Make your own free website on Tripod.com

***CHAPTER THREE***

Monday morning found David Starsky brushing his teeth at his partner’s bathroom sink with the water going full blast, their guest eating breakfast, and Hutch making a pot of coffee in the kitchen. His keen ears bristled at the sound of water flowing down the drain at what he guessed must have been probably a gallon a second. Starsky was humming some off the wall tune and gargling loud enough to be heard on the next block. He marched over the bathroom door and knocked. "Hey, Starsk, haven’t you ever heard of water conservation?!"

Starsky opened the door sporting a mouth full of toothbrush and foam. "Huh? Sorry, I couldn’t hear ya with the water runnin’," he mumbled.

"Shut off the water and use a cup, willya?"

"Oh, yeah, sure thing." Starsky nodded to him and closed the door.

Hutch heard the water shut off finally and breathed a small sigh of relief. Then he went over to the couch and checked out the two suitcases they’d packed for their trip. They'd had to guess about how much to pack and how long they'd be gone because figuring out how long it would take to get there and settle matters was a tricky assumption at best. He hoped it wouldn’t take them more than a couple of weeks to do it. After it was all over, he hoped that he and Starsky might salvage a weekend for themselves--at least that’s what he hoped.

Starsky came out of the bathroom drying his face with a hand towel. "You guys about ready to go?" he asked.

"Yeah," Angel answered. "Are we taking your car?"

"We’re sure as hell not taking Hutch’s old heap. Probably’d never make it to the bus station."

A warning finger popped up. "Starsky, I swear, if you denigrate my automobile one more time…"

"Well, if that’s the same thing as what you’re always insinuatin’ about my car, then I’ll declare a cease-fire if you will. And stop pointin’ that finger at me."

Hutch withdrew the offending digit. "Okay, a temporary truce is called. Besides, I had the good sense to call a cab."

"Oh, good idea."

Angel got up from the table, wiped her mouth and took her plate and the glass she was using to the sink, washed them and put them in the drainer. Then she went to the couch and slipped on her backpack. Starsky grabbed his own suitcase off the couch and frowned when Hutch picked his up and unceremoniously shoved it into his partner’s arms.

"Hey-y-y, what do I look like? A pack mule?"

"Well, if the shoe fits. Thanks, buddy, I know you were only thinking of my back."

"Yeah, sure," he grumbled, looking like he’d just been asked to trek across a hot desert without a canteen. He walked over and set both suitcases by the front door.

The girl pulled out a wrinkled Greyhound schedule from the side of her bag, one of the many she'd collected during her trip. "Looks like the bus we want is due to leave in an hour. If he doesn't get her soon we're going to miss it.

Hutch pulled out his pocket watch. "You’re right, kiddo. That cab should be here soon."

Now dressed in a white blouse, blue jeans and tennis shoes, her hair pulled into a loose ponytail, she winced at the "kid" reference. "Hey, do you mind not calling me that? I’m almost twenty-one."

"Oh, sorry, lost my head. Don’t know what I was thinking," Hutch answered in a playful tone. Then a car horn sounded outside.

The horn honked again. Hutch looked out the window and waved at the cabdriver who was standing outside his cab. The man looked up, acknowledged him with a wave and then leaned against the cab to wait some more.

"Cab’s here," Hutch said.

Starsky wrestled both suitcases out the door and down the stairs with minimal assistancefrom his two companions. After Hutch had locked his front door, he put the key in the pocket of his jeans and followed them down to the waiting cab.

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

The cab driver turned out to be a courteous enough sort; taking their luggage out of the trunk and setting it down at their feet in front of the bus station. After he was paid and generously tipped, he left. Starsky picked up all three bags and shot his partner a look of contempt that could have melted snow in winter. Hutch smiled back at him, thoroughly pleased with himself. But Angel, feeling she was righting a perceived injustice, sprinted over to help him, slipping her bag off his arm. He smiled at her appreciatively and flashed another disapproving glance at his partner. Feeling like a heel, Hutch groaned and took his suitcase from Starsky’s left hand. They walked into the station with a piece of luggage each. When they got to the ticket window, the clerk gave them their tickets and pointed them in the direction of the bus heading out for Philadelphia.

