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Starsky re-read the section of the report for the fourth time. Still, the words didn't register with his brain. Timidly, his eyes rose to the subject of his distraction.
And he found blue eyes meeting his own, a warm smile beneath the mustache.
Starsky automatically smiled back. Then he looked back down at the report. Got to stop doing this, he scolded himself. We can't let anyone else know. Can't let it affect our performance on the job.
They hadn't talked about it, but Starsky didn't think they needed to. Besides, it had all just taken place last night. An innocent move on Hutch's part, a not-so-innocent response of his own. And Starsky was left wondering why now and never before. Had they wasted years?
No, he refused to believe that. What they did last night had felt natural, was the result of something that had proceeded at its own pace. To have forced things any sooner would have been a mistake. In fact, Starsky did not know how things could have happened sooner, for the possibility had only crossed his mind on occasion, and even though he'd known he would be agreeable if it ever somehow came up, he also had no reason to think that it would.
Last night had been both a culmination of feelings… and a beginning.
Reading the sentence for the fifth time -- and still not comprehending it -- Starsky felt his grin widen.
The phone rang and his partner reached for it. "Hutchinson." A pause, then, "Certainly, Clarissa, Starsky and I will be down within twenty minutes."
Starsky was already grabbing his jacket. "What?" he asked as Hutch hung up.
"Clarissa wants us to come by the suite." They headed for the door. "Jenni's gone to the studio, but she remembers something about Tommy Clarkson."
After they knocked and called their identity through the door, there was the sound of the chain sliding back. When the door opened, they found themselves facing a tired, red-eyed version of the perky woman they'd met before.
"Come on in," she said, stepping back. She was wearing a robe and her hair looked quickly combed. "Can I get you a refreshment?"
"No, thank you," Hutch said. Behind their hostess' back, he exchanged a worried glance with his partner.
She indicated the couch, then sat down in a chair opposite. She didn't say anything, but only stared at the rug.
Starsky and Hutch sat, and there was a lingering silence.
"Clarissa?" Hutch prompted.
She looked up, tried a smile. "I apologize for my appearance. Christmas with an alcoholic does that to you."
Starsky swallowed, feeling a wave of pity. "Ma'am?" he encouraged.
She laughed briefly without humor. "Every year I tell myself it's going to be different this time. But it never is. He tries," she sighed, "...tries to be happy and have a big celebration." Another sigh, more weary. "But then he drinks. And falls asleep. And wakes up vomiting." She closed her eyes. "And nothing ever changes."
Starsky gently ventured, "It's my understanding that the biggest hurdle in getting help for someone is getting them to admit they have a problem in the first place. Jenni outright told us he has a problem. Surely, he can be admitted to a clinic -- "
"He won't go," she said firmly. "It's not that he doesn't want to get better. But... he... has obligations. To the record company. To his agent. To the band. To a whole bunch of people who depend on him for a living." She swallowed. "He won't go into treatment unless someone he's obligated to orders him to do it. And no one in charge of his career is going to rock a million-dollar boat."
Starsky started to speak, but then she waved a hand, straightening. "Sorry. This wasn't why I called you down here." Her smile was timid. "I'm afraid I... get lonely sometimes… and I tend to dump on anyone who's available."
"It's all right," Hutch said. He opened his notepad. "You mentioned on the phone that you remembered something about Tommy Clarkson."
Her eyes narrowed in thought. "It may be nothing. But it sort of stuck in my mind, though I didn't remember it until today."
"It was when I was at the KFTV studio where Jenni was taping an interview. The band members were also there, and so was Tommy. I went to the ladies' room during break. When I came out, I saw Tommy with some other man -- a stranger. I don't know who he was, or what they were talking about. It's just that the stranger looked out of place. And when I passed by them, Tommy looked up and saw me. He seemed… embarrassed, I guess." She shook her head. "That's all. I'm afraid it isn't much."
Starsky asked, "Would you recognize this stranger if you saw him again?"
"I'm not sure."
"You haven't seen him anywhere else?" Hutch asked.
"No. That was the only time. It struck me as odd because he was so obviously out of place. And also that Tommy would be talking to him, because Tommy kept to himself so much. I mean, the guys let him hang out, but only because he stayed out of the way."
"How long ago was that?" Starsky said,
"Maybe six weeks ago. Right before Jenni started recording the new album."
Starsky pursued, "Did anyone else in the band see the stranger?"
Clarissa shrugged. "I don't know. I never talked to them about it. After that, all the attention was on the interview, and then the band recorded a song for a lead-in." She grew thoughtful. "I think Tommy must have left after that. I don't remember seeing him around later."
Both detectives stood. Hutch said, "This gives us something new to work with. We'll re-interview the band members and anyone who was working at the TV station and see if anyone else saw the stranger."
She stood and showed them the door. "I'm sorry I can't remember anything else."
"Hopefully, someone else did," Starsky said with assurance. "This could put a whole different spin on things."
"Meaning..." she ventured, "that the murderer wasn't after Jenni, but wanted to kill Tommy in the first place?"
"Don't jump to conclusions just yet," Hutch warned as they exited into the hall. "Please. Continue to be very careful."
"I will. Thank you, detectives." They listened to her lock the chain behind them.
Starsky's gaze moved from the bedroom window to rest on the small bookshelf next to the stereo. He could detect the outline of the furniture in the darkness, for the street lamp provided a degree of illumination, even with the curtain closed.
Beside him, Hutch snored gently and Starsky smiled at the sound. They were, once again, in Hutch's apartment. Starsky couldn't sleep; it wasn't from restlessness, but from not wanting to waste the peace that he felt with slumber. He and Hutch had done it again tonight -- just their second time -- and the love they shared still felt new and startling in its enormity. Every thing Hutch did -- kissing, petting, loving, sucking -- was done with such relish and intensity of purpose. Starsky felt like he could lie in bed forever, absorbing it all. Yet, his need to return all that he was given made himself no less active. And now his blond was sleeping peacefully, sheer satiation guiding him into slumber.
Starsky wondered if they could ever tell Huggy. If they could ever tell Dobey. If he himself would ever tell his own mother. Definitely not yet. It was all too precious and wonderful to share with others. But, someday....
Starsky sighed. He hoped time would only enhance what they had, and not cause the downward spiral that so many relationships suffered through.
There was a grunt beside him. Starsky turned to look at his partner, who was sleeping on his back, his face turned away. The snoring had stopped, leaving deep breathing in its wake. Starsky's thoughts started to drift, but then there was another grunt and a twitching of a hand that lay outside the covers.
Carefully, the curly-haired man shifted to his side to regard his partner.
The twitching intensified. Now there were soft words. "No. No." A wave of his hand. "No. No. Stop." Deep, heavy breathing. Then, barely audible, "Help."
Starsky acted on instinct. He tugged on an arm. "Hutch."
The blond quickly shook his head, breathing heavier. "No. No… HELP!"
Starsky shook him and the blond started awake, eyes open wide. "Hutch, it's okay," Starsky said, then softened his voice, rubbing at the arm. "It's all right."
Hutch stared at him for a long time, and then his eyes seemed to adjust to the darkness and he relaxed against the pillow. He rubbed at his face and grimaced.
