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***CHAPTER SEVEN***

Ordinarily, Sergeant David Starsky knew where the lines were drawn when it came to adhering to the rules of his position. For both his partner and himself, there was always a fine line drawn between flouting those rules and bending them subtly to get a desired outcome. That subtlety was partially what set them apart from the criminals. If you asked any civil servant what the toughest part of their job was, they’d probably say, not getting personally involved in their cases. It’s one of those rules that sounds simple enough in principle, but aren’t always the easiest thing to do in actuality. Sometimes there’s an internal struggle to keep things on a professional level.

So even though he knew it probably wasn’t a good idea to get involved with Angel, he knew something else: he knew she was a hugely attractive, funny and intelligent young woman, someone who was as strongly attracted to him as he was to her. The problem was that there were too many things he didn’t know about her. Things like how much truth there was to the story she'd told him and how deep the rift was between her and her family. It was clear that she was virtually a stranger to him, and that under normal circumstances he wouldn’t be doing what he was doing. Yet each day it seemed she managed to say or do something that further endeared her to his heart, despite his efforts to discourage her.

"David?"

"Yeah?"

"I wanted to ask you something, before we go back to the house." She leaned in close to him as she spoke. Her skin and hair smelled of milled soap and light perfume.

"Ask me what?" he asked innocently.

"Remember the question I asked you on the bus?"

He didn’t look at her, preferring to keep his eyes on the road ahead of him. He knew his already thready resolve would be done for if he let his eyes stray into those big brown eyes of hers. "What question?" he asked.

"Would you stop fudging and answer me?" He went silent. She folded her arms. "You don’t remember, do you?"

He glanced over at her once and then quickly redirected his eyes onto the road. "Oh, you mean the ‘how do I like you’ question?" She nodded succinctly and he tilted his head as if he were giving it some thought. "Oh-h, I guess I’d have to say I like you better than a sister, if I had one."

"Really?"

"Really."

"How much better?"

"Where are you going with this?"

"Pull over and I’ll tell you."

He frowned and eased off the accelerator, pulling the car over to the side of the road. There was no outward indication of any apprehension or uncertainty in his movements, he just put the car in park and turned off the engine. He rested his left hand on the steering wheel and his right arm along the back of the seat behind her. "You’re really serious about this."

"You bet I am," she said, and then leaned toward him, putting her hands on his arms and turning his body to face her. "Could you at least look at me?" He did. And as soon as he did he remembered the feeling he’d gotten back in Hutch’s apartment, the picture of her with her mother, that burgundy dress, the smell of her perfume, and then suddenly whatever was holding him back from acting on his impulses before ceased to exist. He drew her close to him, closed his eyes and kissed her, hard and for a long time. Then once their lips parted, he seemed to regain control of himself and turned away from her. "I'm sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking. I shouldn’t have done that."

She inhaled. "I’m glad you did, because if you hadn't, I probably would have."

"We should go back." His hand nervously went for the keys.

She placed her hand over it. "Why, are you afraid of me?"

Starsky shook his head. "I’m not…afraid of you. It’s just I know there’s gotta be somethin’ wrong with this."

"Why does there have to be anything wrong?" Her hand was still on his.

"For one thing I’m a cop. And it’s better for both of us if I don’t get involved with you while I’m trying to help you. The investigation’s going to suffer, or one of us will."

"That won’t happen."

"What makes you so sure about that?"

"Look, I know I’ve only known you a few days, but believe it or not, I can tell a whole lot about you in a very short time. It’s all in your actions and your physical characteristics." His body language was distant; he didn’t believe a word of it. "Okay, so like for instance right now, you’re telling me a whole lot about yourself without saying a word. Your distance tells me that you don’t take things at face value, you're cautious at times. Am I right?" He didn’t respond. She took his hand in hers and then brushed the back of it against her cheek, but he didn’t pull his hand away. "This tells me you’re not afraid to be touched by the love of another." She ran her free hand through the curls on the back of his head casually and briefly. "Your hair texture tells me that you’re an incredibly strong person with a healthy appetite for life. You’ve already shown me that you’re caring and noble. What more do I need to know about you?"

Starsky freed his hand from hers and rubbed his palms together, ridding them of the sweat that had built on them. "Okay, let’s say this thing works out, what then? Haven’t you noticed there’s a big age gap between us? I mean, at I’m thirty-four years old and you’re, you’re what, twenty or twenty-one? From where I sit that’s a pretty big generation gap."

She didn’t blink an eye. "I like older men. Always have. You can ask anybody who knows me."

