(c) November 2012 by Charlotte Frost


A Sequel to Realignment


Starsky and Hutch were breathless as they pushed through the heavy crowd.  Finally, they saw the back of Mike Hawkins' head, as they emerged into the outdoor seating area of the clubhouse at Del Mar Race Track.  Out on the track, the horses for the eighth race were warming up.

"Hey, Mike," Hutch greeted as they reached his box.

"Guys!" Hawkins exclaimed while lowering his binoculars.  "Did you get stuck in traffic?"

"Yeah," Hutch replied off-handedly.

Starsky bowed his head as he grinned slightly.  Yesterday, they had intended to spend the day preparing for their vacation to nowhere-in-particular.  But after Hutch had instigated a water gun fight, they'd ended up making love off and on throughout the day -- as well as this morning.  So, they'd been frantically rushing around in the few hours before noon today, not only getting ready for vacation, but to leave in time to see Darla's $75,000 Grade 3 stakes race.  They had ended up being caught in a traffic jam, and because the closing-day Labor Day crowd was so huge at the track, they'd had to park at the back of the large parking lot, which delayed them all the more.

"How she doing?" Starsky asked, releasing a breath of relief that they'd made it in time.

"She's doing fine, but she's never met fillies like this before.  You've finally got some odds on her."  Hawkins gestured to the tote board.  "She's eight to one."

There were nine horses in the race, with Darla having drawn the outside post position.  Starsky didn't want to take the time to place a bet.

"Who are you most afraid of?" Hutch asked.

"All of them," he replied with a chuckle.  "I have no idea what's going to happen."   He raised his binoculars, as the field was walking toward the starting gate, which was located way at the back of a chute that led onto the backstretch.

Starsky said, "This is her longest race yet."

"Seven furlongs," Hawkins nodded.  "But that won't be a problem.  In fact, with her pedigree, she should like it all the better as the races get longer.  When she comes back from her layoff, she'll be running races a mile and more, where they go around two turns."

His words reminded Starsky that Darla was scheduled for a break of a few months after today's race. 

Hutch was glancing back and forth between the tote board and his program.  He said, "Pix Six is the second choice at three to one.  The favorite, Rice Roses, is two to one.  She's the filly that won a stakes her last race here at Del Mar.  And then there's that other horse we were talking about on the drive down, Pristined, from Chicago, where she won her first race by six lengths, and then was second in a Grade 2 stakes.  She's four to one."

Starsky had driven the Corvette, so Hutch had been studying the Racing Form and relaying to Starsky the details of the field for the race.  Now that the horses were loading into the starting gate, it was all a blank to Starsky.  He just wanted Darla to run her best.  The sixty percent winner's share of the $75,000 purse would be fantastic, too.

Hutch said, "I guess we'll have to listen to the announcer, since we left the binoculars at home."

Starsky didn't want to think about what else they may have forgotten for their trip, in their rush to leave in time.

The nine fillies were loading into the starting gate.

Starsky took a step closer to Hutch and clasped his forearm. 

Hawkins had his binoculars raised.  "She'll have plenty of time to move toward the rail from her outside post position.  I expect her to sit off the leaders for most of the race."

The announcer said, "Deep Waters goes in.  They're all in line for the eighteenth running of the Golden State Juvenile Fillies Stakes." 

Starsky held his breath.

"And they're off!"

Starsky jumped up and down, realizing he couldn't see anything from way back in the chute, and tried to listen to the announcer.

Hutch anxiously asked Hawkins, "Can you tell where she is?"

"She's mid pack, on the outside."

"... and Pix Six rushes up into third.  Then it's a gap of a length back to Debonair Donna, Deep Waters, Chilly Pepper, and then...."

"Who's in front?" Starsky asked as they horses reached midway down the backstretch.  One horse had a half length lead over the second horse, with Pix Six another length back.

Hutch said, "It's the favorite, Rice Roses.  And then Pristined, and then Pix Six."

Suddenly, Pristined took the lead from Rice Roses, who fell back, and the crowd let up a roar.

"The favorite's done already," Hawkins said.  "Wasn't expecting that."

"Pix Six rushes up to challenge Pristined.  And Deep Waters is on the move."

The horses were reaching the end of the back stretch, with Pix Six and Pristined noses apart, and Darla had taken third and was rushing up to them.

"Come on, Darla!" Starsky shouted.

"Come on, baby!" Hutch called.

As they entered the turn, Darla had joined the other two fillies, and the noise of the crowd intensified.

"Come on, Darla!" Starsky cried again, and then realized that she wasn't going to be able to move past the other two with any kind of ease.

"We've got a real horse race!  Pristined on the rail, Deep Waters on the outside, and Pix Six between them.  It's three lengths back to Debonair Donna...."

"Oh, my God," Starsky gasped, realizing that none of three leaders was willing to give an inch, as they stayed noses apart.  They continued to put distance between themselves and the rest of the field.  The roar of the crowd was deafening as the leading trio entered the stretch.  Starsky hoped that, now that Darla didn't have to go wider than the other two, she would start to pull ahead.

"We've still got us a three-horse race and they're going to take it to the wire!  It's five lengths back to Chilly Pepper, who has taken over fourth from Debonair Donna...."

"Come on, Darla!" Hutch called, his voice lost in the bombardment of noise from the crowd.

All three jockeys were riding hard, their whips flailing, as the three fillies galloped the final hundred yards to the finish line.

Starsky kept trying to see Darla's nose get in front of the other two, but it wasn't happening.

"They're coming down to the wire for a blanket finish, and it's... too close to call!"

Suddenly, the noise of the crowd died down, as spectators realized the winner wouldn't be known until the photo was developed of the finish.

Starsky put a hand to his chest.  "Oh, my God.  That was too intense."

Hawkins rushed past them.  "The replay will be on the TV monitor."

Hutch grasped Starsky's arm as they followed Hawkins inside the clubhouse.  They abruptly stopped at the nearest TV monitor, which was showing the three fillies in slow motion, as they approached the finish line.

"Oh, God," Starsky gasped again, seeing how the horses were in an even row as they approached the wire.

Hutch said, "I wonder if it's a three-way tie."

"That's only happened a few times throughout history," Hawkins said.  He released a heavy breath.  "When it's this close, it has nothing to do with one horse being better than another.  It's just whoever's nose was on the line when the photo finish camera snapped the picture.  Darla ran her guts out.  They all did."

Suddenly, a murmur went up from the crowd.  The TV monitor was now showing the start of the race, and Starsky looked around, "What's wrong?"

Hawkins was looking out the glass windows toward the track.  "The horse ambulance just pulled up on the backstretch."

Starsky's heart leapt in his throat.  "What?"  He felt a fear that choked his voice.  "Not Darla?"  He grabbed Hutch's wrist and squeezed it.

