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Gather Ye Rosebuds

Written by Valerie Wells

"It's only ten minutes till our shift is over," Starsky said, taking the opportunity of a red stoplight to stretch and rub the back of his neck. "Let's go ahead and log out, huh? I'm starvin'."

Hutch opened his mouth to answer, but the radio interrupted him.

"All units, fire, PD and EMS, fire reported at 920 E. Cantrell, Zips Florist. All units."

"There's your answer," Hutch said, lifting the mike to respond. Starsky hit the siren and sped through the light.

The entire storefront was engulfed when they arrived, moments after the fire engines. "Anybody inside?" a firefighter called to an ashen-faced woman in a stained florist's apron who was standing in the street staring at the building.

She shook her head. "No...no. I was the only one in there today."

The fire captain barked orders to his men, who went calmly to work attaching their hoses and fighting the blaze, while Starsky and Hutch approached the woman.

"Are you okay, ma'am?" Hutch asked her.

She nodded, her eyes still on her shop. "Yes, thank you. Just..." She gazed at the store and her eyes filled with tears.

"How did it start?" Hutch said, a little more gently.

She shook her head. "I don't know. I had closed for the day and I was in the back working on a special order, and I heard this sort of," she gestured helplessly, "I don't know. Kind of a popping noise. I didn't pay any attention, really. I was busy. Then I heard a crackling, and I looked into the showroom and flames were just everywhere. I ran out the back and went and called the fire department. By the time I got back, it was like this."

"How long between the popping noise and the crackling?" Starsky asked.

"Ten or fifteen minutes."

"That's awful fast," Starsky said to Hutch, who nodded.

Hutch went over to the fire captain. "Hey, Mitch," he greeted him. "It might be arson."

Mitch nodded. "I already wondered about that. Spread too fast to be anything else. We'll check it out."

"Let us know what you find out, huh?"

"Sure, Hutch. No problem."

The phone rang at an unearthly hour the next morning, and Starsky tried to ignore it, but it just kept ringing. Finally, he snagged the receiver by the cord and dragged it into the bed with him. With both eyes still tightly closed, he mumbled, "H'lo?"

"Another arson last night," Hutch's voice said in his ear. "Another florist. Dobey wants us to head right over there."

"Now?" Starsky said plaintively. "It's the middle of the night."

"It's 6 a.m.," Hutch corrected patiently. "Up, Simba. We got work to do."

Starsky muttered something impolite and unintelligible under his breath, but aloud he said, "Okay, okay. Do I have time to take a shower?"

"Please do," Hutch teased. "I'll be there in 15 minutes."

Starsky replaced the phone, yawned widely and threw the covers back. "Who the hell burns down a flower shop?" he asked the room disgustedly, trailing blankets as he headed for the shower.

By the time Hutch arrived, he was dressed and drinking a cup of hastily-brewed coffee. "Want some?" he asked, indicating his cup.

For answer, Hutch took the cup, drained the remainder of the contents, and set it down. "We better scat."

Starsky looked at his empty cup and glared at Hutch. Unconcerned, Hutch turned and led the way out the door.

This florist, like the one the day before, was practically a total loss. The gutted building, with the remains of the plants and cut flowers burned past recognition, was oddly pathetic in the bright morning sun. The fire was long out, but some smoke still remained in the air.

"Hey, Mitch," Hutch greeted the fire captain. "Here we are again."

"I noticed," Mitch said sourly. "We gotta stop meeting like this."

"Any idea what happened?"

Mitch shrugged. "Pretty straightforward, actually. Gasoline poured around inside and then they threw a match on it. Damned lucky they didn't kill the folks who live up there," and he pointed to the windows above the shop. "Apartment. They're the ones who called us about 3. Their dog woke 'em up or they'd've been overcome by the smoke in no time. It was really burning."

Hutch squinted up at the windows. "Where are they now?"

"Her parents'. They gave me the phone number and address." Mitch dug under his fire gear and finally came up with a crumpled piece of paper. "Here ya go."

"You think they had anything to do with it?"

Mitch shook his head decidedly. "No way. They were in their pajamas, man. And her clutching this little fuzzy dog like he was a baby, and sobbing at how close it was and how the dog had saved their lives. Huh-uh."

"Okay." Hutch turned to look for Starsky, who had been snooping around the perimeter of the building and had found a neighboring shop owner to question. "Got anything, Starsk?"

Starsky thanked the man and came back, flipping his notebook closed. "Man says he heard a car with a loud muffler late last night, before the fire started. He was up watching a late movie. Lives up there," he added, pointing to another apartment, next door to the first. "He heard the muffler, didn't pay much attention because he was watching the movie " Starsky referred to his notebook, " Psycho, it was. Came on at 2 a.m."

"So by 3, things were getting interesting in the movie," Hutch supplied, as the veteran of too many late-night showings of that film alongside of his partner.

"Yeah," Starsky said, pretending not to notice Hutch's barely-concealed grin. "So it took him a while to realize the car had stopped under the window here. He heard a crackling sound and came to the window just in time to see the car takin' off down the street, but it was too dark for him to get a good look. Then he saw the fire and the people next door were pounding on his door yelling for help."

"Did he see anything? Any description at all?"

"Said it was an old four-door, maybe a Ford, rusty, dented and loud," Starsky said. He paused a beat before adding, "Sorta sounds like your car, buddy."

Hutch snorted and did not deign to reply.

It wasn't much to go on, but they canvassed nearby stores and apartments to see if anyone recognized the description of the car. Considering the neighborhood once-nice, but going downhill fast a rusty, loud, old car was a pretty common sight. And no one else had been awakened by the car or the fire until the fire engines arrived.

"So what d'you suppose somebody wants to burn flower shops down for?" Starsky asked when they were sharing a pitcher of beer after work at Huggy's.

Hutch shrugged. "I can't imagine. Disgruntled employee?"

Starsky rolled his eyes. "Come on. Wouldn't you just burn down the shop you used to work at, then?"

"They hate flowers?" Hutch suggested.

"Nobody hates flowers," Starsky said.

Huggy passed within earshot just in time to hear Starsky's last comment and stopped. "Who hates flowers?"

Starsky explained, then asked, "Say, Hug, you ain't heard of somebody with a vendetta against florists, have ya?"

Huggy shook his head. "Nope. But I'll let ya know if I do. Sounds pretty crazy to me."

"Yeah, that's just it," Hutch said. To Starsky, he said, "We ought to run the M.O. through the computer and see if anything pops up."

"I already did that for Captain Dobey," Minnie informed them the next morning when they presented their request. "No soap. Plenty of arsonists who like to toss gasoline around, but none of 'em ever concentrated on flower shops before."

