(c) November 2012 by Charlotte Frost


A Sequel to Vacation



Starsky moved to the kitchen and plopped down his notebook, and then sat heavily in a chair.

It was going on seven.  Once again, he was too tired to think about cooking anything for dinner.  It was going to be another night of having a pizza delivered, and then a later scolding by his and Hutch's personal trainer, Wallace. 

He would stop at just three slices....

Starsky wondered where the menu was that had the phone number.  He staggered to his feet and moved to the entrance of the living room, in case he'd left it on the sofa.

He yawned and stood staring at the living room.

Magazines, empty beverage cans, newspapers, and unopened mail were strewn about the coffee table.  There were some wadded up papers on the floor.

Starsky glanced back at the kitchen.  There was more mail and advertisements on the table.  Some empty grocery sacks were on the counter.  A stack of dirty dishes was in the sink.

He rubbed at his eyes.  How did our lives get like this?

They had always kept the house reasonably neat.   Starsky generally handled the laundry and kept things picked up.  Hutch tended to handle the bills and related financial matters, did most of the grocery shopping, and did the majority of the cooking, whenever they had a sit-down meal.  Vacuuming and dusting happened whenever either of them felt an inclination to do those tasks. 

Now, Hutch was away in Minnesota, because he father had been hospitalized four days ago.  His cancer had spread, and things weren't looking good.

Starsky had to stay behind to make some attempt to handle their never-ending clientele.   Within a few weeks after returning from vacation last fall, business had exploded, thanks primarily to Tom Placing's network of lawyer friends and acquaintances.  It seemed that they had been flying by the seat of their pants ever since, desperately trying to meet the needs of everyone who wanted their services.  Nick had at first been elated by all the money he was making on the days when he wasn't working in the airline complaint office, but he had recently started to resent being expected to be automatically available whenever they needed his help.

Starsky wanted to subcontract out some of their work to other P.I. firms, but Hutch hadn't been very enthused about the idea.  Starsky was determined to do it, anyway, but he'd never gotten around to actually picking up the phone and calling somebody.  He was too busy, frantically meeting with the next client, or trying to run some errand.

With the increased business had come increased stress.  He and Hutch snapped at each other more, and had less patience with each other's needs.  They were often too tired at night to think about making love, and when they did, it was more an act of relieving stress, than it was of desiring to be intimate with each other. 

Then the phone call had come about Richard Hutchinson being hospitalized.  Suddenly, things were back in perspective.

Still, that hadn't changed the fact that Starsky was running around town at a frantic pace, in the days since Hutch had left for Minnesota.

Starsky sighed.  He grabbed a grocery sack and went into the living room.  He started throwing away everything that was on the coffee table, except the latest issues of various magazines, and the unopened mail. 

After throwing the sack away into the large trash container out in the garage, he retrieved the mail and brought it into the kitchen, to add to the other unopened mail on the table.  He tidied up the table, and then decided to just make himself a sandwich.

Starsky stood at the counter and grabbed two slices of bread.  The bottoms were starting to mold.  He tore off that portion, and then retrieved mayonnaise, as well as lunch meat and cheese, from the refrigerator.  He quickly slathered mayonnaise on the bread, and then piled on the lunch meat and cheese.  He poured himself a glass of iced tea from the pitcher that he'd made yesterday, and then sat down with a sigh.

As he chewed, determined to eat slowly and enjoy the flavor of the sandwich, he reached to the stack of mail.  Actually, it was two stacks, each a half foot high.

How come there's so much?

Starsky sorted through the return addresses, grouping the vendors together, as most of the correspondence appeared to be bills.  He set aside the envelopes that looked like junk mail.

There were three different envelopes from the electric company.  Starsky examined the postmarks -- the oldest was from two months ago -- and opened the one postmarked last week.  He unfolded the paper within.

It was a Disconnect Notice.  If payment wasn't received in full by April 4th -- today was the last day of March -- then their electricity would be shut off.

What the fuck...?

He started opening more envelopes, and most all of them mentioned balances that were past due.  Confused and anxious, Starsky found the newest envelope from the mortgage company and opened it.

He sighed with relief.  No past due amount was mentioned. 

What was going on with the rest of the bills?  Hutch was usually meticulous about paying in a timely manner.  Of course, they had been so busy of late, it was understandable that he got a little behind.

Yet, this mess was more than "a little" behind. 

Was it possible that they somehow didn't have the money available to pay all their bills?  That couldn't be.  They were busier than ever. 

Were they somehow in some kind of financial crisis that Hutch was hiding from him?

Starsky's tight stomach churned at such a notion.  They took pride in the fact that they communicated with each other about anything that was important, and about a whole lot of stuff that wasn't important at all.

And yet, of late, they'd hardly had time to talk about much of anything.  After a long, frantic day, they each often plopped down in front of the television, and fazed out for an hour or two, before collapsing into bed. 

Starsky pushed his plate aside, that had his partially eaten sandwich.  He marched into their office and turned on the overhead light.

Papers were strewn about.  File folders sat stacked against the filing cabinet.  The "file" basket on top of the filing cabinet was overflowing.  

Starsky began opening the drawers of Hutch's desk, not sure what he was looking for.

He found six checks from clients.  A couple were for four figures.  At the bottom of that group were some checks paper-clipped to a deposit slip that was dated nearly two weeks ago, as though Hutch had intended to stop by the bank, but never made it.

They had plenty of money.  It just wasn't making its way to the bank. 

Starsky wanted to be mad.  But he knew that Hutch was as frazzled as he was.

We've got to stop living like this.

We've got to start saying No to new clients.

We need to call in some other professionals to help us.

Hutch and I need to have a long talk.

He felt warm inside, thinking about him and Hutch talking things out.  Strategizing.  Forming a plan to make their lives better.

The house phone rang. 

Starsky rushed to grab it.  "Hello?"



"Well," Hutch said tiredly, "he's hanging in there.  Seems to drift in and out of consciousness. I-I think he wants to go, Starsk."

Starsky swallowed, and said quietly, "Yeah."

"Have you talked to Nick lately?"

"Huh?  No.  You know, I try to avoid calling him since -- "

"He's here."


"He's here.  Arrived a few hours ago."

Starsky suddenly felt that he was being left out of an important family event.  "So, Lanette and Jeffrey have split for real?"

"Yeah. I mean, I-I don't know the details.  But Jeffrey hasn't been around."

Hutch's parents had mentioned that Lanette and Jeffrey were separated, a few weeks back.  Nick had never said anything, and they hadn't asked him about it.  The relationship between Nick and Lanette was a sensitive subject.

"I think I should schedule a flight, Hutch."

"Um, you know, you really can't doing anything, but sit around like the rest of us.  At least, there, you can keep things going."  Hutch sounded so worn out.  Then, with dread in his voice, he asked, "How's it going?"

Starsky snorted.  "Totally insane, like it's been lately."  He softened his voice.  "We need to talk soon, Hutch.  About how to un-crazy our lives."

Hutch also snorted, but it was in the tone of not feeling very hopeful. 

Starsky assured, "I know this isn't the time.  But we need to focus on us real soon here."

Hutch sighed, but said nothing.

Starsky tried to keep his voice gentle.  "Hey, uh, I was straightening up and going through the mail, and there's a whole lot of past due invoices...."

Hutch sighed again, heavily. 

"Maybe I can write out checks tonight and get some of this stuff paid.  I also found a bunch of checks in a drawer, so I'll deposit those tomorrow."

"Look, I'll handle it when I get back."

"Hutch, there's a Disconnect Notice from the electric company.  That can't wait until you get back."

"Then pay that one."

"Why don't I just pay everything else while I'm at it?"

Hutch's voice became tense.  "Because you won't know which accounts to use for which bills and besides, a lot of those have already been paid."

"How can they be paid when you haven't even opened them?"

With forced patience, Hutch replied, "Because sometimes they call, and then I make out a check for the full amount due and mail it.  I just haven't bothered opening the mail to mark them as paid."

"Okay, okay.  I didn't know people were calling the house.  But you haven't paid the electric bill, have you?"

"No," Hutch snapped.  "I guess that one slipped through the cracks.  So, pay that one."

Starsky closed his eyes and drew a quiet breath.  "Hutch, I'm not being critical.  I just didn't know that this stuff had gotten so backed up.  I'm just trying to help, baby."

More quietly, Hutch said, "Then just pay the electric bill and leave the rest alone.  I'll handle it when I get back."

Both were silent.

"Hutch?  I wish I was there.  I don't like being here, especially by myself.  I care about your Dad and --"

"I know.  I just... I don't see how it can help.  I don't think he'll know the difference.  He's a little bit aware at times, but...."

Starsky wondered if there was some reason that Hutch didn't want him there, while his father was dying.  He pressed, "I wish I was with you while you're going through this."

He heard Hutch swallow.  Then Hutch said, "He might linger for a long time.  If we just up and leave our clients in limbo for a lengthy time...."

"I think they would understand."

"Even so, it'll put us so far behind if we aren't working our cases at all for a few days...."

"All right, okay," Starsky said quickly, not wanting to badger Hutch further, though he felt as lonely as he'd ever felt, since he and Hutch had been together.  Then, more softly, he said, "Just let me know if you change your mind.  At any time.  I'll drop everything."

"Yeah.  Okay."

After a moment of silence, Starsky said, "I love you, Hutch.  I miss you.  So much."

"Yeah.  Um.  Hey, uh...."  Hutch suddenly sounded apologetic.

"It's okay, it's okay," Starsky quickly soothed.  Then, with a hint of humor, "I know you love me, too."

A heavy sigh came through the line.  "Look, I'm sorry if -- "

"Hutch, it's all right.  Okay, baby?  I know this has got to be stressing you out big-time, on top of everything else that has been stressing us both out.  I wish I could tell you to relax while you're there, but I know that isn't going to happen."

Hutch didn't appear to be listening.  "It's not that I don't want you here.  It's just...."

"It's okay.  All right, Hutch?  Take care of yourself.  Call me, any time you need to talk."

"Yeah.  Okay.  Okay.  See you, buddy.  I love you."

Starsky smiled.  "Bye, Hutch."

He hung up the phone, and then sighed heavily.


After lying awake in bed for over an hour, Starsky decided that he was tired of his own self-pity.

Instead, he began to plan.

He dozed off and on for a few hours, and then was up at six, feeling energized.

He cleaned up their office.  While doing so, he found a directory that had recently been mailed by their local P.I. association.  He looked up the members, most of which had photos next to their names.  He called one P.I. that looked very young, with dark hair in a Beatles cut.   He was named Carlos Everett, and he eagerly agreed to meet Starsky at the house later that afternoon. 

As soon as the clock struck nine, Starsky took all the checks to the bank.  Then he paid the electric bill in person.  Upon returning to the office, he wrote down a list of all the jobs they had in process, and their status, and began working ones that he could handle via phone calls.

At one o'clock, Carlos arrived.  He was indeed young, and said he'd worked under his uncle, who was a P.I., on the east coast, and had only recently started his own business.  He seemed so eager to dive in to whatever work Starsky handed him, that Starsky wondered if he even had any clients yet.  He didn't want to embarrass him by asking.  Carlos was single and was willing to work whatever hours were necessary to get the job done.

Starsky liked him immediately, especially when he merely shrugged, after Starsky mentioned the nature of his and Hutch's relationship.  He gave him two jobs to do, that had been handed down from lawyers, as well as some mundane employment background checks, the latter being a task Carlos was already well familiar with.

After Carlos left, with file folders in hand, Starsky felt that a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. 

They had help.

Starsky was so intent on working, that he was startled when the house phone rang, shortly after three in the afternoon.

"Hello?" he greeted.

"He's gone, Starsk."

Starsky's mouth fell open, as a vise gripped around his heart.  "Oh, babe.  Oh, Hutch.  Oh, God."

"Yeah," Hutch said in a low, strained voice.  "Just a little while ago."  Then, "I'm glad he didn't suffer too long."

"Yeah."  Starsky took a deep breath.  "Okay.  I'll get on the phone as soon as I hang up and take the first flight out tomorrow."

"Uh, Starsk, no."


"Uh... I, uh... I need to help with arrangements, and... I need to get through that."

"I know, Hutch.  I want to help with all that."

"Buddy, no, please."



"I want to be there, Hutch."

In a low, trembling voice, Hutch said, "I don't want to fall apart.  Just --"

Starsky's heart was breaking.  "That's what I'm here for, baby."

"Not yet," Hutch pleaded.  "Just wait.  Until the funeral is planned."

Starsky's protests died on his lips.  This wasn't about him.  Softly, he said, "If that's what you really want."

"That's what I want."  Hutch sounded relieved. 

"I want to hold you so bad.  It's killing me, being thousands of miles apart."

"I-I know.  But we'll have time later for that."

Will we?  "Hutch, I'm not liking this at all."

"Just... give it a couple of days."

Starsky changed the subject.  "How is everyone else doing?"

"Uh, as well as can be expected, I guess.  I think Mom is relieved, overall.  Aunt Eunice is really upset."  That was Richard's sister.  "It's hard to know how Lannie feels.  I think Nick is taking it harder than she is."

Starsky felt a stab of jealousy at the reminder that his brother was there, while he was being told to stay away.  We've got to talk, Hutch.   It was on the tip of his tongue to say that he felt left out, but he squelched the inclination.  Hutch didn't need his complaints right now.

"I need to get off the phone.  Everyone else wants to make calls."

"Ah, Hutch.  I love you so much.  I just want to hold and hold you and hold you."

Hutch's voice sounded of the verge of breaking when he said, "I know.  I gotta go.  Call you later."

"All right."  Starsky hung up.

He could no longer focus on work.


Starsky went to bed early, lying awake.

The phone rang shortly after eight.



Starsky settled the phone between his ear and the mattress, as he curled onto his side.  "How are you?"

"Tired.  Getting ready for bed."

"Mm.  I'm already in bed."


"Yeah.  I got up really early this morning, and all I can think about now is how much I want to be with you."

"The funeral is Friday."

Today was Tuesday.

"I'm coming out tomorrow, Hutch.  I can't stand this.  The arrangements are made, right?"

"Uh, for the most part."

"Good.  I'm coming out tomorrow.  The first flight I can get."

Hutch drew a deep breath.  "Okay, I'll pick you up."

Starsky didn't like Hutch's hesitation.  "Don't you want me to come out?"

"There's not much to do, except see a bunch of relatives."

"They're my relatives, too," Starsky said firmly.  Then he pushed, "We need to talk, Hutch.  Really, really need to talk.  I know this isn't the best time, but," Starsky voice trembled, "I feel like I'm all alone here, and I don't think that's fair.  I'm wondering how we let things get like this."



"Uh....  Just, you know, let me know when you're arriving."

Starsky sensed that Hutch wanted to say something else.  "It's just going to be you picking me up, right?  I want it to just be you.  So, we can have some time together."


Starsky sat up in bed.  "Hutch, something's wrong, isn't there?  Besides losing your father.  I can feel it.  This isn't like you."


Starsky pressed, "I'm going to wrap my arms around you tomorrow, and you're going to tell me what it is."

"Starsk, it's nothing." Hutch's voice trembled.

"Yes, it is.  What is it?"

"Let's not do this on the phone," Hutch pleaded.

"Okay, okay.  But we're going to 'do this' tomorrow."  Starsky decided, "I'm going to call the airlines right now, and if they have a flight at six in the morning, then I'm flying out at six."

"If you call back with the flight information, the line might be busy, because everyone around here is still making phone calls."

"If I can't get through tonight, then I'll just fly out tomorrow and call from the airport.  Besides, Duluth isn't that big.  If fact, you can probably figure out which flight I'll be on pretty easily."

"Yeah, you're right."

"What's the weather like there?"

"Actually, they're having a bit of warm spell.  It's been in the fifties.  A regular jacket will do."

Starsky was relieved that Hutch sounded more normal.  "Do you need me to pack anything for you?"

"Uh, yeah.  My dark blue suit."  Hutch swallowed thickly.

In a low voice, Starsky said, "Yeah, okay."

When Hutch didn't say anything more, Starsky said, "I'm calling the airlines right now.  I love you so much, baby.  I'll be counting down the hours until I can see you."

"Love you, too," Hutch said quickly, and then hung up.


Starsky got a flight that left at 7:20 AM.  He'd called Carlos last night to let him know what was going on, as he had warned Carlos that he might have to up and leave for Minnesota. 

Starsky had only tried to call Hutch once, but the line was busy, so he hoped Hutch would figure out when he was arriving, and be waiting at the airport.  His flight first had to land in Minneapolis for forty-five minutes, before proceeding with the short trip to Duluth.  Between the layover and the time change, the plane didn't reach Duluth until nearly 1:00 PM.

During the flight, Starsky wondered what could possibly have Hutch so upset, beyond having just lost his father.  He wondered if, in his final hours, Richard had perhaps said something to Hutch that had hurt him.  When Starsky realized he was starting to feel angry toward the idea that Richard had been derogatory toward his son in his final hours, he soothed himself with the reminder that Hutch might be upset by something else altogether.

He just had no idea what.

When Starsky stepped into the small Duluth airport he saw Hutch standing to one side, near a wall.  He was dressed in jeans and a power-blue sweater, with his black leather jacket. 

Hutch's expression was longing, and he straightened from the wall as Starsky moved quickly toward him.

They embraced powerfully, swaying each other back and forth. 

When Starsky felt ready to ease up, Hutch clutched him harder, the motion carrying an air of desperation.

"I'm here," Starsky whispered against Hutch's neck.  "I'm right here."  He rubbed one hand along the back of Hutch's jacket.   "It's gonna be all right, buddy boy.  You're my everything."

Hutch's grip began to ease.  Then, he abruptly straightened and began walking toward the main section of the small airport. 

Starsky put his hand on the back of Hutch's jacket as they walked.  The embrace they had just done was as intimate as they could get, in public.  So, he was eager to get them away to somewhere at least semi-private. 

First, they had to stop at the baggage claim area, where the suitcases hadn't started arriving yet.

Starsky rubbed Hutch's back.  "You obviously figured out when I was coming."

Hutch had his arm around Starsky.  "Yeah."

"How many people are staying at the house?"

Hutch swallowed.  "Me and you.  Lannie and Nick.  A cousin you haven't met, and his wife, from Green Bay.  And then sleeping on the sofa is my Dad's sister.  There's a couple of cousins -- brothers -- from Mom's side that are sleeping on the floor.  Some more are staying at motels in the area."

Starsky looked up and noticed how Hutch avoided his gaze.  "Maybe we should get a hotel room.  That would free up the guest bedroom.  And give us some time alone, the next few days.  Of course, I'm sure your mother and Lanette want you around as much as possible."

Hutch was relieved of answering when the first suitcase hit the beltway.

They stood silent, watching, until Starsky's green canvas suitcase appeared.  He reached to grab it, and then followed Hutch out to the parking lot.

Remembering their last visit, Starsky asked, "Did you bring your dad's Cadillac?"

"Yeah."  Hutch walked briskly across the lane where passengers were picked up or dropped off, and then to the parking area.

After passing a few rows of parked cars, Starsky spotted the dark blue Cadillac, in the last space of the back row, against a high wall, where no other cars were nearby.  It's privacy, at least, he thought hopefully.  Obviously, Hutch wanted that as badly as Starsky did, to have parked there.

Finally, they reached it.  Hutch had his keys out and opened the trunk.  Starsky threw his suitcase in and ordered, "Let's get in the back."

Hutch opened up the driver's side, and then hit the switch that released all the locks. 

They both climbed into the backseat from opposite sides, and met in the middle, throwing their arms around each other.

"Ah, Hutch."  Starsky nuzzled into Hutch's neck

They pulled apart long enough to kiss.  It wasn't passionate, but more with the air of reassurance and "missed you". 

Starsky placed his hand on Hutch's chest, as he pulled back slightly.  He rested his cheek on the back of the seat, and Hutch did likewise.  "I figure, either we're going to have to talk here.  Or else, what I'd like to do is get a room."

"I don't think I can -- "

"Just to talk," Starsky emphasized.  "At least, we could curl up together.  Even if we only end up staying there a couple of hours, that would be fine with me."

Hutch gazed at him a long moment, with moist eyes.

"Something's hurt you, Hutch."  Softly, Starsky pressed, "I need to know."

Hutch's eyes watered more.

Starsky reached up to grasp his cheek.  "Ah, babe.  I know you said on the phone that it was nothing, but whatever it is, it's making you hurt so much, and I can't stand that.  Tell me."

