(c) October 2013 by Charlotte Frost


A Sequel to Autumn Leaves


As he watched Starsky bring the catsup to the table, and then sit down, Hutch said, "We've got to run another ad for more help.  Three more calls came in this afternoon.  Only one was a cheating spouse.  The other two were law firm find-witnesses type of stuff.  And the Frisk firm thinks it's going to need us to do some embezzlement investigating."  Recently, they'd been subcontracting out some jobs to other law firms, to handle all the work.

Starsky nodded, while pouring catsup onto his plate, next to his steak burger.  "We may as well keep running the ads for the property drive-bys, too.  We can't ever seem to hang onto people for very long."

Hutch chewed a thick fry, thinking it came out well, as it wasn't too greasy.  He glanced out to the sliding glass door, noting that darkness had already fallen, now that it was mid February.  He waited until Starsky had swallowed a few bites of his meal.  Then, quietly, he said, "We need to split up tomorrow, to cover everybody."

Starsky downed a bite of steak.  "We shouldn't have to do that, if we organize our appointments right."

Hutch drew a breath, and put down his burger.  He decided that he may as well be forthright, since they ensuing conversation was sure to reach that point, anyway.  "Buddy, I'm starting to feel suffocated."

Starsky slowed in mid chew.

Hutch met his eye, his expression pleading for Starsky to understand.  "I agree that we should work together as much as possible on the big cases.  But sometimes we need to split up to get everything done."  His voice softened.  "I know you've had good reason to be afraid lately, but," Hutch drew a heavy breath, "I think it's time to ease up."

Starsky put down his burger, his jaw hardening. 

Hutch reasoned, "Either of us can be hit by a car, walking across the street.  It can happen as easily to you, as to me."  Pleadingly, he said, "We can't stop living, buddy."

Starsky gazed at the table a long time.  Then, his expression relaxed, as he admitted, "Yeah."

Hutch felt relief.  He hadn't been able to go hardly anywhere alone the past couple of months, since he'd been shot and suffered a concussion.  Between that, and having a more serious bullet wound a year ago, plus Starsky thinking he'd been killed in a car accident in Minnesota for a few devastating minutes....  Hutch understood, all to well, the need to hang on.  Still, after feeling that their relationship had relaxed into one of trust that the other would always be there, it seemed it had taken a number of steps backwards, as Starsky reacted to the most recent fear that he could have lost Hutch.

While still gazing at the table, Starsky said, "I just... I'm afraid I'm going to look up one day, and you aren't going to be there."

Hutch wiped his mouth with a napkin, and then tossed it aside.  He folded his hands, elbows on the table.  "What about that dream you had with Terry, when we were on vacation?  That's what gave us the idea for doing the therapeutic riding center when we retire."  Gently, he prompted, "Do you believe that was really Terry trying to communicate with you?"

Starsky gazed into space for a long moment, and then looked up.  "Yeah.  I do."

Hutch leaned forward with a warm smile.  "Then, don't you believe her that I'm going to be around, at least long enough for that to happen?"

Starsky abruptly shifted in his chair.  "I don't believe that life is that fated.  It wouldn't make any sense, if it was.  I mean," his voice grew stronger, "if I can go back into our bedroom, and take my gun out of the closet, put it to my head, and pull the trigger, that's going to change whatever the universe planned for me, you know?"

Hutch grimaced at such an extreme example.

Starsky shrugged.  "I guess I just see it that Terry was showing me the path we were on.  Or maybe, it's that she could see what you were thinking, too, about being tired of having our jobs revolve around finding the worst in people, and she gave me the dream of the riding center, so you and can I could get on the same page about our future."  He shook his head.  "But that's a far cry from life being so fated that our actions as human beings have no say-so in the outcome."  He picked up a fry and chewed it for a moment.  Then he looked at Hutch and said, "Somebody can still take you from me."

"As they could you from me," Hutch reminded.

Starsky bowed his head.  "I know."  Quietly he said, "I know I have to ease up, Hutch.  But at the same time, I like being with you."

Hutch's mouth corner twitched, as he felt himself soften.  "I feel the same way, buddy.  We're at our best when we're together.  But clinging is all about fear and desperation, not love.  It's hard for me to enjoy myself riding Poncho, when you're waiting around the stables, bored to death."  Not that Starsky hadn't had good reason to accompany Hutch when the doctor finally gave the go-ahead to ride, with the caution that he should take it easy at first, and watch for headaches.  Sure enough, that kind of physical activity tended to prompt headaches, even after just fifteen or twenty minutes.  It was only in the past couple of weeks or so that Hutch had felt fully himself again.

Starsky frowned.  "I don't get that bored.  I always bring something to read, or whatever."

"Well, the headaches and stuff are all gone now.  I'm going to be taking longer rides.  I don't want you to come, anymore."

"Yeah, okay," Starsky said with a sigh.  "Just, you know, call me when whenever you leave the stables, so I know you're okay and headed home."

Hutch could handle that idea.  After finishing his burger, he said, "As for tomorrow, I still say we have to split up.  You need to go see all those ladies from that neighborhood charity group that want their husbands tailed.  I'm afraid if I go, I'll want to say a few words to them that aren't exactly professional."  One of the ladies had cheerfully called a few days ago, saying that all six members of their charity group had decided it might be a good idea to have their husbands under surveillance, after one member had relayed her suspicions that her husband was cheating.  Hutch hated to think of some upper middle class husband, working his ass off trying to maintain that upper middle class lifestyle, and having his wife decide to have him tailed, just because she and her equally bored friends thought it would be entertaining "just in case" unfaithfulness turned out to be true.

"Six ladies and one detective," Starsky mused.  "That's going to be a long interview."

Sourly, Hutch said, "I have a feeling they'll be well organized, and already have all the necessary information together."

Starsky released a heavy sigh.  "Yeah, okay.  What are you going to be doing?"

"Meeting with that little girl."

"Little girl?"

Hutch managed a brief smile.  "That's what Lois calls her.  Says she sounds like a child on the phone, and so she told her to bring her ID with her, for her appointment tomorrow.  Says she's eighteen and she wants us to look for her boyfriend, because he never showed up at their rendezvous last weekend."

Starsky grunted.

"It's bad enough telling wives that their husbands are, indeed, cheating."  Hutch blew out a heavy breath.  "Can't imagine how much more fun it'll be telling a teenager that her boyfriend wasn't as interested in her as she thought."

"She must be some rich kid, huh?  To be able to afford a P.I.?"

Hutch shrugged.  "I guess."  Then he noted, "So, don't worry, I won't be having any more fun than you."

Starsky got up and began moving dishes to the sink.  "I'm glad tomorrow's Friday, that's for sure.  Seems like the more help we hire, the busier we are."

Hutch relaxed back in his chair, with his hand on his full stomach, while stretching his legs out in front of him.  "I was reading an article the other day at the doctor's office.  Self-employed people work way more hours than everyone else.  There's not just doing work in the business, but there's all the time it takes to manage other people.  Plus, all the stress of making sure there's enough cash available to keep everything operating."

"Well, still," Starsky said, now beginning to load the dishwasher, "I'd rather it be us managing people.  I don't like when we subcontract work out to other firms.  It feels like those jobs are out of our control, to say nothing of so much of our income going to them."

"Yeah.  But I'm back to a hundred percent, buddy.  So, I can help more."

Starsky insisted, "But we still need to hire more people.  I say two full-time people, at least.  It seemed so easy with Carlos.  Most of the resumes we've been getting are pretty weak."

"Yeah," Hutch agreed, "we really lucked out with Carlos."

Starsky pushed the dishwasher door closed, and then leaned back against the counter.  "I sure miss Nick."


"Wish he'd at least call, or something."

"I'm sure he and Lannie have got their hands full, right now."  Lannie owned a leather clothing shop, and an accessory clothing store for women, both located within a few blocks from each other, about ten miles from the offices of Starsky and Hutchinson, Inc.  She had hustled to move from Minnesota in November, and have her stores ready for their grand opening in time for Christmas.  Nick was devoting all his time to helping her out, to say nothing of the two moving into a condominium together, a half hour away.

"Yeah," Starsky said with a heavy sigh.  "I just think, though, that it's more that he knows I, at least, didn't really approve of how they went about their relationship."  He shrugged and admitted, "Guess it really doesn't matter that much now."

Hutch said, "if it's meant to be, I'm sure it'll work out."  He was eager to change the subject.  "So, have you heard anything more from agents for your book?"

Starsky's face brightened.  "Oh, I forgot to tell you.  I talked to a lady on the phone this morning.  We didn't have long to talk, because I had to leave, but after hearing me try to describe the book, she said if I wanted her to read the whole thing, and give her professional opinion on what would make it publishable, then she would charge a flat fee.  So, it would be more her being a consultant, rather than an agent, at this point."

"Are you going to do that?"

"I'd like to.  I just need to write one more chapter.  About my past."  Starsky was suddenly sheepish.  "I keep having a mental block about it.  I mean, throughout the whole book, I've been mainly writing about you.  Even the chapters that are mostly about events that happened to me, they still seem to end up being about you.  How important your support was to me, and stuff like that."  He was thoughtful a moment, and then muttered, "So, it seems weird to just write about myself.  Your weren't around for the first twenty-five years or so of my life."  He shrugged.  "I don't even know where to start."

Hutch wanted to help.  "The book has to have a chapter about your early past, buddy.  Maybe you should approach it like you're interviewing yourself."

"What do you mean?"

"Well... for example, what's your earliest memory?  Ask yourself that question."


My earliest memory is when I was maybe six years old.  I'd been at a friend's house, and his father came home from work, in a bad mood, and was yelling at his wife and his son.  I remember thinking how mean he seemed.  So, a few days later, I was sitting in the living room one evening after dinner, and my father was talking to my mother, who was pregnant with Nicky, about things I don't remember.  Probably something in the news, because he was reading the newspaper, while my mom was knitting.  I was on the living room floor, playing with Lincoln Logs.  I remember feeling very peaceful, and feeling sad for my friend, who had a father that was loud and angry.

Not that my father, Michael Alvin Starsky, was a laid back kind of guy.  But he appreciated being at home, especially since home was a pretty peaceful place.  My mother didn't nag him -- at least, not that I saw.  Looking back, I realize now that there had to be the normal squabbles that couples have, but my parents never fought in front of me, or Nicky, once he was born.  We weren't a gushing, emotional, hugging type of family, on a day-to-day basis.  Or rather, my father wasn't.  Except for the big, important things, like meeting relatives from out of town.  But Mom was a kind, gentle person.  She always said nice things to me.  She always made me feel loved.  She kissed and hugged me when I scraped my knee, and made it all better.

Still, being the eldest son, it was my father that I idolized and wanted to emulate.  He was a cop and, to be honest, I think there was some shady stuff going on in his precinct.  I'm not even sure what I mean by that.  But he sort of had a love/hate relationship, I guess you could say, with various members of the mob.  He knew how to use them to get the real bad guys, I guess.  But now, the more mature part of me knows that there was probably some shady stuff going on, in order for my father to have the connections that he did.  I've never wanted to try to find out about it.  I sort of have my father on a pedestal, in my mind, and I don't want him to be knocked off that base.  I have no doubt that he could be, if I uncover the right kind of information.  I don't want to uncover it.

I wish I could say that my father's life is what meant the most to me.  But I have to be honest, and say it was his death -- his murder -- that was a turning point in my life, that set events into motion that made me into the man I am today.

I was eleven years old when I got the news.  Or, rather, when I heard cops being invited in by my mother, and they gave her the news.  She thought I was in my room, asleep, but I was actually in the hall, because I'd gotten up to use the john.  I heard them say that, "Mikey is dead, Mrs. Starsky.  We're so sorry to tell you this, but he was murdered."  She tried so hard to hold it together, but she broke down crying.   And they were trying to comfort her, trying to ask who they should call to come over and be with her.

I was so scared, as I stood there in the hall.  Terrified.  It seems selfish, in retrospect, but I was eleven, and the main thought on my mind was:  What's going to happen to us now?

That was the easy part.  Within a matter of weeks, the anger had set in.  Why is it that other boys got to grow up with a father, but I didn't?  What had I done that made God mad at me that He took away my father?  Or, was it my mother that had done something to summon God's wrath?

Years later, when I was in high school, a classmate came down with muscular dystrophy.  He was a really good guy, from a good family.  I refused to believe that he'd done anything to make God angry and give him that disease, so that's when it clicked inside my brain that really awful things can befall all sorts of good people, and it has nothing to do with God being mad at you.

My Uncle Alvin and Aunt Rosie had moved to southern California before I was born.  They were the relatives that my parents had the most contact with.  Once, when I was seven, we drove across country and visited them.  They sometimes came and visited us.  They never had children.  I think there was something wrong with one of them, but it just now occurs to me that I've never asked why they didn't have kids.

My anger at my father's death was getting me into trouble, at school and on the streets.  The summer when I was twelve, my Uncle Al and Aunt Rosie came to visit.  On their last day, my mother told me to pack, because I was going to spend the summer with them.  I'd started to smart mouth my mother, and she felt so bad for me having lost my dad, that she couldn't bring herself to discipline me.  So, when she said I was going to spend the summer in California, I yelled at her that I wasn't going.  My Uncle Al smacked me across the mouth and said, "Don't you ever talk to your mother like that again."  That was the only time my uncle ever hit me, and I got the message.  After all, I didn't want to be a bad kid.  I knew I was doing and saying wrong things, but I didn't know how to stop.  I felt like I was on the rough seas of an ocean, bobbing around to the ocean's whim.    My uncle making it clear who was boss and what was expected of me gave me a sense of stability.  Looking back, I realize that it was a tremendous act of love on my mother's part to send me away, where I could be around my uncle Al, who could be a father figure.  Ma had her hands full with raising Nicky alone.

Uncle Al owned a used car lot.  Sometimes, I'd help out there, doing things like running paperwork form the salesmen to the office clerk.  I learned a lot about cars from my Uncle Al, and fell in love with some of the fancier models.

Turns out, I spent a whole year there, including the following summer, with Uncle Al and Aunt Rosie.  I also got to be good friends with the childless family next door, where the husband was a cop named John Blaine.  I've already written a chapter about him.  But because he was a cop, as my father had been, I took a liking to him right away.  He taught me how to fight, about how to have integrity.  I remember, once, I was bragging to him about how I'd shoved another kid in the back that I was mad at, causing him to fall down and scrape his chin.  John firmly told me that a real man never attacks another man from behind.  You have to face your opponents.  There's no shame in losing a fight, as long as you know you fought fair, and showed up for the fight, to begin with. 

My Uncle Al and Aunt Rosie were good people, but it was John that I wanted to hang around with.  After spending a couple of summers in that neighborhood, it was decided that I was settled down enough that I could return to New York, and be the man of the house that my mother needed.  I attended junior high there, but my heart was in southern California.  I had friends in New York, but I also had friends in California.  More importantly, California had John Blaine, and I needed a man like him in my life.

So, once I'd finished junior high, I've lived the rest of my life in California, save a stint in the army, and the following year when I'd broken my leg.  I consider myself to have been raised by my Uncle Al and Aunt Rosie, along with a lot of help from John and Maggie Blaine.   Between my father and John Blaine, I had always wanted to be a cop.  I never seriously considered any other occupation.

Al and Rosie were still a big part of my life when I became a cop, until they moved to Florida about six months before I was gunned down by Gunther's hit men.  By then, Hutch had become my most important family.

Once, when I was a patrol cop, I had a girlfriend break up with me.  We'd been seeing each other for six months, and she was the most serious relationship I'd had, up to that point.  She said the reason she was breaking up with me was, to quote her, "Because you hold yourself back from people, including me.  Even though you say you trust me, you won't let me in.  You won't share the most intimate parts of yourself with me."  I had no idea what the fuck she was talking about.  We'd had very intimate, loving sex, and she was saying I wasn't sharing the most intimate parts of myself?

All these years later, I now understand what she was saying.  I've had a life full of love, but I haven't trusted that life wholeheartedly, or the people in it.  I know everyone in my family loves me, and I love them, but there's still a part of me that will never forgive life, or God, for having those cops come to our house and say that my father had been murdered. 

That is, I never learned how to trust wholeheartedly until I met Hutch.  That changed things for me.  It's with him that I learned true intimacy, and I'm talking before it ever occurred to us to sleep together.  I was able to share myself with Hutch.  It's because of him that my mother never got visited by somebody, telling her that her eldest son was dead.  She loved Hutch, too.

Sometimes, when I let myself think about it, I feel bad for all the things I never knew about my mother.  Her heart was bad, but I didn't know that until after she was dead.  She died between me being gunned down by Gunther, and almost dying from the Herpes B virus.  When it looked like I was dying after the hit, Hutch didn't let on how bad it was.  He didn't want her to come out, because he instinctively knew that her health was worse than I'd ever let on.  I guess I never wanted to believe it, but typical Hutch was able to read between the lines, whenever I passed along whatever Ma had said in my weekly phone call to New York.

My biological family has always felt scattered to me.  They've lived in all parts of this country, and parts of Europe.  I guess that's another reason for my mistrust.  However much people love you, sometimes you need their presence as much as their love.  So often, it's seemed that this or that member of my family wasn't around.  Hutch was always around.

My little brother, Nicky, and I weren't exactly close.  We've had two completely different experiences growing up.  He was a mama's boy, which isn't his fault, since he didn't have a father from a very young age.  So, we've always had a difficult relationship.  But it's much better now.  It means a lot to me that he's moved out this way within the past couple of years.   It looks like he's staying permanently, and I really like that.  I guess, now that I'm forty, I'm feeling a sense of having family around me for the first time since I was a little boy, sitting in the living room, feeling so peaceful while my father talked about the day's news with my mother.


Lisa Miller was a simple-looking eighteen-year-old, dressed in reasonably snug jeans, a simple button blouse, and with minimal makeup.  She had long, strawberry blonde hair.  Hutch wondered how she was able to afford their services, but once shaking her hand and offering her seat at the small, round conference table in his office, he was determined to treat her like any other client.

He flipped his yellow legal pad to a new page.  "So, Ms. Miller, how can I help you?"

She seemed to blush.  "Call me Lisa, please."

"All right then, Lisa.  Tell me your situation."

She quickly sobered.  "Well, Trent and I have been seeing each other since the beginning of last summer, after I graduated high school."

"How did you meet?"

"We were both having lunch at the same deli, and he asked me out.  We hit it off right away, and starting seeing each other regularly."

"Was Trent in school, as well?"