"Anyone recently out of the joint?" Starsky asked.

She put on a serious expression. "Floyd Carmichael's the only one recently out."

"And where is he hanging out?" Hutch demanded.

She raised her eyebrows at him. "The Elysian Fields."

Starsky opened his mouth, but Hutch forestalled him. "He's dead, Starsk."

"Oh."

They were just pulling into a taco stand for lunch Hutch wearing a long-suffering expression when the radio beeped.

"All units, fire reported at 1170 N. Jackson, Betty's Flower Shop. 1170 N. Jackson."

Starsky groaned, and Hutch picked up the mike. "Zebra Three, we will respond." To Starsky, he said, "Thank God. Saved by the bell."

"Saved from what?" Starsky asked sourly.

"Indigestion," Hutch said with a grin, reaching for the red light and slapping it on top of the car.

This time, the fire had been caught before it did much damage. The owner and two employees were shaken and upset, but not hurt, and the damage was contained to the front of the shop.

"Did you see anything?" Hutch asked, flipping open his notebook.

The owner, a middle-aged woman wearing glasses on a chain around her neck, shook her head. "Not much, Officer, I'm afraid. The girls," she indicated the other two women, both much younger, "were working on a wedding order. I was doing the books, sitting at my desk off to the side there. I heard a car pull up and I looked up just in time to see something pushed through the mail slot in the door. Then there was a kind of muffled boom and flames started climbing all over the curtain over the front door. The curtain kept me from seeing who was out there, and Carrie," she indicated the younger of the two women, "grabbed a watering can and threw the water on the flames while Suzanne called the fire department. Then we ran out."

"Do you have any enemies?" Starsky asked. "Anyone made a threat recently?"

She stared at him as if he had two heads. "Good heavens, no."

Hutch smothered a smile. "Has anyone quit or gotten fired recently?"

She shook her head again. "No, Officer. Carrie and Suzanne have worked for me for " She looked at them for confirmation.

"Since high school," Carrie offered. "About six years."

"And I've worked here for almost eleven years," Suzanne said.

"It just don't make any sense," Starsky said as they drove away. "None of these little shops are big enough to be fronts for anything shady "

"And they've all checked out clean on that score, anyway," Hutch put in.

"And none of the poor folks who own 'em are crooks," Starsky said.

"And most of them have been in business for years," Hutch said.

They looked at each other.

"Any new shops in the vicinity?" Starsky said.

"None that I know of," Hutch answered. He opened the glove compartment and pawed around in it for a few minutes, finally emerging with a city map. He opened it and refolded it so that only the area of the arsons was showing. He studied it with great interest for so long in silence that Starsky finally reached over and poked him in the arm.

"Well?"

"Looks like the shops that've been hit are all within a few blocks of each other," Hutch said. He reached into his pocket for a pen and marked the locations of the three shops that had been burned so far. "In fact," he said, a little surprised, "they make a nice little equilateral triangle."

Starsky glanced at him disgustedly. "A what?"

"An equilateral " Hutch stopped. "Just look." He held the map so Starsky could see it.

"Somebody's marking their territory?" Starsky guessed after glancing at the map.

"Maybe."

They exchanged another glance.

Hutch sneezed loudly and groaned at the same time. He was wearing a florist's apron and trying to make an arrangement while Starsky waited on a nervous teen-ager in the showroom.

"I don't know what color her dress is," the boy was saying plaintively.

"White goes with everything," Starsky said with authority. "We have some really nice orchids and I promise you, there ain't a girl alive that doesn't love orchids."

"I thought girls liked roses," the boy said.

"They do," Starsky said. "But orchids impress 'em even more, especially for a corsage. Trust me."

Hutch sneezed again, and the boy looked toward the work area.

"Don't worry about him," Starsky said. "He's not contagious. He's allergic."

"Why would somebody who was allergic to flowers become a florist?" the boy inquired curiously.

"It was his mother's dying wish," Starsky said solemnly.

The boy looked even more uncomfortable and finally said, "Well, if you're sure about the orchids..."

"I'm sure," Starsky said firmly.

"Okay." He reached into his pocket for a wad of crumpled bills and waited while Starsky wrote the ticket up.

"Twelve-fifty," Starsky said.

The boy paled a bit, but handed the money over. Starsky presented him with the corsage, and the boy left, holding it as if it were made of gold.

Hutch appeared, looking miserable and still holding a handful of baby's breath. "My mother," he said distinctly, "is alive and well."

Starsky grinned. "And you look pretty cute in a florist's apron."

Hutch shook a finger at him. "One more crack like that, buddy, and you'll be doing this gig by your lonesome."

"Hutch, Hutch," Starsky said sadly, shaking his head. "That wouldn't do at all."

"I don't see what good we're gonna do here," Hutch said. "How can we be sure the guy'll hit this place next?"

"We can't," Starsky said. "But if he does, maybe we'll catch him. That's our job."

"No kidding," Hutch said sourly.

"Besides," Starsky said, eyes dancing, "only you can prevent florist fires."

Hutch groaned aloud and stalked from the room.

Nothing happened the rest of the day, except for Hutch's increasing sneezing, and finally the real owner came back to close up. Hutch slumped down in the passenger seat of the Torino and reached into his pocket for yet another Kleenex. "If we don't catch this guy soon," he said, sniffling, "I'm going to drown in "

"Please don't say it," Starsky implored, starting the engine. "I'll work in back tomorrow and you can wait on customers."

"It won't be much better," Hutch grumbled. "I'm still stuck in the building with all that stuff."

"You've got all those plants at home," Starsky pointed out. "They don't make you sneeze."

"Flowers do. Plants don't," Hutch explained, more or less patiently. "Why do you think I only have green plants?"

"You like the rain forest look?" Starsky suggested.

Hutch turned his head away and closed his eyes and refused to answer.

A long hot shower did a lot to improve Hutch's mood and his sinuses, and he was just settling down with a salad and a glass of wine when the phone rang. He groaned, but got up to answer it.

"We've got another one, Hutchinson," Dobey said without preamble.

"Another one?" Hutch sighed. "Where was this one?"

"Three guesses."

"Not Sara's Garden?" Hutch asked, naming the shop where he and Starsky had worked that afternoon.

"Sara's Garden," Dobey confirmed. "Get over there. Both of you."

"But, Captain "

"That's an order, Hutchinson."

"On my way," Hutch said, sighing again.

"I don't barkin' believe it," Starsky complained when he arrived to pick Hutch up. "Were we made?"

