Blinded by the Light
Daniel F. Mayhew sat behind his desk staring at the chrome and glass station where his secretary tried to run his office. She was pretty enough, but a lousy lay, and not worth the money he paid her. Also, he suspected she and Snake were having it off, although he was just as certain that Snake had been in his chauffeur's pants as well. He hated the little sleezo, but who else could bring him the business Snake did? He smiled. The only classy people he knew were just as crooked as he was, and just as afraid of being caught.
When the phone rang, he glared at Angela until she picked it up, then rang him. Dumb broad, she knew he was waiting for this call. Time was money. He grabbed the receiver, nodding as the voice on other end harked at him. "Yeah?" he snarled back. "You wanna hear my side or not?"
Ten minutes later, he set the phone back with a sigh. Goddamn fucking brokers, they made loan sharks look like Mother Teresa. For a moment or two he sat drumming his fingertips on the desk, then once again reached for the phone. It was almost lunch time, maybe he could get away for a massage and a little session with Sully. He needed to teach that little faggot just who was boss, and discourage him from eyeing every cop as if he was Trick of the Month. That big blond had been ready to kill the stupid little ass. His eyes narrowed. Maybe the quiet, dark one was more dangerous, come to think about it. What the hell were their names? His broker had asked him and he hadn't remembered.
"I'm leaving for lunch, Angela. Be back around two. Hold my calls."
"Sure thing, Mister Mayhew. You gonna be at home — or the club?" Her brown eyes were wide, her mouth shaped like Betty Boop's, but her tone of voice was cheerfully sarcastic.
"Both. Don't try to reach me — I don't give a damn what happens. You got that?" He was being unnecessarily gruff, but the bitch deserved it.
"What if the cops call? Just tell them to call back?" This time all innocence was gone, and there was malicious amusement in her glance.
"Fuck the cops! They can wait, like everybody else." With that, Mayhew stormed out of the office, dreading the few steps he'd have to make in the sweltering heat before he got into the air-conditioned limo. Sully'd better be there, and not screwing Snake or he'd have both their asses for lunch. God, how he hated September!
But Sully was there, waiting, his uniform tight in all the right places, his gaze hungry and impudent. Mayhew looked him over as he sank into the upholstered comfort of the car, deciding Sully looked better than the steak at Musso's and Frank's. To hell with the massage. "Okay, Sully, let's go home." He leaned forward as the car started. "And for the record, cocksucker, you make another play for a cop and I'll see to it you spend the rest of your life pissing in the sitting position!"
"I was just having fun, boss. Didn't mean nothin' by it." The pretty-boy pout was back, followed by a wide grin. "You notice how mad he got? Betcha he's a closet case. Just like you."
Mayhew stared hard at his driver, forgetting the angry retort he'd been going to make. Food for thought; the kid had a regular radar when it came to such matters. And, if true, it might prove to be a highly valuable piece of information. He removed a toothpick from his jacket pocket and began worrying at his teeth. "Can you prove it?" he asked calmly.
"Nah. But if he is, somebody'll know. Maybe his partner. Just say the word and I'll make it my life's work to find out."
Sully camped it up until Mayhew laughed aloud, then settled in to break all speed limits to the house. When his boss was in a good mood, the sex was fantastic. A few drinks, a couple of joints, and the old guy'd be begging for it. There was a gold watch he wanted; tonight it'd be his. He began singing a very dirty song.
"I don't know how you do it," Starsky complained. "They were tied going into the bottom of the tenth. There was no way they shoulda won and you know it!" He was cleaning up the remains of their dinner while Hutch gathered up the beer bottles. His partner said nothing, merely grinned and shrugged, which made Starsky even angrier. "It ain't gonna be safe for you to set foot down at HQ tomorrow, ya know. How much did Phillips blow on this one?"
Hutch scratched his forehead. "Hmm, this'll make an even hundred he owes me. And Brown bet me double or nothing that the game wouldn't go into extra innings." He shook his head. "Dumb luck, Starsk, that's all it is. Just like Vegas that time." The bottles clanked into a bag, which he set out on the back step. When he returned, he beckoned to his partner. "Come here, I want you to see something." Starsky joined him at the top of the wrought-iron stairway that led down into the empty courtyard of Chez Helene's. The only sound came from the small fountain that trickled in the little patio. To the east the orange-pink glow of neon skies lit the horizon, shot through with lights from incoming planes. He could see the cars on the freeway as they moved toward the huge city that pulsed with so much life, and a thrill ran through him. He'd always thought New York was more exciting until his last visit home, when he'd been struck by its look of age, its rather pathetic attempts to hide the hideous 'dead-zones.' Walking down the street where his mother now lived, he'd actually been afraid, so much so he'd tried unsuccessfully to get her to move to L.A.
"You move too fast there, Davey," she'd said. "Too far between friends."
He slid his glance away, watching Hutch as he stood drinking in the view. Like himself, the man had adopted this area as his home, and now they were both sworn to serve and protect its citizens. For them, it was like a marriage. He smiled at the thought, feeling foolish.
Hutch met his gaze and lifted an eyebrow. "Something wrong? You look like you swallowed a bug." But he put an arm around Starsky and hugged him close. "Now, turn around and look out there." He pointed toward the sea.
"Can't see much," Starsky said, not breaking the hold Hutch had on him, but trying to shift so could see what the tall blond was pointing at. He stepped back, abruptly freezing when the clank of bottles told him a disaster was about to occur.
"Oh, shit!" yelled Hutch, releasing Starsky and racing down the spiral stairs. "Armand'll kill me!" He stopped when the bag and its contents crashed onto the flagstones, narrowly missing a table. "Jesus! Imagine if there'd been people here!" He looked up at his partner. "Bring down the flashlight, you fathead! It's all your fault!"