"No, he graduated the year before, where he lived with his family in Santa Paula.  He wanted to get away from his family, because they were hassling him about going to college, and he wanted to work and earn some money right away.  So, he got a welding job at a place over in the industrial area."

"Off Steel Highway?" Hutch clarified.


"So, he was on his lunch hour when you two met at the deli?"

"Yes.  I was, too.  I worked at the Caufield Grocers at the same strip mall as the deli."

"How long have you worked there?"

"Since I was sixteen.  The store is unionized, so the pay is really good, especially now that I've moved up to being a cashier."

Hutch couldn't help but give her a gentle smile.  "You've already been working since you were sixteen?"


"Your parents weren't worried about your job interfering with your schooling?"

She shook her head.  "I'm a straight A student.  Besides, my dad has worked the loading docks of the Caufield warehouse for twenty years, so he was glad."

Hutch finished making a note.  "Okay, so you and Trent met and start dating...."

"Yes.  We got serious right away.  He had his own apartment for a while, but then moved in with a friend of a co-worker that had an extra room, to save money."

Hutch asked, "Why was he so eager to save money?"

She shrugged.  "Just wanted to.  He liked being able to pay his bills.  He disapproved of the way his parents had handled their money, and gotten into a lot of debt.   He didn't want to be like that."

"Do you live with your parents?"

"Yes.  Though I'll probably be moving out soon.  I want to be on my own, and they're okay about it."

Hutch said, "I suppose that made it difficult for you two to be together, with Trent living in another person's house, and you with your parents."

"The guy that owned the house worked nights, so that helped.  But, yeah, it was awkward sometimes.  That's why we were going to meet up at this one place this past weekend, so we could be alone together for a few days.  We'd both taken three days off from our jobs."

"Where was the meeting place?"

For the first time, she seemed hesitant.  "Well, it was an abandoned house out near the Los Padres National Forest.  A guy at Trent's work knows someone that's a realtor, and that house has been for sale for years.  It still has some furniture in it, including a mattress.  So, the guy at work was bragging about how he'd taken a girl there once, for privacy.  Trent decided that he and I could go there.  It's easy to get in the back door."

"So, you were planning on meeting there?" Hutch asked.  "Or going together?"

"Meeting there, because Trent had to work late on Thursday night.  He wanted me to get there ahead of him, and buy groceries and other supplies, so things would be all ready to settle in for the three-day weekend when he got there."

"You met there Thursday night?"

"We were supposed to.  I got there about seven o'clock, with a supply of groceries.  I expected him to show up by nine, at the latest.  He never did."  She swallowed audibly, appearing distressed.  "I waited and waited.  I drove into town a couple of times the next morning, and called Sam, who rents the place where Trent lives, as a sublet.  I couldn't get a hold of him.  Finally, about noon, I left.  I went to Sam's and he was there, and he said he didn't know where Trent was, but he'd known he was taking the weekend off to spend time with me."  She shrugged.  "He didn't seem particularly concerned though, when I said that Trent didn't show up.  Kept saying, 'I'm sure he has good reason.'"  She drew a breath.  "I drove back up to the abandoned house later that day, and stayed all night, but Trent still didn't show.  On Monday morning, I called his work, and they said he hadn't shown up and hadn't called."  She suddenly looked directly at Hutch.  "I'm afraid something's happened to him."

Hutch wondered if there might be more to this case than he'd originally suspected.  "Do of you know of anyone who might want to harm Trent?"

She shook her head.  "No.  Not at all.  All he did was work and go out with me.  If we weren't together, then he was pretty much at work."

Hutch wondered if Trent had felt smothered by Lisa, however pleasant her personality.  He shifted with discomfort.  "Lisa, you know, it's entirely possible that he may have gotten interested in somebody else, and didn't know how to tell you."

She quickly shook her head.  "No, he couldn't have kept something like that from me."

How little you know.  "Well, I can tell you that young men of that age are easily distracted.  They aren't always considerate of the feelings of others.  They can kind of live in the moment."

She shook her head again.  "He wouldn't just not call, or somehow get me a message.  He wouldn't do that."

"Have you called his family?"

"I don't know their number.  He never wanted to talk about his family.  He sort of acted like they didn't exist."

Hutch could understand that inclination toward independence.  "Still, it's possible that he might have heard about a close family member being in the hospital, or something like that, and he had to leave right away, and didn't have a way of getting a message to you."

She was silent, as though knowing whatever protest she presented, Hutch probably wouldn't believe it.

Hutch flipped to a new page.  "In any case, the easiest way to start this investigation will be to contact his family.  I'll be able to do that, from you telling me their surname and that they lived in Santa Paula.  It might only take one phone call to solve this mystery.  So, I won't ask for a retainer from you, until I've made that phone call, and a few others."  Hutch glanced at the clock.  "Unfortunately, I probably won't have time to do that today, but hopefully, I'll have an answer to his whereabouts by the end of the day Monday."

She nodded.

"Now, if you can give me all the names and addresses of places Trent frequented, and any phone numbers you have...."


While driving in his car, Starsky dialed the office.

He was surprised that Hutch answered.  "Starsky and Hutchinson."

"Why are you answering the phone?"

"Because Lois was getting overwhelmed," Hutch replied with a sigh.

He sounded so tired.  It had been a tiring week, which is why Starsky was eager to get their weekend started as early as possible.  "Well, I've got all the info on the ladies at the charity club.  You're right, I think there's only one of them that's really serious about her husband cheating.  But at least it ought to be easy money for the others.  I mean, we can probably just tail each guy a couple of times, and close their case, and charge the minimum.  I told them that we'd have to do one husband at a time, and they seemed fine with that."


"I thought I'd stop and pick up the photographs for the Frederickson case.  And Lois mentioned to me that there's a property out on Lanton Road, that didn't fit in well with the routes she'd put together for the kids."  Since most of the employees that did drive-bys for the properties with delinquent mortgages were college students, Lois referred to them as "kids".  "So, I told her I'd swing by there.  But first, I have to stop and get more film for the camera.  What are you doing?"

"Meeting with a couple of clients to wrap up their cases, and then there's a couple of interviews for new employees.  There was supposed to be three, but the last one this afternoon canceled, because he'd found another job."

"Do you need me back for those interviews?"

"Not necessarily." 

"Well, I'm going to go home then, when I'm done driving around.  Why don't you kick off as early as you can, Hutch, since the last appointment canceled?  Okay, baby?"

"Yeah, maybe," Hutch said.

"Look, call me when you're headed home, okay?"  Starsky lowered his voice.  "I want to get your weekend off to a good start."  Not that he had anything in particular in mind, at the moment.

Hutch sighed, as though he wasn't up to whatever Starsky was thinking.

"No pressure," Starsky insisted.  "I just want us to relax, you know?  So, call me."

"Yeah, okay."


It was going on four, when Hutch decided he could go home.  Actually, he shouldn't, with so much planning to do before Monday morning.  But he was dead tired, as was everyone else at Starsky and Hutchinson, Inc. 

He dialed their home number.


"Okay, I'm leaving.  I don't feel like stopping at the store, or anything."

"I already went to the store.  I'm going to have a hot bubble bath waiting for you, okay?  One Starsky bath special, coming up."

Hutch smirked, feeling warmth drift through him.  "Yeah, okay."  He hung up, wanting very much to get home.


Starsky picked up the Phillips screwdriver he'd found, and moved back to the bedroom.  He would wait about ten minutes before starting the bath.  In the meantime, he knelt to the floor in front of their dresser, and opened the bottom drawer that had a loose knob.  He held the knob on the drawer's exterior with one hand, while using the screwdriver to tighten the screw from inside the drawer.  When finished, he noticed a t-shirt in the drawer that he'd been looking for a few weeks ago, but couldn't find in the closet.  He moved it aside to see what else was in the drawer.  A black sack took up most of it.  Starsky picked it up, smiling at the memory of a little shopping spree in Aspen, Colorado, during their vacation over a year ago.


Hutch entered the house, still feeling drained.

Starsky was in his briefs, and took Hutch by the hand.  "Come on, bath's all ready."

As they moved down the hall, Hutch said, "A bath sounds great.  But I don't think I'm up to anything else."

"That's okay," Starsky assured.  "We'll just start with a bath, and see if anything else transpires.  If it doesn't, fine."

Despite the words, Hutch felt that Starsky would be disappointed, if nothing happened afterward.

The bath did look inviting, with bubbles piled on top of the water.  Hutch stripped off his clothes.

Starsky held his elbow, as Hutch stepped into the water.  "I just want you to relax, Hutch.  Let me do everything."

Hutch didn't have any problem with that idea.  Still, he needed to update his partner.

After Hutch was settled, lying against the back of the tub, so the water just wet the back of his hair, and with his knees raised, he said, "I hired someone on the spot.  Kenny."

"Kenny?" Starsky had soaked a washcloth in the tub, and gently patted it against Hutch's face, while letting the water drip liberally.

"Yeah.  I said I hoped he didn't mind being called Kenny, because I was Ken.  He said he usually went by Kenny.  He was a cop for a few years in Modesto.  Got let go when he needed to pull his gun once, and he couldn't bring himself to do it.  He says he likes figuring things out, but he doesn't want to have to confront violent people."

Starsky was running the soppy washcloth along Hutch's neck.  "Huh."

"Yeah, I got the feeling he was really interested in doing good work, and not just bringing home a paycheck.  So, I told him to show up Monday morning."

"Good, then.  But we still need somebody else.  The other guy didn't pan out?"

"Na.  He hardly had any qualifications.  He would have needed a lot of training."

"I'm sure we'll find somebody else."

"Yeah, and Lois and I had a brief meeting."

"Yeah?  What about?"

"She says she needs help in the office.  She's getting too overwhelmed, and is worried about the filing being behind.  She never got around to doing the spreadsheet for the Jensen case, and so she's coming in tomorrow morning for a couple of hours to do that."

"I hate that she feels the need to do that."

"She wanted to.  I suggested she come in extra early Monday morning, before the phone starts ringing.  But she'd rather do it tomorrow.  Anyway, I told her that all this extra work is maybe temporary.  So, for the time being, I said she should ask one of the college students if they want to help out in the office for a day or two.  We'll pay them four bucks an hour to do filing, and simple stuff like that.  Maybe, once things are caught up, she can stay on top of everything."

Starsky was now rubbing Hutch's chest, beneath the water.  "I don't know, Hutch.  Seems like there keeps being more and more jobs.  We keep hiring more people to do the jobs, but Lois is expected to handle the extra paperwork and other stuff that comes from all those extra people."

Hutch muttered, "Seems like, just a few months ago, she was reading at her desk when she didn't have anything to do."

"Yeah," Starsky said with a sigh, "but that was a few months ago.  The news talks like the economy is picking up." 

"Yeah.  I think we should go in Monday morning, extra early.  We need to strategize with all these jobs.  If this missing person case for this teenage girl goes anywhere, I want to work on that together.  But I need to make some phone calls first, and eliminate the obvious."

"You think it could be something more than the guy just taking off on her?"

"Possibly.  But it's just as likely that the guy went back home to Santa Paula.  This gal doesn't even know how to get in touch with his parents, because he never talked about them much.  He wanted to get away from home.  But maybe he went back.  Still, it is a little odd that, according to her, he didn't show up at work this past week, and nobody has heard from him.  She insists that he wouldn't leave people hanging."

"Hmm.  It's hard to say with a young guy like that, who sounds like he's determined to be independent."


Starsky pressed the wet washcloth against Hutch's nose.  "No more talk of work.  Okay?  We're off for the weekend."  His voice softened.  "Relax, baby."

Hutch closed his eyes, willing to do just that.  "Mm."

As the cloth ran slowly over his body, Hutch thought he might start to drift off.  The warm water did feel good, as did the loving attention.  His armpits were eventually soaped and rinsed.  After a time, the cloth dipped below his waist, and spent some time washing there..

Starsky soft words penetrated his consciousness.  "How about a massage?"

Hutch didn't want to open his eyes.  "Mm?"

Now, soft amusement.  "I think that might be the only way to bribe you out of this tub."

A massage did sound delicious.  Eventually, Hutch let Starsky prompt him out of the tub.  Starsky dried him thoroughly, and then led him to the bed, and directed him to lie facedown. 

Hutch drifted in and out, feeling he was in a state of utter bliss, as Starsky's hands worked along his skin, using a warm lubricant.  At one point, a kiss was planted on his rear, and he was glad that it didn't feel like it was trying to start something.

Hutch roused when Starsky whispered, "Turn over, beautiful."

Hutch did. 

A black mask was placed over his eyes.  He didn't even feel odd about it, as Starsky whispered, "Just want to keep everything nice and dark for you."

Hutch went back to his shallow slumber, as hands ran along the front of his limbs, then his trunk, then his chest.

He was only vaguely aware, when he felt something warm and soft wrap around his right wrist, and the noise of something buckling.


Hutch opened his eyes, and all he saw was darkness.

His left wrist was also wrapped in softness.

What's going on?

His confusion must have shown in his expression, for he felt warm breath at his ear.  "Listen good, Hutch," came Starsky's soft, enticing voice.  "We're going to play a little game.  Anytime you want the game to stop, you say Torino.  The instant you say that word, the blindfold comes off, and so do the manacles."

Manacles?  Hutch's heart beat faster.

"But unless and until then," Starsky's voice became husky, "you're my captive, and I'm going to enjoy you any way I choose."

Captive?  Hutch felt his groin stir.

There was a momentary silence, and then Starsky's pleased voice said, "I think you're on board with this.  Good.  Now, I want you to stay real relaxed, just like you've been.  In fact, I don't want you to say anything at all, unless you need to say Torino."

Hutch realized that his mouth had fallen open.

He felt something pulling at the manacles, so that his arms were spread away from his body.  What is Starsky fastening them to?  He didn't hear the sounds of anything being tied or snapped into place. 

Starsky moved away, but made a purring noise.  "Mmm.  You look so sexy, lying there, Hutch, that's I've got to take some pictures, so you can see for yourself, later."

After a few moments, there was the sound of a polaroid emerging from the camera.  And then again.  And again.

Hutch longed to soothe himself, as his cock surged.

Starsky's voice came closer.  "I'd say you're wide awake now," he said with a hint of amusement. 

Hutch felt a fingertip run along the length of his cock.  He gasped.

"Yeah," Starsky murmured with sympathy.  "But you need to wait a little bit longer.  Trust me, Mr. Monster Cock will be all the better for the patience."

Hutch wondered what was in store for him.

He felt Starsky straddle his chest, saying, "Let's try this." . 

A moment later, Hutch felt something pinch his right nipple.  The pressure remained.

Then his left nipped was pinched in the same way.

Nipple clamps?

Something cool and lightweight rested on his chest, between the nipples.  A chain? 

Starsky cooed breathlessly, "Now, that is a beautiful sight.  I've got to get some more pictures, Hutch."

While Hutch tried to decide whether or not his nipples were feeling outright pain, he heard the noise of more photographs emerging from the camera. 

"Your cock is drooling," Starsky announced.

What do you expect?  Hutch wondered.  More importantly, what are you going to do about it?

"So's mine, because you look absolutely edible."

The waterbed rocked and then Hutch felt Starsky brush against either side of him.  Potent moisture ran along his lower lip.

Hutch darted out his tongue and licked Starsky's cockhead, tasting the strong flavor of pre-cum.

"Uh, you're greedy," Starsk said huskily, pulling back.  Then, "Just suck the head."

Flesh was back at his lip, and Hutch clamped his lips down on it, feeling the ridge, and sucked avidly.

Starsky gasped, "Damn, you're so sexy with that black blindfold and your blond hair and your manacles and sucking my huge cock."  Another gasp that Hutch recognized all too well.  "Finish me," Starsky demanded, as he thrust his cock to the back of Hutch's throat.

Hutch was able to handle it, because he was so familiar with that eager flesh.   He sucked loudly and wetly, drooling at his mouth corners, and found the ultra sensitive underside, just behind the head, with the flat of his tongue, and applied pressure there.

"Oh, dear God," Starsky cried out. 

Hutch felt immense satisfaction as semen filled his mouth.  Even though he was Starsky's "captive", it was he who had orchestrated Starsky's pleasure.

Starsky went lax, as his cock dropped from Hutch's mouth, and then he released a long, airy sigh. 

His hands held the sides of Hutch's face, and he whispered, "Share", and then kissed Hutch avidly, his tongue darting inside.

Hutch was breathless when he was finally released, both their tongues having lapped up the juice inside his mouth.

Another airy sigh was released.  Then Starsky said, "Now, I can take my time feasting on you."

Hutch wondered if he'd be able to bear much further delay.

He was kissed again, this time gently.  Then Starsky moved down his body.

Hutch started when his own cockhead felt a tongue lap across the tip.  Just for a moment, the whole head was enclosed, and Hutch groaned eagerly.

"I know, baby," Starsky whispered.  "But you look so tasty right now, there's some other samplings I need to do."

His balls were next.  Wide laps of a soppy tongue.  Then each was mouthed.  Starsky was an expert at working his balls.  He always knew just the right pressure to apply, whether using hands, lips, or tongue.

Starsky said, "Man, you're really something, with your nuts glistening with spit.  I'd love to take another picture, but I don't want to disrupt the proceedings."

Hutch's cock throbbed in agreement.

His thighs were grabbed and shifted upward.  Thumbs parted his ass cheeks.  A tongue licked at his hole.

Hutch tried to grip it, panting, wanting his cock's need to be met.

His cheeks were released.  "Your cock's getting real anxious, Hutch.  Okay, then.  Get me ready to sit down on that beautiful thing of yours."

More rocking of the bed.  Shifting and straddling.  "Get me all ready, Hutch.  Use your tongue."

Hutch smelled Starsky's muskiness.  Stuck out his tongue.  Felt wiry hair and soft skin, that he identified as Starsky's balls.  He ran his tongue upward, as he sensed Starsky shifting downward, trying to be helpful, spreading his legs farther.  Hutch's tongue felt wrinkled skin. He licked.  Licked.  Licked loudly and eagerly.

Starsky's hand had gasped Hutch's cock, lubricated with spit.  "Oh God, Hutch.  Oh, God."

Hutch had always taken a great deal of pride in his ability to excite Starsky's ass, before fucking it.  Though it was awkward from his face-up position, he raised his head to bury his tongue in deeper.  He couldn't restrain a deep groan, as Starsky's hand worked his cock, in an obvious attempt to be soothing.

Hutch wasn't soothed.  He desperately wanted to fuck.  Without having consciously thought about it, he heard himself gasp "Torino" into Starsky's ass crack.

Starsky pulled off.  "Huh?"


