Jenny Moore hated facing the grim reminder of Kristen's murder that seeing uniformed police around the campus again represented. She had some news for Professor Levinson, so she would concentrate on that as she made her way to his class, armed with notes and photocopies from her microfilm research at the library.
Starsky looked out at the classroom full of students who were calmly preparing for the start of class. He watched Jenny Moore slip into the back row, giving him a conspiratory smile. He had blown Levinson's cover pretty effectively at the murder scene Friday night, and it had taken some doing for Dobey to keep his mouth shut and let Starsky return to the campus under his alias long enough to be the one to explain to the students what had happened. He was wearing jeans, a turtleneck and his favorite leather jacket. He had gotten more than one strange glance from incoming students.
"I have something to tell all of you." He sat on the edge of the desk. "I know we haven't been in class together very long, but I thought I owed you an explanation myself, in person. I'm not David Levinson, Ph.D." Starsky pulled out his badge and held it up. "I'm David Starsky, homicide detective, LAPD. Professor Levinson was a cover story created so I could investigate the murders from the inside. I am Jewish, I did do research to teach this class, and the things we discussed in here weren't phony. I did my best not to waste your time while I was playing the role of Levinson. I came to the campus with my partner--Detective Hutchinson--I think many of you have been questioned by him since all this started--Friday night when Andrew Lansing and Jill Hansen were killed, and so my cover was blown with most of the faculty and staff. I'm sorry I lied to you, but I wanted to explain in person."
"So what does this mean for the investigation?" Jenny spoke up immediately.
"The investigation is ongoing. It just means that I'm doing it as myself, with my partner, instead of as Dr. Levinson. Professor Tillman will take over this class, starting Wednesday."
"I don't know about anybody else, but I read up on tzedaka for this class today, and I want to talk about it." Mandy Corrigan seemed to startle the others with her declaration, including Starsky, but several more students nodded and muttered affirmations. With some amusement, Starsky started flying somewhat by the seat of his pants, sans lecture notes, relishing his last performance as David Levinson, college professor. It was a lively session that rivaled the previous week's hot discussion of morality issues, and the students were pleased to get one more energetic class out of their highly unconventional professor before his coach did, as Hutch prophesied, turn back into a striped tomato.
As the class filed out and said their good byes, Jenny lingered in the back of the room. Starsky made his way back and sat in a chair near hers.
"What'd you find out?"
"Malcolm Willoughby III murdered his wife, two daughters, his son and a houseguest one night in a drunken rage."
"I guess you did find something out."
"He built the house in 1889, and moved his family in here. They lived here until 1900. This is a copy from the microfilm." She took a blurry sheet of paper out of her folder.
"'Local Businessman Slays Family in Midnight Bloodbath'. Well, at least whoever wrote this had a flair for the dramatic." Starsky read the article, which described how Willoughby was known for his public drunkenness and extravagant gambling activities, and had been thrown out of a local tavern less than an hour before the slayings. Upon returning home, he had murdered his wife, three children and a houseguest. All bodies were found in the upstairs hall, which was spattered with a ghastly amount of blood. "Hey, I bet that's where the cold spots came from--the original killings." Starsky looked up at Jenny, who nodded in agreement. Starsky continued reading. "According to this article, he used a large, sharp weapon, which he finally turned on himself, slitting his own throat. What continued to baffle police was that the murder weapon was never found--and the murders started when that painting was hung in the library."
"You might be interested to know that his niece is still alive. She's in a nursing home."
"How'd you find that out?"
"Easy. I have a friend who's a work study in the president's office, and Clarice Willoughby is still a significant donor. This is her address." She handed Starsky a slip of paper.
"Hey, if you ever decide to become a detective, give me a call," he said.
"If you ever decide to become a professor, let me know which class you're teaching. You did okay." She stood and held out her hand. He shook it with a smile.
"Thanks. I'm sorry I had to be so sneaky about everything, but I couldn't risk telling anyone. Of course once we got on the track of thinking it wasn't a real suspect we were after, my cover seemed kind of stupid."
"How do your bosses feel about that?" Jenny's uncanny ability to cut to the chase unnerved him a little.
"They don't exactly know."
"I figured that." She started toward the door. "Oh--that other phone number on the paper? That's mine. Give me a call when you figure all this out, huh? I really want to know how it turns out."
"I will. Thanks a million for your detective work, Jenny."
"You're welcome." His last student turned and walked out the door and down the hall. At Hutch's insistence, Starsky had made an adequate hat-in-hand-style apology to Dobey for his antics Friday night. Satisfied that his sergeant's attitude was not adjusted, but merely re-directed, Dobey reluctantly accepted the apology and sent him on his way with no further disciplinary action, beyond taking the cost of the lock out of his paycheck. He reminded Starsky of his "spirited and colorful pledge" to pay for it.
A visit to Clarice Willoughby was next on the agenda. Starsky and Hutch found themselves in the rather stuffy sitting room of a well-appointed retirement home, being entertained with stories of life during the Depression while they waited for Clarice to finish her daily bridge game in the recreation room before she would be disturbed to keep their two o'clock appointment. By 2:15, she emerged, rescuing them from the elderly woman who had decided she should keep them company while they waited.
Clarice was 86 years old, a frail woman with a full head of white hair and piercing dark eyes. She greeted her guests with a firm handshake, using her left hand to steady herself on the cane she used. Once they were all seated again, she rested her hands in the lap of her navy blue dress and regarded them curiously.
"Well, I know I haven't committed any crimes of late, gentlemen, so I must admit I'm a bit puzzled why you would wish to speak to me about the murders occurring at Maplecrest College. I haven't set foot in that house in twenty years or better--I attended a reception in my honor there in 1958."
"Actually, we were curious about the history of your house...more specifically--"
"Crazy Uncle Malcolm and his machete?" She laughed softly. "Why would two police detectives want to hear that tired old story?"
"I think you know." Starsky didn't return her smile. "You realize they recently acquired the painting of your uncle."
"Of course I realize that."
"Why was it removed from the house in the first place?" Hutch spoke up.
"That was personal."
"Ms. Willoughby, there have been six murders in that building since that painting was hung in the library. Surely it isn't too much to ask to know why you got rid of it," Hutch concluded, but she seemed unmoved.
"Ms. Willoughby, please tell us what you know about the painting," Starsky prodded. "People are dying--"
"If you think the painting is the cause, then destroy it. It makes little difference." She stood up, smoothing the front of her skirt and grasping her cane.
"What do you mean--'it makes little difference'?" Hutch asked.
"I'm not feeling well, gentlemen. I usually rest at this time. Good day." She left the room, and the detectives stood there looking at one another, bewildered. How could Clarice Willoughby be the only elderly woman in recorded history who didn't like to tell stories about her family? Discouraged, they returned to the car and drove back toward the precinct. A call over the radio startled them out of their depressed daze.
"This is Dobey. Get over to Maplecrest right now. Your friend Evelyn Lansing just torched the place!"
"We're on our way," Hutch responded, breaking the connection and putting the flasher on top of the car as Starsky sped toward the campus.
Fire trucks and rescue personnel were working diligently to put out the blaze that appeared to be concentrated in the library area. There were sighs of relief as the fire was being brought under control, and the detectives heard people muttering among themselves that it was a blessing the building was going to be saved, and smoke and water damage beyond a few first-floor offices was minimal.
Evelyn Lansing was sitting in the back of a squad car with a calm expression on her face. She was dirty and disheveled from having been so near the fire, but appeared unhurt. Hutch hung back slightly for his partner to open the door of the police car and squat in the opening to talk to this shadow of the powerful woman he was used to seeing holding court over the campus.
"Evelyn, what happened?"
"I finished it. It's gone."
"The painting. I burned it, David. It's gone. It won't ever hurt anyone again."
"Why did you do this? We would have...well, I said I'd do something..." Starsky hated the uselessness of his words. "I said"... "we would have"...all inactive solutions. Evelyn Lansing was a woman of action, and the spirit of Malcolm Willoughby had enjoyed his last homicidal romp when he tangled with her son. She was not deranged, she wasn't even slightly incoherent. She had merely done what had to be done, and now she was content to be hauled off to face the consequences. Hopefully, given her emotional state, they would be mild.
"David, I did what had to be done...What you know you wanted to do when you rushed downstairs that first night."
"How'd you know about that?"
"I heard about one of the detectives shooting the lock off the library door. I knew it could only be my favorite adjunct professor." She reached out and patted his shoulder. "I know you wanted to do something about it then. I could get away with it. You couldn't. And wherever that foul entity is, it had to pay for what it did to Andy...and all the others. How could you ever bring about that kind of justice in your line of work?"
"Couldn't, I guess," he admitted.
"Well, Maplecrest will survive without you and me, David. But it couldn't have survived with Malcolm Willoughby III." She removed her hand from his shoulder. "You made a fine professor here. I fear more students will miss you after two weeks than will miss me after two decades."
"That's not true."
"True or not, I appreciate all you tried to do. But it's done now, so please go back to work and don't worry about me. I'll survive."
"I don't doubt that. I want to thank you, too. I really was nervous about this assignment, but you made it easy on me, and you treated me very well while I was here. You're a good lady, Evelyn Lansing."
"Thank you." She smiled up at him as he straightened and moved away, closing the car door.
Hutch had faded away for a few minutes to touch base with the fire fighters. There had been only a few cases of smoke inhalation, and the damage was contained quite quickly thanks to some staff members with fire extinguishers and the quick response of the fire department. The police car in which Evelyn Lansing was riding drove slowly toward the main road. The library was essentially a loss, which was quite a devastating blow for a college. Starsky snickered in spite of himself as he thought of the funding priorities when it was rebuilt: better furniture, more paintings...maybe those Japanese Maples...
Dobey was not amused by his detectives' antics and lack of progress on the Maplecrest case. After three weeks of inactivity on the investigation, they were being pressed for some sort of explanation. None was possible. There had been no other murders, there never had been a suspect, and Evelyn Lansing had even destroyed the offending painting that was the center of Starsky and Hutch's personal, unofficial investigation.
"Of all the years I've observed half-assed investigations, I think you two should get the award. This has been the most ridiculous and inexcusable waste of the taxpayers' money I've ever seen." Dobey slapped the file down on the desk. "What the hell's the matter with you two? Starsky--you walked into the middle of the crime scene at the last murders and blew your cover, then you vandalized the library--"
"I shot the lock off, Cap'n. I don't think that qualifies as--"
"And when I want your opinion on the subject, I'll ask for it!" Dobey snapped. "This one over here," he waved toward Hutch angrily, "spends his time correlating the location of corpses to drafts in the hall."
"Cold spots, Captain."
"That's enough out of you, too!" Dobey leaned back in his chair. He was rarely genuinely angry at this pair, and rarely felt they were behaving in a truly unprofessional and unreasonable manner. This was an exception. "You're off the case." He waited for angry responses, pleas for mercy, objections...none came. The two detectives looked at each other, flexed their eyebrows and shrugged in a shared gesture of resolution, but said nothing. "I don't think you two understand me. You're off the case."
"We heard you, Cap." Starsky paused a moment. "Okay." Hutch nodded his assent. "Can we go now?"
"Yes you can go now. You can go out to your desks where you're going to find some case files. Spend a little time working on those to brush up on your understanding of investigative procedure."
"That was painless," Hutch said to his partner as they returned to their desks. The small stack of folders looked harmless enough.
"You haven't looked at these." Starsky was flipping through the folders. "Two lost dogs, a serial shoplifter, two vandalism complaints--those are marked with my name, incidentally--and a kid who blows up mailboxes."
"Ouch." Hutch handed Starsky a cup of coffee and carried one for himself back to his desk. "I guess we barely escaped meter maid duty. Dobey's probably a little embarrassed in front of Grodin and Merriweather."
"Gives me another reason to hate that jerk." Starsky sipped his coffee and wrinkled his nose.
"Don't look now," Hutch muttered, as Grodin entered the squad room. A portly man with receding brown hair and a mustache, he was dressed in a tweed jacket, shirt and tie. It amused Starsky that the guy kept trying to look like a captain, even if no one was convinced he had what it took to be one.
"Morning, gentlemen." He wasn't merely walking. He was strutting like a rooster, dying to gloat over what had apparently made it to the grapevine about the two star detectives falling flat on their faces. "Dobey told me to see you for the rest of the notes and case file on the Maplecrest murder case."
"Here you go," Hutch piled it up and handed it over, secretly relieved to see it go. And snickering inwardly at how impossible it would be for Grodin and Merriweather to come up with anything better.
"Seems the golden boys are tarnishing a little, eh?" He perused the files.
"Stuff it, Grodin," Starsky growled under his breath.
"Excuse me, professor. Professor. That one got a good laugh around here to begin with. Starsky the professor. I think maybe we've got a new nickname for you, smart ass."
"I think you better shut your mouth before I shut it for you," Hutch's voice came out when Starsky started to open his mouth to respond. He looked at his usually docile partner, who normally tried to mediate the occasional flare-ups between Starsky and Grodin. It was rare for him to fan the flames. Rarer for him to get involved. He was standing now, and when Hutch got that look in his eyes, most people didn't mess with him. Grodin did not possess even the average level of perception in that department. He persisted.
"Oh, come on, Hutchinson. Even you have to admit trying to pass him off as a Ph.D. is stretching it." Hutch grabbed the lapels of the man's jacket and pulled his 5'10" frame up so their eyes almost met.
"Now you listen to me, you asshole. Starsky's got more brains in his little finger than you've got in that whole smelly carcass of yours, and he sure as hell has more class than you do. Now take your case file and get the hell out of here before I ram it so far down your fucking throat that it comes out your--"
"Hutch, cool it, come on." Starsky was behind him, tugging on his arm. "He isn't worth the effort. You've heard that old expression, right, Grodin? 'I'd slap you but shit splatters'?"
"Let me go," Grodin growled at Hutch. "I'm gonna teach that little punk a lesson once and for all!"
"Come on, old man, give it your best shot!" Starsky spat back at him.
"Hey! All of you! Cool it right now or you're all gonna be writin' parking tickets for the next six weeks!" Dobey bellowed from the door of his office. "Last time I looked, we were all adults here, not a bunch of ill-behaved kids in a schoolyard. Hutch, let go of Grodin--he's not goin' anywhere." Dobey waited while Hutch reluctantly followed the directive. "Grodin, you get your butt in my office. We've got a few things to straighten out. You two settle down. You've got plenty of work to do."
"This isn't over," Grodin growled back at Starsky.
"The hell it isn't!" Dobey yelled from his office. "Maybe you didn't hear me the first time--in my office, NOW. Move!"
"Thanks." Starsky returned to his desk and sat down again.
"I should've just decked him."
"Then we'd be on parking meter duty. Besides, what you said...meant a lot more to me that if you had hit him."
"I meant it," Hutch responded, meeting his partner's gaze across the desk. "I wasn't just blowing hot air at Grodin. I meant what I said."
"I know you did. That's why it meant so much." Starsky smiled. "Wanna go look for a lost schnauzer? I'll buy you lunch at Huggy's first."
"How can I pass up an offer like that?" Hutch responded with smile. Apparently, Starsky was determined to make the best of this rather humbling punitive experience. Well, maybe it wouldn't be so bad, working the dumb cases for a while. They had wrestled with the forces of darkness enough to last them both quite a while.
