13

Take back that sad word "goodbye'',

Bring back the joy to my life...

I can't forget the day you left

Time is so unkind,

Life is so cruel without you here beside me...

Un-break my heart,

Say you love me again,

Undo this hurt you caused

When you walked out the door

And walked out of my life...

 

Most of the legwork done by the detectives prior to Thanksgiving in the effort to track Ben Forest's son had led to disappointing results. Old known associates were smart enough not to talk if they, in fact, knew anything. Former hired muscle either invoked their rights not to be "harassed'' by the cops or claimed ignorance that Forest had even had a son. In many cases, they probably really didn't know.

As usual, the snitch network yielded a number of pieces of information, of varying levels of importance. Since this had been Starsky and Hutch's part of the legwork, they found themselves spending most of their time in the underbelly of town, chasing down leads on a variety of people fitting Jordan's general description. There was a more promising lead that took them out to an abandoned farm on the outskirts of town, but they found no signs that it had been recently inhabited or disturbed. It belonged to a shirttail cousin of Ben Forest's, and had been used for some of their drug operations several years ago.

Starsky was typing up the last of the reports on their fruitless activities when he received a call he had been both anticipating and dreading. Cecile was on the other end of the line.

"I got the show all set up. Lucy was really positive about Ken's work, and she wants to show it this Sunday afternoon. I know it's not a big, glamorous Saturday night opening, but she said she usually draws a very good crowd on Sunday, and many of them are interested in making purchases. She also says she sometimes has the best luck with new artists on Sundays.''

"Cecile, I still don't know about this.'' Starsky chewed his lower lip nervously, scanning the squad room to be sure Hutch still hadn't returned from picking up their food from the cafeteria. "I think he's gonna be furious.''

"But it's too late to worry about that now! It's all set. She's printing up flyers and--''

"Flyers? Holy sh-- I mean, you didn't say anything about flyers!'' Starsky's voice was quiet but high and strained.

"How else is she supposed to advertise the showing?''

"She isn't supposed to at all! I wanna back out. I gave you the paintings to show in the first place, and now I want them all back. Right now! I wanna call it off.''

"You're just getting cold feet, and that's silly. This is all going to work out great, and after he cools off, Ken's going to thank both of us.''

"I don't think so. Look, I made a real bad mistake here, and I want to--''

"She's printing the flyers, she's already scheduled it--just relax. I'm telling you, this is going to be the start of something wonderful for Ken. I just feel sure of it. Think how much better it will be for him to flow smoothly into another pursuit if the worst happens with his job? We've been over all this, Dave. I thought you were comfortable with the idea of helping him get something to fall back on.''

"I still don't like it.''

"So I gathered. I promise you, it'll all work out for the best. Now, I'm going to call and invite both of you to come to an art show Sunday, so go along with it when Ken asks you.''

"Right,'' Starsky replied, giving up the fight as he saw Hutch coming through the double doors with lunch.

"I'll be in touch. Try to keep a straight face when I call Ken. Is he there?''

"Yup.''

"Okay. Talk to you later.'' She broke the connection, leaving Starsky to ponder the impending explosion on Sunday.

"Bad news?'' Hutch asked, setting a plastic-covered plate in front of Starsky.

"No. Well, sort of. Ah--Merle's trying to track a decent loaner for me so I can leave the Torino with him for a few days.''

"No luck, eh?'' Hutch was unwrapping his sandwich, apparently buying the lie. Starsky already hated this situation. He never lied to Hutch, even about the little things.

"He's still working at it.'' Starsky unwrapped his own lunch and picked at it.

"Something wrong?'' Hutch watched his partner's blank expression as he looked up at him. "With the sandwich?''

"Oh, no, nothing. Guess I'm just not as hungry as I thought.'' He made the decision to seal his fate then and there, to tell Hutch what he'd done and hope he would be forgiven. "Hutch, I--'' Dobey came barging out of his office with a shouted edict that there was a stand-off going on at a downtown jewelry store between armed robbers and police, and he wanted both of them, as well as several others he rounded up, to get down there ASAP to help the black and white units on the scene.

Confessions would have to wait.

The jewelry store incident occupied the entire afternoon that Wednesday, and by the time it was resolved and they were on their way back to Metro, Starsky had lost his nerve. He'd have to face the music sooner or later, but now it seemed like later was the better option.

Cecile didn't call Hutch until Thursday morning, but she enthusiastically convinced him that the art showing on Sunday was something he shouldn't miss. The works of an exciting new area artist were being shown, and would he please bring Starsky along, even though Hutch's partner was not known for haunting art galleries in his spare time. She told him that the gallery owner wanted to have as strong a showing as possible when the art critics made their appearance, if in fact, they did. Reluctantly, he asked his partner to come along, and Starsky accepted, almost too quickly.

Starsky put in four days of hell between the Wednesday call from Cecile and the art show on Sunday. He had managed to snatch the one flyer that had made its way to the "Arts & Events'' bulletin board in the cafeteria. His stomach had twisted into a knot when he read the bright yellow notice, declaring the debut of a brand new area artist named Ken Hutchinson. If ever he'd seen his life flash before his eyes, it was at that moment. Hutch was going to kill him. Dead.

 

"Cecile certainly seems enthused about this artist, whoever he or she is,'' Hutch commented as he drove toward the Barrington Gallery. Starsky remained silent. All he wanted was to go to the gallery, take his tongue-lashing and get it over with.

Hutch was beginning to worry about Starsky. His sullenness and moodiness had started mid-week and he wasn't getting any better. Assuming it would all reveal itself sooner or later, Hutch tried to concentrate on enjoying the art showing. Cecile had insisted on meeting them at the gallery, so Hutch found a parking spot nearby and led the way with Starsky trailing a little behind him.

He froze at the entrance, and Starsky felt the bottom drop out of his stomach. There, in the window, was a painting Hutch had done of a desert landscape, with a little card under it bearing his name. Above it was a larger sign advertising the showing of his works.

"What is this?'' he demanded of Cecile, who was waiting anxiously inside the door. A few of the patrons heard the raised voice, and were understandably curious. "Ken, before you get angry, I--''

"Before I get angry? Before I get angry? What the hell do you know about this?'' He turned to Starsky, who was whiter that the highly glossed enameled trim on the door.

"I, uh, let Cecile, uh, take some canvasses from upstairs.''

"You did what?!'' Hutch demanded, his face turning nearly purple. Starsky couldn't recall seeing him this angry.

"Ken, it isn't Dave's fault. I asked him--''

"You stay out of this!'' he bellowed at Cecile. "I'm talking to him,'' he emphasized, turning back toward Starsky.

"She said she thought--''

"And I don't want to hear what Cecile did. What did you have to do with this?''

"I let her take the canvasses. I'm sorry, Hutch. I knew it was a bad idea but I thought that--''

"You thought. You decided to just help yourself to some of the most personal possessions I own and display them?! What the hell's the matter with you?''

"I said I was sor--''

"Sorry. Yeah, so I heard. You're sorry that you took one of the most personal things in my life and hung it in a public place without my permission. Well I'm sorry too, buddy.'' There was a very ugly emphasis on the word "buddy''.

"Don't blame Dave, Ken. It wasn't his idea,'' Cecile tried to speak up, but Hutch was having none of it.

"I trusted you,'' he bellowed angrily at Starsky. The past tense sliced into Starsky's heart like a knife.

"You can still trust me, buddy. I'm sorry I--''

"Trust you? There's a good joke. Who do we trust time, huh? I guess I've been gettin' that answer wrong all these years.''

"Hutch, don't, please...''

"Get out of my way.'' He pushed past Starsky and started striding toward the car.

"Hutch! Wait a minute!'' Starsky rushed down the sidewalk after him, leaving Cecile, Lucy Barrington and a few confused art patrons behind at the gallery.

"Stay away from me!'' Hutch kept walking, a little sideways, jabbing a finger toward his contrite partner.

"Hutch, please, wait. Let me explain--'' Starsky finally slowed his pace and let Hutch drive off erratically into the slow Sunday traffic.

"Dave, I'm sorry,'' Cecile said, a little breathless as she had run to catch up with them.

"Damn it!! I knew it. When I told you to call it off, I knew what I was talking about.'' He paced back and forth along the sidewalk.

"He didn't even go inside to have a look at what's going on. I'm hearing some positive comments in there and--''

"Are you deaf? Didn't you hear what just happened? He's not a little upset, he's furious. With me.'' Starsky shook his head. "What an idiot I was.''

