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***CHAPTER NINETEEN***

Emerson found his way to the address that Mrs. Brown had given him easily enough. He parked his sky blue Camaro close to the bushes outside the wood frame two-story boarding house and found a way in by climbing up a garden trellis that led up to the roof. From there he clambered up into a half-open window, stepping quietly onto the carpeting of an unoccupied room and exiting directly from the room into the hallway, he stopped abruptly when he heard a female voice coming from downstairs. Pulling back he peeked past the retaining wall, far enough for him to see down, but not far enough to be seen, and saw a woman talking on the telephone in the living room, probably the woman he’d talked to on the phone. She did not seem aware of his presence. He edged his way back up the stairs and went into the hall, stopped and stood next to what appeared to be the bathroom. On the other side of the hallway there appeared to be set of stairs leading down and out to the rear of the house. Possibly an escape route should he need it.

He pressed his stocky frame against the wallpaper in the hallway as he thought about what to do next. Slowly he pulled the pistol out of his pocket and held it tightly, then began searching the room where he'd made his entrance. Its condition alerted him that it was in use, but had not been used recently. He closed the door. The common bathroom was next, and his search resulted in the same conclusion. He crossed the hall to the second room on the floor and tried the knob, only to find it locked. He stepped back and closed his eyes, trying to remember something, and then backtracked to the first room he’d been to. Sure enough the connecting door he’d thought he’d seen earlier was there. He took in a deep breath, let it out, and tried the knob. To his relief, it opened. He peered in and saw Angela asleep on the bed, lying on her back. He stole toward her softly, and when he was close enough, he put his right hand over her mouth, waking her up. When she opened her eyes, he put his index finger to his lips, holding the gun in it so that it was plainly visible in his right hand. He was wearing dark sunglasses and a black fisherman’s cap that was carefully pulled over his eyebrows to partially disguise his face. She stared back at him, her eyes terrified and questioning. Satisfied that her fear would keep her quiet, he kissed her roughly on her left cheek.

"Hello, Angel. How are you?"

She moved her head very little, her eyes wide.

"If you promise not to scream, I’ll take my hand off your mouth. Do you promise not to scream?"

She nodded her head several times, very quickly.

He removed his hand, but still held the gun where she could see it. "How’ve you been, baby?"

"I’m all right, but what are you doing here?"

"This is it Angie, I’ve come for my payoff. I’m taking you with me."

"Taking me with you where?"

He laughed. "Someplace where you and the kid won’t mess things up. Come on--get up, get some shoes on, we’re getting out of here. Hurry up."

Angela sat up slowly on the bed and slipped her feet into a pair of tennis shoes that were tucked halfway under the side of the bed. She didn’t bother with socks. When she had them on he grabbed her by an arm and pushed her toward the door. "I want you to get the owner of this place up here."

"Why? What are you going to do?"

"I want her out of the way, too. Go on, call her up."

"You won’t hurt her, will you?" she asked.

"Not if I don’t have to. Go ahead, call her up here."

Emerson stood behind her and waited at the landing while he pressed the gun into the base of her spine. She squeezed her eyes shut and then called down shakily. "Mrs. Brown, I need you. Could you come up please?"

The woman took the phone away from her ear and called up. "What’s the matter, baby? Are you all right?"

"I need you to come and help me with something. Could you hurry, please?"

"Why surely," she said. "I’ll be up in a minute."

Mrs. Brown finished with her call, hung up the phone and got up from her chair, then made her way up the stairs. When she was halfway up, Emerson pulled the girl behind him and whispered in her ear. "Don’t move, or she’s a dead woman. Do you understand?"

Angel nodded that she understood and pressed herself against the wall behind him.

"What’s the matter, baby?" Mrs. Brown asked, watching her footing on the steps as she went up. When the girl didn't answer, she let her eyes wander up until her line of sight hit a pair of black leather oxfords that were waiting at the top of the landing. She followed the oxfords up past the creased trouser legs and a grey polo shirt, then settled her eyes on the face of the man who was wearing them. When he started batting at her with the gun he was holding, the half smile on her own face disappeared.

"Get up here, now!" he ordered.

She did as she was told, letting Emerson grab roughly her by a forearm. Then he clamped both her arms behind her and pulled her close to him, when he spoke his breath was hot in her ear. "I’m not going to hurt you. But I can’t have you warning the police. So…" He started steering her towards Angel’s bedroom. "I need to get you out of the way. Temporarily." He motioned to Angel and said, "Stay close to me."