Hutch was incredulous that they had actually taken on the schnauzer case. This was the stuff that goes in a file drawer and never sees the light of day. Nibbling a mid-afternoon ice cream cone, Starsky was reviewing a hastily scrawled list of the places they had looked and the neighbors they had interviewed. Starsky seemed to have a perpetual soft spot in his heart for distressed little old ladies, and the dog's owner fit that description perfectly. She was 78 years old, and the dog had been a gift from her husband who died two years earlier. Both detectives seemed to feel there was some greater value in this ugly little gray dog than the price its papers would say it was worth.
It did both their hearts good to locate the animal in a neighbor's yard, less than a block away. Following up on the woman's complaints of harassment by neighborhood teenagers, they had heard the dog barking in the backyard of one of the kid's houses. Completely unhinged at the sight of real cops and real badges following up on a lost dog, the boy had confessed to snatching it out of the woman's front yard, and was not at all pleased to be hauled downtown in handcuffs on larceny charges. The dog's estimated value was $1500, being of a champion bloodline, so the charges of stealing it were no small item.
Having squeezed some sense of victory and satisfaction out of an otherwise humiliating situation, both detectives laughed at themselves putting in a twelve-hour day voluntarily to wrap up the schnauzer caper. They landed at Hutch's place with take-outs and other provisions for the evening.
"Find us something to look at, will ya?" Starsky referred to the TV while he was digging through Hutch's refrigerator for beer.
"You're going to let me pick what we watch?"
"Well, you did figure out which lead to follow to find the dog. Call it a reward."
"You mean old Mrs. Findley kissing us both wasn't enough?" Hutch asked, laughing.
"One thing you've gotta admit about finding lost dogs--we don't get too many women kissing us for doing our job in homicide." Starsky joined Hutch in the living room and handed him a beer.
"How long do you think Dobey'll keep this up--seriously making us work these cases?"
"Probably until we settle down and solve a few of them and he sees we're taking them seriously. And until the whole precinct knows about it and he thinks we've been publicly humiliated enough to put us in our places. What burns me up is that none of this is our fault. There was no solving the Maplecrest thing, and we're getting punished by Dobey for not solving an unsolvable case." Starsky shook his head. "Just makes me wish I'da done something more fun to deserve this."
"I know the feeling." Hutch smiled as he opened his container of almond chicken. "Dobey was plenty embarrassed in front of the commissioner, not to mention Grodin and Merriweather."
"Oh, gee, excuse me while I cry for him. Seems like we're the ones takin' the heat here." Starsky chewed on his egg roll for a while. "So what didya find?" He nodded toward the TV. Hutch got up and switched it on, flipping the channels to a movie that was starting. "You're going to watch 'Dracula Has Risen from the Grave'?"
"You went to the foreign film festival at UCLA with me last month, didn't you?"
"Yeah, that's true. You owe me about six of these, now that you mention it."
The phone was ringing. Starsky was vaguely aware that Dracula had been sneaking through some woman's window when he fell asleep. Now the vampire had been felled and the credits were rolling. Hutch was sleeping in the chair across from him, and the damn phone was ringing.
"Hello?" he grumbled into the phone, still groggy.
"Yeah, who's this?" He didn't recognize the woman's voice at first.
"Evelyn Lansing." Well, that was a good sign. Evelyn must have been doing okay with her therapy if she had been released and was making phone calls. The college hadn't pressed charges for her little tirade, but she had been locked up in a private sanitorium at her sister's insistence.
"Hey, how are you?" He straightened in his seat, and Hutch was stirring now.
"I'm home." She paused. "David, there's been another murder. I called the police department, but they transferred me to some monosyllabic Neanderthal named Grodin." Upon that statement, Starsky burst out laughing, covering the phone. He had forgotten how much he was really missing Evelyn Lansing's piercing wit and sharp tongue.
"That's one of the kinder descriptions I've heard of him. We're not close friends."
"So I gathered. The point is, the painting has been destroyed, and the murders are starting again."
"Same M.O.?" Starsky asked, as Hutch seemed to come fully awake, interested now in the conversation. Evelyn picked up the police terminology, and didn't falter.
"From what little I've been told. I finally resorted to calling my student assistant, and she gave me the details she overheard at the scene."
"Who was it, and what happened?"
"Damn. I kind of liked that guy."
"So did we all. He was a good man. He was found, murdered the same way as the others, in the upstairs hall. It just happened a couple of hours ago."
"How did you find out about it?"
"It was on the radio that police had been called to the campus, apparently for another murder. It's big local news."
"It always is." Starsky was quiet a minute. "I thought the painting was the key."
"So did I," she replied, laughing ironically. "I lost my job and wound up spending three weeks in an overpriced funny farm because I thought it was the painting."
"For our part in all this, we're looking for lost dogs and mailbox vandals. I guess we've all paid some dues on this one."
"How are you really doing? I mean, after Andrew..."
"That's one day at a time. They say time heals. I'm not convinced."
"I think it dulls and numbs. I don't know about healing."
"Well, I thought you should know what was happening. I was hoping you might think of...something. God knows, I'm fresh out of ideas."
"We'll try to look into it. Our captain'll have our heads if we interfere with it, but I promise you I'll do what I can."
"Thank you, David. That's all I could ask."
"You wanna have lunch or something sometime? I mean, so we could talk about the case." Starsky wasn't sure why he had asked, and he was sorry he had done so in front of his partner, who looked positively flabbergasted. He didn't want to end his friendship with Evelyn, and if he didn't do something to maintain the contact, it would fade away like so many others over the years.
"I'd like that."
"I'll call you as soon as I have any information."
"Thanks. You have my home number?"
"I guess I don't." He scribbled it down on the pad near the phone as she recited it. "Okay. I'll be in touch." Starsky hung up and looked up at Hutch. "Another murder at Maplecrest."
"Who was it?"
"A guy named Billings. He was a professor. He stopped in to introduce himself my first week there. Seemed like a nice guy. He said himself the odds were one in ten..."
"He was a math professor. He ran some probability figures once on what the chances were of being murdered in your office at Maplecrest. He said they were one in ten."
"So the painting wasn't the key after all."
"Guess not." Starsky was quiet a minute. "Remember what Clarice Willoughby said? When we talked about the painting, she said 'it makes little difference'--whether we destroyed it or not? Damn it, Hutch, she knew it wouldn't help."
"Wonder why she was so cryptic about everything?"
"I don't know. She probably got rid of the painting in the first place...and maybe it didn't change anything."
"If people were being murdered in the house on a regular basis, she couldn't have gone on living there."
"Something set it off." Starsky stood up and paced the room. "But destroying the painting didn't end it."
"So what kinds of problems do you think Clarice was having?"
"Maybe the cold spots--maybe even the shadow. Maybe it didn't do anything to her. After all, she is family."
"Like a homicidal entity is going to care?" Hutch turned off the television, which had been droning in the background.
"I don't know. I'm groping."
"Well, one thing we can take comfort in. Grodin and Merriweather will probably inherit our unsolved missing dog cases before long." Hutch's remark brought a laugh from his partner.
Merriweather was only marginally cordial as he provided Hutch with a few of the pertinent facts on the Billings murder the night before. Though neither Hutch nor Merriweather had occasion to cross each other in any significant way, they were definitely on opposite sides of a line drawn in the sand much earlier by their two volatile partners. Both detectives were the more temperate halves of their respective teams, and Hutch had to admire Merriweather's loyalty to a partner who couldn't be deserving of it. Anytime he found himself relaxing in Merriweather's company, however, he recalled the look on Starsky's face when Grodin implied that the mere thought of the younger detective being sent undercover as highly educated had been a precinct-wide joke. Hutch had never seen a look exactly like that before--such a mixture of anger, hurt, disappointment, but worst of all, humiliation--all rolled into one expression. And that had sent him to his feet and thrust him into the middle of the battle he usually attempted to ignore at best, mediate at worst.
Billings had been killed in much the same way as the others. His slaughtered body was found in the upstairs hall. It was inexplicable why he would be there after hours, as he had been the very person to run probability statistics on the chances of being murdered at Maplecrest. And people say cops are strange, Hutch thought with a smirk. Only a professor would think to figure up the chances of his own murder...and then make himself a statistic. Idiot. What was he doing up there after dark anyway?
"He had a late class," Merriweather continued. It startled Hutch that the conversation picked up exactly where his thoughts ended. "I guess he was the only one who did that night, and it looks like he had dumped his stuff in his office, and then the guy attacked him in the hall. His office was already locked up for the night." Poor bastard. Ran upstairs, tossed his stuff on his desk and ran like hell...but not fast enough.
"You and Grodin have anything?" Hutch could sense the hesitation in the other man. "Look, Starsky and I aren't on the case. We're no threat to you. We got to know some of those people, and we just want to know what's happening."
"We haven't got a damned thing." Merriweather leaned back in his chair, frustrated already. He was about Hutch's age, with short brown hair and large brown eyes. He was as stiff and by-the-book as his partner who was at least ten years his senior. "I heard about the scene with you and Starsky and Ron." He referred to Grodin by his first name. Hutch had forgotten the jerk had one.
"He insulted my partner, and I didn't appreciate it." Hutch's statement was quiet, calm and simple. He felt it stood on its own to justify any derisive things Grodin would have told the other man about their encounter. After all, you should never mess with a man's partner. Not this man's, anyway, he thought to himself.
"Starsky can get pretty abrasive sometimes."
"Don't you start," Hutch admonished. "Grodin started this one, and I damn well finished it. You have a problem with that?"
"I know Ron doesn't mince words, but--"
"There's a difference between being straightforward and being an--" Hutch caught himself. "I don't appreciate it when someone slams Starsky, so I'm not going to sit here and do that with you about Grodin. Just keep him outta my face, because I'm all done mediating between those two. One thing is just a fact: Grodin makes a habit of goading Starsky into something every time their paths cross. So weigh carefully what he feeds you about how we ganged up on him."
"That is pretty much what he said...and that Starsky made some remark about his age. He's not going to probably get that promotion before he retires, and he's touchy about that."
"And he made some pretty lousy remarks to Starsky, so they were even. Both egos were bruised." Hutch stood up and stretched a little. The previous night hadn't gained him much sleep. "I think we could all do well to just live and let live for a while."
"I don't have a problem with that. Just take it easy on Ron--he's not gettin' any younger and he's got some heart trouble."
"When'd that happen?" Hutch asked, as the other man looked stricken, as if he'd just revealed the darkest secret of the universe. When talking about a detective on active duty, in essence, he had. He had been concerned about his partner's profuse sweating and obvious state of discomfort after the confrontation with Starsky and Hutch and his subsequent tongue-lashing from Dobey about the remarks the captain overheard him make to the younger detectives. Grodin steadfastly refused to see a doctor, but there was obviously a problem.
"God, Hutch, that just came out." Merriweather looked up at him worriedly. "He hasn't seen a doctor or anything. I can just tell there's something not right about the way he's feeling and my dad died from heart problems--and a lot of the signs were the same. Please, if Dobey finds out--"
"It's none of my business, Merriweather. Just keep him on a short leash. I don't plan to start anything with him, and I know Starsky isn't looking for a fight. But if he starts something--"
"You'll finish it. I hear you. I'll talk to him."
"Try to get him to see a doctor. I may not like the guy but nobody wants to see him drop dead on the job."
"I am trying. Thanks for not blowing the whistle."
"Anytime. Thanks for the information." Hutch started to walk toward the door. Starsky was already in the Torino outside, waiting to go get dinner.
"Yeah?" He stopped and turned back to face Merriweather.
"When you were at Maplecrest, did you notice anything...odd?" Oh, so the ranks have closed at the snooty little college, and the haunting story has stayed under wraps, Hutch thought with slight amusement. Maybe Starsky's cover was worth something after all.
"In the hall upstairs...it's...cold."
"It's a drafty old building."
"Yeah, I know. But it was colder in some spots than others."
"I noticed that too. Must be some quirks in the heating and cooling system." Hutch opted not to speculate on the supernatural with Merriweather. He still wasn't sure he could trust him not to blab to Grodin and then Dobey and then how many more lost dogs would they be stuck searching for?
"Must be. Well, goodnight." He looked back down at his paperwork and Hutch left the squad room, feeling a little guilty for not leveling with the other man.
When he reached the Torino, Starsky was tapping out the rhythm of something loud and ear-shattering on the radio, singing along with it, right there in front of the precinct. He seemed unconcerned with, though not oblivious to, some of the odd looks he got from other cops returning to headquarters. Starsky, the perpetual dichotomy, Hutch thought, laughing a little. Has visions of being a college professor one minute, and beats on the steering wheel to the pounding guitar riff of "Smoke on the Water" the next. Hutch suppressed the urge to start lecturing Starsky on how ridiculous he looked and just got in the car.
"Where to?" Starsky took the volume down a notch or two to avoid shattering what was left of his partner's eardrums.
"How'd you like to go someplace decent--maybe get a steak or something?"
"Does the 'or something' include the possibility of lobster?"
"Did you get a promotion I don't know about?"
"Thought you were buyin'." Starsky pulled away from the curb.
"Hey, this great place just opened up that serves the ultimate filet mignon and lobster--the tails are really huge--and they have a roving violinist and--"
"Starsky, I want to eat dinner with you, not propose to you."
"I suppose you think filet mignon and lobster would get you a 'yes'?" he quipped back.
"If I threw in a burrito from Pancho Villa's, probably."
"If you'd eat a dinner like that with me, I probably would marry you," he responded, laughing. "Since I'm not going to get that, how about that bar and grill near your place--the one with the cheap pitchers of beer and the big steaks?"
"Now you're talkin', partner." Hutch settled back in the seat with a smile.
Dinner was a relaxing experience, with a predetermined agreement not to bring up work during the conversation. Free to talk about something besides Maplecrest and machete murderers, their attention turned to Hutch's latest songwriting endeavor, with which he wasn't fully pleased, Starsky's overpowering desire for a better TV set and a microwave, a few stray political issues and what they ought to do with their upcoming Saturday off. They would soon be deeply appreciative of having had this little break in the stress. Little did they know that a turn in Grodin and Merriweather's investigative tactics would blow the Maplecrest case wide open, make it more of a public hot potato, and bring Dobey down on every detective like a ton of bricks until it was solved.
Hutch was brushing his teeth when the phone rang. Spitting out toothpaste and a couple of curses at the same time, he picked up the phone and answered it. He and Starsky had stayed at the bar too long, had too much beer and it was too late. He was ready for bed. Starsky was already dead to the world on his stomach on the couch. Driving any further than Venice Place would have been courting disaster, as well as a DWI charge, so he'd flopped happily on the couch and was now snoring contentedly there.
"Yeah?" Hutch barked into the phone.
"Dobey here. I want you and Starsky down here on the double...Something's... happened..." Dobey seemed at a loss to keep his gruff, commanding tone. "We have two dead detectives on our hands."
"Oh, God. Who were they?" Hutch sat on the arm of the couch, and gently shook his partner. Starsky mumbled but didn't move. He covered the mouthpiece and leaned in close. "Come on, Starsk, it's Dobey on the phone. We've got trouble." He shook a little harder this time, and Starsky rallied, looking up at him with bleary eyes.
"Wha's the matter?" He pulled himself into a sitting position and started blinking himself awake.
"Go take a shower and wake up. We have to go in."
