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Immersion

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Starsky trotted to the steps leading up to the farmhouse’s wraparound porch. He paused to look one more time at the crime team members milling about. Still baffled by their behavior, he gazed skyward to catch one last glimpse of a blue sky nearly bleached white by the relentless midday sun before he climbed into the shade provided by the ecru canvas awning. His sunglasses found their way into a jacket pocket.

The light, humid, unsatisfying breeze changed direction just as Starsky topped the stairs. Its currents carried a fetid, sickly sweet, heavy, fearful, bitter odor that hammered mercilessly at his olfactory nerves. It stole his breath away and triggered the return of unsolicited memories. Damn! Didn’t think anything could smell worse than ‘Nam. A glance over his shoulder showed that Hutch had just reached Dobey’s car. He shrugged, opened the torn screen door, and plunged into a blood-red atrocity.

The dwelling seemed to rob the dark-haired detective of his free will, of his natural inclination to flee, and sucked him in to behold the horrors it now housed. Not hearing the rhythmic lull of the ceiling fans and the chorus of buzzing insects, he shuffled through the living room, stirring up the congealed coppery-red life that hadn’t seeped into the oak floor. Out of his memory flashed the Vietnamese people and fellow GIs he had seen mangled by napalm, white phosphorus, shrapnel, bullets. Two different peoples that burned the same, bled the same, died the same. He wished these people here and now at his feet had been so lucky. But he knew they hadn’t been.

He passed hacked torsos and pieces of limbs, once wholly human but now bug food. Along the way he noted the addition of far too much red in patterns that at first glance appeared abstract but began to coalesce into facial images on the walls of each room. He unconsciously drank it all in, absorbing every detail. As the images violated his cerebral cortex and drilled a path to the more primitive parts of his brain, the malodor intensified.

The house, as irresistible as a Siren, beckoned him in further, guiding him upstairs. He put his left hand on the banister, but withdrew it when he realized he had covered someone’s face. He peered closely at the place he had touched, hoping to identify the face somehow, or at least determine its gender, and to apologize.

But the face had vanished. He began to worry about where the face had gone, that he had smashed the life out of it. One part of his brain told him he was being foolish and just imagining it, but another part told him it was real. He didn’t know which part of his brain to believe. He turned his hand over to examine the palm. Expecting to see the face there, he gasped when he saw only irregular streaks of dark blood. He dared not rub them off.

Once upstairs, Starsky stood in the hallway, red-orange shag carpet squishy beneath his sneakers. All too easily, he observed that the bedrooms yielded the same grotesque sights he had endured downstairs. But one bedroom summoned him in for a closer look.

It was the nursery. There were two cribs against the wall to the right, head to head. He directed his gaze down to see seven skulls, missing their eyes, noses, lips, and hair. Five of them were arranged in one line, each faceless one facing the same way. The other two heads were on either side of the second of the five. Starsky stared, unbelieving and perplexed about the meaning of the arrangement.

His conscious mind woke up fully, breaking the spell of the hellhouse he had just walked through. The meaning of all he had just seen dawned on him. The unspeakable, unthinkable terror of hideously tortured and presumably random deaths. Then he remembered something other than the faces of people dead for a decade and dead for a day. He pushed those faces to the periphery of his vision so his recall would be clearer.

He knew a moment later what he had to do first.

~s&h~

The malicious odor emanating from the farmhouse caused Hutchinson to stagger back down the front porch steps he had taken two at a time. He stumbled, twisted his back, and narrowly avoided falling. He failed to notice the sharp discomfort, intent instead on getting to his partner.

Dobey arrived to help him in his struggle to maintain his footing. Hutchinson took a ragged, calming breath, recoiling only minimally at the stink that had followed him down the stairs. He tried to charge up the steps again, but Dobey’s determined hold on his upper arm prevented it.

“Wait just a damn minute!” the captain demanded. “You got to know what you’re headin’ into, Hutchinson.” He grabbed a few deep breaths. He felt the blond detective’s arm relax in his grip. “It’s a bloodbath in there. Bodies hacked up, mutilated” – he choked – “dismembered, even decapitated! Dammit!” He choked again. He had to clear his throat before continuing. “Nothing seems to be untouched by blood or vomit or, or…” He paused, not knowing what to say next, not even wanting to speak any more of this. But he pushed on. “Hutch, no one’s gotten past the first room, it’s that bad. Nobody but Starsky’s stayed longer than a few seconds. Hell, we have to go in, but I don’t know how to prepare people for this.”

Hutchinson shuddered at the despondency in his superior’s voice and bearing. If Dobey is floored by all this… He didn’t permit himself to finish the thought. But Dobey was right; they had to go in, sooner or later. He chose sooner. “I think I got the picture, Captain. I’m going in, and I won’t be alone – Starsky’s in there.”

Dobey released his detective’s arm and nodded his approval. “Get in there, Hutchinson. Do what you gotta do, grab Starsky, and get the hell outta there. That’s an order.”

Hutchinson smiled grimly. The concern on his captain’s face was supportive, giving him strength and confidence. Because of Dobey’s insistence on being prepared and his own troubled reaction, Hutch took a few moments to steel himself, to objectify the anticipated scene, for some small measure of protection. “Starsky’s waiting.” Within seconds he was back up the stairs and diving into hell’s temporary residence.

It took less than a heartbeat for Hutchinson to know that nothing could sufficiently prepare a human being for this situation. Dobey’s labeling the scene a “bloodbath” was a pathetic understatement. At the least, it was a sea of blood. Hutchinson equated it with a chop shop, but filled with stolen lives instead of stolen cars. He found himself unable to adequately depersonalize the sights around him. Before he knew it, he was hearing voices in the blood.

Not just voices, but screams. The endless, tormented, begging, pierce-to-the-marrow shrieks. The occasional softer pleas. The deeper tones of the men. The breathless tones of the women. The betrayal in the children’s voices when their family did not answer their cries for help. The death rattles, cut short by blades drawn deeply across throats.

Hutchinson clamped his hands over his ears. The screams did not lessen. He forced himself into a light meditative state to find what he needed to shield himself. In a few seconds, the cries weren’t quite as loud.

He all but raced through the rooms on the first floor, following the same route that Starsky had taken. He stopped at the foot of the stairs and yelled as loud as he could, “STARSKY!” He found himself hoping it was loud enough for his partner to hear over the screams until his intellect kicked in to tell him that only he could hear them. Fuck, do I need to get out of here!

Startled by finally hearing something in this tomb, silent due to his own construction, Starsky turned and walked into the hallway. “Up here,” he shouted.

Hutchinson breathed a sigh of relief when he heard Starsky’s answer above the clamor inside his head. He climbed the stairs to join his partner. “You okay, Starsk?” he asked when he saw the fiercely haunted but resolute expression on the face he knew better than his own.

“Look in there,” he commanded, pointing to the nursery, “then let’s get the hell outta here. We got work to do.”

The blond man did as he was told. The featureless heads mocked him, and the babies wailed with fear. He began to gag, a thick acid taste filling his mouth.

Instantly, Starsky was pulling him out of the room. He shook Hutch so hard that his head bobbed. “Don’t you fuckin’ dare contaminate the scene!” Starsky screamed with a venom usually reserved for the most contemptible criminals. “And show some goddamned respect, wouldja?”

“Stop it, stop it!” Hutch whimpered when Starsky let go of him. “Okay, let’s go.” Hutch, in a rush to escape the cries and to find somewhere else to throw up, pushed past the smaller man. He was halfway down the staircase before Starsky could pull himself away and follow. As he descended, he took great care not to touch the banister.

Hutch burst through the screen door, coughing and sputtering like a drowning man just rescued from a watery grave. He felt the sour burn rise from his stomach. He made it to the porch railing just in time. The voices became harder to hear over the retching.

Starsky exited the farmhouse with a different sort of urgency. “Cap!” he called out as he jogged to Hutch’s side so he could rub his back. “We gotta find ‘em! We need an APB, now!”

He doesn’t look upset or bothered at all! Is he human? wondered Dobey as he watched the dark-haired detective assist his partner. “Of course we gotta find them, Starsky! But we don’t know who killed these people. Or am I missing something? Have you solved the crime already?”

Seeing that Hutch was over the worst, Starsky patted him on the back a couple of times before skipping down the steps to face Dobey. “No, Cap, not the murders. See, I remembered what I’ve been tryin’ to remember since we first got here. Something I read in the paper a few months back. Jeff and Linda Fox had twins, a boy and a girl. They aren’t here, and we got to find him before…” He let the thought dangle in the tense air between them, not wanting to put it in words, figuring that somehow it would jinx finding them in time.

By this time, Hutchinson had joined them. Dobey took in the greenish, haggard, moist face, the limp clothes and shoulders, the distant eyes. By comparison, Starsky was animated, eager, charged up. But Dobey couldn’t read his face or his eyes. He was hiding in some way. His eyes, a darker blue than usual, seemed to be buried beneath layers of … something he couldn’t discern. Hutch was reacting normally, if there could be a normal way to react to the scene in the house. But Starsky’s reaction was very worrisome. Dobey’s sense of impending doom strengthened.

“Starsky, we don’t even know how many people are in there! And if there were babies, they could be anywhere! It could be days before we know how many are dead! Longer before we ID ‘em!”

“Seven,” Starsky declared with certainty.

“What?! How the hell did you come to that number? There must be body parts all over that house!”

“In the bedroom, I mean the nursery, Cap. There were only seven heads. None of ‘em small enough to be a baby. There were two cribs.”

“Starsky’s right, Cap,” Hutch said with a raspy voice. “It’s fair to assume that the babies are … have been kidnapped.”

“But we don’t know if this is the Jeff and Linda Fox you think it is. In this city of more than five million people, don’t you think there may be more than one couple with the same names?”

“Let’s say it’s not them. But will you admit the probability that there are two babies missing?”

“Yeah, okay, Starsky.”

Starsky ignored the hesitancy in Dobey’s response. “I’ll betcha that when all the pieces in there are counted, you’ll have seven bodies. To go with the heads. The heads are arranged” – Dobey’s own head began to spin counterclockwise as Starsky continued his clinical description – “in a straight line, all lookin’ in the same direction, except two of the heads were to each side, kinda like … wings.”

“No, more like a cross piece,” interrupted Hutch.

“Yeah, could be. Anyway, I can’t see these sick-os not using every head of every person they killed for their sick-o design. They gotta have the babies. We gotta make findin’ them our first priority.”

“We find the babies, Captain, we find the killers.” Hutch cocked an eyebrow and leaned into Dobey. “At least we know we’re looking for a boy and a girl the same age – about how old, Starsk?”

“Uh … six to seven months?”

“Okay, six to seven months. There can’t be that many twins of different sexes that age in the city.”

Dobey withdrew his immense white handkerchief and wiped his face, gummy with sweat and helplessness, buying himself some time to think. “Okay, you got it. I’ll issue the APB. And keep specifics off the radio. Now you get out there and find those babies! And those goddamned twisted sons of bitches before they kill again!”

“Cap’n, make sure they get plenty of pho–“

“Get the hell outta here, Hutchinson! These people know how to do their job!”

Hutchinson smiled weakly and strode after Starsky who was almost at the Torino.

Dobey watched the two men as they got in the garishly decorated car. He had made the decision on how to work the site – one team per room. Now to call everyone in. Then he’d see to the young girl who had discovered the bodies. She had been essentially catatonic earlier but now perhaps she had recovered enough to talk with him or the officers sitting with her. Happy fuckin’ Fourth of July.

