convertible. Starsky's larger black vehicle stayed a discreet distance behind. Talk about opposites, he thought with a slight smile. The newly redone Torino looked like it could positively devour the smaller car. This mental imagery appealed to Starsky, but he tried to dismiss such petty and childish fantasies.

Rhiana stopped her car at the curb in front of a small outdoor cafe. No sleazy alley swaps for this lady. She met a well-dressed young man and was seated at his table. Drinks were ordered and they seemed to be visiting congenially.

"Maybe it's just a lunch date," Hutch suggested.


"You still upset about her?"

"Busting her will make me real happy. I don't like her tactics. Dumping somebody is one thing, but inflicting intentional cruelty on them by taking advantage of some little weakness or vulnerability and then throwing it back at them--that's a trashy trick. It's as much as saying that humiliating the person by dumping them isn't enough. You have to remind them of everything they shared with you in a weak moment."

"If it's any consolation, I misjudged her pretty badly too. She reminded me of Terry at first."

"God help me, me too," Starsky responded, watching his old girlfriend laughing and leaning close to this other man to talk with him. Finally, she was fumbling with her purse.

"Maybe he's making her pay for lunch," Hutch quipped, and Starsky had to snicker. Rhiana was probably wealthier from her side business than most any poor stupid bastard she'd wind up dating.

"Oh, isn't that interesting. Wonder what's in the sample book?" Starsky took out the camera with the telephoto lens and focused it on the exchange of a fat envelope from Rhiana and a couple of small parcels she tucked into her large purse. The book the man had, which was ostensibly a book of some kind of fabric samples, obviously contained a very large hollowed-out area. Starsky patted himself on the back mentally for his photography skills as he snapped shots of the trade, and Hutch watched through binoculars from the passenger seat.

"Somebody should trail Romeo," Hutch suggested, radioing for another unmarked car ASAP. Rhiana's male companion hadn't budged yet, and they were being served some type of lunch. When he left, hopefully he'd return to the supply source. It was infinitely frustrating not to simply take them both in right there and then, but there was more to be gained by waiting. When this bust did come down, it would be airtight and comprehensive. Murder, drug-dealing, loan-sharking, and maybe even drug manufacturing might be part of the ultimate picture.

The team of Stevens and Williams appeared in a generic-looking blue Ford sedan. The car actually did stand out against the backdrop of expensive luxury vehicles in the area. While the Torino didn't exactly blend with the atmosphere, it could have been mistaken for the whim of some rich kid, with its souped-up appearance. Somehow this blatantly moderate car in the midst of all this wealth was not too discreet. Starsky radioed the other team, figuring Hutch would just as soon avoid discussing anything with Linda. His partner made no move for the radio to dissuade him.

"Zebra Three to Zebra Seven, come in." Starsky waited, and Linda's voice returned his call. The mating call of the zebras, he thought absurdly.

"This is Zebra Seven, go ahead, Zebra Three."

"It's the preppy guy with the redhead at that corner table. The one with the white sweater tied around his neck?" Starsky described Zebra Seven's assignment. "When he leaves, tail him. He's the supplier, or at least a high-class runner."

"10-4, Zebra Three," Linda retorted with no further comment.

"Of all the plainclothes teams..." Hutch grumbled.

"Maybe you oughtta talk to her again."

"I don't think she's in any mood to hear from me right now."

"I didn't mean during this stakeout, dummy. I meant over wine and candlelight--something to soften her up a little."

"That's like softening up a lead pipe, Starsk. Then she'll watch us bust this big operation and walk away with all this praise, and she and Stevens'll be just as pissed off as they were at the beginning, probably more."

"She and Stevens wouldn't be here right now. They'd probably be driving a couple more shaky circumstantial nails into Eric's coffin."


"She might just someday see that this was all for the best--us getting the case instead of them. They would've mishandled it badly, and it was a high profile case."

"I guess thoughts of commendations sort of pushed all other logic aside for those two. Scary how ambitious some of these new people can get. We let our cases happen the way we were supposed to, and if we brought down somebody big, it was because they deserved it."

"Be careful, Hutch. You're sounding dangerously like those old guys did at their retirement parties. And you're making us sound infallible."

"I didn't mean to do that, because God knows we aren't. Ask Rigger."

"I wondered if you'd been thinking about him a lot lately. It scares me that I think of him in connection to Eric. While Rigger wasn't a friend the way Eric is, he still trusted us with his life to give us major evidence, and we let him down. It scares me we'll do the same thing to Eric."

"Let's hope it doesn't come to that."

After an additional half hour of lingering over lunch and each other, Rhiana took her leave of the cafe, and drove off toward the boutique. Zebra Three left Zebra Seven to do its duty with her male companion and followed the white Porsche back to Rodeo Drive.

