Evelyn agreed to meet them at her place that evening to go over their materials. The woman who was planning the series on the college was a former student of Evelyn's, and a graduate of Maplecrest. The girl did possess a certain eye for scandalous gossip, so Evelyn felt sure she would like the more sensational aspects of the story: the possession theory, the odd evidence of the self-inflicted wounds, the old murder case never truly solved...it all made for a great read in the society page on Halloween night.
Their hostess was dressed casually this time, and Starsky found himself not quite used to seeing her out of "uniform", as he liked to call the business suits. In jeans and a sweater, she was the antithesis of the imposing administrator that had given both of them some tense moments at the outset. She immediately noticed Starsky's face, even though he was priding himself on it almost returning to normal. There was only about a third of the evidence of the attack left visible, but it was still noticeable.
"David! What happened to you?" She took a hold of his chin for a better look.
"Would you believe I ran into a door?"
"You've tried that one, Starsk. Doesn't hold water."
"I guess we owe you the full story," Starsky said, partially responding to Hutch's comment as well as Evelyn's question. Once they were all seated in the living room, the two detectives worked together on filling Evelyn in completely regarding the case and Hutch's temporary possession. When it was over, she was silent a moment, glancing from one detective to the other.
"I'm still processing the thought that I destroyed that painting for nothing," Evelyn stated. "I know I should be able to look at the larger picture, but right now, to know that was useless..."
"We all thought it was the painting. You had the courage to do something about it," Starsky responded, hoping to console her a little. She had lost her career and most of her social status by burning old Malcolm's painting, and it had gained them nothing.
"Well, I guess now I have to have the courage to do one more thing and take this to the press." Evelyn's summation made them both feel small. Here they were, presenting her the next dilemma and leaving it up to her to take action.
"If we take this to the press, and Dobey got wind of it--"
"I know, David. You'd lose your jobs," she replied, somewhat pointedly. The sharpness was still in Evelyn Lansing. It might recede in a special moment, but it was always there. Her administrator's tone coupled with the content of what she said made him feel about three feet tall.
"Dr. Lansing, I can appreciate the fact that you've given up a great deal toward this investigation. But you're in a position where you won't be penalized for this, and we would be." Hutch had pointedly used her title. He hadn't been instructed otherwise, but the implication would certainly be to drop the formality, since he was now supposedly visiting with one of Starsky's friends instead of a business contact. "I think we've both given quite a bit for this investigation ourselves."
"I've lost my son, my job, and my friends. What has this cost you?"
"My peace of mind," Hutch responded. "Do you think I'll ever have any real inner peace again knowing what that...thing made me do to Starsky? Knowing it invaded my soul and used me to do its dirtywork? I would say it's pretty obvious Starsky's paid his dues on this one. I'm sorry about all of your losses, but we didn't ask you to burn that painting, and we certainly didn't send your son into that hallway."
"I think you should leave." Evelyn stood up suddenly.
"Evelyn, Hutch didn't mean--"
"Hutch can speak for himself," he snapped back at Starsky. "This isn't a normal situation, Dr. Lansing. And I resent the implication that we've somehow looked to you to take action in this investigation. You decided to burn that painting, and as tragic as it was, your son's death wasn't our fault. We didn't hide the truth from you--it's not like we didn't level with you about the upstairs hallway...it's not like the whole situation with...I gotta get out of here." Hutch grabbed his jacket and fled out the door.
"Evelyn, I--I'll call you." Starsky took off after his partner, but Evelyn grabbed his arm.
"Don't go with him, David. Look at what he did to you. Good God, don't wait until he kills you to see the light."
"Let go of me." Starsky's voice was low and controlled, and something in his eyes made her obey the directive wordlessly. She watched him rush out the door and disappear into the darkness.
Hutch was leaning against a tree that was part of a small thicket that ran along the perimeter of the condominium complex property.
"Hutch?" Starsky halted his run from the building, slightly out of breath. "Hey, partner, you okay?" Hutch's face looked pale in the moonlight, but there was nothing sinister in the pallor. He was tired, stressed...and feeling guilty again. "It's the Grodin and Merriweather thing again, isn't it?" Starsky asked gently.
"I let them walk right into it, Starsk. I never leveled with Merriweather."
"We've been through this, buddy. You know that wasn't your fault."
"Just like what happened to you wasn't my fault?"
"Look at me," Starsky ordered, grasping his partner by the shoulders. "There's an evil, foul spirit behind everything that's happened. We've had to conduct this investigation outside the department since it started. We haven't been able to confide in Dobey, so why in hell would you confide in Merriweather? We'd just had a nasty scene with Grodin, and we'd been reduced to chasing lost dogs by Dobey and pulled off the case. There was no damn reason to explain everything to Grodin and Merriweather. They wouldn't have believed it, and neither would Dobey. It wouldn't have changed anything, Hutch. They would have still gone out there that night if Grodin got it in his pig-head that he could solve the case that way. And once they were there, Fuller took over. You didn't have any part in the blame for them. But I think Fuller played on your guilt to get a foothold in you. He made you feel like you were part of it. You weren't."
"But if I had said something..." Hutch's voice was quiet, almost shaking.
"Merriweather might have been more nervous than he already was but it wouldn't have ultimately stopped what happened. And how could you possibly know they'd go wandering around in the college in the middle of the night? Will you please just stop beating yourself up over something you didn't have any real control over?"
"Interesting choice of words. I guess I just beat you up instead. How could I let that thing make me hurt you that way?" Hutch pulled away from his partner and walked a few feet away. "I could have killed you."
"No, Fuller could have. If you had let him."
"Wait a minute. According to you, I was swinging that machete at you--"
"But I moved away, and then I shot it out of your hand. I didn't know how to reach you. If I had reached you, said something meaningful then, I have every faith you would have stopped. I was too panicky and things were happening too fast for me to have time to reach you. You stopped when I appealed to you. Why didn't Fuller finish the job strangling me, huh? Because you wouldn't let him finish. And even though I was unconscious by then, the only thing that would have stopped Fuller from beating me to death was you."
"I never meant to hurt you, Starsk." When Hutch finally turned around, there were tears in his eyes. "I never wanted to be responsible for anybody getting hurt, but least of all you."
"Now you listen to me, Hutchinson, and you listen good." Starsky grabbed the sagging shoulders again. "You aren't responsible for any of this. And you sure as hell didn't mean for anything to happen to me. How many times have you laid down you life for me, huh? How many times have you taken care of me when I thought I was gonna die? You pulled me through those times. You wouldn't do all that if you were gonna knock me off the next chance you got. You're the best friend I've ever had. I'd trust you with my life anyday, now just like before. I still love you, buddy. Nothin' could ever mess that up. Unless you decide to keep this thing that happened like a wall between us for the rest of our lives, we can move on."
Evelyn was perched in her upstairs bedroom window, watching the two men talking out by the trees. Obscured by the shadows of the darkened room, they couldn't see her even when they turned toward the building. It didn't seem to matter to David that his partner had almost killed him. The allegiance was still there...and Evelyn had been brushed off none too delicately when she infringed on their territory. She watched them talk, then Hutchinson moved away, but David pulled him back, talked to him some more, and then they embraced. She marveled a little at the strength of that bond, and the depth of that friendship. David had seen his friend in the most horrible state imaginable, and had been victimized brutally by him in that state, and there he was out there hugging him. But Hutchinson was no different. He had been fiercely protective and defensive of his partner when he met with Evelyn that first day. As she turned away from the window and walked back through the empty rooms, she felt a strange twinge of jealousy toward Ken Hutchinson. She hadn't planned on feeling the way she did about David Starsky, homicide detective. Falling for David Levinson would have made more sense, but that wasn't who he really was...and who he was suited her just fine. Still, she had very painfully seen how fast he would choose between her and his partner.
"I'm sorry I snapped at Evelyn like that," Hutch said quietly as he drove toward his apartment. He didn't ask Starsky if he wanted to be dropped off home first. He wanted the company, and he figured by not offering the choice, he'd probably get it.
"She was getting a little snotty. She hasn't really changed all that much. I've seen another side to her, but the first side is still there."
"She was just acting like everything we've been through, and even the department losing two cops, was nothing. Like she's taken all the action and we've given nothing toward solving this case."
"Probably doesn't look like much to her in comparison to Andy's death. Doesn't make her right, but I can understand it." Starsky stared out the passenger window a minute. "What're we gonna tell Dobey?"
"Nothin', I guess." Hutch pulled up in front of Venice Place. "I hope you don't mind that I came here. I just didn't..."
"I know. That's okay. Besides, there's a great movie starting in about an hour, and I'm outta popcorn at home."
Morning dawned, and they made the inevitable return to the precinct. Dobey was in his office, according to Minnie, who warned them as they passed her in the hall that their superior was not pleased. They had no sooner landed at their desks when Dobey emerged from his lair, looking none too happy.
"Well, if it isn't the happy wanderers." He leaned on his doorknob, staring somewhat menacingly at them. "What the hell happened to you, Starsky?"
"Jealous boyfriend," he mumbled.
"I beg your pardon?" Dobey was intentionally going to make this a spectacle.
"I talked to this girl and I didn't know she was with someone," Starsky continued the lie. There was some laughter among the other detectives in the room.
"You shoulda seen the other guy," Hutch said, smirking but not looking up from the papers on his desk. Normally he would have enjoyed seeing the resident casa nova wriggle his way out of this situation, but this wasn't like any normal situation.
"Suppose you two get in here and tell me what you've got?" Dobey waited while they filed in past him. When all were seated, he looked at them expectantly. Both appeared tired and drained, and there was something haggard about their appearance that pulled Dobey down a few notches from the pinnacle of his fury. "This isn't like you two. Absenteeism, total lack of progress on the case...you want to tell me what's going on here?"
"We'd love to but you'd never buy it," Starsky responded honestly.
"Try me." Dobey wasn't as angry as he'd been as he clocked them as fifteen minutes late and had lain in wait to heap further recriminations on his usually favorite team. He had humiliated them with the stack of minor cases he'd shoved on them as punishment for messing up this case, and they'd risen above it, taken the first of those cases as seriously as they took most of their cases and seeing it through to completion. He hadn't believed the story about Starsky's illness, nor had he bought the food poisoning excuse. But Starsky had sounded terrible that morning, and he had obviously taken a bad beating. Judging by the appearance of the bruises, he was probably suffering its early aftermath when he called in sick. It certainly was no punch or two exchanged with a jealous boyfriend. Starsky would have either gotten the upper hand or pressed charges against the guy for assaulting an officer if he had worked him over that completely. Hutchinson, for his part, was pale, jittery and uncharacteristically defensive of his partner. They had been noticeably less antagonistic with each other after the brush with Gunther's hitmen, but Hutch appeared even more protective of Starsky now than usual.
"Cap, if we tell you what we've found out...been through...on this case, you'll probably fire us. Think we're a coupla nuts," Starsky responded.
"During the course of this case, you two have been sneaky, evasive, unprofessional and inaccessible. You've made lame excuses and disappeared for two or three days at a time. None of that behavior is characteristic. You're damn good cops, both of you, and I know there's something else going on here besides what meets the eye. So why don't you stop tap-dancing around the truth and tell me what the hell's going on here?"
The two detectives exchanged glances, shrugged, and began their tale. Dobey didn't cut them off at any point in time. He asked a couple of clarifying questions, but he didn't laugh, nor did he eschew the paranormal explanations they were offering. Both were shocked as the story unfolded not to be thrown out of the office. When it was finished, Dobey was silent a moment.
"Well, you weren't lying about it being a far-fetched story." Dobey leaned on the desk with both elbows and ran his hands back through his hair. "There's a lot of evidence that's not adding up any other way. This business of the self-inflicted wounds, and one victim almost always is the possible assailant of the other in the multiple cases. I've been trying to put that down to coincidence, M.E. error...but it wouldn't happen in every case."
"Are you saying you believe us?" Starsky asked.
"Supposing I did--what would you do about all this?"
"We kind of did something already," Hutch began sheepishly. Starsky's stomach tightened into a knot when he realized Hutch was going to tell that they had leaked information to the newspaper. Sometimes his partner took the term "the whole story" way too literally. You have to know how to stop short of hanging yourself. Hutch continued. He explained their visit to Evelyn Lansing and her role in filtering the information to the press in the hopes of righting the wrong that had been done. Fuller would have his credit as the monster that he was, and also Willoughby would be known as Fuller's killer, not his victim. The possession theory would be the speculation, to give the whole thing the Halloween flavor of the season. Evelyn had already thought of an expert in paranormal research she would contact to review the case, and possibly visit Maplecrest, and offer quotes for the paper.
"So you've already opened this to the press?" Dobey asked, brows raised.
"Not officially. I mean, we're protected sources to Evelyn who is the protected source to the reporter," Starsky replied. "It's not like we gave her the actual reports. Just the information from them."
"And you think that will set this straight--end the whole disturbance?"
"We think it's worth a try. And I think Maplecrest should be blessed when it's over."
"What?" Hutch looked at his partner, whose statement had been so quiet that it was barely audible.
"Both times when I prayed, the disturbance subsided. In the Torino and in the building itself. As I see it, setting things right might open the door for Fuller to go back, but something might have to drive him though it back where he belongs. I mean right now, he's got it made--he's an immortal psycho, with the ability to wreak havoc on people for the rest of time. We've got to do something to drive him out for sure."
"You're seriously talking about an exorcism." Dobey stood and paced behind his desk. He often rubbed his brow, or entwined his fingers, even scowled. But when Dobey actually paced, he was indeed troubled.
"I know it sounds ridiculous..." Starsky let it trail off, looking at the floor.
"So does Hutchinson pounding the hell out of you. That was pretty ridiculous too. Yellow eyeballs and possession by evil spirits..."
"I wouldn't have ever done that--"
"If you weren't out of your mind for some reason," Dobey finished the sentence. "And since you're sane now, that makes only one logical conclusion. Furthermore, Starsky sure as hell wouldn't take a beating like that in his stride if he wasn't convinced something else made you do it."
"What does this boil down to, Cap?" Starsky wanted to end Dobey's lingering over the beating incident. It was doing nothing to improve Hutch's already questionable morale.
"Do what you have to do. I don't know what the hell we'll put on the paperwork, but handle the case the way you think it should be handled. Keep me informed, and if there's any back up or help I can give you, it's yours."
"Thanks, Captain. This means...a lot to us," Hutch seemed unusually touched by the support, and Starsky himself had to admit that there was such a relief in it that he could have slumped into the straight chair he occupied and slept for a week.
"I'm sorry about coming down so hard on you both before...the lost dogs and all."
"Well, at least Mrs. Findley got her schnauzer back," Starsky said, smiling.
"Oh, speaking of that. I don't suppose you two have read the paper lately?"
"Hasn't been on the top of our list of priorities, no," Hutch responded.
"Take a look at this." Dobey pulled a folded section of the paper out of the bottom drawer of his desk and handed it to Hutch. Starsky got up and read over his shoulder. Mrs. Findley had done a brief human interest-type interview with a reporter from the Chronicle, and she appeared in a large photo holding her schnauzer. She was very complimentary about the lengths the police went to in locating her pet, and the extraordinary sensitivity and concern shown to her by two Metro PD detectives who wrapped up the case in one day, finding the pet and ending a pattern of harassment she had suffered from neighborhood teens. "You can't buy better PR than that," Dobey announced, beaming like a proud father. "Of course, I told the Commissioner that the two of you spotted the case in the desk sergeant's in-basket and took a personal interest in it," Dobey said, clearing his throat at the blatant lie. "No sense in telling him you were...forgive the expression...in the doghouse at the time."
"Thanks for covering for us, Cap'n. It was a little embarrassing hunting down lost animals," Starsky said, handing the paper back to Dobey.
"Well, that was the idea before I knew what was happening...I'm proud of both of you. You did a nice thing for that old lady, and you gave us some damn good publicity, which we sorely need at the moment. Now get out of here and go take care of that damn ghost." Dobey's gruff tone and the pure absurdity of what he was saying were almost comical in their combination. "Starsky!" he barked at the retreating figure.
"Come in here a minute." Dobey waited while the two exchanged a rapid glance, and Hutch continued on his way out of the office. "Close the door." Starsky did so and approached Dobey's desk. "Now, not performing for Hutchinson's benefit, how are you?"
"I'll be okay."
"I want you to go see Dr. Schneider before you do anything else. You're moving around like you expect to break in half any minute."
"I thought I was hiding that pretty well," Starsky responded with a slight grin.
"Considering all the surgical repair you had done last year, I don't want to take any chances. Go see Schneider. Tell him you're undercover and can't discuss how you got the injuries--just that you were worked over. If he has any questions, refer him to me." Dobey finished filling out a small form and handed it to Starsky. "One more thing...you're not covering for Hutchinson for any reason, are you? If you level with me now, I won't take any disciplinary action for the old wives' tale...and it'll be your decision about pressing charges."
"Everything we told you was true."
"Good enough. Now go see Schneider before you do anything else."
Starsky rejoined his partner in the outer office. Hutch had poured two cups of coffee and was on the phone to R&I, carefully delineating a request for information.
"What was that all about?" he asked, hanging up.
"He wants me to go see Schneider." Starsky fingered the form in his hand nervously.
"Are you going now? I've got a request in for some more information on the Houghton case--I want to make sure Fuller and Franklin are the same guy, and I also would like to know if either of those names is really his. That was a point Evelyn mentioned last night, remember?"
"Yeah, I remember...Hutch?"
"Think you could come with me? I...I have a lot of pain in my side, and I'm kinda scared to get it checked out...I mean, if something is messed up from last year...I know it's silly, but I don't want to go by myself."
"All you had to do is ask, buddy." Hutch stood up and followed his partner out the door. "How bad is it?"
"Pretty bad. It's probably just cracked ribs, but it hurts like hell."
"I wish you'd said something before."
"You felt so bad about everything...I didn't want to make it worse by complaining about it all the time."
"Is there anything else you're not telling me?" Hutch asked.
"No. Everything else is feeling better but that."
Hutch waited uneasily in the small waiting area while Starsky was with the doctor. He was relieved his partner was finally being examined and possibly treated if there were any serious injuries, but nothing made him feel worse than being the reason that Starsky was in need of medical treatment again. He'd been very healthy since he recovered from the shooting, and had deepened his aversion toward doctors, hospitals and needles after a long and painful road back to normality.
After close to thirty minutes had passed, Starsky emerged again, carrying a slip of paper in his hand, looking generally unconcerned. Hutch sprang to his feet, relieved to see his partner didn't appear inordinately upset.
"What's the verdict?" he asked, trying to sound like he hadn't been wringing his hands for thirty minutes solid.
"A cracked rib on the left side. He put an elastic bandage on it, which feels like hell and I'll probably take off as soon as I get home. He did give me a prescription for pain pills. Like I ever want to see more of those in my lifetime." He stuffed the prescription in his jacket pocket.
"Starsk, if he prescribed it--"
"It was for the pain. I'd prefer the pain to turning into a walking zombie. He said he didn't detect any unusual swelling or hardness in the area, so he figures there isn't any internal damage. He said if it doesn't get better in a week or so, or if it ever gets worse, I should come in right away. Bottom line: I'm gonna live."
"You'll tell me if it gets worse?"
"Promise. Thanks for coming with me."
"Anytime, pal. Let's go see what R&I dug up on Fuller or Franklin or whoever he is."
Minnie was at her desk, with an aged-looking pile of files nearby. She looked up over the top of her glasses as the two detectives approached her. Her assignment to R&I was bad enough. Having to go back into the mists of time for no good reason was worse.
"I hope you know what this kind of dust does to a person's allergies after a while," she greeted.
"Did ya find something good?" Starsky hovered over her shoulder, purposely leaning much closer than necessary to read the open file.
"See for yourself," she responded, raising the file up to him so he straightened and took it from her. Minnie must be really sick of being on the outside of this if she was touchy about a little flirting. Starsky had come to consider it expected behavior between them. "I checked under Franklin and Fuller, waded through all the similar names of the era--since he seems to like names starting with 'F', and having two syllables-- pulled all the files, and that's the only one that resembled the man you're looking for--the physical description fits."
"Theodore Arthur Fulton is his real name?" Starsky asked, handing the file to Hutch.
"He's the only one with a matching physical description, and his reason for being on file here is a pretty good indicator that he's the same guy." Minnie sat back in her chair, somewhat self-satisfied at her detective work, and rightfully so.
