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Disclaimer: This story is written for entertainment purposes only.  No profit is being made from it.  No infringement on anyone’s copyright(s) is intended.

© May, 2001

 

This story is Part One of the Code 33 trilogy. 

Part Two: Measure for Measure

Part Three: Spare the Rod

 

Recompense

Written by

Valerie Wells and Sue David

 

"Zebra Three, come in, please. Zebra Three."

 

Starsky, trying to get some sense out of one-half of a domestic dispute while Hutch was trying to interview the other half, heard the call and groaned. It had already been one of those days. One call right after another and all of them people unwilling to cooperate in order to make two detectives' lives a little easier. He glanced at his partner, who was looking about as frazzled as he felt. "Hang on a second, okay?" He said to the husband, who glowered and declined to answer. Starsky trotted over to the car and lifted the mike. "Zebra Three."

 

"We have a report of a 187 on 10th and Hadley," the dispatcher said. "Same M.O. as the one two weeks ago."

 

"You're kidding," Starsky said.

 

"Control does not kid," the dispatcher said, a bit coldly. She was new and had come to the Ninth from the Tenth, and her reputation preceded her. In fact, they had commonly referred to her as "The Ice Queen."

 

"Just a figure of speech," Starsky said. "We're in the middle of a call, Control."

 

"I doubt the 187 will get up and run away," she said. "I'll inform the unit on the scene that you'll be delayed, Zebra Three."

 

"Roger." Starsky hung up the mike, looked over his shoulder at Hutch interviewing the wife, then over at the husband, who had lit a cigarette and sat down on the front porch steps. He started back across the yard. "Hey, partner, our day just got worse."

 

Hutch flicked his eyes in Starsky's direction but didn't answer.

 

Starsky went back to the husband and tried again to get the man to tell him exactly what had happened. Both spouses looked like they'd been in the ring with Rocky and Apollo Creed, but so far he and Hutch hadn't been able to figure out who had started it and who they ought to arrest.

 

"Look," the man said, "why don't you and him just go deal with that 197 or whatever it was, huh? Me and Marsha get into these spats all the time. It ain't no big deal. We'll make up, just like always, and we'll just go inside and -- "

 

Starsky raised his hand to stop him before he could finish the sentence. "Please," he said. "I had the world's greasiest tacos for lunch. And it's a 187."

 

The guy grinned. "Whatever. I'm tellin' ya, Officer, the neighbors just overreacted, okay? Go on. I ain't gonna die from a fat lip and neither will she."

 

Starsky looked over at Hutch, who had overheard the exchange. "I'm tempted, partner."

 

"So am I," Hutch said. He looked back at the woman. "Can you two at least keep it down to a dull roar for the rest of the day and give your neighbors some peace and quiet?"

 

"That's what we been tellin' ya for 20 minutes," she said sullenly.

 

"Let's go," Hutch said to Starsky.

 

The marked unit and the coroner were waiting for them at 10th and Hadley, a slightly decaying apartment house where a lot of twenty-something singles and young married couples lived.

 

"Upstairs. Apartment 224," said the uniformed officer guarding the street.

 

The second officer and the coroner were in the apartment. The place was totally

trashed, and the young man was lying half across his bed, strangled, with duct tape over his mouth.

 

"Just like that girl a couple of weeks ago," the coroner said, snapping another photo. "Same age, too. He's 33. He died about 6 this morning."

 

"You have a positive ID on him?" Hutch asked, reaching out to pull the sheet away from the corpse's face.

 

"Yeah. Next door neighbor ID'd him," the uniformed officer said. "His name's Paul Martin, single, native to Bay City. Grew up over on the other side of town. Worked for a print shop a few blocks from here. Neighbor's known him for a couple of years and says he was about as average as they come. She's pretty upset, but she's over there waiting for you."

 

"Thanks." Hutch led the way to the next apartment, where a young woman a few years younger than the dead man was sitting on her couch, her eyes red from crying. He identified himself and Starsky and asked her to tell them anything she could about Martin.

 

"I can't imagine who'd want to kill him," she said, shaking her head. "And this neighborhood isn't that bad."

 

"Did you hear anything?"

 

She shook her head. "No. But I sleep very soundly, and the man with the camera–"

 

"The coroner," Starsky supplied.

