Disclaimer:

i. The characters and stories of The Sentinel are Copyright PetFly, Paramount, and the SciFi Channel, and are used here without permission or license. The characters and stories of Starsky & Hutch are Copyright Spelling-Goldberg Productions.

ii. No claims to the above copyright are made by the author(s) of this work.

iii. This work is for non-commercial use ONLY, and is produced for the enjoyment of fans only.

iv. This work is the expression of the author(s) and the depiction of the S&H and Sentinel characters herein are in no way represented to be a part of Starsky and Hutch or The Sentinel as depicted by the original author and copyright holder(s).

For Wolfpup, because she asked. *g*

Rimilod@aol.com


OVERDUE PENALTIES



Rimilod






//"No more games, Doctor, I want to know where it is!"//

//"I already told you, Diego, I have no idea what you're talking about."//

//"We had a deal, Doctor."//

//"A deal? As if I would deal with someone like you. I think not."//

//"Don't you dare walk away from me."//

//"And just what are you going to do, Diego? Kill me? If you think you've been wronged, take me to Court."//

The boy looked up from his reading and frowned as the voices got louder. He had an incredible urge to shush them. They were in a public library after all, but he doubted they would appreciate being reminded of that fact by a kid. He sighed, hoping they would go upstairs or at least shut up. He rarely had to worry about people down in the catacombs, as he liked to call them because they reminded him of the supposed maze under Thebes, most people preferred the sunny windowed areas of the upper levels.

//"I want the damn key."//

//"Go away, Diego, before I summon the police."//

He jumped as he heard two extremely loud pops. If he didn't know better, he mused, he would say they were gun shots. He smiled, feeling foolish. If his mother could read his mind, she'd probably cut back on the minimal amount of television she let him watch now.

He uncrossed his legs and got off the cold cement floor. The book in his hands looked fairly promising for his research project, and he decided he'd rather read it back at his carrel rather than continue to sit on the smelly concrete.

He moved to the end of the aisle, absently reading about the Q'ero, when the book was violently slammed out of his hands. Blinking, he stumbled back, but the impeccably dressed, gray haired, man seemed to follow him, shoving him further down the row of books.

The large man started to fall and the boy instinctively moved forward to help him. The man gasped painfully, grabbing at the boy, knocking off his glasses and clutching at his jacket as he fell.

Another man, younger and darker than the man on the floor, swung around the corner, looking frantic.

"He-he-he's h-h-urt," the boy stammered.

"Yeah," the younger man said, stopping and looking at the older man on the floor. "Bullets will do that to you every time." Barely moving his hand, he pointed the gun down at the fallen figure and pulled the trigger once more.

The boy lurched backward. His instinct screamed at him to run, but he knew, no doubt from television, if he ran he would only draw the other man's attention; and at the moment, that attention seemed to be focused on the dead man in front of him. As calmly as he could, he inched down the aisle.

The Hispanic man knelt over the body and started rifling through the dead man's pockets. "I know you had it on you, Anderson. You didn't trust anyone else with it. Where the hell is it?"

The boy swallowed hard in relief as he reached the end of the row. With the same slow movements, he quietly headed toward the exit.

"SHIT!"

The word reverberated and echoed all around him. Listening to his inner voice, he raced forward. Two more pops echoed behind him, and a metal ping in front of him almost stopped him in his tracks.

The man was shooting at him!

He plunged into the nearest aisle. His first thought was to race upward, toward his home and mom, but his inner voice balked at the idea. He would be too easy to spot on the street. Besides, he knew all the ins and outs of the library. Not only was the place huge, but it had several stairwells and mezzanines. With the way the echoes worked, the man behind him would never know if he was running up or down the stairs.

He had never been down to the very bottom floor before, having half-way convinced himself if he did he would end up in Beijing.

He could hear the man behind him scream in frustration.

Well, no time like the present as his mother occasionally said.


"Right this way, detectives," the pale librarian said meekly. "It's just awful. Simply awful."

Detective Ken Hutchinson made sympathetic noises while giving his partner, David Starsky, a knowing look. Sad to think that what would no doubt be the highlight of this woman's year was nothing more than routine for them. Although he had to admit, the library was the last place he would have ever expected a murder.

"Guess I should take those overdue notices a little more seriously," Starsky said softly under his breath.

Hutch rolled his gaze heavenward.

"We've been very careful not to touch anything," the librarian informed them as they made their way down a spiral metal staircase.

Putting his hand gently on the shoulder of the woman descending the stairs before him, Hutch said gently, "We appreciate your thoughtfulness."

"Monica! Monica! We found another bullet!" a voice called to them from the bottom of the stairs.

"What?" Starsky asked from the back of their little procession.

"We haven't touched the crime scene, sir, but we all heard six shots; so I had the girls looking for the bullets. They know not to touch anything."

"Have you ever considered a career in police work?" Hutch asked in amusement.

"Oh no," Monica blushed. "I have a bit of an overactive imagination. It probably comes from reading too much Agatha Christie. While it sounds interesting in books, I find reality too... real, if you know what I mean?"

Both detectives nodded their heads in understanding.

Another librarian stood at the bottom of the stairs dancing in anticipation.

"Gladys, let's let the detectives look at Dr. Anderson before we show them the stray bullets. Okay?"

Gladys nodded her understanding, even though disappointment was clearly written on her face. She obviously didn't have the same aversion to dead bodies as the head librarian did.

"Did you know the deceased?" Hutch asked, pulling a small notebook out of his pocket. He patted his jacket for a second, and frowned absently, but smiled when he plucked a pencil from his partner's pocket. Starsky glared at him, but Hutch ignored him, giving his full attention back to the librarian.

"Oh, heavens, yes. He's a professor at Bayside University. In fact, he's the head of their Archeology Department."

"Does he come here a lot?" Starsky asked, squatting beside the body.

"Probably once or twice a week. We have quite a collection of ancient texts," Monica said proudly.

"There's blood on the floor three aisles down," Gladys volunteered cheerfully. "We're thinking that he was shot there, then staggered into this aisle and fell. It looks like he was then shot in the back while laying on the floor."

Hutch sent his partner a small smile, amused by the thoroughness of the librarians.

"What do we have here?" Starsky asked, squatting and picking up a pair of glasses off the floor. "The Professor's?"

Monica shook her head. "Oh, no. Professor Anderson wears bifocals."

"Maybe the killer's?" Hutch suggested.

Starsky shook his head. "Too small. Look." He held them up. "They look like they belong to a kid."

Gladys gasped, then paled when the two detectives looked at her.

"Do you know who these might belong to?" Starsky asked, standing up.

