(c) Dec 2014 by Charlotte Frost


A sequel to Away



Hutch sighed while rubbing his hand along his forehead.  He was sitting at the kitchen table where, upon arriving home from errands, Starsky had delivered surprising news.  He looked up, scowling, "This just really pisses me off at Nick."

Starsky tossed a few peanuts into his mouth, and then sat across from Hutch.  "Why?"

Loudly, Hutch replied, "Because Lannie told him to keep it a secret, and here he is telling you about it!"

"I'm his brother."

"How would you feel if you and I agreed to keep something secret, and I went off and told somebody?"

Starsky shrugged.  "I'd figure you must have had a really good reason."  He straightened in his chair.  "Come on, Hutch, Nick's scared.  Wouldn't you be scared, if you knew you were going to be a father?"

Hutch sputtered, "What do you mean 'knew'?  That's just it -- it sounds like that's an awfully big assumption.  Hell, if every woman who was three weeks late was pregnant, society would have a much bigger population problem than it does now."  While Starsky released a sigh, Hutch went on, "And even if she is really pregnant, how does he even know if she wants to keep it?"

"Of course, she would keep it.   There's no way she wouldn't have it."

"She's never wanted kids!"

With an infuriating reasonable tone, Starsky explained, "Hutch, she's in love.  That changes things.  And if she's really pregnant... that changes things, too.  Besides which, you pointed out before that she isn't the kind of person to get accidentally pregnant.  So, I'm thinking she wants a baby."

Disbelieving, Hutch demanded, "Is that what Nick said?"

"I didn't ask him if they were trying to get pregnant.  Geez, Hutch, our conversation was short enough, as it is.  He was all uptight about telling me, but he really wanted me to know."  Flustered, Starsky asked, "How come you're so negative about the idea?"

Hutch released a heavy sigh.  Pleading, he said, "Because I don't want you to get all excited about this, and then have it yanked away from you.  It's way too early to know if she's really pregnant, and we can't be sure that she's going to keep it."

Starsky folded his hands on the table and leaned forward.   "Let's just pretend for a moment that she is really is pregnant, and she wants the kid."  He paused.  "Wouldn't you be happy about us being uncles?"

Hutch fell quiet, as he considered what Starsky said.  Then his mouth corner twitched.  "Yeah.  I guess I would be."


As of a few weeks later, they hadn't heard anything more about it. 

While Hutch drove to his next appointment, he considered it likely that one of two things had happened.  Either Lannie wasn't really pregnant, and Nick was likely embarrassed for having spilled the beans about something that wasn't really true; or else, Lannie was pregnant and she and Nick either wanted privacy to figure out how their lives were going to be substantially changed, or else Lannie was intending to abort the baby.

As Hutch made a left, he inwardly sighed.  He wanted to believe what Starsky had said about being in love, and anticipating getting married in a couple of months, changing Lannie's feelings about being a mother.  Yet, the more honest part of Hutch just couldn't see it.

His musings were interrupted by the realization that he had reached his destination, a three-story office building in the middle of the block, but there wasn't anywhere to park on the street in this more modernized part of town. 

Ah, a parking garage was up ahead.  Hutch turned into it, and then steered the LeBaron around the tight corners, until finding an empty parking spot on the second floor.  He grabbed his brief case, locked the car, and proceeded to the door that entered the building.  Thankfully, the signage was helpful, and it wasn't long before he was opening the door to suite 248, where one of the three plaques read Dr. Judith Parkson, Psychologist.

Hutch entered the suite, which had a few waiting room chairs, one of which was occupied by a woman reading a magazine.  There was a young receptionist behind a circular desk.

The receptionist smiled at him.  "May I help you?"

Hutch was glad that he'd chosen to wear a sport coat, over his dark blue jeans and button shirt, since it apparently enhanced her smile.  "I'm Ken Hutchinson.  I have an appointment to see Dr. Parkson."

"Have a seat, and I'll let her know you're here."

Hutch selected a chair near the woman already waiting.  She'd glanced up briefly from her magazine to smile at him, and he found himself hoping that his briefcase made it clear that he wasn't a patient.  After all, he wouldn't want her to think that he had some sort of mental or emotional problems.

A side door opened.  "Mr. Hutchinson?"

Hutch looked up at the tall, fortyish woman with long, blonde hair, who wore a pantsuit that showed off her curves.  He decided right then that, if ever did have mental problems, he'd want her to be his therapist.  He quickly left his chair, brief case in his left hand, so he could shake her extended hand.  "Ken, please."

"Nice to meet you, Ken" she said pleasantly.  "Come in."  He entered the small room, where there was an easy chair, at a right angle to a plush sofa.  She indicated the sofa.  "Make yourself comfortable."

"Thank you."  He turned to his briefcase and opened it, and then removed a yellow legal pad and a pen.

She said, "I'm not sure of how much help I can be.  But I realize this is the type of thing where the smallest amount of information might mean something."

Hutch settled back, with one leg crossed over the other, and prepared to write.  "Yes.  My partner and I were both detectives on the police force, before starting our own agency.  Sometimes, it's the smallest little clue that cracks the biggest cases."

"I'm not sure how big this one is.  Do you handle many missing persons situations?"

"There's been a few.  Cheating spouse cases are what we do most often.  But we can also handle just about anything you can think of, from murder down to finding lost pets.  Anything that you might think the police aren't able to give enough attention to."

More seriously, she said, "Hopefully, my nephew's case won't turn out to be something as serious as murder."

Hutch drew a breath.  "Let's hope not."  He tried a reassuring smile.  "Hopefully, he's just a young man that's decided to run away from home, in a manner of speaking, and he's happy and safe somewhere.  We just need to find him."

"Well, I suppose his sister told you everything she knows."

"Yes, my partner, David Starsky, and I interviewed your niece, Colleen, for over two hours.   He's back at the office, running down leads that can be handled by phone."

Judith appeared contemplative.  "What's her theory on where Robert is?"

"She doesn't know.  She insists that he wouldn't run off, without having at least let someone in the family know.  It's my understanding that she and Robert were fairly close."

Judith rubbed at her lower lip.  "I suppose they were, somewhat, when they were children.  But I'm not sure that that's been true for a while."

Hutch straightened.  "Why's that?"

"Colleen was the favorite child.  Robert wasn't doted on, and became withdrawn.  He's always had a more difficult road."  She drew a breath.  "Of course, when I was in school, studying for my doctorate, I'd try to tell my sister and brother-in-law a few things about child rearing, and doting on one sibling too much, to the exclusion of the other.  They didn't listen to anything I said.  I was butting into their business without being invited."  She shrugged with a faint smile.  "It took me a while to learn not to try to psychoanalyze friends and relatives."

"Well, Colleen seemed pretty firm about Robert not just up and disappearing.  She did say that he 'marched to his own drummer', but she otherwise didn't indicate anything less than ideal about his childhood."

"I'm not surprised.  In my profession, I see often that siblings can have two completely different experiences growing up -- two completely different points of view, on the way their parents behaved, and on various family events.  When I do family counseling, it's amazing sometimes, how one sibling can be completely surprised by the feelings of another, when those feelings finally get out into the open.  Even in situations where the sibs are just a year or two apart."

Hutch filed those words in the back of his mind.  "So, you think Colleen's perspective on her brother isn't necessarily accurate?"

"She knows him better than I.  With my siblings, I was the black sheep -- wanted a career instead of marriage -- so I wasn't particularly close to Colleen and Robert's parents.  Still, I've observed human behavior enough to have some ideas on a few things.  The last time I saw the family was Thanksgiving, a couple of years ago.  Robert had gone from a withdrawn child to a withdrawn young man.  I suspected that he was into drugs, he was so distant.  But it wasn't my place to say anything.  He's an adult who makes his own decisions."

Hutch was taking notes.  When he'd stopped writing, he asked, "Then, do you have a theory on where Robert might have gone?"

She gazed at the floor a long moment.  Then, softly, she said, "No.  I'm worried that he might have gotten himself into trouble."

Of course, he and Starsky had already considered that possibility, though Colleen Stenton had never expressed any reason to consider such.  "Is there a specific reason you have to think so?"

She shook her head.  "I just know that, if he is involved in drugs, that can be a dangerous road.  I lost a client to murder a year ago.  He was addicted to opiates.  I encouraged him to get help, but he wasn't interested in breaking the habit.  His family said that he was murdered in a drug deal gone bad."

Hutch offered, "My partner and I have certainly seen a lot of that in our cop days.  More recently, too, unfortunately."  He was specifically thinking of Ashley Marshall, who over-dosed and couldn't be saved.  "But I want to clarify that you only suspected he was involved with drugs, but don't know that for certain?"

"Yes.  I never witnessed him using anything.  It was only his demeanor.  And certainly, of everyone in our broader family, he would have had the biggest reason to want to try to escape his present life, with artificial happiness."

Hutch felt that Judith could handle a question that Colleen probably couldn't have.  "Do you have any reason to believe that Robert might have been interested in ending his own life?"

"Not a specific reason, no.  But, of course, I see a lot of people who have contemplated suicide -- people from all walks of life, who seem outwardly happy to others.  So, I don't think it would ever surprise me if any particular person felt an inclination to commit suicide."  She grimaced.  "I guess I'm really no help there."

Hutch shifted on the sofa.  "You said that you last saw the family two years ago, at Thanksgiving.  Did you have any further contact with Robert, since then?"

"No.  I never had direct contact him.  Only via the rest of the family."  Abruptly, she asked, "Have you interviewed my sister and brother-in-law?"

"No.  We haven't seen any reason to, since Colleen was acting as a representative for the immediate family.  Do you think they should be interviewed?"

"I doubt it would help much.  I'm assuming it was Colleen's idea to call your firm.  Can't imagine that their parents would be all that interested in finding him."

Hutch cocked his head.  "Did they really feel that negatively toward their son?"

"I just meant that they'd assume it really isn't their business to wonder where he is.  He's a grown man."

 "They wouldn't miss him at Thanksgiving, and holidays like that?"

"The family tends to get scattered at the holidays, so it's rare that we all get together."

Hutch mentally paused as he continued to write.  When he looked up again, he gentled his voice.  "Judith, is there any reason to think that anyone in the family would want to harm your nephew?"

"No."  She appeared surprised.  "Has anyone else suggested such?"

Hutch shook his head.  "No.  It's just that it's sounding like the family isn't very close."

After a moment of consideration, she said, "It's not particularly close.  But I wouldn't call it estranged.  Pretty ordinary, actually.  Based upon what I see in my work, I think it's a lot more ordinary than a lot of the families that are shown on TV."

Congenially, Hutch said, "Good point."  When he was done writing, he looked up again.  "Is there anything else you can think of that might help us find him?  Any name or place he might have mentioned?" 

She shook her head.  "I've been mulling over everything I know about Robert, since you called for an appointment.  I'm afraid that I haven't come up with anything that I haven't already mentioned.  But make sure you leave your contact information with my secretary.  I assure you that I'll call immediately, if anything comes to mind.


When Hutch entered their suite nearly an hour later, Lois appeared frazzled as she talked on the phone, scribbling in a pink telephone message book.  Kenny and Carlos were also on phones, at their desks that butted against each other, separated from the rest of the office area by a panel.  Starsky's office door was closed, and Hutch figured he was still probably making phone calls for the Robert Lewis missing person's case.

Lois hung up the phone, and began to tear a pink message slip from the book that kept carbon copies.  "Ken, that's the third one today."

"Third what?"

"Inquiry from someone wanting to know if we can research their family history."

Hutch was baffled.  "What?"

Lois began gathering other pink slips on her desk.  "There was an article in the paper yesterday about some man who traced his family history all the way back to when his ancestors arrived on the Mayflower.  Three people have called, so far, wanting to know if we they can pay us to find out that kind of information on their own family."

Hutch was appalled.  "Do they realize how much it could cost, to have a professional spending time on something like that?"