"Who knows," Hutch said wearily. "I don't see how. Unless it's somebody who knows flower shops very, very well and knew we didn't belong there."

"You didn't, anyway," Starsky said. Then he added, "Maybe it is. Somebody who drives a delivery truck? Or who sells them their stock?"

"But if it is," Hutch pointed out reasonably, "he's shooting himself in the foot by burning them all down."

"Not if he got the job just so he could harass the florists," Starsky said.

"But why would anyone harass florists? Talk about the world's most inoffensive profession."

"Dig that map out again and plot this one," Starsky said. "See how it measures up to the others."

Hutch did as requested and after a few moments, he said, "Yeah, sure enough. They're all about an equal distance apart. But now, instead of a triangle, we have a rectangle. Think it means anything?"

Starsky shrugged as he stopped the car in front of Sara's Garden. "I don't know. But it is weird."

"This whole case is weird," Hutch complained, getting out of the car.

The next day in the squad room, Starsky ran a hand wearily over his hair and rubbed his eyes. "I can't even guess where the slime might hit next. What comes after a rectangle?"

"Starsky, it's not like there's a logical progression from triangle to rectangle to something else," Hutch said impatiently.

"Sure, there is," Starsky insisted. "A triangle has three corners, a rectangle has four corners "

"Angles, Starsk, angles," Hutch corrected.

"Whatever. So what has five?"

Hutch was bent over the map, staring at it, and suddenly straightened. "You may have something there." He reached across the table and picked up the ruler in front of Starsky, bent over the map again, and worked diligently for a moment. "Okay," he said at last, "the arsonist could go in four different directions, but based on his pattern up till now, he should go east from Sara's."

Starsky peered at the map upside down. "Is there a flower shop there?"

Hutch reached for the phone book and opened it, paging through the yellow pages until he got to florists. "No, but there's one a few blocks away. It'll mess up his pattern, but it might be the next one on his list."

"Then I guess we need to buy some more Kleenex," Starsky said, grinning.

This time, Hutch worked at the counter while Starsky, whistling merrily, worked on corsages and bouquets in the back room. The back room wasn't far enough away to keep Hutch from having to listen to Starsky's whistling, however.

"Do you mind?" he demanded at last. "What the hell is that tune, anyway? I'm getting sick of it."

For answer, Starsky left off whistling and switched to singing, "Paper roses, paper roses, oh how real those roses seemed to be "

Hutch groaned, but it didn't dampen Starsky's enthusiasm.

"But they're only imitations, and the paper ones don't make you sneeze..."

"Those aren't the right words, Starsky," Hutch hollered in his partner's direction.

"No," Starsky agreed. "But I like my version better."

"Marie Osmond you ain't," Hutch muttered bad-temperedly, but he manufactured a smile when a customer came in through the front door. Unfortunately, Starsky either didn't hear the bell over the door or didn't care who had to listen to his fractured version of the song, because he kept on singing.

"My wife's birthday is today," said the customer, a man in his mid-twenties with longish brown hair and a mustache. He glanced toward the back uncertainly, but turned back to Hutch. "And, uh, I want to get her a really nice flower arrangement."

"What kind of flowers does she like?" Hutch asked.

"All kinds," the man said with a shrug. "I don't know."

Starsky emerged, his hands full of carnations and roses, which he plopped down on the counter in front of Hutch. Hutch's eyes promptly began to water and in another moment, he was sneezing. "Roses," Starsky said with authority. "Ain't a woman alive don't love roses."

"Aren't roses expensive?" the man asked.

"How many wives you got?" Starsky demanded. "Is she worth a few bucks or not?"

"Well..."

"We can fix you up with a dozen roses red ones, women love red roses and a nice vase for $40."

The man looked at Hutch, who had backed away from the counter and reached for his constant companion, the box of Kleenex.

"He's allergic," Starsky said by way of explanation. "He'll live. Whattya say?"

"Uh, okay. Sure. Roses. Can I pick them up this afternoon?"

"You bet. What time you want 'em?"

"Four?" the man said hopefully.

"Four it is. Name?"

"Daniels. Rick Daniels."

Starsky wrote it down with the order and the man paid him in cash and left. "You okay, buddy?" he asked Hutch.

"Sure," Hutch said between sneezes. "Don't I look okay, moron?"

Starsky grinned. "Actually, no. You look awful. Wanna go in the back and sit down for awhile?"

"No!" Hutch exploded. "It's bad enough out here. You gonna go make that guy's order up for him or not?"

Starsky saluted smartly. "Yessir. Right away, sir. Anything else today, sir?"

Hutch pretended to aim a kick at Starsky's backside and Starsky obligingly dodged out of the way, laughing.

Hutch went out to pick up lunch for both of them and get a few breaths of flower-free air while Starsky worked on the bouquet. On his way back, he stopped at a pay phone about a block away from the florist's to phone in.

"Hutchinson. Give me Dobey." He waited a moment, and when Dobey's voice came on the line, he said, "All quiet so far, Captain. Except that Starsky has discovered a knack for selling flowers," he added with a grin.

"Terrific," Dobey growled. "All I need is a frustrated florist on this damn force."

Hutch's grin widened. "He'll get over it." A sudden sneeze overtook him.

"Gezhundheit," Dobey said automatically. "Are you coming down with something, Hutchinson?"

"Just an overdose of flowers, Captain," Hutch said, digging for the Kleenex. "If we don't solve this soon " He broke off when he heard a muffled explosion. And his heart sank when he saw a column of black smoke roll out of a building down the street a building that he felt certain was the flower shop. "Captain, send the fire department and an ambulance! I think our shop just got hit!" Without waiting for an answer, he hung up the phone and ran full speed.

The front of the shop was already engulfed in flames by the time he got there.

"Starsky!" he yelled, coughing in the smoke. "Starsky!!!"

He couldn't see through the smoke and he didn't hear an answering call.

"STARSKY!!!"

The flames were too hot to allow entrance through the front, so he ran to the end of the block and down the alley.

"STARSKY!!!"

The back door, solid metal, was closed and locked. In vain he beat on it and kicked it, yelling Starsky's name the whole time. Finally, he ran back to the front, yanked his t-shirt up over his mouth and nose, and dove through the flames into the shop. The smoke was thick, but he found his way to the back room and found Starsky lying against the back door, out cold. He dragged him out of the way, opened the door, and hoisted his partner up in a clumsy embrace to get him through the door and to the safety of the alley.

"Starsk? Starsky? Come on, buddy, come on," he said desperately, patting Starsky's cheeks and gently shaking his shoulders.

