Blinded by the Light
Hutch crouched in the dense undergrowth bordering Mayhew's property, wishing the dogs would shut up. It was impossible to move silently through the tinder-dry area, but from this vantage point he could see anyone entering or leaving the large, white house. Malibu lights marked the drive, and the ghostly figure of a rampant nymph rose from a tiny pool. He grimaced; the place was a monument to one man's bad taste.
A twig snapped behind him, but he didn't turn, he knew it was Starsky. "What took you so long?" he whispered, experiencing again a sense of completion which occurred only when his partner was near.
"Was talkin' to Peters. Learned something real interesting, too. Remember when he said some bozo was askin' about your car? Well, apparently the guy left in a big limo — guess whose?"
"How'd you find that out?" asked Hutch, impressed. He turned, acutely aware of his partner, and met a pair of gleaming, dark eyes. "When I asked for a tail Peters had the bright idea of radioing the forensics team and asking if they'd seen a car matching that description in the area where Snake was found." He scratched his ankle, bracing himself against Hutch's shoulder. "Damn! These stickers are killers!"
"That's good police work," Hutch said appreciatively, watching Starsky's gyrations. "Anything else?"
"After Peters' call, the SI decided to check out your car. Didn't find anything. . . Lousy things are all over my socks," he grumbled.
"Shhh!" Hutch hissed. "Listen — somebody's yelling." He edged forward, putting out his hand to keep his partner back, accidentally brushing against Starsky's crotch. Snatching his hand away, he muttered, "Sorry. Hell of a time to cop a feel." He froze when an outside light flooded the entire area. "What—?"
Moving quietly, Starsky drew his automatic, slipping off the safety. "Dunno, pal, but by my count there's two, maybe three suspects in there. And, if they put Snake away, they've got nothin' to lose."
Hutch nodded. "Look . . . someone's heading for the garage. I'll try to see who it is. You keep an eye on the house." He slipped out of sight, edging toward the back of the property, leaving Starsky crouched in the undergrowth.
Shut up, Fury! Here—" Moments later, Mayhew, followed by his young chauffeur, came into sight. They were arguing. "So what if you have tomorrow off? When I want to go out, you change your plans! You got that?"
The older man headed for the Continental which was still parked in the space behind the house. "Quit your sulking. We'll be back in an hour, then you can watch your movie."
Before Starsky could signal, Hutch was back. Together they raced for the Torino, reaching it just as the big car roared by. "Hurry, pal. The way that sucker's traveling we're gonna have to do seventy to catch him." Starsky started the ignition and swung the heavy car around, sending dust and pebbles in all directions. "He's on Canyon headin' south . . . what's over there?"
Hutch frowned. "This stinks, you know that? What do you want to bet we're being suckered, my friend? Heh, these streets all lead absolutely nowhere!" He leaned forward, fist clenched, eyes slitted. "He's up to something, Starsky. I can smell it — I just wish I knew what's out of synch!"
Starsky nodded, speeding up when he spotted the limo. "Well, for what it's worth, I agree. I can't figure out where he's goin' this time of night . . . or why." He drove skillfully, never letting the other vehicle out of his sight. "Talk about a wild goose chase," he finally remarked. "We could die of old age on these back roads."
"There's no law saying you can't drive around your neighborhood, nor is it illegal to sucker the cops — and we're being suckered, pal, we're being suckered," Hutch said very quietly.
"Don't suppose we can justify a stake-out, can we?" Starsky growled, turning down yet another isolated road. He let out a loud sigh when he came upon a wrought-iron gate and sign that said the rest of the property was private. The Continental was nowhere in sight. "Sonuvabitch!" He reached over to grab the mike, but Hutch stopped him.
"Don't waste your breath. As of now, we don't have enough to haul him in. Plus, he'd probably scream harassment, and be right." Hutch settled back, folding his arms, digging his fingers into the soft cashmere folds of his jacket, mind whirling. "If you're right, and there are three people at Mayhew's — and two of them are Mayhew and his driver — who's the third one? The guy who was so damn curious about my car? Or somebody else?"
He glanced over at Starsky and suddenly said, "Let's go. I'll call Metro and report us out." He stretched, then rubbed his shoulder. "Your place is closer, can I bunk there for the night? I'm really beat."
Starsky was silent. So quiet in fact that Hutch finally shot him a puzzled look. "Well, yes or no?" Then, hazarding a guess, he said haughtily, "Forget it. Just take me back to my car. I'll head for the beach."
"Keep your shirt on, I'm just tryin' to work out the sleeping arrangements," Starsky said as calmly as if Hutch hadn't spoken. "Mitzi's there, and if you think I'm gonna let you sleep with her, you're crazy." He waited until Hutch had signed them off before continuing. "I know you won't attack my bod, Hutch, so don't get snotty with me. And you'll hafta wait outside until I make sure she's covered up." Starsky backed up, turning the Torino around as quietly as he could. "Probably gonna take us an hour to get outta this rat maze. Can you imagine bein' drunk and tryin' to find your house?"
Hutch grunted. "No. Can you imagine being sober and trying to drive down those ninety degree driveways? Gives me the creeps." He shuddered and leaned back, closing his eyes. "Wake me up when we get to your place. After you get Mitzi decent, that is." A smile curved his mouth.
How many times had they done this? How many nights had he been the one trying to steal a few minutes of precious sleep? Starsky gazed at his partner. The faint hint of Hutch's aftershave drifted toward him and he drew the scent into his lungs. Like all the other odors, it was one he knew well, and one that Hutch wore better than anyone else.
When he finally found the far end of Coldwater Canyon Road, he sighed with relief. Speeding up, he wove in and out of the late night traffic without incident. Twenty minutes later, he pulled up outside his place and parked without disturbing Hutch. He left the lights on and ran up the steps, quickly letting himself in, striding silently into the bedroom where Mitzi lay curled into a neat, fetal ball. He tucked the covers solidly around her, kissed her cheek, and took blankets and pillow out of the closet. Closing the door, he tossed the bedding onto the couch, then went back outside.
He heard something scurry away, but couldn't see anything. Hutch was sitting up, rubbing at his eyes, blond hair fluffed around his head. "God! What kind of spotlight was that?" he asked crossly.
Starsky stared at him. "What're ya talking about? It's only my car headlights. Oh, maybe a Land Rover with top spots went by. Come on, let's get inside." He locked the car, and, half-leading his sleepy partner up the steps, pushed the bigger man in with a word of warning. "She's asleep, so don't wake her up."
"Was more like a flashbulb, come to think of it," Hutch said thoughtfully. "Hell, I must've been dreaming." He began removing his clothes, stripping down to his shorts, barely taking time to arrange blankets and pillow. "Night", he murmured, "and thanks."
"De nada," Starsky replied absently, aware he hadn't had a hell of a lot of sleep, either. He switched off the lights and tiptoed into the bedroom, sliding out of his clothing as he went. Mitzi barely moved as he crawled under the covers, trying to claim a bit of her warmth. He yawned twice, then fell asleep, hand not quite touching her back.
Long nails digging into his shoulder woke Starsky, and he saw Mitzi's eyes, wide and full of fear, staring back at him. "What'sa matter?" he slurred, hoping to God she didn't want anything physical this time of the morning. Glancing toward his window, he could barely make out the shapes of the trees.
