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***CHAPTER THIRTEEN***

Hutch woke up to what sounded like someone being sick not far away. Concerned, he sat up and looked for his partner, who was thankfully sound asleep on the bed next to him. Judging from the huge grin on his face his partner mused that he was probably dreaming about making the moves on some beautiful female. He smiled and checked his pocket watch in the semi-darkness. It was two o’clock. He got up and opened the door to the room as quietly as he could, then peeked out into the darkened hallway. He noticed that the bathroom light was on. Then he heard coughing and the sound of the toilet being flushed. The faucet was turned on, then off again. In a few seconds the chain on the door unhitched, and he watched as Angel made her way out of the bathroom. She looked drawn and pale, her hair was damp, and the neck of her gown was wet. She was blotting at her face with a white cotton towel as she stepped out.

"You okay?" he asked, startling her.

"What?"

"I said, are you okay?"

Oh, yeah. I guess something I ate didn’t agree with me."

He came out of the room and put his hand on her forehead. "Are you sure?"

She laughed nervously and brushed his hand away. "I’m positive."

Before she could get any further away from him he took hold of her arm and tried studying her face, hoping he might be able to figure her out. Had she really eaten something that disagreed with her, or was she some sort of a druggie? Besides the poor pallor and the vomiting, he noticed something else that was weird--her appearance had changed since the first time they’d met her. Over the course of a week or so, her face and figure had become fuller, more rounded.

In the middle of his thought she squirmed out of his hold and turned away from him, making her way towards her room. "I’m going back to bed. I’m sorry if I woke you."

"’S okay," he answered thoughtfully. She went into her room without another word and closed the door. Hutch slipped back into his, sat on top of his bed and stretched his body across it. Linking his hands behind his neck, he lay there in the dark, grappling with trying to find out a reason for her transformation. After a minute or so he freed one hand and snapped his fingers softly in the air. He turned toward his partner and considered waking him up to share his epiphany, but the guy looked so peaceful lying there that he didn’t dare disturb him. He settled back onto his pillow and closed his eyes instead.

To his way of thinking, a person who comes wanting, is wanting--for something. Young women don’t as a matter of rote collapse at your doorstep and come to with stories of murder to tell. He'd felt then, as he did now, that she was handing them a hard luck story for a reason. Not because she was running away from something bad, but because she had a hidden agenda. He’d known enough women in his lifetime to realize that the possibility existed. His ex-wife Vanessa, who’d tried most of their married life to plot his career to meet the needs of her own self-enhancement, was one of them. She was a user, and he feared that Angel was the same type of person.

But that wasn't what bothered him the most. What bothered him the most was the fact that Starsky had taken up Angel's cause without questioning her motives or thoroughly checking out her background. It was very disquieting to know that this young stranger had enough emotional pull on his partner to where he was willing to drop everything to help her. Ironically, it was his partner's uncharacteristic behavior that triggered the first seeds of doubt in his mind. Starsky hardly ever got emotionally attached to someone he didn't know well, let alone allowed himself to become viscerally or emotionally moved enough to aid them in their causes. Between the two of them, it was probably more something he might do himself. A White Knight move. With that in mind, he felt duty bound to make sure that his partner wasn't being emotionally used for her self-aggrandizement. He hoped to be able to do that without alienating their friendship. When he closed his eyes, he was still thinking about it, and before he knew it he was asleep again.

 

***CHAPTER FOURTEEN***

John Colchetti hadn’t yet become important enough for his death to rate the front page of the daily newspapers, (a quarter of a page in the obit section sufficed.) But Emerson thought it best to wait a couple of days before he ventured phoning the widow to ask her over for dinner. He had worked diligently to project the appearance of self-confidence and affluence, and thought it necessary to keep up the facade, even if it did mean borrowing outrageous sums of money from seedy and dangerous sources to keep the cash flowing. It was difficult to live prosperously on an insurance agent’s salary, but with their assistance he managed to do it, albeit tenuously. He’d even gone as far as having his condo refurbished to further the appearance of wealth. When friends and acquaintances arrived at his home, it was on expensive Italian sofas that they sat; they rested their feet on plush Indian or Oriental rugs, and set their drinks on imported Italian coffee tables. All of these trappings were well within view of a collection of some of the most exquisitely carved ivory pieces he could acquire at auction. That was how much looking the part meant to him.