Suddenly the blindfold was tossed aside, and Hutch could see.  He staggered to his knees and pushed a worried Starsky away from him, feeling satisfaction when Starsky's upper body feel forward on the bed.  Hutch grabbed Starsky's hips, then aimed his cock with one hand, peripherally realizing that his manacled wrists hadn't been attached to anything.

He plunged the first part of his cock past Starsky's snug ring, and then lunged forcefully, completing the penetration in one smooth motion.

He pinned Starsky's hands down and fucked him.

Starsky had his legs braced, giving Hutch the satisfaction of the deepest possible penetration.

The peak was reached quickly.  Hutch yelled loud and long, while his seed shot from his body, and up Starsky's ass.

He held still, as the ejaculation waned.  Then he released a long, heavy sigh of relief.

Hutch put his hand on Starsky's rear.  "Easy."  Carefully, he withdrew, and then collapsed onto the bed.

Starsky scrambled beside him, his expression worried.  "You okay?"

Hutch closed his eyes a moment, and managed a grin.  "Way more than okay."  He placed his hand against the small of Starsky's back.  "You were taking too long,  Couldn't wait."

Starsky's expression relaxed into a smile.  "I guess, then, that you need more practice at being a captive."

Hutch held up his right hand and, with his left, started to unbuckle the manacle.  "Where did you get these?"

"That store in Aspen.  Remember?"

Hutch remembered Starsky asking him to leave the store, because he seemed embarrassed about wanting to look around, and apparently hadn't wanted Hutch seeing what he was going to buy.  "Oh."

Starsky settled beside him.  "Forgot all about having bought anything there.  Then I found the sack a little while ago.  Thought it might be fun."

Hutch hugged Starsky against him.  "It was."  He then took the time to release the second manacle.

Starsky got up on an elbow and unclamped the devices from Hutch's nipples.  Hutch had forgotten all about them, but now that they were removed, he realized that those areas had started to get sore.

Starsky turned to the nightstand, gathered up the pictures, and tossed them into the top drawer.  As he turned back, he muttered, "Don't want you to see those, until you're all ready to get turned on again."

Hutch wasn't interested in arguing.  He reached to his own nightstand, where they kept the supplies, and grabbed a towel that he tossed to Starsky.  Then he grabbed another one, and squeezed it gently along his sensitive phallus.

When the towels were tossed away, Hutch curled on his side, toward Starsky.  "Nap time," he declared.

"Mmm."  Starsky snuggled against him.

Hutch placed his arm around Starsky, and nuzzled into his hair.  He whispered, "Love you so much."


The weekend had, indeed, gotten off to a wonderful start.



Starsky appeared in the doorway between their offices.

Hutch re-settled the telephone receiver on its cradle.  "I think there's more to this case about Trent Faulkner."

Starsky plopped into a chair before Hutch's desk.  "Yeah?"

"I just got off the phone with his employer.  He said Trent was a good worker, and so he was surprised that he didn't show up for work last Monday, and never called.  I said that we'll probably want to come out and interview some of other workers, in case they might know anything, and he's fine with that.  He'd really like to know what happened to him, and will give us any information we want from his file."

"Did you get a hold of his parents?"

"Yes, I called them first.  They said that Trent left home after he graduating high school, which confirms Lisa's story.  He seemed determined to leave his family behind, and only grudgingly gave them a phone number, once he was settled into an apartment.  But after he left the apartment to live with somebody he knew, Sam Evans, they had no way of getting a hold of him.  They said he didn't even call for Christmas."

Starsky furrowed his brow.  "Did you ask what caused the rift with his family?"

Hutch shrugged.  "They seemed to think he was behaving like a typical, rebellious teenager.  They hoped he would eventually come to his senses and want to include his family in his life, and consider going to college.  When I mentioned Lisa, they didn't seem to know anything about her.  I asked if they knew of any of his girlfriends, and they named a couple that he'd had in high school, but since those girls were still in Santa Paula, they were certain he was no longer seeing them."

Starsky sighed.  "I suppose it's possible that he might have gotten involved in some foul play.  What do you want to do next?"

"I want to go to his workplace, and get all the information we can from there.  Then go to where he lives and talk to the roommate."

"Sounds like a plan."

Trent Faulkner's most recent employer provided Starsky and Hutch with copies of everything in Trent personnel file.  He also said that he rarely allowed overtime, and he Trent didn't work late on Thursday night, which contradicted what Lisa had told Hutch.  The manager then mentioned a couple of employees that he'd known to be friendly with Trent, and Starsky and Hutch interviewed each of them.  They got a sense of someone who was hard-working, as well as ambitious, but the employees couldn't tell them much about Trent beyond that.  The only girlfriend he'd ever mentioned was Lisa.

When they were back in the Corvette, Starsky asked, "Where to, now?" 

Hutch leafed through the paperwork they'd been given.  "I say we drop by Sam Evan's place, where Trent last stayed.  I've already talked to him on the phone, but I just asked some basic questions, and he reiterated that the last he heard, Trent was going away for a few days with Lisa.  Then Sam went to work that Thursday night, since he works nights, at a motel, and when he came back, there never was any further sign of Trent.  Hopefully, he's home.  I'd like to drop by unexpectedly and prod him a little more.  He's out near 140th and Denton."

Starsky turned the motor.  "Sounds like a plan."


Sam Evans lived in a small, old house, set back from the road, on an acre of land.  A sign out front said, "Room for rent."

"That's interesting," Hutch noted, as they pulled into the gravel driveway.  "Looks like he's not expecting Trent to come back.  Trent hasn't even been gone two weeks."

"Looks like he's here," Starsky said, nodding toward the old pickup parked next to the house. 

They got out of the car and went up to the small front porch.  Hutch rang the bell.

It was moment before they heard movement from inside.  Then the door opened, and a gruff-looking man with a greyish-white, scruffy beard, asked through the screen door.  "Yes?"

Starsky asked, "Are you Sam Evans?"

"Yes.  Who wants to know?"

Hutch held out their card.  "We're with the P.I. firm of Starsky and Hutchinson and we're investigating the disappearance of Trent Faulkner.  I'm Ken Hutchinson, and I talked with you on the phone earlier today.  My partner and I would like to ask you a few more questions."

"I already answered your questions this morning."

Casually, Starsky said, "We've talked to some other people, and have a few more that we'd like to ask, if you don't mind."

The man opened the screen door and stepped out in suspenders and an undershirt, bare foot.  "Well, all right.  But I work nights and I like to get my sleep during the day."

"We'll try not to take up much of your time," Starsky soothed.

Hutch nodded toward the sign.  "I see that you're renting Trent's room out.  You must not expect him back."

Evans shrugged.  "Since I don't know what happened to him, I can't expect him to pay the rent for this month.  It was due on the first.  Since my rent was raised, I can't afford this place without a roommate."

Starsky said, "Just a little advice, since we used to be cops.  It's illegal to give his room to someone else, without giving him thirty days' notice to move out."

"What about his stuff?"  Hutch asked.  "Is it still here?"

"His girlfriend, Lisa, came by yesterday and picked it up.  I told her I'd have to throw it out, otherwise."

Starsky said again, "Throwing it out would have been illegal.  If he returns, and he's upset that you gave all his stuff to Lisa, he could sue you for the value of his possessions."

Hutch asked, "Is there a particular reason you don't expect him to return, when he's been missing less than two weeks?"

Evans shrugged again.  "Just think I would have heard from him by now, if everything was all right with him."

"What was he involved with?" Starsky asked.  "We know he was ambitious -- didn't like the idea of being in debt, like his parents.  Was he maybe selling drugs, or something like that?"

Evans looked away and waved a hand.  "I hardly talked to the kid.  We worked completely different hours and hardly saw each other.  He had his own little television in his room.  He mostly ate meals out.  You know?  He was mainly just here to sleep."

"What about phone calls?" Hutch asked.  "You ever take any messages for him?"

"Just from his girlfriend." 

Evans then hesitated, and Starsky and Hutch exchanged a glance.

"Who else?" Starsky prompted.

Evans reached for the screen door.  "Just his girlfriend, like I said.  Is that all, gentlemen?"  It was clearly a dismissal.

Starsky said, "Please call the number on our card, if you think of anything else that might be helpful."

"Anything at all," Hutch stressed.

Evans entered his house, muttering, "Sure."

When the Corvette started back down the lane, Starsky said, "He's holding something back, that's for sure."

"When we mentioned phone calls," Hutch pointed out.  "So, let's follow that train of thought.  If someone called who could be responsible for Trent's disappearance, why would Evans be protecting that person?"

"Because it's somebody Evans knows."  Starsky turned onto Denton Highway.

With certainty, Hutch said, "Evans knows that Trent isn't coming back.  So, he knows what's happened to him."

Subdued, Starsky said, "He's dead, Hutch.  He has to be.  I mean, if he just up and decided to disappear and start a new life somewhere else... why would Evans not want to tell us everything he knows?"

Hutch released a heavy breath.  "I hope there's some other explanation.  I don't want to tell Lisa Miller that he's dead."

"Yeah.  What do you think our next move should be?"

"If Evans is protecting the person that had something to do with Trent's disappearance, then maybe Evans is the person that introduced Trent to that person.  So, since it's going on noon, let's see if Dobey wants to get some lunch, and we can see if he'll run Evans' records for us.  It'll be a lot faster than going through the usual channels."  Hutch reached for the car phone. 

"You know, it's weird that Trent would room with an old guy like that.  It's like, he was just doing it, because it was cheap."  He looked over at Hutch, who was pushing buttons on the phone.  "The welding job paid good money.  Just what was he so eager to have more money for?"

Hutch put the phone to his ear.  "I asked Lisa that very thing, and she just said he disapproved of the way his parents were in debt."

Starsky withheld his next comment until Hutch was obviously on hold.  "Have his parents even bothered to file a missing persons on him with the police?"

"No.  They sort of asked me if I thought they should, like they really didn't want to, and I said they could wait to see what we found out.  Now, I definitely think they should."

"Doesn't that seem weird?  Their son goes missing, and they just seem so nonchalant about it?"

"Hey, Captain," Hutch said cheerfully.  "This is Hutch.  Long time, no talk....Huh?... Yeah, I can hold."  To Starsky, he said, "I think they're just not wanting to face up to the idea that something serious might have happened.  They file a police report, it means that things have gotten serious." 

White Hutch talked to Dobey, Starsky considered their next step.

A few moments later, Hutch had given Dobey the name of Sam Evans and hung up.  "We're meeting him at one at the Whistling Train Cafe.  If we're lucky, he might have gotten some information from R&I by the time we meet."

"Terrific."  Then Starsky said, "You know, when Lois takes messages, she writes them down on those pinks slips that are in a spiral notebook that has carbon paper, so she always has a copy of our messages."


"Well, maybe the secretary at the welding place does that.  Maybe we can ask her to look back at any messages she took for Trent, and see where that leads us."

Hutch nodded.  "Good idea.  Let's stop back by there."


The secretary at Trent's job did indeed keep carbon copies of all messages.  She said that it might take a few days before she had time to go back through all her message books, from the time that Trent started working there, and she'd call when she had any information. 

When they sat down to lunch with Dobey, he had a thin manila file with him.  "I did bring copies of Sam Evan's records for Bay City."  He pushed the file across the table.  "He's gotten a couple of traffic tickets, and got arrested once for possession of barbiturates.  He didn't serve any time.  I'm having R&I checking with other surrounding precincts, and especially Winston County, where he resides.  That might take a few days."

"Great, Cap'n, we really appreciate it," Starsky said.

Dobey dived into his country fried steak.  "So, what's new with you two?"

They glanced at each other.  Starsky said, "Just working.  It's gotten crazy.  We've hired a second detective, and we're actually looking for a third."

"Yeah, Captain, if you know of any retired cops looking for a job, you might point them our way."

"I'll keep that in mind.  I'm glad to hear you're staying so busy."  After swallowing, Dobey looked at Starsky.  "Your brother still helping you out?" 

"Na.  He's helping Hutch's sister with her stores.  She moved out this way."

Dobey furrowed his brow at Hutch.  "Your sister?"

"Yeah."  Hutch glanced briefly at Starsky.  "I guess we've never had reason to mention it before.  But Nick and my sister, Lanette, are seeing each other.  They live together, in fact."

Dobey's eyes widened, as he looked from one to the other.  "Are you glad?"

Starsky shrugged.  "We've gotten used to it.  It's sort of a long story, but it's nice to have family closer.  Not that we see them much."

Dobey grunted again, and then conversation turned to how his family was doing.


The next afternoon, Starsky had gone with their newest detective, Kenny Martin, to meet with one of their lawyer clients, and then had Kenny drop him back off at the office, before continuing on to do surveillance on a different case.

When Starsky entered their suite, he noticed that Hutch's door was closed.  "Who's in with Hutch?"

Lois replied, "He's on the phone with his mother."

Feeling concerned -- because he couldn't imagine why Lorraine would be calling -- Starsky moved quickly to his own office.  The door connecting his office with Hutch's was open, and he heard the forced patience in Hutch voice as he said, "It's not a problem for you to be out here.  We have the guest bedroom.  It's just that we're super busy here at the office, so we're not going to be able to spend much time with you during the day.  But I can let you drive my car while you're here, or maybe we can get you a rental.  Or, maybe you'll be wanting to spend some days with Lannie, at her shops."

Starsky slowly moved through the doorway, and then sat down in a chair in front of Hutch's desk.

Hutch rolled his eyes at him, and then said into the phone, "Yes, why don't you think about it some more?  Any time you want to come out, that's fine.  We don't need much notice.  I'm just worried that you'll be bored while you're here."  Hutch nodded.  "Yes.  All right.  Just let me know....Bye."  Hutch hung up.

"What's that all about?"

Hutch's cheeks billowed as he sighed heavily.  "I wish I knew.  I think my mother is going through some kind of delayed midlife crisis.  Or maybe a senior citizen's crisis."

"What do you mean?"

Hutch sat back in his chair.  "She called a little while ago, all distressed.  Her husband his dead.  Her children have both moved far away.  Maybe she wasn't that good of a mother.  She's not going to have any grandkids.  Now she's alone.  Her last boyfriend, Carl, doesn't want to get married.  She has to face the fact that she's lost her beauty.  Maybe she should sell the house."

That was a all a bit much to absorb.  "Man," Starsky muttered.

"Yeah," Hutch nodded.  "So, she wants to come out.  Just for a change of scenery, I guess.  Only, she's not sure if she wants to come out."

"Seems like, if she did, she'd want to spend more time with Lanette."

"Lannie and Nick just have a small second bedroom, that they're using for an office.  It would make more sense for her to stay with us.  But I told her we're too busy to be able to spend time with her during the day.  I mean, I'm not really sure what she intends to accomplish by coming out here.  I don't think she knows, either."

Starsky felt himself soften.  "Maybe she's wanting to get to know her children better.  Especially her son."

Hutch scowled.  "Maybe that's her intent, but I doubt it'll go anywhere."

Starsky heard the old hurt behind the tone.  "Well, as far as I'm concerned, it's fine with me if she wants to read my book."

Hutch quickly shook his head.  "She won't want to.  I mean, at most, she'd just read a couple of chapters, and then say, 'Oh, that's nice.'  That would be the end of it."

Gently, Starsky said, "She might be trying to reach out to you, Hutch.  Maybe she is reflecting on her life, and wanting to change some things."

Hutch shrugged elaborately.  "Fine.  I'm not stopping her.  You heard me tell her that she's welcome to come out."

Starsky gazed at Hutch a long moment.  "You're angry."

"I'm flustered.  I mean, just all of a sudden, she's, like, confessing to me all these feelings she has about being alone and not being beautiful anymore."  He muttered, "Caught me off guard, I guess."  Another shrug.  "Just not used to her getting so... personal."

"Do you think she called Lanette before calling you?"

"Probably, since she made a point of saying that there won't be any grandchildren.  So, she and Lannie must have talked about that."

Starsky said, "I can see where that would be sad for her."

"That's not something I can fix for her," Hutch said firmly. 

Starsky watched Hutch's nervous gestures, recalling how hurt he'd been by something his mother had said when his father was dying.  So much pain the people in the immediate Hutchinson family had caused each other over the years.  "Let's see what Lanette thinks.  Why don't we invite her and Nick over for a steak dinner this Saturday?"


Mid morning Thursday, Lois moved into Hutch's office, holding out a manila envelope.  "This just arrived, via courier."

Hutch accepted it.  "Great.  Thanks."  Then, toward the open door to Starsky's office, where Starsky could be heard typing on his computer, he called,  "Starsk!  It's here."  He began tearing the envelope open, as he'd been given a call by the welding company's secretary to expect the package.

A moment later, they were both sitting at the round table in Hutch's office, and laying out the pages from the envelope.  The pages were copies of the carbons of messages that the welding company's secretary had taken for Trent Faulkner.

"He didn't get many messages," was Starsky's first observation.

"Yeah, that's what she said.  You know, the employees were discouraged from having personal phone calls at work."  Hutch began to put the pages into piles.  "Lisa.  Lisa.  Lisa.  Dentist reminder.  Paul."  Hutch put the latter in its own pile.

"Who's Paul?"

"I don't know."  Hutch continued sorting.  "Lisa.  Lisa.  Sam Evans.  Sam Evans.  Paul.  Lisa.  Paul.  Lisa.  Lisa.  Lisa. That's it."  He picked up the pile with Paul's name as the caller.

"We've got to find out who this Paul guy is."

"Huh," Hutch said.  "There isn't a phone number on any of these messages.  The first one is from three months ago.  The message just says, 'Call him.'  The next one is about a week later.  It says, 'On tonight.'  Then this third one, is from the day before his disappearance. 'Must call tonight.'"

Starsky picked up the two messages from Sam Evans.  "This one says, 'Meet tonight.'"

Hutch looked up.  "What's the date?"

"November 14th."

"That's a few days before the first one from Paul."

Starsky looked at the second message.  "This one is dated January 20th.  It says 'Call Paul', but it doesn't list the number."

"January 17th is two days before this last message from Paul."

Starsky sat back on his chair.  "Okay. Let's say that Trent is eager to make a fast buck.  So, Sam Evans says he can put him in touch with a guy named Paul, who can make that happen, selling drugs or whatever.  Once the contact his made between Evans and Paul, then Trent is obviously given Paul's number.  So, Trent does some kind of business with Paul, and Evans is still an occasional go-between."

Hutch was thoughtful.  "Maybe Trent is hesitant about getting involved in something shady.  That last message from Paul sounds a little pushy."

"If Trent was being hesitant, after he knew too much information, maybe that got him killed."