"Yes," she whispered, bringing her hand to her chest. "There's a young man who comes in almost every day after school. He likes coming down here to study. He seems to have quite the interest in anthropology and archeology. You don't think... you don't think..."

"Does this young man have a name?" Starsky asked.

"Blair."

"How about a last name?"

"No. He's never told me."

"Can you give us a description of this young man?" Hutch asked.

"He's about eight or nine," Monica answered for her companion.

"Actually, he's ten," Gladys countered. "He told me he's just small for his age."

"You have a ten year old who comes down here to study anthropology and archeology?" Starsky asked, raising an eyebrow in surprise.

"Blair's very gifted," Gladys said, showing obvious signs of pride in the young man.

Hutch ran a hand back through his hair. "How about a physical description?"

"He's got long curly sable hair and the most incredible blue eyes," Gladys said concentrating. "I'd say like the color of Detective Starsky's there."

"Oh and his eyelashes," Monica piped in. "He's got the most incredible eyelashes." She had the good grace to blush when both detectives turned to look at her. "Well, he's always giving me these puppy dog looks when I try to make him go home in the evenings. It's just something I've noticed," she added in a semi-defensive tone.

Hutch made a notation in his notebook. "Incredible eyelashes. Check."

"You said, 'when you made him go home'." Starsky frowned as he bent over to pick a book off the cement floor. When he stood, he showed the book to Gladys.

"Oh no," she whispered. "Blair told me he was working on a report about South American Indians."

"So Blair was probably in this aisle looking for books to help him on his report," Hutch said quietly. "Our killer shoots the Professor over in..."

"North American Indians," Gladys provided helpfully.

Hutch smiled at her. "In North American Indians. The Professor then staggers over here and probably stumbles into the boy, knocking the book from his hands and his glasses off his face."

"That's when Blair ran," Gladys said, jumping in again.

"I beg your pardon?" Hutch said, shaking his head.

"Follow me, detectives," Gladys said, gingerly stepping around the body and moving down the aisle.

Both detectives shrugged at each other and obediently followed.

"Assuming that the first two shots were done in aisle three and the third shot was put in his back, we must assume that the remaining three bullets were shot at Blair," Gladys said as she turned right and hustled down the end aisle. "Janet found two bullets over here."

A small gray-haired woman stood patiently at the end of a metal book case. Without a word, she pointed to a bullet lodged in a thick tome about shoulder level, and a metal brace which had been pierced a foot below the first.

"So, the killer realizes there's a witness and shoots at the boy," Starsky muttered aloud. "The kid probably ducked down one of these aisles."

"We think this one," Gladys said, again taking the lead down the aisle.

"Why this one?" Hutch asked, admitting to himself that he was curious about the librarian's theory.

"Why because of the angle of the sixth bullet, of course," she said confidently.

Waggling his eyebrows at his partner, Starsky grinned. "Of course."

"Now, the way we figure it," Gladys said, stopping at the end of the aisle and putting her fingers together like she was holding a gun, she swung around the corner and pretended to shoot, "The killer fired from here. Blair would have been just about to the stairwell."

Hutch gently moved the librarian aside and looked at the angle and at the librarian by the stairwell pointing at the last bullet. "She's probably right," he said, turning and facing his partner.

"Do we know where the kid lives?" Starsky asked the small group of women around him.

They frowned in unison and shook their heads.

"Did anyone see him running out of the library after the shots were fired?"

Again the group shook their collective head.

"Did anyone see anybody with a gun?"

"No," Monica said quietly. "Once we heard the shots, we herded everyone out of the library. A killer who had his wits about him could have easily blended with the crowd."

"Maybe we can stop by the local schools and see if we can find if anyone has a Blair enrolled. It's not a very common name," Hutch said quietly, realizing the importance of finding this kid safe and in one piece.

Another librarian joined the group and whispered excitedly in Gladys' ear.

"Detectives, follow me please," Gladys said, before straightening and moving down the aisle quickly.

Both men followed her, trying to ignore the fact that the group moved with them.

Gladys stopped at a small study carrel and sighed. "It's Blair's backpack, all right."

Starsky moved forward and picked up the canvas bag, opened it and removed several school text books. "Are you sure this kid is only ten?" he asked, after looking at the titles of the books.

Taking a book from the stack, his partner said softly, "Gifted, remember?" He opened the front cover. "Blair Sandburg. That should make finding him easier."

"Uh, detective," the small librarian who had found the pack said quietly.

"Yes, Miss...."

"I'm Valerie." She grinned shyly at him, then sobered. "If Blair's pack is here, so is Blair."

Starsky frowned. "What?"

Gladys smacked herself in the middle of her forehead. "Of course. I'm an idiot."

Hutch shook his head in confusion. "Why are you an idiot?"

"Blair would never leave his pack. Ever. We tease him sometimes about it being surgically attached. That means he has to be hiding in the library somewhere."

The partners shot each other glances that said they didn't understand how she had reached that bizarre leap of logic. The librarian noticed and just shrugged. "You have to know Blair."

"So where could he be hiding?" Hutch asked.

The women around him broke into gentle laughter.

Monica stepped forward. "Detective, with food and water, you could probably successfully hide in this library for weeks."

"Then how are we gonna catch this kid?" Starsky asked.

"I suggest a stakeout," Valerie said quietly. "Put his pack together and wait for him to gather it. He will eventually." The women around her nodded.

Starsky looked at his partner and shrugged. "Works for me."

"Okay, so what time does the library normally close?" Hutch asked.

"At nine," the women answered together.

Hutch just grinned. "All right then. Starsk, you stay here and get things moving. I'll go call Forensics and the coroner." Looking around at the flock around him, he asked, "Would someone be so kind as to take me to a phone?"


Blair looked at his watch under the emergency exit sign. Ten o'clock. The library closed an hour ago. Still he didn't feel safe, but he knew he had to get home. Naomi would be home by midnight and he didn't want to worry her by not being there. Of course, she might go out with Stan again, which would mean she wouldn't be home until later.

No matter. He needed to get home. His stomach growled, reminding him that he hadn't eaten since noon.

He moved slowly toward the steps. The killer would be gone now, wouldn't he? Blair trembled and not just from the cold. Gritting his teeth, he started up the metal staircase, but froze when the stair groaned under his feet.

He closed his eyes and pictured the Buddhist priest on the television rerun he sometimes watched after the news. If Caine could walk across rice paper without making it rip, surely he could walk up metal stairs without making them groan. Taking a deep breath, he moved upward at an incredibly slow pace.

