PRIVATE AGENDAS

by

Charlotte Frost

 

 

PROLOGUE - January 30, 1979

"Now, listen, Hutch -- "

"Luke -- "

"Look, Hutch, I know you're a cop and you got the make on me by now, but I'm talking to you as... as a family friend, who's calling in a favor."

Hutch's hand tightened on the receiver. He was alone in the squadroom, and his solitude was emphasized with each word spoken by the firm, pleading voice from the other end of the line. With quiet desperation, he said, "Luke, listen to me. You've got to come in."

"Like family, Hutch. Family. Either you let me talk or I hang up and go it alone."

"No, no," Hutch assured quickly. "Go ahead."

"Okay. Reuben's on his way for the meet now."

A grip tightened around the detective's heart. "Please. You can't do that, Luke. Reuben's going to be carrying more protection that any one man can handle. You know that."

"We both know that," the man at the other end acknowledged levelly. "I'm only concerned about two things: that Doris is taken care of and Reuben gets his."

Hutch closed his eyes, knowing it was useless to argue. "All right. Look, where are you?"

"Only if you come alone," the other warned.

Hutch bowed his head as he summed up the courage to lie to the man that had been so influential in his early adult life. "Okay. Okay, alone."

"Your word," Luke emphasized.

Just then, Starsky entered the squadroom, took in his partner's distress and asked, "What?"

Hutch quickly held up a hand to silence him. "Uh, yeah. Yeah, Luke. My word." His heart pounded, knowing a climax that had been building the past few days would soon be reached. Luke Huntley -- his mentor, his father figure, the reason he was now on the police force -- was calling in a decade of favors. "Tell me what's going on." Huntley gave the location of the meet. "Yeah, I know it." A moment later, the blond hung up.

"What's goin' on?" Starsky asked quickly.

Hutch briefly touched his partner's stomach as both headed for the door. "I'll tell you on the way."

* * *

As they made their way to the warehouse, Hutch only said it once. And said it firmly to indicate there would be no discussion. "I promised him I would give Doris the money."

Starsky's reply avoided any issues of ethics. "I think the only thing Reuben is planning on leaving there is Luke's body."

* * *

After having Anthony Reuben successfully handcuffed, Starsky looked away from the sight before him. Luke Huntley was sobbing brokenly, head and arms hanging as Hutch held his mentor within the circle of his arms.

"Come on," Starsky muttered to Reuben, jerking the man toward the open door of the Torino. None too gently, he shoved the other into the back seat. Reuben deserved to go to prison... for running a multitude of illegal operations, not the least of which was the gambling establishment where Doris Huntley had lost her and her husband's life savings of $50,000. To get the money back, Luke Huntley had arranged it so that the biggest witness against Reuben, which Huntley was assigned to guard, was conveniently unguarded while Reuben's henchman murdered him. In exchange for allowing the witness to be murdered, Huntley wanted the $50,000 back. And Reuben had delivered -- along with a handful of muscle men, no doubt designed to make sure Reuben got rid of Huntley and reclaimed his money. It was only the appearance of Starsky and Hutch that had kept any lives from being lost.

Which was a consolation, Starsky thought grimly, but there were a lot of victims in this case. Luke Huntley was likely to go to prison, thereby leaving Doris, who loved her husband dearly but gambled to ease the loneliness of being childless and married to a dedicated detective, all the more reason to stay involved in sins such as gambling. Hopefully, Reuben would end up in prison, too, but with the $50,000 unavailable as evidence, a slick lawyer might be able to get him off.

Thereby, Starsky fumed inwardly, leaving Hutch the most injured party of all.

With Reuben sitting quietly in the back seat of the Torino, Starsky closed the door and approached the two clinging men. Huntley's sobs were drying up, but he still could barely hold himself erect, and Hutch had gentled his hold, and now had his chin locked over Huntley's shoulder, stroking the older man's back.

Starsky knew how that embrace felt, knew how those strokes could soothe and ease. He hoped Huntley was worth it. "Hutch," he said quietly.

The blond raised his head and regarded Starsky with a sad frown.

Starsky looked his partner in the eye. "I'll call for backup to take care of those other goons." He tilted his gaze toward the warehouse, trying to remind Hutch of the briefcase that had been tossed over a stack of crates once the fighting broke out. Starsky knew it would never rank as the most ethical act of their professional lives, but Hutch had pointedly told him how it was going to be, and Starsky hadn't argued; now they both were going to have to live with whatever consequences would stem from their silent agreement.

Huntley seemed to understand the communication. He straightened, then slumped against Reuben's car, from which he had dragged the other in a near killing rage when Reuben tried to get away. "For Doris," Huntley reminded in a whisper.

Hutch stepped back from his mentor, then squeezed his arm. A quick nod, and the blond was off toward the warehouse.

Both men watched him go.

"You realize," Starsky said quietly, "that with the star witness dead, and without the fifty grand as evidence, Reuben is probably gonna walk."

Huntley shook his head. "It doesn't matter so much now, Starsky. I just want Doris to have what rightfully belongs to her."

A part of Starsky would always care for Huntley, because the older detective cared so much for Hutch. But some part of him had always had the suspicion that Huntley was missing a few screws. He'd always stayed mum on the subject because Hutch held Huntley in such high regard. And, now, Starsky couldn't help but partially quote his own partner's words, when they both had showed up at the warehouse to try to talk Huntley out of meeting with Reuben: "How much do you think that fifty grand in going to mean to Doris if you're in prison?"

Huntley bowed his head. Then, softly, "I was never around much, anyway. She can't be any worse off than she was. At least, this way, she'll be taken care of financially."

Starsky didn't have the heart to point out that, with her track record, Doris was as likely to gamble away $50,000 a second time as she was the first.

But Starsky was all heart where Hutch was concerned. With Huntley and him alone, this was his one chance to speak to the older man privately. He looked at Luke, intensifying his gaze until the other's cautious orbs met his. "This better," the smaller detective said firmly, "take care of whatever favors Hutch owes you. The slate is clean, Huntley. Got that?"

Starsky knew, from the light in the other's eyes, that his point was understood.

Still, Huntley rallied. With a quiet voice, which was no less firm, he replied, "This isn't about favors as much as family, Starsky. Hutch is like a son to me."

It was then that Starsky knew exactly what strings Luke had pulled to get Hutch to go along with what he wanted. The flame that burned for Me and Thee flared within, and Starsky let his eyes reflect the coldness that gripped his heart. "What father would ask his son to do the wrong thing?"

Huntley's mouth parted, his eyes narrowing speculatively, and it was a moment before he spoke. "You're out of line." But the tone wasn't as strong as before.

Starsky crossed his arms. "Look, Huntley, I don't give a damn about the money. Reuben's not going to say anybody took it because he'll deny it ever existed. So Doris will get her fifty grand without Hutch and me ever having to compromise ourselves. But just understand that I don't see you with rose-colored glasses the way Hutch does. I'm going along with what you want, because it's what he wants. But this is the end of the line. Hutch doesn't owe you a damn thing."

For a brief moment, Huntley's eyes flared with anger. But now they softened, and he only nodded agreement. "Sure. Why should he need anything from me, anymore? He's matured into an outstanding cop, an outstanding person, and he's got you for a partner... and a friend. I have loved him," Huntley looked again toward the warehouse, "like a son." His voice softened to a dry whisper. "I've always felt that, if Doris and I had had children, that I'd want them to be just like Kenny."

Starsky turned away, hoping he could trust the sincerity in the speech. They'd given Hutch plenty of time to collect the brief case, and he moved to the Torino to call for backup.

 

 

CHAPTER ONE - August 25, 1979

Starsky rolled up his Racing Form and batted it repeatedly against his leg as the field of nine horses pounded out of the turn and approached the grandstand. "Come on, Little Sister!" he cried. "Come on, come on, come on!" Looking at the field head-on from the ground floor of the grandstand, he could barely see his and Hutch's selection, but it appeared that the brown horse --filly, Hutch had corrected him, for it was a female -- with the jockey wearing the purple silks, was making a big move on the outside.

"She's catching up, Hutch," Starsky chattered to his partner, then returned to slapping his leg and calling encouragements.

Hutch didn't reply, and lowered his binoculars as the field approached.

The hoof beats grew louder as the horses passed them, sharp whips slapping against sturdy hides. Starsky could see that Little Sister looked to be fourth, only a half length separating her and the horse in front of her. "Yeah, baby, gogogo! She's doin' it, Hutch." He turned again and batted the blond in the ribs with the Form. "She's doin' it! She's doin' it!"

"I don't know, Starsk," Hutch finally commented, eyes following the field as it continued up the stretch, now only hindquarters in view. A roar went up from the crowd as the horses approached the finish line. Both he and Starsky listened as the announcer called the result.

Little Sister was third.

"Damn!" Starsky swore. "She was so close!" They'd put ten dollars on her to win and ten dollars on her to place, so even if she'd been second they would have collected something.

An overweight man with a cigar, standing a few feet away, glanced over at the duo. "You bet Little Sister, too?" he asked sourly.

Both detectives nodded.

"Fuckin' bitch," the man commented. "She should have beaten this field. She was probably horsing. That fucking Robertson shoulda smacked her a few more times to get her mind on running."

Starsky quickly turned away, not wanting to hear about this particular sport's less pleasant aspects. He headed toward the grandstand, unfolding the Form.

Hutch was counting his money as they walked. "Starsk, we're down to twelve bucks. One more, then we better split."

"Yeah," Starsky sighed regretfully. It had been a fun day, even though the only ticket they'd cashed was a $15.60 place payoff in the third race. This was such a rare weekend off that they'd celebrated by driving down to San Diego for a visit to Del Mar Race Track. They had a long trip back, but at least they could pay for gas and food with plastic.

Starsky began studying the past performances for the next race, but after a moment, he found that his mind wasn't registering the data before him. The fat man's comment still rankled. And he was puzzled by something the man had said....

"Hutch." He lowered the Form as both detectives found an empty bench inside the grandstand, gratefully giving their legs a rest.

"Hm?" The blond was toying with the strap on his binoculars.

"What did that man mean? He said Little Sister was... 'horsing'?" Starsky had no doubt that Hutch would know the answer. For, within minutes after their arrival, the blond had proved to be as much a know-it-all about horse racing as he claimed to be about nearly everything else. Turned out that his old high school buddy, Jack Mitchell, had had an uncle who owned race horses, and sometimes Hutch would go with Jack to Canada to watch them run at a track called Woodbine.

Hutch considered the question, then chuckled softly. "It's just an expression. It meant she was in heat."

Starsky blinked. "Oh."

The shorter detective felt his partner's eyes on him, and a moment later a hand rested on his shoulder. The blond was amused. "It's nothing to be embarrassed about, goofball. Horses are products of mother nature, too."

He wasn't embarrassed, Starsky defended silently. But the subject of... well, lady things... had always made him a bit bashful. He thought of the man's statement again, and his tone changed to annoyance. "Well, gee, if she was like... well," his voice softened to a delicate whisper, "you know, like... like on her period... I mean, well...."

Hutch chuckled again, still soft, and his hand squeezed affectionately.

"I mean..." Starsky was determined to speak his mind, "...doesn't it seem kinda cruel to... you know, expect her to run when she's in that condition?" Hutch was fighting to keep a straight face, and Starsky spoke louder as frustration settled in. "I mean, do you think lady horses get cramps?"

Hutch shrugged. "I wouldn't know. But I do know that being in heat would keep her mind off running." He shrugged again. "But that man wouldn't have known that... any more than the rest of us. Not unless he's a real horseman."

Starsky didn't want to think about how a 'real horseman' would know if a filly were in heat or not. He went back to his Form with renewed concentration.

After a few moments, Hutch looked over Starsky's shoulder. "See anything that looks promising?"

"Not sure," Starsky replied. He couldn't help but notice that now he was being expected to pick their next failure. For the first few races, they had argued extensively over who to bet. It was always "my horse" or "your horse", but once the bet was placed, the selection became "our horse". Betting separately would have taken the fun out of it. Now, Hutch seemed to have had enough excitement for one day, for the past two races he'd only commented upon the pros and cons of Starsky's choices, instead of crucifying them.

Starsky held the Form in one hand and pointed with the other as he leaned back toward his partner. "What do you think of this one, Half Moon?"

Hutch bent over the smaller man's shoulder, squinting to read the tiny print. "He seems like an obvious choice. He'll be a big favorite, so even if he wins, we won't collect hardly anything."

"The way I see it," Starsky noted, "collecting anything at this point is better than nothing." Granted, they'd both been big on the idea of cashing in on longshots. But the day's failures had been humbling.

"Yeah," Hutch agreed off-handedly, for now he was leaning further forward, studying the other horses. After a moment, he noted, "Blind Spot has some possibilities. He hasn't raced in four months, but if you look further down, you can see that he's won before off a layoff." Hutch took his program out of his pocket and studied it. Then he grunted. "He's listed as the second choice on the morning line, so there won't be much value in him, either."

Starsky was about to repeat his previous statement, when he suddenly felt his partner brighten. "You know what, Starsk?"

The curly-haired man was immediately suspicious of the enthusiastic tone. "What?"

"Let's go for some big bucks. Let's try a trifecta."

Starsky turned so he could actually look his off-the-wall partner in the face. "A what?"

"A trifecta. You pick the first three finishers in exact order. Sometimes it pays thousands. At the very least, hundreds."

Starsky's voice was high-pitched with disbelief. "Hutch, we can't even pick a winner. We can hardly even pick a horse to be second! How in the world do we have any chance of picking horses to be first, second, and third?"

"We pick three horses and box them," Hutch explained patiently.

"Whaddya mean, box them? How much will that cost?"

"Boxing three horses is twelve bucks. And it won't matter what order they come in as long as they're the first three horses to cross the finish line; by boxing them, we'll be covering all three in the first, second, and third positions. What do you say?"

Starsky sighed. It sounded so adventuresome. And, truth be told, the idea of cashing a $4.00 or $5.00 ticket at this point held no appeal. If Hutch's plan worked, they could be rich.... "Okay."

Hutch patted his shoulder. "That's my buddy."

"Now we gotta pick three horses."

"Let's keep the first two, Half Moon and Blind Spot. Now we need to pick a real longshot, so if we do win, the payoff will be good."

It was good, seeing his normally reticent blond excited about something. It kept Starsky from pointing out that it didn't matter how big the payoff was if their three horses didn't come in. "You wanna pick the third horse or do you want me to pick?"

Hutch shrugged. "It doesn't matter, as long as the odds are at least... say, ten to one." He studied his program. "From this, it looks like four of them are expected to be ten to one or more."

Starsky was about to ask what the horses' names were, when he saw Hutch look up and his eyes suddenly grow wide. The blond's head tilted to one side, and he whispered, "Doris?"

For a moment, Starsky felt annoyed that Hutch would be distracted by thoughts of an old girlfriend when this weekend was supposed to be for them. But when he made the reluctant effort to follow Hutch's gaze, he saw himself looking at a thin, auburn-haired older woman with dark sunglasses who stood alone in the grandstand, off to one side, clutching her program with nervous fingers. And she seemed vaguely familiar.

"Who?" Starsky asked, trying to remember.

"Starsky, that's Doris Huntley." And the blond was on his feet, approaching the woman.

The smaller man watched, trying to fight off a sense of impending doom. Doris Huntley. Of all the people to meet a hundred miles from home. It wasn't that he had anything against the lady. It was just that Hutch had such idolatry for the Huntleys, even if the male half of the marriage was currently serving time in prison, and the female half had gambled away $50,000 of their life savings. Hutch downright had a blind spot where his mentor's family was concerned.

And what the hell was she doing here? There could only be one answer, considering her past. Starsky watched more closely as she continued to fret with her program. She was hardly someone attending the races just for a day of fun and excitement.

But Hutch, of course, wasn't considering any of that. He breezed up to Doris with a blazing smile; when she turned at his voice, they both threw their arms around each other, laughing and hugging.

Starsky tried to feel good-natured about the scene. If nothing else, he did owe the Huntleys for one very important thing. Luke had been a guest speaker one day at one of Hutch's law classes at the University of Minnesota. Hutch had liked Huntley so much that he talked to him after class, and that blond head had been filled with dreams of being a cop. Later, when Hutch left Minnesota, he moved to L.A. and looked up the Huntleys. And fulfilled his ambition to be a cop, all with Huntley's enthusiastic approval. And his love.

Starsky sighed.

Once, when he'd gone back to Duluth with Hutch to visit the Hutchinson family, Starsky had come face-to-face with the cold environment in which his partner had been raised. After that, it had puzzled him that Hutch was such a warm, affectionate person after having suffered such an upbringing. But being introduced to Luke Huntley had solved the mystery. The man was a walking storm of physical contact. If he liked you, he had his hands all over you. And he had loved Hutch. So the two men's greetings and partings were filled with full-body hugs, arm-squeezing, back-slapping, and arms-about-shoulders. And in between those greetings and partings were moments of playful wrestling and a non-stop stream of little touches.

Hutch, of course, had just eaten it up. Starsky could imagine how so much demonstrative love would be craved by someone who had received so little of it. And Luke must have satisfied that craving for a number of years. All to Starsky's benefit. For, once he and Hutch were paired together, theirs had been a merging with very little pain and few errors. Hutch had never hesitated to show -- and tell -- the partner he loved how much he loved him.

Starsky closed his eyes and drew a deep breath, feeling himself smile. He would always owe Luke Huntley for that.

His eyes opened just in time to see Hutch steer Doris in his direction. Starsky stood, pasting on an enthusiastic smile. "Well, well, well," he greeted, holding out his hand, "what do we have here?"

"Starsky, you remember Doris," Hutch introduced, his smile soft beneath the mustache.

"Of course, I remember," Starsky shook her hand, still not liking the tense expression behind the sunglasses. "What brings you all the way down here?"

"Apparently, the same thing as you two." Her shrug was exaggerated, as was her brief laugh. "I was just looking for a little fun and relaxation." She sighed heavily. "It feels good to get away from the city."

Hutch was holding her arm, and bent closer to her. "Hey, would you like a refreshment or something? Maybe a coke?"

"Oh, no." She quickly shook her head. "I'm fine. Thank you." She looked at her program. "I was just trying to pick my selection for the next race." She glanced from one to the other. "Have you two had any luck today?"

"Not much," Hutch laughed. "In fact, we're down to our last few dollars and thought we'd just throw it all into a trifecta. Go for the big bucks, you know?"

She nodded, but asked, "Who are you playing?"

Starsky was uncomfortable with the directness of her question. But he was hardly in a position to play judge and jury with her life.

"We're trying to find a longshot to play with the two favorites," Hutch replied. "Do you have a suggestion?"

She tapped her program. "I was thinking about Teacup."

Starsky quickly held up his Form, holding it wide so Hutch could look at it, too. The blond spoke first. "Hm. Looks like his best races have been on a muddy track."

"But he's ridden by Doug Peterson," Doris pointed out. "He's already won two races today. Having him for a rider ought to move the horse up."

Starsky blinked. Doris sounded like a horse racing pro. But, he was glad to realize, Hutch wasn't automatically taking her selection. The blond continued to consider the data of the other horses.

Starsky closed his eyes, feeling the strain from having studied the small print throughout the day. When he opened them, his gaze fell on the larger print of a name. "Hutch," he called excitedly, trying to gesture with a glance while using both hands to keep the paper open. "Hutch, look at that, the horse named Partner for Life. Whaddya think?" He felt the blond lean closer and prompted, "Well?"

Thoughtfully, Hutch noted, "He's listed at 12-1." Now a shrug. "Doesn't look too hopeless." He pointed with a finger. "Except for the bad race he had last time on a wet track, he's had excuses for most of his races. Looks like he gets into traffic a lot."

"But he has a chance," Starsky encouraged. "'And he's breakin' from the outside post, so he should be able to stay clear of the others. 'Sides, how can we pass up a horse with a name like that?" He looked over his shoulder at his partner and found the other looking at him. Their eyes met, and Starsky thought his insides might turn into goo.

Hutch presented a soft smile, then nodded firmly. "Okay."

Starsky snapped his fingers. "All right." He looked toward the lines starting to grow at the mutuel windows. "Hutch, you better get the ticket, 'cause I'm not sure how to do a trifecta box."

He received a nod, then both men turned to Doris, who had remained quiet throughout the discussion, and who was studying her program intently, gnawing at her lip.

"You still stickin' with Teacup?" Starsky asked, grateful as hell that Hutch hadn't allowed her to become involved in their selection.

She looked up, then drew a deep breath. "I think so."

"Two minutes," the announcer called over the loud speaker, "until post time. Don't be shut out."

Hutch took a step toward the mutuel lines, then looked at Doris. "I'll get your ticket," he offered.

"Oh, no," she quickly shook her head. "Thank you. But I'd rather get my own." She smiled. "It's a superstition I have."

Hutch tilted his head. "Oh." Then he glanced at his partner. "Be back in a second."

Both watched Hutch take his place in line, then Doris regarded Starsky uneasily. "Guess I better get in line, too."

"Guess you better." He watched as she went clear around the lines where Hutch was and moved instead to a window further down the mezzanine, which had a much shorter line. After glancing at the heading over the window, Starsky understood why. It read, "$100 Window".

Starsky put his hands in his pockets and turned toward the track, watching the line of ten horses as they approached the starting gate in front of the grandstand. When Doris joined him a moment later, he said, "That was fast."

She laughed uneasily. "I sometimes get lucky like that."

Starsky turned to look at her. "You come to the track often?"

"Oh," she shrugged with exaggeration, "every now and then. It's good to get away from the same routine sometimes."

Starsky's gaze never wavered. "You ever win much?"

She frowned, returning his gaze through her sunglasses. Then she was laughing again. "You win some, you lose some."

"I bet the loses are pretty hard to take, when they happen at a hundred dollars a crack."

She quickly became interested in her program, and when Hutch came up behind them, they parted for him.

The blond held out the ticket. "You can look and touch, but you can't hold it."

Starsky did the first two. "So, how much do we stand to win if our horses come in?"

"It all depends on how they finish," Hutch explained patiently. "If Half Moon, the favorite, wins, and Blind Spot is second and the longshot third, that would be the smallest payoff." He shrugged. "My guess would be anywhere from three to six hundred dollars. It goes up from there." He grinned mischievously. "If Partner for Life comes in first... well, I'd tend to think it would have to pay at least a thousand."

Starsky whistled.

Hutch squinted at the tote board. "At least," he emphasized. "Partner for Life is up to eighteen to one." He quickly looked at Doris. "If our three can't do it, I hope Teacup wins for you."

"Thanks," she replied. "But with so much at stake, I think I'm rooting for you two."

Hutch chuckled but Starsky stifled a sigh. He knew she didn't mean it for he suspected that she needed to win, and win bad.

"If we win, we'll take you for a nice dinner," Hutch said.

"If I win," Doris replied, "I'll do the same for the two of you."

"Now that's a deal," Hutch said good-naturedly.

The horses were loading into the starting gate.

"Hutch," Starsky pulled at the blond's sleeve, "let's watch this inside, on the television, so we can see better." During the day, he'd wanted to be close to the track for all the races, for he enjoyed the sound of the thundering hooves as the horses passed. But now he was more intrigued by the idea of winning half a grand or so, and he wanted a full view as it happened.

Hutch looked at Doris, and she nodded. They quickly moved inside the grandstand to join the crowd gathered around the nearest tv monitor.

Just then, the gate sprung open, and inside the grandstand a bell sounded, locking the mutuel windows.

"They're Off!" the announcer called.

Starsky bounced on his toes as he watched the monitor, adrenalin rushing through him, though he wasn't sure what he was supposed to be seeing. He snapped his fingers quickly, demanding, "What are our numbers, Hutch?"

"Three, six, and eight. We're second, sixth, and seventh."

Starsky had no idea how Hutch could make such clear sense out of the chaos of the tightly bunched field on the screen, but he had no doubt the blond was correct. The horses were entering the first turn, and he tried to listen to the announcer above the shouts of the crowd. Doris' horse, Teacup, was way back.

When the horses turned down the back stretch, Starsky lost track of where their selections were. "Are any of them movin' up, Hutch?"

"That's Half Moon in second, " the blond explained. "Partner for Life has moved into fifth." Hutch pointed. "And that's Blind Spot making a big move from the back of the pack. See him in the yellow colors?"

Starsky's fists curled as he watched the big bay pass other horses as if they were standing still. "Oh, Jesus, Hutch. Oh, Jesus. But they've still got to catch the leader."

"There's plenty of time," Hutch noted calmly.

Just as Hutch finished speaking the announcer said, "And Teacup is moving into contention."

Through the corner of his eye, Starsky saw Doris grip her program and close her eyes a moment, as though in prayer.

The horses were rounding the far turn, and the crowd gathered around the monitor became more vocal, encouraging various selections.

Half Moon had just taken the lead. Starsky shook his fist and jumped up and down once. He wasn't sure which was which, but their other two horses were just behind Half Moon, as was Teacup. "Oh, Jesus. Oh, Jesus."

The blond suddenly drew in a breath as the field entered the home stretch. In a soft whisper, he said, "Man, Starsk, we're going to be close."

It then occurred to the smaller detective that his partner had never believed for a second that they could win.

Four horses moved as a team ahead of the rest of the pack in mid-stretch. Partner for Life was on the inside, then Blind Spot, Half Moon and Teacup.

Doris suddenly came to life. "Come on, Teacup! Come on! Come on!"

Partner for Life started to pull ahead, and Teacup began to drop back. Blind Spot and Half Moon also separated, while still maintaining their positions in second and third.

"Oh, my God," Hutch whispered in disbelief as the wire approached.

Starsky could contain himself no longer. He leapt into the air just as the field hit the finish line, letting out a shout that caused everyone else to look at him. When he landed, he bounced right up again, this time into his partner's arms, squeezing the other tightly. "We won! We won! Jesus, Hutch, we're rich!"

Hutch was laughing, even as he tried to keep himself from being bowled over by his partner's momentum. He set Starsky on his feet and reminded, "We're hardly rich. But that was the longest shot of the three who won, so the payoff ought to be a damn good one." Then he turned to Doris, who was gnawing at her lip with her teeth. "Sorry, Doris. Your horse was so close."

"Oh," she said shakily, "I'm happy for the two of you. What an exciting race."

"Remember, we're taking you to dinner."

Starsky tugged at Hutch's wrist. "Come on, let's see Partner for Life in the winner's circle."

Hutch chuckled as he allowed himself to be pulled toward the opening of the grandstand that led outside. He glanced over his shoulder. "You coming, Doris?"

She forced a smile. "Sure."

Starsky was still chattering with excitement as they made their way toward the winner's circle. Hutch said, "I don't believe it. The horses finished in reverse order of their odds. We're getting the best possible payoff for our box."

"Yeah," Starsky agreed. "Lady Luck is sure shining on us today."

The horses that had just run were being unsaddled before the stands, their sides heaving and nostrils flared. All except Partner for Life, who was being led into the winner's circle. He was a big, strapping, dark bay.

"Isn't he beautiful, Hutch?" Starsky beamed as they watched him get his picture taken, the people who cared for him at his bridle. "Isn't he the most beautiful horse in the whole wide world?"

"Yeah," Hutch agreed with genuine admiration.

Suddenly, a murmur went up from the crowd, and when the detectives glanced at the tote board, the red "Objection" sign was blinking. Also blinking were the numbers of the horses that had finished third and fourth.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, please hold your tickets. The rider of Teacup, who finished fourth, has claimed a foul against Half Moon, who finished third, for interference at the top of the stretch. The claim only involves the third and fourth placed horses. Please hold all tickets until the race is declared official."

Starsky's heart contracted, and he looked at Hutch with wide eyes. "Interference?" he whispered in disbelief.

Hutch shook his head once, visibly deflated. "We'll just have to wait and see what the stewards decide." The blond looked at Doris, who was clutching her program tighter than ever, a ticket between it and her fingers. "Did you have Teacup to show?" he asked curiously.

She nodded, then laughed nervously. "I'd hate to spoil your trifecta. They probably won't allow the foul. They usually don't."

The blond noted, "At least, whatever happens, one of us stands to win." He looked at the tote board. "With Teacup being twelve to one, and Partner for Life winning, that would be a decent show payoff."

As Starsky listened, he wondered how much Hutch was thinking that Doris had bet. He was certain the blond had no clue it was at least a hundred bucks.

And, damn it, he didn't want Doris to win. This was for them.

The three milled silently about the now-empty winner's circle, for Partner for Life had been led away.

"That's not a good sign," Hutch muttered to Starsky, "when it takes the stewards this long to decide. The longer it takes, the more likely it is that they're going to disqualify the horse."

Starsky drew a deep breath. "Hutch, I don't know if I could stand it, if we lose after we thought we'd won."

The blond squeezed his partner's shoulder. "We'll live. Besides," he smiled at their guest, "it'll mean dinner is on Doris."

"That's right," she nodded.

A roar went up from the crowd, and all three looked at the tote board as the "objection" sign was turned off and the numbers of the horses stopped blinking.

"Ladies and gentlemen, after reviewing the films, the stewards have disallowed the claim. The original order of finish stands."

Hutch reacted first, shooting a fist into the air. "Whew!"

"How much did we win?" Starsky demanded excitedly. His eyes were darting about the tote board, but he found the myriad of numbers confusing.

"They're posting the payoffs now." Hutch's eyes were glued to the board, and he reached to put his arm around Doris' waist.

"Oh, boy," the blond gasped a moment later.

"Wow," Doris said.

"How much, Hutch?"

Hutch cupped a hand around his mouth and bent down to Starsky's ear. Distinctly, he said, "Three... thousand... nine... hundred... forty... seven... dollars... and... eighty... two... cents."

Starsky jerked his head back to look at him. "Really?"

The blond's grin broadened. "Really."

Starsky leapt at him, forcing Hutch to let go of Doris. "WHEW!" He embraced Hutch tightly, arms around the slim waist, pressing himself against the other.

Hutch slapped Starsky repeatedly on the back.

"Ah, man, Hutch," Starsky said as he pulled back, "this is really something. What a great day."

"Yeah, sure beats Vegas."

"That's for damn sure." They'd won thousand upon thousands more than this when in Las Vegas to investigate the strangler murders, but that had been with the Department's money, and it had been won in a very impersonal manner.

Hutch patted Starsky on the head. "That was quite a hunch you had there, partner."

The curly-haired man beamed. "You mean Partner for Life?"

"Yeah."

"Like I said, how could we not bet him?"

Hutch chuckled softly and turned toward the grandstand. "I guess we'd better cash our ticket and take our loot to dinner." With an arm loosely around Starsky's waist, he reached back and took Doris' hand.

"Hey, I'm starved, " she said. "Dinner sounds like a good idea to me."

They were silent until they were inside. "I'll cash it," Hutch said, then winked at Doris. "In this partnership, I like to handle the money."

Starsky had no intention of making a retort as he watched Hutch go to the payoff window. He felt uncomfortable standing next to Doris, disapproving of what she was, yet sorry that she was probably strapped for cash and not knowing how to bring it up. He decided on a more amiable topic. "Hutch and I don't get down this way very often. Know of any good restaurants?"

"Uh," she stroked a trembling finger along her lower lip, "there's the By the Bay, if you like seafood. But it's a bit expensive. Of course," she shrugged, "sounds like Hutch has his heart set on an expensive meal."

A thought struck Starsky just then, and he reached to briefly squeeze Doris' arm. "Wait right here." He briskly headed for the window, where Hutch was now standing alone and stuffing an assortment of bills into his wallet.

"Thank you," the blond grinned widely at the clerk.

"Hutch," Starsky whispered anxiously, beckoning his partner to one side.

"Huh?" Hutch was still smiling, and Starsky had to pause a moment to appreciate it.

"What is it?" the taller man prompted with a hint of impatience.

Starsky shook himself. "Uh, look, when we go to dinner, let me pay for it with my credit card, okay?"

"What?" Hutch asked in disbelief. "Starsky, we just won thirty-nine hundred dollars."

"I know." Starsky looked sheepish, uncertain how to explain. "But I don't want to spend it -- any of it -- on something like dinner." The blond was about to protest again, and Starsky quickly added, "We'll discuss it later, okay? Just let me pay for dinner."

Hutch nodded with shrug.

Starsky patted his arm. "Thanks, pal."

They went to retrieve Doris.

* * *

Starsky sat back, patting his stomach. "I'm stuffed."

"That goes for me, too," Hutch said.

"This was a lovely dinner, gentlemen," Doris put in.

The waiter brought the check and placed it at the center of the table. Starsky quickly snatched it up and pulled out his billfold. When he placed his credit card on top of it, he noticed Doris regarding him curiously. The waiter took the card away.

Dinner was more enjoyable than Starsky had anticipated. Most of the conversation had centered around Luke Huntley and how he was doing in prison. He was in a minimum security facility, and Doris was confident that he would be released in four months, when his first parole review was scheduled. Hutch and Doris exchanged stories about Luke from back when Hutch was young, and Starsky listened with interest, though he still was puzzled as to how Hutch seemed to be so thoroughly blind to the man's faults. It was like it never occurred to Hutch that most people go to prison because they've done something genuinely wrong.

Of course, it was always easy to play judge and jury with someone else's life. Starsky was fully aware that if it were ever found out that he and Hutch had given Reuben's fifty grand to Doris, they could very well end up behind bars themselves. But there was no chance of that happening, for Reuben left the state as soon as his lawyer cleared him of all charges.

It was the kind of situation where the only innocent person who seemed to win was Doris, but Starsky knew that wasn't really true. He wondered how much, if any, of the fifty grand she had left. Wondered what her husband would do when he got out and found the truth.

Doris dabbed at her mouth with a napkin. "So, are you both heading back to the track tomorrow?"

"Oh, no," Hutch said. "We were going to drive back tonight. I can't imagine we'd have the same kind of luck two days in a row." He paused. "Did you drive down by yourself?"