Neither detective would have thought it possible that they would welcome the disgusting odor in the back seat that Barry had left behind. It was enough to temper the stench of the crime scene that clung to them like flies to cobwebs. Starsky cranked the engine, revving it a few times. Hutch, though still shaken by his time at the scene and plagued by murmuring incorporeal voices, was no less observant. He noticed that Starsky only touched the steering wheel with a few of his left fingers. “Hey, buddy, something wrong with your hand?”

“Huh? Nothin’, it’s fine.” He tried to smile.

“Then hold the wheel like you normally do.”

Starsky glanced sideways at his friend, wanting to avoid direct eye contact. “I can’t,” he whispered, voice quaking.

“Why can’t you?”

He didn’t answer. Hutch was unable to tell whether it was because he wouldn’t or couldn’t. He reached over to gently take his friend’s left hand in his right. He met no resistance. Turning it palm up, he saw streaks of blood, now dried, but filling the crevices and creases. “Starsk, you must’ve cut yourself. Stop at that gas station on the main road so we can get it cleaned up and bandaged.”

“I’m not hurt. And I can’t wash it. I won’t.” Starsky slowly pulled his hand from Hutch’s grasp, then balled it, almost tenderly, into a loose fist. If I wash it, another person’ll be lost. “No more, Hutch, I can’t let there be any more people without faces.”

Hutch stared wide-eyed at the darker man. He couldn’t see the connection his superstitious partner seemed to have made between the blood on his hand and the skulls of the victims. He wondered if his friend, his brother for all intents and purposes, who had survived what was surely a horrific year and a half in Southeast Asia, had come undone because of this multiple murder. But now, when his partner needed him, words would not come. The best he could do was an offer of silent sympathy.

The comforting, reassuring countenance of his best friend faded as the faces intruded into Starsky’s central vision. He blinked forcefully several times. They moved back to the periphery. Now he could see Hutch better; he could see that Hutch doubted his sanity. “I’m not goin’ crazy.” Am I? He tilted his head slightly and knitted his bushy eyebrows.

Hutch shook his head. He’s just rattled. Who wouldn’t be? I’m hearing voices, and I knew what to expect. Can’t imagine what this has done to Starsky. “No, you’re not,” he said, voice cracking. “Now, let’s go find Jeff and Linda’s babies, okay?”

As Starsky turned the car around to head back down the driveway, Hutch felt a pang of jealousy that Starsky could have the courage to admit something so bizarre. That Starsky could trust him so completely. I trust him, too. I just don’t trust myself, just can’t let my guard down. Not about this. He gazed blindly out the open car window, not seeing the trees, the faded green grass, the rolling hills, the neat cookie-cutter homes of nearby subdivisions.

At the foot of the drive, Starsky stopped the big car. He carefully retrieved his sunglasses and put them back on. Checking his left palm rapidly, he saw that none of the blood had been disturbed. He sighed, and no longer felt like celebrating the Bicentennial. From his other jacket pocket he pulled out the noisemaker. Somehow he knew Hutch needed it, for a reason its maker couldn’t have intended or imagined. When he tapped his partner on the arm with it, the toy emitted a short screech.

Hutch jerked his attention back into the car, ready to lambaste his partner for adding to the noise already ping-ponging in his ears. Once he saw the set of his jaw, the angle of his head, the set of his mouth, the darkness of his eyes behind the charcoal lenses, he held back his remark and the tears his friend’s expression generated.

When he spoke, Starsky’s voice was still a whisper: “Here, I don’t want this any more.” You need this more than I do. “You can have it.”

The blond man smiled widely with lips locked. “Thanks, buddy.” He laughed gently as he inspected the patriotically painted noisemaker. He twirled it once, waited a few moments, then twirled again. And again, and again. With each cranky squawk, the voices shrank a little more. He settled back into the seat for the ride around the area.

Starsky smiled to himself. He patted Hutch on the chest a few times, feeling the hardness of the flag pin under his fingers. He steered the car to the entrance of the closest subdivision.

The high volume of radio calls that poured out from dispatch told the detectives that they would most likely be the only ones able to actively search for the children. What little hope they had for finding them alive diminished to near-extinction. With every minute that passed, they knew it became increasingly likely that the kids were closer to death – if they weren’t dead already.

But the passage of time was not without its benefits, however insignificant to the infants’ lives. Starsky’s visions and Hutch’s voices evaporated to some extent, enough for them to effectively develop a strategy for finding the twins and their captors. They decided to cruise each community to look for anything out of the ordinary, only stopping to ask everyone they saw if they had seen or heard anything unusual.

~s&h~

Abruptly, Starsky slammed on the brakes of the Torino as he shouted, “Dammit! What a fuckin’ waste of an hour and half!” A moment later, Starsky punched the steering wheel, grunted, then pounded the interior roof several times with his right fist. He gripped the steering wheel tighter and tighter until his hand was completely white.

Hutchinson, having narrowly avoided contact with the dashboard, regained his composure and focussed on his partner. He stared at the chalky hand and heard the first rapid breaths of hyperventilation. He reached for Starsky’s forearm. Through the damp jacket and T-shirt he felt muscles as taut as a rubber band stretched to its limit. He tugged on the arm to try to break its hold on the wheel. “Come on, Starsk, let go now, okay?” He glimpsed at Starsky’s left hand; he still held it in a loose fist.

The darker man inhaled with a start and locked his eyes shut. That wasn’t enough to block the flashbacks that hadn’t visited him in years. I can’t kill … shit! I can’t believe this is happening again!

Hutchinson knew there was something more behind this display of anger and frustration than the murders and kidnappings, something that had amplified the horror they had left in the farmhouse. “Oh God, Starsk, what is it?” he managed to squeeze out.

“Those babies. I can’t let those babies die, Hutch.” For a reason only he understood, Starsky felt responsible for the Fox twins.

“So let’s find ‘em, buddy,” Hutch said evenly. He tugged a bit harder on Starsky’s arm. The hand slowly lost its grip on the wheel. Oh shit, is he wound tight, thought Hutch. He sensed his own energy move from coping with the sorrow and devastation in his soul to the acquired instinct he carried to protect his partner. He waited for Starsky to make the next move.

Starsky struggled to control his breathing. His Adam’s apple bobbed furiously as he fought the urge to cry. A minute later he was successful. He reined his memories back in, but not before recalling what his platoon sergeant in the army had taught him about focus when lives hung in the balance. He had to maintain. He had to win. Winning – finding the children alive and bringing the deranged sons of bitches to justice – would heal him and all the others affected by this heinous crime. So he hoped.

Hutchinson watched with a kind of voyeuristic fascination the variety of expressions that played across his partner’s profile. When Starsky turned to speak to him, Hutch identified brutal resolve in his sweaty features. Maybe he’s not the one needing protection.

“Hutch, we’re gonna find those babies, right?” The last word was coated with confidence, doubt, bravado, terror.

Hutch grimaced inwardly. He could tell Starsky was miserably confused, hurting, and scared. “We sure are, buddy.” He gave Starsky’s incredibly tense thigh muscle a reassuring squeeze. “Don’t know about you, but I could drink a gallon of water. Why don’t we head back to Metro, get something to drink, and see what Minnie can find for us?”

“Okay, call us in. Then put the light up and turn on the siren, or it’ll be next week before we get back.”

Hutchinson hesitated. Running with lights and siren in this type situation was definitely against regulations.

“Do it,” Starsky demanded quietly, with just a hint of menace.

Hutchinson smiled in agreement. Screw regulations. Since when did regs mean anything to us anyway? He slapped the red light on the roof as Starsky floored the accelerator. The tangy-sweet smell of burning rubber stung their nostrils. “Dispatch, this is Zebra 3. All quiet in adjacent areas. We are returning to Metro. Please have Officer Kaplan standing by. ETA is –“ he looked to Starsky to get an estimate.

“Fifteen.” Quiet. Determined. Certain.

“Fifteen minutes. Zebra 3 over and out.” Hutchinson toggled the switch for the siren and braced himself for what was sure to be a wild ride to Metro Division.

~s&h~

Traffic was worse than any workday. There was something scheduled all throughout the day and evening to appeal to everyone, and everyone was taking advantage of it, even with temperatures reaching 100 degrees in many areas. Almost every street could apply for parking lot status. The sidewalks were wall-to-wall people.

This did not prevent Starsky from careening into the garage at Metro seventeen minutes after his partner called in. Hutchinson, still queasy from the “experience” at the farmhouse and mild dehydration, was even more so due to the crazy and risky driving Starsky had done. The sudden stop bounced Hutch around in his seat. “Starsky, you ever want to leave police work,” he began, but the curly-haired man was already out of the Torino. Hutch swore under his breath before getting out himself. “You can always get a job as a stunt driver!” he shouted over the top of the car before slamming his door.

Starsky blew by Harriet Robbins, a veteran dispatcher who was almost as wide as she was tall. She was waiting for the detectives, as Captain Dobey had instructed, just inside the rear entrance. She knew something very big and extraordinarily tragic had happened from her earlier conversation with Dobey when he had her use the telephone to call in every crime scene team and coroner’s wagon in Bay City. She waited patiently for Hutchinson to enter the station. So as not to miss him, she blocked the doorway.

Hutchinson almost knocked the dispatcher to the floor. “Harriet! Sorry, didn’t see you,” he said as he caught her from falling. “Just trying to keep up with that partner of mine. You okay?”

“I’m fine, Hutch. What’s with Starsky? He was just a blur coming in here. What’s going on? Is he alright?” She was taken aback by the bleak expression on the pale face, and his troubled eyes.

Hutchinson beamed her an apology on his partner’s behalf. “He’s fine.” I think. “We’ve got a big case we’re working on, and you know how, uh, single-minded Starsky can get.” More like obsessed.

Harriet, who had never confided in anyone the crush she had on this big, blond Viking, found herself wishing for more big cases like this. “Yeah, we all know how he can get.”

“Which way did he go?”

“Oh, I don’t have the slightest idea. But Dobey wants the two of you in his office yesterday. He didn’t want me to broadcast that or a bunch of other stuff over the radio earlier. Hey, is this something that could cause, well, panic in the streets?”

Good. Dobey’s trying to keep the press out of this for a while. “I’ll tell you when I got time, okay, Harriet?” Hutch squeezed her ample arm, smiled once more, and went in search of Starsky.

Hutchinson found him in the first place he thought to look: at the shift sergeant’s desk, grilling Perkins and the regular afternoon desk sergeant, Alan Spitz, about everything that had come in related to the APB on the twins.

“Whaddya mean, there’re no good leads?! Gimme every damn report, I don’t care what you think about ‘em. You might have missed somethin’. Did that ever occur to you?” he yelled belligerently and sarcastically.

Perkins sighed quietly and counted to three. “Listen, Starsky, everybody’s looking for these babies, but this is a big city and an unbelievably busy day. It’s only been a few hours. And Al -”

The dark-haired detective ignored Perkins’ conciliatory tone. In a low and ominous voice, Starsky interrupted, “They don’t have a few hours, Perk. Now give me the goddamned reports.” He held out his right hand.

Perkins was noticeably relieved to see Hutchinson approach and stand by Starsky. But the relief was momentary. While Starsky was intense, intimidating, demanding, and even hyperactive, Hutchinson looked completely wiped out, with a sadness in his eyes that bothered Perkins. Dobey had told him a little about the scene at the farmhouse. On dealing with these two now, Perkins realized that the captain had downplayed it greatly. “Al has all the reports, but he has to make copies first, Starsky, you know that. Al, I’ll hold down the fort here.” The three men watched Spitz leave for the Xerox machine hidden in a closet two offices away.

