The Swing of Things




        At 12:55 a.m. the red-light district was as busy and as brightly lit as it had been since early evening. Hutch had found a parking space across from the Midnight Sexpress and he and Starsky had been watching the porn shop for almost twenty minutes. Neither of them had recognized any of the customers and no one seemed to hang around for too long a time.

        They had been lucky. Tracy had given them enough time to call Narco and to meet with the nightshift before the deal was scheduled to take place. They had met briefly with the men at the station before, but felt better being able to talk to them face to face before tonight's show. The partners had filled the other men on their conversation with Trudy and had not surprised anyone with the news that Jameson was definitely tied into the Wayne camp. They had all worked out a plan for the early morning buy.

        Both Metro detectives carried guns strapped in leg holsters. They had agreed that they didn't want to spook the clerk by wearing shoulder harness', but weren't willing to walk into a possible trap without any protection. Narco had wanted them to go in wired so every step could be taped and transcribed for future court proceedings. Starsky and Hutch had drawn the line at wearing wires. If cornered, they could explain the guns as protection, like any good drug dealer. But being caught wired was a little harder to explain.

        In the last twenty minutes they had spotted two of Narco's men outside the shop, one in a car and one on foot, acting like a derelict. The third was still to show up, but their time was getting short.

        "There he is," Starsky whispered a few minutes later, nudging Hutch. They both watched the shorter, balding man shuffle nervously into the shop. He was wearing a stereotypical trench coat and his flushed, round face made him look like the normal, skittish family man, afraid someone he knew was going to see him. The perfect cover, as the man didn't rate a second glance and the trench coat hid his gun bulge.

        "Time for the show to begin," Hutch announced. He felt relieved that it was finally happening. Sitting and waiting had just made him skittish.

        The pair left the car and dodged the busy traffic, joining the other jay-walkers. The front of Midnight Sexpress was covered with flashy posters and bright pink neon, promising every conceivable form of adult entertainment.

        And if you couldn't find it in there, these friendly ladies who hang around the front will be glad to supply whatever you can afford. It's the same everywhere, Hutch mused, grinning at a few of the lovelies. While the bottom half of the wide windows were blacked out, the top portions were clear and the interior brightly lit. A quick glance showed him that the store was nearly empty. He saw the Narco man had taken up position down the center book isle, facing the clerk and the cash register.

        It was a fairly large store, with merchandise lining the far walls and several rows of chest-high bookshelves filling up the center. Starsky and Hutch split up, each heading for a different wall. The clerk, apparently the man named Troy, sat in the far corner behind the counter. At the sound of the small bell above the door, he barely glanced at the new arrivals, his eyes focused on some late-night movie Hutch could hear playing on a TV behind the counter.

        Pretending interest, the blond browsed for a few minutes, picking up books and magazines, flipping through the pages. He slowly worked his way toward the cash register and Troy, but ignored the man.

        "Hey, Ken!" Starsky announced in a stage whisper, coming up behind him. The smaller man elbowed him in the ribs. "I think I saw somethin' ya might like for your birthday in one of those really kinky magazines. It's real sicko stuff. Ought'a be illegal." The darker man grinned evily at his partner, obviously enjoying the game.

        "Oh, yeah?" Hutch replied, pretending sincere interest in his current selection. He leaned on the counter, including the clerk in their circle of conversation. "Does it have anything to do with mayonnaise, bacon bits, vinaigrette dressing and a naked girl who's well-tanned?"

        "Uh... no." Starsky's eyes widened, obviously stumped. "Why?"

        Gotcha now, Starsk! "Then it's too tame, Dave. You're gonna have to come up with something better than that." Hutch tossed the magazine down on the counter and looked toward the cashier. "Hey, you Troy?"

        There was a commercial on the small set, and Troy threw them both a bored look. He was a medium-height, big boned man with a craggy, pitted face and an once-broken nose. "Let me guess." He boomed, his voice grating on the low notes. "The two smart-asses are Ken and Dave."

        "Hey, the man catches on quick," Starsky said, leaning onto the counter, trying to keep his voice low. "We're friends of Trudy. She highly recommends you, you lucky dog. You wouldn't happen to have anything in the back that... well... truly mentally ill people like my friend Ken here could get off on, would you?"

        Troy sighed, glanced at his watch, then got up with a longing look at his TV. He glanced at the few lifeless looking customers in the store and shrugged. "Come inta the back, I'll see what I've got." He came back from behind the counter and headed for the back wall.

        Behind a dingy green curtain was a small hallway with shelves of stored merchandise and two doors near the back exit. One was apparently a tiny bathroom and the other a littered and cramped office. Troy led the way in and plopped down at the desk chair, leaving them to crowd in behind him and shut the door.

        "Let's get this all straight, right now." Troy grunted, glaring at the two new men. "You're here by referral. We don't do that often 'cause we got enough of our own people to do the job. Trudy says you're okay, but that doesn't mean shit to me. But I got my orders and that's to get you whatever you can pay for. We don't carry nobody. Period. You got cash, you carry. You pay me here, but you don't pick up here. If I like the green then I give you an address. You don't like it, carry your ass on out 'n disappear."

         Starsky glared back at the man, surprise and frustration in his voice. "You expect us to just hand over the cash and go on a goose chase for the prize? That's crazy, man! We don't got all night to go chasing what we already paid for. You ain't the only supplier in town, you know." With a snort of disgust, Starsky swung open the door, ready to storm out when Hutch grabbed him by the collar and jerked him to a halt.

