Make your own free website on Tripod.com

ANGEL’S FLIGHT

***CHAPTER ONE***

The brakes of a Bay City Transit bus squealed to a stop as a steady rain pummeled the nearly empty darkened streets outside. The driver released his last passenger and quickly closed the doors to the inclement weather, himself headed for home. The passenger stood alone in the rain and cold for a moment, head arching slightly up towards the only beacon of light he could make out--a nearby street lamp. Possibly debating the wisdom of pressing on versus catching the next transit bus back. Ah well, too late for that now.

The rain continued to descend from the sky with a ferocity the stranger had never seen the likes of. The chill of the wind bit through his clothing like ice shards. The green and grey racksack he wore shifted to and fro with every movement, making the going more of a chore. Sporadic fits of coughing and sneezing brought about an inexorable pattern of stops and starts in progress that threatened to stop him where he stood. Despite these setbacks, only two goals remained, to find a place of shelter and to fill his hungry belly.

====================

No matter how much David Starsky tried to resist it, he was a sucker for a game of chance, especially when the "house" was his best friend and partner Ken Hutchinson. After all he was feeling pretty lucky tonight, so much so that even a major deterrent like bad weather wasn't enough to keep him inside. What made this invitation to tempt Lady Luck a bit more attractive than any other was the fact that the beer and pizza were on his partner for a change. A welcome respite from the status quo,considering he’d been bearing the brunt of that honor lately.

After about a half-hour of being bested by the Blond Blintz, the curly-haired detective was wondering whether he might not have been a whole lot better off staying at home. At the very least he’d have been dry, and at the very most, a whole lot richer. Just when he was about ready to pack it in his luck suddenly took a turn for the better on the last hand. By the time they’d finished he had won all of his money back, (after playing the game for double or nothing). As Sergeant Hutchinson reluctantly handed over his winnings, Starsky couldn’t help displaying how delighted he was. He whooped and practically leapt up off the floor, heading in the direction of Hutch’s refrigerator to grab himself a celebratory beer. When he opened the door and looked inside, he realized he was taking the last one. He could barely suppress the smile on his face as he dutifully informed his partner of the fact. "Hey, you know you’re outta beer?"

"Yeah, I know. When you go to the store, do me a favor and pick up some more, willya? That is if you can stop grinning long enough to get out the front door."

Starsky was still grinning as he hooked the lip of the beer bottle underneath the rim of the kitchen counter sending the cap flying into the sink. He closed the refrigerator door and took a long, generous swallow from the bottle before he responded. He wiped his mouth and crooked a thumb at the front door. "You’re outta your mind if you think I’m goin’ out in that. It’s rainin’ cats and dogs out there."

Hutch patiently reshuffled the deck of cards in his hand while Starsky held the bottle of beer tipped toward his lips, waiting for his partner's comeback. But the blond wasn’t about to offer his partner a reprieve. There were times when he just liked to put the man through his paces.

Realizing he wasn’t going to get an answer, Starsky tried again. "I can’t believe you‘d actually send me out in that monsoon. What kind of a friend are you, anyway?"

"A friend who just lost fifty bucks playing cards with you, partner. C’mon, you’ve got the big bucks now. It’s the least you can do."

Starsky handed the beer bottle to him. "I guess you’re right. Here, do me a favor and hold this till I get back."

"Don’t mind if I do." Hutch grabbed the bottle out of his hand and took a polite swallow, delighting in the look of open-mouthed disbelief on his partner’s face.

"I’ve been told you can get cooties doin’ that."

"But you’d never do that to me, would you, pal?" he replied, killing the bottle.

Starsky nodded affirmatively and walked over to the window peeking out of it to see if the weather had let up any. It had. A little bit. Satisfied that it was survivable, he slid on his weathered brown leather jacket and shrugged himself into a yellow rain slicker. He put his hand on the doorknob and before opening it turned to the blond and said with a gallant sweep of his hand, "If you don’t hear from me in twenty minutes, you have my permission to send out the Harbor Patrol." Then he flipped the slicker’s hood over his head and started out.

Hutch nodded. "Count on it, buddy."

Starsky pulled the door closed with the toe of his sneaker and took the steps outside Hutch’s apartment two at a time until he was standing out on the glistening sidewalk. His Torino was parked just a few feet away from the building and as he approached it he caught some movement in his peripheral vision. A dark figure was moving toward him in the rain, shoulders hunched, body wracked off and on by coughing. Another one of society’s lost souls. Hutch would invite this one up for a few bucks and hot meal a without a question, he thought, and then continued toward his car. His eyes were barely off of the figure for a moment when their paths inevitably crossed.

"Hey, watch it, willya!" he exclaimed, straining to keep himself upright.

A trifle shaken, but undaunted, he kept his eye on the departing figure as it continued past him. Maybe it was too much to expect an apology, he thought. Then, writing the guy off as probably too drunk or too rude to offer an apology, he put the incident out of his mind. He’d pulled his keys out of his pocket and was about to climb into his car when he glanced over at the spot where the person should have been, and saw no one. The detective looked over the Torino’s hood and saw a wet lump of clothing on the ground. Immediately concerned, he ran over to the spot and turned the lump to face him. Beads of water cascaded off his face as he looked down into the one of the stranger before him. Now he could see that the transient was a young woman, probably nineteen or twenty years old. She looked pale and sick and was definitely unconscious. With a grunt he lifted her up into his arms and with some effort carried her up the stairs to Hutch’s apartment door. He kicked at it with a foot, shouting as he worked to balance his load. "Hey, Hutch, open up!"

When Hutch opened it he was smiling. "Hey, that was quick, Jonah-where’d you go…?" The words were barely out of his mouth before Starsky was pushing past him carrying something sizeable and wet in his arms. Hutch watched curiously as his partner laid the motionless something onto his couch. Without prompting, he hastily pulled a towel and two blankets from the shelf of the wardrobe that stood near his bedroom door. As he brought them over and stood next to the couch, he was now able to make out what the "motionless something" was--a girl. "Where’d she fall from?" he asked, covering her with the blankets and handing his partner the towel.

