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Starsky's Sweet Angel
Summary: Trouble ensues when Detective David Starsky obligates himself and his partner (over his objections) to investigating the possibility that a young woman's mother has been murdered, and in the process finds himself becoming professionally and emotionally involved in the case and her life as it evolves.
The squealing of brakes from a city bus coming to an abrupt stop were the only sounds that broke through the steady drumming of heavy rain in the night. The bus driver released his last passenger onto the sidewalk and closed the doors to the inclement weather, then sent the bus lurching on its way. The lone traveler stood still in the darkness, head arching up at an electric beacon of light shed by a nearby street lamp--debating perhaps the pros and cons of pressing on versus turning back. The rain plummeted down from the night sky like a hail of bullets from a shotgun, bringing with it the biting chill of the wind, which cut through the traveler's clothing like ice to bone. A two-tone green and grey backpack shifted to and fro as the stranger pressed on; its weight burdensome, but not hindering forward motion. Sporadic coughing fits set off irritating bouts of stops and starts, warmed hands had to come out of their pockets to cover the mouth and blow the nose, then pushing on, only to begin the cycle again further along. Despite all these setbacks, two goals remained foremost, finding a place of shelter out of the deluge and filling an angry belly.
No matter how purposefully Detective Sergeant David Starsky resisted the bait, he was still intrigued by the prospect of going out to his partner's place to try his hand at a game of chance. He was feeling lucky tonight and the fact that it was raining cats and dogs outside and the temperature was a bone chilling forty-nine degrees did little or nothing to deter him. What made this invitation to tempt Lady Luck a little more attractive than any other was that the beer and pizza were on his partner for a change, a welcome respite from the status quo considering he'd been bearing the brunt of that honor of late.
After about a half-hour of being bested by the Blond Blintz, the curly-haired detective was wondering whether or not he might have been a whole lot better off staying at home. At the very most he would've been dry and at the very least, a whole lot richer. He was just about ready to pack it in when his luck took a turn for the better on the last hand. By the time they'd finished he'd won all his money back, double or nothing. After Sergeant Hutchinson had handed over the pot, Starsky whooped and did a victory leap, finally heading off in the direction of the refrigerator to grab himself a celebratory beer. When he opened the refrigerator door it was evident that he was taking the last one and he felt duty-bound to inform his partner. He had a hard time suppressing the smile on his face. "Hey, you know you're outta beer?"
"Yeah, I know. When you go to the store, do me a favor and pick up some more, willya? That is, if you can stop grinning long enough to get out the front door."
Starsky was still grinning as he hooked the lip of the beer bottle underneath the rim of the kitchen counter and sent the cap flying. He closed the refrigerator door and took a long, generous swallow of the beer before responding. Then he wiped his mouth and crooked a thumb at the door. "You're outta your mind if you think I'm goin' out in that. It's rainin' cats and dogs out there."
Hutch patiently reshuffled the deck of cards in his hand while Starsky held the bottle of beer tipped toward his lips, waiting for his response. But the blond wasn't about to offer his partner a reprieve. Sometimes he just liked to put the man through his paces.
Realizing he wasn't going to get an answer, Starsky tried again. "I can't believe you'd actually send me out in that. What kind of a friend are you, anyway?"
"A friend who just lost fifty bucks playing cards with you, partner. C'mon, you've got the big bucks now. It's the least you can do."
Starsky handed the beer bottle to him. "Okay, okay. Here, do me a favor and hold this till I get back."
"Don't mind if I do." Hutch grabbed the bottle out of his hand and took a polite swallow, delighting in the look of open-mouthed disbelief on his partner's face.
"I've been told you can get cooties doin' that."
"But you'd never do that to me, would you, pal?" he replied, killing the bottle.
Starsky nodded affirmatively. He walked over to the window and peeked out to see if the weather had let up any. It had. A little. Satisfied that it was survivable, he slid on his weathered leather jacket and shrugged into a yellow rain slicker. He put his hand on the doorknob and before opening it turned to the blond man and said gallantly, "If you don't hear from me in twenty minutes, you have my permission to send out the Harbor Patrol." He flipped the slicker's hood over his head and started out.
Hutch nodded. "Count on it, buddy."
Starsky pulled the door shut with the toe of his sneaker and took the steps outside Hutch's apartment two at a time until he was standing outside on the glistening sidewalk. The Torino was parked just a few feet away from the building and as he approached it he caught movement in his peripheral vision. A dark figure was moving toward him in the rain, shoulders hunched, body wracked off and on by coughing. Another one of society's lost souls. Hutch would invite this one up for a few bucks and hot meal a without a question, he thought, and then he continued toward the car. His eyes were barely off the figure for a moment when their paths crossed.
"Hey, watch it, willya!" he exclaimed, straining to keep himself upright.
Starsky was a trifle shaken, but undaunted. He kept his eye on the departing figure as it continued past him. Maybe it was too much to expect an apology, he thought. Writing the guy off as probably too drunk or too rude to offer an apology, he put the incident out of his mind. He was about to climb into his car when he glanced over at the spot where the person should have been, and didn't see anyone. The detective looked up over the Torino's hood and saw a wet lump of clothing on the ground. Immediately concerned, he ran over to the spot and turned the lump to face him. Beads of water cascaded off his face as he looked down into the face of the stranger before him. Now he could see that the transient was a young woman, probably nineteen or twenty years old. She looked pale and sick and was unconscious. With a grunt he lifted her up into his arms and with some effort carried her up the stairs to Hutch's apartment door. He kicked at it with a foot, shouting as he worked to balance the load. "Hey, Hutch, open up!"
Hutchinson did, and he was smiling. "Hey, that was quick, Captain Ahab-where'd you go...?" The words were barely out of his lips before Starsky was pushing past him carrying something sizeable and wet in his arms. He watched curiously as his partner laid the motionless something onto the couch. Without prompting, he hastily pulled a towel and two blankets from the shelf of the wardrobe that stood near his bedroom door. As he brought them over and stood next to the couch, he was able to make out what the "motionless something" was. A girl. "Where'd she fall from?" he asked, covering her with the blankets and handing his partner the towel.
Starsky stood over her tentatively. "Coulda been the sky for all I know. She was walkin' with her head down, tryin' to keep outta the rain, I guess. Nearly plowed me over. I don't think she even saw me. What should we do?"
"Well, the first thing you ought to do is get her out of those wet clothes."
"Aw, man...I don't think I should...ah..." Starsky objected nervously.
"Look, Starsk, she's unconscious. I don't think she's gonna do a whole hell of a lot of complaining about it. In fact, she might even thank you for it. Go on, I'll see if I can find her something else to put on."
While Hutch hunted for something in his bachelor wardrobe that might fit the young woman, Starsky tackled the delicate but not entirely awful task of removing wet clothing from a strange girl. He gently turned her on her side and slid off the backpack she was wearing and set it down beside the couch. Then he peeled off her wet coat and laid it on a nearby chair. After that came her shoes and socks. He tucked the wool blanket underneath her feet and wiped her face dry with the towel. Hutch soon reappeared in front of him, holding a woman's nightgown in one hand and one of his older robes in the other.
Starsky looked at the blue chenille nightgown and started to laugh. "Where in the heck didja get that ugly thing?"
"Don't laugh. I bought it for my mother's birthday. I just never got a chance to send it to her."
"A wise choice, if ya ask me."
"Nobody did...here!" Hutch playfully tossed the nightgown and the robe over to him and headed into the kitchen. "I'll go fix her something to eat."
"Uh-huh." Starsky half-grinned and dropped the robe on the floor next to him. He skillfully arranged the hole of the nightgown so that he could slip it over her head without it getting wet. Then with his eyes half-closed, he removed her blouse, exposing as little skin as possible and pulled the gown over her shoulders, drawing her arms through the sleeves and over her brassiere, pulling it the rest of the way down to cover her legs. Then he tugged off her jeans and dropped them on the floor, carefully tucking the covers in all around her. When he opened his eyes, he looked her over. Not bad for an amateur, he thought. Her face looked a little flushed and she was trembling, but at least now she was warm and dry. He wondered what was taking Hutch so long in the kitchen.
"Hey, Hutch, what're doin' in there, makin' a three course dinner? Get in here, willya?"
"Okay, okay, hold your horses. I'm comin'."
Starsky gathered the wet things into his arms with the backpack, and hung everything up in the bathroom on a hook to dry. Hutch grabbed a spoon from the silverware drawer and brought a bowl of stew to the living room where the girl, who was now semi-conscious, stirred and moaned softly. He set the bowl down on the coffee table and sat down beside her. Starsky stepped out of the bathroom, blowing on his hands to warm them and watched him. "So, got that done. What next?"
"What next? Oh, you mean besides getting her to eat this?"
"You know, sometimes you're just a regular laugh riot." Hutch chuckled and Starsky walked over and knelt in front of the couch. He patted the girl on her cheek. "Hey, sweetheart, can you hear me? Wake up." He watched expectantly as she opened her eyes and blinked, cautiously, taking in her surroundings one image at a time. The detective moved from the floor to a sitting position on the surface of the coffee table. Though happening at normal speed, the movement seemed to occur in slow motion for her, a result of several deficiencies, one of which probably included traveling while ill, during a rainstorm.
"W-where am I?" she asked, her voice a faint whisper.
Hutch leaned over a little so she could see his face. "You're with friends. I'm Ken Hutchinson, and this is my partner, David Starsky. You passed out on the sidewalk and he brought you up to my place to get dry."
"Oh." She looked at the strange gown she was wearing and became afraid. "Wh-where are my clothes?"
"You were soaked to the skin. My partner over here changed you into some dry clothes."
She looked mildly embarrassed, but pleased. "Oh."
"I thought you might be hungry." He lifted the spoon out of the bowl and offered a small portion to her. "Try this, it'll make you feel better."
"What is it?"
"It's my world famous vegetarian stew."
"I'm really not very hungry right now."