"That probably isn't Tim's order," Hutch complained as they watched Rhiana re-enter her boutique. "Doesn't it usually take a couple of days?"

"That's what Tim said. But he never said there were no variations on the pattern. Wonder where her boyfriend went?"

"Well, I suppose we'll hear back from Zebra Seven soon enough."

"Why don't you take the call? Don't you want to break the ice with Linda?"

"Yes and no. There was something happening between us, but her professional attitude isn't too good. She was ready to hop on the 'crucify Eric March' bandwagon along with her partner before they even knew what in hell they were talking about. The arrest he made was an ill-advised one. Eric should have been brought in for questioning, maybe held overnight if they really suspected him, but he should never have been officially arrested and booked. Linda's experienced enough to realize that, even if her partner's too wet behind the ears to understand the concept of building a strong case before running out half-cocked and arresting the first guy with blood on his hands." Hutch sighed. "She wanted another big case, like the one in San Francisco. This case would have put Stevens on the map as a detective, and would have put Linda on the map here in LA. She was getting to be kind of a hot-shot at the SFPD, getting high level cases and handling them well. Now she comes here, they assign her to a new guy, and she saw a chance to skip through proving herself the hard way by using this case."

"Sounds like more 'no' than 'yes'."

"I just know that we'll spend most of our time disagreeing about our work. The only way I could be romantically involved with another cop--and wrestle all the policy complications involved in that--would be if our attitudes were similar, if we thought alike. There's a point at which Linda and I don't, obviously."

"I guess I hadn't thought too much about the rules."

"Well, I don't know what Dobey'd do about it. I really don't want to find out. When Linda made the move to the PD here, we were planning to quit. So whether or not she was a cop wasn't an issue in our relationship. Then we rushed right in and asked for our badges back and bumped her and her partner off the case. Let's face it: that morning, I left Linda and you left Rhiana. Rhiana was just taking some verbal revenge out on you--we made our choices then and there."

"I forgot Rhiana was there. That's not the same as breaking up with her."

"You still love her?"

"I don't know. I love the person I thought she was. It's more like a death. Like that person died after we left my apartment that morning. She was replaced by what's there now, which isn't the woman I fell in love with. Plus I'm angry. I couldn't love her now even if she wasn't involved in any of this."

"Zebra Seven to Zebra Three, come in, please," a female voice came over the radio. Starsky looked at Hutch, who made no move to answer it. He picked it up instead.

"This is Zebra Three, go ahead."

"Subject went into the Wheels Auto Dealership in Beverly Hills."

"Is he still there?"

"Has been for about ten minutes."

"Stay on him, okay?" Starsky asked.

"Roger, Zebra Three. Will do." She broke the connection. Women seem to be doing that to both of us a lot lately, Starsky thought with a snicker.

"Looks like things are fitting together nicely," Hutch commented.

"Well, all we have to do now is wait for Tim to get a phone call."

Tim didn't get a phone call the rest of that day. Unwilling to relinquish their position in the case, both detectives resigned themselves to sleeping in the car, listening to the bug on Rhiana's phone and alternately watching her boutique, and then her apartment building. At close to midnight, Rhiana made a call to Tim Drew's home.

"Tim, this is Rhiana. Just wanted to let you know we got a shipment in today, and by coincidence, I happened to get just the items you special ordered."

"Seriously? Man, that's what I call service," Tim responded. "When can I pick it up?"

"The boutique opens at noon tomorrow. Come by anytime after that, and your order will be ready for you."

"Great, Thanks, Rhiana."

And thus the conversation ended. Satisfied Rhiana was on her good behavior and in for the night, they finally relinquished their stakeout to Stevens and Williams. As a consolation prize, Dobey had assigned them to assist with the case. Whether this was truly consolation or his form of rubbing their noses in their original mistake, Starsky and Hutch weren't sure. Dobey could be a man of complex motives.

After dropping Hutch off at his apartment, Starsky made his way back to his own place, revving the new engine and taking the long way home. About a block away from his place, he opted to take another turn and go for a ride. Hutch was always so damn conservative about taking a little joyride. He turned his lights on bright to dispel the gloom of the country road he finally found himself on, rolled down his windows and turned up the stereo. Merl had thrown in a wicked pair of speakers, and when you had to listen for that damn police radio all day, there was no chance to really cut loose and have some fun.

Hutch settled into bed with a good book. Not that he considered that the most exciting way to spend the night, but it was nice to relax a little. They were both back on the force, back on active duty, Starsky was healthy as a horse again and all seemed reasonably right with the world. Even this screwball case appeared to be taking shape. Within a few minutes, he had dozed off to sleep.