Hutch abruptly shifted so that he could stare the ceiling.  Then he said, "The cousin from Wisconsin, my father's nephew, his name is Brent.  His wife is Alice."


"He made it clear, as soon as he arrived that night before my father passed, that I'm just a faggot to him."

Starsky waited, his heart twisting.

Hutch looked at him and spoke calmly.  "I didn't even care.  You know?  It didn't matter.  I didn't feel any need to defend myself or our lifestyle.  Plus, I didn't want to make my father's death about that.  So, I just pretty much didn't react to his comments.  Most everyone else just pretty much didn't say anything, either."  His mouth corner twitched.  "We're a pretty stoic family."

Starsky didn't interrupt, but placed a hand on Hutch's knee.

Hutch looked away again.  "And then, when I made some mention of needing to call home, Brent would make some comments about my faggot boyfriend."  He paused.  "That cut deeper, but I just didn't have the energy to want to confront him.  I felt I was actually irritating him more by not reacting, and that felt like a victory."

Starsky said, "Is that why you didn't want me to come out?"

"Partly," Hutch said with a sigh.  "I just didn't want to drag you into it.  I didn't think you could let it go as easily."

Starsky's mouth corner twitched.  "I guess we'll have to see what happens."

Hutch looked at him with a wry smile.  "I doubt he'll say anything else, since this morning."

"What happened this morning?"

"Nick belted him."

Starsky felt a rush of pride.  "What?"

Now a soft chuckle.  "Yeah.  I even had to pull him off of Brent.  He said that he understood why I felt I shouldn't fight back, especially at a time like this, but he didn't feel that kind of loyalty to the family peace."

Starsky grinned.  "Hooray for Nick."


"What did Lanette say?"

Hutch shrugged.  "I think she was proud of him.  Not because he stood up for me, but because he was her man, showing some fight.  You know, my family isn't like that, so it sort of shocked everyone."

As they gazed at each other, Starsky felt the humor and pride slowly leave him.  "Brent isn't the one who hurt you, is he?"

Hutch abruptly looked away, his eyes threatening to spill over.

Starsky moved closer.  "What is it?"  He reached to wrap his arms around Hutch's shoulders, and then pressed Hutch's head against his own shoulder.

A sob escaped.

"Ah, Hutch."  Starsky kissed his hair.

Another sob, full of anguish.

"I'm right here," Starsky soothed in a choked voice, as Hutch's body shook with more sobs.  "That's it, don't hold back."

Hutch clutched him desperately, and cried even harder.

Oh, my God.  Starsky held Hutch, rubbing along his jacket, thinking back to the last time Hutch had cried.  It had been when Lanette and Nick had visited them at the same time, and after Hutch had dropped Lanette off at the airport.  She hadn't said anything that she'd intended to be hurtful, and she surely had no idea how her dismissive words, that hit on a number of levels, had torn into Hutch.

When seeing Lanette at the family reunion last summer, Starsky had found her surrounded by armor, and extremely reticent and outwardly uncaring.  He wondered if she had, once again, managed to cut deep into her brother's soul, hurting him.

Or, was there something that had happened in Richard's final hours?  Something that he had said to Hutch, despite father and son seeming to have developed an actual relationship within the past couple of years? 

Whatever at was, Starsky couldn't believe that Hutch had described it as "nothing", when they talked last night on the phone.  If nothing else, his father's death, however expected, had left Hutch's emotions naked and vulnerable.   

Should have come with him, no matter how much he protested.

"So glad I'm here now," Starsky whispered as he slowly rubbed Hutch's back.  His shirt was getting wet, but at least Hutch was quieting, while also gasping for breath.  "Love you so, so, so much."

Hutch managed a sloppy kiss against Starsky's throat.

Gently, Starsky asked, "Think you can talk now?"

"Don't want to," Hutch murmured.

Starsky sighed.  "It's going to have to be here, or somewhere more private."

Hutch abruptly straightened.  "Let's go."  He opened the car door.

Starsky also left the backseat, and moved to the front seat.

Hutch started the motor, which made a congested sound.

"What's a matter with this car?" Starsky asked.

"It needs a lot of work. I told Mom I'd take it in, which I guess will have to be tomorrow.  The Cadillac place is an hour away, in Grand Rapids.  They'll give me a rental car to drive back, so they can keep it a few days and make sure it gets a thorough overhaul.  I figure Mom will want to sell it."

"I can go with you," Starsky said, eager for them to spend more time together.  As Hutch babied the engine a moment longer, Starsky reached into the glove compartment and was glad to find a small box of tissue paper.  He grabbed a few tissues and held them out to Hutch.

Hutch silently took them and blew his nose, and then dabbed at his eyes.  He tossed the tissues to the floor, and then put the car in gear.

They were both silent as they drove for ten minutes.  And then Hutch turned into a two-story motel.  "This okay?"

"Yeah."  Starsky squeezed Hutch's arm, and then opened his door.  "I'll get us a room."  Hutch's eyes were still red and puffy.

Starsky's stomach churned with questions as he went about the task of requesting a room with a single queen-sized bed.  When he emerged from the office with a key, he saw that Hutch had already taken the suitcase out of the trunk and was waiting by the Cadillac.  Starsky signaled to the stairs.

Hutch had caught up to him by the time Starsky was inserting the key into the door of their room.   They both went inside.  Starsky began to undress, while Hutch moved over to the window and pushed back the curtain.  He removed his jacket and tossed it to the table by the bed.  Then he crossed his arms and stared out the window.

Now down to his underclothes, Starsky got under the covers.  "Come to bed, Hutch."  He wanted Hutch's head on his shoulder, while Hutch revealed what had hurt him so much.

Hutch remained before the window.  Then he said quietly, "I've been on this Earth for forty years.  In all that time, my mother has never said one unkind word to me."

Starsky's mouth fell open as he gazed at Hutch's taut back.  It had never occurred to him that the source of Hutch's pain might be his mother, Lorraine. 

"She made sure we had three square meals a day, that there was a snack waiting for us when we got home from school.  She made sure all of our practical needs were met.  She'd splurge on fun things occasionally, if she they made sense to her."

Starsky waited.

"Once, when I was a teenager, I was at Jack's house for dinner.  His mother was complaining and saying that she hardly saw him any more, because he was always out doing some sort of activity.  Of course, he was upset that he was being nagged about not being home for dinner, and that sort of thing."  Hutch paused, and then glanced back at Starsky.  "I remember thinking that I was glad that my mother didn't nag me like that.  But then," Hutch looked back at the window, "on some level, I was aware that it meant my presence didn't mean much to her."

Starsky drew a sharp breath.

"Both my parents always encouraged me and Lannie to participate in activities.  Go out and do things and be with other people.  Of course, we thought that meant it was normal to have your parents not really want you around.  And, you know," Hutch glanced back again, "it was good for us to have that interaction.  I got encouraged by my teachers and coaches, even sometimes by my friends' parents.  Like Mrs. Blake, Nancy's mother."  He looked at Starsky questioningly.

Starsky nodded to show that he remembered Nancy Blake, from a case they worked on many years ago as cops, when Nancy's boyfriend had been involved in a murder on the docks.

Hutch said, "That's what gave me a reasonable degree of self-confidence."  He looked back out the window.  His posture eased slightly as he rubbed at his chin. 

Then, in a lower voice, Hutch said, "I told you what Brent was saying these past few days.  Most everyone just ignored it, like I did, and changed the subject."  Hutch drew a careful breath.  "A few hours before my father died, I'd gone down to the cafeteria.  I'd grabbed some snacks for everybody.  As I was coming down the hall to where my father's room was, there was a hall area outside of it, around the corner, with chairs and things, where most of the family was.  I could hear them talking."

Hutch swallowed.  "As I approached, I heard a woman's voice say something about 'the queer in the family'.   I think it was Alice, Brent's wife.  I just remember feeling resigned that the subject had come up again.  I expected Brent to say something, but I didn't know at the time that he was in Dad's room.  So, he wasn't even part of the conversation."

Hutch swallowed again and bowed his head, turning toward the bed.

Starsky's heart clenched as he held the covers open.  "Come on, Hutch.  I'll hold you while you tell me the rest."

Hutch appeared about to protest, and then he looked lost for a moment.  Abruptly, he came toward the bed, but he sat down on it, next to Starsky.

He stared at the floor.  "It was such a little thing."

Starky had lowered the covers.  "A little thing that caused a whole lot of pain.  What was it?"

"I-I heard my mother's voice.  She said, 'I guess I missed the signs when he was little.  It never occurred to me that he was one of those.  I guess I should have known when he divorced a beautiful woman like Vanessa.'  And then she short of sighed and said, 'What can you do?'"

Starsky had a difficult time swallowing a lump in his throat.

Hutch slowly shook his head.  "It's not like I ever thought she was okay about it.  I mean, there really wasn't anything surprising in what she said.  It's just that... up to that point, everyone had sort of turned a blind eye to Brent and Alice, and just ignored what they said and changed the subject.  But the minute my back was turned..." Hutch reached up and rubbed at his eye, "... she was right there, agreeing.  No longer willing to just let it go."  His voice trembled.  "I was a good kid."  His eyes were brimming once again.  "It just never seemed to matter to her."  He abruptly looked at Starsky, his expression one of a lost little boy.  "Mrs. Blake, next door, knew I was a good kid.  Why couldn't my own mother ever care about that?"

As Starsky felt his own emotions brewing, he remembered being at the apartment of Mrs. Blake and her daughter, Nancy.  Mrs. Blake had announced of Hutch, "He's a good boy."  Starsky had felt warm inside, and recalled agreeing, "Well, he's okay."

Starsky moved to slip his arms around Hutch.  "Come on, lie down here.  Hang on to me."

He was expecting another round of heart-wrenching sobs, as Hutch obeyed.  Instead, Hutch merely rubbed his wet eyes against Starsky's undershirt. 

Then Hutch rested his cheek on Starsky's shoulder and said, "I was standing there, around the corner where they couldn't see me, trying to tell myself that my mother was about to lose her husband of nearly fifty years, so it was wrong to expect her to behave cordially.  And then Lannie suddenly came around the corner, heading for the restroom.  She saw me there and looked... stricken.  She knew that I'd heard what Mom said, and I could tell it really bothered her.  But then she just moved past me."

Starsky ran his hand up and down Hutch's sweater-clad arm.  "Then you obviously aren't over-reacting to what your mother said, if Lannie was distressed at knowing that you'd heard your mother's words."

Quietly, Hutch said, "Part of me wonders why it matters.  You know?  After all these years, it shouldn't matter.  But... I feel, I just want to understand... understand her.  I mean, I don't want any explanations from her, or to confront her about anything.  But, just for myself, I wish I knew who she was."

Starsky stroked slowly through Hutch's hair.  "Well, you know, there's all that family history I brought back from the reunion last summer, and I've never gotten back to that project."  Starsky now kissed Hutch's hair.  "Maybe it's time.  Maybe that's something you and I should work on together.  Maybe there's some answers there."

Hutch scoffed, "I doubt it."

"You never know."  Starsky released a breath.  "So, what did you do after Lanette walked by?"

"I went around the corner.  Felt like an ass, giving everybody their snacks, knowing they were thinking about the recent conversation.  Then I went into Dad's room."  Hutch swallowed.  "Brent was there, and he just glared at me and left.  I sat down next to Dad, and I felt so much... I don't know -- pride, I guess -- gratitude, admiration.  Because it really was because of him that everyone was cordial to us at the family reunion."  Hutch's voice choked.  "I mattered enough to him that he didn't want anybody to make a slight against me or you, or our relationship."

Starsky kissed Hutch's hair, again and again.

"I'm so glad," Hutch went on, "that we had these last eighteen months or so.  That you let him read your book."

Starsky's eyes watered.  Then he murmured, "Do you want to tell me what his last few hours were like?"

"He drifted in and out a lot.  The first day I arrived, he was well enough to say some coherent words.  You know, 'I've glad you've come' and that sort of thing.  I told him you couldn't be there because business was booming, and he seemed glad to hear that.  I didn't really have much time alone with him."  Hutch swallowed.  "He started having difficulty breathing, and they were doing all sorts of stuff to him, so he really wasn't able to say anything that final day or so.  And then... he just drifted off, with everyone around, and the machines started beeping."  Hutch shrugged.  "Went peacefully, I guess."

"I'm glad for that, at least," Starsky said.  "Seems like he went downhill really fast, for something like cancer."

"He wanted it that way.  I know he did."


They were silent a few moments.

Starsky asked, "You want to undress and try to rest a while?"

Hutch shook his head against Starsky's shoulder.  "No.  They're going to be wondering where we are.  There's other people arriving from out of town.  I figure we can stop at the funeral home, on the way to the house, so you can see him."

"Do you want to at least keep this room, for the time we're here?"

"Yeah, I guess."

Starsky wished Hutch would be more enthused about them spending time alone together.  But he supposed that, despite everything, Hutch felt a need to be the proper, dutiful son, helping out his grieving mother.

"Okay," Starsky said.  "You say the word, and we're on our way."


They had passed a car full or relatives, a block from the funeral home, going in the opposite direction.  Starsky and Hutch were alone when they went to see Richard's body.  Starsky could see how much weight he'd lost, since he'd visited last summer, when Hutch was convalescing from being shot in the stomach, and Starsky still had a cast from breaking his arm.

They then arrived at the busy house, where those in attendance included Nick and Lanette.  Meals were informal, as food from various neighbors and acquaintances filled the kitchen, providing an ongoing feast.  Starsky couldn't seem to keep much of an eye on Hutch, nor Lanette or Nick, as everyone seemed to move around so much, greeting relatives not seen in a many years.  Nick didn't seem to be avoiding his brother; instead, he seemed to be involved in a lot of small tasks, such as helping put up a display of photographs with Richard from years throughout his life.  He had a gauze bandage wrapped around his right hand.

Starsky figured out who Brent and Alice were, and they seemed aloof and stayed pretty much to themselves.

Finally, at one point, Starsky was near Hutch when Hutch said to Lorraine, "Mother, Starsky and I are going to be staying at a motel, so someone else can have the guest bedroom."

She turned to look at him, and then said, "Well, all right, then.  Write down next to the phone where you're staying, in case someone needs to get a hold of you."

"I will.  And, remember, I'm taking Dad's car into the Cadillac dealer tomorrow, and coming home in a rental.  There ought to be enough people here now, to take of anything you might need while I'm gone."

"Yes, thank you.  Talk to George.  He's the mechanic that's worked on that car since it was new."

Starsky assumed Lorraine knew that Hutch meant that they both would be taking the car in, though Hutch talked like it would be just himself.

The atmosphere of the house was so different than at the family reunion.  Surely, part of the reason was because there were a lot more people -- strangers to Starsky -- around.  Another, he suspected, was because Richard's influence was no longer felt.  Also, there were fewer children, though he supposed those families who could make the drive in time for the 1:00 PM funeral, wouldn't be showing up until Friday.

Because Starsky had little to do, other than make small talk with the few who weren't perplexed or put off that he was "Ken's life partner", he was relieved when Hutch finally seemed ready to head back to their motel for the night.  Hutch got his belongings out of the guest bedroom, and then they were in the Cadillac, headed into town after darkness had fallen.

Starsky asked, "You want to stop and get something to eat?"

Hutch looked over at him.  "You aren't stuffed, with all that food sitting around?"

Starsky shrugged.  "Guess I am.  Just wanted an excuse to spend some time with you, before being holed up in our little motel room.  Maybe we ought to stop for a beer."

After moment, Hutch said, "Let's just get a six-pack.  I need to get gas, anyway."  He pulled into a convenience store a moment later.


"Gonna take a shower," Starsky said, after they had entered their room. 

He wasn't surprised when Hutch showed no inclination to join him.

For that matter, Starsky was feeling distant from Hutch.  That seemed so odd, after all the tears that had been shed earlier today, but it seemed like Hutch had turned back into a solid Hutchinson -- someone who hid his feelings away and put on the proper front while dealing with something as otherwise emotional as preparations for a funeral. 

I don't like this, Starsky thought, as he stood under the shower spray.  We get two thousand miles away from our chaotic home, and it's like we can't talk about things.

Maybe it's selfish of me to want to focus on us, but I want us to get back to how things used to be.

Decision finalized, Starsky made quick work of towel drying his hair.  He slipped into fresh underclothes and put on his robe.

Hutch was stretched out on his stomach, on the bed, facing the TV, a beer in hand.

Starsky punched off the TV and waited until Hutch looked up at him.  "I want us to talk.  Without any distractions."

Hutch blinked.  "God, buddy, hasn't there been enough heart-to-heart going on today?  I'm exhausted."

Starsky rubbed his eyes while bowing his head.  Then he looked back up.  "Look, I know this isn't the best time.  But it's the only time.  We go back home after the funeral, where everything is so busy....  We need to talk now."

Hutch looked like he was going to protest, and Starsky pressed, "I want us to talk.  Isn't that reason enough?"

Hutch frowned.  "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means that I want to feel like I matter, Hutch."  Starsky poked at his own chest, as built up feelings emerged.  "Do you have any idea what it was like for me, to be stuck back at home, while your father is dying, and to hear that Nick is here, and I'm not?"

"I didn't know Nick was going to show up."

"Well, he did.  Which is what I should have done.  I should have come with you, as soon as your father was hospitalized.  But it's felt like, the minute we got the news, you were trying to keep me away.  That hurt, Hutch.  That hurt.

Hutch's mouth fell open.  "Buddy, I thought we'd discussed this.  I mean, with what that dick Brent was saying, and -- "

"We didn't discuss how I felt about it!" Starsky released a heavy breath.  "I know there's nothing we can do about it now, but I'm telling you how I felt about it.  There was a time when how I felt used to matter to you."

Hutch's eyes flared.  "Well, pardon me, if I'm not exactly myself, with my father dying and all."  Abruptly, Hutch was on his feet, pacing away from the bed. 

"That's just it!" Starsky shout to Hutch's back.  "This started before your father was hospitalized."

Hutch turned.  "What did?"

"Us just... existing together."  Starsky realized that Hutch seemed genuinely puzzled.  He tried to lower his voice.  "Hutch, we used to curl up with each other in bed, and talk about things.  Remember that?  Important things.  Stupid things.  It mattered to us to always know what each other was thinking and feeling.  We used to be so proud of the fact that we communicated about everything.  Suddenly, we aren't anymore."

Hutch muttered, "Buddy, we've been so busy...."

"I know that," Starsky emphasized.  "I'm glad.  But all the money and success in the world isn't worth the deterioration of our relationship."

Hutch furrowed his brow.  "Do you really think our relationship is in trouble?"

"Not yet," Starsky relented.  "But it's starting down that path.  And we've always said we wouldn't let ourselves become like our clients, who hire P.I.s to see if their spouses are cheating.  Those problems start when spouses start holding back from each other."

Perplexed, Hutch muttered, "Holding back?"

Starsky sighed heavily.  Then he said more quietly, "Hutch, the thing I value most in my life is that I'm the one person who gets to see inside of you.  Nothing means more to me than that, baby."  His voice caught, and he swallowed thickly.  "Now, I feel like I don't have that privilege, day-to-day, because I feel you're keeping yourself from me.  I realize that you might not mean to, but that's what's happening."

Hutch seemed at a loss for words.  Then he said, "With us being so busy, it's just so hard to focus on each other, and...."  He trailed off.

Starsky gentled his voice.  "I know.  That's what I want to talk about:  Us being so busy that it makes it hard to focus on each other.  That's a problem, and I want us to solve it."  He gestured to the little table near the window.  "So, can we please sit down and talk to each other?  Now?  While we're away from all the craziness and can give our full attention to one another?"  When Hutch stood there with his mouth open, Starsky beckoned, "Please?"

Hutch moved to the table, beer in hand, and sat down.  He still appeared puzzled.

Starsky grabbed a beer from the six-pack.  He popped the lid and made his voice light.  "Hutch, this isn't about blame, or anything like that.  We've both been super busy, trying to juggle everything we've got going on.  And don't get me wrong -- I think it's great that we're making so much money and stuff."  He managed a slight smile.  "So much, in fact, that you don't even have time to take it all to the bank."

Hutch also presented the hint of a smile.

Starsky relaxed.  "So, I figure we've either got to start saying no to new clients, or else we've got to get some help, so we can manage it all."

Hutch drew a breath, and Starsky could see a protest coming.

Starsky quickly said, "Look, I need to tell you something that I haven't had a chance to yet.  I hired another P.I."

"You what?"

