8

You were my strength when I was weak...

 

Starsky returned to desk duty the next week, and was surprinsingly anxious to wade through paperwork on the Bridegroom case. He seemed to pick up on the fact that it was in serious danger of slipping to a back burner, with media attention dying down and Hutch's passions directed at the search for "Curtis'' and the sentencing arrangements for the rest of his hired guns. Starsky was certainly more than mildly concerned with the progress of that investigation, but if the truth be told, he had no objections to letting his partner handle it. He made no complaint about being relegated to sitting at his desk and pushing papers. That seemed an odd reaction from Starsky, but then Hutch still felt that there was a part of his partner's spirit that hadn't quite made it back yet from all he'd been through that night.

Starsky couldn't really find fault with anything that Nedloe, Elliot, Farver or Kennedy had done in their leadership of the task force. All four were sharp, dedicated detectives. The only objection he had to any of it was the establishment of a "tip line'', which had done nothing more than encourage every lunatic and professional confessor on the West Coast to call them. That, in turn, generated reams of additional forms and paperwork, none of which would ultimately lead anywhere. Still, if he were going to take over the paperwork, he felt obligated to review everything.

He was relieved when the phone on his desk rang. He hoped it would be a mildly interesting diversion, even if it only turned out to be Bill in the evidence room with a new dirty limerick.

"Starsky.''

"Dave? Mel. Sorry to track you down at work, but I got a once in a lifetime opportunity for you.''

"Sounds promising,'' Starsky replied, smiling. "What is it?''

"Well, I've got a friend who owns a demolition company, and they're gettin' ready to tear down some old houses near the downtown area to put up that office complex--you know the one I mean?''

"Yeah.''

"Well, I was telling him a few days ago about what happened to your place, and he told me that sometimes they come across, well, I guess you'd call 'em spare parts, when they're gonna tear a place down that the owner isn't going to use. Seems some of those old houses have French doors. Now, most of 'em have been painted over and would need refinishing, but one of the houses was built by the same guy who built your house.''

"How do you know that?''

"Harry Oliver told me one time who the builder was. It was something he'd found out doin' his gerontology studying.''

"You mean his geneaology?''

"Whatever. Anyhow, this was built by the same guy--I guess this one was the builder's own house, originally. That's the only reason he knew the builder's name--'cause he was also the original owner. What I'm thinking is that maybe those doors would fit your door frames.''

"Sure be worth a try.'' Starsky glanced at his watch. "I could take a lunch break and run over there.''

"I'll meet ya there in half an hour--come to Lexington and Fourth.''

"Gotcha. I'll be there. Thanks, Mel.'' Starsky hung up and jotted a note for Hutch, who was out meeting with one of Huggy's contacts who claimed to know a guy named Ed Curtis, who had a rap sheet a mile long and had just gotten out of prison. He checked out in the computer as being an unsavory character who'd done time for aggravated assault and rape. Ed was not independently wealthy, however, and the amount of money that "Curtis'' was able to toss around remained the most puzzling element of the whole situation.

Starsky picked his way through the debris-strewn property in front of the old house on the corner of Lexington and Fourth. It bore a striking resemblance to their own house, which made him resolve more ardently to get some paint on the exterior soon. With the exception of the new wood of the front porch, their own place didn't look too much different from the outside than this condemned house.

"Dave--over here!'' Starsky followed Mel's voice to the back of the house. "There's a back entrance over here. Stan told me we oughtta stick to this one. The front's not too safe.''

"This guy must not've been too good at porches,'' Starsky responded, following Mel into the old house. "I fell through ours before we bought the house.''

"Must be why that real estate lady brought somebody back to rope it off, eh?'' Mel chuckled a little. "And you still bought it?''

"We weren't gonna live on the porch, so I figured it could be replaced.'' Starsky was taking in the sights in front of him, which amounted to a wartorn version of the house he was living in.

"Looks like somebody went after the woodwork with a paintbrush, but those doors are in good shape.'' Mel led the way into the dining room, and Starsky was instantly thrilled at the sight of doors identical to the ones that had been destroyed.

"They could be sanded down.''

"Sure. There's another set of 'em right where they oughtta be--just like your place, between the entry way and the living room.''

"So how do we move 'em out of here?''

"Paul's gonna be home this weekend,'' Mel referred to his son, who was in college. "We can rent one of those U-Haul trucks and he can give us a hand. If there's anything else you want to take a look at, go ahead. They're tearin' this down next week.''

"Paul's probably not going to be too thrilled to spend the day hauling around our French doors and cleaning up our yard.''

