Charlotte Frost




Hutch put the mars light on the roof as the Torino careened around a corner, tires squealing in the quiet of the night.

"Dammit!" Starsky swore, hunched over the wheel. "He's heading for the park."

Hutch studied the stride of the big lumbering man in the distance. The man, George Monroe, had just committed the third in a string of liquor store robberies. This time the police had been called in time to pursue. "He's getting tired. Let me out." The blond detective's hand was already on the door handle.

Just as the Torino skidded to a partial halt, the suspect ducked into a thicket of trees outlining the park. Hutch jumped out at a run and headed in the same direction. He couldn't see his prey until he had woven his way through the clump of trees, but when he emerged into a clearing, he spotted Monroe's tall form moving along the edge of Webster Lake.

The suspect's shortening stride encouraged Hutch to increase his own speed. The detective considered drawing his weapon, but he would have to slow down to do so. He felt a pang of regret that he no longer exercised as regularly as he used to. Thankfully, Monroe was barely moving faster than a trot and could be heard gasping for breath.

Hutch's own stride increased even more, spurred by the assurance of catching the man. Ten yards…nine… eight....

When he judged himself close enough, Hutch leapt upon Monroe, grabbing him by the shoulders and pulling him down to the lake's muddy edge. They landed together and Hutch, less winded, was on his knees first. He was about to grab the man's arm when a large hand gripped his side and flung him into the shallow water. Amazed at the other's strength, Hutch ignored the sting from the trickle of water that went up his nose. Instead, he reached for his pistol, and then felt Monroe's strength again as hands pushed at his chest, causing him to fall back into the lake. His face went under the surface, and Hutch kicked out with his feet, feeling them hit something solid. He emerged into the air, desperate to capitalize on his advantage. But Monroe still had his footing, and Hutch had a feeling of dread as he was grabbed by his shirt collar and thrown with such force that he landed in a deeper part of the lake.

His wet gun would be useless, and he couldn't see anything in the darkness of the water. Hutch came up, fists ready, but the moment he emerged, his head was pushed back under.

The blond grabbed at the restraining hand with both arms, but the strength of the grip was such that it didn't budge. He tried to kick himself upward, but it only caused Monroe to push harder, holding him beneath the water.

When watching nature programs on television, Hutch had always wondered what went through a zebra's mind when it was attacked by a lion, or a mouse's when it was grabbed by an owl, or an insect's when it was ensnared in a spider's web… and now he knew. Now he had come face to face with the utter sense of helplessness when at the mercy of one stronger.

His air had almost run out, and Hutch made use of what little strength he had left to kick desperately with his feet, but the hand on his head pushed him lower so that his cheek brushed against the soft bed of the lake. Hutch reached again with his hands, and the effort caused him to lose his breath. Filthy-tasting water rushed into his mouth, forcing itself down his tired throat.

He felt bitter anger now, for it wasn't supposed to end like this. As he began to lose consciousness, he wondered where Starsky was...

...and he was distantly aware of being pulled rapidly upward. He was puzzled that he could feel a ferocious stinging as his scalp almost seemed to separate from his skull...

...and there was air again, for his skin felt it, but he couldn't seem to breathe....

Something jabbed at his stomach, and the water rushed out in a painful surge. His body seemed to turn inside out, as all his insides rushed up his throat, spilling from his mouth and nose.

He still couldn't breathe as the purging went on, and he quivered and trembled as he threw up more water, desperate to take in air, certain he was dying.

Finally, amidst more vomiting of fluids, he felt himself inhale, and something liquid-free made its way into his lungs. Frantic for more of the sweet substance, he tried to inhale more deeply… and something went wrong, and the soft tissues of his insides protested once again, causing him to sputter and choke, forcing more water up his throat and nose.

When the spasm ended, he realized he was shaking violently from head to toe. Arms were around him, holding him from behind, a voice chanting to him like a machine gun... "ItsokayItsokay. You'regonnabeallright. You'regonnabefinebabe. Gonnabefine. Justfine. It's okay. It's okay." A hand was massaging up and down his arm.

He could breathe. He was going to live. But even as Hutch realized that fact, his stomach contorted yet again, and he strained against the pain as it forced more water from him.

The hand rested on his back now. "You're gonna be okay, Hutch. It's gonna be okay."

When this latest spasm ended, Hutch felt completely devoid of strength. He would have fallen to the damp ground on his face, except that Starsky now heaved him into a sitting position so that he was resting back against his partner. He felt light-headed but was glad to be sitting up, for it seemed easier for the air to reach his lungs.

"Man," Starsky's voice trembled near his ear, "that was a close one."

Poor Starsk. So gentle and giving and loving. Hutch felt bad that he had shaken the other up.

The park suddenly came alive as sirens approached and there was the chatter of onlookers.

Hutch wanted to ask Starsky what had happened to their suspect; but instead of words, a fit of coughing emerged from his throat, and he felt a hand on his forehead as he leaned to one side to purge himself yet again. The coughing made him realize how much his throat ached.

Uniformed officers were near now. Hutch settled back against Starsky, his gaze on the ground, for he hadn't the strength to look any higher. He thought he heard someone say something about an ambulance, and there being a mention of the suspect's body, and from traces of conversation the blond gathered that Starsky had killed the man.

Blankets appeared beside them.

"Good," he heard Starsky say, and his partner began tearing at his shirt.

Other hands were helping, unsnapping his holster, moving his arms, but Starsky was doing most of the work, for which Hutch was grateful. As it was, he felt uncomfortable with the other cops -- most younger than he -- seeing him like this. The uniforms tended to look up to the plainclothes, and he and Starsky had a reputation of toughness to uphold.

His shirt was pulled free and blankets were bundled around his upper body. Starsky's arm tightened around him, pressing the cloth closer, and Hutch was grateful for the warmth. He was still trembling, though, and wished he could make it stop.

"Can you breathe okay?" Starsky whispered near his ear in a worried tone. "Am I squeezing too tight?"

Hutch wanted to say, "I'm okay," but was afraid his raw throat wouldn't get the words out. So he heard himself make a gruff, "no" sound while trying to nod his meaning.

The arms squeezed a little firmer, criss-crossed over the front of his body, hands rubbing up and down his arms. "Gonna be okay, Blintz. That was a close one, but it's gonna be okay."

The nickname made Hutch smile… at least on the inside. He didn't have the strength to show anything outwardly. The other cops had apparently stepped back to secure the scene, and he was grateful that he and Starsky were being left in relative privacy.

A feeling of security began to seep in, and it allowed him to focus on something else besides his partner and breathing. He realized he was tasting an awful filth in his throat and mouth, and he thought of the lake, which was hardly larger than a pond. Fish inhabited it. Ducks and geese lived on it. And he had swallowed all their refuse....

The nausea was abrupt and overwhelming. Hutch gasped with dread as his tender stomach turned in on itself once again. He catapulted to one side, and felt a steadying hand on his forehead, another holding his chest as fluid once again burst from his mouth. Only this time he didn't taste the filth of the water as much as the acid of bile.

"Easy, Hutch. Easy. Easy."

The contractions had left Hutch desperate for air, and he coughed repeatedly as he tried to replenish the supply to his lungs.

Fingers massaged his shoulders. "Relax. Try to relax."

Hutch tried to do as commanded, and allowed himself to be pressed back against his partner. The coughing finally stopped, and he closed his eyes gratefully.

The hand that was on his forehead moved up into his hair. There, it petted instead of pulled, and Hutch realized then that it had obviously been Starsky who had dragged him from the water after shooting their suspect.

He turned his head to press his cheek against Starsky's chest and was tempted to yield to the exhaustion, but a new siren shattered his peace, as it stopped mere yards from where they sat near the lake's edge.

Even as there was the banging of doors as the paramedics gathered their equipment, Starsky was quickly detailing what had happened.

"What's his name?" the closest paramedic asked, who settled on the ground beside them.

"Hutchinson. Everyone calls him Hutch."

"All right, Hutch, we're just going to check you out. Sounds like you had a bit of a scare."

Hutch managed the barest hint of a nod. Since he knew they would want him to be responsive, he finally made the effort to raise his eyes and watch while three paramedics gathered around him.

"Are you a relative?" one of them asked Starsky.

"His partner," came the firm reply. It was said in a tone that Hutch recognized; the one that declared, "I got rights."

"Do you know if he's on medication of any kind?"

Hutch was grateful that they were directing their questions at Starsky so he didn't have to make the effort to speak.

"No, he's not."

"What about allergies. Does he have any of those?"

"He's allergic to morphine."

Hutch wished he weren't so tired, for it made it difficult to fight off emotion. For he felt a strong wave of feeling now. Allergic to morphine? That was hardly the term. But it was a careful way of making sure they wouldn't give him any.

"Did he lose consciousness at any time? Did he have to be revived?"

"No, but I when I pulled him out he was throwin' up water like crazy and coughin' a lot."

They had all their instruments out. They took his blood pressure, his pulse, told him to take deep breaths as they pressed a stethoscope against his chest, shone a tiny flashlight into each of his eyes. They inserted small tubes into his nostrils, and he relaxed once he realized it was only oxygen and wasn't going to hurt.

"Hutch, how are you feeling?"

Hutch blinked, rousing himself to answer the paramedic's question, for he realized it was directed at him. He wanted to reply, "I'm okay," mainly to reassure his partner, but he knew the paramedics wanted a more detailed answer. "Kinda shaky." Then he realized, "Cold." The blanket felt good around him, but they had lowered it to prod at him, causing Starsky to loosen his hold. And the wet jeans didn't help.

"Do you hurt anywhere?'

His stomach and his throat hurt like hell from throwing up, but he knew they didn't mean that. "No." He was annoyed that his voice trembled.

A hand petted through his hair. "You're gonna be okay, Hutch."

Starsky's voice sounded anxious, and Hutch wished he could reassure him. Surely, it was obvious to everyone that he was going to live.

He heard one of the paramedics mention "saline drip" and he turned his head to press his cheek against his partner. His eyes were closed but he couldn't block out the sounds of plastic bags being pulled apart, and the other noises associated with the preparation of the IV.

"Is he right-handed?"

Starsky tightened his hold. "Yeah."

Hutch told himself to handle it like he did at the dentist. Accept the sting and don't fight it and it won't be so bad.

He didn't fight it, but his closed eyes still watered when his flesh was punctured. And he wished he could block out the noises of it being taped into place.

"You're gonna be fine, Hutch. Just fine." His partner was rubbing warmth into his shoulders.

There was a tickle at the back of his throat. He tried to ignore it because he didn't want to alarm everybody, but finally he yielded and coughed a few times. Thankfully, it wasn't as racking as it had been earlier.

"Let's go ahead and put him on the board," he heard one paramedic tell the others.

"Why do you need to do that?" Starsky asked worriedly. It was a question Hutch was tempted to ask himself.

"It's just a precaution," came the soothing reply. "Until we can be certain of any injuries, he should be moved as little as possible."

His partner was silent, but Hutch could imagine what Starsky was thinking. If it turned out he had any spinal injuries, then Starsky had done the wrong thing by allowing him to sit up. But Hutch was certain he didn't have any injuries, and he knew he'd been able to breathe easier in an upright position.

Finally, his sanctuary ended for Starsky's grip loosened, then disappeared, as a myriad of hands moved him onto a hard wooden board.

"Starsky," a vaguely familiar voice said, "if you want to ride with him, I'll take the Torino in."

"Thanks, Peterson."

Peterson. A uniformed officer they both knew. Good man.

They heaved him and the board onto a stretcher, and then he felt himself lifted into the air as the stretcher was rolled into the ambulance. Hutch closed his eyes as people took their places at his side, because he didn't want to watch them stare at him. He moved his head slightly, for the hardness of the board was hurting the back of his head.

A paramedic reprimanded him. "Don't move your head."

Fingers stroked at his shoulder beneath the blanket as the siren was turned on and they began to move. "You're gonna be okay, Hutch. You're gonna be just fine."


He must have fallen asleep during part of it, because he only vaguely remembered being wheeled down the hall and re-answering questions when he arrived at the emergency room. Then he made a point of pretending he was asleep when they began to cut away his jeans and underwear. He wondered if his underwear was dirty.

His embarrassment was overtaken by gratitude when warm blankets were wrapped about his lower body.

"Mr. Hutchinson?"

The voice was masculine and firm, but also gentle. He opened his eyes and saw himself looking up at an older, kind face with a short, gray beard.

"I'm Dr. Blanton. How are you feeling right now?"

"Tired," he heard himself say in a tone to match.

The doctor nodded. "That's normal in this situation. You used up a lot of adrenaline fighting to stay alive." A pause. "Do you feel any discomfort anywhere?"

He answered without thinking. "My head hurts from the board."

A tiny smile. "We'll take you off it once we're certain you have no spinal injuries, is there any other pain or discomfort?"


Another nod. "It sounds like you were pretty lucky. We're going to take you down for a chest x-ray to make sure you don't have any water in your lungs and that there's no broken bones."

"Then what?" Hutch managed.

"We'll continue to monitor your vitals. Do you have any open sores, or recent cuts or other wounds?"

Puzzled, Hutch barely shook his head. "No."

"Good. I asked because you took in a lot of water from the lake. Unfortunately, lakes in parks tend to be full of bacteria."

Hutch closed his eyes again, swallowing reluctantly. He could still taste the filth.

"An orderly will be here soon to take you down to x-ray. In the meantime," the doctor reached to the tubes up his nose, "we can take this out." Once the oxygen device was put aside, the doctor said, "Go ahead and rest for a while."

Hutch let his eyes wander around the room after the doctor left. A nurse was in the far corner, but she was looking through a supply cabinet and didn't seem concerned about him. No one else was around. He wondered where Starsky was.

After a time, an orderly came and wheeled him to another floor. There, he was left waiting in the hall until another man came and wheeled him into x-ray. Thankfully, that procedure was brief, and he eventually found himself back in the emergency room. Once the orderly left, he was alone.

He dozed briefly until he heard the soft sound of the door opening. He opened his eyes and found his partner, jeans covered with mud, approaching with a large smile.

"Hey, Blintz, how ya doin'?"

Hutch managed a tired smile of his own. "Where have you been?" His throat hurt when he talked and it made his voice gruff.

"Fillin' out the paperwork. I called Dobey, too. He's gonna be by."

Hutch wondered if anything had gone on while he was being wheeled around. "Did the doctor talk to you?"

"Yeah. He's making noises about you stayin' overnight. You know, just to make sure you're okay."

Hutch sighed. "Then talk them out of it. I don't want to stay."

Starsky laid a hand on the blanket over his chest. "Just wanna go home, huh?"


"I don't know, Hutch. Doc knows best. Most of the time, anyway."

Hutch was too tired to argue about it. But fatigue was the very reason he didn't want to stay. If they put him up in a room, there would be constant interruptions, probably more needles, and the impossibility of sleeping soundly in a strange place.


The other was playing with the IV tube, and turned obediently. "Hm?"

"My feet are cold."

Starsky turned to the end of the stretcher. "Even with the blanket?"


Starsky curled his hands around the blanketed toes and rubbed briskly. "Better?"

Hutch felt himself smile. "Mm."

"What about the rest of ya?"

Hutch didn't reply immediately. The rest of his body didn't feel too cold. But... he waited until Starsky was back near his head, then softly admitted, "Still feelin' a little shaky." To prove it, he pulled his hand from beneath the blanket and held it up. It visibly trembled, though he was sure it wasn't as bad as it had been at the lake.

Gently, Starsky said, "That's probably why they wanna keep you overnight, just to make sure you're okay."

"My vitals are all normal," Hutch argued as he put his hand back under the blanket. "I heard them talking."

Starsky started to reply, then suddenly straightened and looked back toward the door. "I think I hear Dobey."

Hutch looked down at himself. "Am I covered up?" After speaking, he realized how silly the question was, but it did make him uncomfortable to have a superior looking at him when he was less than fully dressed. He was grateful that Starsky understood, for the other tucked the blankets more firmly around him.

"You're decent."

Just then the door opened and Dobey entered, wearing a gentle smile. "Well," he said as he approached, "it doesn't look like you're too worse for the wear. The way I heard it, you were pretty lucky."

Hutch managed a nod. "Yeah. He was one strong son of a gun. He seemed so tired from running that I had no idea he would have that kind of strength left to fight."

"It's no wonder. Monroe did professional wrestling on the side."

Hutch didn't have a reply to that. It didn't matter now. The man was dead.

The door swung open again and the doctor entered. "Mr. Hutchinson?"

Dobey and Starsky stepped to one side. "I'll wait in the hall," the black man said.

Hutch tried another smile. "Thanks, Cap'n."

The doctor moved next to the gurney. "The x-rays came back clean. But since you took in so much water, we want to keep you overnight, just to be sure you're all right."

Hutch frowned and cleared his throat in preparation for a protest.

Starsky stepped forward. "Doc, Hutch doesn't rest very well in hospitals. I'll take him home and stay with him tonight, keep an eye on him."

The doctor sighed. "I can't force him to stay, but -- "

"I'll sign whatever papers you want to sign," Hutch put in quickly, speaking more clearly than he had since the near-drowning. He wanted to push his advantage.

"Okay, then," the doctor said. He turned toward Starsky. "If he develops a fever in the next day or so, be sure and bring him back in."

"Gotcha," Starsky replied with enthusiasm. He leaned over Hutch. "I think I got some sweats in the trunk of my car. Be right back." And he was gone.

The doctor began undoing the straps to the spine board. "May as well get you out of this."

When the straps were undone the blanket was lifted, and Hutch was gently pushed to one side as the board was removed from beneath him. He sighed gratefully as he laid his head back against a soft pillow and the doctor re-covered him.

A nurse came in and removed the IV. Hutch started to feel human again. "Okay," the doctor said, "why don't you go ahead and sit up, slowly."

Hutch braced against the gurney and carefully raised himself up. Though he wasn't dizzy, he was amazed at the weakness he felt throughout his body. He didn't dare voice it.

But the doctor seemed to know. "Are you scheduled for work tomorrow?"

Hutch nodded. He was holding the blanket against his upper body, for the air felt chilly against his bare shoulders.

"I'll write you out a slip excusing you from work. It's very important that you spend the remainder of tonight and all day tomorrow resting. Even though you feel fine right now, you've had a lot taken out of you."

Hutch nodded.

Starsky entered just as the doctor moved toward the door.

"I'II have a nurse bring all your paperwork in," the physician said before exiting.

"Here," Starsky held out a sweatshirt. As Hutch took it, his partner said, "Uh, it hasn't been washed since I last played tennis in it." He quickly added, "But that was months ago."

Hutch didn't care just as long as it got him out of there. He pulled the shirt over his head, slipped his arms into it. After doing so, he was amazed at the lethargy that drifted through him. Nevertheless, he pushed himself off the gurney, taking the sweat pants from Starsky's hands.

"Where are your shoes?" Starsky asked, looking around. Then he bent to look in a basket beneath the gurney. "Oh, here they are. They're still wet."

Hutch slowly pulled the sweats up his legs. The warm fleece felt good. "I'll go barefoot. How far is the car?"

"Out front."

A nurse came in with a clipboard. "Mr. Hutchinson, just sign right here," she said, marking an "x" at the bottom of the form. He leaned the clipboard against the gurney as he signed it. She handed him a slip. "And here's your excuse from work. Please call Dr. Blanton if you have any problems."

"Thanks," Hutch said. He was grateful when Starsky took charge of the items.

Then his friend gripped his arm. "Ready?"

Hutch nodded and allowed himself to be led out the door.


They didn't talk on the way to Venice Place. Hutch rested his head against the passenger window, yielding to the weariness. He felt all he wanted to do was sleep so he didn't have to think about anything else.

Starsky gripped his waist as they negotiated the stairs. It was also his partner who unlocked the door, reached in to turn on the light, then stepped back to let Hutch enter first.

The blond went to the kitchen.

"Hungry?" Starsky asked from behind him.

Hutch shook his head. "No," he replied gruffly. "I just want some milk or something to wash the taste out of my throat."

Gently, Starsky said, "Maybe we should heat it up first."

Hutch was still trembling slightly and warm milk sounded good. But he didn't want to wait while it was heated. "Uh-uh." He reached for the carton of milk, poured it into the glass that Starsky held out. The other stood near while Hutch drank it.

The hovering was irritating, but Hutch couldn't feel mad because he understood it. "I'm gonna start a warm bath," Starsky said, turning away.

Great. More water. Like he hadn't had enough to last a lifetime.

But as Hutch finished his milk, he was slightly surprised to realize that he didn't fear the thought of water. In fact, the idea of immersing himself in warm -- and clean -- water was appealing.

While the tub was filling, Starsky appeared from the bathroom with something in his hand. "Does your throat hurt?"

Hutch swallowed. His throat was raw, though the milk had helped wash down the filthy taste. "Yeah."

"Here, I found some lozenges."

Hutch accepted the one Starsky held out and put it in his mouth. He wasn't fond of the medicinal flavor, but he could feel its soothing effect in a matter of moments.

He went into the bathroom, grateful that Starsky didn't follow. A glance at the tub revealed that the deepening water was topped by a layer of bubbles. Hutch wasn't particularly fond of the substance, but Starsky had gotten him the bubble concoction from an expensive specialty store for his birthday. It wasn't so much for Hutch personally as for "any lovelies you might happen to share the tub with." Hutch grimaced. He couldn't quite remember the last time a "lovely" had made her way to his apartment, let alone his bathtub.

He pulled off his sweats, then reached to turn off the water, even though the tub wasn't full. He got in and relaxed in the warm water that came up just to his waist. He didn't intend to stay long. All he wanted to do was wash the filth off, then sleep.

He had left the bathroom door partially open, and as he bathed he listened to the noises of Starsky making something to eat. He imagined it was probably a sandwich from the leftover roast beef.

Finishing by bending over to run water through his hair, Hutch let out the drain and climbed from the tub. He took his robe from the hook on the back of the door and wrapped it around himself. Then he dried his hair with a towel.

He felt much better.

"Ready for bed?" Starsky asked from the kitchen table.

"Yeah," Hutch replied with a sigh. The exhaled breath reminded him how sore his stomach was.

Starsky put a few dishes into the sink, then started turning off lights.

Hutch went to the sleeping area and pulled out a pair of boxer shorts, which he slipped into. After hesitating, he also pulled out an undershirt, wanting its warmth. He took off the robe and drew the cotton fabric over his head.

