(c) August 2015 by Charlotte Frost


A Sequel to Malfunction



Abruptly, the crying stopped.

Starsky felt relieved as his five-month-old niece accepted the pacifier and rested her wet, exhausted face against his shoulder.

"'That's it," he whispered, rocking her gently, from where he stood in Nick and Lanette's living room.  "Nothing bad can ever happen to you while Uncle David is holding you."  He and Hutch both had held Melinda plenty of times before, but this was the first time she'd been in one of her uncle's arms without her mother present.  They had finally talked Nick and Lanette into taking an evening out for themselves, and since this was Lorraine's bridge club night at the senior community, they had readily agreed to babysit.  They'd also insisted that their siblings shouldn't worry about having anything edible available for them, for they could fend for themselves.

That's where Hutch was now -- making a trip for burritos from one of their favorite Mexican restaurants.

Starsky stepped over to the sofa, and carefully sat down, and then turned to recline back against the arm.  He kept his hand pressed securely against Melinda's back, until he was settled.

He kissed her hair, as he relished her increasing weight against him, his protective instincts growing in strength.

As she drifted into sleep, he became aware that his thoughts were moving to a memory of another time, another place.

Hutch was shaking.  Sweating.  Pleading.  Curled up his arms.  Wanting something that Starsky would absolutely not let him have.

Then, at one point, Hutch had exhausted himself, and fallen into a semblance of sleep for a couple of hours.  He had been completely vulnerable in that time, and Starsky would stop at nothing to protect whom he loved from danger.  He held Hutch until Hutch woke up, and then crawled out of Starsky's arms, to begin his restless pacing, and further pleading.

He'd been so fragile and needful, even while (barely) able to stand on his own two feet.

As Melinda fell into a deeper sleep, Starsky was a aware of drool that had formed on the small blanket draped over his shoulder.  It reminded him of drool from a different mouth.  When Hutch had been so exhausted from fighting the plague, and his parents had visited his hospital room.  Starsky had gotten into bed with Hutch and held him, so Hutch could rest his full weight against him and wallow in the sanctuary provided, rather than trying to keep up some semblance of dignity while in his parents' presence.   Starsky remembered feeling so full of love and affection when he'd informed the senior Hutchinsons that he knew Hutch had fallen asleep, because, "He just drooled on me."

Starsky's heart beat softly in his chest as he thought of how deep that love ran, which had prompted him to want to soothe to such an emphatic degree, to be the keeper of the trust that Melinda was showing in him now.

There was the noise of a key at the door, and then it opened.  Hutch appeared and used quiet footsteps, carefully placing a sack on the counter that surrounded the kitchen area.  He then moved out of the kitchen and to the living room.

Starsky was still surprised sometimes, to see Hutch's face free of the mustache he'd worn for so many years.  He placed his hand against the back of Melinda's head and whispered, "Finally fell asleep just a little while ago.  She's exhausted from crying."

Hutch nodded, and said, equally soft, "I'll bring your food."

Starsky listened while Hutch strained to keep his motions quiet.  Thankfully, Melinda didn't give any indications of feeling her safety was threatened.

After a few moments, Hutch appeared with a couple of burritos, wrapped in tin foil, on paper plates.  He sat on the coffee table, facing the sofa, and peeled the foil back from Starsky's burrito.  He held it out.

"Thanks," Starsky muttered, accepting it.  He held the thick burrito in one hand, and took a bite, while keeping his other hand against Melinda's back.  When it looked like the contents of the burrito were going to spill, he quickly reached up with his other hand, to take a more secure hold.

Melinda continued to rest against him, her eyes closed.

Hutch grinned and whispered, "She's really down for the count."

After swallowing another bite, Starsky said, "She was screaming and crying the whole time you were gone, until just a few minutes ago." 

They focused on eating for a while.  Then Hutch said, "She's really bonded to you."

That statement made Starsky think of that other time, that other place.  After Hutch took his crumbled wrapper from him, Starsky looked up and said, "You know, holding her, with her resting so trusting against me... it makes me think of you."  He swallowed again.  "About, you know, after Forest.  And then, later, when you were so sick, in the hospital."

Hutch's expression softened, as he gazed back at Starsky.

Starsky found another memory.  "And then, that time when we found out that I no longer had the Herpes B virus.  You were so exhausted, you couldn't handle such great news."  He felt his eyes misting, matching the ones across from him.  "Just wanted to take care of you, Hutch.  Just wanted to make everything better in those times.  Wanted to take away anything and everything that hurt."

"And you did," Hutch whispered.  "Made it all so, so much better, than it ever would have been otherwise."

Starsky swallowed thickly.  Since Melinda didn't seem inclined to wake up, he spoke a little louder.  "You know, back then, it was always enough.  How much we loved each other.  I never wanted anything else from you.  Never imagined anything else that we could possibly be to each other."  He glanced away.  "Seems so incredible that there was something even better for us, waiting on the horizon."

"Yeah," Hutch acknowledge in a soft whisper.  He reached out and stroked along Starsky's face with the back of his fingers.  "Same here.  Never felt like I was missing anything, or that I wanted something more from you."

Starsky resisted the inclination to straighten on the sofa, lest he disturb his small charge.  "I hope, so much, that my book makes that clear.  After all the stuff that got edited out, I hope it still comes across how much we loved each other, even before things got to be how they are now."  The most recent word was "late spring" when the book would get published.  That was perhaps eight months away.

Hutch's mouth corner twitched.  "I think just about any one of those chapters does that, all by itself."

Starsky managed an emotion filled grin, as his gaze lowered.  He had always felt so appreciative of his love's unwavering support, regarding the book.  He looked up again, and let his heart show in his voice.  "I'm so happy, Hutch.  All this that we have."  His gaze lowered to Melinda, and he touched his lips against her head.  "It's so much more than I could have ever imagined.  Even more than just a couple of years ago, when we already seemed to have the best life possible that anyone could have."

Hutch now moved his fingers to brush along the back of Melinda's head.  "I guess we shouldn't have been afraid to dream bigger."

Starsky now felt reflective.  "If we can do the therapeutic riding center some day, that's what I want to dream about, for the long term.  I guess when Melinda is a preteen, is maybe when that can happen, huh?"

Hutch made a slight shrug motion.  "That sounds about right.  Our savings account keeps growing."

"Yeah.  Thanks to you."  Despite occasional arguments about money, Starsky always appreciated Hutch's level-headedness and discipline, concerning the household finances.  He sighed.  "I need to sit up.  Hope she doesn't start crying again."


"Thanks," Hutch said, as he accepted the sack from the window, that contained a fish sandwich and fries.  He drove away, and then moved across the fast food restaurant's lot to a larger parking lot that had a few open spaces, beneath trees.  After parking, he rolled down his window part way, as the daily temperature had yet to show any sign of autumn approaching.

He unwrapped his fish sandwich and bit into it.  He'd been on the road all morning, running various errands, and after lunch he had to go to the home of a witness to a traffic accident, on a behalf of one of their law firm clients.

As Hutch chewed, he recalled last night, when he and Starsky had had their first opportunity to babysit Melinda.  Starsky had seemed so content, as Melinda rested against him.  Then he'd said, "I'm so happy, Hutch."

Hutch felt warmth seep through him.  Whatever one measures success by, surely none was more important than the happiness of the person one loved most.

I've done good, he acknowledged to himself.  When Hutch had first known Starsky, Starsky had been so intent on finding the bad guys.  Hutch had been, too, but he also believed in the basic goodness of people.  He felt that it had taken Starsky a while to not feel that every day was something to battle through, as though life itself was a war.

Now, that so intense, deep-feeling man had a solid foundation of peace.

As Hutch bowed his head, honored by his place in that transformation, he also furrowed his brow.  He felt an underlying sense of restlessness within himself.  Business was going well.  Their family was stable.  The plants in the greenhouse were healthy and growing.  Darla was going to have a potentially highly valuable foal next spring.  Starsky's book was promised to be published by June, at the latest.  Their savings account, for the primary purpose of some day being able to have a therapeutic riding center, was growing.

All was good.

Then why do I feel so restless?  Hutch wondered. 

Maybe it wasn't restlessness.  Maybe it was that all the good things were waiting for the future.

I want something "big" to happen now.  He couldn't define what that was.  Does that mean I'm bored with my life?  The very thought made him feel ashamed for allowing it to enter his mind.

Hutch heard the slamming of vehicles doors, and then footsteps on the pavement.  He looked in his rearview mirror and spotted two men with cowboy hats leaving an ancient looking pickup truck, in the parking row behind him.  One man paused to spit on the ground, and then they both walked by the back of Hutch's LeBaron, on their way to the fast food restaurant.

One said, "God, can you believe how ignorant some people are?  Why do people think this AIDS disease came along, in the first place?  Nature doesn't want faggots around, any more than the church does."

Hutch felt his stomach go cold.

The other man shook his head, as they continued walking away from the LeBaron.  "Yeah, my little sister wants to help AIDS patients.  I told her, 'Just let them die.  God is purifying the Earth.'"  He chuckled.  "That really made her mad."

They moved out of hearing range.

Hutch wadded up his empty wrapper, realizing that he'd never tasted his fish sandwich.


Starsky was in his office with his door closed, since Kenny was doing a lot of phone calls, and his cubicle was outside Starsky's office, which Starsky sometimes found distracting.

Starsky studied his spreadsheet, a program he'd developed a knack for using for all sorts of things, and this particular sheet laid out all the ancestry jobs currently being handled by Starsky and Hutchinson Inc.   That relatively new portion of their services had ended up being his specialty, at least as far as management, while Hutch continued to be in charge of the more traditional detective work.

A knock sounded at the door.  "Come in," Starsky called.

