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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 is intended.

 

The Perfect Murder?

by Sue David and Valerie Wells

Ó June 2002

 

"Sssh!" Hutch warned for the third or fourth time. "He's gonna be here any minute."

 

"You've been sayin' that for 20 minutes," Huggy complained, shifting his weight uncomfortably in his crouched position behind Hutch's couch. "Why can't we wait until we see him comin' up the walk and then hide?"

 

"Because he might look up and see your ugly face peering out the curtains at him," Hutch retorted. "That would ruin the surprise."

 

"It's not that unusual for me to be at your pad," Huggy said, "and if I'm so ugly, paleface, why do all the ladies line up to date me?"

 

Hutch snickered. "All the ladies, Huggy? I seem to remember you striking out with that exotic little –"

 

"Here he comes!" Starsky hissed from his post at the window. "Everybody ready?"

 

Silence instantly descended on the room as everyone except Hutch concealed themselves behind something. That wasn't easy to do in Hutch's small apartment, but they only had to be out of sight long enough for Kiko to walk in, then they could all jump out and yell "Surprise."

 

In a few moments, there was a knock at the door and Hutch waited a couple of beats before answering it. "Hi, Kiko," he said casually. "How'd it go today?"

 

"Oh, man, Hutch," Kiko said, shaking his head. "It was rough."

 

"What do you mean? You didn't pass?"

 

Kiko drew a heavy sigh all the way from the soles of his Converses. Behind the couch, Starsky and Huggy exchanged a worried glance. Hadn't Juanita told them that Kiko had passed? Then Kiko laughed the carefree kind of laugh that only a boy who has passed his algebra final after failing the first quarter can laugh.

 

"I got an A, Hutch!" he cried. "An A, in algebra! I can't believe it!"

 

Hutch grinned. "I can. Didn't I tell you? I knew you could do it."

 

That was the signal, and everyone popped out of their hiding places and yelled "Surprise" at Kiko, who actually took a step backward in astonishment. Starsky pounded him on the back and ruffled his hair and then, for good measure, shook his hand. "You got more brains than all the rest of us put together," Starsky told him. "You're probably gonna be a famous scientist or something and you won't speak to us anymore because you'll be embarrassed."

 

"That isn't true, Starsky," Kiko said, his eyes shining. "I owe Hutch. If he hadn't bullied me into getting a tutor – and paid for it," he added with a grateful glance at Hutch, who flushed, "I would have flunked. I just didn't get it."

 

Starsky shot a speculative look at Hutch. He hadn't known Hutch had paid for the tutor, too.

 

"Algebra's something I couldn't help you with, Kiko," Hutch said, still flushing. "I was never very good at it, either."

 

"Do my ears deceive me?" Huggy said, pretending amazement. "Sergeant Hutchinson admits he isn't good at something?"

 

"Aw, shut up, Hug," Hutch said, giving him a playful punch in the arm.

 

After everyone else had gone, Starsky sat down at the table to watch Hutch stack dishes in the sink. "That was pretty cool of ya, buddy," he said quietly when several moments of silence had passed.

 

Hutch flushed again. "It wasn't that big a deal."

 

"It was to Kiko," Starsky said. "And it probably cost a pretty penny."

 

Hutch shrugged, which Starsky took to mean it had, indeed, cost a lot. "Just a college kid who needed some extra cash," Hutch said. "Found her name on a bulletin board at the university."

 

Starsky drained the rest of his beer. "The luckiest day of that kid's life was when you became his Big Brother, Hutch."

 

Hutch shook his head.

 

"It was," Starsky insisted. "He's a good kid, I ain't sayin' he's not, but with his dad dead and his mom half-killin' herself to keep food on the table, he might've gone wrong. He might've got in with a bad crowd and got into trouble and made a real mess of his life. 'Cept he's got you, and you made the difference, buddy."

 

Hutch concentrated very hard on wiping a spot off the counter top and kept his eyes focused on that instead of looking at Starsky. Finally, very softly, he said, "You really think so?"

 

"Yeah."

 

Hutch drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I sure hope so."

 

~*~*~*~

 

"We'll get in trouble," Adam hissed, looking over his shoulder toward the door to the gymnasium.

 

"No, we won't," Trent said calmly, crouched on the sidewalk that ran alongside the school and expertly sifting seeds out of the marijuana with a matchbook cover and a paper plate. He finished that job and started rolling a joint.

 

"Let's wait till we start home later," Adam pleaded.

 

"No, man. I need it now, before practice," Trent said, not looking up. "I can't handle that bastard's constant screaming without being high."

 

Adam bit his lip and looked toward the door again. Practice was going to start in five minutes and the coach was bound to notice they weren't in the locker room getting dressed. If he had any sense, he thought, he'd leave Trent and the joint and get his ass inside before somebody came looking for them. But he stayed where he was. Trent was the most popular boy in their class and being on his bad side wasn't an option for Adam.

 

Trent coolly licked the paper to keep the joint rolled and put a match to one end. He inhaled deeply, held it and passed the joint to Adam.

 

Adam took it and took a much smaller hit than Trent had. He didn't really like marijuana. It made him feel like he did when he was coming down with the flu and he'd never understood why so many people liked that. He supposed he was doing something wrong or maybe there was just something wrong with him. Getting high was supposed to be cool and fun and instead it was just a pain in the ass and gave him a headache. He handed the joint back to Trent and glanced worriedly at his watch.

 

"Would you cool it, moron?" Trent let the smoke out and coughed. "We got plenty of time."

 

"We've got three and a half minutes," Adam said, pointing at his watch. "Three minutes to get dressed and we haven't even started yet."

 

Trent shook his head. "You're too uptight." Just as he held the joint out to Adam, the gym door opened and their coach stepped outside. Both boys froze.

 

The coach stared at them blankly for several heartbeats. Then his brows came down in a furious scowl. "So that's what's keeping you," he snapped. "Get in here. NOW."

 

Trent pinched the fire off the joint and started to put it in his pocket, but the coach held out his hand. "Not a chance, Sharkey. Hand it over."

 

Trent shrugged and handed the joint to the coach, who held the door open and motioned them inside. He escorted them straight to his office and roughly ordered them to sit down. Adam's knees were shaking so hard he had to stuff his feet under the chair to try to hide it. Trent appeared as cool as a cucumber.


Coach Owens was still scowling and he'd never looked so angry. He picked up the phone and called the office. "Mr. McMullen, we have a situation down here," he said. "Can you come to my office?" When he hung up, he glared at both boys. "I've been coaching for 15 years," he said, his voice low and menacing, "and my policy has always been the same. Smoking, drinking, and drugs are off limits for an athlete. No warnings. You were warned when you tried out for the team. Do you remember that?"

 

Adam did. He remembered it well. Before Coach had even let them try out, he'd sat them all down and told them if he ever got wind of any bad behavior – talking back to a teacher, slipping grades, trouble with the law, anything at all – they'd be off the team. No ifs, ands, or buts.

 

Mr. McMullen, the dean of boys, appeared in the doorway and looked surprised to see Adam and Trent. "What's the trouble, Ed?"

 

Coach Owens opened his hand and wordlessly presented the joint. Mr. McMullen's eyebrows rose.

 

"Trent? Is that yours?" he asked.

 

Trent just shrugged.

 

"Mr. McMullen asked you a question, Sharkey," Coach Owens growled.

 

Trent sighed. "Yes, sir, it's mine."

 

"Both of them were smoking it," Owens added.

 

But McMullen didn't glance at Adam. "Trent, I'm surprised at you. What on Earth were you thinking?"

 

Trent shrugged again. "I just wanted to try it," he said, lifting his eyes to the dean. "I keep hearing about it, y'know, in movies and stuff, and I – it was stupid of me, I know."

 

"I'll say it was stupid," Owens said. "It's illegal, it'll destroy your lungs, it'll lead to other drugs –"

 

"Ed," McMullen said mildly.

 

Owens shut up.

 

McMullen turned back to the boys. "Tell me the truth," he said to Trent. "Is this the first time you've smoked it?"

 

Adam glanced at Trent, whose eyes were as guileless as a child's. Trent nodded solemnly. "Yes, sir."

 

"Where'd you get it?"

 

"From a guy in my neighborhood," Trent said. "I don't know his name. He doesn't live there, he just hangs out in the park sometimes."

 

Adam was amazed, as always, at Trent's ability to con adults. In a moment, he could go from the Trent that Adam knew, the guy who could out drink anybody and had, to Adam's knowledge, slept with half the girls in their class and would probably succeed with the other half before year's end, to a wide-eyed innocent who didn't know the meaning of the word "lie." Adam wisely kept his mouth shut and let Trent handle it.

 

McMullen looked long and hard at Trent and shook his head. "Son, I've known your family for years. What would they say?"

 

"Please don't call my father, Mr. McMullen," Trent pleaded with every indication of sincerity. "I know I have to be punished, but can't you do it? I'll never smoke the stuff again. I didn't like it, anyway, did you, Adam?"

 

Adam shook his head and he was telling the truth. He'd never liked grass.

 

"It was stupid, I know it was stupid, and I'm sorry. I'll clean toilets or blackboards or pick up trash on the grounds or whatever you want, and I'll never do anything like this again, sir, really, I won't."

 

McMullen pursed his lips and studied them for another few minutes. Finally, he nodded. "All right, boys. I won't call your parents."

 

"They're off the team," Owens said. "It's the rule. The principal approved that rule, Rick."

 

McMullen sighed. "I know he did. But if we cut them, this late in the season, without an explanation –"

 

"They're off the team," Owens repeated.

 

McMullen nodded. "That's your punishment, then. You're off the team. You'll have to explain it to your parents yourselves."

 

Adam shuddered. His father would have a fit and ground him for the rest of his life if he told him. He'd have to think of a good lie and pray his dad didn't call the school and find out the truth.

 

Trent looked down at his folded hands. "Yes, sir," he said quietly.

 

McMullen patted each of them on the shoulder. "I hope you've both learned a lesson today." He nodded at Owens and left the room.

 

"Get out of here," Owens said when he had gone. "Maybe you can fool Rick McMullen, but you don't fool me, either of you. I'll be watching you, and I'll call your fathers myself if I ever suspect you of using drugs again."

 

Trent stood, and Adam scrambled to his feet, too. "You won't," Trent said. "Come on, Adam."

 

Outside, Trent swore vehemently under his breath. "That son of a bitch!" He glared at the closed gym door and spat at it. "How the fuck can I get a scholarship if I'm not playing?"

 

Adam held his peace. It was best to remain quiet when Trent was really angry and let him talk out his anger uninterrupted. He also knew better than to point out that Trent's father would be able to afford college tuition easily without the help of a scholarship.

 

"And just what the hell do I tell my dad?" Trent went on. "I'm off the team but I didn't do anything wrong? He ain't gonna swallow THAT." He whirled and started walking and Adam hurried to keep up. "Why the fuck couldn't they've made us clean toilets or something and let us stay on the team? I'll tell you why. That motherfucker, Owens, is why." He raised his voice an octave. "You know the rules, boys. No druggies on the team, boys," he said mockingly. "That asshole. We oughta just kill him."

 

Adam didn't reply, assuming Trent was blowing off steam. But Trent stopped walking and grabbed his arm.

 

"That's it!" he said eagerly. "We'll kill him. Then we'll be back on the team."

 

"Are you nuts?" Adam demanded. "We'll be in jail is where we'll be."

 

"Not if we do it right," Trent insisted. "We'll plan every move and we won't get caught."

 

Adam met Trent at his house that evening and had a quiet dinner with Trent’s family.  Throughout the dinner, Adam kept looking at Trent in nervous anticipation.  As the meal progressed, he realized that Trent hadn’t told his dad he’d been cut from the team, either.  Trent glared at him, clearly conveying a message to keep his mouth shut.  Adam did. 

 

After dinner, the boys went out to the game room to play some pool.  Trent popped open a couple of beers from the wet bar and handed one to his fidgety friend.

 

“What if your old man catches us?” Adam asked looking over his shoulder.

 

“He won’t.  He’s got some cultural arts meeting tonight.”

 

Adam continued to fret. “Doesn’t he keep track?  My old man would.”

 

“Ah, he thinks the gardeners do it.  No clue.  They don’t speak English and he don’t speak Spanish.  If I don’t like ‘em, I just drink more.  He decides he’s had enough and he fires ‘em.  That’s what happened to that guy last year who was snooping in my business.”

 

Trent’s family was one of the richest at their school and Adam’s was only upper middle class.  Trent was a popular boy and Adam felt lucky to be one of his friends.  Where Adam was a follower, unlikely to instigate anything, Trent was outgoing, outspoken, and fearless.  He didn’t like rules and felt free to break them, but Adam would only do that if his friend prodded him into it.  The boys were both seniors and they had been best friends since grade school.  That was before Trent developed his mean streak.  He had always been a bit cruel, but not like now.  Since their junior year, the young man had become dangerous.  He was also a gifted athlete, and extraordinarily bright.  Adam was never quite sure he should continue to hang around with Trent Sharkey, but he was afraid to do anything else. 

 

They started to play pool.  Trent broke and sank his first ball.  Solids.  He always liked to be solids. “You ever seen the movie, ‘The Rope’?” he asked Adam.

 

“Nope. New?”  Adam took a shot and missed it.

 

Trent casually applied more chalk to his cue and said, “No.  It’s pretty old.  I got to see it at this special screening thing my dad put on.  It’s a Hitchcock film.”  Trent’s father was an entertainment attorney who specialized in contracts.  The previous Halloween, he had hosted an Alfred Hitchcock Film Festival for his clients, colleagues, and associates.  He showed Hitchcock films that centered on solving a murder.  Along with “The Rope,” the festival also showed “Dial ‘M’ for Murder,” and “Rear Window.”  Trent sank one ball, but missed his next shot.

 

“What’s it about?”

 

Trent waited for his friend to sink the next ball, and then said, “How to plan the perfect murder.”

 

Adam put down his cue and gulped the rest of his beer.  “Trent, why’d you bring that up?”

 

“‘Cause I think we could do it.”

 

“You’re nuts, man.  Why would we want to do that?”

 

Trent put his cue down and grabbed Adam by the arm, steering him to a seat next to the foosball machine.  Adam scrunched down in the leather chair and looked across at his friend, who took a seat beside him.  “I’ve been thinking a lot about it, man.  Listen up.  If we kill the coach, my dad might never find out about us gettin’ cut from the team.  We can act all broken up about it and they’ll put us back on.  I’m sure they will.”

 

Adam felt sick to his stomach.  He was afraid of Trent, but he decided that his friend must be joking.  That’s it.  He’s joking... better play along.  “W-well, what do you have in mind?”

 

Trent smiled at him.  “I knew I could count on you.  I think we should strangle him.  We’ll do it and stuff him in his own car trunk.”

 

“What?  How would we be able to do that?  We don’t even know where he lives.”

 

“I do.  I think I’ve got it figured out.  I thought about it all afternoon.”

 

Trent explained his plan to the other boy.  Coach Ed Owens lived in Venice, a few blocks off of Ocean and Vine.  Trent had seen him there one morning when he and his dad were practicing driving over two years ago.  Harrison and Angelica Sharkey were planning to give their younger son a brand new black Corvette for his upcoming sixteenth birthday, and he needed to learn how to drive a powerful car properly.  The young man and his father went out in a Jaguar to gain experience.  When he passed the coach, out mowing the lawn, Trent made a note of the location.

 

“Coach runs every morning.  He gets in his car and drives down to Newsome Park.  He runs around that manmade lake they’ve got over there.  I know, ‘cause I followed him a couple of times.”

 

Adam said, “What were you doing that for?”

 

“Just to see if I could tail him, and he wouldn’t know it.  He never noticed me any of the times I did it.  So, I figure we go out to the park and wait for him.  We kill him, and shove him into his trunk.”

 

Adam was shocked.  “Somebody’ll see us!” he shouted.

 

“Keep it down!  No, they won’t.  We’ll be careful, see.  No one’ll ever know we were there. You remember that Honda I had last year?”

 

“The one your mom made you sell after you got in the accident on it?”

 

“Yeah, that one.  Only, I didn’t sell it.  I stashed it.  Every time they take my keys to the ‘Vette, I just use the bike.”

 

“How are you getting away with that?”

 

“Nobody else knew ‘til now.  I hide it in the canyon.  Don’t worry.  No one will know.”

 

In truth, Trent had been thinking about killing someone since he saw the film.  He knew he was smarter than the two college kids in the Hitchcock movie. They made too many mistakes.  Trent’s problems with Coach Owens hadn’t started with the joint.  He bucked against any kind of authority, and the coach represented authority.  They regularly had run-ins at games and practices.  Adam didn’t know it, but getting cut from the team was the deciding factor in Trent’s push to move forward with his idea of committing the perfect murder.

 

Adam lived on the other side of a canyon from Newsome Park.  The plan was to stash the motorcycle near Adam’s house, and Trent would spend the following night there.  The next day was Saturday, so it wouldn’t be unusual. 

 

Sometime early in the morning on Sunday, they would both climb out of Adam’s window and go to the motorcycle.  They would ride to the park and wait. 

 

“He’s always there early.  Long before your folks will be awake,” Trent said. 

 

When the coach rounded the lake to a secluded spot, the boys would overpower him and Trent would strangle him.  They both knew it would be difficult.  The coach was strong, but so was Trent, and he would have Adam to help him.  They’d put the body in the trunk and go back across the canyon on the bike.  If everything went well, they’d be back in Adam’s room before his mother awoke.  They could abandon the plan any time if something went wrong.  Adam’s room was in the back of the house.  His mother would expect him to sleep past noon, like any self-respecting teenager.  They shouldn’t be missed.  Neither should the coach.  He was single, and not a churchgoer.  He would not be missed until he failed to show up for classes and practices on Monday morning.

 

Adam couldn’t believe he was sitting with his best friend, plotting to murder their coach in cold blood.  He had participated in some shoplifting with his friend, but nothing like this.  Trent could see the doubt in his eyes.

 

“Think of it, Adam.  We’re going to commit the perfect murder.  That’s a bigger rush than sex!”

 

Trent had something to base that judgment on, but Adam did not.  He didn’t want to admit that in front of his friend.  “Yeah, I guess.”

 

“You guess?  You must be gettin’ some better than me, then.” Trent socked him on the arm.  They continued to discuss their plans until it got late enough for Adam to need to go home.  The next day, they would meet at Adam’s house in the late afternoon.  By the time Trent got there, he would already have moved the motorcycle into position. 

 

~*~*~*~

 

At four o’clock Sunday afternoon, the sound of his neighbor’s dog barking constantly began to concern Dennis Webb. Ed Owens and he were good friends and he often looked in on the dog for him if Ed was planning to be away from the house.  The barking had been nonstop all Sunday morning and afternoon.  Now, Dennis was on his back deck, planning to grill some chicken, and he could hear the sounds of the little dog scratching at the back door.

 

“Jill?” Dennis called to his wife.

 

“In the kitchen,” she answered.

 

Dennis walked into the house and saw his wife putting the finishing touches on a salad.  The couple had invited Ed to dinner to meet Jill’s sister, who was in town for a job interview.

 

“Mum’s been barking since this morning and I haven’t seen Ed all day.  I think I’d better go over there and check.  Where’s the key?”

 

“In that drawer under the phone, honey.  Do you really think something’s wrong?”

 

“Ed wouldn’t leave her in all day like this without saying something.  I heard him leave for his run early this morning, so the poor dog hasn’t been out for almost twelve hours.  Least I could do is let her out and make sure she gets some dinner.”  He kissed his wife on the cheek and left to go next door.

 

The older home had a detached garage, slightly bigger than it needed to be for two cars and some storage.  The small structure was so full of bicycles, lawn equipment, tools, and sporting goods, Ed’s car barely fit in it and he often parked in the driveway.  A ski boat took up one side of the garage.  Since the car was nowhere in sight, Dennis peeked in the garage door window and it was not there, either.  The dog heard Dennis calling to her as he opened the back door.  Mum was a friendly little mutt with long, wheat colored fur and a short tail.  Ed had rescued her from an alley near the high school several years earlier and even the vet was unsure as to her exact parentage.  Ed jokingly named her Mum for “mutt of unknown mix.”  Usually, she would greet Dennis enthusiastically, but this time, the poor little dog dashed under his legs and made straight for the grassy backyard.  Dennis chuckled, muttering, “tan streak,” as he went through to the kitchen to see if Ed had left him a note, but forgotten to call.  He usually put the notes on the refrigerator with a magnet.  No note.  He went out back and noticed that the side door to the garage was standing slightly ajar.  “That’s strange,” he said as he crossed the lawn to look at it.  The latch had been jimmied.  A quick peek inside made him think nothing had been taken.  “Who could tell?” he asked himself.  Still, he thought it was strange that he hadn’t noticed anyone lurking about, so he decided he’d ask Ed about it when he came home.