After a brief wait in the station lobby, the three of them boarded a waiting Greyhound. It was one of those "three-seats-to-a-side" ones that was already halfway-filled with passengers. Angel quickly staked out a middle seat for herself as they walked down the aisle. When the blond man made a beeline for the spot she’d been eyeing, she rushed him for it. "Ah, ah, ah," she exclaimed, a shiny fingernail waving in the air, "finders keepers!" she took the seat and looked up at him with a smile. Hutch conceded to her swiftness and good-naturedly took the seat next to the window. Starsky, oblivious to the competition, was still standing as he put her backpack into the overhead luggage compartment above them. When the bus lurched into gear he pitched forward awkwardly and paused to steady himself with a hand on the back of the seat, Angel caught his eye and she smiled at him, he returned the gesture and righted himself again. After a moment or so she reached over and tapped him on the shoulder.

"Yeah?"

"I’ll be right back, okay? I’m going to the lavatory," she whispered.

"Oh, okay." He wasn’t sure what a ‘lavatory’ was, but he figured she must know. He followed her with his eyes as she got up and made her way to what was known in his neck of the woods as the john.

His task completed, he sat down in the aisle seat and checked on his partner. The fair-haired man’s eyes were closed and his head was reclined in gentle repose. Figuring this was not exactly the time to expect stimulating conversation, he lifted his backside from his seat slightly and fished out a small crossword book from his back pocket, then pulled a pencil from the pocket of his shirt. He propped the book on a crossed knee and began filling in the answers. A confident smile swept over his face as the first answers came easily. He was going at a good clip when his brow suddenly became furrowed. Stumped, he sought out his friend’s assistance. "Hey, Hutch?" he whispered.

Hutch stirred, but didn’t move.

"Hey, Hutch!" he repeated, this time a little closer to his friend’s ear.

The blond opened his eyes and turned toward him slightly. " Yeah, buddy, What is it?" he answered drowsily.

"You know a seven-letter word for ‘optimistic’?"

Hutch couldn’t believe his ears. He turned and hauled himself slowly upright. "I don’t believe you actually woke me up to answer a stupid crossword puzzle question."

Starsky looked somewhat offended, but nonetheless undeterred by Hutch’s reaction. "Sorry. I’ll be quiet. Go ahead, go back to sleep."

The man groaned and turned toward the window, trying to get comfortable again in the seat. And that’s when Starsky went in for the kill. "That’s okay. Since you don’t know the answer, I’ll ask Angel when she gets back."

Starsky’s response got him the desired reaction. Hutch’s back tightened up. This time without turning around, he fumed, "I didn’t say I didn’t know the answer, Starsky." He turned towards him, and a curly haired imp smiled back.

"Oh, well then, what’s the answer?" he asked him very innocently.

"What is the answer to what, Starsky?" The man had finally gotten his goat. As he waited for him to repeat his question, the girl returned and took her seat between them.

"I need a seven-letter word for ‘optimistic’."

Hutch thought about it a minute and was getting ready to answer, but before he could open his mouth, the girl answered for him.

"I’ve got it, Dave, try utopist. It’s spelled u-t-o-p-i-s-t."

Starsky penciled the letters into the squares and found that they fit exactly. "Hey! She’s right. She’s a very smart young lady!"

"Humph." Hutch heaved an exasperated sigh and turned his back on them both. Angel looked after him. Then she turned to the man on her right, her eyes the epitome of curiosity. "Why do you do that?" she whispered.

He set the puzzle book facedown on his lap. "Do what?"

"Fool around with him like that?"

"Oh, that. Don’t worry about that. Deep down under all that bluster, he’s really just a pussycat. I’m pretty used to it by now."

"Okay, if you say so."

Starsky looked past Angel and over at his dozing partner. "See, he’s forgotten all about it already."

She looked over at the blond man. David was right; the guy had gone right back to sleep. She chuffed a laugh. "So how long have you two been partners?"

Starsky tilted his head back. "Hmm. Seems like just yesterday. But my guess is it’s been more like six years."

"I guess that explains why you two read each other like a book, huh?"

"You could say that. He’s my best friend, so we tend to overlook each other's more irritating personality quirks."

She rested her chin on her hand in thought. "Detective Starsky?"

"Dave, remember?" he asked, focusing on the puzzle book again.

She rose a little off her hand and used it to touch the sleeve of his jacket. He glanced at it there, a little nervously, involuntarily dropping his pencil on the floor. When he reached down to pick up the pencil and sat up again, she was looking intently into his eyes.

"Dave…"

"Yeah?"

"Do you like me?"

Starsky glanced at her. Oho. Now she was reading him like a book. And there were only one, maybe two people in the world that could do that. He smiled vacantly as she continued touching his sleeve and trying to make eye contact with him.

"I don’t know what it is. I just keep feeling like there’s something going on between us."

Starsky gulped. "Huh?"

She put her hand on his shoulder. "Did you hear me?"