"Yes," she replied. "I'm staying with my sister, Gwen."

"Oh," Hutch's faced brightened, "I forgot she lived in this area. We should have invited her to dinner, too."

Doris waved a hand. "She works nights. She wouldn't have been able to join us."

"When are you headed back?"

"I was planning to spend the weekend here."

"That's nice. I was going to say if you wanted to go back to L.A. tonight, Starsky and I could follow you to make sure you arrive home okay."

"No," she quickly shook her head. "That's okay. Thank you for offering. But I'm going to stay with Gwen another day."

The waiter returned with the charge slip, and Starsky signed it. He waited to be given his receipt, and then pocketed his card while the three of them stood.

"Thank you both," Doris said. "That was a fine dinner."

"Made all the better by your company," Hutch noted gently.

They wound their way around various dining areas until reaching the front lobby. Doris patted the side of her sweater. "Oh, no, I left my purse. How silly of me."

"No problem," Hutch said quickly, "I'll get it." He turned to retrace their steps.

Starsky put his hands behind his back and turned to Doris to make a comment about what a boy scout Hutch was, but his intentions vanished when he found the woman regarding him intently.

"David," she said hesitantly, and Starsky knew right then that she had left her purse on purpose. "I -- I -- "

"What?" Starsky prompted.

She drew a deep breath. "Look. Do you have any cash?" Her voice trembled. "I'm all tapped out."

The detective wasn't surprised. "So you can bet the ponies again tomorrow?" he wondered.

Her mouth hardened and she looked away. "Never mind."

"Doris," Starsky drew a breath himself, "I believe I have a dollar and twenty-two cents in my pocket, all in change. All the money I came here with was spent at the track today."

She regarded him with puzzlement. "But the money you won...."

"Is all in Hutch's wallet," Starsky said gently. Then his voice hardened into a challenging tone. "You're going to have to ask him for it."

Her eyes quickly lowered. "You know I can't do that."

"Doris," Starsky gentled his tone again, "no one can help you if you won't help yourself. You're an addict. Gambling is no less serious a disease than alcoholism, heroin addiction, and dozens of other vices. Until you face that fact, all the money in the world isn't going to solve your problem."

She bit her lip harder and looked away. "You wouldn't understand."

"Okay," Starsky whispered, "I don't understand. But what I do understand is that you have a husband who loves you very much, and that Hutch loves both you and your husband very much. And because he cares, I care. But there's one big difference between how he feels and how I feel: I'm not blinded by love, like he is. He doesn't want to believe the evidence before him. Like your husband, he wouldn't consider for an instant that you would gamble that fifty grand away again, like you did the first time." His voice hardened slightly. "But that's what you've done, isn't it?"

Her mouth fell open, as though she wanted to say something, but didn't know how to.

Hutch appeared, holding out her purse. "No wonder you forgot it, it was clear under the table."

"Oh," she laughed, "it must have grown legs on its own." She took it from him. "Thank you."

They moved to the door. "Can we drop you off at Gwen's?" Hutch asked.

"That would be fine," Doris agreed. "She can take me back to the track to pick up my car tomorrow."

"Just give me directions," Hutch said as he held open the door, "and we'll have you at your sister's doorstep in no time."

* * *

Starsky watched from the Torino as Hutch kissed Doris on the cheek just before she disappeared inside her sister's house. He wondered if Gwen knew of Doris' addiction, wondered if perhaps Doris was siphoning money off her under the pretense of using it for something else. Wondered how Luke was going to take it when he found out that all the time he'd served in prison was going to be for naught -- for he and Doris would be back right where they'd started when this whole thing began: missing the entire life savings they had set aside for retirement.

He wondered if Luke might leave her then.

Starsky remembered, so clearly, the night eight months ago when Luke had appeared at their precinct, for the older detective had been summoned by Captain Dobey for the special assignment of guarding the star witness for Reuben's trial. After spotting each other in the hall at the station, Luke and Hutch had done their all-over-each-other routine, then Hutch and Starsky had taken Luke to the Pits for a beer.

Hutch had casually asked, "So, Luke, how is Doris doing?"

With a forced smile, Luke replied, "Listen, fellas, take my word for it: don't ever get married."

Starsky had already reached that conclusion for himself. Certainly, there had been a time when he'd had the fantasy of the wife and kids and PTA meetings, but he'd come to realize that he loved his job too much to allow it to take a backseat to domestic responsibilities. Being a cop was what he was, and he needed a certain freedom and flexibility in order to be a good one. It wouldn't be fair to a wife to ask her to wait at home for him... as Luke had expected Doris to do. So, Luke's statement that night was right in line with Starsky's more recent beliefs.

But Hutch was a whole different matter. For reasons that Starsky hadn't been able to figure out, Hutch had decided that Luke and Doris were a match meant for heaven. Even after all the pain of his own divorce, Hutch seemed to want to believe that the fantasy could work, that a good cop could also be a perfect husband.

"What are you talking about?" Hutch had asked Luke in disbelief. "You've always been the happiest of couples. Huh? Come on."

Still, the uneasy smile. "That's true. But, I mean, you know, a cop's life...." Luke trailed off, then with remorse, "I didn't even give her a kid."

Still, Hutch clung to the fantasy and said to Starsky, "Listen to him talk. He's got a wife with enough love for him for ten kids."

"That's right, don't get me wrong," Luke amended, "I mean, I love her like my right hand, Ken, but... that's my shootin' finger." There was a long pause, then, "I mean, a cop's life... I mean, you guys know what I'm talkin' about, right? A cop's on the street more than he's in the bedroom, right?"

Hutch obviously hadn't wanted to pursue that train of thought. Instead, he prompted, "Is she still beautiful, huh?"

"More than ever." Luke reached for his wallet.

"Let me see," Hutch said with enthusiasm. "Oh, yeah," he admired as he held the small photo. Then he handed it to his partner. "Look at that."

For the first time, Starsky spoke. "Who's this?" he teased. "Your sister?"

They all laughed, then Luke lifted his beer. "Here's to Doris."

Hutch raised his, too. "I'll drink to that."

It had been a strange and interesting position for Starsky, sitting back and watching the interchange between Luke and his partner. Watching the way Luke tried to drum up commiseration from fellow cops for his marital situation, while Hutch just kept trying to force the conversation to fit a mold that was more comfortable for himself. Starsky wondered if his partner had even heard a word that Huntley had said.

Sometimes, Starsky thought now while sighing heavily, Hutch could be as dense as the Sherwood Forest.

"Hey, you sound beat," Hutch noted as he glanced in the passenger window.

Starsky wasn't able to hold back a yawn. "Yeah, it's been a long day." He grinned. "A nice day, but long."

Hutch opened the door and got in, turning toward his partner and resting an arm on the back of the driver's seat. "Maybe we shouldn't drive back tonight. What's the rush? Maybe we should just get a room for the night and take our time going back tomorrow."

Starsky always liked it when Hutch broke away from his mold of practicality and wanted to do something adventuresome. He grinned back and shrugged. "Okay by me."

Hutch pointed. "Let's go down the Boulevard until we find a motel." He paused and amended, "Or a hotel. It's not like we have to watch our budget."

Starsky frowned as he pulled away from the curb. "Let's pay for it with plastic again." He looked over to see the pale brows draw together.

"What is it with you?" the blond demanded. "You're not thinking about trying to frame that money and hanging it on your wall, are you?"

Starsky shrugged, wondering if he could put his feelings into words. "No. But I think... you know... that we should keep it set aside for something special."

Hutch was intrigued. "Like what?"

"I dunno. What difference does it make? Let's just put it away, like in a joint savings account, until something comes along where we need it."

The blond laughed. "Oh, Starsk, it's not like it's that much money. It wouldn't even qualify for a down payment on a house. Maybe we should just split it and leave it at that."

"No," Starsky said firmly, gaze switching between the windshield and his partner. "Come on, Hutch, that was our bet. It's our money. It was won by a horse with our name on it." He inwardly cringed at the realization that saying it out loud made it sound a little silly.

But Hutch looked thoughtful, one long finger rubbing against his mustache. "If you feel that strongly about it...." Then he shrugged and glanced at his partner. "I guess you never know when we might find ourselves out of work and needing something to tide us over."

Starsky felt relief make its way through his body. "Right. So when we get back, let's go to a bank and put it in a savings account with both our names on it."

Hutch shifted, leaning toward his partner and placing a hand on a denim-covered knee. "Starsk, let's not get ridiculous. Just put it all in your own account. I trust you not to spend it."

Frustration at being misunderstood flared again. "Hutch, you keep missin' the point. Come on, it's for us. It's not a matter of trusting each other with it. We just need a safe place to put it, and since it might as well be earnin' interest until we need it, we should put it in a bank."

Hutch squeezed the knee and settled back with a soft chuckle. "All right, buddy, whatever you say." Then he straightened. "There's a Motel 6 up there on the right."

Starsky grunted. "I'm up to something a little more decent than that."

"Yeah, okay. But since you charged dinner, I'll charge the room."

"Okay by me."

* * *

They settled for a Days Inn. By the time they were checked in, it was past nine o' clock, and Hutch pulled off his jeans with a grateful sigh. "I don't know about you, buddy, but that big dinner and a few drinks did me in. I think I'm going to hit the sack. If you turn on the tv, keep it down low, will ya?"

Starsky mumbled, "I don't think there's nothin' on but reruns." He picked up a magazine from off the table.

Hutch removed the rest of his clothes, except for his briefs, then slipped beneath the covers. He reached to turn off the lamp beside his bed, leaving the light beside Starsky's bed as the only illumination. The blond settled back against the pillow and looked over at his friend. "You know, Starsk, since we're planning to put the money away and not use it right away, maybe we should put it in a money market fund. It'll earn better interest."

"Maybe," Starsky agreed, studying the magazine. "I'll check it out when I go to the bank."

Hutch furrowed a brow, noting that Starsky hadn't said "we". It was like his partner was taking full charge of what he so heartfully believed was theirs. Like he was accepting all responsibility for keeping it safe and protected.

Now Hutch felt a surge of tender amusement. And a little bit of guilt that he'd argued about it. He still wasn't quite sure why it was so godawful important to his partner, but vowed from here on out to just accept that it was. He glanced at Starsky. "That was a hell of a hunch you had, buddy."

The curly-haired man looked up with a grin. "Yeah." Then he cocked his head to one side. "You've never won a bet that big before, have you? I mean, at the races?"

Hutch's eyes widened. "Good Lord, no. When Jack and I used to go, I just bet two bucks here or there, maybe ten if I had a lot of money or particularly liked a horse."

"So, you never won a trifecta before?"

"Oh, Starsk," Hutch laughed at his partner's naivety, "I've never even played a trifecta before. I always stuck with the basic win, place, and show."

Starsky stood, abandoning the magazine. "Really?"

"Yeah," Hutch nodded, uncomfortable with the way the other was so surprised.

Starsky approached the bed. With such sincere curiosity that it made the blond's heart twist, he asked, "Then what gave you the idea to play it today? On that particular race?"

"I dunno," Hutch shrugged. "It just seemed that if we were going to lose our shirts, we should lose them trying for some big money." He laughed gently. "I just thought it would add a little excitement to the day."

Starsky sat on the edge of the bed. "You didn't think we had a chance, did you?" he clarified.

"For goodness' sakes, of course not." Hutch restrained a chuckle. "Playing a trifecta is a crapshoot, Starsky. Like you said, it's hard enough picking one horse that's going to win. Professional gamblers don't even touch it."

Starsky stared at the carpet. "Wow. We really were lucky, weren't we?"

Hutch reached out and patted the nearest knee. "Yeah." Then he sighed. "I just feel bad that Doris couldn't win, too. I got the feeling she wanted to win more badly than she was letting on." Before Starsky could comment, Hutch added, "I could hardly blame her. That would have been a large show payoff if they'd moved Teacup up to third."

Starsky brought one bare foot up to rest on the bed, dislodging Hutch's hand, his chin perched on top of the knee, staring at the other bed.

Hutch waited a long time as silence settled around them. Finally, he prompted, "Hey, what are you so quiet about?"

Starsky glanced at him with a timid smile. "Just thinkin', that's all."

"About what?" the blond pursed gently.

"Just about what a weird day it's been. I mean, losing all those races, then hitting that big one with our last twelve bucks."

"Yeah," Hutch agreed. "And then meeting an old friend on top of it."

Quickly, Starsky said, "It was a great day all the way around, Hutch. I mean, even when we were losing all those times, it was still kinda fun. You know, we should get away from the city more and do things like this."

The blond felt the softness filter through him once again. There was something so endearing about Starsky when he got in a sentimental mood. "Yeah, sometimes it seems like life is trying to pass us right by."

Starsky turned toward him. "Yeah. We should make more of an effort to keep it from passing us by. Maybe we should start planning on taking little side trips one weekend a month, or somethin' like that."

Hutch patted the knee again. "Starsk, you know at least half the time all our plans would go to waste, considering the way we get called in when we're supposed to be off duty."

"Yeah, well, if we were out of the city, with no way to be reached, we couldn't be called in. We'd just have to train Dobey to get used to it."

Hutch chuckled at the idea of Dobey being 'trained', then squeezed the knee affectionately. "Look, pal, you draw up the plans, and I'll go along."

Starsky straightened, looking abashed. "Just like that? You don't wanna help in any of the planning?"

The blond wasn't sure if his partner was pleased or disappointed at the prospect. He shrugged. "This is your show, buddy." Then he grinned at his cleverness as he shifted to one side and snuggled more beneath the covers. "If we're 'partners for life', what choice do I have but to go along?"

 

 

CHAPTER TWO - October 23, 1979

Starsky was leaning back in his chair, carefully cutting an article out of the newspaper, when his partner entered the squadroom. "About time you got here," he said, barely looking up.

Hutch shrugged. "Don't you remember me telling you I was going to visit Luke this morning?"

The curly-haired man went back to his task, mumbling, "Didn't think it was gonna take so long."

Hutch grinned with exaggeration. "Miss me?"

Starsky looked up. "No. But Dobey did."

The blond's smile disappeared. "You told him where I was, right?"

Starsky shrugged, still cutting. "I didn't remember, so I said I didn't know."

"Starsky," the other cursed through gritted teeth, "I know you don't have a lot going for you upstairs, but I'd thought you could remember something longer than twelve hours. I swear, I don't know - " Hutch stopped when his partner glanced up with a huge grin.

The taller man sighed heavily.

Starsky chuckled. "Really had you going, didn't I?"

Hutch shook a finger at the man across the table. "One of these days...." He trailed off, brows furrowing. "What are you doing?"

A final snip and the article was free. Starsky held it up. "Did you see this in this morning's paper? Our horse won a $50,000 stakes race yesterday."

Hutch leaned closer until he could make out the words in the article. "Partner for Life?"

Starsky sighed. "Of course, Partner for Life. What other horse is 'our' horse?"

"Well," Hutch pointed out reasonably, "there were two other horses in our trifecta."

"But Partner for Life was the clincher," Starsky said firmly. "He's the one who won against the odds, the one that made it happen."

"Hm," Hutch rubbed at his mustache as he continued to skim the article, "that's pretty amazing, him winning a stakes like that. The race that he won for us was just a claiming race. He's really moved up in class since then."

Starsky nodded firmly, as though it was, of course, all meant to be. "If he keeps winning stakes races, then maybe they'll turn him into a stud horse instead of dog food."

Hutch blinked. "Starsky, he's a gelding. He can't be a stud horse."

Starsky froze for an instant, thinking it through, trying to remember all the things Hutch had taught him that day at Del Mar. Whispering, he said, "You mean... he's... neutered?"

"Yes. Gelded. Castrated."

Starsky cringed at the word. "Geez. Why would they do that to 'im?"

The blond chuckled softly at his partner's reaction. "I think usually it's either because they don't think the horse is going to be any good so there's no reason to keep him 'whole', or sometimes it's because they have a bad disposition and gelding them makes them more docile."

Starsky made a face. "Who would want a race horse to be docile?"

"Well," Hutch shrugged, "if a horse was downright dangerous because of a bad disposition... plus, gelding them sometimes keeps their mind on racing instead of on the girl horses." He paused a moment. "I remember once, when I went to that Canadian track with Jack, his father and the trainer were arguing about gelding a horse. The horse had great bloodlines, but he was downright vicious and the trainer wanted to geld him. But Jack's father was arguing that the horse had a great future at stud. But the trainer was pointing out that the horse's disposition was going to keep him from winning any races, so no one would want to breed their mares to him, anyway."

"What happened?" Starsky prompted when Hutch stopped speaking.

"I never heard the outcome. I just remember that I thought it was an awful lot of fuss over one pair of testicles."

Starsky cringed again, looking about the semi-busy squadroom. "Do you have to say that word out loud?" he hissed.

Hutch looked him right in the eye. "What word? TESTICLES?"

Almost everyone in the squadroom turned their heads. Starsky partially covered his eyes, and Hutch grinned devilishly.

Finally, an older detective said from across the room, "What's the matter, Hutchinson, you got a problem with yours?"

The blond grinned smugly. "Hey, Masterson, maybe I just got an extra pair to go around. What's it to you?"

Dobey came out of his office, and took the situation in with a glance. "Don't any of you have anything to do?" he bellowed, before moving out the door.

The blond's attention turned back to his partner as Starsky folded the clipping to put in his wallet. "You saving that?"

"Yeah," Starsky replied in a small voice, wondering if he was going to get laughed at. "Besides, that horse could maybe end up being famous, winning the Kentucky Derby or somethin'."

Hutch wasn't laughing, but the tone was condescending. "Starsk, he can't win the Derby because he's a five-year-old. Only three-year-olds run in the Derby."

The other sighed heavily. "You're a regular walking encyclopedia, aren't you?"

Hutch shrugged.

Starsky studied his partner, the arrogant tilt of the chin, and his eyes narrowed as he leaned forward. Concerned, he asked, "Where did you get that?"

Hutch rubbed at the corner of his chin, near the exact spot that his partner was studying. "What?"

"That bruise."

The blond seemed genuinely surprised. Softly, he asked, "Is there really a bruise there?"

Starsky stood to get a closer look. "Yeah. What the hell happened?"

Hutch grinned broadly. "Oh, Luke and I were kidding around, and he accidentally cuffed me."

Starsky's eyes widened. "Cuffed you?" Slowly, he sat back down.

Hutch shrugged off-handedly. "Ah, he didn't mean it. You know how we are when we get together."

Starsky nodded. He did indeed know how they were... at least outside of prison walls. "Whatever happened to that glass they always have between prisoners and their visitors?"

The blond looked appalled. "For chrissakes, Starsky, I'm a cop. The guards always let me go in. Luke and I usually visit in one of the questioning rooms." He studied his partner's expression. "Don't condemn him. He felt bad enough about it, as it is. We were just playing around, having a good time."

Starsky sighed, tried to turn his attention back to his work. "You and I have never accidentally hit each other when we're just playin' around."

Hutch's eyes narrowed in disbelief, and Starsky felt a wave of guilt wash through him. The curly-haired man grinned sheepishly. "Sorry." A shrug. "I'm just used to lookin' out for your welfare, that's all. Don't like funny little bruises showin' up with no explanation."

The other's voice hardened slightly. "I just explained it."

"O-kay," Starsky emphasized softly. "Sorry I got carried away." He shuffled some papers. "So, how is Luke?"

The broad grin was back. "Doing real good. He's sure he'll get parole when he has his hearing in two months -- he might be out in time for Christmas."

"That'd be nice."

"Yeah." Hutch glanced about the table. "What are you working on?"

"Another murder in Sandstone Park."

Hutch's eyes narrowed. "Like the last two?"

Starsky opened a file and held it before his partner. "Looks that way. The body was found early this morning and the M.O. is similar."

"Any I.D.?"

"The coroner's putting together a report now. As soon as we get something more definite from downstairs, we can hit the streets."

* * *

As they left the house where they had just interviewed the latest victim's mother, Starsky asked, "So, how do you size it up?"

Hutch sighed. "I think Sandra Livingston could easily have had a lot going on in her life that her mother didn't know about."

"I think so, too," the curly-haired man nodded. "And I think her mother may be now trying to come to terms with how little she knew."

"It's always easy to turn a blind eye," Hutch noted. He reached for the microphone and asked for an address for the latest victim's closest friend, whose name had been provided by the mother. While waiting for a reply, Starsky started the car forward.

"I have a feeling this isn't going to be an easy case." The curly-haired man sighed dramatically. "And that probably means we can't drive up the coast this weekend."

Hutch jerked his head toward his partner. "I didn't know we were going to drive up the coast."

"I know. I hadn't gotten around to telling you yet. But," another sigh, "it looks like our plans for a getaway weekend are going to be put off yet again. Tsk. Tsk." They hadn't gotten away even once since their trip to Del Mar.

The blond asked, "Whatever happened to your intention to 'train' Dobey?"

"The intent was to train him to do without us after we made our getaway. There's nothin' I can do about it when things come up before we even have a chance to pack."

"Yeah, well, sometime over the weekend I'll buy you a beer, and we can reminisce about how nice it would have been to drive up the coast."

"You're on."

* * *

The address that was radioed back to them was in a wealthy area known as Clayton Heights, but the two detectives found no one home. As the Torino wove its way through the wide streets, Hutch said, "Hey, the Huntley's place isn't too far from here. What do you say we drop by and pay Doris a visit? I promised Luke I'd look in on her."

"Okay," Starsky agreed, not looking at his partner. "I'm not sure how to get there, so point the way." He wished Luke would take care of his own, but he knew that wasn't being fair. The man could hardly look after his wife while in prison.

 

And he wished Doris didn't need so much looking after. They hadn't seen her since that day at the track -- as far as Starsky knew, Hutch hadn't talked to her, either -- and he hoped she'd been able to scrounge up some more money to get herself by. Of course, just "getting by" wasn't going to last forever. And with Luke getting out in a couple of months... he didn't want to think about what kind of rotten Christmas that was going to be.

"Take a left," Hutch pointed. A few blocks later, he said, "Now a right."

Starsky had put on his sunglasses and eyed his partner through the corner. "You talk to Doris lately?"

Hutch shook his head. "Not since that day we ran into her. But every time I talk to Luke, he keeps me updated." He looked at his partner. "She visits him at least once a week, you know."

The curly haired man nodded. "That's nice."

"Here it is, up on the right."

Starsky pulled in front of the house he vaguely remembered, for he'd only visited it once, and that had been the night following the beers at Huggy's, when Luke had beckoned Starsky and Hutch to come home with him. Alone in the Torino, Starsky had followed behind Hutch and Luke in the latter's car. It had been the beginning of the Huntleys' troubles, for Doris had complained of "not feeling well" and Starsky and Hutch left shortly thereafter. They later found that the sudden illness stemmed from stress that Doris owed Reuben another $12,000 for gambling losses, in addition to the $50,000 that was already long gone.

Now, it was the middle of the afternoon, with the sun high and bright. It was a medium-sized house, in a nice area. Starsky stood back while Hutch knocked.

After a few moments, Doris opened the door. She was casually dressed in a jogging outfit, and her face had no make-up. "Oh, Ken!" she greeted, "and... David."

Starsky stepped forward, not surprised she would have trouble remembering his name. They'd only met twice.

"We were in the neighborhood," Hutch said, "and thought we'd stop by."

"Oh, certainly." She stepped back. "Come on in. I can put some coffee on and...."

Hutch waved a hand as they entered. "No, don't trouble yourself. We'll just be a few minutes. I saw Luke this morning and told him I'd see how you were."

"Well, I'm sorry," she patted at her outfit, "that I'm not dressed for company."

"Don't worry about it," Hutch quickly assured. "Besides," he grinned broadly, "you look great. I'm sure it's all the more motivation for Luke to come home soon. He seems real sure that he's going to get paroled by Christmas."

"Yes, isn't that nice?" She addressed both of them with the overblown smile that made Starsky uncomfortable. "I talked to him yesterday afternoon, and things are looking really good for him to come home."

Hutch's tone gentled as he leaned back against the kitchen counter she'd led them to. "Are you getting along all right? Need anything?"

"Oh, I'm fine, Ken. Just fine. It's so nice of you to drop by."

Starsky glanced at the decorations in the kitchen, wondering if he should have stayed in the car. Hutch and Doris might be able to talk more freely if he wasn't around.

"Keeping busy?" Hutch asked, his tone still gentle.

"Oh, yes," Doris waved a hand, "you don't need to worry about me. I've been working in the garden, babysitting my neighbor's kids, and reading a lot. You know."

Starsky stepped near the kitchen table and glanced down at the newspaper. Only it wasn't a normal newspaper. It was the Racing Form. Though he really didn't want to create a tense situation, he couldn't help but blurt out, "I see you've still been visiting the track."

"Oh, I haven't really, not hardly at all. But I was planning on going up to Santa Anita tomorrow. It's such a nice facility."

"Have any better luck than that day at Del Mar?" Hutch asked with a smile.

"Oh, you know, some days are good, some aren't." Quickly, she asked, "What about you two?"

"Uh, we haven't been back," Hutch replied. "No time. Plus," he shrugged, "playing the horses isn't something either of us is really into. It was just something different we wanted to do that particular day."

"Well, you were sure lucky then," she noted, and Starsky couldn't help but detect the envy in her voice. "Did you do anything special with the money?" Then she laughed nervously. "Not that it's any of my business...."

Hutch shrugged. "We just put it away for a rainy day."

"That's the smart way to go," she agreed, nodding firmly.

For a moment, things threatened to get quiet, then Hutch straightened. "Well, we won't keep you." His voice softened. "If you need anything, Doris, be sure and give us a call."

"Sure," she said, following them toward the door. "It's really nice of you both to drop by. Do come again."

"We will."

Starsky led the way back to the Torino, so he had no way of gauging his partner's expression until they were both in the car. When he did look, the smooth countenance didn't give any clues, so as they drove away from the curb, Starsky asked, "Do you think she's okay?"

"As well as can be expected. I think she'll be a lot better when Luke gets out."

Starsky sighed. "I hope she takes it easy on the ponies."

Hutch looked at him. "Hm?"

"The ponies," the other replied with forced patience. "I wonder how often she goes to the track."

The blond's tone held an edge. "What are you getting at?"

This time the sigh was very heavy. "Come on, Hutch, she talked about 'some days are good, some not'. She sounds like she goes all the time."

"So?" Hutch said. "It gives her something to do while Luke's in prison."

Starsky was tired of keeping his thoughts to himself. "Surely someone with her past could find a healthier form of recreation."

"Oh, Starsk," Hutch said with a scolding laugh, "it only costs two bucks a race to bet the horses. Even if you don't cash a ticket, you can go to the track and not lose more than twenty bucks."

Starsky put his sunglasses back on and looked over at his partner. "What makes you think she would only bet two bucks a race? You and I were betting about twenty bucks a race, and we were just fooling around."

Firmly, Hutch said, "She learned her lesson, Starsk. After what she put herself and Luke through, do you think she would be stupid enough to risk that kind of money again?"

Hurriedly, because he knew what he was going to say wasn't going to be well received, Starsky pointed out, "Maybe she can't help herself. I mean, it's always been my understanding that gambling is an illness, just like alcoholism. A person can't just stop because they know better. I mean, supposedly the whole reason Doris gambled in the first place was because she was lonely for company. Do you really think she's any less lonely with Luke in prison?"

"Starsky, that's nuts. Don't you think she loves Luke enough to feel that he's worth waiting for? When he gets out of prison, he'll be retired, more or less, so they'll have plenty of time to spend together."

"Hutch, it's not for me to say how much she loves Luke. I just know that addictions don't just come and go at the drop of a hat."

The blond's voice was suddenly steel. "Don't talk to me about addictions," he hissed through clenched teeth.

"Okay, fine," Starsky shot back. "You know how painful they are to break. So, how come you're so sure that Doris just up and got over hers?" He really didn't want to have this conversation. Didn't want to have it at all. It had brought them to an area that hadn't been touched upon in years. "Look, Hutch, the bottom line is: I don't give a damn about Doris and her gambling. But I give a damn about you, and because you value the Huntleys so much.... I just," his voice collapsed, "find it hard to sit here and not point out what seems to me to be obvious."

Hutch's jaw firmed, and he looked out his side window, not speaking.

"I mean, Hutch," Starsky went on, "it's not like there's anything you can do about it. If Doris has a problem, then it's for her and Luke to deal with. You can't fix other people's problems for them, especially when they don't want to face their problems to begin with."

"Yeah," the other finally sighed, head bowed. He picked at a hangnail. "Maybe you're right, Starsk," he said quietly, then looked up. "But even if she does still have a gambling problem, it's not like she's spending the kind of money she was before. She can't, playing the horses, not in the few months Luke's been in prison."

Starsky sighed, too. "I hope you're right."

Hutch rubbed at his chin. After a moment, he said, "I hope you're wrong, buddy."

The other felt his insides shimmer. "I know."

* * *

They went to the office where the latest victim had worked to question her co-workers, but nothing was of help. They weren't finished until after five o'clock, and since Parker Center was located on the other side of the precinct, they agreed that Starsky would drop Hutch off at Venice Place and then pick him up in the morning.

The blond was silent during the drive, as darkness blanketed the horizon. Starsky glanced over at his partner when they stopped at a traffic light next to a street lamp, and he noticed that the bruise on the pale chin was more prominent. He lifted a hand and almost touched it. "You better put some ice on that. It shows."

Hutch seemed to stir. "What?"

"The bruise. You probably oughta put some ice on it."

Hutch gingerly felt the area. "Yeah."

The light changed and the Torino was off again. After a few more moments, Starsky noted, "You're awfully quiet tonight."

The big feet shifted restlessly against the floorboard as Hutch focused on the side window. "I have a feeling about this case," he said softly. "It's going to be a tough one."

Starsky's eyes narrowed as he concentrated on running the yellow light ahead. Hutch wasn't one who admitted to much in the way of intuition. That was more Starsky's area. And it wasn't that the curly-haired man disagreed with his partner; it just seemed an out-of-character statement for the blond.

Starsky had little time to ponder it, for a moment later he braked in front of the old brown building that was so much a part of both their lives.

"Thanks, partner," Hutch said, getting out.

"See ya," Starsky mumbled. He usually waited for Hutch to go inside, and to see the light shine on the second floor before driving off. Tonight, however, he watched with puzzlement as the tall form turned away from the car, then suddenly turned back and trotted around the front.

Starsky rolled down the window as Hutch leaned toward it.

A large hand reached in to rest on Starsky's shoulder. "Hey," came the gentle voice, "I'm sorry about snapping at you earlier today."

Starsky gazed at the tender expression in those blue eyes, frantically trying to remember what Hutch meant.

The hand squeezed. "When we were talking about addictions." The blond head shook slowly. "I know damn well that you know as much about that subject as I do... if not more." The eyes became both more gentle and more pained. "I know it was no picnic, pal." Hutch's voice softened even more. "I don't want you to ever think I don't appreciate your pulling me through it."

Starsky had to lower his eyes as an emotion-filled grin spread across one side of his face.

The hand squeezed again, then was gone. "See you, buddy."

The smaller man sighed deeply, then settled back against the seat as he watched the lanky form disappear inside the building. He knew then that Hutch hadn't really been thinking about the case when he'd been so quiet tonight.

A light came on inside the apartment window, yet Starsky found himself reluctant to move the Torino forward. Nevertheless, he did so, but stayed settled in the seat, driving with just his arms instead of his whole body, as he tried to maintain the warm aura that surrounded him.

The incident with the heroin had taken place four years ago. They had never talked about it, for it was an old subject the moment it was over. When they'd been in the midst of it, living through the withdrawal had demanded an unnatural intensity from both of them... Hutch suffering intensely, and Starsky soothing and caring on a level with an equal amount of energy. It was something neither of them wanted anything to do with again.

Hutch hadn't needed to apologize tonight. Yet Starsky couldn't deny that being reminded of the appreciation for his efforts filled him with a subdued elation. Certainly, the incident had drawn them closer together. The concept of Me and Thee had been transformed to a new level... one that went beyond saving each other's lives on the job. Their trust had taken on a spiritual quality, never to be relinquished.

It was a well-accepted notion on the force that a partnership was like a marriage. You had to learn to give and take, compromise your needs and desires, accept the other person's weaknesses and limitations. But in a partnership there were no vows spoken. It was a matter of the heart and spirit, purely internal, not consummated by the physical. And so the marriage of partnership was inferior to that between the sexes.

Or so it would seem.

Though he had never been married to a woman, Starsky did not question that the marriage between Hutch and him was superior to that of the basic, vow-spoken, heterosexual kind. Long before Luke Huntley's statement at Huggy's -- in fact, within months after Terry's death -- Starsky had lost the belief that he would one day find a special lady who would give him the spiritual and emotional fulfillment that his relationship with Hutch did. He had wanted to believe it when he met Rosie Malone, but even while that short-term relationship was falling apart around him, he had been reminded of the truth he'd been aware of for some time; and he had pointed it out to the Feds working on the Malone case. When Hutch had attacked one of the agents for a slight against his partner, Starsky had intervened. The agent had protested that "we're all on the same side." Starsky had jerked a thumb back toward Hutch and told the Feds, "He's the good guy."

And so it had always been.

He and Hutch had had their ups and downs, but never any of the awful fights that even good marriages were reputed to have. In the few occasions when they did feel anger toward one another, the anger was expressed honestly and openly, and so it was dealt with quickly, and extinguished just as rapidly. There had never been a time when even simple annoyance lasted from one day into the next.

