(c) June 2013 by Charlotte Frost


A Sequel to Summer Love



Starsky pushed the button to roll up the window of the Corvette.  The mid October air had an unexpected nip.   He was on his way to see a new client about a cheating spouse.  She didn't think she'd have a chance to come into town for a few days.  Since things were a little slow this afternoon, Hutch had given Starsky the green light to meet with her at her home, while Hutch left to go riding.

Starsky braked at a four-way stop and glanced down at the yellow sticky note on his leather-bound notebook.  11452 Lafayette Lane.  

He moved through the intersection and spotted a brick wall on the left, with lettering that said Lafayette Heights.  Starsky turned into the entrance, where there was a gate and a booth.  He rolled down the window as a uniformed guard came out with clipboard.

Starsky said, "David Starsky, here to see Mrs. Stanford.  She's expecting me."

The guard looked down his clipboard.  "Here you are."  He made a checkmark.  "Have you been here before?"


The guard pointed.  "Follow this street to the right.  Your second right is Lafayette Lane."

"Terrific.  Thanks."

The guard stepped back into his booth, and a moment later the gate opened.  Starsky drove through.

Within a couple of minutes, he was parked in front of 11452 Lafayette Lane.  It was a sprawling, two-story house, with elaborate gardens.  A gardener was watering plants.  Starsky was glad that he'd dressed in dark, crisp jeans and a button shirt.

Starsky got out of his car, deciding to lock it, because of the gardener.  He carried his notebook to the front door and rang the bell.

A middle-aged, spirited-looking, blonde woman, wearing a tennis outfit, opened the door.  "You must be David."

"That I am.  And you must be Laura Stanford."  He shook her extended hand.

"Yes.  Please come in."  She stepped back.  "Would you like anything to drink?"

"Thank you, but no."  Starsky entered the house with high ceilings.  "This is a beautiful home." 

She led the way to the living room.  "Thank you.  Have a seat."

He took an antique-style easy chair, while she sat on a love seat, and crossed one leg over the other.  He opened his notebook and took out a pen, wanting, as always, to give the impression of a professional who was determined to dive right in to helping her with her situation.   Gently, he asked, "What makes you think your husband might be cheating?"

Rather than appearing wounded or embarrassed, she gazed right at him.  "It must get tiring, going around every day, seeing married women who have been disappointed by their husbands.  You must be bored with all their sob stories."

"Every case is different," Starsky smoothly side-stepped.  "Our goal is to find out whatever the client needs us to find out.  If you want proof to confront your husband, or take to a divorce lawyer, we can provide that -- if, in fact, he is cheating."

She asked, "Is the suspicious wife ever wrong?"

Starsky considered the question, the back of his mind admitting that this was turning into a more interesting conversation than was the norm.  "Occasionally.  We tailed one guy that was spending all those unaccounted for hours going to the movies.  Another husband was actually working at his office alone late into the night.  More recently, we've had a case where the husband was sneaking away to watch his illegitimate son from a long-ago relationship play ball.  He'd had the son before he was married, but the wife never knew."  Starsky got the feeling that Laura wasn't listening to his reply, even as she continued to gaze at him.

Starsky shifted, and poised his pen over his notebook.  "So, tell me about your situation."

It was the usual story.  Robert Stanford was an investment broker.  He was often "away for lunch" when Laura called his office.  When she called early in the morning, he frequently hadn't arrived yet because, per his secretary, he had an early appointment.  Sometimes, he came home extremely late, and would say he'd had a drink with some co-workers, or had given a colleague with car trouble a lift home.  The more she pressed for details, the more defensive he became.  Sometimes, later, she'd find out from mutual acquaintances that he'd never had to give a colleague a lift home, or hadn't gone out drinking after work.

What was different about Laura was that she never shed a tear when talking about her possibly cheating husband.  She didn't sound angry.  She didn't sound depressed or resigned.  Her demeanor was one of someone discussing the weather.  Nor was she interested, contrary to most clients, in giving him the whole backstory on her marriage.  She only discussed what was happening now. 

Starsky glanced over his notes.  "Okay, I've got all the names and addresses I need, I think."  He looked up.  "All I need now is a recent photograph of Robert."

Laura rose gracefully.  "It's in the office upstairs.  I've also got photographs of some of the women I think he might be cheating with."  She started toward the staircase.  "This way."

Starsky was surprised that she wanted him to join her in going upstairs.  He took his notebook with him and, as he moved behind Laura, he enjoyed noticing how playing tennis had kept her in shape.

The hall had an elaborate carpet, with paintings lining the hall.  Hutch would know what these are.  He himself didn't have a clue who the artists might be.

She turned to a door on the right.  "The office is through here."

Starsky followed and found himself in a bedroom.  He felt odd about it, but thought that perhaps a walk-in closet had been turned into an office.

Just as they passed the bed, Laura suddenly turned.  Her arms slid around Starsky's neck, and her lips planted against his.

He struggled minutely, and then gave in.  The petite, soft, inviting feel of her.... 

Starsky dropped his notebook and wrapped his arms around her.


Hutch was glad that he'd gotten off early, in time to ride Poncho for 45 minutes, before Poncho was ridden by Leslie Parker.  Leslie was taken reining lessons from Clint, and she had signed an agreement with Hutch that she would pay $75 a month toward Poncho's board, in exchange for riding him up to two hours every Tuesday and Friday.  If she wanted to ride at a different time, she needed to ask Hutch's permission, such as for the reining competition on a Saturday, in two weeks.   Leslie had a lesson scheduled at six o'clock today, and Hutch had left work in time to beat rush hour traffic, so he could get in a ride before then.

He had stayed to watch most of the lesson.  Leslie was a homely-looking, slightly chunky woman in her early twenties.  She seemed a bit sociably inept, but once in the saddle, she turned into a self-confident and capable rider.  Under Clint's tutelage, she put Poncho through pivoting turns and sliding stops that Hutch didn't know how to do.

As he drove home, Hutch considered that he didn't know much about Leslie.  He strongly doubted that she had a boyfriend.  He wouldn't be surprised if she'd never even been on a date.  It was nice that she could be so capable on horseback, but he wondered if she'd ever put that kind of effort into her everyday life.

He wondered if the experience of a man would put a bright smile on her plain-looking face, when she wasn't in the saddle.

The feelings my cock could give her....

Hutch snorted at his own musings.  Even in his single days, she wasn't the kind of woman he would have ever pursued.  But still, the fantasy of his dick making somebody happy was certainly an appealing one.

As he drove up the block to home, Hutch reached to the sun visor, where the garage door opener was clipped, and pressed it.  He turned into their driveway, the rising garage door revealing that the garage was empty.  It was past seven.  Starsky must have gone to the store though, usually, the rare times he went shopping, he checked with Hutch first to see if he needed anything.

Hutch entered the house a moment later.  Everything appeared the same as it had been at breakfast.  Starsk hasn't been home?  That seemed odd. 

Hutch picked up the receiver to the wall phone and dialed the number for the Corvette's car phone.

It was picked up on the third ring.  "Hello?" came the subdued greeting.

Hutch furrowed his brow.  "Where are you?"

Starsky's voice remained flat.  "On the waterfront.  Near Far Point Beach."

Starsky's defeated tone made Hutch reluctant to ask why.  "I'm on my way."

When there wasn't a response, Hutch quickly hung up and headed back out to the garage.


Hutch's detective instincts were in full gear during the drive.  Starsky was upset, obviously.  But not so upset that he'd tried to get a hold of Hutch during the evening.  Or, maybe whatever had caused so much upset was something that Starsky was reluctant to share with Hutch?  He wondered what the reason for the latter could be.

Had something happened with Nick and Lannie?

Lannie's divorce was supposed to be final within a couple of weeks.  She and Nick still kept in touch, but they'd been holding each other at arm's length.  For Nick's part, it was supposedly because he was trying to give her space to work through the idea of being divorced.  For Lannie, Hutch could only guess that either she, too, realized it was best for all if she stayed away from Nick, until she was free and clear of her marriage; or, perhaps, keeping her distance from Nick was an angry reaction to him having tried to cool his interest in their relationship.

Or did Starsky's upset have nothing at all to do with Nick and Lannie?

Had Hutch managed to somehow do something that had pissed Starsky off?  Hutch thought back through the day, and couldn't imagine what.  Yes, he had slipped out early and gone for a ride, after sending Starsky out to see yet another new client who suspected her husband of cheating, but Starsky never begrudged him that.  After all, Starsky was the one who had purchased Poncho as a gift for Hutch.

Hutch spotted Starsky's yellow Corvette in the darkness of the south parking lot for Far Point Beach.  As he passed it, it saw that Starsky wasn't inside.  He parked the LeBaron, and then headed down the brief steps that led to the beach area.

Starsky was sitting on a bench, his hands in the pockets of his jacket, his posture slumped as he gazed out at the ocean.

Hutch sat beside him.

Over a minute past in silence, and Hutch's foreboding increased.  Finally, with his eyes on the ocean, he asked, "Is it something you did, or something that I did, or something that somebody else did?"

Starsky swallowed loudly.  "Something that I almost did."

When they were cops, "almost" could be serious, such as almost shooting an innocent person.  But in their current occupations....  Hutch lightened his voice.  "Almost doesn't sound that grim."

Starsky briefly shook his head, his eyes still on the water.  "Doesn't matter.  The fact that I almost did it, makes me just as guilty as if I had.  If something hadn't stopped us.... well," Starsky voice choked as he shrugged elaborately, "it woulda happened."



Hutch's chest tightened.  No.  He was surprised at how calm his voice sounded when he asked, "What stopped you?"

Whispering, Starsky replied, "The gardener rang the doorbell.  She went to answer it, to get him to go away.  In that sixty seconds or so...."  Starsky's voice choked again, ".... I was able to come to my senses and get out of there."  More softly, "But part of me wanted to stay."

Hutch felt anger settled around himself.  He deadpanned, "Got dressed and got out?"

"No," Starsky corrected.  "We weren't undressed.  As soon as she came on to me, it was almost right after that, that we heard the gardener at the door."

Incredulous, Hutch scoffed, "Just threw herself right at you."

Starsky closed his eyes, his head bowed.  "Yeah.  I didn't see it coming."

"Laura Stanford, right?"  Take refuge in the facts.

"Yeah.  She wanted me to 'come upstairs' where she said the office was where she had pictures of her husband.  I thought it was kind of weird that she wanted me to come up, but I did.  I didn't realize what she had intended, until we were in her bedroom, and she was all over me, and I was wanting her."