 

"He said Paul died early this morning. I must have been asleep. I went over there about an hour ago to see if he wanted to grill a couple of steaks with me, and his door was open, but he didn't answer when I called, so I went in and. . ." Her eyes welled up again and she covered her face with her hands.

 

"Were you two dating or anything?" Hutch asked as gently as he could.

 

She shook her head and took a deep breath. "No, nothing like that. We were friends."

 

"What can you tell us about him, about his friends, where he hung out, things like that?" Hutch asked.

 

"He didn't go out much," she said. "He broke up with his last girlfriend about..." She frowned and thought. "I think it was four or five months ago. He works at Zippy's on Holland, about eight blocks away, and he usually walks back and forth. He says," she stopped and shook her head, "I mean, he said it was good exercise. Oh, God." She pushed her hair back and tried to keep from crying again. "Somebody's gotta call his mom."

 

"We'll do that," Starsky said.

 

"Will you?" she said gratefully. "I've got her number, but I don't know exactly where she lives, just the general area."

           

Starsky and Hutch got the number and went back to Martin's apartment to see if they could figure out whether its being trashed meant the place had been burgled or if the killer had fought with Martin.

 

"Maybe he's just a slob," Starsky said as they searched.

 

"I don't think so," Hutch said. "This was no robbery, Starsk. Look around. I think whoever did this just wanted to destroy the place." He pointed at a pile of records smashed to bits. "Somebody stomped on those just to ruin them. And his lava lamp's broken. And get this," he added, picking up pieces of a torn poster that was on the floor. It was the ubiquitous "LOVE" poster so many people had. "There is no way a burglar would have bothered with this."

 

"You could be right," Starsky said, picking through a scattered stack of books. "You ever read this one?" he asked, holding up a ripped copy of "Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance."

 

"It took time to do all this," Hutch said. "I'd be willing to bet this part was done after the guy was dead. It's almost like a revenge thing."

 

"And it's just like that girl," Starsky said. "Maybe a connection?"

 

"Maybe."

 

"Wonder what though."

 

Hutch walked to the front door and examined the frame and strike plate. "No evidence the door was jimmied." He also walked outside and looked at the windows that could be reached from the balcony that ran along in front of the second story apartments. Walking back into the apartment he told Starsky, "No evidence the window was forced either."

 

Starsky went back next-door to ask the neighbor if Martin kept a key under his mat or somewhere else outside. She told him he didn't.

 

He met up with Hutch walking back out of the victim's apartment. "Well, looks like he let his murderer in through the front door. Someone he knew?"

 

"Could be."

           

"Let's head over to the dead girl's place and check for any other similarities."

 

"Right."

 

The murder a couple of weeks back had taken place in another part of town. Starsky and Hutch had investigated that scene, but taking another look around seemed like a good idea. The other victim had also lived on the second floor of an apartment building, but this one was a lot nicer.

 

After getting the manager to let them in, the two men looked again for signs of forced entry, and what items had been trashed. Just like at the other scene, the door and windows showed no evidence of tampering. The apartment still had not been released by the Bay City Police Department to be cleared out, so they found the contents exactly as they were the day the body was discovered. This victim's personal belongings also seemed to have been destroyed in a determined manner. Her record collection was also smashed, her books scattered about the living room, and some of her artwork ripped.

 

When they finished with the apartment, Hutch wanted to head down to the precinct to look at the victim's case folder.

 

"Let's grab some dinner first, huh?" Starsky said. "I'm starving."

 

"You're always starving, Starsk."

 

"You're not hungry? We didn't even stop for lunch today, unless you count one greasy taco."

 

"Yeah, I guess so. Where to?"

 

"Leading question, Blondie. How about Julio's?"

 

"How about not."

 

Starsky glared at his partner. He wasn't in the mood for an extended argument about the location for their dinner. "Okay, you pick then. Not someplace with just butterfly bones though, okay?"

 

Hutch smiled at him. "I know, how about Angie's? You can get something greasy and I can still have a salad." He was glad to see Starsky with a healthy appetite again.

 

"You got it." Starsky wasted no time heading for the restaurant.

 

Starsky was enjoying his cheeseburger and fries while Hutch munched on a chef's salad. Hutch reached across the table and snagged a couple of fries.

 

"You want some Tabasco with those?" Starsky asked helpfully, extending the bottle of red sauce.

 

"You're kidding, right?"

 

"Suit yourself. How's the salad?" Starsky reached over and picked some croutons off of Hutch's salad.