        "Cool it, man!" Hutch gave Starsky another shake for good measure. "We need this stuff. They're not gonna stiff us and expect us to come back for more. Let's see what happens before we jump ship. Okay?" Another shake. "Okay?!"

        Back-handing Hutch's grip off of his jacket, the two glared at each other for a full minute before Starsky grudgingly backed down. The smaller detective turned back into the room, kicked the door shut and leaned against it. "This better go down straight, man," he almost spat, glaring sullenly at Troy.

        "Gee, tough guy." Troy sneered, glaring back at Starsky.

        Obviously the man was not impressed with the show, Hutch thought. Guess we ought to work on the act again.

        Troy turned his attention toward Hutch, dismissing his partner. "What'cha need?"

        Hutch and Troy worked out the details. Having only a couple of hundred to deal with, Hutch did his best to bargain with theman, while a sullen looking Starsky glared at them both. He kept to marijuana and cocaine, easily and quickly sold, then added a few bennies on the side for 'personal' use. The store owner made a phone call and passed the order along, keeping the call short and to the point. He was very careful and Hutch found he couldn't see the numbers he had dialed. A glance at Starsky's face showed that he, too, was unable to catch them. Troy hung up the phone and turned to him. "It's waitin' for ya. Cash time."

        Hutch snapped his fingers and held his hand out to his partner, who gave him an evil look before grudgingly digging the bills out of an inner jacket pocket. Instead of handing them to his partner, Starsky tossed the wad of small bills on Troy's desk.

        The store owner flashed Starsky another smirk and proceeded to count the money. "'Kay, it's all here. There's a dumpster in the back of the Coffee Cake donut place, three blocks down, to the right. There's only one dumpster there, so ya can't miss it. Inside, in the left corner, at the back, you'll find the stuff in a grocery bag." he chuckled, stuffing the money down a floor safe. "Don't wait too long, or some hungry vagrant's gonna get lucky. Now beat it." And with that Troy hauled himself out of the desk chair and pushed past them both to return to the front of the store.

        The detectives walked quietly out of the porno shop, past the invitations from the ladies and dodged traffic back to the LTD. Hutch pulled the car a couple of blocks in the other direction and parked in front of a seedy hotel. A few minutes later, a decrepit looking man opened the LTD door and slid in beside Starsky.

        "Good deal?" The older man asked, scratching his gray and scraggly beard.

        "Smooth, Sam," Starsky replied, talking quietly to the Narco detective. "Only problem is they don't deliver. We gotta go pick up the stuff ourselves."

        "Yeah, that's why they're so hard to pin down," Sam replied, keeping an eye on the passing foot traffic. "We can get the porno-guy, but he's tough. We arrest him and he's not gonna tell us nothin'. Wayne's lawyer will have him out five minutes after he's booked. They change the drop every time and we've never gotten a look at who stashes the stuff. It's gonna be tough getting the connection pinned down without some info from inside."

        "Really," Starsky agreed. "You gonna come along for the unveiling?"

        Sam shook his head. "Nah, I'll go back and get with John and we'll see if we can stake out the place first. Give us five minutes. Maybe we'll get lucky. Give us a squawk when you get near home. Where's the drop?"

        Hutch repeated the location and with that, Sam left.

        About seven minutes later. Hutch pulled the LTD up in the Coffee Cake donut lot. It was long closed, but a few lights shown through the front window from the back. Bakers, working all night to replenish the stock had conveniently left a back light on over the rear door. The dumpster was close by.

        Hutch sat in the car, the engine running, while Starsky made the dumpster trip. A couple of minutes later, he was back in the car, carrying a tightly folded shopping bag.

        "That it?" Hutch asked.

        "Gee, I don't know," Starsky replied, talking slow and using his 'idiot' voice. "I didn't think to check it first!"

        The blond just rolled his eyes in disgust.

        "It's here, all nice and neat." Starsky glanced through the sack. "Everything we paid for. Let's move it on home and see if we've drawn some interest."

        Hutch turned the LTD toward to the apartment. About three miles from home, Starsky reached under his seat and flipped the radio toggle switch, grabbed the mike and swore softly.

        "Damn! Couldn't they hide this thing someplace where a guy could reach it without getting a hernia?!" He clicked the buttons a couple of times, clearing the channel. "Zebra-Three, Zebra-Three, are you there, Mongoose?"

        A second of static and he got his reply. "Mongoose here, Zebra-Three. You had a tail 'til the half way mark, then he veered off. Doubt it was legit. Watch out for a pickup at your end. Good haul?"

        "We had a couple of cars follow us that far, Starsk." Hutch interrupted. "Which one did they tag?"

        "Mongoose, this is Zebra-Three," Starsky responded. "Good haul. Did you spot the drop-off? And we need a description of the aborted tail."

        "Zebra-Three. Nah, didn't spot the drop," was the reply. "No one even close to the place by then. Your aborted tail was dark, two-tone blue sedan, license know to belong to a car used by Daniel Wayne's men. You two head on home and we'll circle the block awhile. See if you're picked up from there. Give ya a call."

        "Ten-Four, Mongoose. Give us a ring." Starsky toggled off the radio and rehid the mike.

        "I think I caught the sedan, Starsk," Hutch said. "They veered off a couple of miles back. Someone wanted to check us out. I'll bet anything we have a tail just waiting for us when we get home."

        "Yeah, they just wanted to see if we were stupid enough to head straight for the station or somethin'." Starsky tried to stifle a huge yawn, but failed. "Which reminds me, we've still got my goodies in the fridge to add to this package." He yawned again. "Man, we still gotta work tomorrow... I mean today. What time is it?"

