(c) December 2014 by Charlotte Frost


A sequel to Rites of Passage


As the broodmare manager, Joe, led the way in the pasture, Hutch was still muttering to himself that he couldn't believe it was December.  It seemed, one moment, he and Starsky had been in Tennessee, enjoying a couple of lazy mornings of fishing, and the next moment, people were talking about Christmas in a few weeks.  What happened to November?  It was as though a flurry of activity, both professional and private, had come and gone before Hutch could blink.

At least Starsky had put his foot down, this Sunday morning, and insisted that they drive to visit Darla, for the first time in months.

Hutch drew a relaxing breath, as he enjoyed the green of the open pasture.  Mares were grazing in various groups, spread around the many acres.

"She's over here." Joe indicated a group of three mares, as he turned in their direction.

There was only one of the three that didn't have any white markings, and that's how Hutch recognized Darla.

Starsky chuckled, "Man, she looks totally different.  So big."

She had indeed lost all her racehorse slenderness.  Her sides were sticking out from her body.  Hutch said, "Yeah, there's definitely a baby in there."

Darla raised her head as Joe walked up to her, with a soft, "Hi there, mama."  He reached for her halter and patted her neck.

Hutch marveled, "It's amazing that none of these mares try to move away from us."

"They don't have any reason to," Joe said.  "It's not like we're trying to bring them up to the barn to be ridden."

Hutch grinned.  "Good point."

Starsky was petting along Darla's belly.  "Man, that baby must be huge."

Joe glanced around.  "The other ones that are foaling early in the year are big, too."

Hutch could see a few that looked at least as large as Darla.

Starsky asked, "So, how do you know they've foaled, if they give birth out here?"

"That pretty much never happens," Joe replied.  "Two to three weeks before her foaling date, the mare is moved to the foaling barn, and stays there until she foals.  That has huge, roomy stalls, and is manned twenty-four hours a day, with professionals who handle all the foaling."  He patted Darla again.  "Don't worry, she and her baby will get the best of care.  We have some forty foals born a year here.  We know what we're doing."

"We're not worried about that," Hutch assured.  They'd always been impressed with the farm's professionalism.

Darla stomped her hind foot, and then shifted her weight.

With one hand on Darla's halter, Joe reached with the other toward her flank, and placed his hand against it.  "Her baby's kicking her.  Feel."

While Hutch stroked Darla's face, Starsky placed his hand where Joe's was.  After a moment, his face lit up.  "Oh, man, Hutch!  You can really feel it!  See for yourself."

Hutch gave Darla another pat, and moved near Starsky, who took his hand by the wrist.  "Feel there."  Starsky placed Hutch's hand against her flank.  When there wasn't any activity, Hutch moved it slightly, and then felt something against her coat, from the inside.  He grinned.  "It definitely feels like there's something alive in there."

Darla pinned her ears back and moved her hind end away.

Joe released her halter.  "She might be thinking we're the ones causing her discomfort."

Darla stepped away, and then put her head down to graze.

They all watched her a moment, and then Joe asked, "Have you decided who you're breeding her to next year?"

They hadn't discussed it, since returning from their trip.

Starsky said, "No, we aren't sure.  We might send her to Kentucky, and then have her shipped back here to have the foal."

Joe nodded.  "Be sure and let us know, when you know.  We can handle the transportation arrangements for you, wherever she needs to go."

Hutch asked, "What would be involved with sending her to Kentucky?"

"There's any number of van lines that specialize in horse transportation.  It's about a two day trip."

Hutch suddenly realized, "The foal would have to go with her, wouldn't it?"

"Yes.  Foals that are born healthy can usually handle a van ride without any problem.  The major van companies have special stalls for mares and foals.  They're good at what they do.  They know they're handling expensive cargo."

Starsky muttered, "I hadn't thought of that.  That her foal would need to go with her."

Hutch reminded, "We don't need to send her to Kentucky to be bred."  Still, he knew it was a pointless statement.  Ever since buying a thick directory with all the Thoroughbred stallions currently at stud, and seeing how lavish many of the farms were, Starsky had his heart set on next breeding Darla to some big name horse in Kentucky.

Starsky said, "We need to call Julie and get her opinion, and go from there."  He asked Joe, "How soon could she be sent to Kentucky, after she has her foal?  She's due February 5th."

"Mares usually come into heat one to two weeks after they foal.  That's called their foal heat.  There's a lot of controversy about whether it makes sense to breed a mare on her foal heat, because conception is more problematic.  But a lot of people want to, because you generally don't want to miss a chance to get a mare pregnant.  Our farm policy is not to breed mares that have had their first baby, on their foal heat.  We want to give their system a chance to recover.  So, if you wait until the next cycle, which will be roughly three weeks later, that would put Darla at mid March, if she foals close to her due date.  So, you'd want to ship her to Kentucky around the first week of March, when her foal is about a month old."

Starsky pressed, "And how soon could she be back here?"

"It all depends on if and when she conceives," Joe replied.  "If she's bred in March, and it takes, the vet would confirm her in foal a month later.  Then she could return.  If it doesn't take, then they'll keep trying with her, all the way through the first half of June.  The breeding season ends June 15th, because then foals bred after that would be born too late in the spring, the following year, and be behind the other foals in their crop.  Any farm that breeds horses as a profession is going to do everything they can to get every mare in foal.  An empty mare at the end of the breeding season is a failure, and that doesn't sit well with anyone.  Though, unfortunately, there's always some of those."