 

By eight in the evening, with dinner long over, Dennis was concerned.  Ed was one of the most reliable men he knew.  He reassured his sister-in-law that the man wouldn’t have just ditched them.  On a school night, Ed would normally be home by eight.  Dennis took Mum back to his house and left a note for Ed, “We have Mum.  Give us a call.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Monday morning, Starsky and Hutch were seated in D.A. Mark Johnson’s office, wrapping up a meeting, when his secretary buzzed him on the intercom.

 

“Yes, Alicia?” he responded.

 

“Captain Dobey is on the phone for either Detective Starsky or Hutchinson.”

 

“Put it through, please.” 

 

Starsky took the call. 

 

“Yeah, Cap.”

 

“I need you and Hutch at a homicide right away. Get over to Newsome Park.  I’ll meet you there.  Down by the boat launch.” Dobey’s voice had a tight quality on the telephone.  Starsky had the uneasy feeling he wanted them before the media could get wind of whatever was happening.

 

“On our way.”  Starsky hung up and looked at Hutch.

 

“We were about finished anyway, right?” Hutch asked as he reached for his partner’s wrist and read the time from Starsky’s watch – 11:45. 

 

“Yes.  I won’t need you again until court on Friday.  Be there at nine and I’ll do my best to get you on and out of there before the lunch recess.”

 

“Good deal, thanks, Mark.” 

 

They discussed the phone conversation on the way to the crime scene.  The radio traffic about the circumstances was light.  Both detectives thought their boss was trying to keep the lid on something.  When they pulled up to the area with the other official vehicles, they noticed one of Metro’s photographers taking pictures of something inside the trunk of a mustard yellow Volvo sedan.  The car was facing them, so they couldn’t see what was in the trunk.  Hutch tapped Starsky on the arm and pointed toward Dobey, standing a short distance behind the activity around the car.  They walked over to join him. 

 

“What’ve we got, Cap?” Starsky asked as both he and Hutch turned to see the body of a man in the trunk.  The man’s sightless eyes were still open and, because he was turned their way, seemed to be staring right at them. 

 

“Edward Owens,” Dobey read from a driver’s license he had in a plastic evidence bag.  “Thirty-five....” Hutch put a hand out to interrupt his recitation. 

 

“Wait a minute, Cap.  I know this guy.”  Hutch stepped closer to the trunk for a better look. 

 

“You sure, Hutch?” the captain asked.

 

“Yeah, I’m sure,” he said quietly as he turned toward his partner.  “He’s a coach at Bel Vista High.  Lives pretty close to me.”

 

Starsky could tell by Hutch’s demeanor that he was dismayed, but not disturbed in the way he’d be if the dead man were more than a casual acquaintance.   “You’ve just seen him around the neighborhood, then?”

 

“Uh-huh.  I’ve run into him at the corner market several times and he’s a runner.  I think he used to come up here for his runs.  Said he didn’t like to run by the beach, he wanted trees.  Also, he was one of the guys who set up that neighborhood watch program the last time somebody lobbed something explosive at my place.  I figured it was the least I could do to show up at their meeting.  This guy was a block captain.”

 

Starsky shrugged and said,  “I guess it’s not always a good thing to have a cop for a neighbor.”  Hutch appreciated the irony in that remark. 

 

“Are you finished, Starsky?” Dobey asked.

 

“Sorry, Cap.”

 

“As you said, he’s a coach and he’s also a teacher at Bel Vista.  When he didn’t show up for work this morning and didn’t call, the principal drove by his place.  The neighbor told him she hadn’t seen Owens since Saturday, but that her husband had heard him leave early Sunday morning.  They were concerned, too.  She and the principal called the police.  Since he hadn’t been seen in more than twenty-four hours, we sent a couple of uniforms. They came up here to check for his car on the neighbor’s suggestion. We got a search warrant, found the body in the trunk.”

 

Starsky moved a bit closer, since he didn't know the man even casually, to get a better look at the body. "Strangled," he said over his shoulder to Hutch and Dobey.

 

Dobey nodded. "The assistant coroner's on her way over here to make it official, but I'm sure you're right. See the marks on his neck? He didn't go down easy."

 

Starsky saw by Hutch's face that, casual acquaintance or not, this conversation was difficult for him. "Hey, partner, why don't you search the car, see if you find anything in it?" He glanced at Dobey. "Crime scene already done?"

 

"Not yet."

 

"I'm okay, Starsk," Hutch said, understanding why Starsky had made the suggestion. He met Starsky's quizzical look with a steady look of his own and Starsky nodded, satisfied.

 

Joanne Bailey, the assistant coroner, arrived about twenty minutes later. It didn't take long for her to concur with Starsky. "Strangled," she said, as Starsky had. "I'll have to order a PM, of course, but it's pretty obvious. Did you see this?" she asked of Starsky, who'd been peering over her shoulder. He looked closer and saw the knot on the back of Owens' head.

 

"They hit him first?"

 

She nodded. "I'm guessing the murderer wasn't strong enough to overpower him – see how sloppy the marks on his neck are? He fought hard. So he had to hit him to stun him enough to finish the job."

 

"Or she?" Hutch asked. He had moved closer, too, but not as close as Starsky.

 

Joanne pursed her lips. "No, I don't think so. Women rarely strangle. They usually poison or sometimes shoot, but frankly, most women lack the upper body strength necessary to strangle someone. It's not as easy as the movies make it look," she added with a grin at Starsky.

 

"But it was probably someone smaller than Owens was?" Hutch asked.

 

She nodded again. "Most likely. He was a coach, you say?"

 

"Yeah."

 

"He's in pretty good shape." She indicated his muscular arms and legs, visible because he was wearing a T-shirt and shorts for running. "Probably would take somebody pretty tough to overpower him. So maybe not necessarily smaller, but not as strong, definitely."

 

Starsky scribbled some notes as she talked. "If there was a struggle," he said, "then maybe somebody heard or saw something. Might as well get started making the rounds, Hutch."

 

"You'll send us the results of the PM?" Hutch asked Joanne.

 

"Soon as I have 'em."

 

There were a few houses around the perimeter of the park, and Starsky and Hutch started with those. It didn't help them that Owens ran so early in the morning, before most of the people were awake. But one neighbor, an elderly woman, did recognize the description of him.

 

"Oh, yes, I've seen him running down the path several times," she said. "Are you boys sure you won't have some coffee?"

 

"No, ma'am, thank you," Hutch answered for both of them. "Did you happen to see him yesterday or this morning?"

 

She frowned and thought about it. "Dear me, I'm sorry, but I don't think so. I sometimes mix up my days, though."

 

"Excuse me?"

 

She gave a sweet smile. "I mean, I might think I saw him this morning and it was really yesterday or last week. My memory's not what it used to be."

 

Terrific, Starsky telegraphed to Hutch with a look.

 

"Did you hear anything?" Hutch asked hopefully, though he figured it was a lost cause.

 

"Like what?"

 

"Yelling, tires squealing, anything unusual?"

 

She thought about that. "No, dear, I don't think so. Pumpkin was barking like crazy this morning but he barks at everything that moves. Squirrels, wind, cars going by." She smiled again.

 

"Pumpkin?" Starsky asked. He hadn't noticed a dog.

 

"He's outside in the back," she said. "My poodle."

 

Starsky and Hutch glanced at each other, both trying not to smile. Of course, she had a poodle.

 

"So you didn't investigate to see what he was barking at?" Starsky asked.

 

She shook her head. "No. I'm a little hard of hearing, too, and he barks so much I usually just ignore it."

 

The men glanced at each other again. Hutch produced a card. "If you think of anything else, will you give us a call?"

 

"Of course, dear."

 

"That was helpful," Starsky said sourly as they got back in the car. Hers had been the only house where someone was awake early enough to have seen or heard anything.

 

"Let's go visit the guy's neighbors," Hutch said. "Besides, I've got an idea for this angle."

 

"What?" Starsky asked as he peered over his shoulder and pulled out to head for the Venice area.

 

"Let's show up here tomorrow, early, and see if we can catch some other regular joggers. There must be some," Hutch said. "Maybe one of them saw something."

 

"How early?" Starsky said with a grimace.

 

"Dawn," Hutch answered. "That's what time Owens usually ran. Before school."

 

Starsky sighed. "Guess we got no choice."

 

~*~*~*~

 

Monday evening, Adam was finishing his history homework and yawning over the Great Depression when he heard the phone ring downstairs. A moment later, his mother called up the stairs to tell him it was for him. His parents flatly refused to give him an extension so he had to go into their room to answer it. "Got it, Mom!" When he heard the downstairs phone hang up, he said, "Hello?"

 

"It's me."

 

"Hi."

 

"You sound funny. Whatsa matter? Second thoughts?" On the other end, Trent snickered. It wasn't a pleasant sound.

 

"Well, yeah!" Adam hadn't known a moment's peace all day and suspected he never would again. He'd had no idea.... 

 

"No one'll ever know, unless one of us squeals. You ain't planning on squealing, are you?"

 

"No!"

 

"Reason I called," Trent went on, "is we need to think about tomorrow at school. Practice. Chemistry class," he added after a moment, significantly. Owens doubled as the biology and chemistry teacher.

 

Adam closed his eyes. "Oh, geez. I didn't think of that."

 

"That's why I'm the brains of the outfit," Trent said and laughed again, sounding like the carefree boy he'd once been, before he began to scare Adam. It seemed like a long time ago. "I think you oughta come down with something and stay home from school tomorrow."

 

"Why?"

 

"Because the cops are bound to come around school asking questions and you won't be able to keep from stammering and looking guilty."

 

"I can, too," Adam protested, though he wasn't really sure.

 

"The next day, you can. Tomorrow, you can't. I know you, Adam, you need time to regroup. Trust me. Be sick tomorrow." Trent paused. "I'll come by after school to bring your homework and we can decide on our next move, okay?"

 

Adam hesitated for several moments. Finally, he said, "Okay. You're probably right."

 

"Good boy. See you tomorrow afternoon."

 

The boys both knew they had a lucky break that day.  School had closed at lunchtime, because the teachers were having a half-day conference with a speaker from the district office in the afternoon.  Nothing was said about Coach’s absence before the final bell rang.  They knew tomorrow would be a circus at the school.  Even though it hadn’t revealed many details, a breaking story was announced on the early evening news that a man was found murdered in Newsome Park.  Further details would have to wait pending notification of his family.  

 

Before he went to bed, Adam asked his mother for a couple of aspirin.

 

"What's wrong?" Her brow creased in concern, and she got up from the couch to come and peer into his eyes and feel his forehead.

 

"Just a headache," he said, pulling away. "Kind of a sore throat. Nothing major."

 

She put her hand back on his forehead again, holding his arm so he couldn't pull away. "You don't seem feverish."

 

"I told you, it's just a headache," he said, a little petulantly, as befit a senior in high school whose mother was treating him like a child.

 

She put her hand under his chin to hold his head still and looked him over thoroughly. "You're a little flushed," she said. "Anything else hurt?"

 

"Mom –"

 

She fixed him with The Look and he sighed.

 

"I don't know. I just feel crappy, okay?"

 

"Watch your language," his father said mildly from his chair, where he was reading a magazine.

 

"Sorry," Adam said. "I just feel, um .... "

 

"Crappy?" his father said with a grin, which Adam returned.

 

"Yeah."

 

His mother continued frowning, but she went to the medicine cabinet and got him a couple of aspirin. "Go on to bed," she said. "I'll let you sleep a little later in the morning. Don't you have P.E. first period?"

 

He nodded.

 

"I'll write you a note to explain why you're late."

 

He nodded again, kissed her cheek and turned to go back upstairs. Luckily, his parents weren't the kind who insisted you be on your deathbed before you could miss school. If he said he felt worse in the morning, his folks would let him stay home without a fuss. He didn't miss school often, and his grades were pretty good. He brushed his teeth and got into bed, lying there a long time staring toward the ceiling in the dark.

 

~*~*~*~

 

It was after dark on Monday night by the time Starsky and Hutch reached the Webbs' home. They could hear the TV going inside and it was only a moment before Dennis Webb answered the door. Starsky offered his badge.

 

"We're here about Mr. Owens," he said.

 

Dennis' face went a little pale. "Did you find him?"

 

"I'm afraid so, sir," Starsky said gently. "He's dead."

 

"Oh, damn it!" Dennis' eyes grew misty and he stepped back. "Come in, please. Sit down. I'll get my wife." He shook his head and went into the next room, returning a moment later with Jill, who was openly crying. "I told her," he explained, sitting on the couch with Jill beside him and holding her hand. "We were friends."

 

"I understand," Hutch said. "I'm sorry we have to bother you, but the sooner we get started, the better chance we have of catching whoever did this."

 

"He was murdered?" Jill covered her mouth and her tears increased.

 

"Yes, ma'am," Hutch said. "I'm sorry."

 

"Who on Earth would want to murder Ed?" Dennis asked, bewildered. "He was the nicest guy we knew! He wouldn't hurt a fly."

 

"That's what we hope you can help us with," Starsky said, flipping open his notebook and leaning forward. "What can you tell us about Mr. Owens? How did he act the last time you saw him? Was he worried or upset?"

 

Dennis glanced at his wife. She shook her head. "No. I saw him Saturday when I left to go to the grocery store, but we didn't really talk. I just waved and he waved back and called something like 'How're you today, Jill?' but he seemed fine then."

 

"And I heard him leave for his run Sunday morning about the usual time," Dennis added, "but I didn't see him."

 

"What did you hear, exactly?" Hutch asked.

 

Dennis frowned and thought. "I heard his car start up," he said very slowly, "but I can't remember hearing the door shut. It was very early," he explained, directing his words to Hutch, "and I wasn't really awake yet."

 

Hutch nodded to encourage him to continue.

 

"Then, I might've drifted off again," Dennis went on, "but I remember hearing the garage door open. It makes a really loud scraping sound when it opens, and Ed's always saying," he stopped, shook his head, "always WAS saying," he corrected himself and turned his head into his wife's hair for a moment. Starsky and Hutch exchanged a glance of sympathetic understanding and remained silent until Dennis regained control. After a moment, Dennis said, his voice still muffled by his wife's hair, "he should get it fixed."

 

"Are you sure you heard the garage door after you heard the car start?" Hutch asked gently.

 

Dennis turned back toward Hutch. "Not positive. But pretty sure. I remember wondering what Ed was doing but I didn't really think about it and by the time I was fully awake, he'd left. He was gone when I went outside to get the paper. The garage is pretty packed.  Sometimes he just leaves the car in the driveway."

 

Both the Webbs told Starsky and Hutch what they knew about Owens, his personality, his other friends, leaving the detectives as stumped as ever. It seemed that Owens was a perfectly normal, inoffensive guy, who took his job seriously and was well-liked.

 

"Do you suppose .... " Starsky began and then stopped.

 

"What?" Hutch was looking over Starsky's notes and making some of his own as they drove.

 

"It could have been random," Starsky said reluctantly. No cop liked to consider a murder random. It made finding the perpetrator almost impossible and could also raise the possibility of a serial killer.

 

Hutch considered and finally shook his head. "I don't think so. Just a feeling."

 

"I got the same feeling," Starsky said. "But it's not going to be easy."

 

"They never are," Hutch said with a sigh.

 

In spite of showing up at the park at dawn and waiting until after 9 a.m., Starsky and Hutch struck out on witnesses. They met plenty of joggers, but none of them recalled seeing Owens – by now the detectives had a photo of him to show them – and none recalled hearing or seeing anything unusual. Several habitually ran with headphones on, which made Hutch roll his eyes behind their backs and give Starsky significant looks.

 

"Now what?" Starsky asked, yawning. He took a sip from his now-cold coffee and made a face.

 

"The school," Hutch said, looking at Starsky's watch and almost spilling his coffee for him. "We should probably come back here tomorrow morning, too."

 

Starsky groaned and tossed the Styrofoam cup into a trash receptacle. "Why, if I might ask?"

 

Hutch grinned. "Joggers don't always jog every single day, buddy. Just because we struck out today –"

 

"Never mind," Starsky said, climbing into the car. "I think you just like making me get up early."

 

"That's not true," Hutch protested, but his eyes were dancing.

 

Neither of them felt like smiling by the time they reached John Bandy's office. The halls were deathly quiet, with all the students in class, and several lockers had makeshift black ribbons hanging on them. One had a sign, hastily drawn on notebook paper, reading "Good-bye, Coach."

 

The secretary and office workers had been crying and a teen-age boy, waiting outside an office door marked "counselor," looked like he wanted to cry and was only holding it back with an effort.

 

When Bandy came out of his office, he was pale but composed. "Good morning, gentlemen. I've been expecting you." He ushered them into his office and waved them to chairs. "What can I do for you? I'm completely at your disposal. We want to help in any way we can."

 

"We appreciate that, sir," Hutch said. "I know this must be difficult for you, but the sooner we get started, the better."

 

Bandy nodded. "I know. What do you need?"

 

"We'd like to talk to some of the members of the team he coached," Starsky said. "And anyone else he might have had contact with in the last week or so."

 

Bandy nodded again. "Ed also taught a couple of science classes. We have a substitute in there now, but we can interrupt class and you'll have all the kids together. The basketball team usually practices after school, but we called practice off today. I can make an announcement asking the boys to meet in the gym anyway so you can talk to them, or we can call them out of class if you'd rather."

 

Starsky and Hutch glanced at each other. "I think we'd rather you called them out of class, if that's okay," Hutch said. "That way we can talk to them a few at a time instead of as a group. It's usually better that way. We can talk to his academic classes as a group because they wouldn't have known him as well or as informally as the athletes would."

 

"Whatever you say." Bandy keyed the intercom. "Martha, would you start calling the members of the varsity basketball team out of class a few at a time and have them meet the policemen in the faculty lounge?"

 

"Yes, sir," the voice came back.

 

"Would you like to talk to Ed's chemistry class now?" Bandy asked. "It'll take a while to get the boys into the lounge. We don't have intercoms in the classrooms, so a staff member will have to go and get them personally."

 

He led them to the science lab and showed them in. He spoke to the teacher in a low voice and then turned to the class and explained who Starsky and Hutch were and why they were there.

 

"I expect you to answer their questions honestly," he finished.

 

Many of the kids looked worried and scared, but Starsky and Hutch were experienced enough to tell the difference, most of the time, between guilt and being upset. Hutch took the interrogation this time.

 

"We have to ask you some questions," he said. "You all know by now that Mr. Owens is dead and someone murdered him. I know you're upset, but we have to find the person who did it, and anything you can think of, anything at all, might help us."

 

"Like what?" asked a girl in the front row.

 

"We need to know if anything unusual has happened lately, if Mr. Owens seemed upset or worried, if he said anything odd, if you saw him with anyone you didn't know, that kind of thing. Anything that bothered you in any way," Hutch said.

 

The kids looked at each other and no one spoke.

 

Hutch glanced at Starsky.

 

"Anybody been in trouble with him lately?" Starsky asked.

 

There were a few weak smiles. Finally, a boy near the center of the room said, "Officer, everybody got in trouble with Mr. Owens. He was a tough teacher."

 

That was interesting. Hutch took over again. "Can you explain a little more?"

 

The boy shrugged. "He didn't stand for any nonsense, y'know. You better have your homework done, and you had to participate in class, and you couldn't pass notes or talk back."

 

"He handed out a lot of detentions," another kid said.

 

"So you didn't like him much?" Hutch asked.

 

Instantly, there was a great deal of head-shaking and muttering, until the first girl said, "No, we did like him. He was a really nice guy, it's just that he didn't put up with any junk."

 

"If we didn't like him, we wouldn't be so upset that he's dead," said a boy.

 

Several heads nodded.

 

Hutch glanced at the boy. He didn't look particularly upset. "What's your name, son?"

 

"Trent Sharkey."

 

"Do you think most of the kids feel the way you all do?"

 

Trent nodded. "I think so, Officer. This has been a terrible blow to all of us. Coach is – I mean, was – one of the most popular faculty members." Now he did look upset; his eyes were wide and solemn as they met Hutch's.

 

"So nobody can think of anything strange happening lately?" Hutch persisted.

 

Heads shook and several kids murmured "no." A couple of girls sniffled.

 

Hutch glanced at Starsky, who raised his eyebrows. There didn't seem to be any reason to continue, so Hutch thanked the kids and the substitute teacher and they followed Bandy to the teacher's lounge.

 

There were half a dozen boys in there, talking softly. They stopped talking when the men came in. Bandy introduced Starsky and Hutch. "I'll be in my office," he said. "I think you'll have more success if I leave you alone with them."

 

When he was gone, Hutch pulled up a chair. Starsky remained standing in order to provide a little intimidation. "Okay, fellas," Starsky said. "What can you tell us about Coach Owens?"