"Fulton looks like a real sweetheart. He was brought in for questioning in the murder of his girlfriend, huh?" Hutch asked, skimming the contents of the file.
"And not arrested and charged. But there's a note in the file that attempts to contact him for questioning a few weeks later were unsuccessful."
"Three weeks after the date of that notation, the Houghton murders occurred. I wonder if we could get a photo of this guy?" Starsky asked.
"Maybe at the newspaper if it was a big case. They didn't book him, so I guess we don't have anything here. But that description matches exactly."
"Yeah, Minnie, but we have to be positive." Hutch scanned the file's contents again.
"What in the devil are you two up to anyway?"
"She's gonna know anyway," Starsky said, looking at Hutch, who shrugged. "We're trying to solve an eighty-year-old murder case, and we want to make sure we've got the guy's identity right. We think Fuller--I mean Fulton--is the killer. They pinned it on the wrong guy at the time, and we want to clear it up."
"And that's the version of the story you're going to tell me. Well, it's better than nothin'." She smiled and shook her head. "What on earth do you want with a case that old?"
"The killer's last crime was committed at what is now Maplecrest College," Hutch announced.
"I still don't follow you." Minnie raised her eyebrows and sighed. "But then I often don't, so what else is new?"
"Someday, you'll understand," Starsky concluded cryptically. "Thanks for all your help." He followed Hutch out of the office.
The two detectives spent most of the afternoon wading through microfilm in the local library. They were able to locate a photo of Theodore Fulton, but not of Matthew Fuller. Fulton was a disreputable-looking character with a mustache and beard. He had piercing eyes and what Starsky immediately dubbed a "sinister" expression. Hutch found the sight of the man chilling. Starsky thought he noticed a slight tremor in his partner, who was sitting shoulder to shoulder with him in front of the microfilm machine.
"That's him, Starsk. I just know it."
"If we could just get a photo of Matthew Fuller...I wonder if Clarice Willoughby would have anything?" Starsky hit the button to print off a copy of the page bearing Fulton's photo.
"Now if we could get one of Todd Franklin, we'd be doing pretty well." Hutch slumped back in his chair.
"I'm not giving up just yet." Starsky crossed off the dates on his list that had yielded this photo. "I think we have one more reference to check for the Houghton killing." He pulled one of the small, square microfilm boxes from where he had stashed it on top of the viewer. "Yeah. This one." Hutch was rewinding and removing the old spool as he spoke. They went through the eye-straining experience of scanning the issues near the date of the Houghton murders.
"Bingo!" Hutch pointed at the screen. "Go back!"
"There!" Hutch directed his partner exactly where to halt his scanning activities. There were photos of the dead couple, and a very fuzzy one of the man who went by the name of Todd Franklin. He wore a mustache, but no beard, and his hair was unusually long for the era, resting just below his collar. There was no mistaking the eyes that looked back at them from the screen.
"I can't believe nobody picked up on this before." Starsky printed off that page.
"Well, if you don't know what you're looking for..." Hutch compared the two. They were very different looking men based on the changes in the hair length and the facial hair from one to the other. Only when you covered the lower half of the face did it become obvious that the noses and eyes matched.
"Now if we can get a photo of Fuller, we'll be in business. Nice, neat and tidy to hand over to Evelyn."
"These photos are from back issues of the Chronicle anyway," Hutch noted. "If the reporter knows where to look, she can probably pull good enough copies to run in the paper."
"This is gettin' better every minute." Starsky packed up their used microfilm rolls and deposited them in a box near the machines for the librarian to reshelve. "I think I might like this research stuff--kind of like detective work, huh?"
"I guess it is," Hutch responded, smiling a little. Somehow he'd never found much excitement in plumbing the depths of a musty old library during his college days.
Clarice Willoughby was asked to look at the photo of Todd Franklin. She had described Matthew Fuller as having no mustache or beard in one of their previous conversations, so this version of him would be more similar to the man she had seen at her aunt and uncle's home. While she was unable to locate any photos including Fuller, she immediately identified Todd Franklin as being the same man. She cited his piercing eyes and prominent nose as the most identifiable features.
With a reasonably strong ID made, Starsky visited Evelyn with the new information and a peace offering. When she swung open her door, he held up the single white rose.
"When I saw this at the flower shop, I thought of you." He smiled slightly. "I'm sorry about how we left things. I didn't mean to be rude. I was just...worried about Hutch and everything that was going on."
"Thank you. It's beautiful." She accepted it and motioned to him to come in, closing the door behind him. She was dressed in one of her business suits again.
"You look nice," he commented, not really liking this look compared to her others, but nosy just the same about why she was "back in uniform".
"Thanks. I have an interview at UCLA this afternoon."
"No kidding? Congratulations. For what?"
"A teaching position in the Philosophy Department. It came up rather suddenly. I would be a mid-semester replacement for now...something like David Levinson's appointment," she added, chuckling.
"Sit down. What have you got for me?" She sat at the opposite end of the couch from the seat he occupied, inclining her legs toward the middle a bit so she was facing him.
"Photos of Todd Franklin and Theodore Fulton. We think Theodore Fulton was the guy's real name. Clarice Willoughby identified the picture of Franklin as being Fuller."
"That's wonderful," she replied, comparing the photos. "And these are from the Chronicle too. That's perfect."
"I guess we have to leave it in your hands now...unless this will jeopardize something with UCLA?"
"Andy's death is more important to me than a temporary teaching position. Furthermore, Danielle Benson--the reporter--is a former student of mine. I was a mentor to her, and I'm sure she'll protect my identity in all this."
"Good. When this is over, maybe we can get together again."
"I'd like that. Tell your partner I didn't mean to offend him the other night."
"He didn't mean to offend you either. He said that as soon as we left. This has been real rough on him, and I guess he just snapped at that point."
"Are you all right?"
"Just a cracked rib. Otherwise, I got a reasonably clean bill of health from the doctor this morning. We went back into work and Dobey sent me. We told him everything."
"And he believed you?"
"Sort of. I'm not sure he buys all of it, but he seems to understand that there's something unexplainable going on here."
"I'm glad you went to the doctor. I was concerned."
"Thanks. Well, I better get going. Call me and let me know how the interview goes, okay?"
"Good luck. Just remember they'd be lucky to get you," he said as he walked out the door. Pausing at the bottom of the three step descent to the sidewalk, Starsky turned back and smiled at the sight of Evelyn in all her businesslike splendor, smiling sweetly and holding that white rose. "Real lucky," he concluded.
"Thank you, David. I'll be in touch later."
"Okay. Knock 'em dead over there today," he called over his shoulder as he returned to the Torino.
On Halloween night, the Chronicle ran the article as planned. It was an impressive piece of fact blended with Halloween lore. An expert in parapsychology had been consulted and had offered his blessing on the possession theory, the photos of Franklin and Fulton were run, along with photos of his victims. The bloody chapter in Maplecrest's idyllic history was bound to raise a few eyebrows, but it cast a very heavy shadow of guilt on Matthew Fuller, and opened the door to possibly exhonerate Willoughby of all but Fuller's death...if you believed any of the paranormal explanation. Even if you didn't, it was a good read.
Reports from Jenny Moore and Mandy Corrigan, Starsky's spies in residence at Maplecrest, indicated that the cold spots had disappeared from the upstairs hall, and they no longer heard complaints of strange shadows or slamming doors. This being the case, faculty were slowly but surely testing the waters and using their offices after dark. No incidents were reported. This lack of activity brought an uneasy sigh of relief to the college, and even to Dobey, though it still left the official case unsolved. The lack of haunting activity also reduced the perceived importance of Starsky's suggestion to bless the building where it had all occurred. That suggestion was overlooked in the relative calm, and for a while it seemed Maplecrest might be cured, and the police might be finished with what they could do about it. Needless to say, the commissioner didn't agree, but the college administrators were strangely quiet on the subject, and the ensuing lack of pressure to keep up the investigation allowed it to be shelved.
Evelyn Lansing was hired for the teaching position at UCLA, and ironically, that was the reason that Starsky wound up making one last visit to Maplecrest. After dark.
Evelyn called early one Tuesday evening, and asked if Starsky would accompany her to the office to clean out the last of her personal effects. She had not returned her keys to the college, and in all the confusion, they had not requested them. She felt this way she could retrieve her things with a minimum of questioning from her colleagues, and avoid any unpleasant encounters with those who still held her in a very low regard for her bizarre act of vandalism.
"I never thought I'd be doing this," Starsky said with a smile. He was more than mildly uneasy at entering the building, but he was never one to admit to having cold feet in front of a lady. Hutch, on the other hand, would have by now been subjected to whining, pleading, arm tugging and any other entreaty that might make him turn back.
"If you feel uneasy about this, David, I can go up and get my things."
"Don't be silly," he replied, eschewing the idea that he was petrified of completing their mission.
"Well, this shouldn't take long. I really appreciate the police escort," she added, smiling at him as she led the way upstairs. "Still is a drafty old place," she complained, wrapping her raincoat a little more tightly around herself.
"It's cold in here." Starsky zipped his leather jacket. Standing in the upstairs hall, he felt the penetrating cold. "I think we should get out of here. Go, now!" He pushed Evelyn toward the double doors separating the hall from the stairs. She ran through them, but they slammed shut behind her, trapping him in the hallway alone.
"David!" She was yelling at him, pounding on the doors. Starsky warned her to stand back, threw himself repeatedly against the doors, but still had no luck opening them.
"Go call Hutch! He'll know what to do," he called out to her. He'll know what to do? How the hell would he?
"I can't just leave you--"
"You have to. It's the only way. Now just run, please! And whatever happens, don't come back in here. Get out of the building and go somewhere else to call."
"I'll go as fast as I can!" she promised, turning and running down the stairs. As he heard her heels clicking as she rushed out, he felt the cold panic of being totally alone in the building.
All the office doors began opening and closing by themselves, and the lights were flashing on and off like strobe lights.
"What do you want from me, Fulton?!" Starsky demanded, yelling over the riotous noise of the disturbances.
Hutch disentangled himself from the arms of the tall brunette he had charmed back to his apartment for a nightcap. The phone was ringing. If this was Starsky, he was a dead man, Hutch thought to himself.
"Is this Hutch?" A frantic woman's voice greeted him.
"Yeah, who's this?"
"Oh, God, Hutch, David's in there!"
"Evelyn? He's in where?"
"Maplecrest! It won't let him out! It's all my fault...oh, dear God if anything happens..."
"Get a hold of yourself!" Hutch admonished. "He's in there alone? Upstairs?"
"He can't get out. The doors locked! He got me out just in time!"
"I'm on my way. Where are you?"
"I'm about two blocks away at the phone booth in front of the convenience store."
"Stay put. I'll pick you up." Hutch dropped the phone into its cradle and jumped to his feet. "I've gotta go. Sorry." He paused as if for a mere oversight, pulled a few bills out of his wallet and tossed them toward her. Noting her horrified expression, he hastened to explain: "Cab fare. I don't have time to take you home myself." He raced out the door, leaving the startled girl with a lap full of rumpled bills and no date.
Hutch swerved into the parking lot of the convenience store and picked up an overwrought Evelyn and headed toward Maplecrest. Thoughts of what might be happening or might have already happened to Starsky by now plagued him. He didn't know who to call for back up at this point, since even Dobey could only send cops, and they wouldn't understand or believe in what they were encountering. He radioed the captain anyway as his car approached the college campus. He explained the dilemma as best he could, and Dobey, who was settled in for a night of quiet paperwork, mobilized several black and white units to meet him at the college.
Starsky had flattened himself against the double doors. He imagined the temperature couldn't have been more than forty degrees in that hallway. He didn't know for sure what was the sound of his heart pounding and what was the sound of the slamming doors. It was all blending together in his frantic brain now. He had been muttering prayers under his breath, but nothing was working.
The shadow was at the end of the hall.
Hutch careened into the drive of the college and drove the LTD across the lawn to the front door.
"Stay here. I mean it," he ordered Evelyn. "When the back up gets here, tell 'em I went inside."
"But nothing. It's got Starsky!" He jumped out of the car and ran toward the building. Evelyn reflected on the fact that the forces of the netherworld would be braved without hesitation if they dared to mess with this man's partner.
"Starsky!!" Hutch screamed at the top of his lungs as he reached the double doors.
"Hutch!! Oh, God, Hutch, get me outta here!" The doors rattled wildly under Starsky's jerking of the two knobs. "It's in here, Hutch! Oh, God, get me out!" The last utterance was more a sob of desperation than a shout.
"Get away from the door, Starsk! I'm shooting the locks--"
"I can't! He's coming and there's nowhere to go!!" The voice reflected only panic, no sign of really comprehending what Hutch was saying. He couldn't take a chance on sending a slug from the Magnum into Starsky by accident, and he couldn't take the time to calm his partner enough to reason with him. "Huuutch!" It was a prolonged cry of panic followed by the rattling doors again.
"We're stronger than he is, buddy--remember?"
"Yeah..." It was an unconvinced whimper.
"Take a hold of the knobs. We want this door open. I'm holding on too. You push, I pull. They're not locked. Come on!"
Starsky looked over his shoulder. The shadow was halfway down the hall and approaching slowly, a machete somehow suspended in its filmy hand.
"You are going to take me to the outside! You wanted to save your friend. Now you can take his place," it declared in a booming voice. So all this time, Fulton was just lurking there, waiting for a body to possess, to take him outside of Maplecrest.
There was no whimpering, yelling or movement from the other side of the door.
"Starsky!" Hutch yelled again. "Come on, babe, grab those doorknobs and think with me! Come on!"
Hutch's voice. Starsky turned back toward the door and took a hold of the knobs, pushing and trying to obey Hutch's command to join their brain power. We can function as one mind on the street, now we have to do it again.
"Oh, God, Hutch, he's coming!" Starsky couldn't help the lapse in concentration. The shadow was drawing closer, the cold becoming more intense. It was pure evil...not distilled by any internal struggle with Hutch to prevent it from carrying out its murderous deeds. This was just the essence of the spirit's homicidal rage...
"Me and thee, partner! Forget him! Concentrate on me and thee, buddy! We beat him once. We want you out of there. Open the doors with me, pal, come on!" Hutch kept telling himself to have faith, kept murmuring long-forgotten prayers learned in childhood.
With an unexpected blast of force, the doors shot open, and Starsky flew out, knocking his partner to the floor under him. The wind blowing through the upstairs was so powerful it was ripping doors off their hinges and sending debris swirling around the huddled detectives. Back up units were arriving outside, and as uniformed officers poured in the front of the building, they were stunned by the dizzying display of flashing lights, high winds and flying objects.
"Come on, let's get out of here while we still can," Hutch instructed his partner, who was still reeling a little from the panic of being trapped with the killer. He managed to coax himself out of the vise-like grip Starsky had him in and pulled him up and forward toward the stairs. They met Dobey at the bottom of the staircase.
"What in hell is going on here?" he shouted over the commotion. "What's up there?"
"The shadow," Starsky responded, still a little breathless.
"It almost got Starsky. He was trapped in the hall up there," Hutch explained.
"I'm pulling our guys out of here right now." Dobey was calm and determined in his bizarre and unconventional decision. He began barking orders to that effect, rounding up all the uniformed cops and redirecting them back out the door onto the lawn. The captain was the last man out behind his two detectives, and directed all the responding officers to wait on the lawn and do a headcount.
Evelyn hurried to where Starsky stood, and gratefully embraced him. The gesture took him a little by surprise, but given the circumstances, he tried not to read too much into it. "Are you all right?" she asked, stepping back.
"Yeah--Hutch got me out just in time."
"So we haven't solved anything--it's still in there!"
"Looks like it." Starsky paused, sighing and running a hand through his hair. "Listen, Evelyn, I'll get somebody to take you home. We'll be tied up here for awhile. I'll call you tomorrow, huh? Try to get some rest and don't worry too much about this tonight."
"Don't go back in there, David."
"Hey, I'll be fine." He grinned at her. "I'll call tomorrow."
"Okay," she said, smiling a little hesitantly at his confident tone. Starsky flagged down one of the black and white units to drive her home.
The turbulence within the building came to a sudden halt.
"Anybody missing a partner out here?" Dobey called out to the men who were milling around, locating their partners and indicating all were present. Then one worried young officer hurried up to where Dobey stood.
"My partner's gotta be still in there, Captain. He's not out here."
"What's his name?"
Dobey turned to go back toward the building when a solitary figure came sprinting out to join the rest of the group.
"Hey, man, where the hell were you when we got pulled out?" the young officer asked the other man, who was obviously Phillips.
"I was checking the basement. I guess I didn't hear the order to get out. Sorry, Captain."
"No harm done. If everyone's accounted for, break up in teams of four and check the perimeter of the building--doors, windows, and so on. We want to make sure everything's secured before we leave."
"Captain, why did we--"
"What's your name?" Dobey snapped at the young officer.
"Hanover, just do as you're told. This is a highly sensitive case which I don't plan to explain to you in the middle of an operation!"
"Sorry, sir." He slunk away with his partner, Phillips, and two other officers. Starsky, Hutch and Dobey made the one odd-numbered team that joined the project.
All doors and windows were locked securely, and as the last of the units prepared to leave, Dobey assigned two of them to guard the front gate entrance. No one was to come or go without police permission. The only people who would be allowed to leave would be the caretaker and his wife. The only people allowed back in would be the police. The college would have to close until something was resolved.
Starsky watched his partner diligently typing up a report of the night's events. It was ironic that anyone but Dobey should write the official report, since he had essentially dictated its contents. Dobey was bound to take a lot of heat for how he handled things at the college, and for ordering it closed down in the interest of public safety. Bottom line: he didn't give a damn if making the administration happy was going to endanger human life. Starsky, for his part, was on his third cup of coffee, becoming increasingly wired and no warmer. Being that close to the entity, trapped with it...he pondered that he might have the beginning symptoms of shock because he had felt himself becoming so hysterical pounding on those doors that very little Hutch said reached him.
"You okay there, partner? I think you're going to be bouncing off the walls if you drink much more of that coffee," Hutch said, smiling a little as he proof-read his handiwork.
"I just can't get warm. Can't seem to stop shaking either, and the coffee makes that worse and doesn't seem to make the cold better." Starsky cast a self-conscious look around the almost empty squad room. No one appeared to be within earshot, and if they were, they didn't appear to care what the two detectives were muttering about. It was accepted that those two were always muttering about something--anything from Starsky's eating habits to the overall meaning of life.
"I'm almost done with this. Maybe we can get out of here and get some rest, huh?"
"That'd be nice." He paused a moment, and then without looking up, "Hutch, I'm really sorry about tonight. It was all my fault. I shoulda never agreed to go in there."
"Evelyn asked you to--you were trying to be a friend. And fools that we are, we thought running an article in the paper would cure a haunting. Nothing's happened there until tonight. Which makes me wonder why tonight?"
"I think he's mad at me for taking you away from him. He was out--free, in another body. But I wouldn't let him have you."
"I think we're out of our league here, pal." Hutch stood up and carried the report in to Dobey. After a few muffled words from behind the partially closed door, Hutch emerged with permission for them to head home.
"I'm glad that's over," Starsky mumbled, following his partner down the hall toward the exit.
"Do you feel okay to drive?"
"Yeah, I'm okay. I sure as hell am awake now," he responded, referring to the coffee consumption.
"Why don't you follow me home and we'll see if we can unwind with a couple beers and one of those wretched late shows you're always talking me into?"
"You got yourself a deal, buddy."
Starsky and Hutch settled into comfortable positions for their TV therapy, on opposite ends of the couch with their stocking feet propped on the coffee table. Hutch managed to doze off first, despite his attempts to keep his partner company. Starsky watched him sleep for a few minutes, and then lightly touched a stray strand of the blond hair that fanned out on the couch back.
"Thanks for comin' in after me, pal," he whispered. As Starsky withdrew his hand and settled into position to intentionally try to nap, little did he know what a great game of 'possum Hutch was capable of playing.
The next morning was expected to be stressful, and it was. Dobey was redefining the word "ornery", jumping on every slight infraction by any of his men. The commissioner had already sliced and diced him by the time the clock struck nine, and an irate Dr. Barnard as well as two influential board members from Maplecrest had called Dobey and informed him that he was every synonym for deranged, incompetent and thoughtless. He was fighting hard to keep that campus closed, and to keep his job while his superiors choked on a report of flashing lights, slamming doors, winds of unexplained origins and cold spots.
