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Let It Ride

Written by Valerie Wells

When the red lights appeared in his rearview mirror, Starsky rolled his eyes and groaned. "What the hell's the matter with these guys?" he demanded. "Can't they see the light?"

Hutch turned in his seat so he could see out the back window, and reached out to take the flashing red light off the roof long enough to make sure it was working. "Guess not," he said with a shrug, putting the light back and motioning to it so the black-and-white behind them would notice it.

All that happened was the squad car hit its siren and an amplified voice ordered, "Pull over!"

"Oh, for cryin' out loud!" Starsky pulled over and jumped out of the car, pulling his badge from his hip pocket as he did so. "We're on a call, dammit!" he yelled at the other cops.

"Keep your hands where I can see them," said the one who got out of the squad car. He approached cautiously, gun drawn, and motioned to Hutch. "You, too. Get out of the car and put your hands on the roof."

Hutch obeyed, but he was steaming. "Look, you idiots, we're on a call. Sergeants Starsky and Hutchinson. We don't have time to play games!"

The cop, unconcerned, examined Starsky's badge, took his gun, and did the same with Hutch. "You," he said to Starsky. "Hands behind your head."

"What?"

"Hands behind your head, Sergeant," he repeated impatiently. "You know the drill. Hutchinson, you can have this back." He tossed Hutch's badge to him. "Go on and get in the car and answer your call."

"I'm not going anywhere without my partner," Hutch said, "and you are going to tell us what the hell you think you're doing!"

The cop cuffed Starsky and gave him a little push. "This way, Starsky."

"Hold on just a damned minute!" Starsky planted his feet and refused to budge.

Hutch grabbed the uniformed officer's arm. "You better tell me, right now, what is going on or that badge on your chest'll be a hood ornament by tomorrow morning. Officer."

The cop handed Starsky over to his partner and turned to Hutch. "We have a warrant for Starsky's arrest."

"On what charge?" Starsky demanded.

"Rape."

"Captain, it's ludicrous," Hutch's face was flushed with anger and he paced back and forth like a caged lion.

"I know that," Dobey snapped. "I've got calls out to the D.A. and the chief and the commissioner and everybody else I can think of to call. They're all at some kind of city council luncheon, but they'll be back any minute and we can get this straightened out."

"Who was the judge who issued the warrant?" Hutch sat down for only a moment, and was back on his feet, pacing again.

"Simmons," Dobey said, after glancing at the copy of the warrant he had on his desk. "Newly appointed."

"And soon to be out on his ass," Hutch spat.

"Her ass," Dobey corrected. "Madeleine Simmons."

"Terrific," Hutch said. "Who signed the complaint, then? Who could be that utterly stupid?"

"I don't know," Dobey said. "I haven't been able to find out yet. It came out of the fifth precinct."

"The fifth?" Hutch stopped and turned to face Dobey. "That's pretty ritzy."

Dobey nodded. "Rich neighborhood. Too rich for my blood." The phone on his desk rang and he answered it. He listened for a few moments, murmuring the occasional "uh-huh" before hanging up. "That was the shift commander at the fifth," he said. "The complaint was signed by a young woman named Karen Nix. She said Starsky raped her last month. It took her this long to notify the police because she figured no one would believe a cop had done it."

Hutch rubbed his face. "He didn't do it, Captain!"

"I know that!" Dobey snapped. "But she even gave his name. Said they'd been dating casually and one night he forced her to have sex with him."

Hutch flopped into a chair and actually stayed in it this time. He searched his memory, but the name meant nothing to him. "She's lying."

"Of course she's lying!" Dobey said. "The question is, why? And what are we going to do about it?"

"The first thing I'm going to do is go talk to Karen Nix," Hutch said, standing up again.

"No, you're not," Dobey ordered. "Sit down."

"Captain "

"Listen to me, Hutch," Dobey said, forcing his voice to stay level. "This is serious, and you're not going off half-cocked to terrify some witness. That won't help Starsky, and I absolutely forbid it."

Hutch stayed on his feet.

"Sit down, Hutchinson!"

Hutch sat down.

"I know how you feel," Dobey went on in a gentler tone. "Why don't you go see Starsky instead, and find out if he knows anything about this girl? Maybe that'll give us a place to start. But when you're through, before you go anywhere else, you come back here. That's an order. You got that?"

"Yeah, I got it," Hutch said.

It was surreal, sitting on the other side of the glass, looking at Starsky in a jail jumpsuit. His partner's expression was bleak, his eyes bloodshot.

"How ya doin', buddy?" Hutch asked.

Starsky gave a short, humorless laugh. "Terrific. Never better. Food's great, company's stimulating. You oughta try it, partner."

Hutch didn't smile. "Look, Starsk, hang on, okay? Dobey's doing everything he can. He's calling in favors all over the city. We know it's a frame, but we don't know why yet. We'll get you out."

"Sure, I know," Starsky said without much enthusiasm.

"Listen, I've got the name of the girl who accused you. Karen Nix. You know her?"

Starsky leaned his head on his hand and thought about it. Finally, he shook his head. "No. I can't remember anybody by that name. What's she sayin'?"

"She said you dated her 'casually' and that one night you forced her to have sex."

Starsky's eyes ignited briefly. "Hutch, you know "

"I know," Hutch interrupted. "I know you'd never do something like that. I'm just telling you what she said."

Starsky heaved a sigh. "Man. I don't even know the girl!"