 

The boys exchanged looks and finally, a redhead said, "We can't figure it out, Officer. Why would anybody kill Coach? He ain't never hurt nobody."

 

"We hear he's a tough teacher."

 

"That's the truth," said another kid. "He's a tougher coach. He didn't sit still for no shit."

 

"Mike!" the redhead said. "Watch your mouth."

 

Mike flushed.

 

"That's okay," Hutch said with a friendly smile. "Nobody here but us. What do you mean, Mike?"

 

"Coach warned us every year at tryouts that slipping grades or stupid sh – stuff like smoking or getting drunk and we'd be off the team," Mike said. "Somebody gets thrown off the team every year for that kinda thing. When I was a freshman, he tossed six kids off the football team when they got caught at a kegger, and only one of 'em had had anything to drink."

 

"And we lost every game after that," said the boy sitting next to Hutch. "The team sucked the rest of the season. One of those kids was our star quarterback."

 

"But that didn't matter to Coach," Mike went on. "He had standards and he stuck to 'em, and to hell with whether the team won or not. He always told us that wasn't the important thing."

 

"What was?" Hutch asked.

 

"Teamwork," three of the boys said in unison. Mike finished, "He said he wanted to make men out of us, good citizens who followed the rules and didn't get into bad habits. He threw two players off the football team this year and we've lost – " He paused and looked at the boy next to him. "How many off the basketball team so far?"

 

The boy's brow wrinkled. "Three. I think."

 

"We'll probably lose more than that before it's over," Mike said with a faint grin. "Nobody ever thinks they'll get caught.  But you know what? If you hadn't been in trouble before, and if he thought you were really sorry for whatever you'd done, sometimes he'd let you come back after a couple of weeks. But if you f– messed up again, man, you were through."

 

"I'd think that'd make him pretty unpopular," Starsky said, puzzled.

 

But all the boys shook their heads. "No. Everybody likes him," the redheaded boy said. "He's a terrific coach. Used to be at Notre Dame and he's got friends at UCLA and OU. A letter of recommendation from him is as good as gold for getting into a good college."

 

"Or was," Mike said, suddenly looking sad again. "I hope you guys catch whoever did this. Poor Coach."

 

The other groups of boys provided similar information.  The coach was tough, but they all liked him.  When the last group came into the lounge, Hutch was surprised to see one of the boys from the chemistry class among them.  He shot a look at Starsky, who quickly scanned the boys’ faces and saw what Hutch was trying to tell him. 

 

“Hello, again,” Starsky said with a warm smile.

 

“Hello, Officers,” Trent replied.  His smile looked genuine, but Hutch saw something that made him think it was calculated.  He would ask Starsky what he thought, later.

 

Through silent agreement, this time it was to be Hutch on intimidation duty.  He strode to the door and leaned against it, his arms crossed, his gaze steely.  He was getting a prickly, uncomfortable feeling that told him they needed to look deeper into this group.

 

Starsky would be the friendly one this time.  This variation of good cop/bad cop wasn’t one they’d had to use often, but they both knew what they were doing.  When they were interviewing kids who were not under suspicion, they had to be careful about how “bad” the bad cop routine was.  The smile Starsky treated the boys to was so disarming, Hutch watched him in admiration.  All it took was a glance from his partner and Starsky could switch from dangerous and guarded in one heartbeat, to warm and friendly in the next.  Hutch sat in a chair in front of the previous group.  Now, Starsky climbed up onto it, sitting on the chair back, his Adidas on the seat. 

 

Starsky looked Trent in the eye, ignoring the other boys.  “Trent, right?”

 

“That’s right.  You have a good memory,” Trent observed.

 

“Comes in handy,” Starsky replied.  “So, you had Coach Owens for more than one class.”

 

“Yes, sir,” Trent responded.  Hutch was watching him.  The look on his face was sincere enough, but Hutch didn’t trust it.  He half expected the boy to compliment Starsky on his fine taste in denim.

 

After he looked at Trent for a few moments, Starsky raked his gaze across the group, asking the boys the same set of questions they’d asked their predecessors.  The answers were the same.  Trent had something to say several times, conveying, in the process, that he was a natural leader.  The other boys nodded when he spoke and he drew their attention away from the detectives with ease.  He and Starsky both noted his expensive clothing and the way he seemed to communicate that he had money and importance.

 

When they were finished, Hutch stood up from his position against the door and opened it for the kids.  He watched the boys carefully as they passed him.  Trent stopped and looked him in the eye.

 

“You’re going to catch whoever did this, aren’t you?” he asked pointedly.  Hutch wasn’t sure he was reading the young man right.

 

“That’s the idea,” Hutch answered.  Somehow, he knew that Trent was issuing a challenge to him, despite the sincerity of his tone.  Although he wasn’t able to pinpoint what it was about the boy that struck him that way, he was sure the youngster was worth watching. As Trent walked away, Hutch thought he detected in his eyes that the boy was wary of him, also.  Starsky didn’t see or hear the interchange.

 

Mr. Bandy was waiting on a bench in the hall.  The principal came into the room as the students filed past him.  The small group of young men looked subdued and glad to be going back to class.  He wondered what the two detectives could have said or asked that would make several high school boys feel that way.  “Were any of them helpful?” he asked.

 

“They did their best,” Hutch answered.  “Didn’t seem like any of them really knew anything that might be a clue.”

 

Bandy didn’t seem surprised by that.  “I was pretty sure they wouldn’t.  Ed was tough on his kids, especially the boys on the teams he coached.  Still, the kids liked him and they respected him.  They knew he would be in their corner if they needed him.  That’s important to young people.”

 

“That’s what the kids said,” Starsky remarked. 

 

Bandy said, “That was the last of them.”

 

The principal walked down the hallway with Starsky and Hutch, toward where the Torino was parked in a visitor spot in front of the office.  The three men engaged in polite chitchat about what might happen next.  Bandy agreed to ask the other senior class teachers and any instructors who were well acquainted with Ed Owens to be at the school at six o’clock that evening, so they could also be questioned.  After promising to make all of the arrangements, the principal invited them to call if they had any other questions.

 

Just as they were walking away from him, Hutch snapped his fingers and turned back toward Bandy.  “Just one more thing,” he said.  Starsky huffed an almost silent chuckle at how much Hutch sounded like the fictional homicide detective, Lieutenant Columbo. 

 

“What’s that?” Bandy replied.

 

“Any kids absent today?”

 

“Assuredly,” Bandy answered.  “I’ll ask the secretary to make a list and have it for you this evening.”

 

“Thank you,” Hutch replied.

 

As they got into the car, Starsky said, “Nothing too helpful.”  He backed the car out and paused, waiting for a response.

 

Hutch looked pensive.  “I don’t know.”

 

“What?”

 

“Something.  Don’t know what, yet.”

 

Starsky put the car in gear and pointed it out of the parking lot.  “Seemed to me that the kids all liked him.  You see something I didn’t?”

 

“What about that one kid. Trent Sharkey.  Didn’t he seem a little… too responsive?”

 

Starsky shook his head.  “Sort of seemed like he was sucking up a little.  Rich kid, too.  You get a look at his threads?”

 

“I noticed.”

 

“I don’t know about him, but maybe one of the absent kids will know something.  Looked obvious to me that none of this bunch did.”

 

Hutch nodded.  “Maybe.  Anyway, I think we need to keep an eye on Sharkey.”  Seeing his partner’s raised eyebrow, he added, “Just a hunch.” 

 

Starsky pondered Hutch’s statement for a moment.  He thought that maybe his partner had reacted badly to Trent Sharkey because the boy had a spoiled-rich-kid look about him.  Hutch’s rejection of his family’s wealth and social position was deeply etched in his personality.  Sometimes, Starsky wondered if that rejection also ran to people who fit into the same mold.

 

“He definitely seemed spoiled and like he was in control of his buddies.  Not sure that makes him a murder suspect.”

 

Hutch’s irritation flared a little at that.  “I didn’t say he was a suspect, Starsky.  I just said we should watch him.”

 

Deciding he should let that lie, Starsky didn’t offer a response.  They drove in silence for the rest of the trip to Metro.  They didn’t disagree on a case often, but Starsky was starting to worry that this was going to be one of those times.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Starsky, Hutch, and Captain Dobey all sat in Dobey’s office reading through the autopsy report on the dead teacher.  They found nothing surprising.  The man was strangled to death, by something made of bright yellow nylon.  Some of the threads were embedded in the marks on the victim’s neck.  Whatever it was, they hadn’t found it at the scene.

 

“Nothing from the students?” Dobey asked.

 

“Nope.  We’ll have a few more.  Some kids were absent,” Hutch said.  He had the file in his hands and turned his attention back to it. 

 

Starsky took over for him.  “We’re going back this evening to talk to the teachers.”

 

Dobey answered his telephone.  “I’ll send him out,” he said.

 

He turned to Hutch.  “Somebody on your line.  Says it’s about Owens.”

 

“They asked for Hutch?” Starsky asked, but his partner was already up and headed out the door.  Starsky got up and stood in the doorway, listening to Hutch’s half of the conversation.

 

“This is Detective Hutchinson.”

 

A muffled, but identifiably male voice came through from the other end of the line.  “Coach Owens knew,” he said.

 

Hutch looked up at Starsky, who walked over so they could share the receiver.  “Who is this?”

 

“He knew,” came the reply.  “Mr. Winters and Mr. Mendoza.  They’re doing it.  Coach knew.”  The line went dead.

 

“What?” Dobey asked as Hutch hung up the phone. 

 

“Kinky,” Starsky said.  “You s’pose those are teachers at Owens’ school?”

 

They described the call to Dobey and made a note of the two men’s names.  Starsky called Bandy to confirm that they worked at the school, and that they would be available that night for questioning. 

 

~*~*~*~

 

Trent had a brilliant idea after his two encounters with the cops.  He thought the two policemen needed a little misdirection.  They seemed smug to him, especially the blond one.  Although he was confident that the detectives were, and would remain, completely clueless, he decided it couldn’t hurt to send them on a wild goose chase.  He knew just the kind of lie to spread, and he was careful not to spread it about any of his current teachers.

 

Mr. Mendoza was one of the Spanish teachers.  Trent had him in his junior year, and he didn’t like him at all.  The man had high expectations and he’d nearly failed Trent in his first semester, due to his poor translation performance.  Several makeup projects later, the young man managed to pass.

 

Mr. Winters taught freshman history, and he was also a physical education teacher.  Mr. Sharkey had to intervene with the instructor when he threatened to have Trent expelled for plagiarism.  He was guilty, but Mr. Sharkey managed to convince the man that it would be unfortunate to put such a dark blot on his son’s record in his first semester of high school, especially on a first offense.  Trent had purchased a term paper from a local college student who specialized in the trade.  Mr. Winters had seen the paper in a previous class.  Naturally, Trent was apologetic and horrified.  He claimed he hadn’t expected the high school course workload to be so much higher than what he’d experienced in junior high.  After promises never to do anything like that again, and helping Mr. Winters as a teacher’s assistant for the rest of the year, he escaped punishment.  Still, he hated Mr. Winters.

 

Both Mr. Mendoza and Mr. Winters were single men in their mid thirties, and both of them had moved to Bay City from out of the area.  They were friends and spent a lot of off time together.  The two men were also friends with Ed Owens.  They came to some of the Saturday games Owens coached and sat together on the sidelines.  Some ugly rumors started to circulate, when some of the boys saw them repeatedly, with no women ever along.  Teenagers with overactive imaginations didn’t care about the truth. 

 

“Stupid cops,” Trent said as he flopped down onto Adam’s bed. 

 

“Whatdya mean by that?” Adam asked.  Trent handed him his homework.

 

“They did send some cops to talk to us.  Clueless, man.  So, I  decided to have a little fun with ‘em.”

 

Adam suddenly felt sick to his stomach.  He was sorrier every hour that he’d ever allowed Trent to suck him into this mess. “What do you mean?” he asked, his voice shaky.

 

“Oh, I just dropped a dime on ‘em.  Told him that Mendoza and Winters were doin’ it.”

 

“That’s not funny,” Adam said.

 

“Not supposed to be.  It’s supposed to send them off on the wrong trail.”  Trent laughed.  Adam hadn’t noticed before how sinister Trent’s laughter sometimes sounded.

 

Trent caught Adam up on the activities that day.  They agreed that it would be best for Adam to show up for school the next morning.  The cops had come and gone, so Trent thought the coast was clear.  As frightened as he was of the situation, Adam knew he’d better play along with his friend.  He was in too deep to do anything else, and he was terrified of Trent.  That cool look in his eye when he talked about the killing, coupled with his amusement over how he’d pulled one over on the cops, chilled Adam to his core.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Ernesto Mendoza stared at Starsky in disbelief.  He’d heard the rumors before, but this was different.  His mouth had dropped open and he was stymied as to what he should say.  Mendoza had a tendency to stutter when he was nervous.

 

“W-what did you ask?” he asked as he looked first at Starsky, then at Hutch. 

 

The detectives had explained to the teacher that they’d received an anonymous call about some information Ed Owens might have had on Mendoza and Thomas Winters.  The nature of the information, Hutch had explained as delicately as possible, was controversial – enough to warrant an interview to determine if there was any foundation to it.

 

Hutch said, “My partner asked if you have an outside relationship with Thomas Winters that Ed Owens may have known about.”  Neither detective had directly said what was rumored.

 

“Do...do...do you know how that kind of rumor can damage a teacher’s career?” Mendoza asked, knowing what the policemen were intimating.  His face was pale and the distressed tone of voice touched a nerve in his interrogators.  Neither man was inclined to put much trust in rumors.  Especially when they were of a scandalous nature, and delivered at a convenient moment. They also realized that teenagers, especially boys, tended to see something tawdry in nearly everything.  

 

“Yes,” Hutch said, “we know that.  I hope you understand, a man has been murdered, sir.  Our job is to find out who did it.  Information of this nature could be considered by some to be a motive.  Do you understand?”

 

“I’m a s-s-s-suspect?” Mendoza croaked. 

 

“No,” Starsky assured him.  “We just have to check everything out.”

 

Mendoza suddenly stiffened.  He sat up straight in his seat and looked both men in the eye in turn.  He took a deep breath.  Hutch recognized his actions as being aimed at getting his stuttering under control.  “Ed Owens was my friend.  Tom’s, too.  Tom Winters is my best friend.  You two know what it’s like to have a best friend?”

 

Hutch looked at Starsky and back at Ernesto.  He spoke for both of them. “Yes, we do.”

 

Mendoza nodded, understanding what Hutch meant.  “That’s the way it is for me and Tom.  Nobody here but Ed and Mr. Bandy knows this, but we served together in ‘Nam.  When we came back home, we went our separate ways.  I went to college in San Diego, and Tom in Sacramento.  We worked really hard to get here, because we wanted to teach at the same school.  I can see you two know that it’s nice to work with your best friend.  We’ve heard the rumors and Ed had, too.  He was a great guy.  Said we should just ignore them.  Teenagers were teenagers.  Just so you know, Tom Winters is getting married as soon as school is done in June.  I’m his best man and Ed was gonna be in the wedding, too.  That’s all there is to that.”

 

~*~*~*~


"I think we made somebody nervous at that school," Hutch remarked to Starsky on the way back to the precinct.

 

Starsky nodded.

 

"I'd like to talk to that kid, Trent, again," Hutch went on.

 

Starsky stared at him so long he almost rear-ended a car stopped at a light. "Why?"

 

"I think he knows something," Hutch said. "Didn't you think he acted funny?"

 

"Are you still on that trip?" Starsky demanded, half angrily. "How the hell would you act if your coach got snuffed? He's a high school kid. You don't think you're ever gonna die at that age and when somebody close to you dies, it shakes you up. You don't know how to feel or how to act."

 

Hutch frowned, puzzled. "I was only suggesting he might know something he's not telling us," he said quietly.

 

"You were suggesting he did it," Starsky snapped, taking a corner too fast and forcing Hutch to grab at the door to steady himself. "He's just a kid, Hutch, and he's probably trying to act like he's too tough for this to hurt him."

 

Hutch was the one staring now. He'd never seen Starsky react this way on a case before. "What's eating you, buddy?"

 

"Nothin'," Starsky said shortly, without looking at him.

 

Hutch opened his mouth to make a cutting remark to that, and thought better of it. Clearly something was bothering Starsky. His eyebrows were drawn down and his jaw muscles were clenched. Hutch backed off. "Okay, what do you want to do next?"

 

"We need to go back to the park, don't we?" Starsky said, with an edge still in his voice. "And we still gotta interview the kids who were absent when we were there before."

 

Hutch made an affirmative noise in his throat.

 

"Well, then, let's get busy."

 

Very early the next morning, the two of them were again in the park, stationed at opposite ends of the running path. Hutch was in sight of the house belonging to the elderly lady with the poodle and he saw her come out on her porch to let the dog out. She looked right at him and he waved, but she didn't see him. No wonder she didn't notice Coach Owens, Hutch thought with an inward grin.

 

He'd only been standing there for a few more minutes when a jogger came along, a young woman in her early twenties. She saw him as soon as she came around the bend in the path and he saw the moment of panic in her eyes at seeing a man standing there, so he called to her reassuringly, "I'm a police officer," holding out his badge at the same time. She slowed as she approached him, but stayed on the far side of the path until she'd had a good look at the badge.

 

"Something wrong, Officer?" she asked, stopping and wiping at her perspiring forehead with the sleeve of her sweatshirt.

 

"We're investigating a murder," Hutch said, reaching into his pocket and producing the photo of Owens. "Did you see this man this weekend?"

 

She took the photo and looked down at it, nodding after a moment. "Yes, that's Ed. I see him out here every now and then." Then what Hutch had said seemed to register, and she gasped. "Is he the victim? Oh, God, tell me 'no'."

 

Hutch nodded soberly. "I'm sorry, but yes, he's the victim."

 

Tears formed in her eyes and she looked down at the photo again. "God," she said in a low voice. "He was so nice, too."

 

"Did you see him over the weekend?" Hutch persisted.

 

She pulled herself together and looked up again. "Yes, he was out here Sunday."

 

"Was he with anyone?"

 

She shook her head. "No. He had stopped over by the lake to fix a broken shoelace and I stopped to say good morning. He was fine then."

 

"Did you see anyone out here that morning that didn't belong? That you hadn't seen before?"

 

She opened her mouth, then stopped. "Wait. I didn't see anyone, but I heard a motorcycle. Dirt bikes aren't allowed in this park, but sometimes kids ride them here anyway."

 

"Where did you hear the motorcycle?" Hutch asked, writing that down.

 

"Just over the hills behind the lake," she said. "But it's hard to be sure. The sound bounces around back there. They might not have been where I thought they were."

 

Hutch nodded. "Where did Ed leave his car, usually?"

 

"There's a parking lot off Kellar," she said, waving her hand toward the next street. "That's where I leave mine, and I've seen Ed's there a few times."

 

Hutch got her name – Laura Craig – and her phone number, in case he needed to talk to her again. Then he went in search of Starsky.

 

Starsky hadn't had the same luck. He'd found two joggers, a young married couple, who had known Ed and had seen him from a distance on Sunday but hadn't spoken to him and hadn't noticed anything else.

 

"Why did he have to run so damned early?" Starsky grumbled, stuffing his notebook back in his jacket pocket. "An hour later and this place is jammed with runners and mommies and their babies and dopeheads. But no, this guy has to run at dawn."

 

"He had to be at school by the time kids started arriving at seven-thirty," Hutch reminded him. "Homeroom's at seven-forty-five, and he had a homeroom class."

 

"I know that," Starsky growled. "But there ain't no school on Sunday, is there?"

 

Hutch sighed and let it pass. "Well, I think we need to search the hills behind the lake for bike tracks. If we can lift an impression, and then if we find a suspect who has a bike, we can try to match the tire tracks."

 

"That's a lot of 'ifs,' partner."

 

"I know."

 

Unfortunately, the hills behind the lake were shot through and through with tire tracks. Laura Craig had been right about kids dirt-biking back there. In fact, Starsky and Hutch surprised a pair of teenagers doing exactly that. The boys, not more than 14 or 15, tried to run when Starsky showed them his badge, but Hutch caught them each by the collar and held on until Starsky could get his cuffs out.

 

"Aw, come on," the elder of the two said disgustedly. "You ain't runnin' us in for riding a dirt bike, are ya?"

 

"Nope," Starsky said. "But don't you want to take your bike with you?"

 

"Then you'll run us in for drivin' without a license," the kid said over his shoulder.

 

"We could," Hutch said. "But we might not. Let me ask you something. Were you here Sunday?"

 

"Why?" the younger one asked suspiciously.

 

"Just answer me. Were you here Sunday or not?"

 

The boys looked at one another and the younger one gave a shrug. "Yeah, we were. Early, before anyone else was."

 

"And did you see anyone else riding back here?" Hutch's voice took on a dangerous tone.