 

"Pretty good. Ham's a little hard."

 

They sat together talking about the case and eating off of each other's plates for about thirty minutes. When they were finished, Starsky asked, "you buyin'?"

 

"Nope. Your turn, partner."

 

"No way, lunch was my turn."

 

"We never made it to lunch, mush brain."

 

"Oh yeah!"

 

Starsky paid the bill and they headed back to the car. As they left the restaurant, a disheveled looking street vendor pushed his way up to Hutch and shoved a bunch of roses in his face.

 

Hutch backed up a step and started to sneeze.

 

"Gezhundheit!" Starsky said.

 

The dirty little man was saying, "Buy some roses for your sweetheart?" He took a step closer to Hutch again.

 

Hutch put his hand up, "No, thanks."

 

"Aw, come on now. Good-looking guy like you must have a sweetheart. Do a guy a favor, buy some roses."

 

Starsky stepped between his retreating, sneezing partner and the little man putting a hand on his dirty jacket. "Back off, man, he said he didn't want any!"

 

The little man backed away from the hostile detective. "Okay, okay. I'm just tryin' to make a living here." He turned around and walked away pushing a small cart filled with roses in 5-gallon buckets of water.

 

Poor Hutch couldn't stop sneezing for several minutes. The man had shoved the roses directly in his face. Starsky went back inside the restaurant and returned with some napkins for his partner. He couldn't help but laugh.

 

"Achoo! So, you, Achoo, think this, Achoo, is funny, Achoo!" Hutch managed to get out between sneezes.

 

Starsky was nearly hysterical. "Gezhundheit, buddy! I'm sorry. Roses, man. You and roses!"

 

Hutch blew his nose and looked at Starsky with an icy glare. "Yeah, well you won't think it's so funny when I'm killed by a runaway florist truck someday. Karma. Achoo!"

 

"Come on, let's go back to the precinct. You have some allergy pills in your desk, don't ya?"

 

Hutch nodded, blowing his nose again.

 

The sneezing had subsided by the time they reached Metro. Starsky fetched Hutch a cup of water to take his pills with and went to the file cabinet to pull the case folder on the previous victim.

 

"Lydia Harris, age 33." He said as he pulled his chair around next to Hutch's so they could look at the file together. They looked at the coroner's pictures of her. Same duct tape and similar ligature marks on her throat as those seen on the new victim.

 

Reading through her file, neither detective could find anything linking the two victims, other than the fact that they both lived on the second floor and they were both 33 years old. The buildings were nothing alike, not even painted the same color. One was on a quiet corner of a side street and the other in the middle of the block on a busy street. Lydia Harris was a kindergarten teacher and Paul Martin worked in a print shop. They didn't seem to have any common hangouts, based on the investigation so far. Martin was a Bay City native while Harris was born on Guam. Her family had been military and they moved frequently.

 

"Well, maybe the autopsy report will tell us something." Hutch said, not really holding out much hope that it would.

 

"I'm beat, Hutch. Let's call it a night, pick it up again in the morning, 'kay?"

 

"We're not gonna get anything else out of this tonight. Sounds good." They put the case file away and headed for home.

 

The autopsy report for Harris was waiting when they got to work the next morning, with a note from the M.E. that Martin's would be on their desk by noon. Hutch sat down to go over it. Starsky went back to the files of the two victims, looking for a link.

 

"Hey, Starsk, listen to this. The M.E. says the duct tape was placed over Harris' mouth after she was dead."

 

"Huh?" Starsky came over to read over Hutch's shoulder. "Why would you do that?"

 

"I don't know. You'd think the duct tape was to keep them quiet while you killed them."

 

The two men looked at each other in silence for a few moments. "You thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?" Starsky finally said quietly.

 

"Some kind of ritual?" Hutch said.

 

Starsky nodded. "Gotta be a connection."

 

"I don't know what it could be," Hutch complained, reaching over to pull the files in front of them. He studied them in silence for a while. "All I can find," he said, "is that they were the same age and lived on the second floor. Damn it."

 

"Ritual killers usually leave something behind," Starsky said. "Maybe we ought to check out their apartments again and list all the stuff in them."

 

Hutch sighed. "You know how long that could take? And besides, the things that make sense to a ritual killer might not -- " He stopped at the look on Starsky's face. "I know," he said in answer to the look. "We have to do it. I'd just rather not."