Eric turned on the tape machine, and leaned back in the chair in front of the control panel. Closing his eyes, he heard Matt's voice filling the room. It was spooky, listening to the vocal track by itself like this. It always had a ghostly, almost other-worldly sound when you separated it from the instrumental track. Now, it was positively chilling. Something about the singular experience of hearing his best friend's voice again was what he wanted. Matt wasn't really on tape talking anywhere that he could remember, so this ghostly singing would have to do. Working with the police was scary. Being in debt to Marcovitz for just a little while and knowing the consequences of defaulting had been unnerving. Being the one responsible for tipping off the cops to his and Rhiana's operation was downright terrifying...but he was doing it for the ghost singing in the shadows of the empty studio. How many times had Eric sat here, in this seat, working the controls, and watching Matt do what he did best in front of the microphone in the other room? His home studio wasn't complex or perfect, but he and Matt had had some really great times here...

Dave promised this whole mess would be over soon. That was good and bad. Once it was over, Matt would be forgotten. A murder solved. The press have had a field day ripping him apart so far...wait 'till they have all this material to work with. Eric sighed into the emptiness of the room. Matt was no choirboy, people were saying. That struck Eric funny, because in reality, he actually had been. When they were children, Matt had sung in a children's choir at his church. He had always been singing, all the time. Anything. He just loved to sing. And Eric loved to listen...and pound on things. Always a frantically energetic kid, Eric had found the drums to be an amazing release. So Kingpin was born, once the sixteen-year-old Matt and fifteen-year-old Eric had rounded up Tim, Mick and Adam to complete their line-up.

Eric's mother had said something about this line of work using people up and spitting them out at young ages. She was right. He felt spit out, and Matt sure as hell was used up. He turned off the tape machine and walked slowly down the hall and went to bed.

The doorbell. Starsky was vaguely aware of the sound, but he was trying his best to ignore it. Now there was pounding. If it was Hutch, he could damn well let himself in. It was too early...more pounding. Starsky looked at the clock. It was seven-thirty. Oh. Not as early as it feels, he thought wearily. Two hours racing around in his new toy hadn't left him much time to sleep the previous night, and now he was going to pay for that privilege.

"Yeah, all right, keep your shirt on." Pulling his robe on haphazardly and blinking himself into consciousness, he opened the door.

"You're not dressed," Hutch whizzed past him, carrying breakfast take outs.

"Congratulations, detective." Starsky slammed the door and wandered back toward his bathroom.

"And you're in a good mood, too," Hutch needled, setting his wares out on the small kitchen table. He had brought coffee and breakfast sandwiches from the nearest fast food place. "Late night?"

"Went for a drive," Starsky called over the sound of the shower starting up. "Hell of a car, partner."

"Called Tim this morning. He's going over to Rhiana's about 12:30. Dobey's making the arrangements for the back-up we'll need."

"Hope Daniels isn't listening in on all this," Starsky responded, emerging from the bathroom in his robe, toweling off his hair. "Real food. Thanks." He picked up one of the sandwiches and started eating as he returned to the bedroom to get dressed.

"Is that supposed to be a slur about my usual eating habits? You know I'm going to live longer than you, Starsk."

"Nah. It'll just feel like it," the ever-obstinate voice called from the bedroom.

Dobey was busily on the telephone when the two detectives entered his office. He finished his call and then motioned to them to sit.

"Everything's in place. We'll have two vice people inside the boutique when your friend makes the buy. And don't worry, they look the parts. McDougal's got the long hair, and he can dress the part. He's taking another detective, Janet Ashford, with him. They'll blend right in. I want on the-scene eyewitnesses for this exchange."

"And hopefully Tim'll get a referral to Marcovitz," Hutch spoke up.

"Hopefully," Dobey echoed.

"If he does, we've got this thing sewn up." Starsky paused, then continued. "Captain, how do we know Daniels won't hear about this?"

"That's my job to take care of Daniels."

"But how?"

"He's on a stake out with two detectives who know the score about him. IA knows what's going down. He won't get anywhere near this operation, and he's been isolated enough not to hear about it."

"I'm sorry, Cap, but after what happened with Rigger..."

"That was never my choice, Starsky. You know that."

"I know, but it still happened, and I don't want to see Eric and the rest of the band end up the same way. They've become friends, and they've put their lives on the line to make this bust a reality."

"Daniels won't be a problem." Dobey looked down at his desk to make a couple of notes on a file he had been reading.

"Are we going to have back-up ready if we need to move in?" Hutch asked.

"No question about that. You'll have full back-up standing by at Rhiana's and at the car dealership. They'll be in place just in case things move fast and your friend gets a quick referral and goes over there. Once he gets the goods on Marcovitz, we'll arrest Rhiana Blake and Marcovitz, hopefully simultaneously."

"My biggest concern is getting Tim out of there without a half-dozen bullet holes in him," Hutch spoke up. "We'll have to get him out first before we move in."