Blair shook with exhaustion by the time he reached the floor where his pack was stored. He prayed that no one had found it. He moved silently toward his carrel and almost cried in relief when he saw the pack. He had just finished slipping it over his shoulder when he spotted his glasses on the desk. He swallowed hard. The old man had knocked them off his face when he had fallen against him.

Blair's hand shook as he picked the glasses up and slipped them onto his face.

This was definitely not good.


Hutch gently slapped at his partner's arm.

"Hmm?" Starsky hummed drowsily.

Hutch leaned close to his ear. "The kid's here."

Starsky immediately opened his eyes and both got to their feet quietly. Hutch pointed to his partner to go around. Starsky nodded and Hutch waited until he knew his partner was in place.

Hutch watched the boy pick up the backpack, then hesitate when he noticed the glasses. He felt bad for the boy as he watched him put the spectacles on with trembling hands. The boy knew he was being watched. He could see it in the suddenly pale face. Gladys hadn't been kidding. He was a smart kid.

"Blair," he called out gently.

The boy spun to face him, his eyes wide in horror.

"Blair, my name is Ken Hutchinson. I'm a cop. I want to help,"

For each step he took forward, the boy took a step back. Hutch stopped his advancement when he saw Starsky standing several feet behind the boy. However, when he stopped, the boy slowly turned his head and spotted his partner. The boy's breathing became loud. One moment he was standing perfectly still, the next he was gone.

"He's jack-rabbitting," Starsky yelled.

Both men headed down their separate aisles, only to stare at each other in frustration when they came out on the other end of their rows.

"Terrific," Starsky shouted in frustration, raising his hands in the air. "I thought you had him!"

"He doubled back," Hutch yelled, turning instantly and racing back. He could hear the squeaking of the boy's tennis shoes as he ran. "Blair, we only want to help!" he yelled.


"Blair, we only want to help!"

Yeah, right. Naomi could go on for an hour about the evilness of pigs. Jack-boot thugs was what she had called them the last time she went on a rant; and he had to admit, after watching the news, she seemed to be right.

He needed to get to the main stairwell. Luck was on his side and he raced up the carpeted steps. He could hear the two men cursing behind him as they struggled to keep up. He reached the main floor of the lobby and headed toward the front doors.

He looked over his shoulders and almost screamed when he saw a dark curly headed man gain on him. He turned back to judge the distance to the doors, when he hit the concrete post head on.


David Starsky dropped to his knees and slid the last couple of feet, managing to break the kid's fall. "Damn, kid," he whispered, "That had to hurt." He quickly checked the kid's pulse and found it strong and steady.

"What happened?" Hutch asked as he dropped to his knees beside him.

"Kid knocked himself out."

"Is he okay?"

"Yeah, I think so."

"Getting old there, partner?" Hutch teased.

"I didn't think so until I was running after this kid. Damn, he's fast."

"I think we better get him out of here before he wakes up. I'd be willing to lay odds that he's going to be a hellion when he's conscious again."

Starsky gently slipped the backpack from the unconscious figure and handed it to his partner. "I think we should take him to a hospital and make sure he isn't seriously hurt."

Hutch took the pack. "Not a bad idea."

Starsky gathered the slim form in his arms. "We should probably also call Monica so she can let the girls know we found him in one piece."

"Yeah, but we didn't do a very good job keeping him that way."

"I wasn't going to tell her that. If you want to tell her, that's up to you, but me... mums the word."


Blair felt like he was floating and he was bothered by the fact that the voices surrounding him wouldn't shut up and just let him sleep.

//"So how is he, Doc?"//

//"Well, physically, he's okay."//

//"You're hesitating, Doc, that makes me nervous."//

//"From what you've told me, this young man has had a very traumatic day. There's a very good probability that he's going to be suffering from some emotional repercussions."//

//"Like what?"//

//"Well, he could be extremely emotional or even the exact opposite and show no emotion at all. He might even be mute, unable to talk."//

Mute?

Naomi always told him that peaceful resistance was much more effective than violent resistance. Maybe, mute was the way to go. After all, Naomi wasn't going to be happy that the police had him. If she knew he hadn't talked to them, maybe things would be okay.

Mute it was.

A warm hand touched his face, jerking him out of his thoughts.

"You're all right, young man. My name is Dr. Ben. I'm just going to check your eyes and make sure you don't have a concussion."

Blair blinked back at the elderly doctor. He squinted and tried to pull his head back as a bright light was shone into his eyes.

"There's no sign of a concussion. That's good. Do you know your name, son?"

Blair nodded.

The doctor gave him a quirky smile. "Want to share it with us?"

Blair opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He tried again, still nothing. Looking up at the doctor, he pulled out the big guns and gave him the puppy dog eyes as Monica at the library had dubbed 'the look.'

The doctor immediately patted his hand. "Don't be upset, son. You've had a hard day. Can you tell me how many fingers I'm holding up?"

Blair raised his hand and three fingers.

"Very good. Do you remember what happened to you today?"

Blair didn't have to pretend to be scared. He nodded.

The doctor stood to one side. "These two gentlemen are Detective David Starsky and Detective Ken Hutchinson. I've known these two for a number of years. They're both really good eggs. I want you to trust them, okay?"

Blair shrugged noncommittally.

"Now lay back down for a moment, okay?"

Blair nodded and allowed the doctor to help him back down to the mattress.

"Gentlemen," the doctor said quietly, and Blair watched as he escorted the detectives to the other side of the curtain. "Do you want me to call Children's Services?"

Blair sat up quickly and swayed slightly, but used his hand to steady himself. Children's Services. While Blair wasn't sure he believed Naomi's stories about the police, after all, surely they couldn't all be bad, he never questioned her hatred for Children's Services. Blair knew he was a bastard. God knows the children at school reminded him often enough, and he knew that a woman raising a son by herself was somewhat unique. He couldn't count the number of times Children's Services had knocked on their door, called in by anonymous neighbors wanting to 'help'. If Children's Services was called again, Naomi would make them move again; and he didn't want to move, not before he got his grade back on his science project.

He peered over the edge of the bed and closed his eyes in relief. His backpack was laying at the foot of the bed. He noticed that he still had his shoes on and smiled -- that certainly made things easier. He slipped from the bed, gathered his backpack and jacket, and found his glasses on the table. Going to the wall, he peeked around the curtain. The next bed was empty. As quietly as he could, he scooted under the curtain.


"Do you want me to call Children's Services?" the doctor asked softly.

Hutch shook his head. "No. The boy is a material witness in an ongoing homicide investigation. Our suspect has seen him and has already taken a couple shots at him. I think it would be best if he stayed with us for his own protection."

His partner nodded.