Lois entered with a clipboard in hand.  "David, we have a walk-in, and I wondered if you could take it."  She handed the clipboard to him.  "Kenny is on a long phone conversation, and Ken is out on errands all afternoon.  Carlos is on a surveillance job."

Starsky perused the basic information sheet that was filled out.  For the line "Reason for Needing Detective Services", the man -- Jeff Hill -- had written, "need to find something out".  That vagueness wasn't unusual, until the client was assured of privacy.  "Sure, I'll talk to him.  Send him in."

Lois went to the doorway.  "Mr. Hill, David Starsky will see you."

A moment later, a very plain-looking, dark-haired man entered.  He was simply dressed in a button plaid shirt and baggy, faded blue jeans, and appeared to be in his mid thirties.  As Starsky wondered if the man could afford their services, he came around his desk and held out his hand, "Mr. Hill, David Starsky.  Nice to meet you.  Have a seat."

As Lois closed the door behind her, Jeff Hill sat in a chair facing Starsky's desk.  Starsky took his seat behind it.  He folded his hands on the desk and leaned forward.  "How can I help you?"

The man released a sigh, and then rubbed at his chin.  "I, uh, I'd like to know what would be involved with having someone followed."

Starsky would have preferred to get to the point, but resigned to be patient, if this particular person needed a long lead-in to what he needed.  "It depends on how long the job is, and how many man hours.  If the person has to be followed all day and watched all night, that can get very expensive.  But if we have specific time periods when the person would need to be tailed, that helps keeps the cost down."

While Hill appeared thoughtful, Starsky continued, "We charge a flat fee of $175 for the first week, if it's not more than eight hours a day that the target needs to be under surveillance.  Sometimes, depending on the simplicity of the case, we can find whatever evidence the client requires within that time, so there isn't any additional expense."  When the man still appeared contemplative, Starsky asked, "Who is it you're wanting tailed?"

Hill shifted in his chair.  While gazing at the floor, he said, "I'm a trucker.  I'm gone for days at a time.  There's a lot of opportunity for... you know," he shrugged with discomfort, "my wife to mess around."

"Do you have any reason to think that she is?"

Hill's gaze was still averted.  "Nothing in particular.  I'd just like proof that she's being faithful."

Starsky was uncomfortable with Hill's reasoning.  He glanced at the information sheet, and took a breath.  "Mr. Hill, we'll be happy to do whatever services you want to pay us for.  But if your wife is faithful, have you considered the damage that could be done to your relationship, if she finds out that you don't trust her?"  He indicated the clipboard.  "I see here that you've put down your home address as your billing address.  What if she sees a bill or other correspondence from a detective agency?  Are you prepared to explain that to her?"

He shifted again.  "I can come here to pay my bill, I guess."

"Sometimes we send out advertising to our clients.  She might wonder how we have your name."  Since Hill seemed so uncomfortable, Starsky offered, "Sometimes our clients get a post office box, if they don't already have one, and use that as their billing address for our services.  And you'll have to be the one to call us for an update, unless you have an alternate phone number where we can leave messages."

Hill swallowed.  "The PO box is a thought."  His eyes were still averted. "And, yeah, I guess I'll have to be the one to call you."

Starsky cocked his head.  "What made you decide to have her tailed?  There must be something making you suspicious."

More shifting.  "When I get together with other truckers, they talk about their wives and girlfriends cheating.  They think I'm naive, to think that my wife is faithful."

Something clicked in Starsky's mind.  "Maybe they believe their ladies are cheating as justification for their own cheating."

Hill shrugged awkwardly.  "I just want to be sure."  Finally, he looked up.  "I can pay you $35 today."

Starsky took a pen and grabbed a yellow notepad, which he flipped over to a new page.  "All right, we'll be happy to start an investigation.  What's your wife's name?"

Starsky took down preliminary information.  Then he said, "It can help keep the cost down, if you can give us a window of time that it would make sense to tail her.  Or, do you think she could be seeing men at any time, considering you're away for most of the week?"

"It would probably be during the daytime," Hill replied, staring at Starsky's desk.  "I call her almost every night, at around seven or eight Pacific time, and she's almost always home.  She doesn't know for sure if I'll call or not, so she seems to make a point of being home."

Starsky managed a smile.  "'That's an encouraging sign -- that she doesn't want to miss your call.  It might simply because she's missing you."

"Or doesn't want to make me suspicious."

"Is there something in her tone of voice that sounds like anything other than being happy to hear from you?"

"No.  But...." He trailed off.

Starsky softened his voice, realizing that he was badgering Hill to a degree.  The firm dealt with so many marriages that were in disarray with legitimate suspicions of cheating, that he found it aggravating that someone was wanting their spouse tailed, simply because others planted the idea in his head that it was surely true, despite a lack of evidence.  "Can you give me some common places she's likely to go to, or friends she's likely to visit, so at least the detective on the case will know the reason for most her errands?"

Hill provided the approximate addresses for his wife's yoga class, a friend from said class that he knew his wife visited at times, and both sets of parents, which were within fifty miles of where the couple lived.

"Do you have a photograph of your wife?"

Hill reached to his back pocket.  "I have a few in my wallet.  I guess I can leave one with you."

"It'll help to make sure we identify her properly.  We can return it to you at the end of the case, if you'd like."

She was a slender blonde woman, and Starsky found himself wondering how Jeff had landed her.  Women were usually overly-detailed regarding the background of their marriages, while their few male clients tended to be much more reticent.

"One final question," Starsky said.  "When do you go back on the road again?  We'll start tailing her a few days within your leaving."

"I leave on Thursday, and I'll be back the following Thursday."

Starsky tore off the sheet from the tablet.  "Okay, that's all I need.  Let's go out and see Lois, so she can give you a receipt for your initial payment, and she can get a file started on your case." 


Late that afternoon, Starsky pulled his Corvette into the garage.  He'd gotten flustered with making phone calls, since he couldn't reach anybody he needed to talk to for various cases.  He'd decided to call it a day and go home.  Hutch's LeBaron was already there, so maybe Hutch had plans to make a nice dinner.  If not, maybe they would go out.

As Starsky got out of his car, he heard the rapid strumming of a guitar, from inside the house.  He cocked his head, to make sure he wasn't hearing things.  Hutch almost never played the new guitar he'd purchased a few years back, while on vacation in Aspen.  He seemed too focused on other things, to give much thought to music.

Starsky opened to door to the laundry area, and the guitar was all the louder.  He heard Hutch's voice, singing an old Peter, Paul, and Mary folk song, shouting the words at the top of his lungs.

"It's the hammer of justice.  It's the bell of freeee-eedom.  It's the song about love, between, the brothers and sisters.  All over this laaand.  Oooooh."

He obviously hadn't heard Starsky arrive, for as Starsky moved through the kitchen, Hutch continued, "Now I've got a hammer, and I've got a bell.  And I've got a song.  To.  Sing.  All over this land.  It's the hammer of justice.  It's the --- "

Abruptly, Hutch stopped, from where he sat on the sofa, as Starsky entered the living room.

Starsky said, "Don't let me stop you.  Please."

Hutch shrugged, and then reached for a rare bottle of beer on the coffee table.  He took a swig.

Starsky asked, "What's brought this on?"

Hutch put the guitar aside.  "The bar on ninth and Freemont?  The Cellar?"

Starsky came toward the sofa.  "Yeah?"

"'I saw a poster outside their window.  They're having an amateur talent contest next month."  Hutch tilted his head, suddenly bashful.  "I think I'd like to enter.  I don't care about winning anything.  I just think it'd be... fun."

Starsky reached for the beer and picked it up.  "I think that would be great."  He took a swig, then admitted, "I guess I don't sing well enough for there to be a place for me."

Hutch shrugged.  "Maybe we can figure something out.  Maybe you can get the audience to clap their hands, or something."

Starsky was eager to pursue the thought further.  He wondered, "Why that particular song?  You were singing it like you meant it."

Hutch gazed into space for a moment, his mouth grimacing.  Then, without looking up, he said, "I overhead a couple of guys saying something about 'faggots'.  About how AIDS was purifying the Earth."

Starsky's mouth fell open, as a sadness filtered through him.  "Oh."  Then, worriedly, "Did you say anything to them?"

Hutch waved a hand.  "No.  God, no.  Confronting people like that isn't going to change their minds."  Hutch reached for his guitar again.  "Guess I was trying to cheer myself up."

"The way you were singing your lungs out, I hope it worked."

Hutch propped the guitar across his lap, and then strummed it once.  "Yeah."  Then, bashful again.  "I've always enjoyed playing.  Don't know why I don't play more often."

"I don't why you don't, either.  Come on, play some more."

"There's another song I'd like to do, but I need to hear it a few more times before I can play it.  I'm not sure who does it, but it made me think of Melinda."

"Maybe we can ask at a record store or something," Starsky suggested.  "In the meantime, I want to hear you do the whole hammer song."

Hutch smiled and straightened the guitar on his lap.


That night, when they were curled up together, Starsky said, "I took a walk-in cheating spouse case today. I want you to put me on it, when the surveillance needs to start in a couple of days."


"Because I just want to.  For one thing, I'm ready to get out, because it seems all I've done lately is computer work.  For another, I just want the satisfaction of this guy -- a trucker -- being wrong.  Wants his wife tailed, just because other truckers told him that there's no way she's not cheating on him.  He couldn't come up with a single reason for being suspicious, other than that."

"A trucker life has got to be hard on a marriage."

"Yeah, but still...."

"Okay, let me see how the schedule shakes out for the remainder of the week.



