(c) December 2011 by Charlotte Frost


A Sequel to All Our Relations


Hutch sat with the phone to his ear, in his room at a Holiday Inn in a suburb of Carson City, Nevada.  The table before him was filled with papers he had spread about.  He said into the phone, "And then I was able to confirm that he stopped at the big wholesale dealers throughout Carson City and Reno.  Everyone I've talked to is shocked that he was murdered, and I didn't get the feeling that anyone was holding anything back.  What about you?"

Starsky could be heard shifting papers from his own Holiday Inn hotel room outside of Austin, Texas.  "The interesting thing I was able to find out today is that the auto parts corporation had restructured the sales division, so the whole state of Texas was given to somebody else."

Hutch furrowed his brow.  "Really?"

"Yeah.  Frederick Newman hadn't sold anything in Texas the last six months before his death."

"I don't think John knew that," Hutch noted, in reference to Newman's grown son, who was their client. 

"I don't think so, either.  Wonder why.  Like, maybe it was a pride thing?  Fred didn't want to let anyone know that he'd lost a big part of his clientele, through not fault of his own?"

"I bet that put a big dent in his income," Hutch noted.  "So, was it just Texas that was given to someone else?"

"Well, one guy at a wholesale dealer I talked to didn't know for certain, since he's just a client of the corporation.  But he seemed like the nosy type who likes to know everything that's going on, and he seemed to think that most of Newman's region was broken up into a lot smaller bits, so the corporation could hire a lot of new salesmen for each of those smaller pieces, and not have to pay them as much commission until they proved their worth."

Hutch grunted.  "Hm.  I wonder if Fred Newman was getting too expensive for the corporation to keep on, since he was so good at his job.  Sales is supposed to be one of the toughest jobs there is to succeed at for the uneducated, and he was at the top of his game."

"Even so, seems rather extreme for the corporation to off him, when they could have maybe framed him somehow to give them reason to fire him."

"Maybe they were hoping he'd eventually resign, if they kept shrinking the region he was doing sales for.  For that matter, do you know what his region was at the time of his death?"

Starsky replied, "Just California and Nevada, from what I can tell from my conversation with the one guy.  Newman's son seemed to think that nearly the entire western half of the United States was his region."

Hutch mused, "I wonder what else Fred wasn't telling his son."

"No kidding.  Hopefully, we can find something else out.  What are your plans for tomorrow?"

"He always stayed at Days Inn motels in this area.  So, I'm going to visit as many as I can tomorrow and see if the staff remembers him and can tell me anything.  If he's been selling auto parts to the same warehouses for nearly twenty years, the motels ought to know him pretty well."

"Yeah.  I might do some of that here, too.  But I've still got a few more wholesalers to track down. So far, everyone talks like he was a great guy.  They really appreciated how well he knew the industry and how responsive he was to meeting any need they had for auto parts."

"Yeah, same here," Hutch said.

"If nothing breaks," Starsky mused, "we'll need to head back home and examine the corporate angle, in case they were getting real eager to get rid of him."

"Yeah," Hutch said, not liking the thought that the corporation Fred Newman was so loyal to would actually be the cause of his murder.  At least the corporation, Premium West Auto Parts, was only sixty miles from their home.  He and Starsky had traveled to Nevada and Texas, respectively, a couple of days ago, and they were each facing at least another couple of days of intensive research, in trying to find out everything they could about Newman's travels and meetings the last few weeks of his life, in the hope that it might uncover the reason he was murdered.  That's what they had been hired by Newman's son to do.

"You have anything else to add about this case?" Hutch asked.

"No.  Why?"

"Because I'm logging us off the clock."  Hutch made a note in his date book, and then asked, "Are you keeping all your receipts, like I told you?"

"Yes, boss."  Hutch heard the patient humor in his love's voice.  "They're all wadded up and stuck in various places, but I'm keeping everything."

"Good.  Our expenses are going to be a big part of our charges for this case."

Starsky said, "We probably need to hang up so I can check our messages at home."

"All ready did," Hutch told him.


"Yeah.  You wouldn't believe what somebody called us about."


"A woman wants us to find her lost dog."

Starsky chuckled.  "You're kidding."

"Nope.  She made a point of saying that she doesn't care how much it costs.  She just wants us to find little Peppy."



"Well, surely Peppy will have been found by the time we get back home."

"Yeah, I'll call and tell her we can't help her until the end of this week, at the soonest.  I'm sure she'll want to call somebody else."

"Was that the only message?"

Hutch hesitated, though he wasn't sure why.  "The one other message was from Nick."

"Nick?"  Starsky's voice sounded guarded.

"Yeah, your brother Nick.  He just said that he wanted you to call him.  You have the number with you?"

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure it's in my notebook."

Hutch confessed, "I wouldn't be surprised if he wants money.  How much you want to bet that, after seeing how we live, he wants money?"

Starsky sighed.  "Let's hope not."

Hutch let his voice drop an octave.  "So, what are you doing tonight, partner?"

"I bought some girlie magazines."

Hutch smiled.  "Yeah?"

"Yeah."  Pages were heard being turned.  "This centerfold is kind of cute.  You know, Hutch, I can tell you which ones I bought and you can buy your own, and we can talk about them over the phone."

Hutch was touched that Starsky wanted to share his recreation with him.  "Nah, I've already picked up a big, thick spy novel.  I'm looking forward to delving into that."

Starsky then said, "You know what?"


"I actually picked up the Playboy for the interview with John McEnroe, the bad-boy tennis player."

Hutch realized that he actually believed him.

Starsky went on, "The girls are nice to look at but... you know."

Hutch's voice grew warm.  "We'll have a proper reunion when we're both back at home, buddy."

Starsky sighed.  "I'm not sure that we're necessarily saving time and expenses by splitting up for this case.  If we both flew into Texas together, we could have gotten separate rental cars and covered more area at once.  Then we could have still spent the evening together.  And finished up and gone on to Nevada that much faster."

"Yeah," Hutch drawled, feeling his own pang of loneliness.  It was so rare for he and Starsky to be apart.  "We can re-evaluate once we're back at home.  See what we think when we have the full picture to reflect back on."


Since their conversation was heading into maudlin territory, Hutch said, "I'd better call this lady with the dog."

"Okay.  You think you're going to be at that same hotel tomorrow?"

"Probably.  You?"

"The wholesalers I'm hitting are east, away from Austin.  So, I'll probably be in a different town.  Surely, I'll be able to find a Holiday Inn."

"If not, then remember, a Motel 8, or then a La Quinta."  They had agreed on a hotel hierarchy, so it would be easier to call around to find each other, if it wasn't convenient to stay in a single location, on the off chance that their message machine got filled up and they couldn't get messages to each other that way.

"I know, Hutch.  I got it."

"All right.  Love you, buddy."

"Love you, too.  Bye."

Starsky released a sigh as he hung up the phone with his brother.  Thankfully, Nick hadn't mentioned anything about needing money.  But in some ways, his message had been even more disturbing.

Starsky lay on his bed in his room, the lamp on next to it, and stared at the phone.

He hated the idea of withholding something from Hutch, but he couldn't find any reason why Hutch needed to be disturbed right now with Nick's information.  It wasn't like there was anything either of them could do about the situation at the moment.

He also knew that Hutch would probably feel somewhat humiliated and embarrassed that Nick was the person who was the bearer of the news.

Starsky needed to be with Hutch when he told him.

Starsky turned his back on the phone and propped his chin in his hand while leafing through his magazines.  When he couldn't get interested in anything, he turned on the television.

Eventually, he fell asleep to the evening news.

The next evening, Starsky said into the phone, "None of the people out here like the new salesman.  They say he messes up their orders and stuff like that."

"Has the guy badmouthed Newman at all?" Hutch asked.

"I was asking people that specifically.  It sounded like, if they ever mentioned anything to the new salesman about Newman, the new guy acted like he'd never met him or anything.  You know, Newman was from our area, and the new guy is a Texan.  So, it doesn't sound like there's any connection there."

"What are you doing tomorrow?" Hutch asked.

"I thought I'd ask around some of the Days Inn that Newman stayed at around here.  How did that work for you?"

Hutch said, "Almost everyone remembered Newman and spoke highly of him as a gentleman.  They were shocked to hear that he'd been murdered.  One motel, in a suburb of Reno, said that Newman often had a woman with him.  They assumed she was a mistress or girlfriend or something.  They always made the reservation with his information, but I was able to run down who she was through her name, and eventually find her address.  Unfortunately, she's moved, but I think I've tracked her down to some town called Hawthorne.  So, I'm driving out there tomorrow."

"Huh.  A girlfriend could be a whirlpool of information."

"Yeah.  It's just funny that I don't think the son knows about her."

"Well, he seemed sort of uncertain when we asked him about relationships his father had.  He said he wasn't seeing anybody, but I got the impression that he wouldn't be surprised to know that he had at least one woman he saw on the road."

"How long ago was the father divorced?" Hutch asked.

"Five years, I think he said."  The son had been certain that his mother wouldn't have any information about her former husband's murder, since their son was grown and they didn't have anything more to do with each other after the divorce.

Hutch mused, "A traveling salesman is ripe for having all sorts of affairs.  But this one Days Inn outside of Reno was the only one that mentioned him being accompanied by a woman."

"I'll make sure I ask about it when I visit the motels tomorrow."

They were both silent a moment, and then Hutch asked, "You make it through the night okay?"

"Yeah.  Kept waking up, but that's pretty normal in a strange place.  Can't remember the last time I've been in a hotel, and you weren't there, too."

"Yeah," Hutch drawled with compassion.

"What about you?"

"Stayed up late reading my novel.  Oh, I checked our messages again before I called."

The subject of messages made Starsky's stomach tighten, since it reminded of his conversation with Nick.

"There weren't any," Hutch said.

"Did you talk to the lady with the dog?"

"Yeah.  That's a weird one, Starsk.  I told her we probably wouldn't be back in town until the end of the week, so she'd probably want to call somebody else.   But, no, she insisted that her instincts told her that we were the right ones to find Peppy, and she kept emphasizing that it didn't matter how much it cost."

Starsky furrowed his brow.  "What's she doing to find him in the meantime?"

"I think she's made some phone calls to shelters and such and is content to leave it at that.  Really, Starsk, I think she just wants to make a big show of proving how much the dog means to her by throwing a lot of money at the problem."

"That is weird."

"Yeah, well, you know, when people have money, they tend to think money is going to solve anything and everything."

"If we end of taking the case, let's not disappoint the lady with a small bill."

Hutch chuckled.  "Yeah, I've already been fantasizing about all sorts of ways we could rack up a lot of hours.  Whether we find the dog or not, I bet she won't be happy unless she gets invoiced for at least a thousand bucks.  And then she can brag to everybody about how Peppy meant so much to her that she spent a grand trying to find him."

Starsky was trying to wrap his head around that.  "I swear, Hutch, if somebody of lowly means happened to contact us with something important that they need help with, I think I'd be willing to help them for free, just to balance out all the nonsense we deal with, with some of our wealthy clients."

Hutch didn't seem to disagree.  "We can cross that bridge, if we come to it.  At least this Newman case is a worthwhile one."

"Yeah, that's for sure."

"Hey, did you return Nick's call?"

That was the one question Starsky had hoped Hutch wouldn't ask.  "Yeah," he replied quietly, since he couldn't figure out fast enough how to answer.

Obviously, Hutch had picked up on the reluctance in his voice.  "What's wrong?  Did he want money for something?"

"Hey, uh, look, Hutch, let's talk about it when we're back at home, okay?  It's nothing we need to discuss right now."


Then Hutch pressed, "Did he want money or something else?"

"I don't want to talk about it right now, baby.  It wasn't anything urgent."

Hutch ventured, "But it's important... ?"

Starsky let his exasperation show in his voice.  "Trust me, all right?  It's the kind of the thing we should talk about face to face."  Please, Hutch.

"All right," Hutch relented, not sounding at all happy.

Starsky now let his sincerity come through.  "I miss you, Hutch.  We're definitely going to re-think this traveling apart thing.  For starters, these lengthy long distance calls from our motels have to be costing a fortune."

"Yeah, but at least we're finding stuff out."

"My instincts say we're going to end up pursuing the corporate angle.  I'm going to try to wrap up things here tomorrow, and then hopefully be home sometime Saturday."  It was now Thursday evening.

"I'll see what the girlfriend says tomorrow, and see where I want to go from there."

"Okay.  Love you, babe."  Starsky made kissing noises into the phone.

"Love you, too," Hutch said.

Starsky hung up and sighed heavily.  He hated keeping things from Hutch, but he hated even more the thought of telling Hutch something unpleasant across a thousand miles or so of telephone wire.   At least he'd been forthright that there was something they needed to talk about.

They were both sensitive about the honesty thing.  They had seen too many unhappy marriages for either to be willing to see their relationship start down that path.   Dishonesty, even if just via the withholding of truths, was one surefire way of starting down that path.

Last spring, Hutch had had a frank conversation with Starsky about his dissatisfaction with an aspect of their sex life.  That hadn't been easy for Starsky to hear, but the offense against his masculinity was tempered by his realizing how hard it must have been for Hutch to tell him his feelings, as well as his admiration that Hutch had had the courage to do so.

Starsky had listened, they had agreed to adjust things, and their sex life returned to being something very satisfying and eagerly sought by them both.

Starsky never wanted to reach the point where they couldn't tell each other unpleasant truths.  But he did think there was a time and a place for such truths.

Hutch slowed as he came to the Hawthorne city limits.  It was a small town of a few thousand people, with a huge lake nearby, as well as an army ammunitions depot.

Hopefully, the drive of over an hour would be worth his time, and he would be able to find Katherine Smith at 311 Seventh Street, which was the latest information he'd been able to find.  She was listed as the owner of the house.

Hutch turned onto Seventh Street and parked his rental car in front of the small, single-family dwelling.  He chewed a breath mint and checked his appearance in the rearview mirror.  He ran his fingers along his mustache, smoothing it down.  This could be a particularly sensitive meeting, because he had no way of knowing if Katherine had heard about Frederick Newman's death.

Hutch walked up to the door with his briefcase in hand.  He took out a card and rang the bell.

He heard footsteps from within the house.  He heard a child's giggle and a woman's voice.  Then he heard the sliding chain and the door opened slightly. 

A thirtyish woman with long auburn hair glanced through the small opening.  "Yes?"

"Katherine Smith?"


Hutch held his card through the opening.  "I'm Kenneth Hutchinson, a private investigator.  I would like to talk with you about Frederick Newman, if I may."

"Frederick?  What about Fred?" she asked suspiciously, taking the card.

"Um, I would appreciate if we could talk in private."  He glanced around the front patio, where there was a small table and two chairs.  "Out here would be fine, if you'd feel more comfortable."

She turned her head.  "Brenda, stay inside.  Mommy has to talk with someone out front.  Lock the door behind me."  After a moment, she started to come out the door and reminded, "Lock the door behind me, sweetheart."  She was a tall, slender woman, dressed in jeans and a button shirt.  She gave the impression of being easy in her own skin.

She waited until hearing the deadbolt slide into place, and then looked up and gestured to the chairs.  "Please, sit," she glanced at his card, "Mr. Hutchinson."

"Thank you."

"What about Fred?  Is he in some sort of trouble?"

Hutch's heart sank.  "Ms. Smith, I'm very sorry to be the one to tell you this.  But Fred Newman is deceased."

"Deceased?"  She put a trembling hand to her mouth and bowed her head.  "Oh, no.  Poor Fred."  She sniffed and glanced up.  "What happened?"

"About three months ago, he was murdered."

"Murdered?"  She covered her face with her hands.  "Oh, my God."

Hutch was grateful he had a clean handkerchief inside his jacket pocket.  He handed it to her.  "The police think it was random.  His son, John, hired my firm to investigate his whereabouts leading up to the murder.  Your name came up during my investigation near Reno."

"Where did it happen?"

"Not far from his home in California.  It happened in the early morning hours, outside a coffee shop, where he was stabbed to death.  His wallet was stolen, so since the police had nothing more to go on, they considered it a robbery gone bad.  But his son can't believe that and, since I've been a cop, I know that sometimes murders are made to look like robberies."

Katherine was shaking her head as she wiped her nose.  "It couldn't have been a robbery gone bad.  If someone would have held a weapon on Fred, he would have given them his money.  Even if they hadn't held a weapon on him and he knew they were in need, he would have given them money.  He was that kind of man.  He was always giving handouts to beggars and such.  He believed everyone deserved kindness."

Delicately, Hutch asked, "Since he was that kind of man, is it possible someone would have seen him as an easy target for blackmail or something along that line?"

"That's hard to believe," she said.  "Frederick was always so friendly to everyone.  He was great at his job.  Most people see salesmen as sleazy, but Fred wasn't like that at all.  He believed in happy customers.  If someone had a problem with anything purchased from his company, Fred would try to get the corporation to set things right.  And if they didn't, he would pay out of his own pocket to take care of the situation."

Hutch rubbed at his lower lip.  Then he reached to his briefcase and opened it, taking out a yellow legal pad and pen.  "It would really help if you can tell me as much as you can about Fred, and your relationship with him."

She drew a deep breath.  "About seven years ago, I was waitressing at a restaurant outside of Reno.  He came in, we hit it off even though he was a lot older than me, and he asked me out.  That kicked off an affair that lasted until a few months ago, when he was killed, I guess.  He didn't mention that he was married, at first.  When I did find out, I didn't care.  I enjoyed being with him so much, that I wanted to keep seeing him."

Hutch gently asked, "How often was that?"

She sat back in her chair.  "The second Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of every month.  That's when he came out to see his Nevada clients and take their orders for auto parts.  I'd meet with him at a designated motel.  It went on for years."  She nodded toward her front door.  "My 5yo daughter is his.  I never intended to get pregnant, but...."

Hutch was surprised at her frankness.  "Did he know about your daughter?"

"Oh, yes, he was wonderful about it.  Never tried to talk me into an abortion, or anything like that.  I never asked him for money, but he sent a hundred and fifty dollar check every month.  Until they suddenly stopped, three months ago."

"Did you try to find out why?"

She shook her head.  "I was afraid that, maybe, for some reason he couldn't let someone else know about the child.  Or maybe he'd fallen in love with someone else."  She gave Hutch a sad smile.  "I'd sometimes fantasize about us getting married, especially after he was divorced, but I always knew in the back of my mind that, if he had me as his girl in Nevada, he probably had other girls elsewhere.  He never tried to pretend that we had a future together."

Hutch rubbed at his lower lip.  "Did he ever mention anyone else?"

"No.  He wouldn't be that rude about it.  The three days each month was our special time together."

Hutch decided to switch his line of questioning.  "Did you know much about his business?  About his region?"

She shrugged.  "I knew he was a successful salesman, and made a good living at it.  He always dressed nice and rented the best cars."

"Were you aware that he lost the whole state of Texas earlier in the year?"

"Oh, yeah.  He was pretty upset about it.  He was nearing retirement age, but didn't have any intention of retiring, and he felt his company was trying to force him out because of his age.  He felt that taking Texas away from him was their first line of attack."

Hutch made notes on his yellow pad.  "Was there anyone in particular at the corporate office that he was angry at?"

"Nah, he never mentioned names.  He tried to keep unpleasant subjects to a minimum, when we were together."  She cocked her head.  "Are you thinking his employer could have something to do with his murder?

"We don't know," Hutch replied.  "My firm just started this investigation a few days ago.  We're just gathering information, at this point.  But the corporate angle is something that we definitely want to investigate."

She released a heavy sigh.  "I hope you find out who did this.  Of all the people to be murdered."

Hutch scanned the notes he'd already made.  "Ms. Smith, if you don't mind my asking, this is quite a drive from Reno.  Did you always live here?"

"No, I used to live near where I worked at the restaurant.  Once I had my daughter, I didn't want to have to work until she got older."  She glanced behind her.  "Fred bought me this house," she said with reverence.  "Just paid for it outright, so I'd know I'd always have a roof over my head."

"Why this far away from Reno?"

"My mother lives just a few miles away.  She helps raise Brenda.  Now that she's five, I work part time at the lake, renting out boats."

"So, once you lived here, you drove to Reno to see Fred once a month?"

"Yes.  My mother watched Brenda while I spent those three days with him in town.  My mother didn't approve of the affair, of course, but Brenda is her only granddaughter, and she thoroughly adores her."

Hutch ran his fingers along his mustache, thinking that Katherine seemed very well adjusted for a single woman who was raising a child out of wedlock.  "Ms. Smith, if you'd like, I can mention you to John, Fred's son.  I don't know how he'll feel about the situation, but I suppose there's an off chance that he might continue the monthly payments."

She shrugged.  "Sure, if that's at all possible, I'd appreciate it more than I can say."  She then gave Hutch a wry smile.  "I suppose I'm the only one of his women with a child."

Hutch drew a breath.  "Actually, Ms. Smith, we haven't come across the mention of any other women he was seeing.  Though, I admit, we haven't had reason to pursue that angle.  We've focused on his business initially, and haven't delved much yet into his personal life."

Her expression grew thoughtful.  "Hard to believe I could be his one and only.  I never felt that I was.  Only that he and I treated each other as special those three days each month."

Hutch glanced at the house.  "Either way, buying a house is quite a commitment."

"I figured it was his way of making up for everything; you know, not wanting to marry me or have me move out to California to be with him, or anything like that."

Hutch put his notebook away and closed his briefcase.  "I've taken up enough of your time.  I greatly appreciate your help."  He stood and reached to clasp her hand.  "If you think of anything -- the smallest detail -- that might help us find out why Fred was murdered, please call me at the number on my card."

"I'll do that," she assured.

"In the meantime, I'll let his son know about you and about the payments."


When Hutch was driving away from the curb, he strongly felt Starsky's absence.  It was so natural to discuss matters between them, after interviewing a witness. 

Instead, he was going to have to wait until they were able to get in touch with each other this evening.

"It's got to be the corporate angle," Hutch told Starsky that night, after they'd been discussing the case for a few minutes.

"I knew it.  I didn't get anything useful today."

"Did you ask about any girls that checked into the motels with him?"

"Yep.  Anyone who remembered Fred couldn't recall him being with anyone, unless it was having a drink at the bar with other businessmen."

"That's odd."


"Because Katherine Smith assumed that she wasn't his only lover.  He never led her on that he ever intended to be with her permanently.  Yet, after he was divorced, why would he keep their relationship at arm's length if he wasn't seeing anyone else?"

Starsky mused, "Maybe he had another girlfriend back at home."