"You should try it. It's pretty good," Starsky assured her.
She considered him for a moment, then yielded to his suggestion, opening her mouth just enough to let the blond stranger spoon-feed her. She ate the food slowly, coughing just a bit between spoonfuls. Starsky watched without comment as his very patient partner managed to get their "patient" to accept a few more spoonfuls of nourishment before shaking her head and indicating she'd had enough.
Hutch put the nearly empty bowl and spoon down on the table and felt her forehead, then looked at his friend gravely. "She's kind of warm, Starsk. Maybe we should call a doctor for her."
The girl turned to face him. "No-no...doctor, please."
Hutch shot his partner another worried look and patted the girl's hand. "All right, honey, if you don't want us to call a doctor right now, we won't."
"Well, I guess that settles that, Doctor Hutchinson. You got any aspirin? Maybe that'll get her temperature down," Starsky asked.
Hutch nodded and pointed toward the bathroom. "Yeah, I think I've got some in the medicine cabinet."
Starsky went out of the living room and into the bathroom to check the contents of Hutch's medicine cabinet. Not only did he find the bottle of aspirin, but his eyes locked on a various and sundry assortment of oddly named herbs and vitamins that his partner had spaced neatly on the shelves. He tittered as he loomed over his partner with the aspirin bottle.
Hutch looked up at him. "What's so funny?"
"Nothin.' I shoulda guessed you wouldn't have a normal lookin' medicine cabinet. There's not a prescription bottle in the bunch. So whaddya take when you get sick?"
"Which? You don't take medicine, or you don't get sick?"
"It's not that I don't get sick, Starsky. It's just that I don't support the philosophy that chemistry can cure all of man's ills. I'm a firm believer in holistic healing."
"Holistic what?" he asked.
"Home care, Starsky. Using natural herbs to heal the body."
"Oh, I thought you gave up on all that healthy lifestyle stuff after Molly and Abby took off."
"Molly and Abby taking off had nothing to do with it. I just decided to live my life a little more realistically, more in the moment, you know? That's all there is to it." He grabbed the aspirin bottle from him.
"Oh, I see. I'll go get her some water." Starsky rolled his eyes to the ceiling and stepped into the kitchen to fill a glass from the cabinet. He brought it over and took the open aspirin bottle off the table where Hutch had set it and poured out two aspirin, then recapped the bottle. "I'll see if I can get her to take these. In the meantime, oh, holistic healer, how about maybe you go out and get her the real thing?"
Hutch stood up. "Sure, Starsk. Mind if I take the Toma...er, the Torino?" There was a halfhearted grin on his face as he extended his hand for the keys.
"Sure, buddy." The dark-haired detective dug his keys out of his pants pocket and passed them to his fair-haired partner. The blond put on his leather jacket and plodded toward the door. Starsky at his back and added, "Bring back some beer while you're at it, wouldja? And...try not to get lost."
"Not a chance, pal," he retorted, palming the keys and heading out the door.
After Hutch left, Starsky continued tending to the ailing young woman, wiping her face, feeding her a little when she would eat, re-tucking the blankets around her when she threw them off. Her restful moments were few as she tossed and turned on the couch under his watchful eyes. After the third incident of having to readjust the blankets, he looked up and saw her eyelashes flutter open, two lovely brown eyes stared back at him and he smiled at her. "Hey, you're awake! Remember me? I'm Starsky, Dave Starsky. What's your name?"
She was barely able to keep her eyes open. "Umm," she muttered. "Angel."
"Angel. Hey, that's a cute name." He patted her arm. "Can you tell me where you're from?"
"Nowhere. Everywhere. Take your pick." She closed her eyes.
He nudged her shoulder. "No, no, don't go back to sleep yet. I got a few more questions for ya."
She kept her eyes closed, hoping that would block him out.
But he shook her shoulder again. "Hey, come on now, wake up."
She squinted at him. "Philadelphia, all right?"
"I guess you know you're in California."
"Oh, now, you know, you are...bril-liant..." she whispered, there was a hint of sarcasm he didn't like in her tone.
"Fun-ny," he said, separating the syllables. "You mind tellin' me how you got here?"
"You know those great big silver things with four wheels?"
He thought about it. "You mean a bus?"
"Bingo! Wow, you are so brilliant!"
"You know, you oughta save some of that ice for the freezer."
"Have I answered enough questions? Can I go back to sleep now?"
"Swell, be my guest."
Starsky watched her pull the covers over her shoulders and go back to sleep. He sighed and leaned against the couch, rubbing his thumb and forefinger across his temples as the symptoms of a headache began to manifest themselves. He must have sat there like that for as long as it took for Hutch to go and come back from the store because he never heard the key turn in the lock.
When Hutchinson walked in he was carrying two grocery sacks in his arms. "Hey, Starsk, I think I got everything in here that a human could possibly take for a cold or the flu, you know that? ...Hey, Starsk?"
When Starsky didn't answer, he scanned the living room and saw that his friend had fallen asleep on the couch. His curly head had flopped back limply and he was snoring. Hutch walked over and poked him in the arm to wake him up.
He jumped. "Huh? What?"
"Wake up, buddy. I got the stuff."
"Oh, okay." He wiped his eyes and got up. "What'd ya get?"
Hutch set the bags down on the kitchen table and started to pull out his purchases. "You name it. I got it. Orange juice, cough medicine, antihistamines, et cetera, et cetera."
He yawned and joined Hutch in the kitchen. "She hasn't got a high fever and she's eatin', so that's probably a good sign."
"I'll take over now, buddy. You look like you could use a ten minute break before you drive home," Hutch said, stowing a six-pack in the refrigerator.
"Yeah, some fresh air might clear my head." He went to the door and headed down the stairs to the street. When he got to the bottom, he inhaled deeply. The rain had stopped and the cool, crisp air was invigorating. He looked up into the midnight sky and noticed the clouds. Though they were still apparent, they were getting sparser and less grey, almost milky white and beginning to drift away to the east. After he finished his break, he came back upstairs in time to see his partner preparing to give the girl the medicine he'd brought. Hutch was kneeling on the floor behind her, lifting up her torso so that she was leaning against his arm; he put the spoon to her lips with his right hand, and semi-tilted the contents into her mouth. After she'd swallowed it, he laid her back down on the pillow, then stood up. "Any luck finding out who our unexpected guest is while I was gone?"
"Gave her name as Angel. Said she's from Philadelphia. My guess is she's on the lam."
"I wonder if this is what they mean by 'making a clean getaway'?"
"Bad, Hutch, very bad."
"Sorry, I must be tired. Well, I guess she can stay here tonight and tomorrow we'll try to find out how she got here."
Starsky nodded in agreement. "Sounds like a good idea, Ollie. So, I'll, ah, I guess I'll see you tomorrow, huh?"
Starsky headed for the front door and stopped, he turned and quietly watched his partner remove the empty bowl and water glass from the coffee table and put them in the kitchen sink. He yawned and stretched and dragged a hand over his eyes to mask his weariness. On Hutch's way back into the living room, he stole a furtive glance at his partner. Starsky was leaning against the front door, not moving, looking as if only sheer force of will was keeping him upright. His dark forehead was crinkled deeply in concentration. If this wasn't a guy desperately fighting a losing battle with sleep, he hadn't seen one before, he thought. He certainly didn't look in good enough shape to drive himself home.
Hutch walked over and put a hand on his friend's arm. "Hey, it's late, Starsk. You wanna bunk here for the night?"
The dark man's features brightened. "Good idea," he answered, instantly relieved that he didn't have to drive home so late at night. He made his way to a recliner in the corner of the room and dropped his exhausted frame into it, crossed his arms over himself and stretched out his legs.
Hutch looked at his watch; he was feeling a bit worn himself. He checked on his houseguest. She was sleeping peacefully and looked fairly comfortable. There wasn't much else they could do for her until tomorrow anyway. The medicine would have her out for most of the night, and she probably wouldn't wake up until late the next morning. He decided to head for bed, too. "Hey, Starsk, I'm gonna hit the hay, I'll see you in the mornin'."
"Yeah, okay. G'night, buddy."
"G'night," Hutch replied, darkening the living room before disappearing into his bedroom.
Yawning again, Starsky pulled down a quilt that mysteriously appeared above his head in the darkness. He smiled as he draped it over himself and took one last look at the girl's face in the half-light of the room before dropping off to sleep.
The young woman's low-grade fever had broken sometime between twelve thirty and two a.m. and she was slowly coming awake. She sat up slowly and scanned the unfamiliar surroundings, her eyes coming to rest on a strange man sleeping in an armchair across from her in the room. Unable to remember where she was, or how she'd gotten there, her first thoughts were of escape. She pulled the blankets off of her and tried to be very quiet when she got up. Her balance was off and it didn't seem to matter that she had on someone else's old dressing gown and no shoes. Her immediate objective was making it to the front door and getting outside.
Amazingly, she did make it as far as the front door, but just as she was getting ready to open it, Starsky's eyes shot open as if equipped with some of kind of built-in radar and he flew out of his chair. He had the lights switched on before her hand could turn the knob. "Hey, hey! Where ya goin' kiddo?" He grabbed her by her waist and she let out a feeble squeal of protest, like a baby bird squawking. From her feeble attempts at struggle he realized that she was still pretty weak, and he wasn't surprised when she lost consciousness again and collapsed in his arms.
Awakened by the commotion and instigated by the urgency of his partner's voice, Hutchinson bounded out of his bed and into the living room. He was pulling on his robe and pulling his gun out of his shoulder holster before he realized that it was his partner and the girl causing the disturbance and not an intruder of some kind. After determining that the situation didn't require him to lay down gunfire, he moved over to his partner and helped him get the girl back into position on the couch.
Both men knelt down in front of her, with Starsky exerting most of the effort to getting her comfortable again. "Where were you off to, huh?" he asked, pushing a sweaty strand of limp, damp hair out of her eyes. But he wasn't expecting an answer.