Laughing, Starsky thumbed his nose, but went in to find the flashlight. Taking his sweet time, he finally joined Hutch who was now frantically searching for a broom. "What're you gonna do in the dark, Dumbo?" he asked, eyeing the shattered glass warily, he focused the light on the bag and its contents, then on the glass shards which had rocketed all over the patio. "You're right, Armand's gonna eat you for breakfast, pal," he grunted, flashing the light under a nearby table. "Probably sue you if anybody gets cut, too. I would." Chuckling, he bent down to pick up a large hunk of glass, tossing it into the trash receptacle that stood under the stairwell. "Damn bag hadda miss by six inches." He watched Hutch scrabbling here and there, the fair hair catching the light as he ducked in and out of the shadows. "I think your luck's about to change, pal. Be bad until the next full moon. Betcha don't win another cent."
"Fuck you, big mouth. I never said I'd keep on winning, did I?" Hutch's expression was firm and he smelled of beer. "All I wanted to do was show you the view out over the goddamn ocean. Venus is hanging up there like a — "
"Pearl in an Ethiop's ear, right?" mocked Starsky, flashing the light into Hutch's face. "Corny, but thanks for the thought. I'll look later." His smile faded as their eyes met and Hutch turned away. "Hey! I'm just joking. I know how you feel about all this nature stuff." He waved his hand in the general direction of the sky. "I like it, too."
But Hutch was back down on his knees, seeking more pieces of glass, his face hidden. "Sure you do, only not as much as your faggy partner, right?"
Starsky winced, for what he'd heard in the question was pain and an incredible isolation. Quietly, he came up behind his friend, not knowing what to say. "If you believe that, you're a bigger asshole than I thought." What the hell was he going to do? He hurt inside almost as much as Hutch did, but how was he going to convince his best friend of that?
Hutch got to his feet, and stood very still, looking down. "That was a lousy thing for me to say. I'm sorry. Guess I wanted to make you feel bad — because now I can't hide anymore."
"Let's forget it," Starsky responded curtly, not liking the direction the conversation was heading — Hutch off on one of his guilt trips. "Besides, if we're going to Huggy's we better leave soon. I'm gonna beat your butt off in pool, so don't keep me waiting."
He was terribly aware of Hutch, and the magic quality of being in a garden when no one else was around. There was the smell of flowers drifting on the slight breeze, yet when he turned away from Hutch it faded. He scowled, whirling back, sniffing the air. "That a new cologne you got on?" he asked roughly. He'd sampled each and every one of Hutch's huge supply of aftershave colognes, and this wasn't one he knew. But the scent was coming from his direction — had it been a gift from that unknown bastard?
Hutch laughed out loud. "As a matter of fact, Sherlock, it's a sample of fabric softener that came in the mail, so you'd better get used to it until I wash clothes again." He made a face, sniffing at his shirt front. "God, it's awful."
Starsky grinned. "Well, lemme tell you something, sweet pea. Don't ever wear it into work, 'cause they'll all be asking you for dates. Even Dobey!" He giggled at the mortified look on his partner's face. Grabbing Hutch by the offending shirt, he pulled him over to the bottom step. "Look, we can come back and clean this mess up in the morning before they open. I wanna go to The Pits, dammit!"
Looking around, Hutch murmured, "What the hell," and followed Starsky up the steps. Within ten minutes they were on their way to Huggy's.
When autumn winds and moisture-bearing clouds announced the end of the blistering summer heat, the entire Metro precinct breathed easier. Now was the time most of this year's horde of sun-loving, and in some cases lawless, loonies would head back to their home states, leaving L.A.'s beaches and night-spots far easier to patrol. While few vacationers sought the rough and run-down area around Metro, the criminal element there was at its busiest: drugs, stolen cars, fancy ladies — all items wanted by the visitors to the sun-drenched Big Orange, and all eagerly provided by the street entrepreneurs. Also, fueled by the Dodger win in the play-offs, the big-time gamblers were rolling into town, and Series fever was rampant.
At headquarters, reason prevailed — except in the matter of the Dodgers. Hutch, wisely deciding discretion was the better part of raking in more winnings, steadfastly refused to place so much as a single bet, to the vast relief of all concerned.
Starsky, balancing two cups of coffee and a Danish, winked at him. "Feel better now that all the guys are speakin' to you again?"
Rescuing an endangered cup, Hutch nodded. "Sure, but guess who came up and asked me if I was going to join the football pool? You got it! I told Phillips there was no way in hell I was going to risk life and limb for a few bucks."
Starsky chuckled. "God, you must've made everyone's day with that news." He bit into the fresh pastry, silently offering to share with his partner. When the offer was smilingly refused, he took another bite. "So, how're things going?"
Immediately, Hutch's demeanor changed, and he eyed his partner like he would a stranger. "Are you referring to my car, the job, or my private life?" He tossed a manila folder across their desk, as though it was the reason for the query. "Read it and weep, pal. Guess who's gonna be back on the streets today?"
Abashed, Starsky allowed himself to be diverted. He picked up the folder and scowled when he saw its contents. "Can't be! He was sent up for at least six to ten!" He glanced at the calendar. "Four stinkin' years, man." He took a huge gulp of coffee, not caring if he spilled any on the papers. "Don't tell me. Goddamn good behavior, right?"
"You got it," affirmed Hutch, retrieving the folder before it came to grief. "Julius Adolfo Penneman, extortionist extraordinaire. This creep would squeeze his own mother dry."
"Yeah, and he sure as hell loved to squeeze the Santa Monica boys, too!" Starsky froze, horrified at what he'd just said. Penneman was as queer as a three-dollar bill, and had made many a gay's life miserable as a result. At the time, Starsky had been certain that Hutch's delight in arresting the man had been purely for professional reasons, but now . . .
However, Hutch merely nodded, apparently taking the comment at face value. "Right. I think he'll find the neighborhood's changed a bit, though. Don't you?" He arched a blond eyebrow.