Starsky looked at Hutch.  "Let's call Julie as soon as we get home."


Starsky and Hutch were sitting near the phone in their home office, which they had on speaker.  Starsky had the thick Stallion Register for 1985 open on the desk. 

The teenager Julie was saying with enthusiasm, "If you're going to breed her to a stallion in Kentucky, you have a lot more to choose from."

Hutch cautioned, "We're hoping to keep under the $10,000 range, but the guy we met at Keeneland thought Darla was special enough that some stallion owners with more expensive stallions might give us a discount.  So, we're thinking we might consider some that have a higher published fee, and breed to somebody more top of the line."

Starsky asked, "Have you heard of anyone giving discounts?"

"No," Julie said, sounding bashful.  "I only know what I read, and what the published stud fees are.  I have the Stallion Register just like you do, since it's part of my Blood-Horse subscription."

"Anybody you've taken a particular liking to," Hutch prompted, "that you think would be really good, but not cost too much?"

There was a small laugh.  "If they're top racehorses, they're going to retire with high stud fees.  If they're proven stallions, with good foals racing, then they have high stud fees."

Starsky muttered, "Sounds like you're saying that you get what you pay for."

"Pretty much.  Sometimes top racehorses flop at stud, and sometimes a horse that nobody thought would be good, ends up being good, but then they raise the stud fee."  She paused, as though realizing she was sounding discouraging.  "Probably the best window to breed to a potentially good stallion is his third or fourth year at stud.  A lot of people have forgotten about him as a racehorse, because there's new Grade 1 winners being retired that they're excited about, and his offspring aren't racing much yet, if at all, so nobody knows yet how good they are."

"Okay," Hutch said.  "I guess that narrows it a little bit."

Starsky put in, "We just wondered if there's somebody you think would be particularly good for Darla."

"Well, like I mentioned last time, she's got a pedigree that can cross with the really popular bloodlines, without inbreeding too closely.  So, I would look for stallions with Bold Ruler or Raise a Native bloodlines.  And of course, you can't go wrong with the Northern Dancer line."

Hutch had heard the name, but asked, "What's so special about Northern Dancer?"

"He's the greatest sire of stakes winners in the past twenty years," she replied.  "He's in the Register.  Of course, his fee isn't listed, but I'm sure it's over $100,000.  He's getting old, too.  But he has a lot of sons at stud, including one that stands in Kentucky for $75,000."

"I remember seeing that one," Starsky said.  "And he didn't he have that great of a race record.  Hard to believe they're charging that much."

"I don't understand it, either," she admitted.

Hutch summarized, as he scribbled notes, "We should look for a stallion that was retired a few years ago, so his offspring aren't racing yet, and he's by the Northern Dancer or Bold Ruler or Raise a Native."  He firmly added, "And doesn't cost too much."

Pages were heard turning.  "Yes," Julie replied.  "They have an index of sire lines in the white pages."  Her voice became more cheerful.  "Here's one I like.  Storm Bird."

"Hang on," Starsky said, as he rapidly flipped through the alphabetical blue pages in the book.  "I'm looking for him."

"He's by Northern Dancer," she said, "and he has a great female family.  He first crop starts racing next spring.  But they say the fee is private."

Hutch asked, "So, they'll negotiate?"

"I'm not sure.  I've wondered myself what that means, behind the scenes."

Hutch realized it wasn't fair to ask a teenager about such things.

"Here he is," Starsky said, letting the book fall open to that page, so Hutch could see.  "Storm Bird."  He voice dropped.  "But he only ran a few races."

"Yes, but he was undefeated in all five starts in England when he was the champion two-year-old.  He won their top stakes race for two-year-olds.  Then he ran only once at three, in France, and finished well back.  I don't know if he was injured in that race, or right after it."

"He's at stud in Kentucky?" Hutch asked.

Starsky pointed to the farm information at the bottom of the page.  "Yep, he is.  1985 Fee:  Private."  Then, with puzzlement, "He won a Grade 1, but he only earned $170,000."

"The purses aren't very big in Europe," Julie informed them.  "There's a trend now of sending top European horses to stand stud in America, since they can charge higher fees.  Look at his female family.  His dam is a stakes winner, and he's a full brother to Northernette, who was the champion filly in Canada at two and three.  And there's two half-sisters that were stakes winners."

Hutch said, with increasing interest, "There's a lot of black type in this family.  Lots of stakes winners."

"Yeah, and with a great female family and being by Northern Dancer, plus being a champion two-year-old, he's got all the ingredients to be a great sire."  More subdued, she said, "But I don't have any idea what they would charge for a stud fee."

Hutch said, "We really appreciate your help, Julie.  We'll consider Storm Bird and probably look at some others, based upon the information you've given us.  We're going to call our lawyer and get him involved."

"Your lawyer?" she asked in surprise.

Starsky chuckled at her reaction.  "Yeah.  Because he's good with contracts and knows things about the racing business.  We figure he can negotiate for us.  He wouldn't really so much be acting as our lawyer, I guess, as just more of an agent for a transaction.  He's the one that did the deal that got us Darla."


"We're neophytes at this," Hutch reminded her.  "We don't know near as much as you, let alone what some fancy farm in Kentucky would expect a mare owner to know."

With enthusiasm, Starsky said, "Don't forget that Darla's due date is February 5th.  Maybe you and your mom can come out some time after the foal is born."

"I hope so," she said.  "Maybe on spring break."

"We'll let you go," Starsky said.  "I hope you and your mom have a great Christmas."

