Make your own free website on Tripod.com

***CHAPTER FIVE***

Unlike their arrival into the city, the drive down to the Philadelphia Police station was by contrast, an uneventful one. Dixon let the two men out of his car in front of the station and drove himself to a nearby coffee shop to wait. The detectives made their way up the cobblestone steps of the station and went in. Once they were inside they immediately noticed that the atmosphere was friendlier and less chaotic than their home base at Metro. The staff turned out to be extremely helpful and hospitable, providing coffee and unfettered access to any public documents related to the case that they required, that is until their commanding officer arrived.

Captain Benjamin Kraft was nothing like their Captain Dobey. In fact, Kraft appeared to be the antithesis of their gruff and grumbly supervisor. The only obvious similarities were their gender and ethnicity, and that was most likely where the similarities ended. They both looked up when he entered the squadroom. He absolutely commanded authority, dressed sharply in a tailored, freshly pressed-grey business suit, spit-polished shoes and a paisley tie. He sported a neat, freshly barbered natural and a thin mustache. His demeanor was cool and reserved as he strolled in. No excitement there. They could tell just by looking at him that he probably gave the same amount of attention to his position that he gave to his style of dress, and that included the two peculiarly dressed detectives who’d made themselves at home in his squadroom. He regarded them with indifference as he stopped at his secretary’s desk and conferred with her, then disappeared inside his office. The pretty brunette left her desk and sauntered over to the two men. She was wearing a baby blue silk dress over two inch heels, sans stockings, and when she walked, she seemed to float. She half leaned over the desk as she spoke to them and Hutch swore to himself that he was in love.

"Detectives Starsky and Hutchinson, the captain will see you now," she said to them.

Never without a kind word for a pretty face, Hutch perked up and smiled broadly, oozing charm from every pore. "Why, thank you, kind lady. I’m sorry, I hope you don’t mind my being forward, but I do believe you must be about the most beautiful creature that I have ever seen." He took her hand. "Are you free tonight? My partner and I are new in town and…"

Starsky put a restraining hand on his partner’s shoulder and gave him one of those "you old devil" looks out of the corner of his eye. "Hey, hey, Romeo, we’re working unfamiliar territory here. You think you could put the brakes on your libido long enough for us to find out what we’re up against?"

Hutch wordlessly relented to his partner’s suggestion, but with reservations. The brunette seemed just as disappointed as he was. She leaned forward a bit more, discreetly revealing ample cleavage. "I’ll take a rain check on that invitation, darlin’," she said, and he grinned. As she straightened up and returned to her desk, both men were hard-pressed to ignore her obvious charms. Hutchinson was well aware of his partner’s mutual interest in her.

"Hey, Starsky, don’t get any ideas. Remember, I saw her first," Hutch reminded him as they headed for Captain Kraft’s office door. Starsky looked completely innocent and then knocked.

"Come in," the captain’s voice said.

The two men hovered tentatively inside the doorway as they walked into Kraft’s office. He was sitting at his desk, his feet up, leaning back in his chair. He took his feet down when they entered, motioning to his visitor’s chairs. "Go ahead and sit down. The two of you have obviously come a long way to see me."

The two men pulled out the chairs and sat down. They looked at each other as they took their seats; neither of them able to determine the seriousness of their situation by the tone of the man’s voice, the way they sometimes could with Dobey. He folded his arms in front of him and eyeballed them mercilessly. "So, you two are from Bay City?"

"Yes, sir." Hutch answered. "I’m Detective Sergeant Kenneth Hutchinson."

"And I’m Detective Sergeant Starsky."

His hand reached out to shake theirs. "Pleasure to meet you both. Now, what brings you to my humble city?"

Hutch turned to Starsky. "You go ahead, Starsk. I’m just along for the ride."

"Right. Um, you see, Captain, my partner and I are investigating a car accident that happened here a few months ago; the decedent’s name was Elaine Colchetti. We’re here because we have reason to believe the accident may not have been an accident."

"What kind of reasons? I need to hear them. You don’t have to be specific. But you do have to be straight with me."

"Okay, no problem. We have a source, a young woman in her early twenties, who claims that her father and his current wife had her mother killed."

"Sounds tenuous--but go ahead."

