This story first appeared in the zine, A Small Circle of Friends #5 (2000). This zine, and other fine S&H gen zines, can be obtained from Neon Rainbow Press at: http://www.neonrainbowpress.com/ This story is based on the Simon & Simon episode, "Drive a Mile in my Hat". Comments on this story can be sent to: email@example.com and will be forwarded to the author.
Drive a Mile in My Torino
It was looking to be a terrific weekend. Starsky hummed to himself as he cracked another egg into the skillet, then began adding the hot peppers he'd chopped up. It was exactly the kind of lethal omelet he loved most and had too little chance to indulge in around his health-nut partner. But with Hutch away camping for the weekend, Starsky was looking forward to enjoying some of the decidedly low-brow activities that would have made Ken Hutchinson shudder. Greasy, delicious junk food, a line-up of games on TV, maybe an intimate dinner with some lovely lady...
The irony, Starsky grinned as he added a healthy dollop of Tabasco to the eggs, was that it would all take place in Hutch's pristine little apartment. With his own place being fumigated that weekend and his partner out of town, Starsky had wheedled Hutch--grudgingly--into the loan of his place for the three days. He knew what buttons to push; a petulant, "Don't you trust me?" had brought a variation of a familiar refrain: "With my life, yes. With my apartment, no." But the blond had finally relented, as he always did, with an elicited promise that Starsky would be on his best behavior. Of course, "best" meant different things to different people. Starsky couldn't think of better plans than those he had made.
Ketchup followed the Tabasco into the eggs, then some spicy sausage and chunks of cream cheese. With an afterthought and a shrug, Starsky also added a little grape jelly, then folded the omelet over to cook. The smell of the warming food was wonderful. Starsky had had to bring his own ingredients for the omelet, naturally--Hutch wouldn't have known a spicy sausage if it wrapped around his neck and choked him--but such a masterpiece was definitely worth some planning and preparation.
The doorbell rang, and Starsky blinked up at it in surprise and a touch of annoyance. Hutch hadn't said he'd been expecting anyone, and who would be here, anyway, at the early hour of--he squinted at his watch--11:35 am? Oh. Apparently he'd slept later than he thought.
With a mental shrug, Starsky turned the heat down and wiped his fingers on the dishtowel on the counter, then hurried to open the door.
She was a beautiful creature. That was his first thought, plain and simple, and it tied his tongue for a long moment.
"Mr. Hutchinson?" the woman asked hesitantly. An answer not immediately forthcoming, she stepped forward a little. "This is Ken Hutchinson's place?"
Starsky nodded dumbly.
"Um, well, my name is Brenda Corry. A friend of a friend of yours--Sylvia Hackett?--recommended you to me. I need some help pretty badly, and she spoke so highly of you, I wouldn't want to trust anyone else."
"Uh, come in," Starsky opened the door wider, beckoning her in. She really was lovely, the woman of many of his dreams, with shoulder-length dark hair and lively green eyes and even a spray of freckles across her nose and cheeks that he immediately fell in love with.
She looked him up and down hesitantly. "Oh, dear, I see I've come while you're in your grubbies working on something. I hope I'm not disturbing anything?" she said hesitantly as she stepped inside. "I can really only stay for a moment--I just arrived in town and I still have to go check in to my hotel and meet someone for lunch."
"Meet someone?" Starsky parroted stupidly, his brain only beginning to unthaw a little at a time. Grubbies? His favorite t-shirt and comfortable jeans?
"Um, yes, that's partly the reason I'm here." Brenda glanced at the nearby chair but didn't sit down. "I...I need some help. I know you're a police officer and you must be very busy, but I'd only need someone for the weekend, and I'm pretty desperate. I'd be happy to pay..."
Starsky finally found his misplaced tongue, and grinned with every bit of charm he possessed. "I don't really think that'll be necessary, Ms. Corry. We're here to help the public, after all. Did you want to go down to the station...?"
She smiled at him, some of her timidity disappearing. "Oh, that's just wonderful, Mr. Hutchinson. I don't know how to thank you. But, well, this is more like a...private matter, you understand?"
Mr. Hutchinson. Starsky's smile faded--oh, boy, he'd missed that the first time. She was here looking for Hutch, sure that Starsky's partner was the one to help her with...whatever, and Starsky had done nothing to dissuade her. Had, in fact, agreed to help in his partner's name. This was not good. "Uh, Ms. Corry--" he began half-heartedly.
"Call me Brenda, please," she beamed at him. "I can't tell you how much this means to me, Mr. Hutchinson. I really didn't know who else to turn to."
Her smile was beautiful, too. And, Starsky reminded himself chastely, she really needed help. If he sent her away, who knew if she'd be able to find someone else. He could do anything Hutch could, anyway. Well, mostly.
"You were saying?" Brenda prodded gently.
Starsky smiled weakly back at her. "Uh, call me Ken."
It was turning out to be the weekend from hell.
Hutch tried not to watch as Lucy stomped around the wet campground, attempting to pack up what she could before she got any more soaked. He was afraid to even look at her and invite yet another stream of the scathing tongue-lashings she'd been giving him. And that he deserved.
Mostly, anyway. It hadn't been his fault that despite weather reports to the contrary, it had rained ever since they'd arrived the night before, turning the soft ground into a quicksand of oozing mud. That alone would have been enough, but then there had been the bear that had wandered through their camp in the middle of the night, necessitating relocation into the car for nearly an hour. That hadn't been his fault, either, but then, he'd been the one who'd brought Starsky's gear along, including the knapsack with the hidden supply of beef jerky that had, no doubt, tempted the bear. And the portable camp stove that hadn't so much as flickered. And the tent that leaked like a volleyball net.
Of course, Hutch would never even have borrowed his city-slicker partner's equipment if not for the fact that Starsky had "accidentally" left half of Hutch's behind on a recent date/outing on which his partner had obviously paid far more attention to the lady than to the camping supplies.
Maybe he'd have to find that lady of Starsky's. Hutch rather doubted Lucy would go camping--or anywhere else--with him again.
They had the weekend still stretching before them, it being only day one of their current three-day weekend shift schedule, but with the rain continuing to fall and no good shelter even for, er, indoor activities, there hardly seemed a point in staying. Besides, Hutch winced as something crashed behind him and Lucy's muttered tirade became even louder and angrier, there wasn't much point in staying out there with someone who was growing more and more furious with him by the minute.
He finally packed the rest of the muddy gear into the trunk of the LTD, not caring for once what it did to the inside of his car, and quickly side-stepped Lucy as she also threw in--hard--the last of the camping supplies she'd been gathering. She stomped over to the passenger side of the car and got in, arms crossed on her chest, waiting for him. Hutch shook his head and got in after her. Going home was the first good idea of the weekend.
"Sorry about all this, sweetheart," he tried to soothe yet again the angry blonde beside him. "Look, I'll get us home fast and maybe we can get out of these wet clothes and--"
His key was already turning in the lock, but the car only gave a damp, choked wheeze before falling silent. Another try didn't even get that much response, just silence.
"You have got to be kidding," came Lucy's frigid voice from next to him.
It was a good thing Hutch hadn't packed his gun on this trip, because he would have been sorely tempted to shoot the car, or himself, and put them both out of their misery. Of course, the gun was at home where Starsky was waiting, in Hutch's nice, dry, warm apartment...
Hutch couldn't wait to get home.
The knock came at the door just a few minutes shy of the promised 7:00 pm, but Starsky straightened the suit jacket he was wearing and smoothed out the tie, then reached for the door with a wide smile.