Her body pressed harder against his as she shook his arm. "Davey, I smell smoke! Wake up . . . I think the hill's on fire! ` She clambered over him, grabbing at her clothes, dressing with a swiftness that always amazed him. "Hurry! You know how fast these brush fires burn!"
Reason warred with his natural fear. "Don't smell anything," he replied. "Besides, this whole area's watered nearly every night." Just the same, he tossed the covers aside, getting to his feet with those automatic moves he used when his brain didn't want to engage. He went to the window, opening it wide, staring out into the morning haze. It was already warm, but not from brushfires. Still, it didn't pay to ignore Mitzi; she wasn't the panicky kind. Afraid as she was, she was carefully packing her toiletries. He hid a smile; one thing about her, she was always ready to travel.
It was then he caught the faint, acrid odor of smoke, and snapped wide awake. It was coming from the front of the house — where Hutch slept. "Jesus!" he muttered. "You're right, I can smell it now." In three steps he was in the front room, staring as a thin plume of smoke filtered under the door. Hutch lay asleep, long limbs tangled in the blanket, hair drifting across the dark wool.
Swiftly, Starsky was at his side, shaking him awake. "Hey! We gotta little trouble, pal. Maybe a brushfire in the hills." He saw Mitzi flinch and shut up.
Hutch, wasting no time, leaped off the couch clad only in his briefs. "Smells more like paper than brushfire," he commented. "You got any trash out there?" Tentatively, he reached for the doorknob. "Well, at least it's not hot." He unlocked, then opened the front door. "What . . . ? Starsk, look at this!" He waved his hands to dispel the billowing smoke.
Starsky crowded beside him, staring down at a smoldering heap of newspapers, weighted down with several half-consumed charcoal briquettes. "Another five minutes and we'd've had a real fire," he said grimly. "Who's screwin' around?" Angry, Starsky ran down his steps, checking the shrubbery. Hutch went inside, returning with a pan of water. He poured it on the coals, creating still more smoke. "Phew! What a mess!" he exclaimed. Kneeling, he lifted a charred section of paper by one damp edge. "Starsk?" he called. "You take the Valley News? Or did you forget to pay your paperboy?"
Starsky came back, shaking his head. "Nope, don't read it, except at the check-out stand." he stared at his partner. "What's this all about, anyway?" He knelt down, examining the sodden papers. "Why'd someone try to start a fire here, when there's all that underbrush around? Doesn't look like the work of a firebug." As he got to his feet, he noticed the smudges on Hutch's shorts and grinned. "You got soot on 'em. Gonna file a claim for a new pair?" He poked Hutch in the chest, laughing when the blond grabbed his arm to keep from falling.
"Let's go in before the neighbors talk," Hutch said seriously. "Maybe one of them tried to incinerate you." There was a note of concern in his voice that said he wasn't going to be put off by any horseplay. Hand still on Starsky's arm, he pushed him toward the door.
"Damn, I forgot about Mitzi," Starsky said, leading the way back into the living room. "I'd like to get my hands on the jerk who did that." He closed the door behind Hutch, shoving the bolt home.
Less than a minute later, the shrubs across the street parted and a tall figure stepped out, holding a camera equipped with a long range lens, He headed down the sloping street until he cane to a car parked at the curb. Ducking inside, in a matter of minutes he was coasting down the hill, switching on the ignition only after he was on the main street. "Your ass is in a sling, Hutchinson, and before long you'll be checking the want ads." He reached over and patted the camera. "But first, candy ass, I'm gonna bleed you of all your hard-earned money!"
The charred papers had revealed nothing. Outside of a few circled ads, the pages had proved useless in providing clues to the firebug's identity. None of the neighbors had seen or heard anything, and in disgust Starsky gave up, devoting his time to Snake's murder. It was connected in some way to Mayhew. He felt that in his gut.
While checking the files on the little sleazo, Starsky suddenly got another feeling — one that usually signified trouble. Looking up, he saw Hutch standing out in the hall, expressionless, but with eyes like narrowed daggers. A chill ran down his spine, and he got to his feet, hastily slipping the worksheets into their folder. When his partner looked like that something was horribly wrong, and Starsky knew he was needed. Pushing open the squadroom door, he silently joined Hutch, offering his unspoken support. Glancing down, he saw Hutch was holding a large mailing envelope.
"What's up?" he asked finally, actually feeling the tension radiating off Hutch. "What's in the envelope?"
"Nothing we can discuss here." The blue eyes looked deep into Starsky's. "I'm going to Huggy's. In five minutes you follow. See if I'm being tailed." Then he was off, striding down the corridor, head high, leaving Starsky to stare after him.
It was only a matter of minutes before Starsky spotted a green sports car pulling away from the curb. As he ran toward the Torino, he caught a glimpse of the driver, and frowned. Something familiar about the man. That fact was enough to occupy his mind while he tailed him. His partner was very deliberately drawing the man out and it was working like a charm. Whoever was in the car was so busy keeping an eye on Hutch's erratic driving, he didn't have time to see if anyone was following him. He slipped the snap off his holster, his amusement vanishing as he tried to figure out why Hutch was being followed. Until they found out, all he had to do was keep the car in sight.
The parking lot behind Huggy's was full, and there was no sign of the LTD or the sports car when Starsky pulled in. He sat for a few moments, waiting for some unexpected movement. When he saw Hutch's blond head bob up then down, he grinned wolfishly. "Gotcha, sucker," he muttered, parking the Torino by the back door of The Pits. His elation was short-lived; Hutch joined him before he was even out of the car.
"He's gone," he said grimly. "Must've spotted you as he drove into the lot. Did you get a chance to call in his license?"
Starsky shook his head. "No. Where'd he go? What the fuck's going on, Hutch?"
"First the registration, then we talk." Hutch led the way to where the nondescript vehicle was parked, cautiously checking the cars on either side while Starsky jotted down the license. He looked up when Starsky swore. "What's the matter?"
"This is a rental . . . a goddamn rental!" He aimed a kick at a tire. "Real fly-by-night outfit on Pico." Then curiosity getting the better of him, he asked, "How'd ya know you were being followed?"
Hutch's glance slid away. "Let's get inside Huggy's before I answer that." He led the way to the back entrance. "Upstairs," he murmured. "I'll get us something to drink."
"Just as long it's lemonade, I'll take anything," said Starsky as he took the stairs two at a time. He entered the smaller of the two rooms Huggy used as a flop and office combo, settling into the most comfortable chair with a huge sigh. His comfort, however, was short-lived. He was certain he should know the driver of that car.
Hutch, after depositing two glasses of lemonade on the table, tossed the mailing envelope next to them. "Take a good, long look at these and tell me why I thought I was being followed."
Starsky dumped the contents on the table, turning puzzled eyes toward Hutch when he saw the two pictures. "What the hell are these?" he asked, studying the two eight by ten glossies of him and Hutch on his front porch, totally naked, seemingly fooling around.
Hutch sipped at his side, glance unreadable. "Clever, aren't they? Taken when we were out there looking at that goddamn little fire . . ."
"But we had skivvies on! We —" Starsky scanned the photos with a critical eye. "Hey! This ain't my ass!' He frowned at the implications.