Just when it seemed things could get no worse, Dobey ordered Starsky and Hutch into his office and hurriedly explained yet another completely unforseen crisis.
"We've got a homicide." Dobey was pacing. A homicide wasn't exactly earth-shaking news to two homicide detectives, so this had to be different. "A multiple."
"Not Maplecrest?" Starsky asked.
"No, not Maplecrest." Dobey took a deep breath. "I want you to come with me right now. The black and whites are on the scene. It's a family."
"A family?" Hutch parroted.
"Parents and two kids...shit, even the family dog. Now let's get out there pronto. This other mess'll keep." He gestured toward a stack of files related to Maplecrest piled on his desk.
Starsky drove in silence toward the scene, siren blaring, and Dobey's car right behind them. Just what they needed...a major case involving some psycho-nut who carved up a family. Or shot them up...they hadn't thought to ask Dobey what they were about to see. The Torino pulled up in front of the sprawling suburban ranch-style house, and the two detectives made their way up to the front entrance. Flashing their ID's at the uniformed officer watching the door, he directed them to the living room where another detective was talking to the first officers on the scene.
"You must be from Metro Homicide. I'm Fred Tanner, Robbery. I live across the street, so I came over when I saw the commotion."
"Starsky and Hutchinson," Starsky introduced. "What've we got?"
"They're in the bedrooms. Parents are both in the master bedroom, sliced up pretty well. Kids are in bunk beds in the next room. God, I never saw anything like it. Those kids play...played with my kids." Tanner shook his head. "I'm goin' back home. My wife's probably going nuts by now wondering what's going on. Michaels and Carlisle were the first ones on the scene."
"Okay, thanks, Tanner," Hutch responded as the other man hurried out of the house and across the street. Dobey began talking with Michaels and Carlisle while Starsky and Hutch made their way down the hall, past cheerful family photos...to bloody devastation. The woman lay face down near the door of the master bedroom, while the man was sprawled across the bed. Both had been stabbed and slashed repeatedly. Blood soaked the bedding, the carpeting near the corpse on the floor and spattered the walls in crazy patterns.
"Oh my God," Starsky murmured, as the thought registered why the woman was in the location where she landed. "She was trying to go for the kids...Dear God, can you picture what you'd be thinking right about then?"
"My guess is that he killed the kids first," Hutch responded, hoping his more clinical reply would steady his partner and bring him back to thinking like a cop. The horror of the situation had Hutch's own stomach twisted in a knot, but Starsky looked as if he might pass out without too much provocation.
"You know how little kids sleep...real soundly...probably never knew what hit 'em." Starsky started the hesitant trek toward the children's room. Barely inside the door of the small room, brightly decorated in yellow and green...spattered with red...Starsky whirled on his heels and nearly knocked his partner down making a run for the door. Hutch swallowed his impulse to follow Starsky, and stepped into the room he knew would give him a nightmare that would live with him forever.
Amidst all of it, the most horrifying sight to Hutch was a small, dimpled hand still holding onto a ragged teddy bear.
Dobey saw Starsky's hasty retreat from the house. Not having been down the hall himself, the captain had no real idea what his detective had seen. Given Starsky's experience and usually steady nerves at crime scenes, it must have been an atrocity. He glanced down the hall, and saw Hutch leaning against the wall by the children's bedroom door frame. His chest was heaving, and Dobey wasn't sure if it was a sign of tears or nausea. After a moment, he watched Hutchinson wipe the length of his face with his hand, pushing upward into his hair. He blinked a few times, seemingly oblivious to Dobey's watchful eye, and summoned a crime scene photographer to enter the room with him. Satisfied Hutch was functioning satisfactorily, Dobey set out in search of the more volatile half of the team.
He found Starsky sitting on a swing, suspended from a tree in the back yard. The morning sun seemed to reflect off the man's white-gray pallor, shiny with a cold sweat.
"Starsky?" Dobey's inquiry was not made in his usual abrupt tone. He leaned against the tree and watched the younger man's glassy-eyed expression remain fixed on the scuffed ground under his feet. "Starsky?" he probed again. The detective finally looked up at him, as if hearing him for the first time.
"Pretty intense, huh?" Dobey prodded.
"They were so little...I never saw...anything like that." He had an almost pleading expression on his face, as if he expected Dobey to snap at him or lecture him into going back into the house. Normally, Dobey might have done just that, but something in Starsky's miserable expression stopped him.
"I only recall having to go to one crime scene involving children. It wasn't exactly like this, but it involved a murder-suicide. Crazy ex-wife broke in, shot her ex, and the three kids. He had custody of the kids, since she was a paranoid schizophrenic. I don't think I got over that for a long time. Maybe I haven't yet. Maybe that's why I'm out here instead of back in there checking out the kids' room." Dobey shook his head. "There's nothing wrong with having a few holes in your armor, Dave. Makes you human."
"I guess. Is Hutch still in there?"
"I expect he is. Probably could use a partner right about now if you're feeling up to it." Dobey reached over and squeezed Starsky's shoulder briefly, then walked away without waiting for his response. Starsky rose slowly from his spot on the swing, but then hurried back to the house. He figured Hutch probably needed some moral support, and the last place he should be was out playing on the swings.
Hutch functioned on auto pilot, giving the crime lab people instructions, conversing with the medical examiner about times of death, blood patterns and the probable weapon. Dobey had disappeared as well as Starsky, who had still not returned to the inside of the house when Hutch finished his preliminary assessment of the crime scene. Finally, Starsky reappeared in the living room, looking a little sheepish and very shaken.
"Starsk? Hey, buddy, you doin' okay?" Hutch finally reached over and squeezed the other's arm. He looked up at Hutch with eyes that would be haunted forever by the sight of those dead children. So many horrors at Maplecrest and in other cases...but neither of them had ever been called to a homicide like this one. The lack of verbal response began to scare Hutch. "Hey, come on, say something to me, partner."
"What can I say that matters? They were babies, Hutch...what were they? Four or five?" That wasn't what Starsky had planned on saying. He planned on something clinical and objective like "What've we got?" He didn't plan to start pouring out his own miseries on Hutch.
"Four and six," Hutch responded, not knowing why he was answering Starsky with facts. It wasn't what he was looking for, but Hutch had no idea what that was. Hutch was looking for it too. A way to rationalize it and de-sensitize it, like any horrid crime scene. You have to do that if you're going to be a decent cop.
"I'm--I'm sorry I left you there like that."
"It's okay, buddy. I handled it."
"But you shouldn't've had to do it by yourself." Starsky watched the empty gurneys being wheeled back through the narrow hall to the bedrooms. "What did the M.E. say?"
"Based on the preliminary evaluation, lividity and all that, he thinks they died several hours ago, probably around one or two in the morning. Murder weapon had a large, very sharp blade. Like you said, the kids probably didn't know what hit them. The killer was pretty efficient."
"I left you holding the bag...to go into that room by yourself. I shoulda had enough guts to handle it like a real cop." Starsky had essentially ignored all the technical information his partner was supplying. It became very obvious to Hutch that Starsky was only back in that house because he felt he should be with his partner--certainly not because he was any better off mentally or emotionally than he was when he left.
"Well, when I flipped out at Maplecrest, you covered for me, finished things up. That's what you have a partner for, you know." Hutch didn't notice his friend's demeanor change from the light tone of the response. "Starsky, you're human. Seeing little children lying dead in their beds...slaughtered...that's a horror that no amount of training or experience makes easier."
"But you handled it." Starsky looked him in the eyes. "You acted like a cop, and I copped out."
"You aren't going to feel better no matter what I say about this, are ya?" The covered gurneys were making a grim procession to waiting vehicles.
"It isn't your fault, Hutch. I just couldn't handle it."
"And I couldn't handle the Grodin and Merriweather crime scene. Between the two of us, I guess we make one reasonably efficient cop." Hutch was grinning a little, and watched his partner, willing Starsky to meet his eyes.
"Reasonably efficient, huh?" Starsky responded, smiling.
"I'd say so."
"Anything else I should know?"
"Let's get out of here." Hutch led the way down the front porch steps, not far behind a gurney bearing the woman's body covered by a bloody sheet. "The forensics people think it was one intruder. Forced entry through the back patio door. Their names were Paul and Denise Taggert, the kids were Stephanie and Candice. Michaels and Carlisle have been out talking to the gawkers, but so far I haven't heard back that they'd found anything significant. We better catch up with them."
"What did Tanner think? He knew the family."
"Doesn't know of any reason anyone would want them dead. This neighborhood is usually pretty quiet, but since it was cool last night, most people had their windows closed. Nobody so far has mentioned hearing anything."
"So I guess we go back to Metro and wait for the paperwork, huh?"
"I want to touch base with Michaels and Carlisle. Hey--where's Dobey, anyway?"
"Looks like his car's gone. I saw him...outside, before I came back in. I guess he wanted out too. Damn it, Hutch, everybody just left you holding the bag in there."
"You didn't do it on purpose. Just let go of it, buddy. You can type the report if that'll ease your conscience."
"Thanks a million, partner," Starsky responded sarcastically.
"Only thinking of your emotional well-being, pal."
Starsky found himself less and less comfortable making visits to the M.E.'s department. He hadn't called Ginny since their evening at the college reception. He had seen her once since then, following Grodin and Merriweather's murders, and even then, it had been strained. She was understandably all business when he dropped in to get the particulars on the morning's slayings. Hutch had said very little about the morning's events, but Starsky knew his partner was living with the images that his prolonged stay in the rooms of the victims had ingrained in his mind. The least he could do was go get the information from the coroner, and prepare himself to clinically look at one of the corpses if Ginny happened to feel she needed to illustrate her point.
"Times of death were too close to call, as far as who was killed first. They all fall within the range of 1:30-2:00 a.m. The weapon had a large, very sharp blade. The children were killed very efficiently. Their throats were slit ear to ear. I doubt if they had time to scream, or know it was happening." Ginny watched the detective swallow hard a couple of times. Was she being unnecessarily brutal in her explanation? She had watched Starsky turn various stages of green in the years she'd known him, and a graphic description of just the right bodily devastation or decomposition could probably send him in search of the nearest receptacle for his stomach contents. He hadn't lost it yet, but this case seemed to be pushing him to his limits. She chided herself for being unprofessional enough to actually want to bring a homicide detective to his knees by being morose, and continued. "The parents struggled, so there were more wounds. Slit throats finished them as well, but it was a lot more difficult to get them to stay put long enough to finish the job." She referred to her notes, returning the glasses she kept on a fine chain to the middle of her nose. "Based on the angle of the wounds, I would say he was a big man--the attacker. Probably 6'4", and very strong. There were a few black hairs found at the scene, and since the family was predominantly blonde or light brown-haired, that could be significant." She removed the glasses and looked up at Starsky. "If you hadn't told me differently, I'd have thought these people were killed at Maplecrest. The wounds, the M.O. is very similar. The only odd part about those is the inconsistent profile of the size of the killer, and whether or not he's right- or left-handed. This killer was definitely right-handed."
"But the wounds are similar?"
"Yes, and made by a similar weapon. Probably just a bizarre coincidence."
"Yeah, probably." Starsky took the folder she handed him. "Thanks, Ginny." He started toward the door.
"Dave?" Her question was a little urgent, and he turned around to face a slightly troubled expression. "Is anything wrong? I mean, I swore I'd never ask you about this, but are you angry about something? Did I offend you?"
"No...why?" He knew he was being obtuse, as Hutch had accused him a few weeks back, but he needed time to come up with the right reply.
"You aren't making this easy. Dave, we work together, and have to live with that, or I wouldn't bring this up. I just thought it was odd that I never heard back from you after that party, and if you'd rather call it quits and not go out again, I can handle that fine. I just don't like feeling uneasy with you."
"I'm sorry about that, Ginny. With this Maplecrest thing, and now this...I just don't have much of a life right now." But I have time for Evelyn, he thought guiltily. "Maybe when some of this is cleared away, we can have dinner, go see a movie--whatever you want." He was forcing a smile again. Something in Ginny hated that forced smile, because the natural ones came so easily. This looked like it hurt.
"I didn't mean to put you on the spot."
"I didn't mean to dump you. The last few weeks have been...weird. And then I got hurt and--"
"I thought I noticed something around your eyes--you were in a fight?"
"Sort of. I was on the receiving end, mostly. I'm okay, but I was out of commission for awhile. I really would like to see you sometime, if you're still speaking to me when my schedule evens out a little." Now the smile was more genuine. Ginny returned it.
"Give me a call when you have time. I'll even cook dinner at my place."
"Now there's an offer I can't refuse," Starsky retorted, flexing his eyebrows a little. This was the old Starsky, and Ginny laughed a little in response.
"Pasta primavera?" she asked.
"Not the one with all the rabbit food in it? Hutch makes me eat that all the time."
"Lasagna?" she suggested, laughing at the only guy she'd ever known who would be honest if the menu she proposed made him groan.
"I'll bring the wine. And I will call...promise."
"Okay. Anytime. You know where to find me--down here in stiffsville."
"Prettiest coroner I ever saw," he tossed over his shoulder as he left the room.
When he returned to the squad room, Hutch was reviewing notes he'd made from a phone conversation with R&I. Psycho nut family killers. This is what they would be wading through--miles of files on maniacs and unsolved multiple homicides. The underbelly of police work, Hutch liked to call it.
"You took your sweet time. But then I forgot--there's one body down there you don't mind seeing." Hutch handed Starsky his coffee cup in the automatic assumption it would be filled and returned without complaint. It was.
"Well," Starsky began, sitting down with his own coffee, stirring in an inordinate amount of sugar, "she didn't tell me much we didn't already know." He gave Hutch a recap of what Ginny had told him, minus the dinner plans. He didn't blame Hutch for having a sour face about his partner's Don Juan capers. As soon as Hutch had any action in sight, Starsky had managed to get himself locked in a hallway with an evil spirit. Hence ended a night of passion. Starsky had been informed that Lorraine, the leggy brunette, was not returning Hutch's calls, and now with this new case, there was no time to go out and meet anyone...bitchin' and complainin', Starsky thought to himself, grinning into his coffee cup. Following a description of a grisly homicide, Hutch began to wonder what type of dementia his partner was suffering when he noted the slight wrinkling around the eyes that indicated a smile hidden behind the coffee mug.
"So you're juggling Ginny and Evelyn now, eh, buddy?" Hutch needled. Starsky almost choked. It should have ceased to surprise him long ago when Hutch read his mind, but occasionally, it still took him off-guard. "Watch yourself--I don't think either of those ladies is your average bimbo."
"I'm not juggling anything, Hutch. Evelyn and I are friends--"
"Oh, right. The same Evelyn who body-slammed you outside the college last night?"
"I saved her life. She was glad I wasn't dead. No big deal."
"Think again. That woman was almost hysterical when I picked her up. And it takes a hell of a lot to get Evelyn hysterical. Don't play around with her."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Hutch," Starsky prodded, not too pleasantly.
"It means that she's been through enough not to be treated like a conquest. She's too damn classy for that."
"I wouldn't do that to her. You know that. I think you're just jealous of my amazing power over women," Starsky twitted.
"Don't be ridiculous."
"I'm not. I know you, Hutchinson."
"The day I'm jealous of your technique with women is the day pigs will fly."
"Then start scannin' the skies, buddy. You're just jealous that I've got two gorgeous women interested and you're battin' zero at the moment."
"Whose fault is that?" Hutch demanded angrily. "The first time I get any action in sight, I have to bail your sorry butt out of the jaws of death--or have you conveniently forgotten Lorraine?"
"Excuses, excuses," Starsky goaded. "Look, you better let me share a few pointers with you."
"Sure. We're gettin' too old to play one-up with each other all the time. That's a game for a couple of stupid-ass kids. One thing you're not is a kid anymore."
"Is that right, old man?" Hutch teased. "Don't look now, but you're older'n me, pal."
"You're right behind me, blondie. So you better let me help you land the right woman before your looks go."
"Before my--" Hutch waved an angry and all-too-familiar admonishing finger at Starsky, "I'll have you know that with my diet and exercise program, my looks are going to hold out a hell of a lot longer than yours, Waste King."
"Waste King?" Starsky indignantly repeated the brand name of Hutch's new garbage disposal. He wanted to laugh out loud. It was one of Hutch's better insults, and a new one at that. But laughing just wouldn't do until the quota of fighting had been achieved. "You listen to me, Sprout Boy, you can eat all the leafy green crud you want to and it ain't gonna be no substitute for natural good looks. You'll just start looking like one of these wrinkled up old guys who run around in jumpsuits hosting exercise shows!"
"Well they look a hell of a lot better than fat, out of shape cops who think the answer to a balanced dinner is to make sure there's lettuce in their burritos!" Hutch yelled back.
"Oh, yeah?" Starsky felt his control wavering, and he thought he detected a twitch at the corner of Hutch's mouth. "Is that right?" he added, momentarily out of comebacks.
"Yeah, that's right," Hutch retorted, sounding angry but looking like he was about to burst out laughing.
When Dobey walked out of his office, feeling none-too-cheerful, his two star detectives were leaning back in their chairs, laughing themselves into tears, occasionally muttering what sounded like some horribly derisive insult at each other, which only sent both into worse fits. Dobey held back a moment himself, trying not to catch the contagious laughter. Watching Starsky grip his still-mildly uncomfortable ribs and hang over the desk unable to breathe even made Dobey chuckle. He hadn't seen either one in this bad a shape since long before Starsky's shooting over a year earlier. Hutch struggled to his feet and leaned across the desk, vainly trying to pat Starsky on the back and sound serious as he instructed him to calm down and take a deep breath. When he ended that suggestion with "...or you'll turn blue and die which would serve you right, you asshole," Starsky only moaned with renewed hysteria and Hutch lost again what little control he had regained.
Long having given up figuring out what made those two really tick, Dobey cleared his throat loudly. For a moment, it grabbed their attention, but only gave them one more spasm of giggles before they began to regain their composure. If Dobey had given in to his own inclination to laugh at a display he hadn't seen equalled since his little girl's last giggle fit under merciless tickling, they'd have never recovered. He maintained a shaky composure until they straightened up in their chairs, and breathing heavily and wiping their eyes, attempted to give him some form of serious attention.
"From this little display of mirth, I can only assume that you've solved both cases in a single afternoon." With this remark, Dobey implied they had better things to do than laugh themselves into early graves, and the implication was not lost on either man.
"Sorry, Cap. We just got a little carried away," Starsky tried to explain seriously, the ever present grin torturing the side of his mouth to break into a laugh.
"Another display like that and I'll have you both carried away, right down to Cabrillo State," Dobey retorted with a chortle of his own. "Hell, we need a little break in the tension around here," he stated, pulling up a chair at the end of the desks. "Got anything?"
"R&I's pulling all the unsolved multiple homicides in the last two years, separating the ones that involved families into a separate pile, and they're also getting us profiles of every nut who every carved someone up and might be out and about, able to do it again. We'll probably be here all night." Hutch rubbed his eyes, partially from fatigue and partially from laughter-induced tears.
"There's a big similarity in the M.O. between this case and the Maplecrest killings according to the M.E.," Starsky stated.
"Possibly the same person? Well, you and I know that's impossible," Dobey replied, with an uncharacteristic acceptance of the supernatural. Of course, seeing is believing...
"Guess it's just a sick coincidence." Hutch watched Dobey pull out his handkerchief and mop his forehead for the second time since he'd come out of his office. "You okay, Cap? You look a little worn out."
"This mess at the college...I've got the commissioner coming down on me and the Board of Control at Maplecrest coming down on him and God knows how many rich, influential jerks are pulling their strings. I know he's going to re-open that place by tomorrow at the latest. I'll just be damn lucky if I come out of this with a job."
"You told the truth in that report, Cap'n," Starsky stated flatly.
"Yeah? Well, the truth won't set you free around this place if it doesn't fit into a tidy category. Shadows and ghosts and things that go bump in the night have no place in police reports. I'm trying to tell the commissioner that a dead man is responsible for the murders at the college. It's a small wonder I'm not in line for early retirment this morning."
"We saw it, Cap--we'll back you up--"
"Starsky, no offense, but me getting back up from you would be like Curly getting back up from Larry and Moe as far as the commissioner is concerned."
"How serious is the heat on you?" Hutch asked. Visions of Dobey being replaced by some iron-spined goon in a three-piece suit were flashing before his eyes.
"Serious enough to break a sweat, but if I back off about reopening the college, I'll probably be all right."
"You might as well. They'll just suspend you or fire you and then reopen it," Starsky responded.
