(c) October 2017 by Charlotte Frost



A sequel to Fishing




Lois stood at the entrance to Starsky and Hutch’s office. “Ken, Mrs. Flint is here. Do you want me to bring her here, or seat her in the conference room?” Her eyes flicked dubiously around the messy office.

Since Starsky was still recovering from his gunshot wound from four weeks ago, their office would be private. But Hutch didn’t think Mrs. Flint would appreciate the mess. He sighed. “Put her in the conference room.”

“She’s really upset, and crying,” Lois added, before turning.

Hutch looked around for a fresh yellow pad. At least, this case would be something different than a cheating spouse. As he pulled the notepad to him, he considered that one of the things he enjoyed most about the detective work is that it allowed him to be thoroughly engrossed in other people’s problems. It was a convenient way to ignore his own.

He entered the conference room, and saw a rather plain-looking, forty-ish woman, dressed in a casual beige pantsuit. Her short, light brown hair was curled toward her face, which had red-rimmed eyes. He found himself wondering if she would be able to afford them.

Hutch held out his hand and attempted a reassuring smile. “Mrs. Flint? Ken Hutchinson.”

“Cathy.” She shook his hand. “I’m so glad you were able to see me today.” Her voice quavered, as she brushed a wadded tissue along her face.

Hutch took the chair next to her, and spoke with a gentle tone. “It’s my understanding that your daughter is missing.”

“Yes. Amanda is nineteen. The police won’t do anything.”

“Why not?” Hutch asked, though he could guess at the most likely answers.

“They need evidence that she’s not missing on purpose. That there’s foul play. There’s video of her, at the parking lot for the little Township Mall, where she’s seen getting into a stranger’s car. The police can’t see it being any reason other than her own choice, and they say that, since she’s nineteen, she can do anything she wants, including disappearing without notifying anybody.”

Hutch prepared to write. “When was that?”

“A week ago.” Cathy emphatically shook her head. “Amanda would never leave like this, let alone without letting me know that she’s all right.”

“Do you have any ideas on whose car it was, she got into?”

“No.” Cathy sniffed and reached for a fresh Kleenex from the box on the table. “She drove to the mall in her own car. It was at night, and she needed to pick up some things from the drugstore. There’s video of her leaving the drugstore, and getting into a car that drove up, after talking for a moment or so with the driver. The video is too dark to see much, but it looked like a man — you can just see the hint of a beard.” She nodded at the tote bag next to her chair. “I’ve brought the video. Plus some pictures, and lists of people that know Cathy, and a few of her things.”

“That’ll help a lot,” Hutch said. “Why don’t you give me a little background on your and Amanda’s relationship.”

“She’s an only child. She was a pretty good kid, until she hit fourteen, and then there were some difficult teen years. Skipping class and drugs and that sort of thing. Then her father, Matt, was killed in a car crash a couple of years ago, and we were the only family each other had. We’d always lived in the New England area, until Matt got a job out here, seven years ago. We don’t have any family here. So, after Matt’s death, Amanda settled down and we became a lot closer.” More tears fell, and Cathy took refuge in her tissue. Then, she managed, “Amanda wouldn’t do anything like this. Just up and leave. Without a word.”

Hutch ventured, “Did she have a boyfriend? A job?”

“She was in her first year at Ralston Community College, taking business courses. She’s gone out on dates occasionally, but only had one serious relationship since Matt died. That was broken off about a year ago, and I think it was pretty mutual to break up.”

Hutch nodded toward a stand in the corner, with a TV monitor on top. “I think I’d like to take a look at that video.”

When back in his office, Hutch put the tote bag Cathy had left on top of the desk, and pushed “01” on his phone’s memory.

“Hello?” answered an unhappy voice.

“Hey. How did your doctor’s appointment go?”

“He says I’m doing fucking great. Despite my not being able to do hardly any fucking thing, without this fucking thing hurting like fucking shit.”

Hutch kept his voice level. “That’s good news then.”

“Yeah, great fucking news.” Then, “I’m too fucking old to be dealing with a fucking injury like this.”

“It’ll get better,” Hutch offered lamely, wondering why they kept having the same conversation. He tried to inject enthusiasm into his voice. “Hey. I’ve got something that can take your mind off things. A missing nineteen year old girl. On a shopping mall video getting willingly into a car, so the police aren’t interested. Been gone a week. Mom says she and her daughter were close, and no way would her daughter up and take off like this. Her car was left at the mall. Mom has no idea who the man was she got in with. Video is pretty grainy, and it’s dark, so it’s hard to know the color of the car and the exact make and, of course, can’t see the license plate. But Mom was pretty thorough in getting together a list of people that knew Amanda.”

With sympathy, Starsky said, “That’s rough.”

“Yeah. Mom can’t stop crying. I’m sure she’s expecting the worst. They’re pretty middle class, but there’s somebody wealthy she knows from the bridge club she attends, as well as her church, who put up fifteen thousand dollars to help find Amanda. So, that’s how she can afford us.”

“Bridge club?”

“Yeah, bridge. The card game.”

“Oh.” Then, “So, how do you want to approach it?”

“I can give you this list when I get home, and you can start making phone calls, so we can figure out who we need to visit in person to get more information. I’ll have some photos of Amanda getting into the car, in case somebody is able to recognize the car or the driver.”

There was a heavy sigh, but Starsky’s voice had a hint of optimism. “Okay, sounds good.” Then, “You need to stop at the store on your way home and pick up some Captain Crunch and bread and jelly. Grape jelly.”

Wearily, Hutch asked, “How come you and Nick couldn’t do that when he was taking you to the doctor?”

“Forgot about it until now.”

A moment later, Hutch hung up the phone. And sighed.

Starsky hung up the kitchen phone. He had to stop doing this. He wanted to stop doing it. But Hutch was so willing to take his foul mood, that he couldn’t seem to prevent himself from indulging in the release valve. He was so tired of convalescing. It seemed that he was fortunate if he could get through a couple of years without a major injury. His body couldn’t bounce back as quickly as it had in his youth. He had a fear of being a hunched over, aching old man, who winced with every painful step, by the time he was fifty.

This most recent injury hadn’t been that serious, as far as being shot. The bullet hadn’t penetrated anything vital, but the way it had gone up his left side made it almost impossible to move without feeling the healing flesh. His discomfort and agitation, as well as drowsiness when he took the prescribed pills from the doctor, had prompted Hutch to disallow him to appear at work until he could move with only minimal pain. Hopefully, that point would finally be reached in a few days.

Until then, Starsky had been doing telephone work at home, mostly on ancestry cases. This new missing persons case that Hutch had mentioned sounded like it could be interesting. But he wondered if there was much chance of it having a happy ending.

Three nights later, Hutch came home when it was nearly eight. Starsky had various papers and an atlas spread all about the kitchen table.

“No pizza?” Hutch asked unhappily. He’d put Starsky in charge of ordering it, when telling him that he was going to be late.

“It’s on its way,” Starsky replied. He hesitated a moment, and then asked, “How would you feel about taking a trip?”

Hutch snapped, “With you?”

Their eyes met. Hutch wondered why he’d said that, and quickly waved a hand. “Sorry.”

Instead of appearing hurt, Starsky seemed contrite. “Have I been that unpalatable?”

Hutch released a heavy sigh, and then muttered, “You’re entitled.” He pulled out a chair and plopped into it.

Starsky sat next to him. “I’m sorry, Hutch. I am. I don’t mean to take it out on you, but I just feel like my body’s falling apart, and I’m aging way before my time.”

“Guess that means I should go find someone young and pretty.”

Starsky gazed at him an extended moment, then said, “I couldn’t blame you, if you did.”

That hurt. Hutch said, “Knock it off.” Then, more casually, “If you’re falling apart physically, then I probably am mentally.”

Starsky grimaced. “I know you’re under so much more stress than usual, because of me.” He brightened. “That’s why I thought a few days off might be good, especially if we can combine it with this case.” He indicated the table.

That caught Hutch’s attention. “What did you find out?”

“Well, first, I think we should send Nick out to talk to Amanda’s mother, to ask her some questions.” At Hutch’s expression of surprise, he added, “You and I question people like cops. Nick won’t come off like he’s conducting an interrogation.” Starsky gathered up a row of papers. “You told me that Cathy said her and her daughter had become closer since the husband died.”


“Well, ‘closer’ is relative. I’ve been talking with a lot of Amanda’s friends and acquaintances, and many of them mentioned that she didn’t exactly speak glowingly of her mother.” He muttered, “It sounds like the normal teenage stuff — her mother nagging and always wanting to know about her homework and where she was going and stuff like that. A lot of teenagers think about running away, even if most of them never do.”

Hutch considered that. “Well, that would certainly be a happier outcome, if Amanda is alive and well. But she’s nineteen and a community college student — I mean, from what we know so far, she seems reasonably mature. So, it seems kind of odd that she would be complaining about her mother, the way a sixteen-year-old would.”

“Yeah, but I think it’s an angle worth pursuing. Maybe Nick can gently prod Cathy about any disagreements that she and Amanda have had. After losing her husband, Cathy might have been so eager for a stable relationship with her daughter, that’s she blind to her daughter’s unhappiness.”

Hutch’s eyes perused the table. “So, if you think she ran away — with help from the guy who’s car she got into — where do you think she went?”

“Remember that case we had a while back, about that guy that up and disappeared, and turned out he was alive and well in Tennessee?”

Hutch quickly nodded. “Of course. That was Judith Parkson’s nephew.”

“Yeah, he had a lot of passion for Tennessee, so when he decided he was fed up with his family life, he went there. In Amanda’s case, I wouldn’t say it’s a situation of that kind of passion, but,” Starsky leafed through a couple of notebook pages, “turns out that Amanda had some good friends from high school — two twin sisters — who moved to some little town in southern Colorado, after they graduated. She also mentioned to a couple of fellow students, as well as another friend from high school, that she’d really like to go to Colorado to visit her high school friends, and see the state. She’s heard that it’s beautiful.”

Hutch tilted his head. “But if that’s what she did, why the charade of going to the drugstore — parking her car there — buying some stuff, and then getting into somebody else’s car, without leaving any kind of word for her mother? There’s no indication, is there, that she would be that cruel?”

Starsky sighed. “No. The kidnapped angle is still the most likely one.”

“I’ve shown the picture from the video tape to lots of people, and no one can recognize the man — but then, it’s a really grainy picture.”

“Yeah. Anyway, I’m thinking we need to see if we can eliminate the Colorado angle. I don’t want to call the twin sisters, and have them lie and say that Amanda hasn’t ever visited, when she might be staying with them. Don’t want to tip them off. So, I think we should show up there, and see if Amanda is with them.” His mouth corner twitched hopefully. “Then maybe we can get in a day or two of just messing around on our own.”

Hutch had to admit that such sounded nice. “You sure you’re up to it?”

“Yeah. Doctor says I’m fine, just still some soreness. Then, when we get back, I’ll go back to the office.” He sounded a bit timid, as though not sure his company was welcome, when he added, “I can drive and everything. I just feel it, getting in and out of the car, and if I make a sharp turn.”

Certainly, being more active would boost Starsky’s spirits, which would in turn boost Hutch’s. “But you want to have Nick talk to Amanda’s mother, Cathy, first?”

“Yeah, and I want to nail down a few more things, to make sure that Colorado is a viable lead, before we bother going out there.”

The doorbell rang, and Hutch rose gratefully. “Must be the pizza.”

A few days later, Nick came into a cafe where they had agreed to meet for lunch.

Starsky pushed a plate of cold french fries toward him. “Did you get anything good?”

Nick’s cheeks bellowed as he reached for a fry. “Kind of hard to say.” He inserted it into his mouth.

“Don’t talked with your mouth open,” Starsky warned.

Nick chewed quickly, and then swallowed. “I’m hungry, and you guys already ate.”

Hutch slapped Nick’s hand as he reached for another fry. “Come on, what did Cathy say?”

Nick sat back with a sigh. “Well, she didn’t seem to really think that she and Amanda had any problems. And when I kept pressing, she got suspicious that we’re convinced the case is a runaway, and we’re not looking at other angles. I tried to assure her that that’s not the situation, and we need to eliminate every possibility, in order to narrow things to the most likely possibility.”

Starsky nodded with satisfaction. “Good.”

Nick added, “She was sort of concerned about the money, because that guy that gave fifteen thousand told her that he hoped it covered our expenses, because he wouldn’t be able to give any more than that.”

Hutch grimaced. “This doesn’t really help us, as far as being anything new.”

“We have to check out Colorado,” Starsky insisted. “Just go there, make sure that Amanda isn’t living with the twins. And once we’ve eliminated that angle, we can focus on the idea of her being abducted.”

Nick furrowed is brow. “Are you sure you’re up to traveling?”

Starsky muttered, “I’m up for anything that will get me away from being homebound.”

Two days later, on a Wednesday, after arriving in Denver, they took a small plane to Colorado Springs, which was a mere twenty minute flight. From there, they got a rental car and, on a crispy sunny May morning, began the ninety minute drive to a small town called La Veta.

Starsky looked at his watch. “Man, it’s already ten o’clock, with the time change.”

“Well, hopefully we’ll be able to catch them at lunch, if they have jobs or something.”

They’d gotten the twins’ address from letters that had been in Amanda’s possession, and were included in the documents provided by her mother.

Starsky looked around at the open country. “It sure is desolate out here.”

“Yeah, really different from when we were here before, when we were on our vacation.” Then Hutch said, “Interesting that both sisters would want to move this far from home.”

Starsky glanced at the briefcase he’d brought. “One of the letters was saying something about there being an aunt that lives in Raton, New Mexico, which is just over the state line. So, it’s not like they’re completely on their own.”

“Didn’t one of them say that she was getting a job at an ice cream parlor?”

“She’d put in an application, but wasn’t sure she even wanted it, according to the letters. Apparently, they were given quite a bit of money by their parents to get settled in.”

“Guess Mom and Dad weren’t worried about them moving way out here.”

“Or were worried a lot, which is why they gave them plenty of money to live on.”

“I suppose. I guess we’re living in a changing world, buddy, where young women go out and live on their own. With career women like Mandy, and two twins moving a thousand miles away, once they’re out of high school….”

Starsky’s mouth corner twitched. “Guess women don’t need men like they used to. Guess it’s good that we found each other.”

Hutch pointed to the upcoming sign. “Walsenburg. That’s our exit.”

Starsky picked up a map of Colorado and gazed at it a moment. “We’re looking for Highway 12. Should just be another ten minutes or so.”

“Hmm,” Hutch said, slowing the car on the offramp, “the Great Sand Dunes are out this way.”

“Yeah. Looks like maybe they’re an hour away from where we’re going. But why would we want to see sand dunes? I’ve seen plenty of those in my life.”

“If we’re going to spend a day or two of vacation, we need to go somewhere.”

“Not sure I’m up for touristy type things.”

Since it looked like they were already reaching the end of Walsenburg, Hutch said, “We might not have a lot to choose from.”

They drove on a smaller highway for ten minutes, and then Starsky said, “Turn left here.”

“You sure?” Hutch teased, since there was only a road going left.


Shortly after turning, the road dipped through trees with young leaves.

“Wow,” Starsky said, “this is a lot nicer than the interstate.”

“Looks a little more modern than I expected, too.” Hutch glanced at Starsky. “What street are we looking for?”

“Pinkerton Road.”

Hutch drove slowly through the Main Street of town, watching the street signs.

Starsky said, “Quaint little area.”

“Yeah. Peaceful.”

He went around a sharp curve, and then a block later, another. There was a cow field along the road ahead.

Starsky chuckled. “Guess there’s all there was to the town.”

Hutch slowed, until finding an inlet near a pasture gate. He turned into it, backed up, and then headed back toward town. “We need to get gas at the station we passed. We can ask someone there where Pinkerton Road is.”

When they drove up to a pump, a slender, craggy-faced man walked up to Hutch’s window. “Fill ‘er up?”

“Yeah,” Hutch replied, “And we’re looking for Patterson — “

“Pinkerton,” Starsky corrected. Then, loudly, to the man, “Pinkerton Road.”

The man looked back toward where they’d entered town. “You’ve got to go that way, to First Street. Turn right, and there’s a little offshoot road. That’s Pinkerton. The Pleasant View Apartments are there.”

Starsky said, “That’s what we’re looking for, the Pleasant View Apartments.”

The man’s expression changed. “Oh, are you looking for a room, or for someone in particular? I live the next block over, and sometimes do maintenance work there, when the owner needs it. She’s an elderly lady.”

Eagerly, Hutch asked, “You know a pair of twin sisters?”

“Oh, sure. Lisa and Pam. Bennett, I think their last name is. Are you relatives of theirs?”

Hutch was quick to not let his hesitation show, lest the man feel the need to protect the twins from strangers. “We know their mother.” That wasn’t exactly true, but close enough. “Since we were vacationing in the area, we told her we’d check in on them. Say hello.”

“I’m sure they’ll appreciate that. We don’t get many visitors, other than tourists, around here.”

Starsky asked, “Do you think they’ll be there now? Or, do they have jobs?”

The man scratched his head. “I’ve seen Pam working the gift shop, up the street there,” he nodded, “but I wouldn’t know her hours. I don’t know if Lisa has a job.”

“Thanks,” Hutch said.

The man nodded. “Let me get your car filled up.”

Hutch quickly said, “Oh, and — it’s just the two of them, right?” He realized how threatening that might sound, and quickly amended, “No boyfriend, or anything, that we might walk in on?”

The man chuckled. “Not that I know of.”


As he moved away to fill up their car, Starsky muttered, “Nice save.”