"Darla's right there," Hawkins nodded toward the first turn, where the horses were being jogged back toward the homestretch.

Starsky spotted Darla's dark bay coat, with jockey Brad Byrd wearing the red silks, with a black S and yellow H, but he felt only partially relieved.  "Who is the ambulance for?"

Hawkins had put his binoculars to his eyes, and was glancing back and forth between the backstretch and his program.  Then he said, "I think that's Pix Six.  She hasn't come back."

"Oh, God." 

Hawkins continued watching through his binoculars.  "Yeah, it's a chestnut.  They've unsaddled her.  It's hard to tell from here, but it looks like she has some weight on all four legs."  He lowered his binoculars and looked at Starsky.  "I wouldn't assume the worst.  I've had horses taken off the track in an ambulance before, when they ended up having nothing wrong with them.  As hard as this race was, sometimes the horses muscles are so fatigued that they feel like jelly beneath the jockeys, and they'd rather err on the side of caution, and summon the ambulance, when the horses are this valuable."

Hutch squeezed Starsky's shoulder.  "Like he said, let's not assume the worst, buddy."

A few shouts went up from the crowd.

The loud speaker crackled.  "Ladies and gentlemen, the stewards have turned off the Photo Finish sign and posted the finish.  Your winner is number six, Pristined."  There was more noise from the crowd.  "Finishing second was number three, Pix Six.  Number nine, Deep Waters, finished third, and number five, Chilly Pepper, was fourth."

"Oh, no," Starsky gasped, as it sunk in that Darla had gotten the short end of the finish.

"Damn, that's a heartbreaker," Hutch said.

Hawkins bent at the waist and rested his hand against his leg.  "Damn," he said softly.

"Man," Starsky protested, "she had to go wider than the other two."  He looked down at the track now, where Darla's groom, Blinks, was leading her away, her jockey having removed her saddle.

"She ran a hell of a race," Hawkins said as he straightened.  "That's a tough one to lose."  He nodded at the TV.  "There's the photo."

Starsky looked at the black-and-white photo of the three fillies, taken from high up in the grandstand.  An artificial white line was stretched across the photo, and the inside horse, Pristine, had her nose on the white line, a smidgen ahead of Pix Six, and Darla perhaps a half inch farther back.

Hutch said, "It's hard to lose a close one like that."

"Yep," Hawkins agreed.  "Just like, in football, a wide receiver catching a touchdown pass either has his foot inside the end zone, or he doesn't.  And that can make all the difference as to whether the team goes to the Super Bowl."  He put his hands on his hips.  "The good news, guys, is that you have yourself a stakes filly."

Starsky nodded, but he was too drained to feel jubilant.  "Man, I hope Pix Six is going to be okay."

Hutch said, "We need to get going, because the crowd is going to start leaving, with there just being two more races."  He said to Hawkins, "We're headed out for a road trip, and we want to beat the traffic." 

Hawkins nodded.  "Okay.  I'll leave you a message on your phone if there's any news with Darla."

"And Pix Six," Starsky put in quickly.  "Let us know when you hear something."

"Sure thing.  Take care, fellas.  I need to get back and make sure your filly cools out okay."  With a wave, Hawkins turned to leave.


Starsky had insisted that he was all right to drive.  It wasn't until they were on the boulevard that would take them to the highway that he didn't have to concentrate so hard on traffic.

"Man," he said, "when that horse ambulance pulled up, that was awful.  If that would have been Darla...."

Hutch hoped Starsky wouldn't harp on the worst possibilities.  "Yeah, but Mike didn't think it looked too serious.  He has a real good instinct about these things."

"I know.  It's just seems like such a lousy 'reward' for Pix Six running her heart out like that, like Darla did and the winner did."

Hutch gently said, "I suppose it's like anything else.  The ones that try the hardest are usually the ones that can have the worst consequences, or the most glorious results." He tried a smile.  "Like when we were cops."

"It's just that, for all their nobility, these horses seem so... innocent, I guess.  Man, if Darla ever broke a leg or something...."

"She's getting some time off now," Hutch reminded quickly.  "She really deserves it.  She's done what?  Five races, with two wins and three thirds, and two of the thirds were stakes races, including a Grade 3 where she lost by an inch or so?  That's pretty amazing."

"If she would have had an inside post position, she wouldn't have had to lose ground being outside those other two fillies.  Then she would be a stakes winner and we'd be -- what? -- about forty thousand dollars richer?"

"Something like that.  Come on, buddy, let's not harp on the shoulda, coulda, woulda.  Darla ran a great race, and she's already earned something like thirty-five thousand dollars in her career.  That's not bad for a horse that was supposed to be just a fun little side hobby.  And it sounds like she could have an even better future."  Starsky was accelerating onto an on-ramp, and Hutch asked, "Do you know where you're going?"

Starsky looked over at him and admitted, "No."

Hutch quickly grabbed an atlas from the floorboard.  He and Starsky never had been able to stay focused on a conversation concerning where they were going to start their vacation.  After studying the atlas a moment, he glanced up and saw that they were headed in an agreeable direction.  "Let's pick up Highway 78 and head east to Escondido, and then keep going until we almost reach the Arizona border, and it turns north.  From there, we can head to a place called Lake Havasu City just inside the Arizona border.  It has the old London Bridge from England, if you can believe that."


"Yeah.  I was reading about it in one of the travel books."  They'd managed to find the time the past few days to visit a book store and buy a supply of travel guides.  Hutch did some calculations in his head while studying the atlas.  "Actually, with us taking the scenic route, we probably need to stop tonight in Blythe, because that'll probably be a four-hour drive.  Then we can keep going north in the morning."

Hutch hadn't been particularly happy with Starsky's insistence that they take the Corvette for their vacation.  But Starsky had said that since they weren't in a hurry to get anywhere, they should take scenic routes rather than major interstates, so they could enjoy the pleasures of the convertible Corvette, with fewer worries about getting pulled over for speeding. 

Starsky said, "I don't want to hang out in the southwest.  It's too hot."

Hutch nodded.  "We'll move along and head north to Utah.  Then we can decide if we want to keep heading north, or go east, maybe to Colorado."

Starsky snapped his fingers.  "We could visit Aspen.  Isn't that where all the famous people live?"

"I think it's where they ski in the winter.  I don't know how many live there."

"It could be fun to check out."

"Fine with me."

Late that evening, approaching eight o'clock, Hutch sat in a booth at the diner of a Days Inn in Blythe, near the Arizona border.  They were waiting for their dinner to be served, and Starsky had gone back to their room to call their office phone for messages, since he was hoping that Mike Hawkins had left a voicemail.

Since nearly twenty minutes had passed, Hutch figured there had been something for Starsky to listen to. 