"Ah, he's a good kid. He'll help out.''

"What do you think about the kitchen cupboards?'' Starsky walked back in to examine what must have been original cupboards with windows in the doors. They too would have to be sanded down and refinished, but it would restore the house to almost original condition.

"Most of 'em look okay. This one over here's missin' a pane of glass, but that couldn't be too hard to fix.''

"Hutch'll probably kill me. He thinks I'm a little warped on the idea of everything being original.''

"That's what makes a restoration project genuine. Our house has most of its original equipment, right down to that God-forsaken claw foot bathtub.''

"You've still got one of those? Man, I was so mad they'd updated both bathrooms in our house--hey, you suppose this place has got one?'' Starsky started hurrying through the house, but soon found it had been converted into a two-unit, and the baths had been more cheesily updated than their own.

"I'd sell ya mine, but my wife's real attached to it. I hate the damn thing myself.''

 

Hutch arrived back at his desk near noon, fully expecting to see Starsky sitting across from it, chomping at the bit to go to lunch. He noted with some sympathy the mountain of papers spread out on the poor guy's desk. He'd be up to his eyeballs in it for days, just trying to get up to speed on all the crackpots that hotline number had brought out of the woodwork.

There was a note from Starsky, along with a couple of other envelopes on the top of his desk.

 

"Hutch--

Mel found another old house with some doors. Going to check

it out. See ya later, buddy.

Starsk''

 

Hutch re-read the note. Only Starsky could leave something so completely idiotic-sounding and assume it made perfect sense. Smiling to himself, Hutch picked up a brown business-sized envelope with his name typed on the front. As he opened it, a small syringe, still bearing the plastic safety cover over the needle, fell out on the desk. He pulled out the note.

 

I KNOW WHAT YOU ARE.

 

Hutch stuffed both items back in the envelope. The implication was crystal clear. But so few people knew...Starsky, Dobey, Huggy, a couple uniformed cops who'd promised their silence in sympathy for the situation, and Forest and his goons. Monk was dead, and Ben Forest had died in prison two years earlier, victim of an apparent heart attack. There was always Jeannie, but wherever she might be, she certainly had no reason to come back and torment him now. They hadn't parted enemies. Monk's other men had plea-bargained their way to lighter sentences, following meetings with Dobey, the content of which no one was exactly sure. Hutch's best guess was that they'd been promised something for their silence, and most likely certain charges weren't pursued because of their agreement. Starsky had said the paperwork was all handled by Dobey, and that he had been told not to ask any questions about the charges that were ultimately brought against the remaining thugs in the operation.

So who knows, and why are they coming forward now? Or was Starsky right when he said they should be searching for someone with a grudge against me in connection with his beating? That would be the perfect way to hurt me--to hurt Starsky. And now this. The question is, if they know, what're they going to do about it?

Hutch went to Dobey's door and knocked. There was a barked greeting from the other side, so he opened it.

"Captain, I think we need to talk.''

"Have a seat,'' Dobey responded routinely, still sorting through a thick folder of papers.

"It's serious.'' Hutch's voice made Dobey look up. "I should probably be worried about prints on this, but I didn't know--''

"Well, let's worry about it now, then.'' Dobey accepted the envelope with a handkerchief over his hand, and carefully removed the contents. He glanced up at Hutch a moment as the syringe fell out on the desk, then looked back down at the note he was carefully holding with the handkerchief. "This definitely presents a problem.'' Dobey carefully tucked the note back in the envelope and added the syringe.

"If you send that to the lab--''

"I realize what the implications would be.'' Dobey rubbed his forehead a moment and stared at the deceptively small, innocent envelope in front of him.

"I've been trying to think of who knows...I guess there are a few.''

"Ben Forest is dead, Monk is dead...he has a couple of goons who have probably gotten out of the joint by now, but bringing that up would be pretty foolish for them, since they weren't tried on those charges the first time around.''

"Somebody knows, Captain.'' Hutch wasn't pleased at the strain in his voice. He realized he was running scared to Dobey, but he was beginning to feel like he couldn't handle even one more minor crisis, let alone something career-threatening. The six months since Sandra died had been pure hell, with barely a peaceful moment. He was also childishly lamenting that Starsky would pick this one day to go to lunch by himself. If ever he'd needed to see his partner in his life, it had been at the moment that syringe fell out of the envelope on the desk.

"First thing we have to do is stay calm,'' Dobey responded. "You know as well as I do that the moment this person goes public or gives out the information, he or she loses power. The power is in what's hanging over your head. That should guarantee that the jerk who sent this has no plans to reveal it immediately.''