"Hello--Hug?" His voice changed mid-line from charming to panicked. "What're you doin' here?"
Huggy Bear eyed him up and down as he strode in the door. "Wellll, Starsky, my man! Hot date tonight?" He grinned knowingly.
"Not exactly. Listen, Hug, I can't talk to ya now--can we do this some other time?"
"Do what?" The barkeep's face was the picture of innocence.
"I don't know, whatever you came for!"
"What I came for is to pick up the hair dryer your blond better half has for me."
Starsky stared at him in confusion. Hair dryer? What would Hutch be doing with a hair dryer, and why would Huggy--never mind, he decided. He didn't want to know. "Uh, in the bathroom, I guess. Look, just do it fast, huh? I've got company comin', Huggy."
"So I see," Huggy nodded as he ambled all too slowly toward the bathroom. "Is that why you're all dressed up in Hutch's suit and tie?" He disappeared into the doorway, reappearing a half-minute later with the appliance.
"None of your business," Starsky muttered, bodily pushing him toward the doorway.
They had almost made it when another knock sounded.
Starsky swallowed. Terrific. He opened the door with one hand, the other around Huggy's arm. Brenda stood just outside, her dark hair swept up and her emerald dress bringing out the green of her eyes. Even Huggy made a sound of appreciation under his breath.
"Ken! I hope I'm not too late," she began, her face softening into a smile.
"Uh, not at all," Starsky stammered, hearing Huggy's snort beside him. "Uh, Brenda, this is Huggy Bear, a...friend of mine. He was just leaving." And he gave the thin black man a push toward the doorway.
There was humor in Huggy's eyes as he gently picked up Brenda's hand and gave it a kiss. "Yes, regretfully I am, dear lady, but I'm sure Ken will take good care of you." He gave the brunet a sideways glance. "It's his partner, Starsky, you have to look out for."
"See you later, Huggy," Starsky said through a clenched smile.
But Huggy hadn't let go of Brenda's hand yet, commanding the flattered, bewildered girl's attention still. "Oh, and if you like health food, Detective Hutchinson has dazzled some of the finest palates in town with his au naturel cuisine, isn't that right, Ken?"
Starsky slid Brenda's hand out of Huggy's and smoothly pulled her inside. "'Bye, Hug." He swung the door shut.
"My goodness," Brenda laughed, "he's quite the character, isn't he?"
Starsky laughed too, uneasily. "Yeah, he...has his moments. Should we get started?"
"Of course." She sat down on the chair he pointed to, beginning to rummage inside the satchel she'd brought with her. "Officer Starsky's your detective partner?" she asked idly.
"Uh, we've been together a long time, yeah. He's a great guy," Starsky said, not without some smugness. "Smart, good taste in cars..."
"Oh, speaking of which, did you see that red-and-white thing in front of the building?" Brenda wrinkled her nose. "It looks like a Matchbox car."
Starsky swallowed. "Well, uh, actually, that is Starsky's car. I'm, uh, usin' it for the weekend. My partner's gone camping and that car doesn't exactly belong out in the woods, you know?" He laughed again, and she laughed with him. No real lies yet, but he knew he was treading on thin ice here. Not to mention wounded pride. Matchbox car?
"Why, that's very sweet of you," Brenda beamed at him. "Is it really true that you love health food? Sylvia had mentioned you were a good cook."
"Yeah, well..." Starsky shrugged with feigned modesty while he resisted the urge to loosen his tie. Time for a change of subject. He seated himself on the sofa just across from her, their knees nearly touching. "You were going to tell me about why you needed help?"
"Oh, yes." She returned to her bag, rummaging a moment more until she pulled out a brochure. "You see, I'm an artist. Sylvia said you're also quite the art enthusiast? I work in the pointillism style, not too different from Seurat, but with some of the more modern influences, sort of post-postimpressionism. You know?"
"Mmm." Starsky tried to look intellectually intrigued. Seurat--wasn't he on Star Trek?
"Anyway, recently I received an offer from a gallery in town, the Gallerie San Juste, to do a one-day exhibit and sale of my work." She offered him the brochure. "It's to be this Sunday."
Starsky grinned at her as he accepted it. "Congratulations."
She dimpled shyly. "Thank you. It's a great honor, and a tremendous step for me, of course. Only...well, this past week I've been getting a little scared. Strange things have been happening. My brakes went out one day, and I was just really lucky that I was going uphill and could pull safely aside. Then the very next day, someone broke into my apartment, but they didn't steal anything and the police couldn't find any good clues. And yesterday, as I was leaving for the airport, I was almost hit by a car as I was crossing the street! It's all left me feeling a little jittery."
Starsky had grown serious as she talked, the awkward situation and the way her eyes shone with tears temporarily unimportant as he slipped into training. "That sounds pretty serious. Did you report the other two incidents to the police?"
Brenda had pulled a handkerchief out of her bag apparently for the sole purpose of wringing it as she talked. "That's the problem, Ken. I don't even know if they were deliberate or just lousy luck. I haven't got any proof except for one busted door and some bad feelings. But you know," she leaned forward, putting a hand confidingly on Starsky's knee. He gulped, trying to concentrate on her words. "I have the strangest idea it has something to do with the gallery show the day after tomorrow. I couldn't tell you why, but I just feel funny about the whole thing."
Starsky cleared his throat. "So you wanted me to check out the gallery, see if they're on the level?"
"Not the way you mean," she said, frowning. "I'd like you to come with me tomorrow morning when I go sign the contracts at the gallery. With your knowledge of art, I thought maybe we could go through and look at the artwork they carry, maybe figure out how well they seem to be doing? And also, if you'd be willing to escort me to my engagements this weekend, you could sort of keep an eye out for things?"
Between her clutching hand and the conversation's sudden shift to the artworld, the room definitely felt a little too warm to Starsky. "Ah, you haven't seen the gallery before?" he asked disbelievingly.
She nodded. "Oh, certainly. But while I've studied art history in general, of course, my area of expertise is really only the previous century. The Gallerie San Juste has a great deal of twentieth-century art, and I'm a little rusty on that. Not that I'm looking for an expert appraiser, of course," she laughed, squeezing his leg, "just someone to shore up my experience a little bit. While being on the lookout for anything suspicious."
"Sorta like a bodyguard and art critic at the same time," Starsky ventured.
"Exactly!" She smiled at him. "Oh, I knew I came to the right place! It's such a relief for me to have found you, Ken. You're every bit as sweet as Sylvia said you were."
Starsky only managed a half-hearted grin this time. Art...sure, why not? Hutch always rattled off stuff like that with ease and said it was a piece of cake. Of course, Starsky had never had any clue what his partner was talking about. But maybe he could learn overnight?
Hutch really didn't know the first thing about engines; that was more his partner's area of expertise than his own. Even as he stared at the motor under the hood, he knew he'd find nothing wrong there that he'd recognize and finally shut it with a sigh, bringing Lucy into sight in the front seat once more, the rain streaming down the windshield, distorting her lovely, irritated features.
"Honey, I'm sorry," he called through the glass. "I don't know what's wrong with it."
She'd already graduated from chewing him out to ignoring him, though, and only stared pointedly out the side window.
Hutch smacked the car hood in exasperation, getting nothing but a sore hand for his trouble. They could hike out to the nearest ranger station, which was only a few miles due south, but already evening was nearly upon them and it was useless to think of going that night still. They'd have to wait until morning. Which meant staying one more night in the leaky tent, if Lucy would even let him inside.