"I hired another P.I., Carlos.  He's a real young guy, no family, but he has experience, because he worked in his uncle's P.I. business back east."


"Yeah, Carlos.  I picked him out of a P.I. directory book the other day, and he was eager as can be to take on work.  So, I gave him a couple of jobs, and some employment verification stuff.  I figure we'll see how he does with it, but I felt really good about him."

Hutch released a quiet sigh.

"You know we needed to do that, Hutch.  And with you being here, it's not like I had a chance to discuss it with you.  But I'm sure it was a good move.  He can really take a lot of the pressure off, especially since Nick hasn't been eager to help us out lately."

Hutch just shrugged, which Starsky took as agreement.

Starsky silently braced himself, because he knew this next part might be more difficult for Hutch to accept.  "I want us to be able to carve out some space for ourselves, no matter how busy we are.  So, I got to thinking... why not rent some office space?"

Hutch finished his beer.  "Office space?  Why?"

"Because, for starters, I'm not too keen on all of our clients knowing where we live.   That was all fine when we just had a few clients here or there.  But the way things are exploding, we need a more professional place of business.  And then that would mean, once we're home from the office, we're home.  And then we can spend time with each other.  That'll allow us to have our space back, in our own home."

Hutch muttered, "If we ever have time to actually leave the office to come home."

"Exactly.  So, why not hire a secretary?  If we have a real office, she can come in every day and answer the phone, type up invoices, take deposits to the bank, maybe even help with stuff like employment verifications, if we show her how.  And then, with someone like Carlos, and maybe some other P.I.s that we can call on when we're overloaded, there's no reason why we have to be busting our asses every day, and feel like we can't take a few hours for ourselves after a day of work, or on the weekends."

Hutch appeared thoughtful as he grabbed another beer.  "Buddy, the thing is, though, we start paying all these people, plus rent, that's going to be a lot of money out of our own pockets."

"If we don't pay them, then we're exhausting ourselves while making so much money, that a huge chunk of it goes to Uncle Sam, right?  I mean, if we pay other people, that's more expenses, which decreases our net income.  If we show less of a profit, then we owe fewer taxes.  Isn't that the way it works?"

Hutch nodded.

"I'd much rather have our money go to providing other people with jobs, and provide a landlord with rent, than have it go to the government.  Plus, having an actual office and a secretary, and additional P.I.s, will help us to serve our clients better.  The way I see it, everybody wins."

Hutch sipped his beer, and then said with admiration, "You've really put a lot of thought into this."

"Yes, I have.  Because I want our corporation to work.  But more importantly, I want us to work, despite being so much busier.  I figure we can then focus mainly on management, and making sure all the jobs are getting handled.  And for the really big jobs, you and I will want to work those ourselves.  We should be able to concentrate wholly on the jobs that need personal attention, if the more menial stuff is getting handled by others."

"Okay," Hutch said after a moment, "I can see how this makes sense."

Feeling relieved that they were solving their problems, Starsky said, "So, I say that as soon as we get home, our first priority is to start looking for office space, and to run an ad for a secretary."

Hutch nodded.  Then he glanced at the phone and said, "We probably should check our messages."

Starsky frowned.  "Let's not, Hutch.  I put a message on the machine that there's a death in the family, and we'll be out of contact for a few days.  Let's just leave it at that, until we get home."

Hutch took another sip of beer.  "Okay."

Starsky snorted.  "Funny how these crisis is life always seem to have a silver lining.  We really needed to have this discussion, Hutch.  I don't know how we could have ever gotten around to it, at home."

Hutch gazed at him a long moment.  Then he said, "I love you."

Starsky felt emotion well up, and rubbed at his eyes.  "Ah, Hutch."

"I'm sorry, buddy.  About everything."

"Come on.  It's nobody's fault.  We both just got caught up in all the craziness."  Starsky shrugged.  "At least, we've got a great start to what you said about making the decade of our forties about making money.  It feels really good to be working toward our dream of having a therapeutic riding center."

Hutch protested, "I'm not quite forty yet."

"Smart ass," Starsky said with a grin.


They went to bed, feeling content, and curled up together.  They didn't make love, because Hutch wasn't able, and though he offered for Starsky to "take whatever you need", Starsky was feeling too happy about the evening's conversation for physical release to be necessary.


Starsky was first in the shower the following morning.  When he emerged, toweling off, Hutch was sitting on the edge of the bed with a contemplative expression.

Hutch said tentatively, "Buddy?"

Starsky stepped closer.  "Yeah?"

Pleading blue eyes looked up at him.  "I'd like to go alone to Grand Rapids.  I haven't had a moment to myself since I arrived, and...."

Starsky felt himself melt inside, even while being disappointed.  He knelt before Hutch and took his hand.  "Ah, Hutch.  I understand.  It's okay.  Just drop me off at the house, and I'll see what kind of family gossip I can get mixed up in."

Hutch snorted.


There was a sharp, brisk breeze accompanying the morning sunshine, so no one else was in the backyard when Starsky went out to the wrought iron bench where Nick was sitting.  "Hey there, little brother," he greeted as he sat beside Nick.  He zipped his jacket up to his chin.

"Hey," Nick said.  "Sorry I didn't get much chance to talk to you yesterday."

"I know.  There's so much going on."

"Lanette took some more arrivals to the funeral home, so I thought I'd get some fresh air.  The house is really crowded."


"Where's Hutch?"

"He went to Grand Rapids to take the Cadillac in for some work.  They're giving him a rental car to drive back."

"Oh."  Nick looked directly at him.  "You didn't want to go with him?"

Starsky shook his head.  "He needed to be alone.  He just lost his father, and he hasn't had a moment of solitude, so...," Starsky shrugged, "it was okay with me."

Nick chuckled.  "Wish I could have had that assignment.  I think I've had my fill of so many Hutchinsons."

Starsky reached over and picked up Nick's bandaged hand.  "It's no wonder."

"I assume Hutch told you what happened."


"That stupid prick, Brent.  I couldn't believe someone would mouth off like that, especially at a time like this.  And nobody would say anything to him!  Man, this is a weird family."

Starsky grinned.  "You noticed."

"Sheesh.  It was bad enough listening to him say things about Hutch, and Hutch just letting it go, but then when he referred to you has Hutch's 'faggot boyfriend', I couldn't take it anymore."

"I'm proud of you, little brother.  Unofficially, of course."

"Of course."

Starsky relaxed against the back of the bench.  "So, not that it's really any of my business, but how has everyone been treating you, since Lanette and Jeffrey are still married?"

Nick shrugged.  "I think most people just nod their heads when she introduces me as her 'friend'.  You know, anyone that stays at the house can see that we sleep together."

"Yeah, this family apparently has a long history of people sleeping with people other than their spouse."

"Yeah.  Lanette says that her mother will probably be married within the year.  I guess she sees other men."

"That's what Hutch has always said.  Richard knew it, too.  You know, it's like everybody fucks around, and nobody talks about it."

"Yeah.  Weird."

After a moment of silence, Starsky ventured, "So, you guys must be pretty serious, for you to be out here."

"I wanted to be with her at a time like this."

That didn't really address Starsky's point.  "Long distance relationships have to be tough."

Nick avoided his eyes.  "Yep."

"I figure, if you guys are serious, either you're going to move out here, or she's going to move out our way.  I can't imagine that, though, since her shops are here."

Nick shrugged.  "Any store can be closed and re-opened elsewhere."

Starsky wondered if Lanette had actually mentioned the idea of moving to Bay City.  He couldn't imagine that, unless she was really, really smitten with Nick.

Starsky squeezed Nick's leg.  "For what it's worth, I hope you stay where you are.  I'm glad you moved out our way, Nick."

Nick nodded.  "Thanks.  I'm glad, too."  After a moment of silence, he quietly said, "Lanette mentioned something about their Mom hurting Hutch's feelings."

Starsky drew a long, slow breath while bowing his head.  "Yeah.  I heard about that."

"Our mom would have been okay about you and Hutch.  Surprised, but you know she wouldn't have loved you any less.  Or Hutch any less."

Starsky felt warm inside.  "Yeah."

"I mean, I thought parents are supposed to be the people their kids can always count on, no matter what."

Grimly, Starsky said, "I don't think it's been that way for Hutch and Lanette.  But Hutch, at least, had a good relationship with their father the past year or so.  But I know Hutch was also frustrated that Richard didn't know how to be supportive of Lanette, since she was a girl."

"Yeah," Nick sighed, "there sure is a lot of baggage in this family.  Seems like everyone is always so worried about appearances, and lets the important stuff go by."

"That's one of the reasons I love Hutch so much.  He found his own sense of self, once he got away from here."

Nick was thoughtful for a long moment.  Then he said, "That's what I'd like to do -- get Lanette away from here."


As Hutch drove along the two-lane highway toward Grand Rapids, he considered the Burger King up ahead.  It was rather early for lunch, but he and Starsky had had a light breakfast, and a double whopper with cheese sounded like something that would fill his stomach.

Abruptly, he slowed and made the turn into Burger King.  He easily found a parking spot and went inside.

The nearest register was open, and Hutch went up to it, while taking out his wallet and placing it on the counter beside him.

"Can I help you, sir?"

"Uh, yeah, I think I'll take one of your whopper meals.  A double, with cheese."  Hutch was aware of someone having come in behind him.

The employee gestured to an overhead menu.  "The number one meal?  That has a double whopper with cheese."

"Uh, yeah."

"Did you want it in large or extra large?"

"How big is an extra large?"

The man pulled out a couple of cartons for french fires.  "This is a large, and this is extra large."  He pointed to stacks of upside down cups.  "This is the large soda, and this is the extra large."

"A large is fine." 

The man punched keys at the cash register.  "Is that for here, or to go?"

"I'll eat it here."

"Okay, that's $3.89."

Hutch started to reach for his wallet, but it wasn't on the counter.   He glanced around, and then looked on the floor.  "My wallet, did it fall off?"

The employee looked at the floor on his side of the counter.  "No, I don't see it."

Hutch looked around.  "What happened to it?  I had it right here."

The employee said, "There was a guy that was behind you, but he left.  I wonder if he took it."

Hutch rushed to the door and glanced out at the parking lot.  Damnit!  He couldn't see anyone walking, or any cars.  If someone stole it, they had probably already driven away.

Feeling his face flush, he came back inside, still looking around the counter.

No wallet.

The employee had stepped away, and now came back.  "Do you think it was stolen?"

"It had to be!" Hutch exclaimed.

"Well, I just talked to our manager, and he wants to give you your order, since he feels bad that it happened here.  Did you want to use our phone to call the police?"

A lot of good that would do.  The police had no chance of finding out who it was.

"Nah," Hutch growled.

The man pushed a tray toward him with his order.  "If you change your mind, you're welcome to use our phone.  Sorry, sir."

"Thanks," Hutch said.

He sat down at a table, fuming.  This trip to Grand Rapids was supposed to be for him to contemplate his father's death.  Now, all he could think about was how rotten it was that he'd had his wallet stolen.  It had over a hundred in cash, a few credit cards, and his driver's license.  He was going to have to make damned sure that he didn't get pulled over for speeding, or some other traffic violation.  If he was caught driving without a license, he'd be arrested. 

He really should make a police report.  But he didn't want to be bothered.


Nick had joined Lanette in shuttling more arrivals to and from the funeral home.  Starsky was now in the living room, where a few family members were relaxing.  Others were in the kitchen and dining areas, enjoying the over-abundance of food.

A fourteen-year-old girl sat on the loveseat across from Starsky, along with her mother, Patricia, who was a divorced niece of Richard's.

The girl appeared uncomfortable, while periodically looking at Starsky.  Finally, her mother said, "Go ahead, Julie, and ask him."

Starsky perked up.  "Ask me what?"

Julie drew a breath.  "Do you and Ken own a racehorse named Deep Waters?"

Starsky smiled.  "Yes, we do.  How did you know that?"

"I saw, when she was third in the Golden State Juvenile Fillies Stakes last fall, that she showed being owned by Kenneth Hutchinson and David Starsky.  I wondered if it was the same Kenneth Hutchinson."

Starsky was intrigued that she knew the name of the race.  "What do you mean that you 'saw' it?"

Patricia said, "She always had her nose buried in the various magazines about racing.  She wants to be a jockey."

"Mom!" Julie scolded.

Starsky grinned.  "Hey, don't be ashamed of your dreams.  There's some girl jockeys around.  They don't get many mounts, but I'm sure they'll be more accepted as time goes on, just like with other occupations."

Julie asked, "What's Deep Waters doing now?  I don't remember seeing her name, after that race."

Starsky thought back.  "Well, she was given a couple of months off, after that race on Labor Day, where she was beat just a couple of noses.  She was ready to run again in mid December.  Our trainer, Mike Hawkins, said that she was old enough to where she could run the longer races, and --"

"Routes," Julie interrupted.

"Yeah, the routes, the longer races, where they go around two turns.  But, for her first race back after her rest, he put her in an allowance sprint as a prep.  There were two raw sprinters in the race, plus a few others, and he said not to worry if she got beat, because he mainly wanted her in the race, as just a hard workout.  She came on like gangbusters in the stretch, and beat one of the sprinters, but not the other.  So, she was second, and Mike was really happy with the race.  So, then he put her in a $50,000 stakes race at a mile, and thought she had a great chance to win.  Hutch and I dressed up," Starsky said with a brief chuckle, "because there's a trophy presentation if you win a stakes race.  But, man," Starsky felt the disappointment all over again, "she ran her first bad race.  Was sixth of eight.  She was never in the race.  Hutch and I had to get to an appointment and couldn't stick around after the race, but we found out later that she had hurt herself."  Starsky thought hard.  "I forget what it's called.  Quarter something....."

"Quarter crack?" Julie offered.

"No.  But something with the word quarter."  Starsky gestured with his hands.  "Mike said when she came out of the gate, the toe of her hind foot came so far forward, that it took a chunk of flesh out of the back of her front foot, down by the hoof."

Julie's face brightened.  "She grabbed a quarter!"

Starsky snapped his fingers.  "Yeah, yeah, that's what it's called, 'grabbing a quarter'.  So, that set her back about six weeks.  After she healed up, she ran a great workout.  So, Mike put her in a Cal-bred stakes, and she had all sorts of trouble.  Got slammed at the start by the horses on both sides of her, and then she was in the center of the pack going around the first turn, and got jostled around.  It wasn't until the far turn that her jockey, Brad Byrd, was able to get her clear and make a run for the lead.  She came flying, and was less than two lengths behind the winner, but unfortunately, there were two other horses between her and the winner, so she was fourth."

Starsky was grateful that Hutch had never said, "We should have sold when we had the chance."  They were both feeling discouraged by Darla's recent races, but never discussed getting rid of her.  Starsky went on, "So, at that point, our trainer said that both the horse and her people needed a confidence boost.  He'd always said that our ace in the hole was that she was still eligible for non-winners of three, which would be a lot easier than the stakes races.  So, he dropped her into an allowance race.  I think it was a mile and a sixteenth.  She was the overwhelming favorite and went off at, like, three to five.  Hutch and me were so busy that we couldn't make it out for the race.  Plus, I think we were both sort of skittish about being disappointed yet again."  Starsky grinned widely.  "When we came home that afternoon, there was a voice mail from Mike that said, 'She won laughing.  Call me.'   So, we called and he said that she won by ten lengths, and was still pulling away after the finish line.  She wasn't wanting to stop, and Byrd needed," Starsky snapped his fingers, "what are they called?  Those guys that are dressed up fancy, and ride the horses that lead the post parade?"

Julie said, "The outrider!"

"Yeah.  The outrider had to run up beside Darla -- that's her stable name -- and grabbed her bridle to help Byrd slow her down, and bring her to a jog.  She just wanted to go, go, go.  Byrd said the next day that his arms were sore from trying to pull her up."  Starsky laughed briefly.  "Mike wasn't happy, though.  It was supposed to be an easy race, and since she ran a half mile more than she was supposed to, it took a lot more out of her than it should have.  So, he wanted to give her four weeks before her next start."  Starsky did some quick calculations.  "That'll be a week from this Saturday.  It's a Grade 2 stakes with a hundred thousand dollar purse, at Santa Anita."

Julie's eyes lit up.  "Really?  A Grade 2?"  She thought hard.  "That must be the Santa Pacific Stakes at a mile and an eighth."

Starsky shook his head.  "Man, kid, you really know your stuff."

Patricia said, "Like I said, she reads horse stuff more than she does her school work."

"But I'm still a straight A student," Julie said firmly.

"That's amazing," Starsky said sincerely.  "If you read a lot, maybe you'll see an article about us.  We got interviewed by a reporter for some California racing magazine, who was writing an article on owners who have just one horse.  They're doing some kind of special owners issue later this spring."

Julie's eyes lit up.  "That must have been exciting."

Starsky shrugged.  It was inevitable, with all the reporter's questions, that the nature of their relationship came up.  When he and Hutch said that they were in a relationship together, the reporter had blushed and muttered, "I don' t need to mention that."

To Julie, Starsky said, "Hutch and me will definitely be making it out for the race next weekend.  I think Mike is trying really hard not to get our hopes up, but I think he's feeling pretty confident about Darla's chances."

"Man," Julie said, "that would be something.  A Grade 2 stakes."

"Yep, this has been quite an exciting journey for Ken and me."  Starsky cocked his head, and shifted his gaze to Julie's mother.  "You know, you guys are welcome to come out some weekend when Darla is running, including next weekend.  We have a guest bedroom."

Julie's looked eagerly at her mother.  "Can we?"

Patricia brushed her daughter's bangs back from her face.  "Maybe in the summer sometime."

Starsky added, "Or, if you want to get rid of Julie for a weekend, you can put her on a plane, and Ken and I will take good care of her.  In fact, our former police captain's daughter is...," Starsky thought, "thirteen, and we could probably have her over, so you have someone your age around.  She was present when Darla broke her maiden."

Julie looked back and forth between her mother and Starsky.  "I hope we can come out!"

Patricia firmly repeated, "Maybe this summer sometime."


Hutch had left Burger King a few minutes ago, and was now back on the road toward Grand Rapids.  He'd scarfed down his meal without tasting it, since he was still fuming about having had his wallet stolen.

What the fuck is this?

He had to slow down, because there was a traffic jam.  Once he finally got close enough, where the traffic was diverted to one lane, he could see a semi truck on the side of the road.  Behind it was a car that was burned up, with firemen still tending to it.  Hutch's experience, from having once been a traffic cop, suggested that the car had slammed into the back of semi, and exploded on impact.

Poor sucker, he thought of the driver.  He also felt bad for the attending cops and firemen.  Dealing with a charred body was rough. 


Others had migrated to the living room, with some going outside to the backyard, as the wind had died.  Starsky went into the kitchen, where Lorraine was putting tinfoil over one of many dozens of dishes filled with food.

Starsky greeted, "It looks like you might not need to fix a meal for at least a week."

Lorraine glanced at him.  "Seems like it."  She squeezed the foil around the rim of the bowl.  "Of course, it'll be just me here, from now on."

Starsky lowered his gaze.  "Hard to imagine being with somebody nearly fifty years, and then losing them."

"In any relationship, one of you is going to have to go first."

"Good point."  Starsky sat at the table with a sigh.  "It's hard to imagine that day, for Hutch and me.  I just hope, when the time comes, that the one left behind is ready.  Of course, I mostly hope that we'll go out together, somehow."

"That's a romantic idea," she said, opening the refrigerator and placing the dish within. 

"Well, sometimes the romance of a relationship is the best part."  He shrugged.  "I'd like to think so, anyway."

She opened the dishwasher door.  "Pardon me for saying so, but I think that's rather naive.  The romance in life doesn't stay for very long."

Her frank attitude reminded Starsky of Lanette.  He said, "Well, some of us prefer to hang onto it as long as we can.  When you figure that your son and I have known each other for fifteen years or so... well, I think we just keep getting better and better."

She gave him an indulgent smile, and then focused on loading the dishwasher.


Mission accomplished.

Hutch was driving back in the rental car the Cadillac dealership had provided.  Thankfully, George, the mechanic that had known his parents a long time, had no problem with Hutch not presenting a driver's license.  They knew who he was.

Now, to make it home safely, without being pulled over.


Starsky was still trying to make conversation with Lorraine, and had to admit that he was enjoying the idea of keeping her off balance.  She tried to keep things on a practical level, and Starsky kept making statements more emotional in tone, especially where he and Hutch were concerned.  Since she had inadvertently hurt Hutch a great deal, he had to admit that making her uncomfortable felt like a harmless retaliation.