 

"Me, too," Starsky said. He reached for his jacket, but just then the assistant M.E. came into the squad room with a folder.

 

"Here's Martin's P.M.," she said, handing it to Starsky.

 

Starsky opened it and read through it quickly. Suddenly he looked a little sick.

 

"What?" Hutch said, holding out his hand for the folder.

 

"They found -- " Starsky wet his lips.

 

"A piece of chalk in Martin's mouth," the assistant M.E. supplied.

 

Now Hutch looked a little sick. "In his mouth?"

 

She nodded. "Weird."

 

"More than weird," Starsky said. "That's perverted." He looked over at Hutch. "I think we got a psycho on our hands, buddy."

 

"No kidding," Hutch said. "We better get moving."

 

First they had to rule out the possibility of the duct tape being a coincidence, though neither of them really thought it was. They asked R&I to run a check on similar M.O.s and Charlie, overwhelmed with requests as always, complained bitterly but promised they'd have the information by the end of the day. Then they went to Harris' apartment and went through it with a fine-tooth comb, cataloguing every item and making a separate list of items that didn't seem to belong in a young woman's apartment.

 

She'd been a bit of a pack rat, unfortunately, and they found all kinds of odd things – gumball machine toys, children's books, dozens of tiny little figurines, and enough different kinds of pencils, crayons and markers to supply an entire elementary school, Hutch said to Starsky with a grimace.

 

"But she was a teacher," Starsky said, on his knees next to her bedside table, going through the drawers. "Of course she'd have little toys and stuff for the kids."

 

"Why didn't she keep this stuff at school, then?" Hutch asked. He made another note on his list.

 

Starsky shrugged. "Dunno." He pulled a plastic baggie and a pipe out of the bottom drawer. "Oops," he said with a wan grin. "Bet her school didn't know she was smokin' this stuff."

 

Hutch glanced at it without much interest. "Everybody smokes that stuff," he said, going back to the closet where he'd been working.

 

"I don't," Starsky protested.

 

"You know what I mean," Hutch said. "Write it down, but I doubt that's going to be any help."

 

Starsky shrugged and wrote it down and added it to the pile next to him. When he finished with the bedside table, he stuffed everything back into the drawers. "You find anything weird?"

 

Hutch sat back on his heels. "Nope, not really. I mean, nothing you wouldn't expect a girl her age to have around, especially a teacher." He looked at the clock on the nightstand. "It's almost six. Wanna break for supper or go over to Martin's?"

 

"Supper," Starsky said.

 

They went to a hamburger stand nearby to save time, and while they were eating, a street vendor came by with roses. Hutch winced away, but the man paid no attention to them. The tired, shiftless way he was walking made it look as though he'd had a bad day – and his buckets were still full of roses.

 

"Kind of sad," Starsky said, as the man went down the block.

 

"What is?"

 

"An old man like that having to sell flowers to make a buck," Starsky said. "Walking around in the heat all day, maybe only making a few dollars for all his work."

 

Hutch smiled at him fondly. "You old softie."

 

Starsky reddened and shrugged. "Well, how would you feel if he was your grandpa or something?"

 

"There's guys like him all over the city," Hutch pointed out. "We just saw one yesterday, remember?"

 

"I know." Starsky went back to his french fries.

 

Martin's place was much more Spartan than Harris' had been and it only took a couple of hours to catalogue his belongings. His record collection – most of it destroyed – tended toward the Judas Priest and Black Sabbath end of the rock and roll spectrum. His books were heavy on Kurt Vonnegut and James Bond-style novels. Starsky found a bag of marijuana in the man's kitchen, too, most of it gone, and Hutch found a ruler under his bed among the girlie magazines.

 

"What do you suppose he used that for?" Hutch asked, holding it up.

 

"Measuring?" Starsky said with a wicked grin.

 

"Very funny." Hutch tossed it aside and looked at his notebook. "Nothing," he said disgustedly. "What now?"

 

"The usual," Starsky said. "Track down the people they knew and ask nosy questions."

 

Hutch nodded. "Tomorrow, huh?"

 

When they got back to the Torino, Hutch called in to see if Charlie had made any progress on the similar M.O. "Zebra 3 to Control, come in please."

 

"Go ahead, Zebra 3."

 

"Patch me through to Charlie Collins." Hutch waited a minute while the call was connected.