"That's not all. Read it and weep." Hutch unfolded a sheet of paper that had been under the pictures.
"We know all about you, Hutchinson, and your cock-sucking lover. Your days as a cop are over."
Starsky stared in disbelief at Hutch, who stood beside him studying the photos. "These are retouched. Nobody's gonna believe this kinda shit. Besides, Mitzi will swear that nothing —" His protest died away when Hutch shook his head, looking at him with helpless fury.
"No. Can't risk it. I'm not going to see you flushed down the john because of me." There was no self-pity in the statement. "Hell, I always knew it was too good to last." A faint smile appeared. "Not that your ass isn't a lot better than that one. But before I hand in my badge I want this bastard! Besides, I think I know who's behind this." He took the note from Starsky, crushing it. Then he ripped the first picture into small pieces. "No use taking these around to any studio. It's obvious they were done in somebody's home."
"And you suspect Mayhew, don't you?" Starsky said suddenly, looking down at the remaining photo with renewed interest. "Lemme keep this . . . maybe the paper's from a pack at his place." He folded it and stuck it in his pocket before Hutch could protest. It was then that a new idea struck him. "If this guy's been followin' you, why didn't he take shots of you and, oh, your friend?"
"That's why I think it's Mayhew," Hutch snapped. "Because the pictures are of us. Obviously whoever this guy is, he doesn't know about Harper —" He paused, then stammered, "Well, you-you know what I mean."
But for Starsky the slip meant more than just a word. Harper? He tried to pay attention to what Hutch said neither but it was useless. Finally, he said brusquely, "Let's get outta here and try to nail that mother." Action was his only refuge, and as they left the bar he felt the return of an old pain. Heading for his car, he merely waved at his partner, worried that Hutch might see through his facade of anger, and glimpse the hurt . . . the betrayal. Harper. He hated the name. It sounded like money and position and expensive tastes. He drove on, awash in emotions, when another thought struck him. What if this unknown photographer really did know about Hutch and his lover and was saving other, more incriminating pictures if these didn't work? Starsky wondered what his own reaction would be if confronted with shots of the two men locked in some goddamn passionate clinch. He found he hated this unknown Harper with a vengeance. "We'll get him, Hutch, so help me, we'll nail him." In the rear-view mirror he saw the old LTD rounding the corner; Hutch following him back to the station. Trusting him to do what was right, willing to give up his career to protect his friend. "No way, partner," Starsky muttered. "I ain't lettin' go that easy." Not to a blackmailer, and not to some fuckin' stranger named Harper.
"Can't you imagine the looks on their faces?" Penneman slapped his leg. "Hell, by the time I get through with that blond bitch, he'll be running for the hills." He took a long swallow of beer, and sighed, looking around the expensively furnished sundeck. "Yet, sure got it nice here, baby." He smiled at Mayhew.
Mayhew didn't look convinced. "Fake pictures won't convict anyone. So far I'm not really sure he's even a closet gay. Hell, you said they didn't sleep together when they went to Starsky's place. If his partner isn't his lover . . . well, somebody else is . . . and I want to know who."
Getting to his feet, he leaned over the rail of the sundeck, studying the view. Then, turning, he said smoothly, "Don't try shafting me, baby, for a few lousy bucks — like you did with Snake. You do whatever it takes to get this Hutchinson off the force." He smiled unpleasantly. "Maybe we'll have to find someone to come on to him. Or is he the faithful type?" He watched the light reflect off his pinky ring. "Well, what do you think?"
Penneman shrugged. "How should I know? I don't think he's like Sully, though — the more the merrier." He shook his head. "Too bad the cop didn't take a shine to him. He'd fuck Hutchinson at the drop of a hat." He finished his beer, a calculating look in his eyes. "I've had it in for him and his partner ever since they arrested me, Danny, but I still wouldn't mind a piece of that —"
Eyes glittering, Mayhew said sharply, "No way! Want to nail him for the real thing . . . not because a couple of cunts want to play games!" His voice dropped to a low and dangerous level. "Yet, find some lady who can tail that cop and not get caught, you understand? I've got a gut feeling he plays around on his days off." Picking up his drink, he sucked noisily on the ice cubes. "If he's as clever as I suspect, he may have another life entirely . . . and this cop stuff is only for working hours." He looked at his companion. "I want him out of my hair, Juli, and soon."
"Yeah, sooner than that, baby, you'll see." Penneman began massaging his groin. "God, I'm horny as hell! I got more action in the slammer. What say you and I take a break?" Juli pressed his hands around his genitals, outlining a rapidly hardening area. "Come on, Danny," he coaxed. "Here's eight inches just dying to lay you wide open." He got to his feet, going over to stroke the older man's hair. "Come on . . ."
The dark eyes looked Penneman over. "For old times sake, baby, then you get out of here and bring me that cop's head."
Laughing, Penneman ran his fingers through the wavy hair. "Hell, I'll bring you his whole cock if that's what you want. Bet it's as gold as his hair. But now I'm gonna make you forget him, and we're going to shoot for the moon."
Starsky was bored. Usually on the weekend, he enjoyed his time off, but today was different for some reason. He'd cleaned his apartment, gone to the Laundromat, and had read the last chapter of LITTLE KNOWN FACTS ABOUT AUSTRALIAN FAUNA. Now, late in the afternoon with no ballgames to watch and no ladies to squire around town, he lay on his stomach, chin on his arm and eyed the telephone. What he wanted to do was call his partner and ask what he was doing. What he was going to do was lie here and stare at the phone until Hutch had had time to go out — if he was going out — and then call.
Sighing, he rolled over onto his back, feeling like he'd lost some part of his life he didn't want to lose. He thought about the pictures and the note and scowled. Was Mayhew really behind some weird plot to blackmail Hutch? And if so, why? The cop in him chewed away at the question for a while, then, eyes flying open, he sat bolt upright, forgetting his boredom. Fact One: Mayhew wanted to force Hutch to resign so he was looking for a chink in his armor. Fact Two: He seemed certain that Hutch was a closet gay — but why? The night they'd forced Mayhew to help them with the drug bust nobody but that faggy little chauffeur so much as made a face at his partner. Fact Three: What's-his-name must have convinced his boss that Hutch really was gay, and probably sleeping with his partner. In fact, it was probably Sully who'd set the fire and then taken the original pictures!
Eyes narrowing, Starsky got slowly to his feet. Maybe he should roust the little bastard from his digs and make him confess. Then he might be able to persuade Hutch not to resign.
It was hard to put into words what he felt for his friend. Love, trust, admiration — not to mention exasperation. Sometimes it seemed Hutch was just a big, gentle farm kid, and at other times he was amazed at how truly hard-nosed his partner could be. He scratched at his chin, ambling into the bathroom to shave off the day's beard. As he lathered up his cheeks, he stared at his reflection. Not a bad face as faces go, he decided, but that was only because the sum of its parts added up pretty well. The ladies went for his hair and eyes, and he wasn't stupid enough to deny they liked his body. He smiled, almost nicking his mole. How many times had he caught Hutch watching his ass and then shaking that blond head of his? He'd hated his looks as a kid, but between the Army and the demands of the department, he'd built himself a pretty good physique.