"What were you dreamin' about?"
"Don't remember." Hutch abruptly turned on his side, away from Starsky.
The other's mouth dropped open, instincts in full gear. "This isn't the first time you've had this dream, is it?"
A heavy sighed answered him.
Starsky edged closer. "What's it about?"
"I don't know," Hutch said wearily. "I never remember."
"How long has this been going on?" Starsky couldn't quite keep the accusation out of his voice.
"A couple of months maybe."
"Why haven't you told me?"
Hutch turned over. Irritably, he demanded, "What was there to tell? I don't remember it, Starsky. I just know that I... wake up sometimes, my heart pounding like crazy." His voice softened. "It's not like it happens every night. Just every now and then."
"But not before two months or so ago?"
"No," Hutch said, obviously puzzled by his own reply.
Gently, the other probed, "Have you tried remembering it?"
Hutch shook his head guardedly, then sat up. He sighed, as though resigned to the conversation. "It's more a feeling than images. Fear. Not a I'm-going-to-get-killed kind of fear, but more..." he searched for the right word, "betrayal kind of fear." He looked at his partner. "Like: how can someone do this to me?"
Starsky firmed his jaw. Betrayal could only occur at the hands of someone who was trusted in the first place. For someone to have caused such strong betrayal that it created nightmares, the trusted person would have to be very important to Hutch. Extremely important.
Starsky felt his throat tighten. He cautiously raised his hand, thumb turned toward himself. In a hushed whisper, he said, "Is it something I did...."
"Oh, come on," the blond scoffed. "Don't be ridiculous. How could you have ever done anything to me to cause nightmares?" He reached out and ruffled Starsky's hair, voice gentle. "I love you, stupid. You could never hurt me like that."
Starsky relaxed, convinced that Hutch believed it, at least consciously. "But if it's betrayal you feel, then it would have to have been caused by somebody you trusted. Trusted a lot."
Starsky's cheek was batted with the back of Hutch's hand. "Come on," Hutch grinned, "stop pretending to be a psychiatrist. It's no big deal. The dreams appeared out of the blue. They'll go away just as fast." He settled back beneath the covers.
'"M not so sure," Starsky admitted, spooning himself around the lanky body. Eventually, they drifted back to sleep.
"Are you absolutely certain," Hutch addressed the semi-circle of band members, "that none of you saw Tommy talking with the man that night at the TV studio?"
There were expressions of deep thought and shakes of heads. Hutch waited, certain he'd received a negative from all of them, before he softened his stance. They were in a lounge area outside the recording studio. In addition to the five band members, the tour manager and a representative of the record label -- who had also been present for the TV interview -- were there.
"What about," Starsky suggested, "any other occasions when Tommy was around? Is it possible that any of you might have seen Tommy with a stranger in some other setting? Like at a concert? Or in the men's room here at the studio? Or out in an alley when you were all having a smoke?"
"Tommy didn't smoke," a burly man -- the drummer -- said. "He liked to be like Jenni, and Jenni doesn't smoke."
"Not even weed?" Starsky pursued doubtfully.
"Jenni doesn't do weed, either."
"We offered Tommy some once," the bass player said. "He just shook his head and walked away. Not judgmental or anything. We just thought it wasn't his thing."
"Okay," Hutch broke in, "you're saying that Tommy didn't smoke cigarettes or weed because he wanted to be like Jenni. In what other ways did he mimic Jenni?"
"Wore the same jacket," the bass player put in.
There was silence, and the blond prompted, "What else?"
They all looked at each other, at a loss for answers.
Starsky said, "Didn't he ever say anything like he'd like to be in the band?" When there were more blank faces, he said, "Surely, he wanted to be a rock star just like Jenni."
"He never really said much," the drummer pointed out. "He was also quiet and stayed out of the way. That's why we let him hang around. He wasn't obnoxious like most fans. Usually, fans want something from their idols. All Tommy wanted was to hang around."
"Why?" Starsky pursued with soft intensity. "Is it because he didn't have anything better to do with his time?"
"Take a guess," Hutch prompted when there was more silence. "What was the impression you had of him?"
Impatiently, Stan Harrison, the road manager said, "He obviously liked Jenni's music. Like you just said, he didn't seem to have anything else to do with his time, at least not during the day. He liked Jenni, he had the time, he was a good kid, so we let him hang around. What's the big mystery?"
"The big mystery," Starsky replied, moving toward the man and speaking in an overly patient tone, "is that Tommy was murdered. And we don't know why anyone would do that to such a nice, never-got-into-trouble, didn't-even-smoke-weed kind of kid. Now," having watched the manager lower his gaze, Starsky let his own drift to the other members, "I know that you've all heard the speculation that the target was meant to be Jenni. Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn't. But there's a lot of mystery about this Tommy fella. And that's why it's so important that you remember any possible details about him."
"I think he was a fag."
Heads turned to Stan Harrison as everyone fell silent.
"All right," Hutch acknowledged, approaching the manager while rubbing his face wearily, "what did Tommy do to make you think he was gay?"
Harrison shrugged. "I didn't see nothin' that would be what you'd consider evidence. It's just I thought he had the mannerisms. My brother's a fag; I know what they're like."
Hutch's eyes surveyed the others. "Did anyone else have that impression?"
"I thought he might be one," the bass player put in. "But I didn't give it much thought; not really my business, you know?"
There were murmurs of agreement. Hutch bowed his head, his body language showing defeat at the lack of information.
"Wait a sec," Starsky said. He came to stand beside his partner while addressing the group. "Do any of you think that Tommy might have been in love with Jenni?"
There was a snort from Harrison. "The kid was a fan. Fans are in love with their idols, gay or not."
Starsky waved a hand. "I'm not talkin' about fan worship. I'm talking about real love, the deep down stuff. Any of you get the impression that Tommy felt that way about Jenni?" There were more blank expressions, accompanied by shrugs.
"What if he was?" Harrison pressed. "How would that help your investigation?"
Starsky was thoughtful for a long moment, then he flipped his notepad closed. "I don't know." He turned away.
Hutch said, "Thanks for your time, gentlemen." He followed his partner out the door.
Once in the car, Starsky said, "We've gotta talk to Denise Wellington again. See if she knows anything about Tommy bein' gay."
"And if we decide that he was?"
Starsky shrugged. "Could have somethin' to do with the reason he was murdered, don't you think?"
The blond said, "I suppose through the gay scene he could have gotten in with the wrong crowd. But what would being in love with Jenni have to do with it?"
"It may not have anything to do with it," Starsky agreed, starting the motor. "But it's about the only lead we've got going right now, so we better milk it for all it's worth."
Denise Wellington admitted she'd had her suspicions about Tommy's sexual identity, but she had no details or proof to offer.
As they drove away from her place, Starsky said to his partner, "Why don't you log us out?"
Hutch glanced over at him. "My place or yours?"
The other couldn't restrain a grin. "Mine's closer."
Hutch picked up the microphone. "Control One, this is Zebra Three."
"Go ahead, Zebra Three."
"We're signing off for the day. Please log us out."
"Logging you off at five-fifteen. Have a good evening."