The doctor frowned slightly. "Not that I'm doubting your intentions, gentlemen, but what we have here is a very traumatized young man. It's not every ten year old who is shot at by a murderer. He's probably going to need some intensive therapy. Can you look after his needs while investigating a murder?"

"Look, Doc, I don't want to sound rude, but I don't see that handing him over to Children's Services is going to help him overcome any trauma," Starsky said quietly. "Besides his mother has probably already called the station looking for him. We'll take him home as soon as he answers our questions."

The doctor didn't look convinced. "All right, just remember to take it easy on him. Why don't you come with me to sign the discharge papers, then you can go ahead and take him."


Blair stopped in the alley and pulled on his jacket. He was relieved to realize he knew where he was -- not too far away from home. He looked at his watch. 11:30. He still had time to get home before Naomi got off work.

Jamming his hands into his pockets, he started forward, only to come to a complete stop moments later. He fumbled in his pocket and withdrew a thin unfamiliar key.

//"I want the damn key."//

Blair gasped, remembering. The killer had been demanding a key. Had the old man put it in his pocket as he fell? Why would he do that? What did the old man expect him to do with it? He was only a kid for Pete's sake. He wondered briefly if he should go back and give the key to the detectives. No, he had to get home. If he hurried, he might just beat Naomi. Sticking the key into his backpack, he jogged home.


"What do you mean 'he's not here'?" Starsky asked his partner in frustration.

Hutch ran one hand back through his hair. "I mean just what I said. He's gone. Backpack. Glasses. Everything."

"Terrific." Starsky leaned his head back on his shoulders and sighed softly. "Who is this kid? Houdini?"

"Apparently. Of course, if he wasn't, he'd probably be dead now."

Starsky closed his eyes. "So what do you wanna do?"

Hutch yawned and stretched his arms out from his body. "I think it's a safe bet to say he's not in the hospital. Unfortunately, the hospital is in the same vicinity as the library. My guess is the kid lives around here somewhere. He probably went home."

"Do you think there's any chance we'll find him?" Starsky asked, as they headed for the parking lot.

"This kid? Not a chance. But we should probably take a look. You never know."

"The backpack is the key?" Starsky said, waggling a finger at his partner while getting into the car.

"What?" Hutch laughed tiredly.

"The kid never leaves his backpack. If we keep the backpack, the kid won't rabbit."

Hutch shut the Torino door. "I must be tired. That actually made sense."


"Ma," Blair called out as he opened the door to their tiny apartment. Silence answered him and he released the breath he was holding.

He quickly locked the door behind him, raced into his room, dropped his backpack onto his little make-shift desk and removed his clothes as fast as he could. He changed into his pajamas and brushed his teeth then got under the covers of his bed.

He closed his eyes and concentrated on his breathing, slowing it, focusing on relaxing.

He was startled by a touch. "Blair, honey, are you okay?"

He blinked at his mother sitting on the bed beside him and smiled, incredibly grateful to see her. He lurched forward and wrapped his arms around her, laying his head on her chest.

She held him for several minutes, rocking him ever so gently. "Baby, what's wrong?" she asked, concerned. He just shook his head, but didn't move away from her.

"Naomi, what in the hell's taking so long?" a voice from the main room grumbled loudly.

Naomi sighed in exasperation. "I'll be out in just a minute, Stan." She squeezed Blair, then gently forced him to lie back on his bed. "Sweetheart, is that a bruise?" she asked, tenderly brushing the hair back from his forehead.

He nodded miserably.

"Did someone do this to you?" she demanded, her voice taking on an outraged edge.

"No, mama," he whispered. "I ran into a post."

"Ow," she sympathized, her tone calming. "It looks like it hurt."

He sniffed a little. "It did."

"Are you feeling okay?"

He nodded again, leaning slightly into the palm of her hand.

"Naomi!" Stan yelled again.

His mother sighed. "Will you be okay by yourself for a while? Stan really wants to go to a little club over on the riverfront."

"I'll be okay, mama."

"You sure? I can always stay home if you'd like."

He searched her eyes and saw the lie. She wanted to go. He swallowed hard. "I'll be okay, mama. All I'm going to do is sleep anyhow

She nodded, trying to hide her relief, but he saw it. "Did you do your homework?"

"Tomorrow's Saturday," he reminded her gently.

"Okay. If you don't feel good, I want you to promise to go down to Ms. Albertson in 201, okay?"

"I will," he reassured her. "Don't worry. I'll be okay. I'm just going to sleep."

"Night, Blair," she whispered, leaning forward and kissing his bruised forehead. "I love you."

"I love you too, Mama."


Blair waited until his mother and Stan left the apartment, then got out of bed and moved into the kitchen. He opened the refrigerator, but nothing looked good, in fact, the mere thought of eating made his stomach churn slightly. Sighing in disappointment, he pulled out a pitcher of juice and poured himself a glass.

With slow deliberate steps to counteract the slight dizziness he felt, Blair returned to his room and carefully set the glass on his nightstand before turning and gathering his backpack. He sat it on his bed and opened up the front pocket to reveal the thin key.

He frowned as he examined it closer. It looked like a bus locker key. He could see a faint etching on the head. 222BCBT. Bay City Bus Terminal. He smiled, that wasn't too far from the apartment; and seeing as tomorrow was Saturday....

While he was scared, Blair had to admit he was curious to know what was so important that someone would actually kill for it. He tapped the key against the palm of his hand. Tomorrow he'd go to the terminal, get whatever was in the locker and take it to the detectives. They hadn't seemed mean. And despite what his mother would say, he was pretty sure she wouldn't mind him talking to them to help solve a murder. That was okay, wasn't it?

Feeling better about the entire situation, he slipped the key back into his pack, took a large sip of juice and got back under his covers. Now that he had a plan, he felt better.


"Bupkiss," Starsky gritted out in frustration.

"You didn't really expect to find him, did you?" his partner teased quietly.

Starsky sighed. "I suppose not. It woulda been nice though."

"Look, why don't we stop by Huggy's and grab a bite? I'm tired and hungry and we definitely need a plan."

"A plan against a ten-year-old. Who woulda thunk it?"


"Who two-stepped in your tulips?" Huggy Bear asked his friends as they sat at the bar.

Starsky sighed. "We lost a murder witness."

"Lost as in 'call the preacher' or lost as in you can't find your favorite shirt?" the skinny barkeeper asked.

"The latter," Hutch said quietly.

"Anything Huggy Bear can help you with?"

"You wouldn't happen to know a ten-year-old by the name of Blair Sandburg, would you?" Starsky asked, nodding gratefully as the bartender set a mug of beer in front of him.