The razor glided down his cheek and he paused long enough to wonder what Harper looked like. Older? No, Hutch wasn't likely to go for a father figure — not the way he occasionally talked about his old man, anyway. Younger? He carefully navigated past the mole on his cheek, flicking the cream into the sink. Yeah, that was a possibility but he couldn't be certain. No, his partner was probably sleeping with someone his own age, someone who needed that sense of security Hutch gave off. His hand trembled, and hard steel nicked his lip. Actually, he always felt he had to protect Hutch. The man was so inclined to go off half-cocked when there was a cause to be found. He dabbed at the tiny spot of blood, then washed the rest of the shaving cream off his face and neck, feeling much better. A little aftershave and he was ready to hit the road; ready to find out about Mayhew's chauffeur.
He was halfway down the front steps when the phone rang, and as he raced back he hoped it was his partner. "Yeah? Starsky here."
"Well, that's good, 'cause that's the number I'm calling." It was Huggy, chuckling softly. "And speaking of numbers, you'll be glad to know that an old acquaintance of yours just hit The Pits."
"Who?" responded Starsky abruptly, not in the mood for games. "Anyone I'd care to see?"
"That depends on who you got in mind. He was asking about your better half, if you get my drift."
"Just the name, Huggy, come on!" But alarm bells were already sounding in Starsky's head.
"One Julius Penneman, my friend. The sleezo who loves to squeezo the boys where it hurts the most." His tone became querulous. "And just why is he so anxious to find out about Hutch? He know something we don't?"
"Shit! I'll be there in half an hour. Let you in on the latest. Hutch is in deep trouble." Hanging up before Huggy could bombard him with more questions, Starsky looked up. He mused over what he was going to tell Huggy, deciding since he already knew about Hutch, the smartest thing to do was fill him in on what had happened in the last week.
He thought about calling Hutch, but knew he wasn't going to. He wanted to talk to Juli privately — without his partner around. Maybe he'd stop by Venice Place later on . . . bring a pizza and some beer. Hutch'd like that.
"Penny for your thoughts."
Lazily, Hutch rolled over, tearing his gaze from the vast expanse of ocean he could see from the window. Smiling up at the man who stood watching him, he answered. "Was just wondering why I don't chuck everything and move in with you."
Pale green eyes widened, then narrowed as Harper joined him on the couch. A hand ran over his shoulder, fingers splaying to grip his deltoid in a tight hold. "Any time you're ready, just say the word."
"Not that easy. There are . . . certain friends . . . who'd question my moving away . . . career-wise." Hutch sat up, pulling off the towel which lay draped across his lap. "Besides, Laguna's too damn far for me to commute." He grinned, fending off ten very roving fingers.
Harper dropped a kiss on Hutch's head. "So why don't you relocate in Irvine? That's twenty minutes away by freeway. I like to think about you being here every night instead of once a month — or whenever you can spare a day. Hell, Ken, I always feel like we're sneaking around . . . you know, school kid stuff." he moved down to sample the skin on his lover's throat.
"Hmm, too much hassle to transfer everything to Orange County. Besides, I'm not crazy about this area." Fighting to keep his mind on what he was saying, Hutch closed his eyes, only to have them kissed by that hot mouth. "What I'd honestly like is a place in Pasadena — the older section — big yard with lots of trees . . ."
"Jesus! You sound just like every lovesick faggot in the world!" Harper grabbed Hutch by the shoulders and shook him. "We can't have that kind of life and you goddamn well know it! Quit dreaming, Ken, and accept what we can have." He let go, making a sweeping gesture that encompassed the spacious room. "Why isn't this enough?"
"Because I don't want to move in as part of a business deal," Hutch said softly. "N'that's one of your big problems, Harper, you can't see past your checkbook." He got to his feet, ignoring his nakedness. "Sure I have a dream about a home, why shouldn't I? And for the record I also entertain the thought of someone to love for the rest of my life. I don't want a merger, I want —"
"A marriage?" interrupted Harper, lips drawn back in a snarl. "Look at you. You could sleep with half this state if you wanted to, work wherever you want . . . I wouldn't care! All I need to know is that you care enough to spend a little time with me. Why isn't it enough for you? We're good, Ken, and you know it." He threaded his fingers through Hutch's hair. "Why do you wear your hair this long? Don't your business partners say anything?"
The nonsequitor took Hutch so much by surprise he simply stared for a moment then began to laugh. "My partner happens to like my hair, any length I want to wear it. Just like I don't give a damn how long his gets." He moved closer to this complex man he liked so well, and touched the soft, brown curls. "What's the matter? You seem awfully edgy these days."
They embraced, Harper's taller frame almost completely enveloping Hutch. "God, I am sorry, babe, I didn't mean a word about hating story-book homes. Dream away." Then, gently, Harper tried to maneuver his lover back onto the couch. "What you need is some good head and I'm just the person to give it to you." He pressed his fingers into the hard muscles. "Don't fight me, Ken, please."
Giving in, Hutch lay back, watching as the brown head bent and the mouth began delivering everything it had promised. Yet, even as he cried out his fulfillment, a small part of his mind wandered. He did want a home and someone who loved him — someone who would hate it if he slept with half the state. As he smoothed back Harper's curls, he imagined another face, and trembled at such dangerous thoughts.
It was six by the time Starsky found a parking place and entered The Pits. The crowd was composed mostly of regulars and he waved to several couples who occupied back booths. However, he was looking for a certain face, and not finding it, hurried to the bar. "Where's Penneman?"
Huggy slid him a mug of beer before he replied. "He left about five minutes ago after makin' two very interesting calls." The tilted eyes met Starsky's, and he shrugged. "Your blond brother must have made old Juli awfully angry." He glanced around the room, then spoke rapidly. "He was talking to somebody about a tail, but got mad and slammed the receiver down. I heard him mention Hutch." Looking straight at Starsky he asked, "So, you said he's got trouble. What can the Bear do?"
Briefly, Starsky told him of Hutch's admission, then the business with the fire and the photos. Huggy nodded, but said nothing, his slender fingers playing with the bar rag until finally he tossed it into the sink. "Damn! I'm as jumpy as a dude with a royal flush and the cops at the door." He came out from behind the bar, beckoning for Starsky to follow him. "Now it makes some sense. The second call he made? He was asking someone to set Hutch up. Must've called one of the boys who gets paid for gettin' laid." Light ran in tawny color over his features, accenting the nose and high cheekbones. His eyes were unreadable.
"Someone's tryin' to bust him, Hug," Starsky said wearily. "And I don't think Penneman's smart enough to plan this sort of operation. He's more the 'bust-your-balls' type. We're beginning to suspect Mayhew — that guy we collared a week ago? But we got no proof." He looked around the room, and took a long swallow of beer. "Anything else? Names? Places?"
"The name Polidor mean anything to you?"
Starsky stared. "The female impersonator?" He fished in his pocket, tossing a couple of bills on the end of the bar. "Hell, he always means trouble . . ." He got out his car keys. "Thanks, Hug."
"You know where he hangs out?"
Starsky was already halfway out the door. "I'll find it. Oh, if Hutch drops by tell him about Penneman . . . nothin' else. Ya got that?" As soon as he got into the car, he radioed the station. "This is Zebra Three going Code Nine. I need an address on Spyros Polidor, female impersonator. Past record on a Three-Fourteen . . ."
