DOWN A DARK HALL
© 1997 by Striped Tomato (email@example.com)
Disclaimer: The following story was written solely for entertainment purposes and sharing with other fans. No money is being made, and no infringement is intended on the rights of anyone holding ownership of the Starsky & Hutch characters, stories or name.
The clicking of the typewriter was the only friendly sound that made the ominous old building seem friendly and familiar. Maplecrest College boasted "a beautiful, historic building" housing classrooms and offices, as well as a "scenic, tree-shaded campus". It had all of that, no doubt about it, she thought, with a little smirk. A sprawling mansion built in the 1890's, converted to the exclusive women's college in 1950. The standards were high and only the very best students were admitted. The student count peaked at 750, and usually hovered around the 700 mark. Despite the tiny student body, a teaching position at Maplecrest was a major coup for a young professor. In a sea of mediocrity, Maplecrest prided itself on being a bastion of excellence.
What a crock of self-righteous, overly-pretentious glop that was, she thought, shaking her head as she typed away at her monthly report to the department chairperson. Dr. Evelyn Lansing. Now there was a pretentious windbag if ever there was one. Maybe the job opening she had applied for at UCLA would pan out, and her days in what felt like a concentration camp would be over soon.
A door opened, and closed again. She ceased typing her report and listened. The door to her tiny faculty office was opened slightly, but the hall outside was almost totally dark. Here I am summarizing my life for the drill sergeant. Here I am, doing all the stuff they tell you not to do to stay safe--working alone at night in an empty building. And now someone else is out in that hallway.
Probably another faculty member. Maybe the esteemed Dr. Lansing herself. She approached her open door quietly. There were two options. Lock the door and call the police--which would leave her feeling like an idiot when one of her colleagues turned out to be connected to the footsteps she could hear now in the hall--or simply get over her paranoia and go see who it was. She chose the latter option...
Starsky yawned and stretched in the passenger seat of the light green LTD. Hutch glanced over at him, mildly irritated at his partner's frequent displays of fatigue. Pulling double shifts for the last two weeks trying to wrap up a case Dobey had them on with narcotics had left them both more than a little wilted. Hutch had determined there weren't enough health shakes known to man to effectively battle this schedule, and watching Starsky yawn and stretch like an old hound in front of a fireplace wasn't perking him up any. A stakeout spent staring at an office building waiting to catch a glimpse of an alleged drug dealer's best customer (who was in turn suspected of murdering a business associate who was allegedly blackmailing him because of his habit--hence, the reason for Homicide to get involved) to show up and make a buy was akin to taking a sleeping pill and being forced to fight its effects.
Little did they know their days on this case were numbered. Across town, in an exclusive suburban area, their next case was being created in a bloody frenzy...
"You want to get some breakfast or just go home?" Starsky asked his partner as they walked back into the precinct to quickly type up a report which would essentially inform Dobey that nothing had happened during the stakeout.
"Go home, I think. I'm too tired to eat." Hutch plopped into the chair behind his desk and stared at Starsky, who grudgingly took on the task of typing up the report. It was his turn. A little after six in the morning, they were shocked to see Dobey pop out of his office, looking as if he had been up and at 'em for hours. Turns out he had been.
"I need to see you two in my office, now." He waited in the doorway while they filed in past him. "I'm pulling you off the narcotics investigation." He sat behind his desk while his two detectives occupied chairs across from it.
"Not that we're complaining, but is something wrong?" Hutch asked.
"Nothing with what you're doing. But you're needed elsewhere. More specifically, I need Starsky."
"What for?" Starsky asked, a little surprised to have been singled out.
"For starters, you're the only Jewish homicide detective I've got."
"Back up a minute--what do you need a Jewish homicide detective for?"
"An undercover assignment. You ought to like this. You're going to teach at an all-women's college."
"He's going to teach at a college?" Hutch's amused shock irritated Starsky.
"And what makes you think I couldn't do that?"
"For one thing, you've barely darkened the doors of one let alone taught anything."
"I'll have you know that--"
"Quit bickering, both of you," Dobey overrode Starsky's angry response. "A young professor was murdered there last night. Anna Goldman. She was teaching Judaism: Faith and Practice, as well as two sections of general courses on Religions of the World."
"Wait a minute--you want me to teach a class on Religions of the World? Cap'n, the Jewish thing, maybe, but--"
"You can read, right?" Dobey barked.
"Of course I can--"
"Then you can pick up the textbooks and get one step ahead of your students. Professor Goldman was an expert in Jewish theology. The reason we want to send someone undercover is that this is the fourth homicide to occur on that campus in the past year. Prior to this year, the crime rate was negligible and consisted of one or two traffic violations. Now, the person the college would obviously replace her with would have expertise in Jewish theology--"
"Cap, I hardly qualify as an expert--"
"Didn't your mother make you go to services?"
"Well, yeah, but--"
"And you know about Jewish food?"
"And you know when the holidays are and what the customs are?"
"Of course, but--"
"Then quit adding 'but' on the end of every answer! You know what you need to know for this assignment. Your students aren't experts in it either. You know more than they do. I checked with the registrar. Out of the 716 students currently registered, 14 are Jewish. Only one of those students is registered in what is going to be your class."
"With all due respect, Captain, the students at Maplecrest are some of the brightest in the country. How long do you think it'll be before they eat him alive?"
"Thanks, Hutch. I suppose you think I could handle a room full of dumb ones."
"I didn't say that. I just mean that sending anyone in who doesn't have a background in education to teach a room full of some of the top students in the country is a little...problematic, don't you think?" He looked at Dobey, hoping he had softened his criticism of the captain's plan--and his partner's intelligence--adequately. He hadn't.
"Look, we need to get to the bottom of this. There's national attention focused on this situation, and I don't have another cop who knows a blessed thing about the Jewish religion to send in there. Now I think Starsky can handle this one, and I'm through justifying it to you, Hutchinson." Dobey turned his attention to Starsky. "Now, here's a list of the textbooks for the two courses you'll be teaching. Professor Goldman's syllabi are attached, so you'll know how far she had progressed with the students. I've set up a meeting for you with the department head at noon today. You will take over the teaching assignment starting Monday."
"Cap'n, there are five books between these two courses--you're only giving me three days to put this together?"
"You'll be off active duty. Hutchinson, you're going to be his contact on the outside. You'll follow up the leads, investigate the case officially for the department. You two work out your contact arrangements and keep me informed. By the way, Starsky, you're Professor David Levinson. This is your background information. Your cover story is that you have been hired on a temporary basis to take over Anna Goldman's teaching duties. Your appointment will be officially reviewed later in the term by the appropriate search committee. That was the only story we could come up with to side-step involving an entire committee of faculty in your cover. They normally go through quite a procedure to hire a professor."
"At least I get to keep my first name."
"Levinson is our character. His background has been set up with all the institutions and individuals you'll find listed on your 'resume'. Now, if you two are interested, the homicide you're investigating is a particularly gruesome one. Professor Goldman was apparently working in her office last night. She was found around four a.m. by the caretaker who noticed a light on in the main building. She was stabbed and slashed numerous times, apparently put up quite a struggle. There was blood from one end of the hall to the other in the faculty offices wing. A final chest wound was the fatal one. All the details, crime scene photos, etc., are in this file."
"Who else on the campus is in on my cover?" Starsky asked.
"Dr. Lansing--she's the Social Sciences Department chairperson, the President--Dr. Garner, and the Dean of Students--Dr. Barnard. You'll have to be on your best behavior around there. There are only two male faculty members and one male administrator--Dr. Barnard. I don't have to tell you that I've been warned more than once that the quality of programs or the well-being of the students can't be compromised by our operation."
"I won't chase the girls or go on any panty-raids while I'm there, Cap," Starsky responded with a devilish grin.
"You're damn right you won't, Starsky. Now, Hutch, I want you over at the crime scene--do the usual routine to get the investigation started. I don't want you and Starsky seen together on the campus." Dobey paused, and a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. "Now go hit the books, professor." Dobey leaned back in his chair. "Oh, and when you visit Dr. Lansing today, wear a suit," he ordered, with the chiding tone of a benevolently irritated father.
"Thanks a lot for your support in there, pal." Starsky grabbed his jacket off the back of the chair near his desk. He didn't look happy.
"I was just concerned how feasible your cover was, Starsk. I mean there is a killer at work here."
"It's not that, Hutch." He kept heading for the door. "Drop me at home, huh?"
"You want to tell me what it is you're mad at?"
"Oh, I'm sure you can figure it out, college boy."
"Damn it, Starsky, what's eating you?"
"'You've barely darkened the doors of one let alone taught anything'," he mocked Hutch's earlier statement. "Could you have made me sound a little dumber if you worked on it? You know, buddy, not everything in this life is a matter of choice for some of us." By now they were in the morning sun-drenched parking lot, and Starsky was walking determinedly toward the light green LTD, the third in Hutch's ongoing progression of clunkers.
"Meaning that some of us aren't born into a situation where we go the ballet and the opera and get a free pleasure cruise through college or have any reason to know what kind of caviar is better or how to pick the right wine with escargot. Let me enlighten you about something. My family isn't rich--"
"Mine weren't always either, but--"
"But they were never really poor either. And you said yourself you ran with a rich crowd in college. My dad worked his ass off, every hour of overtime he could get to support us. When he was gunned down in the street, my mother had to take funeral money from Joe Durniak to get him buried, and then we had to get by on his pension. There were debts...the point is, you have this superior attitude toward me every time we're in a situation where your background has you better prepared. And when I fall on my face, you laugh at me along with everyone else. How many times have you ever, in your self-satisfied life, tried to help me out when I was floundering around in one of those situations? And why do you have so damn much fun watching me sweat, huh? I don't understand it sometimes, Hutch." Starsky shook his head and got in the passenger side of the car.
"Starsky, I don't know what to say."
"That's a first. Didn't you take some kind of public speaking class that covers this?"
"If you wanted to go to college, you could have anytime, pal." Hutch felt his temper rising to a simmer under the attack.
"Oh, sure I could. Working the hours we work, I could get my degree like nothin'. Oh, and while I'm at it, I'll just draw on my extensive inheritance to pay the tuition. How in the hell do you think my mother survives, pays her bills? On that dribble of a pension that's left to her? You know what that's worth after inflation gets done with it? Where the hell do you think I'd come up with money to pay my own bills, half of hers and tuition? I need my overtime to handle all that now." Starsky was quiet a minute. "It amazes me sometimes for someone as sensitive and perceptive as you are never had a reality check on what opportunities are out there for the rest of us who don't have all the advantages handed to them."
"I suppose you're implying I haven't worked for anything I've got."
"No, I'm not. You're a damn fine cop--the best in the business. And you work like hell at it, and you're dedicated. I'm not picking you apart for anything like that. What I am saying is that I'm surprised you're so unaware of what life's like for someone whose options were
limited. That's no cop out, Hutch. Yeah, it is when you're using it to say you knocked over a liquor store or killed someone because you had a rough childhood and limited opportunities, but it's reality when you go back and evaluate why you didn't go to college, or why you don't know all the right words for what ballerinas are doing jumping around on a stage, or why you feel like the houseboy when you're at a fancy party in someone's mansion, and the only person you know decides he's going to mingle by himself. You cover my back in every other situation but one like that. It's just odd."
"Starsky, I don't understand what triggered this. Anything I've ever said, I was only kidding. I've teased you, but I didn't mean anything by it." Hutch paused. "What's really bothering you?"
"This case. This assignment. I guess I'm scared. I never did go to college for more than a class or two, and you're right--I never taught anything. I'm going to have this room full of brains staring me in the face. Not just average kids, but brainy kids. I'll probably fall on my face introducing myself." Starsky stared out the window a moment. "I'm sorry I jumped all over you. I'm just nervous."
"Look, while I get started on the investigation, go round up the books and get your meeting with Lansing out of the way. I'll help you all I can to get ready for this, okay?"
"You will? After all the shitty things I just said?"
"Not all of them were that far off base, buddy. We're partners, right? That means we take on this stuff as a team. I won't leave you floundering on this one. I promise."
"Thanks." Starsky exhaled and leaned back in the seat. "I should call my mother. She always wanted me to amount to something. I can tell her I was a college professor for a coupla weeks anyway."
"Why don't you talk to Dobey about getting your degree? The department'll sometimes pay part or all of the tuition."
"I know. If I want to go to college to learn to be a cop. I think I've got that one covered. If I went, I'd want to do something different. I don't think I could sit in a classroom and listen to some stuffy old windbag teach me about the criminal mind. I guess I don't really want to do it that much right now. I just wonder sometimes how things would've changed if I could have gone right after high school. And sometimes I hate that I don't know all the right things to say or do in some situations. I don't like that I embarrass you when I don't mean to."
"You can't say I haven't."
"Half the time if you do it's my own fault. Look, when I was in college, I did travel with a pretty affluent crowd. We played one-up tricks on each other all the time, and if you could manage to ruffle or embarrass one of those guys, you were doing well. It was a sort of competition."
"Doesn't sound like those were friends--more like adversaries."
"You can tell how many of them I stayed in touch with over the years. Much to Van's chagrin." Hutch snickered. "She thought there was a hope of running with the ivy league set."
"Do you miss doing that? Running with the ivy league set?"
"Not as a rule. But old habits die hard. The sparring was fun on occasion. You were always a little off-balance because you never knew what was going to get shot at you, or what situation you were going to find yourself in. Taught me to think on my feet."
"That's great on the streets or at work, but..."
"It stinks with your best friend, huh?" Hutch smiled faintly.
"I guess I just never learned to be on my guard with you, and I get caught once in a while. This is a stupid conversation, Hutch. I don't why I brought it up. I guess I'm just nervous." Starsky fell silent as they approached his apartment building.
"Well, I'll stop in later and fill you in on what's up with the investigation. Want me to bring dinner?" Hutch noticeably refrained from making any comment on their conversation.
"Yeah. How about pizza?"
"Maybe," Hutch retorted as his partner got out of the car.
"Or Chinese. Or Mexican..." Starsky paused. "Don't worry about what I said, Hutch. I didn't mean it. I was just rambling. You know I talk too much when I'm nervous." He moved back from the car and then hurried up the driveway and up the steps to his door. He hadn't waited for an answer. Hutch pulled away as his friend disappeared inside the apartment. And he mulled the conversation over in his mind.
Maplecrest College looked more like a country estate than a college campus. Open iron gates and flagstone columns marked the entrance, with a wide concrete drive running between them. A bronze sign announced the name of the college and its date of establishment, 1950. The rustle of trees almost drowned out the roar of the LTD's engine as it made its way up the drive toward the main building. As Hutch drove further, the trees cleared considerably to reveal picnic tables where students studied or shared snacks, against the backdrop of the imposing mansion that housed the classrooms and offices of the prestigious little college. It was a tall, red-brick Victorian-style structure with arched windows and several chimneys sprouting from the roof to accommodate the numerous fireplaces inside. There was a more modern building about two hundred yards away which served as a residence hall. The buildings were reached by long, winding sidewalks that bridged the distance between them and the parking lots. Nothing so vulgar as parking would be allowed near the serenity of the building itself.
The LTD took its place among Cadillacs, Lincolns, Mercedes and other expensive, late-model cars. Poor Starsk. This was an intimidating atmosphere at best. He'd be a fish out of water in this place. Hutch felt awkward himself as he approached the main building, immersed in burgundy blazer-clad college girls. Once inside, he noted the only other male he saw in the area, a professor, dressed in a grey suit, white shirt and tie. No wonder the girls had checked him out like he was a walking lab experiment. A leather jacket, jeans and shirt weren't standard apparel for this place.
The building still gave off the feeling you had entered someone's estate rather than a public place. Whoever renovated this place into a school had done a wonderful job. Most of the ornate woodwork, high ceilings, original doors and hardware were still intact. In fact, despite the overhead lighting, some of the original gaslight fixtures remained.
The faculty office area had been roped off as a crime scene, and that was his first stop.
He recognized the officer on guard duty by the tape-sealed double doors and identified himself.