"Yeah, that could be it.  But then we're back to it being weird that the son didn't know anything about it."

"We'll have to talk to him more frankly about that."

"Yeah.  Especially since I told Katherine that I'd make sure John knows about her, in case he wants to continue the unofficial child support payments."

Starsky sounded disapproving.  "I hope you didn't get her hopes up.  That's asking a lot for John to do."

"I know.  I told her I have no idea how he'd feel about it.  But that I'd mention her to him.  I mean, Starsk, Fred bought her a house and everything."


"Yeah.  I'm sure it didn't cost that much, being a small house in a small town.  But still, that's going above and beyond the normal boundaries of an affair, even a long-term one."

"Yeah."  Starsky's voice suddenly brightened.  "Hey, I for one am ready to go home tomorrow.  I want to get the first flight out."

"I've already got mine scheduled.  I arrive at ten-oh-two in the morning."

"I'll probably be later than you, so you'd better have your clothes off and be all showered up and waiting for me in bed."

Hutch chuckled.  "Your wish is my command."


Starsky's plane got in close to noon.  After he arrived home, he and Hutch spent a couple of hours getting properly reacquainted. 

They had been dozing a while when the house phone rang, jolting them awake.

The bedroom phone was next to Hutch's side, and he reached lazily for it.  "Hello?"

Starsky made a point of listening when Hutch said, "Oh, hi, Captain."  The blond was silent a long moment, and then glanced at the clock.  "Well, if you'd like, you can come over for dinner tonight.  Bring Edith and the family, if you want."  More listening, then, "Oh, uh, if you want to come over at five-thirty," Hutch glanced at Starsky, "that would be fine.  We both just got back earlier today from being out of town, so our routines are off kilter, anyway."  Hutch nodded while listening further.  "All right, we're looking forward to it.  See you at five-thirty."

As soon as Hutch hung up, he slapped at Starsky's arm with the back of his hand.  "Get up.  We've got to get groceries."

Starsky slowly sat up.  "That was Dobey?"

"Yep.  He wants to talk to us about something, so he's coming over for dinner.  Let's get steaks."

"Just him?"


"Do you think he has another case for us?"

"I doubt it.  He said it was something personal."

Starsky didn't like the sound of that.  "Oh, man, I hope he and Edith aren't having problems."

"I don't think so.  He wants to come over early because it's family movie night tonight.  So, he won't be staying very long."

Starsky tried to see over Hutch to the nightstand.  "What time's it?"

"Going on three.  Let's get moving."

By four-thirty they had everything ready to prepare dinner.  Hutch had gotten the grill started on the back patio, and they both were sitting on the sofa with the TV on a college game, going through the pile of mail that had been left on the floor of the foyer in their absence.

The television advertised a  movie about two brothers.  Hutch grabbed the remote and clicked off the TV.  He stood and walked a few steps away from the sofa, his hands in the back pockets of his jeans.  Then he turned around, his expression grim.  "So, what did Nick have to say when you talked to him?"

Starsky's stomach tightened.  He glanced at the clock, wanting to protest that they didn't have time for this right now.  But they did. 

Starsky reluctantly said, "He wanted to get something off his chest."

"About what?" Hutch asked with quiet foreboding.

"About - about when he and Lanette were out here."

Hutch waited.

"Look, Hutch," Starsky began, struggling for the gentlest words he could find, "according to him, Lanette was sort of upset with us when she was here."

He saw the hurt that he'd dreaded cross Hutch's features.  "Why?" Hutch demanded. 

"Because she felt that everything always revolved around you."  He watched Hutch's mouth fall open.  "And, apparently, she's been feeling that way about her family for a long time.  Her husband wants to control the stuff she does with her stores.  Your dad talks all the time about you now.  All I wanted to do was talk about you.  Nick was the only person that took any interest in her."  Starsky shrugged delicately.  "It's no wonder that she was so taken with him when they were here."

Hutch sputtered, and started to say something, but nothing came out.

Softly, Starsky said, "She's a highly accomplished woman, Hutch.  And nobody gives her any recognition for that.  Nick said that Lanette specifically gave him the example that, when she told your mother how one of her stores had record sales one month, your mother just dismissed it with a 'That's nice, dear'.  She doesn't take her seriously as a business woman.  Nobody does."  Starsky lowered his voice even more, feeling the guilt that he'd experienced when Nick was talking to him.  "And we didn't, either."

Hutch bowed his head and brought his hand to his forehead.  "Oh, my God," he said sorrowfully.

"And to add insult to injury," Starsky said, wanting to get the worst parts of this conversation over with, "Nick said that that he agreed.  He told me that we were self-centered and self-absorbed."

Hutch's head came up.  "What?"

"I know, I know," Starsky quickly assured.  "I mean, each of them more or less invited themselves out.  It's not like we told them, 'Hey, why don't you come out for a few days and we'll show you a good time.'  So, on the one hand, I don't see what either of them could have expected from us."

"Self-centered and self-absorbed?"

Now that the worst parts had been said, Starsky tried to figure out how to help Hutch deal with what he himself had already had a couple of days to mull over.  "You know, Hutch, maybe we are self-centered and self-absorbed.  But I for one dare anybody to go through just some of the things you and I have gone through together and come through it any different than we have.  What's more," his voice rose, "I sure as hell am not going to apologize for the fact that you're on my mind ninety-nine percent of the time.  If that makes me self-absorbed in us, I don't care."

Hutch grimaced and still seemed to be gathering his thoughts.

Starsky deliberately softened.  "But on the other hand, I also can see where Lanette is coming from.  You know?  Nick says she feels like a second class citizen because she has... you know, female anatomy."  Starsky decided against using the much more vulgar word Nick had quoted.  "Not one of the people who is supposed to care the most about her gives a rat's ass about what kind of person she is or what she's accomplished in her life."

Hutch's shoulders slumped and he sighed heavily.  "Damn," he muttered.  "I had no idea."

"Of course, you didn't.  She hardly spent any time at all with you, Hutch.  How were you supposed to know anything about what she thought or felt?  And none of it changes the fact that she said some pretty hurtful things to you when you took her to the airport, that were pretty uncalled for, in my opinion."

Hutch glanced up, swallowing thickly. 

Starsky pressed, "But I think what's important here isn't pointing fingers at who said what or didn't say what.  This shouldn't be about accusations.  Nick made a point of telling me because, as much as you may not want to hear it, I think he really cared about Lanette.  I think he'd accepted that he wasn't going to hear from her anymore, and he thought he may as well betray her confidence and at least let us know how she felt.  He cared enough to hope that she can have a better relationship with her family."

Hutch snorted.  "Pardon of my skepticism at the nobleness of his gesture."

Starsky had known the reference to Nick's goodwill wouldn't go down well.

Hutch said, "I think I should call her."

"No, Hutch.  Come on, that's not fair.  To Nick or to her.  She has no way of knowing that Nick was going to say anything.  You go dumping a big apology in her lap, it could backfire.  I just think we should just make a point that, whenever either one of us has an opportunity to talk to her again, we can at least be more sensitive about taking an interest in her life.  You know?  That's all that needs to happen here."

Hutch rubbed a hand over his face.

Starsky patted the sofa.  "Come over here.  This is why I didn't want to tell you earlier.  I wanted us to be together when I told you.  I knew it was going to sting.  It stung me when Nick told me."

Hutch strided to the sofa and then plopped down heavily.  "I feel like a fucking failure as a brother."

Starsky leaned close and squeezed Hutch's arm.  "Hey," he said softly, "you can only go by what you know.  You didn't know what Lanette wanted from you.  Big brothers are supposed to be protective of their sisters.  You tried to be that.  Not your fault that it turned out to not be what she wanted."  Starsky gentled his voice even more.  "But you and Lanette can come through this, just like you and your Dad have.  You're just going to have to be patient and be willing to forgive each other, and yourselves, for your failings."

Hutch rested his head back against the sofa, gazing at the ceiling. 

Starsky decided to point out, "Besides, it's not like you have a monopoly on the failed brother thing."

Hutch looked over at him.

"Nick and I are doing better, but I don't know if he's ever going to get past feeling that I abandoned him, even though it wasn't my choice to come out west.  That was our mother's doing but, to Nick, it's like his father left him, and then his older brother left him."  Starsky shrugged.  "Nothing I can do about that now.  I don't regret how things turned out, but that doesn't change the fact that I can sort of see where he's coming from."

Hutch sighed heavily, his gaze back on the ceiling.  Quietly, he said, "I can't believe she would really think that I don't care about her life.  I mean," he shrugged, looking at Starsky again, "when I tried to talk to her about what was going on with her, she really wouldn't tell me much."

"I know," Starsky emphasized.  "Our siblings have reasons for feeling the way they each feel, but that doesn't mean that we did anything wrong, as their brothers.  It takes two.  If they don't make much effort on their side, what are we supposed to do about it?"

Hutch grunted.  "Self-centered and self-absorbed."

Starsky grinned, and then ventured, "Well, considering I've had more time than you to think about this whole thing, I've reached the conclusion that we have a serious lack of female interaction in our lives."

Hutch looked over at him questioningly.

"Hutch, we have very little contact with women, especially younger women.  The few women we see are older and fed up with their husbands.  The world is changing,  you know?  Women are getting more opportunities about what they can do in their lives.  I, for one, don't want to wake up one morning and realize that I'm fifty years old, and the younger generation considers me a old-fart, male chauvinist pig because I don't know how to accept women as equals."

Hutch furrowed his brow.  "So, how do you intend to have more female interaction?"

"I don't know," Starsky admitted.  "Feel like I want to maybe take a class or something, where there's likely to be a lot of women in it.  Hell, at this point, I wouldn't mind taking something in Women's Studies."

Hutch snorted, some humor finally emerging.  "Sure you would.  That'll be the day."

"I'm just saying that we can get kind of isolated in our comfy little lives, and we don't always see what's going on out in the world.  And part of what's going on is that women are doing a lot more things and becoming a lot more important than they used to be.  When you stop and think about it, your sister is an amazing example of that."

"Yeah," Hutch said with fondness.

Starsky shifted and reached to furrowed his fingers through strands of blond hair.  "You going to be okay, babe?"

"Yeah."  Hutch patted Starsky's leg. 

Starsky decided that it was okay to change the subject.  "You know what you're really a failure at?"

Hutch looked over at him.  "What?"

"Being my workout coach."  Starsky patted his stomach.  "I'm starting to put on weight again."

"You felt fine to me a little while ago."

"Yeah, but my jeans are getting too tight.  I was eating chips the whole time in Texas."

"Who's fault is that?"

"I know.  But you haven't pushed enough or been strict enough with me.  I'm going to the gym on Monday and signing up with a personal trainer.  If I pay him a lot, that'll motivate me to go regularly."

"Fine," Hutch said amiably.

Starsky was relieved that Hutch wasn't treating Starsky's decision as a rejection.  Starsky suspected that Hutch didn't push him much about exercise because Hutch felt that, after everything Starsky had been through, health-wise, that he deserved to be self-indulgent.  But while they sometimes joked about one day being pot-bellied old men who still adored each other, Starsky felt he had at least another decade in which to be something desirable to look at.

Hutch glanced at the clock and started to rise.  "I need to make the salad."

Dobey was sitting across from Starsky and Hutch an hour later, a napkin stuck in his shirt, taking another bite of steak.  They'd spent most of the dinner talking about the latest gossip at the station.

After sipping his lemonade, Dobey said, "I suppose you two are wondering why I wanted to meet."

"Yep," Starsky said, hoping it wasn't anything dramatic.  He and Hutch had been looking forward to some quiet time at home, after having their siblings in their house recently, and then the days of traveling.

Dobey sat back in his chair.  "I'm sure you two remember detective Joan Meredith."

Starsky felt a flair of affection for his temporary partner when Hutch had been shot.  He remembered one particular night of pleasure.  "Uh-huh.  Is she okay?"

Dobey grinned.  "Oh, yeah, she's doing fine.  She's spent the past couple of years in Juvenile.  She's made quite a reputation for herself."

"And?" Hutch pressed, his hand running casually along Starsky's back.  Of course, he had known about Meredith.  They were never jealous of each other's past relationships.

"Well, you remember what a vivacious woman she is."  Dobey didn't wait for an answer.  "She has a niece, Kyeesha, who's amazingly similar in personality.  Kyeesha is a twenty-five-year old grad student working on her Master's in Sociology.  She grew up in North Carolina, and she came out here to Bretton University to complete her education.  Well," Dobey shifted and rested his hands across his stomach, "the plan was for Kyeesha to stay with her aunt while she went to school."  He chuckled.  "That turned out not to be a good idea.  Two women too much alike.  They couldn't get along at all.   They tolerated each other for about a year and half, and then I think Meredith was ready to throw Kyeesha out.  I happened to over-hear her talking about it in the cafeteria one day, so I asked her for details."

Starsky had no idea where this was leading, and he and Hutch both continued with their meal, as Dobey went on.

"When Edith got wind of the situation, she wanted to invite Kyeesha to stay with us.  She thought a serious young grad student like that, living in our house, would be a great inspiration for the kids.  Well, that worked for about two months.  Calvin is having major hormone surges and can't keep his eyes off Kyeesha.  But worse, she and Edith started not getting along."

Starsky's head shot up and he glanced at Hutch to see a similar reaction.  "How can anyone not get along with Edith?"

Dobey chuckled, "You'd have to meet this gal Kyeesha to begin to understand that.  She's smart as a whip, extremely well educated, and articulate, and is pretty convinced she knows everything about everything, and the rest of the world doesn't have a clue.  The last straw was when she suggested that Edith rearrange the kitchen to make it more 'efficient'."

Hutch said, "I'm sorry to hear that, but what's that got to do with us?"

Dobey drew a long breath.  "Well, it's now a bit of a problem as to what to do with Kyeesha.  She only has another six weeks or so of school, and then she's done.  Edith doesn't think she can stand her that long.  So, I wondered...."   Dobey looked from Starsky to Hutch, and then back to Starsky.

"What?" Starsky asked in disbelief.  "You're wondering if she can stay with us?"

"Why can't she stay on campus, in a dorm?" Hutch asked.

"It's too late now to find room.  Plus, Kyeesha is strongly against having to room with somebody in such a close space.  She's very mature for her age, to say nothing of having a chip on her shoulder the size of a two-by-four, and she doesn't feel that she fits in well with other students."

"You mean because they're beneath her?" Starsky asked on a high note.

"Something like that.  Look, you two.  I think she's a great kid.  She studies really hard.  It's just that, if you watch the evening news with her, you get an earful on how the politicians and all the other authorities in the world are handling things in the wrong way.  I just thought, you having such a big house and all...."

Hutch asked, "Does she know about us?"

"Oh, sure."  Dobey chuckled.  "She perked right up when I told her I had two male friends in a relationship together.  See, her specialty in Sociology is alternative lifestyles.  Interracial marriages.  Same-sex couples.  Stuff like that.  So, she was pleased as punch at the idea of living with two guys and being able to study them up close and personal."

Starsky could see he and Hutch's plans for some quiet time at home slipping away.

Dobey pressed, "This is even closer to Bretton University than my place.  She doesn't have a driver's license, since she doesn't have a car, but she's adept at taking the bus for most of her transportation needs.  But she occasionally appreciates being driven here or there.  She has financial aid and can afford to pay a couple hundred dollars or so in monthly rent."

Hutch muttered, "This is damned ironic."

Dobey reached for his lemonade.  "What do you mean?"

Starsky also wondered what Hutch meant, but when they looked at each other, it was obvious that Hutch expected him to know.

Then the light bulb went on in Starsky's head.  "Oh, man, Cap'n, you won't believe this, but Hutch and I were just talking a little while ago about how little interaction we have with the female sex."

"Let me tell you," Dobey said with a wide grin, "Kyeesha is a lot of woman, but not in the way most men would expect."

Hutch asked, "Does she have a boyfriend?"

"No.  She doesn't really have time for dating.  Though I also suspect that part of the reason is that she feels that most men are beneath her."

Hutch's cheeks billowed as he blew out a long breath.  "You're wanting us to invite this young woman into our house?"

"Well, in addition to the fact that it would admittedly be doing Edith and me a favor, I thought it might liven things up."

Starsky noted, "We've had things plenty lively of late."

Dobey frowned.  "Is that a no, then?"

Starsky and Hutch looked at each other.  "No, not necessarily," Starsky hedged.

"This is just kind of sudden," Hutch said.  "You aren't really giving us a chance to think about it."

Starsky asked, "If we say yes, when would she move in?"

"As soon as possible.  It would be nice if she could be moved by the time she has classes Monday, but I realize that's probably too quick."

"Well," Starsky mused, "the guest bedroom is pretty much all set up.  The sheets on the bed are clean.  We'd just need to clean up the hall bathroom a little.  She can have it all to herself."

"Believe me," Dobey said, "a bathroom of her own would be bliss, after being in our house with the kids."

Starsky looked at his partner.  "What do you think, Hutch?  I mean, I'm sure we can handle her.  If she starts trying to boss us around, we can just ignore her."  He grinned, trying to put a positive spin on it.  "She might be kind of fun."

Dobey removed his napkin from his shirt.  "She'll liven up dinner conversation, that's for sure."

Hutch shoved the basket of rolls at Dobey.  "Eat up."  He reached to take Starsky's hand.  "Starsk and I need to talk about this."

They both stood, and Starsky allowed Hutch to lead him to their bedroom, where they switched on the overhead light and then shut the door.

Hutch plopped down sideways on the bed, on his back.  "Man."

Starsky sat beside him.  "Yeah.  But you know, Hutch, we do sort of owe Dobey."

"Yeah," Hutch admitted reluctantly.  "I just wish we could have a week or so to enjoy the freedom of our house being our own again."  He glanced at Starsky.  "We won't be able to mess around or anything while watching TV."

Starsky considered that.  "Well, don't most college kids spend a lot of time at the library?  I mean, it's not like she's going to be here all the time, the way Nick and Lanette were." 

"Yeah, but even if there's the slightest chance that she could come home unexpectedly... I literally don't want to be caught with our pants down."

Starsky lay beside Hutch and propped his chin in his hand.  "Then I guess we'll just have to appreciate the privacy of our bedroom that much more."  He then added, "We've gotten used to having to keep the door closed, that's for sure."

Hutch mused, "The fall semester will be ending before Christmas.  So, at least she'll be gone by then."

"Yeah," Starsky said as he gently rubbed his hand along Hutch's stomach.  "I'm pretty sure we can put up with just about anything, as long as we know there's an end in sight."

Hutch slowly shook his head.  "It's just hard to imagine someone not getting along with Edith.  That's pretty damn scary."

"Yeah, but Dobey seems amused by the whole thing, so it can't be that serious.  I'm thinking maybe it's the 'too may cooks in the kitchen' type of thing.  I mean, if Kyeesha wants to rearrange our kitchen or something like that, I say let her have at it."  Starsky grinned.

Hutch grinned back.

"At least, it'll mean that furnishing the guest bedroom was plenty worthwhile," Starsky noted.  They'd done that before Hutch's parents visited last spring.

Hutch snorted.  "Yeah, it's gotten quite a bit of use."

Starsky patted Hutch's stomach.  "So, should we tell Dobey it's a go?"

"I guess."  Hutch sighed heavily.  "Sounds like we may as well tell him that she can move in tomorrow, if they can arrange it that fast."  He looked abruptly at Starsky.  "We need to call John Newman and see when he can meet with us.  Tomorrow morning, huh?  I'm sure he won't mind us calling on a Sunday."

"Yeah.  And let's not forget the lady with the dog."

Hutch groaned, and Starsky laughed.

Sunday afternoon, it was Dobey and Meredith that brought Kyeesha and her belongings to Starsky and Hutch's house.  Kyeesha looked remarkably similar to Meredith, with the same build and large eyes.  However, she was darker skinned, and whereas Meredith's expression always seemed to be smiling, Kyeesha's countenance was much more studious and frank.

While most of the activity centered around getting Kyeesha's possessions into the guest bedroom, Hutch moved to the kitchen for refreshments and noticed Meredith stepping out onto the back patio, holding her jacket to her body, to brace against the cool air of early November.  He went to join her.

She smiled as he closed the sliding glass door behind them, and then said, "This house has a peaceful vibe."

"Thanks.  We've been enjoying it."

"I hope Kyeesha doesn't disrupt it too much."

"We'll manage.  She seems like a terrific young lady." 

"Capable and accomplished, that's for sure."

Hutch's voice grew warm.  "Like her aunt?"

She gave him a hesitant smile.  Then she glanced away a moment, before glancing back.  "You know, I could tell that Dave loved you dearly, based on his behavior when we were partnered together.  Everything was 'Hutch this' and 'Hutch that'.  And 'Hutch isn't going to believe this.'"  She drew a quiet breath.  "But I admit, I never imagined that you two would end up together."

Hutch couldn't tell that she was jealous, but that she only seemed to be making an observation.  Gently, he said, "It's not something either of us could have imagined back then, either."  He lowered his gaze, and then looked back up.  "But the last year or so before we resigned, we went through some really intense stuff.  If we weren't already everything to each other, we certainly were by then."

She appeared thoughtful, and then said, "It's hard not to wonder what that must be like.  To not envy it."

Hutch tilted his head to one side.  "You don't have anyone?"

"I've had various someones."  She presented a distant smile.  "I get accused a lot of being married to my job."

"It's hard not to be, when you're a cop and really care about making a difference."  Hutch leaned back against the brick siding.  "Starsk and I know how fortunate we are.  We don't take anything for granted."

The sliding glass door opened, and Starsky cheerfully said, "You two out here, talking about me?"

Meredith grinned.  "Don't flatter yourself."

"I'll get the refreshments," Hutch said, stepping back through the glass door and closing it behind him.

As he removed drinks and cold cuts from the refrigerator, Hutch kept glancing at the two on the back patio.  Starsky and Meredith both were naturally flirtatious, and it showed in their expressions, as they communicated easily with each other.

He and Starsky had run into Meredith on occasion at Parker Center, after Hutch had recovered from being shot, and the two always dropped into an easy game of sexual innuendos and playful cut downs.  Of course, Hutch had known immediately that they had slept with each other.  But Starsky had been frank that it had been a one-time thing.  He adored Meredith as a fellow professional that was easy to look at and interact with, but they hadn't had the right chemistry for any kind of relationship.

After Starsky had been gunned down, Meredith had visited the hospital on a few occasions, and Hutch had been very appreciative of those visits, as he knew Starsky had been.