"Zebra Three out." Hutch hung up the microphone and gazed out the side window. He felt butterflies shift in his stomach, nerves tingling throughout his system, carrying extra blood to the necessary area.
Most of the time, he realized, he tried not to think about them while at work. For it was so distracting. Perhaps even dangerous when considering it took so much of his focus.
And then there was the fear. Fear that what was now so exciting and felt so right might be extinguished somehow down the line. For now, it was something precious that needed nurturing and protecting from anything that could possibly harm it.
His physiological response was increasing, and Hutch tried to use conversation to distract it. Eyes still on the window, he asked, "Ever wish we could just retire and be together all the time?"
"We are together all the time," Starsky stated reasonably. "But as far as... being together… well, I'd like to think it'd get old in a hurry if we could have it whenever we wanted it."
Hutch had to smile at the cheerful, level-headed response, and it made his heart swell all the more. He rested his head against the window.
Starsky reached over and squeezed his knee. "Gettin' hot for it, babe?"
Hutch didn't answer, and tried instead to focus on the scenery going by.
"We do pretty good, don't you think?" Starsky went on. "I mean, keeping our hands off each other. At least, not behaving any different than usual."
"Thank God for the usual," Hutch noted softly. He was still gazing out the window, and felt a tingle when the hand moved up to his thigh.
"Be there soon," his partner soothed. "You want me to devour you, or do you want to do me?"
The question was so Starsky-ish, the casual way it was asked. Under normal circumstances, Hutch would prefer that romantic inclinations be acted upon rather than discussed and the question would have irritated him. But normal had gone out the window a few days before. He wasn't sure that anything his partner did from now on would ever be able to irritate him.
"Hm?" Starsky pressed. From the corner of his eye, Hutch could see the other looking at him.
Hutch shifted his legs, but his gaze remained on the side window. He wanted Starsky so bad. Take him in his arms.... "Devour you," he replied. But there was an important addendum. "And then you can have me." They hadn't done that yet. Hutch was anxious to know what it was like, and to give that to Starsky.
Starsky took his hand away. And focused on driving.
They had no sooner shut the door behind them than they were in each other's arms, clutching at each other, mouths locked together.
Hutch took the upper hand, holding his partner tight against him, then reaching down and grabbing handfuls of denim-clad buttocks. He tore his lips away from Starsky's mouth so that he could bury them instead in the hollow of his neck, sucking in skin, licking at salt, nibbling along the stubbled jawline.
He heard himself groan. Heard the other's response. He forced the flaps of the jacket back. Quickly, he pulled Starsky's shirt out of his jeans and bunched it up to his partner's armpits. He started to kneel… licking at the path of hair that guided him down past the chest… the navel....
He tore the snap of the jeans apart. Pushed the clothing down. And then he devoured.
It was dark. Quiet, save for the chirping of crickets. Peaceful. He was young, intelligent, handsome; engaged to be married. The whole world was at his disposal.
Soft dirt pressed against his cheek. When he inhaled no air reached his nostrils,
And screamed again. And again.
Someone was screaming back. Restraining him. And just when he knew he was going to pass out, air rushed into his lungs.
"Hutch, for godsakes!" Fearful words. Strong harms holding him. Crushing him.
He blinked at the darkness, taking deep breaths. He knew where he was. Starsky's bed. Middle of the night.
A stubbled cheek pressed close. "It's gonna be all right." Soothing this time. "It's all right." Hands rubbing up and down his arms.
His heart was pounding. But he was breathing normally now. Air was freely available.
The grip loosened, but the hands still massaged. "Another bad dream. Huh?"
Hutch swallowed, realizing how he must have frightened Starsky. He patted his partner's hand. "I'm okay now."
"Jesus, Hutch." Starsky let go and looked at him. "What the hell was that all about?"
"Just a nightmare." His words were overly casual.
"Whaddya mean 'just'? For chrissakes, you sounded like you were dying. What the hell were you dreaming about?"
Hutch settled back against the pillow, hating this part, because his answers could only disappoint. "I don't know," he admitted in a small voice.
"You gotta remember something!"
He shook his head. "I don't know."
There was a sigh of frustration beside him, then Starsky, too, settled back, the motion rattling the bed. "You couldn't breathe because… what? Somebody choking you?"
"No. More like… smothered."
There was a long moment of silence. Then Starsky whispered, "Hutch? Was it the same nightmare that you've had before?"
"I-I think so. It's hard to say, because I can't really remember anything. But it... felt the same." He heart was calming from the conversation.
"Hutch." Worried now. Firm.
"Do you think...." There was an audible swallow. "Do you think that, maybe, you've been havin' nightmares because… because of us?"
Hutch knew what Starsky meant. He felt a mixture of guilt and denial, even as he felt the ache in his sphincter muscle because of what Starsky had done to him tonight. It had hurt and had been awkward, but he had loved it that Starsky had done that to him. And he knew it would only be more satisfying in the future as they honed their skill at pleasing each either.
"Starsky, that's ridiculous."
"Think about it, Hutch. I mean, well, I don't think either of us ever intended to end up this way." His voice trembled with dread. "Maybe, you know, deep down it's going against... well, I don't know, what you've always believed about yourself or whatever, and something inside of you is rebelling against it."
"Starsky, you know I really hate it when you try to pretend you're a psychiatrist." Hutch knew the scoffed words were to cover the exasperation he felt that Starsky could possibly think such.
"What other explanation do you have?" Stubbornness challenged.
"For one thing," it felt good to say it, "I've been having similar versions of this same nightmare weeks ago. Months ago. It doesn't have anything to do with us." Hutch wanted to make that clear. He turned on his side and drew close to his partner. "Turn over," he directed. "On your other side."
Starsky did, and Hutch spooned himself around him. He let his hand stray up and down the fur of the other's chest. "Love you," he whispered to the nearest ear. "Wouldn't trade what we've been doing for anything."
The words worked, for he could feel the smaller form relax. Starsky grabbed the hand that had been rubbing at his chest and gently held it. "Maybe you should see, like, a hypnotist or somethin'. Maybe somebody like that could help you remember the dream."
It sounded so farfetched. "Ah, Starsk, let's just let it go for now."
"The dreams just aren't going to up and go away, Hutch."
Hutch pressed his nose against the other's neck, absorbing the strong male scent, the safety and security it represented. "Go to sleep," he whispered. "Love you. Love you so much."
"Ah, Hutch," Starsky sighed in defeat.
Early the next morning, Starsky and Hutch knocked on Jenni's hotel door. It opened a few inches and the familiar voice of the bodyguard asked, "Who is it?"
"Starsky and Hutch." They held up their badges.
"Come in." Trey stepped back and held open the door. "I'm afraid that Jenni is due at the studio in a short time."
"This won't take long," Hutch said.
"I'll get him," Trey said, turning away.
Starsky watched his partner study the decor. Hutch had the same haggard look he'd worn a number of times in past weeks. Only now, Starsky knew the reason. He just didn't know the reason behind the reason.
He'd experienced recurring nightmares of his own at various times during adulthood. Always, they were job-related. And, always, they eased with Hutch's nearness. Even knowing Hutch was sleeping on the sofa could be a big deterrent.