And Starsky was probably having a great time. Life just wasn't fair.
Starsky pulled the Torino up into the small parking lot adjacent to the Gallerie San Juste. In slacks, loafers, and a button-down shirt, he felt almost out of place in the red muscle car. Like Hutch, his mind added with more amusement than he was prepared to admit to. How on earth did he get himself into situations like this? He hoped fervently Hutch wouldn't find out or the blond would never let him live it down.
Starsky got out of the car, staring at the building as he did. The imposing gallery made him feel even more out of his element. Hutch had, unsurprisingly, a variety of art books in his apartment, and Starsky had stayed up late trying to read and memorize every one of them. To his amazement, they weren't nearly as boring as his memories of the art exhibit Hutch had once dragged him to had made him fear they'd be. In fact, some of it was kind of interesting. Except for the really modern stuff that looked to him like a child's playful artwork. Or even worse. And, naturally, that was the very period that Brenda expected him to know best. Starsky sighed, heading for the building.
A cab pulled up to the gallery entrance as he approached. The door opened and lean, gorgeous legs stretched out, reminding Starsky just why he was playing this charade in the first place. That and the potential danger, of course. The threats sounded vague and coincidental at best, but who was he to argue with a scared lovely lady who wanted some company for the weekend?
Brenda Corry emerged all the way from the car, her face glowing in a smile at the sight of the brunet. "Ken! Oh, I'm so glad you could make it. It's almost time for my appointment."
Starsky grinned back. She had insisted he didn't have to meet her at the hotel, only playing bodyguard from the time of the Saturday appointment on, but she was his now for the weekend. "You ready, schweetheart?" Starsky stuck his arm out gallantly.
Brenda looked at him blankly.
Her apparent confusion made Starsky falter a bit. "Bogie," he offered, his smile slipping.
"Oh...of course." She took his arm with a hesitant smile. Starsky bit back another sigh.
The Gallerie San Juste was a columned, ornate building from the outside, but on the inside it was muted and austere. Professional, Starsky thought approvingly, glancing with idle interest at the various painting and sculptures visible from the entrance foyer. Maybe the outside was what the rich folk preferred, but this functional simplicity was what appealed to him.
That was all he had time to think before a door on their left swung open and two people came out. The older one smiled genially at them, already raising his hand in welcome to Brenda. The younger, his thirty-ish babyface bearing family resemblance to the older man but with about twenty-five years less worth of lines, hung back and watched them thoughtfully. Starsky kept half an eye on him even as he smiled back at the older man.
"Ms. Corry, how good to see you!" The older man was already shaking Brenda's hand.
"Mr. Ramsfield, it's a pleasure," Brenda greeted him back. Then turned partway to Starsky. "Please allow me to introduce a friend of mine, Ken Hutchinson."
"Mr. Hutchinson," Ramsfield immediately took Starsky's hand, giving it a warm, firm shake.
Starsky nodded back with willing friendliness. "Mr. Ramsfield."
"And this is my son," the gallery owner said, turning back to the younger man. "Carl?"
Carl Ramsfield came up to them then, exchanging greetings with cool civility. Typical uppercrust snootiness, Starsky decided. He didn't like Carl already.
The elder Ramsfield rubbed his hands together. "Yes, well then, shall we get down to business?"
They were ushered into a neat but elegant office, and motioned into chairs. Ramsfield took his place behind the desk, opposite them, and Brenda immediately leaned forward.
"I've brought the papers," she began. "If you'll just take a look..."
Starsky quickly tuned out the business details, looking instead around the room with professional curiosity. The room definitely spoke of money, but only for comfort, not for show. Books lined several large bookcases, most of them art titles as far as the detective could tell, some of them well-thumbed. The pictures were all family photos; there was no artwork in the room except for a small, fragile sculpture of some reddish metal--copper?--that rested on a freestanding pedestal. And next to it solemnly stood Carl, his attention apparently on his father and Brenda, but his dark, opaque eyes straying repeatedly back to Starsky with perhaps a hint of distaste.
Wonder what's on his mind? Starsky thought idly, not really wondering at all. He'd had enough experience in his life around well-to-do snobs to recognize the attitude. In fact, it had been one of the major obstacles between him and Hutch at the Academy, until he realized that the upper class Minnesotan was more decent to and accepting of others than most of Starsky's peers, a realization that had led him to shed a few stereotypes of his own. This time, he was being Hutch, though, and still was condescended to. Guess there's only so much the clothes can do. Hutch had always been a natural. That reminded Starsky. Wonder how blondie's makin' out with his weekend in the great outdoors? he thought fondly.
And then papers were being signed, and they were on their feet again, going through one more round of handshakes.
"Oh, uh, Mr. Ramsfield, would it be all right if I showed Mr. Hutchinson your gallery?" Brenda asked. "I've told him so much about it, but I'd really like him to see for himself."
"Ah, yes, an art connoisseur, are you, Mr. Hutchinson?"
Starsky would have answered if he only knew what it meant. What kinda sewer?
But Ramsfield, thankfully, wasn't waiting for a response. "I'd be delighted, Ms. Corry. Please, be my guest," he waved them out toward the gallery. Starsky was aware of Carl standing in the doorway watching them until they turned the nearest gallery corner.
And then, he gulped, it was showtime.
Painting after painting stretched along several moveable walls on different sides. Some were recognizable landscapes and gardens and still lifes, others looked like random splatters of color or even, in one case, just black splotches. What the heck does Hutch see in this stuff? An' what am I supposed to?
"As you can see, the gallery carries a great deal of neoexpressionist art," Brenda said next to him, stopping in front of a canvas covered in what Starsky would have termed graffiti in a different setting. He just nodded, trying to look thoughtful. "This one, for example, shows some of the influence of Richter, don't you think?"
Starsky frantically pulled on what he'd read the night before. "Or, uh, Haring, maybe?"
Brenda's eyes lit up, and she nodded thoughtfully. "Yes, you're right." She smiled brilliantly at him. "You must have an artist's eyes, Ken."
Starsky had no idea what he'd said, just like she had no idea what a feat it had been for him to say it, but he gave her a bland smile. His palms were as sweaty as when Hutch dragged him along to some fancy black-tie event. Pretend it's undercover, he prodded himself. That often worked.
"Also some postmodernist," Brenda was murmuring in front of the next canvass.
Postmodernist...he knew that one. "Salle?" he hazarded a guess.
"No..." She studied the painting, lips pressed together. "It doesn't have that collage quality. More like Fischl's style. You see the sexual imagery here," she traced a line in the air over the canvas.
Starsky's eyes widened. What on earth was she seeing? He sure wouldn't have minded seeing that himself, but try as he did, all he saw were what looked like a bunch of abstract shapes. He managed a noncommittal reply, earning another smile from Brenda.
The rest of the gallery was more of the same. By the time they finished, Starsky had managed to use up nearly every carefully memorized name and quote, and was thoroughly exhausted. Forget undercover--facin' up to an angry gang isn't as hard as this hoity-toity art stuff.
Brenda hadn't noticed his discomfort, though, much to his relief. From long practice undercover, Starsky had managed to answer just enough to convince her she knew what he was talking about--and impress her with his knowledge--without giving away that he didn't have a clue as to what he was seeing.
Well, almost. To his surprise, some of the names on the placards by the artworks had been familiar, even impressing him.
He told Brenda as much.