As he got into bed and curled onto his left side, Hutch sensed that something was being left unsaid. It was odd that his partner hadn't made any attempt to tuck him in or even mutter a goodnight.

After the apartment was dark, he listened to the soft sounds that indicated his visitor was undressing. Moments later Hutch felt the mattress bobble. Then there was the movement of the covers. And then a warm, cotton-covered form slid behind him, pressing near.

It had been a Close Call, which meant Starsky had rights.

Hutch was certain the other's nearness wouldn't disturb him, for he was tired enough to sleep. A hand reached over his shoulder, beneath the blanket, felt along his chest. It brushed against his arm, trailed its way down to his hand. Then it entwined their fingers.

He felt Starsky relax behind him.

Hutch closed his eyes. Within minutes he was asleep....


...and he was coughing and sputtering, desperate for air, drowning in filthy water. His stomach heaved, and he pitched forward, acid and calcium shooting up his throat.

He was clinging to the edge of the mattress. Thick liquid poured from his lips as sweat popped out along his forehead.

An arm tightened around his chest as warmth pressed close against his back. "Easy, Hutch," a soft voice soothed as a hand massaged his shoulder. "Easy does it. Easy. Easy."

The spasm ended, leaving him perched over the edge of the mattress, gasping with exhaustion.

His shoulder was squeezed again. Then, gently, "Was that the milk?"

Hutch scooted back just enough to rest his cheek against the edge of the bed. "Yeah." The smell began to penetrate, and he rolled onto his back, wiping at his mouth with the back of his hand.

The mattress rattled and a moment later the lamp from the other side of the bed came on. Then Starsky was on his feet.

Hutch frowned. Irritably, he said, "Leave it. I'll clean it up in the morning." Lord knows, his partner had done far more than his share of cleaning up after him in their years together. And he certainly didn't have the strength to deal with it now.

"Just take a sec," Starsky assured, disappearing into the kitchen.

Hutch lay on his back, staring at the ceiling. He wondered why it was that people as gentle and caring as Starsky were the ones who got stuck doing the worse sort of things.

When Starsky returned, so did the blond's irritation. But Hutch remained silent as he listened to noises of the floor being cleaned.

"Were you dreaming?"

Hutch turned his head toward his partner. Starsky was looking up at him, holding the rag, expression open with concern.

Hutch sighed, turned back to gaze at the ceiling. "Yeah." He thought a moment, then, "I don't remember anything about it, except it was like reliving it."

Starsky made a noise of regret. "You were sleeping real good there."

"Yeah." And that's what Hutch wanted to do now: return to that blissful slumber.

The cleaning noises returned.

Hutch swallowed and realized the acid was still heavy at the back of his throat. He forced himself to his feet and wobbled out of the bedroom, across the living room, and into the bathroom. There, he rinsed out his mouth, then swallowed a little water. Then he gargled with mouthwash.

When he returned to bed, Starsky had finished. "You gonna be okay?" the other asked, pausing with his hand on the bedside lamp.

Hutch nodded. The room went dark, and as he lay on his back he felt his partner get into bed. His body was still weary, but now his mind felt awake. He sensed that Starsky was also lying on his back, fully awake. The room seemed deathly quiet for a long time.

The blond looked over at his bedmate and whispered, "Starsk?"


"Thanks... for pulling me out."

"Hey," the other returned in the same whisper, though it was a touch more gentle, "don't get the wrong idea. I did it for me, not for you."

Hutch suspected another statement was coming, something along the lines of Starsky not wanting the inconvenience of breaking in a new partner. Yet, the other's tone had been strangely serious.

"Don't know what I would do without you," Starsky explained, his voice softer.

Hutch didn't know why it surprised him, hearing such statements, for the feeling was definitely mutual. His heart expanded, then quickened slightly. Where Starsky was concerned, it had always been so natural to act on his feelings....

He reached over, laid his hand on an arm, pulled on it. "Come 'ere," he whispered.


He knew that Starsky had heard him; the other just wasn't sure what he was expected to do. Hutch tugged more forcefully. "Come over here."

Starsky scooted across the mattress and rolled over onto his side, so that he was leaning over Hutch.

The blond took the other in both hands now, and drew Starsky on top of himself. He wrapped his arms around the smaller, broader form and squeezed tight. "Don't know what I would do without you, either."

Starsky rested his head against Hutch's cotton-clad chest and worked his arms in beneath the blond. He squeezed, too.

Hutch felt weariness in his bones, but he didn't want to let go. He rubbed his hand up and down Starsky's back, needing to express what he felt.

But then his arms gave out, causing him to lose his hold.

"S'okay," came the whispered reassurance. "I got ya."

Indeed, the other did. Hutch relaxed his hands, letting them rest at Starsky's back. But he didn't lose the embrace, because Starsky's arms were still firmly around him, holding him so that he didn't have to strain to let his cheek rest against the other's chest. Starsky was cradling his head, petting him....

Hutch let his whole body relax. There was no one on this earth like Starsky. No other friend he'd ever had in his life who would do this for him, with whom he would be so utterly and completely comfortable as to even share the same bed, without having to make any nervous, defensive wisecracks....

One in a million. Or perhaps the only one in the world.

His head was gently released to the softness of the pillow. The embrace relaxed, then Starsky shifted to one side. But a hand stayed on Hutch's chest.

So hard to give up the touching, once it began. Hutch remembered so vividly, after the worst of the heroin withdrawal was over, how he and Starsky had been all the hungrier for contact with each other. Hutch knew that his own touches had been out of sheer need and fear… needing someone to cling to, for he had been so incredibly weak; and the fear that if he were allowed the opportunity, he might seek out the stuff again. It was months before he was confident the urge was thoroughly banished. Starsky's touches in those situations had seemed an act of protection. Certainly, he'd had a need for the reassurance, too -- that his partner was truly okay. But what Hutch remembered most in the weeks that followed the withdrawal was the touch-touch-touch, protect-protect-protect. Starsky had oozed with love. All for him.

"You wide awake now?"

Hutch turned slightly on his side to face the other. "Yeah," he admitted.

The hand on his chest moved up to his forehead and rested there. But it wasn't purely affectionate, causing Hutch to wonder, "What are you doing?"

"Feelin' for fever. Doc said to watch for it."

"I don't feel feverish."

The hand left. "You don't feel feverish to me, either. That's good." A pause, then, "Still shaky?"

Hutch wasn't sure how to answer. The small tremors had been banished with sleep. But, somewhere within, he felt a slight chill. It was so subtle that he couldn't pinpoint its location. "Just a little cold still."

A hand was in his hair, stroking. "Want to tell me about the dream?"

Hutch closed his eyes, shook his head. Then he shifted, inching a fraction closer to the warm body beside him. "Nothing to tell. I don't remember the details. I just know it was like I was under again."

Starsky's voice was hushed… and a trifle rough. "What were you thinkin'… when you were under?"

The blond tucked a hand beneath his cheek. His other arm reached until it encountered a t-shirt, then rested there. His fingers stroked in very small circles as he whispered, "I was surprised that it was all going to end that way." Then, softer, "I felt angry... but not panicked. I guess, by then, I was past the point of panic." Softer still, "I was wondering where you were… not to save me, but just wondering; I guess since we always seem to be together in everything that's important."

The hand that was in Hutch's hair dropped to rest against his cheek. "You mean, like, we were supposed to go out together?"

Hutch thought about that. "I'm not sure," he replied after a moment. "Maybe. But... but I feel like it wasn't so much dying together, as simply being together… in all things." He made a snort. "Really, Starsk, I want you to live if anything happens to me."

"No promises, babe."

Hutch didn't know what to say to that. Though instinct made him want to scold Starsky for even thinking he might give up on life if his partner were no longer around, Hutch couldn't bring himself to do it, for he knew that Starsky knew that he, too, was incapable of making such a promise.

Silence fell about them. Eventually their hands drifted away from each other. Hutch closed his eyes and tried to recapture the comfort of sleep. At one point he swallowed and was reminded of how raw his throat was. He tried to ignore it.

"Still can't sleep?"

The question made him realize that he had shifted restlessly, though he was still facing his partner. "I will eventually," he said in a casual tone, not wanting Starsky to worry about it.

The curly-haired man moved into a sitting position. "Here, maybe this'll help."

Hutch opened his eyes. "Hm?"

Starsky, sitting back against the headboard, put a pillow in his lap and patted it. "Come on, lay right here."

Hutch could only stare up at him, trying to meet his eyes in the darkness. Certainly, the idea was appealing; yet, something within felt it necessary to hesitate....

"Come on," Starsky beckoned in a firmer yet softer tone. "This way you'll know I'm right here if ya have any more dreams."

Hutch's eyes narrowed, not certain of the logic of Starsky's thinking. Nevertheless, he couldn't deny the request. He shifted, maneuvering across one of his partner's legs beneath the covers, until he was between them. He carefully laid his head against the pillow.

Fingers massaged his shoulders. "'Atta boy."

Hutch closed his eyes. Though the position felt good, he knew that it could be improved. Determined to sleep, he rolled over onto his stomach, stretching out his arms and legs, the latter tangling with his partner's.

His shoulders were released and the hands now stroked slowly up and down his cotton-clad back, fingers massaging.

"Mm," he grunted agreeably.

But he'd never been able to sleep with both arms stretched out. He pulled the right one closer, then wondered what to do with it. He wanted to increase the comfort of his situation by returning the contact, touching his partner. But the only thing his hands were close to was a thigh and its connecting hip.

What the hell, Hutch decided. He knew Starsky wouldn't mind. He placed his right hand on an upper buttock, letting his fingers grip slightly.

The feeling of warmth and security complete, he drifted into sleep.


Hutch was awakened by dawn's early light, but his raw throat reminded him that he had the day off, so he let himself drift back to sleep. He and Starsky had come apart some time during the night and, curled up in the bed clothes, Hutch was only partially aware of the noises of his partner going through his morning ablutions.

He had genuinely returned to sleep when the jostling of the bed awakened him. He rolled toward the dip in the mattress, opening his eyes.

Starsky was sitting on the bed, tying his shoelaces. Dressed and smelling of fresh cologne, he looked at Hutch. "How ya feelin'?"

The blond shrugged. "Fine." But he couldn't restrain a grimace. "Except the muscles around my stomach hurt like crazy and my throat's a little sore."

Starsky reached to lay a hand on his chest. "You're gonna follow Doc's orders, right? Stay home and get plenty of rest?"

Hutch took a deep breath. "Yeah," he replied sardonically. "I can catch up on all the soap operas. Lucky me."

Starsky took his hand away. More seriously, he said, "Remember what the doc said: watch for fever."

"Yes, Mommy."

Starsky's smile was affectionate. He straightened. "You want some milk or orange juice or somethin' before I leave?"

It sounded good, but Hutch wasn't ready to be fully awakened yet. "Naw. I'm going back to sleep."

Starsky patted a covered leg. "'Kay. If I get a chance, I'll call ya later on."

Hutch nodded while burrowing back beneath the blankets. He never even heard Starsky leave the apartment.


It wasn't soap operas he watched; instead, it was an afternoon of game shows. He participated as well as he could, speaking answers out loud before the buzzer. The afternoon ended with him convinced that he could have been the champion of Match Game, Jeopardy, and $20,000 Pyramid.

During a commercial break, Hutch picked up the remains of his turkey sandwich and moved to the kitchen to toss it into the sink. He took the opportunity to fill a pitcher with water and went out onto his sun-bathed greenhouse.

He moved from plant to plant, greeting each one with a cheerful whistle or a sympathetic whisper for a bent or browning leaf. One particular plant, a large one in the corner, was getting scarce on soil. Hutch looked into another corner, saw that the bag of soil there seemed to be barely filled enough to have spared it from the garbage. He had bought a lot of soil all at once when finding it on sale at a discount store. Putting the pitcher down, he went to find which closet he may have stashed the supply in.

The third time was a charm, for he found it not in a closet, but in the cabinet below the sink. There were half a dozen sacks, and as he sat on the kitchen floor, Hutch pulled at a corner to bring one out. The movement disturbed something tucked between the bags. After moving the bags aside, a rectangle glass, framed in green plastic, rested at the edge of the shelf.

Hutch set the soil on the floor and held up the rectangular item, looking at it closely. It was an ant farm, one that Starsky had given him for Christmas a couple of years ago. The farm was now nothing more than shapeless sand encased in glass, for its inhabitants had died ages ago, the little black bodies having returned to the earth to nourish it for whatever future farmers there may be.

But there wouldn't be any, Hutch decided, getting to his feet with the farm in one hand and the soil in another. He bent to drop the farm into the nearest wastebasket.

When it came down to it, it had probably been one of Starsky's better gifts. Though its enjoyment came mostly from being a conversation piece, Hutch had to admit that he'd occasionally been fascinated by watching the tiny insects go about their business, even while alone in his apartment. Once they'd died, it had been tempting to repopulate it, but he had never bothered. And then he'd forgotten about it.

Hutch took the soil into the greenhouse. After opening the bag, he poured a healthy serving into the pot in the corner, then moved to inspect the other plants, adding a little here or there if it seemed warranted.

Christmas was coming up yet again, being less than two months away. Each year it came faster and Hutch was faced with the thankless task of having to choose a gift for those various people who expected it of him.

Of course, he'd weaseled out of it a couple of years ago. He'd stuck to his principles, hadn't gotten anybody a damn thing, except for planting a tree in Starsky's name.

Hutch cringed inwardly. No matter how many times he tried to tell himself he'd done the proper thing -- for reasons of principle -- he still felt a flush of shame when thinking of that particular year. Starsky had reacted predictably throughout the ordeal: first, being delighted when he thought Hutch really had gotten him something. Then playing the part of the fool so everyone could have a good laugh when he realized it wasn't really any gift at all. Then being enthusiastic while driving home, certain that Hutch had saved his "real" present for a more private unveiling. Then sulking heavily once discovering his partner had done no such thing. The next day, however, it had been as though Christmas had never happened, and Hutch knew he'd been forgiven.

Now, he sat back on his haunches after nourishing a tiny plant on a bottom shelf and sighed out loud.

Starsky was the gentlest, most loving, most giving person in the world. And, that Christmas, Hutch had been blatantly cruel.

He had tried to think it through whenever he felt that flush of shame; tried to understand the part of himself that made him want to do something so petty to one who meant so much. Hutch cringed again, thinking of just last night, Starsky working swiftly and diligently, cleaning up the mess Hutch had left, the mess that his partner had absolutely no obligation to do anything about.

And, worse yet -- Hutch hardened his jaw, for he always tried not to think about it -- was what Starsky had done for him after Forrest's men had been finished with him. In addition to keeping him clean of the never-ending vomiting, Starsky had held him close for all those awful hours, despite the fact that Hutch stank abominably. And he had soiled himself in all his helplessness, and then had sudden attacks of uncontrollable diarrhea for days following the worst of his ordeal. And Starsky had tolerated all of it without complaint.

No, not merely tolerated, Hutch corrected himself now. Starsky had babied him through it all, with tenderness and care, making him feel he was a human being even while his body committed those atrocities.

He supposed there was a phrase for it these days. Something that therapists enjoyed using.

Unconditional Love. Usually, it applied to the relationships between parents and children. It was supposed to also apply to spouses, but the divorce rate proved that it usually didn't. But it applied to his partner.

And maybe, Hutch considered while sitting on the floor of the greenhouse and resting his back against the wall, the sun bathing his face -- maybe that was the very thing that had caused those moments of unjustifiable meanness. Starsky would always forgive him. So he was free to commit any sins that suited his fancy. St. Peter may not let him through Heaven's gate, but Starsky would.

That allowed him to have his cake and eat it, too. He could act irresponsibly -- even spitefully -- and he never had to answer for it.

Maybe it was time he grew up. Maybe it was time he gave as good as he got. Oh, he knew Starsky was fully capable of taking care of himself -- and that he had been there in those moments when Starsky needed him -- but maybe, just maybe, it was about time he started showing some appreciation. Not when Starsky was hurt or injured. Not when Starsky was in particular need of him. But... just because.

It was difficult thinking of the holidays with the warm sun bathing his face. But Hutch decided some planning was in order.




The November air carried a hint of ocean breeze as the slim figure crept around the corner of the sound studio. Darkness had fallen.

The back door opened out into the alley and a man emerged, dressed in black leather. His hair was dark and wavy, and was long enough to obscure the tops of the symbols on the jacket that declared "Jenni" in large, blood-red letters. He stepped leisurely down the alley, hands in pockets, drawing deep lungfuls of air.

The slim figure's steps were soundless as the man in the leather jacket was stealthily followed. Then the man paused. And looked up at the star-filled sky.

A weapon was drawn from the follower's pocket. Legs braced, hands clenched the handle of the automatic. Elbows straightened. The gun aimed carefully at the man in black. The slim figure made a noise.

Startled, the man turned. Then his eyes widened in horror.


Hutch rubbed at the corner of his mustache. "Uhhh," he hesitated thoughtfully, "whatshisface."

Sitting in the driver's seat next to him, Starsky frowned. "You've got to be more specific than that." He was holding a paperback book.

The blond snapped his fingers repeatedly. "I know who it is. Just give me a second."

"One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand, four -- "

"Starsky, I know who it is," Hutch insisted with annoyance. "It's that guy with the real soft voice. Whatshisface."

"Whatshisface who?" Starsky pressed.

Hutch squirmed in his seat, making sure he never took his eyes off the house in the distance while he continued to think. It was still dark and silent, its owner not having made an appearance yet, even though it was now past four in the morning.

"Time's up," Starsky announced.

"Wait a second," Hutch complained. "What was the question again?"

The curly-haired man sighed as he read from the book. "Who's the actor who played the only character in recent memory to kill John Wayne?"

"Oh, right." Hutch snapped his fingers again. "Yeah, the guy with the soft voice in that cowboy movie with the kids. It'll come to me in a second."

Starsky slammed the book shut. "Time's up. It's Bruce Dern, dummy."

Hutch grimaced, putting a hand to his forehead, as though in pain. "That's who I meant. Like I told you, the guy with the voice."

Starsky handed the book to him. "Tough. That's another one for me. The score is twelve to five. You're gettin' creamed, blondie."

"Yeah," the other grumbled, rapidly flipping pages in the book, "just don't get too confident." He scanned the pages filled with trivia, determined to make a dent in Starsky's smugness. As he looked, he demanded, "How did you get up to twelve, anyway? The last I remember you had ten points." It was an easy argument to make, because there was not a writing instrument that worked between them, and since Hutch really didn't care about the score, he left it to Starsky to mentally keep it. And picking on Starsky's brain always made long stakeouts a little more tolerable.

With one eye on the house they were watching, Starsky scolded, "Don't start with that. I've been calling out the score after every question, and the last thing I said was eleven to five. So, now it's twelve to five. You need to get your head examined if your memory's that bad."

"Stop getting so defensive," Hutch remarked off-handedly, for he was concentrating on a page he'd stopped at. Then he grinned with delight, holding up the book. "All right, smart boy. Name the first filly to ever win the Kentucky Derby, and the year."

The darker man pressed a fist to his forehead. "I know that, I know that. It'll come to me in a sec."

The radio beeped. Hutch picked it up. "Zebra Three here."

"Zebra Three, there's a Code 187 in the alley behind the Edgewood Recording Studio at 1624 Lincoln. Please respond."

Firmly, Hutch said, "We can't respond, we're on stakeout. Confirm with Captain Dobey."

"It's Captain Dobey who has requested your presence, Zebra Three."

They exchanged a glance. "Must be important," Starsky mumbled, "if he's willing to take us off this."

Hutch put the book aside as his partner started the Torino. "Will do. Zebra Three



Other emergency vehicles were at the entrance to the alleyway, their sirens and lights brightening the otherwise bleak area of town.

A uniformed officer greeted Starsky and Hutch. "You the detectives assigned to this case?"

"Looks like it," Hutch replied. "What have we got?" He could see a covered body on the ground just past the yellow tape blocking off the area.

"A young white male who was shot three times in the chest. According to the people we've talked to, he was a fan hanging out at the recording studio there." The officer gestured to one of the buildings lining the alley.

"Fan of who?" Starsky asked.

"Jenni, the rock star."

"Never heard of her," Hutch said.

"Him," Starsky corrected with distaste. "He's the one who has that wild stage act, sings blindfolded and stuff like that."

"That's the one," the officer acknowledged with a disapproving sigh. "He's working on an album here at the studio. According to the people we've interviewed, the victim was a fan who pretty much behaved himself, so they let him hang around, even though Jenni left early to appear on a talk show. No one realized the victim had disappeared until they took a break and went in the alley to smoke. That's when they saw the body."

"No one heard anything?" Hutch asked.

The officer shook his head. "It was noisy in the studio, because they were recording."

When nothing further was said, Hutch muttered, "Thanks," and he and Starsky went to the victim, kneeling beside him. They raised the covering and stared at the young face.

"Think maybe he hung out with the wrong crowd?" Starsky ventured.

"Is this Jenni a creep?" Hutch asked him.

"Don't know," Starsky admitted. "All I know is that I don't like the stuff he calls music."

Softly, Hutch noted, "Our young victim here must have liked it." He pulled at the leather jacket so that more of the lettering showed. "'Jenni.' I'm wondering if idolizing Jenni had anything to do with the reason he was killed."

Starsky released the covering. "That's what we're gonna have to find out."


"It's four weeks 'til Christmas, Hutch."

The blond's gaze remained on the side window as the Torino picked its way through traffic a few hours later, heading toward the Marriott where Jenni was staying; the sun glinting off the brightly-colored finish. "Yeah, yeah," he sighed. "Tell me something I don't know."

Starsky looked over at him. "Do you know what I want?"

Hutch barely cast a glance his way. "Should I care?"

"Well, just in case this time you get me something that I want, keep in mind that I could really use that popcorn popper that we saw back at the department store last week. Just think what a great snack it'd make during football games or when we're playin' chess or somethin'."

Hutch remained silent, gaze still on the window.

The cheerful banter continued. "Is there anything in particular you'd like me to get you?"

"Yeah." Hutch shifted in his seat and looked fully at his partner. "Early retirement, an island of my own in the Pacific, and about a million dollars or so for spending money."