"Thanks.  Merry Christmas, David and Ken."

"Merry Christmas," Hutch chimed in.  "We'll talk to you later, and let you know what we've decided."  He cut the line.

Starsky picked up the receiver.  "Let's call Tom Placing, first thing in the morning."


They were able to get an appointment with Tom Placing for the middle of the week.

Late Tuesday morning, Hutch was running various errands.  He was grateful that Nick and Lannie, who had gotten married during a small service last month, was handling getting Lorraine moved to Bay City.  She had found a condominium in a senior complex that was less than ten miles from Nick and Lannie's complex, where she was currently renting a unit in the building next door, so she would have a place to stay during her many visits to Bay City.  The closing was likely to take place in mid January, and Lorraine would ideally be completely moved out of her the Duluth family home by the end of that month.  Hopefully, the house in Duluth would get sold in January, as there were a couple of highly interested buyers, though none had yet put up a contract.

Hutch was relieved that Dexter Riley's name hadn't come up, once the decision had been made to buy the condo in the senior complex.  He hoped that his mother was way more interested in being a grandmother than she was in propagating the relationship she'd had with the old western movie actor. 

Hutch swallowed as he recalled his mother's intense emotion upon hearing that Lannie was pregnant.  She now spoke adoringly of the unborn child, and how eager she was to help raise it.

Hutch wondered why she had never been that enthusiastic about mothering himself and Lannie.  Still, he was glad she was so eager to help Nick and Lannie with the baby.

Hutch made a right and suddenly realized where he was.  Two blocks up was the office building where Dr. Judith Parkson's office was.  She was the aunt of Robert Lewis, who they had found, alive and well, in Tennessee in October.  Hutch had only met Judith once, but he'd like her warmth and eagerness to help.  She had an open and attentive personality, which was surely honed by her profession as a therapist.  Since it was actually Robert's immediate family that had hired Starsky and Hutchinson, Inc., Hutch hadn't had any reason to contact Judith once the case was over.  Now, with the clock showing that it was approaching noon, he wondered what the chances were that she might be available for lunch.  It would be a semi-professional meeting, where he could follow up on the case concerning Robert, and thank her for her help, and let her know that she'd been correct in her assessment of how Robert had felt about his family.


Starsky's Tuesday afternoon errands had come to an end, and he decided to make a stop at a model train specialty store that he'd discovered near Nick and Lanette's place.  The construction on the greenhouse addition to their home was complete, and had passed all inspections.  Hutch hadn't yet gotten around to bringing in many plants, because he'd been too busy.  Starsky was working at laying track when he had time in the evenings, but he kept changing his mind about what he wanted to display, so it was slow going.  He'd hoped to have a full display set up by Christmas, but he wasn't sure he was going to make that self-imposed deadline. 

Upon leaving the train store, with darkness falling, he thought he'd drop by Nick and Lanette's condo.  He called from his car and found out that they both were home, along with Lorraine.  They'd all been out looking at furniture for Lorraine's anticipated new residence, as she was considering selling most of the furniture from the Duluth home, and furnishing her Bay City home with new items.

A few minutes later, Starsky sat in an easy chair with a beer.  "I'm sorry that Hutch and I haven't been able to spend more time with you all.  We're just so busy."

Lorraine waved a hand, from where she sat on the sofa.  "Oh, that's fine.  Nick and Lanette have been quite accommodating."

From the kitchen, Lanette asked, "You sure you don't want to stay for dinner, David?  Maybe call Kenny to come over?"

"Nah.  We've already got dinner cooking.  We bought one of those crockpots.  We're trying it out with a barbecued rib recipe."

"Those crockpots are nice," Lorraine said.  "I have one in Duluth."

There was more conversation about crockpots, while Starsky swallowed more beer, as he wanted to leave soon, so Hutch wouldn't be eating alone.

Lorraine said, "It was fun looking at furniture today, but I want to get in more baby shopping tomorrow, before I fly back to Duluth."

Nick scolded, "Lorraine, you've already bought more baby things than we'll have be able to use before the baby grows out of them."

With a warm smile, she replied, "It's just so much fun shopping for a grandchild.  Especially when I never thought I'd have the chance."

Lanette emerged from the kitchen, her belly more pronounced than when Starsky had last seen her, and muttered, "Yeah, yeah," at her mother.  "Now you will get to be a grandmother, so you don't need to keep harping on it, Mom.  And Nick's right:  we don't need any more baby things, especially clothes.  Why don't you focus on buying stuff for your new place?"

While the conversation continued, Starsky listened silently.  In his own mind, he was remembering something Lanette had said, when he'd first met her, and she'd stayed with him and Hutch.  Kenny got along fine with Mom, but she didn’t dote on him the way a lot of mothers dote on their sons.  As Starsky had become more familiar with the Hutchinson family in recent years, he had come away with the conclusion that Lorraine, as well as Lanette, wasn't a particularly emotional person, and Hutch had paid the price, in various ways, throughout his life.

Now, it was odd to Starsky, to see Lorraine so openly emotional about having a grandchild.

He swallowed the last of his beer, and placed the empty can on the nearest table.  "I've got to get going," he said as he stood.  "Have a nice trip back, Lorraine."

She nodded at him, while Nick grabbed his jacket and said, "I'll walk you out."

They were silent as they went down the staircase to the parking lot.  Then Nick said, "I really wish Lorraine would stop buying so much stuff.  She was pretty good about keeping her distance with the wedding preparations but, man, she's going all out for the kid, and it's getting sort of ridiculous.  It's like the baby is going to be spoiled before he or she even emerges from the womb."