Someone from the living room said, "The cops just pulled up."

Lorraine quickly straightened from wiping the counter, and called out, "You mean a patrol car?"


She ran her hands under the faucet.  "That's probably Doug Owens.  He grew up down the block, and probably wants to pay his respects."

Starsky got to his feet.  "Did he grow up with Hutch?"

"He was a few years younger than Ken," Lorraine replied, moving to the door.

Other family members had already gone out the front door to greet the officer.  Starsky followed Lorraine out, and was aware of Nick and Lanette being among yet more family that followed behind them.  He wondered, with some amusement, if Owens was going to feel swarmed.

As soon as Starsky saw the officer's face, he knew there was nothing amusing about this situation.  Nor was it merely about offering condolences.  That face was hard and grim, as though braced for delivering the worst possible news.

Other family members parted to either side of the walkway, as Lorraine approached the police car, with Starsky following.  "Doug, what is it?" 

Owens said grimly, "Mrs. Hutchinson, I know you've just lost your husband."


"I'm afraid I have more terrible news."

Lorraine put a hand to her mouth.  "What could that be?"

The officer held out a wallet, which he opened.  "Your son is Kenneth Hutchinson, from Bay City?"

Starsky's heart pounded, and his stomach clenched into knots, as he recognized the wallet.  "What's happened?" he demanded.

Owens seemed on the verge of tears.  "He was behind a semi that had to brake suddenly.  He crashed into the back of it, and the car exploded...."


Starsky barely heard,"... he was killed instantly."

There was a woman's scream.  Murmurs of disbelief.

Starsky saw the ground come up, and then his forehead was pressed against it.

Noitcan'tbe.  Itcan'tbe.  HutchHutchHutch.  Shouldhavemadelovelastnight. 

"We'll need dental records to confirm...."

Suchbeautifulteeth.  Alldressedupinyourbluesuitforthefuneral.  Oh,waityou'reallburnedup. Noopencasket. Hutchcharred,burnedup.

"David, Davey."  Hands gripped his shoulders.  "Oh, God, David."

Lorraine screamed, "I have to plan another funeral!"

"Oh, God.  Kenny."  So sad.

Terryyoulied.  Youlied.  Hewassupposedtobepotbelliedandbaldandrunningtheridingstable.

HutchHutchHutchHutch.  Ican'tstandthis.  Nononononononono.

"David."  A harsh sob.  "Oh, God, Davey."

Ohgodmakeitstop.  Makethepainstop.  Ithurtsomuchmakeitstop.

Heartemptyforever.  Foreverandeverandever.

Well, what a great two hours of solitude this had been, Hutch snorted to himself.  No reflective thoughts of his father.  Just annoyance that his wallet had been stolen, and then a fucking traffic jam.  At least, things went relatively smoothly at the dealership.  And now he was pulling onto his parent's block, and he hadn't gotten a ticket and been arrested for driving without a license.  So, he should be happy, right?

What's this?  Hutch saw a police car double parked in front of his parent's house, family members all around.  What the fuck? 

He slowed his speed, and wondered where he could park.  There were too many vehicles in the driveway of his parent's home, and in front of it.

Hutch found a spot on the opposite side of the street and shut off the motor.  He got out and closed the door, and then locked it.  He walked briskly across the street to his parent's house.

Someone was crouched on the ground, his face against the dirt, his rear in the air.  It looked like Nick was beside him, trying to rouse or comfort him.


Had there been another fight?

Hutch ran toward him.




"What's going on?" Hutch demanded, as he brushed past family members.

Nick straightened, his eyes as wide as saucers.  "HUTCH!"  He frantically grabbed Starsky's shoulders.  "It's Hutch!  Hutch is here!"

From the ground, Starsky turned his head and looked up.

HIs face was ashen white, his eyes huge.

Hutch reached for him.  "Buddy, what's wrong?"

Starsky leapt to his feet, emitting a strangled gasp, and grabbed hold of Hutch, his fingers digging into Hutch's clothing.

Hutch clasped his arms around Starsky, whose chin locked over his shoulder, and looked around at the sea of faces that stared at him.  He listened to Starsky gasping for air.

"Oh, my God," choked the officer, that Hutch recognized as Doug Owens from childhood.  Owens approached and held out a wallet, his expression one of utter confusion.  "Ken, is this your wallet?"

Hutch loosened one arm from Starsky and grabbed it.  "Yes!  It was stolen from me at Burger King.  How did you get it?"

Owens' mouth fell open.  "Oh, my God.  I am so, so sorry."  He wiped at his eyes.

"What's going on?" Hutch demanded, managing to put the wallet in his pocket.

"It was thrown from a car that ran into the back of a semi and exploded.  We thought you were the guy in the car."

Hutch's mouth fell open as he recalled the accident scene.  Oh, my God.  His hand came up, trembling, and pressed against the back of Starsky's head.  "Oh, dear God.  Starsk...."  He pressed his face against Starsky's.  Of all the things for him to go through....

Nick was still pale.  "They said you were dead!"

Hutch clutched Starsky closer against him.  Starsky was still taking in gasps of air, and had a desperate grip on Hutch.

Hutch looked around at the faces that stared at him.  A teenage girl was crying next to her mother, Patricia.  That had to be Julie.

Lorraine said with relief, "I thought I was going to have to plan another funeral."

There were murmurs from other family members.

"I am so, so sorry."  Owens stepped away.

"Not your fault," Hutch muttered.  He closed his eyes, listening to Starsky's deep, gasping breaths.  In his gentlest tone, he said, "Buddy, let's go inside.  Okay?  Can you move at all?"

Nick came near and squeezed Starsky's shoulder.  "David.  God."

Hutch took a step toward the house.  "Come on, buddy.  I need you to move with me."

Nick hovered near as Starsky moved with Hutch.  He held the door open, as they carefully maneuvered through it, Starsky's upper body not budging from the desperate grip it still held on Hutch's person.

Hutch decided to move past the living room.  They needed privacy.  "Stairs, buddy," he directed.  "We need to go up the stairs."

Nick eventually fell away, as Starsky slowly put one foot on each step, in his need to stay attached to Hutch.

They had reached the landing.  Hutch decided on his parent's bedroom, because he knew his mother would have the bed made.  They slowly moved down the long hallway, until reaching the open door at the end. 

The room was indeed in pristine condition.  "Down we go," Hutch whispered, as he started to sit on the edge of the bed.

Starsky sat with him, and then Hutch lowered them both onto their sides.  One arm pressed against Starsky's back, the other against his buttocks, squeezing him as close as possible.

Starsky's breath wasn't as harsh, but it was still heavy.

Hutch didn't think he'd ever forget the ashen look on Starsky's face, when he looked up as Hutch trotted toward him.

After a long moment, Hutch said, "Tell me if you need anything from me."  He was feeling blood pool at his groin, as his body prepared to announce how alive and well it was.  But this wasn't the time for that. 

Finally, Starsky's head eased back from Hutch's shoulders, his eyes lowered.  In a plaintive, childlike voice, he said, "I thought you were all burned up."

"Ah, buddy."  Hutch let go of Starsky's buttocks, and he raised his arm, so he could rest a thumb against Starsky's cheek. 

"I thought Terry had deceived me."  Starsky's voice trembled.  "You were supposed to live long enough to get bald and fat and run the riding program."

Hutch's eyes misted.  "She didn't deceive you.  I'm here."  He swallowed thickly.  "There's still a lot for us to do in this life together, buddy."

Starsky's eyes were still lowered.

Hutch pleaded, "Can you look at me?  Huh?"  Then, softer, "I won't disappear.  Promise."

Slowly, Starsky's eyes raised to meet his.

They gazed at each other.

In the softest of whispers, Hutch said, "Love you."

Starsky's face suddenly broke, and he wrapped his arms around Hutch's neck and let out a heart-wrenching wail of grief.

Oh, my God.  Hutch held him as close as he possibly could.

Loud, anguish-filled sobs released next to Hutch's ear, as Starsky's whole body shuddered.  Again and again.

Hutch tried to still his own thundering heart.  He needs this.  This is what he most wanted to express, the moment he thought I was gone....

God, please let it have only been for a few minutes.

Surely, it couldn't have been much longer than that, the way everyone was gathered outside.  Owens had still been holding Hutch's wallet.

Starsky's face had become buried in Hutch's shoulder, so the noises coming from him were quieter now.  His body would threaten to grow still, and then suddenly it would convulse, as though the anguish was upon him full force, once again.

Hutch lay quietly, letting the purging happen.

How petty he had been, yesterday, when he had complained to Starsky about his mother's lack of desire for his company.  Here, in his arms, was the person who desperately wanted and needed him around.  Who valued his presence so, so much, that he'd badgered last night until Hutch finally agreed to listen to him, and then he had presented a thorough, well thought-out plan, so they could go back to spending the time together that had been missing in recent months. 

Starsky had fallen silent for a while now, beyond trying to get his breath.  Hutch cupped his hands around Starsky's head, and eased him back.

Starsky's eyes were red and puffy and full of tears.

Hutch gently kissed at the tears, tasting bitter salt.

Then he stopped, and waited.

Starsky's eyes were slit open, gazing at him.

Hutch made his voice light.  "I hope, if my father is looking down on us, he's able to have a sense of humor about all this."  When Starsky appeared to be listening, he elaborated, "Between the two of us, we've cried the Nile river the past few days, and not a bit of those tears have been shed for him."

Starsky swallowed.  "He wouldn't want tears shed for him anyway.  Not manly."

Hutch snorted.  He brushed a thumb along Starsky's cheek.

Starsky's swollen eyes moved around the room.  "Where are we?"

"My mother's room.  I figured she'd have the bed made.  She did."

Starsky's glanced down at the mussed coverlet.  "Considerate of you."

"I thought so."  Hutch reached to rub Starsky's back.  "You ready to sit up?  I'll get Kleenex."

Starsky made a noise of effort.  Hutch sat up, and then helped Starsky.  He went into the master bath, and emerged with a handful of tissues.

Starsky spent a while blowing his nose.

Hutch went into bathroom again, this time for a cool wash cloth.  "You're a mess, buddy."

Starsky used both hands to press the cloth against his eyes.  Hutch threw away the tissues.  He then took the washcloth from Starsky and rinsed it out, then hung it on a towel rack.

Starsky still looked thoroughly wrung out. 

Hutch knelt before him.  "Hey, uh, I think I probably need to show myself to everybody, so they know I'm really here.  Did you want to stay up here a little longer?"

Starsky quickly shook his head, while clutching Hutch's arm.  "No.  I don't care if they see how much it upset me to think I'd lost you."

Hutch reached up to wrap his arms around him.  "I'm so sorry.  So, so sorry."

"Not your fault," Starsky said in an unsteady voice.

 Hutch gathered his thoughts.  "You know, buddy, I think we should split within an hour and so.  I'd like to get us a room at a nice luxury hotel, that has a Jacuzzi that we can relax together in.  What do you say?"

Starsky nodded.

Hutch rose, and then helped Starsky to his feet.  He spent a moment straightening the bedding. 

They slipped their arms around each other and moved down the hall.  As they passed the main guest room, where the door was partially open, they heard a young female voice say accusingly, "You said that queers don't love each other way men and women do."

A voice Hutch identified as Patricia's replied, "I don't think they do."

The young voice said, "They hugged each other a lot more than you and dad ever did."

Now, firmly, "That's enough, young lady."

Starsky and Hutch moved down the stairs.  They passed by the living room and family room where some were talking quietly, others eating.  Then they went into the kitchen, where some were around table.  Many dishes of food were unwrapped, and a few were indulging in an early dinner.

Nick was next to Lanette.  "David!  Hutch!  I'm so glad you're all right."

A couple of people shifted seats, leaving two chairs side by side.

Hutch helped Starsky sit down, and then sat next to him, with their chairs touching.  He glanced about the table.  "Sorry about all of that."  He slipped his arm around Starsky's shoulders.  Starsky's head was bowed.

Lanette asked, "You said your wallet got stolen?"

Lorraine put empty plates and silverware before Starsky and Hutch.  Other family members came to stand in the entrance way.

Hutch replied, "Yeah.   I'd just stopped at Burger King to get lunch, and as I was standing at the counter to order, I had my wallet out.  Somebody came in behind me, and I was distracted with the guy showing me the portion sizes.  And when I tired to pay, I realized my wallet was gone, and the man who had been behind me was no longer there.  They gave me some food, anyway, since they felt bad."

"That was kind of them," Lorraine said.

"Yes, and when was I was back on the road to Grand Rapids, there was a big traffic jam, because a car had slammed into the back of a semi and burned up.  I bet the guy had my wallet in the passenger seat, and was trying to look through it while driving.  That's probably why he wasn't paying attention, and why he hit the back of the semi when it braked.  He must have had the window down, and that's why my wallet was thrown free.  There's no way he could have had it in his pants pocket."

As he stopped speaking, Hutch had a sudden realization, and it made his stomach churn.

"Man," Nick said, "talk about poetic justice."  He looked directly at Hutch.  "I'm really glad you're all right."  He then gave Starsky a dubious glance.

Hutch put a hand to his forehead.  "Oh, dear God."

Others looked at him.

Hutch gulped, wondering how Starsky would ever forgive him. 

"What?" Nick prompted.

Hutch swallowed again, for his mouth was so dry.  "I didn't want to make a police report about my wallet being stolen, because I didn't see the point."  He bowed his head guiltily.  "But if I had... the accident was close enough to where I stopped for lunch that any officer taking the report would probably have been called to the accident scene.  They would have realized that the wallet thrown from the car was my stolen wallet, and that Ken Hutchinson wasn't the driver of the car."  He squeezed Starsky's shoulder as he looked up and muttered, "They wouldn't have thought I was dead."

There were a few noises of agreement around the table.  Hutch couldn't see any expressions that held accusation, but still....

He squeezed Starsky's shoulder again, wishing they were alone.

Starsky's bowed head turned to Hutch, and the top of his head came to rest against Hutch's side.  Then Hutch felt a hand grip his leg. 

He thought they were intended to be gestures of reassurance.  But Starsky was clearly too emotionally exhausted to handle much else.

"Sorry," Hutch managed, his eyes darting around the room, but he knew that one word was intended most for the man at his side, as his arm tightened around him. 

"Well, I think we've had enough excitement for one day," Lorraine said dryly.  "Would you like something to drink?"

Starsky was Hutch's priority, and he wasn't in any condition to interact with others.  Hutch said, "Uh, I think we'd better go."  To his mother, he said, "We'll be back tomorrow morning, to help with greeting the guests that are still arriving."  Hutch started to stand, with Starsky still close to his side, and awkwardly said, "Sorry about all of this."

"At least, you're really all right," one of his aunts said. 

Hutch escorted Starsky out of the house, and then to the rental car.


Two hours later, with darkness having set in, they were naked in a Jacuzzi, in the bathroom of a five-star hotel.  Starsky could barely keep his eyes open , and Hutch had him snuggled against his side.

The warm, massaging water had been soothing.  Starsky had rallied briefly to assure Hutch that he forgave him about not doing the police report.  "This wasn't anybody's fault," Starsky had said, "except the prick that stole your wallet, and he paid for that with his life."

Hutch felt that he could sleep for a week.  He just wished his groin was as agreeable.

Starsky muttered, "Excalibur's wide awake."

Hutch squeezed his shoulder.  "Yeah, well, he's going to have to wait.  We're both bushed, buddy.  I say let's hit the sack."

They made fast work of drying off -- which Starsky could barely accomplish himself -- and got settled beneath the covers.   


Hutch was gone.

Starsky pondered that emptiness as his eyes opened to darkness.  Why am I still breathing?  How can I cope?

He felt a breath near his ear, a warm body behind him.

Hutch isn't dead?  I was dreaming?

Starsky's heart beat faster with relief, as he let out a tight gasp.  Thank God.  To reassure himself, he wriggled his body slightly, so he could feel the solidity behind him.

An arm moved against his chest, and there was a murmured, "You okay?"

Starsky recognized the smell of a hotel room.  Today's (yesterday's?) events came back to him.  He reached up and gripped Hutch's arm.  "I woke up, thinking you were gone."

"Ah, buddy, you had a nightmare?"

"No.  Just woke up, thinking it."  Abruptly, Starsky rolled over onto his other side, so he was pressed against Hutch.

A thumb brushed across Starsky's forehead, and Hutch's soothing voice said, "If that had really happened, I know there's nothing I can say that would ease the grief or loss.  But you should never feel sorry for me, buddy.  However I die, life wouldn't have shortchanged me."  His voice softened in wonder.  "I've had the most incredible journey, living it with you."

Starsky sniffed, "But you're supposed to live long enough to get bald and fat and run the riding stable."

"Fat?" Hutch clarified, indignant.

Starsky felt himself grin, which felt good.  "Well, in the dream I had on our vacation, you sort of had a gut.  You were kind of bald, too, though you were wearing that silly, flat cap."

"That's what I have to look forward to?"

"Ah, Hutch.  For all I know, I was fat, too."  Starsky chuckled, then sobered.  "But I still loved you so much.  I remember, vividly, that part of the dream, and me feeling so full of love while thinking how bossy you were in running the stable.  You know, that you were still the Hutch I've always known and loved spending my life with."

Hutch snorted.

They fell silent, and Starsky sensed their bodies responding to each other's nearness.  Eventually, he asked, "Have you been awake?"

"Off and on."


"Yeah.  Keeping thinking about my father.  Or, rather, how I'm not thinking about him.  This week should be about him.  But it seems it's been about everything but.  Maybe it really hasn't sunk in yet that he's gone."

"That'll come on its own time," Starsky assured.  "There's been so much going on, and so much else to think about."  He rubbed his cheek against Hutch's chest.  "Maybe the reason you haven't been thinking about him is because you don't need to.  Maybe you have a real peace about his life and your relationship with him.  That's nothing to feel guilty about."

"Maybe."  Hutch rubbed his hand along Starsky's arm.  "Or maybe it's that I've transferred all my feelings about the past onto my mother, since she's the remaining parent."

"Could be."  Starsky realized, "It is weird to think that, between the two of us, she's only parent we have left."

"Yeah.  She'll probably get remarried before long, probably sell the house.  I bet the only time we see her is at weddings and funerals."

Starsky tried to figure out what would soothe Hutch.  "I suppose it would be a nice thing if you could eventually develop a relationship with her, like you did with your dad."

Hutch snorted.  "That's not going to happen.  I mean, I think with Dad, he wanted to get to know me, like I wanted to know him."  Hutch shook his head in the darkness.  "I don't get that feeling from Mom at all.  She wants to move forward, not back.  Besides," he shrugged, "it's not like I need anything from her."

"Yeah," Starsky relented with a sigh.  "When I was at the house that morning, and we were alone in the kitchen, I was trying to talk to her about things.  You know, marriages and our relationship, emotional stuff life that.  She had such a dismissive attitude.  Reminded me a lot of Lanette."

"Yeah.  Lannie is her mother's daughter, that's for sure."

Starsky swallowed.  "When the cop said what had happened, and we thought you were dead, I can remember hearing your mother saying something about planning another funeral, all distressed.  And then, when you were there, being relieved that there wasn't going to be another funeral."  He looked up at Hutch.  "I get what you were trying to tell me yesterday.  It's like she wasn't upset by the idea of losing you, or relieved to have you back -- all she could think about was another death meant another funeral."

Hutch shifted slightly.  "I don't want to hold that against her, Starsk.  She'd just lost her husband of nearly fifty years.  People can behave funny about death, especially when they're in shock."

Starsky grunted.  "Yeah.  But somehow I don't think your father's death influenced her reaction to thinking you were dead, and then really alive.  She and Lanette are both just so distant from emotion.  In a way one wouldn't expect women to be."

"Well, they're both products of their environment," Hutch seemed to feel obligated to say.

"I also talked to Nick, just me and him.  He's wanting Lanette to move her stores out our way.  I don't know how seriously they might have talked about it.  But I think he's wanting to get Lanette away from her family.  We didn't get specific, but I assume he's hoping a change of scenery might soften her up some."

Hutch merely grunted.

Starsky rubbed his hand across Hutch's bare belly.  "You sure softened up, once you got away from home."

"I'm not feeling very soft right now."  Abruptly, Hutch shifted and rolled on top of Starsky.

A thrill went through Starsky as their lips locked together.  He frantically ran his hands up and down Hutch's back.  As soon as he was allowed a breath, he gasped, "Fuck me really hard and raw.  Just use spit."

Hutch lunged against him, but then was on his feet, beside the bed, a moment later.  "Then get your ass in the air."

