(c) June 2013 by Charlotte Frost


A Sequel to Chaos


I can remember the time when I learned something important from Hutch.  I had grown up in a household where there was a whole lot of love, but also very much a culture where a man was expected to behave a certain way.  He didn't show his feelings.  He didn't deny his feelings, but he didn't show them to just anybody.  Men don't cry.  They don't complain.  They do the job they're expected to do. 

We were in the police academy, and we were outside, doing field activities.  We were running laps around the field.  I stepped in some kind of hole and went down, my ankle throbbing like crazy.  Thankfully, it wasn't the leg I'd broken before.  So, I'm on ground, feeling embarrassed that I've injured myself, and Hutch leaves the group, and squats down beside me.  I remember saying to him, "I think I sprained my ankle."

I'm not sure what he said, but next thing I knew, he was behind me, chattering reassurances, and wanting me to lean back against him.  What I remember so vividly is how strong he felt.  What a secure feeling that was, resting back against him, while he had his arms around me.  In any other circumstances, I would have wanted to put on the tough, masculine front and insist I was okay, and that it wasn't that serious.  But for those few moments, however brief they were, it felt like such a wonderful thing to be leaning on Hutch's strength.

Within minutes, an instructor came by, and looked at my ankle, and then suggested that Hutch take me to the infirmary.  So, they both helped me up, and Hutch had his arm around my waist, and my arm draped around his shoulders.  I leaned my weight against him, as we slowly made our way back to the main part of campus.  I remember thinking then, too, how good it felt, leaning against somebody who was so strong.  Letting myself be dependent upon their strength.

Thankfully, my ankle didn't take long to heal. 

What I learned that day was that manhood can be defined in different ways.  One way can certainly be to carry one's own weight, and not appear weak or vulnerable in front of others.  Certainly, it means to protect the ones you love.  But also, it can mean yielding to another man's strength, when you have absolute trust in that man, and that he won't use your weaknesses against you.  Allowing him, in a sense, to express his own manhood by taking care of someone he loves. 

After that day, I felt that Hutch and I had a new solidity about us.  I knew he was going to be there for me, whenever I might go through situations much more serious than a sprained ankle.  That certainly turned out to be true, after we became detectives and were partnered together.  I returned in kind.  Occasionally, as our relationship went through the inevitable ebbs and flows over the years, there were times when we were somewhat resistant to each other's compassion and caring.  Putting up those sorts of walls, however temporary, never did either of us any good.

I'd like to think those walls have been lowered forever.


Through layers of sleep, Hutch heard a gasp of grief.  Then a soft, dry cry.  While reaching consciousness without opening his eyes, he moved a couple of inches, and then felt himself come into contact with Starsky.  He looped his arm around Starsky's torso, and snuggled close.

Starsky gasped again, this time shifting within Hutch's arms.

"I'm right here," Hutch murmured near Starsky's ear. 

Starsky's body went slack with relief. 

He had these nightmares on occasion -- if they could be called that.  Starsky claimed that he never saw images in the dreams, but instead just found himself waking with a feeling that Hutch was gone.  It was a scar left from having thought Hutch was dead for a few minutes in Minnesota, the day before Richard Hutchinson's funeral.  Over three months later, that sense of loss still visited upon Starsky's subconscious.

Now Starsky had gone quiet, though Hutch thought it sounded like his breathing was somewhat congested.

Hutch drifted back to sleep.


The light turned green and Hutch accelerated.  The phone rang, and he reached for the receiver.  "Hutchinson."  He used to answer, "Yeah?", since Starsky was about the only person he could expect to call him on the car phone.  But the past couple of months, it could just as likely be Lois, or Carlos, or Nick.

Lois said, "Ken, there's a man I promised I'd call right back, who insists on seeing you this afternoon, if at all possible. He's leaving town tomorrow morning, and he wants to talk to someone about his case."

Hutch had been hoping to kick off early and check on Starsky, who was home in bed with a cold, which had taken hold yesterday.  During their last communication this morning, a pitiful-sounding Starsky had said he was taking some cold medicine to knock him out, and he was putting the phones off their hooks, so he could sleep undisturbed.  

Hutch asked, "What's the nature of the case?"

"He won't say, but he sounds anxious."

It wasn't unusual for new clients to feel uncomfortable about revealing their personal business to a secretary.  "All right.  I've got to see this Jones guy at the paint factory, and then I'll be back at the office."

"Should I tell him three o'clock?"

Hutch glanced at the dashboard clock.  It was going on one.  "Yeah, that should work."

"Oh, and Ken?"  She had never felt comfortable calling him Hutch, so Ken it was.


"There's another boy that's come a courtin'."

Hutch grinned at Lois's choice of words.  After a few weeks, she had relaxed fully into her new job, since it was apparent that they were all going to get along well at the office, and had proved to have quite an appealing sense of humor.   He sighed.  "What's the spiel this time?"

"His name is Avatar.  He won the Belmont Stakes in 1975 and was second in the Kentucky Derby.  He's at stud here in California and is already siring winners.  He stands for five thousand and they're offering a free breeding.  They're also mailing a report done by a bloodstock agency, that shows why he's a good match."

"All right," Hutch grumbled.  This was getting old.  Ever since Darla had been on the magazine cover, after being a Grade 2 stakes winner, and probably helped by the fact that the accompanying article pointed out that her owners were new to the sport, stud farms had been calling to parade out their particular stallion's attributes, in the hopes that he would be the lucky one chosen to sire Darla's first foal.

Starsky and Hutch had at first felt flattered by the attention, but the calls had started to get wearing, especially since they had no intention of retiring Darla in the near future.  She had gotten a couple of seconds, and a fourth and a fifth, in graded stakes races since her victory.  Some of the calls came to their house, but most came into the office, probably because the article had mentioned that they owned a private investigation firm in Bay City, so it wasn't difficult to figure out which firm it was, based upon the corporate name.

What they were quickly learning was that, while good stallions were readily available to anyone who bothered to look at an ad, quality mares, with both good breeding and good race records, were scarce, and everybody with a stallion wanted their boy to have access to one of the gifted few, since a successful foal would increase the stallion's marketability. 

Lois said, "I'd better call this gentleman back and tell him to be here at three."

"All right.  Thanks, Lois."  Hutch hung up. 


It was ten until three when Hutch arrived at the office.  He grabbed one of the homemade cookies from the coffee table in the reception area, since Lois often made a weekly batch for any visitors. 

"Have you heard from David?" she greeted from behind her desk.

Hutch shook his head while biting into the cookie.  "He was taking the phone off the hook, so he could sleep.  I'll be leaving to check on him, as soon as I'm done with my appointment."

She held out a pink telephone message slip as he went by her desk.  "His name is Collins Marshall.  Should be here any minute.  Oh, and Ken?"

He paused and turned from his office doorway.

She held out a colorful folder.  "Here's the sample that my brother's shop dropped off.  I think he put together a pretty good package."

Hutch accepted it.  "Great, I'll take a look."  He moved into his office. 

Lois's brother owned a marketing company.  When they hadn't gotten anywhere with offering to do drive-bys of properties for mortgage companies, Lois had suggested they meet with her brother, Daniel, to form a marketing plan.  They had done so, and now as Hutch leafed through the contents of the folder, he liked what he was seeing.  There was an introductory letter from Starsky and Hutchinson, Inc., detailing how carefully they would observe each property where the mortgage holder was behind on payments, including talking to neighbors, to determine if anyone was still living there.  There were samples of Polaroid photos they would take, and then a written report, giving an opinion of whether anyone was still living on the premises, and the condition of the house.  With that information, the mortgage company could then decide if they wanted to put eviction proceedings in place, if the mortgage holder still lived there, or if they could begin to prepare the property to be put on the market. 

If they ordered a few dozen of these folders, they could do a mass marketing to mortgage companies, and hopefully the phone would start ringing for what would be, essentially, easy jobs. 

Hutch began to clear his desk, stacking papers and folders on top of each other, to prepare for his appointment.  He heard Lois answer the phone when it rang, and she buzzed his office a moment later.  "It's Carlos on one."

Hutch picked up the phone and pushed the button to the first line.  "Hey, Carlos."

"Hi.  I can't find this guy anywhere.  I've spent nearly two hours, knocking on doors in the area, and nobody knows who Joseph Ruiz is.  I would start to think that we've got the wrong address, except the landlord has paperwork in his office.  But he doesn't even remember him.  Only saw him that one day when he filled out the paperwork and put down the deposit and first month's rent.  There wasn't anything that made him stand out."

Hutch sighed.  Ruiz was wanted by a law firm, since he was witness to a car accident over a year ago, where someone had lost permanent use of their arm.  "Looks like we might have to try an ad in the local papers, and offer a reward for anyone who witnessed the accident, and see if that draws him out." 

"Are you going to need me back there to start on the stuff for the paint factory?"

"I don't have anything yet.  Drove all the way out there, and they wanted me to give them a list, yet again, of what we were going to need.  So, that's going to be another day or two."  The paint factory was a case where clients were claiming their orders weren't being delivered, even though the delivery trucks had paperwork with signatures. 

"Then I'm going to head over to pick up yesterday's photos."

"Great.  Thanks."  They used a twenty-four hour photo service, and usually had photos to drop off and pick up almost every day. 

Hutch heard somebody enter the suite, and Lois greeting him, and then telling him to fill out a sheet with basic contact information.

Carlos went on, "Then I'll spend some time at the home for that Williams guy, to see if he leaves the house this afternoon."  That was a surveillance case where an employee with a large corporate office was suspected of spending his employer's travel advance on gambling activities. 

"Sounds good.  I guess I'll see you tomorrow morning then."

"Yep.  Have a good afternoon."

Hutch hung up.  A few moments later, he heard their visitor give the clipboard back to Lois.  He got up and went to the outer office.  "Mr. Marshall?"

Ä tall, well-dressed, grey-haired man looked up. "Yes?"

Hutch held out his hand.  "Ken Hutchinson.  Nice to meet you.  Come on in."  He led the way into his office, and then closed the door behind them.  He then closed the door separating his office from Starsky's, though the latter was dark and unoccupied, so Mr. Marshall would feel assured of his privacy. 

After they were both seated, Hutch opened his notebook.  "What can I help you with?"

Mr. Marshall looked to one side.  "It's my daughter, Ashley.  She's twenty-three.  She has an apartment."  He swallowed thickly.  "She's working at a Taco Bell while she looks for a better job.  Sh-She keeps asking me for money."

Hutch waited, as Mr. Marshall seemed to be making a great effort to keep himself composed.

When a few moments passed, Hutch gently asked, "What do you think she needs the money for?"

Mr. Marshall shrugged, his gazed lowered.  "She says it's for things, like, repairing her car after an accident.  Helping a friend get an abortion.  Buying a new sofa."  He swallowed again.  "I saw her car the other day.  It hadn't gotten fixed, and she said she'd used the money to pay some bills."

When his new client was silent once again, Hutch prompted, "Where do you think the money is going?"

His voice on the verge of breaking, Mr. Marshall replied, "I'm afraid she might be using it for drugs."  He suddenly looked up.  "I don't know anything about that kind of life.  But I-I had lunch recently with someone I used to work with.  His teenage daughter overdosed.  Died." Voice choking, he added, "They found out later that she'd been prostituting herself to get money to pay for her drugs.  I don't like to think...."

Hutch wanted to be reassuring.  "Mr. Marshall, David Starsky and I were with the police department for over decade.  We have a lot of experience with this type of thing.  If she is doing drugs, we'll probably be able to figure it out within a few days of surveillance.  She'll need to be buying them from somebody."

"If she is heavy into drugs, if she's addicted... I don't know what I'm going to do."

"Let's take it one step at a time, and see what we can find out for certain.  It's always possible that she might be trying to help someone else get out of trouble, or someone else who has a drug problem."

"She's a good girl, Mr. Hutchinson.  Her mother died a few years ago, and I've probably over-indulged her.  I hope she hasn't become something like an addict."

Hutch managed a faint smile.  "Even if she has, it wouldn't make her not a good girl.  Once an addiction takes hold, it's not a matter of willpower or knowing right from wrong, that solves the problem.  She'll need help.  But, again, let us find out what we can the next few days, so we know exactly what the situation is that we're dealing with."


An hour later, Hutch arrived home.  He draped his jacket over the back of a kitchen chair, and then walked down the hall, to where the master bedroom door was open.

Starsky was curled on his side.  He stirred as Hutch entered.  "That you?" he muttered.

"In the flesh," Hutch replied, sitting beside him and resting back against the headboard.  He draped an arm around Starsky's covered form.  "How you doing?"

"Slept a few hours.  Still feel weak."

"You eat anything all day?"


Hutch's fingers massaged gently into Starsky's scalp.  "How about I heat you up some chicken soup, and then maybe you can rally enough to watch some TV with me?"

Starsky grunted non-committedly. 

'"I'll take that as a yes," Hutch said with a soft chuckle.

Fifteen minutes later, he returned with a bowl of hot soup, and encouraged Starsky to sit up, so he could eat.  At first, Starsky complained that it was too hot, but he was eventually able to down most of it.  He was then more alert, and Hutch prompted, "Why don't you take a moment to freshen up, and then join me on the couch?  I'll have blankets.  It's Wednesday and some of your favorite sitcoms are on."

With a pitiful sigh, Starsky said, "Okay," and began pushing the covers aside. 

A few minutes later, Hutch was ready for him, with an array of blankets.  He had made a quick cheese sandwich for himself, and then brought a bowl of fruit to the living room.

Starsky appeared, in fresh flannel pjs, and snuggled up next to Hutch, who wrapped him in the blankets, and then put an arm around him. 

Starsky said, "It's early", as though just now realizing it.  His eyes were closing, as his head rested on Hutch's shoulder.  He was turned more toward Hutch than the TV.

"I know.  Wanted to kick off early, and make sure you were okay."  Hutch pressed the remote.  "Look, 48 Hours is on HBO."   He and Starsky had enjoyed the movie when it first came out last December.

Starsky closed his eyes. 

Hutch watched the movie, while eating fruit.  Starsky seemed to be genuinely sleeping, so Hutch tried to disturb him as little as possible. 

The movie was over at five, and Hutch switched to the news.

When Starsky stirred, Hutch felt his forehead.  "I think your fever has broken, buddy."

Starsky's eye fluttered.  "Feel a little better.  Starting to get hungry."

"I'll fix you something in a bit."

Starsky gathered himself, and then shifted to lie across Hutch's lap, facing the television.

Hutch ran his hand along Starsky's blanketed back.

"How did it go at work today?" Starsky asked in a mumble.

"Lois missed you.  Carlos couldn't get anywhere with finding Ruiz.  A man came in who thinks his 23-year-old daughter might be on drugs, and wants us to do surveillance.  She keeps asking him for money, but then doesn't spend it on what she says she needs it for.  We're probably going to have to do 24-hour shifts for a couple of days, so we can see when she's going out.  She works part time at Taco Bell."

"Maybe we can get Nick to help."

"If not, we're going to have to take separate shifts, buddy.  I hope you'll be up to it.  I'd like to start tomorrow evening.  She gets off work at six."

"Maybe Carlos can take the evening shift, and you and I will have to split the shifts, starting early Friday morning.  Maybe Nick can help when he gets off work on Friday."

Hutch was glad to see that Starsky's brain was functioning, though he really didn't want him to be worried about work.  "I'll call him a little later."

Starsky flexed his back and demanded, "Under the covers."

Hutch found an opening in the blankets, and from there, reached inside Starsky's pajama top.  He rubbed along his bare skin.

"Mmmmm," Starsky approved.

Hutch kept up the gentle massage as he watched the news.

After a time, Starsky said, "I'm hungry."

Hutch smiled warmly.  "If I get up to make you something, I'll have to stop rubbing your back."

Starsky whimpered a protest.

"You're being a baby," Hutch accused lovingly.


Nick had agreed to take the surveillance shift after work on Friday. 

Early Saturday morning, at 4:00 AM, Starsky pulled up behind Nick's white Ford, which was parked on the block outside of Ashley Marshall's apartment building.  He dialed Nick's car phone and told him he had some breakfast for him.  As soon as Starsky turned off the motor, Nick was at his passenger side door, waiting for Starsky to hit the button to unlock it.

"Ah, this is great," Nick said, accepting the coffee that Starsky handed him.

Starsky indicated the bag between their seats.  "Bagels and donuts.  Help herself.  There's cream cheese, too."

Nick sipped his coffee.  "Man, these eight-hour shifts are killers.  Especially after working all day at the airline."