"But he must have done something on behalf of Paul, since these messages span November through January.  Maybe he was doing something for Paul for a short time, but if it was something illegal, maybe he got nervous about it."

"Or maybe this Paul guy promised to pay him X amount of money, but he didn't own up to his promises, so maybe that made Trent hesitant, or maybe he got mad and got killed for it."

"Yeah," Hutch sighed, "that's a lot of speculating.  Maybe we should go back to the welding company and see if any of the co-workers can recall Trent mentioning a Paul.  And see if the secretary remembers anything about when Paul called.  I'll ask Lisa about him, too."

"Yeah.  And, in the meantime, maybe Dobey can come up with something from the other precincts."


"I just remember that he had a curt, impatient voice," the secretary told them, when they visited the welding establishment later that afternoon.  "I'd say, 'What number should he call you at', and he'd just growl, 'He has it.'"

One of Trent's co-workers said, "All I can remember is that, once, Trent and I went to lunch.  We stopped for gas on the way back.  While I was filling up my truck, he went to the pay phone.  I passed by him to go inside the filling station, and he was holding a piece of paper while saying into the receiver, 'Paul told me to call.' I went inside and didn't hear anything else.  Of course, once we were headed back to work, there wasn't any reason for him to tell me about the phone conversation, and I had no reason to ask."  The man couldn't remember how long ago that had been.

Lisa said that she had never heard Trent mention someone named Paul, and she became distressed at the idea that he'd had contact in recent months with someone she wasn't aware of.


Hutch placed an array of condiments and salad dressing on the table.  "All right, everybody, dig in."  He sat down next to Starsky.

"This is great," Nick said, cutting into his steak.

For five minutes, everyone focused on their food.  Then Nick asked, "So, is your horse going to have a foal?"

"Darla hasn't been bred yet," Starsky replied.  "Breeding season only started February 15th.  They've got to wait for each mare to come into heat."

Lanette asked, "What's so special about February 15th?"

"It's because of the January 1st universal birthday for racehorses," Hutch explained. "It takes eleven months for a mare to have a foal. So, if she was bred on February 1st, the foal would be due about January 1st of the following year.  If she foaled early, say December 28th, then the foal would officially be a year old, just a few days later, and would obviously be way behind the other horses in his age group.  So, they make the first day of breeding February 15th, so that if the mare foals early, it'll still be a January foal."

"Man," Nick said, "that sounds complicated."

"Yeah, but the people in the business are real professionals," Starsky said.  "They really know their stuff.  Darla is in goods hands.  We visited her maybe a month ago, and she's really settled in.  She spends all day in a big pasture with other mares, and then they bring them inside the barn in the evening to feed them and look them over, and make sure everybody is okay.  Now that it's the middle of February, they'll start having a vet check them to see when they're in heat, and they try to time the optimal time for breeding.  When she's ready, they'll trailer her over to where the breeding barn is, to be bred."

"If the stallion has room for her," Hutch put in.  "The more popular stallions get really busy, and they try to only have them breed one mare a day so, you know, each mare gets the good quality swimmers."  He was proud of himself for not blushing.

Nick snorted with a smile.  "That must be a great job for those stallions to have."

"Seems like they'd get bored," Lanette said, "if that's all they do everyday."

Nick ducked his head.  "I wouldn't have a problem with it."  When Lanette gave him a look, he quickly amended, "I mean, if I weren't attached."

Starsky and Hutch chuckled.

"Anyway," Starsky said, looking at Lanette "speaking of babies, has your mother called you recently?"

"You mean to talk about how sad it is that she'll never have grandchildren?" Lanette asked in a weary voice, as she stabbed a fork into her salad.  "Yeah, she called.  Like, her going on and on about it is going to up and make me want to have children."  Her voice firmed.  "I've never wanted children."

Hutch noted that Nick's expression had sobered.

"Why?" Lanette prompted.  "Did she call you guys and want you to figure out a way to adopt or something?"

Hutch drew a quiet breath.  "No.  But she called the other day, I guess because her latest boyfriend, Carl, had told her he didn't want to get married.  So, she seemed glum -- like I've never heard her before -- talking about how her husband is dead, her children have moved away, maybe she was a bad mother, now she won't have grandchildren, she's lost her looks... that kind of thing."

"Man," Nick said with concern, "sounds like she's really depressed."

Lanette said, "She'll get over it when she gets interested in someone else."

Starsky put in, "She was talking like she wanted to come out for a visit, but she hadn't made up her mind.  It's not a problem to put her up at our place, but we're so busy right now, with work, that we wouldn't be able to spend much time with her."  He looked at Lanette hopefully.  "What about if she spent some time at your stores?"

She shook her head.  "She won't want to spend might time there.  At least, not more than an hour or so.  She's not comfortable being in a working environment."

Starsky pressed, "I don't suppose there's much chance of you taking some time off to spend with her?"

"No, I've got two stores to manage.  I can drive her around places after work, but if she's mulling over her life, I don't think she'll be interested in going many places."

Nick asked, "Do you think she's maybe thinking about moving out here?"

"She won't do that," Lanette said firmly.  "She plays bridge twice a week with her circle of friends.  She won't want to leave those friends and routines behind."

"Still," Starsky said, subdued, "she might be ready for a change.  It sounds like she's really questioning a lot of things.  Maybe she's wanting to have a better relationship with her children.  You and she are somewhat close, right?"

Lanette shifted with discomfort.  "She was fine as a mother, when I was little.  Once I left home, she really wasn't very interested in my life.  Except when I got married to Jeffrey.  Then she pretty much took over the whole wedding.  She's good at doing tasks that are all about making things look good on the surface."

"Then, couldn't she help you with setting up things in your stores?"

"My stores are set up fine.  I'm good at what I do."

Hutch heard the forced patience in his sister's voice.  He noted congenially, "She may not even come out.  It was just odd, you know, hearing her talk like she's regretting a lot of things in her life."

Starsky said with compassion, "It may have just hit her, if Carl's out of the picture, that she's lost her husband of fifty years  That's got to affect a person, even if they were prepared for it."

"Yeah," Nick chimed in, "she's in that big house all alone.  She lost her husband, and now her daughter no longer lives just an hour away.  Maybe she needs to feel useful."

"She does charity work," Lanette insisted, taking a bite of steak.  After swallowing, she said, "I think you guys are over-reacting.  She's over-reacting.  As soon as another man takes an interest in her, she'll stop thinking about the past, and focus on the now."

Hutch watched Nick and Starsky share a glance. "Well, she seems to feel that she's not able to attract men anymore."

"She looked fine to me, for her age," Nick said.

"She's just going through a spell," Lanette said.

"Has she had these spells before?" Starsky asked dubiously.

Lanette shrugged.  "Not about these particular things.  But she's kind of gotten into a one-track trains of thought before."

Starsky sipped his wine.  "Well, I just think maybe she's dealing with a lot of loss for the first time in her life, and perhaps she feels like there's nobody there for her.  So, she's trying to reach out."  He shrugged.  "I just think she deserves some compassion."

"Yeah," Nick said.  "If she comes out, I'll try to spend some time with her."

Lanette laughed softly.  "I don't know that she'd be very happy with that."

Hutch decided to change the subject.  "I suppose we don't need to worry about it, unless she decides she actually wants to visit."  He looked at his sister.  "So, how are your stores doing?"


After dinner, they played gin rummy for a couple of hours.  Then Nick and Lanette said their farewells. 

As Hutch loaded the dishwasher, he sensed tension in the air, while Starsky worked at putting away leftovers.  That tension had been present, to some degree, whenever the subject of his and Lannie's mother had come up.

Hutch shut the dishwasher door, realizing that he and Starsky hadn't said a single word, since their guests had left.  He turned the dial to start the washer.  "You're being awfully quiet."

"So are you," Starsky countered, subdued.  He pressed tinfoil around a bowl of green beans.

Hutch began wiping the counters.  "Why are you pissed off?"

Starsky became interested in the interior of the refrigerator.  "I'm not pissed off."

Hutch didn't want to play this game.  He turned to wipe the table.  "I think you and Nick both are sort of perplexed about how Lannie and I feel about our mother."

Starsky shut the refrigerator and turned to lean back against it, his arms crossed.  "You mother is the only remaining parent we have between us.  It does seem that you and Lanette both could be a little more open-minded."

Hutch firmed his jaw, as he rinsed out the wash cloth.  "I recall you saying, last spring, that if we only saw her at weddings and funerals, that would be fine with you."

"Come on, Hutch.  That was before she called, all distressed about where her life is at.  I think she's trying to reach out."

Hutch turned back to the kitchen table, his hand rubbing the cloth aggressively along it.  "What else do you want me to do?" he demanded, looking at Starsky.  "I told her she was welcome to come out and stay with us."

"Well, for starters, maybe instead saying 'We're too busy working, so I think you'll be bored, but maybe we can rent you a car so you can drive yourself around', you could say, 'We're really busy at work, but we'll try to spend as much time as we can with you.  We'd love for you to visit.'"

Hutch straightened and nodded toward the wall phone.  "If you feel that way, then why don't you fucking call her yourself, and say that you'll love for her to come and live with us -- permanently."  Hutch turned back to the sink to rinse the cloth again.

Starsky waved a hand and muttered, "You're impossible to talk to, when you get like this.  I'm going to bed."  He pushed off the refrigerator, and turned toward the foyer, which led to the hallway.

Hutch felt a sense of alarm, knowing that this argument was only going to continue in their bedroom.

Starsky abruptly turned in the foyer, and stabbed his finger at Hutch.  "No, I don't want her to live permanently with us.  But if she decided she wanted to move out here, to be closer to you and Lanette, I wouldn't discourage her."

Hutch had dropped the washcloth, and held up his hands.  "I wouldn't, either!"

"You and Lanette," Starsky huffed, "both act like she's this big problem that neither of you want to deal with."  His voice lowered slightly.  "You thought you could never have a decent relationship with your dad, but you did.  Hell, for that matter, Lanette has hurt your feelings multiple times the past couple of years, but now you and she get along okay."  He nodded toward the dinner table.  "So, why is it so impossible to think that you and your mom can't ever be on the same page?"

Hutch grabbed a dish towel to dry his hands, barely glancing up.  "Everything is so fucking simple with you."  He turned to face Starsky.  "You and Nick grew up totally different from me and Lannie."

"Yeah, we did," Starsky nodded vigorously.  "But it wasn't exactly a cakewalk, with our father being murdered.  Me being sent away clear across the country.  You know?" He leaned toward Hutch.  "But we still valued family."

Hutch threw the towel aside and shook his finger at Starsky.  "Bullshit!  You and Nick hadn't had any contact at all, for years, until he up and showed up here, when we were still cops.  You've got a hell of a nerve with your selective memory, partner.  You haven't been so goddamned holier-than-thou warm and fuzzy with your own family, you know."  He turned away, feeling a desperate need to flee the intensity of emotion, and found himself in the living room.  He pushed back the sliding glass door, and stepped out into the cold, windy, February air.  He immediately crossed his arms, while staring into the darkened yard.

He stood there a while, realizing he was doing nothing but getting cold, when it occurred to him that he couldn't hear Starsky through the open glass door.

Starsky must have gone to bed.  Which meant he was just going to lie awake, angry.

Hutch went back inside to the kitchen, and reached to a cabinet to grab a bottle of whiskey.  He stubbornly resisted the thought that he should get a jacket before going back outside, but he did turn on the back patio light.  He closed the sliding glass door behind him.

He sat in a lawn chair, next to a the small, round patio table, and uncapped the bottle.  He took a sip, and let the liquid burn its way down his throat.

He took a few more sips, and then placed the bottle on the table.

Hutch released a heavy breath.  He made a half-hearted attempt to consider Starsky's words, but decided he didn't want to think about anything Starsky had said.  Instead, he wanted to think about Starsky.  About how they could get past this conflict.

After the wine at dinner, and more after dinner, and now the whiskey... he was having a difficult time focusing on any particular thought for very long.

Hutch heard the glass door open.  He grabbed the whiskey bottle again.

A moment later, Starsky appeared on the other side of the table, his robe wrapped tightly around him, and the sofa's throw blanket around his shoulders.  He sat down in the chair opposite Hutch, which also faced the yard.

While Hutch took another sip, Starsky muttered, "It's damn cold out here."

Hutch placed the bottle back on the table, just barely past the center, on Starsky's side.  He found it easy to remain silent, since his brain was muddled.

Starsky picked up the bottle and drank from it.  He belched softly as he placed it back on the table.

After a moment, Starsky quietly asked, "Did you see the look on Nick's face when Lanette said she didn't want to have children?"

That memory didn't require a lot of thought.  "Yeah.  He couldn't have been surprised, though.  Surely, they've talked about it."

Starsky grabbed the bottle again.  "Maybe he thought they were leaving the door open, but she closed it tonight."  He took another sip, and then turned the bottle upside down, as though to show that it was empty.

"If he did think they'd left the door open," Hutch said, "I'd have to think that's how he chose to hear whatever she told him.  She's always been sure that she doesn't want children."

Starsky gazed into the darkness for a long moment.  "You know what crossed my mind tonight?"

Hutch managed to turn his head enough to look at Starsky.  "What?"

"If Lanette and Nick had a child, it would almost be like you and I having a child together.  Same genes."

It was a moment before Hutch was able to made sense of what Starsky had said.  It made his heart ache, for Starsky's sake.  "She's never going to have children.  She's not the type of woman who would ever let herself get accidentally pregnant."

Starsky sat back against his chair.  "It sometimes happens, no matter how careful couples try to be."

"If it did, she'd get an abortion."

"Maybe Nick wouldn't let her."

"He wouldn't have any say in it."

"If we offered to raise it, there wouldn't be any reason for her not to have it."

"Don't do this," Hutch pleaded.  "You start thinking along these lines and getting  your hopes up... it's not fair.  To yourself, or to me.  Especially not to Lannie."  His voice softened.  "She doesn't owe us anything."

Starsky sat silent.

Hutch tried to inject cheer into his voice.  "Besides, ten or so years from now, we'll have a whole bunch of adopted kids, in a manner of speaking.  At our therapeutic riding stable."  Hutch realized that the was having trouble enunciating multi-syllable words.

Starsky continued to gaze into the darkness.   "You're drunk."


"It's cold out here.  Aren't you cold?"

Hutch shrugged.

"Ready to come back inside, and get warm?"

Hutch thought that there was a reason they shouldn't do that yet, but he couldn't remember what that reason was.  He and Starsky hadn't been arguing about Lannie having children, had they?

Starsky seemed to know his thoughts.  He bowed his head, and said, "I'm sorry I raised my voice at you earlier."

Hutch appreciated the apology.  He just couldn't recall what is was for.  Neutrally, he said, "We agreed not to go to bed mad."

"I'm not mad.  Not anymore."

Hutch looked over at him.  "Why not?"

Starsky shrugged.  "I know you and Lanette both have your reasons for feeling the way you do about your mother.  And you're right -- there's really not much more you can say at this point, without even knowing if she's serious about coming out here for a visit."

Oh, right.  His mother. 

Gently, Starsky asked, "Will you come over here and sit on my lap?"

It sounded good.  But Hutch wasn't sure he could stand very easily.  And besides, "That chair can't support both our weight."

Starsky was silent for a long moment.  "Then, will you come to bed, so we can curl up together?"

It was such an appealing thought, but Hutch didn't want there to be any tension.  "Are we done fighting?"

"I said I was sorry."

Starsky's tone didn't sound like that sentence should be the last word.

Hutch tried to figure out if he needed to say something, but it was too much work.  He confessed, "I'm drunk."

A grin lit the side of Starsky's face. "Is that your way of saying that you aren't going to do any apologizing tonight?"

Hutch wasn't sure how to respond.

Starsky pushed himself into a standing position with a grunt.  He moved behind Hutch.

A moment later, Hutch felt arms come around his neck, and Starsky's face was close to his.  Starsky said softly, "As long as you're not mad anymore, that works for me."

"I'm not mad."  It was one thing that Hutch was certain about.

A kiss was planted on his cheek.  "Then let's go to bed, okay?  I'll help you up."

It seemed to be a complicated process but, eventually, Hutch found himself naked and curled up in bed.

"Your hands and feet are cold," Starsky complained, as he moved closer.

Hutch grunted.

Starsky then said, "Will you put your arms around me?  I'd really like that."

Hutch made an attempt, and then realized it would be easier to roll onto his back.  He was then able to circle his arms around Starsky, who snuggled close and rested his head on Hutch's chest.

Starsky muttered, "I'm glad tomorrow's Sunday."  Then, with amusement, "That liquor hit you pretty hard, didn't it?"

Hutch grunted again, his eyes closing.



Starsky spent most of Tuesday evening in their home office.  When Hutch came home from grocery shopping, he found Starsky placing a large stack of computer paper in a box.

"That the book?" Hutch asked, after placing grocery sacks on the counter.

Starsky patted the stack within the box.  "Yep.  I printed out a second copy of the whole thing, pulled all the pages apart, and gave all the chapters numbers and put them in order."  He sighed wearily.

"So, you're dropping them off with that lady tomorrow?"

"Yeah, Stella Livingston.  She said that it might be two or three weeks before she gets back to me.  I'll have to pay her the hundred and fifty bucks up front, to read it.  But her agreement, that we both signed, indicates that she'll give a thorough report about what I need to do to make it publishable -- if I decide to go that route."  He sighed again, while leaning back against the desk.

Hutch mirrored his stance.  "You sound like you aren't sure about this."

Starsky shrugged.  "It's just the idea of a strange person reading all this really personal stuff about us.  Sort of like when I left a copy for your dad to read.  It's a really odd feeling -- like being naked, so other people can stare at you and judge you."

A thought occurred to Hutch.  "I sure hope, whatever she ends of up saying about it, that she doesn't tell other people what it says."

"Her agreement has a confidentiality clause.  You know, I had Tom Placing look it over, and he gave his go-ahead for me to sign it.  He's been an attorney for a few authors.  He said it's a similar situation to us having clients.  We can't go around telling other people about our clients' cases."

That made Hutch feel better.  He draped his arm around Starsky's shoulders.  "Who knows, maybe this is the first step to you becoming a big name author."

Starsky presented a bashful grin.  "I doubt it.  In fact, I'm not sure I'd even want something like that to happen.  I can't exactly see being on Johnny Carson and talking about our relationship, while he cracks jokes about it."

"Yeah."  Hutch hugged Starsky against him.


It was mid morning when Starsky had left the manuscript with Stella Livingston, and then made a couple of other stops, concerning active cases.  As he headed back to the office, he found himself in the same neighborhood as Lanette's shops.  He wondered which one Nick would be helping out at.  He took a guess that it was the leather store, rather than the one for women's accessories.