"You were trying to do something positive for him. If he loses his job--''

"He'll be unemployed. He wouldn't see that as a reason to share these with the world. He's right. This is all my fault. I knew better!''

"But if it's a success, it would be--''

"You just don't get it, do you? No matter how many rave reviews those paintings might get, I betrayed his trust and...I've never done that before.''

"Let me give you a ride home.''

"No thanks. I think you've done enough. I'll get a cab.'' Starsky stalked off down the sidewalk, feeling as if he had been used very skillfully by Cecile. If Hutch had accepted the whole concept, she would have been the one to get the glory, which would have been fine by Starsky. The part that wasn't fine with him is that when Hutch was furious, he was the one taking the heat, while Cecile seemed like a peripheral factor. Since she didn't know Hutch as well, he'd probably forgive her faster than he would Starsky.

The cab let Starsky out at the curb in front of the house. Hutch's car was back in the driveway, so at least Starsky had called that one right. He paid the driver and rushed up to the front door, fumbling nervously with his keys and finally opening it and stepping inside. He heard drawers slamming upstairs, and angry footsteps.

"Hutch?'' He hurried up to the head of the stairs, then followed the sounds to Hutch's room. His large suitcase was open on the bed and clothing was being tossed in it from where Hutch stood at his dresser.

"Get out of my face, Starsky.'' He didn't even turn to face his partner.

"Won't you just let me apologize?''

"Who's stopping you? You sure as hell don't ask my permission for anything else!'' he bellowed in response.

"I know what I did was wrong about the paintings, but the way Cecile talked about it, giving you something to fall back on if things didn't work out with this whole Jordan mess--''

"Don't blame this on Cecile. God, at least have the backbone to take the blame for your own screw-ups without shoving the responsibility off on her. You knew damn well how I felt about those paintings.'' Hutch closed the suitcase and pulled it by the handle off the bed. "I trusted you with the most...personal things in my life. And now they're hanging in a goddamn downtown gallery!'' He pushed past Starsky and headed for the back stairs.

"Hutch, come on, please--where're you goin'?'' Starsky was reduced to chasing him down the hall and down the stairs to the back door.

"You're a hot shot detective. Figure it out.''

"I don't blame you for being mad at me, but--''

"Thank you for that dispensation.'' Hutch started for the door but Starsky stood in front of it.

"Please, let's just sit down and try to talk this out--''

"Fine. We'll talk. But we don't need to go to the trouble of sitting down for it. I trusted you, and you betrayed that. Not only do I not trust you anymore, but right now I could wring your neck! Now I'm going to find another place to stay. In the meantime, you call your buddy Cecile and tell her to stick the sign back in the yard of this stinking, man-eating money trap. I've made two huge mistakes in my life. One was trusting you and the second one was moving into the same house with you. I'm correcting both of those right now.''

Hutch noticed that he wasn't getting any angry responses, only a devastated expression. He almost hesitated to strike the final blow, but then he thought about his paintings, the things that had served the same purpose for him a diary serves for many: a very personal way to work through emotions and feelings. Strangers were analyzing them, dissecting them, planning to purchase pieces of his soul. And Starsky had done this. He continued.

"Don't look for me tomorrow at work, either. I won't work with you. I'm putting in for a transfer.''

"Hutch,'' Starsky choked out, "please don't do this.''

"Don't do what? Don't be angry?''

"Be angry. Hit me if you want--I have it coming. Just don't...don't go like this. Please just forgive me. I'll do anything, say anything--'' Starsky was begging, and that wasn't like him. It occurred to Hutch through the haze of his anger just how much he'd hurt his partner, but the underlying sense of betrayal wouldn't allow him to show any mercy.

"You think that you can do anything you want, and if it doesn't work, you'll just say 'I'm sorry' and it's okay. Well it's not okay. Those paintings...you know what those meant to me. How personal they were. I never showed those to anyone but you, and I showed a few to Cecile.''

"A few?''

"A few. I brought down a couple of canvasses I didn't mind her seeing. You're the only person...'' Hutch felt his own voice breaking a little. "You're the only person I would have let just browse through them all like that. I didn't go in that gallery because I didn't want to know which ones were up there. I sure as hell didn't want to explain which one I did while I was recovering from the plague, coming to grips with my mortality--which one I did after Gillian died--shit, Starsky, why didn't you just hang me naked from the stoplight at Lexington and 4th?'' Hutch snorted an ugly little laugh. "Of course, I would have preferred that. At least then it's only the exterior everyone would see, the surface. You hung my whole goddamn soul on the walls of that gallery for everyone to gawk at. I can't forgive you for that, Starsky. And the fact you didn't understand that...it undermines everything I thought about our friendship. Now please, get out of my way.''

"Hutch, please don't leave,'' Starsky made one last, nearly whispered plea through the tears that were constricting his throat. Hutch pushed him aside, opened the door and was through it in one relatively smooth gesture. Starsky leaned against the slammed door, listening to the car pull out of the driveway. I don't trust you...I'm requesting a transfer... He knew he'd made a mistake, knew it before it even happened, but Cecile had acted like she'd seen all the paintings, and so Starsky had felt they couldn't be that private after all. Why couldn't Hutch just forgive him this one mistake? All these years, they didn't mean anything to him. He can just walk away...

 

 

 

Hutch checked in to a nearby motel and dumped his suitcase on the bed. Living in a motel would get expensive fast, and until the house was sold and he had his half of the down payment back, he was obligated to keep up his half of the debts. Just like a damn divorce. So how come he gets to stay there free while I'm at a hotel? Because you're the one who walked out, dummy. He didn't want you to go, and he sure as hell wouldn't have gone even if you'd thrown him out the library window. Hutch put a few of his things away and tried to make sense of what had happened. The fact it all happened so fast was his fault. He'd exploded at the sight of his paintings out there for public viewing, and he'd lacerated Starsky like he'd never done before. They'd argued, but he had never purposely worked at hurting him that way. He wanted to make Starsky suffer like he was suffering from what he considered an insensitive violation of his trust.

Yet I know if the situation presented itself right now, he'd die for me without a moment's hesitation. I remember what it felt like to watch him die in that ICU bed, what it felt like to hold him in a dirty back alley and know that he would be gone in a matter of hours. How I held onto him then, hoping by clutching frantically at the folds of his jacket, I could keep him with me, not let the Angel of Death have him. I wonder if my Angel of Death is on display at the Barrington Gallery? The painting I did while he was recuperating from the poisoning...the ghastly cloaked figure with the blurred face and bony hands...

Your mind is mush, Hutchinson. You need to step back from this and think it through. Cool off a little. Let Starsky sweat a while too. Teach him a lesson. He was wrong in doing what he did. You're feeling like the parent who punishes his kid and then doesn't want to see him cry...maybe he deserved the punishment and he deserved to cry, to feel bad... just like Starsky deserved to be hurt back for doing what he did. Or does he?

A grim, pale-faced Starsky arrived at work on time Monday morning, only really there because he thought Hutch might have to come in to sign something for his transfer, or to clean out his desk. He'd tried calling every hotel and motel in the area, tried every alias he could think of, and still no Hutch. He'd chosen another alias. He was hiding. For real. He really didn't want to be found.

Starsky had spent the night tracking his partner, and by dawn, discouraged, had shaved and changed his clothes for work.

A cup of coffee seemed to appear magically in front of him. For just a moment, he harbored the hope that maybe Hutch...

"You look tired, Dave.'' Christine sat on the edge of his desk, facing him.

"Didn't get much sleep last night.'' He took a swallow of the coffee. "Thanks.''

"Are you okay?''

"Hutch is gonna ask for a transfer,'' he responded, not knowing why it came out so fast. He hadn't planned on telling her.

"Why?''

"He won't work with me anymore. We had an argument about...I did something that made him mad, and now he doesn't want to work with me.''

"He'll cool off. Hutch wouldn't work with anybody else and you know it.''

"I thought I knew it.'' Starsky shook his head. "You didn't see the look on his face...you don't understand how angry he was.''

"I understand that you're best friends. That endures a lot of garbage.'' She smiled reassuringly. "You'll see. He'll fume for awhile, then he'll miss you.''