They were silent.

Starsky drew a quiet breath.  "After she sent the gardener away, she was surprised that I was leaving, and tried to get me to stay.  If I'd hesitated even a second, I think I would have, but I ran out."  A shrug.  "I'm not sure I'd feel any worse if something had actually happened."

Hutch thought he heard what was unspoken.  "I may as well have fucked her, since I already feel so bad about almost fucking her."

Hutch wondered if he was feeling envy, as the sharpest edge of his anger eased.  He quietly demanded, "What do you want me to do about it?"

Starsky sat silent.

"Want me to insist that you sleep on the couch for a couple of weeks?"  Hutch snorted.  "That'll hardly make me sleep better."  He released a heavy sigh, and gazed out at the ocean.  "We both knew this was going to happen some day.  You even wrote a chapter about it."  Silence.  "There's nothing we can do about it now.  Even if you hadn't left, there's nothing we could do to undo it."

No response.

Hutch realized his anger hadn't completely left.  "You want to know what I'm feeling?"

Finally, Starsky turned his head to look at him in the darkness.

Hutch shifted to partially face him.  "I'm pissed off that I'm the injured party, but it's my job to soothe you and make you feel better.  That sucks.  I wish I didn't know about it."  His voice eased.  "I just want to forget it."  He stood.  "I don't want to hear another word about it.  I'll handle the case with Laura Stanford." 

Starsky nodded his head once, his gaze lowered.

Wearily, Hutch said, "I'm going to stop and get something to eat, and then I'm going home."  He turned away, puzzled by his feeling of relief.  He moved slowly, wanting to identify the source.  When he had, he said over his shoulder, "I'm glad it happened to you, and not to me."

After all, he'd always assumed that, when it came to infidelity, he would be the weaker one.


They both tried for a sense of normalcy the next morning, speaking about carefully mundane topics.

At work, Hutch left the office to go to the men's room down the hall.  When he returned, there were a few notebook pages on his desk, with Starsky's handwriting.  They were notes Starsky had taken during his meeting with Laura Stanford.  At the bottom, underlined, were the words "Still Need Photograph of Husband".

Hutch would have liked to ask Starsky more details about the case -- discuss it, face to face, in the way they were accustomed to.  But it would feel too uncomfortable.

He felt sadness overtake him at the idea that there was something he and Starsky couldn't talk about.  Of course, it was his own fault, in a sense.  He'd declared that he didn't want to hear another word about Starsky and Laura Stanford. 

With a sigh, Hutch picked up the phone and dialed Laura's number.  He got voice mail, and left a wooden-sounding message that David Starsky had been assigned to another case, and now he, Ken Hutchinson, was handling her case.

She didn't call back.


On Friday morning, they were both in their offices when Lois buzzed Hutch's phone.  "Ken, Mike Hawkins is on line one."

"Thanks, Lois."  Hutch furrowed is brow, while Starsky came between the open door between their offices, having obviously heard Lois, and sat in a chair on the other side of Hutch's desk.  Mike had made his usual phone call on Tuesday morning, and said Darla was training well for a Grade 3 stakes next weekend at Hollywood Park.  Since the winning race that Julie and Rosie had witnessed in August, she had run fifth in a Grade 1 stakes, after getting jostled around in a crowd of horses, and then been second in a Grade 2.  The weekend before last, she had won a non-graded stakes by three lengths.

Why would Mike be calling just a few days after his last update?

Hutch put on the speaker phone and hit line one.  "Hi, Mike.  We're both here."

There was a sigh.  "Guys, we need to talk."

Hutch felt his stomach clench.

"What's wrong?" Starsky asked worriedly.

"Darla came back from her gallop this morning with a sore hoof.  This is the same front hoof that she injured last year.  When she took a chunk of flesh out of it with the toe of her hind foot, it was right down by the hoof wall.  Even after the flesh heeled, that hoof has been prone to quarter cracks."

"What's a quarter crack?" Hutch asked.

"It's a vertical crack in the hoof wall.  That hoof has required extra management every since, and the blacksmith is one of the best, and he's been able to hold it together with acrylic patches, and things of that nature.  It's been withstanding training and racing.  But all that wear and tear is taking a toll, and the hoof has been weakened, so it's getting harder and harder to keep it stable, so that Darla can put full pressure on it."

Breathlessly, Starsky asked, "Is her life in danger?"

"No, no.  A quarter crack isn't life threatening.  But it's career threatening, when the situation becomes chronic.  It causes soreness, and if you can't give the hoof enough support, then she can't put her full weight on it.  It's getting harder and harder to keep that hoof patched up, with the stress of training."

Puzzled, Hutch said, "We didn't know this was an ongoing problem."

"Quarter cracks are an everyday thing for a horse trainer.  Usually, they can be managed and they heal up just fine.  It's just the way the flesh in that area was compromised, because of the injury Darla did to herself last winter.  If she were a gelding, I'd say take her to a farm for R&R for six months, and give the hoof a chance to heal up completely, and then bring her back into training.  In that case, it could be close to a year before she races again.  But, as much as I hate the idea of losing her, I think she's at the point where she's worth quite a bit more as a broodmare than a racehorse, and you need to take that into consideration."

Hutch met Starsky's concerned gaze. "Are you saying she can't run anymore races this year?"

Hawkins drew a breath.  "It's possible that she could.  The hard part is keeping the hoof supported long enough to train her up to a race, without interruption.  She's not going to be able to make the Grade 2 next Saturday, and I think that hoof is going to keep wanting to deteriorate.  We'd have to get lucky with a span of at least four weeks, where she could train uninterrupted, and that's looking unlikely.  What's more, if you decide to retire her to be bred next spring, this is the time to do it."

"Why is that?" Starsky asked glumly.

"Because the breeding season starts February 15th, and goes through the middle of June.  With fillies retiring from racing, breeding farms like to see them arrive by November.  That gives them a few months to get the filly adapted to farm life, and to get her biology thinking about making a baby, instead of running races."

"So, if we did that," Starsky pursued, "how long would it be before the baby races?"

"Well," Hawkins paused, "since I don't participate in the breeding end, I always have to think this through.  It takes eleven months for a baby to bake.  So, say Darla conceives in March next year.  That's 1984.  The foal would be born in February of 1985.  He would be a yearling in 1986, and the fall of that year is when he would start training, if he's sound and healthy.  Assuming he doesn't have any major setbacks, he could start racing about midway through 1987."

"1987!" Starsky exclaimed in disbelief.

Hutch rubbed a hand over his face. 

Hawkins said, "This whole industry is dependent upon hope and patience.  But the other side the coin is, if she's able to have a foal pretty much every year, then you would have a new baby reaching the races for a few years in a row.  I mean, once the oldest baby was four, then you could also have a three-year-old, and a two-year-old racing, and then a yearling in training.  But I'm under the impression that most mares don't conceive that consistently.  I mean, I've read that a farm with a 80% conception rate is doing pretty good.  So, I'm just saying you can't count on a healthy foal every year, for years on end."

Hutch realized, "And in the meantime, while waiting for the first healthy baby to race, there's no income."

"Right.  But keeping a mare at a breeding farm doesn't cost near as much as keeping a horse in training at the track.  I think the board rates are around ten dollars a day.  Of course, you have vet costs associated with helping her conceive and the foaling, and any illnesses or injuries, for her or the babies.  Then there's paying stud fees for the stallions."

Hutch looked at Starsky, who appeared thoughtful.

Hawkins said, "Another option is to sell her as a broodmare at the January auction.  She'd probably fetch a decent price, even though the economy still sucks."

"We aren't doing that," Starsky said firmly.  "We're racing her babies."

"I'd love to have her offspring in my barn."  Hawkins paused.  "Look, guys, you don't have to decide anything right this minute.  It's just that, like I said, if you decide to retire her, then whatever breeding farm you send her to would like to have her as soon as possible, so she can get acclimated."

Starsky said, "Man, it's just the idea of thinking we'll never see her race again."

"I know.  This is always a tough phone call to make, especially when it's unexpected.  But you guys are in way better shape than a lot of people with racehorses that have a career-ending injury.  You've still got yourself a horse with a lot of market appeal.  And, if you do retire her, at least she went out a winner."

Hutch sighed.  "Okay, Mike, we won't keep you.  We'll discuss it, and get back to you, when we know what we want to do."

"Sounds good.  See ya."

Hutch cut the line.

Starsky was resting his head back against his chair, gazing at the ceiling.  "Well, I'm thinking that, if we're going to be forty-four years old before her first baby could be able to race, we probably need to get going on this breeding thing as soon as possible."

Hutch muttered, "It's tough to think this could all be over.  It's been fun.  And a big financial help."

"Yeah.  But I've guess we've come to the end of this particularly road, buddy."  Starsky's eyes lowered to Hutch.

Hutch's mouth corner twitched.  The endearment felt good.  Maybe talking about Darla is what could ease them back to everything else feeling normal again.  "Maybe we shouldn't be too hasty.  Maybe give it a week or so, huh?  Just in case something changes on Mike's end?"

Starsky shrugged.  "Yeah, sure.  I'd love it, if it turns out we can get one more race from her."


The next afternoon, Hutch was at the riding stable.  Typical of weekends, the indoor and outdoor arenas were crowded, with lots of weekend riders taking their only chance to ride.  Hutch rode Poncho on one of the trails, and then returned him to the small barn where he was stabled, which was separate from the main barn that had the indoor arena.  Many of the stalls in the barn were empty, since the horses were being ridden.  He heard voices at a stall at the far end, which he assumed was the couple that owned a beautiful black Quarter Horse gelding.

He put Poncho in crossties in the aisle, and then unsaddled him.  After hoisting the saddle and accompanying blanket to the tack room, he picked up his bucket of grooming supplies and brought them to the aisle.  He began to brush Poncho, since sweat and dirt had gathered beneath saddle's blanket, and he knew that brushing would help restore welcome circulation.  As he brushed, Hutch cooed, "That feels better, boy, doesn't it?"

He heard someone walk up to the barn's entrance and looked up.  "Oh, hi, Leslie."

She was dressed in baggy jeans and a blouse that was pinned at the bust, since she'd apparently lost a button, as she was rather large-chested.  "Hi, Ken."  She walked up to Poncho and stroked his muzzle.

"So, you all ready for the competition next Saturday?"

She shrugged.  "Guess so."

"Maybe I'll make it out to watch."

