VENGEANCE IS MINE

BY

Striped Tomato

 The following story is a work of fiction, produced solely for entertainment and sharing with fellow fans of "Starsky & Hutch". No profit is being made from the posting of this work. No infringement on the rights of anyone holding ownership of the "Starsky & Hutch" characters, names, or stories in intended. Storyline and all original characters are the property of the author.

© 1997 to the author (stripedtomato@hotmail.com).

********

 Vengeance is Mine: The Song Quote Credits

Chapter 1 Roses on White Lace

Written by: Alice Cooper & Kane Roberts

Performed by: Alice Cooper

From the Album: Raise Your Fist and Yell

 Chapter 2 The Glory of Love

Written by: P. Cetera, D. Foster, D. Nini

Performed by: Peter Cetera

From the Album: Solitude/Solitaire

 Chapter 3 Home Sweet Home

Written by: N. Sixx, V. Neil, T. Lee

Performed by: Motley Crue

From the Album: Theatre of Pain

 Chapter 4 Shocker

Written by: D. Child, J. Beauvoir, G.M. Dude

Performed by: The Dudes of Wrath

From the Album: Shocker: The Music

 Chapter 5 With You All The Way

Written by: C. Wurtz

Performed by: New Edition

From the Album: All for Love

 Chapter 6 You're the Story of my Life

Written by: D. Child & D. Warren

Performed by: Desmond Child

From the Album: Discipline

 Chapter 7 Because You Loved Me

Written by: Diane Warren

Performed by: Celine Dion

From the Album: Falling into You

 Chapter 8 Because You Loved Me

Written by: Diane Warren

Performed by: Celine Dion

From the Album: Falling into You

 Chapter 9 Another World

Written by: J. Leffler & R.. Schuckett

Performed by: Crystal Gayle & Gary Morris

From the Album: What If We Fall in Love

 Chapter 10 You're A Friend of Mine

Written by: J. Cohen & N.M. Walden

Performed by: Clarence Clemons & Jackson Browne

From the Album: Hero

 Chapter 11 You Can Make History (Young Again)

Written by: E. John & B. Taupin

Performed by: Elton John

From the Album: Love Songs

 Chapter 12 All I Have

Written by: B. Nielsen Chapman

Performed by: Beth Nielsen Chapman

From the Album: Beth Nielsen Chapman

 Chapter 13 Un-Break My Heart

Written by: D. Warren

Performed by: Toni Braxton

From the Album: Secrets

 Chapter 14 Can't Cry Hard Enough

Written by: D. Williams & M. Etzioni

Performed by: The Williams Brothers

From the Album: The Williams Brothers

 Chapter 15 The Living Years

Written by: M. Rutherford & B.A. Robertson

Performed by: Mike & the Mechanics

From the Album: The Living Years

 Chapter 16 The Wind Beneath My Wings

Written by: L. Henry & J. Silbar

Performed by: Bette Midler

From the Album: Beaches Soundtrack

 Chapter 17 The Last Song

Written by: E. John & B. Taupin

Performed by: Elton John

From the Album: The One

 The Closing Home Again

Written by: Carole King

Performed by: Carole King

From the Album: Tapestry

********

 1

I saw you in your wedding gown,

The prettiest dress.

I came into your room that night

And made such a mess...

In my own way, I lovingly kiss the bride,

With your ring in your hand, your eyes and your mouth open wide...

In my eyes

Blood drops look like roses on white lace...

 Hutch made his way down the hall toward the squad room, bumping into several people as he reviewed a glossy travel brochure extolling the virtues of Maui for honeymooners. Tucked under his arm was another brochure equally convincing for skiing in Aspen. Maybe Starsky would flip a coin and handle the decision for them.

"What do you think is most romantic--skiing in Aspen or swimming in Maui?" Hutch asked his partner, who was licking donut icing off his thumb and regarding him with the usual fond grin that he bestowed on Hutch when he was up to his neck in wedding plans. The whole flashy wedding and extensive pre-planning was so out of character for Hutch that Starsky would have pitied him if he wasn't marrying the most remarkable woman in the world.

"'Morning,'' Starsky replied, chortling a little. "Well, if it were me, I'd go for Aspen.''

"Since when? I thought you said you didn't like skiing.''

"You're not taking me, remember?'' Starsky retorted, still smiling. "You like it, Sandra likes it, and those long evenings in front of a fireplace have all sorts of potential, if you get my drift.''

"Drift? A little cheap snow humor?'' Hutch started re-reading the Aspen brochure.

"Where's Sandra wanna go?''