"Sandburg? Sandburg. Don't think so. Want me to put the word out?"

"Quietly," Hutch said, accepting the mug in front of him. "This kid is understandably spooked, plus our killer is looking for him as well. We need to make sure we get to him first."

"I can dig it. I'll let you know if I find anything out."


Blair woke up, aching. He brought his hand up to the side of his face and flinched as he touched his forehead. He frowned for a moment, but memory rushed back into his waking mind, reminding him of the previous day.

A man had been killed in front of him.

The killer had shot at him.

He had found a key in his pocket.

He gingerly got out of his bed and poked his head out his bedroom door.

Naomi's bedroom door was shut, which meant that Stan had spent the night. He sighed heavily. He really wanted to talk to his mom, but Stan would only mock him and make him feel like he was five. Blair hated the used car salesman, and especially hated the fact that Naomi seemed blind to the way the man treated him. However, he really liked his teachers and the librarians at Bayside Library. They didn't make him feel stupid or act like he was imposing on them.

He turned back into his room and quickly got dressed, slipping the key in his jeans pocket. He took his textbooks and notebooks out of his backpack, placing them neatly on his desk, then moved quietly into the kitchen. His stomach grumbled loudly and he took two apples out of the refrigerator crisper, putting one in his backpack and taking a deep bite out of the other one.

He debated briefly about letting Naomi know he was leaving, but decided against it. She would just assume he was at the library anyhow. He sighed quietly, but the heaviness of his heart lightened as he thought about the adventure on which he was about to embark


"Coffee," Starsky demanded grumpily as his partner got into the Torino. His partner grinned at him and handed him the Styrofoam cup.

"You're welcome," Hutch said in amusement.

"Thank you."

Hutch rolled his eyes. "So where to?"

"Well, we figure the kid has to be in the neighborhood, right?"

"Right. But what makes you think the kid is going to leave the house this weekend?"

"'Cause he's a kid."

"But he's a gifted kid," Hutch reminded him.

"Do you have any other ideas?"

"How many grade schools are there in the area?"

"In the immediate area around the murder scene?" Starsky frowned. "Just Rosecrantz. Why?"

"Why don't we see if we can get Dobey to roust the principal and see if we can get an address on the kid?"

Starsky shook his finger in admiration at his partner. "I like the way you think, Blondie."

"In the meantime, we cruise the neighborhood."

"Call it in then." Starsky quickly took another big gulp of coffee before handing his partner his cup and slipping the Torino into gear.


Blair looked over each shoulder, relieved to find the bus terminal was practically empty. He chided himself. What was he expecting? Surely cold blooded killers didn't loiter at bus stations at seven in the mornings on Saturdays.

Blair looked at the key in his hand, then at the number of the locker.

222.

Swallowing hard, he slipped the key into the lock and turned it, relieved when it clicked open. He opened the door slowly and peeked into the metal cubical. A velour bundle sat innocuously before him. He untied the string in the middle and gently unrolled the bundle deeper inside the locker. He gasped as he looked at the gold statues.

"Viracocha. Apu Inti, Chiqui Illapa, Mamaquilla, Yakumama, Mamacocha, Pachakama," he whispered each name as he reverently touched the Incan deities.

His heart thundering in his throat, he very carefully rerolled the bundle, retied it and put it into his backpack.

Now. Now, he understood why the older man had been killed. By the look of the statues, they were very, very old. The gold itself would have made the package invaluable, but a collection of this sort was close to priceless.

Blair tightened his backpack, then relocked the locker, depositing a quarter into the lock and taking the key. The key was evidence, wasn't it?

He decided to return home and call the police station knowing he needed to find the two cops and fast.


"Starsky. Starsk."

"What?"

"Isn't that our boy?" Ken Hutchinson slapped his partner's shoulder.

Starsky slowed the car to a stop and looked down the little alley. Even a half a block away, they could spot the large purple bruise on the kid's forehead. "That's him. But who's that behind him?"

Hutch shook his head. "Don't know."

Both detectives got out of the Torino and headed down the alley, fully expecting their quarry to run as soon as they were spotted; so they were surprised when the boy looked up and smiled at them. As they closed the distance, they watched as the man behind the boy stumbled slightly and kicked a can as he tried to recover his step. The boy looked over his shoulder, curious, then momentarily froze. But before any of the adults could react, the boy raced forward toward them.

The young Hispanic man swore then ran after the boy.

"This isn't good," Starsky mumbled to his partner as he raced forward.

The Hispanic caught the boy by the shoulder, spun him and lifted him by the waist.

"Police!" Hutch yelled, drawing his weapon and pointing it at the older man in front of him. "Put the boy down NOW!"

"Not until he gives me my property."

"What property?" Starsky demanded, moving farther away from his partner, making the suspect split his attention between the two of them.

"Take another step, and I'll kill him," the young man vowed, pressing his own gun into the boy's temple.

"Don't be stupid," Hutch said quietly, holding one hand up, almost in a warding gesture. "You have nowhere to go."

As if the fates were determined to prove him wrong, a door next to the killer opened and a busboy with a can of garbage moved out into the sunlight. The killer slammed into the unsuspecting teenager and shoved his way indoors.

"Shit!" Starsky yelled, racing forward.

Hutch stopped beside the unlucky teenager. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," the kid answered, rubbing his chest.

"Call Bay City Police Department; ask them to send backup."

The kid's eyes grew wide, but he nodded.

Hutch opened the door just as a shot was fired in the stairwell above him. "Starsk!"

"Up here!" his partner yelled, obviously not stopping his pursuit.

Without another word, Hutch ran up the steps. He burst through the door at the top and found himself on the roof. He could hear his partner, trying to calm the young Hispanic man down and quickly decided to approach from another direction.


"Look, we don't want any trouble," David Starsky shouted, both hands on his pistol. "Just let the boy go."

"Not until he gives me the fucking key," the Hispanic countered, stepping closer to the fire escape.

Starsky looked down at the boy. Although his demeanor was calm, he could see the terror in the boy's eyes.

"What's with this key you're looking for?" he asked, wondering where in the hell his partner was.

"It's none of your damn business."

"If the boy took your key, then we should go down to the station. You can fill out a report."

The Hispanic snorted in laughter, but the boy's eyes shone with betrayal. Starsky wished he could explain, but at the moment all his attention was centered on the man before him.

"Get real," the Hispanic snorted. "How about you go back downstairs and I don't throw this brat over the edge?"

"You know I can't do that." Starsky watched as the boy fumbled with something in his pocket then held it up high enough for his captor to see.

"I knew you had it, you little pendajo." The Hispanic grabbed the key, even as he shoved the boy back hard.