Starsky didn't try to hold back his grin. The little beach city was heavily populated with young gays who openly paraded their sexuality for others to see, so that anyone attempting to harass that sector of the community usually ended up getting their asses kicked out of town. He had the feeling if and when Penneman tried to rough somebody up this time around, he might find his pretty face on the other side of his head. "So, are we gonna do our usual number and pay the jerk a visit as soon as he's out? Is there an address where we can reach him?"
Hutch laughed. "That's a hell of a nice way to ask where he's going to be shacked up. You know as well as I do that cat's never paid a day's rent in his life. Nope, until his parole officer's got something for us, we're playing it by the book. Besides," the blue eyes still held a glimmer of amusement, "why tip him off we're even interested? The creep might move to another part of the country — if we're lucky."
Getting to his feet, Starsky shook his head. "Not in a zillion years. Penneman's got too many contacts out here to change venues on us. We're stuck with him, and that's the name of that tune." He took another long, hard look at the photograph, then re-filed the folder into the 'active' section. When he turned back he caught Hutch's eyes resting on his rump, then darting away to stare at the clock on the wall. Carefully veiling his expression, he moved until he was standing behind his partner. "Well? You ready to hit the streets? I've got a feelin' today's gonna be a busy one." He placed his fingers on the wide shoulders, something he hadn't done for many days. The action gave him great pleasure, especially when Hutch didn't pull away. "Come on," he said easily. "Let's get outta here."
They left the squadroom, Hutch's expression strangely guarded. But he flung his arm around Starsky's shoulders for a single moment just before they reached the stairs. "Beers on me after work, all right?"
"Hmm. Just so long as we don't stay late. I gotta date with Mitzi, and we're going to the movies."
Hutch nodded. "Maybe we'd better make it another time, then." He avoided Starsky's surprised stare, and was out in the warm sunshine before his partner could protest. "You driving? Why do I ask?" he muttered, for Starsky was already unlocking the Torino and sliding in. "Okay, let's hit Huggy's and see what he's heard about our old friend Juli."
The car waiting outside the state prison was dark and sleek, polished to within an inch of its metal hide. Not a single speck of dust marred its beauty, and the chrome shone like burnished silver in the late sunshine. When a tall figure with a worn suitcase strode through the gates, the limo moved forward, one rear window slowly rolling down. "Hey! Juli, wanna ride?"
Grey eyes widened as the man recognized his old friend. "Mayhew! You old ass-grabber! Did you actually come down here for me?" Then he saw the young chauffeur and broke into a huge grin. "Jesus, baby, you always did get the best . . . Tell me he's queer, please."
"Get in," Mayhew ordered, frowning. He pressed a button, and the glass partition slid into place, providing the two men with a degree of privacy. "I got more to talk to you about than that." He opened the door, waiting while Penneman slid in beside him and shoved the suitcase in at his feet, then slammed the door shut.
Tapping on the partition, he motioned for Sully to drive, then resumed his conversation. "Remember the two cops who sent you up? I've got news that's gonna make you dance on my bed."
Penneman smiled, and leaned back against the upholstery. "The first thing I want is a long shower, then an even longer drink. After that . . ." Dark lashes swept over the shining eyes. "I'm all yours — and all attention."
Mayhew's hand rested on the younger man's leg. "Just think about this while you're taking that shower, friend. Pretty Boy there swears that the blond cop is queer — think you can find out for me? I'd like to see his ass kicked off the force — and that goes double for his partner. Screw me around, will they!"
"Hutchinson queer?" Penneman whistled, then shook his head. "I dunno, baby. God knows he's got the looks, but hell, I'd hate to find out he wasn't . . . he'd blow my balls off with that cannon of his." He glanced curiously at Mayhew. "What'd he do, anyway?"
Ignoring the question, the older man sneered. "Fuck that cannon! If we can get something on him, and make it stick, he won't even be able to shoot what's between his legs. Myself, I think maybe him and his partner have a thing going."
Penneman laughed harshly. "That kike? Hell, no way. I think your driver's just wishful thinking, and I'll be glad to show him some action to make him forget." He looked meaningfully at Mayhew, rubbing his chin. "You into his ass? Or can anybody play?"
Mayhew shrugged, not bothered by the man's crudity. "Ask him. God knows he lets everybody else screw around. Tell you what, you arrange for a tail on Blondie, and I'll see your date book's filled every night for a week. After that, you can damn well find your own tricks. Deal?" He extended his hand.
The smile the ex-con gave him was deadly. "Deal. And if I find out that Blondie, as you call him, swings, I may just decide to show him a thing or two."
Mayhew's grip tightened perceptibly. "That's out. All I want is to get him kicked off the force teach the arrogant son of a bitch to watch his mouth." He held his companion's gaze, his own expression somber. "Think about it, Juli. You know what those two cops are like, hell, Starsky'd probably kill you without thinking about it if you so much as ruffle a hair on that blond head. The first time I saw Starsky I knew he was meaner than cat piss. So don't go getting any ideas. I want to keep this low profile."
Penneman looked away. "Fine. You got a deal. Won't touch him. But promise I can be there when you spring the trap."
Smiling, Mayhew nodded. "Okay, that's fine with me. And I want pictures, Juli, lots of pictures. Maybe even movies." He pushed the button that rolled down the window separating Sully from the passengers. "Straight home. Our guest will be staying with us for a few days — maybe longer." He lightly stroked the warm skin on Sully's neck. "Mister Penneman is looking forward to becoming better acquainted with you, isn't that democratic of him?" He looked over at Penneman, winked, then settled back into the plush seat.
There was a light breeze blowing when Hutch locked his door and ran down the steps. He smiled as he remembered the look on Huggy's face when he'd announced to one and all that he was going home — after only two beers. His friend had been skeptical at first, then openly curious . . . to no avail.
Fishing in his jacket pocket for his keys, he felt something unfamiliar and pulled it out. A matchbook, silver and black, with the silhouette of a gull in red embossed on the front. He grinned, then tucked the little book back in his pocket.
