This story was originally printed in the S/H zine TURNED TO FIRE, published by Idiot Triplets Press in 1994. Special thanks to Daphne G. for translating to electronic format. The author is not on the internet and doesn't have email. Comments on this story can be sent snail mail to Flamingo, PO Box 823, Beltsville MD 20704-0823, and will be forwarded to the author.
"BUTTON, BUTTON . . ."
Drake Park is one of those small, lushly landscaped islands of green set in an area not far from the heart of Los Angeles. It was designed and funded by the late Wynifred Drake, heiress to the Drake Railroad fortunes. As a child, "Wynnie" had had her own private park, complete with a scaled-down house, a boating pond, and a miniature train that carried her and her very small circle of friends all around the Drake estate.
Indulged though she was, upon becoming an adult she vowed to bring pleasure into the lives of less fortunate children. Since Drake Park was the first of many such areas Wynnie had funded, she sensibly said that having one park named after her was enough, giving city planners free rein to call the others whatever suited their fancy.
But Drake Park remained her favorite, and in later years a lawn bowling section complete with a wisteria-and-rose bower was built. Wynnie reasoned that grownups had to have some way of spending their time while they supervised their children and grandchildren.
Perhaps the old lady might not have appreciated the irony of the park's fortunes over the years. Built originally in an area of crowded schools and cheap housing, the real estate market had changed. Now, huge homes bordered the little park, some with grounds bigger than the park itself. Still, the children of the rich and famous preferred to come there for their boisterous games of soccer and baseball. Nannies sat with babies dozing in gentle sunlight, undisturbed by the muted click of lawn balls.
In a far corner, several young boys shouted and squealed as they clambered over an elaborate geodesic jungle-gym. This was Los Angeles at its most indulgent: everyone's playground.
It was late afternoon. A battered, much-abused white truck sat directly across from Drake Park, one of its two occupants watching a trio of young boys playing on the jungle-gym. The children were of an age: eight or nine, blond, blue-eyed, each wearing jeans and a tee shirt.
The men, dressed in gardener's work clothes, studied a small picture intently, then the driver picked up a pair of binoculars. "I'm telling you, that's him in the orange tee shirt. Your eyes gettin' bad, or are you gettin' cold feet?" He was in his early forties, a hard-faced, thin-lipped individual with short, coarse grey hair.
His companion, younger by many years, stared doubtfully at the boys, then down at the snapshot. The boy in the orange shirt was now in the middle of a game of tag. Two other children had joined the trio. "Gimme those damn things!" he hissed, snatching the binoculars away from the older man. "I can't tell. Damned Anglos all look alike in this area." Still, he kept the glasses focused on the boy. "Yeah, it's him. No mistake." He shook his dark head. "For an old man, Freddie, you got a good eye."
Satisfied, Freddie put the picture back in his pocket. "Your trouble, Billy boy, is that you're already spendin' the money, aren't you?" His grin was not pleasant. "How many senYOHritas you gonna spend it on, huh?" His banter ceased, and his voice grew hard. "I'll tell you one last time, taco-eater, we wait for our contact to give us the okay before we spend one damn dime. You got that?"
Billy refused to rise to the bait. Instead he smiled. "Oh, yeah, I got it, Freddie. This is a real sweetheart deal, ain't it? We pick the chico up when we're told, drive him to whatever address they give us, and he's off our hands. We don't even have to see him again. We get paid, and don't risk gettin' caught. Is that a deal or ain't it?"
But Freddie was staring at the boys again through the glasses. "Funny," he mumbled, "rich kids don't dress no better than the poor ones no more. Stick 'em all in jeans and tees and you can't tell them apart."
Billy ran his fingers through his long, oily hair, and snorted. "You're really out of it, ya know that? Lookit their shoes! Lookit their haircuts! For that matter, lookit their goddamn bikes! Then you'd know they got rich parents." He began to laugh. "Shit. We could probably snatch any one of that bunch and who'd know the difference, right?"
Lowering his binoculars, Freddie stared hard at Billy. "Who'd know? Their folks, for starters. Don't go talkin' like that or I'll think I'm teamed up with a loony." He warmed to the subject. "You may think I'm behind the times, but don't you get any ideas about double-crossing me on this. You try asking any of your classy friends with their pimpmobiles, and dames hangin' out the windows . . ." He chuckled as he glanced up and down the immaculately landscaped street. "Yeah, I can just see Honey Boy pulling up in his baby-blue Rolls, and no one blinkin' an eye." The thought amused him so much he batted the steering wheel. Then he turned serious.
"See, Billy, folks are funny. They look at this old truck with its junk in the back, and they don't give it another glance because gardeners are a dime a dozen around here. But the flash car, the souped-up bike, that grabs their attention."
He rolled the window down, enjoying the cool breeze. "Remember, if we don't screw up, the day after tomorrow you 'n' me're gonna be rich."
He yawned, and handed the glasses to his companion. "Now, when I get paid, I'm gonna buy a new truck, nothing fancy, but something that don't need fixin' every hundred miles."
"Just shut up and get outta here, will you?" Billy snarled. "We don't want those brats remembering a white truck parked at the curb, do we? Kids see everything, and if the cops ask 'em, it might jog their memories. I wanna live to spend the dough."
Chastened, Freddie said, "You're right, you sonofabitch." When he pulled the old truck away, nobody paid the slightest bit of attention.
David Starsky was feeling very expansive when he entered the squad room at Metro. He'd sorted his mail before he left home, the cleaning lady had done a good job on his apartment yesterday, and the wax job on the Torino looked like it would hold up for another week. Life was good, and today just might bring him and Hutch the case that would make them rich and famous.
Settling at his desk, he put his feet up and casually began sorting the files still sitting in a heap. Grinning, he tossed the incomplete ones on his partner's desk. Serve the bastard right for dumping all the reports on him late Friday. His smile softened as he recalled how the weekend had actually been spent. Hutch was a sucker for a good meal and soft music.
"You sleep here last night?" Hutch, smirking, had walked in without Starsky hearing him. He tossed the Times onto Starsky's lap. "I did the puzzle but left you the Jumble - as usual. Got anything done on that suicide?"
Starsky shook his head, his features neutral. "Nope. You and I both know it's murder, so I sorta hid it in your pile."
He watched Hutch nod in approval. It was their usual Monday morning routine . . . keep the troops guessing. Since there was only one other cop in the squad room and he was on the phone, the pretense was rather superficial, but it wouldn't do to let their guard down. He noticed Hutch sitting down rather gingerly and fought back the urge to grin. There was no way blondie could blame him for his sore ass . . . not this time. He cleared his throat. "So, you gonna keep that dirt bike?"
The look Hutch gave him was one of total disgust. "Hell, no," he snapped, "I'm gonna sell it to my grandmother! Damn seat was loose . . ." As he removed his jacket and put it over the back of his chair, his expression changed. Turning so his back was to the other cop, he faced his partner. Quickly he slid an envelope across the desks. "Take a look at this, Starsk, and tell me what you think." Hutch's tone was barely audible, and all levity had disappeared.
"Without even lookin', I can tell it ain't good news," Starsky muttered, examining the envelope closely. It had been sent to Hutch, and his eyebrows arched when he saw the return address. "Twenty-two Paseo Las Fortunas? That's some neighborhood. How do you rate?" He slid out the single sheet of heavy bond paper, reading it twice before handing it back to Hutch. He met his partner's somber glance with suspicion. "Got any ideas why he wants to see us - and in such a hurry? I thought guys like that could afford their own armies."
Hutch shook his head and reached to reclaim the envelope. "Come on, Starsky," he said. "Phillip Kendall the Third may be richer than Croesus, but he and his wife have been very generous donors when it comes to the arts. Hell, when I was in my last year of college, his family established a chair in music."
Starsky was decidedly unimpressed. "That still doesn't explain why a guy with zillions sends you a letter askin' us to come and see him . . ." He glanced at his watch. ". . . in two hours."
For a moment Hutch looked frustrated, then he grinned wickedly. "Got it! He wants us to quit the force and set up a security network with us as its head."
"Put a cork in it, Hutch," Starsky responded sourly. "Betcha all he wants is for us to hassle some hooker who's into him with some dirty pictures." He reached over and lifted up a file folder. "Tell you what. You keep the rendezvous, I'll tie up some of the loose ends around here to keep Dobey happy. There's the Pitello case, for instance. When you get back we'll talk about it, okay?" He saw Hutch eye the folder he held and smiled to himself, knowing what was coming.
"The Pitello case, as you so grandly put it," Hutch said acidly, "is a rifled vegetable garden, and how the hell it ended up in Homicide I'd like to know."
Shaking his head, Starsky opened the file. "Just luck, partner, but you should see their daughter's peaches." He began to laugh.
Hutch stood up. "You let Minnie hear you talking sexist crap like that and you're gonna be minus a pair of nuts, big mouth. For that matter, any number of very independent lady cops, who shall remain nameless, will be glad to remove them."
The blue eyes twinkled, and Hutch leaned forward. "And if you lose your nuts, lover boy, whatcha gonna do on the weekends?"
A muffled snort from the other cop made Starsky turn bright red. He glared at Hutch. "With or without 'em I'm a better man than you, Gunga Din, so go meet with Mr. Phillip Kendall the Third. I'll work on somethin' really important."
"Tell you what," Hutch said in a conciliatory tone. "I'll nose around down in R&I and see if I can come up with anything in Kendall's background. If I can't find anything suspicious, then you come with me. If I do, then I'll go alone, okay?"
Starsky looked at Hutch intently, studying the even features. He knew he was going to give in to the big blond; didn't he always? Besides, he was curious enough himself to want to meet one of America's richest men. "Well, yeah. But you owe me lunch either way."
Shaking his head and muttering to himself, Hutch strode out of the squad room and down the hall. Starsky was about to say something to the other cop when the day watch began filling the squad room, followed by Captain Dobey.
"Lookin' good, Cap'n," Starsky said. "The new diet seems to be working." It was true, actually. Dobey looked as if he had lost twenty pounds.
To his utter surprise, Dobey stopped long enough to talk. "Get me the file on that suicide, Starsky. And if it isn't up to date, you've got exactly ten minutes to get it that way." He paused for breath. "Where's your partner?"
Starsky smiled sweetly. "Already down in R&I, sir, hard at work." He tossed the file onto the desk. "Take it away . . . but it's no suicide. This guy was murdered."
The captain stared at the detective. "You want the case?" he asked, picking up the file, scanning the single sheet inside. He slapped the folder shut. "Don't answer. I'm going to give it to Robbins and Garcia . . . any objections?"
Just then Starsky's phone rang, and he shook his head. Dobey went into his office and slammed the door.
Where the hell was Hutch? He'd been gone for an hour. Starsky tried to recall their conversation. He glanced at his watch. Kendall's note had said to be there by eleven, and it was now almost ten. He reached for the phone.
"Grab your jacket, pal," Hutch called from the doorway. "We don't want to keep the man waiting."
Starsky surveyed his partner. It was obvious what Hutch had been doing. He'd changed his tee shirt for a pale blue sport shirt, and his varsity jacket for his brown leather one.
"I see you're hoping to make a good impression," he said. He put the phone back in its cradle and grabbed his jacket, joining Hutch at the doorway.
Hutch patted his stomach. "So? What you got in your locker that'll make a difference? I keep telling you, Starsk, you should keep at least one good shirt and jacket in there . . . for occasions like this." He waved the envelope in front of Starsky, grinning.
That was it. For two cents he'd let Hutch go it alone. "And what's so damn special about this occasion? All we're gonna do is see what the hell Kendall wants. You . . . you sound like it's a blind date, or somethin'!"
Hutch paled, all humor draining away. He glanced around the suddenly silent squad room and jerked back, leaving Starsky feeling like a fool. He could imagine the comments if he went after Hutch, but wasn't up to facing the razzing he'd take if he stayed. "I'm gonna beat the hell out of you one of these days, you arrogant bastard," he said under his breath as he hurried down the hall.
He was almost to the steps when a pair of hands shot out and grabbed him. Hutch, eyes flashing in anger, drew him close. "One more remark like that and we're history, Sergeant Starsky! Or do you have a death wish?" His fingers released Starsky's lapels and he was gone again, going down the steps two at a time.
"Hey! Hutch! Wait a sec, willya?" Starsky, shaken, closed the distance between them by running after his partner. "You know damn good and well what I meant - so why'd you take it personally? Hell, we used to be able to joke like that . . ."
There was probably more sense of loss in his voice than Starsky actually felt, because he saw Hutch slow down and turn around. Maybe Hutch felt it, too, and that was why he was so frigging mad.
He caught up with his partner, who said nothing, merely headed for the Torino. Starsky wanted desperately to taunt him about the impression he'd make on Kendall if the man saw that misbegotten rattletrap Hutch dared to call a car. A sense of self-preservation kept his mouth shut.
It was almost eleven when they pulled into the parking lot across the street from the Kendall building. Starsky had to admit that the place certainly was beautiful, set in a mass of planters and fountains, with brilliant flowers bordering the courtyard. He noticed the crew of gardeners working to maintain its Disneyland appearance. Well-dressed people hurried up the walks, apparently eager to get to their appointments. He slid his glance back to Hutch. "Okay, you tell me why Kendall wants two cops to meet him here?" he asked softly.
"You've got a point," Hutch replied, his gaze narrowing as he drummed his fingertips on the Torino's door. "Incidentally, Kendall's clean . . . So's his old man, but I did find something out that surprised me. Kendall and his wife were divorced about a year ago . . . very hush-hush." He looked puzzled. "I thought they had one of those forever-type marriages."
"What's so unusual about a divorce? According to the Globe, the jet set changes partners all the time." He watched the sunlight stroke Hutch's hand, and swallowed.
"Nope. Not them. Sweethearts in college, never anything but pages and pages written about their domestic bliss. They got active in kids' charities after their son was born." Hutch pulled out his notepad, scanning the pages.
Starsky reached over and took it, grinning. "Phillip Kendall the Fourth? Even the pharaohs changed their names once in a while." He chuckled and handed the pad back. "One kid and they hadda name him after the old man . . . sheesh!"
Laughing, Hutch protested, "Yeah, but the kid won't have to have the family monogram changed, will he? The point I was making, pal, was that there wasn't a breath of scandal there. They're good people."