“Come on, Starsky, Dobey’s waiting for us in his office.” Once again, Hutchinson found himself pulling on his friend’s arm.

Reluctantly, Starsky lowered his arm and turned to face his partner. Hutch gasped when he saw the grievous disquiet in Starsky’s dark blue eyes. But all Starsky could see was two babies and a toddler he knew all too well ten years ago. Hutch put a hand on Starsky’s shoulder and guided him toward the stairs.

The detectives stopped a few feet short of the staircase when they saw Barry, obviously hurting even more than when he was brought in, being escorted out of the building by the two vice cops.

Hutchinson felt his anger flare. “Hey! Wait a minute!” He let go of Starsky and headed for the trio. In a few long strides, he was in Beauchamps’ face. “You better not be letting this junkie go, Beau.”

Guy Beauchamps smiled, exposing teeth yellowed by the Turkish cigarettes he chain-smoked, and said in his Cajun patois, “Awwww, is Hutchie upset with Beau? Back off, Hutchie. He bought his freedom with some good information.”

Hutchinson didn’t back away. Instead, he grabbed Beauchamps’ silk jacket and moved in closer. “This boy cut an old lady, hit me, resisted arrest, and came close to knifing Starsky, too.”

“Hey, man,” Pirelli, a short but heavily muscled man of Sicilian ancestry, said, “this kid had some righteous information on a new pimp who likes to beat up on the whores in his stable. You know they won’t talk. Now, we can help ‘em out.”

“Look at him!” shouted Hutch. “Don’t you think he needs help?”

“Hutch.”

On hearing Starsky say his name with such calming force, Hutchinson released Beauchamps’ jacket and smoothed it out. He smiled with some degree of embarrassment and sheepishly whispered a “Sorry” before returning to his partner’s side.

Pirelli and Beauchamps looked at each other over Barry’s nasty head and shrugged their shoulders. Pirelli glanced at Starsky as they walked toward the door. He shuddered when he saw the frightening expression on his face. He picked up the pace to put more distance between them and Starsky and Hutchinson as quickly as possible.

~s&h~

The detectives entered their superior’s office without knocking to find him on the telephone. Though his office was air-conditioned, Dobey’s white shirt had impressive sweat stains under the arms and on the back. Hutchinson headed straight for a chair. Once seated in it, he eased his butt forward and laid his head on the chair’s back. Starsky remained standing and paced.

“Okay, Miller, call me as soon as she says anything, you understand? I don’t care if she recites the menu from her favorite coffee shop, I want you to call me.” Dobey slammed the receiver down. He stood and came around to the front of his desk. “That was Jimmy Miller. He’s at the hospital with this young girl. He and his partner were the first ones on scene. A farmer passing by saw this girl, about fourteen or fifteen, sitting in the middle of the road, just staring, not sayin’ a word. He called it in on his CB radio. Miller and Sanders got there and found the scene by backtracking the girl’s footprints. She hasn’t said a damn thing, or even done anything for that matter, since the farmer found her.” He shook his head before sitting on the desk’s edge.

“Anybody question the farmer yet?” Starsky asked.

“Not really. Sanders has him in Interrogation 2. He’s asked the man some basic questions, but I want you two to take a crack at him. I have a hunch he’s not involved, though.”

“Cap, you question him. Hutch and I have more important things to do.”

Dobey breathed noisily through his nose before responding. “Starsky, I know you want to find those babies more than anything, we all do, but you and Hutchinson have an investigation to run. This farmer could have seen something, heard something. You know these types - up before dawn.” He stopped himself from adding his opinion that the infants were in all likelihood dead.

Starsky knew what Dobey had left unspoken. He interrupted his pacing to stare his disagreement. Dobey opened his mouth to remind his detective of his duties but the ringing telephone cut him off.

“What?!” Dobey barked impatiently. “You’ve got preliminaries already? Okay, Doctor Contreras, the detectives heading this investigation are here. I’m puttin’ you on speaker.” He punched a couple of buttons and returned the receiver to its cradle. “Go ahead.”

“To whom am I speaking, Captain Dobey?” The clipped, slightly accented speech of the Oxford-educated Spaniard who served as Bay City chief medical examiner already had a ring of fatigue to it.

“Myself and Detective Sergeants Starsky and Hutchinson, so you can speak freely, Doctor.”

“Oh, my friends Starsky and Hutch. Good. I know you two will not rest until the perpetrators of this barbarity are arrested and brought to the justice they so richly deserve.”

Starsky huffed with impatience. “Whatcha got, Doc?”

Starsky’s attitude didn’t faze the pathologist. “Please remember that the findings are very early. May I assume that the two of you viewed the crime scene?”

Hutch quit inspecting the ceiling and looked at his partner for the first time since they had entered Dobey’s office. He didn’t think it possible, but Starsky’s muscles, especially the ones in his jaw, tightened further. For him, the question brought the voices back. “Yes,” he answered tiredly.

“Our photographer took many pictures. Right now, the film is undergoing processing. The teams worked fast – out of many necessities, you understand – to clear the scene. I have examined in a cursory fashion the … oh, a number of the pieces of remains.” The quivering in his voice while he spoke this last phrase came through loud and clear. Dobey shot Starsky a warning-you-better-be-patient look. There was a long pause before Contreras resumed.

“First, I am operating on the presumption that there are seven victims, because we have recovered that number of heads. I am estimating time of death between one and four this morning. Actually, it is more of a guess than an estimate. It appears that some of the wounds, of which there are many, on all the victims are nearly identical. It was through these particular wounds that the victims’ hearts were … removed. That leads me to speculate that they are ritualistic in nature.”

He paused again. “It is certain that each victim was sexually assaulted. Male genitalia and female breasts have been excised. Everyone has been brutally raped, but the extent is undetermined as of yet.” The CME cleared his throat. “Ah, however, the sexual molestation is … ah, quite evident and extensive on the two smallest bodies.” There was no observable change in Dobey and Hutch at hearing this, but Starsky’s eyes darkened further and his teeth clinched harder. “By their size and development, those bodies appear to … to be young girls. Most likely pre-pubescent, between the ages of seven and ten years.”

Dobey instantly thought of his beautiful little girl and couldn’t stop himself from imagining Rosie as one of the victims. He felt something intangible slip from his heart’s grasp.

A soft “Dammit to hell!” escaped from Hutch’s lips. He tasted bile once more. Several tears rolled from the corners of his eyes into his salt-encrusted hair.

With a tremendous effort, Starsky contained the rage that exploded within. He felt the heat of that emotion rise rapidly up his neck to the top of his head. He focussed on the good news not uttered. “Any infant bodies found?” he asked matter-of-factly for confirmation.

That was enough for Dobey to look up from studying his trousers’ weave pattern and for Hutchinson to bolt straight up in the chair. Both at them glared at the man who seemed to be heartless and cold, untouched and undisturbed by hearing about the vilest thing that could happen to children. Until they saw his scarlet-tinted face.

“Ah, I cannot be absolutely positive, Starsky, you understand, but no one has recovered anything that remotely appears to be an infant or” – Contreras choked - “or a part of an infant yet.”

“Good. What else you got, Doc?”

They heard the physician cough lightly. “Ah, the only weapons most likely used were knives and a variety of other sharp implements. No obvious bullet wounds. But it is quite difficult to be sure at this early stage, you understand, because of the condition of the bodies.”

None of the three men in Dobey’s office dared to ask the next obvious question. They didn’t want to hear the answer. But Contreras seemed to read only part of their thoughts and continued. “I may never be able to rule on cause of death. I can only pray that they were decapitated first, that they had no awareness of all that happened to them.”

The faces Starsky saw showed him they knew. The voices Hutchinson heard told him they knew.

“We have found a large number of prints, plus a piece of wood that may have broken off the handle of a knife. At least, that is what it appears to be. Captain Dobey, I know you want to keep this quiet for as long as possible, but we could use some assistance. May I have your permission to call in forensic specialists from other jurisdictions?”

Dobey tapped his knee three times while he considered this request. As much as he wanted to keep this entire investigation in-house, he knew the amount of evidence to sift through was overwhelming and much too important to risk any foul-ups. And time was not on their side. “Okay, make a list and get it to me, then start calling. I’ll smooth things over with their departments. Is there anything else, Raul?”

“No, I do not believe so, Harold. I will call when I have more.” The Spaniard sounded dismal. He cut the connection.

The three police officers - barely breathing, hardly moving - listened to the dial tone for several seconds. Starsky was the first to shake himself loose from its hypnotic monotone. “We’re wastin’ time here, Hutch. Come on.” He headed for the detectives’ squad room.

Hutchinson toiled to stand. Every move required intense effort. For a brief moment, he hated Starsky for his energy and drive. This has got him all fired up, and me? Damn, I’m acting like an old man. He followed his partner. He heard Dobey say, almost as an afterthought, “Keep me posted,” as he closed the door behind him.

Dobey didn’t budge from his seat on the desk. He thought about what Raul Contreras said about praying. He tried, but prayer just wouldn’t come.

~s&h~

Sidney Lassiter had finagled “conscientious objector” status for himself to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War. Being a cop now, less than ten years after winning his case, didn’t seem incongruent to him at all. Neither did the fact that he was engaged in a war of sorts. A private war that was soon to be very public. A few months ago, he had hooked up with a group of like-minded people, who grooved out on really kinky sex and plotted to literally suck the life out of the chosen. He didn’t know the criteria it took to become the chosen; only Simón Marcus knew that. He didn’t know the criteria for being one of the six in the ritual at the farmhouse that morning, just that he wasn’t one of them. He would wait his turn. Simón had dreamed his turn would come soon.

Now he would serve Simón by finding out everything he could about the lead detectives on the supposed crime at the farmhouse. Their sacrifice was necessary for our strength, especially for Simón’s strength. That is no crime. So here he was at Metro, determined to find out who the lead detectives were and “borrow” their personnel files. His partner, a mousy man named Carroll Lund, was petrified of him, making it easy to convince him to stay in the patrol car. Today would be a perfect day to get what Simón wanted.

Neither desk sergeant questioned his being there, even though he worked out of the 7th precinct. He hoped they wouldn’t become suspicious of the questions he asked.

Sergeant Perkins was in the midst of an animated telephone call. Sergeant Spitz was frantically writing in the logbook. Perfect opportunity. “Hey there, Al, word has it that something big’s gone down for Dobey to have pulled Starsky and Hutchinson off patrol. They the ones involved with that APB on those baby twins?”

Spitz didn’t look up. “Hunh? Oh, yeah, they’re the ones. You got anything?”

“No, but I sure will let ‘em know if I do.” Dammit! Why does it have to be those two? Simón, he knew, would not be pleased when he learned that these detectives would not give up, ever.

Lassiter slipped unnoticed into the basement room containing the personnel records. Picking the lock on the filing cabinet was easy, and the copier seemed to invite unauthorized use. He paused for a moment when he heard Minnie Kaplan’s unique voice and speech pattern float by the office window. He only caught a few words, but it was undoubtedly Minnie. Several moments later, he heard a door down the hallway slam shut. She was too far away to hear the copier. He was safe to continue.

Five minutes after Minnie slammed the door, Sidney Lassiter left Metro Division with a handful of papers, drawing no one’s attention.