He hurried to the LTD, his mood one of anticipation, and by the time he was four miles down the highway, the cop was gone, replaced by an expensively-clad stranger. When he pulled into the Beach Motors Rental and greeted the manager, his transformation was complete.
He found what he wanted, a black Corvette with cream leather upholstery and paid the deposit in cash. Christ! Starsky would drop dead if he saw this buggy. For a second he toyed with the idea of keeping it overnight, but reason prevailed and he reluctantly shelved the plan. No matter how desperately he wanted to share his feelings about Harper Talmadge with his partner, he'd sworn to keep their relationship a secret, and so far he had.
The 'vette was a dream, and he took his time driving to the country club where they were to meet. At the first red light, he fidgeted with the mirror, annoyed because the fool behind him had on his high beams and they were blinding him. When he stuck his head out the window and shouted, the unseen driver quickly switched back to low, and Hutch shot into the intersection before he realized there was something familiar about the other car. He veered sharply into a driveway, waiting for the other car to pass. It was a red Duster, very like his partner's, but without that damn stripe. Feeling ashamed for what he'd been thinking, Hutch left the driveway and resumed his trip, paying no further attention to the cars behind him.
When he got to the club, the gate attendant gazed momentarily at his guest pass, then waved him on, swinging back the barrier that kept out the working-class folk. It was weird, Hutch thought, that Harper never asked questions about his lover's occupation, satisfied — so he said — with Hutch's fidelity and companionship. He flashed back on Starsky, wondering what his partner's demands were in that department. Impatiently, he dismissed the thought as too dangerous, and drove around, finding a parking spot beneath a slender oleander tree. He got out of the 'vette, locked it and straightened his jacket, combing his hair. What in hell would Harper do if he ever learned Hutch was a cop? That was the man's biggest phobia: cops, any cop, any sheriff, an agent of any kind. Harper claimed his dislike wasn't for the law, but for the men who enforced it. To him, cops were only one step above the people they arrested. At times, Hutch had found himself fighting to keep from shaking his lover until his teeth rattled, despising the condescension in Harper's tone. Still, it was a world where Hutch could pretend — and he was very good at pretending, he admitted to himself. Was always the one who went undercover in the godawful clothes, never caring how he looked. Starsky always said it was because he knew what was under the disguise was great, so why should he care what a slob the makeup guys made of him? He smiled, smoothing down the silk tie he wore, knowing when he entered the large foyer all eyes would be centered on him. Might as well make the best of both worlds, he rationalized. The good Lord knew he didn't belong totally in either one. It was only when he was with his partner that all the pieces seemed to fit, yet that dream was never going to come true. Not now, not ever. So this one would have to do.
Gull's Nest was, he had to admit, a very impressive, very discreet place where rich, closeted gays and their friends could wine and dine without the prying eyes of the general public. He crossed the cobblestone courtyard, nodding at the lot boy who greeted him with a big smile. The building's architecture was California-Orient, which meant the obligatory hanging lanterns and bronze storks in lily-pad pools. The entrance was made through two huge slabs of redwood set with antique Japanese hinges. Without comment he handed his guest card to the hawk-eyed doorman, and was rewarded with a slightly less hostile look. As usual, he crossed the thickly carpeted lobby, to stand near the bar. As he passed a mirror he took stock.
The blond man who stared back at him was looking fairly elegant tonight, he thought. Black jacket, cream slacks, silk shirt and tie, hair as blow dried as he could make it. He fussed for a moment with the handkerchief in his jacket pocket, then turned to look for Harper. He would already be at the bar; the man would find a stool and perch on it for hours, seldom downing more than two drinks all evening. Gull's Nest was more than a social club, it also saw a lot of business transacted. There was a hell of a lot of money in the gay community.
"Hi. Buy you a drink, handsome?"
Surprised, Hutch slowly pivoted until he faced the owner of the baritone voice. No one he knew, but the guy certainly was built. He smiled, shaking his head. "Sorry, haven't had anything to eat. Thanks, anyway."
"Then why don't I just buy you dinner, too? I could use the company." The man held out a well-shaped hand, the highly-buffed fingernails gleaming in the amber lighting. Also gleaming were the dark blue eyes.
"Sorry about that. I'm waiting for my, ah, dinner companion. He should be along any minute."
"My loss. If he doesn't show in fifteen seconds dump him and spend the evening with me." This time the man smiled, shaking his head in disgust at his bad luck.
Hutch laughed and held out his hand. "Name's Ken. Thanks for the offer. Believe me, I've had worse."
His hand was held in a firm grip for just a moment too long. "I'll just bet you have, beautiful man. And you can call me George. You sure you won't marry me and settle down to raise plants?" Again the wry grin.
Hutch decided he liked George. "Plants? Well, only if I get the African violets when we split up."
"Take them, they always liked you best anyway. But I get custody of the Barbara Streisand albums."
Laughing, Hutch retorted, "Better yet, that means I can keep Donna Summer all to myself."
George grinned, eyes warm. "See? Look at all the fun we could have breaking up. Let's elope right now"
"My friend . . ."
George leaned close, whispering in Hutch's ear. "Fuck your friend. Or, if that's impossible, let's go out to my car."
The game was over. Hutch stepped away, his smile chill, his head high. "Naughty. I'm not for sale, George, and don't expect to be, either." Looking away, he spotted a familiar figure walking swiftly toward him. "Excuse me, here's my friend." He glanced at George, who was standing to one side watching as Harper greeted him.
"Ken! Have you been waiting long? I left word you were to join me as soon as you arrived. Let me look at you."
Out of the corner of his eyes Hutch saw George slip away, then he gave all his attention to the man who was looking at him with such hungry eyes. Smiling, feeling his heartbeat race, he warned, "Careful, Harper, or folks will talk."
"Then come on," the taller man said brusquely, "or I'll give them plenty to talk about."