He shook his head and held his stomach with his left hand as a familiar sensation of fear rose in the pit of his stomach and traveled up into his chest. She wanted him to say something, anything. After a minute of silence her hand went to his sleeve. "Just tell me one thing, when this is all over, after we’ve found out what really happened to my mother, do you think you’d be able to relax enough to at least find out if this is something you want to continue?"

She was offering him an out and he jumped at it. "Sure. I guess so."

"Then why don’t we do that? We’ll go to my father’s house today, right now."

He restarted the car and pulled it back onto the main road, his head swimming with the possibilities that her suggestion presented. He wondered what she would do if he wasn't able to follow through on his promise after it was all over. The last thing he wanted to do was break her heart. He hated that. But right now it wasn’t something he could afford to think about. He turned to her. "What do I tell my partner?"

"Call him and tell him where we’re going, what we’re doing. I think he’ll understand."

"Yeah, maybe he will. Where’s your father live?"

"I’ll show you. Just keep driving."

***CHAPTER EIGHT***

When they pulled up to the spot where Angel’s father and new wife lived, Starsky was noticeably impressed. The Colchetti residence was located in one of the most exclusive areas in Philadelphia, the section known as Ardmore. Ardmore was one of those enclaves of excess where the rich did things like dine on pheasant under glass and hold expensive parties in overpriced mansions near their equally overpriced Bentleys, Jags and Rolls Royces, mainly to keep their coterie of equally affluent guests impressed. He and Angel walked up to the gate and she pressed the buzzer, and she noticed a touch of apprehensiveness in his body language.

"Is something the matter?"

"Um, no." He tried to change the subject. "Your father’s got a really nice set up here."

She knew the look, because every guy she ever brought home got the same one sooner or later. It was a look that said, 'I'm intimidated'. She tried to tone it down. "Yes, my father is loaded," she smiled, "but don’t let that bother you. He’s just a commoner underneath all this grandeur."

"You sure you don’t mean he’s just a wolf in sheep’s clothing?"

"No, I don’t. He’s really okay. And he doesn’t have ESP and he will not somehow know that you kissed me, if that’s what you’re worried about. You’ll be fine."

She pressed the buzzer again and suddenly the intercom came to life.

"Yes, who’s there?" a haughty male voice answered.

"It’s Angela, please tell my father that I’m here to see him, and I have a guest with me."

"Yes, miss," the filtered voice responded.

Not so long after the intercom went quiet, a large wrought iron gate opened automatically and they walked through it, Starsky watched as it closed just as automatically. The grounds were spacious, well kept and expertly manicured. The actual residence was set well away from the entrance, making it a relatively long walk from your car to the front door. When they finally reached it the butler was waiting for them. Must be video monitors, Starsky thought. The butler addressed them with perfunctory air. "Miss Colchetti."

"Hello, Charles. Where’s my father?"

Charles was a stiff, wiry man in his mid-fifties, dressed in a starched grey butler’s uniform, wearing buffed to a gleam navy blue shoes. His own dull blue eyes followed Starsky’s narrowly, as though he thought he might have some sort of communicable disease. "Your father is in the reading room, Miss. Shall I show you in?"

"No thank you, Charles. I’ll find him myself."

"Of course." He closed the front door, and then left them alone.

"Come on, follow me."

Starsky followed her through the museum-like rooms in awe until they reached the study. He felt like he was touring the inside of a mausoleum, not a place to relax and entertain people. When they came into the room, the only thing visible from their perspective was a plume of smoke rising above an unidentified head. John Colchetti was sitting in a huge armchair, reading the Business Journal and smoking a pipe. As they rounded the corner and he came into their view, Colchetti heard them and lowered his newspaper, pulling down his reading glasses and letting his lips sag slowly away from the pipe as he removed it. He looked surprised.

"Angie?"

She sighed audibly. "Yes, Dad. It’s me."

Colchetti rose immediately from his chair, slapping the newspaper down on it as if he were going to embrace her. He stopped short when he saw the tough looking, but casually dressed man accompanying her. "Who’s this?" he asked, visibly drawing back. "Don’t tell me you’re in trouble with the authorities."

Angel scowled, then turned on her heels to leave, but Starsky grabbed her forearm before she could get very far. "It’s not like that, sir. Your daughter asked me to come along, she wanted me to talk to you." He offered the man his hand. "I’m David Starsky. I’m a detective with the Bay City Police Department in California."