Lois shrugged.  "Doesn't stop people from paying for surveillance on cheating spouses.  You know, I think a lot of it could just be phone work.  Calling for county records on births and deaths and census information -- that kind of thing.  Maybe we could charge a flat fee for phone work up to a certain number of generations, and tell them it'll cost more if they want us to go back further, or if we have to travel to do additional research."

While Hutch considered that, Lois handed him more pink slips, separated into groups.  "There's the other two inquiries.  Then this lady, from Home Front Mortgage Servicing, sounds upset and wants you to call her back ASAP.  Plus, your mother called."  Lois now grabbed some computer papers and brochures.  "Here's those figures you wanted me to run, and here's some more brochures that arrived in the mail on senior living establishments."

Hutch accepted everything that was handed to him, and moved off to his office, feeling his stomach churn at the idea that he had far too many responsibilities for one person to handle.

The door that separated his office from Starsky's was closed.  Hutch decided that, before he dumped some of this onto his partner, he first wanted to study to the figures Lois had compiled.

After Hutch sat, reviewing the numbers that made his stomach churn all the more, he decided to quit putting off the call he needed to make, and phoned the woman from Home Front Mortgage Servicing.  After the unpleasant conversation, he got up and knocked once on the door to Starsky's office, and then opened it.

Starsky was rising from his chair, looking at Hutch, with the phone to his ear.  Cheerfully, he said into the phone, "All right, little brother, we'll be there.  Seven o' clock sharp."  Starsky hung up and grinned.  "He and Lannie want to have us over for dinner tomorrow.  They have something to tell us."

No doubt, it was information about the possible pregnancy.  "He didn't say what?"

"No, but I think Lannie was right there in the room and, you know, she doesn't know that we know anything.  So, remember, we'll have to ask all surprised and everything."

Hutch sighed, hoping that was indeed the subject, so it would no longer be a mystery.

Starsky frowned.  "What's wrong?  You look frazzled.  It not go well with the aunt?"

Hutch stepped back into his office, and closed his door to the outer office.  "Come in here.  We need to talk about some stuff."  As Starsky entered, Hutch said, "I just got off the phone with Linda at Home Front."  He sat in his desk chair, while Starsky took the chair opposite.  "The list of properties they gave us two months ago?  Three of the homes that we declared to be abandoned, turns out to still have the homeowners living there."

Starsky shrugged.  "It's not a perfect science.  We do the best we can to figure out if anyone is living on those properties, after being more than ninety days behind on their payments."

With frustration, Hutch said, "Yeah, but the mortgage companies have a right to expect our information to be correct, if they're paying us for it.  None of us has the time to manage all these part time students that we have running around, looking at the properties.  It's easy for them to be sloppy, when they know no one is looking over their shoulder."  Hutch grabbed the computer pages Lois had given him.  "Besides which, I've had Lois compile the accounting on the properties.  We aren't making enough on them to make it worth the hassle of constantly hiring part time workers, because there's so much turnover.  Plus, Lois has to spend time every day putting together routes for the next day.  This was supposed to be easy money, because we didn't have to do any legwork, but it turns out that whatever we make isn't enough to offset the hassle of managing it."

"Well, okay," Starsky said.  "I guess, we can call the mortgage companies and tell them that this month is the last month that we'll be doing that service."

Unhappily, Hutch said, "We have to do next month, too, because it's in our contract that we have to give them thirty days notice."

Starsky gazed at Hutch worriedly.  "What else is going on?"

Hutch held up a trio of pink slips.  "People are calling us to research their family histories."  Hutch then relayed what Lois had said.  "Maybe we can replace doing the property drive-bys with doing the ancestry tracings.  We could probably hire just one researcher.  Maybe a librarian."

Starsky looked perplexed.  "But wouldn't that be just a fad?  Something that fizzles out in a short time?  And where would we put a desk for a third employee?"

Hutch hadn't considered either of those things.  "Maybe it'll just be a fad," he admitted.  "But we could maybe do some cheap advertising, such as mailing flyers to neighborhoods.  And we can include ancestry tracing in our phonebook ad for next year."  Then he admitted, "I don't know.  I don't have all the answers."

He wasn't surprised when that got Starsky's attention.

Starsky frowned.  "You don't have to have all the answers.  You don't run this place by yourself.  If it seems like you do, it's because you're the one who always wants to take everything on.  You like running things."

While Hutch pondered whether or not the statement was a complaint, and whether he should be upset about it, Starsky brightened said, "You know, if we hire a researcher, to just call libraries and counties and such, that person could do it from their home phone.  They wouldn't need a desk here.  We could reimburse them for long distance calls."

Hutch said, "But we'd be right back to the same problem as with the college students.  We can't manage someone who is working from their home."

"Well, maybe we could just pay them for what they actually do, rather than by the hour.  So, if they're sitting at home, watching TV or whatever, then they don't get paid much.  And we find somebody else.  Plus, we'll have the phone records, if we're going to reimburse them, so we'll know what calls they're making.  We can have them document what they work on each day."

Hutch said, "'There's labor laws, unless they're subcontractors.  Yeah, we'll have to think about it some more, if we want to take this on."  He indicated the pink slips.  "I just need to call these people back and tell them something."

"Well, just name some big fee to get started, like seventy-five dollars.  Tell them they need to send us a check for seventy-five dollars and some family information, and that it might go up from there, depending on how far they want us to go back, and how many relatives there are to research.  If none of them sends a check, then we'll know they aren't that serious about it."

"Yeah," Hutch said, appreciating Starsky's input.  "I guess that'll allow us to spend a few days figuring out what we want to do, and if it'll even be worth taking this on."

Abruptly, Starsky asked, "How did it go with the aunt on the Robert Lewis case?"

"She really wants to help, but didn't have much to say.  She never talked to Robert directly, but only saw him at family gatherings.  The interesting thing, though, is that she seemed to think that Robert had a less happy childhood than Colleen had indicated."


"Yeah.  She's a therapist, and she says she sees it a lot in grown siblings, where they each have a completely different point of view on their family and how they were raised."

Starsky said, "Speaking of family, you don't seem too excited about us going to dinner tomorrow night.  You got to figure they're gonna tell us that Lanette is pregnant."

Tiredly, Hutch asked, "What if it's something else?  I hope that's what it is, though, because I don't want to deal with your disappointment."

Starsky frowned, and looked at Hutch with a penetrating glare.  With an edge to his voice, he asked, "Are you sure it's me that's going to be the one most disappointed, if she's not pregnant?"

Hutch shrugged, feeling uncomfortable with the question.  "You're the one who's always wanted them to have a child."

"Yeah, and you've been saying from day one that it ain't never gonna happen.  You've been so adamant about it, that sometimes I think you really, really want it, too, but you're too afraid to let yourself believe it."

Hutch was grateful to have a ready reply.  "I guess we'll find out tomorrow night.  And then neither of us will have to wonder."

That brought another penetrating gaze.  "Hutch, are you all right?  You seem down."

Hutch sighed.  "I'm just feeling stretched too thin.  Seems like I can't ever focus on anything, because there's so much that comes up."  Starsky opened his mouth, but Hutch interrupted, "And I need you working on the case stuff that I can't get to.  What did you find out this morning?"

"I've been on the phone all morning, with that list that Colleen gave us, of everyone she could think of who knew Robert.  I got a hold of a couple of Robert's high school friends, who each gave me other contacts, but they dried up quickly.  The only thing that has the slightest possibility of going anywhere is that a former co-worker at a Seven-Eleven said that Robert mentioned something about wanting to visit Tennessee someday."

"What's in Tennessee?"

Starsky shrugged.  "She didn't say that he ever said.  He just seemed sort of fascinated by it.  But that was a couple of years ago, when he worked there a short time."

Hutch mused, "Still, it's something."  He then recalled, "Judith thought that Robert was into drugs, though she never saw him with anything.  It was just his whole demeanor.  But then, she said he'd always been like that -- sort of displaced, you know.  His parents doted on Colleen, but didn't pay much attention to Robert, according to Judith."

Starsky appeared thoughtful.  "With the Tennessee angle, we just don't know where to look.  So, I guess I should start calling some people back, starting with Colleen, and see if mentioning Tennessee jogs any memories."

Hutch nodded.  "I'll check with Judith."

Starsky tilted his head.  "You know, Hutch, if we can find something out, that gives us a reason to go there, maybe we should treat it as partly a vacation.  We haven't had a vacation in a couple of years, baby."

The idea of getting away from all the office stress did sound appealing.  "Yeah, that's a thought."  Hutch held up another pink slip.  "I need to call my mother back, too.  The last time, she said a few people had looked at the house.  Maybe, if there's been more movement, she's going to be needing to make a decision about permanent living accommodations.  That might mean she needs to come out here and look at some of the senior places."

Warily, Starsky asked, "Has she said anything more about Derrick Riley?"

Hutch shook his head.  "She tends to avoid saying anything about her love life.  I don't ever get the feeling that I'm welcome to ask questions."

Starsky grunted.


The afternoon turned into night.  After the employees had left, Starsky and Hutch were each still making phone calls in their offices, since some contacts couldn't be gotten a hold of until they returned home from work.

Finally, when it was nearly seven, Starsky plopped down in front of Hutch's office with a heavy sigh.  "I'm beat," he said, as soon as Hutch hung up his phone.  "And starving."

"Yeah.  What did you find out?"

"Colleen said that Robert being interested in Tennessee was correct, but it was a very vague thing.  It's not like he mentioned visiting Elvis Presley's grave, or the Smokey Mountains, or anything specific.  She wasn't even sure if it's that he wanted to live there, or just visit there, for some reason.  He never mentioned any particular thing."

Hutch said, "That's sounding more like Judith was correct, in that he was the black sheep of the family.  I mean, if he had a particular interest in Tennessee, but nobody in the immediate family knows about it, that pretty much shows that they weren't very interested in the things he was interested in."

"Yeah," Starsky muttered.  "Were you able to get back in touch with Judith?"

"She hasn't returned my call yet.  Did you get a hold of anybody else?"

"Yeah, there was a friend he liked to go to the basketball courts with, back when they were teenagers, Robert showed him a book on Tennessee, and talked about it.  This friend said he didn't really pay much attention, so he couldn't say what it was about Tennessee that fascinated Robert.  All the other people I've gotten a hold of said that Tennessee didn't rang of bell, in any of their conversations with Robert."

Hutch was thoughtful.  "Our best lead, then, is to assume he traveled there.  Maybe you should go to the airport tomorrow and see if he was on any flights around the time he disappeared.  And, if that comes up empty, hit up the train stations and bus terminals."

Starsky was plenty willing to do that, but it gave him a lonely feeling at the thought of another long day.  "You sure you don't want to be the one to do that, so you can get away from the office?  Or, better yet, any chance of us doing that together?"

Hutch shook his head wearily, indicating the pink slips on his desk.  "Buddy, I've got too much going on here.  Mom is getting eager to move out of her house, because it's too much hassle keeping it clean to show to prospective buyers, and there's starting to be a lot of those, which is good news.  I did tell her that you and I were getting together with Nick and Lannie tomorrow night, though I didn't say they had an announcement, since I didn't want to get her hopes up.  Anyway, if it turns out Lannie is pregnant, I'm sure that Mom will want to find a place out here, for that reason alone."

"Figuring stuff out for your mother can wait another day," Starsky said.  "We may as well wait to see what their announcement is tomorrow, and then decide what needs to happen next."

Hutch appeared relieved, as though putting that particular problem off for another day hadn't occurred to him.

Starsky pressed, "Come on, Hutch, let's both go and find out if Robert traveled to Tennessee.  That'll give you something particular to focus on, instead of feeling like you're stretched too thin.  Did you call the ancestry people back?"

"Yeah, but just got a hold of one.  She was willing to pay the seventy-five dollars, but said it would take her a while to gather all the information on her relatives that we'll need, to get started.  So, who knows if she'll ever get around to doing that."