        "Check your wrist, Gordo. I think it's about 2:00 am." Hutch waited for his partner to check and nod at his guess. He scanned the street as they pulled up near their apartment. The streets were quiet, but not totally empty of life.

        The two detectives made their way up to their dark apartment and made a show of turning on the lights for a few minutes, then shut them off again as if settling in for the night. They quietly edged up to the front windows, careful to keep out of sight.

        "Starsk, I've been thinkin about this Jameson deal," he began quietly, waiting for the Narco car to appear. "Since we're in the business now, we can put on a show for Jameson. We can let him know we're tied into the system and we want to be friends. We might even be able to get him to vouch that we're really in business." He smiled at the idea. "I doubt he'll call the cops on us and maybe the man could use a few friends right now."

        "Yeah." In the dark he could see Starsky yawn again and rubbed at his face. "Sounds good. But if he's under the gun, we'll have'ta walk on eggshells around him. We don't want him to think we're there to strong-arm him for Wayne. Gotta keep it nice and friendly." Starsky's eyes caught something and he nodded toward the street. Hutch saw the Narco car driving by the front. "How'd'ya want to do it?" he was asked.

        Hutch shrugged in the dark. "Say a 'Hi' from Trudy? I can't see that Jameson would be afraid of her. He obviously knows her well enough to have bought from her. She should be safe to mention and she can back us up. Since it seems he's been cut off, we can let him know we'll take over as his suppliers as soon as Wayne says it's okay. Too bad we couldn't give him a 'goodie' bag to tide him over."

        "Yeah." Starsky grinned. "Only Wayne'd get pissed if he found out his new dealers were sellin' to the wrong person and it'd sure look good in court. Cops givin' freebies."

        They waited in silence for a moment, watching for the Narco car to make it's second round, but it failed to show.

        "Uh, Hutch?" Starsky asked quietly.

        Here it comes, Hutch thought, grinning in the darkness. He'd known his friend couldn't leave it hanging.

        "What was that thing about the bacon bits 'n naked girl?" Starsky elbowed his partner, mischievous eyes glittering in the dim light. "Is this somethin' new I oughta know about? Or can it be used against you in a court of law?"

        "Probably." Hutch chuckled. "Actually, it's a salad dressing recipe from the Happy Camper Nudist Colony's Cookbook.

        "Oh yeah? How come I haven't seen it?" Starsky asked, sounding a little hurt.

        "There's no pictures."

        "Oh. And the well-tanned, naked girl?"

        "That's what makes them 'Happy Campers', Gordo." Hutch snickered, which earned him another elbow in the ribs and a long-suffering groan.

        Five minutes after Narco disappeared their phone rang. The Narco officers had spotted another car known to be owned by Wayne's men. After Starsky and Hutch had gone into the apartment, Wayne's men had sat for another fifteen minutes before leaving. Narco had followed them back to The Rocket. As far as Wayne's men could report, they were two new dealers who had made a small purchase and had headed home with the goods.

        The tired men stashed their new purchase in the fridge with the other sack and prepared to get some sleep. They'd have to stop by the station early and check in the new purchase and Starsky's goodie bag. But as far as Daniel Wayne was concerned, tomorrow his two new dealers would open for business.


        The morning had gone smoothly. Starsky and Hutch had made an early morning trip to the station, placed their drug purchases in Narco's care and had even managed to dash off a quick report for Captains Pasquini and Lang, promising a full one later. They had succeed in keeping both happy for the moment and still had time to get to their 'day' job.

        There was nothing like two murders within a week to promote business, Hutch noted. Iverson's was packed that morning with customers coming to ogle and the media, who came to film the murder scenes. Both came in vain as an early morning security guard was placed to keep the public out.

        Ms. Quincy gave them all a lengthy lecture on keeping to the 'no comment' policy of the store and gave them special instructions on keeping customers out of the employee elevators. Hutch had been assigned to the Children's floor for the day and Starsky to the Jewelry department. The men they were assigned to work with were friendly and both detectives were able to gossip all morning.

        Rumor was running rampant though the employee ranks. The forced closing of the store the day before had been unheard of, but what had really gotten to most of the employees was having to be interviewed by the police. Hutch knew that most people had little to do with real detectives in their normal lives and it had been something of a dark thrill for some. They were more than willing to talk to their friendsabout the 'experience'.

        Hutch had only to vaguely refer to his own 'questioning' to receive, in full, the story of the other's ordeals. Breaks and lunches were full of petty details, guesses, surmises and outright mis-truths that didn't help either of the detectives. It didn't take him long to realize that while some things made the rounds of the building like a wild-fire, some items had yet to become a topic. The affair between Ms. Quincy and Aaron Jameson seems to still be a deep, dark secret.

        Meeting briefly with Starsky at lunch, it was agreed that the two would use their afternoon break and make a trip upstairs to the main offices to confront Jameson. They would have about twenty minutes to play it by ear before they were missed.

        The afternoon break came quickly, both men meeting by the main elevators. Starsky had managed to acquire a rather large, empty gift box with 'Iverson's Jewelry' printed clearly on the side. He had decided they would attract less attention if they were just two security guards 'escorting' an obviously expensive delivery to Mr. Jameson himself.

        As soon as he stepped off the elevator into the upper management level, Hutch was hit with the silence. This was the floor that Gainer's body had been found just the morning before. It was as if everyone on this floor felt oppressed, afraid to talk in normal voices. Even the every-day sounds of normal business activities were muted. Hutch spared a quick glance at the closed door to Collins' sealed office as they passed by.