"Yeah, I…I heard you."

"So, do you like me?"

"Yeah, sure I like you."

"Don’t just say that to make me feel good. I want you to tell me how you like me. Is it like a sister, or…or something else?" She was hoping for the something else.

He groped for an answer that wouldn’t put his neck in a sling. He finally came up with, "I really hadn’t given it much thought, to tell you the truth."

"Oh, okay." Crestfallen, she settled her head back and closed her eyes.

Yeah, thatta boy, Starsky. When in doubt the old tried and true detached and vague approach always works. You handled that one just like a pro. Seeing the disappointment on her face was almost enough to make him want to tell her all. But he stood fast on principle, even though every fiber of his being said to tell her exactly what he knew she wanted to hear.

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

Monday morning had rolled into Tuesday afternoon by the time the three of them got into The City of Brotherly Love. They pulled their own bags from their luggage area of the bus and stood near the edge of the highway, waiting. No one spoke a word. The rescued remained disappointed with the rescuer, and the oblivious third party, only along for the ride, so to speak, remained blissfully ignorant of the entire situation.

"So what do we do now?" Hutch asked.

Starsky spotted a shoddy looking cafe across from the station. "Anybody hungry?"

"Ah, ah, ah, first things first, Starsk. Let’s get the answer to at least three of the four W’s first, who, what and where, before we think about our stomachs."

He sighed. "Okay, come on. Follow me." The two of them trailed behind as he made his way to a nearby payphone. "Huggy said to call as soon as we got into town."

"Okay, that covers the ‘who’ part."

"Who’s Huggy?" Angel asked.

Starsky dug some coins out of his pocket. "He’s a friend of ours, helps us out from time to time." He dialed Huggy’s number and put the receiver to his ear.

"Oh," she said.

When the operator came on she advised of him how much the call would be and he put in the necessary amount, then listened to the phone ring until the line was picked up.

"This is Huggy Bear. Your dime, my time, rap to me."

As usual Huggy Bear sounded his busy and prosperous self. In fact at this moment he was tending to some very pressing business matters, that of deciding on the suitability of a new mixed drink to add to the bar menu as well as choosing which of the cocktail uniforms his female employees would wear when they served his customers. Such work was sometimes hazardous, demonstrated in earnest as one of the bar’s busty waitresses crossed in front of him to model a particularly revealing outfit. She was wearing a hot pink hot pants number so tantalizing that he spilled some of the drink he was testing on the front of his shirt. He smiled sheepishly at her and self-consciously dabbed at the spill with one hand, almost dropping the phone in the process. Flabbergasted, he put down the glass and put the receiver back to his ear. "Huggy's here, have no fear."

"Hey, Hug. It’s me, Starsky."

"Hey-y-y, Starsky, how you been, my man?" He looked at his watch. "I guess this means you made it to Philly. Where’s your other half at?"

Starsky motioned to his partner and Hutch set his bag down and stood beside him, placing his ear close to the receiver. "We’re here, Hug," he said. "What's the word?"

"A cute little bird told me that you two gentlemen, and mind you I use that term loosely, were on a fact finding mission requiring yet another demonstration of my vast knowledge and superior expertise. And being as that is the situation, I have taken it upon myself to arrange for you and yours to luxuriate in the splendor of the hospitality of one of my Philly connections."

"You got connections in Philly, Hug?" Starsky asked, somewhat amused at the idea. "Why am I not surprised?"

"Yes, Starsky, I do," Huggy answered, sounding a little slighted.

"And what might this connection's name be?"

"Frankie Brown. She's my cousin."

"Frankie? You got a cousin named Frankie?"

"Starsky…I'm warning you, do not make jest of my family tree."

"Oops, sorry, Huggy. Okay, how do we go about finding this paragon of graciousness?" He chuckled despite himself.

The black man picked up an address book from the counter, thumbed through it and stopped. "You got a writing implement and a piece of paper handy?"

"Yeah, hold on a minute." Starsky pulled the crossword book out of his back pocket and used the pencil he had tucked behind his ear to take down the information. "Okay, ready, Huggy. Let ‘er rip." Hutch leaned into his partner’s space to overhear the information, close enough for their hair to mingle.

"In about…" Huggy looked at his watch. "Oh…say…in fifteen minutes, a rather impressive ‘short’ should be arriving to chauffeur your party to your destination."

"Ah, and where would that be, Huggy?" Hutch asked, his eyebrows rising suspiciously.