 

"R&I, Collins."

 

The man sounded tired. Hutch felt sorry for Collins. Charlie had a gift for sifting through information and feeding it into the department's computers. Metro's detectives kept him busy almost constantly.

 

"Yeah, Charlie, this is Hutch. You got anything for me yet?"

 

"Nothing exact. Other crimes with duct tape though. The usual mostly, hands tied with it. One guy came in with it over his eyes like a blindfold, and we even have one where the dead girl was completely wrapped in it like some kinda duct tape mummy. No other cases where the victim was strangled and had duct tape across the mouth."

 

"Thanks, Charlie." Hutch didn't really expect to get that lucky.

 

Starsky saw the disappointed look on Hutch's face and decided it was time to relax a little. They were off the clock and he wasn't ready to go home.

 

"Buy me a beer?" That was Starsky's signal that he wanted to go to Huggy's.

 

"Sure thing." Hutch agreed, time to see the Bear.

 

The detectives settled in their favorite booth at The Pits, waiting for the proprietor, Huggy Bear, to come and join them. They didn't have to wait long as Huggy strolled over with three beers and then slid into the booth next to Starsky.

 

"What's happenin', amigos?" Huggy asked amiably.

 

Hutch shrugged and decided to make a fashion commentary instead of answering the question. "Hug, that shirt could do three sets at the Copacabana."

 

Starsky quipped, "I don't know, Hutch. Looks more like the latest in jockey-chic for Churchill Downs to me."

 

Huggy looked down at his fuchsia satin shirt with large red dots on it. "The Bear likes to make a fashion statement."

 

"That's no statement. That's a one-man show!" Hutch said. Huggy laughed.

 

"Well, gentlemen, I didn't come over here just to be insulted." He tried to look wounded, but he grinned instead. "So, like I said before you two decided to evaluate my threads, what's happenin'?"

 

"Nothin' good, Hug." Huggy paid closer attention as Hutch's face shifted from playful to serious in a heartbeat.

 

Starsky continued, "You remember we told you about that kindergarten teacher who got murdered a coupla weeks ago?"

 

"Yeah, I remember. Strangled, right?"

 

Hutch nodded and said, "Right. Well, a guy was murdered yesterday and it looks like the same M.O. as the Harris woman's killer."

 

"Heavy."

 

"We can't figure out what the two victims have in common so far. The only thing is they were both 33 years old and they both lived on the second floor. Starsky and I went through their stuff today and didn't find anything that matched." Hutch took a sip from his beer and mentally ran through the list of items they had found at the two apartments.

 

"Where'd they work?" Huggy asked.

 

Starsky answered, "We thought of that. Lydia Harris was a school teacher and Paul Martin worked in a print shop."

 

"Lydia, huh? I think I went to school with a chick named Lydia. Your victim's almost the same age as me. You don't think she could be . . . nah, my Lydia moved to Detroit years ago. 'Sides, her name was Lydia Barker."

 

While Starsky and Huggy continued to discuss the case, Hutch pulled out his notebook and reviewed the things he had written down about the two victims. He flipped from page to page, first in one direction, then the other. Something was bothering him but he couldn't seem to focus on it. His notes also included the list of friends, family, and associates that he and Starsky would interview starting in the morning.

 

Starsky looked over at Hutch occasionally. He knew his partner's mental gears were turning and he didn't want to interrupt the process. Hutch was a master at clicking together the pieces of a case like a jigsaw puzzle and Starsky could see the master was at work.

 

Huggy got up to take care of some customers and Starsky glanced over at Hutch. He hadn't even noticed that Huggy was gone.

 

"Hey?" Starsky asked tentatively.

 

"Hmm." Hutch mumbled. Starsky could tell Hutch needed a little more time so he quietly sipped his beer and waited. A few minutes later, Hutch's head looked up, his eyes clearly displaying his frustration.

 

"I just know we're missing something, but what?" Hutch said as he rubbed the bridge of his nose.

 

Some days it didn't matter how much time Starsky gave him for quiet reflection. "Relax, buddy. It'll come, we just don't have enough info yet."

 

"I looked over the list of names for both victims. No duplicates. Let's start with Harris' contacts." Hutch seemed to have a plan in mind and Starsky agreed.

 

Starsky knew why Hutch was so determined. "Hutch, I bet you're thinking what I'm thinking about this case."