She was suddenly bashful and stammered, "I don't know if that's a good idea."

He realized that she wouldn't feel comfortable, knowing that he was looking on.  "Well, in that case, maybe I won't.  I don't want to mess up your chances; just thought it would be nice to root you and Poncho on."

She quickly shook her head.  "I've never been in a competition before."

He moved around Poncho's hindquarters to brush off the opposite side.  "I suppose it'll be pretty scary, but you sure know what you're doing when you ride him.  Maybe you just need to focus on yourself and him, and try not to think about the crowd."

"Yeah, that's what Clint says."

He paused to look at her.  "Regardless of how it goes next Saturday, you're a really fine rider.  Give yourself some credit for everything that you've learned."

She lowered her gaze.

Hutch decided to change the subject, as he continued to brush.  "So, what do you do here on Saturdays?"

"I help out with various things, on Saturdays and other days when I have a chance to come out.  For instance, I clean all the stalls in this barn, twice a week, and that helps pay for my lessons."

"That's great.  Seems like you're always hanging around."

She shrugged.  "I like being here."

Hutch tossed the brush into the bucket, and took out a hoof pick.  He stopped himself from asking Leslie if she had a boyfriend.  It wasn't his place to get that personal.

He prompted Poncho to lift his left foreleg, and bent to rest the hoof on his knee, while using the pick to clean the gravel, mud, manure, and other debris that had accumulated in the hoof during the ride.  He was aware that Leslie had a full view of his rear end. 

He wondered if she would lose her awkwardness if she had someone make love slow, tender love to her.  Show her how wonderful all those warm feelings could be.

He moved to Poncho's hind foot and was aware of the silence as he bent over once again.

Was she fantasizing what he would look like with his clothes off?

Hutch moved to Poncho's other side and lifted the right hind hoof. 

He wondered what Leslie would do if they were alone in the tack room, and he was to move close to her... maybe brush against her.  Squeeze her generous breasts.  He hadn't squeezed a breast in years.

Hutch inwardly scowled as he worked on the hoof.  This kind of situation was the very thing that had gotten Starsky into trouble.

The difference was, Starsky hadn't been looking for it.

Hutch moved to Poncho's right front foreleg, and lifted it to his knee.  His motions were more aggressive with the hoof pick, as he considered that if he could make something happen with Leslie, then he and Starsky would be even.  And then they could start fresh.

Not that things were going all that badly.  They were mostly normal.  Except for the way, despite everyday conversation, Hutch sensed that Starsky was being careful about what he said, as though he were walking on eggshells.  They hadn't made love since before The Incident on Tuesday.  Of course, Starsky wasn't going to instigate such, as it wasn't his place to do so.  Hutch hadn't wanted to think about initiating anything, because he knew that what should be an act of love would be colored by them both being fully aware that it was the first time since Starsky's misstep, and it would be more an act of deliberate making up, and Hutch wasn't enamored of that idea.

Still, the longer they put it off, the more they both were aware of how they hadn't yet put The Incident behind them.

There was the sound of hoof steps on the concrete aisle, and then a woman's voice said, "Coming through."

Hutch straightened to see the saddled black Quarter Horse being led down the aisle by the wife, while the husband walked by his side.

Hutch undid the left lead shank of the crosstie, and gently pushed Poncho to the right.  "I'm finished, anyway," he said.

"Thank you," the woman said, as she led the black gelding past Poncho.

Hutch nodded at the husband, who nodded back.

Leslie had gone into the first empty stall to clean it.  Apparently, she hadn't been that interested in looking at his ass, while she'd had the chance.  Hutch allowed a moment of self-pity, as he led Poncho into his stall.  I hit forty, and I'm already over the hill.

He gave Poncho's neck an appreciative farewell pat, and then left the stall.  He called to Leslie, "I'm off.  Good luck next Saturday, if I don't see you before then."

"Thanks," she called from the stall she was cleaning.

Hutch left the barn and headed for the LeBaron, which was parked nearby.

After starting it and heading off the premises, he wondered what would have happened if Leslie had been interested and he, indeed, had managed to get her alone in the tack room.  After the couple with the black gelding had left....

He let the images fill his mind for a while.  Squeezing her large, soft breasts, thumbing the erect nipples, and then sucking on them.  Making her moan and groan in disbelief and how expertly he pleasured her.  Then he'd insert himself into her warm, moist place, that wanted him so eagerly.

When Hutch turned onto the highway, he realized that he had an erection.

He took a couple of deep breaths.

Why was he even thinking about this?

Because he had a right to get back at Starsky.

Hutch rubbed his temple. 

Ah, hell, he didn't want to get back at Starsky.  He didn't want to take any kind of revenge.  He wasn't even mad about what Starsky had done, or almost done.  He'd been more upset that he was at a loss as to what he was supposed to do about it, especially with Starsky behaving so guilty.

He had forgiven Starsky that night.  It was the first time their relationship had had to deal with the idea of infidelity, but it was unlikely to be the last.  They both knew it that such rare occurrences weren't going to split them up.  So, why bother with dramatic feelings about it?

Since that night at the beach, Starsky hadn't said anything more about The Incident.  He was obeying Hutch's wishes, because Hutch hadn't wanted to deal with any further thought of it.

Starsky was a man who usually worked through stress via talking.   Hutch had removed Starsky's normal release valve, by denying him communication about what had happened.

They both had verbalized in recent years that communication with each other was an important key to the success of their relationship.  Hutch had put a wall between them about the very thing it was most important to talk about, immediately after Starsky had told him.

Not that he hadn't had good reason, Hutch assured himself, but still....

Hutch took a deep breath, relieved that his desire had evaporated. 

He trusted Starsky fully.  He wouldn't hesitate to send him to meet alone with another wife offended by a cheating husband.  He knew Starsky would do everything he could to remove himself from a compromising situation.  And he had.

Hutch wasn't sure that he'd have been as strong.  He likely would have let whatever was going to happen, happen, and then count on Starsky's forgiveness.  After all, what else could Starsky do, but forgive?

Stuck together like glue, Hutch thought fondly.

Which was why it had been so puzzling that Starsky was behaving so guilty that night, and continued to be on his guard.

Was it possible that Starsky simply didn't realize that Hutch had forgiven him?


When Hutch entered the house, Starsky was making a note on the shopping list that they kept on the refrigerator with a magnetic clip.

"How was your ride?" Starsky greeted, putting the pencil aside.

Hutch clasped his hand.  "Come sit with me."   He led the way to the living room. 

He sat down on one end of the sofa.  "Sit here," he prompted, bringing Starsky down to his lap.

Starsky got settled with the sofa arm taking most of his weight.  He looped his arm around Hutch's neck and regarded him curiously.

Hutch relished the weight against him.  He closed his eyes and nuzzled Starsky's arm, which was clothed in a long-sleeve T-shirt.  With his free hand, his rubbed along Starsky's back.

He opened his eyes, just as Starsky turned his cheek to rest it against Hutch's forehead, while making an agreeable "Mm" sound.

Hutch spent another moment rubbing, using large circles, loving the sinking feeling that was filtering through his own body.  After a moment, he whispered, "Hey."  He reached up and cupped Starsky's cheek, beckoning him to straighten.

Starsky raised his head and looked down at Hutch.

Hutch met his eye.  "I forgive you."

Starsky's mouth curved into a thin smile, while his eyes crinkled and showed a hint of moisture.

Starsky moved to rest his forehead against Hutch's.  He murmured, "So sorry."

Hutch put both arms around him, pulling snug.  "I forgave you that night."

"I know," Starsky whispered.  "But still...."

"Yeah, I know."  Hutch loosened one arm to begin massaging Starsky's back again.  "Love you so, so, so much."

Starsky shifted, so he was in a more comfortable sitting position, and rested his head on Hutch's shoulder, his face at the crook of Hutch's neck.

"You're my everything," Hutch told him.

Starsky turned his mouth to say, "I hope we're gonna make love soon."

"In a bit.  Just want to hold you for a while."


Starsky slipped his hands around Hutch waist, while Hutch continued to rub his hands along Starsky's back, hips, and shoulders.

After a time, Hutch said, "I don't think I did the right thing, telling you that I didn't want to hear anymore about it.  I cut you off, and that wasn't my intent."

Starsky's head rested so nicely against Hutch's shoulder.  "I couldn't blame you for feeling that way."

"We've agreed before that we should always talk to each other, even when it hurts.  That time shouldn't have been any different."

Starsky was thoughtful.  "I don't think I was sayin' much that night, anyway.  I was too upset that it had happened at all, that I could be taken by surprise like that.  That I could respond so readily to a complete stranger."

"I don't think we're doing ourselves any favors by apologizing for being healthy, virile males."

Starsky's gaze drifted to the far wall.  Then he asked, "So, did you meet with her?  Laura Stanford?"

"She never called back.  I left her a message the next morning, saying you were put on another case, and that she should call me."

"Huh.  Maybe she really didn't care as much about tailing her husband.  When she was telling me about her suspicions, she didn't seem to have any emotion about it.  Almost makes me wonder if she gets her kicks from finding reasons to have strange men come to her house, and trying to seduce them."

Hutch realized that this was the conversation they should have had the next morning.  "Well, it's fine with me if we never hear from her again."


Starsky's weight was putting pressure in interesting places.  Hutch nuzzled his chin, until Starsky raised his head enough for Hutch to capture his lips.

It all felt so good.  So welcoming.  So warm.  He was so eagerly wanted.  Right where I belong.

Hutch's hands went back to work, now being a little more selective and enticing in their touches, while they continued to kiss long and leisurely, with an increasing sense of purpose.

The phone rang.

Starsky murmured a protest.

Hutch reluctantly pulled back.  "I'll answer it.  Why don't you go jump in the shower."


Starsky's eyes drifted open in the darkness.  He was facing Hutch's back and couldn't see what time it was.  But it made him happy to remember that it must be sometime late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, so they could spend the day any way they wanted.

He relaxed against his pillow, taking stock of the physical sensations within his body.  He wasn't sure when the last time was that Hutch had made love to him with such a wonderful aggression.  Hutch had loved him all over with his hands, and then tongued him in every place imaginable, and then fucked him everywhere he could fit his long, thick, gorgeous cock.  And that had just been round one.

He was the most cherished person on Earth.

His legs shifted, and he felt soreness in the muscles, after Hutch had grabbed, pinned, and manipulated his body in various ways to quench his desires.