"I was coming to that part, Hutch my man, patience, patience. You see my cousin, Frankie, has a little bed and breakfast out there that she and her sometimes old man, Dix, take turns runnin'. It’s a good location for the tourist trade and the service, they tell me is su-perb. I’m tellin’ you the hospitality and the food there is so good, you won’t want to come home."

"Now you’re talkin’, Huggy," Starsky said.

"Just give me a jingle when you get to her crib, and I’ll put in a good word with the cook."

"Huggy, we can’t wait," Hutch replied in a cynical tone.

Huggy probably didn’t hear the blond detective’s last comment because at that moment the second collection of outfits was being modeled. He bit his knuckle as another well-endowed and ravishing waitress entered, wearing an even more revealing outfit than the first. "Ah, gotta go now, fellas. Destiny calls. And I’m not about to keep her waitin’, if you know what I mean."

"Sure, Hug, we’ll call ya when we get to your cousin’s place." Starsky broke the connection and hung up.

Hutch stepped aside and picked up his bag. "So what now?"

"I guess we just wait. He said fifteen minutes."

Angel stood with her back to both men and kept an eye on the road ahead, checking her watch sporadically. No sooner had the minute hand reached the three than she spied a swirling cloud of dust rolling in their direction. "Hey, here comes something," she announced.

Starsky and his partner turned their heads in the direction she was looking in. Sure enough there was a long, lemon drop-yellow colored convertible Cadillac Eldorado headed their way. It looked like it could have come right out of The Wiz. It cruised to a stop in front of the station and created a dramatic dust cloud. After a few seconds of coughing and shielding their faces, the driver rolled down his window and greeted them heartily. "Good day, one and all!"

"Don’t tell me, you’ve gotta be Dixon," Starsky deduced.

"The one and only, my friend." Dixon turned off the engine and got out of the car. He was an older black man with a salt-and-pepper natural and he was wearing a white cowboy hat and white gloves. He looked sort of like someone you’d see at a rodeo...maybe. The three of them looked at him in quiet amazement. Despite his curious choice of attire, them man actually cut quite a fine figure standing next to the Eldorado. He leaned on the side of the car directly in front of them and pulled off his hat. "Our mutual acquaintance, Huggy Bear, has informed me that I might find three weary travelers awaiting me here in need of transportation."

"Yeah, Huggy’s got a way with words," Starsky replied.

"Well, what are you waitin’ for? The car is open, throw your luggage into the trunk and slide yourself on in. Dixon may be a fine chauffeur, but he ain’t no baggage clerk. No sirree."

Hutch opened the unlocked trunk and put his suitcase in, followed by Starsky's and the girl's. He opened the rear door to get in, and couldn’t help but examine the interior design as he stuck his head inside. Merle the Earl would have been proud. The whole interior was bright white and had some kind of a polar bear fur carpeting on the sides of the doors and the floor. The upholstery was all tucked white leather. Other embellishments included a yellow gold-plated steering wheel and gear shifter with a gold-rimmed rearview mirror. "Ah, yet another aesthetically destitute soul," he muttered to himself, and shook his head as he forced himself to get in.

Starsky opened the door for the girl and she slid in without thanking him. He shrugged and got in himself. With everyone seated as comfortably as they could be in the tight back seat, Dixon got back into the car and started it. "Are we ready to hit the road?" he asked.

"No time like the present," Hutch answered stiffly.

"Right on." Dixon pushed an eight-track tape he’d been listening to back into the player and let the sounds of the group MFSB playing "TSOP" circulate through the interior. Hutch folded his arms and stretched his long legs in front of him as far as he could and turned to Starsky. "Nudge me when we get there."

"You got it."

***CHAPTER FOUR***

Starsky and Angel rode in complete silence for the hour-long trip to the bed and breakfast. She stared blankly in front of her and watched the scenery go by outside while he watched her. By now, Dixon was on his second rendition of "Georgia on my Mind" which he sang out loud in a low baritone. Having had enough of the cold shoulder treatment, Starsky stopped looking at her and touched her arm. She trained on him with a look that cut like a thousand knives. No stranger to hostile encounters, he dismissed the look and addressed her anyway.

"Did I say something wrong?" he asked.

"Oh, so you’re talking to me now?"

"Well, I’m not talking to him." He motioned toward his partner, who was sleeping like a baby next to her. "You’re not mad at me, are you?"

She turned around and went back to staring blankly. "No. I am not mad at you!" she answered, but her voice unintentionally rose a few octaves.

"Coulda fooled me."