Hutch sighed, and quietly replied, “It’s not good news, though. Doesn’t sound like Amanda is here.”

“Yeah, but the sisters still might be good for some information, if they’ve been penpals with Amanda.”

A few minutes later, they were on their way, back down Main Street.

“Here it is,” Starsky said. “I guess we missed it the first time.”

Hutch turned onto Pinkerton Road. A long, one-story brick building had the sign “Pleasant View Apartments”. As Hutch parked at the curb, he asked, “What’s the apartment number?”

“Unit Six.”

They got out and moved up to the door that had a lopsided 6. Hutch pushed the doorbell.

The door was opened by a pair of twin sisters, one having a slightly fuller face than the other. “Yes?” the latter asked.

Starsky held out his card. “Hi. Lisa and Pam?”


“We’re private detectives from Bay City, California. We would like to talk to you about your high school friend, Amanda Flint?”

They glanced at each other, and then the screen door was quickly unlocked. “Please, please, come in. I’m Lisa. We heard about Amanda from our Mom. She’s missing?”

“I’m afraid so,” Hutch said as they entered. “We’re uncovering every possible nook and cranny, and we know that Amanda exchanged letters with you.”

The apartment was sparsely furnished, with a sofa and an old easy chair. As Hutch took the easy chair, one of the girls said, “I’ll get a kitchen chair.”

“No problem,” Starsky said, planting his hip on an arm of the easy chair. “This will do.”

After the girls were seated on the sofa, with worried expressions, Hutch admitted, “We came down here, because we wanted to see if there’s any chance that Amanda might have moved in with you. Some of her friends said she’d talked about how she’d like to come down here.”

“Maybe to visit,” Lisa said, “but we never discussed her staying here.” She turned the end table by the sofa. “I’ve got her letters right here. We wrote each other about once every couple of months or so.” She pulled out a piece of notebook paper. “Her last letter is here. It’s from about six weeks ago.” Her eyes scanned it, “She’s talking about her school work, a handsome guy that’s in her typing class, and then she says, Mom has been bugging me, like I’m still a child. She asks me if I’ve done my homework and things like that. I’m nineteen.” Lisa glanced up. “She underlined nineteen. I’m an adult. Why can’t she treat me like one? I envy you guys so much. Having your own place. No one looking over your shoulder. Complete freedom. Maybe, after the semester is over, I can visit you. Take the bus or something. Mom would probably have a fit, me going so far away, especially after losing Dad, but sometimes I feel like a prisoner. I know lots of kids feel like their parents treat them like prisoners, but I’m an ADULT now. She put adult in capital letters.”

Lisa then said, “New paragraph. Well, I’ll let you know if I get around to forming a plan to visit. I’d have to get the money from Mom. I’m sure she’d rather me take the bus, than drive so far by myself. A plane ticket would be even better, ha. But I doubt she would would be willing to spend that much. And if she outright refuses to let me go at all, I don’t know what I’m going to do.” A moment later, Lisa looked up. “The rest of it is just talking about the weather.”

Thoughtfully, Starsky asked, “Did you ever hear from her further, after this? Phone calls or anything?”

They both shook their heads. “No,” Lisa replied. “I had written her back and said we would both love for her to come out this summer and spend some time with us.” Sadly, she added, “We never heard back.”

Hutch said, “She mentioned somebody at school — a ‘handsome guy’?”

Lisa looked back at the letter, and pointed to a line on the page. “Yeah, but no name or anything. I just think she meant she was silently admiring him from afar.”

“That’s the only time she’s mentioned him?”

“Yeah, for this semester. You know, she liked to look at good-looking guys. I’ve only ever known her to one have serious boyfriend, and he moved away, a while back.”

Pam spoke up. “If she had others, she kept it secret from us, and that’s not like her.”

Starsky asked, “Is there any chance that Amanda would be so upset with her mother’s hovering, that she would have taken off and not told her mother where she was going?”

They both shook their heads, Lisa saying, “No, no, no. Amanda might have been irritated with her mother, but no way would she ever just up and take off without a word. Especially not after losing her father. Even at her worst, Amanda would never do something as mean-spirited as that.”

That’s what I’m afraid of, Hutch thought, knowing Starsky was thinking likewise.

Lisa’s voice was choked. “That’s not good, is it? That she didn’t run away?”

Starsky quickly reached for his briefcase. “Not necessarily,” he hedged, opening it. “Amanda was at the Township Mall on Grayson Street, going to the drugstore. Even though she’d driven there, when she came out of the drugstore, a man drove up and she started talking to him.” Starsky took an 8x10 photo and brought it over to the girls. “Amanda went around the front of his car, and then got in the passenger side, completely under her own power. She wasn’t forced. I know this photograph from the mall’s video camera is really hard to see in the dark, but any chance that either of you recognize this man, or this car?”

They both gazed at it for a long time, and then shook their heads. “No,” Lisa said tearfully. She reached for Pam’s hand and squeezed it.

Hutch wanted to be soothing, as he stood. “I wouldn’t assume the worst. It’s a positive sign that she got into this man’s car of her own free will. We just have to find who this man is.”

After they were back in their rental car, Starsky said, “Well, so much for the runaway theory.”

“Yeah,” Hutch agreed with a quiet sigh. “She’s going to be found dead, Starsk.”

“Not necessarily. She might be kidnapped and held somewhere.”

Hutch tilted his head. “What if the man in the car was somebody she didn’t know? Why would she get in the car with him?”

“Well, that brings the question why did he want to stop and talk to her in the first place? Maybe he needed directions somewhere?”

“Okay, he needed directions. Like, maybe where a certain store in the mall was located?”

“It’s not that big of a mall,” Starsky pointed out. “So, maybe somewhere else?”

Hutch followed that train of thought. “Somewhere that was too difficult to explain, so she said, ‘I’ll just show you.’ Maybe she intended to have him just drive to the edge of the parking lot, and she’d point out where he needed to go, and then get out to walk back to her car? Only, she never got out, because maybe he pulled a gun on her?”

“Or, she got out and something happened to her before she made it back to her car. Which would mean that her kidnapper has nothing to do with the man who was caught on tape picking her up.”

“That’s a stretch — to think that the man who picked her up had nothing to do with her disappearance.”

“Yeah,” Starsky admitted. He sighed again, shifting in his seat. “Well, what do you want to do now? Let’s take a break, and plan on flying home tomorrow evening?”

“Yeah. So, what do you want to do in the meantime?”

Starsky indicated the dashboard clock. “Let’s find a place to get some lunch, then figure out where to go next. I’d really rather not do touristy stuff, unless you really, really want to.”

“No, I don’t need to do that.”

“So, maybe find some place to hike? A short hike,” Starsky quickly amended, pressing a hand against his healing side.

Hutch started the car. “When we find a cafe, we can ask for ideas there.”

“Glad it’s warmed up,” Starsky said, as they moved along a hiking trail, that was now going from hills into a forest. He’d created a makeshift walking stick from a tree branch.

“Yeah,” Hutch mused, “it’s turning out to be a wonderful spring day. How are you holding up?”

“Could use a snack.”

Hutch decided to not reply that it was less than two hours since they’d had lunch. “The map showed a picnic table somewhere along here. Let’s see if we can find it.”

It took another five minutes of walking, before the path opened to a small clearing, where there was an old wooden picnic bench. Starsky gratefully sat down on the end of a bench.

Hutch removed his small backpack and took out bottles of water, and a couple of snack bars. He opened a bottle and set it beside Starsky, and handed him a snack bar.

After spending a few moments refreshing themselves, Hutch stood and placed his foot against the bench, and then bent to re-tie his shoe laces.


Hutch finished his task, and then looked up at Starsky’s quiet tone. He stepped back, feeling uneasy at his partner’s sober expression. “What?”

Starsky gazed at him a moment longer. “Are we okay?”

Hutch’s first instinct was to protest the question. But he couldn’t pretend that he didn’t know the reason for it. “Yes,” he responded gently. “At least, from my standpoint, we are.”

“Mine, too.” Starsky’s eyes lowered to the ground.

Hutch watched him, then confessed, “I’m sorry that you felt a need to ask that question.”

“Just want to be sure,” Starsky muttered. “Seems like we don’t talk as much. I’m sorry I’ve been such a pain in the ass, in more ways than one.”

Hutch couldn’t hold back a flustered sigh. He spread his hands in a halting gesture. “Can we stop with all the apologizing? I don’t need you to apologize to me.”

Starsky shrugged. “You just apologized to me, and it’s not all your fault. Not by a longshot.”

“What isn’t?”

“Whatever makes us not talk so much to each other, anymore.”

Hutch plopped down on the bench next to Starsky, feeling a need to be closer, especially since he was lost for words.

In the same quiet tone, Starsky said, “You’ve been seeing Judith more often than in the past.” He swallowed. “Do you talk about us?”

“I feel guilty about the shooting,” Hutch admitted. “I know that doesn’t make sense. It really doesn’t to me, either. But —” Abruptly, he looked at Starsky. “Has Nick said anything to you?”

“About what?”

“The shooting. It really rattled him. That morning I picked you up at the hospital, he sort of blew up at me about how it shouldn’t have happened. He was really scared.”

On a high note, Starsky asked, “You mean he blamed you?”

“No. Just… scared that it happened, even though we aren’t cops anymore. You got shot, anyway. Again.” Hutch shrugged. “Can’t argue his point. He sort of inferred that, with our income level, we shouldn’t have to do stuff that’s so dangerous.”

Starsky straightened. “For God’s sakes, Hutch, it’s not like any of us could have foreseen what was going to happen. It just… happened.”

“I know.”

After they sat silent, Starsky muttered, “It’s been harder this time, for some reason. Just older, I guess. Everything hurts more. It’s like I’m more conscious of my mortality, even though I’ve been wounded way more seriously before. I guess, I guess it bothers me more now, because it means more to me to stay alive. Live a longer life.”

“Yeah.” Hutch was confident that Starsky understood the impact of that single word.

Then Starsky said, “Not sure why it matters so much, though. We just seem to be living the same, day in and day out.”

Hutch looked over at him. “What do you mean?”

“Just feel… restless. Like, I want something more, but I don’t know what it is.” Starsky shifted on the bench. “You know, a few years back, it seemed like every day was exciting. We were growing our company, I was writing my book and then waiting for it to be published, there was Nick and Lannie, and them finally getting married and having Melinda. And that’s not even getting into the excitement of having Darla, and all the money she earned.” He sighed. “Now, it’s like all that stuff has… happened. All that… growth, I guess, is over and done with. So, what is there to look forward to?”

Hutch had no idea Starsky had felt this way. He understood what his love meant, but only to an extent. “You sound bored.”

“You aren’t?”

“Too busy to really even think about it.”

“Yeah. You always have so much more pressure than me, since you handle all the money and important stuff. That’s why I wanted us to at least take a day, just for ourselves.”

Hutch felt his heart flipflop at the ever-present concern. “Well, I guess it worked,” he said, with the twitch of his mouth corner. “We’re talking more than we have in a while.”

Starsky grunted.

Hutch felt heartened to remind, “And don’t forget that Danny should be racing soon.”

Starsky was thoughtful a moment. “Not sure that that’ll ever be as exciting as Darla was. I suppose your first always is.” Then he added dryly, “Especially since nobody seems to be talking like Danny is going to be anything special. Mike Hawkins just keeps saying, ‘He’s doing fine’, but he doesn’t sound as excited as when he had Darla.”

“Danny will have to show us what he’s going to be.”

“It will be more fun, I think, having Mandy involved.”

“Yeah. I’m glad we met her. And don’t forget, this time next year, we’ll have three offspring from Darla.” She had been confirmed in foal to Golden Eagle, and was back at her home farm. Hutch decided not to add that he couldn’t help but be concerned about the ever increasing amount that their one-mare breeding operation was costing them.

Starsky seemed to read his mind, quipping, “Another mouth to feed.”

“Yeah. And train.”

“And don’t forget, we need to book Darla to Snow Chief for next year.” He was a California-bred that had won the Preakness Stakes, one of the Triple Crown races, the year prior, and was being retired at the end of the current season to stand stud in California. Upon seeing an ad for him in The Golden State Thoroughbred, there hadn’t been any argument that he was the obvious choice to breed Darla to in 1988.

Hutch reached to brush a few strands of hair back from Starsky’s forehead. “See? You’re already more excited now.”

“Everything just takes so long, with the horses,” Starsky mused.

“Then maybe you need to find a new hobby. Painting, or something. Or rearrange the train tracks in the greenhouse.”

Starsky sighed. “Yeah. Maybe.”

Hutch felt a stir, and leaned over to kiss Starsky on the cheek. He whispered, slowly and deliberately, “I love you.”


“I want to make love to you, even if you can’t.” Hutch found Starsky’s lips, and they shared a kiss more passionate than they’d had in a while.

When the kiss stopped, Starsky’s warm breath drifted across Hutch’s face. “Maybe I can. Especially, if we can get the gymnastics figured out.”

Hutch abruptly stood, and grabbed his backpack. “Let’s go back, to Walsenburg, and get on the interstate. The next town down is Trinidad, and that’s a lot bigger. Shouldn’t have any trouble finding a motel.”

Starsky eagerly got to his feet.


“That’s good,” Starsky said huskily, as he lay naked on his right side, on a motel room bed.

“You sure?” Hutch asked gently, while rubbing Starsky’s left thigh.

Real sure.”

“All right,” Hutch said, lowering himself onto the mattress, behind Starsky. “Just relax.”

With a humor, Starsky muttered, “I have a feeling I’m not going to get to relax very much.”

Hutch slid farther down the bed, his hand moving to Starsky hip. “If anything hurts, just say so.”

“I don’t think anything you do back there is going to hurt, Blondie.”

Hutch appreciated that vote of confidence. He kissed Starsky’s left buttock. Again. And again. The mailable texture was irresistible, and he gently bit into the flesh. He growled, while refusing to let go.

“Man, I’ve got a boner comin’ on.” Starsky stroked himself.

Hutch now kissed where he’d left a bite mark. Then his tongue darted out and lick the top of the crevice separating Starsky’s buttocks.

Starsky quivered.

Hutch was all too aware of his own full erection, as he tried to pace himself, and drooled into Starsky’s crack. He used his tongue to encourage the saliva downward.

He got sidetracked, and bit into Starsky’s flesh a few more times, pulling with his teeth as much as he dared.

Starsky released a heavy breath, and then whispered, “You want me for dinner, don’t ya, baby?” He moved his leg farther forward.

Hutch grunted, determined to extend the teasing. He buried his face in Starsky’s ass crack, his mouth just above his tail bone, and exhaled heavily.

“I’m needing some Hutchinson tongue, baby. Can’t wait much longer.”

Hutch licked Starsky’s tail bone.

“Ah, yeah, baby. Shoot that gorgeous tongue into the bullseye. It’s waiting.” Starsky reached back to pull his upper buttock aside.

Hutch shifted downward, and added his hands to pull both buttocks apart. He inserted his well lubricated tongue into Starsky’s hole.

“Oh, God,” Starsky gasped.

Hutch licked. And licked. And licked some more. He felt goosebumps break out onto Starsky’s skin, and he licked more earnestly, seeking entrance.

“Oh, God, Hutch. I’ve missed this so much.”

Hutch was going to make sure Starsky remembered it enough to always miss it. He grunted as he lapped at his target, and the muscle gave in to the onslaught, and relaxed enough for him to enter.

Starsky’s hand was moving more fervently. “Ah, holy Moses. I’m gonna have a load of cum to shoot down your throat.”

Hutch pulled back and kissed the wrinkled orifice, making loud smacking noises. Then he licked at it more slowly… deliberately.

Starsky gasped, “Ah, man. Real close, baby.”

Hutch straightened and moved to the other side of Starsky, while trying not to jostle the mattress. His own arousal increased as he saw Starsky’s eager boner. He inserted a pair of fingers of his right hand into his mouth, and drooled on them liberally.

Starsky watched him with slit eyes, while holding his erection. “It’s going to explode all down your throat, Hutch.”

Since Starsky seemed out of practice with delaying orgasm, Hutch scooted down beside him, and lowered his mouth over the rigid cock, and simultaneously pushed his right hand between Starsky’s thighs and felt for the wet orifice. He pushed his index finger inside, just as he began suck.

Starsky threw his head back. “Oh, man, this is unbelievable.” His hand clutched Hutch’s hair. “Fuck me and suck me, honey.”

Hutch pushed more firmly into Starsky’s ass, while nursing on his cock. He whimpered with contentment.

“Here it comes, baby.”

Starsky let out a yell, as Hutch felt fluid coat the back of his throat. He released Starsky a moment later, and gently removed his finger. He swallowed loudly, and then moved to kiss Starsky on the lips.

Starsky was still gasping for breath, but his kiss was eager, even as Hutch’s was gentle.

When they pulled apart, Starsky sighed airily. “Man, I needed that.” He grinned widely. “All better now.”

Hutch grinned back.

Starsky glanced down. “Bring me that monster you’ve got, and I’ll get it all ready to fuck me.”

Hutch moved on his knees, and lowered his cock down. “You want to stay in this position?”

“Sure. Hasn’t hurt yet.” With that, Starsky closed his mouth on the upper half of Hutch.

“Easy,” Hutch cautioned, even as he loved the well-practiced suction. He considered letting his love finish him, but he felt that they both wanted the physical closeness that only penetration could provide.

Abruptly, Hutch pulled back. He carefully shifted to the other side of Starsky. He moved close behind him and, after position himself, he slowly pressed into his love.