All that, Starsky knew as he drew to a halt outside his apartment, was something he would never give up for a female form that could satisfy any physical desire he could ever have. He'd had lots of loves in his life -- had had many evenings of fantastic sex with various partners; had enjoyed a very successful career; had known various simple pleasures, such as watching a good horror movie, or watching the Dodgers play. But nothing -- nothing -- could top the satisfaction he received while in Hutch's presence. For being in Hutch's presence meant being the center of the blond's attention; meant being allowed to be ten again and to express whatever frivolous impulses possessed him at any given moment; meant receiving a pat on the knee here, a squeeze on the shoulder there; meant being the reason Hutch might let fly a soft chuckle; meant knowing he would live the longest possible life someone in his profession could, because Hutch was there to protect his life even more fiercely than he did his own; meant being someone special because someone as special as Hutch needed him, because Hutch allowed so few into his inner circle; meant being utterly worshipped by the most loving eyes whenever Hutch simply looked in his direction.

This time Starsky sighed out loud as he hauled himself out of his seat and locked the Torino. He slowly climbed the steps, wishing this case hadn't come up, so he and Hutch could have driven up the coast together over the weekend and he could have had the blond to himself.

But tomorrow was another day, another dollar, another murder to solve. And he wouldn't change his life for anything.

Starsky had taken off his holster and grabbed a soda from the refrigerator when the phone rang. As he reached for the receiver, he hoped it was Hutch, though he couldn't imagine why it would be. "Hello?"

"David?" asked a feminine voice.

"Speaking," he replied.

"This is Kathy Marshall," came the enthusiastic announcement.

He smiled at the stewardess' voice. "Hi, Kathy. How are you?"

"I'll be in L.A. tomorrow evening. Can we get together?"

"Uh, we're working on a pretty difficult case."

"I won't be in until after seven. Think you'll still be tied up then?"

She sounded so hopeful. But Kathy was always reasonable and never pressed when she couldn't get what she wanted. That was part of what made her so enjoyable to be around.

Starsky stretched out an arm and leaned against the kitchen wall. "Uh, I don't think that's going to be possible."

"Other plans, huh?" she asked neutrally.

"Yes." He felt a sense of relief go through him at having gotten through the lie so easily. It was on the tip of his tongue to suggest that she call Hutch, for she never seemed to care which of them she slept with. She liked them both and they both liked her, and there was never any jealousy.

But she spoke before he did. "Guess I struck out with both of you then. At this rate, I'm going to have to start keeping a little black book again. A girl gets lonely flying from city to city."

Starsky smiled. "Yeah. Sorry, kiddo." He wondered if Hutch had lied, too, for some reason, or truly had other plans. He was sure the blond wasn't seeing anyone who mattered.

"Maybe next time, huh?" she relented.

"For sure." Now that a date hadn't been made, Starsky felt more like having conversation and teased, "Hey, how about callin' me first next time?"

"Getting jealous?" she teased back. "I always try to be fair and take turns. So, next time, you're first. The way my schedule is now, it'll probably be in two weeks or so."

"Sounds good. Hopefully all the bad guys in the city will be safely behind bars by then."

"Hey, if you two were that good you'd put yourself right out of a job."

Starsky's grin broadened. "Good point."

"I've got to go, David. Keep the bed warm." She made kissing noises on the other end.

"That's a promise." Starsky kissed the receiver. "Good-bye."

"Bye."

Starsky hung up the phone, wondering if he'd feel more like company tomorrow night and would then be sorry that he hadn't agreed to the date. It was a funny feeling, turning down a potential romp in the hay. The only time he ever did that was when he was seeing someone steady or truly had other plans.

Must be gettin' old, he muttered to himself, plopping down on the couch and pulling off his sneakers. He wondered if that was Hutch's problem, too. It was a strange feeling, being burned out before the age of thirty-five. It seemed, not so long ago, that an evening of fucking topped life's agenda... or at least was close to the top. When had it stopped mattering so godawful much?

He wasn't sure. But what he had learned tonight was that there was a certain freedom in being able to say "No".

* * *

The next afternoon, it filled Starsky with a peculiar pleasure to come up behind Hutch, hold out his hand, and say, "Here."

The blond turned and regarded the ice cream cone doubtfully. "What flavor is it?"

"What difference does it make?" Starsky licked at his own cone. Ice cream wasn't high on Hutch's list of properly nutritious food, but the other could hardly turn it down after Starsky had already bought it for him. "Live on the edge, blondie."

Hutch accepted it with the trace of a smile. "Wrong time of year, isn't it?"

"Hey, what's autumn out here would be the middle of summer for most other parts of the country."

Hutch shrugged and they began walking along the sidewalk that circled Sandstone Park. "Good point."

"Besides," Starsky went on, "it's a beautiful day."

"Can't argue with that." Hutch licked at the cone, paused a moment to savor it. "Strawberry?"

"Close. Raspberry."

Hutch took a bite out of the soft mound, and then his lips curled around his teeth, as though the coldness had hurt.

"Go slow, dummy. You're way out of practice."

They were walking again, and Hutch asked, "What have we got?"

Starsky grinned to himself. Hutch had wanted him to do the summarizing so that he could enjoy his ice cream.

"Well," Starsky licked at his chocolate marble, "we know that the three Sandstone Park murders occurred about two weeks apart. All the victims were in the park early in the morning when they were murdered. As far as we know, none of the victims had anything else in common other than being pretty young girls. All died by having their throats slashed. As best the coroner can tell, it was the same knife used on all three."

"And no one has seen anything," Hutch said, "or knows anyone who would have wanted to harm any of the girls."

Starsky sighed. "I think the killer is just picking his victims at random. It doesn't sound to me like he knows the girls in advance."

"You thinking he picks his victim shortly before he attacks them?"

"Maybe." The shorter man shrugged. "Or it could be he watches them for a few mornings, then kills them."

Hutch paused to bite into his cone. The crumbs settled along his mustache, and he instinctively licked at the hairs there. "Maybe that's what he's doing the two weeks in between the murders?"

"Maybe. But the Department has beefed up patrols around the park since the second victim, and no one has noticed anyone suspicious."

The blond shrugged. "It's a big park. Somebody could have been hiding in the bushes."

"True." Starsky's ice cream was melting, and he said, "Let's sit down a minute." He followed his own advice, resting on a bench at the entrance of the park.

Hutch finished the last of his cone, crunching noisily. After swallowing a final time, he ran his thumb and forefinger along the sides of his mustache.

Starsky took a napkin out of his pocket. "Here."

Hutch accepted it without comment and brushed it along the tiny hairs.

The smaller man smiled to himself as he continued to enjoy his cone. He hadn't liked the mustache at first. It had looked very strange, parked there on his partner's upper lip. But after all these months, he had to admit that it had grown on him, primarily because it added such an interesting dimension to his prim-and-proper partner's mannerisms. He liked the way Hutch ran his fingers along it, liked the way Hutch would scratch at a corner of it, liked the way it never quite looked the same any two weeks in a row. Sometimes Hutch would shave a little area right in the middle of it, sometimes it would rest straight across his lip, other times the sides would start to curl down to the corners of his mouth. And Starsky would be forever curious about one particular aspect....

"So, what's it do to them," Starsky had finally asked outright, "when you've got your snout buried between their legs?"

Hutch chuckled softly, blushed a little. "Starsky, you're disgusting."

He stood his ground. "Knock it off. Surely you aren't disgusted when you're pleasing them like that. You wouldn't do it otherwise." He didn't get an answer, so pressed, "How does it feel to them?"

"Why don't you grow your own and find out?"

He had already thought about that. "I'd look stupid with a mustache. It would be all bushy and wouldn't fit my face. It wouldn't look charming like yours does."

Again the bashful blush. "Charming, huh?"

"Yeah. Quit preening your feathers and just answer the question."

"Starsky, I can't answer the question. How would I know how it feels to them? They don't tell me. They just lay there and pant and whimper."

Starsky frowned. "Braggart," he scolded.

And so Starsky had asked Kathy, late one night when the afterglow was wearing thin.

"So, how does that mustache feel when he gives you head?"

She didn't need to ask who he meant. "It feels a little different, but it's really no big deal. I guess it's like asking how it feels doing it with someone who isn't circumcised. If your man's making you feel good, you don't really notice those little details about him. All you know is the little details you feel in your body."

Which really hadn't answered the question.

"You seeing Kathy tonight?"

The question startled the smaller detective from his reverie, causing the blond to chuckle softly. "You must be," Hutch stated. "You're already distracted."

Starsky had no desire to correct his partner's mistaken impression, for he didn't feel like explaining himself. Instead, he asked, "You got other plans tonight? She told me she called you first."

"It was 'my turn'," Hutch answered matter-of-factly.

"Yeah, so why didn't you want to see her?"

The blond shrugged. "I don't know. It's getting a little old with her, I guess." He looked at Starsky. "Maybe you ought to keep her for yourself." A quiet sigh. "I just don't know how to tell her that without hurting her feelings. Maybe you can."

The smaller detective made a face as he bit into his cone. A breeze had kicked up, and the ice cream made him even more conscious of its autumn bite. He shivered. "Thanks a lot."

Hutch chuckled.

Starsky chewed more of his cone. Then he prompted, "You seein' someone else?"

"Not at the moment."

Starsky felt relief, and that was followed by a flash of guilt. He was going to have to get over this selfishness, or whatever it was he'd been feeling lately. He tried to think of how Hutch had been with Gillian... how happy. Hutch deserved that kind of happiness. He just wondered if the blond would ever find it again.

"So," Hutch continued a little hesitantly, "are you going to tell her?"

The curly-haired man had his mouth full with the final bite. "Huh?"

"Kathy," Hutch clarified with a hint of impatience. "She's all yours. Maybe you can tell her you don't want her to see me, because you want to see her more, and it's all right with me."

Starsky swallowed with difficulty. "Hey, I ain't gonna do your dirty work."

Hutch shrugged with a "you-can't-blame-me-for-trying" manner.

"You really dislike her that much?"

Again, the hint of impatience. "I don't dislike her. She's a sweet person. Lots of fun. A convenient roll in the sack. But she's more your type."

"Hey, I ain't no charity case," Starsky pointed out, wondering why they were even arguing about it. "I like her fine, too, but it's not like I'm lookin' to get serious. Sayin' she should stop seeing you because I want to see her more would be an outright lie. I can't do that to her. Or to me. I mean, then I'd have to live the lie. I'm not gonna do that."

"Good point," Hutch relented. He reached over and rested a hand on Starsky's shoulder. "Forget I said anything. I'll deal with it the next time she calls."

Starsky wondered if Hutch really would 'deal' with it. It made him shudder, just thinking about Diana Harmon. It wasn't easy for any man to turn down a lady, but Hutch seemed to have more of a problem with it than most.

"You going to sit there all day?"

"Huh?" Starsky looked up, saw that Hutch was standing over him, large hands stuffed in the back pockets of his jeans.

Hutch jerked his head. "Come on."

Starsky grinned. "I'm comin', I'm comin'," he muttered, taking his place at his partner's side.

* * *

Dusk had settled over the city as the two detectives sat in the Torino, waiting to re-question an acquaintance of one of the Sandstone Park victims. The acquaintance still hadn't shown up at his apartment, and Starsky whistled and tapped the steering wheel restlessly, his boredom occasionally broken by Hutch's recitation of a humorous anecdote from Readers' Digest.

Hutch must have resorted to reading a genuine article, Starsky decided, for the anecdotes had come to an end a few moments before, and his partner was silent, his nose buried in the magazine. The curly-haired man detected the aroma of pizza from the Ma and Pa outfit across the street, and he hoped the person they were waiting for would arrive soon.

When his stomach growled, he patted it soothingly.

Suddenly, Hutch tossed the Digest into the back seat and grumbled, "Of all the ridiculous --"

"What?" Starsky asked, grateful to have something to demand his attention.

Hutch turned his lanky frame in the seat, facing his partner. "You know what great statistic I was just reading about?"

Starsky thought hard. "No."

"That fifty percent of all French women have never had an orgasm."

The curly-haired man took a deep breath, wondering how he was expected to respond to this jewel of scientific news. "Hm," he finally replied, "that doesn't say much for the city of love." Then a thought occurred, and before Hutch could respond, he asked in disbelief, "They keep statistics on that kind of thing?"

Briefly, Hutch closed his eyes and seemed to count a moment. Then the blues orbs opened, and the blond went into what Starsky always thought of as "the lecturing tone". Hutch leaned close to his partner, gesturing with an arm for emphasis, his soft voice earnest with passion. "Starsky, you know I'm a big believer in the sexual revolution that's going on right now, and I think it's about time that our society grew up and learned how to talk about sex openly, without being bashful or ashamed."

Starsky knew more had to be coming, and carefully prompted, "Yeah?"

The blond shook his finger. "But the one big tragedy in all this openness is that all the emphasize on sex is on sex."

Starsky's eyes darted back and forth, suspecting that he was badly missing the point. "Yeah?"

Hutch shifted again and began to talk faster. "What about the other stuff? The holding, touching, affection? Making love to someone? I mean, with all this talk about The Orgasm -- capital T, capital O -- it's like society is losing sight of what sex is supposed to be all about. You know, the biggest losers in all this new openness are the young people today. They're reaching puberty in a society where everyone knows they're supposed to ask their partner, 'Did you come?' What about simply holding someone? Being close to them? Before long, people are going to forget how to simply love someone; they're going to be too damn worried about having a simultaneous orgasm or some such nonsense."

"Well," Starsky offered, feeling that whatever he was going to say wasn't going to be enough to soothe his partner, "comin' together is kind of nice, when you can time it just right."

"That's exactly what I mean," Hutch put in, snapping his fingers once. "You're making love to your lady, and you're thinking so much about trying to time it -- in the name of 'coming together' -- that you forget about all the nice things you can be doing to please her, to enhance her experience, and I'm not necessarily even talking about sexual things. I mean, I just don't think Coming -- capital C -- should be the ultimate goal of the sexual experience. I think it should be to please the other person, where the orgasm is a natural result of the loving, not the goal itself."

After Hutch stopped talking, Starsky realized he was expected to say something. Hutch's speeches did seem to come at the strangest times. He finally looked over at the blond, and quietly said, "Hutch, I think you're a bit weird."

The blond muttered something beneath his mustache, and Starsky knew he couldn't just leave it at that. His partner was incredibly passionate about the most bizarre subjects. And this subject may be a bit unusual, but it was certainly something that nearly all human beings had an interest in.

"You know something, Hutch?"

"What?" the other asked restlessly, glancing out the side window.

Starsky didn't reply until the blond turned to look at him. "I think you have a point." Then he grinned. "Ya big softie."

Hutch started to say something, then became all business as he pointed out the windshield. "There's our man."

Both detectives got out of the car.

 

 

CHAPTER THREE - November 15, 1979

Hutch got in the passenger side of the Torino. "They say it's probably going to be two or three days."

Starsky grunted, then started the motor. "What else is new," he said flatly. "Piece of junk eats up more in repairs than you'd ever spend getting a decent car."

The blond looked over at his partner as they pulled away from Jake's Auto Repair & Tune Up. The words were familiar, but the tone was not. Starsky's heart hadn't been in the insult. Hutch didn't comment, but wondered if the other was just worn out. They both felt that way so much these days. Another murder in Sandstone Park and they weren't any closer than they had been a month earlier. Sometimes, it was difficult trying to remember what the point of it all was.

Darkness had long since settled over the city, and Hutch kept his eyes on the streets as, one by one, the Torino passed by them.

Still gazing straight ahead, Starsky asked, "Do you want to stop for something to eat, or should I take you straight home?"

It was difficult determining which answer his partner would prefer. Therefore, the blond stated his own preference. "Just drop me off. I have some leftover pasta." Starsky didn't reply, and Hutch tilted his head, trying to catch his friend's eye. "I think there's enough for two."

That caused a smile. The eyes were still on the windshield, but Starsky said, "Nah. Pasta sounds a little dull tonight."

"Suit yourself."

Silence settled over them once again. The streets were quiet, probably because most people were in their living rooms, watching Monday Night Football.

"You going to watch the game?" Hutch ventured.

Starsky shrugged. "I dunno. Who's playin'?" He finally glanced over.

"I don't know," Hutch admitted. "Thought I overheard someone at Huggy's saying something about the Vikings."

Starsky narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. "I think that was last week."

Hutch shrugged. "Maybe it was."

Again, silence claimed them for the next few minutes.

Starsky smiled, but it was clearly forced. "We've lost touch, Hutch."

"Lost touch with what?" He thought he knew what his partner was saying, but wanted to be sure.

"With life." Finally, Starsky was growing more animated, gesturing with his body. "Our whole world is just murderers and rapists and pimps and pushers."

Hutch snorted with amusement he didn't feel. "Just because we don't know who's playing on Monday Night Football?"

"We don't know nothin', Hutch. We don't know who's playing football, who's being impeached in the government, what the leading show on television is, what the top-rated car is for 1980, or when's the next time we're gonna get laid."

Starsky's words had again been flat, and again Hutch found himself having to search for the underlying meaning. He settled for neutral territory. "Sounds like we need a vacation."

The smaller man glanced over. "That'd be nice. But with the holidays just around the corner, I wouldn't consider it likely."

Hutch tried humor this time. "Think maybe you're hitting mid-life crisis?"

"Hey, I ain't outta childhood yet."

The words had been dead-panned, and Hutch laughed out loud. "Ain't that the truth," he chuckled, not sure why he suddenly felt happy. Starsky was grinning, too.

The Torino pulled to a halt at the curb on Ocean. Hutch was in the middle of a yawn, and he was reaching for the door handle when he heard the motor turn off. For a moment, he thought Starsky had changed his mind about the pasta, but a glance in his partner's direction revealed a contemplative expression that focused on the dashboard.

Hutch turned to face his friend and relaxed back against the door. And waited.

Starsky blinked slowly a few times, then his face tilted toward his partner. "Hutch," he said quietly.

"What?" The blond's voice was gentle with intrigue.

The other swallowed, a tense smile lighting the near corner of his face. He looked toward the ceiling briefly, then turned, eyes lowering to meet his partner's. "I love you, Hutch."

The blond blinked slowly, feeling tendrils of emotion weave their way through his chest, blurring solid matter into something less defined. Possible replies danced across his mind -- "I know", "I love you, too", -- but stating any one of them would be redundant. So he forced himself to wait for more.

Another swallow, another glance to the ceiling, then Starsky sat staring at the dashboard. His smile broadened, and the bashful voice said, "That's all." A slight wave of a hand as he looked at Hutch. "I just wantcha to know that, that's all."

The other blinked again, voice thick with tenderness. "I know that, pal," he said with the barest hint of scolding. He tilted his head beckoningly. "What's up?"

"Nothing." Now a nervous laugh, eyes darting away, a catch in the voice. "Nothing, Hutch." Another solid glance at his partner. "I just felt like sayin' it, that's all."

Curiosity, mixed with concern, began to harden the soft edges inside Hutch's chest. He didn't like the thought of his partner driving off into the night when he so obviously had something else to say. And, more disconcerting, was having trouble saying it.

This time, Hutch's head tilted to the window, while his voice retained its gentleness. "Come on. Come up with me."

Starsky sighed heavily, a noise of indecision. Then, firmly, "Okay."

After getting out of the car, Hutch waited beside it; and when Starsky came around, the blond put his arm across the other's shoulders. Starsky didn't return the gesture, but they moved as one as they negotiated the staircase.

Upon reaching the landing, Hutch searched above the door frame for the key with his free hand. He found the key and inserted it into the lock. At that same moment, Starsky's arm suddenly came around him and pulled snug.

His reaction was purely instinct. Hutch left the key in the lock and turned just enough to take Starsky in both his arms, pulling the other against him. His hands met at the other man's back, and he basked in the warmth created as the smaller man's weight rested against him. For a moment, he rocked gently, loving the way Starsky's chin was planted against his neck, finding a familiarity in the smell of the day's dirt, sweat, and worn-out cologne.

It had been some time since they had embraced like this, for no particular reason. And that thought reminded Hutch that there may be a reason, this time. He hoped it wasn't something painful.

Then Starsky chuckled softly, almost as though embarrassed or amused at himself, and pulled back.

Hutch gave him a reassuring squeeze, then returned his attention to the door. Once inside, he flipped the light switch, and removed himself from his partner to head for the kitchen. "Have you decided yet that you're hungry?" he asked.

"Not for pasta."

The blond opened the refrigerator. "Got some weenies; I can heat those up."

"Yeah, sure."

As Hutch heated some water, he glanced over his shoulder, eyes narrowing as he watched the other wander over to a bookcase and gaze at its surface as though he'd never seen it before. While he continued to make dinner, Hutch continued to watch, and Starsky eventually moved over to the window, parted the curtain, and stared out.

Hutch gave him a moment while putting condiments on the table. Then he prompted, "Hey, pal, come on. What's bugging you?"

A weak smile lit the other's face. Then he shook his head once, still facing the curtain as his fingers brushed along the hem. "I don't know, Hutch." A quiet sigh followed. Then, "It's like there's this... I don't know... confusion or somethin'... inside me."

The blond tried resorting to humor. "Hey, when you've got short circuits in your head, it can be difficult seeing the world around you with any clarity." The weenies were boiling and he turned down the stove.

Rather than a long-suffering pout, the statement produced only a softening of the smile. Starsky turned away from the window, but now his expression became contemplative, eyebrows drawing together with such determination that Hutch thought the movement must hurt.

"It's not up here," Starsky finally said, touching his forehead a moment, then dropping his hand to his chest. "It's in here."

Hutch blinked. Matters of Starsky's heart were not something to be joked about, for they were too precious. He moved across the living area to where Starsky was standing. "Come on," he prompted gently, squeezing an arm, "keep talking."

As Hutch moved away to give the other space once again, the smile suddenly broadened into a grin. Then Starsky waved a hand. "It's nothin'. Not really."

The blond's eyes narrowed as he studied this man who usually spoke his mind with such ease. "It can't be 'nothing' if it's got your tongue all tied up in knots. Would it help if I asked questions?"

"No," Starsky replied after an uncertain moment. He sat on the back of the couch. "It's just...."

Hutch watched his friend while still tending to their dinner. "Just what?"

Starsky raised his forearms, then let them plop back down to his lap. "It's just... well, don't you ever wonder... I mean, don't you ever... you know, I mean...."

Hutch turned off the stove, chuckling softly. "Starsky, one sentence." He held up a finger. "Just put together one full sentence. Focus on that."

Starsky sighed dramatically and put a hand to his forehead, hiding his eyes. When he pulled the hand away, the eyes were closed. But when they opened, he slowly said, "Don't you ever wonder where our partnership fits into it all?"

The partnership. That sobered Hutch and caused his own eyes to narrow as he used a fork to remove the weenies. "Fits into what?" he asked cautiously.

Starsky gestured grandly with his hands. "Everything. I mean -- "

"Come eat," Hutch said quietly, placing the main course on the table.

Obediently, Starsky moved to the table and sat down in a chair to Hutch's left. His shoulders were slumped as he stared at the food before him. "I mean, it's like... as you go through your life... I mean, like when you're little, and everyone is filling your head with how it's gonna be. I mean," he looked at Hutch, resting an elbow on the table, "it's like you're supposed to finish school, get a nice job, find a nice girl, have kids, retire, all that."

Since Starsky was talking, Hutch took it upon himself to fill his partner's plate with two hot dogs, buns, pickle relish, and a good helping of mustard. "Yeah?" he prompted as he turned to his own food.

"Well," Starsky continued, "then you decide you wanna become a cop, and when you go to the police academy an' all that, you find out that cops have a real hard time makin' the marriage thing work. And then they start tellin' ya about this partner they're gonna give you, and all the things you need to know about that kind of relationship, but...," he shrugged, "they present it like you're gonna go from one to another. You know," another shrug, "they act like if you change your shift, or change your precinct, or change your rank... well, then there's another partner."

Hutch smiled as he pounded the bottom of the ketchup bottle. He and Starsky, once teamed up, had stayed together. He was real proud of that.

"I mean," Starsky went on after having paused for a bite, "through all of this, through your whole upbringing and young adulthood, and all this time that you're supposed to be learning about how to live and stuff, no one ever tells you about... about this... this other person that you have in your life."

Hutch felt a wave of warmth wash through him. He put the ketchup bottle down, smiling softly. "Ah, Starsk, of course they don't. No one's ever been able to explain us with a textbook. We're special together." His voice softened to a gentle scold. "You know that."

"I know," the other replied firmly. His hands were in his lap now and he stared at the table top. After a moment, he softly said, "I really love you, Hutch. A whole lot."

The blond put his food down and settled back in his chair. He draped an arm across Starsky's back, listened to the gentle quickening of his own heartbeat, then reached up Starsky's neck with a couple of fingers to rub at his partner's hairline. "I love you, too," he said quietly. "A whole lot." When Starsky continued to stare at the table, Hutch prompted, "Why is this suddenly bothering you now?"

Starsky looked at him. "It's not bothering me," he said with irritation. "I mean, I wouldn't give us up for anything."

"I wouldn't either," Hutch assured quickly.

"I mean, that's the point," Starsky finally declared. "I mean, it's like how are we supposed to be pursuing love and happiness and the American dream an' all that when -- when -- when --"

"When what?"

"When, you know, we aren't willin' to give each other up in the first place."

Suddenly, two and two equaled four. Surprised, Hutch said, "Starsky, have you been seeing someone seriously?"

The other almost rolled his eyes. "No. How could I be seein' someone steady without you knowing about it?"

Hutch shrugged, a sense of relief competing with increasing puzzlement.

"I mean," Starsky went on, gesturing frantically with his hands, one of which held a hot dog, "there isn't much point to getting serious with someone, is there? I mean -- I mean -- haven't you ever wondered what it would be like if one of us got married? What it would do to our partnership?"

Hutch thought about that. He wasn't sure why this conversation was so necessary, but honesty kept him from shying away from the analysis that Starsky demanded. "Yeah, I thought about it," he admitted, lowering his eyes. "I thought about it a lot when you and Terry were together."

Starsky seemed to take a moment to consider the answer. With a distant expression, he took another bite of his hot dog.

Hutch wasn't sure if he was supposed to speak again. When Starsky was still quiet, the blond went on. "I was so happy for you, buddy. But I was a little worried, about where I'd fit in." Of course, after the tragedy happened, he'd felt ashamed of his feelings, but he didn't see any reason to share that now.

The smaller detective chewed slowly, still staring ahead. After a long moment, he asked, "Do you remember what Gillian said, when you first introduced us at the bowling alley?"

From Terry to Gillian. Hutch supposed it was a logical leap. There had been serious relationships before those two ill-fated women, but none after.

Starsky looked at him. "Do you?"

Hutch tried to think, then knew it was hopeless. It had been over two years ago. He shook his head.

"You know, Hutch, when you seemed so happy, dating her -- before I'd even met her -- I just thought it was so neat that you'd found someone. But I was all worried, too. You know, if it got real serious, I was wondering how I was gonna fit into it, or even if I was at all. But then, you know, we were at that bowling alley and you introduced us. And she said," Starsky paused for breath, "'He talks about you all the time.'"

Hutch bowed his head, allowing a tiny smile. He did remember now. And remembered that he'd been a bit embarrassed and countered with, "Well, not all the time."

"Hutch," Starsky said in a hushed voice, staring at the table top, "I felt on top of the world when she said that. I mean," he glanced at his partner, "that's what told me it was gonna be okay. That I wasn't just gonna be a nobody when you were with her."

The blond was both intrigued and surprised by the sincerity of feeling. It had just been a passing statement, and he hadn't realized how strongly Starsky had been affected by it... let alone remember it two years later.

"But, I mean," Starsky went on softly, laying a hand on the table and gently clinking a knife handle against a fork, "lookin' back, I wonder how fair it woulda been. Not just Gillian in particular, but any woman." Timidly, his eyes darted to Hutch. "I mean, how can a woman be everything to you when it's your partner who's gonna be savin' your life day in and day out? When you're gonna be spending more time with him than with her?"

Hutch looked away, discomfort and confusion filtering through him. Brusquely, he demanded, "Starsky, why is this all coming up now? What's going on?"

Now a tiny, apologetic smile. "I dunno. Like I said, I just get confused sometimes." He stared at the table top again, then gestured toward his chest. "I got all these feelings... don't know what I'm supposed to be doin' with them."

Feelings for me? Hutch wondered, but found himself hesitant to ask. Shifting restlessly in his chair, he leaned toward the other, and demanded more gently, "Starsky, what do you need? What do you need from me right now?"

"I dunno," the other admitted, meeting his eye. "If I knew the answer to that, I wouldn't be confused, would I?"

Hutch raised his brows in a "touche" motion. He sighed heavily and started gathering up the food, his appetite forgotten.

"Hey," Starsky said.

Hutch paused. "What?"

"You've got food or something on your mustache."

"Oh." Hutch ran his fingers along the fur with a bashful smile.

"That's better."

Since they were back to their usual banter, the blond wondered if Starsky's philosophizing was over. He wasn't sure if he hoped it was or it wasn't. But he did wish he could help.

"Want any more of this?" he asked of the remains that had been gathered.

"Nah," Starsky indicated his remaining hot dog, which he now bit into, "this is enough."

Hutch stood and carried dishes from the table to the sink, then put the condiments in the refrigerator. When finished, he glanced back over at his partner sitting at the table.

Such a mixture of playfulness and maturity, Starsky was. Usually, so free of contemplative thoughts or considerations. But so troubled when they snuck up on him from behind. And so willing to share when they did.

Hutch bowed his head, sighing quietly. He was glad at the very least that the declaration had been made yet again that what was most important to them was each other. Starsky had a point, he supposed, in that neither of them had much left over to offer a woman.

Starsky had just finished the second hot dog, and Hutch went over to the smaller man, leaned down and placed his hand on his back. He squeezed a broad shoulder, then lightly scratched across the spine.

The other looked up at him with a grateful smile, warmth dominating his features. For a moment, Hutch felt transcended to another plane, and all that existed was the connection between them -- the warmth, understanding, trust, tolerance, dependency... and, of course, the love. And Hutch suddenly felt he understood the confusion that tormented his partner.

He felt himself blink, and his hand drew back to the nearest shoulder, squeezing firmly. Hutch did not know how long they had been gazing into each other's eyes, but it was easy to speak, for the truth always was. "You're not alone in this, partner."

Starsky closed his eyes, grinned, and drew a deep breath, as though in gratitude. "I know." Then he sighed, looked at Hutch almost apologetically. "I think I'd better go."

Hutch nodded, squeezed once more, whispered, "Okay."

"See ya tomorrow, huh?"

"Yeah."

The blond watched the smaller man brush a few crumbs off the table, then get up and head toward the door. The quality of his footsteps was much lighter than when they had originally entered.

When Kathy called Hutch later that night, he said he would be happy to see her the following evening.

* * *

Hutch sat in the Torino, fingers rubbing at his mustache as he watched his partner. The car was parked just down the street from a printing shop, which Starsky was standing in front of as he talked to a couple of workers who had known the latest Sandstone Park victim. Hutch chose to remain in the car, as they were anxiously awaiting a call back from R&I about the past history of the best friend of the same deceased, as it was the first thing in the whole case that had the potential to be a hot lead.

The blond smiled as he saw his partner gesture with his hands, one of which contained a pencil and notepad. Even standing still, Starsky was incredibly animated, giving the illusion of action while remaining in one place. He was wearing his favorite assortment of blue, and the late morning sun was bright enough that he had retained his sunglasses. The man and woman he was talking to listened intently, as anyone would. One might detest Starsky, get annoyed with his antics, belittle the intelligence that lacked the polish of formal education, even hate him... but it was not possible to ignore him.

The woman was wearing sunglasses, too, and Hutch fantasized that her eyes kept drifting down to his partner's tight jeans. Hutch had always been able to appreciate Starsky's physical qualities in an objective manner. Though not handsome in the classical way that he himself was, Hutch was fully aware of the virtues that others saw in that tightly wound bundle of energy and flesh. He knew that Starsky had a nice butt. Knew that the other had a head full of exciting hair. Knew that the other's jeans sometimes seemed to shrink to outline every centimeter of those bragged-about genitals.

Hutch knew, and could appreciate, all of that. But he also knew he didn't respond to Starsky in the way a woman would. His observations were objective, nothing more than acknowledgement of fact. The things that made his heart turn over were the playful frivolity, the inner excitement, the blazing smile, the raw goodness, the self love and confidence, the street smarts that made Starsky so dependable, the willingness to share all of himself once you had earned his trust.

And that trust was what had allowed Starsky to speak of "the confusion".

You're not alone, Hutch had told him. The blond shifted restlessly now, wondering how long it would be before the subject came up again.

Wondered in what direction it had steered them.

His mind had touched on the possibilities... possibilities that, even if he were wrong, would not be thrown back in his face if he voiced them. There was nothing that either could not speak of to the other. But, at the same time, Hutch wasn't sure the thoughts that had been rolling around in his head the past few days were the same as Starsky had been thinking.

At some point, Hutch knew, these thoughts would have to be brought out in the open, discussed, dealt with. He rubbed at his mustache again, wondering when his share of the puzzle would be pieced together enough to present a coherent picture. For he didn't think it would be fair to discuss it without being sure himself of what he was willing to give, willing to take.

While shifting the pencil from one hand to another, Starsky suddenly dropped it. He bent down to pick it up, presenting Hutch with a clear view of that same rear which the blond had overheard many women at the station snickering appreciatively about.

Hutch wondered what those women saw when they looked at it; wondered, by the same token, what homosexuals saw when they looked at each other. What would one such man see, what would he feel, if he were to observe Starsky in that unguarded moment?

Hutch knew that, for himself, all he saw was the same rear he'd seen for years... the one he'd covered -- both literally and metaphorically -- patted, held to give a boost or moment of physical support, followed. Seeing it yet again did nothing for him, did not cause the stir between the legs that staring at the woman's tight sweater did.

He sighed and looked away, wondering at the feeling of disappointment he experienced. It wasn't new, for a similar feeling had existed last night, with Kathy.