Starsky shook his head in disbelief; he wasn’t exactly sure why the two of them were giving him a hard time. First, he had Angel, a beautifully inscrutable enigma, whom he suspected had feelings for him, but who probably had not the slightest clue what to do with them. And then there was Hutch, his best friend of many years, who would probably be easier to figure out if he had a road map. A hand on his shoulder brought him out of his thoughts and he turned toward it.

"Detective Starsky? I mean...Dave," she whispered, letting her hand slide from his shoulder to his forearm. Surprisingly, he didn't flinch and his eyes stayed on her hand where it rested. He noticed that she had very pretty hands, long and delicate, like an artist’s might be.

Her eyes engaged his. "I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to snap at you. I guess I’m just on edge now that we’re getting closer."

"That’s okay, I understand."

She lifted her hand from his arm and placed them in front of her on her lap. They both tried desperately to find other things to look at besides each other. Which was very hard.

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

"Here we are!" Dixon announced loudly and enthusiastically. He pulled the car into the unlandscaped back lot of a well-kept two-story wood frame house, parked and cut the Cadillac’s engine, then craned his neck back to check the backseat. All three of his passengers were sound asleep and snoring. Angel was leaning on Hutch’s shoulder, and Starsky had his head crammed against the inside of the rear door.

Dixon cleared his throat. "Rise and shine, everyone!"

"Ooh! Wh--What?" Hutch awoke with a start, bumping his head on the ceiling. It took a minute before he realized that there was someone nestled in the crook of his arm. Dixon watched as the blond man carefully extracted his arm from beneath the girl’s head and slid her over onto his partner. Then he got an idea. He straightened up as much as he could and positioned his head as close to Starsky’s left ear as he dared.

"Rise and shine, Starsky!"

Predictably Starsky jerked awake, rousing the girl and jostling her from his shoulder onto his lap. The driver grinned, shook his head and got out of the car. Starsky stared disbelievingly at his partner. "Could you possibly be a little more childish?"

"Sorry, buddy. Just getting you back for the puzzle crack," he answered, a puckish look on his face.

Starsky shook his head and helped the girl sit up.

"Are we there already?" she asked him.

"Looks that way." Starsky answered, still slow fuming.

Hutchinson got out of the car and stretched his limbs. Starsky got out the other side, with Angel on his heels. Dixon helped them take their luggage out of the trunk, set it down on the ground, closed the trunk and began buffing the Cadillac’s finish to a brilliant gleam. "You gentlemen and the lady can go right on in. Frankie will make you feel right at home."

"Thanks, Dixon, we owe ya one," Starsky responded.

"No, we don’t," the blond man said under his breath. He was still busy complaining and working the kinks out in his back, a condition made worse by his awkward sleeping position in the car. "Leave it to Huggy to send a ‘74 Caddy to pick us up. The thing’s smaller than a sardine can back there."

"Maybe you should’ve sat up front. There’s a whole lot more room up there," Angel suggested.

"Yeah, thanks, I’ll keep that in mind for the trip back."

They headed up to the front door of the two-story residence, rang the doorbell and waited. Within a few minutes an impressive looking black woman opened the door. Her smooth brown skin had few wrinkles and her face was brightened by a warm, inviting smile. "Come in, come in," she said, and she shook their hands one by one as they stepped into the foyer and went past her into the parlor. The large sunlit room was furnished with a pair of look-alike damask sofas positioned catty-corner to each other against a big bay window, the tops partially covered with crocheted white throws. Two doily covered dark brown coffee tables squatted between them, bordered by a matching damask wing chair.

"My name is Frankie Brown, please have a seat won’t you?" she said as she reached for her eyeglasses and put them on. She focused intently on her three guests as they sat down in front of her. "I hope you all like tea," she said, and picking up a ceramic teapot and began pouring hot water over teabags already set inside cups.

Starsky smiled at her graciously. "We sure do."

She indicated the separate servers. "There’s sugar, cream or lemon if you like."

Hutch took a cup and tossed a couple of spoonfuls of sugar into it. He drank it slowly, his eyes taking in their new surroundings. Starsky passed the cup of tea handed to him on to Angel and then took a cup for himself and sipped. The proprietor of the home poured a cup for herself and sat down, smoothing her dress down as she did. "So what brings you out this way?" she asked, her question lingering in the air for a moment before it was answered.

"We’re looking for answers. In particular, we’re trying to straighten out a situation concerning this young lady over here," he explained, motioning toward the girl.

The woman smiled at her and took another sip of tea. "Such a pretty thing. Stand up dear, let me have a look at you."