"Zebra Three, is this the guy who looks like Liz? Over."
Starsky grinned. "Yeah, both Liz and Dick . . . Over." He jotted down the address, shaking his head at the dispatcher's warning about double dates, then headed toward Santa Monica.
A block behind him, a small gray truck eased slowly away from the curb, the driver following the Torino. Beside him lay a camera with a long-distance lens, and several rolls of film.
Dawn was a pale slash of apricot against a gray sky by the time Hutch and Talmadge reached the outskirts of Venice. While the forecast was for cooler weather, the announcer sounded doubtful. Still, with the ocean the color of silver, and the city lights flickering in the distance, it was a magic time. Hutch looked over at his companion. "I know what you're thinking," he half-accused.
Harper smiled. "Do you? Or are you simply being the egotistical bastard you usually are after we make love?"
"You can talk. You made your point, getting me to promise to spend my vacation with you." Hutch changed the angle of the seat, almost reclining in the velvet upholstery of the Mercedes.
"If I truly have my way, you'll move in with me, Ken. Then we'll save all this driving back and forth." He waited but there was no response. "You thirsty? Let's stop for coffee."
Sleepily, Hutch demurred. "No gutrot this early, please."
The big car sped on, neither man speaking. Suddenly, swerving off the highway, Harper came to an abrupt stop directly in front of a small coffee shop. Despite the early hour the parking lot was crowded with campers and cars. Reaching over, he nudged Hutch. "Wake up, sleepyhead, breakfast's on me." He lightly brushed back the fair hair.
Hutch started, then paled when he realized where they were. "I-I don't want anything, and besides, it looks as though we'll have quite a wait."
"So what? It's Sunday, all day. Come on, Ken, I'm starved." Green eyes pleaded eloquently. "Come on. At least you can keep me company."
Hutch relented, trying to smother his apprehensions. "All right, I guess I'll survive." He got out of the car, hoping to high heaven the waitress who usually served Starsky and him was off. Deliberately, he headed for the rear of the dining room. He could feel the eyes of every single patron boring into his back, knowing who he was and ready to shout out his identity to his cop-hating lover. Mercifully, it only took a few minutes to get served.
Digging in with gusto, Harper demolished a stack of pancakes, sausage, and eggs, washing them down with three cups of coffee.
Hutch, busy with huevos rancheros, glanced out the window, and saw a black and white pull into a slot directly outside. He shot a quick look at Harper, who was busy eating. He watched the patrolmen enter the cafe, grateful when they took seats at the counter. Maybe all they wanted was coffee, and they'd be gone before he and Harper were done. His heart sank when he saw his lover's annoyed look.
"That gripes the hell out of me," commented Harper curtly, watching them. "These so-called public servants getting paid by us, taking time from their duties to sit around and drink endless cups of coffee — no doubt at public expense." His right hand formed a fist, and Hutch's hand shot out, grabbing the wrist.
"Look, I know how you feel about cops, but they have as much right to be here as us. Do me a favor and behave. Let's not call attention to ourselves." He grew angrier when he felt his lover's resistance. "Don't buck me on this!" he warned. "I'm in no mood for a confrontation this morning." His tone must have been sharper than he thought, for the men turned to watch him, turning back to speak to one another after a moment. Quickly, he let go of Harper and began stirring his coffee, hoping all they would do was nod. Yet, deep inside, he wondered if the pretense was worth the effort. He was a cop and not ashamed of it — or so he'd always said in the past. What had he become? "I'm going to the john," he said tiredly. "Meet you at the car." He knew his lover was furious, but it didn't seem to matter much. What did matter was leaving the cafe quietly with a minimum of fuss.
To his vast relief the men's room was unoccupied, and he splashed water on his face, then combed his hair. He stared at his reflection; taking note of the expensive slacks and pale silk shirt so very different from his everyday gear. Shit! The law of averages had just caught up with him.
He couldn't stall any longer, so he made his way back to the table, tossing down a couple of bills for the tip. The patrolmen were gone, but he could see their unit still parked outside, and he knew what was going to happen. There was no avoiding it — fatalistically he put on his sunglasses and headed for the Mercedes, and Harper.
"Hey! Hutchinson, wait a minute."
Darting a quick glance to where his lover sat, eyes wide, Hutch slowly made his way to the police car. "Yeah? How's it going?" he asked quietly.
"Not too bad. We heard about that bust you and Starsky made a week ago. Nice job. Say, where is your partner?"
He forced a knowing smile. "Weekend off. What do you think we do . . . live together?" Careful, Hutchinson, don't say another word.
They laughed at the sarcasm, and as they pulled away, the driver leaned out the window, saying loudly, "You tell that partner of yours to get rid of the Torino. We've got a couple of car heisters over here who are lusting for that model. So long." Nodding goodbye, they sped back to work, leaving behind one of their own.
Hutch said nothing as he slid into the seat next to Harper, but he felt the tension in the air. Still, he was unprepared for the sheer hatred in the look his lover gave him.
"You're a cop! A stinking, lying, undercover spy! I ought to throttle you with my bare hands!" The features bore no resemblance to the charming, sophisticated man he really was.
"Please, let me explain," Hutch began. "It's not what you —"
The blow caught him off guard, splitting his lip and nearly causing him to hit his head against the window.
"Don't say another word!" Harper shouted, turning on the ignition. "It'll be more lies, won't it? Christ, man, how could you?" Tires squealing, he shot out into the street, luckily still not too congested with traffic. Wiping the blood that stained his knuckles on his slacks, he ignored Hutch's efforts to staunch the flow of blood from his lip. "I heard the cops were infiltrating just about everywhere, but I didn't realize how far they were prepared to go to find out about gays." The green eyes were slits of fire. "Do they know what we do? How do you write that up?"
"I'm not undercover," Hutch said softly. "They don't know about me. They think I'm straight." He stared off into the distance, hating what was happening, yet finding a curious sort of relief it was finally over. Only one more job to do, then he would be free of all entanglements. Free. Except for Starsky.
Harper, still fuming, wasn't listening. He drove like a madman, even running a red light. "Well, why don't you give me a ticket, Officer? I just broke the law!" The brown curls were damp in the morning sun.
"Sergeant. I'm a Detective Sergeant, first class," Hutch retorted. "And if you do that again, I'll cite you so fucking fast your head'll spin!" It was good to feel some emotion again. "And slow down, for Christ's sake!"
Perhaps it was Hutch's tone, perhaps it was the dangerous light in his eyes, but Talmadge did slow down and obey the traffic signs. Mouth set in a grim line, he refused to say anything more to the man he felt had betrayed him. "If I find out you've been using me to uncover information about others," he said, "I'll sue you, the LAPD, and anyone else who's mixed up in this. And I'll claim entrapment!" Pain put a cutting edge on his voice. "Christ! To think I actually asked you to live with me!"
"Don't," Hutch whispered, lip now swollen to twice its normal size, he rested his hand for an instant on Harper's arm, but withdrew it when the other man flinched. "Sorry. Pull over here, I'll walk the rest of the way."