She opened her eyes weakly, and the look on her face was beseeching and anxious. "You're not—you're not gonna turn me in, are you?"
He looked surprised. "Turn you in? No, no way, not on your life. We're going to get you well."
She closed her eyes and drifted off again, seemingly soothed by the sincerity of his words.
Unnoticed by his partner, Hutch winced. The plans he had envisioned for their Sunday looked like a bust now. As they adjusted the blankets on her, he whispered to his partner. "What makes do you think she needs help?"
The man looked straight into his partner's blue-green eyes. "I don't know. I just have a feeling."
Hutch looked at his watch. It was three o' clock in the morning. He went over to the kitchen table, picked up the paper sack and handed it to his friend as he was headed in the direction of his bedroom for the second time. "Here, you go ahead and play nursemaid. I'm going back to bed." He dropped his robe on the floor on his way in and climbed back under the covers.
Starsky could read the blond's mood swings just about as plainly as he could read the speedodometer on his Torino. This was supposed to be a weekend for the two of them to spend some off-duty time together. It was something they'd been planning to do for a good two months in a row now. But what with court appearances and unexpected assignments popping up out of nowhere, it was a miracle they'd even been felt like getting together last night. Now, here he was playing wet nurse to a strange young woman. He didn't need to be hit over the head with a frying pan to know that his friend was not a happy camper.
Unlike his partner, he was too keyed up to go back to sleep anytime soon. The adrenaline was pumping through his body like mad. He went into the bathroom to get the girl's backpack and brought it out with him into the kitchen. He unzipped the side flap and pulled out the contents, arranging them on the kitchen table in no discernible order. What he was looking for exactly he didn't know. What he wanted was something that would tell him a little more about the girl's background. Which wasn't an impossible goal; just made a little more difficult since he didn't know what he was looking for.
From the side of the still damp bag he pulled a bus token, a Bic lighter, and a brown leather wallet that had been carefully tucked beside a beautifully embroidered white silk handkerchief folded neatly in fourths. He flipped open the wallet and saw a fairly recent picture of Angel, looking well and very beautiful. She was sitting next to an older woman who looked enough like her to be her mother. Their faces were a study in contrasts even so: Angel's skin was a warmer, burnished color, while the older woman's skin was more olive in tone. He found himself staring at the picture for a long time, not fully appreciating why. He put it down on the table and opened up the handkerchief, and when he did a small card fell out onto the floor. He reached down and picked it up, turned it over and saw that it was an obituary notice. He read:
Rest In Peace
b. 1933, d. 1977
Her mother had passed away. Now at least he had some basis for her cross attitude and the sarcasm he'd encountered. He returned the notice and the wallet back to their place and closed his eyes. During the course of his partnership with Hutch, they'd seen a lot of grieving families and talked to more police psychologists than they'd both care to name. He'd even read books on the subject, and one of things he remembered reading was about what sometimes happens to a person when they lose a loved one, either expectantly or unexpectantly:
One of the most outwardly disconcerting emotional responses to death presented by the bereaved is anger. While the reaction can be alienating to an outsider, it is still a form of release. It's a different release from crying or isolating oneself from other people, yes, but for some reason it seems to help lessen the shock of losing a loved one for some people. This type of response usually stems from a person's inability to tell the deceased how they felt and set things right. That inability to communicate usually makes them bitter--with the deceased and with the outside world, and strangely, with themselves, most especially if they don't have someone who cares about them enough to talk about how they're feeling.
He'd seen it himself, experienced the phenomena firsthand. The anger and resentment he'd built up over time after he'd lost his own father as a little boy had been almost overwhelming. There was no chance for him to say goodbye or tell his father how much he loved him. He was just gone. But while he'd had his mother, his grandparents, and later on, Hutch, to tell his troubles to, he wondered if she had anyone to talk to about her troubles to where she was from. Then he thought, probably not, if she was this far away from home.
His comprehension of her sorrow was enough of a rationale to settle any doubts he had in his mind about helping her. He stood up from the table and checked to see if she was still asleep. She was. He put her things back into the bag slowly and carefully and then walked it back into the bathroom to finish drying. On his way past the couch, he bent down and gently kissed her on her forehead. "Sleep well," he said. Then he eased himself back into the recliner and went back to sleep.
It seemed like the two of them had been going back and forth on the same subject for hours. They had been in the greenhouse discussing Starsky's singularly inspired early morning decision ever since Hutchinson had come back from his six-fifteen morning run. He was still wearing his favorite green and gold striped running suit, and was working on his second cup of coffee. The darker man followed behind him around as they talked.
"Starsky, you have got to be out of your mind!" Hutch practically bellowed, he was working hard to contain his exasperation.
"No buts, Starsky. I don't want any part of this one."
"Look, all I'm sayin' is, we let her stay with one of us for a little while. Just long enough to get whatever she's into sorted out."
"I'm not listening to you." Hutch put down his coffee cup and picked up a watering can from a ledge, going from plant to plant in the greenhouse, watering them while he lectured. "Starsk, we are not social workers. There are people out there who get paid to do this stuff!"
"Come on, Hutch, you can't be that heartless. I know we can help her."
"Help me what?" a female voice asked.
Both of them looked up and they saw the young woman standing in the doorway of the greenhouse. She still looked tired, but infinitely better than she had the night before.
"What're you doin' up?" Starsky asked, rushing over to her.
Hutch closed his eyes. This was going to be a long day.
"I heard you two arguing, what do you think?"
Starsky put his arm around her. "I'm sorry. That's just the way me and my partner here work out our little disagreements sometimes."
"Boy, if this was a little disagreement, I'd sure hate to see a big one. Was it about me?"
"Yeah, sort of. Here, c'mon, let's go sit down." Starsky put his right arm under hers and walked her back to the couch. Hutchinson put down the watering can and picked his coffee cup, closing the greenhouse door with a bang. Starsky flinched at the sound, then returned his attention to the young woman beside him. "I think it's time you and I had a little talk."
The young woman stared at him. "About what?"
"About why you're here and what we're going to do about you."
She crossed her arms in front of her. "I'm here because I want to be. It's a free country. You don't have to do anything about me. I can take care of myself."
"Looks like you've done a terrific job of that," he said sarcastically. The girl turned away from him and pursed her lips tightly. Undaunted, he got up and headed into the bathroom where her backpack waited and was now nearly dry. He grabbed it off the hook and walked it over to her, thrusting it at her forcefully. "Here, get dressed. The bathroom's free."
She stared at him but didn't contest him. She took the backpack out of his hand and walked past him into the bathroom, slamming the door behind her.
Once he heard the shower go on, he went over and knocked on the greenhouse door. "Hey, Hutch, we're goin' out pretty soon. You want to come with us?"
Hutchinson was still in a disagreeable mood, but he answered. "Where are you going, and when are you gonna be back?"
"I'm taking Angel for a little spin around town, maybe I can get her to open up. We might go to the pier. You wanna come?"
"No, I don't think so. You two go ahead. I'd just be a third wheel," Hutch answered, and then went quiet.
"Okay." Starsky smiled and shook his head. He watched through the screen door as Hutch went back to his plants and his coffee.
After he'd paced the floor for the better of twenty minutes, Starsky was starting to get a little impatient. He consulted his watch. That oughta be enough time for her to do whatever it is she's gotta do in there, he opined to himself. He put on his jacket and knocked on the bathroom door. "You almost ready, kiddo?"
"Yeah, almost." She answered through the closed door. He waited for a few seconds more and the door opened up. Nothing could have prepared him for the sight he was about to see. There standing before him in all her glory was the young woman he'd seen in the photograph. She was wearing a navy blue wraparound dress that caressed and lifted her bosom and accentuated the curve of her hips. Her loose, shoulder-length dark hair fell copiously from her head onto her shoulders, framing her face, making her look ethereal. She reminded him of--for a lack of a better word--an angel.
"Wow." He gasped, his mouth slightly agape.
"What's wrong? Do I look dumb?" she asked, smoothing her hands nervously down the sides of her dress.
"No, you look great!" He took her by the arm and let her go out of the front door first. He thought about Hutch before shutting the door. "Hey buddy!" he called out. "We'll see ya later!"
Hutch mumbled back something at him that he thought sounded like, "Yeah, yeah, whatever," and the two of them left.
When they got outside, the remaining rain clouds from the previous night's storm had begun to join their brethren to the east, allowing the sun to poke its way through. New ones were waiting to take their place from the west. Starsky affected his usual self-confident swagger as he escorted the girl to his car. He opened the passenger side door and made a sweeping gesture bidding her to enter.
She paused in the space between the car and passenger door for a moment. She looked surprised. "This is your car?"
"Yeah," he answered uneasily. "Why?" He was ready to go on the defensive in case she was about to give him an impromptu discourse on the inappropriateness of driving a bright red Torino with a white stripe when one was supposed to be an undercover police officer.
"Very cool," she said instead.
"Thank you," he replied, his mouth stretching into a wide, toothy grin. "Go ahead, get in." She slid onto the bench seat and he closed the door after her, then sprinted around to the driver side, a pronounced bounce in his step.
"Where are we going?"
He put the key in the ignition and started the car, it roared to life as he gunned the motor. "I don't know yet. But we'll know when we get there." He looked in his side mirror and pulled off down the street.***CHAPTER TWO***
Starsky ended up taking his relatively non-communicative, but very attractive companion to a place called the Bayside Pier Cafe for brunch. The cafe was a small, nondescript eatery that he'd discovered two months earlier and he liked to frequent it whenever he was in the area. They ordered a plate of seafood each and tore through it ravenously. When they were finished, Starsky watched her quietly as he sipped a soda, and then said, "Wanna go for a walk? I've been told it helps the food digest."
"Sure," she answered, "why not?"
She moved a little ahead of him as they walked out of the café, apparently enthralled by the outdoor setting. When they got to the end of the pier, she paused at the railing and gazed out over the ocean. Without being totally aware of it, he began to gaze at her.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" she asked, disrupting his train of thought.