There was a quiet, in-drawn breath, and Hutch reached back with a hand, beneath the covers.  It rested on Starsky's thigh.  "You okay?"

"Are you kidding?" Starsky asked incredulously.  "I'm more okay than I can ever remember being."

Hutch rolled over, grunting with satisfaction.

Starsky curled up at Hutch side, his head on Hutch's chest, as an arm pulled him close.

Starsky wondered, "Who called earlier?"

"That was Nick.  He wants to brunch with us tomorrow."  Hutch glanced over at the clock, and corrected, "Today."

Starsky furrowed his brow.  "Why?"

Hutch's fingers rubbed along Starsky's upper arm.  "I didn't want to get in a conversation with him.  I just said we'd be there at ten, at the pancake house on 45th."

"Obviously, he must want to talk about something."


"Probably about Lanette.  Her divorce should be going through anytime, right?"

"The final court date is in a week or so.  Then that should be the end of it."

"I hope those two can figure something out, once and for all.  This has been like a never-ending soap opera."

"Yeah.  If it's tiring to us, imagine what it must be like for them."

Starsky draped his arm over Hutch's torso, and let his eyes drift shut.

He felt the gentle rise and fall of Hutch's stomach.  "Hutch?"


"I just -- " Starsky got up on an elbow, and realized with alarm that his throat was closing.  "Oh, damn," he choked out.

"Hey," Hutch whispered with compassion, reached to bring Starsky back down against his shoulder.  "What is it?"

Starsky swallowed thickly.  "I'm just so glad that you can be okay about this."  He felt a tear fall against Hutch's skin.

"Ah, buddy.  You didn't mean for it to happen.  And you left when you could."

"I just - I just didn't know what to do about it.  I mean, after I left there.  I didn't how to tell you.  How to explain it."

Hutch rubbed up and down Starsky's arm.  "I didn't know, either.  I was actually more pissed off about the fact that I didn't know what to do about it, than the fact that you were tempted."

"These last few days," Starsky was eager to confess, "I've felt so awful.  I didn't know how to behave.  Felt like I was playing a role."

"Yeah, I know.  I didn't like that, either."

"A while back, you had said that you thought one of the biggest problems in relationships was that people role play, and aren't their genuine selves with each other.  We were so proud of the fact that we were real with each other, that we never had to guess at what each other was thinking and feeling.  But these past few days," Starsky's voice quavered again, "I felt like a completely different person.  Because I kept trying to figure out what I was supposed to say, so that things could be okay between us."

Hutch kissed the top of his head.

Starsky said emphatically, "I don't ever want to feel that way again.  Honestly, Hutch, I'd much rather us scream and yell at each other, for however long it takes for us to get everything on the table, than feel like I can't be myself."

Hutch sighed.  "I guess I left too soon that night.  Didn't really give us a chance to lay it all out."  He hugged Starsky closer.  "We're both new at this, dealing with something that could be a threat to our relationship.  But we're okay now.  We've always known how to get back to being okay.  You've got to believe in that, buddy, most of all."

Starsky was silent, wanting to absorb Hutch's reassurance into himself.

"We love each other too much, to let anything come between us."

Starsky murmured, "Just don't want to ever take us for granted."

Hutch hugged him again.  "I have never, ever felt that you've taken me for granted.  You work as hard at our relationship as anyone I've ever known to work at any relationship."  His voice softened.  "I love you so much for that."

Starsky drew a heavy, cleansing breath.

Hutch rolled toward him, and placed his hand over Starsky's sated groin.  He lowered his head and kissed him.  After a moment, he pulled back and whispered, "No pressure, buddy.  But if you're interested, I'm in the mood to suck your cock until it's time to go meet with Nick."  He lowered his head to Starsky's lips once again.

Starsky relished the love that Hutch wanted to lavish upon him.  Eventually, he began to respond.


Nick was waiting for them in a booth at the pancake house.

They sat down opposite him.  "Hey, Nick."

"How's it going?" he greeted.

They both shrugged, and glanced briefly at each other.  Starsky wasn't able to restrain a smile.  "It's going fine."  Last night's activities -- which had actually started yesterday afternoon -- were for the record book.

Nick looked from one to the other.  "What?  What are you both smirking about?  What's going on?"

Hutch smoothly replied, "Things are pretty good, considering that Darla is probably going to have to be retired."

"Really?  Why?"

"She has an injury," Starsky said, glad that Hutch had changed the subject.  "It's to her hoof.  We haven't made a final decision yet, but it's looking like we aren't going to have much choice."

"Bummer," Nick said.  "She's won a lot of money for you, hasn't she?"

Hutch nodded.  "Her earnings are close to two hundred thousand."

"Wow."  Nick looked at Starsky.  "You don't seem too upset."

"Well, I guess I'm getting excited about the idea of her having babies."

"Yeah?  When would that happen?"

Hutch replied, "She couldn't be bred until next spring.  The foal would be born the following spring.  So, it would be 1985."

"And the horse wouldn't be a two-year-old that can start racing until 1987," Starsky quipped.

Nick's eyes widened.  "That's years from now!"

"No kidding."

A waitress brought coffee and took their orders.

After she left, Hutch said, "So, Nick, why did you want to meet with us?"

Nick sighed heavily.  "Look, don't blow a gasket."

They waited.

"Friday, after my shift, I got called into the manager's office and told I was fired."

"What?" Starsky exclaimed.

"Well, technically, they said I was 'laid off'.  They said they're going to have an outside company handle customer complaints, because it'll be more economical and efficient.  But I think it's just a load a bull.  My department got a new manager a couple of months ago, and she's never liked me."

"Did they lay everyone else off in your department?" Hutch asked.

Nick shrugged.  "I don't know.  There's just a few of us, and we all work at different times."  He waved a hand.  "Screw it.  I'm done with them.  I haven't really liked working there, anyway, since they got the new manager."

"So, what are you planning to do?"

Nick looked from Hutch to Starsky.  "Well, I was hoping you guys could keep me busy fulltime.  Your company is doing well, right?"

"It is," Starsky said, "but we can't give you case work full time, as long as we have Carlos.  And we're not getting rid of Carlos."

"What about those property things you guys started doing?  I've done those."

Hutch sighed.  "Nick, we do have those -- in fact, we're about to sign another contract with a new mortgage company -- and we're always looking for people to do them, because people don't last long.  Driving around all day, looking at fifteen or twenty properties, gets really tedious after a couple of weeks.  The person we've had doing it longest is," Hutch glanced at Starsky, "Sheila."

"Yeah, Sheila," Starsky piped up.  "She's a divorced mother, and really needs the money.  So, she's been doing it over two months.  But most of the people we have are college kids who think it'll be cool to drive around in their car all day, or for half a day, but they get tired of it pretty fast."

Hutch said, "You're a people person, Nick.  You don't want to be by yourself, in your car, as a full-time job."

Nick was looking glum, so Starsky said, "We can give you work to tide you over, but it's not going to be a solution for the long run.  You'll be wanting to do something else."

Nick sighed.  "This airline job was just so perfect, because it was three days a week.  Most places want you full time."

"Well, maybe you can get two part-time jobs.  It's just that full time jobs are usually more stable, and usually have benefits."

Nick muttered, "Just seems like everything sucks at once."

Hutch asked, "What else is going on, Nick?"

He hesitated, and then said, "I got to thinking about the situation with Lan.  I met her two years ago, when we were both staying with you, and after she went back home, she didn't leave her number, after saying she would, and never tried to call.  And then, we rekindled things after you were shot," he glanced at Hutch.  "I feel like, ever since then, my life has been on hold, waiting to see what she's going to do, with her marriage, and maybe moving out this way.  I mean, that was over a year ago!  So, a few weeks ago, I decided that I'm going on with my life.  I'm tired of feeling like I'm at her beck and call, depending on her mood of the moment."

Starsky nodded with encouragement.  "Sometimes, you've got to make those tough choices.  So, have you found somebody else?"

"I've been dating a little," he said unhappily.  "But after I got fired, I called Lan to tell her, since she's the one who got me the job, in the first place.  I just thought she'd want to know.  Well, she sounded all happy, and now that the divorce is going to be final, she ready to get a fresh start.  So, she's looking in to what it would take to get her shops moved out this way, and wants to come out and look for retail space to rent and, you know, she talks like, of course, I'm going to be involved in doing all this with her.  Like, I'm supposed to drop everything now and center my life around her."

Hutch drew a breath.  "And now you're not interested?"

Nick threw up his hands.  "I don't know!"  He released a heavy sigh.  "I mean, this is what I've been waiting for, all this time.  But after I'd already made a decision to stop thinking about her being a major part of my life... it just sort of pisses me off that she now assumes she's going to be a big part of it."  Hutch started to say something, and Nicked quickly added, "Plus, I keep thinking about how she dropped me like a hot potato after the first time we met.  What's to say she won't do that again?"

Starsky said, "Well, in Lanette's defense, she was still married, Nick, and all indications at the time were that she intended to stay married, so it didn't make a lot of sense for her to have a long-term relationship with you, on the side."

Hutch asked gently, "Do you love her?"

Nick glanced uneasily at him.  "Part of me does.  Part of me wonders why.  Part of me is just sort of mad at how the last two years have gone, concerning me and her."  He quickly waved a hand.  "It's not all her fault, I guess.  I just feel like I keep trying, and she blows me off sometimes, but not often enough for me to end things with her.  But then she keeps being wishy-washy about what she wants to do with her future.  And now, finally, she acting like she knows what she wants to do...."

Starsky shifted and leaned forward.  "Look, Nick, just because she's expecting you two to hang out together doesn't mean she's ready to commit to a relationship with you.  You haven't said that she's said she's wanting you two to be together."

Nick looked sheepish.  "Well, she sort of hinted that we needed to figure out what we're going to do, as a couple."

"That would be good," Hutch said.  "Unless, you're sure you don't want to have a relationship with her anymore, in which case you need to tell her as soon as possible, so she doesn't move out here, based on the belief that it means a relationship with you."

"'That's another thing that's bothering me," Nick said.  "If she moves out here, because of me, and things don't work out, then it's like it'll be my fault for her uprooting her whole life."

"Nicky," Starsky said firmly, "Lanette is a big girl.  She has to take responsibility for her own actions, just like you do.  But it's obvious you two need to have a major heart-to-heart, and lay everything on the table.  Tell her that you feel jerked around, because of your feelings for her, and you're feeling skittish.  You have to be honest.  I mean, the last thing you want to do is get further involved with her, when you aren't really sure it's what you want.  A relationship based on a sense of obligation is just going to be a lot heartache."