"Yeah," Starsky muttered, as they approached his Corvette.  "Just seems sort of weird, doesn't it?  That she's never been a very emotional person, and now she's all gushy with emotion."  They'd reached the car, and he leaned back against the door.

"Yeah.  Don't think that Lan hasn't noticed."

Starsky smiled.  "For that matter, Lanette seems a lot more mellow than she used to be."

Nick preened, "What can I say, older brother?  Must be the effect I have on her."

"Or simply that she's pregnant," Starsky shot back.  Then he said, "I'm glad Lorraine is so happy about the baby.  It's just hard not to wonder why she couldn't have been that way toward her own children."


Starsky gently tapped Nick's arm with a fist.  "I got to get going.  Hutch made dinner and I don't want him eating it alone."

"Okay, see you later, bro."  Nick turned away.


Rush hour traffic made getting home a longer trip than it normally would have been.  When Starsky entered their house, he found Hutch sitting at the kitchen table, with a partially eaten plate.

"Hey," Starsky greeted, "sorry I'm late.  I was out near Nick and Lannie's, so I stopped by for a beer."  He squeezed Hutch's shoulder in passing, and then moved to the kitchen counter and took the lid off the crockpot.  "Smell great.  How does it taste?"

"Not like a real barbecue, of course," Hutch replied, "but decent.  Really tender."

Starsky grabbed a plate and served himself some ribs.  He opened the oven door and found more food being kept warm.  "Green beans, corn, and rolls.  Great."  As he filled his plate, he noticed that Hutch seemed distant.  Worried, he moved to catch Hutch's eye.  "Are you mad?"  They didn't always expect to eat dinner together.

"No," Hutch said, shaking his head, his tone indicating surprise at the question.

Starsky brought his plate to the table.  "I tried calling you on the way home, but the line was busy."

Hutch muttered, "That must have been when I was talking to a telemarketer, who was trying to convince me to buy fifty dollars worth of coupons for ten dollars."

Starsky snorted while filling a glass with ice and water.  "I'm starving," he said, as he sat down.  "Lanette invited us to have dinner with them, but I wanted to see how these ribs turned out."  He glanced up at Hutch.  "They were furniture shopping with your mom today."  He delved into the ribs which, indeed, were falling off the bone.


"Yeah.  But she's already talking about buying more baby clothes.  She's buying so much stuff for the baby that Nick and Lanette are getting a little irritated by it.  You know, spoiling the child so much -- when it isn't even born yet -- and, plus, they don't have a very large place."

"I guess since Mom couldn't go all-out for the wedding, she's making up for it by going all-out for the baby."

Starsky spent a moment swallowing, and then said, "She'd go all-out for the baby, regardless.  I was starting to get a little irritated, too, listening to her talk about shopping for it."  He gave Hutch a bashful smile.  "It just seems sort of weird how she's all gushy emotional about the baby, but wasn't exactly a warm parent."

Hutch's expression grew startled, as he gazed at Starsky.

"What?" Starsky prompted.

"I can't believe you said that," Hutch said.  He wiped his mouth with a napkin, and pushed his plate away.


Hutch folded his hands, his elbows on the table.  "I just happened to be driving by Judith Parkson's office today.  Robert Lewis's aunt."


"Ï decided to see if she was available for lunch, to thank her for her help with the case.  Turns out, she was." 

Starsky slowed his eating, since he was intrigued by why Hutch had wanted to do that.

Hutch tilted his head bashfully.  "We went to a restaurant down the street.  Talked for a while about Robert, and his feeling about his family."  Hutch snorted, and then shrugged.  "Then things got a little more personal, and I was telling her that my sister was pregnant....."  Hutch gazed into space for a long moment.  Then he looked back at Starsky with soft snort.  "I guess the real reason I wanted to see her was to talk about me.  About how Mom is so excited about her grandchild, but I had never felt that she was excited about me."  Abruptly, Hutch rose and took his plate to the sink.

Starsky sat back, his heart hurting.  "Ah, babe."

Hutch turned around and leaned back against the counter.  He picked at a fingernail.  "Judith said that it really isn't unusual at all.  She hears it a lot -- people complaining that their parents dote on the grandchildren, when they were cold or distance with their own children."  Hutch shrugged and looked up.  "When we parted, I told her to send me a bill.  I don't know if she will.  But I was using our lunch date to get her professional insight, I guess."

Starsky assured, "Baby, it's certainly not your imagination.  I said the same thing to Nick, when he was walking me out to the car, and he indicated that Lanette had said something along those same lines."

Hutch now seemed more relaxed, as he sat back down.  "I really am glad that Mom is so excited about the baby.  I just have to learn to observe that relationship, without making it about me.  Judith said that one way to look at it, is this is an opportunity to really get to know my mother.  To see a side of her that I haven't seen before."

Starsky nodded slowly, while his mind tapped into a memory.  He said, "You like her, don't you?  Judith."

Hutch shrugged elaborately.  "She's a nice lady.  Good at what she does."

Starsky teased, "Judith says, Judith says."


Starsky was amused at Hutch's confusion.  "I'm just remembering another Judith that you once quoted a lot.  You were fond of her, too."

Hutch gazed at Starsky, oblivious.

Starsky said, "Remember Dr. Judith Kaufman?"  Starsky didn't want to elaborate, because he didn't like thinking about when Hutch had been sick with the plague.

Hutch's mouth formed an Oh.