"One or the other. She can't decide so it's up to me.''

"Aspen, I'm tellin' ya, buddy.''

"Okay. Aspen it is. Decision made.'' He tossed the brochures in the drawer and accepted the cup of coffee Starsky poured and handed across, his hand shaking a little as he did.

"Will you relax?'' Starsky was still grinning at his partner's rattled state.

"Relax? Do you have even the slightest idea what I have to do today? Besides work, I've got the exterminator and the electrician showing up at the house this afternoon, I have to go get fitted for that funeral coat--''

"Morning coat, Hutch, morning coat,'' Starsky corrected, snickering.

"Then I have to go pick up carpet samples and--''

"What's Sandra doing?''

"Her mother has an itinerary for her that actually looks worse than mine.'' Hutch rubbed his forehead and ran his hand back through his hair.

"Tell ya what. I'll go let in the electrician and the exterminator, okay? Then I'll swing back here and pick you up and we'll go get fitted for our monkey suits.''

"Thanks, pal.''

"No sweat. Hey, you got the toughest part of the wedding all set up--'' he noted Hutch's baffled expression. "You found the right girl.'' That brought a genuine wide smile of complete joy over his partner's stress-drawn features.

"Yeah, I guess I did that, didn't I?''

  Starsky pulled up in front of the little frame house that had been the source of much of his partner's angst in the last several weeks. It was in a nice, quiet neighborhood on a tree-lined street with sidewalks and neatly manicured lawns. Perfect place to raise a whole snag of little Hutchinsons, Starsky thought with a grin. Of course that would mean a bigger house, or maybe an addition on this one. It was one of the smaller ones on the block, so it would still be a wise investment to add on to it.

He let himself in the front door with the key Hutch had given him when the couple first bought the house. Starsky wondered if Sandra knew that he had been given a set of keys the same day they got theirs, but then figured she wouldn't be upset by that. She had gotten used to their intermingled lifestyle from the start, and that was probably a big part of why Hutch finally proposed. No one, since Terry, had fit in with their friendship and partnership as willingly. Others had faked it for a while, but there would come the inevitable acid remark suggesting they ought to date each other and forget trying to find time for a woman, or a tense evening where the third person was made to feel extremely unwelcome by the female half of the couple. Like Terry had taken an instant liking to Hutch, Sandra had hit it off with Starsky from the first time they met. She seemed pleased that if her future husband was in a dangerous line of work, he had a partner who cared sincerely about him and his safety looking out for him. They'd had fun doubling, or sometimes just the three of them shared dinner and munchies and caught an old movie on the tube. More often than not though, Starsky knew enough to make himself scarce when working hours were over. With Sandra's long hours managing the boutique she owned--or more accurately, that her affluent parents had bought for her--and Hutch's schedule, the couple had enough trouble finding time to be together without constantly having him tagging along.

The house boasted a good-sized living room, three moderately-sized bedrooms and a bath and a half. The kitchen faced east, letting in a flood of morning sunlight. This morning, it was almost glowing as it reflected off the yellow and white daisy-print wallpaper the three of them had hung the previous weekend. The new appliances had been delivered, wedding presents from Sandra's parents. Starsky smiled as he recalled that Hutch was going to be subjected to an evening of dinette set shopping that night. That was one invitation Starsky had gracefully side-stepped with the excuse of a mythical date. His real date was with the Torino's engine, which definitely needed some CPR. The aging car was causing him more and more problems, but he was insistent on keeping it. Somehow being up to his elbows in grease was preferable to a night of haunting furniture stores.

"Dave?'' Sandra's voice startled him from behind. He turned to see her shoulder-length yellow blonde hair set on fire by the sunlight. Those kids are gonna be blonds for sure, Starsky thought, smiling inwardly.

"Sorry if I startled you,'' he responded. "I came over to let in the exterminator for Hutch. He had some errands for the case we're on.''

"He's really hating all this wedding stuff, isn't he?'' She looked worried. The frown that curved her mouth downward and clouded her usually clear blue eyes made Starsky smile widely, hoping to dispel it.

"Hutch might do some grumbling, but he loves you like crazy. He's not much for the flashy stuff, but he'll handle it.''

"My parents always wanted me to have a big wedding. I'm their only child, you know.''

"Hutch is about as happy as I've ever seen him. A few wedding hassles aren't going to change that.''

"I'm glad.'' She smiled a little uneasily.

"Hey, do you want me to hit the road?'' Something in Sandra's jittery demeanor indicated a woman with a mission, and though she would never lapse in her courtesy toward Hutch's partner, Starsky got the feeling he was complicating something by being there. "I was just hanging out waiting for the bug man. If you'd like some time to yourself to do something...''