 

"There were a couple of guys back over there," the older boy said, nodding toward an area that was clearly very popular with dirt bikers. Trails were worn down to the dirt all over it. "And we saw a couple of older kids climbing up the hill over there by the lake, but they weren't on a bike."

 

Starsky and Hutch looked at each other. "Did you get a good look at them?"

 

"Nah," the younger boy said. "They was too far away. Just saw their backs. An' I said to Gary, 'Wonder what they're doin'?' and Gary said, 'I dunno.'"

 

"Fascinating conversations you two must have," Starsky said dryly. But his humor was lost on the kid, who just blinked at him. "Okay, okay, get outta here," Starsky said. "And don't let us see you riding that bike on the street, you hear?"

 

The younger boy still looked confused, but the older one brightened and said, "Yessir, Officer, no problem." To his brother, he said, "Well, come on, stupid, let's go!"

 

"We need to search this whole area," Hutch said with a sigh.

 

"It's too big for us alone," Starsky pointed out. "And it'd take all damn day. Let's get Dobey to put some other guys on that and we'll go on over to the school and interview the kids who were absent yesterday."

 

"Good plan," Hutch said. "Let's go call him."

 

Dobey agreed and promised to send out some uniformed officers to search the canyon. Starsky and Hutch headed back to the school.

 

Bandy was expecting them and had already assembled the kids in the school cafeteria. "There's a lounge area down the hall," he said to Hutch, "where you can take the kids one at a time, if you'd rather interview them that way."

 

"We would, thank you," Hutch said.

 

Bandy had only asked kids who were in Owens' classes or on the team to meet in the cafeteria. Starsky and Hutch asked them most of the same questions they'd asked the other kids and got many of the same answers. A few members of this group admitted they'd disliked the coach for his tough attitude, but none seemed vehement enough in their dislike to be a suspect.

 

"This ain't gettin' us nowhere," Starsky said, disgusted, after the tenth or eleventh kid had left.

 

"We gotta go through the motions, partner," Hutch said, noticing that Starsky's bad temper was rising again.

 

"It's stupid," Starsky muttered.

 

Another boy walked through the door and arrested their attention at once. He was clearly nervous and upset.

 

"What's your name?" Hutch asked. He had the list of absentees in front of him.

 

"Adam Baines," the kid said, sitting down in the chair Starsky waved him to.

 

Hutch checked off the name. "Why weren't you at school yesterday?"

 

Adam flushed. "Uh, I was sick."

 

"What was wrong?" Hutch asked, and his tone was sharp, making Starsky glance at him.

 

"Headache and upset stomach," Adam said, quickly, as if he were reciting from memory.

 

"So when did you find out Coach Owens was dead?"

 

Adam glanced at Hutch, then looked away. "Trent told me. Trent Sharkey. He told me about you guys being here yesterday and what had happened when he brought my homework after school."

 

"Is Trent a friend of yours?"

 

Starsky leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs. He didn't think he liked the tone Hutch was taking with this kid, but he decided to let him have his head for now.

 

Adam nodded, just barely glancing at Hutch before answering. "We've known each other since grade school."

 

"Where were you on Sunday?" Hutch asked sharply, leaning forward to fix his eyes on Adam's.

 

Starsky opened his mouth and shut it again.

 

"I went to church with my folks and then we went to Grandma's for Sunday dinner," Adam said, clearly puzzled at the line of questioning. "After that I worked in the yard with Dad for a while and then I did my homework."

 

"Where was Trent? Did you see him this weekend?"

 

"Trent spent the night with me Saturday," Adam said. "But he went home after Sunday breakfast. His family's Catholic and he can't go to church with us."

 

"Why not?" Starsky asked, unable to keep silent.

 

Adam shrugged. "I don't know, but that's what he says."

 

"I think Catholics aren't supposed to attend Protestant churches," Hutch said over his shoulder to Starsky. He turned back to Adam. "What did you and Trent do Saturday night?"

 

"We watched a movie on HBO and listened to records and worked on our chemistry homework," Adam said, relaxing a little. "I stink at chemistry, but Trent's real good at it and he was helping me."

 

"Does Trent have a motorcycle?"

 

Adam visibly blanched, but got himself back under control in a moment. Not soon enough, however; both detectives had seen and noted his reaction. "He used to," Adam said, his voice a little shaky. "His mom made him sell it. He wrecked on it last summer and she said it was too dangerous."

 

"What did you think of Coach Owens?"

 

Adam shrugged. "He was okay."

 

"Was he a tough teacher? A tough coach?"

 

"Yeah," Adam said shortly.

 

"Did that make you mad?"

 

Adam shrugged again. "Sometimes."

 

Hutch looked at Starsky, who raised one eyebrow. "Okay, Adam, you can go," Hutch said casually, leaning back in his chair at last. Adam shot out the door as if launched. "Did you see that?" Hutch said to Starsky.

 

"See what?"

 

"How he reacted when I asked if Trent had a bike!" Hutch exclaimed. "He almost had a stroke."

 

"He was upset," Starsky said evenly, "but he did not look as if he were going to have a stroke."

 

Hutch started to answer, but the next kid came through the door before he could. For the duration of the rest of the interviews, Starsky sat silent in his chair, barely nodding at each student and letting Hutch ask all the questions.  

 

By the time they were done, it was long past lunchtime and Hutch's stomach was letting him know, loud and clear.

 

"Want to get something to eat?" he asked Starsky.

 

Starsky shrugged and started the car.

 

"How about Huggy's? We haven't been there lately."

 

"Why, so you can pump him for information?"

 

Hutch frowned. "We don't 'pump' Huggy. Sometimes he knows something that can help us, though."

 

"I don't want to go to Huggy's."

 

"Joe's?" Hutch suggested, naming a family-owned diner on the edge of their beat.

 

"It'll be packed this time of day."

 

"McDonald's?"

 

"You hate McDonald's." Starsky pulled out of the high school parking lot and spun the tires.

 

"Where do you want to go?" Hutch finally asked.

 

"I don't care."

 

Hutch sighed. "What the hell is it now?"

 

"What's what?" Starsky shot a glare at him.

 

"You're all pissed off about something. What is it?"

 

"Nothin'."

 

"Oh, bullshit, Starsky!" Hutch finally lost his temper. "You've been pouting ever since I suggested we might want to take a closer look at that Sharkey kid and I know you didn't like the way I handled the Baines kid. This is a murder investigation, remember? Not Kindergarten Roundup! We have to ask tough questions and we have to find a murderer!"

 

"That's right!" Starsky shot back. "We have to find a murderer. We don't have to harass a bunch of teenage kids!"

 

"Harass them? Who the hell's harassing them? I'm trying to find out if they know something and you're supposed to be helping me!"

 

"I ain't nobody's sidekick," Starsky spat, taking a corner too tightly and barely missing a street sign.

 

"Would you please be more careful?" Hutch demanded. "And I didn't call you a sidekick. You know what I meant."

 

"I know what you said."

 

"Oh, for crying out LOUD!" Hutch slapped the seat with his open hand and turned his head to look out the window. "You're being childish and stupid about this, Starsky. I think one of those kids had something to do with this, and I'm going to find out. That's my JOB."

 

"It's my job, too, or did you forget that?" Starsky demanded. "You're bound and determined to hang this on a kid, especially the Sharkey kid. What's the matter, does he remind you of yourself?"

 

"What the hell is THAT supposed to mean?"

 

"You hated being the rich kid and Sharkey's probably got a fancy car and a rich daddy and so you gotta knock him down a peg or two because he ain't all hung up about being rich like you were," Starsky said. "He can handle it instead of gettin' all strung out about it and running off to save the world as Mr. Blond Superman."

 

Hutch stared at Starsky. "Then what's your excuse for sticking up for him? He's a high school sports star so he's above suspicion? Sounds like you're the one with the hangups, buddy. You're identifying with the Big Man on Campus thing because of your football hero days and you don't want to stain his image or something?"

 

"I want to find the real killer," Starsky snarled. "Not waste a bunch of time helping you justify persecuting a rich kid for being rich. I don't care if he's rich. We never had any money, but that doesn't make us stupid and rich don't make you smart."

 

"Doesn't make you smart," Hutch retorted.

 

Starsky threw a vicious glare at him, but before he could answer, the radio beeped.

 

"All units. Ten-sixteen, Cantrell and 17th. Shots fired, officer down. Code Three. All units in the vicinity of Cantrell and 17th."

 

"That's us," Hutch said, slapping the light on top of the car. He was no less angry, and neither was Starsky, but they had work to do and their anger would have to wait.

 

Two units were already there. One officer had been shot in the thigh and was lying behind one of the marked cars while the other three officers were frantically trying to simultaneously handle the situation and keep the neighbors in their homes out of harm's way.

 

"Whatcha got?" Starsky barked at the nearest uniform.

 

"Not sure, Sarge," the officer said, breathing hard. "When we got here, the guy was standing on the porch waving a cannon around like that thing Hutch carries and hollering that nobody was gonna stop him from seein' his kids. We could hear a little kid cryin' in the house and when Bobby tried to talk to the guy, he shot him. Then he went in the house and we haven't seen him since. The kid stopped cryin', too."

 

"How ya doin', Bobby?" Starsky asked the officer on the ground.

 

"Hurts like the devil, Starsk," Bobby answered through gritted teeth, "but I'll live."

 

"Good man," Hutch said, scooting over to have a look at the wound. "It went through clean, Bob, you'll be fine."

 

Starsky slid along the ground on his belly, military-style, to get to the radio in the Torino. "Zebra Three, Control, on the scene of the ten-sixteen."

 

"Control, Zebra Three."

 

"Possible hostage situation, probably a child, maybe more than one. Officer Bobby Danner wounded, but not critically. Dispatch units to cordon off and evacuate the immediate area."

 

"Roger, Zebra Three."

 

Two more marked units pulled up so as to block the street at either end and officers wearing bulletproof vests started shooing gawkers back into their houses. Starsky peered around the bumper of the car they were behind. "Looks quiet at the moment," he said to Hutch.

 

Before Hutch could answer, Starsky had scrambled to his feet and started running toward the house in a crouch. He was almost to the porch when a flash came from the open front window and Starsky fell, rolling into the bushes in front of the house and lying still.

 

"Starsky!" Hutch started to follow, but one of the uniforms grabbed him and yanked him back.

 

"Sarge, so help me," the officer, Doug Bruce, said angrily. "You ain't gonna help if you get hurt, too. I know you outrank me, but I'll handcuff ya to the car if I gotta."

 

"Control, Zebra Three."

 

Hutch pulled his arm free violently and scrambled back to the radio. "Zebra Three, Control. Starsky's down. I don't know how bad he's hurt."

 

"Officers have entered the house from the back and taken the suspect into custody," Control answered. "Ambulance en route. Child protective services also en route. Secure the scene."

 

"Roger, Control," Hutch said with relief, tossing the mike onto the seat and running full speed toward his partner. "Starsky! Starsk, where are you hit?" He fell to his knees, hard, beside Starsky, whose eyes were closed. A trickle of blood ran down his cheek from his forehead.

 

Seeing his partner with blood on his face after having been shot at gave Hutch a chill.  His hands were shaking as he reached to feel for a pulse, which he found to be steady and fast.  “Oh, my God,” he said softly.  Hutch brushed the hair back from Starsky’s forehead so that he could see the damage. 

 

“Where’s he hit, Sarge?” Doug Bruce said behind him, followed by, “Oh, God,” as soon as he saw where Starsky was bleeding. 

 

Hutch got out his handkerchief and carefully wiped at the blood.  Looking closely at the wound, he realized it wasn’t from a bullet.  “Thank God,” he said with a deep sigh, sitting down on the ground next to Starsky.  Hutch would never have imagined he could be so happy that his partner had “just” sustained a head injury.  He looked up at Doug and said, “It’s not a bullet wound.  He must have hit his head on something.”  A glance around the path Starsky had taken revealed that the bottom porch step stuck out at a funny angle and it had a smear of blood on it.  The steps were painted green and they blended in with the plants and bushes in the front flowerbeds.  Starsky must not have seen that in his haste to duck out of the way of gunfire.  Officer Bruce had retrieved Starsky’s Beretta from the grass where he dropped it when he fell.  He handed it to Hutch and went back to check on Bobby.  Hutch slid the gun into his jacket pocket as he started to try to revive his partner.

 

Starsky’s ears started to ring and buzz as awareness began to return.  He could hear someone calling his name.  Hutch.  The thought that something was wrong nagged at him, until he opened his eyes and sat up too fast, startling his partner. 

 

“Whoa!” Hutch said, “take it easy.”

 

Dizzy, Starsky fell onto his back, putting his feet on the ground and his knees in the air.  He moaned and raised a hand to touch the throbbing goose egg forming on his forehead.  Hutch took hold of his wrist and pushed the arm back down, saying, “Don’t do that, you’re bleeding.”

 

“What the hell happened?” Starsky asked.

 

“You and the porch step had an unexpected meeting,” Hutch replied.  “Hey, open your eyes and tell me how many fingers I’ve got up.”

 

Starsky obeyed and looked up at Hutch’s swirling image.  He immediately closed his eyes, turned a little gray, and said, “Uh… gimme a minute.”

 

The ambulance had arrived and Hutch was screaming for a paramedic.  “Shhh,” Starsky cautioned,  “they’ll hear you all the way at Metro.” 

 

“Sorry.  They’re coming over,” Hutch said, unnecessarily waving at one of the paramedics, who was already walking toward the men huddled near the porch.

 

“Don’t need ‘em.  I’m fine,” Starsky added.  The next time he opened his eyes, he only saw one anxious partner leaning over him, not three. 

 

“What have we got?” the paramedic asked as Hutch scooted out of the way to give him access.

 

“I’m fine, really,” Starsky said.  “Just help me up, huh?”  He put out a hand for either Hutch or the medic to help him.

 

“Lie still,” the medic said.  “Let me check you out, first.”

 

“You think we could get out of the bushes, first?” Starsky asked, quirking a smile that he hoped would relieve some of Hutch’s worry.  He could feel it.

 

Hutch and the paramedic helped to get Starsky more out into the open.  Hutch’s handkerchief was replaced by sterile gauze as the medic assessed the patient.  Starsky’s eyes checked out fine and he was able to answer all of the man’s questions. 

 

“I said, I’m fine,” Starsky repeated, tiring of the attention and pushing at the blood pressure cuff the paramedic was trying to fit on his arm.  He stopped struggling against the man when he saw the stern expression on Hutch’s face.

 

“How long was he out?” the medic asked.

 

“I don’t know, it happened pretty fast.  Just a few minutes,” Hutch answered.

 

The paramedic reported all of his findings to the base station and received instructions to transport.  Starsky refused.  “No way,” he said.  “I really am fine.”

 

“You should get checked, Officer,” the paramedic said.  “You did lose consciousness, even if it was brief.”

 

Starsky sat up, slowly this time.  “Look, the world isn’t on tilt, I don’t feel like I’m gonna be sick, and I remember who the president is.  Let’s not go overboard.  ‘S just a bump.”

 

Hutch looked to the paramedic for help, but he told him what he already knew. “He’s stable, conscious, and lucid.  If he refuses, there’s nothing I can do.”  He’d seen this enough times in his career that he just started packing up his gear.  He looked up from his equipment box at Hutch and said, “I’m guessing you two have had head injuries before this.  Make sure he goes to the emergency room if he’s overly sleepy, confused, incoherent, non-responsive, throwing up… you know the drill.  Right?”

 

“Yeah,” Hutch said.

 

Starsky could see how unhappy Hutch was with the situation, so he decided to make a little joke.  “How’s he supposed to know if I’m incoherent?” he asked the medic.  The look on Hutch’s face told him just how funny he found the remark.

 

The paramedic left and Hutch stood up and began to pace in a tight pattern.  After they left the school, he’d been furious with Starsky, and then came the adrenaline rush of the quick encounter with danger on this call.  He was shaking and trying to walk off his reaction. 

 

“Hutch,” Starsky said, “go find out how Bobby is, huh?”  He could see that the paramedics were getting ready to transport the other officer.

 

“You sure you’re okay?” Hutch asked.  He stepped toward Starsky and looked under the gauze. Seeing the wound was still bleeding, he gently pushed Starsky’s hand back up to hold the gauze in place.

 

“Yeah, go.  I’ll just sit here and rest a minute.”  Starsky was grateful that Hutch accepted his assignment.  That gave the agitated blond something to do and his absence gave Starsky the opportunity to slowly move himself up to sitting on the bottom porch step, regaining his bearings.  By the time Hutch returned to tell him Danner was going to be fine, he thought he’d be able to stand up and navigate to the car without further worrying his partner.  Starsky was also coming down from a rush of conflicting emotions and adrenaline, in addition to the general wooziness he was feeling from his injury.

 

Captain Dobey appeared on the scene just before the ambulance took off with Danner.  After checking on the wounded man, he strode toward where Starsky sat on the porch, looking a little too pale and holding a bloody piece of gauze to his forehead.  He stopped in front of Starsky, with Hutch hovering right behind him.

 

“What’s this I hear about you refusing transport again?”  This wasn’t the first time and the captain was never happy about it when it happened.

 

“It’s no big deal, Cap,” Starsky answered.  He waved his right hand at the porch. “I just didn’t see that step sticking out.  Damn thing’s camouflaged.”

 

Dobey had been notified that officers were down at the scene, and one of them was Starsky.  He was relieved that Danner would be fine, and to see Starsky looking sick to his stomach and like his head was going to explode, but not shot… and not hurt worse.

 

“I know you two have been at it since before the crack.  Take him home,” Dobey said to Hutch as he turned to leave.  “You can hit it again, tomorrow.”

 

“Thanks, Cap.” Hutch was grateful.  He didn’t want Starsky to just hop back in the car and finish the shift.  “So, who is the current president?” he asked as he helped Starsky to his feet.

 

A slightly wobbly Starsky smirked and replied, “Everyone knows it’s Napoleon Bonaparte.  Sheesh, what’dya take me for, a dummy?”

 

Hutch held on tight, knowing he was keeping Starsky from falling, walking him to the Torino and helping him into the passenger seat.  Before Starsky could declare his fitness to drive, despite the ridiculousness of the declaration, Hutch put his lecture finger in the air and said, “Don’t push me, buddy.  You just did a Flying Wallenda into a chunk of concrete and I’m letting you off without a ride in the great big red and white vehicle.”  Starsky was smart enough to know when not to push.  He shut up and closed his eyes, leaning back against the seat.  Sleep overtook him within two minutes.

 

Pulling into Starsky’s parking space, Hutch cast a worried glance at his passenger.  He’d already been grumbled at when he shook Starsky right after they got started.  Hutch was afraid he had passed out, not just fallen asleep.  Starsky wasn’t amused and he’d used some colorful metaphors to let Hutch know.

 

“Buddy,” Hutch said, “we’re at your place.”  No answer.  He shook Starsky on the shoulder a little harder.  “Starsk, wake up.”  Still no answer.  Hutch’s palms started to sweat and he fought hard not to panic.

 

“Starsky!” he said with more force.  Just as he was reaching for the key to start the Torino again, Starsky turned toward him and cracked open one eye. 

 

“Wha?” he said, sounding confused.

 

Hutch sighed and turned back toward him.  “You scared me.  Come on, let’s get you upstairs.”  He took advantage of the waking moment and helped Starsky out of the car and up to his place.

 

Starsky tried to maneuver himself toward the couch, but Hutch successfully guided him to the bed instead.  After bustling around a bit, he returned to Starsky’s side with an ice pack, a glass of water, and some aspirin.  The look on Starsky’s face told the story that his head was pounding. “Here, swallow these before you crash again.”

 

“Thanks.”  Starsky accepted the pills and smiled his gratitude to Hutch.

 

“Before you go to sleep, do you know what day it is?” Hutch asked. 

 

“Huh?” 

 

“I said, do you know what day it is?”

 

“Hutch, stop worrying.  I’m fine,” Starsky replied, ending with a yawn.

 

Not satisfied with that, Hutch sat on the edge of the bed and looked at his sleepy, aching friend with concern, and a regret that Starsky could see even through slightly blurry, sleepy eyes.

 

“What’s wrong?” Starsky asked.  “I swear I’m all right.  You worry too much.”

 

Hutch adjusted the ice a little so he could see Starsky’s eyes better. “Starsky, I’m sorry.”

 

“Sorry for what, Blintz?”

 

“For the way I acted in the car.  I just... I hate it when we argue like that.  I don’t even know why it started.”  Now, Hutch was getting embarrassed.  He ducked his chin and stared at his feet, looking both guilty and sad.  Starsky reached over and patted him on the arm.

 

“Hey, ‘s all right.  I’m just as guilty. I’m sorry.  What’dya say we start over tomorrow?  Clean slate on this case, huh?”

 

Hutch nodded.  “Yeah.  Okay.”