Starsky felt himself throb at Hutch's commanding tone.  He rose up on all fours, and then moved until his ass was at the edge of the bed.

Hutch pushed hard on the center of his back.

Starsky quivered as his face felt the bedding, his upper body having lowered.

Thumbs parted his butt cheeks, and moments later he felt a soppy tongue drooling at his center.

Starsky's breath quickened as he felt saliva drip down his ass crack, and pool at the back of his balls.

He balanced on one harm and reached to stroke himself.

A hand slapped his ass.  "Don't."

Starsky took his hand away, even as he grew more excited that Hutch was taking charge of him. 

A finger probed at him, and then wormed its way inside.

Starsky shifted his legs, bracing himself.  This was indeed raw, without the assistance of less natural lubrication.

The finger twisted around.

Starsky gasped loudly, his own fingers curling into the bed covers.

He felt another digit trying to gain entrance.  As he braced himself for the additional stretching, he happened to looked up and noticed the digital bedside clock, that said it was 4:10 AM.

"Stretch your arms out."

Starsky let go of the covers and stretched his arms out in front of him, lowering his body even more.  When Hutch wanted to feel dominating, this was position he liked Starsky to be in.  Usually, once Hutch entered him, he would grab Starsky's wrists and hold them against the mattress.

Both his upraised ass cheeks were gripped in large hands and kneaded firmly.

Starsky grinned to himself.  Hutch always loved feeling up his ass.

A final, harsh squeeze, and his flesh was released. 

There were noises of spitting.

A butt cheek was pulled aside. 

Starsky held his breath, waiting.

Moist bluntness was placed against his hole.  Then it pressed.  Starsky gasped, feeling himself part harshly, and he shivered when Hutch groaned, while make one long, hard thrust.

Starsky felt goose bumps break out along his skin, as demanding flesh impaled him.  He gasped again.

Hutch growled.  He reached around Starsky and grabbed his cock.

Starsky grunted agreeably, and then rocked back, trying to increase the friction in both his cock and his ass.  That was hard to do, with his arms stretched out in front of him.  He pleaded, "Fuck me and pump me really hard."

He kept his arms in place, and within moments, a wave of sensation rocked through his body.  His cock was being stroked in a firm, practiced grip, and his ass was feeling raw from the long, thick cock that slammed into it, over and over.

He heard Hutch gasping for breath, but still the harsh motion continued.

Starsky closed his eyes reverently.  Yes, you're alive!  So alive.  Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me.

They exploded together.


The next day was overcast and chilly.  The church was packed for Richard Hutchinson's funeral.

Afterward, the family met at the cemetery for the burial service. 

Richard's sister cried freely; otherwise, Starsky felt them to be pretty stoic events. 

Beside him, Hutch had seemed solemn, but silent.  Starsky was confident that Hutch was , indeed, at peace with his father's passing.

As for Hutch's pseudo-passing the prior day, Starsky still felt worn out from all the emotion he'd expended.  But he wasn't mad at anybody -- neither the cop, Doug Owens, who broke the incorrect news, nor with Hutch for not filing a police report that could have prevented the misidentification of the victim inside the burned car.

He just wanted him and Hutch to return home, and keep building toward their future.

For now, they walked quietly away from the cemetery, holding hands, and toward the row of rented black limousines parked at the curb.  Some family members were piling into the cars, while others hung back to speak in small groups.

Hutch led the way into one open seat of the nearest limo, where the chauffer held open the door. 

A couple was in the seat ahead of them, and the male turned around to glance back, and quickly frowned.

It was Brent.

Starsky managed an ironic smile, and nodded back.  He said, "Nice services."

Hutch was looking out the side window and muttered, "Yeah", as though he thought Starsky was talking to him.

Brent scowled and turned back around to face the front.

Starsky asked, "How's the jaw?"

Hutch looked at him, and then in front of them, and then back to Starsky, recognition dawning.

Starsky grinned at him.

"Asshole," Brent muttered beneath his breath.

"Well," Starsky said casually, "I wouldn't think this would be the time for name calling, but apparently not all Hutchinsons were raised with proper manners."

Hutch smiled, too.  "Definitely not."

Now Alice turned around.  "I can't believe you have the nerve to show up here, at a time like this."

Starsky held up his left hand, and wriggled his fingers.  "Like it or not, I'm part of the family."

She snorted.  "Like there's anything legal or official about that."

Starsky looped his arm around Hutch's shoulders.  He quoted, "The heart has its reasons that reason does not know."

Hutch slipped his arm around Starsky's waist, but remained silent. 

From outside the open door, Starsky heard a familiar, "Oh, here they are."  A moment later, Nick and Lanette moved into the long seat beside them.

After the door was closed, Nick seemed to notice who was sitting in front of them, and the way Starsky and Hutch were snuggled up together.  He asked, "Everything okay?"

"Fine," Starsky replied casually.  "Brent and Alice are just a little uptight."

Nick snorted.  "What else is new?"

Starsky couldn't resist saying, "I guess there's nothing quite like a death to put the important things into perspective."

Without turning around, Brent scoffed, "That's all we need -- a couple of Jewish New Yorkers in the family."

Starsky felt Hutch stiffen beside him at that particular label.  He squeezed a long thigh reassuringly.  Then he said.  "Well, at least you don't have to worry about us having kids.  Of course, I can't speak for Nick and Lanette."

Lanette chuckled softly.  "Not hardly.  But watch your mouth, Brent.  Or you could be lose a few parts that Alice might miss.  I'm not in the mood for your crap."

Starsky looked up at his brother in disbelief, who in turn looked at him, and they both grinned widely.

Then Nick put his arm around Lanette.  "That's my girl."

The limousine driver got in the front seat.  "I think we're all set then."

Starsky looked at the cemetery and didn't see anyone else remaining. 

The car gently eased forward, behind another limo, and Alice glanced toward the back and said, "I can't believe the nerve of you all to be joking at a time like this."

Nick said levelly, "Don't pretend you don't know who started it.  Where I come from, you never insult family.  No matter how much you might disagree with anything about a particular family member, family always stands together."

After a moment of silence, Lanette said, "Dad wouldn't have stood for anything Brent said about Kenny and Dave.  And you know it, Alice.  It's pretty low of you both, I think, to take the advantage of the fact that he was on his death bed."

Starsky felt amazed that Lanette was pointing that out, as though she was on their side.  He looked up at Hutch, but Hutch was gazing out the window. 

Bent turned around.  "Interesting that Ken let's everybody do the talking for him."

Starsky felt himself bristle, but Hutch smoothly said, "I've got nothing to say to you, Brent.  Nothing at all."

Starsky glared at Brent and quickly interjected, "You'd better be damn grateful for that.  You don't want to be on the wrong end of Hutch's favoritism when his temper explodes.  The results aren't pretty."

In a lower voice, Nick said to Starsky and Hutch, "Do you guys want to go to dinner with us tonight?  I'm not flying back until tomorrow afternoon."

Brent turned back around to face the front.

Starsky and Hutch glanced at each other, and Starsky said, "Sure.  We haven't discussed yet when we're leaving."

Hutch said warmly, "That would be great."


They spent a few hours at the wake, and then decided to go back to their hotel room to freshen up, before Nick and Lanette would arrive at seven to have dinner with them at the hotel's most expensive restaurant. 

They undressed and got into bed, snuggling up together, with the lamps on.  Starsky insisted that Hutch's head rest on his shoulder. 

"You doing okay?" Starsky asked.

"Yeah, I'm okay.  Really."

"When do you think we should head back?  I'm bushed and thinking it would be really nice to sleep in tomorrow."

"Yeah, I'm all for that."

"Otherwise, I'm eager to get back and work on our plans.  But I don't know if you want to hang around here a little longer."

"No.  A flight tomorrow afternoon sometime sounds good.  That'll give us a day at home, before we dive back into everything."

"Yeah.  First thing I want to do is get a newspaper and look at the classifieds for offices for rent."

Hutch shifted to a more comfortable position.  "You know, buddy, this is all contingent upon us being as busy as we've been.  If we start spending lots of money, on office space, hired help, furnishings and equipment, and then the phone stops ringing, we're going to be in a mess."

"Yeah, but economists are predicting that the recession is going to start to end, and things are going to pick up.  We're already busier than we want to be.  Just seems like we'll keep getting busier still, as the economy improves and people are more willing to spend money on services like ours."

"Yeah, I suppose."

"I don't think we're doing ourselves much good by being cautious.  Besides, most of our business now is coming from law firms, and they seem to have plenty of clientele.  The wealthy always seem to have money spend."

"Yeah, that's true."

Starsky thought of something else he'd been wanting to discuss with Hutch.  "You know, when I talked to Carlos, he got started in his uncle's firm, doing work on behalf of mortgage companies, who needed to know if the mortgage holders were still in the houses after the mortgage hadn't been paid in a few months.  He would drive around and take a picture of the condition of the house, and try to determine if anybody still lived there, or if the people had already moved.  He'd look in windows, talk to neighbors....  Anyway, the real estate company paid ten bucks a house.  His uncle would give him half of it.  So, if he really hustled, he could do fifteen houses in a day and earn seventy-bucks.  That's pretty good money for just driving around in your car.  And then his uncle's firm got to keep the other seventy-five bucks."

Hutch asked, "The mortgage company hired the P.I. firm to do that?"

"Yeah.  I'm under the impression his uncle's firm worked for more than one mortgage company.  That could be a lot of houses, especially in a recession like this, where people can't afford to pay their mortgage, and nobody knows if the people are still living in those houses.  I'm thinking we might try to get involved in something like that.  Our seventy-five dollars a day isn't much, but when you consider that we wouldn't have to lift a finger for getting our half... well, I think it's something worth looking into.  And if we can find other niches like that -- where we just charge a flat fee, but the work is something we can be streamlined and efficient at -- that'll be all the better."

Hutch kissed his neck.  "David Starsky, corporate executive."

Starsky grinned, but said, "I don't see any reason why we can't think big, as long as we have the personnel in place to handle everything."  He nuzzled Hutch's hair and softened his voice.  "But no matter what we do, the most important thing is that we're able to make time for ourselves.  That's why we need our offices to be separate from the house."

Hutch said, "Except, sometimes we're going to need to dive right into a job, because time is crucial.  It's not going to matter that it's the weekend or whatever."

"Then we'll work on stuff after-hours, if it's important enough."  Starsky decided, "I think our rule should be that we don't bring our work home, or work late at the office, unless we both agree that it's necessary."

Blue eyes looked up at him innocently.  "What if we both don't agree?"

Starsky found those eyes irresistible and kissed Hutch briefly.  Then he grinned.  "Come on, Hutch, we've been working together on cases for years.  We both know when something is so important that it can't wait, and when it can.  We have the same instincts.  We've never disagreed about that type of thing before."  He scolded, "So, quit looking for negatives."  He reached to tweak Hutch's mustache. 

Hutch smiled at him, but then grew thoughtful.  "I wonder if Nick is going to want to be a part of all these plans."

"We can mention it tonight.  I still don't think we can guarantee him anything, in terms of a certain amount of work that he's capable of doing, so I don't like the idea of him quitting his airline complaint job, if he wanted to consider that."

"I imagine things are sort of up in the air for him, until he and Lannie can figure out what they're going to do together."

"Maybe we can all talk about that tonight."  Starsky thought back to the trip home from the cemetery.  "Funny, her speaking up for your dad to Brent, like that." 

"Yeah," Hutch said fondly. 

"And threatening to rip his balls off."

Hutch snorted.

"Maybe she's coming around."

Hutch drew a breath.  "I don't want to count on too much.  She's kicked me in the teeth before, when I've made the mistake of getting warm and cozy toward her."

"Yeah," Starsky relented with a sigh.  "Baby steps, huh?"


Starsky nudged Hutch, as a new thought occurred.  "Hey, Darla should be racing in that Grade 2 next Saturday.  We've got to make that."

"Yeah.  At Santa Anita, right?"

"Uh-huh.  That teenager that's Patricia's daughter, Julie?  She really knows a lot about racing.  She's like an encyclopedia.  Wants to be a jockey someday."


"Yeah.  She was all embarrassed about her mother mentioning it.  Anyway, she asked if we owned Darla, because she'd read about Deep Waters finishing third in that Grade 3 stakes last fall, and saw that we were listed as the owners.  I told her mother that they were welcome to come out anytime to see her run, or even just Julie, and her mother said maybe they could over the summer.  If that happens, maybe we can invite Rosie Dobey over, too."

Hutch grunted.  "That would make for an interesting household.  The two queers, hanging out with teenage girls."

Starsky pinched Hutch's nose.  "Stop.  And don't call us that.  You don't need to be picking up Brent's bad habits."

Hutch shrugged.  "He was probably just saying what other family members were thinking."

Starsky knew that Hutch meant, in particular, his mother.  He snuggled down into the bedding, bringing Hutch with him.  He shifted slightly away from Hutch and propped his head in his hand.  He said seriously, "You know, I'm really glad I've been able to talk to you these few days.  I've missed it, the past few weeks and months.  None of the other stuff means anything, if you aren't sharing yourself with me."

Hutch gazed back at him, his expression softening.  "It wasn't intentional."

"I know.  But, intentional or not, I don't want us to ever let ourselves drop back to the way things have been."  Starsky hesitated, and then swallowed thickly.  "When I saw all the bills that hadn't been paid, for a moment I wondered if somehow we were in some kind of financial trouble, and you were keeping it from me.   And then I found those checks in the drawer, and I knew we were okay.  But I didn't like it that the thought crossed my mind that you were keeping some big secret to yourself."

"I-I didn't realize how badly things had built up.  One day just rolled into the next and -- "

"I know, I know," Starsky soothed, his hand resting on Hutch's chest.   "It's nobody's fault.  But hopefully, the next time something like that happens, it won't be a surprise to me.  That's all.  I just want to know that everything going on in your life is also going on in my life, and vice versa."

Hutch's eyes suddenly watered.  "I-I-I'm sorry about telling you to stay from the hospital.  It was wrong."

Starsky snuggled closer.  "Ah, Hutch, it made sense to you at the time.  We were both sort of off kilter.  Anyway, things are going to be a lot better now.  The good thing about me being home by myself, and knowing I didn't like how things had been lately, is that it made me figure out some solutions."

Hutch pulled Starsky closer, so that his cheek was against his chest.  "I don't like hurting you," Hutch said gruffly.  "I don't ever want to do that.  You deserve so much more.  And in the last few days....."

"Shhh," Starsky whispered.  His own arms wrapped around Hutch.  "I love you, baby.  The last thing I want is for you feel bad or guilty about anything.  We're on the same page now, right?"

Hutch's arm tightened against him.  "Yeah."

"Good."  Starsky raised up to glance at the clock.  "We've got an hour or so before dinner.  So, I say we get some Zs, so I, at least, can stay awake during dinner."

Their arms around each other, they did just that.


Hutch sensed that Nick and Lannie seemed nervous when the four of them were sitting in a booth at the hotel's posh restaurant. 

After they had all ordered, Nick said, "We've got some news."

That explained the nervousness.

"Then let's hear it," Starsky prompted. 

Nick looked at Lanette, and she said, "I'm starting divorce proceedings against Jeffrey."

Hutch felt relieved.  He held up his water.  "Congratulations then."  He sipped.

"Yeah," Starsky said.  "I hardly had a word with Jeffrey at the family reunion last summer, but I now I didn't like him much.  He wasn't at the funeral."

"I told him to stay away," Lanette said.

Nick grinned fondly, and looked across the table.  "I love a woman who knows what she wants, and isn't afraid to say so."

Starsky grinned back.  "Sounds like you've got yourself quite a handful there, little brother."

"I don't have any problem with a woman who likes to take charge."

Hutch decided to let that double entendre go.  "So, what are your plans, considering that you live some two thousand miles apart?"

Starsky piped up, "Not that it's any of our business."

Lanette said, "I haven't decided for sure yet.  I don't want to just up and leave Mom by herself.  I want to make sure she's okay, before I make any drastic decisions."

Hutch said, "You know she's going to be remarried within a year.  It's not like she's going to lack for company and not have anyone taking care of her.  I bet she'll be dating in public within a couple of weeks."

Lanette shrugged.  "Still, if she decides to sell the house or something, she's going to need help with everything."

"When she's ready to go through Dad's things, I'd like to fly back out here to help with that."

Nick asked, "So, are you guys still super crazy busy?"

"Yeah," they answered in unison. 

They then proceeded to tell their siblings about their latest plans.

"Man," Nick said, digging into the salad that their waiter had brought, "that's incredible.  The news keeps talking like there's still so many people out of work, and yet you guys are raking in the dough."

Starsky shrugged.  "We've got no complaints about the income.  But we've definitely got to get more help."  He eyed Nick while buttering his bread.  "You need to let us know if it's okay to call on you, when we have something you can handle.  You've done pretty well with the cheating spouse stuff.  And Hutch and I hate those jobs."

Lanette looked at Nick.  "Maybe you ought to start your own P.I. side business, just doing cheating spouse stuff.  They can refer those clients to you."

Hutch blinked.  Outright giving their business away to Nick wasn't exactly what he and Starsky had had mind.

After an uncomfortable silence, Starsky said, "Well, we'd need something for doing the referral, like a certain percentage."

Hutch shifted with discomfort.  "I'm not sure it's a good idea for you to quit your airline job.  Running your own business takes a lot of capital and time and effort, taking phone calls and such.  That's a hard thing to do part time.  Even we don't get enough of the cheating spouse stuff to support us on a full time basis.  It's just side money.  And we give you those opportunities, anyway, without you needing to do any kind of advertising or business tax returns."

Lanette shrugged.  "It was just a thought."

Nick said, "It would be neat to run my own company, and not have to work for the airline.  But I don't think the time is right for something like that."

Starsky said, "Well, you need to let us know how much you want to help us out, the days you aren't working at the airline. Otherwise, we'll just call somebody else.  We've already got another P.I. helping us." 

Hutch felt relieved that the subject of Nick starting his own business hadn't been pursued.  "At the present time, we can pretty much give you the opportunity to make as much as you want, with other types of stuff we have going on.  Plus, we're looking into some other niches that'll require some leg work."  He was specifically thinking of what Starsky had said about the mortgage companies. 

Nick nodded.  "I'll let you know when I want some work to do."


They climbed into bed over an hour later, feeling stuffed.  They each shifted around for a while, until they got comfortable, curled up together.

Hutch said, "Can you believe Lannie suggested Nick start his own business?  It's like she was wanting him to take our business away from us."

Starsky furrowed his brow.  "Is that how you took it?  I think she was just suggesting something that made sense.  You know, we left the PD, so we could do our own investigations.  You can hardly blame someone for wanting to be their own boss and start their own company." 

"Yeah, but it was like we're just supposed to hand over our cheating spouse cases to him, so he gets all the income."

"Well, if we got some kind of kick-back, like a referral fee, that's really no different than us paying him for those jobs he works, anyway.  Basically, we're each sharing the money.  He's doing the legwork, and we're handling the administrative type stuff, including the advertising.  If he had his own company, then he's still doing all the legwork.  He'd just be the one accepting the payments, and then turning around and giving us a percent.  Same difference."

Hutch drew a deep breath. 

Starsky got up on an elbow.  "What's bothering you, Hutch?"

"It just seems ungrateful.  You know?  We're the ones who taught Nick everything he knows about how to work those cases."

"Yeah, but he doesn't know near enough to break off on his own, and he knows that.  He outright said he's not ready to do anything like that."

"But he might down the line, especially if Lannie talks him into it."

"Come on, Hutch, he's family.  You have something against him being successful on his own?"

"That's just it -- it wouldn't be on his own.  He'd be expecting us to refer all our cheating spouse clients to him."

"Yeah.  And if he got calls for other types of jobs, he could refer them to us."

"Unless he decided to work those, too."

Starsky sighed.  "Look, Hutch, our younger siblings aren't going to want to bow down to their older brothers.  You know?  Lannie's already been a very successful business woman on her own.  Naturally, if they stay together, she's going to be giving advice and suggestions on how Nick can be successful on his own.  I think we should support them, rather than see it as being in competition with them."

After a long moment, Hutch glumly asked, "You think I'm being petty?"

"I think you're looking at it the wrong way.  You're looking at it that we have a right how to control how Nick and Lanette make money in the world of private investigating, because we were here first.  But we don't have that right, Hutch."  Starsky had a sudden thought.  "Look at our Darla's trainer, Mike Hawkins.  He used to work for a big-shot trainer, didn't he?"