"Ah, yeah, if you don't mind, I...I would.'' She was twisting her engagement ring a little, a characteristic sign she was nervous. Starsky noticed what small, pretty hands she had. He had laughed a little to himself at the size difference in the couple when he first saw them together. Sandra was 5'2", and very small-boned. Next to his 6'1" partner holding one of those big hands, she looked positively tiny.

"No, I don't mind. You want me to come back at one for the electrician or are you going to be here?''

"No, thanks--I'll be here...Dave, I really hate to--''

"Don't worry about it, kiddo. I've got to pick up a couple things for the Torino at the auto parts place before I go back to work, so this'll give me a little more time.''

"Thanks, Dave.'' She smiled brightly as he walked through the living room and out the front door. He noticed a delivery van arriving, but dismissed it as one more project she had initiated that Hutch hadn't yet mentioned. He slid behind the wheel of the Torino and headed for the strip mall nearby. It seemed a little odd Sandra had taken him up on his offer to leave quite so quickly, but then she probably didn't want to be bothered with company while she had delivery people coming.

After the fitting session for their suits, the two detectives returned to Metro, still eating the last of their lunch. It was obvious as soon as they walked in the door that the routine pace of their day was about to be shattered. An hysterical woman was shrieking at the desk sergeant about a murder going unavenged and was accusing the department of sand-bagging in the investigation of her daughter's murder. After tossing the remains of their food into a nearby trash can, Hutch approached her first.

"Excuse me, ma'am. I'm Detective Hutchinson, this is my partner, Detective Starsky. Is there anything we can do?''

"My daughter was murdered over a month ago, and this department is doing absolutely nothing worthwhile to find her killer!'' she wailed back at him.

"Why don't we go somewhere quiet and you can fill us in, okay?''

Somewhat calmed by the prospect of someone listening, she allowed them to lead her to an interrogation room down the hall. She was a tall woman, her almost aristocratic bearing inconsistent with the temper tantrum she had been throwing in the hallway. She had dark hair which was streaked with white, swirled neatly in an ornate hairstyle accented by a silver comb. She wore a navy suit and heels.

Seated at the table with a cup of coffee in front of her, she seemed to regain a little of her composure.

"What was your daughter's name, ma'am?'' Starsky asked, preparing to go pull the file.

"Madeleine Nolan. It would have been Gardner next week,'' she responded, her voice shaking. "My name is Margaret Nolan,'' she added as an afterthought.

"She was getting married?'' Hutch asked, feeling a chill run up and down his spine. His own wedding was one week from the coming Saturday.

"Yes. She was such beautiful girl.'' Mrs. Nolan produced a snap shot from her purse and handed it to Hutch. A slightly-built blonde girl was sitting on a porch railing, smiling brightly. All the facts about this case he'd overheard came rushing back to Hutch. A beautiful young woman had been found brutally murdered, wearing her wedding dress. The case had kept another pair of detectives on edge for weeks now.

"Hutch?'' Starsky noticed the color draining from his partner's face.

"Look.'' He handed it to Starsky, and immediately the other noticed the resemblance to Sandra.

"Hey, I'm going to go look up that file. Very pretty lady,'' Starsky said, handing the photo back to Mrs. Nolan.

"Thank you.''

There was an uneasy silence for a few moments until Starsky returned, since Hutch didn't want to have the woman tell her story twice. The resemblance of the dead girl to his fiancee was making Hutch uncomfortably nervous.

"How long before her death was this photo taken?'' Hutch asked, evaluating the almost bubbly demeanor the photo seemed to convey.

"The day before,'' Mrs. Nolan answered solemnly. Hutch's head snapped up from his concentration on the picture.

"The day before?''

"She was planning to be married in a week to a young man she had been engaged to all through college. They were in love, excited about the wedding...''

"Excuse me,'' Starsky stuck his head back in the door. "Hutch, you wanna come out here a moment?''

"Sure. Excuse us.'' Hutch walked out in the hall to meet Starsky, who was holding a manilla file folder.

"It's Nedloe and Elliot's case. Girl was found stabbed to death, wearing her wedding dress, of all things. Crime scene photos oughtta take care of your lunch,'' Starsky warned. "Anyway, no signs of forced entry, so of course, they really went after the boyfriend, but that came up empty, at least so far.''

"Those guys are good. If there's anything that should be done, they're doing it.''

"What do we tell her?''