"You two will be in charge of calling the first move. I'll be standing by. I plan to be there if anything comes down. This is going to be a big one."

"So where do Stevens and Williams fit into this plan?" Hutch asked.

"They're going to be in charge of the team at Marcovitz's while things are going down at Rhiana's. When the action shifts, so do they. They're the back-up team. We anticipate the biggest challenge will be with Marcovitz's people, so I want you two in charge of that portion of the actual arrests. And I want you both in vests."

"Probably a good idea," Starsky said, with the voice of experience.

By noon, they met briefly with Tim at his home to check the sound equipment and make sure his wire was in place. They hadn't anticipated Eric being there, but he said he wanted to at least have some part in the action. He was more than pleased when Starsky pulled a third bullet-proof vest out of the bag he had brought in and told Tim to wear something sloppy enough to hide it. Since he would be in the center of the operation, they didn't want to take a chance of him getting caught in a crossfire.

Tim Drew walked confidently into Rhiana's at 12:30, right on schedule. McDougal and Ashford had entered the boutique about fifteen minutes earlier and had begun browsing. Rhiana hadn't suspected them of being anything but customers, and had cheerfully pointed out some of her more exceptional new items.

"Hey, Rhiana, how's it goin'?" Tim walked in, greeting her casually, just like always. He was thinking how sweet it was going to be to nail the woman who had fed Matt's drug habit and then lured him into debt and led him to his death.

"Let me get your order. It's in back." She went to the back room but returned quickly with a pile of softly-wrapped packages, which she was placing in one of her flashy gold shopping bags as she spoke. "That was a pair of white leather boots, a green lame shirt and scarf, and brown suede gloves, right?" she concluded cheerfully.

"That's it." Tim dug deep into his pocket and pulled out a roll of bills. Discreetly counting them, he looked up at Rhiana. "Say, is my credit good around here? I mean, I wanna make another order, but this is all the loose cash I've got." His voice was barely a whisper. Rhiana looked pensive for a moment. She counted the money he paid her for the current order.

"I'm not a charity, Tim," she whispered back. "Cash on delivery. You know that by now."

"Yeah, I know, and it's not like I haven't got the money, but it's all tied up, and I borrowed some stuff from a friend of mine to tide me over 'til this came, and by the time I pay him back out of this order, I'm gonna need more." Tim had the jittery demeanor of a fading high down pat, and his dark glasses made it impossible for her to analyze his eyes for signs of use. Starsky and Hutch exchanged looks in the car across the street as they listened. Drew was cool as a cucumber in this situation, and he was smooth. Would've made a hell of a narc if he weren't a musician.

"I don't take orders on credit, or even on your good looks, sweetie." She patted Tim's face almost affectionately. Nice she could be such good buddies with her customers, Tim thought bitterly.

"What am I supposed to do then?" He ran an appropriately shaky hand through his shaggy auburn hair. "Come on, baby, you know I'm good for it. I can't wait for my accountants to play with my damn stocks."

"I'm going to give you an address," she said quietly, writing on a piece of paper. "Short-term loans." She handed him the paper, which simply said "Wheels, Beverly Hills".

"I don't need a new car, Rhiana. I need--"

"I know what you need, and you'll get it there. Tell the secretary you need to see T.L. about a credit problem. When you get in to see him, tell him I sent you. He'll take care of you. When you're done there, come back and see me."

"Okay...Look, can't you just take the order from me now? I mean I don't wanna have to wait--"

Starsky and Hutch were snickering at the shaky junkie act Tim was laying on in just the right doses. Rhiana was buying this hook, line and sinker.

"Sorry, pal. Go see T.L., and then come see me. I have other customers to wait on," she murmured, turning her attention to another pair who entered the boutique to join McDougal and Ashford in their browsing.

Tim walked out with his shopping bag, and Starsky and Hutch prepared to tail him.

"She wrote down 'Wheels, Beverly Hills' on the paper she gave me," he reported into his wire, wishing he could hear a response from the two detectives. It was scary, wondering if they were hearing all this. He saw the black Torino a ways up the street, but there was no way to know if the occupants heard him. Hopefully, they'd tail him as planned in his gold Jaguar. He pulled away from the curb.

Starsky had radioed the back up, directed them to be on notice, and pulled away from the curb to tail Tim car. He also directed Stevens and Williams to take over the operation at Rhiana's.

Tim pulled up in front of the dealership and headed inside. Starsky and Hutch were parked in a parking lot across the street, armed with binoculars, which they were trading back and forth to get a look inside at Tim, talking to a salesman, most likely trying to get through to Marcovitz's secretary.

Then things started to crumble. A small grey car pulled up next to Tim's and a casually dressed man in his mid-thirties got out of it. As Tim was disappearing into the back of the dealership, Mitch Daniels walked right in the front door.