"Yeah, especially when nothing happens."  Starsky tried to spread cream cheese on half a bagel with a plastic knife. 

Nick looked over at him.  "I guess you're feeling better, huh?"

"Yep, thankfully it was pretty much a forty-eight hour thing.  Came and went.  I don't think Hutch caught it."

"He going to take over for you at noon?"

"Yeah.  He might join me sooner, if he gets lonely at home."  Starsky thought that was a good possibility. 

Nick grunted while taking a donut from the bag.  "Hopefully, this chick makes a move soon."

"We were hoping she'd want to score tonight, to make sure she has enough stash for this weekend.  If she's an addict, that is."   

"Maybe she wanted to sleep first, after work.  And then she'll go out."

"That's what I'm hopin'.  I certainly don't want to spend all weekend watching her."

"Yeah, I'm gonna be sleeping all day, after this."  More subdued, Nick said, "I guess it's just as well that Lan cancelled."

Starsky looked over at him.  "Lanette was flying out this weekend?"

"Was.  But then she got too busy with work.  Had an employee quit."

The car grew silent.  Starsky made a point of not commenting much on the long distance relationship between his brother and Hutch's sister.

Nick gazed out the windshield, into the darkness.  "Sometimes I wonder if I'm fooling myself."

"What do you mean?"

"About us."  Nick sipped his coffee, and then said, "I know my feelings toward her have always been stronger than hers toward me.  I keep thinking she'll come to love me, when she understands how much I care about her.  Sometimes, it seems like she does.  But then, other times, she seems so aloof."

Since his brother obviously wanted to talk about it, Starsky said, "Well, she does come from a family of aloofness.  Even Hutch, to this day, likes to be contrary a lot of the time.  It's his nature.  He usually has to say 'no', even when he knows as well as I do that he's going to end up doing what I want."

Nick was thoughtful a long moment.  "Just wish we could spend some real time together, so we can see how we are as a couple.  Instead of just visiting each other all the time."

"I doubt that'll happen for a while, even if she's willing.  The divorce is still tied up in the courts, right?  After it's finalized, it's probably going to take her a while to be completely 'done' with her marriage, so to speak.  As bad as Hutch's marriage was, even after he and Vanessa divorced, it still affected him for a while.  You don't stand up in front of the congregation and pledge 'until death do us part', and then get divorced and just shrug it off, and go right into another serious relationship."

Nick said, "Yesterday morning, I was in a coffee shop.  This young, attractive woman smiled at me.  If I hadn't had to go into work, I probably would have invited her home."  He quickly defended, "I wouldn't have really wanted to, but...."

Starsky looked over at him.  "I guess it's not like you and Lanette have made any promises to each other."

Nick drew a quiet breath.  "I want her to be my woman, like I'm her man.  I don't want to fool around on her.  But with us sometimes seeing each other maybe one weekend a month...."

Starsky soothed, "If you two really care about each other, you'll figure it out.  But if it's really only one-sided...."

Nick's gaze lowered to the floorboard.  "It's hard to know."

"Maybe you should just outright ask her.  Ask her what her intentions are after the divorce is final.  Ask her if she loves you.  Ask her if you two have a future together."

Nick drew a breath.  "I thought we were on the same page a few months ago.  She seemed really open to me.  Now, it's almost like she was when we first knew each other.  She seems to be holding herself back from me, hesitant to share much."

Starsky finished off his bagel.  "Maybe she realized how close you and her were getting, and it scared her.  You know, the Hutchinsons aren't an emotional family, in the least."

Nick looked over at him.  "What about you and Hutch?  How did you get him to be open with you?"

Starsky grinned fondly.  "It was different with us.  Hutch was wanting to reach out.  He'd seen enough of the world outside of his home, by then, that he was angry about how he was raised.  He was looking for something else.  I came along and gave him attention he wasn't used to getting.  He was married, but all he had his wife did was fight.  He'd always had friends but, you know, I had my own hard shell in some ways, but he intrigued me.  Once he'd shown how tough he was at the academy, I wanted him for a friend, so that became a goal of mine.  Once I saw how eager he was for physical attention -- I mean, just squeezing him on the shoulder and smacking him on the rear, that kind of thing -- I catered to that, and he got fond of me real fast.  He started to return in kind."

Nick grunted. 

Starsky looked over at him.  "I don't get the impression that Lanette is looking to be a more emotional or affectionate person.  Hutch has indicated that she was angry, too.  But she seems to have turned her anger into a drive for success.  Which I guess is more in line with the family history.  She's always been an independent sort.  She seems pretty determined to never need anybody."

"Maybe that's it," Nick said.  "She's afraid of needing me.  I don't mind that she's more successful than I am.  I like that she's her own woman.  I'd just like to think we can be together because we enjoy each other's company, not because we need each other."

Starsky drew a breath.  "I hope it works out, Nick, because you want it to.  I just...."  He wondered if he really wanted to say what was on his mind.

"What?" Nick pressed.

Starsky shrugged.  "The Hutchinsons have a long history of infidelity.  You and Lanette hooked up in the first place when she was married and saying she was going to stay married, no matter how lousy her marriage was.  If you two stay together... I'm not sure if she knows how not to stray."

He could sense Nick becoming more tense beside him.  Flatly, Nick asked, "Hutch has fooled around a lot?"

"No.  Never.  Not on Vanessa, and not on me.  But he was angry about how his parents behaved in their marriage, so he was determined to not ever be like that."  Starsky snorted fondly.  "Even after the divorce was official, I had to prod him, at first, to get him to go out with other girls.  Finally, he loosened up."  He shrugged.  "I'm just saying that Lanette was unfaithful by being with you, so if she continues to the pattern...."

Nick declared, "If Hutch can buck the family history, then Lan can, too."


It was indeed mid morning when Hutch showed up with a homemade sandwich for Starsky, and some soft drinks. 

After Starsky had scarfed down the sandwich, he said, "Surely, she's not going to stay inside all day on a weekend."

Hutch didn't reply, but said, "Oh, Mike called this morning."


"Darla has a swollen ankle, so she's going to miss training for about a week."

"I wonder how that happened."

"He acted like it was an everyday thing.  He's wanting to point her toward a Cal-bred stakes around mid August.  It's only seven furlongs -- a long sprint -- but he thinks she'll be able to handle the competition."

"It's always more fun to win," Starsky said.  She'd picked up decent money with her recent graded stakes races, but nothing felt like winning, even in a lower quality race. 


Starsky was finishing off a soft drink, when he saw a young, red-haired woman trotting out of the apartment building.  "I think that's her."

Hutch took the photograph off the dashboard and glanced at it.  "We're in action, buddy."

Starsky started the Corvette, while watching Ashley Marshall get into a beat-up green Toyota. 

They followed her to a seedier part of town. 

After she parked at a curb by a school, Starsky said, "She's gonna score." 

Hutch picked up Starsky's camera and began taking pictures.

In less than two minutes, Ashley had walked up to a black man hanging outside the empty schoolyard, reached into her purse a couple of times, and then gone back to her car. 

She spent the next hour running various errands, including making a stop for gas and cigarettes.  Then she went home.

Pragmatically, Starsky asked, "You want to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume the drugs aren't for her?"

Hutch grunted.  "I want to give Mr. Marshall a firm answer as to where the money is going, and his daughter's situation.  I say, we wait an hour, and then I'll pick up some flowers.  I'll pretend I'm delivering them to the wrong apartment.  Maybe you can stand back with a camera and gets some pictures, if she answers the door.  We can say you're taking the pictures for a brochure for the flower company."

"Sounds like a plan."


An hour later, Hutch stood at the door to apartment 322, with a bouquet of flowers in hand.  For the third time, he knocked on the door.

Finally, he heard a lazy, "Who is it?"

"I've got some flowers for you, Ma'am." 

He heard the chain slide back.  The door opened, as a sleepy-looking Ashley asked, "Flowers?  From who?"

"You would have to read the card, Ma'am.  But these are for Theresa Robertson."  Hutch heard Starsky snapping pictures.  The hall was light enough, with sun shining through a window, that the flash didn't go off, and Ashley didn't appear to notice. 

Hutch tried to get a look at her arms, as she said, "Theresa Robertson?  There's no one here by that name."

She had three-quarter sleeves.  Hutch's eyes darted lower and he noticed something else that bothered him, since it apparently didn't bother her.  He projected embarrassment with his voice.  "Isn't this apartment 322 on 1411 Glencoe Street?"

She shook her head impatiently. "No, no.  This is 1413 Glencoe Street.  You have the wrong apartment building.  Go away."  She shut the door.

Starsky and Hutch left the building in silence.  When they were outside, heading toward the Corvette, Starsky asked, "You think it's heroin?"

"Yeah.  It's certainly not uppers."

"If she's gonna be stoned all weekend, she must be in pretty deep."

Hutch said, "She was having her period and bleeding through her jeans."

Starsky glanced at him while standing next to the Corvette.  "If she has that much lack of attention to personal hygiene, it's a wonder she can even keep her job at Taco Bell."

"She only has four-hour shifts."

"Well, at least we've found out what we needed to.  I'll drop the film off at the photo shop."

Hutch nodded toward his own car.  "I've got a few errands to make in town, and then I'll be home."


Mr. Marshall was out of state all week, and hadn't been sure when he'd be able to check in to see if they found out anything. 

On Monday afternoon, Starsky was in his office, using the spreadsheet on his computer.  He had actually become pretty adept at using the computer for various tasks.  Hutch had, too, though trying to print data out still gave him headaches, because he could never seem to line up the paper just right, and Lois often had to come in to help.

Through the open door between their offices, Starsky was hearing Hutch talking to one of the law firms that frequently used their services.  After the business conversation had wound down, there was obviously some talk about Darla, as the attorney had been to their office and seen the article and win photos framed on their wall. 

After a while, Hutch's voice brightened and said, "No, no, never owned a riding horse.  I had some friends when I was a kid that had horses, as well as a grandfather, so I learned to be a decent rider, I guess.  Just never rode on any kind of regular basis....  Uh-huh...  Uh-huh...  I don't think I've ever seen an Arabian in person, but just on TV.  They're beautiful horses."

Hutch listened a while longer, and then said, "Actually, the best ride I've had in my life was within the past year.  Last fall, my partner and I were on a road trip, and were able to ride at a rental place.  I got to ride the guide's horse, Poncho.  He was incredible.  Started and stopped with just the slightest cue.  He was a beautiful Appaloosa.  I think they call them blue roans?  He had the white blanket over his hindquarters and the big black spots.  I've seen some really ugly Appaloosas, but Poncho was in a whole different class."

Starsky thought back to how Hutch's face had glowed during the ride, and how his head had shot up when it was mentioned that Poncho was for sale.  Though he had quickly blown off the idea. 

Hutch could be heard writing.  "Plaudit's Blue Poncho, by Prince Plaudit?  Well, who knows, maybe they're related.  I certainly don't know anything about Appaloosa bloodlines.  I don't even really know anything about Deep Water's bloodlines," bashful chuckle, "except that they're good."

Starsky was no longer seeing the numbers before him. 

Last week, he had gotten ill for the first time since almost dying from the Herpes B virus.  Thankfully, the illness had passed quickly.  During that short time, Hutch had pampered him and babied him, rubbed his back, brought him meals.

He seemed okay about me being sick.  Not like it scared him, or brought back all those old feelings of losing me.

Nor had Hutch acted like having to cater to Starsky's weakness was an annoyance.  Hutch had been as loving as he'd ever been when Starsky had been much more seriously ill or injured.

Starsky felt warm all over.  We've always taken care of each other.  That's always been number one with us.

They had a relationship that was far superior to any Starsky had ever known.  We try our best to relish every moment we have with each other.

"Yeah," Hutch was saying into the phone, "be sure and call if you ever want to do that.  I don't know if Starsky will want to come along, because he's never been too keen on the riding thing, but I'm always up for a chance to ride, since the opportunities are so infrequent.  I'd love to see what an Arabian is like."

When Hutch hung up a few moments later, Starsky called over his shoulder, "What was that all about?"

Hutch came to stand in the doorway.  "Doug Frisk has a brother-in-law that raises Arabian horses up north, and he was talking about inviting us out for a ride sometime."  Hutch grunted.  "Who knows if it'll ever happen."

"Sounds like you guys were talking about Appaloosas, too."

"Yeah, his wife's family raised Appaloosas before Arabians.  Early in the marriage, Doug got involved with showing some of them.  When I mentioned Poncho, he wondered if he was related to some horse called Plaudit's Blue Poncho, who was a son of some famous Appaloosa called Prince Plaudit.  Sounds like he really knows the bloodlines.  Said that sometimes he thinks about getting into raising horses himself, when he retires."

Distractedly, Starsky said, "Well, maybe he'll call about a ride sometime." 

He really wished he could somehow provide Hutch with more frequent participation in the recreation that he cherished so much.


The next evening, Starsky was cleaning out their clothes closet.  The Salvation Army had called and said a truck would be in their neighborhood on Thursday, and they would appreciate donations of clothes and any household items that were still useful. 

Hutch had gone to the plant store, so Starsky made his own decisions about which of their clothes hadn't been worn in a long time, and could therefore be donated to charity.  He also took the opportunity to organize the closest, which had become severely cluttered over time

Starsky picked up a suitcase from the corner, intending to toss it up to the top shelf.  The suitcase was only partially zipped, and the top hung halfway open when Starsky grabbed it.  Brochures fell out.

Starsky dropped the suitcase and bent to pick up the brochures.  He moved out of the closet to the bedroom where a small trashcan was.  He browsed through the folded leaflets, which were from last fall's vacation. 

He kept one, and threw the others away. 


Mr. Marshall arrived at the office as their first appointment the following Monday morning.  Hutch introduced him to Starsky, and they all moved to sit at a circular table in the corner of Hutch's office.

Hutch removed photographs from a manila envelope.  "Mr. Marshall, I'm afraid the situation is as you feared.  We started surveillance on Ashley Friday evening, when she got off work.  On Saturday morning, both Starsky and I witnessed her leaving her apartment," Hutch put the appropriate photo on top, "and going to a school a couple of miles away, where a drug dealer was waiting."  Hutch put the top photograph underneath the stack, and spread out the next three on the table.  "You can't see what changes hands in the photographs, but we know from our experience on the streets that it was a drug transaction.  It took less than two minutes.  Ashley then went on a few errands.  Then she went home.  We invented a ruse a delivering flowers to her apartment, so we could determine if she was under the influence of drugs."

Starsky gathered up the photographs, and Hutch laid out the next few.  "It's hard to tell from these, but I went to the door, and when she finally responded to my knocking, she was clearly under the influence of some kind of narcotic.  She was very tired and inexpressive.  She didn't even notice Starsky taking pictures."

Mr. Marshall studied the photographs.  "My God.  So, she's buying drugs from unsavory characters, and going home and using them?"

"It appears so," Starsky said.  "What's most concerning is that she was taking the drugs as soon as she got home.  It's not like she was waiting to party with friends that night.  Plus," he shifted with discomfort, "we're concerned about her lack of personal hygiene, which would also point to a serious drug problem."

Hutch said, "Sorry to mention this, but she was menstruating and bleeding through her jeans."

Mr. Marshall sat back heavily.  "Dear God.  My little Ashley.  How could she have grown up to become something like this?"

Gently, Starsky said, "She may have taken some drugs at a party or something and decided she liked the high.  Nobody ever intends to get addicted.  Everyone has a different body chemistry.  People get addicted at different rates."

Mr. Marshall asked, "Do you know what kind of drugs she's using?"

Hutch said, "My guess would be heroin, from her behavior at the door.  It's possible she could be using others, too."

"Heroin.  My God.  That has to be the worst."  He looked at them helplessly.  "What do I do now?"

Starsky replied, "First, understand that if her addiction has taken over, you can't talk to her rationally.  It's not like you can give her a firm talking to about how she has to stop.  In lucid moments, she might hate what she's doing and agree that she has a problem, but addiction is going to win out over willpower.  She'll lie -- say anything -- to keep herself being able to buy drugs."

Hutch said, "You need to contact a drug treatment program.  They'll give you advice on how to deal with her.  It might be a situation where you offer to take her somewhere she wants to go, but you actually take her to a treatment program.  If you tell her your intentions ahead of time, she'll probably deny she needs any help and refuse to go into treatment."

Mr. Marshall shook his head.  "Nobody in my family has never had to deal with anything like this.  I never thought... my own daughter...."