Starsky took the towel and stood over her tentatively. "Coulda been the sky for all I know. She was walkin’ with her head down, tryin’ to keep outta the rain, I guess. Nearly plowed me over. I don’t think she even saw me. What should we do?"

"Well, the first thing you ought to do is get her out of those wet clothes."

"Aw, man…I don’t think I should...ah..." Starsky objected nervously.

"Look, Starsk, she’s unconscious. I don’t think she’s gonna do a whole hell of a lot of complaining about it. In fact, she might even thank you for it. Go ahead, I’ll see if I can find her something else to put on."

"Huh…yeah…right."

While Hutch hunted for something in his bachelor wardrobe that might fit the young woman, Starsky tackled the delicate but not entirely unpleasant task of removing wet clothing from a strange female. He gently turned her on her side and slid off the backpack she was wearing and set it down beside the couch. Then he peeled off her wet coat and laid it on a nearby chair. After that came her shoes and socks. He tucked the wool blanket underneath her feet and wiped her face dry with the towel. When his partner reappeared in front of him, he was holding a woman’s nightgown in one hand and one of his older robes in the other. Starsky looked at the blue chenille nightgown and started to laugh. "Where in the heck didja get that ugly thing?"

"Don’t laugh. I bought it for my mother’s birthday. I just never got a chance to send it to her."

"A wise choice, if ya ask me."

"Nobody did…here!" Hutch playfully tossed the nightgown and the robe over to him and headed into the kitchen. "I’ll go fix her something to eat."

"Uh huh." Starsky half-grinned and dropped the robe on the floor next to him. Then he skillfully arranged the hole of the nightgown so that he could fit it over her head without getting it wet. With his eyes nearly-closed, he removed her blouse, exposing as little skin as possible and pulled the gown over her shoulders, drawing her arms through the sleeves and over her brassiere, then pulling it the rest of the way over to cover her legs. He tugged off her jeans and dropped them on the floor, carefully tucking the covers in all around her. When he opened his eyes, he looked her over. Not bad for an amateur, he thought. Her face looked a little flushed and she was trembling, but at least now she was warm and dry. He wondered what was taking Hutch so long in the kitchen.

"Hey, Hutch, what’re doin’ in there, makin’ a three course dinner? Get in here, willya?"

"Okay, okay, hold your horses. I’m comin’."

Starsky gathered all of her wet belongings into his arms, including the backpack, and hauled them off to the bathroom, where he hung everything up on hooks to dry. Meanwhile, Hutch grabbed a spoon from the silverware drawer and brought a bowl of food to the living room where the girl, who was now semi-conscious, stirred and moaned softly. He set the bowl down on the coffee table and sat down beside her. Then Starsky stepped out of the bathroom, blowing on his hands to warm them. "So, got that done. What next?"

"What next? Oh, you mean besides getting her to eat this?"

"You know, sometimes you’re just a regular laugh riot." Hutch chuckled and Starsky walked over to them and knelt down in front of the couch. He patted the girl on her cheek. "Hey, sweetheart, can you hear me? Wake up." He watched expectantly as she opened her eyes and blinked cautiously, taking in her surroundings one image at a time. The detective then moved from the floor to a sitting position on the surface of the coffee table. Though it was happening at normal speed, the movement seemed to occur in slow motion for the girl, a result of several deficiencies, one of which probably included traveling while ill, during a tremendous rainstorm.

"W-where am I?" she asked, her voice a faint whisper.

Hutch leaned over a little so she could see his face. "You’re with friends. I’m Ken Hutchinson, and this is my partner, David Starsky. You passed out on the sidewalk and he brought you up to my place to get better."

"Oh." She looked at the strange gown she was wearing and became suddenly fearful. "Wh-where are my clothes?"

"You were soaked to the skin. My partner over here changed you into some dry clothes."

She looked mildly embarrassed, but pleased. "Oh."

"I thought you might be hungry." He lifted the spoon out of the bowl and offered a small portion to her. "Try this, it’ll make you feel better."

"What is it?"

"It’s my world famous vegetarian stew."

"I’m really not very hungry right now."

"You should try it. It’s pretty good," Starsky assured her.

She considered him for a moment and then yielded to his suggestion, opening her mouth just enough to let the blond stranger spoon-feed her. She ate the food slowly, coughing just a bit between spoonfuls. Starsky watched without comment as his very patient partner managed to get their "patient" to accept a few more spoonfuls of nourishment before she shook her head to indicate that she’d had enough. Hutch put the nearly empty bowl and spoon down on the table and felt her forehead, giving his friend a grave look. "She’s kind of warm, Starsk. Maybe we should call a doctor."

The girl turned to face him. "No-no…doctor, please."

Hutch shot his partner another grave look and patted the girl’s hand. "All right, honey, if you don’t want us to call a doctor right now, we won’t."

"Well, I guess that settles that, Nurse Hutchinson. You got any aspirin? Maybe that’ll get her temperature down," Starsky asked.

Hutch nodded and pointed toward the bathroom. "Yeah, I think I’ve got some in the medicine cabinet."

Starsky left the living room and went into the bathroom to check the contents of Hutch’s medicine cabinet. When he got there not only did he find the sought after bottle of aspirin, but his eyes also locked on the various and sundry assortment of unusually labeled herbs and vitamins that his partner had neatly spaced on the shelves. He was tittering openly as he returned to the living room and loomed over his partner with the aspirin bottle in hand.

Hutch looked up at him. "What’s so funny?"

"Nothin.’ I shoulda guessed you wouldn’t have a normal lookin’ medicine cabinet. There’s not a prescription bottle in the bunch. So whaddya take when you get sick?"

"I don’t."

"Which? You don’t take medicine, or you don’t get sick?"