"So what do you think he wants--money? A cover up of something?''

"You'll find out soon enough. This is just to make you sweat. Next'll come the demand.'' Dobey looked over at his detective with great sympathy. Hutchinson was one of his very best, a dedicated officer and a skillful detective. That he should have spent so many years living in fear of something in his past that was never his fault to begin with was horribly unjust. He also detected the definite signs of stress overload on the pale face before him. "Where's your partner?'' Dobey asked.

"At lunch. Why?''

"Does he know yet?''

"No. I just got this--it was on my desk when I came in. By the way, Ed Curtis is a dead end.''

"We figured as much,'' Dobey responded, leaning back in his chair.

"Yeah, well...hope springs eternal, I guess.''

"Hey, I was lookin' for you,'' Starsky said to Hutch as he poked his head in the door.

"Don't you ever knock, Starsky?'' Dobey barked, though he was strangely relieved to see Hutch's partner show up to take charge of him.

"Sorry, Cap. Am I interrupting something?''

"I got a little love note in the mail this morning.'' Hutch nodded toward Dobey's desk, and the captain went through the annoying task of freeing it from its envelope using the handkerchief again.

"Terrific,'' Starsky grumbled, reading over Dobey's shoulder. "Who's left that knows? A couple of Forrest's thugs, probably, but they most likely wouldn't admit it.'' Starsky plunked down in the chair next to Hutch's. "Now what?''

"We wait,'' Hutch recapped their conclusion. "The captain feels the turkey'll pop up again with some kind of demand in exchange for silence.''

"Good point. Is there anybody in the lab who could check for prints on the QT?'' Starsky asked Dobey.

"Let me worry about that.'' As he had often done before with incriminating items, he stashed the envelope in his middle desk drawer and slammed it shut. "Anything new on The Bridegroom? They're gettin' antsy upstairs.''

"I've been up to my neck in papers all morning, and so far most if it's just crackpots calling the tip line. Whoever thought of that oughtta get his ass kicked.''

"I think that was Deputy Chief Reasoner's suggestion,'' Dobey responded, smiling a little. Whether it was at catching Starsky in the statement or the appealing thought of kicking Reasoner where it hurt, neither detective was sure.

"Now that I'm up to date on every lunatic in Southern California, I might actually be able to do a little analytical thinking this afternoon.''

"We're starting to look a bit ridiculous here, so if you two can come up with anything for us to get our teeth into, go for it.''

"Will do, Cap.'' Starsky stood up. He looked down at Hutch, who had the appearance of a soggy lasagna noodle slumped in the chair. "Hutch?''

"Oh, yeah, right.'' Hutch straightened and stood, following Starsky out of the office without much idea of why they were leaving. His mind had traveled back to the threatening note during Starsky's and Dobey's exchange.

"I know that note was a jolt, but we'll handle it, buddy,'' Starsky said quietly as Hutch settled back in his desk chair. Starsky perched on the edge of his partner's desk. "Brings a lot back, huh?''

"Not like I haven't seen drug paraphernalia in the last five years...somehow this just...ugh,'' Hutch concluded, shivering a little. "Yeah, it brought it all back.''

"That note was crap, partner. That whole scene's got nothin' to do with you.'' Starsky knew that his fleeting addiction haunted Hutch, and that he somehow assumed some of the blame himself, no matter how absurd that was. Hiding it from IA all these years had somehow gotten Hutch believing that it should be a dirty secret. He was an innocent victim, but yet he was the one hiding. IA remains a warped, twisted division...in the process of watch-dogging us, they force us to live lies...punish an innocent man for something he was never responsible for by imposing this vow of silence...

"I still wish it wasn't hanging over me.''

"It wasn't your fault, babe,'' Starsky whispered. "You know that.''

"Yeah, but IA wouldn't see it that way.''

"Screw IA.''

"I'll remind you of that when we're unemployed.''

"Go ahead. What's the worst that can happen?'' He looked down into Hutch's worry-wracked face.

"Lose our jobs, lose our house, lose our pensions, have it spread all over the papers--would you like me to go on?''

"We can get other jobs, we can find another place to live, we're not old enough to draw our pensions yet and if you get enough notoriety out of this, you could write a book and then we'd both be rich. Please try to relax a little.'' Starsky rested his hands on either side of Hutch's neck briefly as he walked around the chair. "Whoa. You've got a knot the size of a basketball back here.''

"Starsky.'' Hutch was stiffening out even more as his partner slowed down behind him and started working on the knot just under the neck with his thumbs.