"Hmm.  Well, let's wait until we get our first check before pursuing that idea any further."

"Yeah.  I called the mortgage companies, too, that we have contracts with, and told them that we'd keep on through November 30th, and that we'd follow up with a letter of resignation, so they have something in writing.  A couple asked questions, and I just said it wasn't cost effective to keep the personnel."

Starsky nodded, glad that Hutch had taken care of all that.  "Great.  So, let's blow this place and get something to eat.  And then, tomorrow, we can hit up all the travel places."


It did indeed feel good, Hutch had to admit the next day, being out and about with Starsky, asking all the airlines, and then passengers trains, and then bus terminals, if they had a Robert Lewis that had bought a ticket in the past month.  It was at the end of the day, at the Greyhound Bus terminal, that they finally got a possible hit.

The man accessing the computer for reservations said, "He left here on September 28th, on a bus bound for St. Louis, Missouri.  If he was going farther east than that, then he would have had to purchase his next ticket there."

Hutch asked, "Can you call St. Louis, and ask them to search their records, to see if Robert Lewis purchased a ticket for somewhere else?"

"They're two hours ahead of us, so that office would have gone home for the day.  I can try calling tomorrow, when I have time."

Starsky pulled out his wallet and took out two twenty dollar bills, along with his card.  "Please do that.  We'd really appreciate it."

"Sure thing."

As they left the office, Hutch said, "Let's hope he comes up with something."

"Yeah.  And let's hope it's the same Robert Lewis that we're looking for.  That's not exactly an uncommon name."

"Yeah," Hutch said with a sigh.

Starsky looked at his watch.  "We've just got enough time to get back home, clean up, and then get to Nick's and Lanette's for dinner."

They had all four sat down to a meal of Cornish game hens, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and green beans, when Starsky couldn't wait any longer.  He said, "So, you guys said you had an announcement about something?"

Nick and Lanette glanced at each other, and then Nick said, "No point in keeping them in suspense."

Lanette said, "I'm pregnant."

Starsky blinked, while pretending to being in shock.

"You are?" Hutch asked with a grin.  When she nodded, he said, "That's fantastic!"

Starsky held up his wine glass.  "That's incredible!  We're so happy for you.  Let's make a toast to the little munchkin you got growin' in there."  After they all held up their wine glasses, he said, "Hutch and me would really, really love to be uncles.  So, here's hoping all the best with an easy pregnancy and birth."  They clicked their glasses together.

As they began to eat, Nick said, "She's due in early April.  Man, this is going to be something."

Starsky could detect the fear in his brother's voice, underlying the excitement.

Hutch asked, "What are you planning to do with your shops, after the baby is born?"

"I'll probably have to hire a manager, to run them."

Worriedly, Starsky asked, "Are you going to be able to afford someone?"

She shrugged.  "We'll have to.  Just like we'll have to figure out a way to afford everything else that a child needs."

"You'll make it work," Starsky encouraged.  "And me and Hutch will be willing to help out with anything you need.  Man, this is going to be so cool."  Then, curiously, "I thought you never wanted kids."

Lanette glanced at Nick, and then said with a smile, "I changed my mind."

Hutch asked, "You haven't told mom yet, have you?"

"We thought we'd call her right after dinner, while we're all here."

"She'll be thrilled.  I'm sure she'll want to move out this way, since she's been considering it, anyway."

Lanette sighed.  "Yeah.  I'd appreciate her help with the baby, but I don't know if I can deal with what she's going to say about Nick and I getting married next month."

"It's next month?" Starsky asked.

"Yes, we were thinking about November 17th.  Just a small ceremony.  I've already been married once, and had the big wedding, and we want to just keep it small and inexpensive.  Mom will want to make a big production out of it, so I'm going to have to put my foot down."

Starsky said, "Man, this will at least make both sides of the feeling really happy, that there's going to be a baby to continue on the family line."

As conversation continued, Starsky realized that he was the one doing most of the talking, while Hutch only added a comment on occasion.


Starsky was still chattering about him and Hutch being uncles on the way home.  When they entered the house, Hutch moved to gather up the mail on the floor in the foyer.  Starsky said, "You know, it's just nice knowing that the kid is going to have a doting grandmother, and two uncles who live nearby that really care about it."

Hutch nodded distractedly, while bringing the mail to the kitchen counter.

Starsky said with a grin, "Isn't it great that Lanette seems so happy about it?  And to think you were so certain that she'd never want to get pregnant."

Hutch glanced up and muttered, "Rub my nose in it, why don't you."  He moved on to the living room.

Though Starsky was grateful to get a more animated reaction, he was puzzled by the words, and followed Hutch into the living room.  "What's that suppose to mean?"

Hutch turned to him, frowning.  "How do you think I feel?  I lived in the same house with her for the first fifteen years or so of her life.  Turns out, I don't know her at all!"

Starsky was surprised Hutch was so bothered by that notion.  "Well... it's not your fault.  And it's nothing to be ashamed of.  I mean, Nick and I hardly knew each other, even though we shared a room for the first few years of his life."

"Yeah, but that's because you were sent out here.  And you had that big age gap.  Lannie and I are only a few years apart, and we lived in the same house every day."

Starsky reached for something soothing to say.  "That doesn't mean you did anything wrong."  Then he recalled, "Didn't that aunt on the Lewis case -- the therapist -- say that it's not at all unusual for siblings to grow up with very different perspectives on family events and such?  Surely, that would also apply to what family members feel they know about each other."

Hutch plopped down on the sofa with a big sigh.  "I just feel like I never knew her at all."  He worked off his shoes.

Starsky sat beside him. "Yeah, but in this situation, as far as I'm concerned, it's a great thing that you don't know her as well as you thought.  Come on, Hutch, this is going to be as close as we're ever going to get to you and I having a kid.  It's going to have the same genes, pretty much.  I mean, as far as I'm concerned, this is a major, wonderful thing happening in our lives."

Hutch nodded, his head bowed.  "I-I-I agree.  I'm happy about it.  Really.  I just...."  When he couldn't seem to find a further protest, he looked at Starsky and simply repeated, "I'm happy about it."

Starsky grinned and kissed him.


Two days later, Hutch sat in Starsky's office, while, through the speaker, a phone rang.

A woman voice greeted, "Hello?"

Starsky said, "Colleen?"


"This is Dave Starsky.  I'm here with my partner, Ken Hutchinson, and we've got you on the speaker phone so we can update you."


"Hi, Colleen," Hutch said.


Starsky explained, "We have reason to think that your brother took a Greyhound bus to Tennessee, to a small town called Manchester.  There was a ticket, in the name of a Robert Lewis, bought from the Bay City station, to St. Louis, Missouri, two days before your brother disappeared.  Then, five days later, when he would have arrived in St. Louis, there's a ticket purchased, to leave that same day, to go from the St. Louis station, to Manchester, Tennessee."

"Wow," she said.  "You guys found all that out?"

Hutch cautioned, "We can't prove that it's your brother.  It's possible that it's somebody else with the same name.  But the dates fit."

"Plus," Starsky said, "there being some evidence -- admittedly weak -- of your brother having an interest in Tennessee."


Hutch felt as though her tone was similar to how he felt about Lannie getting pregnant -- he'd never known that she would do that.  Colleen had apparently never considered that her brother would go to Tennessee, despite her having told Starsky that Robert had mentioned the state on occasion.

Starsky said, "Colleen, are you absolutely certain that your family doesn't have any relatives that might have moved to Tennessee, that Robert might have had contact with?"

"I'll talk to Mom and Dad about it, but I doubt it."

Hutch cleared his throat.  "The main reason we're calling, is to find out how much more you're willing to spend on us finding him.  Our next step would be to travel to Manchester and start asking motels if the area if they have him on their register, during that time period.  We'll also bring his picture.  If he still has that thick beard, he might be memorable."

Starsky said, "Our feeling is, his destination must have been Manchester, or somewhere around there, because otherwise, he would have had the bus stop somewhere else.  He got a ticket there for a reason."

Hutch put in, "There's obviously going to be quite a bit of expenses associated with traveling there, as well as our day rate for trying to find where he is, exactly.  So, we want to make sure you're okay with spending the money to send us there."

"Yeah," she said, "I talked with Mom and Dad about this the other day.  We're prepared to spend up to another two thousand dollars to find Robert, but we'll have to cut it off, after that."

Hutch assured, "It won't cost anywhere near that, if he's in the vicinity of Manchester.  If we decide he must have moved on to another area, we'll let you know before we proceed."

"I appreciate that."

Starsky said, "We'll try to get out there in the next few days.  At this point, we're encouraged that this situation can have a happy ending."

"That's good to hear," she said.  "It sounds like he's alive, at least."

"Yep.  If we do find him," Hutch said, "do you want us to confront him, and try to get him to call home?"

"Uhm, I guess.  I mean, I don't understand why he wouldn't have, if everything is all right."

Starsky said, "We'll see what we can find out.  We'll update you before we return home."

"That'll be great.  Thanks so much."

"We'll be in touch," Starsky said, and then cut the line.  He looked up at Hutch.  "Let's get Lois working on getting us a flight, hopefully tomorrow, huh?"

"Yeah, the sooner the better."  There was nothing more professionally satisfying than tracking down a strong lead.  Hutch looked around.  "Do you have an atlas here?" 

Starsky turned his chair to look through the bookcase, and found a large, paperback book.  "Here it is."

Hutch moved to stand over Starsky.  Eventually, they found Manchester, Tennessee.

Hutch said, "Looks like we'll need to fly into Nashville, and then get a rental car to drive down to Manchester."

Starsky looked up at him.  "Let's tell Lois not to bother with a return flight.  Let's see how the case goes, and then take a few days for ourselves, okay?  I'd love to do some fishing.  We haven't done that in years."

It was on the tip of Hutch's tongue to say there was too much going on, for them to stay away long.  His mother had indeed been excited -- to the point where she sounded uncharacteristically on the verge of tears -- when they'd all called her the other night about Lannie being pregnant.  She was wanting to fly out as soon as possible and start looking for a place to purchase.  Starsky had finally finished revising his book, and had re-submitted it to his agent.  Daniel Wildenstein, who wanted to include their UFO chapter, had still never met with them, but Starsky gave his doctor's office permission to make his medical file available to Wildenstein.  Hutch had gotten more work done on the greenhouse, and was ready for the electrical aspect to be inspected, to insure that it was up to code.  They had also talked about visiting Darla at the breeding farm in recent weeks, but hadn't ever gotten around to making the trip.

Starsky's expression softened.  "Hutch, I know you're thinking that we can't take time for ourselves, but if we wait until the time is right, then it's never gonna happen.  We both need and deserve time off.  Especially you.  Come on.  The world isn't going to fall apart, because we're gone for a week or whatever."

One thing Hutch could always count on, was that life was good when he let Starsky talk him into things.  His mouth corner twitched.  "Yeah, okay."


Starsky was glad that Hutch was driving their rental car, so he himself could take in the sights, while going south from Nashville on Interstate 24.  "This is so neat, seeing all these trees around, with the colors changing."

Hutch glanced at the dashboard.  "Yeah, it's 77 degrees out."  It was mid afternoon.

Starsky indicated the upcoming sign.  "Just another twenty miles."

"Great.  I think we're going to miss rush hour traffic."  Hutch nodded toward the floorboard.  "See what those books have to say about the motels in the area."

Starsky grabbed a couple of travel books on Tennessee that they'd picked up at the airport.  While he leafed through one, Hutch went on, "If Robert took the bus, rather than a plane, you have to figure he's not wanting to spend much money.  So, if he spent at least a night in Manchester, it would follow that he probably stayed at one of the cheaper motels."

"Yeah."  Starsky studied the listing he'd found.  "Looks like most of them are on Hillsborough Road.  The usual cheap chains -- Motel 6 and Super 8, Economy Inn.  Then there's the next level, like Day's Inn."

"I say we go ahead and get started, as soon as we get there.  If they're all in one area, we can split up and cover that many more."