"Bay City? I don’t understand," Colchetti replied. "Talk to me about what?" He shook the hand offered him with a measure of distaste and curtly released it. Colchetti was a tall, handsome man with a dark Mediterranean cast to his skin. At first glance he could be described as intimidating, but the coolness of his manner pleasantly contradicted the seriousness of his outward appearance.

"About Mother’s accident," Angel answered him roughly.

"A few days ago your daughter came to my partner and me about some concerns she had regarding the circumstances of her mother’s death. We’re interested in helping her out, and I was hoping you could shed some light on a few things."

Colchetti remained pleasant, if only the slightest bit offended. "What’d you say you were? A cop?"

"I’m a detective, actually, if you want get specific." The curly-haired detective came forward and put his hand lightly on Colchetti’s forearm. "Why don’t you sit down, Mr. Colchetti?" He turned to Angel. "You too."

Colchetti lowered himself back into his armchair and his daughter chose to sit, rather purposely, in one of the chairs furthest away from him.

Starsky sat in a chair identical to hers and deliberated the tack he would take. This would be the hard part, questioning a man about the death of his estranged wife without turning the situation into a screaming match between father and daughter. There was also the possibility of being thrown off the property to think about. He laid out the questions in his head and then began in earnest. "Why don’t you start by telling me everything you know about your ex-wife’s accident?"

"Well, I…"

Before he could answer, the sound of a woman’s high heels echoing on the hardwood floors in the hallway interrupted him. The footfalls continued until they reached the study entrance and then stopped. When the three of them looked up, the owner of the high heels was standing in the doorway. She smiled at them. "Oh, John, you have company. I didn’t mean to interrupt."

"It’s all right, Jess. Come on in, we were just talking."

Both men stood as she entered the room. ‘Jess’ was a very attractive woman, maybe mid to late thirties, medium height, auburn-haired, porcelain-skinned. If she’d been a little taller, she might have passed for a high fashion model. Angel’s father made the introductions.

"Detective Starsky, this is Jessie, my new wife."

She offered a hand to him and smiled fetchingly. "Detective."

"Mrs. Colchetti, it’s a pleasure." He watched her as she directed a silent greeting at Angel that was not returned. The lack of a reply didn’t seem to cause 'Jess' any great concern, leading Starsky to believe that the response was one she was used to getting. The woman stood beside her husband’s chair and made no further gestures or comments in the younger woman’s direction.

"So," Mr. Colchetti sat down and began again. "You wanted to know what I know about the accident. Is that correct?"

Starsky reseated himself, keeping his eyes on the principals at the same time as he answered. "Yes, sir. Just tell me what you know." He paid close attention to Mrs. Colchetti’s facial expressions to see if they changed during his questioning. They didn't. She retained the same ingratiating, hostessy smile on her face the entire time she was standing there. She did however temporarily distract her husband at least once by bumping his shoulder with her hip. Colchetti smiled appreciatively at her and then turned his attention back his way.

"Sorry, detective. As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, my late wife and I were not on speaking terms. She’d made plans to go out of town for a few months and was on her way to do just that when the car she driving in was hit by an unidentified truck driver. The car spun into a ditch and turned over and she was killed instantly. Truly a sad and unfortunate turn of events." He shrugged a little. "But one that I can assure you I had no part in bringing about."

"That’s not true! That's absolutely not true! It wasn’t an accident, you know that!" Angel shouted at him accusatorily.

"Angela, I know nothing of the sort. Forgive me detective, but ever since this happened my daughter has had this idea in her head that I meant to do her mother harm, which I can assure you I did not. To tell you the truth, I’ve been trying to get past the whole episode and get on with my life. It really doesn’t make any sense to dwell on it. I find it impossible to comprehend that she was able to find someone who actually believed her ridiculous accusations."

Starsky gave him a look, but said nothing. Then Mrs. Colchetti bent towards Angel as if to console her. "Now, now, John. I don’t blame Angela for feeling the way she does. After all, Elaine was her mother." She said. Then she spoke to Angel. "It is all right to feel this way, you know."

Angel simmered on her words for a moment, then leapt from her chair and ran for the front door again, this time making it as far as the hallway. Starsky got up and raced after her, grasping her by her shoulders and holding her carefully, as if he were capturing a bird in flight. He spun her around to face him. His voice was calm and affirming as he willed her to look into his eyes. "Look sweetheart, we’re not going get anywhere here if you’re gonna outright accuse people of stuff we’re not even sure happened. We’re here to find out what we can, the best way we can. And if you can't handle that, then I’m gonna haveta ask you to go and wait in the car, okay? So, what’s it gonna be?"