Now, Starsky entered the restaurant and approached the booth at a brisk walk.  "Mike left a couple of long messages," he said as he sat down.  "He said the race took a lot out of Darla, and it took her a long time to cool out.  He said that he'll keep an extra close eye on her the next few days, but he thinks she'll be fine, and not to worry.  As a precaution, he'll have the vet go over her carefully.  But he did say that, if he hadn't already intended to give her a layoff, that he would have after this race."

Hutch said, "That shows how good he was at predicting when she was going to need a break."

"Yeah.  Then he left another message about twenty minutes later and said that the word is, Pix Six cracked a cannon bone, which is that long bone below their knee."

"Like their shins."

"Yeah.  He said that, as far as fractures go, it's a good one to have, since a crack isn't complex like a break, and they just cast it and don't need surgery.  He said some horses can even race again, but he's sure they'll retire Pix Six, since the reason the owners paid six hundred thousand for her in the first place was because they were looking ahead to her broodmare value."

Hutch sipped his water.  "At least, it sounds like she's going to be okay."

"Yeah.  It's just too bad that she ran, what, three or four times?"

Hutch thought back.  "Four, I guess.  She was beaten by Darla her first race, then won two, and then barely got beat this race."

"Man, this is a tough sport."

"Yeah, especially at a graded stakes level like this.  With the higher purses on the line, everybody's that much more determined to win."

Starsky snorted.  "That's for sure."  He nudged Hutch.  "Hey, I'm serious getting enough exercise while we're on this trip.  I want to get in a swim before they close the pool at ten."

Starsky had been adamant that he didn't want to slip back to letting his weight get away from him, after working so hard at losing twenty pounds the past year or so.  He also felt that Hutch should try to exercise more regularly, while putting pounds back on, after recovering from the gunshot wound to his stomach.

Hutch didn't disagree, especially since Starsky had specifically mentioned being willing to do some hiking on their vacation.  They were also planning to buy exercise equipment for their house when they returned.  He cautioned, "Make sure you let your food digest well enough first."

Starsky shifted restlessly.  "I wish they'd hurry up and bring it."

Hutch nodded at their waitress, who was approaching with a tray.  "Here it comes."    


"Let's stop," Hutch said, breathing hard.  They were both on rented bicycles near Prescott National Forest in Arizona.  They had seen the rental sign, and decided that a bike ride could be a lot of fun, in the cooler altitude of the area.

Starsky looked at him worriedly.  "You're really out of shape, Hutch."

"You're breathing hard, too," Hutch defended. 

"Not like you are.  Your face is all red.  At least, it'll be mostly downhill going back."

Hutch set the kickstand to his bike, and then went to the side of the road, and sat down heavily.

Starsky joined him a moment later.  They had been going on an uphill slope for quite a prolonged period.  Still, he'd never seen Hutch look this whipped before, following exercise.  But then, Hutch had been pretty sedentary the past six weeks, recovering from a gunshot wound to his stomach.  At least, now that they had stopped, Hutch's harsh breath was easing. 

Starsky said, "You know what I think?"

Hutch gave him a wary look. 

"I think, after we buy our exercise equipment, that we should try to hire somebody to come out to the house, say, once a week.  You know, to coach us.  Give us goals and track our progress.  Make us accountable.  Otherwise, it'll be too easy for us to get lazy about working out regularly."

Hutch's breath was now almost normal.

After a moment, Starsky prompted, "Do you agree?"

Hutch shrugged.  "Yeah.  Fine.  If you can find somebody who's willing to make house calls."

"We'll find somebody," Starsky said. 


By mid afternoon, the following day, they had crossed from Utah into Colorado, and were entering the Rockies.  They had the Corvette's hood down, so they could enjoy the clean mountain air, though they were a bit taken aback at the degree of traffic, considering it was a weekday and the summer vacation season was over.  

Thus far, they had been sexually active every night of their vacation.  Hutch wasn't sure he was going to be up to another night still.  So, he decided to warn Starsky.  "My cock's dead, you know.  You killed it."

Starsky grinned up one side of his face, while focusing on the curves of the road.  "You sure?" 

Hutch reached over and took Starsky's hand, and guided it to his soft center.  "I'm sure."

Starsky shifted in his seat and took a breath.  "Can't say I'm that far gone.  Not yet, anyway."  He took Hutch's hand and put it on his own crotch.

Hutch felt some degree of firmness within the bunched blue jeans.  "You've got to be kidding."

"Nope," Starsky said with a shake of his head, still grinning.

Hutch took his hand away, wondering what Starsky was going to need from him.

They were silent for a few minutes.  Then Starsky said, "Hey, uh, if I find some place nice and private and woodsy, how about doing me a favor?"

"Sure," Hutch responded immediately, realizing that Starsky had spent the silence thinking about sex, and that had gotten him further aroused.  If he could get Starsky satisfied now, surely he wouldn't expect additional action once they were in bed tonight.  Hutch boasted, "I could suck your cock for two full days."

"Quit," Starsky said seriously.  "I'm driving."

He's got a full hard-on, Hutch knew, without needing to look.

After a few moments of Starsky studying the terrain, he braked sharply, and then turned down a dirt road.  They were passing a row of cabin-looking homes, with mailboxes out front.

"Damnit," Starsky grumbled, "where do all these people come from?" 

For want of a blowjob..., Hutch thought with amusement.  

The road curved around a mountain.  They weren't any houses, but it was also more open.

Hutch pointed.  "Look, there's a trail leading to the top of the hill.  There's trees up there.  Maybe that'll be okay."  Plus, hiking up the hill would get Starsky sweaty, and though Hutch's lower body wouldn't be able to participate, he loved the raw, masculine scents that came from his love's exertions. 

"Worth a try," Starsky muttered, pulling to the side of the road.  He brought the top of the car forward, and then they got out and made sure the Corvette was securely locked.

Quietly, they went up the steep hill, both grateful to finally reach the top, where the trees parted to a clearing.  They looked around.  It seemed private enough.  There was a lake, far in the distance, with campers at the shore.

Hutch prompted, "Pick a tree." 

Starsky glanced about, and then went near a tree, turning his back to it.  He was still looking around, as though wanting to make sure there was no one nearby who could interrupt them.

Hutch came forward and pushed on Starsky's chest, slamming him back against the tree.

Starsky looked at him in surprise, and then started to grin.

Hutch pressed his lips against Starsky's, the familiarity of this man making him no less desirable.

He ran his hand along Starsky's shirt, then down to his belly.  He continued to the jeans, squeezing the crotch firmly, and was satisfied that the flesh within was in the necessary state to be thoroughly pleasured. 

Starsky gasped loudly, wrenching his lips away.  "It's all ready for you, baby."