        It's strange, he mused as he followed Starsky down the hall. I always expect to see some kind of memorial, or marker, or something that says 'A human being died here, here was lost their hopes and dreams'. When they say 'life goes on', they sure as hell aren't kidding.

        Down the hallway, where the offices got nicer, he could see the open doorway to Dennis Liston's office. Aaron Jameson was sitting at a large, impressive desk, guarding the closed door to Liston's personal office. He seemed extremely busy, fielding calls and making appointments, although Hutch knew that Liston was home 'sick' today.

        "Yes?" Jameson asked distractedly at their entrance. He seemed to be listening to someone talking on the phone at his ear. "Delivery?" he asked. "Well, let me sign for it and leave it here," Jameson ordered distractedly, waving the package over to his desk. "Yes, yes, I'll get that report over to you just as soon as Mr. Liston has signed it. I'm sure. I'm very sure. Yes. Good-bye." Jameson rambled, finishing his phoneconversation.

        Starsky placed the empty box on the corner of the desk and stood back while Hutch shut the door behind them.

        "Well, what is it?" Jameson demanded, obviously distracted with his work. He grabbed the box impatiently and froze, appearing to notice for the first time that the box was empty and the door was being firmly guarded.

        Starsky shrugged and gave the man a friendly smile. "It's just a visit, sir. We just wanted to introduce ourselves. I'm Dave Coleman and this is Ken Avery. It seems we have a mutual friend and may eventually be business associates."

        The phone rang again and Jameson jumped, but ignored it. "I don't know what you mean," he replied stiffly, face white and fearful. He glanced at Hutch by the door and clenched his fists.

        He's gonna bolt, Hutch thought. Better get him calm... "We're friends of Trudy. Trudy Coates. We're in business now and are goin' to be takin' over from the lady." The blond smiled at the frighened man. "Anything you need, you let us know. As soon as Mr. Wayne..."

        At the mention of Wayne's name, Jameson bolted half out of his chair. "What?!" He hissed. "You tell Wayne that I'll get him what he wants! It just takes time! I don't need any strong-armed goons coming in here..."

        "Now, now, Mr. Jameson," Starsky interrupted, talking calmly and smoothly. "We're not here for anything but dealing." He glanced at Hutch. "Ken and I have the store concession. You might say and we're takin' over some of Trudy's territory. We just wanted you to know that you'll be dealing with us, just as soon as all this other business goes down and the man says you're free to buy."

        The man sat down suddenly, the brief anger completely draining him. He looked defeated, as if knew he was the butt of some bad joke. "And what am I supposed to do for you?" he almost whimpered. "Cover for you? Set you up with the board members? What the hell do you want from me?" He looked at them pleadingly.

        Starsky moved slowly over to Jameson and settled on a corner of the table. The man was white, shaking and wouldn't meet his eyes.

        "Hey, don't get so uptight man," the detective began, keeping it calm. "Like I said, we're just takin' over Trudy's space 'n wanted to let you know we're here. Kinda as backup, ya know. We know there's some big moves goin' on here. Wayne's got you sweatin' blood for him, we know that. We feel for ya, but we're lookin' for points on Wayne's side too. So we just wanna let you know that we're in the area, 'n dealin', but open for more action. You need some help..." Starsky nodded toward Hutch, "We got the uniforms, 'n we wouldn't kick if Wayne found out we were handy to have around. Ya know?" Starsky smiled at the man and got up toward the door. "We live close and anytime you need some backup..." And with that thought in the air, he and Hutch left quietly.

        "Well," Hutch whispered as he pulled the door firmly shut. "We sure handled that real well. I thought we were going to have to call an ambulance or something."

        "Guy's a mental case," his partner replied, obviously not happy with the way the scene had played out. "He's under some nasty pressure, that's for sure. You notice that he's still got some work to do somewhere? Sounds like he could use a little help with the next shipment due sometime soon. I'm not sure we oughta trust him though. I've got a bad feeling about him."

        "Oh?" Hutch said, with a small grin. "I thought you loved working with the mentally unhinged."

        "Nah," Starsky muttered, glancing at his partner with some amusement. "I'm used to you by now, but that doesn't mean I like it."

        They were quiet for the rest of the trip to the elevators and were able to find an empty car going down.

        "Think Gainer messed up his plans this weekend? Got in his way?" Hutch asked.

        "Gainer could'a caught him messin' around in Collins' office, except he does have that alibi." Starsky sighed. "We baited the hook. All we can do is wait and see what we catch."

        It didn't take long. While on their way to the time clock to check out for the evening, Ms. Quincy's secretary, Sarah Keats waved to Hutch, signaling him that she wanted to see him.

        About time! I've about given up on the girl. Hutch threw his partner an 'I told you so' look before turning to enter the office. A second later he rubbed at his aching nose, feeling his face flush after running smack into the door glass. Damn doors! Hutch thought savagely. Always jamming on you at the wrong times... He squared his shoulders, ignoring Starsky's muted snickers.

        "Hi, Sarah," Hutch said, putting on his most charming smile. He took off his hat and leaned over the counter toward the lovely lady. "What can I do for you? Dinner perhaps? A movie?" Say yes, Hutch pleaded silently. Say yes!

        Sarah smiled at him and shook her head, a look of tolerant amusement on her face. "Sorry, Ken. Maybe some other time. Just thought you'd want to know that you two have drawn some attention lately."

        "Oh?" Hutch asked, hoping it was attention from her. "Why is that?"