"Yeah.  Wayne Lukas.  We've seen him on TV for those big races."

"Yeah, and then Mike branched out on his own.  That's the natural way of things.  If mentors do a good job of coaching underlings, then those underlings are going to want to spread their wings and branch out, and maybe even become mentors themselves."

Hutch was silent.

"Besides," Starsky said, "Nick never did say whether he wants us to give him more jobs or not.  Maybe he wants to do something else.  If Lanette ends up moving her stores out this way, she'll probably have Nick working for her on the days he's not working at the airline."

Hutch snorted.  "Yeah."  He felt for Starsky's hand, and then entwined their fingers.

Starsky lay back down, his head on Hutch's chest.  "Just give it some time.  I think you'll come around to realizing that you want them both to be successful, too, no matter how it happens."

"I do," Hutch said in a low voice.  "I just wasn't expecting the way she put it out there like that.  You're the one who mentioned something about us getting a percent.  Otherwise, they might not have ever considered it."

Starsky grinned against Hutch's flesh.  "Are you saying they're selfish?"

"I guess."

"Well, I for one am glad that Lanette seems more normal.  I admit I never imagined them getting serious about each other, when they were first banging each other under our roof, but they seem to light up each other's life."

"Yeah," Hutch said with a smile in his voice, "that's for sure."


On Sunday, Hutch had completely taken over the kitchen table.  They were both sitting in robes, and Hutch had various bank registers laid out, along with a lot of newly opened mail.  He was going through each bill and figuring out what was paid and what wasn't, and writing out checks for those that hadn't been paid yet.

Starsky had thought he would help, but he felt that by doing so, all he was doing was messing up Hutch's concentration.  So, he tried to stay quiet, while taking in what an enormous task paying their bills had become.

Starsky picked up a savings account register that said "Nick" on the cover.  "We have an account for Nick?"

Hutch glanced up from writing a check.  "Yeah.  Whenever he pays us the hundred he owes each month, it goes into that account."

"Why does that require a separate account, instead of just putting the money in our regular household account?"

"Because we talked about, after a couple of years, giving those payments back to him for a Christmas present, or whatever, and forgiving the rest the loan.  So, I opened a separate account, so we know which money is his."

Perplexed, Starsky asked, "Couldn't we just add up how many months he paid?  I mean, if he paid us for exactly two years, and didn't miss a month, that's twenty-four hundred dollars we'd give back to him.  Why does that require a separate account?"

Hutch looked at him with forced patience.  "There's a little bit of interest it would have earned, too."

Starsky shrugged.  "So, we'd give him back an extra twenty for interest."

Hutch sighed.  "Look, when you want to take over handling our money, we'll do it your way."

Starsky frowned.  "All right, all right.  I just think it's no wonder this has gotten to be so impossible to keep up with.  You've made it a lot harder than it needs to be.  When we hire a secretary, she's going to at least take over paying the bills for the corporation, right?"

"Yes, if she has bookkeeping skills.  Speaking of which, did you ever get done with writing out our helped wanted ad?"

"I've written something, but I want to go over it with you before I call it in.  Thought I'd wait until you're done with all this."

"What about looking at the classifieds for office space?"

"I've got a whole list of people to call, but apparently nobody is answering their phone on a Sunday."

Hutch was silent as he continued to write out checks.

A few short days ago, Starsky had thought he'd lost Hutch forever, even if such an intense feeling of grief and emptiness only lasted a few minutes.  He got up from his chair and went behind Hutch.  He slipped his arms around his shoulders and pressed his cheek against his neck.  He murmured, "Love you so much.  Even if the way your brain works gets a little scary at times."

Hutch chuckled softly, while reaching up to squeeze Starsky's arm.  Then he said, "Why don't you do the grocery shopping?  This is still going to take me a while."

Starsky grinned.  He said into Hutch's ear, "I'll do the grocery shopping, if you agree that this afternoon we're going to go back to bed, and do some naughty, ghastly things to each other's sensitive parts."

Hutch pulled Starsky's arms away.  "Go on."

Starsky straightened and moved away.  He was pleased to see that he'd left a smile in his wake.


Hutch sat down on the concrete steps in front of a fountain.  It was the first genuinely warm day of the young spring, and he had completed an interview with a woman who wanted her daughter's boyfriend put under surveillance, to make sure he was who he claimed to be.  The woman was thorough and asked a lot of questions.  When she got to the point of wondering how the partners of Starsky and Hutchinson, Inc., had come to own a business together, Hutch revealed the nature of their relationship.  He got the impression that the woman wasn't happy about it, and he didn't expect to hear from her again, especially after she'd made a point of saying she was also interviewing other P.I.  firms.

If so, it would be the first time they failed at securing a customer because of being in a relationship together.  Sitting on the concrete steps, soaking up the sun, Hutch realized that he didn't care.  Besides, it was obvious that the woman didn't like the boyfriend, and she was hoping that dirt could be found on him.

Hutch mentally sighed.  He was getting so tired of spending his days finding dirt on people.  Granted, he felt that his and Starsky's efforts had genuinely helped some people in a positive way, and he liked being part of the wheels of justice when people were doing things illegal in nature.  But otherwise, this type of work was feeling less and less satisfying.

How different it would be, to wake up in the morning, and know that there would be children arriving who had drawn a bad lot in life, through no fault of their own, and hoist them from their wheelchair up onto the back of a horse, where they could feel tall, and perhaps feel a special affinity with the animal that was the vehicle for such a view. 

He wondered if it were somehow possible that he and Starsky could put their dream into action in five year's time, rather than ten. 

Hutch heard a vaguely familiar noise and looked up.  He heard it again, and realized that the LeBaron's phone was ringing, since the window was rolled down.  He stood and jogged to the car, and then opened the door. 

"Yeah?" he asked, grabbing the phone.


"What's up?"

"I'm here on the second floor of a building at the corner of Weston and Juliet Avenue.  I'm really liking what I see here, Hutch.  Can you come take a look?"

"Uh, yeah.  I need to stop for gas, so it'll be twenty minutes or so." 

He heard Starsky say something to someone, then "Okay, we'll wait.  It's suite 230.  Weston and Juliet."

"All right."



The exterior of the building looked somewhat old, but it had character.  Hutch trotted up the stairs to the second floor, and found the open door with the number 230. 

A professionally dressed older man was talking to Starsky, and they both looked up.

"Hutch, this is George Fenton, who owns this building."

Hutch reached to shake his hand.  "Ken Hutchinson."

"Nice to meet you," George said.  "I'll leave you two alone.  I've got another empty unit down the hall, where you can find me."

"Thanks," Starsky said.  Once George left, he said, "Look at this, Hutch.  It's got this nice space for a reception area."  He indicated the walls.  "And here's room for a big copy machine, filing cabinets, plus a little table or something for a coffee maker.  We could also probably bring in a little refrigerator."  He indicated a back wall.  "And then we could have a desk there.  For Carlos, or whoever."

He then moved to the right side, where there were two open doors.  "And then there's two offices."  He moved into one.  "They're about the same size.  We each could have one."  He looked up at Hutch eagerly.  "What do you think?"

"It's nicer than anything else you've shown me.  What's the price?"

"He won't do anything less than a two-year lease.  That's a thousand per month.  But he'll drop it down to eight-fifty, if we sign a five-year lease.  Of course, he'll want to check our credit and all that.  But once he's satisfied, we could move in right away."

Hutch studied this particular office, which appeared to be about fourteen feet by sixteen.  "Do you really think we should have separate offices?  We've always worked well together, in the same space."

Starsky shrugged.  "I'm just thinking of our clients.  If they have an appointment with one of us, and want to talk about intimate things, then they'll probably feel weird with someone else looking on.  I mean, I figure we'll have more clients coming here to see us, than us driving out to see them.  It's more discreet and professional."

"Yeah," Hutch had to admit.

Starsky grinned.  "Besides, if we get lonely for each other, maybe we can talk George into letting us install a door between our offices, that we can keep open."

"Yeah, maybe."

"So," Starsky pressed, "what do you think?"

Hutch sighed.  "I think we're getting ourselves locked into another hefty, monthly payment."

"Come on, we're making good money.  And with Darla racing tomorrow for a hundred thousand dollar purse...."

Hutch firmly said, "The last thing we need to be counting on, is her making money for us."

"Yeah, yeah.  Anyway, I really like the space this place has, and how it lays out.  It's located in a decent area, easy to find, less than a half hour from home, and I think it's a better value for the dollar than the other places we've looked at."

"Yeah, well, let's go ahead and fill out whatever application form he has.  And then, in the meantime, we can still be on lookout for whatever else might be available."


Starsky adjusted his tie.  Santa Anita was the most beautiful racetrack he'd ever seen, with the San Gabriel mountains as a backdrop.  He and Hutch decided to dress up once more, in case Darla was a winner and there was a trophy presentation.  They were wearing ties with button shirts, along with neatly pressed jeans. 

Their trainer, Mike Hawkins, was dressed in a three-piece suit, which Starsky thought was weird as he'd watched him saddle Darla in the paddock.  Being dressed up while working with horses seemed an oxymoron, but many of the other trainers were dressed up, as well. 

Mike Hawkins' box was crowded.  He had three horses running in the lesser races before the featured Grade 2 stakes that Darla was in, and those sets of owners were also in attendance.  One of those horses had won, so Starsky and Hutch had already been in a winner's circle photo, since they were invited.  The other owners had wanted to wait around for the ninth race that was the Santa Pacific Stakes, since they were cheering for their fellow owners in Mike Hawkins' stable to win.

Starsky swayed nervously from side to side, and periodically gripped Hutch's wrist, as the field of eleven fillies warmed up on the track.  He felt eager, and yet well aware of how disappointing this sport could be, considering that a few months ago, Darla had been sixth of eight when she had suffered a flesh injury.  

One of the other owners was holding a green tip sheet.  He asked, "Did you see what this guy says about her?"  He read, "'Deep Waters has had her problems this season, but after literally running away in a ten-length thrashing in a non-winners of three last out, and then having a sharp half mile workout five days ago, she appears poised to take her place as one of the leading sophomore fillies on the grounds.'  He chose her as his Pick of the Day."

Starsky muttered, "Hopefully, she won't disappoint him."  At this point, he really didn't care what other people thought.  He just wanted her to run her best race.

Hutch lowered his binoculars.  "She's five to one, which was the same odds as the morning line.  Nobody is below three to one, so the public is having trouble making up their minds about a favorite."

"There's no real standout," another owner said.  "Darla has as good a chance as any."

One of the wives looked over at Starsky with a smile.  "Just how nervous are you?"

"Real nervous," he admitted.  "Just want her to run a good race and show that she belongs in this class.  Winning would be a super wonderful bonus."

The field of eleven were now moving toward the starting gate, which was in front of the grandstand. 

Hutch held out the binoculars.  "You want these?"

Starsky pushed them away.  "Nah.  I think I might close my eyes and plug ears, until it's all over."

Hutch chuckled, and rested his hand on Starsky's back.

Another owner asked, "Hey, anybody mention to you guys about the partnership we're trying to put together for a yearling?"

"What?" Starsky asked.

"A group of us are trying to pool together some money to send Mike to the Keeneland sales in Kentucky this July, and spend a few hundred thousand on getting one of those fancy yearlings.  It's a fifty thousand minimum to join in.  We've already got a quarter million in verbal promises."

Hutch glanced at Starsky, and then looked back toward the track.

Starsky knew that it was up to him to reply, since he had always been the one who was interested in further horses.  "Thanks, but no."

"Maybe, if Darla wins, you'll change your mind."

"Na.  Darla has been wonderful, but we've decided she's going to be our only racehorse.  We've got other things we want to invest in, down the line."

Hawkins had been talking to fellow trainers in nearby boxes, and now came to stand at Hutch's other side.  "This is it, guys.  If she's really back to herself, this is where she's going to prove it."

Hutch asked, "You think she's going to be mid pack, early on?"

"I told Byrd to sit off the front runners.  She's been so headstrong the season, hopefully she'll do that.  There's a couple of tough, come-from-behind horses in this field, and I'd rather her not hit the lead too soon." 

The horses were loading into the starting gate.  Darla was number four. 

Starsky raised both hands to rub at his the sides of his forehead.  "Oh, God.  Oh, God."

Hutch chuckled softly and rubbed Starsky's back.  "If she throws in another clunker, we'll know to stop dressing up for her races."

"No kidding," Starsky said.

Two horses were left to load.  Starsky put a hand to his stomach.

A moment later, the announcer said, "They're all in line for the forty-fifth running of the Santa Pacific Stakes."

The gates opened, the horses started out, and a bell sounded from inside the grandstand, signaling the close of the betting windows.   

"They're off to an clean start, and it's Tenderfoot going to the lead...."

Darla was off at a casual pace, in the last section of horses, as the field galloped by the front of the grandstand.

When they entered the first turn, Darla found her stride and began to move up outside of horses.  She was sixth when they came out of the turn and headed down the backstretch. 

"I like where she's at," Hawkins said, his binoculars at his eyes.  "I just didn't think Tenderfoot was going to be by herself on the lead.  She's got enough class to go all the way."

Starsky knew that another front runner was expected to get in a speed dual with Tenderfoot in the early going, and since that hadn't happened, Tenderfoot was getting away with an easy lead, being three lengths in front.

Hutch gripped Starsky's arm.  "She's moving up."

Starsky could see that Darla was passing horses, and was now fourth, six lengths behind Tenderfoot.

Hawkins muttered, "Byrd's got to go after the leader, or no one is going to be able to catch her."

The other riders seemed to realize as much, because the second flight of horses, which included Darla, were moving as a group, and cutting into Tenderfoot's lead. 

A roar went up from the crowd, as the announcer said, "Deep Waters has rushed up to second as they enter the far turn."

A shiver went up Starsky's spine.

"And then its back to Maybelle in third and in fourth is -- and Deep Waters goes right by Tenderfoot!  Deep Waters has taken a commanding lead."

Starsky gripped Hutch's arm, his heart in his throat. 

"It's too soon," Hawkins growled.

Starsky felt despair at those words, and he could only wonder how long Darla would last, as she drew out to a two-length lead, with the horses nearest dropping back, but others beginning to gear up and move forward.  "Come on, Darla!  Come on, baby!"

Others in their box were cheering loudly

Hutch was waving the binoculars in his hand.  "Come on, Darla!  Come on!"

"And it's Deep Waters with a two-length lead as they enter the stretch, but she's got an onslaught of challengers.  Debbie Left is  flying on the outside.  Liberated is third and moving up strongly on the rail.  Stars Shine emerges from the middle of the pack, and is driving."

Byrd was riding hard as Darla reached mid-stretch, waving his whip alongside her.  Debbie Left came up to her saddle cloth on the outside, while Liberated seemed to suddenly stop gaining ground, but then Stars Shine moved past her and charged up to Darla's neck.

Where's the damn finish line? Starsky silently pleaded, afraid to take his eyes off Darla and look for the finish post. 

Hutch called, "Hang in there, baby!" 

Starsky could see that Darla was tiring and her stride was getting shorter, but the momentum of the horses on either side was also faltering. 

"As they come to the finish line it's.... Deep Waters, winning by a short neck.  It looked like Stars Shine might have gotten second over Debbie Left."

The noise around Starsky was deafening, with people jumping up and down.  Suddenly, he was in a crushing, full body hug.

Hutch's trembling voice said, "She won, buddy!  She won!"

Oh, man. Oh, man.  Starsky felt his eyes water.   "Ah, Hutch," he managed through a tight throat, returning the bear hug.

Hawkins laughingly said, "I guess I won't chew Byrd out for moving too soon.  Let's get down to the winner's circle."

With one arm still around Starsky, Hutch beckoned with the other, "Come on, everybody, be in the photo with us."

Starsky felt like he was floating on air, and kept an arm around Hutch as they made their way down to the winner's circle.  After the photo was taken, and Darla led away, they moved to a small table that had a trophy on it.  Byrd's weathered face grinned broadly as he said, "I made sure I turned her head in mid stretch, so she could see that horse coming up outside of her, and she dug right in.  But then there was that horse coming up the inside... I'm glad the wire came up when it did.  I didn't have any horse left."

Hawkins told him amiably, "You moved too soon with her."

"I just wanted her to be second around the turn, but once we moved up to that Tenderfoot horse, she had a head of steam and wanted to keep going.  With the way she's been behaving this year, I didn't want to argue with her, and have her expend more energy fighting the bit."

Some track officials got their attention, and the other owners stepped back, so that only Darla's connections were on one side of the table, and the officials on the other.

The announcer said, "Making the trophy presentation this afternoon is Warren Metcalf, the CEO of Santa Anita.  Receiving the trophy are the owners of Deep Waters, David Starsky and Kenneth Hutchinson."

Metcalf held out the trophy.  "Congratulations on a fine filly and the great race she ran."

Starsky and Hutch both reached to accept the trophy, and paused a moment for the photographer to take a picture. 

"Thanks very much," Hutch said, taking charge of it.

Behind him, Hawkins said, "They'll need to take the trophy back to get it engraved."

Just then a woman reached to accept it from him.  "You can pick it up in a couple of weeks."

Hutch handed it over to her.

Now that everyone began to move away, Starsky said to Hutch, "I want to get back to Darla."

Hutch said, "So do I."


Because there were so many visitors at the barn, Hawkins had set lawn chairs about the area, and sent a stable hand for champagne.  Reporters from various racing publications stopped by to get quotes from Hawkins about Darla, and occasionally snapped a picture as she was cooled out.  A few asked questions of her owners, and Hutch was enjoying the happy, relaxed atmosphere of the occasion.  This was so different from when he and Starsky had to speak to the press when they were cops. 

Hutch particularly enjoyed relaying the story of when they had first laid eyes on Darla as part of the Blue Team horses, while working a case for the late western movie actor, Steve Hanson.  Hanson had told Starsky that he'd "broken rule number one of owning racehorses, that being that one should never fall in love with their horses."

Every time Hutch repeated that anecdote, Starsky deadpanned, "If I hadn't been in love with her, and wanted her so bad, we never would have bought her."

After most everyone had left, and Darla was adequately cooled out, Hawkins took her from her groom, Blinks, and led her over to a grassy area, where she put her head down to graze.  He held out her lead line to Starsky and Hutch.  "You want to graze her?" 

Starsky was immediately on his feet, and Hutch followed.  Starsky took the lead line, asking, "You trust me, after she almost got away from me that other time?"  Darla had almost trotted off, when Starsky had too much slack on the lead line.  That was nearly a year ago, when they'd first taken ownership of her.

"She's plenty relaxed, after running a race like that."

While Starsky stood next to her neck, holding the lead close to her, Hutch draped his arm over her withers.  It felt like he was in the presence of royalty. 

Starsky asked, "Is she as tired as when she ran that hard race last fall?"

Hawkins shook his head.  "No.  She seems fine now.  After that race on Labor Day, she was still looking weary, even after she cooled out.  In retrospect, I feel like she got thrown to the wolves, because she'd never faced competition that tough before, and she's always so determined to be in the midst of the action.  Even though it was only a Grade 3, I think that was a tougher field than today's race."  Hawkins looked over to a where a car drove up.  "That looks like Greg Fulton, a reporter for the Golden State Thoroughbred magazine." 

He'd been the one to interview them a few weeks back for an article on one-horse owners. 

Starsky and Hutch exchanged a glance as Fulton came briskly up to them, with his notepad out, and a camera around his neck.

"Hi, Greg," Hawkins greeted.

"Hello," Fulton nodded at them all.  "I wanted to update the article before the deadline this week.  I figured things might have changed for you guys, after today's big win."

Hutch asked, "In what way?"

"You thinking about buying anymore horses?"

Starsky chuckled.  "Seems that's what everybody expects.  But, no.  Darla is way beyond anything we ever imagined, when we bought her.  After her, anything else would be a let down."

"Besides," Hutch said, straightening, and then stroking alone Darla's shoulder, as she continued to graze, "we'd like to think that she still has a lot of races left in her."

Fulton's gaze switched to Hawkins.  "What's next for her?"

"I've got to look at the schedule," he replied.  "We might do some schooling with her in the morning, to see if we can get her to rate her speed a little better.  Last year, she'd do anything her rider wanted.  This year, she's gotten more ornery and headstrong about how she wants to run her races.  I thought she was going to get beat today, when she blew by Tenderfoot, knowing there were a lot of capable stretch runners that would be charging at her."

Hutch said proudly, "She dug in, though, and did everything she could to hold onto that lead.  The finish line came up just in time."