Hutch pulled at Starsky's clothing, so the shirttail came out of his jeans.  He pushed his shirt and undershirt up, exposing his bare flesh.  Once the clothing was as high as it could go, Hutch pressed his face into an armpit, and inhaled deeply.  The short hike had indeed produced a moist, musky scent that over-shadowed the fragrance of deodorant. 

Starsky's hands loosely embraced Hutch's head.  "Oh, God."

Hutch inhaled again, and then kissed across Starsky's chest.  He nodded toward the lake, and breathlessly muttered, "Talk to me about what you're seeing, hearing, smelling."

He knelt down.

As Hutch unsnapped Starsky's jeans, Starsky gasped, "There's people out at the lake.  Families.  Mountains in the background.  A couple of boats --"

Starsky gasped as Hutch pulled down the fly, and firm flesh sprang free.  Hutch held it loosely, and then rubbed his cheek against the sensitive underside of the head.

"Oh, God, Hutch."

Hutch took the swollen flesh into his mouth.

Starsky's hand was on Hutch's head.  "I can't hear the motors of the boats.  The air smells so fresh...."

Hutch sucked.

Starsky said, "And I'm looking down at you, and you're the only thing I want to see.  My huge cock stuffed into your eager mouth.  Your gorgeous blond head against my groin."  Softly, Starsky said, "You're the most beautiful sight on this entire earth."

Hutch worked Starsky's cock with well-practiced motions of his lips and tongue.  He made loud grunting noises of contentment.

Starsky's fingers brushed across Hutch's cheek, and then felt down to his jaw.  They briefly clasped it, and then felt along his throat.

Hutch swallowed with an exaggerated motion, while keeping the firmest suction against the underside.

"I love feeling you suck me, baby."

Hutch took his hand and gripped Starsky's balls.  He brought the pouch against his chin, feeling their bristled softness.  He would like to have stuck his finger up Starsky's ass, but they didn't have much in the way of amenities in the car to clean up with, so he refrained.

Starsky began a slight rocking motion.   "Yeah, Hutch,  Love me, baby.  You're so beautiful to do this."

Hutch worked the underside of the taut skin more aggressively.

"Gonna give you my love juice."

Hutch felt the emission on the back of his tongue a few moments later.  He waited until Starsky's gasps of effort died down, and then released the shrinking phallus.  He swallowed loudly.

"Ah, man," Starsky groaned, zipping himself back up.  After his jeans were snapped, he collapsed to the ground, his back against the tree.

Hutch joined him.

Starsky rested his head on Hutch's shoulder.  "You're so good to me."

"Mm-hm," Hutch murmured.  He slipped his arm around Starsky. 

When Starsky began to doze off, Hutch said, "I think I should drive."

"Mm," Starsky agreed, his eyes closing. 


They arrived in Aspen that evening.  They slept in the next morning and, after a late breakfast, they were strolling along the many shops in the tourist part of town.  It was a ritzy area, reminding Starsky of their clientele back home.  Eventually, he and Hutch were walking with their hands in each other's back pockets.  Encouraged by the lack of reaction from those passing by, they occasionally held hands.

"Hey, what's this?" Hutch asked, looking in a window.  "Let's check it out."

Starsky followed him into the store.  A woman dressed in black leather nodded at them in greeting.  "Are you from out of town?"

Hutch nodded.  "Southern California."

"Feel free to browse.  Let me know if you have any questions."

After a moment, Starsky realized it was a shop for sex toys, but unlike any he'd ever seen before.  The store was as upper class as all the others, and all the merchandise was neatly displayed.

Still, he felt himself blush, and was keenly aware of Hutch beside him.

Hutch chuckled, and then said in a whisper, "Look at this."

It was a pair of fur-lined handcuffs.  "Charming," Starsky said, uncertain of what else to say. 

There were masks, beads.....

Starsky realized that he wanted to look around.  But.... "Hey, uh...."

Hutch turned to looked at him.

Starsky swallowed and said softly, "Look, will you go window shopping down the street or something?"

Hutch gazed at him.

Starsky felt flustered and tried to gather an explanation.  But then Hutch said with a shrug, "Okay."

Starsky felt a warmth go through him.  "Thanks," he whispered.

He watched Hutch leave, and felt he might burst with love at his partner's understanding. 

Starsky then began to pick things out.  He had no idea when they might use some of the items, or even if they might ever at all.  He preferred to think he'd just stash his purchases in a back closet, and then someday when he and Hutch were feeling rather bored with their routine, however varied it might be, then he could retrieve some of the accessories to spice things up.

When Starsky emerged from the store, he found the Corvette and opened the trunk.  He stuck his large stack far in the back, and put their suitcase and other items on top of it.

Now, to find Hutch.  Starsky looked around.  So many stores.

He went back toward the sex shop, and then moved past it.  After a few minutes, he heard a familiar tune, originating from a guitar, coming from a few doors down, and a familiar voice.  But the voice wasn't the one he was used to hearing for that particular tune.

"He was born in the summer of his twenty-seventh year.  Coming home to a place he'd never been before.  He left yesterday behind him, you might say he was born again.  You might say he found a key for every door."

Starsky moved faster as the song continued.  It grew louder, and then he saw some people standing in the doorway of a shop for musical instruments, looking in.  They made a space for him to move past, and Starsky entered the large store.

At one end, there was a small stage with a microphone.  Hutch was sitting in a chair in front of the microphone, strumming a classy-looking guitar.  Beside him was a man who appeared to be an employee, for he had a nametag and seemed pleased.  Some of the other patrons were watching and listening.

"The Colorado rocky mountain high.  I've seen it raining fire in the sky.  The shadow from the starlight is softer than a lullaby."

Who would have ever guessed that someone as macho as Hutch could hit those high notes so successfully?

Starsky leaned against a wall, crossing his arms, and watched, feeling happy and warm inside. 

"Now he walks in quiet solitude, the forest and the streams.  Seeking grace in every step he takes.  His sight has turned inside himself to try to understand.  The serenity of a clear blue mountain lake."

Suddenly, Hutch stopped and glanced at the employee with a bashful smile.  "I'm not sure of the rest of the words."

There were a few chuckles from patrons in the store.

The man said something that the microphone didn't pick up.

Then Hutch said, "Oh, wait.  Let me try this one."  He strummed a new tune on the guitar, and was back facing the microphone.  Then he sang, "Raindrops keep falling on my head.  And just like the guy whose feet are too big for his bed, nothing seems to fit.  Those raindrops are falling on my head they keeping falling.  So I just did me some talking to the sun.  And I said I didn't like the way he got things done...."

As he sang, Hutch spotted Starsky, and his eyes glowed happily, as he continued with the song. 

You're so beautiful, Starsky thought.  He couldn't remember the last time Hutch had played his guitar.