"So you think they're as reputable as they seem." She nodded. "I do too, but I feel better hearing it from someone like you." She smiled shyly up at him. "Actually, for a premiering artist like me, any gallery showing would be a great honor, but there are some studios, unfortunately, that are less than trustworthy and end up bilking the artist out of a great deal of profit, or even worse, fold and sometimes take the artwork with them. Gallerie San Juste has a good reputation so it's not that, I just...something feels off, don't you think?"
She said the whole thing in one breath, and Starsky nearly grinned. It was rather cute. Her words, however, sobered him. The gallery seemed on the level to him, instinctively, but there was something...
Out loud, he only said, "I'm gonna follow you back to the hotel, then go do some checking and get back to you, okay?" He leaned closer. "How 'bout over dinner? Say, six?"
She moved in closer, too, spots of color appearing on her cheeks. "That sounds wonderful. Will you cook me one of those terrific, wholesome meals, Ken?"
Starsky hid his wince well. "Uh, how 'bout I take you out someplace nice?"
"Oh, I think I'd much rather have a quiet dinner at your place, if you don't mind. Some...intimate cuisine?"
"Oh, uh, sure. Maybe some goulash?" Starsky said hopefully.
She laughed, a melting sound. "You are so funny! Sylvia described you perfectly. Goulash!" Then, more softly, "I'm a vegetarian, too, you know." Then with a hint of things to come, she gave him a quick peck on the cheek and ran to her car.
Starsky shook his head clear. Funny--yeah, Hutch would think so, too. So, could he also learn how to cook healthy la his partner in a few hours? Starsky clumped toward the Torino, getting in and waiting until Brenda pulled out before he followed her. Maybe Hutch had some good cookbooks on his shelves, too...
He was the unofficial bodyguard, so it was Starsky this time who picked up Brenda from the hotel he'd seen her to earlier that day, taking her back to "his" place in Venice and ushering her through the door. A minute later, while she smiled sweetly at him from the doorway, he had all lights but one turned off and had lit the candles that stood in the middle of Hutch's covered kitchen table.
"Brenda?" he held a chair invitingly for her.
"Thank you, Ken," she murmured, slipping into it, putting her satchel on the table next to her.
Starsky swung a napkin over one arm and with his best bad French accent, intoned, "Dinner vill be served in one moment, Madame."
She giggled. "It smells wonderful. What did you make?"
"Zat would be telling." He waggled his eyebrows at her, then swept into the kitchen. Actually, he didn't remember what "he'd made." The server at the fancy vegetarian restaurant Hutch sometimes frequented had told him what he was getting when he'd picked up the carry-out food, but he'd forgotten already. Something fancy, completely unappetizing, and expensive, but whatever the lady wanted...
The restaurant's boxes were buried at the bottom of the trashcan and he'd put the food earlier into serving dishes. Now, he dished out generous portions of the food, a little less generous for himself than for Brenda. Maybe he had to eat some, but Starsky wasn't about to overdo it.
One plate he placed with a flourish in front of the brunette, the other he put before himself as he sat down. And watched with surreptitious anxiety as Brenda took a careful bite, relaxing only when her face transfused with real pleasure.
"Oh, Ken, that's wonderful! Wild rice pilaf with steamed mushrooms! How on earth did you know I love mushrooms?!"
Starsky shrugged gamely. "I just thought to myself, she seems like the kind of girl who'd go for mushrooms," he said with a grin. This kind of feigning he could do.
"You're so sweet." She took another bite, then pulled some paperwork out of her satchel. "Now, this is my agreement with the Gallerie. I thought you'd like to look it over. Did you find anything on them?"
Starsky shook his head. "Nope. They're clean as far as I can tell." He'd not had a chance to check both Ramsfields as thoroughly as he would have liked, but from what he could find, the father had in-the-black co-ownership of the successful gallery, shared equally with his son, and the family could easily afford their lavish lifestyle.
The food, Starsky found meanwhile, wasn't bad either, an interesting mix of spices and flavors. Maybe this health stuff his partner was always spouting on about wasn't so bad, after all. Starsky was hungrier than he'd thought and dug in with relish even into the woefully meatless dinner.
He flipped through the contracts as he ate, but they were full of the lawyer doubletalk that Hutch with his college training probably would have found effortless to translate, but that gave Starsky headaches. Why they didn't say what they meant in plain English, he could never figure out. But the gist of it seemed to make sense, and he skimmed on, hoping that if something was off, it would jump out at him.
And it did. Starsky frowned, reading one of the lines over again, trying to figure out if it meant what it seemed to.
"Hey, Brenda? Did you see this clause?" He reached the contract copy back to her, and she read it carefully, chewing as she read. She finally swallowed and looked up at Starsky.
"You mean that they get the rights to all my artwork if something happens to me before the end of the exhibit?"
"Yeah. Is that normal?" Starsky asked, unease tingling. He didn't need Hutch's know-how to be uncomfortable with that.
"I think so. I've heard of it being done before. As a new artist, I don't have very much leverage to contest some of the more aggressive contingencies, you know?"
Starsky forgot about the food, now absorbed in the contract but not wanting to make his suspicions clear just yet. No need to make his lovely guest uneasy before he was sure.
Anyway, something still didn't make sense. If the Ramsfields wanted to get to Brenda in order to lay claim to her artwork, why the attempts before she signed the contract?
He shook his head in frustration. "But you only signed this contract this morning..."
"Oh, no, not that one," Brenda said, putting her fork down. "That part of the contract was signed before I got here. What I signed this morning were only some final details. Unless I could prove some kind of fraud on the Gallerie's part, I was already in a binding contract."
It clicked, unfortunately. It also meant that despite the lack of apparent trouble that day, Ramsfield and son would quite possibly make another attempt on Brenda before the next day was through.
"Is something wrong?" Brenda asked innocently. "If something in the contract's not clear, you could always ask Mr. Ramsfield."
That hadn't been his first thought, but it wasn't a bad idea. Starsky dropped his napkin on his plate and stood, striding around the intimate table to lean close to Brenda. "Yeah, I think I will," he said seriously. "I want you to stay here, lock the door, and don't let anyone in, okay?"
Her eyes became round and frightened. "A-all right, if you say so. Do you think I'm--"
Starsky smiled convincingly at her. "I think you're gonna be just fine. I just need to ask Mr. Ramsfield a few questions and I want you to wait for me here, okay?"
"All right," she said, nodding. Then, meekly, "I'll be waiting for you."
Man, she had the loveliest green eyes. "I won't be long," he promised earnestly.
At least, that had been what he'd thought before he got to the Gallerie. It was closed, of course, but as Starsky expected, a light still shown in the office window. Private business owners rarely kept regular hours.
Starsky rapped sharply on the glass doors. "Mr. Ramsfield? Detective S--uh, LAPD. Can I speak to you, please?"
No stirring in the dark foyer, the thin slip of light from Ramsfield's ajar office door the only light in the place.
Maybe he should have called ahead? "Mr. Ramsfield?" Starsky knocked harder this time, glancing around for a payphone. Then sharply back at the door as it opened slightly under his rapping knuckles.
"Mr. Ramsfield?" Starsky pushed at the door tentatively, not happy when it swung inward as easily as it had earlier that morning. There were always legitimate possible explanations to such things...but in Starsky's experience, they were rarely right. "Mr. Ramsfield?" he stuck his head in the door, drawing his gun as he did. It had been harder to fit his gun and holster under his slimmer partner's blazer, but now he was glad it was there. "Mr. Ramsfield? LAPD," he repeated, edging inside. Still no response, but Starsky doubted he'd get one at that point. He slipped over to the door, knocking on it also until it swung inward. "Mr. Ramsfield?" He peered in.