A short time later he pulled into a parking spot at the curb, in front of store window that said The Leather Loft.

Starsky got out, locked his car, and went inside.

Nick was behind the counter, wearing slacks and a crisp button shirt.  A customer was talking to a young sales lady in a section with purses.

"Hey," Nick greeted with a smile.  Then, with irony, "Long time, no talk."

Starsky snorted.  "I was in the area, so just thought I'd stop in."

Nick waved a hand at the interior.  "I don't think you've seen it, since we got done setting it up."

"No.  It looks great," Starsky said sincerely.  Then, "So, his Lanette at the other store?"

"Yeah.  She likes one of us to be in each store, as much as possible.  But," Nick quickly countered, "that doesn't mean I can't go on break.  Would you like to get a coffee?  There's that place, just a few doors down."

Starsky wondered if Nick wanted to talk to him alone, since they'd just seen each other Saturday night.  "Sure."

Nick came out from behind the counter, and called to the sales woman, "Shauna?  I'm going break."

She nodded, and then turned her attention back to the customer.

As they headed down the sidewalk, Nick said, "Man, this retail business is tough.  It's so hard to make any money."

"Yeah?" Starsky prompted.

"It's so hard to make a profit.  You buy the stuff, and then you have to be careful about how much you mark it up, because somebody a few miles away might have the same item cheaper.  And then because you make so little profit, there's hardly any money to pay the employees.  Most of them don't make much more than minimum wage, so it's hard for them to care much about their jobs.  So, an owner or manager has to be there almost all the time."

"Still," Starsky noted, "it seems like Lanette has had a lot of success at it, to be doing it so long."

"I guess," Nick muttered, "depending on how you define success.  She likes being in charge.  I think that's what she likes most about it.  It's right here," he noted, reaching for the door to a pastry shop.  "They make really good cream cheese danishes here."

They each got coffee and a danish, and then sat down at one of the tables. 

Starsky asked, "So, does that mean you're not happy working there?"

Nick shrugged, while focused on his danish.  "I like helping her out, and talking to the customers.  But, man, I have to work, like, three days here to make what I can make just doing a stakeout for a night for you guys, or something like that."

"Have you talked to her about it?"

"Not yet," Nick admitted with a sigh.  "I'm waiting to approach it the right way. I mean, I've been thinking about what she mentioned once, when we were all in Minnesota.  She was thinking that maybe I should start my own P.I. business, where I just focus on cheating spouses.  Then our firms could help each other out -- complement each other.  I think she would be more agreeable to me doing something else, if it was something I was in charge of, instead of just being a minion.  And the money would be a heck of a lot better."

Starsky could appreciate his brother's situation, but he cautioned, "You've got to think about more than just the money, Nick.  Running your own business has a ton of headaches, beyond doing the actual work for clients.  Plus, there's all sorts of costs for things that a person wouldn't normally think of.  You've got to pay for your gas to do so much driving around, and all the film for your camera, and getting licensed, and advertising in the phone directory, and stuff like that.  Then you've got to take the time to go see clients and talk about their situation, when they might end up deciding not to use your services.  Hutch and I keep hiring more people; and yet, we seem to be working harder and harder."

"Yeah, but aren't you making a lot more money?"

"Not that I can tell," Starsky admitted.  "Seems like it all goes out to pay bills and payroll, as fast as it comes in.  You'd have to talk to Hutch about the actual numbers.  I just know Hutch and I work our tails off, and we come home and still seem to spend most all our free time talking about work."

"I didn't know it was that grim."

"It's not," Starsky relented.  "I mean, it did help a lot that we got the office, so we actually leave work at the end of every day.  Before then, things had gotten so crazy that we hardly had time to communicate with each other, and we didn't like that.  That's why we got the office and hired people.  But it seems the more people we take on to do work, the more work comes our way, and then we start thinking we need even more people."  He shrugged.  "Sometimes, I'm wondering if we're just spinning our wheels.  I don't know, maybe we are making more money, and I just don't see it, because Hutch is trying to put as much away as possible, so we can hopefully retire early and do the therapeutic riding thing that we've been wanting to do."

Nick appeared puzzled.  "Can't you just ask him?  I mean, about how much money you're making?"

"Sure.  I just figure, if there's a problem, he'd mention it.  Otherwise, I don't really want for anything, so I don't ever have reason to bring it up.  We did pay off the house over the summer, so that, at least, had to free up more money to put into savings."

After a pause, Nick said, "Well, I still think all those headaches would be better than spending all day, standing behind a counter, waiting for customers to come in."  He took the last bite of danish, and then brushed the crumbs from the table.  Then he glanced up, "So, did their mother call back?"

Starsky shook his head.  "No.  I don't think Hutch really expects her to."

Nick lowered his voice.  "Doesn't it seem weird the way Lan and Hutch both are so, like, standoffish about their mother?  I mean, she's a decent old lady, living all by herself...."

Starsky wasn't surprised that his brother felt similarly as himself.  "They both have their reasons."

"I know, but past is past.  I mean," Nick looked directly at him, "you and I have been able to get beyond the past."

Starsky smiled.  "Yep, and I'm very glad for that, little brother."

"Just seems like they could lighten up."

Starsky drew a quiet breath.  "We haven't walked in their shoes.  They were both raised to feel somewhat distant from their parents, I think.  So, they've returned in kind, I guess."  Starsky softened his voice.  "I think they've both had a lot of pain, that they were glad to put behind them.  So, when the subject of family comes up, I think it brings back all those painful memories."

Nick appeared puzzled again.  "Just seems like they could learn to get over it.  Lan blows a gasket every time I try to say she should have more contact with her family, or something along that line.  I tried to get her to talk to her father, before he died.  You know, have some frank conversation with him.  She wasn't interested."

"Yeah," Starsky said.  "Hutch tried to talk to their dad, too, to get him to show some interest in Lanette's life.  But I guess he felt he was incapable of knowing how to communicate with a daughter.  Didn't want to try."  Since Nick seemed to want to talk, Starsky ventured, "So, how's living together?  You two still planning on getting married next fall?"

Nick released a heavy breath.  "It's an adjustment, that's for sure."  He waved a hand.  "She's, like, all over my case, if a leave toothpaste in the sink, or get her perfume bottles out of order, or put the glasses in the cabinet right side up, instead of upside down.  And -- get this -- she insists that we make the bed every morning, before we leave the condo."

Starsky couldn't restrain a grin.  "If you really love each other, you'll work those things out.  If you want some advice, I say pick your battles.  Don't bother arguing over things that don't really matter that much.  Just do what makes her happy.  It'll be worth it."

Nick muttered, "Just don't know why she's so insistent that everything has to be 'just so'.  I mean, is the world going to end, because the glasses are right side up, instead of upside down?"

Starsky was still smiling.  "Well, my guess would be that it's the Hutchinson inclination to control their environment."

"You mean, Hutch is like that, too?"

"Not with little detail things, no.  But, you know, he sort of needs to have the last word about everything that matters to him."

"So, you just give in?" Nick asked in disbelief.

"On the surface," Starsky replied, feeling clever.  "See, if I say, 'I want this.' ,the first words out of Hutch's mouth are usually, 'No, you can't have that.'  I'll mutter something about how I really want it, but then I'll give in to his bossiness."  Starsky held up a finger.  "But... because Hutch loves me, and wants me to be happy, then he'll almost always end up getting me what I want.  He can feel like it ended up being his idea, because he's the one who went from saying no to saying yes.  So, by me appearing to give in, I'm really winning the argument, in a manner of speaking, because I end up getting what I want.  But he feels like he won, because he's the one that had all the say-so about it."  Starsky grinned with satisfaction. "Simple."

Nick grimaced.  "Just seems like you shouldn't have to cater to his say-so like that."

"I love him," Starsky said simply, feeling warm inside.  "I want to give him everything he wants and needs.  And it was apparent, early on, when we first knew each other, that he wanted the say-so about most things.  So, I let him have the say-so, because things ultimately came around to being what I wanted, since he also wants to give me whatever I want.  His ego, or whatever, just needs to feel in control by saying no first."  He shifted in his seat.  "So, that's why I say, with Lanette, don't bother fighting over the little things that don't matter.  Put the glasses in the cabinet upside down, even if you don't understand why it matters.  It's not going to hurt you to do that, and it'll make her happy.  If she really loves you, then she'll naturally start being more agreeable to the things that matter to you, especially if she isn't sidetracked with feeling threatened that you're going to argue with her about every little thing that you disagree with."

Nick gazed at him for a long moment.  "Will you be straight with me?"

Starsky shrugged.  "Sure."

"How do you and Hutch feel about Lan and I being together?  Really."

Starsky shifted again.  "Look, you know I wasn't too happy about you two up and moving in together.  I didn't think you were giving each other a chance to really get to know each other first, day to day.  But the reason I cared is because -- yeah, I'd like you two to be together, if you make each other happy.  Hutch feels that way, too.  You know, it's just taken us a while to get used to the idea.  But we're used to it now."

"Yeah."  Nick presented a hesitant smile.  "Good.  I'm glad.  I want this to work."

Starsky watched him fidget.  "But?"

Nick gazed at his coffee cup.  "It's just so hard to know if this is the real thing.  For the long-term, I mean.  If we're always going to want to always be together."  He looked up.  "What if it doesn't work?"

"Everyone deals with those questions," Starsky soothed.  "There aren't any guarantees."

"You and Hutch seem to feel you're guaranteed to stay together."

"Look, Nicky, Hutch and I come from a completely different mold.  We had all our past history and the years we've spent together, getting to know each other, and adapt to the things we don't like about each other.  It's not fair of you to compare your relationship with Lanette -- or any other relationship, for that matter -- to ours.  Hutch and I went through some incredible stuff together, and just ended up loving each other all the more, after every major event that happened in our lives."

"What about kids?  You ever wish you could have kids?"

Starsky was surprised at the change in subject.  "I don't really think about it," he hedged, "because I know it isn't possible.  But like Hutch has said, we'll hopefully have a whole lot of kids, in a manner of speaking, when we start our therapeutic riding center when we're retired."  He quickly asked, "What about you?"

"I don't know," Nick muttered.  "It's sort of hard to imagine myself being a father.  I wouldn't even know how to be one.  Plus, Lan doesn't want kids, anyway."

Starsky probed, "So it's a moot point for you, too?"

"I guess.  I can hardly make her get pregnant, if she doesn't want to."

Starsky decided to say.  "If it does happen, or Lanette ever starts to consider it, know that Hutch and I would be happy to do whatever we could to help raise it.  I mean, considering the genes, it would almost be like our own kid."  He imagined, in the back of his mind, Hutch scolding him for putting the thought out there.  But, he silently defended, it wasn't like he was putting any pressure on Lanette, but just letting Nick know that he wouldn't have to confront fatherhood alone.

Nick's mouth corner twitched.  "Yeah, I guess it would."  His grin widened.  "Weird, huh?"

"Yeah," Starsky said with a smile.

Nick sobered.  "Well, it's kind of hard to imagine her changing her mind, especially since she'll be forty in another year or so."

Starsky couldn't resist saying, "Then, if it were to happen, all the more reason to get started on it as early as possible."


After they parted ways, Starsky got back in the Corvette.  Upon starting the car, he picked up the phone and dialed the office, to see if there were any messages.  "Ken wants to talk to you," Lois told him.

"What's up?" Starsky asked, once he'd been transferred.

"Dobey's secretary called and said that he left her a file on Sam Evans, with police records from other jurisdictions.  Dobey's out most of the day, but do you think you can drop by there and pick it up?"

"Yep.  I'm on my way."


Starsky made it up to Dobey's office, without seeing many faces that he recognized.  He and Hutch had hardly ever had reason to stop by their old stomping grounds, since resigning three years ago.  He picked up the large manila envelope the secretary handed him and, since it was sealed, decided to wait until back in his car, before looking at it.

As soon as Starsky was in the Corvette, he opened the envelope.  He studied the pages for a few minutes, and then picked up the car phone and dialed the office number.

"Starsky and Hutchinson," Lois greeted.

"Hi, Lois.  I need to talk to Hutch."

"All right.  He's on the other line, but I'll tell him you're holding."


Hutch's voice came on in less than a minute.  "Did you stop by the P.D.?"

"Yep.  Sam Evans has quite an arrest history with the Winston Sheriff's office.  He's never served time in prison, but he's got all sort of various drug charges, including being caught with other dealers, though no one has ever been able to prove that he himself was actually buying or selling at those times."

"Does that Paul guy's name show up anywhere?"

"Yeah.  The worst offense -- where Evans served six months in the county jail -- he was arrested with three others, including someone named Paul Derry.  He was the one that was actually charged with trafficking."  Starsky spelled Derry's last name.  "Why don't you get a message back to Dobey that we need to find out what we can on him?  In the meantime, I'll drop by Huggy's and see if he can dig up anything on these names that Derry and Evans have been associated with."

"Sounds like a plan," Hutch said with satisfaction.


A few days later, Hutch stopped by the house, to meet Starsky for lunch, since they had leftover pizza from the night before.  Once again, they were starting to spend their working days apart, to get to all the jobs, and make sure Kenny was being sufficiently trained in how they did things.  Therefore, they valued, all the more, any time they could spend together.

When Hutch entered the house, he found Starsky hanging up the phone, his cheeks a rosy red color.

"What's wrong?" Hutch asked, coming to stand before him.

Starsky barely glanced up.  "Uh, that was the farm."


"Just letting us know that Darla is going to be bred tomorrow."

"That's great," Hutch said happily.

"Yeah," Starsky said, more subdued.

"How come your face is all red?"

Starsky's shoulders cringed.  "Geez, Hutch, he was telling me all this stuff.  It was embarrassing."

Hutch furrowed his brow.  "What do you mean?"

Starsky fidgeted.  "Something about rectal palpoose, or something like that."

Oh.  Hutch forced his voice to be level, to hide his amusement.  "Rectal palpation, dummy.  It's in one of those books you bought on horse breeding."

Starsky muttered, "Yeah, he was saying something about a follicle and optimum time for breeding."

With exaggerated patience, Hutch said, "They rectally palpate the mares, because her rectum is located above all her female parts.  So, the vet inserts his arm into her rectum, so he can feel her ovaries and when she's about to ovulate, so they can breed when it's easiest for the sperm to reach the egg."

Starsky ducked his head.  "For cryin' out loud, can you believe that farm manager was saying stuff like that to me on the phone?  He doesn't even know me!"  He looked away, muttering, "Geez, talking about her private parts like that."

Hutch snickered.  "The things we do to each other, in the name of pleasure, and you can't handle the necessary language on how to make a baby?"

"He didn't have to go into the details!  Sheesh.  He could have just said they were going to breed her, and leave it at that."

Hutch sobered as he had a thought.  "Did he say when tomorrow?"

"No.  Why?"

"Just wondered if we can drive out and watch."

Starsky snorted harshly.  "I'm not going to call him back and ask him that!  He'll think I'm some kind of pervert."

Hutch grimaced to express how childish Starsky was being.

Starsky grabbed the phone.  "Fine!  You call him and ask him if we can watch Darla being humped."  He shoved the address book at Hutch.  "The number's right there."  He pointed to a number scribbled on the front.

Hutch firmly took the phone in hand, as Starsky stepped out of the way to glance in the oven at the warming pizza. 

Hutch felt his stomach knot as he began to dial.  His fingers paused after pushing the fifth digit.

Starsky snickered triumphantly.  "See!  You don't want to ask them, either."

Hutch hung up the phone, his head bowed, wondering how they could find out when Darla was being bred, without asking when she was being bred.  He raised his head and snapped his fingers.  "Lois!"  He grabbed the phone again and dialed the office.

"She might be at lunch," Starsky said, removing the pizza from the oven.

"Starsky and Hutchinson," Lois greeted.

"Hi, Lois.  You're not at lunch?"

"I was just about to walk out the door."

"Great.  Hey, uh," Hutch fidgeted with the phone cord, while forcing his voice to casualness, "when you get back, can you call the farm Darla is at, and ask what time that they do breedings?"

There was a pause, and then, "You mean she's being bred, finally?"

"Yes, tomorrow."

Levelly, she asked, "And you want to watch?"

"Uh.... Well, uh...."

"Sure, I'll give them a call when I get back, and let you know what I find out."

Hutch restrained a sigh of relief.  "Thanks.  Appreciate it.  Have a nice lunch."  He hung up and grinned at Starsky.

"Nice move," Starsky grinned back. 

A few minutes later, they were sitting at the table, each with a couple of pizza slices.

Starsky said, "So, after hiring someone else on, and having all these college kids doing the properties, are we making any more money?"

Hutch furrowed his brow.  "Why are you wondering about that?"

Starsky shrugged.  "Remember when I told you I met with Nick for coffee the other morning?"


"I didn't get around to telling you that he was thinking about what Lanette had said in Minnesota last spring -- about him starting his own P.I. business that focuses on cheating spouses.  I think he's getting really restless, working at the shops.  It's too low-key for his taste."

"Huh.  What does Lannie think about that?"

"He hadn't mentioned it to her yet.  He thinks she would be agreeable to him doing something else, if he could be his own man, instead of an underling."

Hutch drew a quiet breath.  "I hope he realizes that there's a lot of headaches involved in running your own business."

"I tried to emphasize that.  I was telling him how busy we are, and stuff.   And then it dawned on me, that I'm not even sure if being more busy means we're making any more money, considering the increased expenses for taking on more jobs and more help."  Starsky pushed him empty plate aside.  "Are we just spinning our wheels, or are we really making more money, overall?"

Hutch realized that he was glad that Starsky was interested, since he was so accustomed to handling financial decisions on his own.  "It can be really hard to say, month to month.  Seems like there's always some extra big expense one month, or some extra flow of income from a big job, another month."

Starsky said, "But we have to be saving more, since we don't have the mortgage.  Right?"

"Yes, I've made sure we save the same amount as the mortgage payment each month.  Occasionally, I can put a little more away, than we have in the past."  Hutch nodded, just now realizing it.  "I think we're making a little more, over and above the expenses.  The key is keeping stuff streamlined, so we work things as efficiently as possible, so our costs stay down, and we make more profit on each job."

"Hard to believe that we've grown so much, since we started a few years ago."

"Yeah," Hutch said emphatically.  "I'm not sure that I want things to get much bigger.  If they did, we'd probably have to have some kind of office manager to help oversee everything, and then we wouldn't be as hands-on as we're accustomed to, and I don't want to lose that."