Hutch said, "Tell her she needs to lay everything out on the table, from her end.  She needs to be honest with you, about her expectations, and things like that."

The waitress brought their food, and they waited until she left.

Nick grabbed the salt shaker.  "The last time I tried to be honest with her is when I told her I was giving her space, and she got pissed off and pretty much gave me the silent treatment."

Hutch shook his finger at Nick.  "If she starts to walk away during a heart-to-heart, tell her if she does, that's it, you're done.  Because you can't have a relationship with someone who doesn't respect you enough to listen to your sincere feelings.  And then hold her to it."

Starsky swallowed the first bite of his pancakes, and then put down his fork.  "Nick, Hutch and I have been through times when we've needed to tell each other things that were difficult.  We've hurt each other's feelings, when we didn't mean to.  But because our relationship matters so much to us, we always work those things out.  What needs to be said, gets said.  Because that's the only way you can go forward, without having to guess at what the other person wants and needs."

Hutch scoffed, "Otherwise, you end up being one of our clients, who wants their spouse tailed, because they don't trust them."

They all spent a few minutes eating.

After taking a bite of toast, Starsky said, "You two seemed to get along great after Richard died.  Maybe you ought to think back to what it was about that time that made things so good between you two."

Nick was thoughtful, and then shrugged.  "I guess I felt like Lan needed me.  Even though she and her father weren't close at all, I wanted to be there for her, at a time like that.  She seemed glad that I was there."

"Then tell her that," Starsky pressed.  "Tell her that, as a man, you need to feel needed by your woman.  She needs to learn to open up and share her concerns with you about day to day stuff.  She needs to let you help her."  He suddenly realized, "She's so used to being independent, that it might be hard for her.  But she needs to know that it's part of what you need from her."

After more eating in silence, Hutch said, "If you two do work things out and agree to delve into a relationship, I wouldn't recommend moving in together, first thing.  You need to learn what it's like to live close enough that you can see each other regularly.  See how you are together."

Nick sighed.  "Yeah, that's what I've always wanted for us.  To be able to date and stuff, like normal people."

Starsky put in, "Hutch and I never dated, but we were already way more intimate than people who date, before we'd ever had sex.  All those years of spending all day, driving around together, and literally watching out for each other's lives.  Nursing each other back to health.  We already knew all about each other, before we ever bought a home together.  Made things go way smoother than they otherwise would have been."  He reached beneath the table to place a hand on Hutch's leg.  "We've never let up.  We've never let anything else be more important than our happiness together.  I really think that's why we're so good together, when other couples struggle so much to keep their relationships alive and positive."

"Trust is everything," Hutch said.  "It's hard to have trust, when you aren't sure what each other is thinking.  That's why it's so important to lay it all out on the line, including the difficult things that might be hurtful to the other person." 

Nick scowled.  "No offense, but I do get a little tired of hearing how perfect you guys are, all the time."

Starsky quickly said, "We aren't perfect.  But if we seem perfect, it's because we make the effort.  I don't want to be spend most of the hours in my day, to say nothing of sleeping in the same bed, with somebody I'm not sure about."

Hutch smoothly said, "You've got a lot to think about, Nick.  I don't envy the spot you're in.  But I think it's truth time, for you and Lannie both.  Tell her ahead of time that you want to take her to dinner when she arrives, and you want to have a heart-to-heart.  If she hesitates about how forthright you're being, then that probably tells you that it's time to let go, and go on with your life. 

Nick wiped his face with a napkin, and then muttered, "Yeah."


The light turned green and Hutch accelerated.  It was mid afternoon on Wednesday, and he was headed back to the office.

The car phone rang, and he reached for it.  "Hutchinson."

Lois said, "Ken, Mr. Collins Marshall has called.  He wants to meet with you as quickly as possible.  I said I'd try to get a hold of you."

Hutch furrowed his brow while his stomach clenched.  The Ashley Marshall case felt like a failure.  He and Starsky had done what they were hired to do last summer -- find Ashley -- but they hadn't found her soon enough to keep her from dying from an overdose.  They had attended her funeral, and that's the last contact they'd had with Collins Marshall.  They'd somewhat guiltily sent him a bill for their services, and Mr. Marshall had promptly paid it.

Hutch wasn't exactly enamored of the idea of meeting with Mr. Marshall, but it sounded like the man needed something.  Hutch had no idea what he could provide, but he felt obligated to help.  "Where is he?"

"He's at the Rosewood Cemetery.  I have the number, so I can call him back."

Hutch again felt puzzlement about what Mr. Marshall could possibly want, especially considering he was wanting to meet at Ashley's grave.  "All right.  I can be there in twenty minutes or so."

"I'll let him know."

"Thanks, Lois."  Hutch hung up the phone.

As he headed for Rosewood, he wished Starsky was with him, but Starsky had his own work to do in the office.

A few minutes later, the phone rang again.  "Hutchinson."

"Ken, he said he'll meet with you at the curb, near Ashley's grave."

"All right." 

"I'm leaving now to take my granddaughter to her doctor's appointment.  David and Carlos are both here, and both have been catching up on phone calls."

"Okay.  See you tomorrow."  Hutch hung up, thinking that Mr. Marshall apparently expected it to be a short meeting, since he wanted to meet on the lane near Ashley's final resting place, rather than the grave itself.

For some reason, that didn't make him feel any better.


Hutch spotted the tall form of Mr. Marshall just ahead, waiting along the curb, as promised.  The man was in a long coat, which seemed rather warm attire, for yesterday being the first of November. 

Hutch made eye contact, nodding with a forced smile, as he slowed the LeBaron.  Just as he pulled to a stop, Marshall stepped next to the car and tried to open the passenger door, which was locked.

Hutch released the locks, and Marshall opened the door and sat in the passenger seat.

Puzzled, Hutch asked, "Did you want to get some coffee?"

"Yes," Marshall replied woodenly, "that sounds fine."

Hutch decided to shelve his questions until they were seated at a cafe.  But he did ask, "How about the Lion's Tale?  It's a little coffee shop just up here on 44th."

"That will be fine."

Hutch had an odd feeling as he drove through the cemetery.  Once exiting the grounds, he made a right.

He wondered again what Marshall wanted from him.

After a couple of blocks, Marshall said, "Turn right up here, on 42nd."

Hutch glanced over at him.  "But the coffee shop is on...."  He tailed off, realizing that Marshall was holding a gun in his right hand, down by his coat pocket.

Hutch blinked.  This couldn't be happening.

A thin smile made its way across Marshall's mouth.  "Go right on 42nd."

Okay, he had a gun on him.  May as well stay cool.  But Hutch couldn't hide his exasperation.  "You aren't really going to do this."  Still, he made the right onto 42nd.

"Don't underestimate me, Mr. Hutchinson.  I have a rather colorful past, the details of which you might find rather shocking, if you knew of them."

Bluntly, Hutch asked, "What do you want?"

"Right now, I want you to keep your left hand on the steering wheel.  With your right, slowly pull your shoulder belt over and buckle it."

Hutch grimaced.  Obviously, Marshall wanted him secure, so he couldn't suddenly slam on the brakes and flee from the car.

Hutch did has he was told.  "When are you going to tell me what you want?"

"I want what you took."

Hutch felt his heart sink.  Sorrowfully, he said, "I can't bring Ashley back."  He looked over at his kidnapper.

"Don't play games with me.  I want what you took from her."

"What are you talking about?"

The car phone rang.

Hutch glanced down at it.  Lois had left, so that was either Starsky or Carlos.  Starsky, please.

"Let it ring," Marshall directed.

Hutch felt old survival instincts kick into gear.  "He'll just call back, continuously.  He's expecting me to tell him all about my conversation with our racehorse trainer.   He's not a patient man."

Marshall held the gun higher.  "All right, answer it.  But know that I've killed before.  With both my wife and daughter gone, I've got nothing to lose."

Hutch said, "He just wants to know about our racehorse."  He picked up the phone.  "Hutchinson."

"Hey," Starsky greeted with puzzlement.  "Lois said that Collins Marshall was wanting to see you, at the Rosewood Cemetery.  Want me to come along?"

"Ah yeah, very much so.   Mike and I talked for a long time about all the contenders in the race."


"There's a lot to think about.  He's really scared of one, in particular."

Hutch silently swore that he could hear the gears clicking in Starsky's head.

In a low voice, Starsky asked, "Hutch, is something wrong?"

"Yeah,  I agree completely."

Carefully, Starsky asked, "Are you with Mr. Marshall now?"

"Yeah, Kidnapped Carol is definitely Darla's biggest competition."

"He's kidnapped you?" Starsky asked in quiet disbelief.

"Yep.  But then that Going South filly is one to watch, too.  She's the one by that stallion, Forty Seconds."  Hutch quickly saw a map in his head.  They'd just past Cloverleaf Street.  "You know, Daisy Soon could be a contender."

Starsky breath could be heard over the line.  "You're southbound on 42nd, near Daisy Avenue?"

"Yeah, I agree completely."

"Are you in the LeBaron?"


"Do you know where you're going?"

"I'm afraid I don't have any idea what the outcome is going to be, buddy.  We've just got to hope for the best."

"What does he want?"

"I wish I knew what's going to happen, but all we can hope for is that Darla will do her best."

 Marshall shifted heavily in the seat.  When Hutch glanced at him, he was scowling.

Hutch was hesitant to lose his lifeline.  "I'm going to have to tell you the rest later.  I think the line is going bad on my end."

Starsky quickly said, "I'm calling Dobey right now, baby, and I'm heading out that way.  I'll try to call you back."

"Okay." Hutch hung up.

Marshall said, "You're not calling him back."

"There's twelve horses in the race, so there's a lot to discuss.  It's a big race on Saturday, and he wants to know everything our trainer thinks about all of them.  It's all he's thought about for the past two weeks.  If I go silent on him, he'll just get all the more pushy about it."  Hutch wanted to change the subject.  "All right, Mr. Marshall, what is it you want from me?"

"I know you have the ring."

"What are you talking about?"

"Don't play games with me!  The coroner doesn't have it.  It wasn't in her apartment.  That tramp friend of hers doesn't have it."

Hutch furrowed his brow.  "Are you talking about a ring, like a piece of jewelry?"

Marshall stared at him.

Hutch scoffed, "I don't know anything about a damn ring.  I didn't notice anything on her that last night.  Starsky and I were trying to save her life!"

