(c) June 2012 by Charlotte Frost


A Sequel to A Family Affair



Starsky has been writing a whole lot of chapters on this book, and he keeps inviting me to write something.  It does seem rather unfair that I get to see myself through his loving eyes, but he doesn't get to see himself through mine.  The thing is, I don't know how to expand on things.  I'm a bottom-line kind of guy.  I like to get to the point and not worry about peripherals, unless I make a point of focusing on peripherals.  I even felt vindicated when Starsky recently found an old journal of mine, from a junior high assignment, in my parents' attic, and I got an A-, with the teacher making the comment that I would have gotten an A+ if I'd been more detailed with the important things.

So, since I've gotten more detailed with the above introduction, I'm going to make a point of expanding on things.  Because, really, all I want to say is that I love Starsky.  That's pretty much the definition of my entire life, and has been for about as long as I've known him.  Every thought that crosses my mind, everything I do, is in some way related to that fact.

There was a time, in the year or so leading up to the shooting, when I was scared of the fact that Starsky and I had become so much a part of each other's lives.  Hell, people got us mixed up constantly.  Even when we were undercover with different names.  And we don't look anything alike.  We're completely different.  But one of those Greek philosophers once said, "Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies."  I guess that's what other people see when they look at us.  A single soul.  Like Alexander and Hephastion.  So, to other people, it didn't seem to matter which one of us was Starsky and which one was Hutch.  Which one was Rafferty and which was O'Brien, or whatever undercover names we were using at any given time.

I think my subconscious was scared by that.  In retrospect, Starsk and I took a step back from each other, as far as our off-duty time.  We started trying to live more independently from each other. We were still very much a cop partnership, counting on our partnership to make us successful at our jobs, but there was some sort of something that was missing.  And I think that something was deliberate in a subconscious way -- which I guess is sort of a contradiction in itself -- but I think our individual selves were fighting for survival, so each self could exist independently.

Then the shooting happened in May of 1979, and I lost interest in maintaining my own identity.  I was perfectly willing to be melded to Starsky if that's what it took for him to survive.  Because what the fuck did my own identity matter if he was gone?  I realized, when he was recovering, how badly we needed each other.  I didn't care anymore if anyone else wanted to judge that as healthy or not.  It was simply a fact.  If there is a God, then He made us come into this life needing each other.   It's something we know in our souls.  

I guess, since accepting that we're always going to be there for each other, that I've become a more peaceful person.  In the past, it's felt like I've been wanting something from life that I haven't been getting.  I seemed to get irritated by things pretty easily.  As I write this, it was really just a few years ago that Starsk and I were tough cops, at the top of our game.  Bringing in bad guys.  Roughing people up, in the name of getting answers.  Taking lives, because it was necessary to save innocent lives.  Almost losing ours. 

Sometimes, I wonder who that tough guy was.  I don't feel very tough right now.  I don't feel weak, but it's hard to imagine all the running and gunning we used to do.  All that energy.  To simply say we're a few years older doesn't seem to explain why we're so content now with a relatively mellow life.  Perhaps the difference is that those young, tough detectives accepted that death was a strong possibility, and probably inevitable.  Starsky and I always did our damnedest to keep each other alive.  But I also think, in the back of our minds, we were resigned to the idea that we would probably go out like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

But what became unbearable, as the years went on, was the idea of only one of us getting blown away.  That would leave the other behind as only part of a man, with vital innards removed.  I had a taste of that when thinking Starsky was going to die when he got gunned down, and then have him recover, only to fall ill to a Herpes B virus, and not be expected to survive. 

Of course, any kind of fatal illness or accident can strike either of us at any time.  But there's a comfort in knowing that we aren't deliberately placing ourselves in the line of fire.  That I don't have to wake up every day, wondering if a vital part of my innards is going to be ripped away from me. 

Sometimes, though, I wonder if the peace we're feeling now is still part of the recovery process.  I admit I've been staring at this computer a while, before writing this paragraph.  I'm wondering if, by writing it, I'm going to somehow make it true.  That, once we feel fully recovered, we'll put ourselves back in the line of fire, in a manner of speaking.  I know we aren't near ready to be put to pasture yet, but I also know I don't want to wake up every morning, worried that I'm going to lose the man that is, truly, my everything.  I'd like to think that, once recovery is truly complete, that we can find some kind of compromise between those two extremes.

Anyway, I think I've proven I can be detailed when I put my mind to it.  All these paragraphs are really just a big, long lead-in to why I decided to sit down at the computer tonight.

Something happened today that made me really happy.

Starsk is in our bed, sleeping off an over-indulgence of alcohol.  He was drinking to celebrate.  See, he and I ended up with a racehorse, of all things.  I'm sure he'll tell the story of that when he gets around to writing the Darla chapter.  I have to admit, it's because of him that we're the owners of Darla.  It's a long story, but Starsky wanted her, and I said, "No" but, like he's pointed out in another chapter, I always seem to end up doing what he wants.

I don't know what's going to happen with Darla.  If, from here on out, she's going to be a big disappointment.  But what I do know is that it was one of those rare, wonderful moments in life when, today, we were at the track to see our filly pull away in the stretch to win by four lengths.  That was such an incredible moment.  She beat a filly that cost $600,000 at some big Kentucky yearling sale last summer.   No matter what happens in the future, I know that Starsk and I will always be able to look back on today as a fond memory.  And I've no doubt that, no matter how old we get, we'll always remember standing in the winner's circle with Darla, surrounded by friends.

There's no question that Starsk is the one responsible for virtually all the spontaneity in our lives.  He's responsible for Darla.  Perhaps today is what really brought home to me how much I need that from him.  With me being a bottom-line kind of guy, I need his willingness to be playful, that inclination to do something offbeat, just because it's fun.

I hope a part of him never grows up.     


The Thursday after Darla's race, Starsky and Hutch sat in a rental car, under a tree at a roadside inlet, where they could see a cluster of oil wells nearly a mile in the distance.  They were on assignment to tail four different foremen for their client, Stan White, a manager of an oil drilling company, to see why the foremen were putting more mileage on their company vehicles than could be explained by making their rounds to the oil fields they each were in charge of.

After much discussion, and especially considering the cast on Starsky's right arm, due to an accident at the Hutchinson family reunion,  they had decided to spend their first four days on the case tailing a different foreman each day, and getting familiar with each man's route.  Now, they were on the fourth man and it was late afternoon.  They hadn't come upon anything unusual that any of the foremen were doing.

From where he sat in the driver's seat, Hutch lowered his binoculars.  "We're going to have to split up, Starsk, starting tomorrow, if you think you can drive okay.  It'll increase our chances of catching one of them going somewhere he shouldn't.  Plus, with tomorrow being Friday, that makes it more likely, right before a weekend, that one or more of them might be going off and getting drunk or having an afternoon of sex, or wherever it is that they're going."

Starsky knew that Hutch hated the idea of them splitting up as much as he did.  Their strength was in their unity.  "I can drive okay.  But I'm not sure that would be true about Fridays.  They turn in their mileage logs at the end of the day on Fridays.  So, if they're going somewhere they shouldn't on a Friday, they have to make sure they get back to the corporate offices by end of the day, to turn in their logs.  Plus, the lot where the vehicles is kept is locked up at six o'clock.  So, they've got to be back for that reason, too."

"Maybe so.  But now that we know each man's area, and how many miles he ought to be covering, there's not much point in us sticking together to cover one man a day, when we could be covering two.  Plus, White made it clear that he's only got a certain amount budgeted for this job.  I'm only charging him time for one of us each of these first four days, since there's no way to justify two men tailing the same person."

Starsky sighed heavily.  "It wouldn't bother me so much to split up, if we had phones in our cars and could call each other."

Hutch looked over at him.  "It really wouldn't matter for this job, since we're using rental cars."

That was true, Starsky had to admit.  They'd decided to get a separate rental car each morning, to decrease the chances of any of the foremen noticing the same car in the area, since the oil fields were located in somewhat remote, rural locations within a hundred miles or so of Camarillo. 

Still, Starsky said firmly, "I want us to get phone in our cars, anyway.  It's time, Hutch.  I bet, once we have them, we'll wonder how we ever did without them."

"Yeah, okay.  Let's do that after this case is over."

Starsky was relieved to not get further argument.  He'd been wanting them to get car phones for months.  He was going to have to wait a little longer still.  This case was taking an enormous amount of time, since they first had to drive each morning to Camarillo, get a rental car, and then go out and tail a foreman.  They'd turned down a job for tailing a cheating spouse, much closer to home, because neither was going to be around to do the tailing.

Still, tight budget or not, this job had the potential to be a well-paying.  Those certainly didn't come along every day.


Starsky knew that he was going to die.

Hutch was in one of his ultra-patient, ass-eating moods.  Which meant Starsky had already been sucked off to orgasm, to calm him down, before Hutch even got started.  And now, over a half hour later, Starsky had another hard-on.

He lay in the darkness of their bedroom, face down, his hips hoisted by the wedge pillow they often used.  His ass cheeks were gripped in each of Hutch's hands.  The wet noise of soppy tongue against tender, delicate skin had been going on for some time, though that action got interspersed with some occasional distractions.

Like right now.  The tongue stopped, and Starsky felt Hutch's hot breath exhale against the back of his balls.

His cock throbbed.

Then a wet, peculiar sensation, as his scrotal sac was mouthed.  No teeth.  Just lips and tongue.

Starsky gasped and tried to wiggle his hips.  He was exhausted from so much wiggling the past hour.

Hutch groaned -- a happy sound -- and then Starsky felt the brusque hairs of a mustache against the back of his balls, and then along his ultra sensitive perineum.

Now teeth, biting the flesh of his lower left ass cheek, accompanied by a deep grunting noise of satisfaction.

Starsky quivered.

There was a renewed grip on his buttocks -- Starsky knew that Hutch loved feeling them -- and they were pulled widely apart.  Hot breath blew on his asshole.   Then gentle kisses.

Starsky writhed against the wedge pillow, gasping, "Hutch...."

The tongue went to work again, pushing its way inside.  Such a fascinating sensation.  Starsky gripped it, and then quivered again.  "God.  God."  Then he pleaded for mercy with, "I'm leaking all over the place."

The tongue withdrew, Hutch panting heavily.

Starsky couldn't wait any longer.  He arched his exhausted hips upward, reaching beneath to grab his tormented cock.

Hutch growled with disapproval.  Starsky reluctantly took his hand away, wondering what Hutch was going to do now.

There were spitting noises.  Then Starsky's hips were hoisted up with one forearm.  A moist hand grabbed his cock and stroked firmly, putting perfect pressure in all the right places around his cockhead.

"Oh, God!  Oh, God!" Starsky gasped, bracing against his cast for support as he arched his hips higher, so the hand could stroke more freely.

He felt Hutch's nose and mouth back at his ass, that determined tongue pushing at his hole again.  Hutch's hand moved along his cock, and loved the head with such wonderful squeezes.

Starsky cried out as orgasm claimed him, dribbling whatever semen was left inside his balls.  He gasped for breath, and then realized his spasming sphincter muscle was still gripping Hutch's tongue. 

He cried out again, more in disbelief of what was happening to him, and then fell to the side of the pillow.

 Hutch straightened, panting heavily.

Starsky let the afterglow wash through him, his eyes closed, and was peripherally aware of the pillow being tossed to the floor.  He vaguely wondered what was going to happen to him now, though he was in too much bliss to really care.

A hand was placed on his torso, slowly rubbing, soothing.

Starsky thought he managed a smile.

"Starsk?  I want to do it standing up.  Think you can?"

After being sent to another dimension, Starsky was willing to do anything Hutch wanted.  But then, he tended to do anything Hutch wanted, anyway.  He breathed, "Yeah.  Just give me a minute."

Fingertips ran slowly along his back, as though assuring there wasn't any hurry.  Hutch was still panting, though.  After all, he'd had zero orgasms to Starsky's two.

Eventually, the hands went away, and the tube of lube was grabbed.  Starsky couldn't imagine that he needed any further lubrication, considering the attentions of Hutch's tongue, and his ultra relaxed state.  After a while, the soft sounds indicated that Hutch was preparing his own cock.

Starsky felt fingers probe at him, and slide in easily.  He didn't know how many it was, because his nerves were so numb from excessive stimulation.  But he did think he could finally rally.  When the fingers went away, he made a point of pushing off his cast, so he could sit up.

Hutch was standing and took Starsky by the arm.  He guided him over to the dresser and pushed on his back, so Starsky braced one hand against the edge, and his other arm braced his cast against that same edge.  It was too dark to see their images in the mirror.

Hutch grabbed Starsky's hips in both hands and pulled back a few steps, so Starsky was bent more at the waist.

A hand settled on Starsky's lower back.

Starsky murmured, "Shove that beautiful thing into me, baby."

He felt the moist tip probe at his rear cleavage.  Suddenly, it parted him

He gasped as it continued without pausing.

Hutch didn't waste any time.  He began to undulate with long, hard strokes, his ball sac slapping against Starsky.

Hutch groaned, "I love fucking you."  He gripped Starsky's shoulder with one hand, as the lunges became more forceful.  "I love the feel of your ass."

Starsky's prostate was singing happily from the firm strokes, but his dick was too dead to notice.

Starsky had to brace his spread legs when Hutch's hips slapped him even harder.

He loved listening to the sounds of their coupling.

There were noises from within Hutch's chest.  Building.  Moving up to his throat.

The slapping action accelerated even more.

Then, suddenly, Starsky's shoulder was gripped with extreme pressure, and then Hutch was crying out.

The undulating motion slowly eased, and the grip on Starsky's shoulder relaxed.

Hutch made airy, gasping noises, and then put his arms around Starsky's chest.  He cheek rested against the middle of Starsky's back as he slowly regained his breath.

"Dear God," Hutch muttered.

"I'll say."

Hutch straightened, and now a gentle hand braced against Starsky's back.  Hutch's withdrawal was accompanied by a reluctant wet noise.

Starsky said tenderly, "No one's ever made love to me the way you do."

At Hutch's prompting, Starsky straightened with a groan, and allowed himself to be led back to the bed.  He collapsed heavily on the waterbed's mattress.

He remembered little else.


The ringing of a telephone was rudely intrusive. 

Starsky wished it would stop.  He cracked an eye open and saw Hutch reach for bedside phone.  He was surprised that it appeared to be mid morning, considering that he had been deeply asleep.  Hutch surely had been, too, or Starsky's subconscious would have picked up on his love's activities.

"Hello," Hutch greeted in a gruff voice.  Then, "Oh, hi, Nick." 

Starsky furrowed his brow.

Quickly, Hutch said, "Here's your brother."

Hutch held the phone out and started to leave the bed, his feet landing heavily on the floor.  Starsky scooted over to Hutch's warm spot and put the receiver to his ear.  "Hello?  Nicky?"

"Hey, Davey," Nick greeted.

"What's up?" Starsky watched Hutch take a moment to stretch.  He smiled warmly at Starsky.

Starsky smiled back, and then watched Hutch's eyes flutter as he lowered his head with a hint of bashfulness. 

Starsky's heart flipped over.  Sometimes, he didn't think it was possible for two human beings to experience as much pleasure as he and Hutch did together.  But they kept proving it was possible.

Hutch headed for the bathroom.

"... if that's okay with you."

Starsky turned his attention back to Nick.  "Wait a sec.  Repeat what you just said.  I was distracted for a minute."

Nick huffed, "I hope you two aren't playing with each other while I'm trying talk to you."

"No, no.  Come on.  Hutch is in the shower.  Tell me what you said."

"You guys just now getting up?" Nick asked in disbelief.  "It's nearly one here."

"Yeah, well, we've been working a case all week, and since it's Saturday, there wasn't a reason not to sleep in."  Not that that had been their intention.  Starsky was still marveling at how deeply he'd slept, after Hutch had given him such exquisite, prolonged attention last night.

"I thought I'd come out for a visit."

It was July, and Nick had visited last fall.  "Uh, yeah.  I'm just surprised.  Seems like you were just here."

Nick drew a breath.  "Look, I lost my job."

"What?  How?"

"I got fired.  I got loaded one night and came into work hung over.  I know it was stupid, but they wouldn't give me another chance."

"Well... shouldn't you be focused on getting another job?"

"That's why I thought I'd come out.  I'm not sure I want to stay in New York.  Maybe, if I found a job out your way, I'd move out there.  At least we wouldn't live a continent apart."

Starsky wasn't sure how to respond.  He and Hutch had almost no close relatives between them.  There was something to be said for having family nearby.  Still, he couldn't trust the sincerity of Nick's intentions.

"Look, Nicky, let me talk it over with Hutch.  It's not that you coming out is a problem, it's just that we're involved in a case that's keeping us both away from the house.  We aren't sure how long it's going to last.  You'd be pretty much stuck here by yourself."

"I'll get rental car this time, so I can be out looking for a job."

He sounded so sincere.  Yet... "How can you pay for a rental car when you lost your job?"

A brief laugh.  "I've always been able to get my hands on money when I need it.  Don't worry, there's people around here that'll give me a short-term loan because they know I'm good for it."

Starsky didn't like the sound of that.  "How can they know you're good for it if you don't have a job?"  It was on the tip of Starsky's tongue to say, "We'll help you out", but everything within him said that would be starting down a road that wasn't going to end up anywhere good.

"Because they know I'm the type of guy who can get a job.  Come on, what is this?  Twenty questions?"

"Look, Nicky, I'd love to see you.  But it sounds like this would be an open-ended thing, and Hutch and me have a business to run and we like our privacy.  It's not like you would be able to stay here indefinitely."

"That's not what I'm talkin' about," Nick said firmly.  "I talking about getting a job and getting my own place.  If I like the situation, then I'll stay.  If not, I'll return to New York.  I expect I would be staying with you guys two weeks, max.  And if you guys are out working your case, and I'm out job hunting, we might not even see each other that much."

"Let me talk it over with Hutch.  I'll call you back within a few hours, okay?"

"Sure.  I'll start checking out the flights."


A half hour later, Starsky and Hutch were sitting across the kitchen table from each other, in their robes and underwear, while dining on eggs, toast, and coffee.

Hutch sighed.  "The thing is, I wouldn't be the least bit adverse to helping him out financially.  It's just that you damn well know, if he gets one whiff that we're willing to give him money, he'll keep coming back for more."

"I know," Starsky said with a grimace.

"Can you imagine, if we would have given that ten thousand that we gave Kyeesha, to Nick?  He would have blown through it within a matter of weeks, and come right back to us and say he needed more."

Starsky released a sigh of his own.  "Yeah."

"I-I just think, if we're going to have him out here, we're going to have to be firm about how long he can stay with us."

"I agree, that's how he needs to be handled.  It wasn't a problem last time he was here.  He made a plane reservation to return to New York before we even said anything.  He even mentioned, this morning, staying with us two weeks, at the most."

Hutch snorted.  "That's being rather optimistic, for anybody, with the economy the way it is."

Starsky pushed his empty plate away.  "Yeah."  He paused, then, "I'm thinking that you had the right idea before.  We should try really hard to think the best of Nick, and maybe he'll expect the best of himself."

Hutch frowned.  "Sometimes that's hard to do.  Do you buy that story about him losing his job because of being hung over?"

"I don't know," Starsky muttered.

"God knows what he's involved with.  And him saying something about being able to get his hands on money is pretty scary."

"I know."  Starsky shifted.  "Look, Hutch, if he is involved in shady stuff, maybe a new start out this way is just the kind of thing he needs.  I mean, for all we know, maybe something back home has scared him, and that's made him all the more eager to get a fresh start."

Hutch nodded.  "'For all he know,'" he quoted.  "I wish we could trust anything that comes out of his mouth.  Or trust his intentions. If he's involved in shady stuff there, chances are he's going to get involved with it here."

"Maybe we should just ask him about it."

Hutch grumbled, "A lot of good that did when he came out here a few years ago.  He outright lied to both of us when he said he'd stay away from Frank Stryker."

"I'd like to think he's gotten a little more mature since then."

Hutch studied Starsky for a lot moment.  Then his mouth corner twitched.  "Well, he is your brother.  We aren't going to turn him away.  I just hope he's serious about looking for a job."

Starsky shrugged.  "If he's not, we'll kick him out.  Buy him a plane ticket back to New York."

"I think a rule should be that he doesn't bring a girl home, like he did last time.  If he wants to sleep with somebody, he needs to go to her place."

Starsky nodded.  "No argument from me."  It had made things all the worse that Nick's one-night-stand during his last visit had been a heroin addict.  A few days later, Hutch's sister Lanette happened to visit, and then Nick started sleeping with her.  What a bizarre situation that had been.

When Hutch didn't say anything else, Starsky prompted, "So, we agree that we're going to be positive toward him?  No cutting him down?"

"I agree to try."


Hutch had to admit that Nick seemed to be making an effort.  He'd been with them two days, and he did spend a lot of time browsing the help wanted ads, and being on the telephone, as he was right now, in the office.  He'd arrived Sunday night and it was Tuesday evening.

Starsky plopped down at the kitchen table with a tired sigh.  He reached for a carton of sweet and sour shrimp, since they'd been ordering out, or stopping to eat after turning in their rental cars in Camarillo, as both were too tired at the end of the day to think about fixing dinner.  As Starsky dumped food onto his plate, he said, "Man, I'm starting to think that somebody tipped these foremen off that they're being tailed."  They still hadn't seen any signs of the foremen going anywhere they shouldn't.

"It's possible, though White acted like he's the only one who has been handling the mileage logs, once he got suspicious something was up."

"Yeah, but a secretary or something could know something is up, and said something to the guys."

Hutch pushed his empty plate aside.  "What we really need is the logs from last week.  If they add up less than prior weeks, then that means the foremen are being careful, which increases the likelihood that they were tipped off."  White had said he'd been too busy to get to tally last week's mileage logs, but he hoped to get to it Wednesday.  "But if they're the same as prior weeks, then that means we've been tailing the wrong foreman on the wrong day.  Because, whatever they're doing, they could each be doing it on separate days, and we've just been unlucky with who've we've tailed."

Starsky rubbed his hands over his face.  Then he said, "Well, I'm thinking that tomorrow, I need to tail Garcia.  When we tailed him last week, it was a Tuesday.  So, now it'll be a Wednesday."

Hutch nodded.  "And I'll do Marello, since we tailed him Thursday last week."  Hutch sat back in his chair, and stretched his legs out in front of him.  "I feel like saving some time and scratching the rental car routine.  We haven't used our own cars at all.  I want to take the LeBaron."

Starsky shrugged.  "Okay.  I'll take my Corvette.  It just means we'll have to leave here in separate cars."  They'd been driving to Camarillo and back together, and using the rental office there.

Hutch attempted to offset their building frustration with a smile.  "Will you miss me?"

Starsky shifted.  "I will for lunch.  Maybe dinner.  If we don't have to meet up at the rental office at the end of the day, then where are we going to meet?"

Hutch considered.  "There's that Denny's near the rental car office."

"Right."  Starsky suddenly shifted.  "Damnit, Hutch, this would be so much easier if we had car phones.  I mean, if one of us is late because we're on to something, there's no way of letting the other know that."

"We'll get car phones," Hutch soothed.  "Just as soon as this case is over and we have time.  And it's no different than the last few days.  We've always known that one of us might be waiting a few hours for the other."

Starsky wadded up a napkin and muttered, "I hate being separated."

HIs voice terse from being equally frustrated, Hutch said, "Our only other option is to hire out other PIs to help with the work.  And I don't want to be trusting people that I don't know with our case."

"Well, it wouldn't hurt to get to know some other people in our industry.  Could come in handy some day."

"We'll look into that, after the case."

Starsky threw down the wadded napkin.  "You always want to put things off, Hutch.  I've been talking about the car phones for months."

Hutch sputtered, "Then why haven't you taken care of getting car phones the past few days, while our cars were sitting here?  I haven't stopped you."  He knew it was a low blow, since of course Starsky had also been traveling in and around Camarillo, ever since the case started.

They heard the office phone hang up, and Nick appeared in the foyer.  He said, "Those people at the maritime museum sound really eager to meet me.  I'll stop in tomorrow and pick up an application.  Is there any food left?"

Starsky pushed some square cartons toward the chair where Nick sat down.  "Help yourself."

Nick looked up, and obviously took in the tense atmosphere.  "What's wrong?"

Hutch got up and went to the sink to busy himself with the few dishes.

Starsky said, "We're just frustrated with this case.  Nothing's turning."

"I thought long cases were good, because you get to charge more."

"Not when they're far away, and we have to be separated, and have no way of communicating with each other throughout the day."

As Hutch put silverware in the dishwater, he felt a squeeze at his waist as Starsky went by.

With that simple apology, he suddenly felt a whole lot better.


The tension was back early the following morning.  Since Starsky had farther to drive to tail Garcia during his route to various oil wells, he was eager to get an early start in his Corvette.  His only full sentence to Hutch was when he had his hand on the door to the garage.  "We're meeting up at the Denny's by six-thirty, right?"

"Yeah," Hutch nodded.  He was dressed, but decided to enjoy a quiet breakfast first, while Starsky had merely shoved a few handfuls of dry cereal into his mouth.  "If something happens that'll make me late, I'll leave a message with them.  Why don't you do the same."

Starsky appeared to soften somewhat.  "Okay."  Then, abruptly, he marched toward Hutch and gave him a quick kiss.  "Take care of yourself."  He clasped Hutch's hand, and then squeezed it.

Hutch swallowed.  "Yeah.  Same to you."  He squeezed back.

Starsky managed a crooked smile as he went to the garage. 

A moment later, Hutch heard him leaving, and felt his heart beat more softly.   Miss him already..

Nick appeared from the guest bedroom in his boxer shorts, while rubbing at his eyes.

"You're up awfully early," Hutch said, as he leaned back against the kitchen counter, sipping his coffee.

"I remembered that I need some directions before you guys leave.  Where the fuck is Oxnard?"

Hutch blinked.  "Oxnard?"

"Yeah, that's where the maritime museum is.  I need to pick up an application.  The manager sounded really positive about me when I was talking to her last night."

"That's way the hell north of Camarillo, where I'm headed to the oil fields just east of there."


"Yeah."  Hutch blinked again.  He really wasn't looking forward to a long, lonely day.  As much as he surprised himself by thinking it, he said, "Maybe you ought to come up with me.  I can stop and let you run in to get an application.  That way, you won't have to worry about getting lost, and you can join me and your brother for dinner at Denny's at the end of the day."

"But what about the rest of the day?  What am I supposed to do?"

Hutch shrugged.  "Just sit in the car with me while we tail this one guy.  I have a camera with me, and binoculars, and a notebook.  If anything exciting happens, maybe you can help out.  Did you have any other appointments today?"

"Nothing's that been finalized."  Nick nodded.  "Okay."

"Then hurry and get dressed.  I'd like to beat rush hour traffic as much as possible."



"The manager really liked me," Nick said, as Hutch eased the LeBaron away from the curb.  He was dressed in a suit and tie.  "I have the right personality for a job like this, giving tours and such."

"Good.  Hopefully, it'll work out."

"So, where are we going?"

"To some oil fields.  Only, we have to hang back, and wait until the foreman's truck, a powder blue Toyota pickup, heads somewhere.  It's going to be a lot of sitting and waiting."

Nick grunted.  "Anything is better than watching that video tape of Darla.  I must have seen that thing twenty times by now."

Hutch grinned.  "Yeah, your brother is really crazy about her."  Starsky had insisted on showing the tape of her winning over and over, as well as the other footage they'd taken, the first two nights Nick was there.  "That was really fun, being there to see her win.  Maybe you can join us, when she runs at Del Mar."

Nick shook his head.  "My brother, a racehorse owner.  Who would have ever believed it."

"Well, hopefully, she'll be our only foray into the sport.  I make sure I put a lid on any ideas he gets in his head about expanding into other horses.  We really lucked out with her."

"I never even knew he liked horses.  When we were kids, he practically crapped his pants when a horse in Central Park tried to nip at him.  He was scared to death."

"He's certainly not afraid of being around them now."

Quietly, Nick said, "There so many things that seem different about him now."

Hutch looked over at him.  "For the better, I hope."

Nick shrugged.  "Not better or worse.  Just different."


Three hours later, Nick had long since abandoned his jacket and tie, and loosened the top buttons of his shirt.  "When are we going to eat lunch?"

"Whenever Marello does.  I bet it'll be the next time he leaves."  They had already tailed him to three different wells that morning.  He spent anywhere from a half hour to an hour at each well.

"Don't know how you guys stand doing all this sitting and waiting."

"We did it all the time as cops.  You figure out ways to pass the time.  Just like people whose jobs have them flying all over the country, I guess.  You adjust.  It's just a whole lot easier when there's two.  The conversation helps you stay alert."  Hutch felt nostalgic when he said, "Your brother and I learned a lot about each other from many a stakeout."

"Seems like it would be boring with the same person in the car, all the time."

Hutch considered the statement, and then shook his head.  "Not with us.  It's being without each other that makes us uptight.  That's why we got a little terse with each other last night.  Neither of us likes working separate.  It goes against the very thing that made us so good at our jobs."

Nick looked over at him.  "Do you ever feel like half a man, because you two need each other so much?"

He was sincere, which made Hutch want to answer as honestly as possible.  "In a manner of speaking, I guess.  I don't ever want to be without him.  He's the center of my existence."

Nick shook his head.  "I can't imagine ever being that attached to somebody.  It would scare the hell out of me, to need somebody that much."

"It's the idea of losing him that has certainly scared the hell out of me."  Hutch softened.  "But you've got to consider the other side of it, Nick.  When you love somebody so much that it feels like they're literally a part of you... there's nothing else like that."  He saw movement along the dirt road in the distance.  "What's this?"  He picked up his binoculars, and saw the blue Toyota pickup.  "I think Marello has decided it's time for lunch."

"Thank God."

They were parked next to a large shed, near a residence, making it look like their car belonged there.

Hutch made sure he gave Marello a few seconds to get on the paved two-lane highway, and then he started the motor and eased onto the road to follow.

After twenty minutes, and driving through a small town, Hutch said, "Doesn't look like he's stopping anywhere for lunch."

Subdued, Nick asked, "Then that means we can't, either?"

"Right.  We've got to keep on his tail.  Who knows, maybe he's actually headed somewhere he's not supposed to go, and we'll finally make some progress on this case.  Think positive, Nick."

They drove another ten minutes, and then the truck suddenly pulled up at an old house, on some acreage with various buildings for animals, that didn't appear to be in use.

Hutch drove past.  "Huh.  Wonder what that place is."

Nick turned in his seat to watch behind him.  "There a few other pickups there.  A couple of old cars."

Hutch nodded toward a cluster of trees, off a side road that appeared to wind toward the back of the farm.  "There's some trees up there, where we can hide."

Hutch turned onto the side dirt road a moment later, noting the irony that the sign said Nicholas Road.  They drove by a few small houses that didn't have any cars out front.  Then it curved around, back toward the place where the Toyota had stopped, with a long row of trees and other brush.  "Perfect," Hutch said, as he turned off the motor.  "Now, listen up, Nick.  We're going to approach.  You take the camera, and I'll take the binoculars, but it's important to be super quiet.  Maybe we'll even be able to hear something, though it looks like everyone is inside the house."

Nick nodded.  Hutch noted, with satisfaction, that Nick seemed to be enjoying the idea that something was finally happening, and that he was allowed to be involved.

"Don't slam your door," Hutch said as they got out.  They both quietly pushed their doors closed. 

Hutch held his binoculars as he moved through the brush beneath the trees.  He stopped just before the clearing where the back of the property was.  A telephone pole was a few feet to the right, but he decided he'd rather squat down in the brush, than try to hide behind the pole.

As Nick squatted next him, Hutch whispered, "Be real quiet.  Don't make a sound.  Keep your head down."

"What about pictures?" Nick whispered back.

"Go ahead.  Here comes somebody else."

Another pickup drove up.  Hutch noted that the new arrival, as well as the other vehicles already parked on the premises, didn't match any of the trucks driven by the other foremen.  Whatever was going on here today, it only involved Marello.

Two men got out of the truck and went to the back.  They lowered the gate and got up into the truck bed.  They opened what appeared to be some sort of crate, and pulled out a white, muscular, muzzled dog.  Once they had the dog on the ground, they led him with a leash.

"Oh, God," Hutch whispered, as understanding dawned, "I think they're doing dog fighting."

"Dog fighting?" Nick whispered back.  He snapped more photogarphs.

"The spectators are probably betting."

The two men and the dog approached the steps to the porch of the house.  Suddenly, two other men come out the front door, one holding a gun.

Hutch's heart raced.  Old instincts kicked in, and he had to remind himself that, not only did he not have a weapon, but he had no authority to try to put a stop to whatever was going to happen.  What's more, he had an innocent bystander with him.  He hissed, "Keep your head down."

Nick gasped fearfully, "Oh, man."

The two men with the dog started to back up, the one not holding the leash with his arms partly raised.

The man with the gun said something angrily that Hutch couldn't catch.