That's why it was so disturbing to know that he could curl up with Hutch the whole night through, after making passionate love to him, and Hutch still suffered from the dreams, which seemed even more intense than they had been before. The question Starsky feared finding the answer to was if his presence was somehow -- despite Hutch's stubborn denial -- part of the reason for the dreams in the first place.
"Ah, it's Starsky and Hutch." Jenni briskly rubbed his hands together. "What can I do for you this morning?"
"Just a few quick questions," Hutch said. "Some of your band members told us they thought Tommy might have been gay. What do you think?"
Jenni shrugged. "I never really thought about it. You know, in the entertainment business there's lots of gay people, so it's no big deal one way or the other. I mean," he laughed briefly, "lots of people think I'm gay just because my name is Jenni." He looked from one to the other. "Besides, what would that have to do with Tommy's murder?"
"That's what we're tryin' to figure out," Starsky said. "You never got the impression that Tommy might have been hot for you?"
"No," Jenni said with surprise. "If he was, he never showed it. If he had showed it, we never would have let him hang around. We normally don't let any fans hang around the studio. It's just that he was such a good kid and never caused any trouble."
Starsky sighed. "Yeah, that's what we were afraid you were going to say."
"Sorry I can't help you more." The rock star paused, then, "Look, don't you think it's pretty safe to say that the killer wasn't after me? It's been weeks and no one's made another move."
"That's because you've been careful," Hutch pointed out. "Let down your guard...." he let the implication hang in the air. "I know it's frustrating that it's taking so long, but let us keep running down our leads on Tommy to see if we can come up with anything before we can say for certain that he was the intended victim. Remember," Hutch smiled kindly, "you've got Clarissa to think about, too."
Jenni nodded. "Yeah, I hear you."
"One more," Hutch said, "and then we call it a day."
Starsky nodded grudgingly. They'd been visiting bars, shops, and street corners known to be frequented by gays, flashing Tommy's picture. No one claimed to recognize him.
The Torino came to a halt outside the Queen Bee, another bar. Both men got out, then entered a darkly-lit establishment that was occupied by only a few customers.
"What can I get you?" the bartender, a large man, asked.
They presented their badges, watching the bartender frown with disapproval. Hutch pulled out a photograph. "You recognize this man?"
The bartender's brow furrowed. Then he smiled. "Yeah. Tommy Clarkson." Then another frown. "What's he done?"
"He's dead," Starsky informed him. "Murdered. We're trying to find out why."
The expression showed shock. Hutch pushed his advantage: "What can you tell us about him?"
The man shrugged. "Seemed like a nice enough kid. Really liked that Jenni character. You know, the rock star."
"Just how well did he like him?" Hutch pressed. "If you get my meaning."
The burly shoulders shrugged again. "Idolized him, I guess. Dressed just like him. Hey, I heard that Jenni's not really gay, if that's what you're asking. You know, he just puts on a big act by giving himself that name and acting all weird. It's showbiz."
"Think maybe Tommy still fantasized about him?"
"Sure. He wanted to be him."
"That's not what we're talkin' about," Starsky said, leaning on the bar with his chin in his hand. "You think maybe Tommy wished he and Jenni were an item?"
The bartender snorted. "Probably. And I used to be in love with Johnny Carson. So what?"
"You tell us," Hutch prompted. "Everyone we've interviewed says that Tommy was a nice kid, never got into trouble. Why would someone murder him?"
"Seems a bit bizarre to think it might be because he had a thing for Jenni. We all have our private fantasies."
"Okay," Starsky relented, "what about other reasons? What about falling in with the wrong crowd? Did he ever come to this joint with a buddy?"
"Nah, not Tommy. He was always a loner. Nice kid, though. Just sat at the bar and made casual conversation. Never looked like one to attract trouble." The man's voice saddened. "How did it happen?"
Hutch said, "He was shot to death outside Jenni's recording studio about six weeks ago."
"Do you have any suspects?"
"'Fraid not," Starsky replied.
"Man, poor Tommy."
"Do you know of anyone else who might be able to tell us more about him?"
"Officers, believe me, if I could help, I would. Tommy was a nice kid. But I don't know nothin', other than what I told you. And I never saw him associate with anyone else other than a friendly 'hello' if someone sat next to him at the bar. I never even saw him leave with anybody."
Hopes fading, Hutch took out a card. "If you happen to think of anything else, please give us a call at this number."
As they emerged into the sunshine, Starsky said, "The murderer had to be after Jenni. He just had to."
"Seems that way," Hutch sighed. "But why? And when is he going to make another move?"
"Yeah, Ma, I know, I know," came Starsky's voice from the kitchen. "But you know how it is, Hutch and me are so busy all the time. But it's not like I'm being deprived of romance, if you know what I mean. California girls are nice girls."
Hutch turned the page of the Sports Illustrated on Starsky's coffee table. He felt a twinge of amusement at the conversation -- Starsky once again defending to his mother why he wasn't seriously involved with someone. Of course, the not-so-amusing part was that when his mother did find out whom he was seriously involved with, she'd be in for a big surprise.
Hutch tried not to think about that.
Starsky said, "I love you, too," and hung up the phone. Sighing, he said, "I wish she'd stop worrying."
Hutch glanced up to see Starsky peek into the oven at the meatloaf. "If she didn't fuss over you, you'd miss it."
"Probably right," Starsky muttered beneath his breath. "Looks like another fifteen minutes ought to do it."
The blond reached for the phone. "I'm going to try Jenni's hotel again." They'd tried reaching him from the Torino, but he was neither home nor at the studio.
Starsky watched while Hutch dialed from the phone that was on the end table. He'd been willing to do the cooking tonight because Hutch looked so worn out, though he knew the blond probably appeared so only to his own so-experienced eye.
He perked up when he heard Hutch talking, obviously to Trey. Hutch warned them to not let down their guard, as they were back to being convinced that Jenni was the intended victim all along.
Starsky put on green beans and mashed potatoes while the conversation wound down. He was so focused on the preparation of dinner that it was a while before he realized how quiet Hutch was. He stepped into the living area and found Hutch lying on the sofa. Asleep.
He didn't wake him until dinner was ready.
When the phone rang in the squadroom Hutch picked it up. "Hutchinson."
"My name is Flora Jones. I handle all the mail for Jenni's fan club."
"After... well, after what happened to that poor boy before Christmas, I got to going back through the thousands of letters that Jenni's received."
Hope flared. "And?"
"I picked out a few that sounded a little mysterious to me. They didn't strike me as anything to worry about at the time, but considering what happened...."
"Can you bring the letters to the downtown station in LA?"
"Yes, I know where it is. I can be down within the hour, if you'd like."
"Terrific. We'll be waiting." Hutch hung up and grinned at his partner. "We may have a new lead."
Letters in hand, Starsky and Hutch parked in front of the recording studio a few hours later. Trey met them as they got out of the Torino. "Our drummer is sick so they've called off recording today. Jenni had to make a pit stop, and then he'll be right out."
Starsky and Hutch relaxed back against the Torino. "You ever see Jenni's fan mail?" the blond asked.