"Shit! That's Daniels! Where the hell did he come from?" Hutch handed the binoculars to Starsky and snatched up the radio, frantically trying to get through to Dobey. Visions of Rigger were dancing in his head as he waited until the Captain's voice came over the speaker.

"Daniels slipped away from his partners just a short time ago, we don't know how he found out yet."

"We're going in there, right now," Hutch stated.

"Shh!" Starsky motioned to his partner to listen to what was coming from the wire. Tim was making arrangements for the loan with Marcovitz. Tapes were rolling, and the loan shark was outlining the real terms of the deal. Tim was goading him to hurry things along, hoping to be presented with the loan agreement to sign. And for some reason, he was really getting jittery now. He hadn't missed his old drug habit until this moment, experiencing jangled nerves only a shot of some illegal substance could settle. Then some guy just waltzed into the office like he owned the place, and for a moment, Tim thought the bust was going down right then, but it was just this one guy...

"He's a phony. He's a plant from the cops!" the intruder, Daniels, informed Marcovitz, who turned and glared accusingly at Tim.

"What the hell are you talking about?" Tim asked, trying to maintain his act, and doing very well under the circumstances. "You think I'm working with the pigs? Give me a break, man. I need a fix, I just want the money."

"I'll give you a fix, you bastard." Daniels drew his gun, and as Tim rose, panicking, fired it twice into the other man's mid-section. At the impact, Tim remembered Starsky's coaching. Show the impact, but whatever you do, fall on your stomach so they won't notice right away you're not bleeding...

The Torino galloped across the street and screeched to a halt in front of the dealership. Back-up units surrounded it on all sides. Tim had already been shot, hopefully somewhere the vest would protect, and there was nothing to be lost now by storming the place S.W.A.T. team-style. Starsky, Hutch and a pair of uniformed officers rushed into the posh showroom and ordered the startled salespeople face down on the floor. The uniformed police stayed out front while the detectives raced back to Marcovitz's office. Other officers were swarming in at the same time, and to everyone's surprise, Marcovitz's secretary pulled a gun out of her desk drawer and fired at Starsky, who returned the fire without hesitation, leaving the woman clutching a shoulder wound, dropping her gun to the floor. Shooting was echoing from Marcovitz's plush office, and Hutch was the first through the door with his gun drawn. Daniels spun around and aimed, but he never fired. The Magnum erupted and sent him sprawling back across Marcovitz's desk, where the head of the whole operation was cowering for cover. Starsky and Hutch took great delight in cuffing him and handing him off to two uniformed officers who had followed them inside.

Starsky rushed to Tim's sprawled, motionless form while Hutch joined other police in tending to two wounded officers near the back entrance.

"Tim, hey, can ya hear me?" Starsky pulled back a section of the long hair that obscured the other man's face. One eye opened and a smile curled the side of Tim's mouth.

"Pretty effective, huh?" he quipped at Starsky, who laughed with relief and let the hair fall back over the other man's face. Tim pushed himself into a sitting position and pushed his own shaggy hair hack, snickering. "Hey, that was kinda fun--a little scary, but a real rush. Now I see why you guys get off on this."

"You're all right?" Starsky confirmed.

"I'll probably have a couple bruises--man, those guns pack a wallop, even with this flak jacket on. But I'm fine. Did we nail 'em?"

"Let's go find out." Starsky stood and offered Tim a hand to pull him up. "Damn good job, man. You're a natural."

"I didn't get him to bring out the loan agreement."

"I think we can overcome that detail," Starsky responded, grinning.

"What happened, anyway? I thought this was a top secret operation."

"The leak at the department got away from us. I still don't know all the details, but I'm damn well gonna find out."

A radio report to Dobey from Stevens and Williams confirmed that Rhiana was in custody, along with a fairly decent supply of pot and pills from her back room. The expensive stuff, like cocaine and heroin, were obviously brought in by special order. The teams converged back on the precinct, and confusion seemed to reign for a time while Marcovitz's personnel were sorted out for arrest or questioning, depending on their role in the little shootout. The two officers who had been hit in the exchange of gunfire were in the hospital, but both were expected to survive. Daniels had died en route to the hospital, as the blast of a .357 Magnum to the chest is rarely survived. For the moment, how he learned of the operation seemed to be lost information. How he got away from his two partners on the stake-out was providing those detectives with some tense moments.

Amidst all the confusion, Starsky found out which interrogation room Rhiana had been taken to pending questioning. The plan was to let her sit there and stew awhile, contemplating life in prison. He knew he'd have some time, and he needed some answers.

Rhiana sat calmly at the end of a long table, dressed in the blue cotton jail garb. Even like this, she was pretty. Starsky fought down memories of laughing with her, watching TV with her, sharing what he thought were almost magical moments with her.

"Well, David, did you remember to bring the rubber hoses?" she asked lightly.