A moment later, the blue eyes opened and Starsky coughed. Hutch helped him sit up and patted his back. Starsky wiped his eyes, coughed a few more times and said, "What happened?"

"They hit," Hutch said, grateful that Starsky seemed unharmed. They could hear sirens coming closer. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," Starsky said, shaking his head a little to clear it. "I think so. I remember some kind of explosion but nothin' else. Must've fallen and hit my head or something."

"I was right down the street," Hutch said angrily. "Not a block away. I didn't see anybody near the place. How the hell did they blow the place up without approaching it?"

Starsky coughed again, and Hutch put an arm around him.

"Come on," he said. "Can you walk? Let's get out front where the air is clearer."

Starsky nodded, and with Hutch's help, stood up. They got to the street just as the fire engines arrived. The ambulance arrived a moment later and Hutch turned his partner over to the paramedics, but stayed close.

"He's okay," the nearest one said to him after they'd checked Starsky over. "Just a bump on the head. He didn't inhale enough smoke to harm him any."

Hutch let out the breath he hadn't even realized he'd been holding. "Thank God."

"Hey, how'd you get in?" Starsky asked suddenly. "The whole front is burnin'."

"I ran through it," Hutch answered.

Starsky's eyes widened and he stood to grab Hutch's arm and look him over. "Are you okay?"

"Fine." Hutch grinned, now that the danger was past. "Maybe I have superpowers."

Starsky snorted. "Now he's gettin' a big head. Superpowers, for cryin' out loud."

After showers and a good night's sleep, both detectives were none the worse for wear. Starsky arrived late, as usual, to find Hutch poring over the firefighters' report. "Whatcha got?" he asked, bending over Hutch's shoulder to read it.

"Incendiary device," Hutch said disgustedly. "No wonder I didn't see anybody approach the place. I'll say one thing for our arsonist. He's creative. Different method every time."

Starsky took the report from him, read it quickly, then reached for the other reports to compare them. Hutch kept silent, watching him. Starsky went back to the most recent report several times, and finally stacked them up in order and read them all again.

"This ain't no experienced arsonist," Starsky said at last, meeting Hutch's eyes.

"Why do you say that?"

Starsky gestured at the reports. "You know arsonists. They pick a method and they stick with it. Gasoline. Or kerosene. Or something like that. They light the back room first, or the front room first, or the perimeter first. They rob the place first. But it's always a pattern. The only pattern we got here is florists, and they're all downtown. Okay, but that's it. Different times of day. Different methods. Amateur, Hutch. I'm sure of it."

Hutch considered that, and finally nodded. "Okay. I'll buy that. But how does that help us?"

Starsky frowned and his eyes went back to the stack of reports. "It's not a disgruntled employee. All these places are family owned and operated and either they have no employees, or the employees have been there since Moses."

Hutch allowed himself a small grin.

"An angry customer?" Starsky suggested, looking at Hutch again.

Hutch shrugged. "But what could a florist do to a person to make them want to burn the shop down? Give them the wrong shade of red roses?"

"Mental case?"

Hutch opened his mouth, shut it again, and frowned in concentration. "Wait a minute," he said. "Maybe it's not the florists the person is angry at."

Starsky waited.

"Maybe it's the flowers," Hutch said. "Or the idea of flowers."

Starsky cocked his head to one side. "Huh?"

"What does somebody buy flowers for?" Hutch asked.

Starsky thought about that. "Weddings. Proms. Mother's Day. Funerals. Um...birthdays."

"Proms and Mother's Day are both in the spring," Hutch said. "That's not it. Funerals? That could be it. Somebody's crazy with grief and is blaming florists?" But then he shook his head. "That's nuts."

"Weddings," Starsky said. "Look at all the orders for bouquets for weddings we had at those shops we were at. People get married all the time. And love can make ya crazy."

Hutch smothered a grin and looked at his partner, who looked back at him with feigned innocence.

"I can hear what you're thinkin'," Starsky said, pretending to be insulted. "And I don't like it."

Hutch lifted a hand in surrender. "Okay. Love can make you crazy. Suppose somebody got dumped right before the wedding. But after they'd ordered the flowers. So they burned down the florist shop. It's crazy, but maybe the arsonist is, too. So why burn down all the others?"

"Maybe they were marryin' the florist," Starsky said.

Their eyes met.

"Marriage licenses," Hutch said.

But going through all the marriage licenses taken out in the last couple of months, from before the fires started until that day, proved fruitless. None of the florists who'd been victims were among them, and they even checked out florists who weren't among the victims. None of them had taken out a marriage license, either.

"Damn," Starsky said, rubbing his tired eyes. "You know what really stinks, partner? The incident coulda happened a long time ago, and our perp is just now getting around to revenge."

"I know," Hutch said wearily. "Or we're on the wrong track altogether."

"I need a beer," Starsky announced suddenly. "My brain's gone numb."

"Your brain is always numb," Hutch couldn't help saying, but he clapped him on the shoulder. "Let's go to Huggy's."

"Kinda early for you two, ain't it, fellas?" Huggy greeted them when they walked in. The lunch rush was over and the after-work rush was still a while away, so the place was all but empty.

"We've had a hard day," Hutch told him. "Bring us a coupla brews, will you?"

Huggy drew two draft beers and set one in front of each of them. "Flower shops still burning?" he asked.

Starsky nodded. "One damn near got me yesterday," he said.

Huggy froze in the act of wiping the bar and stared at him. "I read about the fire. They didn't say nothin' about you."

"I know," Starsky said. "We didn't tell 'em. Just in case we gotta do it again."

Hutch groaned and reflexively reached for his pocket, but at least he didn't sneeze.

"You hearin' anything, Huggy?" Starsky pleaded. "Anything at all?"

Huggy shook his head. "Everybody's talkin' about it," he said, going back to wiping the bar. "But nobody seems to know who's doin' it. Lots of theories, though."

"Like what?" Hutch asked.

Huggy shrugged one shoulder. "Crazy stuff. Knocking off numbers joints. Gettin' revenge. Stuff like that. But I've lived in this neighborhood a long time, and ain't none of those places that've been hit ripe for that kind of action."

"Is there any place that hasn't been hit that's ripe for that kind of action?" Hutch asked, narrowing his eyes.

Huggy pursed his lips and considered it. After a moment, he said, "I can't think of none. I'll nose around though, and see what I find out."