"My thoughts exactly. I tried. If they all get their fool heads cut off, it isn't my fault." Dobey rose from his chair and headed back toward his office. "Let me know if you get anything new."
"Will do." Hutch watched Dobey disappear behind his closing door. "He's really been under the gun on this damn thing."
"Speaking of under the gun," Starsky remarked as the file clerk lugged a hernia-inducing stack of manilla folders to their desks and unceremoniously dumped them there.
"The batch with the rubber bands around it are the unsolved multiple slayings," she explained.
"Thanks, Maggie." Even a cute file clerk couldn't brighten this load, Starsky thought to himself dismally.
"You wanna go grab some lunch before we get into these?" Hutch stood up, and Starsky followed suit, feeling his appetite returning at full blast. The morning had pretty effectively curdled his cereal, but as it neared one-thirty, and the worst of the impact of the murder site visit was fading, he was ready to hunt down the nearest taco stand.
"I suppose you want to go get raw fish or something," Starsky grumbled as he followed his partner out the door.
"There's a new restaurant not far from the bakery--"
"Good. I'll go down to the bakery. Mrs. Goldman likes me. She'll feed me something that resembles food. You can go get your alfalfa leaves or whatever at that other place."
"Why do you automatically assume that if I pick the restaurant, it's going to be a health food place?"
"Because ever since you started getting back in shape after I got out of the hospital, you've been more annoying than you were before with your dessicated liver cocktails you used to make for breakfast. Now you don't even wanna grab a burger anywhere unless it's flame-broiled and low fat and no cheese."
"But look at the lythe, well-toned physique I have to show for it."
"Yeah, and you're humble too," Starsky mumbled under his breath.
"Before I was so rudely interrupted, I was about to tell you that this new place is a deli with a few tables in it. They make great sandwiches."
"No kiddin'? Veggie subs?"
"Not veggie subs--God forbid you'd eat anything that hadn't been oversalted and processed. Any kind of subs you want. They also have salads--"
"--and big homemade cookies--"
"Homemade cookies, huh?" Starsky led the way down the stairs to the front entrance, and out to the Torino. This was sounding more promising by the minute.
Hutch hadn't lied about the sandwiches. They were huge and very tasty, made to order. Starsky had opted for what they called the Avalanche, which included every meat and about three different cheeses, plus any assorted sauces or garnishes the customer might choose. Hutch was satisfied with a turkey and swiss, watching with some interest as his partner began the arduous task of dislodging his jaws to permit entry for the monstrous sandwich. Somehow he managed, and Hutch again asserted that Starsky was part alligator: big grin and massive jaw span when needed. Both men ate quietly for a time, until Starsky began to show signs of reaching even his considerable capacity.
"This is a big sandwich, isn't it?" he asked, examining the remaining half.
"Very big," Hutch replied, taking a drink of his cola.
"Wanna go to the park and feed the birds?"
"What?" Hutch looked up, startled. Not exactly standard procedure for two cops in the middle of a major murder investigation. Of course, since his brush with death at Gunther's hands, Starsky occasionally threw his partner this type of a curve, rationalizing that sometimes life gets away from you and you never get the chance to do something you always wanted to do.
"I've got my camera in the car. We could feed the pigeons or the squirrels or something. I need to finish up a roll of film."
"What about the case?"
"What about it? We won't be out there long." Starsky started wrapping up his sandwich in the paper in which it had come and gulped the last of his drink. Hutch, smiling at this bizarre request, did the same and went with his partner to find some hungry wildlife in the nearest park.
"Whadd'ya make of the similarity between the Taggert killings and the Maplecrest murders?" Starsky tossed a chunk of the sandwich toward a lone seagull and watched it devour it in one beakload. "Here--you toss, I'll snap." Starsky handed Hutch the sandwich and got his camera aimed at a gathering of the noisy white birds. It was one of the more inane activities Starsky had dragged him on, but Hutch had to admit the creatures were putting on a pretty good show for their meal.
"If we toyed with Fuller or Fulton or whoever he is being the killer, it would mean he's out of Maplecrest. I don't want to accept that possibility." Hutch tossed more food to the birds, amused at their battling and almost acrobatic antics to get it.
"He wanted out of there. He was mad at me for taking you away from him. He wanted me instead. Suppose he got someone else."
"Who? Dobey cleared us all out of there as soon as he realized what was happening."
"I know. I guess we're grasping at straws."
"Right now, a good, old-fashioned homicidal maniac'll do just fine, thank you."
"Never thought we'd be saying that." Starsky laughed a little. "Damn," he muttered, looking down at his camera. "Roll's done. I was hoping to get some shots over by the water."
"We can come back again, you know."
"I know. When I was cooped up in that hospital for so long, I used to stare out the window and just want to jump right through it--get outside, smell the air, take some pictures... I'm sorry I dragged you on this little errand. I just felt like doing it. Maybe coming face to face with the big dirt nap again at the college got me thinking about all the stuff I like to do but never get time for."
"The big dirt nap?"
"You know, the harp farm, the wing factory, the--"
"Okay, okay, enough with the death lesson," Hutch interrupted, laughing a little. "The wing factory? Sounds like a tacky chicken restaurant."
"You know, angels get wings--oh, never mind." Starsky was quiet a moment. "So, you wanna talk about it now?"
"What?" Hutch was watching the birds, totally unprepared for his partner's question.
"This morning. I know it's been botherin' you all day. I mean, I took one look in that room and ran like hell, then Dobey was out looking for me, and you got left holding the bag to stay there and face it. Might help to talk about it."
"What's to talk about? You saw it too." Hutch leaned back on the park bench. So that's what feeding the birds was all about: a way to get him to open up--another of Starsky's sneaky little ways of trying to heal his partner's psyche.
"I saw two little faces, bluish white from bleeding for several hours, and all that blood and I ran out."
"I don't know why this should get to me like this. How many dead bodies have we seen in our lives? Even a couple of dead children before."
"The Pritchett case? God, I remember that." Starsky thought back on being called to the scene after a sniper had killed eight people in a shopping mall. Still in uniform, he and Hutch had been first on the scene. There were two dead children that time too, partially hidden by their mother's body, but dead nonetheless. "So what do you think was different?"
"Maybe because the monster in the closet was real." Hutch's voice was quiet, almost shaky on that simple phrase, and it chilled Starsky. "Safe in their beds, Mickey Mouse nightlight still plugged in...with the Pritchett case, somehow it wasn't as horrible because out in the world, there are crazies and nut cases and you take a risk every time you walk out your front door. But your mother tells you there's no such thing as ghosts, or that there's nothing to be afraid of in the dark...and something like this happens...and somehow betrays all that...invalidates it. There really is a monster in the closet or a vampire in the hall or a ghost under the bed. And when the lights go out, you really aren't safe..." Hutch shook his head. "I'm rambling."
"So what?" Starsky reached over and took a hold of Hutch's wrist. "Besides, it makes sense to me, what you're saying."
"I can't get the picture of those little girls' faces out of my head. Dear God, I just hope they didn't wake up before..." Hutch felt the hand on his wrist tighten its grip as his voice trailed off.
"Ginny said she doesn't think they did." Starsky was pleased to have some fact to give Hutch, something to make this less grisly. "She said it would have happened really fast, and little kids usually sleep soundly, so if there wasn't much noise or time from one to the other, they probably never knew. Went straight to heaven without feeling a thing." Hutch laughed affectionately at the summation presented in that last sentence. He covered Starsky's hand with his own for a minute, amazed at how his partner had found a way to say something so beautiful in connection with something so ugly.
"Thanks, partner." Hutch slid his fingers under Starsky's and squeezed his hand. There was a brief answering pressure, a slight lingering, and then Starsky pulled away.
"Hey, we better get back. I can see telling Dobey we were sitting in the park holding hands instead of going through those files."
"Well, it would give him something new to worry about," Hutch responded, snickering at the thought of Dobey mulling over such a scenario. "Starsk?" Hutch caught up to his partner who was striding back toward the car, examining his camera.
"Feeding the birds was a good idea." Thanks. I needed to talk.
"It's a nice day, and I wanted to use up this film." You're welcome. That's what friends are for.
While they were riding back to the precinct, the radio cut in on their thoughts. A bulletin about a missing officer was being broadcast. Officer Keith Phillips had last been seen by his partner leaving the headquarters the previous night. He had not returned home and had not returned for his shift the next morning.
"Must be some reason they're puttin' out the call so quick." Starsky wrinkled his brow a moment. "Wasn't he at Maplecrest last night?"
"I thought that name sounded familiar. Wasn't he the one who was looking for his partner?"
"No, wait a second. He was the missing partner--he was the one who was inside the building longer than anybody else..."
"What're you thinking?" Hutch asked.
"Damn, I'm not exactly sure what I'm thinking, but it ain't good."
"I think not," Starsky retorted immediately, casting a worried look at Hutch.
Dobey was thundering through the hall like a storm cloud when the two detectives arrived back at work. He only grunted in response to their greeting and headed for the elevator. Another meeting with the man upstairs--that could be either God or the commissioner. Since the latter considered himself in the league of the former, it wouldn't be pleasant in any event.
Aaron Hanover, Phillips' partner, was just on his way back out on patrol as Starsky and Hutch arrived.
"Hey, Hanover, wait up," Starsky called after him. "We heard the bulletin on your partner. Any leads?"
"Nothing yet," the other man said, sounding defeated. "This isn't like him--he's as regular as the clock."
"He's tall--dark-haired, right? It was pretty dark last night," Hutch explained. "We saw him at Maplecrest but we hadn't met him prior to that."
"He's about six-four, with black hair, brown eyes. It sounds like you think you have something."
"Not really. Just wanted a clear description of him in our minds," Starsky responded. "You two been partners long?"
"About six or seven months."
"Well, we've got a whole force out looking for him, so wherever he's hiding, we'll flush him out," Starsky responded, hoping to boost the younger man's spirits. After being partners six or seven months, he and Hutch were already inseparable. It appeared that Hanover thought a great deal of Phillips.
"Sure hope so. Thanks." He turned and continued his trek to his patrol car outside.
"We've both been down that road before." Hutch shivered a little. Missing partner: the two ugliest words in the English language.
"You heard that description." Starsky held the squad room door while Hutch passed through it and then followed him.
"Fits with Ginny's profile of the killer, doesn't it?" Hutch plunked into his chair and let out a loud sigh/groan. "And he was the last one out of the building..."
"So if Fulton possessed him, what do we do next? Damn it, Hutch, I don't know what we can do to stop this thing. I thought us beating it would get rid of it, then I thought the newspaper thing would do it. None of that worked, and I'm fresh outta ideas."
"I know, partner. Me too."
"There is one."
"Thought you were fresh out." Hutch was starting to flip disinterestedly through a case file on his desk.
"Nobody ever went through with blessing Maplecrest."
"But Fulton isn't there anymore according to our latest theory."
"Right. But maybe he could be driven out of Phillips--and conquered, once and for all."
"I think you've seen 'The Exorcist' once too often."
"I only saw it once."
"Then you called me at two in the morning with some inane excuse because you managed to scare yourself watching that stupid movie. Like I said, you saw it once too often."
"You didn't see her head spin around backwards," Starsky said quietly, leaning forward across the desk toward Hutch, as if he were imparting some deep, dark secret.
"And I'll regret missing out on that cinematic experience for the rest of my life," Hutch retorted, going back to his reading.
"I was serious about getting a priest or a rabbi or somebody to try to drive out the spirit. It's probably the last hope."
"Supposing this was true, that means Phillips is going to take the fall for a multiple homicide. You can't get him off the hook with spiritual possession."
"No one 'cept us has made the connection. Maybe no one will."
"And we chase our tails for several months working on a case we already know the answer to?"
"Beats throwing a cop in the slammer for something that isn't his fault."
"Starsky, what you're suggesting is..."
"What? Unbelievable? Would you have believed anything else we've been through? For God's sake, Hutch, he did it to you--why couldn't he do it to Phillips?" Starsky whispered.
"You think we should take this to Dobey?"
"He's in it up to his neck anyway. He seems to believe us."
"Then we've gotta find Phillips before anyone else does." Hutch ran his hand back through his hair. "I don't see how we can pull this off. I mean, even if we find Phillips, and assuming an actual exorcism works, if we cover for him, we're accessories after the fact. I'm not doin' time for the guy. I'm sorry as hell about what's happening, but I'm not going to lie for him."
"You're right. But we don't have to aggressively pursue him as a suspect."
"No, that's true, we don't. But if he becomes one through some other means than our investigation, we can't cover it up. This is beyond our control, and we can't start takin' the fall for it."
"Maybe no one'll suspect him," Starsky offered hopefully.
"The point is, we can find him, try to help him, and whatever he did between when he disappeared and when we find him is his problem to explain. Exorcisms aren't admissible in court last time I looked, so we should be okay if we play it that way."
"Way back at the start, when we were stuck in the office and that...thing was in the hall, and when the brakes went out on the Torino--I prayed, and it stopped. We were able to drive out Fulton's spirit with the combined power of our wills when he had you, but why would he ever be driven back by prayer? If he's just a ghost...Hutch, that's more like...an evil spirit."
"A spirit who commits murder is fairly evil by definition," Hutch responded, scanning the squad room to make sure they were still safe to discuss this subject.
"I guess you're right." Starsky wrinkled his brow as he pulled a large padded envelope from underneath a stack of files. "When'd this get here?"
"I didn't see it this morning."
"It's addressed to us." Starsky held it up, and Hutch glanced at the shaky handwriting that labeled it "Detectives Starsky and Hutchinson, Homicide".
"So open it," Hutch directed. Starsky followed his instructions, and pulled out a small, leatherbound book. Skimming the pages, it was all hand-written, like a diary. There was a note tucked inside the front cover.
"'Dear Detectives Starsky & Hutchinson,
The enclosed book is the diary of Genevieve Willoughby. It was obtained by the Maplecrest Historical Society during the liquidation of the estate of Arnold Willoughby, brother of Malcolm, father of Clarice.
I wish to remain anonymous, but feel I should come forward with this information, based on a conversation with Clarice. She is not aware that this information exists, but I am sure would appreciate your use of the utmost discretion with the public and the press in your handling of it. It is extremely sensitive, and would be embarrassing to the Willougby family.
Starsky looked up from the note, and Hutch moved around the desks and pulled up a chair next to his partner so they could look through the book together.
"Who do you suppose this is?" Hutch reviewed the note.
"I'd lay you a bet it's Charlotte Evans."
"Who? Oh--she was that Board member who pushed to acquire the painting in the first place?"
"The one and only." Starsky opened the book, and they both began scanning the pages, dismissing most of what they were reading as the dull daily reflections of a housewife. Then they arrived at the entry detailing Matthew Fuller's arrival, approximately six weeks before the murders.
"Today, Malcolm brought Mr. Fuller home from the office. He has only just arrived in town, and will be staying with our family until he finds a suitable permanent residence.
Our Mr. Fuller is very charming, personable and cultured. He comes from New York originally, and has been working a variety of odd jobs to support himself since his move to California. Having completed his college education back East, he has been searching for a professional position for some time.
He is very charming. I think it wil be a pleasure having him here."
"She sounds happy with her new houseguest--notice she tells that he's charming twice?" Starsky kept flipping through the pages, and Matthew Fuller was mentioned in bits and pieces for a couple of weeks, all with escalating interest and affection. By the third week, an entry appeared that began to allude to something changing in the relationship, though it was apparent Mrs. Willoughby's sense of propriety kept her from writing lingering details. She implied she had had a passionate encounter with Matthew Fuller, who had claimed to be feeling ill and remained home while Mr. Willoughby went to the office. Several following entries detailed a sort of clandestine courtship, complete with flowers, love poems and secret meetings. All this happened over the course of two weeks. Mrs. Willoughby was obviously desperately infatuated with Matthew Fuller, because she began to explain that he was a practitioner of "the dark arts", and that she would willingly follow him into this realm if he would teach her the way. Fuller had convinced her that they could achieve a great power from the netherworld by offering Satan a perfect sacrifice. She didn't explain what that sacrifice was, and neither detective was sure if she really knew. Her final entry was dated the day of the killings.
"Tonight, we will be joined as one, and we will be granted a great power. Matthew has still not told me what I must do to become his forever, to free myself from Malcolm and the children, for us to run off and find our new life. As is his practice, Malcolm will go out tonight to gamble with George and Miles Hanson. After he leaves, we will start the ceremony."
Starsky closed the book and looked at his partner, who was resting his chin on the heel of his hand on the desk, looking slightly puzzled, and a little disappointed at the vagueness of the last entry. Like Genevieve before it all occurred, they didn't know what the ceremony was either.
"She mentioned a perfect sacrifice back here a ways," Starsky stated, searching for the entry. "Here," he began, "'Matthew believes that through the offering of a perfect sacrifice, we will be granted a great power from Satan, which will ultimately lead to our freedom.'" Starsky felt a shiver run up and down his spine. "Hutch, in Satanism, you and I both know what a perfect sacrifice is."
"A child." Hutch straightened in his chair. "He was planning to use her children as human sacrifices," Hutch stated, the pure horror of the thought turning his stomach. He remembered the dead children in the Taggert house. Were they perfect sacrifices too?
"No wonder he didn't tell her what he had in mind until the last minute."
"She mentions being free of Malcolm and the children--but I doubt she understood what the ramifications were of letting him free her of them." Hutch shook his head. "I can't help thinking about the Taggert kids--"
"Making up for lost sacrifices?"
"Something like that."
"This sure explains why prayer works against it. Fuller--I mean, Fulton--obviously had other forces on his side to bring him back from the dead."
"I guess now would be the time for me to admit you were right about the exorcism idea."
"I'm not enjoying being right about any of this, Hutch. And it all sounds crazy." Starsky tucked the book back in its envelope. "I think we should talk to Dobey."
"Make it good," Dobey bellowed as he passed behind them on the way to his office, startling both of them from their intense concentration on the diary.
"I don't know how good it is," Starsky responded, leading the way through Dobey's open door while the captain shuffled papers angrily on the top of his desk.
"If you're here to give me more mumbo-jumbo, then you can save it. I've taken all the heat I'm going to on this case." He was piling up the files into a tidy bundle. "For that matter, so have you two. We're all off the case."
"What?" Hutch closed the door behind him. "But it's our--"
"The hell it is! The commissioner's putting together a task force to investigate the homicides at Maplecrest. The Taggert case is what we have to concentrate on now."
"But he's just going to pull the plug on us? We've invested all this time, and...and everything into this case..." Starsky was obviously alluding to Hutch's brush with possession and his own subsequent injuries.
"Look, this isn't up for debate. He's putting together a task force, supervising it personally, and he's hand-picking the cops on it. I hate to disappoint you two, but you're not on the list!"
"Shut up, Starsky! Just put a lid on it and live with it!" Dobey plunked into his desk chair and waved them both away with an angry gesture. "Now get the hell out of my office unless you have something important to say about the Taggert case!"
"Well, actually, Captain, they're related," Hutch began. He watched Dobey almost visibly give himself a time out to take his temper down a few notches.
"You wanna run that by me again, Hutchinson?"
"The Taggert murders are related to the Maplecrest killings. It's the same spirit that--"
"Can it! Just hold it right there!" Dobey shook an admonishing finger at Hutch. "I don't want to hear one more word about spirits or ghosts or eighty-year-old cases out of either one of you two. Is that clear?"
"But, Cap--" Starsky soon realized not giving a perfunctory "yes, sir" wasn't wise.
"But Captain my ass!" Dobey bellowed. "I'm about two steps away from the unemployment line over this fine mess you've pulled me into. It's out of my hands, and the business of ghosts and possessions doesn't belong in a police precinct."
"You know what you saw at Maplecrest, Captain," Starsky persisted.
"I know I saw something I couldn't readily explain, and I let you two clowns talk me into believing we were hunting ghosts and pulled a whole team of cops out of that place when we might have learned something. Starsky over here manages to get himself into some kind of fight and uses this case to wriggle out of whatever he got himself into, and like an idiot, I let you two take me on this ride! Now this little foray into the spirit world is over, as of right now. You're both on the Taggert case full time, and I want to see some real investigative work going on from you two. If I don't, you're both going to find yourselves writing parking tickets for the rest of your natural lives! Now get out of my office!" he yelled, standing again with both hands leaning on the desk.
"Don't blame Starsky for getting roughed up. I did that--" Hutch tried to cut in.