"Keep thinking about it," Hutch said. "There's got to be some connection. She even knew your name. I don't remember busting somebody with that name. But maybe she was using another name? There's got to be something!"

Starsky nodded. "Must be. I'll work on it."

"I will, too. In the meantime, please, Starsky, don't get into any trouble. It's awful easy to get in trouble in jail."

"Tell me about it," Starsky said. "God, Hutch, I " He stopped.

"I know," Hutch said, wishing he could pat his shoulder or do something, anything, to help. "I know. Just hang on."

"Got anything yet, Captain?" Hutch burst into Dobey's office without knocking. He stopped when he saw the captain on the phone and sat down. Dobey raised his eyes to acknowledge Hutch's presence.

"Look, Commissioner, I know my men," Dobey said impatiently. "It's just impossible. Somebody's trying to even a score with Starsky " He listened again and his frown deepened. "He has a right to defend himself....I know that!...Well, you have to squash it! It's crazy not to!...Don't tell me about public relations! We're talking about one of my best detectives!...At least give us some time to straighten it out..." Dobey sighed deeply and finally nodded. "All right. No, I understand. I understand perfectly." He hung up and rubbed his head wearily.

Hutch waited.

"Front page tomorrow," Dobey said after a moment.

"Captain!" Hutch started to rise, but sat down again when Dobey motioned for him to.

"I know how you feel. I begged the commissioner you heard me not to let the papers run the story. But with all that trouble over officers in Rampart taking graft, the mayor's sensitive about any appearance of a cover-up."

"How can you cover up something that never happened?" Hutch demanded.

"Here," Dobey said, sliding a file across the desk to Hutch. "This is the report and the complaint. I can't let you talk to Karen Nix directly, but if you can prove Starsky couldn't have been there at the time she says she was raped, then he's clear. And he'll be arraigned tomorrow. I've already called the public defender's office "

Hutch had started to read the file, but at that, he looked up. "A public defender? Are you crazy?"

"Hutchinson "

"We're getting him a decent lawyer," Hutch said. "I refuse to put him at the mercy of an overworked P.D. This is a frame, Captain, you know it as well as I do. And if the commissioner's worried about his public image, you know damned good and well that they won't spare Starsky. He'll be lucky to get any kind of fair hearing at all. All that crap about Rampart has tainted us all and they're going to fry any cop they even suspect of something!"

Dobey sighed again. "Okay, Hutch. Get him a lawyer. But first get your can out there and find a way to prove he's innocent."

"Yes, sir!"

Hutch took the report to his desk and read it thoroughly. Nix said she and Starsky had dated briefly, two or three times. The last time, he'd driven her home and insisted on coming in, against her better judgment.

"I didn't think I knew him well enough for us to be alone," she'd said in her statement. "But I figured, he was a cop and he could be trusted."

Once they were alone in her apartment, she'd said, Starsky had become insistent that they have sex. She'd said no. He'd continued to insist. And finally, he'd forced her.

Hutch's heart pounded with rage and he made a fist, his hand shaking. This was crazy. He looked at the date of the "rape." It was almost five weeks before. Hutch searched his memory. He looked through the calendar and the notebook where he kept track of the street contacts they made every day. But he couldn't remember what had happened after work on that particular Friday.

He looked for Starsky's notebook. His partner's notes were much sloppier than his own, and they usually had to rely on Hutch's notebook to fill out reports. Starsky had once said, with a saucy grin, "Why should I worry about keepin' track of stuff? That's your job."

But Starsky's notebook wasn't there. It wasn't in the car, either, when Hutch searched it. That only left Starsky's place. He started the engine of the Torino.

It took almost an hour, but he finally found the notebook. He paged through it quickly to the day in question and when he found it, his heart sank.

At the bottom of the page, in Starsky's handwriting, which only Starsky could read with any accuracy, were the words "Date with Karen. 8:30."

"Oh, God, Starsk," Hutch groaned aloud.

Starsky sat on his bunk and picked disconsolately through the lukewarm food on the tray. His cellmate had already eaten his as though he hadn't eaten for days and now was snoring peacefully on the thin smelly mattress of the top bunk. Starsky, hungry though he was, couldn't manage to down more than a few bites.

"Whatsa matter, pig? The gourmet chef sick today?" sneered the guy in the next cell.

Starsky pretended not to hear. It hadn't taken more than a short time for every prisoner to find out he was a cop. And with the exception of his cellmate, none of them would talk to him except to sneer and jeer and threaten him with the ugly things they'd do if they weren't separated by the bars.

His cellmate was no prize, Starsky reflected miserably. But at least he'd left him alone. The other man snoring above his head was a hardened drug addict, in county lockup for the nth time over his habit of sticking up people for drug money. He had a philosophical view of being in jail and of getting arrested.

"You're the fuzz, huh?" he'd said when word got around. "Your buddies turn on ya or somethin'?"

Starsky had shaken his head. "It's all a mixup," he'd said.

The other man Tom was the only name he'd given grinned suddenly. "Yeah. That's how everybody got here. Mistaken identity. Frame up. Right?"

"It is," Starsky insisted.

"Okay. Hey, live and let live. So if you're a cop, you probably ain't never been in stir before, have ya?"

Starsky shook his head.

"Okay. I'll give ya a coupla hints. Eat whatever they give ya. It won't kill ya, and food's the only thing to look forward to in here. And if ya got anybody on the outside who'll stand by ya, tell 'em to bring ya cigarettes."

"I don't smoke."