"Hmm? Oh, yeah, it's great," he answered, catching himself.
The ocean breeze batted at their hair and clothes and when it died down, she brushed her hair back from her face with a hand, her gaze set over the horizon, fully ignoring his. A seagull flew over and she tracked it with a finger, turning with it as it flew overhead. Then she leaned on the railing with her back to the water and watched it disappear from sight. "You know, sometimes I think I'd like to be that bird. Just to be free and soar, go wherever I want."
"Does that fine bit of inspiration mean you're ready to let me in what's going on?"
She bit her lip a little. "If I tell you, you're going think I'm crazy."
"No, I won't. Go ahead, tell me."
She bit at her bottom lip again and closed her eyes. "I lost my mother in a car accident not too long ago. I guess I...I guess I...miss her."
Starsky put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry to hear that. I know how you must feel."
"Do you really? Or are you just saying that?"
"No, really, my Pop died when I was a kid. It was a long time ago though."
"Time passed doesn't make it any easier to take."
"Yeah, you're right. I still do think about him a lot."
"I know it's like, I know the bird thing won't bring my mother back, but it's nice thinking about being free from your worries sometimes."
"We each gotta deal with things in our own way. Maybe wishin' you were a bird is what works for you."
She smiled at him and the once calm breeze became petulant The grey clouds that had been waiting in queue slowly came in to replace the ones that had departed, dousing the sunlight. She started to shiver. "Is it getting cold again?" she asked him through clenched teeth.
"Yeah, it is." He took her by the hand and pulled her a little closer to him, checking the sky as he did so. "C'mon, it looks like it's gonna start up again. We should be getting' back anyway."
He let go of her hand and put his right arm informally around her shoulders, a completely innocent gesture in and of itself, but she took it to heart, welcoming his touch with an adoring smile. As they traversed the pier's wooden planks to get to his car, what was a mild sprinkling quickly swelled into a downpour. When they were inside the Torino, Starsky hurriedly closed the car door. "Whoa!" he exclaimed. "Just in time! Now let's get back to my partner's place so we can find out what we need to do to get you back home."
She was silent for a moment, then she turned to him. "Detective Starsky, I'm sorry, I didn't tell you everything."
"Look, considering everything that's happened, I think it'd be okay if you called me Dave. You think you can do that?" She nodded. "Okay now, what's the whole story?"
She tried to compose herself by taking a deep breath; she didn't want to rush into what she was going to say and she didn't want to sound hysterical. She focused her concentration on the rain as it cascaded down the car's windshield in undulating streams. She opened her mouth but nothing came out--she wasn't ready yet.
"C'mon. You can tell me."
"Sure you can."
She turned toward him, gazing into his beautiful violet blue eyes, hoping that they held the answers to her problems. She nodded solemnly and began. "I'm afraid..."
"Afraid of what?"
"Well, I can't prove it, but I think my father and his new wife killed my mother," she revealed.
Starsky's eyes widened. "Why? Why would they do something like that?"
"It's a long, unbelievably weird story. Are you sure you want to hear it?"
Starsky nodded his head. "I specialize in weird. Try me."
"Okay. Have you ever heard of a company called Colchetti Motors?"
"It's a car dealership based out of Philadelphia, right?"
"That's right. My grandfather, Augustus Colchetti, was the president and CEO of the company and he established and ran it, it was his baby. There are several branches worldwide, but the headquarters is based in Philadelphia. When my grandfather died, my father inherited the company."
"Keep goin', I'm all ears."
She clasped her hands in front of her and rested them on her lap. "To tell you the whole story I have to tell you about my parents. It all started when my mother and my father met at college. She was a sophomore and he was a junior. They fell in love and started going steady, and they continued seeing each other after college. After he graduated, he got a job working with my grandfather at the company's headquarters, and my mother got a job as well. In time, I happened." She smiled at him and he smiled back. "But, after grandfather found out that his only son had put his girlfriend in the family way, he basically pressured him to make an honest woman of her, which he did. Not because he wanted to, but because there was a clause in grandfather's will that stipulated if he fathered a child out of wedlock, he'd be obligated to marry the child's mother, or forfeit the inheritance." She smiled again. "My grandfather was a stickler for his offspring taking responsibility for their actions, plus he didn't really want anyone with the family blood running through their veins to be vilified as a bastard child." She covered her mouth. "Oops, sorry."
"That's okay, I've heard worse."
"Okay, so my father did the husband-father thing and went on with his life. But he had no idea how many years he'd be stuck with my mother and me, waiting for the money, waiting for his father to die.""So he resented marrying your mother and he resented you. Why did she stick around?" Starsky's tone was curious but receptive.
"Why does any woman stay with any guy? Maybe it was because she didn't have much of a life. Her degree was in economics and there sure wasn't a whole lot of call for people with that kind of educational background back then. And that was okay when they were young and carefree, but it just got worse after he came into the money. They were drifting further and further apart the more he got involved with running the business. When I was old enough to understand she told me that she was going to leave him, but she wasn't sure how to do it."
"How do you feel about him?"
"He's a tolerant, distant man, but I love him, and I'm not blind to how he treated my mother. I could see how unhappy they were. And the thing of it is that she wanted to be with him more than he wanted to be with her, so they were both miserable most of the time. To make things worse, about four months ago, this woman started coming to the house a week after my father had brought life insurance policies on the whole family. She introduced herself as Jessie Milner and she told us that she'd met him at a department store that she worked for. After he met her, he'd think nothing of inviting her up to the house for drinks as he pleased. They'd sit by the pool getting friendly with each other and making my mother totally miserable."
Starsky could see tears brimming in her eyes. He checked the glove compartment and pulled a couple of Kleenex from a small box inside and offered them to her. She nodded thankfully and held them in her hand as she continued her story.
"So they talked about it and she said that they were going to try out a trial separation. She was planning on going to California to try and piece her life back together again, then she was coming back to see if they could work something out. But that never happened. I saw the news report of the accident on TV. Before the reporter was finished, I don't know why, I just had this strange feeling...and I started putting the pieces together...the money, the new girlfriend...the total disregard they both had for my mother's feelings, doing indiscreet things in full view of her. I didn't want to believe it. And I knew it was crazy. But I couldn't stop thinking it."
Starsky nodded. "So what confirmed it for you?" He put his hand on the back of the car seat close to her right shoulder.
"It was after I heard his girlfriend on the phone at the house one night. She was talking to someone about how she was sure that my father was going to pop the question and they were going get married soon. It was only two weeks after my mother was killed. That's when I started to suspect something. I wanted to go to the police, but I couldn't show them any proof. Then when the two of them actually did get married, I felt betrayed. So I left his home for anyplace, and ended up out here." She looked into the detective's eyes, and a floodgate of tears burst forth and fell. "I just don't know what to do!" He felt his heart go out to her, not in pity or empathy, but in something deeper, more unexpected. Concern.
There's nothing worse than knowing you're right about something and not being able to prove it, he thought. The detective also knew from experience how alienating it was to have your integrity doubted. The same thing had happened to him about two years ago when a deranged old convict out for revenge started blowing up cops to get back at him for shooting and killing a fleeing juvenile in self-defense. He didn't know what he could do about helping her prove her story. If the accident looked like an accident, the police would do no more than a routine investigation and that was that. He took her hand in his. "Listen, you don't have to worry about a thing, we're gonna work this out. Me and my partner are going to find out what happened and everything's going to be okay." Even as he was saying it, he wondered why he had.
She smiled at him, wiping away her tears with a knuckle. "Really?"
"Scout's honor," he answered, putting up three fingers of his right hand in the Boy Scout tradition. "Cross my heart, hope to die."
"Oh, thank you!" she screamed, grabbing him around his neck and kissing him with such enthusiasm that he was momentarily caught off guard. Not that he was complaining. In fact he kind of liked it.
After a moment, she pulled back; somewhat embarrassed about expressing herself so freely with someone she'd just met. She slowly released him. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have done that."
"That's okay, I have that kinda effect on people sometimes, especially women."
She laughed. "You know, you're kind of funny."
"Hey, if ya think that's funny, kid, stick around. I gotta million of 'em." he said doing his best Groucho Marx imitation, complete with flicking fake ashes off a pretend cigar. After starting the car, he turned to her. "You wanna listen to some music?" She nodded. He turned on the radio and scrolled the dial over to an oldies station. He hoped she wouldn't find his selection too terribly old-fashioned. To his delight, when "Blueberry Hill" came on, she sang along.
Angel couldn't help stealing sideward glances at her handsome rescuer the moment he wasn't looking. He was definitely kind of cute, in an older guy sort of way. Especially that little boy smile he got when he was happy, like when she'd praised his choice of car. She wanted to run her hands through his thick, curly hair, and see what kissing those lips of his would be like. Watching him was just like watching a big kid who hadn't had a chance to really grow up yet. She thought he was great, someone she'd like to get to know, even if he was a just a bit older.
Starsky tried hard to pay attention to the road ahead, but he found himself hopelessly distracted by her presence. Plus, he could swear she was staring at him. A furtive glance her way confirmed his suspicions. Yep, she was definitely staring at him. He could see it now: POLICE SARGEANT DAVID STARSKY AND YOUNG UNKNOWN FEMALE INJURED IN FREAK CAR ACCIDENT. OFFICER SAYS HE JUST COULDN'T KEEP HIS EYES GLUED TO THE ROAD. NEWS AT TEN. Still he had to admit, she was kind of cute.
She turned to him and smiled. "Are you married, Detective Starsky?"
"No, I'm not," he answered and politely laughed the question off. Of all the times for dispatch not to call in a 211, he thought. Still distracted, he brought the Torino careening to a halt at the curb when he reached Hutch's building. So as not to be thrown forward, she grabbed a hold of the dash.
"Here we are!" he announced. And not a moment too soon, he thought. Saved by the proverbial bell.