All was quiet for several days, and Starsky and Hutch went back to their regular beat, though they stayed alert for any kind of street gossip that might help them with the case. Two of the least-damaged shops had reopened; one had closed for good, the first that had been hit. That had made Starsky and Hutch investigate that particular shop very closely to see if there were any other possible reasons it might be to someone's advantage for that shop to close for good, but they hadn't uncovered a thing. The owner's story was that she was near retirement anyway, and she just didn't have the heart or the cash to rebuild or move and start over. The insurance money hadn't been much and she'd packed up and moved to San Francisco to live with her married daughter. Her story had checked out, and they'd been in touch with the San Francisco police to check out the daughter, who was also clean.

"This is drivin' me nuts," Starsky said after a long silence.

Hutch didn't need to ask what was bothering his partner. It was bothering him, too. "We must have missed something," he answered.

"But what?" Starsky frowned and tapped his hands against the steering wheel.

"Maybe we should go back through the marriage licenses and make sure all those people actually got married," Hutch suggested.

Starsky cast him a puzzled glance. "Huh?"

"You have to buy the license at least a couple of days before the wedding," Hutch said. "It doesn't mean you have to actually get married, though. You can change your mind before the ceremony. Hell, you can change it during the ceremony. So what if somebody did? Like we thought before? And the jilted lover flipped out as a result?"

Starsky's puzzled expression didn't change. "But we checked on that "

"No, we checked to see if any licenses had been issued to florists. We didn't check to make sure everybody got married."

"How the hell do we do that?" Starsky demanded.

"Social security office," Hutch said after considering it for a moment. "Women have to go there to change their names after they get married."

That necessitated a trip back to the county clerk's office to make a list of all those names again, and then to the Social Security office. On the way, Hutch was paging through the list, muttering to himself, when he suddenly said, "Starsk!"

"What?" Starsky looked over at him.

"Does the name Rick Daniels mean anything to you?"

Starsky frowned. "Sort of sounds familiar. I can't think why..." He snapped his fingers. "The guy who was buying a bouquet for his wife's birthday right before the shop blew up!"

Hutch nodded. "He's here."

"Huh?" Starsky reached over and took the paper out of Hutch's hand and glanced at it while trying not to wreck the car. There it was. Richard Lee Daniels and Marjorie Ann Madison. They'd taken out a license two weeks before the first fire. "Daniels ain't exactly an uncommon name," Starsky pointed out, handing the paper back. "And that guy said he was buying the flowers for his wife."

"He was the last one in the shop before the explosion," Hutch said. "He could have left the incendiary device."

"How?" Starsky demanded. "He didn't drop nothin'. Did he?"

Hutch closed his eyes and replayed the scene in his mind. Daniels had come in and stood at the counter. He'd fidgeted a lot. He'd reached out and touched the bundle of flowers Starsky had left on the counter when he'd come out from the back room. Hutch had been too busy sneezing to pay much attention after that. While Starsky had been writing up the ticket, Daniels had reached into his pocket for the money to pay for the bouquet. Hutch was certain he had only had money in his hand. He'd given the cash to Starsky, signed the ticket and left.

"I'm missing something," Hutch said, eyes still closed. "I was sneezing, but you weren't. Did you take those flowers back into the back room with you?"

Starsky thought. "Not right away," he said after a moment. "I gave you money to get lunch for us, and you left, and the phone rang and I answered it...and it was the owner, asking if we needed anything, and I said no. Then I went back into the back room and I was looking for a vase to make the bouquet in. Let's see...the phone rang again and it was somebody wanting to know if we had black roses "

"Black roses?" Hutch asked, eyebrows rising. He opened his eyes and stared at Starsky. "Who ever heard of black roses?"

"They're really a dark purple," Starsky said. "I can't remember the name, but we had some. I had to look for 'em, though. They were in the back corner of the cooler. By the time I found 'em and told the lady we did have 'em and she'd said she'd be in later to get some, I'd remembered where the vases were, so I went back into the back room and I was poking through the vases looking for one the right size and that's when I heard the explosion in the showroom. That's all I remember till I woke up with you in the alley. Guess the blast knocked me down or something."

Hutch spared a moment to lay a hand on his partner's shoulder and give it a gentle squeeze, then he went back to business. "Then Daniels could've hidden the device in those flowers. I remember him reaching out and touching them while you were talking him into buying roses."

"It woulda had to be damned small," Starsky objected. "How could something that small have caused all that?"

"Mitch said the inspector suspected plastic explosive," Hutch reminded him. "It doesn't take much plastic to make a pretty big boom."

"You can't just go buy plastic explosive at Kmart," Starsky said.

Hutch grinned a little. "No, but if you're determined enough, you can get your hands on some. Bet Huggy could get us some. Wanna go to Pine Lake this weekend and have me show you how much fun it is to play with?"

"No," Starsky said promptly. "But let's say it was Daniels. How do we find him? You don't really think that address on the application is still good, do you?"

"First let's go see if he and Marjorie actually tied the knot or not," Hutch said. "Then we decide if we need to find him."

There was no record of Marjorie Ann Madison having applied for a new Social Security card.

"There's not really a certain deadline for doing that," the clerk at the office told Starsky and Hutch. "And in fact, some women never do it at all. You don't have to change your name when you get married."

"You don't?" Starsky said, surprised.

She shook her head. "No. It's a custom, not a law. Only three states ever had that as a law, anyway, and California wasn't one of them. And all three of those states have repealed their laws now."

Starsky continued to look amazed, and the woman chuckled. "Don't tell me Bay City's finest are all male chauvinist pigs."

He grinned in reply. "No, ma'am," he said, tipping an imaginary cap. "Just ignorant on this particular occasion."

"Then I'll let you off this time," she said, eyes twinkling. "Just see that it doesn't happen again."

"Are you done?" Hutch asked his partner. "We do have a case to solve."

"Okay, okay," Starsky said with a sigh. "Let's go." But he gave the clerk another grin as they left.

"I'd say our only option now is to track Marjorie Madison down and just ask her if she and Daniels got married or not," Hutch said in the hallway, digging into his pocket for a coin. "Heads or tails?"

"Heads," Starsky said without looking at him.

Hutch flipped the coin and slapped it against the back of his other hand. "It's heads."

Starsky did look then and grabbed his partner's wrist to see for himself. It was heads. "Damn," he said with sigh. He took the coin and detoured to a nearby pay phone. "Number?" he asked over his shoulder.

Hutch pawed through the paperwork he'd stuffed into an inside pocket. He read the phone number to Starsky, who punched it in and waited. And waited. Finally he replaced the receiver.

"No answer."

"We can try again later," Hutch said. "For now, let's see if we can find Daniels and ask him."

Daniels was nowhere to be found, however. His apartment had been vacated a few weeks previously and he'd left no forwarding address.