Starsky said, "There's a five-star one called Country Inns.  Let's skip that, unless we can't come up with anything else."


Starsky sighed.  "Just wish we knew if he was intending to meet up with someone, or hitchhike somewhere else, or what."

"If he's shaved his beard, that's going to complicate things that much more."

"Yeah."  Starsky rubbed his hands together.  "It could be like finding a needle in a haystack, but we're good at that, partner."

"That, we are."

Starsky was glad that he was able to get Hutch away from the stress of the office, for his love seemed in a good mood, despite the trepidation of leaving so much work behind.  He hoped they'd have a chance to investigate some of the sights and activities that this area had to offer.

Starsky browsed through the travel book.  "Manchester itself only has about six thousand people, but there's a whole string of this little towns around, so it's not like it's off by itself."  With satisfaction, he added, "There's some huge lake, not far from there.  Farther south.  Tims Ford Lake."  He looked at Hutch.  "I'm so hoping that we're going to be fishing in a few days, pal."  They'd brought their poles.

"First things first," Hutch cautioned.

"While we're scouting the motels, let's keep an eye out for a good place for dinner.  We'll be hungry by then."

Hutch's mouth corner twitched.  "One thing I can always count on:  your stomach."


Ten minutes later, they were parked in the lot of a motel that was the first along a strip of similar establishments.  After locking the car, and then each having a notebook and photograph of Robert Lewis, Hutch said, "I'll go across the street and hit up the few on that side.  When I get to the end, I'll cross over to this side, and come back this way.  We should meet each other somewhere along this block."

Starsky nodded.  "Gotcha."  Feeling eager to make some headway on the case, he started off toward the entrance to the motel they'd parked at.

His inquiries gave him a bunch of shaking heads, including when the manager looked up records, going back a month.  It was the same situation at the next motel.

Starsky entered the third one, while starting to feel the humidity of the area, along with the afternoon heat.  He summoned the energy to form yet another big smile, as he approached the desk with his wallet out.  "Ma'am?" he said to the slender, middle-aged clerk.

"Yes?  How can I help you?"

Starsky pulled out his card.  "I'm David Starsky, with a private investigation firm in Bay City, California.  I'm looking for someone, and wondered if you might be able to help me out."

She studied his card.  "I will, if I can."

Starsky took the photograph from his notebook.  "Any chance you might remember this man from the last few weeks?  His name is Robert Lewis."

She looked at the picture, shaking her head.

"It's possible that he might not have the beard."

"I'm sorry, but I can't say that I recognize him, or recall the name.  Of course, we have thirty-two units, so there's a lot of people checking in and out."

"Do you mind looking through your records?  He would have checked in around October 3rd, possibly any time after that."

"I suppose I could do that, but it might take a while."  She indicated a Dutch door to one side of the counter.  "You can come around to the office, if you'd like."

"Thank you."  Starsky followed her the few steps to a small office that had papers strewn about. 

"Sorry about the mess," she said, while starting to lift notebooks from a chair.

"That's okay," Starsky said with a raised hand, "I don't need to sit down."

"Well, all right."  She opened a drawer and pulled out a stack of white registration slips.  "These are the slips from earlier this month.  They're organized by the day they checked out."  She gave Starsky half of the stack.  "If you want to look through those, it'll go faster."

Starsky placed his notebook, with the picture on top, over a row of books on a shelf inside the doorway.

She licked her forefinger and began leafing through the strips.  "Would he have used an alias?"

"I don't know.  I also don't know if he would have put Bay City as his address."  Starsky began leafing through his stack of registration slips, noting the names and addresses.  "If anything looks suspicious, like a phony address, please let me know."

She snorted.  "Lots of people use phony addresses.  We really don't care, as long as they pay."

As Starsky studied each slip, he asked, "Are you the owner here?"

"Yes, my husband and I.  He works at a construction company in Murfreesboro."  She looked up.  "I'm Theresa, by the way."  She smiled.

Starsky smiled back and nodded.  "Nice to meet you, Theresa."

Starsky inwardly sighed as he got down to the last few slips.

"Mrs. Williams?"

Starsky jumped to one side, startled.  He looked up to see a the head of a young black woman in the doorway.

"I'm sorry!" she said.

Starsky chuckled.  "It's okay.  I didn't hear you out there."

The young woman took a step into the office.  She was wearing a maid's uniform.  "The toilet in 24 isn't flushing."

 "Huh," Theresa said.  "They didn't say anything when they checked out.  I'll have Jim look at it when he gets home."

The maid nodded, and started to turn.  Then she paused and looked at the photo on top of Starsky's notebook.  She tilted her head thoughtfully.

Starsky asked, "Do you recognize that man?  His name is Robert Lewis."

She brightened.  "Yes.  Robert.  I remember him."

A thrill went through Starsky.  "What can you tell me about him?  I'm a detective from Bay City, California, sent by his family.  They've lost track of him."

"Well, I just remember seeing him around, a few weeks ago.  He was friendly.  Asked me if I knew of any jobs in the area.  I told him that I didn't know of any jobs specifically, but he would surely find something, if he looked around for Help Wanted signs."

Starsky's heart beat with excitement.  "That was a few weeks ago?"

"Yes.  I couldn't say what days, exactly."

"Did you only talk to him the once?"

"Yes, I think so.  I saw him a few times, and he always smiled and nodded at me.  I think he was here two or three days."

"Did he say where he was from, or what he was here for?"

She considered, and then shook her head.  "Na.  Just asked me if I knew of any jobs."

"But you remember that his name was Robert Lewis?"

"Just Robert, his first name."

Theresa started leafing back through the registration slips.  "I haven't come across a Robert Lewis.  In fact, the only Robert I've found his someone who had a wife and three kids with him."

Starsky spread the remaining slips in his hand, so he could see the names.  "Here it is!"  He pulled that slip out.  "Robert Lewis.  Single.  For address, he put 'relocating'.  For his car license plates, he put 'None'.  He checked in October 3rd, and checked out October 5th, so he was here two nights."

Theresa came over to him.  "Would you like me to make a copy of that?"

"Yes, please."

She went over to a crude desktop copier, and placed the slip on the glass.

The maid said, "I can't remember anything else."

Starsky took out his wallet.  "If you do," he handed her his card, with a ten dollar bill, "please let us know." 

The maid's eyes lit up.  "Thanks!"

"In fact," Starsky looked over at Theresa, "do you have a room for tonight, at least, for my partner and I?  We just need a single.  We'll stay here."

"Yes, we have a couple of units open.  Would you like a rollway bed?"

"That won't be necessary."  Starsky took out his credit card.  "You can run this now, if you'd like."  She accepted it from him.  "And, Miss," he said to the maid, "if you can think of anything else that will help us find him, please ask Theresa what room we're in, and let us know."

Theresa said, "I'll put them in Room 16."

"Okay," the maid said with enthusiasm, and then turned away.

A few minutes later, Starsky had exited the building, with a couple of room keys in his pocket.  He started walking down the block, while watching both sides of the street, hoping to see Hutch.  It wasn't long before he spotted the familiar form exiting the motel at the far end of the block, on the opposite side.

Starsky stuck his fingers in his mouth, and whistled loudly.

Everyone on the sidewalks looked up.  When Hutch did, as well, Starsky waved his notebook at him.  Hutch broke into a jog, and crossed the street to where Starsky was.


Twenty minutes later, they were eating at a diner that Theresa had recommended.

Hutch said, "I'm thinking that we need to call Colleen when we get back to our room, and ask her about any job skills that Robert might have had.  Hopefully, that'll point us to where our next step ought to be."

"Yeah.  It's just that the maid made it sound like he was looking for any kind of work.  So, it could be a restaurant, a gas station... anything.  And if that's the case, we're going to have a lot of legwork to do, pal."

"At least, we know that he still has the beard.  That should help."

"Unless he shaved it when he started to look for work, or if an employer told him to shave it."

Hutch was thoughtful.  "Since he wrote that he was 'relocating', at least that gives us reason to think that he probably intended to stay in the general area."

"Yeah.  I just wonder, though, where he might have stayed after those first two nights at the Econo Lodge.  Did he leave the motel, because he found a job, or did he leave it because he didn't want to spend any more money, and thought he'd live on the street until he found something?  Or maybe he decided to find a cheaper motel."

"I doubt a small town like this would have a homeless shelter.  Maybe we should check out the churches, and places like that."

Hopefully, Starsky said, "Unless Colleen gives us something else to go on."


As Hutch walked from the convenience store to Econo Lodge in the darkness, with a grocery sack in one arm, he felt a strong sense of contentment and satisfaction.  He and Starsky were indeed very good at what they did.  They might have a lot more time to put in before Robert Lewis was found, but they'd made outstanding use of their first few hours in Manchester.

Plus, the moist warmth in the air, rich with foliage, that smelled so different than the ocean air in Bay City, was a soothing balm.  It did indeed feel good to know that they were going to wake up tomorrow morning, and not have to worry about phone messages, or a list of past due invoices that clients hadn't yet paid, or which employee was going to be sent out to work on what project or see which client, or figure out how they were going to tolerate another month of the property drive-bys, when they weren't interested anymore.  Instead, he and his love would face a day of traveling around in a seemingly different world, doing what they did best.

For a moment, Hutch wondered if they should never have allowed their business to grow to the point where it had three full-time employees, and then their work would have always been just the two of them.  But he quickly dismissed the thought. Growing larger was the natural way of success, and being larger is what allowed them to help more people.  Helping others was, ultimately, the root motivation of the work they'd always done.

Hutch moved along the row of doors to Room 16.  After inserting his key, he opened the door to find Starsky stretched out on the bed, with a map taking up a good portion of the mattress. "What did you find out?" Hutch asked, after placing the sack on the table.  He took out a can of root beer, and held it out.  "It's cold."

Starsky accepted it and popped the lid.  "Colleen couldn't say much about job possibilities.  I really had to push her.  She pretty much just said that he wouldn't do something aggressive, like being in security or a bouncer or something like that.  He knew just a little bit about cars.  He does know how to run a cash register, since he's worked at a convenience store and fast food restaurants."

Hutch nodded at the map.  "What are you looking at?"

Starsky scratched the back of his head.  "Well, she did mention that he has boating skills.  Said he likes to go out on lakes -- more so than oceans."

"You mean to fish?"

Starsky shrugged.  "She didn't mention fishing, but more just enjoying motor boats, thinks like that.  She was pretty vague."

Hutch sat down on the mattress, careful of the map.

Starsky pointed, "So, I was looking at lakes around here.  There's that Tims Ford Lake that I mentioned before.  It's really large, and only a half hour from here."  He looked up at Hutch.  "If you really like going out on a motor boat, and you have a choice between a job at McDonald's, or a job at a gas station, or a job at a convenience store, or a job at a big park with a big lake...."  He trailed off pointedly.

"Except, you made it sound like the maid said he was looking for any kind of employment."

"Maybe he was just keeping his options open.  But maybe he was hoping he could get a job at the lake."

Hutch trusted his partner's instincts.  "So, you're thinking, first thing tomorrow, we go out to Tims Ford Lake and check with the employment office."

"Yep.  That's what my gut tells me.  If we draw a blank, then we'll have to come back here and start showing his picture around to all the businesses."

"Yeah, eliminating the park first, as a possibility, makes sense."

Starsky nodded with satisfaction, and began to fold up the map.

Hutch asked, "Did Colleen seem happy, then, that we'd at least found evidence that he was here?"

Starsky shrugged.  "She seemed kind of low-key, like she's pretty much always been."

"Kind of odd that she and her parents are going through this expense, when they don't seem overly concerned."

"I think it's more that she's puzzled.  Puzzled that, if no harm has come to him, why he just up and left, without leaving any word about where he was, let alone that he was okay.  And maybe, you know, she's a little nervous about finding out what his reasons might be, for leaving like that."