"This isn't funny, Rhi."

"Rhi? It's a little late for pet names, Sergeant," she shot back.

"All right, Miss Blake." Starsky sat in the chair at the opposite end of the table.

"So what do you want from me?"

"Some answers." Starsky looked down at his own hands, fingers entwined as they rested on the table. He suddenly felt pathetic to be here at the mercy of his own prisoner. All his revenge fantasies about Rhiana were reduced to this: him here, hat in hand, asking her for explanations. When he looked up to meet her gaze, the pain in his eyes was obvious to her. "I swore I wouldn't do this...go down this road again with you. But I have to know..."

"Does it matter, David? Really matter? If I tell you that I meant everything I said to you at your apartment, that I loved you...would it change anything?"

"Not now," Starsky answered honestly. "It's out of my hands now, Rhi."

"And that morning out in the hall, I knew it was out of your hands then too."

"What are you talking about?"

"Oh, David." Her face softened immeasurably, and the expression tore at Starsky's heart. "You big idiot. I fell in love with you months ago, but I've been in this business quite a while now. I couldn't have an affair with a cop. Then you stopped being a cop, and when you called me and said you wanted to be a musician...and I knew you could do it. It was like a dream come true."

"Did you think I could turn my head to all of this, even if I quit the force?"

"I entertained silly thoughts of you loving me enough that you would. That you'd enjoy what it could provide us both--that you'd share it all with me."

"That I'd be a drug dealer with you?"

"I think you're the one missing the point here now. I was lulled into the false notion that you could love me enough to be loyal to me, to at least not turn me into the narcs when you found out." She shook her head slowly. "I realized that morning that I could never hope to break into that circle of loyalty between you and your partner. I knew you and Hutch were best friends, and when you were musicians, it was great creative chemistry, and it was obvious you cared about each other, but it changed when you went back to being cops. You opened up that door and let other people in when you were playing the music. But when you went back to your cop mode, the little exchanged glances, unspoken understandings and cryptic remarks started. Even Linda became the enemy because she was outside your unit. And I knew Hutch would never turn his head to a drug operation. And you'd never turn away from Hutch."

"And you thought I would turn my head to it?" Starsky asked, slighted.

"I think that when you love someone, you love them with all your heart and soul, and I thought that would be strong enough to overcome some sense of duty you might have about reporting what I was doing. 'Course there was always the chance you wouldn't find out, but that wasn't a practical thought, either. But when I saw you two back together as cops, I knew it was over. It had to be. For both our sakes."

"Meaning what?"

"Meaning Marcovitz wanted you both hit when you got the Armstrong case, because it was obvious you weren't going to go after Eric."

"He thought you were a friend."

"Well, I have to choose my friends carefully. As you can tell, as soon as I get careless, things fall apart. Marcovitz wanted you two dead, but I double-talked him that I thought we'd be worse off with two more dead cops to our credit. I talked him into sabotaging your medical diagnosis. I figured you'd be off the force, and as close as you and Hutch are, he'd be right behind you. He took off all that time to take care of you while you recovered, and you were trying a different line of work together, so I convinced Marcovitz that ruining your career would take Hutch down with you. I honestly thought you would be able to handle the news--that you liked the music business, and like an idiot, I thought we might all live happily ever after."

"You sent that dog's head to the doctor's little girl? That's damn perverted, even for you."

"That wasn't my idea," she retorted, stung by his insult. "That was something one of Marcovitz's guys came up with. I was just the front woman. I went to see Dennison, to lay out the rules for him. They did the muscle work."

"And what about Matt Armstrong?"

"Dear God, poor Matt." Rhiana shook her head, and Starsky thought he saw a sign of tears in her eyes. Crocodile tears, he reminded himself. She wasn't going to stomp on his heart again. "He was into Marcovitz for major money. I never knew he was so broke when he asked to start buying from me on credit. I assumed, like I did with Tim, that he had investments--that he just needed a fix fast. He couldn't pay off the loan, or even make a payment. He was making noises about going to the cops, and I was getting scared. I told Marcovitz. I thought he'd just throw a scare into him to shut him up. I never dreamed..."

"You mean if he worked him over or cut him a little, that would be okay as long as he didn't kill him?"

"This isn't a normal business, David." Rhiana suddenly looked cold and calculating again. "Do you know what I was doing when I came to LA? I was working in a dress shop, living in a cramped apartment in a neighborhood I couldn't go out in at night. I made some good connections though. Yes, I was what you'd call a groupie for a while. But it served me well. When I wanted to go into business for myself, one of the guys I was seeing told me about Wheels, and the loans. I felt sure I could make a go of the boutique with the right backing, but no bank would have done it. So I signed up with Marcovitz. I made money, paid him on time, and he was impressed. He asked me if I was interested in carrying a new product line that most of my clientele would pay big prices for. I said yes, and the rest is history." She paused, smiling. "I'm twenty-six years old, David. Do you know what my estate is worth right now? A cool eight million dollars."