~s&h~

The detective sat at his desk in the deserted squad room, dark head bent over copies of reports on the APB. He had read them once already. The only thing that had jumped out was the fact that an enormous number of babies had been born in the Bay City area four to ten months ago. Now he was reading each one again, this time more carefully, paying attention to nuances in wording, locations, names of reporting cops, times, everything.

He paused to take a long swallow from the coffee mug filled with cool water. The headache he had finally acknowledged having was receding. While he absent-mindedly massaged his left shoulder, it dawned on him that he had found a strange and unexpected comfort in reviewing the reports. Reading them was helping to keep the faces at bay.

He also found the stillness of the room that earlier in the day had been bothersome was now soothing. It reminded him of the mausoleum where his father’s coffin rested. Away from the noise of his Brooklyn neighborhood. Where he had imagined he could hear his father’s bass voice wrap around him.

He shivered free of the memories and thought of his partner. Hutch had been too eager to take on the questioning of the farmer. He figured it had something to do with the quiet here. Even as they put the parameters together for Minnie to use in her research, Hutch had twirled the noisemaker constantly. So he had volunteered to stay in the squad room to read the reports.

He gazed for a few moments at his police-pig bank, which wore a small US flag like a cape, before returning his attention to the topmost report on the stack. His concentration was so intense that he didn’t hear the creak of the swinging door as it opened.

The blond man stayed in the threshold, refusing to enter the room’s hush. He held the door open with his hand on the perpetually smudged glass, and studied his partner. He could see that Starsky was still coiled tightly and lost in the details of his reading material. He knew his friend had built up an untold amount of anger and other feelings and worried about what it was doing to him. He was worried, too, about what would happen when he loosened the stranglehold he had on himself. He licked his dry lips with a drier tongue and said, “Starsky?”

Like a cat, Starsky sprang from his chair, which went flying into the cabinets behind it. His left hand pulled his Smith & Wesson pistol and aimed it at the source of his name, crouching to make a smaller target.

Hutchinson’s eyes widened in alarm. He backed into the corridor then dropped to the floor. The door swung back, stopping when it hit his legs. “Starsk! It’s me, dammit! Put the gun down!” He groaned from the rise of pain in his back and from the pain of seeing the deadly rage in his friend’s gaze that had focussed on him.

Dobey burst through his door, his right hand holding his service revolver. Starsky swung his aim to his captain’s chest. “Sergeant Starsky! Put your weapon down, now. That’s an order!”

Starsky breathed heavily and rapidly through flaring nostrils as he kept his gun trained on Dobey. The rich brown eyes of the captain continued to talk to him, to reassure him that their owner was not the enemy. Slowly, he eased his finger off the trigger and stood upright. Soon, the gun dangled loosely at his side. He swayed, just now becoming aware of what he had come so close to doing. He leaned against his desk for support. His head fell backwards.

Dobey strode over to his detective. He took the gun from Starsky’s hand and placing it on the desktop, said, “Hutchinson, come in here and look after your partner.” He began to contemplate taking the two off the case.

Hutchinson exercised care in standing so as not to exacerbate his lower backache. He rubbed the complaining muscles for several seconds. He pushed open the doors and marched to his partner and Dobey.

Starsky brought his head forward and opened his eyes when he felt Hutchinson’s familiar hand on his left shoulder. His forehead crinkled as he mouthed, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean …”

“Hutchinson, Starsky, take five, then my office.” Dobey looked at them sternly.

Starsky read the verdict in Dobey’s words and body. Instantly, he went from remorseful to outraged. “NO! You can’t take us off this case!”

How the hell did he figure that out? “Look at what this is doing to you, Starsky! Hell, you almost blew away your best friend and me with him! And you, Hutchinson. You look like every move might be your last!”

“Cap, you can’t do this!” pleaded Starsky.

“The hell I can’t!” Dobey bellowed back.

For one second, Hutch felt warm relief that they wouldn’t be working this investigation. But in the next second, the relief turned cold when he realized they had to finish what they started. “Captain, do you really think taking us off the case will make things better for us?”

“No,” the huge man replied hesitantly, “I guess not. Okay, you two stay on it.” He waved his permission as well. “But get a handle on yourselves. There cannot be even one mistake, directly or indirectly related to the case. You understand what I’m saying?”

The partners nodded in unison. Dobey shoved his revolver back into its holster at his waist before re-entering his office.

Hutchinson righted the chair, carefully re-draping Starsky’s jacket over its back. “Come on, buddy. Let’s hit the bathroom. Wash up some.” Hutch picked up the handgun and returned it to Starsky’s shoulder holster. His heart jumped into his throat when he saw Starsky staring at his open left hand once more. Some of the blood had flaked off.

“I can’t.” Starsky’s voice sounded so small.

Hutchinson sighed and felt salty tears gather in his eyes. “It’s okay, I’ll wash it for you.”

“No.” Still small, but sure.

“Nothing bad will happen, I promise. Trust me. Okay?”

There was an extended pause while Starsky fought with this irrational thought that persisted. His belief and trust in his partner won out. “Okay.”

Once in the men’s room, Hutch turned on the faucet and gestured for Starsky to join him at the sink. He gently grasped then pulled Starsky’s hand under the stream of tepid water. Surprisingly, Starsky beat him to the soap. “I, uh, it’s okay now. I can do it.”

Hutchinson stepped back to watch Starsky wash his hands. He knew how tough it was for him to overcome his highly superstitious nature. Fortunately, he always seemed to deal with it. Smiling, he turned on the cold water in the adjacent sink and doused his head and face repeatedly. Soon, Starsky was doing the same.

~s&h~

Lassiter spotted his contact standing at the entrance to the Shady Grove neighborhood in the 7th precinct. He parked the cruiser a generous distance from the tall, painfully thin man so Lund wouldn’t hear anything. “Be right back, Carroll,” he said as he reached for the papers stowed under his seat. He jogged the twenty yards to this “apostle” of Simón. He thrust the stack at the man. “Here you go, Luke.”

The tall man scratched his patchy beard while he scanned the top page. “Simón dreamed you would be successful. Our turn to partake of the ritual will come soon.” He grinned in eager anticipation. Life was good and destined to get better as the Keeper of the Flame.

~s&h~

On the way to the basement to check on Minnie’s progress, Hutchinson relayed his opinion that the farmer, Jack Dietz, was just a Good Samaritan and not involved in the butchery at the Fox house. Starsky begrudgingly admitted that Perk and Al were correct in their evaluation of the APB reports.

Hutchinson had his hand on the doorknob but Starsky stopped him with his own hand. His left one, Hutch noted with satisfaction.

“Uh, Hutch, just wanted to say I’m sorry again about drawing on you.”

“That’s okay, buddy, just as long as you don’t make it a habit. Besides, you didn’t fire.” Hutch clapped him several times on his shoulder before Starsky drew his hand away. Hutch opened the door and called out, “Hey, Minnie! It’s your two favorite detectives!”

When she didn’t answer, both men’s tempers blazed. Starsky had stressed that they were under the gun, and now she was nowhere to be found.

“When I find her, Hutch, I swear I’ll kill her!” Starsky two-stepped in place for a few seconds before he rushed out of R & I. “Minnie! Where the hell are you?!”

“I’m indisposed, Starsky!” came the muffled reply. Starsky immediately pinpointed the ladies’ room as the source. Because his only goal in life at the present was finding the twins, he thought nothing about barging into the bathroom. He found Minnie wiping the lenses of her glasses with the hem of her uniform skirt.

“Okay, lover boy, I know you worship me, but you gotta give me some breathin’ room,” teased Minnie. She rolled her eyes when Hutch joined them. “You know, I am allowed to use the bathroom while on duty. Sometimes Mother Nature won’t wait for nothin’. And by the way, I don’t see any urinals in here. Do you?”

Starsky was losing his patience. “Just tell us what the hell you’ve found!”

Minnie reared her head back a few inches and arched her eyebrows – she had never seen him like this. “All right, don’t get your shorts in a bunch, Starsky! Okay, I checked on mass murders with the M.O. you gave me. Also looked for just kidnappings of twins and triplets, and for ritual-type murders of single victims. Did the cross-referencing bit, all that other jazz. I came up with nothing in this vicinity. Closest in M.O. in this state was the Manson party of ghouls in L.A. back in ’69.

“So, I decided to check a few of our neighboring states. Seems that up in Oregon about four months ago, a family of five out in the middle of nowhere were pretty badly hacked to death, but no details, unfortunately, for me to say the M.O. is a close match. The coroner up there did think it was ritualistic in nature. Actually, only four bodies were found. The fifth, a baby about eight months old, came up missin’. Never found. The case is still open. I’m not sure if they have any suspects. The particulars are on my desk.” She crossed her arms over her chest, grinned slyly, and waited.

Minnie didn’t have to wait long. As the implications of what she said sank in, she watched the detectives’ faces fill with hope and Starsky’s arms flail. He grabbed her, pulled her little body to his, and kissed her lips hard. “Minnie, sweetheart, I’d marry ya if I didn’t love you so much!” He kissed her again, this time uttering an enthusiastic “Mmmm-wahhh!” Sometime during this display, she heard Hutch thank her. The two fled the bathroom.

“So, Starsky, love me less, why don’t you?” she called after them.

After a few gestures that soundlessly communicated what to do next, Starsky vaulted up the stairs to tell Dobey about the similar case in Oregon. Hutch headed back to R & I to get the information Minnie had. His head spun when he bent over to pick up the labeled folder. He stood there, eyes closed, waiting for the sensation to cease. Once it did, he turned to leave, only to find Minnie glaring at him.

“What’s wrong, Hutch?”

“Uh, just a little tired, I guess. Long day.” He smiled self-consciously. “Great work, Minnie. This could be a major lead for us.”

“That’s all fine and dandy, but it won’t help any if you can’t follow up on it ‘cause you’re in the hospital.”

“I’m fine, really. Gotta go.” The big blond gracefully escaped the room and Minnie’s scrutiny. He stood in front of the closed door and wondered if he even had the strength to walk three feet. In his thirsty exhaustion, the voices came back. He removed the noisemaker and twirled it as he trudged to the elevator.

~s&h~

Starsky bounded into Dobey’s office once again without knocking. His heart stopped when he saw the captain hunched over his desk, head in hands. He sensed the tension and defeat that covered him. “Don’t say …” Starsky gulped and waited for the inevitable news he feared.

Dobey looked up at his sergeant and perceived an undertone of agony to his zealous countenance. Why the hell isn’t the commissioner here to tell Starsky and Hutchinson this? Why me? “Son, I just got off the phone with Commissioner Hayes. He says he wants every cop not needed to maintain each precinct house out in the street tonight, no exceptions.” Starsky almost cheered that the news was not about the Fox children, but he was turning rabidly mad. “There’s just too much going on. Even he’s taking a patrol.”

“I don’t believe this! Didn’t you explain about the babies, Cap? And that there was a multiple homicide less that 24 hours ago?”

“Of course he knows about the homicides and the babies, Starsky. It’s –“

“Dammit, you didn’t explain it good enough!” Starsky interrupted, gesticulating vigorously to emphasize his point. Nervously, he ran a hand through his dark, wet hair.