"Two cops are dead."
"Who?" Starsky was fully awake now.
"Captain, who was it?" Hutch asked again, aware that Dobey had been patiently waiting through the muffled exchange.
"Grodin and Merriweather. Out at the college--just like all the others."
"You want us at the campus or the precinct."
"Campus. I'm on my way there now." He hung up without further comment.
"Grodin and Merriweather--at Maplecrest."
"Oh my God. What were they doing out there at this hour?" Starsky checked his watch. It was two a.m.
"Guess nobody warned 'em they shouldn't be there," Hutch responded, a definite note of guilt in his voice.
"Don't try to hang this on us, Hutch. It wasn't our fault." Starsky hurried into the bathroom and splashed some water on his face. The news had been enough to bring him around, and the temporary haze from the beer had lifted. He returned to the living room tucking in his shirt as Hutch emerged from the bedroom area, dressed again and sliding on his holster.
"We're meeting Dobey at the campus." Hutch led the way out the door, and Starsky followed. They took the LTD this time, and for some reason, Starsky didn't argue the point. The tragedy was monumental in a police department, even if you didn't happen to like the guys who bought it. Bickering about cars wasn't important now. Just being relieved it wasn't your partner who was dead was enough to handle at times like these.
It seemed odd to be back at Maplecrest in a strictly professional police capacity. Grodin's body, ironically, was sprawled inches from the door to Starsky's old faculty office. Merriweather was closer to Evelyn Lansing's office at the end of the hall. It appeared he had run, and was struck with the weapon repeatedly from behind.
Hutch felt his stomach constrict at the bloody mess in the dark hallway. Coroner's lab people were climbing all over the crime scene like ants on spilled ice cream, students were being kept at bay by uniformed officers and Dobey was keeping a solemn-faced watch over the proceedings. Through it all, Hutch had the horrible heavy feeling in his chest that he could have somehow prevented this loss to the department...this...carnage. Merriweather had tried to broach the subject of the cold spots in the hall, and Hutch had cut him off with some lame-brained comment about the heating and cooling system. I helped swing that machete, he thought morosely.
"Hey, partner, you okay?" Starsky's voice was gentle. He must have seen the devastation and draining of color from the other's face. Hutch turned and hurried out of the building. "Hutch?!" Starsky started to follow but Dobey caught him by the arm.
"Where the hell do you two think you're going?"
"I don't know where Hutch is goin', but I'm gonna find out." He yanked his arm away and hurried downstairs, scanning the students who were milling around under police guard, hoping to get official news on who was dead and what was happening. A few familiar faces appeared, but no Hutch. Starsky continued outside. A solitary figure sat on the grass near some shrubs. With one arm over his midsection, and sweat making his blonde hair adhere to his forehead, Hutch didn't look well at all. He looked up at Starsky's approach, seeming grateful to see him. "Hutch?" He sat on the grass next to his partner.
"I did this," he gasped.
"Come on, babe, just relax a little." He put an arm around Hutch and pushed the damp hair off his forehead. "Feelin' pretty nauseous, huh? Or did you already grace the shrubs?" Starsky's phraseology brought a sickly snicker out of his partner. Only Starsky could ask him if he'd puked in the bushes and make it sound prosaic somehow.
"Got that base covered already." Hutch leaned against Starsky, seemingly not caring how many police or students might be milling around. "Merriweather asked about the cold spots today...I didn't tell him anything, Starsk. He knew something wasn't right, and I didn't tell him a thing. I just felt so damn smug that they wouldn't be able to solve this case."
"He'd probably have laughed in your face if you told him anything," Starsky responded, one hand slowly rubbing the spot on Hutch's shoulder where it rested. "And even if he bought the idea, Grodin would have laughed at it and strong-armed him into doing the stakeout anyway."
"Don't ever let me do that to you."
"Strong-arm you into something against your better judgement."
"You haven't. And you wouldn't. We don't work that way, buddy. Never have. We might fight like cats and dogs when we disagree, but we're a world away from Grodin and Merriweather."
"I feel like my legs are made out of rubber."
"They are. Look at the way you dance." Starsky was relieved his insult brought out another laugh, sounding a little healthier this time. "You did the right thing not talking all this over with Merriweather. It wasn't evidence, and cold spots don't belong in police reports, and they wouldn't have believed it anyway. You had no way of knowing they'd pull something like this little midnight stake out."
"Yeah, but we're known for doing crazy things. Those guys are by the book, and not too inventive with even that. Why they decided to stake this place out tonight, I don't know. But they decided, they did it, and the shadow killed them--not you."
"I suppose Dobey's fit to be tied."
"I kind of brushed him off upstairs. I s'pose he's mad, but then he's mad at us anyway, so what difference does it make? Feelin' a little less rubbery there, pal?"
"Yeah, a little." Hutch smiled as Starsky stood up and held out his hand to pull his partner up.
"Whoa, no more pizza for you, fat boy," Starsky groaned as he pulled the larger man to his feet.
"Fat boy? Anything I've got is well-toned muscle, Gordo," Hutch responded. He knew Starsky's ridiculous insult was yet another attempt to distract him from his maudlin mood, and he appreciated it.
"Yeah, well, it still weighs a ton," Starsky grumbled beneath a slight smile.
"Yeah, well, I love you too, pal," Hutch responded quietly. Starsky just smiled as they mounted the steps to go face the wrath of Dobey.
"I'm glad you two decided to grace us with your presence." Dobey was still obviously unhappy with his usually favorite duo, but he continued in a moderate tone of voice. "You've got the case back. And if you mess it up this time, I swear to God, you'll be directing traffic for the rest of your natural lives!" He stormed past them and down the steps.
"Why do you suppose he put us back on this instead of assigning someone else?" Starsky asked, glad for Hutch's sake the bloodied corpses were sheet-covered now.
"I dunno. Maybe to punish us more." Hutch shivered visibly. His short sleeves were a poor match for the cold spots that were so horribly noticeable this time of night. It was if the coldness of Maplecrest was infiltrating his soul, somehow invading him. He didn't even brush off or resist when Starsky took off his own jacket and put it around his shivering partner.
"You look like you're comin' down with something."
"I've gotta get outta here, Starsk. I can't...do this now."
"Go wait in the car. I'll finish up here." Starsky noted the hesitant expression. "There's a hallway full of crime lab people up here. I'll be okay. Just go sit in the car and rest a little. You're not lookin' so hot, buddy."
"Thanks." Hutch turned and walked slowly down the stairs, still holding the jacket in place around his shoulders. It was cold, but not that cold, Starsky thought to himself as he returned to the task at hand, seeking out the medical examiner for the full story.
Hutch watched the lights pass the window of the car as they headed toward the precinct. He had taken up residence in the passenger seat when he left the crime scene, and Starsky had assumed driving duty without comment. He felt a little embarrassed at falling apart that way at a crime scene, but he still kept the jacket around his shoulders.
"Here's your jacket. Thanks for the loan," Hutch handed it back to his partner as the car approached the precinct. No need to completely humiliate myself, Hutch thought. At least this way only half the people I work with saw my partner hugging me on the lawn and putting his jacket over me at the crime scene. He was more than grateful for Starsky's sensitivity at the time, but he was embarrassed about it now that his composure had returned.
"Are you sure you feel okay? You're pretty pale, Hutch. Do you have a temperature?"
"Everyone has a temperature, dummy," Hutch batted away the hand that was headed for his forehead. "I don't have a fever, if that's what you mean."
"That's good," Starsky responded quietly, looking wounded at the sharp retort he'd gotten. He put the car in park and started to get out. Hutch caught his arm.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean it to come out like that. I'm just..."
"I know. It's okay. Let's get this damn report typed and see if we can go home for a nap, huh?"
"Good idea, but it's already four, and I doubt we'll get a chance to go home before our shift starts."
"Maybe not." Starsky sighed. "Well, might as well go get at it."
They never did get time to go home and get any rest before the day began. At least picking up the final autopsy results gave Starsky an excuse to go visit Ginny, though even that was overshadowed by his concern for his partner. Hutch hadn't looked right since they got back from Maplecrest. He was pale, jittery and withdrawn. He might still be blaming himself for not warning the other detectives, but Starsky couldn't help but feel there was something more to it.
"...so essentially, they were killed the same way as all the other victims," Ginny concluded, watching his blank expression change gears to attentiveness as he pretended he had heard a word she'd said. Well, it would all be in the report anyway. But losing his interest bothered her a little. She had thought things were happening between them.
"Thanks, Ginny." He took the paperwork and headed for the door.
"Hey, Dave--I didn't think you and Grodin and Merriweather were very close."
"We weren't. Grodin and I couldn't stand each other--why?"
"It's just that you seem...so preoccupied."
"They were still cops, whether I liked them or not. I guess I'm just tired, and now to get this case back..."
"You sound like you didn't want it back. I heard via the grapevine that you and Hutch were chasing lost dogs. This has to be an improvement." Ginny hated herself. Nice move, she thought. Embarrass him and say something insensitive about the deaths of two cops.
"I s'pose. I've got to get going."
"Yeah?" He turned back to face her as he had one hand on the door to leave.
"You still owe me dinner, remember?" She knew it was a little tasteless, and reasonably pushy to pounce on him when he came down on business and was obviously not about to bring up anything personal or social himself, but it seemed he was drifting away. And losing interest.
"I'll call you soon. I promise." He forced a smile. It wasn't one of those killers that lit up his face and the whole room. It was a social smile, hung out there to appease her. She returned it and watched him walk out of the room.
Hutch drove the route to Starsky's apartment without saying more than a few words here and there. His mood had remained dark all day, and with no tangible human leads on the case, they had knocked off at a sane hour. He had refused, not too pleasantly, a couple of suggestions to stop for dinner, and now his partner took the hint and rode the rest of the way in silence. Starsky didn't appear angry at the rebuffs, but he seemed concerned. Hutch was concerned himself. He didn't understand why he felt so damn cranky and out of it.
"You want me to pick you up tomorrow?" Starsky asked as he leaned back in the open car window.
"Yeah, that's fine."
"Okay." He straightened to leave and then looked back in the window. "You sure you're feelin' okay?" he asked.
"Fine." Hutch didn't like the sharpness in his voice, but he didn't correct it.
"See you tomorrow then." Starsky walked up the drive and then up the steps to his front door. Hutch pulled away from the curb, wondering why he couldn't shake the foul mood that had him under its cloud.
Starsky tossed his jacket and holster on the couch. It was a nice evening, and for some reason, he felt like doing something. Maybe it was because sitting around the apartment watching TV or trying to figure out what was eating Hutch didn't exactly excite him. Maybe it was because he could think of something that would appeal to him to do. It wasn't lunch exactly, but he decided to call Evelyn and see if now that she had left her uptight role as a college administrator, she could be spontaneous.
"Hello?" Her response to his four rings made him a little more nervous than he expected. It was sort of like asking your teacher out on a date, but yet there wasn't really all that significant a difference in their ages.
"Evelyn? It's David. How are you?"
"Trying to keep busy, mostly. How about you?"
"Well, I might be able to help you with that. Are you doing anything special tonight?"
"There's this really great new restaurant--LaFontaine's? I wondered if you'd like to have dinner with me tonight and try it out. I hear the food's excellent, and they've got a roving violinist--it's supposed to be really nice."
"That sounds nice." She paused a moment. "I'd like that."
"Great. Pick you up about seven?" He was looking at his watch. It was six now.
"I'll be ready." She gave him her home address, and after he hung up, the cold panic seized him. What if he couldn't get a reservation? What was he going to do--take her to Huggy's for beer and a burger? He flipped through the yellow pages, called the restaurant, and heaved a mammoth sigh of relief when they were able to fit them in to a seven thirty time slot. A little voice in the back of his mind was asking "Why does someone like Evelyn Lansing want to have dinner with someone like you? Is she desperate for something to do? Does she feel sorry for you? Does she want a free dinner?" The last question made him laugh to himself as he dug through his closet for just the right sportcoat.
Evelyn lived in a sprawling complex of expensive condominiums, surrounded by fieldstone walls and a security gate. Starsky was only allowed inside because Evelyn had called the guard and left his name as an expected visitor. He checked the number on the slip of paper again, and pulled up near the part of the building where her unit was located. He got out of the car, straightened his tie, brushed off his sportcoat and took a deep breath. "Maybe she accepted the invitation because she likes you," the voice suggested. He liked that idea the best, and hurried up the steps to the door. Expecting to see another business suit, he was stunned when the door opened. La Fontaine's was getting a reputation as a fancy restaurant, so ties for men and nice dresses for women would certainly be appropriate, but he was flabbergasted to see Evelyn looking, well, so much like a woman instead of a power suit with a heartbeat. Her hair was only partially up, held with a small pearl comb on top of her head. The rest hung down her back in soft curls. She wore a silky long-sleeved royal blue dress with ruffled cuffs and neckline. Pearls dangled from her ears and filled in the little empty space in the neck of her dress.
"Ready?" he asked, offering his arm.
"Ready," she responded, smiling and linking her arm through his as she pulled the door shut behind her.
"You look lovely," he said as he opened the passenger door of the Torino for her. She was certainly incongruous with the car, but she didn't appear to mind.
"Thank you. You look pretty nice yourself."
"Thanks." He hurried around to the driver's side and after getting in and starting the car, wondered what he was going to do with this evening. He didn't exactly run in Evelyn's social circle, she had him beat in the education and culture area, and she certainly was no floozy to use a few cheap lines with and sweet-talk back to his apartment. God, what am I doing here? he asked himself.
"I've heard quite a lot about LaFontaine's, but I haven't tried it yet," she began. Good. Inane chatter about the restaurant, Starsky thought. I can do this.
"Same here. I hear they have excellent filet mignon and lobster." Another thought crossed his mind: you don't have David Levinson's income, dodo.
"Are you fond of seafood?" she asked.
"I love lobster. Hutch is always trying to get me to try sushi, but I draw the line there."
"Sushi and escargot--big price tags on raw fish that is quite frankly...disgusting, if you ask me," she stated, smiling. "The only way I like oysters is if they're fried and dipped in seafood sauce. What about bagels and locks?"
"Bein' Jewish is no sure-fire formula for likin' raw fish."
"Have you ever been to Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco?"
"No, but I'd love to go there sometime."
"If you like seafood, you absolutely have to. I remember the first time I took Andy there..." her voice trailed off.
"How are you really doing?" he asked.
"It's very difficult. Andy was the only family I had. His father and I were never married, and my parents are both gone now." Starsky was surprised at her candor. Not that he found it especially shocking, but odd that she would be open about unwed motherhood. "Strange how I structured my life around Andy and my career...now they're both gone."
"The college didn't press charges, so at least it won't be on your record."
"That's true, and as long as I let everyone pat me on the shoulder and assume I was mentally unstable when I burned the painting, I might even sweet-talk a recommendation out of the adminstration. But I wasn't, nor have I ever, been mentally unstable. I knew exactly what I was doing, just like you did when you shot the lock of the library door that night."
"Sometimes you have to play the game when you get into a situation you can't get back out of." Starsky was quiet a minute. "Even if you have to take the rap with a few of your friends for being a little unbalanced, at least you could get your career back."
"I suppose it would salvage something. As it stands now, I've lost Andy, my job, and most of my circle of friends anyway. So I don't have anything to lose."