"Point taken." Starsky glanced at his watch. "Anyway, let's get this over." He got out of the car, locked it and took a deep breath of ocean air. "Must be nice to work by the beach, and look out at the ocean whenever you want."
He became acutely aware of Hutch standing almost behind him, hand on his back. "One of these days . . . maybe we can . . ."
It was enough. Starsky smiled, content. "Yeah, we've got lotsa time to think about that. Damn! The light's gonna change, c'mon!"
They dashed for the corner, and Starsky had just stepped off the curb when a battered old white truck came careening by, nearly taking off his foot. Starsky leaped back, shaking his fist and shouting, "Dumb ass! You . . . you . . .!"
Hutch grabbed the back of Starsky's jacket. "Take it easy! You were off the curb before the green." He smiled at his partner. "That's why they teach you to look both ways."
"Thank you, Safety Sam," Starsky snarled, taking giant strides now that the light had changed. "I had the distinct impression the guy wanted to make me a permanent cripple."
"You're getting paranoid," Hutch said as they ran up the steps. "We just don't meet enough nice people." He went through the revolving door. "Besides, in ten minutes we'll know what's on Kendall's mind."
Starsky merely nodded as he read the registry. "There it is. Phillip Kendall Enterprises, sixth floor."
They rode to the sixth floor with several other people, then got out and walked down a long hall banked with lush, potted plants and soft lighting. At the end of the hall was a pair of heavy doors, flanked by planters filled with orchids and other exotica. A tiny fountain trickled into a mossy bucket.
"Maybe you should do something like this, Hutch," Starsky commented, grinning wickedly. "Can't cost much."
Beside him Hutch whistled under his breath. "Tacky, isn't it? God, talk about ostentation."
Gratified, Starsky pushed the door open and waved his partner in. There, seated directly in front of them at a battleship-sized desk, was a neatly dressed and coifed older woman. She stared at them over very large glasses. "I presume you are Mr. Starsky and Mr. Hutchinson?" she said, in a quiet voice.
Hutch was immediately on his best behavior. "That's correct, ma'am. I'm Mr. Hutchinson, and this is my partner, Mr. Starsky. We have an eleven o'clock appointment with Mr. Kendall." His eyes were wide and guileless.
She thawed, just as Starsky had known she would. Hutch brought out the mother in certain types. "My name is Minnie Silversmith, and there will be a short wait while Mr. Kendall speaks with his partner. Help yourselves to coffee." She pointed over to where a large silver urn and real china cups sat on an antique buffet. Real cream and sugar lumps were in matching servers.
Both men helped themselves, then sat down on a plush leather couch piled with bright suede cushions. "Hmm, I might move in," Starsky said, his good humor restored. "The guy knows how to decorate a waiting room." He looked around, noting more of the planters filled with orchids and ferns. He leaned toward Hutch. "Did you tell me how they made their money?"
Hutch sipped his coffee, then flashed a big grin. "Fertilizer. Believe it or not, pal, the old man made millions with steer manure. But sonny boy's gone in for the chemical stuff."
Instantly Starsky was on the alert. "You mean stuff that poisons the earth?" His eyes narrowed in anger.
"Shhh! No. Kendall's one of the new breed that's trying to save the planet, not ruin it. He's bankrolling some experimental land restitution projects over in Europe." Hutch smiled. "I keep telling you, he's the guy in the white hat, riding the white horse."
But Starsky didn't smile back. "Nobody's that perfect, Hutch," he said, looking his partner in the eye. "'Cause if that's the case, why are we here?"
Hutch let out a breath, arched his eyebrows, and shrugged. But before he could reply, the secretary approached them. Away from her massive desk she was all of five feet tall. "Mr. Kendall will see you now, gentlemen. Please follow me."
They trailed along like two schoolboys. Minnie opened another set of beautifully carved doors, then stood to one side. Her features were inscrutable, but there was mischief in her eyes.
"Mr. Kendall. Your eleven o'clock appointment, Mr. Starsky and Mr. Hutchinson." With that, she closed the doors behind them.
Both men stood and stared, a grin spreading over Starsky's face. Phillip Kendall's private office was small, with plain, worn furniture. Piles of papers covered most flat surfaces, and an old coffee urn, stainless, sat on top of the filing cabinet. Alongside it was a large box of Winchell's doughnuts. Hutch thought the place was rather like headquarters.
But the man behind the desk studying them was obviously not like his surroundings. Phillip Kendall the Third belonged on the cover of GQ, with handsome, regular features and beautifully cut hair a little darker blond than Hutch's. Large, very dark blue eyes set in the tanned face were grave, yet unswerving. A long-fingered hand gestured for them to find seats.
"You're punctual, I appreciate that." The voice was soft. As the two detectives stared at him, he smiled briefly. "I know . . . you're wondering about the office." A shrug of the expensive jacket. "This was where my dad spent his later years. I couldn't bear to change anything. It always reminds me of how far we've come since my grandfather started the business."
Starsky cleared his throat. "If you don't mind my asking, why's the outer office so much . . . ah . . ." He spread his hands, palms up.
A genuine smile made Kendall come to life. "That's all Pete's idea. He quite rightly said that since we are in the fertilizer business, I shouldn't have my offices look like we can't grow grass."
He paused. "Oh, Pete is Peter Devereaux, my partner. He does all the hard work for the firm." The chitchat ceased suddenly, and Kendall lapsed into a gloomy silence, glancing nervously at his watch.
"Mr. Kendall, you sent us this letter . . . why?" Hutch asked quietly, as if sensing the man's unhappiness. "What seems to be the problem?"
Abruptly, Kendall got to his feet, to pace around the small office. "Coffee? Doughnuts? Help yourselves." Just as suddenly, he went to the filing cabinet and brought out two folders, placing them on the desk. His expression was grim. "I need your help in the worst way, but I must have your word that you won't involve anyone else. You were recommended to me by someone whose judgment I value." He looked at each detective, then said, "You must help me."
Starsky, still suspicious, stated bluntly, "We don't make deals, Mr. Kendall. Hutch 'n' me won't do anything illegal, either . . ." His voice trailed away, and he smiled. "At least not until we know what's bothering you." He glanced at Hutch, who was nodding his agreement. Leaning forward, he added, "Besides, we're small potatoes. Surely you don't expect us to screw around with some big corporation."
Kendall held up his hand. "If I had that kind of problem, I have any number of people on my staff who could help." His voice faltered, then steadied, as he sat down. He opened the thicker of the two files, bringing out a picture of a woman. After staring at it for a long moment, he handed it to Hutch. "This is - was - my wife, Reina. I want you to find her."
The woman was beautiful: heavy waves of blonde hair framed a perfect, vivacious face. One slender arm held an oversized teddy bear, the other rested lovingly on a toddler with a head of cotton-white hair. It was obvious Reina Kendall was a happy woman.
Starsky took the picture. "I heard that you and your wife got divorced. How come you want us to find her all of a sudden?" His eyes had narrowed, his tone holding a slight edge.
The detectives looked up to see Kendall's face blanch, his knuckles tighten as he lifted out another photo. This one he handed to Starsky, exchanging it for the one of Reina.
"Because I have every reason to believe my ex-wife has taken Flip . . . and disappeared." He buried his face in his hands for a moment, then said dully, "This past year I was awarded full custody of my son, and she threatened then to kidnap him. Now he's gone, and I received this . . ."
"When did he disappear?" interrupted Hutch, glancing at Starsky, who still sat staring at the snapshot. Hutch held out his hand and took the photo, puzzled by his partner's expression.
But when he saw the boy in the picture, he knew. A gangly kid of about nine, very fair, with a chipmunk smile, grinned up at him. One knee sported a nasty-looking scab, and his tee shirt announced to the world that he had been to Marineland; other than that, Flip Kendall the Fourth, heir to millions, looked like thousands of other nine-year-olds. Including himself at that age.
"When did he disappear?" Kendall repeated the question in a whisper, his expression bleak. "Sunday, between ten and noon. Flip's on a soccer team, and during the week I make it a point to pick him up so I can watch him practice. It's something I've been doing for the last few months. But Sunday's game day, and we make it a big affair. He and I always go somewhere after the game - win or lose - just because we need the time together. Until yesterday I've always been able to spend the whole day with him." He swallowed a sip of coffee before continuing. "Yesterday, though, something developed at our Rome office - a foul-up - and I had to leave the game to talk to them." He glanced sharply at his watch. "In fact I'm sending Peter over there this afternoon."
"Yeah," prompted Starsky, "but what happened yesterday?" Kendall's blue eyes dulled with some inner pain. "I sent Pete to wait for him, then bring him back to the office after the game . . . But when Pete got to the park . . ."
"Which park?" Hutch interrupted, hating what he was thinking about parks and little kids, and how the news was almost never good.
"Drake Park. It's not far from Flip's school. Reina and I used to take him there when he was a baby. There's never been any trouble there, if that's what you're thinking." But the shadows under Kendall's eyes belied his words.
Starsky heaved a huge sigh, then got to his feet, lightly brushing Hutch's shoulder on his way over to the window. "Are you certain he simply didn't go home with another kid? He's at the age when contacts like that are awfully important." His glance slid over to Hutch. "Maybe he misses his mom."
Kendall replaced the pictures in their folders. "Not on Sunday. He and I always made a big thing out of our special day. He misses her on other occasions, but not on Sundays."
"There's more, isn't there?" Hutch asked. "You mentioned receiving something. What is it?" He watched as Kendall drew a piece of paper very carefully from an envelope, painstakingly touching only the outer edge.
"Here," Kendall said. "This was at my house last night. I've no idea when it was delivered." The vulnerability of the man struck both Starsky and Hutch at the same time.
The note was a simple demand for ransom. "One hundred thousand dollars to be left at the marina at six a.m. Monday morning." Starsky stared at Hutch, then asked, "You've already paid this?"
"Of course I paid it. What choice did I have?" It was apparent that Kendall's control was crumbling. "Flip's life, surely you understand . . ."
Starsky read on. "It also says that after payment they'd call you an hour later and let you know where he was . . . Did they contact you again?" He heard Hutch suck in a deep breath as they waited for an answer.
"No . . ." came the whisper. "But there's something not quite right, either, something I can't put my finger on . . ." Kendall looked up. "I'm sure you know that feeling. If only I could think straight!"
Starsky took back the picture of Flip, once again staring at the immature features. Glancing up at Hutch, he smiled. "Looks a lot like those old photos of you, all teeth and legs." Then he frowned. "Did that scab on his knee leave a scar? It looks sorta deep."
Kendall studied Starsky approvingly. "Yes, as a matter of fact it did. It's pale now, but he still has it. He banged it on some coral when we were in Hawaii . . . That's one reason he's not crazy about swimming."
Hutch decided to get to the point, before Kendall either changed his mind or broke down completely. "Why did you wait until now to contact the police? And why in such a roundabout way? You said something's not quite right. Your son's missing, you've paid a huge ransom, yet you want us to look for your wife. The longer you play games with us, the colder this trail's gonna be. What makes you think this isn't a simple kidnapping for profit?"
He settled back in his chair, content now to let Kendall do the talking. Beside him, Starsky sat, a solid, comforting presence. Hutch sensed the same impatience he himself felt.
Kendall leaned forward across the desk, his eyes glittering, and took back the note. "Because I still think Reina took him. He's not the kind of kid to go off with strangers. Because we are wealthy we've always warned him about danger . . . he's a smart kid. But he'd go with his mother, if she told him it was important. He's all mixed up right now." He loosened his tie and unbuttoned the top button of his shirt, sweat glistening on his forehead.
But Hutch refused to let go. "Frankly, Mr. Kendall, your public image has always held that you and your wife had one of those made-in-heaven marriages. That picture you showed us of your wife and son, it's hard to believe she'd steal her own flesh and blood just to get money." Hutch looked out the window at the blue sky, then let his gaze drift around the cluttered room. All pretense of amity dropped away as he said, "Are you going to tell us why you believe she's capable of something like kidnapping?"
He felt Starsky tense, saw his hands begin to move toward the chair arms. "You told us something wasn't right. What's wrong with your wife?" Hutch knew something was definitely wrong - but what was it?
Angrily, Kendall glared at Hutch, then Starsky, then opened the top folder again. This time the picture he took out was tossed onto the desk, and Starsky immediately snared it.
"Shit," he said softly, then leaned sideways to share the picture with Hutch. "Look at this, willya?"
The woman in the snapshot was Reina Kendall, the fine bones and coloring attesting to that, but where once glowing health had been, now there was deeply shadowed illness. Where her lovely face had shone with happiness, there was instead bleak misery and defiance. Hell shone in the depths of the blue eyes.
Hutch didn't need to ask the cause. "How long has she been this way?" he asked, fighting back memories of his own hell.
Kendall's manner was brusque. "You've guessed. It's drugs. I sent her over to Italy a couple of years ago for a vacation. She'd been working too hard. End of story . . . she came back an addict." His voice turned bitter. "She never told me why."
"So you divorced her?" Starsky asked, obviously disapproving.
The blond head shook in denial. "Actually, no. The divorce was her idea. I never wanted it. There are any number of treatment centers where she could have gone. But she was afraid Flip would find out and he'd come to hate her. She didn't even ask for visiting privileges, but I saw to it that he spent a lot of time with her."
The bitterness was back. "Eventually I went to court to get full custody, but she could have seen him any time she wanted." His gaze was hard and resentful now, and he lowered his head. "I would have given her everything she wanted, but not Flip. Not while she was in that condition."
Suddenly, Hutch wanted to leave. Wanted to get out in the fresh air, wanted Starsky to reassure him that things were all right. But until they got the truth from Kendall, they'd be stuck in this cluttered office with this desperately unhappy man.
"So, why do you think she took him?" he asked. "And if she did, why the money? Surely, with California's community property settlement, your ex is a rich woman. And if she needed cash, why not ask you for an advance?" Hutch noticed Kendall's frown. "What's the matter?"
"It's the amount of the ransom that's suspicious," Kendall explained. "I'm wealthy enough, and would certainly pay any amount to get my son back. So why would a kidnapper ask for such a small sum?"