Starsky frowned. Then he said, "Even if I could give those things to you, I wouldn't. Because you don't really want that stuff. That isn't you."

Hutch nodded thoughtfully. "You're right. Forget the early retirement and the million dollars. I'll just take the island."

"All by yourself?" Starsky asked on a high note.

"Sure. It'd be nice and peaceful."

Starsky pouted. "You wouldn't even want me to visit you?"

Hutch shrugged. "Maybe on occasion."

They had stopped at a light; when it changed, Starsky gunned the car forward. He muttered, "You sure know how to ruin a guy's morning."

Hutch chuckled softly.

"I mean," Starsky went on, "I thought we were pals. But you act like you don't even want me around."

"Oh, stop bellyaching," the other replied.

"You saying you'd rather go off and live by yourself on an island than have me for a friend?"

Hutch's brow furrowed and suddenly he was frowning. "Knock it off. You know I'm only kidding."

Starsky glanced over at his partner, the conversation forgotten. Hutch's brow furrowed deeper as he swallowed and looked back out the side window. "Hutch?"

"What?" The blond's gaze remained on the streets.

"You feelin' okay?"

Hutch looked at him. '"Course I'm feeling okay. You're the one who started this nauseating conversation about Christmas."

Since he couldn't seem to win, Starsky shrugged and began whistling "Jingle Bells" and tapping the steering wheel.


Hutch took out a piece of paper as they entered the huge building. "Suite 3280," he said.

Starsky pushed the button for the elevator.

While they waited, Hutch watched his partner from the corner of his eye. He'd decided two weeks ago that he was going to be kinder to Starsky, especially when it came to the subject of Christmas. Yet, on the ride over, he'd ended up feeling genuinely annoyed with his partner's whining during their conversation. He'd known Starsky was only kidding, and he'd kidded back, but when Starsky kept playing the game Hutch found himself losing patience.

And then Starsky had asked him if he was "feeling okay."

Hutch restrained a sigh as the doors parted before them and he and Starsky entered the elevator. He wondered if he might have been better off to have drowned when Monroe had shoved him beneath the water. Then he wouldn't have these problems.

But a glance at the man beside him made Hutch scold himself for the foolish thought. Dear God, what would Starsky do if something ever happened to him? It was almost as chilling as wondering what he would ever do without Starsky.

Such a responsibility it was, to matter so much to a person. Hutch supposed that was part of the reason why he got so annoyed with himself. He could be downright nasty to Starsky at times, and still Starsky stuck with him. He wondered if he'd ever be able to make it up to him.

Starsky shifted uncomfortably against the railing.

"What's the matter?" Hutch asked.

The other released a sigh. "Just not lookin' forward to talkin' to this Jenni guy. He's really weird."

Knowing the answer, Hutch asked, "Have you ever met him?"

"No. But I've seen clips of his concerts."

Hutch managed to keep the scolding tone out of his voice. "Keep an open mind." The doors parted and he led the way out.

The sign that faced the opening doors pointed the way. They turned right and the door with "3280" on it dominated the far end of the hall.

Hutch knocked, and both men took out their badges.

The door cracked open as far as the chain would allow. "Who's inquiring?" a deep voice asked.

They stuck their badges through the crack. "LAPD," Hutch said.

"Just a moment."

The door closed, and they listened to the chain sliding back as they pocketed their badges. Then the door opened fully and a short but stoutly-muscled man with short brown hair and a mustache stood before them. "Come in, officers. We've been expecting you." He wore cotton slacks and a green polo shirt.

"You Jenni's muscle?" Hutch asked. The suite was elaborately furnished, but no one else was in sight.

"Yes, I am. Four years this month."

Starsky looked at the man with a snort. "You don't look like your average groupie. He must pay you well."

"He does. But many celebrities pay more." The bodyguard's stance relaxed. "It's more than money that's kept me loyal."

Hutch stuck his hands in the back pocket of his jeans. "Yeah, like what?"

"Jenni is well-mannered and easy to get along with. I've protected far worse for far more money. I prefer the current arrangement."

Starsky studied the man with a doubtful expression. He exchanged a glance with his partner, then said, "So, where is the famous Jenni?"

"He's on the telephone with Clarissa. I'll tell him you're here." The man moved toward a back room.

"Clarissa?" Starsky questioned.

"His wife." The man disappeared behind a door.

Hutch ran his eye around the room again. "So, Jenni's married. I wonder for how long."

Starsky shrugged. "I don't know. I don't remember hearing about it."

Hutch turned toward the wall and looked at the paintings. He took a deep breath and felt weariness seep through his body from lack of a good night's sleep. He turned toward the opposite wall and found Starsky looking at him oddly.

"Gentlemen," a voice greeted.

They turned and saw a thin, dark, long-haired man, about 5' 6", wearing blue jeans and a worn-out t-shirt, approaching them. "You've already met Trey," the man nodded at the bodyguard following behind. "I'm Jenni."

Starsky blinked. This man wasn't anything like the wild rocker who filled concert halls. Jenni looked downright ordinary. Almost too ordinary. Starsky gestured to his partner. "Detective Ken Hutchinson."

Hutch jerked a thumb. "Detective David Starsky."

Jenni held out his hand. As the detectives each shook it, he asked, "So what's the proper way to address you?"

Starsky indicated himself, "Starsky and," he gestured toward his partner, "Hutch."

"Hutch. I like that." Jenni motioned to the full-length sofa and they all sat down. "I once tried to get the press to call me 'Jen' -- even just 'J' -- and they never picked up on it."

"What was wrong with 'Jenni'?" Starsky wanted to know.

The rocker waved both hands dismissively. "It got old. But I guess I'm stuck with it."

Hutch took out his notepad and a pen. "As you know, the reason why we're here is to find out why Tommy Clarkson was killed outside your recording studio. And if his death was, perhaps, accidental."

Jenni was sober as he stared at the floor. "Yeah, I know. Maybe someone was trying to kill me." He shook his head in amazement. "Too much."

"Do you know why," Hutch pressed gently, "someone might want to kill you?"

An elaborate shrug. "The word is full of loonies. I suppose any of those fans could get doped out enough...."

Starsky asked, "Has anyone specifically threatened you before?"

"Sure, but never with anything more than words. Written words, at that. I've never had anyone threaten my life to my face."

Hutch shifted. "Did you report the threats?"

"No," Jenni replied. "There was never a reason. No one person has ever threatened me more than once, so they never seemed like anything worth getting the police involved for."

"What's usually the reason someone sends you a threatening letter?" Hutch asked.

"You name it. My music sucks. I worship the devil. I must be a faggot. I'm a Commie." Jenni snorted. "One guy even said if he ever met me in person he'd kill me because it was at one of my concerts that his girlfriend met another guy, and they ran off together." He shook his head. "Can you believe someone would blame me for that?"

Starsky managed a smile while Hutch pursued, "What about old friends or business associates who might be jealous of your success?"

Jenni was thoughtful, then shook his head. "I can't think of any. Either my old friends are still my friends, or else I haven't heard anything from them since I got successful."

Trey cleared his throat. "Detectives, have you considered that the murder may have nothing to do with Tommy Clarkson being a fan of Jenni's?"

"It's being considered," Starsky acknowledged. "When we can find some other associates of Tommy Clarkson's to question, we will. In the meantime, it seems like he spent as much time as possible hanging around Jenni and the band."

Jenni gazed at the floor. Distantly, he said, "Tommy was a good kid. He never caused any trouble, so we didn't really mind letting him hang around."

"Did you know him at all?" Starsky probed. "Did you ever talk to him?"

The rock star shrugged. "Not really. Just small talk on occasion. I remember he said he was from South Carolina and he hitchhiked to LA because he didn't think there was anything for him in his hometown." A tiny smile. "He never even talked about getting rich and famous, or being a rock star himself, or anything like that. He just seemed to be... hanging out. Waiting for something to happen to define his life."

In a lower voice, Starsky asked, "Did he do dope?"

Jenni shrugged. "Not when he was around me. But then, he knew better than that."

Skeptically, Starsky asked, "You don't allow dope in the recording studio?"

For the first time, Jenni seemed to squirm. "Occasionally the guys do, but they know I don't like it. I always try to get them to quit when I'm around."

Trey said, "Jenni doesn't do drugs."

Hutch watched Starsky's eyes widen in disbelief. "Not even weed?"

"No," Jenni replied wearily, as though it was an old subject. "I don't do drugs and I don't smoke."

"My, my," Starsky chided skeptically, "aren't you the paragon of virtue."

Jenni pushed off the couch and moved to the wet bar. He snapped, "I'm an alcoholic. Does that make you happy?" He looked over at them and began fixing a martini. "A drink, gentlemen?"

Starsky shook his head. Hutch replied, "No, thanks."

Looking intrigued, Starsky said, "If you can admit you're an alcoholic, then why don't you get help?"

"I'd have to spend time in a clinic," Jenni explained as he came back to the sitting area. "Probably months. I can't afford it. In this business, if you aren't constantly marketing yourself, people forget about you. And then you're through."

Hutch asked, "Jenni, do you have any idea at all why anyone would have wanted to kill Tommy Clarkson?"

The rocker shook his head. "No. But, really, I didn't know the guy. Yeah, we talked a little, but nothin' heavy."

"What about friends?" Starsky pressed. "Did anyone else ever come to the studio with Tommy?"

Jenni shook his head thoughtfully. "He always came alone. I don't remember him even mentioning anyone else. No girlfriend. Nothing."

Starsky looked at Trey. "What about you? Don't you usually accompany Jenni to the studio?"

"I'm with him almost everywhere he goes," the bodyguard replied. "But I never talked to Tommy at all. With my job, I can't afford to let my guard down for a minute. I'm always on the lookout for anyone who might be looking to harm Jenni."

Hutch leaned forward. "Then... if it had been Jenni going out into that alley, you would have gone out, too?"

"No," Trey replied quickly, looking at his boss. "That's the one time Jenni won't let me around."

Both detectives turned their heads to the rock star, who explained, "I always like to go out for an evening stroll. Just five or ten minutes. It's my time," he stressed, poking his chest with a thumb. "I've been doing it for years."

"Then," Starsky said, "if you were the intended target, the killer would have known that was your routine."

Jenni released a deep breath. "Yeah. I guess."

"So, why did Tommy go out into that alley, instead of you?" Hutch asked.

Jenni shrugged. "I don't know why Tommy went out."

"Maybe," Trey said, "he was just trying to imitate Jenni."

"So, why didn't you go out for your evening stroll that night?"

"I did," Jenni replied. "But not in the alley. And I went out earlier than usual, because I had to get downtown to do a radio interview. When I got back, there was all this commotion because Tommy had been found dead in the alley."

They were all silent after that. Hutch stood and Starsky followed. "That's all the questions for now," the blond said, putting away his notepad. "We appreciate your time." He took out a card and handed it to Trey. "If either of you think of anything else that might be helpful, please let us know."

There were murmurs of agreement as Trey showed them to the door.

Starsky turned. "Jenni, are you going to be here awhile?"

"Yeah. It'll take another two months to finish the album."

Starsky nodded, satisfied. "We'll be in touch."

After leaving the suite they made their way to the elevator. Hutch said, "Jenni's not quite what you expected, huh?"

"No," Starsky admitted. "But I still don't like him any more than I did before. I mean really, Hutch," he watched his partner push the elevator button, "why would some guy put on a blindfold while he's singing? It's weird."

"You should have asked him," Hutch replied as they stepped through doors that parted for them.

"Maybe another time," Starsky said. Then, more firmly, "You think he would'a stopped the blindfold thing after that kid got killed."

Hutch looked at him in puzzlement. "Tommy?"

"No, that other kid. Remember a few years back? Some fourteen-year-old kid was trying to be just like Jenni. He was listening to his music and riding his bike with a blindfold, of all the stupid things. Ran his bike right out in front of a car and got killed."

Hutch didn't remember hearing about it. He rubbed at the corner of his eye as he wondered how that news might have affected Jenni.

"Hutch, what's wrong?"

The blond looked sharply at his partner, for the tone had been almost demanding. He found the other staring at him… the gaze so full of concern. His insides softened and he managed a smile. "Just need something to help wake me up this morning."

The doors opened as Starsky said, "Let's get some coffee on the way back."

"Good idea." Hutch followed his partner.


Hutch sped away from the curb after Starsky shut the passenger door. They'd dropped off the Torino the night before for a major tune-up, and now were headed into work in the LTD.

After driving a couple of blocks, Hutch glanced over at his silent partner, who was staring out the side window, a frown at his mouth corner.

"So, how'd it go last night?" Hutch ventured. He couldn't remember the name of the woman Starsky had had a date with, but he knew she worked at a little Mexican restaurant that his partner liked to frequent.

"Okay," came the sullen reply. Starsky wouldn't look at him.

When nothing further was said for another block, Hutch prodded, "Sounds a lot worse than 'okay'."

The other shifted restlessly. "It was all right," he insisted

The blond wasn't mollified. "What happened?" He grinned. "She laugh or something when she saw you with your clothes off?"

Starsky made a "tsk" noise at the bad joke, but it prompted him to look at his partner. "No, it was okay," he said in a more normal tone. "But if you must know, it didn't get that far."

"Oh." Hutch felt in a teasing mood. "Blue balls this morning then, huh?"

"Hutchinson, I swear," Starsky complained. But he was smiling. "You're either the worst grump in the morning, or you have the sickest sense of humor."

Pleased with the grin, Hutch abandoned the teasing. "So, what, you just didn't hit it off?"

Starsky was thoughtful a moment, then, "No, it was okay. We did okay. I'll probably ask her out again."

Now Hutch was sympathetic. "Doesn't go to bed on the first date, huh?"

"It wasn't that." Starsky shifted restlessly. He had returned to gazing out the side window.

"Then what?" Hutch was intrigued now. "Don't tell me it was your decision to walk her no farther than her doorstep."

"Sheesh. What is this, Twenty Questions?"

"Just worried about my buddy's welfare. You aren't ever this sulky after a date unless it was disastrous."

"Sulky?" Starsky questioned in disbelief.

Hutch shrugged. He felt a pinch of guilt that he was bombarding Starsky with questions, especially since it was for his own purposes… to delay something he wanted to ask. He was a bit puzzled at his own shyness.

"So what did you two do?" the blond pursued in a more amiable tone. "Dinner? A movie?"

It was a long time before he was answered, and the tone was very quiet. "We went to a movie."

"Oh, yeah? Which one?"

Starsky's attention was completely focused on the side window, and his voice was still soft. "We didn't have a particular one in mind. So, we just walked down Fifth Street until we found one."

"Yeah? So what did you see?"

Starsky sighed heavily. And finally looked out the windshield. "Making Love."

"That sounds romantic," Hutch approved.

"One would think," Starsky noted sourly. "We didn't study the posters or anything outside the theater, because it was almost time for the movie to start, so we just saw the title and walked in."

Hutch furrowed his brow. The subject matter was disturbing his partner, and Starsky obviously had a need to explain about the movie, so the blond prompted, "Yeah?"

Starsky looked at him. "Do you know what that movie is about?"

"The title makes it sound rather obvious."

"Right. One would think. But you wouldn't guess in a million years what it was really about."

Hutch looked at his partner, his curiosity building. "What's it about?"

The darker man's tone dripped disapproval. "It's about some guy -- a doctor, no less -- happily married to Kate Jackson, who up and discovers that he's really a faggot."

"Really?" It sort of amused Hutch that Starsky was so disturbed, but he was also surprised at the movie's content.

"Yeah. And not only that," Starsky's voice rose in indignation, "but they actually showed them -- the two guys -- kissing on the lips!"

Hutch felt a smile tug at his mouth corner. "Sounds like Hollywood has finally joined the sexual revolution."

Starsky's animation increased. "Hutch, you can sit there all you want and talk about how it's okay for guys to... you know. I don't have anything against them as long as they don't do it in front of me. But can you imagine what it was like?" he pleaded. "I'm sittin' there in the theater, on a first date, thinkin' me and my lady are gonna see this romantic movie, and there's this big scene of these two guys undressing each other and kissing each other on the lips." He breathed deeply. "I mean, what was I supposed to say?"

"It was a movie theater," Hutch deadpanned. "You aren't supposed to say anything."

"Yeah? Well, I didn't. I sat there, uncomfortable as hell. Hell, the whole theater was uncomfortable. Except a few people were sorta giggling, real nervous like. I mean, how were any of us supposed to enjoy the movie after that?"

"Oh, for chrissakes, it was only a movie," Hutch stated reasonably. "You didn't need to feel threatened by it."

Starsky settled back in his seat and looked out the side window again. He muttered, "I knew you were going to react like this, if I told you."

Hutch shrugged. "Why should I react any other way? What's the big deal? A movie is a movie -- a reflection of life. In real life, guys who like other guys kiss each other on the lips. Why shouldn't the movie show that? I think the people who made that movie showed real guts." With interest, he asked, "Who were the actors besides Kate Jackson?"

"I dunno. Some guys I never heard of. And probably never hear of again, since being in that movie will most likely ruin their careers."

Hutch chuckled and reached to pat his partner on the arm. "Oh, Starsk," he scolded affectionately.

After a moment, the darker man shook his head. "I don't think you're being honest," he challenged. "You can't sit here and tell me that if it was you sitting in that theater, with a date -- or even without a date -- that you wouldn't be embarrassed to sit there and watch two guys kiss each other on the lips." He quickly added, "It wasn't a quick kiss, either. It was slow."

"So, what did your date think about it?" Hutch wondered.

"She didn't know what to say, either."

"I bet she wasn't as upset by it as you."

The other was taken aback. "What makes you say that?"

The blond shook his head at his partner's naiveté. "You like seeing or reading about two women in bed together, don't you?"

"Well...." Starsky trailed off in puzzlement.

Hutch chuckled softly. "Come on, it's a well-known fact. Men get turned on by the idea of two women being together."


"So, Einstein, don't you think it only follows then that women can get turned on by the idea of two guys together?"

After a moment of silence, the curly-haired man released a sigh of defeat. But he insisted, "Brenda wasn't turned on."

"How do you know?"

"Because she wasn't. She was real quiet, too, when we left the theater."

"Maybe that's because she picked up on how disturbed you were and thought she shouldn't say anything."

The car was silent for nearly a minute.

Hutch softened his voice. "So, what did the movie have to do with her not sleeping over?"

"You know," Starsky squirmed, "I just felt so weird about the whole thing. I mean, I was embarrassed that I took her to that movie. I didn't know what to say to her after that."

Doubtfully, Hutch asked, "You think she'll go out with you again?"

"I dunno." Starsky glanced at him. "You don't think she'd hold it against me that I didn't like seein' two guys gettin' it on, do you?"

"I guess we'll find out the next time you ask her out, won't we?" Hutch turned into the parking lot at Parker Center.


Captain Dobey waved the two detectives into a questioning room where a woman with dark hair and a midi-skirt sat smoking a cigarette. Her manners were sophisticated, but her appearance had an aura of simplicity.

"Starsky, Hutchinson, this is Denise Willington." Both detectives nodded to her. "She knew Tommy shortly after he arrived in California and is willing to answer any questions."

As both men took chairs opposite her, Dobey said, "I'll leave you to it," and left the room.

"Uh, Ms. Willington," Hutch began, "first of all, we appreciate your coming down."

She blew smoke from her nostrils. "It's no trouble. I'd like to know who did this to Tommy."

Starsky asked, "Just what was your relationship to Tommy?"

"I picked him up hitchhiking when he first arrived in California. He seemed like a nice kid. Friendly, quiet. Didn't want any trouble. I put him up in a spare bedroom at my apartment until he was able to get a job washing dishes. Then he moved out."

Hutch said, "Do you know where he moved to? We haven't been able to find an address on him."

She shrugged. "He never said. He just said he'd drop by on occasion to say hello." She tilted her head with a soft smile. "He never did. But once he sent me some flowers to thank me for putting him up."

"How long ago was that?" Starsky asked. "I mean, since he first came to California?"

She was thoughtful. "Three months ago. I put him up for maybe four weeks. It was maybe a month afterwards that he sent the flowers."

Starsky felt a sense of frustration but kept his voice calm. "Did you have any other contact with him after he left your place, other than the flowers?"

She shook her head. "No, that was the last I ever saw of Tommy." Her voice was wistful.

"So, what can you tell us about him from when he lived with you?"

Another small shrug. "He kept to himself, pretty much. Stayed in his room a lot, listening to Jenni records. He was always polite and never seemed to ask for much."

Hutch said, "Do you know if he was involved in anything -- drugs, numbers, anything -- that might have given someone reason to kill him?"

"No," she replied. "That's why I was so shocked when I heard."

"And how, exactly," Starsky asked, "did you find out about his death?"

"From his parents. They had my number since he stayed there. So, they called me, wanting to know if I knew anything that could have led to this. They were completely shocked." She stubbed out her cigarette in the nearest ashtray. "I'm afraid I couldn't tell them anything more than I can tell you. But if any of it helps...."

Reassuringly, Hutch said, "Sometimes the smallest detail can be the greatest help."

"Did he have any other friends besides you?" Starsky asked.

"Not that he ever mentioned to me."

Starsky shifted in his chair. "What about Jenni? Did he talk to you about his obsession with him?"

She smiled. "Not really. Like I said, he played Jenni's music a lot. I knew he really liked him, maybe even worshipped him. I really didn't think there was anything unusual about it." Her smile widened. "I used to like to pretend that I was Barbara Streisand."

Hutch presented a matching smile. Gently, he asked, "Do you know much about Jenni yourself?"

"I certainly heard plenty of his songs while Tommy was living with me. Of course, I'd heard of him and knew some of his songs before then, but…" she shrugged, "he's really never appealed to me much."

"Did you notice," Hutch continued, "if Tommy ever dressed like him, or mimicked him?"

She nodded. "He wore that jacket all the time, the one that said 'Jenni' on the back. But like I said before, he didn't really ever say much about him."

"Did you know that Tommy used to hang around down at the studio where Jenni's been recording an album?"

"No, I didn't know that. Except I know that's where he was killed. But like I said, Tommy never got in touch with me, other than the flowers."

Hutch looked at his partner, and Starsky shook his head to indicate he didn't have any more questions, either. The blond took out a card and handed it to her. "If you think of anything else about Tommy that you can tell us, please contact us at that number." She put it in her purse and stood. "And thanks very much for coming down."