Starsky gasped momentarily. “I swear, buddy boy, that that monster of yours gets bigger with time.”

Once fully inserted, Hutch buried his face in Starsky’s neck, and tried to relax. He murmured, “Let’s stay like this as long as we can.”


It ended being for only a minute.

Starsky rolled over on the bed, and squinted his eyes as a dressed Hutch opened the curtains, letting the sun stream in. Starsky could hear the activity of maids from outside their door. “What time is it?”

“Nearly nine. I got up just a little while ago. We need to check out by eleven.”

Starsky rubbed his hands about his head, to wake himself up. Then he looked squarely at Hutch, remembering yesterday afternoon, and into the night. “Hey, sexy.”

Hutch smirked, which was good to see. “We don’t have time for any more of that.” His voice softened, “But I’m so glad you wanted us to come here.”

That made Starsky feel good.

Hutch went on, “You’re always the one with the good ideas.”

Starsky pushed the covers aside. “That’s why you keep me around, Blondie.”

Hutch nodded toward the bathroom. “While you get showered up, I’ll call the airline and schedule a flight home.”

They had a couple of hours to kill before they needed to be at the airport. They found a scenic route that would take them back to Walsenburg and the interstate. They drove up and over the pass through the Spanish Peaks, and then came upon a large, blue lake.

“Hey, look at this,” Hutch said.

Starsky picked up a brochure. “This must be Monument Lake.” He lowered it. “Looks like just a few people fishing.”

“Yeah, they have it all to themselves.” Hopefully, Hutch asked, “Want to get out and stretch our legs?”


They found a parking area and got out, walking along the shoreline. Hutch said, “Surely, this place is a lot more crowded in the summer.”

“I’d think so. Sure nice now.”

“Yeah. So peaceful.”

They walked for a while, in silence, and Hutch asked, “What are you thinking about?”

Starsky sighed. “Don’t get mad.”

Concerned, Hutch prompted, “What?”

“Just thinking about Amanda. Wondering if her body is going to be found at the shore of a lake, or something like that.”

Glumly, Hutch pointed out, “That would be a better outcome than not finding her at all.”

“Yeah.” They walked a moment longer, and Starsky said, “As soon as we get back, I want to read through the file again.”

Hutch paused, which caused Starsky to halt, as well. “What if she knew the guy? Say, he was the handsome guy from class that she referenced in her letter — one of the guys she was admiring from afar — and he just happened to see her and stopped to say hello? So, maybe she got in his car, because they decided to get a bite to eat, or something to drink, and the intent was that he would drop her back off at her car.”

“And he kidnapped her instead,” Starsky finished for him. They began walking again. “But the thing is, Hutch, when I’ve been doing the telephone interviews, I’ve asked everyone if they know anyone with a beard who also knew Amanda. That included all of her classmates that we had phone numbers for. So, they would know if a guy in their class had a beard.”

“Yeah, but that still doesn’t change the idea that she might have known the guy from somewhere, and the reason she got in his car, leaving hers in the parking lot, was because they were just temporarily going somewhere together.”

Starsky decided, “Tomorrow, we need to go back to that area, and start showing that video picture, and Amanda’s picture, around the restaurants and bars, and see if anyone remembers them.”

It wasn’t until the second day of doing such — Starsky alone, since Hutch was too busy with other things — that he had any positive response to Amanda’s photo.

A waiter at a bar, which had just opened for the afternoon, said, “I think that might be the girl that my friend was interested in.” He called back toward the kitchen. “Hey, Fred! Come out here!”

Fred emerged, tying an apron around his waist.

The first man showed him Amanda’s picture, “Is this the gal you saw a couple of weeks ago, that you really liked?”

Fred studied the picture. Then he nodded. “I think that’s her. She wasn’t all dolled up like she is in this photo.”

Heart beating with excitement, Starsky asked, “Was she with someone?”

“Yeah. Some guy. I was hoping that he might be her brother or something, because I wanted to ask for her phone number. So, I made a comment about him being her boyfriend, to see how she would react, and she quickly said, ‘Just a friend.’ So, later, when they were getting ready to leave, I wrote my phone number on a napkin, and said I’d love to hear from her, if she was interested. She just smiled, like being polite, and she left, and I figured I wouldn’t ever hear from her, and I haven’t.”

Starsky asked, “What did the man look like?”

“Uh, pretty tall. Had a beard.”

Hurriedly, Starsky found the 8x10 photo from the file folder he carried. “Could this be him?”

Fred studied the picture. “It could be. It’s really hard to tell.”

“Have you ever seen him or her before?”

“No. Just that night.”

“Do you know what night that was?”

“I really don’t remember. But sometime in the past two or three weeks.”

Starsky shifted on his feet, eager for more. “Can you tell me how they might have interacted together? If she said he was ‘just a friend’, did you get that same vibe?”

Fred shrugged. “It’s hard to say. I didn’t get the feeling he was, like, a relative or anything. But, like she said, a friend.”

“Did you overhear any of their conversation?”

“I remember her saying something about how she wished she could live on her own, but her mother needed her. She was saying some things about classes at school. I got the feeling she was in college.”

“What about him? Did you hear him say anything?”

“He’d just pretty much nod or mumble ‘yeah’ or something. He was pretty soft spoken. I sort of felt like she was bored with him.” He presented a bashful smile. “Or maybe I was just hoping she wasn’t enjoying his company.”

Starsky waited. Then, “Anything else?”

Another shrug. “No. I mean, I had other customers.”

“I don’t suppose you saw where they went when they left.”

“No. I wasn’t watching them after they left their table.”

“Did he pay for their meal with a credit card?”

“Think so.” Abruptly, Fred asked, “Why are you asking all these questions?”

“Amanda went missing. That very night. She never arrived home.”

Fred’s mouth fell open. “Oh.”

Eagerly, Starsky asked, “Can I talk to someone who can look through the credit card receipts, when you were working on April 29th, and get me those names and credit card numbers?”



Starsky had tried to call Hutch on his way home, but Lois kept saying he was on another call. So, when Starsky arrived at the office, he moved eagerly to his and Hutch’s office.

Hutch was just hanging up the phone when Starsky walked in, holding a copy of a credit card receipt. “Hutch, I’ve got the name of the bearded man.” He held out the copy. “It’s Skip Hallman.” He quickly relayed the conversation with Fred at the bar. And then added, “Once he reviewed the credit card receipts from that night, he remembered that it was this one, because the tip is exactly ten percent, and he was annoyed that he was under-tipped, and wondered if it was because Hallman didn’t like that he’d left his phone number for Amanda, even though they weren’t in a relationship.” Starsky quickly caught his breath.

Hutch studied the credit card receipt. “That’s great, partner. We’ll need to find out what we can about him, first thing tomorrow.”

Starsky took his seat. “I’ve was trying to call you all the way home. Who have you been talking to?”

“Mike Hawkins.”

“Huh? Is everything all right?”

“Yeah. Mandy had called and said she saw the name Depth Charge in the workout listings in the Racing Form.”

Starsky blinked. “She’s reading the Racing Form?”

“Yeah,” Hutch said with a grin, “she said she picks one up at least once a week. Likes to see what’s going on. Anyway, she wanted to make sure that Depth Charge was Danny, and I said it surely was, though we haven’t heard anything from Mike yet about him getting a workout.”

Starsky thought back. “Yeah, he usually calls on Tuesdays if there’s any news, and we didn’t hear from him this week.”

“So, I called him, and he said he tried to call, but had an emergency with a horse and had to hang up, and apologized for not getting back to us. Anyway, Danny had his first workout last week, and he agreed with what Mandy had said, that he seemed slower than most of the horses, and that’s to be expected for a horse’s very first workout. But he also admitted that, for the next one, he’s going to work him with another two-year-old, who’s further along in his training, because that’ll give him a horse to compete against. It brings out the competitiveness in them.”

Starsky released a heavy sigh. “Sheesh. Nobody talks like they think he’s going to amount to anything.”

Hutch hesitated. “And, uh, he was also recommending gelding him.”

Starsky eyes widened. “You mean cut off his balls?”

“Yes. Neuter. He said he’s not stallion material, and gelding him will settle him down and be more focused on racing.”

“Sheesh. But what if he fools everybody and becomes famous or something?”

“I don’t think Mike sees that on the radar. He did say it wouldn’t hold him up much. It’s completely routine, and it’s not like he’ll lose much training time. He could still likely have his first start next month.”

“Well, what do you think?”

Hutch drew a breath. “I told him not to do it, unless he heard back from me, since I wanted to talk to you. I just know that, like dogs and cats, horses are routinely gelded, unless they’re among the best of their breed.”

Starsky felt deflated. “How can we have a horse with a bold name like Depth Charge, and he doesn’t even have any balls?”

Hutch grinned. “I’m sure there’s plenty of other geldings out there, with bold names, that have disappointed their owners.” He shifted in his chair. “Look, buddy, we’ve got some forty thousand invested in him at this point — between the stud fee and board and training costs, to say nothing of the vet and blacksmith — and I’m all for anything that will add money to his account.”

It took a moment for that figure to sink in. “Forty thousand?”

“Yeah. He’s just been a money sieve from the day he was born — just like Bri is, though we know we can likely get our money back out of her, if we had to, just because of her bloodlines and breeding potential.”

Starsky rubbed his hand over his face, not liking the sinking feeling in his stomach. “Well, let’s wait until he runs once. I mean, what if he just doesn’t see the point of his training, and he’ll, like, come alive during an actual race?”

Hutch’s mouth corner twitched. “One race. I’ll agree to that, no problem. After that, if he doesn’t look like something special, he’s loosing ‘em.”

Two days later, Hutch was on the phone with Cathy Flint, while Starsky stood near. “So, Skip has to be someone that Amanda met at school, or otherwise when she wasn’t around you.” Hutch listened a moment, and then nodded. “Yes, we’re going to interview him now. We just needed to know how to approach him, and you not knowing him helps give us an angle.” He listened some more. “Yes, of course, we’ll let you know when we’ve talked to him, and what he had to say.”

As Hutch hung up, Starsky said, “So, she’s never heard the name Skip Hallman?”


Starsky picked up some of the pages that they’d gotten from various government agencies, as well as the library. “What would Amanda be doing with a thirty-two-year-old man?”

“Well, the twins indicated that she liked to look at good-looking guys. She could have met him anywhere, and maybe he was stalking her, and drove up, and asked her for an impromptu date, when she was walking out of the drugstore.”

Starsky mused, “She had to feel pretty comfortable with him, to just get in his car. They must have had some conversation before, or something.”

Hutch tilted his head thoughtfully. He shook a finger at Starsky. “Or… she was annoyed about her mother’s hovering, and she was so willing to get in the car with Skip, because it was a way of showing her independence, and not necessarily being home when her mother was expecting her, or something along that line.”

Starsky grunted. “The twins didn’t think she would be that cruel, to purposely cause her mother to worry.”

“She might not consider just being an hour late as being a particularly big deal. And, if she was trying to show her independence, maybe it was more a subconscious thing.”

Starsky began to fold the copy of Skip Hallman’s driver’s license. “2379 Oak Avenue. I think it’s time to talk to Mr. Hallman.”

Hutch rose. “Yeah. Hopefully, he works the late shift at the gas station, and he’ll be home.”

As they drove up Oak Avenue, which was an old neighborhood with lush trees, Hutch said, “There’s a black Datsun in his driveway. Could be the same car on the video tape.”

“Terrific.” Starsky pulled the Corvette to the curb, across the street.

They got out, and Hutch took his business card from his wallet, while Starsky pulled pictures from the slender notebook he carried.

They rang the bell.

The door opened, and a tall, slim, bearded man opened the door partway. “Yes?”

Hutch held out his card, and the screen door opened. “We’re private detectives, investigating a missing person, and we’d like to ask you a few questions.”

“Missing person? What missing person?”

Starsky held up the 8x10 of Amanda. “Do you know her?”

The man’s eye widened. “That’s Amanda. She’s missing?”

Hutch said, “You didn’t know?”

“No.” He shook his head. “I mean, I almost never watch the news, or read a newspaper. How long has she been missing?”

Starsky held up his second photograph. “She went missing the night you picked her up from the drugstore.”

The man gasped. “What?”

Hutch had a sinking feeling, as the man’s surprise felt genuine.

“Tell us about that night,” Starsky prompted.

The man glanced at their card again, and then held the door open. “Come in. God, this just makes me sick.”

The house had old furniture and a musty smell, and they sat down on the well worn sofa, while Hallman sat in an easy chair and leaned forward. “I had no idea. I feel awful.”

Hutch said, “Start with how you know her.”

“I work at the Petro Station, at the corner of Grayson and 26th. Usually at night. Amanda stopped there regularly for gas, and she was always pleasant and chatty when she paid. I thought she was cute, and I finally got the courage to ask her out. She kept telling me, ‘Maybe some other time.’ Once, she almost said yes, but then she canceled almost right away.”

Starsky asked, “Isn’t she a little young for you?”

Hallman shrugged. “I never asked her age.”

Hutch said, “She’s nineteen.”

“Oh,” he rubbed his hand along his face, “I didn’t know that. Didn’t really think about it. I guess I assumed she was around twenty-five or so, since she seemed pretty independent.”

“Go on,” Starsky prompted.

“Well, that night,” he nodded at the picture Starsky held, “I was going to stop at the drugstore at the mall a couple of blocks down. I just happened to see her come out of the store, and I stopped to say hello. She seemed willing to chat a bit, so I asked if she wanted to get a beer. She said, ‘Sure’, which made me really happy. So, she got in my car, and we went to one of the bars a few blocks away. We kind of chatted about her school and her mom and stuff — nothing heavy. I felt like we really weren’t hitting it off, so I figured she wouldn’t want to go out with me anymore. After we left, I drove her back to the mall and dropped her off at her car, and then went to the drugstore, like I’d intended to in the first place. When I came out and was leaving, I saw that she was still in the parking lot, with her hood up, and another man was there. I drove by her car and asked if she was all right, and said I had jumper cables, if she needed a jump. She smiled and said, ‘He’s taking care of it. Don’t worry - I know him.’ So, I drove off.”

“Who is this man?” Hutch asked.

“I have no idea. It was dark and windy. The temperature had dropped, and Amanda had her arms wrapped around herself, because she had a light jacket. As I was driving away, I heard him say, ‘Get in my car. The heater’s on.’” He shrugged. “That’s the last time I saw her.”

Earnestly, Starsky asked, “Can you describe the man?”

Hallman shook his head. “Just pretty ordinary looking, I guess. Maybe five-seven, medium stature, short brown hair. Clean cut. Maybe early forties, but it was really hard to tell. But he looked… a bit sophisticated, I guess. I mean, I doubt he worked at an auto shop. I assumed he just happened to drive by when she was having trouble with her car.”

Hutch asked, “Can you describe his vehicle?”

Hallman was thoughtful. “I think it was like a gold color, or kind of rusty brown. Like a Mercury, maybe. Now that I think about, it seemed like an old, cheap car for a guy like that to be driving. It seemed that a guy like him would have a classier car than that.” Hallman glanced from one to the other. “I sure wish I would have paid more attention.”

“You’ve been a tremendous help,” Hutch said, as he and Starsky rose. “Keep our card, and if you think of anything else, call us immediately.”

Hallman followed them to the door. “I’ll certainly do that.”

When they were back in the car, Starsky said, “If he had something to do with her disappearance, he’s a hell of a good actor.”

“Yeah, I think we have to put him on the back burner, and focus on this new guy.” Hutch mused, “Kind of a sophisticated looking guy, driving a cruddy car. We’ve got to get back with Cathy and see if the description of this new suspect rings any bells with her.”

Starsky snapped her fingers. “We’ve never tried to get video of where Amanda’s car was parked, since there wasn’t any reason to.”

Hutch shook his head. “In our first meeting, Cathy told me that the one video was all that was available. It’s aimed at customers leaving the stores, trying to catch shoplifters, so nothing is aimed toward the parking lot.”

Starsky said, “Well, then, I wonder if he could be one of her college instructors. I talked to some on the phone, but I don’t have pictures of any of them.”

“Maybe we need to get a hold of a yearbook from the college, or some sort of brochure that has photos of the faculty members, and show them to Hallman.”

Starsky shifted in his seat. “So, let’s play out this possibility. A college professor has this young, sexy girl in his class. She doesn’t have a boyfriend, that he can tell. Maybe he knows enough about her that she lives with her mother, but there isn’t any other family around. So, he’s a psycho, and he decides he’s going to kidnap her, or… whatever.”

Hutch picked up, “He’d probably follow her for a while. Get to know her routine, figure out when he can make a move.”

“So, maybe that night, he decides it’s time, when she goes to the drugstore at the mall.”

“Or, maybe he was still just following her, and when she went with Hallman, he decided it was the opportunity he needed, because since they’d left her car in the lot, it was logical to think she would come back for it.”

“So… he does something to her car, so it won’t start. She comes back, Hallman drops her off and leaves, and he appears and tries to pretend that he’s going to help her start it, but it’s cold, and he tells her to sit in his car, where it’s warm.”

Hutch mused, “And then, after messing with her car, maybe he says that he needs some other tools, so they need to go to a gas station to buy something.”

“Or maybe he said it would need to be towed in the morning and, in the meantime, he’d take her home. But instead, he abducts her.”

They sat silent. Then Starsky said, “You know, we’ve been so focused on her being picked up by Hallman, that we never examined her car. Surely, her mother has it home, by now.”

“Yeah,” Hutch said. “She brought me the things that she’d taken out of Amanda’s car — some school notebooks and the sack from the drugstore, which just had some makeup and a few toiletries.”