Angel put her teacup down on the table, glanced at the two men and then stood up. With a stiff and perfunctory smile she let Mrs. Brown take her by the hand and study her for a moment, and when she was done, she returned to her seat on the couch. Mrs. Brown continued watching her with interest. "So, how have you come to be in the company of these two gentlemen?"

The girl tensed. "Well, I…"

Hutchinson cleared his throat and raised his right hand, forefinger extended. "Sorry to interrupt you, Mrs. Brown. But I sure would like to see the accommodations and freshen up a bit before we get started."

"Oh, no problem at all. First, let me tell you, breakfast is at 7 a.m. and lunch is promptly at noon. I usually serve dinner between six and seven in the evening. This is my slow period so I don’t have any other guests at the moment, which means you’ll have free run of the place. There’s a shared bath on both floors, so if one is in use, the other one should be free." She rose from the sofa and put her cup down on the table. "If you like, I can show you to your rooms right now."

Starsky put down his cup. "Oh, that’d be swell, Mrs. Brown. We’d really appreciate it."

As he, Angel and Hutch walked around the coffee table to follow her, she put her hand on Starsky’s arm. "You can call me Frankie, honey. Most folks do."

"Okay, Frankie." he said, smiling at her.

Mrs. Brown led them out of the parlor, through an archway and up a flight of carpeted stairs. The carpeting stopped at the landing and wood panel flooring took its place. The hall emanated odors from the stays of past boarders despite an effort to mask it with a spritz of air freshener. Cigarette smoke, the odors of meals cooked and eaten in years past and stale perfume had settled in the floral wallpaper, too stubborn to be sanitized away. The four of them stopped about halfway down the hall in front of two rooms with closed doors. A large, rectangular curtained window stood vigil ahead.

"I hope the two of you don’t mind sharing a room. There are double beds."

"Never bothered us before, right, Starsk?" Hutch asked.

"Right. That’s okay with us."

She turned to the young woman. "You can have the next room. It’s just over here." She indicated the door before the room near the window. "I’ll call you all down when lunch is ready. Huggy told me what your preferences are and I’m going to do my best to prepare what you like."

"Thanks," Hutch said, "we really appreciate that."

"Not a problem." She fished three keys from her apron pocket. "These are the keys to your rooms. Please make sure they’re returned to me before you leave. Lost keys are ten dollars to replace."

"Whoo! Ten whole bucks, that’s pretty steep!" Starsky exclaimed.

"I know it’s a stiff penalty. But I guarantee you the keys do get returned." She laughed quietly, then turned to make her way back downstairs. "I’ll see you all at lunch."

Hutchinson tried his key in the lock and opened the door, then turned to his partner, saw him hanging back. "I’m going to wash up before lunch. You comin’ in, Starsk?"

"I’ll be with ya in a minute, okay?"

"Sure." He went in and shut the door.

Angel moved slowly towards her door to try the key she’d been given. Starsky leaned against the outside hallway wall and watched her, sensing her hesitation.

"You going to be okay in there by yourself, you think?"

The young woman opened the door and stood in the doorway, surveying her accommodations. Inside and off to the right she saw a writing desk and a large mirror, in the middle of the room there were two double beds separated by a nightstand, with matching lamps on each one. There was a television on a rolling stand and a radio not far from that. The room was painted in a neutral, off white shade. There was also a communicating door that led from her room to the room where the two detectives would be, and that little detail that seemed to set her mind at ease. She nodded her head. "I think I’ll be all right."

He peeked inside. "Remember if you need anything, glass of water, ice cream…someone to talk to, we’re right next door. All you have to do is knock."

She acknowledged his offer with a peck on the cheek. "I’ll remember that. See you later."

His face lit up with a big smile that crinkled the corners of his mouth and eyes. He pushed himself slowly away from the doorframe as she disappeared inside the room. "See ya," he said and as the door closed, he waited for the sound of the lock on the door before he went on his way. When he walked into his room, Hutch was laying on one of the double beds reading a newspaper. His shoes and shirt were off, leaving an undershirt, jeans and socks still on. He looked up from the paper when the brunet man entered.

"How’s our charge doing?" he inquired.

"Seems like she’s doin’ okay."

Starsky shrugged out of his jacket and flung it across the back of an unused chair, pulling it out to straddle it. He leaned his elbow on the top of the chair and placed his chin in his hand, covering his mouth and crossing his opposite arm beneath it for balance. He sat quiet for a minute, thinking and watching the newspaper rattle in his partner’s hand. Finally, he spoke again. "She’s a pretty nice girl, you know?"

Hutch shrugged the paper down a half-inch. "Sure, you say so."

"I sure hope we can do something for her."