"I thought I was doing something positive for him, or I never would have done it at all. I thought that if he had something else to do...something to fall back--'' He caught himself, noting Christine's puzzled expression, and realizing he was pouring out his soul and way more of Hutch's business than he ought to be. The people at work didn't know about the drug situation, and that was the whole goal at the moment--to keep it that way. "I guess what I'm trying to say is that I meant well.''

"What did you do? The way you're beating yourself up, you'd think you had planted a live grenade in his bed.''

"He'd'a gotten over that faster.'' Starsky shook his head. Explaining the paintings and their meaning to Christine seemed like furthering the invasion of Hutch's privacy he was already guilty of committing. "Let's just say that I didn't keep in confidence something I was supposed to, and now he doesn't trust me anymore. Plain and simple. He's right, I'm wrong, and I deserve anything I get. I should've known better, but, well...'' He laughed a little ironically, "it seemed like a good idea at the time.''

"If you meant well, and you apologized, surely Hutch is going to take that into consideration. You don't throw out years of friendship over one transgression.''

"Tell that to Hutch.'' He took another swallow of the coffee. "You put sugar in it.''

"You like it that way, don't you?''

"Yeah, but you put enough in.'' Starsky looked up at her, surprised. He had been so preoccupied when he started drinking it that he hadn't noticed it was prepared to his taste exactly.

"I just noticed that you like sugar--lots of it--in your coffee. I'm a detective. I'm supposed to have an eye for detail.'' She smiled, and he finally chuckled a little.

"Thank you.''

"I've got to get downstairs. Grant wants to check out a couple of hotline tips.'' She stood up and rested her hand on Starsky's shoulder briefly. "Whatever this is, it'll work out.''

"Thanks again, Christine.''

"Hey--why don't you meet Grant and me for lunch over at Pancho Villa's? We ought to roll in there about 12:30.''

"I don't know.''

"Starsky,'' she chided him.

"Okay. I'll be there.''

"And if Hutch shows up and makes a proper apology in the meantime, bring him along.''

"Fat chance. See ya later.''

"You better. 12:30--Pancho Villa's--bet I can take it hotter than you can,'' she challenged, referring to the legendary Starsky appetite for blazing seasonings.

"You're on,'' he replied, laughing a little as she winked and hurried out the door.

Dobey called Starsky into his office by mid-morning and cross-questioned him about Hutch's whereabouts. Not liking to sound like a couple of bickering children, Starsky was uncomfortable having to explain to Dobey that they'd had a fight and that's why Hutch was staying away. He finally confessed to Dobey that his partner had even threatened requesting a transfer. Dobey grumbled something to the effect that Bigelow needed an assistant in the property room and that Hutch could come back to being a detective when he grew up.

Lunch was a gastrointestinal nightmare, but a diversion, nonetheless. Christine and Grant were good company, and she hadn't lied about being able to hold her own in the spice wars. They went over the case and talked about the latest press hassles until Christine and Grant were called to a crime scene relating to another of their cases.

Starsky left work early, slightly at loose ends without his partner. They'd planned to follow up a specific roster of leads culled from the hotline, and Starsky spent most of the morning and early afternoon on the phone or in the car doing just that. By late afternoon, his mind was increasingly not on what he was doing, and he gave up on trying to accomplish anything worthwhile. Since Dobey had gone to a seminar for the afternoon, he was able to leave a note that he wasn't feeling well and escape without further explanation, at least for the moment.

The car awaiting him in the parking lot was the loaner he'd picked up from Merle after lunch--a bright blue Chevette, of all things. He had to laugh at the irony himself. When your day goes downhill, it does so at warp speed.

Pulling up in front of the house was no longer pleasant. Not only was it empty and lonely but it wasn't going to be his much longer. He would have to call a real estate agent, but he doubted seriously it would be Cecile. Right now, it was all he could do to put one foot in front of the other. That would have to be his primary concern until he could get used to the idea of being halved. They had functioned as a unit for so long that Starsky felt as if he were only half a person without his partner. Losing their friendship had broken his heart. Losing their partnership in the same breath had shattered the pieces.

 

 

Rosie Dobey was surprised to see Starsky sitting on the front steps in the middle of the afternoon. Since he'd recovered and gone back to work, there was usually no one home on the few occasions she even bothered to check after school. They were both almost always at work until night sometime, so she had stopped making such regular visits. She rode her bike to the six cement steps, and then dragged it up with her so she could lean it against the porch.

"Hi, Starsky!'' Since her father had referred to them as "Starsky and Hutch'' as long as she could remember, that's how Rosie always addressed them, eschewing more child-like titles like "Uncle''.

"Hey, Rosie.'' The face smiled, but the eyes were the saddest she'd ever seen. He was just sitting there, staring out at the street.

"Is Hutch here?''

"Not anymore.''

"Are you sick? You don't look like you feel good.'' She officiously checked his forehead for any sign of fever. He chuckled a little.

"I'm okay, sweetheart.''

"So where's Hutch?''

"I don't know.'' He shrugged. "I tried to find him, but I don't know where he went.'' He hadn't realized how odd that answer must sound to Rosie until he looked down into her puzzled face. She had taken up residence next to him on the top step of the porch. "We had a big fight, and he had to go away and cool off.''

"But you're gonna make up, right?''

"I don't know, Rosie. I hope so, but I don't know.''

"What happened?''

"I did something really, really wrong, and I don't think Hutch can forgive me for it. And I don't blame him. I was wrong.''

"What did you do?''

"You remember a long time ago when you brought those pictures you'd painted at school in to your dad's office, and Hutch told you he used to paint too?''

"Yes.'' It seemed incredible she'd even remember that minor incident over two years ago. But she did.

"Well, Hutch used to paint quite a lot, and he kept his pictures in the attic. He used to paint when he was feeling something--some strong emotion. So for him, painting was kind of like, I don't know, keeping a diary. Follow me so far?'' She nodded solemnly. "So his paintings were real private to him. A friend of his has a friend who owns an art gallery, and she thought that it might a good idea to show some of Hutch's paintings--that people might buy them, and he might be able to be an artist.''

"Instead of a cop?''

"Well, yeah, if he wanted to, and if he was successful enough with the paintings. Anyway, she knew he'd never agree to show his work, and I knew that too, but she thought it would be such a really good thing to do for Hutch to give him the chance to show his stuff, maybe get recognized...I agreed to let her take some of his paintings without his permission. When he found out, he was furious. There were his paintings in a gallery for anyone who wanted to to look at.''

"You said you were sorry, didn't you?''

"Sure I did. And I am. I know it was wrong, but I was just trying to do something nice for Hutch. But that doesn't make it right for me to have taken something of his without his permission. I'm still the one who's wrong. It's just...he said he didn't trust me anymore, that he didn't want to work with me, and I don't know...'' Starsky felt his voice shake, and before he knew it, the tears came.

"I think he should forgive you.'' Rosie knelt on the porch behind him and put her arms around his neck. "Don't cry. He won't stay mad forever.''

"I don't know about that,'' Starsky responded, unable to keep up the cheerful front for her. "How would you feel if somebody posted your diary on a bulletin board for a bunch of people to look at? That's how Hutch feels.''

"I'd be real mad. But if you love somebody, and they say they're sorry, and they didn't mean anything wrong, you should forgive them.''

"I'm sorry, Rosie.'' He sniffed loudly and reached up to pat the arms that had encircled his neck. "I'm okay now.'' He turned and smiled at her as she returned to her seat next to him on the step.

"It's okay to feel bad, you know. Mom says that sometimes guys are afraid to cry because they think it makes them look like sissies. I don't think that.''

"You don't, huh?'' Starsky chuckled a little. "Well, I feel a little bit like a sissy right now. I don't know what got into me.''

"No you're not. You're just sad because Hutch hurt your feelings.''

"No. I'm sad because I made a mistake, and that mistake hurt Hutch's feelings, and I didn't get anything I didn't deserve. Don't blame Hutch for this one. I made the mistake.''

"But it was a mistake, and you said you were sorry, so now he's bein' a jerk to not forgive you.''

"Listen, sweetheart, I don't want you taking sides between Hutch and me. Even if we don't work together anymore, or...aren't friends anymore,'' he forced past the lump in his throat, "Hutch still cares about you, and he's just as much your friend as he was before we had our argument. That's got nothing to do with you. And I'm not gonna be mad or think you're betraying me or something if you stay friends with Hutch. I want you to.''

"I didn't say I wouldn't be his friend--but I'm still mad at him.''

Both sat in silence for a few minutes, watching a few neighbors arriving home from work, a few children riding by on bikes heading for home.