The man with his arms up said, "You can have the dog as payment.  I couldn't get a hold of any cash."

The armed man and his companion continued to approached the other two, and the latter had backed away from their truck, causing the aggressors to turn so that they were almost facing the bushes were Hutch and Nick were.

Hutch whispered, "We have to get out of here and call the police.  Let's back away real, real slow and careful, Nick.  Stay low."

Hutch heard other indecipherable words as he and Nick crept backwards, and Hutch was no longer looking at them, as he focused on where to place his feet in the thick brush.

A shot rang out.  Hutch heard it ricochet off the telephone pole, just as he felt a burning in his stomach.  He gasped and fell to his knees, his hand pressed against the burning.

"What the --" Nick started.  And then, fearfully, "Oh, God.  Oh, God."

At the house, the voices had become more agitated.  Hutch looked down and raised his hand slightly from his stomach, and blood poured forth.

"Oh, my God," Nick said more loudly.

Hutch quickly put his hand back over the wound.  "Quiet!" he hissed.  "Let's get out of here."  Before I can't.

He was peripherally aware that they still hadn't been seen.  Hutch was also aware that the pain was spreading, as he continued to move in a low crouch.

"Come on!  Come on!" Nick said, as they reached the car.  He opened the passenger door, where Hutch crawled into the seat.  Hutch groaned loudly as he rolled onto his back, which hurt even more.

Nick got in and frantically started the motor.  "Where the fuck's the hospital?" he shouted, gunning the car onto Nicholas Road.

"I don't fucking know!" Hutch shouted back.  "Get on the highway.  Head back toward Oxnard."  He kept his hand pressed tightly against his stomach, aware that he was slouched uncomfortably low in the seat.

Nick barely stopped at the intersection before turning south on the highway.  He yelled at Hutch, "You'd better not die!  You'd better not die!  Davey will blame me!"

"Then hurry!" Hutch yelled back.  "Get us to a hospital!"  They didn't seem to be going fast enough.  "Hurry!"

"We'll get pulled over!"

"Good!  Then the cops can call an ambulance.  Go faster, Nick!  Faster!"

Thankfully, the car was speeding up, Hutch guessed close to eighty.

"You'd better not die!" Nick yelled again.  "God damn you!  Don't you dare die on me!"

"Go as fast you can, so the cops will catch us."  Hutch wasn't shouting as loud.  He closed his eyes and pressed harder on his stomach, trying to stem the flow of blood.

Nick kept frantically glancing at him.  "Don't die, damnit!"

Hutch tried to tune him out.  It seemed to take a long time, but there was finally the distant wail of a siren.

"Slow down," Hutch gasped.  "Pull over.  Do exactly what they say."

Nick muttered something unintelligible, while braking heavily. 

"Do exactly what they say," Hutch reminded as they came to a stop.  He couldn't restrain a loud groan, and then gasped, "Tell them the truth.  Don't lie about anything.  Roll down the fucking windows."

Footsteps were heard approaching both sides of the car.  Eventually, the window came down.  Hutch spoke before the officer on his side had a chance to.  "I need an ambulance.  I've been shot."

He heard the officer on the driver's side say, "Get out of the car."

"I didn't do nothing!" Nick protested.

Hutch shouted, "Do what he says, Nick!  Goddamnit!"  His stomach hurt so much.

The officer on Hutch's side said, "Take it easy.  I'm calling right now."  Footsteps moved away.

Nick was getting out of the car.

"Up against the car," the officer said. 

"Do what he says, Nick!"  Hutch shouted.

He squeezed his eyes shut, and tried to take stock of his situation.  His stomach hurt, he was bleeding, he was sweating, and he was highly agitated because of Nick.  But it wasn't like he had been shot in the head or the chest, or a main artery had been severed.  When he'd been shot in the shoulder a few years back, he'd felt woozy.  Now, he was far more alert than he wanted to be.

He wanted Starsky.

There was conversation going on outside the driver's side.  On Hutch's side, a calm voice said, "An ambulance is on the way."  The officer opened Hutch's door.  "Do you have any weapons on you?"

"No," Hutch gasped.  "My ID is in my right pants pocket.  I'm a PI.  Used to be a cop in Bay City."  He took a breath.  "We tailed somebody to a house near Nicholas Road, where they have dog fighting."  Another breath.  "Some guys were arguing and one had a gun.  A shot ricocheted off a pole and hit me."  Another breath.  "We were hiding in bushes behind the house, trying to take pictures."

"Take it easy," the officer said.  He was gently patting Hutch down, and then reached into his right pants pocket.  "You seem to have good pressure on your wound, so I'm not going to disturb it."

Hutch heard the other officer say, "I'm going to put cuffs on you and sit you in the squad car until this is sorted out."

Nick squealed, "But I didn't do anything!"

Hutch wished he could smack him.  "Goddamnit, Nick, do what he says!"  Then he managed, in a more gentle tone, "You'll be all right."

The cop on his side was holding his wallet.  "Kenneth Hutchinson."


With slight amusement, "I don't suppose you're the Hutchinson of Starsky and Hutchinson."

Hutch felt encouraged.  "That's me."



The officer squatted down near him.  "You're a PI now?"

"We both are.  He's still my partner."  Hutch nodded toward Nick, grateful to have the officer's respect.  "That's Starsky's brother from New York."

"Can we call Starsky for you?"

Hutch snorted, which hurt his stomach.  "No, he's on the road.  Out toward Santa Paula."

"Maybe we can get someone to spot him.  What's he driving?"

Hutch felt a sense of hope that Starsky might be reunited with him soon.  "Yellow Corvette.  1981.  License plate starts with AHC, but I don't know the rest."

A hand squeezed his shoulder.  "I hear the ambulance.  Let me call dispatch and see if I can get some units to be on the lookout for your partner."

"Thanks," Hutch whispered.  Then, he suddenly called, "Hey, uh..."

The officer turned back. 

Hutch gathered his breath.  "Tell the ambulance guys... no morphine.  I'm allergic."

There was another squeeze on his shoulder.  "Will do."


Starsky wiped at his forehead with his left hand, while his right had the cast perched on the lower edge of the steering wheel, holding it straight.  It was a damn hot day, and the Corvette's air conditioner didn't seem very effective.

Another ultra boring day.  Garcia was doing his job, only going to wells, except for taking a lunch break, which he ate from a lunchbox inside his truck, just outside of town.  Now, he was on the highway, surely to see to the next well on his rounds. 

Starsky hated the idea of him and Hutch calling Stan White and telling him that they hadn't been able to find out anything outside of company policy that the foremen were doing.  But he hated even more this case continuing much longer, with him and Hutch being separated every damn day.

He went over a hill and saw a state patrol car sitting by the side of the road.  Starsky quickly checked his speed.  His was eight miles over the limit -- surely not enough to interest an officer looking for serious speeders.

As he passed the car, it turned onto the highway behind him.  Starsky watched carefully.  No blinking lights or siren.  Though it was strange that the police car seemed to be moving closer.

Suddenly, the siren wailed and the flashings lights went on.

Sheesh. For being eight miles over?  Give me a break.  He's probably on my ass just because I have a Corvette.

Starsky gradually slowed down, and then pulled over to the side of the road, resigned to having lost Garcia for the time being.

It was too frigging hot to get out of the car and act all offended and affronted, so he merely rolled down the window as the officer rapidly approached, not bothering to hide his frown of displeasure.

"Are you David Starsky?"

Starsky's mouth fell open.  What the--  "Yeah."

"I'm here to escort you to St. John's Hospital in Oxnard.  Your partner, Ken Hutchinson, has been shot."

Starsky's heart kicked into high gear.  "Shot?  What?"

"Sorry, I don't know anything else.  Follow me."

"Oh, my God," Starsky muttered, as the officer moved briskly back to his car.  Dear God, Hutch, what could have happened?  Who did this to you?

It was both more comforting and more alarming to know that the police were already involved.  How bad is it?

The patrol car pulled onto the road, lights and sirens blaring, and as soon as it passed, Starsky pulled behind it.

As the speed of both cars increased, Starsky's stomach churned with the idea of Hutch being mortally wounded.  God, please no.  No.  I'm not near ready yet.  I can't lose him.  Please, God.

He didn't register the passing landscape.  He could only follow the car in front of him.  And wonder what he would find when the car stopped.


Just as he pulled the Corvette into a parking spot, Starsky reached into the glove compartment for the plastic pocket with his copy of an  important notarized piece of paper.

He didn't wait for the highway patrolman to emerge from his vehicle.  Instead, Starsky jogged to the emergency room entrance and stopped at the first window that looked like a nurse's station.  "I'm David Starsky and I'm here to see Kenneth Hutchinson.  He was brought in with a gunshot wound."

The woman moved her finger down a clipboard.  "I don't have information here.  Let me check and see where he is."  She got up.


Starsky looked up to see Nick approach, from where he was flanked by a couple of patrolmen, and the officer that had escorted Starsky now joined them.

"Nick!  What are you doing here?"

"I went with Hutch this morning," he responded breathlessly.  "We followed the one guy to some kind of dog fighting place, and some guy there had a gun and I guess tried to shoot another guy, and the bullet ricocheted and hit Hutch."

"How bad?" Starsky demanded.

"I don't know.  He was conscious."

Starsky felt almost nauseated with relief.  Conscious was good.  "Where was he hit?"

"The stomach, I guess.  He was holding his stomach."

One of the officers soothed, "He was alert and talking."  The man grinned.  "Once we saw his ID and realized who he was, we wanted to try to get someone to flag you down.  You guys had one of the greatest partnerships ever."

"Still do," Starsky said firmly.  Then he reached to squeeze the man's shoulder.  "Thanks."

"Are you here for Kenneth Hutchinson?"

Starsky turned to see a middle-aged physician in front of him.  "Yes.  He's my partner." 

"I'm Dr. Patterson."

Starsky held up the piece of paper, aware of the officers stepping away to give privacy.  "I've got power of attorney for any decisions, if he's not able to make them."

The physician nodded.  "We'll put a copy in our files, but that's not necessary, since he was brought in conscious."

"How bad is it?"

"Hard to say.  He took a slug to his abdomen.  But his vitals are stabilized.  We're prepping him for surgery, to remove the bullet."

"I need to see him."

"Let's wait a bit.  He's getting an enema right now, as part of the prep.  You can see him right before they take him to surgery."

Starsky wanted to protest that he and Hutch had nothing left to be modest about around each other, but he didn't want to slow any procedure that was part of the road to Hutch's recovery.  "Okay."

The doctor nodded to the nurse's station.  "Give them your power of attorney.  Then have a seat."  He turned away.

Feeling that his motions were purely mechanical, Starsky went to the nurse's station.  "Please make a copy of this for Kenneth Hutchinson's file."

The nurse took the paper and browsed it.  "Just a moment."  She turned away to a copy machine.

Hutch was going to be okay.  Yes, sometimes relatively minor gunshot wounds ended up being much more serious, but Hutch wasn't going to be one of those cases.

He was going to be all right.

The nurse handed him the sheet of paper.  "There you go."

"Thanks."  Starsky awkwardly folded it along its creases, using one hand and his cast, so it could fit back in the plastic sleeve.

He blinked, realizing that he wasn't sure what to do next.  He looked up.  Nick was still near the officers, who were talking amongst themselves, and appeared pale and almost shell-shocked.

How had Nick gotten involved?  Something about him going with Hutch....

Starsky walked briskly over to Nick.  "What the fuck happened?"

An officer took a clipboard from under his arm, and held it out to Starsky'.  "Here's the police report your brother signed.  Your welcome to read it over."

"Thanks," Starsky said as he accepted the clipboard.

He read.  A ricocheting bullet not meant for Hutch.  One of those things.  To the officer, he said, "So, there's a dog fighting ring?"

"We sent out some patrol cars, but they'd already disbanded.  There aren't any hospitals that have reported a gunshot wound, so we don't know if anyone else was shot, other than Hutchinson.  We have heard rumors of dog fights, but we haven't been able to pin anything down."

Starsky handed the clipboard back, and turned his attention to Nick.  "Why is it you were with Hutch?"

"I asked him where Oxnard was, because I was going to fill out an employment application at the martime museum, and Hutch said he was going out that way and he'd take me.  So, I spent all morning with him."  Nick shrugged.  "It was really boring, and then this happened."  He swallowed thickly.  "He's going to be okay, isn't he?"

"Yeah," Starsky said simply.  He realized Nick had been through a rough time -- something he hadn't asked for.  He reached to squeeze his shoulder.  "I'm glad you're okay."  He managed the hint of a smile.

One of the officers stepped forward.  "We need to get going.  Oh, they've taken Hutchinson's car to the impound lot.  It won't cost anything if you're able to retrieve it today."

Starsky's mind raced ahead.  He was going to be here, as long as Hutch was in the hospital.  But there was no reason for Nick to be around.  "Is it possible that one of you can take Nick to get the car?"  To Nick, he asked, "Are you all right to drive?"

"Yeah.  Anything is better than all this standing around."

"Then you can drive Hutch's car home.  I'm staying around here, however long it takes for Hutch to be released."

The officer said, "Sure, I can give your brother a ride to impound."

Nick nodded.  "Great."

Starsky said, "Just drive it home.  I'll call you as soon as I know anything, on the home phone.  Don't answer the office phone, if it rings.  It'll take a message."  He didn't want the highly volatile Nick talking to clients. 

Nick nodded.  "All right."

Starsky squeezed his hand.  "Thanks, kid."  He then turned to the officer and squeezed his arm.  "Thanks so much for going above and beyond."  His gaze took in all three officers.  " I really appreciate it."

"Sure.  We take care of our own.  We'll be checking in to see how he's doing."

"David Starsky?"

Starsky turned at the voice.

Dr. Patterson said, "You can see him for just a minute or two.  He's pretty woozy, because he's been given something for the pain."

Starsky suddenly felt alarm.  "Not morphine?"  They began walking down the hall.

"No.  It was in transmitted to us by the EMTs that he's allergic."

Starsky released a heavy breath.  "Okay."

Starsky was led into a room where Hutch was on a gurney, a sheet up to his neck.  A blue surgical cap was on his head.

"Hutch," Starsky said, feeling himself go soft all over.  He stopped beside the gurney and propped his cast against it.  Since Hutch's arms were beneath the covers, save an exposed wrist with an IV, he stroked the backs of his fingers along Hutch's cheek and gently whispered,  "Hey there, pal."

Hutch's eyes fluttered as he tiredly whispered, "Starsk?"

"I'm right here.  You're gonna be fine, Hutch.  Just fine."  Starsky swallowed thickly, as his fingers continued to stroke.  "They're taking you down to surgery to patch you up.  I'll be right here when you wake up.  Okay, buddy boy?"

Hutch took a moment to gather his breath.  "m gonna be okay."

Starsky felt his mouth break into a smile.  "I know you are.  You're gonna be fine, Hutch."

Hutch seemed to barely shake his head.  "Nick... didn't do... anything... wrong."

"I know that, buddy boy."  Starsky wondered why Hutch made a point of saying that.  "Just one of those things."

A nurse appeared.  "We need to take him to the OR now.  You can wait upstairs in the surgical waiting room on the fourth floor."

Starsky patted the top of the surgical cap.  "You're gonna come through this with flying colors, Blintz."  He felt his throat close as he whispered.  "Love you so much."

Hutch had closed his eyes and seemed to nod a moment, as he was wheeled out of the room.

Starsky went out to the hall.  Nick and all the police officers had left.

He was alone.


Starsky was stretched out on a couch, lightly dozing, when a hand landed on his arm.

He looked up to see Dr. Patterson in surgical scrubs, and quickly sat up, and then stood.  "How is he?"

"We retrieved the slug from his stomach lining.  It was a .22 caliber and didn't do a lot of damage, but we had to dig around quite a bit to find it.  He's going to be mighty sore for a while.  Otherwise, I expect him to make a full recovery.  But we'll be wanting to monitor him for a couple of days to make sure that he's able to eat and drink okay, and that no infection sets in."

Starsky felt a weight fall from his shoulders.  Okay.  Everything was going to be fine.  "Is he in a room now?"

"He's is recovery, and will probably be there an hour or so.  Then he'll be taken to a room on the seventh floor.  You can check with the nurse's station there."

"How can I see to it that he gets a private room?"

"Check with the nurse's station."  The doctor paused.  "Any other questions?"

Starsky shook his head.  "Thanks, doc."

"Take care.  I'll be checking in on him tomorrow."

Starsky went up to the seventh floor.  The nurses there said that Hutch's insurance wouldn't cover a private room, so Starsky signed various documents to take responsibility for such charges.  He became aware that, as cops, he and Hutch had never been out of pocket for medical expenses.  After turning in their resignations, they had purchased expensive insurance coverage -- made all the more costly by their lengthy medical histories -- but they still had deductibles to pay before the insurance would kick in.

Thank God for Darla

The thought of her made Starsky smile, and he realized it was the first step to things getting back to feeling normal.

After he'd completed all the paperwork -- including filling in the blanks with Hutch's information for his hospital file -- Starsky realized that he needed to contact various people and let them know what had happened.  He asked, "What room will he be in?"

The nurse replied, "724."  She pointed.  "Just down the hall there."

"Can I use the phone there?"

"Certainly.  The charges will go on Hutchinson's bill."


Who to call first?  The numbers to Hutch's families were at home.  It was past five and Nick should be there by now.  Plus, Starsky wanted to check in with his brother and see how he was doing.

He dialed the house phone.

"Hello?" Nick greeted.

"Hi ya, Nick.  You got home okay?"

"Yeah.  Is he all right?"

"Yeah.  I haven't seen him yet, because he's in recovery, but he's in room 724.  So, if you need to call, call the hospital here and ask for that room number.  Let me give you the hospital number."  Starsky read it off the center of the rotary phone.  Then he asked,  "How are you doing?"

A heavy sigh came across the line.  "Okay, considering I'm not the one who got shot.  But man, the cops had me in handcuffs and everything."

Starsky had read that in the report.  "Calm down, Nick, and listen.  When the cops come upon a speeding car where somebody's been shot, obviously something illegal has happened, and the occupants of the car are involved.  For all they know, you guys killed somebody and have a gun in your car and are going to start shooting cops. They have to think of their own safety first, Nick.  It wasn't anything personal.  They were just following procedure until they knew what was going on.  They would have cuffed Hutch, too, if he hadn't been so seriously injured."

Nick scoffed, "They sure changed their tune when they found out who Hutch was."

Starsky tried not to be put off by the jealousy in Nick's tone. "For which I'm grateful as hell.  Those cops are heroes, as far as I'm concerned.  If they hadn't heard of Starsky and Hutch, I'd be headed for Denny's right now, and probably waiting there for three hours, wondering why Hutch hadn't shown up.  Anyway, it looks like they uncuffed you pretty quick.  You weren't cuffed at the hospital."

"Yeah.  They were star struck, once they knew who Hutch was."

Starsky wanted to change the subject.  "Hey, look, I need a favor.  I need to call Hutch's relatives and let them know what happened.  Hutch and me have a spiral address book in the office where we keep all our numbers.  Can you put the phone down and go get it?"


They spent the next ten minutes with Nick reading off various phone numbers, so Starsky could write them down.  Then Starsky asked, "Do you have any plans for tomorrow?"

"Just looking for more jobs."

His tone sounded a lot less enthusiastic than before.  Starsky was very nervous about the idea of Nick being alone and having too much time on his hands.  "I've got a project for you, if you're interested."

"What is it?"

Starsky took out his wallet.  "Hang on a sec."  He pulled a bunch of business cards from the compartment where he kept those.  He quickly searched through them and found the one he was looking for.  "Here it is.  I'd like you to take Hutch's car in, so a car phone can be installed.  I have the number here of a place that handles that.  Do you have a pen?"  Starsky read off the number to Nick.  "The guy's name is Gabe.  I've talked to him before.  Call him first thing in the morning, and see if he can do Hutch's car tomorrow.  If so, then the next day you can drive it up here and leave it at the hospital, and then take my Corvette down and have a phone put in it."

"Cool.  You guys are going to have car phones?"

"Yeah.  It certainly would have helped in this situation.  You guys could have just called me to let me know what happened."  And if Hutch had been alone, and wounded, hopefully he would have been able to call for help.

"Okay.  I'll do that."

"Great.  Gabe will probably want me to put some money down, so he can call here and I'll give him a credit card number.  If I get a hotel room tonight, I'll call and let you know what that is."


"Thanks, Nick."  Starsky let his voice soften.  "Thanks for all your help.  Thanks for doing what you could to take care of Hutch.  I know you didn't ask for this."

"Yeah.  I'm sorry it happened.  Just dumb luck that bullet ricocheted like it did.  We were both trying to sneak out of there so we could get somewhere to call the police, when we saw the one guy with a gun."

"Yeah.  If his car had a phone, you could have called the cops right there.  And an ambulance."


"I need to hang up and start calling Hutch's relatives.  I'll check in with you at least once more tonight."


As Starsky hung up, he realized the next call he wanted to make was to Stan White, the one who had hired them for this job.  He needed to let him know what had happened, and that they wouldn't be working the case any further.  But at least he could tell him that he needed to question his foremen about attending dog fights.

White was shocked to hear that Hutch had been shot.  But that was the extent of his sympathy, and when Starsky said it would be a while before he received a bill, since Hutch handled that, White pressed for how much the charges were going to be, and Starsky had to admit that he had no idea, since he didn't handle the money end of things.  As he hung up, he hoped to have contact with White at a future point, so he could find out what the foremen had to say about the dog fighting activities.

Starsky started making the next phone call without even pausing to consider what he might say.

"Hello?" a male voice answered.


"Yes.  Speaking."

"This is Dave Starsky."

"David.  Hello."

"I've got some news.  Hutch is fine, but he's just had surgery."

"Surgery?  What happened?"

"He was in the right place at the wrong time while working a job, and got shot by a stray bullet."

"Shot?  Oh, my God."

"Yeah.  In the stomach, but the doc says he'll make a full recovery.  He just needs to be in the hospital a few days, and he'll be sore for a while."

"Dear God.  I thought he wasn't going to be in danger anymore."

"I know.  We had no reason to think there was anything dangerous about this job.  But he was tailing somebody, who stopped some place where somebody took a shot at him.  Hutch was trying to take photographs, and the bullet ricocheted off a telephone pole and hit him."

Starsky wasn't sure how much of the last Richard heard, for he had turned away from the phone to speak with Lorraine.  Then Richard said, "Lorraine wants to know where to send flowers.  I have a pen."

"It's St. John's Hospital in Oxnard, California.  O-x-n-a-r-d.  He's in room 724."

"Got it.  Are you with him now?"

"He's still in recovery.  They should be bringing him up pretty soon."  Starsky glanced at the second number on the list that he'd made while talking to Nick.  "Hey, Richard, someone needs to tell Lanette.  Did you want to call her, or should I call?"

"Well, since you're the one with the direct information, you probably should."

"Okay, I'll call her and let her know."

Starsky saw a gurney being wheeled toward the entrance of the room, and saw a blond head at the front of it.  "Sorry, I have to hang up.  They've just brought him up.  I'll call you back as soon as I have a chance."

"Please do.  Tell him we're thinking about him."

"Right.  Bye."

Starsky quickly moved out of the way as the gurney was brought next to the bed.  "How is he?"  The covers were up to Hutch's waist, and he had a thick bandage around his middle.

In a quiet voice, a nurse said, "He fades in and out.  He needs to sleep as much as he can right now."  She pushed the covers back on the hospital bed, while the another did the same to Hutch's nude form.

They made sure the gurney was level with the bed, and then the two nurses lifted Hutch just enough to move him over to the bed, while a third handled the IV pole.  They then pulled the covers over him. 

As the gurney was moved away, the nurse with the IV pole said to Starsky, "I'm Denise.  I'll be his day nurse while he's here."

Starsky moved to Hutch's side.  "Hi, Denise."  He reached down to squeeze Hutch's hand, and whispered, "Hey ya, Hutch."

Hutch's eyes fluttered.  "Starsk?"

"It's okay.  I'm right here.  Sleep, if you want.  You don't need to talk."

He was heartened to see Hutch's mouth corner twitch into a semblance of a smile.  Then Hutch muttered in dry voice, "Guess I shouldn't have written that chapter."

Starsky blinked, uncertain of what Hutch meant.  Hutch had written only one chapter in their book....

Then Starsky remembered.  Hutch had said something about feeling that the peace in their lives was because of them still recovering from all the trauma they had experienced in recent years.  And perhaps, once fully recovered, they'd go back to flirting with danger.

Regardless of how perceptive Hutch's words might have been, all Starsky wanted to do now was soothe.  He stroked back through the blond hair.  "You wrote a beautiful chapter, baby.  We're together, and that's all that matters.  You're going to be fine."

Hutch seemed to struggle to keep his eyes open.  "Don't blame Nick."

"Don't worry, I haven't."  Once again, Starsky was puzzled as to why Hutch made a point of mentioning that. 

Hutch murmured, "Glad it was me.  Not him."

Starsky thought his heart would break.  "Everything is fine.  You go to sleep, Hutch.  I'll be right here when you wake up."  He watched Hutch's eyes close.  "That's my Blintz.  Just sleep." 

He was gratified when the lids remained closed.

Starsky realized that Denise had stayed in the room, and was doing various things with equipment, and then paused to take Hutch's pulse.

She glanced at him.  "He'll probably sleep for a few hours."

Starsky nodded.  "How long can I stay with him tonight?"

"Until nine o'clock.  Visiting hours are also open at nine in the morning."

Starsky knew there would be little point in trying to be an exception to the rules.  Hutch wasn't in danger.  They weren't cops anymore and couldn't try to claim any special status.

He decided to go down to the cafeteria and get some food.


Starsky had enough change to call Dobey and Huggy from a pay phone in the hall.  He also called their bowling partners, Daryl and Sue, though he and Hutch had to drop out of the league for the time being, because of Starsky's cast.

He went back up to the seventh floor and saw that Hutch was sleeping.  He decided to risk making some phone calls from Hutch's room, and hoped it wouldn't disturb Hutch if he kept his voice down.

He brought the phone with him to sit in a chair in a corner of the room, and then dialed Lanette's number. 

"Hello?" she greeted.

Quietly, Starsky said, "Hi, Lanette.  This is Dave Starsky.  I'm talking quietly because Hutch is in the hospital, and he's sleeping.  I don't know if your parents might have called you first."

"No, but Nick did."

Starsky blinked.  Then he realized that Nick had given him Lanette's number from their address book, so it would be any easy thing for Nick to call his sister-in-law, and short-term ex-lover, himself.  Starsky wasn't sure how he felt about that.  "Then, you know what went down."

"Yes.  How is Kenny?"

"Sleeping pretty good right now.  He'll make a full recovery, but he'll be in a lot of discomfort for a while."

"I've ordered some flowers.  Nick thought he'd be there a few days?"

"A couple, at least."

"The flowers should arrive by tomorrow afternoon."

"Thanks.  Do you have any other questions for me?"

"I guess not.  I'm glad he's going to be all right.  You still have the cast, don't you?"

"Yeah, it won't come off for a few more weeks."

"That's tough, you having to take care of him with a broken arm."

"I'll manage.  We always do."

"Yeah.  Thanks for calling, David."

"Sure.  Bye."

He decided to call Hutch's parents back, since he'd had to abruptly hang up earlier.

Richard answered again.  "Hello?"

"Hey, it's David.  Hutch is in his room, sleeping, and I am too, so I have to talk real low."

"He's going to be all right?"

"Yeah.  He even said a few sentences that made sense before he fell asleep."

A soft chuckle.  "Good.  How are you doing?"

Starsky was a bit startled, as well as touched, that Richard was concerned about him.  "Could do without these kinds of emergencies," he admitted.

"Yeah.  Uh, David?"


"Are you going to be able to take care of him with your cast?"

"I think so.  I doubt he'll need any special care once he gets home.  He'll probably just need to take it easy, as much as possible."

"Well, even so...."

Starsky was surprised at how hesitant Hutch's father sounded.  "Yeah?"

"I just thought....  When he's settled back home, I thought....  I think I might like to come out for a few days.  Not to have either of you cater to me."  His voice softened.  "I'd just like to come out."

It sounded like Richard was just talking about himself, and not including Hutch's mother.  "Uh, sure.  Let's just see how things go once Hutch is back home.  My brother is visiting right now."


"Not that that would be a problem.  I'm not sure what his plans are now.  He was with Hutch when he was shot, and I think he's pretty shook up by the whole thing."

"You weren't with Ken?"

"No.  I sure wish I had been.  But we were tailing people separately."

"Well, keep us posted.  Let me know when he's well enough to talk to me directly."

"Sure.  I bet it'll be sometime tomorrow."

"That's good.  Thanks, David."

"Sure.  Bye."

Starsky carefully hung up the receiver.

He browsed through a magazine for twenty minutes, and then heard Hutch groan.  He moved to the chair that was next to Hutch's bed, and pulled it closer, so he could reach out and gently stroke his fingers along Hutch's forehead.

Hutch's eyes opened.  He seemed startled a moment, and then his eyes moved to Starsky.  "Starsk?"

"Hi ya, Blintz.  How ya doing?"

Hutch grimaced.  "Hurts."

"Ah, baby.  Maybe they can give you something soon."  He moved his hand to find Hutch's under the covers, and squeezed it.  "You remember what happened?"


"You're gonna be fine.  The surgeon said you're gonna be tender for a while, though."

Hutch's eyes darted about the room.  "Where's Nick?"

"He's at the house.  I had him drive your car back.  Mine's here at the hospital."

Hutch's eyes were much more alert than they had been earlier.  "He didn't do anything wrong, buddy."

Starsky carefully said, "I have no reason to think he did.  How come you keep telling me that?"

Hutch released a careful sigh.  He closed his eyes.  "He was screaming and yelling at me to not die, because he was afraid you'd blame him."  His eyes opened.

Starsky wondered what that had been like for Hutch.  "Oh."

Hutch snorted, which made him grimace.  "Damn."  He gathered himself, and then said, "He could sure use a training course in bedside manner."

Starsky wasn't certain what to say, and shied away from the idea that Hutch hadn't been treated with tender loving care, when he was scared and hurting.

After a long moment, Hutch gasped, "Stop that."

"Huh?"  Starsky looked at him, realizing that he'd been gazing at the wall.

"I see that look on your face.  Don't blame Nick.  He may have flunked beside manner, but it's not like he ever asked to take the course, in the first place. You know?"

"Yeah," Starsky replied off-handedly.

Hutch's mouth corner twitched.  "I actually enjoyed his company somewhat throughout the morning."

Starsky was glad to hear that.  "Really?"


"Well, I've given him a project to keep him busy tomorrow.  I've told him to take your car in and get a phone installed.  If there's time the next day, he'll exchange it for mine, and get the Corvette done, too."

Hutch merely nodded, as though he had no interest in arguing.

"I've called your folks and let them know what happened."

Hutch nodded carefully, and then asked, "How much do the cops know about the dog fighting?"

"They said they'd heard rumors, but hadn't been able to find anything.  But at least they have a little bit to go on now."

"Nick took some pictures.  Of the guys with the dog we saw."

"He didn't mention that.  We'll have to get the film developed."  Starsky squeezed Hutch's hand.  "I also updated Stan White and told him we were off the case.  He kept trying to press me for how much we were going to charge, but I told him he'd have to wait until you were well enough to invoice him."

Denise walked in.  "I see that you're awake, Ken."

Starsky said, "He's hurting pretty good.  Can you give him something?"

"Just as soon as I check his vitals.  Would you like some ice chips?

"Yeah," Hutch muttered.

"I'll bring some in a minute."

Starsky visited the restroom, while Denise went through her various procedures.

Afterward, Starsky stayed with Hutch until he fell asleep again.  A short time after that, he was reminded that visiting hours were over, and he left the hospital.


Starsky decided to get a room at a motel a few blocks away, since he couldn't bear the idea of being an hour's drive away from Hutch.  He checked in with Nick again, and decided not to mention anything about Nick's call to Lanette.  It really wasn't his business.  He also tried to get a feel for Nick's intentions for the immediate future, but couldn't, and he didn't want to ask directly.  In general, he wouldn't mind having Nick around to run errands and such, while Hutch was convalescing, but he also knew that Nick wasn't the best person for such menial tasks.

Starsky was worn out, after having gotten up so early this morning, and then dealing with Hutch's situation.  Still, he could only doze off and on throughout the night, and genuine sleep eluded him.


Hutch was also sleeping in spurts, and Starsky bought playing cards at the gift shop to indulge in solitaire.  But he also dozed off and on himself. 

The phone in Hutch's room rang in mid morning, jolting them both, and Starsky quickly reached for it.  "Hello?"

"David?  This is Nick.  I'm at Gabe's, and he can install the phone today.  But he needs a credit card number."  Nick's voice lowered.  "Did you know this is going to cost about a hundred dollars per month, per phone?

"Yeah," Starsky said.  "We're getting the latest technology."

"And he said that you can't necessarily even use the phones whenever you want.  Something about there being limited channels, and you have to wait until a channel is free, if other drivers are using it."