She hung her head. "I guess I’ll stay."

"Good. Now let’s go back and sit down."

Angel walked back with him to the study and sat down resignedly. Meanwhile, Colchetti and his wife were giving each other questioning looks, waiting for the detective to return to his chair. When he sat down again he smiled at them. "Sorry about that. So now, Mr. Colchetti, when was the first time you were made aware of the fate your estranged wife?"

Colchetti thought for a moment, tapping his pipe on the wooden portion of his armchair and tamping down the tobacco before reinserting it into his mouth. Finally he said, "If I recall correctly, it was later on that same afternoon. An officer came to my door and reported it."

"What about you, Mrs. Colchetti?"

"I found out the same day John did. I was here with him."

Starsky caught Angel flashing a disapproving glance at the woman, but when she saw him watching, she looked away. He thought she might run off again, but to his relief she stayed put this time. He continued. "What was your immediate reaction when you first learned about her death?"

"I was quite understandably upset, the news was so sudden. I actually had trouble believing it at first. As I said, Elaine and I weren’t on the best of terms, but she was the mother of my only daughter and I felt I owed her at least that much respect."

"What line of work was she in? Or did she have any hobbies that kept her busy?"

"No, she didn't work. There was no need for it. Perhaps that was part of her problem, too much idle time. As for hobbies, mostly she shopped and traveled."

"Uh huh. Ah, if you don’t mind me asking, what's your line of work?"

"I recently came into ownership of a couple of car dealerships," he answered and chuckled softly. "A good number, actually. Perhaps you’ve heard of them, Colchetti Motors?"

Starsky nodded that he was aware of the name. "How about you, Ms. Colchetti? Do you still work outside the home?"

"Not anymore," she said, and she was still smiling that overly solicitous smile of hers. Starsky nodded and wondered how long her mouth could stay that way. "What about a life insurance policy on the family," he asked Colchetti. "Would there have been one in effect for your wife?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact, there was," he answered rather indignantly. "I’m sorry, but just where is all this leading?"

"Nowhere, yet. Maybe it won’t lead anywhere. I’m just checking things out."

Colchetti took a pull off his pipe and blew out the smoke. "You’ll pardon my insolence, but I guess I’m still having trouble grasping why anyone thought my daughter’s unsubstantiated accusations warranted a trip out here. This quite obviously was a jaunt for you."

"Well, it’s this way, sir. Your daughter asked me for help her and I was willing to find out if there was anything I could do. To be honest with you, if I were her father, and my only daughter had ended contact with me without telling me why, I’d be curious to find out where she was and why she left. There’d be nothing that could stop me."

"Detective Starsky, I know you mean well, but my intuition tells me that you are neither married, nor do you have children, would I be correct in that?"

Starsky nodded.

"I thought not, so allow me to clarify the situation for you. I have not been a welcome component in my daughter's life for some time now. Our relationship as father and daughter has progressively worsened with time and particularly more so after my recent remarriage. Angela has shown me on many occasions how much she disapproves of my handling of the situation with her mother, so therefore I refrain from becoming too involved in her life. Frankly, by the time she left home, there was so much animosity between us that I felt it was simpler just to let her go. Sometimes when things are that difficult, you're simply forced to do something drastic in return."

"Like letting Mother just pack up and leave?" She asked, her eyes bore into his, her eyelids brimming. "I mean she loved you, for Pete’s sake. I don't understand why..."

"Um, would anyone like something to drink? I could have the butler bring in something," Mrs. Colchetti asked, apparently trying to diffuse the tension of the situation.

Starsky put up his hand. "No, no, thank you. I think that’s all the questions I have, at least for now."

Mr. Colchetti stood and held his wife by the waist with an arm; his held his pipe in the corner of his mouth with his free hand. Angel looked up and gave Starsky a pained and surprised look as he rose too, extending his hand to help her out of her chair. "Come on, babe. I don’t think there’s anything else to find out here." Unwillingly, she took his hand and walked out with him to the front entrance. Once they got there the butler reappeared to escort them out. Both were quiet until they reached the car.

"Is that all we can do?" she asked plaintively.

"Nope. We’re gonna do one more thing."

"What’s that?"

"We’re going to find the officer who reported the accident and see if his story jives with theirs."

"Good. I mean, at least that’s something."

They got into the car and drove to the Philadelphia Police Department headquarters. On the way there, they both were hoping against hope that the two stories would contradict each other.

CONTINUEDŽ