Hutch finished an abridged version of the song, and then put the guitar aside.  Those listening began to move away.

Starsky approached the stage.  "What's going on here?"

The clerk said, "He is very good."

Hutch indicated the guitar.  "This is really something."

Starsky asked, "You gonna buy it?"

"Heck, no," Hutch scoffed.  "It's way too expensive."

"Oh, come on, Hutch, we're on vacation.  Splurge on yourself."

Hutch seemed to consider it, but only for an instant.  "I already have a guitar."

"Not like this.  Besides, you haven't played your guitar in ages.  You get a new one, you'll be all motivated again."

"Tell you what," the clerk said, "I'll give you a fifteen percent discount."

"See?  Come on, Hutch.  Let's buy it."

Hutch gazed lovingly at the guitar.  "You think so?"

"Yeah.  I insist.  Come on."

Hutch chuckled bashfully.  Then, "It'll take up too much room in the trunk.  Maybe we ought to have it shipped home."

That sounded reasonable, but Starsky said, "You'll want to be playing it while we're on vacation.  Let's just keep it in the backseat, and make sure we bring it with us, whenever we're going to leave the car parked."

Hutch looked at the clerk.  "I guess you've just made a sale."


Two mornings later, Starsky was desperately trying to hold onto the dream he'd just had, while feeling himself come awake.  He groaned with dismay when he realized that he was losing his memory of the dream.

Hutch was standing at the window of their motel room, looking out the window into the morning sunshine.  He turned with a warm smile, while sipping his coffee.  "You're finally awake."

Starsky sighed.  "Yep."  They'd been back to humping like rabbits last night, and Starsky was thinking that it would be nice to sleep in, but Hutch was already dressed and looked like he was ready to hit the road.  As he struggled to sit up, Starsky said, "I suppose you've got our itinerary all mapped out."

"Yep.  Let's head east for one more day."


"Where the fuck are we?" Starsky wondered.

It was early afternoon, and they were out in the middle of nowhere, amongst wide open plains and rolling hills.  The Rockies could no longer been seen behind them.

"Still in Colorado," Hutch said.  Then, with satisfaction, "This is sure different from the mountains."

"We haven't seen a gas station in forever."

Hutch glanced at the dashboard.  "How we doing?"

"We're at a quarter tank."

Hutch picked up the atlas and studied it.  "We've got maybe another twenty miles, and then we'll hit the interstate.  Shortly after that, there's a town called Limon.  It should have all the amenities." 

They had the Corvette's top collapsed, and both were wearing sunglasses.  Hutch said, "Man, this part of the country seems so untouched by civilization.  It's probably not that much different from when the Indians used to roam here."

Starsky grunted.  "I could do without seeing any Indians."  He noted, "All this open space.  You'd think there would be cows all over."  They'd only seen a few.

"Guess the scrub grass here isn't nutritious enough to support much cattle.  There's a lot of drought here.  It's amazing how all this goes on as far as the eye can see.  Imagine the people out here, living a simpler kind of life."

Hutch had a longing in his voice.  Starsky muttered,  "Don't tell me you like the idea of living in an area like this."

"I didn't say that.  Kind of interesting to drive through, though.  It's been good to get away, huh?  See different parts of the country?"

"Yeah.  But after a few more days, I think  I'm going to be ready to head back.  At least we have a case waiting for us."  Tom Placing, the attorney, had something new for them to investigate.

Abruptly, Hutch asked, "Did I tell you that I turned down a job, a few days before we left on vacation?"

"No.  What kind of job was it?" 

"Some office for a politician called, wanting us to find dirt of their opponent.  I told them to call somebody else."  Hutch scowled, "It's bad enough doing cheating spouse jobs, without deliberately trying to find something horrible about somebody who's just trying to get a job in the public sector."

Starsky shrugged.  "Well, I guess we have enough work now that maybe we can afford to say no, on occasion."

Hutch sighed.  "Sometimes I wonder if I want to keep doing what we're doing."

Starsky looked over at him in surprise.  "What do you mean?"

"Just the way our jobs have always centered around catching people who are doing bad things."

Starsky furrowed his brow.  "What's wrong with that?"

"Nothing," Hutch said after a moment.  Then, "Don't you ever wonder what it would be like to have a job that isn't about being around bad people?"

Starsky wondered how long Hutch had felt this way.  "Can't say I've ever thought about it.  Somebody has to get the bad guys."

"Yeah, and we've always been really good at that.  It's just that, you know, it seems like it would be nice to do something like... teaching.  You don't have to be around bad people to teach."

"What do you want to teach?"

"That's just an example," Hutch quickly deflected.  "I just wish, sometimes, that our lives didn't revolve around finding the worst in people."

Feeling reasonable, Starsky said, "Well, you figure out what we can do instead, and we'll talk about it."

Hutch shrugged, as though he really hadn't expected the subject to go anywhere.

As silence fell, Starsky felt his mind beginning to remember fragments of last night's dream.

Hutch said, "Find a place to pull over.  I gotta take a leak."

After another mile, they came upon a gravel road.  Starsky turned down it, and then went over a couple of hills, before they found a few elm trees.   No dwellings were in sight.   He pulled over and stopped.

They both got out and stretched elaborately.

While they stood near the trees and relieved themselves, Starsky found more of the dream coming back to him.

Hutch zipped up.  "How come you're frowning?"

Starsky also zipped, and moved back to the car.  "I had a really intense dream last night, and it's coming back to me."

Hutch leaned back against the Corvette and crossed his arms.  "Yeah?"

"Yeah."  Starsky released a breath.  "Terry was in it.  Terry Roberts."  He felt his heart beat faster.  She had been his most intense love, next to Hutch.

Hutch turned to face him.  "What was it about?"

"It was long," Starsky said thoughtfully.  "Had all these different parts to it.  At first, we were talking about Darla.  And Terry was talking about using horses for handicapped kids to ride.  And I was puzzled as to why she was talking about Darla, since Darla's a racehorse and wouldn't be good for something like that.  And then, at another point, there was, like, all these children's wheelchairs.  And they were empty.  And I was panicked, wondering what had happened to the kids.  Terry said something about them all being happy now.  And then we were at, like, this barn, like a riding stable.  And I saw these handicapped kids, on horses in an arena.  They looked so happy, because they were on horses and were taller than everybody else."  Starsky suddenly remembered, "And then you were there, older than you are now.  Wearing some kind of funny hat, like a flat European hat or cap or something, and I was thinking that you always liked to think you were the boss.  It's like you were in charge of the stable.  But it was the counselors that were actually helping the kids.  And grooms were taking care of the horses."  Starsky fell silent, having nothing further to add, beyond cosmetic details of Hutch's older self that Hutch probably wouldn't appreciate.

"Huh," Hutch said.