"It isn't our case... No point putting this off.'' Hutch was quiet a minute, leaning against the wall of the hallway, crossing his arms in front of his chest. "Maybe we should just say we'll review the case with the other detectives assigned to it. We can do that much.'' Hutch led the way back inside, and Mrs. Nolan looked up expectantly at first, then her expression darkened.

"Mrs. Nolan, my partner and I will review the case with the detectives assigned to the case. Have you spoken with them directly?''

"Of course I have. To absolutely no avail. They were very polite but it's obvious they've made no progress.''

"Detectives Nedloe and Elliot are one of our best teams. I can assure you they're doing everything possible--'' Starsky was cut off mid-sentence.

"Why doesn't that bolster my confidence?'' she shot back sarcastically.

"Because you want an easy answer from us that we can't give you.'' Starsky took a deep breath and attempted to maintain his patience and courtesy. "All I can say is that we'll ask some questions. The case isn't ours, and we have no reason to suspect the detectives handling it aren't doing their best to solve it. I can check and see if either of them are in if you'd like to speak--''

"Bureaucratic double talk!'' She stormed toward the door. "My daughter was murdered. I won't rest until someone in this God-forsaken hell hole of a city listens to me!'' She raced out the door in tears.

"First time I've been accused of being bureaucratic about anything,'' Starsky said with a faint smile.

"The way she looked so much like Sandra--creepy. Just a nasty coincidence.'' Hutch shuddered, then said, "Think I'll go over to the house and see if she's there.''

"Okay. I'll handle the meet with Huggy's friend. Shouldn't be anything big anyway.''

"You sure?''

"Yeah. Take a couple hours and do something romantic.'' Starsky patted him on the shoulder and hurried off down the hall toward the exit.

  Hutch pulled up in front of the white frame house, happy to see Sandra's blue Volkswagon Beetle parked in the drive. Carrying a bouquet of pink carnations, her favorites, he made his way up to the front door and opened it, catching the smell of fresh paint, wallpaper glue and carpeting. The redecorating efforts were coming along beautifully. He would be anxious to see Starsky's "before'' pictures, snapped on an early Saturday morning before the first coats of paint were applied.

"Honey, I'm home!'' he called out, laughing a little.

"Ken!'' Sandra emerged from one of the bedrooms and ran out to hug and kiss him, giggling a little as he lifted her off the floor with her arms still around his neck. When her feet were back on the ground, he presented her with the flowers. "What's the occasion?'' she asked, obviously delighted with the surprise.

"Just felt like seeing you, sweetheart.'' He embraced her again suddenly, and she barely managed to rescue the flowers from being crushed. She returned the pressure, not saying anything for a moment, wondering what had happened at work that had unsettled him this way.

"Ken? Did something happen? Is Dave okay?'' She was running through all the possible scenarios in her mind, but he released her and smiled broadly at her, hoping to allay her obvious uneasiness about his behavior.

"He's fine. I just missed you. It's been a whole six hours since I saw you last.'' He pulled her back into his arms and caught her lips in a prolonged kiss. Coming up for air, she giggled a little.

"Your mustache tickles.''

"Sandra,'' he responded in an exasperated tone, feeling sure she was going to start needling him about shaving it off again. Surprisingly she didn't.

"I have a surprise for you, honey. It's back here. Are your shoes clean?'' It seemed an absurd question, considering he had owned them for over a year, but he smiled and answered it politely.

"Probably not.'' He kicked them off and left them by the door, following her in his stocking feet across the padded beige carpeting toward the bedroom next to the one that would be theirs.

It had been decorated with blue and pink wallpaper displaying bunnies, teddy bears and lettered blocks. There was a large oak crib in the middle of the room, with a mobile suspended above it.

"You like it?'' she asked, trying to stifle a huge smile.

"I don't understand...Sandra...are you....are we...?''

"In a little less than seven months.'' She nodded emphatically, bursting into a little laugh.

"Oh my God!'' He lifted her up in both arms and swirled her around twice, squeezing hard before letting her down again. "When did you find out?'' he asked, laughing with the pure joy of the moment.

"Yesterday. I wanted to get this done before I told you.''

"God, I love you.'' He leaned down and their lips met in a kiss. "I don't believe it. We're gonna have a kid!''

  Starsky typed up the last of his report of the brief meeting with Fingers, Huggy's friend. Fingers--what a name to type up in a report. Dobey'll love this one, Starsky thought to himself as he put the final scrawl of his signature at the bottom. Just then, his partner raced into the squad room and came to sit on Starsky's desk, handing him a huge chocolate cigar.

"What's that for?'' Starsky took it, laughing at the absurd-looking candy.