"We have hearsay information provided by this source that suggests to us that the father and his new wife may have had a pecuniary motive for wanting the mother out of the picture."

"Of course, hearing things like this makes us curious to find out what really did happen to the lady," Hutch added.

"Of course. So you came all the way out here from Bay City to corroborate her story."

"That’s right, but only because we have reason to believe this young lady is telling us the truth. So, what do you think?" Starsky asked.

"I’m not sure. And for the life of me, I don’t know what you think you’re going to uncover that would be germane to the story your source has given you. The department has already done a preliminary investigation of the accident, and that was due to the financial profile of Mrs. Colchetti’s husband and the circumstances of her death, for insurance purposes. I can tell you unequivocally that no manpower was spared. And I guarantee you that my men dotted each i and crossed every t when it was over. I just don’t think that the two of you are going to find out anything that will substantially support your source’s suspicions."

"Yeah, okay. But in spite of all that, Captain, isn’t it still possible that your men coulda missed something?" Starsky queried.

"It’s not highly likely." He sniffed.

Starsky stood up and Hutchinson followed him to the door. "But it’s possible, right?"

"Detective Starsky, in my line of work I’ve found that anything’s possible. In light of that fact, I’m going to grant you both access to any available resources at our disposal. I never want it be said that the Philadelphia Police Department did'nt do its part to assist fellow officers." Kraft turned to look out his window and light a cigarette. "Even if they are working off duty and out of their jurisdiction."

Starsky flashed his partner one of those "do you believe this character?" glances and Hutch raised his eyebrow at him in response. The captain sounded just like one of those highbrow politicians he remembered Hutch’s father liked to introduce them to when he used to invite them to fundraising dinners for his business. They were the type that were always 'on' and campaigning for office, you never knew when or if, they were being sincere. The invitations were usually Mr. Hutchinson's attempt at trying to change his son's mind about his occupation of choice, and they usually backfired.

Kraft turned to face them again. "Where were you two thinking about heading first?"

Starsky beamed. Kraft had decided to help. "We’d wanna go take a look at her car."

"After that," Hutchinson added, "we’d want to visit the site of the accident, see if we can pick up any stray clues."

"All right, I gather you’ve both read the filed reports, and you know that the accident occurred on I-95. If I remember correctly, Mrs. Colchetti was traveling south approaching the airport. She was preparing to exit the highway, and a delivery truck of some type entered the highway at a high rate of speed. The truck driver clipped the rear end of her BMW and flipped it over; it must have turned over at least ten times. It was a pretty nasty. If you want to see what’s left of it, you’ll have to hurry though. I think it’s on the way to the junkyard. It might be there already."

"The junk yard?" Hutch repeated.

"Yeah, that happens when foul play is ruled out and the car is totaled. You know that."

"Wouldja mind tellin’ us where we might find this place?"

"The insurance company holding the policy on the vehicle would have that information. Check with Cassie on your way out."

Both men sprinted for the door of Kraft’s office and they weren’t halfway out of it before he stopped them. "Officers?"

"Yes, sir?" They answered.

"Good luck."

"Thanks," they replied.

Starsky went back to the desk where they’d been poring over the incident reports on the case and tried to straighten it up a little, while Hutch approached Kraft’s fetching secretary, Cassie, for the information on Mrs. Colchetti’s car. He leaned toward her, smiling a smile that would charm the scales off a snake. She stopped typing and immediately responded to his presence. "Yes? How can I help you, Sergeant Hutchinson?" she asked him, smiling at him dreamily.

"You can call me Ken."

"All right, Ken. What can I help you with?"

"The captain says you might be able to help us out with the information for the insurance company that insured Elaine Colchetti’s car. It’s the one that was involved in a hit-and-run accident about four months ago?" He turned to his partner. "What’s the file number, Starsk?"

"ECJ-1020."

She jotted down the number. "Hold on a minute, I’ll take a look for you." The young woman got up and went to a nearby file cabinet, thumbed through a drawer and pulled a file folder, checked it thoroughly, and then brought the folder back and stood so close to him he could smell the Chanel perfume she was wearing. "Here it is. Says here the vehicle was insured by Pennsylvania State Mutual Insurance Company." She leaned over and wrote the address and phone number down on a slip of paper, then turned it over and quickly wrote down her name and home number. She tucked the piece of paper into his hand and let her eyes rest on his for a moment. "I know you’ll pay particular attention to that second number, won’t you?"