"I don't either."  Starsky sat back with his arms crossed.  "So, if Nick does start his own firm, how would you feel about subcontracting work out to him?"

"That would be okay, as long as the clients still went through us.  They'd get the bill from us, and pay us, and then we give Nick his cut.  Really not much different than him working for us directly."

Starsky appeared thoughtful.  "I'm not sure that's what Lanette had in mind, when she mentioned it last spring.  She was talking more about us just outright referring our cheating spouse cases to Nick and him paying us a referral fee or something.  And, you know, he'd refer other types of cases to us." 

Before Hutch could respond, Starsky carefully added, "I remember that it sort of upset you before, since you seemed to think it meant that Nick would be riding on are coattails, while we have all the expense of drawing in clients."

Hutch rubbed at his chin.  "And you thought it would be fine, because it would be keeping the income in the family."

"Plus, I don't really see the difference between us giving him a cut for what are technically our clients, versus the clients being his clients, and he gives us a referral fee kickback.  It's just that, if they're his clients and he gives us a kickback, then he can feel like he's running his own show, and I think that's what he wants."

"You mean what Lannie wants," Hutch corrected in a level tone.

Starsky shrugged.  "I guess I feel it's the same difference, if those two intend to stay together."

"The thing is," Hutch said, rubbing the back of his neck, "the cheating spouse cases are good money-makers.  We have the labor cost, but people expect to pay a premium for having their spouses followed.  As long as we have personnel to tail them, so you and I don't have to, it doesn't make a lot of sense for us to refer them on to Nick or anybody else."

"Maybe there's a compromise.  Maybe we only refer clients to Nick when we're overwhelmed.  So, rather than hiring more people, or subcontracting to other firms, we just refer the client on to Nick.  But if we have plenty of time to take on the job, then we take it.  And Nick will be responsible for finding a lot of his own clients, when he's not getting many from us."

Hutch stood, and grabbed their plates to take them to the sink.  "That could work.  But let's see if he starts to get serious about starting his own firm."  He turned and leaned back against the counter.

Starsky's mouth corner twitched.  "Or if Lanette lets him."

Hutch snorted.  "Right."


Late the following morning, they were driving back toward Bay City in Starsky's Corvette.

For at least the fifth time since leaving the farm, Starsky puffed out his chest, and made deep snorting noises through his nose.

"This is getting old, partner," Hutch said, refusing to be impressed.

Starsky chuckled.  "Well, gee."

"I think you've gotten an inferiority complex."

"You mean, after seeing those huge horse cocks?" Starsky grinned. 

It had been quite an experience, Hutch had to admit, seeing a fully aroused stallion huff and puff and snort, as he approached the mare that awaited him in the breeding barn, which had a large open space, and sloped dirt flooring, to accommodate stallions that were shorter than the mares they were expected to breed.  Lois had informed them that breedings started at ten o'clock each day.  Since that farm stood quite a number of stallions, they had witnessed three breedings -- from the window of a second level office -- before it was Darla's turn.

Hutch was reminded at just how raw and intense a mating could be between mammals.  A mature female office worker, who was thankfully present only briefly, and seemed otherwise indifferent to the activity going on outside the window, had informed them that each mare was "teased" with a lowly, part-bred stallion, to insure she was eager for male attention.  She was then taken to the breeding barn to visit the actual stallion she was scheduled for, and hobbled as a precaution, to insure she wouldn't kick the stallion as he mounted her.

Compared to a couple of other stallions they had watched, that appeared to do the equine equivalent of "fumbling around", despite help from any a half dozen humans assisting, Flying Paster was well experienced, after having been a popular stud horse for a few years.  He'd taken the time to nuzzle Darla's head and neck when first led up to her, making her squeal in delight.  Then he'd mounted her efficiently.  Still, all the masculine grunts and groans, and how his massive size had appeared to dwarf her, was admittedly daunting to one not accustomed to witnessing such.

None of the matings had taken longer than ten minutes, after each mare and stallion was led into the barn from opposite ends, when it was their turn.  It was a four-hour round trip to witness something that hadn't taken much time at all.  Still, Hutch was glad that they'd viewed what was hopefully a fertile copulation.

In answer to Starsky's question, Hutch said, "As long as he had good swimmers, I don't care what size of cock they came from."

After a moment of silence, Starsky slowly ran his hand over his stomach, in a vertical motion.

Hutch released a long-suffering sigh.  "Don't tell me you're going to start pretending you have a uterus, and that there's something growing in there."

Starsky grinned.  "Not hardly.  The important thing is that she's got something growing in hers."

"Yeah." Then Hutch said, "Horses grow out to their sides when they're pregnant.  They don't stick out in front."

Starsky looked over at him.

Hutch said, "I've seen a few pregnant mares at the stable."

Starsky focused on the road a moment, and then said, "Can't wait until we find out."

"The woman said it'll be about three weeks before they know if she's got a fetus inside her."

Starsky drew a slow breath.  "That's going to be a long wait."


The following week, they entered the Pits, and went up to the counter.

"Hey, guys, it's so rare to see you both at my humble establishment."

Hutch asked, "So, how's married life, Hug?"

Huggy smiled broadly.  "Just what the doctor ordered."

"Great," Starsky said.  "So, what have you got for us?"

Huggy leaned closer over the bar.  "Apparently, Paul Derry is one bad dude.  Doesn't seem to keep his help around him for very long.  One of the guys you gave to me, Starsky, Don Martin, has worked with Derry and been busted with him.  Anyway, he has an uncle that runs a hobby shop over on Third and Clayton.  You might be able to locate Martin through his uncle."

Hutch nodded.  "Good enough, thanks a lot."  He and Starsky turned away.

Huggy asked, "You don't want to try the new lunch special?"

Starsky waved a hand behind him.  "Another time."


When they entered the hobby shop, a friendly-looking middle-aged man, with a salt-and-pepper goatee, was behind the counter, talking to a customer, an array of catalogs spread between them.

The man looked up.  "Hi, fellas.  Just give me a few minutes, and I'll be right with you."

Starsky said, "No problem.  We're not in a rush."

Hutch was aware of Starsky having moved away from him, as he strode down an aisle that was filled with various dolls.  Hutch moved to the next aisle, and saw an elaborate display of model airplanes.  He moved on, until he came to model ships.  There, he stopped and paused, taking interest in the freighters, rather than the warships.  He'd gone through a phase, as a young boy, of being interested in the sea.  Those fantasies of being a captain had evaporated with maturity, and been farther squashed when he and Starsky had run into a cynical crew, when solving a crime on an ocean liner six or seven years ago.  Still, he felt a tug of childhood joy, at having spent hours putting together model ships, often with friends.

Hutch wasn't sure how long he'd been gazing at the models, when he reminded himself why they were here.  He glanced up, and saw Starsky at the far end of the store, where the trains were.  Starsky was holding a box, reading it with an engrossed expression.

Hutch slowly moved closer, feeling reluctant to interrupt his partner's own reflections back to a more innocent time.

Starsky looked away from the box, to a train set that was running on a nearby table.  His expression was now bittersweet as he watched it make its circuit around the track.  He put the box back on the shelf, and then reached for a larger box, higher up.  He then began to gaze at it intently, the longing on his face impossible to miss.

One of the things that Hutch had been enamored of about Starsky, from their earliest days, was Starsky's unselfconscious sense of play, the thoroughly joyful, childlike demeanor that often wore.

When they had first been partnered, Starsky had owned a rather elaborate set of trains and tracks, that he'd kept in a second bedroom in his apartment on Ridgeway.  But once he'd moved into a smaller apartment in a better neighborhood, he'd never set the train set back up.  He'd talked about it at times, but never got around to it.  Plus, as Hutch had often pointed out, there really wasn't any space, unless he somehow had it running the full parameter of the main living area.  After they had bought the house, Starsky had taken all the boxes with his trains and tracks to the Goodwill.  He'd seemed cheerful about letting the hobby go, just as he'd been cheerful about selling the Torino, to make room for the new life they were embarking upon.  Hutch had felt similarly about leaving his beloved greenhouse behind, when moving out of his apartment on Ocean.

As they'd happily gone along in their new lives as private detectives, Hutch had decided he'd wanted to get back into plants, though he'd had to be content with placing them in various places around the house, where they couldn't always get the right amount of light that they needed.  In the meantime, they'd enjoyed racing Darla, and while Hutch often teased that she was Starsky's horse -- even his "girlfriend" -- Hutch had greatly enjoyed her, as well.  Similarly, the writing of their life stories, while Starsky's hobby from a practical standpoint, had been one that Hutch also had a great interest in.  And then Starsky had bought Poncho, solely as a recreation for Hutch.

It seemed that, in their relationship, Starsky had never been able to enjoy a pleasure that was for him alone. 

A few days ago, when Hutch had looked out through the sliding glass door, into the yard and always-dry swimming pool, a thought had crossed his mind.  He had dismissed it immediately, as being too fanciful and unnecessary, to say nothing of expensive.  Now, as he watched his partner so thoroughly absorbed while looking at all the model trains available, Hutch found himself wanting to revisit that fanciful thought once again.

"How can I help you, gentlemen?"

Hutch started at the sudden voice, as did Starsky.  They both walked toward the counter, now that the lady had left.

Hutch reached for his wallet while Starsky asked, "Are you the owner of this store?"

The man's smile went away.  "Yes.  Who's asking?"

Hutch placed a card before him.  "We're private investigators.  We're looking for your nephew, Don Martin."  He kept his tone pleasant.  He'd found that, without having police badges as a license to intimidate potential witnesses, a softer approach was usually more effective.

Starsky said, "We're hoping he might know something about a young man that's been missing."

"We'd just like to ask Don some questions," Hutch assured, "so we can hopefully find the man we're looking for."

The man sighed.  "Well, if he does know anything about a missing person, I wouldn't be surprised.  Don has pretty much been estranged from the family.  He's always run with a bad crowd.  Always into dope, stuff like that."

Starsky nodded with encouragement.  "Any idea where we can find him?"

The man grimaced.  "Yeah, he comes in here occasionally, when he's desperate for money.  I probably shouldn't give him any, because it keeps him encouraged, but I want him out of here as quickly as possible.  Anyway, he's at an old apartment building called The Wind Chime.  I think it's on Twelfth Avenue."

"Got it," Hutch said, remembering the apartment name from their cop days.

"Thanks," Starsky said, as they turned away.  Then he paused and said over his shoulder, "Oh, and, you've got a really great shop here."


Starsky knocked on the door of Apt. 27 at The Wind Chime.

"Who is it?" a gruff voice demanded.

Starsky called.  "Somebody looking for information.  We'll pay you."

The door opened as much as the sliding chain would allow.  "You cops?"

Hutch handed the man his card.  "Private investigators."

"What do you want to know?"

Starsky said, "'We're investigating the disappearance of a young man named Trent Faulkner.  You know him?"

The man's pause answered their question.

Hutch pulled a $20 bill from his wallet.  "Anything you can tell us."  He slid the bill through the crack in the door, and Martin readily took it.

"I haven't seen Trent in weeks."

"When was the last time you saw him?" Hutch asked.

"I'm behind on my rent."

Hutch believed him.  He counted out a few hundred dollar bills and held them up to the opening in the door, but moved the money away, as fingers reached for them.  "I've got three hundred here.  When's the last time you saw him?"

"You guys aren't cops?" Martin asked warily.

"No," Starsky emphasized.  "We don't have the power to arrest anybody.  All we want is to get paid for finding out what happened to Trent Faulkner.  So, we're helping you pay your rent.  Help us pay ours."

Martin hesitated  Then, "It's been a few weeks."

"Where did you last see him?" Hutch prompted.

"There's a little area, sort of woodsy, off of Highway 8.  Some of us would meet and plan things.  You know, how to get drugs, so we can sell them."

Starsky asked, "Is one of those people you met with Paul Derry?"

Long pause.  Then a shaky, "I'm not sayin'."

Hutch recognized the fear in Martin's voice.  "So, the last time you saw Faulkner, he was at one of these meetings?"

"Yeah.  He was sort of arguing."

"With Derry?" Starsky wondered.

"I'm not gonna say anything else.  You'd better pay me."

Hutch handed him the $300.  He started to ask something else, but the door slammed shut.

Starsky looked at Hutch with a grim expression.  "He's really scared."


A week later, they sat in Hutch's office, with the speaker phone on.

"Yeah," Dobey said, "Paul Derry appears to be one bad character.  He's served time as a juvenile for cutting off a neighbor's arm with a machete."

Glumly, Hutch said, "Things aren't looking good for our missing person.  We've contacted the sheriff in Winston County, and alerted them about some meeting place off of Highway 8.  Maybe they'll find some evidence of what happened to Faulkner.  They already had an idea that the general area was involved in drug activity, and have pondered putting somebody undercover."  They had already shared everything they knew about the case with the Winston authorities, since Faulkner's parents had, indeed, filed an official missing persons report.

"If I hear anything else on my end, I'll let you know."


"Thanks, Cap'n," Starsky chimed in, before Hutch cut the line.

Hutch looked at him.  "I don't think there's anything more we can do on this case, for the time being, unless Huggy comes up with something on any of the other people."

Starsky sighed.  "Yeah."  He shifted in his chair.  "When is the last time you talked to Lisa Miller?"

"It's been about ten days ago that I last updated her.  I said I had hope of finding out what happened to Trent, but I wasn't sure it was going to be good news.  She didn't ask what I meant, and I didn't have the heart to elaborate.

"Man.  Poor kid."


On a Friday afternoon, Hutch had managed to get off work in mid afternoon.  He briefly pondered going out to ride Poncho -- which he hadn't had time for the past two weeks -- but he would definitely ride over the weekend, so no need to make it out to the stables now.  Plus, there was something much more important that he wanted to do, when Starsky got home, which should be any time. 

He put together a meat loaf, and now placed it in the oven, and set the timer.  He remembered, a month or so ago, when, on a Friday afternoon, Starsky had greeted him with a bubble bath, then a massage, and then some unusual sex play, that had been surprising and erotic.

The memory made Hutch smile, and feel warm inside, though he didn't have any such plans now.  Still, he hoped his partner would be just as receptive to what he did want to share with him.

There was the noise of the garage door opening, and Hutch wondered at the butterflies in his stomach.  He and his love were as intimate as two people could possibly be.  There shouldn't be anything that they couldn't talk about.  Anything that one couldn't, or shouldn't, propose to the other.

Hutch wiped his hands as Starsky came into kitchen.

"You already got dinner on?" Starsky greeted.

"Yep.  Meat loaf.  Just put it in."

"Great."  Starsky pulled off his jacket, and placed it over the back of a chair.

"Hey, uh," Hutch realized his gaze had lowered bashfully, as he reached for Starsky's hand.  "I want to talk to you about something."  He clasped the hand.

"O...kay," Starsky said with trepidation, allowing Hutch to lead him to the sliding glass door that went to the back patio.

They stood looking out the glass, holding hands.  Starsky asked with puzzlement,  "Am I supposed to notice something new?"

"No.  There's nothing new.  Yet."

Starsky looked up at him.  "What do you mean?"

Hutch drew a breath.  "I've been thinking.   We've been here three years, and we've never wanted to get the pool up and running."

"I have, but then you say that it'll be too much work and cost too much to maintain it."

Hutch presented a bashful grin.  Perhaps that was true, but Starsky had never seemed that interested in having a swimming pool.  "Well, I think it's just taking up a lot of space, for no good purpose."

"What else would we use the space for?  We hardly spend any time in the yard, as it is."

"Well," Hutch began, and then pointed, "I've been thinking that, if we remove the pool, and filled in that hole with dirt, then we could build another room onto the back of the house, over there, next to the patio, and it could extend out, maybe twenty feet."

"Huh?"  Starsky turned to look directly at him.  "Why?  What do we need another room for?"

"I miss having the greenhouse," Hutch replied simply.  He indicated the living room.  "I have to be careful about what kind of plants I buy, because we don't get a lot of sunlight in here."

Starsky sighed.  With a hint of amusement, he said, "So, after all the fuss about paying off the mortgage, now you want us to get back into debt, so we can build an addition onto the house?"

Hutch said, "I don't think we should do a home equity loan.  I think we should just take money out of savings, as we need to, for each part of the project."

Starsky clasped Hutch's arm.  "Look, if it means that much to you, it's not like I'm going to stand in your way.  I'm just surprised you'd want to spend that much money, on something like that.  How much would a new addition cost, anyway?"

"I don't know yet.  But, you know, we could just hire people to build the exterior and put down the flooring, and of course get rid of the pool.  But, after that, we could save a lot of money by doing the inside of the room ourselves.  We'd do the drywall and electrical and painting, and put in whatever shelves we need."

"We need?" Starsky repeated.

Hutch shrugged, enjoying that he still had an ace up sleeve, while thoroughly delighted that Starsky had already been this agreeable to a new addition -- just because it was something that Hutch wanted.

Starsky frowned.  "Wait a second.  I don't think I'm up to something like that.  I got a C in shop class.  Besides, why would I want to come home, after a long day, and do carpentry?  Why would you?  Sheesh, we hardly have the energy for lovemaking, as it is."

"The good thing," Hutch began reasonably, "is that we could take as long building it as we need to.  It's not like there's a deadline.  And then, like I said, we can only buy materials as we need them, so it's not like it's a huge chunk of money right up front."

Starsky was thoughtful.  Then he said, "Look.  I'll agree that we build the interior ourselves, as long as our rule is that neither of us feels obligated to work on it, just because the other wants to.  So, if you're hammering away, and I want to sit on the couch and watch TV, you don't badger me about it."

This was too easy.  No matter how tired Starsky was, he was unlikely to sit on the sofa for long, if Hutch was doing something else for a few hours.  "Okay," Hutch said.

Starsky shook his head, while gazing back out at the yard.  "The ideas that get into that blond head of yours."

Hutch took Starsky by the upper arm, to turn him.  He waited until Starsky's eyes met his.  "I haven't told you my full idea yet."

"You haven't?"

"Nope.  See, there won't need to be a lot of plants sitting on the floor.  Just a few, here and there.  Most will be up on shelves, or in planters.  So, there will be a whole lot of floor space."

"Yeah?"  Starsky's tone was thoroughly puzzled.

Hutch reached out and brushed his thumb along Starsky's cheek.  "The other day, in that hobby store, I saw how much you missed your trains."

Starsky shrugged.  "It just brought back memories.  And now they have even more cool stuff to buy."

"Yeah," Hutch said in a light voice.  "So, why not buy some of that cool stuff for yourself?"

Starsky's brow furrowed.  "Huh?"