After the first killing he’d begun sensing a growing reluctance on Sharon’s part to continue their intricate deception, and now with the dark man paid off and his plans coming to fruition it was not the time for her to begin losing faith. This was the time to bind together and be strong, and he hoped that getting together with her tonight would assuage any fears she might have of continuing. He poured a glass of wine for himself and took a sip, then consulted his watch. It was six o’ clock.

At six fifteen the doorbell rang and he checked the peephole. It was she. Her chin was slightly tilted and turned away from him, but there was no denying whom it was. He let her in and closed the door. He watched her as she stood in the foyer, she was somberly taking note of the candlelit dinner setting and the ambience of the room. She was wearing a black silk scarf over her auburn hair and a light fur stole was draped dramatically over a black crepe evening suit that fit her like a glove. The color was too reserved for the occasion, he thought, but she looked wonderful just the same. He walked over and kissed her on her cheek and she responded by moving away from him. Moving toward the couch. Her reaction was foreign to him. He didn’t understand it and he told her so.

"What’s the matter with you? It’s almost over."

She laid her purse down on the couch. "I know, but there are two people dead because of us. I didn't think..."

"Wait a minute. Hold on just a second. What happened to the Sharon Milner that I met three years ago at my office? The one who said she’d had it with her life? Had it with the nine to five? Had it with never going anyplace or doing anything? What happened to her?"

Sharon sighed and dropped down on the couch next to her purse. "It’s been a long three years, Bruce. I’m not the same woman. You had a man’s wife killed...you remember? I married the rich widower. Have you any idea what it feels like to know the man I love is for all intents and purposes, a murderer?" She waited for him to answer the question, but he didn’t. "Well, do you?"

He went to the fireplace mantle and picked up a box of cigars, lifted the lid and pulled one out; he bit off the tip and lit it with a heavy antique lighter that sat beside it. She looked up at him and watched as he drew in and inhaled the aromatic smoke.

"No, you wouldn’t. How could you?’ She shook her head. "How do you sleep at night?"

"I think about the money, Sharon, it helps a lot. On those nights when I thought about you in his arms, making love to him, I wanted to kill him myself. But the money helps me keep things in prospective. After all these years of struggling and practically signing away my life to get what I want, I’m finally accomplishing something. I mean, tell me the truth, honey, it wasn't all sleepless nights and walking the floors for you up there on the hill was it? It sounds to me like you enjoyed living in the lap of luxury." He blew out some more of the smoke.

"How can you dare say that to me? I did what you said to do because I love you and you know that. John was…John was, well, he was rich, yes, but he had no sense of the romantic. Even so, I think I could’ve gotten used to him, if the circumstances had been different. I actually think he was really in love with me."

"That’s all very cozy, Sharon, but where would that have left me?" He pulled on the cigar again. "I’ll tell you where. Out in the cold--you with him on the hill and me holding the bag for his wife’s murder. That’s where. No, my darling, we’re in this for the long haul." He went over to the dining room table, refilled his wineglass and poured one for her, handing her the glass. "Sharon, toast with me, because after tonight, won’t remember a thing about being John Colchetti’s wife. I promise you that."

Sharon took the glass from him, her eyes focusing blankly on the Oriental rug beneath her feet. He raised his glass and clinked his against hers. "To us, Sharon, and to the fortune that will soon be ours. May we be the happiest we’ve ever been in our lives."

She lifted an eyebrow at him along with her glass, but failed to join him in his toast as he drank. She felt too sick to her stomach to be glibly toasting with him. Her hands were trembling and bile rose to her throat at the thought. What the hell had she gotten herself into?

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That evening Mrs. Brown once again managed to prepare a cuisine for her three guests that was fit enough for royalty. Starsky wore a napkin tucked under his chin and dug in rapturously, while Hutch approached his repast with a bit more aplomb. Angel took a few bites from her plate and tried to enjoy it, but ultimately her stomach revolted. Then her face contorted and she dropped her fork onto her plate, a napkin flew to her mouth. She sat there for a moment, struggling to push back the urge to retch. Then, no longer able to fight it, she shot up from the table. All three of her table companions stared after her; Starsky wiped his mouth and started up from the table.