"Sorry I couldn't be of more help," she said as she exited through the door that Hutch held open for her.

After she was gone, Starsky sighed. "It keeps lookin' more and more like Tommy was just an innocent victim of a hit meant for Jenni."

From where he stood near the door, Hutch started to nod. Then he abruptly turned away and tried to stifle a yawn.

Starsky was out of his chair. "Hutch, you okay?" he asked, hands taking residence on his partner's shoulders.

Hutch nodded. "Yeah." He waved his hand dismissively. "I just feel kind of beat. Been staying up late."

"You havin' insomnia?"

The other shook his head, as though to deter his partner's concern. "Stop looking so serious. I was just up late reading."

Starsky furrowed a brow, then challenged, "Well you must have been stayin' up late and reading a lot, because you've been lookin' beat -- and bein' kinda grumpy lately."

The blond chuckled softly, glad to change the subject. "Of course I'm grumpy; it is close to Christmas, after all."

Starsky let his hands drop. "That doesn't explain why you're so worn out."

Irritably, Hutch said, "Will you stop with the worrying? I'll be fine after I sleep in this weekend."

Starsky's expression didn't ease, but he didn't say anything further.

Hutch's stance softened. "Hey, uh," he felt uncharacteristically bashful, batting his eyelids, "speaking of Christmas...."

Starsky was all ears. "Yeah?"

Hutch spoke haltingly. "Well... do you… you know… have any plans this year?"

Starsky spent a moment thinking, but it was obvious he was pleased that Hutch was asking. "Well, I was going over to my aunt and uncle's early on Christmas Eve to give them their presents. Then they're driving up to my cousin's in Sacramento for Christmas dinner. They invited me to come along, but...." Starsky shrugged, as Hutch knew he'd never been very close to that particular cousin's family.

"Good. I thought I'd fix Christmas dinner at my place."

The first thought that crossed Starsky's mind was 'Just the two of us?' But he stopped himself from asking, because he knew it would come out like he disapproved, which he didn't at all. Hutch fixing Christmas dinner. "Yeah, sure, I'll be there. Want some help?"

"No, no," Hutch quickly held up his hand. "No offense, buddy, but...."

Starsky could barely put up the pretense of grumbling at the insult. Christmas was still ten days away. He could hardly wait.


It had been a long time since Hutch had been to a movie by himself. But he doubted he would have been very good company if he'd brought anyone else along. For he did not enter the theater for the purpose of being entertained. He was doing it as research. After all, something that disturbed his partner as deeply as Making Love deserved his undivided attention.

At first, it seemed to be something of a shallow movie, and slow getting started. Bland faces filled up the screen as two of three characters in the triangle -- Kate Jackson, Michael Ontkean from The Rookies, and an unknown named Harry Hamlin -- attempted to speak with profundity about their individual situations. And then things got rolling as the doctor became more attracted to a male patient -- a writer -- while wrestling with feelings of inadequacy from his father and an unhappy cancer patient, and confusion about being drawn toward men. And then the two were alone together, the writer admitting he was gay, the doctor denying he was, but saying that he was "curious". And then they came together, kissed during a long range camera shot, and Hutch found himself thinking in disbelief, "THIS scene is what had Starsky so upset?" But then the characters moved to the bedroom, the camera moving closer. Slowly they took off each other's shirts, then they tilted their heads and their lips came together again....

Hutch was jarred from his trance by snickers and groans of disbelief from the audience. He wished that they weren't so insecure that they needed to voice their protest at this new wilderness being breached by Hollywood.

But the story and fascinating unconventionality of the movie seemed to disintegrate along with the relationships of the characters. The doctor wanted a real relationship like he'd had with his wife; the writer only wanted one-night stands. It was difficult not to sympathize with the doctor. Especially when he had to tell Kate Jackson, who could not comprehend how her husband had suddenly turned into a homosexual, while he tried to explain that it wasn't sudden at all. And then any pretense at profundity was lost completely with the doctor ending up with a long-term lover in New York, and Kate Jackson marrying someone else and having the child she always wanted. A sickeningly sweet ending with everyone glowing about how happy they were.

Real life wasn't like that.

The lights went up and Hutch left the theater. For entertainment value, the movie had little to offer and he wouldn't be recommending it. As an insight into his partner… well, that remained to be seen.


They had their badges out at the entrance to the recording studio. "We're here to see Jenni."

"He's recording."

Hutch presented an over-sweet smile. "We'll let him know we're here."

The man shrugged and stood aside.

They had to follow the music as they turned down various halls. Finally, they came to a partially open door where music was blaring. They poked their heads in and saw a plethora of sophisticated equipment. In front of the row of computerized instruments was a glass wall. Behind the glass, Jenni was wearing casual clothes similar to what he'd worn before and belting out lyrics to a song that was obviously coming through his headphones. There was no one else in the booth.

There were people manning various stations at the instrument panel. One of the men looked up and rapidly approached them. It was Trey.

"Can I help you, Detectives?"

"We need to speak with Jenni," Starsky said, then nodded toward the booth, "as soon as he takes a break."

"When he gets one, I'll let him know you're waiting. It'll probably be twenty minutes."

Starsky cringed at the continuous bombardment of sound. "We'll be outside."

He led the way back to the entrance. Just as they emerged from the studio, they saw a red Porsche parked in front. A young, slim, blonde woman was trying to yank one of many large boxes from the back seat.

Starsky trotted down the steps. "Ma'am, can I give you a hand?"

Hutch was beside his partner. "Let us help with that."

She glanced at them. "Oh, thank you." She stepped back. "Thank you very much. Those boxes are a lot easier to get into the car than out of it."

Her face was kind and she smiled easily. Starsky smiled back while Hutch bent to the back seat to grab a box. "Last minute Christmas shopping?" he ventured.

"Yes," she nodded. "Actually, I consider myself lucky to have gotten it all done two days before Christmas. I can spend tomorrow getting it all wrapped." She took her keys and moved to the trunk as Hutch emerged with the first box. "Into the trunk, please," she said as she opened it. "I thought I was going to have a chance to unload all this stuff before I came to the studio, but some other things came up. So, I need to get this all into the trunk before Jenni sees it."

Hutch dropped the box into the trunk. He looked at Starsky then back at the woman. "All this is for Jenni?"

"Most of it," she replied. "He's my husband."

The detectives exchanged a look of surprise. While Hutch went to retrieve the next box, Starsky nodded admiringly. "Lucky man."

Her smile faded then. "Well, I hope some of this can make up for the fact that, yet again, we have to spend Christmas in a hotel room."

Starsky felt bad that the subject had been brought up. "Sorry."

She sighed. "I keep thinking that, some day, we'll be able to live in a house like normal people. It isn't like he doesn't have the money. But," she shook her head, "duty calls." Another sigh and the smile faded completely. "Either there's a road tour, or there's an album to record, or there's a TV appearance to make. It never ends."

Hutch had placed the final box into the trunk. He closed it and her smile was bright again, this time aimed at the blond. "Thank you. Thank you very much."

Hutch beamed back at her. "My pleasure."

Jenni appeared from the building. Clarissa turned toward her husband, a smile of delight breaking over her face. "Jenni!" she exclaimed.

He threw his arms around her and held her tight while she returned the embrace with equal fervor.

Starsky and Hutch glanced at each other and shifted uncomfortably.

He held her face and, between kisses, he said, "We're off for the next two days. Just us two. Then we finish the album and we have two weeks in Acapulco before the tour starts."

They kissed a little longer, then her eyes indicated the detectives and Jenni pulled back. "Oh, sorry… Officers." He snapped his fingers. "No, it's… uh..."

"Starsky," the darker man indicated himself, "and," he pointed his partner, "Hutch."

"Oh, yeah, Starsky and Hutch." Jenni kept an arm around his wife's waist. "I take it you met my wife, Clarissa."

They both nodded while Starsky said, "Well, we weren't formally introduced, but we've met." He added, "You lucky devil."

"You two are cops?" she asked.

Hutch nodded. "Yes, we need to speak with Jenni." He glanced at Starsky and said, "Perhaps privately would be best."

Clarissa looked at her husband worriedly, but he kissed her and said, "I won't be long. Why don't you go in and say hello to the guys."

She regarded him doubtfully, then nodded. "All right." Before turning, she glanced at the detectives. "Nice meeting you both."

"Nice meeting you," they said in unison.

As soon as she was inside the building, Jenni asked, "What's this all about?"

Starsky replied, "We thought we'd update you on our case."

Hutch said, "From everything we've been able to piece together, there's no reason why anyone would have killed Tommy in that alley. He looked enough like you that it seems likely you were the intended target."

Jenni swallowed. "We've kind of suspected that all along."

"Yeah," Hutch nodded. "Which means that since he missed his intended target the first time, the killer is likely to strike again. Which means your life is in danger."

"I've got a good bodyguard."

Starsky looked around. "Yeah? Where is he?"

"Trey's officially on vacation between now and Thursday, the day after Christmas. He has a right to visit his family."

"Can't you get somebody else in the meantime?" Starsky asked. "It's dangerous to leave yourself unprotected."

"Clarissa and I are going back to the hotel, and we're going to stay there until it's time to return to the studio. No creep is going to be allowed up to our suite. If we do end up going out, we'll make sure we're surrounded by plenty of people."

"I don't know, Jenni," Starsky sighed. "You never know when this guy might hit again. Christmas might be a great opportunity because people are so distracted during the holidays. We could give you police protection."

"Look," Jenni said, "I appreciate your concern. But these next two days are about the only time that Clarissa and I will have to ourselves in a long time. My life is go, go, go. I'm not going to jeopardize that by having a bunch of cops around or hiring some new muscle, a stranger who's going to be sharing our suite during Christmas."

Hutch held up his hands. "All right. We hear you. Just make sure that if anything seems the least bit suspicious, you call the police."

Firmly, Starsky said, "Cops don't get many days off, either. We'll be here."

"Thanks." Jenni turned back to the studio.

As they made their way to the Torino, Hutch said, "I think you've warmed up to Jenni a bit."

Starsky shrugged. "The guy can't be all bad if he has a wife like that." As they got in the car, he grumbled, "But I still hate his music."


Hutch removed the turkey from the oven and placed it on top of the stove. He unwrapped the surrounding foil and poked a large fork into its breast, then made a partial slice with a knife. "Ah, yes," he approved as he observed the moist, white meat. "You're looking great."

There was a knock at the door.

"It's open," he called over his shoulder.

Starsky entered, carrying a bottle of wine and a wrapped box. "Merry Christmas," he announced. He was wearing a colorful pullover sweater and dark blue jeans.

"Great, you remembered the wine." Hutch checked a cookie sheet of rolls in the oven. "Why don't you go ahead and pour it. The food's almost ready."

"Smells great," Starsky noted. He looked around. "Hey, you actually put up a tree."

Hutch shrugged, feeling a little sheepish. "Yeah, well...." It was difficult explaining why he had more of a holiday spirit this year, even though he'd outwardly kept up the pretense of a scrooge.

Starsky examined the colored balls on the small tree. "It's lookin' a little sparse. I could'a loaned you some of my decorations." He put his gift under it, noting that there was another package there.

Hutch didn't respond, as he was too busy moving the supplements for the main course from their pans to serving dishes. There were mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, green beans, sweet potatoes, salad. And rolls.

"Wow," Starsky said, watching his partner put the dishes on the table, which was decorated with a tablecloth and candles. "You really went all out. This is a regular feast."

"Pour the wine," Hutch reminded, handing him the corkscrew. "And you can light the candles. The matches are there on the table."

While Starsky did so, the blond said, "I don't think there's room for the turkey on the table. Just give me your plate and I'll start you off with a drumstick. You want stuffing, too?"

Starsky brought him two plates. "Yeah." He watched Hutch work with the bird. "Stuffing inside the turkey. The best."

Hutch presented a shy smile. "It's been a long time since I've made something like this. Not sure I remembered everything just right."

"Smells great," the darker man assured.

After Starsky's plate was full, he held out the empty one. "There's yours." He waited while Hutch placed a serving of white meat on it, then carried them to the table. "We ready to eat?" he asked anxiously.

"Just waiting on the rolls." Hutch opened the oven and peeked at the browning tops. "Another minute." He closed the door and stood by.

Starsky was already seated. "Well, if you don't mind, I'm gonna serve our salads."

"Go ahead."

"Have Kiko and Molly been by?"

"No, they're out of town visiting other relatives."

"So you didn't do nothin' yesterday?"

Hutch shrugged. "Shopped for dinner." Then he asked, "How are your aunt and uncle?"

"Great." Starsky patted his chest. "They gave me this sweater."

"Looks nice." Hutch turned off the oven and removed the rolls. He placed them in a bread basket and brought them to the table. "All ready," he said as he sat.

Starsky looked around the table, then met his partner's eye. "Uh, I guess we don't need to say grace or nothin'."

Neither of them was actively religious, and it might be a bit ridiculous for them to follow the tradition. But Starsky seemed uncomfortable with the idea of just delving in, so Hutch picked up his wine glass. "Not grace," he said softly. "But a toast." After all, there was a specific reason for having Starsky over for dinner this year.

Starsky picked up his glass, and waited.

Hutch glanced at the table a moment to gather his thoughts, then met his partner's eye. "This dinner is dedicated to my buddy. Who's always been there, whether I knew I needed him or not. Of all the good things in this world, his friendship is what I'm most thankful for." He touched his glass to Starsky's.

Starsky sat looking at him. He blinked. Then he shifted in his chair and muttered, "Didn't know you were gonna get all mushy." After sipping from his glass he noted, '"Sides, I think you're gettin' Christmas mixed up with Thanksgiving."

"Well," Hutch shrugged, laying his napkin in his tap, "since we never had a formal Thanksgiving dinner this year, I guess I've just combined the two into one."

"Good idea," Starsky said. "Let's eat."

Hutch chuckled and they dived in.


Starsky belched loudly. Giving his stomach a pat, he said, "That just made room for more." He reached for the remaining mashed potatoes.

"Starsky, you don't need to stuff yourself," Hutch scolded, surveying the remains of the meal. "What's left will be in the refrigerator whenever you want it."

The other leaned toward his partner. "I will have you know that what's here on this table," he pointed, "is a thousand times better than what you normally fix for me. So, I intend to indulge while I can." He straightened. "Will you please pass the salt?"

Hutch sighed and passed the shaker.

Starsky sprinkled it over his potatoes. "I'd like to see that new Sylvester Stallone movie sometime in the next few days. Wanna come?"

Hutch sat back in his chair, trying to give his own stomach room to breathe. "You're not going to ask whatshername?"

"Brenda?" Starsky picked at his food. "I might. If you don't wanna come, maybe I'll ask her."

"Speaking of Brenda," Hutch regarded his partner carefully, "I saw that other movie that you and her went to."

Starsky's fork stopped on the way to his mouth. He plopped it down and looked at his partner. "Wha?"

"That movie," Hutch repeated, enjoying his partner's reaction. "The one about the doctor who found out he was gay."

Starsky's eyes widened in disbelief. "Hutch, you're kidding."

The blond shook his head.

"Why?" Starsky demanded incredulously. "Why would you have gone and seen that after I told you what it was about?"

Hutch shrugged, legs stretched out in front of him. "I was curious because it had upset you so much. I thought I should see it, too, so I could understand better where you were coming from."

Starsky considered the reply, then quietly said, "Hutch, sitting through that movie was above and beyond the call of friendship."

Hutch laughed. "Starsky, it wasn't that bad. I mean, sure, I've seen lots of better movies in my life, but I didn't find it offensive, for chrissakes."

The other's eyes narrowed in disbelief. "Hutch, those guys were kissing each other on the lips. I mean, it just wasn't natural. I mean...." Starsky trailed off in frustration.

"Starsky, come on," the blond scolded. "Is it really that repulsive? If you and I were to kiss each other for some reason, do you think it would be the most disgusting thing that ever happened in the world?"

The curly-haired man blinked at Hutch, mouth dropping open as though his partner had joined the ranks of the mentally deficient. "Hutch, what do you and me have to do with anything those two guys were doing on screen? I mean -- I mean -- it's not like they, you know, cared about each other or anything. They just wanted to fuck." He reached for a slice of cranberry sauce with his fork. "They didn't care who it was with."

Hutch's laugher disintegrated. Intrigued, he said, "Starsky, are you telling me it would have been okay if they were, say, friends first?"

"Well," Starsky paused to consider, buttering a cold roll, "at the very least, be friends first."

"And then you wouldn't have been repulsed?" Hutch clarified doubtfully.

Starsky took a bite of the roll, then made a face at its coldness. He put it down. "I'm not saying watching two guys kiss is my favorite thing to watch, but at least it would have been more palatable if they maybe had a history together. You know, if I could'a believed that they really, really loved each other. But that writer guy just wanted a one-night stand. And the doctor guy didn't really know what he wanted. Kind of took the romance out of the whole thing, if you know what I mean." He made another face while sipping his wine. "When you think about it, the title didn't match the movie at all."

Hutch snapped a fingertip against his glass. "Well, I'll be darned."

Starsky seemed to decide to finish the cold roll, anyway. After swallowing he said, "I know you like thinkin' I'm some kind of homophobe or whatever you call it. But I'm not, Hutch." He gazed at the tabletop. "Finding out about Johnny Blaine helped put things in perspective for me." He looked at his partner. "I'm not sayin' I understand it. But that doesn't mean I'm gonna stand in the way of anything consenting adults wanna do together."

Hutch felt something warm settle in the pit of his stomach, even as his surprise made his heart beat just a little faster. He gently said, "My mistake."

Starsky shrugged, accepting the apology. Curiously, he asked, "Did you like seeing them kiss?"

Since Hutch had started this conversation, it was only fair that he now answer Starsky's questions. "Yeah, I guess I did. Mainly because it was nice seeing a movie actually reflecting real life and not trying to gloss over it. Though, really, overall I think the movie did gloss over it, with everybody being so syrupy happy in the end."

"Yeah, it wimped out in the end," Starsky agreed. Then he shook his head. "I wouldn't have wanted to be one of those actors. They must have been gay or something, huh, to be able to do that on camera?"

"Not necessarily. They may have just been hungry young actors looking for a job. Or maybe very professional actors who believed in playing the part as believably as possible."

"Well, I don't know about them, but I could never in a million years kiss another guy on cue."

Hutch's tone was scolding again. "Oh, come on, mushbrain. Are you saying that if some pervert held a gun on us and told us to kiss or he'd shoot that you couldn't do it?"

Starsky was pouring himself another glass of wine. "That's different," he said firmly.

"How different?"

"Because you're talking about us," Starsky replied reasonably. "That's different than talking about gay guys. Or just…guys. We're in a whole different league, babe."

Starsky's confidence, coupled with the endearment, surprised Hutch even more. "What do you mean?"

Starsky dabbed his mouth with a napkin. "I just mean that the relationship like you and I have isn't like what gay guys have. It's different. And I don't mean because they have sex and we don't. I mean because we, you know, love each other and stuff. But they don't seem to care much about that. They just wanna score. That movie made it clear that most of 'em don't care about ever even seeing each other again."

Hutch gazed at his wine glass. He felt a little bit embarrassed, and ashamed, that he had misread his partner so completely. The other clearly wasn't against men loving each other, just the crass way the gay population went about it. Or, at least, the majority....

He shifted in his chair. "It's probably not fair to say that all gay couples are like the people in the movie. I'm sure that there are some who have long-term, even permanent relationships, and who love each other as much as any heterosexual couple."

"That's what I mean," Starsky noted impatiently. "'Like any heterosexual couple.' Me and you don't have anything to do with those couples either."

Hutch had to grin at that. "Of course not. Our relationship is hardly a heterosexual one."

"Yeah," Starsky nodded firmly, as though to close the subject. "And that's what I meant by you and I bein' in a whole different league." Now it was the darker man's tone that hinted at scolding. "So, you can stop waiting for me to fly off the deep end while you talk about us kissin' each other, 'cause it ain't gonna happen."

Hutch blushed, creasing his napkin in his lap. He had been read as clearly as any open book.

Starsky stood and began putting empty dishes onto his own empty plate. As he passed by his partner, he smacked the blond on the cheek with the back of his hand. "Big dummy," he said with affection.

The taller man sat for a moment, trying to dream up an adequate retort. The attempt failed so he decided to swallow his medicine. "Sorry," he said as he stood to clear away the remainder of the table.

"Yeah, well don't be," Starsky said while running water over dishes in the sink. "I admit I always had more of a problem with the whole idea than you did. I'm just cooler about the whole thing now." He grouped silverware together and fitted smaller dishes within larger ones so they didn't take up so much room. As he accepted more dishes that Hutch brought, he beamed at his partner. "Dinner was great."

Hutch shrugged, feeling a little embarrassed. "Yeah, not too bad for a bachelor, huh?" He glanced at his partner's meticulous work. "Does that mean you're cleaning up since I cooked?"

Starsky turned away, smacking him on the hip in passing. "Not on your life, blondie. Just letting 'em soak." He paused a moment, then turned back to add, "But I'll help clean up any leftovers the next few days."

As Hutch wiped off the table, he watched his partner move over to the little Christmas tree. He couldn't restrain a smile. How predictable Starsky was at times....

"This one for me?" Starsky asked a bit timidly as he picked up the box that had been under the tree when he arrived.

"No, the cleaning lady."

"Oh," Starsky replied casually. "I suppose givin' her gifts is gonna make her work all the harder on this place of yours."

Hutch washed his hands and dried them on a dish towel. Starsky hadn't been fooled. His instincts were in full gear tonight, reading all the nuances of everything Hutch was saying. "More wine?"

"Naw. Finish it off."

Hutch poured the bottle's remaining amount into his glass. Then he carried it over to the tree, where Starsky was still holding the box. "Go ahead," the blond invited. "Open it."

Starsky sat on the sofa. While he started tearing into the wrapping, Hutch took the box Starsky had brought and set it on the couch.

The paper came away and Starsky grinned. "You may not be very original, but at least you listened."

Smugly, Hutch said, "It was cheap enough that it didn't interfere with my principles." Every year, since that year, there had always been an uneasy tension about his getting Starsky gifts. He'd always done it every year since, and every year he was reminded of the guilt he felt, despite his silent, stubborn rationale that attempted to validate his action when he hadn't gotten Starsky anything.