“Since we need to talk to Mrs. Flint about the new suspect, let’s also check out Amanda’s car.” Starsky turned the motor of the Corvette.

“Sounds like a plan.”

Cathy Flint was sobbing at the fact that they had found the bearded man in the photograph, but were skeptical that he had anything to do with her daughter being missing.

Gently, Hutch said, “I know it’s flimsy information — and perhaps not even all that accurate, considering it was dark and just a brief glimpse — but if you can think of anybody that matches that general description, especially if they have a brown or gold colored car….”

She kept shaking her head. “I’m not the type of person that ever notices cars. And that description could be any number of people.” She scoffed, “Our pastor matches that description.”

Starsky said, “We need to check him out, no matter how unlikely he seems.”

She shook her head harder. “It couldn’t have been him. He was away on a trip to Europe. In fact, he still hasn’t returned.”

Starsky knelt before her. “Keep thinking. Brainstorming. No matter how unlikely.”

She shrugged. “Our veterinarian, where we take the cat, could fall under that description.”

“Can you please provide us with his address, so we can check him out?” Hutch prompted.

She stood and went over to a desk against the wall, that was covered with various papers and envelopes. As she sorted through a stack, she said, “I’m the one who always took the cat. I don’t think Amanda even met him.”

Starsky reminded, “We just need to check him out, to be sure.”

She held out a piece of paper. “Here’s an invoice, with the clinic’s name and address.”


She straightened and tilted her head. “You know, somebody who seems too sophisticated to own an old car… that could be one of her college professors.”

Hutch nodded, “We’ve already considered that, and we’ll be checking it out.”

Starsky reached to clasp her hand. “Please keep thinking about anyone who it could be. In the meantime, we’d like to look over Amanda’s car.”

“I’ve removed all of Amanda’s things. There wasn’t anything in there, except what I already gave you.”

“Still,” Hutch said, “we’d like to take a look ourselves, just in case the man left something behind.”

She nodded at the door. “It’s in the driveway. Not locked.”

They went outside and opened the doors of the white Chevrolet. Starsky began going over the front seat and glove compartment, Hutch the back. The car was clean, except for some trash — wadded gum wrappers and a few napkins and fast food wrappers.


Starsky looked up. “What?”

Hutch held up an empty pack of Winston cigarettes. “I don’t think Amanda was a smoker.”

Starsky glanced behind him. “We can ask Cathy.”

Cathy appeared with a trash bag. “May as well throw away whatever trash there is, while you’re in there.”

Starsky picked up some wrappers, and glanced at them a final time, before dropping them into the trash bag that Cathy held open.

Hutch help up the empty cigarette pack. “Amanda didn’t smoke, did she?”

“No. But we know quite a few people who did. I know she had at least one friend at school who did.”

“Who smokes Winstons?”

Cathy shook her head. “I don’t ever pay attention to the brands, since I don’t smoke. I don’t allow smoking in my house.”

“If you can keep it in mind, when you’re contemplating people who match the description of the man who last saw Amanda.” He dropped the cigarette pack into the trash bag.

Starsky emerged from the car. “Mrs. Flint, are you the one who drove Amanda’s car home?”

“Yes. Jim — the friend who put up the money to pay for your firm — dropped me off at the parking lot, so I could drive it home.”

“Did it start okay?”

“Well, of course. We’d just paid nearly three hundred dollars for it have a ‘major tune up’, and one of the last conversations I had with Amanda was how we were going to get by with a bill like that taking such a huge chunk out of our budget.”

Hutch had also emerged from the car. “But the tune up helped and the car was working good?”

“Yes. Amanda said it such a relief to have a dependable car again.” Cathy suddenly put a hand to her mouth. “Oh, no. You said that man with the beard said that somebody was helping Amanda with her car?”

“Yes,” Hutch said.

“Then, he has to be lying, to cover his tracks. Amanda’s car was working fine.”

Firmly, Starsky told her, “You didn’t see the look of his surprise on his face when we mentioned that Amanda was missing.”

Hutch held up his hands in a placating gesture, “But don’t worry. We aren’t discounting him. The only way we’re going to find your daughter is to consider all possibilities.”

A few minutes later, when they were driving away from the Flint home, Starsky said, “It is possible that it could be Hallman, and he just concocted that story about leaving Amanda in the parking lot with a man she said she knew.”

Hutch muttered, “Anything is possible. But most people who are lying on the spot don’t make up details like that — you know, adding that Amanda assured him that she knew the man who was helping with her car, so he wouldn’t be worried about her.”


Hutch released a sigh. “Let’s call it a day and go home. We’ve got that left over fried chicken in the ‘frig.”

“Sounds good.” Starsky nodded at the car phone. “Call Lois and let her know we’re done for the day.”

As the Corvette approached their house, Hutch said, “That looks like Nick’s car.”

“Yep.” Starsky pushed the button on the garage door opener, that was clipped to his visor. “I wonder what he’s doing here.”

“Either he’s got some hot information that can’t wait, or he and Lannie had a fight.”

Starsky grunted. “I vote for him having some hot information.”

“Yeah. Me, too.”

When they entered the house from the garage, they found Nick sitting at the kitchen table, with a plate full of fried chicken. He was eating a drumstick

“What?” Hutch greeted him, “They shut down all the restaurants or something?”

When Nick kept chewing, Starsky asked, “What are you doing here?”

Nick took a moment to swallow. “Lan and I had a big fight.”

Starsky felt his heart sink, as he reached to the cabinet for dishes. “Want to talk about it?”


“Well, if you change your mind….”

Hutch indicated the chicken, while Starsky handed him a plate. “Do you mind?”

Nick kept a breast piece for himself, and then pushed the plate toward Hutch.

After they were all seated, Starsky said, “You’re welcome to the guest room. I just hope Melinda didn’t hear any of it.”

“I don’t think so,” Nick said. “We always try to keep our voices low, even when we’re really pissed.”

Though Nick had said he didn’t want to discuss it, Starsky asked, “Did you leave, or did she kick you out?”

Nick considered a moment, and then admitted, “I’m not sure.”

After they had focused on eating for a few minutes, Hutch said, “We may as well catch you up on the missing persons case.” He then relayed what they’d found out today.

Nick was intrigued. “That’s seems weird, doesn’t it? That the guy who picked her up wasn’t the last person to see her — assuming he’s telling the truth.”

“Yeah,” Starsky said. “If he is telling the truth, we figure that this other person — someone she knows — must have been planning on abducting her for a while. He must have been able to do something to her car, so it wouldn’t start, since it was running fine after a big tune up.”

Nick tilted his head, and it was a long moment before he spoke. “If he did something to her car, and the one witness says that the car he was driving seemed too junky for a person like him… well, that means he must be familiar with working on cars.”

“Sure,” Hutch put in, “but the witness also said he didn’t get the impression that the guy worked for a gas station. Too clean-cut. Too pristine.”

Nick shrugged. “Don’t some rich people like to work on cars?”

Starsky was proud of his brother’s thought process. “Sure, but that’s usually their Cadillacs and Rolls Royces.”

“Maybe he liked tinkering with old cars, from back before he was wealthy. I mean, if he’s not some ordinary guy, on the exterior, and he was planning on kidnapping somebody he knew — which means the victim’s friends and relatives might know him, too — he’s not going to risk driving around, following her, in his regular car, since someone might recognize it. Especially his victim.”

Hutch sat back in his chair, rubbing at his chin. “Huh. I suppose you have a point.”

Starsky sighed, as his heart sank. “So, that means we might be looking for someone who doesn’t have that gold or brown Mercury as their regular car. Which means it’ll be all the harder to find it.”

The phone rang, and Starsky got up to answer. “Hello?”

A firm female voice said, “I’d like to speak to my husband.”

Starsky held out the phone to Nick, who frowned.

Hutch quietly said, “Why don’t you call her back on the office phone, so you can have some privacy.”

Unhappily, Nick got up and moved toward the office.

Starsky said, “He’s going to call you back on our other line in the office, where it’s more private.”

“All right,” Lanette said, her voice still hard.

Starsky hung up, and the office door closed behind Nick.

“I hope that blows over quickly,” Hutch said.

“No kidding.”

The phone rang again. “Hello?” Starsky greeted.

“This sounds like Dave,” said a familiar male voice.

“Uh-huh. Mike?”


Starsky said to Hutch, “It’s Mike Hawkins.” He held the phone away from his ear, as Hutch stood and approached.

“I’m sorry this is such late notice, but I just wanted you guys to be aware that my barn is having a little all-day party on Saturday.”


“Yeah. There’s some birthdays the next few days, and one of my owners is retiring from his job, and there’s another owner — a couple -- that has flown in from out of town to see their horse workout that morning, and then they’ve got another racing in a stakes that afternoon. So, it’s not a particular time or anything. We’ll have food, cake, and various drinks available at the barn all day, if you want to stop by at some point.”

Hutch shrugged, and Starsky said, “Sure, we might do that.”

Hutch quietly suggested, “Maybe Mandy will want to come.”

“Thanks, Mike,” Starsky said, “we’ll probably see you sometime Saturday.” He hung up.

Hutch reached to an overhead cabinet. “I want something else. How about some green beans?”


Hutch retrieved a can.

Starsky said, “I’ll call Mandy. What time, do you think?”

“Maybe mid morning? After the horses are all done training? But I don’t want to stay for the races.”

“Yeah, we’ll probably want to go to the office at some point.” Starsky browsed through their address book until finding Mandy’s number. When he called, there wasn’t an answer, so he left a message.

While Starsky began cleaning the kitchen, Hutch picked up the mail from the foyer. He quickly opened an envelope.

Starsky glanced over his shoulder. “What is it?”

Hutch held up a check with a smile. “Your royalty check for last quarter. One hundred twenty-three dollars and fifteen cents.”

That was the highest yet. The first few quarterly checks had just been a few dollars. Happily, Starsky said, “I guess being on the Carson show really helped.”

Nick emerged from the office, looking haggard.

Starsky muttered, “Doesn’t look like it went well.”

Nick scratched the back of his head. “Guess I’m spending the night. She’s accusing me of being jealous and all that.”

Worried, Starsky asked, “Does this have to do with that guy she talks to?”

Nick plopped down in a kitchen chair. “Yeah, I’d finally reached the end of my rope with that. Told her I didn’t want her to talk to him anymore. She went ballistic. And I was trying to ask why my feelings matter so little to her, and she said a jealous person is insecure and all that….” His cheeks billowed as he blew out a heavy breath.

Hutch said, “I’m sure it’ll seem better in the morning.”

Starsky added, “But you can stay with us as long as you need to.”

On Friday afternoon, Starsky and Hutch were back at Skip Hallman’s door. They’d called ahead to let him know they were coming, so he readily let them in.

Starsky pulled out a brochure, and another photograph from a manila envelope. “Here’s some pictures of people that Mandy knew, that match your description of the man that was helping her with her car.” He opened the college brochure to photographs of faculty members, of which they’d circled the possibilities.

“Man,” Hallman said, studying it, “I got such a brief glimpse of the guy.”

“I know. Just do the best you can. Maybe cross off the ones that you know can’t be him.”

Hallman reached to a side table and took a pen. He made a few marks across some photos. There were three left of males. “Anyone of these could be him. Or not.”

“That’s great. At least, we can discount the others.”

Starsky held out the photograph of the Flint’s veterinarian. “What about this man?”

“No. He’s got short sideburns. The man I saw didn’t have any sideburns.”

Hutch asked, “Did you happen to notice if the man you saw was smoking?”

Hallman tilted his head thoughtfully, while returning the brochure to Starsky. “You know, I think I saw him drop a butt to the ground, like he’d just finished it. He had his head under the hood, and he sort of flung it to the ground, without looking at it. And then he straightened when I started talking to Amanda. For a moment, he looked right at me.”

“Glasses or anything?” Starsky prompted.

“No.” Hallman snapped his fingers. “He was feeling around his jacket pockets, like he was wanting another cigarette. That’s when I drove off.”

“But you didn’t see him actually take out a pack of cigarettes?” Hutch asked.

“No. I drove off right then. But my brother used to smoke a lot. And he had that way about him — of patting his pockets for a cigarette pack, even when he knew he didn’t have another pack in his pockets. It was just such a habit, to always be feeling for another pack of cigarettes.”

“Thanks,” Starsky said. “You’ve been a great help.”

When they were back at the LeBaron, Starsky said, “That was the suspect’s last cigarette. I wonder if he dropped the empty carton in the back of Amanda’s car, when maybe he was messing with it, before she returned.”

“I wonder how he got in, if it was locked.”

“He could have jimmied it, easily enough.”


“Especially if Nick was right about him being somebody who used to work on cars.”

Hutch started the motor. “One thing I’m sure about now, is that Hallman isn’t the one who abducted Amanda. No way would he be able to come up with a detail like that.”

“Right.” Starsky flipped open the brochure from the college. “Now we need to focus on these three college instructors, since they’re the only leads we have.”

As they drove away from the curb, Hutch said, “I wonder how long it’s going to take Nick and Lannie to make up.”

“Don’t know. Maybe we should ask him if he wants to come to the track with the rest of us tomorrow. Might give him a chance to stop moping for a while.”

“Yeah. Let’s ask him.”

Nick turned down their offer, so it was only Mandy in the backseat of the LeBaron when they were headed to the track.

As they drove, Starsky tilted his head toward the backseat and asked, “So, how are things going with you and your cousin, Millie? She still trying to save the world and all the animals?”

Mandy replied, “We spent last weekend together, handing out flyers.”

“Yeah? Flyers for what?”

“There was a story in our neighborhood paper about a family that had let their dog starve to death.”

“What?!” Starsky and Hutch asked in unison.

“Yeah, it was really awful. Some father brought home a dog for his kids, because they’d been begging him for a dog. I think they were eight and ten. He told them they’d have to take care of it. Of course, they said they would, but when he had to keep telling them to feed it, he decided to do some ‘tough love’, and told them, ‘I’m not going to tell you again.’ So, they still didn’t feed the dog, and the mother was out of town, because her mother was in the hospital. So, the dog eventually died of starvation.”

“That’s sick!” Starsky declared.

“I know,” Mandy said. “It was such an outrageous thing. And, worse, the guy didn’t have any remorse, and saw all the uproar as people trying to tell him how to raise his kids.”

“Like the dog didn’t matter?” Hutch asked on a high note.

“Yes. So, anyway, Millie wanted to pass out flyers to make people aware of animal abuse that goes on right in their very neighborhood. And I was totally on board with that, and since I used to work at a marketing firm before I had my tech writing job, I helped her make the flyers, and got a picture of a dead dog with its ribs sticking out, from a local vet. So, last weekend, we spent a couple of days passing out the flyers to people on the sidewalk, encouraging people to call the police if they saw an animal being abused, and asking for donations that we submitted to a local rescue. Most people were outraged at what had happened, so they would at least give us a few coins.”

“Man, that’s unbelievable,” Starsky said with disgust, “that somebody would let an animal starve death, especially for such a stupid reason.”

“Yeah. And, you know, animal cruelty is a misdemeanor, so he’s just going to get a slap on the wrist.”

“That doesn’t seem right,” Hutch said.

“So, anyway,” Mandy said, “it was nice to spend some time together, after we’d sort of had that blowup after she came out to the track. It was just me and her, since the animal rights group she normally hangs with weren’t interested in spending time on a situation where the dog was already dead.”

With satisfaction, Starsky said, “See, I told ya you guys would work it out.”

“Yeah, but she’s as gungho as ever,” Mandy went on. “This week, it’s population control. We were driving to the store a few days ago, and she was all outraged when we saw a family of eight walking down the street. According to her, it’s completely irresponsible for parents to have six children.”

Feeling reasonable, Hutch asked, “How did you know all those kids were all siblings, and not just relatives’ kids or something?”

“Exactly, we didn’t know the circumstances. But she started going on and on about how people are so inconsiderate of the Earth and how they don’t care that they’re destroying it. I asked her, ‘Do you want me to drop you off right next to them, so you look down your nose at them, from your holier-than-thou podium, and lecture them about how you disapprove of their family?’ She said it’s too late now. All those kids are already here.”

With amusement, Hutch said, “I guess you can’t fault her dedication.”

“I pointed out to her that people have been predicting the end of the world for as long as her and I both have been alive, and well before then. Yet, we’re still here. So, why waste your life assuming the worst?”

Starsky wondered, “Does Millie have anything else going on in her life, like a boyfriend?”

“The guy that runs the animal rights group she’s a member of, Todd, I thought he was sort of her boyfriend once. He’s the one who got her into all this activist stuff. But I think they’re just friends now. Thankfully.”

Hutch glanced in his rear view mirror. “Why do you say thankfully?”

“He sort of gives me the creeps. It’s like he’s always seething with anger.”

“Toward Millie?” Starsky asked worriedly.

“No, not toward anyone in the group. It’s just that if he starts talking about sled dogs in Alaska, or trees in endangered forests, he almost starts shaking with anger, and his hands curl into fists. They’re all like that, to some degree, though not to the extent that Todd is. I’ve heard them talking about things they do — like harassing people at parks who are walking their dogs, because they’re using a choke-chain or whatever. To me, it doesn’t sound like the group has done one single thing to help animals or the Earth, but mostly all they do is criticize human beings. When I mentioned it once to Millie, like how is abusing human beings any more noble than abusing animals, and she said the philosophy of the group is to ‘fight fire with fire’.”

“Man,” Starsky said, looking worriedly at Hutch.