The gallery owner was slumped at his desk, his crown of mussed white hair and two limp hands the only thing visible from where Starsky stood.
Grimacing, he went over to the man and checked for a pulse, eyeing the thin edge of red liquid that had pooled on the desk beneath him. Then the detective gave the rest of the room and gallery a cursory glance, already knowing the result just as he'd known Ramsfield was dead. Starsky shook his head. Hutch would find out about this for sure now. And Brenda...
Wincing, Starsky went out to the car to call in the homicide.
Once upon a time, a much younger Hutchinson had thought that being outdoors, communing with nature, was the mirror of heaven. A much younger, more naive Ken Hutchinson. Now, thought Hutch as he wearily struggled to unlock the door, he could conceive of nothing more heavenly than a hot shower, his soft, dry bed and all the other comforts of home.
He was just stepping inside, already dropping his duffel onto the floor, when a squeal from just behind the door sent him instantly reaching for his absent gun. "Wha--?"
The door swung shut, revealing a white-faced lovely lady clinging with both hands to one of his iron skillets. "Who are you?" she demanded before he even had a chance to recover his tongue. "Where's Ken Hutchinson? Did you do something to him?"
Hutch gaped at her blankly for a moment. She was the one with a potential weapon--albeit probably not a risk, the way she brandished it--and yet he found himself stretching out a hand reassuringly. Then her words sunk in. "Ken--"
"Yes," she nodded, anger beginning to overcome her fear, "Ken Hutchinson. He'll be back any minute now, so you'd better get out of here."
Hutch risked a glance away from her, around the dimmed room with its beautifully set table and flickering candles, a lingering hint of his own cologne in the air, and suddenly it all became very clear.
He shook his head, turning back to the girl as he mentally began adding to his list of things he planned to do to his partner when they met again. She was still waving that ridiculous skillet, green eyes bright with fear and fury. Yeah, definitely Starsky's type.
Hutch let his other bag drop, bringing up his second hand also in a placating gesture. "Did, uh, Ken tell you he has a partner? Starsky?"
The skillet faltered a little. "You're Starsky?" Then lowered altogether. "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't know. Ken didn't mention that you'd be here. Um, we were just having dinner to talk over some business..."
Hutch took another glance at the table and--was that rice pilaf? He didn't even know Starsky knew what that was. Business dinner. Uh-huh. "I see. Ken cooked?" he asked politely.
"Oh, yes," the girl regained a little of her enthusiasm even as she watched him nervously. "He's a wonderful cook."
Hutch stared at her blankly. That did sound like Ken Hutchinson, all right. And no doubt the girl would love the real thing even more than his faking partner. Any other time and Hutch might have tried to charm her, maybe gain his just revenge on Starsky, but now he was just too tired to bother. It sounded as though Starsky was due back soon, wherever he'd gone, and Hutch was all-too-happy to let his partner play pretend with the girl. And figure out where to move his private seduction, since Hutch was reclaiming his apartment, or at least his bedroom. Ignoring Starsky's newest acquisition, he shrugged out of his backpack and let it fall where it was. So much for neatness. Well, Starsky wasn't the tidiest of people, anyway.
Hutch paused, nearly grinning at the thought. On the other hand, maybe this could be fun.
"He feeding you that birdseed junk?" he suddenly spoke up, voice scornful as he wandered closer to the table for a look. Pilaf with mushrooms? The girl certainly had to be special if Starsky was willing to carry his charade that far.
Hutch poked at the plate. "Yup. You could do a lot better than this, y'know." He glanced up at the girl, who remained standing uncertainly by the door. "I know a great place that serves pizza burritos and the best corndogs-with-everything in L.A." And he did, too, with unfortunate thanks to his partner. Hutch could well sympathize with the look of disgust that quickly passed over the girl's face, and hid his own grin.
Hutch continued on instead to the kitchen, yawning and scratching his head sleepily with both hands. He opened the refrigerator, debating with himself for a moment before he pulled out a half a tomato-pepper-beef enchilada that someone had stashed in there. He'd teased Starsky mercilessly for getting a bagful of them, what, only a day before, unwilling to admit that they smelled somewhat tantalizing. And he hadn't been half as hungry then as now. Well, for Starsky's sake... He took a healthy bite. Hmm. Pretty good. Not the healthiest stuff, but... With some surprise, Hutch nibbled the rest of it, seeing from the corner of his eye just the reaction he wanted from Miss Skillet. Fine. At this rate, she'll probably never want to talk to Ken again. "Hey, you wanna beer?" he called back out into the living room.
"Uh, no. Thank you."
Somehow he didn't think so. He grabbed one for himself, though, then ambled back out into the living room, noting with amusement that Miss Skillet hadn't dropped her weapon yet. Hutch turned on the TV and flopped down on the couch with his back to the girl, licking the spicy enchilada sauce off his fingers and taking a drag of the beer. He pulled his shoes off and propped his filthy socks on the coffee table. "You wanna watch something on TV?" Hutch offered cheerfully over his shoulder. "Hutch, he's big into books and plants and boring stuff like that, but gimme a good Yankees game anyday."
"Yes," Miss Skillet tried bravely behind him, "I know. I'm an artist and he's helping me out with the...arrangements with the gallery that's doing a show of my works. It's amazing how much he knows about art."
It was a good thing she couldn't see his face because Hutch doubted he could have hid his surprise at that. Starsky and art? His partner, whose concept of art was black velvet paintings or a piled-high Dagwood sandwich?
The phone rang before his sluggish mind could think of a suitably sarcastic reply. With a reluctant groan, Hutch dragged himself upright and back into the kitchen, giving the set table another disgruntled glance as he went by. He snagged the phone.
"Hu-ello?" his name tiredly segued into a greeting for the sake of Miss Skillet who still stood watching him across the living room. Though why he was bothering to cover for his partner, Hutch had no idea. Habit, probably.
"Hutch?" an incredulous voice spoke in his ear. Speak of the devil. "What're you doin' home?"
"So nice to hear from you, Hutchinson," Hutch drawled.
"What? Oh...Brenda's there, huh?"
Brenda...Hutch studied the brunette by the door, deciding the name fit her. "Uh-huh," he allowed. It didn't surprise him at all that she saw her opportunity at that moment, finally setting the skillet down and grabbing her large purse and coat, then slipping out the door with a brief, half-hearted wave of the fingers. He waved back just as earnestly.
"Look, Hutch, I know I've got some explainin' to do, but something's goin' on here. I'm at a homicide scene--"
Hutch frowned, humor falling away. "What? Who?"
"Guy called Joseph Ramsfield. I came down t'talk to him and found him dead. Brenda's tied up into all this somehow, I just don't know how yet."
Hutch glanced sharply back at the door. "She just left. You want me to--"
"No, 's okay, I know where she's stayin' and I'm pretty sure she's not goin' anywhere until after tomorrow. But something stinks here, Hutch."
"In homicide cases, it usually does, buddy," Hutch softened. A prank was one thing, but only when Starsky was up to playing, and his edgy, preoccupied tone said now was not the time. "You comin' back here?"
"Naw, think I'm gonna head over to Brenda's hotel, keep an eye on her overnight, make sure she stays there and nobody gets to her. I'll call ya back in a while."