Hutch stopped him with a hand on his forearm. "She’s okay, Starsk. Let her go."

"She didn’t look okay."

"Yeah, I noticed that."

Frankie stood up, snatched her napkin from her lap and set it on the table. "I’m beginning to think there’s a good reason for that."

"Whaddya mean?"

She started slowly clearing away the dishes. "You mean you haven’t noticed? She can’t keep anything down; she’s nauseous. She sleeps a lot." They were both staring at her, not knowing what she was getting at. "Well, the two of you being bachelors you might not notice things like that, but I swear that girl’s either got a bad case of stomach flu or she’s expecting."

Starsky’s jaw dropped open. He sat back down in his chair hard and stared at his partner, cupping his hand over his mouth. "A baby?"

Hutch’s eyes were wide and innocent. "Don’t look at me like that, Starsk. I’m not the father."

"A baby," Starsky muttered again in disbelief, his hand coming down off his face.

"One of you had better go up and have a talk with her."

"One of us?" Starsky asked. "Wouldn’t it be better…I mean, you’re a woman, can’t you do it?"

"Yes, well, I am that, honey. But I’m also someone she just met and hasn’t gotten to know very well, and it’s likely that she won’t open up to me. I’ve seen how she responds to you, David. She likes you. I think she'd talk to you."

"It’s true, Starsk. She really has taken quite a liking to you."

"But, I…I wouldn’t know what to say to her."

Hutch put a calming hand on his shoulder. "I hate to remind you of this old buddy, but while we sit down here debating the issue of gender, the clock is ticking. And we, meaning you and I, have a very impatient captain waiting for us to get back to work in a week. So if you don’t feel up to it…I’ll…"

"No, no, that’s okay. I’ll go up."

Starsky snatched away the napkin he had tucked under his chin and tossed it onto his empty plate. He could feel Hutch’s eyes on him as he made his way up the stairs. No doubt his partner was wondering, as he was to himself, what fine mess he had gotten himself into. The bathroom door was closed when he got upstairs, so he tried the knob, but it was locked. He knocked softly and put his lips close to the door. "Angel. It’s me. Can I come in?"

There was no verbal response, but he did hear the chain being unhitched. He opened the door slowly and saw Angel sitting on the cold pink and black linoleum floor, one arm braced over the toilet, the other at her side. Her head was down, her face pale. He came in and sat down on the side of the tub across from her. "You okay?"

"Not really."

Her eyes started to well up. He slid down on the floor next to her, one hand smoothing her dark hair away from her face and the other stroking her cheek. "You wanna tell me what’s wrong?"

She looked into his eyes. "I’m sick."

He chuckled softly at the severity of her understatement. "I can see that. Any idea what it could be?"

"I…I…don’t know. Do you think it’s something serious?"

"You got me. What I think is that we should take you to see a doctor and find out for sure."

"Can we go right now?"

"Sure. Come on, get yourself cleaned up and get on some clothes. Maybe Frankie can give us the name of a place. Hutch and I'll take you."

"Okay."

Starsky stood up and helped her to her feet, they hugged, and he followed her out into the hallway, splitting up in different directions. Once downstairs, he informed their hostess and his partner of the situation and what was needed, and she graciously provided them with the necessary information. The three of them left shortly after.

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Hutchinson parked the Dodge in front of a place called the Women’s Health Clinic. It was a quiet, non-descript building located not far from the boarding house that stayed open until 8pm. While he and Starsky waited in the car, Hutch bided his time fixating on the odd behavior of his close friend. Starsky had something on his mind and he wasn’t telling. Hutch checked the dashboard clock. 6:30pm. If his guess was right, it wasn't going to be long before the guy finally blew his stack. After another minute of waiting, he heard a long, deep exhale escape his partner’s lips, and it looked like Mount St. Starsky was about ready to blow. Hutch put on his Ray Bans and stared ahead, readying himself for the subsequent fallout.