He had made damn sure he pleased her, his tongue thrust between her legs while her thighs locked around his head. He worked and worked at his goal, so he wouldn't feel guilty about what he was going to do afterwards. He alternated between licking and sucking at her little magic button, was aroused all the more with each whimper and tightening of her thighs.

Finally, the scream had emerged, yet another gush of juices against his chin and mouth, leaving his mustache soaked with the smell of her.

"Oh, baby," she had gasped, letting her legs fall away. "Oh, Ken, that was nice. That was real, real nice."

He kissed the insides of her thighs. Then, with trembling hands, he turned her over.

It wasn't that he'd never done it before. It was just that he'd never done it with such a sense of purpose. And it had been a while.

"Oh," she cooed, "you want it that way."

Guilt descended once again, for he really didn't want to have a conversation with her. He was silent as he opened the jar of Vaseline, felt awkward as he applied it to the tight opening, for he really didn't feel he had a right to touch her there.

"Just be careful when you put that big monster cock in there, darlin', 'cause it ain't exactly made for it, you know."

He reached up to pet her hair, trying to communicate that he had no wish to hurt her. And he tried to ignore his annoyance at her "compliment", for he knew it didn't really mean anything and she used it with all her bed partners... at least she had with Starsky. It was funny the intimate little secrets they exchanged while fighting off boredom on stakeouts.

When everything was ready, he found himself staring down at her smooth, round ass. And imagined another there in its place. Round, but trimmer and more muscular. Hairy.

He had looked away, scolding himself once again for the ridiculousness of what he was trying to do. He loved women. Always had. The idea of sticking it into something coarser, hairier... only made him begin to deflate.

He quickly rubbed at his penis, encouraging it back to life. He was so intent on achieving his goal that he angled it toward her opening, had to spend a moment finding it, then suddenly thrust.

She let out a little cry, whole body tensing, and he quickly pulled out, feeling like an inconsiderate fool. "Sorry, honey," he whispered quickly, rubbing at her back.

"I don't mind it, darling," she said, "if you can just put it in slow and give me a chance to adjust."

"Sorry," he said again, wondering why he had even started this. He worked with his fingers, massaging the opening, circling around it, relaxing it, and realized it was what he should have done in the first place. Then he reached for a pillow and placed it beneath her, so the angle would be more conducive to his goal. "Real slow, honey," he assured.

It went better this time, though it seemed to take forever before his pubic hair was pressed against her rear. He settled on top of her... then let fantasy rule.

The back beneath his chest would be broader, rougher. He reached around her body, found the breasts that he so enjoyed and fondled the nipples, and then told himself that all he'd have in his hands were the tiniest of nubs. There would be no softness to fondle, but only a path of fur and muscle.

Hutch thrust experimentally, enjoying the tightness, even though it didn't contain the warm wetness that he was accustomed to. There shouldn't be any difference in terms of what his cock felt... male or female... the channel would be the same. He found that encouraging and thrust some more.

But what the rest of his body felt, even the sounds and scents, would all be different. The images and sensations mixed and meshed as he began pumping in earnest. His firm muscles... her smooth skin... his potent cologne... her delicate perfume... his masculine grunt... her soft cry... his cock rubbing against the pillow... her just lying there....

Hutch stopped. The sweat was pouring down his forehead, and he realized with alarm that he was no closer to orgasm than when he'd first penetrated her. Feeling all the worse, he withdrew from her body.

She turned onto an elbow. "Hey, baby, what's wrong?"

"Nothing. I don't know," he answered, wishing desperately that he was alone. When did she have to leave to catch her plane? Another two hours?

"It happens sometimes," she assured sweetly, then laid back and parted her legs. "Want to try putting it where it belongs?"

He shook his head, turning from the bed, grateful that she wasn't blaming herself.

He found his robe, pulled the sash tight. Despite the confusion in his mind, he was able to speak with gentle politeness. "Sorry. I think my mind is elsewhere."

As usual, she reached for a topic that wouldn't aggravate the situation. "That murder case, huh? The one in the park?"

He smiled genuinely this time, so grateful that she didn't have the same insecurities that plagued so many women. "Yeah. There's no leads." Then he took a deep breath. "I think I may just go into the station, since I won't be able to sleep anyway."

"I'll be fine," she assured. "I have to leave in a couple of hours myself, anyway."

Starsky was tucking his notepad into his back pocket, and Hutch knew the other would be turning back toward the car any moment.

This time Hutch's fingers ran along his lips, as he tried to sort out what had happened with Kathy. He had tried it, and hadn't really enjoyed it at all, even when -- especially when -- thinking about his partner being the one beneath him.

Hutch's eyes narrowed as a new thought occurred. He watched intently as the blue-clad bundle of confidence and energy approached. Felt a certain breathlessness. One that, however subtly, he had always felt.

And he knew then who was his master.

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR - December 4, 1979

Starsky looked away from the file regarding the newest victim of the Sandstone Park murderer and rubbed at his eyes. The body had been discovered at 4:00 a.m., and he and Hutch had been summoned by a grumpy Captain Dobey within the hour. It was the fifth victim. The case was full of frustration because every lead came to a dead end. Starsky was starting to wonder if a ghost were committing the crimes.

Ceramic warmth nudged his hand, and Starsky looked up and smiled gratefully, accepting the freshly-filled coffee cup from his partner. "Thanks," he acknowledged tiredly. It was now ten in the morning, and he felt as though they had already put in a full day.

Hutch leaned back against the table full of files. "Wonder what would happen if they simply closed down the park? Think the murders would stop?"

Starsky snorted. "Nah. He'd just move to another park."

Dobey emerged from his office. "Hutchinson, I want to see you."

Both detectives looked at each other, then started forward.

"Hutchinson, alone."

Starsky's mouth dropped open as he looked up at his partner, the other's quizzical expression meeting his.

Dobey's voice softened. "You can tell Starsky all about it in a minute. But I want to see you alone first."

Hutch moved toward the big black man, and Starsky instinctively followed, then stopped when the door closed behind Dobey's office, separating him from Hutch. Heart pounding -- for he couldn't imagine what the reason would be for keeping them apart -- he tried to turn back to the file folders stacked on the table.

Thirty seconds later, he knew it was useless exercise, for he kept glancing at the closed door. He listened over the rustling of papers from others in the squadroom, but couldn't detect any voices beyond the barrier.

It was perhaps another two minutes when the door to the captain's office crashed open, and Hutch's tall, hulking form stormed out, hands stuffed in his pockets, expression a twisted mixture of grief and rage.

"Hutch -- "

The blond marched past Starsky toward the door, as though not even seeing him.

Starsky rushed to him, grabbing an arm from behind. "Whatthehellhappened?"

Pained eyes met his, the jaw hardening. "Doris Huntley killed herself." Hutch jerked away and continued out the door.

Killed herself? Starsky silently muttered as he stood frozen. Shock, disbelief, concern, relief, a myriad of questions -- all competed for attention in his mind. But Hutch's powerful strides had already carried him down the hall, and Starsky shook himself and raced after him. "HUTCH?"

The blond turned, a few yards in front of Starsky. The smaller man stopped, too, and they stood staring at each other.

The haunted expression told Starsky that there was nothing that could be said, nothing that could ease this pain. "Where are you going?" he asked in a trembling voice.

"I don't KNOW," Hutch replied hotly.

Starsky swallowed. Weakly, he pleaded, "Just be somewhere where I can find you. All right?"

There was the barest hint of a nod, and Hutch abruptly turned and continued down the hall.

Feeling sick in his stomach, Starsky went back to the squadroom. He saw Dobey watching him as he passed through the glass door.

"He'll be all right, Starsky," the captain said in a fatherly tone.

The detective felt a flair of annoyance that anyone thought they had the right to tell him how Hutch was. But he was more interested in details than venting his anger. "What happened?" he whispered.

Dobey moved back into his office, and Starsky followed. "Her body was found by the paper boy this morning. He saw her through the front window. She'd shot herself in the head. The preliminary indication is that she did it sometime last night."

God, the poor, pathetic woman. "Does Luke know?"

The captain sighed heavily as he sat behind his desk. "Yes. I hear he's taking it pretty rough."

It occurred to Starsky that that was probably where Hutch was headed -- to see Luke. He sat, with a heavy sigh of his own, on the edge of Dobey's desk. "Did she leave a note?"

"Yes. It said something about all the money she'd lost gambling, and how her husband deserved something better than her to come home to when he got out of prison."

Starsky rubbed at his eyes. "Dear God," he whispered.

"If she truly loved Luke," Dobey muttered, "I can't imagine how she could justify something like this." Then, morosely, "How is he ever supposed to recover from it?"

"She was a sick woman, Cap'n," Starsky offered quietly. "She needed help in more ways than one." He buried his face in his hands. "Ah, Hutch."

"That's why I wanted to talk to him alone first," the other explained. "Him being so close to the Huntleys an' all."

Starsky nodded that he understood. Then another sigh emerged. "This is going to be a tough one to swallow." He wished so much he could have gone with his partner. But he also understood the need the other had to get away... to lick his wounds... to have some space of his own in which to try to make sense of it.

Both men were silent a moment, then Dobey cautioned, "Starsky, I have no choice but to let Hutch have a day to grieve. But we've got a murder case to solve, and I've got one less detective on it...."

Starsky forced himself to his feet. "I'll give it my full attention."

* * *

Since he couldn't be with Hutch, Starsky was grateful to have the case as a distraction. He spent the day interviewing the available friends and family of the latest victim. Thankfully, most were in one place grieving together, so Starsky had done all he could by four p.m. He called Hutch's place from the nearest pay phone.

"Yeah?" came the tired greeting on the second ring.

That meant Hutch was probably in lying in bed. "I'm coming over," Starsky said, fighting to contain his relief that he hadn't needed to hunt the entire city.

The reply was subdued. "Yeah, okay." Then the line went dead.

When Starsky let himself in ten minutes later, he found the apartment deathly quiet. No lights were on, but the sun was still streaming in from one open window in the living room. He walked quietly toward the sleeping area and found the curtain there slightly closed. But Hutch was turned away from it, lying on his side on top of the covers, staring at the bookcase that served as a wall between the bedroom and the rest of the house. He was dressed in the same clothes he'd been wearing that morning, boots still covering his feet.

Starsky sat carefully on the end of the bed, next to the feet. "You been here all day?"

"I went to see Luke after I left the station," came the gruff reply. Hutch was still staring at the bookcase.

"How is Luke?" Starsky asked quietly.

"How do you think?" the other snapped, hoisting onto an elbow. "He gave up everything, for her, spent the past year in prison so she could....." Hutch trailed off, a shaky hand pushing at his hair, the giveaway gesture that his emotions were close to the surface. Then he settled back against the bed, returned to staring.

Anger was heavy in every word Hutch spoke. And Starsky knew the last thing the other wanted was sympathetic pampering. He imagined Hutch had been lying here a good part of the day, letting the anger build. He kept his voice neutral. "Is he blaming himself?"

Hutch closed his eyes tightly and swallowed.

Suddenly, Starsky knew the answer to his own question. He slid nearer to his partner, placing a hand on a knee. "Hutch," he whispered harshly, "is he blaming you?"

The large hand came up again, pushing at the hair, as the eyes remained shut.

Goddamn him. "Hutch," Starsky's hand moved to take a shoulder, and he scooted further onto the mattress, "there's no way in hell you're responsible. You hear me? No way in goddamn hell."

"He asked me to take care of her," Hutch said simply. "And I didn't." He slowly shook his head. "I even only checked on her once or twice the whole --"

"He had no right!" Starsky bellowed, then angrily, "Doris wasn't your responsibility. What goddamn right did he have to ask that of you? She wasn't your problem. You didn't marry her."

Instantly, Hutch was again on an elbow, craning his neck so Starsky could see his furious glare. "Is that all she was to you -- a problem? Whatever happened to your compassion, buddy? Doesn't she deserve any of that?"

"Not when you're being used as a pawn in their marriage!"

"A pawn?" Hutch looked away with a bitter snort, before looking back. "What the hell do you know about what I was to them?" He jabbed at his own chest. "Luke was more a father to me than my own father ever was."

"That doesn't make him a godforsaken saint!" the smaller man countered. "And if he was so terrific to you, what the hell is he doing blaming you for his wife's death? Huh? Doris is the one who pulled the trigger. Neither you nor Luke is responsible for that. Any more than either of you is responsible for her gambling. Understand what I'm saying?" He shook the shoulder for emphasis. "Nobody made Doris gamble away that fifty grand twice over. She did it all by herself."

Hutch, who seemed to have deflated during the tirade, started to speak, but Starsky cut him off. "And don't start in with that 'she was lonely' shit. Understand me? Lots of people are lonely, but they don't go blowing their and their spouse's life savings. She had a problem, Hutch. She was an addict, big-time. And she didn't want to face it, and you know better than anyone that there's nothing you can do to help someone who doesn't want to be helped."

The blond settled back on the bed, still on his side, a hand on his forehead. He seemed to have no fight left and calmly said, "I just don't understand it, Starsk. How could she have gambled so much away in such a short time?"

Starsky released a heavy sigh. It was time to face his own demons. He pushed off his shoes, pulled his legs up, and sat cross-legged at Hutch's back. Quietly, he replied, "Probably at the ponies, Hutch."

He could see the pale brows narrow as the hand dropped away. "There's no way she --"

"Yes, there is," Starsky stated with quiet firmness. "When you're betting at least a hundred bucks a race and goin' to the races nearly every day...." He trailed off pointedly.

Hutch's upper body lifted slightly, and his head turned, but not enough for their eyes to meet. "What?" he asked in a whisper.

Starsky yielded yet another sigh and rested his cheek in his hand, the elbow of which was perched on a knee. "Hutch, if anyone's to blame, it's me."

"What are you talking about?"

Starsky took a moment to gather himself, then he began, "You know that day we ran into her at the track?"

"Yeah?"

"Well," the dark-haired man bowed his head, "you know when you offered to make her bet for her, and she said it was a superstition she had... that she always got her own bets?"

The brows pulled together even more, and now Hutch turned enough so that he could watch his partner as the confession unfolded.

"Well, the reason she didn't want you to make the bet for her was because she didn't want you to see how much she was betting." Starsky paused. "She went to the hundred dollar window."

Hutch blinked a few times, demanding more.

"So," the other shrugged, "she bet at least a hundred bucks on the race that we won all that money on." His voice softened. "It was probably everything she had." He drew another breath, this time letting it out in a long sigh. "And, at the restaurant, when she left her purse at the table, and you went and got it?"

Hutch nodded slowly, his expression showing that understanding was settling in.

"She left her purse on purpose, Hutch. Because she wanted to be alone with me, so she could ask me to loan her some money."

"Did you?" the blond asked distantly.

Starsky shrugged again. "I couldn't. I didn't have anything, since you were the one who collected our winnings. I told her she was going to have to get it from you." Quietly, he added, "And she couldn't do that. Because she knew it would destroy the fairy tale you seemed to believe about her... and Luke." He waited a moment, and when Hutch didn't say anything, Starsky admitted, "So, you see, I knew all along how bad it was. And I tried not to say anything. Because I knew you wanted to hang on to that fairy tale, too."

It was a moment before Hutch replied. The blond was again staring at the bookcase, but he finally whispered, "It's not your fault, Starsk."'

Starsky briefly closed his eyes. Truly, he didn't blame himself, for he did believe what he'd told Hutch earlier... about how people were responsible for their own actions. "It's not yours either, Hutch. Or Luke's."

The sun was setting, drawing shadows through the curtains. Between the dark blotches, Starsky could see his partner's moist eyes.

"Luke is in that prison," the blond noted with gruff sadness, "and he's all alone. He doesn't even have anyone to hold him."

The smaller detective thought it was safe now to let the tenderness he felt show in his voice. "I'm sure it helped him this morning to have you there."

Hutch closed his eyes, made a small shake of his head. "He wasn't ready for that kind of help. He hurts too much inside."

Starsky knew the feeling... like when he thought he'd blinded an innocent bystander for life. Gently, he offered, "But when he's ready, you can go back."

Hutch drew a deep, painful breath. "Yeah, I suppose."

Starsky unfolded his legs, settled on his knees, leaned over his partner. He whispered, "There's lots of people in this world who don't have anyone to hold them. But you have someone, Hutch."

After a moment, Hutch replied, "I know." But he didn't move.

The smaller man turned to Hutch's boots, slipped them off the still feet. Then he reached to a shoulder, shook it gently. "Hey, come on." His voice softened with each word. "Turn over. 'M right 'ere."

There was a moment of stillness, then the long body shifted, and in one smooth motion turned to face Starsky. The dark-haired man stretched out on the bed, reaching to the other, taking an upper arm in each hand. He knew right then that there wouldn't be any tears, for the muscles beneath his fingers had a lethargy about them that did not demand purging.

Hutch said as much. "I've been lying here," he whispered, "feeling hardly anything." He vaguely indicated his torso. "I just feel all dead inside."

"That's just the shock," Starsky assured quietly. One hand reached to brush back through the fragile hair. "Do you think Luke really blames you, or was he just lettin' off steam?"

Hutch pressed a cheek against the mattress. "I don't know." A pause, then, "I never thought he was perfect, Starsk. I just -- he was just so important to me."

Starsky's stroked the hair more firmly. "Hey, I know something about mentors and father figures, and how disillusioning they can be." The shock of learning about John Blaine had eased, but not the memory of it.

Hutch made the barest hint of a laugh. "Yeah, I guess you do." Then, after a moment, "With such men guiding us in our lives, how did we turn out to be so perfect?"

The chuckle that replied held more love than humor. "Good question." Starsky edged closer and put an arm around his partner's back. "Ah, Hutch."

They lay in silence for over a minute, as the final ray of light disappeared from outside the curtain. Then, painfully, Hutch said, "It just all seems so pointless sometimes, doesn't it? Why do we even bother trying so hard to pursue love?" Before Starsky had a chance to reply to the sudden change in subject, the blond whispered, "With everything Vanessa and I went through, I nevertruly believed she was going to leave me until she walked out that door. And, even then, I didn't believe it was over until the divorce papers were served."

Starsky swallowed, wondering why Hutch was talking about this now. Doris' death was painful enough without dragging all this out of the closet. He had never in his life seen a person hurt the way Hutch had hurt after the divorce. And he was incapable of even the smallest forgiving thought about Vanessa, even after her demise, which he couldn't help but feel she deserved.

When things got silent again, Starsky realized he hadn't responded to what Hutch had said. He had to think about what the point had been, then wanted to offer something more positive. "But we've still got each other. That's no small thing, you know." He continued to stroke back through the pale hair.

Hutch reached to return the gesture. "Yeah, I know." Then, sadly, "Why have we been able to find it in each other, but we can't find it in women? And people like Luke and Doris can't find it, even after having all the best intentions and tryin' so hard?"

Starsky let his hand drop to a shoulder. "I don't know. I just know that, when you have a love like we have, you take care of it. And we've always done that. We've never belittled our partnership, never took it for granted, or made less of it than it is." He thought back to what Hutch said a moment ago -- why can't we find it in women -- and offered, "Men and women always seem to expect different things from relationships; I guess we've both always wanted the same things."

Hutch nodded in the darkness, as though appreciating the explanations Starsky suggested, if not necessarily being convinced by them.

Nothing more was said, and Starsky put his arm back around the larger man, beckoning him to move closer. "Ah, Hutch. I'm so sorry about Doris." He squeezed hard, and Hutch yielded, resting his forehead against the other's shirt. "For you and for Luke. She didn't deserve that. She deserved help. If only she would have tried to get it."

Hutch swallowed thickly. "She probably didn't know where to turn."

"She coulda turned to lots of people, Hutch. Luke or you. Even me. I tried to point it out to her in the restaurant that night. But she just said things like I didn't understand."

The blond drew a shaky breath. "Poor Luke. What's he gonna do?"

Starsky pulled Hutch even closer, while at the same time relaxing his hold. He swallowed, then asked, "Wasn't he supposed to get out the week after next?"

"Yes," came the flat reply, "be home in time for Christmas."

"You gonna pick him up when they release him?"

"Yes. If he wants me there."

"Want me to come along?"

Hutch patted Starsky's arm. "No. That's okay." A long, heavy sigh, then, "I don't suppose you got any new leads on the case today."

The other rested his cheek against the soft hair. Grimly, he said, "Not a one."

"It's so hard sometimes, wondering what the point is."

"I know, Hutch," Starsky soothed. "But we'll find him. Eventually, something has to break, and we'll get him."

"How many more will be dead by then?" Hutch asked in a haunted voice.

Starsky squeezed him closer. "I don't know. I just don't know."

They fell silent after that. After a time, Hutch pulled off his outer clothes and got beneath the covers. After more silence, the blond finally said, "You don't need to stay. I'm okay."

"I know," Starsky replied quietly. "But I think I'll stick around anyway. Only, I'll sleep on top of the covers in case the Man in the Moon peeks in and starts spreading funny rumors about us."

That brought the barest snort of amusement. And no protest.

Starsky straightened to take off his jacket. Then he removed his shoulder harness and shirt, and reached behind him to take the edge of the spread and pull it over himself. Between the spread and snuggling next to Hutch's covered form, he was plenty warm. And almost felt guilty about the sense of contentment that washed through him. It was much earlier than he or Hutch were used to going to bed, but since they had gotten up so much earlier this morning, he felt like he was tired enough to sleep. And he hoped Hutch could, too.

And hoped that, someday, the confusion would be gone, and they wouldn't have to fear the Man in the Moon.

* * *

It was a bit of an awakening to see the "For Sale" sign up, but Starsky realized he shouldn't have been surprised. With all his money gone, and nothing but his pension, Luke Huntley would hardly be able to afford to live in the same house he and Doris had occupied. And probably wouldn't want to.

There was a car in the driveway -- a pathetic looking beat-up Ford that Starsky had the sneaking suspicion Hutch had helped purchase. But his only interest in the car was that it indicated Huntley was home. Starsky hesitated a moment, then knocked.

"Who is it?" came the delayed response from within.

"Dave Starsky." He paused, not sure if it were necessary to add, "Ken's partner."

Slowly, the door opened, and there stood an older, sadder version of the man Starsky hadn't seen in nearly a year. Irritably, Huntley asked, "What do you want? Where's Kenny?"

The smaller man met the ex-detective's eye. "I wanted to talk to you alone."

An exaggerated sigh ran through the now-frail body, then Huntley stood back. "All right."

Starsky entered, noting that the interior of the house looked much less clean and cared for than it had on his previous visits. Awkwardly, Huntley gestured to an easy chair, while plopping down tiredly on the sofa.

The older man ran a hand through his thinning hair. "I suppose if you're here, it must have something to do with Ken."

"First of all," Starsky began, stealing a breath, "I've never had a chance to express my sympathies." His voice dropped an octave. "I'm very sorry, Luke, about Doris."

"Yeah, well," Huntley began after a moment, "her troubles are over now."

"I guess it must be like starting all over," Starsky noted, "for you.".

"Yeah," the other replied impatiently. Then, "Come on, Starsky, get to it. I know you've never liked me much. Why are you here?"

The curly-haired man presented a small smile, cocked his head to one side. "It's not that I've disliked you, Huntley. It's just that I tend to get a bit protective where Hutch is concerned."

"I've noticed," the other grumbled, and Starsky knew that he was thinking of the day they busted Reuben.

"Look, " the younger man said, "this is the way it is: I know that when something like this happens, it's natural for everyone who knew the person to feel some degree of responsibility. But I also know that my partner tends to be a bit more sensitive than most when it comes to guilt. I just want to make sure -- since he's making himself so 'available' to you now that you're released -- that you aren't feeding him any garbage, however subtly, that he somehow could have stopped Doris from doing what she did."

Huntley was suddenly on his feet, his back to Starsky. "I don't blame him," he said firmly. "Doris was my problem. I should have taken care of her." His voice trembled on the last.

Starsky felt himself deflate, while questioning -- as he always had -- whether Huntley possessed something less than full stability. "Well, I can sit here all day and try to talk you out of that, but I know you aren't interested in my opinions of your private life." His voice firmed. "Bottom line, Huntley: Maybe you don't blame Hutch, but does he know that?"

The older man sighed. "I know I blew up at him initially. I think he knows it was just the shock of the moment."

Starsky stood, went up to Huntley. From behind, he whispered, "Make sure that he knows. Got that?"

Huntley stared at the carpet... and didn't reply.

 

 

CHAPTER FIVE - January 5, 1980

Hutch was greeted by an overcast sky as he trotted out of Venice Place and reached to the door handle of the Torino.

"Mornin'," Starsky greeted.

Hutch's reply went straight to police work. "Who's first in line for questioning this morning?" The best friend of the latest victim had turned up a string of leads that kept getting colder with each person questioned. It was disheartening, but still more than they'd had in the four months since the first murder.

Starsky pulled away from the curb. "I thought we'd talk to the guy who runs the laundromat first, then talk to the girlfriend of the guy who knew Terranova's brother of the best friend, and then maybe grab lunch at the Fresh Crab, where a waiter there saw Sally Terranova two nights before she was murdered."

"Okay," Hutch replied as he reached for the morning paper that rested between their seats. "Did the Lakers win yesterday?" He picked up the paper and began leafing through it.

"Lost by two," Starsky told him.

Hutch turned to the sports section and held it up. He frowned when he found a hole in the lower left corner of one page. "Hey, what's this?"

The other glanced at him, then grinned. "Partner for Life won again yesterday -- a big stakes race. A hundred thousand dollars or somethin'."

It was annoying missing part of the page, but the blond found something endearing about his partner's soft spot for that horse. "So you cut it out?"

Starsky shrugged.

Hutch decided not to tease. "I bet no one gets eighteen to one on him anymore."

"Nah, those days are over," the other confirmed. "You know, the article was sayin' that he's won something like four of his last six races, and he's earned over three hundred thousand dollars." Starsky presented a grin of utter pride and affection. "He's really something, Hutch. It'd be nice to see him run again sometime. Not to bet, but just to see him again."

The blond looked over at his partner. "If you'd ever follow through with your plans to get us a getaway weekend sometime, maybe we could drive up to Santa Anita when he's going to run. Or even just one day."

Starsky sighed, a depressed sound that pulled at his partner's heart. "Not until this bastard quits murdering people."

Hutch sighed, too. "Yeah, I hear ya." But he brightened a moment later. "Hey, I got the bank statement yesterday on our account." Though the money market fund was in both their names, Starsky had set it up so that all correspondence was mailed to Hutch instead of himself, as he acknowledged his partner as the financial genius between them.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. It's up to $4800 dollars." Hutch wasn't sure why it felt so good saying it. He'd had far more money than that tied up in various investments and trust funds from relatives, before he'd rejected it all upon leaving Minnesota. But that was all money that had originated from his family. Maybe this $4800 was special because it was his and Starsky's. Exclusively. Something tangible that belonged only to them.

And, finally, he thought he understood why it had meant so much to Starsky to put it away in both their names. "Hey," he said.

Starsky looked at him. "What?"

"Good morning."

* * *

The crab sandwiches were expensive, but tasty. "Okay, Todd," Hutch told the waiter, who looked barely out of high school, and whom they'd encouraged to take a chair beside them, "I know you've already given a statement, but we'd appreciate it if you could go through it one more time."

Todd nodded.

Starsky said, "When did you first meet Sally Terranova?"

"That day," the waiter replied.

"The day she was murdered?" Starsky asked with puzzlement.

"No, the day we went out. See, she came in, and I liked how she walked and smiled, and I noticed she wasn't wearing a ring, so I asked her out. And she said 'yes'. So, we made a date for seven o'clock that night."

"Where did you go?" Hutch asked.

"We went to the movies."

"What movie?'

"I think it was The Getaway. Then we went to a burger joint. Then I took her home. That's all."

"What did you talk about?" Starsky asked.

Todd shrugged. "I don't remember anything in particular. We both liked the movie. We both liked the burgers. We both liked each other."

"Did you schedule another date?" Hutch asked.

"No. I said I'd call her on Wednesday. Then I hear on Tuesday all about how she's been found dead in this park." He shuddered. "Creepy, man."

 

"And while you were on your date," Starsky pursued, "she didn't say anything to you about people she knew, or Sandstone Park, or anything at all like that?"

"Oh, yeah, she mentioned Sandstone Park. Said she jogged there every night."

The detectives exchanged glances. "Every night?" the smaller man clarified on a high note.

"Yeah. She was into physical fitness."

"Wasn't she afraid to jog there?" Hutch asked. "Because of the murders?"

"I don't know. We didn't talk about it."

Starsky leaned forward. "Did she mention anything about people she met in the park, people she may have talked to, or been bothered by?"

"No. But I remember her saying something about there being a lot of creeps in parks. But she didn't sound afraid or anything."

"Did she mention any particular 'creeps'?"

"No. We didn't talk about it very long. We just went on to something else."

"What else?"

Todd shrugged. "Dumb things. You know, like we were laughing about how the burger joint we went to and the camper parked across the theater were the same as ones that had been in the movie."

Hutch sighed, pulled a card out of his pocket. "Todd, if you remember anything else, anything at all -- even the smallest detail -- please give us a call."

"Sure," Todd said as he took the card, "but I've told you everything I know."

Starsky patted the pocket where Todd had placed the card. "Keep it handy, just in case."

Todd left and the two detectives worked at finishing their sandwiches.

"That's the first victim that's been a regular jogger," Hutch noted.

"Yeah, and to be dumb enough to keep jogging every night when there's a murder happening every two to four weeks."

Disgust at human stupidity fought with belief in human rights within Hutch's mind. People had a right to do what they wanted, even if it cost them their lives. He took a deep breath, shook his pencil at his partner. "You know, the only string that ties these women together is that none of them were involved in serious relationships. Coincidence?"

"Not necessarily," Starsky replied after a moment, having taken a bite of his crab. "How many women involved in serious relationships are out walking alone in a park in the middle of the night?"

"Not many," Hutch conceded. "Which means the killer may not know that they're all unattached. It may not have anything to do with how he chooses his victims."

"It's got to be a spur of the moment thing, Hutch. I mean, the guy goes after pretty young women and slaughters them in the middle of the night. He's got to be going to the park and just doin' it."

With frustration, Hutch said, "We just don't have anything concrete to go on."

Starsky put down the unfinished portion of his sandwich. "Yeah. I think I just lost my appetite."

Hutch's crab wasn't tasting all that good to him either, but he worked at it, albeit more slowly. "There's a lot of money in that sandwich, so tell Todd to get you a doggie bag."

Starsky made a face, but did as he was told. When the box was brought, he placed the remaining sandwich inside, then brushed the crumbs off his hands with an exaggerated motion, slapping against his legs and then his shirt.

The taller man frowned. "What's eating you?"

Starsky paused. "Huh?"

"What's got you so uptight?"

"You mean other than the obvious?"

Hutch assured, "We'll catch him, buddy. Sometimes these things take time. But we'll get him."

"Yeah," the other agreed with a heavy sigh. Then he put his chin in his hand and studied the far wall. "I feel like I haven't been laid in a million years," he muttered.

The blond's heart twisted in sympathy. He was about to make a crack about the virtues of celibacy when his partner's sapphire blue eyes suddenly darted from the wall to meet his gaze.

Hutch blinked, feeling he was expected to say something, something that would be a solution to the other's problem.

Then Starsky glanced away.

It was a moment before the taller man found his voice. Cautiously, he asked, "Kathy hasn't called in a while?"

Starsky shrugged. "I've put her off the past few times, so maybe she's given up on me."

"Oh." Hutch hadn't realized that, and wasn't sure why Starsky wouldn't be interested. He felt a vague sense of the unknown closing in.

Starsky looked at him. "You ever give her the brush-off, like you said you were?"

Hutch shrugged, wondering if he'd imagined the expectant aura of a moment ago. "Not exactly. But I haven't heard from her in a while, either, so maybe I was more successful than I thought."God, would any woman want to see him again after his behavior that last night? He decided to change the subject. "Where to now?"

Starsky drew a deep breath. "I think we should re-trace our steps, and ask everyone who knew Sally Terranova if she ever specifically mentioned anything about 'creeps' in the park."

* * *

No one recalled any such statements by Sally. Hutch turned in his seat and rubbed the back of his neck as Starsky pulled next to the curb at Venice Place. It was dark, past seven o'clock. The smell of rain was heavy in the air, but it hadn't yet fallen.

Hutch made no move to get out of the car. Even if the nuances filtering from his partner earlier in the day had only been his imagination, it was all the more reason to get the subject into the open. Ever since the possibility had first entered his mind, he hadn't been able to let go of it, nor had he wanted to. And if he was going to start imagining his partner having the same thoughts... then the least they could do was deal with it, one way or the other.

He turned in his seat, facing Starsky, who glanced at him curiously. He felt his heart accelerate, but was fairly confident that the dark road ahead would prove friendly once brought into the light.

Starsky smiled a little, as though suspecting his partner's intent, and turned off the motor. Then he looked at Hutch, and waited.

The blond lightly clasped his hands together. "We need to talk, buddy."

Starsky bowed his head to stare at the floorboard. "Yeah, I guess so." A slight glance Hutch's way, and a timid smile. "You go first."

Hutch supposed it was fair enough. He looked for a way to circle around, while gathering courage to come to the heart of the matter. "Are you still ... confused?"

The tiny smile broadened momentarily into a grin. Starsky nodded while looking out the windshield. "Yeah." A pause, then, softly, "But in the most wonderful way, Hutch."

Little butterflies flapped their wings against the inside of the taller man's veins. He found himself looking away. "Yeah." When he looked back, his partner kept exchanging his glance between the floorboard and the windshield. Gently, the blond said, "Those feelings probably aren't just going to up and go away, pal."

Starsky nodded.

"I guess," Hutch ventured slowly, "if nothing else, we're both curious."

A thick swallow outlined the other's throat. "Yeah."

"And we aren't going to know... until we try."