"It’s not that I don’t get sick, Starsky. It’s just that I don’t support the philosophy that chemistry can cure all of man’s ills. I’m a firm believer in holistic healing."

"Holistic what?" he asked.

"Home care, Starsky. Using natural herbs to heal the body."

"Oh, I thought you gave up on all that healthy lifestyle stuff after Molly and Abby took off."

"Molly and Abby taking off had nothing to do with it. I just decided to live my life a little more realistically, more in the moment, you know? That’s all there is to it." He grabbed the aspirin bottle from him.

"Oh, I see. I’ll go get her some water." Starsky rolled his eyes to the ceiling and stepped into the kitchen to get a glass and fill it. He brought it over to the couch and took the open aspirin bottle off the table where Hutch had set it and poured out two of them, then recapped the bottle. "I’ll see if I can get her to take these. In the meantime, oh, holistic healer, how about maybe you go out and get her some real medicine?"

Hutch stood up. "Sure, Starsk. Mind if I take the Toma…er, the Torino?" There was a halfhearted grin on his face as he extended his hand for the keys.

"Sure, buddy." The dark-haired detective dug his keys out of his pants pocket and passed them to his fair-haired partner. The blond put on his leather jacket and plodded toward the door. Starsky stared at his partner’s back and added, "Bring back some beer while you’re at it, wouldja? And…try not to get lost."

"Not a chance, pal," he retorted, palming the keys and heading out the door.

After Hutch left, Starsky continued tending to the ailing young woman, wiping her face, feeding her when she would eat, retucking the blankets around her when she threw them off. Her restful moments were few as she tossed and turned on the couch under his watchful eyes. After the third incidence of having to readjust the blankets, he looked up and saw her eyelashes flutter open, two lovely brown eyes stared back at him and he smiled at her. "Hey, you’re awake! Remember me? I’m Starsky, Dave Starsky. What’s your name?"

She was barely able to keep her eyes open. "Umm," she muttered. "Angel."

"Angel. Hey, that’s a cute name." He patted her arm. "Can you tell me where you‘re from?"

"Nowhere. Everywhere. Take your pick." She closed her eyes.

He nudged her shoulder. "No, no, don’t go back to sleep yet. I got a few more questions for ya."

She kept her eyes closed, hoping to block him out. But he shook her shoulder again. "Hey, come on now, wake up."

She squinted at him. "Philadelphia, all right?"

"I guess you know you’re in California."

"Oh, now, you know, you are…bril-liant…" she whispered, there was a hint of sarcasm he didn’t like in her tone.

"Fun-ny," he said, separating the syllables. "You mind tellin’ me how you got here?"

"You know those great big silver things with four wheels?"

He thought about it. "You mean a bus?"

"Bingo! Wow, you are so brilliant!"

"You know, you oughta save some of that ice for the freezer."

"Have I answered enough questions? Can I go back to sleep now?"

"Sure, be my guest."

"Thank you."

Starsky watched her pull the covers over her shoulders and promptly fall back into sleep. He sighed and leaned against the couch, rubbing his thumb and forefinger against his temples as the symptoms of a headache began to manifest itself. He must have sat there like that for as long as it took for Hutch to go and come back from the store, because he never even heard the key in the lock. When Hutchinson walked in he was carrying two grocery sacks in his arms. "Hey, Starsk, I think I got everything in here a human could possibly take for a cold or the flu, you know that?" Nothing. "Hey, Starsk?"

When his partner didn’t answer, he scanned the living room and saw that his friend had fallen asleep on the couch. His curly head was flopped back limply and he was snoring softly. Hutch walked over and poked him on the arm to wake him up.

He jumped. "Huh? What?"

"Wake up, buddy. I got the stuff."

"Oh, okay." He wiped his eyes and got up. "What’d ya get?"

Hutch set the two bags down on the kitchen table and started to pull out his purchases. "You name it. I got it. Orange juice, cough medicine, antihistamines, et cetera, et cetera."

He yawned and joined Hutch in the kitchen. "Great. She hasn’t got a high fever and she’s eatin’, so that’s probably a good sign."

"I’ll take over now, buddy. You look like you could use a ten minute break before make the drive home." Hutch said, stowing a six-pack in the refrigerator.

"Yeah, some fresh air’ll probably clear my head." He went out the door and headed down the stairs, stopping at the entrance of the building. The rain had stopped and left the night cool and crisp, without the taint of car exhaust and smog. He breathed in the clean, fresh air, then looked up into the midnight sky and studied the clouds that hung there--they were milky white and drifting off to the east. Perhaps a harbinger of things to come.

After he finished his break, he got back inside just in time to see his partner making use of the few years of Med school he had under his belt. Hutch was kneeling on the floor behind the girl, lifting up her torso so that she was leaning against his arm, then he put the spoon to her lips with his right hand and semi-tilted the contents into her mouth. After she’d taken the medicine, he laid her back down on the pillow, then stood up. "Any luck finding out who our unexpected guest is while I was out?"

"Angel. Didn’t get a last name. Said she’s from Philadelphia. My guess is she’s on the lam."

"I wonder if this is what they mean by ‘making a clean getaway’?"

"Bad, Hutch, very bad."

"Sorry, I must be getting tired. Well, I guess she can stay here tonight and tomorrow we’ll try to find out why she’s here."

Starsky nodded in agreement. "Sounds like a good idea, Ollie. So, I’ll, ah, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow, huh?"

"Yeah."

Starsky made for the exit, but stopped moving once he got to the front door, he had paused to watch his partner as he removed the empty bowl and water glass from the coffee table and took them into the kitchen. The tired man yawned and stretched and dragged a hand over his eyes to try and mask his weariness from his companion. On his way back into the living room, Hutchinson stole a furtive glance at the man standing in his doorway. Starsky was leaning against the front door, unmoving, looking as if only sheer force of will was keeping him upright. His dark forehead was deeply crinkled in concentration. If this wasn’t a guy desperately fighting a losing battle with sleep, he hadn’t seen one before, Hutch thought. He certainly didn’t look in good enough shape to drive himself home. Hutch walked over and put a hand on his friend’s arm. "Hey, it’s late, Starsk. You wanna bunk here for the night?"