        "Well, I just got a call from upstairs," Sarah whispered worriedly. "Mr. Jameson called and wanted both your's and Coleman's phone numbers and address'. Normally, we don't worry about such things, after all, they are the top brass and top brass can pull up employee records at any time. But Mr. Jameson wanted this done on the sly." Sarah said, sounding a bit disgusted with the request. "He didn't want Ms. Quincy to know your files were being pulled for this. He also seemed interested in the fact that you and Coleman have the same address." Sarah gave him a serious look, glancing towards Starsky, who was leaning against the wall out in the hallway. "You and your friend aren't in any kind of trouble are you? I mean, I'm sorry if it was something personal for you, but I had to..."

        "Oh, no, it's okay," Hutch said with a shrug, grinning at her. "It's just a possible transfer that Dave and I are working on." Hutch thought furiously. A transfer to Liston's transportation guard would be a step up. "Guess he must be interested in placing us, if he didn't want Quincy to know about it. Wouldn't want her to worry she was losing two of her best," Hutch laughed in a joking manner.

        "Well," Sarah said, "I won't say anything to Quincy, but not because he asked me to. But let me give you a word of advice Ken. Jameson's not one for doing anyone favors, unless they work out in his favor in the end. So you guys watch yourselves. And I have to get back to work." And with that Hutch found himself alone in the security office.

        "So, she finally noticed you, huh?" Starsky ask him as he entered the hall, a smug smile on his face. "It was an awful short conversation in there."

        "Well, you know…" Hutch replied, grinning back. "When you're good, you don't need much time to impress. Actually, she wanted to let us know that Mr. Aaron Jameson managed to get a peek at our address and phone number. Sarah was afraid we were in some kind of trouble. She gave us a friendly warning not to trust him. Looks like we got a bite, Dave."

        The news put them both in a good mood. They talked it over quietly and decided to get their report to Captain Pasquini done, drop into Homicide, then head on home to wait to see who showed up.

        It was on their way out to the parking lot when they almost, literally, ran into April Sims. She was standing outside the employee entrance, her face swollen from crying. Hutch had been saddened to hear from the grapevine that she had turned in her resignation yesterday morning.

        "Hey, hon," Hutch said, moving over to take her arm. He gently moved her farther down the sidewalk, away from the door and other ears. "Dave and I sure were sorry to hear about your leaving the store. But I can't say I blame you much."

        She gave them a sad smile. "Sorry guys, It was just too much. Not after..." She glanced around. "Well, you know. But I guess working here didn't mean so much after Mr. Kirk..." She gasped and tried to cover a sob. Both men stood beside her while she gathered herself. "S-sorry. But, maybe it's for the best..." She faltered again.

        "April," Starsky added, "you know we're working real hard to find the killers and tie up this robbery." He gave her a reassuring smile. "You just hang in there, all right?"

        "You okay, April?" A deeply concerned voice boomed behind them. Carrying bags of April's personal items, Wally Kraft came out of the building and came up to the trio. "I've got your stuff. Hey, guys."

        Now, there is something good coming from all this, Hutch thought happily. It finally kicked Wally into action. Those two belong together, but this was a hell of a way to do it.

        "Now, Ms. Sims," Starsky began, winking at her, "is this man bothering you?"

        If it had been possible for April to blush, she would have. "Wally has been a great help these last few days. He's helped me through a lot of it." She flashed Wally a shy smile.

        "April just needs someone to look after her for a spell." Wally grinned back. He too would have been blushing, Hutch decided. "We found her a real nice job downtown, closer to where she lives and it pays almost as well. I've got today off, so I told her I'd gather up her stuff from the Jewelry department. She doesn't need to go in if she's uncomfortable," he added protectively.

        "Well, you let us know how it goes," Starsky told them. "Just pass it along this big lug." He nodded to a beaming Wally.

        "Sure, guys," April answered. She motioned Wally to the car. "I'll be along in a minute," she said told him. He nodded and carried her belongings to his car.

        "He doesn't know about you guys," April told them quickly. "I feel really bad that there are things I can't tell him. But I promise I won't until the department tells me I can."

        "I'm sure he'll understand." Hutch smiled in reassurance. "Just keep yourself safe. And don't worry. We'll have this case solved before you know it."

        "Yes, thanks." She grabbed each of their arms and gave them a squeeze. "Good luck." And with that she was gone.

        "You know," Hutch began on the way to his car, "I didn't think those two were ever gonna get past the goggle-eyed stage. I'm glad they finally got together. Those two are going to make one hell of a pair."

        "Speaking of being 'goggle-eyed'," Starsky said, eyeing his partner, grinning evilly. "I didn't hear you mention a confirmed date with Ms. Keats. Strike out again did you?"

        "Now, now, we're on a case here," the blond replied evenly, knowing if his friend caught even a flicker of doubt in his voice he would never hear the end of it. "I can't be thinking about my private life at a time like this. You know better than that."

        "Yeah, just what I thought." Starsky shook his head as he climbed into the passenger seat, smiling smugly "Struck out again."

        They made good time to the station, even with Hutch zigzagging to spot would-be tails. No one seemed to care where they were going. Even so, he parked in the customer lot and they walked into the front lobby.

        Hutch was glad to see Phillips and Sanders at their desks. Sanders waved them over, excitedly.