Emerson pushed the owner into the room and Angel followed him in. He realized he needed something to tie the woman up with, but didn’t see anything around suitable for the purpose. Exploring the interior of the room he searched until his eyes fell on a partially open closet. Figuring that it would do, he pushed her over to it. "I’ll put you in here. If you do as you’re told and keep quiet, maybe the cops will let you out after we’re long gone."

Mrs. Brown stiffened her body and braced it against the doorjamb in an effort to keep him from pushing her in. Her next thought was that maybe if she got him talking, she could stall him long enough for the two officers to return. "Why are you doing this?" she asked. "I don’t have any cash…" Then she said, "Wait a minute, that voice…I know who you are now. You’re that man on the phone…"

"Look, lady, I don’t have the time to explain myself to you right now, just get in the closet!" He said, and then he unceremoniously shoved her inside, watching her thick body as it thumped against the inside of the closet and landed onto the floor with a soft thud. He shut the door and put his hand on the skeleton key as it rested inside the lock, turned it clockwise, took it out and dropped it into his pocket. When he finished he found Angel standing on his right, she was uncharacteristically quiet and passive, and something stirred inside him. He yanked her arm out roughly, breaking her out of her trance. "Come on, we’ve got to get out of here before those two cops get back."

"Why are you doing this?"

"I’ve got a lot of money riding on you, honey. You’re my ticket out."

Emerson lifted the cap he was wearing up off his head slightly and wiped his brow of the sweat that had built up there. Slightly winded, he led the girl out of the bedroom and down the stairs. When they were standing in the parlor, the sound of sirens stopped them in their tracks. Panicking, he half led, half-dragged her into the foyer. He yanked the shirred curtains that covered the large rectangular pane of glass set into the front door aside and peered out of it to look out.

A green Dodge was pulling to a halt and parking in front of the house. Inside the car, Detective Kenneth Hutchinson scanned the area surrounding it, narrowly missing the blue Camaro that was partially hidden between it and the landscaping. He motioned silently to his partner and pointed the car out to him. Starsky nodded. Mrs. Colchetti followed their eyes and saw it too. She knew immediately who it belonged to. Starsky turned in his seat and saw the look on her face. "That’s Emerson’s car, isn’t it?" he asked.

She nodded her head slowly, looking a little sick.

Hutch leaned his head back against the upholstery. "Which means he’s inside already, probably armed and has Angela and Frankie."

"The first thing we’ve gotta do is get him outside. Then get him talkin’."

"Yeah, and then what?"

"Then we try negotiatin’ with him."

"I don’t think he’ll listen to you," she told them.

Hutch turned. "Do you think he’ll listen to you?"

"Maybe. He loves me. He did this for me, for us. I think he’ll listen."

Starsky was almost sympathetic. "The things we do for love, huh?"

"Well, some of us more than others," she replied softly.

Hutch checked the car’s sideview mirror and saw what looked like half a dozen of Philadelphia’s finest pulling in behind them. When they were parked and clear of their cars, he got out of the Dodge and went over to Captain Kraft as he exited an unmarked sedan. Kraft shook the blond’s hand as he approached him. "Well, I’ve got half my men out here, Detective," he said. "What the hell’s going on?"

The detective stood next to him. "What we’ve got is a possibly volatile hostage situation. The guy’s hold up inside with two women but he hasn’t made a move since we showed up. We think we might have an ace in the hole though. It turns out the widow Colchetti and her insurance broker have a much closer relationship then what generally is considered the norm. We think she might be able to talk him into giving himself up. She’s in the car."

Kraft pulled off his glasses and cleaned them, a nervous habit he’d developed over the years whenever things got a little tense. "Okay. Let’s see what he wants." He put the glasses back on and turned to his men. "We’ll see what this guy wants and if we can accommodate him, we’ll do it, but only up to a point. If it gets down and dirty, then we’ll get down and dirty with him. I don’t want anything happening to him until we’ve heard what he’s got to say. Everyone got that?"

The officers collectively acknowledged their understanding of the orders and remained at their vehicles, their weapons at the ready. Kraft turned to the man beside him. "He’s all yours. See what you and your partner can do. If we have to, we’ll move in and take him."