"Since you don't smoke the real ones, I improvised. This is just between us--Sandra doesn't want anybody else to know 'til after the wedding.'' Hutch was so stupidly happy that he assumed he'd answered Starsky's question coherently. Detective that he was, Starsky put two and two together.

"She's not--you mean you're gonna--''

"You're almost as articulate as I was, partner,'' Hutch said with a laugh.

"All right!'' Starsky jumped out of his chair and hugged his partner, yanking him off the edge of the desk. This drew more than one strange stare from around the squad room.

"Would you keep it down a little?'' Hutch admonished with only marginal irritation as he freed himself from Starsky's overjoyed clutch.

"When?'' he whispered, still all smiles.

"About seven months from now.''

"Hey, we gotta celebrate!'' Starsky said in a breathy whisper.

"I've got some reports to put together, buddy. How about...well, I'm taking Sandra out after work--you could come--''

"Oh no. This is your night. Hey, maybe we can knock off a few minutes early tonight and grab a beer at Huggy's--you gotta tell Huggy.''

"Don't suppose I'd ever hear the end of that one if I didn't.''

"Hungry? I'll split my cigar with ya, Dad,'' he muttered to Hutch.

  Starsky put the frozen dinner in the oven and settled in on his couch with the remote control. Remote controls had to be the best invention in television technology. At least since Hutch had met Sandra, Starsky had finally gotten some really cool presents. The TV was her idea for Christmas, since his old set was getting pretty ratty and he had been griping about wanting a remote for the last several months. She liked Hutch's romantic ideas, but she was a good balance when it came to not letting him inflict them on his friends for every gift-giving occasion.

Yup, 1981 was a banner year. Hutch got engaged, Hutch is getting married and Hutch and Sandra are having a kid. I got a TV with a remote control. Well, maybe 1982 will be my year, he thought, smiling a little. But it was only April, so 1981 still had plenty of time left on the clock. But then I met my lady, had my chance...until crazy George Prudholm took it away...Starsky tried to confront the feelings of melancholy and, though he hated himself for it, jealousy he had felt watching his partner and his fiancee planning excitedly for the future. Some nights he felt like he'd buried his heart with Terry, along with his hopes for a home and children...of course there'd been Rosey Malone. Another one of your bright ideas, Starsky, he ridiculed himself.

In the old days, Hutch would have been rifling through the refrigerator about now, bitching himself into an apoplectic seizure over the lack of anything edible to prepare for dinner. Since Starsky had nearly died at the hands of Gunther's hit men, it seemed like he and his partner spent almost all their free time together, a habit formed during Starsky's recovery. He'd needed a lot of help and Hutch had happily volunteered to take the place of a visiting nurse and do anything Starsky needed done. It had made the adjustment a little harder than it normally would have been, Starsky realized. Marriage and family was going to change things, but that was the normal cycle of life. People change, situations change, and you outgrow some things. The phone rang, shaking Starsky out of his somewhat morose and depressing flight of analysis.

"Hello?'' He hit the mute button on the remote, silencing the volume. Nothing responded to his greeting. "Is somebody there?'' Still nothing, but some labored breathing came over the line. "Hutch?''

"It's Sandra...Starsk...please...'' The voice was shaking.

"Where are you, Hutch? Talk to me, buddy.''

"The house...Starsk...''

"Are you hurt?''

"No...Sandra...''

"Focus with me here, pal. Are you safe there in the house? Are you alone?''

"Yes.''

"Okay, buddy. I'm on the way.'' He hung up the phone and for a moment was puzzled what to do. If Sandra were injured, Hutch would have snapped into action and done something for her, called an ambulance. He's good under pressure. He'd be in control. Only time he really lost it was when...Dear God, when Gillian...Starsky flew out the door and down the steps two at a time, leapt into his car and sped down the road toward Hutch's new house.

The Torino screeched to a halt at the curb in front of the house. There was dim light somewhere inside, casting a glow into the living room which gave the window an eerie yellow aura. Starsky opened the front door and ran in, not even bothering to knock or assess the situation. Hutch was sitting on the floor in the master bedroom, dressed in his sportcoat and tie for his evening out, with the telephone still in his hand. With his legs stretched out in front of him, leaning against the wall, he resembled a very large broken doll.

"Hutch?'' Starsky rushed across the unfurnished room to kneel by his partner on the soft blue carpeting. Not wanting to startle him, he spoke slowly and quietly. "Hutch, it's me, Starsk. Come on, buddy, look at me, huh?'' He guided Hutch's chin so the staring eyes were directed at his face. Hutch blinked a time or two, as if just realizing for the first time that Starsky was there at all. "Where's Sandra, Hutch?''