"The Barclay. West 4th St."
"Fine. I'm going to take a shower first."
A thread of humor wove into Starsky's voice. "You never told me why you're back so soon. Things go okay?"
Hutch's jaw clenched a little tighter. "Don't worry, I'll tell you all about it later."
"T'rrific. I'll call you when she gets back to the hotel."
"Okay." And he hung up. Now for that nice, long shower...
The hot water was just what he needed. Hutch stayed under the stream until it worked out the worst of the knots and chill in his muscles and washed the clinging mud off his body. All he needed was a good night's sleep and he'd be a new man. Back to being Ken Hutchinson, he thought wryly. Wrapping a towel around his waist, he stepped out of the bathroom and headed toward his bedroom.
Until the unmistakable cold metal of a gun barrel pressed up against his neck from behind.
"Where's Ken Hutchinson?" a quiet, deadly serious voice hissed at him.
Hutch froze. "He's not here. I'm his partner, Starsky." He'd played this game before, except this time he honestly wasn't sure if the intruder was looking for Starsky or for him. But somehow he had a suspicion the "Hutch" they were looking for was brunet.
"Partner?" the voice asked almost distastefully.
A goon with a moral code, Hutch marveled absently. Why did people automatically assume just because they were close that he and Starsky were partners in every sense? "LAPD," he elaborated. Then, almost too lightly, "Can I give him a message?"
"Sure," the man agreed. And then something crashed hard into Hutch's head, setting the world around him off-balance and into hazy motion.
The only thing he knew afterwards was that he was lying on the floor, and even that only because he could feel the carpet tickling his cheek. The room swayed in and out of focus around him, his muscles oblivious to his attempts at controlling them. Vaguely, he was aware of soft footfalls retreating, then the quiet snick of the front door shutting, but Hutch was too busy trying to keep the rolls of nausea and pain from sweeping him away to give his attacker's departure much thought.
The effort was exhausting. Hutch was heavily under, still stretched out on the floor, when the phone rang a few minutes later.
Surveilling solo had to be one of the most boring things on earth, Starsky thought, yawning widely. It wasn't his favorite activity, no matter what, but at least with Hutch they talked, joked, traded off sleeping, whatever to pass the time. There were times when it was almost fun, but at the least it was time spent together. Somehow, that never felt wasted.
But this, staring at a door all night, was about as mind-numbing as it got. Idly, Starsky turned on the radio and flipped through the station, pausing at the sound of a rousing orchestra playing. Classical music wasn't usually his bag, but this stuff wasn't bad, kind of like some of the art he'd seen the day before with Brenda. Pretty interesting if you gave it a chance.
The return of his thoughts to Brenda was troubling, as it had been all night, and Starsky stared hard at the hotel entrance as if to see all the way up into the lady's room. When he'd gone the night before to see Ramsfield, he'd been all but certain that the gallery owner and maybe his son were the ones behind the attempts on Brenda's life. The method fit the amateurish style and the motive--money, no surprise--was obvious. But then who killed Ramsfield? His son was, after all, his son, and well-off already, plus part owner of the gallery and receiving quite handsome profits. It seemed unlikely. But the only other real suspect that left Starsky with was Brenda, who'd had opportunity during the day while the detective hadn't been with her, but had no motive that Starsky could see. And she had been the one to encourage him to go see Ramsfield, another good alibi. None of it made much sense.
The car's passenger door opened suddenly, and Starsky cursed himself for a split second, wondering how he could have been so lax as to let someone sneak up on him. His hand was almost to his gun before he realized who was slipping into the seat next to him, wearing his jacket and a faded pair of jeans, no less.
"Hutch?" No wonder he'd been taken by surprise; his internal radar had long accepted Hutch a given at his side, subconsciously not registering the blond ever as a threat. But the clothes... "What're you doin' in my jacket?" he asked curiously.
The blond gave him an almost glare. "I could ask you the same thing."
Starsky automatically looked down at himself. Oops. He'd forgotten he was still in Hutch's blazer from the night before, though the tie had long been tossed into the back seat. He gave his partner a sheepish grin. "It's a long story. Where were you last night? I tried callin' ya a couple of times and figured you were worn out and had gone to bed."
"Yeah, on the floor," Hutch said wryly, fingering the bump behind his ear. "Someone left a message with me for 'Ken Hutchinson' last night."
Starsky's jaw slackened, and he pulled his sunglasses down with one hand to peer worriedly at his partner. His other hand reached for the blond head to feel for himself. "You all right?"
"Yeah," Hutch grumbled, batting the hand away without malice. Worry for your partner always had to be tolerated to some extent; it was in the rules. "Starsky," his tone switched to exasperation, "what's going on?!"
Starsky made a face, blew out a long breath, and filled his partner in. He started from Brenda's arrival on his doorstep, through the gallery appointment--glossing over his art criticism a bit--and ended with Ramsfield's still-open homicide and the subsequent fruitless stake-out.
Hutch whistled low when he was done. "Can't leave you for a minute, can I."
"Listen, Hutch," Starsky leaned toward his partner. "I think we've gotta keep the act going a little longer. Brenda trusts me now and I've gotta stick with her just in case somebody still tries something before tonight."
"And what about me?" Hutch asked sardonically. "I suppose you think I should keep playing you for a while, maybe nose around over at the gallery where they don't know me--uh, you?"
"Well, it kinda makes sense," Starsky hedged.
Hutch sighed. That meant Starsky had won, his partner knew, which he'd guessed as much when Hutch had first shown up in his jacket. But Starsky was letting the blond call the shots for the moment and he sat quietly, looking hopeful. Knowing, as Hutch did, that it was the best plan.
"Please?" Starsky did add. It would make things go down a little easier.
It worked. Hutch shook his head and gave him a smile of vexed affection. "All right, Hutchinson," he finally said. Then, plaintively, "I don't mind you being me so much, but can't I be somebody else?"
Starsky gave him the withering look that the crack deserved, laughing inside. He felt better about the whole squandered evening and messy case already. "You'd better take my car with you then, keep up my image. Your squash here?"
"Had it towed," Hutch said mournfully. "I've got a loaner from the station." He pointed.
Starsky's heart sank at the sight. "You mean there're two of you in this city with such bad taste?" he grumbled. The battered Chevy was a tiny bit less boxy and dented than Hutch's LTD, but not much. And the color...
"Hey, she's got character." Hutch turned serious on a dime. "Where are you gonna be?"
"Here. If she doesn't move, at least she'll be safe for tonight, but if she does, I wanna know where she's goin'. You sure you're really okay?" he asked, not trying very hard to hide his worry.
Hutch ghosted him a smile and nodded, reaching over absently for the sunglasses still perched on Starsky's nose.
"Hey, those are mine!"
"Goes with the jacket," Hutch smirked at him.
Starsky made a face back and opened the door. Then paused at the odd look on Hutch's face. "What?"
"Is that Rachmaninoff?"
"Where?" Starsky looked around the parking lot outside them, but there was no one around the deserted lot that early in the morning.
"On the radio, dummy."
"Oh." Starsky shrugged. "I dunno, but he plays a mean piano."
Hutch stared at him with something between disbelief and amusement. "Right. Look, the culture's good for you but don't take this thing too far, okay?"
Starsky got out and Hutch slid over. The brunet grinned and leaned back in. "'Fraid I'm gonna take your place?" As if anyone could.