Hutch nodded and went back to the car where his partner and the woman were waiting. When he got in he put his hand on Starsky’s shoulder. Starsky glanced at him sideways. Even the man’s lips looked grim. "Well, what’s the plan?" he asked him.

"Well, it’s like this, buddy, I thought maybe, just maybe, if we can get Emerson outside, get him talking to the lady here, that you could probably get around to the side or the back of the house and make it in the same way he did. While you’re in there you could check on our friend and see if she’s okay. Maybe try and get her out of there in one piece if you can. If that goes okay, we’ll take it from there. How’s that sound?"

"I don’t like it."

"What’s not to like?"

"It sounds like it involves heights and climbing. And you know how I hate heights."

"Well, squelch it, Turkey."

"Hey, who you callin’ a turkey, Chicken Little?"

Sharon Colchetti sat forward and addressed them from the backseat. "I’m so glad you two are comfortable enough to joke at a time like this."

Hutch peered at her. "Sorry, my partner and I have a tendency to joke around a little when we get nervous, it keeps us grounded." He turned back to Starsky. "Well, don’t just sit there, Superman, get going."

"Just gimme a second to readjust my cape." Starsky answered, winking at his partner and getting out of the car. The detective fell in with the group of police officers gathered in a half-circle around the perimeter of the house and stayed there. He would wait for Emerson to come out when his partner gave the signal, and then try to slip around the side of the house without being seen.

Inside, Emerson showed all signs of losing it. He wasn’t cut out for this. For all his magnificent brawn and the many connections he’d acquired over the years, they were useless. He felt incurably impotent, weak. The muffled sounds of the owner’s attempts to free herself from the closet trickled down the stairs to his ears. Angela was sitting in an armchair across from him, staring at him. Suddenly the sound of an amplified male voice broke through the near silence.

"Emerson! We know you’re in there...come out and tell us what you want!"

Emerson jumped up from where he was sitting and went to the front door, jerking the curtains aside again. He could see a tall, solidly built older black man dressed in a dark business suit and tie, probably high ranking, holding a bullhorn to his lips. The breath caught in his throat. He ran every option he could think of for a way out of this, but no matter what scenario played out in his head, each one seemed to come to a dismal end, like that Newman and Redford flick he’d seen a few years back.

Kraft used the bullhorn again. "We’re waiting, Emerson! But we’re not going to wait much longer. What are your demands?"

Angel saw a wild look of fear grip Emerson’s face and she thought it was horribly incongruous for someone with his rugged exterior and build. He looked over and glared at her as she stared at him, but said nothing. The next thing she knew he was jerking her out of the chair. He held her arm stiffly with his left hand while the other one steadied the gun, and soon they were standing at the front door. He told her to open it and she did. Then he yelled, "I’m coming out!" And using the girl as a shield, they walked outside and stood under the porch overhang.

"Nobody move!" he screamed at the officers. "I mean it!" He was holding the gun to her head now.

The minute Emerson came out of the front door the officers went into tactical alert mode. Captain Kraft handed the bullhorn off to Detective Hutchinson and watched him put it to his lips. "It’s okay, Emerson. It’s okay. Calm down. Just tell us what you want, and we’ll try to negotiate something. There’s no need for anyone to get hurt here!"

"I want to get to my car. And I want the girl!"

"No dice. We can’t let you take the girl. But if you let her go now, maybe we can work a deal. You haven’t hurt anyone yet, so let’s not start."

"What kind of a deal could you offer me that would make a difference? If I don’t get out of this, I’ll probably spend the rest my life in jail, or I’ll be executed. What good will it do to make a deal?"

"How about the love of a good woman and living to see her?"

"What are you talking about?"

"You and Sharon are in love with each other, aren’t you?"

Emerson looked around, lost his composure, then looked back at the officer. "Sharon’s here?"

Hutchinson now made eye contact with his partner, who was still waiting amongst the crowd of officers. When Starsky saw the gesture, he acknowledged it with a brief nod, and with a turn of his head slipped out of the area. The blond cop put the bullhorn back to his lips and waited for his partner to disappear before addressing the suspect again. He was standing next to Kraft, watching the suspect’s eyes dart back and forth across the horizon. Searching. It was time.

"Would you like to speak to her, Bruce?"