"Maybe one hundred thou seems like a hell of a lot of money to certain people," Starsky said bluntly. "Maybe that seemed like enough to last a lifetime in, say, Mexico or Guatemala." His hostility was back, and the look he gave Hutch said it all: What the hell do millionaires know about reality?
Kendall's face turned red, but he refused to give an inch. "Think what you want, Sergeant, but all that amount meant to me was that Reina needed it to buy drugs. She's always wanted to live in Mexico - why I don't know - but that amount, together with her settlement, would buy her the life she wants . . . and she'd have Flip to make certain I kept on sending her money."
His features seemed etched in stone, and Hutch saw why Kendall was such a successful businessman. When met with resistance, he erected barriers no one could scale . . . those of position and wealth.
Starsky wasn't buying it. He shook his head, his own expression matching Kendall's. He took a pen from his jacket pocket and began tapping it on the battered desk, its tattoo slightly unnerving. Hutch managed to keep from smiling. The master was on stage, and he wanted to see what happened.
"So, in other words," Starsky stated very slowly, "you're tryin' to sell us on the fact that your ex-wife - a drug addict - went to the park, stole your son, collected the ransom, then went to Mexico in order to stay stoned the rest of her life? Just a few minutes ago you said she insisted on a divorce because she didn't want the boy to grow up hating her. Ya know what, Mr. Kendall, I don't believe Reina Kendall took Flip and made for the border."
He put the pen away, and got to his feet. "C'mon, partner, for some reason I don't think Mr. Kendall is telling us all he knows."
"Not just yet, Starsky." Hutch got to his feet and stared down at Kendall. "We're overlooking somebody we definitely need to talk to before we make a decision. Don't you agree, Mr. Kendall? You're so hung up on the idea it's your wife, you're leaving out your partner." His glance flickered to Starsky. "Remember, Mr. Pete Devereaux? The guy who was supposed to pick the boy up?"
"Pete? My God, man, why him?" Showing genuine amazement, Kendall nevertheless reached for the phone. "Minnie? Cancel my appointments for the rest of the day. Yes, I'll be in tomorrow. No, no calls . . ." He saw Starsky scowl and said, "Uh, no business calls, Minnie. Anybody else put straight through. Thanks." He set down the receiver.
"Ya know what bothers me, Mr. Kendall? Hutch got your letter this morning, but you're tellin' us Flip disappeared yesterday. The post office is closed on Sunday . . ." His head tilted as he watched Kendall.
Hutch snapped his fingers. "You're right!" He dug the letter out of his jacket pocket and studied the front. "No postmark. Damn! I didn't even think to look for one because it was in with my mail. Delivery service, right?" He turned back to stare at the wry millionaire, who merely nodded.
"Okay, so now we know how I got the message. You still haven't told us if your partner is here or not. You told us he went to pick up Flip at Drake Park, but the boy wasn't there. What did Devereaux do next?"
His demeanor now decidedly chilly, Kendall entered another number. "Pete? You about ready to leave? Good. Will you come to my office before you go? I'd like you to meet a couple of people. Thanks." Kendall hung up, then buttoned his shirt and fixed his tie.
"Leave for where?" Starsky asked, getting to his feet and rifling through the doughnuts. He chose a big cruller and sat back down, munching in pleasure at the taste. He winked at Hutch, but didn't offer to share. Hutch merely shook his head. Kendall didn't bother to reply, or hadn't heard the question.
A couple of minutes later there was a tap on the door, and it opened to reveal a tall, slender, rather young man with dark, neatly trimmed hair and piercing dark eyes. His suit was definitely tailor-made, and in one hand he carried an expensive briefcase. He looked the two detectives over with no interest, then turned to Kendall. "You just caught me. I'm leaving on the 1:53 flight."
Kendall nodded. "Pete, I'd like you to meet Mr. Starsky and Mr. Hutchinson. I've hired them to help me find Flip. Gentlemen, this is my partner, Peter Devereaux."
Devereaux frowned, even as he shook each man's hand. "Nice to meet you. But, Phil, I thought you said Reina had Flip with her? Are you saying you don't know where he is?" He was obviously bewildered.
Without wasting time, Hutch offered Devereaux his chair. "We'd like to ask you a couple of questions, Mr. Devereaux. It'll only take a few minutes. You'll have plenty of time to catch your plane."
Still puzzled, Devereaux sat down, now looking quite worried. "Why haven't you gone to the police, Phil?" he asked. "You've had no word at all?"
"None," Kendall replied, "except this." He handed the note over to his partner.
Before either detective could move, Devereaux had taken the note and scanned it, not careful what his fingerprints touched. When told, he flushed, quickly handing the note to Starsky, who said nothing.
"I'm sorry. Didn't think," he muttered.
"It's probably not important," Kendall said, "but your answers are. Then it's off to Rome with you."
Hutch glanced quickly at Starsky, who nodded, then took out his notebook and pencil. "What were Mr. Kendall's instructions to you, Mr. Devereaux? Try and recall his exact words, if you will. Don't be afraid to go back and correct any statement you make." Hutch's voice was calm and reassuring, his manner open.
Devereaux fished in his coat pocket, bringing out a lighter and a pack of cigarettes, lighting one. He blew out a thin stream of smoke. "Well, as Phil's probably told you, Sunday's his day to take Flip to his soccer game. Only yesterday, after the game had started, we had some trouble in our Rome office. Trouble only he could straighten out, so he asked me to go to the park, wait until the game was over, then bring Flip back to the office."
"You often work on Sundays, Mr. Devereaux?" Starsky asked quietly.
Devereaux smiled ruefully. "More often than you might think for an executive officer. Anyway, when I notified Phil about the impending storm in our Rome offices . . ."
"How did you know where to find him?" Starsky interrupted.
Devereaux never wavered. "Obviously you don't know how devoted Phil is to Flip. Sunday is soccer at Drake Park. They're there. It's a given." He shrugged, inhaling deeply on his cigarette. He held the smoke in his lungs a moment before exhaling. "To continue, Phil asked if I'd go over and wait for the kid. I said I would."
Hutch said to Kendall, "But you didn't wait for your partner to actually arrive before you left for the office." Kendall shook his head, his expression haunted.
Devereaux stubbed out his cigarette in an ashtray. "The park isn't that far away, but there was this huge traffic jam at the intersection of Miller and Sweetbriar - some damn fool had lost a load of syrup or something. Anyway, I was tied up for a good twenty minutes." He glanced at Kendall. "I'm so sorry."
"It was molasses. I saw it on the news last night," Starsky said to Hutch before continuing. "So you were delayed. What time did you actually get to the park?"
The younger man stared down at his hands. "I think it was about 11:30. The game was just over and everyone was milling around the park." Dark eyes were reliving a private nightmare. "There were kids everywhere. I didn't - couldn't find him."
"But people remembered him being there, right?" asked Starsky, picking up the picture of Flip and staring at it.
Devereaux hesitated. "It took me a few minutes to find his two best friends. They remembered Flip running off the field the minute the game was over. He was headed for the john."
There was silence in the room while the detectives put their heads together. "You wanna ask this jerk any more questions?" Starsky asked. "We're gettin' nowhere."
"Just a couple, pal, then we'll leave," Hutch replied. "I don't like it, either. C'mon, let me do the talking."
They separated, Hutch going to Devereaux, Starsky taking a seat and getting out his notepad again.
"Had you picked up Flip before? I mean, you could identify his friends, so it seems a reasonable assumption . . ." Hutch's manner was friendly.
Devereaux smiled. "Actually, I've played chauffeur on more than one occasion for Flip and his buddies." He looked toward Kendall. "Sometimes it was to Phil's for a pool party. Others it was to the beach, or Disneyland. I enjoyed it as much as the kids." His mood changed abruptly, and he clenched his fists. "But this time Flip was gone . . . disappeared like a puff of smoke."
The muscles in Hutch's jaw tightened, and he said, "No. Not smoke. Flip's real, not someone's fantasy. He's around somewhere, and we'll do our best to find him." His tone changed. "There's just one more question, Mr. Devereaux. Why, when you couldn't locate the boy, didn't you call his father?"
Devereaux looked bewildered; even Kendall's eyebrows shot up at the question. "Why? Well, I had no way of knowing if perhaps Phil had changed his mind and taken Flip with him. I never suspected anything was actually wrong until I called Phil later on and found out Flip wasn't with him."
"Did you suggest that he call the cops then?" Starsky asked.
"I most certainly did. I still think he should. What in God's name can two private investigators do in a city this size? No offense, gentlemen." Devereaux's eyes flashed with concern.
"First, they find my ex-wife," said Kendall grimly. "Then we'll see what's to be done. She has to have him. Who else . . .?" Kendall turned away so no one would see the tears.
Instantly, Devereaux was on his feet, gripping his partner's shoulder. "Phil? Do you want me to stay here? I mean, the Rome deal can always be settled next week. I don't have to go."
Kendall got to his feet. "Yes, you do. We can't afford to lose any more time on this merger. I don't want Alta Bena Products to offer something Fiorenzi can't resist." He turned to Starsky and Hutch. "I must tell you that Peter's about to close the biggest deal that Kendall Enterprises has ever made. He's built up the European offices to where our name is known in every town. I trust him implicitly."
The look that passed between Starsky and Hutch was one of understanding. Hutch relaxed enough to smile when Devereaux lifted his briefcase and made a face. "Ugh. These papers weigh a ton. I'll be glad when there's some other way to handle business transactions this big." He faced Kendall. "If you need me . . . I'll catch the next flight back." He glanced at his watch.
"I know. Flight 606. Predictable man . . . always takes the same flight. Get going. I'm counting on you."
They watched as Devereaux hurried out of the room. It was very quiet. Starsky got to his feet, joining Hutch as he faced Kendall.
"I've one question that's bothering me a lot," Hutch said. "If you trust your partner as much as it seems, why didn't you tell him we were cops? Why'd you let him think we were private investigators?"
Starsky nodded, then asked, "You said someone you trusted recommended us. But we work Homicide. Our captain isn't likely to pull us off our cases, especially if you keep insisting your wife took your son."
Kendall paled. "When it comes to my son, I don't know who to trust, Sergeant. Do you?"
"We'll do what we can. In the meantime, if you hear or think of anything that might be important, call us at this number. No police, but a very reliable contact." Hutch handed him the card from The Pits, with Huggy's private number on the back.
"Under no circumstances share that number with anyone else, Mr. Kendall," Starsky said. "We don't want him getting hurt if things get rough."
"Rough? My God, do you actually believe my boy's in real danger?" Kendall's face became haggard with fear. "Reina would never, never hurt him. Surely, you're wrong."
But Starsky didn't spare Kendall. "All I can say, sir, is that you better pray that your son's with his mother. And we'll do what we can." He half-pushed Hutch out the door, leaving Phillip Kendall the Third, a very powerful man, sitting alone in his office. The look on his face was one of total helplessness.
Starsky and Hutch shared a bench at the local Taco Shack, comparing notes to present to Dobey. Starsky, sunglasses pushed high on his curls, talked around mouthfuls of food. "I don't like it. I don't like it one damn bit, Hutch. This whole scene stinks . . . and why you 'n' me are even thinking about helping this bozo, I don't know." Starsky, in his frustration, had eaten as if there was no tomorrow. Two chili dogs and a taco had disappeared in record time. Now checking his watch, he got to his feet.
Hutch, barely hungry, gulped his second cup of coffee, a half-eaten steak sandwich on his paper plate. Limp fries glistening with ketchup sat untouched. "Do you think the boy's dead?" he asked quietly. "Or do you think he's being held for more ransom?"
Starsky wiped his mouth and smiled sadly at his partner. "You aren't gonna let go, are you? Damn dog with a bone. I'm telling you, Hutch, this guy's poison, and so's this case. How the hell are we gonna explain this to Dobey? And we are going to tell him, aren't we? Please tell me we are." He struggled to pull out his wallet. "Waste of money tryin' to keep you healthy," he grumbled. "Get a doggy bag and I'll take it home." He looked up suddenly, alarmed by Hutch's silence. "Hey! Amigo . . . you in there, or did you leave when my back was turned?"
"You never shut up, do you?" Hutch said, grinning. "If you weren't so damn good-looking, I'd get a new partner . . . one like Hugo." But he wrapped his food in napkins, and asked for a box while Starsky paid the bill. Together they strode out to the Torino.
"Back to Metro, Starsky, so we can find out what the hell to do. It's been twenty-four hours so the FBI can be called in . . . if . . . if. Dammittohell!" Hutch swore, pushing his sunglasses down hard on the bridge of his nose. "I'd like to strangle the sonofabitch who gave him our names!" He looked over at Starsky, who wore an expression as glum as his own. "And yes, you can come over to my place tonight, depending on what Dobey says."
Hutch opened the door and slid onto the seat. Starsky, eyes bright, was mercifully silent.
Ensenada's air was warm, its sun sending slanting rays of gold across the patio of a small, white bungalow. A scarlet bougainvillea burned in the noon light, screening the windows from anyone who dallied on the dusty street. In the front yard, a blonde woman sat offering herself to the sun, while not far away a swarthy weasel of a man sat counting a roll of bills.
"You got any more beer?" he asked in a slight accent. It was apparent that he drifted back and forth across the border when the occasion demanded it. Thick grey hair protected his head from the heat.
The blonde lifted her head, eyes hidden behind huge sunglasses. "You pay for it, you can have it," she said coolly, voice slurred. "When are you going to let us go?" There was contempt in her tone.
The man shrugged, getting to his feet. He came close, leaning over her, his glance washing slowly over her hair. "For what you're getting paid - Mrs. Kendall - you could afford to be nicer." He pronounced her name with tremendous sarcasm.
"Watch your mouth!" she snapped, rising from her chair, her slim body glistening with oil. "All I want to do is get out of here." She slumped as she turned toward him. "Hasn't it been long enough? Can't you take him back now? Please . . . I'm frightened."
"Seņora, you are being well paid for what you are doing," he said silkily as he reached out and snared her wrist; in his other hand he held a tiny packet. He watched her expression change. "Ah, si, that's what's wrong. Come on, and soon you'll forget your unhappiness. When the chico awakes, feed him, then we'll see that he sleeps again."
She began trembling. "You're going to kill him, aren't you? God, I never thought this would happen." But she stared hungrily at the packet. As the front door slammed on the two of them, a child cried out fretfully.