Hutch noted it and smiled again very broadly. "I sure will. Thank you…Cassie."

"You’re welcome…Ken."

Hutch left her side and stuffed the folded piece of paper into his shirt pocket, then walked over to his partner and tapped him on the shoulder. Starsky looked up at him. "I got it. Let’s go."

"Okay."

When they left the station, they were armed with a renewed sense of purpose, but not much else. They had no idea what they’d be able find out from the insurance company, much less what they’d be allowed to see. They hoped that with any luck, Captain Kraft might be able to pull some strings and they‘d be able to cut through some of the bureaucratic red tape. When they got outside the building, Dixon was there waiting for them with the engine running. The man truly was a marvel. The detectives got into the Caddy’s backseat and he swung the car around to head back to the house. Never a quiet man for long, Dixon tried engaging the two men in some idle chitchat. "So, did you find what you were looking for?"

The sound of his voice was kind of unexpected, like a freight train whistle late at night. Neither one of them were paying much attention to what he was saying, lost as they were their own thoughts. He tried again. "Hello back there, am I conversing with the living?"

"Whatja say, Dix?" Starsky said, finally responding.

"I said, did you find out anything from our Captain of the Police?"

"Oh, you know him, Dix?"

"We have had occasion to meet now and again."

Hutch joined the conversation. "Well, the captain was nice enough to provide us with an address to a place that might be helpful to our cause. You think you could find it for us if we gave you the address?"

"Is the Pope Catholic?"

Starsky grinned. "Last time I heard."

"The address is 13 West Willow Grove Avenue."

"We are there, you have but to say the word."

Dixon checked his side mirror and steered the Cadillac into a wide U-turn that headed them in the opposite direction of Frankie's place. Now they were well on their way to the offices of Penn State Mutual Insurance.

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

The Penn State Mutual Insurance Company was an overpowering, somewhat intimidating white brick structure that took up all but a few acres of the land it was built on. To get there had taken only an hour, but when Dixon pulled into the lot; he knew that he had no intention of sticking around as he had at the police station. He kept one hand on the steering wheel and the other on top of the seat as he looked back at his passengers and they readied to exit. "The two of you might want to think about hiring a cab to get you back to Frankie’s. Normally I’d stick around, but these establishments are not known for their appreciation of others’ time, if you know what I mean."

Hutchinson shook his hand and said,"We know what you mean. Don’t worry about it. We’ll get back okay."

"Dix, when you get back there, wouldja tell Frankie we said ‘thanks again’, please?"

"Sure thing. Will we be seeing you later on tonight, do you think?"

"Depends on what we find out."

"All right then. I bid you good luck, gentlemen."

"Thanks."

"Yeah, thanks."

Both men got out of the car and walked toward the looming insurance building. They stood in front of the entrance and waited until Dixon drove away. The darker man leaned close to his fairer partner and whispered, "You get the feelin’ he knows more than he’s tellin’ us?"

"Starsk, you’re too superstitious."

"You got a better explanation for him just showin’ up at the front door like that?"

"I dunno, Starsky. Maybe it’s ESP, or telepathy, like he said. Who knows? I’m no expert on the supernatural. All I know is that the quicker we get inside this place and start asking some questions, the quicker we’ll be able to get this taken care of."

"Lead the way, O blond one."

Hutch went inside and up the stairs first with Starsky trailing behind him. When they got inside they had to stop to adjust to the interior lighting, which seemed severe in comparison to the natural light they’d been in outside.

"Is just me, or is it really bright in here?" Hutch asked, blinking his eyes.

"No, it’s really bright in here."

After a few seconds of readjustment, Starsky made out a sign before them that read "INFORMATION". He tapped his partner on the shoulder and pointed to it. They walked up to the clerk manning the desk. He was a small man, wearing a pair of horn-rimmed glasses straight out of the fifties, and a drab, grey business suit that seemed appropriate to his quiet demeanor. He looked up immediately when they approached. "May I help you, gentlemen?"