"I heard a line in a song once that said 'freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose'."
"'Me and Bobby McGee'?"
"How'd you know?"
"It was one of Andy's favorites. And I have been known to turn on a radio and listen to something other than Mozart, you know," she responded with a smile. "But there's a lot of truth in that I suppose. I guess that makes me pretty free then." She paused. "I'm sorry, David. I don't mean to wallow in self-pity. I hate that in others, and here I am doing it myself."
"You've had a lot happen in the last few weeks. You're entitled."
"You said something the other night that rang very true to me. You said that time dulls and numbs, but doesn't really heal. You sounded as if you haven't had smooth sailing all the way either."
"I've done okay," he responded, smiling. "But I know what loss feels like, and it's ugly. And the big ones are still with me."
"Do you mind my asking who you were thinking of when you said that?"
"I don't mind. My dad and my fiancee. My dad was a cop too, back in New York where I grew up."
"Oh, so that part of David Levinson wasn't a phony," she interjected with a smile.
"That part was real enough," he responded, smiling back at her. "My dad had a knack of not backing down from the wrong people. He was on his way home from work one night, around midnight. He used to ride home with another guy who lived a few blocks away, and he often liked to walk the last couple blocks if it was nice weather. My dad had walked a beat, then wound up sitting in a squad car all day. He said he missed the fresh air and actually seeing the neighborhood once in awhile. So that was his way of revisiting the past a little, I guess. Anyway, the other guy drove home, and then my dad started his walk toward our house. When he was a little more than a block away, somebody shot and killed him right there on the sidewalk. It was summertime, the windows were open...I heard the shot, but my mother said it was a car backfiring--I don't think she knew what it was right then herself. Then we heard sirens, and I knew my dad was due home--and wasn't, and pretty soon a couple of his friends from the department showed up at the door..."
"I'm sorry," she said quietly.
"Sometimes when it's hot, and my air conditioning goes out, and I have the windows open...man, I still think I hear that shot. Those things don't go away, just like finding Andy doesn't go away, no matter how hard you push it." Starsky took a deep breath. He hadn't intended to launch the evening with a death discussion, but maybe Evelyn would feel less alone if she thought her misery had some company. "Terry, my fiancee, was murdered about three years ago by some whacko that was trying to get back at me. He sure did. Those wounds heal over, and you keep going, but the scars never go away."
"No, you're right, they don't." Evelyn looked out the passenger window for a few moments. "I guess I'm not what you'd call a fun date right now," she said, her voice tinged with a little regret.
"Yeah, well, life isn't all fun and games. Besides, seems like I've been the one dumping all the gloom and depression on you."
"I asked for it," she retorted, smiling.
"There's LaFontaine's. Maybe we can go cry in our chardonnay together." Starsky pulled into the parking lot. He was glad to see Evelyn chuckle a little.
La Fontaine's was everything it was reputed to be: quiet, dimly lit and elegant. They dined on filet mignon and lobster, sipped expensive wine and exchanged less dire stories of their pasts. Evelyn had not been finished with her education when Andy was born, and since his father didn't see the value in her finishing her master's degree and pursuing a career, she broke off the relationship and with her parents' help, raised Andy on her own while completing the master's, and eventually her doctorate. Maplecrest was her only long-term employment experience. She began there as a professor and rose through the ranks into the administration.
Starsky described in general his childhood, his move to LA from New York, following in his father's footsteps, and running into a certain blond cadet and forming a friendship that had withstood the rigors of the training process, rookie status and eventually the complicated business of being detectives. He mentioned the Gunther case, which Evelyn had followed in the papers. She finally connected why Starsky's name had sounded familiar from the outset. She recalled reading about the detective from the Gunther case who had been nearly killed in a drive-by-style shooting in the police precinct parking lot.
"I don't generally talk about the shooting much," Starsky responded to her mentioning of the incident. She was probing her chocolate mousse with her fork, but she looked up at him uneasily. She really does look pretty in the soft candle light, he thought to himself.
"No, I didn't mean that. I don't mind that you asked about it. I've found it's kind of unsettling to a lot of women to bring up how you were blasted by an automatic at close range. It's unsettling to me, I know that."
"It's a miracle you survived."
"It is that." He sipped his wine. "I almost didn't. Shortly after it happened, I went into a cardiac arrest, and I'm told I was clinically dead for a short time while they were trying to revive me. But I came back, so that's the big thing. Took months to get back on my feet. If it hadn't been for Hutch, I probably wouldn't have made it at all."
"You two seem very close. He was very defensive of you to me when I met with him prior to your coming aboard at Maplecrest."
"Yeah, he's like that. He can tease me all he wants, but nobody else better say anything negative," Starsky concluded with a smile. "He was with me every day at the hospital, and he stuck with me through every step of my recovery at home. He's the best friend I've ever had...I guess he seems more like family. 'Friend' doesn't quite cover it."
"I'd like to get to know him a little better when we aren't locking horns about your educational background."
"He was so mad," Starsky thought back, amused. "He reacted the same way you did to the idea of me as a professor, but he still got all fired up about it. He still can't believe you and I ended up friends."
"At least something positive came of all this," she said, returning her gaze to her chocolate mousse. Could this be a little bashfulness in Evelyn Lansing? Starsky wondered to himself?
"Do you like to dance?"
"I haven't been dancing in ages."
"Oh, I bet it hasn't been that long."
"July 4, 1976," she responded.
"I didn't expect the exact date." He laughed softly.
"Well," she continued, smiling, "the last time I actually danced was at a Bicentennial party on the campus. I think it was Dr. Barnard who asked me, much to his wife's chagrin. She always has been an uptight old battle axe," Evelyn recalled, none too fondly.
"I think we've had enough sedate elegance. Whaddya say we go find someplace with a little nightlife?"
"I'm ready anytime."
"Waiter!" Starsky flagged down the server, paid the check and they were on their way in search of "nightlife", whatever that might wind up being.
Hutch had found himself dozing on the couch, but he was restless. Tired and sleepy, but restless. He looked at the clock. Ten-thirty. He dialed Starsky's number again, but there was no answer. Where the hell was he now? Where do you think, dummy, Hutch chided himself. Probably went through his little black book and came up with some company. Unlike you, Mr. Excitement. Laid out on your couch like grandpa, dozing at ten-thirty. Why was it so imperative to reach Starsky now? Hutch sat up and ran his hands through his hair. He leaned his elbows on his knees and stared into space. Thoughts weren't connecting...everything seemed confused, distorted somehow...have to get back out to the campus...but why? Hutch stood up, grabbed his jacket and headed for the door.
As the disco era was drawing to a close, the techno-pop rhythms of synthesizers that were starting to invade music from all sides throbbed at Fever. After loitering near the entrance for a few minutes, Evelyn spotted a table near the dance floor. Starsky was surprised at her taking the lead, grabbing his hand and guiding them through the crowd just in time to snare the lone empty table before another couple could seize it.
"You've got a good eye," he commented, sitting down after she was seated. "I woulda missed this one."
"We who chaperone a crowd of two hundred girls and their dance partners every year at the spring dance develop very good eyes."
"That's not a job I'd envy."
"Truthfully, it's not one I'll miss a great deal. I'll miss Maplecrest, mainly because it's routine, and it felt like home. But in another way, there's something terribly...claustrophobic about it."
"I know what you mean." Finding it hard to yell over the music, Starsky suggested the obvious. "Would you like to dance?"
"Thought you'd never ask," she retorted, on her feet almost before he was. The last time Starsky had been on this specific dance floor, he had been putting some serious moves on a woman in red hot pants. Evelyn was no barfly in red hot pants, but she seemed very much at ease moving to the beat of the music. She must have done all right at that faculty Bicentennial party. No wonder Mrs. Barnard had been ruffled, he thought, smirking. He ventured to put one arm around her waist so they could dance together, and she accepted the gesture readily. After a little while, he found the nerve to try twirling her, which she seemed to enjoy. Maybe Ramon would make his appearance before the night was over...every evening of dancing needs at least one good dip.
Hutch pulled up in front of the ominous-looking dark building. His thoughts were racing...disjointed and incoherent...and he couldn't seem to hold onto even one of those fragments long enough to understand it. For some reason, he had to get into that building. He had slithered into the precinct long enough to get the key that had been entrusted to the department during the investigation. But why tonight...and why alone?
Evelyn seemed to like being dipped as well as she liked dancing. Both of them obviously enjoyed music, and it was easy to move to the beat and forget all the horror that had launched their friendship. Beneath the reserved, well-educated exterior, Evelyn Lansing was the definition of a rebel. She had eschewed marriage when it didn't fit with her career goals, taken charge and burned the painting they thought was responsible for everything at Maplecrest even though there was no logical explanation for doing it, and now she was out dancing with the homicide detective who had successfully ruffled all of her well-established ideas of what constituted a qualified faculty member. Starsky, for his part, had never met anyone quite like her before. A brilliant woman who could intimidate you with an icy stare, or a beautiful one who could demurely look away with a little hint of bashfulness. She had a cutting wit and at times, a real flare for sarcasm, but there was an underlying kindness about her that had emerged from their first meeting, when she had saved him from the ravages of a faculty meeting by warning him to stay out of it.
Pulling up in front of her place at almost one a.m, he was appalled to have had as much fun as he had, and Evelyn seemed a little surprised at herself. She was looking a tad ragged from a considerable stint of dancing at Fever, but they had talked and laughed non-stop on the way home about that experience, as well as reminscences of other dancing experiences in their lives which had brought them varying levels of thrill and embarrassment.
"I had a wonderful time tonight," she said as they stopped in front of her door.
"So did I. Can I call you again sometime?"
"I'd like that. You know, we haven't discussed the murder investigation once all evening."
"Guess I'll have to take you to lunch like we talked about before--just to get caught up on the case."
"I'll look forward to it." She unlocked the door. "Would you like to come in?"
"I'd love to, but I have an early call in the morning. Can I have a raincheck?"
"Of course." She paused a little uneasily in the open doorway. "Goodnight, then."
"Goodnight." He paused himself, a bit unsure of how to close things. Shaking hands would be silly, and kissing her seemed like it might gain him a right cross. He compromised, and took her hand, kissing it lightly. "I'll call you." It must have been the right gesture, because she squeezed his descending hand as the contact broke, smiling brightly.
"Goodnight, David." The door closed softly behind her. He sprinted down the steps and hopped into the Torino, happy as a teenager after a successful first date.
So why was he so preoccupied with thoughts of Maplecrest? And Hutch. His partner had been on his mind off and on all evening, and now the two thoughts were swirling oddly together. Unable to put them aside, he drove toward the campus. He was stunned to see the front gate standing open...even more stunned to see Hutch's battered LTD parked halfway up the road to the main building. He followed the road as far as it went until it ended in the parking lot. He got out of the Torino and hurried toward the building. Questioning his sanity for lurking around this place at night, Starsky approached the front door. It stood a few inches ajar. He drew his gun and pushed the door carefully open. Since when did a gun do any good around here, he thought nervously.
There were footsteps on the stairs, going up toward the second floor. Starsky froze where he stood, listening to the movements. It sounded like Hutch. One set of footsteps he knew, without question, and that was Hutch's.
"Hutch? Hey, partner, it's me, where are ya?" he called into the shadows. The footsteps completed their upward trek. "Damn it, Hutch, come on. This isn't funny." He paused at the foot of the stairs. Only darkness presented itself at the top. "Hutch? Come back down, will ya?" Still nothing. Starsky mounted the first three steps and paused again. It seemed like the cold was coming down the stairs to meet him now, chilling the staircase and wrapping icy fingers around him. Only for Hutch, he thought to himself, inwardly vowing to never let his partner forget this stunt if it was, in fact, his idea of a joke. But what had pulled Starsky here in the first place? And why had he been so plagued by thoughts of his partner, somewhat unsettling ones, during his evening out with Evelyn?
When he turned the corner to the faculty office area, gun still drawn, he saw the shadow. It was almost inevitable in his mind that he would, but there it was, moving toward him. Only this time, a human form cast it. Starsky let out a mammoth sigh of relief at the sight of blond hair caught by a ray of moonlight.
"Thank God it's you." He put his gun away, laughing a little. "I swear to God, Hutchinson, if this is your idea of a joke--" Starsky stopped mid-sentence when he saw the machete dangling from Hutch's right hand. The other man was making an upward arc with it now, as if preparing for battle. "Hutch? What's that? Wait a minute--" Starsky backed away a little. Then the moonlight caught his partner's face, and the being that was Hutch stopped in its glare. The skin was almost pure white, the teeth which hung out in a demented smile under the mustache were tinged with decay, and the eyes...Starsky blinked a couple of times just to clear his vision. Only white...there were no pupils in this thing's eyes! Somehow, it was in Hutch. Whatever was in Maplecrest, was in now in his partner. Hutch raised the machete and headed purposefully toward Starsky.
"Hutch! God, no! Hutch! It's me, it's Starsky!" He was backing away as quickly as Hutch was approaching. "God, Hutch, look at me!" Starsky felt the hall give way behind him. He'd badly misjudged how close he was to the stairs, and now he fell backwards down the steps to the first landing. He aimed the gun shakily at the monster pursuing him. It hovered over him, its horrible colorless eyes shining in the moonlight, the darkened teeth in a grotesque grimace of deranged delight. It raised the machete in a wide, backhanded motion. It would probably decapitate in one blow, Starsky thought, cringing into the corner. It was shoot now or die. And he couldn't shoot Hutch. He rolled away toward the next set of steps as the blade of the machete swung down, clipping his shoulder but missing his head.
"Hutch!" He yelled back at the approaching figure, who had ceased to really resemble Hutch at all, except for the mop of yellow hair that hung wildly from its head. Starsky knew he'd twisted his ankle on the fall down the second set of steps, and if he once got up to run, he'd never get far. This felt like a bad sprain, and Hutch's legs were longer. It wouldn't even be a contest. "God, Hutch, please don't!" he pleaded, crawling backwards, reaching for the banister to pull himself up. The blade swooshed down, slicing the top of his hand and sending him sprawling backward again. The thing inside Hutch laughed...a deep, horrid, maniacal boom of evil laughter. Starsky spotted his gun lying by the staircase. It had flown out of his hand on the last fall down the steps. "Dear God, Hutch, look at me!" he demanded of the creature striding purposely toward him, raising the weapon again. Starsky grabbed his gun, aimed for the blade and fired. As he'd hoped, the machete flew out of the other man's hand. Another laugh ensued as it lunged at Starsky, grabbing him by the throat. Whatever this entity was, it knew he'd never shoot the human carrier it had chosen.
Starsky tried vainly to pull the fingers away from his throat that were squeezing the breath out of him. The hiddeous face was close to his now, the whites of the eyes almost yellow, mottled with bulging red blood vessels. The breath was foul that poured out on Starsky's face as the creature exerted all the physical strength it could conjure out of Hutch's body to complete the task of strangling Starsky. Things were becoming blurry, and there was almost no air left. Starsky gagged a time or two, knowing if he passed out, he would not wake up again.