Now, as he watched her reach out to pat Starsky's stomach -- probably because he'd said something about his weight -- Hutch felt badly for her that she apparently couldn't make a long-term relationship work.  For that matter, she couldn't manage to live peacefully with her highly educated niece, either.

"Ah, food," Dobey said as he emerged from the hall, interrupting Hutch's thoughts.  He was dressed in baggy jeans and a sweater.

"What would you like to drink, Captain?  There's beer."

"That sounds good."  Dobey sat in a kitchen chair.

Hutch handed him a beer and pushed a plate toward him.  "Help yourself."  He took a few steps into the foyer and called down the hall, "Kyeesha?  How's it going?  We've got food here."

"Coming," she called back. 

Dobey was making himself a sandwich and glanced out at the back patio.  "They going to join us?"

"I'm sure they will in a minute.  They haven't seen each other in a long time."

"I think that's why Meredith wanted to help Kyeesha move."

Kyeesha came into the kitchen, brushing her hands against her form-fitting jeans.  "I'm going to need an extension cord for my TV."

"I'm sure there's something around here," Hutch said.  "If not, we'll take you to the store.  For that matter, you should probably make a list of everything you might need to get settled in."

"I've already got a list," she said in an "of course" manner, sitting down.  Then she glanced out toward the back patio.  "Are they trying to rekindle an old romance?"  She reached for the loaf of bread.

Hutch almost choked on the cracker he'd inserted into his mouth.  He wasn't sure if Kyeesha knew Meredith's history with Starsky, or if she'd made an immediate determination of their past relationship, based upon their body language.  "Not hardly," he said off-handedly.

She shrugged.  "They act like they've slept together."

While noting Dobey's wide grin from the corner of his eye, Hutch looked directly at Kyeesha and blinked.  Then he said firmly, "If they have, it's not something that matters now."

Kyeesha glanced at the patio again, while inserting a knife into the jar of mayonnaise.  "My aunt can only have shallow relationships."

Dobey brought his napkin up to his mouth and coughed.

Hutch felt himself bristle at her bluntness, and then realized how silly it was to be upset with a twenty-five-year old who likely had very little direct experience with personal relationships. 

The sliding glass door opened, and Starsky and Meredith came back into the house.

"Let me make you a sandwich," Starsky was saying.

"No, no," Meredith protested, looking at her watch.  "I'm meeting with a friend to go shopping."  She glanced at Dobey.  "We need to get going soon."

"Oh, right," Dobey said, quickly swallowing the last of his sandwich.

After Dobey and Meredith had left, and the household members had gotten enough to eat, Hutch went into the office for a sheet of paper that he had typed up, and brought it to the kitchen table.  Dobey had said that Kyeesha would respect her landlords more if they drew up an agreement for her to sign as a short-term tenant.  

Hutch sat back down and said, "We want to go over the house rules with you."

"All right," she said, folding her hands on the tabletop that was now clear of food.

Hutch turned the sheet on the table so she could read it.  "You're welcome to all areas of the house at any time, except our bedroom is strictly off limits.  Our office, just off the foyer there," he gestured, "is off limits, too.  Don't answer the phone there, if it rings.  In turn, we'll respect your bedroom and the hall bathroom as your space, and won't enter, unless we have reason to think there's drugs or anything else illegal or dangerous going on."

Starsky said, "We have a zero tolerance policy toward drugs."

She gave them a baleful look.  "You think I got where I am by being a druggie?"

Hutch made a point of being patient.  "No, we're just telling you the household policy.  That goes for any friends you might have over."

Starsky put in, "No more than two friends at a time, unless you clear it with us first."

"Yeah," she said sarcastically, rolling her eyes, "I'm a wild party girl."

Starsky grinned as he said, "We're just telling you the rules, Kyeesha, not trying to define you."

"Moving along," Hutch prompted, pointing farther down the sheet, "the house phone is here," he gestured to the wall.  "There shouldn't be any clients calling on that line.  There's a notepad there beside it, so if anyone calls for us when we aren't here, we'd appreciate you taking a message for us, and we'll do the same for you.  You're welcome to all the household appliances.  We feel that you're also welcome to any of the food in the kitchen.  If you have any stuff of your own that you don't want us to touch, you need to somehow label it so we know it's yours."

Starsky said, "We don't always have sit-down dinners, but if we make dinner and we know you're going to be around, we'll make enough for you.  So, you might want to let us know your schedule, if you have a routine."

She said, "I tend to make Tuesdays and Thursdays my library nights, because I only have afternoon classes, so I often don't get home until close to nine."

"Good enough," Starsky said with a nod.  "We'll keep you mind for the other days."

Hutch continued down the paper.  "You're welcome to watch TV in the living room with us, but we have first dibs on what to watch."

Starsky put in, "We usually aren't very particular, except when it comes to sports."

"Since you have your own TV in your room," Hutch noted, "that shouldn't be a problem."

"I like to watch the news as much as possible," she said.  "I like to know what's going on in the world."

Hutch noted, "We have cable with that twenty-four hour CNN news channel, but we only like watching it sometimes."

"If you're here alone," Starsky said, "have at it."

Hutch went on.  "Dobey said that you usually take the bus, but sometimes you need a ride somewhere.  Starsky and I don't keep regular schedules, since we're self-employed, but one of us is here, more often than not.   So, if you need us to give you a lift somewhere, we'll try to accommodate you."

Starsky said, "Or if, like it's raining really bad or something, you can always try calling here and see if one of us is available to give you a lift home.  The closest bus stop is a good ten minutes away from this neighborhood."

"Thanks," Kyeesha said, "but I can usually manage the buses pretty well."

"We're just offering," Starsky noted. 

"That's everything we could think of," Hutch said.  "Do you have any questions?"

She shook her head.  "If I do, I'll ask."

"Great.  As Dobey should have mentioned, it's three hundred dollars for the six weeks, and you can sign here."  Hutch handed her the pen.

She signed the paper, and then slipped her hand into the pocket of her jeans and brought out a folded check.  "I left the payee blank, since Harold said he wasn't sure who I should make it out to."

As Hutch accepted the check, Starsky smiled and said, "Welcome to our household, Kyeesha.  We hope you'll enjoy staying here."

John Newman moved from his large, mahogany desk and went to gaze out the window of his office.  He was Starsky and Hutch's age,  dressed in casual slacks and button shirt, and he seemed lonely in the large, upper middle class house he inhabited. 

Starsky and Hutch were dressed in sport coats without ties, and sat in the large, leather chairs before the desk.  They exchanged a glance.

Finally, Newman turned to look at them.  "I'm finding out a lot of things about my father that I didn't know.  Sometimes, I wonder if maybe all I did was ask, he would have told me what was going on at the company.  But I had no reason to ask.  He seemed to live the same as he always did.  But I'm finding out now that he had quite a bit of debt.  He was using credit cards regularly for just about everything, and only paying the minimum due each month."  He sat at his desk with a sigh. 

Starsky said, "We'll want to visit Premium West Auto Parts, to try to find out more about what the plan was for your father.  Our suspicions are that they were trying to force him out, because he was so good at his job that his commission scale were costing them an enormous amount of money.  We've heard rumors that they were wanting to break his region up into smaller areas, so they could be taken over by new salesmen that, collectively, would cost a lot less than what they were paying Fred.  We just haven't settled yet on the best approach to take, in terms of if we want to go undercover or not." 

Starsky shifted uncomfortably in his chair before continuing.  "Listen, John, we'd like to ask you some more about any of your father's relationships with women."

Newman shrugged.  "I told you before that I don't know of anyone he was seeing seriously.  He never really talked about women.  I just assumed whatever liaisons he might have had were short term."

Hutch said.  "Well, we've found out that he had one long-term affair, at least, with a woman in Nevada.  It went on for seven years, right up until his death."

"Seven years?" Newman repeated softly.

"Yes."  Hutch also shifted restlessly and ran his fingers along his mustache.  "I have some details about that that you might find surprising to hear."

"What details?"

"Well, first, the woman had a child -- a daughter -- by your father.  She's five now."

"A child," Newman whispered.  Then he looked up abruptly.  "You mean I have a half sister?"

"Yes.  I've talked with the mother.  She said she and John met for three days every month, when he was in the Reno area, for those seven years.  She said that he never promised her any kind of future, and she assumed that he had women in other cities, but we haven't been able to find any evidence of such.  Once she had the baby, he bought her a house outright, in the small town where her mother lives.  It's a good hour's drive from Reno, where they met each month, so I don't think your father ever saw the baby.  But he cared enough to buy the house and send her monthly checks for a hundred and fifty dollars."

Newman sat staring at his desk.

After Starsky felt Newman had had enough time to absorb the shock, he said, "We're wondering if there's other women out there, because they could have more information about your father.  The woman in Nevada said he was very upset about having lost Texas, and felt that the company was trying to force him out."

Hutch added, "It seems strange to us that your father would be seeing the woman in Nevada for so many years, without wanting to get more serious with her, if he didn't have at least one other long-term relationship going on."

Newman slowly shook his head.  "If there was anyone else, I don't know anything about it."  He looked up.  "I must seem like a fool."

Starsky soothed, "Lots of people hide things about their lives, including from their family members.  The things your father didn't tell you are obviously because he didn't want you to know.  I take it that he was the kind of man who kept his problems to himself?"

Newman shrugged.  "I wasn't aware of him ever having problems.  Even when I was a kid, he always put on the cheerful front.  All I knew of problems is that my parents argued a lot.  They should have gotten divorced long before they actually did."

Hutch shifted again.  "John, do you think there's any chance that your mother would be willing to talk with us?  It's possible that she might have known of other women in his life.  Even if it was a long time ago, it's possible he might have still continued one or more of those relationships, up until his death."

"I'll ask her."  Newman smiled wryly.  "Maybe her heart's softened a little bit toward him, now that he's gone."

"Good enough.  Let us know."

Starsky said, "In the meantime, we'll figure out an approach to the corporate office and let you know if we find out anything." 

Starsky began to rise, but Hutch said, "One more thing."  He took out his wallet and produced a card.  "When I talked to the woman in Nevada, I told her that I'd mention her to you.  Her name is Katherine Smith.  She knows not to expect anything, in terms of any interest you might have in her daughter or wanting to continue your father's monthly payments.  But if you do have any interest in contacting her, her number is on the back of this card."  Hutch stood and handed the card to Newman.

"I'm not sure...," Newman hesitated as he accepted the card.

"You're not under any obligation," Starsky assured.  "Like Hutch said, she knows not to expect anything.  We're just passing along the information, for you to handle or ignore as you please."

Hutch said, "She seemed pretty happy where's she's at.  Even before I had a chance to tell her about your father's death, she didn't sound angry that he suddenly disappeared from her life.  She didn't strike me as bitter about anything."

Starsky wondered if Newman could pick up on how badly Hutch wanted him to contact Katherine.  He decided to stand, ending the meeting, and held out his hand over Newman's desk.  "We'll be in touch, John.  Let us know about your mother."

When they left Newman's home, they parted to their separate cars.  They'd driven separately to see Newman, because afterward Hutch was going to see Mrs. Crenshaw about her still-lost Peppy, and Starsky was going to the gym to sign up with a personal trainer.

Hutch was already home, in the office, when Starsky entered from the garage later that afternoon.  "Hey, Hutch, you won't be believe this."

Hutch put down the receiver, more than happy to put off his next call to a veterinary clinic.  "Yeah, what?"

Starsky entered the office with a large grin.  "I got myself a personal trainer."  His grin widened as he made the outline of an hourglass with his hands.  "He's a she.  Built like you wouldn't believe."

Hutch grunted.  "It's a wonder that you'll manage to stay focused on the exercises."

Starsky chuckled.  "Oh, I'll manage.  Don't want her thinking I'm some kind of lazy slouch.  And she's very no-nonsense."  He moved closer so he could slap Hutch's shoulder with the back of his hand.  "She'll keep me motivated.  It's important to me to not disappoint her."

"Guess we've suddenly found ourselves with lots of women in our lives."

Starsky chuckled as he sat down at his desk.  "Speaking of which, is Kyeesha around?"

"Nope.  Remember, it's Tuesday.  She has classes in the afternoon and stays at the library in the evening."

"Well, now I have classes myself -- only they're individual.  Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at one, but she's less busy going into the holidays, so she says she can be flexible, if necessary."  He glanced at Hutch's desk and the scribbling on his notepad.  "So, how did it go with Mrs. Dog Lady?"

Hutch made a point of not rolling his eyes.  He knew he shouldn't feel so negative about someone who was so eager to pay for their services.  He handed a photograph of a little white dog to Starsky.  "That's Peppy.  He's a four year old miniature poodle.  Last seen November 2nd, when he caught a whiff of something -- maybe a female dog -- and jumped out of Mrs. Crenshaw's arms and went charging down a crowded sidewalk on Brighton Street."

"She didn't have a leash on him?"

"No.  Apparently, he's normally on very good behavior when she carries him around while shopping.  Most of the stores she frequents allow her to have the dog inside the store, since she spends so much money with them."

"So, he's been gone what?  Ten days or something?"

"Right.  Not much chance of finding him.  She said that he had an ID tag with her phone number.  My guess is he got hit by a car."

Starsky grumbled, "Then what does she want us to do about it?"

"Find out what happened." Hutch indicated the notepad.  "I've been calling around to shelters and veterinarians, to see if anyone has brought in a stray dog like that, or maybe an injured dog.  I'm going out tomorrow to see a vet that had a dead white dog brought in that someone had hit with a car.  They took a picture of it, before they disposed of it, in case anybody was looking."

Starsky gazed at the picture of Peppy.  "Don't little white poodle dogs all look alike?"

"The vet should be more experienced at distinguishing one dog from another.  And Peppy had the collar, so it's probably not him, because they would have called the number.  Unless he lost his collar somehow."

Starsky said, "The other possibility is that somebody found him and decided they didn't want to give him up."

"Right.  In which case it'll be virtually impossible to find him."

"Hard to believe that Mrs. Crendshaw actually expects us to spend our time on this."

Hutch opened his desk drawer and held up check.  "She paid us a five hundred dollar advance to show that she's serious about leaving no stone unturned."

Starsky leaned closer to the read the check.  "Okay then.  I guess we'll do our best."

Hutch smiled as he put the check back in the drawer.  Then he sobered.  "How do want to approach the corporate office where Fred Newman worked?"

"I'm thinking one of us should try going in straight, just saying that we're investigating his murder and asking if we can talk to his coworkers and supervisor -- that sort of thing.  Then, if that doesn't go anywhere, the other of us can try a different tactic.  If they know we're working together, we'll be up the creek if our first idea doesn't work."

Hutch mused, "For a big corporation like that, it's a matter of getting to the right person.  Even if his murder does involve the corporation, it would have to be instigated by somebody who has a lot to lose by Fred staying on.  Who would that be?"

Starsky shrugged.  "New guys wanting his regions, because he's already established relationships with the clients there.  Should be easy money for a new person."

"Except, if the corporate office has already taken some of Fred's regions away from him, that would be a benefit to the new guys, so they'd have no reason to kill him."

"Unless there's somebody waiting for the corporation to hire them, and the corporation didn't have room because Fred still worked all of California and Nevada.  Maybe somebody really, really wanted one or both states, badly enough to get Fred out of the way."

Hutch considered that, then shook his head.  "Murder seems way out in left field for somebody in sales.  I mean, that's not the type of personality that's going to go out and kill somebody, or have somebody killed."

"Well, if we look inside the corporation, surely a supervisor or something would be getting paid a salary, or perhaps getting a cut of all the sales that his guys make out in the field.  So, once again, it wouldn't make any sense for somebody in that position to want to off the guy that's making the most money."

Hutch said thoughtfully, "I feel like this has to be something more personal.  Like Fred pissed somebody off, or betrayed them or something."

"Usually personal killings are done personally.  Fred's murder had more the signs of a hired hit, if it truly wasn't random."

"I'm convinced it's not random," Hutch said firmly.

"Me, too."

After a moment, Hutch said, "I keep thinking that there's little chance of anyone at the corporate office giving us information, just because we asked."  He often had to remind himself that he and Starsky weren't cops anymore.  "I feel like one of us should go in under a ruse, like maybe we're looking for a sales job.  Maybe we heard that Fred Newman made a whole lot of money, and we're wondering how we can get a piece of that."

Starsky was thoughtful.  "If we try that, you should be the one to go in.  You look more like a sales guy than I do."

Hutch snorted and decided not to comment.  "I'm going to need phony references."

"You should talk to Huggy about that.  For that matter, find out if Huggy knows anything about who might have been paid to stab Newman to death.   Maybe we can try to backtrack from that angle, at the same time."

Hutch hadn't seen Huggy in a few months.  He rarely had reason to be in that part of town.  "I'll drop by in the next few days.  In the meantime, we'll try to fine tune my cover and how I should approach it."

A couple of nights later, they had a pot roast dinner, and Kyeesha joined them, with most of the conversation revolving around her classes.  After she had cleaned her plate, she took out a notepad and pen, and placed it on the table.

"I'd like to ask you some questions about your relationship," she told them, "for the next paper I'm going to write."

They both shrugged.  "Sure," Hutch said.

She asked, "How old were each of you when you found out you were gay?"

Starsky felt himself grin, and glanced at Hutch to see his partner bat his eyes. 

"Uhhh," Hutch drawled, "thirty-six."

"Same here," Starsky said with amusement.  "We're the same age and found out we were gay, so to speak, at the same time."

She looked from to the other.  "What do you mean by 'so to speak'?"

Starsky replied, "We don't really see ourselves as gay.  Neither of us have ever been interested in other guys.  We always liked girls.  If, God forbid, something ever happened to Hutch, and I was able to bring myself to get involved with someone else, it would be a woman.  I can't imagine I would ever feel this way about another guy."

"So," she said, "you're both bisexual then."

"I guess," Starsky shrugged.  "Sometimes that doesn't sound right, either.  I fell in love with Hutch because he's... Hutch."

She turned her attention to Hutch, as though expecting to find something more comprehensible from his lips.  "You never questioned whether you were homosexual when you were younger?"

"No.  I knew, from early on when Starsk and I first partnered up, that we were unusually close.  But it's not like I was sexually attracted to him."  Hutch shrugged.  "I don't know, maybe I would have been if homosexuality wasn't such a taboo.  But we both had plenty of girls to keep us from needing to explore that path."

"Then what made you finally explore it?"

Starsky had to remind himself that Kyeesha wasn't just a student, but a twenty five year old mature adult.  He supposed he shouldn't be shy about discussing their relationship, though he did feel funny talking to a woman who had some fifteen years less of love experiences.  He answered, "We'd been through some really rough times.  And after coming through them, we decided we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together."

"Not that that was a new thought," Hutch put in.

"Right.  We'd always sort of assumed that whatever happened in our lives, we'd always be together in some way."

Kyeesha prompted, "So, what changed that made you actually start a sexual relationship with each other?"

Starsky wasn't sure how to answer, so he looked at Hutch, who said, "We went about it backwards.  That's why we have so much trouble relating to the idea of putting ourselves under a specific category heading.  We had phenomenal chemistry as partners on the force.  We went through some really rough times together that kept reinforcing our trust in each other.  We've been through things that only each other knows about.  When you've been through intense experiences with another person, your relationship becomes more intense.  Ours was already intense, and it kept becoming even more intense still.  Ultimately, when we were considering leaving the force for a variety of reasons, we reiterated our desire to always be together."

Starsky picked up, "And that point, we sort of realized that there wasn't going to be any room for us to have relationships with other people.  What woman was going to want to be with either of us, if our priority was each other?"

"Only then did sex become a factor," Hutch said with a tone of finality

With disbelief, Kyeesha asked, "At that point you were sexually attracted to each other?  Just out of the blue?"

"It wasn't like that," Starsky protested.  "It's just....  This is a real hard thing to put into words.  It's like once we decided that it made sense to add sex to our relationship, it just seemed... natural, I guess."  He looked at Hutch for verification.

"Yeah.  It wasn't something we wrestled with.  So, if that means we were gay or bisexual all along, then so be it.  I've given up caring what category people want to put us under."

"And the big surprise, for me at least, was that the sex added a more intense level, still."  Starsky suddenly felt himself blush.  He chuckled bashfully.  "And that's all I'm going to say about it, because this is getting too personal.  Your paper had better not need any more details than that."

Hutch placed his hand on Starsky's back and gave him a warm smile.  He mouthed me, too.

Kyeesha regarded Hutch a moment.  Then she asked, "Then, do you self-identify as heterosexual, even though you're in a permanent relationship with another man?"

"Self-identify?" Hutch repeated.

"Yes.  How do you view yourself, from a sexual orientation standpoint?"

Hutch reached to slide his arm along Starsky's shoulders.  "I view myself as someone who's madly in love with David Michael Starsky.  The fact that he's my partner has pretty much been the definition of my life through most of my adulthood.  Nothing has ever been more important than that."

Starsky gave Hutch a warm smile, and then nodded his head.  "That goes for me, too."

Kyeesha turned a page in her notebook, presenting a clean sheet.  Smoothly, she asked, "What are some of the things you fight about the most?"

Starsky turned to look at Hutch just as Hutch looked at him.

"We don't really fight," Starsky finally declared.  "We've been through so much together, that I guess we both reached the conclusion that there's not much worth fighting about.  I mean, we might disagree for a few moments -- such as when I wanted to buy the big screen TV, and Hutch felt it was an expensive luxury item that we didn't need -- but we work that stuff out pretty quickly."

Hutch said, "I've seen Starsky close to death too many times to count.  I've seen him suffer horrific pain, both physically and emotionally.  All I care about now is that he wakes up feeling healthy and happy.  The other stuff is too menial to make an issue of."

"Yeah," Starsky agreed.  "We've gotten medals and things like that for some of our exploits as cops.  But what makes me feel the most proud is knowing that, every day, Hutch wakes up, feeling good and glad to be alive and ready to tackle the day.  That's the main yardstick that I measure the success of my life by."

While Kyeesha wrote notes, Starsky was afraid that they sounded too perfect, so he said, "We used to snipe at each other a lot when we were cops.  You know, just sort of cut each other down and stuff, but most of it was in humor.  Looking back, it was probably our way of dealing with the fear that was always present, because we were in a lot of dangerous situations.   We used to grump at each other about our food choices and stuff like that.  But like Hutch said, after everything we've survived, that sort of thing just isn't important enough to gripe about anymore."

After a time, Kyeesha looked up and asked, "What about neighbors?  Have you guys ever had any problems with neighbors?"