"Mom's making stuffed pork chops tonight. And an oreo cookie pie.'' Rosie let the menu settle on Starsky's mind a minute. Then she nudged him with her elbow. "Come over for dinner?''

"I'll be okay, Rosie, really. Besides, your mom doesn't want a surprise dinner guest.''

"I'll call her first and make sure it's okay. If it is, will you come?''

"If your mom says okay--but be sure you ask her and let her know it's all right to say no.''

"Got it.'' Rosie went in through the front door and called home from the phone near the stairs. Edith approved of the invitation quickly, so Rosie happily returned to inform Starsky that he should be at their house at 6:00 sharp.

"I'll be there.'' He smiled and waved as she hurried down the walk with her bike.

"Maybe we can play Monopoly after dinner?'' she suggested hopefully.

"It's a date,'' he responded. She hurried down the steps and onto the sidewalk, where she mounted the bike and rode quickly toward home.

 

Hutch spent most of his day in righteous indignation, calling a lengthy list of apartment complexes to check their prices. Occasionally, a little voice nagged at the back of his mind that perhaps Starsky didn't deserve such harsh treatment, but that voice was silenced by the larger sense of exposure and embarrassment he felt over the whole concept of having the paintings shown.

By late afternoon, he drove over to Cecile's office, cooled off enough to at least be in the same room with her, so he could find out how to retrieve the paintings that had been shown. She led him into a meeting room in the real estate office and shut the door behind them.

"Ken, I'm so sorry about yesterday. I realize now that it was a big mistake.''

"I didn't come here for apologies, Cecile. I want my canvasses back.''

"You can pick them up from Lucy anytime at the gallery. She's keeping them in the back room. Two of them sold--but since she didn't have your permission, she just tagged them and told the buyers she needed the artist's permission.'' The news that two sold took Hutch aback a little, but he didn't miss a beat. They were his, they were wrongfully taken, and he wanted them back. No one else was going to get their hands on those canvasses but him.

"Well, she doesn't have my permission, any more than you and Starsky did. How late is the gallery open?''

"Until five-thirty.''

"Good. I'll be on my way then.''

"Ken, wait.'' She caught his arm before he opened the door. "I really wish you wouldn't be so hard on Dave about this. It isn't his fault. He was hesitant from the start, but I felt so strongly that this would be something wonderful for you that I put heavy pressure on him to go along with it.''

"Starsky's a big boy. If he'd wanted to do the right thing, he'd have done it.'' Hutch was about to leave when a thought occurred to him. A snippet of his tirade at Starsky that had nagged at the back of his mind. Starsky had seemed surprised that Cecile had only seen "a few'' of the canvasses. "Exactly what did you tell Starsky about my showing you the paintings?''

"I just said that you'd shown them to me.''

"All of them?''

"I didn't clarify how many. I just said I had seen them.''

"So he had this mental picture of you browsing through the canvasses?''

"I don't know. I guess he probably did.'' She appeared puzzled at what significance this point had.

"You didn't tell him that I only showed you a few that I picked out--you implied that you'd seen them all?''

"I don't know. God, you're cross-questioning me like one of your suspects!'' she snapped.

"It makes a difference,'' he replied firmly.

"I suppose he might have thought I meant I had seen them all. I knew you had more--''

"So you tricked him into believing you'd seen all of them.''

"I didn't trick him into anything. I said I thought your work was promising, which it is, that I had seen your paintings--which I did--and that I'd like to see you get a start as an artist. I truly feel you have potential, and so does Lucy. I also told him it would be a wonderful second career for you if things fell apart with your current job.''

"Great.'' Hutch paced a little.

"That still doesn't change the fact the paintings were shown without your permission.''

"No, but it changes what Starsky's frame of reference was in making that decision, even if he was wrong to do it without my permission. He wouldn't have thought those paintings were nearly as personal to me as they are if he thought I was letting my casual friends browse through them.''

"Casual friends? Is that what we are?'' She smiled and shook her head. "You sure know how to put someone in their place, Ken.''

"Tell me about it.'' He didn't say anything more, but left the office hurriedly. Forgetting about picking up the canvasses, he headed for home.

 

 

Edith Dobey washed the last of the dinner dishes, which were being grudgingly dried by her husband. She had released the children from their clean-up duties to start the cut-throat round of Monopoly that was taking place on the living room floor. Starsky had offered to help clean up, but since he had already been drafted for game duty before he ever arrived, Edith sent him off to entertain the kids while she and her grumbling husband cleaned up after dinner.

"What's really going on with those two?'' Edith asked as she rinsed the last of the dinner plates. She kept her tone quiet, though the laughter and raucous joking about rents due and going to jail were loud enough that it was doubtful she'd have been overheard anyway.

"Starsky isn't elaborating. Some argument they had yesterday. Hutchinson called in sick, but of course now I know he was just brooding. And shirking his responsibilities over it.''

"Oh, Harold, really. Those two are your best team. It must be serious if it's causing this much trouble between them. Dave seems devastated. I know he didn't say much about it, and he's always great with the kids, but he seems so...I don't know, not like himself.'' She drained the dishwater out of the sink and dried her hands. "Will you please try to talk to Ken?''

"I'm not in the habit of playing mediator in their fights.''

"But you can see how badly he feels--can't you do something?''

"Oh, brother,'' Dobey rolled his eyes as he put the last of the coffee cups back in the cupboard.

"Well?''

"Edith, all this amounts to is Hutchinson giving Starsky a good scare by threatening him with requesting a transfer. It wouldn't be the first time he pulled something on Starsky to teach him a lesson. The last time earned them a week of directing traffic.'' Dobey chortled a little as he remembered inflicting that little penalty on both of them for Hutch's amnesia stunt. Starsky should have felt fortunate that's all he got for his reckless driving, and Hutchinson should have learned his lesson about playing elaborate mind games on his partner. "Maybe a stint in the property room cataloging paper clips would impress upon Hutchinson that my department isn't a forum for his games.''

"I'm more concerned about him,'' she said softly, inclining her head toward the group in the living room.

"If this doesn't straighten itself out tomorrow, I'll straighten it out personally.''

"I didn't mean I thought you should sentence them both to cleaning the toilets for six months. I thought maybe you could act as their friend, try to--''

"Look, you know I care very much about those two fruitcakes, and I'll do what I can to help, if in fact there is anything I can do. But the fact remains that I'm still their superior officer, and they still need to work out their little squabbles on their own time. And you can relax. I'm not going to punish Starsky for this one. Hutchinson is obviously taking care of that. But I don't like phony sick leave excuses to cover for the inability to rise above an argument and work professionally with your partner. That's not like Hutch and I'm not going to tolerate it!'' His voice had risen more than he himself realized, and he self-consciously peered around the kitchen doorway to see if the living room Monopoly team had heard the little outburst. He could tell by the glance from Starsky out of the corner of his eye that they had, but nothing was said.

"I'm going to go in and attempt to make this a pleasant evening. Do you think you could hang your captain's hat by the door and have a little fun?''

"Think maybe we could have a little more of that pie while we're watching our children put Starsky in the poorhouse?''

"I think that could be arranged,'' she replied, smiling as she linked her arm through her husband's and they returned to the living room.

 

Hutch pulled into the driveway, half expecting to see Starsky's car by the garage. Then he remembered that the Torino was due to go in for service that day. Either Starsky wasn't home or Merle didn't find a loaner that suited him.

"Starsky?'' Hutch called up the back stairs as he entered the kitchen, shaking off the wetness from the rain that was pouring down in sheets outside. There was no response. "Starsk?'' He yelled one more time, thinking maybe he had been drowned out by the boom of thunder that had just passed. Starsky obviously wasn't there.

Resigned to being soaked to the skin, Hutch went back out and retrieved his suitcase from the back seat of the Mercury and hurried back inside. He was inwardly grateful he hadn't stopped to pick up the paintings now, because transporting them into the house would have been next to impossible in the downpour.

He started a pot of coffee, chilled through by the storm. It struck him that there were no dirty dishes in the sink, and no sign of food or coffee preparation left over from the morning. Nice job, Hutchinson. You didn't let him explain, you said worse things than you've ever said to him in an argument before...and obviously rattled him enough that he wasn't even interested in eating or his morning coffee. For Starsky, that's serious.