I love you, Hutch thought, while also feeling tender amusement.  He again brushed the rough cheek with his thumb.  "The new addition wouldn't just be for my hobby.  It would also be for yours.  You could lay track down, around the room, maybe even extend it out," he turned to their right, "to where there's a tunnel or something in the siding, and maybe the train could even come into that side the living room."

Starsky's eyes widened, as he appeared to consider the possibilities.  "Are you serious?"

Hutch nodded.  "Yeah."

Starsky's mouth fell open, his eyes were suddenly moist, and he abruptly turned away.

Hutch was surprised as the sudden emotion.  He reached for Starsky's arm, while Starsky sought the wall with other arm, extending it out, to lean against it.

"Hey," Hutch said softly.  Surely, Starsky wasn't upset.  He tried humor.  "I knew that trains meant a lot to you, but not this much."

Starsky swallowed audibly.  "It's not the train," he muttered in gruff voice.

Hutch waited, while rubbing his hand up the back of Starsky's shirt.  He knew this wasn't about Starsky having a train, but he wasn't sure what it was exactly that was the catalyst for such intense feeling.

"Just...."  Starsky abruptly turned to face Hutch, his expression full of emotion.  He managed a smile.  "Yeah.  Let's do it."

Hutch studied the sincerity in his features.  He nodded.  "Yeah.  Okay."

Though he hadn't shed any tears, Starsky sniffed, and then muttered, "Don't know why this has gotten to me."

Hutch would have appreciated more details concerning this rare display, but he figured they would be revealed with time.  He brushed at Starsky's cheek again.  "Maybe it's your turn to be the weepy one."

Starsky snorted, "Yeah," and then glanced toward the kitchen.  "Is dinner ready yet?"


Starsky came awake in the darkness.

He was lying on his back, in their waterbed.  Hutch slept soundly, his back nudged against Starsky's side.

They hadn't made love tonight.  They'd had a nice dinner -- apparently, a mild celebratory one Hutch had planned, in light of the new addition they would eventually do -- and then they'd watched TV, snuggled against each other.  Then they'd fallen into bed, their mutual contentment decreeing that lovemaking was unnecessary.

Starsky hadn't expected the surge of emotion, when Hutch had revealed that he hadn't wanted the new addition just for himself.  So, now, Starsky wanted to understand where that wave of feeling had come from.

He let it well up, once again, as he silently acknowledged that Hutch had wanted to provide something fun for him.  Yet, Hutch had done lots of things for Starsky over the years.  Gotten him the computer to write his book, agreed to buy Darla, when at first he had firmly disagreed, finally agreed to getting phones put in their cars....

Starsky furrowed his brow.  Hutch did those nice things for him, because Starsky had asked.

This time, Starsky hadn't asked.  Apparently, Hutch had noticed Starsky looking at the trains at the hobby shop, and then decided that he wanted to do something generous for Starsky, however much it might also be of benefit to himself, considering his desire for a greenhouse.

For whatever reason, when it came exterior things, their relationship had always been one where Starsky did all the surprises and spontaneous giving, while Hutch was equally giving, but only when it was asked of him.

Except... their had been one crucial time in their lives, when Hutch had been thoroughly, completely selfless.

Please.  Please.  He's been sick.  He's been sick.  Please don't hurt him.  Please.

A plea that had resulted in Starsky being cured of the Herpes B virus, that had almost killed him once, and could have again.

Starsky let his eyes grow moist.

A few months ago, he'd been standing in line at the grocery store.  People behind him had been leafing through the tabloids, and one man very seriously told his companions that he believed that alien abduction stories had nothing to do with aliens, but instead were situations where the government had abducted innocent people, to conduct various lab experiments.  Then they somehow messed with their brains, or planted strong suggestions, to make them believe that creatures from outer space had abducted them, rather than human beings from the government.

Starsky had wondered if he and Hutch had actually been abducted by the military, and their subconscious minds tricked into believing that they'd had an alien encounter.

Whatever had happened to them, Starsky's system had been rid of the Herpes B virus.  All because Hutch had begged for him not to be hurt, considering that his health was already compromised.  So, instead, supposedly because the aliens (or government representatives) couldn't deal with Hutch's distress, they had cured Starsky, in a way that wasn't known to ordinary mankind.

Hutch's actions, however cloaked in pleas, had been the most selfless act Starsky could ever imagine.  Nothing Starsky could ever do, would ever square that up.

He vividly remembered, when they'd found out that the Herpes B virus was no longer in Starsky's system, that Hutch had had an emotional collapse, brought on by constant worry and fear of losing the one he loved so much.  After all that, his depleted emotions couldn't handle the wonderful news that Starsky was free of the virus.  Starsky had taken Hutch home, given him a loving bath, and then ordered him to sleep.  While Starsky had watched over Hutch, he had vowed that he was going to spend his life -- the life that Hutch had given back to him -- loving and pleasuring Hutch.

That hadn't been any kind of sacrifice on his part, nor any kind of martyrdom.  There was simply nothing that made him happier than knowing that Hutch was happy.

Now, Hutch's very simple intent to provide something that Starsky would enjoy had touched Starsky's emotions in an unexpectedly deep way.  It was the first time, since the abduction, that Hutch had up and wanted to do something for Starsky, without Starsky having needed or asked for it. 

He remembered, a few weeks back, enjoying explaining to Nick how he let Hutch be contrary and say no to most anything Starsky asked for, since Hutch almost always came around to doing what Starsky wanted, anyway.  It was the way they were together.  But this time, for some reason, Hutch had simply wanted to make Starsky happy.

Starsky turned to loosely wrap himself around Hutch.

"Mm?" Hutch muttered.

"Love you," Starsky whispered.

Hutch grunted.  And then went still.


The following Monday morning, Hutch entered their office suite, while still feeling the ache in his muscles from the weekly workout session he and Starsky had had with their personal trainer.

Lois looked up with a worried expression.  "Ken, I saved a message that somebody left over the weekend.   It's about the Faulkner case.  It sounded really serious."

No one else was in the office.  Starsky should be on his way.

"Thanks," Hutch said, while heading eagerly to his office.

Once seated, having closed the door, he dialed the codes to access messages.  He heard a skittish, gruff voice that he immediately recognized as Don Martin's, say, "I'm not saying who I am, and I'll always deny what I'm telling you.  But I thought somebody should know what happened to that kid, Faulkner.  One night, a month or so ago, we were at a meeting, trying to decide if we should band together with another group that was going to truck some narcotics from Mexico.  Derry wanted us to join the group, and once we were safely across the border, we would off the people in the other group.  That didn't sit well with any of us.  We aren't killers.  Faulkner went a little crazy, like it offended him or something.  Was calling Derry a psychopath.  Derry took out a gun and shot him.  Just like that.  They started talking about hiding his car.  I ran while they were talking.  Never been back.  That's all I know."

Even as a mechanical voice said that the message had ended, Hutch sat for a while with the receiver to his ear.

Trent Faulkner was dead.

He finally hung up the phone, and pressed the intercom.  "Lois?"

"Yes, Ken?"

"I'm really sorry you had to hear that."

"Do you think it's true?"

"It jibes with what little else we think we know.  David should be here any time.  Send him in as soon as he gets here."

"Sure thing."


Starsky had made a few stops before coming in, so it was over a half hour later that he sat in Hutch's office, listening to the message on the speaker phone.

"Man," he said. 

"Yeah.  I'll call the sheriff out there and let them know that they need to be looking for a hidden car.  Who knows, maybe Faulkner's body is in it."

"If not, maybe buried nearby.  Damn, I wish Martin would have said where the meeting place is.  If he's not ever going back, he's not going to risk anything further by revealing where it is."

Hutch shook his head and said glumly, "It just doesn't figure.  Trent Faulkner was a capable, responsible young man.  He had a good-paying job.  Had a girlfriend with a good-paying job.  Why the hell would he have gotten mixed up with some creep like Paul Derry?"

Starsky shrugged, equally subdued.  "Maybe he owed some kind of big debt, and he thought getting involved with drugs would give him the cash to settle it."

Hutch thought back through the case file.  "Lisa Miller was convinced that he was pretty much working, whenever he wasn't with her.  What could he have possibly gotten into debt for?"

"Well, we know she was pretty naive about his whereabouts, considering he'd been apparently meeting up with Derry's gang at least a few times in the months before his death."

Hutch released a sigh, his heart heavy.  "I'm going to have to tell her what's happened."   He pressed the intercom button.  "Lois?"

"Yes, Ken?"

"Call Lisa Miller and see if she can come in today.  Tell her I want to update her on the case, but see if you can convince her to bring a parent, or good friend, or somebody with her."

"I'll do that, Ken, but I think that two o'clock is going to be about the only time I can fit her in.  You've got a full day of appointments and meetings."

"If she can't come at two, see if you can move something else around to accommodate her."

"Will do.  I'll let you know."

"Thanks." Hutch cut the line.

Starsky asked, "You want me to be here when you talk to Lisa?"

Hutch released a heavy sigh.  "I'd like for you to be, but I don't think she'd appreciate that, since she really hasn't had any contact with you."  He nodded at a pink telephone message slip that Starsky was holding.  "Who called you this morning?"

"Stella Livingston."

Hutch furrowed his brow, trying to remember who she was.

"She's that consultant I paid to read our book.  Wants to meet with me at two-thirty."

"Oh.  That means she read it then, huh?"

"Think so."

"Are you going to be able to make that?"

"Yeah.  I'm going with Kenny to the Wilkerson firm this morning, to see what they've got for us this week.  Then I'll be in the office, making phone calls.  I can call Stella and tell her it has to be later this week, so you can come, too."

Hutch felt himself soften.  "Ah, buddy, I don't want to keep you waiting to hear what she says.  I don't want to wait, either.  You go ahead."

Starsky drew a breath.  "Okay."  He got up from the chair.  "Have a good day, pal.  Sounds like we're hardly going to see each other today."

"Yeah," Hutch muttered, not enjoying the thought.


When Lisa Miller arrived at two, Lois informed Hutch that she wasn't accompanied by anybody else.

With a sense of dread, Hutch placed a box of tissue paper on the little round conference table in his office, and went to the doorway.   He forced a smile.  "Lisa?"

She also seem to force a smile, and left her chair to approach his office.  "Hi, Ken."

Hutch gently shook her hand.  "Hi.  How are you?"

"Eager to see what you've found out," she replied, as he closed the door behind them. 

Hutch remained silent, while she was seated.  He sat down across from her.

He had learned, from his cop days, that it was best to be straightforward.  He looked at her squarely.  "Lisa, I'm afraid I have the worst possible news.  Nothing has been confirmed, but I'm certain that Trent Faulkner is deceased."

She brought her hand up to her mouth and bowed her head.  "Oh, God, no.  It can't be." She looked back up, her eyes moist.

"We got a message from a witness who claims to have seen him murdered."

"Murdered?" she asked on a high note.  "By who?"

"Again, nothing has been confirmed.  But Trent was apparently shot by a known drug dealer."

"Drug dealer?"

Hutch shifted in his chair.  "Yes.  What our investigation has revealed is that Trent was receiving occasional calls at work from someone named Paul.  I'd mentioned that name to you before, and you didn't know a Paul."

She nodded and reached for a tissue, and then blew her nose.

"'We're certain that it's Paul Derry.  The man Trent was staying with, Sam Evans, has ties to Derry.  He denied knowing what happened to Trent, but we're certain that he at least knew that Trent had been killed, since he was trying to rent out his room within a couple of weeks.  It's doubtful he would have done that, unless he was absolutely certain Trent wasn't coming back.  By investigating Evans, we found out his ties to Paul Derry, which tied to the messages Trent had been receiving from someone named Paul.  By tracing other felons Evans and Derry were associated with, we found a man who has -- anonymously -- claimed to have witnessed Faulkner being shot by Derry.  Apparently, Trent was argumentative when Derry was wanting their next job to include murder."

Lisa blew her nose again, while shaking her head back and forth.  "I can't believe this is happening."

Delicately, Hutch asked, "I assume you had no idea that Trent was in anyway involved with drug dealers?"

She vehemently shook her head.  "He never said anything.  I thought I always knew where he was."

Hutch gave her a few moments.  Then he gently ventured, "What puzzles me, as someone who spent over a decade being a cop, is that people usually don't get involved in illegal activities like dealing drugs, unless they're desperate for money.  I haven't been able to find out anything that suggests Trent was in desperate need of money."

When she didn't respond, he pressed, "Owing someone a lot of money is often a motivation for trying to make a lot of money in a short amount of time."

"He didn't owe anybody.  I'm sure of it."  She sniffed.  "He never wanted to be in debt."

"Then, did he perhaps mention something, like a big purchase, that he needed a lot of money for?"

She blinked, staring past Hutch to the wall.  After a long moment, she whispered, "Oh, no."

Hutch tried to catch her gaze.  "What?"

She looked at him.  "He'd mentioned driving by a house that was for sale.  He wanted to buy it for us, and then we'd get married.  I didn't think he really meant that we'd get a house before getting married."

Stupid kid, Hutch internally scowled, wondering how such a responsible young man could also be so foolish.  He kept his voice level and prompting.  "You mean, he didn't want to have to get a mortgage?  I know you said that he despised all the debt that his parents had."

She suddenly sobbed, "I never even saw the house.  I didn't know that he meant it when he said he wanted to buy it.  Oh, God."

"He may have had other reasons," Hutch felt obligated to suggest.

"He never mentioned wanting to buy anything else."

Hutch gave her another minute.  Then he asked, "Will you let me call someone to come and get you?  I don't like the idea of you driving when you're grieving."

She shook her head.  "I'll be all right.  I knew you weren't going to have good news.  I just couldn't imagine it would be anything like murder."

Hutch sighed.  "Unfortunately, I doubt anyone is going to be prosecuted for it.  The man who witnessed it is too scared to admit in open court that he saw anything, and it's likely that there won't be enough evidence to tie Derry to the murder, even if they find Trent's body."

She sobbed again.  "It's so horrible, thinking of him lying dead somewhere."

"I know," Hutch whispered.  "The police in the area of the meet have been alerted to be looking for Trent's car, because the witness said that they'd intended to hide it in the woods."  Hopefully, he added, "Maybe they'll find it soon, and then they'll know where to look for Trent's body."

"I guess that's it, then," Lisa said abruptly, gathering her purse.   She didn't look at Hutch.  "Now I know what happened to him.  How much do I owe you?"

Hutch presented a gentle smile, amazed at how responsible she seemed.  "Don't worry about that right now.  We'll send you an invoice."  As she stood, he added, "I hope you're going home to be with your family."

She nodded, standing with her shoulders hunched over.

Hutch gently circled his arm around her shoulders.  "I'm so sorry, Lisa."

Suddenly, she turned to press herself against him, sobbing openly.

It was instinctive to put his arms around her, as she cried against his chest.

She clutched at his clothing.

"I'm so sorry," he said again, uncertain of how he could soothe her, and wishing that she'd brought her parents with her.

He wondered if he should continue offering comfort.  She was young and soft and needing him....

Abruptly, he realized where his good intentions were leading. 

As subtly as he could manage, Hutch took her by the shoulders, and then stepped back.  "Let me have Lois get you a glass of water."  He quickly stepped to the door.

Lois was already on the other side of it, holding out a paper cup of water.  "It sounds like she could use this."

"Thanks," Hutch said, hearing the relief in his own voice.

A few minutes and a few tissues later, Lisa was on her way.

"That poor girl," Lois said, once the door was closed behind her.  The telephone rang and she picked it up.  "Starsky and Hutchinson."

Hutch was next to her desk and, through the receiver, he recognized Starsky's voice.  He met Lois's eye, and she nodded at him, and Hutch quickly moved back into his office.

"Hi," he said, after pushing the correct line.

"Hey, has Lisa Miller left?"

"Yeah," Hutch said quietly.  "Just a second ago.  She took it pretty hard.  She didn't bring anybody with her, so she didn't have any support."  This wasn't the time to mention that he'd given what support he could, and maybe it hadn't been a good idea.  "You didn't already meet with Stella, did you?"

"No.  I'm going to be late.  There's construction on Sinclair.  Just wanted to make sure you're okay."

 "Yeah.  Though it's fine with me if I never have to deliver news like that again."

"Yeah.  I guess we're her only link to what happened.  The cops are going to report to Faulkner's parents, and it's unlikely that his parents would pass on any information to Lisa, since they didn't even know she existed."

"Right," Hutch said regretfully.  "I sure hope they find his body soon."

"Yeah."  Abruptly, Starsky said, "Traffic has picked up.  See ya."


Hutch met with another client and, once they'd left, he said down heavily in his office chair.  He was felt the tiredness of the busy, as he often did this late in the afternoon.  Still, as he glanced at the dry erase board where he had listed all the jobs, and who was doing what when, as far as getting those jobs done, he felt a sense of satisfaction that Starsky and Hutchinson, Inc. was doing good work.

He turned to his credenza and reached for the phone directory.  He and Starsky were never going to get a new room added to their house, if he never got around to calling contractors to start gathering estimates.

He was browsing through the listings when his phone was beeped.



"David is on two."

"Thanks, Lois."

Hutch eagerly shoved the phone book aside and picked up the receiver, while pushing line two.  "Hi.  What did she say?"

There was a deeply drawn breath across the line.  "She said a lot of things," Starsky replied glumly.

Hutch's stomach tightened.  "Bad things?"

"Oh", Starsky muttered in a deep nasal tone, "it's hard to say, I guess.  Hey, uh, I've pulled into the Bullrock on Lincoln.  Are you able to join me for happy hour?"

Hutch very much wanted to do that, especially since it was so unusual for Starsky to be down.  "Yeah, my last appointment canceled.  I'll be right there."


It was longer than the twenty minutes it should have been, considering late afternoon traffic.

Finally, Hutch entered the darkened bar, which was sparsely populated, and found Starsky at the end of a row of booths.  Hutch approached him from behind, and then squeezed Starsky's shoulder in greeting, before sitting opposite him.

A waitress walked up.  "What can I get you?"

Hutch wasn't sure what Starsky was drinking.  "A margarita, please."

"Coming right up."  She turned away.

Hutch leaned closer, as he studied Starsky's unhappy expression.  "So, what's the verdict?"

Starsky drew a breath.  "Well, she wrote a big report.  I left it in the car, but she pretty much took the time to go through the main stuff with me."


"I guess, maybe, the main thing she said is that it's three books rolled into one.  She said that there's the story of our lives as cops, and all the criminals we've caught.  She said that would mostly appeal to local citizens and not have much national appeal.  Then there's the story of our relationship, and she said that would mainly appeal to gay rights advocates."