 

“Stop worrying,” Starsky ordered.

 

“You think you’ll be all right for an hour or so until I have to wake you up and piss you off again?” Hutch asked.

 

“Sure, why?”

 

“Because Mother Hubbard’s cupboard has nothing on your fridge and you just took the last two aspirin.  Besides, you should really be taking Tylenol.  Thought I’d run to the store, if you’re sure you’re okay.” 

 

“Go,” Starsky ordered as he closed his eyes and made it clear he was going back to sleep.  “I’ll just lie here and check my eyelids for cracks.”

 

Hutch walked to the door and heard Starsky softly say, “Thanks, buddy.  I promise I’ll be right here when you get back.”

 

The trip to the store left Hutch alone with his thoughts.  He’d been scared when Starsky went down earlier.  In their dangerous line of work, they never knew when one of them could be killed.  For a few terrified minutes, Hutch feared he’d have to live the rest of his life knowing that his last conversation with his best friend had been an angry one.  He was glad to be wrong about that.

 

Sitting at a red light across from the grocery store parking lot, Hutch heard the sound of boys laughing, accompanied by the beat of a basketball being bounced.  He looked over at a group of kids on the sidewalk across the street.  They were laughing and bouncing the ball between them.  Hutch smiled.  They were probably on their way to an after school pickup game in the park.  Suddenly, Hutch had an idea.  Traffic wasn’t too bad yet.  He hoped he could get over to the school, swing back through the store, and make it back to Starsky’s within an hour, two at the most.  He punched it through the light as soon as it turned and changed direction, heading toward the high school. 

 

The basketball gym was still open when Hutch reached the school.  One of the coaches recognized him from the staff interviews and went over to speak with him.

 

“You need to talk to some of the kids again, Officer?” he asked.

 

“Just one.  Trent Sharkey.”  The coach nodded and trotted off toward the locker room to find Trent.  While he waited, Hutch’s mind wandered to what prompted him to come here.  He knew he was right. Every instinct he had was telling him that the Sharkey boy, and probably Adam Baines, knew something about Owens’ murder.  He had an idea that might scare Trent into revealing something.  Before he went into the gym, Hutch had cruised the student lot, knowing that one of the remaining cars was probably Trent’s.  Based on his own experience in high school, he was looking for something flashy and expensive and he had a feeling he’d be able to tell which one it was. His own father had given him exactly such a car for his sixteenth birthday.  The car was a brand new 1959 Thunderbird – red with a white convertible top and a black interior. Hutch hated the flashy car.  He chuckled at the memory.  That was a secret he hoped Starsky would never discover.  He had refused to drive it, sending his father into an angry huff.  Instead, he’d bought a slightly decrepit 1949 Ford F1 pickup, sanded down to a nondescript primer gray.  Hutch paid for it with money he’d earned working around his grandfather’s farm, determined, even at that young age, to make his own way in the world. 

 

Bringing him back to the present, Trent Sharkey approached Hutch with a smile.  He was dressed in his basketball uniform.  He’d been right about the team.  In the aftermath of Coach Owens’ death, he had quietly slipped back for practice and no one had complained.  Adam was waiting another day, since he had supposedly been sick. 

 

“Officer Hutchinson,” he said warmly, “what can I do for you?”

 

“Oh, I just have a couple of quick questions,” Hutch replied.  The look on his face was strictly business.

 

“Really?  For me, specifically?” Trent tried his best to hide the combined flash of anger and concern in his eyes.  Despite that, he couldn’t help feeling a little rush of adrenaline, eager for the game.  He knew he’d have to maintain his cool, if he didn’t want to become a mouse with that annoying blond cop being the cat. 

 

“Yes,” Hutch answered.  Straight to the point. 

 

Since Hutch made no move to sit on the bleachers next to them, Trent remained standing.  He knew Hutch was using his height and size to his advantage.  Extra intimidation. Trent could take it. You won’t make me sweat, cop.

 

“My partner and I had a talk with your friend, Adam.  You two pretty close?”

 

“Yeah, we hang out together.  Why?”

 

“He know you pretty well?”

 

Trent knew that wherever this was going, couldn’t be good.  He thought it might be a good idea to cut the conversation short.  The other boys had started their practice.  “I suppose.  I have to practice, what did you wanna ask me?”

 

“It’ll wait,” Hutch replied.  “Adam said you used to own a motorcycle.”  He stopped with that statement and was silent.  He’d learned long ago that sometimes people try to fill a silence by giving out more information than they intend to reveal.

 

Trent tried not to hesitate, but he also wasn’t going to let Hutch push him into saying too much.  “Used to.”

 

“What happened to it?”

 

“Didn’t Adam tell you that, too?  I sold it.”

 

“Why?”

 

Trent didn’t want to look like a mollycoddled kid.  He decided not to admit that his mother made him sell it.  This would be the first real sign Hutch had that the boy wasn’t being completely honest.  “Ah, I got bored with it.  No big deal.”

 

Now Hutch was getting somewhere.  “Did you ever go riding in that canyon over by the lake at Newsome Park?”

 

“Sure.  Everybody does.”

 

Hutch nodded and was silent for a few more moments.  Finally, Trent said, “That it?”

 

Nodding slowly, Hutch said, “For now.  Thanks.”

 

Trent started to walk away from him, then Hutch reeled him back in once his back was turned.  “Oh, I almost forgot.  Some witnesses reported seeing your car in Coach Owens’ neighborhood this weekend.  Any reason you were over that way?”  He was playing a hunch and hoping it went somewhere.

 

The young man’s face got a little paler.  He wasn’t able to control that, but he schooled his expression when he said, “My car, over in Venice?”

 

Hutch knew he had something then.  He hadn’t mentioned “Venice.”  If Trent knew that much, the boy probably knew exactly where his coach lived.  That might mean something.  “Yep.  I asked around.  It was your car.”

 

“What makes you so sure?”

 

Here’s where Hutch hoped that pre-interview spin around the parking lot would help him.  If he was wrong, he’d figure out something.  “Black Corvette, license plate ‘Shark3’.  That’s yours, right?”

 

He knew he’d struck pay dirt.  The teenager was obviously taken off guard.  Hutch could practically hear the gears in his head as he scrambled to explain his presence in Venice, not knowing the information was contrived. “Oh, yeah.  I was over there for a while on Saturday morning.”  Trent knew he’d better say why.  “I like to run along the canals sometimes.  Helps me think, you know?”

 

“Yeah, I do,” Hutch answered.  “Have a good practice.”

 

Trent turned away and jogged over to where the other boys were playing ball.  His mind was racing.  Adam.  He had given away too much.  What if no one really had seen him over by the coach’s house?  What if Adam had told the detective and his partner that Trent was involved?  As soon as practice was finished, he would go straight over to his friend’s house and try to get to the bottom of things.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Adam was reading "A Separate Peace" for his English class when his mother called up the stairs that Trent was there. He put the book down with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. He could remember when he looked forward to spending time with Trent. Now, he dreaded it. He went downstairs.

 

"Hey, wanna grab a burger or something?" Trent asked cheerfully. "I'm starved after practice and it's hours until dinner."

 

Adam glanced at his mother, praying that she would say no, but she smiled indulgently instead. "Go ahead, boys. But don't spoil your dinner, Adam."

 

Suppressing a sigh, Adam followed Trent out to his car and slid into the passenger seat. "You're not really hungry, are you?" he asked, figuring it was best to grab the bull by the horns.

 

"No," Trent said. "That cop came back to school today. The blond one, Hutchinson." Trent pulled the car out into the street and headed for the highway.

 

Adam was silent while he took that in. "What'd he want?" he asked after a few moments.

 

"He said somebody saw my car in Venice on Saturday," Trent spat angrily. "What did you say to him?"

 

"Nothing!" Adam cried. "I didn't tell him you'd been in Venice on Saturday. Maybe somebody did see your car."

 

"I don't think so," Trent said, hitting the on ramp too fast and scaring Adam with the crazy way he was driving. "He was bluffing. The more I think about it, the more sure I am. He suspects something, and he must have a reason for it. What did you tell him?"

 

Adam's heart was in his throat as Trent wove in and out of traffic, driving faster and faster and taking chances in the late afternoon rush hour crush. He couldn't speak.

 

"What did you tell him?" Trent demanded again, changing lanes with so little room to spare that Adam heard the car behind them squeal its brakes, followed by a blast from the horn.

 

"Nothing!" Adam cried again. "I told you everything I said!"

 

"You must have said something to make him suspicious of me," Trent snarled. "What the hell WAS IT?"

 

Adam watched with his heart in his throat as Trent changed lanes again, this time in front of a semi, so close to its bumper that they almost touched. The semi's air horn rang out, long and loud, and Adam closed his eyes. He opened them again almost immediately, as Trent swung the car into yet another lane change and sped up even more. Adam glanced at the speedometer. They were going over ninety. "Y-you're g-gonna get a t-ticket," Adam said, trying to sound normal and failing.

 

Trent glanced over at him, and the look in his eyes made Adam's blood run cold. "Tell me everything you told Hutchinson," Trent said in a low growl. "Everything."

 

Adam searched his memory desperately. "I-I told him I'd known you since grade school and that you'd told me about – about Coach being dead when you brought my homework on Tuesday," he said, trying to keep his voice calm. "And, and he asked me if you had a bike and I said your mom had made you sell it and – "

 

"WHAT?" Trent glared at him. "You told him I had a bike?"

 

"He asked me if you had a bike!" Adam said desperately. "And I said yeah, but your mom had made you sell it. I didn't volunteer the information!"

 

Trent muttered a string of curses and slammed one hand against the steering wheel. "That's it. That's the thing that made him suspicious. He asked me about the bike today." Trent slowed the car a little, enough so that they weren't diving in and out of traffic any longer. "I told him I'd got rid of it, but I didn't say Mom made me." He laughed, sounding genuinely amused. "I didn't want to come off lookin' like a kid."

 

Adam didn't laugh with him. His heart was still pounding and he had developed a blinding headache.

 

Trent looked over his shoulder, changed lanes, and took the next exit ramp, this time at a reasonable speed. "He don't have any proof," he said to Adam, his voice back to its normal tone and that crazy look gone from his eyes. "He was just on a fishin' expedition. All we gotta do is stay cool and everything'll be fine."

 

Adam nodded, and forced himself not to kiss the ground when Trent let him off in front of his house.

 

"See ya at school tomorrow!" Trent called with a friendly wave as he drove off.

 

Adam went into the house, feeling a strong desire to either throw up or confess everything to his parents as he had small mischiefs he'd gotten into as a child. Neither option was viable. He had to walk past the kitchen door to go upstairs to his room, and his mother glanced up.

 

"Honey? What's wrong? You're as white as a sheet."

 

"Nothing," he said. "I'm still feeling kind of bad. Guess I'm not over being sick yet."

 

She came out and felt his forehead and he let her, wishing he could just throw himself into her arms and sob out his troubles. He didn't, of course, but when she gently kissed his forehead, he didn't pull away. "You go lie down until dinner's ready," she said. "Take a couple of aspirin. Maybe you should stay home tomorrow."

 

He shook his head. "Can't. Got an English test tomorrow. And my speech presentation's Monday, and I have to get my outline approved by Mrs. Davis." He forced a smile. "I'm okay, Mom. Really."

 

She smiled back. "I'll call you when dinner's ready."

 

He went to his room, but he didn't study. He lay down on his bed and stared up at the Ted Nugent poster he'd pasted on the ceiling. Trent had frightened him badly. He couldn't stop thinking about that look in Trent's eyes. Cold. Implacable. Terrifying.

 

It finally occurred to him that if Trent could kill their coach for cutting them from the team, he could kill Adam, too, if he considered him a threat.

 

~*~*~*~

 

"That took a long time," Starsky commented when Hutch returned from his errand.

 

"Long line at the store," Hutch said, busying himself with opening the Tylenol bottle and getting a glass of water for Starsky.

 

Starsky raised an eyebrow. "Must've been one hell of a long line."

 

"Somebody wrote a check and didn't have adequate ID," Hutch said, handing the pills and the water to Starsky. "You know that takes forever. Had to get the manager to approve it and everything."

 

Starsky knew Hutch was hiding something from him, but he was too tired and hurting too badly to push it. He didn't plan to forget it, however, just postpone it.

 

"What do you want for dinner?" Hutch asked. "Is your stomach up to lasagna?"

 

Starsky propped open an eye. "As a matter of fact, yes. That sounds terrific."

 

"Your wish is my command, my liege," Hutch said solemnly, sketching a bow.

 

Starsky laughed, holding one hand to his head. "Ouch. Don't make me laugh, you big blond pain in the ass. Go cook my dinner."

 

Hutch backed out of the room, still bowing, and Starsky shook his head in amusement. He knew quite well that Hutch was using misdirection to keep him from asking too many questions about where he'd been, and he thought he knew why, too. He suspected Hutch had followed some hunch about the Sharkey kid or the Baines kid or maybe both of them. He'd find out soon enough. He closed his eyes again.

 

It felt as if he'd just closed them when a gentle nudge of his shoulder woke him up. Hutch was standing next to the bed, a dishtowel draped over his arm like a butler, holding a steaming plate of lasagna and a Dr. Pepper. "M'lord," Hutch said in a fake British accent. "Your dinnah is served."

 

Starsky grinned. "What? No crystal goblet?"

 

Hutch pretended to be abashed. "Beg pardon, sir, but the upstairs maid smashed them all. Clumsy girl."

 

"Off with her head!" Starsky commanded, sitting up and relieved to find that his headache had subsided to a dull roar. His stomach growled at the smell of the food.

 

"It shall be done," Hutch said. "At present, she is in the dungeon awaiting your pleasure."

 

"I'm not up to any 'pleasure' tonight," Starsky said with a groan. "But thanks just the same."

 

Hutch grinned. He left the room and came back with a plate of his own, settling down on the floor cross-legged to eat it.

 

"I have chairs," Starsky pointed out.

 

"I'm fine," Hutch said. "I'm perfectly comfortable here, thank you."

 

Starsky shrugged. "Okay."

 

They ate in silence for several minutes, and when Starsky had finished, he drained the Dr. Pepper and tossed the can across the room into the wastebasket. Hutch looked up.

 

"You ready to tell me where you really were for two hours this afternoon?" Starsky asked with a grin.

 

Hutch flushed and dropped his eyes.

 

"Come on, Blintz, you think I don't know when you're fibbin' to me? Give."

 

Hutch stalled long enough to take a drink from the glass of ice water at his side and finally said, "I went back to the school to see Trent Sharkey."

 

"And?"

 

"And I told him somebody'd seen his car in Venice on Saturday."

 

"What did he say?"

 

Hutch shook his head. "He's a cool customer, that one. He freaked for maybe half a second and recovered. Said he liked to run along the canals."

 

"Maybe he does," Starsky suggested.

 

Hutch glanced up, worried that they were going to argue over this again. But the calm look in Starsky's eyes reassured him. "I don't think so. Just for a second, he went pale."

 

Starsky nodded. "Okay, let's say he was there. What would he have been doing?"

 

"Recon."

 

"Could be," Starsky said thoughtfully. "No one did see his car in the neighborhood."

 

"No," Hutch said. "I was playing a hunch."

 

"So he admitted he was there and said it was so he could run along the canals," Starsky said. "Why would a rich kid who lives in a nice, quiet neighborhood drive all the way to Venice to run along those stinky, polluted canals?"

 

"He wouldn't," Hutch said quietly.

 

"No, probably not," Starsky agreed. "So he was there for recon. What for? I mean, Owens was killed in Newsome Park."

 

Hutch shook his head. "They must've known Owens' habits already to have killed him in the park. What would they want at his house? I don't think the Baines kid was with Sharkey. I think he went there on his own."

 

Starsky raised his eyebrows. "What makes you think that?"

 

"A hunch."

 

"That's a lot of hunches, partner."

 

"I know," Hutch said with a sigh. "But it's all I got right now."

 

~*~*~*~

 

Adam was nervous and distracted at school the next day, and tried to avoid Trent as much as possible without being obvious about it. The two boys usually ate lunch with a crowd of friends, but Trent pulled Adam aside as they were lining up to buy their lunches and hissed, "I need to talk to you. Let's duck out for lunch."

 

"I gotta talk to Mike and Stan about our speech presentation," Adam objected. "I only see them at lunch."

 

Trent sighed. "Okay, okay. And we got practice after school. I'll give you a ride home."

 

"I've got my car."

 

Trent rolled his eyes. "It's important, Adam."

 

"I'm sorry," Adam said, trying to sound sincere. "Tell ya what. I'll duck out after dinner and meet you at the library."

 

Trent shook his head. "That's what I'm trying to tell you. I think that cop's following me."

 

Adam's eyes widened.

 

Trent gave his arm a shake. "Quit looking freaked, moron! We need a plan."

 

Adam shook his head. "I gotta think."

 

The line moved, and the boys moved with it. "I'll call you tonight," Trent said. "We'll figure something out."

 

Adam nodded, but his mind was working furiously. He didn't think for one second that Trent really believed he was being followed. That look was back in Trent's eyes and the very last thing Adam was going to do was be alone with him, in a car or anywhere else. He was scared and he didn't know where to turn.

 

His English test was right after lunch and though that was usually one of his best subjects, he had a tough time concentrating. His teacher was very big on essay questions and he couldn't keep his mind on what he was writing. After school, as he was heading for the gym for practice, she stopped him in the hall.

 

"Adam, I'd like to see you for a moment."

 

He glanced toward Trent, waiting a few yards away. "Uh, sure, Mrs. Montgomery. Let me just ask Trent to tell the coach I'll be late, okay?"

 

She glanced toward Trent and beckoned. When Trent came closer, she told him to give the substitute coach the message. Trent smiled and nodded and gave Adam a playful punch to the shoulder, but Adam didn't like the look in his eyes. He followed Mrs. Montgomery to her classroom in silence and was more than a little disturbed when she closed the door.

 

"Sit down, Adam," she said. He sat at a desk in the front row and she perched on the edge of her own desk. "What's bothering you today?" she asked.

 

"Me? Nothing. Why?"

 

She studied him for a moment in silence. "Your test today," she said at last. "Adam, I've seen your work. Today's test was far below what you're capable of. And you kept calling 'Finny' from the novel 'Owens' in your essays."

 

Adam felt his face burn and he looked down, unable to meet her eyes.

 

She went on, gently, "I know Coach Owens' death has been a terrible blow, especially to the team. And you're a sensitive young man. If you need to talk, I'm willing to listen. Or you could go to one of the counselors. That's what we're all here for."

 

Adam kept his eyes down until he thought he could trust his face to obey him. Then he looked up at Mrs. Montgomery. "It's been kind of freaky, you know? I don't even know how I ought to feel."

 

She nodded. "We're all upset, Adam. It's normal to be confused and even frightened."

 

He wet his lips. "I guess that's what it is. I'm kinda scared. They haven't caught the guy yet, and what if he comes after somebody else?"

 

"I'm sure the students are perfectly safe," she said reassuringly. "You don't have to worry about that."

 

"I know, but I can't help it," he said, and the real fear he felt came through in his voice.

 

She slid off the desk and put her hand on his shoulder. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

 

He shook his head. "No, thanks, Mrs. Montgomery. I'll be okay. How bad did I do on the test?"

 

She smiled. "Don't worry about that, either. No one's mind has been on their work these last few days. I'm going to give it again next week, when everyone has had a chance to get their balance back a little bit. Run along now. Don't want to miss practice."

 

He gathered his books and scooted out of the desk. Just before he went out, he turned back. "Thanks."

 

She nodded and smiled again.

 

Adam headed toward the gym, but halfway there he changed his mind. He couldn't risk having to talk to Trent again today, not when he'd seen that look in his eyes again. He went out a side door that led to the student parking lot, which wasn't visible from the gymnasium. He threw his books on the seat of his car and started it, hurrying out of the parking lot and toward downtown.

 

He'd only been to police headquarters once, when his eighth grade class had taken a tour, but he remembered where it was. He parked his car and started toward the front door, his heart thudding in his chest at what he was about to do, but knowing he had no choice, now. He went inside and stopped to check the directory. Fifth floor was detectives. He punched the up button for the elevator.

 

On the fifth floor, he saw a reception desk and a uniformed officer on the telephone. He waited until she hung up, then approached her. "I need to see Detective Hutchinson, please."

 

"May I tell him your name?" she asked.

 

"Adam Baines."

 

She picked up the phone again and dialed a three-number extension. In a moment she said, "Hutch? Well, there's a kid named Adam Baines here to see him. Okay, I'll tell him." She hung up and turned back to Adam. "Hutch isn't here, but his partner is. He's coming."

 

"Thanks." Adam sat down in a nearby chair and in a few moments, Starsky came down the hall. He rose to meet him.

 

"Hi, Adam," Starsky said, puzzlement evident in his eyes but a cordial expression on his face. "What can I do for ya?"