The next day, Hutch pulled away from the intersection when the light turned green.  His car phone rang and he picked it up.  "Hello?"
"Ken?  Captain Dobey just called and said that you and David should meet him at the emergency entrance of St. Rose Hospital.  He said not to worry, but it's important.  Do you want me to try to reach David?"

"Uh, yeah," Hutch replied worriedly.  What possible reason could there be for Dobey wanting them at the hospital.  "I'm heading over there now."

Hutch puzzled over the situation as he drove, and couldn't come up with a possible scenario.

Hutch arrived ten minutes later and parked in the first available spot.  He walked briskly through the "Emergency" doors.  Dobey was talking to a couple of patrol officers, and then spotted Hutch.  "You two go on," he said, before turning to Hutch.

"What's going on?" Hutch demanded, while the back of his mind registered how white Dobey's hair looked.

Dobey sighed, and then briefly squeezed Hutch's arm.  "Your mother's here, but she's going to be fine."


"She's been in a traffic accident.  She wasn't driving.  Dexter Riley was."

Hutch felt his blood boil.  "What happened?"

"Riley's car made a left on a green light, but he apparently didn't see that there was a car approaching the intersection from the opposite side.  He turned in front of it, and it hit his car in the rear passenger side.  Your mother has a broken arm, and some minor cuts and bruises."
Hutch raised his curled fist.  "If I get my hands on him..."
"You don't need to," Dobey said.  "The law will take care of that for you, with the stricter sentences that went into affect this year.  Riley failed the Breathalyzer.  They've drawn blood, and I expect that the results will make it difficult for him to get out of jail time.  He has some broken ribs, and he's been placed under arrest and handcuffed.  The other driver had more serious injuries."

They both saw Starsky come through the entrance, and they moved to update him.

Hutch waited restlessly inside the room where is mother was receiving treatment, until he heard that Dexter had been moved to a room on the fourth floor.  To his mother and to Starsky, he said, "Excuse me"', and marched out to the hall, and then to the elevators. 

Once reaching the fourth floor, he followed the signs, until spotting an officer sitting outside the room he wanted.  "I'm going in," Hutch announced in an authortative voice. 

The officer shrugged.  "I haven't been told to keep anybody out."

Hutch pushed the door open and strode into the room.  Dexter Riley appeared to be asleep, while one wrist was cuffed to the bed railing.  

Hutch approached the bed, and Dexter opened his eyes, squinting at his visitor.

Jaw firm, Hutch said, "You've got a bit of an afternoon hangover, do you?"

"Ken," Riley said, as though forcing his voice to be pleasant, gruff as it was.

He looked rather pathetic, but Hutch felt angry enough to not he swayed from his intent.  He leaned down, and said in a clipped voice, "Don't you ever come near my mother again.  You and her are through."  He resisted the temptation to voice various threats.  Instead, he said, "Enjoy prison life.  You should have been there a long time ago."  He didn't wait for a response and made his exit.
He made his way back down to the Emergency area.     As Hutch approached her room, he heard his partner's cheerful voice.  "As soon as Blondie gets back here, we can take you home."

Lorraine had her forearm in a cast.  Thankfully it was a simple fracture.  She also had a cut on her forehead from hitting the dashboard.

Hutch let his anger settle around him again, as he entered briskly.  "Mom, Dexter won't be seeing you anymore.  If you don't like that idea, blame it on me.  He won't be contacting you.  If he does, hang up and let me know."
Lorraine seemed to sputter.  Then, "Ken, you can't -- "

"I can and I did."  Hutch shook his finger at her.  "What if Melinda had been in the car with you?  What if she had been hurt?"

"I never let her in the car with Dexter."

Hutch's eyes twinkled in triumph.  "Why not?  You don't trust him?"

"Well, I -- "

"You know he's not trustworthy," Hutch pressed.  He shook his finger again.  "If you don't trust him with your granddaughter's life, why would you trust him with your own?  He's a drunk, Mother.  He's going to get jail time for this, which has been a long time coming.  He won't be seeing you any more."

Her gathering protests appeared to die on her lips.  She reached to one side where her purse was, and calmly said, "I'm ready to leave."

They dropped her off at her condo, as she assured them that she would be fine.
Once in Hutch's LeBaron, Starsky asked, "You think she'll stop seeing him?  I mean, surely he'll get out on bail before his court date."

"I hope so," Hutch said.  "I mean, come on, Starsk, if she makes a point of not letting Melinda in a car with him, then she knows he's bad news.  I'd like to think that my interference made her choice for her, so now she doesn't have to figure out what to do about Dexter."

Starsky was thoughtful.  "Either that, or she'll resent you the rest of her life, for interfering after we've apologized for interfering, in the past."

Hutch sighed.  "That's a risk I'm willing to take."

On a bright sunny morning a few days later, Starsky sighed as he braked to take advantage of a parking spot at the curb.  "Great, we made it.  That's her Volkswagen, in front of the furniture store."

"Hopefully," Hutch said, "she's truly at her yoga class, and not elsewhere."  He had said he'd wanted to join Starsky for the second day of tailing Heidi Hill, since he'd liked the idea of being out on a beautiful autumn day, and away from the usual grind of his desk.

Starsky was certainly up for company, for what could be a stretch of a few hours.

Hutch looked at the clock on the dashboard.  "So, she should be leaving her yoga class any minute?"

"Yep."  There was a small gym next to the furniture store.

Hutch picked up the file folder, and gazed at the small photo of Heidi Hill, which was clipped to the inside.  "Pretty thing."

"Uh-huh.  Not sure why she would marry a trucker, knowing how long he's gone."

Hutch was browsing the file.  "He was a trucker before they got married?"

"Actually, I'm not sure.  He didn't say much about their past."

"No kids?"

"Uh-uh.  He said that they were waiting until they saved up more, so they could buy a house of their own, before they have kids.  I got the impression that he was thinking, at that point, he would look for a different type of employment."

"Wonder what he'll do if she is cheating."

"I doubt it would result in divorce.  He didn't seem angry.  Just real uncomfortable, like he was in foreign territory.  It crossed my mind that maybe he's cheating, and he wants to find out if she is, so he can justify his own cheating to himself."

"That could certainly be.  We've seen it before."  Hutch shifted in his seat.  "Looks like this is our gal."

A slender blonde woman moved briskly down the sidewalk, toward the Volkswagen Beetle, carrying a tote bag.

They were silent as they watched her get in, and then drive away from the curb.

Starsky pulled out to follow.

Hutch flipped a page in the file folder.  "We think she'll go home, to Redmond Street?"

"Unless she's got some stops along the way."  Starsky hoped she had errands to do.  Otherwise, they could spend three or four boring hours in front of her rented house, waiting to see if she were going to later leave to drive elsewhere, before being home in time for her husband's evening phone call.

The Beetle took a right on Eiland Boulevard.  Starsky noted happily, "Looks like she has some other stops first." 

This portion of the road had few stoplights, and it wasn't long before they had traveled five miles.  Then Heidi made a right into a large apartment complex.

Hutch studied the file folder.  "This address isn't any of the ones her husband told us about."

The Beetle found a parking space in the crowded lot.  Starsky drove past it, and then saw and empty one on the row facing Heidi's car, a few spots down.  He quickly accelerated to claim it.

While he sat in the idling car, he saw her walking briskly toward the entrance of the apartment building.  A dark-haired man emerged, and he and Heidi trotted toward each other.  They met at the sidewalk at the front of the building, and threw their arms around each.

Starsky's heart sank.

Hutch quickly picked up Starsky's 35mm camera, and opened his door, pushing the button to lower the windshield.  He perched his camera on the bottom of the window frame.

Starsky watched in dismay as the two lovers kissed passionately.  After a moment, he dutifully picked up the file folder, and mechanically wrote down a description of the man, though he couldn't see much beyond vague details.  He also noted the address of the apartment complex.

Heidi and the man now turned toward the building, their arms around each other's waist.  Hutch lowered his camera, opened the door, and moved at a brisk walk to follow.  Starsky knew that Hutch was going to try to find out what apartment the man lived in, and then see if he could find the man's name on the directory at the front of the building.

Starsky wondered whether it had been a good idea to have insisted on being the one to work this case.  It was turning out like most of their others, and he wouldn't have the satisfaction of telling Jeff Hill that his wife was perfectly faithful

He'd worked himself into quite a funk when Hutch returned twenty minutes later.

"You're really taking this badly," Hutch said, while getting back into the Corvette.

"Didn't want it to be true," Starsky muttered.

"I don't know how well the pictures are going to turn out.  Couldn't really see his face, and there was shadow from the building."

"Did you get an apartment number and a name?"

"Apartment 266.  Name on the directory is Ted Fletcher."

Starsky wrote it down.  "Yeah, well, I'm not going to tell Jeff his name, unless he wants to pay us more to start an investigation on the guy's identity."

Hutch quipped, "Spoken like a corporate executive."

"Or not.  Jeff is just a typical middle class working stiff.  I'm trying to keep his costs down.  We've got indisputable evidence that his wife his cheating.  So, that's really all we need, at least for now." 

"Well, let's stick around to see if they leave together, or if she just goes home.  If it turns out Jeff wants to find out more, it would be good to get the guy's license plate number."

They were silent for a few moments, and then Starsky couldn't help but demand, "What's wrong with people?  Why can't they figure things out, like we can?  Why are there so few good marriages?"

"Come on," Hutch pleaded, "we've been through all this before."

"Refresh my memory."

A slight smile formed at Hutch's mouth.  "All I can do reflect back on my own failed marriage, and how that compares to us.  Think back to the beginning, when you and I met at the Academy.  How that compares to when Vanessa and I met in college."

"Yeah?" Starsky encouraged.