Tom shrugged. "That's even better. Then ya can use the cigarettes for barter without shortin' yerself."

"I don't plan to be here long enough to need barter." At least, Starsky sincerely hoped Hutch was out there doing something about getting him out.

"Nobody does, man. Jus' keep it in mind." After that, Tom had ignored him, eaten his supper and crashed, taking the top bunk without discussing it with Starsky, who was just as glad. He'd never liked heights, even the negligible height of the top bunk.

Now the guard was collecting the trays and Starsky had hardly touched his. He didn't argue, however, simply pushed it and Tom's through the slot for the guard, and lay down on the bunk. It was chilly in the cell, cold enough to raise goosebumps on his arms in the thin jumpsuit. And the blanket was too thin to be of much use. Still, there was nothing else to do, and Starsky curled up under the blanket and closed his eyes and tried to go to sleep.

Get me outta here, buddy.

In the morning, Starsky was cuffed and shackled and taken to court for his arraignment. He was immensely relieved to see Hutch in the gallery. This time, there was no silly waving of his tie at Starsky to make him smile. Hutch was grim-faced, but he did manage to convey "don't worry, I'm working on it" with his eyes. Starsky gave him a nod he couldn't produce a smile and waited to be called forward.

When the bailiff called "David Starsky," and he went forward, a tall man in a three-piece suit slid up next to him. "Carl Washburn for the defendant," the man said smoothly.

The judge acknowledged that with a nod and said to Starsky, "You're charged with aggravated rape. How do you plead?"

"Not guilty, Your Honor," Washburn said. "Request bail."

The judge peered over her glasses at Washburn. "I understand the defendant is a police officer."

"That is correct, Your Honor."

"Normally, I would not consider a police officer a flight risk," the judge said, "but I understand this particular officer is somewhat of a firebrand."

Starsky opened his mouth, but Washburn put a hand on his arm to forestall him. "Your Honor, Sergeant Starsky has strong ties to the community. He has been a resident for over 20 years and he's a decorated officer with a strong record of superior performance. He is not a flight risk."

The judge peered over her glasses at Starsky this time and studied him. He found time to wonder why she wore glasses if she wasn't going to look through them, but finally she nodded. "All right. Bail is $100,000."

Starsky gasped, and Washburn said, "Your Honor, isn't that a little high? Sergeant Starsky has no record."

"This was an ugly crime, Counselor, coupled with the fact that the defendant is a police officer, sworn to uphold the law, not break it."

"Yes, Your Honor, and I am completely confident we will be able to prove his innocence in this matter, but we do require his assistance to do so and for that he must be free."

The judge considered again, looking at Starsky over her glasses, and finally nodded. "Very well, Counselor. Bail is $50,000 and that is my final word on the matter." She banged the gavel.

Washburn guided Starsky over to the side. "They'll take you back to your cell while I get this arranged, and then I'll come and get you."

"Who are you?" Starsky asked, puzzled. "And where are you going to get that kind of money?"

"It's all taken care of," Washburn said, with a pat on Starsky's shoulder. "Hang tight for about an hour and we'll come and get you. Okay?"

"Okay," Starsky said with a sigh.

It was a little more than an hour, but finally the guard came to get him. Once he'd dressed in his own clothes again, they showed him through another door and he saw Hutch and Washburn waiting for him. Hutch grabbed his arm and gave it a hard squeeze. "You okay, buddy?"

"Yeah," Starsky said.

"Then let's get out of here."

Starsky held his peace until they were outdoors, where he threw back his head and took a long breath of the first fresh air he'd had in 48 hours. Carl touched his shoulder and said, "I'll be in touch" and left them.

"All right, partner, what the hell is going on?" Starsky asked as soon as Carl was out of earshot.

"Carl's a friend of the family," Hutch said, understanding immediately.

"Whose family?" Starsky narrowed his eyes.

"Joe Haymes'," Hutch said, a bit reluctantly. "You know he said if we ever needed a favor

"Hutch, we can't accept "

"Yes, we can, it's all legal and signed, sealed and delivered," Hutch said. "He's paying for it, but we're going to pay him back in installments. I got the paperwork at home. Now shut up and let me finish, okay?"

Starsky nodded.

"The first thing we've got to do is prove where you were the night that girl said she was raped," Hutch said. "With an ironclad alibi, they've got no case."

Starsky nodded again. "No problem."

Hutch bit his lower lip.

"What?" Starsky asked.

Hutch reached into his jacket and produced Starsky's notebook. He opened it to the page in question and mutely pointed to Starsky's handwritten "Date with Karen. 8:30."

Starsky stared at it blankly for a moment, then his face relaxed into a grin. "Karen'll vouch for me. I'm sure she will."

"Karen is the name of the girl who says you raped her," Hutch reminded him.

"But it ain't the same Karen," Starsky argued. "That's Karen Teague. You know her. She use t' work with Molly. She's a stewardess."

Hutch searched his memory. Finally, his face cleared. "Sure. Karen. A redhead, right?"

Starsky nodded eagerly. "Yeah. That's her. I hadn't seen her for more than a year until she called me that weekend and said she was back in town and would I like to have dinner. I said yeah and we had dinner then we went back to her place."

"Where did you have dinner?"

"Huggy's," Starsky said. "Karen wanted to say hello to him. She always had a soft spot for him. Don't know why," he added with another grin.

Hutch let out a long breath. "Okay. Then we should be clear. Huggy'll remember seeing the two of you and Karen can attest to your whereabouts till what time?"