Hutch lowered his voice.  "Mr. Marshall, she's going to need a lot of support to help her get through treatment.  What she doesn't need is judgment, or to feel that she's a bad person.  This may have happened through no fault of her own.  It's possible that somebody gave her something without her even realizing it.  I'm just saying that you need to focus on her needs, and how to help her overcome this."

Softly, Starsky said, "Unconditional love will go a long way.  If she has that, she'll want to fight to get better."

"All right.  I'll go home and make some calls.  What do I owe you?"

"We'll be sending an invoice in a few days."

They all stood and shook hands.

"Let us know how she's doing," Starsky said.

Hutch added, "Don't hesitate to call us if you think we can be of further help."  He opened his office door.

After Mr. Marshall made his exit, Hutch closed the door behind him, and he and Starsky sat back down.

Starsky said, "Man, I hope everything works out."

Hutch released a heavy sigh.  "Yeah."  He gathered up the photographs, realizing that Mr. Marshall hadn't given any indication of wanting to take them with him.

Starsky gazed at him a long moment.  "How are you doing?"

Hutch looked up and shrugged.  "Better than him.  Certainly, better than her."


Hutch's mouth corner twitched as he fiddled with the clasp on the envelope, having placed the photographs inside.  "Just wish... everyone going through something like that, could have someone like you helping them through it."  He stood and tossed the envelope to his desk. 

Still seated, Starsky reached to take Hutch's hand.  "Sometimes I wonder if I should have taken you to some kind of treatment center.  It probably wouldn't have been so rough on you."

"You know as well as I do that it would have been the end of my career.  Maybe yours, too."


Hutch turned to Starsky and squeezed his hand.  "Any kind of treatment center wouldn't have had your special ingredient.  Plus, you said in your book how much going through that bonded us together."  Hutch's heart beat softly.  "You never judged me.  Never thought less of me."

"Course not.  It wasn't your fault."

"I hope Mr. Marshall can get over his shock and dismay, and give her the love and support she needs."

"I think he will."

Hutch's phone beeped, and Lois's voice said, "Ken, I'm reminding you about your appointment at the dentist at ten."

Hutch reached to grab his jacket from the coat rack.  "Oh, right.  Thanks, Lois."


Starsky went back to his own office.  After Hutch left for the dentist, he waited to hear Carlos get off the phone of the desk placed at the back of the reception area, which was surrounded by a couple of office dividers.

Starsky moved to the doorway of his office.  He called, "Hey, Lois, Carlos?  I need to meet with you both."

Within a couple of minutes, they were both seated before his desk with curious expressions.

Starsky sat in his office chair and leaned forward, clasping his hands.  "I want to talk to you about a secret I need help keeping from Hutch."


On Saturday, near noon, Hutch moved from plant to plant, giving each water.  Starsky had left the house a while ago, with a muttered, "Going to shop for some new clothes", after asking a lot of questions about when Hutch was going to leave to do the grocery shopping.  Hutch hadn't been in the mood and said he'd do it tomorrow.  When Hutch questioned why Starsky seemed so concerned about the groceries, Starsky had shrugged and said, "Sandwiches taste better on fresh bread."

Hutch heard a car drive up and moved to the kitchen, and then to the office, where he could push the curtain aside to look out the window.

Nick was trotting up the stairs, with a manila envelope in hand.

Hutch opened the front door as Nick reached it.  "Hey, Nick."

"I brought by these photographs and my report for the Wagner cheating spouse case, since Mrs. Wagner is coming into the office on Monday, when I'm at work."

Hutch accepted the envelope.  "Okay, thanks."  He held the door open.  "You want to come in for some coffee?  Your brother's not here."

Nick's gaze was lowered.  "Yeah, sure."

Hutch lead the way to the kitchen, where he had the coffee on.  "Help yourself."  As he watched Nick reach to the cupboard for a cup, he asked, "So, it was a pretty straightforward case?"  He sat at the kitchen table.

"Yeah, her husband spent the night in a hotel room with the same woman a couple of nights last week, when he was supposedly out of town."  Nick stirred cream into his coffee.  "I think Mrs. Wagner knows who the woman is, so she'll be able to confirm it when she sees the pictures."  He sat across from Hutch.  "I think it's, like, her cousin or something."

Hutch groaned.  "Nothing quite like keeping it in the family."

Nick drew a slow breath, and Hutch realized that it hadn't been the most sensitive statement for him to make.

Nick leaned forward.  "Can I talk to you?  About Lan?"

Hutch remembered Starsky saying a couple of weeks ago that Nick was starting to question his relationship with Lannie.  He shrugged.  "You can talk.  Don't know that I'll be much help.  She and I aren't exactly close."

Nick gazed at the table top.  Then he said, "She has a way of pushing people away from her."

"No kidding," Hutch said dryly. 

Nick looked up.  "She doesn't mean to.  She just has that blunt way about her."

Hutch crossed his arms.  "Tell me something that I don't know."

Nick grimaced.  "David says that I should ask her outright about us.  If we're going anywhere."  He glanced away, muttering.  "I'm scared to do death to do that.  What if she says no?"

Hutch furrowed his brow.  "She wouldn't say that, unless she meant it.  Lannie doesn't lie.  It's more than she withholds truths."   He shifted in his chair.  "So, if she said no and meant it, then you'd know that you're wasting your time with her."  Hutch changed his tone to one of curiosity.  "You two seemed to be doing pretty well together, when Dad died."

Nick nodded eagerly.  "Yeah.  I thought so, too.  But then, it's like she's sort of gradually gone back to not necessarily wanting to spend weekends with me.  Like-like I'm not that important."

Hutch drew a long breath.  "I don't know what to tell you, Nick.  Long distance relationships have to be tough.  If you're both serious, one of you is going to have to bite the bullet and relocate."

"Do you think it's possible that she's waiting for something from me?  Like, testing me to see if I'm committed enough to her?"

"I don't think she's that manipulative.  Don't overlook the obvious.  She's going through a divorce.  That's no small thing, no matter how bad the marriage was.  The reason she put off divorcing Jeffrey so long in the first place, was because she didn't want to go through all the hassle.  Now she's immersed in the hassle.  Give her a chance to get her equilibrium.  To be bluntly honest, I don't think that you two got involved under the best of circumstances.  I'm a believer that you don't start a new relationship until you're completely past the old one." He muttered, "Of course, where you two are concerned, that's closing the barn door long after the horse is gone."

Nick stirred his coffee. 

Hutch went on, "In my opinion, probably the best thing you can do is back off.  Give her a chance to settle in to the idea of a life without Jeffrey.  Maybe you should outright tell her that you're going to give her some space."

"But then I'm afraid she'll think that I don't care about her.  Or that I'm wanting to mess around with other women."

"Look, Nick, what I do think Lannie is capable of is stringing you along, because you let her.  She just might need to be backed into a corner so that she has to make a decision about you, one way or another.  But I don't think it's fair to do that until, say, a few months after the divorce is final."

After a long silence, Nick said, "What I'm most afraid of is that, even if she doesn't want to lose me, she won't admit it to herself."

Hutch sighed.  "Maybe so.  But you can't let yourself be a kicking ball for her whims.  Tell her that you care enough about her that you'll always be here, if she decides she wants you badly enough.  Until then, you're going to go on with your life."

Nick drew a hesitant breath.

Hutch tried a smile.  "You know, there's that saying about setting something free, that you love.  If it comes back to you, then it yours.  If it doesn't, it never was.  You're going to have to find the courage to set her free."

Nick's cheeks billowed with a heavy sigh.

"After all," Hutch continued, "you guys pretty much split up before, right?  And then you got back together when you called her to tell her about me being shot?"

Nick rubbed his lower lip while gazing at the wall.  "Yeah.  That's a good point."


On Tuesday, Hutch entered the office suite, after returning from visiting one of their lawyer clients.

Lois was on the phone, and she looked up at Hutch with wide eyes.  She quickly said into the phone, "You have the wrong number.... I'm sorry, sir but you have the wrong number."  She abruptly hung up. 

"Where's David?" Hutch asked, as he headed for his office, noting that Starsky's was dark. 

"He went out for a few things, plus he had an appointment.  He doesn't expect to be back until after lunch."

Hutch furrowed his brow as he proceeded to his office, not recalling any particular appointment Starsky had mentioned having.  Before long, he was immersed in his own workload.


A few days later, Starsky and Hutch were sitting down to a dinner of roast beef, corn, and green beans.

Starsky asked, "Did you see that message from Mr. Marshall about his daughter being in rehab?"

"Yeah," Hutch replied.  "I sure hope she can kick it."


After they spent a few minutes eating, Hutch asked, "Do you see Lois making a lot of personal phone calls?"

Starsky shrugged.  "I know she talks to her daughter at times and, you know, sometimes has calls concerning doctor's appointments for her granddaughter and stuff like that.  Why?"

"I guess she's embarrassed about it.  I've walked into the office a couple of times, and she suddenly starts acting like the caller has the wrong number.  But when I walked in, I know she was having a conversation with them."

"Well, she likes to be professional."

Hutch waited until Starsky looked up at him.  Then he said, "Maybe we should talk to her, let her know it's okay to have some personal phone calls in the office.  It's not like it's a problem, or preventing her from doing her work."

Starsky gave him a lopsided smile.  "I'll talk to her.  I have to be in early tomorrow to finish something I'm typing on the computer.  She likes me more than you, anyway."

"Ha, ha."  Hutch hardly agreed with that statement.

Starsky chuckled.


When Hutch walked into the office a few days later, Lois's desk was empty, which meant she was at lunch.  Carlos was at his desk, and Hutch could see that the lights in Starsky's office were out. 

"Hey, Carlos, where's David?"

Carlos barely glanced up.  "He had some appointments.  Said he might not be back for a while."

Most of their work at the present time involved doing a lot of phone calls, and pulling together information from documents that they had in the office.  Puzzled, Hutch asked, "Is he doing something with that Ruiz case?"

"Huh?  No.  As far as I know, we're still waiting on something to pop from the newspaper ads we've been running.  I know of a couple of people that have claimed to be witnesses to the accident, but they didn't pan out."

"Then where did David go?"

Carlos shrugged without meeting his eye.  "New clients, I guess."

Hutch felt flustered, but it wasn't fair of him to badger Carlos, since Carlos wasn't in charge of running the office. 

He went into his own office and dialed Starsky's car phone. 

"Hello?"  Starsky greeted.  He was hard to hear because of an open air noise, as though he were driving fast on a highway.

"Where are you?"

"Doing some running around.  What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong.  I just wondered where you are, since we've got plenty of work here in the office to do."

"Somebody wanted me to meet with them at their house, but it was a never mind.  She'd already changed her mind about having her husband tailed, by the time I arrived.  She was way out on Norfolk Street.  And then I went to the eye doctor, but they told me my appointment was next week, not this week.  And then they thought they could get me in, anyway, because they thought they had a cancellation at twelve-thirty.  But then it turned out that the guy showed up.  So, that was a wasted hour.  I'm going to stop for something to eat, and then I'll be back, Hutch."

That all sounded so convoluted.  "If you wouldn't have hightailed it out of here to see the lady on Norfolk, we could have put her on the schedule for somebody to handle tomorrow, and then she would have called to cancel, and you wouldn't have wasted all this time."

"Sorry.  She just sounded frazzled, so I thought I should handle it right away."

"How come you didn't send out Carlos?"

Subdued, Starsky said, "He had plenty of phone calls to make on the Jefferson case.  And since I thought I was going to have to leave for the eye doctor appointment...."

Hutch snapped, "Let Lois tell you when your appointments are.  It messes up all the scheduling when you just up and take a job like this.  I'm ready to pull all our findings together for the paint factory case, and now I've got to wait another fucking hour for you to show up."

"I'm sorry, Hutch.  I was just in the mood for getting out of the office, so...."

Hutch heard the door to the suite open, and assumed it was Lois returning from lunch.  He quieted his voice.  "Well, hurry up and get here."

"I'll bring lunch.  What do you want?"


Starsky sighed as he hung up the car phone and wondered how fast he could return to the office.  He was going to have to make up a story about a traffic jam.

Hopefully, he wouldn't have to keep up these pretenses much longer.

Starsky really did feel bad about the scheduling thing.  When they had first opened their new office, Hutch had talked about them both planning who was going to take which jobs each day.  Starsky had merely nodded his head, because he knew from far too much experience what was going to happen.  Hutch needed to be the boss in deciding things.  It made him feel secure.  So, over the course of those first few weeks, Hutch made more and more of the decisions, while Starsky merely grunted agreement.  Now, without anything ever being said about it, Hutch alone was in charge of scheduling the jobs.  He kept a dry erase board on his office wall, where all their current jobs were listed, and got with Lois each afternoon before she left for the day, to find out what new calls had come in.  If necessary, he checked with Carlos and Starsky, and sometimes Nick, to see which of the day's jobs needed to be carried into the following day.

Therefore, when Starsky took a job of his own volition, however fictional that job was, it was messing with the flow of how the office operated.

At least, Hutch wasn't one to stew for long.  Once Starsky arrived at the office, being cheerful and upbeat, Hutch would forget about his annoyance.


Hutch hung up the phone, and called through their connecting door, "Starsk!"

Starsky came to stand in the doorway.  "Yeah?"

"I just got off the phone with West Bank Mortgage.  They want to meet with us about doing drive-bys on homes with delinquent mortgages."

"Oh, that's great."

"Yeah.  I think it was just Monday that Lois finished mailing out the brochures we had printed up."

"When do they want to meet?"

"The guy has to check in with someone else, and he'll call back with a time.  We might need to hire another person or two, depending on how many houses they give us.  In the meantime, depending on how quickly they want to get started, we might have to do a lot of the initial legwork ourselves."

"I'm all for that, if it gets our foot in the door.  Besides, we probably ought to get a good feel ourselves for just what's all involved in a day of running down properties."


"Hey," Starsky said, "while you were on the phone, I finally got a hold of Mike.  He said Darla's back to training, and he's aiming for the seven furlong Cal-bred stakes on August 13th, which is a Thursday."

"Great," Hutch said.  Today was Tuesday, and that was a couple of weeks away.

"You know, I was thinking about your cousin, Patricia, and her daughter, Julie.  Maybe we should invite them out for the race."

Hutch was thoughtful. "Yeah," he said distantly.  "We can ask."

"What's wrong?"

"Back in Minnesota, after you and I came out of my mother's room, and were heading to the stairs, we passed the guest bedroom.  I'm pretty sure I heard Julie say to her mother, something like, 'You said that queers don't love each other the way men and women do.'  I think Patricia said, 'I don't think they do.'"

Starsky considered that.  "So, her mother's wrong.  They were both nothing but polite to me, so even if Patricia does sincerely feel that way, I don't think she'd hold it against us."  When Hutch didn't say anything, Starsky prompted, "Let's just invite them and see what happens."

"Yeah.  Okay."

"Besides, since Julie's such an expert on horse racing, I'd like to let her take a stab at sorting through all those stud offers we've had for Darla."

Hutch snorted, "That's a lot of responsibility to put on a young teen's shoulders."

"She'd love it.  Besides, it would just be giving us an opinion.  Doesn't mean we'd have to stick to it when the time comes."

"Okay, I'll look up their number tonight."

Outside their offices, they heard Lois say, "Hi, Nick."

"Hi, Lois.  Are they in?"

Starsky moved to the front of Hutch's office and stuck his head out the door.  "Hi ya, Nick."

Nick approached.  "You had a surveillance job for this afternoon?"

"Yeah, come on in."

Starsky sat in a chair before Hutch's desk, and Nick took the second chair, looking glum. 

"What's wrong?" Hutch asked.

Nick shifted with discomfort.  "I took your advice and told Lan that I was going to give her some space to get through the divorce.  There was a long silence, and then she said 'fine, if that's what you want', and hung up."

"Come on, Nick," Starsky said, "if it's meant to be, you guys will end up back together."

Hutch asked, "When was that?"

"Last night."

"See?" Starsky pressed.  "Not even twenty-four hours have gone by.  It'll work out all right."

Nick didn't reply, but nodded at Hutch's desk.  "What have you got for me?"

Hutch took a file folder and held it out.  "This could just be a one-shot.  The husband is serving on the city art committee, and they've been having a lot of meetings lately.  The wife thinks he's spending time with a female member of the committee, who is also married."  After Nick had reached to take the folder, Hutch continued, "'There's another meeting this afternoon at six, that should last an hour.  If you can get them coming out of the meeting together, and then maybe going to a hotel.... then our work is done."