"Hutch," he croaked miserably, "please...I...can't...breathe..." He searched the distorted countenance for any signs of Hutch; prayed to see those oases of blue where he only saw the bulging yellow. It was smiling. It was killing him and using Hutch's face to smile while it completed the task. God, he'll never live with this, even though it isn't his fault, Starsky thought hopelessly as he searched his fogging brain for some thought about how to stop this thing from happening. Maybe he could reach Hutch. Maybe Hutch would remember when this was over and find some small degree of comfort if Starsky told him: "Not...your...fault..." he forced his voice out beneath the pressure that was killing him. He reached up and grasped two handfuls of the towseled blond hair. "I...still...love...you...buddy..." Everything went black.
Starsky didn't know at first if he was waking up, or coming to on the other side. But there was pain. His arms, his hand, his back, his ankle...and oh, God, his neck and throat. The air wouldn't come easily, and he coughed. He heard his breathing coming out in a series of wheezing sounds.
"Starsk, it's me, come on, wake up," a voice was cutting through the mist. Starsky forced his eyes open, and at first sight of that mop of shaggy blonde hair, rolled away and tried to claw his way up the steps. "Starsky!" Hutch pounced on him from behind and pulled him back down, forcing him to sit on the bottom step. Hutch sat next to him and took Starsky's face in his hands, making his partner look him squarely in the eyes. "It's okay, it's only me."
"Hutch?" It was a hoarse croak at best. The Hutch that looked at him now was a little wild-eyed, very disheveled, but very much his old friend and partner. He reached up and took a hold of Hutch's wrists, noticing for the first time the blood all over his hand, and processing that it was the gash the machete had made.
"Starsky, I don't know what happened," Hutch explained, looking at him worriedly. "One minute I was on the couch at my place, the next thing I knew, I was standing over you, here, and I thought you were dead."
"We've gotta get outta here, Hutch," he gasped. "Get you away from it."
"Get me away from what?"
"The..." Starsky coughed painfully a few times. "The shadow."
"Did the shadow do this to you?" Hutch asked, incredulous. He really didn't know.
"Just get me outta here, huh? I think I sprained my ankle." Starsky felt his voice returning a little, though it was hoarse and scratchy. Hutch didn't question him any further. He stood and pulled Starsky up, supporting him around the waist while Starsky put an arm around Hutch's neck.
"We better get you to a hospital."
"No. My place."
"Don't be crazy. Look at you--"
"Hutch, don't argue with me. Too many questions at a hospital. Take me home. I'll explain..." He stopped to cough. "Later."
"Okay. Take it easy, buddy."
They made their way outside, taking Hutch's car since Starsky's was parked legally in the lot. Starsky didn't argue the point about Hutch driving. His partner seemed in his right mind, at least for the moment, and Starsky was too shaken and winded from the experience to safely navigate the road. Hutch didn't press him for more information about the incident at Maplecrest during the ride to Starsky's apartment.
"Cuts look pretty superficial," Hutch concluded, patching up the one on the back of Starsky's shoulder. The one on his hand had bled considerably, but it wasn't all that deep. Watching Hutch kick into his nursemaid mode, it was hard to imagine him inflicting the injuries he was so solicitously tending. He had an ice pack on the swelling ankle, both cuts cleaned and bandaged and now he was busily cleaning up his first aid supplies.
"Thanks." Starsky stood up, dispensed with the ice pack and hobbled into the bedroom. After discarding his soiled and bloodied clothing, Starsky pulled on his robe and stared in horror at the purple and red marks around his neck. There were little cuts where fingernails had broken the flesh here and there. He still found talking out loud to be a real effort, and turning his head suddenly was out of the question. But going to a hospital would mean answering a lot of difficult questions.
"Starsk? You okay in there?"
"Yeah. I'll be right out," he croaked as loudly as he could, hoping Hutch heard him. He limped out to the couch and collapsed onto it, stretching out but trying to avoid pressure on his wounded shoulder. He finally curled on his side, resting his head on the pillow Hutch brought out from the bedroom and stuffed under him.
"You've gotta explain this to me, buddy. I don't get it." Hutch sat on the coffee table, staring intently at his partner.
"I don't know where to start."
"How'd we wind up at Maplecrest?"
"I was on my way home from a date, and I felt like I should check the place out for some reason. And I'd been thinking about you off and on all evening, like something was wrong. So when I got there, I saw your car, and I went inside. You were already on your way upstairs..." Starsky didn't know how to continue this explanation. "I called to you, but you didn't answer me."
"Hold it. You're saying I was wandering around in there on my own?"
"That's impossible. I wouldn't do that now, not after Grodin and Merriweather..."
"You did. Then when I got upstairs, I thought I saw the shadow, but it was you, and you had the machete, and Hutch, your eyes...God, they weren't your eyes, and you came at me--"
"Hey, slow down a minute." Hutch wasn't sure why he was slowing him down--to comprehend what he was saying or to calm his partner, who was obviously becoming very upset at recalling his experience. He reached out to touch Starsky's shoulder and was shocked to see him flinch away, almost instinctively. "Starsk, what happened?"
"Your eyes...they were...yellow and those little red lines were all bulgy-looking in them, and...and...you tried to kill me," he blurted, his voice breaking. He hadn't intended to react this way, but the horror of what he had seen at Maplecrest, and the fear of what had infiltrated his partner's being, washed over him in a tidal wave. "I'm sorry." He took as deep a breath as his bruised windpipes would allow and looked back at Hutch through damp eyes. "I didn't mean to blurt it out like that."
"Starsky, you've got to slow this down a little. I did this to you?" Hutch smiled a little uneasily. "But that's impossible. You know I'd never hurt you."
"I know you wouldn't, but whatever had a hold of you, used you. I couldn't do a whole lot because I didn't want to hurt you. I sure as hell wasn't going to shoot you."
"So you just let me slice you up and strangle you?" Hutch shook his head in disbelief. "I don't believe I did this...I couldn't have...why don't I remember...and my eyes--what are you talking about?"
"It was like they rolled back in your head and there were no pupils, and the blood vessels were all...swollen...and the white part was yellow...I--I've never seen anything like it before. You weren't you, Hutch. It was whatever is in Maplecrest that was in you. It was the most horrible thing I ever saw," Starsky looked directly into Hutch's very normal, but very worried eyes. "I'm sorry to just blurt it at you like that, but it scared the hell out of me."
"I still can't believe--I mean I do believe you're telling the truth. But my God, Starsky, look at your throat--I'd--"
"Hutch, that's impossible."
"What?" Hutch was still deep in thought, and the angst was plain on his face.
"I can't look at my own throat, dummy." Starsky forced a little smile. Hutch's look of utter anguish held for a moment, then the corner of his mouth twitched a little, and he actually smiled. "It wasn't your fault, Hutch." Starsky sat up on the couch.
"But what I did to you--I could've killed you."
"But you didn't. You didn't do anything to me. I know that. I'm sorry about getting so worked up just now. I was...upset...scared I guess. I think it's just catching up with me."
"You know I'd never knowingly do something like that...I don't even remember it, Starsk. Am I going crazy?"
"No." Starsky took a hold of both of Hutch's hands. "You're not crazy. And you didn't do anything. That thing used you. I know you wouldn't hurt me on purpose."
"God, no, I wouldn't," Hutch responded, releasing his hand to touch the ugly smudges of color on Starsky's throat. "Must hurt like hell," he said over a catch in his voice.
"Gives a new meaning to the phrase 'pain in the neck.'"
"Maybe it's sprained. You should probably see a doctor."
"I can't explain these marks, Hutch. If I take it easy, I'll be okay. I want you to stay here tonight. I don't think you should be wandering around alone."
"After what I did, you want to sleep in the same apartment with me?"
"Something made you snap out of it, because I'm not dead. I think we're stronger together any day than apart. I'm not afraid of you."
"You still trust me?"
"With my life." Starsky stood up. "I'm really wiped out. Think you could call in for me tomorrow? Tell Dobey I've got...a sore throat." Starsky smirked a little as he stroked the bruised area. Hutch stood up and crossed the room in a couple of strides and embraced Starsky.
"I'm so sorry, buddy."
"I know. It wasn't you, pal. I know that." Starsky returned the embrace, wanting Hutch to be clear that he wasn't flinching away from him as he had before. He pulled back a little. "You look exhausted. Get some sleep. We'll tackle this in the morning."
"You need anything for the couch?"
"No. The pillow's out here, and I can use the throw."
"Okay. I'll leave the door open. Yell if you...well, if you can't sleep or anything."
"Thanks. I will. You too."
"'Night, partner." Hutch watch him disappear into the shadows of the bedroom. After he'd stretched out on the couch for the night, he marveled at Starsky's trust. He could hear the pattern of light snoring from the bedroom. He's sleeping only feet away from me after I damn near murdered him with my bare hands. Maybe that kind of trust is stronger than anything Maplecrest has to throw at us, Hutch thought as he dozed off himself.
Starsky wasn't sure what disturbed him, but he knew his neck hurt like hell. He reluctantly opened his eyes and moved slightly in the bed with a wince at the protesting muscles. Hutch was sitting on the floor near the bed, staring at him. Starsky forced his eyes to focus, and exhaled with relief when he saw the normal blue pupils amidst the slightly bloodshot white.
"Hutch? You okay?" He pushed himself up on one elbow.
"I don't know. I'm confused...I just...I keep thinking about Maplecrest, you know?"
"I know. So do I." Starsky let himself back down easily onto the pillow.
"About what?" Starsky didn't know if he meant for waking him or for strangling him. It had been a full evening.
"About what! About nearly killing you."
"Somebody told me once that close only counts in horseshoes." Starsky was relieved to see his partner chuckle a little. Hutch knelt by the side of the bed and leaned his elbows on the mattress. "You're sure you're okay?" Hutch was massaging his own temples, as if he had a brutal headache.
"I am but you don't look so hot." Starsky felt a wave of sympathy for his partner, who must have been terribly shaken to have come into the room in the middle of the night this way. He reached out and stroked the bowed blond head. "It's gonna be okay, pal. We'll get through this together."
Hutch slowly raised his head...or the entity slowly raised Hutch's head. The pupiless yellow eyes and the demented, horrible smile leered back at Starsky in the bluish moonlight of the bedroom.
"Hutch?" he asked hopefully, already backing away from the horrible thing perched by his bed. "Hutch, fight him! Come on, partner, I need your help! Fight him!" It laughed wickedly.
"Fight him! Fight him!" it mocked in a horrible rasping voice.
"Hutch, I know you're in there somewhere!" Starsky used every drop of restraint in his body not to run. Maybe he could reach Hutch if he just had the courage to try. The thing stood, straightening Hutch's tall frame so it towered over the bed. With a final resounding laugh, it rushed for the door. Starsky knew he couldn't let it get away from him, go out into the night and do God knows what, and leave Hutch to take the blame. He propelled himself off the bed and in one smooth gesture landed on Hutch's back, knocking him to the floor. He wound an arm around Hutch's throat and tried to subdue him. He felt teeth sink into the flesh of his arm, but despite blood that started running from the deepening wound, he wouldn't let go. "Damn it, Hutch, help me!" He pulled at the other's hair with his free hand, trying anything to strengthen his power to restrain the thing that was using Hutch's physical capabilities at their peak. Suddenly the other straightened from the floor as if Starsky's weight on his back were completely insignificant, released the bleeding arm from his mouth and flung Starsky backwards as if he were merely swatting a fly.
The impact against the wall stunned Starsky briefly, and he wasn't very coordinated when he lunged for the retreating legs. One foot easily caught his midsection and knocked him backwards again.
"Hutch, please, help me! Fight it!" Starsky yelled as he struggled to his feet and flung himself one more time at the retreating form. This time, his assault didn't knock the other off his feet. The thing using Hutch turned easily within Starsky's attempted resraint, knocked his arms away, and swung to hit him. Starsky ducked and got in one blow to the stomach before another flying fist made contact with his face. He had never felt a force quite like that. It propelled him back against the wall again, as if he had flown part of the way. Still he struggled to his feet. The thing was laughing, turning Hutch's face into a twisted mask of sadistic delight as he lunged at Starsky again, taking advantage of his slight haze from the impact against the wall. The last thing Starsky remembered was another powerful blow heading for his face...
Someone was groaning...Starsky focused on the sound. It was his own voice, still raspy from the strangulation he'd suffered earlier. No part of his body wanted to cooperate with the return of consciousness. He opened his eyes but only one actually admitted a signifcant amount of light.
"Husch?" It was a feeble attempt at a call for help. He couldn't enunciate, and he just didn't have the strength to yell. He tried to force the fog in his brain to clear, despite the horrible pounding in his head. "Hutch?" He managed a stronger vocalization this time, but there was no response. He started pushing himself up, and stopped short, groaning a little at the sharp pains throughout his stomach, sides and back. There was blood on the carpeting where his head had rested, and he realized it was drying on his face, having run out of his nose for a considerable time. He pulled himself up with a grunt, sitting against the wall, and trying to regain his full consciousness. Moving each arm experimentally, then each leg, he was relieved none of his limbs seemed broken. Consciousness was coming back, and he tried carefully probing the areas on his stomach and sides that were turning varying shades of red and purple. He didn't think he detected broken bones, but then he was too squeamish to inflict enough pain to really apply pressure to the areas. He felt tears well up at the thought of how he'd come by his injuries. He abandoned any such thoughts quickly, angry at himself for blaming Hutch even for an instant. None of this was his fault. If anything, Starsky blamed himself for not having taken any type of precautions against it happening in the first place.
There was no time for extended soul-searching, Starsky concluded, sniffing a couple of times and facing the challenge of standing. He rolled toward the nearby couch and pulled himself onto it with a little grunt of pain. It wasn't Hutch, he kept reminding himself. It wasn't Hutch, it was IT. A thing, a filthy entity invading Hutch. It wasn't his partner who had attacked him so savagely. It was the thing inside him, and Hutch was as much a captive victim of its power as I was.
The bedroom looked miles away. Starsky knew he had to get dressed. He couldn't go out looking for Hutch in his underwear, although at the moment, getting off the couch looked monumental, let alone mobilizing his battered body into action. He looked down at the scars left behind by Gunther's hit and the resulting surgical repairs. Guess I'll find out now if I can still get hammered and have all the stitches hold, he thought.
It was light outside. He thought of the time and finally looked at the clock. It was almost nine. Dobey would be checking up on them soon, and he'd be on the warpath. He picked up the phone and dialed Dobey's office. What he'd say, he had no idea. The complete truth wouldn't even be believed.
"Dobey," the voice barked into the phone.
"Cap, it's Starsky."
"You sound terrible," the voice on the other end responded, softening only slightly. Starsky had gotten used to his own rasping voice, and was grateful to be breathing at all past all the bruised ribs and other assorted dents and dings.
"I'm really sick, Cap. I've been up most of the night and my fever's really high. Hutch said he'd stay with me if we could get the day off. I'm sorry. I know the case is important, but I can't move off the couch right now," he said honestly, wondering how his attempts at getting dressed and going out to search for Hutch would actually progress.
"Have you called the doctor?"
"Hutch did this morning. He went to the pharmacy to get me something."
"I'll have somebody else work on a few of the basics with assembling the M.E.'s reports and some initial legwork. You two take the day off , but if you're still breathing tomorrow, I expect at least Hutchinson back on the job, if not you."