"I know.  But it's still better than nothing."

"Okay.  Here's Gabe."

Starsky gave the man his credit card number.  Then Gabe said, "I can do the other car tomorrow, if you want."

"Terrific," Starsky said.  "Nick will be bringing it in."

When Nick was back on the phone, he asked about Hutch, and then asked if Starsky was staying in Oxnard again that night.  "Probably," Starsky replied. 

Flowers began to arrive as the morning wore on.

After having just a few sips of clear soup in late afternoon, Hutch threw up.  A few hours later, he tried a little soup again, and it was nearly twenty minutes before he threw up.

After Denise cleaned him up the second time, Hutch muttered to Starsky, "Guess I'll be losing lots of weight now."

Starsky squeezed his hand and soothed, "It's only been a day since the surgery, Hutch.  You'll get better."


That had indeed been the case, Hutch thought, later in the evening.  He'd had another go at it, and nearly an hour had past, and he hadn't thrown up.  His doctor had visited and said he would need to eat and drink in small doses for up to two weeks.   He was discouraged from driving for that same time period.  He was told not to strain his abdominal muscles for up to six weeks, and the tasks on the "don't do" list included sex.

Starsky had shrugged off that latter caution, once they were left alone, saying, "We were great together before we ever had sex.  So, we'll be able to weather a temporary hiatus with no problem."

Hutch wasn't so sure.  But thinking about it was too depressing so, while Starsky shuffled the deck for them to play a game of war, Hutch pondered the news that his father hoped to come out for a visit sometime soon.  Apparently, without his mother.

"I wonder if he's wanting to get away from her for a while," Hutch said, after they'd started the game on the serving tray for meals.  Starsky was sitting on the bed, facing him.

"Your dad?"

"Yeah.  They don't normally travel apart."  Hutch swallowed thickly.  "I'm thinking there might be something that he's wanting to tell me."

Starsky hesitated a while, and seemed focused on the game, though Hutch knew his thoughts were far away.  Finally, Starsky asked, "You mean, like, he knows he's getting worse?"

"That's what I'm afraid of," Hutch said, his voice tight and raspy.  He was still only allowed ice chips.  "He's told me before that he can't talk to Mom about his cancer."

Starsky was thoughtful a long moment, as they each continued to turn new cards over, with the winner collecting both.  Then he said, "I didn't really get that impression.  But he definitely sounded like he wants to visit.  And considering you'd be convalescing, it's not like he expects us to show him a good time."  Starsky shrugged.  "Maybe he's sort of wanting to take care of you, in a sense.  Maybe he's been reflecting a lot on his life, and he feels bad for neglecting you."

Hutch liked that thought a little better.

Starsky said, "He asked if I still had the cast.  You know, like that was going to make it harder for me to take care of you.  I said I didn't think it would interfere much, but that's when he mentioned he wanted to come out.  He was sort of shy about it, though."

Hutch wondered what Starsky would think of the thoughts going through his mind.

Starsky flipped over his next card.

Hutch relaxed back against his pillows.

"What are you thinking?" Starsky asked.

"If he does come out....."


Hutch drew a careful breath, for deep breaths hurt his stomach.  He met Starsky's eye.  "I'd like him to be able to read your book.  I think he'd appreciate that."  He felt his eyes water.

Starsky gazed at him.  "Well....," he hesitated.

"He won't mention anything about it to anyone else.  Not even Mom.  I'm sure of that."  Hutch's eyes filled.  "I want him to know about my life.  Our lives.  Before he's gone."  He reached up and wiped at his eyes.

"Awe, babe."  Starsky took some tissues from the box beside the bed.  "Here you go."

Hutch wiped his eyes and carefully blew his nose, since doing so hurt his stomach.

Starsky pushed the tray aside and held Hutch's hand.  "I'm fine with that.  But... what if he doesn't really want to?  I mean, I don't want to put stress on him, by handing him a huge stack of computer paper and expecting him to read it in the few days that he's visiting."

"Maybe we can just leave it on the nightstand beside the bed, and point out that it's in different chapters.  So, he can pick and choose, and read as much or as little as he likes."

Starsky nodded with a distant expression.  "Yeah.  That's probably a good idea."  Then he said, "But I don't want that stack of computer paper sitting around, while Nick is staying with us."

"Yeah.  Good point."

"If your Dad visits, I'd want him to have the guest room.  And then Nick would get kicked back to the other bedroom, with the rollaway bed.  And he has enough of an inferiority complex as it is."

Hutch deadpanned, "I guess we're popular, since so many people seem to want to stay with us."

Starsky snorted with a grin.  "Yeah.  Sure seems like that."  He sobered.  "Anyway, I need to have a good talk with Nick soon.  I have a feeling that, after all of this distracting him, the wind has gone out of his sails about finding a job."

"He sure seemed excited about the museum job."

"He can get excited about anything in brief spurts."

Hutch pressed, "Maybe you can talk to him tonight and try to figure out what he's thinking."  He realized how uncomfortably full his bladder was.  Again.

Starsky shrugged.  "I'd hate leaving you here, so far away."

"I'll be all right."  Hutch nodded to the nightstand, where the plastic hand urinal was.  "I need to take a piss."

Starsky reached to grab the bottle.  "Okay."


In the end, Starsky decided to drive home for the evening.  He let Nick know he'd be arriving close to ten, and found his brother watching TV.

"Hey," Starsky greeted, as he came into the living room with a soft drink in hand.

Nick was in his robe, watching Johnny Carson.  "Did you see the new car phone?"

"Na, forgot about it, actually."

Nick's face fell.  But he said, "The instruction manual is in the car.  It's, like, a half inch thick."

"You still going to take the Corvette in tomorrow, while I drive back up to see Hutch?"

"Yeah.  At least the traffic shouldn't be so bad for you, since it's Saturday."


Starsky sat back in the easy chair, and sipped his drink while they watched Johnny Carson..  When a commercial came on, he said, "Nick, I need to talk to you."


Hutch's eyes opened. 

They moved around the walls of his darkened room, and then settled on the empty chair next to the bed.  He then turned his head so he could see the brightly-lit nurse's station in the distance, outside his partially open door.

Hutch swallowed, trying to fight the inclination to think about how dry his throat felt.  He knew it wouldn't do any good to complain.

He was also feeling gassy, in his stomach and lower down, which he knew from experience was because of his body waking from the anesthesia.  The nurses would say it was healthy.

He didn't begrudge Starsky an opportunity to get some genuine sleep in his own bed, but Hutch felt lonely. 

His mind was too active.

He and Starsky had such wonderful lives.  This injury shouldn't interfere with that.  But it was such a stark reminder of how fragile life could be.  One didn't need to be in a dangerous occupation, or suffer bad health, to have everything yanked away from them.

Hutch eyes fell on the row of flowers along the window sill.  Starsky had read the cards to him earlier in the day.  The flowers were an illustration of various people that cared about him.  About them.

He felt emotion well up and tried to stem it.  If Starsky was here, Hutch would have to let it show.  They didn't hide anything from each other.

Though Hutch wanted to shy away from it, he could identify where the deepest furrow of feeling was coming from.

His father.

According to Starsky, his father was eager to come out.  Hutch was so afraid of what that meant.

Selfishly, he wanted his father to know him.  To read about his life and know him.  To know how much he and Starsky meant to each other.  Why they meant so much to each other.

He wanted his father to know about the heroin thing.

If his father read the heroin chapter, he would know when Hutch had been at his weakest.  That he had given away Jeanie's address to Ben Forest.

Hutch wanted, so much, for his father to be okay with that.  To still admire him, however recently those admirable feelings had developed.

In contrast, he didn't want Nick to get his hands on any of the book. 

Hutch furrowed his brow.

What would happen if Nick read the heroin chapter?

 Just what godawful thing would happen?

Nick would know.  And.... Think badly of him?

Hutch didn't really care.  What harm could Nick possibly cause him?

What harm could anyone cause him?


Starsky had to admit that he was depressed.

Yes, Hutch was going to be all right.  Thank God.

Starsky  was in his own bed, and badly needed sleep.  But sleep didn't come easily, with the other half of the bed being empty.  And when he did drop off to sleep, he woke up too quickly.

It was past three in the morning, and he was wide awake.

He and Hutch were good people.  Decent people.  Why did they have so much trouble with their siblings?  Where were they flawed?

Why couldn't he say to his brother, "I love you," and have that be all that mattered?

Okay, they were never the kind of family that said "I love you" to each other.  But that hadn't stopped them from being very loving.

It seemed, no matter what he did, he always ended up making Nick feel rejected.  Abandoned. 


"Hey," Starsky greeted Hutch the following morning.  "How are you?"

"Good morning'," Hutch greeted in a gruff voice.  "Hanging in there.  I had a little oatmeal.  Ate it real slow."

Starsky took a chair by Hutch's side and clasped his hand.  "And it stayed down?"


"Good."  Starsky squeezed his hand again.

"What's wrong?"

Starsky didn't bother asking why Hutch thought anything was wrong.  He sighed heavily.  "It didn't go so well with Nick."

"Why not?"

"I wish I fucking knew.  I seem to go about things all the wrong way."

Hutch grimaced.  "Sounds like me and Lanette."


"So, what happened?" Hutch pressed.

"Bottom line, he's flying back to New York on Monday."

"To stay?"


"Fill in the blanks."

"I guess I was pushing too much with questions, trying to get a feel for what he intended to do next.  He accused me of not wanting him around.  I tried to tell him that wasn't true, mentioned how much you enjoyed having him in the car with you that morning.  He said we live in our own little world that doesn't want anyone else around."

"Damn," Hutch whispered.

"Yeah.  Did I tell you that Lanette found out about you being shot from Nick?"


"Yeah.  I had him read off numbers from that address book we have, and her number was right there.  Apparently, he called her.  I don't know if it was just the once, or what."


Starsky gave a small shrug.  "For all I know, they had a little mutual tete-a-tete about what self-absorbed, self-centered people their brothers are."

"The more things change....," Hutch quoted.

Starsky sighed again.  "Yeah."  He wanted to be positive.  "I guess that gives us our answer though.  I can call your dad and have him come out, whenever you're ready.  And we can have him read the book."

Hutch appeared thoughtful.  "You know something, buddy?"


"I couldn't sleep much last night, and I got to thinking.  What awful thing would happen if somebody knows about some of the stuff in the book?"

Starsky considered the unexpected question.  "Most would probably think we're kooks for saying we were abducted by aliens."

"Yeah," Hutch agreed.  "So what?"


"So what?  So, people would think we're kooks.  So?"

Starsky shifted with discomfort.  "I really don't want to be looked at that way."

"What about the heroin thing?  What can somebody do to me, if they know?"

Starsky furrowed his brow.  "Think you're still addicted, for one thing."


Starsky shrugged.  "Think maybe you're a lowlife junkie, I guess."

"I was a lowlife junkie."

Starsky frowned.  "Just for a few days.  And you were never a low-life."

"What can they do to me now?  How can anyone harm me with that information?"

Starsky drew a blank.  Then he asked, "What's your point?"

Gently, Hutch said, "I don't know that we need to be so careful about who knows about the stuff in the book.  I think we've exaggerated in our own minds how people would react.  And since we no longer work for a government entity, it's not like we have to uphold a certain reputation."

It was a moment before Starsky processed what Hutch had said.  Then he relented, "Yeah, I guess."  He frowned.  "But does that mean you want to start passing out copies of the chapters to people?"

"No.  I'm just thinking that there isn't necessarily any reason to be so secretive about it.  To be so careful.  Maybe it's time for it to come out.  At least, parts of it."

Starsky had to admit, there was a certain freedom associated with the thought.  Still, he said, "But think about those cops that pulled you and Nick over.  How much they admired us.  If, say, one of them knew some of our private history, and released it to the press.  Well, I'd like to control how it gets released, if at all possible.  I wouldn't want other people up and finding out stuff that's happened to us, as opposed to us choosing to release certain facts in our own way."  Starsky suddenly realized, "And, besides, it's not like I'm finished with it."

"Yeah, but you won't ever be finished with it, right?  As long as we're both alive."

"I guess there's some truth to that."

After they were both silent a moment, Hutch said, "There's been various times when we've both wished specific other people knew our story.  Maybe we should think more in terms of how we can make that happen, rather than thinking it can never happen while we're still living."

Starsky drew a breath and squeezed Hutch's hand.  "I guess it's something to think about.  But we don't have to rush into anything.  Maybe we should just get an idea of what kind of reception it'll get, after your dad reads it.  If he does read it."

"I think he will," Hutch said quietly.  "Yeah, we'll at least have an opinion on it."

Starsky raised Hutch's hand to his lips and kissed it.  "Okay.  We can talk about it again after he's here.  You were thinking about this?"

"Yeah.  Couldn't sleep."

"Neither could I.  Even though I was really tired."  Starsky patted Hutch's arm. 

"You were upset about Nick," Hutch said as a statement.

"Yeah.  I was feeling kind of down, though I know I shouldn't, because you're going to be okay."

Hutch's gaze grew distant.  Then he looked at Starsky and his expression softened.  "Nick told me that it would scare the hell of him to be as dependent on another person as much as we are on each other."

Starsky said, "It scares the hell out of everyone.  Except us."

They gazed at each other.

Starsky's heart grew full and he slowly got on the edge of the bed.  He carefully sat next to Hutch and draped his casted arm around his shoulders.  His mouth nuzzled Hutch's forehead.   "We know how much we love each other.  If the intensity of it bothers other people, then so be it."

Hutch tilted his head up to meet Starsky's eye.  "Trying to help others understand is why you wanted to write the book in the first place.  I guess we need to find out if it's served the purpose it was supposed to."

"Yeah."  With his good hand, Starsky rubbed across Hutch's chest.  "Guess we need to call your father and see when he wants to come out."  Gently, he asked, "Did you want to get settled in at home first?"

"No, he may as well come out whenever he's ready."

"Okay.  I'll call him back in a bit."

Denise came into the room.  "Good morning."

"Good morning," Starsky greeted, having no desire to move from his spot.

She didn't comment on that, but said, "It's time for Ken to get out of bed this morning."


It had felt good to be moving around, even though it hurt.   Hutch ate some chicken noodle soup for lunch, and kept it down.  Dr. Patterson came in and said he could be released the next morning.  He again stressed how important it was that Hutch each and drink in small doses, and that he wouldn't be able to stress his stomach muscles to a normal degree for roughly six weeks.  But not to be so protective of his wound that he refrained from exercising his lungs.

Hutch tried to focus on the fact that he'd be sprung tomorrow morning, rather than how long his convalescence was going to be.  After he and Starsky were alone that afternoon, having left a message for his father to call, Hutch said, "I suppose you've been checking our phone messages."

"Yeah.  Just been a few.  Mostly the routine cheating spouse stuff.  I tell everybody they have to call someone else, because we're both on injured reserve."

Starsky had seemed distracted throughout the day, and Hutch knew it was because of Nick.  He said, "Buddy?"

Starsky was on his feet, looking out the window, and turned.  "Yeah?"

"Maybe we need to re-think the Nick thing."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, even though he was complaining about all the sitting and waiting while we were tailing Marello, he still seemed interested in what was going on.  And, you know, he was doing everything I told him when we got to the dog fighting place.  He seemed really eager in helping and being a part of the action."


Hutch managed a small shrug.  "Since we're both pretty much laid up, maybe we ought to hire him to do some simple jobs for us.  It would show that we have faith in him, and it would give him something productive to do.  Plus, he'd be earning some pocket change.  Who knows, maybe he'd decide to stay out this way, and could even be of further help to us when we've got too much going on."

Starsky bit his lower lip.  "I don't know."

"What are you so afraid of?" Hutch asked.  "Do you really want him to give up on the idea of living out this way, because of this all happening?  If we give him something meaningful to do, and he still ends up going back to New York, at least it won't be a spontaneous decision because of a particular thing happening.  I'm just saying if we offer him some stuff to do, maybe it'll calm things down a bit and give him some time to think things through."

Starsky grimaced and moved back to the window.

"What?" Hutch pressed.

When Starsky turned back around, he said, "I'm thinking us giving him something to do will just feel to him like we're bossing him around and taking advantage of him."

Oh.  Carefully, Hutch asked, "Why would he think that?"

Starsky sighed heavily.  "Damnit, Hutch, he got mad at me last night.  I mean, I had him take in your car to install the phone because I thought it would give him something productive to do, and I wanted to hurry up and get that done.  And he did, and seemed to like doing that.  But then, last night, I was so tired when I got home and didn't even think about the phone, and after he reminded me of it, I didn't have any interest in going out and looking at it or figuring out how to work it.  And... you know....," Starsky shrugged with discomfort, "... he felt like I hadn't appreciated the effort he'd made on our behalf."

Hutch was glad he had a ready answer to that.  "Look, buddy, after everything I've gone through with Lanette the past year, I'm completely done with questioning what I should or shouldn't have said in this or that situation."  He softened his voice.  "Come on, partner, none of us is perfect.  We hurt the feelings of the people we love sometimes.  If somebody really cares, they forgive and move on."  When Starsky didn't respond, Hutch continued, "Maybe Nick has good reason for thinking you've been a prick of a brother to him at times.  But he's got some responsibility in figuring out how to accept the things he doesn't like about you, if he wants to have a relationship with you."

Starsky shrugged lamely.  "I think the fact that he has a plane ticket for Monday, back to New York, demonstrates pretty strongly how he feels."

"Maybe he felt he had no choice.  Let's give him a choice.  Let's ask him if he's willing to talk to us about another option, even if it's just short term.  Hell, if he's doing nothing else today, let's see if he's willing to drive up here and we can all have an early dinner together and discuss it.  If he says he's not interested, at least we know we tried."

Hutch realized that his stomach hurt from talking so much, and he made a point of relaxing back against the pillows.

Starsky's face had softened considerably, and he came toward the bed.  His eyes glowed at Hutch.  "I love you so much."  He bent to rest his forehead against Hutch's.  "What did I ever do to deserve you?"

"Good question."

Starsky snorted -- with humor.


Nick was indeed agreeable to driving up to the hospital.  Hutch assumed it was because Nick couldn't resist being a part of something where he was going to be the center of attention.  He had stopped for Mexican takeout on the way up and gotten tacos for him and Starsky.  Hutch settled for cream of celery soup and applesauce from the cafeteria.

Hutch wound up doing most of the talking -- he suspected because Starsky was trying to hang in the background and not be seen as the bossy older brother.

"So," Hutch concluded, "the next time we get a phone call, if it's a simple job, like a cheating spouse, we'll put you on it.  In the meantime, you can help with the employee background checks, which is mostly just phone work and mailing out forms and things like that.  This stuff can get really boring, but if you want to help and earn some money, the opportunity is there.  We just can't say how much work there will be."

Starsky said, "Yeah.  So, if you want to keep looking for another job, that's more stable or more to your liking, like the maritime museum job, I think -- "

Nick interjected, "That was too far away.  When they called back, I said I was no longer interested."

"Well," Starsky continued, "we still think it's a good idea to be looking for something permanent.  We just figured if you are willing to help us out in the meantime, and get paid for it, it's to the benefit of all of us."

"Okay."  Nick nodded eagerly.  "I'm on board.  I'll cancel my trip to New York."

Starsky smile was full of emotion.  "Good.  I'm glad."

Nick looked from Starsky to Hutch.  "What about the thing about your dad coming out?"

Hutch drew a careful breath.  "We aren't sure what day that'll be or how long he's staying.  He's looking into flights.  We'd like to give him the guest room when he arrives."

Nick nodded.  "Yeah, sure.  I guess that means I get the rollaway in the other room again."

Starsky said, "Sorry about that."

Nick shrugged.  "Hey, it's no problem.  It doesn't really matter to me."

Starsky said to Hutch, "I need to move all that stuff that we brought back from your folks."

"Oh, right." 

Starsky had laid out, in chronological order, various diaries and journals that he'd found in the Hutchinson attic.

When they all were silent, Nick asked, "So, when are you two supposed to be back to normal?"

Starsky held up his cast, "I'm supposed to get this off about the middle of August, and Hutch is supposed to be pretty much back to normal about the end of August or early September."

"So, is it like you're wanting me to be around until then?"

Hutch spoke up, to spare Starsky from answering.  "It's hard to say, Nick.  We like our privacy, but that's obviously not going to be that important when we're both not a hundred percent.  And there's not going to be enough work for you to get your own place.  But if we start getting on each other's nerves, we'll need to re-think it.  And like we said, if you want to consider perhaps moving out this way permanently, you probably ought to be looking for a regular job.  If you get something right away, you can move into your own place soon, and we'll make do."

"We still don't want any girls over," Starsky emphasized.  "Especially with Hutch's dad around.  He's only got so much time, and we like things to be quiet for him, as much as possible.  So, I don't know how much you're going to want to hang around when there's nothing to do."

"I'll figure it out."  Nick looked at Hutch.  "So, you're out of here tomorrow?"

"That's the rumor."

Starsky said, "I'll want to take Hutch back in the LeBaron, since it'll be more comfortable for him.  Did you get the phone put in the Corvette?"

"Yeah.  Can't wait to try it out.  I almost surprised you by trying to call here on my way up, but I still needed to recheck the manual, and I didn't want to do that while driving."

Starsky said, "Well, be careful with it.  Calls are something like a dollar a minute.   We just want them for emergencies and when one of us is going to be out of contact for a while."

Nick said, "I also turned my rental car back in the other day, since I was using your cars."  He looked at Hutch.  "Are you going to be able to drive?"

Hutch grimaced.  "I'm not supposed to for a couple of weeks.  So, yeah, there's no reason for you to pay for rental car when there's an extra vehicle available for the time being."

Nick grinned.  "This is going to be great!"


It was Tuesday morning, and Nick had been sent out to the office supply store.

Hutch was sitting in the bath tub with the water up to his waist.  Starsky was beside him, his cast covered in a waterproof sleeve.  They had taken off the bandaging around Hutch's torso, and Hutch held a small towel over the sutures to protect them.  Starsky used a wash cloth and his one good hand to bathe Hutch, which wasn't easy.  He had to keep shifting to use his cast for support.

It bothered Starsky to see Hutch's ribs appear so prominent.  "You look like you're wasting away, babe."

"I know.  I feel like I'm hungry, but then when I eat something, it still hurts my stomach."

"Well, maybe you need to carry some soup around in a thermos or something, so you can keep sipping it."

"I'm sick of soup."

"Well, some soft fruit or something.  What about yogurt?"

"I haven't had that in a long time."

"Let me get you a variety, okay?  You need something nutritious, and it's going to be a while before you're ready to down a steak.  I think we need to take a walk today, too.  We need to keep your lungs working."

Hutch released a small sigh, his head bowed.

Starsky put the wash cloth down on the edge of the tub, and then brushed his fingers along Hutch's cheek.  "Hey, you gettin' down about this?"

"I'm trying not to.  It's just feels like every little thing is such a bother, especially with you having that cast."

"I know.  But we'll get through it.  Amazing what a little slug can do, huh?"

"No kidding.  At least, something good came of it."

They had found out that the state patrol now had some stakeouts going on, hoping to catch a large crowd gambling on the dog fights.  Nick's photos had helped identify one of the men involved.  Starsky had also called Stan White and found out that he'd confronted his four foremen individually about attending dog fights, and that they each tried to make one fight a week, though sometimes they couldn't get around to it, which is why Starsky and Hutch spent so many days tailing without witnessing anything amiss.  Hutch also dictated to Starsky how to do the invoice, so they could finally satisfy White that he could wipe his hands of the situation after paying their one and only bill.

Starsky asked, "So, we think we're all set for you dad tomorrow?"

"Yeah.  What did you do with all the scrapbooks and stuff?"

"I put them in our closet, neat and orderly.  So, Nick has moved his stuff in there, and he cleaned up the guest bedroom."

"What about the book?" Hutch asked.

"I put it in the guest room, in a drawer.  At some point, I'll let your dad know what it is and that I have all the chapters in chronological order of events, so he can pick and choose what to read, if he wants.  But I'll mention that we really don't want word to get around yet, and Nick doesn't know anything about it."

"I don't think we should bend over backwards, keeping it from Nick.  He likes being included in things.  Besides, it's not like he'd have the patience to read it, anyway."

"I know, and we aren't bending over backwards.  It's just something your dad can read while he's in the bedroom, if he wants.  And if he wants to talk to us about it, he can do it when Nick isn't here.  And if Nick happens to find out something about it, then he finds out."  Starsky grabbed a pitcher.  "Time to wash your hair, baby." 

Hutch was able to take a shower, by staying hunched over and carefully protecting his sutures, but Starsky liked to bathe him at least every other day, just to have the intimate contact with him, since lying down together tended to be uncomfortable, and Hutch needed to sit up somewhat.  Plus, sex was completely out of the question.

Starsky was in the process of helping Hutch dry off when they heard the office phone ring.  "Gotta get that," Starsky said, jogging out of the master bedroom and down the hall.  Hopefully, it was a job.

He picked up the receiver.  "Starsky and Hutchinson.  David Starsky speaking."

"Hey, David."

Starsky blinked.  "Mike.  Hi."  He'd been so involved with Hutch and other household issues, that he'd completely forgotten that Darla's  trainer, Mike Hawkins, called on Tuesdays.

"It doesn't sound like you have me on speaker phone," Mike said amiably.

"No.  But I will in a minute.  Hang on."  Starsky put his hand over the receiver, and called, "Hutch, it's Mike Hawkins.  Did you want to listen in?"

Hutch could be heard moving slowly down the hall.  "Yeah."

Starsky put the receiver to his ear.  "Hang on.  I'm putting you on speaker phone."  He pushed the speaker button, and then put the receiver down.  "You're on the speaker phone now."  He watched Hutch shuffle into the office, dressed in an open robe, and ease down into a guest chair.  "Hutch is here.  How's Darla?"

"She's doing great.  This Sunday, August 1st, there's a non-winners of two, going six and a half furlongs.  That would be an ideal spot for her.  But that same day, there's a little six furlong stakes race for Cal-breds with a forty thousand dollar purse."

Starsky blinked.  "Forty thousand?"  That sounded so grandiose.

"Yes, that's actually pretty small by stakes standards."

Hutch asked, "What's the difference between a stakes race and other races?  There's an entry fee, right?"

"Yes, and a few other fees.  It only costs about twenty-five bucks to nominate to each of the Cal-bred stakes this meet, so I went ahead and did that, so you should have seen that money come out of your track account.  Anyway, if you actually enter one of the races, there's an entry fee, and if you then actually start in the race, there's a starting fee.  It adds up to something like five hundred dollars to run."

Excitedly, Starsky said, "So, you think she can win?"

"No.  And that's what I wanted to talk to you guys about.  I have a buddy that's got an outstanding filly in his barn that he's pointing for this race.  She's in a whole different class than Darla.  Darla can't beat her.  But with the feel I have for the 2yo Cal-bred fillies on the ground, I don't know any reason why Darla can't be second or third.  And if she is, then she gets black type.  Do you know what that is?"

Starsky looked at Hutch who said, "Uh... I know it's something good.  I remember seeing in the sales catalog some horse's names with black type."

"Right.  Anytime a horse wins a stakes race, it's name appears in bold, upper case type in sales catalogs and such.  Horse that place in a stakes have their names in bold, upper and lower case.  This race would be cheap black type, because it's just a Cal-bred stakes -- nothing like a graded stakes -- but still, Darla having black type is only going to be good for her future broodmare value.  So, that's why I'm bringing this up, if you want to think in terms of protecting your investment."

"Wait a sec," Starsky said.  "You said that she can get black type for being second or third.  But isn't placing in a stakes being second?"

"That's just in betting," Mike said.  "When you're talking about a horse's race record, to place means to finish second or third."

"Man, I don't know how racing people keep up with all this stuff."

Mike chuckled.  "It's second nature."

Hutch asked, "If a forty thousand purse is so small, how come your buddy is running his filly in the race, if she's so outstanding?"

"She's had a few tough races in open stakes, just getting narrowly beat and that kind of thing.  So, he wants to get her an easy win to boost her confidence."

"What are you recommending?" Hutch prompted.

"I'd just as soon put Darla in the non-two and win a race, though I can't guarantee she'll win, without knowing who else will be entered.  She'll earn more winning than finishing second in the stakes.  But if you want to get a feel for how she does in Cal-bred stakes competition, and don't mind losing to an outstanding filly, plus want to get her some black type on her record, that's a reasonable consideration, as well.  The entries are Thursday morning for Sunday, so I need to know by then."

As Starsky absorbed what had been said, he pointed out, "You know, Mike, I don't think we're going to be able to get down there on the first to watch her run."  Darla was now at Del Mar racetrack, some three hours away.  "Hutch and I are both on injured reserve, so to speak, since I have my broken arm and Hutch was shot last week."

"Shot!" Mike exclaimed.  "Did you say shot?"

"Yeah.  It was stray bullet, but it nailed him in the stomach."

"Oh, my God.  Are you all right?"

"Yeah," Hutch said.  "It's just going to be really tender for a while."

"I didn't realize your occupation was that dangerous."

"It's not supposed to be," Starsky said.  "Just one of those things.  Anyway, it'll be real hard on him to be doing all that walking around at a race track.  So," he looked at Hutch, "I think we'd feel better about missing her race if we knew she wasn't going to win, anyway.  I say we put her in the stakes race and get her some black type."  He watched Hutch nod.

"I'd love for her to prove me wrong and win the thing, but I don't think it's possible.  Okay, then, I'll put her in the stakes.  And then we can drop her down to a non-two next time."

"Sounds good," Starsky said.

"You guys take care," Mike said emphatically.

"Thanks, Mike," Hutch said.  "See you."

Starsky cut the line.  "After the stakes, maybe she'll be able to run again when your dad and Nick are still here, and we could all drive down there."

"Yeah.  Hopefully, I'll feel better."

"You will," Starsky said.  He was worried about how Hutch was hovering on the border of depression.

The phone rang again, and Starsky hit the speak button.  "Starsky and Hutchinson."

"Hello," a vaguely familiar male voice said.  "This is Tom Placing, the attorney who helped you get Darla."

"Oh, right," Starsky said.  "Hi, Tom."

Hutch asked, "How are you, Tom?"

"I heard your filly won a couple of weeks back."

Starsky grinned widely.  "Yeah, she did.  That was really something."

"I almost called you to congratulate you, but thought I'd wait a bit until I had some more good news."


Hutch asked, "What would that be?"

"David Brooks was arrested this morning for nearly two dozen counts of fraud, and there's some embezzlement charges and a few other things."

It was because of David Brooks' dirty dealings that Starsky and Hutch had been hired by the late actor Steve Hanson to investigate Brooks' handling of Hanson's racehorse partnerships, which eventually led to them being able to own Darla.

"All right!" Starsky exclaimed.

"That is great news," Hutch said with a grin. 

Starsky was grateful to see his love smile.  To Placing, he asked, "Do you think the charges will stick?"

"I admit I don't know that much about it.  Just heard something about it when I was at the court house for some other business.  I didn't know if anyone else may have alerted you yet."

"No. I suppose there will be something about it in the paper tomorrow."

"There should be.  From what I gathered, he was screwing his oil partners over for a lot more money than he was his racing partners."

"That's sounds like him.  We're glad he's finally going to get what's coming to him."

"There's another reason that I'm calling.  Are you guys needing more work?"

"Always," Hutch replied simply.

It occurred to Starsky that a case might be exactly what Hutch needed to distract him from his physical discomfort, even if himself and Nick ended up doing most of the work.  "Certainly."

Placing asked, "Do you have a specialty?"

"No," Starsky replied.  "We've done it all.  From simple employee background checks, to finding somebody's lost dog, to solving the insurance scam case in the horse jumping industry, to finding out the motive for a murder."

Hutch put in, "We mostly we do surveillance.  But we've got a lot more capabilities than that and, as shown by the Brooks case, we can also work financial numbers and prove when something fishy is going on."

Starsky asked, "What are you needing, Tom?"

"Nothing for certain right at the moment.  But the guy we'd been using for a lot of investigative work recently retired, and he didn't have anybody to refer us to, and then I remembered that you guys were PIs."

"We'd love to help you out with anything you need investigated."

"Good.  I'll let some other attorneys I network with know, as well.  We were all using the same guy for most things."

Starsky felt heartened.  "We'd really appreciate that.  In fact, we'll have one of our people drop off some business cards, so you can pass them around."  That would be a good errand for Nick.

"That sounds good.  I might be calling you within a couple of days about something, but I've got to finalize some things with the client first."

Hutch said, "Sounds great, Tom.  Just let us know, and we can be right on it."

"Will do.  Talk to you soon."

"Bye."  Starsky cut the line.  Then he looked at Hutch with a huge grin.  "All right!"

They heard the garage door open.

Hutch pulled his robe around himself to hide his nudity.  "Yeah, this could be the break we need."

Starsky pulled open a drawer and grabbed a stack of business cards, and then put a rubber band around them.

Nick walked into the house with a couple of sacks from the office supply store.  He carried them into the office.  "Here's all your stuff."