Starsky watched in horror as the boy's arms windmilled and he fell over the side of the roof. The Hispanic shot blindly toward Starsky before jumping toward the fire escape.

"FREEZE!" Starsky heard his partner bellow.

The Hispanic spun and fired again, then jumped down to the landing below him.

Starsky ran to the edge of the roof and looked down, prepared to shoot at their fleeing felon, but stopped as he spotted Blair hanging from a flag pole.

"HALT!" Hutch yelled, firing once at the Hispanic.

The boy on the pole jerked in reaction.

"Hey, Houdini," Starsky called out quietly, trying to distract the boy. "How many lives do you have anyway?"

The boy whimpered as he swung slightly in the breeze.

"Hold on, kid." Starsky put his pistol into his holster and leaned over the edge. "Hey, don't look down, okay?"

The kid didn't move.

Starsky stood as his partner raced to his side. "The kid's petrified. You're going to have to anchor me and I'll see if I can reach him, otherwise I have no idea how we're going to get him down."

Hutch nodded and grabbed his belt and pants from behind. Starsky leaned forward over the edge of the building. "Can you move this way, kid?"

The boy continued to whimper, his gaze locked on the ground below.

"Kid. Blair. BLAIR!"

Very slowly, the boy raised his face and looked at him.

"When I put my hands on your wrists, you need to let go of the pole, okay?"

The kid shook his head.

"You have to trust me, Blair."

The boy shook his head.

"Come on, Blair, you can do this."

"Y-y-you w-w-won't d-d-drop m-m-e?"

"Hand to God, kid."

"I'd-d ra-ther you-your h-hand w-was on m-me."

Starsky laughed despite the situation. "Deal. Can you move a little this way?"

"N-n-no. S-s-s-sorry."

"Don't be," Starsky instantly reassured him. "You got me, Hutch?"

"I gotcha, partner."

"Okay, let's do this then." Starsky took a deep breath, then used his stomach to push off the brick wall in little, almost sit-up motions, then stretched forward and grasped the kid's wrists. "Let go, Blair."

The boy hesitated for only a moment, but then complied. The boy's sudden release and weight caused Starsky to swing the boy into the exterior of the building.

Starsky cursed under his breath.

"Is he okay?" Hutch yelled from behind him.

"I still have him," Starsky replied. "Blair, are you okay?"

The boy was looking down again, his back plastered against the wall. "T-t-tell m-my m-mom-m I...I l-love her."

"I'm not gonna drop you, damn it," Starsky growled. "HUTCH, PULL ME BACK NOW!"

Starsky tightened his grip on the boy's wrists as his partner pulled him back toward safety. He strained to straighten hoping to keep the boy's back from scraping the brick wall, but realized he wasn't entirely successful when he heard the small gasp of pain.

As soon as he had the boy over solid ground, he gently lowered him to the gravel roof, then turned the boy and held him tight, surprised by the protectiveness surging through him. "See, a promise is a promise," he whispered into the curly hair.

The boy nodded into his chest, refusing to release him.

"Nice save, Gordo," his partner said quietly from beside him, gently patting his shoulder. "This kid must have been a cat in a previous life."

Starsky looked at the brick way in front of him and shuddered. "Have I mentioned lately how much I hate heights?"

The boy in his arms shuddered with him. "I don't think I'm too fond of them myself."


Blair couldn't stop shaking. While he and Naomi had been in some pretty hairy situations, he had never really thought he could die. However, when he had been looking down at the street, he had known, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that that was exactly what was going to happen.

The strong arms around him provided a warmth he sorely lacked. The detectives had risked their lives to save him. It didn't make any sense. First they were going to turn him over to Children's Services, then they were going to arrest him for theft, then they saved him from being a pancake.

He shook his head in confusion.

"What?" a gentle voice asked beside his ear.

He moved back, feeling the arms reluctantly release him from their grip. Without a word, he held out both hands, waiting to be cuffed.

"What's this?" the dark haired detective asked, surprised.

"You told Diego you were going to arrest me."

"Aw, kid," the detective said sympathetically as he pulled him back into an embrace. "That was just a bluff. I was trying to get him to let you go. It was a long shot, but you wouldn't believe how stupid some criminals are."

"So you aren't going to send me to the joint?"

"To the joint?" Warm laughter bubbled over his head. "No, kid. I'm not sendin' ya to the joint."

"How about Children's Services?"

"No. Not even Children's Services. We would like to ask you some questions though."

"Okay." He nodded, unable to prevent the sigh of relief from escaping.

Again, the arms reluctantly released him. When he raised his eyes, both detectives were squatting before him.

"Do you remember who we are?" the blond one asked quietly.

"Detectives Starsky and Hutch...Hutchi...Hutch..."

"Hutch is fine." The blonde detective smiled. "Did the professor give you the key before he died?"

"I...I guess so. I didn't realize he had done it until last night. When he fell, he knocked off my glasses and pulled on my jacket. He probably slipped it in then."

"Do you have any idea what the key was for?" Starsky asked, scratching his head.

"Oh, sure. It was for locker 222 at the Bay City Bus Terminal."

"Locker 222?" Starsky asked, startled.

"At the bus terminal?" Hutch asked a second after his partner.

Blair barely had a chance to nod before Starsky picked him up by the waist and raced down the stairwell. Sometimes being little sucked.


"Dispatch, this is Zebra Three. Please have all available units meet us at the Bay City Bus Terminal. Advise, no sirens as suspect is probably in the station and we do not want a hostage situation," Hutch said into the radio's microphone.

"Acknowledge Zebra Three. Attention all available units. Attention all available units. Please report to Detective Hutchinson at the Bay City Bus Terminal. Run silent. I repeat, run silent as suspect is believed to be in the building."

Satisfied, Hutchinson turned to face their small witness in the back seat as his partner negotiated the streets. "Is there anything else we should know?"

The kid shrugged. "The locker is empty."

"The locker... is empty. And just how do you know that?"

"I emptied it."

Starsky laughed as he guided the Torino around a tight right corner. "Have I mentioned that I like this kid?"

Hutch watched as the boy in back blushed, then glanced shyly at him. He shook his head in wonder. Incredible eyelashes. No doubt about it. "So what was in it?" he asked.

Blair unzipped his backpack and slowly unrolled a cloth bundle. They're gold statutes. Well, mostly gold. Mamacocha is actually made from conch shells. You see, conch was considered to be more precious to the Incas than gold."

"Incas?"

"Yeah. You see, this is probably a set taken from an ancient priest. Notice how the set contains Viracocha."

"Viracocha?"