The dark man’s features brightened perceptibly. "Good idea," he answered, instantly relieved that he didn’t have to drive home at such a late hour. He made his way to a recliner in the corner of the room and dropped his exhausted frame into it, crossed his arms over himself and stretched out his legs. Hutch smiled and looked at his watch; it was pretty late, and he was feeling kind of worn out himself. He checked on their houseguest's condition and satisfied himself that she was as comfortable as they could make her. The medicine would probably have her out for most of the night, and since she probably wouldn’t wake up until late the next morning, he decided to head for bed, too. "Hey, Starsk, I’m gonna hit the hay, I’ll see you in the mornin’."

"Yeah, okay. G’night, buddy."

"G’night," Hutch replied, darkening the living room before disappearing into his room. Yawning again, Starsky pulled down a quilt that mysteriously appeared above his head in the darkness. He smiled as he draped it over himself and took one last look at the girl’s face in the half-light of the room before dropping off to sleep.

==================================================================================

The young woman’s low-grade fever had broken sometime between twelve thirty and two a.m., and she was slowly coming awake. Sitting up slowly, she scanned her unfamiliar surroundings, resting her eyes upon the strange man who was sleeping in an armchair across from her. Unable to remember where she was, or how she’d gotten there, her first thoughts were of escape. She pulled off the blankets and tried to being very quiet as she rose. Once standing, it took a moment for her to balance herself, but she was up, and it didn’t seem to matter to her that she was wearing someone else’s old dressing gown and had no shoes. Her immediate objective was making it to the front door and getting outside. Amazingly, she made it there and was just about to open the door when the sleeping man woke up. His eyes flew open as if he were equipped with some of kind of built-in radar. He flew out of his chair and had the lights switched on before her hand could turn the knob completely. "Hey, hey!" he exclaimed. "Where ya goin’, kiddo?" Then he grabbed her by her waist and she let out a feeble squeal of protest. He realized from her feeble attempts at struggle that she was still pretty weak, so he wasn’t surprised when she lost consciousness again and collapsed in his arms.

Stirred by the urgency of his partner’s voice, Hutchinson bounded out of his bedroom, yanking his gun out of his shoulder holster and pulling on his robe simultaneously, ready for action, that is until he realized that it was his partner and the girl causing the commotion outside his room and not an intruder. After determining that the situation didn’t require him to lay down gunfire, he put his gun away and approached them. He assisted with restoring the girl to her position on the couch and stepped back, watching as his friend clearly exhibited the utmost concern for her comfort, pushing a sweaty strand of limp, damp hair out of her eyes as he spoke to her softly. "Where were you off to, huh?" he asked. He wasn’t exactly expecting her to answer.

But she opened her eyes weakly, and the look on her face was as beseeching as it was anxious. "You’re not-you’re not gonna turn me in, are you?"

He was clearly surprised by her question. "Turn you in? No, no way, not on your life. We’re going to get you well." Then he watched as she closed her eyes and drifted off again, seemingly soothed by the sincerity of his words.

Unnoticed by his partner, Hutch winced. The plans he’d envisioned for their Sunday looked like a bust now. As they adjusted the blankets, he whispered to his partner. "What makes do you think she needs help?"

The man looked straight into his partner’s blue-green eyes. "I don’t know. I just have a feeling."

His eyes bleary, Hutch didn't dare look at his watch, he knew it was late. He got up and went over to the kitchen table, picked up the paper sack sitting there and handed it to his friend as he headed in the direction of his bedroom for the second time. "Here, you go ahead and play nursemaid. I’m going back to bed." He abandoned his robe on the floor and slipped back underneath the covers.

Starsky could read the blond’s mood swings almost as well as he could read the speed-odometer on his Torino. This was supposed to have been a weekend where the two of them could spend some off-duty time together. They were supposed to be playing cards, drinking beer, going club hopping or whatever. But what with court appearances and unexpected assignments popping up from out of nowhere, it was a miracle they’d even been up to getting together last night. Now here he was playing wet nurse. He didn’t need to be hit over the head with a frying pan to know that Hutch was not a happy camper.

After all the commotion he was too keyed up to go back to sleep, adrenaline was pumping through his body like an awaking volcano. He went into the bathroom to get the girl’s backpack and brought it out with him into the kitchen. He unzipped the side flap and pulled out the contents, arranging them on the kitchen table in no discernible order. He didn’t know what he was looking for...yet. But what he hoped to find was something that would tell him a little more about the girl lying on Hutch's couch. It wasn’t an impossible goal, just one made a little more difficult by the fact that he needed to know so badly.

From the side of the still damp bag he pulled out several miscellaneous items: a few bus tokens, a Bic lighter, a pair of sunglasses, a road map, a compact, a phonebook, and then finally, a smooth brown leather wallet. He flipped it open and found what looked to be a fairly recent picture. In it, Angel was sitting with an older woman who resembled her enough to be her mother. Their faces were a study in contrasts: Angel’s skin was a warm burnished color, while the older woman’s was more olive toned. Strangely, he found himself staring at the picture for a very long time, not fully realizing why. He went into the bag again and pulled out a beautifully embroidered white silk handkerchief that was folded neatly and carefully into thirds. When he opened it a small card fell from it and onto the floor. He reached down to pick it up, then turned it over. It was an obituary notice. It read:

Rest In Peace

Elaine Colchetti

b. 1933, d. 1977

Philadelphia, PA

So now he knew. Her mother had passed away. At least now he had some basis for her cross attitude and the sarcasm he’d encountered. He returned the notice and the wallet back to their place in the bag and closed his eyes. During the course of his partnership with Hutch, they’d seen a lot of grieving families and talked to more police psychologists than they’d both care to name. He’d even read books on the subject, and one of things he remembered reading about was what sometimes happens to a person when they lose a loved one, either expectantly or unexpectantly:

One of the most outwardly disconcerting emotional responses to death presented by the bereaved is anger. While the reaction can be alienating to an outsider, it is still a form of release. It’s a different release from crying or isolating oneself from other people, yes, but for some reason it seems to help lessen the shock of losing a loved one for some people. This type of response usually stems from a person’s inability to tell the deceased how they felt and set things right. That inability to communicate usually makes them bitter--with the deceased and with the outside world, and strangely, with themselves, most especially if they don’t have someone who cares about them enough to talk about how they’re feeling.