"Okay," Nick said flatly.

"Hey," Starsky said, "if you want more work, we might have a lot more in the near future.  We think we're going to land a contract with a mortgage company, like we've mentioned before.  There could be a lot of legwork, going out to properties, and getting evidence as to whether they're still occupied."

Nick nodded, his voice still bland.  "Yeah.  I think I'd like to stay busy."

Hutch and Starsky exchanged a worried glance. 


On Friday morning, Hutch rolled over in bed and reached around Starsky to place his hand over his groin. 

Starsky picked up his hand and moved it away.  "Nope, nope, nope."

Hutch groaned in protest at the unexpected rejection.

Starsky rolled over onto his back.  "Sorry, buddy boy, but we've got other plans for this morning."

Hutch furrowed his brow.  "What?"

Starsky grinned.  "We're playing hooky today.  We're going to take a road trip."

Drowsily, Hutch said, "We can't do that.  I've got appointments this morning."

"No,  you don't.  Lois has moved them.  Don't worry.  Lois and Carlos are fully prepared to hold down the fort today."  Starsky sat up and batted at Hutch's face with back of his hand.  "So, get up.  Get dressed.  Casual.  Boots.  No tennis shoes."

Hutch's eyes squinted as he tried to absorb what Starsky was saying.  "Huh?"


It had taken some continuous prompting to get Hutch dressed, fed, and out the door, but finally they were on the road in the Corvette, with the top down, heading east. 

Hutch was now much more alert.  "So, does this trip have something to do with all those mysterious wrong numbers, and you taking some mysterious long trips in the middle of the day, and lying through your teeth about the reasons?"

Starsky looked over at Hutch with a big grin.  "You ought to be a detective."

Hutch snorted.  "Can't say I'm too happy about the fact that the love of my life is okay about telling me bald-faced lies."

"Well, at least I'm still the love of your life," Starsky said cheerfully.  "Besides, the cause is just."

Hutch muttered, "What?  Are we going to some sex cave, or nudist camp, or something?"

Starsky rolled his eyes.  "Sure.  I would have gotten Lois and Carlos involved in a plot to steal you away to some sort of sex cave."   In a lower voice, he admitted, "You do have quite the intriguing imagination, Hutchinson.  That might give me some ideas for your fortieth birthday."

"Well, since we're already headed wherever we're going, why don't you just tell me where we're going."

"It's a surprise.  It's still about thirty minutes before we get there.  I want you to be completely clueless for another thirty minutes, blondie."  Starsky grinned again.  "It's fun."

"For you," Hutch grumbled.

Starsky laughed.


They had been in a rural area for a while. 

Curiously, Hutch said, "There's sure a lot of horse facilities out here."  He nodded ahead.  "That place up there is huge."


A few moments later, Starsky slowed the Corvette and turned onto the lane that lead to the huge property.  The sign said Dusty Creek Riding Stable.  There was a gigantic main barn, various corrals, a couple of smaller barns, and some fenced pastures.

Puzzled, Hutch said, "This doesn't look like a rental horse place."

"Nope, not a rental horse place."

Hutch looked over at Starsky.  "Are they doing therapeutic riding here?"

Starsky pulled the Corvette to a halt in front of the left side of the main barn.  "No, no.  This has nothing to do with that."  After Starsky turned off the motor, Hutch cocked the handle to his door.  Firmly, Starsky said, "You can get out, but you stay right here.  I'm going inside the barn for just a sec."

His heart pounding with excitement, Starsky quickly got out and went into the barn, where there were rows of stalls on either side.  He silently counted as he passed each stall, and then found the sixth one on the right, with a horse saddled and bridled.  He let out a breath of relief that, so far, things were going as planned.  There was somebody moving hay bales with a small tractor at the far end, and he heard some conversation farther away, which he assumed was near the indoor riding arena.

Starsky opened the sliding stall door, which had metal bars on the upper half, and went inside to take the horse's bridle.  "Come on, boy."  He was glad that being around Darla had made him reasonably comfortable in dealing with horses from the ground. 

He led the horse toward the end of the aisle, where the Corvette was waiting outside. 

Starsky grinned widely as he and the horse emerged into the sunshine.  "Here's your surprise, Hutch."

"What?"  Hutch gazed at the horse a long moment.  "Is that... Poncho?"  He looked at Starsky in disbelief. 

Starsky reached into the small saddle bag at the back of the saddle, and found the papers that were there.  He unfolded them.  "Well, technically, his name is Blue Breeze Poncho.  A seven-year-old registered Appaloosa gelding, by Plaudit's Blue Poncho, who is by the famous Prince Plaudit.  This boy's mother is a registered Quarter Horse mare named Six Bars Bessie."

Hutch's mouth was open as he kept looking from Poncho to Starsky.

Starsky forced his voice to be casual.  "Oh, look.  These papers show that Blue Breeze Poncho is owned by a Kenneth R. Hutchinson."  He handed the papers over with a grin.

Hutch took the papers and stared at them.  Then he looked up.  "But... how....?"

Poncho butted his head against Hutch's arm.

Hutch rubbed at his head.  "Hey, there, boy."

Starsky said, "It took quite a bit of effort by a lot of people, but," he watched Hutch scratch at Poncho's ears, "I think it's all been worth it."

Hutch said, "But did that guy at the stable in Wyoming sell him last fall?"

"No.  He never got around to it, before winter hit.  So, he had Poncho turned out at pasture, and thought he'd try to sell him in the spring.  But he never got around to that, either.  So, when I called a month or so ago, because I found the brochure for that rental stable in our suitcase, Poncho was still at pasture.  The rental stable gave me the phone number for the owner.  We talked price, and he agreed to sell him.  But first I had to figure out where he was going to be stabled once he got here.  So, I had to do some legwork and, when it got down to it," Starsky looked around, "there was no question that this stable was the best."

Hutch looked around, as well.  "It's got to cost a fortune to keep a horse at a place like this."

"We can afford it.  Besides, this place has all sorts of advantages."  Starsky nodded at one of the smaller barns.  "Poncho's stall is actually over there.  There's that little corral that extends from the outside of his stall, so it's not like he's penned up in a stall all day.  Plus, if you ask the manager, Clint Foster, to turn him out to pasture for the day, they'll do that.  I think they charge like a two dollar handling fee every time you ask.  And then, they also have an ongoing list of people who take lessons and such, but can't afford their own horse.  So, you can pair up with one of them, if you want, and they can pay, like, a third of the monthly board, in exchange for, say, being able to ride Poncho two days a week.  But Clint says you need to check with him about who would be a good candidate for an agreement like that, because Poncho isn't a beginner's horse."

Hutch's mouth was still open.  "Who's this Clint guy?"

"He's the manager.  He's been really helpful in all of this.  I've been paying him to ride Poncho every day, since he arrived about ten days ago, because he'd been at pasture for a while and was a little rough around the edges.  I wanted to make sure he was going to be well-behaved for you.  Still," Starsky glanced at his watch, "I have a lesson planned for you at ten with Clint, because since you've only ridden the once the past ten years or so, he wants to make sure you don't mess up all the careful training he's done with Poncho."  Starsky eagerly added, "He really likes Poncho."

Hutch drew a heavy breath, but couldn't seem to find the words to say anything. 

"What's more," Starsky emphasized happily, while pointing toward the pastures, "there's a couple of trails that will each give you about an hour's ride, that go up into the hills.  And plus, some of the people here get together on weekends to trailer out for, like, a half day or all day ride at other places. So, if someone has room in their trailer, you can go with them."  Starsky firmed his voice.  "Just don't go taking off like that, without me knowing about it."

A tall, slender middle-aged man, with a cowboy hat, suddenly appeared from the barn.

Starsky said, "Hi, Clint.  Clint Foster, this is my partner, Ken Hutchinson."

They shook hands.

Clint said, "So, I take it you've seen your surprise."

"Yeah," Hutch replied with enthusiasm, patting Poncho on the neck.

Clint pointed to an outdoor corral.  "Be in that arena in twenty minutes, and I'll give you your lesson." 

"Thanks," Hutch said.

Clint disappeared back into the barn. 

Starsky went on.  "They have a huge indoor arena inside this barn, that's well lighted.  It's open until ten o'clock at night, every night.  So, you can ride in the evening, if you want, or even if it's raining.  Plus, there's the smaller outdoor arenas."  Starsky's attention again turned to the open pastures.  "And then there's one of the pastures you can ride in, too.  The other pasture is for horses they have turned out."

Hutch looked around.  "Man, this place is incredible."

"Yeah, that's why I figure it's worth the price."

Hutch narrowed his eyes at Starsky.  "So, what's your plan?  That I come out and ride two or three days a week?"

Starsky shrugged.  "Something like that.  Whenever it can fit into your schedule."

"What are you going to be doing in the meantime?"

Starsky deadpanned, "Inviting my new girlfriend over for some afternoon delight."

Hutch grimaced.

Starsky chuckled, and then sobered.  "Look, I've been wanting to write more on our book.  I even wrote a little chapter a few weeks ago.   I'm hoping you'll want to do some of the research with me on your past, but when I'm actually writing, I'm going to be ignoring you.  So, now you've got something you can do to amuse yourself with, without worrying about boring me in return."  His voice softened.  "You looked so happy when you were riding Poncho at the rental stable.  I figure, why shouldn't you be happy like that nearly every day?"

Hutch lowered his gaze as he stroked Poncho's face.  After a moment, he asked, "Did the tack come with him?"

"Yeah, this is the same saddle and bridle that was used for him at the rental place.  I figure if you want to get some different equipment, you shouldn't have any trouble selling this stuff.  They have a big bulletin board here at the stable.  For that matter, if it turns out that you end up riding Poncho hardly at all, and decide to sell him, it should be easy to do with so many horse people around; plus, having Clint's favoritism."

Hutch muttered, "I'm hardly interested in thinking about selling right now."

"Good."  Starsky nodded toward the corral.  "Let's get ready for your lesson.  I expect this is going to be the only time I watch you ride, because I don't intend to come out here any more.  This is your thing, blondie."


Hutch was at his desk, gazing at all their jobs on the dry erase board, first thing Monday morning.  He had been back out to the stables to ride both Saturday and Sunday, having another lesson with Clint the latter day.  Since he was somewhat self-taught, he respected the older man's expertise at how best to communicate with one's horse.

This morning, he and Starsky had had their weekly exercise session with their personal trainer.  Hutch's leg muscles were already sore from all the riding, so he had lagged a bit.  After a quick shower, he was eager to kick off the week at the office.  Starsky had gone to the print shop to pick up more business cards.

Hutch heard Lois come in. 

She came to Hutch's office door.  "Good morning," she greeted with a smile.  "Did you like your surprise?"

Hutch smiled back.  "Very much so.  Thanks for your participation in the ruse."

"It wasn't easy.  I told David I hoped he wasn't going to ask me to do anything like that again."

"I doubt he'd have reason to."

"It was interesting, though.  I found out, through various conversations, things I never knew before, just like with horse racing when I've read some of the magazines you've brought in, during my lunch hour.  For example, I had no idea that horses all have their different breed associations, unlike dogs.  All the different breeds of dogs are registered with the American Kennel Club.  But with horses, there's the Appaloosa Horse Club and the American Quarter Horse Association.  And the racing Thoroughbreds, like Darla, are registered with an organization called The Jockey Club, of all things.  It doesn't have anything to do with jockeys.  It just registers Thoroughbreds.  And then an Appaloosa can be registered, even if only one parent is an Appaloosa.  And one of the most famous Quarter Horse sires, Three Bars, was actually a Thoroughbred."

Hutch chuckled bashfully.  "You amaze me, Lois.  You already know way more about any of this stuff than I do."

"I don't like it when I'm part of a conversation and don't understand what's being said."

"I don't, either, but I can't imagine picking up information as quickly as you have."

She started to turn away, but then said, "You know what the most interesting fact is that I've found out lately about horse breeding?"

Hutch had no idea.  "What?"

"With the racing Thoroughbreds, they don't allow artificial insemination."

Hutch felt himself blush at the subject matter.

"Even in this day and age, the foals have to be conceived naturally, or they can't be registered.  That just seems odd, when all the other breeds allow semen to be frozen."

Hutch turned to his computer, trying to hide his heated face.  "Huh."

"I'll get a fresh pot of coffee started."  She turned away.


The following Saturday, Starsky was in what used to be their office, which now just had one small desk and the computer. 

He had spread out on the floor the photo albums, diaries, and other materials he had taken from the Hutchinson home last summer, when they had visited for a family reunion.

Where to begin?

He found himself continually drawn to all the various photos of Hutch, as he grew up.  Aunt Bessie's journal also had some brief, but significant notations.

He wondered if, maybe instead of writing a chapter, he should instead put together some of his favorite parts and let Hutch's youth tell itself, so to speak.

The phone rang.

Starsky got to his feet, wondering if it was a wrong number.  They'd kept the second line intact, even though they no longer used it for business, since it was convenient at times, if they both needed to make calls to different people. 

"Hello?" Starsky answered. 

"Yes, this is Win Sheer Video Productions at Hollywood Park.  We've put together the special video you wanted of Deep Water's races.  Your total, with the ten copies, comes to $112.50.  With your permission, we'll take it out of your track account, and mail you the video, or leave it for you to pick up at the track."

Starsky wasn't sure when one of them would get out that way.  "Uh, yes, go ahead and take it out of the track account.  And go ahead and mail the videos to us."

"We'll do that, sir.  11256 Foster Road?"

"That's correct."

"All right then.  Be sure and let us know if you'd like any more custom projects."

"I'll do that.  Thanks."

Starsky hung up and knelt back to the floor.

When he'd asked the video department at the track to make a collage video of all of Darla's races, the man had suggested putting music to the images, to create a music video, like those that were often played on the MTV cable channel.  He'd presented a list of songs, and Starsky had picked out "Eye of the Tiger" from Rocky III and also the theme from Chariots of Fire.   He'd also wanted to use the Kenny Rogers song "Through the Years", but it hadn't seemed apt for a filly that hadn't been racing much longer than a year.

Maybe after Darla had raced a few more years....

Starsky picked up one of the photos albums, which had pictures of Hutch as a toddler.  In a few weeks, Hutch was going to have his fortieth birthday, which Starsky himself had already experienced last March.  They had been so busy, that the day had come and gone without much fanfare, except for favors Hutch did in the bedroom.

Since things were calmer now, Starsky wanted to have a little party of friends and family for Hutch's big day.  He'd already abandoned the idea of a surprise party because, after Poncho, he didn't want to go through the stressful secrecy thing again.

But, Starsky considered while gazing at the photos before him, that didn't mean the party couldn't have a special surprise.

Through the years, indeed.


Hutch shifted in his seat, as he turned onto the highway that ran by Dusty Creek Riding Stable.  His legs ached mildly, and in a wonderful way.

Sometimes a good ride is better than sex, he decided. 

Not that he had to trade one for the other.  Thankfully.

Actually, he considered, he and Starsky weren't having sex quite as often as they had the past few years.  They weren't as tired as they'd been, now that they had the office and employees, but they seemed to have reached a degree of contentment that didn't require as much sex as they'd wanted in the past.

As long as the feeling is mutual, Hutch shrugged to himself.

Even just a year ago, he didn't think that Starsky would have been okay with Hutch taking so much time for himself to go riding.  Just as he himself hadn't always appreciated Starsky spending so much time on the computer to write his book.  When two lives were as intertwined as theirs, it upset the balance when they spent too much time apart.

But not anymore, it seems. 

Hutch rolled that thought around in his mind. 

He decided that it was healthy that they were both more willing to let go.  They had had more intense near-death experiences than the vast majority of human beings would ever experience.  Those experiences had made them desperate to hang on to each other, to keep being reassured of each other's presence in this life.

The need for that reassurance seemed to have eased. 

Hutch wondered if Starsky's willingness to have them spend to much time apart was due to the dream he'd had during their vacation last fall, where Terry had shown him the therapeutic riding center.  Starsky believed whole-heartedly that it meant Hutch was going to be around to see advanced middle age, at least.  Even though, for a few moments in Minnesota the week Hutch's father died, Starsky had believed that Hutch had been killed in an auto accident.

Though Starsky's sleep was still visited by that trauma on occasion, his conscious self had the secure belief the Hutch was going to be around quite a long time.

With that security, Starsky's desire had been to make Hutch even happier than he already was.  So, based upon one ninety-minute horseback ride, he'd decided that making the effort to acquire Poncho was the key to that happiness.