As they headed for the dining room, Hutch noted wryly that the club's ambiance was just what the tasteful gay loved. Low lighting, plants galore, and more trim, well-dressed men than anyone could handle. He smiled, yet deep inside he felt that unnamed shame begin: he was different, and it was a difference he wasn't happy with. Still, Harper, walking here beside him, dark head high, didn't feel as if being gay was a drag, so why did he? Was it because of the double life he was leading as a straight cop and a closet playboy? How would he ever explain to his partner just why publicity of any sort would mark the end of his relationship with this handsome, very sexy man? As they were seated across from one another, he gazed at his lover fondly. Tall, well-built, with even features and wonderful, pale green eyes, the man could have been an egotistical ass, but he wasn't. He was a lot of fun, possessing a finely-honed brand of humor that was in direct contrast to Hutch's own cynical one, He tried to throw off his depression. After all, wasn't this better than another night watching Starsky's bowling team sweat its way to a loss? He smiled to himself, knowing that part of him would honestly debate the question, while the other half would sneer at his pretending to be so damn straight. This was where he belonged, surrounded by his own kind, playing the dating game and always pretending there was nothing better.
"I ordered you a bourbon and seven," Harper said quietly. "Do you know that fellow you were talking to?"
Hutch smiled at the serious tone. "No, but we were considering an elopement. Price was too high, though." He watched Harper's mouth twitch, revealing a dimple in his right cheek.
"Thank goodness. I'm not the type to fight a duel."
"That makes two of us," Hutch responded glibly. He and Harper had a good thing going, and he genuinely cared for the man . . . so why not enjoy tonight? And all the other lonely nights ahead?
The drinks arrived and Hutch raised his glass. "Bottoms up," he said, looking into the pale green eyes.
"So? Where d'ya want to go?" Starsky asked. Mitzi was always amenable to any of his plans . . . it was only fair to give her a shot at the night's entertainment. He'd hoped to persuade Hutch to tag along, but the way his partner had fled Huggy's had left him with no chance to ask. He ran his fingers over the girl's tip-tilted nose, smiling down into lustrous, deep brown eyes. "Hungry?"
She smiled up at him through impossibly-tangled sooty lashes. Her Greek ancestry accounted for the dark skin and jet black hair, but she owed her long-legged body to another ancestral branch. She was nearly as tall as he was, and every bit as agile in bed. Whenever she was in town she called, and unless he had other plans they always at least grabbed a bite to eat and went to the movies.
"Don't care, really. Maybe some Colonel Sanders? What's on TV?"
There was no doubt what Mitzi had on her blessedly frank mind. She snaked her arm around Starsky's middle, blowing her warm breath into his shirtfront until he began squirming.
"Mmm. You smell good, David."
"Colonel Sanders it is," he replied. "And maybe there's a good movie on. A bottle of wine. Hey!" Her nails had dug into his back, just enough to hurt, and instead of exciting him the discomfort was annoying for some reason. "God, you could slice bread with those claws."
Making a face, Mitzi kissed his chin, but didn't apologize. "Wine's okay, but none of that cheapo stuff your partner buys. I'd rather drink Pepsi."
Once again he felt annoyed. Hutch's taste for the grape was casual to say the least, but it wasn't because he was cheap. He smiled, remembering the many bottles of vino the two of them had consumed over the years. "Hutch just prefers beer most of the time — unless he's eating in some expensive joint, then he wants the best."
Her tone changed as she smiled archly back at him. "David, why do you always take his side? Hutch is a big boy — a very big boy — you don't need to defend him. He's not perfect, you know."
For a long, long second he stared back at her, trying to hold on to his temper. "He's my partner. Defending him both physically and figuratively comes naturally." He repressed a smile, knowing he was repeating one of Hutch's phrases verbatim.
Her own attitude hardened. "Oh, for heaven's sake! He's no saint! Why do we always end up talking about him?" She pressed against him and kissed his mouth, her eyes dancing when she pulled away. "Let's not talk about your partner any more. Let's pretend you don't even have a partner, hmm?"
He caught her hands, trying to recapture the light-hearted mood of a few moments ago. "You're right. Who needs him? You can be my partner tonight."
"Only don't get called away when we're in the middle of something . . ." she giggled, ". . . you know . . . physical."
Starsky felt his spirits rise. What reason did he have to be mad at her? This time he gathered her close. "Right, you got it. We're goin' to the moon, so no calls."
Mitzi's small hands pushed him away. "Not without dinner, big spender! Come on."
They laughed together, and in a rush of happiness Starsky felt his libido take over. She was right; Hutch was a big boy and if he wanted to sleep with somebody and keep it a secret, so what? It hadn't damaged their friendship — not so far — so by all rights he should just forget it.
He felt Mitzi's hand on his shoulder, and his mind sent him a picture of Hutch's hand, hard fingers resting there, just touching his collar. He clenched his jaw, then started the Torino, asking. "You want to go to Tiny Naylor's . . . getcha a Star Burger?"
Mitzi looked at him with shining eyes. "You mean the one with ham and cheese between buns? Sure. I adore tender buns — you know that." In what was meant to be a seductive gesture, she ran her fingers through the curls at the nape of his neck. "Love your hair when it's long," she murmured.
Starsky shook his head. "Not when I'm driving!" he snapped. Then, seeing her astonished expression, he explained. "Too distracting, that's all."
She managed to look properly mollified, but the gleam in her dark eyes held a world of questions. "Never bothered you before," she said tentatively, fishing in her purse, bringing out a pack of cigarettes. She lit one, blowing a thin stream of smoke toward him. "Sorry if I upset you."
He felt guilty as hell, then. "Hey, it's not your fault you've got sexy fingers. Wait until we're back at my place . . ." He shrugged. "Then you can use 'em wherever you want." He made a grab for her fingers and kissed their tips, feeling that somehow this was all Hutch's fault. "Damn! I'm so hungry I could eat —" His grin as he gazed at her said it all and she tossed back her mane of black hair and laughed with him. "— a couple of Star Burgers and fries," he finished. The Torino streaked through traffic, heading for the glitter of Hollywood.