He’d seen it himself, experienced the phenomena firsthand. The anger and resentment he’d built up over time after he’d lost his own father as a little boy had been almost overwhelming. There was no chance for him to say goodbye or tell his father how much he loved him. He was just gone. But while he’d had his mother, his grandparents, and later on, Hutch, to tell his troubles to, he wondered if Angel had had anyone to talk to about hers when she'd lost her mother. Then he thought, probably not, since she was this far away from home.

His newfound comprehension of her sorrow seemed enough of a rationale to settle any doubts he had in his mind about helping her. He stood up from the table and looked over the couch to see if she was still asleep. She was. He slowly put her things back into the bag and walked it back into the bathroom to finish drying. On his way past the couch, he bent down and gently kissed her on her forehead. "Sleep well," he said. Satisfied, he eased himself back into the recliner and went back to sleep.

***CHAPTER TWO***

It seemed like the two of them had been going back and forth over the same subject for several hours. They'd been in the greenhouse debating Starsky’s singularly inspired early morning decision ever since Hutchinson had come back from his six fifteen morning run. He was still wearing his favorite green and gold striped running suit, and was working on his second cup of coffee. Starsky followed behind him as they talked.

"Starsky, you have got to be out of your mind!" Hutch practically bellowed, working hard to contain his exasperation.

"But, Hutch…"

"No buts, Starsky. I don’t want any part of this."

"Look, all I’m sayin’ is, we let her stay with one of us for a little while. Just long enough to get whatever's wrong sorted out."

"I’m not listening to you." Hutch put down his coffee cup and picked up a watering can from a ledge, going from plant to plant in the greenhouse, watering them while he lectured. " Dammit, Starsk, we are not social workers. There are people out there who get paid to do this stuff!"

"Come on, Hutch, you can’t be that heartless. I know we can help her."

"Help me what?" a female voice asked.

Both men looked up and saw the young woman standing in the doorway of the greenhouse. She looked tired, but infinitely better than she had the night before.

"What’re you doin’ up?" Starsky asked, rushing over to her.

Hutch closed his eyes and sighed. This was going to be a long day.

"I heard you two arguing, what do you think?"

Starsky put his arm around her. "I’m sorry. That’s just the way me and my partner here work out our little disagreements."

"Boy, if this was a little disagreement, I’d sure hate to see a big one. Was it about me?"

"Yeah, sort of. Here, c’mon, let’s go sit down."

Starsky put his right arm under hers and walked her back to the couch. When he left, Hutch put down the watering can and picked up the coffee cup, watching the greenhouse door close after them with a bang. Starsky flinched at the sound and then turned his attention to the young woman beside him. "I think it’s time you and I had a little talk."

The young woman stared at him. "About what?"

"About why you’re here and what we’re going to do about you."

She crossed her arms in front of her. "I’m here because I want to be. It’s a free country. You don’t have to do anything about me. I can take care of myself."

"Looks like you’ve done a terrific job of that," he said sarcastically.

She turned away from him and pursed her lips tightly in defiance. Determined, he got up and headed into the bathroom where her backpack hung and was now nearly dry. He took it off the hook and walked it out to the living room where she sat, thrusting it at her forcefully. "Here, get dressed. The bathroom’s free."

She stared at him in surprise, but didn’t contest his request. She simply took the backpack out of his hand and walked past him into the bathroom, slamming the door behind her. Once Starsky heard the shower go on, he went over and knocked on the greenhouse door. "Hey, Hutch, we’re goin’ out pretty soon. You want to come with us?"

Hutchinson was still in a sour mood, but he answered. "Where're you going, and when are you gonna be back?"

"I’m taking Angel out for a little spin around town, maybe see if I can get her to open up. We might go down to the pier. You wanna come along?"

"No, I don’t think so. You two go ahead. I’d just be a third wheel," Hutch answered, and then went quiet.

"Okay." Starsky smiled and shook his head. He watched Hutch through the screen door as he went back to his plants and his coffee.

After Starsky had paced the floor for the better of twenty minutes, he was starting to get a little impatient. He consulted his watch. That oughta be enough time for her to do whatever it is she’s gotta do in there, he opined. He put on his jacket and knocked on the bathroom door. "You almost ready in there?"

"Yeah, almost." She answered through the closed door. After a few more seconds of waiting the door finally opened, but nothing could have prepared him for what he saw next. Standing before him was the young woman from the photograph, only life-size. She was wearing a navy blue wraparound dress that caressed her in all the right places, fully accentuating the womanly curve of her hips. Her loose, shoulder-length dark hair fell copiously from her head onto her shoulders, framing her face, making her look positively ethereal. He took a step back. She reminded him of--for a lack of a better word--an angel.

"Wow." He caught his breath, his mouth slightly open.

"What’s wrong? Do I look dumb?" she asked, smoothing her hands nervously down the sides of her dress.

"No, you look great."

Pleased by the transformation, he took her by the arm and let her out of the front door. He was about to close it when he thought about Hutch. "Hey buddy!" he called out. "We’ll see ya later!"

Hutch mumbled back something at him that he thought sounded like "Yeah, yeah, whatever." and the two of them left.