"Judith -- the therapist aunt -- didn't sound like she would be as surprised.  She seemed to think he was neglected, at least compared to how the parents doted on Colleen."

Starsky sighed.  "Yeah, well, families are complicated."  Then, gently, "We both know that."  He placed the map on the nightstand, and then held out an arm.

Hutch crawled up next to him, and rested his weight against Starsky, as the arm curled around him.  He was feeling particularly close to his partner right now, but the inclination to make love was absent.

Starsky's thumb massaged along Hutch's shirt.  "What would you like to do tonight, huh?"

Apparently, Starsky was feeling a similar lack of physical feelings.  Hutch replied, "I think I saw a theater toward the end of the block.  Let's walk there.  We still haven't seen Amadeus yet."

Starsky muttered, "I heard it's over two hours long."  But he got to his feet.

Hutch did likewise.  "Yep.  Over two hours of an excellent movie, is what the critics are saying."


The next morning, it was Starsky who was driving, and Hutch was left to marvel at the lush vegetation.  "It really is beautiful out here."

"Yeah.  And peaceful.  Quiet."

Hutch couldn't help but tease, "I never figured you for one to feel inclined toward the southern part of the country."

"It's not south-south.  More central.  Yet, the people sort of have that warm, southern charm about them."

"I doubt they would be that warm toward our kind."

"Well, thankfully, we're just visiting."

Once they caught sight of one of the many fingers of Tims Ford Lake, they were amazed at how large it was, while still having the colorful, lush vegetation around. 

Starsky said, "There's got to be some fish in that lake with our names on them."

"Work first, partner."

"Yeah," Starsky said with a sigh.  "Let's hope our instincts are right."

A few minutes later, they pulled up at the visitor's center.  They entered and went up to the counter.

"May I help you?" the woman asked.

Starsky said, "Can you tell us where the employment office is?"

"They aren't hiring right now, but you're welcome to fill out an application."

"We aren't looking for work.  We're trying to find out if somebody works here in the park.  Who do we talk to about that?"

"The employment records are at the park office.  That's a few miles away."

Hutch asked, "Can you tell us how to get there?"

She reached for a piece of paper, and then drew a crude map.  "It's not a very large building, and it's pretty old, but it has all the employee paperwork.  See Mr. Hills."

"Mr. Hills," Starsky repeated.  "We really appreciate it."

They took the map and returned to the car, where they drove around the park grounds, until coming to a rundown-looking cabin, tucked back from the road.  Hutch said, "This should be it."

They went up to the cabin, but the front door was locked. 

Starsky muttered, "There's not a sign or anything, saying when someone is going to be back."  He peeked in one of the windows.  "It definitely looks like an office."

"It's ten-thirty," Hutch said.  "You'd think he'd be here."

They heard footsteps, and turned to a see a middle-aged man approaching them, a clipboard in hand.  "Can I help you gentlemen?"

"Are you Mr. Hills?" Hutch asked.

"No.  I'm head of maintenance.  What are you needing Mr. Hills for?  I heard that he had meetings in town today."

Starsky took out his wallet.  "We're private investigators from California.  We've been hired by a family to find a missing family member, and we have reason to think he might have gotten a job here."

Hutch took out his photo of Robert.  "Do you recognize this man?"

The man took the photo and furrowed his brow.  "It could be Robert."

Heartened, Hutch said, "Robert Lewis is his name.  Have you seen him?"

Still studying the photo, the man said, "That looks like the Robert I know.  The beard isn't that heavy, though."

"Where can we find him?"

"He's working at the Lakeview Park Marina.  Do you know where that is?"

Starsky said, "I've seen it on the park map.  Thank you so much."

"Sure thing."

Starsky and Hutch rushed back to their rental car.  Once they were on their way, Starsky said, "I figured he had to be here.  This is great."

"Yeah, fortune is really smiling on us today."

They reached the marina twenty minutes later.  They spotted somebody who looked like the man in their photo, though his beard was trimmed to a large degree.  He was helping a family with a motor boat, and there were other visitors seeking his attention.

Starsky and Hutch hung back, not wanting to confront him in such a public setting.  They eventually noticed another man, who was working on an engine in a small maintenance shop area.  "Sir?" Hutch inquired, as they approached.  "Do you know when Robert goes on break?"

The man said, "He was supposed to go at ten-thirty, but it's really busy, so he hasn't gotten a chance yet. You friends of his?"

"Yeah," Starsky replied quickly.  "He's not expecting us, and we don't want to interrupt his work, but we need to talk to him."

The man said, "I'll go tell him you're here, and I'll just tell anyone else who comes that he's on break.  What are your names?"

Hutch said, "Uh, just tell him a couple of guys that want to talk to him for a minute or two."


The man moved off to where Robert was.  A family had just left in a motor boat, and the maintenance man briefly clasped Robert's arm to get his attention. 

Hutch moved back away from the maintenance shop, wanting to have more privacy, and Starsky followed.  As they both moved back toward a wooded area, they watched the man point at them, and Robert looked their way.  Hutch muttered, "Let's hope his not the paranoid, skittish type."


Robert began walking toward them.

"Pay dirt," Starsky declared.

They could see his puzzled expression as Robert got closer.  He asked, "Do I know you two?"

Hutch handed him his card.  "No, but we know a little about you.  I'm Ken Hutchinson and this is David Starsky.  We're two private detectives that have been hired by your family to find you."

He glanced at the card.  "Private detectives?"

"Yes," Starsky said.  "According to your sister, Colleen, you up and left Bay City without a trace.  No one had any idea where you'd gone, or if you'd met with foul play, or what."

Robert shifted restlessly, his jaw firming.  "Yes, I left.  Of my own free will.  And desire to get away from all that," his mouth twisted, "materialism and negativity."

Hutch asked, "You couldn't have simply left a note?  Or sent them a postcard, once you got here?"

"You don't know anything about my life," he growled.

"No, we don't," Starsky said.  "But we do know your family cared enough to be willing to pay us quite a bit to try to find you."

Robert looked away a long moment, his mouth contorting into various expressions, and then he looked back.  "Look, I like my sister fine.  But I can't have a relationship with her, without having one with our parents, and I don't want a relationship with our parents.  They've never given a damn about me, and she's too tight with them, to be able to carve out a relationship just with me.  She always wants to include them in anything I'd try to do just with her."

Gently, Hutch said, "I know family relationships can be difficult.  I can understand your wanting to get away.  But, surely, you can understand how puzzling it was to them to have you just up and leave, without a word.  They had no idea of where you might have gone, or if you were safe."

Robert snorted harshly and shook his head back and forth.  "That's the insanity of it!  They pay you two guys to come all this way, when...."  He was still shaking his head in disbelief.

"When what?" Starsky prompted.

Robert sputtered, "When, if they'd cared to know One Damn Thing about me, they would have figured I came out here."  He gestured with his arm.  "I've always loved reading about this area.  It's beautiful.  Simple.  I've always wanted to come here, and especially to live here."  He gazed at them. "How can it be a mystery to them, where I went?"

Hutch found himself feeling commiseration with Robert's plight.  He said delicately, "Obviously, they didn't listen as much as they probably should have.  You know, I think your aunt -- Judith -- probably saw more about your situation with your parents than you might realize.  She was worried that you'd gotten into drugs."

Robert rolled his eyes.  "I smoke weed sometimes, big deal.  Never the hard stuff."  He shook his head again.  "That's what I mean:  I can't stand living in an environment where the people who should be the most supportive of me, are thinking the worst of me."

Hutch protested, "I think Judith was on your side, Robert.  If you had been into hard drugs, I think she would have seen it as an understandable escape."

Robert gazed at him, as though he'd never considered the idea of a family member being on his side.

Hutch concluded, "We're going to return to our motel and call Colleen and tell her that you're putting down roots here, and that you're safe."

Starsky asked, "What else would you like us to tell her?  Can we tell her to expect a call from you?  Do you have an address we can give to her?"

Robert put his hand on his hip, and sighed with a lowered gaze.  Then he looked up.  "Tell her....  Tell her I'm very happy to be here.  That I'm fine.  That I'm flopping at various friends' I've made, until I've saved enough money to rent something.  Tell her I love my job."  He paused, then threw up his hands.  "Hell, maybe I'll call her at Christmas."  Another pause.  "Or maybe not.  Don't expect me for Thanksgiving.  I'm enjoying my life too much to want to come back."

Starsky drew a breath.  "Okay, we'll pass all that along."

Robert looked at Hutch.  "You know, sometimes, when I was a kid, and as a teenager, I'd try to tell myself that I was making it up.  That I was exaggerating in my own mind, how little they cared.  But the fact that they were so clueless about where I might have gone, that they had to hire people like you... that just proves to me that I was right all along.  I wasn't imagining their indifference."

Hutch shifted with discomfort, at how raw Robert's feelings were.  "Well, we're glad this case has a happy ending.  For what it's worth, I'm glad you've found what you were looking for."  Hutch held out his hand.

Robert hesitated a moment, and then shook it.  He then shook Starsky's.

Hutch said, "Do keep our card.  If you'd like your family to know something, but don't want to contact them directly, you're welcome to use us as a go-between."

Robert nodded, gazing at the card.  "All right.  I might do that."  He nodded over his shoulder.  "I've got to get back to work."

"Take care," Starsky said, as Robert turned away.

They moved back to their car.  After getting in, Starsky said, "I say we go back to our motel and call Colleen right away."

"Yeah," Hutch said softly.


An hour later, Starsky lay on the bed, propped on an elbow, the phone to his ear. 

Colleen said, "I sure appreciate all you've done.  I'm so glad that you found him so quickly."

"We're good at what we do," Starsky enjoyed telling her.

Resigned, she said, "I guess we'll just go on with our lives, since he's going on with his.  Maybe we'll hear from him sometime."

"Yeah, hopefully, with time, the anger will ease, and he won't feel a need to cut himself off from all contact.  Oh, and by the way, we did leave our card and told him that he could use us to get a message to you, if he didn't feel comfortable contacting you directly.  It sounded like he might take us up on that."

"Okay, that's good.  Thanks for offering to be in the middle."

Starsky heard the door open, and looked back over his shoulder to see Hutch entering with a bucket of ice.  "When you get our invoice, after we get back, it'll have a full report of all our findings."

"Okay.  I'll be on the lookout for that.  We'll be able to pay you right away."

"Great.  We appreciate it.  If you have any further questions for us, in the meantime, leave a message with our office.  It might be a few days before we get back."

"Will do.  Thanks so much, David."

"You're welcome.  Goodbye."  Starsky hung up the phone.  "I'm ready to get some lunch."


As they waited for their food at a family restaurant, Starsky noticed that Hutch had grown increasingly distracted.  "Hey."  Hutch looked at him.  "Where's your mind gone off to?"

Hutch shrugged, his gaze lowered.  "Just thinking about Robert.  I can understand how he feels.  Though I don't agree with him cutting off all communication like that."

"Yeah," Starsky said levelly.  "A lot of young people want to get away from their parents.  There's just a right way and a wrong way to go about it."

"He had passion," Hutch said.  "The rest of the family just seems so,.. ordinary... about everything.  Robert had a passion about wanting a certain way of life, and he went out and found out."

Starsky couldn't help but point out, "Sort of like a certain Ken Hutchinson, fifteen or so years ago."  He allowed a smile.

"It's the passionate people that make the greatest impact on the world.  Whether it's doing something like discovering America, like Columbus did, or coming up with a great invention, or being the greatest athlete in a sport."

Starsky quietly added, "Or deciding that you're going to marry your buddy."

That brought a smile.  "Yeah."  Then Hutch asked, "Did you discuss with Colleen why Robert said he left?"

"I wouldn't say discuss.  I just passed along that he'd said he wanted to get away from the 'negativity and materialism'.  She didn't comment on it.  I'm not sure that she understands."  Starsky felt better to recall, "I did point out that he didn't have any beef with her, but only with their parents.  I hope that made her feel better.  Oh, and she said they'd pay our bill right away."