        "Hey, guys! We've got something for you." Phillips smiled in greeting. "We got the print report back on Douglas Kirk, alias..." He searched a moment through his notes. "Alias James Leroy Connor, trained as a jeweler under his father in New York. His father left him the store at his death, but Connor was forced to sell half of the business to a local chain store when Connor made some bad stock investments. There were two suspicious robberies of the store in the next five years and Connor was later caught replacing valuable diamonds with lesser stones when working with ring sizing and cleaning. He was caught in a big police sting of the jewelry district and was sentenced to four years in prison for that and other offenses. After his release he disappeared, having lost the shop while he was in prison. And that..." Phillips handed Starsky the report, "tells us that it was likely that Kirk was being blackmailed or paid for his part of the current robberies."

        "Kirk could have offered to do the job outright," Starsky answered. "It wouldn't be too hard to hide an extra bank account somewhere. Just 'cause we haven't found any money, doesn't mean he didn't have it and spend it. And Jameson has access to the employee records of the Jewelry department. Kirk's employment history would only go back so far. Jameson could have done some digging on Kirk's past and found that anything listed on his resume before the age of 35 was faked." Starsky read the report over Hutch's shoulder. "Or Jameson blackmailed him..."

        "I don't know, Starsk." Hutch interrupted his partner. "I don't think Jameson's got the backbone for it. My guess was that Jameson supplied the information and Daniel Wayne supplied the push. I think it was Wayne's men who iced Kirk because he was too dangerous or they didn't need him anymore. I'm still voting for Jameson as the main suspect in Gainer's death. He has access to the building and would know where everything was."

        Phillips nodded. "Blackmail sounds like Wayne's style. He doesn't just want to use people or employ them, he wants to own them. Blackmail's his main tool."

        "How's your end coming?" Sanders asked, obviously feeling more at home with the two Metro detectives.

        "Fine," Starsky shrugged. "We are now in the small-time drug business and we've got Jameson's attention. We offered to be his backup." He grinned. "Jameson scammed our address out of the security office this afternoon."

        "He could drop by tonight," Hutch added. "He might check with Wayne about us, but he's so scared of the guy that I don't think Jameson would contact him until he had something good to report. Apparently Jameson is still after some information Wayne needs."

        "Like the transportation schedules?" Phillips asked.

        "Yep," Starsky answered, a hopeful smile on his face. "We just might be invited to a little breakin' 'n enterin'."

        "Boy," Sanders remarked, shaking his head. "You guys are bouncin' around these cases like a ping-pong ball. You're into Narco, Homicide, Robbery... You guys sure are hard to keep track of."

        "Hutch n' I always did have great timing, kid. We're always in the right place at the right time."

        "Which reminds me," Hutch interrupted. "We've got to report to Pasquini and we don't want to miss him."

        They made their break and were able to catch Captain Pasquini in his office. He accepted their verbal report, with a promise of triplicates later.

        They decided they should go straight home and wait to see if Jameson would contact them. They would have to play it cool and stick around the apartment the whole evening. No telling what kind of timetable Jameson was on, even if he did plan to contact them, or if he would even come in person.

        It was Hutch's night to cook, so they had his favorite chicken and dumpling recipe and vegetable mix. Afterwards they settled in for the evening. The blond lounged on the lamp end of the couch and went to work on a book of crossword puzzles. Starsky, sitting next to him, had commandeered the coffee table for his house of cards. The TV flickered un-noticed.

        He had been at the puzzle for half an hour before he was stumped. Four letters, down, 'A dipterous insect of Ethiopia, related to the tsetse fly'. Third letter is an 'M', fourth is a 'B'. Hutch thought for a moment. Who the hell is gonna know that? He surreptitiously glanced at his busy partner. Starsky was on the second level of his house. Obviously he had big plans, as he had cleared the whole coffey table for his project. Nah, he wouldn't, Hutch eyed his friend with suspicion, would he?

        All during their long friendship, Hutch had been continuously surprised at the things that his partner did and did not know. Starsky's knowledge of life on the edge of the streets and the workings of the criminal element was deep and impressive. But the man's knowledge of trivia could be as unexpected as lightening, if more annoying. Hutch used to call the man out when he started reciting his little tid-bits, daring him to prove he wasn't making them up on the spot. But Hutch had given that up, when his friend had turned out right too many times to be mearly guessing.

        Working around the word he needed for a few minutes longer, finally giving up and trying the next word, only to get hung up again, the tired blong sighed. Well, it couldn't hurt to try.

        "Hey, Starsky," he began, watching as his partner held his breath and placed yet another card upon his structure. "I got a crossword problem for you."

        "Shoot," Starsky answered shortly, holding his breath as his balanced card stayed in place.

        "Okay. It's four letters down, 'A dipterous insect of Ethiopia, related to the tsetse fly'. Third letter is an 'M', last letter is a 'B'."

        Starsky frowned for a moment, studying his card structure. "Zimb."


        "It's zimb. Z-I-M-B. Zimb." Starsky picked up another card.

        "No way," Hutch muttered under his breath. But it fit, so he wrote it in, in pencil. "Okay, try this one." He picked out another word that connected to the first. "Four letters across, second letter 'M'. 'In Norse mythology, the giant from whose body the gods created the world."

        Starsky sat back and surveyed his building possibilities. "Let me think a second."

        Hutch sat quietly and watched his partner visibly work through the problem.

        "Ymir. Y-M-I-R. Ymir." He answered distractedly, bending forward to place another card.

        "Starsk....?" He was astonished. "There is no way you could know those two words. You're making them up," he accused. "What's 'dipterous' mean?"

        Starsky gave Hutch an amused but patient look. "I am not and I don't know. It fits doesn't it?"

        "Yeah, but that doesn't mean that it's right."

        "Well, quit accusin' me and finish it. Then you'll know." Starsky gave him an indulgent shrug of his shoulder.