"Hey, Hutch, these old bats have been at me all morning to let them get in there and get it cleaned up and open again," Patrolman Hank Murdock greeted him.
"Well, they'll have to keep their shirts on a while longer." Hutch opened the doors and stepped into the gloomy hallway.
"God, I hope they do that. I ain't ready to see that group topless," Murdock quipped. Hutch snickered a little, but it was cut short when he flipped on the overhead lights.
"Nasty mess, eh?" Murdock responded, standing in the doorway.
"Really." Hutch opened the folder of crime scene photos and information he had been carrying and started comparing them with what he was looking at now. "Makes you wonder what would possess a woman to work alone in this mausoleum at night." He found the office that had been Anna Goldman's, and would probably soon be "Professor Levinson's". It was a small but pleasant room with one tiny window. Books congested it from all sides. Typical faculty office. There was almost no blood in this room. She must have faced her attacker in the hall. Hutch felt himself shiver, and suddenly was aware that despite his jacket and the mildness of the day, he was cold. "Murdock?"
"Does it feel cold in here to you?"
"Not really." Murdock was wearing a typical short-sleeved uniform shirt. Hutch had two layers of long sleeves protecting his arms, but still he shivered.
"Must be a draft in the hall here." He ducked back into Anna Goldman's office and began picking through the papers. There was little of significance to a murder investigation. Student papers, textbooks, lecture notes, correspondence, hand-outs from a faculty meeting, periodicals, a couple of book catalogs...standard college professor items. There was a photo on the desk of Anna and another young woman at their graduation, presumably from graduate school based on their regalia. A decorative brass paperweight, a set of bookends and some assorted cosmetic items in one of the desk drawers were the extent of the woman's personal possessions. None of them "told a story". Hutch wandered back down the hall, happy to be ending his tour of the crime scene. The warmth was almost tangible as he made the transition back to the spot outside the doors where Murdock stood guard.
"Not a hell of a lot to go on. Well, I'm going to catch up with Dr. Lansing--"
"The Wicked Witch of the West, huh?"
"Sweet lady, eh?" Hutch responded with a smile.
"She was kind of a looker, actually, but when I told her she couldn't go down the hall to her office, I was afraid of her."
"Well, I'll be back to do a search of all the offices later, but for now I want to get a hold of Lansing. Hang in there, Murdock," Hutch concluded, smiling as he walked down the hall to the stairs. Dr. Lansing had told him to find her in the Registrar's Office, where she was temporarily working until she could return to her own office. It was almost eleven, and Hutch wanted to be safely out of the way before Starsky showed up at noon, playing his Levinson role. He approached the woman at the counter. A small lady of about sixty, she was an oasis of friendliness in the chilly environment.
"I'm here to see Dr. Lansing. Detective Hutchinson." He flashed his badge.
"Good morning, Officer. If you'll have a seat, I'll let her know you're here."
"Thanks." Hutch settled in one of the straight-back chairs opposite the counter while he heard murmuring female voices from the back of the office.
"Detective Hutchinson, you can come on back," the woman directed, opening a small, solid wood gate that separated the office from the reception area.
"Thank you." He followed her to a small, private office and found an elegant, but ruffled-looking woman whom he judged to be in her early forties behind a cramped desk.
"I'm Evelyn Lansing," she announced, standing to shake hands. Her eyes skimmed his attire, not approvingly. Wicked Witch of the West, huh? Murdock was too kind.
"Dr. Lansing. I'm Sergeant Hutchinson, Metro PD. I'll be in charge of the murder investigation."
"Please have a seat." She resumed her perch behind the desk as he followed her directive. "You can appreciate what an inconvenience it is for our faculty to be unable to access their offices."
"Perhaps you can appreciate that a young woman was brutally murdered there less than 12 hours ago, and we need to preserve any possible evidence so you don't have your fifth campus homicide this year." Hutch watched her enamel crack a little, but no perceptible break occurred. "I do understand that we have to wrap up that segment of the investigation as quickly as possible, and it would be my hope that we could do so by tomorrow morning. I have to talk to the coroner's office and forensics first. If I get a green light, you'll have the offices back by then. As you know, we have someone coming on board undercover to assist with the investigation."
"I hoped you might fill in some blanks about this individual's background. I don't wish to compromise the integrity of our students' educational experience. I had hoped your operative would be here in a non-academic capacity."
"We need to have someone infiltrate campus life to do this properly. A clerical or custodial employee would not be in the same position as a faculty member. And students would have limited interaction with faculty and staff and administration. A faculty member's position does offer us the most opportunity."
"What is, ah, Professor Levinson's background--really?"
"He's my partner. Another homicide detective."
"I'm aware he is a detective. I meant his academic background."
"He was raised Jewish, so--"
"He has no worthwhile academic background is what you're saying?"
"He graduated from high school, the police academy, and has had some college courses." Hutch didn't enumerate to her that there were only two of them--one psychology class and one criminology class. "He has a perfect 4-point in his college courses." Well, he did pull two A's, that was no lie.
"All our faculty have terminal degrees, Sergeant."
"He isn't a faculty member, with all due respect, Dr. Lansing. He is a homicide detective, and this is a homicide investigation. Now if I were a parent of one of your students, I would rather think my daughter spent a few weeks in a course taught by someone without a terminal degree while these murders were investigated than to be assured of the integrity of her education and have her be the next one on the coroner's slab downtown."
"You don't need to be crude."
"And you don't need to assume that my partner is an inarticulate idiot, either. Our captain wouldn't have assigned him if he couldn't handle it."
"I won't even ask about your captain's academic credentials." She shook her head. "How long do you expect this little escapade to last?"
"This escapade, as you call it, will last until we apprehend the killer or our captain pulls the plug on it. Now, I also need to meet with your head of security here."
"We only have two security guards, one day, one night, provided by a security service." She flipped through the cards on a Rolodex and copied a name and number on a sheet of memo paper and handed it to Hutch. "The night man called in sick at the last minute, and apparently there was no one available to replace him. There was no one here. The police were supposedly stepping up patrols around the campus."
"In all fairness, we can't provide private security service, and it's nearly impossible to see this campus from the road." Hutch paused and ignored her impassive expression. "What can you tell me about Anna Goldman?"
"She was a promising young scholar. Graduated with honors from Harvard University, with a perfect 4-point, I believe." Dr. Lansing's snide reference to Hutch's summary of Starsky's qualifications was not lost on him, but he let it pass. "She was already published in two scholarly periodicals during her doctoral studies, and recently was offered a book deal to write about Judaism in modern American culture. She was single, has parents residing in New Hampshire, and that is the extent of the information I can give you."
"Anyone on the faculty or staff she was particularly friendly with?"
"I don't really know."
"All right. Thank you for your time, Dr. Lansing. As I said, we'll try to have the offices open to you by tomorrow morning. My partner should be here for a noon appointment."
"He's on my book."
"Well, I'll be in touch. Here's my card if you think of anything else." He handed one to her, and she accepted it. He was more than relieved to be out of her office and heading for the door.
He made a thorough walking tour of the grounds, giving special attention to any areas near the faculty offices. He stopped at the caretaker's house to question him and his wife. Del and Arlene Statler could only tell him the time they noticed the light go on, which was when Anna Goldman first arrived to begin working in her office. She placed a call to them five minutes later to let them know she was there, so they wouldn't worry or call the police. The light was still burning when they retired for the night at 10:30 p.m. When Mr. Statler got up to use the bathroom and went to the kitchen for a drink of water at 3:00 a.m. and the light was still on, he went up to the building to investigate and found the body. No surprises, no leads to be had here. Hutch left the campus shortly before his partner arrived.
Starsky pulled the Torino into a vacant parking spot between a Mercedes and a Cadillac. Well, it was an expensive college, so you couldn't expect the faculty to travel in jalopies. He got out of the car and straightened the black three-piece suit. He felt more like a funeral director than a professor. He sure as hell didn't feel like a cop. He had his folder of phony credentials in a sweaty death grip as he made his way up the sidewalk to the main building. God, why didn't they put Hutch in this role? Hutch a Jew. The thought made him smile broadly as he completed his walk to the front door. A couple of attractive students returned it. Well, maybe I can get by on my smile, he thought. Yeah, right.
The small older woman behind the counter in the Registrar's Office smiled pleasantly as he approached her.
"Good afternoon." He smiled slightly. "I'm Dr. Levinson--I have an appointment with Dr. Lansing at noon."
"Of course. Dr. Lansing is expecting you. Please, right this way." She led him back to the small office. Evelyn Lansing rose from her desk and in sight of the secretary, greeted her new professor very pleasantly and politely, shaking his hand and welcoming him to Maplecrest. When the door closed behind them, Starsky knew she would take the gloves off, and she did.
"Well, Sergeant," she took his folder of false credentials, "would that David Levinson existed."
"Look, Dr. Lansing, I know you're probably not thrilled with this situation, and neither am I."
"Very perceptive. I spoke with your partner earlier. He said you had some college background. How extensive was it?"
"I thought you wanted Levinson's resume, not mine," he retorted.
"I want both."
"I took two classes over the last three or four years."
"Splendid." There was heavy sarcasm in her tone. "In what?"
"Psychology and Criminology."
"Sergeant Starsky, I--"
"Dr. Lansing, please use my undercover name when you talk to me. If my cover's blown here, I might as well not bother, and while that's probably an attractive option to you right now, it won't be if you end up with many more corpses on your campus. Bad for business. My first name really is David, so if you'd like to use that, please feel free."
"Dr. Levinson, then. I have to be concerned with the education of our students. I also am concerned with the propriety of unqualified male faculty. This is a women's institution--"
"I don't have any plans to chase the girls if that's what you're worried about. I'm a professional, Dr. Lansing. I may not have a half-dozen letters after my name, but I'm good at what I do, and I take it seriously. I don't pretend to know as much as you do, or Anna Goldman did, about higher education, but I know a lot more about police work. I assure you I won't behave in an inappropriate manner around the girls. I'm not here to play The Dating Game. I'm looking for a homicidal maniac."
"Very well. At least we understand each other." She closed the folder and laid her clasped hands on top of it. "I'll give you a tour of the campus. Of course, you will be able to use Professor Goldman's office as soon as your colleagues give us permission to do the necessary...maintenance work on the office area and begin using our offices again. I have made arrangements for other faculty to take over the Introduction to World Religions courses. The only course you will be teaching is the course on Judaism. I felt that might be less...awkward."
"Thank you. It will be. Look, Dr. Lansing, I'm not trying to pass myself off as something I'm not. I'm not a professor, and I know that. But I promise you I won't just go into that classroom without thinking and waste the students' time. I'll come up with something worthwhile before I go in there."
"I suppose that's all I can ask. And you do have Dr. Goldman's materials." She stood up and led the way to the door.
When Dr. Lansing would fall silent during their walk through the old building, Starsky could almost lose himself in the charm and vintage architecture of the place. Classrooms were small and well-appointed, voices of students and professors were well-modulated but at times, lively. The student lounge was a large, high-ceilinged room on the first floor with a fireplace and elegant furnishings. The massive open staircase led up to the second floor, where Dr. Lansing gestured toward the police guard and the faculty office area, explaining to her new professor (for the benefit of students passing them in the hall) that the area was temporarily closed due to Dr. Goldman's death.
"And this is the library," she explained, leading the way into a richly decorated room with highly polished woodwork and a myriad of books on what must have been original shelves in the mansion's library. Students sat at long tables, silently studying. He felt self-conscious that their shoes were making noise on the hardwood floors as they walked.
"It's beautiful," he murmured.
"But completely inadequate. When we opened 30 years ago, we had 200 students, and one program of study--nursing. Since then, we have grown to over 700 students, and added three additional programs of study--education, social work and psychology. The library has not been significantly updated in that time."
"Fundraising can't be too hard--I mean most of your students come from wealthy families, don't they?"
"Of course, and we are blessed with strong donor support...that the Board of Control feels should be allocated to plant Japanese Maples around the pond behind the residence halls." Starsky laughed, almost out loud, at her remark. "I fail to see how an ornamental tree with prickly little leaves is going to help a student reach her educational goals when she can't obtain the materials she needs in the library."
"Aesthetics, Dr. Lansing. Aesthetics are everything," Starsky quipped sarcastically, still smiling.
"Well, God help you, you'll probably fit in just fine with the upper administration," she responded, smirking. "The worst part of it is, I hate Japanese Maples." She looked at Starsky, and for some reason chuckled softly. Actually, Evelyn Lansing could be considered quite pretty, in an elegant sort of way, if she'd do that more often, he thought. He shared the laugh, amazed to have found some thread of humanity in this woman, whose stark business suit and upswept blonde hair, not to mention abrupt manner, obscured that thread most of the time.
Upon their return to Dr. Lansing's temporary office, she provided him with a course schedule as well as notices on upcoming faculty meetings, social events and general campus events. She watched the detective scanning the materials with some trepidation.
"The faculty meetings could be a bit difficult for you. I can't lie about that. Since the faculty in general are not aware you're undercover, they will come at you with claws out."
"Gee, thanks for putting it that way."
"We have a very lively faculty, Sergeant--Dr. Levinson. I will work on getting the name right, by the way. As I was saying, they are outspoken, generally among the best in their field, and they tend to debate ruthlessly." She was silent a moment. "I would recommend a brief flu be contracted for the morning of the 18th. I'll see to it your class is covered that day--just call my secretary that morning."
"Good idea. They'd probably eat me alive in there."
"As far as the social activities, I would assume those are the types of events you're hoping to infiltrate."
"I am. And I'll be showing up for any of these other things too, like the plays or the choir concert."
"Splendid. If I may be of help, please contact me. I have reservations about all of this, but I do want to see this...maniac stopped."
"Thanks. I will." He stood to leave. "Has anybody ever really gone after your Board about updating the library?"
"Tirelessly. We did manage to acquire an antique painting for over the fireplace," she responded with a knowing look.
"Sounds like a group of real deep thinkers on that Board. Next time, tell them even a dumb cop could figure out that a library is close to useless without some up-to-date books in it."
"Perhaps I should attribute that quote to Dr. Levinson."
"Oh, thanks. That's all I need--to get the Board members after my head. I'll be in touch," Starsky left the office with a smile.
Dr. Lansing hadn't dismembered him. Starsky was more than mildly relieved that he was able to make a positive contact with the woman, and the campus was beautiful. Maybe this assignment wouldn't be all that bad. Not having to face those two religion classes unburdened him greatly, and he found himself enjoying his stroll around the grounds. He was able to snoop around the building under the faculty office area without attracting too much attention, since he was supposedly new faculty acquainting himself with the place. As he followed the sidewalk toward the residence hall building--to see the proposed site for the Japanese Maples--a voice startled him from behind.
"A fox on its way to the henhouse?" He spun around, startled, to face a student who had fallen into step with him. "Mandy Corrigan," she said, extending a hand. He shook it.
"David Levinson," he responded, relieved he'd remembered his alias.
"I've always wanted to use that line, but there aren't too many men around here, and Professor Billings would probably flunk me if I said it to him. So what's a David Levinson?" Mandy was not especially stunning in appearance, with medium brown hair, glasses, no particular fondness for jewelry and a decidedly confident manner. But she was very likable.
"I'm taking over Dr. Goldman's class on Judaism."
"Oh my God. You're a professor?"
"Thanks. I kinda thought I was faking it pretty well with the suit," he quipped, knowing she would laugh, not realizing how true the statement was. She did laugh.
"You're not mad?"
"Nah. All this formality gags me after a while anyway."
"When you introduced yourself using your first and last name, I never dreamed..."
"Oh, you mean I'm only supposed to be Dr. somebody?"
"More or less. Everyone around here is."
"So what are you studying?"
"Education--I'm going to be an elementary teacher, hopefully a principal, eventually. And I'm in that Judaism class, so I'll be seeing you there."
"It's kind of odd, stepping in mid-stream for another professor. What was Dr. Goldman like? I don't mean to put you on the spot, I'm just curious about a student's point of view."