Starsky shook his head while Hutch said, "No.  Not that we've had much contact with them.  This is a quiet neighborhood.  A lot of empty nesters where the kids have moved out.  The house behind us has been vacant since we moved in.  The neighbor on that side," Hutch gestured, "is an elderly lady.  I've said hello but I've never gotten the impression that she was too interested in a conversation.  The couple of the other side, I've only seen once or twice when they were getting in their cars, so they didn't have time to chat."

Starsky said, "We don't see people out working in their yards and that kind of thing.  Most of the people here hire lawn companies to take care of their yards.  And then there's the privacy fences in the back."

Kyeesha furrowed her brow.  "Sounds awfully isolated."

"Yeah, but I guess that can be a good thing for people who like living that way.  There's virtually no crime.  And Hutch and I have a good group of friends from our cop days." 

Kyeesha continued to ask questions and take notes, and Starsky got the impression that she was disappointed that being in a relationship together hadn't caused him and Hutch much in the way of hardships.  

He refused to feel sorry about that.

A few days later, Hutch heard Starsky's car pull into the garage.  He was eager to tell him about his most recent phone call.  But when Starsky walked into the house, his expression was one of distress.

"I hit a dog," Starsky babbled as Hutch met him in the foyer.  "Ran right out in front of me.  I couldn't stop and I hit him.  Killed him.  In front of the kids and everything."

Hutch took Starsky's hand and squeezed his arm.  "Ah, buddy."

"The kids were crying and the mother was screaming at me."

Hutch led Starsky to the kitchen table and sat him down.  "What could you do?" he asked gently.

"Nothing!  But, man, it was awful, Hutch.  They were just little three and four year old kids.  One of them had opened the door and the dog ran out.  I didn't even see it until it was right there in the street and I slammed on the brakes, but I knew it was too late.  Felt the thud at the wheel."

Hutch knew there was nothing he could do to help the situation, but hold Starsky's hand.

"Finally, the mother calmed down.  Then I helped them bury the dog in the backyard.  I gave her our number and told her to call when they're ready to get another, and that I'd pay for it."

"Ah, buddy, it wasn't your fault."

Starsky's eyes flared.  "It's not like that makes me feel better!"

"Okay, okay."  Hutch reached to squeeze Starsky's shoulder.  "I'm sorry.  I'm so sorry you had to go through that."

Starsky sighed heavily, as though deliberately releasing the stress from his body.

Hutch stood and went behind his love.  "Re-lax," he beckoned softly, while placing his hands on Starsky's shoulders.  He worked Starsky's jacket off, and then began to massage into the tight flesh.  "Easy does it," he whispered.  "Let yourself go."

Starsky sagged in the kitchen chair.  Then he muttered, "At least he died instantly."

"Yeah.  Was a small dog, huh?"

"Sort of medium.  Fuzzy little coffee-colored mutt.  At least he didn't look all that gross when he was dead.  I think maybe my wheel hit his head, and then knocked him away." 

As Hutch continued to massage, feeling the tension start to leave his partner's body, Starsky said, "I can see how easily Mrs. Crenshaw's dog could have gotten hit."

"Yeah.  The picture of the dead dog I saw at the vet's wasn't Peppy.  The vet said the dead dog was a little heavier."

Starsky groaned.  "Feels good, Hutch.  I was coming back from my workout when I hit the dog."

"Yeah?  How did that go?"

"It was strenuous.  We mainly did weight stuff.  Oh, she gave me a notebook where I'm supposed to write down what I eat and how much.  That's part of the whole program, so I may as well take advantage of it."

Hutch leaned closer to place his face against Starsky's.  "I'll help you with that, okay?  Are there only certain things you're supposed to eat?"

"Nah, at least not starting out.  She wants me to just be thorough and honest about what I'm eating, and she'll evaluate it after a couple of weeks."

Hutch moved his hands lower and put his arms around Starsky.  He whispered, "Want me to take you to the bedroom and help you relax even more?  You won't have to do anything."

Starsky tilted his head up and briefly touched his lips against Hutch's cheek.  "Not right now.  Tonight though."

Hutch released Starsky and knew he needed to change the subject for his own sake.  He sat opposite his partner.  "John Newman's mother called and made an appointment."

Starsky brightened.  "Oh, good.  When is it?"

"Monday morning."

"Maybe we can both go then."

"Yeah, I don't have anything else scheduled."

"Where is she?"

"She wanted to meet at a coffee shop out near 124th and Clayton."

John Newman's mother now went by her maiden name of Marcella Fenton.   She was elderly and didn't appear to use whatever wealth she might have for enhancing her appearance.  Her face was well-lined, she was dressed in slacks and a simple blouse, and had a casual air about her.

She smoked a cigarette as she sipped her coffee.  "I'm sure Fred probably had more affairs that anyone could keep track of," she told Starsky and Hutch in a smoker's congested voice.  "Probably from the time we were married, though I was too young and naive to be suspicious then."

Delicately, Hutch asked, "Are you aware of anyone in particular that he might have had a long-term affair with?"

"I don't know when it started, but it was after John was already grown and moved out, that I became aware of an employee at the office named Barbara Welsh.  I think maybe I came across her name somewhere in Fred's personal belongings.  She even called at the house a few times, to discuss work matters."

While Hutch took notes, Starsky asked, "What was Barbara Welsh's position at the company?"

"Oh, I don't know what the technical term would have been.  She dealt with complaints from customers, and seemed to be in charge of making sure the salesman stayed in touch with all their clients -- even the ones that hadn't ordered anything in a while -- and that sort of thing."

Hutch prompted, "And you think Fred had a long-term affair with Barbara?"

"Yes.  I'm sure it continued after we were divorced."

Starsky asked, "So, do you think this Barbara Welsh still works at Premium West Auto Parts?"

Marcella shrugged.  "I wouldn't know.  I just know that's where the affair started."

"Did Fred have other serious affairs?" Hutch asked.

"I doubt it.  He liked to play, but Barbara was the one he seemed devoted to."

Marcella had little else to tell them.

When they got back home, Hutch called Premium West Auto Parts and asked for Barbara Welsh.  He hung up the phone just as Barbara answered, but he found out from the receptionist that her title was Sales Coordinator.

Hutch sighed.  "This puts a whole different spin on how to approach them.  We already know that it's a different office that does the interviews for new hires.  I don't know how I could get a chance to talk to Barbara, if I'm there for an interview."

"Why don't I just try calling her straight?" Starsky suggested.  "If she was in love with Fred, surely she would want to talk to someone who is investigating his death."

Hutch considered, and then nodded.  "Yeah, okay."

Starsky picked up the phone and dialed the corporate number, and asked to be put through to Barbara Welsh.  When he heard it answered, he moved the phone slightly away from his ear, so Hutch could tilt his head closer and listen in.

"This is Barbara Welsh," a pleasant female voice answered.

"Ms. Welsh, I'm someone who is investigating the death of Frederick Newman."  He waited.

There was silence, and then a troubled, "Yes?"

"I'm aware that you knew Fred."

"How do you know that?" she demanded.

Starsky made his voice soothing.  "I'm very sorry, but I can't reveal my sources.  But I would like very much to talk with you about him."

"For what purpose?" she asked with genuine puzzlement.

"There's some suspicion that Fred's death wasn't random.  You might have information that can help me find out what happened to him, and why."

"I don't have any information," she said firmly.

Congenially, Starsky said, "Lots of times, people think they don't have information.  But sometimes when I have a chance to talk to them face to face, it turns out that some odd little detail is helpful."

She seemed hesitant, and Starsky pressed, "I'd be happy to meet with you at your convenience, either in your office or your home, or anywhere you'd like to suggest.  It won't take up much of your time."

"Are you with the police?"

"No, I'm a private investigator.  Our conversation can be kept strictly confidential."

"Well, I guess I can meet with you.  Here at the office is fine."

"Great.  When would be a good time?"

"I'm off the week before Thanksgiving, so it'll have to be next week."

Starsky pressed, "What about this week?"

"No, it'll need to be next week.  Tuesday morning at ten?"

Starsky wrote it down.  "Great.  I'll be there."

"What's your name?"

"Oh, sorry.  Dave Starsky."  He gave her their office phone number.  "Thanks very much.  I appreciate  it."

After Starsky hung up, Hutch said, "Great.  That's terrific.  I'll try to get an interview there next week, as well.  Between my hopefully finding out about how the corporate commission scale works, and you finding out more from Barbara Walsh on a personal level, we ought to have a lot better feel for exactly what was going on at Premium West Auto Parts."

It was later in the week, in mid afternoon, when Starsky was in their walk-in closet, gathering laundry that had missed the hamper, and hanging up clothes that had been shed haphazardly, but were still reasonably clean.  Hutch was on the opposite side of the bedroom, in the bathroom, sitting on the commode while browsing through a magazine.  Their bedroom door was closed, since Kyeesha was in the house.

Starsky placed a shirt onto a hanger.  "Is there any further word on the search for Peppy?"  He had spent the early part of the afternoon at the gym.

Hutch turned a page in the magazine.  "I've got my name and number all over the place, at vet's offices and shelters, in case someone brings in a white, male miniature poodle.  I've even left word with a few pet stores, in case someone tries to sell them an older dog.  To say nothing of all the newspaper ads."

"Have you checked with the local police stations around here?  If someone hit a dog, they might have called the animal control department of the police, to clean up the carcass."  Starsky sniffed the armpit of a sweater, and decided it definitely needed to go into the hamper.

"They have my name and number, but they aren't very helpful," Hutch said.  "They deal with so many animals, both dead and alive, on a daily basis, it's not like they remember much, or seem very eager to find out who owns them, if they don't have a collar."

Starsky scooped up underclothes from the floor.  "So, when is Mrs. Crenshaw going to be understand that Peppy isn't going to be found?"  He dumped the bundle into the hamper. 

"I've been updating her every few days."  Hutch released a heavy sigh.  "She just cheerfully says, 'Keep looking.  Keep the ads running.'  And then she reminds me to not be shy about sending her a bill."

Starsky straightened, feeling the protest of muscles that had been so recently exerted.  "You haven't used up that original five hundred dollars all ready, have you?"

The toilet flushed.  Hutch put the magazine aside and spent a moment making himself presentable.  Then he emerged into the bedroom.  "Not hardly.  I haven't tallied my time in a while, but it's mainly just been phone calls.  If I get bored, I suppose I can burn a few hours interviewing employees of the shops along that strip where he was lost, and see what people remember seeing.  Like that's going to do any good."  Dryly, he said, "I'm just not that bored."

Starsky came out of the closet, chuckling.  "Yeah."  Then he said, "The hamper is in the closet for a reason, Hutch."  Not that he himself was that consistent about placing dirty laundry in it.

"Yeah, well --"

They heard a shrill scream.

They rushed out of the bedroom and down the hall.

Kyeesha was standing on a kitchen chair, pointing toward the refrigerator.  "A mouse!  A mouse!" she screeched.  "I saw a mouse!  It was gray."

Hutch didn't understand how anyone could be afraid of something so directly harmless.

Starsky sighed.  "I'm not surprised.  I thought I heard noises in the garage the other day."  He looked at Hutch.  "I'll run to the store and get some traps." His attention turned to Kyeesha.  "Take it easy.  We'll get it taken care of."

As Starsky moved to the garage, Hutch looked up at Kyeesha and held out his hand.  He reminded himself that people sometimes had sincere fears that weren't rational, and made a point of gentling his voice.  "Come on down, Ky."

"What if it comes back?"

"Mice don't like to be around people.  They try not to let themselves be seen.  Come on."

Gingerly, she took his hand and she stepped down from the chair.

He said, "They usually don't want to be around carpeted areas, so you might want to keep to your room and the living room as much as possible, until we think we've got them all."

She put a hand to her chest and released a breath.

"Have you always been afraid of mice?" Hutch asked conversationally.

"Not like a phobia," she hedged.  "They just come out of nowhere and run so fast."  She released another breath.  "Took me by surprise."

Hutch briefly put his hand on her shoulder and then moved to the refrigerator.   "They do tend to do that."  He took a soda and was grateful that Kyeesha had calmed down so quickly.  "I don't think they've been here long.  I haven't seen droppings anywhere."

They moved to the living room where the TV was on CNN.  Various textbooks were spread about the sofa and coffee table, and Kyeesha sat down amongst them.

Hutch sat in an easy chair, sipping the soda.  He decided against changing the TV channel.  "So, how's all this going?" He indicated her books.

"It's going fine."

"I bet you'll be glad when you're finally done with all this studying."

She shrugged.  "Not necessarily.  I like learning things."

"But I tend to think it would be nice to learn things without having a deadline to adhere to."

She sighed.  "There is that."

"So, do you think you're going to try to go right into a job after graduation, or are you planning on taking it easy for a while?"

"I'm not sure yet.  It depends on what comes along."

She was focusing her attention on her notepad, so Hutch decided to leave her alone and see what he wanted to make for dinner.

A few days later, on a Monday, Hutch felt his embarrassment, and therefore anger, building as he sat in the office with his check register out.  Their banker had left a message for them, and Hutch had returned the call in the privacy of the office.  "Thanks very much, Dan.  Appreciate it.  This shouldn't happen again."  As soon as he hung up, Hutch yelled, "STARSKY!"  He knew Kyeesha was around, but he didn't care.

Starsky came trotting into the office.  "What?"

"Did you write an eight hundred dollar check?"  Hutch was responsible for paying the household bills from their joint checking account.  Since he kept the register, they had agreed that Starsky would pay for as many things as possible with a credit card, so he wouldn't have to also keep a register for the same account, and Hutch would pay the credit card bill.  But sometimes merchants didn't take credit cards, and when he didn't have enough cash available, Starsky had to pay with a check, and then would have to tell Hutch about it, so it could be recorded in the register.

Starsky's face fell.  "Uh, yeah.  I bought a new puppy for that family whose dog I killed."  He put a hand to his forehead.  "Oh, God.  I forgot to tell you."

"What?" Hutch asked in disbelief.  "You paid eight hundred dollars for a puppy!"

"I know, I know.  I had no idea it was going to cost that much.  The mother called me to come down to the dog breeder where she and the kids had picked out a puppy.  And what could I say when the breeder said it was eight hundred dollars?  I mean, the kids were right there and everything!  They were already in love with the puppy."

Hutch thought he was seeing red.  "Yeah, well, now we've got checks bouncing all over the place.  And I just got off the phone to Dan Hammer, the banker, and I felt like a complete ass because I had no idea what he was talking about when he mentioned the eight hundred dollar check that had cleared on Friday, and left six dollars in account."

Contritely, Starsky said, "Hutch, I'm sorry."

"How is it even possible that a puppy can cost eight hundred dollars?"

Starsky fumbled for words.  "I know.  I was stunned. too.  It was some purebred bulldog thing.  Those little short dogs with the dooly jaws and huge heads?"

Hutch fumed, "I should have been there!  There's no way I would have allowed us to spend that much."

Starsky's eyes flared.  "Yeah, well, I don't remember you offering to get involved at all!"  He stormed out of the office.

Hutch followed him to the foyer.  "How could you write a check for that much and not remember to say anything?"

Kyeesha appeared where the living room met the kitchen.  "Are you guys having a fight?" she asked with a touch of amusement.

They both turned to her and said in unison, "Stay out of this!"

Hutch looked at Starsky and angrily jerked his head toward the hall.  They both moved briskly to their bedroom.

As soon as the door was shut, Hutch demanded, "How the fuck can a puppy cost eight hundred dollars?"

"You tell me!  I don't fucking know!  Look, Hutch, I'd told the lady to give me a call when she and the kids were ready to get a new dog.  I had no idea that she was planning on taking me for a ride and replacing their little mutt dog with some ritzy purebred thing.  But, okay, it's my fault that I didn't put any parameters for how much the replacement dog could cost.  It never occurred to me it would cost anywhere near that much, but once I was there at the kennel... and the kids were so excited about the puppy... at that point I could hardly put my foot down and say that was too much."

"You should have done it anyway!"

"You're right, Hutch!  The next time I kill some family's dog, I'll know better how to handle it!"

Hutch felt the wind go out of his sails.  He plopped down on the bed, his cheeks billowing.

After a moment, Starsky quietly said, "It really would have been good if you'd been there.  You wouldn't have felt you owed them anything."

"Yeah," Hutch said with a sigh.  He was vaguely aware of Starsky having said something last week about the mother calling, but hadn't given the situation any further thought.

Starsky sat next to him.  "I wasn't trying not to tell you about the check.  After I left the kennel, I met you at Huggy's, and we were talking about the case and...."  He shrugged.  "I forgot completely about it.  I admit that I was glad to have the whole thing over and done with."  After a moment, he asked, "How bad is it?"

Subdued, Hutch said, "There were four checks so far that had bounced today.  Dan is going to let them go through, because I told him to transfer money from our savings.  And he said that he'll waive the fees.  I just felt like a fool talking to him, since I'd had no idea that there was an eight hundred dollar check out there."

Starsky placed his hand on Hutch's leg.  "I'm really sorry, Hutch."

Hutch gave himself a moment.  Then he said, "I know this whole thing has been really hard on you."

"Yeah.  It's certainly something I hope to never have to repeat."

Hutch was eager to get past his anger, and turned enough to place his hand on Starsky chest.  He managed a small grin.  "Your sentimental foolishness is one of the things I love most about you, you know."

Starsky returned the smile.  Then he said, "I guess we should go back out there, before Kyeesha thinks we've killed each other."

"Yeah.  That's a strange feeling, huh?  Having someone try to stick their nose into our business in our own house?"

"Well, we were yelling pretty loud.  It's not like she could pretend she didn't notice."  Starsky cocked his head.  "I really haven't minded having her around.  She hasn't been particularly high maintenance, despite what everyone was saying about her."

"We should invite her to Thanksgiving with the Huntleys, in case she doesn't have anywhere else to go."

"Yeah.  But my guess is she'll want to spend it with Meredith or the Dobeys."

"Can't hurt to ask though."


Hutch realized that he was getting an erection.

He had come down to the gym to watch Starsky's workout, while getting some exercise of his own.  As he slowed his speed on the stationary bike, he couldn't take his eyes off of Ronnie, Starsky's trainer.

She was dressed in a black leotard and tights, and had the most perfectly shaped body that Hutch had ever seen.  He thought there should be a law against someone looking that... healthy.

Poor Starsky was unlikely to be enjoying the view.  His grunts of effort, as he lifted weights under her supervision, could be heard across the gym to where the bikes were.

Hutch had to admire his partner's determination.  Starsky had not yet missed a session at the gym, and he was dutifully keeping track of his food consumption, sometimes instilling the help of Hutch and Kyeesha to determine portions to write in the notebook Ronnie had provided.

Hutch sped up his pace on the bike, working himself up to enough effort that his body had to exert more blood to his heart, rather than his groin, until eventually he was thinking about how tired he was, instead of how good Ronnie looked.

Barbara Welsh closed her office door and locked it.  Then she returned to her desk and sat down.  "What is it you want to know?"

Starsky was dressed professionally and had a notebook in his lap.  "As I told you on the phone, I'm investigating Fred Newman's murder, at the request of his son, John.  John didn't know about you, but your name came up during the course of the investigation as someone who had a long-term affair with Fred."

Her hands were folded tightly on her desktop.  "That's right," she said in a low voice.  "I just can't imagine how that could have anything to do with his murder.  Besides, it's my understanding that the police decided it was random."

"It might be.  Or it might not."  Starsky gazed at her a moment.  "I'd like you to tell me what you can about your relationship with Fred.  You might come up with a detail that could be of help in finding out what happened."

She considered a moment, and then said, "It was a typical office affair, I suppose.  I was the assistant sales coordinator at the time.  Fred was the top salesman for the company.  He was very charming and one day asked me out.  I agreed, because even though he was married, I knew he was miserable, since he'd been complaining to everyone for years about his marriage.  We continued to see each other on a regular basis for many years."

"When did it end?" Starsky asked.

She sighed.  "Well, I wanted it to end after his divorce.  I had assumed he and I would get more serious once his wife was out of the way.  Turned out not to be the case.  I'd press him for when we could move in together, and eventually get married, and he was always asking, 'What's the hurry?' and that type of thing.  When I realized he was just stringing me along, I ended it."  She looked away for a long moment.  "Only, since I couldn't get any other relationship going for the long term, I ended up getting together with him again.  This time I was wiser and didn't try to pretend it was anything other than it was -- a convenient affair.  So, that's what we were to each other, up until his death."

"I'm sorry to have to ask this, but how often were you seeing each other before his death?"

"I guess a few times a month.  He was out of town a lot. I always had a feeling he had other women, though I never asked him directly."

"Did he ever talk about is work with you?  Such as, how the company was treating him?"

She was thoughtful a moment.  Then, "We both were aware of the politics that you find in any large corporation.  He was forced out of a lot of his regions at the beginning of this year.  The company had changed its philosophy and wanted a younger, bolder, sales force.  They knew that, with greenhorns, it would be easier for them to be successful and manage their clients if they started out with a small base."

"What about from an economical standpoint?  Wouldn't it be more economical to keep one successful guy with a large region, than having a bunch of inexperienced sales guy handling a bunch of different regions?"

She shook her head.  "Not with the way the commission scale had been restructured at the beginning of the year.  Used to be, the scale started out at 10% and reached 50% commissions at the top volume level.  But it was restructured so that it's a straight 15%, plus a small salary."

"So, for Fred, that was like having a huge pay decrease."

"Yes.  And he didn't have any recourse, from a legal standpoint.  There wasn't any formal contract.  He'd naively assumed that the company would always be loyal to him, since he'd been the top sales representative for years."

"So, in essence, he was costing the corporation too much money."

"Yes.  They were hoping he would retire, so save both himself and the corporation the discomfort of the situation.  But he had no intentions of doing that."

"Did Fred feel betrayed by the corporation as a whole, or by anyone in particular?"

She regarded Starsky for a long moment.  Then she said, "If you think his murder was at the hands of the corporation, you're barking up the wrong tree."

Starsky presented an easy smile.  "I wouldn't be very good at my job if I didn't try to examine every angle."  Then he pressed, "I just wondered if there was anyone in particular that he blamed for the restructuring of the commission scale."

"I don't know of any particular person.  It was voted on by the Board of Directors.  I didn't like it, either, because I get a small percent of all sales, and the scale was cut back to a flat rate for me, too."

"Beyond the commission scale, was there anyone here at the corporation that Newman has any problems with?"