"He was getting married," his landlady told Hutch, while Starsky was prowling around interviewing neighbors. "That was about a month ago, I think. He was a good tenant, gave me plenty of notice before he moved."

"But he didn't tell you where he was moving to," Hutch said.

She shook her head. "Out of state, I thought. I don't really know."

Starsky'd had no luck with the neighbors, either. They all told the same story. Rick was getting married. He'd moved a few weeks before. They didn't know where. He wasn't particularly friendly with any of them. Not that he was unfriendly; but he worked odd hours and didn't spend much time at home.

"Terrific," Starsky said disgustedly as they drove away from the complex. "Right back to square one."

"There's still Marjorie," Hutch said. "Maybe he moved in with her. Maybe they got married and we're looking for someone else."

"You don't really believe that," Starsky said.

"No."

They were just getting ready to stop for a bite to eat when the radio beeped. "All units, explosion reported at 456 W. Wood St. All units."

Starsky reached for the siren and Hutch reached for the mars light and the radio. "This Zebra Three. We are responding," Hutch said.

The street was choked with emergency vehicles when they pulled up and more were arriving. A block of shops four of them, on the ground floor of a building with apartments upstairs were burning so furiously that Starsky and Hutch could feel the heat even inside the car. The whole front of the second shop from the end was blown up, with glass and bricks and debris scattered everywhere.

The firefighters were working desperately trying to contain the fire, but it was a losing battle. At this point, the best they could hope for was to keep it from spreading to other shops and apartments along the street. There was little Starsky and Hutch could do except watch and stay out of the way as the firefighters worked.

"I sure hope nobody was in there," Hutch remarked, watching as the second-floor windows of the building shattered and flames poured out. When Starsky didn't answer, Hutch turned to look at him and saw that Starsky was watching a woman being held back by a uniformed cop. She was crying and screaming something, but between the noise of the fire and the distance between them, neither detective could understand what she was saying. Starsky took off at a trot and Hutch followed.

"It's too dangerous," the uniformed cop was saying when they got closer. He struggled to keep her still and she fought like a tiger trying to get loose.

"What's up, McEvoy?" Starsky asked.

"My husband!" the woman screamed, fighting with renewed vigor. "My husband's in there!"

Hutch exchanged a glance with Starsky. "Are you sure?"

A second uniformed cop joined the first and took her arm on the other side. Just then, the upper story of the building collapsed, almost taking some of the firefighters with it, and the woman let out a long, keening wail and sank to her knees, sobbing.

"Ma'am," Hutch said gently, kneeling next to her. "Are you sure your husband was in there?"

She rocked back and forth, her hands covering her face, but she nodded. Hutch looked up at Starsky, who turned without a word and ran to the firefighters to let them know. Though by now, it was probably too late to save him.

"Sssh," Hutch said soothingly, patting her back.

"He works nights," she said, raising her tear-stained face to Hutch. "He sleeps during the day. And he sleeps so soundly " she broke off and broke down again and it was several moments before she could speak again. Finally, she drew a long, shuddering breath and added, "He wouldn't wake up. He'll...he'll never wake up again." She started sobbing again and Hutch looked around for a paramedic. One came over in response to his beckoning gesture and took the woman by the shoulders, helping her up and over to the ambulance, where she could sit down on a waiting stretcher.

It was a long time before the fire was out and it was safe to check the buildings for bodies. There had been two apartments above the shops, but the second had been unoccupied. The people working in three of the shops had gotten out, but in the fourth a florist's two employees had died.

"I think I hope the explosion killed them instantly," Mitch said to Starsky, wiping sweat and grime off his face. "The man upstairs, though, I don't know. He's burned so badly it's hard to tell. Maybe the M.E. can tell us. Man, this place went up like a tinder box. Some kind of bomb or something. There wasn't anything we could do." His eyes were bleak as he looked past Starsky to the shell of the building behind him.

Starsky patted his shoulder. "You guys did the best you could, Mitch. The very best you could."

"Now it's homicide," Dobey told them the next morning. "Three people dead and not one single clue? What the hell are you guys doing out there?"

"We thought we had a clue, Captain," Hutch said, rubbing his eyes. "But it didn't pan out."

"Why not?" Dobey demanded.

Starsky explained their theory of a jilted lover, his words coming quickly and confidently at first, but he slowed and finally stopped at the expression on Dobey's face.

"Is that the best you could do?" Dobey thundered. "A jilted lover? We have three bodies in the morgue!"

Starsky looked at Hutch. "I think we need to check out the backgrounds of those three people. Could be the break we needed."

Hutch nodded, but Dobey slapped a hand on the desk just as they were rising to leave.

"Three dead citizens is not a 'break'!" he bellowed. "Three dead citizens is a royal screw-up! I expect you two to solve this and solve it fast. Do I make myself clear?"

Both men nodded and got the hell out of the office. As Hutch closed the door behind them, he hissed to Starsky, "I don't remember when I've ever seen him that mad."

"If we don't turn somethin' soon, there'll be five dead citizens," Starsky said. "And two of 'em will be me and you."

They couldn't find anything suspicious about the florist shop employees, dig as they would. Both had been single, elderly women. One owned it and the other worked for her and had for 20 years. Both were widows.

But when Starsky finished with that file and opened the coroner's report on the dead man, he froze. "Hutch."

"Hmm?" Hutch was reading the firefighters' report.

"Our dead man is Rick Daniels."

Hutch raised his head and stared at Starsky. "Our Rick Daniels? The guy we were looking for?"

Starsky nodded.

"Are you sure it's the same guy?"

Starsky tapped the folder. "Richard Lee Daniels. Next of kin, Marjorie Ann Madison Daniels, his wife of less than a month. Photo provided by his wife," Starsky turned the report around so Hutch could see the photo, "the man who ordered the bouquet from us. It's him, all right."

Hutch closed his eyes and passed a hand over his face. "Terrific. That's just terrific. Now what do we do?"

"Question Mrs. Daniels?" Starsky suggested.

"Is she going to be up to it?" Hutch said, then shook his head. "We gotta try, whether she is or not."

Marjorie Madison Daniels was in the hospital and had been put under sedation for the night. But she was awake and watching a soap opera, her eyes still puffy and her face still tear-stained, when Starsky and Hutch arrived. She raised her eyes to them.

Starsky showed her his badge. "I'm Dave Starsky," he said gently. "My partner," he indicated Hutch, "Ken Hutchinson. Do you remember us from yesterday?"

She nodded without speaking.

"I'm afraid we need to ask you some questions," Hutch said, even more gently than Starsky had spoken.

"Okay." She turned the TV off and waited.

The two men glanced at each other and Hutch drew a breath. "Can you think of anyone who might want to kill your husband?"