"Ah, yes, we hope so. I’m Ken Hutchinson, and this is my partner, Dave Starsky. We’re detectives investigating the Colchetti hit and run that occurred on I-95 about four months ago. Can you tell us where we might find someone with records on the incident?"

"Colchetti, you say?"

"Right," Starsky answered. "The driver was the victim of a fatal hit-and-run on her way to the airport. We’d like to get a look at the vehicle if that’s still possible."

"Well, we handle them by last name, first name and the C’s start over there." He pointed to a sign that had "A-D" on it. "Walk over there and tell that clerk what you just told me."

"Thanks," Hutch said.

They left the male clerk and walked in the direction of the sign, their eyes drifting down to the hefty female clerk below it. Starsky gulped. "Oh, man, I sure wouldn’t want to get her mad."

Hutch silently agreed, clearing his throat as they stepped forward. "Excuse me, ma’am."

The clerk looked up but didn’t say anything. She was chewing frantically on gum that had probably lost its flavor a half hour ago. She was pale and blonde, and she wore a floral muumuu that seemed to cover her from stem to stern. Both men smiled the most pleasing smiles they could muster, considering their audience. Hutch tried again.

"Pardon the interruption, but we’ve just spoken to the information clerk over on the other side and he tells us you might be able to help us find what we’re looking for."

"What’re ya looking for?" she asked him quizzically, not really paying attention.

"We’re lookin’ for a car," Starsky answered.

"What kind of a car? Ford? Dodge? New or used?"

Hutch frowned. "It’s neither, ah, none of those."

"We’re lookin’ for a car that was involved in a fatal hit-and-run. Probably totaled. It’s under the last name Colchetti. First name Elaine." He spelled the last name for her. "The accident took place around August of this year. Ya think ya could help us find it?"

Finally, she focused on them. "You’re lookin’ for the actual car?"

"Yes, the actual car."

"I’ll go take a look. Wait right there, okay?"

The woman stopped chewing on her gum and reading her romance novel long enough to get up from her desk and go over to a file drawer. She rifled through it until she came upon something, pulled it out and brought it back to the desk with her, then she stopped in mid-motion, seemingly flustered, and turned to them. "Hey, how do I know you guys are really detectives? You haven’t even shown me your badges or anything yet."

"Oh, yeah, sorry." Hutch produced his badge and showed it to her, and Starsky did the same.

"Does that help ya?" Starsky asked.

"Loads," she answered, then opened the folder to read the contents off to them. "Says here, "Elaine Colchetti, was deceased on August 23rd, 1977. The car was a black convertible foreign number that’s since been released to Peterman’s Wrecking Yard for recycling."

"Where’s that?"

"It’s not too far from here. In fact, if you walk out those glass doors, you’ll almost be in their parking lot." She pointed toward the rear exit.

"Out those doors?" Starsky queried, already headed in the direction she was pointing.

The woman nodded her head silently, a rather impatient look growing on her face. As they were walking away, they suddenly at the same time remembered something they’d neglected to do. "Hey, ah…ah…thanks!" they yelled back.

"Don’t mention it!" she responded after going back to her duties, one of which included chewing her gum at the same frenetic pace she had been before she was interrupted by the demands of work.

When the two detectives went out the building’s back exit, they saw nothing. They were standing outside the glass doors, looking around and still saw nothing. Neither of them was able to spot anything that even remotely looked like a junkyard in the vicinity. Hutch was starting to get a little hot under the collar and he tapped his partner on the shoulder to tell him so. Starsky turned to him.

"What?"

"Starsk, promise me something."

"What’s that?"

"Promise me this is the last time I let you sucker me into going on a wild goose chase with you."

"Can’t do that."

"Why not?"

Starsky spotted something to his left. "Hey, lookit that over there."

"Over where?"

Starsky pointed. "Over there. Looks like a parking lot to me."

Hutch squinted in the direction he was pointing. "Almost looks like one to me, too."

"Let’s go."

Starsky started off towards the parking lot and Hutchinson followed him. "You still haven’t answered my question," he said.

"What question?"

"Why you can’t promise me you won’t ask me to go on one of these little excursions of yours again."

"Oh, that. Well, ’cause life’s unpredictable, Hutch. If I promised ya that, I’d be lyin’ to ya, and I wouldn’t want to do that."