Starsky got out and hesitated before approaching the passenger side. Not only was this girl unpredictable in her moods, he surmised, but she was also fairly sexually aggressive. Where he came from that was okay in the bedroom, but not as a rule of thumb. He finally opened her door and she stepped out, leaning very close to him, definitely on purpose.
"Are you all right?" she asked him.
"Ah...um...yeah...terrific. Say whaddya know about that? Hutch must be still be at home," he noted. "Please be at home," the last part he said under his breath as he walked ahead of her.
"Doesn't your friend like me?"
"Oh, he likes ya fine. He's just a little disappointed, I think."
When they got up to the top of the stairs, he pounded on the door. Impetuously, she grabbed hold of his arm and he flinched uncomfortably.
"Yeah, who is it?" Hutch asked, sounding a little irritated by the interruption.
"It's me. Open up!"
Hutch swung the door wide-open and looked at his watch. "I see you two decided to come back..." He stopped short when he saw the girl's arm linked in his partner's, closed the door after them and walked away as they entered. Starsky separated her arm from his own and led her over to the couch. "Why don't you have a seat for a minute, young lady? My partner and I have some issues to resolve."
"Oh, okay." she said, seating herself on the couch and picking up a magazine off the coffee table.
Starsky walked into the sectioned off area that was his partner's bedroom. Hutchinson was there lying on top of his bed with his arm over his forehead and his eyes closed. He opened them when his partner came in. Starsky looked flustered.
"Hey, what's up with you? You've been actin' strange ever since she got here."
"Hey, it's no big deal, Starsk. It's just that when I invite you over to my place to relax, I expect you to relax."
"I am relaxed, can't you see how relaxed I am? It's you that's makin' me nervous."
He sat up. "I just don't get why you're so interested in her."
Starsky shrugged. "It's just I think I know where she's coming from, that's all. She's got no place to stay, her mother's gone and I think she might be in danger if she goes back home."
Hutch raised an eyebrow. "Danger? What kind of danger?"
Starsky walked over and sat on the bed next to him. "She's scared. Her mother was killed in a car accident she doesn't think was entirely accidental. And until I can find out what's really going on, I don't feel right sending her back. I think I'm gonna need your help on this one. Are you with me, buddy?"
Hutch considered his best friend's earnest appeal and resisted the urge to argue with him. He had presented to him what he thought was solid, believable rationalization, and it was pretty much useless to try and change his mind. He was tenacious. And his tenaciousness worked for him--sometimes. The blond nodded his approval. "Okay, okay, you win. She can stay here--for now. But I'll be damned if I'm sleeping on the couch."
"That's what I thought you'd say."
"Now what's that supposed to mean?" Hutch asked, looking up at him.
"Oh, nuthin'," Starsky answered facetiously.
"The hell you say."
"Humph. Well, now that that's settled, why don't we sit down somewhere and talk this out?"
Hutch got up and sidled beside to his partner. "Okay, what'd you have in mind?"
"Well, I figured we could do a couple of things..."
Starsky dropped his hand onto his partner's shoulder and led him out to the living room. While they were walking over to the couch a bug of self-doubt lodged itself in his mind. He quickly brushed it aside and they sat down next the girl. She put her magazine down on the table and waited for them to say something.
Hutch looked at them both. "Okay, shoot."
"Well, first off, I figured...we'd give the Philadelphia Police Department a call." He glanced at Angel for reassurance. "Maybe see what there is to know about Mrs. Colchetti's accident. See if maybe they missed something. Then depending on what we find out there, that would tell us whether we had to pay dear old dad and his new wife a visit." He sighed. "'Course that would mean..." He didn't finish.
"We'd have to go up there and talk to them in person," Hutch said, finishing the sentence.
"Yeah...so, whaddya think?"
He mulled it over. "I think you're crazy, Starsky. It's Sunday, do you know how long it'll take us to get to Philadelphia?"
"I dunno, couple of days?"
"It's one and a half days and a little over three thousand miles as the crow flies. You wanna call Dobey up and tell him we're not coming in to work on Monday because we had to investigate one of your hunches? Besides, it's out of our jurisdiction."
"I thought about that and I got it covered. We'll just tell Dobey that my Aunt Miriam blew into town unexpectedly and that I had to put her up for a couple of weeks. If anybody at the department asks, you and I are finally taking that long, well-deserved two-week vacation we been trying to plan for months. Whaddya say? Huh? Huh?"
"Starsky, you're a nut, a sweet, misguided nut, but a nut. We are not private detectives."
"Don't let my Aunt Miriam hear you sayin' that. I told her we were."
Watching them banter back and forth was like watching a verbal Ping-Pong match. Their interplay was most exasperating, especially to an outsider. She grabbed both of them by a forearm and got their attention. "Guys! Do you two think you'll settle this sometime today?"
Both men looked at her, apparently having forgotten she was in the room.
"It's already settled," Starsky said to her. Then turned to his partner. "Look at it this way, Hutch. If we don't drive ourselves and take a Greyhound, we can both relax and you and I can still spend a little quality time together."
"Terrific." Hutch responded.
Monday morning found David Starsky brushing his teeth in his partner's bathroom sink with the water going full blast, their guest eating breakfast, and Hutch making a pot of coffee in the kitchen. His keen ears bristled at the sound of water flowing down the drain at what he guessed was probably a gallon a second. The man was humming some off the wall tune and gargling loud enough to be heard on the next block. He marched over the bathroom door and knocked. "Hey, Starsk, would you mind shutting that off? Haven't you ever heard of water conservation?!"
Starsky opened the door sporting a mouth full of toothbrush and foam. "Huh? Sorry, I couldn't hear ya with the water runnin'," he mumbled.
"Shut off the water and use a cup, willya?"
"Oh, yeah, sure thing." Starsky nodded to him and closed the door.Hutch heard the water shut off finally and breathed a small sigh of relief. He went over to the couch and checked the two suitcases that they'd packed for their trip. Figuring how long it would take for them to do this thing had been a tricky assumption at best. He hoped it wouldn't take them more than a couple of weeks to try and piece things together. After it was all over, he had hopes of them salvaging a weekend--at least that's what he hoped.
Starsky came out of the bathroom drying his mouth and face with a hand towel. "You guys ready to go?" he asked.
"Yeah," Angel answered. "Are we taking your car?"
"We're sure as hell not taking Hutch's old heap. Probably'd never make it to the bus station."
A warning finger popped up. "Starsky, I swear, if you denigrate my automobile one more time..."
"Well, if that's the same thing as what you're always insinuatin' about my car, then I'll declare a cease-fire if you will. And stop pointin' that finger at me."
Hutch withdrew the offending digit. "Okay, a temporary truce is called. Besides, I had the good sense to call a cab."
"Oh, good idea."
Angel got up from the table, wiped her mouth, and took her plate and the glass she was using to the sink, washed them and put them in the drainer. Then she went to the couch and slipped on her backpack. Starsky grabbed his own suitcase off the couch and frowned when Hutch picked his up and unceremoniously shoved it into his partner's arms.
"Hey-y-y, what do I look like? A pack mule?"
"Well, if the shoe fits. Thanks, buddy, I know you were only thinking of my back."
"Yeah, sure," he grumbled, looking like he'd just been asked to trek across a hot desert without a canteen. He walked over and set both suitcases by the front door.
The girl pulled out one of the wrinkled Greyhound schedules from the side of her bag. "Looks like the bus we want is due to leave in an hour. We don't want to miss it," she suggested.
Hutch pulled out his pocket watch. "You're right, kiddo. That cab should be here soon," Hutch said.
Angel, dressed in a white blouse, blue jeans and tennis shoes, her hair pulled into a loose ponytail, winced at the "kid" reference. "Do you mind not calling me that? I'm almost twenty-one."
"Oh, sorry, lost my head. Don't know what I was thinking," Hutch answered in a playful tone. A car horn sounded outside.
The horn honked again. Hutch looked out the window and waved at the cabdriver who was standing outside. The man looked up, acknowledged him with a wave and leaned against the cab to wait.
"Cab's here," he said.
Starsky wrestled both suitcases out the door and down the stairs with minimal assistance given by the girl. After Hutch had locked his front door, he put the key in the pocket of his jeans and followed them down.
The cab driver turned out to be a courteous enough sort; he took their luggage out of the trunk and set them down at their feet in front of the bus station. After he was paid and generously tipped, he left. Starsky picked up all three of the bags and shot his partner a look of contempt that could have melted snow in winter. Hutch smiled, thoroughly pleased with himself. Noticing this perceived injustice, Angel sprinted over to help, slipping her bag off his arm. He smiled at her appreciatively and flashed another disapproving glance at his partner. Feeling like a heel, Hutch groaned and took his suitcase from Starsky's left hand. They walked into the station with a piece of luggage each. When they got to the ticket window, the clerk gave them their tickets and pointed them in the direction of the bus heading out for Philadelphia.
After a brief wait in the station lobby, the three of them boarded a waiting Greyhound. It was one of those "three-seats-to-a-side" ones that were already halfway-filled with passengers. Angel staked out a middle seat for herself as they walked down the aisle. When Hutchinson made a beeline for the spot she'd been eyeing, she rushed him for it. "Ah, ah, ah," she exclaimed, a shiny fingernail waving in the air, "finders keepers!" she took a seat and looked up at him with a smile. Hutch conceded to her swiftness and good-naturedly took the seat next to the window. Starsky, oblivious to the competition, stood securing her backpack in the overhead luggage compartment above them. He pitched forward awkwardly when the bus lurched into gear. As he paused to steady himself with a hand on the back of the seat, Angel caught his eye and smiled at him, he smiled back at her and righted himself again. After a moment or so she reached over and tapped him on the shoulder.
"I'll be right back, okay? I'm going to the lavatory," she whispered.
"Oh, okay." He wasn't sure what a 'lavatory' was, but he figured she must know. He followed her with his eyes as she got up and made her way to what was known in his neck of the woods as the john.