Starsky and Hutch watched the sunset together, arms around each other. Dinner had been hastily consumed, its only consolation a slice of black-bottom pie for Starsky. Chez Helene never was at a loss for rich desserts.
But when they had climbed the stairs to Hutch's apartment and settled down on the couch, Starsky's first words were, "So, any other ideas, Sergeant?"
Hutch shrugged. "Nope. Just because we can't find her doesn't mean she's left the country. Someone as socially prominent as Reina Kendall - divorced or not - simply doesn't disappear. Unless there's foul play."
"Don't be so naīve," Starsky said, his eyes hard. "I think she's in Mexico . . . and that she's paid a lot for a trail of silence. Sometimes, poor people protect the rich, especially if they think they're being hounded by someone richer." He reached over and ruffled Hutch's hair. "And if it's a mother and her kid, and they're blond and beautiful . . ." He shrugged. "What can the heart do, seņor?"
Hutch captured the roving fingers and held them tightly. "Nice try, partner, but despite how naīve I sound, I don't believe she snatched her son." Hutch drew Starsky closer, settling the dark head on his chest. "What have we found out so far? Reina Kendall has always been a wonderful mother, and that she and her husband had a marvelous marriage."
He dropped a light kiss on Starsky's curls. "Family, Starsk. They were a real family, until she became an addict and . . . I still don't think she'd risk Flip's life by dragging him down to some god-awful place . . . just for more money."
Starsky sighed, then raised himself away from Hutch. "One thing you're overlookin', Hutch. What if she had no choice? What if she only wanted the dough, and found somebody to help her? Only that someone had his own plans, and they didn't include returning the kid without a helluva lot more money changin' hands. Don't you see?" He grabbed Hutch by the shoulders. "I didn't want to say more in front of Kendall, but what if he doesn't get Flip back? Or his wife? He's still nuts about her, or didn't you notice?"
Giving in to such persuasion, Hutch got to his feet. "I noticed. Look, make me happy. Let's go down to the marina and see if the Kendalls' yacht is still at its mooring."
Starsky sighed. "Well, only if you agree to make me happy when we get back," he said. "Dobey's definitely unhappy about this mess, 'n' you and I both know that good as we are, there's no way we can handle this case without Metro's facilities."
"Yeah," Hutch retorted, "and I know damned well you're going to push me into his office, because I'm his 'fair-haired boy.' Except you and I both know what a bunch of bullshit that is!" He strapped on his holster, then put his plaid jacket on over it.
Laughing, Starsky pulled on his own jacket. "So we know it. Just so long as Dobey keeps makin' allowances for you, I don't care. Now, come on." His grin became a leer. "The ocean always makes you horny as hell."
"Oh, shut up! You don't know what you're talkin' about!" Red-faced, Hutch closed and locked the door, then followed Starsky down the stairs, admiring the view all the way.
In the few minutes it took them to get to the marina the sun had sunk even lower, gilding the ripples and wave caps with fire. Hutch got out of the Torino and stretched his arms. "God, get a whiff of that! This is where I want to spend my dotage."
Starsky eyed him as if he'd lost his mind. "Figures. The tide's out . . . smells like the alley behind Huggy's place. But this is where you want to end up."
He was ignored. Hutch was watching the lithe young woman busily waxing the teak railing on her speedboat. "Yep. Good neighbors, fresh air . . . you could live to be a hundred down here."
Starsky made a face. "Dream on, lover boy." He stepped between Hutch and the view. "The only way you're gonna see one hundred is if we move in together, right? Otherwise, ffttt!" He pantomimed a slit throat.
"Sure, partner," Hutch said, smiling sweetly. "You 'n' me, and a sixty-footer. Sounds great, doesn't it?" His blue eyes held a challenge.
But Starsky refused to be suckered in. He glanced at his watch. "There's only about an hour of daylight left, so let's get going. What's the name of their boat?"
"KAMA, I think. A cabin cruiser . . . sleeps at least ten. Kendall swears Reina didn't take it, but admits he never even thought to check." Hutch made a face. "Must be really tough, not knowing if your yacht's moored or not."
They were on their second pier when Starsky spotted the yacht; it was very large, very sleek, with the name KAMA stenciled in large letters across her bow. They could see no one on deck, but as they approached a burly man emerged from nowhere and yelled, "Hey! Where do you think you're going?" His bulk was awesome, and for his size he moved with surprising speed. "Nobody's allowed on the pier 'lessen I see they got permission."
Starsky and Hutch thought fast, deciding that discretion was the better part of annihilation. "Take it easy," Hutch said calmly. "All we want to know is if Mrs. Kendall's been here in the last day or so." He brought out the snapshot of Reina Kendall and showed it to the clearly suspicious watchdog.
"Hunh!" the man grunted. "That's an old picture. You musta not seen her lately." He turned beady eyes on them both. "What ya want with her, anyway?"
Hutch made a prissy face. "Well, we represent Fuller and Fuller . . . the entertainment insurance company? And we heard that Reina was going to have this really big party on the KAMA, so my partner and I have to check out the boat because she wants special, one-night insurance." Hutch's eyebrows rose a shade and he sniffed. "Lots of damage done at some of these bashes . . . can't be too careful." He turned to face Starsky. "Dave, you remember that awful mess over on the three-master last month?" His mouth pursed and he shook his head.
For a minute, Starsky looked as if he would burst out laughing, but then he cleared his throat and said, "Oh, yes, we took a big loss on that, didn't we?" He leaned toward the now-wary bruiser and confided, "Imagine. They took down one of the masts and used it for a bonfire. Nasty business, can't have that happen again."
The guard took a step backward just as Hutch said, "By the way, sir, if you're interested in marine insurance, we'd be glad to stop by some night and check out . . . What did you say your name was?" He smiled, a vague, friendly smile.
"Name's George," the guard said slowly, still not convinced but weakening. "And you two gotta be mistaken about the KAMA. She's being outfitted for a voyage. Leaving in the next few days."
Starsky leaped on the news like a dog on a bone. "Really? What's the destination?"
"Is Reina taking it out by herself?" Hutch asked in all innocence. He studied the yacht. "It seems so large for one person."
George slapped his leg, thinking these two twinks were about as seawise as a dairy farmer. "Lookit the size of that baby. You think one little slip of a lady is gonna manage all the work on board? KAMA's got a crew. Besides . . ." His amusement was gone, his eyes narrowed. "The lady ain't been around here for weeks." He folded his arms across his chest, an immovable obstacle. "You ain't getting on that boat, no matter what. Not unless Mr. Kendall or Mr. Devereaux says so."
Starsky decided to use another tactic. He pulled out the snapshot of Flip Kendall, offering it to George. "Can you tell us if the kid's been seen around . . . anytime in the last twenty-four hours? Please."
George's face turned almost purple and he drew himself up, shaking his thick fingers under their noses as he backed them away from the boat. "So that's your real game! Well, don't ever let me catch either one of you around any of the kids on the piers. What kind of perverts are you, anyhow?"
Hutch held up his hand, his affected mannerisms gone. "Just hang on, George. If you've seen Flip . . ." He was hauled off his feet and pushed against Starsky, who automatically grabbed him.
"No! No more questions!" George roared. "Just you stay away from the kids . . . or I'll rip your hearts out!"
"I think he means it, Hutch, so why don't we forget about insurance right now?" Starsky's expression was neutral, but there was a dangerous light in his eyes as he helped his partner up; he was torn between annoyance and the need to keep the investigation low-profile. "I wouldn't try anything like that again, George. Guys like us turn mean real easy. You catch my drift?"
George sized Starsky up, then shifted his gaze to Hutch. No doubt he had felt the gun hidden under his jacket when he had shoved him. "Yeah. Get outta here. But I'm gonna keep my eyes peeled for you guys from now on."
"Shit. That was a close call," Starsky said sourly. "I've seem Dobermans with better dispositions."
Hutch rubbed a hand over his neck. "That guy is one very large muscle," he said, "with a low tolerance for trespassers."
They left the dock, ordered coffee from an all-night beach shack, and sat morosely in the Torino.
"Might as well admit it, pal," Starsky said. "If Dobey says no-go on this case, we're gonna have to let it go. I keep thinking about that poor kid, and what's happenin' to him. Hutch, we have to find him . . . before . . . you know . . ."
"Yeah. Time's the last thing on our side. Maybe we should try and persuade Dobey now, huh?" Hutch drained the last of the muddy liquid from his cup. He smiled apologetically at Starsky's grim expression. "We'll have to postpone our happy hour for tonight, at least. The kid's safety comes first."
Nodding, Starsky got out his car keys. "Yeah. Starsky's 'Torino Tour to the Stars' just ran out of gas." In seconds the red car was roaring toward the west side.
Night had fallen in Ensenada, bringing with it breezes both languid and cool. Dozens of yellow lights sparkled on the main street; neon signs announced the best food, the prettiest girls, the freshest fish. Turistas crowded the streets, mariachi bands serenading their passing.
Only a few blocks from the merriment all was silent. In the small bungalow, a candle flickered on a plate, the only illumination. The blonde woman, her expression vacant, sat on a rickety couch. After a moment she got unsteadily to her feet and walked into the only bedroom, to gaze down at the figure of a sturdy blond boy. From his sprawled position it was obvious he'd been drugged. She stared for long moments, then smoothed back the tousled hair, feeling his forehead with gentle fingers. Then she began pacing the room, finally leaving and closing the door behind her.
She picked up a pack of Kents and lit one in the candle's flame, resuming her restless pacing, pausing to listen for something out of doors. Suddenly, she stopped, slipped into a sweater, and grabbed her purse. She opened the front door, leaving the bungalow as quietly as possible. She hadn't taken ten steps when a figure emerged from the shadows, pulling her back.
"Sorry, Seņora Kendall, but you mustn't leave right now. I have my orders." There was scorn in the way he spoke.
Biting her lip, she turned obediently, making no fuss. She closed the door behind her to bar the man's way. But he made no effort to follow her, nor did he watch her when she began to disrobe without pulling down the bamboo shade. A moment later she went into the tiny bathroom and turned on the water to take a shower.
While the water was running, another figure loomed in the dark, joining the first. The two men spoke in whispers, then the visitor drifted away, getting into a car and speeding out of sight. The first man resumed his watch, lighting a cigarette.
"Ricardo? You still out there?" came a soft question from the bungalow.
He grinned, stubbed out the cigarette, and walked to where she stood in the doorway. Her hands twisted nervously; she smelled of soap and bath powder. Her hair was backlit by the candle, giving it a halo effect.
"Ricardo, I'm going to have a lot of money very soon . . . please help me. I'll give you half of it if you'll let the boy go. He doesn't look right, you know?" She pressed against the screen in her anxiety.
Ricardo pushed his hands against the screen at about breast height. "Keep your money, mamacita," he said, "you're gonna need it. Besides, in another day or two we'll all be very rich. As for the muchacho, he's not going to die - you'll see."
She began to sniffle, wiping her nose, so he said, "Poor rubia, are you sick? And so soon after the last one?" His expression and tone hardened as he took his hands away from the screen. "Too bad. There's nothing more until maņana, chica, so go to bed."
She shuddered, holding back a sob. "Ricardo . . . you and I . . . we could . . ." Her eyes were huge in the pale oval of her face.
He spat on the ground. "You and I? A man could cut himself on your bones. Go to bed, puta." Laughing, he strolled back to his station, losing himself immediately in the shadows.
"Go to hell, you lowlife!" she cried out, this time slamming the door behind her. The candle guttered and went out.
Starsky lay in bed, half-awake, contemplating life at sea and lazily trying to think about its advantages. So far the only one was having Hutch all to himself, tempting enough for a while, but after that? He smiled, seeing the Torino on a raft, being towed behind them. The smile faded. The salt water would be murder on its paint job and upholstery . . .
When the phone shrilled, he reared up so suddenly that he almost knocked the lamp on the floor. He groped for the phone in the predawn light.
"Hello. Who's this?" Starsky asked groggily just as Hutch came out of the bathroom.
"Is this Sergeant Hutchinson?" asked a male voice. Without answering the caller, Starsky handed the phone to his partner.
Hutch took the receiver. "Sorry I didn't recognize your voice, Mr. Kendall," he said, gesturing toward the bathroom. Starsky sighed and slowly got out of bed.
"I apologize for the hour, Sergeant, but I'm going out of my mind. The phone rang about fifteen minutes ago - only two rings - but when I grabbed it, the line went dead. So far there's been no word at all. Why doesn't someone call?" Kendall sounded close to exhaustion.
Hutch sat down on the bed, fighting the knot in his stomach. "Look, would you feel better if I got my partner and we came over?" He fumbled around for a pencil and wrote down an address.
"Got it. Try to grab the phone on the first ring if there's a next time. No. No problem. Goodbye." He settled the phone back into its cradle and began searching through a pile of folded clothes.
"First Dobey and now this guy. I shoulda gone home," Starsky complained as he zipped up his jeans. "I think we should take your car . . . just in case someone knows mine."
"Yeah. Must be hell to just sit and wait . . . especially for someone who's used to running things." Hutch fished out his car keys and surveyed the bedroom.
"Here," he said, tossing them to Starsky. "Go down and warm up the car. Won't be a minute." As soon as Starsky was out the door, he stripped the bedding off the bed and pushed it into one of the pillowcases, then replaced the spread and smoothed out the wrinkles. The pillowcase and contents were dumped into the hamper. By the time Starsky had the LTD warmed up, he was at the curb. Silently, he handed his partner the directions to Kendall's.
"Changed the bed, right?" Starsky asked casually as he pulled out into traffic. "Dunno why . . . nothin' happened."
"Just drive," was all Hutch replied. They were silent for a few minutes, grateful that traffic was still light, then Hutch said, "I think I should talk to Kendall's secretary. She might be able to tell us some of Reina Kendall's favorite hangouts."
His partner flicked on the right turn signal. "Yeah. I gotta feeling old Minnie doesn't miss much." He glanced over at Hutch. "Cap'n wasn't too surprised to see us, was he? Did you get the impression somebody'd pulled a few strings? At least we don't have to stay at headquarters and wait for phone calls."
Suddenly, Starsky turned onto Santa Monica Boulevard and slowed down. "Don't look now, but I think we've got company."