"Oh."

Hit with that kind of pretzel logic, there wasn’t much more Hutch could say. It made such perfectly good sense, at least it did to his partner, that he didn’t bother arguing his point, whatever it had been, even though it had seemed like a perfectly good point at the time. He just followed the man wherever he was leading them, for no other reason than because that's what best friends do

 

***CHAPTER SIX***

The parking lot that Starsky had seen from a distance did soon lead to a noisy and very cluttered auto junkyard with the name ‘Peterman’s’ heralded above it in huge lettering painted on a wooden sign. The two partners purposefully searched out the proprietor of the establishment, who turned out to be a man named Harley Peterman. Peterman was a big guy, oddly comfortable in dirty coveralls and a straw hat, his jaws chewing busily on a wad of tobacco; definitely the ‘hillbilly’ type. Beside him two black Dobermans stood sentry, both unleashed and sniffing the air around them like eager bloodhounds readying for the hunt. Neither of the detectives wanted to get on their, or his, bad side.

Starsky extended a shaky hand towards the man, prompting both of the dogs’ snouts to follow it until it reached their master. "H…Hello. Mr. Peterman?"

He shook the hand offered him. "Yeah, I’m Peterman. What’s it to you?"

"Well, ah…me and my partner here, we’d like to see one of your cars."

"What for?" he snorted, still feeling them out.

"We think it might have been involved in a felony."

"A felony? That kinda evidence gets held up at the police investigation yard, don’t it?"

"Well, this one might have slipped by them. That’s why we’d like to see it. Do you have any idea where it is?"

"It was a convertible number, black paint job. Foreign. Ring any bells?"

"Oh, that one. That one’s on the crane."

"On the crane?" Hutch questioned.

"Yeah, it’s suspended…in mid-air, you know? We drop them down into the crusher after we get all the salvageable parts off ‘em. Although, this one didn’t have that many parts on it for resell. I tell ya, the way it looked, I’d of hated to have seen the driver."

"She didn’t make it."

"Didn’t think so. Well, come on, I’ll show it to you."

"Ah, don’t you want to see our badges or somethin’ first?"

"Naw, I trust you. If you weren’t on the up and up, my dogs would’ve had you for lunch already."

"Oh."

Starsky looked at his partner, and he at him. Then they followed Peterman and his two dogs to the salvage yard, albeit at a safe distance.

"There it is up there," he said, pointing towards the sky.

Both men looked up. It was there all right, suspended in space by the powerful claw arm of the crane that held it. But it didn’t look much like a car anymore. It really didn’t look like much of anything anymore.

"Can you bring it down?" Hutch asked.

"Sure thing."

They both stood as close to Peterman’s dogs as they dared, while he walked over to the crane and stepped inside. They watched him operate the controls of the machine, bringing the twisted hunk of metal down precisely to within an inch of where they were standing. When it landed on the ground, a plume of dirt rose, and Peterman hit the release lever on the control panel. The huge claws climbed up and settled at the very apex and stopped. Then Peterman climbed out of the crane and rejoined them. "Well, there it is," he said.

"Not much of it left."

"I told you that. This thing rolled over a bunch of times, too. At least that’s what the paperwork told."

Hutch circled the medium sized hulk of metal a couple of times. What had been the fabric convertible’s roof was in tatters and the metal that had held it in place was bent in odd directions. He tried opening the driver’s side door, but it was wedged against something inside and it wouldn’t open. The tires were gone. So were the seats and much of the innards of the vehicle. Starsky examined the rear of the wreck, checking the impact site. The bumper area had been severely damaged, and upon closer examination, he noticed streaks of white paint running across its lower half.

"Hey, Hutch!"

"Yeah?"

"Come and take a look at this."

Hutch left his spot at the front of the car, and joined his partner at the rear. "Whatcha got?"

"Take a look. There." He pointed. "Whaddya see?"

Hutch examined the spot on the bumper where his partner indicated. He leaned closer and studied it for a second, then looked up at his partner.

"Well, what does that look like to you?"

He touched the bumper and examined the flecks that remained up on his fingers. "Paint?"

"That’s what I was thinkin’. Mr. Peterman, could you come over here a second?"

Peterman gave an order for his dogs to stay, and he joined the two men. "What can I help you with?"