"No, you took advantage of her, when she couldn't fend for herself," Marshall declared sadly.  "You took her mother's ring from her!"

"What makes you think it was me?"

"The others don't have it."  Marshall's voice hardened.  "I made sure of that."

Hutch scoffed, "What?  You held them at gun point, too?  When people fear for their lives, they'll say anything."

"That tramp friend of hers said she saw you take it."

"She's was lying, and telling you what you wanted to hear.  She wasn't even there, when we found Ashley on the fire escape."

"I'm going to get that ring back, if it's the last thing I do."

Great.  Hutch wasn't only dealing with an unexpectedly dangerous man, but one who was unbalanced by grief.  He kept his voice calm.  "Mr. Marshall, I don't think you understand what it means to be a drug addict.  Nothing is above selling for money, when an addict needs another fix.  Hell, NFL players have sold their championship Super Bowl rings when they needed money for drugs."  He gentled his voice.  "Ashley probably sold the ring a long time ago.  She sold her car, after all, before she went on that final binge."

Marshall shook his head emphatically.  "She never would have sold her mother's ring."

Hutch gazed at him for an extended moment.  "You really need to educate yourself and hang around a few drug addicts.  You know nothing of what your daughter was going through."  He realized that his words came out somewhat accusing.  He wasn't sure it was the best thing for Mr. Marshall to feel some responsibility in Ashley's death.

Marshall nodded at the windshield.  "Keep your eyes on the road, damnit."

Hutch suddenly jerked back to the right lane, since the LeBaron had drifted across the center line.  He watched the road as he calmly asked, "Now what?  I'm never going to be able to give you Ashley's ring, because I never knew anything about it, let alone have possession of it."  He gentled his tone.  "You're a grieving father, Mr. Marshall.  Anyone would have compassion for that.  Hand over the gun, and you won't have to go down hard for this."

The car phone rang.

"Don't answer it."

Hutch sighed.  "He'll just keep calling and calling.  All he cares about is this damn race on Saturday."

"Tell him to call the fucking trainer himself!"

"Our trainer only deals with me.  Starsky drives him nuts.  I'm the only one who can handle him."

Marshall waved the gun and snapped, "Make it fast."

"Hutchinson," Hutch answered.

Starsky's low voice asked, "Are you still going south bound on 42nd?"

"Yes, it's going to be a really tough race."

"Do you know when you'll turn off?"

"Mike can't predict the outcome, buddy.  None of us can."

"Have you reached Pecan Boulevard yet?"

It was a few blocks ahead.  "Yeah, well, Saturday will be here before we know it."

"Listen, baby, I've got a hold of Dobey, and he's letting law enforcement in that precinct know.  Just stay cool, if you see a black-and-white.  They're probably going to get some unmarked vehicles out your way, too.  I've given them your license plate number.  I'm trying to catch up to you, by taking Highway 15.  Do you know what he wants?  I mean, is it ransom?"

"Buddy, come on, we all know it isn't about the purse money.  It's the principle of the victory."

"He's... wanting revenge for his daughter's death?"  Starsky's voice was full of puzzlement.

"Well, I wouldn't say that.  You know, there's that one filly that always wears that weird equipment.  And then her trainer is about to blow a gasket, because it's missing.  He's accusing other trainers of having stolen it."  Hutch couldn't figure out a way to relay a piece of jewelry; but then, Starsky wouldn't know what he was talking about, anyway.

Marshall straightened in his seat, and Hutch wondered if the man was getting suspicious of the conversation.

Starsky's confusion was clear, when he asked, "He thinks you stole something?"

"Yeah, if you can believe that.  Anyway, buddy, they've still got to run the race.  Mike says that Darla is getting pretty keyed up, she's so ready to run.  She's practically tearing down her stall."

"He's getting agitated?"

"Yeah, I think so.  Just hang tight, buddy.  The race will get here on Saturday, and then it'll over, and then things will be back to normal.  There's no point in going around and around about it, trying to predict the outcome."

"Sounds like you need to hang up."

"Yeah, I agree that's the best thing."

"I love you, Hutch.  It's gonna be okay."

"Yeah, okay."  Hutch hung up the phone, feeling reassured. 

Marshall grunted.  "That must be a nice life.  When all you have to worry about is how your damn horse runs."

Casually, Hutch said, "Sounds like you've had a rough time.  Was it always like that?"

"Don't try to placate me, Mr. Hutchinson."

Hutch released a breath.  "So, how are we going to get out of this, Mr. Marshall?  I'm sure the ring is long gone.  So, what are you going to do?  Kill me, just for the heck of it?  So, everyone who loves me can feel the grief that you do?"

Hesitantly, Marshall said, "I'm not interested in sharing my plans right now."

Hutch felt certain it was because Marshall didn't have a particular plan.

Hutch tried another tact.  Gently, he said, "I was a drug addict once.  Technically, I still am.  Even years later, your system can still react to the drug it was once addicted to."

Marshall's voice hardened.  "I said, don't try to placate me."

Hutch glanced briefly at him.  "I'm not bullshitting you.  When Dave Starsky and I were police detectives, some creep with a score to settle got a hold of me.  Shot me up with heroin over a period of time.  Got me addicted.  That's why I can understand the situation Ashley was in.  I was addicted only a short time, before I kicked it.  Yet, the craving for that high is indescribable.  Ashley was addicted a lot more severely and a lot longer than I was.  She would have thought nothing of selling her mother's ring for dope, just like I sold out the location of somebody I was trying to protect.  Ashley couldn't help it.  The drug totally takes over your system.  It takes over the way you think.  The only thing you value is the next high."

"If you're telling the truth, then how come you kicked it, when others, like Ashley, couldn't?"

Hutch felt fondness as he replied, "Because David Starsky is the most stubborn, determined man you'll ever meet."  And loving. 

In the rear view mirror, Hutch watched a black-and-white police car drive up behind the LeBaron.  "He found a place to hide me away, so other cops would never know, because it would have been the end of our careers.  The only way I could get more dope, was to get past him and escape.  I couldn't get past him.  I had to go through the withdrawal, because he wouldn't have it any other way."

Marshall's tone was thoughtful.  "At the rehab center, they don't force them to stay there, after the first forty-eight hours.  They should make them stay."

"Even drug addicts have rights.  After the withdrawal, I could have gone back to the heroin, if I'd wanted to.  But I wasn't going to disappoint my partner, after all he'd done for me.  Plus, he was watching me day in and day out.  So, when I felt like I had to have another fix, he'd make sure I couldn't get to anything.  He'd keep me distracted.  Keep me hopeful, until the craving passed.  Eventually, the cravings went away completely."

"Are you saying I should have stayed with Ashley, to make sure she stayed away from drugs?"

Hutch made a decision.  "Don't get excited, Mr. Marshall, but there's a cop car behind us."

Marshall glanced back between the seats.  "Turn at the next road."

Hutch shook his head.  "I'm not going to do that.  That cop car insures my safety.  You're hardly going to shoot me, with a cop looking on."

Marshall waved the gun.  "Don't forget that I have nothing to live for."

"So, you keep saying.  I think you're wrong.  Besides, why would you want to kill me?  I've told you what probably happened to the ring.  You know I'm right.  Besides," Hutch bluffed, "once that cop stops daydreaming, he's going to realize that my plates are expired, and he's going to pull us over."

Marshall drew a heavy breath.

At the block ahead, a black car pulled onto 42nd Street.  Because of the placement of the antenna, Hutch was certain it was plainclothes cops.

The car phone rang.

Hutch quickly picked it up.  "Hutchinson."

"You still on 42nd?"

"Yeah, I don't know if it's best for Darla to run in front or behind.  She's got to just run her race, once the gates open."

"You've got protection in front and behind?"

"Yeah, I think so.  Listen, buddy, I just realized that I've let my plates expire.  Can you drop by the DMV and take care of that?  I'm afraid of getting pulled over."

After a calculating silence, Starsky asked, "You want the cop to pull you over for expired plates?"

"Yeah, I think the race sets up good that way.  So, are you going to drop by the DMV, or not?"

"Let me call Dobey and see how fast I can make that happen.  I'm up near 44th and Greenburg.  I'll be coming back your way."

"Okay, see ya."  Hutch hung up.  He muttered to Marshall, "His brain is so squirrely, it goes all over the place.  It's all I can do to keep up with his thought process."

"How can you stand being partnered with him?"

Mr. Marshall didn't know just how deep their relationship ran.  Most of their clients didn't, unless they specifically asked about it.

Hutch shrugged.  "For starters, he's the man that got me off the heroin."  His voice firmed. "He's the most dangerous man on Earth, when someone he loves is threatened."  He looked over at Marshall.

Marshall didn't seem to catch the point.  "Even if he goes down to the DMV, it's not like that cop is going to know about it right away."

"Nope."  Hutch shrugged.  "But if he's noticed the plates are expired, I guess he's not in the mood to pull us over.  I think he would have done something by now."  Hutch sighed.  "So, we're back to how we're going to get out of this, Mr. Marshall."  Calmly, Hutch said, "Look, I can just drop you off somewhere.  We don't have to make a big thing out of this.  You're grieving and you made a mistake.  It's not the end of the world."

Marshall didn't reply.

Hutch prompted, "Why don't you tell me what you've done in your past."

Grimly, Marshall said, "I killed someone in self defense, when they got upset by a business deal."

Hutch asked, "The courts agreed?"


"Then you haven't done anything wrong.  Why mess that up now?  Is that the legacy you want to leave for Ashley?  That everyone remembers something crazy that her old man did, rather than remember the sweet girl she used to be?"

Sadly, Marshall said, "I'm not sure anyone is going to remember much about my family.  I've been a failure all the way around."

"I'm sorry you feel that way.  I think you can still do a lot of good in this world.  For one thing, you can talk to parents about drug addiction in teens and young adults.  You have a story to share.  Others can learn from what you've experienced, and not have to go through what you went through."

Marshall shook his head.  "I'm a businessman, not a psychology lecturer."

In the rearview mirror, the cop's lights began flashing.  Hutch sighed.  "He must have just noticed the plates.  I've got to pull over.  You'd better put that gun away."  Hutch slowed the car.

Marshall looked behind them.  "I'll still have it in my pocket," he warned.

Hutch pulled over to the side of the road.

Marshall looked out the windshield.  "What's that black car doing?"

Ahead of them, the black car was also pulling to the shoulder.