"Be quiet. Let the master do his work.''

"Starsky, for pete's sake--''

"If you think somebody's lookin' at us, you can relax,'' Starsky said quietly. "The only one who notices is Minnie, and she's always known we're a little kinky.'' Starsky's voice had risen so Minnie could easily hear.

"You better watch out, Starsky. Anybody sees you doin' that, you're going to have a line-up at your desk.'' She rubbed the back of her own neck. "I'd relax and enjoy myself if I were you, Hutch.'' She retreated with her coffee back to the dark recesses of R&I. Starsky noticed his partner was, indeed, taking Minnie's advice. The knot was loosening.

"That's the ticket, buddy. Relax,'' Starsky said quietly as he worked the last of the tension out of the tight spot. "Hey,'' Starsky began, patting Hutch's shoulder and sitting back on the desk, "how about we get a decent bottle of wine, have something good for dinner, and play some chess tonight? That always seems to relax you a little.''

"Starsk, if I get any more relaxed right now, I'm going to slide under the desk.''

"You need to unwind a little. You're lookin' kinda tired, pal.''

"I don't know...how much more of this...'' Hutch shook his head slowly, not knowing how to go on because he felt his voice breaking, and he felt ridiculous to sit there and start blubbering the middle of the squad room just because he was tired. But he was so emotionally tired he didn't feel like anything was left of his strength anymore.

"Come on. We're going to take a ride.''

"Starsk, there's work...''

"Let's see.'' Starsky leaned back and picked up a fat file folder off his desk. "I'm going to drive around and see if these are valid addresses, how about that?'' Starsky was holding the packet of paperwork on the hotline tipsters.

"That's stretching it.''

"Hey, I'm supposed to clean up the paperwork here, and since I'm not back on active duty, I should have my partner with me just in case I need help--right?''

"Right,'' Hutch responded, grinning a little.

They started out, cruising the streets of the city, doing little more than driving down a street, seeing that there was, in fact, such a street number, and continuing to the next stop. Hutch was right--they were really stretching on this one, but the brainlessness and the change of scenery was doing Hutch good. All the time Starsky had been sitting at home, watching TV, visiting with Mel or playing footsy with Wendy, who had become a very regular visitor during his convalescence, Hutch had been pounding away full speed ahead to wrap up the case against his partner's attackers and working relentlessly at the task of finding "Curtis''. Through all of it, he wondered when his grief over Sandra and Elizabeth would ever let him out of its grip. He'd had lunch with Cecile a time or two, and it amazed him she was still interested. He hadn't asked her to go on a real evening out since the night Starsky was attacked.

"Hey, this is upscale,'' Starsky stated, shaking Hutch out of his reverie. They were pulling up in front of a sprawling estate, with an elaborate rose garden easily visible from the road. "Hang on a minute. This address...we've been here--when we were running to all those houses with rose gardens--get my book out of the glove compartment, will ya? Look up, let's see, late August, early September--'til you find the rose garden people.'' Hutch flipped through the pages as directed.

"12 Huntington Circle. We were here September 3rd, and talked to Grace Jordan, an 'aristocratic elderly woman','' Hutch read out of the notes. Starsky still couldn't stop himself from being descriptive, even if Dobey had stifled that streak in his reports early in their careers.

"She called to say we should check on her grandson--can ya believe that? His name is Evan Jordan, and I have an address here.''

"What'd she say about him?''

"Can you reach those files in the back seat?'' Starsky still avoided any sudden or extreme stretching or twisting, both to obey doctor's orders and honor the dull pain that still lurked in his side.

"Yeah. What're you looking for?''

"The guy Walling and Shemanski talked to. I think it's the same one. Let me have a look.'' Starsky took the folders and started digging through the papers. "Here he is. Evan Jordan. I remember Grant telling me he was kind of surly, stand-offish--seemed kinda nervous about being questioned. Young guy, about 22 or 23.''

"You want to talk to the old lady first?''

"Yeah. I want to know what she was thinking when she called in this tip. All she said is that her grandson had been acting strangely, and had been unaccounted for at the times of the murders.''

"Does he live here?''

"No, but I guess he didn't show up for some family gathering the night Coral Rutherford died.''

"Why wouldn't they pursue this a little harder? Sounds like a hell of a lead to me.''

"Don't know. My guess would be it got lost in the shuffle, or they didn't make the connection. Farver and Kennedy were handling all these hotline calls, and Nedloe and Elliot were spending most of their time chasing white supremacists around.''