"Hutch?"

"Yeah, Starsk?"

"You think she’s okay?"

"I hope so, buddy."

The darker man frowned and turned to him. "I probably should’ve gone in there with her."

"She didn’t want you to go in with her, remember?"

"Oh, yeah. That’s right. She didn’t, did she? I forgot."

"There are some days when I think you’d forget your head if it wasn’t firmly attached to your shoulders. Come to think of it, you’ve been acting pretty strangely lately. I'd say ever since the morning you and Angel disappeared from the house that morning. Is there something you’re not telling me, partner?"

Starsky looked a little wan and helpless. "Hutch, what if…what if Frankie was right? What if Angel is expecting?"

"Then I guess it’d be a good thing for her, wouldn’t it? Unless of course you happened to be the father, then we’d have a problem." He grinned. "But you’re not, right? So there’s nothing to worry about, is there?"

Hutch was kidding, but Starsky was deadly serious. He turned and stared at the clinic entrance. Hutch lowered his sunglasses and peered over them. "Hey, Starsk." It was quiet. "Hey, Starsky." He waved his hand and snapped his fingers in front of his partner’s face. "Starsky!"

"Huh?"

"Starsky, will you please tell me what’s going on?" He waited, but the feedback was minimal. Starsky’s silence however, spoke volumes. "Wait a minute, you didn't…" His long fingers did a back and forth motion in the air.

Starsky closed his eyes and nodded slowly. The expression on his face had changed from one of shock to childish embarrassment. He looked exactly like a kid who’d gotten his hand caught hand in a cookie jar. Hutch just shook his head.

"I don’t believe it. What the hell were you thinking?"

"At the time I guess I wasn’t doin’ much thinkin’."

"Now there’s the understatement of the year. What do you plan to do about it if it turns out she is?"

"I dunno. The right thing, I guess, whatever that is.

"Starsky, you’re a grown man. How could you let something like this happen?"

"Oh, and I suppose you never had anything like this even remotely happen to you."

"Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some close calls. But nothing like this."

"Oh, well then, I guess that just proves that everyone’s entitled to a little indiscretion or two once in a while."

"Yeah, just as long it doesn’t cost them too much."

A lengthy, awkward silence ensued between them that lasted until Angel stepped out of the clinic doors and made her way over to the car. When Starsky saw her, he bounded out of his seat and opened the door for her, making a concerted effort to try and deduce the results of her visit by reading her facial expression, but the effort produced nothing. Hutch pushed his sunglasses up on his face and waited for him to ask her the sixty-four thousand-dollar question, but he didn't. He just sat down in the car like a man in a trance, an emotional car wreck. It looked like it was going to up to him to find out what the story was. He looked up and his blue eyes found her brown ones in the rearview mirror.

"So, young lady, what’s the verdict? Is there a baby shower in your future?"

She didn’t answer him right away, she was too busy thinking about whether she should lie to him or tell the truth. Telling the truth would be difficult, but lying to them after everything they'd done for her, would be tantamount to cruelty. The longer she spent thinking about what to say, the testier Hutchinson was getting. He needed conscious thought and verbal communication now; telepathy wasn't going to do it. He raised his voice. "Hello, is anybody back there?"

She blinked at him. "Yes?"

"Remind me to get that hearing aid of yours fixed, I think the batteries are going."

A quiet laugh escaped her lips and she smiled. "I’m sorry, Detective Hutchinson, I heard you. And the answer is yes, I am going to have a baby."

Starsky looked up and found her face in the rearview mirror. "You’re kiddin’."

Her eyes found his there and she nodded. "No, really, I am." She was still smiling.

"How far along are you?" Hutch asked, his heart sinking, but still remaining amazingly calm.

"The nurse says it’s too early to tell, but I've got all the signs."

Hutch turned back toward the steering wheel and started the car, regarding his partner with a sigh. "We’d better get back to Frankie’s. I’m sure she’ll be just thrilled to hear that she was right."

"Great." Starsky stared out of his window, lost in his own thoughts. And then Hutch pulled off, shaking his head for most of the way back.

CONTINUEDŽ