“You want to know the truth,” Mandy said, “I don’t see it as any different than what the Ku Klux Klan does. You pick your target — all the people that you feel are beneath you, and that you don’t approve of — and your goal is to terrorize them, so, ideally, they’ll just up and go away, leaving behind a purified, pristine Earth.”

With concern, Hutch said, “One of these days, Todd’s group going to harass the wrong person, who’s going to be pull out a gun, and somebody is going to get shot.”

“No kidding,” Starsky agreed.

Mandy explained, “I think they pick more on the meek, who aren’t likely to defend themselves. They aren’t going to walk up to a cop with German Shepherd, and tell the cop how awful it is that he’s using the dog for a job that the dog never agreed to.”

Starsky threw up his hands. “How can anyone know that the dog doesn’t agree? Besides, if an animal is good at what he’s being trained for, then isn’t that a form of agreement? Surely, not all dogs that are trained to be police dogs make the cut. So, the ones that aren’t that good at it, they’ve ‘spoken’ they’re disagreement by being inept. Right?”

“You don’t need to convince me,” Mandy replied levelly.

Starsky relaxed back in his seat. “Sorry.”

Hutch considered Starsky’s words as the LeBaron pulled up to the gate at the barn area of Hollywood Park. He rolled down his window just long enough to display his owner’s license, and the guard waved them through. As Hutch drove slowly, looking for Mike Hawkins’ barn, he said, “If that’s the yardstick being used, Starsk, I hope Danny really, really likes his job.”

Starsky said, “Yeah, me, too. Darla certainly did.”

“I think we need to pin Mike down on just where he thinks Danny fits in, in terms of ability.”

After emerging from the car, the first thing they did was find Danny in the long row of stalls, and spend some time petting his neck and head, and feeding him carrots that Mandy had brought.

As Mike Hawkins approached, Starsky asked, “So, he’s already had his gallop today?”

“Yep, his gallop and his bath.”

Hutch asked, “How’s he doing?”

“He’s going to get his next workout on Tuesday. As I think I already told you, I’m going to have another horse in front of him, so he has someone to run at. That might bring out more competitiveness in him.”

Glumly, Starsky said, “So, he’s not doing all that great, ability wise?”

Hawkins rested his hands on the back pockets of his jeans. “He’s training fine. No bad habits. But if you’re asking if he’s like his mom,” he firmly shook his head, “definitely not.” After a pause, he added, “I have to keep reminding myself that you guys were spoiled rotten by having a horse like Darla as your first racehorse. Many people own racehorses for decades, and never have one like her.”

Hutch shifted with discomfort. “So, you’re saying that we’ve got forty grand or so invested in a big pet?”

Hawkins grinned. “Oh, I think he can make a bit of a dent into your investment. Which is better than some other horses I’ve had, that have cost their owners well into six figures, and still don’t amount to much as racehorses. Danny’s biggest asset is that he’s got good bone. I think he’ll be able to make it through his two year old season without bucking his shins, especially since he doesn’t have the type of temperament that makes him want to run faster than he’s ready for.”

Molly asked, “Is that a good thing?”

Hawkins shrugged. “Yes and no. Good for keeping him sound, not necessarily so good for having a competitive spirit.” He reached to stroke Danny’s face. “He wants to be everybody’s buddy. Not exactly the type of attitude that’s going to fight to be in front.”

Starsky asked, “So, what do you do about that?”

“A little training, like I have planned for Tuesday, might make a difference. Give him an opportunity to pass another horse, whose rider will have instructions to let him pass, and hopefully that’ll boost his confidence that he can dominate another horse. But the most important thing is to put him in races with horses that are on his same speed level.”

Hutch furrowed his brow. “Don’t most horses start in maiden races, since they’re for horses that have never won?”

“Yes, but there’s different levels of maiden races. Darla started in a maiden special weight, which is a fancy term for maiden-allowance. In other words, it’s not a claiming race, and horses that hope to be in future stakes races start there. Then there’s maiden claiming levels, and horses have different levels of ability, depending on the claiming price.”

Mandy said, “I keep seeing claiming races listed in the Racing Form and program, but I don’t really understand what they are.”

Worriedly, Starsky asked, “Isn’t that a race where somebody can buy any of the horses in the race?”

Hawkins hesitated, and then said, “Why don’t you guys come over here and grab some food and something to drink, and I’ll get my wife to talk to you, since she explains it better than me.”

As they walked, Hutch asked, “Are you saying you want to start Danny in a claiming race?”

“A maiden claimer, definitely.”

Starsky exclaimed, “But then somebody could buy him!”

They stopped in front of a table with a white linen cloth, that had a sheet cake with a few pieces missing, a veggie plate, and some egg and sausage sandwiches kept on a burner. “Help yourself,” Hawkins said. He called to the barn office, “Stella!” His wife stuck her head out, and he pointed to his visitors, “Explain claiming.”

As they filled their plates, Hutch said, “Looks like you’ve already had quite a few people.”

“Yes, there was a bit of a crowd for the morning workouts. Plus, some of the other trainers have been dropping by.”

They all seated themselves in the lawn chairs placed near the table.

Stella poured herself a cup of orange juice, and then took a chair between Starsky and Mandy. “Okay. A claiming race is a race where all the horses are technically for sale, for the claiming price, which is different from the purse of the race.” She shifted to pull a rolled up program from her back pocket, and then opened it. “Like, the first race today is a maiden claimer for 4yos and older. The claiming price is $12,500, and the purse is $16,000. So, all those horses in the race are technically available for sell for $12,500. But chances are, none will be claimed, because nobody needs another mouth to feed, especially if it’s a horse competing in one of the lowest quality races on the ground.”

Mandy asked, “Wouldn’t somebody want to claim the winner?”

“Nobody knows who the winner is going to be, because you put in a claim for the horse — to buy it — before the race starts.”


“Yeah. So, if a trainer is looking for a horse to claim from this race — because he has an owner with $12,500 to spend — then he’d look at all the horses’ past races in the Racing Form, and if he likes one, then he’ll look at the horse in the paddock before the race, to see if the horse looks like he’s got some physical problems — like bad legs, or had a prior bowed tendon — at least, as much as he can tell. If the horse has bandages on his legs, you can’t see much. Like any sport, there’s all kinds of head games that go on with claiming, with people trying to make the horse look like a good buy, because they hope somebody claims it, or they try to make the horse look worse, if they’re hoping it doesn’t get claimed. And then, if the trainer decides the horse is worth taking a chance on, he fills out a little slip called a Claim Slip — before the race starts — and drops in into a Claim Box, which are located in various places throughout the grandstand. Once the race starts, the horse is considered the property of anyone who claimed it. But the prior owner gets the credit of the win and the purse money the horse earned. Plus, the money for the sale — claiming — price. As soon as the race is over, the horse goes to the barn of the trainer that claimed it.”

Hutch asked, “But what if more than one person claims the horse?”

“Then the racing office has those trainers draw lots, and it’s just luck of the draw, whoever gets the horse. That rarely happens. Most horses in North America race their entire careers in claiming races and are never claimed. Nobody wants them badly enough to spend money for them. They’re just horses. When people claim a horse, it’s usually because they think the horse is better than the price he got claimed for — in other words, they can move him up in class and be successful. So, that means they think the current barn isn’t maximizing the horse’s potential. We almost never have horses claimed from us, which is a sign of respect from the other trainers. They know that we know what we’re doing, and they’re not going to be able to improve on what we’ve done with the horse.”

Starsky asked, “But why do they even have claiming races? Seems like most of the races, on most days, are claiming races.”

Stella nodded. “Something like three-quarters of the races in this country are claiming races. But the prices can range from $1500 for really bad horses at a third rate track, up to $100,000 for a claiming race with borderline stakes horses in New York. Here in southern Cal, $65,000 is usually the highest level claiming price, and those horses often also run in allowance races, and sometimes even stakes. That’s a lot of money for somebody to risk spending, when they don’t know the horse.” She shrugged. “So, it’s a way of keeping similar quality horses in the same race, so everybody has a chance. If you have a horse that can get second and thirds in a $25,000 claiming race, he’ll probably win a $10,000 claiming race, but there’s also a high chance that somebody will claim him, because they know he can be competitive at a higher price. But if you take that same horse and run him in, say, a $45,000 claiming race, he’s probably going to get clobbered.”

Hutch looked over at Hawkins. “So, what price are you wanting to start Danny at?”

“The cheapest on this circuit, for a maiden claimer, is a $14,000 claiming race, and that’s where Danny needs to go.”

Starsky pulled his egg sandwich from his mouth. “I don’t think I want to risk somebody claiming him. I mean, even if it’s not going to be very good, I don’t think I could bear the thought of somebody buying him and winning some races with him.” He looked at Hutch with distress.

Hawkins countered, “There’s no reason for anyone to want him.”

“But he has a great pedigree!”

“That only matters if he has a future as a breeding horse. He’s not anywhere in the ballpark of stallion material, and that’s also why I want to geld him.”

Hutch said, “Starsk and I agreed to at least give him one start before gelding him.”

Starsky protested, “Yeah, and why can’t we at least see how he does in a regular maiden race, before putting him in a claiming race?”

Hawkins stood before them and crossed his arms. “Look, I’ll make the same deal with you as I do my other owners, who think they own a horse that everyone else wants. I’ll put him in a maiden special weight race, so you won’t have to worry about him being claimed. If he gets beat at least six lengths, without any major excuses, he goes into a maiden claimer his next start — no arguments — and you agree to not question my choice of race in the future.”

Hutch glumly looked over at Starsky, and then Mandy. “Yeah, I think that’s fair.”

Mandy asked, “So, when do you think he’ll be ready to race?”

“Assuming he comes out of Tuesday’s work fine, he’ll need one more to have the required three published workouts, and that’ll happen in another twelve days or so. And then we’ll enter him. There’s many dozens of youngsters trying to get into the maiden races this time of year, so it’s a matter of when he draws in. We’re likely looking at the second or third week of June.”

After dropping off Mandy, Starsky and Hutch drove home. They found a note from Nick on the kitchen table.

Thanks, guys. I’m going back home, even if Lan doesn’t seem eager to have me back right now. I want to figure our situation out, even if she doesn’t.

Hutch sighed, “Well, I guess that’s good news.”

“I sure hope,” Starsky said, “that Lanette is going to be willing to give a little. How many husbands do you know who would be okay with their wives talking to another man on a regular basis?”

Hutch waved a hand. “I don’t want to take sides.” Then, he watched as Starsky sat down with a can of root beer. “How are you doing?”

“You mean about Danny?”

“That, too, but I meant physically.”

“I feel better.” Starsky loosely ran his hand along his side. “I don’t feel it as much.”

Hutch poured himself a glass of lemonade. “You still feeling bored?”

Starsky thought a minute, and then replied, “No. I’m thinking about Amanda’s case too much to be bored. But if we don’t get any leads from those three teachers at the college, I don’t know what we’re going to do.”


Starsky said, “I am bummed about Danny, though. I mean, it’s been three years since Darla was first bred to Flying Paster. And after all this time, to have all the indications be that he’s not going to amount to much.”

“Still, he can race. A lot of Thoroughbreds never actually get to the point of running in a race. And Mandy still seems glad that she’s involved.”

“Yeah, that’s a good thing, I guess.”

Hutch muttered, “At this point, I’ll be happy for any bit of purse money he can earn. We’re only a few months away from it being time for Bri to go to the training farm, and her expenses are going to go way up.”

Starsky hung up his desk phone, and said over his shoulder to Hutch, “That eliminates Martin Thames. He was at a seminar the night Amanda disappeared.” He looked at the brochure where Skip Hallman had crossed out college faculty members that couldn’t have been the man who was helping Amanda with her car. “That leaves Lee Christopher, the thirty-eight-ear-old business communicators instructor. He lives alone and says he would have been watching TV that night, so we can’t eliminate him. Plus, he smokes, but he said he smokes Salem cigarettes.”

Hutch said, “That could still be him, if the Winston cigarette pack had been left in the car by one of Amanda’s friends.”

“Yeah. What do you want to do next? I didn’t get any funny feelings from Christopher when we interviewed him.”

“I know, but he’s all we got.” Hutch was thoughtful. “We need to ask Cathy if she ever met any of Amanda’s instructors and, if so, see if she recalls Lee Christopher.”

Starsky considered, “You know, even if the person who took Amanda worked at the community college, it doesn’t necessarily mean it was one of her instructors. It could be someone who just saw her around school.”

“Yeah, but the brochure has all the faculty in it, and Hallman saw all the photos.”

“That’s true.” Starsky shifted in his chair. “Do you think we should call Cathy first, or just drop by?”

Hutch rose. “Let’s grab some lunch and drop by her house.”

“Cathy’s home,” Hutch said, as Starsky brought the Corvette to a halt at the curb, behind an unfamiliar green Pontiac. The main door of the house was open, allowing the spring air in through the screen door.

They got out and started up the sidewalk. A fiftyish man with short hair emerged from the screen door, saying behind him, “I’ve got to smoke.” He inserted a cigarette into his mouth. Then “Hi, fellas. I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m guessing you’re the private detectives.”

Hutch held out his hand. “Yes. Ken Hutchinson.”

As Starsky held out his hand, Cathy came to the door. “I thought I heard another car.” She came out. “This is Jim Feller, the kind man who is paying for your services.”

“Ah,” Starsky said. “Nice to meet you.”

“That’s so generous of you,” Hutch told Jim. And then to Cathy, “We just have a couple of quick questions to ask you about.”

“Certainly, come in.”

“I’m going to smoke this cigarette,” Jim said, leaning against the railing of the porch.

As Hutch entered the house behind Cathy, and held the door open for Starsky, he saw Jim give a firm tilt of his head at Starsky, so Starsky said, “Go ahead. I’m going to see if Jim knows anything that can help us.”

Hutch sat in an easy chair, opposite Cathy, and wondered if Jim was more than just a friend and benefactor to Cathy.

He couldn’t catch anything specific being said on the porch, so turned his full attention to Cathy. “I was wondering if you might have ever met any of Amanda’s teachers at the college. Such as when you might have picked her up after classes, when her car wasn’t working.”

Cathy was thoughtful. “I don’t think I was ever formally introduced to anyone. I can remember her pointing at various people, a time or two. Like, a friend from class, or maybe an instructor. But she would just point to them, from among those walking around the campus.”

Though it sounded like a longshot, Hutch held open the college brochure to the faculty page. “For the photos of male faculty members that are circled but not crossed off, is there any chance that you recognize any of these?” He handed her the brochure.

Cathy gazed at the photos, shaking her head. “I just never noticed anybody there, except some fellow classmates of Cathy, that were all female. A couple of them came over to the house at various times.”

“Take your time. Give your memory a chance to recall.”

She looked at the photos for a few moments more. Then she shook her head and handed it back, “I’m sorry. I don’t recognize anybody.” Then her voice choked. “Amanda isn’t going to be found, is she?”

“Don’t give up hope,” Hutch pleaded. “We haven’t.”

Cathy gestured to the front patio. “I know Jim’s money isn’t going to last forever.”

Hutch felt noble, as he assured, “If we feel we’re close to finding who it is, we aren’t going to abandon it. And the money is going to last a few weeks more, at least.”

There was an awkward silence as Cathy brushed at her eyes. To fill it, Hutch gently said, “Jim seems like a very nice man, to have put up the money for us.”

“Yes. Ever since my husband died, he’s done some nice things, such as coming over to fix the sink, or patch up the roof, things like that. He’s here now to fix the staircase to the basement.”

Hutch decided to be bold. “Sounds like he might be sweet on you.”

She laughed girlishly. “I suppose. I even thought, for a while, that things might get serious between us, but then Amanda disappeared.”

“At least, you won’t ever need to question how much he cares.”

“No. Definitely not.”

The conversation on the patio was winding down and Hutch stood. “Know that this case is getting our full attention. Don’t give up hope.”

She forced a smile, and followed him to the door. “Thank you.”

Hutch stepped out onto the patio to see Starsky vigorously shaking Jim’s hand. “Thanks so much. Nice to finally meet you.”

Jim threw his cigarette butt aside. “Sure thing.” He rubbed his hands together as he turned toward Cathy. “Okay, let me get started on those stairs.”

Starsky was walking briskly ahead of Hutch, leading the way to the Corvette, which gave Hutch hope that he’d gotten some good information from Jim, though it was puzzling that whatever new information there might be hadn’t been revealed during an earlier interview.

Once they were in the car, Starsky started the motor and pulled away from the curb. Hutch asked, “What did you find out?”

“You won’t believe it,” Starsky said, mouth in a firm line, as he focused on making turns out of the neighborhood.

“Try me.”

“For starters, the reason Jim wanted to stay outside to talk to me is because he was very firm that the fifteen thousand he paid us was all the money he was going to pay.”


“Think about it, Hutch.” Starsky turned onto a highway in the opposite direction from where they’d come. “As soon as Amanda goes missing, and the cops say they can’t do anything, Jim comes up with fifteen grand of his own money. Doesn’t wait to try to collect donations from friends and neighbors or anything like that. Just makes it clear, right off the bat, that he’s a good guy who wants Amanda to be found, and he’s willing to pay for it. But now, he’s very firm that there’s going to be no more money. Like, it’s a foregone conclusion that paying us any additional will be a waste.”

While Hutch considered the ramifications of that, Starsky went on, “And… he smokes Winstons. And… he likes working on cars.”

“He does?”

“Yep. Started talking about my Corvette, and he’s telling me that he always loved cars and used to work in an auto shop. He inherited money from a wealthy grandmother, and built up his wealth, over time, with good investments. So, he’s retired, and is a member of the church he and Cathy go to, and plays bridge, and tinkers with cars.”