"Great.  Thanks.  We've got another errand for you."  Starsky looked at Hutch.  "We need letterhead from Placing's office."

Hutch nodded toward the file cabinet.  "It's in there."

As Starsky moved to the file cabinet, Nick asked, "What's up?"

Starsky pulled open the second drawer, where vendor files were kept, and started leafing through them.  "We just heard from the attorney who helped us get Darla.  He's looking for a PI firm to sub out work to, because the guy he used to use retired.  And that same guy was used by other attorneys, so our attorney is going to pass our name along to them."  Starsky found an invoice from David Placings and pulled it out of the file.  "That means we could see a big upsurge of work in the near future."  He wrote down the address from the bill onto a notepad. 

Nick said, "That's great, huh?"

"Yeah."  Starsky tore off the page and folded it around the stack of business cards.  "So, we need you to drop off these cards to him, so he can start distributing them.  It's on the east side of town, near the Hollywood Park racetrack."

"Okay.  Should I bring back something for lunch?"

Starsky glanced at the clock.  It was going on eleven.  "Na.  I'm going to take Hutch out for some fresh air, and we'll eat then."  To Hutch, he said, "You need to get dressed."

Hutch looked like he was going to protest. 

"Au revoir," Nick said with a wave.  "Be back later."

"Thanks, kid."

As soon as Nick had disappeared into the garage, Hutch said, "I'm not sure I want to go for a walk right now."

"I want to go to that one park that has the little lake.  Come on, Hutch, you'll feel better to get out in the sunshine.  It's starting to worry me how glum you're getting.  You'll feel better afterwards.  And then we'll stop by the store and pick up some yogurt and whatever else you think you can handle."

Hutch sighed, and then slowly got up to obey.


Hutch had to admit that going to the park was a good idea.  He quietly reached the conclusion that he needed to stop focusing on how uncomfortable his wound was so much of the time, and how it affected his eating and movement, and instead think outside of himself.  Of course, an active case would go a long way toward making that happen.  Hopefully, his father arriving tomorrow would be a healthy distraction, as well.

They were resting next to each other on a bench beneath a tree, watching the lake, after having made a full circle around it. Others at the park were on the opposite side.  Starsky put his good arm around Hutch and snuggled close, while resting his cheek against Hutch's shoulder.

Hutch put his arm around Starsky and lightly scratched along his shoulder.  He kissed the top of Starsky's head.  Then he asked, "How's your libido?"  It was hard not to be aware that it was because of him that they were both missing out on their accustomed pleasure... on top of such a short time ago when Starsky had been out of commission, because of painkillers for his broken arm.  Starsky no longer took those, but it was sounding like it would be the end of August -- a whole month away -- before things could return to normal.

"It's fine," Starsky replied.  "Come on, Hutch, don't worry about that.  We'll just appreciate it that much more when we're able to resume our activities."  He rubbed his cheek against Hutch's shoulder.  "Just want you to focus on getting better.  And getting some calories into you."

"Wish we had a case that I could at least think about."

"Maybe something will turn with Placing before long.  Besides, hopefully, you'll be able to spend time with your father, if you both sit around the living room watching TV or whatever."

 "I'm still worried about why he wanted to visit by himself."

"Maybe he's just wanting to spend some one-on-one time with you, and reassure himself that you're okay."

"Don't know how one-on-one it'll be with Nick around."

"I can make sure Nick and I stay away, if we need to."  Starsky paused.  "Nick seems to be doing okay, doesn't he?"

"Yeah, but I wish we could give him something more to do."

Starsky reached up to rub at Hutch's chest.  "Something will break soon, Hutch.  I can feel it."


It was with some trepidation that he was trespassing, after dinner the next evening, when Starsky followed Richard into the guest room.  "Hey, uh, Richard, I wanted to mention something to you."

Richard turned to him.  "Yes?"

Starsky gently pushed the door closed, though Hutch and Nick were watching television.  "Um, I don't know if you heard some of the conversation when Hutch and I were in Minnesota, but I've been sort of working on am autobiography of me and Hutch, in a sense, that focuses on how our partnership started and everything we've been through, and why we became so close."  Starsky went to a dresser and pulled open a drawer.  "I've printed out everything I've written so far."  He maneuvered his cast beneath the large stack of computer paper, and feeling exceedingly self-conscious, hoisted it from the drawer.  "Hutch and me thought it would be a long time before we were willing to let anyone read it, because there's some really private stuff."  He placed the stack on the dresser beside the bed, then met Richard's eye.  "But... he wanted you to have a chance to read some of it." Starsky softened his voice as he felt the curious eyes peruse him.  "It's important to him that you understand his life, if you'd like to know more about it.  So, I agreed that we could let you read as little or as much as you want."

The older blue eyes moved to the stack of paper.

Starsky placed his hand on it, unable to tell if Hutch's father was interested or not.  "It's broken out into chapters.  I've put them in order of how things happened, with stuff about how we met on top.  The more recent events are at the bottom.  I didn't write things in order, and some of the chapters aren't about a particular event but more of a theme, I guess you could say."  He shrugged awkwardly, since Richard had yet to say anything.  "But I've done the best I can to put it in some kind of cohesive order.  If you're interested in reading any of it, you might want to sift through and see what looks interesting."

Richard drew a quiet breath.  "All right," he said levelly.

"Um, we'd appreciate it if you don't talk to anyone else about what you read.  We aren't ready yet to have other people read it."

Richard sat down on the bed and presented a wry smile.  "I guess I should be flattered then."

Starsky felt that the other man wasn't sure what to say.  "Well, anyway, we'd appreciate it if you only read it in here.  Even my brother Nick doesn't know about it."  He softened his voice again.  "It's real important to Hutch that you have a chance to read it."

Richard looked at some of the pages, that still had the perforations and holes along the sides.

"It's computer paper," Starsky offered.  "I haven't bothered trying to tear the pages apart.  Hopefully, it won't be too awkward to read."  He quickly added, "Whatever parts you might want to try."  He didn't want Richard getting the impression that he was expected to read the entire stack of paper.

"I'll look through it," Richard said in a tone of finality.

Starsky nodded.  He wished he had more of an indication of how Hutch's father felt about having a chance to read about his son's most intimate relationship and career as a cop.  It suddenly occurred to Starsky that this is what Hutch had had to deal with his entire life -- not knowing how his father felt about anything.

Starsky was unsure of what else to say, since it was only about seven o'clock and too early to say goodnight.  He turned to leave the room, and quickly made a right and headed toward he and Hutch's bedroom.

He shut the door and sat on the bed in the darkness, listening to the thumping of his heart.

He had been working on "the book" for a few months now.  It was daunting, even to himself, to see the stack of computer paper that he had produced with his words.  The only other person who had read any of those words was Hutch.

Now, there was someone else who would know his inner most thoughts about the singular, most important person in his life.

Starsky felt that he wanted to hide under the bed.

What if his words sounded silly and juvenile to someone else?  What if he came across as wimpy because he was so free with his feelings while writing?

Of course, Hutch thought he wrote "beautifully", but Hutch was thoroughly biased.

Starsky had put Hutch's chapter at the bottom, because it was the most recently written chapter, and he wasn't sure where else it should go.  Maybe he should have pointed out to Richard that Hutch had written something that was at the bottom.

Maybe Richard wasn't interested and wouldn't read any of it.  That thought brought relief -- except that it would break Hutch's heart.

Starsky felt the vibration of footsteps on the carpet, coming from the hall.

Their bedroom door opened, and then there was a soft, puzzled, "Starsk?"

"Yeah," Starsky said.

Hutch moved into the darkness, closing the door behind him.  "What's wrong?"

"I showed him the book."

Hutch carefully sat beside Starsky, his hand over his stomach.  "Yeah?"


"What did he say?"

"Not much.  I couldn't really read him.  But...."

Hutch waited.

Starsky released a heavy breath.  "I wasn't prepared for how it was gonna feel, to know somebody else can read what I wrote.  It's like I'm completely naked.  Like I want to cover myself, or bury myself in a hole."

Hutch's hand gently grasped Starsky's upper arm.  "Aw, buddy."

"I wonder if people who write feel this way."

"Maybe they do, at least at first."

"Man, my innermost feelings... now he's gonna see them.  Part of me wants to run down the hall and grab all those pages and carry them out of that room."

Hutch turned to rest his forehead against Starsky's shoulder.  "It's going to be all right."



"I don't even know how I'm going to face him in the morning, knowing he might have read some of it."

Hutch raised his head.  "He probably won't know how to face you, either.  Nor me."

Starsky snorted.  "Yeah."  Then, "Maybe this wasn't such a good idea.  Maybe our first idea was the right one -- that it should just be something for somebody to find after we're both gone."

"Except we keep wishing that various people knew what was in it."  Subdued, Hutch said, "I wanted my Dad to read it before he's gone."  Then, "But maybe I shouldn't have pushed that."

"You weren't pushy.  I agreed, because it made sense.  I just wasn't expecting to feel this way, now that he actually has his hands on it."

Hutch lay back against the bed.

Starsky felt alarmed, since Hutch had been sleeping somewhat elevated  "Easy."  He turned to hover over Hutch.

"It's okay, as long as I don't stretch out my legs."  Hutch's feet were perched on the edge of the bed, his knees up.

Starsky lay beside him, and then ventured to rest his head on Hutch's chest.

Hutch's arm came around him.  "I'm proud of you for having the courage to write it the way you have -- and reveal so much of yourself."

Starsky felt heartened.  "It's hard to do otherwise when I'm writing about you."

Hutch's voice carried a touch of humor.  "Does that mean we're self-centered and self-absorbed?"

Starsky snorted.  Then, "Speaking of which, Nick is probably wondering what happened to us."

"Maybe not.  He loves that big TV screen."

Starsky hoped so, because he didn't feel an inclination to move.  Then he asked, "Was your dad still in his room?"


"Has he said anything to you about your mom?"

"No.  But I hope to give him an opening to talk to him about it, if he wants."

"I'll try to get Nicky to go on a bike ride with me tomorrow.  Then you guys can talk."


Richard didn't give any indication of having anything to say at breakfast; but then, Nick was around.  He did seem a little self-consciously distant, which led Hutch to believe that he'd read at least a little of the book.

Finally, when it was going on eleven, Starsky was able to prompt Nick to go for a bike ride.  He had to assure his brother that it wouldn't be very strenuous, since he himself couldn't brake very well, due to his cast.

Hutch joined his father in watching game shows.  After the current one ended, and the credits rolled, Richard turned to look at him, from where he at on the sofa.  "That Nick seems rather charming, but also lazy."

Hutch was in the easy chair, which was reclined back somewhat, due to his wound.  He hit the "mute" button on the remote.  "He can be charming.  As far as being lazy, he just needs the right motivation.  He's sort of in limbo now, because he's not sure what he wants to do, including going back to New York, or moving out here.  The fact that Starsk and I find him useful to have around, since we're both recovering from injuries, has sort of sidetracked him from needing to figure anything out."

Richard grunted, and then fell silent.

Hutch asked, "Are they missing you at work?"

The older man swallowed.  "I've resigned, son."

Hutch felt his chest tighten, as his father explained, "I just felt everyone was waiting for me to kick the bucket, so they could move on with their plans to replace me.  I didn't really feel like an asset anymore."  He brightened.  "I'm still getting a paycheck, though.  I've got over three months of sick days built up, and then there's accumulated vacation time."

Though the thought hurt, Hutch managed to ask, "Are you feeling you're getting worse?"

"It's hard to say."  A brief snort.  "I think I'm getting on your mother's nerves, being around so much."

"Yeah," Hutch responded softly.

"That's part of why I wanted to come out -- to give her a break."  Richard hesitated, and then said, "She's really good at handling details, when she knows what to do.  But when there's nothing she can do...."  He swallowed thickly and looked away.  He forced a smile when he said, "The worse I get, I think the angrier she's going to get that life has thrown something at her that she can't do anything about."

Hutch drew a long breath.  "Yeah, I think we all have things like that to deal with at times."  He hoped he didn't sound dismissive.


Hutch waited.

"I've gone over all our finances carefully.  I've put aside a hundred thousand each for you and Lanette, to be given to you upon my death.  My estate attorney is handling it.  Your mother won't need to be involved.  She knows about it, of course, and she should be taken care of with what's left.  I'm sure she'll want to remarry, in any case, because she's the kind of woman who needs to be married."

Hutch nodded slowly.  That was considerate of his father, to him and Lannie both.  And yet, saying, "Thanks", seemed hugely inappropriate.  Instead, he said lamely, "Starsk and I manage okay."  He meant it as a reassurance.

"Well, I'm sure you'll put it to good use when the time comes."

They were silent, and Richard looked at the TV, which was still muted.


Richard turned his head.

"You know, you can stay here as long as you want.  You're always welcome."

Richard nodded, then turned his attention back to the TV.

Hutch felt that he should un-mute it.

He couldn't bring himself to do it just yet.

Richard turned his head.  Levelly, he asked, "You were really addicted to heroin?"

Hutch felt his heart pound, and suddenly he was a little boy, needing to explain something he'd done that he shouldn't have.  He struggled for a matching level tone.  "For a very short time.  As soon as Starsky rescued me from my kidnappers, the withdrawal was starting, and he helped me through it."  Hutch suddenly choked out, "If he hadn't been with me -- if anyone else would have found out -- my life would have been totally different, if it would have been any life at all."  He brushed at his eyes, and was relieved that he didn't feel embarrassed.

With measured words, Richard said, "I can see where going through something like that would endear you so strongly to him."

"The loyalty was already there," Hutch emphasized.  "What happened with the withdrawal was a way of it being proven."  He couldn't keep from elaborating, "I'd never felt love like that before.  Ever.  It meant everything.  And it hadn't come from my parents.  Or my wife.  It came from my cocky, streetwise, male partner.  The one who claimed not to like soapy scenes, but he and I ended up having lots of them together."

Richard appeared thoughtful.  Then he said, "I'm sorry you suffered so much.  Not just from that, but from other things I read."

As Hutch felt relief at the sentiment, he wondered how much his father had read.  In a lighter tone, he said, "I wouldn't have missed any of it for the world.  When you have really intense pain, you also have really intense recovery.  And realizations.  It puts things into perspective.  Simplifies lots of things."

Wryly, Richard said, "I guess I know what you mean."

Hutch felt himself relax even more, and felt brave enough to ask, "What do you think of how Starsky writes?"

Richard seemed to consider his answer.  Then, "He's very... heart-felt.  And pretty thorough, I guess.  I don't think I ever found myself wondering what he meant, even though I don't have any experience with the kind of life you two have led."

Hutch heard noises from the garage.  "Sounds like they're back."

"Do you think you might publish it some day?"

Hutch shrugged.  "I can't see why John Q. Public would be interested.  Or why we would want John Q. Public to know."

"Just seems a waste, to put all that effort into writing something, then have nothing come of it."

Hutch was spared from having to answer when he heard the door to the house open, and the two Starsky brothers entered.  He unmuted the TV.

The new arrivals entered the living room, looking flushed from the exercise. 

Starsky sat on the edge of the easy chair and put his arm around Hutch's shoulders.  "Your turn, blondie."


"Come on, time for a walk.  Doc said it's good for you."

"You sure you're up to it?" Hutch asked, though he knew what Starsky really wanted was the details of how things had gone between the two Hutchinsons.

"Yep, we didn't ride that hard."  Starsky snorted.  "Though Nick got tired."

Nick had taken residence on the love seat, and quickly defended, "Ha.  You were panting before me, older brother."

"Not hardly," Starsky protested.  "I wasn't panting.  I just had to ride slow, since I can't brake very well."  He held up his cast.  "Otherwise, I would have left you in the dust."

"All right, all right," Hutch said, releasing the lever on the recliner, so it moved into a vertical position.  "Let's take that walk."


They held hands, strolling along the park in their neighborhood.  There were children on the playground in the distance.

Starsky said, "I wonder why he told you about the money now.  That's sure sweet of him.  But why not wait until the will is read?"

Hutch shrugged.  "Maybe he just wanted to make sure that we knew he'd set it aside, so that we knew he was thinking about us -- and treating me and Lannie equally.  Mostly, though, I think he just wants to make sure someone else knows about it besides Mom and the attorney.  I think he's really trying to set it up so that Mom has as little as possible to deal with.  He's sort of indicated that she's getting stressed out about everything -- him being home all the time now, and not being able to do anything about his cancer.  I told him he could stay here as long as he wants."

Starsky squeezed his hand.  "Of course."  Then, "So, he didn't say anything specific about the chapters, other than the heroin thing?"

"Uh-uh.  I just know he read more than that.  When you guys walked in, he was wondering why we weren't thinking in terms of publishing it.  Lannie was the same way."

Starsky grimaced. "Why does it matter to them?"

"My family is about doing and accomplishment.  The idea of putting forth an effort that doesn't pay off in something tangible is a foreign concept to them.  They'll donate money to charity, but only because it's a tax write-off."

"I guess that's not unusual."  Then Starsky asked, "How are you feeling?"

Hutch touched his stomach.  "It's a little better."

"You want to try to have a steak dinner tomorrow?  Maybe you can eat a little, if you cut it into really small pieces."  Hutch had to cut Starsky's food, since Starsky couldn't, with his cast.

"Yeah maybe.  A steak sure sounds good right now."

"We just need to make sure you don't overdo it."


When they arrived back home, Nick said, "Some attorney, Tom Placing, called."  Nick had been given the responsibility of answering the phone when Starsky and Hutch were both out.  "He said he has something for you."

"Great!" Starsky said as they moved into the office. 

Nick continued, "And that trainer of your horse called and said she's in the stakes race on Sunday, and to call if you have any questions.  He said there's seven horses in the race."

While Starsky dialed the phone, Hutch said, "Thanks, Nick."

Nick stayed in the office. 

When Tom Placing was on the speaker phone, he said, "I've got a case where the owner of a screen printing company thinks the person in charge of accounting is siphoning off money for himself.  I'd feel better having someone outside the accounting profession look into it, in case an outside accountant might know the accountant working for the company."

"We're interested," Starsky said.

"Good.  And, adding another layer to it, is that the owner's cousin does some marketing for the company on a freelance basis.  And it's her husband that's the accountant.  The owner has already identified checks written to the cousin, beyond the work she's actually done.  He was only able to undercover some obvious stuff.  He's worried that there's more shenanigans going on, and wants an outside professional to look into it."

"We can jump right on this," Hutch assured.

"Great.  The owner has given me records going back three years, when they hired the guy.  I've got a whole bunch of cancelled checks and bank statements here, invoices that the checks paid, plus the general ledger of all the accounting activity."

Starsky said, "We can be over within the hour to pick it up."

"That's fantastic.  I'll be at a meeting, but the boxes of paperwork will be with my secretary, and she'll have a few specifics to point out to you."

Hutch said, "We really appreciate this, Tom."

"No problem.  Just don't hesitate to contact me with any questions, after you get the stuff."

After they hung up, Starsky said, "This is fantastic."  He looked at Hutch.  "I just hope we're up to an accounting job at this level."

"This isn't really any different than the horse partnerships," Hutch said.  He grinned.  "Besides, don't forget that we've got a CPA right here in the house."

Starsky brightened.  "Oh, right.  Your dad."

Nick asked, "Your dad is a CPA?"

"Yep.  His whole life."

Starsky said, "Why don't Nick and I head down there and pick up the stuff?  It sounded like it could be some heavy boxes, and you can't be lifting anything, Hutch."

Hutch sighed, causing Starsky to quickly say, "Why don't you brief your dad while we're gone, and make sure he's interested in helping, before we assume too much."


Richard perked right up at the idea of being given something meaningful to do, which made Hutch feel very good.  In fact, it was the first moment he'd felt thoroughly happy since the shooting.

When the office phone rang, he excused himself to answer it.  "Starsky and Hutchinson," he said into the receiver.

A woman's voice said, "Yes, I'm looking for a private investigator to look into something for me."

"What would that be?" Hutch asked.

"I'd rather not discuss it over the phone.  I would want to meet with you in person, before I give you the job."

"That's fine.  But first, let me assure you that this firm has handled many cases concerning cheating husbands, and there's no need to be embarrassed."

Her voice went flat.  "It's nothing like that."

Hutch felt himself blush at having been so presumptuous.  "I apologize."  He waited a beat, resisting the urge to explain that female clients almost always had the same need for a private investigator.  "Would you like us to come to you?"

"No.  I'll come to you.  I want to meet with the particular detective who will be handling the case."

"This firm is a partnership.  We generally handle cases together."

"I only want to deal with one person.  This case has a very sensitive nature."

Hutch tried to make his voice placating.  "You only need to deal with me, Ken Hutchinson.  But my partner will likely be involved in some of the investigative work."

"That's fine.  I just want one person whom I have contact with.  When can I meet you, Mr. Hutchinson?"

"We can meet in town.  Or we can meet here in our offices, at our home in Brookline Heights.  Whatever time you prefer."

"I know where Brookline Heights is.  How about eight o'clock tonight?"

"That will be fine."  Hutch gave her the address.  "By the way, what is your name?"

"I prefer to introduce myself when I arrive."

"All right then."  Wryly, Hutch said, "I'll write you down in my appointment book as 'the mystery woman' and I'll expect you at eight."

After Hutch hung up, he wondered what kind of case could possibly involve so much secrecy.  In any event, they would likely have something else going on soon, in addition to the Placing case, and that felt good.


Starsky and Nick returned with three boxes of paperwork, which were placed on the kitchen table, and Richard sat down and immediately began sifting through it.

Hutch called Starsky into the office and updated him on the mystery caller.  He concluded, "You guys need to all go to dinner or something, so it's just me and her when she arrives."

Starsky muttered, "I don't know about this, Hutch.  The idea of leaving you alone...."

Hutch could sympathize with his love's worry, but he prompted, "What possible harm could she want to cause me?  I need to earn her trust, and I assured her that she'd only have to deal with me."

"Then I'm calling you every half hour or so to check up on you."

Hutch nodded.  "Yeah, okay."

Starsky came around the desk and placed a hand on Hutch's shoulder.  He squeezed.  "At least we might have multiple cases now, huh?  That should keep everybody happy."


Starsky leaned down so he could rest his face against Hutch's.  "You need to start putting some weight on, baby.  Otherwise, you'll scare away the clients.  Even your dad mentioned to me how skinny you've gotten."

Hutch actually felt like he had an appetite, perhaps even a voracious one.  "Yeah, well, bring me back something good when you guys go out tonight."

"You got it." Starsky straightened.  "In the meantime, are you ready to dive into this accounting case?  Your dad's all gung-ho."

"Yeah."  Hutch said with a soft chuckle.  Then he remembered, "You heard what Nick said about Mike calling, right?  Darla's racing this Sunday.  Only seven horses."

"Yeah.  Hopefully, she'll be second, if he's so sure she can't win."  Starsky grunted.  "I guess it's a good thing we weren't planning on going down there for the race, since we've suddenly got so much going on right now."


Hutch had gotten Starsky's assistance with a shower before the other three household members left for dinner.  Then Hutch had dressed in fresh jeans and a suit jacket. 

It was precisely eight o'clock when the doorbell rang.

Hutch had the porch light on, though the sun hadn't fully set.  He opened the door and found a middle-aged black woman, in a expensive-looking dress that clung to her trim, yet full figure.  She wore a hat perched on the side of her head.  Her purse seemed large for her sophisticated stature.  On the street, he could see a yellow taxi cab.

Hutch extended his hand.  "Hello.  I'm Ken Hutchinson.  Please come in."

"Nice to meet you," she greeted in a level tone, shaking his hand.  She followed him into the house.

"The office is right here," he gestured.  "Please have a seat."

She sat in one of the plush leather chairs for clients.

Now that Hutch saw her in the well-lit office, he though she appeared vaguely familiar.  He sat down and pulled out a yellow pad.  "First, can I start with you name?"

"Mabel Short," she replied.

It didn't ring a bell.  Hutch wrote the name down, and then quietly asked, "What's the nature of the problem?"

Her expression was neutral as she replied, "My son committed suicide a few months ago.  I don't know why.  I want you to find out why."

Hutch batted his eyelashes, his sensitive stomach twisting at the delicacy of the subject matter.  "I'm very sorry to hear that.  How old was your son?"


Gently, Hutch asked, "How did it happen?"

"He slit his wrists and bled to death."  She shifted in her chair.  "Mr. Hutchinson, I realize it's the nature of what you do to ask a lot of questions.  That's what I'll be paying you for.  But I'm the one person you aren't to ask any questions of about my son."

Hutch rubbed at his lower lip.  "Why not?"

"Because I want you to find out what happened.  What made him do it.  And I'm afraid that anything I might say will bias your investigation and perhaps lead you down incorrect paths.  I will gave you his name and last address, and that is all.  You will need to proceed without my help."

Hutch shifted with discomfort.  "Ms. Short, if you don't give me anything further to start with, then investigating this case will take a lot more time, and be a lot more expensive, than it otherwise needs to be."

"I realize that.  I will pay you whatever is necessary for you to find an answer.  Don't let the fact that I'm black make you think that I can't afford to pay you."

Hutch blinked at her forwardness.  "I wasn't worried about that.  I just know, from experience, that sometimes all the hours and expenses that go into a case can surprise people in how quickly it adds up.  What's more, Ms. Short, the only person who can know with absolute certainty why your son committed suicide is, of course, your son.  At best, I'll only be able to come up with speculations."

"If you're good at your job, you'll find a theory that makes more sense than others."

Hutch couldn't help but be reminded of the case concerning the murder of Frederick Newman last fall.  He shifted again.  "Ms. Short, within the past year, this firm investigated a murder, in order to find the motivation behind it.  We were successful.  But during the investigation, we found out a lot of unpleasant facts that the relative who hired us would rather not have known.  You need to be prepared that some equally unpleasant facts might surface about your son."

She gazed at Hutch a long moment.  Then she asked, "What more unpleasant fact can there be than that of my son taking his own life?"

Hutch was about to acknowledge her point when the office phone rang.  "Excuse me, but I need to get this."  He picked up the receiver.  "Starsky and Hutchinson."

"Every okay?" asked Starsky's quiet voice.

"Yes," Hutch replied firmly.  "Try back in about half an hour."

"Okay.  We're all shopping at the mall.  I'll check back in a bit."

"All right.  Goodbye."  Hutch hung up, and then said to Ms. Short, "Sorry about that."  He looked down at his notepad, where he'd only written her name and her son's age.  "Was your son living and working in the area?"

She seemed to hesitate, in that he was asking her questions.

Hutch prompted, "I need to know if I should expect to be traveling out of state."

"He was in the area," she replied softly.

"For a case of this scope, I'll need two thousand dollars up front to get started.  More than likely, that will be used up within a few weeks, and I'll be invoicing you for more."

She squared her shoulders.  "I've brought ten thousand dollars in cash."

Hutch blinked.  He realized his mouth had fallen open.  He wondered how she could be so wealthy.

"You can have it all up front."  She met his eyes.  "If you don't use it all, I trust your integrity to return any remaining funds to me."

Hutch quickly said, "It's not necessary to pay so much up front."

"I insist." Then she noted, "If possible, I prefer not to have any further contact with you until you can tell me why my son took his own life."  She hoisted her large purse into her lap and opened it.

"I'll get you a receipt."  Hutch had to open a few drawers before he found the receipt book.  With a feeling of surreally, he set the carbon sheet in the correct place, and wrote out a slip, as she set out stacks of money on his desk, in what looks to be 100s, each stack marked that it was a thousand dollars.  He tore the receipt from the book and handed it to her.  "Thank you very much."

As she put it in her purse, Hutch went back to his legal pad.  "So, what is your son's name?"

"Thomas James Short.  He was living in a townhome at 2552 E. 132nd Avenue."

Hutch wrote it down, while making a mental note that the address was for a rather wealthy area.  He was about to ask what Thomas's occupation was, but reminded himself that such facts was for him to find out from others.  "How can I reach you?"

"I have a couple of numbers.  I'd appreciate it if you would be discreet when you call, and tell whoever answers the phone that it's a personal matter and confidential."

Hutch wrote that down, and underlined it.  He then wrote the two numbers she read off to him.  "What about an address for you?"

"I don't wish to give that out.  Please call me when the case is concluded, or if you require additional funds."

"You don't want to be updated with progress reports?"

"No.  I'll call you if I'm concerned about the amount of time it's taking."  She held out her hand.  "I believe our business is concluded for the time being, Mr. Hutchinson."

Hutch shook it and stood.  "If you don't mind me saying, I believe I've seen you somewhere before."

She seemed to hold back a sigh.  "I do some singing in night clubs, under a stage name."

Since she didn't offer the name, Hutch decided not to ask.  He supposed he and Starsky had probably run into her act at various times throughout their cop careers.  He said, "I'll do my best to bring this case to a conclusion that is to your satisfaction."

As she placed her purse strap over her shoulder, she said, "Don't worry about satisfying me.  Just come up with the truth."  She turned toward the doorway.

Hutch moved briskly to get ahead of her to the front door.  As he opened it, he heard the office phone ring.

"Don't let me hold you up," she said more pleasantly.  "My cab is waiting."  She walked out the door and started down the sidewalk.

Hutch rushed back to the office and grabbed the phone.  "Starsky and Hutchinson."

"It's me."

"She just left."

"Good.  We'll come home now, and you can give me the details."


That night they lay in bed together, Hutch slightly elevated against the pillows, and Starsky was likewise, so he could rest his head on Hutch's chest.

Starsky said, "That seems so weird, her insisting that she meet with just you, and then saying she prefers not to have any contact with you until the case is over."

"She lost her son in a way that doesn't make sense.  I think she was trying really hard to maintain her dignity.  I'm sure she feels as guilty hell.  Why else would she be so insistent that I not ask her questions, so her answers don't taint the case, so to speak?  And be willing to spend a minimum of ten thousand dollars?" 

Hutch put his hand to his stomach.  Starsky had brought home an egg salad sandwich, made with the softest bread the deli had available, and Hutch had felt ravenous.  It had taken a lot of discipline to chew carefully and slowly, but he'd eventually finished it.  Now, he wondered if that had been such a good idea.

"What's a matter?"

Hutch sighed.  "I can feel my stomach working on that sandwich."

Starsky soothed, "Well, let's keep you distracted so your stomach can digest it peacefully."  He straightened and wrapped his arm around Hutch's shoulders.  "You know, me and Nick are going to have to work this suicide case, since it's going to require a lot of legwork.  It'll be a good one for him to learn how to approach witnesses and what types of questions to ask.  In the meantime, you and your dad can work on the Placing case."

Hutch was about to protest, when Starsky said, "We went to a computer store at the mall, and your Dad told me to buy this software called Supercalc.  He says it's like a big accounting spreadsheet, where you key in numbers, and the computer automatically adds them down columns and across rows.  If you change a number, the computer automatically recalculates everything.  It sounds really cool.  But you're better with numbers than I am, and you can key in faster since I have this cast.  So, it'll be better for you to work on that."

"Buddy, I don't know how to work something like that."

"I don't, either.  But your Dad says someone in his office uses the Supercalc program on the same computer we have.  He'll call him tomorrow and have him walk you through over the phone about how to use it.  We picked up a long extension cord thing for the telephone, so you can bring the phone to the computer.  It'll save hours of time, to key in data from the screen company's accounts and add things up."

Hutch released a sigh.

"What's wrong?"

"We're working apart again."

"I know.  But it's necessary, Hutch.  We've got two big cases going on right now, and we're fortunate we've got people in our household willing to help with them."  After a moment, Starsky asked, "You don't agree that we should handle it that way?"

Hutch tried to find a flaw in Starsky's logic, but couldn't.  "No, that's fine," he said with a grimace.

Starsky rubbed his cheek against Hutch's hair.  "We need to make plans to get away, Hutch. Just the two of us, for a few days, at least.  By Labor Day, I'll have had my cast off for a while, and you should be all better.  The summer vacationers will be off the roads.  Let's go somewhere we've never been before.  What do you say?"

Hutch felt heartened by the idea.  "Yeah.  That sounds nice."

Starsky now rested his chin on Hutch's head.  "Sure does.  Then we can enjoy becoming re-acquainted with each other again."

Hutch absorbed his love's warmth.  "Mmm."

Softly, Starsky whispered, "I love you so much, baby."  He nudged his cast beneath Hutch's chin, tilting it up.

Hutch eagerly met the soft lips that pressed against his.  It felt so warm and loving, even knowing that it couldn't lead to anything.

When Starsky pulled back, he said, "I'm going to so thoroughly enjoy us learning to ravish each other again."

Hutch smiled at him.

Starsky then said, "I'll try to teach Nick as much as I can as fast as possible, so I can turn him loose on the simple stuff.  Then maybe I'll be home more.  At least, when I'm not home, you and your dad can spend time together.  Has he said anything more about the book?"

"He hasn't had an opportunity."

"Yeah, well, maybe you two can talk about that, too, with Nick and I being gone a lot."