Starsky opened the box and pulled out the item within. He looked into the main barrel of it and, with delight, said, "You even got popcorn." He said it as though getting popcorn to go with a popcorn popper had been unaccountably gracious on his partner's behalf. He studied the popper a moment longer, glanced at the little instruction book, then looked at Hutch. "Open yours."

"It's a sweater," Hutch announced, starting on the wrapping.

"What makes ya think that?"

With forced patience the blond replied, "Because nearly every year for the last six years you've gotten me a sweater. Except for the ant farm."

"Oh," Starsky said after a moment, as though he hadn't realized that. Then he defended, "Well, you usually won't go shopping for one yourself. If I didn't get you sweaters for Christmas and your birthday you'd be running around in rags."

It was somewhat true, Hutch had to admit, as he didn't enjoy shopping in general, let alone for clothes.

Removal of the wrapper revealed a white box. Taking the lid off the box revealed a sweater. Hutch held it up. It was royal blue, interwoven with streaks of red.

"Matches your eyes," Starsky noted.

And yours, Hutch thought. It then occurred to him that, as with many of the clothes he owned, Starsky was as likely to end up wearing it as he himself.

"Thanks," he said, putting it aside.

Starsky was on his feet. "Let's have some popcorn."

The blond's mouth fell open. "You've got to be kidding," he said with disapproval, though he knew his partner wasn't.

Starsky was already in the kitchen. "Gotta try this thing out."

Firmly, Hutch said, "Starsky, I'm stuffed -- and so are you."

"I won't make very much."

Hutch sat on the couch and watched while his partner glanced at the manual, then tossed it aside, plugged in the popper, and measured out a serving of popcorn. Before long, the small machine was humming, with Starsky leaning over it anxiously. Within a minute it began making telltale noises. "Works great," Starsky announced. "Why don't you get off your duff and melt some butter?"

If Hutch remembered right, the side of the box had said that butter should be melted before turning the popper on, so the machine could add it while the contents were popping. But Starsky obviously hadn't had the patience to wait that long to get started. With a sigh, Hutch was on his feet. He took a slab of butter out of the refrigerator, which had been placed there just a few minutes before and was already soft from being on the table. Unceremoniously, he picked it up with his fingers and dumped it into a saucepan, turning the gas stove up to maximum.

"Don't let it burn," Starsky warned, watching him. The popper was done and Starsky turned it off. "Got any clean bowls?"

Sighing, Hutch dutifully held the saucepan a few inches from the flames, rotating it around so the butter could melt without being burned. "I don't think so. You'll have to rinse one out." He nodded toward the sink.

While Starsky tended to getting the popcorn into a newly rinsed bowl, Hutch finished with the butter. He then handed the pan to his partner, who poured it over the exploded kernels and grinned as contact between the two substances made a satisfying hissing sound. Starsky then sprinkled them with salt.

He shoved the bowl at Hutch. "You get the first bite."

Curious, Hutch extracted a few pieces from the bowl and put them in his mouth. They were warm, salty, and fluid from the hot butter. He nodded his head. "It's good." Then he turned away. "And I don't want any more."

When he'd sat back down on the sofa, Starsky was still standing there, holding the bowl, crunching noisily. "This is great. Let's watch a movie."

Hutch restrained another sigh. "The only thing that's on is Christmas movies."

"What's wrong with that?" But Starsky had caught Hutch's frown. He left the bowl on the counter, as though it was now an old toy, and pulled a beer from the refrigerator. As he approached the sofa, he relented, "Okay, you don't want to watch any mushy Christmas stuff."

"Neither do you, goofball."

"Wanna play chess?"

"Not right now." Though he was comfortable sitting back on the sofa with his feet stretched out in front of him, Hutch made the effort to get up and retrieve his wine glass. It only had another sip and he finished it off.

"Wanna see if that Sylvester Stallone movie is playing anywhere?"

Hutch didn't want to go anywhere, but hesitated to give a third "no" in a row. "The newspaper's right there."

Starsky was standing next to the tree, and he bent down to pick up the entertainment section, leaving his beer on the coffee table.

Hutch set his glass of wine down and took a step toward where his partner was standing with his nose buried in the paper.

Stallone. Movies. Tonight's conversation. Starsky's insistence that he was totally nonchalant about the idea of them kissing each other.

Hutch didn't want to go to a movie.

He put one hand on Starsky's back. With the other, he took the newspaper out of his partner's grasp and let it drop to the floor.

"Hey, what are you -- "

Hutch took Starsky's chin. Bent his own head. Just before he closed his eyes, he saw recognition in his partner's and knew that Starsky understood what he intended to do.

His hand was still on the other's back. Hutch was grateful, for he needed some sort of support as he touched his lips to the other's. It wouldn't count, he told himself, if it was just a simple peck. He pressed more firmly.

Starsky tasted of beer, butter, and salt. He seemed to lean toward him. Press back.

Hutch couldn't believe it, then scolded himself again for thinking such. He inched closer, felt his blood pressure fall with a sinking sensation, and resisted the urge to draw the other closer.

Instead, he stepped back.

Starsky was looking up at him, mouth open, eyes asking a hundred questions. Hutch shrugged. "Just wanted to make sure you weren't pulling my leg earlier."

Starsky exhaled, and Hutch felt the wisp of breath across his chin. "What did you think, I was gonna run away screaming?"

Hutch didn't answer. He bent his head again.

He pressed a little more firmly this time. The lips beneath his responded equally --not pressing back, but meeting Hutch's movement.

The blond's heart quickened and he moved their mouths up and down, a small motion that still did not part them. He stepped closer, feeling their chests touch, their hot breaths on each other's face....

He drew back.

Starsky took a deep breath. "Hutch, I'm not made of steel. You keep this up, we're gonna have a problem to deal with." The tone held no threat or fear, just information.

Perhaps it was the wine. Perhaps it was the way Starsky was reading him so clearly tonight. Perhaps he had been curious ever since the subject of the movie was brought up. Perhaps he was simply waiting for his partner to set the boundary.

Hutch moved against Starsky and joined their lips together once again. The hand on Starsky's back now moved to encircle the masculine frame, and he felt Starsky's hand grip his arm… but only to steady himself, not to push away.

Hutch's head felt light, his heart thundering, his lower body quivering, but in a wonderful way that wasn't distracting. He had done all he could now to explore the other's lips. He nudged more forcefully against them, introducing a slight up and down motion, and felt as though a mountain had been conquered when they parted for him.

He heard his own breath now, felt his own gasps, as his tongue explored along teeth, feeling tiny kernels of popcorn. He pressed closer, trying to reach the roof of that beloved mouth, and then had to grab Starsky with both hands when a tongue brushed against his own.

Hutch swallowed the pool of saliva that was building. His knees were feeling weak, and he pulled one of his hands back and gently pushed it against Starsky's chest.

His partner understood and moved back to the sofa, sitting on it, their lips remaining sealed together.

As Hutch bent to maintain the contact, it suddenly occurred to him that the last thing he wanted was to be on top of Starsky. It was up to the other to set the boundary, draw the line. In one swift move, the blond broke their kiss, then pulled Starsky on top of himself as he lay back against the sofa.

Starsky wasted no time in resuming their activity. One hand rubbed against Hutch's shirt as he rejoined their lips, his legs squirming to find room against Hutch's, and the blond was not surprised to feel the firm heat at the other's center, matching his own… the "problem" Starsky had spoken of.

He felt the quiver in his own flesh, the surrender of all responsibility as Starsky's hand continued to rub his chest. There was also puzzlement that the other wasn't stopping this, was letting his own heat build....

Hutch felt a sinking sensation. He had no desire to push Starsky away, but the blond was only allowing the other's lingering kisses now, instead of participating.

Perhaps, he realized forlornly, Starsky was only responding to his dare, proving that he wasn't going to run away, showing Hutch that he could give as good as he got. Showing he wasn't afraid of what they were capable of feeling for each other, doing to each other.

The regret was sharp, stabbing at the blond's chest. He wished he could take back everything he'd said tonight, so he could know that what was happening now was something born of Starsky's own free will, and not merely a response to Hutch's taunting.

That Starsky was enjoying it, Hutch did not doubt. Just as he knew his own responses were for the man on top of him, and not merely a reaction to a physical stimulus. Everything about Starsky was wonderful… from his sheer willingness to do this, to the warm affection Hutch knew the other held for him, to the nice way Starsky fit against him.

A different league.

But now, Hutch wondered, had he pushed their relationship to the category of the mundane by toying with his partner's feelings?

And he had thought, this Christmas, he would do something special for Starsky.

What a joke.

Coldness touched Hutch's lips, then spread through his upper body, as the warm pressure was removed. He opened his eyes and saw Starsky sitting up in the middle of the couch, his rear barely finding room against Hutch's outstretched leg.

The darker man was hunched forward, elbow on his knees, and letting out a series of deeply held breaths. His face was serious, yet soft. His whole stance spoke of regret and a grudging, yet gentle, acceptance.

Hutch didn't know what had caused the boundary to be reached. He did know that the sooner they talked, the less awkward it would be. Grasping at straws, even trying a bit of humor, he asked, "Did it stop feeling good?"

There was the barest hint of a smile as Starsky lowered his gaze to the floor. Then the other stated simply, "You weren't ready for this, Hutch."

Hutch drew himself up, his back rather than his head now resting against the arm of the couch. He wondered if it was too late to repair the mess he'd made. "Starsky, I-I didn't plan this." He hoped that the other didn't believe it had been a game, a form of manipulation.

Starsky looked at Hutch from the corner of his eye. "Just wanted to see how far I'd go?" The tone wasn't angry, but instead complacent. Accepting.

Before Hutch could gather an answer, Starsky shifted so he was partially facing the blond. "Look. Bottom line," he made a short chop through the air. "I'm willing to take it as far as you wanna go."

Hutch blinked, his voice a bit breathless. "Then why did you stop?"

Starsky presented an indulgent smile, as though humoring a child. He tapped his forehead. "You've got too much going on up here."

Hutch lowered his gaze, wishing he could refute the statement, but knowing that he could not. And realized that he should have known that Starsky would know that he didn't have his partner's full participation.

Starsky crossed one leg over another and pulled off his shoe, wriggling his toes as though he'd been wanting to do that all evening. "There's lots of ways of saying 'no', Hutch," he said tenderly, rearranging his sock. "I've never believed in forcing a 'yes' from anyone."

"It wouldn't be force," Hutch said in a small, hopeful voice, relieved that Starsky was removing his other shoe, indicating he was staying.

Starsky looked over his shoulder at him, those eyes as gentle and caring as Hutch had ever seen them. "Maybe not," he relented. "But if you know what you want, deep down inside, then why are you thinking about it so hard?"

Curious, Hutch asked, "When did you know… what you wanted?"

"When you kissed me," Starsky replied simply. Both feet were now on the floor, but he sat with his legs far apart, as though still needing room for the swelling there. Hutch's own had disappeared. "Except, well ... it's not like it's never crossed my mind before." He looked squarely at his partner. "But I figured out a long time ago that I wouldn't be put off by it if something ever happened between us." He gazed at the coffee table, expression growing intense. Distantly, he said, "Seems kind of natural, in a way."

"A different league, huh?" the blond offered, still feeling the loss of the physical closeness they'd shared only moments ago.

Starsky didn't reply immediately. Then, "I was afraid we were gonna get to the middle, and then you were gonna want to stop. And by then I'd be pretty ticked off." He glanced up. "I thought we should stop now; your brain was going in so many circles."

Hutch was ready with his own confession. "I was afraid that you were only going along because you thought I was teasing you. That's why I was hesitating."

Starsky's gaze lowered once again. In a dry whisper, he said, "Being loved by you isn't being teased."

A huge balloon seemed to inflate within the blond's chest. Such a simple statement. And it seemed to encompass so much. Hutch closed his eyes briefly, savoring it. Then with a tiny smile, he scolded, "Now who's getting mushy?"

"Hey," Starsky whispered with a shrug, "it's Christmas. 'Posed to be enjoying your loved ones."

Hutch reached out. "Ah, come 'ere, you big dope." For a split second, as Starsky moved near, the blond was afraid the other had misunderstood his intent. But then the other settled back against the lanky frame, as though this closeness was all he needed.

Hutch wrapped a grateful arm around Starsky's chest. The weight was back. So was the warmth. Like a hundred times before.

"Think it would spoil it?" Starsky asked.

"What?" Hutch said, though he was pretty sure what his partner meant.

"If we... you know." Starsky fingers brushed at the arm that was wrapped about his chest.

"You must not have thought so," Hutch pointed out, "if you were ready to go further."

"What about you?" the other pressed.

"No," Hutch decided after a moment. Then, softly, "I just was worried that maybe it was for the wrong reasons." He loved feeling Starsky's upper back against his front. So perfect. Would it spoil their unique friendship if they crossed the line? Would they ever again have special little private times such as the evening after Hutch had almost drowned? Or would they always feel an urgency -- an obligation -- to join physically in order for their feelings to be complete?

"Only right reason is love," Starsky pointed out, gently squeezing Hutch's wrist. "We've got lots of that."

It made so much sense. Hutch wished he had his partner's self-assurance. Starsky was so comfortable with the idea. Remarkably so.

"If I promise to stop thinking," Hutch ventured, placing a hand on Starsky's head, fingers burrowing in the curls, "can we go back to what we were doing?"

Starsky turned his head to look at Hutch, his eyes so bright, so clear. And now, finally, there was shyness in his voice. "Think, maybe, we should… move off the couch?" In a soft whisper, he added, "So we have more room?"

Hutch wondered at his own feelings, at how they could seem so intense, and yet still expand further. His heart seemed to swell in his chest, and he couldn't get his vocal chords to even vibrate. He simply nodded.

Starsky's grin widened, softening his face. Then he was on his feet, pulling his partner up by the wrist.

Hutch stood, but stopped there, breaking the grip. "I-I'll g-get the lights." He was stuttering like a teenager. And the other was looking at him as though considering a protest. Then Starsky nodded once and turned toward the bed.

Hutch turned off the lamp next to the sofa. Then he moved to the main light switch next to the door. He put a hand over his chest, feeling the rapid beating of his heart. He left the bathroom light on and moved to the kitchen. He paused, surveying the dishes in the sink.


Was it a sin to do what he and Starsky intended to do on a holy day? Neither of them was very religious; yet, participating in acts that were surely forbidden by any Biblical standard -- especially when enjoying them for the first time -- would surely be frowned upon by many religious leaders.

He turned off the main kitchen light, leaving on the one directly over the sink.

His own intent for having Starsky over this day had been to show him how much he appreciated him, and had appreciated him, over the years. Now, he would be able to add a depth to that appreciation that he'd never even considered achieving. He could add action to all his words, cross all boundaries so that no pleasure, no gratification, was forbidden. He could love freely, and not fear how strong it ran.

Hutch stepped into the sleeping area.

From the kitchen light, he could see that Starsky was sitting on top of the covers, against the headboard. He had briefs on and an undershirt. Hutch suspected the latter had been pulled out of his own drawer, for he didn't think Starsky had been wearing it beneath his sweater. Plus, it looked a little familiar...

"Where you been?" Starsky asked.

Hutch bit down on his tongue to stop himself from saying, "Just thinking." Instead, he replied, "Anticipating."

"Well, hurry and get over here," Starsky growled, "so we can keep doin' what we were doin'."

Hutch obeyed, stepping closer to the bed. Starsky sounded so confident after all, so sure of the rightness of where they were headed this night.

He pulled his own sweater over his head. Kicked off his shoes. Slid out of his jeans. Rolled off his socks.

Now dressed as the other was, he looked up and saw those muscular arms reaching for him.

Hutch knelt on the bed and moved into the outstretched arms. They pulled each other close, and their lips found each other again. Hutch drank greedily, wondering how he had stood the few minutes they were apart. Starsky's flesh was so pliant and malleable beneath his own. He tightened his arms around the smaller, broader form as they relaxed on their sides, their legs intertwining.

Starsky's hand rubbed against the front of his shirt, and Hutch groaned his approval. Starsky was licking at the blond's lips, tickling enough that Hutch let them part, and the determined tongue dived inside, sweeping along his teeth, the valleys surrounding them. Hutch's hands moved up to grip Starsky's head, fingers intertwining with the curly strands, feeling he couldn't press the other close enough.

Suddenly, Starsky pushed against him, and Hutch obeyed, rolling onto his back, bringing his partner on top of him. Their mouths parted. Starsky took Hutch's wrists and pressed them against the pillow, above his head. The grip wasn't tight, but Hutch understood what was wanted and kept his hands there. The illumination from the kitchen allowed him to see Starsky raking his eyes over him, a feral glint in their depths.

And then the shoulders hunched forward, the dark head ducked, and the next thing Hutch knew that he was being attacked with kisses. The lips kissed his eyebrow, sucked in his earlobe, drooled along the bridge of his nose, pulled against his mustache.

Electricity sparked through his bloodstream and Hutch understood, ultimately, this was what he wanted. To have all responsibility taken away. To not have to think. To be devoured.

A wet tongue was drawing a line down the middle of his clothed chest, Starsky panting hungrily....

Hutch's heart was so full it ached. He couldn't bear it any longer and grabbed Starsky and rolled them over so that he was on top. He buried his face in Starsky's neck, slobbered over the flesh there, sucked it back in, held the other tighter when Starsky made an ecstatic noise between a scream and a groan.

The t-shirt in his way annoyed him. Hutch shoved it up to his partner's armpits, sucked in a nipple and its surrounding flesh. But the protrusion was too small to be satisfying. He straightened and pulled at the cotton briefs, gratified when the firm column of flesh popped free. He pushed the underwear down to Starsky's knees, then lowered his mouth on the musky-smelling flesh.

He loved that it filled his whole mouth. He thought he'd been successful at taking it all in until it tickled the back of his throat. He had to release it partway, cough, and then he sucked on the upper half avidly, while holding the lower half with both hands.

A warning hand pressed against his jaw, and Hutch realized that his teeth were brushing along the tender flesh.

Relax, he told himself. Go slow. Make it last. No teeth.

He inwardly flinched at what he had done, knowing how teeth could hurt. He was determined to make up for it immediately. He pulled off the heavy cylinder, sucked his lips around his teeth, and lowered his mouth on it once again.

It was big. Thick. Heavy. Salty at the tip. Hutch worked his tongue along the underside. Bobbed his head back and forth. Sucked it back toward his throat while holding it in place with his hands.

There was a noise. A groan that was almost a whimper. But the gasped words encouraged him. "Oooohh. So good. Soooo good."

It seemed to have grown even larger in the past few moments. The corners of his mouth ached from being stretched so unnaturally. Hutch grasped it more firmly with one hand; with the other he explored lower, feeling the taut testicles, massaging the sac with his fingertips.

There was a hiss, a sharply indrawn breath. And then a hand was in his hair, massaging. It moved down, brushed against his cheek, lightly clasped his jaw.

"Jesus God," were the only coherent words.

Hutch groaned deep within his own throat, wanting Starsky to know that he was enjoying this, too.

The hand released his jaw, drifted down to his throat, rubbed at the muscles working there. A scant whisper penetrated the darkness. "Fantastic, babe. Incredible."

The hand was suddenly on his forehead, spilling into his hair, gripping lightly. Hutch knew what it meant, and both his hands gripped the base firmly once again.

A soft cry began from deep within the other's throat. The hips beneath his hands bounced as best they could. The cry grew deeper, louder. Both hands now gripped his head.

The cry reached a climax; the fingers clenched his skin, then made an effort to let go, fingertips stroking instead. And then there was the feeling of moisture shooting against his tongue and the side of his mouth. Hutch gratefully relaxed his jaw, felt the heavy cylinder withdraw. He swallowed, tasting a potent bitterness while listening to panting in the darkness.

Just when he thought there might be a moment of awkwardness, Hutch felt a hand push against his cotton-clad chest. He let it press him down to the mattress, and the next thing he knew a heavy, moist, overly-lax body was on top of him, applying frantic kisses to his face and neck.

The lips settled on his, and Hutch allowed his own to part, inviting the tongue to sample the remains of what he had swallowed. When it had its fill, it withdrew. And then Starsky's arms were around him, squeezing desperately.

Kisses returned to his face, light and tender.

When they stopped, fingers outlined his features with a feather touch. Then, for a moment, all contact was withdrawn.

A hand touched his belly, brushed down to his underwear. It pressed against the outside, and Hutch undulated against it, just now becoming aware of how hard he was. He groaned at the touch, pleading....

He heard Starsky swallow. "Been neglected, huh?" A pause, then, softer, "Don't know if I can do it as well as you."

It wasn't false modesty. Hutch sensed the hesitation. And for himself, he was sure that holding stationary while he was worked over wouldn't be enough. He wanted something more. Freedom. Abandonment. To not have to think.

He sat up, causing the hand to drop. Then he shifted onto his knees, took his partner by the waist. The other obeyed the pressure, rolling over onto his stomach.

Hutch sensed the hesitation once again, this time stronger. He placed a hand on Starsky's lower back, let it rest there a moment, then rubbed in a small circle. Waiting for a sign of yes or no.

After a long moment, he took the lack of response as acquiescence to proceed. Leaving one hand on his partner's lower back, Hutch slipped partially off the bed and reached to the nightstand He fumbled with a drawer handle, then pulled out a tube of K-Y. He hadn't used it -- for any purpose -- in a long time.

He laid it on the bed, then got to his feet, quickly removing his t-shirt and briefs. He knew the light from the kitchen reflected the paleness of his skin, knew that Starsky could see the sword jutting from him.

Hutch knelt on the bed again, massaged a buttock with kneading fingers, wanting Starsky to want it. He felt the muscles relax beneath his hand. He moved to the other buttock, waited for the same response. Then he opened the tube of gel.

When a dollop was on his fingers, he found himself hesitant to apply it, feeling it would be oddly impersonal despite what it was leading to. He wanted more than his fingers to be touching his partner.

Holding the coated fingers up, Hutch shifted on the bed, stretching out to lie alongside his partner. He hooked his leg around the other's, pressed his front against Starsky's side, then rested his head on the nearest shoulder blade. It was awkward, but he was eventually able to free his other hand enough to rest it against Starsky's head, petting into his hair. It was only then that he allowed the hand with lubricant to rest against the crevice of his partner's buttocks.