"Yes. You see, Viracocha is the supreme creator god or the progenitor of the Incan pantheon and preserver of the Inca race. While he is revered as the most powerful deity in Incan lore, he was only worshipped by the priestly elites and the emperor. His very name was taboo for the masses. These statues are very, very old," Blair said, running his fingers lightly over the various statues.

"So they're pretty valuable?"

"To the right people they would be priceless. I don't know that there has ever been a set like this found in recent history. My guess is Diego and the doctor smuggled them out of some ruins. Diego kept talking about a deal. I'm thinking the doctor was trying to break the deal and keep the statues for himself."

"How old are you again, kid?"

"Ten. Why?"

Hutch laughed. "Are you sure you aren't a thirty year old midget?"

"Fairly sure."

"You're pretty smart for a ten year old."

"Thank you."

Hutch watched as Blair wrapped the statues back up and put them in his backpack.

"Have you ever considered becoming a cop?" Hutch teased.

"No way. Naomi would go nuclear."

"Naomi?"

"My mom."

"Naomi Sandburg?" Starsky asked as he pulled into the bus terminal parking lot.

"Yeah."

"Red hair? Gorgeous?"

"Yeah."

"I knew a Naomi after I got out of the army, but before I went to the academy."

"Oh yeah? I think I would remember if she had told me she dated a cop."

"I wasn't a cop at the time."

"Oh. Well, maybe it was her then."

"Do you think I could meet her when we take you home?"

"Ummm... sure... okay."

"So where is this locker?" Hutch asked, breaking into the conversation again.

"I'll show you."

"NO!" both detectives boomed at once.

"You stay in the car. We don't want to give this Diego clown a chance to hurt you again," Hutch explained quickly as soon as he saw the puppy dog eyes Monica had warned them about. Those eyes should be registered somewhere, he mused, slightly annoyed that a part of him wanted to give in to the boy.

"Oh, okay," the boy said quietly. "The locker is in the back of the terminal on the right hand side."

"You stay in the car, all right?" Starsky said, trying to sound stern, but not pulling it off very well.

"I will."

"Keep the doors locked," Hutch instructed and waited until he saw the boy nod in compliance before he got out of the Torino and locked the door.


Blair tapped his foot impatiently as he waited. Time seemed to crawl by. Naomi would be expecting him home for lunch soon. Could Diego have already come and gone? Would he even chance going to the locker when the cops knew he had a key? Did he really think Blair wouldn't know what the key was for? Would he hunt for Blair if he found the locker empty?

Chewing on his bottom lip, Blair worried about the last thought. If Diego started looking for him, he might find out about his mom. Would Diego hurt his mom? Of course he would. He had killed the doctor in cold blood.

Blair tried to remember if either detective had used his name in Diego's presence.

Where were they?

He waited several more minutes before he unzipped his backpack and pulled out the apple. He really needed to get home. If Naomi started to worry, she'd send Stan out to look for him and then there really would be hell to pay.

Sighing, he gathered his backpack and got out of the car. He locked the door, then turned to head home, but stopped. He really should tell the detectives he was leaving. He didn't want them to worry. He looked around. Weren't there suppose to be other police officers?

He didn't want to go into the terminal, but he didn't see how he had any other choice. Shaking his head, he started toward the main doors. He was going to get yelled at. He just knew it.

He opened the main door and scanned the huge terminal. His eyes widened as he saw Diego racing toward him. Close on his heels were the two detectives, shouting for the fleeing Hispanic to stop. A part of him wanted to hide, but he could tell by Diego's face that he had been seen, and the last thing he wanted was to be a hostage again.

Fingering the apple in his hand, he judged the distance between him and the man racing toward him, then swung back and threw the fruit with all his might. The apple flew true and hit the criminal in the forehead. Diego stopped abruptly, then staggered forward a few steps, before falling flat on his face in front of Blair.

Police converged on the scene from all directions.

"I thought we told you to stay in the car," Detective Hutchinson said in a tone that wasn't quite angry, but not quite pleased either.

"I really have to go home now. I just wanted to let you know so you didn't worry," he tried to explain.

"What did the kid bean him with?" a uniformed officer asked as he cuffed Diego's hands behind his back.

Another cop picked up the piece of fruit and tossed it to Starsky. "An apple?" the curly haired detective asked. "We're gonna make a cop of you yet, kid."

"I'd really rather you didn't, sir," Blair said, horrified by the thought. "My mother really wouldn't understand."

The police around him laughed and ruffled his hair.

"Can I go home now?" he asked, starting to get nervous about the time.

"We really need to take you down to the precinct to get your statement," Starsky said quietly, squatting down in front of him. "We can call your mom from there."

"She's not going to be happy."

"We'll explain everything. I promise."

Blair sighed. "Okay. But we need to call her soon."

"Trust me, kid. I've got your back." Starsky ruffled his hair again and guided him to the car.


Hutch shook his head in wonderment as he watched Blair Sandburg read his statement. There was something about the kid that tickled part of his brain, but he couldn't figure out why.

"Should I sign here?" Blair asked pointing at the bottom.

"Yes, please."

Hutch watched the young man sign his name. What they had was one brave kid. A part of him worried about the emotional trauma the kid was probably going to suffer. He knew he personally was going to have nightmares of seeing the kid hanging off the flag pole for weeks to come.

He shook his head again. Despite it all, the kid never whined or even cried.

"I demand to see my son!" a voice shouted from the hallway, seconds before the door to the squad room opened.

"Mama?" Blair called out.

"Blair. Oh my God! Baby, are you okay?" the woman cried out before kneeling beside the wooden chair holding her son and wrapping him in a tight embrace.

"You have no right to keep him here," an oily looking man shouted from behind her.

"We have no intention of keeping your son here, sir. He just finished giving his statement. We simply called you because he was worried that you would be wondering where he was," Hutch explained, trying to keep his voice calm.

"He's not my dad," Blair said, looking horrified at the mere thought.

"Sorry, kid," Hutch apologized.

"Why would Blair need to give a statement?" Naomi asked, looking up at him, but never releasing her hold on her son.

"Blair witnessed a murder yesterday."

"A murder?" Naomi gasped.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Is that true, Blair?" she asked, looking back at her son.

The boy looked miserable, but nodded.

"Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God," she cried, rocking the boy back and forth in her arms.

"It's okay, mama. I'm okay."

"And your forehead?"

"I really did run into a post," Blair said with some chagrin.

"You have a very brave boy there, Mrs. Sandburg," Hutch said quietly.

"It's Ms."

"Pardon me?"

"It's Ms. Sandburg."