"Don't flatter yourself," Hutch said dryly. Then as Starsky straightened, added a bit more softly, "I've just gotten kinda used to you the way you are." And a look accompanied the words that was as sincere as anything else he didn't say. A moment later, he drove off.
Starsky stared after him a few seconds before grinning again and sliding into the musty Chevy to continue his surveillance. He fiddled with the radio to find the music again that he'd been listening to--Rachmaninoff? He'd have to find more of the guy's stuff--and began cheerfully tapping the steering wheel to the lively music.
The gallery was closed, of course, the yellow police tape over Ramsfield's door clearly visible from the glass front doors. As were the three staffmembers working inside the front atrium, each intently sorting through piles of paperwork. Hutch tapped on the door to get their attention, pressing his shield against the glass.
The young man nodded to one of the women, who came over and unlocked the door, letting Hutch in.
"Detective--uh--" There were laws against misidentifying yourself while on the job. "LAPD," Hutch temporized. Most didn't know or care that officers had names, anyway. "I want to see Carl Ramsfield."
"Surely," the lady said, nervously backing away from the door and motioning to the man who had set down what he was working on and was approaching them both.
"Carl Ramsfield," he identified himself a moment later, holding out a hand. "May I help you?"
Hutch had already talked to the detective on scene the night before, Lewis, who had been happy enough to turn over his notes and the case to Hutch. God knew they all usually had more than they could work on, anyway. Hutch had already recognized the younger Ramsfield, and knew of both Starsky and Lewis' suspicions about him.
Now it was time to add some of his partner's special charm to the mix. "Carl--may I call you Carl?--Carl, we both know you've been sharing ownership of the gallery with your father. Now that he's gone, I'm guessing the place is completely yours, isn't that right?"
He hardly waited for the surprised nod, noting the lines of tension around the eyes--tension, not grief--and the way the dark eyes darted about. Not conscious signs of strain; Ramsfield, Junior, was too cool for that. But to the trained eye, signs of a man who had something to hide.
Hutch went on. "I also know about the attempts on Brenda Corry's life, and what a bonus it would be for your gallery if she were to die before her show this evening. Was your father in on it, too?"
"How dare you--" Ramsfield began. But he was sweating.
"Or maybe he just found out about your little scheme, and threatened to turn you in? Is that why you had to kill him?" Hutch was pressing his luck and he knew it; if his and Starsky's hunch turned out wrong, he'd be facing one heckuva harassment, or even defamation, suit, but the pushing was also proving him right. Carl Ramsfield was livid, but he was also scared.
"Leave at once. Anything else I have to say will be said to your superiors, Detective Starsky."
Hutch cocked his head curiously at that. Bingo. "You must read minds, Mr. Ramsfield. I never introduced myself." And with the gallery owner's mouth agape, Hutch turned and left.
Ramsfield would know they were watching him now. But if that didn't stir him into making a stupid move, Hutch didn't know what would. Whistling one of his partner's favorite tunes, he climbed into the striped tomato and drove off to keep watch from a distance.
Starsky was just beginning to rethink the idea of not having his calls from home redirected to him on the street, wondering if Brenda was trying to reach him there, when the hotel's main door opened and he caught sight of those beautiful brown waves of hair. Brenda looked up and down the street, then stepped to the curb to hail a taxi.
Starsky started the car, wincing a little at the cough of the engine. It would have been a personal disgrace, being seen in that car, except that he could console himself that he was being Hutch today. The old Chevy was right up the blond's alley.
A cab came along quickly enough and Brenda got in. Starsky pulled out into traffic to follow her, thankful at least that she wouldn't know the ugly mustard-yellow car.
They turned several times, definitely not heading to the gallery. In fact, they were heading to Santa Monica, with its white-collar businesses and fancy homes. Interestin'. Who are we goin' to see? Starsky was pretty sure this was no hairstyling appointment.
The mid-morning traffic was sparse and they made good time, the cab pulling up finally in front of a plush house on a residential street. Starsky idled the Chevy a few houses down on the opposite side of the street and called in a query on the house's owner, then he sank down in the seat as Brenda paid the taxi driver and hurried up the stairs. When she disappeared into the house, he pulled the car up in front and sat back to wait.
Sherman Walston, came back the information. Stockbroker, highly successful, three ex's and two daughters. And no apparent connection to the Gallerie San Juste or Brenda. Starsky grimaced and waited on.
A half an hour later, Brenda finally emerged from the house, seen out by someone who looked like a butler. Starsky got out of the car to meet her.
She stopped short in surprise, midway down the steps, as she caught sight of him. "Ken! What are you doing here? I tried to call you this morning and couldn't reach you."
"I've been close by like you asked." Starsky smiled evenly at her.
She dimpled. "Oh, how good of you. I wish I'd have known; I would have slept so much easier!"
No sign of deceit that he could see, but Starsky nodded amiably toward the house. "Friend of yours?"
Brenda followed his gaze. "Mr. Walston? Oh, no, not really. He's been my backer for a few years now, one of the first people to believe in me, and he helped make the contacts for the show tonight. I just had to come thank him in person." She smiled ingenuously at him.
Well, Starsky considered, makes sense. There wouldn't have been a need for her to mention the man before, right? After all, she never said she didn't know anybody in L.A. False alarm. He nodded again, filing the information away for the time being, and offered his arm again with a more genuine smile. "Can I give you a ride, Madame?"
She smiled back and took his arm, and the two of them turned toward the car.
Just as a stranger stepped out from behind a shrub, into their path, and pointed a gun at them.
That was the second time in one day Starsky had let himself be snuck up on and he kicked himself for it, taking no comfort in the fact that the thick foliage had given the man plenty of places to hide. He pulled Brenda behind him, sizing up the man. Big, brawny, and with the lifeless eyes of an unintelligent rather than a cruel man. Definitely hired muscle. It didn't make the gun in his hand any less lethal.
"Detective Hutchinson, Ms. Corry, if you'll come with me, please." The voice was pleasant enough, though rock-firm in its resolve. Starsky had no doubt he'd shoot if he had to.
"Who are you?" he asked the obvious stall instead. Perhaps someone would look out onto the street and notice them and call for help, though the gunman held his weapon so that it was mostly concealed by his coat, an amateur attempting to be a pro. Starsky had an idea he'd found the culprit behind the attempts on Brenda, too.
"No questions. Move." The gun flicked ever so slightly toward the Chevy, clarifying the alternative to obedience. Starsky moved, holding on with one hand to Brenda behind him as she clung to his blazer. The longer they were alive, the more hope there was to figure a way out from this.
The man got in first, his weapon and gaze never wavering, then another flick of the gun made it clear that he wanted his two hostages in the front seat, Starsky driving. The gun he shifted to the back of Brenda's head. She hiccupped once but kept silent, her fingers digging now into Starsky's arm.
"No tricks or she's dead."
And so the drive went. There was no conversation except for terse directions from the gunman, and Starsky didn't dare do anything out of the ordinary for fear of getting Brenda killed. Small side glances revealed that she was frozen with terror and in a helpless position, anyway. Starsky was on his own. His mind worked furiously. Money's on Junior then. Hope you've got a tight leash on him, partner, 'cause I have a feelin' we're gonna need the cavalry on this one.
They passed a patrol car and Starsky tried to get the driver's attention, but the man was unfamiliar and barely gave him a glance. Muscles in the back seat was smart enough not to be obvious about his gun, either. The fact that Brenda was silently crying next to him also went unnoticed.