There was a slight pause before Harper nodded, pulling immediately to the curb. He watched Hutch get out, then tromped heavily on the accelerator, defying the speed limit. In less than a minute the Mercedes was out of sight, leaving the blond man standing alone, staring after it.
Starsky glanced impatiently at the kitchen clock, wondering if Hutch was ever coming home, silently cursing his own assumption that his partner wouldn't be spending the entire weekend with someone. He sat morosely on the battered old kitchen chair, surveying the remains of an avocado/bacon sandwich, a lukewarm can of Pepsi, and sighed. What did he want from Hutch, anyway?
He drained the last few drops of soda, then squeezed the can until it crumpled. It joined two others in the bag for the reclamation center. He didn't know what he wanted any more, but lately all his denials about not caring who Hutch slept with were beginning to have an awfully hollow ring.
So, back to square one — what did he want from Hutch? There was nobody here to lie to, nobody who even gave a damn — except himself.
He got to his feet, carrying plate and utensils over to the sink, rinsing them off out of habit. As he dried them he tried to imagine how Hutch must feel with so much pressure coming from all sides. Deep down, he knew his partner loved him; maybe not sexually, but with a love far greater than anything he felt for anyone else.
He wiped his hands, and wandered into the living room, flopping down on the couch. So, the next question was, how did he feel about Hutch?
The resultant overwhelming surge of possessiveness startled him, but he was too honest to deny it. Hutch belonged to him. Plain, unvarnished truth, and he knew it. Knew also that he loved the tall blond with all his heart. He stretched out on his stomach, chin propped up on the padded arm, fingers idly stroking the satiny wood of the end table. This place was his second home, and Hutch was his other half — wasn't that enough? Closing his eyes, he admitted that it wasn't.
So, David Michael Starsky, what do you want from your best friend?
Something forbidden whispered softly in the back of his brain. No! Angrily, he pounded on the table top, sending the lamp dangerously close to the table's edge. With a desperate lunge he caught it and set it upright, his fingers wrapped around the brass base . . . He felt a small, unfamiliar projection and turned the lamp around, inspecting it. He recognized it immediately: an inconspicuous microphone — a bug!
He stared in disbelief for a few seconds, then carefully removed it and went over to the sink, dropping it in a pan of water. Replacing the lamp, he began a thorough search of the apartment, coming across two more of the devices. The one in the bathroom had been planted on the side of the medicine cabinet so the noise of running water wouldn't drown out whatever was said. The one in Hutch's bedroom alcove had been predictably placed under the bed. They joined the first. Whoever had placed them was an amateur, of that he was certain, but who in hell was going to these extremes to learn about his partner's personal life? He suddenly remembered he'd forgotten to search the little porch, so he went out there, getting down on his hands and knees to look under the daybed.
Starsky didn't hear the door open and nearly jumped out of his skin when Hutch suddenly said, "What in hell are you doing?"
"Jesus! Why didn't you say somethin' before you came breathin' down my neck!" Starsky exclaimed, getting to his feet. He took a good, long look at his partner, then said bluntly, "Who worked you over? Why?" But before Hutch replied, he gestured for silence, and headed for the kitchen, his partner on his heels.
Hutch sucked in his breath when he saw the listening devices in the sink. Pale with fury, he lifted each one out and crushed it under his heel. "So much for privacy," he gritted.
"Yeah. The question being, who's behind this crap?" Starsky eyed the swollen lip. "I hope he's in worse shape than you are," was all he allowed himself to say. "Siddown and let me do something about that lip." He moved out a kitchen chair and pointed to it.
Hutch sat unflinching while Starsky wiped away some of the dried blood. "Way you're dressed I figure you've been out with Harper. That right?" There was a savage anger in his gut, and he unexpectedly lifted Hutch's right hand, examining the knuckles. They were unmarked. So Hutch hadn't hit back — if Harper had done the hitting. "Gonna tell me what happened?"
"Nothing I didn't deserve, so let's forget it," Hutch said evenly. "What're you doing here, and how did those goddamn bugs get in my apartment?" He shook his head wearily, then pushed Starsky away with shaking fingers. "Lemme get out of these clothes. I feel like hell."
He went into the bathroom, and Starsky could hear the water running in the sink. When Hutch emerged a few minutes later, he was dressed in old jeans and a tee shirt, his face scrubbed clean. Outside of the split lip, he looked like the person Starsky knew best.
He grinned. "Want some coffee? You look like you could use a cup."
The blond head shook. "Not really. What I do want is to know what in hell's been going on here! Fill me in, will ya?" He sat down on the couch and stretched his legs in front of him, fingers probing his lip carefully. When he looked up at Starsky his gaze was wary. "So?" he prompted.
Starsky perched on the arm of the big chair. "Well, while you were out, I got a call from Huggy. Seems our mutual friend, Julius Penneman, was slumming last night, an' made a couple of phone calls from The Pits in which your name was mentioned prominently." Hutch sat up, eyes flashing. "Rather more than a coincidence he chose Huggy's to make the calls, wasn't it?"
"There's more. Huggy said that Penneman called Polidor, to see if any of the street, uh, trade was available for hire. So, I got outta Hug's like a bat outta hell." He smiled grimly. "This time I was followed."
"No shit! What for?" Hutch looked surprised. "I mean I'm the one who's wide open for blackmail, so why tail you?"
Starsky paused, shrugged, then said, "'Cause sooner or later I always end up here, with you. Maybe that's why." He didn't take time to interpret Hutch's stare, but plunged ahead. "Anyway, I let the jerko think I hadn't spotted him and went bookin' for Polidor. He was real helpful . . . didn't know a damn thing except he hates ol' Juli s balls more than most. Wouldn't help him with either a trick — or get this — with some muscle men." His tone changed. "Hutch, Penneman's workin' for someone else. He hasn't got the kind of money he was waving under Polidor's nose."
"How much?" Hutch asked abruptly.
"Ten thou, pal. And we both know Juli's so tightfisted he squeezes pennies. When did he ever even see ten thousand bucks?" Starsky got to his feet, pacing the room, eyes flashing. "There's money talking, and the only new money we've crossed lately belongs to Daniel Edward Mayhew." He saw Hutch's expression change, harden. "What're you thinking about?"
"Remember when we checked Penneman out — when we found out he was paroled? His P.O. mentioned that Juli had become really proficient with a camera. That sure would explain those faked pictures, wouldn't it?" He leaped to his feet and went over to Starsky, placing a hand on his shoulder. "What we have to do is find out if there's any connection between Penneman and Mayhew, because if there is . . ." He grinned, then winced when his swollen lip cracked open. "Shit!" He let Starsky blot the blood once more, then muttered, "You said you were tailed, what happened to him?"
The dark blue eyes were hard. "I ditched him — but that might be why they bugged your place. I dunno." He averted his glance. "Does Harper ever come here? I mean, do you . . . ?"
The look Hutch gave his partner was both withering and amused. "He's been here to pick me up — but not to stay. And I don't have to worry about him any more." He turned abruptly. "So what do we do now?"
Very quietly, Starsky said, "First, I want to know what happened to you last night." He sat down in the easy chair, crossing his legs. "And I'm not gonna budge until you tell me."
"Yeah. Guess I owe you for finding those damn mikes. To put it simply, Harper found out I'm a cop." Hutch made a chopping gesture. "The man hates cops, voila, no more relationship."