 

"I have some information for you," Adam said, his voice shaking. "About Coach Owens."

 

Now, we’re getting somewhere, Starsky thought.  He was afraid to talk to the boy without his parents, if anything resembling incriminating questioning was to happen.  He also knew the boy might bolt at the suggestion. This would have to be tackled delicately.  Instead of leading him to a private room, he motioned Adam back over to the chair and he sat next to him.

 

“I’m glad you came in, then,” he started.

 

Adam had noticed the dark bruise on Starsky’s forehead, which was spreading down to form an impressive black eye.  “What happened to you?” he said as he pointed at it.

 

Starsky chuckled.  “I think my partner said I had an ‘unexpected meeting’ with a porch step.”  He was glad for the chance to make Adam laugh.  Maybe it would help ease into the next part of their interview.

 

“Adam,” Starsky said in a calm voice, “how old did you say you were?”

 

“I’m seventeen,” he answered.  “Well, really sixteen.  I’ll be seventeen next month.”

 

“Aren’t you kind of young to be a senior?”

 

“Yeah.  I skipped third grade. I’m the youngest kid in class.”

 

“Oh.  Adam, I can’t really talk to you without your parents around.  You’re a minor, buddy.”

 

Adam sat up straighter and scooted to the edge of the chair, looking like he was ready to run.  “But, you talked to me at the school.”

 

Starsky put a hand on Adam’s arm and tried to sound reassuring as he explained.  “That was different, son.  We were interviewing you and the other kids to see if anyone had any general information worth investigating further.  What you just said leads me to believe you have more than casual knowledge about the killing or the murderer.  If you’d told us the same thing the other day, we’d have had to call your parents, then.  Do you understand?”

 

Adam nodded.  “Okay.  I guess it’s not that important, then.”  Starsky could tell he was trembling. 

 

Sighing with frustration, Starsky said, “Adam, who are you afraid of?  Let me call your folks.  I promise we’ll help you.”

 

Adam was torn.  He didn’t know what to say.  He wanted to be safe from Trent and he wanted out of the situation.  “I shouldn’t be here.”  Not ready to take the chance, he stood up and said, “I’ve gotta go.”

 

As he stepped away, Starsky called after him, “Let us help you, Adam.  Whatever happened, if you know something, we’ll make sure you’re safe.”

 

Turning back toward Starsky, Adam said, “Thanks.  I’ll think about it.”  He felt crushing guilt over his involvement in the crime, even though he hadn’t done anything other than go along and keep his mouth shut.  Trent had set up the entire thing.  He’d been the one to hit the coach, and he was the one who killed him, while Adam watched, petrified.  As scared as he was, if Trent killed him, too, Adam guessed he would be getting his just reward for not stopping it. But, since he talked to Trent about Officer Hutchinson, he’d begun to have the nagging fear that somehow, Trent planned to get to the blond cop.  He seemed convinced that Starsky didn’t suspect him.  If anything happened to Hutch, he’d never forgive himself. 

 

“Um, I really can’t say much, but... tell your partner to watch out, ‘kay?”

 

Starsky stood and walked over to him.  “Why?”  He grabbed Adam’s arm and asked, “What does this have to do with Hutch?”

 

Adam blinked rapidly and his lip was trembling.  He wanted to kick himself for looking like a frightened kid, but that’s exactly what he was.  “He’s getting too close, that’s all.  He should watch out.”

 

“Does this have something to do with Trent?”  Starsky didn’t like this much, and he had the awful feeling maybe his partner was right.

 

“Maybe,” Adam said.  He sighed, knowing he was committed.  “Please,” he asked, tears starting to form in his eyes, “let me go home and get my mom, okay?  I have to tell her.  She can’t get a phone call from the cops.”

 

Starsky stared at him for a moment, wondering if he could trust Adam.  “Want me to go with you?”

 

Oddly, Adam took some comfort in the thought.  Maybe, with Starsky along, nothing worse would happen.  “Okay, but will you wait outside till I come out and get you?”

 

“All right.  Come with me.  I need to let my captain know what we’re doing and I’ll try to reach Hutch.”

 

He escorted Adam to Dobey’s office.  After a brief explanation, Captain Dobey agreed to get a room set aside for Adam and his mother.  To make sure he wouldn’t run, Starsky would drive Adam’s car.  Hutch had the Torino.  They’d agreed that Hutch would go to Harrison Sharkey’s office to discuss his son.  They were hoping to get to Trent through his father.  While Hutch went to the appointment, Starsky would make the phone calls they had on their list, and possibly go to the Juvenile Crimes office to speak to them about any contact they’d had with Trent or Adam.  Unable to reach Hutch on the radio, he knew he must already be at Sharkey’s office. Although he was uncomfortable with the idea that Trent might pose some danger to Hutch, he thought the threat was minimal.  The boy might have been involved in Coach Owens’ murder, but he’d be crazy to go after a cop.

 

~*~*~*~

 

When Adam didn’t show up for practice, Trent was worried.  He begged off early and went in search of his friend.  Adam’s car wasn’t in the school parking lot and he wasn’t home, either.  He decided to head downtown to see if there was any chance Adam had gone to the police.  While he was waiting at a light, three cars back from the lead car, he saw the red and white Torino he knew belonged to one of the cops.  When it turned left in front of him, he noticed that it was Hutchinson driving, and that he was alone.  Not only that, he was turning right into the underground parking garage at the building on the corner.  The building where his father had his law office.  Not good. This guy has to go.

 

Trent forgot about Adam, instantly formulating a new plan.  He parked his car in a small lot off an alley nearby and walked back to the parking garage.  Slipping in through a street door, he went down and looked for a van he knew he’d find.  The building’s maintenance crew used to use it to bring in parts and equipment, but not much lately.  Trent knew a lot about this building, he’d spent his last summer working there.

 

After breaking into the old van, he rifled through the back to find a maintenance uniform, a hat, and a pair of leather work gloves. He carefully wiped away any fingerprints, and moved into position.  Hot-wiring the van was no challenge.

 

~*~*~*~

 

“I’m not sure how I can help you, Detective,” Harrison Sharkey said, shaking Hutch’s hand.  “Please have a seat.  My secretary will bring us some coffee, if you like.” 

 

“No, thank you.” Hutch sat in one of the leather chairs in front of Sharkey’s desk.  The office was expensively decorated in a mixture of glass, woods, and leather. 

 

“I don’t suppose you’re here to ask about an entertainer’s contract?” Sharkey smiled at him.  The man was friendly, but wary.

 

Hutch smiled back. “I’m afraid not.  I appreciate you taking the time to see me.  I’m here to ask some questions about Coach Ed Owens.”

 

“We’re always happy to cooperate with law enforcement.  The only crimes we ever delve into here involve violations of copyright and breaches of contract, and I was certain this visit wouldn’t involve either of those situations.  I really don’t know much about it, other than what’s been on the news.”

 

“Didn’t your son tell you we’d interviewed him?”

 

Sharkey nodded.  “Yes, he said you and your partner came to the school and spoke with the kids and some of the teachers.” 

 

“Yes, we did.  I also spoke with your son yesterday afternoon at basketball practice.  Can you tell me if Trent had any problems with Coach Owens?”

 

A knock on the frame of the open door paused Mr. Sharkey.  He waited while the secretary brought him a cup of coffee.  “Thank you.  Please close the door on the way out, Mary,” he said.  After she’d done so, he took his time stirring the coffee, then took a sip.  When he put the cup down and looked back up at Hutch, his eyes were hard, angry.  “Detective Hutchinson, are you speaking with all of the other parents individually?”

 

“No.  Our investigation has led us to narrow down certain kids as possibly having some direct information about the murder.  Your son is one of them.”  Hutch didn’t want to give away more than he had to, but he wanted to answer the question honestly.

 

“Then, this conversation is over.  I’m not a criminal law attorney, Detective, but I know better than to speak with you on this matter without my attorney present.  I’ll be in touch.”

 

“Mr. Sharkey, I haven’t said your son was a suspect.  I would appreciate some insight from you, though.  Did he have a problem with the coach?”

 

“Perhaps you didn’t understand me, sir.  I’ll be more direct.  Get out.”

 

Sharkey stood and Hutch followed suit.  He handed a card to the angry father, nodded his goodbye and left.  All the way down the elevator, his mind was filled with possibilities.  If the man was this resistant to answering some simple questions, maybe he knew something.  Trent may have told him something about the killing.  As the elevator door opened onto the second level of the parking garage, his mind was elsewhere.  He had his keys out, jingling them as he walked toward the Torino along the backs of the other parked cars.  He didn’t pay any attention to the van that had pulled out from a parking space right after he stepped off of the elevator.

 

Trent waited until Hutch was even with a long concrete wall, with nowhere to go.  When Hutch heard the tires squeal a little and the sound of the engine racing, he spun around, reaching for his gun.  He didn’t have enough time.

 

Realizing he wasn’t going to get his gun out in time, Hutch tried to get out of the way, but the van hit him anyway.  Trent had waited until he was close enough that Hutch couldn't jump or roll out of the way.  He watched with satisfaction as the cop was thrown into the air.  Hutch landed on the trunk of a big sedan, and he slid off onto the ground, between the sedan and the pickup parked next to it.  Although Trent had hoped to be able to run over the detective, just to be sure he was dead, that wasn’t going to be an option.  His victim wasn’t moving, and there was blood on both the van’s windshield and the white sedan’s trunk.  He smiled to himself, satisfied.  Next, he calmly drove the van through the garage, exiting into the afternoon traffic.  None of the busy commuters seemed to notice the vehicle’s condition.  He parked it in that same small lot, ditching the hat and coveralls into the back of the van, but retaining the gloves.  No one knew he had been there.  He pulled away in the Corvette, completely pleased with himself.  He pulled off the work gloves and pushed them under the passenger seat.  Trent rolled down the windows so he could hear if there were any sirens approaching, but there were none.  If his luck held, he’d be home before Hutchinson’s body was discovered. 

 

No one entered the parking garage for long minutes while Hutch lay unconscious and bleeding on the ground.  Around five minutes after Trent left him for dead, Mabel Lumpkin got off of the elevator with her son, Gerald.  They had been upstairs to see her attorney about her will.  Her son was about to be concerned about the timeliness of that appointment.  He was afraid his elderly mother would die right in the garage – from shock.

 

As they walked toward the car, they both noticed the sizable dent in the trunk, accompanied by the red smear.  Following it with their eyes, they saw Hutch lying in a heap on the ground next to the car.  Mrs. Lumpkin fainted. 

 

~*~*~*~

 

Shelly Baines drove her son and Starsky back to Metro.  Her husband was out of town on a business trip.  They asked their attorney to meet them at the station and he was waiting when they arrived.  Starsky was surprised that he didn’t see the Torino, sure that Hutch would be back from his appointment by the time they returned.

 

Captain Dobey had decided it might feel less intimidating to Adam and his mother if they met in his office, instead of an interrogation room.  They were just settling in when Starsky asked about his partner.

 

“Have you heard from Hutch, Cap? He had an appointment, but he should’ve been back by now.”  He’d had a nagging feeling for a while that something was wrong.

 

“He’s probably just stuck in traffic.  Let’s go ahead.”

 

Mrs. Baines said, “But traffic is pretty light.”

 

Starsky cleared his throat and said, “Cap, mind if I get a patch through to him?  I think he should be here.”

 

Dobey stared at him for a moment, reading the concern on his face.  Both detectives were rarely wrong about each other when they had a feeling something was amiss.  Starsky had that look on his face.  Dobey knew he wouldn’t be able to concentrate on the meeting if he didn’t check.  “Go ahead.”

 

Starsky went out to his desk and asked the operator to patch him through to Hutch.  He was surprised when another officer answered his call. 

 

“Zebra Three from Control.” The radio in the Torino crackled. Officer Clint Jefferson answered it.

 

“Control, this is Officer Jefferson for Zebra Three.”

 

The dispatch operator paused for a second and said, “I have Sergeant Starsky on patch through for Sergeant Hutchinson.”

 

“Better put him through to me,” Jefferson replied. 

 

After the operator told him to go ahead, Starsky said, “Hutch?  Where are you?”

 

“Starsky, this is Clint Jefferson.  I’m at the Eisley Building on the corner of Vine and Wadley.”

 

Starsky’s blood turned to ice.  Why would a uniformed officer be answering the radio in the Torino?  He couldn’t think of a reason that would be good news, and he knew that Sharkey’s law office was in that building. 

 

“Where’s Hutch?” 

 

“I was just going to call the station.  He’s on his way to Memorial.  Some people found him on the ground next to their car.  Looks like he was the victim of a hit and run. Probably purposeful, no skid marks.”

 

“Oh, my God.  Did it look bad?”

 

“Did to me.  I’ll have my partner drive the squad over to the hospital and I’ll meet you there.  Want me to bring the Torino?”

 

“Yeah, did you get the key?”

 

“Found his keys on the ground.  I have it.  See you there.”

 

They broke contact. Starsky stepped back into Dobey’s office and told him what was happening.  Dobey agreed to handle the discussion with the people in his office, and he promised to go to the hospital as soon as he could.  When Starsky told him where Hutch had been, Adam gasped.  He looked horrified and whispered that he was sorry as he dropped his eyes to the ground.  Starsky didn’t have time to deal with that at the moment, but he hoped Dobey would.

 

Dobey had heard the softly muttered words.  He turned to Adam. “Son, why don’t you tell me what you’re sorry for.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Starsky had checked a squad car out of the motor pool.  He left it in the space for police vehicles near the emergency room entrance and rushed inside.  Jefferson was standing next to the admitting desk and he waved at Starsky to come over to him.  Starsky flashed his badge and accepted the clipboard to fill out the standard information on his partner.  No one could tell him anything about Hutch’s condition yet, but the paramedics were still there.  Ignoring the clipboard, Starsky went back out to the ambulance bay and waited for them, Officer Jefferson right behind him.

 

“Tell me everything, Tom,” Starsky said to the paramedic he recognized.  Tom Jameson had treated both Starsky and Hutch in the field over the years.  He knew there was no hope of generalizing or getting the worried cop to back off and wait for the doctors.

 

“Looks like he was hit by a large vehicle.  He was thrown maybe ten or fifteen feet, landing on a parked car and then dropping to the ground.”

 

“What’s his condition?” Starsky asked. 

 

“He’s still unconscious, or he was as of about ten minutes ago.  He banged his head pretty hard, but his pupils were equal and reactive.  He had a large laceration on his arm, and another on one of his legs.  He lost a lot of blood.  Maybe a broken arm... definitely a dislocated shoulder.”

 

Jameson’s partner, Greg Fields, added, “Might be some internal injuries.  I’m sorry, but he was pretty shocky, too.”

 

Starsky thanked them and left them to return to duty.  He went back inside and filled out the paperwork while he waited.   Andy Cohen, Jefferson’s partner, walked up to them after a while with a possible lead on the vehicle that hit Hutch.  A patrol unit had responded to a call on a gray van parked behind the St. James Hotel.

 

Cohen flipped open his notebook and read off the information, “The van was found about three blocks from where Hutch was hit.  Officer Henderson reports it has a broken windshield, with some blood on both the glass and the grille.”

 

“Go,” Starsky said.  He handed the black-and-white’s keys to Jefferson and collected Hutch’s keys.  Jefferson told him where the Torino was parked, and the two officers left to see about the van.

 

Shortly after they left, a doctor stepped out and called Hutch’s name. 

 

“I’m Detective Starsky,” he answered as he crossed the distance between them. “How’s my partner?”

 

“I’m Doctor Gertz.  He’s still unconscious, severe concussion with a simple skull fracture.” He paused and tried to look more reassuring when he saw Starsky’s eyes widen and his jaw drop. “It sounds bad, I know, but it’s really just a hairline crack, completely closed.  He’s got a dislocated left shoulder and a badly sprained left wrist.  He probably tried to brace himself from the impact.  His right arm had a deep laceration; we put fifteen stitches in that.  I’d say the grillwork on whatever hit him had something that dug into his leg, causing a severe laceration there, too.  I put twenty-three stitches in that.”

 

The doctor paused. “You look a little pale,” he proclaimed.  He pointed at Starsky’s bruised face and said, “Looks like you went a few rounds.  Sit.” 

Starsky ignored his remark.  “What about internal injuries?  Anything like that?”

 

“He’s bruised pretty badly, and we’re watching him for any signs of excessive bleeding. We’re closely monitoring the head injury, too.  Right now, it’s fair to say it’s a wait and see situation. I ordered three units of blood and he’s being sent upstairs to the ICU.”

 

“Will he be okay?”

 

“Frankly, I’ll feel better when he regains consciousness.  The blood loss, concussion, and the shock he was in when he got here are concerning.  Right now, he’s critical.  I really can’t promise anything.”

 

Starsky swallowed and nodded. He didn't think he wanted to hear any more. "Can I see him?"

 

"In a little while. We'll send someone out to you when he's settled in a room."

 

Starsky sighed and went back to a seat. He tried to read one of the aged magazines on the table but he couldn't concentrate. He bought a cup of bad coffee out of the machine but he couldn't drink it.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Adam shifted uncomfortably in his seat and refused to meet Dobey's eyes. His mother put her arm around him and glanced at the attorney.

 

"If Adam is under arrest, you need to read him his rights," the attorney said to Dobey. "If not, he doesn't have to answer any questions."

 

At that, Adam looked up. "I gotta tell the cops something, Mr. Sawyer. Look what's already happened. What if Trent –" He stopped short.

 

"Don't say any more," Sawyer warned him. He glanced at Dobey. "Well, Captain? Is Adam under arrest?"

 

"No," Dobey said. "He's not even really officially under suspicion at this point. But if he has information which could help us, and if he's willing to share that information without being forced to, we could probably help him in return, if it turns out that he's involved somehow."

 

"We'd need a guarantee."

 

Dobey sighed and picked up the phone to call the D.A. and explain the situation.

 

"It depends on how involved the kid is," the assistant DA who spoke to him said. "If he has knowledge but didn't take part in the act, we could probably guarantee him probation. And if he's only 16, he could even be classified as a juvenile. If he took an active part in the crime, we might have no choice but to consider him an adult under the law."

 

Dobey put the assistant D.A. on hold and repeated what she'd said to Sawyer.

 

Sawyer nodded. "May we have a moment, Captain?"

 

Dobey sighed again and left the room, using a phone in the squad room to explain to the D.A. that Sawyer had wanted to consult with his client before deciding what to do.

 

"That's what lawyers do, Harold," she said with a laugh. "He's not getting paid to hand you the kid on a platter."

 

"I know that," Dobey snapped. A few moments later, Sawyer opened the door and beckoned to Dobey.

 

"Adam will tell you his story, but only if he has a written guarantee from the D.A.," Sawyer said. "We want to be cooperative, but I have to protect my client."

 

Dobey picked up the phone again and repeated the demand to Weathers, the assistant D.A. She considered it for several moments, then went to confer with the D.A. himself. When she came back, she said, "Mark's willing to guarantee Adam will be charged as a juvenile, but only if the boy did not actually assist in the act of murder."

 

Dobey had put the phone on speaker so that Sawyer, Mrs. Baines, and Adam could hear. He raised an eyebrow at the attorney, who glanced at Mrs. Baines. She nodded slightly, dabbed at her eyes with a wad of Kleenex, and reached out to take her son's hand. Dobey clicked the speaker phone off to keep the rest of the conversation to himself.

 

"Will he testify against the other boy?" Weathers asked.

 

Dobey put the question to Adam, who nodded. Dobey relayed that to the D.A.

 

"Then I think we can guarantee him probation, provided he doesn't have a prior record."

 

"Do you have a record, Adam?" Dobey asked.

 

"Certainly NOT," Mrs. Baines said indignantly. "This is the first time –" She broke off when Adam shook his head at her.

 

To Dobey, Adam said, his voice choked, "No, sir. I don't."

 

After confirming the details of the deal with Sawyer, the D.A. said she'd send a stenographer to Dobey's office to take Adam's statement. While they waited, Adam struggled to keep his composure. His mother didn't even try. Finally, a stenographer arrived and took her place to the right of Dobey's desk, pad and pen poised.

 

"Go ahead, Adam," Sawyer said to the boy.

 

Adam took a deep breath, and in a trembling voice, said, "Trent killed Coach Owens."

 

Dobey's mouth fell open. "Are you sure?"

 

Adam nodded. "I saw him do it. I didn't do anything but watch," he added. "I helped him put Coach's body in the car trunk, but I didn't hurt Coach. I never touched him!"

 

"Why did he do it?" Dobey asked.

 

Adam's eyes began to well up, and he tried to blink the mist away. "Oh, God," he whispered, and his mother pulled him closer. He swallowed several times and finally said, "Coach caught us smoking grass behind the gym and cut us from the team. It's the rule. You get caught smoking or drinking or goofing off and you get cut. We all know that."