Starsky grinned.  "You're cute when you have a crush."

Hutch looked away and protested, "It's not a crush."

Starsky chuckled.  "And now you're blushing.  Didn't know you could still blush.  That's cute, too."


A few hours later, after they had gotten into bed, Starsky beckoned Hutch to rest against him.  "Is there anything else you want to tell me about your conversation with Judith?"

"No.  I got what I wanted from it."  Then Hutch admitted, "Just sort of embarrassing that I didn't realize that's what I'd really wanted to talk to her about.  I think she realized it, when we got past talking about her nephew, Robert, and into more personal things.  That's why I told her to send me a bill.  I didn't want her thinking I was trying to take advantage of her professional knowledge, under the guise of lunch." 

"Mm," Starsky said, glad that Hutch sounded finished with the subject.  He reminded, "Tomorrow is our appointment with Tom Placing."

"Yeah.  Oh, hey, Lois took a call from your book agent, Milton Bloomberg.  He really, really wants to get together with us and Daniel Wildenstein next month, when Wildenstein is back from a trip abroad.  I forget the date, but I told Lois to make sure both our calendars are clear."

Starsky sighed.  "Yeah, seems like it's taken forever for us all to get together, since Wildenstein travels so much."

Hutch patted Starsky's stomach.  "Looks like there's finally going to be some movement on your book, huh?"

"Yeah.  Can't believe how longs it's taken.  Though a lot of it was my fault, for dragging my feet so much on the re-write."

Hutch hugged him, and with a hint of amusement said, "We don't ever worry about getting bored, do we, partner?  Always so much going on."

"Yep."  Starsky began to snuggle down under the covers, and admitted, "Too much to have the time or energy for sex, it seems."  That activity was becoming, more and more, an occasional thing.

"Yeah," Hutch sighed, as he also settled under the covers, "but I love you anyway, you big dope."


The next afternoon, Tom Placing was shaking his head at the table in a conference room, as he looked at the stallion page for Storm Bird.  "I don't know, guys.  I know the California breeding scene somewhat, and I know a lot less about the breeding industry in Kentucky.  But my gut tells me that you're not going to get to this guy for ten thousand.  I bet he's a lot more expensive than that.  There's a reason they shipped him from Europe to Kentucky to stand stud:  more money."

"But he didn't race that much," Starsky protested, "and nobody knows yet how his foals are going to do."

"He's got a mouth-watering female family, he's by Northern Dancer, and what little bit he did race, he was mighty impressive."

Subdued, Hutch asked, "So, you don't think they'd be willing to negotiate, considering Darla's credentials?"

"It never hurts to ask," Placing relented.  "I'm happy to go to bat for you, but I don't want you to get your hopes up."

Starsky said, "But that's why they say the fee is private, right?  Because they're willing to negotiate."

"Usually," Placing replied.  "But I've also heard the saying that, 'Private means the fee is something higher than you can afford.'"

Starsky was determined not to be discouraged, as Placing went on.  "Other times, it's to cover up the fact that the fee has taken a nosedive on a horse that used to be expensive, and his foals haven't turned out to be very good.  In that case, it's embarrassing to publish a lower fee, so they hide behind the Private designation.  But that wouldn't be the case with a newer stallion like Storm Bird."

Hutch asked, "So, what's the next step?"

Placing took out a pen.  "Let me write down some of the contact information, for these stallions you've listed.  I think I'll first make a call to some friends I know here in racing, and get a recommendation for a bloodstock agent in Kentucky.  Hopefully, I can buddy up with someone who's willing to give me some inside scoop.  And then I'll start trying to put out feelers about what it would take to get a Grade 2 stakes winner like Darla bred next year for an affordable price."  He began to write from the Register.  "With any luck, you'll know by Christmas if you'll be sending Darla to Kentucky in the spring."

Starsky and Hutch looked at each other and shared a hopeful smile.


That evening, Starsky grabbed the remote control to switch away from Monday Night Football, where one team was up by more than thirty points.  "This isn't any fun anymore."

Hutch grunted agreement, where he sat close to Starsky on the sofa.

Starsky switched through channels.

"See what's on one of the movie channels," Hutch said.

Starsky kept flipping until a movie came up.  There was a young Elizabeth Taylor.

"Oh," Hutch said, "National Velvet."

Starsky wasn't sure if he was interested, and tried to recall how close the movie was to the Grand National race being run.

Velvet's mother was talking to her intently.  "Everyone should have a chance at a breathtaking piece of folly, once in his life. I was 20 when they said a woman couldn't swim the Channel.  You're 12.  You think your horse can win the Grand National.  Your dream has come early.  But remember, Velvet, it'll have to last you the rest of your life."  After receiving from her mother the gold coins she'd won from swimming the Channel, Velvet exclaimed, "We'll win for you!"  Her mother said, "Win or lose, it's the same.  It's how you take it that counts."

Hutch said, "That's a nice speech."

"Uh-huh."  Starsky put the remote down.


In his office, Hutch's phone buzzed, and Lois's voice said, "Ken?  It's Nick on two."

Curious about why Nick would ask for him, rather than his brother, Hutch pushed line two.  "Hi, Nick."

"Hey.  I was wondering if you could pick up Lan from her doctor's office at 6421 Raleigh Place, and take her to her leather shop.  Her car is in for a major tune-up, and I've ended up being suck in a traffic jam way on the other side of town.  She'll be waiting out front."

"Sure."  Hutch scribbled down the address.  "I'm on my way."