"We think we might have found something. We’re going to need a ride out to Interstate 95. Know where we could get one?"

"Well, seein' as how you two are police officers, I could let you borrow my truck, but you’d have to promise to bring it back."

"You sure about that? I mean, even if we are cops, we’re still strangers. Are you saying you’d trust us to take your truck and bring it back?" Hutch asked him, skeptical.

"Hell, no, I don’t trust you. But I do trust my dogs. They’d be goin’ with you. You know, sorta like insurance. And of course I’d want a little something for my time and inconvenience." He ran his thumb slowly over his index and middle fingers greedily.

"Of course, " Hutch agreed.

"Hutch, pay the man."

"What?"

"You heard me, pay the man."

The blond went into his pants pocket and pulled out two twenties. "Man, the things I do for a friend," he muttered and handed the man the money, which Peterman pocketed quickly.

"Terrific. Hold on just a second."

Starsky pulled a small jackknife out of his jacket pocket, along with a small envelope. Into it he scraped a sample of the paint from the bumper and then put everything back into his pocket. He held it up to Hutch’s face. "For the police lab." Hutch nodded.

"I can give you the keys right now if you want."

"Sure, why not?"

"They’re in the truck."

"Be right back, Starsk." Then to Peterman. "Okay, let’s go."

Peterman took his dogs with him and led the blond detective to a dirty white trailer that doubled as his office; he climbed inside and came out with a key fob that was overburdened with keys. Then he led Hutchinson over to a grey 1952 flatbed Ford that was parked beside the trailer. Peterman offered him the keys and then grasped his dogs by their collars, leading them up into the back of the truck. He got in the flatbed with them and secured their leashes, then jumped out and closed the hinged door. He joined Hutch in the cab and they drove the short distance back to where his partner was. Peterman hopped out and stood beside the open door. "You guys still gonna be needing that metal over there? It is worth a little dough to me. "

Starsky took one last look at it and got into the truck. Then he closed the Ford’s door. "Tell you what, hold off on it until we come back with your truck, we might still need it. Will you do that?"

"I can do that, sure thing. But I need my truck and my dogs back here by eight o’ clock sharp tomorrow. There’s a Thomas Guide under the front seat if you need one." He tipped his hat. "I sure hope you guys find what you’re looking for."

Hutch looked over at him. "Thanks. So do we," he said, and then put the truck in reverse, backed up and lurched into drive. They waved to the portly man as they disappeared down the road in his truck.

Harley Peterman stood on the dirt portion of his lot, watching them take off down the road in his truck, with his dogs. He spit out a jawful of wet, black tobacco juice and watched it splatter onto the ground, then wiped his mouth with his shirtsleeve. "Humph, big city folk," he grumbled.

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

Having concluded that the early morning hours would be more suitable for their search than the waning hours of the evening, the two detectives returned to the boarding house. On Wednesday morning, after an early breakfast and after having made sure that Peterman’s dogs were watered and well fed, they started out. When they got to the site, only a few cars were speeding down the wide stretch of blacktopped asphalt. Hutchinson pulled the truck over to the right hand side of the highway and parked, and Starsky got out first, surveying the road for as far ahead as his eyes could see.

"Any idea what it is we’re lookin’ for exactly?" Hutch asked, climbing out of the driver side.

"Skid marks. Tire tracks, maybe a piece of somethin’ from the truck that hit the car. Anything the PPD guys might have left behind when they did their preliminary investigation."

"In other words, a needle in haystack."

"Yeah."

There was landscaping on both sides of the I-95, as well as a weedy gully full of discarded cans and bottles and other items. Both sides of the road were crossable if they were careful. Hutchinson looked around at the unmercifully wide expanse of road before them.

"Where do you want to start?"

"How about you take the left side, I take the right? We’ll check about fifteen yards up, and then do a run back. Meet back here at the truck when we’re done."

"Sounds good to me."

Hutchinson gave his partner a quick shoulder rub, looked both ways and cautiously ran across the four lanes of blacktop to the other side of the highway. Starsky checked his side, and right away saw something shining directly in front of him, he ran ahead to check it out. "Hey, Hutch! I think I got somethin’!" he yelled as he bent down to pick it up.