Hutch let that sink in. “So, you’re thinking he’s so adamant that he’s not going to pay us any more money, because… he knows that Amanda isn’t ever going to be found?”

“Yep. He puts up the money right away, which automatically turns suspicion away from him. But that’s all he’s willing to pay for.” Starsky looked over at him. “Did you get a good look at him, Hutch?”

Hutch blinked, as realization dawned. “He matches Hallman’s description of the man that was helping Amanda with her car. Except I’d say he’s more fiftyish than fortyish.”

“Yes, but close enough. And he knew Amanda, so she was comfortable with him.”

Hutch whispered, “But why?”

“That’s what we can hopefully find out.”

Hutch considered his conversation with Cathy. “I don’t think he’s banging Cathy, but she told me that he’s been helping her out around the house and stuff, since her husband died. I wonder if he wanted Amanda out of the way. Maybe Amanda really wasn’t that fond of him, at least not as a new romance for her mother.”

“Or maybe he’s obsessed enough with Cathy that he was looking for a way to be her hero, so to speak, and got rid of Amanda, just so he could be the knight in shining armor that comes to Cathy’s rescue, paying so much for our services.”

Flatly, Hutch said, “Or, maybe he’s just a pervert that wanted something young and pretty for himself, and playing Cathy was a way to get to Amanda.” He sighed. “God, if it is him, that’s going to devastate Cathy.”


Abruptly, Hutch asked, “Where are we going?”

“I started asking him, real casual, if he lived near the neighborhood. And he starts telling me about this house he has, that sits on five acres, and there’s a little lake in the back. It’s a neighborhood with a few houses along the lake. He was sort of bragging about it, that he could afford to live in a place like that. So, I’m going ‘wow’ and asking him where it is. He said it’s a neighborhood called Lakeland Estates.” Starsky gestured ahead. “Off of 52nd. I want to hurry and get over there to check it out, before he gets home.”

“He was at Cathy’s to work on her stairs. So, he’ll probably be there a while.”


Ten minutes later, Starsky made a right turn, and there was a narrow dirt road with a sign that announced Lakeland Estates.

Hutch said, “I don’t suppose he gave you an exact address.”

“Nope. I just figure that there might be some old cars around.”

They drove slowly, seeing the lake, with a half dozen houses spread around it. Trees were sparse in the area. They turned a corner, and Starsky gasped.

Hutch leaned forward in his seat. The next house had a covered driveway, with three older cars in it.

“Brown Mercury,” Starsky said excitedly. “And it’s the last car in the driveway, so it was the last one driven.”

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Hutch muttered. “He must have driven Amanda away from the parking lot in that car.”

“But what did he do with her?”

“Doesn’t look like anyone is around. Let’s check it out.”

Starsky pulled up the lane leading to the house. “If anyone notices us snooping, we were here because I thought Jim’s description of the neighborhood sounded really cool, and we’ve been thinking about moving, so we wanted to check it out.”

“Sounds good.”

The house was a one story square shape, and they stopped near the driveway and got out.

With regret, Starsky noted, “There isn’t a basement, and sound would carry far in a place like this. It’s unlikely that Amanda is being help captive here.”

“Surely, if he killed her, he wouldn’t have dumped her in the lake. That would be too risky, to dump her somewhere so close to his house.”

Starsky glanced around. “And too risky to bury her somewhere in his yard. There isn’t much cover to hide what he was doing from the neighbors.”

As they approached the Mercury, Hutch said, “If he’d been planning for a while to do away with her, he surely had a place already figured out where he was going to get rid of the body.” He tried the door of the passenger side, and it opened.

They investigated the car, and then popped the trunk.

“Nothing,” Starsky finally concluded.

“If he had this all planned out ahead of time, he likely took Amanda to where he intended to dispose of her body, and killed her there, so there wouldn’t be any evidence.” Hutch looked longingly at the house.

Starsky headed that way. “Let’s see if we can see anything through the windows.”

Most of the curtains were pulled back. There were thick hardwood floors. The house looked well lived in.

Hutch stated, “Wish we could check the inside.”

Starsky looked around at the other houses. “There’s a door by the carport. Don’t think anyone will see us go in, if it isn’t locked.”

They moved to that side. Starsky tried the handle, which rotated easily, and then looked at Hutch.

Hutch met his eye, fully aware that they had no right to enter. “If he ever knows that we were here, and he wasn’t involved, he would surely agree with us checking out every possible lead to find Amanda.”

Starsky pushed the door open, which creaked as it swung back.

They split up and moved quickly.

After a few minutes, Starsky commanded, “Get the camera out of my car. It’s under the blanket in the back.”

Hutch glanced past to pantry he was investigating, to see Starsky standing at the doorway to the bedroom. Though he was eager to know what Starsky had found, he quickly moved to the door where they had entered, and went out to the Corvette. He found Starsky’s 35mm camera and brought it back to the house.

Starsky had entered the bedroom, and was looking down at a bedside table.

Hutch handed him the camera. “What is it?”

Starsky stepped back, while preparing the camera. “Catalog from Ralston Community College, with some class schedules sticking up.” Starsky took a few pictures of the catalog, the flash going off each time. “Let’s check it out, but be careful not to move anything.”

Hutch flipped up the pages so they could see the paper with a time and day grid, and various course names written in, in pencil.

Starsky put his camera to his eye. “That’s Amanda’s schedule. I recognize the course names and times, from talking with various classmates.”

Hutch looked around the bedroom. “Why would he just keep that, and nothing else?” He opened a closet, and men’s shirts and sweaters were on the hangers.

“Maybe as a trophy? Did you find anything interesting?”


“Then this is the only thing that is any sign of Amanda.”

They left the house. As they moved back to the Corvette, Hutch studied the surrounding yard, trying to spot any signs of a recently moved dirt, though he knew it highly unlikely that Jim Feller would bury Amanda here.

There wasn’t anything suspicious.

They didn’t speak until exiting past the sign that announced Lakeland Estates. Mouth in a grim line, Starsky said, “As I see it, we’ve got three choices. We tell Cathy our evidence, and try to get her to convince Jim to confess. Or we try to get Jim to confess. Or, we shut down our investigation and turn everything we have over to the cops, and hope they can find more evidence against Jim.”

Hutch sighed. “I can’t imagine that they’d be motivated to pursue it, without there being a body. Plus, your pictures of the catalog are inadmissible, since we can’t admit to how we obtained them.”

After a long moment, Starsky noted, “You know Cathy better than I do. How receptive do you think she would be to hearing us out, that we think Jim is involved?”

“That’s a tough one to predict. Once Jim knows we’re on to him, he could convince Cathy how wrong we are, and he’ll get rid of the catalog, and could take other precautions, such as moving the body, if he’s worried about it being found. Assuming it’s not at the bottom of a lake, of course. Or, he could skip town. It’s a big risk, tipping him off.”

Starsky mused, “You know what would be funny?”


“If Cathy already had some suspicions about Jim.”

Hutch furrowed his brow. “But why wouldn’t she tell us?”

“Well, it’s not her money that’s being spent on the investigation, so she doesn’t care how much time we waste on it. You said that when you first met her, she was already fearing the worst, so she’s probably already resigned to the idea that Amanda is dead. And if she’s lost her daughter, after losing her husband, Jim is all she’s got.”

Hutch rubbed at his temple. “But why would Jim kill Amanda? If, perhaps, he didn’t get along with her, why not simply suggest that she get her own place? Hell, he has the money to pay for it.”

“As we’ve discussed before, maybe he simply felt that Cathy was too attached to Amanda — however much Amanda might have complained to her friends about her mother being too over-bearing — and maybe he was obsessed with Cathy and wants her all for himself.”

After a few thoughtful moments, Hutch said, “Let’s cause Jim to make a mistake. Let’s develop the photographs of the Ralston catalog, and mail them to him, no return address. Let’s just include a typed note that says something like, I know you killed Amanda. That’ll rattle him — that somebody knows, but he’ll no idea who that somebody is. Then, let’s get some of our guys to start tailing him. We can’t do it, because he’ll probably recognize us. But maybe he’ll get nervous and want to move the body, or something like that. Or, maybe just check on it — make sure it’s still wherever he put it. At the very least, even if we can’t prove anything about Jim’s involvement, it’ll give Cathy some peace if we can find Amanda.”

It was a moment before Starsky responded. “You know what’s really great about that plan? Is if Jim informs us about the pictures being mailed to him. If he didn’t have anything to do with Amanda’s disappearance, he’ll want to tell us right away that somebody else knows about her, and that somebody needs to be found.”

Hutch nodded. “And if he stays silent about it, then we’ll know for sure it was him who killed her.”

“You know, he could figure out pretty quickly that it’s us who sent the pictures. He’ll likely remember that I was asking him where he lived, and all that. Obviously, whoever took those pictures would have been inside his house.”

“Doesn’t really matter if he suspects us, does it? The main thing is that he gets rattled.”

When Hutch returned to the office, after mailing the photographs and typed note to Jim Feller, he smiled at two-year-old Melinda, who had a head of thick curly blonde hair, as she bounded from one waiting area chair to another, and then threw some magazines from a table to the floor.

“Don’t do that,” Lois scolded with affection, rushing to her. As she grabbed Melinda’s hand, she said to Hutch, “Your sister is using the phone in your office.”

Melinda then looked up and squealed, “Uncle Ken!”

Hutch scooped her up and gave her a quick kiss. “Hi, sweetheart.” He carefully set her back on her feet. “Stay here with Lois, while I see what your mom is up to.”

Hutch moved past Lois’s desk, turned down the brief hall on the right, and then slowed upon seeing the closed door of his office. Starsky was out on appointments, so he knew that Lannie was inside alone. He wondered if she were talking to Nick, as he hadn’t heard any further news of how things were going between the two.

Hutch knocked gently on the door. It opened a moment later, as Lannie stood at Starsky’s phone with the receiver to her ear. She gave him a quick smile, while saying into the receiver, “I need to get off the phone and take Melinda to the dentist. We’ll drop by and see you and Clark afterward.”

That meant she was taking to their mother, Lorraine.

A moment later, Lannie hung up the phone. “I just wanted to stop by for a moment, in case Nick was here.”

Worriedly, Hutch asked, “He hasn’t been home?”

Her mouth corner twitched “Sort of.”

Hutch wasn’t sure what that meant, but he didn’t feel it was his place to ask questions about their marital problems. Still, he couldn’t help but point out, “He loves you very much.”

She looked away and crossed her arms.

He added, “Whatever is going on between you two, I’m sure you’ll work it out. I know he won’t give up on you.”

She dropped her arms as she reached for her purse. “Well, he’s going to have to learn that I’m not going to eliminate fifty percent of the population from my life, just because I’m married.”

Though the back of his mind warned don’t get involved, Hutch asked, “Do you really think any man, who loves his wife, would be all right with her having conversations with another man on a regular basis?”

Firmly, she said, “I don’t care what other people do. I’m not interested in running my life, or Melinda’s, based upon what other people think is appropriate.” She scoffed, “Hell, you ought to appreciate that as much as anybody. You wouldn’t give up David, just because some people — lots of people — think you two are in a sinful relationship.”

As she placed her purse over her shoulder, Hutch quickly said, “I wouldn’t keep doing something that upset David. The fact that something upset him would be reason enough to not keep doing it. I love him that much.” He realized that his voice held the hint of a challenge.

She waved a hand, and her tone held a sarcastic edge. “Yes, I know. You guys are perfect together. May the rest of us reach that state of perfection.” She glanced at her watch. “I’ve got to get Melinda to the dentist.”

Hutch sighed as he watched her march out the door. Damn.

The next evening, Hutch was cleaning out the crockpot, which had cooked their pot roast dinner, while Starsky was going through the mail on the table, and tossing out envelopes that were obviously junk.

Starsky muttered, “Jim Feller may have gotten our envelope today.”

“Maybe,” Hutch said. “But if not, surely tomorrow.”

“That’s going to be tough, wondering when he might get it. And open it.”

“Yeah, I suppose he could be the type of person that lets his mail build up for a few weeks, before he opens it.”

“Well, at least we’ve got Carlos and a couple of other guys scheduled to tail him around the clock.”

The door bell rang.

Hutch glanced at the stove clock, which read 8:40 PM. “Wonder who that could be.” He moved to the front door.

Starsky offered, “Maybe the paper boy to collect his fee?”

Hutch flipped on the porch light and opened the door. It was a moment before he recognized the brunette woman standing there, with her head down and shoulders hunched, as she held a wad of tissues in her hands. “Mandy?”

Her voice broke as she looked up at him. She sobbed, “My cousin Millie is dead!”

“What?” Hutch gasped, opening the screen door. “Starsky!”

He put his arm around Mandy’s shoulders, guiding her inside. “What happened?” To Starsky, he said, “Millie’s dead.” He thought of what Mandy had said about Todd, the leader of the local animal activist group, and how he was prone to intense anger.

“What?” Starsky demanded, while helping Hutch guide Mandy to a kitchen chair. “Your cousin Millie?”

Mandy pressed tissues against her red eyes, and then drew a deep breath, as she lowered her hands. “She killed herself.”

Hutch couldn’t equate that sentence with the gangly, meek person he’d met the one time when Mandy had brought her to the barn area of the track. Damn.

Mandy’s shoulders shook as she barely squeaked out, “It’s my fault.” She sobbed into the tissues.

Double damn.

While Hutch reached to a cupboard for a glass to fill with lemonade, Starsky plopped down into a kitchen chair next to Mandy, and turned to face her. He reached to squeeze her hands, and calmly said, “Tell us what happened.”

“Here’s some lemonade,” Hutch said, placing a glass next to her.

Mandy reached for it, and gulped down a few swallows.

Hutch exchanged a worried, disbelieving glance with Starsky. He then reached for a box of tissues near the phone, and placed them next to Mandy.

“Thanks,” Mandy said in a small voice, putting the glass down. She drew a deep breath, and then said, “Her roommate found her this afternoon. She’d swallowed pills. She was already pronounced dead when she arrived at the hospital.” Mandy gasped for breath a couple of times. “She’d had all this literature on population control, on the table near where she’d been found in the living room. And she’d left a note that just said, ‘My small part to help the planet.’”

“Oh, my God,” Starsky said. “That’s crazy. That’s nuts.”

Hutch didn’t think those words even began to cover what Millie had done — and why. “How can that be your fault?”

Mandy gestured with a hand. “I didn’t listen to her. Whenever she’d go on and on about stuff like that — the pollution, animal cruelty, over-population — I was so busy coming up with counter-arguments, that I never—” she sobbed again, “I never listened to her. You know?” she looked up at them with a swollen, tear-stained face. “I never really listened. I just argued. And now it’s too late.” She grabbed tissues from the box and sobbed into them.

Hutch felt that his heart was breaking. “Ah, honey.” He placed his hand on her back. “You got to know that there was a whole lot more going on with her than just needing somebody to hear her.”

Starsky’s face wore an expression of distress, as Mandy gathered her voice to explain, “That’s just it. I never knew what was going on inside her, because I wasn’t listening to what she was really trying to say.”

“What do you think she was trying to say?” Starsky asked.

Mandy opened her hands. “I don’t know. But,” she looked at Starsky, “I remember you saying that maybe she felt she was left behind, because I had so much more success in my life, and she was trying to… find herself, I guess… and — “

Starsky squeezed her hands. “That’s not your fault,” he said firmly. “Her problems aren’t your doing.”

Hutch brought another chair close to Mandy, and sat in it. After she seemed to have cried herself out, he asked, “What about the rest of the family?”

She gazed at a tissue, as she slowly tore it into strips. “Her father is threatening to find Todd and shoot him, because he blames him for getting her into all this activism stuff.”

Worriedly, Hutch asked, “Do you think he’d really do that?”

Mandy shook her head. “No. Nobody in my family owns a gun. And Millie’s mother is trying to calm him down. And my Dad is wanting to write letters to all the population control places and tell them that they’re full of shit, and all that.” She looked up at them. “But I know this isn’t their fault. I know they don’t promote suicide. And as much as I detest Todd, I know he didn’t make her do this. I’m sure he and the others in their group are as shocked as anybody.”

Gently, Hutch said, “You didn’t make her do it, either.”

Mandy swallowed thickly but didn’t reply.

“Did her note say anything else?” Starsky asked.

She shook her head. “No. Just that.”

Distressed, Starsky said, “I can’t believe that Millie would actually think that she was doing the world a favor.” And then, with a touch of anger, “And not care about all the grief she’s left behind.”

Mandy placed an elbow on the table, to rest her chin in her hand. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut for a long moment. Then she said, “Millie was always sort of the odd one in the family. Most everyone went to college, got married, had successful families or careers. She dropped out of college after a couple of years. Always struggled more than everyone else to get average grades. Just never seemed to take charge of her life. Never seemed to be going anywhere.”

Hutch realized, “And, like David mentioned before, that’s probably what prompted her to latch on to all the animal rights and Save the Earth stuff. It gave her a sense of purpose and belonging.”

Starsky countered, “But obviously not to that strong of a degree — or to the degree that she needed.”

Gently, Hutch asked, “Does your family know you’re here?”

“I said I needed to talk to some friends. I know me being there wasn’t helping anything, and listening to them all talk about who’s at fault. And I felt so bad — Millie was like a sister to me, and that I’d let her down. But I didn’t want to burden my family with my feelings, when they’ve got their own grief to deal with.”

Starsky said, “You’re welcome to stay here, if you’d like. We have a guest bedroom. But I’d think your family really needs you to be with them.”