Trey shook his head. "I don't think he ever sees it, either -- just a few that Flora thinks he might appreciate. Most of 'em say the same thing. And most people who write just want an autographed picture, or something like that."
Hutch indicated the file he was holding. "We've got a few here that are a little out of the ordinary. They may not amount to much, but they're all we've got."
Trey stepped closer. "What do they say?"
Jenni emerged from the studio. "Hey, Starsky and Hutch," he said with a lethargic wave. Then he stumbled.
A shot rang out, lead bouncing off the pavement next to Jenni's feet.
Trey scrambled to Jenni, covering him. Starsky and Hutch grabbed their guns from their holsters, kneeling beside the Torino.
"There!" Starsky pointed to a figure sprinting away near the back of the studio. He took off after him.
Hutch raced to the driver's side of the Torino and gunned the car forward. He maneuvered the mars light onto the roof while trying to follow the direction of his partner. Starsky and the gunman had disappeared down an alley, and Hutch called into headquarters that he was in pursuit.
When he drove to the other side of the alley, it was only to see Starsky disappear down the one next to it. Hutch followed, watching his partner's stride shorten with fatigue. The suspect was nowhere in sight.
Hutch halted when Starsky did and jumped from the car. "Damn!" the other swore, slamming his hand against a brick wall, "I lost him!"
Hutch touched his shoulder. "Let's get back to Jenni."
When they drove back to the front of the studio, they found Jenni sitting on the pavement, looking haggard, Trey pale-faced beside him. Other band members were standing near and talking amongst themselves.
"We lost him," Hutch said as they emerged from the Torino. "Is Jenni okay?"
"Yeah," Trey said. "Just shook up." He glanced at the detectives. "Did you get a good look at him?"
They shook their heads.
As they knelt before the rock star, Hutch realized then that Jenni's appearance wasn't just from shock over what happened. His head was swaying with drunkenness.
Trey muttered, "I should never have left his side."
Jenni almost seemed to giggle. "Can't go to the john alone," he slurred.
Hutch frowned at the bodyguard. "The drummer got sick?" he asked doubtfully. It seemed obvious that Jenni hadn't been able to record in his current condition.
Trey looked sharply at Hutch. "If you haven't got anything useful to say, then keep your mouth shut. You don't know anything about it."
Hutch gazed back at the man, realizing how much the other cared.
From behind them, Starsky said, "One thing's for sure: we know the killer was after Jenni all along. Tommy just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Trey put his arms around Jenni and started to lift. "Come on, let's get back to the hotel."
Starsky and Hutch helped Trey bring Jenni to his feet.
An hour later, all four men were at Jenni's hotel suite, along with Clarissa. The rock star was passed out in bed, while Clarissa and Trey studied the fan mail the two detectives presented.
"They do seem rather threatening," Clarissa said, looking over the papers that were spread out on the coffee table. There were a total of ten letters written by three different people. None had threatened Jenni's life directly, but they all spoke scathingly of him. "This one in particular," she tapped it, "the one that says, 'Remember Jimmy'."
"Who's Jimmy?" Hutch asked.
She shrugged. "I would assume Jimi Hendrix, though he was before Jenni's time, and the name is spelled differently. I don't think Jenni knows any other Jimmy's." She looked up at the bodyguard, who was pacing in front of Jenni's bedroom door. "Trey? Are you aware of anyone named Jimmy whom Jenni knows?"
He shook his head. "The detectives have shown me those letters, and none of them ring a bell with me."
Clarissa nodded to her visitors. "I doubt that Jenni has ever met any of these people in person. None of these letters is strong enough to call really threatening."
Starsky sighed. "The fan club president was trying to make an extra effort to help by finding letters that had a sinister tone. We've already checked out the senders, but none of them live at the same address anymore, and we haven't been able to find where they are now."
"Look at the dates." Clarissa pointed. "None of these letters was written any more recently than six months ago."
Hutch cautioned, "That still doesn't rule out the possibility that one of them could be our man. People who try this kind of thing usually think about it for a long time."
She shivered. "I hope he's caught soon."
"That's our intent," Hutch said gently. "Remember, we've got extra police posted throughout the hotel, and there will be others on the streets and surrounding the studio. But that shouldn't stop you from being as careful as possible."
"We will be."
Hutch gathered up the letters. "That's all for now. If you think of anything else that can be useful, you know how to get in touch with us."
They moved toward the door, Clarissa and Trey following.
"Gentlemen," Clarissa said, swallowing, "I'm sorry you had to see Jenni like this. He usually does his heaviest drinking at the end of the day. But, sometimes...." She shrugged with a sad smile.
"He needs help," Starsky told her. He glanced at Trey and firmly said, "He needs someone who cares about him to convince him that he has to get help."
Without emotion, Trey said, "I'm afraid the situation is much more complicated than that. But your concern is appreciated."
Starsky stepped closer to the bodyguard. Jaw firm, he warned, "Don't think that I don't know what I'm talking about." He rested his hand on Hutch's back as he followed his partner out the door.
His face was pressed against the soft dirt. He couldn't breathe. He struggled, but a hand was on his head, holding him down. His whole future was ahead of him, and now it was going to be lost in the most ridiculous way....
He struggled… struggled....
The voice was so loud that it hurt his ears. Hutch snapped awake.
"Where are you?" Starsky demanded. "Where?"
The other's voice sounded angry in the darkness, matching the gripping arms that shook him.
The anger was effective, for Hutch found himself obeying without thinking. "Under water," he replied breathlessly.
Now tenderness as the arms loosened their hold. "At the park...?" Starsky whispered incredulously.
Hutch shook his head. It sounded wrong. "No. Years ago. College, I think."
There was a soft noise of fingers searching, then a lamp illuminating the bed. Hutch blinked, then found Starsky gazing at him with that intensity that only he possessed.
Starsky whispered, "You almost drowned when you were in college?" A moment later, he clarified, "Somebody tried to drown you when you were in college?"
Adrenaline surged, and Hutch got up from the bed. They were at his apartment, but he didn't know where to move. He stood with his back to Starsky, staring at the wall, but seeing something else… another time, another place… He wanted to put Starsky's questions to rest.
"Hutch," the other now prompted gently. "Who?"
Hutch knew why Starsky was asking it that way. The tone reminded him of what he'd told Starsky weeks ago: a sense of betrayal by someone important to him. Who in college was important enough to him to have the power to betray him? Vanessa, certainly, but she wasn't at fault here. No, it was....
Hutch moved a few steps closer to the wall. His shoulders slumped when the answer became so obvious, for the memory was so clear now. How could he have ever forgotten it?
"Jack Mitchell," he said.
It was a moment before Starsky spoke again. Then, "Jack?" A pause. "The same Jack Mitchell we met in Vegas?" He wasn't able to hide his disapproval.