"I see a beautiful, intriguing woman that I want to attract.  I put on airs, let her see only my best side.  She does the same.  We fall in love with the idea of each other, not with who each other really is, because we don't know who each other really is.  Then, once we're engaged, us being together is all about the wedding.  As though that's the ultimate goal.  You know?  Then, one day, you realize the wedding is all over, and here you are with this person that's showing parts of themselves that you aren't familiar with, and expecting you to embrace those parts, while also showing disdain for the parts of you that they didn't expect.  The next thing you know, all you're doing is disappointing each other. She wasn't who I thought she was, and I turned out not to be what she thought she'd married."

Starsky mused, "Whereas, when we met at the academy, we didn't try to show each other up, other than just the masculine bravado that all the guys put on for each other.  After we got to know each other a bit, we talked about stuff that was real."  Starsky tilted his head.  "I never expected anything from you, I guess.  I just know that I wanted life to be good for you.  It meant a lot to me that I could make you laugh.  No one else could get to your funny bone, like I could.  Even if it meant I had to do something dorky.  I just...," Starsky suddenly felt full of emotion, "... wanted every moment of every day to be happy for you.  I wanted to do everything I could to make that happen.  And then... when we were cops and partnered together, I counted on you, and I felt no greater responsibility than that you counted on me to watch your back."  Starsky slowly nodded.  "Yeah.  It wasn't like our friendship started with us wanting things from each other.  We just enjoyed each other, and learned to trust each other.  Which created more communication, and all the more understanding."

Hutch waved his hand toward the outside of the car.  "Most people don't seem to want to put forth the effort to really know each other. Society makes us want to put up this big phony front, in the name of catching somebody, and most people go into the idea of marriage, thinking in terms of all the needs they have that the other person is supposed to meet.  It's all about, 'What are you going to do for me?'  Much more than, 'This is what I have a yearning need to do for you.'"

"It's like people don't really have a chance, if they don't start out as friends first.  How many people start out as lovers, and then become friends?"

"Not anybody I know."

Starsky realized, "Maybe Nick and Lanette did.  They hardly knew each other before they slept together."  Under our roof.  He preferred not to remind Hutch of that, since Hutch in particular hadn't been very happy about it.

"Maybe."  Hutch shifted in his seat.  "But it's not like they went right from sleeping together to getting serious with each other.  Lannie was still married.  Took them years to get serious about each other.  I guess they had all that time to get to know each other, before they decided they wanted to get married."

"Yeah."  Starsky smiled warmly.  "And now they've got a little baby that makes their love for each other all the more important."

A few evenings later, Hutch was on the sofa, watching TV, while Starsky moved about the living room with a dust rag.  From the corner of his eye, he saw Starsky glance at him frequently, his expression one of grim determination.

At one point, Starsky tossed the rag aside, and announced, "I'm bored."

Hutch looked over at him, now that a commercial was on the TV.  "You can dust the other rooms."  It wasn't lost on him that he'd been feeling rather bored himself, until he'd decided to be in the talent show.  He'd been practicing with his guitar nearly every day.

Starsky put his hands on his hips.  "I want to go away this weekend and fuck."

That would certainly help curb his partner's restlessness.  Still, the practical side of Hutch pointed out, "We can do that here."

"There's too many distractions here.  I want to go somewhere, where there's nothing to do.  So, all we do all day is fuck.  And once we've rested from fucking, there's nothing else to do, but fuck some more."

Though Hutch doubted their sated bodies wouldn't want to leave the bedroom at various times, he had to admit that the idea of going away somewhere did sound nice, for the sole purpose of being focused on each other.  He said, "You decide what we're doing and make the reservations, or whatever.  I'm agreeable, as long as I don't have to think about it, ahead of time."

Starsky's mouth corner twitched.  "That's right, Blondie.  This is all gonna be my show."

Hutch grinned inwardly -- and perhaps outwardly -- as he turned his attention back to the television.

They took off from work at noon on Friday.  Hutch still didn't know where they were going -- and didn't care, since it apparently wasn't going to matter, considering the singular activity Starsky had in mind.  He was filling a duffle bag with a change of clothes for them both, when the house phone rang.  Starsky was putting refreshments from the kitchen into a cooler, and he answered the phone. 

After hanging up, Starsky came down the hall toward the bedroom.  "Hutch, we're going to have to wait a bit to leave."

"Why?" Hutch asked, feeling disappointed.

"Dobey just called, from that gas station on Elm Street.  He's coming by.  Wants to talk to us about something."

Hutch straightened and furrowed his brow.  "Huh.  Wonder why he would be in this area, if he didn't know we were coming home early."

Starsky leaned against the doorframe.  "He said he called the office, and Lois told him that we'd left for the weekend, so to try us at home.  He said that was, 'All the better.'  Like, he wanted to meet us here, rather than at the office."

Hutch felt a sense of trepidation.  "That doesn't sound good."  He zipped the duffle bag.  "Do you think it could be something about Dexter Riley?"

Starsky shrugged.  "I hope not.  If so, I can't imagine it's good news.  Anyway, I didn't mention anything about us trying to leave town.  Didn't want him to feel unwelcome or rushed."

"Yeah.  Well," Hutch took the duffle bag, "at least, we can be packed and ready to go."

"We're taking my car," Starsky said firmly.

Of course, Hutch thought.  Starsky wanted to drive, and enjoy Hutch not knowing where they were headed.  The last time that happened, Starsky drove him to Dusty Creek Riding Stable, where Poncho awaited, as a completely unexpected surprise.  Now, Hutch knew what the point was of where they were going, just not what the surroundings were going to be.

A quiver went up his spine.

They had both the duffle bag and the cooler in Starsky's Corvette, which was parked in the garage, when Dobey's Chrysler pulled up in front of their house.

As Hutch watched through the window, he was surprised, as he had been when seeing Dobey at the hospital, at how much their former boss had aged.  His heavy frame moved with more of a shuffle up their sidewalk, rather than the demeanor of one who was a captain at a large city police department.

Hutch held open the door, as Dobey stepped up to the porch.  "Hi, Captain.  It's great to see you again.  Come in."

"Hi, Hutchinson," Dobey greeted as he entered.  "Starsky."

Starsky led the way to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator.  "What can I get you?"

"A soda will do."

"Sit down," Hutch offered, as he took a seat at the table.

"Orange or root beer?" Starsky asked.

"Orange."  Dobey sat down with a sigh.

Starsky placed the orange can on the table in front of Dobey, and then sat next to Hutch.  "What's up?"

Dobey popped the lid on the can, and then spent a long moment drinking.  When he put the can down, he gazed at the table top for another extended moment.

Hutch ducked his head, trying to catch Dobey's eye.  "Captain?"

Dobey drew a deep breath.  "I guess I should just come right out and say this."

"What's that?" Starsky prompted.

Dobey's eyes darted from Starsky to Hutch.  "My health isn't good.  It's gotten worse the past few years.  Of course, the doctors tell me I need to lose weight and," he waved a hand, "I'm tired of fighting that battle."  He grunted.  "I'm just tired in general.  I can feel that something is different.  Not sure how long I've got."

While the facts of Dobey's words weren't new, Hutch was surprised to hear them spoken so bluntly.  Gently, he asked, "What can we do to help?"

Dobey folded his hands on the table.  "Edith and the kids will be taken care of.  There's my pension, and money we've put away."  He swallowed thickly, and went back to gazing at the table.

Starsky prompted, "What's on your mind, Cap'n?"

Dobey abruptly straightened, and reached into his suit coat.  He removed a thick, white envelope, which was sealed, and placed it on the table, before his hosts.  "That's some other money I've been saving, for a long time.  Edith doesn't know anything about it.  There's twenty thousand cash in there.  I had a statement going to a PO Box, and I closed the account this morning, and withdrew all the money."

Starsky ran his finger along the top of the envelope, and spoke for both of them.  "What's it for?"

Dobey licked it his lips.  "After I'm gone, I want you to give it to someone.  But you'll have to find them first, because I don't know where they are.  Or even if it's a he or a she."

Hutch's stomach tightened as the seriousness of Dobey's words.  "Who is this person to you?"

Dobey bowed his head.  "There's someone I've wronged.  Greatly."  He took a sip of soda.  "I married Edith when I was thirty years old.  Prior to her, I'd had various girlfriends, including a few I was serious with for a while.  There was one, Hannah Wilby, I had broken off with, once I got engaged to Edith.  But...," he shifted abruptly, "... there was once, when she wanted to see me, and I gave in to her request.  And to my passion."   He swallowed thickly.

Hutch had an idea where the was leading, and remained silent, as did Starsky.

"I put it out of my mind.  Didn't tell Edith, of course.  Married her.  Then, within a few weeks of the wedding, I heard from Hannah.  She had left a message for me at the precinct I worked at, in Sacramento.  When I called her, she told me she was pregnant.  I was completely caught off guard.  I blamed her, told her I could believe she let that happen.  Told her not to bother me or my family."  His voice grew rough.  "That's the last time I ever heard from her.  Made arrangements to move down here, just as soon as I got accepted for a job here in Bay City."  He drew a breath and raised his eyes.  "I wronged Hannah.  And the child.  I know I can't make things right, now, and," he nodded at the envelope, "I know money is a poor substitute for a proper father.  But I won't rest easy, unless I know that I've at least made an attempt to set things right, in some small way."

Quietly, Starsky asked, "How do you know that Hannah had the child, and didn't get an abortion?"

"I made some discreet inquiries at the hospital in her neighborhood, a few months later.  I don't even remember the details.  I just know that she gave birth to a baby.  Once I knew that, it bothered me even more, but I knew for the sake of my legal family, I had to completely forget about it.  So, I did."

In soft tone, Hutch said, "Except that you didn't."