"Well, let's go then.'' Hutch got out of the car and Starsky followed him, a little bounce in his step at the thought of actually doing some real police work--and at having all that paper-pushing pay off.

They paused at the door of the sprawling white stucco house. The Spanish architecture was stately and impressive, the grounds impeccably manicured. Starsky used the door knocker to announce their arrival.

"May I help you?'' A short, stocky woman with white hair in a gray maid's uniform answered the door.

"I'm Detective Starsky, this is Detective Hutchinson.'' Starsky held up his ID. "We need to speak with Mrs. Jordan.''

"Please come in, gentlemen,'' she said, opening the door and stepping aside while they entered. After she'd closed the door quietly behind them, she began walking briskly through the entry hall, which was highlighted by a winding staircase and ornate chandelier. "I will let Mrs. Jordan know you are here. You may have a seat in the living room if you like.'' She gestured toward a room to their left.

"Nice little shack,'' Starsky commented to Hutch as they found their way to a pair of matching chairs near the fireplace in the living room.

"Good afternoon, detectives,'' a voice commanded their attention from the living room doorway. Both stood as the stately and elegant Grace Jordan glided into the room. "I believe we met before--you were here to tour the rose garden.''

"That's right, ma'am. We're responding to a call you made to the hotline at the precinct regarding The Bridegroom murders,'' Hutch explained.

"Oh yes, about Evan.'' She sat on the edge of the couch. "Please, sit down. Would you like some coffee?'' Both indicated a polite refusal, and she continued. "You might wonder what would possess me to call your hotline about my own grandson. Well, it wasn't an easy decision. Then, when no one followed up on the call, I assumed it was also a poor one.''

"We apologize for the slow response, but the hotline has been extremely active, and just today, we've been able to put someone full-time on the paperwork,'' Hutch explained. "My partner is recovering from an accident, so he's been reviewing and organizing all the tips and information the hotline generated.''

"I hope your recovery is progressing well, Detective Starsky.''

"Thank you. It is,'' Starsky responded, smiling.

"I understand one of the victims was your fiancee, Detective Hutchinson.''

"That's right.''

"I am very sorry for your loss. I certainly hope Evan had no part in it.''

"Thank you. What makes you think he would have any part in these killings?''

"Evan has been a very troubled young man for a very long time. His father died a couple of years ago--''

"Your son?'' Starsky interjected.

"No...Evan's father didn't actually marry my daughter. He supported them, kept in touch with the boy... My daughter is living in Palm Springs; has been for the past few years. Not that Evan isn't old enough to take care of himself, but he has seemed to run with a rougher crowd since his mother moved away. What prompted me to call was that Evan has never had the slightest interest in my rose garden until he asked me if he could cut some flowers, not long before you two came around to look at the garden. He said they were for a girlfriend. I found that a bit odd, as he hasn't introduced anyone. Then I found these in his jacket pocket while he was visiting me a few weeks ago.'' She pulled three snapshots from the pocket of her tailored beige suit and handed them to Hutch.

"Oh my God. This is Sandra--and Madeleine Nolan, and Coral Rutherford.'' He handed them one by one to Starsky. They were obviously taken when the women were unaware, and from a considerable distance. Sandra was unloading cleaning supplies from her car in front of the house she and Hutch were supposed to share, Madeleine Nolan was standing in line at an outdoor take-out stand, and Coral Rutherford was walking across a hospital parking lot in her uniform.

"I recognized the girls from their pictures in the papers.''

"Have you asked your grandson about these?'' Starsky asked.

"No. I...well, I hate to say this of my own grandson, but I'm afraid. Except for Annie, my maid and a part-time gardener who does not live on the premises, I'm alone here. If he has done something...if he killed those girls, God help him, I don't want to confront him with this. I can't believe he hasn't noticed they're missing. I assume he either isn't sure where he lost them, or he is and just hasn't figured out a way to approach me about it.'' She watched as Starsky bagged the pictures as evidence, though there was little point after they had been handled as extensively as they had.

"You mentioned that he wasn't at a gathering he was supposed to attend on the night of Coral Rutherford's death in your call to the department's hotline,'' Hutch spoke up.

"It was his mother's birthday, and we were all supposed to have dinner here. She was visiting, staying the night--it was highly peculiar for him to miss dinner. He didn't arrive until late evening, and then he seemed very distracted and uneasy. He made some excuse about getting the dates mixed up, but that didn't exactly ring true either.'' She paused. "I sincerely hope there's some other explanation...''

"Mrs. Jordan, do you have a picture of Evan?''