Emerson’s eyes glazed over. The blue grey orbs still searched the area looking for his beloved. Knowing the time was right, Hutch handed the bullhorn back to the captain and walked over to the Dodge. He opened the car door and helped Mrs. Colchetti out of the car. She swung her legs out and took the detective’s hand when he offered it. They walked side by side up to the front porch and stopped in front of Emerson and the girl. Emerson put out his free hand and said, "Stop! Don’t come any closer."

"She wants to talk to you, Bruce. What harm can that do?"

"She might get hurt. I don’t want her hurt."

"And neither do we. So why don’t you just listen to what she has to say? Hopefully we can work this out."

Bruce looked at her. "Sharon?"

The sullen woman turned to the detective and looked into his eyes, relaying to him without words that she needed to do this thing without his help. Hutchinson backed up about ten feet. Far enough to give them the privacy they needed, but not so far that he couldn’t run up and tackle the man if he needed to. Once he was far enough away, she moved over to the porch and stopped. "Let her go, Bruce. I’ve told them everything I know, it’s done."

"No. We can still do this. You and me, we could charter a jet and go someplace, get out of town. We could take her with us."

"No. No. Innocent people have died. We need to put a stop to this, right here. Right now."

"But the money. All that money..."

"Don’t you know that all I ever wanted was for you and I to be together? It never was the about the money. You’ve always thought that it was about the money."

His attention momentarily diverted, she moved a bit closer to him, and he backed away as she did. It was like an intricate dance step. He was trying to keep his eyes on her, the girl and the policemen all at the same time. Watching her move up, Hutchinson inched forward from where he was standing, but the slight movement put Emerson on his guard again. He held onto Angel’s arm a little tighter with his left hand and pointed the gun at the officer with his right. "I said, don’t move!"

Hutch put up his hands in a placating manner, then returned to where he’d been standing.

Sharon put her hand out to him, pleading. "Please put down the gun."

He fixed on her again, a pained expression on his face. "You told them? How could you tell them?"

"I had to. It was the only way."

Starsky was now in a holding pattern. He watched and waited while the hostage situation played itself out before a captive but volatile audience. Emerson was still talking to his girlfriend, so he made the decision to start for the roof. Climbing and heights had never been his strong suit, but he didn’t shirk doing it if he had to. For him the trick was resisting the urge to look down after he was up. He was wearing a royal blue work shirt over a pair of weathered blue jeans, along with a pair of blue and white Adidas running shoes, so he felt suitably attired for the task. When he finally got up to the slanted portion of the roof, he inched across it carefully step by step until he was at a right angle with the corner of one of the upstairs bedrooms. Once he got there he could see the slightly open window that Emerson must have gotten through earlier in the day. He inched over to it, grabbing onto a pipe that attached to the wall with several heavy metal strips, he then swung himself over to the window, his hands still sweaty and unsure. He put one hand in the open window space and pushed up, opening it wide enough for him to climb inside.

Once he was in he knew immediately what room he’d climbed into. His and Hutch’s suitcases were still lying on the beds. He looked around carefully and soon heard muffled noises coming from the room where Angela slept. Brandishing his Beretta, he walked over to the connecting door and tried the knob, then breached it carefully. Then the noise he heard got clearer. As he entered the room, it sounded more and more as if it were coming from the clothes closet. He went over and tried opening it, but it seemed to be locked. He didn't see a key anywhere, so he knocked. Surprisingly enough, someone answered.

"Who’s out there? The voice asked.

"Is that you, Frankie?"

"David? Yes, it’s me. Can you let me out?"

He looked around the room and whispered through the door. "I’d like to, Frankie, but there doesn’t seem to be a key."

She was quiet. "That man who grabbed Angela must have taken it. Wait a minute." He could hear her shifting around inside. "Maybe I have a spare. It’s dark in here, but…hold on…wait a minute."

Starsky waited for her with his gun still drawn, in case Emerson decided to leave his reception committee downstairs and make a run for it the way he’d come in.

"Here, try this." Frankie said, painstakingly pushing the spare skeleton key through the narrow space between the bottom of the door and the floor.

When it appeared Starsky knelt and picked it up. He put it in the keyhole and turned it, then tried the knob and opened the door. Frankie was sitting on the floor, unharmed, neither bound nor gagged. He put his gun on safety and tucked it into the waistband of his jeans, then pulled the woman up with both hands. Frankie leaned against a wall and looked at him. "What’s happening out there?"

"Emerson’s outside making everybody nervous. That's what's happening."