Hutch snorted softly, and was glad that it didn't hurt his stomach as much as usual.  "I doubt he'd say anything when we're supposed to be working."

Starsky seemed to consider that.  "Maybe that's the way he used to be, but I doubt he'll be that way now."

Hutch wasn't so sure.


The next day was Friday, and a long one.  Starsky felt a sense of accomplishment that Nick had been an attentive student, as they started first with interviewing neighbors of John Thomas Short, and then went to the local police station to view the report of the suicide, and got the names of more people to interview.  Starsky felt that Nick was genuinely wanting to contribute and learn the business.

They were headed home when it was going on six.  Nick said, "I hope you aren't expecting me to work over the weekend."

"Why?" Starsky asked.

"Because I've got a date that I'm going to spend the weekend with."

"What?  A date?" Starsky asked in disbelief.  "When did that happen?"

Nick grinned slyly.  "I'm not telling.  Somebody I met, and we made plans."

"To spend the whole weekend together?"

"Yep," Nick replied smugly.

"Have you dated her before?"

"In a manner of speaking.  Don't worry about it.  I'll be going to her place.  Can I drive Hutch's LeBaron?"

"To where?" Starsky asked.

"Her place is in town.  Come on, David, don't ask a bunch of questions.  I just need to know if I'm going to have wheels, or have to take a cab to her place."

"How about if she picks you up?" Starsky asked.

Nick hedged, "That would be difficult to arrange.  Come on, can I have the car or not?"

"Take this car," Starsky decided.  "The LeBaron is more comfortable for Hutch and his dad, if I need to drive them somewhere.  Just be back first thing Monday morning, or I'm going to be pissed off."

"You got it.  Actually, I'll probably be back late Sunday evening."

"Okay," Starsky said levelly.  He really did wonder how Nick could have possibly met someone in the time he'd arrived in California, without he and Hutch knowing about it, let alone know the person well enough to have plans to spend an entire weekend together.   But he could understand not wanting to give details about a relationship that was in its fledgling stages.  "Are you going to have dinner with us tonight?  Hutch should have the grill already started for steaks."

"Yeah.  I won't leave for her place until tomorrow morning."

Starsky turned onto the main road that ran through their neighborhood.

Nick asked, "Will you do me a favor?"

Starsky looked over at him.  "What?"

"Will you not say anything at dinner?  You know, make a big deal out of it?"

"Hutch and me don't hide things from each other."

"I know you'll need to say something over the weekend about why I'm not there, but can you just not make a big deal out of it?"

Starsky turned onto their block.  "Yeah, fine."

Nick smiled.  "Thanks, older brother."


When they entered the house, they found Hutch sitting at the computer, and his father bending over him with a computer printout in his hand.

Both Hutchinsons nodded in greeting, Hutch saying, "The grill is started."  Then he quickly returned his attention to his father.

Richard said firmly, "This number is wrong.  It's supposed to be twelve thousand eight hundred and seventy-two, and you put twelve thousand eight hundred and twenty-seven."

While Nick went down the hall to the bathroom, Starsky moved to the office to put down all of his and Nick's paperwork.  He heard Hutch's overly flat voice say, "I'm fixing it right now."  There was the sound of a keyboard.

Without pausing, Richard said, "And you put this thirty-five hundred dollars next to Repairs Expense, and it's supposed to be Rent Expense."

Starsky came out of the office and sensed tension in the air.  Hutch's shirt was unbuttoned part way, and he was scowling.

Richard went on, "And you misspelled Office Supplies.  There's three P's."

Hutch tightly said, "I'll fix it in a bit.  I need to check the grill."  He abruptly straightened and brushed past his father to the sliding glass door.

As Starsky passed through the kitchen to the living room, he cheerfully said, "I'm all for calling it a day.  Me and Nick got a lot done, and it looks like you two did, too."

Hutch stepped out onto the patio and slid the door shut behind him.

Richard straightened and squared his shoulders.  He folded up the connected computer paper in his hands.  "The thing about these computers is, as terrific as they are, they're going to give incorrect answers if the data isn't entered correctly to begin with."

Starsky made a point of being congenial.  "Well, it's good to know that they can't ever replace people, since people have to input the numbers."  He firmed his voice.  "Why don't you sit down and relax and turn on the TV?  I'll help Hutch get this steak dinner going.  I'm starving."

He didn't wait for an answer, but moved out to the back patio.   "Hey," he said softly, closing the sliding glass door behind him.

Hutch was running his hand over the charcoal to test its heat.  He asked, "How did it go?"

"Good.  Exhausting, but Nick did really good."  Starsky stepped closer and put his cast against Hutch's lower back.  "What's going on with you and your dad?"

Hutch looked up.  Voice hard, he said, "You mean, beyond the fact that I feel like I'm fourteen again, and I'm trying to start the lawnmower after it's been the garage all winter, and he's riding my ass about how I'm going about it all the wrong way?"

Starsky's heart twisted.  "Has it been like that all day?"

"No.  Not until I got off the phone after two hours with the computer expert from his office, and got going on inputting numbers, and finally got to the point of printing something out.  And then he looks it over and starts pointing out all the errors I made.  And wants them fixed right now."

"Well, he's just trying to help."

Hutch scowled and ran his hand over the charcoal again.  "I know," he relented.  "I'm glad he wants to help.  I just don't like the way he's taken over being in charge of the whole thing.  And talking to me like I'm a twelve-year-old fuck-up.  Or like I'm one of his underlings."

Starsky shifted to Hutch's other side, and placed his good hand on Hutch's back.  He rubbed in slow, soothing circles.  "Ah, Hutch, come on, try to relax."

"Why do you think I came out here?" Hutch snapped.  "I was on the verge of saying something I knew I'd be sorry for."

"All right, all right.  Maybe we need to re-think this.  For now, let's try to focus on having a nice dinner."  Starsky nodded at the grill.  "Is it ready for the steaks yet?"

"Yeah.  Why don't you go get them?  The potatoes are in the oven.  I put the timer on."

Starsky went to the refrigerator and pulled out the platter with the three big steaks that had defrosted.  There wasn't a fourth for Hutch, but Starsky hoped Hutch would have some of his.  He saw that the dining table was cluttered with paperwork for the Placing job.  As he passed by the living room, where Richard and Nick were both watching the news, Starsky said to Richard, "I'm going to clean off the table in a minute.  So, if you want things organized a certain way, you might want to take care of it now."  He proceeded out the sliding glass door.

While Starsky held the platter, Hutch started placing the steaks onto the grill. 

Starsky said, "Your dad was pretty high up in the company, wasn't he?"

"Yeah, he supervised lots of people."

"Yeah, well, working on this case has probably brought out his habit of being in charge and telling everybody what to do."

Instead of replying, Hutch asked, "What did you and Nick find out?"

"So far, everyone has been shocked about Thomas's suicide.  He lived in a really nice place.  Worked in personnel for some big manufacturing company.  There wasn't a note, of course, according to the police report.  The person that found him was an ex-girlfriend he was still friendly with.  She wasn't home yesterday, so that's where I thought I'd start tomorrow."  Starsky paused.  "Nick won't be with me.  He's going to be away this weekend."


Starsky sat in a patio chair, and beckoned Hutch to take the one next to him.  "Nick has some kind of date this weekend.  He won't tell me anything, which I guess I can understand.  But don't say anything about it to him, Hutch.  He was being real bashful about it.  But I told him to take the Corvette to her place."

Hutch furrowed his brow.  "When would he have had time to meet anybody?"

"I don't know.  It sounds really odd.  But mostly, I'm just glad he'll be busy this weekend."  Starsky's voice brightened.  "Let's you and I work the suicide case tomorrow.  It should be easier to find some of these people on a Saturday, including the ex-girlfriend.  Your dad will have to fend for himself, but maybe he'd appreciate some peace and quiet, anyway."

Hutch managed a smile as he nodded.  "Yeah, I'd like that."

Starsky reached to rub at Hutch's back.  "Yeah, me too."  He nodded toward the steaks.  "You think you can handle some?"

"I wanna try.  I'm starving."

"Good.  We've got to get some pounds on you, baby."  They were silent a moment, watching the steaks sizzle.  Then Starsky ventured, "Do you think your Dad was truly on your case, or do you think that pointing out mistakes is just the way he is?"

Hutch shrugged, his smile going away.  "He's always been one to point out mistakes, that's for sure.  No matter how small or innocent."

Starky sighed.  "Well, you're either going to have to figure out how to let it roll off, or else I'm going to have to work with your dad while you work with Nick."

"I feel like an idiot," Hutch admitted.  "That I let him get to me like that."

Starsky kept up the back rub.  "I guess that's probably pretty normal.  I figure that's how I come off to Nick at times.  The bossy older brother."

Hopefully, Hutch said, "But you guys did okay today?"

"Yeah," Starsky replied with enthusiasm.  "He was really paying attention and kept his mouth shut when I told him to keep it shut.  And he was pretty good about talking things through, in terms of figuring out what we needed to focus on next.  I think he'll do okay, if we need to send him on his own sometime to ask people for basic information."

"Guess that means he's really wanting this to work and stay out here."  Hutch got up and started to turn the steaks.

"Yeah."  Starsky then asked, "What did you guys find out?"

"Just in the first year, there's more checks to the cousin who does marketing than there should have been.  Plus, Dad found some other checks, posted to certain accounts, that he thinks are suspicious and shouldn't be there."

"Like what?"

Hutch sat back down.  "Like, the accountant writes a three hundred dollar check and posts it to Office Supplies.  But the payee on the check is an individual, so it doesn't make sense that it would be for office supplies.  And the invoice the copy of the check is stapled to looks very generic and just says "Office Supplies."  It doesn't say anything about what was actually purchased.  Dad says that's what somebody trying to embezzle money would do -- try to do small amounts and then 'hide' the dirty checks in large accounts, where no one is likely to notice it.  I mean, this company pays hundreds of dollars for office supply purchases all the time.  So, it's unlikely that anyone would notice a three hundred dollar check.  And then the payee is a phony name that the embezzler has opened up a bank account under, so they can cash the checks."

Starsky grunted, "Man, that sounds so similar to the Brooks partnership case."


"Well, it is really good that your dad is helping with his expertise.  We'll get through it a lot faster.  I suppose he'd consider it an insult if we wanted to pay him."

"Yeah.  But we can still charge out his time, in addition to my time, and whatever other time the rest of you put in."

"Good."  Starsky stood and took a moment to stretch.  He then settled his hand on top of Hutch's head.  "I guess I need to start the green beans and get the rolls ready."

"These steaks are so thick, they'll probably be another twenty minutes."

When Starsky was back in the kitchen, Richard was there, putting the Placing paperwork in a box.  Starsky gestured, "We can put the box there on the floor, against the wall.  We aren't planning on working on it this weekend."  Though he said it casually, Starsky wanted to make it clear that he and Hutch were in charge of deciding when jobs were going to be worked on.

Richard seemed surprised, but said, "All right then," as he took the box off the table, and then set it on the floor.


After they had all sat down to dinner, Starsky prepared his baked potato while Hutch worked vigorously at cutting a large steak on his own plate.

Richard said, "I'm glad you're going to be eating more, son."

Hutch corrected, "This is Starsky's."

Starsky held up his cast.  "Yeah, he has to cut my food for me.  Like I'm a four-year-old."

Hutch glanced over at him with a warm smile.  "What else is new?"  He looked up at their houseguests.  "Sometimes, when we were cops, I didn't know if I was partnered with a tough detective or a fun-loving four-year-old in an adult's body."

Starsky grunted.  "Well, somebody had to balance out all your grumpiness."  He mimicked in a surly tone, "'There's got to be more to life than breathing in and out.'  'Our whole world is made up numbers, and according to my auto club's computer, I don't even exist.'"  He gave Hutch a crooked grin.  "If it weren't for me being willing to find the fun in life, you would have had an ulcer." 

Hutch held up his plate, with cubed portions of meat.  "Do you want your steak or not?"

"Yeah, yeah," Starsky said eagerly, scooting his baked potato aside with a fork.  As Hutch tilted his plate toward Starsky's and began to transfer the steak, Starsky said, "Make sure you leave some for yourself."  He then noticed that Hutch held the smallest pieces back.  "If you want more after you eat those, let me know."

Nick looked at Hutch. "Speaking of computers, did that one program work like your dad said?"

"Yeah," Hutch replied.  "It was a while to get it loaded and everything, and then figure out how to move the cursor around from cell to cell.  But it's really neat how you can change just one number, and the computer automatically calculates the new sum from that one change."

Richard noted, "Darrin at the office is really good with the computer.  He's always sort of been treated as the oddball, but everybody respects him for being able to come up with information nobody else can, because he's got the computer to do it."

Hutch said, "I can't believe I was on the phone with him a whole two hours.  That was nice of him to spend that amount of time."

"He doesn't get much chance to talk computers with other people," Richard said.  "I'm sure he enjoyed having a chance to relay his knowledge to someone else.  At the office, they've tried lots of times to have him train others in how to do his job, and those other people always end up quitting.  They seem to get too inhibited by how much he knows."

Starsky said, "Well, who knows, Hutch, if you get really adept at using it, we might have to get you your own computer."

Hutch glanced at Nick.  "So, Nick, your brother tells me you guys had a really busy day."

"Yeah.  A whole lot of driving around and talking to people.  It's amazing how much time that all takes.  But I'd rather be doing that than sitting around, waiting on somebody to make a move, like you and I were doing that one morning."

Starsky said, "You learn to be patient, when you do this kind of work.  You just accept that certain things are going to take a certain amount of time, and usually there aren't going to be any shortcuts.  You have to talk to who you have to talk to, and if you can't find them, you have to find the people that know them.  As for the stakeouts, you sort of learn how to pass the time."

Richard said, "It must be nice, now, knowing that you can charge for all those hours you spend sitting and waiting."

"Yep," Starsky said.  "And making our own decisions about how to approach a case.  There's nothing quite like being your own boss."


Hutch felt enormously happy as noon approached on Saturday.  He'd been sitting in the passenger side of the LeBaron, while Starsky drove them to visit with Thomas's ex-girlfriend, and then they got some names and addresses to run down from there.  It felt good to be doing what they did best.  Together.

The one key fact Hutch had been interested to discover was that the ex-girlfriend said that Thomas's mother was a club singer with the stage name Story Blu.  It now made sense that Hutch had seen her before.  Not only had he and Starsky come across her when needing to interview witnesses at various clubs on a variety of cases, but Hutch had brought a date to a nightclub once when Story was the featured talent. 

Starsky abruptly made a turn.  "Ah, looky here."

It was a fast food restaurant that featured ice cream treats, and had a drive thru.  Hutch asked, "Why are we stopping here?"

"Because you need some major calories, blondie.  So, why don't you order yourself a nice big chocolate malt, or something, and sip on it all day.  We'll wait a while to do lunch, especially since I want to see if we can track down this Rachel Jones person, since she's supposed to be leaving town soon."  Rachel was someone who had socialized with Thomas on a casual basis.

Sweet drinks was never Hutch's favorite choice of beverage, but a chocolate malt did sound filling.  He still seemed to be in a phase of feeling ravenously hungry most of the time, but had to be careful to only eat in small doses, lest his stomach rebel, and force its contents back to the surface.

"So, what will it be?" Starsky asked as they came up to the ordering microphone.

"A chocolate malt is fine."

Starsky told the microphone, "We'll take one large and one small chocolate malt.  That's all."

When they drove around to the pickup window, Hutch said, "Who is the small for?" 

Starsky patted his stomach.  "Me.  With so little physical activity lately, I can feel my jeans getting tighter.  I don't want to let it get out of hand again."


They were able to contact Rachel Jones and interview her.  As they left her apartment complex, Starsky said, "Let's get some lunch and discuss where we're at."

After they were seated at an outdoor restaurant, where Hutch had ordered a cobb salad, and Starsky a tuna sandwich, Starsky pulled out the legal pad where he, Nick, and Hutch had all added their various notes after talking to each person.

"I'm starting to get a theory," Starsky said.


"Yeah.  It's like nearly everyone we've talked to has mentioned how important it was to Thomas to be successful and financially well off, 'like a white man'."

Hutch nodded.  "Sounds that way."

Starsky sighed.  "Well, I'm thinking that maybe he strived so hard to get that success.  And then, when he achieved it, he found that it was all pretty hollow, and it really wasn't the answer to whatever he needed to make himself feel better inside.  I mean, it's starting to look like he viewed the world as 'us versus them' in terms of black people and white people.  And he figured, 'if you can't beat 'em, join em.'  But when he joined the white man's world, so to speak, it didn't make him any happier."

Hutch was thoughtful.  "So, he was wrong to think that his unhappiness was due to being black."

"Yeah.  Just like poor people think having money will solve all their problems.  But even if they, like, win the lottery, after they pay off all their debts and buy a big house... they really don't ever feel better inside.  Whatever they were missing before, is still missing later.  It was never the lack of money that was the reason for their unhappiness."

"You might be right.  But Mabel Short isn't going to be happy with that answer after just a few days of investigative work.  I really got the impression that, just like that lady with the lost dog, she won't be satisfied that we've done a good job, unless we spend a lot of time on this and spend most of that cash she gave us."

Starsky mused, "I wonder where she fits into this.  I mean, she's pretty successful for a woman who divorced in her twenties.  So, you would think that Thomas could see for himself that being a glamorous singer and being well off surely didn't make his mother happier."  He muttered, "I wonder what life lessons he learned from her."

"Yeah.  Maybe we ought to switch tactics and start focusing on her.  Maybe that's what she's really wanting in the long run -- for someone she doesn't know to explain her life to her."  Hutch indicated his half eaten salad, and nodded toward Starsky's remaining sandwich.  "Want to trade?"

Starsky had never been fond of salads, but it would be better for watching his waist line.  "Sure."  He handed Hutch his sandwich, while taking Hutch's salad bowl.  "You aren't full?"

"Getting there."

Starsky took a few bites of salad, and then said, "You know, considering the way things were going with you and your dad on Friday, and plus how good it feels for us to actually be working together... I'm thinking that we should put the Thomas case on the backburner for a few days, and just work on the accounting case.  There's more momentum going on that one, and if we finish it this week, then we can pick back up on the Thomas case."

Hutch nodded.  "That's fine with me."

After they ate a couple of minutes in silence, Starsky said, "We need to find out when the post time of Darla's race is tomorrow, so we can make sure we're around when Mike calls us."

"It feels weird with her being so far away."

"It feels weird not being able to be hopeful that she'll win."

"If there's only seven horses, that top filly must have scared the others away."

Starsky rubbed his hands.  "That would be really cool if she was able to surprise Mike and win.  Even if we weren't there to see it."

"We can only hope."


The entries at Del Mar were listed in the Sunday paper, and post time for Darla's race wasn't until late in the afternoon.

Hutch was alone at home mid-morning, since his father had gone with Starsky to the grocery store.  He was straightening up around the house, and as he went down the hall, he glanced in the open door of the guest room.

The stack of computer paper for Starsky's book was on the dresser, part of it offset.

Curious, and knowing he was infringing on his father's privacy, Hutch entered the bedroom.  Richard had not said anything further about the book, beyond the heroin chapter.  With Nick gone, this weekend would have been a good opportunity to discuss what he'd read... if he'd had any interest in discussing it.  The fact that he hadn't felt discouraging, though Hutch scolded himself that he shouldn't have expected otherwise.

He went to the stack of paper, and eventually figured out that what was on top, and at an odd angle -- indicating it had been handled -- was the chapter where Starsky talked about Hutch being shot in the shoulder, and having had Meredith as a temporary partner.

Hutch automatically put a hand to his stomach, which was second gunshot wound.  He was feeling better.  Able to handle more food, and moving around more freely.  In fact, tonight, he wanted to try sleeping flat on the bed. 

The house phone rang.

Hutch moved briskly out of the guest room and into the kitchen.  He picked up the wall phone's receiver.  "Hello?"

A grim male voice said, "I would like to speak with my wife, please."

"What?  You must have the wrong number."

"I doubt it.  Is this Ken?"

"Yes.  Who's this?"

"Jeffrey.  I want to speak with Lanette."

"Lanette?" Hutch asked in confusion.  "Jeffrey, she's not here.  Why would you think she is?  Our father's here for a visit, but Lannie didn't come with him."

"Where is she?"

"How the hell would I know?  Listen, Jeffrey, in case you missed the clues, Lanette and I didn't exactly part on good terms at the family reunion.  Even if she came out this way, for some reason, I strongly doubt she'd want to stay here."


"Look," Hutch said, "if I hear from her, I'll tell her you called.  But if she's out this way, it's news to me."  Hutch had a sudden realization, but had no interest in sharing it with Jeffrey.

Sourly, Jeffrey said, "Tell her I called."

Hutch hung up, his brain spinning.  He moved to the office and carefully knelt in front of the file cabinet, so he could pull open the bottom drawer, where the household bills were kept.  He retrieved the last phone bill for the house phone and found the number for customer service.


Starsky carried two grocery sacks, and Richard carried one, as they entered the house from the garage.  He noted Hutch sitting in the office with a studious expression as they moved from the foyer to the kitchen.

"I'll put these away," Starsky offered. 

"All right then."  Richard moved down the hall to the guest bedroom.

As Starsky put the perishables away in the refrigerator, he caught sight of Hutch motioning him toward the office. 

Wondering if something had happened with Darla before the race, Starsky abandoned the groceries and moved quickly to the office.  "What's up?"

"Close the door."

Starsky closed the double oak doors, and sat down in a guest chair.  "What's wrong?"

Hutch leaned forward on his desk.  "You wouldn't believe who called here."


"Jeffrey.  Looking for Lanette."


Hutch nodded.  "Yeah.  And I don't think he believed me when I told him Lanette wasn't here."

"Why would he think that?"

"That's what I wondered.  And I got to thinking about how you said, when I was in the hospital, that Lannie first heard the news that I was shot from Nick."

Starsky didn't like where this was headed.

Hutch pushed a legal pad toward Starsky, with lots of numbers on it.  "I called the phone company, to find out our long distance charges since our last phone bill.  Guess what, buddy?  Our next phone bill -- just for the house phone -- is going to be over two hundred dollars."

"What?" Starsky asked in disbelief.

Hutch nodded.  "It's normally about fifteen bucks.  But there's been an incredible number of long distance calls to Minnesota.  And I'm not talking about my parent's house."

"You mean... Nick has been calling Lanette?"

Hutch nodded.  "He's been calling her during peak business hours, at her shops.  And that's just with the house phone, when I was in the hospital.  Since then, he's had hardly any privacy to call her.  I don't want to think about how sky high our first car phone bills are going to be, considering how much he's been out and about driving around, on our behalf, and for his own purposes."

"Oh, my God," Starsky muttered, wondering how Nick could be living under their roof, and they know so little about his brother's daily activities.

"And look at this."  Hutch took a pen and pointed to a number on the legal pad.  "A couple of his calls have been to a toll-free eight hundred number.  That number is to the Marriott hotel chain."  Hutch sat back, a hand on his stomach.  "There's one out by the airport.  How much you want to bet that Lannie flew in to town yesterday morning, and they've been shacked up at the Marriott this weekend?"

Starsky closed his eyes as he released a big, long sigh.  When he opened them, he said, "Now Nick's attitude about his 'date' this weekend makes tons of sense."  He shook his head.  "Man, what are those two playing at?"

"I don't know, but I'm not interested in getting involved in their personal feelings for each other.  What I don't understand is how Nick could think we weren't going to notice an excessively high phone bill.  And I don't appreciate the fact that we're being put in the middle, with Jeffrey calling here, looking for his wife."

Starsky snorted.  "To say nothing of your father staying here right now."

"No kidding."

"Man, they must have really strong feelings for each other to be willing to go through a long distance relationship like this."

Hutch shrugged.  "I hope those feelings aren't just one-sided on Nick's part.  Lannie only ever asked about him the once, when we were in Minnesota."

"Yeah.  But whatever was between them must have been rekindled when he called to notify her that you'd been shot."

Hutch said, "I wouldn't be surprised if she just views Nick as a fun escape from Jeffrey.  Jeffrey is a prick all the way around."

"Yeah."  Starsky sighed again.  "I wish she'd take care of her own domestic business, before stirring things up with Nick again.  Especially if she isn't serious, and he is." 

Starsky suddenly felt nostalgic as he gazed at Hutch.


"I'm just thinking back to how, when you and Vanessa were getting divorced, you'd never see other women until after the divorce was final.  And even then, I practically had to drag you, kicking and screaming."

Hutch presented a grim smile.  "Yeah."

"Lanette could take a few lessons from your book of marriage and divorce."

Hutch grunted.  "And they think we're the self-absorbed, self-centered ones."

Starsky considered, "I hope they really are together because they have a thing going, and not shacking up just to talk about their brothers."

"Can't imagine that we're interesting enough to be the subject of much discussion."

"Let's hope not."

They heard footsteps on the hall carpet, that stepped briefly into the foyer, and then moved into the kitchen, and then proceeded to the living room.

Starsky asked, "What do you want to do?"

"I definitely don't want to say anything to Dad.  There's no reason for him to be involved.  I'd rather not say anything to Nick, but we can't have him running up the phone bills like this and not be expected to pay for his own charges."

"Yeah.  Though, in his defense, it's not like he has much choice, if he wants to talk to her, since he doesn't have his own place."

Firmly, Hutch said, "Any reasonable person would expect to pay for their own charges, if they make more than a long distance call or two when they're staying with someone else."  Then he softened.  "Look, I'll talk to him.  I don't have the baggage with him that you do.  I'll give him a pass on this month's bills, but I'll let him know we expect him to pay for his own charges from here on out.  And I'll remind him how costly the car phones are."

Starsky's mouth corner twitched.  "I appreciate that.  Do you think you'll say anything to him about their relationship?"

"It'll be impossible to mention the phone charges without bringing it up."  Hutch grimaced.  "I almost feel like I should warn him about Lannie.  That's she's likely just using him."

"It wouldn't matter.  If he's just playing, too, then he won't care.  If he's serious about her, then he's not going to listen to anything you or I say, anyway."

Hutch was silent for a long moment, with a distant expression.

"What?" Starsky asked.

Hutch shrugged.  "That would be really weird if, say, Lannie divorced Jeffrey, and she and Nick started having a serious relationship."

"Yeah, that would be."  Starsky was eager to change the subject.  "Let's go see what your dad is up to."


In early evening, they both were in the office, waiting for the phone to ring, knowing it would Darla's trainer, Mike Hawkins.

"Hey, guys," he said, his voice subdued.  "She got nosed out for second."

"Ugh," Starsky said.

"Yeah, that was frustrating.  The favorite won eased up, by seven lengths, so Darla never got close to her.  But she was clearly second best as they headed into the stretch, because the field was all strung out.  And then a horse came charging at her.  I'd told the jockey, Brad Byrd, to not press her, trying to catch a filly she wasn't going to catch.  So, I think he over-relaxed in the stretch, and by the time he realized another horse was coming at them, he couldn't get Darla back into the race fast enough to hold off that other filly.  She just caught Darla at the wire."

"Damn," Starsky said, "that's too bad."

"Yeah.  But the good news is that third place still gets her black type, so that mission did get accomplished, as far as protecting your filly's value.  She's now officially stakes placed."

"That's something, at least," Hutch said.

Hawkins continued, "I'm going to take off those blinkers.  Without them, Darla might have realized another horse was coming at her and dug back in, in time to hold her off.  I only put them on her, anyway, to make sure she was going to get around the turns okay, after going so wide her first race.  She hasn't had any problem, so she doesn't need them."

"When will her next race be?" Starsky asked.

"This race didn't take much out of her.  So, I'm going to put her right back in, in two weeks.  There's another non-winners of two, going six and a half furlongs."

Hutch asked, "That'll be on a Sunday again?"

"Let me look."  There was the sound of pages turning.  "Yes, it's Sunday, two weeks from today."

"Great.  We have some relatives visiting, so there might be a group of us."

Mike said, "I recommend you go out for some seafood after the races.  There's some really nice restaurants down here, right on the ocean, if you want to make a day of it."

"Sounds good," Starsky said.  "Thanks, Mike."

"See you, fellas."

As Starsky cut the line, Hutch said, "A win and two thirds in three starts.  That's not bad."

"And she has black type, whatever that means in real dollars," Starsky said with a chuckle.

"I guess it means she would sell for more, if we ever sold her."

"We're not ever selling her," Starsky declared.

Hutch wasn't looking for an argument, so he said mildly, "Racehorses usually just race a few years."

"Yeah, and then the fillies get retired and make babies.  No reason we can't still own her then."

Hutch stood to make his exit, not wanting to comment.  But he heard the garage door opening, so he sighed and sat back down.  "That must be Nick.  I may as well get this over with.  Tell him to come in here and close the door."


After the office door was closed, Starsky went into the living room, where Richard was sitting on the sofa, with the TV on, and a TV Guide in his lap.

Richard looked up.  "Was that Nick?"

Starsky sat in the easy chair.  "Yeah.  Hutch needed to talk to him about something, so they're in the office."  He ignored the curious look Richard gave him.  "What's on tonight?"

Richard picked up the TV Guide.  "There's some good movie selections on HBO.  Did your trainer call?"

"Yeah.  Darla was third.  Just got nosed out for second."

"Huh.  That's too bad."

"She'll be running again in two weeks.  If you're still here, the four of us can all drive down to Oceanside, where the track is.  It's a three hour drive, so we'll make a full day of it, if you'd like to come."

"That might be interesting.  I don't think I've seen a horse race since I was a young man.  A girlfriend's family took us to the races in Chicago.  I'm not much of a betting man, but it was a unique kind of recreation."

Starsky said firmly, "It's totally different when you own the horse.  Everything means more."  He grinned.  "If she wins, you can be in the win photo."  He nodded toward the far wall, where an 24x36 photo of Darla's winning race was framed.  An uncashed win ticket was in the lower corner.

Richard grunted.  "And more depressing when you lose, I guess."

"Yeah, I guess you can say that."

"This fall, they're voting on whether to build a track in Minnesota.  We've never had racing in our state."  Richard shifted his glasses, and then his voice dropped an octave.  "So, you like to write?"

Starsky perked up.  "Not really, generally.  But about me and Hutch, yes."  He chuckled self-consciously.  "Obviously."

"I guess the subject matter makes all the difference."

"As far as I'm concerned, your son is the only subject that really matters."

"You certainly don't seem to have a lack of incidents to write about, concerning him."

Starsky's heart started to pound, as he wondered just how much of the book Richard had read.  Softly, he said, "We've had a whole lot of extreme experiences, that's for sure.  And for that reason, I think we're all the more appreciative now of some peace and quiet."  He admitted, "It really rattled me when Hutch got shot this time, after thinking there was no reason to expect something like that to happen." 

Abruptly, Starsky asked, "Did you read his chapter?  It was at the bottom.  I probably should have pointed it out to you."

"I've read the whole thing."

Starsky waited, his heart pounding harder.  The alien abduction, he knows about it now.  And why is he acting so casual?  Maybe he and Hutch's life truly didn't seem that unique to other people.  Or maybe Hutch's father was determined to not show emotion.

Richard seemed to settle back into the sofa.  "A dozen years or so ago, Ken's mother and I were invited out to dinner by another couple.  The husband, Tony, was drinking a lot.  Then he started telling this crazy story.  About a light in the sky following their car, when they were taking a road trip in Arizona, at night.  He mentioned all this stuff about the car dying on the road, and he and his wife having strange dreams afterward.  Evelyn never commented, and Tony kept rambling on, which was very uncharacteristic of him.  I just thought he was in a drunken delusion.  Funny thing, though, he didn't come across as someone who was making something up as he went along.  He really seemed to believe what he was saying.  I got the very strong feeling that he really needed to get this strange story off his chest, like he'd never told anyone before."

When Richard didn't say anything further for a full ten seconds, Starsky decided to be as honest as he could.  "I don't know how to talk about that night, other than the facts that I remember, as I wrote them down.  Hutch and me don't like to talk about it, because we don't know how to wrap our heads around it.  The more time that passes, the easier it is to believe that maybe it never happened at all.  But...," Starsky swallowed thickly, "my blood stream is clear of the virus that almost killed me.  There's no explanation for the antibodies just up and disappearing from my system."

Richard nodded slowly, deep in thought.  "It would be strange, if we understood everything there is to know about our world and our universe.  Would take all the fun out of discovering things, I guess."

Starsky felt himself relax at the lack of judgment, but he wished Hutch's father would be more forthcoming with how he felt about some of the things he'd read.  Hutch, I so completely understand that little boy's frustration.  Whenever something important happened to you, you got met with this... careful distance.

Richard asked, "How come you aren't trying to get it published?"

Starsky shrugged.  "Lots of reasons.  It's not finished, though I guess, in a sense, it never will be.  But mostly, a lot of stuff in there is intensely private to Hutch and me.  We aren't interested in answering a bunch of questions about being abducted by aliens, and Hutch being hooked on heroin, and stuff like that."

"Then why are you writing it?"