"Well," Starsky paused and reddened a little, "all night, now that you mention it."

"Good," Hutch said approvingly. "All we need to do is find Karen. Still working for TWA?"

"Far as I know."

"Okay, let's go to my place and I'll call them."

Hutch set down the phone and his face was grim. Starsky waited. "She doesn't work for them anymore," he said softly. "She quit right after Molly did."

Starsky stared at him. "What? That was two years ago."

Hutch nodded. "That's right."

"But " Starsky rubbed his eyes. "Why'd she tell me...?"

"How well do you know this girl, Starsk?"

Starsky leaned against the car. "Not very, I guess. I mean, I've dated her a few times when she was in town, but it was always real..." he paused and swallowed suddenly, "...casual." He lifted his eyes to Hutch's and they exchanged a stricken look.

Hutch hadn't seen Molly for a couple of years, but he tried the last phone number he had for her and the recording gave him a new number for that listing. He called that one and a man answered.

"This is Sergeant Hutchinson of the Bay City Police," Hutch said. "I need to speak to Molly, please."

"What's she done?" the man sounded scared.

"Nothing, sir," Hutch reassured him. "I'm looking for someone she knows and I hope she can help me reach that person."

"Molly's at work," the man said, his tone marginally more relaxed. "She gets home around 5."

Hutch gave the station number and his extension to the man. "Please have her call as soon as she gets home."

"Sure."

Molly finally called back a couple of hours later and Hutch explained what he wanted.

"I'm sorry, Ken," she said. "I haven't seen Karen since, oh, I think it was a few weeks after I quit the airline. She got married and moved to Las Vegas."

Starsky, listening on the extension, went pale at that.

"What was her husband's name, Molly? Do you remember?"

There was a short silence while Molly thought about it. "Darrell. No. Daniel. That's it. Daniel."

"Was his last name Nix?" Hutch asked hopefully.

Another silence. "I don't think so," Molly said at last. "I'm sorry, I just don't remember it. I'll look through my address book and see if I can find it. Can you tell me why you want to talk to her?"

Hutch bit his lower lip and glanced at Starsky. "Not right now, Molly. Sorry. It's police business. She's a...potential witness. That's all I can say."

"Okay," Molly said easily. She apparently remembered what it was like to date a cop. "I'll keep wracking my brain and maybe I'll remember that guy's last name. If I do, I'll call you."

"Thanks," Hutch said and replaced the receiver. He looked at Starsky again. "Damn."

"All right," Starsky said, striving for a business-like tone. But his pallor belied it. "Who's got it in for me? And how could Karen be connected to this?"

"Hell, Starsk, everybody's got it in for us," Hutch said wearily, rubbing his eyes. "We ought to get out of this business."

"Really," Starsky said. "But we're still in it at the moment, and we need to figure this out."

"I know," Hutch said. He sorted through his memory for the name Nix and came up with a blank.

"Think the cops that are investigating will tell us anything?" Starsky asked without much hope.

Hutch looked thoughtful. "It's worth a try. Dobey ordered me not to try to talk to Karen, but he didn't say I couldn't talk to the cops." He lifted the phone again and dialed the fifth precinct. "This is Sergeant Hutchinson of the Ninth Precinct. Internal Affairs," he said, drawing a pair of raised eyebrows from his partner. "I'd like to speak to the detectives in charge of the Starsky rape case."

Starsky picked up the extension to listen in. After a few moments, another voice came on the line.

"Perry."

Hutch identified himself again. "Are you investigating the Starsky rape case?"

"Yeah. Pretty ugly, isn't it?"

Hutch controlled his voice and answered, "I need some details for our files here."

"Sure. Like what?"

Hutch motioned to Starsky to toss him a pen and paper. "I need the victim's address and phone number." He heard a rustle of papers.

"She lives on Allison Avenue," Perry said at last. "Timber Cove Apartments, number...um...31. Her number's 555-8800."

Hutch wrote it down. "Thanks. Now, can you get us a copy of her statement?"

"Yeah, but I thought we already sent you this stuff a couple of days ago." Hutch cringed and glanced at Starsky. Before he could formulate another lie, Perry went on, "But maybe not. We have a new clerk and she keeps screwin' up."

Hutch gave a laugh. "That's okay. Just send it again. We never got it."

"No problem. Hey, you think he did it?"

"No," Hutch said promptly, then realized he didn't sound much like a real IA officer. They seemed to live by the creed, "Guilty until proven innocent."

"Me, either, really," Perry said. "Just a gut feeling. Seems funny the girl'd wait this long to report it, you know? I mean, no rape kit, how's anybody gonna prove it? His word against hers."

"I know," Hutch said.

"Still," Perry gave a sigh, "we gotta go through all the motions. You know him? Starsky, I mean?"

"Yeah," Hutch said, figuring it was easier not to lie unless he had to.

"If you see him, tell him we're sorry for the way our guys treated him the other day. Rookies. Overzealous. They shouldn't've grabbed him off the street like that."

"I'll tell him," Hutch said.

"Okay. If you need anything, give me a holler."

"Thanks." Hutch replaced the receiver. "Now I hope Dobey doesn't find out what I just did."

Starsky grinned faintly. "What we just did."

"But you're on suspension," Hutch pointed out, "and I'm the one who gave his real name when I called the Fifth. Come on. We better get out of here before somebody catches us."

Starsky rose. "Hutch?"