"Why, yes.'' She went over to a long lamp table near the window which held numerous family photographs. She selected a framed 5x7 photo and brought it back to Hutch. The young man in the picture seemed to be about medium height, with wavy brown hair and a pleasant smile. He was seated on the grass with a large Irish setter stretched out next to him.

"May we keep this for now?''

"Yes.''

"Thank you again for the information, Mrs. Jordan. We'll follow up on it carefully.''

"And you'll keep my name out of it?''

"As long as possible,'' Starsky responded. "If this should get to the point of an arrest, we will need to call on you for testimony regarding the photos and anything else you've told us.''

"I understand. I sincerely hope I'm wrong.'' She stood, and her guests followed suit.

"We'll be in touch, Mrs. Jordan. Thank you for your help.'' Hutch led the way out of the room, and the maid had somehow miraculously appeared in the doorway at just the right moment to lead them to the front entrance.

"I think we got him,'' Starsky said, with barely controlled enthusiasm.

"Those photos--God, why else would he have them of all three women?''

"There's somethin' familiar-lookin' about this kid.'' Starsky was studying the photograph as they approached the car. "I can't place it, but it's like I've seen him before.''

"We'll run him through the computer.''

"Yeah...'' Starsky slid behind the wheel of the car and started the engine.

"What's wrong?''

"I wish I could place where I've seen that face. It's more like he reminds me of somebody. Huh. Oh, well. I guess we'll know soon enough after we run him through R&I.''

"You mean Minnie's computer, right?''

"Really. I can't believe what she can make that thing do.''

Minnie began working her magic with Evan Jordan's name, and found he had no prior record. Not even an unpaid parking ticket. After consulting with Nedloe and Elliot, who described the guy as stand-offish and uneasy, Starsky and Hutch set out to pay him a visit and question him about the photographs.

Evan Jordan had vacated his apartment two days earlier and left no forwarding address. The apartment had been hastily deserted, with a number of personal effects left behind. Nothing was blatantly incriminating, but clothing and a hairbrush provided some rich forensic evidence. With the landlord's permission, they had the crime lab team scour the apartment for various hair and fiber samples which could be compared to those taken at the murder scenes and also from Hutch's room and the staircase where the roses were left. If even one of them matched, they could get a warrant.

An APB was issued on Jordan, stating that he was wanted for questioning in connection with the Bridegroom murder case. With every cop on the West Coast wanting a part in the high profile case, it was certain someone would spot him and drag him back for questioning.

"Back to sitting and waiting.'' Hutch drained the last of the coffee from his mug and leaned back in his chair. "God, I wish we'd get some lab results.''

"I know. Me too. We're so damn close, partner. Just hang in there. If there's just one match...'' The ringing of Hutch's extension cut the conversation short.

"Hutchinson,'' he snapped into the phone.

"Hutch, this is Roger in the lab. We've got two matches. One is a brown hair taken from Coral Rutherford's apartment, and the other is a fiber sample taken from the staircase at your house. We can place him both at Coral Rutherford's apartment and in your house.''

"All right!!'' Hutch yelled excitedly. "Starsk--we got him!! Roger, you made my night.''

"Always glad to call with the results people wanna hear.''

"No matches on any of the other locations?''

"God, you're greedy,'' Roger teased good-naturedly. "I'm still working. At first glance, nothing seems to be matching up, but I'm not giving up. I'll analyze the hell out of this stuff before I give up on it.''

"Thanks, Roger.''

"Hey, no sweat. I'll call you if anything else matches.''

"Dobey. We gotta tell Dobey.'' Hutch started dialing the captain's home number. Dobey had made his way home a couple of hours earlier, leaving the two detectives to watch the phone. Starsky simply watched, enjoying the complete elation in his partner's face as he related the news to Dobey, and they discussed contacting the DA's office to get the green light to pursue a warrant. Dobey assured Hutch he would contact the DA immediately and go over the evidence with him, and call them back.

"If you hadn't gone through all that...paper...'' Hutch gestured toward the mound on Starsky's desk.

"Maybe I got sidelined here for a reason.''

"What happened to you wouldn't be worth it, even if we catch the guy.''

"Maybe not, but at least it gives it some sense of value or worth--because if someone hadn't been sentenced to go through all this junk with a fresh eye, the connections would've never happened. And if we hadn't been goofing off, driving around and looking at those addresses, we'd'a never recognized the house. We just got lucky in a major way, buddy.''

"We gotta get lucky again. We gotta find this guy.'' Hutch sat down again and leaned on his desk and shook his head. "When we do catch that son of a--''

"You made it through questioning Mercer and Norton, hearing all the gory details. I know this is going to be a major test, knowing what the bastard did to Sandy and Elizabeth, but I also know you're up to it.''