Hutch sat up straight, loosening his gun in its holster. He glanced at the side mirror. "You mean that white truck? You sure?"
Starsky shrugged and speeded up, staying in the right lane. "Been behind us for about nine blocks. Never more than a couple of cars between us."
They came to an intersection and Hutch said, "Turn here, as if we're heading south on La Brea. I'll try to get his license number."
Starsky turned, but the truck shot across the intersection and disappeared. "Any luck? That s.o.b. was travellin'!"
Hutch made a face. "No chance. The rear plate was all muddied. Back was full of gardening tools, though." He stared ahead as Starsky made a U-turn. "You ever notice how many of those trucks belong to gardeners? Wonder why they always seem to buy white Dodges?"
Starsky grinned. "Because white's cheaper, dummy! Cheaper even than this crummy color. Now, let's quit screwing around and get to Kendall's." He groaned as he tried to push more speed out of Hutch's car, but said nothing. Even kvetching was an effort at this time of the morning.
Hutch yawned. "Maybe there's more to Reina Kendall's disappearance than we know. What if both she and the kid were snatched? Maybe that hundred thou was just for starters." He lapsed into silence, deep in thought.
"Don't look now, but that sucker is back on our tail," Starsky muttered. "Where the hell did he come from?"
This time Hutch took his gun out of the holster and placed it on the seat, his expression grim. "Maybe he never lost us, pal. Maybe he's better than we thought." He slipped his sunglasses on as the first rays of sunlight crested the trees and glinted off the store windows.
Starsky did the same. "Better? Or does he know where we're going? Chew on that for a couple of minutes."
Hutch chewed. The neighborhood was changing, with fewer and fewer commercial buildings. The houses were changing, too. Soon they'd be in an area where there was nothing but huge homes with wide lawns and old trees. "Two things, partner. Either he lives near me and works up here - in which case we're simply taking the same route - or Kendall's phone is bugged."
Their eyes met and Hutch smiled. "I don't believe in that sort of coincidence, do you? Why don't you do a little maneuvering again and see what happens." Without being conspicuous, he picked up his weapon and checked the cylinder.
To his surprise, Starsky shook his head. "How's about this? We just keep on going. Either he's followin' us or he isn't. Besides, I'm getting tired of this cat-and-mouse game." He grinned over at his partner. "Ever think maybe we're getting paranoid?"
Hutch agreed, but he kept a sharp eye on the Dodge. About two blocks later he raised his hand. "Softly, softly, he's turning into that garden shop. Here's our chance to get behind him."
"Yeah. I want a real good look at the right-hand door of that truck because I just remembered something."
Starsky's anger was barely suppressed and Hutch felt a shiver run up and down his spine. "So? Tell me."
"Remember when we went to Kendall's office yesterday morning and that jerk in a white truck nearly took my foot off? Well, if there's a rusty dent in that door, he's my man!"
Hutch whistled. "That would sure put this beyond the realm of coincidence, wouldn't it? Let's get this guy's number and run a check on it."
Starsky immediately parked the LTD, and Hutch got out and strode back to where the truck was parked. Trying to stay out of sight, he crouched down and copied the numbers off the front plate, then hurried back to where Starsky was parked.
"Got it. Let me get on the radio and run it. While we're waiting, move to that alley so we're not so conspicuous. By the way, there's a big, rusty dent on the passenger's side." He arched his eyebrow and smiled.
While Hutch ran the make, Starsky moved the car into the alley. "If this is the same jerk who almost ran over me and he's got a rap sheet, what's next?" He met Hutch's gaze. "Yeah, I know," he said. "Near misses don't count, especially if I'm the one at fault. But I gotta gut feelin' about this, Hutch, only I don't know what it is. If he's clean, we can't do a damn thing. What the hell's taking so long?"
Hutch held up his hand. "Yeah, thanks . . . no, just a hunch. Zebra Three out." He slammed the speaker back on its hook and scowled. "Nada. No wants, no warrants. And he lives in El Segundo, so we're neighbors, sort of." He heaved a huge sigh and briefly squeezed Starsky's knee. C'mon, let's get the hell over to Kendall's and see if he's heard anything."
Starsky nodded and started up the car, not saying anything when he noticed Hutch undoing his seat belt and shifting in his seat. It made sense; trouble never came when you were ready.
"I'm not gonna pull up into the driveway," Starsky announced when they reached Kendall's. A large oleander bush made a perfect screen for the LTD. Just as he switched off the ignition and slid out of the driver's seat, he heard the sound of another vehicle. "Wanna make a bet?" he whispered.
But Hutch was eyeing the vast expanse of lawn; if they left the screen of shrubbery, they might scare the guy off. "Stay put. Let's see where this jerk is headed." He reached across Starsky to reclaim his keys.
The same white truck swung into the driveway, garden tools rattling in the back. Starsky jerked his pistol out of its holster. "Migawd, Hutch, he's going straight to the house! What the hell's goin' on?"
"Uh-oh. Seems our man picked up a passenger at the garden shop. Let's hope it's another gardener." Hutch removed his sunglasses and studied the driver as he slowly opened the door and jumped down. He was short, with a barrel chest and a head of grey hair. He stretched, lit a cigar, took a few puffs, then strolled to the front door. He didn't look left or right as he took an envelope out of his back pocket and shoved it into the mailbox, then returned to the Dodge, tossing the cigar into the shrubbery as he climbed into the cab.
Yanking open his door, Hutch yelled, "Maybe we just got lucky! You see what he dropped in the mailbox. I'll start the car."
Starsky took off at a dead run, racing across the lawn toward the house. The truck sped down the driveway and left the grounds.
The LTD coughed itself into motion as Hutch cursed. Why the hell wasn't there better security around the place? There wasn't even a sign saying it was protected by some agency or another.
Starsky, panting hard, ran up the front steps and yanked open the mailbox lid just as Hutch drove up. He left the car and joined his partner. "What's the deal? More money?"
"Lemme get it open without smearin' the prints," Starsky said. Quickly, he opened the envelope and scanned the single sheet of paper, his lips drawing back in a disgusted snarl. "You could say that . . . here." He handed the envelope to Hutch by one corner, then held up the page for him to read. "Let's get this mess straightened out before we go nuts." He rang the front door bell.
Hutch scanned the paper, eyes narrowing. "Wha . . .? It's a bill for services? D'you mean to tell me . . .?" His face reddened as he looked at Starsky's grim expression, but he said nothing.
The door opened; Kendall himself stood there, bleary-eyed and unshaven. Hutch noted cynically that the millionaire had nevertheless taken the time to be impeccably dressed.
"Thank God!" Kendall exclaimed. "Come in. I haven't slept a wink."
They entered, casting quick, appraising glances at the interior of the house. It was filled with fine art and oversized furniture in shades of French blue and dusty rose. Delicately lit alcoves held small, undoubtedly authentic statues of gods and goddesses. Everything was beautiful and valuable, and yet the place seemed incredibly empty, as if its owners had left no imprint on it as yet. Hutch felt a tweak of sympathy for Kendall that leached away his embarrassment.
"We've had an interesting morning," Starsky said as they were led into a smaller, less ostentatious room which was obviously Kendall's den. The Times lay scattered on the floor and couch, its various sections pulled apart and discarded. A coffee cup and silver urn sat on a small inlaid table, along with the remains of toast and scrambled eggs.
Hutch winced when he saw the spark of hope in the father's eyes. Saw it fade, and resignation replace it. He held out the bill. "This belongs to you, but we need to know a few things about the man who delivered it."
"Sit down, please," Kendall said, taking the bill and reading it. He stared at them. "I don't understand. How did you get this?" Absently, he began picking up the paper so they could sit.
Starsky sighed. "Strange as it may seem, I took it out of your mailbox a few minutes ago." He glanced sideways at Hutch, who nodded encouragement, then continued. "For reasons I won't go into, we thought this guy might be mixed up in your son's kidnapping."
Clearly amazed, Kendall shook his head. "But this man works for us as an independent contractor." He saw the detectives frown and hurried on. "We do have our own fleet of vans, but for general gardening we subcontract to the small one-truck gardeners. They maintain the grounds around the Kendall building, and I happen to use Freddie here . . . he's very thorough."
"Freddie. Is he fortyish, stocky, smokes stogies?" Hutch's throat felt very dry, mainly because something was still stuck in his craw. He sat down on the couch.
"Ever had any trouble with him? No salary or discrimination disputes?" Starsky asked. "Did you ever see them talkin' to Flip . . . you know, so he might get into a truck with one of them?"
Aghast, the meaning of Starsky's questions suddenly striking him, Kendall shouted, "I'll kill him! If that bastard . . ."
Hands extended, Hutch leaped up. "Stop! Calm down! What my partner is trying to do is establish what kind of a relationship you and your son had with this man - or men. These are perfectly routine questions. Now, please, have a seat." He remained standing until Kendall got the idea and sat down at his desk. Only then did Hutch do the same.
Starsky, who had remained standing, now went over to face Kendall. "Sorry if you got the wrong idea, but our paths crossed not far from Hutch's and it seemed like more than a coincidence."
He rubbed the stubble on his jaw and compared it to the downy fuzz on Kendall's face. "To tell you the truth, we just ran a check on his truck and I suppose we owe it to you to tell you that, insofar as we can tell, he's clean." From his tone of voice there was no doubt he didn't believe it.
Hutch decided Kendall needed to know the rest. "That's not the whole reason. Yesterday morning Starsky was nearly hit by this same truck when we were across the street from your office building. We didn't see the driver, but Starsky got a good look at the door . . . He thinks it's the same vehicle." He shrugged. "We can't haul him in without more to go on."
"I can fire him!" Kendall said cuttingly. "I don't keep careless drivers."
Both detectives began to talk at once, but Starsky prevailed. "Please, don't do anything out of the ordinary. If - and it's a big if - there is a connection between this guy and Flip's disappearance, he's no mastermind. Do you get it? Don't rock the boat."
Hutch was scanning the Business section of the paper with detached interest. He frowned, reread a small paragraph, then asked, "What time is it in Rome? What's the time difference?"
For a moment Kendall stared blankly at him, then glanced at his watch. "Why, eight hours . . . it's three in the afternoon there. Why? Is it important?"
Casually, Hutch refolded the paper. "Nope. Was reading about the Common Market and wondering if it would ever involve the Eastern Bloc." He sat forward, suddenly very serious. "Frankly, Mr. Kendall, this isn't the way to handle your son's disappearance. We desperately need help from those who have the capabilities we don't."
Starsky broke in. "Last night we told our captain. And don't look at me like I betrayed your trust. Hutch 'n' me work Homicide and we've got a caseload that we can't put on hold for even a few days. Dobey kind of hinted he knew something was up, so what we wanna know . . . did you talk to someone higher up?"
For a moment there was silence, then Kendall bowed his head. "Yes, someone who kept Reina's name out of the paper . . . insofar as he could. I need to talk to him . . ."
"Okay, we understand," Hutch soothed. "But think about this: your son deserves more than we can deliver alone. One of us should be with you in case another call comes in."
"And the other one needs to be able to set up phone taps, do background work . . . Hell, it's not a two-man job." Starsky's eyes flashed with a desperate energy. "Look, Hutch is better at the hand-holding than I am. Why don't you let me have that bill you just got and I'll do a little more checking up for you."
Kendall surrendered the bill and envelope without comment. He bowed his head. "I should have contacted the police as soon as Peter called me. God, the time I've wasted . . ." He buried his face in his hands.
Starsky slipped the gardener's bill into his pocket and stared sympathetically at the grieving man. "Tell ya what, Mr. Kendall. Maybe you and Hutch ought to go down to your office. Maybe that's where the next call will come in." He almost added, "If there is one . . ." but saw Hutch's warning glance and shut up
"Please. Call me Phil - or Phillip - I feel ridiculous standing on formality at this stage." He glanced up at Hutch. "I'll be grateful to have you with me, Sergeant. Thanks."
"Good." Starsky went to the den's entrance, then turned back to look at the two men.
"Don't forget these," Hutch said as he tossed the keys to his car to his partner. "Be careful, no heroics. Don't go anywhere without contacting me. You know what I mean!"
Jingling the keys, Starsky retorted, "Careful's my middle name. See ya later." He was out the door and a few seconds later Hutch watched him as he strode across the lawn to the LTD.
"Why don't you go upstairs and freshen up?" he said to Kendall, who was aimlessly shuffling papers on his desk. "It's time to get the ball rolling."
For the first time, Kendall smiled. "You sound like my top salesmen, Sergeant. But you're right, I look like hell." He gazed around his study. "What a mess."
The LTD roared away, and Hutch turned back to his charge. "Before you go, sir, Starsky and I were wondering why you don't seem to have any security system around your home. Most people around here do."
Kendall's smile faded. "Give me a little credit. From the minute you and Sergeant Starsky stepped onto my property you've been on videocam . . . I'm far too careful for that."
Hutch felt a rush of excitement as he gazed around, looking for hidden equipment. "What happens to each day's taping? How long do you keep it? You know, there might be something worthwhile on it . . ."
But Kendall had already slipped back into his solemn mood. His gaze was haunted. "Silent alarms . . . the whole works . . . all here, and because my boy was taken from the park, it was useless!"
"You're assuming he was taken from the park, sir; that's yet to be proved. Now, I'll give you five minutes to clean up," Hutch said quietly, "otherwise I'm going to borrow your car and go back to the station." He paused. "I'd rather go to your office." He met Kendall's gaze calmly. "We're wasting time," he said.
"Of course," Kendall murmured. "I'll be right back." He left his study and disappeared. Hutch heard the faint sound of his footsteps as he climbed the carpeted stairs.
Left alone, Hutch felt slightly sick. His gut ached from lack of food and fatigue. It was going to be a bitch of a day. He stared around the room. Suddenly, a glimmer of sunshine came through the study doors, flooding the whole room with light. Hutch left the study and went into the huge living room to stare at the statuary. Their alcoves had become golden shells, lit from above. Curious, Hutch went over to examine one. Looking up he saw what appeared to be a keyhole circle of glass set in the apex of the arch. It bathed the marble figure with a pale yellow wash, then moved on. One by one each statue had its moment in the sun; it was worth waiting for.