"So why'd he hit you?'
"Because he thought I was undercover and might be a plant."
"You shoulda told him, Hutch. That sucks."
The blood nodded, but his eyes were cold. "It was none of his business what my occupation was. That part of my life is separate." He smiled ruefully. "He packs a mean punch for a broker, I have to say that."
Starsky shifted position, considering his next question carefully. "You gonna make things up with him?"
The blond head lifted, eyes meeting Starsky's with cool disdain. "I hardly think either of us will relent."
"What if you quit the force?" Starsky asked, watching for some sign of indecision. "Would you go back then?" He ran his glance over the lean figure, and felt like a man walking a very high wire.
"Starsky! The man hates all law enforcement officers! He's paranoid on the subject . . . and no, I won't go back." He hesitated, then admitted, "I did give it some thought, but . . ."
Their eyes met and Starsky saw what he wanted to see; for the time being it was enough. He got to his feet, smiling. "Okay, enough questions for now. What say we make some plans so we can catch us a couple of skunks."
Hutch grinned. "You ever get close to a trapped skunk, pal? Let me tell you the smell stays around a long time."
"Maybe so, but I've got a hunch this all ties in with that slimy Mayhew, and Snake's murder's the tip of the iceberg," Starsky said, noticing the fatigue settling on Hutch's features, the line deepening between his brows. He knew he was pushing, but there was no way he was going to leave Hutch on his own today — and not because he was worried about what his friend might do. He stifled a very tiny flicker of jealousy.
The way he saw it, right about now Harper was sitting somewhere nursing a drink, looking at his buffed nails and wondering how in the hell he was going to get Hutch back. And, insofar as this curly-haired cop was concerned, that time was never going to come. The man had had his chance to make Hutch fall in love with him, and had blown it.
Which only proved what Starsky had known all along; nobody else understood how complex Hutch really was . . . what be liked, what he hated. Or what he wanted. So how could some stranger — someone his partner didn't trust enough to tell he was a cop — expect Hutch to fall for him?
Starsky looked at the drooping lids with their fair lashes, and took a deep breath. "Tell you what," he said casually, "why don't you grab a little shut-eye while I make some phone calls? Maybe I can roust a snitch with a grudge against Penneman. Then, this afternoon we can do some skunk-hunting." He raised an eyebrow, made like Groucho, and was rewarded with a dazzling smile.
Hutch came closer, reaching out with warm, strong fingers which curled around the nape of Starsky's neck, the slid between his shoulder blades. "Don't know about you sometimes, compadre, but thanks for caring so damn much," he murmured, brushing his mouth against the dark curls. Finally, the fingers were withdrawn; he sighed very softly, and headed for the bedroom.
Starsky stood motionless, left with an aching need he hadn't dreamed existed, still feeling the tender press of Hutch's lips on his hair. Hutch had mentioned his caring as if he didn't deserve all the love and support his partner could give. Well, he cared all right, and maybe when things settled down a bit he'd take the time to examine his own needs — right now there was work to be done.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Hutch shedding his jeans. Tee shirt — flash of white briefs — gleam of gold skin; it was a scene being replayed for the thousandth time, never before as fascinating.
He went over to the front window and drew the shades, immediately cutting the glare. The large room looked far more inviting, restful, the shadows of hanging plants casting lace-patterns on the far wall. He could see Hutch sprawled across the bed, long legs tangled in the sheet, arm wrapped around a pillow. Starsky tore his gaze away, fished out his black notebook and began searching for the numbers he needed.
Thirty minutes later he wondered why life was so complicated. "Shit," he said softly for the fifth time. "Where'n hell do stoolies go on Sunday?" He'd struck out with several of his most reliable snitches, plus, he was so damn tired he was falling asleep. From the other room came the muffled sounds of snoring and he formed a mental image of the sleeper. If Hutch would hang on a little bit longer they'd find out who was blackmailing him. And then take time for ourselves.
With renewed determination he dialed the last number on his list — and struck gold. After a few minutes of intensive questioning he was satisfied, and quietly replaced the receiver. He tossed his notebook onto the coffee table and curled up on the couch, asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.
"Starsk? Wake up. It's getting late . . ."
Starsky heard the words, but couldn't struggle up from sleep. He knew he was dreaming, but he was so comfortable resting on Hutch's chest he didn't want to move.
Hutch's chest? "Wha—?" He sat upright, rubbing his eyes, trying to deny the dream, especially since the man he'd been dreaming about knelt in front of him. "—time is it?" he finished, trying to sound reasonably alert.
Hutch looked into Starsky's eyes, his expression unreadable. "Almost four, can you believe it? I must've died."
Taking refuge in a yawn, Starsky tried to cover his confusion. "Yeah." But the dream was too fresh, and Hutch was too close. With a feeling of relief he spotted the little notebook and snatched at the chance to bring things back to normal. Reaching over to tap Hutch's knee, he said quietly, "We got lucky, pal, and I found out who's puttin' Penneman up — or did when he was paroled." Somehow, his fingers slid up the denim-covered thigh, seeking the warmth of the skin beneath the cloth. He stared down at his hand, hypnotized, his train of thought lost.
The mood was broken by Hutch shifting his weight, his thigh muscles flexing under Starsky's hand, which was immediately withdrawn. "Where is he?" Hutch demanded, getting to his feet, fingers tugging at the dark curls, threading through them for a minute before drifting down to snag Starsky's hand. "First we find him, then Sherlock, I'll take you out to dinner. Or, we can always stay home and I'll make a tuna casserole." He stood still, looking expectantly at Starsky.
But Starsky was caught up in his partner's appearance. Hutch had changed into new jeans and a clean shirt of pale blue plaid. He was all gold and blue, and the detective thought he was the handsomest man he'd ever seen. The Magnum's holster, snug against Hutch's side, lent him a dangerous air which was very compelling. He felt the hair rising on his neck and forearms, and it was suddenly very warm.
"Hey! Starsk! I asked you where he was . . . you paying attention? And do you want to stay here or eat out?" Hutch's fingers tightened around Starsky's.
Mentally shaking the cobwebs away, Starsky answered the last question first. "You gotta be kidding. Any time you spring for the check is the time I order steak!" He pulled himself up, nearly toppling the bigger man.
Hutch shook his head. "Well, that's one question answered, now, where in hell do we find Penneman?"
He let go Starsky's hand, and picked up the revolver, checking the chamber before pushing the weapon down into the holster. "Who fingered him, anyway?"
"I got lucky. I remembered that Annie's kid brother used to have the hots for Juli long before he got his nuts cracked. So I took a chance, called her up . . . and she talked!" Starsky's tone changed, growing serious. "He's staying with Mayhew, Hutch."
"Jesus Christ!" came the whispered response. "When did they meet? What's going on?" Hutch followed Starsky into the bathroom, leaning against the doorframe with his arms folded.
"Obvious, ain't it?" Staring at Hutch's reflection in the mirror Starsky saw the return of the vulnerability that made his heart ache. "We arrest Mayhew, he gets mad as hell. Snake sees the writing on the wall and spills his guts. Now, Mayhew's gotta find a way to make the bust come apart, and we both know the only way to do that — especially now that Snake's squealed — is to make it a bad bust." He faltered, seeing the flare of quick anger in Hutch's eyes. "I don't think the idea to blackmail you came until after his chauffeur made some comment about you bein' so sexy."