"Of course," Hutch said drolly.  "Sounds like the kind of family that does all the proper things, without any real feeling behind those things."

Starsky tilted his head, while allowing his thoughts to gather.

"What?" Hutch prompted.

Starsky grinned.  "I'm trying to wonder how things are going to be, say, fifteen years from now.  You and I will be uncles to an adolescent.  An adolescent that might have a passion about things that you and I don't agree with, let alone his or her parents agreeing with."

Hutch managed a grin, while shifting restlessly.  "Let's not summon the future too quickly, huh?"

"I'm all for that." Starsky straightened, and then recalled something he'd been meaning to bring up. "Hey, uh, Nick is still paying us back for the pay-off we made on his behalf, to that loan shark in New York, right?"

Hutch nodded.  "Yeah.  He sends a hundred dollar check every month.  Sometimes early in the month, sometimes toward the end of the month, but he's always made it.  I guess it's been a couple of years now."

"Remember, when we first decided to pay off his debt, we wanted him to make a monthly payment to us to make him show some responsibility?  But I remember us deciding, at some future point, that we'd forgive the debt and give him back the money he'd paid to us."

Hutch tilted his head.  "Yes, I remember talking about that.  We were willing to pay his debt, for his own safety, and considered the money spent.  But we didn't want him to know that we didn't care that it got paid back."

"Yeah.  And he's been paying it back, and showing that he takes his responsibility seriously.  So, with a baby on the way, I'm thinking it's time for us to forgive that debt, and refund the money coming back to him.  His birthday is in January.  Maybe then."

Hutch nodded.  "Yeah.  He'd probably appreciate that."  He smiled gently.  "I admit, I wasn't optimistic that he'd keep up the payments for very long."

"I wasn't, either.  I'm glad we were both wrong."


Starsky folded his hands on the table.  "So, what do you want to do now?"

"When we get back to our room, why don't we call and see if there's any cabins available at the lake.  Maybe we can stay a couple of nights.  Do some fishing and hiking, explore the park.  Then....," Hutch reached into his pocket, and unfolded a brochure.  He placed it before Starsky.  "I say let's take the back roads and drive north to Kentucky.  We'll reach Lexington in five or six hours, where all the horse farms are, and there's a track," Hutch tapped the brochure, "that's open right now."

Starsky studied the brochure.  Keeneland Race Track 1984 Fall Meet.  "Okay.  That'll be great.  We haven't been to a track since Darla last ran."

"Then, after spending the afternoon there, maybe we can catch a plane from Louisville the next morning, since that's an hour or so away from Lexington.  That would be a Sunday morning flight.  We can be back at work Monday morning."

Starsky grinned.  "Sounds like a plan."


They were indeed able to get a cabin, and spent the night there.  The next morning, they were out on the lake, in an inlet where no one else was around.

Starsky cast his rod out from their motor boat, realizing that he didn't care much if they caught anything.  The peace and beauty of the area was pleasurable enough.

Hutch had his pole perched on the edge, while he was lazily reclined along the back of the boat. "This is living, isn't it, partner?"

"Yep," Starsky said with a smile.  He shifted his pole, and then looked over at Hutch, who was in shorts an a button shirt, a white sailor's cap atop his head, and sunglasses over his eyes.  "Do you realize that we haven't made love since leaving home?"

Hutch made a little shrug motion.  "We're on vacation.  From the usual routines.  Humping each other is part of the usual routine."

Starsky grinned.  "Yeah, guess so.  Just funny how I don't really miss it."  He added in a mutter, "Even as much as I'm enjoying being with you right now."

Hutch smiled.  "I guess there's other ways of being intimate, than sharing body parts."

Starsky felt warm inside.  "Yeah.  We've always known that."


After returning back to the shore for lunch, they spent the afternoon hiking, and both felt grateful for the exercise.  The next day, a Friday, was more of the same.

On Saturday morning, they left the cabin and headed north, taking the back roads, so they could see more of the countryside that neither had ever seen before. 

Starsky was roused when Hutch firmly said, "Starsk, Starsk, wake up.  You're missing all the scenery."

Starsky straightened in his seat.  The midday sun was shining bright on rolling green fields, herds of horses in all the pastures.

Hutch said, "There's nothing but horse farms around here."

Starsky was indeed amazed, to the point of feeling almost overwhelmed.  "Man, these places are immaculate.  I thought the California farms were something, but these are like palaces, almost."

"Guess that's why it's called the sport of kings," Hutch quipped.  "Weird, though, that the fences are that dark brown color, instead of white."

Starsky just now noticed that.  "Yeah.  They still really well-kept, though.  Maybe it has something to do with the climate?"

"Yeah, maybe."

Starsky watched various pastures with horses.  "I'm not seeing any baby horses."

After a thoughtful pause, Hutch said, "It's almost November.  Any foals born in the spring would probably be weaned by now.  Most of these pastures probably have mares that are pregnant with next spring's babies, huh?"

"Yeah.  I wonder what kind of money it takes to keep these places looking so pristine like this."

"Maybe money won from great horses, or boarders with great horses."

"This makes me want to visit Darla as soon as we can, when we get back."


Starsky realized he was hungry.  "When are we going to eat?"

"We'll be at Keeneland in another twenty minutes.  Why not eat there?  I think we'll miss the first race or two, but we'll be there for the rest."

"Yeah, okay."


The Keeneland grandstand wasn't near as large as the tracks in California, but it was nestled in the country, and had a more peaceful atmosphere, with many of the patrons dressed in their Saturday finest.

Starsky and Hutch bypassed lunch when they realized the horses were being saddled for the second race.  The paddock was unlike anything they'd seen in California.  Rather that the horses being readied in stalls, they were each saddled next to large oak trees, with the crowd gathered around the entirety of the paddock area.

"Man," Starsky said, "I wish Darla could have raced here.  Wouldn't it have been great to be standing by these huge trees, as one of the owners, getting ready for the race?"

Hutch had his program open.  "At least, we have some idea of the anticipation they're feeling.  This is a maiden race for two-year-old fillies.  A few are making their career debuts.  We know what that's like, huh?"

"Yeah," Starsky said, feeling a nostalgic longing.  "Surely, we will again, whenever Darla's foal starts racing."

"Let's grab something to eat before the race, and just make a small bet, since we don't have time to study the Form."

They decided on a filly, based solely on her name, Danny's Darling, since it reminded them of Darla, and put ten dollars on her to win.  Then they ordered hot dogs and ate along the mezzanine area of the grandstand, while the twelve fillies warmed up.  They'd finished eating and decided to go to an upper level of the grandstand, where they could have a full view of the track.

"This isn't so bad," Hutch said, "even without binoculars."

"Yeah.  A smaller grandstand makes a difference."

The race was starting in the backstretch, since it was six furlongs.  They watched as the horses began to load into the starting gate.  "She's number four?" Starsky asked, since Hutch had their program.


The horses left the gate, a buzz of polite excitement went through the crowd, and Starsky realized that something was missing.  "I don't hear an announcer."

"I don't, either.  I think I see a yellow saddle cloth.  She's at the middle of the pack.

Starsky said more loudly, "How can there not be an announcer?"

A heavy-set man, in a dress shirt and pants, stepped closer to them.  "They don't have an announcer here."


The crowed came alive as the horses entered the homestretch.  A horse was well in front, with another by herself in second, and the rest bunched behind.

Hutch said, "Our horse is moving up, but she can't win."

Starsky watched as the field galloped in front of the stands, the winner four lengths in front, with horse number seven second, and horse number four -- their horse -- having just managed to get up for third.

The crowd died down.

Starsky said to the man beside them, "This track doesn't have an announcer?"

"No.  It's one of those traditions.  This track is unlike any other.  But they announce the workouts in the morning."

"What?" Hutch asked.  "The workouts?"

"Yes.  If some major racehorses are getting workouts in the morning, they have an announcer tell the morning crowd who those horses are as they gallop by."

Starsky found that hard to fathom.  "That's weird."  Then, to Hutch, "That would have been cool, though, to hear Darla announced during a workout."

"You gentlemen own racehorses?"

Starsky said, "We just have one, and she's retired.  She'll have her first foal in February."

"Where are you from?"

"California.  That's where she raced."

"She was a Grade 2 stakes winner," Hutch put in, his voice full of pride.

"Oh, really.  What's her name?"

"Deep Waters," Starsky said.

"Oh, yes, that sounds a little bit familiar.  She never raced outside of California, did she?"

"No.  And we had to retire her a year ago, because she had a chronic hoof problem.  She was only three."

The fillies from the race cantered back to the homestretch, and the crowd burst out with applause.

Starsky asked, "Why is everyone clapping?"

"They're applauding the horses for a good race.  And, in particular, applauding the winner."

Starsky couldn't help but chuckle at the polite behavior.  "Geez."

Hutch said, "It's kind of nice, actually."

The man noted, "If you genuinely love horses, there's no better track to be at in this country, than Keeneland.  Most people are here, because they appreciate good horseflesh.  The betting aspect is secondary.  And anyone can go to the barn area, as long as they don't bother anybody.  You don't need an owner's license or anything like that, to just wander around."

"Really?" Starsky asked in disbelief.  "That's so different from California."

"And everywhere else," the man said.  "I own a few horses in Maryland with some buddies of mine.  But they're just cheap claimers.  Nothing like the horses here, or your Deep Waters.  It's fun, though.  Still, I always come here for the spring and fall meets, because this place is so special."

"It's sure different," Hutch said.  "We just thought we'd drop in, since we were on a business trip in Tennessee."

The man nodded.  Then he asked, "Who did you breed Deep Waters to?"

"Flying Paster," Starsky replied.

The man nodded.  "A California stud."  He seemed disappointed.

"He's pretty popular out there."

"He was a really good racehorse.  But you almost never hear of a California stallion making much of an impact on the national scene.  If I owned a mare like Deep Waters, I'd want to breed her to a top Kentucky stallion."

Hutch quickly said, "Some of those are advertised for tens of thousands of dollars.  We don't have that kind of money to risk on a stud fee.  Plus, we like the Cal-bred bonus money."

"You can ship her out here to be bred, and then send her back to California to drop the foal, and it'll still be a Cal-bred."

Starsky remembered Julie, the horse-crazy teenage daughter of Hutch's cousin Patricia, telling them that.  He noted, "We sort of thought about it briefly, but it felt weird to ship her all this way, when there's plenty of stallions in California.  But now that I've seen how fancy these horse farms are," he looked at Hutch, "I know she'd get great care.  Maybe we should consider it, Hutch."

"Breeding her to a Kentucky stallion?"  Hutch scoffed, "We'd have to find one decent that stands for an affordable amount.  Doesn't seem very likely."

The man said, "I bet a lot of the farms would cut you a deal, since she's a Grade 2 stakes winner.  I'm not saying that you could get a discount for the likes of Triple Crown winners like Secretariat or Seattle Slew, but I bet you could for a lot of others."

"We'll think about it," Hutch said.

The man looked at his watch.  "Some friends are expecting to meet me near the paddock.  I need to get going."

"Thanks for all your information," Starsky said.

"Sure thing.  Nice meeting you both."  The man turned away.

Starsky opened his mouth to continue the discussion about Darla's next boyfriend, but Hutch opened the Racing Form and firmly said, "Let's see who we want to bet on for the next race."


They had the winner in two races during the afternoon, and were content with that when they left.

"I'd love to find a steak dinner somewhere," Starsky said.

"Think you can wait another hour?  Lexington isn't a big town, and with the race track crowd, everything will probably be full.  I think we shouldn't stop until we're closer to Louisville."

"Yeah, okay.  At least, I have something to read along the way."  Starsky hoisted a heavy paperback book -- many inches thick -- into his lap.  Most of the pages were blue.

Hutch scoffed, "I can't believe you spent thirty dollars on that thing."