Hutch turned back toward the bed. He wondered how that incident from so long ago could have such far-reaching consequences in the present. He snorted dismissively. "It was nothing, really. Just horseplay that got out of hand. We were both drunk. We'd been at a fraternity party. There was a pond nearby. I think I'd insulted him -- just kidding -- in front of the other guests. I knew he was mad -- in a playful way, though -- and I took off running toward the pond and he came after me. We sort of wrestled, but we were both laughing. I tripped or he pushed me and I landed in the pond. The next thing I knew, I couldn't breathe because I was under water, and I felt Jack's hand holding me down. I knew he was just kidding -- he wasn't really trying to drown me -- but I also realized that he wasn't going to let me up in time and I was going to die. And -- and it angered me, so I fought like crazy and was able to throw him off." Hutch shook his head at the irony. "I don't think he ever did realize how close I came to buying it. I never said anything, because there never seemed to be a reason to. I just put it out of my mind… forgot about it."
Starsky blinked. "But, Hutch, then why now are you havin' dreams about it?"
Automatically, Hutch reached up and brushed his fingers along his right cheek. A fact became clear, and he said, "The dreams didn't start until last November -- when I almost drowned in the park. I guess -- I guess that brought it back."
His partner was staring at him. "How come you're touching your cheek like that?"
Hutch put his hand down, thinking it must look odd. And it was such an odd memory, such an odd correlation. In fact.... He smiled a little. "I guess that's the connection. When Jack had my head under water, my cheek brushed against the bottom of the pond. I remember thinking how soft the dirt felt. That same thought crossed my mind when it happened in November." He furrowed his brow, puzzled. "But I don't remember thinking about Jack then. But obviously...." he shrugged, "I guess my subconscious or something must have remembered about Jack."
Starsky picked up a pillow and hugged it. "It's been almost two years since we saw Jack in Vegas, but maybe seeing him after all this time added to it."
"Yeah, I guess so."
"Wow," Starsky said, sighing deeply. "And to think you've been bothered by dreams all this time."
"Maybe they won't bother me anymore," Hutch pointed out hopefully, wondering if he knew what he was talking about. "Since it's in the open now, there's no reason for my subconscious to be bothered by it anymore."
"Guess we'll see, huh?" Starsky asked doubtfully. Then, "I know you probably don't want to hear this, but knowing what Jack did to you back then -- horseplay or not -- doesn't make me any fonder of him."
Hutch frowned, sitting back on the bed. "He's dead now, so it doesn't matter."
Starsky reached for him. "I didn't mean it that way."
Hutch managed a tiny smile. "I know." They snuggled up together.
Starsky tugged on the blond's nose. "Any other times you almost drowned that I don't know about?"
"Ha, ha." Hutch was glad to be finished with the conversation, but he wanted to remind Starsky of something. He moved so that his forehead was touching the other man's. "Guess this proves for sure what I told you before -- the dreams don't have anything to do with what we've been doing together."
"Yeah," Starsky agreed, his breath blowing along the skin of his partner's face.
"I love you," Hutch said gently.
"Yeah, yeah," the other grinned.
"I'm not sorry about any of it. I could never be sorry."
Rather than replying, Starsky bent forward for a kiss. "Mmm."
"Why don't you turn out the light," Hutch whispered, "and let's see what develops."
Starsky obeyed. As soon as the room went dark, he grabbed the blond's hand and placed it inside his underwear. "This is what's developed."
Hutch gazed out the window to the street far below. "How many more days until the record is finished?" They had stopped by to visit Clarissa on their way to Parker Center.
"Another week," Clarissa replied. "We'll have a two-week vacation in Acapulco, and then Jenni and his band start a road tour." She looked away. "Forty-two cities. He'll be on the road six months."
"And then?" Hutch asked, turning toward where she sat on the couch.
She dropped her head in her hands. "Talk show appearances. Interviews. Maybe a little break. Then another album." She took her hands away. "I'm so tired of it all. I know Jenni is, too. But if he stops, the money stops… everything stops."
"Doesn't he have money put away so he could take time off?" Starsky asked.
"Yes, but it doesn't work like that." She poured herself a drink. "He has a contract with the record label. He's supposed to do three albums in the next four years. If he were to take a prolonged leave, he wouldn't be able to do those three albums in that amount of time, and the record company would sue, and his reputation in this business would be ruined."
Hutch said, "Doesn't his contract have some sort of clause that excuses him from his obligations because of illness? Surely, it wouldn't take much to get a doctor to tell them that he needs to spend some time in a clinic."
She hesitated, rolling her glass in her hands. "I don't know. I suppose I can talk to Bob -- Jenni's lawyer -- about it. But Jenni would have to agree."
"Why wouldn't he?" Starsky asked. "He talks like he wants help. If you and Trey were to convince him...."
"I don't think Trey wants him to get help," she announced levelly.
Starsky and Hutch exchanged glances of surprise. "Why not?" the darker man pressed.
"He's very loyal to Jenni," she replied without any hint of jealousy. "I think he likes Jenni being dependent upon him. He likes to feel useful. When they're on the road and I'm not around, he sees to Jenni's every need. He lays a towel beside his bed every night so every morning Jenni can throw up the alcohol still in his stomach. When he's too passed out to move, Trey carries him to bed. Of course, he also fetches ice for him and takes care of all those little necessities."
Starsky sat down. "We're talking about Jenni's needs, not Trey's. And yours. Doesn't Jenni realize what this kind of life is doing to you?"
She shrugged. "It's the life I agreed to when I married him. Like Gladys Knight says in that song, 'I'd rather live in his world than without him in mine.'"
Starsky tilted his head, a smile lighting his face. Gently, he said, "You know, when Hutch and me were first assigned to this case, I wasn't crazy about it. What little bit I knew about Jenni I didn't like at all. But, except for his problem, he really seems to be an okay guy."
She smiled sadly. "Most people never see that side of him. Most people don't want to see that side of him. Whenever he's asked to appear on talk shows or variety shows, they always want the whole 'Jenni' persona, the whole act. They don't want him to behave like himself. They want him to be that stage character twenty-four hours a day. Very few people know what a kind, gentle man he really is."
Hutch sighed. "Clarissa, once Jenni goes on the road, whoever is out there who wants to kill Jenni is going to be the FBI's problem, not the LAPD's. And the FBI isn't going to be very interested in the case, until and unless the suspect makes an attempt outside the city and shows that he's following wherever Jenni goes. By then, it might be too late."
Clarissa looked from one detective to another. "But what can we do in the meantime?"
"We have an idea," Hutch said, "but it's a longshot. And it could be dangerous."
"What?" she demanded.
"We could try to lure the killer in. Pretend to leave Jenni vulnerable."
"You mean set a trap?"
"That's what we have in mind. But the danger is great, especially for Jenni, because he would have to act as a decoy. We wanted to talk to you first, to see what you thought before we approached him and Trey."
She put down her whiskey glass. "I can't stand being afraid all the time. What do you have in mind?"
"Okay, look," Starsky said an hour later as he turned to face Jenni and Trey in the back seat of the Torino. "We'll wait until seven o'clock tomorrow night, just before the sun sets. We'll have Jenni in a bulletproof vest, just in case. You both are going to get out of the limo, which will be driven by an undercover cop. Trey will suddenly get sick and act like he's throwing up or something. Then you'll tell him to take the night off and get him back in the limo. The limo will drive off with Trey. Then you walk down Vallejo Street here, slowly, and stroll toward the cafe where you're supposed to meet the reporter for the Rock Music Bulletin."