"So what do we do?"

"We wait."

"How long?"

"Until bright eyes out there gets wise and gives up or the police get tired of waiting to negotiate. Does this place have a back door?"

"Yes, it does."

"Then I think we’d better high tail it outta here."

***CHAPTER TWENTY***

Sharon Colchetti was waiting at the bottom of the porch stairs, standing only inches away from Emerson, though her eyes were on him, she also watched Angela. Who was near tears, but didn’t cry. She kept an eye also on his hands. Right now he was holding the gun at his side with his right and holding the girl close to him with his left. Now emboldened by her progress, she moved slowly to the next step on the porch, inching ever closer to him.

"Bruce. Please let her go."

"I can’t. She’s all we’ve got left."

"Bruce. She’s not a bargaining tool. Let her go. If you don’t, I’ll have to leave you."

Incensed by the thought, Emerson returned the gun to the girl’s head with one swift move, scaring Sharon and Angela. "No! You can’t do that! I did this for you, for us. If you leave, then it will all have been for nothing."

"Bruce, it was already for nothing. I know now that what we did wasn’t just for us. I didn't realize that before. Part of…a lot of what you did was done out of greed and selfishness, not love, am I right?"

"You’re right."

"But you want us to be together, don’t you?"

"Yes, I do."

"Then there’s a way. All you have to do is give me the gun."

While Sharon Colchetti was pleading with her lover to give himself up, Hutch found himself measuring and analyzing her words, how she said them, her body language as she spoke. He was putting all the elements together to see if there was something in her tone that should make him uneasy or put him on his guard. If he had to make a quick move, preventing a catastrophe wouldn’t be easy, Emerson could panic and might very well pull the trigger before he could get there. That gave him pause. He watched the woman continue forward.

"Give me the gun, sweetie," she told him. "It’s going to be all right."

Her voice was soft and gentle, almost cooing. And it was working, Emerson faltered, and in response to her heartfelt appeals, he finally lowered his hand, then hung his head and began to weep. At that moment Hutch thought he felt the clutch of officers behind him surge forward a little. He stayed them with a hand. Then Emerson lowered the gun from the girl’s head and held it at his side. Sharon climbed the third and the last step until she was close enough to reach the girl, and then extended her hand. "Take my hand, honey. Come on. You can go to Detective Hutchinson now. You’ll be all right, I promise. I won’t let him hurt you."

Angela closed her eyes, opened them and then cautiously took her stepmother’s hand and walked down the porch steps in slow motion. When she was safely away, she paused and looked back at the man who had held her captive, and there was sadness in her eyes, but only a little. Then she let go of Sharon’s hand and hurried down the steps into Hutchinson's arms. He held her close to him, but kept his eyes on the couple. Now Mrs. Colchetti was standing in front of Emerson and Hutch couldn’t see his face anymore. She whispered to him, "Now, give me the gun, honey."

He was sobbing full throttle now, tears were falling down his cheeks and running down the front of his expensive shirt, staining it. He looked up at her. "I love you, Sharon. I always have, I always will. Nothing can change that."

"I know that. Now give me the gun…please," she whispered to him again, and she held out her hand to him, and he obediently put the gun into it, butt first. He dropped to his knees, contrite, like a puppy waiting to be forgiven for a bad deed. Her hand immediately went to caress his lowered head. He put his arms around her legs, encircling them, and then held onto her as if for dear life.

Detective Starsky watched the whole scene take place from his vantagepoint beside the house. The owner, Frankie, was standing next to him, unable to see the full scene, but hearing everything that was going on. But Starsky was the only one who could see everything, including Sharon Colchetti’s face and the glimmer of hopelessness in her eyes. He saw her look at the gun, then down at Emerson, then back at the gun again. Then her head swiveled toward the knot of policemen, their captain, and the girl being held in the detective's arms. All of them stood between her and her man, and it seemed they were waiting to crucify him. She turned her back to them all, shuddered and seemed to come to some decision in her mind. Starsky inched forward where he was, and watched her reverse the gun in her hand, so that it faced away from her. And it was then that he realized what she was going to do. At about six running steps away from them, he wasn’t close enough to prevent Emerson's death, but he was close enough to make the effort.