I couldn't have chosen better myself, if he'd asked me.

Hutch didn't think it would have ever occurred to him to mention Poncho -- or any riding horse -- if Starsky had outright asked what could be added to make his life even better than it already was.

I am living the greatest life. 

As it always did, that declaration brought a distant fear.

That I don't deserve it.  Hutch knew that to be the driving thought behind the fear.

He could tell himself that it was silly to feel that way.  But it didn't erase the fear completely.

Starsky was immune to any such fears.  His whole existence seemed to be based upon the desire to make Hutch happy. 

Hutch's eyes watered.  What did I ever do to deserve....

It wasn't the first time he'd ever wondered such.  Always, Starsky was right there, wanting the best for him.  Wanting to see him smile.  Sometimes,  Starsky demanded what he himself wanted -- such as acquiring Darla -- but those things always turned out being to Hutch's benefit, as well.

When first presenting Poncho, Starsky had teased that he'd wanted Hutch away from the house so he could "have my new girlfriend over for some afternoon delight". 

Hutch tried to imagine Starsky having a girlfriend.  Tried to imagine Starsky deceiving him to the degree that he really did have a girlfriend that he was seeing when Hutch was away.

He couldn't imagine it. 

People were fooled by their spouses, and lied to, time and time again, when it came to whether or not they were cheating in the marriage.  Chances were, infidelity was going to strike way more marriages than not.

But Hutch just couldn't imagine the generous, giving, fun-loving, sweet-natured Starsky ever doing something like that to him. 

What he could imagine was a coupling that "just happened", when it hadn't been intended, but he couldn't find any way to believe that Starsky would or could actually have a relationship with someone behind his back.  Yes, Starsky had managed to pull off acquiring Poncho in secrecy.  But giving his love to someone else?

Hutch shook his head.  It's as impossible as the Mojave Desert turning to ice.

Besides, he knew, I'd pull something like that on him before he'd ever do it to me.  He had the genes for it, after all.

Hutch found himself thinking about Nick and Lanette.  Their relationship had been forged in infidelity, and he really didn't see how it wouldn't end up that way... if it continued at all.  Nick hadn't given any indication that Lannie had gotten back in touch after hanging up on him when he'd said he was going to "give her some space."

Hutch wasn't sure if he wanted that relationship to work out or not.  He did find some comfort in the idea of family being nearby.  But even if Nick and Lanette worked things out to the point of eventually getting married, Hutch had a difficult time imagining the relationship ending happily.  Nick had matured as a man of late, but he still was a babe in the woods when it came to serious relationships.  Lannie, on the other hand, knew how to play her cards.  It was difficult to imagine her marrying someone out of love. 

Whereas, love is all that Starsk and I have ever had.  It's been the foundation for everything we are together.

Always and forever, Hutch silently vowed.

He brushed at his eyes. 


When Hutch came home, Starsky was straightening the living room.

Starsky looked up.  "Did you have a nice ride?"

Hutch made two large strides to place his hand on Starsky's chest and push him back against the wall.


Hutch's lips pressed, stilling the ones across from him.

He straightened his arms along the wall, so he could press his full body against Starsky, the desire hot and strong at his center.

When he pulled back slightly, releasing him, Starsky got the message and began to rapidly unbutton his shirt.

Hutch did the same, and then both went to work on their jeans.  Hutch paused to reach up and pinch a tiny nipple through the revealed swirls of chest hair.

Once they were naked, they threw their arms around each other, their lips locked together, and Hutch guided them backwards, toward the sofa.  When he felt it at the back of this legs, he lay down, bringing Starsky on top of him.

Hutch pulled back and gasped, "Remember our first time?"

"Of course," Starsky muttered.  He hoisted himself on his arms, and looked down between them.

Hutch grabbed their cocks in one hand.

Starsky began to undulate.

They both gasped in tune to Starsky's thrusts.

Hutch focused on their cockheads, squeezing them together.

As the sensations built, he reached awkwardly with his other hand, between Starsky's legs, and fingered his asshole.

"Oh, Goddd," Starsky growled, his teeth grit, as he lunged more purposely.

Hutch thrust up, wanting to meet his climax. 

A few moments later, they ejaculated within seconds of each other. 

They lay gasping.

"Mmm," Starsky murmured, rubbing his cheek against Hutch's.

"Mm-hmm," Hutch murmured back.

After a time, Starsky balanced against the sofa, and reached for tissues from an end table.  He wiped at the pooled semen on Hutch's belly.  He tossed the tissues aside and then lay back down, with his head on Hutch's chest.

Hutch held Starsky loosely in his arms, and rubbed leisurely at his lower back. 

Starsky said, "You must have had a nice ride this afternoon."

"It was nice," Hutch admitted.  "There's a lot of people in the indoor arena on weekends, so I took Poncho out to the open pasture.  Galloped him around.  That's such a free feeling.  And he's so willing.  A lot of people comment on what a nice horse he is -- both in looks and how responsive he is to commands."

"So, you're making friends at the stable?"

"Just casual talk, so far.  Oh, one of the stable hands that cleans stalls is a gal that is from South Carolina.  She told me that she used to volunteer at a therapeutic riding center once a week, back home."


"Yeah, but she said they treated the horses terribly."

"What do you mean?"

"She said that they had no idea how to take care of horses.  They'd leave the saddles on them overnight, and stuff like that.  And not have the farrier out to trim their hooves, so their hooves got overly long.  They weren't trying to be cruel, they just didn't know any better.  When she tried to point out things they should be doing to take care of the horses, they just blew her off and seemed puzzled as to why she was concerned.  They were great with the kids, but they seemed to treat horses like tools, rather than as living creatures.  She quit when she couldn't take it anymore.  She said she ended up calling the humane society, but she doesn't know if anything ever came of it."

"Man," Starsky said with concern, "you'd think that people who have a special place in their heart for disadvantaged children, would also have a place in their heart for animals."


More cheerful, Starsky said, "Well, that's all the better reason that you have Poncho right now.  You'll be learning about how to take care of horses, so when we have our riding center, you can be in charge of the horse end of things."

Hutch snorted.  "Somehow, I knew you didn't get Poncho just as a selfless gift for me."

"Definitely not," Starsky muttered with a grin.  After a pause, he softly asked,  "Remember that one time when I hurt your feelings when I said that all you cared about was money?  In fact, that's when we agreed to get Darla.  You were upset and dropped me off at home and disappeared for a couple of hours."  He rubbed at Hutch's chest.  "I didn't know where you were, and I didn't like that.  So, now if you need to disappear for a while for some alone time, I'll have a pretty good idea where you are, and that makes me happy."

Hutch grunted, not sure how he felt about such manipulation, however based in love. 

Starsky mused, "I'm so clever, that sometimes I amaze even myself."

Hutch chuckled.  "You're such a dork."

Starsky reached between their bodies to take his own limp, damp cock in hand.  "This part doesn't have any dorkyness to it.  It makes you feel really, really good."

"No," Hutch had to admit, "that part isn't dorky.  Just the part that's inside your skull."  He reached up to tap Starsky's forehead.

Starsky said, "Oh, hey, Huggy called to make sure we're going to be at his and Annette's wedding in a couple of weeks."

"Didn't we RSVP?"

"Yep.  But he still wanted to call to check.  I think he's getting jittery about the whole thing."

Hutch snorted with amusement.  "It'll be a life changer, that's for sure."

They both fell silent.

And then they kissed leisurely, for a long time.


Starsky looked up from the papers spread about his desk, when he heard Hutch enter their suite.  A moment later, Hutch appeared at the doorway that separated their offices.

Hutch held up a few papers stapled together.  "We've got our first list.  Thirty-two properties to check out."

Since they had other priorities today, Starsky said, "I guess you and I will need to see how many we can hit tomorrow."


Starsky glanced at his desk calendar.  "Guess what today is, blondie?"

Hutch seemed to roll his eyes.  "I've got a calendar, too, goofball.  It's August 1st.  So?"

Starsky read from his calendar, "Pay off mortgage."  He smiled at Hutch.  "It's time.  No more excuses."

Hutch frowned.  "Only if the business is supporting itself.  I'll have Lois pull together some numbers."

Starsky sighed heavily.  "Hutch, of course the business is paying for itself.  We haven't had to put any of our personal money into the business account the past few months, have we?"

Hutch seemed to fidget.  "That doesn't necessarily mean the business is paying for itself.  I need to look at the bills that haven't been paid yet."

Starsky felt his patience waning.  "We aren't behind on our bills.  Every Friday morning, Lois leaves a stack of checks on your chair for you to sign.  I've never heard her say anything about being concerned about something being behind."

Hutch moved into Starsky's office and pushed the outer door closed, since Carlos and Lois both were in the outer office.  He plopped down into one of the chairs.  "It's just so much money."

"It's a heck of a lot more money over the next thirty years, if we have to keep paying the interest."  Starsky firmed his voice.  "Besides, we agreed."  He pointed his finger at Hutch.  "I'm going to get really pissed off if you try to weasel out of this."  More gently, he said, "It's not like the sky is going to fall just because we do ourselves a nice favor and own our house outright.  What are you so afraid of?"

"What if we end up buying some property to have our riding center?  And it's located far away?  We might need to end up moving, so we're closer to it."

Starsky shrugged.  "So?  Then we sell the house or rent it out."

"And now there's Poncho's monthly expenses."

Starsky felt anger brewing.  "Don't talk to me like I'm clueless.  I never would have bought Poncho if he was going to be a financial burden.  I may not be the one paying the bills, but I know how to read a bank statement and look in a check register.  We're financially sound."

Hutch had the grace to look contrite.  Quietly, he said, "All right.  I'll call the mortgage bank and see what the payoff amount is.  Then I'll go down and get a cashier's check and mail it out to them."

With those few words, Starsky softened considerably.  "Good.  If you end up getting sidetracked, make sure you let me know, and I'll do it, instead.  You'll be so much happier to not be making the mortgage payment every month.  You'll see."

Hutch got up to his chair.  "I hope so," he muttered, returning to his own office.


Okay, the deed was done.   Hutch pulled out of the parking lot of the post office, where he had mailed a certified check for some $235,000 to the mortgage company, via overnight service.

He was muttering to himself about how long he'd had to wait in line at the post office, on top of having to wait in line at the bank, on top of having to get a supervisor's approval on an amount that high, even though he'd called his banker ahead of time to give him a heads-up that he needed a certified check for over $200,000.  They were plenty busy back at the office, and he really hadn't wanted to be spending time on an errand like this.

But there wouldn't be any more mortgage payments.  He and Starsky owned their house.  No matter what else happened, no matter what financial hardships might befall them in the coming years, they would always have a roof over the heads.

As Hutch pulled into traffic, he wondered why he had been so resistant to paying off the mortgage, when they were plush with cash, thanks to Darla's earnings over the spring, and Richard Hutchinson having left each of his children $100,000.

Starsky had blamed Hutch's hesitation to do things beneficial to them, on him having grown up feeling that he wasn't worth a wonderful life. 

Hutch wasn't so sure that this particular quirk of his personality was his parents' fault. 

It was more a matter of what life had shown him.  Such as falling in love as intensely as was humanly possible, only to discover that the subject of that love wasn't what she appeared to be, and she had been senselessly murdered, only for reasons of knowing him.

Even worse, was the time four years ago, when he had been certain that he was going to lose Starsky.  Then Starsky had slowly recovered, and it was such a joyous thing when Starsky had been well enough to go out and about.  In fact, one such happy occasion had been when Hutch had taken him to the circus.  Starsky had been bitten by a monkey, which gave him the Herpes B virus, which had nearly taken his life.

So, Hutch defended silently, those were just two examples of how life knocked you down, when you were the most happy.

Except nothing had knocked him down lately.

The worst thing that had happened to him, since they turned in their badges, was that he'd been shot by a stray bullet.  He had fully recovered within six weeks.

Starsky had been right there.

As he always had.  Through all the joyous, happy times before and after that unfortunate incident.

If something horrible happened because of the house being paid off, Hutch decided, Starsky was going to be right there with him for that, too.  So, whatever was so horrible wouldn't seem so horrible.  At least, not for very long.

Hutch swallowed thickly. 

The only truly horrible thing that could happen is if he lost Starsky.  That idea didn't really scare him any more, he realized, because he didn't believe such was going to happen.  They had survived against some incredible odds in all their years together.  He bought into the vision of a long future as readily as Starsky did.

Because I want to believe it.

Maybe that was the difference between himself now and who he used to be.  When facing so much danger, day to day, he hadn't seen any reason to believe in a future.

Now, he wanted to very much.  Perhaps it was time to stop looking for misfortune around every corner that represented elation and happiness.

Hutch allowed a smile.

As of today, they owned a beautiful house, free and clear.


"Here it is," Starsky said. 

Hutch parked the LeBaron at the curb, across the street from 11452 Birch Avenue.  He and Starsky had their first list of houses from West Bank Mortgage, and they decided to spend the day driving around to the houses, so they could see just how much work was involved.  They'd already put an ad in the paper to hire a couple of new employees, and hoped there would be enough work to keep them busy on a regular basis.

They'd already been to two houses this morning, and both were obviously empty.  They took polaroid pictures of all sides of the houses, and the yards, and wrote notes that Lois would later use to type up an official report.

Starsky glanced at his watch, and then marked his notepad. "Okay, it took us seventeen minutes to get here from the last property."

Some of the houses on the list were grouped together in neighborhoods near each other, but others were more out of the way.  If they had more than one employee doing this, then they were going to have to figure out their routes each day.

"My guess is that somebody lives here," Hutch said as he turned off the motor.  The house had an old station wagon parked out front, and the yard was reasonably manicured.

"Yep.  I say we just knock on the door and verify the identity of the person who answers."  Starsky glanced at the list from the mortgage company.  "Should be a Mr. and Mrs. John Engleton."

They got out of their car.  Hutch was feeling some trepidation about having to meet with someone, face to face, who was behind on their mortgage and likely to lose their house.  This project was a whole lot easier when the houses were already abandoned. 

They walked up the concrete steps, and Hutch pushed the doorbell.

After a moment, a frazzled-looking, thirtyish women, with her hair in sloppy curlers, opened the door.  "Yes?"

In a level tone, Starsky asked, "Are you Mrs. Engleton?"

"Yes.  How can I help you?"

Starsky said bashfully,  "Uh, well, we're just verifying that you still occupy the premises."

Hutch said, "We're here on behalf of West Bank Mortgage.  They wanted us to see if somebody still lives here, since the mortgage hasn't been paid a few months."

Distressed, she asked, "Are you here to evict us?"

"No, Ma'am," Hutch said in his most soothing voice.  "That's not our job.  However, I suspect that the mortgage company will be putting eviction proceedings in place very soon, unless you can perhaps work something out with them."

Her eyes brightened.  "Do you think they'd be willing to work something out?  My husband is out looking for work, and I'm sure he'll find something soon.  We have a seven-year-old son and don't have anywhere else to go."

Hutch wanted to kick himself for giving her what was surely false hope.

Starsky interjected, "We don't have anything to do with the mortgage company's decisions.  We're just here to find out if you're still living on the premises.  We won't take up any more of your time."  He started to turn away. 

"Oh," she said, slowly closing the door.

Hutch followed Starsky back to the car.

Once inside, Starsky said, "Tell me again why we thought these were going to be easy jobs?"

Hutch replied, "They are, when nobody's living there."

"This isn't the kind of thing I could do all day, that's for sure."

Glumly, Hutch said, "That's why we're hiring other people to do it."

"Come on, let's go."

"Wait a minute, buddy.  We need to get some polaroids."

"I'm not going to get one of the back.  I'm not stepping onto her property."

"I know, but we can still get the front and the sides.  We've got to be thorough, or the mortgage company isn't going to keep us hired for very long."

Starsky sighed heavily, and then picked up the camera and got out of the car.


On Friday after work, while Starsky was cleaning up the kitchen from their dinner, Hutch hung up the phone.  "Pamela and Julie are going to fly in Wednesday night about seven, and then we'll go down to the races on Thursday, and then they'll fly out first thing Friday morning."

"Great," Starsky said, as he loaded the dishwasher.  "What did they say about inviting Rosie along?"

"They said that's fine.  So, let me call the Dobeys now."  Hutch flipped his address book to another page, and then began to dial.

Starsky said, "That'll be a refreshing change.  Three women in our household."


Monday, mid morning, Starsky was in Hutch's office, on the speaker phone with their trainer, Mike Hawkins.