"Yeah?"

"What if we can't prove it?"

"We will," Hutch said. "I promise. We will."

Hutch took Starsky home and dropped him off. "Now, listen, you stay here, out of sight and out of trouble, you hear me?" He shook his finger at his partner. "I'll go see what I can turn."

"How far back are you gonna pull our files?" Starsky asked.

Hutch sighed. "Man. I hate to pull them all, but I might have to. I can't think of anybody named Nix."

"Then try 'Teague,'" Starsky said. "That's the name she's been using up till now."

"That's probably a false name, too," Hutch said. "But I'll try it."

He went back to the precinct and put in his request with Records.

Collins, as usual, was up to his eyebrows in similar requests. "Everybody wants everything yesterday," he grumbled. "Do you know how long this could take, Hutch?"

"Please," Hutch said. "Just run the names Nix and Teague through the computer for me and see what comes up."

"It'll be at least a couple of hours," Collins warned him. "Vice has some court case coming up Thursday and they asked first."

"Okay." Hutch backed out of the room and went back to his desk. He sat there for several minutes, searching his memory for any case that Karen could have been connected to. He'd only met her a few times. Although she had worked for the same airline Molly did, they didn't work together, and Karen was seldom in town for longer than a night or two. Hutch and Molly had double-dated with Karen and Starsky two or three times back when Hutch was seeing Molly. He tried to remember more.

Molly had called him, as she usually did when she had a layover, and had told him she had a friend who didn't know anybody in Bay City. Could Starsky come along and be her friend's date? Starsky had been free and agreeable, and Karen had turned out to be a saucy redhead with a wry sense of humor and a great body. Starsky had been more than willing to date her again a few months later when both girls had another layover.

But then there'd been a long period when both Starsky and Hutch were seeing other girls Gillian and Abby had both been during that time, Hutch remembered with a pang and Molly had finally stopped calling. Hutch thought Starsky had continued to see Karen on those rare occasions when she was in town, at least until Terry...and after Terry's death, Starsky hadn't been interested in seeing any girls for quite a while. Though Starsky'd seemed to fall hard for Rosey Malone, he'd bounced back fairly quickly and had dated pretty regularly until Kira Hutch winced a little at that memory, too but after Kira, Starsky'd gone into another funk where he didn't seem interested in dating for a long time.

But Karen had apparently offered a completely no-ties just-for-fun occasional date, and that was the only kind of date Starsky had wanted for a long time. Partly it was the leftover scars from the Gunther incident. Partly it was leftover pain from Terry he'd never really gotten over her. Partly it was a general air of disillusionment that Hutch suspected was brought on by his near brush with death. Starsky was no longer interested in risking heartbreak. He wanted all or nothing.

Hutch sighed and rubbed his eyes. This was getting him nowhere. He had to figure out why Karen Teague or Nix or whatever she was calling herself would have a vendetta against his partner.

He reached for the phone just as it rang. "Hutchinson."

"Have you seen the paper?" Starsky asked, and his voice was tight with pain.

Hutch closed his eyes. He'd forgotten all about the newspaper story that Dobey had pleaded with the commissioner to squash. He glanced around the squad room and saw one lying on a nearby desk. He reached over for it and unfolded it with trepidation. There was a photo of Starsky and the headline "Detective accused of rape."

"I'm sorry, buddy," Hutch said. "Dobey tried to talk them out of it."

"Have you turned anything?" Starsky asked without much hope.

"Not yet. Still working on it. But I thought of a question for you."

"Yeah?"

"Exactly how long has it been since you last heard from Karen? Before that day?"

Starsky was silent for several moments. Finally, he said, "At least a year, because you hadn't started that fuzz on your lip yet."

Hutch gave a feeble grin at that.

"And it was before you broke up with Laura."

"That was about three months before the 'fuzz on my lip,'" Hutch prodded.

"Yeah." Another silence while Starsky searched his memory. Suddenly, he said, "It was about two weeks before we wrecked the Torino."

Hutch winced, and added silently, And I pretended to have amnesia to punish you. But they'd settled that long ago, and he didn't bring it up again. "That's about a year and a half, then."

"Yeah."

"So why would she call you up out of the blue when she hadn't seen you for a year and a half?" Hutch wondered aloud.

"Good question. I didn't think about that because she was never around much."

"And how did she know you hadn't gotten married or something? Did she ask?"

"No," Starsky said slowly. "No, she didn't."

"What did she say? Exactly."

"She said, 'Hi, it's Karen. Remember me?' and I said, 'Karen Teague?' and she said, 'Yeah, I'm in town overnight. Want to have dinner?' and I said, 'Sure.'" Starsky paused, and added, "And all during dinner and back at her place, she asked me a lot of questions about our cases since she'd seen me last."

"Did she seem especially interested in any one case?" Hutch asked, immediately alert.

"I don't think so," Starsky said thoughtfully. "But I might not've noticed. Let me think."

Hutch obligingly stayed quiet and let Starsky think for several more moments.

"Hey," Starsky said, "something just occurred to me."

"What?"

"I don't know why I didn't think of this before," Starsky said.

"WHAT?" Hutch demanded.

"Why would she have an apartment in Bay City when she's not even based in Bay City?" Starsky said.

"She obviously is based in Bay City now," Hutch answered.

"Yeah, but why didn't I wonder about that?" Starsky said disgustedly. "I'm supposed to be a detective."

Hutch grinned a little. "Good question."