"Guest room,'' he whispered, finally looking directly into Starsky's eyes.

"Don't move. I'll be right back, partner.''

Starsky wasn't sure what he processed first: the shocking contrast of red on white, the splotches on the light carpeting...or the single red rose in Sandra's left hand... Sprawled on her back on the double bed, dressed in her wedding gown and veil, Sandra's glassy blue eyes stared back at him in an expression of unspeakable terror.

He darted back into the hall, gasping for breath, fighting down a wave of nausea that was more shock-induced than anything else. He'd seen bloody corpses before. But this was Sandra, Hutch's Sandra...dear God, and Hutch's child. He willed the hammering in his chest to subside slightly, and taking a deep breath, went back to his partner.

Hutch was sitting Indian-style now, and the phone was back on the hook. Before Starsky had approached him, his head snapped up and he stared wildly at Starsky with a look not unlike the one stamped on Sandra's lifeless face.

"It's gonna be okay, babe.'' That's intelligent, Starsky chided himself. His fiancee and unborn child are dead in the other room, but everything'll be okay...

"But she...the baby...she...'' Hutch drew his knees up to his chest and bowed his head, resting it on his folded arms. His shoulders started shaking.

"I'm right here, pal.'' Starsky slid his arms around the shaking form and pulled it against his chest. "I'm gonna get the right people over here to do what needs to be done, and then I'm getting you out of here.''

"I never saw...the dress...before...'' Hutch muttered in a tear-strained whisper.

"I know it hurts, buddy. Just let it out,'' he said, tears streaming down his own face. He didn't know how much of it was mourning for Sandra, sympathy for Hutch or memories of the horrible pain of those first days after Terry died.

"We have to...call someone...'' he choked out.

"I'll handle everything, buddy.'' He reached across Hutch and pulled the phone over closer. "Just stay right there,'' he encouraged his partner, who started to move slowly away while Starsky began to make the calls. With the one arm he had around him, Starsky squeezed his partner's shoulders while he dialed with his free hand. He ordered the coroner's wagon and crime lab team...just like before. With that much accomplished, he hung up the phone and stood up, urging Hutch to follow suit. He led the other out of the back of the house and into the kitchen, where he took him to the sink and helped him splash some cold water on his face. Starsky grabbed some paper towel from the roll and gently wiped Hutch's face.

"I can't believe...she's...the baby...why...''

"When you got here, was anything...different--out of place?'' Starsky was trying to remain sane in an insane situation. Not only had Sandra been murdered, but in her wedding dress, no less...

"I...don't think so. The door was unlocked, and I came in, and called to her--she told me to meet her here...so we could go celebrate.'' Hutch seemed to have pulled himself together momentarily, as Starsky had seen him do before. At least long enough to do what he had to do.

The M.E. was as considerate as possible in his assessment of the situation in front of Hutch. Starsky finally overrode his partner's objections and planted Hutch on a wrought iron chair on the patio while he dogged the M.E., the crime lab people and did some poking around himself, spending more time in the blood-stained bedroom than he cared to, hoping to see something that would point to the killer, something that Nedloe and Elliot missed in the Nolan case. It wasn't long before the other team of detectives appeared at the scene.

"Starsky--what're you doing here?'' Jim Nedloe approached him where he stood near the closet of the small bedroom. "Damn it, just like before.''

"That's Sandra Jerome--Hutch's fiancee,'' Starsky informed him.

"Dear God.'' Nedloe approached the body and talked with the coroner, getting the basic time of death information and any other pertinent facts, which Starsky already had. He wanted to be with Hutch, but he also knew that just empty words of consolation wouldn't sate Hutch for long. He'd want answers, and Starsky felt compelled to get as many as the scene would yield. He watched Nedloe examine the crime scene. He was very thorough, a top-notch investigator who was already building an impressive arrest record with his slightly older partner, Jack Elliot. Jim had suffered a near-fatal shooting earlier in his career tangling with a criminal Starsky and Hutch were tracking. In uniform at the time, Jim had recovered from his wound and made a name for himself as an outstanding patrolman before becoming a detective..

"Same M.O. as the Nolan killing?'' Starsky asked.

"Exactly. Where's Hutch?''

"On the patio. He found her.''

"Aw, Geez.'' Jack Elliot announced his arrival upon overhearing that Hutch had been the one to make the initial discovery. A chunky middle-aged man with receding brown hair and a ready smile, Jack was not nearly as energetic or motivated as Jim, but he had a wonderful head on his shoulders and a knack of making the most obscure connections between evidence to string a case together. "Go take care of him. We'll take it from here, Starsky.''