Luckily, it was nearly midnight when the call came, and Starsky struggled to disentangle himself from Mitzi's warm embrace. She lay sprawled on him in a maze of honey-colored limbs, her hair in wild disarray.
His own body was made of lead — their lovemaking had seemed a bit desperate. He made a grab for the phone and missed, cursing when he grazed his knuckles on the bedside table. Another ring and he had it. "Yeah," he slurred, finding his lips swollen and tender where they met the chilled elastic. "Starsky."
"It's me. Snake's been iced, pal. Throw on a pair of jeans and haul ass. Meet you at Tenth and Waterman in half an hour."
Starsky did some lightning calculations. "No way you can get there from Venice in thirty minutes. Not in that heap of yours."
The soft voice took on an edge. "Just get going and I'll meet you there! Shake it, Starsk!" The line went dead.
Wide awake now, Starsky crawled the rest of the way out of bed and tossed the covers over Mitzi's unmoving form. She'd be mad as hell when she woke up, but at least they'd had some fun last night. He grinned as he headed for a quick shower; only twelve-thirty and already he was counting it as a new day. Well, in a cop's book that was how things went.
The small jolts of adrenalin began working, allowing him to concentrate on the possible reasons for the little snitch's demise without being distracted by the chores of washing and shaving. He felt some of the old sense of anticipation return . . . was it because Hutch had sounded so like his old self? All business — one of the best cops around. He dressed automatically, then let himself out of his apartment without making a sound.
He shivered when his warm flesh made contact with the chilly upholstery, but all sense of discomfort was forgotten when he started the Torino and coasted down the hill, keeping the low beams on until he was away from his place entirely.
He concentrated on the business at hand; just who stood to profit by Snake's death? What had the little creep known — or done — to get him iced? He turned onto Sunset, speeding past the maze of neon and glass which gradually lost its uptown glitter for the seedier, drearier, section that marked the growing underbelly of El Lay.
When he pulled into the parking lot behind a dingy store on Waterman, he saw Hutch's car was already there. The lone street lamp made it easy to spot his partner — as always, the blond head caught the light. He took the time, hidden as he was in shadow, to study Hutch for a couple of minutes. Then, all business, he came forward to greet him. "Hi. You usin' some new kind of fuel additive?" he asked curiously. "Ain't no way that heap should get you here before me."
Hutch smiled a lazy, knowing smile and shrugged. "No, just a dose of megavitamins. Works every time."
"Sure it does. Now, what the hell happened here?"
For the next half hour they sifted through the facts: A wino had stumbled over Snake's body in the parking lot and had spotted a patrol car within a couple of minutes of his find. The body had been lying face down, a bullet hole in the middle of the back. All Snake's ID and cash was still in his pockets, a flashy gold chain and ring still on his person. The coroner had told Hutch it was fairly obvious he'd been murdered somewhere else and dumped in the lot a short time later.
"That's it, huh? Any chance Mayhew had him iced for singing? Surely he knows he becomes our Numero Uno suspect." Starsky got to his feet, uncomfortably aware that his cock was rubbing against the inseam of his jeans. In his hurry he'd skipped his underwear, now he was going to pay for it. It was at that moment he noticed what Hutch was wearing. "Where in the hell were you when you got the call?" he demanded. "You look like one of those ads in After Dark!"
Hutch met his partner's eyes. "Was just coming home from a date when I got the call. Wasn't far away, that's why I got here first."
"Christ! Musta been some date," Starsky said admiringly. "Can I borrow that jacket sometime?"
Hutch's chuckle was genuine and relaxed. "Sure. Want the pants, too? My tailor'll shorten them for you . . ." He glanced down at Starsky's attire. "Was Mitzi pissed when you dumped her?"
It was Starsky's turn to grin. "She still doesn't know it. Sleeping like a baby." He saw a flicker of something in Hutch's eyes, then the fair lashes hid whatever it was. There was an awkward moment, then Hutch sighed. Starsky forgot about Mitzi. "You okay? Nothin's wrong?"
"Hmm? Oh, no, everything's all right. Maybe we can talk after we get this prelim stuff attended to. Let's get going. I'll meet you back at Headquarters." He strode toward the LTD, looking elegant and out of place in the bleak surroundings.
Starsky watched his partner pull away, then headed back to his car. He sat wondering what Hutch wanted to talk about. Deciding he was wasting time, he switched on the ignition, swearing when he saw he was nearly out of gas. "Damn!" The last black and white had left the scene only minutes before Hutch, and in this section of town there wasn't a single station open this time of night — the chance of being robbed was too great. He didn't dare leave the Torino for the same reason, there wouldn't be enough of the car left to put in a shoebox if he did. When an inspiration hit him he grinned; Hutch was going to be as furious as he was. He reached for the mike. "This is Zebra Three. Will ya patch me through to Hutchinson? He's on his way back to the station." He switched off the engine and waited.
Moments later he had the return call, and when he explained his plight heard Hutch's exclamation of disbelief with something akin to wicked pleasure. "C'mon, just pick up a couple of gallons. I know you've got a can in your trunk. Zebra Three out."
He sat back, rubbing the back of his neck, watching the various forensic teams at work. The big van housing their equipment was filled with everything from baggies to special vacuum cleaners. Once again he marveled at the way the Law worked its miracles. The average citizen never realized what it cost them when somebody was murdered. Anybody who died under suspicious circumstances was given the full treatment, no matter who they'd been. He felt a decided satisfaction in knowing that.
It was while he was sitting there that be saw a car pulling out from behind another building, heading toward the roped-off area. It was dark and gleaming, and he was willing to bet it sported customized license plates. When it cruised slowly by he got a good look at the driver. It was the kid who worked for Mayhew, but he couldn't be certain he was alone. He ducked down, not wanting to be spotted, thinking it was lucky they d been in the LTD when that bust had gone down. Maybe he owed a debt to the old crate at long last. When the limo was past the site, he radioed, asking for a tail. Sitting back, he smiled grimly, wondering what Hutch would make of this news.