Starsky felt his heart swell.  "Because Hutch and me wanted a record of our love.  Because so many people don't seem to understand about us.  Some people see us as just a couple of homos, who are as likely to sleep with other guys as each other.  And some see us as sort of mixed up about what we really want.  Only those few who have some idea of some of the things we've been through really 'get' us, and see our relationship as something as positive and heartfelt, and vital to us, as we see it."

Richard appeared contemplative.

Starsky wondered if he sounded like he was over-explaining, when said, "It's not like Hutch and I met the weekend before our police academy classes started, and were crazy in love with each other.  It was sort of like building a pyramid, where each block in place builds on the one before it.  And each layer of our lives becomes more intense than the one before, in terms of how much we mean to each other."  He looked directly at Richard.  "I love your son now more than I've ever loved him before.  Even as long as seven or eight years ago, I wouldn't have thought that was possible, because I loved him so much then."

Richard wet his lips.  "Don't you think others would appreciate reading about that?"

"Maybe."  Starsky shrugged.  "It's just not in the cards right now, to consider publishing it.  I guess that'll come in it's own time, if it ever seems like the right thing to do."

"A co-worker of mine got a book published.  Of course, it's just an accounting book, that doesn't have much in the way of readership.  I can put you in touch with him, if you decide you want to try getting it published.  He'll know what you need to do."

Starsky nodded and simply said, "Thanks."

Since Richard didn't seem very forthcoming on what he'd read, Starsky prompted, "What in the book surprised you the most about Hutch?"

Richard was thoughtful again.  "How much death the two of you have seen, or nearly seen."

Starsky bowed his head.  "Yeah.  That's what makes us value life all the more, I think."

After a moment of silence, Starsky again prompted, "Did reading it make you feel like you know us better?"

"Yes.  Though it's hard to look at you now, and see the events you describe in the pages.  I guess I'd expect you to be old and weathered, in a sense."

Starsky considered that.  "Maybe we don't wear all of our experiences, so to speak, because loving each other so much keeps us from getting pragmatic, despite all the ugly things we've been through and witnessed.  Most of the best we've known of life has been because of each other, and that's the one constant we've always had.  That's what we carry with us."

As though making a big decision, Richard said, "Let me ask something of you, David."


"Why do you think it happened for the two of you like this?"

"What do you mean, exactly?"

Richard vaguely gestured to himself.  "I can think about my cancer, and wonder why this happened to me.  And the immediate answer is that cancer happens to a large percentage of the population, so why not me?  Why do you think you and Ken have had a journey that is so unusual?  Probably one of kind."  His voice grew more intense.  "What is it that you both needed in each other, that you saw so quickly?"

Maybe he really does get it, Starsky thought in the back of his mind, while he considered his answer.  "Well, part of it is that we never let anyone else tell us how to be.  I've told you before how I was instantly jealous of Hutch, the first time I saw him.  But it wasn't long before I wanted him as my friend, so I worked that angle.  I needed to associate with all that outward perfection, and he needed all the unconditional love I was willing to offer.  I think we both had the courage to take what was offered from each other.  We didn't let other people try to dictate to us, what we were supposed to admit to wanting or needing, and how we were supposed to behave as friends or partners.  We were so close, that almost from the beginning, some people have thought we were sleeping together.  But we never let the rumors make us hesitate to love each other openly."

Starsky then admitted, "I'm not sure if that answers your question." 

Richard was thoughtful a long moment.  Then, "Why do you think you found each other so early, when so many people spend their entire lives trying to find somebody and, after they think they've found them, it turns out they weren't who they really wanted?"

It occurred to Starsky that Richard might be talking about his own marriage.  He shied away from that, and stayed focus on himself and Hutch.  "Hutch and me never pretended with each other.  We both knew exactly who each other was.  Our partnership wasn't about changing each other.  It was about accepting each other, and adapting to the things about each other that we didn't like.  And, of course, always, always loving each other, and never shying away from the intensity of those feelings."

Starsky wondered if he could explain more simply.  "Maybe, for Hutch and me, it came down to us each having the courage to show our true selves to each other, early on.  Unlike a lot of young men, we never pretended that we didn't have feelings.  As uncomfortable as a lot of feelings from other people might have made us, we could always handle the intense stuff in each other.  We each wanted to be the person who was counted on to be there for the other."  He decided to add, "Perhaps most importantly, we've never taken that for granted.  After we decided to be together for the rest of our lives, we haven't gotten sloppy or lazy about showing how much we love and appreciate each other."

They heard the office door open, and footsteps went down the hall.  Hutch came into the living room, and Starsky tilted his head up.  Hutch gave him a brief smile and a reassuring squeeze on his shoulder.

Starsky knew he'd have to wait for bed to hear the details.


As they got ready for bed, after Starsky had helped Hutch with a shower.  Hutch said, while drying himself, "Yeah, so Nick mostly just listened, with his mouth hanging open and his eyes as wide as saucers, like he couldn't believe that we'd figured all this out.  When I outright asked him if he really expected us to not notice all his calls on our phone bills, he said because this was a 'business', that it spends tons of money, anyway, so he really didn't seem to think that a few extra hundred dollars in expenses would matter to us.  Not that he had any concept that that's how much all those calls were costing."  Hutch shook his head.  "I can't figure out if it's that he's so dense, or if it's that he believes we're so dense."

Starsky stood before his sink, and put toothpaste on his toothbrush.  "Do you think you made a dent with him?"

Hutch put the towel on the towel rack.  "I think so.  I told him that I sympathized with the fact that he's sort of in limbo and doesn't have a place of his own where he can be his own man, but I told him he was expected to pay for his charges from here on out.  And then I suggested that he call Lannie collect when he wants to talk to her."

Starsky paused in his brushing.  "How did that go over?"

"I think he felt it an affront to his manhood -- you know, that the man is supposed to pay for everything.  Or maybe, it's that it had never occurred to him before."  Hutch nudged Starsky's arm.  "And then I told him outright, that I'd really appreciate it if, the next time he talks to Lannie, he tells her to tell Jeffrey to stop calling here, looking for her, and that I didn't like our household being put in the middle of their affair, especially with Dad visiting."

Starsky was surprised that Hutch had been so blunt.  "Yeah?"

"Yeah.  That's the first mention I'd made of Jeffrey, and I think that rattled him a bit."  Hutch shook his head.  "You know, Lannie isn't the type of person to lie.  She's not going to lie to Nick.  But with the usual Hutchinson reticence, I'll bet anything that she's only being forthright with Nick about what she wants him to know, and just not saying the things she doesn't want him to know.  So, if Nick has his head in the clouds about the seriousness of their relationship, she's stringing him along, letting him assume whatever he chooses to assume.  And if he ends up getting his heart broken, she'll be able to justify in her own mind that she never promised him anything."

Starsky spit toothpaste into the sink.  "Did you get the idea that he's really serious about her?"

"I don't know, Starsk.  I tried to talk about her as little as possible, because I wanted to stress that I was only getting involved because of the phone bills.  I didn't want him thinking that you and I are trying to dictate to him who he's allowed to fall in love with."

Starsky rinsed, and then wiped his mouth.  "Well, while you guys were talking, your dad and I had a little chat about the book."  Starsky picked up the bandage supplies on the sink, so he could re-dress Hutch's wound, which required a lot of help from Hutch, due to Starsky's cast.


"Yeah.  He's read the whole thing."

Starsky summarized the conversation between himself and Richard.  After Hutch's wound was bandaged, they shut off the bathroom light, and moved in the darkness to the bed.

Hutch sat on the bed and carefully turned to rearrange his pillows. "I want to try to sleep lying flat." 

"You sure?"

"Yeah.  It's not quite so sore now."  Hutch drew his knees close as he pushed the covers back and turned to lie down, facing the edge.

"You're getting better," Starsky approved as he helped settle the covers over Hutch.  Then he moved to the other side and got in the waterbed.  He slid close and carefully circled his arm around Hutch's chest, and then rested his face against Hutch's neck.  "Okay?"

"Hm-mm.  Feels good," Hutch murmured.

"Yeah," Starsky approved.  Then, "I know I can't expect your dad to be something he's not, but I kept hoping, so much, that he'd say something about you, after reading the book."

Hutch reached to squeeze Starsky's hand.  "He read it, Starsk.  That's more than either of my parents did when I wrote that journal when I was in junior high."

"I know."  Starsky's voice was sad.  "But man, Hutch, if either of my parents had read a book where I was the star, my mother would have told everyone possible, and my father would have been bursting with pride."

Hutch's fingers gently massaged along the arm across his chest.  "I'm okay with it, buddy.  I'm just glad that we know now that he read it."

After a moment of silence, Starsky said, "He did seem to realize that we had a unique life.  He asked me why I thought we had more than what most people have, as far as our relationship,  I told him the usual stuff that we've always talked about -- being honest with each other, and always appreciating each other, and all that."  Another silence, and then Starsky said, "I guess the book was successful, in a sense, since he did seem to get how special we are together."

Gently, Hutch said, "That's no small thing."

"Yeah," Starsky grumbled, "but he still seemed to mostly want to talk about getting it published.  So then other people can enjoy it, too."

Hutch felt himself smile.  "Then I guess that means he enjoyed it, huh?"

Starsky shifted and pressed his face against the back of Hutch's shoulders.  "Just wanted him to say he was proud of you, and amazed by you, and so glad that you're his son."

Hutch realized that he could very easily become angry toward his father, because his reticence had upset Starsky.  But he wanted to focus on being soothing, and he needed to face his love.  "I want to turn over."

Starsky immediately shifted away, and put a supporting hand on Hutch's waist.  "Easy does it."

Hutch carefully rolled onto his back, and then onto his other side, keeping his knees drawn up.

Starsky settled back beneath the covers, close enough that their foreheads could touch.

Hutch said, "It's enough that he likes to be around me.  And I mostly like being around him."


"Your book mattered, buddy.  He wouldn't have talked so much about it, if it didn't mean much to him."

Starsky voice held a smile.  "Yeah.  Guess so"  Then, "Wonder what that means."

"It means that you've done a wonderful job with it."

"Guess I'm getting quite a break from it now, with our house being so crowded, and the computer getting so much use, to say nothing of my arm."


"I'm not even near ready to start on the chapter about your past.  Still have most of that stuff to go through that I found in the attic."

"There's no hurry," Hutch soothed.

Starsky shifted back slightly, and loosely clasped Hutch's hand.  "You given any thought to where you'd like us to go on vacation next month?"

"No.  You?"

"Just somewhere we haven't been before.  Somewhere private and exclusive."  Starsky snorted.  "I'd like to think that we'll be spending most of our time in our room, and so the location doesn't matter that much.  Still, it would be nice if it was some place different."

"Maybe we should do what we did before.  Just get an atlas and go eeny-meeny-miney-mo.  That's how we ended up flying into Raleigh, North Carolina."

"Yeah.  That was sure momentous."  Then Starsky mused, "We're going to be forty next year."


"I don't want you to get shot anymore, Hutch."

Hutch drew a breath at the plaintive statement.  "This wasn't anybody's fault."

"Except the guy with the gun."

"Well, now we have car phones, so we should be able to get help more easily, if it's necessary."

"Want us to work together as much as possible."

"I know.  So do I.  I wouldn't want to view having all this work as a negative, though."  Hutch didn't feel that anything he was saying was helping much.  He pulled his hand from Starsky's clasp and reached down to lay it along his love's soft groin.  "You're restless, partner.  I can help that."

Starsky reached down and gently pulled Hutch's hand away.  "Not now.  Not until we both have our full physical capabilities.  Maybe we can even agree to not do anything until we go on vacation.  It would be fun to anticipate."

Hutch admitted, "I can't agree to that right now.  We're talking a good month.  And you get your cast off in a couple of weeks, and I'll probably be off the painkillers by then."

"I'm going to try to get the doc to take my cast off by Darla's race.  It'll feel good to be free of it when we make the trip down there.  I hope your dad is still around then.  He sounded like he was interested in seeing her run."

"Yeah, he doesn't seem very eager to go back home to Mom.  I think he's only called her once."

"We're going to have to figure out what to do about Nick, too.  We're going to be wanting our privacy back."

"It's great that he's been so helpful, but I wish he'd look for a real job."

Starsky snorted.  "Maybe Lanette will subsidize him.  Put him up in a condo or something.  Keep him as her boy toy."

Though Hutch was amused at the thought, he said, "I doubt she has the kind of money to sustain another person."

Starsky shifted like he was going to settle into sleep.  "I guess we'll just have to take it one day at a time, and see what happens."


They spent most of the following week, working the accounting case that Tom Placing had provided.  When Hutch was on the computer, Starsky acted as a liaison between Richard and Hutch, so there wasn't much opportunity for Hutch to get uptight about working with his father's forceful personality. 

They got a call to spy on a cheating spouse, and Nick was enthused about being sent out on his first solo assignment.

On Thursday, they brought out the wine to celebrate having all their paperwork on the Placing case boxed up, as well as a folder of reports that proved that there was, indeed, a substantial amount of embezzling going at the screen printing company.  They had called a happy Tom Placing, who now had a case to bring to trial, and would be dropping off the boxes the next morning, along with a hefty invoice, since the case had a lot of man hours, though it had taken less than two weeks to complete.

They all stood around the kitchen table, where Starsky held up his wine glass.  "To the Starskys and Hutchinsons, for a job well done."

"Here, here", the rest of them chimed in, touching their glasses together, and then drinking from them.

Richard said, "I don't suppose you have another case going on that I could help with."

Hutch grinned.  "Not right now, Dad.  Sorry.  The main thing we've got going is a suicide investigation, and that doesn't involve any accounting.  We'll get back going on that next week, and since I've hit the two-week mark for my injury, I can start driving again.  So, you might be stuck here by yourself a lot.  But let us know if you need to be driven anywhere."  Though he had mostly enjoyed his father's company, and particularly his help, Hutch hoped such a notion would prompt Richard to start thinking about returning home.


The next morning, Starsky and Hutch had taken the Corvette to Placing's office.  The attorney had told them that they could expect to receive a check within two weeks, and that he wouldn't hesitate to call them for any other investigative needs his firm might have.

Hutch had his window rolled down as they drove through traffic.  "You know, we really need to set up a meeting to with Emerson, and find out our tax consequences this year."  He'd never gotten around to doing that after Darla's winning race.


"Yeah.  Between Darla and having these recent big jobs, I'm really getting worried that we're going to owe Uncle Sam a lot of money.  And I've been avoiding thinking about how 'inheriting' so much from Steve Hanson is going to impact our tax situation."

Starsky muttered, "It seems a friggin' crime that having things go well has to come at such a high cost."  He looked over at Hutch.  "I wonder if we ought to talk to your dad about our finances, and get some free advice."

Hutch shook his head.  "I don't want him that involved in our personal lives.  If he starts getting pushy about what we ought to be doing with our money, it'll irritate me."

"Okay," Starsky said simply.

"Emerson hasn't yet steered us wrong.  Besides, don't forget that he's technically the secretary of Starsky and Hutchinson, Inc."

"It's just that he charges like a lawyer."

Hutch snorted.  "Well, that's true.  But at least it's tax deductible."

They were silent as they turned into their neighborhood.  Then Starsky said, "You've been eating fairly normal meals the last couple of days, haven't you?"

"Yeah.  I'm feeling a lot better."

Starsky reached over to squeeze Hutch's hand.  "Good.  I'm so glad."

"I just try to be careful to not feel stuffed, you know?  Because then my stomach really starts hurting."  Hutch sighed.  "It's going to be the full six weeks before these sutures are all dissolved.  They still bother me sometimes."

"You probably ought to start exercising more.  Build up some strength, at least in your arms and legs, as you put weight back on.  I need to do more, too."

"You know, once we have our guests out, maybe we ought to turn that empty bedroom into an exercise room.  We can buy some equipment and put it in there.  Then it'll be easier to exercise right before breakfast, and stuff like that."

Starsky nodded.  "Sounds good to me."  He slowly smiled.

"What?" Hutch demanded.

Starsky shrugged.  "Tax consequences aside, you must be feeling pretty good about the money we're making, if you're thinking of buying stuff like exercise equipment."

Hutch decided to caution, "Let's see how Darla does in her next race."


When they arrived home, Nick was in the office and hanging up the telephone.  They approached, Hutch asking, "Hey, Nick, what's up?"

He indicated a message pad.  "This lady just called and said she wants her fiancé checked out."

Starsky quipped, "How romantic."

"Yeah.  She sounded very nice, but she said after her first husband took her to the cleaners before divorcing her, she doesn't trust anybody.  I said that one of you guys will call her back today."  Nick then hesitated.  "Hey, uh, I've got some news."

"What?" Starsky asked, sitting down in one of the visitor chairs.

Hutch sat in the chair next to him.

Nick said, "I got a job."

"Really?" Starsky asked.  "Where?"

"At the airport.  It's in the customer complaint department at one of the airlines.  It's one of the smaller, local airlines.  I don't even remember the name."

"That's great," Hutch said.  "How did you land that?"

Nick's eyes darted about nervously.  And then he took a deep breath, as though making a decision.  "Lanette got it for me," he muttered.

"Lanette?" Starsky and Hutch asked in unison.

"Yeah.  She knew somebody who knew somebody....  All they needed to do was meet me and see that I have the right kind of personality for it.  I start Monday."

"Is it full time?" Starsky asked.

"It's Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  So, if you guys need me to help out some of the other days, I can."

Hutch decided not to press about Lanette.  "That's great, Nick.  I guess you're going to need some wheels."

"Um, yeah.  I've been looking in the newspaper at some ads."

Starsky asked, "Can you afford something?"

Nick shrugged.  "I'll be able to make something work."  His eyes were averted.

Hutch ventured, "With that money you borrowed back in New York?"

Firmly, Starsky said, "Come on, Nick, be straight with us.  We're glad you've got all this going on, but we also want to make sure you don't get yourself in a bind that you can't afford."

With a degree of agitation, Nick said, "Look, Lanette said she'd co-sign on a car loan, okay?"

Hutch glanced at Starsky, who had gone very quiet.  He knew Starsky was wondering why Nick would want to go through the hassle of Lanette in Minnesota having to fly out to co-sign for a loan, when his own brother could easily do something like that.

As for Hutch himself, after speaking so firmly to Nick about the telephone charges, he could understand Nick being skittish about coming to them for financial help.  All in all, he thought Nick's hesitation was a good thing.  Let Lannie deal with him and his financial troubles.

Finally, Starsky asked in a snipped tone, "Is she going to put you up in an apartment, too?"

Nick hesitated again.  "No," he said in a unconvincing tone.  Then, "But she's going to help me look, when she comes out to co-sign for a car.  I should be able to afford something on my own, especially if I can get some extra work from you guys."  More forcefully, he demanded, "That's what you guys want, right?  For me to be on my own?"

Calmly, Hutch said, "I'd think that's what we all want.  We're glad you're going to stay around, Nick.  That you're going to be helping out, and not too far away."

Nick seemed to ignore those words.  He lowered his voice as he glanced at the door, where the sound of the TV came through, indicating that Richard was in the living room.  "Look, I know you guys aren't happy about me and Lanette.  But I don't feel like I should have to explain about us."

"You don't," Starsky said firmly.  "That's between you two.  I really, really hope you two make each other happy, because from what I've seen of her husband, he's an asshole.  I just...," his voice deflated, "hope you two know what you're doing."

Nick looked at Hutch.  "I don't think I've felt about anyone the way I feel about her.  I've really, really missed her all these months when we were out of contact."

Hutch managed a twisted smile.  "Hopefully, she feels the same way about you."

"I-I think she does.  I mean," Nick shrugged elaborately, "why would else would she be wanting to help me so much?"

Hutch decided not to answer that question.  Instead, he quietly said, "I'd suggest you bring her around the next time she flies out, but that might be kind of hard for Dad to understand."

Nick quickly shook his head.  "Yeah, I doubt he's ready to see us together."

Starsky rubbed at his eyes.  "Look, kiddo, I know it's none of our business, but I really wish she'd reach some kind of resolution about her marriage with Jeffrey, before she gets so gung-ho involved with you."

Nick gazed at his brother an extended moment.  "If someone would try to say that you and Hutch shouldn't be together, because it's wrong and immoral and all that, would you stay apart?"

Starsky looked at Hutch and sighed. 



As Starsky and Hutch lay in bed together that night, Starsky said, "What do you think Lanette is playing at?"

"Obviously, I can't say for sure.  I'd like to think that she truly has some feelings for Nick.  I remember last fall, when they were both out, how much he made her laugh."

"You sure seem a lot calmer now about the idea of them being together."

"And you seem a lot more uptight about it."

"Yeah," Starsky muttered.  "I guess because now I see Lanette so differently.  She's been like the abominable ice woman toward us, even though we've only been warm toward her."

Feeling hopeful, Hutch said, "Maybe Nick is the only person that can thaw her."  He carefully shifted to wrap an arm around Starsky.  "In any case, it sounds like we're going to have to get used to the idea of them being together -- whenever they have a chance to get together, that is."

"I wonder how your dad will take it when he finds out."

"I don't know.  It seems like it'll be hard for us all to keep it from him for a prolonged period of time."  After a moment of silence, Hutch said, "The bright side of all this is that Nick did get a job, and he apparently is going to find is own place, and we'll still have close contact with him.  So, in a way, this is all working out as well as we could have hoped."

Starsky grunted.  "I just have a feeling that, at some point, the clock's going to strike midnight, and all the glamorous things Nick is getting from her is going to turn back into rags.  I mean, if Lanette dumps him at some point, what's going to happen with his job and his car and his apartment, if she's the one who's responsible for all of that, to a degree?"

"Hopefully, if they break up down the line, they can be mature adults about it.  Anyway, buddy, I for one am glad that she's apparently picking up the tab for Nick in a lot of ways.  I think that's healthier for our relationship with him."

"Just seems dumb for her to co-sign a loan for him.  I could have done that.  I swear, Hutch, I just have such a feeling that they're headed for a disaster."

Hutch squeezed him, gently scolding, "Hey, since when are you the pragmatic one?"

"Since my brother's gotten serious with the sibling that you and I both have tried so hard to have a good relationship with, and she kept throwing our good feelings back in our faces.  I just can't imagine that Nick is going to fare better."  Abruptly, Starsky held up his right arm.  "Did I tell you that I have an appointment with the doctor on Tuesday to x-ray my arm?"


"Yeah.  I'm really hoping this cast is ready to come off."

Hutch said, "I stopped taking the painkillers yesterday.  I don't notice much difference, except that I feel more alert."

"Mmm," Starsky said with approval.  "Maybe we'll be back in action before long."

"When I get a nice, strong hard-on, you'll be the first to know."

Starsky made a noise of amusement.  Then he said, "I don't suppose your dad has said anything about returning to Minnesota."


"He really doesn't have anything to do, except watch TV."

"We want him to stay for Darla's next race, right?"


"That should be a week from Sunday, if everything goes as planned.  We'll have to start dropping some strong hints after that."  More subdued, Hutch said, "I guess if he goes home to Minnesota, he won't have anything to do there, either, except watch TV."

"He could golf with his buddies.  It's too bad we've both been injured while he's been out; otherwise, we could have taken him golfing."

"I keep wondering if there's some way he could help with some of our cases, but I don't see how."

"Well, it's not like he's complaining."

"I know.  It's just that I know he'd like to feel useful.  I wonder if he was premature in resigning from his job."

"Yeah," Starsky said with a sigh.


Nick was scarce the following week, as he started his job and spent his time off looking at cars.  Starsky and Hutch put it a lot of hours interviewing more people that knew Thomas Short, as well as his mother, Mabel, who sang under the name Story Blu.  On Thursday morning, they finally found someone who wasn't surprised at Thomas's death.  Thomas had occasionally played saxophone in a band, primarily as a hobby, and Wilson Padgett, the piano player, was sixtyish and had a different perspective than others.

"I had no idea he was going to do anything like that," Padgett said as he sat at his piano in a lounge, where he had been practicing with other band members.  "But when I heard about it, it didn't surprise me."

"Why not?" Hutch asked, as he flipped his legal pad to a fresh sheet. 

The man said, "Everything about Thomas seemed so hollow."

Starsky asked, "What do you mean by that?"

"He had all the trappings.  Decent home.  Nice car.  But he kept acquiring new things.  Was always showing off a new watch he'd bought, or some fancy new clothes he'd purchased.  Once I asked him, 'Thomas, what do you need all this stuff for?'  He just said, 'I like having it.  It means I'm successful.'  And I said, 'But you don't seem very happy, if you keep feeling like you need more stuff.'  He just waved me off, like he didn't think I understood him."

"Where do you think he got the money for all that stuff?"

"Well, he had a good job.  But mostly, I think it was because he was good at playing the stock market.  I don't think he even had an expert to advise him.  He did it all on his own.  He'd come in and say that I should be investing a little in this stock or that stock.  I'd tell him I didn't have the money to risk.  He'd say, 'You have to risk money to make money.'  And then, occasionally, he'd come in with a fancy new watch and say, 'I just cashed out such-and-such a stock.  Made two thousands dollars in just a few days.'  Stuff like that.  But the odd thing, to me, was that all that stuff he bought never seemed to make him very content.  It's like he was chasing his own tail."

Starsky and Hutch exchanged a glance.  Hutch asked, "Is there a possibility that, right before taking his own life, he lost a whole bunch of money in the stock market?"

The man shrugged.  "I suppose.  Seems a dumb thing to take one's life over, but I guess not to him.  He's the kind of person who wouldn't know what to do with himself, if he didn't have money to buy stuff with."

Starsky drew a breath.  "Do you happen to know his mother, Story Blu?"

"Certainly.  That's how I knew Thomas.  Years ago, I was with the band that played backup on one of her albums.  Talented lady."

Hutch asked, "How would you describe their relationship?"

"Good.  They got along fine.  Two peas in a pod, those two."

"What do you mean?" Starsky prompted.

"Just that they both like to spend money.  Liked material things.  Story always said that if the black man was going to be in the white man's world, he had to be like a white man.  She always told Thomas that."  He muttered, "I'm not sure it was good advice.  All living like a white man did was give Thomas an endless appetite for more things -- things that never seemed to make him happy."

"Is there anything in particular that did make him happy?" Starsky asked.

"Oh, he was a great sax player.  Had a real talent for it.  But, you know, playing backup in bands doesn't really pay much.  So, he didn't see much point in pursuing it, when it wasn't going to pay nothing.  He always said he wished he was better at an instrument that could make him famous, or that he had a better voice, so he could be a rock and roll star and make some serious money.  But his talent was the sax."  Padgett grew thoughtful for a long moment.  "In fact, I remember once his mother scolding him for putting so much time into playing the sax, because it wasn't going to get him anywhere.  I said, 'Story, that boy has a real talent with that instrument.  The good Lord gave him that talent, so let him do what he can with it.'  She said, 'The good Lord also made him a black person in a white man's world.  He's going to need to behave as though he was born white, to make something of himself.'"  He shook his head.  "Foolish advice, if you ask me."

Starsky glanced uncomfortably at Hutch.  "Yeah."


As they ate lunch at an outdoor restaurant, Hutch said, "The last thing I want to do is face Mabel and tell her that Thomas killed himself because she instilled a strong value of pretense into him."

"Yeah.  But there's still the question of what put him over the edge that particular day.  We need to get a hold of his investment records.  I wonder if his mother has kept his paperwork.  He probably got monthly statements for his investments."

"Or, if she has a power of attorney to access those records, made we can pursue getting the statements from the brokerage companies."

Starsky nodded.  "Even better."


As the drove up to their house, they spotted a white Ford Mustang parked in front.

"Look at that," Hutch said from the passenger seat.  "Looks like Nick got himself a new car."

"I'm thinking it's a '78 or '79," Starsky said as they turned into the driveway.

"I guess that means Lannie is in town," Hutch said, subdued.

"I bet she's already left for Minnesota, if Nick is here."

When they entered the house, Nick greeted them in the foyer with a big smile, keys dangling from his hand.  "You see my new wheels?"

"Yeah," Starsky said.  "Congratulations."

"Want to try it out?"

"In a bit."

"I'm having one of those fancy car phones installed in it tomorrow."

Hutch hoped Nick realized how much that was going to cost him.  He squeezed Nick's shoulder as he walked past to the office.  "Anybody call?"

"No.  But I just got here a little while ago.  I haven't checked the messages."

The office phone rang just then, and Hutch picked it up.  "Starsky and Hutchinson."

"This sounds like Ken."

"Hi ya, Mike," Hutch said, watching Starsky turn from the kitchen to approach the office.  "Let me put you on speaker phone."

"Hi, Mike," Starsky greeted a moment later.

"Hi, guys.  Darla's in the non-winners of two on Sunday.   It's the seventh race.  Eight horses.  She's in post position two."

"Great," Hutch said, "We think there's going to be four of us.  What do you recommend for nice restaurants for dinner?"  He wrote down some names and phone numbers that Mike pulled from a phone book. 

Mike then said, "Make sure you make reservations.  Everything in this area is busy when the Del Mar meet is on."

Starsky asked, "Is Brad Byrd riding her again?"

"Yeah.  He went to sleep on her last time and got caught for second at the wire, which is embarrassing for a veteran like him.  So, I know he's going to make sure that doesn't happen this time."

Hutch asked, "How tough is the competition?"

"The Racing Form won't be out until Saturday afternoon, of course, but I don't have any reason to be scared of any of these fillies."

Starsky said, "Okay, we'll be seeing you Sunday.  We'll probably want to see her before the race and show her off to our relatives.  Is that okay?"

"That'll be fine.  She's the only one I got running Sunday, so I'll be hanging out at the barn area until it's time for her to run."

"See you then."

After Starsky hung up, he said, "Man, that'll be so cool if she can win again, when we're all there."

Hutch said, "Since she's running late in the day, I wonder if the others are up to spending all day there?"

Starsky moved to the door.  "Let's find out."

Nick had joined Richard in the living room, where the TV was on.

Starsky said, "Hey, guys, Darla's running Sunday.  So, is everyone on board to make the three-hour drive down to Oceanside on Sunday morning?  We'll treat you to an expensive seafood dinner afterward."

Richard picked up the remote and muted the TV.  "That sounds great."

"I guess," Nick said.

Starsky offered, "How about if we put you in charge of the video camera, Nick?"

He perked up.  "Okay."

"Her race is the seventh, so it won't be until later.  Do you guys want to get there early and bet all the races?  Or do you just want to get there for her race?"

Since his father didn't have much to do these days, Hutch wasn't surprised when Richard said, "If we're going to drive all that way, we may as well spend some time there.  I might even place some bets."

"Yeah," Nick said, "it'll be fun to do some betting."


The next morning, Hutch drove Starsky to the doctor to get his cast taken off. 

"I can't believe how weird this feels," Starsky said, rotating his arm back and forth as they left the doctor's office.

Hutch grinned.  "It looks weird." 

After they got into the car, Starsky said, "It feels so weak.  Like it has no strength at all."

"Yeah, we need to pick up a rubber ball for you to squeeze, to exercise it."

"Yeah.  Oh, let's stop by the bank, so I can pull some money out for Sunday."

Hutch glanced over at him.  "I've still got that cash at the house from Story Blu.  I haven't put it in the bank yet."

"I thought you said those were hundreds.  I want to get twenties."  Starsky was thoughtful.  "Don't you think you ought to deposit that money?"

"I figure we'll be giving about half of it back to her.  And I'm sure she'll expect cash, since she gave me cash.  Don't worry, I've got it stashed in our closet in the bedroom, in a shoebox.  We'll surely have the case wrapped up before the end of the month." 

"You got a hold of her about the stock records?"

"Yeah.  I didn't tell her why and she didn't ask.  She just said she'd use her power of attorney to get the records mailed to us."  Hutch glanced over at him.  "Nick say much to you about finding an apartment?"

"I just know that he's looking.  I sort of hinted that we want our house back to ourselves by Labor Day.  Don't forget that we're taking off for a vacation then."

Hutch smiled warmly.  "Even if we don't know where we're going?"

"Yep.  Even if we don't know where we're going."


Early Sunday morning, the kitchen was busy with the activity of cleaning up after breakfast.  Various copies of the day's Racing Form was spread about the table.  Starsky felt amused that Hutch was telling his father how to read all the tiny data, for he was certain that Hutch enjoyed being the one with more knowledge than Richard.

Nick was interested briefly, and then excused himself to get dressed, since he'd had breakfast in underclothes.

Starsky was leaning back against the counter, sipping his coffee, and was about to follow Nick down the hall, when Hutch said, "Hey, Starsk, look who else is running today."

"Huh?"  Starsky looked over Hutch's shoulder.

Hutch pointed.  "Look.  The other horses we owned in the Brooks partnership are running today.  Ghost is in a cheap maiden claimer the first race.  He's had four races and got a third once. That colt that had the bucked shins, Taken for Granted, is in the fifth race, which is a maiden special weight.  It's his first start."

"That'll be fun.  Who do they show as the owner?"

"David Brooks.  He surely got out on bail."