"Thanks.'' Starsky started out of the room. "I want to be part of this. I know it's yours, but I want to be part of nailing this son of a bitch.''

"We'll keep you posted, Starsky--every step of the way,'' Jack responded, and Jim nodded his reassurance.

"Okay.'' Starsky made his way through the house and located his partner right where he'd left him on the patio out back. "Come on, pal, time to go home.'' He crouched by Hutch's chair, feeling horrible pangs of deja vu, remembering that glassy look of devastation after all the hoopla of avenging Gillian had died. "Hutch, come on. I'll take ya home.''

"I am home.'' Hutch finally looked around at the little patio, the back of the house with the light shining in the kitchen window...Sandra should be there, with our kids, and I should be out here grilling steaks for dinner...

"You're comin' home with me, partner. Come on.'' Starsky straightened up and tugged at Hutch's arm. The other finally moved out of the chair, and was glad to put an arm around Starsky's shoulders as the other man's arm slipped around his waist. "We'll go 'round the side of the house. Stay out of the way of things.''

"Sandra--she's gone?'' Hutch stopped dead in his tracks. "God, Starsky, I just sat out there while they took her away!'' he moaned miserably.

"Hutch, listen to me. There's no way you want to remember Sandra like that. You'll have a chance to see her again, when she's...at the funeral home. I don't think the coroner's people have moved her yet, but she wouldn't want you to have that memory of her. Just come with me, okay, babe?''

"I have to call her parents.'' The thought seemed to chill Hutch to the bone, almost as badly as the death itself.

"You want me to do it?''

"No, I should.''

"We'll call from my place. Let's go home, buddy.''

"Okay.'' Hutch leaned into his partner as they made their way to the car.

    Sandra's parents were predictably horrified and grief-stricken at Hutch's call. Starsky had offered to leave his partner alone to talk with them, but Hutch had wanted him there, so Starsky took up residence on the couch next to Hutch, just offering the quiet moral support of being there while the call was made.

Hutch finally let the phone drop back on its hook and leaned back on the couch. "I should've gone over there.''

"No you shouldn't. All that would've done was make it hard on all three of you. This gives them their time to grieve, to cope with it, and it gives you some time before you feel like you have to be strong for someone else.''

"I...wanted...that baby, Starsk...so much,'' he choked out, turning toward his partner. Starsky slid closer and pulled Hutch into his arms.

"I know. This is gonna sound silly, but so did I.'' Starsky found himself rocking a little, occasionally patting his friend's back.

"I...I can't believe what she...how she...looked...so pale...and...and scared.'' He cried against Starsky's shoulder for long seconds until he spoke again. "If I don't have her...I don't know if...I don't think I want to...''

"I know how you feel right now, babe. I've been there. Terry wasn't expecting, so I'm not gonna sit here and pretend that I know how that feels, because I don't. But when she died, part of me did too, and I didn't want to go on living at all. I'd'a probably thanked old Prudholm if he'd plugged me one in the head later that day and gotten it over with.''

"So what changed?'' Hutch was sniffling a little now, trying to pull himself together.

"You were there for me the whole time--on call 24 hours a day if you weren't actually here. All I had to do was pick up the phone and sound a little whiny and you'd be over in five minutes. Even if it was three in the morning.'' That brought a little chuckle from Hutch. Starsky was smiling at the memory of how many times his bleary-eyed, half sleeping partner had driven over and slept the rest of the night at his apartment, or propped his eyelids open and listened while Starsky poured out his grief or his "what ifs''...or just held him when he felt too miserable to do anything but sit there and cry. "There's nothin' and nobody that can step in for Sandra. She was your lady, and that was your kid, and I know that can't just be 'fixed'. But I'm right here for the duration, babe. For every ugly sleepless night, every time you just feel rotten and want to talk--anytime, anything you need...I'm here. You hear me?'' He drew back his head to look down at the blond hair pressed against his shoulder. It moved a little with a nod. "Good. You wanta get outta those fancy threads and into an old robe? Come on, we're gonna get you at least comfortable.'' He urged Hutch to straighten up, which he finally did. He regarded Starsky through puffy red eyes and somehow managed a slight smile.

"One of your ratty old robes, huh?'' He sniffed loudly and wiped at his eyes.

"I don't have 'ratty old robes','' Starsky repeated, with an intentionally exaggerated indignation. "Besides, you probably have one stuffed in my closet somewhere. Come on, ya big lug.''