He took a cup out of one of the refinished cupboards, and his hand lingered on the smooth surface of the wood a moment. The kitchen looked startlingly authentic now. Everything in this stupid house means so much to him...and you pulled that out from under him too. Told him moving in here with him was a mistake...told him to sell it and give you your half...

Pouring a cup of the fresh coffee, he took a couple of swallows and carried the suitcase up the back stairs. He paused at the doorway to Starsky's room.

The bed was rumpled on top but not slept in, and yesterday's clothes were in a heap on the easy chair. Hutch picked up the grey sport coat, one of Starsky's best, and shook out the wrinkles. One thing his partner was particular about, next to his car, were his good clothes. He located a hanger and rescued the mangled heap of dress clothes, hanging them in the closet. It was probably a pointless activity considering the overall scope of the argument, but it seemed like a peace offering. Something reflected the yellow light of the ceiling fixture, almost glowing from the wall.

The plaque. Starsky had not only hung it where he said he would, but he had polished it until it almost glowed. Hutch couldn't remember it being that shiny on his own wall as a kid. He was about to leave the room when he noticed the photos on the large antique dresser that had been left with the house. There was one of Terry, one of Starsky's parents that must have dated back to shortly before his father was killed, and one of the two of them together, both in leather jackets, with expressions that didn't quite equate to smiles. The memory of that picture being snapped tore at Hutch's heart, and he didn't understand why Starsky even displayed it.

Slowly being consumed by Bellamy's poison, Starsky had stopped a crime lab guy on his way back into the precinct. The man was still carrying his camera equipment from the last crime scene. Starsky had talked him into taking a picture of him and his partner together, right there on the sidewalk. Not wanting to upset his ailing partner, Hutch had gone along with it, none too happily. Why in God's name would he want a picture to commemorate the day his best friend died?

Starsky had asked if there was black and white film in the camera, and once the man nodded, he had urged Hutch to smile, and he tried one himself, though it didn't quite come across. The black and white photo didn't highlight the grey-white pallor of Starsky's skin, and then Hutch understood the significance of the kind of film. After the other man had left, totally puzzled but promising to bring Hutch a print of the photo when it was developed, Starsky explained that they hadn't had a recent photo taken together, and this would be something for Hutch to remember him by--like freezing a moment in the day.

Even now, Hutch felt a lump rising in his throat. But he smiled as he remembered showing the print to Starsky in the hospital a couple of days later, when he was well enough to sit up and rejoin the living. They had chuckled a little together about beating the odds one more time, but Starsky had latched onto that photo like it was the hope diamond. It remained in a frame somewhere in his living space from then on. Under the photo was an envelope, and Hutch recognized his own handwriting--simply the word "Starsk''. It was a greeting card, and as he slipped it out and opened it, he recognized it as the card he had bought for Starsky shortly after he woke up following the shooting by Gunther's people. It was a contemporary card, mainly purchased to brighten up the sterile room. There was some inane joke in it about chasing nurses. The ICU room was so bland and colorless the first day or so he was conscious that Hutch had made an effort to perk it up a bit. Starsky's friends began sending cards and well-wishes after he came around, but it was a little chilling how most of them had given him up for dead during the time he was comatose.

He laughed a little at himself when he saw the hen-scratching that covered three panels of the card. Originally intended as only visual stimuli, Hutch had ended up pouring out a long message, reflecting on his feelings about Starsky's miraculous recovery.

 

Well, buddy, you did it. I don't mind telling you that you scared the shit out of me for a while there. Don't do it again. I remembered some of the things you said about how you felt when I was sick a couple years back, and you felt so helpless watching me through the glass... I admit to thinking I had the roughest end of that deal. Boy was I wrong. Watching and waiting must be what hell is made of. Seeing you open your eyes yesterday--how do I tell you what that felt like? Maybe like all the feelings you have all your life whenever you get what you want most--all rolled into one moment in time.

 

I know everything hurts like hell and being awake probably is a lot more unpleasant that being out of it, but if it's any consolation, every time I walk in that room and you open your eyes or manage one of your sappy grins for me, it's sort of like finding out the best present under the tree on Christmas has my name on it.

 

I don't say it often enough, and that probably won't change much, even if I mean for it to. I love you, Starsk. Thanks for beating the odds for me.

Love, Hutch

After all this time, Starsky still kept it on his dresser, tucked discreetly out of sight but in easy reach for him. Nestled safely under a photo that commemorated another close call they'd made it through--barely--together. Hutch sniffed a couple of times, not wanting to give an old greeting card the power to reduce him to tears over two years after writing it. He put it back in its envelope and replaced it under the photo. He wondered if in his parents' entire home, there were this many mementos of him, let alone concentrated in one room.

So does that make it right for him to show those paintings without your permission? the last of the anger inside him asked. No, it probably doesn't, but like any common criminal, he ought to get a break for mitigating circumstances. Cecile was misleading about how many she'd been shown, and Starsky's intentions, as usual, were only the best. That doesn't make him right, but it makes him forgivable.

After unpacking, showering and donning a warm robe, Hutch settled in one of the library's big wingback chairs with a book. The storm still raged outside, and there was still no sign of Starsky. It was getting close to midnight, but if Starsky had found something interesting to do with his evening, that wasn't surprising. Given his frame of mind, though, and the fact Huggy hadn't seen him at all, Hutch was a little unnerved. He picked up the phone and tried Huggy again, getting the same response--Starsky had not been in, and if he had, Huggy would have passed the message on that Hutch was looking for him.

 

 

The Monopoly tournament at the Dobey residence ended in Cal emerging victorious, Rosie in second place, and as usual, Starsky brought up the rear. Rosie had lost her potential lead because she never had the heart to collect from Starsky, and kept paying Cal off to keep him in the game. Actually, he was more distracted than usual, so he racked up a legendary loss. Most of the time, while he tended to back himself into financial corners in the game, he didn't do it so soon or so completely.

Near 10:00, with the younger Dobeys dispersed to their rooms and the driving rain, thunder and lightning only getting worse, Starsky took his leave. It occurred to Edith that the old Starsky, who hated getting wet for any reason, usually would have pulled his jacket over his head and made a run for his car. This man walked slowly through the downpour, shoulders slumped, mindless of the weather. He got into the small blue loaner car and pulled out of the driveway onto the street.

The little car held its own fairly well on the road, though it was definitely rocked more by the wind that the Torino would have been. The rain was really coming down, and visibility was poor. Adding to Starsky's difficulties were the headlights of a large, four-wheel-drive vehicle behind him. For some unfathomable reason, the driver suddenly turned on the bright lights, making it impossible to see in the glare...

 

 

 

The phone startled Hutch out of his doze. The clock on the wall read almost three a.m.

"Hello.''

"Well, well, well,'' a male voice began. "You are there.''

"Who is this?''

"This is Curtis, a.k.a., Evan Jordan. I believe you've been looking for me--somewhat unsuccessfully, I might add.''

"So why are you calling me now?''

"I have someone here you're probably looking for. I thought this was going to be a neat, easy operation, but now that I find he's lying to me, I might have to teach him a lesson about that.''

"What are you talking about?'' Hutch tried to sound annoyed, but he knew the other man had Starsky, and he didn't want to think what he had planned for him.

"Your partner. He told me not to bother calling the house, that you weren't home. Now I told him as long as he was straight with me, he wouldn't have to get hurt.''

"He's being straight with you. I wasn't supposed to be here,'' Hutch responded, sounding calmer than he felt. "I left yesterday and was planning to get away for a few days, but something came up and I came home sooner than expected.''

"Nice save, Hutchinson.''

"Look, I don't have any proof that you have him. Let me talk to him.''

"Sure. Hold on.'' The man's tone was almost conversational.

"Hutch?'' Starsky's voice sounded strained, but strong.

"You okay, buddy?''

"For the moment. I'm sorry about...everything.''

"Don't worry about--''

"This is really touching, but we've got business to transact,'' the caller cut in again.

"What is this? A ransom demand? If it is--''

"He already told me you didn't work together anymore and that I wouldn't get much for him on a trade. You two have this whole little routine worked out, don't you?'' He snickered a little and resumed his monologue before Hutch could respond. "I don't want your money. I have enough of that. By now you've figured out I'm Ben Forest's son, and my grandmother's loaded, so between those sources of income, I don't need to go into the kidnaping business. I just want to meet with you.''

"When and where?''

"Well, how about as soon as possible, at the farm? You know where that is. You were here a week or so ago, I think.''

"I'll be there.''