Starsky took a few steps back, while still holding the lead shank.  He beamed, "Isn't she the most gorgeous thing you've ever seen on the face of this earth?"

The others chuckled. 

Fulton picked up to the camera around his neck.  "If you can get her attention, how about a photo?"


The Saturday two weeks later, Starsky and Hutch sat in their home office.  They were sending Carlos out on as many jobs as he could fit into a day, and he admitted that he would prefer to be an employee of their corporation, rather than maintaining his own business.  They intended to put him on payroll at the first of the month.

Nick had also taken on a couple of cheating spouse jobs, since returning from Minnesota.

As for a secretary, they had placed an ad in the local paper, and resumes were arriving by the dozens.  Neither Starsky nor Hutch had taken the time to look at them very closely. 

Hutch sat at his desk, stifling a yawn after getting off the phone, and watched Starsky run a tape measure across his own desk.  "What are you doing?"

"Seeing how well our furniture is going to fit in the new office, so we can figure out what else we need to buy."

They had signed the papers yesterday to lease the office at the corner of Weston and Juliet for five years.  The landlord had handed them the keys, and they could move in whenever they were ready. 

"Starsky, both those offices, as well as the main reception area, are plenty large.  There's enough room."

"I know, but I want to get a feel for how everything is going to lay out.  And then we'll buy more stuff."

Hutch grunted.  "Why do I get the feeling we're going to use up our entire line of credit from the bank, within the first month?"  Their financial advisor, Emerson, had suggested they get a line of credit in the corporate name, to finance all the upfront costs of setting up the office, and then the interest expense could be a tax deduction. 

Starsky shrugged.  "That's what it's for."

The doorbell rang. 

"Who could that be?" Hutch asked, hauling himself to his feet.

Starsky peeked out the curtain over the window.  "I think it's the mailman."

Hutch went to the door and opened it.  The postman said, "Sir, I have a certified letter for you.  If you can just sign here."

Hutch took the pen and signed the green card attached to the envelope.  He then handed it back.

"Thank you."  The postman tore the card from the envelope and gave the letter to Hutch.  He then reached into his mail bag.  "Here's the rest of your mail.  Have a good day."

Hutch took the large bundle -- no doubt, with many more resumes -- and studied the return address on the certified envelope.  It was a bank in Minnesota.

"What's that?" Starsky asked.

"I don't know," Hutch said, sitting in one of the guest chairs.  He tore open the envelope and pulled out a check.  He glanced at the brief letter accompanying it, his heart heavy.  "Oh, it's the money Dad left us.  A hundred thousand dollars, plus interest."

Starsky looked over Hutch's shoulder.  "You mean, they've already read the will?"

Hutch grimaced.  "That's only in the movies, dummy.  It was POD accounts he had set up for me and Lannie."


"Payment on Death.  It doesn't have anything to do with the will.  Once the bank has a death certificate, they pay the funds out to the beneficiary."

"Oh, that's nice."

"Yeah."  Hutch leafed through the rest of the mail, and saw a return address for Santa Anita Race Track.  He tore it open, and found a check inside, with the copy of a ledger accompanying it.

"What's that?" Starsky asked.

"I told them to send us the money in Darla's account."  Hutch smiled.  "It's nearly seventy-five thousand dollars for her last few races, even after Mike and the jockey got their cut."  He held the check up.

Starsky took it.  He then looked at the check from Minnesota that Hutch had placed on the desk.  "Man."

Hutch grinned at him.  "Not bad for a morning's mail, huh?"

Starsky slowly shook his head back and forth.

"What's wrong?"

"Never thought I'd see the day where we get a hundred and seventy-five grand in the mail, and it's like 'that's nice'."  He looked at Hutch, and smiled.  "We've done good, haven't we?"

Hutch shrugged.  "I think so.  But the ironic thing about both these checks is that we didn't do anything to earn them.  They're because of Dad's generosity, and Darla's speed and courage."

Starsky shook his head again.  "Never thought I'd see the day where so much money comes to us so easily."  He grew solemn.  "You know, like it's all meant to be."

"I don't know about that, but I know us having Darla is all because of you."  Hutch gave Starsky an affectionate smile that matched how his heart was feeling.

Starsky's face softened as he lowered his gaze.  "Yeah."

Hutch continued to leaf through the unfamiliar return addresses, knowing they were resumes.

Starsky said, "So, today, we got in as much as what we got offered for Darla last fall.  I'm so glad we didn't sell her."

"Yeah," Hutch replied fondly.  "Maybe she's going to earn us a whole lot more money, despite what Mike thought at the time."

"So, you thinking we should pay off the mortgage, and own this house outright?"

Hutch grimaced.  "I don't know, buddy.  I think we should hold off.  With us spending so much now to get the office going, I'd feel better knowing that there's plenty of cash available."

"I thought that's what the line of credit is for."

"We need the line of credit as backup, in case things get slow and we otherwise don't have enough money to make payroll.  Having people depend on us for their income is a big responsibility, and we need to make sure we can always get a hold of cash to pay them."

Starsky frowned.  "Come on, Hutch.  You've been complaining about making that big mortgage payment every month, almost from the time we bought this house.  If we would have sold Darla, that's what you would have wanted to use the money for.  Now we have that much money, free and clear, without having to sell Darla, and now you're baulking at paying off the mortgage."

"Yeah, but now we have all this other financial responsibility."

Starsky rolled his eyes.  "Hutch, you're doing it again."

Hutch didn't like the sound of that.  "Doing what?"

"Putting things off.  Things that would be really helpful to us.  Remember how I kept wanting to get car phones, and you kept wanting to wait until the right time, which was always in the future?  Now, we don't know what we would do without them.  And remember how I'd been mentioning for a while that we needed to get help from other P.I.'s?  You kept saying you didn't want to, or maybe we would later.  Then I hire Carlos when you're away, and now you think he's as valuable as I do.  You were talking about possibly paying off this house before we even had Darla.  And now we get all this money in, plus still have money-making horse in Darla, and you're still not wanting to do it."

Hutch scoffed, "We're talking about spending nearly a quarter of a million dollars in cash to pay off the house."

"Yeah, but we'll own the house outright and the money we've been using for the house payment can be put into savings.  Besides, Hutch, I've seen our bank accounts.  You've been fantastic about making sure we're putting money away for retirement, and putting money aside to pay our taxes, and building up a nest egg of savings, and all that.  I mean, we're as financially stable as any couple can possibly be, at our ages.  And now we have all this excess cash."

Hutch drew a breath, wondering how Starsky could be so casual about the idea of losing so much of their liquid assets.

Starsky waved a hand.  "Never mind.  I don't need to be involved with this.  You and Emerson can figure out what's best for us."

Hutch hated that Starsky was giving in.  He quickly said, "All right, all right.  Look.  Let's give it three months.  If the corporation is able to pays its own bills with the new office, then we'll pay off the house." 

Starsky regarded him skeptically.  "You mean it?"

Hutch nodded quickly, feeling a weight fall from his shoulders.  "Yeah."

Starsky grabbed a pen, grinning.  "I'm writing that down in my calendar, baby blue."  He opened his appointment book.  "Let's call it August 1st.  That's when we're paying off the mortgage."

"Unless we have to put capital into the business to pay its bills," Hutch reminded.

Starsky tossed the pen aside, still grinning.  "Okay."  He took a deep, calming breath, and then nodded at the stack of mail. "We probably ought to start looking at those resumes and scheduling interviews."

Hutch knew Starsky was right.  They were still extremely busy, but somehow they were going to have to make time for interviewing for a secretary.  There's was little point in moving into their new offices, until they had somebody there full time.


Since they had so little time, they shoved their guilt aside at all the unemployed people they weren't giving a chance, and decided to only interview the five that had the strongest resumes, out of dozens to choose from.  By the end of the week, they had both had face-to-face interviews with all five, usually in the evenings at their house, and had narrowed the possibilities down to two.

This was Friday evening, and the woman who had left twenty minutes ago hadn't made the cut. 

With a heavy sigh, Starsky put a wine cooler in front of Hutch, and sat down with one of his own.  "I think it should be Lois."  She was a middle-aged, modestly plump, gray-haired woman whose late husband had been a lawyer that had his own one-man business, and she had been his secretary, bookkeeper, and all-around assistant.  She had been out of the workforce a few years to help her daughter raise a baby, but now that child was old enough to go to school.  Upon learning the nature of her prospective employer's relationship, Lois had been sympathetic, and mentioned a few cases where her husband had represented homosexuals, such as situations where they were fired upon their sexual preference being discovered by employers. 

Hutch took a sip of his wine cooler.  "But Marcy is up-and-coming.  She's got the basic bookkeeping skills we need, all-around office skills, and she has a pleasant personality."  She was in her twenties, with long blonde hair and bright green eyes.  "She's going to be more motivated, because she strikes me as a person who wants to really make something of her life."

"But Lois is more the maternal type.  I like that about her.  If we have someone sitting in the reception area, waiting for their appointment with one of us about their cheating spouse, all Marcy is going to do is remind them of the type of woman their husband is likely cheating with."

"Lois is used to her and her husband working on their own.  She's going to be set in her ways."

"So?" Starsky demanded.  "As far as I'm concerned, that's a plus.  The more she wants to run the office on her own, and doesn't need help from us, the more it frees us up to do actual work.  Besides, her having a background in a lawyer's office is a huge benefit.  Since most of our big clients these days are law firms, it'll be great that she already knows the jargon, and isn't intimidated by the idea of talking to expensive lawyers."

Hutch was studying the two resumes before him.  "But Marcy is up-to-date on modern office equipment.  She even knows how to use a computer."

"Yeah, and Lois said she'd be happy to take any course we want to send her to, as long as we pay for it."  Starsky leaned forward on the table, wanting to drive his preference home.  "I think you're right about Marcy being a go-getter.  And that might cause problems, if you know what I mean.  What if, say, she and Carlos are in the office alone together?  They're both single.  I can see where it would be easy for sparks to fly, and I don't think that would be healthy for the corporation."

Hutch looked up and gazed at Starsky a long moment.  "You sure you're just talking about Carlos?"

Starsky hesitated, and then answered honestly, "No.  She was eyeing you pretty good, Hutch.  She seemed to blow off our relationship.  She might be one of those women that thinks guys have sex with other guys because they haven't yet met a woman who understands them, and all that crap.  Why borrow trouble?  If you've had a long day, and maybe you and I have been snapping at each other, and she's oh-so-understanding while you and she are alone at the office...."

Hutch scowled, "Why do I get the sense that you're projecting your own feelings onto me?"

Starsky couldn't restrain a grin.  "Okay, okay.  I think she's a bombshell, too.  And, yeah, I guarantee that if I accidentally got locked in a tight closet with her, something is gonna happen."  He abruptly sobered.  "So, why invite trouble?  Lois is safe."

Hutch blew out a long, slow breath while tilting his head.  He looked up.  "Okay.  Lois it is."  He shoved a resume at Starsky.  "I'll call her on the house phone and give her the good news.  You call Marcy from the office phone, and tell her she didn't get the job, because she's too good looking."

Starsky took the resume with Marcy's phone number, grumbling beneath his breath.



As Starsky came awake, he could hear Hutch on the exercise bike in the nearest bedroom, which had been turned into an exercise room.  After they had returned from vacation last fall, they had hired a personal trainer, Wallace, who came out to the house at 7:00 AM every Monday morning, to coach their progress toward getting into shape.  As they got busier and busier, they both had stopped exercising, except when Wallace was there.  They had finally decided to fire him, because they didn't have time to do the routines he sketched out for them.  He had lectured them about how sorry they would be, so they had relented and kept him on, since they knew he was right.

Now, Starsky smiled to himself, while listening to Hutch on the exercise bike on a Thursday morning.  Apparently, his dream of Hutch some day being balding and potbellied had prompted Hutch to make sure the latter, at least, never became reality.


It had been a busy Tuesday, so far, but Starsky was still feeling energized as he parked the Corvette in front of the house in mid afternoon.  He would need to leave again in an hour or so, and meet with Carlos to pull together their findings on a missing persons case, and discuss a few other cases Carlos was working.  For now, Starsky wanted to see how Hutch was doing with organizing movers for this weekend, as well as the printing of new stationary and business cards  They were moving most of their home office furniture into the new offices, and already had bought other furniture, as well as office equipment, including four new computers, so they could keep their old one at home.  That equipment  was also scheduled for delivery in the coming days.  They had brought Lois with them to shop for some of the furnishings, and she hadn't been the least bit shy about relaying what she wanted for her own desk, and the machinery she would be using. 

They would be officially opening their new office doors this coming Monday, May 10th, and they had contacted clients, advisors, friends, and acquaintances, inviting them to visit the office, and enjoy the refreshments that would be served.

Starsky entered the house and immediately noticed the mail on the floor of the foyer.  Hearing Hutch's voice on the office phone was the obvious reason Hutch hadn't come out yet to pick it up.

Starsky bent to gather all the letters and junk mail.  There was also a magazine in a protective sleeve.  He pulled the magazine from the wrapping.

It was the Golden State Thoroughbred.  The cover was of Darla's head and neck, facing the camera, her ears pricked forward and her eyes alert.  On her right was Starsky, and on her left was Hutch.  They both were wearing satisfied smiles.  One side of the cover said, "Special Owners Issue".   The caption to the photo read, "David Starsky and Ken Hutchinson With Their Only Horse, Grade 2 Stakes Winner Deep Waters."

Starsky heard the phone hang up.  "Hutch!"  He moved into the office.

Hutch looked up.

"Look!" Starsky exclaimed, holding out the magazine.  "We made the cover!" 

Hutch's eyes appeared bright as he studied the magazine.  "Isn't that something," he said in a subdued voice, his gaze still on it.

"This is incredible!  We're going to have to get a whole bunch of extra copies and mail out to everyone."

Hutch's mouth corner twitched.  "Yeah."  The smile faded a moment later, and he swallowed audibly. 

Starsky tiled his head, trying to catch Hutch's eye.  "Everything okay?"

"Uh, yeah."  But Hutch was on his feet, his gaze lowered, a trembling hand pushing back through his hair.  He turned away from the office.

Starsky dropped the magazine to the desk and followed Hutch through the kitchen, and into the living room.  "Hutch, what is it?  What happened?"

Hutch suddenly turned to him, his eyes pained.  He gasped, "What if we don't deserve all this?"

Starsky mouth fell open.  "Wha...?"

More loudly, Hutch demanded, "What if I don't deserve it?"

Starsky felt a vise squeeze around his heart as he watched Hutch reach for the wall and lean his arm against it, his head bowed.

"Hutch, why would you think that?"  Starsky slipped his arms around Hutch's waist.  Hutch felt like he was about to jump out of his skin.  Starsky moved his hand up, running it along Hutch's clothing, until reaching his chest.

He could feel Hutch's heart beating rapidly.

Worriedly, Starsky demanded, "What's going on?  What happened?"  He straightened and pulled at Hutch's waist, toward the sofa.  "Come on, come on.  Sit down with me."

He was relieved that Hutch let himself be manipulated.

Starsky landed heavily in the corner of the sofa, his legs spread, and prompted Hutch to lie between them.

Hutch was breathing hard, and Starsky wondered if he was having some kind of anxiety attack.

Starsky grabbed the throw blanket from the back of the couch and wrapped it around the trembling form, beckoning Hutch to lie against him.

Gently, Starsky said, "I've got you.  I've got you."  He squeezed with his arms.  "Lie still for a moment and calm down, so you can tell me what happened."

He was grateful that Hutch's head was against his shoulder.

"Love you so much," Starsky whispered, his arms rubbing up and down Hutch's blanketed back.  "I'm right here.  Whatever is wrong, it's gonna get better."  He refrained from mentioning how much it hurt him to see Hutch hurting, but he didn't want Hutch to have that additional burden. 

As he held Hutch's calming form, Starsky thought back to the few words Hutch had said.

What if we don't deserve all this?  What if I don't deserve it?

Starsky wasn't sure what "this" was exactly.  The money?  All the business they could possibly want?  Their new offices?  Darla? 

Each other?

That last thought made Starsky's eyes water.   Please don't think we don't deserve each other.

He remembered, on their vacation last fall, they had met the woman, Lorraine, who was having an awful day, and might have been on the verge of committing suicide.  Hutch had been contemplative about her situation the next morning, and admitted that, when married to Vanessa, he had sometimes thought about driving his car off a cliff, because he'd felt so alone, despite having a beautiful wife.

But that loneliness was a long time ago.  Wasn't it?

Whenever Starsky wanted to do something that would be beneficial to them, such as paying off the house, Hutch always seemed to baulk and come up with reasons not to, even though he was later glad when they ended up doing them.

Has he not wanted us to do beneficial things for ourselves, because he's afraid that we don't deserve it?

Starsky remembered, when they had first lived in this house, and been waiting for the phone to ring for their new corporation, Hutch had sat on the back patio once and talked about how he was "no longer afraid of life".  He had seemed so peaceful then.  Had decided he was no longer going to carry a gun and take another's life.  He was calm when his parents visited, whom he hadn't seen in years.  He took it calmly and philosophically upon finding out his father had terminal cancer, and had been quite willing to form an actual bond with his father, which had been greatly beneficial to both father and son. 

The first time, since quitting the force, that Starsky could recall Hutch being wounded to the point of crying was when his sister, Lanette, had said some hurtful things.

The second time Hutch had been wounded to the point of tears had been a few weeks ago, when he had overheard his mother saying things about the nature of their relationship, and it brought up all those old childhood feelings of wondering why his mother, for all her proper caretaking, hadn't shown any warm feelings toward him, or any indication that he was wanted.

Starsky drew a quiet breath.  Whatever had hurt Hutch this time, it was a good bet that it concerned family.  And considering that Hutch specifically mentioned "not deserving" their good lives, Starsky was putting his money on Lorraine, Hutch's mother.

Hutch hadn't moved, but seemed calmer now.

Starsky entwined his fingers in Hutch's hair.  "Can you tell me now?"

Hutch settled his head more comfortably against Starsky shoulder.  He swallowed audibly.

Starsky warned, "Don't bother telling me that it's just a little thing.  I won't believe you."  To take the sting out of the words, he whispered, "Love you so, so, so much."

Hutch muttered, "I hate feeling like this."

"Like what?"

"That... Th-That the past can still grab hold of me."

Starsky wrapped his arms more securely around Hutch.  Quietly, he said, "You've always had a hole inside of you , Hutch.  A place where most people know that they deserve to be alive on this Earth, and they're automatically loved.  I've been filling that hole up for years, and that patch works most of the time.  But sometimes it opens up again, and all the good stuff falls out, and then you feel all empty."  He nuzzled Hutch's forehead.  "Who did you hear from today?"

Hutch straightened enough to brace his elbow against the back of the couch.  "Lannie called.  Said Mom was going to be cleaning out Dad's office at the house, in the next day or two, and if I wanted to be a part of that, I should call her.  So, I called Mom."

Starsky waited.

"Said I wanted to clean out Dad's office, or at least help."

Starsky sat silent.

Hutch drew an unsteady breath.  "She didn't want me to come.  Said it wasn't that much and she could handle it.  I-I tried to tell her that it didn't matter how much or little it was.  I wanted to be able to go through his things.  Maybe take some small ornament or something back with me."

Abruptly, Hutch sat up, the blanket falling from his upper body, and said angrily, "After nearly fifty years of marriage, she just wants to sweep him under the rug.  Throw away his stuff, re-arrange the office to suit herself, and forget that he ever existed in her life."

Hutch had already known that Lorraine was going to do that, according to their prior conversations in Minnesota.  Both Hutch and Lanette had been certain that Lorraine would remarry quickly.   

Starsky kept his voice carefully neutral.  "You aren't talking about your father, are you, Hutch?"

Hutch abruptly looked at him, his eyes still flared in anger. 

His heart aching, Starsky quietly said, "She threw you away, didn't she?  A long time ago.  And whenever you come back, she throws you away again." 

Hutch's mouth fell open.  Then he stuttered, "Sh-Sh-She wasn't a bad mother.  She did all the right things."

"I know that.  And I also know that, no matter what you did, no matter how proud the neighbors were of you, or your teachers, or your coaches or, recently, your father, your mother was the one person you could never impress."  It all was Starsky could do to keep his voice level. 

Hutch blinked and stared at the floor.  Calmly, he said, "No, I never could.  Ever." 

Starsky whispered.  "Her loss."