"Then he can file charges against you! I. Don't. Want. To. Hear. It. Is that clear? Get out of here, both of you."
Adequately chastised, they returned to their desks and slumped in their chairs defeatedly, staring at the fat envelope that lay on the desk between them.
"I think we just experienced the trickle-down effect," Hutch stated flatly.
"The commissioner pins Dobey's ears back, threatens him with being fired, and it trickles down to us." Hutch was quiet a minute. "I guess we're on our own."
"We usually are," Starsky responded dismally. "What do we do now?"
"Go look for Phillips." Hutch stood up. "Can't exorcise the guy until we have a lead on where he is."
Dobey stared at the closed door he had ushered his best team through moments ago. They didn't deserve the tongue-lashing they'd gotten, but then he didn't deserve to have his job laid on the line either. As much as he liked and respected the abilities of these two men, he had a family to support and a career to consider. Opposing the commissioner wasn't a wise course of action if either matter was a concern. Cal would be starting college soon, the house needed a new roof...the goodwill of Starsky and Hutch wouldn't pay for any of that. Dobey flipped through the case file again. He believed strongly there was something else at play. He also knew he could count on his favorite detective team to hang onto it until it was resolved. Right now, he had done what he had to do to keep his job, and they would have to carry on with this unofficial ghost-hunting.
Starsky placed a stomach-churning order at the drive-up window. They had spent the morning visiting all of Phillips' off-time hangouts, putting the word out with Huggy and going through the motions of their usual patrol of the area. Hutch reluctantly accepted a couple of heavy bags from his partner as they were passed through the window and held them disdainfully until the Torino came to a stop in a nearby parking spot.
"Don't look so miserable, Hutch. I ordered you that grilled chicken thing you wanted." Starsky started digging happily through the bags until he had extracted a very large, very messy coney dog with extra onions and mustard. Hutch found the timid little sandwich he had requested, lurking at the side of the bag, hiding from its spicy neighbors.
"You should really start taking better care of your insides, Starsk," Hutch began, launching yet another round of the ongoing food debate.
"If they can survive multiple slugs from an automatic, I think they'll live through a chili dog."
"That's not even funny." Hutch plunked the as-yet-unopened sandwich back in the bag. Starsky regretted the remark and the sharpness of it instantly. Hutch tended to shy away from even the mention of the shooting and Starsky's brush with death as if it were something too horrible to discuss. Joking about it had always turned his stomach and twisted something in his chest.
"I'm sorry." Starsky watched his partner, who was staring out the passenger window. "Hey, come on, Hutch, are you gonna stay mad at me for the rest of the day over this?"
"I'm not mad." The reply was unusually soft.
"It was a dumb thing to say."
"Damn right it was," Hutch responded, still quietly.
"Come on, buddy, will ya at least look at me? I feel bad enough about ruining your lunch without gettin' the cold shoulder." He watched the side/back of Hutch's head. He finally laid a hand on his friend's arm. "I said I was sorry," he said gently, with a trace of a plea in his voice.
"I just don't see anything funny about...what happened last year."
"You're right. There isn't anything funny about that. But if I didn't joke about it, it would be too big and significant for me to ever think about anything else. If we can laugh about it, it loses a little of it's horror somehow. If I can laugh about it, I guess I feel like I've really beaten it."
"I hadn't thought about that."
"We beat it, Hutch. We earned the right to laugh about it. To laugh in its face."
"You're seriously twisted, Starsk," Hutch finally turned to face him with a slight smile. "And if you turn that into some kind of sick shooting joke, I'll ram that coney dog--"
"Okay, okay, I get it," Starsky responded, laughing. "Now eat your dog biscuit, or whatever that funny little dry thing is." He pulled it out of the bag and tossed it at Hutch.
"Oh to hell with that." Hutch threw it out the window, pulled Starsky's hand with the coney dog in it toward him and took a large bite off the end of it. "Oh God," he moaned, leaning back in the seat, chewing with his eyes closed.
"I never knew a coney dog could be an orgasmic experience." Starsky was chuckling at his partner's unabashed ecstasy at the taste of forbidden fruit.
"Try givin' 'em up for a year."
"Wouldn't dream of it. Here you go." Starsky held the rest of the hot dog in front of him.
"That's your lunch," Hutch responded, his resistance almost non-existent.
"I got two of 'em. Go ahead."
"If you insist." Hutch grabbed the hot dog and lit into it while Starsky fished the other one out of the bag and started eating. Starsky set the large bag of fries in a spot mutually accessible, and watched his partner's hand shoot over almost more often than his own to snare a bunch of fries. "I hope you're happy now," Hutch mumbled through his food.
"You'll go back to your bean sprouts later. Any decent diet book tells you you should treat yourself once in a while."
"Since when do you read diet books?"
"Terry was real health-conscious and she used to go on diets to get rid of some mythical imperfection in her figure--damned if I could ever find one, but she seemed convinced. Anyway, she always would say that she saved her splurges for me because she knew I hated eating salads every time we got together."
"I guess if it comes from Terry, I can trust it then," Hutch replied, still chewing rapturously on the hot dog.
"You two always did gang up on me, you know that, don't you?"
"We did no such thing," Hutch protested, indignant.
"Sure ya did." Starsky was smiling through a mouthful. Not entirely a pretty sight, but a friendly one. "That's why I woulda married her. She fit right in."
"You think Evelyn would fit right in?"
"Sometimes I don't think so." Starsky took a large gulp of his drink. "I get this feeling she wants me to make a choice. It shouldn't be like that. There shouldn't have to be an either/or."
"What made you think Evelyn wanted you to choose?"
"I don't know. It was something that night at her place, when you left--you were upset, and I was starting out to follow you. She wanted me to stay, and I knew she was worried about the whole possession thing and me getting hurt again, and maybe that's all it was, but it seemed like there was some element of wanting to see me make a choice in that whole thing. It was in her eyes...I don't know. I can't really explain it. It was like she was trying to compete with you, make me choose one over the other."
"Zebra three from Control," the radio broke in, keeping Hutch from asking for any clarification of the last remark.
"Zebra Three, what've you got?" Starsky responded.
"See the man named Huggy at The Pits," the voice instructed. New dispatcher. The last one had shortened it to "Go see Huggy".
"Roger, Control." He replaced the speaker and tossed the hot dog wrapper in the bag. Collecting the refuse from their lunch, he pitched it in the nearest trash can and then drove a little faster than necessary to The Pits. Hutch never asked more questions about what Starsky had said. Deep down, he understood it, and Starsky had left Evelyn's and stood by him anyway. No more needed to be said.
Huggy was holding court over a busy lunch hour, delivering drinks and burgers and adding his usual dose of personal charisma to his customers' dining experience.
"Well, if it ain't Butch and Sundance," he joked, returning to the end of the bar to meet his visitors.
"Hey, Hug," Hutch greeted. "What've you got?"
"Somebody spotted your friend Phillips."
"Where?" Starsky asked.
"Old warehouse near the docks. Guy that saw him--Phillips busted him once. Said he looked real rough, kinda weird. He was wearin' black pants, a black shirt and black coat. Went into the warehouse."
"You got an address on it?" Hutch pulled out his notepad, but Huggy handed him a rumpled slip of paper instead. "Thanks, Hug."
"Either one of you two adventurers wanna fill me in on what's goin' on?"
"Another time, another place, man." Starsky led the way back through the crowd and out the door, leaving Huggy to ponder his response. "You got coney sauce in your mustache," he whispered to Hutch just before they parted to go to their respective sides of the car.
"Thanks for telling me that now, partner," Hutch grumbled.
"Sorry. It just kind of loosens up that perfect Hutchinson facade."
"I imagine having a half-orange mustache would, moron," Hutch barked back, rubbing at it angrily with a napkin.
The warehouse to which Huggy had directed them was in a solitary spot, obviously unused for many years. Panes of glass were broken out of the windows, a few rotting crates were stacked against the walls, and the floor was a mass of old newspapers and other debris tumbling around in the wind. Both detectives drew their guns and stealthily made their way further into the building. It wasn't long before they located a gathering of crates which served as shelter for a makeshift bed of old blankets, a few empty food cans and a large plastic trash bag, loosely knotted at the top.
"Do we wanna know what's in that bag?" Starsky asked his partner who had squatted and begun untying it.
"No, but we need to know." Hutch opened the bag and to his horror, pulled out a police uniform, stiffened with sticky reddish-brown stains. "He wore his uniform to do it..."
"Terrific." Starsky crouched next to his partner and joined him in examining the grim discovery. "Even left his name tag on it."
"You know what we should do now." Hutch dropped it back in the bag and straightened up, as did Starsky.
"If we turn this evidence in now, he's going to take a fall for a multiple homicide."
"Starsky, there might be a point where we can't fix this."
"That's easy for us to say. When that thing had you under its control, I did what I had to do to cover for you. And I would've been real grateful to anyone else who did."
"Starsky, what I did to you was horrible, but it wasn't multiple murder. This man is a danger to the community--I wandered around a full day until I came back to your place, and there were no dead bodies in my wake."
"You're right." Starsky took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
"If we cover this up--"
"We're accessories after the fact," Starsky finished Hutch's sentence.
"And if we turn it in, Phillips' life is over." Hutch stared at the bag.
"There's a grim reality here, buddy. It's over anyway." Starsky ran his hand through his hair and stared down at the bag, visibly perplexed. "Even if we can help him, eventually, somebody's gonna find some kind of physical evidence and tie him in. And when they do, we'll go down with him."
"So do we try to help the guy--call a priest, do something to fight the possession?"
"Ya know, he might be better off to be brought in just as he is--the only prayer he's got is if he gets off on an insanity plea. If his eyes roll back in his head and he goes off while he's in custody, he's got a one-way ticket to a nuthouse, and we can probably try to find someone to help him at that point. But if he's all calm and cool and normal when he's in custody, he's going to have a lot harder road ahead to get off the hook for this."
"So we turn these in and play it by the book for now?"
"I think it's the only choice."
While it was the last piece of evidence that would make a police captain happy, Dobey was pleased to see some sort of a lead manifest itself in the Taggert investigation. He postulated that someone did away with Phillips as well and was just using his uniform, but Starsky and Hutch quickly shot holes in that theory by reporting that someone matching his description had been seen going in and out of that warehouse. Dobey okay'd the stake out for that afternoon and evening, or however long it took.
Hutch was stationed in his LTD outside the warehouse, behind another old building, in radio contact with Starsky, who was lurking behind some stacked crates in the warehouse itself. There was another plainclothes unit backing them up, parked on the opposite end of the warehouse from Hutch's location. Two additional officers dressed as dockworkers made frequent trips with various items on handtrucks in and out of the warehouse next door.
"I think rigor mortis just set into my lower back," Starsky grumbled into his radio. It was eight o'clock, and still nothing.
"You remember that spring I told you I had to get fixed?" Hutch responded. He heard a muffled snicker from Starsky.
"I guess this case really is a pain in the ass, isn't it?" he quipped.
"10-4 to that, buddy," Hutch responded, laughing.
"We got somethin'," Starsky whispered.
"Zebra Three to Zebra Nine, we've got something in the warehouse," Hutch reported to the other unit. "See anything?"
"Negative, Zebra Three."
"Starsk?" Hutch checked in with his partner. There was no response. "Starsky!" He tried again. Still nothing. "Zebra Nine, I'm getting no response from Starsky. Give me five minutes and then move in."
"Roger, Zebra Three."
Hutch got out of his car and stealthily made his way along the outer wall of the warehouse. He carefully peered through a broken window, but only saw darkness. Since Starsky was dressed in black and crouched behind a stack of crates, he wouldn't be visible from this angle or distance anyway. There was no other movement visible inside, either. Hutch continued his slither along the wall until he reached a door. He pushed it open slowly and then darted inside, weapon drawn. All that surrounded him were shadows. Was one of them Phillips? Or possibly Starsky? No, Starsky would have seen the flash of blond hair caught by the moonlight that was seeping in the dirty windows. He would have signaled or made himself visible...if he could. Hutch continued his slow walk, weapon drawn, into the center of the empty space. Footsteps made him spin around. What he saw in the moonlight froze his blood and temporarily paralyzed his reflexes.
A tall man with dark hair, dressed all in black, face unnaturally pale...but the eyes...pupils invisible, only yellow, blood vessel-mottled eyeballs staring toward him. It was a form of Phillips, but the thing was controlling him.
"Freeze!" Hutch finally made connections with his instincts and his training. The creature in front of him wasn't impressed by the Magnum pointing at its chest. It continued to advance toward Hutch.
"Hold it right there!" Starsky's voice came from behind. Hutch was immeasurably relieved to see his partner emerge from the shadows, gun pointed at Phillips' back.
"If you take this body from me," the booming voice began, "I will find another. Maybe yours...maybe not. Kill this body and free my spirit." Then it laughed, and lunged toward Hutch. A split-second decision kept him from firing. Phillips, in whatever form he was, was still unarmed. It had its hands on his throat, and he was inches away from the horrible yellow eyes. Starsky found that even a blow to the back of the head with the gun butt did nothing to dissuade the thing in its attack on Hutch.
The back up units were coming in as Starsky holstered his weapon and tried to pry the attacker off his partner.
"Freeze! Police!" one of the other detectives yelled. Starsky couldn't pry the powerful hands off Hutch's throat, and he gave up the struggle, unwilling to chance serious injury to his partner any further.
"Let him go, Phillips, or I'm going to shoot you!" Starsky drew his weapon, and the other man didn't respond.
Starsky fired once, and the slug tore into the other man's back, but he didn't let go. Starsky's response was to empty a full round into him. The devastated body fell sideways off Hutch and sprawled on its back on the floor next to him. Hutch sat up, coughing and trying to clear his throat.
"Hey, partner, you okay?" Starsky crouched next to him while the other officers swarmed around the dead man, shocked exclamations about his identity buzzing in the air. Some ran for the outside, to call for a coroner's wagon and crime lab team. Others simply watched in mute shock.
"Thought I was a goner there for a minute," he croaked. "Damn, I didn't want to," he paused to cough, "have to kill the guy."
"That makes two of us. But it was him or you."
"I did that to you?" Hutch whispered, shocked.
"Yeah, but I guess you weren't too good at it, Magic Fingers. I'm still here."
Dobey arrived on the scene shortly ahead of the coroner's people. He spotted his two detectives seated on the floor, Hutch still rubbing his neck with Starsky hovering in attendance.
"I heard what happened. You better get your partner to a hospital," he said gruffly. "I think I hear the ambulance now."
"Captain, Phillips wasn't himself--it was like we tried to tell you--"
"Starsky, just hold it right there. Phillips obviously had some psychological problems we knew nothing about."
"He almost killed Hutch--and the bloody clothes--aren't you just dismissing this awfully fast?"
"All right, major psychological problems then. Now get your partner out to that ambulance. We'll need a copy of the hospital report to verify the threat to his life that would justify the shooting." Dobey took a last look at the sprawled corpse of Keith Phillips, shook his head and walked out of the building.
"Come on, pal. Let's go get you looked at." Starsky stood up and then reached back to pull his partner to his feet.
"I don't believe Dobey's doing this," Hutch said as he rose.
"CYA time, I guess."
The doctor's report was obtained, x-rays taken and the determination made that beyond severe bruising, no serious damage was done. The doctor did emphasize that more severe damage would have resulted had the attack been prolonged beyond the time it lasted. The combination of the doctor's assessment and the testimony of the other officers on the scene, including Phillips' own partner, would be sufficient to consider Starsky's use of deadly force to be reasonable.
Aaron Hanover was probably the last person either detective wanted to run into at the hospital, but he wasn't nearly as antagonistic as they might have expected.
"You okay, Hutch?" he asked as they paused in the hall.
"I've got a sore throat and a stiff neck, but I'll be fine. We're really sorry about the way things turned out. Neither of us wanted--"
"Hey, Starsky gave him all the chances to surrender. I saw him lunge at you when we started coming in to back you guys up. You could've shot him then but you didn't. I just don't understand why he did it."
"Sometimes people have problems we don't even know about," Starsky offered, knowing it was weak, but not wanting to try to explain an incredible truth this man would probably never believe.
"They're trying to say he killed that family." Hanover shook his head slowly.
"They haven't proven anything yet, but it doesn't look good," Hutch responded.
"What brings you here anyway?" Starsky asked.
"Keith's wife works in the Maternity Ward here. I wanted to tell her in person. She's on the late shift tonight."
"You want company?" Starsky offered.
"No, thanks. I think I should tell her one on one. There's a lot of weird stuff to explain."
"Truer words were never spoken," Hutch responded, starting to move away. "We're sorry again about your partner."
Hutch relinquished the driving of the LTD to Starsky, preferring to move his neck as little as possible. He'd refused a neck brace, convinced it was more uncomfortable than nothing, but now he couldn't find a good position for his head.
"Neck hurt?" Starsky asked. Hutch swallowed the retort of 'What do you think?' Starsky was obviously trying to be sympathetic.
"I've felt better."
"I've got one of those neck pillow things--you might sleep better with some support under it."
"Voice of experience, huh?"
"We've all been through the mill on this one. Even Dobey. You want to stay with me tonight? I mean, Fulton is flying around out there somewhere."
"Scary thought. Yeah, go ahead to your place." Hutch rubbed at his neck again and cursed under his breath. The choice of nasty words brought a faint smile to Starsky, who kept his mouth shut and his eyes on the road. "You need to say something, smart ass?" Hutch probed irritably.
"I don't know if I've ever heard all those words together in one grammatically correct sentence before," Starsky said through a broadening smile he was trying to control.
"Stick around. You'll probably hear more."
"Home sweet home." Starsky brought the car to a stop outside his apartment.
"Probably nothing but green salami in the fridge," Hutch grumbled.
"I don't keep green meat in my refrigerator." Starsky got out of the car, and Hutch followed, a little amused by the indignant tone in his partner's voice. "I'll order us a pizza."
"Great. Chili dogs and pizza. Great nutrition for the day."
"Oh shut up, will ya? Bitch, bitch, bitch..." Starsky muttered while he unlocked his front door.
"Guess I'm complaining a lot, huh?" Hutch said a little regretfully, sinking with a wince into the soft cushions of the couch while Starsky locked the door behind them.
"You're entitled, buddy." Starsky patted Hutch's shoulder as he passed the couch. "Why don't you grab a shower and I'll order us something to eat? I know the guy at the pizza place--I'll get him to do one with light cheese, mushrooms, peppers and onions--how's that?"
"Sounds great. You're willing to eat a pizza like that?"
"Hell no. I'm gonna order a normal one for myself," Starsky answered, picking up the phone.
"Starsk?" Hutch's quiet question made his partner freeze mid-dial and hang up the phone.
"His eyes...I never saw anything like that before." Hutch dreaded asking the question, but as Starsky slipped quietly into the room and sat on the arm of the couch near him, he braved it. "Did I...were my eyes...like that?" Starsky only nodded. "My God," he murmured, closing his eyes.
"Hey, come on, pal. It's over. You're okay. Besides, you were always there somewhere behind those eyes. And you beat him." Starsky looked down at his partner, unable to remember seeing Hutch this tired and worried since coming to in the hospital late one night and seeing that same face settled in an uneasy sleep, not trusting that Starsky's emergence from the coma would last, sweating out every minute Starsky slept as if he wouldn't wake up again. For some reason, seeing the such complete exhaustion and fear in those familiar features had made Starsky feel very protective of his partner from then on.
Hutch had moved on from the possession incident with surprising resilliency, but the bounce-back was surface-level, like so many others Starsky had watched over the years. The brush with heroin and Jeannie's departure--making all Hutch's suffering seem almost useless because he ended up without the woman he cared so much about who was the cause of it in the first place...Gillian's death...the long days pinned under a wrecked car at the bottom of the canyon...Hutch spent so much time being strong and keeping all of it tucked under that calm surface, that it ate away at him from the inside. He might react at the moment, and only with Starsky, but then it was quickly buried again and it was business as usual. The brush with Fulton's spirit, and the things Hutch had been forced to do to his partner while in that state had obviously continued to tear him up long after it was over.
"I'm sorry, Starsk," he murmured, opening his eyes to look up at his partner. Starsky responded with a wide, affectionate grin.
"You've got nothin' to apologize for, 'cept maybe your weird eating habits, blondie." He ruffled Hutch's hair a little. His expression became more serious. "I know this has been hard on you too, Hutch. It's okay to complain a little if you want. You don't have any less right to it just because most of the blows you took were from the inside. Those wounds hurt just as much, and take longer to heal up."