"Oh--and on this one, you better really come alone. I know this sounds like a tired line from an old movie, but if I so much as suspect another cop, or any sort of back up, is involved in this, I will kill Starsky. He really doesn't serve any other purpose than as a negotiating tool. Once that function is over, I can either let him go or kill him.''

"Killing a cop isn't too smart--''

"What're you gonna do, add on to my jail time? Hell, I've killed three women already. I don't envision the DA doing a whole lot of plea-bargaining on that one. So you see, I really mean it when I say it doesn't matter to me. He stays alive as long as you cooperate.''

"I'm on my way. But let me tell you this, Jordan--if he's not in perfect condition when I get there--''

"You'll do what? Look, you and I both know that his life is in my hands right now. I could put a bullet through his head as soon as I hang up, and you'd still show. And there wouldn't be a damn thing you could do about it. Just get here.'' The line went dead. The chilling reality of the statement froze his soul. Jordan was right--Starsky's fate was in his hands, and there wasn't a damn thing Hutch could do to change that.

He hastily dressed and rushed out to the car. The drive to the farm would be a long, tedious and hazardous one given the storm, but he kept the Mercury moving a little faster than he should down the country roads that would take him to the isolated property. He's probably going to kill you both. He may have already killed Starsky. But I don't think he has...I would know. If Starsky were really dead now, I would know. He has to be alive. I have to talk to him...

The dilapidated old farmhouse was only kept company on the flat, unremarkable terrain by an equally rickety old barn and chicken coop. Like the house, they had been without occupants for many years. Hutch had left word with Huggy that if he didn't hear back from one or both of them by 8 a.m., he should call Dobey. Jordan was very wise in knowing that only to save Starsky's life would Hutch go out on such a Kamikaze mission without back up in place. But there was no way Hutch was about to risk it if he could handle the situation somehow and get them both out alive.

The aging Mercury rattled its protest as it followed the unpaved, washboard road to the pot hole-scarred drive that would take it back to the house itself. There was a single light burning in what was probably the living room of the house. Hutch hoped this front porch was sturdier than their own had been prior to its repair. The entire house didn't look as if it had much life left in it.

He pulled up in front of the old place, and drawing his gun, stealthily approached the front steps. A bright light suddenly flooded the front porch. A young man stood in the doorway.

"Y'all come on in, now,'' he invited with a little laugh. "You can just leave the gun right there on the porch railing.'' The silhouette of the shotgun he was holding became clear as he pushed open the screen door with his free hand.

"Where's Starsky?'' Hutch demanded before relieving himself of his weapon.

"Oh, he's around. I didn't plug him in the head after all. I figured you'd be less likely to stick around, and I have a few things I want to talk over with you. Now get a move on.''

"I want to know he's all right,'' Hutch stated as he complied with the order to set the gun on the railing and pass through the door into the living room. It was a stuffy little space filled with threadbare furniture and various pieces of debris built up over the years of disuse.

"This isn't about Starsky. Believe it or not, I really don't care how things turn out for him. He's all right.'' He gestured toward a ratty-looking brown chair. "Have a seat. We have a lot to talk about.''

"You kidnaped my partner just so we could sit here and talk?'' Hutch demanded angrily.

"Got you out here, didn't it?'' Evan Jordan sat in a similar chair on the other side of a well-worn coffee table. "I'm pretty good with this shotgun, so don't get any ideas. Besides, now's a good time to explain to you where Starsky is.'' He used the shotgun to point up at the ceiling. "I've got him tied to the bed in the room right above us. You know, a neighbor of mine killed his father when his shotgun went off accidentally while he was cleaning it and shot through the ceiling into the bedroom above, where the old man was in bed. Well, they say it was accidental. Who knows?''

He smiled congenially. "That's where I got the idea for this set up, anyway. I figure with your gun outside, and your hands in plain sight--please keep them on the arms of the chair--I could kill Starsky before you'd ever have a chance to complete a good move against me.''

"You killed those women. Why?''

"Why your woman, isn't that the big question? I feel pretty puffed up right now. That's probably the question you ask God all the time. Why my woman? Now you're asking me. Well, now is when you get the answer to the puzzle, because you failed miserably. I'm really kind of disappointed. I thought you'd have this all figured out by now. Maybe your girlfriend getting killed fried your brains, and you weren't a good adversary after that.'' He shrugged.

"You want to play guessing games, is that it? See how long it takes me to figure out the point of all this?''

"I tried that already. I can see how long it's taken you, and you still don't know. I don't know if I should be proud of myself or disappointed in you. In any event, all of this was because of you. Impressed? Flattered? Make you feel special?'' Jordan ran a hand through his wavy brown hair. Dressed in a UCLA sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers, he looked like any other innocent college student.

"Exactly what are you saying?'' Brows knit together, Hutch didn't want to accept that something as hideous as a string of brutal slayings could be somehow attributable to him, even if he had done nothing wrong. Living with those deaths on one's conscience would be enough to drive anyone mad...

"Madeleine Nolan was the hardest, since she was the first, and I really didn't have anything against her. But it got easier. By the time I did that hot little blonde of yours, I had a great time.''

"You perverted son of a--'' Hutch lurched forward in his chair but froze as the shotgun aimed toward the ceiling.

"Ah, ah, ah.'' Jordan smiled as the detective sat back down slowly. "I didn't know she was pregnant. Man, that was like a two-for-one deal. Wife-to-be and kid in one swoop. She begged me for her child's life, did you know that?'' He watched Hutch's knuckles go white as he gripped the arms of the chair in which he sat. "But through all of it, I made one observation about women that amused me a little. The thing they resisted the most was changing into their wedding dresses. I don't know if they thought I was going to rape them or something because they undressed, or what it was. I thought it was kind of funny, really. I mean, if I was gonna rape somebody, I wouldn't have them change their clothes. Just take 'em off.''

"Is there a point to this?'' Hutch asked through clenched teeth in a barely controlled voice.

"Honestly I was beginning to wonder that myself. I mean, I finally have to hand you the answer. Some hot shot detective.'' Jordan laughed a little. "You know what I almost did? Kill Starsky. Now I'm beginning to think I shoulda gone with my first impression, but when I heard about the girlfriend, I couldn't help it.''

"Let me get this straight. You killed those women, including my fiancee, to get at me somehow?'' Hutch watched as Jordan smiled condescendingly.

"I'll take it from the top, just so you get the whole picture. I've been planning this for so long, and waiting so long for you and your dense friends to figure it out that I'm just running off at the mouth.''

"This obviously is some leftover plot of your father's.''

"No, it was all mine.'' He paused. "I loved my father. To you he was just another criminal you busted and brought down. I watched him wither up and die in prison. He was good to me, a good father. You took that away from me--''

"He messed with me, Jordan. I didn't go looking for him.''

"You were trying to come between him and Jeannie.''

"I find it a little ironic--you sticking up for him and another of his lovers. Your mother was one of them once.''

"Leave my mother out of this. Furthermore, he offered to leave his wife and marry her before I was ever born, but she didn't want me growing up in what she called a 'crime family'. Now don't interrupt me again. As I was saying, he meant a lot to me. He had one dying wish, and that was to bring you and your partner down. He was most interested in you, though. So after he died--that was three years ago--I went on with my life and tried to forget the whole thing for awhile. But it kept nagging at me, so I thought the first thing I should do was find a way to get closer to you and your partner, learn something about you--your schedules, how you worked. One thing I've learned is that people love to talk about themselves, especially if they think they're about to be recognized for something.'' He shifted into a more comfortable position in his chair.

"So you've been stalking us for years?''

"You could call it that, I guess. I call it research. You might remember--or maybe you don't, but your partner would--that about two years ago, a student doing his internship with the local Chamber of Commerce came to the precinct to interview potential candidates for an award sponsored by a local citizens' group. I called it the 'Citizens' Law Enforcement Appreciation Award'. One cop was going to be singled out, given a cash award and honored at a dinner for his exemplary service. This was going to be an annual event, a way for the community to say 'thank you' to the men and women in blue. I thought it sounded pretty hokey, but the first person I tried it out on bought it hook, line and sinker. I did use a disguise, incidentally. This one was a blond wig and phony mustache--well, kind of an ironic tribute to the man I wanted to kill,'' he concluded with a chuckle. "I talked to a couple of patrol officers first, to get into my character, then I looked Starsky up. He was chained to a desk in the traffic division, recovering from major surgery--which I figured was connected to the shooting in the police garage that had been all over the papers. He was kind of a ragged-looking character at the time--real thin, pale, moved like an old man around that little office they'd stuck him in.''