"There was a lot of jealousy, naturally, from the other sales reps.  But nothing that was ever confrontational."

"Is there anybody that stands to gain anything from getting Fred out of the way?"

"No, not any one person.  Fred still had Nevada and all of California as his region.  After his death, those were broken up into smaller regions, so a whole lot of people benefitted.  There wasn't any particular person that gained anything special from his death."

"What about people outside his work?  Anybody that he had any issues with?"

Barbara shook her head.  "He traveled a lot.  He didn't really have time for friends or hobbies."

Starsky considered a moment if he should ask his next question.  Then, he decided to.  "Would you be surprised to know that, according to his son, Fred was in financial trouble at the time of his death?  Not serious trouble, but a lot more debt than one would expect from someone who was a top salesman in two states."

"Nothing would surprise me about Fred.  He was a kind, jovial person, but in some ways, that made him all the more mysterious.  My guess would be that he probably lost a lot of money gambling in Nevada.  Not that I'd ever seen him gamble, or that he ever talked about it with me, but that would be my guess, since he traveled to Nevada regularly."

After Starsky's conversation yesterday with Barbara O'Hare, Hutch was less optimistic that he was going to get any important information from Tom Weatherton, the CEO of Sales at Premium West Auto Parts, and the one who interviewed potential new sales employees.  He and Starsky were now wondering if gambling might have had something to do with Fred Newman's murder.  Hutch had called Katherine Smith in Nevada, and she reported that she and Fred had, indeed, often gone gambling.  He gambled large amounts, but she hadn't ever thought anything of it, because she had assumed he could easily afford it.

It was late morning on Thursday, a week before Thanksgiving, and Starsky had gone to follow a suspected cheating husband, since they had picked up a new case.  Hutch's interview at the corporate office was at one.

Hutch moved from the office to the refrigerator, and opened it to see what he could eat for a quick lunch.  He heard the CNN channel was still on in the living room.  He poked his head around the kitchen corner.  "Hey, Ky, no classes today?"  Usually, she had left by now to take the bus for her afternoon classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

She had books spread about and was reading, while also watching the news.  "No.  I got a phone call that they both got canceled, because there was a water main break at the building."

"Oh.  Well, I'm going to be leaving shortly for an appointment.  It's about an hour away, out by Palm Springs.  If you'd like to take a break from studying, you're welcome to join me."

He was pleasantly surprised that she appeared to be considering it.  She asked, "What kind of appointment?"

"It's for one of our cases.  I'm going undercover as a greenhorn salesman who wants to be hired.  You might have to wait a while in the lobby while I'm being interviewed."

"I guess I can take a textbook with me."  Then she presented a rare smile.  "Sure.  Okay."

"I'm fixing a sandwich for lunch.  Want one?"

She began gathering up her books.  "Sure."

After they'd left their neighborhood, Hutch glanced over at Kyeesha and said, "Hey, I'm sorry about the other day, when David and I were yelling at each other."  He wasn't sure why he was apologizing, since she had seemed amused to witness them arguing.  And then he realized he was just trying to make conversation.  "We aren't usually that loud, even when we have a disagreement."

She shrugged.  "That's okay.  It's your house, after all."

"Indeed it is."  Hutch tapped the steering wheel to a tune in his head.  "Is this arrangement working out for you okay?"

"Yeah," she replied with enthusiasm.  "It's the nicest living situation I've ever had."

Oh.  He hadn't known that.  But then, while she was very open with her thoughts, Kyeesha wasn't very forthcoming regarding her feelings.  From that standpoint, she reminded him a lot of his sister, Lannie.  "Good, I'm glad to hear that.  No more mice bothering you, then?"

"I haven't seen any.  But then, I haven't been looking."

Hutch chuckled softly at that.  "I know I've flushed three or four down the toilet.  Starsky has probably caught some, too."  A moment later, he asked, "So, you looking forward to going back to North Carolina for Christmas?"

"Yeah, I guess."

Hutch wondered at the flatness of her answer.  He decided not to pursue that course and wondered what else they could talk about. 

Then she said, "Are you guys getting a dog?"

"Huh?" Hutch asked.  "Why would you think that?"

"I've just overheard some of your conversations."

"Oh.  No.  It's just that we have a case involving a lost dog.  And then, when we were arguing the other day, it had to do with David having replaced a dog for a family whose dog he hit with his car."

She looked over at Hutch.  "Why would he have replaced it?  If the dog was in a public street, then it was the owner's fault, not his."

"Yes, but he felt awful about it, especially since it happened in front of the kids.  They were just little kids, you know?  He felt like he had to make it up to them."

"Legally, they were negligent for letting the dog in the street," she insisted.  "If he had any damage to his car, he should have sued them."

Hutch furrowed his brow.  "You know, Ky, as cops, one thing we found out is that there's the right thing to do legally, and then there's the right thing to do morally.  Unfortunately, they aren't always the same thing.  Starsky couldn't have slept at night, if he wouldn't have done what he felt was morally right."

"Then why were you arguing about it?"

Hutch felt uncomfortable that he was explaining their actions.  But he could hardly shut down the conversation at this point.  "It had nothing to do with the decision to replace the dog.  It just ended up that the mother of the kids took advantage of the situation and had picked out a really expensive dog to replace the mutt that was hit.  That's all.  I'm behind Starsky completely on the decision to replace the dog.  It's what I would have done."

Kyeesha loosely crossed her arms and shook her head.  "I would have told them that they shouldn't have let the dog out in the street."

Hutch found himself faintly amused.  "You might have changed your mind if you were actually there.  Seeing little children screaming and crying because they just saw their dog get killed.  That's a difficult thing to just shrug one's shoulders about."

She looked out the passenger window.  "Sometimes in life, we have to make hard choices, no matter how unpleasant they are."

After a moment, Hutch prompted, "So, tell me about a hard choice you've had to make."

She was quiet for a long moment.  And then said, "The decision to come out here and live with my aunt was a tough one."

"It worked out for a while, didn't it?"

"I guess.  The first year, we managed.  Then we just started getting on each other's nerves more and more."

Hutch was tempted to ask for details, but he didn't think that was being fair.  So, he merely said, "Things can be difficult with family, that's for sure."

"It's hard when you're the one who always has to count on the generosity of others."

"Well, that's how it is when you're young.  But you'll soon have your post-graduate degree, probably a terrific job, and then you can have your own place."

She sighed.  "That seems pretty far-fetched right now."

He looked over at her.  "What?  You mean the idea of having a nice job?"

"Just the idea of settling down."

"You mean, you've wanted to travel or something like that?"

"I guess maybe it's just the term 'settling down'.  It sounds like being married and raising a family, and that kind of thing."

Hutch's mouth corner twitched.  "You don't want that?"

"No.  At least, not at any point in the near future."

"I'm sure that disappoints lots of guys.  You'd be quite a catch."

She shrugged.  "I don't like all that dating game stuff.  I wish, when a person wants to find a spouse or something, that they could just go pick somebody out, instead of having to go through all the crap that people go through."

Hutch drew a long breath.  "I certainly don't miss all that, that's for sure.  It's a really nice thing to know that whenever I come home, somebody who loves and adores me and supports me is going to be there.  There's no substitute for that."

"You guys didn't have to look for each other."

"No, we didn't," Hutch said with fondness.  "We were right there in front of each other, all along."  Then he said, "There's ways of making things easier.  You know, you can make yourself available.  Make it known that you're open to something.  When you're ready.  If you don't do anything to let men know that you're looking, they likely aren't going to show an interest."

She was quiet.

Hutch went on, "Sometimes, men can find an intelligent woman to be very intimidating.  They're afraid that they won't measure up.  So, the fact that you're so highly educated might mean that you have to make a little more effort than most. "  Hutch made a point of smiling at Kyeesha.  "But I'm sure the effort would be worth it."

"Well," she said, shifting in her seat, "it's not like I have any interest in that anytime soon."

Hutch wondered if he was getting too personal when he asked, "You ever have a serious boyfriend?"

She shook her head, gazing out the side window.  "No.  Never wanted one."  She glanced at Hutch.  "Everyone at school has always seemed like such boys to me.  I don't want to go out with a boy."

Hutch grinned at her.  "Yeah, I suppose you've always been a lot older than your years.  I'm sure you'll eventually find some older men who would love to be with you.  But you have to put yourself in situations that let them know that you're available.  You know, get out more and experience different things, and situations and people."

She muttered, "I've never been much for socializing."

"I'm sure that's one reason why you've been such an excellent student.  But school will be ending soon."

"Yeah," she said in a low voice.

Hutch thought he was successfully presenting himself as the greenhorned ass that he'd hoped.  Tom Weatherton, so far, hadn't seemed particularly impressed in his fake resume.  The CEO of Sales said, "The lack of experience isn't a concern for us.  We have seminars set up for new salesmen.  The important thing is that you're motivated to keep at it.  It can be very discouraging in the beginning, but once you start establishing a client base, it can be a lucrative way to make a living."

"What about established client bases?  I met the late Frederick Newman at a party a year or so ago, and he said he was making a great living.  Now that he's gone, God rest his soul, I'd like to take over his action.  I know I can sell things.  People tell me I'm charming.  I know auto parts.  I wasn't looking to start at the bottom.  You give me the client base that Newman had, and I'll show my appreciation by making a whole lot of money for myself and the company both."

"I'm glad to hear that.  But you'll need to start out with the base pay of an eight hundred dollar monthly salary, plus 15% commission."

Hutch grimaced.  "Newman told me that he was making 50% commission.  Why can't I make that, starting out, if I do the same volume of sales?"

Weatherton snorted.  "You are greatly misguided, Mr. Noel.  For one thing, you're referring to an outdated commission scale.  Newman was doing sales for over a decade before he got up to that level, and that's based on the old scale."

"Why would you lower the scale?" Hutch demanded.  "If you want to motivate guys to sell, why would you pay them less money for being successful?"

Weatherton firmed his voice.  "Mr. Noel, it's not your job to worry about company policy.  There's a lot of complex reasons why the scale was changed.  We get a dozen or so new applicants a day, so there's no shortage of men out there who want to do sales for Premium West Auto Parts.  Frederick Newman was from a different generation and a different attitude.  The prediction is that the U.S. economy is headed toward a recession.  The Board of Directions is taking all the steps necessary to prepare, in order to preserve the investment of its shareholders.  When the recession hits and unemployment rises, anyone with a job will be grateful to have that job.  Now, are you interested or not?"

Hutch wondered if there was anything else he could say that might prompt information that he didn't already know.  He tried a friendly smile.  "What about the unofficial fringe benefits?"

Weatherton appeared genuinely perplexed.  "What do you mean?"

Hutch let his expression grow sly.  "Newman made it obvious that there's some hot babes working here.  As well as some out on the road.  He indicated that there's fringe benefits, shall we say, for having to endure so much travel and being away from home."

"Mr. Noel, as I said, Frederick Newman belonged to a different generation.  This is a modern, forward-thinking corporation.  We hire women for their professionalism, not for their 'fringe benefits'."  He took Hutch's resume and dropped it into the trash can.  "I've decided that you're an unsuitable fit for our corporation.  Good day, sir."

After Hutch and Kyeesha left the building, she asked, "How did it go?"

"I got fired before I got hired."

"Is that what you wanted to happen?"

Hutch shrugged.  "I would have liked to have had reason to maintain contact with them a little longer, but it probably isn't going to matter." 

They were all eating dinner Friday evening when Starsky said to Kyeesha, "Hutch and I are having Thanksgiving dinner at a couple we know from our cops days.  We've already talked to them and you're welcome to join us.  There will also be one of their neighbors there."

Kyeesha declared, "Thanksgiving is a hypocritical holiday."

Starsky restrained a grin.  "Well, I imagine it is at its roots, considering how things turned out between white men and the Indians.  But I, for one, prefer to view it in its modern context.  And that means enjoying lots of delicious food and conversation with people we usually don't see very often."

Hutch noted, "We didn't know if you already had plans to have dinner with your aunt or the Dobeys.  The Dobeys did invite us all, but Starsk and I decided to pass in deference to the Huntleys.  Though we might drop by later for wine."

"My aunt is working that day," Kyeesha said dryly.

"Well, just let us know," Starsky said.  "We promised to let Doris know by a couple of days ahead, so she knows how many places to set."   He then added with a smirk, "If you aren't interested in celebrating the holiday, due to its hypocrisy, we won't hold it against you."

As they curled together in bed that night, Starsky said, "Man, I feel like we're back to square one with this case."  Huggy hadn't been able to find out anything about who might have ordered the hit on Frederick Newman.

"Yeah.  If it's the gambling angle, that means heading back out to Nevada to visit gambling establishments.  But where would we even start?"

"I guess we can ask Katherine Smith if there's a favorite establishment that she and Fred frequented."

Hutch mused, "But Fred was killed out here.  So, that would have to be somebody big to order a hit across state lines."

"Hmm.  I wonder if Fred might have been gambling here in California.  There's a lot more shady people involved when it's done illegally."

"Yeah.  So, where does that leave us?"

"Maybe contacting the ex-wife again?  Asking if Fred used to gamble a lot?  For that matter, we need to ask John about it, in case he knew but didn't think it mattered."

"Yeah.  Damn," Hutch sighed, "I really thought the corporation was going to be involved somehow."

"They still are, in a sense.  I mean, man, they were really hitting Fred with one heck of a pay cut.  It's too bad that he didn't think to protect himself, by getting a lawyer and having a contract drawn up, or something along that line.  That seems criminal that a corporation could just cut somebody's wages like that."

"Yeah.  But, you know, in such a case, most people would start looking for another job.  You know?  Wonder why he didn't."

"Maybe he felt he was getting too old for someone else to hire him?  Or maybe he thought he felt he was too set in his ways to change jobs and lose the customers he'd been working with for years?"

"To say nothing of a seven year affair in Nevada."

"Yeah.  But if he was having trouble with a loan shark or something in Nevada, then surely he would have been all the more motivated to stop traveling back there."

"Which makes it all the more likely," Hutch mused, "that if he had gotten into trouble with his gambling, it happened here, not there."

"Yeah," Starsky agreed eagerly.

"We need somebody else to talk to.  Somebody who would have known about his gambling.  Maybe you can try to squeeze more from Barbara Welsh at the corporation, and I'll call Katherine Smith once more, and press her for anything he might have said about gambling debts, or gambling in California."

"Plus, John and the ex-wife.  What's her name?"

"Marcella Felton," Hutch supplied.

"Right.  Okay," Starsky said with satisfaction, "we've at least got a plan for some phone calls tomorrow."

Hutch grinned up at him.  "Are we good, or what?"

Starsky replied, "We're good."  He then kissed his love.

They ended up leaving messages, when message machines were available, as no one answered their calls.  With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, they realized the case was probably at a standstill until the week after next.

On Thanksgiving morning, Starsky stood sideways before the mirror with his shirt off, as he was only dressed in slacks.  He ran his hand over his stomach, and then patted its firmness with satisfaction.  "Is that looking good, or what?"

Hutch sat on the bed, pulling on his dress shoes.  "Yeah," he said with an approving grin, "all that work you've put in is really paying off.  I'm proud of you.  I just hope you aren't going to offend our hosts by talking about diets and such at dinner."

"Nah.  Ronnie just told me that she always works her clients extra hard after Thanksgiving and Christmas, because she knows they're going to over-eat.  She doesn't even bother trying to say not to.  But tomorrow, it's back on the diet." 

"Meal plan," Hutch corrected.  "Remember, it's not a temporary diet.  It's permanently changing the way you eat."  After studying Starsky's food journal, Ronnie had put together a meal plan for him.  It still managed to retain some of his favorite junk food, incorporating such into his regular caloric intake, rather than expecting him to forego favorites that he was going to eat, anyway.

"Yeah, I really want it to be permanent."  Starsky reached for his shirt that Hutch had placed on the bed.  "I hope Kyeesha isn't going to be bored.  It's too bad no one around her age is going to be at the dinner."

"She's old for her age, anyway.  It's not like any of the conversation is going to leave her behind."

"Yeah."  Starsky was quiet as he began buttoning his shirt.  Then he asked, "Have you ever taken any messages for her?"

Hutch considered, and then shrugged.  "I remember one of her professors called once.  And Meredith talked to her last week, I think.  Why?"

"I haven't taken any messages for her.  And I've never heard her talk on the phone for any length of time.  She's an active college kid, and it's like she doesn't have anybody that she talks to.  She never mentions friends or fellow students.  Girls nor guys."

Hutch felt uncomfortable on Kyeesha's behalf.  "Well, you know, when you've thrown yourself into something like a Master's degree, I guess everything else is secondary."

Starsky sat next to Hutch and reached for his tennis shoes, since he had every intention of adhering to Doris Huntley's insistence that everyone not get overly dressed, because she didn't want their holiday meal to be a stuffy formal affair.  "You were a good student in college, right?  That didn't stop you from having an active social life."

Hutch considered that.  "I wasn't a young black woman, either.  I imagine that would make a difference, huh?  She probably feels like she has to try that much harder, focus that much more, to be successful in a white male's world."

"Yeah, but look at Meredith.  She's been incredibly successful for her race and gender, but she hasn't cut herself off from being able to interact with all sorts of different people."

"I guess they're just different personalities, despite what Dobey said about them being too much alike."

"Kyeesha gets sassy sometimes, but she hasn't really tried to browbeat or challenge us on anything.  Plus, when she seems over-the-top, I think that's just all an act, anyway.  You know, hiding her insecurities that she doesn't measure up.  Having to be the one in the right about everything."  Starsky stood and gave Hutch an ironic smile.  "Reminds me of someone I know."  He then relented, "Or once knew.  You aren't anywhere near as bossy as you used to be."

Hutch could have done without that reminder.  He decided that, since it was Thanksgiving, he could give in to a mushy moment.  He stood and put his arms around Starsky from behind.  "Yeah, well, things that I've experienced the last few years have rearranged my priorities, you know?"  Of course, Starsky was already well aware of that.  Hutch tightened his arms and pressed his face next to his partner.  "I love you so much."  He introduced a slight swaying motion.  "So very, very much."  He kissed Starsky's neck.  "I'm so thankful for this life we have together."

"Mm," Starsky murmured.  When Hutch planted another kiss along his neck, Starsky giggled and tried to step away.  "Hey, none of that unless we're going to get undressed."

Hutch released him and Starsky moved away.  Then he turned around and brushed his thumb along Hutch's cheek.  "Tonight, I'll show you all the things I'm thankful for, you gorgeous blondie."

The Friday after the holiday, Starsky felt his observations about Kyeesha's lack of friends was premature.  She had taken a phone call in the evening that had now gone on for a good thirty minutes.  Starsky and Hutch were watching TV, and Starsky caught bits of the conversation from the kitchen.  He heard a lot of enthusiastic references to a 'she', but also some dismay expressed on Kyeesha's part. 

Finally, Kyeesha hung up.  There was no further sound for a while.  Starsky entered the kitchen to get a drink of water, and found Kyeesha sitting at the table, staring at the tabletop.  "Hey, what's wrong?" he asked.

She looked up and gazed at him a long moment, as though considering whether or not to reveal something important. 

Hutch walked in then.  "Dallas got pre-empted.  I should have realized that, since it's a holiday weekend. "  That was a nightime soap series that they had gotten interested in.

Starsky glanced at Hutch and nodded toward their house guest.  Then he prompted, "Kyeesha, what is it?"

She presented a bashful smile that Starsky had never seen before.  "I'm just really disappointed.  I was planning on going to an event tomorrow, and now I can't, because my ride got canceled."

"One of us can take you," Starsky said.

She still seemed shy.  "Oh, it's way out Barstow.  That's too much of a round trip."

Hutch sat down opposite her.  "What's it for?  We wouldn't want you to miss anything important."

She lowered her gaze.  "I guess that's a matter of opinion."

Starsky prompted, "What?  Is it some kind of big secret?  Come on, let us help.  We don't have anything going on tomorrow."

"Well...."  She still seemed hestitant, which intrigued Starsky all the more.  Then she asked, "Do you know who Nichelle Nichols is?"  She looked from Starsky to Hutch.

"Uhhh," Starsky began, "I feel like I should know.  I'm sure I've heard the name."

Hutch shook his head.  "No.  Who is she?

"She's the actress who played Uhura on Star Trek."

"Oh, right," Starsky and Hutch said in unison.

"Beautiful lady," Starsky noted.

"Well, she's attending of gathering tomorrow in Barstow.  There's a group of about a dozen fans, and one of them has access to a meeting room in a hotel in Barstow.  We tried to get the money together to pay Nichelle's fee to come, but we couldn't raise enough.  Then she agreed to come anyway, for a discounted price."

"Oh, that's great," Hutch said.  "What a classy lady."

"So," Starsky prompted, "one of the other fans was supposed to give you a ride out there?"

"Yeah.  But she's got strep throat, so she can't go.  It's not convenient for any of the other fans to come get me."

Hutch said, "We can take you.  We wouldn't want you to miss something like that."

"Yeah," Starsky said, "maybe we can even attend the gathering.  I'd love to meet her."

Kyeesha chuckled.  "This is a group of black women."

"Oh."  Starsky deadpanned, "That means we aren't allowed in?"

"I think it would make everyone uncomfortable," Kyeesha said with a laugh.  Then she sobered.  "It would really put you out.  The meeting is supposed to last about three hours, with the other activities that we have scheduled.  So that, plus the round trip, would be an all day thing."

Hutch quickly said, "That's all right.  Like Starsk said, we don't have anything else planned for tomorrow."  His voice softened.  "I guess the character of Uhura would have been really special to you when you were little."

Kyeesha nodded enthusiastically.  "Yes.  It gave me something to dream about.  Being out in the world, and not just having to live my life in a ghetto, or something close it."  Her face brightened.  "Did you know that she met Martin Luther King in person?  He talked her into to staying on Star Trek after the first season.  She wanted to quit because she thought she was just being used as a token black person, since most of the regular shows felt they had to have a black character back then.  But he convinced her that Uhura's presence on the Enterprise meant everything to young black girls."  She nodded avidly.  "He was right."

Starsky had never seen their house guest so enthusiastic before.  "Well, Hutch and me will figure out something to do for those three hours when you're at your meeting.  We just expect you to get something autographed for us."  Starsky didn't really mean it, but he thought it would be cool to have something to display in the house with Nichelle Nichols' signature on it.

"She'll have stuff for sale there.  I'll get her to sign an album for you."

Hutch asked, "Have you ever met her before?"