"Get some rest." Dobey broke the connection. Starsky hung up and began his journey to the bedroom. He was shocked all over again at his reflection in the mirror. He couldn't remember seeing so much color on his body at any other time in his life. It took everything inside of him to keep reminding himself that this was not Hutch's doing. This was something else using his partner's body to do its work. Still, there was a little part deep inside that couldn't help feeling the pain of having seen Hutch's physical form so intent on attacking, inflicting pain...but he had to turn that into anger--anger at the thing that had insinuated itself between them and tried to twist their relationship into an unrecognizable wreck...
Clothes definitely do not make the man, Starsky concluded, viewing his somewhat distorted face. That, plus his bandaged hand and sprained ankle made him look like he had just gone ten rounds with Ali with both hands tied behind his back. He donned his shoulder holster with a multitude of grunts and groans at the stretching motions it required, pulled on his jacket and hobbled down to the driveway where Hutch's car was still parked. He must be out running around on foot looking like that, Starsky thought. He was glad the entity had been sufficiently deranged not to take the car keys. With the Torino still parked at Maplecrest, he would have faced an immediate transportation problem.
Starsky embarked on a day of cruising the streets, checking out every nook and cranny he and Hutch were familiar with, though he queried to himself how much of Hutch's knowledge the thing could access. Finally having turned up nothing, he parked behind The Pits and limped through the back door to find Huggy. The cook eyed him suspiciously, but made no comment on his appearance. Huggy was summoned from behind the bar to come to the alley. Starsky was perched on the hood of the LTD there.
"Man, you look like somethin' the cat dragged in!" Huggy exclaimed. "What happened?"
"I ran into a door. Look, Huggy, I need to find Hutch. This is an emergency. I've looked everywhere."
"This got somethin' to do with..." He gestured toward Starsky's battered appearance.
"I don't even know where to start. Only thing I can say is that if you see Hutch, just call me. Don't go near him, okay?"
"What're you sayin'?"
"Hug, please, I can't explain it any better, I just...I don't..." Suddenly the alley seemed like it was moving, and Starsky held onto the warm metal of the car to keep himself from falling.
"You better come in and take the load off awhile, Starsky. You don't look too good."
"I can't. Huggy, if you see Hutch, you call me. And get word on the streets that I'm lookin' for him. But nobody should go after him. He's...not himself right now. The department can't know anything about this."
"Did Hutch work you over?" Huggy asked. It was a bizarre, off-the-wall question, and Starsky hoped the momentary hesitation and flash of anguish that passed over his features didn't give away the lie he told.
"Don't be ridiculous, Hug. I could kick his sorry ass anyday, you know that." Starsky forced a little smile. "Gotta go." He slid down off the hood with an involuntary grunt of discomfort and made his way slowly back to the driver's seat. "Oh, Huggy--if you see Dobey--I'm sick."
"I hear ya." Huggy watched Starsky leave, not sure why he had asked him such an absurd question. Those two fought like crazy sometimes, but they never hit each other, except for once...and even Kira hadn't inspired any serious injuries. Puzzled, he went back into the bar to tally up the take from the lunch crowd.
Hutch opened his eyes and surveyed his surroundings. He was slumped against the wall of an abandoned house, not far from where Jackson Walters' family used to live. The thing that caught his attention first was the unmistakeable brownish blood stain on his shirt. He was uninjured, but it had to belong to someone...and after one of these blackouts...Starsky! He pulled himself up on his feet. He had to find Starsky. But another part of his mind told him he shouldn't go near his partner. Was that his instinct to protect his partner from these homicidal blackouts, or was that the entity that seemed to have invaded him trying to isolate him? In any event, Hutch had to know if Starsky was all right, and once he saw that he was, Hutch resolved he would get as far away from him as possible while he was still rational enough to do so.
Starsky made his way back to his apartment near seven o'clock, having wandered the streets aimlessly all day. He didn't know exactly what he was expecting to accomplish, but he couldn't just sit home and not take some action to hunt for Hutch. Huggy had turned up nothing, and tomorrow was looming. Dobey would expect to see one or both of them back on duty. He'd come looking for them if he didn't get any word at all from them, and any excuse Starsky would try probably wouldn't fly for both of them.
He parked Hutch's car in the driveway and made his way slowly up the steps to the front door. He caught sight of a flash of blond ducking behind the shrubs below.
"Hutch?!" he called down to the retreating figure, who reluctantly poked its head back out again. "What're you doin' down there in the shrubs? Are you...Hutch, are you...you?"
"I'm me, for now." He appeared at the foot of the steps, seeing Starsky at closer range for the first time. Starsky ducked his head quickly to unlock the door, hoping Hutch wouldn't freak out over the bruises and swelling on his face, at least not until they'd had time to talk.
"Come on up." Starsky urged him.
"I just wanted to know you're all right," Hutch responded, still hesitating to move.
"I will be as soon as you get up here. Come on, Hutch. I've been out lookin' for ya all day."
"There's blood..." Hutch indicated his shirt, and Starsky consciously noticed the stain for the first time.
"Hutch, come on. It's okay. Come up here." Starsky gestured with his hand. As soon as Hutch had completed his reluctant climb to the top, Starsky pulled his partner inside and closed the door behind them. Hutch was the one to turn on the lamp. He started when he saw Starsky in the light.
"Dear God, Starsk. Tell me it wasn't me," he moaned.
"It wasn't you."
"It might have been your body, but it wasn't you." Starsky limped over to the couch and sat down. They simultaneously noticed the blood stain on the rug.
"I've gotta get out of here before I kill you." Hutch headed for the door. Feeling he was probably insane given what had happened the last time he stopped Hutch en route to the door, Starsky leaped to his feet and grabbed Hutch's arm, the sudden move making him grunt a little at his protesting ribs.
"Don't go. Please, Hutch. We've got to work this out." The eyes that turned back to meet his were agonized, but all Hutch.
"You're in pain."
"How bad is it, buddy?" Hutch knew he had to know, though he really didn't want to be shown. Starsky took off his jacket and pulled the turtleneck he was wearing up past his chest. Hutch's eyes widened at the mass of bruises he saw there. Starsky pulled the shirt back down again. Hutch's eyes went from the bruises to meet Starsky's eyes, one of which was still swollen partially shut. "Dear God...I remember going into your room, feeling confused...out of it. Then I woke up behind some old house in Jackson's old neighborhood." He dropped into a chair.
"There're more on my back , but I'm not doin' a strip tease number for ya," Starsky tried unsuccessfully to lighten Hutch's mood. At the same time, his partner had to be aware of the damage he could do. "When I came to, the blood was on the floor and on my face. It was my nose." He watched Hutch's expression move from shock to pure self-loathing as he sank into a chair.
"You've seen a doctor, I hope."
"And tell him what? I called in sick and said you were staying home to take care of me and then I spent the day looking for you." Starsky's movements were still slow and painful, but he knelt in front of where Hutch sat hunched in the chair, and gently coaxed his chin upward so he could have eye contact with him. "Hutch, I need to see you when we talk. Your...eyes. I need to see your eyes...to know you're okay."
"How can you...even be in the same room with me after what I did to you?" Hutch tried unsuccessfully to fight back tears, but they came anyway. "I'm losin' it, Starsk. I don't know that I do these things, and I black out, and then when I come to something awful's happened."
"We've got to fight it together, buddy. Like everything else." He looked directly into Hutch's moist eyes. "I don't blame you for any of this. It isn't your fault. I just...don't know what to do, and you're too strong for me to handle by myself when you're...like that."
"That's why I've gotta get out of here." Hutch stood up suddenly and headed for the door again.
"If you leave here now, I might never see you again." Starsky had straightened to his feet also. "Please, stay here and we'll figure out what to do." He approached Hutch, frightened a little that he hadn't turned back to face him. Every minute was a life and death risk, but if Hutch walked out that door, sooner or later, this thing would consume him, or he'd attack someone who'd press charges and his life and career would be destroyed. Starsky prayed silently that it was still safe, and took Hutch by the arm to turn him around. "We've always faced the tough ones together, Hutch."
"Aw, Starsk." He carefully put his arms around his partner, trying not to squeeze too hard. Starsky returned the hug and held on tenaciously even when Hutch started to pull back. "I have to get away from you. I won't take a chance on hurting you again. You might not live through the next one."
"I'm not going to let it have you, Hutch. It's gonna have to kill me first, and it hasn't managed that yet. Last night at the college, I know why it stopped." He pulled back and looked at Hutch. "I reached you. If I hadn't passed out, I'da known for sure."
"What stopped it then?"
"I thought it was all over. I couldn't get free, and I told you it wasn't your fault...and that I still loved you anyway," Starsky concluded, finding it more awkward to say now that they were both momentarily rational. "I think somewhere under that...thing...that had you, you heard me. And it knew it couldn't beat us."
"I was murdering you and you were taking time out to absolve me of it?"
"It wasn't you, Hutch. And I knew when you came to after it was over, if you ever were yourself again, you'd never be able to live with it. I hoped if somehow you remembered what I said, you'd know that I didn't blame you."
"I don't know what to say." Hutch went to the couch and plopped down. "I'm so damn tired and confused and...and I don't know."
"Well," Starsky took out his handcuffs, "if you need the facilities, and you want to clean up a little, you better do it now, because I'm puttin' these here bracelets on you once you're settled."
"And then what?" Hutch stood up, wondering what the cuffs would be tethered to that would hold down this thing at its full power.
"Umm..." Starsky looked around, a little worriedly.
"The brass headboard at my place would work. It's solid brass, heavy as hell. It wouldn't give way, and I sure couldn't drag it far."
"Good idea. Let's go. Oh, these first." Starsky put the cuffs on his partner and led him down to the car.
"Where's the Torino?"
"I guess it's still at Maplecrest."
"You left your treasure untended all day?" Hutch asked.
"At least I knew where that one was. This one I had to track down again," he said as he gave Hutch an almost playful shove toward the interior of the car as he opened the door.
"I don't believe you sometimes." Hutch looked up at him from the passenger seat of the car. "I strangle you and beat the hell out of you, and I could turn back that way any time, and you're still hangin' in there."
"Good partners are hard to find. Don't wanna break in a new one." Starsky pushed the car door shut and hurried around to the driver's side as fast as his swollen ankle and bruised body would allow.
The ride to Hutch's apartment was strained at best, with Starsky stealing repeated glances at his partner to be assured he was still, indeed, himself. Hutch, for his part, didn't look at Starsky's bruised countenance any more than he had to. Every purple smudge was a reminder that he wasn't in control of himself. If he was at the moment, it could all be swept away in an instant, and he could cause an accident, or worse yet, finish the job on Starsky once and for all. How Starsky could be so sure Hutch could overpower the entity to avoid killing him was beyond Hutch.
After releasing Hutch and just taking his chances to give his partner time to shower, shave and change into pajamas, Starsky reluctantly fastened the cuffs to the headboard. The position left something to be desired for comfort, but after trying at least four different positions, and actually being capable of getting a fit of the giggles at what anyone walking in on the scenario would make of it, they found it possible for Hutch to lie on his side as long as he was at a diagonal angle on the bed, facing toward the headboard. Given his occasional bouts with back problems, leaving him flat on his back with his arms stretched over his head and unable to move was out of the question. It moved Hutch that Starsky was willing to risk cuffing and uncuffing him just to find a reasonably comfortable position.
"Yeah?" Starsky was removing his jacket and holster, hanging them on a kitchen chair.
"I hate to push my luck here, but I haven't eaten since last night."
"Me either. How about I order a pizza?"
"Just don't let the delivery guy come in, okay?" Hutch asked, smiling.
"I'll just tell him you're a little kinky, and pizza is just one part of the whole set up."
"If you do that, I swear to God, I'll get even."
"Don't worry. I'll leave your questionable honor intact." Starsky dialed the number of the nearest pizzeria.
Though eating while handcuffed to a bed wasn't the most ideal situation, Hutch was happy for the food, and it seemed good to get a few laughs with his partner again, even if it was all short-lived. Starsky didn't seem to know what to do about the situation, but he was doing what they always did best--cover for each other.
"You can't just keep me locked up here like a crazy relative you keep in the attic."
"Oh, I don't know. Crazy Uncle Hutch. Has a ring to it." Starsky smirked a little from his seat in the empty space between Hutch's diagonal body and the headboard. "This...thing wants something. We have to find out what it is. Maybe it's old Malcolm, ticked off about getting barbecued by Evelyn."
"Great. What're we supposed to do? Glue the ashes back together?"
"I'm going to call Minnie in the morning and see if she can go through the records and pull the files on the original Willoughby case--and sneak them over here."
"She could get fired for that."
"Only if she gets caught. I, for one, don't picture that happening to Minnie."
"Don't you dare let her in here, Starsky."
"Hey, getting you handcuffed to a bed might make one of Minnie's fantasies come true."
"I swear, Starsky, if you make a joke out of this situation I'll--"
"You'll what, hot shot? Kill me? You tried. Didn't work, remember?" Starsky was grinning, and Hutch returned it, amused at his partner's capacity for dark humor.
The sound of metal against metal stirred Starsky out of a sound sleep. Once he was fully awake, he identified the sound as the handcuffs rattling furiously against the brass headboard. Afraid of what he would see, he gingerly looked over the back of the couch. Hutch was writhing on the bed, pulling for all he was worth on the headboard.
"Hutch?" Starsky asked nervously. He got up and walked slowly into the bedroom area, which was dimly lit by a small bedside lamp. "Hutch?" He lurched back a little when the yellow eyes opened and he realized he was in the presence of the entity again.
"Back for more?" It hissed at him through clenched teeth.
"Come on, Hutch, fight it with me! I know you're under there somewhere. Throw him out. Come back!" Starsky consciously kept clear of the path of the flailing, unrestrained legs. A foot in the ribs didn't appeal to him considering the abuse his body had endured in the last 24 hours. He managed to get on the bed next to Hutch and finally straddled the writhing form. Taking a hold of Hutch's head with both hands, he got right down near the distorted face. "You give him back to me, you bastard! You're not going to have him. Give him back, damn you!" The thing only laughed, then spit in his face. "Hutch, come on! Come on, buddy, fight him with me! I know you're still in there somewhere. Where's my back-up, huh?" Hutch's entire body seemed to arch upward, almost throwing Starsky off the bed entirely, but he held on tenaciously. One of them was growling now, deep down in Hutch's throat. Starsky didn't know if it was Hutch or the entity. "Come on, Hutch, I need my partner to fight this one! I can't do it alone. Come on, Hutch, you fight, damn it! Think about what it made you do to me. Do you like thinking it used your hands and fists and feet to make those marks on me?" There was another fit of writing and twisting from Hutch, and then a brief, breathy whisper as the horrible eyes closed momentarily.
"Starsk..." Then another cry of what sounded like pain came from Hutch and when his eyes re-opened, they were still that hellish mottled yellow.
"I hear you, buddy. I know you're in there. Come on! You're doing it! You're stronger than he is! Do you want to stay trapped under this...thing?" Starsky thought he saw some signs of conflict in the evil visage, but he couldn't concentrate on any small inroads. He had to keep up the pressure. "You can hit me with your best shot, you son of a bitch, because Hutch is mine and you can't have him. He's my partner, my best friend, my family and you're not going to take him away from me!" Starsky took some delight in the way the thing was reacting, making Hutch thrash wildly, tugging furiously at the restraint of the cuffs. The eyes closed and reopened, startling him with Hutch's blue pupils for a moment, then closing again and re-opening to reveal the eyes of the thing that still wouldn't let him go. Starsky kept up his appeals to his partner. "Come on, Hutch, you're winning! Come on, push him out! Come toward my voice! I need back-up here, Hutch. I can't do it without you, now come on!"