"You are? There's a new concept. She was smart, very organized, knew her stuff..."
"You have no idea! I think we're almost done memorizing the Jewish calendar. I mean I thought I was going to learn something meaningful--not just a bunch of dates and laws and definitions."
"You ever had blintzes or potato knishes?"
"Never heard of them."
"This might be fun after all," Starsky responded with a devilish grin. "So where's the pond?"
Mandy provided Starsky with a student's tour of the grounds near the residence halls, the public areas of the building itself, and chattered non-stop about personalities of almost every professor on the campus. Somehow, this briefing was more helpful that Dr. Lansing's.
Having shed his suit in favor of an old pair of shorts and an equally ratty t-shirt, Starsky stretched out on his couch with the textbook for the course on Judaism. No wonder these poor kids are bored out of their chairs. He found himself wanting to nod off after the first couple pages. He finally tossed it aside and picked up the phone to call the most prominent expert in Jewish theology he knew--his mother.
When Hutch arrived, he let himself in at Starsky's direction, and saw his partner with the phone cradled between his shoulder and ear, taking diligent notes as he sat on the couch. He was shocked when Starsky concluded the conversation with, "Love you too, Ma. Yeah, I'll keep you posted. Bye." He hung up and looked up at Hutch.
"What'd you bring?"
"Chinese. Since when does your mother make you take notes on your conversations? Afraid she'll quiz you later?" Hutch teased.
"Well, take a look at this book and tell me if you'd enjoy this class."
"What do you mean?" Hutch set the food on the kitchen counter and returned to take the book. He sat on the opposite end of the couch and kicked off his shoes, bringing his own feet up to share the middle cushion. "Will you quit hogging?" He playfully nudged Starsky's feet closer to the back of the couch.
"Daddy long legs," Starsky shot back, shifting positions slightly.
"My, but this is a bit dry, isn't it?" Hutch was leafing through the chapters. "Where's the...I don't know...culture? Spirit?"
"Exactly. That's why I called my mother. I want to teach these students something about what it means to be Jewish, and why we sometimes have more fun than the rest of you."
"You do, huh?"
"I met one student today who said she'd never even heard of a blintz. Can you imagine that?" Starsky needled. Hutch always bristled at the pet name Starsky had assigned to him, and over the years, that never changed.
"Lucky girl," he retorted sourly.
"So what's in the bag?" Starsky got up and started digging through the take-out bag, setting out the myriad of white containers.
"You sound pretty content with this assignment," Hutch responded, joining his partner in the kitchen to divide up the goodies on two plates.
"Well, Dr. Lansing isn't so bad when you get to know her."
"She hates Japanese Maples."
"I can tell you're being purposely obtuse about this."
"What?" Starsky looked up, puzzled.
"You're playing dumb about explaining yourself."
"Oh." Starsky mulled that over a moment, eating a chunk of orange chicken. He followed Hutch to the table. "Want a beer?"
"Sure." Hutch sat down and Starsky soon joined him, beers in hand.
"Well, we got to talking while she was showing me around, and she was really pretty nice to me after a point. She was telling me how their Board keeps voting the funds they get for some useless thing like ornamental trees or paintings but won't update the library. Japanese Maples for the pond behind the residence hall are next."
"Oh." Hutch ate in silence for awhile. "She seemed so...snotty when I dealt with her."
"Maybe you were trying to fake it too much."
"What do you mean?"
"Act like you were on her level. Sometimes, Hutch, you gotta admit when you're outclassed. Then, if the other person is really a class act, they'll get off their high horse and relate to you. But I think somebody like her gets madder if you try to be something you're not. I didn't tell her any lies."
"Neither did I."
"Yeah, but you probably tried to make me sound like more than I was."
"But see that's the attitude I don't like. That you're 'less' than they are because you're a cop and not an egghead."
"It was funny about Dr. Lansing though. When I let my guard down, leveled with her, risked her looking down her nose at me, she was pretty helpful. Even told me to call in sick to the faculty meeting so I didn't get massacred by the other professors. And she's giving those other two religion classes to someone else, so all I have to deal with is the one on Judaism. And I got some great stuff from my mother."
"Starsky, you can't let your mother teach the class by remote control."
"She and my dad taught me how to be Jewish. So who's better qualified than the person who taught the teacher?"
"Okay, I give up." Hutch chuckled as he turned his attention back to dinner. "If they have a forensics team there, you should volunteer to be the advisor."
"I see enough of that stuff at work."
"I meant a debate/public speaking team. Forensics is another term for that."
"I'm probably fooling myself." Starsky slumped in his chair. "I even flunk out in a conversation with you--I already missed 'obtuse' and 'forensics'."
"You'll do fine, buddy." Hutch chewed for a moment. "You've already got the first quality that all my best professors had."
"Seriously?" Starsky looked up from his dinner, shocked.
"You're enthused. Not just interested in shoving facts down students' throats, but you're enthused about the subject, and you care about the students. All the degrees in the world can't give you that. You've either got it or you don't."
"I hope you're right. I actually met one of the students while I was there today. Mandy something...Mandy Corrigan. She gave me the unofficial rundown on everybody on the faculty--I even know who's sleeping with whom now--or at least the students' assessment of it."
"Mandy, huh? Remember that promise to Dobey about not chasing the girls?"
"It's nothing like that. She was just being friendly."
"Whatever you say." Hutch turned his attention back to dinner. "So, what're you going to do with them Monday?"
"My class is at 11:30 in the morning, Monday and Wednesday. We're going to have a Jewish meal on Monday and get to know each other, and Wednesday, they're going to start learning what being Jewish is all about. My mother told me about a few books I ought to read, and I've got a few ideas of my own."
"So you're throwing out Anna Goldman's syllabus?"
"I can use it for a placemat at lunch Monday."
"How's Dr. Lansing going to feel about that?"
"Don't know yet. Tell ya better Monday afternoon. Better yet, maybe I ought to invite her."
"Fastest way to freeze up your students and get yourself executed."
"True." Starsky sighed. "I suppose she'll be mad--think I'm not qualified to make decisions on my own."
"Don't know until you try. Besides, maybe the best cover is a flashy one. They'd never suspect a professor that turns the place on its head to be an undercover cop."
"Maybe I should attend the next Board meeting."
"Don't get carried away, buddy. You're still a cop, remember?"
"Even better. Maybe they'll allocate money to the library with a Beretta pointed at their heads."
"Nice to see you progressing and developing as a scholar, Starsk."
Hutch left Starsky's apartment a little surprised that his partner didn't appear to need, or want, any help taking the helm of his class. All these years, Hutch had felt slightly superior in the back of his mind, being able to shine in any areas that related to matters of higher education or culture. Now he wondered if he had been kidding himself. Truly, he wondered if he had been as obvious about it as Starsky had accused him of being earlier. He did recall many instances where he had let his partner flounder in a situation that called for some knowledge of the arts or great literature, and many times that had required a far different comfort level around rich people in posh settings. He recalled leaving Starsky stuck against a pillar at a black tie party with a torn tuxedo...while it had seemed funny at the time, Hutch had given up on many such antics after the shooting. He had wrestled with an overpowering desire not to ever see Starsky in any type of discomfort again, after watching him go through months of it between his lengthy hospital stay and convalescence at home.
But there was still that feeling of superiority. And he hadn't really let go of it until this moment, realizing his partner had the strength, courage, and enthusiasm to take on teaching a college course to a room full of intelligent, wealthy young women. The thought made Hutch uneasy, but to Starsky it seemed to be a challenge now. Hutch wished he could be a fly on the wall during that luncheon.
Professor Levinson was the subject of more than one curious glance as he carried a stack of three large covered trays into his classroom at 11:15 the morning of his first class. He had borrowed a speaker phone from the department the night before so his mother could direct him, step-by-step, in the preparation of three traditional Jewish foods--cocoa blintzes, cholent and potato knishes. As he was uncovering the trays, Mandy and three other girls entered the room, looking at him curiously but taking seats without speaking.
"Hope you haven't had lunch yet," he announced cheerfully. "I'm David Levinson. I'll be taking over the class for Professor Goldman."
"I'm Lorraine Danner, this is Tanya Adams, and this is Mandy Corrigan," the attractive blonde explained. "Need some help?"
"Yeah. I need somebody to go find some napkins, plastic utensils--picnic stuff."
"I can slip down to the cafeteria and get that." Mandy got up and headed for the door.
"Do they have a pop machine around here anywhere?" Starsky started digging through his pocket and came up with a few bills.
"The cafeteria has that too--how much do you want me to get?"
"Enough for everybody." He handed her the money.
"I'll come with you," Lorraine volunteered. "You know, Dr. Lansing will probably kill you if she sees this," she admonished Starsky, who grinned.
"This is known as cultural research. If you've just about memorized the Jewish calendar, I'd say it's about time you branched out a little in the scope of your experience of Judaism."
"What is this stuff?" Tanya approached the desk. "Smells good."
"It always was when my mother did it, so we'll see how this turned out." He proceeded to explain each food to her, and before long, the balance of the class had filed in, and the bulk of the crowd was gathering around the food. Mandy and Lorraine hurried in the door and shut it behind them. Lorraine carried a tray of beverages while Mandy started spreading out paper plates, utensils and napkins. "Okay, everybody, as you've probably figured out by now, we're going to have lunch together today and get a little better acquainted. More importantly, I wanted you to get a little more...tangible look at some small part of Jewish culture. Every culture has its unique foods, and probably most of us have had Chinese, Mexican, Italian, French, etc. before. Well, this is your big chance to have Jewish food prepared by a genuine Jewish person--me. The recipes are my mother's, so hopefully I followed all the directions right. So just grab a plate and load up." Starsky stood aside and watched the procession of students collecting some of everything on their plates. The long tables with chairs weren't conducive to a very friendly seating arrangement, but the food and beverages seemed to be loosening them up a little. He spent a lot of time answering questions about what was in everything until everyone had their selections made and were seated. He pulled up a chair on the end of one of the long tables with his own plate.
"Well, I'll go first," Starsky began. He felt odd giving this phony man's life history, but he did so. "My name is David Levinson. I grew up in New York, Brooklyn area. My father was a college professor, and my mother stayed home and made great food. Seriously, she was the biggest force in my learning the traditions and customs of the Jewish faith. As a matter of fact, I was on the speaker phone with her for about four hours last night getting directions on cooking." Many of the students laughed a little at the mental picture of their dark suit-clad professor up to his elbows in flour and cooking ingredients. "Anyway, I studied at New York University, was on the faculty there briefly, and then accepted this position. I have family in California, and I've been wanting to make a move out here for sometime. I also wanted to teach in a small college setting, so this was a perfect opportunity."
"Do you drive that red and white car in the parking lot?" A small, dark-haired girl in the back of the room spoke up.
"Cool car," she responded.
"Thanks. It's gettin' old, but I still like it." Starsky took a couple bites of his lunch. "As far as hobbies, I like photography pretty well, but I don't have a lot of time for a bunch of activities besides work. Enough about me. Who feels brave?"
"I'll go," Mandy volunteered, explaining her background as the daughter of two school administrators from Nevada. The students seemed to be getting the knack of sharing some personal information, since most of them avoided the standard listing of class standing and curriculum history. It was also obvious that Anna Goldman hadn't done this before, because they were only too willing to go around the room introducing themselves and getting into spin-off conversations when they found common interests. By the time lunch was over, there were several volunteers to help clean up, since not all of the girls had a class immediately following at one o'clock.
"Well, I guess that concludes our first session together," Starsky stated as he tossed his own paper plate in the trash and wiped his hands on a napkin. "Next time, we'll get into something a little deeper and more traditional. Keep up reading the textbook. There's a lot of good factual material in there. I won't be doing too much with it in class unless there are questions, because it seems to me that there's no point in me repeating it all again." Starsky startled himself, sounding dangerously like a teacher. "Anyway, some of it may pop up on a test, so don't get behind even if we're not discussing it in here. Anytime you have questions, feel free to ask. I know you've probably heard this before, but there's no such thing as a 'dumb question'." Just dumb answers, he thought nervously. "So have a good day, and thanks to my volunteer cleaning crew. See the rest of you Wednesday." He watched the group file out with a number of thank-you's directed to him for the lunch.
With the students' help, the classroom was restored to its prior pristine form, just in time for a 1:30 class that was waiting in the hall. Starsky led the procession out of the room with the stack of serving trays to take back to his car, while the girls each fled in opposite directions with trash bags. He scurried down the back stairs and out to the parking lot, successfully stashing the dirty trays in his trunk before Dr. Lansing spotted him as she pulled into her parking place. Executive lunch hour, Starsky thought, checking his watch subtly. It was a little past 1:30. He hoped there wasn't any food on his face as he greeted her pleasantly.
"Dr. Levinson, how was your first class?" she asked lightly, as if he were really who he was claiming to be. Two other faculty members passed them and spoke, and then she became serious. "How did it go?"
"Fine. I'm still intact."
"I imagine with Dr. Goldman's syllabus, it shouldn't be too difficult."
"Shouldn't be," Starsky retorted, hoping she wouldn't press him.
"Well, I'm due in a meeting at two. If you have any questions, call me."
"Thanks. I will." He watched her hurry up the walk to the main building. Dr. Goldman's syllabus. Oh, boy, am I gonna get it when she finds out, he thought anxiously.
"Hungry little bunch of locusts, weren't they?" Hutch commented on the empty trays his partner was unloading out of his trunk, which now smelled like a restaurant kitchen.
"Hey, what're you doin' here?" Starsky asked as Hutch approached him.
"I've got some information on the case I thought we should go over. I realize your mind is on loftier educational matters at the moment, but..." Hutch nodded toward the trays.
"Oh, shut up and get the door for me, will ya?"
"Sure," Hutch responded, taking the keys dangling from Starsky's hand. "How'd it go?" he asked as Starsky carried his armload into the kitchen and deposited it on the counter.
"Great. They ate like crazy, went around the room introducing themselves...I felt pretty much in control."
"So what's gonna happen Wednesday?"
"Don't know yet. I have to go get a couple books. My mother was all enthused about one she read a couple weeks back, so I'm going to look that up, and I want to have a look through Anna Goldman's office to see if there's anything usable in there. Besides, I have to establish office hours."
"Well, I pulled all the files on the previous homicides there. Two faculty members and a student. Incidentally, we've got some folks mad at us."
"What else is new?" Starsky tossed his jacket at a dining room chair, missed, and ignored it. Rolling up his sleeves, he started subjecting the trays to a spray of steaming water from the faucet.
"Grodin and Merriweather had this case until Dobey put us on it."
"Maybe Dobey wanted to know who did it." Starsky and Grodin had locked horns from the first day Grodin had walked into the squad room two years earlier. Grodin was a by-the-book, middle-aged cop who had been passed over for at least two promotions he felt he deserved, and he had a tendency to treat younger detectives as subordinates even if their ranks were equal. Merriweather was a mediocre detective at best, but Starsky considered him a candidate for sainthood for having stayed with Grodin for the past two years and not killing him.
"Anyway, Grodin was carrying on about having the case taken away from them so late in the game--he claims Dobey is trying to grab the glory for his 'golden boys' after they've done all the legwork."
"To hell with him. He's a turkey anyway. Tell me about the other homicides."
"Well, the first was a double--the two faculty members. The M.O. was about the same as the Goldman killing--both were working late in their offices, both were stabbed and slashed to death in the same hallway. One was a man, Robert Bradshaw, an English professor, and the other was a woman, Naomi Allegan, a Nursing professor. There were no connections between their personal lives that anyone could find...the only connection was that they were working late on the wrong night. The student was murdered three months later, in June. She was a student employee, working late on typing up some research material for one of the professors. She was using the faculty office, and again, was murdered in the same manner. Her name was Kristen Wilson, and she was a junior. Her background check didn't reveal anything that would make her a target for this kind of crime. Her boyfriend was back in New York, there was nothing to suggest she had any enemies or dangerous entanglements here. The connection seems to come in where the killings occur."
"And then Anna Goldman, only three months after Kristen Wilson. Every three months. Wonder if that's significant?"