 

Dobey nodded, keeping his face impassive. "And Trent considered that a reason to kill him?"

 

Adam shrugged miserably. "I don't think so, sir. He saw a movie about the perfect murder and he wanted to try it. I know that sounds crazy, but Trent's different than he used to be. He scares me now."

 

"Did he force you to help him?"

 

Adam nodded and rubbed at his eyes. He looked up and met Dobey's eyes. "I tried to get out of it, sir, I really did. But ... I was afraid not to go along. I didn't really think he'd do it until he did. I thought he was just, I don't know, pretending he was going to kill Coach."

 

"When did you realize he was serious?" Dobey asked. "And what happened, exactly?"

 

Adam explained how they had hidden Trent's motorcycle and ridden it over to the running path before dawn, where they waited for Owens to show up.

 

"He parked his car in the lot," Adam said, his voice getting more hoarse and trembling as he talked, "and Trent followed him. I was supposed to bring the car. Trent taught me how to hot-wire a car when we were in junior high, but I didn't have to because Coach had left the keys in it. So I took the car over to the pond, where Trent had told me to meet him. He was going to hide there and wait for Coach to come by. When I got there – " He broke off, too upset to continue.  The lab team had found some unidentified prints in the Volvo.  Dobey hoped they would turn out to be Adam’s.  If he had worn gloves that would blow his assertion that he didn’t know what was going to happen.

 

When Adam had composed himself, he said that when he arrived at the small lake in the park, Trent was struggling with Owens, trying to get the rope around his neck that he'd stolen from Owens' own garage. Finally, Trent had picked up a large rock and hit Owens on the back of the head, stunning him. Then he had strangled him. Adam had helped put the body in the trunk of the car, but otherwise had not helped in the actual crime.

 

"And now – " Adam took another deep breath, "Trent thinks Officer Hutchinson is getting too nosy, and I was afraid ... he might try to hurt him. He thinks I told him something that made him suspicious, and I'm afraid he might hurt me, too."

 

"Don't worry about that, Adam," Dobey said gruffly. "We'll get Trent in custody before he has a chance to hurt you."

 

"I'm so sorry," Adam whispered, giving up the battle and letting the tears come to his eyes. "I never wanted anybody to get hurt, especially a policeman." He turned to his mother. "Mom, I've been so scared since it happened. Scared of Trent, and scared of what you and Dad would think of me and –"

 

She put her hand over his mouth. "We love you, no matter what you've done," she said. "But you've got to understand how awful this is, Adam! Didn't we teach you better than this?"

 

He nodded and dropped his eyes again. "I really didn't think Trent was serious," he said through his sobs. "I thought he was just foolin' around and he was going to laugh at me later about the great joke he was playing on me. I even thought maybe Coach was in on it. Oh, God!"

 

Dobey and Sawyer exchanged a glance. Both were fathers and even though they were on opposite sides of this particular issue, they were joined in their sympathy for Adam's parents now.

 

"We won't try to keep them from punishing you, Adam," Mrs. Baines said softly to her son. Adam nodded, unable to speak.

 

~*~*~*~

 

A nurse finally came to Starsky and told him he could see Hutch. She warned him that Hutch was unconscious and not likely to come to for quite a while.

 

Starsky nodded and followed her to Hutch's room. He sat down in the chair next to Hutch's bed and watched his partner's still, bloodless face. He couldn't remember ever seeing Hutch in such bad shape and it terrified him. He was almost afraid to touch him, but he had to. He had to make sure Hutch knew he was there, even if it didn't seem that he was getting through. He reached out and laid a careful, trembling hand over Hutch's.

 

"Hey," he said, his voice breaking. He cleared his throat and tried again. "I'm sorry we argued over the Sharkey kid, buddy," he whispered. "I think maybe you were right after all. The Baines kid came to the station today and he wanted to warn you about Trent, but ...." He couldn't continue. If Adam had come the day before, or that morning, Hutch wouldn't be lying here now. If Starsky had paid attention to Hutch's suspicions of Trent Sharkey, had helped him look for evidence against the kid, Trent might've been in custody and Hutch wouldn't be lying here now.

 

If only ....

 

Starsky didn't know how he could live with that knowledge. And what if Hutch –

 

No. He wouldn't even let that thought form. Hutch was going to be okay. He had to be okay.

 

Starsky sat beside Hutch for hours, leaving him only for brief periods to allow the nurses or doctor to check on him or to use the bathroom. He'd lost all track of time and was dozing, head pillowed on folded arms, when he felt the limp hand lying in his go rigid. "Hutch?" He raised his head, expecting to see that Hutch had regained consciousness. But instead, he was jerking uncontrollably, making weird, whimpering sounds in his throat, legs and arms flailing. He was struggling for breath and his color was dusky.  Hutch’s heart rate was racing and the monitor alarm started to blare.  Starsky's heart leaped into his throat and he drew breath to cry for help, but medical personnel were already rushing into the room.

 

A nurse grabbed his arm. "Wait outside," she ordered. "Don't argue, just go!"

 

Starsky backed away, trying to keep Hutch in sight as long as possible, but the medical people surrounding him made that impossible. Terrified and heartsick, Starsky retreated to the hallway and walked right into Huggy.

 

"What are you doin' here?" he asked.

 

Huggy looked past him into the room and returned his eyes to Starsky's face. "Dobey called," he said. "Good thing, too. Somebody gotta watch out for you when Blondie can't. Now, come on. I'm takin' you downstairs and feedin' you before you get in any worse shape than you already are."

 

"No!" Starsky jerked his arm away from Huggy. "Somethin's wrong! Can't you see? Look!" He turned back toward Hutch's room.

 

Huggy had seen and had hoped he could get Starsky out of sight of his partner’s still-flailing arms and legs and twitching body. He was just as scared as Starsky by the labored breathing. "I know," he said quietly, getting another grip on Starsky's arm. "You gotta stay out o' the way while they do their thing and help him out, friend. Now come on. Let's at least go sit down."

 

He resisted, but he'd gone so long without rest or food that Huggy managed, at last, to get him started in the direction of the seats a few yards away and make him sit down. Huggy sat beside him and both kept their eyes trained on Hutch's room, though they couldn't see what was happening.

 

Starsky was too upset to sit still, but every time he tried to rise, Huggy yanked him back down. The third time, Huggy swore impatiently and threatened to "tie your ass to the damn chair if you don't sit still!"

 

Starsky sagged against the back of the seat. "I'm sorry, Hug," he said, his voice shaking. "I just ... I just ... Oh, God, Huggy, me and Hutch had a big argument and we never really made up and now what if he ... what if he ... "

 

"Whoa. Just stop right there, Starsk," Huggy said. "Since when has Blondie ever stayed mad at you for more than a few minutes? He ain't mad at you now, no matter what you fought about. Don't worry about that. And don't go borrowin' trouble, neither."

 

"I can't help it, Huggy, I –" Starsky broke off as Hutch was pushed out of his room on a gurney and wheeled toward the elevator. This time, when Starsky shot out of his chair, Huggy was right behind him. "Where're you taking him? What's going on?" Starsky called, panic-stricken.

 

The doctor gave some rapid-fire instructions to the men pushing the gurney and turned back for a moment. "He's going to surgery," he said to Starsky. "He’s been losing blood over the past few hours.  His lung is bruised and I think it’s bleeding into his chest cavity.  I'll let you know more as soon as I can, but we don't have any time to waste right now, all right? We have to get the bleeding stopped."

 

Starsky swallowed hard and stepped back, nodding. The doctor gave his shoulder a quick pat, nodded at Huggy, and followed the gurney into the elevator.

 

“He couldn’t breathe, Hug.  What if he–”

 

“I thought I heard myself say to knock that off.  He’s gonna be fine.”  Huggy tugged on Starsky’s arm until he got him steered back into his seat.  He wanted to wait until the pale man’s color was better before he tried to take him down to the cafeteria, if he could get him to go at all. 

 

Starsky muttered, “Gotta call Dobey.” 

 

“I’ll call him.  Sit.  Don’t make me come and find you.  Be here when I get back.”  Starsky nodded and leaned back against the wall.  He closed his eyes and tried to get his panic under control.  Huggy found a pay phone and reached Captain Dobey at the station.  He was on his way out when Huggy’s call came.  “It’s Huggy,” he said.  “You better get down here.  Things ain’t lookin’ so good.”

 

“Is it that bad?” Dobey asked. 

 

“‘Fraid so.  Our blond brother can’t breathe right and they’ve hustled him off for surgery.  Said somethin’ about bleeding in his chest.  Curly’s hanging on by his fingernails, ya dig?”

 

“Thanks, Huggy.  Keep an eye on him, huh?  I’ll be there in a little while.”

 

“I’m gonna try to get him to the cafeteria, but I ain’t holdin’ my breath. We’re up in the ICU.”

 

Several things interrupted Dobey’s progress out of Metro.  By the time he made it to the hospital, Hutch was out of surgery.   Walking onto the ICU floor, he saw Huggy sitting in a chair near the elevator, but no Starsky.  “Where is he?” he asked as he approached.

 

“He went upstairs to try to find out what’s happenin’.  Thought I’d better wait here for you.”

 

Dobey was asking what Huggy knew about Hutch when they heard the elevator bell.  The doors opened and they saw Starsky back out ahead of the gurney carrying his best friend.  “That was fast,” Dobey muttered.  “Maybe that’s a good sign.”  He looked at Hutch’s pale face as the gurney passed, motioning Starsky over to talk to him while the medical personnel got Hutch transferred back to his bed. 

 

Starsky said, “Thanks for coming, Cap.”  He looked haggard.  “Doc says he has a bruised lung and it was bleeding for the last few hours.  It bled into his chest and collapsed his lung.”

 

“Is he okay, now?”

 

Doctor Gertz stepped out of Hutch’s room and walked over to the worried men. “We’ve put in a chest tube and we’ll be watching the drainage.  Sometimes, these things tap themselves off and that’s what we’re hoping for.  He’s pretty weak.  I really don’t want to have to crack open his chest.  We took him up to the OR just in case, but it looks like the bleeder will seal without surgery.  His breathing is much better and as long as the bleeding trickles off over the next few hours, it should be all right.  It’s been slowing down during the last hour.”

 

Captain Dobey asked, “Is he going to make it?”

 

The doctor looked grim.  “We’re still fighting shock and I’d like it if he’d come around.   Let’s see how things go over the next several hours before I answer that.  Try not to worry too much. I’ll be checking him frequently.  If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go check on his latest x-rays.”

 

Dobey watched him walk away and he said, “I should call his parents.”

 

Shaking his head, Starsky said, “No. Wait, okay?  He doesn’t want them to know about stuff like this too soon.  His mom spooks too easily.  Remember how shook she was when he had the plague?  They had to admit her.  No.  Let’s wait.”

 

The captain nodded, but promised himself that if the prognosis worsened in a few hours, he would defy Starsky and call them anyway. 

 

Before he returned to Hutch’s side, Starsky needed to know what was happening with the case.  “What happened after I left?”

 

“Come sit down over here for a few minutes.  I have a lot to tell you.” 

 

“You go on.  I’ll be right there.”  Starsky went into Hutch’s room.  He walked over to the bed.  One of Hutch’s wrists was heavily bandaged and bound close to his body, with the hand sticking out of the sling.  The fingers were swollen and discolored.  Starsky looked at his friend’s bruised and cut face.  He laid his hand on Hutch’s, like he’d done before the breathing crisis. 

 

“Hey, buddy,” he said quietly.  “You scared us pretty bad.  That’s enough of that.”  Hutch’s color was better and his breathing was still rapid, but not labored, and his hand was cold.  “Dobey’s here.  Huggy, too.  I’m goin’ out to talk to them, but I’ll be back.  Rest.  Be thinking about waking up.”  Starsky blinked hard and cleared his throat.  “I’ve got stuff to say, Blintz.” 

 

Starsky received no answer.  The only sounds were the beeping of the heart monitor and the slightly annoying hum of dimmed fluorescent lights. He reached out tentatively and brushed his fingers through Hutch’s fine, pale hair before he left the room.

 

Dobey couldn’t remember when Starsky had looked so tired and frightened.  He watched the man wearily plop into a chair and look at him, waiting to hear what was next.

 

“Adam confessed the whole thing.  Hutch was right.  Trent killed Owens.”

 

A heavy sigh escaped from Starsky as he shook his head, wishing with all his heart that he’d listened to his partner’s theory.  “What about the accident?  Any chance it was really Trent?”

 

“As a matter of fact, I have some information on that, too.  They brought the van down to the station.  Lab team found a piece of torn material on it that I think is going to match the jacket Hutch was wearing today.  They’re testing the blood they found, but there’s little doubt it will turn out to be his.  When they ran the plates, they found out the van belongs to the Eisley building and it was parked in the garage there, until this afternoon.”

 

The anguished look on Starsky’s face began to switch to one of anger.  “That kid did it.  I know it.”

 

“I know.  With Adam’s statement, we have enough to bring Trent in for questioning.  I put Sean and Jack on it.  They’re securing the warrant and they’ll go pick him up.”

 

“Not without me, they won’t,” Starsky said as he stood.

 

“Let them handle it. You’re too close,” Dobey said.

 

Starsky lowered his chin a little, his eyes getting darker and his face a mask of barely contained rage.  His voice pitched lower and there was no mistaking his intent, just by looking at him.  “Cap’n, that little piece of scum murdered his teacher in cold blood and he tried to kill my partner.  I’m goin’ with them to make the arrest.  He’s mine.”

 

Somehow, Dobey knew he could keep it under control, and he trusted his other two detectives to carefully monitor the arrest.  “By the book, Dave,” Dobey said.

 

“Don’t worry.  I’m not givin’ his lawyers anything to use to get him off the hook.  I don’t like leavin’ with him like this, but I want that kid.”  In hopes of winning his argument, Starsky repeated something Hutch had said years ago.  “Never mess with a man’s partner.”  That worked.

 

“Go,” Dobey said.  “I’ll call and make sure they wait for you at the station.”

 

“Call me on the radio if anything happens, okay?”

 

Before he left, Starsky went back to Hutch’s side.  “I have to go for a while, buddy.  Adam Baines told the whole story.  It was Trent, you were right.  We also think he’s the one who hit you.   I’m going after him.  Don’t go anywhere, huh?  I’ll be back.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Starsky went past the garage and took a quick look at the van before going inside the station.  The starred, bloody windshield, and Hutch-sized dent in the front grillwork sent shivers through his body.  He stopped to ask if they’d gotten the results on the blood type.

 

“Yeah,” the technician answered.  “B negative.”

 

He took a moment to peer into the van, noticing the wires sticking out from under the dash, indicating that the van was probably hot-wired. A close inspection of its front increased his anger. Then, the lab tech held out an evidence bag for him... containing a scrap of torn and blood spattered cloth from Hutch’s jacket.   With a curt nod to the officers poring over the vehicle for clues and evidence, Starsky headed into the building.  Every Metro employee who saw him quickly stride down the hallway to the stairs knew he was barely containing his fury.  The usually friendly man was too deep in thought to acknowledge anyone’s greeting.  His fists we clenched and his jaw tight.  By the time he stormed through the squad room doors to meet Jack and Sean, his determined intensity swept before him like an out-of-control brush fire. 

 

Starsky’s chin was slightly down and to one side.  He didn’t lift his head, just his eyes, and he said, “You have it?”

 

The other two detectives looked at each other with concern.  Jack held up the warrant.  “Right here.”

 

Sean looked at his partner, and then took a step closer to Starsky.  Ordinarily, he would have put a hand on Starsky’s arm and turned on his most sincere Irish charm to let the furious detective know he needed to ratchet down the emotion.  He’d done that for both members of the Dynamic Duo when faced with similar situations where one of them was in trouble and the other reacting.  Not this time.  He knew better than to touch him.  Starsky looked like a single touch might cause him to burst into flames.

 

“Starsk,” he said in a quiet tone, “are you –”

 

Unwilling to take the time to listen to any admonishment, Starsky interrupted.  “I’m fine.  Yeah, I’m pissed, I ain’t gonna lie to you.  It’s handled.”  He reached for the warrant and reviewed the charges with satisfaction.  His eyebrows went up when he read that they were charging Trent with Hutch’s attack. 

 

Realizing what Starsky must be curious about, Jack said, “The witness who called in about the van saw a kid matching Trent’s description get out of the van and into a black Corvette with a plate that read ‘Shark3’.  He was looking out one of the windows of the St. James at the time.” Jack held up a second warrant, this one giving them the right to search the Sharkey home and to impound and search Trent’s vehicle. 

 

Starsky picked his head up a bit and took a deep breath.  He tried to look reassuring and marginally more controlled when he said, “Let’s do it.”

 

The three men walked out together.  They added a couple of uniformed officers and a black-and-white to their arrest group. Jack drove his car.  Starsky filled the other two men in on Hutch’s condition on the ride to the Sharkey’s.  They could easily understand Starsky’s anger.

 

They pulled up to the large, expensive home and Jack swung his car into the circular drive behind a black Mercedes with the license plate, “Shark1.”  The officers in the squad car used it to block the other end of the driveway.  Seeing that they were blocking the target of one of the search warrants parked in the driveway in front of the Mercedes, one of the officers called for a tow truck to collect Trent’s Corvette and deliver it to Metro.

 

Jack and Sean let Starsky go in front, but a silent agreement between them kept Sean close enough to step in if necessary.  Starsky pulled out his badge and knocked on the door.  He and the other detectives were used to people demanding to know who was there before they’d open the door.  Not this time.

 

Harrison Sharkey stood framed by the doorway and the soft light behind him.  “May I help you gentlemen?”

 

“Detective David Starsky, Metro Division.  Is your son, Trent, at home?”

 

Mr. Sharkey looked at the badge and then at Starsky in disbelief.  “Yes, he’s upstairs doing homework.  What is this regarding?”  His face was hard and Starsky could see this wasn’t going to be easy.

 

“We’re here to arrest him, Mr. Sharkey.”

 

Before Sharkey got out another word, Trent appeared on the stairs.  He realized what was happening and started to backtrack up them.  Starsky saw him and called out, “Stop right there. You’re under arrest.” 

 

Trent froze in mid step.  “Dad?” he said tentatively.

 

“Stay there, son,” Sharkey ordered. He turned back to the men on the doorstep and said, “I don’t know what you think you’re doing, but you can’t just barge in here like this. Based on what possible evidence?  What gives you the right?”

 

The commotion had drawn Trent's mother from another part of the house, and when she realized what was going on, she started to scream and cry hysterically, making enough noise all by herself to alert the whole city.

 

Starsky had a special disdain for arresting attorneys or their relatives.  Even if they didn’t practice criminal law, they puffed up their tail feathers and put on a show about their rights.  They often resisted arrest, causing more problems and more paperwork.  All three cops could see that this wasn’t going to be easy.  Starsky glared at Harrison Sharkey, his eyes shining with menace as he said, “We have warrants for his arrest, to search the premises, and to impound his car.”  He started to move toward Trent, but Harrison stepped in front of him and put his hands up to stop Starsky.  Sean tensed for anything when he saw that Sharkey was about to touch the furious cop.

 

Several things happened in a flash.  As Harrison’s hands connected with Starsky’s forearms, Starsky brought his own hands up and pushed at the man until he had him pinned to the wall next to the steps.  Trent spun around and started to run up the stairs, but Jack was quick.  While Sean handled Starsky, Jack ran up the steps, pulled Trent down by the ankles, and slapped his cuffs on the boy’s wrists.

 

Starsky was in Harrison’s face, holding him against the wall with his right arm while he poked him in the chest with his left index finger.  “Not only did your kid murder Ed Owens, the little son of a bitch tried to kill my partner!”

 

Sean quickly stepped in, using his body to squeeze between them and back Starsky off the screaming man.  Starsky was strong, but Sean was taller and he was able to hold him back far enough with long, powerful arms.

 

“That’s assault, officer!  I’ll have your badge for this,” Sharkey yelled. 

 

Keeping his hands on the fuming Starsky, Sean turned slightly back and said, “Shut up, Sharkey. You touched him first.  Can it, or I’ll charge you with assaulting an officer and interfering with the performance of his duty.”  Sharkey started to say something in response, but he reconsidered and shut his mouth. 

 

Sean backed Starsky away from him and he hissed, “Don’t make me explain to Hutch when he comes to, why your ass is in lockup.  Cool it!”

 

Starsky stopped struggling against him and he shook it off as best he could. He put his hands up about waist high in surrender and took a deep breath.  Nodding, he said, “I want to read the charges.”  Sean studied his face for a few moments.

 

“Go for it,” he said.  He looked up at Jack, who realized what he wanted and escorted the cuffed youth to the bottom of the stairs. Mrs. Sharkey reached out for her son as Jack led him past her, but Jack pulled him out of reach and deposited him in front of Starsky.