"What's your point?'' Hutch remembered only too well how frail Starsky had been even when permitted to go back on desk duty. It had taken him better than a year to look healthy again, and in Hutch's opinion, he only recently had begun to look like his old self.

"I expected him to go off about his shooting, try the sympathy ploy to get the award. All he talked about was his partner. Like you were some kind of superman. You single-handedly brought down Gunther's empire, you managed his recovery from the shooting, and you managed to maintain a pretty significant caseload while you did all this. I can't remember now if he implied that you walked on water, too.'' He shook his head and smiled a bit sarcastically. "So I got this brainstorm. If you were even half as impressed with your partner as he seemed to be with you, the best revenge on you would be to kill him. Especially after you thought you'd just gotten him back from the jaws of death and then--WHAM! He's dead.''

"So what stopped you?'' Hutch felt his stomach twist into a knot, but he resolved to stay calm, hoping to keep the other man talking, his shotgun aimed away from the ceiling. Maybe he could think of something if he just had more time...

"One thing at a time. I really put a lot of research and planning into killing Starsky. I watched all sorts of revolting movies, read true crime stories about gruesome torture-murders. I wanted to make it...unforgettable. I actually had a list of things I was going to do to him. I was going to hire some guys to help me snatch him, bring him out here, tie him to the bed upstairs just like he is now, and work my way down my checklist until I had either done all of it or he had died from shock or blood loss. Since he wasn't real strong to begin with, I figured he wouldn't last long. That's one of the reasons I took my time researching it. It gave him time to fully recover, and you time to get complacent about having him around again.''

"But you didn't go after Starsky. At least not in the beginning.''

"I was all set to. I was going to take pictures, or better yet, get a camera mounted and film it for you. Then, I figured I'd put a bullet in his head if he'd lived through all of it, and then send you the tape with a note where you could find his body. In retrospect, I feel like I should have gone with my first impression, because I think it would have been the best revenge after all, and a lot more direct. This way took more time, but then the game...the puzzle I was creating for you was getting more convoluted, and quite frankly, it was fun. Anyway, doing the research, getting the supplies--you wouldn't believe how much trouble it is to pick up stuff like a cattle prod, barbed wire, certain controlled substances, surgical instruments--and not attract someone's attention. I wasn't ready to launch the plan to kill Starsky until last January. I was all set to grab him at the next good opportunity when I saw the engagement announcement in the newspaper. Kenneth Hutchinson and Sandra Jerome, to be married April something-or-other. Suddenly, I pictured killing Starsky and you having the wife to fall back on. Didn't have the same impact.''

"And you just changed your mind and decided to kill Sandra?'' Hutch asked, trying to maintain his composure. He was hating himself for actually feeling some relief that the engagement announcement had come about when it did. The tortures that Jordan was alluding to were too horrible to envision, and the ultimate end of finding what was left of Starsky, with a bullet in his head, was unthinkable. That he had been the cause of suffering for Sandra, Madeleine Nolan, Coral Rutherford...and ultimately even Starsky...sickened Hutch more than he could express.

"I just put everything on hold for awhile. I had to think it through carefully. But then I saw this tacky horror movie about a maniac who murders young women on the eve of their wedding. I had the inspiration that topped all inspirations. I would create a serial killer...a monster who preyed on brides...and your lady would be just one of them. I also thought it would be a nice feeling for you to know that three innocent young women were slaughtered just because of you. Maybe then you could see that nailing my father was ultimately more detrimental than if you'd let him go. See, if you hadn't brought him down, I'd have never killed those women--including your fiancee. Also, there was the flipside that I could probably get away clean. You'd be looking for a maniac, a psycho. Not someone with a grudge against you. Boy did you cops take that bait and run with it.'' Jordan sighed. "My grandmother's roses were the only real mistake I made. You know, I never thought you guys would trace something like that.''

"Why did you go after Starsky? You'd put him aside as a target.''

"I did. But when I went into your house to plant that mannequin--I bought her at a department store that was going out of business. You know how they sell off their fixtures and furnishings at the very end? I figured you wouldn't be able to trace it because the store wouldn't be there anymore. And so it wasn't. I was getting that all set up when I noticed that flag in window of the house behind you. Man, that idea just hit me like a ton of bricks. I also was ready to give you another hint as to why all this was happening. So I used the name 'Curtis'--my mother's last name--see, she got married a few years ago to some rich turkey in Palm Springs. But that's another whole story.'' Jordan adjusted the position of the shotgun aimed toward Hutch so he could cross his legs. The conversational tone and casual demeanor of this murderer surprised Hutch. There was no raving, no brandishing the weapon...just this bizarre enjoyment of telling him the details.

"You hired the guys in the bar?''

"Well, it wasn't that simple. You don't just walk into a bar and ask if there are any Nazis there. I went to the presentation given by a Mr. Eisenman at Radnor College. I figured extremist nuts might show up there. I wasn't disappointed. That's how I spotted Norton and Mercer. Those two were actually funny when you put them together. There was Norton, all preppy and proper and spouting off Nazi dogma. Then there was Norton, a thug who didn't mind getting his hands dirty to do a job. And also didn't mind admitting that he liked the sordid side of his politics--the violence, the beatings, the persecution. Norton was a good organizer, but Mercer was a dream come true as a hired thug. He loved his work.'' He paused to listen to a noise from above him. "Natives are getting restless up there.'' He stood up and backed toward the stairs. "Keep the noise down or I'll blow your ass off!!'' he yelled up the staircase. There was an answering sound of movement of some kind, probably Starsky thrashing around in his restraints. "Fine! Make another sound and I'll blow your partner's head off instead!'' Silence reigned. Jordan smiled.

"You could let him go. It's me you're after. And I'm here.''

"I could, but that would be boring. Besides, it's infinitely easier to keep you from trying anything when I've got your precious partner--and all my old torture supplies--right upstairs.''

"What have you done to him?'' Hutch demanded, suddenly wondering if Jordan had tried out any of his devices while he was waiting.

"Not very much. I haven't tortured him, if that's what you're worried about.'' He settled back in his chair. "He got a little banged up when that car went into the ditch. Nothing serious. He'll live. I thought about using the barbed wire to tie him up, but I didn't. I figured I could save that for him if he made too much noise up there. Besides, I found it harder to work with than it was worth.'' Jordan settled back in his chair again. There was no sound from above.

"You went after Starsky just for the fun of it then?''

"It was fun watching Mercer and his pals wipe that cocky smirk off Starsky's face--and I knew how it would get to you. And also it would send you and all your friends off in another direction, hunting down neo-Nazis and not devoting much energy to the murder case. See, all of that crap with the wedding dress and the roses--that was all show. I didn't have anything against Madeleine Nolan or that other girl...oh, yeah--Coral Rutherford. I actually didn't have anything against Sandra Jerome except for her lousy taste in men. Anyhow, you weren't really investigating it as a personal crime, and I wanted to make it personal. So I went after Starsky. When Mercer threw in the rape idea, I thought it was perfect. I mean, that wouldn't be something I'd want to do myself, because if I were gonna rape anybody, it would have been one of those sexy little blondes I killed.'' Hutch began to rise from his chair, and Jordan only registered a bored dismay at the gesture. "Oh, sit down and quit jumping to her defense,'' Jordan scolded, taking more active aim at Hutch with the shotgun. "I thought about that, you know. Having a little fun with my work. But that would have changed the profile of the maniac I wanted you to look for, and it would have left physical evidence. I still was entertaining the idea of getting away with it back then, so I didn't want to leave anything traceable.''

"Why didn't you let Mercer go through with the assault on Starsky?''

"Because Norton made a very valid point about the time. I was pretty upset about that because I figured we'd be leaving you with a sniveling basket case if Mercer had his way with him. Plus, I was kind of enjoying seeing that self-satisfied pain in the ass you live with put in his place. The only restrictions on him were not to kill Starsky. I wanted him alive, twisted up inside and dysfunctional. But we had been there too long, and it was a good bet that we'd be seeing you show up home, and that would have blown everything. It was kind of funny watching the look on Starsky's face while Mercer was bickering with me that it wouldn't take him long if he didn't do all the extras. Didn't have any snappy comebacks then.''

"You sick bastard,'' Hutch muttered. So all of Starsky's suffering was because of him after all. Oh, God, how is he gonna feel about that one?