Kyeesha quickly lowered her gaze.  "No."  After a  moment, she said, "I once flew out here for a Star Trek convention when I was in high school, and stayed with my aunt.  But when she was supposed to take me to the convention the day Nichelle was going to appear, she had car trouble during the morning, and then in the afternoon, she got called into work, so by the time I figured out the bus route, Nichelle had already made her appearance."

Starsky smiled, "Well, you can make up for it now.  You've got two guys who are willing to be your limousine service."

She suddenly appeared uncomfortable.  "Okay.  Thanks.  Thanks."  She awkwardly stood and retreated to her room.

Starsky and Hutch went back to the living room.  With a chuckle, Starsky said, "Man, I guess we found out what lights her up."

"I'm jealous," Starsky partially joked, when they pulled away from the curb of a small hotel, where Nichelle Nichols was scheduled to arrive an hour later.  They'd dropped Kyeesha off and made sure she had met up with her group, before agreeing to pick her up at three o'clock.   It was now noon.  "I'd love to be able to say I met Lieutenant Uhura."

"I'm sure Kyeesha will fill us in on every detail on the way back."

Starsky chuckled.  "No doubt."  He looked over at Hutch.  "I guess we should find somewhere to eat lunch, huh?  Then, what?  Check out the tourist sites?"

"I guess.  There's supposed to be that NASA stuff around here."

Starsky grunted.  They'd gotten an earful from Kyeesha on the way up about how involved Nichelle Nichols was with various NASA projects.

While Starsky kept his eye out for an interesting looking restaurant, he pondered how to state what was on his mind.  Finally, he said, "You know something?"

"Lots of things, mush brain."

Starsky grinned at the old banter.  Then he said, "I think Kyeesha likes you."

"What do you mean, 'likes' me?"

"She's more attentive to you than to me.  I think because you're more attentive to her."

"More attentive to her than who?"

Starsky shrugged.  "Anybody.  You took her with you for that long drive out to the auto parts office.  You've given her the nickname Ky.  And your voice drops an octave when you talk to her. " 

Hutch shifted in his seat.  "Maybe that's because she's a young woman, and I think she's.... "  He seemed to struggle for the right words.

"She's someone you want to be big-brotherly toward.  I think she reminds you of your sister, Hutch.  And you want to treat her in a way that you never got to treat Lanette."

Hutch's jaw hardened as he gazed out the windshield.  "That's quite a thorough analysis, psychiatrist Starsky."

"It's nothing to be upset about."

"What's your point?"

"I just hope she sees it as brotherly-sisterly.  You know?  She could take a really hard fall if she starts having other types of feelings toward you."

Hutch shifted restlessly.  "Why would she even let that happen?  She knows nothing can come between us."

"I'm not saying she would try anything like that.  But come on, Hutch, people can't help how they feel.  It's not like she would be able to help it."

"Then why even bring it up?"

"I guess I'm just saying make sure you don't encourage her.  To you, being attentive toward her is a big brother thing, but she might see it as something else."

Hutch gestured toward the road.  "It was your suggestion that we bring her here."

"Yes.  That we bring her here.  If I wouldn't have offered, you would have, right?  And if I hadn't wanted to come, you would have taken her yourself."

Hutch looked over at him.  "Are you saying that you came on this drive just to try to make sure she didn't take it as something other than it was?"

"Sort of.  But that was only part of the reason."  Starsky's voice softened.  "I really wanted her to go to this gathering, since it's so important to her.  I don't care about her any less than you do, you know.  I just think she views me as just a nice guy who happens to be the partner of the man who has taken her under his wing, in a manner of speaking."

Hutch snorted.  "The whole reason Dobey even contacted us about her was because of your prior relationship with Meredith."

"Yeah, I know.  But still."  Starsky reached over and squeezed Hutch's knee.  "Quit being so defensive.  Nobody's done anything wrong.  I just wanted to give you a heads-up, because I figured you weren't seeing what I was seeing."

"She's only here another three weeks, right?  So, it shouldn't matter, in any case."

On Tuesday of the following week, Starsky and Hutch sat back in their office chairs, after ending their latest phone calls with relatives and acquaintance of the late Frederick Newman.

Hutch looked at his notepad and said, "Katherine insists that Fred never mentioned anything about gambling debts, and she's surprised as anyone to hear that he had money troubles.  She says that she couldn't say they had any particular hangout to gamble at when they were together.  She can't recall him ever meeting with someone else when they were together."

Starsky flipped over a page of his own notepad.  "His ex-wife, Marcella, says that she knew he liked to gamble.  One of the many things they argued about was money.  She handled the bills, and she always saw a discrepancy between how much income was reported on his annual W-2, and how much he actually contributed to the household coffers.  But she never had any reason to think that his gambling was any more of an expense than the money he was spending on mistresses."  Starsky flipped over another page.  "In the meantime, Barbara Welsh, his long-time paramour at corporate, says that she figured he was in trouble with somebody locally, but she insists she doesn't know any details."  Starsky paused and tapped his pencil against the desk.  "What's odd about that is how much I had to press her to get her to tell me even that much.  When I met with her, she just said he liked to gamble and said if he had any money problems, it was probably because of that.  But she claimed she didn't know anything else about it."  He lowered his voice to emphasize his words.  "Which would lead one to believe she's still not telling everything she knows."

After Starsky was silent, Hutch picked up, "And son John says he knew his father gambled, but didn't think anything of it, as far as it being a problem.  When I specifically pressed him about any gambling activity here in California, he said he'd always known his father went to poker games and such.  It just seemed a natural thing to him, because it had been going on since he was a child.  When I asked how he learned about it, he said from overhearing statements made by his parents.  I then asked him if he knew of any friends or acquaintances that his father had from his gambling activity, and he said he didn't know of anyone."  Hutch was thoughtful.  "But he seemed hesitant.  Like he wasn't really sure."

Starsky considered that.  "Well, he wouldn't hold anything back from us deliberately, so maybe it's a matter of him being able to remember something later.  Like, maybe somebody visited their house on occasion, and he never realized before that it had anything to do with the gambling."

Hutch said, "It sounds like we've narrowed things down pretty solidly that the murder had to have been a local hit on Fred.  Maybe he owed a loan shark, who had supported his habit, and he couldn't pay off, especially after taking such a big pay cut from corporate."

"And the key to finding out more is either getting Barbara Welsh to talk, or John remembering something."

"We need to figure out a way to rattle Barbara's cage."

Starsky cocked his head.  "You know, Hutch, usually when a loan shark murders, it's to set an example to others about the consequences of paying up.  So, the loan shark would have to be somebody big enough to have enough clients that it was worth making an example of Fred.  After all, once Fred was dead, they had no hope of ever getting paid back."

"Yeah," Hutch sighed, "especially if they found out how tapped out he was.  That he was no longer getting paid as much."

"And they only way they could know that is if Fred told them specifically -- in which case, they probably wouldn't believe him.  I mean, would you believe that somebody could go from 50% commission to 15%, just because the company said so?"

Hutch slowly said, "Or... they knew that because they found out from the corporate office directly."  He met Starsky's eye.

Starsky nodded his head.  "Which brings us right back to Barbara Welsh."

"From what you told me about their affair, it had a completely different feeling from the one Fred had with Katherine Smith."

"Yep.  Barbara was expecting marriage and the whole bit after Fred got divorced.  She broke it off with him when she realized it wasn't going to happen.  Then she said that she took up with him again, when she couldn't get any other relationships going, as she put it, but this time she said she was wiser and knew not to expect anything from him."

Hutch rubbed at his chin.  "So, if she's bitter and angry that she was his lover for a few years, and then doesn't want to make a commitment to her after the divorce, she breaks up with him...."

"... and is still bitter and angry and wants to get even.  By this time, she's well aware of what an addicted gambler Fred is.  So, she gets him a loan shark?  No, that doesn't make sense -- that she would help him find somebody to loan him money."

Hutch thought a moment.  "Okay, she's not bitter and angry.  But he's having money troubles, because he gambles so much.  So, she finds somebody to loan him money.  She means it as a friendly gesture.  But he gets in too deep, and maybe the loan shark puts pressure on her, because she's the go-between.  Earlier this year, she tells them straight that there's not going to be any way Fred can pay them back, because he's going to be making so much less money than he was.  So, they lose nothing by offing him, and they gain the reputation of showing what happens to people who don't pay up."

"Barbara's fear is why she won't talk.  She has good reason to be afraid of the loan shark."

"Which means we have to convince her that it'll be in her own best interest if we can get this guy put away."

Starsky smiled faintly.  "We aren't cops anymore, Hutch.  We can't make promises like that.  We'll just have to try to convince her tell us more."  He shrugged.  "I've already tried the 'I'm a private investigator' angle. We need to try to figure out another way to approach her."

Hutch said, "Let's give it a week or two, so she can relax and think nothing further is going to be said about it.  In the meantime, let's see if John can first come up with anything that he might remember."

Starsky tapped his fingers against the steering wheel, humming.  It was a cold, rainy Thursday night, and he was coming back from the grocery store, where he had picked up supplies for the next week.  He was feeling mighty pleased with himself, because he was doing an excellent job of sticking to the meal plan Ronnie had developed, while working out regularly.  In fact, he now looked forward to his workouts, because they no longer took so much out of him.  He was feeling lighter on his feet, and more like his pre-Gunther, pre-virus self.  He thought it helped a lot having Hutch as his cheerleader, rather than his taskmaster.  He supposed he should have known that Hutch would be better at the former, was Ronnie was quite well suited to the latter.

He stopped at a light and turned the windshield wipers on high.  The rain was coming down faster, and visibility was minimal in the darkness.  He crept forward carefully once the light turned green, to be sure no other rain-blinded drivers were in the intersection.

Starsky turned down the main road of their neighborhood.  He caught sight of someone walking along the sidewalk, some kind of satchel covering their head.  He honked and pulled over.  He reached over to cock the door handle on the passenger side.  The person had paused, and Starsky called out, "Get in!  I'll give you a ride!"

The person got in the car, saying, "Dave!  Thank you!"

Starsky's mouth fell open.  "Kyeesha!  Why the heck didn't you call home so one of us could come and get you?"  She was soaked, even after making the short walk from the bus stop.

"I didn't realize it was going to be this bad.  Didn't seem like it when I left the library."

Starsky found that hard to believe.  While it had come down furiously the past few minutes, it had been raining hard for at least an hour.  "You should have called us anyway," Starsky said, realizing he was letting his concern show as exasperation.  "Hutch is home, and I was home a little while ago."

She didn't reply.

They arrived at the house a couple of minutes later.  As they walked in from the garage, Starsky firmly said, "You need to get out of those wet clothes and take a hot shower, so you don't catch cold."

She moved down the hall without responding.

Hutch emerged from the living room, where the TV was on.  "What happened?"

Starsky took Hutch's arm and led him back into the living room.  He turned up the volume on the TV, so they were less likely to be overheard.  Teeth grit, he said, "Kyeesha was walking home in the pouring rain!  She should have called us to come get her!"

"I wonder why she didn't."

"She said it wasn't that bad when she left the library, but that's a crock of bull."

Hutch seemed at a loss for words.  Then he said, "Well, you know, she's not a person that finds it easy to ask for help."

Starsky blanched.  "She can have us take her on a four-hour round trip to Barstow, but she feels it's asking too much for us to come and get her five miles away?"

Hutch's mouth corner twitched.  "That was because of Nichelle Nichols.  Big difference."

Starsky plopped down on the sofa.  "Yeah, I guess.  We all have our priorities."  Then he muttered, "Stupid though they might be."

"Did you bring an invoice like I asked?"  John Newman was looking out the window of his office.

"Uh, yeah," Hutch said, opening his briefcase.  He took out an envelope.  "This catches you up on all our time and expenses up through last week.  We haven't recorded any time since then, but we were planning on getting back in touch with Barbara Welsh, who had a long-term affair with your father."

Newman came around his desk and accepted the envelope.  As he moved to his chair, he opened it and unfolded the invoice within.  "I'll write you a check for this right now."  He took out a checkbook and sighed heavily.  "I'm sorry, gentleman, but I'm going to have to call off the rest of your investigation."

Starsky and Hutch exchanged a glance of surprise.

"Why?" Starsky asked.

"Money.  With my father's estate being a lot worse off than I had thought, I'm worried that I'll soon be in a position of not being able to pay you.  That wouldn't be fair after all your hard work."

"But, John," Starsky said, "we feel we're really close.  If we have one more meeting with Barbara Welsh, it could be the final puzzle piece."

Newman looked up from his checkbook.  "Or it might not, right?  Look, gentleman, I can understand how, as professionals, you want to see this through.  But I'm finding out my father was involved in a lot more unsavory things than I ever imagined.  This investigation was supposed to make me feel better -- make some sense of my father's death -- but all it's done is make me feel worse."  Sadly, he said, "He had all sorts of unpleasant things going on that he never told his family about.  From his money problems to his affairs, to that fucking corporation doing him the way they did." 

Starsky almost jolted at the swearing, for Newman hadn't seemed the type.

Newman smiled grimly, signing the check with a flourish.  "But most importantly, I don't keep people on that I know I can't pay.  That's something that my father was willing to do, that I won't do."

In a soothing voice, Hutch said, "John, we've left our name and number with a wide variety of people.  If we happen to hear something that could be helpful, would it be all right if we pass it along to you?  Or are you saying that you truly don't want to hear anything further about it?"

Newman came around the desk and handed the check to Hutch.  Then he shrugged.  "I suppose I'd like to know, if it's something genuinely helpful."

Hutch took the check and folded it.  "Okay.  We'll do that."

After they were back in Hutch's LeBaron, Starsky said, "I can't just let this drop.  I say we get back in touch with Barbara Welsh and see what more we can find out from her, on our own time.  If we get nothing, John never needs to know about it."

"Yeah, I feel the same way.  But I think we should wait until it's a little closer to Christmas, so she's more off guard.  I'll see if I can trick her secretary into telling me what days Barbara will be away for the holidays, and go out to see her before then."

Starsky rubbed his hands together.  "Man, wouldn't that be a great thing if we could give John a Christmas present that says, 'We know who killed your father?'"

"Yeah.  Maybe that would make up for us finding out all this other crap that he'd rather not have known."

In bed a few nights later, a nude Starsky was leaning over a nude Hutch, who was on his back.  Playfully, Starsky squeezed at Hutch's flesh along one side.  "Uh oh.  I think there's a bit of a love handle here."

Hutch chuckled.  "It's your imagination."  He ran his hand down his torso.  "I might not be as muscled as I once was, but I'm plenty trim."

"Nope," Starsky insisted, squeezing bits of flesh.  "There's just a hint of flab.  Here.  And here."

"If there wasn't, you couldn't enjoy squeezing it."

Starsky tried to do an imitation of William Shatner.  "Logical, as always, Mr. Hutchinson."

"Your Captain Kirk sucks."

Starsky chuckled.  "Speaking of sucking."  He pushed the covers back.


Starsky ran his fingers along the lengthening phallus.  "Hmm.  All nice and taunt here.  No flabbiness."

Hutch growled as he reached to push on the back of Starsky's head..  "Then make it flabby."

Starsky automatically obeyed before he could come up with a clever report.  He gobbled it down.  "Mmmmm."

Hutch entered the house from the garage, carrying his camera.  This last tailing of Mr. Pallor was all the evidence he needed that the man was having an affair.  It was too late in the day for the photo shop to do a one-day turnaround, so he'd drop the film by tomorrow morning, and have the photos late tomorrow afternoon.

He placed the camera on the kitchen counter.  Starsky had taken his Corvette in for a tune up, and was expected home at any time.  Since this was a Tuesday afternoon, Kyeesha should be at school.  Hutch opened the refrigerator to see what he could have for lunch, since he hadn't bothered stopping anywhere when he was out. 

Nothing in the refrigerator looked appetizing, so he closed it and reached up to an overhead cabinet, where they kept canned goods.  Heating up chili sounded appetizing, so Hutch took the can off the shelf.  As he turned around, he caught a glimpse of a sneakered foot lying awkwardly on the floor of the living room.

Hutch felt a great sense of foreboding as he slammed the can onto the counter and rushed to the living room.

Kyeesha was lying unconscious, face down, an empty prescription bottle at her side.

"Oh my God," Hutch gasped as he knelt beside her.  He was distantly aware of the noise of the garage door opening as he turned her over.  "Kyeesha!  Kyeesha!"  He felt for a pulse.  It was weak and thready.  "Dear God!"  He shook her.  "Ky!  Ky!"

When he heard the house door open, he yelled, "Starsk!  Call an ambulance!"

Starsky rushed to poke his head into the living room.  "Wha--?"  Then his footsteps were heard moving back to kitchen.

"Ky!  Ky!"  She was limp in Hutch's arms as he listened to Starsky frantically call the operator.

Starsky rushed to Hutch's side a moment later.  "Ambulance is coming.  What happened?"

"I just got home a minute ago.  She has a pulse, but it's weak."

"Thank God."  Starsky reached for her.  "Hey, let's turn her on her side, in a recovery position.  The ambulance will be here in a minute, Hutch."

They turned her. 

"Why would she have done this?" Hutch demanded.  "Why?"

Starsky squeezed his shoulder.  "We gotta believe she's going to wake up to tell us."

Hutch was aware of Starsky moving away as he laid a hand along Kyeesha's cheek.  "Ky, please don't do this.  Why would you do this?"

He was vaguely aware of Starsky returning a moment later and placing something on the coffee table.

Then Starsky picked up the prescription bottle.  "Let's make sure we give the paramedics this."  After studying it, he said, "It's not hers."


"It doesn't have her name on it.  Robyn Jones.  I've never heard her speak of a Robyn."

Hutch wondered what that meant. 

A shrill sire was heard in the distance.

Hutch placed his hand under Kyeesha's nose.  "Her breathing is really shallow."

"They'll be here in a minute, Hutch.  I'm going to go out and wave them down."

It seemed to take forever before two paramedics finally entered their house.

Hutch stepped out of the way and stood next to Starsky, watching the paramedics work.  He felt his thundering heart start to calm slightly, if only because the paramedics themselves seemed so calm.

She's not dying, he was able to assure himself.

He muttered to Starsky, "Why would she do this?"

He sensed Starsky shifting with discomfort beside him.

Finally, a gurney was brought inside. 

"Where are you taking her?" Hutch asked as he helped lift Kyeesha onto the gurney.

"To Rose Memorial."

"We can follow in the car, Hutch."

They watched as the ambulance attendants and paramedics got the gurney out the door.

Hutch suddenly realized, "Maybe she left a note."

Grimly, Starsky said.  "Yeah.  She did."  He reluctantly picked it up from the coffee table and handed it to Hutch.  "It was left on her neatly made bed."

Hutch's hand was shaking with adrenaline as he read the precise handwriting on torn-out notebook paper.


To Whom It May Concern,

I'm sorry for whomever my death might cause pain.  But, for me, my pain is greater.

I'm good at book learning.  But not so good at other things.

I'm in love with someone I can never have.




Hutch felt his stomach tightening.  "You think she means me?" he asked with dread.

"Yeah," Starsky said quietly.  "Who else calls her Ky?"

Hutch felt his arm squeezed.  "Come on, Hutch.  Let's try to get a hold of Meredith, and then I'll drive us to the hospital."

Outside, they heard the ambulance pull away, its siren blaring.

Two hours later, Starsky and Hutch were in the emergency waiting room, where Dobey and Meredith had arrived a short time ago, to hear the doctor say that Kyeesha's stomach was being pumped, and they expected her to recover.  Though no one could say how many pills had been in the bottle, the doctor wasn't sure that she'd necessarily taken enough to kill herself.  They had her stabilized.

After the doctor left, Meredith muttered, "Of course, it wasn't enough to kill her."

Hutch's head shot up.  "What's that supposed to mean?"

Meredith snorted.  "She made sure she was somewhere where she could be easily found, right?  She made sure the pill bottle was right next to her, so that the doctors would know what she'd taken, right?  I bet she even had reason to believe that at least one of you would be returning to the house before much time had passed."

Starsky couldn't believe the bluntness of his former, temporary partner.  "Are you saying she's done this before?"

"Not this specifically."

"What does that mean?" Dobey asked.

Meredith said, "Right before she was supposed to graduate high school, Kyeesha went out and got pregnant, and then had an abortion."

Starsky blinked repeatedly in complete surprise.

Meredith went on.  "She later got her GED.  Then she goes to college, and a month before she graduates, she borrows a friend's car, even though she didn't have a license.  She ran into a light pole and totaled the car, and broke her arm and wrenched up her knee.  That set her back a semester.  And now, when she's just on the verge of getting her Master's, she pulls this."

Starsky tried to make sense of Meredith's words.  "Are you saying that she's afraid of success?"

"I guess you could say that."  Meredith almost seem to grumble when she asked, "Did she leave a note?"

Starsky swallowed heavily.  "Uh.  Yeah."  He gestured vaguely.  "It's back at the house."

Meredith crossed her arms.  "So, what did it say?  What a poor, misunderstood person she was?"

Hotly, Hutch said, "If she was, it's pretty understandable, isn't it?  Her aunt sure hell doesn't seem to want to understand her."

Dobey reached out to squeeze Hutch's arm.  "Hutchinson," he said in a warning voice.

Starsky was only slightly less hot.  "Look, Meredith, maybe she wanted to be found.  But that's a good thing, isn't it?  It doesn't mean she's not worthy of compassion.  And help."

Meredith slowly shook her head.  "She's really got you guys pulled in hook, line, and sinker."

Hutch started to say something with his teeth grit, but Starsky spoke up more quickly.  "Just come out with it, Meredith.  Just what are you trying to say?"

She rolled her eyes.  "Haven't you two noticed how manipulative she is?  She pulls that holier-than-thou educated student act, while at the same time being the poor social outcast that nobody understands."

Hutch said, "I don't get you.  It's not uncommon for exceptionally bright people to be social outcasts.  And for your information, she hasn't tried to manipulate us.  We've all gotten along fine."

Meredith said plaintively, "And then she pulls this.  Just how 'fine' could it have been?"

Starsky almost shouted, "Why are you so angry toward her?  Don't you have any warm feelings at all regarding your niece?"

 "Because I'm tired of her pulling this crap!  I'm tired of her making everyone who cares about her hop-to-it."

"Okay," Starsky said.  "The girl needs help.  That's not some kind of crime."   Then he demanded, "Haven't you ever needed help in your life?  Or are have you always been so holier-than-thou perfect?"