"Maybe we need to find out how long she's had that apartment, partner," Starsky said. "Might help us figure out what her game is."

"Okay, I'll take care of that. You worry about which cases she seemed interested in while you were together."

"I will. I'll call ya back with a list," Starsky said.

A call to the apartment manager later, Hutch knew that Karen had rented the apartment six months earlier, but under the name "Karen Rosenbloom." He called Starsky back. "Rosenbloom?" Starsky said.

"Figures, doesn't it?" Hutch said with a sigh. "I can't get away from 'em."

"From what?"

"Roses. In bloom," Hutch said. "Makes me want to sneeze just thinking about it."

Starsky chuckled.

"How many names does this chick have, anyway?" Hutch said. "And what's her real one?"

"Dunno," Starsky said. "Maybe 'Karen' isn't even her name."

"No, I think that one's real. She hangs on to that one."

"Computer turn anything yet?"

"No. Collins is up to his ears in something for Vice and he said it'd be awhile."

"Terrific." Starsky was silent.

"Think of any cases she was too interested in?" Hutch asked.

"No."

"Damn. Keep workin' on it. I'm going to get Collins to try 'Rosenbloom' in the computer, too."

"Okay." Starsky hung up.

Hutch figured it was safer to go to Collins in person than to make his appeal over the phone. When he got to Records, he found Collins hunched over some printouts on the desk. He cleared his throat.

Collins looked up. "Hutch. How'd you know I just got finished with your search?"

"I didn't," Hutch said. "I came down to ask you to add a name to it."

Collins sighed a little, but picked up a pencil. "Okay. Shoot."

"Rosenbloom."

Collins started to write it down, but stopped. "Hang on, Hutch. That's already here."

"What? Where?" Hutch reached for the printout.

Collins used his pencil as a pointer. "Right there. While Starsky was off work recuperating, you were investigating that narco ring, remember? And there was a teenage kid named Kirk Rosenbloom they had ferrying for them."

Hutch groaned. "I remember. How'd I forget it? Poor kid. Didn't have any idea what he was getting into." He gathered up the printout. "This may be the key, Collins. Thanks."

"Sure, Hutch." Collins picked up his next request and turned away.

Hutch drove to Starsky's house, cursing his memory for letting him down. But the Rosenbloom kid had been a bit player in the narco ring. Hutch had never even known his name until the trial.

He took the stairs to Starsky's two at a time and let himself in. Starsky was working on a model ship that was the way he freed his mind to concentrate on a knotty problem. Hutch sat down across from him.

"You find something?" Starsky asked, laying down the string.

"Maybe." Hutch handed him the printout. "But it's not you. It's me she wants."

"What?" Starsky took the printout and read through the part Collins had circled.

"While you were off work, I was helping narco out with an investigation," Hutch said. "I told you about it, but I didn't remember this kid's name until just now. These guys were running grass over the border from Tijuana and selling it here, and they conned this retarded boy into being a courier for them."

Starsky nodded. "I remember you tellin' me some of it."

"Cavanaugh and Hill and I got a tip they were bringing in a big shipment and we were all set up, with a bunch of uniforms, to nail them when they came through. But when we had 'em pinned, they started shooting, and this boy his name was Kirk Rosenbloom ran into the middle between us and took a slug right in the chest. He died on the way to the hospital."

Starsky nodded again. "But it wasn't your bullet that killed him, was it? Didn't you tell me it was one of the other guys'?"

"It was one of his own guys," Hutch said. He tapped the printout. "The bullet came from the gun of a guy called Dan Nix."

"Karen's husband," Starsky said with certainty.

Hutch made a sound of assent. "But my guess is she blames me I was the ranking officer on the scene and this is some twisted way of getting back at me, through you."

"Terrific."

"But that doesn't prove you're innocent."

"Nope." Starsky gave a sigh.

"We will prove it, Starsk."

"Sure. But the sooner the better, ya know, buddy?"

Hutch went back to the precinct and dug through the files for the narco case. Dan Nix's record sheet didn't list a wife, but it did say he was divorced. Hutch figured it was a good bet that this was the "Daniel" that Molly remembered Karen had married. Next he called the county morgue and asked for a copy of Kirk Rosenbloom's death certificate, hoping to find a connection with Karen.

Someone named Karen Nix had identified the body.

It was time to take the case to Dobey.

Dobey listened in silence while Hutch told his story, but when he was finished, Dobey shook his head.

"I understand, Hutch," he said. "I believe you, you know I do. But it doesn't prove Starsky didn't rape her."

"I know that!" Hutch snapped. "But it proves she's got a reason to frame him."

"Why would she frame Starsky if she's got a beef with you?" Dobey asked.

"Because she couldn't get to me," Hutch said. "Starsky's the one she dated, not me."

"It won't hold water in court."

"Let me talk to her," Hutch said. "Let me try to break her story."

"I can't!" Dobey flared. "You're personally involved."

"Dammit, Captain, I "

But Dobey raised his hand. "I didn't say we couldn't try to break her story. I just said you can't do it. How about Starsky's lawyer? He has a right to interview witnesses."

"But not the victim," Hutch said. "It'd look like witness tampering."

"He can cross examine in court."

"It can't wait until court!" Hutch flared. "We can't let Starsky go through that! Captain, you should've heard his voice when he saw that newspaper story. If it goes to court, he'll have to go through that pain every day for weeks!"

"I know that," Dobey said, more or less patiently. "I'll think of something."