His task completed, he sat down in the aisle seat and checked on his partner. The fair-haired man's eyes were closed and his head was reclined in gentle repose. Figuring this was not exactly the time to expect stimulating conversation, he lifted from his seat slightly and fished out a crossword book from his back pocket, then pulled a pencil from the one in his shirt. He propped the book up on a crossed knee and began filling in the answers. A confident smile swept over his face as the first answers came easily to him. He was going at a good clip when his brow suddenly became furrowed. Stumped, he sought out his friend's assistance. "Hey, Hutch?" he whispered.
Hutch stirred, but didn't move.
"Hey, Hutch!" he repeated, this time a little closer to his friend's ear.
The blond opened his eyes and turned toward him slightly. " Yeah, buddy, What is it?" he answered drowsily.
"You know a seven-letter word for 'optimistic'?"
Hutch couldn't believe his ears. He turned and hauled himself slowly upright. "I don't believe you actually woke me up to answer a stupid crossword puzzle question."
Starsky looked somewhat offended, but nonetheless undeterred by Hutch's reaction. "I'm sorry. I'll be quiet. Go ahead, go back to sleep."
The man groaned and turned toward the window, trying to get comfortable again in the seat. That's when Starsky went in for the kill. "That's okay. Since you don't know, I'll ask Angel when she gets back."
Starsky's response got the desired reaction. Hutch's back had tightened up. This time without turning around, he fumed, "I didn't say I didn't know the answer, Starsky." He turned towards him, and a curly haired imp smiled back.
"Oh, well then, what's the answer?" he asked him very innocently.
"What is the answer to what, Starsky?" The man had finally gotten his goat. As he waited for him to repeat his question, the girl returned and took her seat between them.
"I need a seven-letter word for 'optimistic'."
Hutch thought about it a minute and was getting ready to answer, but before he could open his mouth, the girl answered for him.
"I've got it Dave, try utopist. It's spelled u-t-o-p-i-s-t."
Starsky penciled the letters into the squares and found that they fit exactly. "Hey! She's right. She's a very smart young lady!"
"Humph." Hutch heaved an exasperated sigh and turned his back on them both.
Angel looked after him. Then she turned to the man on her right, her eyes the epitome of curiosity. "Why do you do that?" she whispered.
He set the puzzle book facedown on his lap. "Do what?"
"Fool around with him like that?"
"Oh, that. Don't worry about that. Deep down under all that bluster, he's really just a pussycat. I'm pretty used to it by now."
"Okay, if you say so."
Starsky looked past Angel and over at his dozing partner. "See, he's forgotten all about it already."
She looked over at the blond man to her right. David was right; the guy had gone back to sleep. She chuffed a laugh. "How long have you two been partners?"
Starsky tilted his head back. "Hmm. Seems like just yesterday. But my guess is it's been more like six years."
"I guess that explains why you two read each other like a book, huh?"
"You could say that. He's my best friend, so we tend to overlook some of our more irritating personality quirks."
She rested her chin on her hand in thought. "Detective Starsky?"
"Dave, remember?" he asked, focusing on the puzzle book again.
She rose a little off her hand and used it to touch the sleeve of his jacket. He glanced at it there, a little nervously, dropping his pencil on the floor as he did. When he reached down to pick up the pencil and sat up again, she was looking intently into his eyes.
"Do you like me?"
Starsky glanced at her. Oho. Now she was reading him like a book. And there were only one, maybe two people in the world that could do that. He smiled vacantly as she continued touching his sleeve and trying to make eye contact with him.
"I don't know what it is. I just keep feeling like there's something going on between us."
Starsky gulped. "Huh?"
She put her hand on his shoulder. "Did you hear me?"
"Yeah, I...I heard you."
"So, do you like me?"
"Yeah, sure I like you."
"Now don't just say that to make me feel good. I want you to tell me how you like me. Is it like a sister, or...or something else?" She was hoping for the something else.
He groped for an answer that wouldn't put his neck in a sling. He finally came up with, "I really hadn't given it much thought to tell you the truth."
"Oh, okay." Crestfallen, she settled her head back and closed her eyes.
Yeah, thatta boy, Starsky. When in doubt the old tried and true detached and vague approach always works. You handled that one just like a pro. Seeing the disappointment on her face was almost enough to make him want to tell her all. But he stood fast on principle, even though every fiber of his being said to tell her exactly what she wanted to hear.
Monday morning had rolled into Tuesday afternoon by the time the three of them got into Philadelphia. They pulled their own bags from their locations and stood near the edge of the highway, waiting. No one spoke a word. The rescued remained disappointed with the rescuer, and the oblivious third party, only along for the ride, so to speak, remained blissfully ignorant of the entire situation.
"So what do we do now?" Hutch asked.
Starsky spotted a shoddy looking cafe across from the station. "Anybody hungry?"
"Ah, ah, ah, first things first, Starsk. Let's get the answer to at least three of the four W's first, who, what and where, before we think about our stomachs."
He sighed. "Okay, come on. Follow me." The two of them trailed behind him as he made his way to a nearby payphone. "Huggy said to call him as soon as we got into town."
"Okay, well that covers the 'who' part."
"Who's Huggy?" she asked.
Starsky dug some coins out of his pocket. "He's a friend of ours, helps us out from time to time." He dialed Huggy's number and put the receiver to his ear.
"Oh," she said.
When the operator came on the line she advised of him how much the call would be and he put in the necessary amount and listened to the phone ring until the line was picked up.
"This is Huggy Bear. Your dime, my time, rap to me."
As usual Huggy Bear sounded his busy and prosperous self. In fact at this moment he was tending to some very pressing business matters, that of deciding on the suitability of a new mixed drink to add to the bar menu and also choosing which of the cocktail uniforms his female employees would wear when they served his customers. Such work could sometimes be hazardous, as demonstrated when one of the bar's busty waitresses crossed in front of him to model a particularly revealing outfit. She wore a hot pink hot pants ensemble so tantalizing that he spilled some of the drink he was testing on the front of his shirt. He smiled sheepishly at her and self-consciously dabbed at the spill, almost dropping the phone in the process. Flabbergasted, he put down the glass and put the receiver back to his ear. "I'm here, have no fear."
"Hey, Hug. It's me, Starsky."
"Hey-y-y, Starsky, how you been, my man?" He looked at his watch. "I guess this means you made it. Where's your other half hidin'?"
Starsky motioned for his partner and Hutch set his bag down on the ground and stood beside him, putting his ear close to the receiver. "We're here, Hug," he said. "Whaddya got?"
"Starsky tells me that you two gentlemen, and I use the term very loosely, are on a fact finding mission requiring yet another demonstration of my vast knowledge and superior expertise. And being as that is the situation, I have arranged for you and yours to luxuriate in the hospitality of one of my distant Philly cousins."
"You got cousins in Philly, Hug?" Starsky asked, somewhat amused at the idea. "Why am I not surprised?"
"Yes, Starsky, I do," Huggy answered, sounding a little slighted.
"And what might this cousin's name be?"
"Frankie? You got a female cousin named Frankie?"
"Starsky...I warn you, do not make jest of my family tree."
"Oop, sorry, Huggy. Okay, how do we go about finding this paragon of graciousness?" He chuckled despite himself.
The black man picked up his address book. "You got a writing implement and a piece of paper handy there?"
"Yeah, hold on a minute." Starsky pulled the crossword book out of his back pocket and used the pencil tucked behind his ear to take down the information. "Okay, ready, Huggy. Let 'er rip." Hutch leaned into his partner's space to overhear the information, close enough for their hair to commingle.
"In about..." Huggy looked at his watch. "Oh...say...in fifteen minutes, a rather impressive 'short' should be arriving to chauffeur your party to your destination."
"Ah, and where would that be, Huggy?" Hutch asked, his eyebrows rising suspiciously.
"I was coming to that part, my man, patience, patience. You see my cousin, Frankie, has a little bed and breakfast out there that she and her sometimes old man, Dix, take turns running. It's a good location for the tourist trade and the service is su-perb. I'm tellin' you the hospitality and the food there is so good, you won't want to come home."
"Now you're talkin', Huggy," Starsky said.
"Just give me a jingle when you get to her crib, and I'll put in a good word with the cook."
"Huggy, we can't wait," Hutch replied in a cynical tone.
Huggy probably didn't hear the blond detective's reply because at that moment the second collection of outfits was being modeled in front of him. He bit his knuckle as another well-endowed and ravishing waitress entered, wearing an even more revealing outfit than the first. "Ah, gotta go now, fellas. Destiny calls. And I'm not about to keep her waitin', if you know what I mean."
"Sure, Hug, we'll call ya when we get to your cousin's place." Starsky broke the connection and hung up the phone.
Hutch stepped aside and picked up his bag. "So what now?"
"I guess we just wait. He said fifteen minutes."
Angel stood with her back to both men and kept an eye on the road ahead checking her watch sporadically. No sooner had the minute hand reached the three than she spied a swirling cloud of dust rolling in their direction. "Hey, here comes something," she announced.
Starsky and his partner turned their heads in the direction she was pointing. Sure enough, there was a long; lemon drop-yellow colored convertible Cadillac Eldorado headed their way that looked like it could have come right out of The Wiz. It cruised to a stop in front of the station and created a dramatic dust cloud that blew dust into the air. After a few seconds of coughing and shielding their faces, the driver rolled down his window and greeted them. "Good day, one and all!"
Dixon, an older black man with a salt-and-pepper natural got out of the car. He was wearing a white cowboy hat and white gloves and looked like someone you'd see at a rodeo. The three of them looked on in quiet amazement.
"Don't tell me, you've gotta be Dixon," Starsky deduced.