Dobey waved his hands.  "Look.  Let's just all calm down.  I suggest that, for starters, we be thankful that Kyeesha is going to be okay."

Starsky had locked gazes with Meredith.  As he stared into her large brown eyes, which he had always known to be so full of life and laughter, he found himself wondering if he'd ever known her at all.


The squeeze on his arm broke the spell.  Starsky allowed Hutch to lead him down the hall.

When they were at the far end, Hutch shoved his hands into his pockets and quietly said, "Look, buddy, we don't know their family history.  So, maybe we shouldn't be too quick to judge, huh?"

Starsky snorted.  "That's awfully generous of you."

Hutch muttered, "I just know that us all yelling at each other isn't going to help Kyeesha."

"Yeah."  Starsky reached to take Hutch's hand.  "How are you doing?"

"I just keep wondering what she was thinking, you know?"

"Yeah."  Starsky rubbed at his face.  "Man, I'm seeing a side of Meredith that I never imagined."

"It sounds like she's had a rough time with Ky.  Perhaps the whole family has.  She has a right to her own feelings."

"I know, but how can she act like Kyeesha is the bad guy, end of story?  It's almost like she's hoping she would have died."

"Come on, none of that.  You know she doesn't feel that way.  Maybe she's just tired of feeling manipulated.  I can sort of get that."

"Man," Starsky said, "that's incredible to believe that Kyeesha got pregnant in high school and had an abortion."

"Yeah.  I specifically asked her if she'd ever had a boyfriend, and she said she hadn't.  So, it must have been just some guy.  She said she wasn't attracted to 'boys'."

Starsky considered the emphasis.  "You mean because she was more interested in older men?"

Hutch lowered his head and rubbed the heel of his shoe slowly against the floor.  "Yeah."

"Well, it's understandable that she'd become fixated on you.  It doesn't sound like she's had much opportunity to express love in her life.  I mean, she has all that enthusiasm for a celebrity like Nichelle Nichols -- someone she can never be close to."

Hutch finally raised his head.  "That's odd, isn't it?  That she got to do something that she's apparently always wanted to do -- meet Nichelle Nichols in person -- and then, within two weeks, she tries to kill herself."  Hutch mused, "I wonder if something happened at that gathering."

"I doubt it.  She seemed pretty excited and enthused on the ride home, and had plenty of good things to say about the event."

"Then I wonder if maybe, after some time had passed, the enthusiasm wore off, and she felt empty inside.  Like the high from that really didn't last long.  You know?"

"Yeah, well, in any case, I believe Meredith that Kyeesha didn't really want to die.  Thank God."

"But she definitely wants some attention.  She's crying out."

"Hopefully, this won't set her back from getting her Master's."

"I guess it depends on how long she has to be in the hospital.  Surely, they'll want her to be evaluated by a psychologist."

They were silent for a moment, and then Starsky said, "I'm not sure there's much point in hanging around.  By the time they get her in a room and she's conscious, visiting hours will probably be over.  Maybe we should just come back tomorrow morning, huh?"

"Yeah."  Hutch nodded toward the other end of the hall.   "Let's let them know."

Starsky made a point of not being confrontational as they came up to Meredith and Dobey.  Only partially serious, he said, "I wonder what the chances are of us being able to contact Nichelle Nichols and have her give Kyeesha a visit."

"Who?" Meredith asked.

Hutch replied, "Nichelle Nichols, the actress."

"Oh," Dobey smiled.  "The Uhura gal."

Meredith asked, "Why would you be thinking of her?"

Starsky exchanged a glance with Hutch.  "Because Kyeesha idolizes her."

Meredith shook her head.  "Really?  Idolizes?  Is that another one of her five-minute obsessions?"

Starsky refused rise to the bait.

Hutch levelly said, "We figure there's nothing more we can do here, so we're going home.  We'll be by to see her in the morning."

When they got home, it was dark.  They turned on the lights, and were surprised the find the trash the had been left in the living room by the paramedics, where they had torn open supplies to treat Kyeesha .  Silently, they began to clean it up.

The phone rang, and Hutch went to answer it.  "Hello?" he greeted tiredly.

"Kenny?  This is Lannie."

Hutch's mouth fell open.  Of all the people to hear from at this time.  "Yeah, uh, hi, Lannie.  How are you?"  He glanced up to see Starsky walk through the kitchen, carrying a garbage bag, his expression one of concern as he glanced at Hutch.

"I'm fine.  How are you?"

"Uhm...."  Hutch was about to say 'fine', then realized he didn't want to carry out the pretense that his family was so accustomed to.  "Uh, actually, Starsk and I have sort of had a rough afternoon."  He watched Starsky run a cloth under the faucet.  "We've had a relative of a friend staying with us, and she tried to kill herself this afternoon."

"You mean, at your house?"


Lanette scoffed, "That was darn nice of them."

Hutch blinked.  Sarcasm wasn't the reaction he'd been seeking, and he felt he'd betrayed Kyeesha's privacy.  "Well, they think she's going to be okay, so we're really glad to hear that."

"How did they do it?"

Hutch shifted with discomfort, toying with the phone cord, aware that Starsky had carried the cloth and a can of carpet cleaner into the living room.  "Um, swallowed pills.  So, uh, Lannie, what's up with you?"  He knew that there was something he was supposed to be saying to her.  Something he and Starsky had discussed a while back about what they should focus on when they next talked to her.  But he couldn't remember what it was.

"I've been getting my Christmas list together, and since you and Dad talk so much now, I wondered if you had some ideas about what I should get him for Christmas."

Christmas?  "Uh, boy, we've hardly even thought about Christmas."

"I'm going to get Mom a crockpot.  She really likes the one I have."  She waited.  "You have any ideas for Dad?"

"Uh...."  Hutch wished he could remember what he was supposed to say to her.  "Hey, uh...."

Abruptly, Starsky was in the kitchen, nudging Hutch out of the way.  He took the phone from him.  "Hello?  Lanette?  It's Dave."

Hutch bowed his head as he felt a warm squeeze on his shoulder.  He plopped down into the nearest chair.

Starsky's hand rested on the top of his head.

"Yeah, well," Starsky said into the phone, "Hutch and me are still kind of shell-shocked, you know?  It's a hard thing to see someone you care about, lying on your living floor, unconscious."  He nodded.  "Yeah, they were pretty sure she's going to be all right.  So, what is it you needed?"  He listened.  "Oh, hey, you know what?  When your parents were out here last spring, I took your dad to the sporting goods store.  He bought some stuff, but one thing he didn't buy, but he was really looking at, was a hunting knife."  He listened a moment.  "Yeah, I know, he doesn't hunt.  But he really liked it.  It had kind of a neat carving on the handle."  Starsky was silent a moment and then chuckled softly.  "Women aren't supposed to understand.  Liking knives is a guy thing.  Maybe he can just frame it and keep it on the wall or something.  But that's something I'd look for.  I think he'd really appreciate it.  So, how's the rest of your Christmas shopping going?"

Hutch was still trying to remember him and Starsky's last conversation about Lanette, when he felt Starsky's thumb brush along his cheek. 

He sat there, feeling grateful for how smoothly Starsky was handling the conversation. 

He looked up when Starsky said, "So, Lanette, are you looking forward to a busy shopping season at your stores?"

That's what he and Starsky had talked about -- showing more interest in Lanette's life, particularly her retail shops.

"That's good," Starsky said.  Then, "You're quite the proprietor."  He waited a moment, and then carefully asked, "Did you want to talk to Hutch again?"

Hutch looked up, not sure if he was up to it. 

"Okay," Starsky said, "I'll talk to you later.  Bye."  He hung up.

Hutch was relieved.  Starsky came to stand before him, his thumb still rubbing along Hutch's cheek.

Hutch said, "I-I-I couldn't think of what to say to her.  It's like my brain was paralyzed."

Starsky hand dropped away, and he grimaced while stepping away to lean back against the counter.  "Maybe that's because your subconscious was remembering how much she hurt you the last time you two had a conversation."

Hutch restrained a wince.  "I'm over that."

"Maybe consciously.  All I know is that she hurt you enough with the things she said -- and didn't say -- that you were bawling your eyes out afterward."

Hutch really didn't need to be reminded of that.  He released a sigh.  "Thanks for... you know."  He nodded toward the phone.

Starsky said, "I swear, Hutch, you have the weirdest family.  She hears about someone in our house trying to kill themselves, and she goes right into a conversation about what to get your dad for Christmas?"

Hutch couldn't summon the energy to shrug.  "We're good at disassociating ourselves from uncomfortable subjects."

Starsky drew a slow breath.  Then he said, "Sorry to break this to you, but you aren't good at it anymore."

Hutch snorted with a hint of amusement.

"Stand up, Hutch."

Hutch did. 

Starsky stepped closer and circled his arms around him. 

Hutch did likewise, and rested his face against Starsky's neck.

They both pulled snug.

Hutch pressed his face closer.  He slowly rubbed his arms up and down Starsky's back.

How much strength Starsky had.  He always seemed to know what to do or say in any situation.

Hutch felt a tear drop off his lower eyelid.

A hand was placed on the back of his head, pressing him closer.

Hutch breathed.

He relished the feel of the hand that rubbed along his own back.

It seemed, not so many months ago, he had felt capable and strong.  Now, he wondered why life could so easily hurt him.

He wanted to protest to himself that Kyeesha wasn't their problem.  They weren't family to her.  They had simply been helping out friends when they put her up in their house.

But it bothered him greatly to think that whatever sanctuary they had offered her, it apparently hadn't been enough.

"Hutch," Starsky said, pulling back.  "I want to snoop around Kyeesha's room.  We have the right.  I just want make sure, you know, that she doesn't have any more pills around.  And, who knows, maybe we'll come across something that'll explain what set her off."

Hutch nodded, eager to do likewise, and yet feeling very reluctant at the invasion of privacy.

Starsky took Hutch by the wrist and led the way out of the kitchen.  "We'll tell her that we snooped.  She has a right to know."

As they moved inside the open bedroom door, where the bed was neatly made, Hutch said, "Let's disturb things as little as possible." 

Starsky switched on the overhead light.  "Of course."

They moved about silently, opening drawers and carefully leafing through the contents within.  Hutch found a lot of school-related stuff.  On the wall was a Star Trek calendar, but it was turned to April, which had passed many months ago.  The picture was of Lieutenant Uhura.


Hutched turned to see Starsky next to the open drawer of a bureau.  He began carefully placing items on the bed.  There were record albums, magazines, books, and figurines.  All featuring Lieutenant Uhura or Nichelle Nichols.  Many were autographed.  There was one photo of a scene from Star Trek that showed Uhura and Captain Kirk kissing.  On the bottom margin of the photo was typed "Television's first interracial kiss."

Starsky said, "I don't think this was a five minutes obsession," he quoted Meredith's words.  "I just don't think Meredith knew hardly anything about her niece.  Which is all the weirder, considering they spent over a year living in an apartment together."

Hutch softly said, "Yeah.  It's not necessarily Meredith's fault though.  Most people are good at hiding things when they really want to."  Hutch started to put the items back in the drawer.  "I wonder how there got to be such bad blood between Ky and her family."

Starsky also put items back.  "Maybe it's just between the two of them."

"I don't know, Starsk.  When Ky and I took that drive out to the auto parts office, she got quiet when I asked her if she was looking forward to being back home in time for Christmas.  And she also said something about having to always count on the generosity of others."

Starsky closed the drawer.  "Sounds like she doesn't feel she belongs anywhere."  He turned away.  "I'm going to check out the bathroom."

Hutch made sure everything was left as neat as possible, and then turned out the light.  He went to stand outside the bathroom door, where Starsky had just closed the medicine cabinet.  "There's nothing in here, Hutch.  That's a relief, huh?"


The house phone rang.  "I'll get it," Starsky said is he moved past Hutch.  A moment later, he answered, "Hello?"  Then, a subdued, "Hi, Meredith." 

Hutch sat down at the kitchen table as Starsky said, "That's good.  That's good to hear."  He listened a while longer.  "Terrific.  That's good to know."

After listening for an extended moment, Starsky said, "Look, Meredith, I know that Hutch and me don't know the history with you two.  But at the same time, you're the only relative Kyeesha has out this way.  If all you want to do is put her down, who is she supposed to count on?"  Starsky fidgeted as he listened.  "Yeah, I know she can be difficult.  But you're the older adult.  You're supposed to be mature enough to let her crap blow over.  How can you let a twenty-five-year-old get to you like that?  She may be really smart and educated, but she's naive about other aspects of life.  She needs to be able to count on people to help her with the other stuff."

Hutch stood and reached to squeeze Starsky's arm. 

While obviously preventing his voice from rising, Starsky said, "Hutch and me are involved.  It's way too late to try to say that we aren't.  She tried to take her life in our house.  We've put her up and had lots of dinners with her and taken her places she wants to go.  We've answered her questions about our personal lives and talked about her school stuff with her. So, don't sit there and tell me that we shouldn't get involved.  That we shouldn't care."

Hutch squeezed the arm again, and Starsky released a heavy breath.  After listening a while longer, he said more amiably.  "That's fine, don't worry about it.  Hutch and I will spend time with her tomorrow morning."  He gentled his voice.  "I'll talk to you later, Meredith."  He hung up the phone.

They both sat at the table, as Starsky said, "She's in a room now.  She's really sore from the stomach pumping procedure.  But it's possible she could go home tomorrow afternoon.  It just depends on when the psychologist sees her and what is evaluation is.  Oh, and Meredith checked with the school, and her student insurance will cover the expenses."

"That's good," Hutch said, though it hadn't occurred to him to wonder about it.

"Meredith has to work tomorrow because they've got a hot murder going, so I told her we'd spend time with Kyeesha."

Hutch said, "I wonder if Ky will talk to us about what's troubling her."

"I don't know.  If she doesn't, I don't think it's our place to press her.  Surely, the hospital will set up something with a psychologist on an out-patient basis."

"Yeah, but if she's heading back to North Carolina as soon as school is out....  Didn't she say finals are the week after next?"

"Yeah," Starsky said with a sigh.  Then he considered, "I'd be willing to let her stay here a while if she wanted to," he looked at Hutch directly, "but I wonder if that would be giving her too much of a crutch."

"You mean it could encourage to avoid dealing with whatever is troubling her?"


Hutch shrugged and let his sorrow show in his voice.  "Maybe this wasn't the best place for her, anyway.  I mean, if things got so bad after she moved in, well, obviously being here and away from her aunt hasn't helped much."

Starsky tilted his head, and then gently scolded, "Let's not start thinking we're bad for her.  There's no way I believe that she felt devastated or something because she has feelings for you.  Her note also said something about being good at school work 'but not other things'.  She's troubled inside, Hutch.  This isn't something that came on just in the time since she moved in."

Hutch's mind came upon a memory from long ago.  With a hint of badly needed humor, he asked, "You mean I'm not the type of guy a girl is going to kill herself over?"

It took a moment, but then Starsky grinned broadly, as though he also remembered the moment when Hutch had once said that to him.  "That's right."  Then he sobered and reached to squeeze Hutch's hand.  "I don't know about you, buddy boy, but I'm bushed, and I'd really like us to put ourselves to bed and curl up together."

That sounded good to Hutch, too.

They had agreed that Starsky would first see Kyeesha alone, as she wouldn't have the emotional baggage with him that she might have with Hutch.

Starsky approached the bed with a smile.  The other bed in the room was empty.

Kyeesha gave him a brief, hesitant smile in return.

"Hey, how ya doin', kiddo?" Starsky asked as he sat down.

"Been better," she said, glancing away.

Starsky briefly squeezed her hand.  "Hutch and me are really, really glad that you're going to be okay, and that you didn't do any permanent damage to yourself."  He hesitated, and then gently said, "I hope you're glad about that, too."

"I'm here," she said non-committedly.

Starsky regarded her a long moment.  "You mean, if you really wanted to do it, you would have made sure you never woke up?"

Shakily, she admitted, "I wasn't sure if there were enough pills in the bottle."

Starsky kept his voice level.  "Who is Robyn Jones?  That's the name that was on the bottle."

"I don't know.  I just happened to find the bottle in the ladies' room at the hotel, where I guess someone accidentally left it."

"Hotel?" Starsky repeated.  "You mean in Barstow?"


Starsky gulped, uncertain how to ask what he wanted to ask.  "So, that was all a put-on that you were glad to be seeing Nichelle Nichols?"

She blinked.  "What?"  Then, "No, no.  I was really excited about seeing her.  I'm so glad you and Hutch took me there."

Starsky was relieved to hear that, but also more confused.  "Then if you were excited, why would you take the bottle that was in the ladies room?"

She looked away.  Then she said, "It represented a possible escape route, I guess.  Sometimes, I find myself thinking about how I could do it.  But that's nothing new."

Starsky furrowed his brow at that.  "Kyeesha, have you tried to kill yourself before?"


"Then why now?"

She grimaced, and then stared at the ceiling.  "I-I just... I wasn't sure what I was going to do," she said sorrowfully.  "School was ending.  I had nothing going on that I could look forward to."

"Well," Starsky said, "most college graduates look for jobs, don't they?"

"Yes.  But what about when I'm not at work?  I'm used to studying, and preparing for the next exam, or the next course load."

Gently, Starsky said, "Sounds to me like you're really scared.  I doubt that's unusual for most students who have spent their young adulthood in school.  But most people have other things in life to keep them interested, besides their jobs."  Bluntly, Starsky said, "You seem really lonely, Ky."  He'd used the nickname without meaning to, since he considered that to be Hutch's special name for her.

He thought he caught the glimpse of a smile, so maybe it was good that he'd used it.

He pressed, "You need to open yourself up to friendships, and other types of relationships.  Aren't you friendly with some of the other Nichelle Nichols fans?"

"Somewhat.  We correspond, but it's not like we live anywhere near each other."

"What about your family back home?"

She looked away again.  "It's complicated."

Starsky grunted.  "Yeah.  It usually is.  Still, there's something to be said for the people who love you unconditionally."

After a long moment, she said, "It's not a comfortable place.  I've seen a lot of the world, been exposed to a lot of ideas, that they haven't.  They don't really understand anything about me.  They're suspicious of an educated way of being in the world, because they can't relate to it."

Starsky considered her words.  It reminded him of he and Nick.  Starsky had traveled to the other side of the continent to finish growing up, and had attended the police academy.  And fallen in love with his male partner.  Nick had a hard time understanding any of it, and perhaps never would.

"Yeah, I think I get that," he told her.  "Still," he managed a smile, "I think killing yourself because of it is a bit extreme."

She stared at the wall.  "Is Hutch mad at me?"

"Neither of us is mad, Kyeesha.  We're both just really concerned.  Hutch was really shook up.  He's the one that found you first, though I came home right after him."

After an uncomfortable silence, Starsky said, "We saw your note, of course.  But, despite what you said at the end, I'm thinking this whole thing has very little to do with Hutch.  I can understand that you have a crush on him, if you want to call it that, and you might love the idea of you and he being together some day.  But we all know that's not going to happen, and I think you're too level-headed to be suicidal about something like that."  She was still looking away, and he firmly added, "I'm more concerned about the other thing you said in your note.  About being good at book learning, but not so good at other things."

She remained silent.

Starsky said, "We've all got to find our way, Ky.  We all have certain things that we struggle with.  We all have things that we're afraid of, especially new things.  But if we just give ourselves a chance, we usually find out that those really scary things end up not being so scary, after all."  When she still didn't respond, he whispered, "You deserve to give yourself those same chances that everyone else gets."

Finally, she looked at him.  "Thanks for trying to make me feel better."

Starsky was glad for the words, but he feigned offense.  "Trying?  As in, it didn't work?"

She managed a small laugh. 

Starsky then said, "Hutch is waiting outside.  He's very eager to see you."

She quickly said, "I don't want to be alone with him.  I'm so embarrassed."

Starsky nodded.  "I'll stay here.  But just know that Hutch is a six-foot-one bundle of pure mush.  Especially when it comes to people he cares about."  Starsky stood.  "I'll bring him in."

He went out into the hall, where Hutch asked, "How is she?"

"I think she's going to be okay.  The one thing I'm certain of is that this had nothing to do with you.  She's just really scared.  She can't imagine what her life is going to look like after school is over.  And it sounds like she doesn't have anybody to hold her hand or be her cheerleader.  That's probably why she does something dramatic every time she's about to reach a new level of success."

Hutch nodded.  "I can go in now?"

"Yeah, but I need to come, too.  She's really embarrassed and doesn't want to talk to you alone."


"Yeah.  Come on."  Starsky pushed the door open.

As they entered the room, Starsky stepped away so Hutch could take the chair next to the bed. 

"Hey, Ky," Hutch greeted as he sat down.  "You look a heck of a lot better than the last time I saw you."

Her eyes misted as she looked at him.  "I'm sorry."

"Apology accepted," he said gently.  "Just as long as you swear to me that you'll never do anything like that again."

"I won't."

HIs voice softened even more.  "You know, there's nothing wrong with needing somebody sometimes.  You have to learn to reach out.  People can't help if they don't know what hurts."

When there was an extended silence, Starsky stepped closer to the bed.  "Kyeesha, you have a right to know that Hutch and I searched your room and bathroom."

Her eyes widened.

"Sorry, but we wanted to be sure there wasn't anything dangerous, such as more prescription bottles."

Hutch smiled gently.  "I'm glad to say that we didn't find anything that concerned us."

There was more silence, and then Starsky asked, "Did your aunt stop by this morning?"

"Yeah," Kyeesha replied levelly.  "She didn't stay long.  Which was fine."

Carefully, Starsky said, "I admit I'm curious as how things got so bad between you two."

Her eyes darted away.  "She resents me."

"Why?" Hutch asked.

Her eyes focused on him.  "Because she was the first person in our family to really make something of herself in the white man's world.  But she had to make sacrifices.  She's never come right out and said it, but I know she had to sleep with some people to get where she is."

Starsky restrained a gasp.  His heart hurt for Meredith, and of her feeling she had to stoop to something like that.

After an uncomfortable silence, Hutch prompted, "But why does she hold that against you?"

"She's jealous that I've gotten all sorts of scholarship money and stuff.  I've gotten an easy ride, compared to her.  I think every time she looks at me, I remind her of everything she's done that she wishes she hadn't."

Hutch said blandly, "Well, I guess that explains it."

In matching tone, Starsky said, "Thanks for telling us.  That helps me understand a lot."  He swallowed thickly, wondering about all the women he'd known that had been unusually successful for their gender.  If they'd also felt it necessary to compromise themselves in a similar way.