"Congratulations. You're made a real meteoric rise, Rhiana. Now you're going back to living in cramped quarters you can't leave at night. Guess it came full circle."

"It came full circle because I fell in love with the wrong person. And for once in my life I didn't watch my back."

"Why were you so shocked to see Matt Armstrong turn up dead? It's not like it was the first time. What about Baxter and Kendall? How could you sit back, knowing what Marcovitz was doing and live with yourself?"

"There's one thing I learned very early in this business. You only concern yourself with your own narrow individual role in the operation, and you live longer." She looked up at Starsky, who wore an expression somewhere between anger and disillusionment. "You know, it's funny. You and your partner. You're both seasoned cops, you've seen it all. One thing I'll say for Hutch, he's street smart. He's cynical. But you. Poor David, you're still so naive, so innocent on the inside. You only want to see the best in people, and after everything you've been through, you still think people are basically good, until they use that to get close to you and hit you where it hurts."

"Is this your turn to gloat now? You did get close to me, and I left myself wide open for what I got from you. Maybe the people in my life, like Hutch, or Terry, gave me this silly notion that the people you love can be trusted. Congratulations, Rhiana. You taught me not to trust, not to love too easily, and to be afraid of taking that leap of faith with somebody. Now I'm not the same ignorant, naive idiot that walked right into your trap."

"It wasn't a trap!" she retorted angrily, tears filling her eyes. "I loved you. I meant what I said that day, about you, about the scars, about everything...when I found out you were still working the case the very day the doctor gave you the bad news, I didn't have any choice. I had to get away from you, and keep you away from Marcovitz if I could. I'm too far down this road to turn back now." She paused to wipe at her eyes. Starsky handed her his handkerchief across the table, almost without thinking. "Chivalry is not dead, huh?" She smiled slightly at him. "I'm not going to tell you a tired old story of unpleasant childhoods, wicked stepfathers and runaways. I will tell you that I pulled myself out of a bad situation when I was eighteen and ran as far away from home as I could, and there are only two ways to make it big in LA for a girl that age: come to LA as a star, discovered in your hometown by some roving talent scout--you know, the fairy tale approach, or hook up with a real good pimp. I'm no celebrity, David, and I sure as hell didn't plan to sell it for $20 a shot on the wrong side of the tracks. That left me with very few options. Being a glorified hooker to rock stars is a better way than you'd think to survive. Most of these guys treat you pretty well, buy you nice things, pay your way to a whole panorama of different places...and if you have a little ambition, sometimes you can make something out of your life--like I did. I made contacts, some of the guys found I had a real flair for putting together stage outfits, and pretty soon I was working as a wardrobe person for Gary's band. I met Kingpin during the groupie years. Matt and I were lovers for a little while, nothing special or long-term. And they were all friends to me. But none of them were very astute businessmen, and they didn't want to talk investments. They just wanted a party girl to put together some flashy outfits for them. When one of the guys suggested I talk to Marcovitz, I felt like I had nothing to lose. And I rose like crazy through his organization. I had brains and talent, and I had discretion. I knew enough to play my part and keep my mouth shut. I'm his second in command, you know? Isn't that a trip? Marcovitz is what, 50-something? Big crime lord. I'm his next-in-line."

"Rhiana, I have to get out of here. I don't know what else to say to you." Starsky stood up, and so did Rhiana.

"How about leveling with me? You've heard all I have to say. God knows I could have made a good deal with the DA if had waited to say it."

"You still can. Do you see a stenographer anywhere? This was between us...because of what...we almost had." He looked back sadly into her eyes. "God how I loved you, for just that little span of time. You were in my soul, Rhi. I'd have done anything for you."

"Anything but turn your head to what I was doing? Did it feel good to bust me? Did you like hurting me back?"

"I loved the woman who made my silly dream of Hutch and me being stars come true for just a little while, the one who could raise me out of all the pain I had been through just by smiling at me, the woman I thought you were...not a drug dealer, not someone who could work side by side with someone like Gordon Callahan and not bat an eye."

"I never worked with Callahan. I know he did some muscle jobs for the organization, but I never gave those orders."

"But you knew they were being given."

"Yes, I knew." She nodded a little defeatedly.

"Hutch always seemed to think you were too good to be true. He liked you, but there was something in him that never fully trusted how easy this all was."