Dobey grunted.  "I've been thinking about it more and more.  Just something that I know I have to set right, in whatever small way."  He indicated the envelope.  "I want you to keep this money.  I can't have Edith coming across it.  Once I'm gone, promise me that you'll try to find that child -- who would be well into their twenties by now -- and give them this money.  I've enclosed a note of apology."  He rubbed at his chin.  "Not that anything I say will come anywhere near squaring things up."

Starsky said, "Cap'n, what about finding that child now?  While you're alive?" 

Hutch wondered the same thing.

Dobey quickly shook his head.  "Trust me.  I've thought all this through.  No matter how understanding Edith and the kids might be, I don't want them to have to deal with this.  And I'm not going to suddenly appear in that person's life, if they don't want anything to do with me.  I just - just want to offer them something."  He indicated the envelope.  "I guess it's just my way of saying that I'm sorry I was such a coward then.  I didn't know what to do, how to handle it.  I couldn't bear the thought of losing Edith, if she found out.  I wanted a normal stable family, to go along with my normal stable job.  I'd created a mess, but I didn't want to take any responsibility for it.  That's not the child's fault.  Nor Hannah's."

Delicately, Hutch said, "It's just that, if your son or daughter wishes they could know you... it'll be too late."

"They can't know much too much about me.  I don't want them showing up at Edith's doorstep, wanting to talk to her about me."  His expression firmed.  "Promise me that you won't tell them enough details that they can trace where I worked.  Tell them I was a cop in a high level position, but not where or when."  He shifted with discomfort.  "I know it's not fair of me to place all this on your shoulders.  But you two are the only ones I can trust with something like this.  Promise me that it'll always stay just between you two, and my son or daughter, when you find them.  And Hannah, if you find her, too."

Starsky asked, "Where would we start?"

Dobey nodded at the envelope.  "The address of where Hannah lived is in there, as well as the hospital where she gave birth.  I knew her mother's name, but not her father's, since he'd passed away when Hannah was a child.  That's all I can give you to go on.  It's not much, and I know it might take awhile, but I won't be around to feel impatient about it.  Just promise me you'll try."

"Sure, Captain," Hutch said.  "We'll do everything we can.  I just wish you'd reconsider the way you're approaching this.  Maybe we should start looking now.  If you're still around when we find this person...."

Dobey shook his head again.  "Like I said, I've thought this all through.  This is the way I want to do this."  He now presented a wry smile.  "I guess it's not exactly what you expected to hear from me, that I was so foolish and cowardly, all those years ago."

Starsky muttered, "We've grown accustomed to hearing secrets from others." 

Hutch piped up, "We just want to help."

Starsky added, "I wish you wouldn't throw in the towel on how much time you have left.  If you retired, took disability, took it easy and followed doctor's orders...."

Dobey replied, "It would just be prolonging the inevitable.  Like I said, I can feel that something's not right.  I've never been healthy, but things have gotten a lot worse the past few months.  I'm at peace about leaving this life.  I know Rosie and Calvin are going to do all right."

Hutch glanced at Starsky, who was nodding slowly. 

Dobey abruptly pushed his chair back, and then finished off the soda in one swallow.  "I won't keep you.  Thanks for being my friends.  For handling this.  It was the one piece of my life that was unfinished.  Now I know it'll be handled."  He stood.

Starsky and Hutch followed him to the door.  Hutch patted him on the back, and then squeezed his shoulder.  "Please take care of yourself, and try to enjoy whatever time you have left."

"I will," he said.  He paused to squeeze Starsky's arm, and then squeezed Hutch's hand.  "Thanks isn't a big enough word to express my appreciation."  He opened the door.

"Don't worry about it," Starsky said.

They watched Dobey make his way to his car.  Starsky muttered, "I wonder if we'll ever see him again."

"Don't know."  Hutch drew a deep breath, as the motor was heard starting.  "I certainly never would have guessed anything like this."

"Yeah.  But we know it happens."  Once the Chrysler pulled away from the curb, they closed the door and headed back to the kitchen.  Starsky said, "It seems like so many people have secrets."  He turned to face Hutch, his mouth in a firm line.  "If I ever found out there's something you've been keeping from me...."

Hutch snorted, "Ditto."  Then he realized, "Even if I'd ever wanted to keep something from you, where would I have kept it?  What part of my life have you never had access to?"

Evenly, Starsky said, "I know your heart has always been open to me.  It's that Hutchinson brain of yours that can get muddled sometimes.  You could intellectually be withholding something from me, I suppose."

Hutch was surprised, even as he felt a hint of humor.  "Between the two of us, you consider me to be the one with the muddled brain?"

Starsky shrugged.  "I'm straightforward.  You try too hard to figure things out sometimes."  He examined a fingernail.  "I could see how you could have convinced yourself of something once, that I nor anybody else ever needs to know about."

Hutch countered, "If that's ever happened, it would have to be something I've sincerely forgotten about, myself."

Starsky grunted.

"Besides," Hutch felt compelled to add, "you have just as much likelihood of hiding something from me, considering how you can get brooding sometimes."

"I don't brood," Starsky declared.

Hutch had to relent, "You used to."

"Everything about me is on the surface," Starsky said.  "I give you all of me."

Hutch was trying to remember what they needed to do next.  Then he grinned.  "Except right now.  You won't tell me where we're going."

Starsky's eyes twinkled.  "It doesn't matter where we're going.  Just that we're going to do a lot of fucking this weekend."  He turned toward the laundry alcove, that led to the garage.

Hutch followed, stubbornly insisting, "Then if that's all that matters, why keep the location a secret?"

Five hours later, Hutch was lying on his back, naked, in a king sized feather bed in a cottage that was set apart from the main hotel in a resort town in northern California.  The only light shown from the partially open bathroom door, plus the moonlight from the open curtain that looked out over Mendocino Bay, in the distance. 

Taut, soft skin settled across Hutch's upper lip.

Starsky gruff voice said, "How about a mustache made from my boner?"  He was kneeling beside Hutch's head.

Hutch stuck out his tongue, and managed to run it along a small portion of flesh.

"You're a wanton slut when it comes to wanting this big cock down your throat."

Hutch didn't disagree.  He continued to touch as much of it as possible, with the straining tip of his tongue.

"In a minute," Starsky assured.  "'But just gonna give you it for short time, because it needs to stay fully charged, in order to give your ass a good fucking."

Hutch's own erection strained into the air, and he grunted in need.

Starsky reached to grab it, while moving his flesh back and fourth across Hutch's upper lip.

Hutch grunted again, as Starsky's hand tightened.

"Can't keep you waiting," Starsky relented, shifting to straddle Hutch's chest.  His left hand kept a modest grip on Hutch, while his right guided his own erection.

Hutch opened his mouth as the tip nudged his lower lip.

"Don't suck too hard," Starsky said in a breathy whisper.  "Just get it all lubricated."

Finally, it pushed between his lips, and Hutch was sucking avidly before he could stop.

"Aargh," Starsky growled, pulling back.  "You're way too greedy."  Then, softer, "Just slobber all over it, so I can put it up that beautiful ass of yours." 

Hutch let his mouth fill with saliva, and then raised his head to take the taut cylinder that was held before him. 

"Oh, yeah, baby," Starsky cooed as Hutch bathed it, "get it ready for you."

When it Starsky pulled it away again, the front half was dripping with saliva.  He grabbed some pillows and tossed them to the center of the bed.  "Drape your gorgeous self over those."

Hutch moved to obey.  He lowered his hips over the pile of pillows, and spread his legs.

"Yeah, that's a beautiful sight," Starsky approved.  He moved on his knees to get behind Hutch.

Hutch let himself relax fully, as he closed his eyes, and took in the feeling of the possessive hand being placed on his ass.   Then his cheeks were parted, and moist bluntness placed against his center.  He released a breath, just as he was pierced.

Hutch's eyes cracked open.  It was dawn.  He shifted on the bed, and then vaguely remembered a kiss on his cheek and Starsky saying something about leaving and, "Go on back to sleep."

Hutch dozed a while longer, enjoying the firmness of the mattress, which was so different from their waterbed at home, as well as the laxity of his sated muscles.  Eventually, his eyes cracked open, and they fell on a piece of paper on the stand beside the bed.  Hutch slid over the mattress and reached for it.

Starsky's handwriting said, "Just went out to get us some breakfast."  The signature was a simple drawing of a heart.

Hutch remembered that, when they had checked in yesterday, they were told that there wasn't room service, since this private cottage was a separate building from the main lodge.  He smiled to himself, thinking about what a blissfully good idea this little getaway had been, and then dozed a while longer.

After a time, he heard the key in the lock, and then the door opened.  Quietly, Starsky asked, "You awake yet, sleeping beauty?"

Hutch grunted non-committedly, and then heard the rustling of sacks.  He opened his eyes and turned his head, to watch Starsky lay out various pastries and coffee on the little round table near the window.

"I got you some plain muffins, so they don't have as much sugar."  As Starsky pulled back the curtain on the window, revealing Mendocino Bay in the distance, Hutch grunted and staggered from the bed.  He fished around for his underwear from last night, and then pulled them around his hips.

They were mostly silent as they focused on eating, though Starsky's hand did wander at one point, and gave an affectionate squeeze to Hutch's thigh.

After Hutch washed down his meal with a long sip of coffee, he said, "Surely, you aren't really intending for us to spend all day in our room."

Starsky presented a slight smile.  "Not as long as we turn in early."  Then he reached inside a sack and pulled out a few brochures.  He pushed one toward Hutch.  "You want to do that?"

It was for horseback riding on the beach.  Hutch smiled.  "Sure."

"I don't want to," Starsky said firmly.  "But I want you to.  You can go on the two-hour ride, where it says they let you gallop the horses.  I'll find plenty around here to keep me occupied."