Hutch kissed the skin beneath his lips. Then he used his smallest fingers to part the flesh so his larger ones could find the center there. The coated digits stroked the tight recess, and he couldn't help but think how impossibly small it seemed.

He hoisted himself onto an elbow, found the tube, inserted the nozzle where his fingers had been. Then he squeezed.

The hips beneath his hand wriggled. "Feels funny," came the soft chuckle.

Hutch wasn't sure what he should say, but knew saying anything would be better than silence. His own voice was very soft. "Maybe a little massage will make it feel better." Having laid the tube aside, he put his fingers back in that warm place and stroked at the gel there. He pressed it against the sides of the wrinkled opening, gently kneading it along the skin, the lubricating effect allowing his fingers to move deeper into the crevice.

He lay back down, resting his cheek on his partner's shoulder. He kissed it again; then, with minimal pressure, was able to slip his index finger past the muscled barrier. Starsky squirmed a little, and Hutch froze. He waited a beat, then whispered, "Okay?"

"Just feels funny," Starsky replied. "But better than when the doctor does it."

Hutch relaxed again, let his finger massage the walls further. He didn't want this to be like a medical exam. Didn't want it to be like that at all. He wanted Starsky to like it. Yet, feeling the throb of his own hardness, he didn't know how he could do it so it didn't hurt. With women, it had always hurt a little. But they never seemed to care much, unless the night as a whole was a mistake.

The last thing he wanted was for this to be a mistake.

Starsky's legs parted. Hutch felt the buttocks relax and knew he was doing something right. Both his inner and outer fingers were massaging. He could feel the taut muscle relax, the opening becoming more elastic. He paused, stroked there with his middle finger, then tried to force it inside.

The hips bucked gently, and there was an indrawn breath.

"Sorry," Hutch said. The fingers paused, and he felt a throb of frustration.

Starsky had an elbow braced against the mattress. "Go ahead," he said breathlessly. "You can't help it."

Hutch pressed his cheek against the shoulder blade again, kissed it. His middle finger pushed against the barrier, and he kept pushing even as he felt a gasp of pain from his partner. And then it was in. He rotated the pair of digits around the edge, pushing outward, trying to stretch it. He felt Starsky relax again.

After a moment of silence, his partner glanced over his shoulder. "Your prick on fire yet?"

The fingers kept working as Hutch wondered if Starsky was teasing or just asking for information. He realized it had to be the latter. And he had to be honest. "It wants it bad," he whispered.

"Then go ahead."

Hutch closed his eyes, kissed the skin beneath his cheek once again, this time with a delicate tenderness. "It'll hurt," he said gruffly.

"I know. Don't let it make you afraid," came the gentle whisper. "Just let me deal with it in my own way."

Hutch kept his eyes closed. He knew what Starsky was saying. His partner wanted the freedom to express the pain without worrying that it was going to make Hutch stop.

He pushed the fingers in deeper, felt the second knuckles slip past the barrier, causing the hips to wriggle once again. He planted a series of kisses along his partner's flesh. Then, feeling the aching throb of his hardness, he knelt up and removed the fingers.

Hutch picked up the tube of K-Y and squeezed a stream of ointment along his phallus. As he rubbed around the taut cylinder, he watched while Starsky grabbed a pillow and placed it beneath his own hips.

How remarkable it was that Starsky was willing to do this, was going to let him do it, was encouraging him to do it.

And how badly he wanted to do it.

Why hadn't they ever considered it before?

Questions would have to wait, for his straining desire would not. Hutch moved over to the raised buttocks, got between the parted legs. He took a fleshy cheek in each hand and parted them. They tensed, but he stretched out his legs behind him, lowering his hips, letting his erection slip into the crevice there. He let go of the right buttock and used his hand to place the flaring head against the greased opening. He kept hold of it and lunged with his hips, feeling a primitive satisfaction as the rose-colored head disappeared into darkness.

Starsky made a deep-throated noise of pain.

Hutch withdrew, his chest sinking, his heart pounding, his penis aching. "Here," he whispered in a strained voice, taking Starsky's upper arm, "here, on your side."

Panting heavily, Starsky obeyed, and Hutch pulled the pillow from beneath him. The blond lay behind his partner, feeling he could continue now, since Starsky could move away from him whenever he wanted.

Hutch inched closer, inhaling the musky sweat -- such a familiar, comforting scent --and wondered how he could have ever wanted anyone else in his bed. He took his phallus in hand, brushed it along Starsky's buttocks until finding the recess. He aimed it. And pushed.

He had to push some more in this position. Finally the flesh parted, and he held still, listening to his partner gasping for breath. But Starsky didn't pull away, and Hutch yielded to his flesh's desperate yearning. His pushed harder, felt the tight tunnel close around him; and he in turn wrapped his arm around Starsky, wanting to hold him close, wanting him to share the warmth he felt.

The hips molded inside his wriggled and twitched. Starsky swallowed thickly, then his breath evened out, and Hutch felt him relax.

Hutch pressed again. He went deeper this time, while requiring less effort to do so. He pulled back, loving the tingle that started where their flesh met, before radiating throughout the rest of his body. He groaned, thrust gently again, kissed Starsky's upper arm.

"It's okay now," came Starsky's whispered assurance. "Go ahead," he beckoned tenderly, "go ahead."

Hutch let himself slip out almost completely, then he pushed back in -- a little deeper this time -- and then let it fall back again toward the outer muscle. He repeated the process, loving how it felt, and let a groan of pleasure emerge from deep within his chest, let his lips part to voice his gasp of utter contentment, desperate to have Starsky know how much he was enjoying this.

His arm tightened around the furred chest -- how comforting it felt to press it against himself -- and rocked his hips back and forth, establishing a regular rhythm, seeking the abandonment he had yearned for earlier. He continued to voice every wonderful ache that traveled through him.

As the peak neared, he found there was so much more he wanted to say. "Oh, dear, God," he gasped in a trembling voice, gripping Starsky tighter. "Oh, God. Oh, God. Incredible." He felt the sweat break out on his forehead. "So incredible. Jesus God."

When he knew he was there, Hutch tried to hold back -- to delay the inevitable -- but couldn't. As the release claimed him, he fell silent, paying his own private homage to all those wonderful little tubes and vessels of flesh that made for such exquisite sensation.

He closed his eyes and waited until lethargy washed over him. Then he yielded to the fullness in his chest and hugged Starsky closer still against him, dragging his lips across his partner's back, then kissing every bit of flesh they could touch.

A hand reached back and patted him. Then Starsky was on his feet, and Hutch realized that his phallus had withdrawn on its own. His partner headed for the bathroom.

Feeling his bangs plastered against his forehead, Hutch reached to the nightstand and turned on the lamp. There was a towel next to the bed -- something he'd missed while cleaning up in preparation for Starsky's visit -- and he picked it up and used it to wipe himself off.

Uncomfortable with waiting -- and wondering what his partner was thinking -- he got up and turned off the kitchen light, hoping that Starsky wouldn't want to return to his own apartment before the night was over. Hutch found his underwear and pulled the briefs around his hips before getting back into bed and straightening the covers.

There was the sound of the bathroom door opening, then footsteps on the floor. When Starsky appeared he was wearing Hutch's orange robe, loosely tied. His bright eyes regarded Hutch bashfully. He turned his back, removed the robe, then leaned to a bureau and pulled open the drawer that contained Hutch's clean briefs. He spent a moment putting them on, then slipped beneath the covers.

Hutch had been watching him, and now he stared into darkness, unsure of what to say.

For half a minute they lay in silence. Then a hesitant voice whispered, "Hutch?"

Relieved, Hutch glanced over at his bedmate. "Hm?"

"This is the best Christmas I've ever had." The voice held a trace of childlike eagerness.

Hutch reached beneath the covers, found a bare arm. He patted it and felt himself smile. "Yeah, I guess it's the best I've ever had, too." Feeling more secure with the conversation, he shifted onto his side. "You okay? I mean -- "

"Yeah, I'm okay. Just hurt a lot at first. You must have a huge prick or somethin'." Before Hutch could decide what to say to that, Starsky added, "I guess I just never noticed before."

"Why would you have?" Hutch wondered seriously.

Starsky made a noise that was almost a giggle. "Yeah, there was no reason before, was there?"

And now? The question lay in the silence between them.

Hutch decided to ask it another way. "Starsk, did it... did it feel okay? I mean, after at first?"

"Yeah. I mean, especially knowin' how much you were enjoyin' it." His voice dropped an octave. "I really like makin' you feel good, Hutch."

It wasn't the answer the blond was looking for. "But -- " he tried again.

The mattress shifted and a hand patted his cheek. "Yeah, it felt okay. A turn-on. I just sorta wish I could'a participated more." A pause. "Just need more practice."

Hutch let the last line go, realizing there was only one way he'd ever know the answer to his own question. "Want to do it to me?"

"Not tonight." The hand on his cheek now stroked with the backs of the fingers. "That blowjob you gave me did me in." Starsky let out a long breath. "Man, that was somethin'."

"Like makin' you feel good, too." Hutch relaxed further, finally deciding to resort to the honesty that had always served them so well. "What happens now?"

The mattress shifted again, there was the pull of the bed sheets, and then one very familiar-feeling body maneuvered on top of Hutch. He loved the secure feeling it gave him, the warmth that was always so welcome.

Starsky's hands pressed against Hutch's cheeks. "What happens now," he whispered, his breath brushing along his partner's skin, "is whatever we want to happen." The voice grew more earnest. "You're the person I love most in this world, Hutch. I'm thinkin' that this whole thing just seems kind of natural. So maybe we should just let it be. Not make any ultimatums or anything; just take one day at a time. See where it takes us."

Hutch turned his head, kissed Starsky's hand. He nodded, feeling his chest swelling, tightening his voice. "Yeah." He nodded again. "Okay."

He knew Starsky had leaned closer, for the hot breath was stronger. The darker man firmly whispered, "This part's the best part of all."

Hutch's lips parted as they were covered by those of the man above him. He felt the blood stir in his veins, warmth rise up through his body. He pressed back eagerly, thinking that he couldn't deny what Starsky said. If they could be sure the sensations never built... they could satisfy each other eternally just by doing this.

But the sensations would always build, he reminded himself as his sated groin stirred beneath the pressure at his mouth.

Hutch turned his face away. "No more," he pleaded. "Not tonight."

Starsky grunted with satisfaction and shifted to Hutch's side. "Sleep then?"

Hutch reached to pat his partner on the forehead. "Yeah. Sleep." Hutch moved beneath the covers, getting more comfortable. "And... Merry Christmas."

Starsky giggled like one who had gotten away with something deliciously dirty. "Yeah, Merry Christmas to you, too." He kissed Hutch on the nose then pulled the covers over his shoulder while turning on his side, away from Hutch.

Hutch shifted into a similar position and draped his arm over Starsky's waist. Eventually, sleep claimed him.




Starsky re-read the section of the report for the fourth time. Still, the words didn't register with his brain. Timidly, his eyes rose to the subject of his distraction.

And he found blue eyes meeting his own, a warm smile beneath the mustache.

Starsky automatically smiled back. Then he looked back down at the report. Got to stop doing this, he scolded himself. We can't let anyone else know. Can't let it affect our performance on the job.

They hadn't talked about it, but Starsky didn't think they needed to. Besides, it had all just taken place last night. An innocent move on Hutch's part, a not-so-innocent response of his own. And Starsky was left wondering why now and never before. Had they wasted years?

No, he refused to believe that. What they did last night had felt natural, was the result of something that had proceeded at its own pace. To have forced things any sooner would have been a mistake. In fact, Starsky did not know how things could have happened sooner, for the possibility had only crossed his mind on occasion, and even though he'd known he would be agreeable if it ever somehow came up, he also had no reason to think that it would.

Last night had been both a culmination of feelings… and a beginning.

Reading the sentence for the fifth time -- and still not comprehending it -- Starsky felt his grin widen.

The phone rang and his partner reached for it. "Hutchinson." A pause, then, "Certainly, Clarissa, Starsky and I will be down within twenty minutes."

Starsky was already grabbing his jacket. "What?" he asked as Hutch hung up.

"Clarissa wants us to come by the suite." They headed for the door. "Jenni's gone to the studio, but she remembers something about Tommy Clarkson."


After they knocked and called their identity through the door, there was the sound of the chain sliding back. When the door opened, they found themselves facing a tired, red-eyed version of the perky woman they'd met before.

"Come on in," she said, stepping back. She was wearing a robe and her hair looked quickly combed. "Can I get you a refreshment?"

"No, thank you," Hutch said. Behind their hostess' back, he exchanged a worried glance with his partner.

She indicated the couch, then sat down in a chair opposite. She didn't say anything, but only stared at the rug.

Starsky and Hutch sat, and there was a lingering silence.

"Clarissa?" Hutch prompted.

She looked up, tried a smile. "I apologize for my appearance. Christmas with an alcoholic does that to you."

Starsky swallowed, feeling a wave of pity. "Ma'am?" he encouraged.

She laughed briefly without humor. "Every year I tell myself it's going to be different this time. But it never is. He tries," she sighed, "...tries to be happy and have a big celebration." Another sigh, more weary. "But then he drinks. And falls asleep. And wakes up vomiting." She closed her eyes. "And nothing ever changes."

Starsky gently ventured, "It's my understanding that the biggest hurdle in getting help for someone is getting them to admit they have a problem in the first place. Jenni outright told us he has a problem. Surely, he can be admitted to a clinic -- "

"He won't go," she said firmly. "It's not that he doesn't want to get better. But... he... has obligations. To the record company. To his agent. To the band. To a whole bunch of people who depend on him for a living." She swallowed. "He won't go into treatment unless someone he's obligated to orders him to do it. And no one in charge of his career is going to rock a million-dollar boat."

Starsky started to speak, but then she waved a hand, straightening. "Sorry. This wasn't why I called you down here." Her smile was timid. "I'm afraid I... get lonely sometimes… and I tend to dump on anyone who's available."

"It's all right," Hutch said. He opened his notepad. "You mentioned on the phone that you remembered something about Tommy Clarkson."

Her eyes narrowed in thought. "It may be nothing. But it sort of stuck in my mind, though I didn't remember it until today."

"Go on."

"It was when I was at the KFTV studio where Jenni was taping an interview. The band members were also there, and so was Tommy. I went to the ladies' room during break. When I came out, I saw Tommy with some other man -- a stranger. I don't know who he was, or what they were talking about. It's just that the stranger looked out of place. And when I passed by them, Tommy looked up and saw me. He seemed… embarrassed, I guess." She shook her head. "That's all. I'm afraid it isn't much."

Starsky asked, "Would you recognize this stranger if you saw him again?"

"I'm not sure."

"You haven't seen him anywhere else?" Hutch asked.

"No. That was the only time. It struck me as odd because he was so obviously out of place. And also that Tommy would be talking to him, because Tommy kept to himself so much. I mean, the guys let him hang out, but only because he stayed out of the way."

"How long ago was that?" Starsky said,

"Maybe six weeks ago. Right before Jenni started recording the new album."

Starsky pursued, "Did anyone else in the band see the stranger?"

Clarissa shrugged. "I don't know. I never talked to them about it. After that, all the attention was on the interview, and then the band recorded a song for a lead-in." She grew thoughtful. "I think Tommy must have left after that. I don't remember seeing him around later."

Both detectives stood. Hutch said, "This gives us something new to work with. We'll re-interview the band members and anyone who was working at the TV station and see if anyone else saw the stranger."

She stood and showed them the door. "I'm sorry I can't remember anything else."

"Hopefully, someone else did," Starsky said with assurance. "This could put a whole different spin on things."

"Meaning..." she ventured, "that the murderer wasn't after Jenni, but wanted to kill Tommy in the first place?"

"Don't jump to conclusions just yet," Hutch warned as they exited into the hall. "Please. Continue to be very careful."

"I will. Thank you, detectives." They listened to her lock the chain behind them.


Starsky's gaze moved from the bedroom window to rest on the small bookshelf next to the stereo. He could detect the outline of the furniture in the darkness, for the street lamp provided a degree of illumination, even with the curtain closed.

Beside him, Hutch snored gently and Starsky smiled at the sound. They were, once again, in Hutch's apartment. Starsky couldn't sleep; it wasn't from restlessness, but from not wanting to waste the peace that he felt with slumber. He and Hutch had done it again tonight -- just their second time -- and the love they shared still felt new and startling in its enormity. Every thing Hutch did -- kissing, petting, loving, sucking -- was done with such relish and intensity of purpose. Starsky felt like he could lie in bed forever, absorbing it all. Yet, his need to return all that he was given made himself no less active. And now his blond was sleeping peacefully, sheer satiation guiding him into slumber.

Starsky wondered if they could ever tell Huggy. If they could ever tell Dobey. If he himself would ever tell his own mother. Definitely not yet. It was all too precious and wonderful to share with others. But, someday....

Starsky sighed. He hoped time would only enhance what they had, and not cause the downward spiral that so many relationships suffered through.

There was a grunt beside him. Starsky turned to look at his partner, who was sleeping on his back, his face turned away. The snoring had stopped, leaving deep breathing in its wake. Starsky's thoughts started to drift, but then there was another grunt and a twitching of a hand that lay outside the covers.

Carefully, the curly-haired man shifted to his side to regard his partner.

The twitching intensified. Now there were soft words. "No. No." A wave of his hand. "No. No. Stop." Deep, heavy breathing. Then, barely audible, "Help."

Starsky acted on instinct. He tugged on an arm. "Hutch."

The blond quickly shook his head, breathing heavier. "No. No… HELP!"

Starsky shook him and the blond started awake, eyes open wide. "Hutch, it's okay," Starsky said, then softened his voice, rubbing at the arm. "It's all right."

Hutch stared at him for a long time, and then his eyes seemed to adjust to the darkness and he relaxed against the pillow. He rubbed at his face and grimaced.

"What were you dreamin' about?"

"Don't remember." Hutch abruptly turned on his side, away from Starsky.

The other's mouth dropped open, instincts in full gear. "This isn't the first time you've had this dream, is it?"

A heavy sighed answered him.

Starsky edged closer. "What's it about?"

"I don't know," Hutch said wearily. "I never remember."

"How long has this been going on?" Starsky couldn't quite keep the accusation out of his voice.

"A couple of months maybe."

"Why haven't you told me?"

Hutch turned over. Irritably, he demanded, "What was there to tell? I don't remember it, Starsky. I just know that I... wake up sometimes, my heart pounding like crazy." His voice softened. "It's not like it happens every night. Just every now and then."

"But not before two months or so ago?"

"No," Hutch said, obviously puzzled by his own reply.

Gently, the other probed, "Have you tried remembering it?"

Hutch shook his head guardedly, then sat up. He sighed, as though resigned to the conversation. "It's more a feeling than images. Fear. Not a I'm-going-to-get-killed kind of fear, but more..." he searched for the right word, "betrayal kind of fear." He looked at his partner. "Like: how can someone do this to me?"

Starsky firmed his jaw. Betrayal could only occur at the hands of someone who was trusted in the first place. For someone to have caused such strong betrayal that it created nightmares, the trusted person would have to be very important to Hutch. Extremely important.

Starsky felt his throat tighten. He cautiously raised his hand, thumb turned toward himself. In a hushed whisper, he said, "Is it something I did...."

"Oh, come on," the blond scoffed. "Don't be ridiculous. How could you have ever done anything to me to cause nightmares?" He reached out and ruffled Starsky's hair, voice gentle. "I love you, stupid. You could never hurt me like that."

Starsky relaxed, convinced that Hutch believed it, at least consciously. "But if it's betrayal you feel, then it would have to have been caused by somebody you trusted. Trusted a lot."

Starsky's cheek was batted with the back of Hutch's hand. "Come on," Hutch grinned, "stop pretending to be a psychiatrist. It's no big deal. The dreams appeared out of the blue. They'll go away just as fast." He settled back beneath the covers.

'"M not so sure," Starsky admitted, spooning himself around the lanky body. Eventually, they drifted back to sleep.


"Are you absolutely certain," Hutch addressed the semi-circle of band members, "that none of you saw Tommy talking with the man that night at the TV studio?"

There were expressions of deep thought and shakes of heads. Hutch waited, certain he'd received a negative from all of them, before he softened his stance. They were in a lounge area outside the recording studio. In addition to the five band members, the tour manager and a representative of the record label -- who had also been present for the TV interview -- were there.

"What about," Starsky suggested, "any other occasions when Tommy was around? Is it possible that any of you might have seen Tommy with a stranger in some other setting? Like at a concert? Or in the men's room here at the studio? Or out in an alley when you were all having a smoke?"

"Tommy didn't smoke," a burly man -- the drummer -- said. "He liked to be like Jenni, and Jenni doesn't smoke."

"Not even weed?" Starsky pursued doubtfully.

"Jenni doesn't do weed, either."

"We offered Tommy some once," the bass player said. "He just shook his head and walked away. Not judgmental or anything. We just thought it wasn't his thing."

"Okay," Hutch broke in, "you're saying that Tommy didn't smoke cigarettes or weed because he wanted to be like Jenni. In what other ways did he mimic Jenni?"

"Wore the same jacket," the bass player put in.

There was silence, and the blond prompted, "What else?"

They all looked at each other, at a loss for answers.

Starsky said, "Didn't he ever say anything like he'd like to be in the band?" When there were more blank faces, he said, "Surely, he wanted to be a rock star just like Jenni."

"He never really said much," the drummer pointed out. "He was also quiet and stayed out of the way. That's why we let him hang around. He wasn't obnoxious like most fans. Usually, fans wantsomething from their idols. All Tommy wanted was to hang around."

"Why?" Starsky pursued with soft intensity. "Is it because he didn't have anything better to do with his time?"

"Take a guess," Hutch prompted when there was more silence. "What was the impression you had of him?"

Impatiently, Stan Harrison, the road manager said, "He obviously liked Jenni's music. Like you just said, he didn't seem to have anything else to do with his time, at least not during the day. He liked Jenni, he had the time, he was a good kid, so we let him hang around. What's the big mystery?"

"The big mystery," Starsky replied, moving toward the man and speaking in an overly patient tone, "is that Tommy was murdered. And we don't know why anyone would do that to such a nice, never-got-into-trouble, didn't-even-smoke-weed kind of kid. Now," having watched the manager lower his gaze, Starsky let his own drift to the other members, "I know that you've all heard the speculation that the target was meant to be Jenni. Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn't. But there's a lot of mystery about this Tommy fella. And that's why it's so important that you remember any possible details about him."