When they got outside, the remaining rain clouds from the previous night’s storm had begun to join their brethren to the east, clearing the way for the sun to poke its way through. On the horizon new ones gathered to take their place. Starsky affected his usual self-confident swagger as he escorted the girl to his car. Then he opened the passenger side door and made a sweeping gesture bidding her to enter. She paused in the space between the car and passenger door for a moment, looking amazed.

"This is your car?" she asked.

"Yeah," he answered uneasily. "Why?" He was ready to go on the defensive in case she was setting up to give him an impromptu discourse on the inappropriateness of driving a bright red Torino with a white stripe when one was supposed to be an undercover police officer.

"It's very cool," she said instead.

"Thank you," he replied, his mouth stretching into a wide, toothy grin. "Go ahead, get in."

She slid onto the bench seat and he closed the door after her, then he sprinted around to the driver side, a pronounced bounce in his step.

"Where are we going?"

He put the key in the ignition and started the car, it roared to life and he gunned the motor. "I don’t know yet. But we’ll know when we get there." He looked in his side mirror and pulled off down the street.

===================================================================================

Starsky ended up taking his relatively non-communicative, but very attractive companion to a place called the Bayside Pier Cafe for brunch. The cafe was a small, Mom and Pop operation that he’d discovered two months earlier, and he liked frequenting it whenever he was in the area. They each ordered a plate of seafood and tore through it ravenously. When they were finished, Starsky watched her quietly as he sipped a soda, and then he said, "Wanna go for a walk? I’ve been told it helps the food digest."

"Sure," she answered, "why not?"

As they walked out of the café, she moved a little ahead of him, apparently enthralled by the outdoor setting. When they got to the end of the pier, she paused at the railing and gazed out over the ocean. Without being totally aware of it, he began to stare at her.

"It’s beautiful, isn’t it?" she asked, disrupting his train of thought.

"Hmm? Oh, yeah, it’s great," he answered, catching himself.

The ocean breeze was wild and batted against their hair and clothing, dying down suddenly and then flaring up again. She brushed her hair back from her face with a hand and her gaze still set out over the horizon, fully ignoring the man beside her. When a seagull flew over them she tracked it with a finger, turning with it as it flew overhead. Then she leaned back on the railing, facing away from the water so that she could watch the bird as it disappeared out of sight.

"You know, sometimes I think I’d like to be just like that bird. Just to be free and soar, go wherever I want. That would be so wonderful."

"Does that fine bit of inspiration mean you’re ready to let me in on what’s going on?"

She bit her lip a little. "If I tell you, you’re going think I’m crazy."

"No, I won’t. Go ahead, tell me."

She bit at her bottom lip again and closed her eyes. "I lost my mother in a car accident not too long ago. I guess I…I guess I…miss her."

Starsky put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "I’m sorry to hear that. I know how you must feel."

"Do you really? Or are you just saying that?"

"No, really, my Pop died when I was a kid. It was a long time ago though."

"My mother used to say that 'time passed doesn’t make a loss any easier to take'."

"Yeah, she was right. Anyway, I still think about him a lot."

"I know, it’s like, I know the bird thing won’t bring my mother back, but it’s still nice to think about being absolutely free from your worries."

"Well, we each gotta deal with things in our own way. Maybe wishin’ you were a bird is what works for you."

She smiled at him and soon the once calm breeze became petulant again. Grey clouds that had been waiting in queue slowly closed in to replace the ones that had moved on, dousing the sunlight. She started to shiver. "Is it getting cold again?" she asked him through slightly clenched teeth.

"Yeah, it is," he said and he took her by the hand, pulling her a little closer to him, checking the sky as he did so. "C’mon, it looks like it’s gonna start up again. We should be getting’ back anyway."

He let go of her hand and put his right arm informally around her shoulders, a completely innocent gesture in and of itself, but she took it to heart, welcoming his closeness with an adoring but unnoticed smile. As they traversed the pier’s wooden planks to get to his car, it started to mist, then sprinkle, until finally they were running to escape a downpour. Once they were back inside the Torino, Starsky hurriedly closed the car door. "Whoa. Just in time!" he exclaimed. "We should get back to my partner’s place so we can find out what we have to do to get you back home."

She was silent for a moment, and then she turned to him. "Detective Starsky, I’m sorry, I didn’t tell you everything."

"Look, considering everything that’s happened, I think it’d be okay if you called me Dave. You think you can do that?" She nodded. "Okay now, what’s the whole story?"

She tried to compose herself by taking a deep breath; she didn’t want to rush into what she was going to say and she didn’t want to sound hysterical. She focused her concentration on the rain as it cascaded down the car’s windshield in undulating streams, opened her mouth but nothing came out--she wasn’t ready, not yet.

"C’mon. You can tell me," he urged.

"No…I can’t."

"Sure you can."

She turned toward him, gazing into his violet-blue eyes, hoping that somewhere within them lay the answers to her problems. She nodded solemnly and began.

"I’m afraid…"

"Afraid of what?"

"Well," she said and took a deep breath. "I can’t prove it, but I think my father and his new wife killed my mother."

Starsky’s eyes widened. "Why do you think that?"

"It’s a long, unbelievably weird story. Are you sure you want to hear it?"

Starsky nodded his head. "I specialize in weird. Try me."

"Okay. Have you ever heard of a company called Colchetti Motors?"

"It’s a car dealership based out of Philadelphia, right?"

"That’s right. My grandfather, Augustus Colchetti, was the president and CEO of the company and he established and ran it, it was his baby. There are several branches worldwide, but the headquarters is based in Philadelphia. When my grandfather died, my father inherited the company."

"Keep goin’, I’m all ears."