As he hung up, he heard Starsky in his own office, on the phone.  Hutch quickly grabbed his jacket and rushed by Lois's desk.  "I've got to pick up my sister, since Nick is stuck in traffic.  Should be back in about an hour."


As Hutch drove to the address Nick had given him, he realized that this is the first time in a long time that he'd be alone with his sister.  He was somewhat nervous about the idea, which he knew was silly.  It seemed that all the contact he had with Lannie, the past couple of years or so, had been via Nick.  The last few times he had been alone with Lannie, the conversations hadn't been very pleasant.  She seemed to think that he was naive about relationships, because he believed so strongly in the strength of his and Starsky's union.  But then, that was before she had fallen in love with Nick, and before she had moved out this way.

She was pacing the sidewalk, her belly hidden behind a coat, as he pulled up.

She got in, while Hutch said, "Sorry if you had a long wait.  Nick got stuck in traffic and called me."  He pulled away from the curb.

"Oh," she replied, as though that changed whatever intentions she'd had about being angry.

Hutch was desperate for something to talk about.  "So, what did the doctor say?"

"Everything is going along fine."

"That's good."  They drove in silence for a few moments, and then Hutch realized there was something that he very much wanted to talk about.  It might be a sensitive subject, but felt he could now handle any ill feelings.  "I have to admit, Lannie, I never would have expected you to want a child.  You were always so adamant that you didn't."

She shrugged, while gazing out the windshield.  "I got to thinking about the opportunities I could give to a child."  Then, more firmly, "It wouldn't grow up like you and I did.  Especially, if it's a girl, not like I did."

"Yeah," Hutch agreed neutrally.

"Nick isn't anything like Dad.  He's warm and funny."

Hutch grinned.  "That's for sure.  I admit, I'm amazed at the transformation he's made.  When I first met him, back when David and I were cops, he was pretty immature and flirted with the wrong side of the law.  I'm so glad that he's got himself straightened out."  He added sincerely, while glancing at her, "You two are good for each other."

"Hence getting married."

The practical reply prompted Hutch to prod, "I'd have to think that surely you're headed for a better future than you and Jeffrey had."

She seemed to ponder that for a long moment.  Then she said, "I guess, when I married Jeffrey, I was thinking it was the only way I had a chance at any kind of life.  That I needed a husband for financial stability, and all that crap."  More subdued, she added, "I settled."

Hutch nodded, eager to keep the rare feelings flowing between them.  "That's why I married Vanessa.  I settled for a marriage that I thought was expected of me.  I didn't know how to imagine anything else."  Then he scoffed, "God, we were so unhappy.  I look back now, and I'm appalled that she and I could have thought that marrying each other would be good for us.  We didn't know a damn thing about who each other really was."

She suddenly looked at him, "Wasn't Vanessa murdered?"

This wasn't the turn that Hutch wanted the conversation to take, but he realized that feelings might have gotten too intense for Lannie to handle.  "Yes.  In my own living room, in fact, while I was out jogging.  I was a major suspect.  I almost got arrested for it.  She'd gotten in with some crooks, concerning valuable jewelry.  She was trying to use me, I guess, as a safe cover of some sort, when she was killed."

"I guess you could have ended up is prison."

"David wasn't going to let that happen," Hutch said firmly.

Lannie was silent.

Hutch said, "Hopefully, there will be some progress soon on getting David's book published.  We're supposed to meet with his agent next month.  When you read it, you'll find out all sorts of things that we went through as cops, that bonded us more closely together."

Levelly, she asked, "You really think you two are going to stay together?"

"Of course."  Hutch felt the old frustration that Lannie, like so many, didn't understand them.  "What else could someone possibly offer me, that David doesn't offer?  He's the greatest love I've ever known.  The person that really taught me about love.  That love is about so much more than what goes on in the bedroom.  If he and I had never had sex, I know he's still the person I'd want to be around the most.  To hang out with.  Because it feels so good to me to be with him."  He challenged, "Don't you feel similarly about Nick?"

"Sure.  But I don't know how likely it is that anything can last.  It's hard to trust in the future."  She ran her hand over her belly.  "This is something that I know will always be.  A connection that will always exist."

Hutch was surprised at her honesty.  "If you and Nick really love each other -- and, from what I've seen, you do -- you'll stick with each other through the hard times.  It's worth it to stick it out, Lannie.  David and I have gotten really good at getting over difficulties between us, because we've had over a decade of practice at it.  When I think about the fights Van and I used to have -- we each just wanted to get our way.  Real love isn't about being right, and the other person being wrong.  It's about working out disagreements, so that you both end up happy."

She mused, "I suppose, in a sense, that Nick and I have some history of resilience, of a sort.  We wasted a couple of years, not knowing if we really wanted to start a serious relationship.  But, in the end, we wanted to be with each other."

Hutch nodded.  "If you have a solid foundation to fall back on, that can go a long way in getting you through the tough times."  He realized he was on the block where her leather shop was.  He smiled, even as he felt their time alone together was too short.  "With a baby on the way, hopefully you guys won't have any tough times for a while.  I'm really happy for you, Lannie.  You and Nick and Mom and me.  And," he added with a chuckle that she probably didn't understand, " and David."  He stopped at the curb.

She gathered her purse.  "Thanks for the ride, Kenny."

"Any time," Hutch replied, watching her get out.

He hoped she'd enjoyed their conversation as much as he had.


Tom Placing was hanging up his phone, when his secretary led Starsky and Hutch to the office.  "Good to see you again, fellas.  Have a seat."