Starsky decided to admit, "I feel like Terry was trying to tell me something.  That there's a reason she wanted to show me that dream."  He looked up at Hutch, as a thought struck.  "Wouldn't that be really something for a kid in a wheelchair?  To have a chance to ride a horse, and feel tall?"

Hutched nodded.  "Yeah.  I read an article a few months back, about some kind of therapeutic riding center  It sounded like it really meant a lot to the kids who got to ride those horses."  He was thoughtful a moment. "You know, that's what I mean.  About our jobs.  Doing something for handicapped kids would be so much more satisfying than finding out information on people doing unsavory things."

Starsky marveled at how his remembering the dream had dovetailed with Hutch's thoughts.  But he said, "Just don't know how we could ever do something like that.  Have a big riding stable, lots of horses....."

Hutch was still thoughtful as they both leaned back against the Corvette.  "You know, if Darla keeps racking up earnings, and our business takes off, like it seems to be on the verge of doing.... Well, maybe ten years from now, we could retire early and have enough money to start something like that."

Starsky looked at Hutch, feeling warm inside.  "You'd really want to?"

"Sure.  I liked helping those kids, when we volunteered at the school Terry worked at."  Hutch's mouth corner twitched.  "And you're the type of person who blossoms around young people."

Starsky mused, "We don't really have the training to work with handicapped kids.  To say nothing of knowing how to take care of horses."

"We'd have to hire therapists, counselors, grooms.  It would probably be a big undertaking.  Expensive.  But from the article I read, I think there's government programs -- grants and things -- that would help with something like that."  After a pause, Hutch added, "Maybe we can be learning about what it would take to run something like that, in the upcoming years.  If nothing else, it would give us a goal to point toward." 

Starsky was amazed that, in the span of one short rest stop, it seemed that their lives were on the verge of changing in a wonderful way, however far in the future that change would take place.  He met Hutch's eye.  "I love you so much."

Hutch smiled warmly, and then leaned close to plant a kiss on Starsky's lips.

Apparently it wasn't enough, for a moment later Hutch wrapped his arms around Starsky and pulled him close.  He swayed them back and forth.

Starsky squeezed back.  "I love you, Hutch.  I love you so, so, so much."

The next day, they traveled north through Nebraska, and had turned west to cut across the south end of South Dakota's Black Hills.  They were on a two-lane highway, well way from the interstate.

Hutch was driving as noon approached.  He said, "You know, I'd really like to go on a horseback ride at some point during this vacation."

Starsky looked over at him.  "As long as there's something nearby that can keep me occupied for an hour or so."

"Oh, come on, Starsk, you need to come to."

"Why?  Riding horses isn't a Starsky thing to do."

Hutch grinned.  "Neither is owning a racehorse."  Hutch remembered that Nick had said something to him about Starsky having "almost crapped his pants when a horse nipped at him in Central Park".  He challenged, "You aren't afraid of horses, are you?"

Starsky looked over at him, his sunglasses low on his nose.  "Being around them, no.  At least, not anymore.  But being on the back of one, uh-uh.  You're on your own, blondie."

"What about if we make sure the stable knows you're a beginner, and they put you on some old horse that's foolproof?"

Starsky sighed loudly.  "Because then you'll be on a better horse than me, and then you'll want to go faster.  And then I'll freak out.  And you'll think it's funny, and I won't have a good time."

That was, more or less, how it had gone the one time Hutch had talked Starsky into a horseback ride.  That had been way back in the early days of their partnership, when Hutch had still been married.  "Oh, come on, it wouldn't be that way now.  Besides, between owning a racehorse, and maybe someday owning or managing some kind of riding stable for handicapped kids, don't you think it's about time you got a little more up close and personal with the equine species?"

"Getting up and close and personal doesn't have to involve riding them.  You can have a good time without me."

Hutch fell silent as he wondered how he could change Starsky's mind. 

Suddenly, Starsky straightened in his seat.  "Hutch, we've got to turn around."


"I just saw a car parked on a side road with the hood up.  It looked like it was a lady by herself."

Hutch slowed down.  "Maybe her husband went for help."

"We gotta check it out."

As soon as he could find a convenient place to turn the Corvette around, Hutch did so.  He drove more slowly, headed back in the other direction.

The area was sparsely forested, with a deep canyon nearby. 

"Right there," Starsky pointed, as they neared a side road on the left.

Hutch turned down the dirt road.  It paralleled a portion of the canyon.  A old green Ford Mercury had the hood up, steam rising from the engine.  A woman now stepped away from the edge of the canyon, wearing slacks and a conservative blouse, watching them warily.  She had dark hair, styled high on her head, and was wearing sunglasses.  Hutch guessed that she was in her thirties.

Starsky was out of the car first, and presented his friendliest smile.  "Uh, Ma'am, you've got car trouble?"

Though she appeared relieved, she was also frowning, and gestured to the car.  "Yes, I don't know what's wrong with the damn thing."

Hutch soothed, "Do you mind if we take a look?"

"Are you here alone?" Starsky asked.

She gazed at them, still frowning.

Hutch could imagine how threatening two strange men would be to a woman alone, especially in a sparsely populated area.  He tried his warmest smile.  "I'm Ken, and this is Dave, and we're vacationing from California.  If you need help, we thought we'd lend a hand."

Starsky held out his hand to her.  "We used to be police officers.  We're private detectives now.  But like Ken said, we're on vacation.  We don't need to be anywhere, so we don't mind helping you any way we can."

She was still guarded as she slowly shook Starsky's hand.

Hutch pointed to the Corvette.  "We have a car phone, but unfortunately, it can't get a signal out this way, so we'd be happy to drive you to the nearest town to call somebody."  He hoped that by mentioning his willingness to let her use the phone, she'd start trusting them.

She swallowed heavily, but still didn't speak.

Starsky prompted, "Can you tell us your name?"

Softly, she said, "It's Lorraine."

Hutch smiled.  "That's my mother's name.  So, Lorraine, would you'd like us to look at your car?  Take you into town?"

She slowly shook her head.  "Look, you guys, I can't pay you.  With anything."

Hutch's stomach churned with what she obviously thought they might want.  He exchanged a glance with Starsky, and saw that he had also picked up on the emphasis.

Hutch grabbed Starsky's left wrist.  "Ma'am, we're together."  He held up his left hand next to Starsky's, showing their matching bands.  "You don't have anything that we want."

Starsky was nodding, and said, "You don't need to pay us, or anything like that."

She seemed perplexed.  "You mean you're... homos? Homosexuals?"

Hutch resisted the temptation to go into an explanation about their particular relationship.  "Yes."  He put his arm around Starsky and squeezed him close.  "Happily."

She relaxed, but only slightly. 

Starsky stepped away from Hutch and prompted, "Are you married?"