“Listen, the commissioner knows everything we know. I talked with him till I was red in the face, but he thinks –“

Starsky leaned forward, placing his hands on his hips. “Thinks?!” he interrupted again. “THINKS?! Hell, Cap, he’s not a cop any more, he’s a, a, fuckin’ politician!” His voice crackled when he asked, “How the hell can he turn his back on those two babies? They’re just babies, for God’s sake! How can he –“

“I don’t like this any more than you do, Starsky, but he gave me a direct order. His priority is to keep order tonight.” Dobey kept to himself Hayes’s statement that those seven people were already dead, and probably the infants as well, and that the living needed to be protected and served. “Now, that doesn’t mean I agree with him. Just remember, neither one of us’ll be in that jalopy of yours.”

The hint that the detectives could presumably disobey orders did little to pacify Starsky. He snorted and left, slamming the door so hard that the water cooler in Dobey’s office wobbled in its stand. Dobey knew exactly how Starsky felt. He chose to kick his rolling chair.

Starsky stood behind his chair, his hands gripping its back through his white jacket. He scooted it along the floor a little, then more and more until he was crashing it into his desk again and again. He hadn’t noticed Hutchinson stagger into the squad room to stand behind his own desk.

“I hope that’s making you feel better, partner.”

Starsky jerked his head in alarm to the sound of Hutch’s sickly voice. His heart clogged his throat when he saw that Hutch was whiter than his jacket. Hutch’s stance faltered. Starsky scrambled over their desks, sending papers flying and toppling his pig bank and mug, to get to Hutch before he collapsed. “Oh God, Hutch, what is it? What’s wrong?”

“Head, stomach,” he grated out.

Starsky hated himself for missing his friend’s bone-dry lips. “Dammit, Hutch, when was the last time you had anything to drink, huh?” He grabbed his mug and ran for the water fountain. By the time he got back, Hutch was resting his head on his desk. “Here, drink this.” He hauled him upright as tenderly as he could. He lifted the mug to his lips and poured carefully.

Hutchinson became greedy once he felt the water roll off his lips. He decided not to let the knots in his stomach stop him as they had since this afternoon.

“Easy, easy, ‘kay? Not too fast.”

The few drops that sneaked into his mouth seemed to revive the blond detective. He took the mug with one hand and gently pushed Starsky away with the other. “I can manage now. More?”

Starsky nodded his head eagerly. He sprung away in search of more mugs. He found two reasonably clean ones, filled them with water, and set them in front of his partner. Noting that Hutch was sipping, he thought it was safe to leave and get him some orange juice. “Be right back. Don’t go nowhere, you hear?”

Four minutes later, Starsky was back. “Last one in the machine, buddy.” He wiper-bladed the fresh sweat from his forehead. “Guess I oughta join you.”

For the next twenty minutes, Starsky forgot about the twins, forgot about the mutilated bodies, and forgot about all the faces. All Hutchinson heard was his partner’s voice alternately encouraging him to drink up and chastising him for not drinking sooner.

~s&h~

The detectives placed a hurried, clandestine call to Huggy Bear before they left the station. They gave him just enough information about the murders and kidnapping to know what to listen for. The bar owner promised to do his best, because “Nobody should be takin’ babies from their mamas, ever, you dig?”

“We better hit the streets or go job-huntin’ tomorra.” Starsky reached for his jacket.

“Yeah. We’ll call that sheriff in Oregon first thing in the morning.”

“Damn!”

“What?”

“That hype musta cut my brand new jacket!” Starsky groused as his fingers stuck out the wrong hole.

“He did you a favor, Starsk.” Hutch hid his smirk.

Starsky cocked his head and wrinkled his forehead. “Oh yeah? How’s that?”

“You only had a couple of more months to wear it,” Hutch continued. “Don’t you know you shouldn’t wear white after Labor Day?”

Starsky rolled his eyes and shouldered his partner toward the door. For a little while, they had felt normal.

The sunset was providing a sensational holiday display of vibrant peach, lavender, and blue streaks when the detectives returned to the Torino. The decorations Starsky had been thrilled about now seemed so totally inappropriate. He hustled to clear the bumpers of the flag stickers. Then he ripped the streamers and broke off the flag attached to the car’s antenna. Lastly, he yanked away the swath of navy crepe paper that halved the white stripe. He breathed heavily while he paced aimlessly, hands raised to shoulder height when not on his hips.

Hutch let the dark-haired man fume for a minute. “Thank heaven I no longer have to ride around in Uncle Sam’s pimpmobile,” he blurted out in relief. As soon as he said that, he regretted it. He knew this wasn’t the time or place to kid his partner.

Starsky stopped his pacing and slowed his breathing. Expression unreadable, he stared at the blond man.

Hutchinson gulped. “Uh, by the way, how’s the shoulder?” he asked with a forgive-me look.

The dark-haired detective drew a long breath in through his nose. “How’s the head?”

They simply looked at each other for a few seconds until Starsky tittered like a schoolboy who had just played a practical joke on the class bully. “Aspirin’s still in the car,” Starsky said amiably.

“Save a couple for me.” Hutch, grateful that his goof had actually gotten his partner to laugh, gathered up the violently discarded decorations littering the pavement around the car while Starsky searched the front seat for the bottle of painkillers.

~s&h~

Temperatures were still hovering in the low 90s. Light breezes continued, and the humidity cooperated by staying at comfortable levels. The city’s residents were out in force. Fortunately for the police, most moving traffic had halted as revelers found seats anywhere they could to view the eagerly awaited fireworks.

On hearing the commissioner was cruising Sector Six, the detectives had decided to play it safe for the time being, so they were patrolling one of Bay City’s largest parks. Just as the Torino turned a corner, its headlights illuminated several very pale bodies and one light brown one running toward them. All four of them held their arms above their heads, each carrying something that undulated behind them. All four teenagers wore absolutely nothing but sandals.

Starsky applied the brakes. He turned to Hutch and asked, “Well, do we spoil their fun?”

The blond man was about to say “No” when he heard to his right a young child ask, “Mommy, what’s all that hanging off those people?” Right after that, they both heard a shriek.

Reluctantly, they exited the car, though Starsky left the headlights on. By this time, the streakers were only a few yards ahead of the Torino. One of them, the lone white male, called out ebulliently, “Happy Fourth, man! Wanna join us freedom flyers?”

Hutchinson showed the group his badge and smiled mirthlessly, “No, thanks. Police.”

The crowds on both sides of the lane had been vocal, but now quieted down. No one wanted to miss a word.

“Oh, bummer, man! It’s the fuzz!” The band of streakers stopped just feet from the detectives before turning to run back in the direction from which they had come, trailing bedspread-size American flags behind them.

Starsky looked at Hutch, who could tell his partner’s heart wasn’t in a chase and arrest of the “suspects.” Hutch shrugged and used his eyes to remind Starsky they weren’t alone. They gave pursuit.

They caught up with the four as the pyrotechnics commenced. Shouting to be heard over the noise of the booms, a mortified Starsky snapped, “Hey, cover up, wouldja? I’m seein’ more of you than your mother ever saw.”

The black male spoke up. “Just another example of ‘the man’ comin’ down on freedom-lovin’ people!” Defiantly, he stuck his chin up in the air.

“Hey, Jesse Owens, I’m just asking you to put somethin’ over yourself.”

The two girls, both Caucasian, had already wrapped themselves in their flags. “You can’t bust us. We’re just celebrating freedom,” piped up the girl with the dark brown hair.

The white boy spoke again. “That’s right! We’re just celebrating the Fourth of July, the day our country declared its independence and got born! What could be better than wearing our birthday suits?”

A starburst of white and burgundy twinkles exploded in the nearby sky, lighting up the two males who were staunchly refusing to obey the officers. Seeing their mostly hair-free young bodies in the shimmering lights reminded Hutchinson of the tip from his snitch this afternoon. “Starsky, remember our conversation today with Willie?”

“Yeah, about that naked guy with the … OOOHHH!” Hutch could almost hear the tumblers fall into place in Starsky’s head. The latter frenetically open-handed Hutch on his chest several times before racing at top speed back to the car.

“Ummm, just watch out for the sparklers and the Roman candles, okay?” By then, Starsky was pulling the car up to the group, waving for Hutch to get in. They ignored the complaints and jeers from the crowd, which increased when Hutch mounted the mars light on the roof and hit the siren.

The streakers parted to let the Torino through. “Hey, man, those pigs are all right,” the black teen said with relief and appreciation.

~s&h~

The sign above the old storefront’s door still bore the words Myrtle’s Massage & Tattoo in elegant but incongruous Gothic lettering. The dirty, grease-streaked windows barely reflected the multitude of lights that came from a fireworks display in Sector Five and from atop the candy apple red and white car, half of which was on the sidewalk.

The Torino was still rocking from its abrupt stop when Starsky and Hutchinson stalked into the former massage parlor. The reception area was empty of everything but a dusty, waist-high counter and a single broken ladder-back chair. Off to the left was the entry to the back of the erstwhile business. Hutchinson led the way, with Starsky so close behind that he kept stepping on the taller man’s heels.

They turned the corner to find several naked light bulbs hanging low from cords casting a stark whiteness on an unkempt room. Crates and boxes lined three walls. Grimy mattresses reeking of illicit, mechanical sex covered most of the floor. At the far end of the room, panels of various colors covered the wall. Wood pallets two high were stacked in front of it. On the pallets sat, like a throne, a seedy vinyl recliner chair. The room was deathly calm.

The partners wound their way cautiously through the mattresses to come to stand in front of the pallets. After a few moments, Starsky stepped up to the chair and kicked it lightly. He jumped when he heard Hutch call out, “Hey! Anybody home?”

They sensed movement and sound to the right of the back wall. They watched wordlessly as a tall figure emerged slowly from the shadows. The figure was clothed in a voluminous black robe accented with a blood-red upside-down cross over each breast, head bowed deeply under the hood pulled over it. As it neared the chair and Starsky, the head raised. Hands with well-manicured nails on supple fingers lifted the hood back to reveal a man with long, stringy, dark brown hair, moustache, and beard.

Inwardly, Starsky cowered at the dark coldness surrounding the man and the sneer on the upper lip that the moustache didn’t quite hide. But it was the crazed glint in the dark brown eyes (Starsky immediately thought of them as “shit-brown”) that seemed to penetrate to his core that disturbed the detective most. He felt exposed, stripped bare, vulnerable. He battled the intrusion with glares of his own. Soon, he saw the cold-blooded killer in that sanctimonious face. It piqued even greater fury and loathing.

Hutchinson flinched at the connection that appeared to have formed between the two. He felt the urge to scream, too, just as the voices were doing inside his head. The voices had been largely quiet until the robed man showed himself. Now they lamented with incredible agony and fear. Oh shit! He’s the one! He shook from the revelation. Steadying himself, trying to hide this flash of intuition, the fair-haired man stepped onto the makeshift platform and inserted himself between the silent man and Starsky. “I’m, uh, Detective Hutchinson and this” - with a flick of his head backwards – “is my partner, Detective Starsky. We’d like to ask you a few questions.”

The bearded man stared through Hutchinson for several heartbeats but failed to maintain the connection that Starsky had already begun to sever. He focussed his dark eyes on the light ones of the man between him and his game. “Yes? Please ask.”

The voice was unexpectedly soft, gracious, even musical. Unnerved, Hutchinson cleared his throat and shifted his weight several times, right hand instinctively finding its way inside his bowling shirt so his fingers could touch the grip of his Colt. By this time, Starsky was at his side, chest brushing against his partner’s left arm and head turned enough to observe the dark man out of the corners of his eyes. “Uh, Mister …?” Hutchinson asked, extending his head toward the robed man.