        Hutch bit his lip and went back to the puzzle. He had enough letters now to finish that small corner and Starsky's words had fit perfectly.

        This is crazy, he thought in confusion, there is just no way he could be pulling these things out of thin air! "Okay," he sighed, tossing the book and pencil on the end table. "I know I'm probably going to regret this, but I have to ask." He leaned back and waited until Starsky had placed another card. "How in the hell did you know those two words? You memorize a dictionary or something?"

        "Yeah," Starsky replied, intent upon the card house.

        "Yeah? Yeah, what?"

        "I memorized the dictionary," Starsky answered, "or at least and old version of one."

        "Bull, Starsk," he answered with disgust. "No one memorizes the dictionary."

        "No, seriously." The other man paused to relax and grin at his partner. "It was Grandma Starsky's fault."

        "The one who lived above that Italian restaurant?"

        "Yeah." The smaller detective stretched and settled back. "Grandma Starsky always believed in the power of words. She would read anything she could get her hands on, in two languages. We grand-kids, nieces and nephews would drop by with our parents for visits and get into all sorts of trouble, so she decided to keep us busy whenever we came by. Grandma loved crossword puzzles and hated the TV set, so she figured one way to keep us out of trouble would be to make us finish up the puzzles she was stuck on. She had dictionaries and some old encyclopedias." He smiled. "She was like a regular library. She would have the unfinished puzzles in a box and as soon as we arrived, we'd dig in and hit the books. We'd get a nickel for every answer we could find, but she'd have to confirm it before we were allowed to write it in. And she never left any easy ones, so we didn't get rich or anything, but it was like a treasure hunt. One long evening I got on a roll and earned about 45 cents."

        "Okay," Hutch admitted. "I can see where that would lead to a lot of trivia, but memorizing a dictionary?"

        His friend chuckled. "Well, you know how many cousins I have, so you can imagine what a bunch of rowdy, spoiled brats we all were, running around at family reunions. Later, as Grandma got older, she took to writing crossword puzzles and submitting them to the local papers to print. She had quite a few accepted and she framed every one." He smiled to himself at the memory. "Since she was one of the honored guests, she was exempt from kitchen duty, so she volunteered to keep all us kids busy. Those of us that were old enough were required to bring our own dictionaries. Grandma would sit at a table with her pens and paper and work on her puzzles, with two jars at her side, one of coins and one of hard candy. She always had a score of kids at her feet. Every once in awhile, she'd tell us she needed a word, between this many letters and that many letters and it had to have an 'T', blank, 'R', blank, 'C', or something like that. Then our job was to comb the dictionary until we found a word that would fit and we'd read it to her. If she used it, we got another nickel. If it started with an 'X', 'Y', or 'Z' we'd get a dime. Grandma loved words that started with 'X', 'Y' and 'Z'. Everyone who tried got a piece of candy, so you always got something."

        "So you memorized the last three letters in the dictionary?" Hutch asked in disbelief.

        "Yep." Starsky beamed. "At least I memorized them as best as I could. Grandma always said I was the best. I had a ton of cousins I was competing with, plus, Pop promised that he'd double whatever money I made from Grandma, if I could remember what the words meant after we got home."

        "You ever make out big?"

        "Once," Starsky answered, looking a little wistful. "The year before Pop was killed. I earned almost a dollar and a half over a three-day reunion. It rained that year, so we were inside most of the time. I couldn't remember all the definitions, but Pop gave me a whole two dollars anyway, 'cause I didn't get into a fist-fight with my cousin Joey like I usually did. I don't even remember what I spent it on." He sighed wistfully. "Pop didn't make it to the next reunion and I didn't want to go. Ma took Nicky, but I wasn't feelin' social 'n Ma couldn't make me go. While she was there my aunt and uncle talked her into sending me to California to stay with them when school started. Now I wish I'd gone." Starsky grinned a little sadly and elbowed his friend. "If I'da known I was leaving for California so soon, I would'a pounded Joey real good, for old times sake." He leaned forward and picked up another card.

        Little by little, Hutch had heard about the move to California. They all loved you, Starsk, he held to himself, not wanting to stir up the painful memories. They just didn't know what it would mean to a kid your age, to be sent away. I know you felt like you not only not only lost your father, but your mother and brother as well. And I know they're proud of you, but it still hurts.

        He decided on anther track, wanting Starsky to concentrate on the good memories. "So what was it with you and Joey anyway? The family idiots bumping heads?" He grinned at his friend, trying to picture him as a bull-headed, stubborn child.

        "Pretty much," the darker man admitted embarassedly, starting another level on his house. "We were both kinda in the middle of the group, age wise. The younger kids were too little for us to be seen with and the older kids just ignored us. Guess we just fought all the time for attention. At least, I don't remember fighting over anything specific, other than the fact we were both breathin' the same air." Starsky chuckled at the memory.

        Hutch smiled in return. "Yeah, I've got a few relatives like that. Only we didn't usually fight. In our family we'd get even by putting food in each other's pockets."

        Starsky froze, turning to give his partner an astonished look. "What? Food in your pockets? Man, you guys were weird." He shook his head in disbelief.

        "We were supposed to be young ladies and gentlemen at our reunions, Starsky," He replied in a haughty voice. "No rough-housing. No fights. And we had to wear shirts, ties and shined shoes. The whole bit. A couple of cousins and I didn't get along and a fist fight would have caused a scandal and embarrassed both families. To get back after one nasty trick, one of us," Hutch cleared his throat and tried to look innocent, "loaded the other guy's pockets with Jell-O when he wasn't looking. He got all the way home before it started to melt and he and his parents found out about it." He chuckled evilly at the memory. "He couldn't explain what he was doing with a pocketful of orange Jell-O. He didn't get into big trouble or anything, but it really grated on his nerves for the rest of the year. That food fight lasted for about four family reunions before it died out."