"I am, huh?''

"You're wiped out, tired. That's understandable. But you've got all the strength you need in there somewhere, and it'll come through for you. I know it.''

"My own personal cheering section, huh?'' Hutch smiled faintly. "I don't feel too strong right now.''

"We're almost there, buddy. We know who did it. We've got forensic evidence, circumstantial evidence--the pictures.''

"I know that. I was so hoping we were going to get to Jordan's place and he'd be there, and we could put the bastard behind bars NOW.''

"That's the ideal scenario. You and I both know that ideal scenarios rarely happen. As soon as it hits the press, and it will, his picture is going to be in every paper in the United States. The whole damn country's gonna be helpin' us look. And we're gonna be right here, overseeing the tips from that hotline, following up every one that looks viable.''

"It was a little silly to think he'd go hide with his grandmother.'' Hutch referred to the second place they'd gone hunting for Jordan, where they'd had the unpleasant task of informing his grandmother that her suspicions were well-founded. "Farver and Kennedy'll probably come up empty in Palm Springs.''

"My guess is that he split town--probably the state--when he realized he'd lost those photos.''

"Think they'll lift any decent prints off those? Mrs. Jordan handled them, then handed them to us--my fingerprints were all over them before I even thought about it. When I saw Sandra...I guess I was too shocked to start handling them carefully.''

"We'll see. We have prints lifted from Jordan's apartment, some of which we can certainly assume are his. Maybe they'll find a match.'' Starsky got up, with some difficulty, and paced around the desks.

"You okay?'' Hutch asked, concern registering on his face.

"Stiff. My side hurts.'' Starsky sat against Hutch's desk, confiding his miseries in a hushed tone to his partner. There were only a couple of diligent souls at another desk in the far corner of the room, obviously typing up overdue paperwork.

"Sorry I kept you here so long, pal. You're supposed to be takin' it easy. They could just as well call us at home with results.''

"Sure you don't mind? I guess I would like to soak some of the kinks out and get some rest.''

"I'll let Roger know where to get a hold of us. Hey--have we got any food in the 'frige, or should we stop for something?''

"Sally brought leftover meatloaf last night--remember?''

"Meatloaf sandwiches. Sounds good.'' Hutch dialed Roger's extension and notified him of their intent to leave for the night. He placed a similar call to Dobey. "Come on, buddy. Let's go home.'' Hutch headed for the doors, holding one as Starsky passed somewhat slowly through it. He rested a hand lightly in the middle of his partner's back. "Still hurts pretty bad, huh?''

"Only when I'm awake,'' Starsky responded, his grin not fully successful. He leaned a little into Hutch, letting the physical fatigue that had plagued him all day rise to the surface. He was recovering well, but there was still a lot of pain, and he was still favoring his side, which meant he essentially spent all day holding himself in a certain position that was the least aggravating to his healing ribs. For that reason, he had tried the elastic bandage the doctor recommended, but found that more uncomfortable than nothing. More than anything, he was tired of hurting and just wanted to move around freely again.

"It's been a long day, babe. A little too long for you, just yet,'' Hutch said gently, sliding his arm around Starsky's shoulders.

The warm water felt good. It was loosening up the kinks and relaxing him. Starsky felt sure he could fall asleep right there if he hadn't been so hungry. He'd only had a hot dog on the way back from looking at the old houses with Mel, and the way things had taken off after that, they'd never stopped for dinner. Was that just today that I looked at those French doors, and Hutch got that syringe in the mail? Feels like a year ago. He felt too exhausted to go about the task of actually bathing, but he finally picked up the soap and went about it, figuring Hutch would have easily made sandwiches by now and was probably dying of old age downstairs waiting for him to get out of the tub. Besides, he was starting to take on the appearance of a waterlogged human prune.

There was the smell of food in the air. Cold meatloaf wouldn't smell like much of anything, so Hutch had to be making some use of his time in the kitchen. As Starsky made his way down the back staircase, he could hear the tail end of some song Hutch had been singing to himself as he worked on something on the stove.

"I smell food,'' Starsky announced as he entered the kitchen.

"I thought cold sandwiches weren't exactly what the doctor ordered since we haven't eaten most of the day. I'm heating up soup and I put the meatloaf in the microwave. I put some rolls in the oven too. They oughtta be done by now.''

"Wow. I woulda helped ya if I'd known you were gonna do all this.''

"No big deal. All I did was take foil off a plate, take a tray of rolls out of a bag and empty a can of soup in a pan.''