"Could be. Psychos hook onto some odd things to guide their actions."
"What is it?" Starsky was wiping his hands on a towel hanging near the sink.
"Something's bothering you about this, Hutch. What is it?" Starsky's uncanny way of reading his partner's moods seemed stronger after his brush with death, and Hutch had often teased him he had come back with the gift of sight. They had become even closer during Starsky's recovery, spending almost every moment together while Hutch took time off to assist with the convalescent process.
"When I was in the hall...looking at the crime scene?"
"Yeah? Pretty gross, huh?"
"It was, but that's not what bothered me the most. It was...cold."
"It's a drafty old building, Hutch."
"Yeah, but it was a warm day--the windows were open in most of the building. But in that hall, that should have been stuffy, if anything, it was icy cold. At least I thought it was. I had a long-sleeved shirt on and my jacket, and I was still cold. Murdock, who was guarding the doors, didn't even feel it."
"Are you sure you're okay? I mean you're not comin' down with something are you?"
"I'd have it by now if I were. That was last week. I can't explain it, Starsk. But it scared the hell out of me."
"That'd scare me too, partner." Starsky was thoughtful a moment. "Maybe the place is haunted."
"Sure it is."
"Sometimes ghosts show up as cold spots. And it's an old building...lots of history."
"See if you can uncover any haunted campus stories, huh?"
"I'll do what I can. Mandy never mentioned anything about haunting rumors."
"Ah, that's ridiculous anyway. This is 1980--not the dark ages. There's an explanation, I'm sure. It was just...creepy, given what had happened there the night before."
"Not everything is explainable, Hutch. And there is something else out there somewhere."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I don't know how to put it into words exactly." Starsky sat at the table, and Hutch joined him. "When I was in the hospital last year, and they lost me for awhile? I went somewhere. I don't have any big exciting stories about tunnels and filmy beings in long white robes, but I know there was a moment of being...somewhere else...of knowing there was a choice to come back or go further."
"A choice? Or did you just get pulled back?" Hutch was truly fascinated with this discussion, because Starsky never would elaborate on it before now.
"I felt like I was...detaching. I had time to want one thing or the other--to detach, to leave, to go further--or to reach back. It wasn't a hard decision. Would be if you didn't have anything or anybody to come back to, but for me, it was easy. I wanted to come back, one way or the other."
"I'm glad," Hutch said, feeling it was inadequate to say the least, but he couldn't put all of it into words, and Starsky seemed to know that, because his smile said everything.
"Anyway," he continued, looking more serious again, "that kind of proves that there is something else out there. Another plane. I wonder if it's true that people can get stuck--and haunt because they can't get where they need to go...or they want to hang around."
"One of the murdered professors? Or Kristen Wilson?"
"Could be. Most young people aren't ready to die at her age. And all the deaths were violent ones. I don't know. You're probably right. It was probably a draft."
"I'm glad you told me...about...you know." Hutch still found it difficult to choose just the right words.
"Being dead? Well, since only one of us got to try it for real, I thought you oughtta know."
"I'm serious, buddy."
"I know." Starsky smiled. "Too serious," he stood up and ruffled Hutch's hair as he passed him where he sat, "Blintz." Hutch was sufficiently irritated, and Starsky considered he had scored a victory.
Starsky was sorting through the papers on Anna Goldman's desk. He corrected his thinking. David Levinson's desk, now. The waste basket was the receptacle for most of it, since he and Hutch had concluded there was nothing of value among the mountain of papers there. The rich wood of the desktop was visible now, as he set two large bags of discarded papers outside the door for the janitor. For as carefree as he could be about many things, Starsky liked his surroundings neat. Anna apparently didn't. He pulled books off the shelves, scanned them, decided most of them were drier yet than the textbook, which he hadn't thought possible, and reshelved them neatly. He gleaned about six titles to peruse for use preparing lectures...but then he didn't plan to give "lectures". He planned to teach. There was a big difference.
"I see you're making yourself at home." Starsky turned to see the man he assumed was Professor Billings, because he was the only other male professor on the campus, according to Mandy.
"David Levinson," he extended a hand toward the tall man who seemed to fill the doorway. If this man were a bouncer instead of a professor, Starsky wouldn't have messed with him.
"Michael Billings. I teach Math here in Camelot."
"Haven't you found it a bit...otherworldly and idealistic?" Billings probed.
"Just a little." Starsky chuckled, relieved that Billings wasn't another pompous windbag.
"I feel more like I'm teaching in an English boarding school that an American college. These women are suspended in time...trying to make this some kind of charm school. These girls will make great housewives but lousy analytical thinkers."
"What's with the blazer thing? I mean I feel like I'm looking out at a...military academy class."
"Well, as you certainly know, some of the larger ivy league schools have uniform blazers. That's merely a sign of pride, but the environment is very...restrictive."
"I noticed." Starsky pulled out his desk chair and motioned to the man to take the other chair in the office. "How long have you been here?"
"Ten years. It's actually a very easy job once you've run through a year or so. You've taught elsewhere?"
"Good God, and you came here?"
"I wanted to make the move out west, and this college does have an outstanding reputation. Besides, all that anonymity with not knowing the students at all gets a little...dull after a while." Starsky hoped his regurgitation of what Hutch had taught him to say if he were questioned about leaving a big university for a small college sounded logical. It must have, because the other man was nodding.
"Well, you certainly aren't anonymous around here."
"The murders must have had a horrible impact on the campus." Starsky began probing like a detective. Playing professor alone wouldn't do anything to solve this case.
"There's one thing you learn quickly here. Don't stay alone in the building after hours."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, this building...is not a pleasant environment at night. Very cold, drafty. Lots of odd noises...probably the old place settling. Anyway, spending a lot of time in a spot where two, now three, faculty members have been murdered, not to mention Kristen, isn't my idea of a conducive working environment."
"Kristen? Was she one of the victims?"
"Student. Bright girl. She was a student assistant to Louise Hammel, one of the Education faculty. Terrible tragedy. That girl never belonged in here by herself at night, especially after the first murders."
"What'd the police come up with? I mean there's not a big pool of suspects to draw from here."
"They questioned us all, just like they're doing now. That detective was here again earlier...oh, what's his name...Harrison."
"Hutchinson," Starsky corrected, unthinking.
"That's right. You've met?"
"Ah, yes, only briefly." Starsky heaved a silent sigh of relief at saving himself from that little landmine.
"I think he's personally spoken to everyone on the faculty and staff, and half the students. He's a diligent one, I'll hand him that. The first pair of yo-yo's didn't seem to know what they were doing. Rounded us all up like we were part of some bad murder mystery on the late show and questioned us all. The murders have caused all sorts of bad press for us, but the police don't seem to have a clue who did it."
"I was a little hesitant about accepting the job when I heard about it. I mean three faculty dead in a year? Doesn't do much for our mortality statistics, does it?"
"I ran some probability figures on that a while back...I think we have a one in ten chance of being murdered in our offices before the end of the term." He stood up with a snort. "Well, I have a class. Just thought I'd stop in and introduce myself. Hope you're planning on attending the cocktail reception before the concert Friday night?"
"Wouldn't miss it."
"At least some of these women bring their husbands, so it isn't the same hen party most of our social events turn into. You married, Levinson?"
"Hmpf. Just don't bring one of the students as your date," he quipped, leaving the office. Date. Damn. I need somebody who can hold her own with all these eggheads, he thought to himself. Then the perfect idea hit him. Ginny in the medical examiner's office. He had worked with her on a few cases, beginning with the murder of a young illegal alien three years earlier. She was intelligent, had full medical credentials, and was a good conversationalist. Plus the fact she was pretty and he had been looking for an excuse to ask her out for a while...opportunity was knocking, and he planned to answer promptly.
Ginny Simpson was adding the final notes on Anna Goldman's file. This had not been a pleasant case to work. After a number of years as an M.E., not much surprised Ginny anymore, but senseless mutilations and acts of excessive brutality were still difficult to fathom, especially in the cold blue and white hues on the coroner's lab table. Since Hutch had been the part of the duo she had been working with on this case, it surprised her to see Starsky, in a suit, no less, tapping on the window of the lab room where she was working. She motioned to him to enter, which he did, wreathed in one of those killer smiles.
"I thought you were playing professor," she said, finishing up her notes and closing the file.
"I am. I have class in about an hour." He fell silent a minute. "I need your help with something." Oh, smooth romantic opener, Starsky, he chided himself. Ginny cocked her blonde head to one side and gave him a suspicious look.
"What are you up to?"
"Well, I'm supposed to attend this faculty reception and concert on Friday night, and I need a really attractive, sophisticated date. I thought of you right away."
"Attractive and sophisticated, huh?" She kept up the amused smile, not about to let this sometimes arrogant detective know that she had been hoping something like this might happen one of these days.
"I know it'll probably be a dry evening, but it would really help me out to have someone who knows my cover, but also could hold her own with the other guests."
"So this is strictly business?"
"Well, not strictly," Starsky retorted, flexing his eyebrows a little. "Look, I know it's a lot to ask, but I promise you, when this case is over, we'll go somewhere real nice--your choice, my treat--and have a real good time. Whaddya say?"
"Is this a formal occasion?" she asked with a slight smile, moving to the file cabinet and tucking the folder in the drawer.
"Black tie, real fancy..."
"What time Friday?"
"I'll pick you up at seven. The cocktail party happens at 7:30. The concert's at 8:30, and I guess there's some kind of milling around and talking about the music thing happening after that. Do you know anything about classical music? I know a little, but not very much."
"What are they performing?"
"Bach...the something-or-other concertos."
"Brandenburg?" she asked hopefully.
"That's some of my favorite classical music. I'm afraid I don't know a lot of those little biographical things, like what kind of socks the composer was wearing when he wrote it though. You know how people who think they know everything go on forever with that trivia at those parties? Next time you're in that library, grab us a book on composers. Maybe you can bring it by before the reception and we can study up on it a little."
"Good idea. Thanks a million, Ginny. I'll see what I can find, and I'll stop in later in the week."
"I think it'll be fun. I've never been to a faculty social event before."
"Me neither." He shrugged a little nervously.
"Good luck with your class today."
"Thanks. I'll need it."
"You look the part," she said, not exactly meaning to comment on his appearance, but the light grey suit and tie did flatter him.
"Thanks. Talk to ya later."
Starsky was amazed at how smoothly the next class went. There were a couple questions based on the reading that made him do some serious thinking on his feet, but he managed them adequately. He had spent the last two nights reading through books his mother recommended, and amazed himself to have come up with a lively discussion for this day's lecture on morality versus reason as a means for guiding behavior. Reason, it could be argued, does not always lead to moral behavior--reason would often encourage one to do wrong, or could lead one to rationalize wrong behavior through what could be a reasonable explanation. Morality, on the other hand, which stems from laws of God, one way or another, should lead to "good" or "right" behavior. Well, that premise brought about lively debate and discussion and examples. It did Starsky's heart good to have to yell over a pair of debating students and make a time-out gesture with his hands. It was during this exchange that Hutch managed to lurk in the shadows of the hall, looking through the window of the classroom door, which was behind his partner. He was amazed to watch Starsky, tie loosened, sportcoat hung on the chair, sleeves rolled up--looking as comfortable with this bunch of intelligent young students as he did on the street.
"Dr. Levinson is already making quite a reputation for himself," Dr. Lansing's voice startled him from behind.
"I heard about the Jewish buffet on Monday."
"Is he in hot water for that?" Hutch asked.
"It is a bit unorthodox, but the students enjoyed it, and food is part of culture, so unless he makes a habit of it, I don't have any objections."
"Looks like he belongs in there," Hutch said, almost unintentionally.
"Well, hopefully you can wrap this case up before the students become too attached to him."
"You must be here for a reason, Detective."
"Actually, I'm just finishing up some routine questioning of some of the staff today. I guess curiosity got the best of me."
"I see. Well, I have to be going. If you need any other information, let us know."
"Will do." Hutch watched her stride purposefully down the hall. He opted to leave his vantage point, not wanting his partner to catch him snooping.
Starsky dumped his supplies in the middle of his tidy desk and sat in the chair. These were going to be his official office hours-- 1:30 to 3:30 on Wednesdays. He was only teaching one class, so this would be all that would be required of him officially. He started reading through the chapter in the textbook that was next on the syllabus, hoping to retain enough of it to wing it again if he got any questions from the students.
The door slammed shut.
Starsky looked at his window, which was closed. There was no draft. He stood up and pulled open the door and looked into the hallway. No one was there, and he heard no footsteps on the hardwood floors. He ventured into the hall and was surprised at the coldness there. Yet it didn't seem that air was moving from any particular source. Dr. Lansing noticed him standing in the hall, looking a bit dazed.
"Dr. Levinson--is there a problem?"
"Does it feel cold in here to you?"
"There's always been a bit of a draft in this hall."
"But it's not air moving. Just stand here a minute and feel it. It's just...icy. No breeze, just a cold temperature."
"Well, it must be a draft of some sort." She resumed her movement, heels clicking on the polished floors. "Perhaps your jacket would keep you warmer," she tossed over her shoulder. He curled his lip a little at her retreating back. Shirt sleeves apparently weren't welcomed during office hours either.
He closed the door to his office and called Hutch back at the precinct. His partner answered on the second ring.
"I felt it."
"Starsk? Is that you?" Hutch asked.
"Yeah. Listen, I was in the office, and my door just slammed. There's no draft up here, but it just slammed. And when I went out into the hall, it was just icy--again, no draft...just cold."
"Did anyone else notice it?"
"I saw Dr. Lansing in the hall, but when I mentioned it, she just made some remark about a draft and that I should put on my jacket. I know what you meant now, partner. It wasn't normal."
"I can see going to Dobey with this one. 'No, Captain, we don't have any leads, but we've found a hell of a cold spot in the upstairs hall'."
"I'm going to do more mingling after my office hours. Maybe somebody'll come up with something about the history of the place, or whether or not there are any rumors about it."
"I hope you come up with something. I sure as hell have been drawing a blank. All I've gotten is that since the murders, people are apprehensive about working alone at night there. That's just common sense. None of the victims have any connection in their personal lives except the college, and even then, no personal connection--just their employment, and in Kristen's case, her status as a student." Hutch was quiet. "I was there earlier--while you were in class."
"I hung around for a few minutes outside the classroom--you were pretty impressive in there, buddy."
"Really. I was getting interested myself, except I couldn't hear too great out in the hall."
"I didn't even see you out there."
"You were calling a time out between two of your students and moderating the great debate of morality versus reason. I don't think you'd have noticed Bigfoot in the hall."
"Things did get pretty spirited. It was fun."
"It was damned good teaching, Starsk. I mean that."
"Thanks. That means a lot to me."
"Well, I better get moving. Minnie's waving a file at me and giving me a dirty look...Oh, now that she knows it's you, she's wishing you luck. Maybe she's flipping you off, I can't tell..." Starsky heard his partner get hit with something, then laugh. "I guess she was wishing you luck." Hutch came back to the phone, still snickering.
"Dip her for me, will ya?"
"I am. I'm a professor now, remember? We're always deadly serious about everything."
"Yeah, sure you are. Talk to ya later, pal." The connection was broken. Starsky let the phone dangle from his hand and then drop onto the hook. He propped his chin on the heel of his hand and looked at the book in front of him. There was a whole five days to worry about that. He slammed it shut and tossed it aside. The chill from the hall was still in his bones. He pulled on his sportcoat and settled in to pass the rest of his office hours.
"Dr. Levinson?" A female voice jarred him out of the semi-catatonic stare he was giving a scholarly journal.
"Yes? Jenny, isn't it?"
"Yes, Jenny Moore. Are you busy?"
"No, come in." He watched the girl enter and seat herself in the empty chair a few feet away from his desk. She was tall, with long black hair and dark eyes. Strikingly pretty, really, though he wasn't allowed to notice things like that from this side of the desk. "What can I do for you?"
"Do you know...about the murders?"