"Even though there's only five horses in the race," Hawkins was saying, "I don't ever like to assume anything.  The horses still have to run the race.  I just don't see anybody giving Darla too much trouble."

"'That'll be great," Starsky said.  "We'll have a couple of teenage gals with us, along with Hutch's cousin.  It'll make it that much more exciting for them, if Darla can win."

"It's always nice to have a crowd." 

Hutch asked, "Are you going to lay her off again after Labor Day?"

"No, I'll probably wait until around November to give her a break.  She hasn't had a difficult summer, especially with her ankle having set her back a bit, on top of her injury earlier in the year."

"Okay, keep us posted if there's any news.  Otherwise, there will be five of us spending pretty much the whole day there.  We'll probably get there a good hour or two before the races start, so the girls can hang around the barn area, and see what that's like."

"'That'll be fine.  See you then."

Hutch cut the line.

Starsky said, "Man, it's going to be hard not to be overly confident."

"Yeah.  Hopefully, the girls can be in a winner's circle photo with us."

Starsky rose to his feet and took his keys from his pocket.  "I need to split for a while."

Hutch frowned.  "To go where?"

A small grin spread across Starsky's mouth.  "It's a surprise for your birthday party at the end of this month."

Feeling reasonable, Hutch asked, "How can there be a surprise when it's not a surprise party?"

Slyly, Starsky replied, "The presents are still a surprise, even the party isn't a surprise."  His voice softened warmly.  "Your present takes some special planning.  So, see you after lunch."

Hutch watched Starsky turn away, and then heard him say a few departing words to Lois.

He'd already gotten Poncho as a special surprise last month.  What else could Starsky possibly have in mind for him this summer?


That night, they had sat down to dinner, when Hutch asked, "How much have you been writing on your book?"

Starsky shrugged.  "I've been more typing up notes, than writing specific chapters.  I don't know, for some reason, the words don't come to me as easily, like they did before."

"That's because my past isn't your memories.  The words and pictures and memories are from other people."

Starsky was thoughtful.  "Yeah, I guess you're right."  He presented a tiny smile.  "Still like being immersed in it though.  Just wish you'd go through some of the stuff with me."

Hutch presented a smile back.  "I like being out riding my horse.  Surely, you aren't going to begrudge me that."

"No."  Starsky shifted and let out a large yawn.  "I just wasn't expecting you to want to spend every weekend riding him."

"I keep thinking I'll go out on a weeknight, after work, instead, but I don't ever seem to be in the mood enough to make the trip."  Hutch then said, "Unless you wanted to come with me."

"Maybe I will some night.  Just not much exciting for me to do, blondie, but watch you go around in circles in the indoor arena."  Starsky then asked, "What about, like, renting him out to another rider during the week?"

"I might do that.  Clint has a gal he gives lessons to who he thinks will fit Poncho really well.  He's been hinting that he's hoping I'll let her ride him.  I just haven't wanted to think about it much.  But he's such a good horse, he probably ought to be getting more use than I get from him."

Starsky asked, "Do you know the gal?"

"I've seen her around.  Early twenties.  Kind of plain looking and socially awkward.  But apparently, she rides pretty well.  She does reining."

"What's that?"

Hutch wondered how to explain it.  "Remember watching dressage during the summer Olympics?"

"That's where the riders have those prissy outfits, and the horses do those weird moves that nobody understands?"

Hutch grinned.  "Yeah.  Well, reining is sort of the macho, cowboy version of that.  But it's more fun to watch, because the horses gallop, and do sliding stops, and spin around.  The point is to show how obedient the horse is, because it's doing stuff that horses would never do in the wild, just like with dressage.  I was watching some of the horses do their reining patterns when I was out last weekend.  It was kind of neat.  Clint thinks Poncho would be great at it.  He offered to teach me to do some of the stuff, but I can't see getting that involved.  This gal apparently wants to, though."

"Maybe you ought to give her a tryout.  See how she does with Poncho."

"Yeah, I guess so."


 It was past 6:30 on Thursday evening that Hutch held open the door to the house, from the garage, so that Patricia, Julie, and Rosie could enter. 

As soon as they were all inside, Starsky said, "Rosie, call your parents and ask if you can stay the night."  He grabbed the receiver from the wall phone and held it out.

"Okay," she said eagerly.

Hutch reminded, "I haven't heard a verdict from you ladies on whether we're ordering out for pizza or Chinese."

As Rosie was dialing, she said, "I haven't had Chinese in a long time, but I don't really care."

Julie looked up at her mother.  "I say Chinese."

Patricia smiled at her, and then looked up.  "I'd say the verdict is Chinese."

Starsky grabbed a menu from the kitchen counter.  "I'll call it in on the office phone.  While we're waiting for it, Julie, I'll give you a list I have of stallions that are possibilities for Darla, and you can give your input."


After Starsky disappeared into the office, Hutch moved to the refrigerator.  To Patricia, he said, "Would you like a beer?  Maybe we can sit on the back patio and catch up on family gossip."

At the wall phone, Rosie said into the receiver, "Mom!  Darla won by six lengths!  And her jockey gave me and Julie an autographed pair of his goggles!  Can I spend the night?"

Patricia smiled tiredly at Hutch.  "Yes, to both.  I don't need a glass."

Hutch handed her a can, and then led the way to the sliding glass door.  As they stepped out onto the patio, he said, "I'm sure the others can figure out Darla's future boyfriend without us."

They sat on opposite sides of a small table, and Hutch felt the weariness of the long day that had included the six-hour round trip to Del Mar Race Track, outside of San Diego.

Patricia sighed.  "I think I've had enough horse talk for one day.  I'm glad Julie got to do this, though."

"Yeah, David's the one who always remembered how excited Julie was about horse racing.  He wanted to include her."

"He's a very nice man."

"Yeah," Hutch said fondly.  "He's a kid at heart.  And yet, the toughest cop you could ever meet, when we were out on the streets."

She sipped her beer and was thoughtful a moment.  Then, levelly, she said, "You never mentioned anything about Rosie being black."

Hutch slowly put his beer down, quickly reviewing the day's events.  He couldn't recall any moment when he'd felt that Patricia had been unfriendly toward Rosie.  He kept his own voice level.  "Would it have mattered?"

She looked over at him.  "It was just surprising.  Not what one would expect, when a couple of guys say their former police captain's daughter would like to join in the fun for the day."

Hutch realized that she wasn't complaining about Rosie, but only about his lack of warning.  He shrugged.  "It never occurred to me."  He realized he was being unfair to question her surprise.  After all, when he'd first arrived in southern California, he hadn't been accustomed to all the racial and cultural diversity.  "Living and working in a large city for a lot of years, you get used to being around all sorts of people."  He looked over at her.  "I guess I was a bit taken aback by all the different types of people, when I first arrived."  Then he noted, "It didn't seem to bother Julie."

"It's not like she could say anything.  But I want her to have exposure to lots of different people and situations.  That's the main reason I was willing to come out."  She looked squarely at Hutch.  "I don't approve of your and David's type of relationship.  I don't understand that kind of thing.  But I know it's out there in the world, obviously, and it's to Julie's benefit to know the different ways people live."

Hutch couldn't fault her honesty.  "Then I'm glad you're willing to be around our type of relationship, even if you don't approve."  She had asked him point-blank, upon her and Julie being invited out, if he knew for a fact that he and Starsky didn't have the AIDS virus.  Hutch said he had test results showing they were negative, and she didn't say anything more about it.  Though he'd bristled a bit at the question, he couldn't blame her for being concerned about her daughter's health and safety, as well as her own.

Patricia smiled after a moment.  "It's all the better that Darla won."

"Yeah.  She's really been something." 

There was an awkward silence, and Hutch decided to ask, "So, how do you feel about Julie wanting to be a jockey?"

"That's a little daunting.  But I'll be surprised if it lasts.  When I was a teenager, I had a lot of horse crazy friends.  One even had a grandfather that bought her a beautiful Palomino for her birthday.  She only rode it a few weeks.  Then she got interested in boys, and the horse suddenly didn't interest her anymore.  It was pretty much that way with my other friends, too."  Patricia shrugged, "So, it's hard to take Julie's interest all that seriously, at this point."

Hutch sipped his beer, and then said, "That's one of the joys of youth, I guess.  To change one's mind on a whim."

After a extended silence, she looked over at him, "You mentioned the Appaloosa you have.  So, you were always fond of horses?"

Hutch shrugged.  "Not particularly.  I liked horses and I liked to ride.  But I also liked all kinds of other activities." Feeling warm, he added, "Poncho was a surprise that David sprang on me a few weeks back.  We'd had a horseback ride on vacation in Wyoming, and I had ridden Poncho and really liked him.   So, David secretly bought Poncho and had him shipped here."   The warmth intensified.  "He tends to do things like that.  He has such a loving heart."

She gazed at him.  "You get soft all over when you talk about him.  Like you're still in love."  She shook her head  "You don't see many marriages where the spouses speak of each other like that.  I wonder why."

Hutch felt the usual inclination to answer her puzzlement as honestly as he could.  "I've always attributed it to everything we've been through together.  We know we can count on each other.  We trust each other completely.  We had been through some really awful stuff together, and came out the other side, all the closer and more bonded.  Our feelings for each other were never based on external appearances, or wanting to bed each other.  All that came later.  We've had an incredible foundation to build on, once we realized we wanted to be everything to each other, since we much pretty already were."

After a moment, she said, "Just can't imagine how a guy would tell another guy -- if they've never been interested in guys before -- that he wants to go to bed with him."

"It was pretty much a mutual conclusion for us.  Like most things."  Hutch shook his head.  "I've never regretted it, in the least."

"You don't think it's possible that you can meet a woman, and fall in love with her?  Either of you?"  She quickly amended, "I'm probably getting too personal."

Hutch shrugged.  "I know it's normal to be curious about our kind of relationship, especially because of the way it came about."  He snorted gently.  "I don't ever get tired of talking about how much I love David."  He had to think a moment to remember her question.  "As for women, we both still get attracted.  We like to look.  I'm sure if the temptation was strong enough, and the opportunity happened, either of us could fall of the fidelity wagon.  But I think we both cherish what we have together to such a degree, that we really try be aware of what we don't want to happen."  Hutch suddenly remembered, "It even influenced our choice of secretary for the office, when we had the applicants narrowed down to two finalists.  We didn't choose the young, vivacious, attractive woman."  He present a rye grin.

"So, you really expect your relationship to last... forever?"  She sounded skeptical.

Hutch nodded.  "Yeah, I do.  I know it will, if we care enough to nurture it.  We've already been through so much, we know how to get along together, and how to rekindle things, when we've both had reason to get distracted.  What's more," Hutch shifted in his chair, "we've got a long-term goal that we're both really excited about.  We've had some experience with helping handicapped kids, because of a relationship David once had.  We hope to retire early, maybe in ten years, and start an equine therapy riding program."

"Equine therapy?  I've never heard of such a thing."

"Yeah.  We've been reading articles on it.  They call it hippotherapy, when a horse is used for therapeutic purposes.  There's something about the motion of a horse -- even with a person just sitting on it, while someone walks the horse slowly around -- that helps mind/body coordination.  It can help heal muscles and help heal the brain."

"That sounds pretty ambitious," Patricia said with admiration.  "I hope it works out."  Then she marveled, "Yet more horses in your future."

Hutch tilted his head, as he realized, "Yeah, I guess so."  He snorted, and then, "I hadn't really thought about it that way.  You know, all this stuff is separate, to us.  I mean, we got Darla only because a client died on us.  And David got me Poncho as a surprise gift, so I can go out and ride whenever I want.  As for the equine therapy... that's really more a desire to help disadvantaged children, than it is to be around horses." 

They were silent for a long moment, and Hutch could hear voices in the living room, as Darla's first future boyfriend was discussed.

Patricia hesitantly said, "That was really unfortunate, what happened that day, before your father's funeral.  That police officer coming to the house...."

Hutch felt his stomach tighten.  "Yeah," he said flatly.

"David seemed so devastated."

"He was."

"Hard to imagine how he could have managed to continue on.  I suppose he has his brother."

Hutch finally said, "We've both faced death so many times, for ourselves and for each other, that it doesn't seem fair that, when we finally have some peace and stability in our lives, he had to actually think he'd lost me, for however short a time." 

"I guess he pulled through okay."  Her statement sounded more like a question.

"Yeah.  He's always been incredibly resilient."  Hutch decided that he didn't want to share the fact that the incident still disturbed Starsky's sleep at times.

The voices behind them became louder, and then the sliding glass door was opened. 

As Julie, then Rosie, and then Starsky stepped out, the latter said, "Did you know that Darla's father stands stud at the same farm in Kentucky where Secretariat is?"

"Really?" Hutch asked, surprised.

Patricia smiled.  "Well, what do you know."

"Yeah, Claiborne Farm," Julie put in.  "Forli was one of the greatest horses in Argentina."

"Argentina," Hutch repeated.

Julie quickly added, "And then he was imported here, and broke the track record at Hollywood Park.  Then he got injured and was retired to stud in Kentucky."

Rosie giggled at Julie's outburst of knowledge.

Hutch furrowed his brow.  "Wait a minute.  Darla is a California-bred.  So, how can her daddy be standing at stud in Kentucky?"

Starsky shrugged at Hutch and pointed to Julie, who said, "Where a horse is bred is where it's foaled.  It doesn't matter where it was conceived.  You can ship Darla to Kentucky to be bred, and then she can come back here to have the foal, if you want it to be eligible for the Cal-bred incentive program."

Hutch looked at Starsky.  "Would we want to ship her all the way to Kentucky?"

"Not really," Starsky replied.  "The idea of shipping her that far away makes me nervous.  But Julie likes a horse here in California.  His name is Flying Pasty."

"Flying Paster," Julie corrected, opening a magazine to show Hutch.  There was an full page ad of a thick-necked, robust-looking horse.  "He was one of the best horses racing in California the past ten years.  He was retired a couple of years ago, so his foals aren't racing yet."

Puzzled, Hutch said, "He doesn't look anything like a racehorse."

Julie said, "They get fat when they're retired to stud."

Rosie giggled again. "All the stud horses look fat in the pictures."

Starsky put in, "But Julie says we have a lot of options, because Forli doesn't have common bloodlines up close in his pedigree.  So, Darla is easy to outcross with the popular, most successful bloodlines."

"Yeah, like the Bold Ruler line," Julie said.  "Lots of horses are sons or grandsons of Bold Ruler, including Secretariat." 

Hutch hoped that Starsky was absorbing all this.  "So, this Paster horse is from the Bold Ruler line?"

"Actually, he's from the Nasrullah line, and Nasrullah is the sire of Bold Ruler."

"Close enough," Starsky said. 

"What about that horse named Avatar?" Hutch asked.  "His people contacted us about a free breeding.  He won the Belmont, and he's at stud here in California."

Julie said, "There isn't enough speed in his pedigree.  Darla has more distance in her pedigree, too.  You need a foal with more speed, to run shorter distances, from the sire side.   If you breed a horse with Darla's pedigree to a horse like Avatar, you might get a foal that can only run well at really long races, and really long races aren't very common anymore."

From inside the house, the doorbell rang.

Starsky announced, "Food's here!"


Patricia had turned down an offer of the rollaway bed, and was content to sleep on the couch, while the girls took the guest bedroom. 

When Starsky and Hutch were curled up in bed together, Hutch said, "Hard to believe that there's so much thought going into getting Darla knocked up."

Starsky scolded, "Watch your language."

Hutch teased, "Maybe you're not going to be able to handle it, when she gets bred some day.  You'll be wanting to protect her virtue."

"I want her to have babies.  It's just whoever the daddy is, he'd better treat her right."

Hutch refrained from rolling his eyes.  "I imagine her babies will have many daddys.  Horses can have one foal a year, until they're twenty or so."

"I know."  Wistfully, Starsky said, "That'll be so cool, her having a foal some day."

"Yeah, well, when the time comes that she's retired and ready for breeding, I wouldn't be surprised if you get so excited that you start ovulating."

Starsky snorted and punched Hutch in the arm.

"Ouch."  Hutch rubbed at his arm. 

"Dummy."  Then Starsky mused, "I wonder how horses do it.  I mean, what their heat cycles are like."

Hutch fluffed his pillow.  "Surely, you can find a book at the library to check out.  Or, ask Julie.  Just make sure her mother's in the room, if you're going to start talking horse sex."

More seriously, Starsky said, "I'm really glad she got to see all this today.  What a neat thing for somebody as crazy about this stuff as she is."