"Good old St. Hutch." Rhiana's tone was bitter. "If he told you to jump, you'd ask how high. I had to laugh at you two in my boutique that day. It was like dressing some kind of two-headed monster. You were all excited about that leather outfit until Hutch did his number on you, and all of a sudden you were all full of apprehension about leaving the store in a pair of leather pants. Hutch was all set to eschew the whole thing until you got excited about it, and he agreed to that jacket. You and I might have had a shot, even with all this going on. If I had gotten to you, told you everything--today I could even see a little relenting in your eyes, even when you know it's too late for us. But as soon as Hutch enters the picture, Dudley Do-Right, you'd have let him chide you and shame you into turning me in, because you sure as hell wouldn't have been loyal to me over him and kept your mouth shut."

"Since when did this turn into an argument about Hutch?"

"It really isn't, you're right. But don't you have to admit, if you didn't have to face Hutch, you might have been tempted to cover for me?"

"It didn't happen that way. We had someone come forward--"

"Eric? That doesn't surprise me."

"Does Marcovitz know?" Starsky forgot to play games with her. Eric was wandering around unprotected somewhere, and if Marcovitz knew...

"Why should I tell you that?"

"Because he doesn't deserve to die, Rhiana."

"Nobody knows about Eric. I wasn't even positive, and I didn't want to see him hurt. I didn't say anything, even when I had suspicions about him and his closeness to you. You two are a lot alike. When Eric makes a friend, it's for real, forever, and he'll move heaven and earth for you. I saw him at a restaurant after I broke it off with you, and I was upset. I told him I'd ended it, that you guys would need a new manager if you and Hutch ever stopped playing cops and robbers. I also told him I could do better than a dumb cop, and he looked horrified and asked me if I'd told you off that way, and I said I had, and he proceeded to tell me off, and tossed in a veiled threat or two--something to the effect that people who make a habit out of destroying other people's lives had to pay for it eventually. Then he left. I put two and two together when I was arrested. I was a little concerned at how he reacted to you at the funeral, and how close you two seemed to be."

"So why didn't you turn him in to your boss?"

"I'm not a murderess, David. I didn't want to see him killed, or you for that matter. So I hoped I was wrong and took my chances. Tim did well, though. I never suspected him for a second, sneaky little twit that he is," she said, almost laughing.

"This isn't funny."

"Life is funny, my love." She reached up and touched his face. "Kiss me good bye?" She looked up at him hopefully for a minute, but he took her hand and gently removed it from his face and stepped back.

"I already did that, baby. Just 'cause I showed you my scars doesn't mean I have to marry you." He turned away and started for the door after parroting her own words back to her. "Tell the DA what you know, but negotiate first. You can get a hell of deal with all this information." His hand was on the doorknob.

"David, wait, please." Her voice was shaking, and he held the knob and would not turn around to face her. "I love you. I know it won't gain me anything, so you have to believe it. I don't know why my life is so far from what it should be, but if things were different, you'd be everything...I meant what I said to you--I love you." She was crying now, and Starsky was fighting tears of his own.

"If things were different..." His voice was shaking as he spoke, still not willing to turn back and face her. "...but things are the way they are, and all the pretty words in the world can't change that, Rhi."

"Do you still love me?" she asked suddenly, just as he turned the knob. He looked back at her with a tear-stained face.

"I never stopped, but that's as irrelevant to me now as all those murder and assault victims were to you. It's something I have to turn my head and ignore. Remember? Concentrate on my own narrow role in the operation? My narrow role with you is over, unless I have to testify against you at a trial. Life is bizarre, and it's not fair, but we're in our roles now, and we have to play them out. You know, what might've happened if you'd come to me, and been an informant against Marcovitz...but my life is filled to its capacity with what might have been, and I don't want more of it. So if I love you, I'll just have to get over it and move on. If you love me, I suggest you do the same thing." He turned and left the room, slamming the door behind him. If Rhiana cried or called after him, he didn't hear her. He was rushing down the corridor, down the steps and out to the parking lot. He needed physical distance between himself and the woman he had fallen so hopelessly in love with, the only one since Terry to make such a big hole in his heart. One more second in that room, and he'd have grabbed her, kissed her--but not good-bye, and thrown everything away just to stand by her. But in the final analysis, what had propelled him out the door was no sense of duty. As he leaned against his car, breathing heavily, regaining control over his emotions, he knew the underlying poison that killed his willingness to love Rhiana was a lack of trust. Talking to her in that horrible bland room was like watching "The Exorcist" all over again. Like the little girl possessed by demons in that horror film, Rhiana swung between frightened innocence, complete sincerity, and pure cold evil. Where one ended and the other began was almost impossible at times to tell.

"Starsky!" Hutch's voice shook him out of his reverie. "The silent alarm at Eric's just went off. Let's roll!"

"Damn it!" Starsky jumped into the driver's seat and the Torino sped out of the lot and onto the road.

"There are probably already black and whites there, but I came out as soon as Dobey got the notice."

"We should've taken him into protective custody. Damn!" Starsky gunned the engine, and with its new power, they careened through traffic at insane speeds.