As he watched Hutch sit there, digesting what had been said, Starsky wasn't sure what kind of reaction he could next expect.  But he did know what he wanted to do.  "When did she call?"

"A little while ago.  As soon as I hung up with her, the office phone rang, and it was the furniture people.  They're delivering Thursday morning.  And then you're standing there, showing me a magazine where we're on the cover, and...."

Starsky gently pushed Hutch aside, so he could get to his feet.  He took Hutch by the wrist.  "Come on."  He led the way to the kitchen phone.

Their address book was laid open to the H page, beneath the phone.  Starsky picked up the receiver and dialed the number to the Hutchinson home. 

"Hello?" a familiar voice greeted.



"Dave Starsky.  I just want you to know that Hutch and I are flying out tomorrow morning.  We'll clean out Richard's office."

"I told Ken that wasn't necessary.  There's no reason for you to come all this way, just to do that."

"Hutch loved his father and wants to do it, and so do I.  It's important to us.  If we can get a flight, we'll probably fly back out tomorrow evening.  You don't need to worry about putting us up.  We'll get our own transportation from the airport."

"Well... all right then.  I'll see you tomorrow."

"Appreciate it," Starsky said, and hung up.  He grabbed the phonebook to find the number for the airlines.  He found one that had a flight tonight at seven-thirty.  He reserved two round-trip tickets. 

After hanging up the phone, he leaned back against the counter, as Hutch was.  Hutch had his head bowed, his mouth in an even line.

Starsky picked up Hutch's hand and intertwined their fingers.  Gently, he said, "I guess it's kind of hard to feel like you deserve anything in life, when you didn't deserve your own mother's love." 

Hutch's fingers squeezed.  "I'm okay, Starsky.  I mean, you know," he shook his head, his gaze still on the floor "none of this is anything new.  It just sneaks up on me sometimes.  Especially when I have my guard down."  He swallowed.  "Like, when we've been so excited about everything."

"Yeah.  And, Hutch, surely you've been a lot more sensitive lately, because of all the contact you've had with your family the past year or so.  Of course, that was all good that you had a better relationship with your father," Starsky drew a deep breath, "but, you did the best thing you could have possibly done for yourself, when you had the courage to leave Minnesota, all those years ago."  He paused.  "If it's true that you're only going to see your mother, from here on out, at weddings and funerals, as far as I'm concerned, that's a good thing."

Hutch brought their combined hands up to his chest.  "I hate dumping this on you, when you had nothing to do with any of this.  You can't solve this for me."

Starsky laid his cheek against Hutch's shoulder.  "I've always been crazy in love with the whole package.  When you hurt inside, I want to know about it.  What scares me more than anything is thinking you might hide it from me."

Hutch sighed, his head tilting to rest against Starsky's.  "I'm just so tired of these old feelings.  I thought they were behind me, a long time ago."

"Well, like you said, it's when your guard is down that they sneak back up on you."  Starsky softened his voice.  "I'm always going to be right here, when that happens."  Then, with humor, "There's no getting rid of me.  Terry indicated as much, in my dream."

Hutch straightened and put his arm around Starsky's shoulders.

Starsky decided, "Even though I can't fix this for you, I have a suggestion.  Whenever you feel like things are going so well for us, that you can't possibly deserve it, maybe you should remind yourself that this isn't just for us."  He stepped in front of Hutch so he could look him in the eye.  "We're building toward something that's, eventually, going to help a whole lot of kids that got a bad lot in life.  Many of those kids probably haven't even been born yet.  That's what we're doing all this for.   That's why we're working our tails off and trying to bring in as much money as we possibly can."

Hutch's expression softened and he slowly wrapped his arms around Starsky, and pulled him into a tight hug. 

Starsky's ear was nuzzled as Hutch whispered, "You're my everything."

"Same here," Starsky murmured back.  After a moment, he asked, "Does anything need to be re-arranged for us to be gone tomorrow?"

"I don't think so.  The furniture is arriving Thursday morning, the office equipment on Friday.  And then we'll move the stuff from here on Saturday."

Starsky relaxed against Hutch.  "I'm thinking we should turn our empty office space, here, into a writing room.  I'm probably going to want to start back on the book.  It would be a good place to lay out all the research I brought back from Minnesota last summer."

Hutch sighed.  "It's still going to be a while before I'm going to be able to forget the past, isn't it?"

Starsky shrugged.  "Maybe it'll be healthy -- healing -- for you to go through that stuff with me.  Maybe it'll help you understand some things.  Besides, we can't have a book on our life stories, if it's missing a chapter on your past."

Hutch didn't reply, and they rested against each other for a long moment.  Then Starsky's eyes darted to the microwave, which displayed the time.  "I need to meet with Carlos at the The Outrigger seafood place, and go over all his cases.  If you're done with your phone calls, why don't you come?"

Hutch straightened.  "Yeah, okay."



Their flight that night was sparsely populated, so Hutch read the article in Golden State Thoroughbred to Starsky in a quiet voice. 

Starsky loved the article, and the slant it had on the unexpected fun, excitement, and earnings that had come their way, though the article pointed out that they continued to insist that there would be no further race horses, despite the success they had enjoyed.   Most of the piece was about themselves and Darla, with a few remaining paragraphs referencing other owners in California with just one racehorse.  None of those horses had been near as successful as Darla. 

When they arrived in Duluth at nearly eleven local time, they got a hotel room, and Starsky made tender, sweet love to Hutch throughout the night. 


When they arrived at the Hutchinson home the next morning, they were introduced to Lorraine's "friend", Carl.

Starsky was relieved that Hutch appeared to take Carl's appearance in stride, as well as the likelihood that he'd spent the night with Lorraine.

They went right to work, with boxes and a trash can, of going through Richard's den.  Hutch went through paperwork carefully, with most of it going in the trash.  He wanted to take home with them a heavy pen set that was engraved with Richard's name, as well as two expensive bookends, with busts of Abraham Lincoln.

Starsky was going through a file drawer, and came across a manila folder labeled "Ken".  He opened it, and found Darla's two win photos from last year, one of which Richard was in.  There were some clippings of articles on homosexuality, including ones with a slant toward parents of homosexuals.  Behind those, were some crude photocopies of newspaper articles, which had a cover sheet from the main library in Bay City.     


Hutch looked up from where he was stacking up old issues of accounting magazines.  "Yeah?"

"Look at this."

Hutch moved over to him as Starsky put the photocopies on top.  "These are articles from some of our cases, when we were cops."

Hutch's mouth fell open and he slowly picked them up.

Starsky said, "The cover sheet is from the library in Bay City.  It's dated a couple of months after your parents first visited us.  He must have had the library do research.  And look here," Starsky moved the contents of the folder, "here's articles on homosexuals."

Hutch looked at those clippings as Starsky said, "He was really wanting to understand you, Hutch.  It meant a lot to him."

Hutch nodded with moist eyes. 

Starsky looked back in the file drawer.  "Here's a file on Lanette."  It was a lot thinner.  All that was inside was a couple of newspaper articles about Lanette's shops.  "I want to take this back with us, so it doesn't get thrown away.  I don't know if she cares about having it, but...."

Hutch nodded again.  They put those files with the other items they were going to take home. 

Starsky continued to leaf through the file drawer.  Many of the files were innocuous subjects that he decided to throw away.  Then he came across a thick file labeled "P.I."  He opened it. 

Starsky's heart pounded as its contents registered.  He listened and could hear Lorraine talking with Carl in the kitchen.  He whispered.  "Hutch."

Hutch looked over Starsky's shoulder.

They both were silent as Starsky flipped pages and photographs in the file.  They were all of Lorraine, with various men.  They recognized Carl in a couple of them.  The papers were of invoices from a private investigation firm, as well as various reports, detailing the activities of Lorraine and whichever man was accompanying her.  The invoices went back over twenty years.

Though Starsky knew, from Hutch, that Richard had had affairs of his own since Hutch was a child, it was for some reason important to him to know the identities of the men his wife saw.  Starsky swallowed and whispered, "What do we do with this?"

Hutch shrugged.  "Throw it away.  It doesn't matter now.  There's no reason for her to see it.  And I sure as hell don't want it."

Starsky pulled the trash can closer, and carefully put the file underneath other discarded papers.  He couldn't help but wonder if Richard got some sort of vicarious thrill from knowing about the men his wife saw.  It seemed an odd quirk, but Starsky had been around long enough to know that lots of people had odd quirks. 

Starsky supposed he shouldn't have been surprised when he came across a file folder that was innocently labeled "phone numbers".  Inside were names and phone numbers.  The names were all of women.  Some were crossed off.  There were various note papers and torn notebook pages, some appearing older than others.  Some had notes next to them, such as a hotel name and room number.  He muttered to Hutch, "Your dad's own little version of a black book."  He put the file folder in the trash, noting that Hutch had no comment.

"Boys?"  Lorraine called from the kitchen.  "I've made roast beef sandwiches."

Hutch called back, "Give us ten minutes, and we'll be all done."

Starsky quickly went through the remaining files in the drawer, and tossed them.  Hutch dumped more old magazines into the trash.  He put some books and other useful items in boxes marked "Donation", as Lorraine would have a charity truck come by, that would also pick up various furniture that she no longer wanted. 

Starsky stood, looking around the office as he slapped his hands against his jeans.  "Did we get through everything?"

"Looks like it," Hutch said.

"Sure you don't want to take anything else back?"

Hutch rested his hands in the back pocket of his jeans, while looking around.  "Na."

Hutch sounded certain, so Starsky nodded.  "Guess we're all done then.  Let's join your mother and Carl for lunch."

They entered the kitchen and washed their hands in the sink. 

Lorraine had sandwiches and condiments set about.  Carl was sitting at the head of the table, browsing a newspaper.  He was a tall, broad-shouldered man, with peppered hair.  Since he wasn't at work, Starsky wondered if he was retired.

As they sat down at the table, Hutch said, "I left all of Dad's financial stuff in the front drawer, and there's a few files sitting on the desk.  All the other papers we threw away.  I'm going to take back his pen set and the Lincoln bookends."

"All right.  I'm glad you'll get some use from them.  Are you heading back this afternoon?"


"Are you going to stop by your father's grave?  I put flowers there this morning."

Hutch shrugged.  "Probably."

They all focused on eating their lunch.  Starsky noted that Carl seemed to ignore them as much as possible.  He didn't know if it was because of the impropriety of him sleeping with Richard's widow so openly, or if he disapproved of their relationship, or if he was showing his disagreement with them having essentially invited themselves out. 

Starsky found the silence increasingly uncomfortable, so he said, "Hutch and I have rented some office space in town, and we're opening up our doors on Monday.  We'll have a secretary and everything."

"Oh, that's nice," Lorraine said.  "Did you get tired of having clients come to your home?"

"Well, it was more that we had so many clients, that we had to hire another P.I., and my brother Nick helps out some, too.  We just needed a more professional place of business.  And, yeah, we sort of needed to carve out a home life for ourselves."

"It's good to hear that someone is doing well in this economy."

Starsky nudged Hutch.  "Did you bring in that magazine?"

Hutch nodded at a small table in the hall outside the kitchen.  "It's over there."

"Excuse me."  Starsky got up and retrieved the magazine.  He placed it on the table.  "Look, Hutch and I made the cover, with our horse, Darla.  She won a big race a few weeks ago." 

Lorraine peered at it.  "Oh, what a beautiful horse.  I remember Richard mentioning how beautiful she was, when he saw her last summer."

Starsky glanced at Carl, but he didn't show any reaction to Richard's name.  He was studying the magazine cover, however. 

Starsky prompted, "I bet you never expected to see your son on the cover of a magazine."

She smiled.  "Well, it's not exactly Time.  But I suppose it's quite an honor for horse people."

Starsky glanced at Hutch, and was relieved that he had a tiny smile at his mouth corner, as though he hadn't expected any other kind of reaction.  He pressed, "Well, that's actually the point of the article.  We aren't horse people.  We just have our one and only horse, which is sort of unusual in the sport but, man, is she something."

Lorraine looked at Carl.  "Carl, I don't think I told you that Ken was in a western movie."

Hutch said with forced patience, "I was a stunt double, Mother.  It's not like I was an actor."

"But you'd told us you had a speaking line, and it was never in the movie.  In fact, one could hardly even see your face during the entire picture."

Starsky restrained a grin and buttoned his lips, not daring to reveal the reason for Hutch's speaking scene being cut.  Instead, he tapped the magazine.  "You can certainly see his face in this photo.  Isn't he a handsome devil?"

She regarded it.  "Well, certainly, though I'm not sure I like the mustache."

Starsky shrugged.  "He shaved it once, the last year or so. But then he didn't like shaving his upper lip every morning, so he grew it back."

Carl suddenly spoke.  "People in racing tolerate your kind?"

He'd said it so casually, that he apparently didn't realize how insulting it sounded.

"From what we've seen," Starsky replied evenly, "people around the racetrack pretty much mind their own business.  You know, people are mostly focused on their own horses and trying to make them into winners." 

"Actually," Hutch put in, "that's how it is with most people that we interact with.  We've only occasionally run into outright prejudice." 

Starsky couldn't resist adding, "Yeah, in fact, most of the prejudice we've come across has been with family."  He paused.  "Hutch's family, to be exact."

Carl snorted.  "Do you blame them?"

"Yeah, I do," Starsky replied without thinking.  He wondered if he were wise to continue the conversation.  "Where I come from, family is always a source of support.  No matter what."

Lorraine defended, "We didn't even know about Kenneth's situation until the past few years."

Starsky said, "That' s because there wasn't a 'situation', back then.  There was nothing to tell."

She shrugged.  "Well, it's not like he's been disowned by the family, or anything."

Starsky decided the subject needed to drop.  Lorraine had no idea how her dismissive attitude and lack of warm feelings had affected both of her children. 

Carl said, "That AIDS disease is on the news every single day.  How is anyone supposed to feel comfortable around those types?"

Without looking at Carl, Hutch said firmly, "You don't have to worry about catching anything from us, Carl.  We've both been tested.  We aren't promiscuous."  He then did look at Carl directly, wearing a satisfied smile.  "Unlike a whole lot of other Hutchinson family members."

Starsky laughed out loud, as Carl looked away and scoffed.

Lorraine held up a pitcher.  "Would anyone like more lemonade?"


As Starsky drove their rental car away from the curb, he asked, "You want to go to the cemetery?  I can wait in the car, if you want."

"Yeah, sure."

Starsky placed his hand on Hutch's leg.  "You okay?"

Hutch grinned.  "Very okay.  I'm glad to be leaving."

"Your mother is a piece of work."

"That's nothing new.  Now without Dad being around, I suppose she's even more her genuine self."  He looked over at Starsky.  "She's free, Starsk.  There's nobody left that she has to play a role for."

Starsky supposed that was a good way of putting it.  "I take a left here?"

"Yep.  Follow it until it dead ends.  Then go right for a couple of miles."

When they entered the cemetery grounds, Starsky asked, "You remember where it is?"

"Yeah, you can park anywhere up here.  I don't mind walking a bit."

That definitely sounded like Hutch wanted to go alone.

Starsky pulled the car to the curb, and turned off the motor.  He reached to the back for the Golden State Thoroughbred magazine.  "You take all the time you need, baby.  I'll just sit here and read, and become an expert on the California racing scene."

Hutch got out and shut the door.

Starsky was glad that a good twenty minutes had gone by, before he saw Hutch returning.  That was enough time for some contemplation to have taken place. 

After Hutch was back in the car, looking relaxed and peaceful, Starsky turned the motor, put the car in gear, and then pulled slowly away from the curb.  "To the airport?"  It was an hour and half before their plane left.

"Yeah, may as well."

Starsky drove silently, waiting to see if Hutch wanted to talk about anything. 

When they were on the highway to the airport, Hutch revealed, "I said my goodbyes to Dad."

Starsky looked over at him.  "Sounds like it was some degree of closure for you."

Hutch drummed his fingers against window frame.  Cheerfully, he said, "I'm leaving Minnesota behind.  Again."  He paused.  "The first time, I had my beautiful wife and my idealism, and I wasn't sure what the future was going to bring.  But I thought I had all the things I needed for a meaningful and happy life."  He snorted with a wry smile.  "I didn't know a damn thing."

Starsky glanced at him.

"This time, I'm pretty sure of exactly where I'm going, and who I'm going there with.  And I'm so happy."

Starsky's heart swelled. 

Hutch continued, "It's all good, buddy."  He turned his head to smile warmly at Starsky.  "It's all good because of my good buddy."

Starsky felt himself grin widely.  "And your good buddy is a good buddy because he has such a good buddy."

Hutch laughed.   


"Captain," Hutch said, "come on in."

Harold Dobey stepped into the office suite, to join the half dozen others that were there.  Visitors had been drifting in and out all day. 

Starsky took the ladle of the punch bowl and filled a paper cup.  "Have some punch, Cap'n."

"Well," Dobey looked around, "these are some mighty fine digs."  He glanced at the wall over the reception chairs, and moved to the pair of frames.  "What's this?"

Hutch replied, "That's a horse racing magazine that we were on the cover of, after Darla won a big stakes race."  The second frame included the two pages the comprised the article.  "We figure it'll give clients something interesting to read, while they're waiting.  Plus, you know, it'll hopefully make us seem more personable to them."

"Well, what do you know," Dobey said, browsing through it.  He then glanced up.  "I see her win photos have helped you decorate the office."

"Yeah, we figured we might as well display them.  Plus, we have some newspaper articles, too, from our cop days."

Starsky came up and handed Dobey a paper plate, with a plastic fork and piece of cake.  "Have some cake."

Dobey put his cup down and took the plate.  "Thank you.  Think I will."

Hutch said, "We'll introduce you to our two employees in a moment.  The woman there," he nodded at Lois, who was speaking to the lawyer, Tom Placings, "is our secretary and bookkeeper.  She's already been really helpful in giving us advice on setting up the office.  She did all the supportive work for her late husband, who was a lawyer.  And that young guy, at the back, is Carlos.  He's a P.I. that we've taken on to help with the work load.  He really knows his stuff and is eager to work as much as possible.  So, we're really happy with the personnel we've got."

Starsky said, "My brother, Nick, helps out sometimes, too."

Dobey nodded as he glanced around.  "This is all really impressive."

Starsky took him by the elbow.  "Come see our offices." 

They all walked beyond Lois's desk and stood at the entrance of the first office.  "This is Hutch's," Starsky said.  "The desk is from home, but the chairs and bookcases are new.  My office is the next one over, and it's pretty similar."

Dobey grunted.  "Hard to imagine you two working in separate offices." 

Starsky chuckled.  "Yeah, we found out over the weekend that we aren't going to be able to stand it.  When we were setting up the furniture, we were yelling out our office doors, trying to speak to each other, and Lois was getting irritated with us, because she was here to set up her own desk.  So, we got the landlord to agree this morning to let us put a door between our offices, that we'll keep open most of the time.  We'll see if we can get a carpenter out this week."

"Hey, look at this!" said a familiar voice.

They all turned to see Huggy Bear enter. 

"Hey, Huggy," Hutch greeted.  "How the heck are you?"

"Hey, Huggy," Starsky said.

Huggy high-fived both of them, and then nodded at Dobey.  He looked around.  "These are some fancy digs."

"But not overly fancy, we think," Hutch said. 

"So, what's new with you?" Starsky asked. 

"Well, actually," Huggy preened, "I've got some news."

"Yeah, what?"

"Me and Miss Annette are going to be walking down the church aisle in three months."

"That's the lady you brought to the track that day?" Hutch asked.

"Yep.  The very one.  She lights my fire, like no one else ever has."

Starsky shook Huggy's hand.  "Congratulations."

"How come you didn't bring her?" Hutch asked, patting Huggy's back.

"She works in a doctor's office and couldn't get time off, except at lunch, and it's too far away for me to have brought her here."

Hutch nudged him.  "You make sure we get an invitation for the big day."

"Don't worry.  You're on the list."


That night, they lay in bed together.

Starsky mused, "So, tomorrow, it's back to the grind.  No more distractions.  Just work, work, work."

"Yeah," Hutch said.  "And then, at the end of the day, we get to come home, and leave our jobs behind, like every other working stiff."

"Yep.  Have dinner together.  Watch some TV together.  Then crawl into bed together."

Hutch looked over at him.  "What about your book?"

"Oh, yeah, we'll have to fit that in sometime, too.  Maybe it'll be mostly on the weekends."

Hutch rolled toward him, and said more softly, "I think I like the crawling into bed together part the best."

Starsky grinned and murmured, "So do I."

They kissed.




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