"Here on campus? I heard about them. I know the professor who had this job before me was one of the victims. Gave me the creeps to be honest."
"I think I can trust you. I think you'll understand...and not laugh."
"I'll try. To understand, I mean. I promise I won't laugh."
"Kristen Wilson was my best friend. She was murdered a few months before Dr. Goldman."
"Well, Kristen told me something, and it's been bothering me ever since she died, but I didn't know who to tell. Then that police detective was here asking everybody questions again, and I was going to tell him--he seemed really nice, but I still figured he'd think I was a nut."
"Why don't you just tell me about it, Jenny? Just because something sounds a little strange doesn't make it not true."
"Kristen was a student assistant for the Education Department, and she used to come up here at night to type some of their papers, or to do some filing. A few of the professors are real liberal about letting student workers into their offices after hours. It works out well, because if you have a full-time schedule of classes, and need library time, sometimes evening is a good time to get work done, plus the faculty often aren't in there at night, and you can use their desks or typewriters, or whatever." She paused. "Anyway, Kristen was my roommate, and one night she came back to the dorm, white as a sheet--it was about a week before she was murdered. She told me she had...seen something...in the hall up here."
"Something?" Starsky repeated.
"She said it was a person--or at least the shadow of one, but she didn't see the person the shadow went with. I asked her if she was sure she saw anything more than a shadow, and she swore she did--that it moved, and that it looked like it was carrying a giant knife--oh, she knew the name for it too." She wrinkled her brow.
"Not exactly. Oh, geez..."
"Yeah--a machete. And she also said she heard footsteps in the hall, but there was no one attached to the shadow--at the angle she was seeing it, she would have had to see the person who was casting the shadow, only there wasn't anybody."
"This must have been pretty hard to carry around all this time."
"I didn't know who to tell. I don't know why I'm telling you. But you're not laughing, so that's a good sign."
"No, I'm not," Starsky replied with a slight smile. "Did she mention anything else unusual about working up here?"
"The cold spots. She said there were two or three places in the hall that would get ice cold, all of a sudden, with no draft. She showed me where they were."
"I know where one of them is. I got caught in it this afternoon."
"You're kidding me."
"Nope. I was sitting here at the desk, and my door slammed shut. When I went out in the hall to see why, it was ice cold--not drafty, but ice cold."
"Then you'll do something about it?"
"Like what, Jenny? I'm not an exorcist. But I do believe you, for whatever that's worth."
"It's worth a lot."
"Could you show me where the other spots are--not now, but later, when it's emptier up here?"
"If you mean after dark, you've gotta be kidding."
"Okay. Let's just walk down the hall, and you show me, but don't say anything about it out loud. I don't want them to drop a net on both of us and haul us off to Cabrillo State."
"I never heard of that. Where is the campus?"
"It's not a college, it's an insane asylum."
"Same difference most days," she quipped, standing to lead the way into the hall.
"So, my point was that morality has to have another origin besides reason," Starsky droned, watching Jenny point to the spot outside his office. He noted the office room numbers nearby as markers. She gestured where it usually started and ended.
"But there are many people who aren't religious that you couldn't say were immoral," she retorted, reiterating the classroom debate while she motioned to the next cold spot. Starsky noted the room numbers again, adding them to the list he was writing on a small notepad from his desk.
"So if all they're going by is reason, why do they do the right thing when it's counterproductive for them?" Another professor passed them, nodding slightly and smiling. Apparently, they sounded as if they were keeping academia alive and well. Jenny indicated the third and final cold spot near Dr. Lansing's office.
"I think you can be a good person and not be religious."
"But then how do you define good? And why?" Starsky was reaching a little, but they needed to keep the discussion chugging along until they returned to his office.
"Good is the absence of evil," Jenny stated, and the door to Starsky's office slammed shut before they reached it. She let out a little squeal and his own sharp intake of breath was audible. Good is the absence of evil...Odd the door should choose to punctuate that statement with a slam.
"What's going on out here?" Professor Stengler, whose office was next to Starsky's, poked her head out into the hallway.
"I have a draft out here--door keeps slamming on me," he responded lightly, hating to be the one to touch it just then, but he yanked it open casually, and Jenny hesitantly returned to the office with him. He shut the door behind them.
"There's something wrong here, Dr. Levinson. And it killed Kristen."
"I know. I don't know what to do about it yet, but don't worry. I'll figure something out. In the meantime, don't you ever dare set foot in this place after dark--I don't care who asks you to."
"Look, Jenny, if you need to talk, or anything else happens, you just call me, or come see me here or after class. I am going to try to do something about this. I believe you, and I know there's something...wrong with this place. I can feel it."
"So can I. It's a creepy feeling." She stood up. "I don't know how to thank you."
"Don't. I haven't done anything yet."
"Dr. Levinson?" She paused in the open door on her way into the hall.
"I really loved your class this morning. It was...thought-provoking. Not mind-numbing."
"Thanks," he responded, smiling widely. Maybe there was something to this professor thing. "I'll try to live up to it Monday."
"See you then." She disappeared down the hall.
Starsky packed up his things ahead of schedule and closed up his office. He hurried out to his car and headed for the precinct. He had to find Hutch, and they would have to make something out of this lead, as weird and unexplainable as it was.
The ride from Maplecrest into LA was usually fairly peaceful. Today was no exception. With the windows open and the radio on, Starsky was enjoying a few minutes of peace before all hell broke loose on this case. Teaching was giving him a charge he hadn't expected it to, and the thoughts of the job he still loved and the new one he was growing to love were conflicting in his mind. He had to remember this was only an undercover identity...he hadn't become a drug dealer or pimp because he had played one undercover before. This should be no different. But he was becoming comfortable with teaching, and his students were responding, and learning...
He pressed the brake pedal to slow on a curve as he approached a heavily traveled intersection. It didn't respond. He tried again, but the speed was unchanged. He stuck the red flasher on top of the car, hit the siren and emergency flashers and tried to control the car that was gaining speed on the downward slope toward the intersection. He added the blaring of the horn to the symphony of warnings for the other motorists, and braced himself as he sailed through the intersection amid screeching tires and responding horns, but no collisions. The road was clearing pretty well ahead of him, though he had to make his way through a few motorists who were oblivious to the bright red streak shooting through traffic. As soon as he saw a quiet intersection, he yanked the wheel to one side, sending the car into a spin he hoped would ultimately stop it. It didn't. Something was wrenching the steering wheel out of his hands, keeping the car from turning as severely as he'd intended and sending it hurtling down another busy street. He was no longer in control of the Torino, and he would never be able to avoid hitting anyone or anything in its path if the car wanted to hit it.
"Dear God, help me!" he screamed at the top of his lungs, babbling away finally some fragments of a prayer in Hebrew his father had taught him.
The car slowed, and came to a peaceful stop at the next intersection.
Hutch was finishing up a salad in a plastic container from the cafeteria when Starsky walked into the squad room. He barely looked up at his partner at first, absorbed in reading the case file on Kristen Wilson.
"Hey, Starsk. Listen, I think we should--" he stopped short at the sight of his partner. Starsky dropped into the chair across from Hutch, at his own desk. He was pale, sweaty and visibly shaking all over. "What happened?"
"The car...I don't know..." Starsky ran a shaky hand through his hair. His white dress shirt clung to his damp body, and his eyes were almost wild and unfocused.
"Come with me." Hutch pulled him by the arm, and they made their way to an interrogation room, where Hutch closed the door behind them and stuck a chair under the knob. They sat in the two remaining chairs. "What happened, buddy? You look like hell."
"I think that's where I was." He swallowed a couple times, and looked up at Hutch. "The brakes went out on the Torino--right through mid-town traffic."
"My God--was there an accident, or did you get it under control?"
"No accident. Hutch, I couldn't control it after a while...the wheel...it did what it wanted and then it wouldn't let me turn and it kept going faster and there was nothing wrong with the brakes but the pedal wouldn't work and I had to pray and then it slowed down..."
"Starsk, come on, slow down yourself a minute. Now, take a deep breath. You're on solid ground, buddy. Try to calm down a little."
"I thought the brakes were failing, and I--I tried to make a sharp turn when there was an opening, but, it--it wouldn't...the steering wheel..."
"Starsky, come on, try to calm down here." Hutch slid his chair closer and rested his hand on Starsky's shoulder. "The brakes didn't work, and you tried to turn to stop, and something was wrong with the steering?"
"Not exactly." He looked into Hutch's eyes. "The wheel wouldn't let me turn where I wanted to go...I know it sounds crazy, but it was like..." Starsky looked away.
"Like what, buddy? You can tell me."
"Like the car was trying to kill me," he responded, looking back at Hutch. "But that isn't the scariest part. The whole thing came right back under my control as soon as I started praying. Here I am in the middle of traffic, about due to become street pizza at the next intersection, and I'm babbling some old prayer my dad taught me and begging God to do something, and it just slowed right down and I was able to pull over. And I haven't even told you yet what one of my students told me before I came here."
"We can take the car in, get it checked--"
"Damn it, Hutch, I don't need to get it checked!" he yelled back, standing up and pacing. "It's fine. It was fine all the way here. It was something using the car--not the car itself!"
"Okay." Hutch's calm, passive answer peeled Starsky off the ceiling slightly.
"I don't mean to jump down your throat. But you know we've been in some pretty wild driving situations before...I can handle that with my eyes closed and one arm tied behind my back--"
"Right--that happened during the Peterson case didn't it?" Hutch joked, and elicited a little laugh from Starsky. His overwrought partner needed to loosen up a little, and the joke seemed to help.
"This was something different. I was trying to come here to see you--Jenny Moore, one of my students, was Kristen Wilson's roommate--"
"I talked to her a couple of days ago."
"She said she almost told the detective who had just been there, but she figured you'd think she was nuts. She said that Kristen, and some of the other student assistants, often worked in the evening because it fit in better with their schedules, and sometimes they could use the faculty offices and typewriters and so on when the professors weren't there. Anyway, about a week before she died, Kristen was working late up there, and she came back to the dorm, really upset, and told Jenny about the shadows she saw in the upstairs hall..." Starsky went on to describe in detail what Jenny had told him, and also explained to him that they had nailed down the location of three cold spots in the hall. "When we were on our way back into my office--we had been faking this whole discussion about morality and reason--essentially replaying the debate from class, just to cover what we were really doing out in the hall--and she answered something I asked by saying that good was the absence of evil. When she said that, my office door slammed shut right in front of us. After she left, I came straight here--or tried to. Hutch, there was something else driving that car for a while, because I sure as hell couldn't do it."
"But when you prayed, it stopped?"
"Right. But I had been too preoccupied with fighting it to pray or even think. But I knew I was headed for a disaster and I couldn't stop it, so I was just saying my final prayers before getting spread all over the intersection."
"Whew." Hutch leaned back in the chair. "We're really in the middle of something special here, aren't we?"
"Well, it ain't a lead we can take to Dobey. But Jenny was sincere, and she doesn't seem like a flake. I think she's been really torn up about all this, not knowing who to talk to about it. She felt like she could trust me, for whatever reason, so she told me."
"She doesn't know who you really are does she?"
"No. She just likes Professor Levinson," he retorted with a little smirk.
"You kind of like this college professor thing, don't you?" Hutch asked, smiling at the distinct twinkle in his partner's eyes.
"I didn't expect to, but yeah."
"Think we could map out the cold spots on a diagram?"
"Probably. I'd almost have to see the hall again."
"Tonight. We'll go back there tonight and have a look."
"But that's when all the murders happen."
"And we're homicide detectives, remember? I should suggest you go alone, since we're not supposed to be seen together."
"But you wouldn't do that, would you?" Starsky asked, genuinely unnerved at the thought.
"No. I wouldn't go in that place myself alone at night, so I sure as hell wouldn't ask you to."
"Good, 'cause we'da had another fight on our hands."
"I dipped Minnie."
"Huh?" Starsky looked up from the spot on the floor where his gaze had been absently fixed for a few moments.
"I dipped Minnie. Ramon couldn't have done any better." Hutch smiled widely, and pretty soon, he and Starsky both laughed.
Maplecrest College was silent and dark. The residence hall was plunged into the silence of sleep. The Torino was the lone car in motion anywhere on the grounds. Only the students' vehicles and a car belonging to the residence hall manager were still parked in the lot. It was after midnight.
"I still think this is a bad idea." Starsky took the key out of the ignition and looked over at his partner.
"We have to get that hall diagramed."
"You're thinking something specific?" Starsky prodded.
"What I want to do is diagram where the cold spots are. Then I want to go back to the station, pull the victims' files, and plot on that diagram where the bodies where found and see if they correlate at all."
"Good thinking. Scary thinking, but good."
Starsky led the way up the open oak staircase to the second floor. They were using flashlights to avoid attracting any attention. The cold hit them like a tangible force as soon as they stepped into the hall lined with faculty offices.
"I think this whole damn thing is a cold spot," Hutch muttered.
"The first one starts right here, according to Jenny." Starsky led the way to the spot. An icy chill bit through their clothing. The cold here was more intense than the overall temperature in the hall.
"Okay. Got it." Hutch completed marking it off on the diagram he had drawn of the hall prior to leaving the precinct. He carried it now on a clipboard, and Starsky held the flashlight over his shoulder while he worked.
"Next one should be....right here." Starsky stopped in another place that felt ungodly in its temperature--like being hit with a winter wind in the middle of an LA autumn.
"Okay." Hutch completed his work and they progressed to the third, near Dr. Lansing's office.
"Right here." Starsky stopped again, and the temperature was as horrible as it had been in the last spot.
"Is it always this strong?" Hutch asked, marking it off on his diagram.
"Not during the day. It's cold, but not like this. Can we get out of here now?"
"With pleasure." Hutch started forward but stopped in his tracks. There were footsteps on the stairs.
"Oh, damn." Starsky's voice reflected more fear than annoyance.
"Probably just a faculty member--or the caretaker."
"Come on." Starsky fumbled with the keys to his office and let them in, locking the door behind them. It was the only room he could get them into, a dubious shelter from the hall and its visitor.
"They're coming down this way." Hutch drew his weapon and flattened himself against the wall near the door.
"No shit." Starsky pulled his own gun, and took cover behind the desk chair, ready for a two-way attack on anything or anyone who invaded the office.
The footsteps were slow, methodical, purposeful...and they stopped, right outside the small office. Hutch looked over at Starsky, who simply exchanged a nervous look with his partner. The footsteps resumed, and seemed to retreat. Hutch's body slumped a little with relief, and Starsky stood up from his hiding place, replacing his gun in its holster.
The footsteps returned, then receded, then returned...and continued to repeat the pattern.
"He...it's...patrolling." Starsky looked at his partner, the cold realization spreading over both of them that not only was their visitor not human, it was keeping them trapped there.
"This is ridiculous." Hutch reached for the knob.
"Don't!" Starsky admonished in a breathy whisper.
"Oh, for God's sake, Starsky. Two armed cops hiding in an office from footsteps?" Hutch eased the door open, and Starsky drew his weapon again. "Police! Freeze!" Hutch shouted into the hall. Starsky could see him in his usual stance, Magnum pointed out firmly ahead of him, facing toward the stairs. He had someone in his sights, but as Starsky moved to back him up, he could see Hutch's stance falter, and before Starsky made it out the door, Hutch had retreated into the office and slammed it, leaning against it.
"I saw it..."
"The shadow...and there was nothing casting it...God, Starsky, it was a shadow of a man, with a machete in his hand, walking toward the stairs. I yelled, and it turned, and came back toward me. But the person never showed up. The shadow just kept moving. I think if it had touched me--just the shadow--I'd have been the next victim."
There was a knock on the door. Hutch flew away from it as if shot from a cannon. He and Starsky instinctively huddled together near the desk, hearing the knocking reverberating through the silence like thunder. It was louder than it should have been. And it grew continuously louder until the floorboards vibrated with it. Hutch covered his ears against the sound, and Starsky could only stand there in mute shock for a moment. Then he put one protective arm around his hunched partner and started reciting the same prayer he had in the car. There was a lesson from an old horror movie somewhere going through his mind...it works if you believe in it. He hoped that was true, because he did believe in the power of these muttered words to do battle with whatever this...thing was. It had saved his life in the Torino, and now it would have to do it here in this hellish building after midnight.