Hutch furrowed his brow, thinking that sounded odd.

"And then there's the story of us being abducted, which she said would only appeal to UFO freaks, and not be very interesting, at that, because there's a lot more UFO abduction stories that are more intriguing than ours."

Hutch realized that he felt offended.

Starsky put his drink aside and straightened.  "She said that the most marketable part is probably the story of our relationship, considering the advancement of gay rights.  But, if the book focuses on that, then we'd have to cut out a lot of the cop stuff, because it would be distracting.  And she said that we'd need to build up the aspects of our lives concerning fighting to be accepted."

Hutch's heart sank.  "But fighting to be accepted isn't our story."

"I know.  But she said we'd need to make it more interesting.  She said that even a non-fiction book needs to be written like fiction, in order to attract readers.  It needs to build toward something.  Like, have a climax, in the literary sense."

The waitress set a margarita before Hutch, and then moved away.

While Hutch took a sip, Starsky continued, "She said if I wanted to make it a book about our cop lives, that I needed to cut way down on the length of the chapters.  She says I spend too much time going into the background detail of some of our cases.  The reader won't care about all the background stuff.  They just need to know the most basic things, to understand the point of each chapter.  And then it needs to build toward something big, like having what happened with Gunther as the last chapter.  You know, all our cases need to tell a story that eventually leads to Gunther."

Hutch studied his love.  "I guess her conclusions aren't all that bad, even if it wasn't what we were hoping for."

"It just sort of sucks to be told that one's life story in totally boring, and needs to have a lot cut out."

Hutch was glad to have a reason to be positive.  "It doesn't sound to me like that's what she was saying.  She was saying that our lives have so much to them, that it would fill three books."

"Maybe," Starsky muttered.  "But she said she wouldn't want to agent the book, unless I re-wrote it to just be about being in a gay relationship.  She felt that's where it had any hope of being marketable.  She did say that, if I was willing to invest money in it, I could have it published with something called a vanity press.  That's where you pay the publisher to print the book.  Some vanity publishers are involved in helping market it, and they get a cut of sales.  There's others that will just charge to print a certain number of copies, and then it's up to the author to do all the marketing.  She said that, if I did a book on the cop aspect, that it's possible I could get a foot in the door with local bookstores."

When Starsky paused to take another sip of his drink, Hutch said, "Well, if you feel you want to go that route, we can look into it."

"It could be really expensive," Starsky muttered.  "I mean, it would only make sense if we were going to print a few thousand copies.  She said a third option was, if I really only cared about family and friends reading it, then I could just have a copy shop make a whole bunch of copies of the manuscript, and then bind them together, like with those spiral bindings.  That would be cheapest and the least professional, and I could include anything in it that I wanted.  But she said, even if I did that, that she strongly recommends that I hire an editor to edit the manuscript." Glumly, Starsky said, "She says I take too long to say things.  My sentences have too many words than is necessary to get my point across.  Plus, if it was edited down, then there would be fewer pages, and then it would be less expensive to print."

Hutch found a smile.  "Imagine that -- you using too many words."

Starsky looked away with a faint smile of his own.

Hutch sipped his drink, and then said, "Really, partner, this doesn't sound all that bad.  I mean, you were paying her to give her professional opinion on what it would take to get the book published, and that's what she's done.  It's not like you were paying her to tell you it was wonderful."

Starsky's smile went away, while his gaze was still averted.

Hutch thought he saw a hint of moisture in the averted eyes.

Starsky drew a breath.  "She said, if I focus on the relationship aspect, then I can't have the abduction part in it, because then no one would take it seriously."  Starsky's eyes were definitely moist, when he looked directly at Hutch.  "And yet, in some ways," his voice choked, "that's the peak point of our relationship.  I mean, what you did to save me...."

Hutch blinked.  He knew that he should know what Starsky was talking about, but he had so thoroughly put that bizarre event in Virginia behind him, that his memory had to work at deciphering Starsky's words. 

According to the session with the hypnotist, Hutch had begged for Starsky not to be hurt.  Hutch's fear that Starsky would somehow be further damaged by what was happening to them, had caused Starsky to be cured of the Herpes B virus... so that Hutch's pain of potential loss would be taken away.

The waitress paused at their table.  "Can I get you anything else?"

Hutch studied Starsky's eyes in the dim light. and decided he didn't want to finish his drink.  "Our ticket."

She looked at her pad, and tore off a sheet.  "Here you go.  Thanks."

Hutch reached for his wallet.  He glanced at the total on the ticket, and then placed some bills on top of it.  "Come on, partner."  He stood and held at his hand toward Starsky, who slowly slid over his seat.

Hutch helped Starsky to his feet, and then put his arm around him.

It was dusk when they emerged to the parking lot.  "I want to go for a drive," Hutch said.  "My car."


Darkness had fallen when Hutch pulled the LeBaron into a parking space at a beach front.  He glanced at Starsky, who had been quiet during the drive.  "This look familiar?"

Starsky seemed to perk up as they both got out of the car.

They clasped hands as they walked down the brief staircase. 

Starsky smiled.  "This is where we went to that time."

"Yep."  Hutch gripped Starsky's arm, to pull him toward a bench, that was set at the back of the beach area.  "Let's sit here, so we don't need to take off our shoes."

Hutch sat down, while prompting Starsky to sit beside him.  Then he reached for Starsky lower legs, and brought them up, to lie across his lap.

Starsky scooted closer, so that he could wrap his arms around Hutch's neck.

"How long ago was that?" Starsky asked.  "Two years ago?"

"Yeah.  Almost exactly, I think.  Remember?  We'd been invited to dinner by your personal trainer, Ronnie, and she and her husband...."

"Oh, yeah," Starsky said, with a slow nod.

They had left early, once it was apparent that the purpose of the dinner was to talk to them about helping rid themselves of their sin of homosexuality.

Hutch bowed his head, so his forehead could rest against Starsky's.  "That's when you got the idea to write your book."

Starsky grinned.  "Yeah."  Then, "That's before we even had Darla, wasn't it?"

Hutch recalled, "Uh-huh.  In fact, it was that very night, after we got home, that there was a message on our machine where Huggy said that some guy was at the Pits, wanting to talk to us.  That was Steve Hanson."

Starsky rested his cheek against Hutch's shoulder.  "So much has happened since then, huh?"


"If we come back here in another couple of years, I wonder what else will have happened."

Hutch reached to run his finger along Starsky's nose.  "Maybe you'll be a famous author."

Starsky snorted.  "Not hardly."  But he was smiling.

"You know, buddy, Stella Livingston is just one person.  Maybe you ought to get some other opinions."


 "Whatever happens with it, I hope you don't let anyone talk you out of your original purpose -- that you wanted to tell the story of our love for each other."

Starsky muttered, "Just don't know how we can keep the abduction thing out of it.  Yet, I know what she means by how that would make a lot of people think that our whole story is a joke."

Hutch admitted, "It is what we've always been afraid of."

"But we've gotten less and less afraid," Starsky mused.  "Your father didn't think it was a joke.  He mentioned that couple he knew, that had had some kind of UFO experience."

"I'm sure we'll figure something out, eventually.  And maybe it will be that you just have some copies made by hand, and it's nothing professionally published.  And it'll just be read by the people that we most care that reads it."

"Hm."  Starsky was silent a long moment.  Then, "If we tried to do it professionally, and the book focused on the gay aspect... well, I think that would really piss me off if, say, a gay advocacy group wanted to use our story as some sort of propaganda tool.  It would be missing the whole point.  That's never been what we're about."


Starsky's voice tightened.  "I just want people to understand how much we love each other."

"Well," Hutch nuzzled at Starsky's cheek, "I know I'm biased, but I don't think there's anything wrong with how you wrote it.  Really, buddy, I think you've written something really beautiful."

"Thanks," Starsky responded awkwardly.

They sat in silence for a long moment, listening to the ocean.

Starsky murmured, "Did you get through all your appointments okay?"

"Yeah.  Got a lot done."  Hutch's voice lowered.  "And then there was Lisa Miller."

"Oh, yeah," Starsky said with regret.

"You know why Trent needed money and got involved in drugs?"

"No.  Why?"

"Apparently, he wanted to buy a house for him and Lisa.  Probably couldn't deal with the idea of a mortgage, since he hated debt.  Lisa said that Trent had mentioned a house he liked that he saw for sale, but she'd had no idea that he actually intended to buy it.  That's the only reason anybody has been able to come with, as to why Trent needed even more money than what he was making."


"Yeah."  Sorrowfully, Hutch asked, "What's wrong with young kids today, that he felt it was so necessary to buy a house at such a young age, and to have the money to purchase it outright?"

"I dunno, Hutch.  That's so sad.  Seemed like such a nice young man."

"Yeah."  Hutch knew that he needed to make a confession, and he was reminded of yet another beach, when Starsky had had a confession of his own.  "Hey, uh, Starsk?"

Starsky perked up.

"When I was with Lisa, and she was getting ready to leave... you know, she'd handled news of Trent's death pretty well, all in all.  I put my arm around her, sort of, and told her how sorry I was.  I felt so bad for her, and she didn't bring anybody with her, like I'd asked her to."  Hutch bowed his head.  "All of a sudden, it's like she broke down and started crying on my shoulder and, you know... she sort of put her arms around me.  And I put mine around her...."

Starsky was silent.

Hutch shrugged.  "I guess maybe I shouldn't have."

Levelly, Starsky asked.  "You got aroused?"

"No," Hutch said quickly.  "But... I knew things were headed that way.  I mean," he marveled, "she felt so soft, and needy, and...." 

Starsky drew a quiet breath.

"Anyway," Hutch said, "I stepped away from her, and that was it.  I was just surprised, you know, at how quickly it got to me, being close to a desirable young woman like that, even though I was just trying to be sympathetic."

Starsky sighed.  "I know, Hutch.  That's how it was for me, with whatshername.  You get that soft, curvy, inviting body against you, after all these years, and the next thing you know, you're all male, and there's a female that wants you.  What man can resist that?"

Hutch wanted to correct, "Lisa didn't want me.  I mean, she wanted my strength, I guess."  He shrugged helplessly.  "She didn't have anybody to hold her."

Puzzled, Starsky asked, "You don't feel guilty, do you?"

"No.  I mean, it was in the office, so nothing was going to happen, regardless.  But... well, yes," Hutch realized, "guilty that I was starting to get a buzz, though I'm sure she wasn't aware of it."  His voice softened.  "I just needed you to know."  He again rested his forehead against Starsky's.

Starsky rubbed his hand against Hutch's chest.  "I'm just so damn glad that you're here to hold me right now."  Then, softer, "I don't know what I'd do without you, Hutch." He shifted his gaze to the ocean for a moment.  "Sometimes people say, 'If I hadn't done this or that, then this or that would have happened instead.'  But I can't even begin to imagine what my life would be, if you'd never been in it."  More firmly, he said, "I never would have known this intensity of love, that's for sure."

Hutch patted Starsky's hip.  "However you end up publishing your book, maybe other people can then share a little bit of that love, too."


Hutch dropped Starsky back off at his car, before returning home.  He was surprised to see Nick's white Ford parked out front.  Nick had a house key, so he'd probably let himself in.

As Hutch pulled into the garage, he assumed that Lannie wasn't with Nick.  After all, why would they both drop by, unannounced?  That wasn't Lannie's style.

Hutch felt trepidation as he entered the house.

Nick was sitting at the kitchen table, eating a sandwich.  "Hi.  I let myself in."

ObviouslyHutch opened the refrigerator while assuring, "That's fine."

"I've tried to call David's Corvette, but there never was any answer."

"He'll be here any minute.  We've been out."  Hutch grabbed sandwich supplies, and placed them on the table.  He was famished, since he and Starsky hadn't eaten at the bar.  "What's up?"

Nick straightened in his chair, but then ducked his head.  "Lan and I sort of had a fight."

Hutch wasn't sure if he was up to deciphering details.  It had been a long day, and already a long evening, though the latter had brought a feeling of great contentment, and he wasn't thrilled about the idea of having that disrupted.  "You're welcome to spend the night.  We keep fresh bedding in the guest bedroom."  Having retrieved plates and silverware, he sat down and began making sandwiches for him and Starsky both.

They heard Starsky arrive home.

A moment later, Starsky entered, carrying a box with a spiral notebook on top, which Hutch assumed was the report from Stella Livingston.

"Hey ya, Nick."  Starsky walked through the foyer to place his burden in the office, and then came into the kitchen.  "What brings you here?"

Hutch pointed to a plate with a sandwich.

Starsky sighed gratefully and sat in the chair before it.  He took a large bite.

"Well," Nick said, "I talked to Lan about starting my own business, instead of working at her shops.  She was totally on board with it.  But then, when I started saying I wanted to strategize with you guys -- you know, about how our firms could work together -- she got all mad and was saying I should 'be my own man' and stuff like that.  She wanted me to make my own decisions, and I felt that since I learned everything I know about detective work from you two, and you had the experience of starting your own business...."  Nick ducked his head and took a sip from his bottle of beer.

Starsky swallowed.  "Well, it sounds like Lanette has always had to make her own way.  So, I guess it's not surprising that she can't relate to the idea of needing help from anyone else."

Nick said, "I like that she know what she wants.  I just don't like her telling me what I'm supposed to want."

Hutch said, "Starsk and I discussed how we might be able to work with you."  He shifted in his chair.  "The problem for us, Nick, is that the jobs you're used to doing -- the cheating spouses and other surveillance -- are big money makers for us.  People expect to pay a lot of surveillance, so we can charge a lot more than it actually costs us.  We start handing all that stuff off to you, then we're losing our biggest profit makers."

Starsky put in, "On the other hand, though, we've already got two full-time detectives working for us, and we're leery of getting any bigger.  So, Hutch and I thought a good compromise would be that we give you jobs when we're too busy to handle them.  But that's going to mean you're going to have to find your own clientele, in the meantime."

Hutch added, "We'd want a percent for a referral fee, though we'd probably let you slide on that, at first, until you get going.  We'd also expect you to refer jobs to us that you don't want to take, and we'd give you a referral fee for those.  If things turn out being pretty even-handed, as far as the give-and-take, then we'd probably do without the referral fees, altogether."

Nick released a breath.  "That seems fair.  I'm just not sure how to get started with everything."

"We can help you with that," Hutch said.  "Lannie can, too, for that matter."

They were silent a moment, and then Starsky asked, "Are you planning on spending the night?"

Nick shrugged.  "Don't know."

"I wouldn't recommend it," Starsky said.  "Why let things fester?"

Nick looked away.  "I hurt her feelings."

"Yeah?" Starsky prompted.

"Yeah," Nick said glumly.  "When she was going into her spiel about me being my own man, I yelled at her that if she was such an expert on everything, then how come she's so unhappy?"

Hutch's heart sank.

Nick said roughly, "The look on her face... I hit a bulls eye with that one.  I couldn't deal with knowing I'd hurt her like that, so I left."

Gently, Starsky said, "Nicky, you have to go back tonight.  You know you've hurt her, so admit it, and tell her how sorry you are."

Nick sat silent, staring at the table.

"Each minute that goes by, with her running what you said over and over in her mind... it's just going to get worse."  Starsky shifted and said more hopefully, "Hutch and I have a rule, that we've tried really hard to stick to.  And that's that we don't go to bed mad.  Believe me, it makes things so much better, when you show each other you care about your relationship, by talking things out, even when you're mad.  That way, your bed is always a place of warmth and security, and knowing that you're loved.  What's worth soiling that?"

Instead of responding to his brother's words, Nick said, "I wish I could make her happy."  He looked up.  "You know?  That's all I really want -- to make her happy.  Sometimes I think I am."  He grimaced.  "But then when she gets so irritated about some things....  I wish she'd go into therapy or something, but I've never had the nerve to suggest it."

Starsky reached over to pat Nick on the knee.  "Look, kiddo, you need to go back to her tonight.  Let her say what she has to say, and then maybe you two can work it out.  If not, then come back here to spend the night."

Since Nick still seemed reluctant, Hutch said, "You're welcome to use the office phone to call her first, if you'd like."

Nick shook his head.  "She won't talk to me on the phone.  Na, it's better if I go over there."  He stood.

"Be contrite," Starsky said.  "If she wants to yell and scream, let her yell and scream until she gets it out of her system.  Then, hopefully she'll be ready to listen."

"She doesn't yell and scream," Nick said, gathering his jacket.  "She just gets a little loud, and then shuts down."  He turned toward the door.  "Wish me luck."

They were relieved that Nick didn't return.

The following week, they had just finished dinner when the phone rang.

Hutch was rinsing dishes, so Starsky got up to reach for the wall phone.  "Hello?"

Starsky listened a moment.  "Yes, this is David Starsky."  A huge grin spread across his face.  "She is?"  He briefly put his hand over the mouthpiece.  "Darla's pregnant."

Hutch felt butterflies stir in his stomach.  "Fantastic," he said happily.

"Uh-huh?" Starsky said into the phone.  "February 5th, give or take.  Okay, we'll mark our calendar.  Thanks so, so much."

Starsky hung up the phone, and opened his arms to Hutch. "We're gonna have a baby!"

Hutch quickly shut off the water, and laughed as he wrapped his arms around Starsky.  "That's great, partner!  That's incredible."

They swung each other back and forth.

When Starsky pulled back, he said, "Her official due date is February 5th, next year.  Ah, man, Hutch, this is going to be so great.  What if she's carrying the," Starsky suddenly appeared calculating, and then continued, "the 1988 Kentucky Derby winner?"

Hutch doubted it, but he played along.  "That would really be something, wouldn't it?"

"Yeah."  Starsky bounced on his feet.  "Oh, man, this is really going to be something."

Hutch went back to the dishes.  "Next winter will be here before we know it."

"Yeah."  Starsky sighed.  "At the age of forty-two, we'll be finally having a baby."


The next morning, Starsky was trying to pull together a surveillance report, in a spreadsheet format, for a witness they were tracking, on behalf of a law company.  The door between their offices were open, and Hutch had been on the phone the entire morning, with various calls.

Now, Starsky heard the phone hang up yet again. 


Starsky glanced over his shoulder and called through the open door, "Yeah?"

"The Winston Sheriff's Department found Trent Faulkner's body.  It was in his car, in a ditch."

Starsky sighed.  "Glad to hear it."  That meant that Hutch would be talking to Lisa Miller again soon, to update her.

There was yet another buzz of Hutch's phone from Lois, but Starsky couldn't make out the words over the intercom.

A moment later, he heard Hutch say, "Hi, Mom."  A pause, then,  "Yes, that's fine if you want to come out next week."




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