Hutch took a gamble, as he pulled to a stop.  "It's police, Mr. Marshall.  I was speaking in code to Starsky on the phone.  The cops in front of us and behind us know who you are and exactly what's going on."

"That's impossible!"

"Not for me and my partner."  Hutch set the emergency brake, and turned to look at Marshall.  "We aren't going anywhere.  It's the end of the road, Mr. Marshall"  From the opposite side of the road, the Corvette appeared at high speed, and then jerked over to their side of the road, in front of the black car, but at angle that put their driver's windows near enough to speak to each other.  Hutch reached down and calmly unbuckled his seat belt.  "And there's David Starsky."  He looked at Marshall and firmly said, "If you injure me in any way, you'll have to deal with him."  Hutch slowly shook his head.  "You don't want to have to deal with him."

Marshall looked trapped, near panic.

The car phone rang.

Marshall looked at it in alarm.

Hutch could see Starsky on the phone in the Corvette.  The cop behind them had quietly gotten out of his car, and was taking refuge behind his open car door, his pistol perched along the open window.  Hutch asked, "You want to answer it?"

Marshall snatched up the phone with his left hand, holding it loosely near his head.  "Hello?"

Hutch could hear Starsky's loud, distinct voice.  "You harm one strand on his blond head, and prison walls aren't going to protect you from me."  Then, "What do you want, Mr. Marshall?"

"Back off!"

"Put Hutchinson on the phone."

Hutch held out his hand, while noting that the detectives in the black car had slowly opened their doors, and taken positions similar to the cop behind them.  Hutch hadn't seen any traffic in a while, and assumed the street had been blocked off at both ends.

Marshall propped the phone between the seats, and spoke toward it.  "Talk to both of us."

"You okay, babe?"


"Mr. Marshall, what needs to happen to bring this situation to an end?"

Marshall stared at the phone, with a distressed expression.

Hutch bent his head toward the phone and said, "Apparently, his daughter, Ashley, had a ring of her mother's.  When the coroner didn't have it, nor anybody he knew that Ashley knew, he was convinced I had taken it."

"Why you?" Starsky asked.

"Because that sister of the prostitute told him that I took it.  Bearing in mind that Mr. Marshall was very convincing that he wanted an answer."

Sounding bored, Starsky said, "Mr. Marshall, we don't know anything about a damn ring."

Hutch added, "I told him that she'd probably sold it a while back, for drugs.  I've been trying to convince him that addicts don't have anything that matters to them more than keeping themselves supplied with drugs."  Then, "I've pointed out that I know what I'm talking about."

There was talking in the background.  Then Starsky said, "Detective Woodson wants to talk to you, Mr. Marshall."

A new voice said, "Mr. Marshall, I'm Detective Woodson with the sheriff's department.  The first thing you need to do is release your hostage, and then we'll negotiate."

Since Marshall was having so much difficulty deciding how to get out of this situation, Hutch said, "I'm getting out of the car.  Slowly."

Woodson said, "Let Hutchinson leave the car, Mr. Marshall.  You haven't hurt anybody, so far.  Let's keep your situation simple."

Hutch slowly reached over with his left hand and cocked the door handle.

Marshall had stiffened back against the passenger door, his breath heavy.

"I'm just getting out, slowly," Hutch soothed.  There was no doubt that Marshall wasn't any kind of cold-blooded killer, but nor did Hutch want to do anything to set him off.

Hutch pushed the door open.  He slowly eased his way from beneath the loosened seat belt.  He lifted his left foot from the floorboard and placed it on the road.  He slid across the seat, and then felt relief as he raised himself into a crouch, while his right foot also moved free of the car.

Now standing outside the car, and looking in, Hutch said, "Why don't you hand me the gun, Mr. Marshall."

A distressed, desperate look came over Marshall's features, as his elbow made a slight movement.

A myriad of thoughts hit Hutch at once.  Marshall was going to fire the gun, even though he didn't want to.  Hutch remembered Starsky saying, after he'd been shot in the stomach last summer, "I don't want you to get shot anymore, Hutch."  So sorry, buddy.  And then there was the disbelief that he had miscalculated so badly.

A searing pain flared at Hutch's left side, in the wake of resounding gunfire.  He just caught the look of alarm on Marshall's face as he felt himself fall back. 

Then all he knew was pain at the back of his head.  This road is sure hard.

Somewhere in the air was a desperate, "HUUUUUUUTCH!"

Gunfire.  Please don't hurt him.  He didn't want to do it.

His head was throbbing.

Arms were lifting him from behind, circling around his chest.  "HutchHutchHutchHutch."

Somewhere, an authoritative, "Get out of the car."

He's not dead?  Relief. 

His aching head was nuzzled.  Pressure was against his stinging side, and he whimpered.

"Have to stop the bleeding, baby.  It's gonna be okay.  It's gonna be okay."

Starsky needed to be reassured.

Hutch realized he was being held, and pressed his throbbing head against the convenience of Starsky's shoulder, his face against Starsky's neck.

"Ambulance is on the way," a new voice said.  "He's bleeding at the back of his head."

"Yeah, he hit really hard," Starsky said worriedly.

"Did the bullet go through?"

"Don't know."

"Looks like it just barely got his side."


His chin was grasped.  "You with me, Hutch?  Huh, buddy?"

"Head," Hutch muttered.

"I know, I know.  Ambulance will be here soon."

"Sick."  His stomach was doing flip-flops, his fingers were tingling.  His head wouldn't stop throbbing.

Footsteps came near, and paused.

A tiredly familiar voice said, "So, that's how it is."

Hutch felt a hand rub firmly up and down his arm, while Starsky's determined voice said, "You don't know the half of it."  Then, "Get him out of here, before I rip him into a million pieces with my bare hands."

Footsteps moved away.

The hand moved from his arm to his cheek.  Fingers brushed along it.  "Hutch?  Hutch?  You staying with me, buddy boy?  Huh?"

 Hutch heard an annoyingly loud siren and groaned.

"Ambulance is almost here.  Stay with me, buddy.  You're gonna be fine."

Hutch couldn't hold back any longer.  He bowed his head, momentarily convulsed, and then vomited.

Fingers massaged into his scalp.  "Ah, Hutch."

It was only bile, because lunch had digested a while back.  Still, the smell was strong. 

He wondered why he didn't feel much relief.

Cloth wiped along his chin, and then his mouth.

Hutch vomited again.

"Damnit," Starsky said, his voice full fear.

Finally, the increasing pitch of the siren came to an abrupt halt.

Arms tightened around him.  "It's gonna be, okay.  I promise, Hutch.  It's gonna be okay."

Hutch wanted to be reassuring, but he was afraid that if he opened his mouth, he might vomit yet again.

He wished his head would stop hurting.


Hutch cracked his eyes open to the grayness of the living room.  Rain pelted the windows.

He lay there, on his right side on the sofa, a robe and blankets draped around him, trying to get his equilibrium.    His eyes darted to the clock on the VCR.  Though he could see the numbers clearly, it was a while before their meaning registered. 

3:33 PM. 

Afternoon.  Home.  Wisps of memory drifted across Hutch's mind, of various day to day tasks, all with Starsky's relentless help.

He hadn't been well.  Yet, obviously, he hadn't been so injured or sick that he'd needed to stay in a hospital for very long.

Bare feet were heard making their way across the kitchen, and into the living room.

"Thought I heard you stirring," Starsky said.

Hutch looked up at him.  Starsky appeared freshly showered, his head damp, and was dressed in jeans and a wool, button shirt.  "What day is it?"

Starsky maneuvered himself into a small space on the sofa, next to Hutch's stomach.  "It's Monday.  What's the last clear memory you have?"

Hutch blinked, thinking hard.  "I got shot."

Starsky grimaced.  "That was a pretty minor injury, relatively speaking.  You cracked your head pretty good, Hutch, when you fell back on the pavement.  They let you go home on Friday, but you've been pretty out of it at times."  He smiled warmly, as his hand rubbed along Hutch's back, on top of the blankets.  "You're looking a lot better."

Hutch heard relief in the words.

Starsky tilted his head.  "Want to try moving a bit, so maybe I can hold you?"

Hutch staggered up onto an arm.  He felt weak.

Starsky reached to help. 

As he moved, Hutch realized how sore his lower left side was.

After much effort, he was partially sitting up, his upper body against Starsky's chest, with the robe and blankets wrapped back around him, Starsky's arms holding them in place.

Hutch wondered, "Did I have surgery?"

"Minor surgery.  The bullet was just below the skin, at your back.  It almost went through.  Really, you would have been released that same day, if you hadn't had the concussion."

Hutch thought hard.  "That was Wednesday?"


"What happened to Marshall?"

"He's in custody and was arraigned the next day.  He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of aggravated assault, so he wouldn't have to face attempted murder charges.  He'll be sentenced in a couple of weeks."

Hutch's cheek felt so comfortable against Starsky's shoulder.  "I really didn't think he had it in him to shoot.  He didn't want to.  I'm sure of that.  I think he just felt helpless about everything that's happened in his life the past couple of years, and shooting was a way of proving to himself that he was capable of making a difficult decision."

Angrily, Starsky said, "Rationalize it anyway you want.  He's lucky I didn't strangle him with my bare hands.  Would have, if I hadn't been so worried about you."

Hutch didn't want Starsky to feel angry.  He rubbed his cheek against his shoulder.  "You've been here all these days?"

That softened Starsky's tone.  "Of course, dummy.  Who else would be taking care of you?"

"Sorry," Hutch whispered.  "Sorry I scared you.  I seem to keep doing that."

Starsky released a breath.  "Maybe I'm becoming more religious in my old age, but I'm really starting to believe that God, or whoever, is trying to tell us something."  Hutch felt Starsky's cheek against the top of his head.  "I don't think we're supposed to be apart, Hutch.  I'm scared to death of letting you out of my sight, and maybe there's a good reason I'm scared.  I want us to grow old together, so that we're grey and fat and cranky and balding.  And we'll have each other."  His voice choked.  "I can't lose you."  He kissed Hutch's hair.

Hutch's eyes watered.  He knew that any protest he presented wouldn't change Starsky's fear.

Starsky swallowed audibly.  "I feel like I want go out to the stable with you when you're able to ride Poncho again.  I feel like I should accompany you, even when you go to the men's room down the hall.  You know, when we first talked about renting office space, the idea was to have the hired help do the simple jobs, and you and I work the big jobs together. But we've ended up working the big jobs apart, mostly."