"Wonder if he's going to be there.  If so, it'll be hard not to gloat, since we wound up with the good horse."  Starsky grinned widely.  "By far."


Starsky put his coffee cup on the counter and went down the hall.  "Nick?" he said as he approached the extra bedroom.

Nick opened the door, and went back to buttoning his shirt.  "Yeah?"

Starsky brushed past him to move into the room.  He took out a wad of ten twenty-dollar bills.  "Hey, here's you some cash for today."

Nick took the roll, his expression one of surprise.

Starsky patted his side.  "Just want to make sure you have enough to enjoy yourself with."

Nick's eyes lit up.  "Thanks!"


"My goodness," Richard said, "she's a fantastic looking animal."

Starsky beamed as they all surrounded Darla, who was standing in an open area outside Hawkins' barn, her groom, Blinks, holding her lead shank.  She held her head high and looked out into the distance, her dark bay coat, which lacked any white markings, glowing in the noon sunshine.  "Yeah, that's how I felt when I first saw her.  And that made me want to have her when the opportunity came up."

Mike Hawkins said, "She's calmed down now.  She got pretty wound up this morning."

"How come?" Starsky asked.

"She got her gallop cut short, since she's racing this afternoon, and she didn't like that.  She thrives on exercise.  Then she didn't like not having her hay."

"Why didn't she have hay?" Richard asked.

"Racehorses don't have hay the morning they're racing.  Hay provides bulk and we don't want them racing on bulk."

Starsky asked, "You mean she hasn't eaten today?"

"Oh, she got her oats and corn and other grains.  Grain is their energy food.  When she realized that getting wound up wasn't going to get her the hay that the other horses had, she turned her back and was just showing her rear end all morning."  Hawkins chuckled.  "But she's got her game face on now."

Hutch asked, "So, what do you think of the field for today's race?"

Hawkins said, "From looking at the Form, none of the horses in the race seem have any early speed.  So, I think Darla's going to get the lead by default."

Starsky said worriedly, "Is that going to be a problem?"

"I don't think so.  She should be able to get an easy lead, if no one presses her, and she's always willing to do whatever the jockey tells her, so Byrd can slow down the pace, and it'll be a matter of if anybody can catch her in the stretch."

Hutch asked, "Hasn't one of the fillies won her only start by five lengths?"

"Yes, the horse on the outside, in the eight hole.  But that horse came from way behind, and horses with that kind of running style need a fast pace up front, since they're dependent on the leaders tiring and 'backing up'.  I don't expect Darla to set a fast pace early, unless somebody presses her.  And none of the other horses look like they have the early speed to pressure her."

Starsky asked hopefully, "So, you think she's going to win?"

Hawkins shrugged.  "She's got a good chance.  Because of how the race shapes up, strategy-wise, I think it's likely she'll be the favorite."

"Man, we can't ever get good odds on her."

Hutch asked, "Is it okay to pet her?"

"Yeah, she should be fine."

"Dad, why don't you come over here, so Nick can get some footage of you with her?"  Hutch moved to Darla's shoulder.

Richard took a few hesitant steps toward Darla.  "She won't do anything?"

"No.  Just don't put your hand in front of her mouth and make her think you have something for her.  Stand here by her shoulder, and you can pet her on the neck."

Starsky looked back at Nick, who had put the video camera to his eye.  "You getting this?"

"Yeah," Nick said.

Richard and Hutch faced the camera.  Starsky moved to the middle of Darla, and reached back to pet her hind quarters.  "Man, that'll be so cool if she wins again."

Richard patted her neck.  "Her coat is so sleek."

Hutch said, "Yeah, these racehorses get the royal treatment."

Nick lowered the camera and looked at Hawkins.  "Do you have any good tips for today?"

Hawkins shook his head.  "I'm not a betting man.  I can tell you who's been training well, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything."

Nick pressed, "How can you not bet when you have all this inside information?"

Hawkins scoffed, "Look, if we trainers were able to predict the outcome of races, we wouldn't be working seven days a week.  Nah, I've been around racing all my life, and the only thing I can say for sure is that you never can be certain of what's going to happen once the gates open.  All it takes is a horse stumbling, or a horse getting crowded, or a horse being in a bad mood and not feeling like running, and the whole complexion of the race changes, and nothing in the Form means anything.

Darla tossed her head, and Richard stepped away uneasily.

Hutch gave her a final pat, and then moved away.  "I guess it's time to head over to the track for the first race."

Starsky patted Darla on the shoulder.  "See you later, my lady."  He wondered if Nick felt left out.  "You want to pet her, Nick?  I can film you."

"No, I'll pass.  I just want to cash a big bet on her."


Hutch watched on the grandstand's TV monitor as Taken for Granted, nicknamed Tyke, was led into the winner's circle.  He had won the fifth race by a half length, which was his first start.

Though Hawkins had invited them to watch the races from his box seat, the Starskys and Hutchinsons had instead settled into a round table inside the clubhouse, near a TV monitor.  That way, Richard could see everything that was happening without needing to leave his chair, since Hutch volunteered to make all his bets for him, which were only a few dollars a piece.  Richard wasn't one to risk much on something that wasn't a sure thing.

"You won that race?" Starsky asked Hutch.

Hutch nodded.  "Yeah.  I wanted to back him, even if he is owned by Brooks.  It's nice to see Clausen win, and you know, that's pretty impressive that he won after having bucked shins."

Starsky watched the small group in the winner's circle on the TV.  "I don't see Brooks.  He must not be here."  He looked back at Hutch again.  "You didn't bet Ghost in the first race, did you?"

Hutch shook his head.  "He's done so poorly, I wasn't going to risk it.  Good thing."  Ghost had been seventh in the field of nine.

Hutch put the winning ticket on Taken for Granted in his pocket, to cash later.  He'd actually bet very little throughout the day, because he'd been enjoying watching his father.  After receiving a crash course in how to read the Form, Richard had taken a very logical approach to analyzing the races.  After making his selections, he was then thoroughly puzzled when the horses didn't finish like he expected.

Sounding envious, he now asked Hutch, "How did you know to bet that horse, Taken for Granted?"

Hutch grinned at his father's tone.  "I didn't know anything, Dad.  It was purely a sentimental bet.  Like I told you, Starsk and I were the official owners of that horse for a short time, in a partnership with Brooks.  He got injured, and I just wanted to see him do well, now that he's racing.  There wasn't any logic to it."

His father seemed to ponder that, as he turned his attention back to his Form.

Hutch sipped his beer and noted, "As I see it, the horses don't know how to read the Racing Form.  So, they don't know how well or poorly they're expected to do."

Starsky sat down with a sigh.  "One more race before Darla's."

Richard looked up.  "Where's the men's room?"

Starsky nodded toward the far wall.  "Over there."

After Richard left, Hutch scooted his chair closer to Starsky's and lowered his voice as he nodded toward the mutual windows where Nick was standing in line.  "How's he doing?"

"You mean betting?"

Hutch shrugged, because he meant more than that, since he'd been watching Nick throughout the day.

Starsky said, "I doubt good, because he's been pretty quiet and has kept pretty much to himself."

"He seems to be taking this all way too seriously.  I wonder if he's betting the rent money, so to speak."

"He shouldn't be.  I gave him two hundred this morning to play with."

"Oh."  Hutch wasn't sure how he felt about that.

Starsky defended, "I wanted him to have enough money to have a good time, and not worry about losing it."

"He doesn't seem to be having a very good time."

Starsky muttered, "Well, this really isn't his thing, you know.  I think he just agreed to come down to placate us."

Hutch countered, "I think he's really wanting to win."

"We all do," Starsky said with a shrug.

"No, I meant needing to win."

"You know, it could be that his mind's on Lanette, and he can't say anything because of your dad."

Hutch blinked.  It hadn't occurred to him that Nick might be experiencing a longing heart.

Starsky said, "Though if your family is into having affairs, it doesn't seem like it would bother him all that much."

Hutch said, "It's not Lannie having an extra-marital affair that would bother him.  It's that properly polite people don't talk about stuff like that.  Trust me, he doesn't want to know."


They moved outdoors to watch Darla's race from Hawkins's box.  Mike and Richard were seated as the horses warmed up, the latter asking occasional questions of Darla's trainer.

The others were standing.  Starsky nudged Nick and said, "So, did you bet the farm on our lady?"

Nick scoffed, "At even odds?  No way.  I picked a longshot to beat her."

"What?" Starsky asked disbelief.  "That's criminal.  How can you bet against our horse?"

"There's no money to be made on her at such low odds."  Nick grunted.  "I figure if she wins, then everybody's happy.  If she loses, and my longshot wins, then I'm happy.  So, I win either way."

"Party pooper.  Just make sure you have that camera on Darla during the race."

"Yeah, yeah," Nick muttered.

Starsky took a step closer to Hutch.  "Can you believe he's betting against us?"

Wanting to be congenial, Hutch said, "His logic makes a certain sort of sense."  He squeezed Starsky's right hand.  "How does your arm feel?"

"It catches me off guard, because I try to use it, and then realize how weak it is.  How's your stomach?"

"I've hardly noticed it."

Starsky put his arm loosely around Hutch.  "I'm so glad you're getting better."

The field of eight was moving behind the starting gate.  Hutch reached up and squeezed the back of Starsky's neck.  "You're a lot less nervous than  you were for her other races."

"I guess that comes from knowing she can win.  Probably nothing's ever going to be like that first time."  Starsky put binoculars to his eyes.

Hutch snorted and muttered, "Don't know if I agree with that."

Starsky lowered the binoculars and turned his head to give Hutch a warm, loving look.  He'd obviously picked up on the double meaning of Hutch's statement.  His voice was playfully scolding, while also low.  "We're in public, baby."

The horses were loading into the gate, and Richard and Hawkins stood.

Starsky asked, "Which horse is yours, Nick?"

"The four."

The horses loaded smoothly, and it wasn't long before the announcer said, "All in line."  Hutch clasped Starsky's hand.

The gates opened a moment later, and the horses came out in an even row.  They continued for a few more strides, with a few dropping back.  And then Darla surged into the lead.

"There she goes!" Starsky said.  He lowered the binoculars.  "Man, that's weird seeing her in front so soon."

As the horses continued the long run down the backstretch, Hutch watched as daylight increased between Darla and the rest of the field.  "She's pulling away."

Starsky glanced past Nick to Hawkins.  "Is she going too fast?"

Hawkins shook his head, binoculars to his eyes.  "She's well within herself.  The other fillies can't keep up."

Hutch listened as the announcer called Deep Waters five lengths in front.  She was entering the turn.

"Here comes somebody," Starsky said anxiously.  He raised his binoculars.  "That's your four horse, Nick."

Hutch felt his heart clinch as a horse came flying at Darla, the jockey riding aggressively, closing the gap between them, as they went around the turn.

Hawkins said, "We're going to find out what's she made of, right here."

Hutch watched as the leading pair neared the end of the turn, with the four horse at Darla's hindquarters.  Suddenly, Darla spurted clear, and daylight appeared between them once again.

"That's the way to do it," Hawkins said with satisfaction.  "She doesn't want anyone to get past her."

Darla entered the stretch, two lengths in front, with the rest of the field closing, and the four horse backing up to them.

"God damn it," Nick muttered, the video camera to his eye.

Hutch recognized the eight horse on the outside, flying down the center of the stretch.  "Here comes that other horse," he said worriedly. 

The crowd was roaring.

Byrd moved his arms in an urging motion, and then waved his whip alongside Darla.  She spurted forward again.

"They can't get to her," Hawkins said with a smile in his voice.

Hutch squeezed Starsky shoulder, laughing.  "She's gonna win, Starsk!"

"Oh, man," Starsky said, his voice choked.

The announcer called Deep Waters the winner, three lengths in front, with the number eight horse second. 

The number four horse cantered in last.

Starsky turned to Hutch, and leapt at him, wrapping his arms around him.  "Oh, man!  She's so incredible!"

Hutch swung him back and fourth, laughing.  And then he felt his sutures, and quickly put Starsky on his feet.

Starsky slapped Nick hard on the back.  "You should have bet her!"

"Yeah, yeah," Nick muttered.

Richard was reaching to Starsky to shake his hand.  "Finally, I get to cash a ticket."  Then he stepped closer so he could squeeze Hutch's shoulder.  "I can see why you two were so excited about this.  It's different than watching as a spectator."

"Yeah," Starsky beamed, "and now we've all got to get down to the winner's circle for the photo."  He turned away, with Nick and Richard following.

Hutch paused beside Hawkins, who was watching the track with a thoughtful expression, while the fillies were being pulled up.  "Is everything okay, Mike?"

Eyes still on the track, Hawkins replied, "I knew she could win this.  I just didn't know she could handle these horses so easily."


Three hours later, Hutch pushed his plate away, which contained the shells from a lobster tail and crab legs.  He'd only picked at his baked potato.

Richard said worriedly, "You aren't having any more?"

Hutch shook his head.  "I'm full.  I don't want to get stuffed, or I might be upchucking all the way home."

Starsky said warmly, "He still has to watch his stomach.  It's going to be another two or three weeks before he's back to normal."

"You seemed fine today."

"I am fine.  I just don't want to push it."

"I'm fine, too," Richard said.  "But don't hold it against me if I fall asleep on the way home."

Starsky laughed. "Yeah, this has been a long day."  He looked at his brother, who was still working on his crab legs.  "Hey, Nick, would you like to drive home?"

Nick looked up.  "Sure."

"I figure Richard can ride up front, where he can recline the seat, and then me and Hutch can cuddle in the back."  Starsky was serious.  He really wanted to do that with Hutch, especially with still feeling high from Darla's win.

Nick muttered, "As long as you don't start making out."

Starsky and Hutch both laughed softly, and Starsky quipped, "No promises."

As Richard buttered a roll, he said, "So, is it like Darla could be in the Kentucky Derby?"

"No, no," Hutch said quickly.  "Those horses in those big races on TV are like the top one tenth of one percent of all racehorses.  Plus, Darla's a filly and they aren't as strong as the colts, so usually fillies don't race with colts.  Still, Mike was saying after the race that Darla was probably in the top ten percent of the fillies in her foal crop.  Which is still pretty exclusive."

Starsky said, "Yeah, when you guys were talking to the groom, Mike was showing Hutch and me a magazine article that has all these statistics.  And something like only sixty percent of all Thoroughbreds born ever even make it to a race.  And of those that race, there's a huge percent that will never win.  And of those that do, the vast majority are in claiming races, which are the lower class of races.  The top class of races are stakes, and only five percent of horses ever win a stakes race."

Hutch put in, "The level between claiming and stakes are called allowance races.  That's what Darla ran in today, and it was for two year old fillies that haven't won two races.   The southern California circuit is one of the best in the world, so being a solid allowance horse on this circuit makes Darla a better racehorse than even some stakes winners at second-rate tracks."

Nick pushed his plate away.  "Yeah, but she can't be that good.  I saw in the Form that she got beat seven lengths her last race."

"That was a stakes with a super good filly in it," Starsky defended.  "Darla should have been second, but the jockey relaxed too much on her and just got caught at the wire.  Mike said the horse that won has been shipped to New York to run in Grade 1 stakes, which are the highest class of race in the world."

Hutch noted, "That filly is in the top one-tenth of one percent.  And Darla probably could have finished a lot closer to her, but Mike told the jock not to press her when she wasn't going to beat her, anyway."

Richard also pushed his plate away, and settled back in his chair.  "So, what would her next race be?  A race for horses that haven't won three races?"

Starsky and Hutch looked at each other and chuckled.  Starsky said, "We tried to pin Mike down on that, because usually he knows right away what he wants to do with her next.  But he just muttered something about thinking it over."

Hutch grinned widely.  "I think Darla surprised him.  Even though he seemed to know ahead of time exactly how this race was going to be run, he wasn't expecting her to so easily pull of way from every horse that came at her."

Starsky beamed, "Man, she's something."


They had been driving for a good hour in the darkness and city lights of Interstate 5. 

Starsky was leaned back against the side of the backseat, behind the passenger seat, where Richard could be heard snoring, with one foot stretched out across the floorboards.

Hutch was stretched out on the backseat, with his weight his back against Starsky's chest, a knee drawn up.  Conversation had eventually settled into silence, and Starsky had stopped giving him a squeeze every now and then, so Hutch suspected that Starsky had dropped into a doze.

Hutch quietly asked, "You staying awake, Nick?"

"Yep, no problem."

Trying to keep his voice light and conversational, Hutch asked, "So, how did you end up on the day?"

"Not too good, but I was going for the big money.  Don't see much point in betting two dollars to win four dollars, when you can bet twelve dollars on a trifecta and win thousands."

Hutch grunted.  "It's hard enough to pick a winner, without picking the top three horses in exact order."

"Yeah, but the big money is where all the fun is.  Imagine hitting a big bet like that."

Hutch chuckled, "Maybe once in a lifetime."

"Yeah," Nick relented. 

After more silence, Hutch asked, "So, how's the apartment hunting going?"

"I think I might have something for the first.  It's a new place, and they're still finishing up some of the construction to meet the building codes."

"Where at?"

"It's just about twenty miles from the airport."

"I'm surprised that something that close to the airport is affordable."

"Since it's new, they're offering all sorts of incentives, such as the first month free, and the rent on the first six months being a couple of hundred cheaper, if you sign a year's lease."

"That's great, Nick."

Starsky roused, and asked sleepily, "What's great?"

"Nick might have himself in a brand new apartment on the first."


Hutch couldn't remember the last time he had felt so depressed.  Apparently, Starsky felt likewise, for he was unusually quiet as they got in the Corvette, and left the parking lot of the office building which housed their personal tax accountant and financial advisor, Michael Emerson.

Emerson had estimated that they were collectively going to owe some twenty thousand dollars in personal income taxes for 1982.  He had suggested that the only way they could get out from owing the Internal Revenue Service so much was to spend more money on purchasing equipment for their PI business, or buy more horses for their "racing business".  Or donate money to charity.  Whatever they did, Emerson had stressed, the money was going to leave their hands.

He had also mentioned a few investment possibilities for tax shelters, but then nixed the idea at seeing the looks on his clients' faces at the concept of spending money on things they didn't understand.

After Starsky pulled onto the main boulevard that would take them out of the city, he said, "Maybe we should buy more racehorses, Hutch.  He said the more horses we have, the easier we'll be able to prove that we're treating it like a business instead of a hobby, and can deduct the expenses."

"I don't want to do that," Hutch said firmly.  "Come on, Starsk, Darla has been special to us.  I don't want to cheapen our experience with her by buying a bunch of nags, and then justifying it by saying, 'At least, they're a good tax deduction.'"

Starsky was silent.

Hutch went on, "I want to be able to look back years from now and feel really good about her.  Not just, 'We used to own a bunch of racehorses, and one of them was pretty good.'  I want to look back and say, 'We used to own this racehorse and she was really something special', and have it be a completely positive memory."

"Well, when you put it like that...."  Starsky looked and Hutch smiled.  "Okay, no more talk of buying more horses."  Then he said with fondness, "Didn't know you were so mushy about Darla."

Hutch decided not to comment on that.  Instead, he said, "I suppose we can buy a fancy copy machine for the office, and maybe another computer.  But that's barely going to make a dent in our tax liability."

"Remember, Emerson mentioned getting something like a secretary part time, and paying her wages."

"I'm not ready for something like that -- either professionally or personally, considering it means somebody would be working inside our house."

Starsky snorted, "It's weird being told we should spend more money.  Just so we can avoid paying Uncle Sam more money."

Hutch sighed.  "Yeah.  Hell, let's just swallow our medicine and stop complaining about it, and pay what we owe.  Let's stop by the bank and open up a new savings account just for tax money, and I'll look things over and see how much we can deposit into it right away.  And then, from here on out, every time somebody pays us or Darla earns money, I'll move about a third of it into the savings account.  At least, that way, we shouldn't get taken by surprise when next April rolls around."  Hutch gestured to the street and muttered sarcastically, "And then we can feel good about doing our part to keep the roads paved."

Just then, the Corvette went over a large pothole.


They arrived home an hour later.  It was the Thursday after Darla's race, and Nick's Mustang was parked out front.

As they pulled into the garage, Starsky asked, "Has Nick mentioned anything more to you about the apartment he thinks he's going to get?"


"Me, neither."

They went into the house, saw that the office was empty, and moved into the living room, where Richard was on the sofa, watching TV.

Richard said, "I've decided it's time for me to head back home.  I've got a seat on a flight that's leaving Saturday morning.  I hope that's not a problem."

"No," Hutch said, leaning on the back of the easy chair.  "Mom must be missing you by now."

"That's a big house for her to be in, all alone."

Feeling relieved that they were that much closer to having their privacy back, Starsky said, "It's been great having you out, and especially since you were able to stay awhile."

Richard barely glanced at him.  "Likewise."

Starsky realized that was as much emotion as they were going to get.  He glanced around.  "Nick's here, isn't he?"

"Yes, I heard him go down the hall.  I was debating about whether to check on him."

"Huh?  Why?"

"I just got a glimpse when he came in.  He seemed kind of hunched over and went straight to his room."

Starsky wasn't sure what that meant, but he felt alarmed as he and Hutch quickly moved through the kitchen, and then down the hall.  Starsky knocked on the closed bedroom door.  "Nick?"


"Nick?  Open up.  What's going on?"

"Come in," came a strained voice.

Nick was lying on top of the disheveled rollaway bed, in slacks and an undershirt, curled up with his hand around his stomach.

"What's wrong?" Starsky asked as he and Hutch moved closer.

Then they saw the bruises on the side of Nick's face, and a fresh cut at a mouth corner.

Starsky knelt down and gently took Nick's chin to get a closer look.  "What the hell happened?"

Nick was silent.

Hutch said, "I think Jeffrey might have had someone spying on Lannie the last time you were here.  Did he have somebody rough you up?"

Starsky blinked, remembering that Hutch had seen a PI on their block last fall.

"What?" Nick asked in disbelief.  "This didn't have a damn thing to do with Lanette."

"Then what?" Starsky pressed.

Nick's gaze was averted.

Hutch said, "Damnit, Nick, if you're involved in something shady...."

Then it hit Starsky, as he considered how Nick had hoped to win a lot of money at the track.  He stood with his hands on his hips.  "This concerns the money you borrowed back in New York, doesn't it?  How much are you in for?"

Nick remained silent.

His voice rising, Hutch said, "Let us help you.  What did you do with the money you borrowed?"

Nick's eyes darted to Hutch.  "What do you think?" he scoffed.  "Paid off debt.  I don't have a fancy house or a fancy racehorse like you guys do.  Newsflash:  Most people in this country struggle to pay their bills, especially when there's a recession."

Starsky's voice hardened.  "What really happened that got you fired from your job?"

Nick firmed his jaw.

Hutch yelled, "Come on, Nick!  Level with us.  This is your one chance to have us help you.  Don't blow it!  Tell us everything."

Starsky felt himself relaxing slightly at Hutch's willingness to help.  "Why did you get fired, Nick?"

Nick sighed heavily.  "I was using my delivery van to deliver drug money, to make extra.  My supervisor found out about it."

Hutch said, "You got fired a while ago, didn't you?  Not right before you came out."

"Yeah," Nick muttered.  He raised up on an elbow.  "I couldn't find another job, so I borrowed five thousand from Joey Forrenco to pay off credit cards and pay rent and other living expenses."

"What happened today?" Starsky demanded.

Nick sighed.  "I guess I've been tailed.   A couple of guys escorted me out of the deli I was at and took me to a back alley.  They said, 'Joey Forrenco wants his money.'  I said I didn't have it, but I would get it.  They got in a few punches, and then they shoved a business card into my pocket, and said if I didn't call the number by Tuesday and say that I had the money, they'd find me again and it would 'hurt more'."

Hutch asked, "What's it up to, with interest?"

Nick swallowed audibly.  "Seventy-five hundred."

Starsky said, "This Joey Forrenco must be a powerful dude to be able to hire guys out here to rough you up."  Then Starsky realized, "This couldn't have been the first time they contacted you, since you were so anxious to win a big bet on Sunday."

Nick slowly sat up on the bed.  "No.  They've bumped into me before with threats, but this is the first time they roughed me up."

Hutch firmed his jaw.  "What else are you into, Nick?  Level with us.  Right now.  This is your one chance to clean the slate completely."

Nick's mouth fell open as he looked up at Hutch, but didn't meet his eye.

"What else?" Starsky demanded.  "You'd better let all your demons out of your closet right now, Nick.  I swear, this is it.  No more chances for Hutch and I to bail you out.  We're only going to help if you tell us everything you've got going on."  Starsky felt his face heat as his voice raised.  "This pisses me off royally that you didn't mention anything about these guys contacting you.  They've got to know where you live, and that puts the rest of us in danger, including Hutch's and Lanette's father."

Hutch pressed, "Who else do you owe, Nick?"

Nick swallowed loudly, but didn't say anything.

Starsky's voice raised further as he shouted, "God damn it, Nick, am I ever going to be able to trust you?"

"Spill it!" Hutch said, also shouting.

Nick sighed.  In a subdued tone, he said, "A couple of years ago, I borrowed ten thousand from Harry the Handyman.  But he got arrested a few weeks later and went to prison, and nobody ever contacted me about collecting.  He pretty much worked independently."

Starsky pressed, "What else?"

Nick shook his head.  "Nothing.  I swear."

Hutch shouted, "Your oath isn't worth shit!  What else?"

Nick quickly darted his gaze from Hutch to Starsky.  "I'm telling you, nothing.  That's it."

But Hutch didn't let up.  "What other illegal stuff are you involved in?"

Nick shook his head, his eyes still on Starsky.  "Nothing.  Nothing since I lost my job four months ago."

Starsky shook his finger at Nick.  "This is your one chance, Nick.  One chance!  You'd better put everything on the table."

Nick got to his feet and shook his fists for emphasis.  "I'm telling you, that's it!  What?  You want me to make something up?"

Starsky realized he believed him, and he felt some relief.  He muttered, "So, have you been shacking up with Lanette because you're hoping she'll get you out of all this?"

Nick's eyes flared and his fist pulled back, and the next thing Starsky knew, there was a strong impact against his left cheek, sending him to the floor.  Just as he felt Hutch's hands on him while dazed, Starsky managed to quickly sputter, "It's okay, it's okay, it's okay."

He heard Hutch yell, "God damn it, Nick!"

Starsky let Hutch help him into a sitting position, as he held his throbbing jaw, and looked up at his brother.  Nick was still glaring at him angrily.  Starsky managed to inject some humor in his voice.  "Well, at least that proves that you really care about her."

Nick deflated, and then sat back down on the bed, his head in his hands.

Starsky felt a squeeze on his shoulder, as Hutch said, "Let me get some ice."


Hutch had whisked his father away to go bowling, assuring the older man that he was just giving Nick and Starsky space to work out a sibling squabble.  Hutch couldn't bowl very well, since he had to keep his supporting left hand against his stomach, while his right threw the ball down the lane.   His father easily won both games, but at least it served as a distraction.

Hutch excused himself to the men's room, but afterward went to the pay phone and called the house line.  Starsky answered and assured, "We're okay, but you and I are going to have to figure out what to do.  Why don't you bring a couple of pizzas home with you?"

Hutch did just that.


Everyone was cordial at dinner.  Richard didn't seem to feel it was proper to ask about the big bruise on Starsky's cheek.

Starsky and Hutch excused themselves to bed before nine o'clock.

Hutch stood before the dresser, removing his clothes, with the only light coming from the bathroom.

Starsky came up behind him and circled his arms round Hutch's waist, careful of his stomach.  He rested his uninjured cheek against Hutch's shoulder.  "I want to make love soon.  Think you'll be up to it?"

Hutch nodded and clasped Starsky's hand.  "With enough stimulation.  I wake up in the morning, sort of hard."  He sighed.  "Just been difficult to focus on it, with so much going on."

"I know.  But your dad will be leaving in a couple of days, and maybe Nick will have stuff to do over the weekend."  Longingly, Starsky said, "It's gonna be so nice, loving you again."

Hutch squeezed Starsky's hand.  Then with a reluctant sigh, he asked, "What do you want  to do about Nick?"

Starsky released him and began his own undressing.  "We're gonna have to pay off the seventy-five hundred, Hutch."

"I know."  Hutch pulled off the rest of his clothes.  "I don't care if he ever pays it back, but I don't want him to know that.  Let's make him be responsible.  Let's set up a payment plan that works within his budget.  Have him sign something."

Starsky grimaced.  "If he and Lanette are truly close, he might borrow from her to pay us."

Hutch sat naked on the edge of the bed.  "It doesn't matter, does it?  The point is that, whenever he gets into trouble, he can't count on us to bail him out without any consequences."

Starsky was now also nude and sat next to Hutch, elbows resting on his knees.  "You know, what really bothers me, more than the money, is the fact that you and I had to hassle him so much to get him to tell us stuff."  Sorrowfully, Starsky said, "I wish so much that I could trust him."

Hutch turned to rest his forehead against Starsky's shoulder.  "I know.  Maybe I'm a fool for thinking it, but I'd still like to believe that he's headed in the right direction."  He raised his head.

Starsky was thoughtful a long moment.  "What worries me most, for the long-term, is that he's so accustomed to living beyond his means.  I guess we aren't really helping him get on his feet, from that standpoint, by having him stay here and getting used to a cozy house."

"Yeah," Hutch agreed reluctantly.  "But at least he should be leaving by the first."

"So he says," Starsky said quietly.  "We don't really even know if he's really got something going on with a place, or if he's just blowing smoke up our asses."

Hutch definitely wanted to push for Nick to move out.  "Why don't we offer to pay the damage deposit for him?   We'll pay it directly to the apartment complex, rather to him.  That way, it'll make sure things are moving forward with him getting his own place."

"Hmm.  Yeah, that might work."  Starsky put his foot on the edge of the bed, and rested his chin on his bent knee.  "Wish I knew where Lanette fits in.  I mean, if she flies in and sees him with bruises, maybe she'll want to help him, too.  And then he'll be getting seventy-five hundred each from us and from her, and he'll just keep half of it."

It pained Hutch to hear the distrust Starsky had for his own brother.  "Well, we know he cares about Lanette."

"Yeah," Starsky agreed with a tough of humor.

"Hopefully, he wouldn't use her like that." 

"He might not see it as using.  He might just see it as bettering himself, since he's got people who care enough about him to be willing to give him money."

"Maybe."  Hutch reminded, "But we don't really know anything about him and Lannie.  And it's not like either of them are going to tell us anything, if we were to ask.  I just think we shouldn't make assumptions."

"Yeah, I guess you're right."  Starsky put his leg down and stood.  "Anyway, I want to make sure your father's safely away before we get involved with Joey Forrenco's henchmen.  Let's call the number on the card on Monday, and we'll set up a payoff in a public place.  We can go with Nick, to make sure nothing happens.  I'm going to bring my gun, that's for sure."  Starsky went around to his side of the bed.  "For that matter, I want to go to a firing range this weekend and get some practice rounds in."  He got under the covers.

Hutch got up and turned off the bathroom light.  He'd decided against carrying a weapon over a year ago, because he wasn't interested in taking any more lives.  Plus, it seemed unlikely that they would need weapons in their current occupations as PIs, especially since they didn't have the authority to pull a gun on anyone, except in self-defense.  The only time Starsky had brought his was when they intended to catch the suspect in the horse insurance murders, and convince "the sandman" to turn himself in.

As Hutch carefully got under the covers, for he could still feel his sutures if he stretched his legs out too far, he said, "I wonder if that Harry the Handyman guy is going to try to collect his ten thousand when he gets out of prison."

"I'll make some phone calls tomorrow back east, and see how long he's in for.  If he becomes a problem for Nick, we'll have to deal with it then."  Starsky ran his hand over his face and sighed heavily.  "Damn Nick and is appetite for money."

"Yeah," Hutch said quietly.  "Living the way we do, it's not like we can lecture him."  Hutch snorted with a hint of humor.  "Maybe he and Lannie will get married some day, and if she keeps her businesses, that'll keep his hunger satisfied."

Starsky shook his head back and forth and said grimly, "Nick's greed for money is like an addiction.  The more he gets, the more he needs."

After a long moment of rolling the day's earlier confrontation through his mind, Hutch said, "Maybe we're feeding his habit by paying off this debt for him.  In the heat of the moment, I mentioned helping him without having discussed it with you."

Starsky felt for Hutch's hand beneath the covers and squeezed it.  "I was glad you did.  Ultimately, his life could be in danger." Starsky's voice became choked.  "I don't want something to happen to him, just so we can say we stuck to our principles."

Hutch squeezed back.  "Yeah.  I just keep hoping that if we keep giving him opportunities for a more stable life, he'll take them, and start believing in himself.  You know he has to feel like shit for needing to borrow so much money from shady characters."

Sorrowfully, Starsky said, "He feels like he never had a chance, because of our father being murdered, and me being sent to the west coast.  He learned how to get praise from Mom by manipulating her into believing he was doing good and righteous things."

Hutch turned toward Starsky and laid his hand on his chest.  Gently, he whispered, "It's not your fault, buddy."