The sound stopped. The silence was as deafening as the knocking had been. Hutch realized a little self-consciously that he had covered his ears and hidden against Starsky, grateful for the arm that had come around him, even though it would have had little chance of staving off the thing in the hall had it made its way into the room. He straightened up and looked at Starsky.
"I'm not going out there," Starsky announced.
"We can't stay here forever."
"We can 'til dawn. Then we'll get out of here."
"Maybe we should call for help."
"And say what? Hi, Cap, this is Starsky and Hutch. We're hiding in a faculty office and we're afraid to go out in the hall alone because there's a shadow out there? We're stuck here til morning, so you might as well get comfortable." Starsky patted the back of the padded leather desk chair.
"What about you?"
"Your back's worse than mine. Take this chair. I'll sit over here." Starsky pulled the smaller visitor's chair up next to the big one as Hutch slumped in it, relieved that it was as comfortable as it looked. Starsky was right. His back didn't care for some of those straight chairs, and a whole night in one would have been rough. Good old Starsk. He does look out for me, Hutch thought with a little grin. Starsky was seated in the other chair, his chin leaning on his crossed arms on the desk. Hutch patted his partner's back.
"I want you off this assignment." He didn't withdraw the hand right away, but Starsky straightened and it seemed to fall away of its own accord.
"No way. We can't pull out of this. Nobody'll ever investigate this for what it is except for us. We can't just walk away and let people get murdered. There's gotta be a paranormal research department in some university around the area. Maybe they can help."
"Sure. Let's call the nuts with the cameras and recorders and find out that we have a ghost. We know that. What we don't know is how it kills, why it kills, and how to stop it from killing again." Hutch looked at Starsky. "I don't want it to kill you."
"Then we'll just have to be careful."
"But it isn't we, buddy. It's you, here by yourself most of the time."
"No one's ever been killed in broad daylight, so I'll get out of here before nightfall. If we ever come in here after dark, it'll be together."
"Makes this whole undercover thing seem kind of useless, doesn't it? I mean the ghost knows who we are."
"I s'pose," Starsky said with a little laugh. "But Dobey isn't going to buy the ghost story."
"No." Hutch was quiet a few minutes, and Starsky returned to his position of slumping against the desk on his folded arms. "Scared?"
"To death. You?"
"Same here." Hutch rested his head against the back of the chair and noticed how much like Starsky this little office was starting to look. It was casual, but it was neat and it was starting to hold little personal effects. Suddenly, Hutch regretted having teased his partner about being less intelligent, or less cultured. All Starsky lacked was formal higher education and social opportunity,a situation which was not one of his making. He had no shortage of brains. Obviously, he also had a love for learning and teaching that was buried deep under many layers of denial. He thought back of Starsky trying caviar, watching the ballet and trying to comment on it, even without the proper terminology...he could appreciate the things of the beautiful people, given half a chance. Have I been afraid if I let go of that rough-edged cop and recognized the potential, the intelligent, literate person that was inside that casing, that I'd lose him? Just like I'm worrying now that he's going to go to college and become a professor instead of stay on the force...
"You asleep?" Starsky's voice startled him.
"No. Just thinking."
"Do you like the ballet?"
"What?" Starsky straightened a little, amused at the choice of subjects.
"When you watched the ballet, did you like it?"
"Ballet? Oh, I don't know. When do you mean--oh, when you were guarding Anna...Arachnid or whatever her name was?"
"Akhanatova," Hutch corrected with a smile.
"What was it?"
"Say it with me. Ak--han--a--to--va," Hutch repeated, and his partner joined him. "Try it."
"Akhanatova." Starsky repeated it with some satisfaction. "I never could get that damn thing down pat. Or her guardian--what was her name?"
"Got me. Who noticed her?"
"I did. She was my date most of the time, remember?"
"Oh, yeah, I guess I did leave you stuck with her, didn't I?"
"What in the world made you think of her tonight? I mean, I know you liked her pretty well, but we haven't really talked about her in a long time."
"I remembered you liked the ballet...or you seemed to. We never went again."
"We never went before, either."
"Did you like it?"
"Who wouldn't? It was really beautiful. But that stuff's complicated, and I don't know anything about it anyway...all those fancy terms for the jumping and spinning and lifting..."
"When we get through this damn case, you wanna go again sometime? We'll get box seats, and I can teach you the right terms."
"I don't know. Thought you might enjoy it."
"Sure. Okay." Starsky regarded his partner with an odd expression. Maybe a brush with the supernatural had driven him insane. What did Anna Arachnid...oh, Akhanatova...have to do with anything now? After all this time? "You feeling cultural all of a sudden, hanging around a campus?"
"Maybe," Hutch responded, smiling.
"You aren't still worrying about that stupid argument we had last week? I was spouting off, that's all. If I didn't apologize then, I will now. I'm sorry. I took it out on you, and you didn't do anything to deserve it. You were right. Putting me in here as a professor was a real long shot."
"It just occurs to me that I've been so busy making you stay on your side of the cultural dividing line between us that I never gave you a chance to develop. You were supposed to be the..."
"Clod?" Starsky asked, laughing a little. "Yeah, I know."
"Not a clod, Starsky."
"Well, uneducated and uncultured, anyway. Let's face it, Hutch, I never was exposed to much of that stuff before, and I'm not longing to spend evenings at the opera watching fat divas wearing Viking horns prance around screeching, or going to ballets, watching guys in tights jump around like Tinkerbell now. But I'd like to know more about some of it, if you're interested in it."
"I haven't been to a ballet since Anna."
"Have you missed it?"
"Not really," Hutch replied honestly, and they both laughed. "Seriously, I do miss doing something...refined once in a while."
"But hanging out with me all the time kinda prevented that."
"Because I made it an issue."
"Because I usually said or did something dumb that embarrassed you."
"Of course I never helped you out with any pointers before we'd get there. I just let you flounder. I don't know why. It doesn't seem funny now, looking back."
"Why are you dredging all this ballet stuff up again?" Starsky waited for an explanation, but when none followed, he simply sighed and suggested, "If we go to dinner first, and you give me a bunch of pointers on what I'm supposed to do, you wanna go to the ballet again?"
"Yeah, I think I would." Hutch laughed a little.
"Okay. As soon as we wrap this up, we'll go get us some culture," Starsky concluded in a horrible, feigned hillbilly accent. "By the way--what do you know about the Brandenburg Concertos?"
Hutch opened his eyes and squinted a little as sunlight intruded on them. He was relatively comfortable in the big leather chair, though a bit stiff. He looked over at Starsky, who was sleeping with his head on his folded arms, hunched over the desk. He'd be lucky if he wasn't in that position permanently after sleeping that way.
"Starsk?" Hutch said quietly. He heard the even breathing unchanged. "Starsky," he repeated, louder now. Finally, he touched a shoulder, and the other jumped, upsetting a few things on the desk. "It's morning."
"Oh," Starsky responded blankly, straightening and stretching with a great degree of grunting and groaning. It was a little after five-thirty.
"Should we take a look out there?" Hutch stood up and approached the door.
"No time like the present." Starsky was right behind him as they ventured into the silent hallway. Plenty of shadows were created by the approaching sunlight and last throes of night, but none of them moved, and none carried weapons.
"Let's get out of here." Hutch led the way on a brisk walk to the stairs.
Starsky was silent most of the way into town. The car was behaving itself, and he was relieved not to be hurtling down the road at suicidal speeds. Neither of them were talking about
the shadow, as if discussing it in the daylight would make it true. Without consulting his partner, Starsky correctly assumed their next stop should be the precinct. They had been literally waiting all night to map out the cold spots and make some sense of it all.
Hutch found a large sheet of paper in the supply room and clearing off his desk, spread it in front of them. He reproduced and enlarged version of his diagram drawn in the hallway the previous night, and then together, they began the grim task of sifting through crime scene photos and reports. Starsky helped plot the location of the various corpses with red "x's". Unfortunately, no pattern emerged. The cold spots were occasionally near the spot where a corpse was found, but not always. Frustrated at having risked their lives for what turned out to be nothing, they rolled up the diagram and stuffed it haphazardly in a bottom drawer of the desk.
"So much for that," Hutch exhaled and poured another cup of coffee for Starsky and then another for himself.
"Damn. I really thought we were onto something there."
"I guess we have to keep digging. There's got to be some reason for those cold spots, and the whole thing has to have something to do with the murders. We've got to explain that damn shadow."
"Can't explain that." Starsky leaned back in his chair.
"I s'pose you're right. At least not in the logical sense. But we know now what we have to solve. Who or what is it, and why is it killing?"
"Well, for quite a few years, it didn't do anything. Why now?"
"Is there any possible way I could have imagined it? Was it an illusion?"
"Hutch, we both heard that horrible pounding. I think I still hear it somewhere in the back of my head."
"That's the position you slept in."
"Probably," Starsky replied, laughing a little. "Seriously. You saw it, and you aren't a superstitious person by nature, so you'd be likely to not believe it, unless it were true."
"True. And I couldn't see any origin for the shadow, and there would have had to be because of the angle, the way I was seeing it, the proximity of it..." Hutch rubbed his forehead wearily.
"Why don't you go home and get some sleep? You look wasted."
"You don't look so hot yourself, partner," Hutch retorted.
"I think I'll put on my professor suit and go nose around a little. Maybe I can find something out about the history of the place--what brought about the shadow in the first place." Starsky stood up. "Come on, I'll take you home."
"Can't. I've got work to do. Pick me up about four or five--we can get something to eat, huh?"
"Okay. Later." Starsky left the squad room, and Hutch gathered the crime scene photos together and stuffed them in the appropriate folders. Gruesome carnage from an unexplainable assailant. And still nothing to tell Dobey...
The cafeteria was more like an exclusive social club than a college eatery. The walls were paneled in rich oak and decorated by expensive paintings, and the small tables for four were covered with ecru cloths and bore little floral centerpieces. Starsky scanned the breakfast selection with disdain. Fruit abounding, whole grain cereals...in short, it could have been called Chez Hutch. This was his style for breakfast, not Starsky's. No donuts, no pizza, no sticky frosted cereals.
"Are you really that hungry?" A voice startled him from behind. He was surprised to see it attached to Dr. Lansing as she joined him in surveying the bran muffins wrapped in plastic.
"I don't think I've ever been that hungry," he responded with a grin.
"Your best bet is the banana nut bread, over there. It's baked fresh every day, and it actually has some flavor."
"Thanks." He took a plastic covered plate and offered it to her, which she accepted. He obtained one for himself and then led the way to the coffee machine. "Coffee?"
"Please," she responded.
"Come here often?" he asked, handing her the cup. She laughed almost out loud. "Sorry, couldn't resist." He filled a cup for himself and they continued to the cash register, where he insisted on paying for both. "Hope you're free for breakfast. I hate eating alone."
"As fate would have it, I am," she responded, sitting in the chair he pulled out for her at the table they chose. "Thank you."
"My pleasure." He sat across from her and began unwrapping his bread. He stole an inquisitive glance up at his breakfast companion. She was a very statuesque and elegant woman, and her every gesture indicated wealth and good breeding. She was educated and refined, and a little initimidating, even over breakfast. So why am I noticing how pretty she is under that icy enamel, Starsky pondered. He continued to take stock as she was absorbed with liberating her bread from its plastic wrap. Her blonde hair was swirled dramatically on top of her head, and she only wore expensive dark business suits, like the navy blue one she wore today, with a tailored white blouse and matching dark shoes. Starsky wondered why everyone around here always looked like they were going to or from a funeral. It had to be the suits.
"Any progress on the investigation?" she asked conversationally, giving the area the obligatory scan to make sure she wasn't blowing his cover.
"Not much. Rumors mostly."
"What kind of rumors?" She nibbled at the edge of her bread.
"That this place is haunted." Might as well go for the gusto, Starsky, he thought to himself.
"Oh, that." She sipped her coffee and he took a bite of the bread, watching her intently.
"You've heard that before?"
"Well, the drafts in the upstairs hall are, of course, cold spots," she announced with amusement. "And then there's the shadow." She took another sip of coffee, and he almost choked on his.
"It's rumored that if you're in the faculty offices after midnight, you'll see the shadow of a man carrying a machete lurking in the hallway. Of course, a few students are convinced he's the murderer," she answered.
"But you don't think there's any basis for any of the rumors."
"I would think that you of all people would feel that way, given your line of work."
"My partner saw it last night." Starsky hadn't intended to say anything, but he suddenly felt the need to validate the rumor, and for some odd reason, he trusted Evelyn Lansing.
"Yes. One of my students came to me and told me about it yesterday. She also showed me all three cold spots in the hall. I brought Hutch back here last night, and we mapped out the cold spots. While we were in the hall, we heard footsteps. Normally, we'd have just pulled our guns and confronted whoever it was, but I was a little antsy after hearing about the shadow, so I pulled Hutch into my office and locked us in. We waited, and the footsteps sounded like they arrived outside my door, and then patrolled. After a few seconds, Hutch had enough of waiting around, and he went out the door, gun drawn. He yelled 'freeze', and then he waited. I couldn't see what he saw, but he waited quite a few seconds, then his stance faltered, and he ducked back into the office." Starsky paused, feeling a wonderful catharsis at telling the story, and feeling guilty that Hutch was still walking around questioning his sanity and having no such release. "One thing you have to understand--well, two, really. One, Hutch is a realist about stuff like that. He isn't superstitious, and he always looks for a logical explanation for things. Second, we've been in more dark alleys, hallways and streets than I can even begin to remember, and we know what shadows do, what level of light is necessary to cast what kind of a shadow--I don't mean we could put it all into words, but it's a kind of innate knowledge from working so many nights, and sneaking around a lot of dark places. Hutch told me that from the angle he saw it, and the degree of light in the hall, and the proximity of it to him, there was no earthly way it could have been there without him seeing the person casting it. The shadow was there, but the person wasn't. He waited until the last minute to come back in the office, because he was waiting to see the person casting the shadow come into view. But they never did." Starsky could see her face registering interest, even a little fear, but not disbelief. Encouraged, he continued. "Then it pounded on the door. The pounding got deafening...just like some kind of awful thunder. I thought it was going to pop our eardrums. Hutch has real sensitive hearing, and he was covering his ears, trying to keep the noise out. It wouldn't stop until I started praying. Then it did." Starsky leaned back in his chair. "Now you probably think we're both certifiable. And if we share this with our captain, we'll probably be offered early retirement."
"Why did you tell me?"
"I don't know." Starsky smiled slightly. "Maybe because I trust you. I think you care about this place...that you want it...safe again. I think you know we're working toward that end. And I think deep down, you feel there's something to those rumors."
"Perhaps you should have been sent undercover in the Psychology Department," she responded, smiling. "I have felt the cold spots. The odd part of this is, none of this occurred until shortly before the first murders. For almost thirty years, this campus has been...idyllic."
"When did you start here?"
"About fifteen years ago. I taught Philosophy and Composition, then eventually went into administrative work. I never heard a haunting rumor, and never noticed anything odd."
"When was the first time you heard, or noticed anything?"
"Near the holidays. Actually, I remember exactly which day of the week it was. December 19th."
"What makes you remember that?"
"Well, we were planning a reception to unveil the new painting in the library, and a few
of us on the committee--yes, we do have a committee just to plan a cocktail party--were working late upstairs. The others finally left, but I had a few last minute items to take care of for a meeting first thing in the morning. It was close to midnight, and the door to my office began opening and shutting by itself. There was no noticeable draft in that hallway, David. But it was horribly, icy cold. I ran out of that building, lucky to remember my car keys, and fled out of the parking lot. I've never worked alone at night here since, and thank God, never saw the shadow. But if I'd stayed longer that night..."