Terrific. Maybe I should send smoke signals. The radio crackled on, one of the calls being for him from Hutch, but he made no move toward the radio. Civilians hardly understood the radio at all without practice, and no one else knew his call sign. Hopefully a lack of response would ring alarms, and sure enough, soon the call went out, top priority. Don't come runnin', Hutch, Starsky pleaded silently with his partner. I know you're gonna worry, but let Junior bring ya.
But the APB came too late. A half-minute later, they were pulling into an alley between two small storage buildings, and Muscles was hustling them both out of the car and into the building on their left. Full of crates, many of them flat: storage for the gallery, Starsky would have guessed if he had to.
Within minutes, Muscles had them both seated and tied firmly to separate crates, and then he simply took a seat opposite them and quietly waited. Brenda sobbed on next to Starsky, just out of his sight.
"It's gonna be okay," Starsky said softly, risking another attempt at comforting despite Muscles' angry motion for silence after the first time he'd tried it.
The reaction was less gentle this time, earning him a blow on the chin that set his head spinning. Now would be a good time, partner, Starsky thought fervently. Hutch would tease him mercilessly about being trussed up like that, but only after he was sure the brunet was all right, and Starsky could live with that. It was, he thought ironically, what he'd do in his partner's shoes.
The sky began darkening outside the small, high windows. And they silently waited on.
Starsky would have estimated that two hours or so had gone by before the far door scraped open and a figure appeared in the doorway. Momentary hope gave way to resignation as he heard Brenda's gasp of recognition next to him.
Figured. Hutch, I hope you were on 'im.
Carl gave her a smile that was nearly a sneer. "Miss Corry. I had intended to be quicker, but circumstances intervened." A glance at Starsky now. "Your partner, as a matter of fact, Detective Hutchinson. I had to make sure he wasn't following me. I should have taken him out, too, while I had the chance."
The realization that he'd been the one to bean Hutch, more so than the revelation that no rescue would be coming, made Starsky flush with anger, a snarl at the tip of his tongue. The gallery owner saw his look and just laughed.
"Detective Starsky thought he'd figured it all out and had me in a corner, but he has no proof. The man's an uncultured dolt."
Starsky would have burst into laughter at that in other circumstances, but little was funny here.
"Mike here, whom you've met," Carl continued with a nod at Muscles, who sat contentedly next to him, "did all the anonymous work--the one time I ever was involved was my visit to your home, Detective Hutchinson. I had hoped we could simply talk and make a deal then, not that you had much to offer," he sniffed. "There's no case. I made sure even dear Father didn't even know what hit him, but he knew too much, beginning to wonder about the coincidence of accidental deaths of young artists we were getting ready to show. Such a moralist. He wanted no part of it even though it was making the Gallerie rich. And you, Miss Corry, have been one of our most promising artists yet. It's a shame a random mugging will claim your life just hours before your debuting triumph."
"Why?" Brenda whispered, her voice hoarse from tears. Still, it was steadier than Starsky would have expected, and his mental estimation of her rose another notch.
"My dear lady, why else? Money!" Carl leered at her. "But explanations are over. Mike?" he gestured at his two captives. "Please see to the disposal of our guests."
Starsky tensed. His partner didn't seem to have come, after all, which meant it was up to him to try a last-ditch effort, knowing one might not be possible.
As it turned out, he didn't need to.
"I'd stay right there, Mike, or you might get your head blown off," came a mild voice suddenly from behind the two captors, one that was very familiar to Starsky. He grinned as Carl and Mike's heads whipped around in unison.
Hutch stepped out from behind some crates, gun held levelly on the two men, neither of whom had a weapon in hand. No contest.
Hutch's tone continued to be light but his eyes serious as he moved forward, confiscating and tossing aside both weapons. "Thanks for the confession; it'll make things a lot easier for us." Cuffs came next, threaded through the slats of a particularly heavy crate and affixed to one of the two felons at either end. "Your mistake was in underestimating Detective Starsky. He doesn't take kindly to someone going after his partner."
"Amen to that," Starsky murmured, drawing a long, searching look from his partner, followed by a small smile.
Ramsfield and Mike secured, Hutch pointed sharply to them. "Sit." And they did. Very few dared disobey Hutch when he sounded like that. Without a second glance at them, the detective gave his partner another look, then hurried to Brenda, untying the woman and saying a few soft words to her before sitting her up on top of a nearby crate. She stared at them both in drained shock, eyes red and swollen but already regaining their life.
Hutch knelt by him then, finally undoing the ropes with almost savage haste. "You okay?" his partner asked for his ears alone.
"Thanks to you." Starsky grinned at him only slightly shakily. The adrenalin rush was already fading, but even after a few years on the job he was not immune. "Good timing."
"You were right; Ramsfield led me right to you." The last rope gave and Hutch's concerned gaze scrutinized his face once more, lighting on the bruise. "What's this?" He reached out, almost but not quite touching.
"Mike's way of tellin' me to be quiet," Starsky ruefully rubbed his arms to restore circulation, then the tender spot on his jaw. "Pretty effective. You know, us Hutchinsons have big mouths."
The comment caught his partner so off guard, Hutch gave a startled laugh, and the last of Starsky's tension dissolved at the sound.
That was what partners were for, whether it was him or Hutch. Or even Hutch pretending to be him because he'd pretended to be Hutch. Sometimes there didn't even seem much of a difference.
With a last grin at his friend and a squeeze of the arm for promise that he was okay, Starsky pushed himself up on numb legs and tottered over to be with Brenda.
"So you're Dave Starsky," Brenda pointed to him, brow furrowed in slight confusion, "and he's Ken Hutchinson?" her finger moved to the figure who stood off a ways, a glass of champagne in one hand as he talked to some blue-blood in the center of the gallery's reception area.
"Hutch," Starsky amended. "Yeah, 'fraid so." His glance followed her finger's direction to the blond. Probably talkin' about art. That's my partner. Though I'll never figure out how he looks so comfortable in these monkey suits. Not that he'd change the blond for anything. Starsky smiled fondly at the sight of his partner even as he tugged uncomfortably on his own stiff collar.
Ever in tune with him, Hutch looked up to meet his gaze, smiling back, and then with a quick word to his conversation partner, moved toward them.
"So, how you kids doing?" he asked cheerfully. "Miss Corry, the show looks terrific. You do wonderful work."
"Thank you, er, Detective Hutchinson." Brenda glanced shyly at Starsky, who sat next to her in one corner of the room as they watched the crowd. She still wasn't completely steady on her feet from her abduction earlier that day, hence her passive attendance, but at least she seemed to be taking comfort, if also a lot of confidence, from Starsky's presence. He smiled warmly at her.
"So," Hutch leaned forward, turning on the charm. "Is there any chance I can coax you away from this guy here," he nudged his partner, "for a drink after all this?" Once the situation had been straightened out and Brenda's innocence--and beauty--had begun to sink in, Hutch had taken a decided, friendly competitive interest in her also. Much to his partner's disgust.
Brenda blushed further. "That's, ah, very kind, Detective. I'm truly flattered. But I'm afraid...that is, Dave is just more my type. I'm just not really a 'burritos and Yankees game' kind of girl, I'm sorry." She smiled sweetly at him.
His partner blinked at that, losing all his Hutchinson charm to the even more powerful Hutchinson stammer-and-sputter before turning to glare at Starsky with outraged disbelief. Starsky just grinned broadly at him, reaching around the blond to take Brenda's hand.
And then he winked.
Written in 1999