Just at the instant she pointed the gun at Emerson’s lowered head; Starsky clambered onto the porch, shouting as he ran. "Hutch, gun!" In that split second she quickly and mercifully cocked the lever back and pulled the trigger. There was a solid bang and a lot of blood splatter. Starsky was on the porch like a bolt of lightning, hitting her full force with the solidity of his body, then tackling her onto the planking as Emerson’s body toppled off the porch and settled lifelessly at the bottom of the steps. Hutchinson reacted instinctively to his partner’s alert, but as he’d feared was too far away to offer any assistance. When it was all over, he stepped away from the girl and scrambled up the porch stairs, drawing his gun as he went. The officers went with him.

Sharon Colchetti was near hysterics as she struggled with the strong policeman for control of the gun, apparently wanting to use it on herself. Reflexively Starsky straddled her torso just below her chest and held both of her arms down over her head. He glanced outward and saw his partner and most of the officers running toward them, and then he looked down at her to see a face that was contorted with despair.

"Let me go! I have to do this! It’s the only way!"

"Nope, I can’t let you go out this way. It would be too easy."

Once Hutchinson got on the porch he tucked his gun away and stepped around his partner and the woman, then kneeled to try and pry the gun away from the woman's hand, but her grip was like a death vise. He bent down and spoke to her soothingly, "Let him go, Sharon. He’s gone, it’s all over."

The truth spoken and undeniable, Sharon Colchetti's fierce hold on the gun disintegrated. She released the gun and it fell into the blond detective's hand, and then she began to cry, covering her face with her hands. Hutchinson turned the gun so that it was butt first and held it up for one of the uniformed officers to take from him. After that Starsky released his grip on her upper arms and lifted himself off of her body. Hutch put his hand on his partner’s knee as he sat down on the porch and tried to catch his breath. "That was some tackle, Starsky. I didn't know you could run that fast. You all right?"

Breathing hard, Starsky looked over at Emerson’s lifeless body. "Yeah, but I wasn’t fast enough."

Hutch nodded solemnly and both men watched as two uniformed officers helped the distraught woman to her feet, handcuffed her and put her in the back of a patrol car. After Starsky had had a chance to catch his breath, his partner pulled him to his feet. Then they walked toward Frankie, who had taken Hutch’s place as Angel’s comforter and they stood nearby. She saw them, turned her head and nodded. Hutch nudged his partner. "Let’s go, huh?"

"Wait a minute, Hutch. I got some loose ends to tie up."

Hutch put his hand on his friend’s shoulder. "Okay. Just don’t be too long."

"I won’t."

Hutchinson drifted over to Captain Kraft’s car and talked to him for a minute while his friend went over to the two women. Starsky put his hand on the black woman’s shoulder and she looked into Angel's eyes. "Detective Starsky needs to talk to you now. I’m going back inside, and I’ll see you later, all right?" The girl nodded to her and Frankie gave the detective a sympathetic smile and left them alone.

Angel took a deep breath, canted her head up at him and gave him a wry, hopeful smile and a shrug. "So you know, huh?"

"Not everything. How about clueing me in?"

"I will, but not here. Let’s go to the tree." She pulled him by his arm and this time he hesitated.

"I don’t know about that."

"Please, for me? This is probably the last time I’ll see you."

Despite himself, he acquiesced. He followed her to the sycamore tree where he’d promised to marry her only a few days earlier. And though he was preoccupied with formalities, Hutch watched them go, concerned.

Birds nestled in the trees above the two of them as a cool breeze rustled through the leaves. She sat down on the grass and crossed her legs Indian style and he knelt in front of her, a too serious look on his face. "I don’t know how to begin," she said to him.

"How about at the beginning?"

She reached for his hand, then thought better of it, shuddered and lowered her head. "I…I never meant to hurt you."

"I just wanna know whether you’re carrying my kid or not."

Her lips trembled as she spoke. "No, it's Bruce's. I knew it was his all along, he was the only one, before you. I lied to you about everything. I knew about the baby all along and I lied to you about everything. That’s why I went to the clinic alone, I was afraid you’d find out too soon. I’m really sorry."

"So you knew it was Emerson’s kid and you were gonna to let me take responsibility for it?"

She swallowed. "I…I didn’t know what else to do. I mean, you were so there for me. The way I wished Bruce was. But he was in love with Sharon or Jessie or whatever her name is. So I lied about the pregnancy and the identity of the father, because I wanted you to be its father."