"At least you're not jumping out of your chair at me. That's an improvement. Anyway, I told him to forget it and we got out of there, apparently just in time.'' Jordan sighed. "The problems started cropping up then. Your nutty neighbor managed to get himself arrested that night, so that shot part of the plan straight to hell. You stopped concentrating on him.''

"Did you send the picture to Starsky?''

"Oh, I forgot about that. Yeah, I did.'' He was surprisingly willing to tell his tale in its entirety, further convincing Hutch that he must plan to kill them both. "So I was counting on Schoemacher to take the heat, and that fell apart. Then you started sniffing around my grandmother's place about the roses. Shit, man, when those cops showed up at my door to question me about the murders--based on the roses I'd taken out of her garden--I freaked out. You guys were getting too close too fast. Of course then you took off again in another direction and didn't accomplish anything anyway. Of course, having Mercer and his pals play kick the can with your partner kept you busy for quite a long time.''

"You're sick.''

"Yeah, probably. But I'm smart enough to keep the BCPD chasing its tail for seven months. Oh, yeah, your kid would've been born in November, wouldn't she? I read the papers. Don't look so shocked that I know that. I got deprived a father, you got deprived a kid. Maybe there's a certain justice in that I didn't even count on.''

"You murdered Coral Rutherford as what--an afterthought--just another death for the sake of appearances?'' Hutch ignored the reference to Elizabeth. He had to.

"Yeah, and I was getting sloppy by then. I suppose you don't think I know that I dropped that receipt there. I knew. About two hours after I got home, I was looking through my pockets before getting rid of my clothes--Coral was a spunky one. There was blood all over me that time.''

"How did you get in and out unnoticed?''

"Look at me. If you saw me--well, minus the shotgun, obviously--in your neighborhood, would you worry--or even notice? Just another college student. I told Madeleine I was a new tenant in her building, and that my phone wasn't hooked up yet. When she let me in to make the call, whammo. I conked her on the head and the rest is history. Of course, I soon figured out that making them change into the dress was a hell of a lot easier than doing it after they were unconscious. I murdered her before she woke up. If that makes her family feel any better, I doubt as she consciously knew what was happening. Now Sandra...she knew. I wanted her to know. Because when this moment came, I wanted you to know that she suffered.'' Jordan watched Hutch a moment. "What, no outburst?''

"Would there be a point, other than to put on a show for you?'' Hutch asked, forcing a calmness into his voice he didn't feel. He'd heard another noise upstairs, but Jordan was too engrossed in his story to notice sounds masked by the thunder.

"Probably not. Anyhow, I told your fiancee that I was a photographer you hired for the wedding. I thought you'd get a kick out of my using your name to gain entry to the house.''

"Why did you spin off into the whole heroin thing? I mean, you already killed Sandra, attacked Starsky--why not just come after me?'' Hutch couldn't handle keeping his cool to discuss Sandra's death anymore, and he prayed Jordan and his ego would follow the change of subject. He did.

"For the same reason you don't chug-a-lug expensive champagne. Some experiences should be savored. Getting revenge on you was one of those. I figured knowing someone knew your dirty little secret would drive you bananas. And my dad told me where to find the photo. It was in a safe deposit box at the bank. Under another name, obviously, but he had the key. Thus the games began. I was trying to figure out the right time to get together with you, and then you took off with your suitcase yesterday, and I seized the moment. Carpe diem--or something like that. I know you finally made the Ben Forest connection. Duh. What was you first clue?'' he asked sarcastically, shaking his head and rolling his eyes. "But then you probably didn't think that Evan Jordan the homicidal maniac was the one sending you photos of your drug ordeal. And of course, you wouldn't imagine that he was also a neo-Nazi in his spare time. That was the glory of all this. Watching you all shoot out in the wrong directions...and all the while bringing you down.''

"So how does the story end, Jordan? You've gloated about your brilliant schemes and your elaborate plans and your twisted puzzles. Where does it all lead?''

"Right here. This is it. In case you weren't paying attention, this is the big moment. Killing you straight out was too easy. I wanted you to live with the knowledge that three women died because of what you did to my father. Your partner was beaten and almost raped because of what you did to my father. Can you live with that for the rest of your life? Your fiancee and child are dead because you brought my father down--you and your partner. But all of this isn't going to stay between us, Hutchinson. I sent a very detailed letter to a reporter at The Chronicle. It should arrive tomorrow sometime. By then, you'll have made your final decision, and I'll probably be dead.''

"How do you figure that?''

"My father had this big idea about gangsters in expensive suits and big hats who could get away with anything, who always won, who had cops in their pockets and ran the city like their own little empire. Well, that's not realistic. It got him killed and ultimately, this little venture will cost me my life. Either in going to prison or in death. I came to that realization about midway through this whole plan, and it sent me reeling for awhile. I almost backed out, disappeared to Brazil or something equally colorful. But it was too good, and too far along to turn back, so I've accepted it. I think I've made a pretty strong name for myself now. I won't be forgotten.''

"What is this decision you think I'm going to make?''

"I don't think you're going to make it, I know you will.'' He smiled and straightened his posture in the chair. Hutch seemed to stiffen out in response, pushing the damp hair off his forehead, as if noticing for the first time that he was even wet from the rain outside. "It's a choice. Plain and simple: I'm going to kill one of you tonight. Either you or your partner.''

Hutch caught sight of a shadow on the stairs behind Jordan. He tried not to register that in his expression. The other man appeared not to notice.

"Who will it be, Hutchinson? Do I kill you, or do I point the gun at the ceiling and shoot your partner? Of course, that's kind of a gamble, because it's possible he could survive the bullet, since my aim isn't real sure a floor away from him, and I can't see where I'm shooting. But I know the bed's right up there, and I'll maim him pretty effectively, if not fatally.''

"This is ridiculous.''

"The way you feel about your partner is pretty obvious. So I'm sure you'll make a decision that will make me happy. I still want you to have to make it. Your life or his.''

The shadow took on the very distinct shape of Starsky, hunched so his head was on a level with the railing of the staircase. He gestured to Hutch to make Jordan turn around, to alert him to his presence. If he said anything, Jordan wouldn't believe it. He'd think it was a trick. All Hutch could do was register on his face the surprise of seeing someone on the stairs, and hope he had read Starsky's signals from the shadows accurately.

Jordan saw Hutch's reaction, and without thinking, spun around toward the stairs, shooting. Wood, plaster and glass were exploding as the shotgun ripped into the house's frail wall.

Starsky made a perfectly timed dive and roll out of the path of the bullets, emptying his gun in Jordan's direction as he lay on his side on the floor, having escaped Jordan's shots.

Hutch was making a frantic crawl out to the front porch, where he grabbed the Magnum off the railing and in the ensuing silence, slithered to the edge of the door frame, then popped inside in a crouched stance, gun aimed firmly in front of him.

"Hutch?'' Starsky was rising from his spot on the floor near the stairs. Hutch straightened and relaxed a little at the sound of Starsky's voice, and the sigh of Evan Jordan's bullet-riddled body lyingat his feet.

"He's dead,'' Starsky announced, rising from checking the pulse. With three of Starsky's five shots in the man's chest and abdomen, that wasn't surprising.

"Are you okay?'' Hutch asked his partner, who was sporting a scrape on his forehead and bloody wrists from tearing himself free from his restraints.

"Yeah, I'm okay. You okay?'' Starsky asked, with a slight grin.

"More than okay.'' Hutch let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. "Starsky, I'm sorry. This isn't the time or the place, but I have to say it right now. I'm sorry for all the lousy things I said to you.''

"I'm sorry too, buddy. I should've never--''

"Oh shut up, will ya?'' Hutch grabbed his ragged partner and pulled him into a tight hug. He felt the pressure matched.

"Forgive me?'' Starsky asked.

"Already forgotten, buddy.'' Hutch squeezed tighter momentarily.

"I thought you were gone for real,'' Starsky confessed in a hushed voice.

"Can't get rid of me that easily,'' Hutch quipped back, loosening his hold a little so they could step back from each other.

"Guess we still work together pretty well, huh?''

"Best damn team on the force, pal. How'd you get a hold of your piece again?''

"Jordan left it upstairs. I don't know if he forgot it or if he thought I wouldn't get loose so it didn't matter. At any rate, there it was. So once I got out of the ropes...''

"Come on, let's go radio for help.''