Slowly, Starsky blinked. He was now staring at the steering wheel, head cocked to one side. "You know, Hutch," he whispered around a deep breath, "it's like standing on a cliff, trying to find the right moment to jump. 'Cause, once you jump, there's no goin' back. There's no second chance."

"We don't have to jump right now, buddy," Hutch assured quickly. Then, tenderly, "I just don't think there's any reason to wait anymore."

"There isn't," Starsky confirmed, eyes somewhere in the vicinity of his knees. "It's just...." He looked at Hutch. "What if we're wrong? It would change everything, and there would be no going back to the way it was."

"Maybe not," Hutch replied after a moment, "but I think we would forgive each other... if there was truly anything to forgive."

"Yeah," Starsky replied heavily. With his keys, he drew little lines across the hard surface of the steering wheel. After a long moment, he nervously said, "You know, it's crazy sometimes, thinking about it. I mean, does this make us like... homos... or bisexuals... or what?" He glanced at his partner, as though desperately seeking reassurance.

Hutch snorted with a smile.

 

"I mean," Starsky went on earnestly, "I try lookin' at other guys, trying to see if I feel for them what I do for you and... and it's just crazy. It's like it's nauseating. Or a bad joke." He slowly shook his head, voice softening. "It just doesn't fit."

The blond head tilted toward the floor. "Nothing about us has ever fit, has it?" he whispered.

 

Starsky thought about that. Finally, he asked, "What makes us so different, Hutch?"

The other had asked it with such faith that Hutch could provide an answer, that the taller man found himself searching for the correct one. And the one that came to mind seemed almost too simple. And yet, saying it produced a soft pounding of his heart that made life worthwhile. "We love each other. On every level imaginable."

The smaller man closed his eyes, the lids pinching slightly. He made a brief "Umph" noise, as though suffering pain... or the most intense pleasure. Finally, the eyelids eased, and the face revealed was heavy with the weight of emotion. Staring out the windshield, he said, "You know, some days, after we've been driving around all day, or sittin' in the squadroom all day, I drop you off at your place, or you drop me off at mine, and sometimes I think, you know, I'm glad to be away from you, have some space of my own. But then," Starsky's head bowed as the words grew rougher, "within a matter of hours -- sometimes minutes -- it seems like I wish you were around." He shrugged limply. "It doesn't matter what I'm doin'." A key drew one particularly long line on the steering wheel, then dropped off. "I just like sharin' things with you, Hutch."

The blond closed his eyes a brief moment. It was indeed a daunting cliff they were facing. He took a deep breath, then asked, "You want to come up with me?"

A timid smile lit Starsky's face. "I think I've been starin' down that cliff so long that I don't know if I'll ever get the courage to jump... or to back away."

Hutch wondered why his own fear had a quality less raw than Starsky's. Perhaps, he decided, it was because he was more fed up with the status quo, with loving one person while making love to others.

"Hey, buddy," he offered after a moment, "coming upstairs with me doesn't have to mean anything specific. And maybe we should both agree right here that we each always have the right to say 'no'."

There was a brief hesitation, then Starsky responded with a thoughtful nod. Then he asked, "Think you know how to go about it?" He glanced up sideways.

It was an honest question, and Hutch replied, "I think we'll be able to figure something out. We always have."

Another nod, this time with a more serious air. "We might really be awkward, you know. No matter how much... how we feel about each other."

Hutch reasoned, "Has it ever been great the first time you did it with someone new?"

"No," Starsky admitted in a near whisper. "But you're hardly anyone new, Hutch." His head tilted thoughtfully. "Sometimes I feel like I've known you a million years."

Hutch ran his fingers along his mustache. "Yeah? Maybe we knew each other in a prior life."

This time Starsky looked at him with a scolding grin. Then his facial muscles pulled together into a sobering frown. He placed a key on the ashtray and gently scratched along the surface. "How do we decide... you know... like who's on top?"

"You can be on top."

The key paused, and Starsky looked at him sideways. Seriously, he asked, "How come we can't take turns?"

"We can," the blond replied gently. "But you can be on top first." He was hesitant to let Starsky know just how badly he wanted that, for he doubted he would be able to explain it, since he didn't understand it himself. But he did shift in his seat and caution, "We're getting ahead of ourselves, partner. We don't have to try everything at once."

Another tilt of the head, another small grin, as Starsky stared once again at the floorboard. Then he whispered, "'Kay."

It wasn't until silence followed that Hutch realized Starsky had intended the answer to be a conclusion to the discussion. But the other was still in the same pose and, in a lighter tone, the blond asked, "Want me to get out first?" He listened to his heartbeat as it quickened, felt the butterflies struggle for flight.

The other stirred, bashful smile broadening. "No, that's okay." Starsky straightened, then pulled the lever on the door, the separating metal sounding loudly in the quiet of the night. In one swift move, he was out of the car.

Hutch got out, too, wondering when the rain was finally going to fall. He stood beside the door after closing it, waited while Starsky walked around the car, then beckoned him with a sideways glance. They started, side by side, up the staircase.

Hutch placed his hand behind his partner's neck, felt the other shiver.

They didn't speak as the blond felt for the key, and then unlocked the door with hands that were unexpectedly steady. He started to reach for the light switch, but warm fingers gripped his wrist.

"No," came the breathless request, "let's leave the lights off, 'kay?"

Hutch was willing to do anything Starsky wanted, especially anything that was going to put the other more at ease. "Okay," he replied softly. While closing the door with the hand that was gripped, he used his other hand to find the nearest limb, and found himself squeezing Starsky's forearm.

There was a moment of adjustment, in which they both made a conscious effort to relax. Then it was Hutch's hand that held a light grip on Starsky's wrist as the blond led the way around the furniture, the other following so closely behind that their jackets occasionally brushed.

Hutch paused at the back of the couch, thinking that they needed to keep moving forward, or hesitation would become a factor. He turned to his partner, focusing on the silhouette directly in front of him that seemed to become more breathless with each moment.

He used a tone that he was sure Starsky was most likely to trust, his vocal chords vibrating with tenderness as he felt for the zipper of the other's open jacket. "Here, pal, let's get this off." Starsky let Hutch remove it, and as the blond laid it across the sofa, he was glad to hear the unsnapping of the shoulder harness. He let go long enough to remove his own jacket and holster, placing both weapons toward one end of the couch.

Hutch straightened, knew the other was watching him, arms lax at his sides, waiting for whatever direction Hutch was going to give next. The blond felt the trust... and the weight of the responsibility. But it was a burden that was always carried willingly, for it was always so powerfully returned whenever the need was there.

With one hand, Hutch reached for the face pointed up to him. He outlined the nose, brought his finger down past the brief, firm whiskers, felt for the softness of the lips. They, too, were outlined. He felt and heard the other swallow, and instinctively took a half step closer.

Slowly, Hutch brushed one hand back through the incredible thickness of hair. With the other, he tilted the chin up slightly, making sure he knew exactly where it was. He bent his head, held the chin steady, felt the other's quickening breath just before contact was made.

And when his lips brushed Starsky's, Hutch wondered why they had never kissed before. For it seemed that they settled upon each other perfectly, and a lightning bolt went through his body, causing his hand to drop from the hair to the back, drawing the other closer, his lips pressing more firmly.

There was the taste of onions from a hamburger consumed earlier in the evening, a flavor of salt from the fries, a coolness from having sucked on the remaining ice in a glass of cola, and a sweetness that Hutch couldn't quite define....

His partner seemed to melt within his grasp, and Hutch's concern that only liquid would remain if they kept this up caused him to slowly pull back.

A thick swallow was heard in the dark. "Hutch?"

The blond's fingertips squeezed reassuringly at the spine they held. "Hm?"

"I think we just dived off that cliff."

"I think we did, too."

The voice was definitely breathless, but also pleased to a degree that made the blond wonder if his heart might swell past the ability of his ribs to keep it enclosed.

"I think I'm gonna like havin' ya all to myself."

Hutch closed his eyes, smiled in an attempt to give an outlet to the tenderness that washed through him. He hadn't anticipated a possessive streak, but he was hardly going to argue.

"All to myself," Starsky repeated, and he reached up and stroked along Hutch's mustache, tracing it over and over.

If Starsky were going to be so fascinated with that little strip of hair, Hutch wanted him to enjoy all of its benefits. He kissed the hand briefly, then nudged it out of the way before taking his partner in both arms and settling his lips upon the other's once again. He made a special effort to rub his mustache against the other's flesh, all the while amazed at the sensations his body felt, as though it might start to rise from the ground and float away.

Suddenly, Hutch's arms were taken in a vise-like grip, pinned at his sides, as Starsky's limbs wrapped around him. The other squeezed tight, broke the kiss to press his entire upper body against Hutch, his legs leaping off the ground and wrapping around the taller form.

The unexpected weight forced a grunt from the standing man, and he quickly leaned against the sofa's back, resting one hip upon it. That eased the pressure, and he realized that a bubble inside his chest was expanding, for his partner's arms were wrapped solidly around him, his face buried in Hutch's neck with such a childlike trust that the blond momentarily wondered if he were committing an act of incest.

"Love you so much," Starsky whispered heavily. "Love you so, so much." The arms squeezed even tighter. "Got you all to myself. All to myself."

The breath against his neck made Hutch shiver, and he wasn't sure if he had the strength to keep holding the other up, for he was weak with the knowledge of just how much he was wanted... how much he was loved. He squeezed Starsky back, and the firmness of the other's groin, pressed against his own, reminded him that the childlike innocence was only one quality that his partner possessed.

Starsky kissed him firmly on the neck, then brought his legs down to support his own weight. Then, with a tenderness in stark contrast to the intensity mere seconds ago, the shorter man reached to take Hutch's face in his hands, stood on his toes, and kissed Hutch with a gentleness that made the bubble burst.

Hutch closed his eyes. It was happening now. Starsky was taking over, the yielding trust giving way to assertive strength. His partner kissed him again... and again... each touch an act of deliberate intent. For a moment, the blond was frozen with uncertainty, afraid that responding would make the other think he was competing for dominance, but also afraid that not responding at all would give the erroneous impression that he didn't like what Starsky was doing.

With concerted effort, Hutch placed his hands on the back of the sofa to show his submission, while at the same time groaning with pleasure to encourage the other on.

His face was still held in the gentle hands, the lips still meeting his with kisses that were brief and firm. But Starsky was moving closer, pressing his body tighter against the blond, making Hutch aware of every nerve involved in the contact. He could feel the quiver in his belly, felt the confinement in his groin, and whimpered with need.

Starsky's hands released his face, sliding down his head and neck until they rested on his shoulders. They squeezed then, and the next kiss was firmer, more demanding, tongue darting out to part the opposite lips.

Hutch suddenly gripped Starsky by the rear, expecting to feel the same puzzlement... the same confusion... that had been plaguing his partner. He didn't expect the feel of the denim-covered flesh to please him the way feeling a woman would. But Starsky groaned against his mouth the moment the contact was made, and it encouraged Hutch to squeeze harder, massaging with his fingers.

The darker man whimpered, dragged his mouth away, then arched back to press his groin against the blond, rocking .

Hutch felt his own groin about to burst, but he reached first to relieve his partner's. He unsnapped the denim with trembling fingers, forced down the fly, was consumed by sympathy with each soft cry and groan that emerged from the other. He reached inside the slit of the underwear; felt the smooth, moist heat; squeezed it as he drew it to freedom. Starsky let out a deep cry then. His hands were on Hutch's shoulders, as though for balance, squeezing desperately.

Hutch thought he should try to put his mouth on it. But he didn't want to kneel and lose the closeness with the other, and was afraid he would be awkward and provide more frustration than pleasure. Instead, he gripped the silky hardness, moved his hand forward, felt the hiss of pleasure against his neck. Starsky undulated once on his own, and Hutch decided to simply let his hand serve as a sheath and let Starsky do the rest.

And yet his own groin ached with wanting, and Hutch closed his eyes against it, burying his face against Starsky's shoulder, thinking how much easier things would be once they were past the first-time awkwardness.

Starsky's breath was gasping as he undulated harder, sweat breaking out along his forehead and neck. And then suddenly, as though realizing his selfishness -- or needing something more -- his hand flailed about Hutch's waistband. It quickly found the snap, parted it, dived inside. Hutch gasped, "God," as the digits brushed across his hardness. The determined fingers gripped him, and as a reward he awkwardly stood and brought his other hand down into the fly of Starsky's briefs, finding the plump testicles. He massaged them while his other hand continued to squeeze in tune to his partner's thrusts.

And then both Starsky's hands were inside the blond's jeans, mirroring each action of Hutch's hands, and both men grunted against each other's neck and shoulder, the harsh sounds gradually building to a higher-pitched cry.

Starsky almost seemed to choke when he came, the high-pitched noise melting into a deep-throated growl. And as the fluid burst forth, he gripped Hutch so tight that his partner's release was triggered.

They collapsed to the floor, hands falling away, Hutch on his knees and Starsky on a hip, his weight resting on an arm braced against the carpet.

For nearly a minute, the only sound was their panting. Then Starsky stretched out on the floor, rolling onto his back. After a moment, he tucked himself back inside, zipped up his fly.

Hutch lowered himself on an elbow, then lowered further to the carpet, stretching out beside Starsky, facing the other. His zipper had only come down part way, and he merely reached inside to adjust his softening flesh to a more comfortable position.

He wondered what Starsky was thinking, reached over with the flat of his hand and came into contact with a cotton-clad stomach. He realized then that it was the same hand that was covered with stickiness, and he quickly took it away and brushed it against the carpet.

"S'okay," the other assured in a gentle whisper. "It's not exactly a foreign substance, ya know."

"Yeah," Hutch agreed softly, wondering why he'd felt self-conscious about it.

"Okay for you?"

"Yeah. You?"

"Not bad for a first time. I figure it can only get better from here."

"Yeah," Hutch agreed again, then rolled onto his back. It had been okay -- an orgasm was an orgasm, after all. But despite his reassurance about lackluster first times in the car earlier, he couldn't help but feel there should be more.

"I love you, Hutch."

The blond closed his eyes, knowing the bubble had burst earlier, and wondering where this new cloud of feeling was coming from. Starsky seemed so emotional tonight, like people are when they're in love; yet Hutch was sure they didn't love each other any more or any less than they had thirty minutes ago.

He found Starsky's hand -- it was sticky -- and squeezed. "Love you, too." The short sentences weren't enough, and he felt emotion color his voice as he asked, "Want me to count the ways?"

"Nah," Starsky replied after a moment. "It'd just over-inflate my ego."

Hutch snorted softly then, feeling a smile spread on his face. Then he sighed contentedly and closed his eyes.

"Hey," Starsky was suddenly on an elbow, "you aren't goin' to sleep, are you?"

Hutch kept his eyes closed, found that the smile was still there. "What's it to you?"

The compact body was along his in an instant, pressing against his right side, hands on his chest. "I've got news for you, partner. We aren't gettin' any shut-eye tonight. Neither of us. There's too many other things we're gonna be doin' instead."

Being covered by the firm muscle and bone of the other roused Hutch like an amphetamine and he wondered how he would ever be able to communicate his desire for domination to Starsky. He decided that he could not. He could only hope to demonstrate with action... or the lack of such.

Slowly, Starsky maneuvered himself on top of the long body. "Got plans for you," he muttered, kissing the chin, then pulling back. "Got a whole agenda."

Hutch placed his hands on the other's waist, liking the compactness of it, even though it wasn't curved like a woman's. "Oh, yeah?" he asked, feeling unaccountably happy. "What's item one?"

Starsky got on his knees, then bent so that his face was close to his partner's. "Item one," he breathed against the smooth features, "is to tell you how much I love you."

As if Starsky hadn't already done that tonight. Hutch closed his eyes and swallowed.

A thickness was in the other's throat, as well. "I love you," Starsky kissed one side of Hutch's neck, "very, very," kissed the other side, "very much."

Hutch's eyes remained closed. Say it again.

"Know why," a kiss on his nose, "I love you," on his left cheek, "so much?" on his right.

Why? Count the ways.

"Because," Starsky settled on top of him now, so that Hutch felt the brush of the whispered words against his chin, "you take very, very, very good care of me."

Hutch felt the smile broaden.

"Because you love me enough to let me be me."

A swallow.

"Because you are always, always there for me."

The blond's eyes opened lazily, trying to find the other in the darkness.

"Because you're usually the first person I see in the morning, and the last person I see at night."

He could make out the outline of the silhouette.

"Because you're so passionate about the things you believe."

He focused on the shimmer of light that could be the eyes.

"Because you're big, and strong, and tender."

Hutch's hands moved from the trim waist to the small of Starsky's back, their palms pressing against the other's shirt.

"Because I feel," the voice faltered a moment, then whispered in wonder, "so loved, when I see you standin' back, watchin' over me."

Hutch closed his eyes again.

"Because you're such a bright spot of... of hope... when you're happy about somethin' and you're smilin'."

Another bubble was starting to build.

"Because you're so smart about so many things."

Not really, Starsk.

"Because," a brief choke, "you're not afraid of how much I love you."

A finger pulled gently at his upper lip. "Because you have the most interestin' little mustache." A pause. "And you're just so damn beautiful, Hutch."

The new bubble burst, and Hutch moved his hands so he could embrace his partner, pressing Starsky against him, then rolling them onto their sides.

After a moment, Starsky's hands reached to take the blond's face again, their fingers stroking along his forehead and cheeks.

It was difficult talking when he felt so light and carefree. But Hutch was curious about the rest. Softly, he whispered, "What's item two?"

"Item two," Starsky replied, "is this." He moved his head the brief distance to touch his lips against the blond's. "See," he explained, pulling back, "we're gonna do this the whole entire night. All night long. Just kissin'. Except, when it gets close to mornin', we're gonna move to item three and make things a little more interestin'. But still nice."

Hutch smiled, eyes slitted. He reached across the small space between them, having adjusted to the darkness enough to see the outline of the other's features, and rubbed a thumb along an eyebrow. With distant laziness, he replied, "Is that so?"

"Yeah," Starsky confirmed with a nod. "Any objections?"

Hutch made an effort to shake his head, eyes closing yet again.

He felt the other shift closer, get on an elbow, lean over him. This time, when Starsky's lips touched his, Hutch felt hands in his hair. They moved about, massaging, while the lips were undemanding, yet firm.

Hutch wallowed in the loving feel of the hands. He didn't like it when women touched his hair, because it made him conscious of The Bald Spot, as well as the various other patches of thinning. And he always imagined their disappointment, even when they gave no such reaction. But Starsky knew all about his bald spot, knew all about the little things that aging was doing to his once seemingly-perfect features. And still loved him anyway.

Hutch made a conscious effort to kiss back, loving the sweet, surprisingly innocent feeling the contact produced. He was encouraged further as Starsky kept kissing -- moderately-timed pecks that were an end in themselves rather than a means to an end -- and placed a hand on the waist, squeezing with careful pressure, not wanting Starsky to think he was trying to take control.

At some point, between the kisses, Starsky reminded, "We're gonna do this all night, 'cause I really like kissing you, Hutch."

That makes two of us, pal. Gently, he suggested, "Think we ought to move to the bed?"

Lips pressed against him once again. "Good idea."

Hutch acted on impulse and put his arms around the other, squeezing tight.

"Isn't this great, Hutch?" the other managed after a grunt. "We can do this all the time, anytime we want, won't need no one else."

Hutch petted up and down the cotton of the shirt, long strokes that wanted to love and comfort and protect. He really didn't want them to talk too much, but he finally had to whisper, "How long have you had your 'agenda' in mind?" His hands continued to stroke, fingers massaging now.

"Put it together sometime in the past hour." Starsky was hovering over his partner, their chests pressed together. Then he asked, "Whatdja think, I've been thinking about this longer than that?" The question consisted of curiosity, flavored with surprise.

Hutch's grip eased. "I wasn't sure." He reached up to push back a still-damp curl. "I think we've both been thinking about it a while without really coming out and saying it."

"Yeah," came the thoughtful agreement. Then, after a moment, "It just seems to make a strange kind of sense, you know?" And, more gently, "It's just so nice bein' together like this. We won't ever have to hold nothin' back no more."

Hutch stroked Starsky's hair again, feeling his brows furrow. "Have you been holding back, partner?" He had thought these particular feelings of Starsky's hadn't existed much longer than his own.

"Well, you know," Starsky shrugged, finally shifting to one side, "there were certain things I was tryin' not to let myself think about. I mean, it seemed so out in left field an' all. And then it made me feel like a hypocrite, because of Johnny Blaine and how hard it was swallowing that he was what he was."

Hutch smiled softly in the darkness. "It doesn't make you a hypocrite," he said tenderly. "I don't think you were bothered so much by Blaine being gay as you were by the fact that he simply wasn't as wholesome has you'd been led to believe. Really, Starsk, wouldn't you have been just as upset if he'd died in the company of a female prostitute?"

"Not quite," the other replied after a moment. "But I see your point. 'Cept, you know, I felt kind of threatened, the idea of him bein' gay, because it made me think that maybe he had the hots for me or somethin' when I was younger."

"But he never gave any indication of that, right?" Hutch pursued, wanting to put Starsky's mind at ease about it. They had already talked about it in the days following Blaine's death, but Starsky had never come right out and put a name to his fear.

"No, of course he didn't."

"Well," Hutch continued, "don't you think it's highly likely he didn't see you like that? I mean, don't you think a homosexual man is just as capable of having non-sexual feelings of love toward young boys as a heterosexual man is capable of having non-sexual feelings of love toward young girls?"

Another moment of silence, then a soft snort. "When you put it like that, it makes sense." Starsky wriggled even closer to Hutch, and the blond's hand drifted from the hair down to the shoulders.

They were quiet a little longer, then the smaller man said, "You know, Hutch, I've had a lot of non-sexual feelings of love toward you over the years. I mean lots."

Hutch loved the way his heart swelled at moments like this. "I know. Same here."

"I just...," Starsky trailed off a moment. Then, "Well, you know, I don't know when they changed, started becoming sexual." A brief chuckle. "I know this sounds really crazy, but, even now, after what we just did, there's a part of me that's still kinda wonderin' if they really are sexual."

Hutch turned so that his forehead touched the other's hair. "Still some confusion, huh?"

"Yeah," the other admitted. "In a way. A nice way." A moment's pause, then, "Why, have you got it all figured out?"

Hutch laughed softly. "Not hardly. But I'm not sure figuring it out really matters so much. It'll come with time."

"Yeah. And, in the meantime, we should just enjoy ourselves, right?"

Another chuckle. "Right." Hutch pressed Starsky close, kissed his hair. "Love you."

Starsky kissed his chin.

"What do you say we move to the bed?"

Fingers stroked his mustache, touched his lips, dropped down to his chin, tickled along his throat. "Oh, yeah, we were going to do that, weren't we?"

In one swift move, Hutch was in a partial crouch, one knee on the floor. He gripped Starsky's hand, pulled as he stood, and the other was also on his feet a moment later, shirt brushing against his partner's.

They were so close together that it seemed only natural for Hutch to put his hands on the smaller man's waist. He held Starsky within the light grip, then bent his head. The other's face tilted up, waiting. Soft flesh met soft flesh, and the blond's hands tightened slightly as the most wonderful sensation of floating circulated through his veins.

"Mmm," he said, their lips still together.

"Mm-hm," Starsky agreed.

It made Hutch wonder then if Starsky felt the same as he -- that the other was just as anxious to be swept off his feet by someone strong and muscular and firm -- and perhaps he had been unfair by expecting Starsky to initiate everything.

They were going to have to find their way -- perhaps stumble and even fall on occasion -- but Hutch was somewhat cheered by the recollection that Starsky hadn't objected to the idea of being on top first. He wondered if that was because the other relished the idea of domination, or if he was merely afraid of the idea of being submissive.

If so, it was a fear that Hutch did not share, though he did not understand why. But what he did know was that now was not the time to ponder it. Instead, he put an arm around Starsky's waist, guided them both toward the bed with slow, deliberate steps. The motion made him aware of the uncomfortable dampness in his shorts, but he wasn't sure that he wanted to discard his clothing just yet. There was something very appealing about the idea of spending the entire night learning to love each other... though he really didn't think they were going to last that long.

Starsky seemed to be of the same mind, for once they were beside the bed, he didn't pause to undress, but sat down upon it. He took Hutch's arms, beckoning the blond to lay on top of him, as they lowered themselves to the mattress. Hutch leaned on an elbow, so the other didn't have to support his weight.

"Buddy," the taller man whispered, "is it all right if I turn on a lamp? I'd like to see you."

"Sure." Whatever shyness had caused the darkness in the first place was apparently gone.

Hutch reached to the stand beside the bed, felt a moment, then the room was illuminated by a weak bulb. He turned back, smiled when he saw the familiar blue eyes watching him. "You still look the same," he noted softly.

"Whadyja think? We both were gonna be transformed into something else?"

Hutch didn't answer, but lay back down on the mattress, leaning over his partner, studying the other, looking into his eyes.

Starsky looked back. Then he reached up with a finger, lightly brushed the mustache, moved up to trace around the pale eyebrows.

Hutch closed his eyes, savoring the feel.

"I love you, Hutch. You're just so beautiful. I mean -- I mean I'm not talkin' just about you bein' blond and all. I'm talking about all the ways you're beautiful -- just big and strong and masculine and beautiful and a thousand other things."

Hutch had to duck his head then, feeling that a well which had already been filled, seemingly hours ago, was seriously overflowing. His eyes opened. "You've already counted the ways," he scolded tenderly. And he placed his hand on Starsky's forehead, wanting badly to touch.

The curly-haired man turned his face into the arm, kissed whatever flesh his lips could reach, then gazed back at the blond through the corner of his eye.

Hutch thought he might collapse, from sheer feeling if nothing else. With his other hand, he stroked a cheek, then cupped the other's face. With soft wonder, he said, "You're so full of love and life." His brows furrowed. "Sometimes I'm not sure why someone like you would even want to get mixed up with someone like me."

"You love me, don't you?" Starsky asked in answer, eyes bright with the childlike innocence.

Hutch felt the emotion spread to his voice. "Who couldn't love you?" he asked, shaking his head.

Now, it was the other's expression that seemed to pull together into a tight wall of withheld emotion. With a voice that held a quiver, Starsky whispered, "But it means more, coming from you."

Hutch couldn't imagine why, but it was hardly something he wanted to get into a discussion about. He decided it was time to shut them both up, and bent his head.

 

When the contact was made this time, he let his hands, which were on Starsky's shirt, spread out in opposite sides, rubbing as they moved, feeling over the ribs, then moving up and down the sides in a slow massage.

"Mmm," Starsky approved, and reached to lock his arms around Hutch's back. He moved as though wanting to roll them over, and Hutch yielded easily, taking them onto their sides. Then he moved onto his back, pulling Starsky on top of him. Their lips hadn't parted, and now the smaller man pressed more firmly, while gradually hoisting himself onto his knees, as though wanting to make sure he didn't press particularly sensitive areas against each other.

Starsky kissed Hutch again, then again. The touch was still light, an undemanding demonstration of sweetness and feeling. But having his partner on top of him made Hutch all the more aware of the warmth created by their closeness. He reached up, felt along the front of the other's shirt, rubbing firmly enough to feel the fur beneath. When he'd been with Kathy, he had found the thought of hair and muscle less than appealing; but that had just been an image of fantasy. This was Starsky. His hands had felt this body many times... to comfort, heal, support, and be supported by. He knew it almost as well as his own. And there was nothing unlovable about it. He liked the masculine feel of it, the safety and assurance... and the tenderness.

Hutch reached to the buttons.

"Hey," Starsky said, a gentle twinkle lighting his eyes. "You gettin' a little anxious?"

"No," Hutch assured, wondering if he were lying. He parted the two top buttons, then the next. "What are you being shy about?" he teased. "It's not like you can show me anything I haven't already seen before."

Starsky grinned at him then, but it was filled with passion more than humor. The smaller man lowered his face again, while also arching his back, so Hutch's hands had room to move. The kiss this time was slightly more heated.

The passion increased as each closure was parted, and when the last button was undone, Hutch rubbed his hands up his partner's entire length, then slipped them around the back, inside the shirt. No, indeed, there was nothing unappealing about this man's body.

Starsky's kisses were deeper now, though still brief. He wormed his own hands between their bodies, then paused to mumble, "No fair," when encountering the buttoned shirt.

Hutch wasn't sure he wanted to drag this out all night. His heart was thundering and his groin was coming to life once again. He dropped his hands and used them instead to brace against the mattress and hoist his own body up, causing Starsky to shift to one side.

 

Hutch looked his partner in the eye while quickly undoing the buttons to his own shirt, parting the flaps with an aggressive motion.

Starsky got the message. He straightened and removed his shirt, too.

Their lips rejoined with the new areas of flesh exposed. Hutch felt the other had forgotten the "all night" vow as well, because now Starsky made it a point to press his coarseness against the opposite smoothness as though he could no longer wait; and, as before, Hutch found himself wondering how they had spent so many years together and never done this.

He could hold back no longer and thrust his groin against the firmness of Starsky's body. This time, when the curly head pulled back, the voice was trembling. "I don't wanna come in my pants again."

Hutch responded to the concern, thrust with his legs, and tipped them both over to their sides. He pressed against the other, fingers frantically feeling for the jeans. With a sense of deja vu, he unsnapped the denim and both hands worked on each side of the hips, trying to force them off.

Starsky groaned against his mouth, and the vibration excited the blond further. He found the damp, sticky heat... not nearly as erect as before, but growing into his touch.

Starsky's kisses became more demanding, lengthening in duration, tongue thrusting. The darker man's hands were also busy, petting frantically up and down the smooth chest, and when Hutch thrust his hips forward with a whimper, the hands finally moved down there, first grasping the crotch from the outside, then working to open the jeans.

When they finally parted for breath, Hutch panted, "Let's get them off."

They angled away from each other, each man working quickly to rid himself of the barrier of clothing. They came back together, tan skin against pale white, and as they kissed this time, still on their sides, Starsky managed, "Wanna do a sixty-nine?"

Hutch's desire was such that he felt compelled to say "Yes" to anything that was suggested. But past experience made him hesitate, for that particular act was best performed by partners who were familiar with pleasing each other. He didn't like the idea of Starsky sucking him while distracted, nor did he want to return the same favor for his partner unless he was able to give the act his full attention.

The blond shook his head. "I'll do you." He raised on an elbow.

Deep blue eyes captured his own. "You sure?"

Hutch managed a slight smile. "I'm sure." He let his feelings show on his face, while placing a hand on the bare, trim stomach. "I want to please you that way."

Starsky reached down to his erection and squeezed it soothingly. "It might be kinda gross," he noted hesitantly, "since it's all yucky from before."

Hutch's hand moved from Starsky's stomach up to his face, and he brushed his fingers with a feather-light touch along one cheek. "There's nothing gross about you," he said tenderly. "Besides, it all ought to taste the same, wet or dry."

"Okay," the other said through a deep breath, settling back against the mattress and spreading his legs. "I'll do you afterwards."

Hutch's smile softened as he made a noise of "Okay". He got on his knees, hoisted himself over his partner's bare legs, glad that they had the light on so he could see the other lying there so expectantly.

Just as he bent toward the straining maleness, he glanced up at his partner. He found the other staring at him with hooded eyes and the bare hint of a smile. Then a hand reached out, brushed along Hutch's mustache, then his lips, then his chin.

"You're so damn beautiful," Starsky whispered.

Hutch ducked his head, usually not bashful about his looks, but feeling so now. He distracted himself with the reminder that his partner was so fascinated by the mustache. So he ducked his head further, pressed his lips to the soft skin of an inner thigh, then dragged his upper lip along it.

Starsky giggled, flexed his leg. "That tickles."

Hutch mentally filed that fact away for later use. For now, he focused back on his partner's center, thinking he was about to do something that he'd never seriously thought of doing before... until recent weeks. He was sure that he could, and the more he allowed his gaze to rest on that cylinder of flesh and blood, the more excited he became by the idea of manipulating it to his will.

In one swift move, he hoisted himself onto his forearms, which rested on either side of his partner's pelvis, and placed his mouth over the head.

The flavor of semen hit him immediately, its bitter tang surprising in its potency. He heard a groan of delight from his partner, felt his own maleness hardening, but forced himself to focus on the task at hand. He began sucking, thinking about what he liked best, and found himself with a degree of confidence that was surprising. He knew how he liked it done, and it suddenly seemed so obvious that all he had to do was apply what he knew to the cylinder within his mouth. Starsky's thighs spread further, and Hutch took in more of the shaft, also surprised to find that he genuinely enjoyed the spongy texture, which was becoming more and more turgid. Starsky was continuing to make vocal noises, which encouraged him on. Hutch was so intent on his task that he almost flinched when a hand brushed along his cheek. But then he closed his eyes at its tender feel, and felt his heart swell when the hand slid around to his chin, feeling along his throat. Hutch understood the gesture -- the fascination with feeling your bedmate's throat while they worked on your cock, wanting to feel with your hand those muscles that created such wonderful suction. It encouraged him all the more, and he settled more comfortably against the mattress, not wanting to hurry, but wanting Starsky to know that he was enjoying pleasing him.

"Oh, man, Hutch," the darker man whispered. "That's nice. That's really nice. Gettin' kinda close."

Somewhat reluctantly, Hutch released the firm column. Gently, he asked, "Want me drag it out, or want me to make you come?" He liked the feeling of power it gave him, knowing he could do either.

Starsky was looking down at him with slitted eyes. His hand moved from Hutch's throat up into the blond hair, fingers entwining in the strands, and Hutch felt his heart beat with tenderness, for there was such a loving feeling in the gesture.

"You're beautiful," Starsky whispered. "You know that?"

Hutch thought the non-answer meant that Starsky didn't want to have to make a choice. So he decided to enjoy himself and turned his attention back to the erection, it having softened slightly after being exposed to the air. Hutch pressed his face beneath it, letting his skin feel the tight plumpness of the testicles, the wiriness of hair, and rubbed his upper lip against the wrinkled skin there.