"I think he was a fag."

Heads turned to Stan Harrison as everyone fell silent.

"All right," Hutch acknowledged, approaching the manager while rubbing his face wearily, "what did Tommy do to make you think he was gay?"

Harrison shrugged. "I didn't see nothin' that would be what you'd consider evidence. It's just I thought he had the mannerisms. My brother's a fag; I know what they're like."

Hutch's eyes surveyed the others. "Did anyone else have that impression?"

"I thought he might be one," the bass player put in. "But I didn't give it much thought; not really my business, you know?"

There were murmurs of agreement. Hutch bowed his head, his body language showing defeat at the lack of information.

"Wait a sec," Starsky said. He came to stand beside his partner while addressing the group. "Do any of you think that Tommy might have been in love with Jenni?"

There was a snort from Harrison. "The kid was a fan. Fans are in love with their idols, gay or not."

Starsky waved a hand. "I'm not talkin' about fan worship. I'm talking about real love, the deep down stuff. Any of you get the impression that Tommy felt that way about Jenni?" There were more blank expressions, accompanied by shrugs.

"What if he was?" Harrison pressed. "How would that help your investigation?"

Starsky was thoughtful for a long moment, then he flipped his notepad closed. "I don't know." He turned away.

Hutch said, "Thanks for your time, gentlemen." He followed his partner out the door.

Once in the car, Starsky said, "We've gotta talk to Denise Wellington again. See if she knows anything about Tommy bein' gay."

"And if we decide that he was?"

Starsky shrugged. "Could have somethin' to do with the reason he was murdered, don't you think?"

The blond said, "I suppose through the gay scene he could have gotten in with the wrong crowd. But what would being in love with Jenni have to do with it?"

"It may not have anything to do with it," Starsky agreed, starting the motor. "But it's about the only lead we've got going right now, so we better milk it for all it's worth."


Denise Wellington admitted she'd had her suspicions about Tommy's sexual identity, but she had no details or proof to offer.

As they drove away from her place, Starsky said to his partner, "Why don't you log us out?"

Hutch glanced over at him. "My place or yours?"

The other couldn't restrain a grin. "Mine's closer."

Hutch picked up the microphone. "Control One, this is Zebra Three."

"Go ahead, Zebra Three."

"We're signing off for the day. Please log us out."

"Logging you off at five-fifteen. Have a good evening."

"Zebra Three out." Hutch hung up the microphone and gazed out the side window. He felt butterflies shift in his stomach, nerves tingling throughout his system, carrying extra blood to the necessary area.

Most of the time, he realized, he tried not to think about them while at work. For it was so distracting. Perhaps even dangerous when considering it took so much of his focus.

And then there was the fear. Fear that what was now so exciting and felt so right might be extinguished somehow down the line. For now, it was something precious that needed nurturing and protecting from anything that could possibly harm it.

His physiological response was increasing, and Hutch tried to use conversation to distract it. Eyes still on the window, he asked, "Ever wish we could just retire and be together all the time?"

"We are together all the time," Starsky stated reasonably. "But as far as... being together… well, I'd like to think it'd get old in a hurry if we could have it whenever we wanted it."

Hutch had to smile at the cheerful, level-headed response, and it made his heart swell all the more. He rested his head against the window.

Starsky reached over and squeezed his knee. "Gettin' hot for it, babe?"

Hutch didn't answer, and tried instead to focus on the scenery going by.

"We do pretty good, don't you think?" Starsky went on. "I mean, keeping our hands off each other. At least, not behaving any different than usual."

"Thank God for the usual," Hutch noted softly. He was still gazing out the window, and felt a tingle when the hand moved up to his thigh.

"Be there soon," his partner soothed. "You want me to devour you, or do you want to do me?"

The question was so Starsky-ish, the casual way it was asked. Under normal circumstances, Hutch would prefer that romantic inclinations be acted upon rather than discussed and the question would have irritated him. But normal had gone out the window a few days before. He wasn't sure that anything his partner did from now on would ever be able to irritate him.

"Hm?" Starsky pressed. From the corner of his eye, Hutch could see the other looking at him.

Hutch shifted his legs, but his gaze remained on the side window. He wanted Starsky so bad. Take him in his arms.... "Devour you," he replied. But there was an important addendum. "And then you can have me." They hadn't done that yet. Hutch was anxious to know what it was like, and to give that to Starsky.

Starsky took his hand away. And focused on driving.


They had no sooner shut the door behind them than they were in each other's arms, clutching at each other, mouths locked together.

Hutch took the upper hand, holding his partner tight against him, then reaching down and grabbing handfuls of denim-clad buttocks. He tore his lips away from Starsky's mouth so that he could bury them instead in the hollow of his neck, sucking in skin, licking at salt, nibbling along the stubbled jawline.

He heard himself groan. Heard the other's response. He forced the flaps of the jacket back. Quickly, he pulled Starsky's shirt out of his jeans and bunched it up to his partner's armpits. He started to kneel… licking at the path of hair that guided him down past the chest… the navel....

He tore the snap of the jeans apart. Pushed the clothing down. And then he devoured.


It was dark. Quiet, save for the chirping of crickets. Peaceful. He was young, intelligent, handsome; engaged to be married. The whole world was at his disposal.

Soft dirt pressed against his cheek. When he inhaled no air reached his nostrils,


He screamed.

And screamed again. And again.

Someone was screaming back. Restraining him. And just when he knew he was going to pass out, air rushed into his lungs.

"Hutch, for godsakes!" Fearful words. Strong harms holding him. Crushing him.

He blinked at the darkness, taking deep breaths. He knew where he was. Starsky's bed. Middle of the night.

A stubbled cheek pressed close. "It's gonna be all right." Soothing this time. "It's all right." Hands rubbing up and down his arms.

His heart was pounding. But he was breathing normally now. Air was freely available.

The grip loosened, but the hands still massaged. "Another bad dream. Huh?"

Hutch swallowed, realizing how he must have frightened Starsky. He patted his partner's hand. "I'm okay now."

"Jesus, Hutch." Starsky let go and looked at him. "What the hell was that all about?"

"Just a nightmare." His words were overly casual.

"Whaddya mean 'just'? For chrissakes, you sounded like you were dying. What the hell were you dreaming about?"

Hutch settled back against the pillow, hating this part, because his answers could only disappoint. "I don't know," he admitted in a small voice.

"You gotta remember something!"

"Couldn't breathe."


He shook his head. "I don't know."

There was a sigh of frustration beside him, then Starsky, too, settled back, the motion rattling the bed. "You couldn't breathe because… what? Somebody choking you?"

"No. More like… smothered."

There was a long moment of silence. Then Starsky whispered, "Hutch? Was it the same nightmare that you've had before?"

"I-I think so. It's hard to say, because I can't really remember anything. But it... felt the same." He heart was calming from the conversation.

"Hutch." Worried now. Firm.


"Do you think...." There was an audible swallow. "Do you think that, maybe, you've been havin' nightmares because… because of us?"

Hutch knew what Starsky meant. He felt a mixture of guilt and denial, even as he felt the ache in his sphincter muscle because of what Starsky had done to him tonight. It had hurt and had been awkward, but he had loved it that Starsky had done that to him. And he knew it would only be more satisfying in the future as they honed their skill at pleasing each either.

"Starsky, that's ridiculous."

"Think about it, Hutch. I mean, well, I don't think either of us ever intended to end up this way." His voice trembled with dread. "Maybe, you know, deep down it's going against... well, I don't know, what you've always believed about yourself or whatever, and something inside of you is rebelling against it."

"Starsky, you know I really hate it when you try to pretend you're a psychiatrist." Hutch knew the scoffed words were to cover the exasperation he felt that Starsky could possibly think such.

"What other explanation do you have?" Stubbornness challenged.

"For one thing," it felt good to say it, "I've been having similar versions of this same nightmare weeks ago. Months ago. It doesn't have anything to do with us." Hutch wanted to make that clear. He turned on his side and drew close to his partner. "Turn over," he directed. "On your other side."

Starsky did, and Hutch spooned himself around him. He let his hand stray up and down the fur of the other's chest. "Love you," he whispered to the nearest ear. "Wouldn't trade what we've been doing for anything."

The words worked, for he could feel the smaller form relax. Starsky grabbed the hand that had been rubbing at his chest and gently held it. "Maybe you should see, like, a hypnotist or somethin'. Maybe somebody like that could help you remember the dream."

It sounded so farfetched. "Ah, Starsk, let's just let it go for now."

"The dreams just aren't going to up and go away, Hutch."

Hutch pressed his nose against the other's neck, absorbing the strong male scent, the safety and security it represented. "Go to sleep," he whispered. "Love you. Love you so much."

"Ah, Hutch," Starsky sighed in defeat.


Early the next morning, Starsky and Hutch knocked on Jenni's hotel door. It opened a few inches and the familiar voice of the bodyguard asked, "Who is it?"

"Starsky and Hutch." They held up their badges.

"Come in." Trey stepped back and held open the door. "I'm afraid that Jenni is due at the studio in a short time."

"This won't take long," Hutch said.

"I'll get him," Trey said, turning away.

Starsky watched his partner study the decor. Hutch had the same haggard look he'd worn a number of times in past weeks. Only now, Starsky knew the reason. He just didn't know the reason behind the reason.

He'd experienced recurring nightmares of his own at various times during adulthood. Always, they were job-related. And, always, they eased with Hutch's nearness. Even knowing Hutch was sleeping on the sofa could be a big deterrent.

That's why it was so disturbing to know that he could curl up with Hutch the whole night through, after making passionate love to him, and Hutch still suffered from the dreams, which seemed even more intense than they had been before. The question Starsky feared finding the answer to was if his presence was somehow -- despite Hutch's stubborn denial -- part of the reason for the dreams in the first place.

"Ah, it's Starsky and Hutch." Jenni briskly rubbed his hands together. "What can I do for you this morning?"

"Just a few quick questions," Hutch said. "Some of your band members told us they thought Tommy might have been gay. What do you think?"

Jenni shrugged. "I never really thought about it. You know, in the entertainment business there's lots of gay people, so it's no big deal one way or the other. I mean," he laughed briefly, "lots of people think I'm gay just because my name is Jenni." He looked from one to the other. "Besides, what would that have to do with Tommy's murder?"

"That's what we're tryin' to figure out," Starsky said. "You never got the impression that Tommy might have been hot for you?"

"No," Jenni said with surprise. "If he was, he never showed it. If he had showed it, we never would have let him hang around. We normally don't let any fans hang around the studio. It's just that he was such a good kid and never caused any trouble."

Starsky sighed. "Yeah, that's what we were afraid you were going to say."

"Sorry I can't help you more." The rock star paused, then, "Look, don't you think it's pretty safe to say that the killer wasn't after me? It's been weeks and no one's made another move."

"That's because you've been careful," Hutch pointed out. "Let down your guard...." he let the implication hang in the air. "I know it's frustrating that it's taking so long, but let us keep running down our leads on Tommy to see if we can come up with anything before we can say for certain that he was the intended victim. Remember," Hutch smiled kindly, "you've got Clarissa to think about, too."

Jenni nodded. "Yeah, I hear you."


"One more," Hutch said, "and then we call it a day."

Starsky nodded grudgingly. They'd been visiting bars, shops, and street corners known to be frequented by gays, flashing Tommy's picture. No one claimed to recognize him.

The Torino came to a halt outside the Queen Bee, another bar. Both men got out, then entered a darkly-lit establishment that was occupied by only a few customers.

"What can I get you?" the bartender, a large man, asked.

They presented their badges, watching the bartender frown with disapproval. Hutch pulled out a photograph. "You recognize this man?"

The bartender's brow furrowed. Then he smiled. "Yeah. Tommy Clarkson." Then another frown. "What's he done?"

"He's dead," Starsky informed him. "Murdered. We're trying to find out why."

The expression showed shock. Hutch pushed his advantage: "What can you tell us about him?"

The man shrugged. "Seemed like a nice enough kid. Really liked that Jenni character. You know, the rock star."

"Just how well did he like him?" Hutch pressed. "If you get my meaning."

The burly shoulders shrugged again. "Idolized him, I guess. Dressed just like him. Hey, I heard that Jenni's not really gay, if that's what you're asking. You know, he just puts on a big act by giving himself that name and acting all weird. It's showbiz."

"Think maybe Tommy still fantasized about him?"

"Sure. He wanted to be him."

"That's not what we're talkin' about," Starsky said, leaning on the bar with his chin in his hand. "You think maybe Tommy wished he and Jenni were an item?"

The bartender snorted. "Probably. And I used to be in love with Johnny Carson. So what?"

"You tell us," Hutch prompted. "Everyone we've interviewed says that Tommy was a nice kid, never got into trouble. Why would someone murder him?"

"Seems a bit bizarre to think it might be because he had a thing for Jenni. We all have our private fantasies."

"Okay," Starsky relented, "what about other reasons? What about falling in with the wrong crowd? Did he ever come to this joint with a buddy?"

"Nah, not Tommy. He was always a loner. Nice kid, though. Just sat at the bar and made casual conversation. Never looked like one to attract trouble." The man's voice saddened. "How did it happen?"

Hutch said, "He was shot to death outside Jenni's recording studio about six weeks ago."

"Do you have any suspects?"

"'Fraid not," Starsky replied.

"Man, poor Tommy."

"Do you know of anyone else who might be able to tell us more about him?"

"Officers, believe me, if I could help, I would. Tommy was a nice kid. But I don't know nothin', other than what I told you. And I never saw him associate with anyone else other than a friendly 'hello' if someone sat next to him at the bar. I never even saw him leave with anybody."

Hopes fading, Hutch took out a card. "If you happen to think of anything else, please give us a call at this number."

"Certainly, Officers."

As they emerged into the sunshine, Starsky said, "The murderer had to be after Jenni. He just had to."

"Seems that way," Hutch sighed. "But why? And when is he going to make another move?"


"Yeah, Ma, I know, I know," came Starsky's voice from the kitchen. "But you know how it is, Hutch and me are so busy all the time. But it's not like I'm being deprived of romance, if you know what I mean. California girls are nice girls."

Hutch turned the page of the Sports Illustrated on Starsky's coffee table. He felt a twinge of amusement at the conversation -- Starsky once again defending to his mother why he wasn't seriously involved with someone. Of course, the not-so-amusing part was that when his mother did find out whom he was seriously involved with, she'd be in for a big surprise.

Hutch tried not to think about that.

Starsky said, "I love you, too," and hung up the phone. Sighing, he said, "I wish she'd stop worrying."

Hutch glanced up to see Starsky peek into the oven at the meatloaf. "If she didn't fuss over you, you'd miss it."

"Probably right," Starsky muttered beneath his breath. "Looks like another fifteen minutes ought to do it."

The blond reached for the phone. "I'm going to try Jenni's hotel again." They'd tried reaching him from the Torino, but he was neither home nor at the studio.

Starsky watched while Hutch dialed from the phone that was on the end table. He'd been willing to do the cooking tonight because Hutch looked so worn out, though he knew the blond probably appeared so only to his own so-experienced eye.

He perked up when he heard Hutch talking, obviously to Trey. Hutch warned them to not let down their guard, as they were back to being convinced that Jenni was the intended victim all along.

Starsky put on green beans and mashed potatoes while the conversation wound down. He was so focused on the preparation of dinner that it was a while before he realized how quiet Hutch was. He stepped into the living area and found Hutch lying on the sofa. Asleep.

He didn't wake him until dinner was ready.


When the phone rang in the squadroom Hutch picked it up. "Hutchinson."

"Detective Hutchinson?"


"My name is Flora Jones. I handle all the mail for Jenni's fan club."


"After... well, after what happened to that poor boy before Christmas, I got to going back through the thousands of letters that Jenni's received."

Hope flared. "And?"

"I picked out a few that sounded a little mysterious to me. They didn't strike me as anything to worry about at the time, but considering what happened...."

"Can you bring the letters to the downtown station in LA?"

"Yes, I know where it is. I can be down within the hour, if you'd like."

"Terrific. We'll be waiting." Hutch hung up and grinned at his partner. "We may have a new lead."


Letters in hand, Starsky and Hutch parked in front of the recording studio a few hours later. Trey met them as they got out of the Torino. "Our drummer is sick so they've called off recording today. Jenni had to make a pit stop, and then he'll be right out."

Starsky and Hutch relaxed back against the Torino. "You ever see Jenni's fan mail?" the blond asked.

Trey shook his head. "I don't think he ever sees it, either -- just a few that Flora thinks he might appreciate. Most of 'em say the same thing. And most people who write just want an autographed picture, or something like that."

Hutch indicated the file he was holding. "We've got a few here that are a little out of the ordinary. They may not amount to much, but they're all we've got."

Trey stepped closer. "What do they say?"

Jenni emerged from the studio. "Hey, Starsky and Hutch," he said with a lethargic wave. Then he stumbled.

A shot rang out, lead bouncing off the pavement next to Jenni's feet.

Trey scrambled to Jenni, covering him. Starsky and Hutch grabbed their guns from their holsters, kneeling beside the Torino.

"There!" Starsky pointed to a figure sprinting away near the back of the studio. He took off after him.

Hutch raced to the driver's side of the Torino and gunned the car forward. He maneuvered the mars light onto the roof while trying to follow the direction of his partner. Starsky and the gunman had disappeared down an alley, and Hutch called into headquarters that he was in pursuit.

When he drove to the other side of the alley, it was only to see Starsky disappear down the one next to it. Hutch followed, watching his partner's stride shorten with fatigue. The suspect was nowhere in sight.

Hutch halted when Starsky did and jumped from the car. "Damn!" the other swore, slamming his hand against a brick wall, "I lost him!"

Hutch touched his shoulder. "Let's get back to Jenni."


When they drove back to the front of the studio, they found Jenni sitting on the pavement, looking haggard, Trey pale-faced beside him. Other band members were standing near and talking amongst themselves.

"We lost him," Hutch said as they emerged from the Torino. "Is Jenni okay?"

"Yeah," Trey said. "Just shook up." He glanced at the detectives. "Did you get a good look at him?"

They shook their heads.

As they knelt before the rock star, Hutch realized then that Jenni's appearance wasn't just from shock over what happened. His head was swaying with drunkenness.

Trey muttered, "I should never have left his side."

Jenni almost seemed to giggle. "Can't go to the john alone," he slurred.

Hutch frowned at the bodyguard. "The drummer got sick?" he asked doubtfully. It seemed obvious that Jenni hadn't been able to record in his current condition.

Trey looked sharply at Hutch. "If you haven't got anything useful to say, then keep your mouth shut. You don't know anything about it."

Hutch gazed back at the man, realizing how much the other cared.

From behind them, Starsky said, "One thing's for sure: we know the killer was after Jenni all along. Tommy just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Trey put his arms around Jenni and started to lift. "Come on, let's get back to the hotel."

Starsky and Hutch helped Trey bring Jenni to his feet.


An hour later, all four men were at Jenni's hotel suite, along with Clarissa. The rock star was passed out in bed, while Clarissa and Trey studied the fan mail the two detectives presented.

"They do seem rather threatening," Clarissa said, looking over the papers that were spread out on the coffee table. There were a total of ten letters written by three different people. None had threatened Jenni's life directly, but they all spoke scathingly of him. "This one in particular," she tapped it, "the one that says, 'Remember Jimmy'."

"Who's Jimmy?" Hutch asked.

She shrugged. "I would assume Jimi Hendrix, though he was before Jenni's time, and the name is spelled differently. I don't think Jenni knows any other Jimmy's." She looked up at the bodyguard, who was pacing in front of Jenni's bedroom door. "Trey? Are you aware of anyone named Jimmy whom Jenni knows?"

He shook his head. "The detectives have shown me those letters, and none of them ring a bell with me."

Clarissa nodded to her visitors. "I doubt that Jenni has ever met any of these people in person. None of these letters is strong enough to call really threatening."

Starsky sighed. "The fan club president was trying to make an extra effort to help by finding letters that had a sinister tone. We've already checked out the senders, but none of them live at the same address anymore, and we haven't been able to find where they are now."

"Look at the dates." Clarissa pointed. "None of these letters was written any more recently than six months ago."

Hutch cautioned, "That still doesn't rule out the possibility that one of them could be our man. People who try this kind of thing usually think about it for a long time."

She shivered. "I hope he's caught soon."

"That's our intent," Hutch said gently. "Remember, we've got extra police posted throughout the hotel, and there will be others on the streets and surrounding the studio. But that shouldn't stop you from being as careful as possible."

"We will be."

Hutch gathered up the letters. "That's all for now. If you think of anything else that can be useful, you know how to get in touch with us."

They moved toward the door, Clarissa and Trey following.

"Gentlemen," Clarissa said, swallowing, "I'm sorry you had to see Jenni like this. He usually does his heaviest drinking at the end of the day. But, sometimes...." She shrugged with a sad smile.

"He needs help," Starsky told her. He glanced at Trey and firmly said, "He needs someone who cares about him to convince him that he has to get help."

Without emotion, Trey said, "I'm afraid the situation is much more complicated than that. But your concern is appreciated."

Starsky stepped closer to the bodyguard. Jaw firm, he warned, "Don't think that I don't know what I'm talking about." He rested his hand on Hutch's back as he followed his partner out the door.


His face was pressed against the soft dirt. He couldn't breathe. He struggled, but a hand was on his head, holding him down. His whole future was ahead of him, and now it was going to be lost in the most ridiculous way....


He struggled… struggled....


The voice was so loud that it hurt his ears. Hutch snapped awake.

"Where are you?" Starsky demanded. "Where?"

The other's voice sounded angry in the darkness, matching the gripping arms that shook him.

The anger was effective, for Hutch found himself obeying without thinking. "Under water," he replied breathlessly.

Now tenderness as the arms loosened their hold. "At the park...?" Starsky whispered incredulously.

Hutch shook his head. It sounded wrong. "No. Years ago. College, I think."

There was a soft noise of fingers searching, then a lamp illuminating the bed. Hutch blinked, then found Starsky gazing at him with that intensity that only he possessed.

Starsky whispered, "You almost drowned when you were in college?" A moment later, he clarified, "Somebody tried to drown you when you were in college?"