 

"What's that?"

 

"If those two victims aren't involved with each other somehow, we could be lookin' at the start of a serial killer."

 

"Exactly. Could be even if they are involved. I hope not, Starsk. Whoever killed those people was bent. Who knows what his motives are?"

 

"Could be worse. We both live on the second floor. Thank God we're not also 33."

 

"Weak, Starsk."

 

Their first stop the next morning was Martin's grandmother. His parents had both been dead for years; his grandmother had raised him.

 

"Mrs. Tinker?" Hutch said when she came to the door. "I'm Detective Hutchinson. I spoke to you on the phone this morning."

 

She tried to smile, but it didn't quite come off. She held the door open. "Can I get you boys some coffee?" she asked after showing them to seats in her living room.

 

"No, thanks, ma'am. We'll try not to take too much of your time," Starsky said, his courtly manners coming out as they usually did with older people. "We just want to ask you a few questions about your grandson to help us find his killer."

 

She bit her lip and nodded. "Anything I can do."

 

"Do you know his friends and the places he hung out at?" Hutch asked.

 

She nodded again. "I can't imagine anyone wanting to kill Paul. He was a good boy. Always wanted to be an artist, but didn't quite have the knack, so he turned to printing. He was saving up to open his own shop. He bowled with a league on Thursdays and he went to church every Sunday and belonged to a Bible study group for young singles. He wasn't a bit wild anymore."

 

"Anymore?" Hutch said, his eyebrows going up.

 

"Oh, when he was a boy he was kind of naughty," she said. "But that was years ago, when he was in junior high school. You know, talking back, getting in scuffles in the schoolyard, that kind of thing. Nothing serious. He's never been in trouble with the police or anything like that. But he was kind of a handful. By the time he was a sophomore in high school it had all blown over. Just growing pains."

 

"How old was he when his parents died?" Starsky asked. He remembered being "a handful" himself after his dad died.

 

"He was 10. He moved in with me right afterwards and it was a year or so after that when he started getting hard to handle. And he was an only child, so his parents doted on him." She sighed and wiped a tear away. "I got so many notes from his teachers I was half wild. Didn't know what to do for him. I even took him to a counselor for a while and he told me Paul was 'acting out' and just to give him lots of love."

 

Hutch glanced at Starsky. He knew his partner had been through something very similar when he'd come west to live with his aunt and uncle. "But he got over that?"

 

"Oh, yes, finally. And he was always as attentive as could be. Called every couple of days, came over for Sunday dinner, ran my errands for me. We were...very close." She wiped away another tear.

 

"He didn't have any enemies?"

 

"Heavens, no," she said. "And I've been wracking my brain trying to figure out who could have wanted to kill him. I can't think of a soul, honestly. It had to have been just a nut."

 

The two men exchanged another glance. That was pretty much what they were thinking, too, except that the ritualistic manner of the two deaths had to mean the killer knew Martin or that Martin in some way stood for someone the killer did know.

 

"Does the name Lydia Harris mean anything to you?" Hutch asked.

 

Mrs. Tinker shook her head. "No, I'm afraid not. Why?"

 

"She was murdered a couple of weeks ago, exactly like Paul was," Hutch said gently.

 

"Oh, dear," Mrs. Tinker gasped. "Just like Paul?"

 

Hutch nodded. "We thought there might be a connection." He pulled a photo of the dead girl from his shirt pocket. "Does she look familiar?"

 

Mrs. Tinker took the photo and studied it for several moments, frowning. Finally she handed it back. "I'm sorry. I don't think I've ever seen her before."

 

"You know, Hutch, maybe we're all wet with this connection thing," Starsky said as they were on their way to see Harris' parents.

 

"I don't think so," Hutch said. "We just haven't found the connection. There's gotta be one."

 

"He could just be a random killer," Starsky said.

 

Hutch groaned. "Don't say that. I don't even want to think about that."

 

Joe and Doris Harris lived in a slightly decaying residential area in a bungalow with a carport and one scraggly palm tree in the front yard. They were only recently retired, but even in the two weeks since their daughter's death they had aged visibly. Starsky and Hutch had already interviewed them once, but they thought it was worth coming back to try to find a connection between Lydia and Paul Martin.

 

Neither of her parents recognized Martin's name or photograph. Mr. Harris handed the photo back to Hutch after they'd studied it.

 

"I'm sorry," he said.