"Divorced," she said tightly.  "My husband's in Alabama, and the kids are visiting him."  Her voice trembled.  "They called me last night to tell me they wanted to stay with him permanently there."  She suddenly turned away, a hand to her mouth, and a sob burst forth.  Then she yelled, waving her arms.  "I lost my job two days ago, and this stupid idiotic car always break down, and I have twenty-three dollars to my name!"  She sobbed openly, and then cried, "I can't afford to get the car fixed!  Or even have it towed."

She seemed so full of despair.  Hutch looked toward the edge of the canyon, where she had been when they drove up.  He wondered if she'd been contemplating jumping. 

Starsky reached for her shoulders, but didn't quite touch her, since she hadn't given any indication of welcoming such.  "Look, Lorraine, how about one of us drives into town and find some kind of tow to get out here, and the other will stay with you.  Don't worry, we'll pay for it."  His eyes rose to meet Hutch's.

Hutch nodded.  They couldn't just leave her like this.

She flung her arms down from her face and cried, "I can't pay you back!"

"We're not asking you to," Starsky said quickly.  "Okay?  We're in a position to help, so let us help.  It's sounding like you're having one of the worst days of your life, and we want to turn that around."  He tried a grin.  "We men aren't all bad."

Hutch said, "I'll get going."  He stepped toward the Corvette, and nodded for Starsky to come with him.

"Be back in a sec," Starsky assured, and then moved to Hutch.

Hutch whispered, "I think she might have been thinking about jumping into the canyon.  She was standing at the edge when we drove up."

Starsky's mouth fell open.  "Let's hope not."

"What else would she be doing on a road like this?"

Starsky had no answer.

Hutch nudged him.  "Why don't you try to keep her calmed down and, you know, feeling hopeful.  Once we get her car towed, maybe we can find a station that will get it back in working order, and then we can leave her some money to get her by a few days."

Starsky nodded.  "Yeah.  At least, if we can get her car in dependable shape so she can look for a new job, maybe things can get better for her."


They ended up spending the whole afternoon with Lorraine.  They treated her to lunch while her car was being worked on.  She calmed down as she told them various aspects of her life story.  She showed them a few sights around the nearest towns.  In the evening, the mechanic told them that he wouldn't have her car finished until the next day.  She lived some twenty miles away, and they had the mechanic run their credit card, to pay to get the car in running order, as well as for delivering it to her house the following morning.

They drove her up to her trailer home, located in a small neighborhood along the highway. 

As they all got out of the Corvette, she said, "I'd invite you in for dinner, but there isn't much."

Starsky squeezed her hand.  "That's fine.  We'll be on our way."  He took out his wallet and counted out five twenties.  "Here's some cash to get you by."

She tried to push his hand away.  "You've already done so much."

"We insist," Hutch pressed.  "We want to know that you're going to be okay."  He handed her one of their cards.  "Here's our number in California.  We check our messages every day.  If you have any further trouble, or just need somebody to talk to, please call us."

She slowly took the money, her fingers curling around it.  "I don't know what to say."

Starsky said, "All we want from you is to remember that, no matter how bad things seem, you never know what form a guardian angel might come in.  You've just got to hold on long enough for that guardian angel to appear."

Lorraine hadn't ever admitted that she was thinking of jumping into the canyon, but nor had she denied it.

She presented her first warm smile.  "I'll never again allow anyone to say bad things about homosexuals in my presence."

It wasn't something they needed to hear, but for Lorraine it appeared to be a corner turned.  Hutch nodded.  "Thanks.  We appreciate that."

Starsky squeezed her arm.  "We'll be going.  You'll get a new job.  I just know it."

They got back in the Corvette, and watched her enter her trailer.  Then they drove away.


Starsky's eyes slowly opened.  His brain recalled that they were in a motel in Moorcraft, Wyoming.  The curtains were open, allowing the morning sun to stream in.

Hutch was sitting at the little table in their room, in his robe, staring at the wall.

"Whatsamatter?" Starsky asked.

Startled, Hutch looked over at him.  "Nothing.  Just thinking about Lorraine."

Starsky pushed himself into a sitting position.  "Yeah?"

Hutch's mouth corner twitched.  "Just think, if you hadn't spotted her car.  Or if we had driven by there fifteen minutes later."

"Ah, come on, Hutch, since when are you one to look back and wonder 'what if?'"

"It's just so hard to see people get that full of despair."

Starsky got out of bed and went over to Hutch.  He squeezed his shoulders from behind.  "We did everything we could."  He bent to kiss the blond head.  "It's up to her now."


Starsky then wrapped his arms around Hutch's neck and pressed his stubby cheek against him.  "You still seem glum."

Hutch turned his head to look at Starsky.  "Don't you ever wonder how we ended up being so lucky?"

Starsky released him, and took the chair opposite with a sigh.  "No, I don't wonder.  Because we've been through a lot of ugly things in our lives.  I'm just damn glad that we've both come through them, and have survived long enough to enjoy what we have now."  When Hutch didn't answer, Starsky pressed, "Don't you think we deserve all the good things we've got now?  That we've earned it?"

Hutch lowered his gaze.  "That's like saying that people like Lorraine haven't earned a good life."

Starsky protested, "A lot of it, if not all of it, depends on the attitude one takes toward bad things."

Hutch met his eye.  "It's easier to weather the storms, when somebody is right there with you."

"Exactly.  You and I have never taken that for granted, Hutch.  I'm sure there's people out there that have people to support them, but if they don't embrace that...."  He shrugged.  Hutch still didn't look happy, so Starsky noted, "Lorraine accepted our help.  I'd say that's a good sign.  She could have turned us away."

"She seemed so alone," Hutch muttered.

"Not so much by the end of the day."  Starsky cocked his head.  "Come on, spill it.  How come this is hitting you so hard?"

Hutch's mouth corner twitched.  Then he quietly said, "There were moments, when I was married to Van, when I felt as alone as I've ever felt."

Starsky's heart twisted.  "Ah, Hutch."

"Ironic, huh?  Being married.  Having somebody right there beside me.  And it... it's like I was all alone.  Sometimes."

Starsky gazed at him.  "But it's not like you thought about jumping off a cliff."  It came out as a question.

Hutch shrugged, gaze lowered.  "Actually, I did.  Just thought about it.  Because I didn't understand how I'd gotten myself into the mess of our marriage.  Didn't know how to get out."  He looked up.  "Never got to the point of actually driving out to a cliff."  Now, a slight smile.  "Everything was always so much better, when I was around you."

"And now you own my heart.  You know, when you get melancholy like this, it starts sounding like you don't think you deserve the good life that we have.  And that makes me sad."

"I'm not melancholy," Hutch said.  "Just wish everybody could be happy, like us."