Adrenaline surged, and Hutch got up from the bed. They were at his apartment, but he didn't know where to move. He stood with his back to Starsky, staring at the wall, but seeing something else… another time, another place… He wanted to put Starsky's questions to rest.

"Hutch," the other now prompted gently. "Who?"

Hutch knew why Starsky was asking it that way. The tone reminded him of what he'd told Starsky weeks ago: a sense of betrayal by someone important to him. Who in college was important enough to him to have the power to betray him? Vanessa, certainly, but she wasn't at fault here. No, it was....

Hutch moved a few steps closer to the wall. His shoulders slumped when the answer became so obvious, for the memory was so clear now. How could he have ever forgotten it?

"Jack Mitchell," he said.

It was a moment before Starsky spoke again. Then, "Jack?" A pause. "The same Jack Mitchell we met in Vegas?" He wasn't able to hide his disapproval.

Hutch turned back toward the bed. He wondered how that incident from so long ago could have such far-reaching consequences in the present. He snorted dismissively. "It was nothing, really. Just horseplay that got out of hand. We were both drunk. We'd been at a fraternity party. There was a pond nearby. I think I'd insulted him -- just kidding -- in front of the other guests. I knew he was mad -- in a playful way, though -- and I took off running toward the pond and he came after me. We sort of wrestled, but we were both laughing. I tripped or he pushed me and I landed in the pond. The next thing I knew, I couldn't breathe because I was under water, and I felt Jack's hand holding me down. I knew he was just kidding -- he wasn't really trying to drown me -- but I also realized that he wasn't going to let me up in time and I was going to die. And -- and it angered me, so I fought like crazy and was able to throw him off." Hutch shook his head at the irony. "I don't think he ever did realize how close I came to buying it. I never said anything, because there never seemed to be a reason to. I just put it out of my mind… forgot about it."

Starsky blinked. "But, Hutch, then why now are you havin' dreams about it?"

Automatically, Hutch reached up and brushed his fingers along his right cheek. A fact became clear, and he said, "The dreams didn't start until last November -- when I almost drowned in the park. I guess -- I guess that brought it back."

His partner was staring at him. "How come you're touching your cheek like that?"

Hutch put his hand down, thinking it must look odd. And it was such an odd memory, such an odd correlation. In fact.... He smiled a little. "I guess that's the connection. When Jack had my head under water, my cheek brushed against the bottom of the pond. I remember thinking how soft the dirt felt. That same thought crossed my mind when it happened in November." He furrowed his brow, puzzled. "But I don't remember thinking about Jack then. But obviously...." he shrugged, "I guess my subconscious or something must have remembered about Jack."

Starsky picked up a pillow and hugged it. "It's been almost two years since we saw Jack in Vegas, but maybe seeing him after all this time added to it."

"Yeah, I guess so."

"Wow," Starsky said, sighing deeply. "And to think you've been bothered by dreams all this time."

"Maybe they won't bother me anymore," Hutch pointed out hopefully, wondering if he knew what he was talking about. "Since it's in the open now, there's no reason for my subconscious to be bothered by it anymore."

"Guess we'll see, huh?" Starsky asked doubtfully. Then, "I know you probably don't want to hear this, but knowing what Jack did to you back then -- horseplay or not -- doesn't make me any fonder of him."

Hutch frowned, sitting back on the bed. "He's dead now, so it doesn't matter."

Starsky reached for him. "I didn't mean it that way."

Hutch managed a tiny smile. "I know." They snuggled up together.

Starsky tugged on the blond's nose. "Any other times you almost drowned that I don't know about?"

"Ha, ha." Hutch was glad to be finished with the conversation, but he wanted to remind Starsky of something. He moved so that his forehead was touching the other man's. "Guess this proves for sure what I told you before -- the dreams don't have anything to do with what we've been doing together."

"Yeah," Starsky agreed, his breath blowing along the skin of his partner's face.

"I love you," Hutch said gently.

"Yeah, yeah," the other grinned.

"I'm not sorry about any of it. I could never be sorry."

Rather than replying, Starsky bent forward for a kiss. "Mmm."

"Why don't you turn out the light," Hutch whispered, "and let's see what develops."

Starsky obeyed. As soon as the room went dark, he grabbed the blond's hand and placed it inside his underwear. "This is what's developed."


Hutch gazed out the window to the street far below. "How many more days until the record is finished?" They had stopped by to visit Clarissa on their way to Parker Center.

"Another week," Clarissa replied. "We'll have a two-week vacation in Acapulco, and then Jenni and his band start a road tour." She looked away. "Forty-two cities. He'll be on the road six months."

"And then?" Hutch asked, turning toward where she sat on the couch.

She dropped her head in her hands. "Talk show appearances. Interviews. Maybe a little break. Then another album." She took her hands away. "I'm so tired of it all. I know Jenni is, too. But if he stops, the money stops… everything stops."

"Doesn't he have money put away so he could take time off?" Starsky asked.

"Yes, but it doesn't work like that." She poured herself a drink. "He has a contract with the record label. He's supposed to do three albums in the next four years. If he were to take a prolonged leave, he wouldn't be able to do those three albums in that amount of time, and the record company would sue, and his reputation in this business would be ruined."

Hutch said, "Doesn't his contract have some sort of clause that excuses him from his obligations because of illness? Surely, it wouldn't take much to get a doctor to tell them that he needs to spend some time in a clinic."

She hesitated, rolling her glass in her hands. "I don't know. I suppose I can talk to Bob -- Jenni's lawyer -- about it. But Jenni would have to agree."

"Why wouldn't he?" Starsky asked. "He talks like he wants help. If you and Trey were to convince him...."

"I don't think Trey wants him to get help," she announced levelly.

Starsky and Hutch exchanged glances of surprise. "Why not?" the darker man pressed.

"He's very loyal to Jenni," she replied without any hint of jealousy. "I think he likes Jenni being dependent upon him. He likes to feel useful. When they're on the road and I'm not around, he sees to Jenni's every need. He lays a towel beside his bed every night so every morning Jenni can throw up the alcohol still in his stomach. When he's too passed out to move, Trey carries him to bed. Of course, he also fetches ice for him and takes care of all those little necessities."

Starsky sat down. "We're talking about Jenni's needs, not Trey's. And yours. Doesn't Jenni realize what this kind of life is doing to you?"

She shrugged. "It's the life I agreed to when I married him. Like Gladys Knight says in that song, 'I'd rather live in his world than without him in mine.'"

Starsky tilted his head, a smile lighting his face. Gently, he said, "You know, when Hutch and me were first assigned to this case, I wasn't crazy about it. What little bit I knew about Jenni I didn't like at all. But, except for his problem, he really seems to be an okay guy."

She smiled sadly. "Most people never see that side of him. Most people don't want to see that side of him. Whenever he's asked to appear on talk shows or variety shows, they always want the whole 'Jenni' persona, the whole act. They don't want him to behave like himself. They want him to be that stage character twenty-four hours a day. Very few people know what a kind, gentle man he really is."

Hutch sighed. "Clarissa, once Jenni goes on the road, whoever is out there who wants to kill Jenni is going to be the FBI's problem, not the LAPD's. And the FBI isn't going to be very interested in the case, until and unless the suspect makes an attempt outside the city and shows that he's following wherever Jenni goes. By then, it might be too late."

Clarissa looked from one detective to another. "But what can we do in the meantime?"

"We have an idea," Hutch said, "but it's a longshot. And it could be dangerous."

"What?" she demanded.

"We could try to lure the killer in. Pretend to leave Jenni vulnerable."

"You mean set a trap?"

"That's what we have in mind. But the danger is great, especially for Jenni, because he would have to act as a decoy. We wanted to talk to you first, to see what you thought before we approached him and Trey."

She put down her whiskey glass. "I can't stand being afraid all the time. What do you have in mind?"


"Okay, look," Starsky said an hour later as he turned to face Jenni and Trey in the back seat of the Torino. "We'll wait until seven o'clock tomorrow night, just before the sun sets. We'll have Jenni in a bulletproof vest, just in case. You both are going to get out of the limo, which will be driven by an undercover cop. Trey will suddenly get sick and act like he's throwing up or something. Then you'll tell him to take the night off and get him back in the limo. The limo will drive off with Trey. Then you walk down Vallejo Street here, slowly, and stroll toward the cafe where you're supposed to meet the reporter for the Rock Music Bulletin."

"In the meantime," Hutch picked up when his partner stopped, "Starsky and I and four plainclothes units will be stationed nearby as hidden as possible, watching for someone to make a move."

Jenni sighed. "This may all be for nothing, right? We don't know if the guy is even going to show."

"Right," Hutch said. "But we've got to act as if he's serious about this, that he's been watching you, probably following you. Most likely, he's waiting for the right moment when he can get a clear shot."

"I don't like it," Trey said.

"We can appreciate that," the blond noted congenially. "We can't deny it's dangerous. But until we catch this creep, Jenni is a target."

"If it makes you feel any better," Starsky told Trey, "after the limo drives off with you, the driver will circle back around and you and he can join in with the rest of us looking out for anyone who may be trying to make a move."

"What I don't understand is why you don't get one of your undercover officers to act as a decoy."

"That's what we'd prefer," Hutch said. "But no one on the force looks enough like Jenni. Plus, since the killer hit the wrong person the first time, he's probably going to be extra careful this time around."

"It's better this way," Jenni said. "I'm scared shitless, but I want this guy caught. All this worrying about when he might strike again is driving me to drink."

It was obviously intended as a joke, but nobody laughed. After an awkward moment, Starsky looked the rock star in the eye. "Jenni, when this is over with, I think you should do yourself and the people who care about you the biggest favor of all: get help for your drinking. While you're still young. Before it destroys the life you've built and everyone who cares about you." His voice softened. "Especially Clarissa."

Jenni snorted. "Sure, Detective Starsky. I'm sure I can fit a two-month drying out somewhere in my road schedule."

Angrily, Starsky said, "Change the damn schedule!"

Hutch touched his partner's arm. "Hey," he reprimanded gently.

Trey straightened in the seat. "We seem to have gotten off the subject, Detectives. I assume that you're completely confident that the killer can be caught before he fires any shots?"

"That's our intent," Hutch said as Starsky seemed to relax beside him. "Of course, we can't guarantee anything. That's why Jenni will have the bulletproof vest."

"It won't help much if the killer aims for his head," Trey snarled.

"He didn't before," the blond soothed, "when he shot Tommy Clarkson at fairly close range."

There was silence for a moment, then Starsky asked, "Do you each understand what you're supposed to do?"

Trey and Jenni nodded.

"Good." Starsky started the car. "We'll rendezvous at the hotel tomorrow at six and leave separately from there. For now, we'll drop you two off back at the studio."


Twenty minutes later, Jenni waved goodbye as he and Trey shut the Torino doors behind them. Clarissa pulled up, and Jenni and Trey stopped to talk to her after she got out of her car.

Hutch turned to his partner. "Listen, pal, you can't solve everyone's problems. If Jenni gets help for his alcoholism, he's going to have to do it himself."

Firmly, the other replied, "Or Clarissa and Trey are going to have to do it for him. Or maybe just Clarissa."

"What makes you so interested?" the blond wondered.

"Ah, Hutch. Jenni's a good guy. I hate to see him doing this to himself."

"Lots of people do this kind of thing to themselves."

"Yeah, but it's like he's a victim of circumstances. He got famous at an early age and needed booze to help him through it. I mean, it's not like he even does drugs. Alcohol is his one vice and he sounds like he'd be willing to kick it if only someone would encourage him."

"Someone close to him is going to have to encourage him."

"Yeah," Starsky relented. Then, quietly, he noted, "You know, it's just ...I mean, I can't help thinkin' what would'a happened to you after what Forrest's men did know, if I hadn't cared enough."

Hutch grew silent, staring at the floorboard. Then he said, "I can't ever think about the 'what if'. It's too overwhelming." Thickly, he said, "Thank God you did care enough."

Starsky turned toward his partner, reaching to grip his hand, when a shot rang out. "What the -- "

Instinctively, both men turned to their side doors and opened them, hitting the pavement in a crouch, pulling their weapons.

From the passenger side, Hutch looked up to see Trey on the ground, holding his shoulder, blood leaking between his fingers. "Jenni, get down!!!" Hutch bellowed.

But the rock star was on his feet, staring in the opposite direction from the detectives.

"My God," Hutch called to his partner, "he's got Clarissa." Toward the man who was behind Clarissa, holding a gun to her head, he shouted, "Police! Drop it!"

"See ya around," Starsky whispered, and he disappeared in a crouch in the other direction, shielding himself with parked cars.

"I said drop it," Hutch threatened again. He wished Jenni would step out of the way, for the long-haired man was almost in his line of fire.

The man, who looked thin and thirtyish, with short sandy hair and glasses, took a few steps back, pulling Clarissa with him. "Put the gun down, Officer, or I'll shoot her."

"No, don't hurt her," Jenni pleaded. "Why would you hurt her?"

"You hurt mine," the man told Jenni, continuing to step back, "I hurt yours."

"I don't know you." Jenni inched forward. "What are you talking about?"

"My little brother, dammit! He idolized you, worshipped you, and because of you he went out riding his bicycle with a stupid blindfold on and got himself killed! Trying to act like you!"

"Ah, man," Jenni said, sounding genuinely sorry. "I never meant for anyone to do anything like that. I never meant for anyone to get hurt because of my act."

Hutch still had his gun out, but he knew it was useless with Clarissa shielding the man. He was also tempted to yell to Jenni to get down and out of the way, but the rock star had the man's attention, and that might give Starsky, wherever he was, a chance to make a move.

"You should have thought of that before," the man scolded breathlessly. "Jimmy's gone. Being sorry isn't going to bring him back."

"Then let Clarissa go," Jenni pleaded. "It's me you want, not her."

"Doesn't matter," the man said. "I don't care which one of you dies."

"You've already killed someone," Hutch told him. "If you want an eye for an eye, you've already killed Tommy Clarkson. He was innocent."

The man swung in Hutch's direction. "Jenni is the one who has to pay," he hissed. "With his own life, or with his wife's, just as long as he's the one who loses. Like I did when my little brother was taken from me."

"Clarissa hasn't done anything to you," Jenni pleaded. "Let her go."

"Let her go," Hutch called his own agreement. "Let her go and we'll talk this out."

The man pressed his gun to Clarissa's forehead. "Put the gun down!!!"

Hutch knew there was no choice. Slowly, he placed his gun down on the ground and, still in a crouch, slowly backed away from it. Clarissa was vividly shaking, but otherwise was keeping her cool. That gave him hope.

"You shoot Clarissa," Hutch stated calmly, "and the whole force will be on you." Sirens were heard in the background, most likely from someone inside the studio calling for help. "You give up peacefully, and no one else gets hurt. Killing Clarissa or Jenni won't bring back your brother."

"He has to pay!"

"Then I'll pay," Jenni said, his hands in the air. He stepped closer. "I'll pay. Let Clarissa go. It wasn't her idea to have the blindfold in my stage act. The whole act is my idea. She's not responsible."

"Jenni," Trey spoke for the first time from the ground, "don't do it. He'll kill you."

Hutch could see that the man was getting confused by all the voices. He added his own. "Let her go!"

The man turned his attention to Jenni. "All right. I'm letting her go." He snarled, "But only after I kill you first."

To Hutch, it all seemed to happen in slow motion. He grabbed for his own gun, knowing he wouldn't be in time. He watched, helplessly, as the man pushed Clarissa away and turned the gun on Jenni, who was still standing with his arms raised, a sacrificial lamb. Instinctively, Trey staggered to his knees and made a desperate move toward his employer.

And then Clarissa swung back around and kicked at the man's leg, causing him to lose his balance. Just as he fell, a shot rang out from the hedges nearby, and the bullet, which would have hit the man's upper body when he was standing, instead shot through his head and came out the other side, bouncing off an iron railing. As his body collapsed, his own gun went off and Jenni suddenly bent and fell, gripping his thigh.

Hutch picked up his gun and ran to the trio on the ground. Clarissa was sobbing over her husband. "Oh, my God, oh, my God." Trey was kneeling next to her, holding his wounded arm, looking grim.

The first black and white skidded to the scene, and Hutch yelled, "Get an ambulance!"

Starsky appeared from behind the hedges, and they both approached the rock star on the ground with dread. But they stopped when they saw him, both their mouths dropping open.

Jenni lay between his wife and his bodyguard, laughing hysterically, even while holding his bleeding thigh. "I'm alive! I can't believe it, I'm still alive!"

Starsky holstered his gun and knelt beside him. "Yeah, Jenni. You got a second chance."

Trey grumbled, "You stupid sonofabitch. That was the bravest thing I've ever seen a man do."


Visitors had cleared out a few minutes before. The only remaining people surrounding Jenni's bed were Clarissa, Trey, and Starsky and Hutch.

"They can put the final touches on the album without Jenni," Clarissa was telling the detectives. "So, he can actually relax for once. The tour has been called off."

"Bet your record label wasn't too happy about that," Hutch noted sympathetically.

Jenni shrugged. "My agent says that they have insurance to cover injuries that happen to the artist. So, I guess they won't make out too badly."

"And once you're healed enough," Clarissa told her husband, "it's straight into a treatment clinic."

"Yeah," Jenni agreed. "I guess, in an odd way, it's a good thing this happened. I've been wanting to kick it, but no one wanted to mess with a million-dollar boat."

"Anyone who had the guts to do what you did when looking down a gun like that," Starsky said, "well... kicking booze ought to be a breeze."

"Don't know about that," Jenni sighed.

Hutch looked at Trey. "You've been awfully quiet through all this."

The man only did a partial shrug, for one arm was in a sling. "I'm just thinking about who my next employer is going to be. It doesn't sound like Jenni is going to need me around until he's well enough to go on the road again."

"What are you talking about?" Jenni asked in surprise. "You're on R&R, too. Once you're healed, I will be, too. I'll need you around. To keep me off the booze, if nothing else."

That brought a smile from the bodyguard. "In that case, I'll quit looking for other employment."

"Well," Starsky said after a moment of silence, "Hutch and me gotta be going. I guess this'll be it for a while." He looked at the rock star. "I can't say I'll ever want to go to any of your concerts, but you're a class act, Jenni. I'm glad I know you." He reached to shake his hand.

"Thanks. If I ever have any trouble with the law, I'll know who to call."

Hutch shook his hand. "It'll be easier on everybody if you just stay out of trouble."

"I'll see to it," Clarissa said.

They both nodded at Clarissa. "Nice knowing you, too, ma'am. Take good care of him." Starsky's glance included Trey. "Both of you." He and Hutch made their exit.


"He's over there," the bartender at The Queen Bee told them. "His name's Eddie."

Starsky and Hutch looked over at the table in the corner. A scruffy-looking man sat there hunched over a bottle of beer. They moved to join him.

"Eddie?" Hutch asked while his partner pulled up a third chair. The blond presented his badge. "I'm Detective Hutchinson and this is Detective Starsky. You wanted to see us about Tommy Clarkson?"

The man, who had a grey beard and baggy eyes, shook his head sadly. "So, they wasted Tommy?"

"It was a case of mistaken identity," Hutch said. "The murderer was after Jenni, the rock star. Tommy looked enough like him in a dark alley that..." he shrugged.

"Yeah," a bittersweet smile, "Tommy did like that Jenni guy. An awful lot. Always listening to his music. Talking about him."

Starsky asked, "How well did you know Tommy?"

"Pretty well, at least I thought. He came from back east. He showed up here at the bar one night and we got to talking. So, we'd have some drinks together whenever we were both here." He shook his head again. "I had to return home myself, to Oregon. My brother passed away and I spent a few months up there. Got back and didn't see Tommy around. Asked Greg over there," he indicated the bartender, "and he gave me the bad news. Then said cops was lookin' for information. But I don' t really have any. Just wanted to know what happened."

"For a while," Hutch said carefully, "we weren't sure that Jenni was the intended target. We thought Tommy may have been murdered on purpose. But we could never find a reason why someone would want to kill him. No one seemed to know him much. Everyone said that he was a 'nice kid'."

Eddie nodded. "That's for sure. I'll miss him."

Starsky shifted in his chair. "Eddie, did you ever see Tommy outside of the bar here?"

Eddie paused thoughtfully. "I tried to see him once. Caught up with him at a TV studio." He laughed briefly. "I'd never been in a place like that before. I guess Jenni was doing some sort of show. I found Tommy but he wasn't too happy to see me. That's when I realized that he just liked me as a drinkin' buddy. He wasn't interested in anything else, if you know what I mean. I think Jenni was his whole life."

"In love with him?" Hutch asked gently.

"Probably. You know how kids are at that age. Infatuation comes easy. But I don't think Jenni swings that way, if you want to know the truth. Some guys think his getting married was just a way of stopping rumors, but I don't think so."

Starsky and Hutch exchanged a glance. "Yeah," the blond said.

"Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?" Starsky asked.

"No. That's all. I just wondered what happened."

Both detectives stood. "Sorry," Starsky said, "that you lost your friend. Tommy sounds like someone I would have liked to have known."

"Take care," Hutch said.

They left the bar, side by side.


Hutch put his book away when a freshly showered Starsky joined him in bed and turned out the light. They kissed in greeting; then, as was customary, snuggled up together.

Starsky said, "It's been awhile, hasn't it, since you've dreamed about Jack almost drowning you?"

"Yeah. I don't think those dreams will be back." Hutch smiled. "Thanks for helping me work through it and figure out what was causing it."

The curly head rested on the smooth chest. "Don't know why you were so stubborn about talking about the nightmares in the first place," Starsky complained. "You were real tight-lipped about it."

"That's because I didn't understand what was happening," Hutch protested. "It seemed so... ridiculous. I would wake up in the middle of the night but I wouldn't know why. I just knew I'd had a bad dream."

"Still should'a told me about them a long time ago."

Hutch sighed. "Starsky?"


"Can we not talk about this any more? It's over and done with."

"Okay," the other agreed in a pouting tone.

"Don't say okay unless you mean it."

Starsky attacked the arrogant mouth with a kiss. After pulling back, he said, "Think I mean it?"

"I'm not sure. Do it again."

Starsky kissed him. Hard.


This story originally appeared in the fanzine HEART AND SOUL 3, published by Charlotte Frost in 1996.

Early comments on this story are posted TBA.

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