Hutch's heart beat with warmth, even as he protested, "Why don't you come?  You did okay the last time we went horseback riding together."

"'That's because you tipped the stable a whole bunch of money to give us a customized ride where we split up for part of it.  Come on, Blondie, I don't want to hold you up.  I don't want to gallop along the beach.  But I want you to do that."  A soft smile formed at Starsky's mouth.  "Then you'll be all smiling and happy afterward.  And your muscles will be all sated.  And, you know, later, I can cater to whatever they need."

Hutch wasn't yet up to thinking about another round of sexual activity.  He tilted his head back to finish his coffee, feeling eager to get going with their day.

After dropping Hutch off at the stable, Starsky drove the Corvette around the small town, until he found a more secluded area of the beach.  He left his shoes and socks in the car, and then began strolling along the sand, watching the seagulls.  In the distance, someone was throwing a Frisbee for their dog, a brown shepherd. 

Once his legs grew weary from walking -- on top of all the exercise they'd gotten with last night's activities -- Starsky moved to seek the shade of a pier, up ahead.  As he approached, he saw a woman sitting back against one of the wooden beams.  She was dressed in lightweight capris, and a button blouse.  Her head was bowed, and as Starsky came closer, he realized that she was holding a tissue close to her face.

He shifted his direction to give her a wide berth.  Yet, as he reached the shadow of the pier, perhaps twenty feet away, he could hear that she was sobbing.

Starsky continued to move away, feeling pained that someone was in such distress, while he was feeling so full of life and love. 

As Starsky moved beneath the pier, no longer wanting to sit beneath it, since the woman was in the vicinity, he inwardly sighed.  The peace of this morning was already disturbed.  He decided that he was willing to risk being rejected and told to go away.  At least, then, he'd known that he'd tried.

Starsky was now on the other side of the pier, and he turned back to the shade, where the woman was.  She had taken fresh tissues from her purse, and was sobbing loudly once again, and now wiped at her eyes.

Starsky put on a cheerful smile, as he squatted down beside her.  "Kind of unfortunate to be out in beautiful morning like this, when you're unable to appreciate the beauty."

She raised her head and looked him, and he could see that she appeared to be fortyish, with auburn hair, her eyes deeply red.  She managed a choked laugh, but didn't respond.

Since he hadn't been rejected, Starsky sat down in the sand, and drew his knees to his body.  "I like watching the seagulls.  They seem so free.  Carefree.  You know?"

She sighed heavily.  While gazing past him, to the shadow of the pier, she said, "What I would give to feel like that.  Carefree.  It's impossible to imagine."

"Yeah, well, however bad things are, on any given day, there's always tomorrow.  So many times, in my past, I never would have imagined that, when I reached my forties, I'd be living the life I am now."

Finally, she looked directly at him.  "What kind of life is that?"

"A life full of love.  Security.  An interesting job.  Financial stability.  Exciting things always on the horizon.  The freedom to drive up for the weekend, from Bay City, just because we felt like it."

Puzzled, she said, "We?"

"My partner and I.  He's doing the horseback riding thing.  I don't like to ride, so I dropped him off a little while ago."

"Him?  Your partner?"

He didn't have any concerns about being judged, so far from home.  "Yep.  The love of my life.  Something I wouldn't have ever imagined."

She looked out toward the beach.  Evenly, she asked, "Don't people of your kind have the same relationship problems as everyone else?"

With a hint of humor, Starsky replied, "I'm sure people of 'my kind' do.  But me and my love... well, we've been together a long, long time... even before we were, you know, 'together'."  Blissfully, he said, "We're still so happy together.  Love being with each other."

A slight smile formed at her mouth corner.  "Except when he's horseback riding?"

He chuckled softly.  "I like horses just fine, but not riding them.  Don't like being at the mercy of something that I don't feel in control of."

Her smile slowly faded, as she gazed out at the water.  "Maybe that's a good way of putting it.  Being at the mercy of something -- someone -- where one feels they don't have any say."

Starsky tilted his head, and beckoned, "Don't have any say in the relationship?"

She brought tissues up to briefly rub at her eyes.  "Just that, you think you're playing by all the rules.  Do the things that everybody always told you that you were supposed to do.  Find the man.  Get married. Have a couple of kids.   Then the kids grow up and move away, and it's just you and him.  And suddenly, it's like he doesn't want you anymore.  After you've raised his children.  You change all sorts of things, trying to make him happy."  Her voice quavered.  "But nothing works.  Twenty-two years of marriage, down the drain."  She shook her head.  "I never thought that would happen.  Thought I'd always been a good wife.  But it's like, one day, he wasn't interested anymore."  She stared at the ocean.  "Now, I've got nothing."

Quickly, Starsky said, "Except the whole rest of your life ahead of you."  He draped his arms across his knees.  "Let me tell you one thing I know for certain.  Society's rules don't mean diddly squat.   Me and Hutch are so happy now, because we haven't cared what society said we were supposed to want.  He did play into that when he was young -- got married to a beautiful woman who was completely wrong for him.  It wasn't long before they were divorced."

She turned her head to look at him.  "How free you must feel, to be able to do what your heart tells you, society be damned."

"You can, too," Starsky offered simply.  "Especially now that your kids are grown.  You can be anything you want."

She bowed her head.  "It just seems so overwhelming, starting over."

"Yes, but now you can build your life the way you want."  He nodded toward the ocean.  "Be carefree.  Like the seagulls."

She looked back out at the water.  "You make it sound so simple."

"I think it can be.  Really, it comes down to listening to your heart."

She drew her knees up and rested her chin upon them.  "My heart's been so beat up, I don't think I even know how to listen to it."

Gently, Starsky said, "Broken hearts heal.  That's an absolute truth, if you're willing to let it."

"I don't even know where to start."

He nodded toward her twisted tissues.  "Now that you've purged your grief, you can take the first step forward.  Why don't you walk with me."  He scrambled to his feet and held out his elbow.  "I admit it's been a while since I've had a beautiful woman on my arm."

She smiled up at him, and rose to her feet.

A couple of hours later, at lunch on the patio of a local restaurant, Starsky told Hutch, "We never even told each other our names."

"Guess it didn't matter, huh?  Sounds like you brightened up her morning.  I bet she always remembers you."

"I'd like to think I gave her some hope, at least."  Still, Starsky felt a touch of melancholy, as he said, "So many unhappy people in the world."

"A lot of people lose their way," Hutch agreed.  "But sometimes, all it takes is being pointed in the right direction, for someone to get back on track."

"Yeah.  She seemed more confident when we parted.  She has an office job, so at least she has an income.  And now maybe she won't just think about her marriage as being this big failure of twenty-two years.  She did raise two children, after all.  Just hope she doesn't fall into another relationship too quickly, in the name of hurry-up and find another Mr. Right, that really isn't a Mr. Right."

"Well, it's not like you'll ever know what happens to her.  At least, you've done your good deed for the day."

Starsky shrugged, and then asked, "How do you think you'd like to spend the afternoon?"

They drove up the coast and stopped at various tourist attractions, before returning to their cottage.

That night, in bed, Hutch lay on his side with his knees drawn up to his chest.  Starsky was circled around him, hips moving in a slow thrusting rhythm.

Last night, Starsky had been teasing and assertive.  Tonight, he was gentle and tender, as he held Hutch's desire within his grip. 

"Love you so much," he whispered against Hutch's neck, and then nuzzled him there.  "Love loving you so, so much."  He thrust more firmly, and the motion of his hand became more deliberate.  "Love loving my love.  So special to me."

Hutch lay still with his eyes closed, absorbing the feelings and the sensations.

Starsky's voice deepened.  "Love being inside you, baby.  Gonna fill you with my love juice."

Hutch let Starsky's hand, and inner stimulation, propel him toward the peak.

"Yeah, baby," Starsky said in a subdued, high pitch, his mouth still against Hutch's.  Then he cried out softly.

That ecstasy triggered Hutch's own release, and he groaned, long and soft.

They both lay panting for a long moment.  Then the heat between them became too much, and Starsky gently withdrew, and then moved away.

Hutch dozed lazily while listening to Starsky get up and turn on the bathroom light.   Eventually, he felt Starsky get into bed, and then snuggle close.  Starsky whispered, "You down for the count?"

Hutch had rested enough that he was able to roll onto his back.  "Mostly."

Starsky hovered over him.  "Well, I'm hoping you get a good night's sleep, buddy boy.  We don't have to check out until eleven.  So, I hope you wake up early, and then your tongue gives me one of your Hutchinson Specials.  And then when I can't take any more, you give me a really good, deep fucking."

In reply, Hutch rolled over and pressed Starsky back to the mattress.   Even in his sated state, he placed his lips aggressively over Starsky's, and ran his tongue along the edges of his mouth, as a promise of what was to come.  Then he settled back and closed his eyes.

As Hutch drifted into sleep, he heard Starsky grunt with satisfaction.

It was easy for Starsky to feel detached when Jeff Hill sat across from his desk.  He kept his tone business-like, as he pulled papers out of a manila envelope.  "The good news is that we didn't have to tail your wife for very long, so we can offer you a discount off our standard rate.  The bad news is that I'm afraid we did find evidence of her seeing someone else."  Starsky reached across his desk to hand Hill a stack of 8x10 photographs.

Hill began to slowly leaf through them, his expression resigned.

"We couldn't get a very good description of the man."  Starsky didn't want to reveal the man's identity, unless Hill asked.  He couldn't see why it would matter. 

As Hill took his time gazing at each photograph, with a distinct lack of reaction, Starsky's mind began to wander.  Back to Sunday morning.  The thorough excavation that Hutch's tongue had done to his ass.  The way it had licked him, teased him.... and then a very hot and bothered Hutch had mounted him.