Starsky giggled.

The blond grunted with amusement, then licked leisurely at the delicate flesh, using long, firm strokes of his tongue. Starsky's legs spread further, and Hutch dipped lower, darting at the small area beneath the scrotum, wondering how long it would be before he would have the nerve to lick lower still. He had no doubt that he would at some point, but it wasn't going to be tonight. He liked the idea that some discoveries still awaited.

Hutch paused for breath, then kissed back up with firm, quick motions. His mouth followed up the shaft, kissed the very tip, then continued into the pubic hair, this time his tongue darting out to lap along the curls.

"That feels funny," Starsky noted, but he remained still. Then his hand clutched a shoulder when Hutch kissed across the soft skin of his stomach. A moment later and the hand was at the back of Hutch's neck. "Come 'ere. Come up here."

Hutch responded with enthusiasm, hoisting himself forward to plant his lips across Starsky's. He pressed with a side-to-side motion, and both men groaned against each other.

When the blond pulled back, he kissed the bridge of Starsky's nose, then his forehead.

Starsky's hand traced the full, soft lips. He looked into his partner's eyes, swallowed, then whispered, "If you were a woman, I'd turn us over and slip into you."

Hutch felt more tenderness flare inside him, for he knew the confusion was with them again. Gently, he noted, "You still can."

The swallow this time was very thick, and fingers danced across Hutch's forehead, then nestled in his hair again. "Don't think it's gonna be that easy."

The blond smiled softly and bent closer. "Easy or not, I'd like you to do it." He liked the casualness in his voice, for he hoped it communicated his confidence and belief... and desire.

The fingers tightened their hold on the palomino strands. "I'm just not sure it's gonna feel very good to ya. Ever know a woman who loved getting ass-fucked? I mean, besides in the movies?"

Hutch lowered his eyes. He understood the fear, the concern, and wondered how he could convince Starsky that he really didn't care whether it was physically enjoyable or not. He looked up again, whispering, "I'd like knowing I was pleasing you." He placed his hand on the furry chest, rubbed back in forth with a brief, gentle motion. "I like the idea of us being able to have that kind of closeness, sharing that kind of intimacy." Hutch's brow furrowed as a new thought struck. "I think it would be a special thing, just for us, since no one's ever done that to me before." Hutch felt his tone intensify. "And you're the only one who ever will."

Another deep breath, this time of a peculiar defeat, as Starsky rolled to lay on his back, his hands dropping to the mattress.

Hutch scratched at the center of Starsky's chest with a thumbnail. "There's Vaseline in the john. I'll go and get ready."

Without looking at him, Starsky grabbed Hutch's hand, kissed it, then released it.

Hutch went into the bathroom. His heart was pounding with excitement as he opened the medicine cabinet. He hadn't thought they'd do it right away, but now that the moment was here, he didn't want anything to make Starsky hesitate. He applied a liberal helping of the ointment, hoping that Starsky would attend to that task in the future. He took the jar in one hand, grabbed a couple of hand towels with the other, and returned to the bed.

The curly-haired man noted the jar. "Did you put it in?"

"Yeah. But I need to put some on you, too."

Starsky stroked his length, as though soothing it, while looking away from his partner. "I hope it feels okay, Hutch."

Hutch knelt on the bed. "Hey, we're a couple of virgins, so to speak, trying to get it on. I'm not expecting fireworks, pal."

"Don't see how it can feel good at all," the other noted glumly.

Hutch shrugged as he scooped out the Vaseline with a trio of fingers. "I imagine it's like lapping up your lady's juices. You wouldn't want it by itself, but you love it when it's proof that you're pleasing your woman."

"Yeah," the other agreed with a sigh, "but I think fucking should be a mutual enjoyment. Not just a sacrifice by one so the other can feel good."

Hutch settled between his partner's legs. He gently took the swaying penis in one hand, covered the head with the grease from the coated fingers. Firmly, he said, "Pleasing you is pleasing me, pal."

Starsky closed his eyes and sighed gratefully. "That feels good," he said in a whisper.

The taller man reached to place the jar on the nightstand. Then he picked up a towel and wiped his hands, then moved to one side. "All ready."

The other swallowed, then reached to the lamp. "I gotta turn off the light," he said nervously.

The room went dark, and Hutch gently teased, "So you can pretend I'm Raquel Welch?" But he realized a part of him wondered if it were true.

"No," Starsky replied firmly. "I just like havin' the lights off sometimes so I can focus on the sensations."

"Maybe we're going to need to blindfold you sometime."

"Hey, I've had a few girlfriends do that to me," came the casual reply. "It was no big deal. Not like a special turn-on or anything."

Hutch was tired of talking. He felt for the other in the dark, found the chin, then held it as he lowered his face and pressed their lips together. He darted his tongue out, then reached for Starsky's crotch with his free hand. When he felt the stickiness of the grease, he reached lower to the firm plumpness, then pressed with both his hand and his mouth.

The body beneath him squirmed, and Hutch pressed a final time, then drew back. He felt intensely excited -- in his groin, in his stomach, in his chest -- and asked, "Do you want me to get in a crouch? Do it doggy style?"

A hand was on his waist, and the reply was firm. "No, you shouldn't do it like that the first time. You've got to lay on your side, and I'll spoon myself around ya. It makes it easier to be careful."

He really wished Starsky wouldn't worry so much about being "careful", but Hutch knew that he couldn't change the gentleness that was such an ingrained part of the man he loved so much... nor would he want to. And he knew too that, someday, when their positions were reversed, he would be as gentle as he'd ever been with anyone.

Hutch obeyed, turning onto his right side, and wondered how it was that Starsky sounded so experienced. He'd known practically every time the other had done it, of course, for Starsky would usually tell him about his sexual conquests the next morning... that is, as long it was with "just a girl". Hutch never heard any of the details of Starsky's love-making with Helen, or Terry, or Rosey Malone. That was always the clue that Starsky really cared... when he wasn't willing to share.

Hutch felt the other get behind him. A finger touched his anus, barely pushed against the ring of muscle, then pulled at the edges, trying to stretch and open it. The finger felt as though it took up all the available space, and Hutch couldn't imagine that there would be enough room for anything larger. Yet, he did not fear the upcoming penetration, for he knew if women could handle it, then he could, too. And none of them had probably ever yearned for it as badly as he, from the one person who meant more than all others combined.

The muscle was stretched further with two fingers, then the digits were removed. Hutch felt the brush of the moist phallus against his buttocks. His head angled back over his shoulder. "Really, Starsk, I don't mind if it hurts. I just want to feel you... all around me, inside me...."

"All right, blondie," the other breathed heavily, "you got it." Starsky reached to pet Hutch's hair. "Love you." His voice softened. "Love you so much."

Hutch reached back, found a hand, squeezed it. "Love you, too." After that, there was only the sound of their thick breathing. Hutch felt the tip of firm hardness between his buttocks. He shifted his hips, trying to help it find its goal. After another moment of searching, it nestled against his anus. Then a hand squeezed his upturned buttock, beckoning it to hold still.

"'M gonna push it in," Starsky warned breathlessly, "so you know how it's gonna feel, then I'm gonna pull it right out, give you a moment to get used to the idea."

All of Hutch's impatient protests died without ever being voiced. He swallowed thickly, thinking shamefully of how he had treated Kathy that last night. Obviously, Starsky was head and shoulders above him in the consideration department. He wondered if his partner had always been this gentle, or if perhaps hurting someone once had made him particularly careful ever since.

There was pressure against the opening, the feel of a hand lifting the hardness, aiming it more accurately, and then more pressure that bordered on pain. Then suddenly the slick barrier yielded, and the head popped in. The pain was scorching this time, the muscle stretched unbearably wide, and Hutch couldn't stifle a desperate gasp. He silently admitted his relief when the pressure was suddenly gone.

A hand rubbed up and down his shoulders. "Gonna be okay, babe?"

"Yeah, it's okay," he replied heavily, feeling the sweat on his forehead. Then an honest, "That's one big monster you've got, partner."

"It can be tamed," Starsky noted gently. "All it wants to do is please you." Then softly, "Let me know when you're ready to try again."

Hutch felt himself relax more, knowing that he wouldn't have to face the pressure again until he was ready. He breathed deeply a few times and felt his body calm. Another moment, then he nodded. "Okay."

The flesh was placed against him again, and he felt his body's instinctive, defensive response. He took another deep breath, forcing himself to relax, to accept. "Starsk, keep it in this time... no matter what."

The push was there, the pain again as strong, but not as difficult because Hutch knew to expect it. He let it wash through him, focused on the fact that it was a part of Starsky that, until very recently, he had never expected to share. That, perhaps, Starsky would never again share with anyone else.

Hutch closed his eyes.

There was another push, and a different sort of pressure as the hardness reached deeper. He felt Starsky move back slightly, then push even farther in, and this time when Hutch gasped it was a noise of surprise that he could be penetrated so deeply.

There was a quiver in the Starsky's voice as his front pressed all along Hutch's back. "Feels good, babe. Feels so good." A hand went around Hutch's penis, and the blond realized then how much it had shrunk. It nestled gratefully against the warmth.

There was a strange sort of comfort in lying against the mattress, his partner surrounding him and inside him. Hutch started to move. "Let's shift so you have room to pump."

He felt the other's smile. "It's kinda nice just like this."

"I know, but I want you to fuck me." Hutch heard the firmness in his own voice, the determination. He wondered if, someday, he would understand it. "Stay with me while I roll onto my stomach."

He didn't give Starsky a chance to respond, but shifted with a slow deliberate movement. The other tried to follow, but between the slickness and lack of coordination, they came apart. Hutch took the moment to grab a pillow and place it beneath himself. Unhappy with the angle, he grabbed a second pillow and placed it on top of the first, then lowered himself upon it. His penis hardened when it encountered the soft firmness of the mountain of cloth, and when Hutch spread his legs further, he realized he could not hear or feel his partner.

He reached back. "You okay, Starsk?" It was difficult to see in the dark.

A hand was immediately on his right, upturned buttock. "Yeah." The reply carried the tone of curiosity and bafflement. Gruffly, the other whispered, "You really want this, don't you?"

There was a moment of silence, while Hutch tried to find a reply that would explain it... to his partner and to himself. But all he could come up with was honesty. "Yes."

"Okay," Starsky replied, as though reaching a decision within himself.

The pressure was again against Hutch's anus, but the muscle had been stretched from their earlier joining, and it presented no resistance to the hardness that pressed its way in; in fact, the blond felt a novel satisfaction in being filled once again with his partner's flesh.

The satisfaction, he realized, came not only from the penis within. It also came from feeling the powerful thighs against the back of his legs, the firm stomach against his back, the masculine chest against his shoulders, the heavy breath near his neck.

"Fuck me," he demanded.

Hands gripped his shoulders. The phallus pulled back, then shoved in further, and Starsky groaned.

"Ah, yes," Hutch encouraged in a hot whisper. "That's it, Starsk. Fuck me. Fuck me."

A noise that sounded like a cross between a groan and a defeated cry emerged from the man above him. Then, suddenly, Starsky was pumping in earnest, his hips jerking in brief, rapid strokes. The rhythm reminded Hutch of a machine gun, and even as he felt a rawness in his anal walls with each forward and backward motion, he relished the feel of the powerful pelvis against his ass, the steel-hard cylinder that seemed to reach deeper and deeper inside him. Even his own penis was responding, and he had to restrain the urge to reach beneath to stroke it, for he didn't want anything to disrupt Starsky's rhythm.

A shiver went through Hutch's spine when he heard, and felt, a deep groan of pleasure build within his partner's chest. He wanted to give this to Starsky so the other never had to look for it anywhere else, and he suddenly understood his partner's possessiveness earlier in the evening.

"Oh, God," Hutch encouraged. "God, Starsk. Fuck me, buddy. Fuck... fuck... fuck me."

The speed of the hips increased to an incredible pace, and Hutch felt himself shiver from a deep place that had nothing to do with his groin, for he knew his own penis wasn't getting nearly enough stimulation for orgasm. Yet there was pleasure soul-deep, and it seemed to be yet another well that was spilling over as his partner started screaming.

Hutch never knew exactly when it was that Starsky's ejaculation occurred. He only knew that the scream went on for a long time, was raw and masculine and deep, and then transformed into a near sob. And then Starsky collapsed onto Hutch's back for half a second before falling to the mattress, leaving Hutch feeling alone and cold.

"God," Starsky whispered, almost as though in pain. "God... God..."

The taller man started to move, found his groin muscles ached from his legs being stretched so far apart, and he was careful about dislodging himself from the pillows. When he spoke, his voice emerged with a soft quality. "I'm going to get the light." When he didn't receive a protest, Hutch reached to the lamp, groaned from the soreness at having been in such an awkward position.

Suddenly, the bed was illuminated. Starsky was lying flat on his back at the lower end, his legs draping off one side. He had already found a peach-colored towel and was using it while staring at the ceiling. His chest was still heaving, and the hair on his forehead was damp.

While Hutch searched for something to say, for he felt an uncharacteristic awkwardness, Starsky took a moment to glance at the wash cloth as he drew it along his shrinking length a final time. Then his hand suddenly froze. With a degree of alarm, he said, "Hutch, you're bleeding." He twisted to look at the blond, mouth open.

Their eyes met and Hutch saw the concern in those sapphire blue depths. He smiled gently. "It's all right. I'm a virgin, remember?"

Starsky's forehead wrinkled with distaste at the joke. Then a guilty, "I got carried away. You could be really hurt or somethin'."

"I don't think so," the blond replied. He had a strong urge to cover himself and stood to find his robe. "Be back in a minute."

While in the bathroom, he took a moment to study his reflection in the mirror, trying to see what had changed, what characteristic would explain the desire for domination that he had acquired. The mirror held no answers, and when he returned to the bedroom, he focused on reassuring his partner. "I'm okay."

Starsky was sitting against the headboard, the covers drawn up to his waist, watching Hutch with wide eyes. Though the other was bare chested, Hutch could see the hint of pajama bottoms through an opening in the arrangement of bedding. "You sure?"

"Yeah, I'm sure," Hutch chuckled softly, wanting to put them both more at ease. He bent to a dresser and found a clean pair of shorts, put them on beneath the robe. He shrugged. "I'm a little sore, but otherwise...."

Now those eyes narrowed in curiosity, and the voice was quiet and serious. "What did it feel like?"

Hutch gingerly got into bed, only partially sitting up. Words were difficult to find, so he settled once again on raw honesty. "Like having something big and powerful shoved up my ass." His voice softened as he looked at the man beside him. "Like sharing something with you." Softer still, "Like giving you something special... and making me feel special."

Starsky blinked, looked down at the sheets a moment. Then, "But it didn't really feel good, did it? I mean, you didn't come or anything, did you?"

Hutch thought about that, let his mind study the memory of the sensations that he hadn't been able to analyze while they were happening. After a moment, he replied, "It was starting to feel good just behind my nuts. I think if the angle had been different, it might have started to feel really good." After a moment, the answer presented itself, and he casually said, "You know, the good ol' prostate gland."

From his partner's expression, Starsky was still doubtful. But, firmly, the smaller man said, "Then next time we're gonna adjust the angle."

"Okay," Hutch laughed softly. He looked over at his partner, waited until the other turned to meet his eye. "Hey," he said, "thank you... for giving me what I wanted."

The confusion was there again on the other's face. But then Starsky shifted slightly and pressed himself against his partner's side, and the warmth that resulted, physical and emotional, was no different than what they had experienced a thousand times before. And it felt like home.

"Felt real good, Hutch," the smaller man said in a barely audible whisper. Then, "What are we gonna do now?"

The tenderness was there again, full force. Hutch put his arm around Starsky, drew the other closer against him. "Just keep loving each other, like we always have."

The phone rang, and both men jolted apart.

Starsky pressed a hand to his forehead. "Damn, I hope that's not Dobey with another body."

Hutch swallowed, picked up the receiver. "Hutchinson."

"Ken?" came the cheerful voice at the other end.

Hutch relaxed, nudged his partner. "Kathy. Hi."

"Hey, sorry it's so late, but it's been a crazy day."

"That's okay," Hutch assured. Starsky had straightened and was now on his knees beside him.

"Listen, baby, I'm going to be in L.A. all day tomorrow. I know there's probably no chance of you getting off work, but maybe we can get together later in the evening?"

"Uh... uh...," Hutch glanced at Starsky while searching for the right thing to say. He felt silly for hesitating, then made a decision and firmly said, "Uh, look, Kathy, I'm seeing someone right now."

"Oh." Her voice was suddenly flat. She'd ridden out his relationships before. Then the sweetness was back. "I wish you the best then. Maybe I'll call back in a month or so and see how it's going?"

"Uh, yeah, if you'd like. But I think this is pretty serious."

"This might be the one, huh?" she said in a friendly manner.

"Yeah, uh, I think it could be the one."

Now she snorted with exaggeration. "Well, if that David ever gets home, maybe I can spend tomorrow evening with him. You don't know if he has any plans, do you?"

Hutch now felt guilt start to intrude. "Uh, Kathy, David is seeing someone steady, too. It's pretty serious." He met Starsky's eye, and thought he had the other's approval, for there was no protest, though Hutch thought his partner probably could handle this conversation better than himself.

Now she sounded suspicious. "You both got snagged at once, huh? That's pretty incredible."

Hutch forced a chuckle. "That's just the way it turned out, honey. Maybe spring fever came a little early."

"Well," she said levelly, "if either of you ever need to be cured of your 'fever', I'd like to play nurse."

The blond felt uncomfortable, forced another laugh. "Yeah, we'll keep you in mind."

There was an awkward pause, then she said, "Guess I definitely am going to have to start a little black book again."

Hutch didn't know what to say to that.

Her voice softened. "Ken?"

"Yeah?"

"If this is the one, I hope you'll be happy. Really I do."

"I know. Thank you. I'm sure there's someone special out there for you, too."

Now she seemed uncomfortable. "Yeah, well, listen, I won't keep you. Say hello to David for me."

"I will."

"Bye."

"Goodnight." Slowly, Hutch hung up the phone.

Starsky searched his face. "Is she okay?"

"I think so. Disappointed, obviously."

Starsky sighed and settled back against the mattress. "Yeah, well, losing us both at once is probably quite a blow."

The other had said it so seriously that Hutch found himself amused. "Braggart." The humor felt good, and as he, too, settled into bed, he said, "She always liked me more than you, anyway."

"Yeah?" Starsky countered. "So says you."

Hutch switched off the light. A moment later, his partner was snuggled against his side, with the same trust that was so prevalent before any of this had ever happened. Hutch put his arm around the smaller, broader form, pulled it tighter against him. Voice slightly strangled, he said, "Love you so much."

"Love you, too."

Outside, the rain began to fall.

 

 

CHAPTER SIX - February 5, 1980

They turned onto Fifth Avenue, which ran parallel to the south end of Sandstone Park, for the third time that night. They were on night shifts now, and driving by the park was a focal point of their beat, as it was for various other patrol units, both marked and unmarked. Zebra Three did it at least once every two hours... more often if there was little else to demand their attention.

The Torino halted at a light, and Starsky made clucking noises as he saw a familiar long-haired, brunette form, hands tucked in the pockets of her jacket, making her way along the park's main path. "Some people never learn," he sighed.

Hutch was staring out his side window. "Really."

They had stopped the woman three nights ago to scold her as politely as possible about the foolishness of walking alone in the park in the middle of the night when a killer was on the loose. She had thanked them for their concern, but then launched into a lecture about how if Fate intended for her to be attacked, then any precautions she took weren't going to stop it from happening. God's will was God's will. And besides, she worked at an all-night coffee shop, and if she avoided walking through the park, it would take her an extra half hour to get home.

The light turned green and Starsky gently pressed the accelerator. As the almost-deserted sidewalks continued to pass by, with no sign of anything amiss, he found himself thinking of the man sitting in the passenger seat.

He'd had a little fear, Starsky realized now, that the new element in their relationship might make their time together simply too much. They were sleeping together on a semi-regular basis...going to bed with each other, waking up with each other... in addition to their usual routine of spending at least 75% of their spare time together and 100% of their working time together. In short, it would be understandable for them to occasionally need time away from each other. And, Starsky supposed, they did separate to some degree. After all, they weren't sleeping together everynight. His fear had been dispelled when he considered the fact that there were no insecure feelings or major discussions concerning their time apart. If they happened to have separate cars, and be particularly tired and not want to do anything except sleep, they usually went home to their separate apartments, and it was no big deal.

And he never got tired of Hutch when they were together.

"What are you thinking about?" The voice was gentle.

Starsky glanced in his partner's direction, smiled when he decided on the truth. "Us."

Hutch turned slightly in his seat, all ears.

Starsky shrugged. "It just seems so unbelievable sometimes, doesn't it?" The blond didn't answer, and he elaborated, "I mean, it's like a part of me wants to shout it to the whole world. And another part of me wants to keep it locked away in a very, very special place, where it's just our little secret."

The other man sighed, fingers running along his mustache. "Unfortunately, society's prejudices don't allow us much choice but to keep the secret."

For now, Starsky didn't really mind. But he suspected, in time, the hiding would become tiresome. He wasn't sure what they were going to do then, but they would cross that bridge when they came to it. At present, he was enjoying the special discoveries that occurred during their time together. The awkwardness was pretty much gone. Their foreplay consisted of experimenting with different touches and positions, different speeds and different moods. That is, when there was foreplay. A lot of times, it seemed, neither had the energy to make their sex play into an elaborate performance. In fact, sometimes sex almost seemed an afterthought once the lights were out.

They went all the way only occasionally, because both had their reservations that the human body was made to withstand very much of that sort of activity. And, so far, Starsky had always been the one on top. He enjoyed that very much, especially since Hutch seemed to enjoy it so much. For himself, he was a little afraid of it, and knew the other was waiting for permission. And yet, the blond didn't seem impatient or deprived. Starsky had tried to talk about Hutch's enjoyment of the submissive position -- because it was so opposite of how they usually worked -- but the other tended to change the subject or downplay it.

"Starsky, slow down."

The words were hushed, calculating. Starsky obeyed immediately, looking out toward the passenger side of the car, as Hutch was. They had turned from Fifth onto Tempo Street, which paralleled the west side of the park. "What do you see?" he asked.

"The bushes are movi-... STOP!"

Starsky slammed on the brakes, and Hutch jumped out of the car, and was immediately on his feet and running in a direction back toward Fifth Avenue. Starsky flipped the Torino around, heading that way. He could now see where a man was grabbing from behind the lady they had seen before. Above the roar of the engine, Starsky could hear her scream. He had no time to slap on the light, but he did flip the siren as the Torino fishtailed onto Fifth Avenue, and then jumped the curb as it made its way toward the crime scene.

Hutch, with those incredibly long legs, was almost there. He paused to shoot his gun into the air, and the attacker hesitated, then took off running. Though the woman was on the ground, Starsky could see her moving, so he steered the Torino toward the fleeing man, whom Hutch was just steps behind.

Starsky floored the accelerator, the car fishtailing even more on the uneven ground, and finally passed the two men on foot. They were all approaching a small stream which a bridge crossed, and Starsky turned the car sharply to the right, cutting off access to the bridge.

Just as the Torino stopped, the assailant, unable to adjust quickly enough, slammed into the passenger side of the hood, crying out. Hutch, who would have known his partner was going to make that move, pulled himself up just enough to minimize the impact, but the air could still be heard rushing out of him as he collided on top of the man.

Starsky was out of the car, gun drawn. "Police! Hold it!"

The man looked up, continuing to cry out, and Starsky knew, at the very least, it had to be from broken ribs. He was pleased to see that Hutch, though breathless, had recovered enough to straighten and was forcing the man's legs apart.

"Spread 'em!" the blond managed. He started the search process.

Starsky joined him, producing a knife from inside the man's jacket. "You okay?" he tossed over his shoulder.

The blond gritted his teeth. "I'm better off than he is."

The man stopped groaning long enough to growl, "Fuck you!"

"I don't think so," Starsky said, relaxing slightly. "You're going to be put away for a million years." While Hutch started reciting the Miranda rights, Starsky reached into the car, called in a brief report, and summoned an ambulance. Then he looked across at Hutch as the blond placed their handcuffed captive into the back seat. "We've got to get back to the woman."

"Right." When all three were in the car, Starsky drove it more carefully across the park. They found the woman still on the ground, but she was partially sitting up, crying hysterically. Again, it was Hutch who went to her first, speaking softly, assuring her an ambulance was on the way, asking if she was hurt.

Starsky stood out of the way, not wanting to interfere, for the woman was hysterical enough as it was. Besides, Hutch looked more like "a nice guy" than he himself did, and strangers responded to the taller man more easily. Add to that the soft tenderness of the blond's voice, and it left few people that his partner couldn't charm.

The victim needed far more than charm, but under Hutch's soothing manner she quieted somewhat, and was not visibly injured. The ambulance arrived a moment later and, behind it, a few black and whites, for already the rumor was making the rounds that the Sandstone Park murderer had been caught.

Really, Starsky thought, the man was rather ordinary-looking, didn't have any strange mannerisms that would mark him as less than a model citizen. But if he didn't outright confess, then they would have their hands full trying to prove he'd committed the murders, for they'd had so little evidence to go on throughout the entire case.

* * *

It turned out to be a long shift. They questioned the man -- Edward Schneider -- for hours, with Starsky playing the heavy, for Hutch was nursing tender ribs of his own and not up to the part. Schneider had been taken to a hospital to be bandaged up, but had been released back to the custody of the police. He answered very few of their questions, for he'd summoned his lawyer, and then it was apparent that they weren't going to get much information from him. And that meant most of their energy until the trial would have to be spent gathering as much of the slim evidence as possible.

Finally, they were in the Torino, ready to go home. The sun was bathing the city in its early morning light, and since they had come in together -- having shared Starsky's bed the previous day -- they now left the parking lot as a twosome.

Hutch had his hand on his forehead, which was tilted downward. "What an anticlimax, huh?" he asked in a tired, gruff voice.

"You mean the way this whole thing is gonna drag out forever, and he may never get convicted?"

Through the corner of his eye, Starsky saw the tousled head shake. "Not just that. Just the sheer luck of us driving by the park when he attacked that woman." Hutch looked at his partner. "It wasn't brilliant, methodical detective work that brought him in."

"No, but it was brilliant observation. If you hadn't seen the bushes move funny...." Starsky smiled now. "Like the football players say, 'A win is a win and we'll take them any way we can get 'em.'"

Hutch muttered an unconvinced, "Yeah."

"How ya feelin'?" Hutch had taken some extra strength aspirin for his strained rib cage, which seemed to help a little, but now the blond looked so ragged....

"I'm probably going to be sore for a while," came the reply around a sigh.

Starsky clicked his tongue against his teeth. "Guess that means celibacy for both of us for a while."

Hutch grunted. "Not necessarily."

Starsky smiled.

* * *

A few days later, after getting some sleep after their shift, Starsky and Hutch were again at Sandstone Park, but merely as civilians. Hutch had wanted them to take Luke out for a beer, and Starsky had reluctantly agreed. Actually, the curly-haired man thought, as he and Hutch waited at the rendezvous point, he wished he hadn't been expected to come along. He wasn't really sure why Hutch wanted his company, for he always felt like he was a slightly intimidating presence. And surely, the other two would just as soon enjoy themselves together without him around. But when Hutch had seemed so hopeful that Starsky would join them, the smaller man could hardly weasel out of it.

There was a nip in the winter wind, and Starsky watched from a park bench as Hutch hunched deeper into his thick leather jacket. The blond was standing with his hands stuffed in his pockets, looking up at a tree.

"What's so fascinatin' up there?" the seated man asked.

Hutch glanced in his partner's direction, then moved toward the bench. "Just watching the birds rustle around."

"We're gonna have to get you out of the city, nature boy. If you're findin' the urban 'wildlife' of interest, you must be feeling pretty cooped up."

Hutch looked down at Starsky from where he stood beside the bench. "Maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to get away a bit. With the murderer in custody, we ought to be able to talk Dobey into a few days."

Starsky's eyes closed a moment. They were always so precious, these moments when Hutch reached out... and was willing to demand more of life for himself. The smaller man found his voice soft. "It would probably be good for us. You know," he bashfully met the other's eye, "just spend some time for us."

An unleashed, small dog trotted up to the bench, and Hutch bent down to pet it absently. His head tilted to one side. "Yeah," he agreed longingly.

Starsky watched him stroke and scratch the dog with those large, gentle fingers. "Where would you like to go?"

An elaborate shrug answered him. "Doesn't matter. Somewhere private. Or far away." He glanced up. "Maybe we should go somewhere we've never been before."

"That's startin' to sound like a real vacation."

"Mitzy! There you are." A large woman walked briskly up to the dog, who tried to move away, but Hutch instinctively grabbed its collar. "Thank you," she told him, then scooped the dog up and carried him away.

Hutch straightened and joined Starsky on the bench. The smaller man felt a hand rest on the back of his neck, a thumb reaching to scratch into his hairline. He had an urge to clasp Hutch's other hand right then, but restrained the impulse, not wanting to make a spectacle of themselves in public.

Maybe going somewhere very private was exactly what they needed.

"Ken, Dave."

Both looked up and saw Luke Huntley approaching. Hutch was on his feet in an instant, approaching his mentor with arms outstretched. They met in an embrace, slapping each other on the back. And then they pulled apart.

Starsky's eyes narrowed in puzzlement, for he'd never before seen the men carry out such a brief physical display. They started to look in his direction, and he forced the scowl of distrust from his face and walked up to Huntley with a deliberate stride.

"David," Huntley took his hand, clasping his shoulder with the other.

"Hi, Luke," Starsky greeted with a nod. He had not seen the man since visiting him alone at his house, which had since been sold. Huntley was now living in a small apartment, and Hutch had said something about his working part-time as a consultant for a small weapons manufacturer.

"So what do you say?" Hutch asked. "Is The Pits okay?"

Luke held up a thumb. "Sounds good to me, fellas."

Noting the same old Ford that he'd seen in Huntley's driveway, Starsky pulled out his keys. "I'll drive."

They all headed toward the Torino, and Huntley glanced about the park. "Hey, heard you guys made the arrest of a lifetime."

Hutch shrugged while they all got in. "We're a long ways from proving he committed all the murders, or even getting a solid conviction on just one of them. But at least he was denied bail."

"Still, making a safer community for everyone is what it's all about, right?"

"Right," Hutch said, and Starsky mumbled likewise.

As they drove, Hutch turned in his seat to converse with Huntley, who was in the back. They talked about anything inane in nature, and it made Starsky wonder once again why the two just didn't get together themselves, rather than having him along as a third wheel.

When they were at The Pits and settled with their beers, Hutch finally stopped making small talk. He looked Huntley in the eye. "So, Luke, how's it going?"

A pallor came over the man's face, but he nodded as he answered with forced a smile. "It's going."

Gently, Hutch said, "I bet you really miss her a lot."

Huntley shook his head, glancing at the table a moment, then back at Hutch. "Yes and no." An embarrassed snort. "In one way, she was everything," he explained softly. "In another, we never spent that much time together anyway, so...." He shrugged, quickly sipped his beer.

Starsky's discomfort increased. He decided the best remedy was to join in the conversation. Placing his chin in his hand, he quietly asked, "You stayin' busy?"

"Yeah," Luke brightened at the change in subject, "pretty much. The firm may be offering me a full-time position."

"That's good," Hutch offered.

 

There was an awkward silence for lack of anything meaningful to say, then Huntley suddenly said, "Hey look, fellas, I'm really okay. 1979 was one helluva rotten year, but," he gestured with his hands, "it's 1980 and the world is still here. I'm looking forward to the future."

Hutch smiled. "That's good. Glad to hear it, Luke." He nodded toward his partner. "Starsk and I have been feeling pretty run down after all the murders, but now that we have a suspect in custody, we're thinking about taking a little vacation."

Inwardly, Starsky cringed, wondering if Hutch was now going to invite Luke. Surely....

"Where are you guys going?" Huntley looked from one to the other.

"We haven't decided yet," Hutch replied. "Got any ideas?"

"That depends on what you want to do."

A shrug from the big shoulders. "We aren't sure about that, either. We mainly just want to go somewhere private. You know, get out of the city."

Starsky knew that, on the last two sentences, Hutch had started to watch what he said. Inwardly the smaller man sighed, already starting to feel tired of the fact that this is the way it would always have to be for them. It seemed so unfair.

"Skiing in the Rockies is awfully good this time of year," Huntley pointed out.

Starsky straightened. "Hey, I tried that once when I was a teenager and broke my leg. Haven't had any desire to go back since."

Hutch tilted his head. "I don't know, Luke. Skiing sounds a bit crowded."

Luke seemed to consider, then, "Well, if you guys are looking to do absolutely nothing for a few days...."

Starsky wasn't sure what that meant, but was glad that Luke was assuming he wasn't invited.

Hutch encouraged, "Yeah?"

"I've got a couple of plane tickets to Kentucky that I'm not going to use."

"Kentucky?" both detectives said in unison.

Huntley chuckled at their expressions. "Like I said, there wouldn't be anything to do, especially at this time of year, but it's quiet and fairly pretty, especially if you don't mind looking at horse farms. An old acquaintance of Doris' who owns a travel agency always sent us tickets for Doris' birthday to little obscure places." He looked down, swallowed heavily. "I hadn't told her yet about Doris, so she sent tickets again this year." He glanced up. "I don't have any use for them, so I was just going to send them back with a note of explanation. But I don't think she'd mind if I gave them to friends."

Hutch shifted, then glanced at Starsky. "I've never been to Kentucky."

Starsky's chin rested in his hand. "Neither have I." Really, he didn't give a damn where they went as long as they could shack up for a while, undisturbed... spend time together... not have to worry about where the next victim was coming from.