He didn't have to wait long; Hutch pulled up and hopped out of the car, grimacing as he lifted the gas can out of his trunk. "You're paying if I get grease on these pants," was his greeting.
Quickly, Starsky poured the gas into his tank, relating the incident of Mayhew's car, and his own actions. "I dunno if he was in the back or not — someone was — but you know those damn dark windows, can't see a thing."
"That was good work, Starsk," said Hutch thoughtfully. "Why don't we take a run over to Mayhew's? Maybe we can beat FLASH home." He glanced at the Torino, then at his own car, sighing. "I'll leave my car here and we'll take yours."
Starsky hid a smile. "Yeah. Hop in, buddy, because I still have to fill my tank. We'll use the siren if we get hung up." He started the car while Hutch locked up the LTD, commenting evilly, "Don't know why you wasted the effort. Even down here that thing's a hunka junk."
The look his partner threw him said volumes, but a slow grin made up for it. "I'll have you know that tonight I was behind the wheel of a brand new Corvette. Black, cream leather interior . . ." His voice trailed away as he looked out the window.
Starsky drove silently, digesting the information and trying not to ask the wrong question. "Bet it cost a bundle. How much they soak you for it?"
Hutch shrugged. "For only one night — ah — wait . . ." He fished in his jacket. "Sixty-five bucks plus insurance."
"Wow! Musta been some date. Hope she — uh — he appreciated it." He didn't look at his partner. Didn't dare.
There was a quiet chuckle, then a moment's silence as Hutch checked the radio to make certain the channel wasn't open. "Oh, he knew it was a rental. I've had three different cars since we started seeing one another." He paused. "He's a nice guy, Starsk."
Starsky trod hard on the accelerator, sending them careening around a corner. "Forgot I have to gas up. Sorry," he said crisply as he pulled into an all-night Arco station. "Won't be a sec." He hopped out of the car, not wanting to examine his feelings now that Hutch had finally opened up a bit.
Filling the tank in record time, he paid the bill without a whimper, still puzzling over Hutch's sudden frankness. Talk about lousy timing; between Snake's murder, and the almost-too obvious appearance of Mayhew's chauffeur at the scene. He leaned in his window, struck once more by how different Hutch looked when he wore such expensive clothes. Worlds apart. "Ya thirsty? There's a milk machine over there."
"No, thanks anyway, I'll have coffee back at the station."
"Your loss. I was gonna treat." He grinned as Hutch shook his head, getting back in the car and turning the key. As he sped up Sunset heading for the Hollywood Freeway and points north, he hoped they could make up for lost time.
He was suddenly aware that Hutch was staring at him. Smiling, he turned his head so he could stare back. "All right, what're you lookin' at? My ears on crooked or something?"
When warm fingers brushed back his curls so Hutch could gravely inspect his right ear, Starsky fought down a sudden sense of panic. There was such tenderness in the gesture that it caught him off guard. For a wild moment he wanted the hand to remain there, tangled in his hair, bringing all the caring with it. He concentrated instead on his driving. "Well, what'd you find?"
"Oh, two things," came Hutch's very soft reply. "The realization I don't see your ears more than once a year, and the fact I can see right through your head." His eyes were as wide and innocent as a child's.
'That's 'cause my thoughts are so pure they're like air. It ain't empty space up there, just because you can't see anything."
He cautiously allowed his glance to slide across his partner's face, studying the strong features, so perfectly even they looked unreal at times. He knew every hair, every line on that face and loved them all. Just as Hutch must know my crazy face.
That was an idea. "If you had to describe me, how would you do it? Seriously, Hutch, no stupid answer, huh?"
What he wasn't prepared for was the immediate response. Plus the knowledge that his partner was no longer looking at him.
"Easy. Dark curly hair, good forehead with dark curly eyebrows . . ." There was a twitch of the full mouth. "Next we move on to very dark blue eyes, and dark curly eyelashes. There's a mole on your left cheek halfway between your mouth and nose, and another, smaller one to the right of your right eye. The mole on the left sometimes gets a dark curly hair in it — Ouch!" Hutch yelped as Starsky punched him, but went right on. "Lessee, now, you have dark curly hair that crawls in or out of your ears — haven't made my mind up about that. And, if you don't shave you get a face full of dark curly hair. Your whole damn body is just one mass of more dark and curly . . . getting darker and curlier as we go."
Hutch turned to look at Starsky, eyes grave, revealing nothing. "Need I say more? I do? Well, to sum it all up, if I were asked to describe DMS in a few words . . . very good looking, with a great bod, besides." He flashed a grin, openly teasing. "You're so goddamned transparent, pal. I admit you're a hunk, and both of us know it." Then his tone altered, becoming uncertain. "But that doesn't change the way I feel, you know. I don't want anything to change what we have now."
Starsky was at a loss for words. At first Hutch's description had been light, his voice barely containing his amusement. But there'd been a note of . . . loneliness . . . of longing? No! Hutch had just said he didn't feel that way, thank God, and he knew if he looked over at his partner the clear eyes would reveal nothing more. End of subject. Thin ice ahead — and they both knew it.
Traffic had thinned out gradually, until now — at the turn-off to Canyon Road — they were almost alone. Here, in the exclusive and reclusive abodes of the very rich, the Torino's headlights picked up massed of flowering shrubs, some covering the small address signs discreetly posted as required by law. Bella Vista Way began at the top of a hill; it terminated at the home of Daniel Mayhew.