"I know.  I just want, so much, for him to have a good life."


They discussed their strategy with Nick the next morning, and had him sign a an agreement to pay back the seventy-five hundred, with hundred dollar monthly payments, starting in three months.  After Starsky found out that Harry the Handyman wouldn't be eligible for parole for seven years, they decided to ignore that debt, unless something happened concerning it in the future.

Nick had seemed surprised, and touched, that Starsky and Hutch offered to pay, free and clear, his security deposit on his apartment.  That afternoon, he and Starsky headed out to the apartment complex, so Nick could fill out the paperwork, and Starsky could write a check directly to the landlord.  The landlord did say that the new building had met the codes, and tenants could be moving in September 1st.

A cousin had been staying at Nick's apartment in New York, and he would be sending Nick's belongings to him in the next few weeks.

Hutch remained at home to make some phone calls and clean up the office.  When the mail was pushed through the mail slot, Hutch went into the foyer and picked it up.  He brought it into the office to leaf through it.  There was a large manila envelope with a return address for the brokerage firm that was used by Thomas Short.  As Hutch started opening it, he moved out to the foyer, and then through the kitchen.

"Hey, Dad," he said, stopping at the edge of the living room, "would you like to help with this?  I've got some brokerage statements for the suicide case we're working on."

Richard was immediately on his feet.  "Certainly." 

When Starsky and Nick came home toward evening, after taking in a movie, they brought Chinese food, which they'd called ahead about to make sure the two Hutchinsons wouldn't eat without them. 

"Food's here!" Starsky called.  From the kitchen, he was surprised to see Hutch sitting at the computer in the living room, typing fast.

Richard appeared, and he and Nick began to set the table.

Starsky went over to Hutch.  "What are you doing?" he asked in a low voice.

"Typing up a report for Story Blu," Hutch replied in the same quiet tone.  He stopped typing and looked up.  "We got the investment records in the mail, and within an hour, Dad had pinned down exactly what had happened.  Thomas was doing high risk market timing, and apparently got too confident.  He pretty much put all his eggs in one basket, which is a big no-no in investing, and lost most all of it on April 5th.  On April 7th, he committed suicide."

Starsky squeezed Hutch's shoulder as he squatted down next to his love.  "Dumb shit hardly gave himself time to consider other options."

"Yep.  And with his mother's lessons instilled in him about how to pretend to be a white man, he apparently didn't think he had anywhere to turn, now that he was a failed white man."


"Yeah.  I wanted to write up everything we've learned, just the unemotional facts, so she knows we've been thorough.  I feel I owe her that; plus, I don't want to forget anything when I meet with her."

Starsky rubbed his hand along Hutch's back.  "Why don't you take a break and come to dinner."

Hutch shook his head and began typing again.  "I want to get this done while it's on my mind.  It'll be about another half hour.  You go ahead.  I'll take a break before I proofread it."

"Yeah, okay."  Starsky looked around and found a discarded piece of computer paper with printing on it.  He grabbed a pen and turned the paper over, so it was blank.

He wrote a message and then placed it on the keyboard, stopping Hutch's typing.

Hutch looked at the note that said I want to make love tonight.  Think you can?    He smiled warmly, crumbled up the note and tossed it aside, while keeping his eyes on the computer screen.

As Starsky stood, Hutch firmly squeezed his knee.

Starsky turned toward the kitchen with a smile.


There was no question that Starsky was going to be on top, since Hutch's wound didn't allow him to make thrusting motions. 

They undressed each other in the darkness, while standing next to the dresser.  They kissed and fondled, both making emphatic "mmm" noises, and Hutch thought it felt so good to finally kiss with the intention of having it escalate.

"So eager to love you," Starsky murmured between kisses.

When Hutch felt a stout erection against his thigh, he carefully knelt and took it in hand.  He mouthed the head, and then sucked avidly, loving the taut texture that he'd missed for so many weeks.

Starsky fingers furrowed into Hutch's air.  "Feels so good," he whispered.  But then his hand brushed along Hutch's jaw.  "Careful, or it'll be over too fast."

Hutch reluctantly released it, and then kissed loudly along the barrel.  He ducked beneath and pressed his face against the generous scrotal pouch, nuzzled back to the perineum, and then inhaled deeply.  He felt the eager throb of his own cock, and reached down to soothe it as he stood.

Starsky took over, squeezing Hutch's thick phallus in his strong hand, and then turned toward the bed, his arm around Hutch's waist.

They lay on top of the covers, and Starsky reached to the bedside drawer to take out a tube of lube.

Hutch lay on his side, facing the edge, a knee drawn up.  He closed his eyes, seeking comfort in the familiar gesture of Starsky settling on his side behind him.  A moist finger penetrated his anus.

"So eager for this, baby," Starsky whispered.

"Want it to last a long time," Hutch whispered back, as more fingers probed at him.

"Mm," Starsky approved.

Hutch was glad that Starsky didn't spend much time on preliminaries.  He waited, and then felt a blunt moistness against his opening.  He felt a movement of effort, and then he was parted.  The hardness continued to reach inside him, in a well-practiced, smooth motion.

Starsky's mouth was at his neck.  "Mmm.  Home."

Hutch briefly clasped the hand that came across his chest, and then pushed it down to his erection.

"Love the feel of you," Starsky gasped, stroking along it.

Hutch whispered, "Don't want it to be over too soon."

Starsky kissed his neck, as the hand explored different parts between Hutch's legs.  "You tell me when you're ready to come, and I'll make it happen."

Hutch closed is eyes, absorbing the sensations of gentle, intermittent undulations along his lower tract, and periodic strokes and squeezes along his cock.

His cock was full and eager, and he relished the way Starsky pressed closer against his back.  He turned his head when he felt lips against his mouth corner, and then those lips settled more fully against his own.

It felt so wonderful, all the different ways he was being stimulated.

When Starsky pulled back to catch his breath, Hutch whispered, "Kiss me until I come."

Starsky complied eagerly.  His lips settled on Hutch's once again, his hand stroked more purposely and with a firmer grip, and the hardness inside Hutch shifted until it pressed more directly against his prostate.

He silently worshipped the sensations, loving what was happening to him.

When Hutch felt the wave of climax upon him, he wrenched his lips away and cried out.

"Ah, yeah," Starsky said as he nuzzled Hutch's cheek and squeezed his cockhead, "give me your love juice."

Hutch felt it pour into Starsky's hand, and along his own belly.

He groaned softly, letting the most wonderful lassitude overtake him.

Starsky was holding him close.   "Love feeling you come, baby.  My cock loves feeling it so much."

Hutch smiled with his eyes closed, wanting to ride the wave of afterglow as long as possible.

Starsky seemed to let him for a while.  Just when Hutch was starting to doze off, he felt movement at his lower tract.

"Gonna explode inside you with a gallon of cum." 

A pillow was placed against Hutch's torso, and he felt Starsky arm wrap around it, and he realized that Starsky was protecting his wound, while holding him close.

The waterbed rocked has Starsky moved his hips more forcefully.  "Love being inside you," he gasped.  "Been so long."

Starsky's hot breath was along Hutch's neck.  "My hot and sexy and loving Hutch.  Love you so much."

The thrusts got deeper and faster, and then reached a crescendo.

Hutch felt Starsky's hot breath between his shoulder blades, as Starsky buried his face there while crying out.

Hutch closed his eyes and rested, and then felt Starsky go completely slack.

Hutch squeezed Starsky's hand.  Welcome back, partner.


At the airport, the loudspeaker said, "Ladies and gentlemen, we're now boarding first class passengers on Northwest flight 1742 to Minneapolis at gate four."

Richard stood.  "Well, son, I guess this is it."  He shook Hutch's hand.

Hutch squeezed his father's shoulder with his other hand.  "Yeah.  Have a good trip back.  Give me a call before the day is over, to let me know you arrived safely."

"You know, I hope you and David give some thought to publishing his book.  It seems a waste for something like that to go unread."

Hutch furrowed his brow.  His father hadn't said anything further about the book, since his last conversation with Starsky.  He wondered if Richard was just reaching for something conversational to say in parting, since they'd run out of things to talk about after taking a seat near gate four.

To be agreeable, Hutch said, "We'll think about it."

"All right, then."  Richard moved off to the join the line at the gate.

Hutch stood back and watched, wondering if he'd ever see his father again.  Richard had seemed in reasonable health during his visit, but resigning from his job and his willingness to spend a lot of stagnant hours in from on the TV didn't bode well for a future of another year or so.

When Richard disappeared through the portal that led to his plane, Hutch turned away.

He brushed away a tear.


On Monday when Nick was at work, Starsky picked up the house phone in the kitchen and dialed the number on the card Nick had given him.  Hutch had picked up the extension in the bedroom to listen in.

"Hello?" a gruff voice asked.

"This is Nick Starsky.  I have your money."

"All of it?"

"Yes.  Seventy-five hundred in hundred dollar bills."

"I want twenties."

"I don't give a fuck what you want.  You're getting hundreds.   I'll deliver it tomorrow at two o'clock at the Sidewalk Deli at the corner of Eighth and Emerson."

"That's not where I want to meet."

"This is my show," Starsky replied firmly.  "I'm the one with the money.  If you want your money, that's where we're meeting."

Finally, the man, "All right."

"And, by the way, if you have any ideas about pocketing the money for yourself, and telling Forrenco that I still haven't paid yet, you can forget it.  I'll have a couple of carefully placed people near us.  One will have one of those fancy video cameras to film the exchange."  Starsky paused.  "The other will be armed.  Just to make sure everything is fast and clean."

"Cut the crap.  I'll be there."  The line went dead.

Starsky hung up and went down the hall to the master bedroom. 

Hutch was moving to their walk-in closet.  "I may as well count out that seventy-five hundred, before I give the rest back to Stormy Blu.  I'll have to go by the bank to get more cash, because I'm giving her five thousand back when I meet with her tonight."

Starsky muttered, "Still can't imagine we're going to owe so much in taxes, when it seems like we give so much of our money away."

From the closet Hutch said, "Yeah, too bad repaying Nick's debt isn't a business expense, so we can't deduct it."  His voice changed to one of concern.  "Starsk?"

Starsky came into the closet to stand beside Hutch, who was looking at an upper rack where a shoe box was at the top of some other small boxes.  "What?"

"Have you touched or moved that shoe box?"

"Huh?  No."

"Are you sure?  When I put it up there with the ten thousand Story gave me, I remember leaving it flush against the side of the closet."

The box was now resting at an angle.  "No. I haven't needed anything up there.  I haven't touched it, Hutch.  Maybe you're mistaken."

Hutch's voice grew more urgent.  "I'm not mistaken.  Somebody has moved it."  Holding one hand to his stomach, Hutch reached up with the other, and took the shoe box.

Starsky stood with his heart pounding, knowing what Hutch was thinking.  There's no way Richard would have been snooping in their closet.  That only left one other person....

Hutch knelt on the floor and pulled off the lid.

Green bills were within.  He rapidly counted them out.  "Huh.  The ten thousand is all here."

Relieved, Starsky also knelt.  "You probably moved something around up there and forgot."

Hutch shook his head.  "No, I didn't," he said firmly.  "I would have remembered."

Starsky reasoned, "Did Nick see you put the box up there?"

"No.  He wasn't home then."

"Well, then, it couldn't have been him."

Hutch thought furiously.  Then he snapped his fingers.  "The receipt book.  I wrote Story out a receipt for the ten thousand in cash.  Nick has been in our office a lot.  He could have easily seen the receipt and gone looking to see if we kept the money here."

Starsky countered, "But he didn't take anything.  It's all there."

"Yeah," Hutch relented.  "But the box has been moved."  He tilted his head.  "I wonder if he found it and thought about taking the money, but couldn't bring himself to do it.  Or, if maybe he even stole some of it, and then had an attack of conscience and put it back."

Starsky pleaded, "Let's not ask him about it. If that did happen, I don't want him to know that we know."

A smile slowly spread across Hutch's face.  He squeezed Starsky's arm.  "Maybe he's starting to change."



That evening, Hutch entered a high class restaurant, with a large manila envelope in hand.  He told the hostess, "I'm here to see Mabel Short.  She's expecting me."

"This way, sir."

He was led through a maze of rooms to a back room with just a few tables.  Mabel sat alone in a booth, elegantly dressed. 

She held out a hand as Hutch approached.  "Mr. Hutchinson."

Hutch shook it.  "Ms. Short."  He sat down and scooted closer to her.  With a smile, he asked, "Or should I call you Story Blu?"

"Whichever you prefer.  I generally go by Mabel in day-to-day life."

Hutch put the envelope between them.  "I have a printed report here of everyone my firm has talked to and what they said."  He drew a breath.  "Did you know that Thomas was involved heavily in stock trading?"

"I know he dabbled."

"That's what almost everyone thought -- that he dabbled.  But we came across one person -- Wilson Padgett, the piano player."  Hutch watched her eyes react to the name she knew well.  "Apparently, Thomas was more talkative with him.  Interviewing Wilson is why I asked for you to have Thomas's brokerage statements mailed to us."  Hutch paused.  "Your son was heavily involved in high-risk, short-term trading.  He had a good run of luck for a while, which only encouraged him to keep risking more.  On April 5th, he lost almost the entire fifty thousand that he had with the broker."  Hutch lowered his voice.  "Of course, it was just two days later that he took his own life."

Hutch fell silent, letting that sink in.

She said, "It must have been such a hard blow to him."

"Yes.  We didn't find anyone he'd talked to in those two days, other than his broker.  His phone records show that there was only that one call."  Hutch swallowed thickly, and offered a more personal observation.  "He didn't give anyone a chance to let him lean on them, or offer hope."

When Mabel was silent, Hutch concluded, "Apparently, he felt like a failure and saw death as an appropriate punishment."  Lamely, Hutch added, "I'm sorry."

Mabel sipped her water. 

Hutch put his hand on the envelope.  "I'll leave this with you.  There's also your remaining retainer money in the envelope.  I gave you half of it back.  Most everyone we talked to tried to be very helpful, so we didn't have to invest the time that otherwise might have been necessary."

She looked at him, her voice flat.  "What aren't you telling me?"

Hutch had hoped he could leave the meeting and just have her read his report.  He tapped the envelope.  "Everything that everyone told us is in here."

She nodded, but firmed her voice.  "Give me the short version."

Hutch shifted with discomfort.  "Well, suicide tends to have two levels.  The first is the reason that the person felt hopeless.  For Thomas, that was losing so much money at once.  But then, the second level is why a person chooses suicide to deal with their hopelessness, when most of us would get drunk, or unload on a friend, or run away to a new and exciting place, to try to escape our troubles."  Hutch shifted again.  "Almost every single person my firm talked to mentioned that Thomas believed in living 'like a white man'.  That that was the only road there was to success."

She waited, her expression unchanged.

Hutch wet his lips.  "The picture I get is of a young man who had no sense of his true self.  He spent his whole life trying to be something he wasn't, and put on a phony exterior.  And when that life failed him, he felt he had nowhere to turn.  He didn't have any belief in his true identity to fall back on, to give him the hope or strength that he could pick himself up again."

She said simply, "Maybe I raised him wrong."  She sipped her water.

"That wouldn't be for me to say," Hutch sidestepped.  He did say, "Obviously, any kind of reflection isn't going to bring him back now.  I'm sorry this has happened."  He waited, feeling restless.  "Do you have any further questions for me?"

She shook her head.  "That's for all your help."

Hutch nodded and quickly stood.  "I'm sorry we couldn't meet under better circumstances."  He shook the hand she held out.  "Best of luck, Ms. Short."

He gratefully made his exit.


On Tuesday morning, Mike Hawkins called.

"Okay, fellas, I've got the next race picked out.  The meet here at Del Mar ends on Monday, September third, the Labor Day holiday.  There's a lot of stakes races on the card.  One of them is for two year old fillies, going seven furlongs.  It's a Grade 3."

Hutch said, "So that's a higher class of race?"

"Yes.  Graded stakes are the highest caliber of stakes races, and they can be broken down further in to Grade 1, Grade 2, or Grade 3.  So, I guess you can say that a Grade 3 is the bottom of the top."

Starsky asked, "And you think she can win?"

"I don't know.  This is a big step up for her.  But I feel that Darla has earned a shot.  Even in the races she's lost, she hasn't been fully extended with an all-out effort.  Brad Byrd dropped by the other morning to see her, since he'd worked a horse the next barn over, and he was mentioning that we've never yet seen what she's really got, in terms of ability.  He's eager to find out.  So, are you game?"

"Sure," Starsky said.

"Yeah," Hutch piped up.

"Since I only nominated her for the Cal-bred stakes at the beginning of the meet, you'll have to pay a thousand dollar penalty to enter her, since she wasn't nominated.  But I figure you won't mind paying that.""

"No," they said in unison.

"She might have a reunion with Pix Six, that six hundred thousand dollar filly.  She's won two races since Darla beat her, and she's really blossomed over the summer.  I doubt Darla is going to be able to blow by her, the way she did before."

"Man" Starsky said, "so it could be a real horse race."

"It could be.  But I have to caution that we could be reaching too high with Darla, and she might be out of her element.  But, if so, at least we'll know that when considering future races."

"Sounds good," Hutch said.

"Whatever happens in the stakes race," Hawkins went on, "I want to back off of Darla afterward, and give her a couple of months with just light training.  She's sound as can be, but the stakes race will be her fifth start for the summer, and that's a pretty big load for a youngster.  So, I want to ease up on her, before an injury forces us to ease up."

Starsky asked, "So, when would she be back racing?"

"Sometime over the winter, when the circuit is at Santa Anita in Pasadena.  She might get in one more start as a two year old, before she officially becomes a three year old on January 1st."

Hutch noted, "That's the official birthday for all racehorses, right?"


"Okay, Mike," Starsky said, "we'll be all hyped for Labor Day."  He looked at Hutch.  "When is that?"

Hutch glanced at the wall calendar.  "Two weeks from yesterday?"

"That's right," Hawkins said.  "I'll give you an update next Tuesday."

"Thanks, Mike," Hutch said.  He cut the line.

Starsky gazed at the wall calendar for a long moment.  "You know, that's when we were planning on starting our vacation.  Nick will be moved into his new place that Saturday."

Hutch said, "So, I guess we'll drive down for Darla's race, and then start our vacation."

Starsky grinned.  "Since we can't figure out where we want to go, maybe we should just make it a road trip.  Leave Del Mar after the race, maybe head into Arizona, and just keep driving until we feel like stopping.  Decide each day what we're going to do next, whether it's hitting the road again, or hanging around to see the sights."

Hutch shrugged.  "Fine with me."

"Yeah," Starsky said with a nod, "I like that idea.  It sounds so freeing.  Nothing preplanned."


Shortly after two o'clock that afternoon, the three of them got in the LeBaron, Hutch turning the video camera over to Starsky, before driving away from the curb in front of the Sidewalk Deli.  The payment of money had happened quickly and smoothly.

From the backseat, Nick sighed heavily.  "Man, it feels so good to have that over and done with."

"Except that you owe us," Starsky said firmly.

"I know.  I'll start paying you back in three months, like we agreed."

Starsky turned almost all the way in his seat.  "We're holding you to it, Nick.  This was your one out.  You get yourself involved in any more messes, you're going to have to swallow your medicine, because Hutch and me are done fixing your screw-ups."

Nick sounded perplexed.  "Okay, I got it."

Starsky opened his jacket.  "I had to carry a piece for the first time in over a year, because of you."


Starsky went on.  "You're going to have to learn how to live within your means, or else you're going to have to find a way to get a legitimate job that pays better.  If Hutch and I can help you improve your life, we'll always be open to that, but we're not going to bail you out, when you get involved in crime."

Hutch blinked as he drove.  He hadn't expected this blow-up at Nick.

"What are you dogging on me for?" Nick whined.  "I thought we had this all worked out."

Starsky shouted, "I don't want to have to bury you!"

Hutch reached over and squeezed Starsky's leg.

"That's not fair to me, Nick!  You don't have to fuck up your life like this!  It's time to grow up!"

"What more do you want me to do?" Nicked pleaded.

Starsky released a heavy breath.  "If this Joey Forrenco guy or his minions bother you any more, I want to know about it.  I don't want to find out about it after you're dead."

Hutch glanced in the rearview mirror to see Nick throw up his hands, before saying, "I'm on board, David.  I get it.  I'm getting a fresh start out here."

"You make sure this 'fresh start' sticks. I don't care how bored you get with your job, or how you feel you never have enough money to buy the things you want.  I don't want to ever have this conversation again."  Starsky finally settled back in his seat.

In a sullen voice, Nick said, "I don't either."

Ten minutes later, Hutch pulled up in front of their house.  "Get out, Nick."

Nick did.

The car remained silent as Hutch drove away.

He eventually turned into the parking lot of the park with the lake.  He and Starsky got out.

"Where did that all come from?" Hutch asked as they walked briskly to the trail that surrounded the lake.  He rested his hand against Starsky's back.

With grit teeth, Starsky said, "I just got to thinking about it, Hutch.  About how us paying off this debt is just teaching Nick that, once again, his screw-up is going to get handled by somebody else.  I wanted to make sure that that lesson doesn't get enforced.  Just because this crisis is over now, I don't want him relaxing and thinking he can go back to his old ways, because everything's hunky dory now."

Hutch was silent.

"And the more I thought about that cash in our closet, the more it's become obvious that it had to be Nick snooping around.  Even though he didn't actually take anything, it burns me that he must have been thinking about it."

Hutch released a heavy sigh, and slowed their pace to a stroll.  "I really do think his heart's in the right place, and he wants his life to change.  At least, he'll be out of our hair in a couple of  weeks."

"Except he'll be hoping we have jobs to give him on Tuesdays and Thursdays."

"Maybe we will.  I, for one, like the idea of not needing to tail cheating spouses."

"But if we can't do those jobs, that means we'll have other cases to work.  The phone has been silent since we ended those last two jobs."

"It'll ring again," Hutch assured.


That weekend, they shopped around for exercise equipment, to get an idea of what they wanted to buy when they got back from vacation, and how much it would cost.

While at the mall, they stopped for refreshments and sat down on a bench to enjoy their drinks and chips.  After a few moments, Starsky said quietly, "I don't believe it."

Hutch looked at him.  "Huh?"

"Look who's here.  By the children's store down there." Starsky vaguely gestured.

Hutch looked toward the children's store in the distance.  Nick and Lannie were walking along the mall, holding hands, and carrying sacks with their purchases.

"I guess Lannie's visiting for the weekend again," Hutch said.

"No kidding.  I wonder if we should say hello."

"I doubt they'd appreciate it.  They probably have little enough time to spend together, as it is."

Starsky said, "Funny that she never seems to want to visit us when she's out."

"I can understand that," Hutch said.  "When you're having a long distance affair, and trying to spend as much time alone together as possible..."

Nick and Lanette disappeared into a clothing store.

Starsky made a slurping noise, indicating his drink was empty.  He nudged Hutch.  "Hey, didn't you want get a new blender and some other stuff for the kitchen?"

"Yeah."  Hutch indicated the department store at the end of mall.  "Let's try there first."

They threw their trash away and headed for the department store.  Hutch picked out a blender and a few cooking utensils. 

After they made their purchases, Hutch handed the sack to Starsky.  "Hold this.  I need the little boy's room."

"I think it's down that hall there."  Starsky indicated a side aisle.  "I'm gonna sit down and rest my feet."

After Hutch disappeared down the aisle, Starsky sat on a bench, where the back rested against a large planter with tall, thick shrubs and trees.

Since he was bored, his ears automatically picked up the conversation on the other side of the planter, where there was another bench, facing the opposite direction.

".... getting expensive flying out here so often."

A man sighed.  "I'm even going to have my own place and everything.  No more shacking up in hotels."

"Doesn't change the fact that I have to fly out all this way in order for us to meet up."

Starsky realized that he was overhearing a conversation between Nick and Lanette.

Nick's voice was level.  "Not much point in me moving to Minnesota if Jeffrey's there."

"Of course, you shouldn't move there.  I'm just saying we can't see each other as often as we have been this month.  Maybe once a month."

Nick's voice tried to be humorous, but it fell flat.  "Tired of me already?"

"Come on, Nick.  I like you.  You're fun.  But it's just not practical to keep seeing each other this often."

With emotion, Nick said, "I have way more feelings for you than just 'liking' you.  I hope you don't just 'like' me."

"What difference does it make?  It's not like I'm going to divorce Jeffrey."

"Why not?"  Nick sounded desperate.

Heavy sigh.  "It'll just be a big mess.  Divorces always are.  It's just moving from one mistake to another.  It's not like getting involved with someone else is going to solve anything."

His voice full of emotion, Nick asked, "Even if that someone else loves you?" 

"You don't know me that well."

"Doesn't change how I feel.  I want to get to know you well.  Why won't you give me that chance?"

"Look, Nick, we can keep seeing each other.  Just not as often."

They were silent for a moment.  Then Nick asked, "How come you won't divorce Jeffrey if you're so unhappy with him?"

"I'm not unhappy with him."

"You've never said a positive word about him."

She snorted.  "You really want me to talk about Jeffrey's good qualities when we're together?"

"I just don't know why you would stay with someone that you didn't even like, let alone love."

"As far as I'm concerned, marriage isn't about love.  It's about stability.  It's about, when you need a loan from the bank, it makes the loan officer happy to know that you're married.  Society insists that women, especially, need to be married.  So, I play along."

Hutch appeared from the side aisle and spotted Starsky.  He smiled.

Starsky quickly put his finger to his lips in a "shhh" motion, and then gestured behind him to the planter.

Hutch's mouth fell open, and then he seemed to understand.  Quietly, he came over to where Starsky was and sat down on the bench.

Starsky pointed to the planter again and mouthed Nick and Lanette.

As he listened again, Nick was saying, ".... wanting to do it with another man.  But they love each other so much.  I can see that.  I saw that when I visited a few years ago, before they were even humping each other.  I just think that means something.  That they didn't 'play along'.  They love each other, regardless of what other people think.  Whatever you want to say about their type of relationship, they mean everything to each other.  I-I want a relationship like that.  If I get married, I want me and my wife to be a true team.  Whether it's raising kids or running a business.  A team where we support each other and care that each other is happy and comfortable, rather than just playing roles to please society."

"Have they shown you their book?"

"What?" Nick asked in puzzlement, as Starsky and Hutch exchanged a glance.

"When they were in Minnesota, they mentioned some book that your brother is writing about their lives."  She snorted.  "And yet, they talk like they don't intend to publish it."

Dismissively, Nick said, "I don't know anything about a book.  They have that computer, but they've never mentioned anything about a book."

"Might be interesting to know what's in it."


"Because they seem so hush-hush about it."

They were the sound of shifting.  "Lanette, I'd rather talk about me and you than them."

"You're the one who brought them up."

"I was just using them as an example of an ideal relationship.  Don't you think their relationship is different?"

She snorted loudly.

"No, I meant...."

She laughed.  "It's just funny the way you said that, because of course they're different.  You know what I mean."

Nick's humor was more guarded.  "I meant that they truly love each other.  I've never seen other couples behave like them.  I've known couples who have been together for decades and love each other a lot, but they still scream and yell at each other all the time.  Or they don't have any patience with each other, or completely ignore what each other is interested in.  David and your brother aren't like that all.  I've seen them get short with each other, but they get over it really fast.  It's like they don't want to be mad at each other."

Lanette's voice firmed.  "Look, Nick, I'm never going to be that touchy-feely type of woman.  I'd never want to be in a relationship like theirs -- where they're so dependent on each other.  I like having my own space.  I couldn't stand it if Jeffrey, or anyone else I was with, was wanting to know where I was every moment of every day.  Or constantly asking how I was feeling.  I couldn't stand being babied like that."

There was a long silence, then Nick quietly said, "It sounds like you're saying that you don't want anybody to care about you."

She released a heavy sigh.  "I guess I don't know why anybody would want to."

Starsky's eyes darted to Hutch's and saw the developing sadness there.

Nick said simply, "I want to.  I do.  You can tell me all you want about how I shouldn't care about you, but I do.  I want to make you happy, Lanette.  Show you that you can have fun in life.  Everything doesn't have to be so grim and serious."

Her voice softened.  "You're persistent, aren't you?"

Tenderly, he said, "Only when it really matters."

There was a pause, and then Lanette said, "Come on, we're going to be late for the movie."

Nick sighed heavily.  Then footsteps were heard walking away.

After a long moment, Hutch muttered, "Nothing quite like being a voyeur, huh?"

"I didn't know they were sitting there," Starsky said.  "I just sat down, and once I heard them talking, I realized it was them.  Maybe I shouldn't have listened in, but...." he shrugged.

Hutch presented a grim smile.  "I didn't know Nick thought so highly of us."

"Yeah."  Starsky sighed.  "It hurts to hear him trying so hard to show his feelings, and Lanette trying so hard to not let his feelings in."

"I guess it'll be quite an accomplishment if he's ever able to thaw her."  Hutch lowered his voice.  "Show her that she's lovable."  He stood.

Starsky also stood.  He squeezed Hutch's arm.  "Come on, ideal partner.  Time to go home."


Starsky closed the lid to the washing machine, and turned the dial to start the wash cycle.

It was Sunday, September 2nd, and Nick had moved all his belongings into his new apartment yesterday.  Tomorrow, they would see Darla's stakes race, which had a purse of seventy-five thousand dollars.  And then, as soon as the race was over, they intended to leave the track and head east... and see what happened from there.

The attorney Tom Placing had called with a new case, but he said it could wait until they got back from vacation.  They had gotten a couple of calls for smaller, routine cases and put Nick on them.  Nick would also be checking their calls regularly and watering the plants in their absence.

Starsky turned away from the wash machine and suddenly felt his face sprayed with water.  He looked up in disbelief, wiping his face.

Hutch stood in the foyer, grinning widely, a squirt gun in his hand.  He chuckled loudly.

"Why you --," Starsky began with grit teeth.  You turned thirty-nine the other day!  he silently exclaimed, wondering how Hutch could be so juvenile.

Hutch quickly tossed another squirt gun on top of the dryer, and then rushed away.

Starsky grabbed the squirt gun and dashed into the kitchen, shouting, "I'm gonna kill you!"

Hutch got off a shot from the behind the easy chair, and then ran to the sliding glass door and opened it.  As Hutch raced across the patio, Starsky extended his arm through the open door and squirted Hutch's back.  Hutch turned and, hiding his face to avoid the water, shot back at Starsky.  Starsky turned his head, while squirting relentlessly as he moved out to the patio, his arm extended.

Then he realized his gun was out of water.

Starsky hurried back to the kitchen and turned on the faucet, which had a weak stream, because of the wash machine running.  He heard the outdoor hose, and realized that Hutch was also refilling his own gun.

I'll show that Blintz.

His gun had finally filled up, just when he heard the outdoor hose turn off.  He rapidly inserted the rubber stopper, and then tiptoed down the hall. 

He ducked into the bathroom and moved the door so that it was slightly closed. 

Starsky held his breath, his gun poised against his chest, as he listened.

Soft footsteps were heard across the kitchen, and then the foyer.  He could imagine Hutch looking around every corner, his gun extended.  It was harder to hear when the footsteps reached the hall carpet, but he was sure that Hutch burst into the guest bedroom.  There was the sound of closet doors moving.

Starsky braced himself as the footsteps then started back down the hall.

Starsky jumped into the hall from the bathroom, his gun extended.  He squirted as fast as his finger could keep pulling the trigger.

Hutch laughed uproarishly as he tried to protect his face with his hand, while also trying to squirt with his gun, but not being too successful.

Starsky's gun was out.

He ran to the master bedroom, knowing there was no time shut to the door behind him.  He rushed into the master bath and turned on the sink, and pulled the stopper from his gun, desperately trying to fill it up while the side of his face was hit with water from Hutch's pistol.

He knew he had lost when Hutch moved closer, and his own gun was still filling.

Then a strong arm wrapped around his neck, trying to hold him in place, while the gun shot him over and over at close range.

Starsky bent over within Hutch's grip, trying to avoid the onslaught, but Hutch merely adjusted the gun, so it could shoot up into Starsky's face.

Then there was no more water.

"You son of a bitch," Starsky laughed, turning off the faucet, and taking a hold of Hutch by the sides and pulling him out of the bathroom.

He threw Hutch onto the waterbed, on his back, and quickly straddled him, pinning his arms. 

Grinning hugely, and feeling water drip from his face, Starsky said lovingly, "I thought I was supposed to be the spontaneous one."

Hutch shrugged as well as he could with his arms pinned.  He still had a large smile.  "I have my moments."

"Yes, you do."  Starsky leaned down and said enticingly, "I'd say that somebody is feeling a whole lot better."

Hutch grinned through the water droplets on his face.  "Why not?  We have our house back.  We're going on vacation.  We have a big case when we come back.  Our filly is running in a seventy-five thousand dollar race.  Life is perfect."

Starsky felt warmth overtake him, as he agreed, "Perfect indeed."    He leaned down and kissed Hutch.





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