"In the meantime," Hutch picked up when his partner stopped, "Starsky and I and four plainclothes units will be stationed nearby as hidden as possible, watching for someone to make a move."
Jenni sighed. "This may all be for nothing, right? We don't know if the guy is even going to show."
"Right," Hutch said. "But we've got to act as if he's serious about this, that he's been watching you, probably following you. Most likely, he's waiting for the right moment when he can get a clear shot."
"I don't like it," Trey said.
"We can appreciate that," the blond noted congenially. "We can't deny it's dangerous. But until we catch this creep, Jenni is a target."
"If it makes you feel any better," Starsky told Trey, "after the limo drives off with you, the driver will circle back around and you and he can join in with the rest of us looking out for anyone who may be trying to make a move."
"What I don't understand is why you don't get one of your undercover officers to act as a decoy."
"That's what we'd prefer," Hutch said. "But no one on the force looks enough like Jenni. Plus, since the killer hit the wrong person the first time, he's probably going to be extra careful this time around."
"It's better this way," Jenni said. "I'm scared shitless, but I want this guy caught. All this worrying about when he might strike again is driving me to drink."
It was obviously intended as a joke, but nobody laughed. After an awkward moment, Starsky looked the rock star in the eye. "Jenni, when this is over with, I think you should do yourself and the people who care about you the biggest favor of all: get help for your drinking. While you're still young. Before it destroys the life you've built and everyone who cares about you." His voice softened. "Especially Clarissa."
Jenni snorted. "Sure, Detective Starsky. I'm sure I can fit a two-month drying out somewhere in my road schedule."
Angrily, Starsky said, "Change the damn schedule!"
Hutch touched his partner's arm. "Hey," he reprimanded gently.
Trey straightened in the seat. "We seem to have gotten off the subject, Detectives. I assume that you're completely confident that the killer can be caught before he fires any shots?"
"That's our intent," Hutch said as Starsky seemed to relax beside him. "Of course, we can't guarantee anything. That's why Jenni will have the bulletproof vest."
"It won't help much if the killer aims for his head," Trey snarled.
"He didn't before," the blond soothed, "when he shot Tommy Clarkson at fairly close range."
There was silence for a moment, then Starsky asked, "Do you each understand what you're supposed to do?"
Trey and Jenni nodded.
"Good." Starsky started the car. "We'll rendezvous at the hotel tomorrow at six and leave separately from there. For now, we'll drop you two off back at the studio."
Twenty minutes later, Jenni waved goodbye as he and Trey shut the Torino doors behind them. Clarissa pulled up, and Jenni and Trey stopped to talk to her after she got out of her car.
Hutch turned to his partner. "Listen, pal, you can't solve everyone's problems. If Jenni gets help for his alcoholism, he's going to have to do it himself."
Firmly, the other replied, "Or Clarissa and Trey are going to have to do it for him. Or maybe just Clarissa."
"What makes you so interested?" the blond wondered.
"Ah, Hutch. Jenni's a good guy. I hate to see him doing this to himself."
"Lots of people do this kind of thing to themselves."
"Yeah, but it's like he's a victim of circumstances. He got famous at an early age and needed booze to help him through it. I mean, it's not like he even does drugs. Alcohol is his one vice and he sounds like he'd be willing to kick it if only someone would encourage him."
"Someone close to him is going to have to encourage him."
"Yeah," Starsky relented. Then, quietly, he noted, "You know, it's just ...I mean, I can't help thinkin' what would'a happened to you after what Forrest's men did if...you know, if I hadn't cared enough."
Hutch grew silent, staring at the floorboard. Then he said, "I can't ever think about the 'what if'. It's too overwhelming." Thickly, he said, "Thank God you did care enough."
Starsky turned toward his partner, reaching to grip his hand, when a shot rang out. "What the -- "
Instinctively, both men turned to their side doors and opened them, hitting the pavement in a crouch, pulling their weapons.
From the passenger side, Hutch looked up to see Trey on the ground, holding his shoulder, blood leaking between his fingers. "Jenni, get down!!!" Hutch bellowed.
But the rock star was on his feet, staring in the opposite direction from the detectives.
"My God," Hutch called to his partner, "he's got Clarissa." Toward the man who was behind Clarissa, holding a gun to her head, he shouted, "Police! Drop it!"
"See ya around," Starsky whispered, and he disappeared in a crouch in the other direction, shielding himself with parked cars.
"I said drop it," Hutch threatened again. He wished Jenni would step out of the way, for the long-haired man was almost in his line of fire.
The man, who looked thin and thirtyish, with short sandy hair and glasses, took a few steps back, pulling Clarissa with him. "Put the gun down, Officer, or I'll shoot her."
"No, don't hurt her," Jenni pleaded. "Why would you hurt her?"
"You hurt mine," the man told Jenni, continuing to step back, "I hurt yours."
"I don't know you." Jenni inched forward. "What are you talking about?"
"My little brother, dammit! He idolized you, worshipped you, and because of you he went out riding his bicycle with a stupid blindfold on and got himself killed! Trying to act like you!"
"Ah, man," Jenni said, sounding genuinely sorry. "I never meant for anyone to do anything like that. I never meant for anyone to get hurt because of my act."
Hutch still had his gun out, but he knew it was useless with Clarissa shielding the man. He was also tempted to yell to Jenni to get down and out of the way, but the rock star had the man's attention, and that might give Starsky, wherever he was, a chance to make a move.
"You should have thought of that before," the man scolded breathlessly. "Jimmy's gone. Being sorry isn't going to bring him back."
"Then let Clarissa go," Jenni pleaded. "It's me you want, not her."
"Doesn't matter," the man said. "I don't care which one of you dies."
"You've already killed someone," Hutch told him. "If you want an eye for an eye, you've already killed Tommy Clarkson. He was innocent."
The man swung in Hutch's direction. "Jenni is the one who has to pay," he hissed. "With his own life, or with his wife's, just as long as he's the one who loses. Like I did when my little brother was taken from me."
"Clarissa hasn't done anything to you," Jenni pleaded. "Let her go."
"Let her go," Hutch called his own agreement. "Let her go and we'll talk this out."
The man pressed his gun to Clarissa's forehead. "Put the gun down!!!"
Hutch knew there was no choice. Slowly, he placed his gun down on the ground and, still in a crouch, slowly backed away from it. Clarissa was vividly shaking, but otherwise was keeping her cool. That gave him hope.
"You shoot Clarissa," Hutch stated calmly, "and the whole force will be on you." Sirens were heard in the background, most likely from someone inside the studio calling for help. "You give up peacefully, and no one else gets hurt. Killing Clarissa or Jenni won't bring back your brother."
"He has to pay!"
"Then I'll pay," Jenni said, his hands in the air. He stepped closer. "I'll pay. Let Clarissa go. It wasn't her idea to have the blindfold in my stage act. The whole act is my idea. She's not responsible."
"Jenni," Trey spoke for the first time from the ground, "don't do it. He'll kill you."
Hutch could see that the man was getting confused by all the voices. He added his own. "Let her go!"