Hutch called Starsky's lawyer and told him the story, too, and Washburn said he'd get to work on coming up with some sort of legal wrangle that might convince the D.A. the charge was bogus, based on the information. He didn't sound too hopeful, however.

It was long past dark before Hutch got away from the office and headed for home. He called Starsky from there.

"Hello?" said Starsky's voice, but the music in the background was so loud it almost drowned him out.

"What the hell are you listening to?" Hutch demanded. "Not that Osmonds album again?"

"No," Starsky said. "Hang on." Apparently he carried the phone over to the stereo and put the receiver in front of the speaker, because suddenly the music got louder and Hutch recognized it as "I'll Meet You Halfway" by the Partridge Family. And groaned. "Didja hear it?" Starsky asked, coming back on the line and turning the music down.

"Are you having some sort of midlife crisis you'd like to tell me about, buddy?" Hutch asked. "First the Osmonds and now the Partridges?"

Starsky chuckled. "Huggy gave it to me. He went to a garage sale and bought a big box of records and as he goes through them, he's givin' me the ones he don't want."

"I see," Hutch said. "Can you tear yourself away from Laurie long enough to hear how the case is going?"

"Actually, 'Laurie' didn't sing on the Partridge records," Starsky said very seriously. "It was all studio singers except for David Cassidy and Shirley Jones."

"You know far more about bubblegum music than is healthy, partner."

"I just read the back of the jacket," Starsky said defensively. "It's not like I studied up on it or something. So, how's the case going? Ain't that why you called?"

"Yeah." Hutch told him about the meeting with Dobey and the phone call to Washburn, trying to make things sound as positive as possible, but he could tell he wasn't fooling Starsky.

"Think we could get that detective from the Fifth to have a talk with Karen?" Starsky said when Hutch had finished. "What was his name again?"

"Perry," Hutch said. "That's an idea. I'll give him a call tomorrow."

"I'd think the detective in charge would have every reason to interview the victim to establish her testimony," Starsky said.

"Yeah. He would. And he doesn't think you're guilty, either," Hutch said.

After hanging up, Hutch found some leftover meat loaf and heated it up for his supper. By the time he was through eating, he could hardly keep his eyes open.

Must be under more stress than I realized, he thought, putting the milk back in the refrigerator and yawning.

It was only a little past 9, but he went to bed anyway. He was going to need to be as alert as possible tomorrow. He wanted to get this case resolved before Starsky had to go through any more of this than necessary. He was asleep almost as soon as head hit the pillow.

Starsky, on the other hand, couldn't even think of sleep. He'd been keeping his spirits up on the surface for Hutch's sake, but inside he was terrified and too wound up to sleep. He sorted through the albums Huggy'd given him and put on another Partridge Family album. Whoever had collected these records had had a weakness for the group there were five or six of their albums in the stack. At least it was cheerful and humable. He sat down, popped the top on a Coke, and went back to searching his memory for the conversation with Karen on their date. Surely there was something there, something Hutch could use to break her story.

He closed his eyes to cut out distractions.

Hutch mumbled and turned over. He was too hot, he couldn't breathe, but he couldn't drag his eyes open to push the covers away. He struggled, wondering why he could feel the heaviness of the covers and the sweat-soaked hair on his forehead, but couldn't open his eyes.

"Don't bother," said a feminine voice.

Hutch froze.

"Amazing, isn't it, what you can buy over the counter?" the voice continued. "A few drugstore sleeping pills dissolved into your milk, and bingo, Hutch. You become Sleeping Beauty." A quiet chuckle.

Hutch fought hard and finally got his eyes open, but he was still unable to focus well or move. Karen sat on a kitchen chair next to his bed, holding his gun, pointed at him.

"Don't worry," she said. "Those pills are supposed to be safe. They won't hurt you. But I will." Her eyes narrowed and she leaned forward a little, hefting the gun in both hands.

Hutch's eyes widened and his focus improved a little.

"You're probably wondering why I've asked you here today," she said. "Unless you've figured it out already. You are a decent detective. You're just a lousy human being." She stroked the barrel of the gun thoughtfully. "My little brother," she said softly, "was 22, but he had the mind of a 6-year-old. He trusted everybody. He thought Dan and the others were his friends. When they gave him something to 'deliver' for them, he did it because he liked them and he thought they liked him. When you and those other two...pigs...shot at Dan, he wanted to stop you." She raised her eyes to him. "Kirk watched a lot of TV and he didn't know guns really killed people. The people on TV get shot and killed and come back in another show the next week. So he ran in front of Dan. He wanted to be a hero."

Hutch nervously wet his lips. He could feel strength slowly returning, but he was afraid it wasn't enough, yet, to try anything.

"Now he's dead," she said, her voice turning cold, "and it's your fault. I've been planning this for a long time. I didn't know how I was going to get rid of Dave. I knew I couldn't take both of you. Then the perfect solution came to me. Put him in jail, where you wanted to put my little brother, and he'd suffer, too. I know how they treat cops in jail." She lifted the gun again and the phone rang. She stiffened, and Hutch saw her finger tighten on the trigger.

Starsky listened to the phone ring and ring with no answer. He frowned. He'd known by Hutch's voice how tired he was. He wouldn't have gone back out. And if he'd gone to bed, even though Hutch slept soundly, he always, always heard the phone ring. It was cop instinct. He always woke up to answer the phone. Starsky looked at his watch. It was only a little after ten. He had a suddenly bad feeling. Dropping the phone back into the cradle, he grabbed his jacket and keys.