"Yeah.  I was worried, for a minute there, that Rosie might feel left out, since she doesn't know much.  But they seemed to hit it off pretty well.  It's like Julie is her hero."

"Yeah, I suppose if Rosie starts reading the Racing Form regularly, Dobey's not going to be too happy with us."

Hutch chuckled.  Then he said, "When we were on the patio, Patricia seemed a bit miffed that I hadn't mentioned that Rosie was black.  Didn't even occur to me."

"Why would she have expected you to mention something like that?"

"Thinking about it, I can see why she was surprised.  It's such a white bread, suburban environment where our families come from, that one wouldn't expect a family friend to be black.  I mean, she's fine with it.  She just mentioned that she was surprised, since I hadn't said anything."

Starsky muttered, "Seems an odd thing to say."

"Yeah, but I was like that, too, when Van and I first came out here.  I wasn't used to being around black people, or Hispanic people, or Asian people.  And homosexuals were a mystery to me, and something I preferred to not have anything to do with."  Hutch then said, "Patricia also admitted that she doesn't approve of our relationship.  But she was willing to come out here, because she feels it's good for Julie to get exposed to different situations."

Starsky drew a breath.  "I guess we can't fault her for her honesty."

"Yeah.  She wants to be a good mother.  I think she's doing a good job of raising Julie on her own."

"What's her story, with her divorce?"

"I don't know.  We've never talked about it.  I told her some things about us, and she seemed surprised that I said I expect us to be together the rest of our lives.  It's a hard concept for her to grasp."

Starsky snuggled down against Hutch and rubbed his hand along Hutch's torso.  "It's not a hard concept for me to grasp."  He kissed the back of Hutch's shoulder.  Then his hand moved lower down and grasped Hutch.  "Nor is this."

Hutch smiled warmly.  "Too exhausted, buddy.  Catering to two teenage girls all day wore me out."

"Yeah," Starsky admitted, "me, too."


A few days later, in late afternoon, Hutch was in his office, updating the dry erase board with all their active cases.  He heard the outer door open, and a vaguely familiar voice eagerly say, "I need to speak with Ken Hutchinson immediately."

Lois said, "Let me get him."

Hutch's phone beeped.  "Ken?"

He asked, "Is that Mr. Marshall?"

"Yes.  He wants to see you right away."

"That's fine."

Hutch wiped his hands against his jeans, to clear them of any streaks from the marker he'd been using, and looked up when Lois pushed open his partially open door.  "Here he is."

Hutch held out his hand, next to the conference table.  "Mr. Marshall, how can I help you?"

Collins Marshall glanced over his shoulder while waiting for Lois to close the door behind her.  Then he sat down, as Hutch did.  He leaned forward eagerly, his expression distressed.  "I need you to find my daughter, Ashley.  I don't know where she is."

Hutch furrowed his brow.  "Did she finish the program at the rehab center?"

"No, she left after a couple of weeks.  She told me that she got the help she needed, and that she'd stay off drugs. I-I believed her because I wanted to, I guess.  I checked in with her every couple of days.  The last time I talked to her was five days ago.  I  haven't been able to get a hold of her since.  And then I went over to her apartment and convinced the landlady to let me in.  It didn't look like anyone had been there in a while.  The landlady hadn't seen her since Tuesday, either.  The police won't do anything, because she's just a druggie to them."

Hutch drew a breath and his stomach tightened. This didn't sound good.  "All right.  Can you do me a favor, and tell the landlord that myself and Dave Starsky will be stopping by within an hour or so, so we can check out the apartment ourselves?"

 Mr. Marshall glanced at Hutch's desk.  "I can call right now."

"Great," Hutch said, standing, and reaching for his phone.  "Starsky and I will try to find out as much as we can the remainder of today and into the evening."

"I appreciate this so much, Mr. Hutchinson."


Starsky had been dropping off a set of files for employee background checks with the corporation that had been their very first client.  Hutch got a hold of him via car phone, and met him at the client's office building, where Starsky left his Corvette in the parking garage, so they could both take Hutch's LeBaron.  Though they could possibly find out more from splitting up, Hutch knew that they could bounce ideas off each other a lot easier, if they tackled the case together.  It was always how they had worked best. 

They stopped at the Taco Bell where Ashley worked, and found out that she hadn't shown for work since her shift on Tuesday.  Nor were any of the other employees friendly enough with her that they knew why she hadn't shown up.  They next visited Ashley's apartment, and couldn't find any hints as to where she might have gone.  They couldn't find any evidence of drug use. 

Dusk had fallen when they returned to the LeBaron.  After getting in the car, Hutch said, "I wonder if she might have owed somebody for drugs, and she wasn't able to pay."

Starsky sighed.  "Possible.  Or maybe she's just using again."

Hutch looked over at him.  "But why wouldn't she return home to use, where she's safe?"

Starsky shook his head.  "Maybe she couldn't find her way back.  Did you ask Mr. Marshall if he'd given her money, since she got out of rehab?"

"No.  I'm under the impression he thought she was self-sufficient.  It might be too risky for her to ask daddy for money, if she's using again.  Maybe she sold her car, or something like that."

"How much cash do you have on you?"

Hutch looked at Starsky in surprise.  "Not much."

"Let's hit up an ATM.  I say we go to the school where her dealer hangs out.  Hopefully, he's there, and maybe he can tell us something."

Hutch started the motor.  Getting a dealer to talk was going to take a lot of green.


They had parked around the corner from the school and, after an hour, with darkness having fallen, they hadn't seen any activity.

Starsky said, "Last time, it was a Saturday when Ashley bought drugs from him.  Maybe he only hangs out at the school on weekends."

Hutch sighed.  "Yeah, but let's give it another hour or so.  I don't know how else we can track him down."

The car phone rang, and Hutch picked it up.  "Hello?"

"Hey, Hutch?"

Hutch glanced at Starsky.  "Nick?  What's up?"

"Ï just wondered what you guys were up to, and if you had anything for me tomorrow."

Starsky reached for the phone.  "Let me talk to him."

"Here's your brother."

"Hey, Nicky," Starsky greeted.  "Make sure you mark your calendar for the last weekend this month.  Hutch's fortieth birthday is on Sunday, the 28th, and we're having a party Saturday evening.  There'll be burgers and hot dogs on the grill.  Plus, cake and ice cream, of course.  We're inviting something like twenty people."  Starsky listened for a moment, and then said, "If you hear from Lannie, make sure she knows about it, too."  Starsky listened a while longer, and then said, "Yeah, make sure you come by the office tomorrow morning."

Hutch nodded when Starsky looked over at him.  With looking for Ashley taking up so much time, they would appreciate Nick's help.

Starsky talked with Nick a while longer, and then hung up.

Hutch asked, "Has he heard from Lannie?"

"He said he called her a few days ago, just to chat, and they talked a bit, but she seemed standoffish."

Hutch mused, "I wonder when her divorce is supposed to be final."

"I can't figure out if I'd rather she move out here to be with him, or that they break it off altogether."

"Yeah, me neither," Hutch said with a sigh.  "The only thing I know for certain is that he's sure smitten with her.  I guess it's a matter of if he gets his heart broken now, or later."

Starsky straightened in his seat.  "You don't think it'll work out, if they get together for good?"

Hutch shrugged.  "I don't know if Lannie has it in her to give her all to a relationship, considering the way we were raised."

"You were raised that way, too.  In fact, Nick and I talked about it, a while back.  I pointed out to him that Lanette has a history of infidelity, which was the status quo with your parents.  Then he wondered if you'd fooled around, and I told him you never had -- not on me, nor Vanessa.  So, he figures if you can buck the family tradition, then Lanette can, too."

Hutch considered that.  "She's just lived her life a lot differently from me.  She looks at things differently.  At relationships differently."

"Yeah, with her, it's all about convenience and what's practical."  Starsky paused, and then said, "I don't know.  Maybe it's not fair of me to say that.  She obviously has some feelings for Nick.  If she's being standoffish with him, maybe it's because she's pissed that he's giving her space, like we recommended.  That says something."

Hutch was thoughtful a moment.  "I guess what I'd least like to see happen is him moving to Minnesota to be with her."  He gave Starsky a rye smile.  "Never thought I'd hear myself say that."

"Yeah," Starsky said fondly.  "He's really grown up a lot, since he's been out here.  I like having him around.  In a way, I think it would be great to have Lanette around, too.  I mean, if Nick can become a better person with a change in environment, I'd like to think she can, too."

Hutch saw movement in the lamp light, by the school.  "Hey, somebody's coming."

They both watched a tall, thin figure move a few feet down from the street light, so he was in shadow, and relax back against the school building with a cigarette.

"Looks like the same guy," Hutch said.

"Yep."  Starsky cocked his door handle.  "Maybe I should go talk to him.  If we both approach him, it might spook him."

Hutch sighed, not liking Starsky going alone into a potentially dangerous situation.  They certainly didn't look anything like desperate drug addicts, so the dealer was likely to be wary.  "Okay, but I'm just going to hang back a few steps.  Don't flash the money too quickly, or he might stab you and take it all."

Starsky reached to the dashboard.  "I just want to flash Ashley's picture, to start with."  He took the photo and got out of the car.

Hutch waited until Starsky was part way across the street, and then he slowly got out of the car. He leaned back against it, his arms crossed.

Starsky was holding the photo out as he neared the dealer, making it clear that he was wanting information.  The man looked around and saw Hutch, which made it known that Starsky had someone watching his back.

It wasn't long before the man was talking with Starsky, and Hutch relaxed.  He could tell, without knowing what was being said, that the man was giving information. 

Maybe he's worried about Ashley, too.   It wasn't good for business when a dealer lost a customer.  Ashley, honey, there's a lot of people worried about you.  Please don't have gone off and gotten yourself killed.  That was news that Hutch definitely didn't want to have to break to Mr. Marshall.  You can kick this habit.  I did.

Starsky was walking back across the street.  Hutch got into the car, and waited until Starsky did, as well.

As soon as he'd shut his door, Starsky said, "He hasn't seen her in over a week.  Said he hadn't seen her for a long time, and I told him that was because she was in rehab.  Then, a few weeks ago, she started showing up again.  But she didn't have much money and offered him sex.  He wasn't interested, because he's worried about the AIDS disease.  She then signed the title of her car over to him, and he's already sold it.  He didn't have enough dope on him for the car, so he also gave her cash.  Hasn't seen her since."

"Sounds like he was willing to talk."

"I think he's worried.  I got the impression that he felt bad about having to take her car, and that he was nervous about her having so much dope and money at once.  I asked him how bad he thought she was, and he said she's a lot worse now than before she went into rehab."

"Damn," Hutch whispered.


"It doesn't make sense that she'd be prostituting herself -- at least, not yet -- since she had some dope and some cash."

Starsky swallowed.  "I hope she didn't take that money and go buy more dope from somebody else, and OD somewhere."

Hutch released a heavy breath.  "Yeah.  We'll have to call around to the morgues in the morning."

"Let's go down Halifax Street and see if we can get some other dealers to admit to having seen her."

"How much did this one cost?"

"Sixty bucks.  And he was motivated to talk, since she's been a long-term customer."

Hutch sighed.  "We need to get more cash."


It was going on eleven in the evening when they showed Ashley's picture at yet another street corner, where a trio of working girls were hoping for customers.  One drug dealer had denied recognizing her, but Starsky and Hutch felt that he was lying.  They had decided to try the prostitutes nearby.  

After looking at Ashley's photo, one of them said, "Hey, Bess, wasn't your sister hanging out with this girl?"

Bess looked closer.  "You said her name was Ashley?"

"Yes," Starsky said. 

Warily, she asked, "You're not getting her into any kind of trouble?"

"Her father is looking for her," Hutch said.  "He's worried about her health."

Starsky took out a couple of twenties.  "We'll pay you, if you can tell us where to find your sister.  We'll pay her, too."

She gazed at him for a long moment, and then looked at Hutch.  She nodded down the block.  "My sister's apartment is just a few streets down.  I'll show you."

As they walked, Hutch asked, "Has Ashley been staying with your sister?"

"I'm not sure.  They were both in rehab, then left.  I don't know the whole story.  I thought Ashley had her own place?"

Starsky nodded.  "Yes.  Doesn't look like she's been there in a while.  She sold her car to pay for drugs, and so she had some extra money."

Bess sighed.  "My sister, Lana, keeps saying that she's just using a little bit."

Hutch scowled, "There's no such thing as 'a little bit' with a drug addict."

Bess frowned.  "Then maybe they're using together, if Ashley had a little windfall."  They paused at a street corner until the traffic cleared.  Then, as they walked on, she said, "I don't think that rehab stuff works.  I've never known anyone to go into rehab and stay off drugs."

Starsky said firmly, "People can get off drugs.  I've known people who have stayed off."

Hutch asked, "Is your sister, Lana, a working girl, too?"

"Off and on.  But she's had a waitressing job for a while.  She can usually get by."

A few minutes later, Bess said, "In here", and moved to enter an old apartment building.  "It's on the third floor."

They walked up the creaking stairs to the third floor.

Bess went to the second door on the left and knocked.  "Lana?  I've got to guys here looking for Ashley.  They want to help her.  They'll pay."

They heard feet on the floor, and then the door was opened by a young, tired looking woman.  "Ashley?  Have you seen Ashley?"

Starsky said, "We're looking for her.  When did you last see her?"

Lana wearily pushed back her hair.  "She had a bunch of money, and we were getting high all week.  When I woke up this morning, she wasn't here."

Hutch said, "She hasn't been to her apartment.  Do you know where she might have gone?"

Lana slowly shook her head.  "She keeps wanting to do more, more, more.  Maybe she went out for more."

Starsky swallowed thickly. 

Lana looked at Bess.  "You said they would pay."

Starsky took out his wad of money and peeled off a couple of twenties, while Hutch handed her his card.  "There's more where that came from, if you can help us find her."

"I wish I knew where she was.  I'm worried about her."

"So is her father."

Hutch said, "I've written our home number on the back, as well as our car phone.  If you hear anything tonight, please let us know."

"I will."

Bess said, "Thanks, Lana."

Lana shut the door.

After they were down in the lobby, Bess said, "I've got to get back to work."

"Thanks for all your help," Starsky said. 

As he and Hutch left the building, Hutch said, "That's sure not sounding good."

"No kidding.  It's almost sounds like Ashley is determined to self-destruct."

They started down the street, but Starsky nudged Hutch.  "Come on, through the alley.  It's faster, and I don't want anyone getting to the car."

Hutch wanted to protest the lack of safety of going down a dark alley, but he couldn't deny that the LeBaron would be a juicy target for thieves.

Just as they started into the darkness of the alley, with old, dirty outdoor light bulbs, they heard a soft moan. 

They both paused.

"Hutch." Starsky squeezed Hutch's arm.  "It looks like someone's collapsed on the stairwell."

Warily, they both approached.  From the dim light, Hutch could see the back of a head with long, red hair.  The woman had one arm wrapped around the lower part of a fire escape stairwell, where she was face down on the steps.  The stairwell was to the same building they'd just come out of. 

"Hey," Starsky beckoned, as he reached for her.  "Ashley?" 

Hutch helped turn her over.  She seemed limp, with only the softest of moans.  When her head fell back, her face was in the dim light.  "It's her."

"Ï can hardly feel a pulse."

"God.  Let's get her to the car and call an ambulance."

Starsky began to gather her up.  "I've got her.  You run ahead."

Hutch ran through the alley, and crossed the street over to where the LeBaron was.  He started the motor and got on the car phone, dialing 911.  A moment later he was assured that an ambulance was on the way.

Once hanging up, he saw Starsky carefully crossing the street, with Ashley cradled in his arms.  Hutch opened the door to the backseat.

"Ambulance is coming," he said as Starsky approached.

Starsky sat in the backseat, while trying to get Ashley to sit up.  "I think she's bad, Hutch." 

Hutch tried patting at her face, while hearing a siren in the distance.  "Ashley?  Ashley?  Stay with us, honey." 

He felt he was suddenly back home, a year and a half ago.  Their house guest, Kyeesha, was lying on their living room floor, unconscious from taking an overdose of pills.  Hutch had frantically tried to rouse her, while waiting for the ambulance, not understanding why she would want to take her own life.

Why would Ashley be so bent on self-destruction?  Addiction was one thing, but most addicts didn't want to die.

The siren now wailed loudly as the ambulance approached.


Starsky called Mr. Marshall on the car phone, while they followed the ambulance.  The call woke him up, and he said he would get to the hospital immediately.