 

“Trent Sharkey, you are under arrest on suspicion of the murder of Ed Owens and the attempted murder of Bay City police detective Kenneth Hutchinson.”  Starsky continued, carefully reading Trent his Miranda rights.  Throughout the recitation, the young man looked scared and then confident by turns.  The contemptuous look he gave Starsky spoke volumes.

 

“Wait a minute!” Mr. Sharkey yelped.  “You can’t take him down to jail, he’s a juvenile!”

 

Jack Hill laughed and said, “Guess you didn’t notice that your son turned eighteen over a month ago.”

 

“No, his birthday is in June!” Sharkey exclaimed.

 

Trent responded, “That’s Harry.”  The elder Sharkey had never been able to remember his children’s birthdays.  Harrison, Jr. was born in June.

 

Harrison Sharkey was stunned.  He tried again.  “But, you’re only seventeen, then.  We gave you the ‘Vette last year!”

 

Starsky fielded that one. “Wrong again.  That was two years ago.”  He couldn’t help thinking that the man’s busy law practice kept him away from home too much.  That might have contributed to his son’s behavior.  Harrison Sharkey watched, heart stricken, as the police led his youngest child out of the house. He reached out for his wife and pulled her close to him, making soothing noises to quiet her hysterical crying.

 

Sharkey called to his son, “I’ll meet you down at police headquarters, son.  Don’t say anything.”

 

Jack jogged over to his car when he heard the radio squawk.  Starsky watched the uniformed officers load Trent into the black-and-white.  Jack waved at him to get his attention.

 

“Starsky!  Patch through from Dobey,” he called.

 

Starsky ran for Jack’s car, his heart pounding.  Please let him be okay.  He grabbed the mike from Jack and said, “Starsky, here.  Go ahead.”

 

“Do you have Sharkey in custody?” Dobey asked.  Since his first words weren’t about Hutch, Starsky allowed himself to relax a little.  Just a little. 

 

“Yes, how’s Hutch?”

 

“He just woke up.  Get down here when you can.”

 

Starsky flinched at that comment.  “But is he okay?”

 

“I don’t know, yet.  Doctor Gertz was just paged.  He’s breathing all right, but he’s pretty agitated.  He’s asking for you.”

 

“Roger that, Cap.  I’ll be there soon.  Call if you need me before then.” Starsky put the mike back and climbed into the car.  Sean and Jack joined him and headed for Metro, pulling around and ahead of the black-and-white.  They promised Starsky they’d finish booking Trent, freeing him to go to the hospital. 

 

~*~*~*~

 

When he arrived at Memorial, Starsky rushed up to the ICU.  Not seeing Dobey sitting in the waiting area, he proceeded to Hutch’s room.  When he arrived, Hutch was gone.  He stood in the room for a few moments, looking at the empty, but not yet remade bed, and the equipment pushed to the side.  His logical mind knew that Dobey would have called if anything terrible happened. If Hutch was dead, somehow, he believed he would know.  Reaching out his feelings, he didn’t find a terrifying hole in his heart where Hutch used to stand, but his emotions and feelings were disconnected from his ability to reason.  He spun on his heel to run out of the room and find a nurse, and he slammed right into Captain Dobey who had quietly walked up behind him.

 

Starsky stood back and said, “Where is he?”

 

Dobey’s face didn’t look panicked, just concerned.  “He’s fine.  They pulled the chest tube and then moved him to a regular room.  I made sure he was settled, and then came back here to wait for you.”

 

Fear and relief danced across Starsky’s features. Despite the fact that his legs felt like they had mutated from flesh and bone to rubber, Starsky kept moving, bringing the captain along in his wake.  “Downstairs? What room?” he asked.

 

“Room 210,” Dobey answered.  He put a hand out to stop Starsky and said, “Dave, I think you should sit for a minute.  You look shaky.”

 

“I’ll sit in Hutch’s room.”  Starsky kept walking and got onto the elevator.

 

Doctor Gertz was at Hutch’s bedside when Starsky walked into the room.  His back was to the door and it looked like he was checking on his patient’s wrist and arm.  Starsky stopped in the doorway and looked at Hutch’s face.  His bruised eyes were tightly closed and a tear slid down the side of his face.  That tear was almost red, tinged with blood.  Starsky wasn’t ordinarily that affected by the sight of blood; both he and Hutch had seen more than their share of it.  During their time together, they had each had the other’s blood on them in emergencies.   This time, the sight was more than Starsky could stand.   He backed out of the room, past Captain Dobey, slowly shaking his head and muttering, “Oh, my God.”  When his back hit the opposite wall, his legs gave out and he slid down it to the floor.  

 

Dobey bellowed at the doctor, who dashed outside in time to see Starsky's pallor. He knelt next to him and ordered him to put his head down between his knees, grabbing the back of Starsky's neck and gently guiding him. "What happened?" he demanded of Dobey.

 

"I don't know," Dobey said. "He looked into Hutch's room and just – "

 

"He was cryin' blood," Starsky muttered brokenly. "Why was he cryin' blood? What's wrong with him?"

 

The doctor patted Starsky's shoulder. "It's nothing, really. It's a broken blood vessel that leaked into his tear ducts. He is in a lot of pain right now, but you don't have to worry about that. It'll heal, I promise."

 

Starsky raised his head in spite of the doctor's restraining hand so he could look into his face. "Honest?"

 

The doctor smiled. "Honest." He gestured to a nurse who had also come when Dobey bellowed, and asked her to bring a cool cup of water and a cold, wet cloth. When she returned with those items, the doctor gently wiped Starsky's face and wrists with the cold cloth and told him to drink the water. Gradually, the color came back into his face. "Feel like you could stand up?"

 

Starsky nodded, and between them, the doctor and Dobey got him to his feet and into a chair.

 

"Now, you sit there until you feel stronger," the doctor ordered him, "and don't make me come out here again, you hear?"

 

Starsky managed a slight grin at that, and Gertz grinned back before heading into Hutch's room again. A few minutes later, once his head was clear and he thought he could move on his own without going down again, he rose and went into Hutch's room. The doctor was just finishing up.

 

"Don't stay too long," Gertz said to him. "He needs his rest."

 

"I know," Starsky said. He looked down at Hutch, whose eyes were so bleary it made his own heart ache. "Feel like shit, don't ya?"

 

Hutch's mouth quirked. "Just about."

 

"Didja get a look at the truck that hit ya?"

 

"Wasn't a truck," Hutch mumbled. "Van."

 

"Did you see the driver at all?"

 

Hutch's brows came together in a slight frown. "Think it was a kid .... "

 

"Was it Trent Sharkey?"

 

"Sergeant," the doctor said, "he isn't really completely with us. An interrogation at this point in his recovery is hardly worthwhile."

 

Starsky looked over his shoulder in time to see the twinkle in Gertz's eyes. He had thought the man was being a bit pompous, but he nodded slightly and let his own mouth turn up at the edges. "I know, Doc. But we got this kid downtown right now, and it'd sure be helpful if we had a positive ID." He glanced down to ask Hutch something else and saw that he'd drifted off. "I guess now ain't such a good time."

 

Gertz chuckled. "He'll be more alert next time he wakes up. In the meantime, I think your interrogation is over."

 

"Guess so." Starsky gave the soft blond hair a gentle caress and turned away. "Will you have someone call me at headquarters when he wakes up again?"

 

"Yes. Run along now and save the world, okay? We've got this under control. Really, we do."

 

Starsky gave in and laughed.

 

When he got to headquarters, the towing company had already delivered Trent's car and the lab team was going over it with a fine-tooth comb, according to Sean. "We've got the kid in Interrogation Two, but he ain't sayin' a mumblin' word," Sean said disgustedly. "Won't even spell his goddamn name for us. Just keeps sayin' he wants 'his attorney.' What the hell does a kid know about an attorney?"

 

Starsky gave a one-shouldered shrug. "His dad's an attorney, dummy. He knows a lot about it. And his dad told him to clam up until he could get here."

 

Sean gave a sigh. "I know. I know. Don't have to like it."

 

"What about the witness? We get an ID on Sharkey from him?" Starsky asked.

 

"Not so far. Now that you're here to cope with the punk and his old man, Jack and I'll go back with a photo of the kid. We'll keep you posted."

 

Starsky nodded and headed for Interrogation Two.

 

When he got there, he first peeked in through the two-way observation mirror. Trent was lounging in his chair, a can of Pepsi in one hand, looking as if he was hanging out at the malt shop instead of sitting in a police station accused of murder. The uniformed cop guarding him cast a couple of disgusted glances his way, but wasn't saying anything to him. Starsky shook his own head in disgust as he exited the observation room and went into the interrogation room.

 

"So, Trent, how ya doin'?" he asked, striving for the "good cop" attitude in spite of his rage at the kid who had hurt Hutch. "They takin' good care of ya?"

 

Trent raised one eyebrow at him. "It's not going to work, Officer."

 

"Excuse me?" Starsky swung a chair around and sat on it backwards. "What d'you mean?"

 

"That old-home-week, folksy charm," Trent said, draining his Pepsi and putting the wet can down on the table. "It's not going to work. I know my rights and I'm not saying one word until my dad gets here."

 

"All I asked was if they were taking good care of you," Starsky pointed out, finding it more difficult than ever not to throttle the kid. The tone of his voice must have tipped off the uniform, who gave him a raised-eyebrow "behave yourself" kind of look. Starsky raised a hand to indicate he was in control.

 

"Sure, I'm fine," Trent said. He folded his arms across his chest and gave Starsky a smile. "Just terrific."

 

Harrison Sharkey arrived within the hour, accompanied by another attorney, a friend from law school who specialized in criminal cases. He demanded to be alone with his son and the other attorney, and Starsky shrugged and backed off, taking the uniformed officer out in the hall with him. "Don't budge," he told the officer. "You can't listen, but you can't help it if you overhear something."

 

The officer grinned and touched his forehead in a salute. "Yes, sir."

 

But Sharkey and the other attorney, Vignieri, were too smart to let themselves be overheard. They were in the interrogation room with Trent for a very long time before Vignieri came out and asked for Starsky.

 

"Where's the D.A.?" he demanded. "We intend to ask for a bail hearing as soon as it can be arranged."

 

"The D.A. has been informed," Starsky said coolly. "Someone will let you know what's going on."

 

"You're stalling, Detective, and I want to know why!" Vignieri had raised his voice enough to alert other officers working nearby and a couple of them came closer.

 

"We're not stalling," Starsky said innocently. "The D.A. has been informed and someone will call you when we have some news."

 

Vignieri stormed back into the room, cursing under his breath and Starsky waited until the door closed behind him to allow himself a grin.

 

It was another hour before the crime lab team was finished with Trent's car. They had found a pair of work gloves and a length of yellow rope as well as a small amount of marijuana.

 

"This do us any good?" Starsky asked. He was thinking aloud as he examined the PM results Joanne had sent them a couple of days after they'd found Owens' body.

 

Victim died of strangulation by a thin nylon cord. Fibers found embedded in the neck are yellow, indicating the cord was yellow. Bruise on the back of the victim's neck indicate a great deal of force and struggle ensued prior to death. Strangulation supported by occlusion of the vessels and dark red congestion in the face and neck, along with fractures of the hyoid bone and thyroid cartilage.

 

Starsky picked up the phone and called the D.A.

 

Trent was booked into the jail – the adult jail, much to his father's fury and dismay – on charges of murder and attempted murder of a peace officer. His arraignment was set for two days later. Starsky took the yellow rope in an evidence bag to Owens' neighbors.

 

"Do you recognize this?" he asked Dennis, who took the bag gingerly and examined it.

 

"It looks like a tow rope for a speedboat," Dennis said. "Ed had one on his boat.”

 

"Could it be his?" Starsky asked.

 

Dennis shrugged. "I don't know. We can go look."

 

Though the house was still sealed as a possible crime scene, Starsky had the key to the garage and took Dennis into it.

 

The towrope was missing. Starsky called for a crime lab team to come and fingerprint the boat in the hopes that Trent hadn't thought of wearing gloves when he untied the towrope.

 

Adam had been released to his parents' custody pending a hearing – he, at least, was still classified as a juvenile. He confirmed that Trent had used a yellow nylon rope he'd taken from Owens' garage to kill the man. And the crime lab team lifted a nice set of prints off the fiberglass hull of the speedboat to compare to Trent's prints, taken when he was booked.

 

Starsky was jubilant when he went back to the hospital to see Hutch. This time Hutch was much more alert, though still fuzzy from pain medication. Starsky grinned triumphantly at him. "We got the kid," he said. "Got him dead to rights."

 

Hutch blinked at him a time or two before he said, "How'd you do that?"

 

"Aw, it was nothin'," Starsky said, pretending to be casual. "Just found the rope in his car, is all."

 

Hutch grinned blearily. "Hey, that's great."

 

"Did you get a look at the driver of the van that hit you?" Starsky asked. "I asked ya earlier, but you faded out on me."

 

"I did?" Hutch shook his head and winced. "I saw him. It was Trent."

 

"Are you sure?"

 

"Of course, I'm sure!" Hutch snapped. "I looked right into the little bastard's face as he was bearing down on me."

 

"Okay, okay," Starsky soothed. "I had to ask."

 

"Sorry," Hutch mumbled. "Didn't mean to bite your head off."

 

"Don't worry about it," Starsky said. He patted Hutch's shoulder gently. "Between you and the witness, we got the kid on trying to kill you, too. He's going away."

 

"Too bad," Hutch said quietly, stunning Starsky.

 

"Too bad?" Starsky repeated, dumbstruck.

 

"Not that you got him," Hutch added. "That a kid like that, with everything going for him, turned out like this."

 

"Aw, Hutch," Starsky said, reaching out to touch his hair. "You always seem to take these things to heart. Don't get all torn up about this punk. He ain't worth it. He damn near killed you."

 

"I know." Hutch sighed and closed his eyes.  Starsky sat and watched his best friend sliding into sleep.  He still had things to say, but he didn’t know where to begin.  Certain that Hutch would soon be asleep anyway, he sat thinking about how lucky they’d been.  He was looking down at the floor, deep in thought, when he felt his partner’s eyes on him.

 

“Hey,” Hutch said as their eyes met.

 

“Thought you were out for the count, buddy,” Starsky said.

 

Hutch smiled at him.  “You’re thinking pretty loud.”

 

“Sorry, I’ll keep it down.  Didn’t mean to disturb you.”

 

“What’s with the long face, Gordo?  Everything’s gonna be all right now.” 

 

“I know.  I just–”

 

Hutch put his uninjured hand up to stop Starsky from saying anything else.  “You’re not still feeling bad about that argument we had over Trent, are you?”

 

Starsky quirked a half grin at his perceptive friend.  “Somethin’ like that.  Aw, Hutch, I’m sorry.”

 

“You know we already talked about that.  After your thick cranium tried to prove it was stronger than concrete.  Clean slate, remember?”

 

“I remember.  I guess, I just didn’t feel like we really got past it.  I said some pretty awful stuff to you and I wanted to make sure you knew I didn’t mean it.  I was planning to tell you at dinner.  Then, when that kid came after you, I felt so guilty.  I should’ve listened to you, Hutch.  If I had, maybe this wouldn’t have happened.  I’m supposed to keep you alive, not get you killed.”

 

Hutch stared at Starsky with his eyes wide.  He was quiet for a few moments. Then, he said, “You tryin’ to cut in on my act, partner?  I thought I was the one with a corner on guilty feelings in this team.  What’s next for you?  Early morning runs?  Painting?”  He lifted his hand again, index finger pointing at Starsky and added, “Lectures?”

 

Starsky laughed and reached for Hutch’s hand.  He gave it a gentle squeeze and said, “Okay, buddy.  Message received.  I am sorry, though.  For the record.”

 

“So noted.”  Hutch yawned and blinked heavily.  He was glad he hadn’t fallen asleep with that still on Starsky’s mind.  In a few minutes, he had drifted off to sleep again. Starsky sat with him a while longer, and finally got up and tiptoed away.

 

With Hutch on the mend, Starsky felt comfortable calling the Hutchinsons and telling them what had happened – an edited version. Predictably, Hutch's mother insisted on coming out to see him, but her health hadn't been good lately and Hutch's father insisted she stay at home while he came to California.

 

Starsky picked him up at the airport the day Hutch was released. Kiko was with Hutch at his apartment, to take care of him while Starsky went to the airport. When Starsky and Richard Hutchinson arrived, Hutch was arguing with Kiko about some minute point in a book Kiko was reading for school. Richard stopped in the doorway, torn between dismay at the bruises and injuries on his son and amusement at the argument.

 

"I'm telling you, 'All Quiet On the Western Front' has nothing to DO with war, it's about disillusionment – " Hutch was saying, pounding on the couch arm for emphasis, when he realized he had an audience and looked up at his father with a faint tinge of pink in his cheeks.

 

"That's my boy," Richard said with a laugh, coming closer to examine his son critically. "Can't stop pontificating even when he's been hit by a car."

 

"A van," Hutch corrected, grinning.

 

"You look awful," Richard said, pushing Hutch's hair back to get a better look at his bruised face. "How do you feel?"

 

"Awful," Hutch said with a chuckle. "But better. You really didn't have to come all the way out here, Dad –"

 

"Nonsense," Richard said, sitting down on the couch and ruffling Kiko's hair before turning back to his son. "You and that close-mouthed partner of yours haven't always told us when one of you is at death's door, and by gum, I'm not going to let him have all the fun of bossing you around this time."

 

Hutch opened his mouth, saw the look on his dad’s face, and closed it again.

 

"Want some coffee, Dick?" Starsky asked, heading for the kitchen.

 

"Sounds good," Richard answered, picking up Kiko's book and looking through it. "So you don't like the book, Kiko?"

 

"No, I like it," Kiko said. "But don't tell my teacher I said that," he added mischievously.

 

"Wouldn't dream of it," Richard said. "I remember the code. You're supposed to hate the books you have to read in English class. Wait till they throw Jane Eyre at you."

 

Kiko made a face. "They already did. That's a girl's book."

 

Richard laughed. "So tell me about this case," he said to Hutch.

 

"Rich kid," Hutch said. "Spoiled rotten. Used to getting everything he wants. So when the coach kicked him off the team for smoking grass, he killed him."

 

Richard stared at him. "You're kidding."

 

"He's not kidding," Starsky said, coming back with a cup of coffee for Richard. "That's the way it went down. I don't think the thought ever occurred to him that he'd get caught or have to do time. But he's going to."

 

Richard shook his head. "You shouldn't give your kids too much," he said, raising his eyebrows when Hutch snorted. "What's that for?" he asked.

 

"You and Mom spoiled us," Hutch said. "And we didn't murder anybody."

 

"We didn't 'spoil' you," Richard objected. "You both had to work for what you got. Remember the T-bird? That was for having perfect attendance and straight As that year. You earned it."

 

"T-bird?" Starsky asked, eyebrows raised and a wicked expression in his eyes. Hutch's face had flushed scarlet when Richard said the word.

 

"We gave Kenny a new Ford Thunderbird for his sixteenth birthday," Richard said, ignoring Hutch's hissed "Don't!" "It was red with a white rag top and a black interior. Beautiful car."

 

"Really," Starsky said, suppressing the urge to laugh. "Red and white, huh?"

 

Hutch gave him a dirty look but kept silent.

 

"I drove it home from the dealer and presented it to him and you know what this ungrateful boy did?" Richard said. "He refused to take it. Said it 'wasn't his style.' Instead, he went out and bought this disgusting old pickup truck, primer gray – what year was that old junker, anyway, Ken?"

 

"It was a '49," Hutch said, resigned.

 

"Barely ran," Richard resumed. "He bought it with money he'd earned helping his grandfather on the farm that summer. Had to work on it constantly to keep it running."

 

"That truck ran like a dream," Hutch said, annoyed. "I worked on it to tune it up."

 

Richard grinned at his son. "Whatever you say. So, since Ken wouldn't drive the T-bird, I did, but I remember he borrowed it for the senior prom to impress his girl."

 

Hutch flushed again and Starsky laughed out loud. "I can just see you," Starsky said to Hutch. "Racing around Duluth in a red and white T-bird."

 

"I did NOT race around Duluth in the T-bird," Hutch said with dignity. "I only used it for my prom. The rest of the time I drove my truck."

 

"With his dog riding along, more often than not," Richard put in. "I think that's the real reason he didn't want to drive the T-bird. He couldn't have taken Shep with him everywhere he went."

 

By this time, both Kiko and Starsky were laughing so hard they had tears in their eyes and Hutch knew they would never let him forget this.

 

"Thanks a lot, Dad," Hutch said disgustedly. "I hadn't told Starsky about that car, and now he's going to rag me about it forever."

 

"Just doing my job," Richard said serenely. "Embarrassing your children is one of the pleasures of having children."

 

The End

 

 

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