Starsky stood and pulled Hutch up by the arm, quickly winding an arm around his waist. Hutch flopped one around Starsky's shoulders and squeezed, seeming relieved that Starsky was going to stick with him to dig out a robe and get him out of the new sportcoat and tie Sandra had picked out for him a week earlier. Starsky deposited Hutch on the foot of the bed while he rifled through his closet.

"See, I told ya there'd be one in here.'' Starsky emerged from his closet exploration with a white terry cloth robe. He prodded Hutch to start shedding the dress clothes, and soon had him in pajamas and the robe.

"I'm not sleepy, Starsk.'' Hutch seemed almost dazed as he sat on the foot of Starsky's bed while the other neatly hung the dress clothes in his closet.

"I know. But there's no harm in relaxin' a little.''

"I'm cold.'' Hutch put an extraordinary emphasis on the word, almost making Starsky feel the chill himself. Maybe having to run out and hunt down Prudholm was better than having time to let it sink in right away. And if I had seen Terry the way Hutch saw Sandra...maybe I'd'a gone nuts right then. Starsky didn't respond verbally to the statement. Instead, he pulled down a bundle from the top shelf of his closet, the rolled up quilt that had helped dispel the shivers of his last bad flu bug.

"Come on, buddy. We'll get you bundled up on the couch and I'll make some cocoa.''

"Starsk, I don't know what to do.'' Hutch looked up at him pleadingly. "I--I didn't even know...what it was...'' Starsky was infinitely grateful at that moment for their unspoken rapport, and for his ability to read his partner's heart as well as his mind.

"I think we should pick out something special--maybe one of those little white fancy pillows with some flowers, and maybe it could say something on it--you know, something just for the baby to put up there with Sandra.''

"That...that's what I meant...but I didn't know what...'' Hutch shook his head miserably and looked down at the floor. "That's perfect,'' he murmured.

"Hey,'' Starsky said softly, kneeling in front of Hutch and coaxing his face upward a little with a gentle finger under his chin, "me and thee, remember, buddy? You don't have to be in control of this one, and you don't have to think of everything. I'm gonna be right here every step of the way.''

"They want me to help with the arrangements tomorrow. I had to tell them we have to wait...oh, God, Starsky...I had to tell her mother we had to wait for the autopsy. I can't even think about--''

"You're right, you can't think about that. It has to be done. You and I both know that. If we're gonna catch that bastard, it's the only way Sandra can communicate with us to help us find her killer. Try to think about it that way.''

"I will.'' Hutch nodded. "It just...bothers me so much... that nobody is going to mention my son or my daughter because Sandra hadn't had time to have the baby yet!'' The sentence built to its crescendo, and there was as much anger as there was grief in it.

"We're gonna mention that little Hutchinson, partner. Everybody's gonna mourn that little baby, because we're gonna make sure nobody forgets, okay?''

"Elizabeth Marie or David Michael,'' Hutch murmured.

"What?'' Starsky thought he must be reciting baby names, but the thought that not just his first, but his middle name as well, would go to Hutch's son stunned him.

"If it was a girl, Sandra wanted to name her after her grandmother. If it was a boy, well, then I got to pick.''

"I--I don't know what to say, Hutch. I mean, I always kinda figured we'd end up namin' our boys after each other somehow--but the whole shootin' match? First and middle?'' He was happy to see Hutch actually chuckle a little.

"The whole shootin' match, buddy,'' Hutch replied softly.

Starsky made cocoa for both of them, and they sat on the couch, talking intermittently, staring at an old western that droned on the TV in the background. It was essentially a replay of the night Starsky had come back to this apartment, after Terry's death, in enormous pain but yet still in shock, not fully embracing the horror of what had happened. Hutch talked, sipped at his cocoa, snuggled into the folds of the comforter, but didn't seem to be functioning completely. When Starsky detected the drowsiness that might afford his partner a few hours' sleep, he piled a couple of pillows on his lap and encouraged him to rest his head there. Strangely enough, Hutch didn't argue or hesitate. He curled up on the couch, his head cushioned by the pillows on Starsky's lap and kept warm by the quilt. Starsky rested one arm on Hutch's, and leaned back into the cushions himself, hoping to share the blanket of unconsciousness that seemed to be giving Hutch a short break from his grief, and hopefully from the image of Sandra's body. Thinking his partner was asleep, the small voice that broke the silence startled him.

"I'm glad you're here,'' Hutch said in a choked whisper.

"Always will be, buddy.'' Starsky rubbed his hand gently along Hutch's arm. "Try to rest now. Get some sleep. I'm right here.''