"Still smells great in here. It's like it used to smell in the winter when I'd come in the back door and dinner was cooking...and it was really freezing outside but it was real warm in the kitchen from the oven going and...sorry, I guess I'm rambling again.'' Starsky noticed the wine bottle and glasses on the kitchen table. "Wine?''

"We earned it, don't you think? It's good stuff, too.''

"That lambrusco you had in the back of the 'fridge?''

"That's the one. Hey, we've gotta celebrate. Even if we haven't brought the guy in, we know who he is. God knows we're too wiped out to go out and do anything, so the wine'll have to do.'' Hutch stirred the soup one last time and waved Starsky toward the table. "Sit down. I'll get the stuff.''

"Thanks.'' Starsky followed the directive, relaxing in the chair while Hutch brought over first the meatloaf on one of those new microwave-safe dishes they'd finally invested in, then the tray of rolls and the pan of soup, which he divided up into the two bowls on the table. After depositing the empty pan in the sink, he joined his partner at the table. "Should I pour?'' Starsky offered.

"By all means.''

"This stuff looks really good,'' Starsky commented as he finished pouring the wine and they both began reaching for the meatloaf and rolls.

"I'm glad Sally next door adopted us,'' Hutch added, securing a large chunk of the meatloaf for his plate.

"We gotta drink to something.''

"Oh, right.'' Hutch was pensive a moment. "To paperwork that pays off.''

"To grandmothers with consciences.''

"To Roger in the lab,'' Hutch added with a chuckle.

"To nailing Jordan to the wall.''

"To us having some good luck for a change.''

"To the good luck I think we kinda always have holding,'' Starsky concluded.

"I'll drink to that,'' Hutch tapped his glass against Starsky's, and finally released from their toasting activities, they sipped the wine and then started enthusiastically devouring the food.

"I never got to tell you about the doors at lunch.''

"What was that note all about anyway?'' Hutch asked, remembering the cryptic message about Mel and old houses with doors he'd found on his desk at lunch time.

"Mel called and said he had this friend who does demolition work, and he's gonna tear down some old houses downtown next week. Anyhow, what it boiled down to is that we can help ourselves to any 'spare parts' we want before they tear them down. One of the houses is almost just like this one--the guy who built this house built and lived in that one. There're two sets of French doors we can have, and the original kitchen cupboards. Mel said he and his son--you remember he told us about Paul, the one at USC?'' Hutch nodded, chewing busily. "He said they'd help us move the stuff out of that house over here. I figure I need to call the contractor--if he's gonna do the stairs, maybe he could install those doors and the kitchen cupboards at the same time.''

"Sure. We'll just steal some money out of the evidence room from that big drug bust last week and we'll have just enough to cover it.''

"We haven't used up all the insurance money yet. I mean, the people at work did the painting, and if we made do with the hardwood floor in the living room instead of putting down carpeting... Mel was right about one thing--the restoration project isn't really genuine if you don't have stuff from the right era.''

"Would it matter if I said no?''

"Sure it would matter. But you're not gonna say no, are ya?'' Starsky asked hopefully. Hutch looked across the table at him. If I ever have kids and he teaches them how to work me over, God help me. They'll be spoiled rotten and I'll be in debtors' prison.

"No, I'm not gonna say no, Gordo.''

"Mel said we could rent a U-Haul and pick the stuff up on Saturday. Paul'll be home, and Mel's got weekends off. Oh--Sunday? If we have some time, Wendy wants to go pumpkin-shopping.''

"Come again?''

"Wendy asked me about going for a picnic and pumpkin shopping--Halloween, Hutch?''

"What's that got to do with me?''

"I thought you could call Cecile, and we'd make a foursome out of it. Go on a picnic, pick out some pumpkins...I know it sounds a little weird at first, but the more I thought about it, it sounded like fun. Whaddya say?''

"I say that if they haven't found Jordan we're still going to need to be accessible this weekend.''

"So? I'll take the beeper. Come on, Hutch. It'll be fun. Don't ya wanna decorate for Halloween?''

"I guess I hadn't thought about it.''

"Well I have. This is the first year since...oh, wow...since I've been out on my own...that I've got a house with windows I can put a pumpkin in for Halloween.''

"Can't miss that opportunity,'' Hutch responded with a tinge of sarcasm in his voice.

"Party pooper.'' Starsky returned his attention to his plate for awhile. "How about it?'' He finally broached the subject again, and this time, as usual, Hutch caved in and agreed to call Cecile the next morning to invite her along on the pumpkin and picnic outing.