Once again, Hutch thought how empty the place seemed. For all the beautiful furniture, the impressive use of space, it had less warmth than some museums he'd visited. Perhaps, if Reina Kendall still lived here, the feeling would be different. He pictured masses of flowers, background music, laughter echoing all through the rooms, and people . . . the life of any home. He turned impatiently toward the stairs. God, he was getting as mushy as some old queen. That's what Starsky was doing to him. He smiled to himself; he loved every damn minute of time they had together.
"Well, at least I feel human again," Kendall said when he joined Hutch. He had changed into a Cheetah running suit and Nikes. "I decided a suit was out. I needed something less restricting." His voice lost its confidence and wavered. "Maybe I'll need to run - I used to be pretty good at it - and those other shoes . . ." He shrugged.
"Let's hope it doesn't come to that, sir," Hutch replied. "But it's a good idea because you're far less conspicuous in those clothes. Thank God they're not purple or bright orange, though . . ." He grinned.
And was rewarded with a quiet chuckle. Kendall fished a set of keys out of a drawer and led the way. "Sergeant, you're in for the ride of your life. Come on."
They went around to the back of the driveway, passing a sedate dark-blue Mercedes. Kendall walked right past it and stopped, beckoning Hutch to join him.
Hutch stared. Kendall stood beside a red Maserati, redder than Starsky's Torino. Redder than Minnie's Christmas dress. It was RED!
"Jesus! My partner would barter off his mother for a ride in this," he exclaimed in awe. "He'd think he died and went to heaven."
Kendall laughed as he unlocked the doors. "Get in and we'll head for the office. You know," he confided, "when I was in college the only car I thought about was a Caddy convertible. I was driving an old, beat-up Chevy at the time, and a Caddy represented real luxury." He looked wistful. "Funny how your value system changes . . . especially right now. I'd exchange everything I own, if I thought it would bring Flip back . . ."
"Don't give up hope," Hutch said quietly as he closed the car door. "Both Starsky and I think you're not done with the kidnappers yet."
"Then why haven't they tried to contact me again?" Kendall said bitterly. He started the engine, revved it a few times, then drove slowly down the driveway.
"Mommy! Daddy!" came a sleepy cry. The blond head moved weakly on its pillow, and thick lashes lifted to reveal dazed blue eyes.
"It's all right, honey," soothed a low voice. "It's going to be fine, you'll see. Now, eat this for me . . . it's a banana." A slender hand lifted the boy's head. "And then you can have some milk. You know you like milk."
"No! Don't wan' nuffin' . . . go 'way . . ." The eyes closed in unnatural sleep.
The woman got slowly to her feet, mouth set in a determined slash. Cautiously, she peered out a side window, watching as her ever-present watchdog dozed in a hammock slung between the bungalow and a sturdy pepper tree. It was the siesta, and she knew few people would be about in the heat. Silently, she changed into a black peasant skirt and blouse, flinging a scarf on her head to hide her fair hair. She jammed a tiny change purse into her bra and slipped on a pair of sandals.
She paused, undecided, then went into the bathroom and turned on the shower. Next she locked the front door from the inside before squeezing out the bedroom window. She studied the alley; the road itself was too gravelly, her shoes would make crunching noises . . . a dead give-away. But on the sides, grasses and weeds grew in profusion, so she hurried along them, not even disturbing the sleeping neighborhood dogs.
When she reached the street she crossed it, then darted into another alley. A few minutes later she was lost in the clusters of turistas who ignored the sun and heat. Desperately, she sought a public phone, finally spotting one beside a crowded pottery shop. With a pounding heart she dropped her change and asked for an operator.
"Starsky, my hands are tied," said a scowling Captain Dobey. His voice held a world of disapproval. "I'll do what I can to find out more about this Fred - uh - Rohmer fellow, if that's his name, but without more to go on, how the hell can I explain having him tailed? Besides, if Kendall's already paid them off and he hasn't heard anything more, what makes you think they'll contact him again?"
"Cap'n, we've gotta try!" Starsky held out his right hand, his left ticking off reasons. "First, the guy's a zillionaire, yet they only wanted peanuts. Second, his wife's missing . . . or at least nobody knows where she is. And third, his partner's in Rome - and I ain't so sure I trust him . . ." Starsky sighed in exasperation. "We can't tail his partner. We can't tail his wife, but we sure as hell can keep track of one lousy, banged-up Dodge truck! You said yourself last night that this might prove to be a big case. Isn't it more important to find a kid alive than waste time on these other murders? Hutch 'n' me, we gotta feeling about this. Myers and Pitassi can wrap up the Juarez case. Bad-Luck Smitty's in jail, so he ain't going nowhere until we can get to him."
He leaned over Dobey's desk. "How'd you feel if this was Rosie? Flip's just a kid, and he's probably scared outta his mind. We're wastin' time."
The captain shifted his weight, rubbed his head with his knuckles, and stared at the detective. "I want to talk to Hutch. Maybe I can pull a couple of uniforms off the streets to do some of the footwork . . . but if there's no word by Wednesday, you two are back here. Is that plain enough?"
"Yeah, but you should've seen the pictures of Reina Kendall, Cap'n. She was gorgeous - until she got hooked on H and decided she had to leave Kendall and the kid." He got himself a drink of water, swallowed it in one long gulp, then refilled it. "She's the key . . . both ways. Find her and we find out if she snatched Flip or she didn't."
The phone rang and Dobey grabbed the receiver. "This is Captain Dobey. Hutchinson? Where are you? Kendall's office . . . Hang on. Let me get a pen. Yes, yes . . . Where? Ensenada? Slow down, will you? Wait! He's right here . . ." He pulled the phone away from his ear and thrust it at Starsky. "It's your partner . . ."
Starsky snatched the phone, staring down at the scribbled message. "Start over, willya? The cap'n's a lousy secretary." He listened carefully, his eyes widening. "Just now? From Ensenada . . . Okay, did she mention the kid? Shit!" His eyes narrowed to mere slits. "No money demand, just that she'd call back later. Did Kendall think it was his wife?"
He listened for a few moments longer, then handed the phone back to Dobey.
"Well? Was it his wife?"
Starsky shook his head. "That's the odd part. Kendall told Hutch it didn't sound like her, but maybe she was disguising her voice. Anyway, Hutch doesn't want Kendall tearing off for Mexico like a nut. Oh, yeah, she also told him that the kidnappers are planning to ask for more money, but she doesn't know how much. She reassured him that the boy's alive, but they're both in danger if he doesn't come up with the money."
"Did she mention what time they'd call?" Dobey looked thoughtful, and sat back in his chair. "Set up a tap on Kendall's phone . . . I'll pull a couple of strings for a court order. Anything else you want?" Sarcasm lay heavy in his deep voice.
Starsky nodded. "We'll need you to get in touch with the Mexican authorities, in case we have to go to Ensenada. Maybe Captain Morales could contact his cousin in Tijuana . . . you know how that grapevine works." He finished off the water in his cup and tossed it toward the wastepaper basket, missing by a foot.
Dobey surged to his feet, roaring, "Starsky! Stop using my office for a dump! Get outta here, now!"
"I'm on my way." Starsky looked back over his shoulder. "If Hutch calls again, tell him not to worry." He checked his watch. "It's almost noon, tell Hutch I'll call him in about an hour - or sooner."
Dobey slammed the door. "Not to worry? What in hell does that mean? I'm the one who does all the worrying around here." Muttering to himself, he sat down and punched in a number.
Hutch stood in the doorway of Kendall's office watching the distraught father, knowing he had to do something to keep the man from going over the edge. Thank God he didn't have any kids of his own to worry about.
"Please, Phil, calm down. They're trying to trace the call's origin now. If it was a legit call, then the Mexican phone company will verify it. You said she was dropping change into the coin box, so it wasn't a direct-dial." Hutch spoke with far more confidence than he felt, but what good would it do to terrify the poor guy at this point?
Still, Kendall at least had something to think about - even if it wasn't much. "Promise me you'll stay by the phone, Phil. I want to talk to the folks who installed your security system. Does your secretary have that information?" He made the query as innocuous as possible. He'd had no time to speak with Minnie since they'd arrived.
Kendall blinked, focused, and said, "Yes. She mails the checks every month. But what good will it do? Flip wasn't home . . ."
"I know," Hutch replied patiently, "but maybe someone paid you a visit this past weekend, and the tapes haven't been checked yet." He smiled. "If you want to do something, why don't you check with your partner in Rome? Bring yourself up to date. Doesn't he call you daily?"
Kendall pulled himself together. "Yes, yes, he does. I suppose I could tell him that I had a call and that Flip's alive. Pete's probably worried to death."
"Then call him," Hutch advised, needing some fresh air. The sorrow radiating from Kendall was more than he could bear.
"Sergeant? I don't really know that, do I? Oh, God! My poor little boy. Why him and not me?" Kendall's voice dropped to a mere whisper as he stared up at Hutch.
Hutch put his hand on Kendall's shoulder. "Look," he said quietly. "Maybe talking with Peter will help you remember something else . . . Or maybe, by now, he's thought of some detail he couldn't recall before. It's important that you stay as calm as you can - for Flip's sake. Now, go ahead and make that call."
Hutch slipped out of the office. Minnie glanced up from her desk and smiled at him, unaware of the tragedy on the other side of the door. "Can I do anything to help you, Mr. Hutchinson?" she asked. Her small, bright-as-a-bird's eyes invited his trust.
He decided to take the risk. Putting his finger to his lips, he whispered, "Your boss shouldn't be disturbed . . . Is there somewhere else we can talk?"
Her eyes grew round, but without asking she led the way to a small conference room - also filled with plants. Any other time Hutch would have been lost in admiration for the greenery.
"Now!" Minnie said. "Just what is going on around here, young man? You can't tell me that something's not wrong. That man looks like he has a broken heart!"
Hutch stared; her uncanny resemblance to Mrs. Tiggy Winkle must mean he was well on his way to a nervous breakdown. "Please, sit down," he said as he pulled out a chair for her. "I need your help." Quickly, he spelled out what was wrong, emphasizing Reina Kendall's disappearance and the fact her husband believed she had taken Flip with her. He didn't tell her about the ransom payment, or the phone call from Ensenada.
The secretary stared long and hard, as if assessing Hutch's integrity. He began to squirm under her scrutiny.
"All right," she said finally. "Since you've told me what's wrong, I'll tell you something that may help. Reina Kendall would never do one single thing to hurt either her husband or her son." The grey head bobbed up and down to emphasize her point.
"Wait. What about her, uh, well, her drug problem?" Hutch asked, testing her knowledge of Reina's private affairs.
"I know all about that!" she snapped. "Do you think you can work for a family for nearly twenty-five years and not know what's happening? And that's why I want you to have this address. But don't you dare tell Mr. Kendall I gave you this."
She jotted an address down on a piece of paper, folded it, then handed it to Hutch. "Now, you go away. I'll take care of my boss!" A little smile played around her mouth as she smoothed out the wrinkles in her dress. "Good luck, dear," she said. She looked more like Mrs. Tiggy Winkle than before.
Hutch nodded. "I'll say goodbye first," he said, feeling he was leaving the industrialist in good hands. He quietly opened the door to Kendall's office so as not to startle the man.
Kendall sat in his chair, staring at a small, crudely carved figure of an animal. Hutch had noticed it on the desk earlier and decided it must have been done by Flip. Just as Kendall turned it over, the phone rang with nerve-shattering intensity. The carving fell from his hand.
Hutch stepped into the room, keeping away from the desk. Kendall lifted the phone with deliberate control, as if it was a seashell. "Hello? Hello? Who's calling? Pete! I can barely hear you!" He put his hand over the mouthpiece and said to Hutch, "We have a terrible connection."
He listened to whatever Pete was saying, then frowned. "Yes! I had a call from some woman . . . Claimed she was Reina, but it . . ." He yanked the receiver away from his ear and slapped it, cursing. "What the hell's the matter? Oh, electrical storm. I said I had a call . . . No, don't stay on the line. Call back when it's over!" Kendall waited a minute before angrily settling the phone in its cradle.
"I take it that was your partner," Hutch said, coming around to hand Kendall the little carving. "I heard the static. What did he have to say?"
Face flushed, Kendall grimaced. "He wanted to know if he should come home. But there's nothing he can do here." He looked disgusted. "Never had that bad a connection. Damn it! Nothing's going right."
Hutch silently agreed. What he really wanted to do was get together with Starsky so they could compare notes. He hated this business of running around alone without his partner. Starsky meant both backup and support and something far more. Finally, when Kendall looked less tense, he asked, "Can you manage alone for a while? There's an address I have to check out. Starsky should be calling soon. If he asks you anything about that first phone call, tell him all you can."
He suddenly realized he was without wheels. Embarrassed, he returned to where Kendall sat. "Uh, I just remembered that I came with you. Do you have a car I can borrow?" He definitely didn't want the Maserati.
"Certainly." On the intercom, Kendall asked Minnie to make arrangements with the garage so that Mr. Hutchinson could have his personal choice of vehicles.
Wondering if he was on a wild goose chase, Starsky sped toward the marina. He prayed his luck would hold and Mad Max would be somewhere else. He was in no mood for a confrontation with that gorilla. At least, in Hutch's car, he wouldn't be spotted so quickly.
His cards held; the big security guard was nowhere in sight. He slipped on board the KAMA and looked around, hoping against hope he'd find something that would indicate either a child or a woman had been here recently.
He wanted to believe that Kendall's caller had been his ex, and that she'd called from the KAMA instead of Ensenada. It would make things so simple . . . But then, his mom had always told him that nothing was ever simple.
There were more supplies than yesterday, but not a soul was around. Where in hell was that woman? And if the caller hadn't been Reina, who else was in on the kidnapping?
He studied the navigational system. A nice big steering wheel, gas tanks, a compass and a few other dials . . . too bad neither he nor Hutch had a license. What a way to go.
He thought about Hutch's dream of a sixty-footer and admitted it might not be so bad. Smiling to himself, he left the yacht and headed back to the LTD. He only saw two people; neither of them gave him more than a cursory glance.
His stomach rumbled so loudly it startled him. He hadn't had anything but three cups of crummy coffee since midnight, and he was feeling woozy. When he caught up with Hutch maybe they'd grab something to eat, unless Kendall had ordered a spread fit for a king. He knew immediately that wasn't the case. The poor slob hadn't even finished his own breakfast.