Starsky lifted her chin with his thumb and forefinger and looked into her eyes. "How old are you really?"

"Seventeen." She gave him a lopsided smile. "And a quarter."

He dropped his hand away and whistled through his teeth.

"It wasn’t your fault. I sometimes look older than my age."

"And act it too, apparently."

She shrugged again. "Yeah, I guess I do. Does that make me a bad girl?"

"Not necessarily."

"What’s going to happen to Jessie?"

"She’s an accessory to two murders, and she just executed a man in front of several witnesses. I doubt whether the judge will go easy on her now. It’s going to be tough."

"I guess she must have really been in love with him, huh?" Starsky nodded, and she pursed her lips. "So, now that you know everything what’s going to happen?"

Starsky leaned forward and looked into her eyes. "Well, it’s somethin’ I don’t really understand myself, yet. I mean I know you had your reasons for doing what you did, and in some weird way, I kind of understand them. Because even after I knew what I knew, about Emerson, about the kid, I still thought maybe we could work things out. I was willing to try. Then after I found out how your age, well, that’s where things started to turn for me…I mean, I’m a cop, and I have to abide by the law, no matter how I feel about people, I still have to do my job, and that’s the bottom line. What scares me is, I don’t know for sure if knowing your age beforehand would have made any difference, ‘cause how I felt…feel about you was…is that strong. As for the fatherhood thing, well, I mean, look at it this way, my partner and I chase criminals for a living. The possibility of me getting shot or killed is about 50/50 out of my favor. Not mention that I do business with snitches and other lowlifes on a daily basis. Looking at that, what kind of a role model would I be for a kid?" He put his hand on her cheek. "What I guess I’m tryin’ to say is, kid, I don’t think we stand a chance."

She smiled, it was a crooked, weak smile, and then she covered his hand with hers and kissed it. "Don’t sell yourself short, David. You’d make a great role model, and a great father." Then she averted her eyes. "Just my luck, huh? I find the absolute most perfect guy in the world and it’s against the law for me to be with him. If you ask me, the law stinks." After a moment she swung her eyes back at him and they were imploring. "Couldn’t you quit your job and come stay with me? I’ll bet you could do that and nobody would ever know."

"Yeah, but that wouldn’t be very grownup, would it? Even if nobody else knew, I’d know, and so would my partner. And I know me, as tempting as it sounds, I know that eventually the novelty would wear off and I’d be itchin’ to be back on the streets again. I think it’d be pretty selfish of me to try."

"So I guess I can’t look give you a look this time and make you change your mind, huh?" He smiled, shook his head and she frowned. "You and your principles, I guess that’s why I love you so much." He grinned at that, and she lowered her gaze. "Well, I guess there’s nothing else to be said then." The last words were hard for her to get out; she looked up at him and tried to be brave. "If I…if I…would it be all right…if I asked for a kiss?"

Starsky’s eyes began to tear just a little, and his Adams apple bobbed up and down and then a weak smile tore at his lips, he nodded, pulled her close to him and kissed her. It was a good kiss, a goodbye kiss, but one that did nothing to dispel the sense of longing they felt. She began to cry. And soon the spell was soon broken by the appearance of a large, familiar hand on his shoulder.

"Starsk?"

"Yeah?" He said and opened his eyes; his lips still on hers.

"Hey, buddy, I hate to break this up, but we gotta go."

Starsky pulled himself away from her, pausing briefly to allow himself to commit her features to memory, then he wiped away her freshly shed tears and held her hand as he stood up, and then let it go. She looked up at him, her eyes still hopeful that this was not the end. He didn’t disappoint her. "Tell you what," he said, "How about I look you up in, oh say, about eight years? If you’re still available and I’ve taken a break from upholding the law, maybe we can still hook up."

Her face shone brightly. "Okay, it’s a date. And I’m holding you to it. You don’t even have to call me first. Just show up." She winked. "You know where I’ll be."

"I sure do, babe. So long."

"So long, David."

"Come on, let’s go." Hutch said, putting his arm around his partner’s shoulders and squeezing. Angela watched them from where she sat until they disappeared from view. When the two men were near the house, Starsky turned to His Blondness with genuine affection and smiled. "You know, after all this runnin’ around, I’m feelin’ kinda homesick for Dobey and some of your home cookin’."

"Oh, boy, now I know you’re sick. We’d better get you back home and fast."

 

CONTINUEDŽ