"I'm scared, Starsk."
"I know. So'm I."
"You don't know what it's like to feel someone else in control of you--invading that part of you that's exclusively yours...your...soul. I'm afraid of it happening again. I was afraid it was going to happen tonight--that he'd pass out of Phillips into me somehow."
"He's never going to get a hold of you again. Believe in that."
"How can you be so damn sure?" Hutch closed his eyes again.
"Because I said so." That response brought a furrowed brow, opened eyes and incredulous expresssion from Hutch.
"Whenever my mother was backed into a corner for an explanantion, it worked for her." Starsky smiled a little. "Seriously, Hutch, he can't have you, and that's just a simple fact. I've got prior claim, and if he tries it, I'll kick his ass again."
"Go order the pizza, huh?" Hutch looked up at him with a slight smile.
The Taggert case was officially closed within the week. The physical evidence against Keith Phillips was irrefutable, and there was little use attempting to make paranormal arguments to clear the dead man's name. Needless to say, the press had a field day with blazing headlines about the psychotic cop who went mad and chopped up an entire family. The Maplecrest investigation faltered even more pitifully under the efforts of the commissioner's hand-picked task force. They questioned and re-questioned faculty and staff, harassed the caretaker and his wife until a suit was filed against the police department, and still came up empty.
Fulton disappeared. For a few glorious weeks, it seemed as if he had evaporated somehow, though neither detective felt comfortable with that concept. Hutch didn't sleep a peaceful night wondering where the entity might be, or when he might meet up with it again. Starsky made his trip to Ginny's for the lasagna dinner, and Hutch managed to mend some fences with Lorraine. Evelyn began her teaching position and seemed swept away on the tides of university life again, although she and Starsky exchanged a few marathon phone calls to stay in touch. They had the best of intentions for another evening out, or even a quick lunch on UCLA's campus, but her meetings and his caseload seemed to keep pre-empting them.
During these deceptive weeks, everything seemed normal. Until Dobey summoned the partners into his office to discuss with them a very disturbing and bizarre situation occurring in the community which had been brought to his attention by the coroner's office. It couldn't exactly be an official homicide case, but it had some unnerving implications.
"Over the last few weeks, there have been an abnormal number of suicides showing up on the M.E.'s table," Dobey began, opening a file folder. "All have been violent, rather bloody incidents--slashed wrists, throats...even one hari kiri." Dobey took a deep breath. "There have been twenty in all. What I want you two to do is start digging around in these folks' backgrounds, go talk to the families--find something that links them all together."
"You know, Captain, what this suggests, based on some of the evidence in the Maplecrest--"
"Don't do this, Hutch." Dobey leaned back in his chair. In the last couple of months, he had seen the emotional toll the Maplecrest and Taggert cases had taken on these two. There was a haggard look about them that came from the stress of unsolvable cases and the burden of being refused any departmental support for what they knew to be true. "Listen, I know there were some strange things going on connected with Maplecrest and the Taggert case. The fact remains that there's nothing we can do about that. This is a police department. We're not exorcists, we're cops. And you can't spend the rest of your careers looking behind every tree for evil spirits. Now there's something strange going on here, but I doubt it has anything to do with demonic possession. Just take a fresh perspective on this one before you drive yourselves nuts."
"Yes, sir." Starsky stood up and took the folder from him. Dobey could remember precious few times Starsky had ever addressed him so formally, and it had usually only been under the duress of knowing he was in job-threatening hot water.
"Yes, Captain?" He was almost standing at attention, and purposely challenging Dobey with a respect that bordered on insubordination. Dobey knew that concept was absurd by definition, which is why it is such an effective weapon to use in place of a temper tantrum to express one's disgust with a superior. 'Yes, Commissioner, I suspended Starsky because he was being too respectful.' Starsky's spirit may have been a little wounded, but it was most definitely not broken. There was a spark of insolence behind those eyes that enraged Dobey, yet it lurked there like a smoldering ember, not obvious enough to punish. Hutchinson almost appeared to quiet too easily, as if the fatigue obvious in his eyes prevented him from launching his usual energetic, finger-waving, pacing arguments. It was the toll this case was taking on Hutch that had Starsky as angry and pugilistic in temperament as he was.
"Get out of here, both of you." It had become Dobey's standard dismissal line with these two. The commissioner had made it clear that he would tolerate no more paranormal exploits from Dobey or any of his men, and when it was obvious that such things were still happening, the men in the trenches had to ride it out and handle it, while Dobey kept his distance, and his job. He despised the line in the sand the commissioner had forced him to draw. Gone were the days of the occasional congenial three-way lunch spread on Dobey's desk, or the intentionally mis-thrown water cup that landed on the floor. Starsky and Hutch had become an even more inseparable, mutually-defensive me-and-thee unit than they had been before, if that was possible. Any angry word fired at one was fightin' words to the other, whereas they used to maintain a certain silence unless the one under attack was unable to defend himself. Starsky had come to guard his partner like some kind of rabid pit bull, while Hutchinson was never more than a hiccup away from Starsky, taking any negative remark directed at his partner very personally. Dobey watched them move toward the door, Hutchinson hauling himself out of the chair and walking out of the office while Starsky held the door. It closed quietly behind them.
"Can ya believe the nerve'a that guy?" Starsky slapped the file on the desk. "Gives us these...these freak cases and then starts raggin' on us when we figure out the score. We knew it wouldn't be much longer before Fulton turned up again." Starsky was pacing angrily. Hutch settled in his desk chair and yawned. "You okay?" Starsky seemed to pause in his tirade.
"Yeah, sure. Just tired."
"Tired 'cause you're not sleepin' at night."
"That does catch up with you after a bit, I guess." Hutch smiled a little. "Hey, your turn to buy lunch, Gordo."
Hutch was still reading the file Dobey had given them when Starsky returned with lunch, and it occurred to him he'd been gone almost thirty minutes. In that time, it didn't appear Hutch had moved, and he wasn't sure his partner had progressed past the first page of the file. The blond detective looked up as Starsky set a take-out carrier with a bag of burgers and two drinks on the desktop between them and sat across from him.
"What'd you find out?" He nodded toward the file in front of his partner.
"Well, I made us a list of stops to make. I thought we could touch base with the relatives first, see what made these people do themselves in."
"Great. A whole day of talking to suicide victims' families. I knew we needed something to cheer us up."
A full day of moving from one grieving family to the next was a little trying on one's morale, not to mention the fact that all the victims were people considered to be well-adjusted who showed absolutely no signs of depression or suicidal tendencies. They ranged in age from senior citizen to twelve-year-old. But a pattern did emerge by midway through the day that was more than a little unnerving: all the victims had recently visited the funeral home for a friend who committed suicide. Those friends were all part of the list in the case file. The first suicide to launch the trend was a woman who was a close friend of the Phillips family and had made a funeral home visitation as well as attended the funeral. The revelation was not only terrifying but discouraging. In one afternoon and evening of investigating, the mystery was solved. They still had nothing, however, to present to Dobey.
A radio call from Minnie broke up their early evening ride toward Huggy's.
"Go ahead, Min," Starsky picked up the call as Hutch drove.
"The emergency dispatcher just got a call from Stoneridge Condominiums--isn't that where that college professor you know lives, Starsky?"
"That's it. They get an address?"
"Ahh, 16B," she read back to him.
"Damn, that's Evelyn's. Thanks, Minnie." He broke the connection and slapped the flasher on the roof of the car as Hutch hit the accelerator and careened down a side street that would take them toward Stoneridge.
The gates were open, and an ambulance was speeding through them when they arrived. The guard at the gate flagged them through as Hutch flashed his police ID, barely slowing up for the approval. There were two black and white units there already, and another plainclothes team had arrived moments earlier and were going in through the front door.
"What's going on here?" Starsky asked one of the uniformed cops who were exiting the condo.
"Suicide. A wrist job." He kept moving toward his vehicle, and Starsky sat against the front of one of the police cars, stunned by the news.
"Damn it," Hutch muttered under his breath. He rested his hand on Starsky's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Starsk."
"I shoulda made sure we got together. My keepin' on just puttin' it off because of our dumb schedule--it musta been about the last straw," he mumbled.
"Do you seriously think this has anything to do with you? Starsky, look at what we've been investigating all day. What do you want to bet she knew Walt Humphreys?" Hutch referred to the last suicide, a wealthy man living in the Beverly Hills area. "I say we talk to his family, ask to see the guest book--or if any of them remembers Evelyn."
"I can't do this right now. I...I want to see her." He stood up and headed for the house but Hutch caught him by the arm.
"Fulton's been working his way back, don't you see that? Don't go near her."
"This is crazy!" Starsky yanked his arm away and resumed his walk toward the door.
"Starsky!" Hutch caught up to him easily and pulled him back, pushing him against the wall near the front door. "Listen to me, buddy. I know you cared about Evelyn, but we've gotta be careful."
"Then let's get outta here." Starsky hurried toward the car, and Hutch followed, sliding into the driver's seat and heading away from the scene, not exactly knowing where it was he was supposed to be heading.
"You okay, Starsk?" Hutch finally probed his silent partner.
"This is never gonna end, Hutch. We can't end it." Starsky slumped back in the seat and exhaled loudly. "I just let things slide with her...never called her like I said I would...got so damned wrapped up in this case...What if she did this, and it has nothing to do with Fulton?"
"Either way, it wasn't your fault, Starsk. But I would bet a year's salary it has everything to do with Fulton." Hutch glanced back at his partner. "If she knew Humphreys--"
"Right. I know. That's the link. But why would he take such a weird route back to us?"
"Element of surprise. It was just chance that someone in the M.E.'s office thought to call Dobey's attention to the influx of suicides, and that we made the connections. Besides, we keep overlooking the fact that Fulton is a homicidal maniac. Making people murder themselves, using their own bodies as the tools of their destruction would appeal to him. Meanwhile, he found the ultimate way to body-hop. He's hidden from us ever since Phillips was killed, but he's been working his way back. If you made enough chain-reaction connections, you could probably wind up in touch with just about anyone you wanted to eventually."
"I can't believe she's dead, Hutch," Starsky said quietly, a catch in his voice. "I mean things didn't really go anywhere major between us, maybe they never really started...I don't know what I mean."
"Let's go home, huh?" Hutch reached over and squeezed Starsky's arm. "We're not thinking too clearly now. We'll get some rest and tackle this tomorrow."
"Okay." Starsky covered Hutch's hand briefly with his own and then resumed staring out the window.
Hutch tossed and turned most of the night. Starsky was curled up on the couch, and since he had heard no sounds from him, Hutch didn't want to drag him into his insomnia. Starsky had been deeply affected by Evelyn's death, and was managing to find ways to blame himself for it. It seemed like nothing Hutch could say would change his mind that he was somehow responsible because he hadn't been as attentive as he should have been, or because his head was being increasingly turned by Ginny. It was all the usual dating games people play, and his partner certainly hadn't given Evelyn any impression their relationship was heading toward monogamy. Hell, as far as Hutch knew, there wasn't any "relationship" existing that would even suggest that.
Driven nearly insane by three a.m., Hutch got out of bed, went to the bathroom and got himself a drink of water. That killed at least five minutes, and he hoped for that feeling of fatigue you sometimes get when you've been unable to sleep and call your body's bluff and get up. It didn't happen. He slithered out to the kitchen and looked in the refrigerator. Starsky had refused any form of food, and Hutch had wound up eating part of a leftover pasta salad over the sink for his dinner. Its lasting power was not exceptional. He ate a cup of yogurt, then moved on to a banana.
A muffled sound from the couch caught his attention. Starsky wasn't up, because there was no sign of the rumpled curls rising over the back of the cushions. Hutch abandoned his banana and walked around the end of the couch. In the traces of moonlight, it was obvious Starsky was very much awake, having decreasing levels of success muffling his crying.
"Sorry I woke you," he managed.
"You didn't, buddy." Hutch sat on the coffee table and stroked his partner's hair lightly. "I know there was something there between you two from the start--a kind of attraction, something special."
"I can't explain it. I know it probably wasn't going to work," he said quietly, wiping tears off his face with the back of his hand, though more were waiting to take their place.
"Go ahead and let go, buddy. It's okay." Hutch moved to sit on the edge of the couch and put his arm around Starsky's back, rubbing gently.
"Maybe if I...had paid more...attention to her... What...if...she did it...herself...because of me?" he asked through steadily falling tears.
"Trust me, Starsk, this wasn't your fault. Even if Evelyn did this without influence from any other source, you can't hold yourself responsible for what someone else does. We've been so wrapped up in this mess we haven't had time to do anything. Actually, I think you two kept in touch pretty well considering all the changes she was going through and what we've been up against at work. This couldn't be your fault. She didn't indicate thinking any suicidal thoughts or she didn't seem unusually depressed when you talked to her."
"I can't help it. I feel responsible." Starsky was quieting now, sniffing and trying to pull himself back together.
"I know. Nothing I say is probably going to change that, is it, pal?" It was a rhetorical question, and Hutch just let it hang there while he sat quietly, his hand resting on Starsky's back, just giving him an occasional pat. "That's part of Fulton's evil, you know. Just like he made me attack you, like he found a way into me because I felt so responsible for Grodin and Merriweather. He does something that somehow makes you feel so damn guilty and horrible about yourself that it lets him in--makes you feel like you're in league with him somehow. Don't let him do that to you."
"Maybe all along, our timing was just off. You know...kinda star-crossed or something."
"It was, buddy. Probably for both of you. And that's nobody's fault. I wish we could chalk this up to something as explainable as depression or grief and assume she simply committed suicide. But I don't think that happened. I think when you've gotten a little sleep and the fog clears, you'll probably agree with me."
"When I get some sleep? Who is it that's wandering around, raiding the refrigerator at three in the morning? Since I've spilled my guts here, you wanna let me in on why you don't sleep anymore? I'm worried about ya, pal. You look like a zombie."
"This coming from the authority on them. How many times have you seen 'Night of the Living Dead' anyway?"
"You don't wanna know," Starsky replied, smiling slightly. "But don't change the subject." Starsky flopped on his back, dislodging Hutch's hand from its resting spot and encouraging him to move back to the coffee table, since there was only about a third of one buttock keeping him from hitting the floor anyway.
"I've got this feeling we need to be on guard. It's like there's an internal alarm that gets me back up every time I doze off. Seems like I just don't doze off anymore..." Hutch stared into space.
"Why don't you give it a try tonight? Come on, let me stand guard for a while. I'm wide awake anyway. I can just watch the tube or read for a while."
"You trying to get rid of me?" Hutch stood up, smiling a little, and Starsky stood up also, ushering him back toward his bed.
"Nah, but I wouldn't mind getting rid of that spaced-out zombie that needs about four hours to read one page of a file. Just unwind a little, Hutch. I'm okay, and I'll be up anyway."
"You're okay?" Hutch repeated, his skepticism obvious.
"I just need to sort a few things out. A little quiet time to think'll do me good. Now just get in bed and get some sleep, will ya?"
"Yeah, we've got what, a whole two hours before I have to get up again?" Hutch looked at he bedside clock, which announced that it was 3:45.
"Some's better'n none," Starsky responded, almost managing to sound light-hearted. He watched Hutch slide under the covers and settle instantly into the pillow.
"You're going to be up?" he muttered sleepily with his eyes closed.
"I'll keep the watch, babe. You sleep." Starsky didn't know if Hutch heard him, or felt him gently lift a few stray strands of blond hair away from his eyes. What would it be like to have someone possess you, take over your soul? Would you be afraid to sleep, to relinquish control of your consciousness? Afraid you'd wake up someone else? Probably. Starsky squatted next to the bed and watched Hutch sleep. Just like bein' on a two-week stakeout with no relief, eh buddy? We've trusted each other with our lives, so I guess you can fall asleep and trust me with your soul, Starsky thought as he straightened and walked out to Hutch's little jungle.
All those plants, all demanding some special kind of care to keep them flourishing. Starsky scanned the greenhouse area for any kind of instructions, but he found none. Hutch cared enough to know, off the top of his head, what each scraggly little critter needed. Starsky smiled to himself, remembering the laundry list of care and feeding instructions that were among the first words out of Hutch's mouth as he recuperated from the plague. It was akin to, "Oh, yeah, Starsk, it's good to see you too, buddy. Now my fern needs feeding and my diffenbachia needs..." and so on, and so on. He was surprised the plants didn't have Hutch's work number posted somewhere just in case of an emergency. Some kid should be so lucky to draw a dad like that someday.
Hutch stirred, but didn't want to relinquish the delicious comfort of closed eyelids. He could feel a little breeze coming in the window. It was amazing in this grimy city how fresh the air could smell in the morning. There was also a lingering smell of coffee mixed in there somewhere, though it didn't seem as strong as if it were just brewed. He stretched a little at first, then a lot, and grunted in the pure, relaxed satisfaction of the gesture. Relaxed...what in the hell was he doing relaxed? Where was the alarm?! His eyes snapped open and he rolled over to check the clock. It was almost 11:00! He threw back the covers and grabbed his robe, rushing out of the bedroom area. As his eyes darted around, he spotted a slumped form in a chaise lounge among the plants. Starsky was calmly sitting there, reading a book on how to raise a healthy fern, sipping coffee. It's eleven-freakin'-o'clock, and Starsky's just sitting there as if being three hours late for work was no big thing.
"Do you know what time it is?" Hutch demanded, trying to figure out how to straighten hair that was shooting in all directions. He felt as if he must have slept standing on his head to mess it up this effectively.
"'Morning, sleepyhead," Starsky greeted cheerfully. "I called us in. Relax. I told Dobey you were sick and I was going to stay with you."
"How many times have we called in sick--"
"Hutch, he knows those were phonies. He seemed to buy this. We don't have much reason to be fakin' it now. Besides, I couldn't wake you up. I went in there at six and you were sleeping so soundly, I just thought that was more important than going in. I'm sorry if you're mad, but you were too exhausted to do anybody any good."
"Can't argue with that. Thanks. I feel...almost human," Hutch concluded with a chuckle.
"Take the load off. I'll get you breakfast." Starsky got out of the lounger and gave Hutch's arm a gentle shove toward it as he headed for the kitchen.
"You're going to fix breakfast?" Hutch let the fear seep into his voice.
"Trust me. I'll make us brunch. I didn't feel too hungry earlier this morning either, but I'm gettin' there."
"How're you doin', anyway?" Hutch didn't argue with Starsky's offer to cook. He slumped in the lounger and batted a little black bug away from his face, making a mental note of three plants to investigate to find the offender.
"Okay." It was a succinct answer, but all Starsky seemed prepared to give.
"Did Dobey have any additional info about Evelyn?"
"He said they found her in the bathroom, in her robe, sitting on a step that went down into the garden tub. She was slumped against the wall." Starsky's voice was very controlled and clinical as he began working with two small skillets on top of the stove. This was obviously going to involve omelets.
"I really am sorry, buddy."
"I know." Starsky didn't say anything else while he worked silently chopping ingredients and tossing them into the pans. Hutch let himself be lulled into the peace of the moment, and found himself almost dozing again in the lounger. He had lost count of how many nights he hadn't slept. It seemed as though once Fulton's evil influence was driven out, his only feeling of security was his consciousness, and a continuing vigilance against any unusual sensations or bouts of confusion and restlessness, like those that preceeded the possession. "Hey, Sleeping Beauty, you wanna meander in here? I'm gonna have too much food to haul out to ya."
Hutch returned to the kitchen and took his place at the table while Starsky put on a spread fit for a king. He never ceased to be surprised how his partner, the junk food junkie, could whip together a pretty impressive meal when necessary. There were two fat omelettes, toast, juice, coffee and fresh donuts he had obviously slipped out to get earlier.
"This looks great."
"Good. Eat up. You're gettin' too skinny."
"This oughtta take care of that." Hutch smiled as he carved the first bite of his omelet. "Starsk, I really appreciate this. I was dead on my feet."
"Don't mention it. We were way overdue for a day off anyway." Starsky ate contentedly, though his misery over Evelyn's passing still seemed to lurk beneath the upbeat exterior. Horror was almost "all in a day's work" for them both now, and the curves this case was throwing them were ceasing to terrify them the way they once had. Overcoming Hutch's possession had given them a feeling of safety and security in their unified front, and as long as they both had that to hold onto, they seemed prepared to face the other atrocities as they came. The attempt to invade their partnership had been rebuffed, though not easily. It had proven to be an ultimately impenetrable fortress. Not that either of them was surprised by that fact.