"The lady at the gift shop said that the white pages list every stallion at stud in North America.  And the blue pages -- there's over twelve hundred of them -- have detailed racing and offspring information on every stallion with an owner willing to pay to have it included.  Plus, it has stud fee information, and where they're located, and phone numbers, and all that."

Hutch muttered, "We can probably just call Julie, and see what she says."

"We'll do that.  But at least, now, I have the information to access, so I can be almost as smart as she is about what stallions stand where, and for how much."

Hutch grunted, unable to imagine Starsky's crash-course in Thoroughbred stallions ever matching young Julie's knowledge.  He couldn't help but point out, "Darla only has one oven, that can bake just one baby a year.  So, I don't see why you need a book with details on twelve hundred stallions in it."

 "Just want to know that we've considered all the possibilities."   Starsky turned various pages, babbling under his breath as he browsed.  Then he gasped, "Oh, man."


"There's an index by stud fee.  There's one stallion that stands for $125,000.  Can you believe that?"

"No," Hutch said firmly.

"And another for $75,000.  There's a few for $50,000."

"That's why we're not breeding to a Kentucky stallion," Hutch scowled.  "Discount or no discount.  That's insane, buddy.  I mean, paying a stud fee is just like feeding that same amount of money into a slot machine at Vegas.  Nobody knows if the foal is going to turn out to be any good or not."

Starsky was silent, as he leafed through the blue pages.  Then, "Actually, there's a whole bunch of these stallions that stand for five thousand, or less.  Including some in Kentucky."

"Good.  Let's consider those."

"There's no point in sending her to Kentucky to be bred to a stallion as cheap as we can find in California," Starsky protested.  Then he noted, "Some don't have the stud fee listed."  He continued to turn pages.  "And some same say the fee is Private.  I wonder what that means."

"Surely, that the fee they charge depends on how much they like the mare."

"And some say the stallion's book is full for 1985.  If that's true, then why would they have the stallion listed at all?"  Starsky glanced at the cover.  "It's the Stallion Register for 1985."

Hutch shrugged.  "Probably because things are always negotiable.  Remember, Flying Paster's book was full, when we first called them, but they made room for Darla."

"Yeah."  Starsky turned more pages.  Then his voice brightened.  "Here's one that says Special Consideration Given to Approved Mares.  That must have been what that man was talking about.  Surely, Darla would be 'approved' since she's a Grade 2 stakes winner.  So, we wouldn't have to pay full price."  Then he grunted, "That stud fee is only twenty-five hundred, so it's not that much, to begin with."

Hutch had a thought, and it made his voice subdued.  "You know what, buddy?"


"I'm starting to wonder if we were foolish to sign that breeding agreement to Flying Paster for seventy-five hundred.  Maybe we could have gotten him for a lot less, if we would have tried to negotiate."

Starsky appeared thoughtful.  "Yeah, maybe.  Or maybe they considered making room for her at all, since he was already booked up, to have been enough of a concession."

Hutch grunted, as he thought of the lawyer they had used to negotiate the purchase of Darla, when she hadn't yet raced, and who continued to be a helpful contact for additional clients, as well as being the attorney they used for their corporation.  "I'm thinking maybe we should contact Tom Placing about being our agent for Darla's next breeding.  If you're serious about wanting to breed her to a Kentucky stallion, and we need to get some kind of discount for it to be affordable, we need to have him negotiating on our behalf.  We're babes in the woods when it comes to this stuff.  At least, he knows something about the racing business."

"Fine with me. I guess we can call him, once we've decided on a few that we want to seriously consider."  Starsky then closed the book and looked over at Hutch.  "This has been a great few days, hasn't it, buddy?  I wish it would have been a few days longer."

"Yeah, but we can't stay away.  When I checked in with Lois yesterday, she said it sounded like Carlos was coming down with something.  So, we might be a man short this week."

"Still, let's not wait so long, before taking some days off, next time."


They arrived home late Sunday morning, having gained two hours from the time zone change.

Hutch went to the grocery store.  Upon returning home, he found Starsky dressed and preparing to leave.

Starsky said, "Nick wants to have lunch with me.  He didn't say you weren't invited, but I have a feeling he wants it to just be a brothers thing.  Okay?"

Hutch shrugged.  "Fine.  What's Lannie doing for lunch?"

"Your mother flew in yesterday.  They're going around, looking at possible places for her to buy."


"Yeah.  Hopefully, your mother will find something soon that appeals to her.  As for Nick, if he's feeling nervous about being a father, I'm thinking I should go ahead and tell him that he doesn't need to make any more payments to us, for the loan.  We can still save returning the total of the other payments for Christmas or his birthday or whatever, so it's a surprise."

"Yeah, okay."

Starsky clasped Hutch around the waist, and then gave him a quick kiss.  "Love you."  He paused.  "Since we're going to get back into the normal routine, I say we kick off early this evening with some lovemaking.   Or maybe even this afternoon."

Hutch kissed him back.  "I like that idea."


Starsky met Nick at a restaurant near the latter's condo complex.  They caught each other up on news and events from the past week.

"So, how are you doing, little brother?  About the idea of being a father?"

"I'd say the pendulum is swinging pretty strongly between excitement and sheer terror."

Starsky grinned.  "Well, just know that Hutch and I are eager to help out with anything that you and the little guy might need.  Or gal."

Nick shifted nervously.  "I sure hope it's a girl."

Starsky was surprised.  "Really?  Why?"

"Because that's what Lan wants.  She talks all the time about how she's going to raise her to have a better life than she had.  More opportunities than she had.  You know, not have her think she's something inferior, because she's female."

Starsky had had no idea how deep Lanette's feelings ran on the subject.  "Oh."

"Yeah.  And I keep saying, 'What if it's a boy?'  And she says that'll be fine, too, but I don't believe her. If it's a boy, I bet she'll want to have another right away, and hope that it'll be a girl."

"Well, Hutch and I have had some experience with helping children, boys and girls.  So, it won't matter to us."  Starsky grinned.  "And if you end up having a whole brood of children, that'll be fine, too."

Nick ran his hand through his hair.  "A whole brood I can do without.  I mean, just buying supplies for the baby... it all costs so much."

Starsky reached to briefly grip Nick's hand.  "Hutch and I can help you a little with that.  You know that hundred dollar payment you've been making to us every month?  Forget it.  It's forgiven.  One hundred percent."

Nick's eyes widened.  "Are you sure?  Is Hutch okay with it?"

"Yes, Hutch is totally on board.  We mainly wanted you to pay that money back, to teach you some responsibility.  Since then, you've shown yourself to be plenty responsible.  I'm proud of you, little brother.  We both are."

Nick appeared troubled, even as he said, "That was really nice of you both to take care of that debt with the loan shark.  I'm sorry I brought my problems to you guys out here."

"Well, that's what family is for."

"You know, Lan doesn't know anything about that debt.  It's something I've always paid with my own money."

Starsky felt unease at that revelation.  "Now you don't need to worry about keeping it from her."  His voice firmed.  "But Nick, I wouldn't recommend keeping secrets like that from the person you love.  If you're going to get married and have a family together, you should be able to trust each other.  Completely."

"Being indebted to a loan shark wasn't my finest moment.  It just made me feel lousy, thinking about it.  I didn't want her to think less of me."

"Still, little brother, secrets breed distrust, and most marriages can't survive distrust.  I really, really want you and Lanette to have a successful marriage.  Please don't keep anything else from her."

Nick gave a vague nod, and Starsky knew that was as close as he was going to get to an agreement.

Nick looked away a moment, and then said, "I'm really feeling the pressure of needing to provide for a family.  I mean, things are okay now, financially, but the economy could crash again."

"Yeah, but you can't worry about things like that.  At least, your P.I. business is going along okay."

Nick drew a long, deep breath.

Worriedly, Starsky asked, "Isn't it?"

"Yeah, as far as having enough clients to make a living."


Nick shrugged sheepishly.  "I'm just getting tired of all that surveillance stuff.  Being in my car for hours on end, all by myself.  It gets lonely, you know?"

Starsky nodded.  "Yeah.  You've always been somebody who likes interacting with other people.  But you've proven yourself to be pretty good at the surveillance."

"It's just not what I want to be doing for the rest of my life.  Or even the next year, if I can help it."

Starsky was surprised. "You thinking about doing something else?"

Nick shrugged.  "I don't know.  I haven't thought about it very hard, because I feel stuck in doing what I know can bring money in, with a kid on the way."

"Have you talked to Lanette about it?"

Nick shook his head.  "I don't see any point in bringing it up, unless I have another idea lined up.  I don't see any point in stressing her out, when her whole mindset right now is thinking about the baby.  I don't want her worried that I might up and quit my own company."

Starsky felt an inclination to solve his brother's problem.  "Well, working for us is always an option.  There would be a larger variety of work, but you'd have to do what we tell you to do.  We sometimes subcontract jobs out, when we get really busy, so I think we could keep you staying somewhat busy."  He muttered, "We certainly don't ever seem to have a shortage of work to do.  And we're considering branching out into tracing family ancestry."

"Family ancestry.  What's that?"

"It's like that TV mini-series Roots.  There was an article in the paper a while back, about somebody who traced his ancestry back to when a distant relative arrived on the Mayflower.  Since that article was published, we've gotten some calls from people, wondering if we can trace their ancestry.  Hutch and I haven't decided yet if we want to take it on.  For one thing, it sounds like it could just be a fad that won't last long.  For another, we'd have to hire somebody to do those tracings.  It would be a lot of phone work, and needing to know how to contact libraries and county offices and get the records.  If we do hire somebody, we're thinking they could just work at their home, making phone calls, for a large part of it." 

A thought suddenly occurred, and Starsky tilted his head.  "You know something, little brother?   I wonder if that's something that you could do, with the proper training.  After the baby is born, you could maybe stay home with the baby, making phone calls.  And Lanette could still work at her shops, at least part time, so she wouldn't have to hire a manager."

Nick leaned forward eagerly.  "Huh.  The whole thing sounds kind of far-fetched.  And like you say, it's probably just a fad.  But keep me in mind, if it looks like it might pan out to a full-time job."

"Yeah.  We told the people to send us seventy-five dollars, and some information to get started with, to see if they're even serious.  We'll find out tomorrow from Lois if anybody has paid yet, and if we want to pursue it as a service we offer."

A moment later, a waitress brought their food.


I'm never going on vacation again, Hutch thought, when he saw all the pink message slips on his desk on Monday morning, as well as various other notes and reports from their employees. 

Still, he felt warm inside, when he thought of the few, brief days he and Starsky had enjoyed together.  Last night's activities had been noteworthy, too.

There were a couple of the $75 checks for ancestry tracings, along with various note pages submitted, and Lois had placed a yellow sticky on the checks, asking, "Should I deposit these?"  He and Starsky were going to have to make a decision soon regarding if they were going to pursue that aspect of possible business.

After an hour, Hutch had settled into the usual routine, when Lois buzzed his phone.  "Ken, Ruth Ann Gunderson is here."

"I'll be right out."  Hutch straightened the round corner table, placed the appropriate manila folder on it, and brought the tissue box from his desk to the table.  He closed the door to Starsky's empty office, as the latter was on a surveillance job, and then opened his door to the outer office area.  He approached the attractive thirtyish woman waiting there, who had long, light brown hair, plush lips, and a shapely figure, clothed in slacks and a simple button shirt.  "Mrs. Gunderson, Ken Hutchinson."

She stood and held out her hand.  "Hello, Mr. Hutchinson."

He shook it, and then led the way to his office.  "I'm afraid that Carlos is out with the flu, but I have all the records on your case, and am familiar with it."

He pulled out a chair for her to sit down at the small conference table.  He pushed his office door closed, sat opposite her, and then picked up the manila folder.  Gently, he said, "I'm afraid that your suspicions regarding your husband have been confirmed."

She nodded, her mouth tight.

"I've got some photographs here, of your husband coming out of a motel room, with a woman."