"Are the tickets to Louisville?" the blond asked.

Huntley shook his head. "Lexington. That's what I meant about the horse farms. Louisville is only 70 or 80 miles away if you'd like to drive up there."

Starsky suddenly snapped his fingers, straightening with excitement. "Hutch, that'd be great. I mean, maybe we can visit some of Partner for Life's relatives or somethin'."

Hutch chuckled softly, and Huntley asked the blond, "What's he talking about?"

"Oh," the taller man shrugged, "it's a horse he's been following." Again, Starsky saw the effort Hutch was making to be careful with his words. Huntley didn't know about the money they had won, and they wouldn't feel right bragging about it because of Doris.

Hutch studied at his partner, then turned to the older man. "Yeah, Luke, if you really think it would be all right with Doris' friend, we'd like to take you up on it. When are the tickets good for?"

"Later this month -- I don't remember the exact dates. It's only a few days, I think, but it doesn't sound like you're interested in anything more than that. I've got them sitting on the table at home. Why don't you take me back to my car and follow me home? You can show them to Dobey and tell him I insisted you use them."

They all chuckled at that, then rushed to finish their beers.

* * *

Dobey threw the tickets down on his desk. "You both have been carrying on for months about taking a weekend getaway. Now you want four days?"

"Come on, Captain," Hutch gestured to the tickets, "it's a gift. We've got the Sandstone Park killer behind bars. What's the big deal?"

"The big deal," Dobey sat back in his chair, "is that this department has to concentrate all its energy on getting the alleged killer convicted. As things stand, we're never going to get enough evidence together in time for a murder conviction."

Starsky stepped forward to stand beside his partner. "Cap'n, having us here isn't gonna create more evidence outta thin air. Come on, we deserve this, and besides, if we have a few days to refresh ourselves we'll come back all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and eager for work."

Hutch restrained a smirk as he glanced at the bundle of energy beside him.

Dobey grunted skeptically. Then he picked up the tickets again, leafed through them. "Why in the world would anyone want to go to Lexington, Kentucky, especially in February? I've got relatives there and it's damn cold this time of year."

Starsky said, "That's where all the famous Thoroughbreds are. You know, bluegrass country and all of that."

Dobey's eyes darted from one detective to the other. "Since when have either of you been interested in Thoroughbreds?"

Hutch snatched up the tickets. "Since when do we have to explain what we want to do with our time off? Do we have the time or don't we?"

The black man had the grace to look slightly sheepish. Under his breath, he muttered, "All right. Just make sure you've got Masterson and Tuney up to speed on everything you're working on."

Hutch saluted with the tickets. "Right."

Starsky bounced toward the door. "Thanks, Cap'n."

* * *

It was still a week before their four day weekend -- a Saturday through Tuesday -- was scheduled to begin. Starsky spent the time preparing, though it was a kind of preparation that Hutch had never seen before.

"See, Hutch?" Starsky held up a book to show the blond. They were at the smaller detective's apartment.

Hutch held a basket of laundry, and put it down to look over his partner's shoulder.

Starsky pointed to a paragraph in the book. "See, it says right here that the Man O' War sire line is dyin' out. There's only a few stallions now that carry his blood directly from the sire line of their pedigree."

Based on Starsky's babblings in previous days, Hutch thought he knew what his partner was saying, but he decided to indulge him. "So?"

Starsky dropped the book to his lap with an exaggerated sigh, as though frustrated that Hutch hadn't been listening to all his newly acquired knowledge. "The so is that one of the few active stallions carrying Man O' War's blood all through the sire line is a horse called Olden Times. And Olden Times is the sire of Best Partner, who is the sire of Partner for Life."

Hutch picked up the laundry basket. "Starsky, Partner for Life is a gelding, so he's not going to breed on, anyway."

The smaller man's sigh was even louder this time. "I know that. But Best Partner is a direct descendant of Man O' War, who was one of the most famous horses of all time. And Best Partner is standing at stud at a farm in Lexington. So, we can go visit him."

Hutch was in the bedroom, putting underwear and socks into their proper drawers. "I don't know, Starsk. It seems I read somewhere once that those big farms don't like tourists visiting."

"We aren't tourists," Starsky insisted. "We have a vested interest in Best Partner. Well, in his son, anyway."

Hutch had no doubt that they could visit any farm they wanted, as long as it was left to Starsky to sweet talk anyone who would stand in their way. "I just hate to see you get your hopes up, pal." The laundry put away, Hutch returned to the living room.

"I mean," Starsky reasoned, "it's not like we're tryin' to visit Secretariat."

"Hey," Hutch teased, ruffling Starsky's hair, "now that's what I'd like to do: visit Secretariat." Looking over his shoulder at the mess on the couch, the blond was amazed at the library of books and trade journals his partner had collected on the sport of kings in just the past few days.

Starsky tilted his head back to speak, but before any words could emerge, Hutch leaned down to place his lips on top of the other's. The smaller man started to struggle -- as though still determined to speak -- and it encouraged Hutch to press all the harder. He felt the other yield to him, the firm lips so soft beneath his, and he placed both hands on the other's shoulders and massaged with a deliberate motion. Finally, ages later, they separated, and Hutch whispered, "You were saying?"

Starsky looked him right in the eye, his breath brushing against Hutch's mustache. "I was sayin' I never knew devils came in blond."

 

 

CHAPTER SEVEN - February 22, 1980

It was another Days Inn, but it was some three thousand miles from the one they had visited last summer. Starsky tossed his suitcase onto the bed nearest the door. Then he grabbed Hutch, who had placed his luggage on the floor, and swung the big blond onto the second bed.

Their lips were instantly locked together, their arms tight around each other, as they rolled about the mattress. It wasn't often that they acted like this at home, and now their joining had a more excited urgency, for they were experiencing their first taste of freedom. It might be a nippy twenty-eight degrees outside, a strange land of small rolling hills, white and brown fencing, and vast pasture land housing the equine world's finest, but there was no one here to demand anything of them, no one they had to worry about hiding from, no phone to ring with news of another body found somewhere.

"'M... gonna... devour... you," Starsky managed between kisses.

"Yes," Hutch hissed in return.

It encouraged Starsky on. He wasn't sure what it was about Hutch that made the blond want to take a passive role, but Starsky had no problem with the dominating one. After all, in their day to day life, it was himself who usually yielded to the larger man's wishes. It had always seemed that way, and it worked for them. But, in the privacy of the bedroom, he liked loving Hutch, making him feel good, letting him lie there and be worked over....

Any prior thoughts he'd had about long and slow loving were quickly going out the window. They would have plenty of time for that later. For now, Starsky slipped his hands between their bodies, began wrestling with the buttons of Hutch's shirt. The blond did his share, working with Starsky's shirt. Finally, their lips drew apart so they could discard the upper clothing.

They came back together immediately, and Starsky kissed his way down to Hutch's chest. He absolutely loved its smoothness, and he did slow down when he came to the left nub. He nuzzled it, licked at it, then took it between his teeth, working it with his tongue. Hutch was sensitive there -- lots more than he himself was -- and they had discovered that the blond enjoyed the feeling of teeth as long as they nibbled but didn't pinch. It had taken some work learning to straddle the line between applying pleasure and pain, but the effort had been worth it.

"Ah, damn, that's good, partner," Hutch encouraged softly.

While still worrying the little protrusion, Starsky reached to the right one and massaged it between his fingers.

"Ah, buddy." Starsky felt a grateful hand entwine in his hair.

A few more moments of patient loving, and the blond's denim-covered hips arched upward, meeting Starsky's stomach.

The smaller man abandoned the right pap, and moved his hand down between their bodies. While still chewing on the left, he felt for the belt, deftly unbuckled it, then reached for the snap. It took a moment to get his finger and thumb positioned properly to pull the snap apart. His fingers danced along the exposed pubic region, scratched a moment, then reached inside to take the heated column and draw it out.

Hutch groaned, and the blond's hand petted back through Starsky's hair, stopping at the back of the scalp to lightly scratch and massage. Starsky loved the way the hand felt, its large grip covering almost his entire head, making him feel cherished and protected.

Starsky's mouth was starting to feel numb, and he assumed the tiny nipple was in a similar state. So he shifted -- giving the phallus a firm stroke while doing so -- and smacked his lips around the right nub. The column hardened at the new sensation, and he tried to work with both hands now, pushing the jeans down, while his teeth maintained their firm, yet gentle hold.

Hutch was reaching down as well, trying to help with the unclothing. Finally, with all the manipulations, Starsky's body was stretched too thin and he reluctantly released the little nipple. Feeling the throbbing of his own hardness, he straightened beside the bed and made fast work of removing the rest of his clothing. While doing so, he watched Hutch rid himself of his own clothes, and felt a certain satisfaction in watching the long, smooth hardness spring free of all confinement.

In most other circumstances, Starsky would have thought now a good time for a sixty-nine. But, sometime in the past month, Hutch had explained that mutual sucking tended to make the participants worry more about timing their orgasms together, rather than allowing themselves to enjoy the pleasure they were receiving. Starsky had been convinced of the argument after a number of blow jobs in which his partner sucked while he lay back and enjoyed. He found that he tended to enjoy working on Hutch more, too, when he wasn't distracted by his own pleasure.

Starsky moved to the straining phallus now, getting back on the bed between the pale, spread legs. His own groin was throbbing, but he knew that the eventual orgasm would be that much more pleasant if he made it wait its turn. He placed his mouth over the straining erection with no hesitation, and began to suck in the manner that he knew Hutch liked best. It hadn't always been that easy. The first time he'd done it, he tried to take too much of it, and when Hutch had simultaneously thrust, Starsky had experienced a split second of genuine panic that he was going to be strangled. But they worked it out, Hutch soothing with his hands and voice, verbally guiding him and assuring his partner how he liked it best. Since then, Starsky had grown more skilled, though some part of his mind wanted to insist that he shouldn't be enjoying it. As he sucked now, he was fairly confident that that small voice of rebellion had been banished for good. After all, doing this act caused his partner an immense degree of pleasure, and Starsky was determined that Hutch would never again need to search for it elsewhere. Together, they could have everything either of them ever wanted.

Hutch's hand reached down to massage one cheek. "That's terrific, partner. Incredible. Getting real close now."

Without losing the rhythm of his throat muscles, Starsky reached up and ran the flat of his hands along Hutch's exposed flanks. It wasn't meant to be pleasurable as much as soothing, for Starsky knew that Hutch had always been one who revelled in physical contact. The blond yearned to be touched, held, petted, loved... and no amount was ever enough. And Starsky knew there would never be a time in his life when he would feel unneeded.

The hand left Starsky's face. "Gonna come," Hutch panted. "Ah, man, you're good. So good. Real close now. Real close."

Starsky reached down with his other hand, stroked the scrotal pouch, then carefully squeezed it.

His partner shuddered. "Oh, man. Oh, man, I'm there. I'm there. AaaaAAAAHHH...."

The yell was loud and long. A moment later and Starsky felt the stream shoot against the inside of his mouth. Another moment, and the potent bitterness registered with his taste buds. He waited until Hutch relaxed completely, then released the sensitized organ and carefully swallowed the emission. It was getting more appealing with time. The first time he'd done it, he had thought it downright unpalatable and as deftly as possible had gone to the bathroom to rinse his mouth out. And then felt bad about doing so. But Hutch hadn't been fooled and they'd talked about it, agreeing that there was no reason why either should feel compelled to swallow it. But after going through all that, they both tended to want to carry the act through to its final completion. Now, the taste didn't seem like such a big deal one way or the other.

Surely, if they could talk about that, they could talk about anything. Starsky closed his eyes as he affirmed that to himself now. If the negative side of the coin was that they couldn't share their happiness with others, the positive side had to be that they were happier, by any definition, than those others who were free to flaunt their love in public.

"That was good, partner." Hutch lay drowsily against a pillow.

Starsky lay alongside, stretched to kiss Hutch's chin. "Welcome to our private little getaway."

Hutch furrowed his fingers through the curly hair. "Love you." He wrapped an arm around Starsky's waist. "Give me a minute, and I'll return the favor."

Starsky snuggled against his partner. "No hurry." There was no tranquilizer more effective than simply knowing that Hutch was mellowed out. But a moment later, he shivered. "Hey, maybe we oughta get under the covers."

Silently, they shifted to pull the bed clothes back, then got beneath them. They became reacquainted in the middle of the mattress, putting their arms around each other. It seemed inevitable, then, that they would kiss.

It was slow this time, their hands drifting down lazily to rub across the opposite torso. Then Starsky couldn't restrain his feelings any longer, and he moved on top of Hutch, burrowing his fingers in the fine strands of hair, brushing his reawakening erection against the flat stomach, bending to kiss the always-ready mouth with a firmness that matched his arousal.

When Starsky pulled back, Hutch softly asked, "Want to get the Vaseline? It's in my suitcase."

Starsky shook his head while capturing the other's lips once again. "We'll have plenty of time later for that," he noted gently. He was still both puzzled and fascinated by Hutch's willingness to be fucked. For himself, there were still reservations he was wrestling with, though he knew he'd give that to his partner eventually. He'd finally concluded that it wasn't the pain he feared but instead the likelihood that some deep, masculine part of him would rebel against the act itself. And even though he'd seen the proof on Hutch's face -- and in his voice, as well as the reactions of his body -- that that kind of penetration could be pleasurable, he knew that in order for it to work for him, his body was going to have to want it as much as his mind. Otherwise, it would mean an outright rejection of Hutch, and that was something that Starsky could not bear, no matter how understanding the blond might be. Hutch was willing, it seemed, to give anything to him. And Starsky knew that any gift in return had to come without strings, or it was no gift at all.

Fingers trailed alongside his ribs. "Want me to do you under the covers?" came the enticing whisper.

"No," Starsky said, decision made, "sittin' up." He moved away, then helped Hutch arrange the pillows so the blond could sit back against them.

Hutch took the shorter man's hips in hand, guided them so that the phallus which extended from between was aimed at his mouth.

Starsky leaned against the wall over the bed, allowed the hands to guide him forward, and his maleness was surrounded by loving wetness.

He liked doing it this way, fucking Hutch's mouth, for it was easier to watch the action taking place, looking down from above. He also knew it was more comfortable for Hutch, for his partner was able to relax back against the pillows. And they both liked the way hips and hands worked together to guide the buoyed erection in and out of the pleasing cavern, without it threatening to penetrate too far. It was also easier to avoid the accidental brush of teeth.

Starsky closed his eyes, thrusting in a slow, shallow motion, liking the suction that gripped around the head with each backward stroke, the tongue that teased the sensitive underside. Leaning on his left hand, still braced against the wall, he reached down with the right and petted Hutch's hair, gently furrowing, then dropped down to feel the caressing jaw.

A hand moved from his hip, reached to momentarily grip a buttock, and Starsky groaned at the way it felt, being cupped by that large extremity. Fingertips tickled up and down his crack, then one digit circled about his flesh, then gently wormed its way between. It stroked at the recess there, and Starsky spread his legs further.

So slowly, the digit teased the center. Starsky welcomed it, knowing that Hutch was intending the action solely as a pleasure in itself, rather than as a threat of a demand that he was not yet ready for.

As the finger stroked, Hutch's other hand came up and gently pressed against Starsky's testicles, then scratched along the back of the scrotal pouch.

"Real nice, babe," the darker man whispered.

Hutch leaned slightly forward, and Starsky knew it meant the sucking was going to begin in earnest. The finger circled more, then barely pushed in before withdrawing. A moment later, it pushed at the barrier again, and Starsky felt the walls yield, felt the flesh within, felt his muscle grip it. He wriggled, enjoying the feeling, the small joining of flesh, and he shivered as the stimulation increased both in front and behind. He knew from experience that Hutch's jaw muscles had to be getting tired, and he let the sensations propel him toward a known and welcome intangible.

"Feels so good," Starsky announced in a breathless whisper. "So good. Gonna come real soon now. Real, real soon."

 

The finger pushed in deeper, and Starsky felt the knuckle slip past the tight ring. He gripped it, felt his cock twitch, which shifted the pressure on the heavy cylinder, causing the sensations provided by the wet mouth to feel new and different. Then a firm tongue stroked his magic spot beneath the head, and he gripped Hutch's hair as those pleasures reached a crescendo. Then he screamed.

The one drawback to this favored position was that if he collapsed from pleasure, which he did now, everything came undone. His cock slipped from between the full lips, before it was through ejecting its fluid. The finger fell away, leaving him empty. And he landed in a heap on top of his partner, who gently scooted him to one side.

After taking a moment to catch his breath, Starsky cracked his eyes open, saw the drops of semen that had spilled along his partner's chin, watched as Hutch instinctively stuck his tongue out and licked them up. Then those twinkling blue eyes locked with his own.

Starsky smiled.

* * *

The following day, when they left the comfort of the hotel room, the temperature had climbed up to the mid-forties, sun shining brightly. Still, for two men who were accustomed to the L.A. climate, heavy jackets were in order, and they both were wearing them as they waited in the courtyard of Winning Hit Farms. Remnants of the last snow storm dotted the countryside, and both men gratefully drew deep lungfuls of the crisp, clean, pollution-free air.

"You picked a good day to drop by," the farm manager, Mr. Jenkins, was telling them. "It's still early in the breeding season and we had only two mares to breed this morning, so things are fairly quiet right now."

They had called first, to see if there was any chance they could visit Best Partner. Apparently, Winning Hit was a relatively small operation, and the manager didn't have the aversion to visitors that most of the larger farms did. He seemed to think it was all right if the two detectives drove out and took a few pictures of the sire of their favorite race horse.

Jenkins gestured with an arm as he started out of the courtyard. "The stallion barn is this way."

Both visitors, hands stuffed in their pockets, a camera around Starsky's neck, followed the man. Neither was able to take his eyes off the tranquility of the rolling hills that stretched for miles throughout the bluegrass country. It was so unlike anything they had ever seen.

Hutch smiled to himself, pleased that they had agreed to Luke's offer. Normally, when they saw something new, Starsky was full of excitement and would babble almost non-stop, pointing things out to his partner. In this situation, however, the peace of the countryside seemed to have a soothing effect on his partner's usual frivolity.

The paved lane they walked upon curved up a slope. Once cresting it, the detectives saw a small barn just a little ways further up the road. Surrounding it were large paddocks that were so familiar in this part of the country.

Jenkins cast a glance back their way. "Did you say you were from Los Angeles?"

Hutch nodded while Starsky replied, "We're police officers. We're up here just for a few days' vacation."

The manager's eyes brightened. "My son's a policeman in Charlotte, North Carolina." Then, "I imagine Los Angeles is a bit faster paced."

Both men smiled politely, neither really wanting to talk about work.

Starsky asked, "Do you know where Partner for Life's mother -- his dam -- is stabled?"

"She died of colic a couple of years back," Jenkins replied. "She only had one other foal, a full brother to Partner for Life, who is a two-year-old now. I hear he's in training in California. I imagine he'll be ready to make his first start sometime this summer."

They were at the barn. The nearest end was already open, and the sweet smell of fresh hay, mingled with a mild hint of manure, greeted them as they entered.

The first stall on the left was empty. Jenkins went up to the second one, where a dark head poked out the top half of the dutch door. He patted the sleek neck. "This is him. If you want to wait outside, I'll bring him out." He looked in the opposite direction and called, "Thomas." A older, thinner man's head poked out of a stall at the far end. "Bring a brush and let's bring Timmy out. We've got visitors who'd like to take a few pictures."

Starsky and Hutch backed out of the barn, as directed. "Timmy?" the shorter man whispered to his companion.

Hutch shrugged while squinting from the winter sun. "It's probably his stable name." Starsky's expression was blank, and the blond explained, "Most horses have a stable name -- like a pet name -- in addition to their registered name. You know, Secretariat was called Big Red."

"So was Man O' War," Starsky replied firmly. It was obvious from his tone which of the two famous horses he preferred.

Both men stepped back farther as the stallion, a sleek dark bay, was led out. Jenkins held the lead rope while Thomas brushed at the immaculate coat.

Starsky was fussing with his camera, and it was a moment before he really looked at the horse. In surprise, he asked, "That's the sire of Partner for Life?"

Jenkins nodded while looking puzzled, and Hutch asked his friend, "What's the matter?"

"I dunno," Starsky shrugged, "he just looks kinda short."

Jenkins chuckled as he pulled on the shank, for the horse reached forward, trying to nip, every few seconds. "Yeah, he's always been a bit on the small side. Partner for Life got his size from his dam." Another chuckle. "In fact, she was so tall that we thought we might have to teach Timmy to climb a ladder in order to breed her."

Hutch laughed while watching Starsky fool with the camera.

The manager jerked the lead rope again, warding off another bite. "I hope I'm not offending you gentlemen. Breeding horses is table talk around here." To the groom, he said, "That'll do, Thomas. Thanks." The groom nodded and backed away. To the detectives, the manager said, "Let me see if I can get him to square up and hold still."

Starsky put his 35mm to his eye and waited while Jenkins spoke firmly to the horse, moved the shank this way and that. Finally, Timmy was still and Starsky began snapping. After a few shots, he paused. "Hutch, why don't I get some of you beside him?"

The blond shrugged. "Why don't I take one of you?" He smiled sweetly. "You've always been the sentimental one about this whole thing."

Starsky hesitated, and Jenkins noted, "I can handle a camera. Want me to get one of you both?"

The detectives glanced at each other. Nodded.

The manager held out the lead rope to the groom, who had stepped forward. Starsky handed the camera to Jenkins while moving to stand beside the horse. He realized instantly that he didn't trust the teeth Timmy kept baring, and looked helplessly at his partner.

"The groom's got him under control," Hutch assured. "Here, you stand by his side. I'll stand at his head."

Starsky moved near the stallion's shoulder, while Hutch placed himself by the head. On Hutch's other side was the groom, who was working with the lead rope, and trying to get the horse to pose again.

Preparing for the picture, Hutch reached to pet the sleek neck. Starsky followed suit and, from the shoulder, also reached for the neck.

When the picture was snapped, their fingertips were touching.

* * *

The four days were uneventful, but neither man was complaining. After the stress of the Sandstone Park murders, monotony was exactly what they needed. When they weren't in bed, they were on the road. They stopped often while driving down various country lanes, when a particular group of horses, or the style of a barn, or the decoration at a farm's entrance, caught Starsky's fancy. He was especially pleased to get a shot of a pasture containing foals that were romping with their mothers, a friendly farm hand explaining that the youngsters, despite their long legs and aggressive playfulness, weren't even two months old yet.

They drove up to Louisville one day, visiting Churchill Downs. The track didn't open until May, so they were free to explore the old, vacant grandstand by themselves. More pictures were snapped, the prize being one they were able to bribe a maintenance worker into taking of them standing in the famous winner's circle with their arms around each other's shoulders. "That'll go right beside the one of us standin' on top of the Torino," Starsky said.

* * *

"So, has this little trip turned you into a Kentuckian?" It was their last night, and they were lying on top of the covers, still dressed. Hutch was straddling his companion, and the question had come between lazy kisses.

"Nah," Starsky replied after a moment. It was dark, and they had both bedside lamps on. "This is a nice area to get away to, but it doesn't have enough excitement for me."

Hutch kissed Starsky's forehead. "Me, either. But I'm glad we came."

The other's grin broadened. "Yeah." And then they shared a long, drawn out kiss, hands closing on opposing arms more firmly.

When Hutch pulled back, Starsky asked, "Wanna do it?"

It was so rare that he didn't understand his partner immediately. Hutch's brows furrowed. "Do what?"

Starsky shrugged, then placed a hand behind his head. "You know. Do it with me on the bottom."

Hutch found himself filled with a mixture of warmth, love, affection... and a fear he couldn't define. "Why now?" He quickly shook his head, not liking the interrogating sound of his own voice. "I mean, why here?"

"Why not here?" Starsky countered quietly. A small grin. "I kinda like the idea."

Hutch stroked back through the other's hair. "Sure you're ready?"

Another shrug. "Ready as I'll ever be." Then, "It's okay, Hutch. I wouldn't have brought it up if I still had reservations."

The blond took a deep breath, glanced sideways a moment to get his equilibrium. When he looked back and met those deep blue eyes, he gently asked, "Sure you're not just trying to even things up?"

Starsky reached to pet through the delicate strands of hair. "No, not at all," he whispered. "I've never felt pressure about that." Another lame shrug. "I just want to at least try it. I mean, I know you're not faking how much you've been enjoying it. Maybe I've been missin' out."

Hutch tilted his head down, wondering if he'd ever be able to put into words what was in his heart. "Part of that may be psychological, as much as anything."

The stroking fingers dropped to a pale cheek, rubbed slowly in a circular motion. "How come?" Starsky wondered softly. "I mean, why do you feel you need it so much... that way?"

Hutch drew another breath, carefully dislodged himself and sat up. Leaning forward, he regarded the wall across the room. "I don't know. I haven't been able to figure that part out yet." Then he looked back at his partner, who was still relaxed against the mattress. "It doesn't really matter, does it?"

The other shook his head. "No. Not as long as you enjoy it. And as for me enjoying it... well, if it turns out I don't," another shrug, "we'll know better."

The blond pivoted on the bed, sitting beside his partner with one leg curled up. He ran a hand along the other's knee. "I can almost guarantee that it's not going to be anything special the first time. Maybe not even the first few times. It's a different kind of feeling."

"Okay," Starsky said, accepting.

All the tenderness was there again, the well threatening to overflow. Hutch's voice gentled as his hand continued to rub. "How do you want to go about it?"

There was a blankness in the expression, but Starsky answered, "Well, first, I think we should take our clothes off."

Hutch laughed softly. "Moron." A trio of fingers snaked up the other's shirt, scratched at the flesh revealed by the open buttons.

Starsky shrugged again. "Whatever way you think is best, Hutch. You're the one who's experienced."

The fingers paused, and Hutch looked away while he considered the statement. Yes, he was the experienced one in this... never mind that Starsky seemed to have known a lot about it that original, first time. But he himself now had the unusual knowledge of how it truly felt, what angles were most pleasurable -- something men and women could never really know about each other.

A unique position that should be taken advantage of.

And, perhaps, that's what Starsky truly wanted tonight. The other, so far, had played the dominating role throughout their sexual encounters. Maybe he wanted what Hutch had enjoyed for so long... to just lie back and be loved, while someone else took charge.

Hutch resumed his position, straddling the other. After a kiss, he noted, "First thing we're going to do is get you to come. It'll help relax you."

Starsky shrugged. "No argument from me."

Hutch chuckled, kissing below a jaw. "You're a hedonist."

"Hey, callin' me names ain't gonna change what I like."

The blond maneuvered himself into a crouch, lips pressing even harder on the same area. "I love you," he kissed. "I love you so much." Kiss. Kiss.

Starsky grabbed Hutch's forehead with one hand, the chin with another. Pulling the other closer, he growled, "Then kiss me where it counts."

Hutch complied, lips fastening onto his partner's. His hands settled on either side of the rib cage, finding a now-familiar thrill in knowing he possessed such a exciting bundle of energy and flesh. He wondered how, at any time in his life, he could ever have thought it strange to be kissing another man. For Starsky's mouth was as exciting as the rest of his body, more pleasurable than any mouth he had ever known. Sometimes, in moments such as this, he wondered why he had wasted so many years on casual encounters. Surely, if he couldn't have this, then celibacy would have to serve as second-best.

"Love you," Hutch whispered yet again, pulling back. He straightened slightly and began unbuttoning the other's shirt with both hands. Starsky's hands were doing likewise to his own shirt, and as they worked, Hutch gazed down at the form beneath him, that incredibly thick hair sprawled about the pillow. "You're so beautiful," he whispered, parting the shirt flaps.

The other blinked once. "Hey, I always knew I was cute. But beautiful?"

Hutch closed his eyes. "In every way."

A hand moved behind Hutch's neck, drew him down. "Ah, you big Romeo."

His cheeks were held by Starsky's hands, and the other raised up to kiss him. Hutch leaned into it, at the same time reaching to stroke up and down the path of hair now exposed.

When they parted, Hutch finished the slow, careful movement of removing Starsky's shirt from his body. "Let me take it from here," he told his partner.

Starsky obeyed, moving only enough so the shirt could be slipped from beneath him. "Hutch?"

The blond tossed the clothing to one side. "Hm?"

"Maybe we should do it while I'm real horny, like now. I mean, maybe I won't notice the discomfort so much if I'm real turned on."

Hutch pulled his own shirt off, anxious for his jeans to follow. He realized now where his earlier fear had come from. Some part of him was afraid he wouldn't be able to do this to Starsky, so intent was he on having the other dominate him. But he knew now, with a sense of relief, that changing places wasn't going to be a problem. The body was willing, there was no reason for his heart not to be.

He took a deep breath, held the other lightly by the waist. "I don't know," he said gently, "I don't think you're going to stay turned on once I put it in." Then he shrugged, not certain that he knew what was best for Starsky more than Starsky did himself. Besides, maybe he should be relieved that the other wasn't so intent on making sure he got his orgasm.

They were both naked from the waist up, and Hutch slid his hands up to Starsky's chest, repeating, "However you want it, partner."

"Let's just do it, without sucking me first. But...."

Hutch raised his brows to prompt completion of the sentence.

Starsky reached up and ran a finger back and forth along the blond's mustache. Tenderly, he said, "Can we do it facing each other? Guys sometimes do it that way, right?"

Hutch lowered his eyes as a deep well of feeling stirred within all the soft parts of his body. He supposed there would be something special about it, with the lamps turned low, being able to watch each other as they were joined together. He'd never had an urge for Starsky to do him that way because he liked the pumping speed his partner could obtain while he was face-down.

"Starsk," he said gently, drawing circles on the other's chest, "it's just not necessarily the best... I mean...," he glanced away, feeling himself blush. He had no problem talking about it when it was himself on the receiving end. But this was different.

"What do you want to say?" the other asked quietly.

Relieved that he wasn't being teased, Hutch looked back, then shrugged. "I just thought it might be... sort of overwhelming. The gravity...," he felt himself blush yet again, but forced his eyes to remain on his partner's, "might pull me in deeper than you're ready for."

A sly smile crept up the other's face. "I know there's no way you're going to let it get deeper than I'm ready for. You're too much of a softie."

The blond's eyes lowered yet again. He felt Starsky's trust as strongly as he had that first night -- already nearly two months ago? -- when Starsky had first wrapped his arms around his neck. He supposed the other was right and, looking down now at his partner, he saw that Starsky seemed to be completely relaxed about the idea all the way around, despite the bulge in the center of his jeans.

Hutch reached for the snap. "Got to get these off."

Taking the earlier command literally, Starsky didn't help, other than raising his hips at the appropriate moment. Hutch grasped both sides of denim and cotton in large handfuls and tugged the clothing down, feeling a sense of waste as he watched the thick erection spring free. It was very tempting to orally devour, and he couldn't help but think it was going to shrink at least somewhat in the minutes to come.

Both had already rid themselves of shoes, so the pants were easy to slide off the strong legs. Hutch made short work of the socks, then stood quickly and removed the rest of his own clothing.

He'd always hated all the emphasis on cock size, and felt particularly conscious about it now as his phallus jutted from his body -- wanting to love, but also able to hurt. He couldn't help but recall that he'd hurt Kathy somewhat, though her complaint had been minimal.

His brow furrowed. That night was the last time he'd had intercourse with anybody while in the dominant position. The veins of his erection swelled even more at the reminder.

He took the Vaseline from the night stand while kneeling on the bed. As a quiet descended over the room, he noticed that his partner's flesh had softened somewhat, and that Starsky's eyes were also studying the cylinder that would soon claim him. Hutch was tempted to point out that Starsky was free to change his mind at any moment in the proceedings, but that would almost be an insult, for Starsky knew, of course, that he had that option.

Hutch knelt between the legs that spread for him, trying to think the mechanics through. He'd never taken a woman anally this way, and hoped the unaccustomed positioning of limbs wouldn't make it too awkward. Finally, he reached for help. "You ever do it with a woman? Face to face?"

Casually, the other replied, "Sure, that's how I usually like to fuck."

God, what a time for humor. "Moron. I mean taking the back way."

Starsky shrugged. "A time or two."

"Then how about helping me out?" He felt only slightly embarrassed asking. With anyone else, he wouldn't have dared reveal his ignorance.

Starsky drew his knees back slightly. "You've got to put my ass up on your legs -- your thighs. And I put my legs over your shoulders."

Hutch quickly took the lid off the Vaseline jar, trying to distract himself from the image his partner's words conjured. The idea that Starsky would be willing to put himself in such a completely vulnerable position was startling. "Let's get you ready first."

But as soon as a greased finger stroked at his partner's opening, Hutch found all erotic images fleeing from his consciousness, replaced by concern and a strong sense of purpose. He had teased his partner with a finger before while sucking him, but that had been merely to provide extra stimulation. Now, he was going to make sure he didn't make the same mistake as he had with Kathy.

Once his index finger was fully ensheathed, which had occurred with Starsky giving no sign of protest, Hutch rotated it around and around with gradually increasing speed, making larger and larger circles. He watched as his partner's eyes closed and lips parted. Starsky's penis twitched as he whispered, "Man, that's somethin'."

Hutch smiled knowingly. "There's a lot of nerves in that little muscle."

The finger was gripped, and Hutch felt an answering surge within his own groin. He quickly withdrew to scoop up a large helping of additional lubricant, then, using a similar circular motion, gradually worked in two fingers at once. "Okay?"

Starsky met his eye with a hooded expression. "Yeah, feels good."

Hutch leaned forward, bracing his free hand against a pelvic bone, then halted the circular motion and probed deeper. "Tell me when it's starts feeling really good." He pressed the digits against the inside of the tract... feeling, stroking. The fingers were fully ensheathed, and his partner was accepting the stretching with no complaint.

Starsky's eyes were on the ceiling. Gasping slightly, he said, "Yeah, behind my nuts... sort of."