They sat in the two chairs before Placing's desk, as the secretary closed the door behind her.  "What have you got for us?" Starsky asked, not bothering to conceal how excited he was.

"I'll jump past all the background stuff I found out, from talking to a bloodstock agent in Lexington.  I got a little bit of insight from him, before I talked to the stallion managers directly."  Placing leaned forward on his desk.  "Some of those stallions on your list were at the same farm, so I called that farm about them.  They have the same policy for all their stallions, if they really like the mare."  He paused.  "The good news is, you can breed for free."

Starsky's heart thundered in excitement.

"The bad news is, you have to agree to breed the mare to the stallion two years in a row -- or however many years it takes to get two healthy foals -- and the farm owner gets to keep the second foal."

Starsky's excitement took a nose dive.  "What?"  He looked at Hutch, who appeared thoughtful.

"That's their way of benefitting from the deal," Placing explained.  "If your mare is that good, and you can't afford the fee, then they want a foal of their own from her."

Starsky quickly shook his head.  "No, we're not doing that."

"I don't know, buddy," Hutch said, "it would mean a free breeding to a really good stallion.  And we wouldn't have to pay a stud fee for at least two years in a row."

"Yeah, but what if they get the foal that turns out to be a superstar, and ours is a dud?"  Firmly, Starsky concluded, "We're not doing that.  I mean, I want to send Darla to Kentucky to be bred, but not have her stay there, because we're obligated to the farm."

Placing nodded.  "In that kind of arrangement, she would be there for two years, minimum.  If she doesn't conceive or had a foal that dies at birth or whatever, she would be there that much longer, to fulfill the contract."

Starsky shook his head back and forth, and crossed his arms.  "We're not doing that."

Hutch sighed, but didn't comment.

Placing said with a smile, "I sort of figured you'd feel that way."  He sat back, while holding a notepad.  "A couple of the others, they were firm that their stallion's books were full for next year.  They don't see any reason to do a discount, because their studs get plenty of mares with owners willing to pay full price."  He flipped to another page.  "That brings us to Storm Bird."

Starsky sat on the edge of his seat.  "Yeah?"

Placing looked up at them.  "I'm afraid my instincts were correct.  Though the manager never stated a set stud fee amount, apparently because it's a mare-by-mare basis, it was pretty obvious from our conversation that it was in the forty to fifty thousand dollar range."

"Oh, my God," Hutch exclaimed.  "That's insane."

Starsky asked forlornly, "'There's no hope of them discounting it for a mare like Darla?"

"Actually, I did get him to discount it, after wearing him down with Darla's credentials.  Still, it's twenty thousand, and that would be without a live foal guarantee.  It's standard in the industry to guarantee a live foal, so you don't have to pay the fee if you don't get a healthy foal from the breeding.  Without a guarantee, the fee would need to be paid upon Darla's arrival at the farm.  If she didn't conceive, or aborts the fetus, or has a stillborn or sickly foal, you're out the twenty grand."

Starsky felt himself deflate.

"I know that's still too much money," Placing said, "but it was quite a concession.  I think what got him to agree to that, was my pointing out that Darla would be shipped back here to have a Cal-bred foal.  He seemed to like the idea of there being a potentially nice Storm Bird offspring in the Cal-bred program, to be some free advertising out this way."

Hutch looked at Starsky.  "Buddy, let's just go back to basics.  Let's just breed Darla to another stallion here.  I mean, this whole Kentucky thing started just because of what that guy said at Keeneland."

Placing asked, "What was that?"

"Just some guy that said he owned claimers in Maryland, and he sort of made a crack about California stallions, like they're inferior."

That brought a smile from Placing.  "Sounds like a bit of east coast arrogance.  That's always existed, and not just in the racing industry.  As far as I'm concerned, the stud's seed doesn't know what part of the country it's in.  It's going to produce good foals or bad foals, regardless.  I think Flying Paster, here in California, has got a great future at stud."

Starsky elaborated, in a mutter, "That man said that California stallions don't make much of an impact nationally, but only locally."  Then, to Hutch, "I just think Darla deserves to be bred to a top quality stallion, with a really good reputation."

Placing said, "I think you were on the right track with Storm Bird.  But after the manager conceding so much, I can't go back to him again and ask that he discount it any more than he has.  That's at least fifty percent less than he's accustomed to mare owners paying.  He was interested in Darla, though.  Obviously.  The bloodstock agent told me that there had been a very deliberate effort, from the very start, to get Storm Bird only the very best mares.  All the pointers are that he's going to be a great one, and if his first crop comes out running next year, his people can make his stud fee all the higher."

That all sounded so optimistic.  Starsky firmed his jaw, speaking toward Hutch.  "With all the money Darla made, we can afford twenty thousand."

Hutch snapped, "Starsky, if we're going to spend that amount of money on a crapshoot, why don't we just withdraw it from our account and go to Vegas and put it in the slot machines?"  He took a breath.  "It's the same type of thing."

"I respectfully disagree with that," Placing said evenly.  "At least, somewhat.  Granted, top of the line mares are bred to top of the line stallions every day, and often get worthless offspring.  It's always a risk.  However, there's a fifty-fifty chance that the foal will be a filly.  In that case, even if she can't run, she'll have some market value, because she'll have a great sire -- if Storm Bird turns out great -- and a very nice dam in Darla.  With mares, a good race record is a bonus.  Breeders mainly want the strong pedigree.  So, I'm saying there's a sound basis for you investing that much money."