Hutch stopped on his side. "Whaddya got?" he called over.

The detective picked through some weeds and trash and pulled out the object, dusted it off and frowned. It was a tin plate from an old TV dinner. "Aw, it’s nothin’, just somebody’s leftovers!"

"Yeah, well, keep lookin’!"

"Okay."

The two men searched every square inch of the area twice, turning up nothing useful to them. Hutchinson checked his watch; it was five minutes to seven. He crossed the traffic lanes again and met up with his partner beside the truck. The two dogs stood and waited in the back of the truck watching them, panting and drooling.

"Well, looks like this area is clean."

"I thought sure we’d find somethin’ out here. We have to get the truck back to Peterman in an hour."

"Want to try up the road a little farther? I didn’t see any skid marks on this stretch of road, now that I think of it." He opened up the driver side door and climbed inside.

Starsky nodded, "Sure, why not." He walked past the two dogs, and one of them adventurously stuck his wet snout out at him as he went by. "Watch it, fella." He warned playfully, and then got in.

Hutch started up the truck, waited for traffic to yield and then merged in. He drove up the road a few miles more until he spied what appeared to be the faint outline of tire marks on the road. "Look, Starsk, over there." He pointed to some black tread marks on the leftmost lane. "What do those look like to you?"

"They look promising, is what they look like. Let’s check it out."

Hutch stopped the truck and they got out, again watching for oncoming traffic as they crossed. They stood on a grassy area at the side of the road and studied the marks. They were from tires, but were not fresh. It had been three or four months since the accident, and the weather had taken its toll on anything that remained, removing almost all existence of the event.

"I’ll check the other side." Hutch offered, sprinting across the lanes when it was clear.

They searched the new spot and again came up with nothing. Starsky rejoined his partner at the truck once more. "I got zip, what about you?"

"Same here. What’s next?"

"We take the truck back to Peterman and get him to drive us back to Frankie’s. Then we’ll probably have to set up that meeting with Angel’s parents after all."

"That’s what I thought you were going to say."

The two detectives got back in Peterman’s truck, made an illegal U-turn and headed back towards the junkyard.

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

By the time the two detectives returned the truck and Peterman’s dogs back to him it was a few minutes before eight. As agreed, the man dropped them off at the boarding house and then drove on home. When the two of them walked into the house, Angel was sitting in the living room on the sofa with the owner, Frankie. Her face was as forlorn as a puppy dog’s, but seemed to perk up when the raven-haired detective strode in with his partner.

"You guys find out anything?"

Starsky raised both hands, palms up. "Not a thing." He walked over to the sofa and sat down beside the two women, while Hutch settled into the wing chair across from them.

"What’ll we do now? What’s left?"

"We’re gonna have to talk to your father."

"That’s what I was afraid of."

Starsky took hold of her hand. "You can stay here if you don’t feel comfortable going out there with us."

"Oh, no. I want to go…I--I guess I have to."

"Look, would it make you more comfortable if one of us stayed behind? I’m thinking the situation won’t seem quite so confrontational if there aren’t two out of state cops waiting at his front door when he opens it," Hutch reasoned.

Starsky turned to her. "That’s a good idea. Whaddya say? Would that make you feel better?"

"Yes, and I’d really like it if you’d be the one to come with me."

Hutch nodded his head knowingly. "Okay, so the decision’s been made. I’ll stay behind."

"What’re you gonna do in the meantime, partner?"

"I’ll hang around here, help out if I’m needed. Check in with Dobey. Maybe give that pretty secretary at Kraft’s office a call, who knows?"

"Okay. Frankie, do you know of a good place to rent a car around here? I hate to keep imposin’ on old Dix or throwing twenties around every time we need a ride someplace."

"I sure do. You can use mine."

"I didn’t think you had a car."

"Nor did you ask."

"Well, you got me there. What and where?"

"It’s a sixty-two Dodge. It’s been sitting out back in the garage gathering dust off and on for about six months. Dixon keeps it up for me when it needs it. I only use it every once in a great while."

"Okay. Mind if I go out and take a look at it?" Starsky asked.

"No problem. Follow me."