She gasped and tears filled her eyes. "No! Oh, no. Why would anyone want to kill Ricky? He's...he was a good man."

Hutch glanced at Starsky, who raised his eyebrows marginally. "Well, Mrs. Daniels, a lot of flower shops have been burned down lately."

She nodded and wiped her eyes. "I read about that in the paper."

"And we were wondering if maybe the others were a cover for this one," he said. "At all the other ones, the people got out."

She gazed at him blankly. "But we don't own a flower shop. Or work in one. Ricky was a night watchman. We just moved into that apartment a few weeks ago."

"When?" Starsky asked. "The date."

She turned her eyes toward him. "Three weeks exactly on Saturday. Same day we got married."

Starsky looked at Hutch. "That's the day of the first fire."

Hutch nodded. "Could be a coincidence."

"Yeah. It could."

"Where did your husband work?" Hutch asked.

"The Langford," she said, naming a swanky office building in the downtown area that housed high-price boutiques, a broker's, a bank and some offices.

Starsky suddenly looked thoughtful. "Uh, thanks, Mrs. Daniels. We'll be in touch." He grabbed Hutch's arm and propelled him from the room.

Hutch pulled away. "What was that all about? We weren't through "

"Yes, we were, for the time being anyway," Starsky said. "The Langford. Remember? Last month. Somebody broke in there and ripped off several of those shops and the night watchman got bashed over the head."

Hutch snapped his fingers. "Yeah. And he said he couldn't identify any of them because it was too dark."

"And they got away with a lot of money and some stuff from that jewelry store on the first floor," Starsky added.

"You thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?" Hutch inquired.

Starsky nodded. "Maybe he could identify them but wouldn't for some reason."

"Some reason like he was getting a cut for keeping his trap shut."

"And maybe he decided his cut wasn't enough?"

"Could be." Hutch glanced over his shoulder at the door to Marjorie Daniels' room. "And maybe she knows a little more than she's letting on?"

"Maybe."

Huggy rolled his eyes as Starsky and Hutch seated themselves at the bar. "Not you two again."

Starsky pretended to be offended. "Huggy, is that any way to greet your favorite customers?"

"My favorite customers buy things from me," Huggy said. "You two just take up space."

Hutch smothered a grin. "Okay, Huggy, point taken. Give us a couple of beers."

"We're on duty," Starsky objected.

"I won't tell if you don't," Hutch said.

Starsky shrugged and Huggy drew a couple of beers. Hutch reached into his pocket and handed over the money.

"Now are we your favorite customers?" Hutch asked.

"No," Huggy said, but his lips twitched. "I'll bet you want something, don't you?"

"Well, since you asked," Starsky said. He reached into his jacket for the photo of Rick Daniels. "Know this guy?"

Huggy looked at it and shook his head. "Nope. Sorry."

"Know anything about the heist at the Langford a few weeks ago?"

Huggy pursed his lips. "Oh, yeah. Diamonds, cash and some other loot, right?"

Hutch leaned forward. "And this gentleman," he indicated the photo, "was the night watchman."

Huggy whistled. "Do tell."

"Only he's dead," Starsky put in. "He died in that big explosion yesterday."

"I heard about that," Huggy said. "Couple of other folks died too."

"We think that was an accident," Hutch said. "We think Daniels here was the actual target and maybe, just maybe, those other fires were to throw us off the scent for when they got to their real target."

Huggy nodded. "Could be. So you'd think it was just another arson and an unfortunate occurrence that your man Daniels got toasted in the blaze."

"Uh, yeah," Starsky said. "So what we want to know now is, where are the burglars? And did they have some kinda deal with this Daniels guy to pretend he didn't know who they were?"

"And you want me to find out?" Huggy said resignedly.

"If you can."

Huggy sighed. "I'll ask around."

"Thanks, Hug." Starsky finished his beer. "Comin'?" he said to Hutch.

"If we're off the beam again, Dobey's gonna kill us," Hutch said as they were getting into the car.

"Really," Starsky said.

"But why else would somebody burn down a bunch of flower shops?"

Starsky shrugged and started the car. "We been askin' ourselves that for a coupla weeks now, haven't we? And we haven't come up with anything."

Hutch sighed and rubbed his eyes. "Maybe we ought to go over the reports for that jewel robbery."

"Okay." Starsky turned in the direction of headquarters.

According to the reports, the loot contained a pouch of loose diamonds, several rings and bracelets, and the petty cash. The other stores that had been robbed had lost very little in the way of valuables, mostly loose cash.

"I'd say the jewels were the whole reason for the robbery," Starsky said, putting the reports back into the folder.

"No kidding," Hutch said.

Starsky made a face at him. "So, who do we know that's a jewel fence?"

"Rolly's in prison. So's Ezra. Harpo?"

"Harpo's a small-timer," Starsky objected.

"Maybe he's looking to enter the big time," Hutch said.

Harpo actually Randy Harper ran a pawnshop as a front for his less legal business. So far, he'd been an occasional source of information and didn't turn much in the way of high-ticket items in his fencing racket, so Starsky and Hutch hadn't made busting him a big priority. Nevertheless, when they came into the pawnshop, Harpo turned a whiter shade of pale.

"Gentlemen," he said, plastering on a big and very fake smile. "To what do I owe the pleasure of your presence?"

"Know anything about some diamonds heisted from The Langford last month, Harpo?" Hutch inquired, while Starsky prowled around pretending to examine the merchandise, but his real reason for prowling was to make Harpo nervous, and it was working.

"I don't have 'em, Hutch," Harpo said, his eyes following Starsky.

"Know who does?" Starsky asked, peering behind a rack of small appliances.

Harpo hesitated just long enough to make Hutch suspicious. "You do, don't you? Now, Harpo, we're busy men and we don't have time to play stupid games. Why don't you make our day easier, to say nothing of your own, and tell us."

"I don't know the guy's name, Hutch, honest I don't," Harpo said. "But he lives over some flower shop a coupla blocks from here. He's the night watchman at Langford."

"He's dead, Harpo. Try again," Starsky said, coming up behind the pawnbroker. "We think maybe his little friends burned down the shop to kill him because he wanted more than his fair share. What do you think?"

Harpo's eyes traveled from Starsky to Hutch and back again. "He's dead?"

Starsky and Hutch exchanged a glance. The surprise in Harpo's voice did not sound faked.

"Yeah. Died yesterday," Hutch said. "The explosion? You must've heard it even in here."

"Then he didn't still have the diamonds," Harpo said. "The other guys musta got 'em from him before they torched the shop."