"Get away!" Another voice shrieked out from Hutch's mouth. It was deeper, raspier than Hutch's...the same voice that had mocked Starsky the night before. "They have to know!"
"Oh, yeah, hot shot? What do you think a'that, Hutch? Come on, buddy, kick his ass out of here! Me and thee, remember? Come on, babe, me and thee, nobody else in the middle. Get rid of him! You can do it! And you listen to me, whatever the hell you are." Starsky leaned down close to the face that was not quite as self-assured and comfortable in its evil anymore. "Hutch and I have a bond that's stronger than anything you've got to give, and you aren't going to win! You've been trying to drive me away because you know the only thing standing between you and Hutch that won't move is me. Well, dig in your heels then, asshole, because I ain't goin' nowhere." Starsky watched the eyes close, and a wild pattern of erratic movement play itself out under the lids. The window flew open and the mirror over the dresser shattered. He noticed for the first time that the struggle had left Hutch's wrists raw in the handcuffs. The man pinned under him was moaning, grunting as if struggling. "Hutch, come on, push him out! You can do it, buddy. WE can do it. He's not stronger than we are. Come on! Hutch, remember me and thee, huh? Who do we trust time here! He wants me dead--you don't want that, do you?! I know you don't!" Starsky watched another spasm of some sort pass through Hutch's body, and resisted the urge to cover his ears at the hiddeous shriek that emerged from Hutch. And then Hutch went limp from head to toe. The window closed with a slam. Reluctantly, Starsky moved off his partner, allowing him easier breathing without so much weight pressing down his midsection. Hutch's eyes opened, and they were Hutch's eyes. "Hey there, pal." Starsky smiled down at him. "We did it. We sent him packing."
"I...remember...parts of it. Hearing you, consciously trying to reach you from some dark place...Starsk, I never remembered anything before--it was total blackout. But this time, I could see him...I saw him...he was big, dark-haired, he looked...crazy..." Hutch was shaking visibly. "I could see him running...back to Maplecrest...it was like a dream. You were there, yelling at me, calling for me to back you up...but he's gone..."
"He's gone, buddy. We kicked him out." Starsky took the handcuff key out of his pocket and released the cuffs. Hutch brought his arms down gratefully, rubbing at the chafed skin. "I'm so tired, Starsk. I don't think I can get up."
"You don't have to." Starsky smoothed the towseled hair back from Hutch's forehead.
"We did it, didn't we?" he asked, smiling.
"Damn right we did it."
"Me and thee."
"Like always." Starsky smiled down at his winded partner. "Just relax. Go to sleep." He watched the last traces of worry begin recede from Hutch's face. "I'm right here, partner. I'm right here and he's gone." Hutch felt himself drift into a peaceful, deep, dreamless sleep.
"Good morning," Starsky entered the bedroom carrying a tray.
"You got up before me and made breakfast?" Hutch asked, incredulous. Spiritual possession, he could believe now. Starsky getting up early and fixing a decent breakfast stretched the imagination to its limits.
"I figured two pieces of pizza I fed to you while you were tied up probably didn't exactly qualify as a decent meal."
"God I feel lousy this morning. Lousy, but hungry," he said smiling. "Thanks." He looked at the bed tray that was set across his lap with some dismay. "Starsky, those are frankfurters."
"I made the eggs, but I couldn't find any sausage or bacon." Starsky returned to the kitchen to get his own plate and coffee, and then settled on the foot of the bed to have breakfast with his partner.
"I don't usually eat greasy meat for breakfast. Kind of defeats the purpose of jogging."
"You aren't going jogging this morning, so you don't have anything to lose. Now shut up and eat."
"You're acting like nothing happened, Starsk. We've got to do something."
"I know that. But we're both hungry, so first things first. I called Minnie this morning. She's pulling all the records on the Willoughby case as we speak. Wasn't too easy dodging all her questions, but she said she'd bring them by on her lunch break. Dobey was the real stickler."
"You called him already?"
"It's after nine, Hutch. He'd have come lookin' for us if I didn't. I told him we had food poisoning."
"Starsky." Hutch shook his head.
"Well, it was the only thing I could think of to build on my 'symptoms' yesterday and include you in it. He ranted and raved for a while, but there wasn't much he could do about it. I imagine he'll stop in later to check up on us, 'cause I'm not sure he believed it."
"I'm sure. He didn't. You can count on seein' him later." Hutch had eaten everything on the plate, including the offending "greasy meat", and now was sipping his coffee, looking more like his old self than he had in several days.
"If he had seen you handcuffed to the bed, he'da probably turned us both in to IA," Starsky said, laughing at the mental picture of Dobey trying to make sense of such a scenario. His delight annoyed his partner, but he said nothing, figuring he'd rather not even toss a pillow at Starsky for fear of hitting something bruised. "Only hurts when I laugh," Starsky complained, registering a wave of discomfort on his face.
"I think you should go to a doctor."
"I'm just sore. I'll get over it."
"I know you keep saying it wasn't me, but I still feel responsible. I'm so sorry, Starsk. Really I am."
"It was hard at first when I came to, and realized what had happened. I couldn't believe it myself. But I just kept saying to myself, 'that isn't Hutch'."
"But you still wondered how I could do something like that to you."
"Well, yeah, I guess so. I wondered how anything could make you do it, but then I remembered what you looked like when that...thing took over. You didn't have any choices, Hutch. At least, most of the time you didn't. And it went after me so violently that I couldn't fight it with you."
"Divide and conquer." Hutch sighed. "I didn't know anything that was happening. Last night, when you challenged it, was the first time I remembered something that happened while I was...blacked out. I just can't stand to look at those bruises and know that I did that to you." Hutch looked down at his hands. "That I used these hands to do...that."
"Hey--don't even talk like that. You didn't do anything wrong, Hutch. It used you to do it. None of it was your fault. It wanted a vehicle out of Maplecrest, and it took you."
"Are you feeling okay?" Hutch asked. "How's the neck?"
"Stiff. I don't feel great but I'll be okay. Please don't worry about it, pal. I'm okay."
"All right." Hutch was quiet a moment. "Starsky, I still can't believe you stayed with me through this, after what I did to you," he said it a quiet, shaky voice. Starsky moved to the side of the bed next to him and took his hands.
"Listen to me. You did nothing to me. These hands aren't guilty of anything, anymore than a gun is guilty because someone shoots it. They were used. And we're partners. I'm always gonna be here. You know that--me and thee, remember?"
"I know, but I could have killed you."
"You couldn't kill me, no matter how badly that thing wanted you to. We're okay. We survived this. Now we've gotta solve this damn case before it kills both of us," Starsky concluded, and they both chuckled a little.
Minnie arrived shortly after noon with an armload of files.
"Starsky! What happened to that pretty face of yours?" Minnie tried to take a hold of his chin to survey the damage, but he brushed the hand away.
"Sorry, Minnie. I just can't explain it right now."
"That's the worst case of food poisoning I ever saw," she said sarcastically. Seeing Starsky's impassive expression, she turned her attention to the task at hand. "Most of those are files on the Willoughby case. The rest are files on another case that was being investigated at the same time--same m.o." Minnie craned her neck to see past Starsky into the apartment. "What are you up to, Starsky?"
"I really can't tell ya, Minnie, but you're a life-saver. I'll explain it all eventually, I promise. If Dobey asks--"
"I know. You ate a tainted burrito."
"So did Hutch."
"Sure he did. And I'm Cheryl Tiegs."
"She's got nothin' on you, schweetheart," Starsky responded in his Bogie voice.
"What am I ever gonna do with you, Starsky?" she asked, laughing.
"If you'd ever invite me over to your place, you could try a few things out." Starsky flexed his eyebrows flirtatiously.
"I just might do that. You owe me for those files. I'll figure out a way to collect from you yet, Starsky." She turned and headed down the steps.
"Hey, Minnie?" He called after her, and she paused to look back at him. "Thanks a million. This really is important, all joking aside."
"You're welcome. Good luck."
"Thanks." He retreated into the apartment where Hutch was seated on the bed, propped with pillows and reading the morning paper.
"Those the files?" He tossed the paper aside as Starsky climbed on the bed and sat Indian-style near the foot of it.
"Yup." He handed Hutch half the pile, and they began sifting. After a few minutes passed, Starsky broke the silence again. "Seems there was a second theory about the case that was never explored."
"Which was?" Hutch prompted.
"That Malcolm Willoughby was a victim, just like the rest of his family, of a deranged intruder." Starsky rifled through the files and came up with a report and handed it to Hutch. "It wasn't the first killing like this that had occurred in the area. The first was an elderly couple about twenty miles north of Maplecrest. A man they had hired to do odd jobs allegedly murdered them much the same way Willoughby is supposed to have murdered his family, and took off with all their money and jewelry. According to this report, Malcolm Willoughby's brother, Clarice's father, said he thought there was some jewelry missing from Mrs. Willoughby's collection, but no one could be positive, and the whole family was dead, so no one was left to ask. The obvious thing--her wedding ring--was still on her finger. All in all, there was reasonable doubt here about Malcolm's guilt, but since he was dead and wouldn't be going to trial, it looks like they just took the path of least resistance, hung it on him and let it go at that."
"What about the evidence that pointed to Willoughby killing himself?" Hutch asked.
"Don't know yet. What've you got?"
"The answers maybe. There's a coroner's report here on Willoughby, plus some other notes." Hutch read silently for a while, as did his partner. "Looks like there were two schools of thought about Malcolm's suicide. At least Lieutenant Kiley, the investigating officer, had another theory. Either Malcolm was a murder victim, or he came home from one of his usual nights of drinking and gambling out on the town, found his family murdered, and in a frenzy of guilt and grief, committed suicide with the murder weapon that had been left behind--except they never found the thing, which they assumed was some sort of machete based on the wounds."
"What murder weapon was used in the other killing?" Starsky asked, scanning his information, but not finding the answer.
"Similar type of weapon--a big carving knife. It was left at that scene," Hutch responded. "What if Malcolm wants the family name cleared? All this to reopen the case, clear the family name."
"Then we're assuming Malcolm is an evil entity, because this kind of killing certainly couldn't come from an innocent spirit," Starsky countered. "And if Malcolm wants to clear the family name, committing a whole batch of new killings wouldn't be the way to do it."
"Hold everything! Who was the houseguest?" Hutch asked.
"Who was the houseguest murdered that night? Remember Jenny Moore's notes? She quoted the newspaper as saying that a houseguest was murdered with the family."
"Ahhh," Starsky started going back through the reports. "Matthew Fuller, 27. Caucasian, black hair, brown eyes, 6'2", 195 pounds. So what?"
"Starsky, look at the report on the Houghton killings," Hutch referred to the old couple's murder.
"Description of the suspect."
"Todd Franklin, late 20's. Caucasian, black hair, brown eyes, 6'2", 180-200 pounds...Oh my God..." He looked up at Hutch. "If Fuller and Franklin are the same man, and Fuller did it--and Willoughby walked in and caught him..."
"And the man I saw in my dream last night had dark hair--a big guy with dark hair."
"But they both ended up dead." Starsky ran his hand back through his hair, perplexed.
"They fought, Willoughby won, Fuller died and Willoughby killed himself, just like the evidence indicates. But the only one of the other victims he actually killed was Fuller. How big was Willoughby?" Hutch asked his partner, who seemed to have the portion of the reports with the medical examiner's information.
"He was 6'4", 230 pounds--big guy."
"Big enough to subdue and overpower Fuller." Hutch leaned back against the pillows.
"Maybe the shadow isn't Malcolm Willoughby. Maybe the shadow is Fuller. Maybe the painting stirred up a vengeful spirit--of a murdered murderer..." Starsky was deep in thought. "Maybe the real battle started when Willoughby's painting was brought back."
"Do we know for a fact that Clarice is the one who sold it? We've just assumed...maybe her father got rid of it," Hutch offered.
"Never thought of that. She never said anything when we talked to her," Starsky responded.
"We didn't ask her if she sold it. We assumed she had." Hutch smiled slightly. "Maybe we're onto something."
"If the painting was the key, then why are the murders starting again?" Starsky asked, shattering a little of the glee of discovery.
"Because once Fuller was called up, he didn't go back?" Hutch offered, feeling it was a weak suggestion at best.
"Possible," Starsky responded, still deep in thought. "Or he wants revenge...and credit."
"Credit?" Hutch asked, incredulous.
"Don't most psychos thrive on publicity? The way this played out, he's just another victim, and Malcolm is the historic monster who killed them all. The murder of the Houghtons is all but forgotten...maybe the guy wants credit for what he did and revenge on Malcolm Willoughby not only for killing him, but for stealing the spotlight." Starsky seemed fueled by his theory.
"If we accepted that for the sake of argument, what do we do about it?" Hutch asked.
"Give him what he wants. Prove Malcolm killed him, but not the others, re-open the Houghton case and tie Fuller into it. It seems to me like a little simple deductive reasoning would handle it. Hanging it on Malcolm was the easy, obvious thing. Maybe Franklin or Fuller or whoever he really is would be happy with some publicity bringing up the possible alternate explanation."
"I suppose anything's worth a try. But who would we get that would be interested in printing something like that?"
"The college's thirtieth anniversary is coming up soon," Starsky said, pondering the possibility for a minute. "The Chronicle is doing a series on it starting tomorrow, I think." The next day was Saturday, and the college's anniversary was coming up the following Friday. "The paper plans to run various features about the college over the years in their Society & Culture section every day until the actual anniversary."
"How do you know?"
"Evelyn told me about it the other night--she was my date before...all this started. She said she worked really hard to get some publicity for the college's anniversary, and one of the reporters, who's a former student, finally agreed to run the series idea past her editor, and I guess it was approved."
"You went out on a date with Evelyn Lansing?"
"You don't need to make it sound like I went out with Satan, Hutch."
"I just don't picture you two...as an item."
"Who says we are? We're friends. If anything else happens, well, we'll take it as it comes. I wouldn't put any moves on her now, anyway. Her son was just murdered a few weeks ago. This probably wouldn't be the ideal time to start anything serious. I just thought she might like to get out and have a little fun--lighten up a little."
"So where'd you go?"
"LaFontaine's, and then Fever."
"You took Evelyn to Fever?"
"She had a great time. She isn't the stuffed shirt you think she is, Hutch."
"How'd she respond to the legendary Starsky dancefloor technique?"
"I didn't try anything, Hutch."
"You must be getting old." Hutch snickered a little and looked back at the file he was holding. "Why don't we go see Clarice Willoughby again?"
This visit to Clarice Willoughby was not made by appointment. The two detectives arrived at the Riverside Village retirement home near eleven o'clock in the morning. As fate would have it, Clarice Willoughby was seated in the front sitting room, reading a book.
"Ms. Willoughby?" Hutch approached her. Starsky found himself hanging back a bit, still hoping his multi-colored face would go unnoticed with the help of the sunglasses he was wearing. Looking like you had just survived a bar room brawl tended to erode one's credibility as a professional cop, especially with citizens. "Detectives Hutchinson and Starsky. We visited you a few days ago."
"I remember you." She returned her eyes to her book.