The woman got up and led them outside and to the back of the house. They followed her expectantly, curiously anticipating the sight of a car that sounded more like a haven for stray mice and errant cats than a mode of transportation. When they reached the garage, the two men lifted the heavy garage door and propped it open with a pair of dirty wooden posts that were kept nearby for the purpose. They dusted off their hands and looked inside. The interior of the garage was neat and well organized except for the cobwebs and spiders that had invariably settled in the rafters.

The vehicle in question sat under a dusty old tarp. Starsky walked to one side and Hutch the other and together they lifted the tarp off to got a good look at the object underneath it. For something that was fifteen-years old and rarely used, it looked fairly decent. Starsky studied the car’s lines, kicked the tires. It wasn’t the Torino, but if it was as well maintained under the hood as Frankie had said it had been, than he figured it might not be too bad.

"Well, what do you think?" Frankie asked.

"It looks pretty good. But how does it run?" he queried.

She dug into her apron pocket and pulled out a handful of keys, plucked one from the lot and handed it to the curly-haired detective. "Here’s the key, let’s find out."

He took it, got inside and tried starting the car. After a couple of turns, the engine turned over and he saw a lot of exhaust smoke coming from the back, but after a few presses of the accelerator, the smoke cleared away. Everything appeared to be clicking on all cylinders and he was clearly impressed. "She purrs like a kitten, Frankie. But I won’t be able to tell you if she’s road worthy until I take her for a test drive."

"Be my guest."

"Thanks a lot. Anybody want to join me? Hutch?"

"No-o-o, thanks, not the way you drive. I’ll keep my feet firmly planted on terra firma."

"I’ll go with you," Angel spoke up.

Starsky raised an eyebrow, started to rebuff her, but let it go. "Okay, ah, hop in."

Angel came around the passenger side and the lanky blond opened the door for her. After he’d closed it, he bent down and tapped on the glass. She rolled the window down for him and Starsky eyed him inquisitively from the driver seat. "Yeah, buddy?"

"I just wanted you to be sure to bring all this back in one piece."

Starsky smiled at him. "Are you kiddin’? I wouldn’t think of damaging this fine piece of machinery." He slapped at his chest. "They don’t make ‘em like this anymore. One of a kind."

"That’s for sure, but I was talking about the car and the girl."

"Oh."

Taking his friend’s advice to heart, Starsky put the car in reverse and backed slowly out of the garage. Hutchinson strode over to Frankie’s side and waved his partner and the girl off as they pulled away and out of sight. The owner regarded him quietly, wondering whether she could chance asking him a sensitive question without seeming too forward. As they were heading back to the house, she put a hand on his forearm. "Detective Hutchinson, would you mind if I asked you a question?"

"No, what is it?"

"How do you feel about your young friend?"

It was a question he’d been deliberating himself, but he didn’t think anyone else had been, least of all her. "How do you mean?"

"I mean she doesn’t talk much around me, she’s very quiet and respectful. But when either of you enter the room, she lights up like a moth to a flame. You haven’t known each other very long and…well…I was thinking that’s kind of unusual, don’t you think?"

"Well, to tell you the truth...yeah. Except that instead of it being both of us, I’d say it’s my partner she does all her lighting up around. I haven’t been able to figure out what’s going on with her yet, but I have a gut feeling that she’s not being entirely up front with us."

"Well, now that you mention your partner, I’ve been watching the way the two of them interact. It seems at times he’s very close with her and at other times he’s a little uneasy. It seems like he wants to be nurturing and caring but at the same time he wants to keep his distance."

"Yeah, I guess you’re right." He smiled at her. "You’ve got a good eye."

"Just something I’ve gotten fairly good at doing. Must be from all my dealings with people over the years. I’m intuitive about these things, and it’s fairly obvious to me that she’s the ‘needy’ type, she needs attention."

"How's that?"

"Haven’t you noticed the way she ‘leans’ on him? It’s almost like she’s needs him to breathe. I’ve seen it before and I’ll tell you one thing, it could mean trouble for him if he’s not prepared for it."

"It wouldn’t be the first time." He groaned. "But Starsky’s a grown man, if he needs my advice he knows where to find me. Let’s go in, huh?"

"I just wanted to be sure that you were aware." She stepped up onto the back porch and went into the house.

"Oh, I am," Hutch responded, following her. "I am."

CONTINUEDŽ