"The one and only, my friend." The man turned off the engine and got out of the car. He actually cut quite a fine figure standing next to the Eldorado, despite his curious choice of attire. He leaned on the side of the car in front of them and pulled off his hat. "Our mutual friend, Huggy Bear, has informed me that I'd find three weary travelers waiting here who were bound for the City of Brotherly Love.""Yeah, Huggy's got a way with words," Starsky replied.
"Well, what are you waitin' for? The car is open, throw your luggage into the trunk and slide in. Dixon may be a chauffeur, but he ain't no bag clerk, no sirree."
Hutch opened the unlocked trunk and tossed his suitcase into it. He opened the side door to get in and couldn't help examining the interior. It was bright white and had some kind of a polar bear fur carpeting along the sides and the floor and the upholstery was done up in tucked white leather. Other embellishments included a yellow gold-plated steering wheel and gear shifter with a gold-rimmed rearview mirror. "Ah, yet another aesthetically destitute soul," he muttered and shook his head as he forced himself to get in.
Starsky opened the door for the girl and she slid in without speaking to him. He shrugged and got in himself. With everyone seated as comfortably as they could be in the tight back seat, Dixon got back into the car and started it.
"Are we ready to hit the road?" he asked.
"No time like the present," Hutch answered stiffly.
"Right on." Dixon pushed an eight-track tape he'd been listening to back into the player. And let the sounds of the group MFSB playing "TSOP" circulate through the interior. Hutch folded his arms and stretched his long legs in front of him as far as he could and turned to Starsky. "Nudge me when we get there."
"You got it."
Starsky and Angel rode in complete silence for the hour-long trip to Frankie Brown's place. She stared blankly in front of her and watched the scenery go by outside while he watched her. By now, Dixon was on his second rendition of "Georgia on my Mind" which he sang out loud in a low baritone. Having had enough of the cold shoulder treatment, Starsky stopped looking at her and touched her arm. She trained on him with a look that cut like daggers. But he dismissed it and addressed her anyway.
"Did I say something wrong?" he asked.
"Oh, so you're talking to me now?"
"Well, I'm not talking to him." He motioned toward his partner, who was sleeping like a baby beside her. "You're not mad at me, are you?"
She turned around and went back to staring blankly. "No. I am not mad at you!" Her voice unintentionally rose a few octaves.
"Coulda fooled me."
Starsky shook his head in disbelief; he wasn't exactly sure why the two of them were giving him a hard time. First, he had Angel, a beautifully inscrutable enigma, whom he suspected had feelings for him, but probably not the slightest clue what to do with them. And then there was Hutch, his best friend of many years, who would probably be easier to figure out if he had a map. Suddenly, a hand on his shoulder brought him out of his thoughts and he turned toward it.
"Detective Starsky? I mean, Dave," she whispered, letting her hand slide from his shoulder to his forearm. His eyes stayed on her hand where it rested. He noticed that she had very pretty hands, long and delicate, like an artist's might be.
Her eyes engaged his. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to snap at you. I guess I'm just on edge now that we're getting closer."
"That's okay, I understand."
She lifted her hand from his arm and placed them in front of her on her lap. They both tried desperately to find other things to look at besides each other
"Here we are!" Dixon announced loudly and enthusiastically. He pulled the car into the unlandscaped back lot of a well-kept two-story wood frame house, parked and cut the Cadillac's engine, then craned his neck back to check his backseat. All three of his passengers were sound asleep and snoring. Angel was leaning on Hutch's shoulder, and Starsky had his head crammed against the inside of the rear door.
Dixon cleared his throat. "Rise and shine, everyone!"
"Ooh! Wh--What?" Hutch awoke with a start, bumping his head on the ceiling. It took a minute before he realized that there was someone nestled in the crook of his arm. Dixon watched as the blond man carefully extracted his arm from beneath the girl's head and slid her over onto Starsky. Then Hutchinson got an idea. He straightened up as much as possible and positioned his head as close to Starsky's left ear as he dared.
"Rise and shine, Starsky!"
Starsky jerked awake, rousing the girl and dropping her from his shoulder onto his lap. The driver grinned, shook his head and got out of the car. Starsky stared disbelievingly at his partner. "Could you possibly be a little more childish?"
"Sorry, buddy. Just getting you back for the puzzle question," he answered, a puckish look on his face.
Starsky shook his head and helped the girl sit up.
"Are we there already?" she asked him.
"Looks that way." Starsky answered, still slow fuming.
Hutchinson got out of the car and stretched his limbs. Starsky got out the other side, Angel on his heels. Dixon took their luggage out of the trunk, set it down on the ground, closed the trunk and began buffing the Cadillac's finish to a brilliant gleam. "You gentlemen and the lady can go right on in. Frankie will make you feel right at home."
"Thanks, Dixon, we owe ya one," Starsky responded.
"No, we don't," the blond man said under his breath. He was still busy complaining and working the kinks out in his back, a condition made worse by his awkward sleeping position in the car. "Leave it to Huggy to send a '74 Caddy to pick us up. The thing's smaller than a sardine can back there."
"Maybe you should've sat up front. There's a whole lot more room up there," Angel suggested.
"Yeah, thanks, I'll keep that in mind for the trip back."
They headed up to the front door of the two-story residence, rang the doorbell and waited. Within a few minutes an impressive looking black woman opened the door. Her smooth brown skin had few wrinkles and her face was brightened by a warm, inviting smile. "Come in, come in," she said, and she shook their hands one by one as they stepped into the foyer and went past her into the parlor. The large sunlit room was furnished with a pair of look-alike damask sofas positioned catty-corner to each other against a big bay window, the tops partially covered with crocheted white throws. Two doily covered dark brown coffee tables squatted between them, bordered by a matching damask wing chair.
"My name is Frankie Brown please have a seat won't you?" she said as she reached for her eyeglasses and put them on. She focused intently on her three guests as they sat down in front of her. "I hope you all like tea," she said, and picking up a ceramic teapot and pouring hot water over teabags already set inside their cups.
Starsky smiled at her graciously. "We sure do."
She indicated the separate servers. "There's sugar, cream or lemon if you like."
Hutch took a cup and tossed a couple of spoonfuls of sugar into it. He drank from it slowly, his eyes taking in their surroundings. Starsky passed the cup of tea handed him on to Angel and then took a cup for himself and sipped. The proprietor of the home poured a cup for herself and sat down, smoothing her dress down as she did. "So what brings you out this way?" Her question lingered in the air for a moment before the darker detective answered.
"We're looking for answers. In particular, we're trying to straighten out a situation concerning this young lady over here," he explained, motioning toward the girl.
The woman smiled at her and took another sip of tea. "Such a pretty thing. Stand up dear, let me have a look at you."
Angel put her teacup down on the table, glanced at the two men and then stood up. With a stiff and perfunctory smile she let Mrs. Brown take her by the hand and study her for a moment, and when she was done, she returned to her seat. Mrs. Brown continued watching her with interest. "So, how have you come to be in the company of these two gentlemen?"
She tensed. "Well, I..."
Hutchinson cleared his throat and raised his right hand, forefinger extended. "Sorry to interrupt you, Mrs. Brown. But I sure would like to see the accommodations and freshen up a bit before we start."
"Oh, no problem at all. First, let me tell you, breakfast is at 7 a.m. and lunch promptly at noon. I usually serve dinner between six and seven in the evening. This is my slow period so I don't have any other guests at the moment, which means you'll have free run of the place. There's a shared bath on both floors, so if one is in use, the other one should be free." She rose from the sofa and put her cup down on the table. "If you like, I can show you to your rooms right now."
Starsky put down his cup. "Oh, that'd be swell, Mrs. Brown. We'd really appreciate it."
As he, Angel and Hutch walked around the coffee table to follow her, she put her hand on Starsky's arm. "You can call me Frankie, honey. Most folks do."
"Okay, Frankie." he said, smiling at her.
Mrs. Brown led them out of the parlor, through an archway and up a flight of carpeted stairs. The carpeting stopped at the landing and wood panel flooring took its place. The hall emanated odors from the stays of past boarders despite an effort to mask it with a spritz of air freshener. Cigarette smoke, odors of meals cooked and eaten in years past and stale perfume had settled in the floral wallpaper, too stubborn to be sanitized away. The four of them stopped about halfway down the hall in front of two rooms with closed doors. A large, rectangular curtained window stood vigil ahead.of them.
"I hope the two of you don't mind sharing a room. There are double beds."
"Never bothered us before, right, Starsk?" Hutch asked.
"Right. That's okay with us."
She turned to the young woman. "You can have the next room. It's just over here." She indicated the door before the room near the window. "I'll call you all down when lunch is ready. Huggy told me what your preferences are and I'm going to do my best to prepare what you like."
"Thanks," Hutch said, "we really appreciate that."
"Not a problem." She fished three keys from her apron pocket. "These are the keys to your rooms. Please make sure they're returned to me before you leave. Lost keys are ten dollars to replace."
"Whoo! Ten whole bucks, that's pretty steep!" Starsky exclaimed.
"I know it's a stiff penalty. But I guarantee you the keys do get returned." She laughed quietly, then turned to make her way back downstairs. "I'll see you all at lunch."
Hutchinson tried his key in the lock and opened the door, then turned to his partner, saw him hanging back. "I'm going to wash up before lunch. You comin' in, Starsk?"
"I'll be with ya in a minute, okay?"
"Sure." He went in and shut the door.
Angel moved slowly towards her door and to try the key she'd been given. Starsky leaned against the outside hallway wall and watched her, sensing some hesitation on her part.
"You going to be okay in there by yourself, you think?"
The young woman opened the door and stood in the doorway, surveying her accommodations. Inside, and off to her right she saw a writing desk and a large mirror and in the middle of the room were two double beds separated by a nightstand, matching lamps stood on each one. There was a television on a rolling stand and a radio not far from where that was. The whole room was painted in a neutral, off white shade. There was also a communicating door that led from her room to the room where the two detectives would be, and that little detail that seemed to set her mind at ease. She nodded her head. "I think I'll be all right."