Hutch shifted, moving his fingers against the front of Starsky's body and felt them gripped with a powerful contraction. Starsky's penis was reaching full erection, and Hutch watched with satisfaction as his partner groaned, eyes closing gratefully. With all the Vaseline as a barrier, he couldn't quite feel what he was stroking, but knew what it had to be.

Starsky's mouth dropped open, and he panted, "Ah, that feels so damn good. So good."

The blond was tempted to forego the fucking and just do this, for it gave him such gratification to be pleasing his partner so much. But he also knew that Starsky wouldn't be able to come that way alone, and he bent to wetly kiss the top of the flaring head.

The smaller man hissed, then opened his eyes. "I'm ready now, Hutch."

Hutch stroked a moment longer. "That's where I need to rub against, when I'm in you. That's what makes it special, for men."

Starsky shook his head, his voice and tiny smile full of tenderness. "No. You being the one doin' it to me is what makes it special."

Even as his heart warmed at the statement, Hutch felt an emptiness, and realized that all the physical manipulations had not been supplemented by a kiss. Usually, they were very close to each other during their love-making, both floating on a cloud of air, only forfeited when Hutch chose to roll over and demand the masculine strength that pounded into him. Tonight, once Starsky had announced his decision, it seemed all their focus had been on the act itself. He missed the affection.

Hutch carefully removed his fingers, wiped them against the spread, then leaned down to his partner, his chest against the other's ribs. He brought his hands up to rub Starsky's breast bone, planting soft kisses wherever his mouth could reach. He felt the protest of their trapped erections, but couldn't be sorry for the stolen interlude.

Starsky must have felt the same, for his arms suddenly came around Hutch and squeezed mightily. Then they furrowed into his hair, massaging in such a pleasing way that the blond simply relaxed against the other's body.

"You're a hedonist, too," Starsky noted affectionately.

Hutch looked up at him without moving his head and countered, "Why not?"

Starsky didn't reply, other than chuckling softly, and rubbed a finger along Hutch's upper lip, stroking at the hairs there. "I hope you aren't having second thoughts."

Hutch answered by grinding his hardness against a lower thigh.

The humor left his partner's voice. "I'm all ready for you, babe." Hands gently pushed at the blond's head.

Hutch hoisted to his knees in one swift move. His partner's desire was fueling his own, and he wondered if he might finish the moment they were joined. He tried to distract himself by thinking only of the other.

"Starsk," he whispered, gingerly applying Vaseline to himself, "the most difficult part is when it first penetrates -- it might seem too big." His voice softened as he set the jar aside. "Show me what you're feeling, and I'll just press a little at a time when I know you're ready." He reached out, gently laid a hand on the furred stomach. "I've found it's easiest if you accept the pain, let it become a part of you. Bracing against it only makes it worse."

The other nodded once, his eyes filled with tenderness. "I know. I've always been able to feel when you deliberately relax like that."

Hutch took the other man's hips, and with a heave lifted them onto his thighs. He was tempted to ask again if Starsky was sure he wanted it like this, for it seemed like such a thoroughly dominating position. But before he could speak, Starsky had placed his legs over his shoulders.

Hutch took a deep breath, felt for the opening with one hand, guided his phallus with the other. When it was positioned, he pressed forward. It barely bumped against the orifice, and he pressed more firmly, feeling the slick walls yield.

Starsky let out a yelp of surprise. Hutch waited, watched the dark lashes squeeze shut and the chest rise and fall with rapid breaths from the inner struggle to not fight back.

Gently, the blond assured, "No more until you're ready." He was in such a short way that had they not been in this position, with gravity in their favor, he was sure he would have slipped out.

Firm hands gripped Hutch's wrists, and the taller man soothed, "Relax, partner. You're doing fine."

The grip eased, fingers massaging. Starsky managed a slight smile. "S'okay," he whispered. "Just surprised me a second... felt like I was being torn in two."

"I know," Hutch whispered.

"It's okay now." Starsky closed his eyes, visibly relaxing.

Hutch knew it was okay before the other actually spoke. He felt the relaxation and allowed himself to sink another half inch. He watched a grimace cross his partner's face, then a moment later there was another nod. Carefully, he slid in a little more, the slick, warm walls massaging the head of his penis, all the sensitive areas threatening to explode.

Hutch looked away.

"Keep coming, buddy," came his partner's loving voice. "I want all of you." As though to emphasize his words, Starsky flexed his lower muscles.

"God," Hutch gasped. "Don't. Please don't." A quiver went through his body as he strained against the sensations.

Starsky wasn't going to apologize. "All of it, Hutch," he beckoned softly, now pulling gently at the blond's hips.

Hutch closed his eyes as he felt himself sink further into the chasm. And then he understood the appeal of this position. Starsky had never been in him this deep.

A small grunt from his partner, and then Hutch felt his flanks brush against strong, round buttocks.

"Love you," Starsky said.

The blond squinted his eyes open, slowly leaned forward to rub at his partner's chest. "Love you so much," he whispered back. Though Hutch was penetrating Starsky, it was he who felt he was filled to the point of spilling over. This felt good... and not just because of the sensations surrounding his cock.

Carefully, Starsky reached for his hands, entwined their fingers. "Stay just like this a bit," he said gruffly.

Hutch held still, his weight resting against Starsky, his eyes closed, absorbing the warmth of the moment, the quiet of the room. He was searching for a sense of calm, but found his maleness wanted something else.

"Want to make you feel good," he finally gasped out.

He felt a hand reach up to his face, brush along his cheek. "I feel great, just like this."

It was more than he could take. With alarm, Hutch realized he was suddenly past the point of no return, and choked out, "Sorry," as he pulled back, lunged, then pulled back again. At the second lunge, he whimpered in defeat, feeling the coalesced sensation as the fluid burst from him.

"Sorry, sorry," he muttered, over and over, as he disintegrated against the other's body.

Hands were in his hair again, fingers entwining, massaging here and there. With a hint of humor, Starsky said, "I think you needed that."

Eyes still closed and breathing heavily, the blond managed a sheepish smile. "Wanted to make it good for you," he said as he carefully drew back, having already reached for a towel.

Starsky's legs fell away. "Hey."

Hutch looked up as he used the towel and met his partner's eye.

Gently, the other said, "You are good for me."

Tossing the cloth aside, the blond lowered himself alongside his partner. "Come 'ere," he said tenderly, gathering the other close.

Starsky grinned as he was embraced.

Hutch stroked along the other's forehead, then back into his hair. "Makes you kind of understand more about women, doesn't it?" he asked quietly.

"What do you mean?"

Hutch shrugged. "You know, there's the cliche about how they like to be held afterwards. Since we've been doing it, I understand why there's the need."

Starsky burrowed more closely against the smooth chest. "It is kinda nice."

"But I don't think it's just that," Hutch went on, breath recovered. "I think, when you've given yourself to someone, like that, then maybe you need reassurance afterwards that you're loved as a person -- that you weren't just a nameless, faceless body providing pleasure."

"Umm," Starsky replied noncommittally. "I admit that I'm not the most philosophical person right after sex."

Hutch chuckled, ran a finger down Starsky's nose, then buried his face in the curls. After a moment, he asked, "Okay for you?"

"Yeah. A-Okay. It's yours whenever you want it."

Hutch reached around to stroke along Starsky's spine. He didn't question the other's sincerity, but he was also certain that the submissive position did not enthrall his partner as much as it did himself. Guess we won't have to worry about arguing much over who gets the top spot every time we do it. Certainly, it had been special being inside Starsky, sharing that way. But not as special as feeling the other's strength and masculinity as Starsky pounded into him.

Lazily, his hand drifted down, circled around to the front of the compact body. When it brushed against the lax penis, the organ stirred, seeking his hand.

Hutch straightened. "Let's get under the covers."

Starsky raised up. "Why?"

"Because I'm gonna finish you off, pal. And you don't get to watch. Just feel."

Starsky chuckled and began pulling on the bed clothes. Hutch got up to turn off the lights. When he returned to bed, he immersed himself beneath the covers, and found a full erection waiting.

* * *

They returned to L.A. early the following afternoon. Within the hour, Dobey called to say that another body had been found in Sandstone Park.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT - March 3, 1980

The Pits was crowded and the entire place was filled with smoke. Emerging from the men's room, Hutch took refuge in a near corner with a pinball machine. He and his partner had separated earlier in the day because Starsky had a dental appointment. Hutch, meanwhile, had questioned more acquaintances of the most recent murder victim. His partner was supposed to meet him here at eight. Already, it was twenty minutes past.

Hutch inserted coins into the machine and, with little enthusiasm, pulled the lever that released the first silver ball. Unable to drum up any interest in where it traveled, he let his depression, which had lingered ever since returning from Kentucky, consume him. Ed Schneider, it had turned out, was not the Sandstone Park murderer, and he had been released on bond, pending trial. The woman he had attacked in the park was a prior acquaintance whom he held a grudge against for refusing to date him. He'd claimed he was merely trying to frighten her, she claimed he had once threatened to kill her. Who was speaking the truth would be left to a jury to decide.

In the meantime, they were back to square one with the Sandstone murders. The seventh slit throat, a slew of grieving friends and relatives, and no leads.

Hutch sighed. He was out of quarters and turned to the bar. A beer was placed before him, Huggy eyeing him speculatively. "It's bad enough havin' cops hanging around my place. Having adown cop only adds to the reputation, if you know what I mean."

Hutch wasn't in the mood to sympathize. Instead, he asked, "You haven't heard from Starsky, have you? He's late."

"'Fraid not," Huggy replied. "How late is he?"

Hutch shrugged. "Half an hour. He had a cavity and went to see the dentist."

Huggy winced. "In that case, I hope I don't see him. Needles and drillin' don't make our Starsky a very agreeable boy."

Hutch chuckled. 'Boy' was right. He hoped he would be up to the degree of coddling that Starsky was going to expect.

He'd just finished his beer when a waitress walked up behind the counter. "Hey, Hutch."

"Hm?"

"Starsky just called. He said to tell you he 'felt like hell' and was going straight home. Said he'd see you tomorrow."

Hutch tossed some bills on the counter. "Thanks."

It was a relief to leave the smokey bar. Hutch sucked in lungfuls of cool evening air as he headed home. On a whim, he made a left that would take him in another, equally familiar direction.

* * *

The apartment was dark, and Hutch knocked gently before letting himself in. "Starsky?" he whispered as he carefully maneuvered around the furniture.

"What?" came the dejected response from the bedroom.

"You asleep yet?" Hutch asked as he moved in that direction.

"No."

The blond had to restrain a smile as he entered the bedroom, for his partner's voice was full of pout. He felt for the edge of the mattress, and then his hand encountered a clothed body. He gently scooted it to one side, creating enough room to sit. "Hey," he said softly, "how come you're still dressed?"

From the moonlight, he could see that Starsky's hands were folded beneath his cheek, and his knees were drawn up near his chest. "Didn't feel like botherin'," the smaller man mumbled.

"Ah, Starsk." Hutch placed a hand on his back. "Was it that bad?"

"It was worse than bad," the other replied. His words were slurring slightly, as though his jaw were still numb.

Hutch's brows furrowed as he reached to unbutton Starsky's shirt with one hand. "How come?"

"Because the first shot didn't work very well. And he started drillin', and it hurt like hell, so he gave me another shot. And my heart started racing, and I thought I was gonna throw up or faint or something. And then I was real tense 'cause I was afraid it was gonna hurt again." He sighed heavily. "It didn't, but it seemed like forever before he was done."

Hutch squeezed a shoulder. "Sorry, partner." He finished with the buttons. "Come on, sit up so we can get you undressed."

Silently, the smaller man obeyed. But he let Hutch do all the work, causing the blond to scoldingly chuckle, "What would you have done if I'd gone straight home?"

"I would have been all right." the other insisted, though his tone lacked belief. Once he was in his pajamas, Hutch held the covers open for him.

When Starsky was settled, Hutch thought what the hell and started removing his own clothes. They usually didn't sleep together if they didn't intend to have sex, but the blond found himself looking for excuses to stay more and more often.

When he was down to his underwear, Hutch pushed all the outer clothes into a pile on the floor. "Hey, mind if I listen to the news a bit?"

"Nah." Starsky reached for the clock radio and switched it on, turning the dial until finding a news channel, though at the moment the sports were on.

When Hutch was settled, he was lying on his back, his arm resting against his partner's turned backside. He closed his eyes as he listened to the seemingly endless rundown of basketball scores. He was just about to drift into a doze when the sportscaster's tone changed.

"And, finally, a sad note from Santa Anita. One of the meet's leading runners, Partner for Life, fractured a cannon bone during a workout this morning. The track veterinarian, Dr. Leonard Peterson, says that all efforts are being made to save the horse, who has a fifty percent chance of survival."

Starsky shot up in bed as soon as the horse's name was mentioned. Now, as another newscaster came on to begin with the headline stories, Starsky remained still, as though straining to hear any other bit of additional information that might filter through.

After a moment, Hutch, who had rolled toward his partner, reached to lay a hand on Starsky's arm. "Ah, gee, Starsk, I'm sorry," he whispered, fingers lightly stroking. "Poor horse."

The other abruptly reached to turn off the radio. The he lay back stiffly on the mattress, staring at the ceiling.

Hutch squeezed his arm. "Hey, he still has a chance. Maybe he'll pull through okay."

The only reply was a thick swallow.

The blond waited. But after a few more moments of silence passed, he prompted, "Hey, come on, talk to me."

"What do you want me to say?" Starsky asked sadly. "He was our horse."

Hutch blinked, feeling, as he usually did when on this subject, that he was missing something of importance that his partner saw so clearly. After a moment, he pointed out, "He's still our horse. The vets haven't given up on him, and neither have his owner and trainer. They're trying to save him. Some geldings aren't that fortunate. But they know he's special, too."

Finally, Starsky rolled toward Hutch, curling himself against the long frame. In a small voice, he said, "What if they have to kill him?"

"Maybe they won't," Hutch reminded, knowing the words were horribly inadequate. His arms had gone around his partner, and now he squeezed tightly. "Hey, we've still got each other. We'll always carry on his name."

"I don't want him to die."

"I don't either."

The night was long, for neither man slept.

* * *

"Will you knock if off," Hutch said hotly, not caring that other heads turned in their direction. It was two days later, and the table before them was cluttered with files of Sandstone Park victims, and Starsky's constant tapping of a pencil against the table's edge grated on nerves that seemed to know nothing except frustration.

"Fine," Starsky scowled, throwing the pencil across the room. It bounced off the wall, fell to the floor, then flipped over once before coming to rest.

"That's a good way to cause somebody to lose an eye," another detective said from across the room.

"Up yours, Brettman," Starsky replied.

"Same to you, dickhead."

Hutch closed his eyes and tried to take a breath. Teasing in the squadroom was one thing, but this was on a more serious level. Everyone who could be spared was on the case of the Sandstone Park murders. But the trail of leads was ice cold. Which did nothing but make the mayor, the citizens, and the entire police department very edgy.

The blond adjusted his collar, feeling suffocated as if it were the middle of summer. Starsky had been fairly uncommunicative since "their" horse had been injured, and all they'd been able to find out since the newscast was that Partner for Life's condition was "serious". Between them, Hutch knew himself to be the moody one, and he didn't appreciate having the tables turned; for, while Starsky was an expert at dealing with his moods, he had a lot less experience with being the emotional comforter. Nor did he have the patience. And the frustrations of the case quadrupled the tension.

Sometimes he wondered why he just didn't walk away from it all... if even for a few minutes.

"Will you knock it off?"

Hutch looked up and found Starsky's scowl directed at him. "Knock what off?"

"All that goddamnned sighing." The darker man imitated Hutch, exaggerating a heavy sigh. "I'm sick of listening to it. Plus, it's distracting as hell." He tore open another file and began staring at it.

The blond could take no more. He stood, lifting his jacket from the back of his chair, and headed for the door. But he paused just behind his partner and whispered, "Go fuck yourself," before proceeding out of the squadroom. He didn't look back.

"Same to ya," he heard called after him.

By the time he'd made it out of the building and was walking down the street, the winter breeze billowing his jacket, Hutch felt consumed by a wave of depression. He found an empty bus bench and sat on it, hunching forward, his forehead resting in his hands.

What were they doing wrong? There were a total of seven victims in the space of four months. None of the victims were loners. All had a circle of loved ones who mourned for them, who gave the police every bit of information they knew concerning the victim; information that, it turned out, hadn't done the police a damn bit of good.

"Hutch!"

Hutch looked up at the squeal of delight. He blinked in disbelief, seeing Kathy Marshall trotting toward him.

"Kathy?" he questioned, standing as she reached him and threw her arms around him. He returned the embrace, puzzled by her sudden appearance, but the feel of her petite body lifted his spirits in a way that nothing else could. When she finally pulled back, while still keeping an arm around him, he asked, "Wha-what are you doing here?"

"Had a two-day layover," she replied cheerfully. "Actually, it's sort of a mini-vacation. Me and a girlfriend are seeing the town. She's having her hair done, and I thought I'd just take a little walk up to Parker Center to see if perhaps I might run into two gentlemen I happen to know."

"Oh, well," Hutch stuttered, "that's great."

She glanced around. "I wasn't expecting to find you out here." Then, with puzzlement, "Are you waiting for a bus?"

"Oh, no," Hutch laughed self-consciously. "I was just getting some air."

"Oh," she laughed with him. Then, looking around, "Where's David?"

"Still in the squadroom."

She squeezed his arm. "Shall we go up?"

"Uh," Hutch carefully dislodged her hand, "uh, things are pretty busy up there. The Sandstone Park murder case split wide open again."

She frowned. "Oh, I'd heard he was caught."

"We thought he was. But there's been another murder since."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"Yeah." Hutch wasn't sure what else to say, and then he gestured, "Here, sit down. Tell me what you've been up to."

She sat, crossing one leg over another. She was wearing a skirt, and Hutch felt himself twitch at the shapely legs revealed. "Oh, it's pretty much the usual for me, I'm afraid. My biggest news is that I'm thinking about going back to school, maybe try to become a nurse."

"You'd be good at that," Hutch said enthusiastically, wondering if he sounded phony.

"Yeah," she nodded. "I think so, too. And there's more of a future in it than being an airline stewardess."

"Better pay, too, I imagine."

Kathy nodded. "I'm counting on it."

Suddenly, they both were silent, and Hutch felt the depression begin to return. Then Kathy, voice quieter, said, "So, how are things with you both?"

Hutch hesitated, unsure of what to say. Then he shrugged. "Other than this case, things are good."

"Yeah?" she prompted pointedly.

It took the blond a moment to realize what she was getting at. He had to think quickly, trying to remember exactly what he'd told her that last night she'd called. It had been two months ago. He pushed his hands into the pockets of his jeans. "Starsk and I... well, we're still 'attached'."

She nodded, but he suspected she knew he wasn't giving the full story. She asked, "Are either of you serious enough to be thinking about marriage?"

"Oh, I dunno," Hutch snorted with exaggeration. "Once burned, twice shy, and all that."

"What about Starsky?"

"I think he's just afraid to take that first step." Hutch shifted uncomfortably, knowing he was outright lying and wishing he didn't have to respond to her questions.

She seemed to realize that she was causing discomfort. Abruptly, she was on her feet. "Hey, honest, Hutch, no hard feelings. In fact, I'd really like to meet the lucky ladies sometime. You know, just to go out dancing or something for old times' sake. There's no reason either of them should feel threatened by me. I believe in marriage and lifetime commitment and happiness and all of that."

Hutch felt touched. He reached to clasp her hand and softly said, "I know you do."

Her smiled brightened. With playful self-deprecation, she said, "Now, I've just got to find the one for me."

"He's out there," Hutch said lamely.

She placed her hands on his chest. "Cheer up." She kissed him on the cheek. "I know you'll find your murderer. I'd better go." Abruptly, she turned away, walking briskly.

Hutch watched her go, appreciating her shape as it moved along the street. He wondered why he and Starsky were denying themselves that, when it was so natural for them both.

He turned away in the opposite direction, ashamed of himself for even having the thought. Despite their current, mutual surliness, Starsky was giving him everything he asked for.

And even that realization seemed to deepen his depression; yet, he couldn't fathom why.

Though he dreaded delving once again into the files, Hutch turned back toward Parker Center.

This time, when Starsky grumbled about Hutch not fixing a new pot of coffee after taking the last cup, the blond didn't bother responding.

* * *

Four hours later the squadroom was deathly quiet, and Hutch was certain a human being could not feel worse than he did at that moment. He had not made one bit of progress -- not that he had expected to -- and the idea of working late, just so he could come back here tomorrow and start all over again, was almost unbearable.

Suddenly, he heard his partner whisper something with an intense, in-drawn breath.

"What?" Hutch snapped, wishing Starsky would either speak clearly or not speak at all.

The smaller man was staring at an open file. He whispered again, but this time the words were clear. "Luke Huntley."

Hutch scrambled out of his chair to look over Starsky's shoulder. "What?"

Suddenly, his partner was animated. "Hutch, look," he indicated the file, and then a group of others spread out on the desk. "R&I pulled everything that had a similar M.O. to the Sandstone Park murders. Turns out, there's almost an exact M.O., fifteen years ago. There were two murders -- throat slashings -- in Little Ridge Park, and a certain Jose DeSantiago was convicted of both."

Exasperated, Hutch demanded, "What's that got to do with Luke?"

Starsky pointed to a report in the file. "He was the arresting officer. He was the one in charge of the investigation." He glanced back at his partner. "He can help us. It may be the same guy."

Hutch's brows furrowed. "You mean DeSantiago has been released from prison?"

"I don't know." Starsky reached for the phone, dialing quickly. "We gotta see what R&I has to say about 'im."

Hutch felt himself almost smile. Starsky had said "we".

* * *

The apartment building Luke Huntley now lived in was middle-class, old but clean, located on the north edge of town. They had called him at work to tell him there was something important they needed to discuss with him, and he had said he would be home that evening.

Starsky stood back while Hutch knocked. After a moment, the door opened, and Huntley greeted them in a robe. "Hey, guys, come on in. I just got out of the shower."

When Hutch entered he put his arms around the older man, and Luke returned the embrace, thumping the taller man's back. Then he reached around the blond and squeezed Starsky's arm. "Sit down," he addressed them both. "How about a beer?"

Hutch glanced back at Starsky, then said, "Sure."

"Starsky?" Luke asked from the kitchen.

"Thanks."

They were tossed the beers and both seated themselves on the sofa. Huntley had a cold one, too, and as he sat in the easy chair across from them, he asked, "So, what's up? It sounded important."

Hutch glanced at Starsky, and the curly-haired man remained silent, preferring to let his partner do most of the talking.

The blond began, "Do you remember, about fifteen years ago, arresting a man named Jose DeSantiago for a couple of murders in Little Ridge Park?"

The older man's brow furrowed. "Sure, I remember. It was my biggest bust up to that point. What about it?"

Hutch shifted. "While investigating the Sandstone Park murders, we've discovered that the M.O. was very similar to that of DeSantiago. At first, we thought it might be the same guy, but --"

"DeSantiago is dead," Luke cut in firmly. "He had a heart attack in prison about three years ago."

"Yeah, we found that out from R & I. Still, we think there could be some kind of connection. And since you were so involved in the DeSantiago case, we thought you might be able to help us on this one."

Huntley raised his hands. "Hey, guys, I'm no longer with the police force."

"I know that," Hutch replied with forced patience. "But we thought you still might be able to help us. If there's anything... unique, or particular, about that case that could tie it in to this one, it could be the clue we're looking for." The blond lifted his hands, then let them drop to his thighs. "As is, the trail is cold, cold, cold. And innocent people keep on getting killed. We're stuck, Luke. We need your help."

The older man inhaled deeply, then let out a long sigh. "Of course, I'll help you -- if I can." He shrugged. "I just can't imagine what the DeSantiago murders would have to do with this. Obviously, it's not DeSantiago committing them."

Starsky said, "What about a copy cat? Could there be someone who, for some twisted reason, wanted to carry on DeSantiago's legacy?"

Another shrug from across the room. "I remember that he had an ex-wife who hated his guts because he beat her." Luke shook his head. "Other than that, I'm sure there's no one. He didn't have any friends. He was a loner, all the way." Huntley suddenly looked up. "Besides, if it were a copy cat, why would he start killing now? DeSantiago was convicted fifteen years, died three years ago. Why would someone wanting revenge in his name start killing now?"

Starsky had to concede the point, but he let Hutch voice it.

"I know it doesn't make sense, Luke. Nothing about this case does. That's why we're grasping at straws. We just thought...," Hutch trailed off, then tried again. "We just thought that even if it's just someone with a similar psyche, you still might be able to help. After all, according to the old reports, you practically stalked DeSantiago and tracked him down. You put yourself in his place and learned to think like he thought. You were able to catch him because you learned to anticipate his next move. That's exactly the kind of mind we need on this case."

"Maybe so," Luke relented, "but I'm way out of practice. Plus, the LAPD isn't about to rehire me to help them."

"No," Hutch agreed softly. He tilted his head down, then looked back up at the man who had once been so important to him. "But that doesn't stop you from being able to help Starsk and me. We can feed you everything we know. If you can churn it around, spit out something we haven't considered before...."

Huntley nodded quickly, as though not wanting Hutch to have to plead any further. "All right. All right. Tell me what you know." A soft snort. "My evenings aren't exactly full, anyway. This will give me something to focus on."

* * *

It had started with affectionate holding. They were on the floor at Starsky's apartment where Hutch had knelt to browse through his partner's collection of records. He had lost interest and laid back with a weary sigh. Starsky had joined him, talking about his phone call earlier in the day to his mother. And then, because Starsky wanted to give his friend something pleasurable, he had reached for the fly of Hutch's blue jeans, unzipped it; then, getting to his knees, had parted the snap.

It was fairly small, but he would take care of that. Starsky lowered his mouth on it, and sucked firmly. When it was sufficiently hard, he decided, he would slow down and take his time.

He had been working on the still-soft flesh perhaps a couple of minutes when fingers pulled firmly at his jaw. Puzzled, he looked up.

"Come on, Starsk," his partner said with a hint of annoyance, "I'm not in the mood." Already, Hutch was tucking himself away.

Starsky swallowed, feeling an unfamiliar sense of inadequacy.

Hutch reached to entwine fingers in his hair. "Hey, come on," the blond said gently, "it's not you. I'm just not in the mood right now." The fingers tugged lightly.

Starsky followed their lead and lay against Hutch with his head on the other's shoulder. The simple words had helped, and he was able to focus on his partner instead of himself. "What are you thinkin' about?"

Hutch's hand stroked up and down his back. "Nothin'."

Starsky frowned but didn't state the obvious.

After a moment, the blond said, "Just things." Then, "Luke."

Starsky propped his chin in his hand, resting his other hand on his partner's stomach.

"What about him?"

Hutch shrugged. "Just about how much his life has changed, after being so consistent for so many years. How much he's changed."

Carefully, the smaller man said, "I'm not sure what you mean. But then, I never really knew him very well."

Hutch shook his head, as though marveling at a puzzle. "He was always such a dedicated cop. But, today," Hutch took a deep breath, "it just seems like I had to insist that he help us. Even though he no longer has a shield, I thought helping find the bad guy would mean something to him."

Starsky thought about it a moment, then picked out what he thought his partner was trying to say. And responded likewise. "He still loves you, Hutch. That hasn't changed."

Hutch looked at him. And didn't answer.

 

 

CHAPTER NINE - March 16, 1980

They continued to re-interview friends, relatives, and co-workers of all the Sandstone victims. Nothing new was uncovered, but they took all the information to Luke.

The older man shook his head in disbelief as the two detectives once again sat in his living room. "It does sound an awfully lot like DeSantiago; the whole feel of the case does. The mystery, the total lack of evidence. The fact that nothing fits in and of itself is sort of an M.O. just like DeSantiago."

"How did you finally nail DeSantiago?" Starsky asked.

Luke considered, then shrugged. "A knife found in the park. It was old and came from a certain pawn shop, and through that we eventually traced a series of purchasers."

"What was DeSantiago's motive?" Starsky asked. "I don't remember the rap sheet saying he was simply psycho."

"Something religious," Huntley replied. "I would call it a form of devil worship, but peaceful satanists would accuse me of slander. DeSantiago believed that it was his destiny to make human sacrifices to his gods."

Hutch shook his head. "It's amazing he killed only two people before you caught him."

"He was convicted of killing only two," Huntley corrected. "He was suspected of two other Little Ridge murders and a number of other slayings in Arizona, but they were never able to prove anything."

The blond rubbed at his mustache. "Is it possible," he asked doubtfully, "that the Sandstone Park murders are entirely motivated by religion?"

Huntley shrugged. "Religion has been the motivation for more deaths in our world's history than any other single reason."

"Yeah," Starsky agreed grimly. "If that's the case, though, the guy doing the killing has to be purely psycho."

"And it still doesn't answer the question," Hutch pointed out, "of what the current killer has to do with DeSantiago. If anything."

Doubtfully, Starsky asked, "Is it possible it could be the same religion, but not otherwise have anything to do with DeSantiago?"

The three men looked at each other. None had an answer.

* * *

"Hutch, look." Morning paper in hand, Starsky walked over to where his robed partner was sitting at the kitchen table, stirring a glass of Carnation Instant Breakfast.

"What is it?"

Starsky flipped the folded sports page to the bottom half. He tapped at a small article near the edge of the page. "They think Partner for Life is gonna pull through." He sighed heavily with relief. "Isn't that terrific?"

"Ah, that's good," Hutch said gently. He'd been worried about how badly his partner would take it if the horse had to be destroyed. But things were looking up.

Eyes still on the paper, Starsky pushed a chair back from the table and sat. "He'll never race again, but it says: The owners, Mr. and Mrs. Parsons, say that once he has recovered, he will be turned out to pasture at their farm outside of San Luis Obispo. 'He's been good to us,' Mrs. Parsons said. 'It's our turn to be good to him.'"

"That's nice," Hutch smiled at his partner.

"Yeah. That's great."

* * *

"Hutch."

The battered LTD turned from Fifth Avenue onto Tempo Street. It was almost three in the morning, and Sandstone Park was deathly quiet. The blond glanced at the man beside him, who had spoken so softly. "What?"

Starsky's eyes were on the passenger mirror. "Did you see that camper we just passed, parked across from Garden?"

Hutch's brows furrowed at his partner's contemplative tone. "Yeah?"

"Somebody we talked to mentioned something about a camper." A heavy sigh. "Only, I can't remember who it was."

Hutch's heart pounded. Could it truly be a lead that would eventually end this nightmare? He turned down Waverly Street. "I'll circle back around, cut the lights." A camper, a camper. They had interviewed literally hundreds of family and friends of the various victims. And then the answer came to him. Hutch snapped his fingers. "The kid -- the waiter -- in the seafood shop."

Starsky clicked his fingers, too, straightening excitedly. "Yeah. He went out on a date with one of the victims two nights before she was murdered. He mentioned something about a camper, but I don't quite remember...."

"They went to a movie together," Hutch recalled, hoping that talking out loud would jog both their memories. The next block, and they would turn back onto Fifth. He cut the headlights.

"They saw it after the movie," Starsky put in. "He was laughing at how there had been a camper in the movie... and they happened to see one just like it on the street."

Hutch sighed with both relief and fear. He didn't understand how the pieces could possibly fit, but instinct -- and hope -- indicated that this might truly be it.

He saw it parked on the curb, next to the park, a few hundred feet in the distance. He pulled onto the opposite curb, cut the motor. "From here, it doesn't look like there's anyone in it."

"Yeah, but it's really dark, Hutch."

The blond looked over at his partner. "What do you want to do?"

"We should get out, approach it slowly."

Hutch let out a breath. "Okay."

Starsky picked up the microphone. "Control One, this is Zebra Three."

"Go ahead, Zebra Three."

"We have a suspicious looking truck with a camper parked next to Sandstone Park. It appears to be unoccupied, but we're going in for a closer look on foot."

"What's the make and model, Zebra Three?"

"The truck is a Ford, maybe '67 or '68. Dark blue. The camper is white. We can't see the plates from where we're at."

"Ten-four."

They both felt for their holsters, released the safety catches on their guns. But they didn't draw their weapons as they left the car.

"Think this might be it?" Starsky whispered.

"Let's hope so." And, yet, as always, a part of Hutch hoped that it wasn't, as the danger made it a dichotomy that they always faced.

They kept their eyes on the front windshield. There were no street lamps near, but as they approached, they could see that the truck's cab was, indeed, empty.

They both looked at each other, then nodded. They parted to move to each side of the camper, both hunched low enough so that it would be difficult to see them from a window. They met at the rear, where a closed door faced them.

Hutch curled a fist as he flattened himself against the back of the door, near the hinge. He caught his partner's eye, who was flattened against the opposite side, and received a nod. The fist pounded on the door. "Police. Open up."

Silence greeted them.

Hutch strained his ears, trying to listen for any possible movement within. He heard nothing, and raised his voice. "Police! Open up."

Still, there was silence. The blond watched his partner sigh... with a mixture of relief and disappointment that he well understood. Because it was himself on the near side of the door, Hutch reached for the handle. He expected it to be locked and let his surprise show when a "click" indicated it wasn't. He paused, thumb on the handle's knob, waiting for Starsky's nod once again. When he got it, Hutch suddenly pulled the door open.

His partner, both hands on his pistol, spun to face the darkened interior. Long arms reached from within, just as Starsky was stretching his own arms outward in preparation to shoot. The smaller detective was grabbed with such force and surprise that his gun was knocked away before he could fire a shot. Then he was pulled inside.

With the camper's door between him and the action, there was nothing Hutch could do in that split second to help without risking his partner's safety. Instead, he whirled around as he heard the motor suddenly start, and he fired toward the driver's seat, knowing that Starsky was