He also wondered if her aunt's history was part of the reason Kyeesha was reluctant to get involved in a relationship with a man.  He would be the one who held all the power, by virtue of his gender, and she was accustomed to being responsible for her own success.

They stayed through lunch, and left when the psychologist arrived.  Kyeesha had told them where to find the phone numbers of her college professors amongst her belongings, so they could call them and let them know she had missed classes due to being hospitalized briefly, with the cover story that it was for food poisoning.  They also prompted her to call them when she knew when she would be getting released.

As they left the hospital, Starsky said grimly, "I don't know about you, but I'm damn glad I was born with a cock."

Hutch instantly knew that Starsky was talking about Meredith.  And perhaps countless other respectable women who had done things they wished they hadn't needed to, in order to have a better life.  "It makes you feel more compassionate toward Meredith, doesn't it?"

"Yeah.  And also I'm realizing how incredibly naive I've been, to not have figured out that lots of women who got where they are, have probably had to sleep with someone to get there."

"Yeah," Hutch said as they headed toward his LeBaron.  "But men sometimes have to compromise themselves, too.  Not sexually, but in other ways.  We've always lived in a 'I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine' world.  Sex has been the one thing that women have always been able to count on that men want."

"It's wrong, Hutch.  Our society should be more civilized than one that expects women to do the most intimate thing possible, just to get a job or something."

Hutch took out his keys as they reached the car.  "Things are changing, buddy.  At least, it doesn't sound like Kyeesha has had to go down that road.  Hopefully, she never will."

Once they were in the car, Hutch eased out of the parking space.  The main street leading to the hospital had workmen and a blocked off lane, causing a traffic jam.  Hutch turned in the other direction, moving across the parking lot.  He saw other parking lots beyond an alley, and decided to cut across to get to the street near the opposite side of the hospital.

"Watch it!" Starsky yelled.

"Huh?  What?"  They'd past near a dumpster.  No other vehicles were around.

"Dammit, Hutch, be careful.  There's some little dog running around here."

Hutch looked around as he continued to ease forward.  "I don't see anything."

"Exactly.  Just stop.  STOP." 

Hutch did.

Starsky opened his door and said, "Let me make sure it's out of the way."

Hutch decided against being annoyed.  He knew how upsetting it had been for Starsky to have accidentally killed the family's dog a while back.  He put the parking brake on and also got out of the car.

Starsky was squatting near the dumpster.  "It's back behind the dumpster.  Some little brown dog."

Hutch came up behind Starsky so he could see.   The dog was standing warily in the shadow of the dumpster, which was next to a building, watching them.  "I hope it's okay."

"Looks kind of skinny, even with all that fur."


"If Peppy's still alive, I wonder if he looks like that."

The dog raised his head and tilted it.

"Hey, little guy," Starsk y said.  "You like it when I called you Peppy?" 

The dog spun around, wagging its tail.

"Hutch!  Could that be him?"

"No.  He's got to be responding to your voice.  Peppy was white."

"Maybe he's just dirty."  Starsky then said, "Ralph?  Fido?"

The dog stared at him.


The dog whimpered and spun around.

Hutch's heart started pounding with excitement.  "I can't believe it."

"We've got to find out for sure.  Maybe you can run inside the hospital and call Mrs. Crenshaw to come out here."

"Starsky, Mrs. Crenshaw is an elderly, grossly overweight woman who wears lots of makeup and a fancy hairdo.  It would take two hours just to get herself presentable enough to leave the house."

Starsky slapped his thighs.  "Come on, Peppy!  Come on!"

Peppy spun around and whimpered, wagging his tail.  He took a step forward.

"Come on!  Come on!"

Peppy spun around again, but then took a couple of steps back.

"He's too scared," Hutch said.  "He doesn't know us."

"Wish we had some food."

"I'll get on the other side.  Then we can slowly approach him from both sides."

Hutch went around the dumpster until he was at the other side.  He knelt down.  If Peppy was agile enough, he could still get past them both, because there was enough room between the dumpster and the side of the building.  "Let's move at the same time, but be real non-threatening."

The both slowly moved on their knees, approaching Peppy, whose expression became worried.

"Peppy, we're not going to hurt you," Starsky soothed.  "You're a good boy, Peppy."

"Peppy's a good boy," Hutch chimed in.  "Good boy, Peppy.  Easy does it."

The dog hunkered down, as though resigned to his fate, as Starsky reached out and grabbed him by the back.

"Got him?"

"Yep."  Starsky drew the dog to him, who tried to brace himself on his back legs, and then picked him up with both hands.  "Atta boy, I've got you."

"Keep a tight hold on him," Hutch said, as he remembered Peppy had gotten lost by jumping out of Mrs. Crenshaw's arms.

They both began walking back to the car.

"Man," Starsky said, "this is incredible."  He was studying the dog's fur.  "I think he is white.  He's just filthy."

"Yeah, I hope it's him.  If so, he's some fifteen miles from home."

"He doesn't have a collar.  I bet somebody found him shortly after he jumped out of Mrs. Crenshaw's arms, and took off his collar because they wanted to keep him for their own.  And then maybe he got away, but couldn't find his way home."

Hutch reached over to pet the dog's head.  "Ah, poor boy.  He is a boy, isn't he?"  They were at the car, and he got back behind the steering wheel.

Starsky didn't investigate until he was seated and had closed the door.  "Yep.  He has a wiener."

Hutch started moving the car forward.

Starsky said, "I don't know if it's a good thing to just up and stop by Mrs. Crenshaw's house.  I mean, what if it isn't him?  That could be devastating."

"I know who his vet is, because I've been over there.  Let's stop by there, and hopefully they'll be able to tell, and maybe give him a bath and check for any injuries.  Since Mrs. Crenshaw is surely a top client, they should make time for us, even if they're busy."

The plan to go to the vet first turned out to be a good one.  Peppy's veterinarian was well aware of the Mrs. Crenshaw's unrelenting search for her missing dog, and they were able to positively ID Peppy from a small scar from when he'd had stitches.  They happily bathed Peppy and clipped down his fur, and put a red ribbon, in the shape of a bow, around his neck.

Hutch called Mrs. Crenshaw from the clinic.  He told her that he and Starsky would be dropping by shortly, because they had some good news for her.  When she pressed him for details, he abruptly hung up with a, "I have to go."  He wanted it to be at least somewhat of a surprise.

The vet had provided a temporary collar and leash, and Starsky held the dog in his lap as they turned onto Mrs. Crenshaw's block, which contained a row of elaborate mansions with well-manicured yards.  "Man, Hutch, this is going to be something."


As Hutch pulled the car up in front of the correct house, Peppy began pawing at the window and whimpering.

"Just a little bit longer, little fellow," Starsky soothed.

As they got out of the car, Mrs. Crenshaw's large form appeared on the patio.

Peppy jumped out of Starsky's arms before he could react, and the dog ran to Mrs. Crenshaw, with his leash trailing.

"Peppy!" she exclaimed, holding out her arms.

He leapt up at her, and she caught him and held him close.  "Peppy!  Peppy!  You're home in time for Christmas!"

The dog howled and then lick frantically at her face.

Starsky and Hutch slowly approached.  Hutch couldn't remember the ending of a case ever making him feel so happy.  He also felt somewhat guilty that he hadn't ever taken the assignment to find the lost dog very seriously.

Finally, Mrs. Crenshaw looked up at them.  "Come in!  Come in!  Where did you find him?"

They relayed the afternoon's events as they followed her into the house.

She called, "Gloria!"

A woman in a maid's outfit appeared.  She brightened upon seeing the dog.

"Peppy has been returned to us.  Take him outside.  I'm sure he's eager to see his own yard again."

"Yes, Mrs. Crenshaw".  The maid took charge of Peppy and carried him away.

"This way, gentlemen.  Let me write you a check."

"Uh," Hutch said, "that's not necessary, Mrs. Crenshaw.  The initial five hundred dollars covers our time and expenses."

"Nonsense," she declared, leading the way into a study.  "Peppy is priceless to me.  The men who have returned him to me deserve to be compensated accordingly."  She pulled out a hard-bound ledger.  "Besides, tis the season for giving."

Hutch shifted with discomfort.  "We've been adequately paid."

She suddenly glared at him.  "Don't insult my generosity."

Starsky gave Hutch a firm nudge.  "Yeah, Hutch, don't insult Mrs. Crenshaw's generosity."

Hutch decided to be quiet, and rationalized to himself that he was doing Mrs. Crenshaw a favor by allowing them to be paid whatever she deemed appropriate.

She was bent over the ledger, and then ended her signature with a flourish.  She tore out the check, came around the desk, and handed it to Hutch.  "That will be all, gentlemen," she said cheerfully.  "I hope you have a very Merry Christmas."

Hutch stared at the check, while Starsky leaned closer to see.

It was for ten thousand dollars.

Starsky said, "Thank you very much, Mrs. Crenshaw.  We'll see ourselves out.  Merry Christmas!"

When they reached the car, Hutch paused at the passenger side.  "I can't accept this money.  It was sheer luck that we found him.  I never took the case seriously."

"I didn't either," Starsky admitted.  "But it's not like we can give the check back.  She wouldn't stand for it."

Hutch went around to the driver's side and got in.  As he pulled away from the curb, he said, "Maybe we can give it charity.  That would be a damn nice tax deduction.  We should check with Emerson, our financial advisor, first.  He's been wanting to have a meeting with us as soon as possible, in case there's any strategic financial moves we need to make before the 31st."

Starsky was silent a long moment.  Then he said, "Let's not be too hasty about anything.  Besides, I have an idea about what we can do with the money."

"That's her," Starsky said.  They were in the parking lot of Premium West Auto Parts, and Barbara Welsh exited the building.   Dusk was turning to nightfall, and thankfully the parking lot was well lit.

They waited until Barbara got into her car, and they followed at a discreet distance in the LeBaron.

They had little to say to each other, because both were aware that this was going to be their one and only shot at trying to get more information from her.  They had no leverage or legal avenue to try to force anything from her, so could only hope that she had some inclination to do the right thing.

It was dark when she pulled up in front of bungalow.  Hutch stopped the LeBaron and put on the parking brake.  He and Starsky got out and ran toward the car, as she switched off the lights. 

She had opened the door and just started to get out, when Hutch grabbed her from behind, putting his hand over her mouth.  "Back in the car," he directed, try to shove her into the seat.  "We won't hurt you."  Then he added, "Take it easy.  We aren't armed.  Move over."

He kept his hand over her mouth as she slid over.  With his other hand, Hutch popped the lock to the passenger side, allowing Starsky to get in, which put Barbara between them.

Once all doors were closed, Hutch removed his hand.

"Who are you?" she demanded of him.

"We're sorry to scare you like this," Hutch said, using his most soothing voice.  "But we needed to get your attention."

"There's telephones," she spat.

"We've already tried that," Starsky said.

She looked over at Starsky and studied him a long moment.

"Yes, we've met," Starsky verified.  "About Fred Newman."  He made a 'tsk, tsk' noise.  "But you didn't tell me everything you know."

"We want the rest of it," Hutch said.  "And then we won't bother you anymore."

"The rest of what?" she asked.

"You're scared of someone," Hutch said told her.  "Whoever murdered Fred could do the same to you.  We just want a name."

"You're crazy," she told him.

"Look," Starsky said, "we aren't cops.  We have no power to force you to testify.  We already know, from what we've learned of this case, that there's no way there's ever going to be enough evidence for it to be prosecuted.  So, you don't have to be afraid of your life being in danger for revealing what you know."  He lowered his voice.  "We're just asking you to tell us who was behind the murder, and why.  If Frederick Newman meant anything to you, surely you can understand how badly his son John needs some closure.  He just wants to know what happened.  That's all."

"You won't hear from us again," Hutch emphasized.  He then softened his own voice, "We were just hoping you'd want to do the right thing, for John Newman's sake."

She released a heavy sigh.  "Fred had to have seen it coming.  He knew he was in trouble.  Way over his head."

"With who?" Starsky pressed.

She looked squarely at him.  "My brother, Walter.  We were never close or anything.  But I always knew he was willing to loan out money.  So, when Fred seemed to be pretty desperate after we broke up, I told him about Walter." She quickly defended, "I had no idea what kind of situation it was.  I Just thought Walter was willing to loan out money for a high interest rate.  At the time, I didn't know it was his primary way of earning a living, and that he even had some henchmen working for him to rough up people who didn't pay.  Fred kept borrowing money and got in deeper and deeper.  He kept gambling more frantically, hoping to win some of it back.  Eventually, my brother paid me a visit to let me know how bad things were going to get for Fred, if he didn't start paying up.  Like, breaking his legs.  Fred and I were seeing each other again, by then."  Her voice roughened.  "I thought I was doing Fred a favor when I told Walter that it would be virtually impossible for Fred to pay them back, because he'd taken a huge pay cut because of the corporation's revised commission structure.  I thought if they knew it was impossible, they'd cut their losses and leave him alone."  Her voice broke.  "Instead, it was the reason they killed him."

Quietly, Starsky said, "They had nothing to lose, by that point.  Fred wasn't going to pay, anyway, and it was a feather in Walter's cap to have Fred as an example of what happens to people who don't pay up."

Hutch ran his fingers along his mustache.  "Ms. Welsh, once the pay scale was cut, why didn't Fred look for another job that might pay him more?"

"I think he knew it wouldn't really matter.  His problem wasn't how much he was paid, but how much he gambled.  He knew his addiction wasn't going to get fixed.  He was approaching sixty-five, and he wasn't someone others were likely to want to hire. I think he was resigned to his fate, and let things play out however they were going to."  She sniffed.  "That's the only way I can sleep at night -- knowing that he seemed resigned to his fate.  Maybe he even welcomed it, because I know a part of him hated himself for his addiction."

She felt silent and Hutch looked over her head at Starsky, who nodded.

Hutch said, "Ms. Welsh, sorry again to confront you this way.  But you've filled in the final puzzle pieces for us.  We really appreciate it."  Hutch opened the door and got out.

Starsky did as well.  "Take care."

While sitting behind his desk, John Newman ran his finger along his lip.  "I'm glad I've never gone down that road.  I've known quite a few lives that have been destroyed by various addictions.  I just never knew my own father was one of them."

Hutch said, "Unfortunately, we both were cops before, and we've seen a lot of it.  Gambling is one that a lot of people don't ever think about, or associate with the subject of addiction."  He then noted, "Still, your father was a very kind and generous man to a lot of people.  Many, many clients, friends, and associates will remember him that way."

Newman presented a faint smile.  Then he took his checkbook in hand.  "What do I owe you?"

"This is on us," Hutch said.  "We were so far in the case, we didn't want to pull out.  So, we decided to finish it on our own dollar."

Starsky said, "Consider it a Christmas gift."

"All right," Newman said, putting the checkbook aside.  "You know, there is one really nice thing that's come out of all this."

"What's that?" Hutch asked.

"I decided to give Katherine Smith a call.  I flew out last weekend to see her and my little half sister."  He smiled fondly.  "What a wonderful little girl that Brenda is.  And what a nice little town."  He looked about his office.  "I'm darned tempted to kiss all this materialism goodbye, and go and buy myself a little house in a little town like that."

Hutch said, "That's understandable.  It felt very peaceful when I visited Katherine."

With a distant expression, Newman mused, "I think my father would approve."

"I think he would, too."

Starsky got up from his chair, "We'll be seeing you, John."

Hutch also got up and held out his hand.  "Merry Christmas."

They were in the kitchen on Wednesday afternoon, a week before Christmas.  Starsky asked Hutch, "Ready?"

Hutch nodded.  He called down the hall, "Hey, Kyeesha?  Can you come here for a few minutes?"

They sat side by side, and nodded to the chair opposite them when Kyeesha appeared.

She sat in it.

Starsky said, "We've assumed that you expect to do well in your finals the next couple of days."

She nodded.  "Sure.  I know all the material."

"Good.  The reason we wanted to be sure of that is because we have a graduation gift for you.  But we didn't want to wait until after finals, since you're flying out this weekend."

Hutch reached to the kitchen counter and grabbed a flat package, the size of a #10 envelope, that was gift wrapped.  "Here you go.  You can open it now."

With a curious expression, she tore off the wrapping paper, which revealed a brown envelope.  She glanced up, and when Starsky nodded, she tore open the seal.  She reached in and removed the contents.

A bank book, a register, and a form made of cardboard rested on the table.

She looked at them curiously, and Hutch said, "Look in the register."

She opened it to the first page, and her eyes widened.

Starsky said, "We've opened a savings account for you."

Almost whispering, she asked in shock, "Ten thousand dollars?"

Starsky said,  "Yes.  But don't worry -- it's not out of our pockets.  A very wealthy client way overpaid us for finding her lost dog.  We hadn't worked very hard to earn it, so we thought about giving it to charity."

"But Starsky suggested we give it to you instead," Hutch said.

"And Hutch readily agreed."

She slowly shook her head.  "I can't accept this."

"Yes, you can," Starsky said smoothly.  "We really, really want you to have it.  You can find a place of your very own and get settled, before you have to worry about finding a job.  And, you know, if you want to see a therapist or something -- and we hope that you do -- you don't have to worry about being able to afford it.  Or, if you want to take a trip somewhere and get your head together, you can do that, too."

Hutch said, "Besides, it's because of you that we even found that woman's dog."

She looked at him in puzzlement.  "What do you mean?"

"When we saw you at the hospital that first morning, we happened to see the dog in a lot nearby.  We never would have looked there."

"It was one heck of a stroke of luck," Starsky put in

Hutch leaned forward on the table.  "Look, Ky, I know what it's like to feel that you want something, and yearn for things, that's completely different from what your family and friends think you should want.  That's a difficult thing to live with.  So, while I hope you keep in touch with your family and can be close to them, the money is an opportunity to create a space of your own." He paused, and then stated distinctly, "So, you don't have to keep depending on other people's generosity to simply have a roof over your head."

She blinked repeatedly.

Starsky tapped the cardboard sheet.  "This is a signature card.  Hutch and I had to be signors on the account to open it.  But all you have to do is sign right here on this card, and take it to the bank, and that will take Hutch and my names off the account, and put yours on.  So, you'll be the only one with access to the money."

"It's your money," Hutch said firmly.  "Starsky and I will never ask you about it.  You don't have to justify to us or anyone else what you do with it."

"But," Starsky said with a smile, "we'll be really, really upset if you don't keep in touch with us.  We care about what happens to you, Ky."

"I don't know what to say."

"Say thanks and that, yes, you promise to stay in touch."

She laughed softly and then abruptly put her hand to her mouth.

Hutch reached for a box of tissue paper that was near the phone.  He grabbed a few tissues and handed them to her.

She dabbed at her eyes.  "Thank you.  Thank you so much."

Hutch said, "Please don't disappear on us, Ky."

She continued to dab at her eyes.  "I promise I won't."

Starsky said, "Call us if you need anything, including if you just want to talk.  And don't forget to call us when things are going really well."

Hutch said, "That bank is a national one.  They have branches all over the country.  So, you don't need to worry about withdrawing the money and taking it with you.  You can access it from North Carolina, or wherever."

Starsky indicated the bank book.  "There's withdrawal slips and deposit slips in there."

Kyeesha said, "This is one of the most incredible days of my life."

"We're glad you think so," Starsky said. 

"It's only fitting," Hutch noted, "since last week was one of the lowest days of your life."  He smiled warmly.  "Don't ever forget how quickly things can turn around."

As orgasm consumed him, Starsky cried out fiercely, feeling the freedom of being able to yell at the top of his lungs -- even with the bedroom door wide open.

He felt his phallus begin to deflate from where it was inserted between Hutch's cushiony butt cheeks.  And then he collapsed.

Hutch grunted at the sudden weight.

They had spent most of the day making love, now that their house was entirely their own again.  Kyeesha had taken a plane back to North Carolina yesterday, and it was now Sunday afternoon.

After taking a few minutes to recover his breath, Starsky carefully withdrew.

Hutch reached to the bedside to take a couple of towels from the stack there, and tossed one to Starsky.  They spent a few moments wiping at their bodies and the various residues left amongst the bedding.

When the towels had been tossed aside, they curled up together.

They both groaned with contentment.

Finally, Starsky said, "Christmas is Wednesday, and we haven't even put up a tree."

"You know I don't really care."

"And I haven't given any thought about what to get you."

"Then we're even."  Hutch's eyes closed drowsily.

Enticingly, Starsky said, "Maybe my present will be that I spend the entire Christmas day with my face buried between your ass cheeks."

Dryly, Hutch asked, "How would that be different from today?"

Starsky grunted with amusement.  "Maybe I'll move my tongue in a slight different way.  Just so.  And it'll send you to the moon in a different way than you've ever gone before."

The house phone rang.

They both groaned.  Hutch said, "Don't answer it."

"If we don't, they'll just call back later and interrupt us."  Starsky reached over Hutch and grabbed the phone.  "Hello."

"David?  It's Meredith."

"Oh.  Hi, Meredith.  Kyeesha's flight got off fine yesterday."

"Good.  Sorry I wasn't there to see her off, but you know how it is, being a cop."

"Yeah."  He wanted to say that she should be apologizing to Kyeesha, not him, but he didn't want to be argumentative.

"Hey, in the spirit of the season, I'd like to bury the hatchet."

"Sounds good to me."

"I'm at the Park Center mall, Christmas shopping.  I was hoping you could come by and we can get coffee.  You can bring Hutch, but I would prefer it be just me and you."

"Yeah, okay.  That's fine.  Where should I meet you?"  He could imagine how crowded the mall would be the final weekend before Christmas.  But maybe he could even do a little Christmas shopping of his own.

"Great.  There's a coffee shop next to Sears.  I'll meet you there.  What time?"

"Thirty minutes.  Unless I can't find a parking space.  Then make it forty-five."

"Okay." she said with a chuckle.  "Thanks, David."

He hung up.  "Meredith wants to meet me for coffee and bury the hatchet."

Hutch said, "Of course.  Now that Kyeesha is gone."

"Yeah, well, I'd like to make up with her."

"Just make sure you do it with your clothes on."

Starsky swatted Hutch's head with the back of his hand.


"Big baby."  Starsky staggered to his feet, and then turned back to the bed.  "I suggest you lie here and get your beauty sleep.  Just be showered up by the time I get back.  And then we're gonna start all over."

Hutch grinned smugly as he burrowed beneath the covers and closed his eyes.  "'Kay."

Starsky headed off to the bathroom to take his own shower.



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