"So do I, partner, so do I."

After a minute, he said, "I think maybe I’ll take a shower." Then he got up from the chair. "Maybe relax a little before we eat."

The blond man peeked out at him from behind the paper. "I put a fresh towel out for you and your suitcase is on the bed. I’ll be right here when you get back."

Starsky smiled at him as he went over to the other bed. "Thanks, buddy. But frankly, I might find that a more appealin’ proposition comin’ from a sexy brunette."

Hutch winked at him and went back to reading his paper.

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

Huggy had been right about his cousin’s abilities in the kitchen. Not only was she a wonderful hostess who treated her guests like family members; she also had something of a magic touch with food. The lunch she’d prepared was an impressive repast of homemade vegetable soup, hot deli sandwiches and sliced fruit with a choice of lemonade or iced tea as a beverage. Both men ate heartily, especially Starsky. When he was done, he snatched the napkin he had tucked under his chin off and slid down in his chair, patting his stomach happily. "I am stuffed," he said, turning to their hostess and smiling. "You are one heck of a great cook, Frankie."

"Oh, it’s nothing at all. I practically lived in my mother’s kitchen."

Hutch, equally sated, wiped his mouth with his napkin and pushed himself away from the table. "That was great, but I sure couldn’t eat like that everyday. I’d turn into Porky Pig."

"Th…that…Th…that’s all folks," Starsky mimicked the portly cartoon character.

Angel ate but didn’t seem to enjoy her lunch. The laughter and "at hominess" of Frankie’s kitchen only served to remind her of the absence of her mother. She couldn’t help her eyes welling up with tears on short notice. Mrs. Brown noticed it first, Starsky second, and Hutch last.

"What’s the matter, dear?" she asked, touching her arm.

The young woman didn’t answer, just looked sad, her tears falling faster. Starsky was next to her chair in a heartbeat, offering a sympathetic hug and stroking her hair. "Everything’s gonna be all right," he assured her.

"You’d better take her upstairs," Hutch directed him.

"Yeah. C’mon. C’mon with me."

Starsky lifted the emotionally troubled young woman out of her chair and carried her upstairs to her room, whispering words of encouragement in her ear as he did. Mrs. Brown followed. Once they were upstairs, she opened the door for him as he carried her in and laid her down on the bed.

She pulled a big down comforter from the closet in the hallway and brought it into the room. "I keep these to use for my special guests," she said, covering the girl with it and leaning over her as she stroked her forehead and spoke in low tones: "Just remember, whatever it is that’s bothering you, there’s a solution for it. So don’t go worrying yourself. You go ahead and rest now." Angel nodded as the woman rose to leave the room. Starsky followed her to the door. "I’ll stay with her until she goes to sleep," he told her. "Tell my partner I’ll be down as soon as I can, willya?"

"Of course I will. Maybe then you two will tell me what’s going on," she said softly.

"We sure will."

Starsky closed the bedroom door after she left, drawing the curtains so that it was dark. He stood near the bed and watched her and she turned head to look at him, the remnants of fading tears staining her cheeks. He came closer and sat on the bed beside her. In the dark, she looked very young.

"Sorry if I spoiled lunch for you."

"You don’t have to apologize."

She reached for his hand and squeezed it, and he returned the gesture.

"It’s just that sitting in that kitchen reminds me of what I used to have, and what I’m going to miss. And it hurts. It hurts so much."

He picked up her hand and kissed it. "I know, honey, I know. But you rest now, and don’t think about it anymore. Just remember how much she loved you and how much you loved her."

"Is that what you do?"

"That’s exactly what I do."

"Will you tell me about your father? What he was like?"

Starsky was pleased and somewhat surprised that someone he barely knew would be interested in hearing about his father. He arranged some of the extra pillows behind him and leaned against them. "Hmm. Well, okay, here’s one. I remember when I was about seven years old, my father took my little brother Nicky and me out to Coney Island. It was a Saturday afternoon, and Nicky wanted to ride on the merry-go-round and I wanted to ride on the Ferris wheel. The two of us raised an awful fuss; going back and forth about who was going to go on what ride and who would get to go on first. Pop probably wished he could’ve split himself in two just to please us both. But you know what he did?"

Angel shook her head in slow motion, her eyelids beginning to close.