She clasped her hands in front of her and rested them on her lap. "To tell you the whole story I have to tell you about my parents first. It all started when my mother and my father met at college. She was a sophomore and he was a junior. They fell in love with each other and started going steady, and continued to see each other after graduation. After my father graduated, he got a job working with his father at the company’s headquarters, and my mother got a job along with him. In time...I happened." She smiled at him and he smiled back. "But, after grandfather found out that his only son had gone and gotten his girlfriend in the family way, he basically pressured him to make an honest woman of her, which he did. Not because he wanted to, but because there was a clause in grandfather’s will that stipulated if he fathered a child out of wedlock, he’d be obligated to marry the child’s mother, or forfeit the inheritance." She smiled again. "My grandfather was a stickler for his offspring taking responsibility for their actions, plus he didn’t really want anyone with the family blood running through their veins to be vilified as a bastard child." She covered her mouth. "Oops, sorry."

"That’s okay, I’ve heard worse."

"Okay, so my father did the husband-father thing and he went on with his life. But he had no idea how many years he’d be stuck with my mother and me while he waited for the money. Waiting for his father to die."

"So he resented marrying your mother and he resented you. If she knew, why did she stick around?" His tone was curious, but receptive.

"Why does any woman stay with any guy? Maybe it was because she didn’t have much of a life before she met him. Her degree was in economics and there sure wasn’t a whole lot of call for people with that kind of educational background back then. Which was okay when they were young and carefree, but it only got worse when he came into the money. As time went by they drifted further and further apart. The more he got involved with running the business the less he was with her. When I was old enough to understand, my mother told me that she was going to leave him, she just wasn't sure how to go about it."

"How do you feel about him?"

"He’s an intolerant, distant man, but I love him, and I’m not blind to how he treated my mother. I could see how unhappy they were. And the thing of it is is, she wanted to be with him more than he wanted to be with her, so they were both miserable most of the time. To make things worse, about four months ago, this woman started coming to the house a week after my father bought life insurance policies on the whole family. She introduced herself to us as Jessie Milner, and she told us that she’d met him at a department store that she worked for. After he met her, he’d think nothing of inviting her up to the house for drinks as he pleased. They’d sit by the pool getting friendly with each other and making my mother totally miserable."

Starsky could see tears brimming in her eyes. He checked the glove compartment and pulled a couple of Kleenex from a small box inside it and offered them to her. She nodded thankfully and held them in her hand as she continued her story.

"So they talked about it and she said that they were going to try out a trial separation. She was planning on going to California to try and piece her life back together again, then she was going to come back to see if they could work something out. But that never happened. I saw the news report of the accident on TV. Before the reporter was finished, I don’t know why, I just had this strange feeling...and I started putting the pieces together…the inheritance...the new girlfriend…the total disregard they both had for my mother’s feelings, just doing indiscreet things in full view of her. I didn’t want to believe it. And I knew it was crazy. But I couldn’t stop thinking it."

Starsky nodded. "So what confirmed it for you?" He put his hand on the back of the car seat close to her right shoulder.

"It was after I heard his girlfriend on the phone at the house one night. She was talking to someone about how she was sure that my father was going to pop the question and they were going get married soon. It was only two weeks after my mother was killed. That’s when I started to suspect something. I wanted to go to the police, but I couldn’t show them any proof. Then when the two of them actually did get married, I felt betrayed. So I left his home for anyplace, and ended up out here." She looked into the detective’s eyes, and a floodgate of tears burst forth and fell. "I just don’t know what to do!" He felt his heart go out to her, not in pity or empathy, but in something deeper, more unexpected. Concern.

There’s nothing worse than knowing you’re right about something and not being able to prove it, he thought. The detective also knew from experience how alienating it was to have your integrity doubted. The same thing had happened to him about two years ago when a deranged old convict out for revenge started blowing up cops to get back at him for shooting and killing a fleeing juvenile in self-defense. He didn’t have slightest clue as to what he could do about helping her prove her story. If the accident looked like an accident, the police would do no more than a routine investigation and that was that. He took her hand in his. "Listen, you don’t have to worry about a thing, we’re gonna work this out. Me and my partner are going to find out what happened and everything’s going to be okay." Even as he said it, he wondered why he had.

She smiled at him, wiping away her tears with a knuckle. "Really?"

"Scout’s honor," he answered, putting up three fingers of his right hand in the Boy Scout tradition. "Cross my heart, hope to die."

"Oh, thank you!" she screamed, grabbing him around his neck and kissing him with such enthusiasm that he was momentarily caught off guard. Not that he was complaining or anything. In fact he kind of liked it. After a moment, she pulled back; a little embarrassed about expressing herself so freely with someone she’d just met. She released him slowly.

"I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that."

"That’s okay, I have that kinda effect on people sometimes, especially women."

She laughed. "You know, you’re kind of funny."

"Hey, if ya think that’s funny, kid, stick around. I gotta million of ‘em." he said, doing his best Groucho Marx imitation, complete with flicking fake ashes off a pretend cigar. After he started the car, he turned to her and asked, "You wanna listen to some music?" And she nodded. He turned on the radio and scrolled the dial until he reached an oldies station. He hoped she wouldn’t find his selection too terribly outdated. To his delight, when "Blueberry Hill" came on, she sang along.

==================================================================================

Angel couldn’t help stealing sideward glances at her handsome rescuer any moment she thought he wasn’t looking. He was definitely kind of cute, in an older guy sort of way. Especially that little boy smile he got when he was really happy, like when she’d praised his choice of car. She wanted to run her hands through his thick, curly hair, and see what kissing those lips of his would be like. Watching him was just like watching a big kid who hadn’t had a chance to really grow up yet. She thought he was great, someone she’d like to get to know better, even if he was a just a bit older.

Starsky tried hard to pay attention to the road ahead, but he found himself hopelessly distracted by her presence. Plus, he could swear she was staring at him. A furtive glance her way confirmed his suspicions. Yep, she was definitely staring at him. He could see it now: POLICE SARGEANT DAVID STARSKY AND YOUNG UNKNOWN FEMALE INJURED IN FREAK CAR ACCIDENT. OFFICER SAYS HE JUST COULDN’T KEEP HIS EYES GLUED TO THE ROAD. NEWS AT TEN. Still, he had to admit, she was kind of cute.