When the phone stopped ringing, Karen let go of the trigger and relaxed marginally. "If I knew how to make this look like suicide, I would," she said. "Then Dave would suffer even more, thinking you'd killed yourself all alone here while he was rotting in jail. And without you to help spring him, he'd go to prison eventually. I'm quite a good actress, you know."

Hutch listened in silence, waiting for his limbs to recover enough to allow him to jump her. He just hoped she kept talking long enough.

Karen reached under her chair and produced a sofa cushion. "I watch TV, too," she said. "I know the gunshot would be bound to wake somebody, somebody who might call the cops." She wrapped the cushion over the barrel. "This ought to muffle the sound enough so I can stroll downstairs, get in my car, and be back home before anyone guesses anything."

"Karen," Hutch said, finding his voice absurdly weak and thin, but at least it worked. "Karen, I didn't shoot your brother. Dan did. Your husband."

"I know that," she said. "I already took care of Dan. But it would never have happened if you hadn't backed Dan into a corner. If you'd only left them alone, Kirk wouldn't be dead."

"But it's my job," Hutch protested. "They were selling drugs "

"So what? Is it any worse than your friend Huggy selling booze to drunks in his bar? I don't think so. But that's beside the point." She finished arranging the sofa cushion around the barrel and pointed the gun at him again. "Why on earth do you carry this miniature cannon around, anyway? Why don't you have small gun, like Dave's?"

Hutch had no answer for that, but he thought wildly, hoping to keep her talking just a few minutes longer. "Starsky's gun's too small for my hand. It isn't comfortable."

"Oh, really." She bounced the gun in her hand a couple of times.

Starsky used light and siren until he was within a block or two of Hutch's, then he shut both off, and his headlights, and eased into the curb several doors away. Some instinct warned him to do so. He got out of the car and hurried to Hutch's door, pulling his gun. He slithered up the stairs, grateful for the sneakers that allowed him to do so silently, and when he got to Hutch's apartment, he turned the knob very, very gently. It opened someone was inside. He heard a woman's voice.

He padded toward Hutch's bedroom alcove, flattening himself against the wall before he got there, and listened, trying to place where the voice was in relation to Hutch.

He heard the voice again.

"Too bad Dave's in jail," Karen said. "I'd really like for him to be the one to find you, but I suppose it'll be someone else and they'll have to tell him his partner's dead."

Hutch's heart sank. Starsky would be the one to find him, unless he could make his legs obey him, and fast.

Starsky could tell where she was now. She was between him and Hutch, with her back to Starsky. He slid down the wall into a crouch.

"Karen, come on. You'll get caught eventually. You don't think Starsky won't figure this out? He's a good detective, too."

She laughed with no humor. "Starsky will be in prison. It won't matter what he figures out."

Starsky crept around the corner and there was just enough light for him to see that Karen was holding a gun pointed at Hutch. He wasted no time wondering why Hutch was lying there and making no effort to defend himself. He threw himself at Karen.

It was so sudden she didn't have time to try to fire the gun. It fell out her hand and thudded onto the carpeted floor. She struggled, but she was no match for Starsky, who subdued and cuffed her, then turned to Hutch, who still hadn't moved. "Buddy? What's wrong with you? You hurt?" Starsky slid over to the bed on his knees and grabbed Hutch's arm.

"She drugged me," Hutch said, struggling to sit up. Starsky helped him and turned the lamp on so he could see better.

"It was just sleeping pills," she said sullenly from the floor. "He'll be all right in a while."

Starsky stuffed some pillows behind Hutch to make him more comfortable. "You sure you're not hurt?"

"No, I'm okay," Hutch said. He was beginning to feel closer to normal. "What are you doing here?"

"Savin' your bacon, looks like," Starsky said with a grin. "Whatsa matter? Ain't ya glad to see me?"

"Yeah, of course I am. But " Hutch managed to get a hand on Starsky's leg. "How did you know?"

Starsky shrugged. "I called ya, and you didn't answer, and I just had a feeling. So here I am."

TAG:

Hutch honked the horn impatiently and when Starsky didn't come down the steps, he got out and went up to get him. He pounded on the door and could hear music blaring inside. There was no way Starsky could hear him over it, so he opened the door and winced at the strains of "Echo Valley 2-6809" blaring from the stereo. There was no sign of Starsky.

Hutch looked in the kitchen and bedroom and finally found Starsky in the bathroom, brushing his hair and merrily singing along at the top of his lungs. "Starsky. STARSKY!"

Starsky broke off and grinned at him in the mirror. "Morning, partner."

"It's time to go, Keith Partridge," Hutch said, raising his voice over the music. "Unless you've decided you'd rather collect old records for a living."

Starsky put the brush down and turned around. "I'm ready. Let's go." As they passed through the living room, he reached out to turn off the stereo. But he kept humming, bouncing down the steps behind Hutch, who rolled his eyes but held his peace. "Echo Valley 2-6809, I gotta call that number one more time, Echo Valley "

"STARSKY!" Hutch turned at the bottom of the steps. "Am I going to have to listen to that all day?"

"Rather have 'Paper Roses'?" Starsky asked with a wicked grin.

"NO!"

Starsky grinned wider, got into the passenger side, and waited until Hutch had started the motor. Then he sang, "I was sleeping, and right in the middle of a good dream, all at once I wake up from something that keeps knocking at my brain "

"STARSKY!"

THE END

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