“At birth I was given the name Marcus Simons. Since my ‘endlightenment,’ I am now Simón Marcus.”

“Well, Mr. Marcus, we received a report that a hairless, naked man came out of this building not too long along, swinging a big knife, perhaps a meat cleaver. Do you know anything about that?”

The sneer twisted into an unctuous smile. “No.”

Rapidly stepping in front of Hutch, Starsky turned to face Simon directly. “Where are the babies, Marcus?” he asked, clearly enunciating and coloring each word with hot threat. “I know you took ‘em. Just like I know you raped and killed all those people this morning.”

“I have never taken anything that did not belong to me.”

Starsky tensed, ready to pounce, but Hutch’s hand on his shoulder mitigated his impatience. “That’s bullshit!” he bellowed in anger, punctuating each syllable with a thrust of his right index finger.

“I have never taken anything that did not belong to me,” Marcus confidently repeated, smiling all the while.

Starsky ground his teeth and rocked on his toes before speaking again. “I know you murdered and molested those people, Marcus. I can smell it all over you and your … bargain-basement dress. I’m gonna prove it, and I’ll be back here to arrest your sorry –“

“Please excuse my hasty partner, Mr. Marcus,” Hutchinson interrupted. He tried to steer his agitated friend off the platform and toward the door but Starsky resisted. “We’ve been trying to find two babies, a boy and a girl, who’ve been kidnapped. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?” he inquired with exaggerated politeness.

“My dreaming is my knowing, Detective,” replied Marcus in his lilting voice. “I dream of dawn and dusk, that seek out yesterday’s trash, that is doubly dirty. I dream of white and dark, light and black. Do they complement, or cancel?”

“What the hell –“ Starsky began.

“You will notify the police department if you learn of anything, won’t you?” Hutch propelled his partner toward the door. “Enjoy the rest of the holiday.” They rounded the corner to the reception area, with Starsky wrestling half-heartedly with Hutchinson all the way.

The tall, wiry man named Luke joined his beloved leader on his altar. “So, that was Starsky and Hutchinson.”

“Yes, Keeper. I see that there is much darkness in the one called Starsky. I dream the blackness in him will give me strength. I dream he belongs to me, and I will have him any way I can.”

“What about his partner?”

“I dream his death if he comes between me and what is mine.”

~s&h~

Hutchinson performed several standing pushups off the roof rim of the Torino before he pushed off to watch his partner furiously pacing in front of the former massage parlor. “Just what the hell did you think you were going to accomplish, acting like that, saying that stuff, huh, buddy? You’re a cop, and your mouth is gonna sink this case and you if you’re not careful! Starsky, this is too important! You know that!”

The final barrage of fireworks began, lighting up the sky to near daytime brightness. Breathlessly, Starsky cursed, “Fuck it, I hate the Fourth of July!” He looked back at Hutch. “He took those babies and those lives, Hutch. I know it, and you know it.” His entire being quaked with rage.

Hutch sighed and pawed the sidewalk with his shoe. “Yes, I do, Starsk, but we’re a far way from proving it yet.”

“Why did he have to take the Fourth from me, huh? Hasn’t he taken enough from me already? What more does he want from me?”

Hutchinson felt a darkness start to wrap around his heart when he heard Starsky’s last question. Certainly his partner had internalized and personalized this case more than he, but that question went far beyond. “Wuh-what do you mmmean, Starsk?” he stuttered.

Dammit, now I’ve freaked out Hutch! “I don’t know. It was a stupid thing to say.” But where did that come from? A chill ran down his spine. “What would that hairball flake want with me, anyway?” He tried to be flippant, but Hutch read the underlying fear like a large-print book. “He doesn’t even know me. Right?”

The uneasiness Hutch felt only got thicker. “Right, Starsk.” For what seemed like the umpteenth time that day, Hutch dealt out false reassurance once more. But it had kept both of them going. “We have to build a solid case against this lunatic, no mistakes. Not one.”

“Okay. Where do you wanna start?”

Hutchinson gazed at the last of the fireworks while he mulled over the possibilities. In the distance, he could hear the cheers and applause. “Well, first, let’s get the hell out of here.”

“Huggy’s?”

Hutch nodded. “Hey, you remember that song about smiling faces telling lies?”

“Yeah. Except that smiling mug shows every bit of the evil lurking in him.”

In seconds, they were speeding toward Huggy Bear’s establishment.

~s&h~

Huggy Bear was patiently listening to his waitresses bellyache about how slow business was at The Pits when the two detectives walked in. The lanky black man, still garbed in his Mr. Sammy suit, acknowledged them with a nod as he said, “Now, ladies, I can guarantee you great tips tonight, as soon as the fireworks are over. Just be patient, my lovelies. But the two customers who just sashayed in are mine.”

“Aw, Huggy!” whined Marilyn, a buxom platinum blonde who bore a remarkable resemblance to the movie star of the same name.

Starsky and Hutchinson had slid into a booth near the back of The Pits. Huggy sauntered over, ready to chat but stopped when he saw their hard and pinched features and their wilted hair and clothes. “Whoa, my white brothers, you look like something the cat drug out.” He took the few remaining steps to stand at the table. “What can I get you two?”

“A pitcher of lemonade, please, Hug.”

“You got it, Starsky. And for Bowling for Dollars Blondie?”

“Make mine a pitcher of iced tea.”

“Comin’ up.”

The pair watched Huggy return to the bar. Then Starsky ruffled his curls several times. “I think we need to keep searching for those babies, Hutch.”

“Where do we look, Starsk? We don’t have enough to get a warrant to search that pigpen Marcus calls home.” Hutchinson rubbed his forehead with his fingers. “You know, I can’t help but think he was trying to tell us something with that dream shit.”

“Yeah, but it dudn’t make any sense. ‘Dreaming is knowing’ and ‘yesterday’s trash.’ It’s just ridiculous, like those damn riddles Ma used to throw at me.” Starsky snorted his frustration.

Hutch shifted around on his bench excitedly. “Starsk, that’s it. A riddle. I think he knows we know, and he’s trying to tell us something in riddles.”

“But why would he try to help us catch him? Don’t make sense. That kick in the head musta knocked somethin’ loose.”

Undaunted by Starsky’s lack of enthusiasm, Hutch continued. “Who knows the motivation behind anything a maniac says or does? Who cares? If he’s willing to give us clues, who are we to throw them away?”

Starsky could sense Hutch’s confidence in his reasoning. He decided it wouldn’t hurt to figure out what Marcus was really saying. “Okay, you got me. So, what does this ‘dreaming is knowing’ crap mean?”

“Oh, well, maybe he means that instead of knowing something, he says he’s dreaming it.”

“Fair enough.” Huggy was back, carrying a tray laden with the beverages, pitchers, glasses, and a basket of pretzels and beer nuts. Starsky waited until the bar owner had placed the tray’s contents in front of them. “Join us, Huggy?”

“Thought you’d never ask.” Huggy pulled a beer in a long neck bottle from his pants pocket and pushed Starsky over with his hip. “Now, where were we?”

Hutchinson quickly brought him up to speed while he poured his first glass of tea, and dived into the next piece of the riddle. “’Dawn and dusk.’ What could he mean by that?”

The curly-haired man began filling his glass with lemonade, but stopped when it was about three-quarters full. “Well, maybe he means us, Hutch, ‘specially when ‘dawn and dusk’ are seeking something.” He topped off his lemonade with some of Hutch’s iced tea and stirred the concoction with a finger.

“Yeah, Starsk, you’re ‘dusk’ and the tow-headed dude across from us is ‘dawn,’ and you are lookin’ for those kiddies.”

Curious, Hutch grabbed Starsky’s glass and took a swig from it. He made a face indicating he thought the mix was surprisingly palatable. “So does that mean he’s calling the twins ‘yesterday’s trash’?”

Starsky blanched and thought his stomach was manufacturing toxic acids. “Oh shit.”

Huggy placed a hand on Starsky’s shoulder and rocked him a few times. “Man, I hope you’re wrong, Hutch.”

“Maybe I am, Huggy. Those kids probably weren’t nabbed until this morning. So why ‘yesterday’?”

“Hell, I don’t know. You’re the superdetective. You and Curly Top here.”

“Okay, let’s look at ‘doubly dirty.’ Any ideas?”

“How about a double feature at the local triple-x cinema?”

“Huggy!” the partners exclaimed in unison.

“Just tryin’ to help.”

“Sure, Hug. So, more doubles. Double-barrel shotgun,” said Starsky, legs bouncing a thousand times a minute.

“Double, double, toil and trouble.”

Starsky and Huggy exchanged fleeting who-is-this-guy looks.

Hutchinson rolled his eyes and muttered with fake derision, “Plebians.” In normal voice, he continued. “Double take, double entendre, uh …”

“Doubles tennis?” suggested Starsky. He ventured a swallow of his icy mixture.

“Duplex.” Huggy shrugged at the questioning looks.

Starsky cleared his throat. “Uh, how about Doublemint gum.”

Hutchinson said, “Twins,” overlapping Starsky’s “gum.” “I think he does mean the Fox twins, Starsk,” he said gently.

“No, you’re wrong.” His Adam’s apple bobbed, faster and faster.

“I could be, but I don’t think so.”

Starsky stared into space for a few heartbeats before he buried his face in his hands and bowed his head. Hutch and Huggy averted their eyes in an attempt to afford Starsky some privacy when they saw his shoulders heave rhythmically. It was so hard for both of them to see their friend, who absolutely adored children, who in so many ways remained a child himself, in tears like this.

Huggy took a long pull from the bottle of beer. “Gentlemen, I take my leave. Gotta take care of business. I’ll call if I hear anything at all. And I’ll ask around about that Marcus freak.”

“Yeah, thanks, Hug.” Hutch poured some lemonade into his glass. He rotated the glass and stared into the eddying liquid, waiting for Starsky to settle down, not wanting to interrupt his first ordinary reaction to the mass murder and kidnapping. Hutch had figured all along that the twins were dead, or would be if they ever found them. He also knew that Starsky had clung to the pretty unreasonable hope that they were alive, but that was his way - optimistic and stubbornly refusing to let hope go. Now, Marcus had shot that hope right in the heart.

Less than two minutes passed before Starsky rubbed his eyes with his fists. He sniffed back, hard, before making eye contact with Hutchinson.

His friend’s red-rimmed cobalt eyes, glistening brightly even in the bar’s dim lighting because of the tears that had never left them, startled Hutchinson with the depth of their misery. “Starsk, I …” He let it drop, not knowing what to say.

In a tight and husky voice, Starsky said, “I know they’re dead, Hutch. But we still gotta find ‘em. We can’t leave ‘em out there all alone. They deserve better.” He laid his hands palm down on the table. Hutch’s hands quickly covered them. Starsky sniffed again. “That sonuvabitch will pay.”

The virulence in that statement warned Hutchinson that his partner would bear close watching. He grimaced when he remembered how right he was earlier in the day when he thought he’d have to protect someone from Starsky.

As Huggy Bear had promised his waitresses, the bar was filling quickly with people not yet ready to give up celebrating. The detectives decided to hit the streets again, to look in every corner, starting with the shabby neighborhood around Marcus’s haunt. Starsky dropped a ten on the table.

They stopped at the bar to say goodbye to Huggy. He handed over a huge thermos and a stack of plastic cups. “A little something to keep you goin’ in this heat. I call it a ‘Virgin Starsky,’ after its inventor. Lemonade and iced tea blended together for that refreshing caffeine and sugar buzz. Thanks, man, good idea.”