A visit to the family of Walter Humphreys confirmed that Evelyn did, indeed, know him well. They had been members of several of the same social and civic groups. Evelyn visited the funeral home and attended the funeral services. There was little way to prevent Evelyn Lansing's family from planning her funeral and having the body shown at a funeral home. Ironically, through Dr. Hernandez, the expert in the paranormal Evelyn had contacted to comment on the case for the newspaper, the two detectives were put in touch with a priest who also did work on occasion as an exorcist. He agreed to meet them after hours at the funeral home and say a blessing over Evelyn's body, and take it from there, depending on what happened. The family was not to know of any of this, and it was only a tall tale woven by Starsky to the funeral director that made any of it possible.
According to Starsky, due to the bizarre circumstances surrounding the events at Maplecrest, and Evelyn's belief that they were supernatural in origin, she had requested that a man of the cloth say certain prayers over her in the event of her demise to ensure that she was in no way tainted by the evil she suspected to be at play. The elderly man was highly skeptical, but Starsky put on the appropriate performance as a desperate man in love trying to honor his lady's last wishes. Part of it was an act, part of it came from a part of him that had fallen for Evelyn, but the most important part came from his conviction that this might be their last chance to stop Fulton in his tracks. The funeral director finally agreed, though hesitantly, to allow them to bring in the priest after the family and friends had left and the funeral home had locked its doors for the night. For the duration of the viewing hours, they would try to be unobtrusive, but planned to stand a sort of guard over the proceedings, hoping to prevent Fulton from making another "transfer".
It seemed strange to be dressed in the same dark suit he had worn to meet with Evelyn the first time as he looked down into her casket. The pearl colored coffin was lined with a white velvety material, and Evelyn's yellow hair blended beautifully with the colors. She was dressed in a light blue dress, nothing Starsky remembered seeing before. He realized, of course, he hadn't known Evelyn long enough or spent enough time with her to consider that unusual. He wished strangely he could see her one more time in her royal blue dress, her hair spilling on her shoulders...dancing at Fever...He laughed a little to himself as he contemplated that he was probably the only person in the room to have that imagery of Evelyn Lansing running through his mind.
He noted the spray of pink roses and white baby's breath that graced the lower half of the casket. There were dozens of arrangements of all varieties, making a jungle of flowers around the box that held the corpse of the woman most of these people had either shunned, fired or ignored like a social pariah after she burned the painting. The hypocrisy of seeing a card announcing the sympathies of the Maplecrest Board of Control made him want to scream, smash the vase into a million pieces...make Evelyn laugh wherever she was in the next realm at the pure decadence of the gesture. Maybe I could pluck them off with my gun, he thought, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth at the same time a tear slid down his cheek.
You'd appreciate that, Evelyn. I was going to start calling you Ev, do you know that? I wonder if you'd have liked that, or been annoyed by it? Evelyn was so formal and cold, and you had so much vibrance and life and rebellion lurking under the surface. Was I too damn busy to notice I was falling in love with you? I didn't belong in your world, God knows, and it was a stretch for you to come into mine, but since when has that precluded falling in love? I guess I love you after all. Damn stupid useless time to realize it, Ev. I didn't do a hell of a lot to protect you, either. I let you fight this on the front lines, because you were so strong. You were strong enough to do it, so I let you. I tried to save you that night when I got stuck in the college...but I didn't watch out for you like I should have. And he got you. I wouldn't let him have Hutch, so he took you. I'm sorry, Ev. I hope you can hear me, and that you know I thought you were one of the most exceptional women I've ever met. Well, at least I brought you one of these while you were still alive to touch it and smell it and know it reminded me of you...
Starsky brushed her cheek lightly with the single white rose he held in his hand and laid it next to her on the pillow.
Her eyes opened...mottled yellow in the artificial orange pink of the mortician's makeup. Then she winked at him, and smiled a hiddeous, brown-toothed smile.
And everything went black.
Hutch had been hanging back, staying out of the way of the immediate family, and trying to give his partner some time to make his last visit to Evelyn. When Starsky suddenly collapsed next to the casket, he was at his side before any of the other mourners could even react.
"Starsk, come on, it's me." Hutch pulled the motionless form to him so Starsky rested mostly across his lap, his head cradled in Hutch's arms. "Hey, buddy, it's Hutch, can ya say something to me, pal?" He was lightly tapping cheeks that had drained of all color. A girl suddenly emerged from among the mourners carrying a glass of water and knelt beside the two of them. The long dark hair and large almond eyes were familiar, but she identified herself quickly.
"I'm Jenny Moore--remember me? Let me try." She dipped her hand in the cold water and tried tapping Starsky's face that way. The shock of the cold water seemed to be bringing him around. "My sister has trouble with fainting spells, and that always works," she explained softly to Hutch as Starsky opened his eyes slowly. The sudden spasm of his body almost threw her off balance and startled Hutch.
"Hey, partner, it's okay. Can you talk to me, buddy?"
"Hutch, you didn't...see..." His eyes were wide with panic, and he grabbed the lapels of Hutch's suit with both hands.
"I'll leave you guys alone." Jenny stood up with a slight smile and tried to discourage the other people in the room from gawking at them while Hutch tried to bring his partner back to reality.
"Starsk, you think you could stand up? We could go in the other room and have a talk. You can tell me all about it," he said soothingly, trying to encourage Starsky to stand up, but he seemed almost frozen where he was. "Come on, buddy. There's a couch in the other room. You can rest there until you feel better." Starsky finally nodded slightly and allowed himself to be pulled to his feet and led by the arm into the small sitting room next to the showing room.
"I thought I saw Jenny," he mumbled as Hutch guided him to sit on the couch. Starsky didn't seem inclined to lie down, so Hutch sat next to him and put an arm around him.
"You did. She saw you pass out and helped me bring you out of it."
"Evelyn...God, Hutch, her eyes...she opened her eyes, Hutch!" He seemed to be getting some of his reason back, but what he was saying was more absurd than the initial babblings of semi-consciousness.
"Hey, just calm down, buddy. What're you saying?"
"I'm saying she opened her eyes, and they were that awful-looking yellow, and she...she winked at me...and...smiled..." Starsky seemed transported back to the horror of the experience as he related it. "Her teeth, Hutch, they were all brown and it was...it was the worst thing I ever saw in my life! She's supposed to be dead!" His voice was shaky, but he didn't appear to be hysterical or incoherent--just terrified.
"I've got to go in and have a look at her, buddy. Can you wait right here for me?"
"No!" He grabbed Hutch's sleeve and yanked him back down to a sitting position as he tried to stand. "Don't go in there! Don't go near her, please."
"Okay, Starsk. I won't go near her. Just calm down, buddy." Hutch put his arm back around Starsky and squeezed. "If anyone else was seeing anything, we'd be hearing about it by now anyway."
"I didn't imagine it," Starsky declared defensively.
"I know that," Hutch responded softly, rubbing Starsky's shoulder.
"We've got to get those people outta there, Hutch, away from her."
"How? The best we can do is keep watch. We can't stop the family from having her shown."
"Guess we better get back in there, huh?"
"You feel okay?"
"Little tipsy but okay."
"Ready to try your land legs again, pal?" Hutch stood up and tugged at Starsky's elbow. The other stood readily.
"Let's go." Starsky led the way back into the room, avoiding eye contact with most of the other mourners. He didn't feel like he had much dignity left after falling on the floor next to the casket, and since he hadn't met most of Evelyn's family or friends, he was getting a number of odd looks.
"Sergeant Starsky?" A voice startled him from behind. Jenny Moore approached him. "Feeling better?" She smiled warmly.
"Much, thanks. And call me Dave, okay?"
"Okay, Dave. I didn't know you knew Dr. Lansing so well."
"We got to be good friends during and after my time at Maplecrest. She was a special lady...Jenny, you've been in on this from the start. I don't see any point in being cagey with you. The haunting...it isn't over," he whispered. "I can't really explain it all right now, other than to tell you that it's not safe to be here."
"The shadow made Ev--Dr. Lansing--do what she did. And he's not far away. I know it sounds crazy, but at least I can tell you, warn you..."
"It's not that I don't believe you, but how...?"
"By possessing people--he gets into their souls, takes over, makes them commit suicide, and then he moves to someone else who comes in contact with the body."
"Oh my God." Jenny dropped into a straight chair that was behind her, and Starsky occupied the one next to it.
"We've got one last chance to try and stop it tonight. If we fail then...I don't know what's gonna happen."
"What're you going to do?"
"We've called in a priest--an exorcist."
"This is amazing." She glanced uneasily up at the casket. Evelyn's profile and yellow hair were just barely visible from this angle. "He's in...her?"
"I saw it--that's why I passed out. I guess it was just the shock...she opened her eyes." At his statement, Jenny's sharp intake of breath drew a couple of strange looks from other mourners, and he reached out to pat her arm as if consoling her.
"You're going to be here tonight?"
"I have to be. But I want you to leave, now, and promise me you won't come back near here again tonight. If you don't hear from me again, don't ever go near Dr. Lansing's remains, or her grave--understood?"
"Understood," she repeated, solemly.
"I think you should go now."
"I will." She stood, and Starsky walked her to the door. "Dave--be careful, huh?"
"Promise." He smiled a little weakly. "You know the truth about all this, Jenny. If something happens to both of us tonight, don't let yourself get dragged into it. You promise me that, okay?"
"Okay." She smiled back, and squeezed his arm quickly before hurrying out the door.
Starsky returned to the viewing room, where Hutch was trying to make conversation with a couple of well-dressed society matrons. Starsky had no doubt in his partner's ability to do so, but he pitied him nonetheless. Starsky was busy concentrating on remaining as invisible as possible after collapsing in front of the crowd earlier, but Gwen Randolph, Evelyn's sister, sought him out in the dimly lit corner of the room where he occupied a chair.
"You're David Starsky, aren't you?" she asked, extending her hand. "Gwen Randolph, remember?" she prompted as he stood and shook her hand.
"Of course. I'm very sorry about Evelyn. She was an amazing lady."
"I knew you two were friends, but I didn't realize you had become so close."
"If it hadn't been for our bizarre schedules the last few weeks, I think we'd have spent more time together. I really thought a lot of her."
"And she of you," Gwen responded, smiling warmly. She sat on the edge of a nearby couch, and he returned to the chair he had occupied. "Evelyn said you were 'a breath of fresh air' at Maplecrest. Of course, she'd never admit in so many words to me what she thought of any man she was seeing, but I've never seen her as happy as she was when she described going to that disco--what was it called?"
"Fever," Starsky replied, smiling a little. Gwen Randolph was shorter than her sister, a bit heavier, with short, curly blonde hair and glasses. He estimated that Gwen was the elder sister by about six or seven years. "We had a pretty good time there."
"She never went to places like that, so you can imagine how surprised I was when she told me about it." Gwen looked up toward the front of the room. "I still don't understand why..."
"What did Evelyn tell you about Maplecrest?"
"David, surely you knew that she was very disturbed for a while immediately after Andy's death. You were at the scene when she burned that painting, weren't you?"
"Well, you can imagine how logical anything Evelyn told me at that time was. She carried on about ghosts and shadows and vengeful spirits...poor thing."
"Evelyn was not crazy, Mrs. Randolph. Please don't imply that she was."
"There have been some horrible...unexplainable things happening on that campus in the last year. Anything Evelyn told you regarding the supernatural...events there, was true. I saw the shadow with my own eyes. I experienced the cold spots, and the night Andy died, I wanted to destroy that painting myself, because at the time we all felt it was tied in to the haunting. Now I think it was just a catalyst that brought the real spirit forward, not the sole cause of the haunting. Evelyn had to do her time in a funny farm and take the ridicule and disgrace she took because she wouldn't lie about it. I lied about it, I covered it up, my partner and I covered our collective backside with the department for a long time because we didn't want to take the heat for what we knew was happening. No one believes you when you try to tell them, and my hat is off to your sister because she had the courage to stand behind what she knew was true, right from the start."
"I don't know what to say," Gwen responded, a look of shock and puzzlement spreading over her features. "You're implying that the college really is haunted?"
"It was, anyway. All the things that have happened have a supernatural origin." As Starsky finished, he could see the familiar disbelief in the woman's eyes, and he smiled a little as he shook his head slowly. "Well, I feel a little better, Ev." He looked up toward the casket. "I was pretty damn late with it, but at least I stuck up for you somewhere." He looked back at Evelyn's puzzled sister. "Excuse me." He stood up and walked out of the room.
Hutch finally disentangled himself from the conversation that had kept him busy for the last several minutes. Starsky had pulled another disappearing act, and he wasn't too comfortable with either of them being on his own for too long. At times he wondered what they hoped to accomplish by lurking around the funeral home all day. Fulton might be slippery enough to make a move and not even be noticed. His taunting of Starsky through Evelyn might have been the last they'd see of him. Hutch tried to dismiss that thought. This entity wanted a confrontation. It had gained itself one more homicidal romp through the community, and now it wanted a showdown. What was most frightening to Hutch was the force that was empowering the thing. If Fulton was indeed a "practitioner of the black arts" as Genevieve Willoughby had written, his return from the dead was probably fueled by some unholy power gained in one of his vile rituals.
Hutch descended the three steps down from the front entrance of the funeral home and walked down the sidewalk a ways to where Starsky was leaning against a large oak tree, staring out at the road in front of him. Only an occasional car passed down what was essentially a quiet, tree-shaded neighborhood street.
"You okay, partner?" Hutch leaned against the other side of the tree trunk, looking around at Starsky, who smiled back at him.
"I'll live. Ya know what really burns me up?" Hutch made a slight inquisitive expression in response to Starsky's question. "Her own sister thinks she was a headcase. Everybody in there except you and me think Evelyn was crazy. Poor crazy Evelyn. Shit. She had the guts to do something, to stand on the front lines...and all anybody does now is call her crazy, and what the hell good did it do her? She's lyin' there in a box!" Starsky gestured angrily toward the funeral home. "And what're we doin'? Walkin' around in monkey suits watching the hypocrites!"
"We're doing the best we can do, buddy."
"Aw, that's lame--bullshit, Hutch. You know and I know that we let Evelyn stand up and be counted and we hid behind her skirts. We sent her to the press to be our mouthpiece, I didn't do a damned thing about that painting--I shoulda just told Dobey to fuck off and burned it myself that night!" Starsky paced back and forth on the sidewalk, his hands thrust momentarily into his pants pockets. They soon emerged and were in the motion of gesturing again. "What the hell are we doin' now? We're tellin' the mortician that we're humoring a crazy lady's last wish! Damn it, Hutch, I hate this!" There was a trace of tears in his voice now, but he kept his control. Anger seemed to be outweighing grief at the moment.
"I hate it too, partner." Hutch's response was quiet, well-modulated, and only a stop-gap. He expected another explosion from Starsky, and he patiently waited for it.
"It's not fair! It's not right that everybody thinks she's crazy, and it's not right that everybody thinks Keith Phillips--a cop with a wife and a kid at home, for God's sake--murdered a whole family!"
"Starsky, none of this is fair or right or just. But it's what we have to work with. It's what's happened. How many times did you try to tell me that after you were shot last year? I was so damned angry at Gunther and...and the world, for that matter--but you said that sometimes things happen that just aren't fair. Well, here's another one."
"I'm sorry. I don't mean to rip your head off," Starsky mumbled dismally, returning to his spot, leaning against the tree again. "Maybe I just hate funeral homes, ya know?"
"I know," Hutch responded sympathetically. He didn't care for them much either, but then he hadn't had as much experience with them as his partner had. From seeing his father in that icy, artificial state, through grandparents' funerals--including his paternal grandmother, who did indeed live over an Italian restaurant and had been Starsky's second mother. Most recently, there had been Terry's funeral...a generally miserable experience of burying a young woman who met a violent end. Not to mention laying to rest plans for a family, a home, a life together...and dealing with her family's cold courtesy, which betrayed the fact that they were all looking at Starsky as the cause of their daughter's demise.
A lot of hell to go through, Hutch thought to himself, recalling how seeing two sets of grandparents buried had been painful enough. He had side-stepped Van's funeral since he spent most of the time following her death trying to prove he hadn't caused it, and when it came to Gillian, he had opted not to go to Cleveland and meet her family under such tragic and horrible circumstances. Learning their daughter had been murdered, and then learning she was a prostitute was enough for them to handle without having the play host to her cop boyfriend who still felt like his presence was the catalyst that put her in harm's way.
"I'm sorry, Hutch. I don't mean to...chew you out." Starsky let out a long breath.
"Yeah, you usually do," Starsky said with a little snort of a laugh. "I s'pose we should get back in there." He looked back toward the old house that had been elegantly converted into its present use. "Reminds me a lot..."
"What?" Hutch finally probed after the statement trailed off unfinished.
"When I was a kid, everybody who was anybody got buried from Serenity Funeral Chapel. Durniak only paid for the best, ya know? It was a big old house, just like this one, lawn just perfect out front--just like this. It was in the summer, so all these flowers were blooming outside, and it was hot...hell of a time to have a funeral--summer. But you could smell flowers when you came up the front walk, sweatin' to death in one of these damn suits," he said irritably, tugging at the collar of his white shirt. "Flowers outside, and that sickening heavy smell of flowers and...something...maybe it's death, I dunno, insides. I remember I had the overpowering urge to throw up...I was so damned hot and there was something about the sticky sweet smell of the flowers...They had fans set up all over the place. It was ruffling my dad's hair on the pillow. Scared the hell out of me--I thought he was movin' or something." Starsky forced a weak smile in the brief silence that followed. Hutch appeared at a loss for words. His hand was just resting quietly on Starsky's shoulder. "'Course he wasn't. Not like...not like in there, with Evelyn." Starsky shook his head. "Good old Joey Durniak, always ready tostep in and take control. We shoulda been there, alone with my dad--but he was right there with Ma, holding her hand. Bastard was already playing 'daddy' to Nicky, and he was eatin' it up. He had Ma holdin' on to one hand and Nicky holdin' onto the other..."
"What about you?" Hutch asked softly.
"I was standin' there, lookin' at my dad in that box, feeling like they were gonna bury everything that was right...and here I was in the middle of this...wrong situation, wathcin' my mother holding hands with a gangster. I said to her, 'Ma, look, Dad moved,' -- the fan on his hair, ya know? She started cryin' -- I don't blame her, looking back. It was a weird thing to say, but I was only ten and I thought he did move. So Joey says, 'Don't upset your mother, kid.' And that was that."
"I'm sorry, buddy." Hutch squeezed his shoulder a little
"I don't know why all that's comin' back now. Maybe I do know. I guess it's this damn funeral home. If we weren't in California, I'd swear I was right back there..."
"We could get out of here for a few hours," Hutch suggested.
"Yeah, sure we could. The whole point of us bein' here is to watch for Fulton to pull something."
"If he wants to pull something, is there anything we can do about it anyway? Would we even know about it?" Hutch broke his contact with his partner and started pacing. "He waited and taunted you intentionally--let you know he was here. I think he wants a showdown, pal. I don't think he's going to do anythying to anybody else but one of us."
"So you think we aren't solving anything by standing guard?"
"I think if Fulton wanted to covertly body-hop, we couldn't stoop him. And he wouldn't have made himself known to you like he did." Hutch finally came to rest in one spot. "I think we should go home, get some rest before tonight, and then come back here and go after him like we planned. This isn't solving anything but driving us both nuts and making the family skittish about the two cops who are hanging out here for no good reason."
"I really wouldn't mind getting away from this place."
"Let's go." Hutch led the way back to the Torino, and Starsky slid in behind the wheel and started up the engine. He was never so happy to pull away from any curb in his life as he was to pull away from that one and follow the lazy, sporadic flow of traffic out of the quiet neighborhood.
Father Leo Melburne was a punctual man, arriving at the funeral home at 10:00 in a mid-sized blue sedan. Dressed from head to toe in black, sporting a mop of thick black hair, only the white square of his Roman collar stood out against the night. The last of the family members left the premises at 9:45, viewing hours having ended at 9:00. Starsky and Hutch had taken time out to go back to Starsky's apartment, grab something to eat and take a brief nap before launching into what promised to be another long night. Neither had slept well the night before, and Starsky's research into the occult (namely, his vast knowledge of horror film lore) instructed that it would be dangerous to do battle with an evil spirit when one was unusually tired.