The man turned his attention to Jenni. "All right. I'm letting her go." He snarled, "But only after I kill you first."
To Hutch, it all seemed to happen in slow motion. He grabbed for his own gun, knowing he wouldn't be in time. He watched, helplessly, as the man pushed Clarissa away and turned the gun on Jenni, who was still standing with his arms raised, a sacrificial lamb. Instinctively, Trey staggered to his knees and made a desperate move toward his employer.
And then Clarissa swung back around and kicked at the man's leg, causing him to lose his balance. Just as he fell, a shot rang out from the hedges nearby, and the bullet, which would have hit the man's upper body when he was standing, instead shot through his head and came out the other side, bouncing off an iron railing. As his body collapsed, his own gun went off and Jenni suddenly bent and fell, gripping his thigh.
Hutch picked up his gun and ran to the trio on the ground. Clarissa was sobbing over her husband. "Oh, my God, oh, my God." Trey was kneeling next to her, holding his wounded arm, looking grim.
The first black and white skidded to the scene, and Hutch yelled, "Get an ambulance!"
Starsky appeared from behind the hedges, and they both approached the rock star on the ground with dread. But they stopped when they saw him, both their mouths dropping open.
Jenni lay between his wife and his bodyguard, laughing hysterically, even while holding his bleeding thigh. "I'm alive! I can't believe it, I'm still alive!"
Starsky holstered his gun and knelt beside him. "Yeah, Jenni. You got a second chance."
Trey grumbled, "You stupid sonofabitch. That was the bravest thing I've ever seen a man do."
Visitors had cleared out a few minutes before. The only remaining people surrounding Jenni's bed were Clarissa, Trey, and Starsky and Hutch.
"They can put the final touches on the album without Jenni," Clarissa was telling the detectives. "So, he can actually relax for once. The tour has been called off."
"Bet your record label wasn't too happy about that," Hutch noted sympathetically.
Jenni shrugged. "My agent says that they have insurance to cover injuries that happen to the artist. So, I guess they won't make out too badly."
"And once you're healed enough," Clarissa told her husband, "it's straight into a treatment clinic."
"Yeah," Jenni agreed. "I guess, in an odd way, it's a good thing this happened. I've been wanting to kick it, but no one wanted to mess with a million-dollar boat."
"Anyone who had the guts to do what you did when looking down a gun like that," Starsky said, "well... kicking booze ought to be a breeze."
"Don't know about that," Jenni sighed.
Hutch looked at Trey. "You've been awfully quiet through all this."
The man only did a partial shrug, for one arm was in a sling. "I'm just thinking about who my next employer is going to be. It doesn't sound like Jenni is going to need me around until he's well enough to go on the road again."
"What are you talking about?" Jenni asked in surprise. "You're on R&R, too. Once you're healed, I will be, too. I'll need you around. To keep me off the booze, if nothing else."
That brought a smile from the bodyguard. "In that case, I'll quit looking for other employment."
"Well," Starsky said after a moment of silence, "Hutch and me gotta be going. I guess this'll be it for a while." He looked at the rock star. "I can't say I'll ever want to go to any of your concerts, but you're a class act, Jenni. I'm glad I know you." He reached to shake his hand.
"Thanks. If I ever have any trouble with the law, I'll know who to call."
Hutch shook his hand. "It'll be easier on everybody if you just stay out of trouble."
"I'll see to it," Clarissa said.
They both nodded at Clarissa. "Nice knowing you, too, ma'am. Take good care of him." Starsky's glance included Trey. "Both of you." He and Hutch made their exit.
"He's over there," the bartender at The Queen Bee told them. "His name's Eddie."
Starsky and Hutch looked over at the table in the corner. A scruffy-looking man sat there hunched over a bottle of beer. They moved to join him.
"Eddie?" Hutch asked while his partner pulled up a third chair. The blond presented his badge. "I'm Detective Hutchinson and this is Detective Starsky. You wanted to see us about Tommy Clarkson?"
The man, who had a grey beard and baggy eyes, shook his head sadly. "So, they wasted Tommy?"
"It was a case of mistaken identity," Hutch said. "The murderer was after Jenni, the rock star. Tommy looked enough like him in a dark alley that..." he shrugged.
"Yeah," a bittersweet smile, "Tommy did like that Jenni guy. An awful lot. Always listening to his music. Talking about him."
Starsky asked, "How well did you know Tommy?"
"Pretty well, at least I thought. He came from back east. He showed up here at the bar one night and we got to talking. So, we'd have some drinks together whenever we were both here." He shook his head again. "I had to return home myself, to Oregon. My brother passed away and I spent a few months up there. Got back and didn't see Tommy around. Asked Greg over there," he indicated the bartender, "and he gave me the bad news. Then said cops was lookin' for information. But I don' t really have any. Just wanted to know what happened."
"For a while," Hutch said carefully, "we weren't sure that Jenni was the intended target. We thought Tommy may have been murdered on purpose. But we could never find a reason why someone would want to kill him. No one seemed to know him much. Everyone said that he was a 'nice kid'."
Eddie nodded. "That's for sure. I'll miss him."
Starsky shifted in his chair. "Eddie, did you ever see Tommy outside of the bar here?"
Eddie paused thoughtfully. "I tried to see him once. Caught up with him at a TV studio." He laughed briefly. "I'd never been in a place like that before. I guess Jenni was doing some sort of show. I found Tommy but he wasn't too happy to see me. That's when I realized that he just liked me as a drinkin' buddy. He wasn't interested in anything else, if you know what I mean. I think Jenni was his whole life."
"In love with him?" Hutch asked gently.
"Probably. You know how kids are at that age. Infatuation comes easy. But I don't think Jenni swings that way, if you want to know the truth. Some guys think his getting married was just a way of stopping rumors, but I don't think so."
Starsky and Hutch exchanged a glance. "Yeah," the blond said.
"Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?" Starsky asked.
"No. That's all. I just wondered what happened."
Both detectives stood. "Sorry," Starsky said, "that you lost your friend. Tommy sounds like someone I would have liked to have known."
"Take care," Hutch said.
They left the bar, side by side.
Hutch put his book away when a freshly showered Starsky joined him in bed and turned out the light. They kissed in greeting; then, as was customary, snuggled up together.
Starsky said, "It's been awhile, hasn't it, since you've dreamed about Jack almost drowning you?"
"Yeah. I don't think those dreams will be back." Hutch smiled. "Thanks for helping me work through it and figure out what was causing it."
The curly head rested on the smooth chest. "Don't know why you were so stubborn about talking about the nightmares in the first place," Starsky complained. "You were real tight-lipped about it."
"That's because I didn't understand what was happening," Hutch protested. "It seemed so... ridiculous. I would wake up in the middle of the night but I wouldn't know why. I just knew I'd had a bad dream."
"Still should'a told me about them a long time ago."
Hutch sighed. "Starsky?"
"Can we not talk about this any more? It's over and done with."
"Okay," the other agreed in a pouting tone.
"Don't say okay unless you mean it."
Starsky attacked the arrogant mouth with a kiss. After pulling back, he said, "Think I mean it?"
"I'm not sure. Do it again."
Starsky kissed him. Hard.