Feeling reasonable, Hutch said, "That's because there's so many jobs."

"I know.  So, I think we need to hire somebody else.  I want us to work together, Hutch.  No more of this just one of us going places stuff."

Hutch knew they couldn't have a rational conversation about this, not while Starsky was feeling so skittish.

Starsky went on, "I was reading an article, just yesterday, about Paul and Linda McCartney.   In all the years they've been married, they've never spent a night apart, Hutch.  Except when he was in a Japanese jail for drug charges.  That's how we are.  We're just one of those weird couples that always needs to be together.  When we're apart, things tend not to go so well."

Hutch deadpanned, "Then you wouldn't have been able to surprise me with Poncho."

Finally, an amused snort came from Starsky.

Hutch said, "I hope Poncho's doing okay."

"He is.  I told Clint to turn him out to pasture every day, except when Leslie rides him.  So, he's plenty happy while you're laid up.  Oh, and speaking of which, he and Leslie took third place in the competition on Saturday.  There were twenty-two entries in their class, and they were third."

Hutch smiled against Starsky's shoulder.  "Ah, good, I'm glad."

"And speaking of being laid up, you have a doctor's appointment, first thing tomorrow, to see how you're coming along.  But I'm betting it'll probably be two weeks before he'll let you do physical stuff, like riding, again.  And sex.  But maybe he'll let you do desk work, later this week."

Hutch's eyes drifted closed, as he relished the utter contentment he felt, while Starsky rambled on.

"Oh, and speaking of sex, when I happened to stop by the office when you were in the hospital last week, Laura Stanford called.   I told her that we were too busy to take her case, and she needed to call somebody else.  And then I hung up on her."

Hutch was glad that he didn't have particular reaction to the name Laura Stanford.  Starsky was his.

"Hey, what's the last thing you remember about Darla?"

Hutch opened his eyes, thinking hard.  Something about a big race she was in. 

But, wait, wasn't that part of his ruse with Marshall?

Worriedly, Starsky prompted, "You remember, baby?" 

"Uhhh, oh, her hoof injury.  We need to decide if we're going to retire her."

Starsky drew a breath.  "Yeah.  I made the decision, Hutch.  I called Mike last Thursday to see if anything had changed with her hoof.  He said she wasn't lame on it, anymore.  But he felt she'd be right back in the same situation, with the stress of racing and training.  So, I said we were retiring her.  I then called the farm where that Flying Paster stallion stands, and said I wanted to breed Darla to him next spring.  They said his book was full next season, because I guess they limit the number of mares each stallion can breed, so the foals are worth more. But then when I said who she was, they changed their minds in a hurry."  Starsky snorted.  "Said they'd make room for her.  We don't have to pay the seventy-five hundred dollar stud fee until the foal is actually born and healthy enough to nurse.  Anyway, Darla was supposed to be shipped to that farm yesterday.  It's midway between here and San Francisco.  I assume she made the trip okay, or somebody would have called.  We'll want to go visit her, after she's settled in."

Hutch nuzzled Starsky's shirt.  "You okay?"

"Yeah.  I don't think it's sunk in yet that we'll never see her race again.  But now I just want to focus on her having babies."  Starsky's hand rubbed along Hutch's back.  "Oh, and I called Julie to let her know that we're breeding Darla to the stallion she picked out.  She's real excited."  Starsky briefly pointed.  "She sent those red flowers, over there, when I told her you got injured on the job.  She's a sweet kid."

Hutch's gaze went over to one corner of the living room, where there were a variety of unfamiliar plants.

Starsky said, "I already read all the cards to you over the weekend.  But I'll re-read them to you, later, if you don't remember."

Hutch closed his eyes again, absorbing the warmth and safety he felt in Starsky's arms.  He muttered, "So, the gang is holding down the office?"

"Yeah, mainly Lois and Carlos."

"What about Nick?"

Something in Starsky's demeanor changed.

"What is it?"  Inside the blankets, Hutch's hand reached for what felt like a waist, and squeezed it.

Starsky released a heavy sigh.  "I wish I was still a kid, so I could get away with smacking my little brother."

Hutch tilted his head back to look up at Starsky's hard jaw.  "What happened?"

"After all the talks he's had with us about Lanette, after all the advice we've given him, guess what?  She comes out over the weekend, they have a heart-to-heart over dinner Saturday night.  They agree, according to Nick on Sunday, about everything.  So, guess what they've decided?  They found retail space for Lanette's shops, so she's going to spend the next month preparing to move her shops and herself out here.  And then they're going to live together."

Hutch groaned.

"Yeah, no shit.  Talk about sabotaging a relationship before it even has a chance.  I asked him why he was jumping from Point D to Point Z right off the bat, and he said that since they agreed that they were both unhappy and frustrated with how their relationship had dragged on for two years, without really going anywhere, that they weren't going to waste anymore time.  So, they're going to live together.  Plus," Starsky added with exasperation, "they've agreed that the day they move in together starts the countdown to their wedding day.  They don't want to drag out a decision about getting married, so they're going to get married exactly one year after they move in together, unless things don't work out.  That way, they won't go back to being wishy-washy about their relationship."

Hutch muttered, "I guess that's one way of looking at it."

Starsky snorted.  "I asked Nick what happened to his desire to have them date 'like normal people' and really getting to know each other first, before they delve into being together every day since, you know, he's going to be helping her out at her shops, which is another reason we need to hire somebody else for our own company." Starsky's cheek found its spot against Hutch's head.  "I told him not to call me when they aren't getting along, because I won't want to hear about it."  He sighed.  "I probably shouldn't have said that."

"Don't worry.  He won't hesitate to ask to stay here, and talk to us, when they aren't getting along."

"Yeah, maybe.  Oh, and Carlos and I had a heart-to-heart of our own."

Hutch furrowed his brow.  "Really?"

"Yeah.  You know, he's never said much about himself, other than that he worked for his uncle's PI firm back east.  Well, turns out there's good reason why he's always willing to work hard and earn more money.  He had a kid out of wedlock back east.  He broke up with the mother -- her choice.  She didn't want him around.  But he still sends her money and keeps hoping she'll change her mind.  He hasn't tried for visitation rights in the courts, because he doesn't want to fight with her.  He thinks that doing what she wants -- staying away -- means that she'll eventually come around to understanding how much he cares about her."  Starsky blew out a heavy breath.  "I decided to withhold my opinion on that one.  Anyway, his big dream is that she'll eventually say she wants to try it with him again.  And, even if not, maybe when his son gets older -- he's four now -- he'll start asking questions about his father and want to get to know him.  If she's okay with it, he'll probably move back there."

Hutch closed his eyes.  "My brain is ready to explode."

Starsky snorted with humor.  "Yeah, and now I'm wondering what I always seem to come back to wondering.  How come you and I are the only two people on the entire planet who seem to know how to have a good relationship?"

Hutch kept his eyes closed.  "As long as those only two people are us, I'm not going to worry about it."

A brief kiss was planted on Hutch's head.

He was about to drift off, when Starsky asked, "You getting hungry at all?"

"Not sure," Hutch whispered in reply.  But he knew he needed to eat, to build up his health.

"I found one of your recipes for vegetable soup, and have had it simmering all afternoon.  I think it's probably ready, any time you are."

Hutch's eyes drifted open, and his gaze went to the sliding glass door.  "How long has it been raining?"

"A couple of days."

"You've been stuck inside the house with me?"

He felt a shrug.  "I've been writing a lot.  I want to do a couple of more chapters, and then I'm thinking about sending the book to an agent, to see what they think."

Hutch blinked.  "You're ready for that?"

"Yeah, I think so.  I mean, not so much getting it published, right now, but just getting a feel for what a professional might think.   I got this big, fat book from the library on marketing a book.  There's this big lists of agents and their addresses.  But most of them just want to read a few chapters.  I'm going to try to find somebody who's open to the fact that what I've written isn't your normal, everyday book.  I don't think they're going to understand it from just a few chapters."

Hutch felt himself smile.  "You're always up to something, buddy."

"I guess." Starsky's voice grew warm.  "But my number one task is always going to be taking care of you, my love."


Hutch felt he'd drifted off when Starsky's voice jolted his slumber.

"So, are you ready to eat, or what?"


The following Sunday, Hutch leaned against the white, wooden fence, and beamed.  "She looks great, doesn't she?  Like she loves all this freedom."

Beside him, Starsky said, "Yeah.  Imagine what it must be like, being in a stall, and having someone lead you around whenever you're outside of your stall, or having somebody control you with a bridle.  Now, it's like she's free."

Darla bucked again, and then galloped around to the other side of the paddock.

The farm hand that had shown them where Darla was now came up beside them.  "Tomorrow, she'll be turned out into the big pasture with the other mares."  He nodded down the valley.

Starsky and Hutch followed his gaze.  A couple of dozen mares were grazing in a huge pasture.

Starsky asked, "She won't be out here by herself, anymore?"

"Na.  We just put the horses off the track in these smaller paddocks, so they have a chance to learn about fences again.  They get that first taste of freedom, and they can run right through a fence.  So, we have personnel all around the paddock, shooing them away from the fences.  Once they get the idea that they're supposed to respect the fence as a boundary, then we can turn them out in the big pasture.  She's got the idea now."

Starsky kept looking from the big pasture, back to Darla.  "She looks more slender than the other horses."

"Yeah, she'll start putting on weight, before long.  She doesn't need to be a lean racehorse, anymore."

Hutch asked, "What about her hoof?"

"We're keeping an eye on it.  It seems to be holding up, but that's another reason we've kept her in a paddock for ten days.  We only kept her turned out for short periods, at first.  But running in a pasture isn't as stressful as running on a track.  Most horses will take care of themselves, when they don't have a rider pushing them."

Hutch nodded.

The man said, "I need to get back to work.  I'll be in the barn, if you need anything."

"Thanks," they both said.

Starsky waited for the man to disappear, and then slipped his arm around Hutch's waist.  "I'm so glad we retired her.  She seems so happy."


"Just hard to believe it'll be more than a year, before she'll have a foal."

Hutch reached up and rubbed along Starsky's back.  "I have a feeling that her first baby will be on the ground before we know it."

"Yeah," Starsky said with a snort.  "The years keep going by faster and faster, don't they, buddy?"

"They sure seem to."  Hutch's arm dropped to clasp Starsky's hand.  "All the more reason to make every day count."

"Yeah.  I hear that."

Hand in hand, they walked back to the Corvette.




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