Hutch responded, "And if it's a colt that can't run, he's dog food."

Calmly, Placing said, "I'm not trying to push you, but if he can run, he could be a future stallion that's worth millions."

Starsky was glad to have Placing's support, but he worried that Hutch might be feeling ganged up on.

Hutch was shaking his head back and forth.  "We don't have that kind of money to be spending on something like this.  It's just a side hobby for us."

Starsky felt a flurry of responses on the tip of his tongue, which Placing apparently noticed, for the latter said, "Why don't I step out for a few minutes, so you two can talk?"

"Thanks," Starsky said before Hutch could respond.  He waited to hear the door close behind them, and then turned to face Hutch.

Hutch spoke first.  "That's the same amount of money as for a super fancy new car!"

"I don't want a new car.  I want Darla to have a chance at a really nice baby."

"Have you already given up on the foal she's carrying by Flying Paster?"

Starsky felt offended.  "No, of course not.  I just -- " he struggled for the right words.  "I know that twenty grand is crazy.  Okay?  I know that."

Hutch quickly added, "Especially without a live foal guarantee."

"I know, it's crazy.  It's insane.  But, Hutch...."  Starsky sputtered a moment, desperately wanting to explain himself.  Finally, he said, "Hutch, we both work so hard.  You especially, because you take on all the pressure of running everything.  And I know you've been so disciplined about putting money away in savings, so we can retire early and do the therapeutic riding center.  I love that about you, Hutch.  I do.  But sometimes, baby, you've got to give yourself permission to do something crazy.  Just because it's fun.  If we ship Darla to Storm Bird, and she ends up not conceiving, and so we lose the money... it's not the end of the world.  We aren't going to miss it, since you have her money put aside, anyway.  We'll just know we reached for the sky, and couldn't quite touch it, but we'll still land on our feet."

More calmly, Hutch noted, "Starsky, we used part of her money to help pay off the house.  Plus, we need what's left to pay for all these foals she's going to be having.  There's board and training fees, and we don't know if any of them will even be able to cover part of their costs.  Most racehorses don't.  So, all these foals of hers are going to be money sieves for a few years, until they can start racing -- and probably even after they start racing, unless one turns out to be somewhat good.  To take out twenty grand of her money, for a high-risk venture...."

Starsky managed a smile.  "Hutch, you're right.  You make perfect sense.  But remember, it never made sense for us to have Darla in the first place.  I pushed you on it, because I thought it would be fun.  And look how it's turned out.  She's been so special to us, baby."  Starsky thought of a recent memory, of when they'd watched the last half of National Velvet together.  He moved to kneel before Hutch and squeezed his hands.  "Let's let ourselves have this one moment of folly." 

Hutch looked like he was trying to remember where Starsky's reference was coming from. 

Starsky added, "Like Velvet's mother told her, it's not the winning or losing that counts, it's how you take it."

Hutch's expression grew reflective.

Starsky pressed, "Let's spend twenty thousand dollars on something wonderfully crazy.  Just this one time.   For the following year, and the next and the next, we'll do the logical, responsible thing and just breed Darla to whatever local stallion suits our fancy, who won't cost anywhere near as much.  Okay?"  He squeezed Hutch's hands again.

Hutch murmured, while gazing at the floor, "Have I ever been able to say no to you?"

Starsky countered, "Have you ever been sorry for doing what I wanted?"

Hutch snorted, his mouth corner twisting into a smile.

Starsky's heart melted.  "I love you so much, baby.  But I need you to be on board with this.  Completely.  It's going to be pointless for me, if you feel grumpy about it."

Hutch was silent a long moment, and then raised his head and looked at Starsky.  "What do you get when a storm bird flies over deep waters?"

For a moment, Starsky had to remind himself that Deep Waters was Darla's registered name.  Then he grinned as a response came to mind.  "You get a bird that flies really fast and strong, toward home."


On Sunday morning, a few days before Christmas, Hutch sat at the table in his robe, opening various Christmas cards that had arrived in recent days.  With one ear, he listened as Starsky's train negotiated the track at the far end of the living room, before disappearing into one of the holes in the wall -- one on either side of the entrance -- to start its circuit around the recently completed greenhouse.

Hutch got up from the table, and moved to the edge of the living room.

He saw Starsky's back, where he sat cross-legged on the floor, and watched the train emerge from the second hole in the greenhouse.  It came by a small group of townspeople, who waved, as the train triggered the mechanism on the track.  Starsky watched intently as the train next approached an intersection resembling a street, and guard rails came down.

Hutch walked up behind Starsky, and then knelt behind him, while the train disappeared once again, into the greenhouse.  He circled his arms around Starsky's chest.  "I love watching you enjoy yourself."

Starsky looked up at him with a warm smile.  "I love that I have so many things to enjoy."  Then he looked back at the track, and marveled, "Our lives are so full, Hutch.  When I was a young man, and wondered what the future would look like, my most optimistic fantasies were nothing like what we have now."

Hutch squeezed him.  "Same here." 

Starsky's arms enclosed Hutch's.  "And to think that things are going to get even better next year.  With Lanette having her baby, and Darla having her foal, and then being bred to a fancy stallion, and our corporation doing so well, and us having a real sense of family now.  We're so blessed."

Hutch nuzzled Starsky's cheek, preferring to think that the goodness of their lives had an explanation.  "We're blessed because we've always believed in each other.  Always trusted each other.  Always put our relationship first."

"Yeah.  It's like every day is like Christmas."

The train tooted its horn.




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