“I know.” Mandy attempted a snort of humor. “My family isn’t a big emotional family. We’re more… straightforward, I guess. So, dealing with something like this… it’s really hit us out of the blue.”

“No kidding,” Starsky said.

Hutch moved to the kitchen table, feeling a strong need to help. He opened their address book and wrote down a number. He tore the note paper off the sheet and held it out to Mandy. “I know this is probably premature right now, but if you want to talk to professional — somebody who is completely non-judgmental and will listen — here’s the number to a therapist I know. She’s really good at what she does, and it’ll be completely confidential.”

Mandy took the paper and stuffed it in her purse. “Thanks. I might think about it.”

“We’re here, too,” Starsky said. “I’m glad you came by to tell us. I’m so sorry.” He squeezed her arm.

Voice choked, Mandy said, “I just keep thinking over recent conversations Millie and I have had. And I keep thinking, ‘If only I’d said this, or asked her that’.” Her voice broke. “It’s too late to try to help her. There’ll never be another chance. Ever.”

Firmly, Starsky reminded, “That’s her doing. She’s the one who didn’t allow any more chances. That’s on her.”

Hutch wondered if Millie had had any idea of what was wrong with her, why she felt so bad. Or, if she had truly believed that she was helping the Earth by ceasing to exist.

Mandy stayed with them a little while longer, and then decided she was ready to leave. They escorted her out to her car, and each gave her a bear hug before she got in. “We care about you,” they assured her, before she drove off.

After they were back inside, Hutch mechanically finished up with the dishes in the sink, while Starsky said, “Man. That’s unbelievable. She let all that Save the World shit get so into her head that she felt killing herself was the only way to save the world?””

Wearily, Hutch responded, “None of the Save the World organizations, that I’ve ever heard of, have ever promoted suicide. They aren’t the enemy.” He began to turn off lights.

“Well, sure,” Starsky countered, following him, “they don’t come right out and say that. But isn’t their over-riding message that human beings are terrible for the planet?”

Hutch started down the dark hall. “I’ve been a member of population control and environmental types of organizations before, and read articles about stuff like that in science journals. Their emphasis is all about family planning and reducing pollution, and things like that. Trying to get people to think ahead, so that the population doesn’t keep exploding and strain the resources of the planet, and to realize how our actions affect the Earth. It’s never been about getting rid of people who already exist.”

They entered the bedroom and headed for the master bath, where Hutch flipped on the light.

As they prepared for bed, Starsky asked, “But what about farmers?”

Hutch stood before the toilet and glanced at him. “What?”

“Don’t farmers need lots of children, to help with all the chores on the farm? Some population group thinks they’re going to tell a farmer how many kids he can have? And what about third world countries, where lots of babies die? Don’t those women need to have a lot of children, to insure that at least some survive to adulthood?”

Hutch moved to his sink. “Some would argue that if there wasn’t so much population in some areas, depleting the resources, the babies would be healthier and more of them would survive.” He began to brush his teeth.

Starsky went to the bedroom, and pulled off his shirt. Then he came back to the bathroom and declared, “I’m just saying that, if someone like Millie spends her days reading about how horrible it is that there’s too many people on the planet, how horrible it is that people are cruel to animals, how horrible it is that people create too much pollution and are depleting the forests…. Well, at some point, she’s gonna look in the mirror and go ‘Wait a minute, I’m one of those. I’m a human being, too. And since it’s so terrible that human beings exist, then it must be a terrible thing that I exist.”

Hutch spit out toothpaste. He took a moment to rinse his mouth, and then wiped his face with a towel. He moved out of the bathroom and began to undress. “That might be so, but it’s not the fault of all those various groups and organizations that she decided to kill herself.”

Starsky blinked at him. “Then what do you think caused Millie to kill herself?”

Hutch plopped down on the edge of the bed and pulled off his shoes. “I don’t know. None of us knows. She just leaves a one-sentence note…. Anything any of us decides, it’ll just be a guess. She’s not here to tell us exactly what it was that hurt so much.” Sadly, Hutch added, “She denied herself that opportunity.”

Starsky marched around the room. “I don’t believe for a second that Millie just up and decided that the world would be better off without her.”

“I guess I don’t think so, either. I’m sure she was in pain for a long time, and nobody knew it.”

Starsky said angrily, “That’s a hell of a way to deal with it.”

Hutch momentarily stood to push off his underwear. He made a point of looking Starsky in the eye. “Don’t tell me you’ve never been close to offing yourself. That you don’t know what it’s like to feel hopeless.” He got under the covers.

Starsky’s jaw firmed. Quietly, he said, “Yeah, I’ve had moments of pain that seemed unbearable. I suppose, one could say that one reason I didn’t blow my brains out is that I didn’t feel I deserved to be free of the pain.” He turned to look at Hutch, and shook his finger at him. “But the other reason — the main reason — was because I would never do that to you.”

“Exactly. But Millie obviously didn’t think anyone would care that much. Or, she didn’t care that anyone else would care. The pain was too great.”

Starsky disappeared into the bathroom and was heard brushing his teeth. After a few minutes, he switched off the bathroom light and returned to the bedroom. As he pulled off his lower clothes in darkness, he said, “I’m just saying that all these organizations and groups that are all about the bad things people do… they just ought to leave everyone the fuck alone. Stay out of everyone else’s business.”

Quietly, Hutch said, “This from a man who has handcuffed hundreds of people for doing the wrong thing.”

Starsky threw his clothes to floor. “That’s different!”

“Is it?”

Starsky moved around the end of the bed, to his side. “Yes. We were acting as an arm of the law. The law that society agreed to.” The bed shook as he forcefully crawled into it.

“Some of those laws were written decades ago — well before the people we handcuffed were even born. They didn’t exactly have a say in it.”

Starsky sat up in bed, looking down at Hutch, and demanded, “Who’s side are you on?”

Hutch sputtered, “I-I-I’m not a taking a side. It’s j-j-just that you try to make everything so simple. So black or white. Do you really think that the reasons for Millie’s suicide are simple?”

Starsky threw himself down on the mattress, causing the water bed to rock. “How can anything that’s all about human beings being bad, ever be good?” Abruptly, he turned on his side, facing Hutch. “Why did you join those organizations about population control and saving the Earth and such?”

“Because I cared about the future of the Earth. I wanted to be one of the good people who did all the right things — or, as many as I could fold into my life — and do right by the future of humanity.”

“Then, why aren’t you a member now?”

Hutch was surprised at the question, and at the answer that first came to mind. He tried to reject that answer, but couldn’t find one to replace it. In a near whisper, he confessed, “I got happy.”

Starsky gazed at him a long moment, and then said, with a triumphant smile, “Exactly.”

Yet, Hutch refused to believe it was, indeed, that simple. He rationalized, “I still care about the future of humanity, and all that. But I don’t want to spend my days feeling lousy about everything,” his voice choked, “when I can just be happy being with you.”

Starsky kissed him, and then snuggled up next to him, his head on Hutch’s shoulder.

Hutch squeezed Starsky against him. After a long silence, he said, “My next scheduled appointment with Judith is on Friday morning.” That was a few days away. “I was going to call her office tomorrow and cancel it, because I don’t really have anything new to discuss with her. But now I’d like to see her. Will you come with me? It’s about time you two finally meet each other, for starters.”

Hutch sensed hesitation, but then felt Starsky pat his stomach. “Sure, baby. Whatever you need.”

The next night, Hutch was startled awake by the ringing telephone. He reached for it, noting that the clock read 1:22 AM. “Hello?” He felt Starsky rouse next to him.

“Ken?” Said a familiar, quiet male voice.


“This is Carlos. Jim Feller left his house a couple of hours ago, and I followed him along Highway 16, to the woods.”

“Hang on. Let me get Starsky on the phone.” Hutch said over his shoulder. “It’s Carlos, and something’s up.”

Starsky threw the covers aside, and started down the hall.

Hutch told Carlos, “He’s getting on the other phone. Are you calling from your car?”


Hutch heard the phone pick up from the kitchen, and Starsky said, “I’m here.”

Carlos continued, “Jim Feller left his house tonight, and I followed him on Highway 16, to the 22 Mile marker, and he turned off. I had to keep going down Highway 16, because he was waiting to see me pass, when he turned into some sort of inlet or side road. So, I had to wait a while and turn back that way, and park my car into the woods at least a quarter mile away from him.”

“Yeah?” Starsky prompted.

“So, I had to sort of creep back up on him, in the woods in the dark. There’s moonlight, and I had my video cam with me. Anyway, he’d gotten out of his car, and was walking to some point in the woods, heading north. Then he just stopped and bent down, like he was examining something. Just for a minute or so. He was looking all around, like he was really worried that someone was watching him. Then he walked back to his car and left. I video taped that, but it’s probably not going to come out good enough to tell anything. But once I was sure he was gone, I went up to where he’d been walking. There’s a mound there. Disturbed dirt, with branches placed on top of it.”

Breathlessly, Hutch asked, “You think it’s Amanda’s grave?”

“Could be. I filmed it, but didn’t want to touch anything. I approached from just one side, so maybe they can get the car tracks or whatever to match up to Feller’s Pontiac.”

“Stay where you are. We’re going to call the police and let them know what’s going on. Turn your video over to them, and tell them everything you know.”

“Sure thing.”

“Starsk and I will be heading out that way. Mile marker 22?”

“Yeah. The north side of the highway.”

Starsky said, “Good job, Carlos,” before they hung up.

It was dawn before the police began to dig the mound of dirt. They’d taken pictures and impressions of both the tire tracks and shoe prints and, based upon Carlos’s eye witness account, got a warrant to search Jim Feller’s house. They only dug a couple of feet before finding a rolled-up blanket containing a human body. It included a necklace that Cathy had described that Amanda frequently wore. An officer went to retrieve Cathy Flint and bring her to the police station, with instructions to only say that, “The police want to talk to you.”

For Starsky and Hutchinson, Inc., the missing person case of Amanda Flint was over, for the police were now handling it. But a Captain Slopen on duty allowed them to hang around, out of respect for their prior association with the Homicide Department of the Bay City P.D.

They watched through the one-way glass as Cathy, who appeared braced for the worst, sat down in the chair that a detective Ludwig held out for her. He sat across from her and gently said, “We’ve found Amanda’s body.”

Cathy put her hands to her mouth and drew a deep breath.

Ludwig placed a necklace on the table. “This identified her.”

Cathy grabbed the necklace, clutching it tightly, and began sobbing.

“I’m sorry.”

“Where?” Cathy managed.

“In a shallow grave along Highway 16.” Ludwig gave her a moment, and then asked, “How well do you know Jim Feller?”

Cathy straightened abruptly. “What? Why?”

“We have some pretty strong evidence that he’s the one who killed your daughter.”

She quickly shook her head. “No. No. He paid a lot of money to hire a detective firm to find Amanda.”

“We think that might have been his way of making sure that he was never considered a suspect.”

“He’s been helping me with all sorts of things, ever since my husband died. He’s been a member of my church, plays bridge with my group regularly. He’s been a saint.” She frantically shook her head. “You’ve got it all wrong. It can’t be him. It just can’t.”

“We have enough evidence to place him under arrest. The evidence that the detective agency found is pretty strong.”

“What? What evidence?”

“A P.I. from the detective agency observed him, last night, going to Amanda’s grave, to check on it. The only way Jim Feller could have known it was there was if he had something to do with her death. There’s other evidence, as well, but that’s the strongest.”

Cathy buried her face in her hands. “Oh, my God. My God, this can’t be happening. I’ve got nothing. Nothing. There’s nothing left to my life. Everyone I’ve ever loved is gone.” She cried openly.

Ludwig waited a long moment. Then he asked, “Is there anyone we can call?”

“There isn’t anyone!”

An officer walked up to the room’s door, which was next to where Starsky and Hutch were standing, and knocked on it.

Ludwig looked up. “Excuse me.” He came out the door and closed it behind him.

The officer said. “Feller will be brought here any minute. He confessed to the arresting officers.”

“Good job.”

As Ludwig returned to the room, Starsky sighed and said, “Thank God.”

“Yeah,” Hutch said softly. “I just wonder what Cathy is going to do.”

Ludwig sat back down, across from Cathy. “I’ve just been told that Jim Feller confessed to Amanda’s murder.”

“Oh, my God, no! Why?” She demanded of Ludwig. “Why?”

“If he’s given a reason, I haven’t been told that yet.”

“He didn’t have anything against Amanda,” Cathy insisted. She sobbed again. “Why would he do this to me?”

Ludwig waited a few more minutes, and then said, “I can have an officer take you back home. I’ll arrange for a member of Victim’s Assistance to get in touch with you sometime today. They can help you make decisions about arrangements, and get you in touch with a grief counselor, and things of that nature.”

Cathy was now staring at the floor. She nodded without looking up.

Ludwig went to the door and stuck his head out. “Peterson, you can take Mrs. Flint home.” An officer came up the hall as Ludwig went back inside and beckoned Cathy to stand. “I’ll have Officer Peterson take you home. I’m so sorry about all this.”

As Cathy came out of the room, and was turned to the hall that led to the doorway, a group of police officers came up to the hall, leading Jim Feller, with his hands cuffed behind his back. Feller turned his head, just then, and saw Cathy.

The officers quickly realized their faux pas, of allowing a perpetrator and victim to see each other, and began urging Feller down the other side of the hall.

Cathy screamed at him, “You killed my daughter, you bastard! Why? I hate you! I hope you get sodomized every single day in prison!” Ludwig and Peterson ushered her toward the exit.

Starsky and Hutch exchanged a weary glance, the former saying, “I guess Cathy had no idea that it was Feller.”

“Yeah. Poor woman. She’s got nobody left.”

They moved down to the other side of the hall, where Feller had been taken into a questioning room and relieved of his handcuffs. They watched from that window. It was Captain Slopen who sat down across from Feller. “Tell me about it.”

“Well, I guess there isn’t much to tell. I liked Cathy Flint, and I wanted to help her after her husband died. She had a cute little daughter in Amanda. I just… I just… started fantasizing about Amanda. You know.”

Levelly, Slopen clarified, “Having sex with her?”

“Well, I have odd fantasies, I guess. I started fantasizing about fucking her lifeless corpse.”

Starsky felt nausea start in his stomach, and heard Hutch’s quiet gasp beside him.

“It was just fantasies,” Feller defended. “Harmless. And I just sort of played a game with myself, I guess. I followed her at various times, thinking about how she might become lifeless — say, in a car accident — and I could fuck her after she was dead. Never intended to act on it.”

Voice straining to be level, Slopen said, “But you were following her around?”

“Yes. Not all the time. But at various times. And then, one night, I had followed her to a little shopping mall. As she was coming out of the store, she got in somebody else’s car. I didn’t know who it was, or why, but I figured they’d have to come back, at some point, to get her car. So, I loosened some spark plugs and waited. Sure enough, she got dropped back off, and she couldn’t start her car, so I acted like I just happened to drive by, and I’d fix her car. It was sort of cold, and she didn’t have a warm jacket, so I told her to wait in my car, because I had the heater on. Then I told her that her car needed some new spark plugs, and we’d have to wait until morning, and I’d take her home. She was saying that she and her mother had just spent three hundred dollars getting her car a tuned up, and I said I guess they’d gotten ripped off, because the spark plugs were bad.”

“And she believed you?”

“She didn’t have much choice. She was ranting and raving about how you can’t trust auto shops, especially when you’re a woman, since they know they can take advantage of you. I actually sort of intended to drop her off at home.”

“Sort of?”

“Well, when she was going on and on — all mad about auto shops — I was getting aroused. So, when I came to the turnoff to her neighborhood, I made a decision not to turn, and I started to plan what I was going to do. She asked where we were going, and I figured out a ruse, right on the spot.” Feller sounded like he was bragging. “I said that I had a big surprise for her mom, and I wanted to show it to her. I’m sure she assumed it was a new car, since I like tinkering with cars. So, she calmed down and just waited to see what I was going to show her.”

“Where did you take her?”

“I’d discovered a secluded spot off of Highway 16. You know, just in case I ever had a chance to act out my fantasy. So, I took her there, and said we just had to walk a short ways. I think she was getting a little nervous, since there wasn’t anyone around, but she didn’t have much choice but to go along. And then, when her back was turned, I grabbed her throat and didn’t let go, until she was dead.”

“You choked her to death?”

“Yeah. She didn’t get any exercise, or anything. Was pretty easy, in that she didn’t have any kind of strength to fight back.” Feller held out his hands. “I just shook her and shook her until I smelled that she’d soiled her pants, and she was just hanging like a rag doll. So, I knew she was dead.” He paused, as though relishing the moment.

“Then what?” Slopen prompted.

“Well, I managed to get her pants off. Then I fucked her right there. Waited until I got hard again, and then I fucked her again. If I was younger, I could have done it a third time, at least.”

Starsky wondered how long he could wait before needing a men’s room, to vomit.

“Then you buried her?”

“Yeah, once I got my strength back. She drained my balls like they’d never been drained before. I didn’t have the energy to bury her very deep, but I thought it was good enough that the animals wouldn’t get to her.”

With forced casualness, Slopen asked, “Why did that matter to you?”

Feller shrugged. “I wanted her body to be found, before too long. I knew that it would always weigh on her mother’s mind, if she was never sure if Amanda was alive or dead. I was planning on secretly giving some clues to the detective agency Cathy hired, but I hadn’t thought that part out yet.”

Slopen asked, “Why did it matter to you that Cathy Flint had closure about Amanda’s disappearance?”