"He put Nicky on the merry-go-round, and while the kid was having the time of his life on those horses, he took me outside and brought me an ice cream cone and we sat down and had the greatest man-to-man. He told me how much fun it was riding on the Ferris wheel and how great it was to be so high in the sky and looking down on the world. He said that when he was a little boy, his Pop used to take him to the very same beach and they’d ride the very same Ferris wheel as was there now. He told me that it was a tradition for the Starsky men to take their sons to Coney Island pier and spend the day eating hot dogs and riding rides. He told me that he was continuing the tradition with his sons and that he hoped we’d do the same with ours. After that talk, I forgot all about wanting to ride the rides, I just wanted to be with him. I guess I always admired the way he handled the situation and it stuck with me, you know?"

When he didn’t get an answer , he looked down and saw that she’d fallen asleep. Satisfied, he pulled the covers up over her shoulders and kissed her on the cheek, then left the room, closing the door quietly behind him. He went back downstairs and sat across from his partner, who was sitting cross-legged on the floor in the parlor, his back against one of the couches. He looked up as he entered the room. "How is she?"

"She’s asleep now, but I have a feeling the sooner we figure out what happened to her mother, the better off she’ll be."

Frankie entered the parlor from the kitchen, having finished putting away the lunch dishes that her handsome blond guest so graciously washed and stacked in the drainer when they were upstairs. "How is she? Did she get to sleep all right?" She sat down next to the darker man, drying her hands with a dishtowel.

"She fell asleep. I told her one of my Coney Island stories. It seemed to help."

"Well, that’s good. Now tell me, how did you three get together?"

Starsky sat forward on the sofa. "I guess you could kinda say we bumped into each other by accident. You see, Angel’s mother died in a bad car accident a couple of months back and I guess the pain’s still pretty fresh. Not only did she lose her mother, but she lost her father at the same time, at least figuratively. Seems he had a future Mrs. waiting in the wings not long after the accident happened. So now his daughter thinks there was some sorta plan between the two of them to get her mother out of the picture. I figure that things weren’t too great between her and the stepmother early on, so in her own best interests, she felt it was a good idea to get away from them both. So she got on a bus to parts unknown and I found her after she got off the bus in front of my partner’s place."

Hutch picked up the thread where Starsky left off. "Now my friend has decided we should become adjunct social workers for a few weeks and see if the kid’s got a legitimate beef or if she’s just taking us for a ride."

Frankie folded the dishtowel she was holding and placed it on the coffee table, then clasped her hands in her lap. "Do you think she’d go as far as to say something like that without having heard or seen them do something to make her think it was true?"

"That’s what I thought. I mean girls don’t usually hop on busses and head out of town with no place in mind. I personally think she had to have a really good reason."

"So now it’s up to you two to find out whether that reason actually exists. Huh. I don’t envy you." She looked toward the kitchen. "Well, I’ve got business in there that needs tending to. I’ll leave you two to work this out between yourselves. Let me know if you need anything."

"We sure will. And thanks for listening." Starsky patted her arm as she got up to leave. They waited for her to pass from view before speaking again. Hutch uncrossed his legs, got up and joined his partner on the couch. "You thinkin’ what I’m thinkin’?" he asked.

"Yeah, I think so. I’m thinking the two of us need to go down to the PPD and introduce ourselves, see if we can get the files on the accident and whatever else might be available. Maybe we can take a look at the place where it happened. After that, we’ll see what the detectives assigned to the case turned up. Then we’ll know if we need to pay a call on Mr. Colchetti and his new wife."

Hutch straightened his legs in front of him. "We’d better find Dixon and get a move on it then."

Starsky rose in search of their hostess, with Hutch waiting outside at the kitchen door for him. When she saw them hanging in the doorway, she stopped putting away leftovers and walked over to them. The dark one took her hand. "Frankie, we need to go and check some things out in town, wouldja mind keepin’ an eye on Angel for us? We should be back by suppertime."

"If we’re lucky," Hutch said over his shoulder.

She put her hand on Starsky’s. "Of course I will. Don’t worry. I’ll take good care of her."

Starsky nodded and he and his partner moved as one toward the front door. "Come on, buddy, let’s find our ride," he said.

The blond man opened the door and was startled to find Dixon already standing there, his hand poised over the knob. "Whoa there!" he said. "We must be having ESP or telepathy or some such thing. I was just coming to retrieve you."

"Retrieve us? How’d you even know we were leaving?" Hutch asked him curiously.

Both detectives looked at each other and then back at the driver. He didn’t give them a direct answer. "Well, just don’t just stand there lookin’ like deer caught in headlights. Let’s be on our way!" he exclaimed, then turned on his heels off the front porch and walked over toward his car.

"One of these days we gotta talk to Huggy about getting some normal connections," Hutch said under his breath.

Starsky grinned and followed his partner out the door.

CONTINUEDŽ