Mr. Marshall hadn't arrived yet when a grim ER doctor emerged from a treatment room a half hour later.  "She didn't make it.  She went into cardiac arrest, and we couldn't revive her."

Hutch felt as though a brick had dropped to the bottom his stomach.  His chest tightened as he stepped away, and braced his hand against the wall.  No.

He heard Starsky say something to the doctor -- something about her father -- and then felt a hand on his lower back.  "Oh, God, Hutch.  We did everything we could."  Then, with dread, "Here comes Mr. Marshall.  I'll go talk to him."

Hutch wanted to protest that it should be him -- he'd always been Mr. Marshall's main contact -- but he was glad to be relieved of the responsibility.  Why was such a young life snuffed out for such a ridiculous reason?

He tried to blank his mind, as he kept his focus on the floor, and then heard a wail of, "Oh, God, no.  Not Ashley.  Not Ashley."

Hutch remembered that Mr. Marshall had also lost his wife within the last few years.

Mr. Marshall then cried, "Why did I believe her when she said she'd stopped the drugs?"

Hutch swallowed thickly.  Yes.  Why?

Why had any of this happened?


It was after one in the morning when they got home.  Hutch had been silent, except for grunted responses to Starsky's promptings.

They both stripped down in the darkness, and then crawled into bed.

Hutch was curled on his side.

Starsky moved close.  He circled an arm around Hutch, and put a hand against his chest.  "Tell me what you're thinking."

There was a loud swallow.  "I'm trying not to think."

"It's been a while since we've been around death on the job, huh?"

Sorrowfully, Hutch said, "It's like she wanted to die."

 "Yeah.  Or maybe she was just so addicted...."

"Maybe, if her father had kept a closer eye.... It doesn't matter now."

Starsky weighed Hutch's words.  He felt he knew where this was leading.  They had talked about it before.  "I know the streets, Hutch.  I knew what had to happen when I found you.  I knew, after things were back to normal, when to keep an extra eye on you.  But, ultimately, you wanted to kick it, you wanted to stay off it.  That was way more important than anything I did."  He rubbed his cheek against Hutch's shoulder and softened his voice.  "It's not about what you deserved or didn't deserve.  It was about you being more important to me than anything."

"Why couldn't Ashley have had someone who cared that much?"

Starsky rubbed at Hutch's chest.  "Ah, baby.  You know her daddy loved her.  He wasn't able to be around her much, and he didn't know what to do.  But more than that, it sounds like she didn't want to get better.  All the help in the world isn't going to matter, if the person doesn't want to help themselves."

"Why would she just give up like that?"

"Guess no one will ever know," Starsky muttered.  "Maybe when she realized she couldn't hack rehab, she figured she was doomed.  And she just wanted it to be over with."

"If she hadn't sold her car, and gotten that wad of money...."

Starsky tightened his arms.  "Most addicts with a wad of money would want to ration it, to keep them in drugs for a while, you know?  But it's like Ashley went seeking out her friend, Lana, and just wanted them to get high to the exclusion to everything else.  I mean, they could have gone back to her much nicer apartment."  Starsky just then considered, "Maybe she just figured she was a junkie, and wasn't worth anything, so should die like one."

"But she was on the fire escape of her apartment building, like maybe she was trying to make her way up."

"Or maybe she had nowhere else to go.  If she was trying to get back home, she could have gone in the front door."

"Only if she could have made it that far." 

"Yeah," Starsky whispered, not knowing what else he could say to soothe Hutch's pain.

Eventually, Hutch rolled onto his back.  Starsky gratefully settled his head on Hutch's shoulder.

Hutch circled his arm around Starsky and muttered,  "Guess I've turned into a mushball after being away from the force these few years."

"You were always a mushball.  As tough as they come when you needed to be, but you've always felt things, Hutch.  Always cared."

They were silent.

Starsky then realized, "We've got Huggy's and Annette's wedding to go to, later today.  Life goes on, huh?"

"Did you pick up a gift?"

"Yeah, I got the towels, and I also picked up a fancy blender."

"Huggy has plenty of blenders at the Pits."

Starsky shrugged.  "I figured Annette would like one of her very own, for their place."

In the silence that followed, Starsky reached for Hutch's hand, intertwining their fingers.

They drifted into sleep.


"There's plenty more cake and ice cream," Starsky reminded.  There were some fifteen people at Hutch's birthday party, most in the living room, and a few on the back patio.  The Dobeys were there, as was Huggy and his new bride.  Nick and Carlos. Luke and Doris Huntley.  Mike Hawkins and his girlfriend, and a few business associates with their wives.  There had been a barbecue, the obligatory singing of "Happy Birthday", followed by cake and ice cream.  Hutch had spent the past hour opening gifts, while sitting in an easy chair, his motions slowing as he became more inebriated.  There were a few gag gifts, but some had followed Starsky's suggestions, and gotten Hutch gift certificates at tack shops or plant stores, and others had gotten articles of clothing.

Starsky squeezed Hutch's shoulder.  "Was that the last one?"

"Think so," Hutch drawled.

Lois, who had volunteered to help out, bent to pick up more wrapping paper, and dispose of it in a garbage bag.

Starsky straightened and indicated the VCR remote he was holding.  "All right, everybody, gather around the TV.  It's now time for my gift to Hutch."

The crowd gathered into the living room.

Starsky went to the VCR, on a stand next to the big screen TV.  He ejected the VHS tape that was a collage of Darla's races, with music in the background, as that had kept some entertained until the party got rolling.  He put in another tape, and glanced back over his shoulder.  "Can someone get the lights, please?"

After a moment, the lights went out.  Starsky said, "This was put together by the same people that did the Darla tape."  Starsky pushed "Play" on the remote.

There was the sound of a piano, and the video showed a screen with the words, "To my Hutch.  With All My Love, Starsk."

Kenny Rogers began to sing, "I can't remember when you weren't there, when I didn't care for anyone but you."

The screen began to show still pictures of Hutch at various times in his life with Starsky, being caught in different moods and expressions.

Then the chorus began:  "Through the years, you've never let me down, you've turned my life around, the sweetest days I've found, I've found with you."

There were a few photos of infant Hutch, a couple of him a little older, and then more of him and Starsky together.

The audience watched and listened in silence, as the song continued.

At one point, there was a picture of them standing on top of the Torino, their arms around each other.  A big "aaah" suddenly erupted in the room.

When the song came back to the chorus, there were more photos of a younger Hutch, before proceeding to ones of him with Starsky.  There were newspaper clippings of some of their most famous arrests.

The song reached a crescendo on the last chorus.  "As long as it's okay, I'll stay with you, through the  years...."

There were more recent photos of them, after their cop days, including some with Darla.

As the song faded out, everyone began to clap.

Starsky reached back to turn on the lights.  He bent down to Hutch and put his arm around his shoulders.  To the room, he asked, "What do you think, everyone?  Should I keep him?"  He could see that Hutch's eyes had watered, as had others in the room.

There was some more clapping and murmurs of agreement, as well as laughter. 

Starsky laid his cheek on top of Hutch's head, squeezed him, and then straightened to go to the kitchen.

Lois was putting dishes in the dishwasher, and said, "That was really something."

"Yeah, it's amazing what they can do now with this video stuff."

"I'm going to pick up the back patio." She turned away.


Hutch came into the kitchen, and deposited another beer bottle in the trash, while releasing a heavy sigh.

Starsky put his arm around his waist and hugged him.  "It's a good thing tomorrow is Sunday, and you can sleep in."  Hutch's eyes were still moist.

Hutch nodded.

Starsky didn't want to press him to be more emotional, because he knew Hutch wouldn't appreciate that, with everyone around. 

Hutch managed to ask,  "So, that's what you've been working on, all this time?"

"Uh-huh.  I had to be really careful about taking the pictures out of the photos albums, and taking them down to the place that put the tape together."

Mike Hawkins entered the kitchen, while leading his girlfriend by the hand.  "We need to get going.  Nice party."

"Thanks," Starsky said.

"Happy birthday."  He reached to shake Hutch's hand.

"Thank you both for coming."

They moved on to the door.  Starsky said, "I'm going to show the tape again, before everyone starts leaving."


Starsky slept in until nine the following morning.  Hutch's mutters made it clear that he intended to stay in bed most of the day, since his hangover made the idea of getting up less than appealing.

Starsky picked up around the house.  He'd had to shoo Lois away, when she'd kept trying to clean things to an unnecessary extreme.  Though she'd volunteered to help at the party, they had decided that they would add some extra to her next paycheck, to show their appreciation.

As Starsky unloaded the dishwater, he thought We're forty.  It really hadn't felt like a significant turning point during his own birthday, but now that they both had officially crossed into middle age, it felt more daunting.

I spent less than half my younger life with Hutch.  But we'll be together the rest of our lives.

That made the idea of no longer being "a young man" more palatable. 

Their friends and family were getting older, too.  Nick hadn't said much more about Lanette, who had sent the obligatory card for Hutch's birthday. 

After the dishes were put away. Starsky considered going out to the driveway to get the newspaper.  Instead, he went into the office.  He turned on the computer, and sat down.

He spent a few moments browsing through the notebooks of various comments he'd made while going through the Hutchinson past.

Eventually, he began to type.


Kenneth Richard Hutchinson was born at 1:10 PM on August 28, 1943.

His father, Richard Melvin Hutchinson, had grown up around Madison, Wisconsin and became a CPA.  He was from a family of white collar workers, consisting of mostly lawyers and accountants.  One uncle was a successful department store owner, and there were other retail owners in the family.  The family had migrated to the U.S. in the early part of the 19th century, from Norway.

When in college, Richard got a summer job with a CPA firm in St. Paul, Minnesota.  While in St. Paul, he met Lorraine Susan Fleming, the daughter of a Danish farming family that had come to America in the 1880s. She was attending college in St. Paul, studying for a liberal arts degree.  They fell in love and married after they both graduated, and moved to Duluth, because they liked the area, and Richard had gained some experience with accounting for shipping companies, and since Duluth was a port town, it would allow him to have stable employment.

The Hutchinsons lived in the same house in Duluth their entire married lives, which ended with Richard's death in April of 1983.

Ken's youngster sister, Lanette, would later say that, despite being just two years apart in age, it felt as though they were raised separately, in a sense.  Ken was more his father's child, while Lanette was more her mother's child.  It seems, looking back, that Ken got the short end of the situation.  Not only did he have a mother that didn't seem to take any particular pride in him, but his father didn't seem to care much about fathering.  Lanette also had to watch other girls grow up as "Daddy's girl", while she never got that kind of positive attention from her father.

It might have been somewhat of a droll household, but perhaps Richard and Lorraine both realized that they were lacking in parenting skills, if only subconsciously, and they encouraged their children to participate in social activities and get to know other people.

Ken, who would later be called "Hutch" by a high school wrestling coach -- the nickname that would stick into adulthood -- learned at an early age that pleasing the elders in his life is what got him lots of praise.  He performed reasonably well in school, and even better in athletics.  Ultimately, he was voted "Most Likely to Succeed" in high school.

He was handsome, intelligent, and athletic.  When he started college, he half-heartedly declared accounting to be his major.  Even though his whole life was ahead of him, he was thinking that "there must be something more" to life, than just doing what one's superiors wished and bringing home a healthy paycheck.

He did find "something more" when he met Vanessa Rose Lathburn in college.  She was beautiful and accomplished, and came from a good family.  They were married within a year.  As they both finished school, he shocked his family and his wife when he announced that he'd discovered what would make him feel like he was really accomplishing something with his life.  He wanted to be a police officer.  Solve crimes and put away the bad guys, and help the good guys. 

Nobody was happy about his decision and, if you know Hutch, that just made him all the more determined to follow his dream.  It also made him realize that he needed to get away from Minnesota if he didn't want to be constantly surrounded by disapproval.  So, he convinced his wife that they would be happier making a new home for themselves in sunny southern California.  Vanessa herself had grown up in Florida, and she'd never been happy that her family moved to Minnesota, because of her father trying to get a fresh start there with his manufacturing business.   

That's the little chronology of Hutch's youth.

Behind the dry facts is a kid who had all the exterior trappings and care, but not the outwardly expressed unconditional love that he saw other kids getting from their parents.  It made him want to spend more time with those that doted on him, and in activities that helped him win awards and such, as tokens of his achievements and lovability.  He certainly wasn't a kid who hung around his room much.

As a youngster, he particularly liked visiting his grandfather's farm in Illinois.  That's the grandfather on his mother's side.  When his parents wanted to vacation together for a week or so, they'd drop the kids off with Grandpa Fleming.  Hutch would help his grandfather with gardening, caring for the livestock and, eventually, driving the tractor.  (That would end up being a lifesaving skill when Hutch and I were trapped by bad guys in a barn once, but that's another story.)  Grandpa Fleming had horses, and Hutch learned the basics of riding.  Unfortunately, Grandpa Fleming passed away when Hutch was fifteen.  I think it's probably the family death that has affected him the most.

It seems, at an early age, that Hutch developed his own sense of right and wrong.  When he was ten, he was upset that a great aunt that bred Poodle dogs was putting a couple of them to sleep just for being inferior specimens of their breed.  That made him angry inside, but he'd learned from his father to be careful of showing emotion.  He had lots of feelings about things brewing inside him, but he didn't have an outlet for them.

He was aware, at a young age, that both of his parents had affairs.  That didn't seem right to him, and he became determined to never commit infidelity when he got married.

Then, once he married, he thought he had a soulmate.  But the luster of a noble, if less than wealthy life, quickly wore off for Vanessa, and I'd only known their marriage to be stormy, once I met Hutch at the academy.  Hutch wanted to please his soulmate, but she was never pleased.  He learned that sex wasn't going to happen unless he gave her what she wanted.  Love from his parents was never unconditional, and he found out that it wasn't unconditional from his wife, either.   

I've mentioned in another chapter that Hutch needs to feel in control of things.  Feeling in control keeps him stable and happy, and that need of his has never bothered me.  I think he figured out, early on, that other people don't do such a great job of keeping all the balls of life in the air.  But if he's the one juggling all the balls, he'll make it work.  He had more faith in his own abilities than that of others. 

When I met him, the weekend before our academy classes started, what I was most intrigued by was that the exterior trappings the person called Hutch came in was something that other people could only envy.  I envied them, too.  Yet, I think I was the first person, perhaps since his grandfather, who was interested enough to find out what was beyond that exterior finery.  Once I got a whiff that all wasn't so harmonious and happy in the Hutchinson world, it was easy for me to stop feeling envious of it, and love him unconditionally instead.  He was so starved for someone else to see the person inside, that he responded wholeheartedly to my attentions.  We became tighter than most best friends very quickly.  

Still, throughout our years as cops, I had to watch him walk into one disastrous relationship after another.  Most were very short term.  A lot of the endings could be blamed on that fact that he was a cop but, in retrospect, I think we cops are often too quick to blame our relationship failures on our occupations.  It becomes a convenient excuse for us to not have to examine our own failings very closely, when it comes to dealings with the opposite sex.  Hutch parents stayed married until Richard's death nearly fifty years later, but the length of the marriage is a convenient cover for a lifetime of indiscretions on the part of both husband and wife.  Apparently, such infidelity is prevalent throughout the family.  Hutch never had a chance to observe how a successful relationship is supposed to work.  Therefore, he didn't have much experience in working out problems.  As such, I think he probably attracted women who were doomed for unsuccessful relationships in the first place.  He didn't know how to find somebody who was the progeny of a successful union.

Our partnership had its up and downs, but I don't think the downs were ever very serious, and they certainly didn't last very long.  When you go to work every morning, knowing you might be shot before the day is over, you learn not to fume over the petty things.  And with the big things, you learn to adapt to those elements that you don't like about each other.  Sure, Hutch has some personality traits that aren't very admirable.  But I've pretty much considered them to be an acceptable part of the overall package that I've loved so much.  And I think he loved me to such a degree, however much I might have puzzled him in those early weeks at the academy, and however much I might have exasperated him in later years, that his subconscious never figured out how to sabotage our relationship.  Granted, he did try a few times -- one day, I'll write a chapter about when he faked amnesia -- because he didn't feel he was worthy of something so wonderful and special.  But I wasn't having any of it.  Nothing he did could ever prove to me that he was unlovable. 

As I write this, Hutch has just turned forty.  It makes me enormously happy to say that he is enormously happy.  He had all the right ingredients for a successful and enjoyable life, from a young age, but he needed that all important unconditional love to bring it together, and be able to do something with all his abilities.

I'm the one who gave him that.




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