It was almost one-fifteen. Hutch would be waiting for him. He tried using the LTD's radio, but gave up when all he got was static. Maybe his partner was trying to contact him. Too bad; at this rate he'd be lucky to reach Metro by two.
He thought about the snapshot of Flip, the one with his scabby knee, and how much he looked like Hutch had when he was a kid. Life sucked at times. He was glad he wasn't a father. It was bad enough worrying about his partner.
"Where the hell did he go?" Hutch asked for the tenth time as he paced the squad room. "He was supposed to wait for me, or me for him. Now that I've got a good lead, I'm cooling my heels."
He tried to keep concern from his voice; it wouldn't do for Dobey to wonder why he was so worried. Partners were one thing, lovers another. Maybe someday they'd say something, but not yet. Not while there was such an undercurrent of hostility in the department. There was plenty of time. The knot in his stomach tightened, and he realized how hungry he was. He went down to the lunchroom and wolfed down a sandwich and two cups of coffee.
He was stacking his plate and cup when Starsky entered the lunchroom. He spotted Hutch immediately and joined him. "Sorry, but your car . . . Well, you don't want to hear about your car, do ya?" He eyed Hutch's plate. "Couldn't wait, huh? Well, I've got to fill my gut now or drink cream the rest of my life. I'll be back directly . . . Wait."
He hustled over to the counter, grabbed a sandwich, picked up a carton of milk, put the straw between his teeth, and hurried back to the table where Hutch sat.
Hutch watched him, loving the energy and optimism Starsky exuded. He felt his own spirits rise; hell, together they'd get Flip Kendall back, and the mystery of Reina Kendall cleared up.
"Whatcha smiling at?" Starsky asked as he sat down, unwrapping a roast beef sandwich. He grinned back. "As if I didn't know. I'll bet that's the first time you've smiled all day. Same goes for me."
Hutch felt the color rising on his cheeks and suddenly became very busy shuffling the table condiments. "Go ahead and eat; we'll talk afterwards. God knows when the next meal will come along."
"Yeah, my stomach thinks my throat's slit," Starsky agreed. He bit deeply into his sandwich, chewing rapidly, eyes taking note of Hutch's clothes. "We gonna have time to clean up?" he asked between mouthfuls. "I want a shower, if nothing else."
Hutch wrinkled his nose. "Me, too. I kind of hate to go . . ." He glanced around the room, then lowered his voice. "Hurry up, pal, Minnie gave me an address where we might find a certain Mrs. Kendall. I don't want to miss her."
"What about the call from Ensenada? Isn't gettin' the kid back our first priority?" Starsky's expression was deadly serious.
"Of course it is," Hutch said. "But consider this. The dame claims to be Reina Kendall, yet Minnie gave me an address where she claims we should find the lady in question." His expression was like a bird of prey. "She can't be in two places at once - and La Costa is a helluva lot closer than south of the border. You agree? If we come up empty-handed, we head for Mexico . . . but only if Kendall's been contacted."
Starsky grinned wickedly. "Or the whole damn scheme ends up in Freddie's lap. I want that jerk, Hutch." He got to his feet. "Something should've turned up by now. I've got DMV, the narcs, and BIOGROW workin' on it."
"BIOGROW? What's that?" Hutch vaguely recalled seeing the word but couldn't remember where. He pushed against Starsky's back to hurry him along. "So? Tell me!"
"That's what Kendall's synthetic shit is called," Starsky said bluntly. "All his own fleet of trucks have big signs with the name. Anyway, I called 'em, and they promised to look up Freddie's record for me. They knew him, all right. Which makes me kinda suspicious. But we'll see."
Hutch glanced at the big hall clock and scowled. "I'm going to call Kendall and find out if he's had another phone call. Traffic's going to be heavy, if we don't leave soon."
They were out in the hall before Hutch spoke again. "So, where were you? Where'd you go?" He kept the annoyance he felt out of his tone.
"Hadda hunch, so I headed down to the marina. Not easy in your car, I might add."
"For the hundredth time," Hutch commented dryly. "Find anything worth the gas?"
The dark head shook. "Zilch. I sure hope your tip is better than my hunch," Starsky said gloomily. "I really expected to find something, but outside of more supplies . . ." He grinned at Hutch. "At least the Muscled One wasn't around or I wouldn't be here talkin' to you."
Hutch's brows drew together. "I take it there wasn't a crewhand on board, either. So who's doing the loading - UPS?"
"I wondered about that, too, but it was lunch time. Maybe they all eat at the fish joint down on the pier." He stopped a moment, got out his comb, and ran it through his curls. "Salt water makes me feel sticky as hell." He sighed again. "Hutch, I gotta get cleaned up soon."
Hutch's response was a nod, a low chuckle, and a piece of paper. "You and me both, partner. But not yet. Read this and tell me what you think."
The comb was shoved back into Starsky's pocket and he took the paper from Hutch. "Kendall's office, huh?" He stared at the address, a slow grin appearing on his face. "After you, partner," was all he said.
The traffic thinned after Tustin, although the number of big rigs seemed on the increase as they rumbled south to San Diego. Hutch, driving a black Cougar borrowed from Kendall's fleet of company cars, kept glancing in the rear-view mirror.
"For some reason, I keep expecting to see that damn white truck following us," he said. "Thank God it's not Thursday."
Starsky ran his fingers over the creamy-smooth white leather seats. "You drive, I'll look for tails, although nobody'll expect us to travel in a car like this. I was afraid we'd have to drive to La Costa in that bucket of yours. Boy, Kendall goes first class all the way, doesn't he?"
"Yeah. I couldn't afford this model, even if it was at the junk yard," Hutch admitted as he increased his speed. "To tell you the truth, I've been thinking about upgrading my car. You know . . ." He glanced in the mirror, eyes narrowed, then relaxed. ". . . maybe a new paint job, some seat covers . . ."
"Clean out the back seat, get a transmission job . . ." Starsky nodded. "Cost you maybe five thou . . ." He laughed, a low, warm sound. "Don't waste your money."
"Hell, where we're headed in La Costa, I can't afford the gas. Minnie seems to feel this is where Reina Kendall's been all along. But she's such a shrewd old gal, I dunno. I've got a feeling there's not much Minnie wouldn't do to protect her."
Starsky was quiet, studying the traffic. "You know what would be the best case scenario? We go to this place. Reina's there . . . and so is the kid. Case solved."
Hutch drove a little faster. "Only happens on TV, partner. I'll be satisfied if we find the ex, and she admits she's stashed the boy safely with her folks . . . or some such arrangement." He let out a long breath. "But we know that's not likely, either."
"Yeah, back to the real world." Starsky picked up the map and began studying it. "Well, about another fifteen minutes and we should be there. Wonder what we'll find."
"Another link in the chain, Starsk, that's all I hope for. You know, Minnie never blinked an eye when I told her about her boss, and Flip's disappearance. But as soon as I said he suspected Reina, she blew. It's almost as if she was relieved to share her secret with someone."
Starsky shrugged. "Let's hope this place doesn't have barbed wire and Dobermans to keep the peace."
They drove by Carlsbad, finally turning off the freeway at Airport Road. The rolling hills with their plushy grasses and acre after acre of flowers were in sharp contrast to the low-profile industrial parks they passed. "Everything to deceive the eye," Hutch said softly, adjusting his sunglasses on the bridge of his nose. "Reminds me of the Hollywood Hills, only quieter."
"Can you imagine tryin' to flush somebody out of all these damn bushes?" Starsky asked, pointing to a particularly sheltered building. "Jesus! The cops down here must use dogs instead of flashlights."
"You think so? I think it must be kinda nice not to worry about the streets like we have to. You know, kick back, sign out on time . . . live up in a place overlooking the sea or the hills."
"Are you saying you're getting tired of living on the edge, Hutch? We've got a long way to go before we can retire." Starsky gazed absently out the window, the breeze ruffling his curls. Then, when Hutch remained silent, he sighed. "Yeah, I know. To tell ya the truth, I don't think I can handle it for another ten - fifteen years. My ass hurts from all this driving around."
"The end of the world is coming!" Hutch crowed. "I thought you and your Torino were fused at the seat of your pants. Wish I had that on tape."
Starsky laughed, punching Hutch on the thigh. "You're a real smart-ass, ya know that? C'mon, step on it! Let's show these farmers what this flash car can do!"
"Tacky, pal, tacky," Hutch replied. "These farmers - as you call them - aren't exactly from the Grapes of Wrath." He spotted a huge truck and pointed to its logo. "Look . . . BIOGROW. Isn't that Kendall's?"
"Yeah, things grow better in our shit than anybody else's," Starsky remarked. "What I wanna know is - how can it? You buy manure, sterilize it, then add pesticides, caustics, enzymes, you name it. Then, whammo, you don't even need the manure . . . This is progress?"
Hutch pointed to one of the hills covered with exquisite flowers, then hastily rolled up his window. "For the growers, it is. No bugs, better crops, more money. For Mother Nature, it sucks." He slowed down on a curve. "This is Avenida Las Flores. Where do I turn after that?"
Starsky studied the map, pointing to another black line that wandered across a tiny corner of the map. "Says Avenida Tábano. What's that?"
Hutch laughed. "It means horsefly. At one time there must've been stables or farm animals around here."
Grinning, Starsky said, "See? If ya put Avenida in front of a word, it gives it class, right?"
"Not to those who speak the language, but it sure sounds prettier," Hutch agreed. He stomped hard on the accelerator. Starsky's laughter was drowned in the roar of the Cougar's engine.
It was another five minutes before Hutch slowed down, turning onto a wide, well-maintained side street. It curved, becoming a narrow, two-lane road flanked by masses of oleander and pomegranate trees. Each home, already isolated and private, became less visible as they climbed toward the top of a hill.
"Somebody's behind us," Starsky said suddenly, turning slightly in his seat. "Big limo, black. Why don't you pull over and let it pass?" His hand reached inside his jacket.
Hutch obeyed, staring into the rear-view mirror, body tense. Logic whispered that Minnie wouldn't send him this far just to get killed, but experience had etched other, bitter lessons in his brain. The limo passed, disappearing around a curve, only to reappear farther up the road, still climbing. He met Starsky's gaze and shrugged. "Shall we see what's at the top of the hill, partner?" He kept his tone light, but he heard the edge to it, a sharp cutting off of each word.
"Wouldn't have it any other way," Starsky said, sitting up straighter and removing his seat belt for easy movement. "You drive, I'll keep an eye open for buzzards."
Hutch chuckled. "The great white hunter, right? Well, it works for me." He pulled out again, finding immeasurable comfort from Starsky's presence. No buzzard had a chance while his partner had it in his sights.
Two more turns and the road narrowed down to a paved lane, with brilliant masses of pink ice plant covering the sloping hillsides. Scattered here and there were weeping willows and white birch - the "in" greenery with landscapers for the last few years. He wondered why; they were water-loving and these rolling hills saw little moisture except for the nightly sea fogs. Maybe that was all they asked for. He suspected they were watered by the owners of the huge building that loomed ahead.
"Shit! Is that somebody's home? Migawd, Hutch, it must have fifty rooms!" Starsky peered out the window, his hair bright with sunshine. He cleared his throat. "Gates ahead, complete with guard."
Hutch slowed down. "And a very large dog." Both were regarding the Cougar with long, suspicious stares. "They must have something valuable up there, wouldn't you say?" He stopped the car but kept it running. "Get out and be nice to the man, Starsk. I'll cover you."
Starsky got out and walked slowly toward the guard, who had opened the gates. Both he and the dog looked grim. "Good afternoon," Starsky said. "My name is David Starsky, and I'm with the LAPD." He carefully reached for the slip of paper in his pocket. "And I'm here to see . . . ah, Mrs. Vivienne Zacharias."
"Show me your ID," the man snapped. One large hand held the dog on a very short leash. The animal looked as if he had a very short temper.
Starsky complied as rapidly as possible, keeping his eyes on the dog. Still, he allowed himself the satisfaction of brushing aside his jacket just for a moment. He knew the guard wouldn't miss the sight of his gun in its holster. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Hutch scanning the grounds beyond the gate, not that he could see much with all the shrubbery.
The guard scrutinized the badge and picture thoroughly, then nodded. "Back in the car, Sergeant," he said, his tone only slightly more civil. He went over to the gate and punched a series of numbers on a small metal box, then spoke into the unit. He walked back to Hutch's side. "Your ID the same as his?" he asked, extending his hand, palm up.
Hutch smiled, then handed him his badge and ID. "I'll say one thing, you're thorough. Bet you used to be a cop."
The guard shook his head. "Nope. MP for twenty years." He handed Hutch back his ID, then grinned suddenly. "When you get to the casa, be careful; there are two more dogs." He waved them through, his companion growling low in its throat.
The rest of the drive was over quickly. The curving driveway was paved with pebbles of soft pink, the greenery by Kodak. "Why do I feel like we just arrived at Disneyland?" Starsky asked as they parked beside the black limo they'd seen earlier. "Lookit these cars . . . not one over a couple of years old and most of 'em from out of state." He handed the paper to Hutch. "Hey . . . Do you hear music, or what?"
Hutch got out of the car, locked the door, and buttoned his jacket so his gun wouldn't be so obvious. "Yeah, Montovani - or Lawrence Welk." He smiled at Starsky. "Not your taste."
Falling in step beside Hutch, Starsky said, "True, but I kinda like the wind chimes." He whistled. "Marble steps?" He removed his sunglasses and shoved them in his jacket pocket. His eyes sparkled with mischief, and he laughed as a small black whirlwind launched itself off the top step. Yapping and snarling, the brazen mop made a great show of defending its territory. He was joined by an old, waddling bulldog, nearly toothless, but with a certain Churchillian dignity that the little dog totally lacked.
"I guess these are the two dogs that guy warned us about. Some sense of humor," Starsky remarked.
"I assume you are here for a reason?" a cool voice said.
They forgot the dogs and stared at a lovely woman of indeterminate age. She held something in one slim, beringed hand.
"A tomato?" Starsky whispered to Hutch.