He peeked inside. "Remember if you need anything, glass of water, ice cream...someone to talk to, we're right next door. All you have to do is knock."
She acknowledged his offer with a peck on the cheek. "I'll remember that. See you later."
His face lit up with a big smile that crinkled the corners of his mouth and eyes. He pushed himself slowly away from the doorframe as she disappeared inside the room. "See ya," he said and as the door closed, he waited for the sound of the chain before going on his way. When he walked into the room, Hutch was laying on one of the double beds reading a newspaper. His shoes and shirt were off, leaving an undershirt, jeans and socks still on. He looked up from the paper when the brunet man entered.
"How's our charge doing?" he inquired.
"Seems like she's doin' okay."
Starsky shrugged out of his jacket and flung it across the back of an unused chair, pulling out the chair to straddle it. He leaned his elbow on the top of the chair and placed his chin in his hand, covered his mouth with it and crossed his opposite arm beneath it for balance. He sat there for a minute, thinking and watching the newspaper rattle in his partner's hand. Finally, he spoke again. "She's a pretty nice girl, you know?"
Hutch shrugged the paper down a half-inch. "Sure, you say so."
"I sure hope we can do something for her."
"So do I, partner, so do I."
After a minute, he said, "I think maybe I'll take a shower." He got up from the chair. "Maybe relax a little before we eat."
The blond peeked out at him from behind the paper. "I put a fresh towel out for you and your suitcase is on the bed. I'll be right here when you get back."
Starsky smiled at him as he went over to the other bed. "Thanks, buddy. But frankly, I might find that a more appealin' proposition comin' from a sexy brunette."
Hutch winked at him and went back to reading his paper.
Huggy had been right about his cousin's abilities in the kitchen. Not only was she a wonderful hostess who treated her guests like family members; she also had something of a magic touch with food. The lunch she'd prepared was an impressive repast of homemade vegetable soup, hot deli sandwiches and sliced fruit with a choice of lemonade or iced tea as a beverage. Both men ate heartily, especially Starsky. When he was finished, he snatched the napkin he had tucked under his chin off and slid down in his chair, patting his stomach happily. "I am stuffed," he said, turning to their hostess and smiling. "You are one heck of a great cook, Frankie."
"Oh, it's nothing at all. Just practically living in my mother's kitchen."
Hutch, equally sated, wiped his mouth with his napkin, and pushed himself away from the table. "That was great, but I sure couldn't eat like that everyday. I'd turn into Porky Pig."
"Th...that...Th...that's all folks," Starsky mimicked the portly cartoon character.
Angel ate but didn't seem to enjoy her lunch. The laughter and "at hominess" of Frankie's kitchen only served to remind her of the absence of her mother. She couldn't help her eyes welling up with tears without notice. Mrs. Brown noticed it first, Starsky second, and Hutch last.
"What's the matter, dear?" she asked, touching her arm.
The young woman didn't answer, she just looked sad, her tears falling faster. Starsky was next to her chair in a heartbeat, offering a sympathetic hug and stroking her hair. "Everything's gonna be all right," he assured her.
"You'd better take her upstairs," Hutch directed him.
"Yeah. C'mon. C'mon with me."
Starsky lifted the emotionally troubled young woman out of her chair and carried her upstairs to her room, whispering words of encouragement in her ear as he did. Mrs. Brown followed him, opening the door for him as he carried her in and laid her down on the bed.
Mrs. Brown pulled a big down comforter from the closet in the hallway and brought it into the room. "I keep these to use for my special guests." She covered the girl with it and leaned over her as she stroked the girl's forehead and spoke in low tones: "Just remember, whatever it is that's bothering you, there's a solution for it. So don't worry yourself. Go ahead and rest now." Angel nodded as the woman got up to leave the room. Starsky followed her to the door. "I'll stay with her until she goes to sleep," he told her. "Tell my partner I'll be down as soon as I can, willya?"
"Of course I will. Maybe then you two will tell me what's going on," she said softly.
"We sure will."
Starsky closed the bedroom door after she left, drawing the curtains so that it was dark in the room. He stood near the bed and watched her and she turned head to look at him, the remnants of fading tears staining her cheeks. He came closer and sat on the bed beside her. In the dark, she looked very young.
"Sorry if I spoiled lunch for you."
"You don't have to apologize."
She reached for his hand and squeezed it, and he returned the gesture.
"It's just that sitting in that kitchen reminds me of what I used to have, and what I'm going to miss. And it hurts. It hurts so much."
He picked up her hand and kissed it. "I know, honey, I know. But you rest now, and don't think about it anymore. Just remember how much she loved you and how much you loved her."
"Is that what you do?"
"That's exactly what I do."
"Will you tell me about your father? What he was like?"
Starsky was pleased and somewhat surprised that someone he barely knew would be interested in hearing about his father. He arranged some of the extra pillows behind him and leaned back against them. "Hmm. Well, okay, here's one. When I was about seven years old, my father took my little brother Nicky and I out to Coney Island. It was a Saturday afternoon, and Nicky wanted to ride on the merry-go-round and I wanted to ride on the Ferris wheel. The two of us raised an awful fuss; going back and forth about who'd go on what ride and who would get to go on first. Pop probably wished he could've split himself in two just to please us both. So you know what he did?"
Angel shook her head in slow motion, her eyelids beginning to close.
"He put Nicky on the merry-go-round, and while the kid was having the time of his life on those horses, he took me outside and brought me an ice cream cone and we sat down and had the greatest man-to-man talk. He told me how much fun it was riding on the Ferris wheel and how great it was to be so high in the sky and looking down on the world. He said that when he was a little boy, his Pop used to take him to the very same beach and they'd ride this very same Ferris wheel as was there now. He told me that it was a tradition for the Starsky men to take their sons to Coney Island pier and spend the day eating hot dogs and riding the rides. He said that he was continuing the tradition with his sons and that he hoped that we'd do the same with our sons. After that talk, I forgot all about wanting to ride the rides, I just wanted to be with him. I guess I always admired the way he handled us in that situation and it always stuck with me, you know?"
When he didn't get an answer from her, he looked down and saw that she'd fallen asleep. Satisfied, he pulled the covers up over her shoulders and kissed her on the cheek, then left the room, closing the door quietly behind him. He went back downstairs and sat across from Hutch, who was sitting cross-legged on the floor in the parlor, leaning against a couch. He looked up at him as he entered the room. "How is she?"
"She's asleep now, but I have a feeling the sooner we figure out the what happened to her mother, the better off she'll be."
Frankie entered the room from the kitchen, after having finished putting away the lunch dishes that her handsome blond guest had so graciously washed and stacked in the drainer when they were upstairs. "How is she? Did she get to sleep all right?" She sat down next to the darker man, drying her hands with a dishtowel.
"She fell asleep. I told her one of my Coney Island stories. Seemed to help."
"Well, that's good. Now tell me, how did you three get together?"
Starsky sat forward on the sofa. "I guess you could kinda say we bumped into each other by accident. You see, Angel's mother died in a bad car accident a couple of months back and I guess the pain's still pretty fresh for her. Not only did she lose her mother, but she also lost her father at the same time, at least figuratively. Seems he had a future Mrs. C. waiting in the wings not long after the accident happened. So his daughter believes there was some sort of plan between the two of them to get her mother out of the picture. I figure that things weren't too great between her and the stepmother early on, so in her own best interests, she felt it was a good idea to get away from them. She got on a bus to parts unknown and I found her in front of my partner's place."
Hutch picked up the thread where Starsky left off. "Now my friend has decided we should become adjunct social workers for a few weeks and see if the kid's got a legitimate charge or if she's just taking us both for a ride."
Frankie folded the dishtowel she was holding and placed it on the coffee table, then clasped her hands in her lap. "Do you think she'd go as far as to say something like that without having heard or seen them do something to make her think it was true?"
"That's what I was thinking. I mean a girl doesn't usually hop on a bus and head out of town with no place to go. I think she had to have a really good reason."
"So now it's up to you two to find out whether that reason actually exists. Hmm. I don't envy you." She looked toward the kitchen. "Well, I've got business in the kitchen that needs tending to. I'll leave you two to work this out between yourselves. Let me know if you need anything."
"We sure will. And thanks--for listening." Starsky patted her arm as she got up to leave. They waited for her to pass from view before speaking again. Hutch uncrossed his legs, got up and joined his partner on the couch. "You thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?" he asked.
"Yeah, I think so. I'm thinking the two of us should go down to the PPD and introduce ourselves, see if we can get the files on the accident and whatever else there might be available. Maybe we can take a look at the place where it happened. After that, we'll see what the detectives assigned to the case have turned up. Then we'll know if we need to pay a call on Mr. Colchetti and his new wife."
Hutch straightened his legs in front of him. "We'd better find Dixon and get a move on it then."
Starsky rose in search of their hostess, with Hutch waiting outside at the kitchen door for him. When she saw them hanging in the doorway, she stopped putting away leftovers and walked over to them. He took her hand. "Frankie, we need to go and check some things out in town, wouldja mind keepin' an eye on Angel for us? We should be back by suppertime."
"If we're lucky," Hutch said over his shoulder.
She put her hand on Starsky's. "Of course I will. Don't worry. I'll take good care of her."
Starsky nodded and he and his partner moved as one toward the front door. "Come on, buddy, let's find our ride," he said.
The blond man opened the door and was startled to find Dixon already standing there, his hand poised over the knob. "Whoa there!" he said. "We must be having ESP or telepathy or some such thing. I was just coming to retrieve you."
"Retrieve us? How'd you even know we were leaving?" Hutch asked him curiously.
Both detectives looked at each other and then back at the driver. He didn't give them a direct answer. "Well, just don't just stand there lookin' like deer caught in headlights. Let's be on our way!" he exclaimed, then turned on his heels off the front porch and walked over to his car.
"One of these days we gotta talk to Huggy about getting a normal group of friends," Hutch said under his breath.
Starsky grinned and followed his partner out the door.