“And what do you put in the non-virgin version?” asked Hutchinson.

“Oh, I’ll add a little splash of Stoli, or maybe some Beefeater. Only the best spirits.” He smiled. “I know you two will be out all night, even though today is almost yesterday. Just come by when you need a refill – I’ll be open for you.”

“Thanks, Huggy, you’re beautiful,” said Starsky.

“I know, but it would be more meaningful comin’ from an equally beautiful brown goddess. Well, gotta run. Trash to empty.”

Hutchinson grasped Huggy’s thin arm before he could walk away. “Trash, right? You have to empty the trash?”

“Yeah, so what’s the big deal? Is that against the law or sumpin’?”

An excited Hutch turned to Starsky. “I’ll bet he’s thrown them into a dumpster.”

Wild-eyed, Starsky shook his head in disagreement. “No, I don’t think he’s done it. Today isn’t yesterday yet.”

Hutchinson ran interference through the packed bar. Starsky made it to the Torino first and was pulling out, which forced Hutch to dive headfirst into the passenger seat.

~s&h~

The streets were horrendously congested, making it an impossibility to reach Marcus’s place before midnight. The detectives knew they couldn’t call in to ask for a closer unit to head for the storefront, nor could they ask anyone privately to risk their careers by defying orders from the commissioner. And they knew intuitively that such action would not change the outcome for the Fox twins. The best they could hope for was to catch Marcus or one of his accomplices in the act of disposing of the bodies.

It was well after midnight before Starsky could get them to the storefront on Kensington. He parked the car so his door, when it opened, was mere inches from the entryway. He was out and storming in before Hutch could get out. The latter hotfooted it over the hood, determined to catch up to his partner before he could do anything rash.

Starsky, prepared to throttle Marcus until he gave up the location of the twins, halted dead in his tracks upon entering the back room. It was now crammed with people wearing black robes with hoods concealing their heads and much of their faces. They knelt on the putrid mattresses. Their chanting throbbed in his chest, making it hurt to breathe. He strained to hear what they droned. Then his eyes attended to the six figures on the platform. He identified Marcus readily. Next to Marcus was a potbelly barbecue grill with countless thin rods sticking out of it. Starsky imagined he could feel its heat.

Hutchinson skidded to a stop, but not before he brushed against Starsky’s left side. His ears at once identified a mantra-type chant; it was “Simón,” over and over, flat and mesmerizing and emotionless. And bone-numbing cold.

Starsky reckoned the quickest way to get to Marcus was to take the narrow path along the left wall. He pushed his big blond partner away, oblivious to the fact that he had just about floored him. This jolted Hutch out of his stupefaction at the sights and sounds before him. Even so, he was still several paces behind his bullheaded friend.

The dark-haired detective gracefully jumped onto the platform. None of the six challenged him physically or verbally, and the kneeling people kept on chanting, not missing a beat. He had Marcus by his robe and out of the decrepit chair before Hutch could join them on the platform. “Where are they, you perverted, sick sonuvabitch! Damn you! Where are those babies?! Tell me, or so help me God, I’ll …” He stopped when he saw triumph and rapacious ownership – of them? of me? - in Simon’s unblinking brown eyes. Momentarily more frightened than angry, he released the hold his left hand had on the robe. He deliberately folded his hand into a tight fist as he countered Simon’s gaze with one of his own, brimming over with abhorrence and defiance.

Both of Hutch’s hands clamped over the fist. “No, Starsk, don’t do this,” he whispered fervently in his ear.

For a split second, Starsky reconsidered. But he thought again of the helpless infants, the omnipresent conceit in Marcus, the faces of the dead. He escaped Hutch’s grasp and firmly connected his fist to Simon’s right jaw.

Simon’s head snapped to his left and he fell back into the chair. His robe opened wide because of Starsky’s continued hold on the garment. On his bare chest in the center of the breastbone was a large keloid scar in the shape of an upside-down cross. Starsky and Hutchinson stared at it for a moment, then at Marcus’s profile.

The blow Simon took caused his disciples to increase the volume and tempo of their chanting. The other five robed figures on the dais advanced on Starsky. Hutchinson drew his Python and commanded them to freeze. They paid no attention, only stopping when Marcus raised his hand. Starsky let go of the robe and took a step back, still seething.

With irritating slowness, Marcus turned his head back to the right and up to look at Starsky. His face all but gleamed with dark self-satisfaction. “Nobody is allowed to strike Simón, Detective Starsky. Nobody.” Somehow, he made his melodious voice sound evil and threatening.

Neither Starsky nor Hutchinson backed down. The former took a half-step closer to the maniac. “Just tell me where those babies are,” he commanded in his own menacing way.

Marcus closed the robe over his chest. “Simón tires of this game.” He reached for one of the sticks in the grill. The rod was metal and glowed with a red-and-white heat on its pointed end. When Marcus brought it uncomfortably close to his partner’s chest, Hutchinson trained his weapon on the madman.

Starsky didn’t flinch when the poker came so near he could feel its hotness through his red-and-white shirt. He watched dispassionately as Marcus, unwavering and not breaking eye contact with the detective, etched a cross in his forehead to match the one on his chest. Hutchinson, appalled at Simon’s self-mutilation, choked and gagged at the stench of the singed flesh.

Simon whispered to the detective standing so close to him, “You are mine. Join me.”

“Fuck no, you slimy piece of shit,” Starsky responded with exceptional contempt.

Despite the ever-louder mantra of “Simón” and the quietness of this exchange, Hutchinson heard it, loosing the rage he had kept under heavy control. His eyes transformed into blue lasers. Stepping around his unyielding partner, he bent over Marcus and shoved the barrel of his gun into his ribs. “Why don’t you slither back into that hellhole you came out of, Simon?” he asked in perfect imitation of Marcus’s intonation.

Giving no indication he had heard the blond detective, Simon kept his eyes locked on Starsky’s, playing a kind of visual game of “chicken.” Starsky refused to break away. Hutchinson stood and turned into his partner. His left hand seized Starsky’s left arm. “Marcus, do you want to press charges against my partner?” he asked evenly without his glare leaving Starsky’s face.

The answer came in the form of more burning flesh.

“I’ll take that as a ‘no.’ Let’s go, partner. We’re not going to get anything else from him tonight.”

Reluctantly, Starsky moved his gaze from Marcus to the blond man touching him so protectively. A tiny nod signaled his agreement. His body language claimed his victory as he turned his back on the madman and walked side by side with his partner to the exit. Unnoticed, they passed by Simon’s followers who were now lined up for the opportunity to carve their loyalty to their guru into their foreheads.

Once they reached the reception room, Starsky sprinted for the door ahead of Hutchinson. He vomited what little was in his stomach into the gutter behind the Torino. He kept vomiting until he was sure his stomach was going to come bursting out of his mouth with the next heave. But it felt cleansing, as if he were ridding his system of that maniacal puke Marcus.

Meanwhile, Hutchinson re-holstered his gun. He was exhausted. He slowly made his way to his partner. He put a hand on Starsky’s back, now drenched in sweat, as his friend retched repeatedly.

Finally, Starsky was through. Drained, he reached out for his car. Hutch had to help him. They sat on the trunk together, Hutch needing to hold Starsky upright. Both men breathed with great effort, hearing nothing but their inhalations and expirations, the Simón mantra now hushed by walls and windows.

After a few minutes, Hutchinson asked, “What was that all about?”

“Hell if I know.”

“Well, what was with that staring contest you and Marcus got into? And that crap about you being his?”

“Hell if I know.” Starsky sighed and rested his head on Hutch’s shoulder. He knew. He knew that somehow, Marcus had found that lump of charcoal in his heart, that specter in his soul. . .


He was in-country, to that night almost ten years ago. Out of the bush for a while. Standing guard duty. Focussing on the perimeter and beyond but seeing a spark flare up in his peripheral vision. Recognizing the hootch maid and her baby boy, a few months shy of his second birthday. Laughing to himself as he thought of the simple games they played together whenever he was back in camp. Squinting to better make out what the maid was doing with the match. Lighting a fuse – connected to tubes, explosives of some type, strapped to the boy. Pushing her son toward a building full of fatigued soldiers and running away. Hearing his own voice shout “NOOOOO!” as he raised his M-16 to his shoulder. Waiting. Pulling the trigger as the boy, wanting to please his mother, climbed the first step. Watching the boy fly from the bullet’s – his bullet’s - impact. Watching the explosion. Paralyzing the mother/VC terrorist with a bullet to the back. Shunning the thanks of the sixteen men whose lives he had saved. Drowning, over his head, in a sea of alcohol. Almost believing what his first sergeant said: the kid was already dead; sixteen alive because of you, of what you did.


Hutchinson felt Starsky shiver hard, despite ambient temperatures in the high 70s. “What’s the matter, Starsk? You got a chill? Coming down from the adrenaline?”

I can’t tell him what I did. What would he think of me? I could lose his friendship. Would he understand it was war, that I had to kill a baby because of a war? I killed a baby. I had no choice. Maybe.

When there was no answer after several moments, Hutch jerked his shoulder up to get Starsky to lift his head. He turned to face him. The profound sadness engraved on the darker man’s face, surrounded by limp, sweat-wet curls, caused Hutch’s heart to skip. “Tell me, Starsk, what is it?”

The worry and caring in Hutch’s voice melted his resolve to keep this secret. “I … I killed a kid, Hutch.” Plain and simple.

Dammit, I thought he was over that! “Starsky, buddy, Lonnie Craig was about to kill you or some innocent bystanders or both. You had no choice.” Maybe you never get over killing a kid.

Thinking of Lonnie now, Starsky’s resolve returned. He swore never to tell Hutch about the hootch maid’s baby or anything else about Vietnam. It was bad enough he had to live with it; he couldn’t let Hutch share it. He’ll take it all on himself, blame himself somehow, then get depressed. “Yeah, you’re right. I wanna go somewhere, anywhere, as long as it’s away from here.”

“You got it.”

“You mind drivin’?”

Hutch smiled and accepted the proffered keys.

~s&h~

Cindy, the night dispatcher, delivered a message that Dobey wanted to speak to them. She patched them through to his phone. He proceeded to ream them out for not logging off when their double shift was supposed to be over, then for continuing to work without reporting to him on their activities. Hutchinson, between the captain’s outbursts, did the necessary updating.

“What’s your ‘20 now?”

“We’re about a mile up the street from the storefront in question. Captain, we could use all the help we can get on this. Any way you could see your way to asking for volunteers to look for the babies tonight?”

“Listen, Hutchinson, everybody’s beat, but I’ll check.”

“Have ‘em get in touch with us, so we can assign areas for searching. And one more thing. Have dispatch tell those officers still on duty to concentrate on checking piles of trash and dumpsters whenever they can, would you?”

Dobey harrumphed. “Just who is supposed to be giving orders around here? Okay, okay. I’ll even check the trash on my route home.”

“Thanks, Cap.”

~s&h~

Shortly after the conversation with Dobey, Hutchinson and Starsky got their second wind. They began checking dumpsters, even plunging into them when warranted, in their immediate vicinity, then worked their way closer to Marcus’s lair.

Pirelli and Beauchamps volunteered to search on their own time, as did Grafton and Franconi, a zebra unit from the 12th precinct. It helped that the four had today, Monday the 5th, off. They were able to last until sunrise, when exhaustion finally defeated them.