“I planned to marry her. Wouldn’t want her moping around, all sad, all the time.”

Abruptly, Slopen asked, “You ever done anything like this before? Fuck a corpse?”

Feller hesitated, and then said, “Na. Fantasized about it though.”

Starsky hissed, “Lyin’ sack of shit.”

Hutch snorted, “No kidding.”

Slopen apparently wasn’t convinced, either. In a friendly voice, he prompted, “You’re going to be in prison the rest of your life. Why not admit to the others?”

A tiny smile developed at the edge of Feller’s mouth corner. “Well, you might talk to the police in Naperville about unsolved cases. It’s a suburb of Chicago. I used to live there.”

Slopen wrote on his notepad. “Naperville. My brother worked there a few years back. Where else?”

“That’ll keep you busy,” Feller hedged. “I might need some leverage at some point in the future, so that’s all I’m going to say, and now I’d like my phone call to contact my attorney.”

Starsky and Hutch didn’t eat the remainder of the day.

On Friday morning, Starsky sat on the couch in Judith Parkson’s office, partially facing Hutch, who was also turned to face him. They had explained about Millie’s suicide, and their friendship with Mandy.

Hutch concluded, “It’s just so sad, and frustrating, that nobody will ever really no exactly what happened, what Millie was thinking.”

Judith prompted, “But you must have some theories.”

Hutch looked at Starsky, saying go ahead with his eyes.

Starsky shifted with discomfort, which he’d been doing a lot since his arrival, as therapy wasn’t something that he’d normally agree to. “I just don’t see how a person can wake up in the morning, have in their mind all the things that people do wrong in the world, and then read literature that also talks about all the things that people do wrong in the world, and then go and hang out with a group of friends who also go on and on about all the things that people do in wrong in the world…,” he waved a hand, “I mean, how is that person then supposed to feel content and happy about life? When they never give themselves a chance to feel good about anything? Hell, I’d swallow a bunch of pills, too, if every moment of every day was about all the awful and terrible things that my fellow human beings do.”

Hutch couldn’t help but point out, “That’s what our cop lives were often like.” Then, more to Judith, “We saw the worst in the humanity, day in and day out. But we still believed in what we were doing.”

“Yeah, and we could laugh sometimes,” Starsky emphasized. “But if we were laughing it’s because we made each other laugh. That was our choice, Hutch. We knew things were bad. We knew how dark things could get. We both knew other cops who had swallowed their guns. We chose to keep each other cheerful and upbeat. We chose that. We didn’t go home and bitch to each other about how awful and terrible it was that there were so many criminals. We had enough of that during the day. It mattered that we bring out the good feelings in each other.” He looked at Judith, and said more gently, “Making Hutch laugh made me higher than a kite. It was such a bonus, if I could make him laugh. It made everything feel okay, even if only for a moment.”

Judith smiled with a nod. “I remember you saying such in your book.”

Starsky went on, “And, what’s more than just being so into how wrong everyone else in the world is, with all the things they do that are destroying the Earth and hurting animals… well, a person thinking that is human, too. You know? I mean, how long can a person keep up the pretense that they’re superior to everyone else, when they have to know, deep down inside, that they’re flawed humans, too?”

Judith said, “First, I think it’s highly likely that they really don’t see themselves as superior. Now, I’m talking about Todd’s group here, as you’ve described it, not everybody who cares about animals and the Earth. But for that group, and Millie in particular, I’m sure they all had deep seated insecurities about their own worth. They might see animals, and the Earth, as representatives of themselves. Not understood. Abused in some way. So, by feeling that they’re taking care of those things the present time, they’re trying to take care of their past selves.”

While unsure if he was adding anything helpful, Hutch put in, “Mandy said a couple of times that she didn’t think the group ever did anything to actually help animals. Or the Earth. Their way of ‘helping’ was criticizing others. Like ganging up on people in the park who were walking their dogs with choke-chain leashes. How is that helping animals? I can’t imagine that anyone who is confronted like that, is just going to say, ‘Oh, good point. Thanks for pointing out that I’m being cruel to my dog.’”

Judith nodded. “Exactly. Their approach is unlikely to prompt any kind of positive response.” She shifted in her chair. “It does amaze me, in my profession, how often I see people creating the very situations that they don’t want. If someone walking their dog is prone to anger, after being confronted like that, they might need to explode and then take their anger out on the dog after they get home, because the dog was the reason for the confrontation. Or, somebody else might feel, ‘This isn’t any fun, being hassled for how I treat my dog, so I’m going to give up my dog.’ So, there’s another homeless dog. Todd’s group says it’s against animal cruelty and homelessness, but in some situations, they might actually be unintentionally creating abuse and homelessness. It’s just like, I’ll have clients who complain that their husbands spend too much time at the office and are never home. They’re so frustrated that, when he does come home, they nag and hassle him about how he’s worked late yet again, and they were left all alone for the evening. Which in turn makes the husband not want to come home any sooner than he has to, because he doesn’t want to be hassled. So, by continuing to complain, the lonely wives keep re-creating the very situation they don’t want, which is their husband coming home too late.”

Judith shifted in her chain again. “You mentioned something about Millie not having any pets of her own.”

Starsky replied, “Yeah, that’s what Mandy said. So, it’s really easy to criticize what somebody else is doing with their pet, when you’ve never had one.”

“Of course, I never met Millie,” Judith said. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if, what hurt so much inside, actually had nothing to do with animals or the Earth. I’ll give you an analogy. A client comes to me, because he hates going to work every day, because of the guy in the cubicle next him. The other employee plays mean jokes on him, gossips behind his back, gets him in trouble with the boss. A thoroughly unpleasant working environment. I offer some strategies to deal with the troublesome co-worker, but none of them are effective. Then a wonderful thing happens. The other employee quits and moved to another state. Problem solved. Yet, the client is back in my office, still complaining about much he hates going to work. Now, it’s because the parking lots were reassigned and he has to park farther away than some who have worked there a shorter time. And his boss doesn’t like him, and criticizes him for things that aren’t his fault. And somebody always steals his lunch from the refrigerator in the break room. My point being that, his unhappiness with his job never had anything to do with the co-worker in the next cubicle. Because once that person left, my client still hated going to work every day. To me, it’s obvious that he just plain hates his job and the type of work that he’s doing, but he can’t face that — because it would mean he chose the wrong major in college, and so forth — so he keeps blaming his unhappiness on other people at his job. But those other people have absolutely nothing to do with his unhappiness.”

Hutch considered that. “So, Millie was just plain an unhappy person, but she decided to blame it on people who are cruel to animals and who aren’t being considerate of the Earth?”

Starsky scoffed, “Ultimately, she blamed herself!”

Judith nodded while gesturing with her hands. “Surely, there’s a lot of different things going on, in the case of any suicide. I’m suggesting that, possibly, Millie hurt inside, because she felt she didn’t own up to the success of other family members, and perhaps for a myriad of other reasons, and when she meets Todd and his group, it’s something to grab onto. Now she has a purpose. Now, after feeling so inadequate and powerless, she can feel righteous and just, and be the one who gets to point out to other people, all the things they are doing wrong. That had to be very empowering, to be the one with The Right Answer for how people should conduct themselves in the world. But, of course, nobody wants to be lectured to, so she’s driving her regular friends away from her, including her cousin Mandy, which makes her all the more entrenched in Todd’s group, because those are the only people she can relate to. But, ultimately, somewhere along the line, she felt terribly empty and unhappy, because all the stuff she was doing with Todd’s group wasn’t addressing what really hurt inside. If she can’t identify what hurts, then she can’t address how to ease the pain.”

Hutch’s mouth corner twitched. “It sounds like she could have benefited from a good therapist.”

Judith nodded. “What keeps my profession busy is trying to help people understand their own behavior, and particularly the things that make them unhappy. Everybody has complaints about things, but we’re so often taught, from an early age, about what’s acceptable to feel and what isn’t acceptable to feel, so that many people have absolutely no idea how they feel about anything. So, it’s hard to address problems that stem from within. Which is why some people say that therapy is all about getting in touch with your feelings. It’s amazing how difficult that can be, for some.”

Starsky tilted his head thoughtfully. Then he waved a hand. “Whatever was going on with Millie, I just can’t for the life of me believe that she actually thought that she was killing herself to help reduce the population of the Earth.”

“That might have been the only way she could explain her unhappiness to herself. If she had no idea what hurt, she might have decided that she ‘knew’ it was wrong for her to exist. Ultimately, she did such a good job of entrenching herself in all the bad things that humanity does, that she had no choice but to turn on herself, because she was human, too.”

Starsky nodded emphatically. “That’s what I was trying to tell Hutch the other night. If you go around obsessed with all the bad things people do… at some point you got to realize that you’re one of those persons, too.”

“But if she didn’t understand what it was that hurt,” Judith went on, “she may very well have convinced herself that it was something necessary, to help reduce the Earth’s population. Or, maybe she was just trying to get rid of herself — the pain she was in — and didn’t know how to articulate that, so she figured the real reason must be because she needed to do her part to reduce the world’s population. She might have left that one-sentence note because she truly didn’t know any other words to express what was going on inside her.”

“We’re never going to know,” Hutch concluded.

“No, no one ever can know for sure,” Judith agreed.

After they fell silent, Starsky brushed his fingers along Hutch’s torso. “How are you feeling, baby?”

Hutch released a heavy sigh. “Well, I guess I’m glad to think that Millie’s death wasn’t a direct result of her being involved with Todd, or caring about the planet and the animals. Otherwise, I’d want to feel angry about all those groups.” He looked directly at Starsky. “You’re already angry about them.”

“Well,” Starsky ducked his head, “I guess I can see some of the points that Judith’s made. That it doesn’t necessarily involve those things. Still, I don’t know why someone would want to start an organization that’s all about making people feel bad.”

Judith offered, “I suppose that’s a matter of opinion, if that’s the purpose. I’m sure all those types of ‘protest’ organizations feels they’re doing a good and necessary thing for the planet, and the animals, and humanity. And certainly, not everyone who is a proponent of them reaches the extreme that Todd’s group has — of hassling people and such. That sounds like bad news.”

“Yeah,” Starsky agreed with a nod of his head, and Hutch murmured likewise.

Judith shifted in her chair again. “In my observation of human behavior, most of us actually get along the vast majority of the time, despite a huge variation of opinions. Which is pretty remarkable, when you think about it. Most of us know, when we go to the ballgame, or the movie theater, that there’s other people there who are on the opposite side of the political spectrum from us, who have a different religion than us, who are on the other side of hot button issues like abortion. Yet, most of us are okay about those differences most of the time, because there aren’t any reason to bring those subjects up. We’re all there to enjoy the ballgame or the movie. We’re unified in wanting to be entertained, or whatever it is. When there gets to be a problem is when somebody says, ‘I feel this way about this issue, and there’s something inferior about you, if you don’t see it the way that I do.’ It’s one thing to offer your opinion, and see if anyone else agrees, or wants to learn more before deciding if they agree. But quite another to dictate how someone else is supposed think or feel.”

“Yeah,” Hutch realized, “because then you’re placing yourself in a position of superiority.”

Judith nodded. “And few healthy, secure people are going to put up with being talked down to, for very long.”

Starsky looked at his watch, and Judith turned her head to her clock. She said, “We’re about out of time. I’m so sorry, fellas, that this has happened to you and your friend Mandy.”

“Just hated seeing her so upset,” Starsky said, “and blaming herself.”

“She has a right to feel guilty,” Judith emphasized. “Don’t try to tell her that she shouldn’t feel that way. You can explain why you don’t see it that way, but don’t tell her she’s wrong to feel what she feels.”

Hutch recalled, “I gave her your number. Don’t know if she’ll use it, but….”

Judith smiled at him. “I appreciate the referral.”

After they had left Judith’s building, and were driving in the Corvette, Starsky rubbed at his forehead. “Man, that was exhausting. Don’t see how you can do that on a regular basis.”

“I don’t see her regularly,” Hutch countered. “But more in spurts. And, you know, she was talking a lot more, about her thoughts and perspective, than I’m sure she does with other clients, because we’re sort of friends.”

“Does she send you a bill?”

Hutch shrugged, while shifting in his seat. “Yeah.” Then, “But I don’t think she charges as much as she usually does. Maybe half the going rate.” He reached to squeeze Starsky’s arm. “Thanks for coming. I’m glad we had a chance to talk it over with her.”

Glumly, Starsky said, “Not that it’s going to bring Millie back. And I still don’t know what caused her to kill herself, despite all that discussion.”

“None of us can know that, for sure.”

The car phone rang.

Hutch picked it up. “Hutch answering for Starsky.”

“Hey, Hutch,” Nick said.

“What’s up, Nick?”

“Uh, if the offer’s still open, I think I need to move in with you guys for a while.”

For Starsky’s sake, Hutch repeated, “Move in with us? How long is a while?”

“I don’t know. I just think that Lan and I need to be separated from each other for a while.”

Looking at Starsky, Hutch assured, “Of course, you can move in.” Then, dryly, “As long as you don’t over-stay your welcome.”

Starsky held out his hand, and Hutch gave him the phone.

Starsky shouted, “If you leave your house, don’t you think you’re sending Lanette into that other man’s arms?” He listened for a few moments, and then huffed, “All right. There’s room in the closet, and an empty chest of drawers, in the guest bedroom.” He hung up a moment later. “Well, that’s not good.”


“He said he and Lanette argue all the time, and that’s not good for Melinda.”

“That’s noble of him, I guess.”

“Can’t believe he’s going to leave Lanette alone, so she can spend more time ‘talking’ to that other guy.”

“Yeah,” Hutch said in a whisper, his mind churning.

Starsky looked over at him. “What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking about what Judith said. About how people tend to create the very thing that they don’t want.”

“You mean Nick making it easy for Lanette to start having an affair?”

“Yeah. But also…,” Hutch collected his thoughts.


Hutch tilted his head. “What Judith said about people blaming things that aren’t really the problem. Like that guy who hated his job, and decided it was the fault of the annoying co-worker in the next cubicle. But it wasn’t really that at all.”

“Judith says, Judith says,” Starsky teased.

Hutch ignored him. “What if Nick and Lannie’s marital problems have nothing to do with that other guy? And they’re arguing about him, instead of focusing on the real problem.”

“What’s the real problem?”

“I don’t know.” Hutch shrugged. “They need to figure that out.”

Starsky drew a breath. Then, “I think the real problem is that Lanette doesn’t care about how Nick feels. She argues about how he feels, instead of honoring his feelings.”

“You’re biased,” Hutch quipped.

“Maybe so. But don’t you think that’s at least part of the problem?”

“Probably,” Hutch had to admit.

Starsky took a lighter tone. “Maybe they need to see Judith.”

Hutch’s voice was level, though he knew he was being teased again. “Couldn’t hurt. To see somebody. Somebody who specializes in helping couples. I’m sure Judith could refer them to someone.”

“Nick isn’t going to do the therapy thing.”

“Not even to save his marriage? If Lannie thought it was a good idea?”

Doubtfully, Starsky asked, “Do you think Lanette is the type of person to see a therapist?”

“Probably not,” Hutch admitted, his head bowed.

Starsky reached over and squeezed Hutch’s thigh. “It’s going to be all right, baby. We have to believe that. Besides,” he added, a smile in his voice, “what’s the use of getting up in the morning, if we can’t feel good about things?”

Hutch appreciate that comment, and felt himself smile. “Yeah.” He placed his hand on stop of Starsky’s.

Later that day, from their office, Starsky called the twin sisters in Colorado, Lisa and Pam Bennett, to let them know what had happened to Amanda. He’d left out the gory details, and only said that Amanda had been murdered by a pervert, who had gotten tight with Amanda’s mother. During the call, Hutch had taken another call on a different line. He hung up before Starsky did.

“I’m so sorry it ended up this way for Amanda,” Starsky told Lisa, “but at least, now, no one has to wonder what happened to her. You gals take care.”

“Thanks so much for calling, Mr. Starsky. Good-bye.”

Starsky hung up, and looked over at Hutch. “They’re going to tell their mother to go over and visit with Cathy. Hopefully, they can become friends, so at least Cathy has somebody.”

“That’s good to hear.” Hutch indicated his own phone. “That was Captain Slopen. The P.D. in Naperville, Illinois, think that they have four cases that might be linked to Feller. Including one where the victim had already been killed when she hit a tree with her car in the middle of the night. The autopsy showed that the body had been sexually penetrated after death.”

Starsky’s stomach churned. “For God’s sakes. What? Feller just happened to come upon a car accident, with a dead body, and he decided to fuck it?”

Quietly, Hutch said, “Feller did mention that, part of the reason he was following Amanda around, was because of fantasizing about her being killed in a car wreck, or some such.”

“He might have sabotaged the car in Illinois, and then followed it.” Starsky rubbed at his eyes. “Who knows how many more victims are out there. Could be anywhere.”

“Slopen is surely going to check Feller’s background and find out the other places he’s lived throughout his life, and go from there.”

“Yeah.” Starsky stretched elaborately, looking at the clock. “You know what, buddy boy?”


“I think we should leave Nick to get settled in on his own. Why don’t we take the weekend off? Take a little trip somewhere.” He smiled warmly. “That worked out pretty good when we went to Colorado.”

Hutch snorted bashfully. “Yeah. It did. Where did you have in mind?”

“Doesn’t matter, does it? Just anywhere to get away from the routine.”

“See?” Hutch said. “You do need a new hobby. You’re bored again.”

Starsky eyes darted up and down, and his smile widened. “Kenneth Hutchinson is my new new hobby.”


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