        "You ever get caught?" Starsky grinned, leaning back into the couch.

        "Who? Me? I wouldn't do anything like that," he answered, fighting for just the right 'innocent' look.

        "So, you never got caught?"

        "Nope," Hutch replied with a laugh. "But I sure came close to it a couple of times. None of us ever actually got caught at it, or punished for it. Just kind of humiliated the whole family I guess. We could honestly say we didn't know who was doing it, although we were all warned before the gatherings to behave ourselves. The adults did not find it amusing, because a Hutchinson descendant wasn't supposed to act like that. The adults got nervous about checking us too often once the get-togethers started, though, and pretty much left us alone. They never knew when one of us would start dripping uncontrollably." He snickered at the memory.

        "You ever get hit with a full pocket?"

        "Once or twice," Hutch admitted. "A bunch of us older kids were upstairs in my grandparent's house. The floors were waxed really slick and whenever we could we'd ditch our shoes and 'skate' down the hallways. We weren't supposed to do that because our mothers were convinced we were going to slide off the top of the steps and break our necks. As soon as we heard footsteps on the stairs we had a frantic race back to our shoes. Once, when I put my left shoe on it was full of banana pudding. I didn't see it until it was too late." Hutch chuckled. "I still don't know who did it or how, but I have my suspicions."

        "Gee," Starsky uttered with a serious look, "remind me to dress casual if I ever get invited to one of your family reunions."

        "Sure and I'll bring my crossword book to yours. I ought to get a lot of help there." He picked his book back up and started in on a new puzzle.

        They passed the next few hours of the evening quietly, watching the news and waiting for something to happen. After three card disasters in a row, Starsky gave up and pulled out his car magazines. Hutch decided he had had enough of crosswords and took over the discarded card pile.

        One of their favorite shows came on and then the news. Hutch had managed to play a few solitaire games, but was not having much luck. He had dealt out a couple more while Starsky watched the play.

        "Hey, Hutch," he said, eyeing the layout. "Weren't you missing the three of hearts the last couple of games?"

        "Yeah. Why?" The taller man checked his layout for any openings. He sighed in frustration as he realized this game too, was finished. He hadn't been able to clear the board all evening.

        "Better count the cards," Starsky warned.

        Hutch restacked the cards and counted through them. "We're missing three cards, Starsky," he announced with a dark look at his partner. "Did you lose them?"

        "If I knew I had lost them, I would have known about it and put them back," Starsky replied with a snort. "Then they wouldn't be lost, just temporarily misplaced. Right?"

        While Hutch tried to decide whether Starsky's answer made any sense, they both checked under and over the couch, in the cushions, the shelves and the kitchenette drawers. The cards were nowhere to be found.

        "They couldn't have just walked out, Starsky," Hutch exclaimed in frustration. "They have to be here somewhere. I'm not giving up 'til I find them."

        He had just run out of places to look when Starsky cornered him and voted for bed. They both agreed that finding the lost cards and staying up to wait for a contact from Jameson were both lost causes for the evening.

        "Hutch? Promise me something?" His partner asked from his room down the hall. "When this case is over with and we get some leave time, promise that we'll go someplace where we won't have'ta be in our rooms except to sleep."

        "Camping!" Hutch replied around a mouthful of toothpaste. He knew just the place, a trail in the Sierra Mountains that the camping brochures raved about. "I know a great place..."

        "No, no, no…" Starsky interrupted with disgust. "I mean someplace where we can get out and do things all day, not hang around..."

        "Camping! It's perfect! All that wonderful countryside to see, all that wide open space to..."

        "No!" Starsky interjected, sounding frustrated. "Someplace where we can eat all kinds of wonderful foods..."

        "Natural food, Starsk." He turned off the bathroom light and walked down to Starsky's dark room and peered at his barely visible friend. "It's the best thing there is for you. I've got this natural food guide..."

        "Fast driving," Starsky challenged, sitting up.

        "Horseback riding."


        "Owls, frogs and the changing constellations."

        "Soft beds."

        "New sleeping bags. State of the art."


        "A cool lake."


        "A nice, deep hole."

        "Gambling," Starsky threw in with an exasperated chuckle.

        "Trying the unknown trails," Hutch answered.

        "Companionship," Starsky replied, blue eyes shining evily in the dark. He threw his last, jaw-breaker of a punch. "Women."

        Ouch! Hutch thought with amused frustration. How am I supposed to compete with that? "First point," he finally replied around a snicker. He headed to his room in defeat to check his alarm and turn out his light.

        "Vegas! Reno!" Starsky yelled in triumphantly from across the dark hall.

        Gloat away, son, Hutch thought with fondness. Next point is mine and I still plan on seeing the great outdoors, one way or another. He lay there quietly, knowing just what to do.

        "G'night, Hutch," his friend called quietly a moment later, gloating suspended temporarily.

        "Good night, Starsk," he replied in the saddest, most forlorn voice he could dredge up. Then quietly, after a moment's silence, "Tahoe? It would cost us some of our gambling money, but we could ski..." Hutch let his voice trail off with just a minute touch of hope.

        "Well, only if you're good," Starsky replied grudgingly, after another long moment. "And you stay outta my way."

        Point two, Hutchinson.