Hutch gave her a moment to brace herself, and then pulled the 8x10 photos out of the envelope. 

Mrs. Gunderson gasped, her hand to her mouth.  "Oh, no."  She looked away.

Hutch asked, "You know the woman?"

She looked back, her hand still to her mouth.  "'That's his secretary."  She shook her head in disbelief.  "His cow-faced secretary!  How could he want..."  She looked away again.

Hutch was silent, while she digested the news.  He looked at the woman in the photograph.  She was rather plain-looking, with a round face, but he didn't think he'd consider her appearance to resemble a cow.

When Mrs. Gunderson looked back, she was shaking her head.  "I just don't understand."  Then she looked at Hutch and demanded, "Would you want to sleep with someone who looks like her, or someone who looks like..." she gestured to herself.

This was one of the things that Hutch hated most about cheating spouse cases.  Betrayed women often wanted his male perspective.

He remained silent, hoping she would get distracted with the usual anger toward her husband.  But she demanded, "Am I crazy?  Or is she attractive and I just don't see it?"

Lamely, Hutch said, "There's no question about your much greater attractiveness."

"Then why would he--?"  She looked away again.  "My whole life doesn't make sense."  After a moment, she returned her gaze to Hutch.  "Nothing makes sense anymore.  I've had surgery.  Got implants in my breasts.  Had my face pealed.  I exercise three times a week.  And yet he-he-he fucks that cow face?"  She drew a heavy breath, and then muttered, "Pardon my French."  She turned away.

Hutch was silent, and placed the manila open on top of the photograph, to hide it.  He pulled out Carlos's reports, and tried to take refuge in facts.  "We tailed your husband for two weeks.  He met with this woman, in a motel room, on Thursday of the first week, and Tuesday of the second week.  Approximately around lunch time, on both occasions.  They both returned to your husband's building after leaving the motel."

When Mrs. Gunderson faced Hutch once again, her voice was weary.  "I have spent all six years of my marriage, making my attractiveness the number one priority in my life, so my husband would never lose interest.  And now," she scoffed breathlessly, "to find out that it's never even mattered...." 

Hutch had a few things to say about that, but remained silent.

She snorted, and then said, "You must think I'm a raving lunatic."

Smoothly, Hutch replied, "We don't expect people to take it calmly, when they have proof that their spouse had been cheating."

She demanded, "But don't most men cheat with a woman that is at least as attractive as their wife?"

"Not necessarily."

"Why?" she said in a near whisper.  "Why would any man want to...."

She was gazing at him intently, and Hutch felt she was being sincere with her questions.  He felt a need to respond to them.   "Certainly, I'm not a marriage counselor.  And my point of view is only one opinion."

She nodded quickly, encouraging him to go on.

"I think, what people tend to forget -- both men and women -- is that sex is a finite event.  That attractiveness will get two people into bed, but once the sex is over, if the coupling was dependent upon attractiveness, there's nothing else to draw them together outside the bedroom.  There is that saying about beauty being only skin deep.  And, I-I-I think that people often don't realize that men, as well as women, want to know that somebody cares.  To feel loved and cherished, including the times when one isn't performing in the bedroom.  Beautiful skin and an ample chest can't provide that, by themselves."

"But why would he go crawling into the arms of his cow-faced secretary?"

"Perhaps because she's warm and caring, and that more than makes up for the lack of beauty.  Plus, if she's at work with him all day, she probably knows the things that worry him, and the things that makes him feel successful.  She's probably his primary support through all those day-to-day events.  Going through things together -- whether exhilarating things or upsetting things -- bonds people closer together."

She gazed at the table.

Hutch decided to reveal, "I was married when I was young, to an extremely attractive woman.  All we did, outside the bedroom, was fight.  We had nothing in common.  I thought I wanted an attractive woman for a wife.  That's what men are supposed to want.  I got what I thought I wanted, and found out that it wasn't what I wanted at all.  That wasn't her fault, any more than it was mine.  She was looking for a handsome, college educated man with a bright future for a husband.  She didn't seem to think it mattered that we didn't have much else in common, either.  We were both so wrong, and we were divorced within a few years." 

As his client continued to stare at the tabletop, Hutch added, "People want companionship.  Someone to share their life with, not just their bed.  It makes things easier to have someone attractive to look at, but that's only one part of a much larger picture."  Thinking of recent days, Hutch couldn't help but smile when he said, "When you can enjoy being together, without feeling a need to have sex validate that enjoyment, that's the real test of a relationship, in my opinion, if you're talking about making a lifelong commitment."

Thoughtfully, she said, "Then maybe I don't have to do this.  Maybe I can stop thinking about when I should have my first facelift."  She closed her eyes and took a deep, relaxing breath.  "That's such a freeing feeling."

Hutch shifted in his seat, not wanting the responsibility for her decisions.  "Obviously, I can't speak for your husband.  But if you could talk to him about you both really want from each other -- and not just what you think you should want -- you might be able to resolve some of the problems in the marriage."

Mrs. Gunderson quickly shook her head.  "No.  There's nothing to hold us together.  I'm filing divorce papers as soon as I can find a lawyer."

"I can refer one to you."

"I'd appreciate that."  She looked directly at Hutch.  "Thank you for talking to me.  I really can't explain it, how free I feel right now.  To know that I can divorce my husband with a clear conscience that his cheating has nothing to do with me not being attractive enough.  That I haven't done anything wrong, other than we both marrying for the wrong reasons."  She reached to encourage the photo from beneath the manila envelope and gazed at it.  "I don't even feel angry.  Just free."

Hutch wondered if she would continue to feel such.  He doubted it.  But it was heartening that Mrs. Gunderson was going to leave his office with a much more positive frame of mind than most of their cheating spouse clients.  Still, he said, "I'm glad you can take something good away from this, but I guess I'm somewhat old-fashioned, in that I'd like to hope that you at least try to take a crack at working things out with your husband.  Perhaps you just need a chance to get to know each other.  He might think that all you care about is how you look, and that he can't compete with the need you have to put your looks first.  I know you feel that all your efforts have been for his sake, but I doubt he would agree."

"Had put my looks first," she corrected.  "I'm turning over a new leaf.  I'm just going to be me.  No more surgeries or excessive cosmetic procedures.  Just simple make-up and skin cream.  And, yes, I'd like that referral for a divorce lawyer."

Hutch stood and moved to his desk.  "I hope you'll think about this a little more."  He reached for his Rolodex.


That evening, Hutch was lying on the sofa, his bare feet resting on Starsky's lap, while a movie was on TV.

Hutch had relayed to Starsky his conversation with Ruth Ann Gunderson.

"I always try not to get involved in our clients' marriages," he said, "but she was so genuinely perplexed, about why her husband would go out with his 'cow-faced secretary', that I felt I needed to say something."

Starsky fingers massaged into the flesh of Hutch's foot.  "Sometimes men want something different, and different can mean without all the external trappings."

"Different and wholesome, too, in some cases.  I mean, Mrs. Gunderson had a lot of natural beauty to her.  Yet, she talked like her whole focus was on keeping herself as attractive as possible for her husband's sake.  And then, after talking to me, it's like a light bulb went on, and she suddenly was talking about not worrying about her looks anymore.  Like it was this big relief.  Like, she's been waiting her whole life for someone to give her permission to not be constantly worried about her beauty."  Fingers dug deeper, and Hutch gasped, "'That's feeling terrific, partner."

"Got to keep the Hutchinson tootsies feeling nice and supple."  After a moment, Starsky said, "It sounds like you had some good insight for her."

"Yeah, but I just wish she wouldn't have up and decided on divorce.  Hopefully, she'll think about it.  I mean, maybe if she confronted her husband and, rather than blaming him for looking elsewhere, outright told him that she'd given priority to her looks, when maybe that's not what he was wanting from her... maybe it would have opened the door to him telling her what he really needs, and they could have worked it out."

"Well, you know, you can say the same thing about the husband.  He was cheating, when maybe he should have been talking to his wife about his needs that weren't being met.  And given her a chance to meet those needs."

"Yeah, maybe," Hutch muttered.  Then he said, "Can you imagine if you and I would have gone that route?  We've each dated beautiful women.  If we would have each gotten married, had the lovely wife at home who was doing everything she could to keep us interested?  And yet, we'd be spending as much time as we possibly could with each other, because we've always enjoyed being around each other more than whatever person we were having a relationship with.  And in our contentment together, we'd never know what we'd be missing, in terms of sleeping together."

Starsky presented a warm smile.  "No need to imagine it, because things worked out for us perfectly.  We both were able to admit what we really wanted, once we were at a point where we could consider the idea of always being together."  Then, more seriously, "People can't tell someone else what they want, until they've first admitted to themselves what they really want.  That's the tough part, especially when society is giving you all sorts of messages about what you're supposed to want."

"Yeah."  Hutch presented his bottom line.  "I just wish, so much sometimes, that other people could have what we have."

"Some do, I'm sure.  We just don't ever have contact with them, because they don't need our services."

Hutch smirked, enjoying his partner's simplistic, reassuring view.

The hands stopped.  Starsky started to shift.  "I'm all done with you.  This end, anyway."  He launched himself across Hutch's lap, face down.  "Back."

Hutch dutifully inserted his hand inside of Starsky's shirt, and began a slow, gentle backrub.

"Mmm," Starsky approved. 

After realizing he was no longer following the movie, Hutch said, "We got a couple of payments for those ancestry tracings."


"Yeah.  So, we need to decide to go ahead, or return the checks."

"Why don't we take those two jobs, and see what's all involved?  If they're money makers, then we can focus some advertising on it.  Even if it's a fad, if we keep the idea in front of people -- with mailing flyers or whatever -- then maybe we can maintain some business."

"We still got to figure out who's going to do the work."

"When I had lunch with Nick yesterday, he was saying he was getting tired of doing surveillance.  He gets lonely.  I got to thinking that, especially after the kid is born, it might make sense for him to do work at home, where he's on the phone all day, so maybe he can do some of this stuff, if we take it on."

Hutch was puzzled that Nick would be interested in a life at home.  "You mean, like a house husband?"

Starsky shrugged.  "It would just be more about working from home, doing the work.  That would free Lanette up to still oversee her stores.  Nick would have a lot more interaction with people, making phone calls all day.  Just something to think about."


Starsky said, "Why don't you give those two jobs to me, when Carlos is back at work, and I'll go ahead and get started on them, and see what's all involved.  I don't have any heavy legwork going on with any of my other cases, at the moment, except that surveillance job today, and that should be wrapped up in another day or two."

Hutch felt better about Starsky handling something new to the both of them.  "Okay.  That makes sense."  Then he muttered, "It never ceases to amaze me what people are willing to pay for."

Starsky shifted to get more comfortable on Hutch's lap, which put pressure on sensitive areas.  "I was browsing an article on our flight back, while you were napping.  According to experts, the gap in this country between the haves and have-nots is going to increase substantially by the year 2000.  And what's going to provide wealth to the haves is the service sector.  The businesses providing services that people don't want to do themselves are going to make out like bandits.  Whereas, manufacturing businesses, and things like that, are going to struggle, because they aren't going to be able to compete with the cheap labor available in other countries."

Hutch grunted, as he felt a tingle in his crotch.  "I'm not sure that's much of a future to look forward to, if they know what they're talking about.  An even bigger gap between the haves and have-nots?"

"We can't control that, Hutch.  I'm just sayin' that we're in the right type of business to keep our lives moving forward.  So, we may as well milk it for all its worth, and when people want to pay us lots of money for unnecessary things, we simply say, 'Thanks for letting us be of service.'"  Starsky wriggled and Hutch gasped.  In a playful voice, Starsky said, "And speaking of service, I feel something that's in need of being serviced."  He shifted and reached for the snap to Hutch's jeans. 

Hutch eagerly spread is legs and rested his head against the back of the sofa. 




Comments to regmoore@earthlink.net or post here.


Main Menu Starsky & Hutch Menu Adventure Menu