Hutch was the first one to notice the priest's arrival as his car pulled up to the curb across the street from the spot where the Torino was parked.
"Showtime," Starsky announced grimly, opening his door and stepping out into the street.
"Sergeant Hutchinson?" the priest asked, extending his hand.
"I'm Starsky, he's Hutchinson." Starsky shook hands, smiling and nodding toward Hutch, who was hurring around the front of the car for introductions. "Thank you for coming."
"I just hope I can help." He shook hands with Hutch, and the three men made their way into the dimly lit building. Mr. Jasper, the funeral director, was busily straightening flower arrangments and fussing with something near the corpse, as if this were just another night's work. For him, it probably was.
"Mr. Jasper, this is Father Melburn," Hutch introduced, waiting with the two men shook hands. "May we be alone with the body?" he asked, not at all surprised at the funeral director's troubled expression.
"This is all very irregular, Detective. I am not comfortable with leaving the deceased...unsupervised." Jasper adjusted his tie, and it occurred to Starsky that the short, slightly-built man was most likely not comfortable with much of anything.
"Mr. Jasper, we have no plans to do anything which will be in the least disrespectful o the remains," Father Melburne hastened to clarify. "I am a Catholic priest, sir, and I can assure you that my only goal is to impart a blessing and say a few prayers over the deceased. I have no intention of engaging in any behavior that would necessitate your supervising my actions."
"Very well," he conceded hesitantly. "I will be in my office." He turned and left the room, not at all pleased with having been expelled from the activities that were about to begin.
"I hope you gentlement understand what we could be dealing with here."
"Only too well," Starsky retorted. "I think from what we told you on the phone, you must know that we've come face to face with this...thing."
"I only have one word of warning for both of you. You are each other's greatest strength, and greatest weakness. From how you described driving out the spirit when it took possession of Sergeant Hutchinson, it is obvious that hyour combined will and also your willingness to risk your lives for each other are what won that battle. However, just as this entity used one of you to attack the other, knowing there would be little or not resistance offered, as in the beating incident, it could used the very same tactic again."
"Father, I think we both know that we're risking our lives here, but there's no other way." Hutch took a deep breath and then released it. "Believe me, we wouldn't object to walking away from this whole mess if we thought we could turn it over to someone else. But there's something about this entity...this spirit...it made it personal. It not only attacked both of us, in different ways, but it tried to destroy our friendship, our partnership...not to mention our sanity. If we don't see it laid to rest personally, we'll never have a peaceful moment again."
"Very well. Let's get started."
The priest had given them little indication of what role, if any, they should play in the ceremony. They stood on either side of him, watching him don his stole and begin a series of prayers that seemed very similar to Last Rites.
Every light in the building was extinguished. The temperature dipped horribly in the room, so much so that an odd sort of frost began to form on the metal of the casket. Father Melburne seemed undaunted by these events, and in the dim glow of the streetlight which seeped through sheer curtained windows, he continued his prayers.
Then Evelyn's eyes were opened by the entity lurking behind them. This development appeared to attract the priest's attention, though he faced it with the cold sternness he had been directing at the entity and its activities. He made the Sign of the Cross over the body, and was rewarded with the corpse sitting bolt upright, and laughing in his face.
Hutch had gravitated part way toward where Starsky stood, and Starsky had done the same until they found themselves shoulder to shoulder behind the priest. Stunned at what was unfolding, Hutch grabbed hold of Starsky's hand, and the pressure was returned. Fulton in his various incarnations had put them both through hell, and this would not be an easy battle.
"In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I order you to leave this place!" Father Melburne shouted, continuing to make the Sign of the Cross in the thing's face.
Without warning, some unseen force impacted his midsection, and the priest was thrown the length of the room, landing with a sickening thud against the far wall and sliding to the floor.
"Damn you to hell, priest!" the entity hissed horribly through a yellowed, distorted version of Evelyn's smile. "Why don't you come to me now, David?" The thing set its eyes on Starsky. "You know you want her," it taunted, in a sultry, though distinctly male voice. "Your priest won't help you now."
Starsky kept his grip on Hutch's hand and yanked him along as he moved closer to the casket. He reached for the thing's throat with his left hand, and suddenly the realization of what he was planning dawned on Hutch. Starsky's right hand was clutching his left. That meant both of their dominant hands were free -- and their power against this thing, whatever that power might amount to, was joined at this moment. Hutch mirrored the gesture and they found themselves squeezing the cold, livid throat in unison, as if directed by a single brain.
Visions of his grandmother praying solemnly in Hebrew flashed through Starsky's mind. Words she taught him -- such faith in those folded arthritic hands. He began mumbling the words as they came back, and he could hear Hutch muttering words of his own, something in English, something Christian, but he had to keep his own singular focus on that vision of his grandmother praying ... she would have the faith to fight this. She would entrust her soul to God without a moment's hesitation. He drew strength from that and from the tangible connection to Hutch by their hands, which now dug painfully into each other from the sheer terror and magnitude of the experience.
Glass was shattering all around them ... every window exploded from its frame, the cold became so intense as to be painful and the thing in their grasp was wavering but maintaining its horrid, brown-toothed grin. Dead, stiffened hands reached up and clawed at their faces, sensing the imperative power play was to break their hold on its throat and on -each others' hands.
Hutch felt the icy claws tear at his face but he followed Starsky's lead in merely inclining his head as far away from it as possible. The thing uttered some horrid, guttural proclamation in a language neither understood. The yellow eyes closed momentarily, but when they reopened, they were replaced by a blackened eyeball with a horridly iridescent red pupil.
"In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I order you to leave this place!" Father Melburne's voice boomed from behind them. He had recovered from his impact against the wall, and was staggering a little unsteadily toward the vortex of shattered glass, swirling wind and icy cold that had overtaken the room.
"You have to send him back!" Starsky yelled at the priest. "Not just away from here! Back to hell!"
"Heavenly Father, you cast Lucifer into hell! Grant me the power to cast this beast back to the unholy pit from whence it came!" Father Melburne grasped the now-writhing corpse by the hair with one hand, pushing it down on the pillow, taking Starsky and Hutch forward with it. No matter what happened, they had steadfastly refused to release their grip on the corpse or on each other. It seemed for a while that an incoherent mingled babbling of prayers in Latin, Hebrew and English were becoming a muddled, useless mess. When the priest produced a large flask of holy water and splashed it liberally on the corpse, the cry that issued forth from its mouth nearly deafened them all, and drowned out all else.
The corpse's resistance left it, and all that occupied the casket were the dampened remains of Evelyn Lansing.
All three men withdrew from touching the body, and Starsky and Hutch finally disengaged their fingers, which proved difficult to do. Both were surprised at the gouges they'd made on each other in the heat of panic.
"Is it over?" Hutch asked Father Melburne.
"Wait." He approached the body, made the Sign of the Cross over it, and draped a blessed rosary over the now folded hands. There was no response, but a look that was strangely reminiscent of a faint smile on the dead woman's lips. "Yes," he replied finally. "It's over."
"What on earth ... ?" The mortician threw open the double doors to the room and rushed to the casket. "My God, she's soaked!" He looked accusatorially at the three men.
"Holy water. It is a necessary part of the blessing." Father Melburne. could become stern and condescending quickly, and something in his tone silenced the other man momentarily--until he truly took stock of the damage to the room.
"Look at this room! The windows! The furniture!" He threw his arms in the air and let them slap down at his sides. "You've destroyed this room!" It was in a horrible disarray, showered with shattered glass, chairs upturned--some broken, and an unsightly indentation in the flimsy drywall where the priest had hit the wall.
"We'll pay for the damage." Hutch wrote down his name and number on a sheet of paper in his notepad, tore it off and handed it to the overwrought mortician.
The commotion about the condition of the room, and taking Father Melburne to the hospital to have his head injury checked ensued, and Starsky largely ignored it. Hutch seemed to take the cue from his partner who wished to slip out of the spotlight, and he managed to guide the other two men and the attendant arguments away from the casket.
"I hope we did it, Ev. I just hope you're okay." He looked down at the somewhat bedraggled corpse, its real death pallor partially visible under running make-up. "Bet you'd kill me if you knew I messed up your make-up," he said, knowing how in her most serious moment, Evelyn had always appreciated his ability to inject a little nearly inappropriate humor. He leaned forward and kissed the rigid lips lightly. "Rest in peace, my friend."
A warm breeze and the distinct scent of Evelyn's perfume swirled around him, and then dissipated as quickly as it had appeared. Wherever it might be headed, Evelyn's spirit was safe, and was saying goodbye.
Father Melburne had sustained a mild concussion on the impact against the wall, and was to be kept in the hospital over night for observation. Upon their request, Starsky and Hutch were allowed a brief visit before the end of visiting hours would be enforced.
"We mainly wanted to thank you," Hutch began, approaching the side of the bed, "for doing what we couldn't do. For sharing your ... power with us."
"It was God's Power. I only have a little training in how to ask for it. Furthermore, you should never underestimate your own power. The only way we accomplished what we did tonight was through the combined power of all our faiths. Unlike us, God can sort out a jumble of prayers in three languages," he said, smiling.
"Something's bothered me about this all along," Starsky said, straddling a chair and leaning his arms on the back of it. "When did we stop fighting a ghost and start fighting an evil spirit?"
"A ghost is a spirit, Sergeant Starsky. And Fulton's spirit was indeed evil. Furthermore, he was a practitioner of the 'dark arts' according to that diary you received--and we certainly can imply from that information that he worshiped Satan. So his power to come back from the dead was granted by an evil source--and reinforced by that evil source, just as God reinforced us when we prayed to Him. Of course, my personal opinion is that we were playing on the winning team."
"So all this time he just wanted to come back from the dead to commit more murders?"
"Possibly. Power over life and death--and the power to cause death and be unstoppable at it--would be very appealing to an evil person. Fulton made his pact in blood with the devil, and he got what he asked for--a return to earth, a chance to possess and torment and kill innocent victims--to make good men do evil deeds..." He glanced at Hutch. "And those men are no more responsible for the evil they do in that state than poor Evelyn Lansing was responsible for her fate."
"Maybe he'll listen to you." Starsky inclined his head toward Hutch. "Come on, partner, you can't get more reliable absolution than that." He turned back toward Father Melburne. "He won't listen to me."
"I did listen to you. But when you've done something like that..."
"Have you ever had any desire--even a hidden one--to attack your partner that way?" the priest asked Hutch. "If you'd like to leave that as a rhetorical question, you may."
"I don't have to leave it that way. Never in a million years. We've been angry at each other dozens of times before, but I never would do anything to seriously hurt Starsky. I'd never want to see that happen, even if we were on bad terms for some reason."
"Then you have nothing to feel guilty about. You were just a vehicle for that entity. It wanted you to attack him, so it used you to do it."
"Excuse me, gentlemen, but I'm going to have to ask you to leave now." A nurse poked her head through the partially open door. "The patient needs his rest."
"We're on our way," Starsky responded, smiling. She left the room, satisfied that the visitors were rising to leave. "Thanks again for everything, Father," Starsky said, shaking hands with the priest.
"It's been interesting working with you two," he responded as he shook hands with Hutch.
"Same here," Hutch replied. "Take care of yourself."
"Will do. If you have any other problems, or if either of you would like to talk more about this sometime, you have my card."
"We do. Thanks." Hutch opened the door, Starsky passed through it and he closed it behind himself.
"I can't believe it's over. Ya know, I just had the weirdest thought--I wanted to go call Evelyn and let her know we finally did it. Damn, I hate that this had to take her." Starsky was walking slowly down the hall to the elevator. "But I know she's okay." He smiled faintly, though he didn't seem inclined to explain himself, and Hutch didn't push it.
"Well, it's eleven o'clock. Where d'you wanna go?" Hutch asked, trying to sound lighthearted. The gravity of what they had been through hadn't really sunken in fully yet.
"How 'bout a liquor store and then the beach?" Starsky retorted.
"Now that sounds dangerous," Hutch answered, laughing a little.
"I'd just like to sit on the sand, have a beer, and stare out at the water for a while."
"Sounds good," Hutch agreed.
With a six pack in hand and their suit jackets unceremoniously dumped in the back of the car, they made their way along the deserted beach. It had taken Starsky all of thirty seconds to entrust the beer to Hutch while he shed his shoes and socks. Not feeling quite as carefree as his partner, Hutch opted not to take his chances with the hard-to-see terrain in his bare feet.
"You think Melburne's right? That it's over?" Hutch took a drink of his beer as he stared out at the moonlit water lapping up on the sand.
"I think so." Starsky rested his elbows on knees he drew up toward his chest. His toes were flexing in the sand, and he seemed oddly content.
"Why? Because Melburne thinks so?"
"No," he began, taking a drink out of the can he was holding. Then, after a few seconds of silence, he concluded, "Because Evelyn let me know." He turned to look at Hutch, wondering if he'd see an expression of disbelief--or kindly concern and patience for his grief-induced madness. He saw neither. Hutch appeared to accept the answer, and he didn't ask for details. "Hutch?"
"You're going to take what Melburne said seriously, aren't ya?"
"Do better than try, buddy. Remember: close," Hutch's voice joined with Starsky's and they completed the sentence in unison, "only counts in horse shoes."
"Okay," Hutch responded, laughing. "I'll do better than try. By the way, Starsky, I think you're about due to trim your nails." He held out his left hand. Starsky held out his right, which held similar battle scars from the vise-grips they'd had on each other during the exorcism.
"I'll loan you the clippers when I'm done, pal."
"Looks like you're gonna have a scar there," Hutch opined, tilting the extended hand for a better look at the area of shiny new skin which marked the impact the machete had made with Starsky's hand at Maple crest that night.
"Just one more for the collection," he responded with a slight smile. "No big thing. You're letting go of that--remember?"
"Yeah, I remember. Easier said than done."
"Fulton wanted you to kill me--what d'you suppose stopped him both times? You wouldn't let him do it. From wherever you were underneath his influence, you fought him. And we won,"
"Do you think Evelyn knew what was happening?" Hutch asked.
"I can't believe that Fulton would pass up an opportunity to torment somebody. I guess we'll never know for sure. Tell you the truth, I don't wanna know."
"Think we ought to tell Dobey what happened?" Hutch opened another can of beer and took a sip.
"I don't like the way he handled this," Starsky responded, gathering sand in his hand and letting it slip through his fingers. "He let us twist in the wind."
"His job was on the line. He's got a family, kids to support. Him getting fired wouldn't have solved anything."
"I guess he was kind of backed into a comer," Starsky granted. "Thinkin' back, he's been pretty good to us, overall. He really went to bat for me with the review board. They were waffling for a time about reinstating me or not."
"You know the girl who works in the commissioner's office part-time--oh, what's her name--Sandra?"
"Well, I went out with her a time or two before the shooting, and while I was waiting to hear the official word, she called me, and said she thought I should be prepared because Dobey was really arm-wrestling with a couple of the review board guys to get me a good verdict."
"Why didn't you say anything?"
"Because you'd busted your butt for so long working with me on my physical therapy and the rehab and everything--I didn't want to shoot you down--no pun intended--until we knew for sure. Besides, I guess I was kind of afraid if I said it, it would make it true--jinx it."
"So Dobey turned the tide?"
"He must've, because the reinstatement verdict was unanimous." Starsky paused. "And a lot of times, when we've been in trouble he's come through--put his job on the line for us. Remember him stashing that money that was planted on us when that Ronstan kid was up for the flashing rap?"
"Oh, our evil twins. Yeah, sure, I remember."
"And he let me go 'arrest' you after Vanessa."
"Tomorrow, we go see Dobey," Hutch concluded.
"Tonight we drink a toast," Starsky announced, raising his beer can toward the moon. "To Evelyn, and to us," Starsky paused, appearing to sink into deep contemplation for just the right words. Finally, he concluded: "Still crazy after all these years."
"Leave it to you to quote Paul Simon," Hutch laughed as he tapped his beer can against Starsky's.
'My alternative was 'we have come to bury Caesar, not to praise him'. I told you I never had a good quote handy when I need it."
"I guess Paul Simon'll do just fine."
"Yeah. Shakespeare was a real deep thinker, but you just can't tap your toe to it."
Dobey signed the last of a pile of requisitions for various pieces of equipment, funds and vacation requests. He thought of putting in a vacation request of his own. For some reason, coming into this damned office was becoming less and less palatable. Unsolvable cases, surly detectives, constant tension with the commissioner ... if he hadn't had so damn many debts he'd look real hard at the retirement package and run for the hills. Thanksgiving was coming up, Edith's relatives were about to descend on his house en masse for the holiday, Cal's grades had slipped this marking period which didn't bode well for his chances at a particular scholarship for college in the fall they'd been counting on ... he swallowed another aspirin with his coffee, wondering what the interaction of the medicine and the caffeine was really doing to his insides, but not caring enough to get up and get water.
Now he smelled food. Good food. It was well past lunch time. Probably some exotic batch of Chinese food imported by Starsky and Hutchinson to be consumed at their desks within smelling distance of his office. Can't chew 'em out for working through lunch, he reasoned. If they're involved enough to eat at their desks, best not to come down on them for stinking up the place.
"Cap'n, you busy?" Starsky's head popped unexpectedly through the small distance the door was open from the frame.
"I'm always busy," Dobey growled. He'd had no reason to try being friendly with Starsky anymore, with his "Yes, sir's" and "Yes, Captain's" and malevolent sideways glances.
"Had lunch yet?" There was the familiar hint of the irrepressible cheerfulness that usually tinged Starsky's voice, even when Dobey was angry and intent on squashing it.
"No. Too busy." He refused to look up from his work. Finally sensing that the expectant face was still present in the crack of openness between his office and the squad room, he moved his focus to Starsky. The smile appeared instantly on the younger man's face.
"Come on, Cap, too busy for lunch? Bein' too busy for lunch is the sure sign of a sick mind."
"I thought you told me that a tidy desk was the sure sign of a sick mind," Dobey replied, faintly returning the smile, but puzzled by the change of attitude.
"Oh, yeah, that too. Hutch and I brought back Chinese. We're just gettin' around to eating lunch ourselves. Mind if we bring it in here? Everybody's eye-ballin' it out there."
"No, that would be fine," Dobey said, obviously pleased. Starsky disappeared momentarily, but soon returned with Hutch and two large bags of Chinese take-out. The door was closed behind them and they pulled their chairs up to the opposite side of the desk while Dobey fell easily back into his role of clearing the desk top before the food landed on it.
"Just thought you'd like to know," Hutch spoke up, "that the Maple crest case is unofficially closed." He sat down and began removing small white containers from the bags. Starsky was distributing napkins and freeing the styrofoam beverage cups from their holder.
"When did this happen?" Dobey asked, seizing a plastic fork and confiscating some chunks of orange chicken for his paper plate.
"Last night," Starsky spoke up. "You want any details?"
"Not really," Dobey responded honestly. "Less said the better. Whatever you two got into last night--"
"You don't know anything about it," Hutch concluded, smiling. "That's fine with us."
"Look, Cap'n, we ... well, mostly I ... came down real hard on you for the way things went with this case. We just wanted you to know that we know what you were up against."
"I had a little idea what you two were up against as well, I wasn't pleased with the role the commissioner had me playing. I was supposed to have you two on some kind of punitive duty the last few weeks, but that was pushing it as far as I was concerned."
"Don't tell me--directing traffic?" Hutch guessed.
"Parking meter duty?" Starsky suggested.
"Try helping Bigelow clean and reorganize the property room."
"That ain't punishment, Cap'n, that's hell!" Starsky protested. "That'd be like givin' somebody the death penalty for jay walking!" Dobey released a resounding laugh.
"Well, just remember," he said, poking into a container of beef chow mein, "Bigelow hasn't tackled that little project yet, and he's still looking for helpers." There was an impish smile on his face as he dangled a threat that had elicited a reaction from these fully grown men that was akin to the terror displayed by children faced with the promise of horrible punishment. "I would strongly suggest," Dobey continued, the smile creeping into his voice as it was muffled by beef chow mein, "that you two keep your noses clean for at least the next couple of months." Dobey watched the slightly frozen expressions.
"You wouldn't actually..." Hutch said, smiling uneasily and shaking his head a little. Dobey just raised his eyebrows, as if it were surprising Hutch would question his willingness to subject them to such indignity.
"Naw, the cap'n wouldn't do a thing like that to us," Starsky said, an obviously nervous and uncomfortable look on his face.
Without warning, unable to maintain his short-lived charade, Dobey leaned back in his chair and laughed.