She turned to him, smiled and asked. "Are you married, Detective Starsky?"

"No, I’m not." He answered and politely laughed the question off. Of all the times for dispatch not to call in a 211, he thought. Still distracted, he brought the Torino careening to a halt at the curb once he reached Hutch’s building. She had to grab hold of the dash to avoid being thrown forward.

"Here we are!" he announced. And not a moment too soon, he thought. Saved by the proverbial bell.

Starsky got out and hesitated before approaching the passenger side. Not only was this girl unpredictable in her moods, he surmised, but she was also fairly aggressive. Where he came from that was okay in the bedroom, but not as a rule of thumb when you were trying to get to know someone. He took a breath and finally opened her door and she stepped out, leaning very close to him, definitely on purpose.

"Are you all right?" she asked him.

"Ah…um…yeah...terrific. Say whaddya know about that? Hutch must be still be at home," he noted. "Please be at home," the last part he said under his breath as he walked ahead of her.

"Doesn’t your friend like me?"

"Oh, he likes ya fine. He’s just a little disappointed, I think."

"Huh."

When they got up to the top of the stairs, he pounded on the door. And feeling impetuous, she grabbed hold of his arm and he flinched uncomfortably in reaction.

"Yeah, who is it?" Hutch asked from behind the door, sounding a little irritated by the interruption.

"It’s me. Open up!"

Hutch swung the door wide open and made a point of checking his watch. "I see you two decided to come back..." He stopped short when he saw the girl’s arm linked in his partner’s, then closed the door after them and walked away. Starsky separated her arm from his own and led her over to the couch. "Why don’t you have a seat for a minute, young lady? Seems my partner and I have some issues to resolve."

"Oh, okay." she said, seating herself on the couch and picking up a magazine off the coffee table.

Starsky walked into the sectioned off area that was his partner’s bedroom. Hutchinson was lying on top of his bed with his arm over his forehead and his eyes closed. He opened them when his partner walked in.

Starsky looked flustered.

"Hey, what’s up with you? You’ve been actin’ strange ever since she got here."

"Hey, it’s no big deal, Starsk. It’s just that when I invite you over to my place to relax, I expect you to relax."

"I am relaxed, can’t you see how relaxed I am? It’s you that’s makin’ me nervous."

He sat up. "I just don’t get why you’re so interested in her."

Starsky shrugged. "It’s just I think I know where she’s coming from, that’s all. She’s got no place to stay, her mother’s gone and I think she might be in danger if she goes back home."

Hutch raised an eyebrow. "Danger? What kind of danger?"

Starsky walked over and sat on the bed next to him. "She’s scared. Her mother was killed in a car accident that she doesn’t think was entirely accidental. And until I find out what’s really going on, I don't feel right sending her back. I really think I’m gonna need your help on this one. Whaddya say, buddy?"

Hutch considered his best friend’s earnest appeal and resisted the urge to argue with him. Starsky had presented to him what he thought was a solid, believable rationalization, and it was pretty much useless to try and change his mind when he had his mind set on something. He was tenacious. And his tenaciousness worked for him--sometimes. The blond nodded his approval. "Okay, okay, you win. She can stay here--for now. But I’ll be damned if I’m sleeping on the couch."

Starsky got up."That’s what I thought you’d say."

3">"Now what’s that supposed to mean?" Hutch asked, looking up at him.

"Oh, nuthin’," Starsky answered facetiously.

"The hell you say."

"Well, now that that’s settled, why don’t we sit down somewhere and talk this out?"

Hutch got up and sidled next to his partner. "Okay, what’d you have in mind?"

"Well, I figured we could do a couple of things…"

"Such as?"

Starsky dropped his hand onto his partner’s shoulder and led him out to the living room. While they were walking over to the couch a bug of self-doubt lodged itself in his mind. He quickly brushed it aside and they sat down next the girl. She put the magazine she was reading down on the table and waited for one of them to say something. Hutch looked at them both. "Okay, shoot."

"Well, first off, I figured…we’d give the Philadelphia Police Department a call." He glanced at Angel for reassurance. "Maybe see what there is to know about Mrs. Colchetti’s accident. Find out if maybe they missed something. Then depending on what we find out there, that would tell us whether we have to pay dear old dad and his new wife a visit." He sighed. "‘Course that would mean…" He didn’t finish.

"We’d have to go up there and talk to them in person." Hutch said, reticently finishing the sentence.

"Yeah…so, whaddya think?"

He mulled it over. "I think you’re crazy, Starsky. It’s Sunday, do you know how long it’ll take us to get to Philadelphia?"

"I dunno, couple of days maybe?"

"It’s one and a half days and a little over three thousand miles as the crow flies. Do you wanna call Dobey up and tell him we’re not coming in to work on Monday because we had to investigate one of your hunches? Besides, it’s out of our jurisdiction."

"I thought of that and I think I got it covered. We’ll just tell Dobey that my Aunt Miriam blew into town unexpectedly and that we had to go visit her for a couple of weeks. If anybody at the department asks, you and I are finally taking that long, well-deserved two-week vacation we been trying to plan for months. Whaddya say? Huh? Huh?"

"Starsky, you’re a nut, a sweet, misguided nut, but a nut. We are not private detectives."

"Don’t let my Aunt Miriam hear you sayin’ that. I told her we were."

Watching them banter back and forth was like watching a endless verbal Ping-Pong match. Their interplay could be exasperating, especially to an outsider. She grabbed both of them by a forearm to get their attention. "Guys! Do you two think you’ll settle this sometime today?"

Both men looked at her, apparently having forgotten she was in the room.

"It’s already settled," Starsky said to her. Then turned to his partner. "Look at it this way, Hutch. If we don’t drive and we take a Greyhound up, we can both relax and you and I can still spend a little quality time together."

"Terrific." Hutch responded.

CONTINUEDŢ