"I might have actually wound up eating a bran muffin by myself this morning." Starsky knew it was an inane remark, but both of them had become very serious and tense discussing the hauntings, and it seemed like a little levity was needed. He had also caught her use of his first name, which made him feel much more friendly toward this sometimes aloof woman. But now, Evelyn Lansing laughed out loud.
"You might have at that." She smiled down at her coffee. "I think I've wanted to deny that experience. Badly enough that I've closed my eyes to what was really happening here."
"After the 19th, did anything else happen?"
"Various faculty members complained about drafts, doors opening and closing by themselves, and of course, we had a couple of shadow sightings."
"When the murders occurred--"
"I couldn't make myself believe that something supernatural could accomplish something like that." She sighed. "I didn't mention it to the police for the same reason you and your partner didn't tell your captain."
"The question now is, what're we gonna do about it?"
"Something happened to start this chain of events. A place doesn't stay peaceful and beautiful and safe for 29 years and then suddenly, on the 30th year, become deadly."
"What else was going on in December, besides the reception?"
"Final exams, a couple of holiday receptions for the faculty and staff and board members, a musical performance by the choir--standard activities. Nothing special."
"The big event was the painting in the library, then?"
"What is it?"
"Are you finished? Why don't we go take a look? Since it would have paid for several new periodical subscriptions, it ought to be worth looking at."
"Okay." Starsky stood as she did and followed her to the library. A few students were browsing the shelves, but as it was just eight o'clock, most were either hurrying to, or already in their first classes of the day. Starsky returned several greetings from students as they moved through the halls. It amused him that on at least three occasions, she was Dr. Lansing and he was simply "Dr. L". The new professor hadn't shown much love for the formalities, and the students had picked up on that early in the game.
"Well, here it is. Malcolm Willoughby III. He built this house in 1889. Someone on the Board is also a member of a local historical society, and this painting was supposedly done by a very prominent artist of the time, so all things being equal, she felt it was a necessity."
"Careful, Dr. Lansing. You're getting bogged down in things like academics again."
"You're right. And call me Evelyn. Most of the faculty do, though not within earshot of the students."
"Thanks, Evelyn. Any history to go with old Malcolm here?"
"Not that I know of. Actually, it was quite sparse. I recall we were trying to put together something meaningful for the unveiling, and Charlotte--Charlotte Evans, the Board member I mentioned--didn't have all that much for us. Essentially, all we had to offer was that he was the builder of the house, and it was donated for use for the college in the late 1940's by his niece, who was his only surviving heir."
"Did he have a family? What became of them?"
"His family were killed tragically a several years after the house was built."
"Some sort of accident, I assume. She said that was all she could find in the records."
"Historical society records?"
"Yes. I have the phone number up in my office if you want to contact her."
"Thanks, I do."
"And what will you tell her?"
"Good point. Maybe I can have one of my students do it--all in the name of research."
"Jenny Moore. She was Kristen Marshall's friend and roommate, and she told me about the shadow in the first place--Kristen told her about it."
"Let's go get the number, and you can proceed." She led the way into the dreaded faculty office area. The cold spots were noticeable, but nothing like they had been the night before. Evelyn closed the door behind them as they entered her office. She motioned to Starsky to have a seat and she began ferreting through her Rolodex. She wrote the name, address and phone number on a slip of paper and handed it to him. "Do you really see any value in this?"
"It's the only lead we've got. Tragic deaths are good springboards for ghosts."
"Where was the painting when it was acquired?"
"An antique dealer in the city. I can probably dig up that information too."
"That would help." He waited while she rifled through a file cabinet drawer or two, and pulled out a fat manilla folder marked "Painting Acquisition". "I wonder why this one piece was separated from the house. Aren't there a lot of original furnishings and accessories still here?"
"You have a good eye. Yes, there are. I suppose I never gave it much thought."
"Well, think about it a minute. If you owned a family home, lousy with expensive antiques, and you needed to pawn something, would you select a portrait of a family member?"
"From my understanding, money was not an issue with the Willoughby Family."
"Well, that just further bears out my point. Why would someone sell it to an antique dealer? And if it were stolen, why a painting? It's too traceable of you have other goodies to choose from."
"Please do whatever it is you need to do to research this. Be careful about using Jenny Moore in the whole operation. I don't want anything to happen to one of the students."
"I won't put her in any danger. I just thought she might have more luck making the initial contact than I would."
"It's your ball game now, David." She smiled a little. "Incidentally, I understand you had a pretty spirited debate on Wednesday." Starsky tensed. Was she going to lower the boom now about him tossing the syllabus to the wind?
"I hope you don't mind my taking some initiative with the class. But frankly, I can't take the dullness of the textbook. Maybe because it is my faith and I was raised in it I can't just treat it clinically. Also, it just seems like there are so many issues tied into religion that just to read out of a stale old book and bore those kids to death is silly. Besides, my mother recommended the book I used for Wednesday's class. How can I argue with the lady who taught the teacher?"
"I imagine you can't--not successfully, anyway," she responded, amused.
"You've met my mother?" he quipped.
"I had one of my own, and she was much the same way. A dear lady, but a champion of the art of debate. I don't know if anyone ever won an argument against her. I know my father didn't." She paused. "The students have said some very positive things about their experience so far in your class. Dr. Levinson has my permission to use his judgement in the classroom."
"Thanks." Starsky smiled and stood up. "I better get going. I've got some good material to work with here. I'll call you as soon as I know anything."
"Good. I'll be anxious to hear what you find out."
Jenny Moore was a bit curious when her professor called, asking her to meet him in a small fast food restaurant a few blocks from campus. It was two in the afternoon, so there was almost no lunch crowd left. Dr. Levinson sat in a back booth, with two soft drinks in front of him, staring out the window. He was almost too handsome to be a professor, and in a pair of jeans, a red shirt and a black leather jacket, he definitely didn't look like one. When he caught sight of her, he stood, one of those killer smiles decorating his face. She wondered if there was any chance he'd consider taking advantage of a student...
"Hi, Jenny. Have a seat."
"I ordered a couple of Cokes. I hope that's okay."
"Fine. Thanks. What's up?"
"I need your help. I think I might have a lead on the shadow."
"You're serious?" she asked, releasing the straw that had been in her mouth.
"Very. But to research it, I need an accomplice. If I ask, I won't get anywhere."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Are you familiar with the Maplecrest Historical Society?" This pretentious little suburb even considers its own microcosmic history to be worthy of a society of its own, Starsky thought to himself.
"Not really. I've heard of it."
"Well, I need you to do some research with them. But you'll have to avoid one specific person. You have to go in the back door so to speak."
"Who am I avoiding?"
"Charlotte Evans. She's a member of the college's Board of Control. What I want you to do is get the real, sordid history of the painting in the library."
"Old Malcolm what's-his-name?"
"Malcolm Willoughby III, right. His family died...all of them. Now there's a tragedy of some sort here, but I get the feeling it's been glossed over. Tragic, major death is sometimes a cause of haunting--any horror movie fan knows that--so I thought it was a good place to start. The Willoughby family got rid of that painting for some reason but kept piles of other valuable antiques, and didn't need the money from pawning it. So they must have not wanted it for some reason."
"Wouldn't it be a trip if old Malcolm was the shadow?"
"That's what I'm thinkin'." Starsky leaned back in the booth.
"Why am I avoiding Charlotte Evans?"
"She pushed for the acquisition of the painting, and then glossed over the skeletons in the Willoughby closet. I want the straight story."
"What do I tell them is the reason I want to know?"
"You're doing a report on something." Starsky realized after he said it that it was probably the most non-academic thing he'd said in weeks. Did college students "do reports on things" or did they write research papers? Oh, shit, who cares? he thought.
"Be creative. I don't know. A history class."
"I think I have the answer." She smiled a satisfied smile. "The college's 30th anniversary. I can say I'm doing some research for that."
"Perfect. But be sure you get someone other than--"
"Charlotte Evans, I know. His family is suppose to have died?"
"Supposedly in some sort of accident shortly after the house was built."
"But you don't buy that."
"I think it could be a cover story because to tell the community that the guy hacked them up with a machete wouldn't make for good reading in the next course catalog."
"True," she responded, snickering.
"Had lunch yet?"
"Yes, thanks, I ate at noon--right before you called. I have a three o'clock class, so I better run."
"Thanks for your help, Jenny."
"You're the one who's helping me, remember? I asked for it," she concluded, smiling. Standing, she added, "By the way, I'm reading up for that discussion about tzedaka Monday. I'll be ready for your curve ball next time," she said, referring back to a spirited debate they'd had in class the previous day.
"I'll look forward to it," he responded, standing as she left.
Life at Maplecrest College was reasonably uneventful during the next few days, and both detectives were finding it hard to prove to Dobey that they were doing anything worthwhile on this investigation, which seemed to have ground to a halt. Jenny did make one contact at the historical society, but she had gotten the same censored version of the story from him also. She did provide Starsky with the tip that there were a large number of files and archives in the small house they used for their offices, and that the man she spoke to had given her information from a file he had taken out of the archives, but never let her see. She was headed for the UCLA library next, to go through microfilm of old newspapers from 1889 to 1909, figuring that twenty-year span would encompass the tragedy, if it had indeed occurred in the "first several years" after the house was built.
Starsky's biggest obstacle now was the cocktail party, Bach concert and reception in the ballroom of the college. Only Maplecrest would preserve a ballroom as a ballroom on a college campus. With Dobey deciding they weren't doing enough working on this one case alone and funneling several other low-priority items their way to take up "all this spare time you seem to have" (his words), he hadn't studied up on Bach. Ginny would have to carry him through that one.
Dressed in his penguin suit, he picked Ginny up at seven. She was dressed in a long dress, pale blue, with a very tailored and tasteful ruffled collar and sleeves. Just pretty enough and just stuffy enough, Starsky thought to himself. He had seen Ginny at another party once, with someone else. She had been dressed in a slinky red evening gown and heels. Secretly, it had been that Ginny he'd hoped to see swing open the door of her apartment. But this one would definitely blend with Maplecrest much more effectively. He'd complimented her on the dress and she'd exchanged the niceties about his tux, and they were headed for the campus.
Starsky was relieved to have Ginny on his arm as he started into the elegantly appointed ballroom. Hutch's favorite trick was to cut and run about now, leaving Starsky to fend for himself. Maybe this wouldn't be such a rotten experience after all.
Evelyn Lansing spotted them as they arrived, and made her way through the crowd to greet them. She was followed by a tall, younger man, dressed in an obviously expensive tux. He somewhat resembled her, and they soon learned why.
"David, welcome," she extended a hand toward him, which he shook.
"Evelyn Lansing, this is Ginny Simpson," he introduced.
"Nice to meet you, Ginny," she replied, as Ginny nodded and smiled, shaking her hand. "This is my son, Andrew." The handshakes in all directions resumed. Andrew was dark-haired, somber-faced and quiet. His coloring was nothing like his mother's, but the strong features that could make Evelyn Lansing look imposing were handsome on her son and certainly distinguished them as members of the same family.
The two pairs of people mingled as a group for a while, until all had champagne in hand and had managed to submerge themselves among the other faculty, staff and guests. Evelyn was soon swept away on the tides of college conversation, and her son finally succeeded in politely extricating himself to pursue a willowy blonde honor student who would be doing a solo on the violin during the program.
Starsky smiled at Ginny. It was a dry evening at best, but she was coaching him on what each bizarre little hors d'oeurve was called, what was in it, and why he was supposed to enjoy it. Each with a small plate in hand, they settled in a pair of chairs at one corner of the room, not exactly making all the contacts Dobey would expect. Of course, it was Starsky's opinion that there was no human killer lurking among the faculty, so he felt using this occasion as an investigative opportunity was somewhat useless.
"You seem to be getting on well with the Wicked Witch of the West," Ginny said quietly, nibbling some shrimp ball Starsky couldn't recall the right name for at the moment.
"Hutch doesn't hit it off too well with Evelyn," Starsky responded, amused by the nickname his partner still insisted on attaching to the woman. "He tried bluffing her, and she doesn't go for that."
"And you know what she does go for?" Ginny probed.
"Well, she's a straight shooter. If you give it to her straight, she'll return the favor, and she'll respect you for it. I never tried to pretend I was something I wasn't. Hutch tried to pass me off as something different, and she resented it. So her goal in life with him is to shoot holes in his pretenses. I haven't put out any for her, so she doesn't shoot at them."
"You don't have to take a back seat to Evelyn Lansing...or to Hutch for that matter, Dave."
"Well, this isn't my scene. I hate these damn parties."
"Because you feel out of place at them?" Ginny cut to the chase, which was good in one way, but made him feel like he was standing naked in the middle of the room. She saw through everything.
"I suppose. I don't know what the shrimp balls are called and I don't know anything about Europe and I didn't go to a fancy ivy league college."
"Oh, for heaven's sake. Why would you know anything about these stuffy affairs? The only reason I'm a little less terrified of all this is because my father had money, and he used to throw parties like these all the time. I had to be the perfect little princess to show off. Especially after my mother died. He didn't have a wife for a trophy, so he had a little girl in a frilly dress."
"I'm sorry...about your mother, I mean. Were you very young?"
"I was about the same age when my dad was shot. Not an easy thing to handle at that age."
"No, not at all. But my father is a good man. I don't mean to imply anything else. He's been wonderful to me. But appearances are everything to him, and nothing to me."
"Must make for some interesting arguments," Starsky commented, feeling more at ease now as he sampled one of the infamous shrimp balls.
"One or two," she responded, smiling.
"Listen, Ginny, I appreciate you doing this. I know it isn't a laugh a minute."
"It's not all bad, either." She fed him a bite of another odd food, which he didn't remember the name of, and didn't care. He was more interested in Ginny, and loved the decadence of her gesture of feeding him off her plate in the middle of a fancy social gathering.
The concert was quite enjoyable, though the student ensemble certainly had a ways to go before they rivaled the local Philharmonic. Starsky was sitting contentedly next to Ginny, happy that her arm had linked through his at her desire, and she frequently leaned over to share with him some little tidbit of information about the music. He listened carefully and stored the information for the post-concert mingling, which he relaxed and enjoyed, feeling Ginny was a loyal back up if he got into a conversation over his head. She only had to bail him out once, in some inane conversation about the angst in Mozart's personal life being reflected in his music, and even then, no one seemed to catch that he didn't know what the devil they were talking about--only that his date had an outspoken opinion on the subject.
Starsky dropped Ginny off at her apartment, since she had an early call the next morning. He was amused to finally be dating a woman who had to work the occasional Saturday. Dating? Is that what we're doing? he questioned himself as he drove back toward his apartment. He was surprised to see Hutch's car parked out front. Come to think of it, he hadn't talked to his partner since the previous day sometime, which was odd for them.
"Hey, buddy, how's it goin'?" Starsky asked as he swung open the door.
"I was beginning to wonder about you." Hutch's expression wasn't especially pleasant, but Starsky was in too good a mood to be dragged down now. He had survived successfully a black tie evening with a room full of Ph.D.'s, and hadn't fallen on his face significantly once. No torn tuxes, mispronounced words or social blunders. David Starsky had had fun at a black tie event for the first time in his life.
"Whadd'ya mean? Hey, want a beer?" He held up two bottles, but Hutch held up his own where he sat on the couch. "Aha. Ahead of me already, huh?" Starsky sat on the opposite end of the couch, tossed his jacket in the chair, kicked off his shoes and put his feet up on the middle cushion. This way he could irritate Hutch by nudging his thigh from time to time with a minimum of exertion. He took a long drink out of the bottle.
"How was the party?"
"It was great. I had fun."
"You're not serious--you had fun at a black tie event?"
"Whatsa matter? Didn't think I could pull it off?" Starsky took a couple of swallows from his bottle, loosening his bow tie and throwing it in the general direction of the jacket, missing of course.
"Just surprised you enjoyed yourself."
"I had a lot of fun being with Ginny. And Evelyn introduced us around to quite a few people. It was a little awkward at first, but Ginny was a good coach." He nudged Hutch with his foot. "So what's new?"