Starsky braked, pulling off onto the shoulder and parking behind a stand of young eucalyptus. He saw Hutch quietly slip a hand inside his jacket, heard the snap of the fastener on his holster, and repeated the action himself. Back to the business of being cops. He slouched down in the seat, reaching for the mike. "Zebra Three, requesting a ten-twenty-seven on a 1977 Lincoln Continental, license FLASH. I called for a tail about thirty minutes ago. Possible connection to a one-eighty-seven. Over."
The response was immediate. "Patch through to Adam Six, Zebra Three. Over."
Hutch leaned forward to hear the dispatch, one hand braced against the dash. His expression was intent as he spoke. "This is Zebra Three switching to private channel. Do you read?"
"Adam Six responding. We are 10-35. Hey, Starsky, where are you?"
"Just past the turn-off on Canyon Road. Whatcha got?"
"We picked up vehicle on Sunset heading west. Suspect stopped at a Thai beanery and was there for twenty minutes. Brought something out and handed it to someone in the back. Car is now heading north on the 101, probably in your direction. You want us to stick with them?"
It was Hutch who answered. "Only as far as Canyon, Peters. We want to know who's in the back of that car real bad."
"You planning anything? Need another unit?"
Starsky shook his head. "Nope. Maybe take a look around the grounds. Just wait until we contact you again — this channel."
"Ten-four, Zebra Three. Will do. Adam Six out. Oh, one other thing . . ." Static broke up the transmission for a minute.
They waited, exchanging puzzled glances. Hutch opened his door, and took in a deep breath of the cool air.
"Are you receiving? The SI team said that some guy was real interested in Hutch's LTD. Asked if it was a classic." There was an audible snicker. "Adam Six out."
Starsky smothered the urge to laugh at Hutch's expression as he got out of the car. "Those goddamn slacks of yours can be seen a mile away. Stay in the darkness, will ya?"
Hutch glanced down, then ducked as headlights shone up on the main road. A car sped by, leaving the side road dark once again. As soon as it disappeared, he was off, streaking down the hillside, pale slacks the only part of him that was visible.
Just as Starsky opened his door, he saw another car, this one turning onto Bella Vista. "Shit," he muttered, crouching down until the vehicle zoomed by. He hoped Hutch was out of sight. He was about to radio the black and white when he spotted it turning off Canyon, lights out. If Hutch had found a place to hide maybe they d get lucky and see who else was in Mayhew's limo besides the chauffeur. He was joined by the two patrolmen, and the three of them waited in silence for Hutch to reappear. It was then he heard the dogs begin to bark.
Julius Penneman was met by Mayhew himself, and was led into what passed for a library. The few shelves held only business and law books, while scattered in an untidy heap across the desk were several well-thumbed hard-core porn magazines. Mayhew poured them each a stiff drink of bourbon, neat, before sitting down in a wine-colored suede chair. "Well, what happened? Sit down."
Penneman allowed himself time to savor the booze, then met the piercing gaze. "Like a charm — just like you said. As soon as they found Snake's body, Starsky and Hutch were called in." He snorted his contempt. "Ya shoulda seen the yid tryin' to hide in that damn red car of his. Hell, they're both such clowns, it's pathetic. Will ya listen to those damn dogs?"
"Shut up, Juli!" snapped Mayhew. "They put you behind bars, wise-ass, so don't try to convince me how stupid they are. I want hard evidence that cop's queer, and I want it soon! You got that? Leading them here gives you the chance to tail 'em when they get sick of prowling around. We've all got airtight alibis, so nobody can link us to Snake if we keep our heads. You were careful, weren't you?"
Mayhew got to his feet, walked over to the window and pulled aside the drapes, flicking a switch to turn on the floodlights. "Dogs barking like that, I have to look as if everything's normal."
Sullenly, Penneman replied, "Why don't you let Fury loose?"
"No. That dog's not meant to be running around." Mayhew frowned. "Sully was awfully quiet when you got here, he upset about Snake?" He poured himself another drink, expression thoughtful. "We may have to keep an eye on him, especially if he's pissed because they . . . ." he smiled unpleasantly.
Penneman shrugged. "He's makin' it with half the town, Dan, so I don't think he's in mourning. Kid's good — very, very good. Where'd you pick him up?"
The look Mayhew gave him was deadly. "He came legit. He's one hell of a good driver. Has a real feel for cars." He tossed off the rest of his drink. "Maybe he's just frightened — by the murder itself. Not that Snake didn't ask for it."
"Yeah. Hell, he never even knew what hit him. You shoulda seen his body . . . looked like a pile-driver punched him." The ex-con stared into his glass, not noticing the change on the other man's face. "Yep. What's more, they'll never find the gun, not where I stashed it," he boasted.
"What in hell're you saying? I gave you five thou to get a hit-man! If you're saying you pulled the trigger I'm gonna break your goddamn stupid head!"
For the first time Penneman looked uneasy. "Take it easy, Dan, there's no way they can pin this on me." He laughed, a short bark of a sound. "Like I said, they'll never find the weapon." He crossed his legs. "I needed the bread, that's all. Sully won't talk. He's afraid to open that pretty mouth of his." He snickered. "Unless there's a cock around." He looked slyly over at the still-furious Mayhew. "Relax. Just don't ask me where the gun is. That way, if anyone pushes you to wall, demand a polygraph test. Whammo, you're off the hook." The man got to his feet, immeasurably pleased with himself. "Gonna have a little 'chat' with Sully. Perhaps he needs to be consoled in his grief." Penneman nodded at his host and left the room, chuckling to himself.
Making certain Penneman was out of earshot, Mayhew began swearing, then reached over his desk, almost yanking the phone out of the wall. He punched numbers viciously, growing angrier when there was no answer. "Sully!" he shouted. "Sully! Get your ass in here!" Stupid cops still nosing around outside, and that idiot wanted to bed his chauffeur! What was the jerk thinking with? He waited a few more seconds, then set off to find the youth. He wanted the two cops, wanted them bad enough to pay plenty. If Juli became a problem, then he'd have to go the same way Snake had. This time he'd make his own arrangements. "Sully!"