Finally, Hill looked away, and spent a long moment gazing at the floor.  He muttered, "So, the guys at the truck stops were right."

"This time," Starsky felt compelled to say.

Hill looked up at him.  "Seems like everyone cheats."  He snorted.  "Of course, you would know more about that, than I would.  I'm not sure that I even understand the point of marriage."

Starsky silently responded, The point is, you want the person you love to feel so, so good.  And that person wants to make you feel so, so good.  Forever.  That's a very worthwhile thing.  He folded his hands on the desktop.  "I certainly think it helps to want to be true partners, and each other's greatest advocate.  That's tough when you spend so much time apart."

Hill challenged, "Don't a lot of people cheat, even when they aren't apart as much as truck drivers are?"

"They're far apart in spirit.  In what they both want from the marriage."  Starsky shrugged, and realized he felt apologetic for speaking about a situation where he knew he really couldn't help"I think a lot of people go into marriage with a completely different set of expectations about what the other wants.  They don't communicate enough with each other, talk about how they're going to make their partnership work, before they decide they want to spend the rest of their lives together."

There was an awkward silence, and then Hill asked, "What happens now?"

Starsky shrugged.  "Whatever you want to happen.  It's not up to me to suggest how you should handle this with your wife, or even if you should mention it at all.  That's up to you."

"Do most people get divorced after they find out their spouse is cheating?"

"We usually don't hear what happens, after we've gathered the evidence.  Still, in most situations, even if there's threats of divorce, I don't think divorce happens that often.  I think most people want to believe that things are going to work out.  Whether they actually try to fix anything," Starsky shrugged again, "I wouldn't know."  What I do know is that there's nothing like being in a true partnership with the one you love.  Where you always have each other's best interest at heart.  Where simply being around each other makes you smile.  And when you're ready to get more serious... there's nothing like the physical pleasure that can happen when you're both devoted to making beautiful music together.  He felt Hutch's phantom hands gripping his shoulders, while thrusting into him.

"Well," Hill said, "I guess my business here is finished.  What do I owe you?"

At The Cellar night club establishment, Starsky felt butterflies stir in his stomach.  He and Hutch were sitting at a table, Hutch with his guitar propped across the chair between them, watching the ninth of twelve acts complete their second of two allowed songs.  It was a threesome, singing a toned-down country version of the REO Speedwagon hit "Can't Fight This Feeling Anymore."

Hutch seemed more relaxed than Starsky knew he had to be feeling.

The audience clapped as the song ended. 

Nick and Lanette had intended to come, but Melinda had a cold, and they didn't want to leave her with a sitter.  Lorraine had been invited, but neither of the had been disappointed that she declined, since a bar was one of the last places she would be willing to visit.

A man in western clothes came to stand in front of the microphone.  "Are you having a good time, everybody?"

There was some clapping, and hollers, and cheers.

"All right, let move along to our next act, who is also doing two numbers.  Ladies and gentlemen, let's give a big welcome to Ken Hutchinson!"

Oh, God.  Starsky stood and led the way to the small stage, assuming that Hutch was following behind.  Just do it.  Just dive right it, and do it.

Starsky moved up the brief staircase at a brisk pace.  He stood back, while Hutch moved to take the chair in front of the microphone at the center of the stage.  It was up to him to take the initiative and get Hutch's performance going.

Starsky moved to the microphone nearest him, which was set a few feet behind where Hutch was.  "All right, everybody," he spoke into it, hearing the nervous breathlessness of his voice, as it boomed through the crowd.  "It's been a long time since Ken has played in front of an audience of any kind."  He forced his voice to be more cheerful.  "So, let's give him some support."  Starsky then began clapping his hands in rhythm and stepped away from the microphone to move briskly across the stage behind Hutch, who was adjusting his microphone.  "Come on, everybody!" he called out.  "Join in!"

Others began to clap their hands in time with Starsky, and Starsky felt heartened and continued to move back and forth across the stage.  He saw Hutch strum his guitar a few times, and  then take a deep breath.

Then Hutch strummed in tune and began to sing, "If I had a hammer, I would hammer in the morning.  I would hammer in the evening, all over this land."

The clapping began to die down, as the audience listened, some nodding their heads or tapping their feet.

Starsky moved back into the shadows, letting Hutch be the star.  They had discussed that Hutch's nerves would probably be less if he focused on singing the song as passionately as when Starsky had walked in on him a few weeks ago.  Hutch seemed to be doing that now, as he sung the chorus the first time through.

Starsky watched the audience, glad that most were listening, and into the performance.  Off to one side, near the back, he caught sight of a man with white hair, a mustache, and sideburns, who seemed to be watching intently, as though he wasn't there just to be entertained.  His attention then turned to the younger man at his table, who whispered something and gestured, and the white-haired man nodded.  As soon as the younger one left the table, the older man's attention returned to the stage.  He sat back and crossed his arms, and then looked from Hutch to the audience, which was mostly in front of him.  He seemed to be watching their reaction, as Starsky was.

Hutch's high-pitched intensity drew Starsky's attention back to the song.  "It's the hammer of justice.  It's the bell of freeeedom.  It's the song about love.  Between.  The brothers and the sisters.  All over this laaaaaand."  Hutch hit the guitar strings a final time.

The audience clapped and cheered.

Emboldened by the success of the song, Starsky moved forward to the microphone that he'd stood at previously.  He nodded at Hutch, who was nodding at the audience with a broad smile.  Then Starsky said, "Thanks so much, everyone.  Now, Ken Hutchinson is going to do another song.  This one's a bit calmer, so let's just sit back and enjoy."

Hutch shifted in his chair and leaned forward to his microphone.  "I have a little niece that's a few months old.  This song is dedicated to her."  Hutch visibly took a breath, and then strummed his guitar, as he began to sing softly, "What song to sing my tomorrow child, still so small and new?  What shall I say to show the way, what games to play with you?"

Starsky drifted back into the shadows once again, pleased that the audience was quiet, as it listened to the song.  Hutch hit some high notes, and Starsky's attention was again taken by the white-haired man, who looked up from where he seemed to be scribbling on a paper, listening intently.

Hutch began the chorus, "Tomorrow child I can't tell you what your life will be.  Time will show you roads that I can't see.  And if they should carry you away from me, then go with love."

Whereas, with the hammer song, Hutch had been focused on singing it as intensely as possible, because it meant something, this much quieter song was no less personal to him, Starsky knew.  He wondered if Hutch would sing it to Melinda sometime, when she was old enough to understand the words.  For that matter, it seemed it would be a great song to send a teenager off to college.

Let's not summon the future to quickly, Starsky silently reminded himself.  For that matter, he was happy to bask in the moment, listening to Hutch's sing the song.  Apparently, the audience was, as well, and that included the white-haired man at the back.

There had been quite a variety of acts, so far, tonight -- some doing a great job of mimicking current country stars, others going for more a humorous bent, and still others going for originality, which usually revealed their lack of professional polish.  Three judges had been introduced, and from what Starsky could gather, they were frequent patrons of the bar.  Who knew how they intended to judge the acts.  What Starsky did know was that Hutch had been sincere in that he didn't care about winning.  He'd seemed to have a burning need to express himself, of late, and this talent contest was serving that purpose.

Hutch's voice softened even more, as he reached the final line.  "Take my lullaby along with you, and go with love, tomorrow child."  He strummed a few more notes, and then stopped.

Starsky came forward on the stage, clapping his raised hands, to emphasize that the song was over.

The audience joined in.

Hutch smiled and stood, nodding at the audience as he gathered his guitar.  The host of the show moved to the microphone.  "Let's give it up once again for Ken Hutchinson."

Starsky led the way off the stage, and the audience clapped and cheered once again.

The host was introducing the next act as they reached their table.  Starsky gave Hutch's shoulder a strong squeeze as they sat down.  "Oh man, Hutch, you were incredible."

"You think so?" Hutch said with a smile.  "At least, I didn't screw up."

"No kidding.  You had them riveted."

Hutch shrugged.  "It's been a pretty generous crowd."

That was true.  All the acts had been treated with respect.

The waitress paused at their table.  "More beers?"

"Sure," Starsky nodded.  "And peanuts."  After she'd taken their empty glasses and the basket of peanut shells, he leaned closer to Hutch.  "So, did you enjoy that?"

Hutch presented a shy smile while bowing his head.  "Yeah.  That was fun."

They enjoyed their beers and peanuts, while listening to the remaining acts.  Then the host said, "All right, everybody, let's give the judges a few minutes to decide on tonight's winners.  But however it comes out, I say that everyone who performed tonight is a winner.  What do you think?"

There were claps and cheers of agreement.

Starsky said, "Nick and Lanette missed a good show."  Now that Hutch had performed so well, Starsky wished all the more that others would have been here to witness his shining moment.

Thankfully, it wasn't too long of a wait before the host reappeared at the microphone, various papers in hand.  "All right, everybody, we have the results from our judges.  Will give them out in reverse order.  Honorable mention, and a book of coupons worth fifty dollars to the local businesses in this area, goes to... Ken Hutchinson."

Starsky and Hutch looked at each other, Hutch's eyes wide in surprise.

Starsky laughed happily.  "Go on, get your prize."

While the crowd cheered, Hutch got up and nodded at people as he made his way back up to the stage.  "Congratulations," the host said, handing him a booklet of coupons, and a certificate.

"Now for our third place winner...." the announcer said.

After Hutch had sat back down, Starsky grinned at him, "I told you you were wonderful.  Fourth place is fantastic for a guy who hasn't done this sort of thing in a long time."