"Who are the other guys, Harpo?" Hutch grabbed Harpo's arm and glared at him. He was several inches taller and a whole lot madder than Harpo wanted to deal with.

"The only one I know is called Digger," Harpo said, his eyes wide. "I don't know where he hangs out or nothin'. Tall skinny black guy. That's all I know, Hutch, honest."

Hutch stared at him another few moments to make sure he was thoroughly intimidated, then let him go. Without another word, he left the shop, followed by Starsky. But at the door, Starsky turned back.

"If we find out you know more than you're tellin' us," he began, but left it there and followed Hutch out.

"Digger," Hutch said to Huggy. "Mean anything to you?"

Huggy frowned and thought. "Tall, skinny, and black. Hell, that could be me."

Starsky grinned. "Okay, Hug, hand 'em over then so we can finish this up."

Huggy gave him a dirty look and turned back to Hutch. "I wonder if Harpo meant Roscoe Blake."

"Who's he?" Hutch asked.

"Caretaker at St. Luke's cemetery," Huggy said. "Bad dude. Diggin' graves is probably the only honest job he ever had. Blew into town a coupla months ago and made hisself a name in a hurry. Ain't nobody wants to be on his bad side."

"It's worth a try," Hutch said.

"Hutch, you guys be careful, huh?" Huggy said. "This Blake is one ugly dude. I mean, burning down a bunch of flower shops just so he could kill one guy? That sounds like one of the nicer things this cat'd do."

Hutch stopped in the act of rising off his bar stool and leaned on the bar. "What d'you mean, Hug? Maybe we need to know a little bit more about this guy before we head over there."

Huggy nodded in response, but his eyes were on Starsky. "I don't know how much y'all hear about big cases in other states, but last night," Huggy paused and reached for a glass behind the bar. He drew a beer, took a long swallow. Starsky and Hutch exchanged glances. Huggy wiped his lips and drew a deep breath. "Last night I heard something about Blake that you damn well better know. Fellas, I hope you take half the force to that cemetery with ya when you go to talk to him." The brown eyes traveled back to Starsky.

"Okay, spill it," Starsky said, with a cold pocket of dread in his gut.

"About a year ago this Blake and I very much doubt that's his real name killed a woman with a hatchet," Huggy said with obvious difficulty. "You wanna know why?"

"I can't wait," Hutch said, attempting a light touch but failing.

"She broke up with him," Huggy said. "I mean, that's it. She didn't fool around on him. She didn't do nothin' to him. She just said she didn't wanna see him no more. And he just picked up a hatchet and killed her. And split the state. That was back in Missouri, that was. He's been on the run ever since, finally wound up here."

"How do you know it's true?" Starsky asked.

Huggy shook his head. "Got it from somebody I trust, man. Can we leave it at that?"

Starsky shrugged. "Sure."

Huggy leaned over a little and put a hand on Starsky's arm. "Listen, Starsk, please. Take a bunch of cops with ya. Please."

Starsky's eyes softened and he patted Huggy's hand. "We will, Hug. I promised Hutch. No more stupid chances."

Since Blake was wanted for murder in another state, that's all they needed to convince Dobey to send a substantial amount of backup with them to the cemetery. Roscoe "Digger" Blake lived in a small house on the edge of the cemetery. Starsky and Hutch led the way in the Torino, followed by three marked cars.

"Let me go first," Hutch said, checking his gun to be sure it was fully loaded.

"You? Why?"

Hutch looked over at him. "I think you know why."

"You think it'd be any easier for me if you got hurt?" Starsky demanded. "No. We go together."

Hutch hesitated and finally nodded. "Okay. But no heroics."

"No heroics," Starsky echoed.

But Blake wasn't in his house and they had to search the cemetery for him. Though the officers tried to stay within sight of each other, it was the kind of cemetery with lots of trees and shrubs for decoration, and before long Starsky and Hutch were alone.

"Hutch."

Hutch turned his head and saw Starsky indicating a fresh grave a few feet away.

"I just saw a tall, skinny black guy over there," Starsky said softly. He cocked his gun and took a couple of steps that way...

And shots rang out from a very big gun. Starsky fell and Hutch returned fire, his hands steady but his heart thudding in his ears. Another shot whistled past and Hutch shot again in the direction it came from and heard a cry.

The gunfire brought the other cops on the run and one of them found Blake lying behind a large monument, shot through the shoulder and leg, but in no danger of dying.

"Hutchinson! He's over here! We got him!" the other officer called.

By then Hutch was kneeling next to Starsky, and with shaking hands, he turned him over. "Starsk? Buddy? You okay?"

Starsky was pale and breathing hard, but he seemed otherwise unhurt. "Yeah, I'm fine."

"What happened?"

"I heard the shot and hit the dirt," Starsky said, rubbing at his forehead, where there was a lump rapidly developing. "Musta hit my head on something and it kinda stunned me. You okay?"

"Yeah, fine," Hutch said, breathing a deep sigh of relief. "You scared the hell out of me!"

"I'm sorry," Starsky said, putting his arm around Hutch's back. Hutch helped him up, and they moved toward the other officers, standing around Blake.

"The stones were in his house," Dobey told them a few days later. "He didn't know we knew about the Missouri murder, so he sang like a canary and told on his buddies. You were right. Daniels looked the other way while they robbed the place in return for a promise of a share, but they decided he knew too much and all those arsons were just a way to cover up when they got to him."

Hutch shook his head. "Huggy was right. This Blake is 'a bad dude.'"

"He's going away for a good long time," Dobey said. "Between the robbery, murdering Daniels, the arsons and the murder of that woman in Missouri, he'll be lucky to live long enough to serve his sentence." Almost as an afterthought, he added, "Good work."

"Thanks, Captain." Hutch stood up. "Well, come on, partner, we got more bad guys to catch."

Starsky grinned and rose. "Oh, by the way, Hutch, we got a little present today."

"We did? From who?"

"Whom," Starsky corrected. "It's on our desk. Go see."

"We can't take presents, Starsky," Hutch grumbled. "You know that."

"Aw, it ain't that much," Starsky said. "Go on. I already looked at it."

Something about the twinkle in Starsky's eyes made Hutch suspicious and a glance at their captain made him even more so. Dobey was trying very hard not to smile. So Hutch opened the office door and looked at their desk.

There was a huge bouquet sitting there roses, carnations, baby's breath with a card. Hutch immediately sneezed and backed away, bumping into Starsky, who steered him out of his way and reached for the card.

"Thanks from the Bay City Florists Consortium," he read. "Isn't that nice of 'em, Hutch?"

Hutch sneezed.

THE END

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