"Uh, how do you do, ma'am," Hutch said, stepping over the dogs as best he could. "My name is Ken Hutchinson, and I was given your name by Minnie Silversmith . . . who felt I should come out and visit you. She said you might be able to answer some questions." He removed his sunglasses and smiled.
Cool, dark eyes raked over him, then came back to study his face. "I am Vivienne Zacharias . . .but why should I trust you? What do you want?" She rubbed the tomato with one palm, then bit into its firm, red flesh, flicking her glance to include Starsky.
For a moment Hutch was reluctant to trust her, then, nudged by his partner, he plunged ahead. "We're looking for a lady who may have been to visit you in the past few days. The former Reina Kendall. Have you seen or heard from her recently?" Hutch hadn't realized how badly he wanted good news about Kendall's wife. His pulse had quickened as he asked the question.
A perfectly arched eyebrow soared to meet dark hair. "Of course, but what do you want with her?"
Starsky came forward, his manner disarming. "My partner is too polite, ma'am, to be abrupt, but this is urgent. It's also confidential. We wouldn't be here, otherwise. We gotta see her, or get in touch with her."
Hutch noticed three rather plump women strolling across the lawn, stopping to greet the fierce creatures that had challenged them. The animals slobbered and grinned all over themselves as the ladies cooed and petted them. "Must be cop-haters," he muttered under his breath.
He turned his attention back to the cool cookie who was wiping her fingers on a tiny handkerchief. He had no idea where it had come from. Maybe it had been inside the damn tomato.
"May I ask what kind of, ah, club this is?" he asked, seeing two more women jogging along an upper path. Maybe a health spa?" Something niggled at the back of his mind . . . Zacharias . . . The name was familiar, but not in connection with anything criminal. He glanced at Starsky whose patience was definitely on the wane.
Just in time she spoke. "Very well, but only because Minnie phoned and told me that you were indeed a nice young man." The handkerchief disappeared into a hidden pocket. Her gaze met his and she nodded. "I certainly hope that Minnie didn't misjudge you. Reina has come a long way. Any upset might undo all we've accomplished."
Hutch expelled a breath, then shook his head. "You're Doctor Zacharias, aren't you?" No wonder he had read something about her. He turned to a mystified Starsky. "This is Dr. Zacharias, Starsk. She's had some remarkable successes in helping people with their addictions."
Starsky's expression cleared and he smiled. "So this's where Mrs. Kendall's been."
The doctor returned his smile. "So, it comes to you who I am. That means you can also understand my concern about your visit. Usually the police are not the bearers of good news, are they?" She waited, obviously still wary.
"You're right, of course," Hutch said quickly, "and if all we had needed was to make certain of Reina Kendall's whereabouts, we could leave. But we can't, we must see her. Worse yet, the news we have will be a great shock."
"It's a matter of life and death, lady!" Starsky blurted out. Sweat sheened his brow and his upper lip.
Without another word, Zacharias walked swiftly up the steps, waving at the three women who were now sitting on the lush grass, each working with a little pink bucket and a shiny tool.
"What are they doing?" Hutch asked.
She laughed, looking ten years younger. "Weeding. The pink bucket makes it less of a chore. They're all compulsive eaters, so the more weeds they pull, the better their meal will be tonight." She smiled at Starsky's expression. "It works very well. My guests all take a lively interest in the landscaping."
"May I ask you how you got a license in this area for a center like this?" Hutch knew of the usual resistance to such places.
She gave an expressive shrug. "Most of my neighbors have been my guests," she replied. "Alcohol, agoraphobia, overeating, drugs . . . The rich are as susceptible - if not more so - as everyone else."
She led them inside, out of the heat, into a huge foyer and anteroom. Immediately, Hutch was struck by the contrast between Kendall's home and this. The millionaire's tastes ran to clean, contemporary lines, and pale, glowing colors. The Zacharias home resembled a potentate's dream.
The doctor smiled at them. "A trifle fussy for two men such as yourselves?" she guessed, then picked up a jewel-encrusted box, fingering it with obvious delight. "The man who sent me this was my guest for six months. He was terrified of the dark because he was convinced one of his brothers, or a son or wife, was going to kill him some dark night . . ." Her smile disappeared abruptly and she set the box down. "I cured him and sent him home, a happy ruler. Sent him home to be murdered by a religious fanatic!" She turned away from them.
"Come, I will take you to see Reina." She led them silently through the house, then out a side door onto a private patio. A woman, hair wrapped in a towel, lay on a chaise, soaking up the last of the afternoon sun. She was sleek, very tan, with beautiful features. It was Reina Kendall - only not the haggard woman in the snapshot. They stared.
"Reina? My dear, I've brought you company. They say it's very important they speak with you."
Gold lashes drifted up, revealing the bluest of blue eyes. Reina Kendall sat up, frowning slightly when she realized her visitors were strangers. "Yes?"
The two detectives nodded, then shook hands with her. Her grip was surprisingly strong. "We have some news. May we sit down?"
Perhaps it was instinct, but Dr. Zacharias suddenly came over and lightly touched her patient on the shoulder. "Reina, do you want me to stay? If not, I have a great deal to do before dinner tonight."
"No. No, go ahead, Vivi, I'll be fine . . ." But there was concern in Reina's voice. She removed the towel from her hair, and a mass of curls tumbled across her shoulders. With a shake of her head they all seemed to settle in place, save for a few which were damp with oil. "Now . . ." she said, looking at Starsky and Hutch. "What is your news?"
There was no easy way to begin, so they quickly identified themselves. "We're here to ask you about your son." Hutch wanted to watch her reaction.
"Flip? What about him?" Her voice sharpened, rose, and she leaned forward, her eyes wide with fear. Her fingers clutched the towel, and she hung onto it as if it were her lifeline. "God, that's why you're here, isn't it? Phillip sent you, didn't he? Please, tell me my baby's all right."
Their doubts evaporated as they watched her dismay evolve into terror. She had risen from the chaise, gazing around her pleasant patio as if she had awakened from a dream, finding a true nightmare in reality.
Hutch gently took her by the shoulders and pushed her back onto the chaise. She stared up at him, then at Starsky, desperately needing to know the worst.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Kendall," Starsky said quietly, "but Flip disappeared a couple of days ago. His father thought perhaps you might have taken him . . . He said you said you might."
She stared, uncomprehending at first, then anger, swift and cutting, loosened her tongue. "Did he think that I wanted to have Flip when I was . . . like that? In God's name, why would I put myself through the torture of recovery and separation just to ruin everything by running away? I'd rather die than hurt either one of them. I want them both back . . ."
Her anger was gone; she put her face in her hands and wept silently, then wiped her face with the towel. "Tell me what happened," she said raggedly. "I'll come back with you and . . ." She managed a watery smile. "Phil must feel terribly alone and guilty right now, just as I did when I was doing those terrible things."
Starsky filled her in with the details of Flip's disappearance and her husband's efforts to fill the kidnapper's demands. She paled, then said in a monotone, "I still don't understand why Phil thought I had taken Flip."
"Because you disappeared off the face of the earth, lady!" Starsky accused, suddenly hostile. "First you make threats, then you disappear, and then your son's gone, too. What did you expect him to think?"
"Minnie knew . . . Why didn't he ask her?" she retorted defensively.
"Your husband never told her about Flip's disappearance, that's why," Hutch said patiently. "But he's said all along that he knew you loved your son." He stood up. "So far the kidnappers have demanded and received one hundred thousand dollars, and they'll probably ask for more - they usually do, but time is in their favor, not ours."
Hutch shook his head as Starsky seemed ready to speak again. "Why don't you find Dr. Zacharias, and tell her what's happened? We'll wait until you get changed, and we'll take you home."
She rose obediently and walked into the house. They followed at a slower pace, then retraced their steps to the foyer.
"Why didn't you want me to tell her about the call from Ensenada?" Starsky asked as he sat down in a huge rattan chair. "And how do we know we can trust that doctor? Maybe she's behind it. God knows she must hear about everything in this place." He glanced around, his distaste for the oppressively over-decorated house very apparent.
"That's one of the reasons I left it out, pal," Hutch replied, fanning himself with his hand. "Jesus, can you imagine being shut up in this bird cage? Reminds me of a 1920s movie."
"All I know is my brain's shutting down from too damn many suspects and not enough clues." Starsky rubbed his hand over his eyelids. "Or maybe it's the other way around, I dunno." He spied a couple of women carrying little pink pails through the hall. "Bet that's what they hafta eat," he said glumly. "Dandelion greens and clover burgers, you'd love it here."
"Good for your nerves, hotshot," Hutch chuckled. "While you contemplate the delights of their dinner, I'm gonna call Kendall. Wait here in case Reina changes clothes faster than I can get through to him. Don't let her out of your sight."
"Easy for you to say, wise-ass," Starsky grumbled. "With all this greenery she could climb over a wall and vanish. And don't forget that dog at the front gate."
But Hutch was already disappearing into a side door, hoping to find a telephone. Nothing. Just another mini-museum of bric-a-brac. He had better luck in the second room. A pay phone hung on one wall, lavishly scrolled with gold and cupids. He fished for a couple of coins, dropped them in, and heard Minnie's voice almost immediately. "Minnie? This is Hutch, is Mr. Kendall in?"
"Did you find her?" was Minnie's reply. "Is she all right?"
"Yes, she is. Thanks. We're bringing her back with us, if the doc says it's okay."
He was cut off for a second, then he heard Kendall speaking. There was an underlying current of excitement in the man's voice.
"Sergeant? Your captain's here. I had another call, and this time she gave an address." There was a long pause before Kendall spoke again. "I don't think it's Reina, Sergeant, but your captain wants you both back here as soon as possible!"
"Let me speak to him, please. I've a couple of questions. That's great news about your son." But Hutch's heart sank at the news. Flip wasn't with his mother.
There was no response, so Hutch waited until he heard Dobey clear his throat before speaking. "Captain, this is Hutch. I don't know what's going on there, but we've located Kendall's wife and she swears she doesn't have Flip."
"You've talked to her?" Dobey asked in a muffled tone. Hutch smiled, picturing that ham-sized fist covering the receiver; Dobey's effort to be discreet.
"Better than that, she's here with us. She wants to come back and be with her husband."
"That's good work, Hutchinson. How long is it going to take?"
"About an hour, Cap'n. I've got one of Kendall's company cars. No lights or siren." He shrugged, deciding then and there to let Starsky handle the trip back. "I'll let Starsky drive, maybe that'll save some time."
Dobey chuckled. "If he gets stopped, he pays for the ticket. Tell him that." He lowered his voice. "This Ensenada tip sounds hot, so I want you to leave as soon as you can. Whoever this woman was she sounded desperate."
"Was there any demand for more ransom?" Hutch asked.
"No. That's what bothers me," came the whispered reply.
"We're on our way," Hutch replied, hanging up just as Starsky and Reina Kendall appeared. She lit up the room like a Roman candle, all gold and white.
"You call Dobey?" Starsky asked, his mouth slightly curved in a smile.
Hutch grinned back, not wanting to upset the woman. "Yeah, he's at Kendall's and wants us back as fast as we can get there." He fished the car keys out of his pocket and tossed them to his partner, who caught them automatically. "You drive. I'll see that the lady here isn't scared out of her wits."
"Yeah? Well, maybe she'd rather sit up front and see an expert at work, partner." Blue eyes crinkled at the corners.
"Just so long as I get there in one piece," she said. "Phillip's always loved fast cars . . ." Her voice trailed away and she looked out the window.
"He still loves you, Mrs. Kendall," Hutch said quickly, taking her by the elbow and steering her out of the room, along the hallway, and into the entry hall.
Starsky came to a halt. "Hey, Hutch, didn't you want to talk to Dr. Zacharias? Why don't you let me get Mrs. Kendall settled in the car while you do that?" There was a sudden urgency in his voice.
They exchanged glances and Hutch nodded. "Thanks for reminding me. I'll catch up." He strode away, formulating the questions he needed to ask. He hoped Zacharias hadn't left her office yet.
She hadn't. She sat, head bent, poring over a little stack of papers. He knocked. "May I come in for a couple of minutes?"
She looked up, smiled, and pushed her work aside. "How is she?"
Hutch searched her face for any sign of cunning, but all he saw was an expression of genuine concern. "That's what I want to ask you," he said. "We want to take her back to her husband. There's been an emergency . . . They need each other."
The doctor nodded. "I thought so. But you must impress on her the need to return after that. It's extremely important she continue her therapy."
"How long has she been here?" Hutch asked.
"Almost seven weeks to the day," replied Zacharias promptly, leaning back in her chair. Rings sparkled on her slim fingers.
"Has she been free to leave during that time?" Hutch made the question as casual as possible, hoping Reina could be scratched off the suspect list.
"Absolutely not! That's one of the stipulations for being treated. No communication whatsoever with the outside world." Dark eyes narrowed in shrewd appraisal. "After all, it was her inability to cope with that world that led her here in the first place. Something outside these walls led her to addiction."
She paused. "The guard out there isn't to keep people out, although he does a good job of that when I want him to. He's to see that my guests don't take it upon themselves to wander. Some of my ladies used to sneak down to La Jolla and gorge themselves. My addicts had only a few more miles to the border . . ." She smiled at the detective. "But since I hired Webster, that has stopped."
Hutch chuckled. "Webster? That hulk at the gate?"
She smiled. "Don't laugh. He's a real treasure." She extended her hand. "Don't let me keep you, Sergeant. Both of us have busy schedules. Bring Reina back when this is over. It's nice, sometimes, to look forward to absolute privacy."
Had she read his mind? Hutch pressed her fingers and nodded. "I guess that's every cop's dream, too," he said huskily, then hurried out of the room. He had the impression the doctor knew far too much. He ran down the steps; Starsky had pulled the big car right up to the entry and he got in, noticing how pale and determined their passenger looked. "Don't worry, Mrs. Kendall," he soothed. "It'll be all right." He barely had his seat belt fastened when Starsky sped away. When they reached the gates Hutch said, "Thanks, Webster, for the tip about the dogs."
The guard's eyes never blinked. "Glad to be of service, Sergeant Starsky." Starsky chuckled as they sped through the gates. "Webster? Would never have guessed that."
"Just shut up and drive, pal. See if you can get us there in an hour." Smart-ass guard. Webster knew damn well which one was Starsky.