"I was kind of wondering that myself. Where've you been, anyway?"
"Following up that lead with the painting. I asked Jenny Moore to do some snooping. No luck at the historical society, but she's going to do some research with microfilm in the library. If the old newspapers don't help us, we'll have to do a little midnight raid on the historical society archives."
"Did you conveniently forget that you were a cop and not a ghost-hunting college professor? Dobey's been all over my back about this case, and I never could tell him where the elusive Dr. Levinson was from one minute to the next."
"I'm sorry. I guess I just got involved with things at the college and--"
"Well you're not Levinson, so just remember that." Hutch stood up and paced the room angrily. "Don't look now, Cinderella, but your coach is still a striped tomato."
"What in the hell is that supposed to mean?" Starsky asked angrily.
"That you're living out some kind of fantasy. Somewhere along the line you forgot you were a cop and started thinking your cover was your real job."
"Dobey said I was off active duty while I taught."
"Listen to yourself-- 'while I taught'. This is a cover, Starsky, not a new life."
"Maybe it is." Starsky stood up and slammed the bottle on the coffee table, almost breaking it. "Maybe for the first time in my life, I'm getting a look at how the other half lives, and ya know somethin'--I kinda like it. And I kinda like getting a little respect once in awhile. Do you know what it felt like to stand around in a room full of over-educated professors and have one of them ask my opinion on something? You wanna know something else, Hutch? I was able to give 'em one, believe it or not. And I wasn't floundering around with a rental ticket on my suit or calling the shrimp balls by the wrong name or tipping the maids. And when I got stuck, Ginny pulled me out of it before I was the joke of the party. So yeah, I had a great time, and it was the beginning of a new life for me--a new perspective, anyway."
"So now you want to be a college professor? Yeah, right."
"I didn't say that."
"Starsky, David Levinson is a fictional character Dobey created over his morning coffee. His credentials are fake--he doesn't exist."
"Is there some special reason you feel compelled to do this to me right now? Why is it you feel you have to ruin this for me?"
"Because when Dobey pulls the plug on this operation, David Levinson is gonna die with it and I don't want to see you get hurt, okay? I just see you taking on this cover like a second skin--and that makes you one hell of an undercover cop, but it also sets you up for a fall when it all ends. And all this stuff at the college is part of that phony life. I'm not saying you couldn't have all that someday, but you don't have it now."
"I know that, Hutch. I know I'm not on their level. But I was havin' a little bit of fun pretending."
"Starsky, this isn't a matter of 'levels'."
"Oh, yes it is," Starsky responded, a tone of defeat in his voice rather than anger. "I'm not in their league. I know that. I know my place."
"Oh for God's sake," Hutch snapped back angrily. "Don't start that pouting martyr shit with me. You know that isn't what I meant."
"Look, you're living a phony life, and I guess I just wanted to make sure you were thinking clearly on that before you get really embarrassed in one of these situations."
"Since when haven't you gotten a kick out of that?" Starsky regretted the sharpness of the remark, but it was out there, and Hutch stared back at him a little surprised.
"Is that what this is about? Some stale old grievance you have with me?"
"Forget it, Hutch. I'm tired, let's just drop it for tonight. I've got a clear perspective on everything. I know what I am and what I'm not." He looked down at the books scattered on his dining room table. Running his fingers absentmindedly over them, he turned back toward Hutch. "Maybe I am living a little through Levinson. I don't know."
"Starsk, I never meant I didn't think you could do something like this someday if you wanted to. I watched you in that classroom. You were good at it. If you wanted to go through college, get all the right letters after your name and do this for a living, I'm sure you could. But I see you getting all wrapped up in this lifestyle--suddenly they're 'my' students, 'my' class, and you're mingling with the faculty and playing the role and we don't even really need you to do that now because we know what we're looking for. The truth is, this whole operation should be ended, because we're chasing a ghost, and we don't need someone undercover to do that anymore."
"And we can't tell Dobey we're looking for a shadow with a machete either. So David Levinson gets a stay of execution for a while." Starsky watched Hutch's unsatisfied expression. "I'm sorry I jumped down your throat."
"Yeah? Well..." Hutch looked down at the floor for a moment, then back up at Starsky. "I'm sorry I ruined your evening."
"I guess it needed ruining. I was getting a little carried away with all this...playin' the role."
"I meant what I said before, Starsk. You really were doing a good job with that class."
"Thanks." He smiled and sat at the table, looking back at the mass of books.
"Think when this is all over, you'll want to sign up for more classes?" Hutch joined him at the table.
"I don't know. Maybe. I don't picture being David Levinson full-time though. I can't see spending a lifetime cooped up in a musty old library somewhere doing research and writing books and going to these damn dry receptions," Starsky concluded with a laugh, unbuttoning another button on his dress shirt.
"I thought you had fun tonight."
"I had fun playing dress up--kinda like Halloween. I love the students, and I love teaching things to people, but I've never been good at sticking my nose in a book or spouting off long research papers."
"That isn't what makes a good professor."
"Tell that to the administrators--or the other moldy old professors, for that matter. It might not be the most important thing in terms of being a good teacher, but I sure have heard enough about it since I've been hanging around the faculty offices. I think 'publish or perish' was the term. That's not me. Never will be. I don't want it."
"So what do you want?"
"Nothin'. I think I've gotten it from this assignment. A chance to be somebody like David Levinson--respected, important, somebody who mattered. Somebody people call by a title all the time, ya know? Maybe just knowing I can do it is enough."
"So I'm supposed to start calling you Sergeant Starsky now?"
"For starters," he replied, snickering a little.
"Any time I teased you about anything, you know I was just kidding I hope."
"I know. It really doesn't matter anymore. It did at the time, but not now."
"It's in the past, pal. I know what I'm capable of now, so it isn't important anymore." Starsky was startled by the ringing of the telephone.
"Starsky, this is Dobey. There's been another murder at Maplecrest."
"Oh my God--who was it?"
"Andrew Lansing--Evelyn Lansing's son, and a student, Jill Hansen."
"We're on our way."
"Starsky! You're Levinson, remember? Stay the hell out of there."
"No, Cap, I'm still Starsky--please trust me--he's needed worse on this case than Levinson."
"All right, but just get your butts down there pronto."
"Will do." Starsky hung up the phone. "There's been another murder--Andrew Lansing and a girl. We met them at the party tonight." He was sliding into his shoulder holster as he spoke.
"You wanna drive, Professor?" Hutch patted Starsky on the back as he followed him out the door to the Torino.
There were a myriad of flashing blue and red lights, bathrobe-clad students and assorted other onlookers spilling across the lawn in front of the building. Starsky got a few odd looks from students as he raced through the crowd, police ID upheld to get to the crime scene. Dobey was already there, talking with the first uniformed officers on the scene. He spotted his team as they hurried up the steps to the second floor hallway.
"Where's Evelyn?" Starsky asked immediately.
"She's in her office," Dobey retorted, surprised to see Starsky pick his way through the crime scene quickly to reach the administrator's office. "What's with him?"
"I guess he made friends with the dragon lady. So what've we got?" Hutch asked, following Dobey to view the ravaged corpses under the bloody white sheets.
"Same M.O. as Anna Goldman and the others. Both were stabbed and slashed repeatedly, with a final wound to the throat being fatal. Large-bladed cutting weapon..." Dobey paused as Hutch lifted one sheet, then the other, shaking his head as he replaced the coverings. "What the hell were they doing up here?"
"With kids, who knows? Probably looking for a place to mess around. It looks like they were in the boy's mother's office, and came into the hall for some reason. Things were disturbed in her office, like they had been on the couch in the sitting area, but there was no sign of a struggle or blood in there."
Starsky knocked and then opened Evelyn's office door slightly. She was seated at her desk, leaning heavily on it with both arms, her expression glassy.
"Evelyn?" He slipped inside and closed the door. She didn't respond. "Evelyn? It's David." He approached the desk and leaned forward, lowering himself to her line of vision. There was a glimmer of recognition, and she finally spoke.
"He left the party sometime...I'm not sure when. I was ready to leave, and I couldn't find him. I didn't want to embarrass him by having his mother follow him around, so when I saw him leave with Jill, I didn't stop them. I thought they would go to the cafeteria...it's open late Friday nights for the students to have pizza, and they play music..." She finally had actual eye contact with Starsky, having just stared through him while she was talking.
"But they came up here instead?" He sat in one of the chairs across the desk, pulling it closer to lean on the surface.
"I gave Andrew a key to my office several years ago, so that when I brought him to a function like this, he could come up here when he got bored. He'd listen to my radio or read when he was younger. Obviously, tonight, he had something else in mind. I told him not to come up here tonight. Dear God, if I had just explained why," she concluded, her voice shaking.
"He probably wouldn't have believed it." Starsky reached out and covered one of her hands with his. "He'd have thought you were being an overprotective mother because this was a murder scene."
"You're right, I know, but I just can't help feeling that if I had warned him strongly enough...or better yet, if I'd followed them--"
"Evelyn, this isn't your fault. You did what most moms would do--warned him to stay away, and then trusted him to do that and let him have his freedom to move around. You didn't want to humiliate him in front of the girl." He watched her somewhat frantic face, not registering much comfort at his words. "You found them?"
"Yes." She nodded, looking down.
"Have you talked to the police about this?"
"I couldn't. I asked them to leave me alone. I needed...time."
"I understand. Think you could talk to me?"
"I think so." She met his eyes and smiled slightly.
Hutch finished questioning several faculty members who had come up from the reception in the ballroom, which had broken up near the time the bodies had been discovered. No one saw anyone suspicious coming or going, all were in clean formal wear, not showing any signs of being possible suspects in the slayings, and all were curious why Dr. Levinson was wandering around in the midst of the bloody hall, talking to uniformed officers. Hutch would leave that explanation to his partner for a later time. Starsky had his notepad in hand when he returned from Evelyn Lansing's office, having obviously managed to get a statement from her.
"She found them?" Hutch asked, as Starsky made the obligatory glances under the sheets.
"He left the party around midnight with the girl and came up to his mother's office. When Evelyn got here, there was blood everywhere, and she saw the bodies. She checked Andrew for a pulse, then called the police from her office."
"Cool lady. Most women would have been shrieking their heads off in the hall."
"I think she was functioning on shock--raw nerves. I called her sister for her. She's going to pick her up here in a few minutes."
"She didn't happen to see any shadows, did she?"
"No. Nothing." Starsky shook his head. "Damn! This shouldn't have happened, Hutch. It isn't going to happen again." Starsky took off down the stairs and Hutch was hot on his heels.
"Starsky!" he yelled after his partner, who was striding with a single-minded determination toward the library. The door was locked, but before Hutch could catch him, Starsky shot the lock off the door, kicked it open and raced toward the painting. It did look more sinister in the shadows and moonlight. "What're you doing?" Hutch asked angrily as he finally got a hold of his partner's arm and pulled him around so they were face to face.
"That damn painting! If I hadn't worried about researching it to death and just ripped it off the friggin' wall when I knew it was involved somehow, those two kids would still be alive."
"Starsky, you can't turn this around to be your fault. You can't just walk around committing acts of wanton vandalism--like blowing the lock off that door just now. What the hell's the matter with you?"
"I don't know." Starsky paced back and forth.
"What were you going to do with that painting?"
"Yank it off the wall! Drag it outside and burn the damn thing to a crisp!"
"That's a realistic solution." Hutch shook his head. "I know how you feel, buddy, but you can't just destroy it with no explanation."
"What are you two up to down here?" Dobey demanded angrily as he approached them. "What was that shot?"
"The lock. I...I thought I heard something in here," Starsky stammered.
"So you blew the lock off the door with your gun? You know damn well--"
"Look, I'm sorry, all right? I'll pay for the fucking lock!" Starsky stormed out of the room past both of them and out into the crowd on the lawn.
"What's his problem?" Dobey asked Hutch. "Is he getting a little too involved in this cover?"
"I think seeing bloody devastation like that scene upstairs is pretty rough for anybody, and he does know these people now. I don't know if that's getting too involved, but it can't be helped when you're undercover for any length of time."
"Well, I'll go placate the president about the gunshot and the damage. Meanwhile, you give your partner a little attitude adjustment...or I will." He strode briskly out of the room. From Dobey, attitude adjustments were not pleasant. They tended to be long, loud and come with some demeaning punitive duty writing parking tickets or directing traffic for a significant span of time. Hutch vowed to find Starsky and settle him down before that became a reality.
Starsky took a few deep breaths and returned to the building. Evelyn Lansing's sister was there, and someone would have to lead Evelyn through the bloody upstairs hall to come downstairs and leave with her sister. Dobey passed him on the stairs with a dark glare, but said nothing. The bodies were now being moved out on gurneys to the coroner's wagon outside. Starsky paused for the grim procession to begin its descent of the stairs before he approached Evelyn's office. He tapped on the door and stuck his head inside. She stood up and walked toward the door at his arrival.
"Gwen's waiting for you outside. I know it isn't too pleasant going through that hallway, but there's no other way. Andy and Jill have been moved."
"All right." She picked up her coat off the chair where it had been thrown, and Starsky held it while she slipped her arms into it. He left an arm around her shoulder to guide her out the door and through the hall. She leaned quite heavily on the hand that was supporting her left arm as they moved down the hall, but she didn't pause or falter in her steps. They descended the stairs and made their way to the entrance to meet Gwen Randolph, Evelyn's sister.
"Thank you for everything, David."
"I'm going to finish this, once and for all. I promise you."
"I know you'll try." She smiled slightly as she turned and left with her sister. Hutch caught up to his partner near the entrance.
"You're in deep shit with Dobey, I hope you know that."
"What's he gonna do, make me check the parking meters around the precinct?" Starsky asked sarcastically.
"Probably. Or maybe direct traffic. He's not too thrilled with that stunt you pulled--or the way you talked back to him. Are you nuts?"
"Most likely. But there are two dead kids smeared all over that hallway up there because I've been afraid to do something irrational to end this. I've played the role of Professor Levinson and researched it. I've played the role of Sergeant Starsky and investigated it. But I never listened to what Dave Starsky told me to do about it as soon as I suspected what was causing all this. If I had, Dobey would have adjusted my attitude, but those kids would still be alive."
"This isn't your fault."
"Well it feels like it."
"I tell you what. Let's follow up on getting the story on the Willoughby family. If it's what we think it is, I'll come back here and help you burn that damned painting. Then we can write traffic tickets together for a month."
"Deal." Starsky laughed a little. "Hutch?"
"I've really been on your case through this whole thing. I'm sorry."
"You don't have to apolo--"
"Yes, I do. So are you gonna accept it?"
"Of course I'm gonna accept it. If you accept mine."
"For what? Being my best friend?"
"No." Hutch paused while the uniformed officers moved the spectators along, and the majority of the police personnel made their way out to their vehicles. Only a couple of cops and the crime lab people were still poking around upstairs. Hutch sat on the front steps now, confident he wouldn't be in the way, and Starsky joined him. The traffic pattern had eased drastically, and there was some semblance of calm returning to the grounds. "You said something when this all started that's bothered me. Everything else I could reason through, or justify."
"I said a lot of stupid things. I was jittery about this assignment, and I took it out on you."
"Yeah, well, you said one thing that bothered me a lot. You said I covered your back in every other situation except one where my background had me a little better prepared--like a formal occasion. It bothered the hell out of me because you were right. If we were on the street, in a shootout, whatever, I wouldn't think of doing anything but covering you, being your back up. You must have felt really betrayed when I didn't bail you out."
"A little. But I knew you were only kidding around. I just usually wasn't prepared for it. Guess you were a little too quick."
"Guess you trusted me."
"I still do, with anything that matters. I just trust Ginny more to give me the right name for the shrimp balls." He became serious. "But when everything falls apart in my life, there's one constant that doesn't betray my trust--and that's you, partner. Always has been."
"I'm glad. I feel the same way."
"Good. Then when Dobey puts us in Traffic, you'll be happy to be by my side the whole time, right?"
"Think again, turkey." Hutch stood up and led the way back to the car.