He wanted to smile; Hutch was glaring at him, daring him to say what he really meant. "Relax, babe, I'm your best friend, so trust me." Starsky washed the sleep from his face, borrowed Hutch's razor to shave the stubble off his cheeks, then ran a brush through his curls, acutely aware of Hutch's interested gaze. Pulse quickening, he teased the blond. "Dinner, huh? Is this a date?"
Hutch shook his head, but there was a gleam in his eyes. "Call it whatever you like . . . but don't try your charms on me, handsome, I'm not that kind of boy."
Rinsing out the sink, Starsky made a face. "The hell you ain't! I saw the play you made for that little clerk in IA. No holds barred, she didn't know what hit her."
Hutch came up behind Starsky, their glances meeting in the mirror. "If ever the time comes when I make a play for you, I want you to know what hit you," he said very softly. "That's part of the fun." He stepped back, all business again. "Right now I want to shake a tree or two and see what falls out. Let's go find the connection between Penneman and one Daniel Mayhew. Maybe there's something in Records we've overlooked about Mister Mayhew."
"Yeah, well maybe old FLASH ain't as respectable as he wants us to believe," remarked Starsky, gratified by the startled glance Hutch threw him. "I'm always suspicious of anybody wearing a ring as big as his who doesn't have some kinda record." He reached out and ruffled the head of blond silk, grinning wickedly. "Come on, Lone Ranger, let's ride into town and get the bad guys. Just remember you promised me a steak!"
They left in the Torino, checking for a tail, the memory of the listening devices still very fresh. Seeing nothing suspicious, they headed for Los Angeles, intent on obtaining something concrete against the elusive businessman.
A little grey truck several cars ahead didn't even rate a glance, something the driver of that vehicle was counting on. He adjusted the volume on his recorder and waited. Dumb cops; never thinking about anyone bugging their precious cars.
The strident ringing of the telephone was irritating, but Mayhew surged to his feet and grabbed the receiver like a lifeline. "Juli? What the hell's goin' on?"
The voice on the other end of the line sounded a trifle too smug. "Don't sweat it, Danny. I ran into a little trouble last night, but things are workin' out now."
"You've got five minutes to convince me, so talk fast," was Mayhew's only response as he propped the phone up on his shoulder. Sully lay asleep in bed, totally fucked out, and the older man grinned. Old Juli had laid his chauffeur for the last time. Even since Snake's death, the boy's fascination for Penneman had been on the rocks. He'd seen the expression on the young face and kept his peace . . . Juli was his own worst enemy. He'd decided to get rid of the ex-con as soon as he brought proof about Hutchinson; there was no way he was going to hang around after that. He listened as Penneman brought him up to date, swearing under his breath when he heard about the unsuccessful attempt to bug Hutchinson's apartment. He was only slightly mollified when he learned that Juli had planted a mike in the Torino, and was waiting for them to come out of the station. He frowned when Penneman admitted all the cops had talked about was their suspicions concerning Juli and him. Damn! He'd worked too long and too hard to lose it all now. He knew some cops never gave up once they were on a trail, and he couldn't afford to have them digging too far into his past.
He came to a sudden decision. "Listen. I've got a hunch they're getting too close. You don't let them out of your sight — not for a minute! And if they get ready to move . . . well, you know what to do." He waited a beat, then added, "Remember, your ass is in a sling, too, so don't cross me. I know too damn much, baby."
Sully turned over, his slim body curling around the pillow. Mayhew waited until he was still, then said, "If they head out here, let them come. I'll let Fury loose this time." He hung up without saying goodbye, forgetting about the sleeping Sully. Over ten years since he'd killed anybody . . . and now those two clowns threatened his whole operation. Damn!
The air in the Records and Information room was always musty, and Hutch sneezed for the fourth time in as many minutes. Whenever Starsky brought out a new batch of files he sneezed. Still, being alone with his partner did have its advantages. For one thing, no one was likely to disturb them on a Sunday afternoon. For another, it gave him a chance to observe Starsky at his best, without being on guard all the time. Right now, kneeling on the floor, that enticing rear end angled just right for a private viewing, that long sweep of back arched to show off the broad shoulders, the narrow waist . . . what more could he ask for? A small voice told him in no uncertain terms, but since he was used to ignoring the little bastard it was all right.
Hutch wished he was a chameleon; one turret eyeball could read the files, the other would be permanently watching his partner. He smiled to himself, and went back to enjoying the view.
"Find anything?" Starsky asked in disgust, he struggled to his feet, knees cracking, and moaned. "God, why're all the files we want in the bottom drawers? I'm too old for this shit."
Hutch nodded his agreement, thus earning a dirty look. "Just be glad what we want isn't on microfilm, we d be here until next winter." He turned back to reading the files. "Here's where we have to start: Penneman's first conviction was in the fifties. What we need is any reference connecting Mayhew to him."
Starsky grunted. "One good thing, Penneman's been in jail so much his file's up to date. And, he's one of the good ol' boys . . . likes to keep in touch with all his old buddies."
"Be nice if we could connect them to Snake, too, but I've got the feeling Mayhew was as slippery then as he is now." he tossed aside the folder, reaching for another. "What we need is more than a casual connection, so let's keep digging."
Except for an occasional sigh, there was no further conversation. File after file was scanned then discarded, the pile shrinking ominously as the afternoon wore on. At seven o'clock Starsky looked worriedly at Hutch.
"What if we don't find something? You still gonna quit?"
"I don't know," Hutch said honestly, "because I don't know what kind of evidence this person has. If I can save my ass I will. If I can't, well, it's been the best of times, hasn't it?" He heard his voice falter, and grow steady again. "I don't want to leave, pal, but there's no way —"
"There's always a way!" Sapphire blue eyes flashed a message of courage and love across the table, more eloquent than words.
Hutch smiled. "Keep looking, partner. I'm not giving in yet."
At precisely seven forty-eight p.m. Starsky let out a triumphant yell. "Sonuvabitch! Hutch, we got him!" He leaped to his feet and did a war dance around the long table, coming to a halt beside Hutch.
"All right, you gonna let me in on the good news or do I sweat it out? What's the connection?"
His partner, beaming from ear to ear, shoved a dog-eared file toward Hutch. "Gaze at that sheet . . . and read the names out loud."
Hutch sucked in his breath, scanned the rap sheet quickly and found himself racked with fine tremors. Nearly eleven years ago, a much younger Julius Penneman and two companions had been picked up for questioning about a murder. Witnesses had placed them near the location, but there hadn't been enough to hold them. The other suspects' names were: Angel "Snake" Moreno, and Edwin N. Daniels.
"Get me Daniels' file!" Hutch snapped. "Maybe there's more on the bastard . . . and we better make absolutely sure the IDs match." He looked into Starsky's shining eyes. "Now we've got a motive for Snake's murder, don't we? He sang once, and they couldn't afford another aria. Damn!"
By eight o'clock, Captain Dobey's desk was piled high with files. Clipped to each one was a note in Starsky's or Hutch's handwriting. On the very top folder, Starsky had drawn a huge happy face.