"I wondered if we might have a minute of your time. It's regarding--"
"The painting again?" She laid the book aside, visibly annoyed. "My father sold it after the murders because having a picture of Uncle Malcolm hanging in the library ceased to be socially acceptable."
"May we sit down?" Starsky asked finally.
"Of course." Her answer was coolly polite. "You must be able to appreciate that this is not a chapter in my family's history I enjoy reliving on a regular basis."
"We can certainly understand that, Ms. Willoughby, but the fact remains that there are people dying in that building, and we know very well that the cause of those deaths is somehow linked to your family's past." Starsky sighed. "Do you know anything about a houseguest that was staying with your uncle and his family? He went by the name of Matthew Fuller."
"I remember him. I was only a child, no more than six years old. He was a disagreeable man, frightening actually. He had a peculiar friendship with my aunt, as I recall." She removed her reading glasses, seeming to be lost in the memory. "I only had occasion to be in a room alone with him once, when my parents took my brother and me to visit. He...was a frightening individual."
"You said he had a peculiar friendship with your aunt--what did you mean?" Hutch persisted.
"Just that. No one else seemed to get along too well with him, but they were...very compatible somehow. Looking back through the eyes of an adult, I imagine the nature of the relationship isn't too hard to deduce." She fidgeted with her glasses a moment, then looked up again. "My aunt was a flambouyant woman, very beautiful, very lively. Uncle Malcolm I remember as being harsh, conservative, not a terribly pleasant man. Over the years, looking back, I've never blamed Aunt Genevieve if she did have a relationship with Matthew Fuller. It was just that he seemed an odd choice."
"Do you know if anything was missing from the house following the murders?" Starsky asked.
"We couldn't actually prove or account for it, but it seemed to me a good deal of Aunt Genevieve's jewelry was missing. But that was missing before the murders. She used to take me up to her room, along with her daughters--my cousins--and we'd play dress up with her jewelry and hats...she was a very stylish woman. I remember my favorite piece was an amethyst brooch. The last time we were up there, the day I met Matthew, it was gone, along with several other pieces. Of course, the word of a six-year-old didn't amount to very much with the police, or even my parents."
"Did your aunt or uncle offer an explanation for why Matthew Fuller was there in the first place?" Hutch was scribbling notes now as they talked, feeling he might be finally getting some sort of structure to the whole situation.
"My uncle said he was new in town, an accountant, and that he would be working in the office, but hadn't found a place to live yet. My uncle owned and operated a property office--I suppose you would call it a real estate company now. I think Matthew was there for over a month--staying in the house, I mean--prior to the killings."
"The detective on that case had a theory that possibly an intruder committed the crime and your uncle committed suicide upon finding the bodies. We have a theory that Fuller committed the murders and was eventually overpowered by your uncle, and then he committed suicide."
"My uncle was a good provider, but he was a drinker, gambler and carouser. Many men might commit suicide over the annihilation of their families, but Uncle Malcolm wouldn't be one of them. He loved them, but not to the point of wishing to die because they were dead. If he died that night, he had plenty of help. That is why I always believed it was an intruder. And if he killed himself, where was the murder weapon? You can't commit suicide and hide your own weapon after you've already died."
"Good points," Starsky said, leaning back in his chair, removing his sunglasses to rub his eyes. He noticed the elderly woman's gaze. "I ran into a door," he quipped regarding his purplish-green-yellow puffed eye.
"Must have been a very large door," she retorted, with a slightly raised eyebrow. He had to laugh at the dry humor.
"With fists," he added, still laughing softly. Hutch was shifting uneasily in his chair, and Starsky changed the subject. He wondered if his guilt-prone partner would ever be able to let go of the incident and quit blaming himself. "You thought your aunt was..."
"Having an affair with him? Well, as a child, I didn't exactly think that, but they were awfully friendly. Looking back, I think that's a real possibility."
"If we have any more questions, could we contact you again?" Hutch asked. He had seemed like a cat on a hot tin roof ever since the humorous exchange between Starsky and Ms. Willoughby.
"Of course. I'm sorry I was a bit...reluctant to discuss this before, but my family was dragged through the mud sufficiently at the time, and I'm not pleased to see it happen again. I also fail to see how any of this has anything to do with a current investigation."
"Were there every any...disturbances in the house while you lived there?" Starsky asked. The woman appeared a bit unnerved by the question, but she didn't flinch away from it.
"Yes, there were. And they ended when we removed the painting. We assumed it was Uncle Malcolm's restless spirit. If he was, indeed, a victim instead of a killer, that would explain his angst over how the situation was interpreted. I don't believe he killed them, and I don't think he killed himself. My father didn't buy that either. Actually, I find your theory much more plausible--that Matthew Fuller did it. How he ended up dead is a puzzle to me, because I don't believe Uncle Malcolm would kill himself. However, I suppose stranger things have happened. Personally, I believe, as my father did, that it was an intruder."
"Do you remember anything about the police investigation? Why they didn't pursue the intruder theory at all?" Hutch asked.
"I don't remember much. I was very young, and my parents saw to it I heard very little about the murders. I know my father kept insisting that the weapon not being found proved it was an intruder, and the detective on the case kept insisting Uncle Malcolm killed himself because of some kind of evidence he had. I don't remember what that was."
"Thank you for taking the time to talk to us about this. It could help a great deal," Starsky concluded, standing.
"I'm sorry I was a bit stand-offish with you at first. This isn't a pleasant chapter in our history."
"Understandable," Hutch spoke up, smiling slightly.
As they were walking out to the car, Starsky popped his sunglasses back on and headed for the driver's side. Once they were inside the car, he probed his silent partner.
"I'm sorry if I made you uneasy in there joking with her. I didn't mean to be insensitive about it," Starsky explained.
"I'm sorry I beat the hell out of you."
"How many times do I haveta say it? It wasn't you."
"Oh really? How come I noticed last night that my knuckles were sore on one hand? You know why? From beating you."
"What am I gonna do with you, Hutch?" Starsky seemed genuinely exasperated.
"I don't know, but I know what you should do: press charges against me for assault and battery."
"Yeah, right." Starsky chuckled quietly as he started the car.
"I wasn't kidding."
"Hutch, come on. Give it a rest. I'm gonna say it for the last time. It wasn't your fault. Now quit making me absolve you for it every five minutes. I don't blame you, I'm not mad at you, you're still my best friend, nothing's changed except the location of a couple of my facial features, which are healing as we speak. It's over."
"I still feel guilty. How would you feel?"
"Guilty as hell," Starsky answered honestly. "But it's still not your fault. Would it make you feel better if I hit you back?"
"Let's not get carried away," Hutch responded, chortling a little.
"Think we ought to drop in on Dobey and tell him we're cured?"
"How do we explain the bruises?"
"I fell down my front steps."
"Dobey knows I fell down your front steps before and came out without a mark on me."
"I slipped in the bathtub. I don't know."
"If anyone beat you up, you'd have reported it."
"Jealous boyfriend beat me up--how about that? He'd probably buy that. I can tell him that it was an embarrassing mess and I didn't want to report it officially. He'll get on my case a little--"
"A lot, buddy. He'll get on your case a lot."
"Then I'll stay in the car and you go inside. I think we need to go over some of the current case files--compare them with the old files Minnie brought us."
"Then let's get Minnie to bring us the rest of the files. Maybe tommorrow you'll look better."
"Okay. Want something to eat? It's lunchtime." Starsky pulled away from the curb and joined the flow of traffic.
"Okay. Not Huggy's though."
"I called him and told him you were okay, that I found you. I managed to cut him off on the phone pretty quickly, but I don't want to answer all his questions either."
"You didn't tell him..."
"No. Just that you weren't quite yourself and if someone saw you, they should call me. When I talked to him today, I made sure he knew it wasn't drugs." Starsky paused. "He asked me if you worked me over. I thought it was odd he'd think that, but I told him you didn't. And that was the truth."
"Okay. Thanks for covering for me."
Minnie made another delivery to Hutch's apartment. This time, the blond detective answered the door, to lay to rest any rumors that he was hiding from her.
"He's okay." Hutch took the files from her as she stepped inside the apartment. Starsky had made the trip out to collect their Chinese take out order while Hutch waited for Minnie and the files. He wondered how long before Starsky rebelled against so much Chinese food as Hutch attempted to avoid the greasy fried take-outs he'd sworn off in the past year.
"What happened to him, anyway?"
"It's a long story, Min. I really can't go into it--it's part of the case--"
"And top secret of course."
"Well, yeah, at the moment. Sorry."
"That figures. Get assigned to R&I, and you cant expect to be involved in the sexy cases--but I'll get out of papercut city one of these days."
"These files are really helpful. This isn't all that glamorous right now. Just a lot of paperwork and research."
"Whatever. Well, I have to grab a burger before I get back, so I better go. You tell Starsky to take care of that pretty face of his."
"I will. Thanks, Minnie." Hutch watched her leave, and heaved a sigh of relief. He was more than mildly sick of making excuses about this case and Starsky's bruises.
"They had a special on egg rolls," Starsky announced happily as he entered. "Two for one."
"So you got six?" Hutch asked with a smile.
"Eight, actually. And extra sauce. Gotta get our strength back after bein' so sick." Starsky winked at his partner and started unpacking his bag. "Minnie's been here, huh?"
"Yeah. What do you make of the weapon not having been found?" Hutch asked.
"Fuller's still got it."
"How is that possible?"
"You had it the other night, and no one found it lying in the downstairs hall where it would have been if it hadn't come from some supernatural source. No one ever finds the murder weapon, yet it's the same every time." Starsky looked a little annoyed. "I thought we were going to talk blood, death and machetes after lunch."
Lunch was a gluttonous but efficient experience, and in less than an hour, they were in Hutch's living room with files spread from one end of it to the other. Starsky had taken up residence on the couch, immersed in coroners' reports while Hutch studied the similarities and differences in crime scene photos. A grisly post-lunch activity, but it had to be done. Starsky finally picked up speed in his sort of the files, as if he had located something. Hutch, who was on his knees on the floor arranging a grotesque collage for comparison purposes, looked up at the sudden movement.
"You got something?"
"I think so, yeah. Never noticed it before. In all the cases, the notes indicate that the wounds could be self-inflicted on at least one of the victims. I mean, I know that's not possible, and that's probably why everyone skims that part in the report, but still..."
"Poses an interesting possibility." Hutch sat back on his heels. "If Fuller possessed me, he probably has possessed others before me. Maybe the killings are committed by someone possessed by the shadow--Fuller--and then they kill themselves."
"So if you had stayed out in the hall that night until the shadow made contact with you--"
"Or if you hadn't gotten through to me before it was too late when I was choking you--"
"Fuller would have used you to kill me and then inspired you to kill yourself."
"Bingo!" Hutch sat back on the floor with a look of relief on his face. They had solved nothing in the eyes of the department, but everything in terms of how to pursue the investigation.
"So that's how a ghost has been committing these murders--but the machete..."
"Comes with Fuller, and is one of those things I guess we have to consider unexplainable." Hutch stood up and ferreted out a place for himself on the opposite end of the couch from Starsky. "I have heard of spirits who are able to use objects."
"So why doesn't he just do the killing himself?"
"He does, but he uses a body that's available to him. Remember how Merriweather was killed with blows that came primarily from behind?"
"I wonder if there's any evidence that Grodin inflicted the wounds on Merriweather?" Hutch leaned back in the couch, resting his feet on the coffee table. "Forensics probably never thought to look for evidence against one of the victims."
"Good point. In the Merriweather reports, all it mentions is that he was killed with wounds inflicted from behind, but listen to the probable description of the suspect: 'most likely between 5'9 and 5'10" tall, left-handed, very strong'. Now Grodin was no paragon of physical fitness, but he was left-handed, about that height--it's possible. When you were...that way, you were extremely strong."
"Our next move then, logically, would be to try to drive Fuller's spirit out of Maplecrest."
"Is that all?" Starsky massaged his bruised neck, whether consciously or unconsciously, at the mention of returning to Maplecrest. Hutch watched his partner with great sympathy. Starsky had made almost no mention of any discomfort he felt from either incident, but he had obviously been in pain ever since the first attack, and had to have been really miserable after the second one.
"Not too much."
"Liar." Hutch smiled slightly.
"I guess I'm just a little scared to go back to that place. I know we have to, but..."
"Why do you think he's been quiet until now? Was it something to do with the painting?"
"Did you ever consider this possibility?" Starsky began. "I know it's a little warped, but think about it a minute. Suppose Malcolm Willoughby caught Fuller in the act or just after killing his family. Suppose they fought, Willoughby won, and Fuller was killed. Suppose Fuller, in turn, possesses Willoughby, and causes him to turn the weapon on himself. There would not only be a grudge against Willoughby by Fuller for having killed him, but Willoughby wouldn't be too thrilled with Fuller, either. There'd be a whole lot of...psychic...stuff...energy, I guess you'd call it, associated with that painting. Clarice herself said the disturbances stopped after her father got rid of the painting."
"But the painting was destroyed," Hutch responded, still processing Starsky's theory in his mind.
"Yeah, but maybe Fuller had enough of a foothold by then that he didn't need the painting anymore anyway. Maybe he felt liberated because it was destroyed. I don't know."
"Willoughby was no longer the focal point of things at Maplecrest."
"If we assumed everything that we've come up with so far today, including your idea about Fuller possessing Willoughby, is true, now what do we do?" Hutch asked, and his partner let out a long blast of breath before answering.
"Figure out what Fuller really wants. When you were...possessed...he said, 'they have to know'. What does that suggest to you?"
"That he wants everyone to know about Willoughby killing him?"
"Probably--but also he probably wants the world to know that he killed the Houghtons, and that he also killed the rest of the Willoughby family. Most monsters like that want the notoriety."
"Think the Chronicle would print our theory in their series on the college's anniversary?"
"Not exactly good publicity. I'd have to call Evelyn and see what she thinks."
"I know how much you'd hate having to do that, Starsk."
"It'd kill me, but anything for the case." He smiled broadly. "Wonder if entities read newspapers?"
"No, but they probably know if something's been set right. Maybe we could go to the newspaper as anonymous sources. I mean if Dobey got wind of this..."
"He'd kill us. Wouldn't even bother with IA. I mean if we're backing up our story with coroner's reports and evidence from the crimes..."
"I've got it!" Hutch looked positively gleeful at his idea. "It's getting near Halloween. Maybe from that angle, the paper would be willing to run all the facts, and if we could get a psychic or some kind of paranormal expert to suggest the possession theory, we could not only give Fuller credit for the old murders, but attribute the new ones to him as well."
"And that ought to send him back to the netherworld happy as a clam," Starsky concluded, sharing his partner's enthusiasm. "I'll call Evelyn and see if she can put us in touch with the reporter."
"How well does she like you?" Hutch asked.
"I don't know...pretty well, I think...why?" Starsky was a little puzzled at the launch of a discussion of his love life.
"Would Evelyn be willing to take all our data and be the source--even if the reporter says it'll be protected, we need another layer of protection over us. If we got caught we'd be fired so fast we wouldn't have time to pick up the early edition first."
"But Evelyn's got nothing to lose, and they could probably still keep her name out of it," Starsky seemed to pick up on the theory, and like it.
"Well, give her a call, Romeo."
"Will you let it rest, Hutch? It isn't like that...at least not yet." Starsky flexed his eyebrows as he picked up the phone and dialed Evelyn's number.