Hutch shrugged.

Starsky pressed, "Aren't you proud of yourself?"

Another shy smile.  "Sure."

The top three spots were awarded to acts that had more of a humorous bent and kept the audience laughing. 

"Congratulations," a voice said beside them.  "You ranked highest of the serious acts."

They both looked up, and Starsky realized it was the white-haired man.

The man gestured to the empty chair at their table.  "Do you mind?"

"No," Starsky said quickly, wondering who he was.

Before sitting down, the man said, "My name is Clark Taylor."

Starsky held out his hand.  "David Starsky."  Taylor shook it, and then shook Hutch's.

As Taylor sat down, he said, "I haven't seen you boys around here before."

"We just came for the talent show," Hutch noted.  "It's not our normal hangout."

Taylor nodded toward Starsky, but directed his words at Hutch.  "I know he said that you haven't played for an audience in a while.  What's your background?"

Hutch's reply was bashful.  "Oh, just policemen's barbecues, and that sort of thing.  We used to be cops in the Bay City PD."

"Really?" the man said in surprise.

Starsky replied, "Yeah, we've been private detectives the last four or five years.  We have our own agency."  With pride, he said, "Hutch here hasn't even played his guitar in a long while, until a few weeks ago, when he heard about the talent show."

"That's remarkable.  I'll tell you why I'm asking all these questions.  I'm with a band that plays some of the local nightclubs in this area. There's three of us.  We lost our fourth, when he moved back to Oregon.  We're all working men, and just do it for the love of the music.  We don't get paid hardly anything.  But it's something we enjoy.  Anyway, we're needing another guitarist, who can also do some backup vocals."  His gaze was solely on Hutch.  "Would you have any interest?"

Hutch was bashful once again.  "Oh, I can't imagine doing anything like that.  We work long hours, for one thing."

"So does everyone in the band.  We schedule rehearsals only when we feel it's necessary.  Otherwise, we just play usually one gig a week.  Right now it's at the Stardust on Colfax.  We've been doing Friday nights there, and they'll hopefully keep us on for another couple of months, before they decide to switch to somebody new.  Then we'll hopefully get a gig elsewhere."

Eagerly, Starsky said, "You should do it, Hutch.  You'd love it."

Hutch glanced at Starsky, and then said to Taylor, "I can't decide something like that right now.  I'd need to think abut it."

"Sure."  Taylor reached into a pocket, and took out a card.  "This is my card for work.  I'm a foreman for a business that lays tile for commercial buildings."  He wrote on the back of the card.  "Here's my home number.  You can also leave me a message at work.  I'd appreciate it, if you'd think about it."

As Starsky drove them home, he asked, "Don't you want to play in a band?"

"I don't know, buddy.  Sure, part of me would like to.  But the idea of working all day on  Friday, and then going to the club to play for a few hours....  To say nothing of taking out more time for rehearsals, especially to get me used to playing with them."

"Yeah, but surely it would be relaxing for you, if you enjoy it."

Hutch looked over at him.  "Why are you pushing so hard for me to do it?"

"Because you're a wonderful guitar player, baby.  And you have a super great voice. There's something in you that wants to perform.  I can feel it.  I just think that people shouldn't hold themselves back from doing things that they feel passionate about."

Hutch was silent a moment.  Then he said, "It's just such a commitment.  If I say yes to something like that, I can't let the guys down.  That would have to come first."

"Just one night a week," Starsky reminded.  "I can live with that.  Besides, if I get bored those nights, I can just come and watch you play."

Hutch rubbed at his face.  "Well, I'm certainly not going to decide anything tonight.  I promised him that I would give him an answer within a week, so I may as well take the week, to be sure, one way or the other."

A few days later, Hutch moved up the stairs to their office suite.  He needed to give Clark Taylor an answer by the weekend.  On the one hand, the idea of joining a band seemed absurd.  He was just a normal guy, with a rather common talent for playing musical instruments.  Lots of people played musical instruments.  He couldn't believe he had any special ability in that department, whatever his love's thoughts on the subject.  Starsky was horrendously biased.  Hutch smiled as he reached their floor.  It did feel really good that Starsky was so supportive.  But then, he'd always been supportive.  Of Hutch's music.  Of everything Hutch did.

For that matter, it didn't seem that long ago that Hutch had admitted to himself that he felt restless... as though he was eager for something to happen, that wasn't far into the future.  Would being a member of a small band soothe the restlessness he sometimes felt?

Hutch opened the door to their suite, and Lois immediately handed him some pink slips.  "Here's your messages.  Also, Captain Dobey called, asking for either of you.  David is talking to him now."

"Thanks," Hutch said, heading to his office.  He tossed the pink slips onto his desk, and then moved through the connecting door to Starsky's office.

Starsky was standing beside his desk, his phone to his ear.  "All right, Captain, I appreciate all the information.  By the way, you're sounding good."

Hutch was glad to hear the last.  Maybe their prior boss had a lot more time left, than he seemed to think.

"Okay," Starsky said.  "Thanks so much.  Hutch is here now, so I'll let him know."  He hung up.

Hutch sat in the chair before Starsky's desk.  "What's that about?"

"Dexter Riley worked out a plea deal on his DUI, where he's going to serve thirty days in jail, in exchange for pleading guilty to driving under the influence, and then he'll have his driver's license revoked for a year, and he'll have two years of probation.  So, at least, there's finally some justice for all his drinking while getting behind the wheel."

"He'll be out in no time," Hutch said, disappointed.  Then he admitted, "I guess I sort of feel sorry for him.  And old guy like that, once a movie star, having to serve time."

"Yeah, it's easy to feel sorry for him, as long as he stays away from your mother."

Pleased, Hutch noted, "There isn't any indication that he's been bothering her."

Starsky gazed at him.  "You did your mother such a big favor, telling Dexter to stay away from her.  I guess she won't ever say Thank You, for her not having to deal with breaking it off with him."

"I don't need her thanks," Hutch said.  "The fact that he's staying away from her is thanks enough."  He then asked, "So Dobey was sounding better?"

"I thought so.  Hopefully, it'll be a long time before we have to put his final request into action."

"Yeah.  Let's hope so."

Starsky's expression brightened.  "Don't forget that we're babysitting Melinda at our place tomorrow night."

"Oh, right."  Lanette was driving out of town to attend a retail seminar, and Nick was without a vehicle, since his Ford needed a major transmission overhaul.  Therefore, Starsky was driving his brother around a lot, and tomorrow night, Nick needed to be dropped off and picked up from an interview with a relative for an ancestry job. 

"Yeah," Starsky said, "you'll have to handle her by yourself, while I'm driving Nick to his appointment with the grandmother over in the Laughton area."

Hutch found that idea a little scary, and yet he was also looking forward to spending some time alone with his young niece.

The following evening, Starsky pulled the Corvette into the garage, next to Hutch's LeBaron, and Nick reminded, "We'll be leaving in a few minutes."

Starsky shrugged.  "Habit."  He probably should have just parked in front of the house, rather than Nick needing to get Melinda into the car seat while in tight quarters, in the garage.  He'd decided that he would loan Nick his car, until Lanette returned tomorrow afternoon.

They both got out of the car.  As they approached the door to the house, Starsky thought he heard singing.

"Is that Hutch?" Nick asked.

"Sounds like it."

Starsky pushed the door open, and they entered the laundry area.  From the living room, Hutch's voice sang happily, "....They grazed upon a feather.  I'd keep them in a music box, from wind or rainy weather."

Starsky turned to Nick with his finger to his lips, then he tiptoed through the kitchen, to the living room.

Melinda was in her basket, which was on the sofa, staring at Hutch with wide eyes.  He was standing beside her, and leaned closer, as he sang, "To bring me back some golden rings, and candy by the pound."  Hutch smiled hugely at her, as he gently continued, "Sing tarry-o-day.  Sing Autumn to May."  His smiled widened, as he started the next stanza to the Peter Paul and Mary child's song.   "Oh, once I had a downy swan, she was so very frail.  She sat upon an oyster shell, and hatched me out a snail."

Melinda's head suddenly jerked toward Nick and Starsky.

Hutch glanced behind him, and stopped playing.  "Oh, you're back."

Melinda began to cry.

Nick rushed forward, and lifted her out of her basket.  "Shhh, my little princess.  How's Daddy's girl?"  As he held her, she started to cry louder.

Hutch strummed his guitar again, and cheerfully sang, "Oh, once I had a little dog, its color it was brown."

Melinda's eyes darted to him, from where her chin rested on Nick's shoulder, and she quieted.

Hutch continued, "I taught him for to whistle, to sing and dance and run.  His legs they were fourteen yards long, his ears so very wide."  Hutch leaned close to her, "Around the world in half a day, upon him I would ride."  He then stopped.

Melinda hiccupped, and Nick held her closer a moment.  Then he put her back down in her basket.  "Come on, baby girl, time to go home with Daddy."

She was quiet, as Nick buckled her in.

"How did you guys do?" Starsky wondered.

"Fine," Hutch said.  "She cried for a while, and then I fed her, and she stopped.  Then she napped a bit.  Then she woke up crying, and I started singing to her.  That gave her something else to think about."

Starsky said to Nick, "I'll back the car out to the driveway, so it's easier for you to put her in."

When Starsky had done so, he left the car running and got out.  Starsky made sure her basket was secure in the car seat, and then said, "Drive careful, little brother.  See you tomorrow."

"Yeah, thanks."

Starsky went back inside, where Hutch had sat down on the sofa, and was clicking on the television.

Starsky stood gazing at him.

"What?" Hutch asked after a moment.

Starsky felt himself grin.  "You have to play in the band, Hutch.  It's in your blood to play.  Don't deny yourself the chance."


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