 

Starsky was looking at a row of photos above the couch. The Harrises had four children, and the photos showed all four in various stages of childhood. "Which one is Lydia?" he asked Mrs. Harris.

 

She smiled, a little wanly, and pointed to a couple of them. They showed an overweight girl in thick glasses with braids and braces. "She was the proverbial ugly duckling who turned into a swan," she said with a little tremor in her voice. "I'm afraid she had a tough time in school. She got teased a lot."

 

Starsky was stunned. The beautiful young woman who had been murdered had no resemblance to these photos at all.

 

"She really enjoyed going to her 10-year high school reunion," Mrs. Harris said. "No one recognized her and she got to lord it over all the boys who ignored her in high school."

 

Starsky smiled at the thought. "I'll bet they were sorry they'd done that."

 

Mrs. Harris smiled back, a real smile this time. "It was a lot of fun for her. But you know, she wasn't bitter about it. She used to joke about being a late bloomer. And I think it made her that much more sensitive to her own students. She absolutely wouldn't stand for any of the kids getting picked on."

 

"I don't get it," Starsky said to Hutch later as they were stopping for a bite to eat. "Both the victims seemed to be paragons of virtue. No trouble. No bad marriages or ugly relationships. Normal, nice young adults trying to live their lives. Why the hell would somebody wanna kill them?"

 

"That's what we need to find out," Hutch said, stealing a french fry. His own plate held another good, healthy chef salad, but even if he wouldn't order junk food, he wasn't above sharing Starsky's.

 

Starsky went on as if he didn't even see Hutch stealing his food. "You s'pose there's something about both of 'em having kind of rough childhoods? I mean, Lydia was 'an ugly duckling' and Paul was an orphan?"

 

"That'd make sense if they were the killers. Doesn't seem to make sense their being the victims," Hutch said, stealing another french fry.

 

"No, guess not." Starsky sighed. "Damn it."

 

"We could try asking Doug if anything clicks for him," Hutch suggested.

 

Doug Barnes was a psychologist friend of theirs who sometimes helped out with the department's cases.

 

"It's worth a try."

 

Barnes listened in silence as Hutch listed the evidence they had so far. He frowned. "That's not a lot to go on," he said. "I do wonder about the duct tape, though. That sounds like the killer had a reason to want to 'shut up' his victims. And both were strangled?"

 

Hutch nodded. "Some kind of electric cord, the M.E. says. But there was no cord near either body."

 

"He might have brought it with him," Barnes said. "If it was part of the ritual, he might even have used the same cord on both of them."

 

Starsky shivered. "That's sick."

 

"It is," Barnes said. "Have you asked at mental hospitals to see if anyone has a thing about duct tape?"

 

"A 'thing'?" Hutch asked with a grin.

 

"Technical psychological term," Barnes answered, grinning back. "I wouldn't expect a layman to understand it."

 

"Could their age or the fact they lived in second-floor apartments have anything to do with it?" Hutch said, going back to the business at hand.

 

"It could," Barnes said. "And you say their records and posters and things were destroyed? That's part of the ritual, too, I'd say. For some reason, those possessions had to 'die' just like the people did. The killer wanted to make a point that those things are part of what made the victims 'evil' and in need of destruction."

 

Starsky shivered again. "You're gonna give me nightmares."

 

"Could this be the first time the killer has done this?" Hutch asked.

 

Barnes frowned again. "It could. Sounds planned to me. Revenge, you know? Something he's been thinking about for a long time. Try the mental hospital angle, and if you come up with any other common links, call me. I'll try to come up with some kind of a profile."

 

"Thanks, Doug."

 

Starsky felt a cold shiver run up his back as he pulled up to the parking lot of Caballo Point Hospital for the Criminally Insane. This was where George Prudholm had been held for years before they finally brought him to trial. Hutch noticed the reaction and patted his partner on the forearm.

 

"Hey, you okay going in there?" He asked softly.

 

"Yeah, I'm fine. Just kinda creepy knowin' Prudholm was here for so long. No big deal." Starsky shrugged it off and climbed out of the car. Hutch was often impressed by Starsky's ability to put aside his personal feelings to get the job done. Things might upset him about a case, but he kept going. Anything that made him think of Terry's death was still hard for him to deal with and Hutch supposed it would always be that way.