At sunrise, Starsky and Hutchinson found themselves in Seal Park. They took a short break to finish the second thermos of iced tea and lemonade and to watch the sun turn the dark sky into a palette of brilliant fuchsia, raspberry, and coral colors.

Starsky swallowed the last of the sugary blend. Without taking his eyes from the magnificence ahead and above, he wiped his lips on his jacket’s filthy sleeve and asked, “What’s that saying about red skies and sailors?”

The bigger man smoothed his stiff, blond locks as he probed his memory. “I think it’s something like, ‘red sky at night, sailor’s delight and red sky at morning, sailor’s … warning’?”

“Yeah, that’s it. Think it applies to us landlubbers?”

“It probably does today.” Hutch took the thermos from Starsky and shook it. “Let’s go by Huggy’s and have him fill it with coffee this go-round.”

“What about your place? It’s closer.”

“All right. Oh crap! I never called Abby to let her know I wouldn’t be coming home.” Hutch recalled their lovemaking of less than a day ago. That sweet passion now seemed weeks past. She understood about his being a cop, but worried that her understanding had its limits.

“There’s a phone near the pavilion. Call her. I’ll vouch for you. And ask her to make a pot or two of strong java, huh? I need help gettin’ my third, or is it fourth, wind.”

~s&h~

Armand Hickman resented covering the graveyard shift for his employer, KBCC-TV and Radio. He knew he was good enough to cover the prime police beat that included courthouse coverage. After listening to the police band all night, he knew something was up with kidnapping and dumpsters, and suspected the two were connected. Now, if he could just be there … The only way to ensure that was to make sure he drove, rather than that constantly lethargic cameraman Danny Joel.

Hickman checked his fashionably longish brown hair in the mini-bus’s mirror. Yes, there was enough Dippity-Do in his hair to maintain its position over his top-bald head in hurricane-force winds. He brushed the medium blue polyester suit, straightened the wide navy blue tie, and adjusted the collar of his white shirt. Now to convince Danny to work some overtime until this dumpster stuff comes to a head.

~s&h~

Abigail Crabtree had been very upset at first, especially since she had the day off like most people, but that didn’t last long. However, once her boyfriend and his partner tried to come into the little house, she had threatened them within an inch of their lives. “Did Dobey have you guys patrolling the sewers?” she had exclaimed as she held her nose.

Abby’s coffee - “strong enough to climb the Empire State Building and beat King Kong at his own game,” as Starsky had described it – revived them. Their blood now half caffeine, they attacked more of the city’s waste containers with renewed enthusiasm.

It was almost nine o’clock when the call came in. Starsky had just parked himself behind the wheel while Hutch tried futilely to wipe some unidentifiable substance from his trousers.

“Zebra 3, Zebra 3, come in.”

Starsky sighed and lifted the mike from its holder. “This is Zebra 3. Go ahead.”

“Zebra 3, uh, items found in dumpsters behind apartments at 2110 Ridgeway…”

Starsky threw the mike down, cranked the engine, and screamed, “Huuuutch!”

“…’cers Ferguson and Aguilar on scene. Captain Dobey will meet you there.”

Starsky had the Torino in motion before Hutchinson could shut the door and settle in. His hands chased the bouncing microphone. He pulled his right foot in just in time to prevent the car door from closing on it.

“Zebra 3, do you copy?” Mildred asked when the reply didn’t come.

Starsky took a right turn on two wheels, throwing Hutch into him and trapping the mike between them. Then Hutch snared the mike’s cord. The car went back to four-wheel drive and Hutch was nearly sitting. His hands fumbled up the cord. “Starsky, slow the fuck down!”

Now that he was on a straightaway, Starsky stood on the accelerator.

Hutchinson gulped in an effort to return his stomach to its proper position. He keyed the mike just as Mildred began repeating her question. “Yes, dispatch, we copy. Enroute to location, uh, back of” – Hutch gritted his teeth as Starsky maneuvered around an accident involving a cab and a Pontiac Bonneville – “apartments at 2-1-1-0 Ridgeway. No one to disturb the scene. Zebra 3 out.” He slapped the mac light on the roof and hit the siren, then hung on for dear life. He chose not to speak, not wanting to distract his partner from his driving.

Starsky drove like a bat out of hell. He had several close calls with pedestrians in crosswalks, but avoided incident by breaking and fishtailing or steering onto the sidewalk. Hutch thanked the gods that vehicular and foot traffic were exceptionally light today.

During another straightaway, Starsky said in a pinched voice, “Those apartments are only two or three blocks from my place. You don’t think it’s a coincidence, do you?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Neither do I.”

~s&h~

“You sure you got plenty of tape?” Hickman shouted at Danny, who appeared to be asleep despite the weaving mini-bus. Then he thought he heard a siren in the distance. He put the pedal to the metal.

~s&h~

Starsky applied the brakes at just the right moment to execute a 90-degree turn with little steering. The Torino came to a body-rattling stop, ready to travel the alley between several of the four-story buildings of the large apartment complex. Starsky accelerated the vehicle again, the guttural purr of the precisely tuned engine reverberating off the close walls. In his rearview mirror, he caught sight of a KBCC mini-bus. “Shit! A TV crew!”

Hutch twisted around to look out the rear window. “How the hell did they find out about this?!” he yelled. “I’ll have Fergie take care of it.”

Starsky’s face and mood turned as dark as his hair. He pulled into the big parking lot, stopping within a few yards of two dumpsters. The siren ceased automatically, though its urgency still echoed through the area for several seconds.

Hutchinson wasted no time in jumping out and running toward the approaching TV mini-bus. He signaled with both arms for the ‘bus to back up. At the same time he directed Ferguson to barricade the area as best he could.

The mini-bus stopped to avoid hitting Hutchinson. Hickman stuck his head out of the window and shouted, “You can’t stop us, we’re the press! The people have a right to know!”

Hutchinson spanked the nose of the ‘bus. “Not this, not today. Now, back the fuck up, or I’ll arrest you for … for … bad hair!”

Hickman punched the vehicle into reverse and shook a closed fist at the filthy blond man. When the squad car forced him to move further back, he regretted not flipping the man off. But he had an idea that might work. Danny should be able to get some good footage from a second-floor apartment. Let’s see who wants to earn a quick 50 bucks.

Meanwhile, Starsky sat in the Torino, hands open and resting on his lap. He found he couldn’t move. Fuck! “Doubly dirty”! That psycho sonuvabitch! he thought as he stared at the huge metal containers. A darkness he hadn’t felt in a decade visited him once more.

Hutchinson didn’t have the energy to fight with the neighborhood people drawn to the parking lot by the siren’s pied-piper influence. He yelled to Ferguson to call for back up and a coroner’s wagon before racing back to the Torino. Dear God, I can’t do this! How can Starsky possibly do it? Help me, us, please! He took two breaths before bending over to peer through the driver’s side window.

Starsky appeared to be lifeless. Hutch had to squint to see his chest move. Starsk, I don’t think I can do this without you, but I don’t think you can do it at all. Hutch made his decision.

“I’ll go. Aguilar can help.”

“No. We go together. We’re partners.” I can do this, I can do this. Hutch and me have to do this together. We can do this. He looked up and gave Hutch a weak, one-sided smile.

Hutch returned the smile and opened the door. They walked the few yards with their gun hands touching.

Aguilar, a ruggedly handsome Chicano with six years on the force, guarded the dumpsters. He moved nervously in a small figure-8 pattern and gnawed on his fingernails. Both detectives observed that several fingers were bleeding. In rapid-fire accented English, he said, “Holy shit, guys! Those babies Perk told us to look for are in there! And another body’s in the other one! Holy cow! I saw ‘em, those babies! Never seen anything like this.” The detectives’ odor from sweat and garbage was enough to tip him over the edge. He ran around the far side of the dumpsters and decorated the asphalt with his stomach contents.

Starsky wasn’t sure he could bare it if the twins were missing their faces. “Hutch?”

He knew what his partner wanted – no, needed. Without responding, he climbed onto the part of the dumpster for the truck forks. Though there were shadows, he easily spotted the two tiny bodies about two feet down. He could see the malicious maiming that had been inflicted upon them. The voices came roaring back, absolute terror in the howls. He would have to endure them this time, since using the noisemaker was not an option. Suddenly he was lightheaded and would have fallen if it hadn’t been for his partner’s steadying hands.

“Hutch?”

Again, the way Starsky said his name told him everything. “They’re not like their family, buddy.” Finally, Hutch saw some relief flit across his friend’s otherwise morose face. “Get your jacket ready.” His head, arms, and part of his upper body plunged into the dumpster.

Starsky tried to suppress the hyperventilation he could sense developing. He was out of his jacket in seconds and ready to accept whatever Hutch gave him. Jacket now draped over his hands, he raised them towards his partner. Soon, he felt a small weight, hardly noticeable. He lowered his arms and looked at his burden.

It was a little baby girl – most likely. But her head was still there, as were her eyes, nose, and lips. Tenderly, as if she were made of the most delicate, rare Dresden porcelain china, he folded his jacket around her, silently apologizing for its poor condition. He cradled the covered infant in his arms and hummed a lullaby.

Captain Dobey had arrived in time to see Hutchinson place something in Starsky’s hands. He jogged the rest of the way to the dumpsters in time to watch Hutch rip off his bowling shirt, not bothering to unbutton it, and bend over into the dumpster.

Hutch could barely see through the tears that flowed freely from his blue eyes. He tucked his shirt around the cold, little body and picked it up. He couldn’t be positive, but he thought it was a boy. He stood and finished covering the baby. He saw Dobey reaching for his bundle. He reluctantly gave it up. For a few moments, he grasped the edge of the dumpster and squeezed his eyes tightly, trying to clear his vision.

Dobey peeked under the green shirt and was horrified at the sight. His head spun erratically. He was startled when he heard Starsky say in a low, dangerous voice, “Don’t you dare drop him.”

Hutch jumped down. “Cap. Coroner’s wagon here yet?”

Dobey observed the streaks the tears had left behind on Hutchinson’s dirty face. “Here in a few minutes. Then they can –“

“No. Hutch and me, we’ll take ‘em to the morgue. Together. Need to be, should be together. Dobey, give him to me.” Starsky – his face streak-free, Dobey noted - shifted his bundle to accept the sibling. He didn’t complain about the edge of the flag pin stabbing his hand, nor did he try to make adjustments. Hutch firmly nodded his agreement.

Dobey, astounded, looked from one to the other detective. Hutch’s morning blue and Starsky’s midnight blue irises sat in bloodshot sclera. From them, the captain read their determination, sorrow, rage, and grief. It was not procedure, but he didn’t have the heart to split the four up. Swallowing his own tears, Dobey said, “Okay, you take them. I’ll … dammit, I’ll cover for you.”

“Come on, Starsk, let’s get them back to their family.” Newborn tears started streaming down Hutch’s face.

The darker detective’s Adam’s apple bobbed wildly. “We’re their family now, too, Hutch.” Starsky could hold the tears back no longer. They coursed thickly down his face and rounded his chin before falling off to stain the red of his shirt.

Hutchinson locked Starsky and the children in a sheltering embrace for a few moments before leading them to the Torino. He fingered away the bulk of the tears from his eyes before taking his position behind the wheel. Mars light still flashing, he drove past the subdued onlookers pushed aside by Ferguson and two other uniformed officers. He steered with his left hand; the other hand rested partly on Starsky’s arm and partly on the baby resting there.

Dobey watched the Torino leave the parking lot. It was then that he realized there was no God.