"Well, you have a very brave boy, Ms. Sandburg. Blair was instrumental in capturing the murderer."

"Are you telling me you took my boy into a dangerous situation?" Naomi Sandburg demanded as she stood up to her full height.

"It wasn't his fault, mama," Blair said in a pleading voice, pulling his mother's hand. "They told me to stay in the car, but it was getting late and I didn't want you to worry so I went into the terminal."

"Where he took the suspect out with an apple," Starsky said brightly as he joined the group.

"David? David Starsky?" Naomi sputtered. "Is that really you?"

"Hello, Naomi," Starsky smiled as he stepped forward and gently kissed the redhead on the cheek.

"My God, it really is you. What are you doing here?"

"I'm a detective now."

Naomi closed her eyes and released a long breath. "So you actually did it, didn't you? You just couldn't stay away from the violence."

"Naomi..."

"No," she shouted, cutting him off. "This is exactly why I didn't want Blair to know you."

Blair stood up and moved in front of his mother. "Mama, it's not like that. Detective Starsky took care of me. He saved me when Diego pushed me off the building."

Naomi's eyes opened in horror as she looked down at her son. "When you were pushed off the building?"

"Mama--"

"No. We're getting out of here." Naomi gently grabbed her son's arm and marched him toward the door.

"Ms. Sandburg," Hutch called after her. "Blair is a material witness in a homicide investigation. It is imperative that you remain in contact with us."

Naomi's eyes narrowed. "Fine," she said simply, then turned and moved out into the hallway.

Stan turned and frowned at both detectives, but remained silent as he too left.

"What was that all about?" Hutch asked his friend, who was frowning at the door.

Starsky shook his head as if breaking loose from his thoughts. "Naomi was a flower child. Beautiful. Free. I met her after I got out of the army. I was trying to decide what I was gonna do with the rest of my life. For a little while I thought... I thought she might be the one, you know?"

"What happened?" Hutch asked quietly.

"She couldn't cope with the idea of me joining the academy. She saw it as a betrayal. Once I told her I was gonna join, she left and I never saw her again," Starsky said quietly, standing still, as if hearing the harsh words from years ago being spoken again.

Hutch started to reach out to his partner, when Blair skidded back into the room.

"I...uh...I," the boy stammered, then blushed. "I forgot to give you this." He smiled brilliantly at them as he handed Starsky the velour bundle. "As much as I would like to have them, I really think they need to be in a museum."

"You're a good kid, Blair," Starsky said quietly, gently ruffling the boy's head.

"I also wanted to thank you," the boy said softly, dropping his gaze to his feet.

"For what?" Starsky asked quietly.

"For saving me. I'm sorry I didn't trust you sooner."

"That's okay, partner. You've been through a lot in the last twenty-four hours."

Blair nodded, then threw himself at the curly hair detective and hugged him tight, then released him and hugged Hutch as well.

"BLAIR!" a voice from the hallway called.

"Gotta run."

"Hey, kid," Starsky called out.

"Yeah?" Blair stopped by the door.

"If you ever need anything. Anything at all. You look for me, okay?"

Blair grinned brilliantly at him. "I will." And with that, he disappeared.


Ken Hutchinson stretched as he finished typing up his final report. He glanced at his watch and sighed. It was almost seven p.m. He gasped as the tickle in his mind firmly and resolutely stepped forward.

"Starsk?"

"Yeah?"

"What did Naomi mean when she said that was exactly why she didn't want Blair to know you?"

"What?"

"She said it, right after you came back."

Starsky's eyes darkened. "She said that?"

"Yeah."

"I have no idea."

"How long has it been since you've seen her?"

Starsky shrugged. "I don't know. Ten, perhaps eleven years. Why?"

"Starsk, do the math."

"What are you saying?"

"We graduated the academy in late '69, right?"

"Right."

"And you never saw Naomi after you told her you were joining the academy, right?"

"Right."

"So why would she care if Blair ever met you or not?" Hutch asked quietly.

Starsky's eyes widened in horror. "You're not saying..."

"Partner, he looks so much like you it's scary."

"But...but..."

"I could be wrong. It's just there's been something niggling at me all day and that comment just sort of cemented things." Hutch shook his head in frustration. "I mean, Gladys was right; he does have your eyes."

"Where's Blair's report?" Starsky asked as he ruffled through the papers beside the typewriter with shaky hands. "Maybe... maybe we should stop by and check on him... see how he's doing?"

Hutch handed his partner the missing document.

Starsky glanced at the paper. "This is crazy, right?"

"Yeah, crazy. But still..."

"Yeah, still... Okay, I know where this is. I better... that is... I should..."

"You want me to come with you?"

"Please," the curly haired detective said simply, his blue eyes saying everything he couldn't verbalize.


At first, Starsky knocked gently on the apartment door, but when no one answered, he knocked louder.

A neighbor's door cracked open and a tiny elderly woman frowned at them. "She ain't there."

"Do you know where she is?" Hutch asked, turning to face the woman.

"No. She sent that man of hers off on some fool's errand. Fifteen minutes later, she and the boy were leaving with suitcases in hand."

Hutch frowned. "Suitcases? Did she leave a forwarding address?"

"I doubt it. Her type rarely does."

"Her type?"

"You know, hippies. Probably got wind that Children's Services was going to stop by again and split."

Hutch pulled his card and handed it to the woman. "My name is Detective Hutchinson and this is my partner Detective Starsky. It's very important that we get a hold of Ms. Sandburg's son. Would you give us a call if you hear anything from them?"

"Sure, but don't hold your breath. I don't expect to see hide nor hair of them ever again."

Starsky turned and asked quietly, "How was the boy?"

"What do you mean?"

"Did he seem okay to you?"

"He didn't seem happy. He's usually such a quiet boy, but he kept going on and on about staying until he found out the grade on his science project and wanting to say goodbye to some librarians, but she wasn't having any of it."

Starsky closed his eyes. "Thank you."

Slowly, he turned and walked to the stairwell.

"I could be wrong, you know?" Hutch said quietly from his side. "I don't know what I was thinking. I mean, it's crazy, right?"

Starsky smiled weakly at him. "Yeah, crazy."

They walked down the stairs and out into the night. "Tomorrow we'll talk to the principal at Rosecrantz. I mean, they're going to have to send Blair's school records to the new school, right?"

Starsky smiled a little brighter. "That's right."

"Well, there you go. What say I buy you a beer, partner?"

"You're on," Starsky said quietly as he opened the driver's side door to the Torino. Before he got in, he looked at his partner over the roof of the car. "It sure has been one hell of a day, hasn't it?"

"That it has, partner, that it has."

--End--


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