 

They had an appointment to speak with Dr. William Jackson, the hospital's director. This was not the first time they had been in the office, but their previous visit had been years before when another doctor was at the helm. When they were ushered into the man's office, they were both surprised at the change in the décor. The previous director had his office decorated in what Hutch had termed "early psych ward." Cold, sterile, all white walls with steel and Formica furnishings. No art on the walls, just the man's many diplomas. His desk had been completely clear except for a telephone, a pad of paper, and a cup with a few writing instruments in it. The man himself had been formal, distant, and cheerless. Starsky had judged the man a "cold fish."

 

Dr. Jackson was the previous director's diametric opposite. He was a tall man of about sixty with a kind face and a firm handshake. He greeted the detectives warmly, inviting them to sit in his overstuffed leather chairs. The office was completely redone with art, beautiful wooden furniture, and plants. Dr. Jackson's desk was completely covered with paperwork, pictures of his family, patient charts, and what looked to be the remainder of his Chinese takeout lunch. Starsky liked him already.

 

"I hope you gentlemen don't mind if I finish my lunch while we chat. I never seem to have time to eat anymore. Always eating standing up or walking to an appointment." Dr. Jackson shook his head.

 

"Go ahead, doc. Believe me, we understand." Starsky said.

 

Hutch began, "Dr. Jackson, we're investigating a couple of murders and we were wondering if you could help us out with some information."

 

"Of course, if there's anything I can do I'm happy to help. You know I can't divulge anything that would violate doctor/patient privilege of course."

 

"Of course." Both detectives nodded.

 

Starsky continued, "Doc, have you released any patients in say the past two or three months who had a history of physical violence of a ritualistic nature?"

 

"Well, Detective Starsky, most of our patients have a history of being physically violent. Is there something in particular you are getting at?"

 

"The two murders we are investigating were people who appear to have had nothing in common." Hutch explained. "They were both strangled and the killer put duct tape over their mouths."

 

Starsky added, "The M.E. says the duct tape was put there after the victims were already dead. That's one reason we think it's the same killer. Have you treated anyone who had a thing for duct tape?"

 

Dr. Jackson laughed. "Well, that's something I've never been asked. A thing, huh?"

 

Hutch smiled, "A friend of ours is a psychologist. He said that was a technical term."

 

More laughter from the doctor. "Just so, just so. Hm, a thing?" He muttered, "duct tape" a few times and appeared to be contemplating the question while he cracked open a fortune cookie and extracted the fortune. "You will be blessed with stamina," he read. Then a sly smile crept over his face and he said, "You know these things are funnier if you add . . ." He stopped himself there, "well, never mind." Starsky smiled at his partner as if to say, "see, it's not just me."

 

"No, I'm sorry, I can't think of anyone with a tape fetish, duct or otherwise. We have released a few patients in the last three months, but no one I would believe capable of the ritualistic murder of two strangers."

 

Hutch added, "The victims were both 33 and they both lived on the second floor in their buildings. Could that mean something?"

 

"Possibly."

 

Starsky and Hutch explained the murder scenes to him and got the same response Doug had given. "Sounds like some sort of revenge plot perhaps. I'm sorry I can't be if more assistance. If I think of anything else, where can I reach you?"

 

Hutch gave him a card. "Thanks, doc. We know how busy you are."

 

As they stood to leave Starsky said, "Nice office."

 

"Well, I spend a lot of time here. I like it to feel lived in. The director before me didn't even have any artwork on the walls. To each their own."

 

As they left the office, both men noticed one of those "Love" posters hanging near the door. They shot each other a glance, each one remembering the poster ripped up at Martin's apartment. He saw them notice it and Dr. Jackson said from behind them, "My daughter gave me that and I don't have the heart to get rid of it."

 

Walking out to the car, Starsky said, "Lots of people have that poster. I think almost everyone had it at some time or another."

 

"Yeah, I know. Something about it bugs me though. Seems like there are a lot of those things on this case."

 

"Relax. I keep tellin' you something will click sooner or later."

 

"I'm just afraid this guy is going to strike again before we can turn something. Thinking this psycho is out there waiting to randomly kill another 33-year-old is creepy, Starsk."

 

They both hoped the case would end here, but neither one believed that. The distinct and unsettling feeling that these two victims were just the start of a bigger case hung heavily around them. Neither of them enjoyed waiting for the next victim to turn up to get more clues.

 

End Part I

 

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