"We do our best to share what we have, what we know, with others."

Hutch nodded and was silent.

Starsky folded his hands.  "So, what are we going to do today?"

Hutch picked up some brochures that were sitting at the edge of the table.  He leafed through them, and then pushed one over to Starsky.  "Please?"

Starsky looked at it and tried not to roll his eyes.


Maybe this wouldn't be so bad.

Hutch had spent quite a long time on the phone, after they had gotten showered and dressed, to make a reservation with some very specific requests, and assurances of adequate tips.  Then he wrote down directions.

"Here it is," Hutch said, turning the Corvette down a woodsy lane. 

Starsky had his window rolled down and could smell hay and horse manure.

The plan, as Hutch had happily relayed, was that they were going on a ninety-minute ride with two guides.  The first half hour they would all be together.  Then one guide would break off with Hutch onto a different trail, which would lead them to a meadow they could gallop in.  Starsky would stay with the other guide and continue on the mountain trial.  Then Hutch and his guide would meet back up with them for the final half hour back to the stable.

It was nearly an hour later that they were saddled up and ready to go.  Starsky was on an old, dirty brown gelding, Luke, that pinned his ears back a lot, as though he wasn't happy.  Hutch was on a beautiful blue roan Appaloosa, with a white blanket over his hindquarters, decorated with large, black spots.  He was named Poncho and was said to be used as a guide's horse, so he had plenty of energy. 

After they were mounted, they were led into an large corral.  Starsky was told to keep his horse in the center, and he re-familiarized himself with the basic commands of turning and stopping.  Luke was decidedly unenthusiastic, and Starsky had to insist to get any kind of response.  In the meantime, one wrangler was giving Hutch instructions, while he trotted, and then cantered, Poncho on the rail.  The wrangler wanted to make sure Hutch new how to ride, before he would let him gallop in an open meadow.  Hutch obviously passed inspection, because shortly after, their ride began along a mountain trail.

Starsky had called for messages on the office phone before they left the motel room, and Mike Hawkins had left word that Darla finally seemed back to herself, and that the full set of x-rays and blood work hadn't turned up any problems.  So, most of the conversation in the early part of the ride revolved around the fact that they owned a racehorse.  Starsky tried to fantasize that Luke was Darla, and he wondered how it felt to be a jockey, sitting on her back.  But the fantasy would quickly disappear, when he had to give Luke firm kicks to keep him going.

After they had spent some time going up a mountain trail, it eventually leveled out, and another trail broke off to one side.

"This is where we separate," one guide said.

Hutch grinned at Starsky.  "See you in a bit."

"Have fun," Starsky said.

Hutch and his guide turned their horses down the trail.

Starsky and the remaining guide, Gus, continued on the original trail.  After a few minutes of silence, Starsky asked, "Do you know anything about horses being used to help, like, handicapped kids?"

"I have a cousin who does something like that, in Oklahoma."

Starsky perked up.  "Really?"

"Yep.  Part of his job is trying to find horses that handicapped kids can ride.  It's a real challenge, because it's takes a special type of horse, that's willing to put up with a lot of things that most horses won't tolerate.  They have blind kids at that stable, so the horses get poked at a lot, and that sort of thing."

Starsky snorted, "I don't think Darla would be good for something like that."

"No, a racehorse is one of the worst candidates.  They've got to be very mellow horses."

"What about kids in wheelchairs?  Or on crutches?"

"Yeah, I think they work with all kinds."  Gus hesitated and then said, "I didn't think my cousin would be the type to get involved with something like that -- handicapped kids.  But he really likes it.  It's made a better man out of him, that's for sure."


"Yeah.  He used to get into trouble with the law a lot.  Used to drink.  He's left all that behind.  He says there's nothing like seeing a child smile from being on a horse, when they're otherwise so underprivileged." 

"Yeah, I think that would be neat."

Gus delicately asked, "Do you have a handicapped child?"

"Oh, no.  My friend and I were just throwing around the idea of having a therapeutic riding stable for handicapped kids.  Like, someday when we're retired.  We've worked with mentally handicapped kids before.  We used to be cops."

A moment later, Gus gestured ahead and said, "We've got a pretty steep hill to climb.  Just keep kicking at him and clucking.  He might want to trot to get a head start, so don't try to hold him back.  Just hold onto the saddle horn."

Sure enough, as they approached the upward slope, Luke suddenly took off trotting.  Starsky felt like his insides were being jarred, and he clutched tightly to the saddle horn.

Gus called behind him, "Stand up in your stirrups and lean forward, to help him get up the hill."

Starsky could barely stand, because his legs felt so tired.  Eventually, Luke slowed, as he tried to pull himself up the steep slope.  Still, once they finally reached the top, where the trail flattened out, Starsky was gasping for breath far more than Luke was.

"We can take a breather here," Gus said.

Starsky gave a gentle pull on the reins and Luke stopped. 

Gus came to a halt just behind him.  "If you want to rest your feet, you can take them out of the stirrups.  He won't go anywhere."

Starsky did just that, and rotated his ankles around, trying to restore the circulation.

"There they are," Gus pointed.

Starky looked over the side of the mountain, where an open pasture was in the distance.  Two horses were galloping along it, Poncho in the rear. 

"They're racing," Gus said with a smile.

Poncho suddenly accelerated, Hutch leaning over his neck, and he charged full speed at the other horse.  Just as he started to reach him, they came to the end of the clearing, and both horses suddenly turned to the left, while slowing to a trot.

"Your friend rides real good.  He said he hadn't been on a horse in a few years, didn't he?"

"Yeah," Starsky said, feeling full of pride.  "Probably more than a few."

"He's a natural.  My buddy owns Poncho.  He's getting a lot more hours at his job, and hasn't been able to help out as much here at the stable.  I think he'd be willing to sell Poncho, for the right price."

Starsky quickly shook his head.  "Na.  We don't have any place to keep a horse.  And if we boarded it out somewhere far away, Hutch would hardly have any time to get out and ride"  Somehow, though, he thought Hutch would have a lot fewer objections to the idea of buying Poncho, than he'd first had to the idea of buying Darla.

"Let's continue on.  We'll meet up with them a little later."

Indeed, after the trail started to head downhill, Hutch and his guide were trotting toward them from another trail off to one side.  They drew their horses to a halt, while waiting for Starsky and Gus.

Hutch's face was flushed, and he was grinning widely.

Starsky greeted, "We saw you racing in the pasture.  Looks like you had a good time."

Hutch bent down to pet Poncho lavishly on the neck.  "Ah, he's fantastic."  Then he murmured, "Such a good boy."

Starsky said dryly, "Gus says he's for sale."

Hutch's head shot up.  "He is?"

"Yeah," Gus said.  "My buddy owns him.  You'd have to talk to him about price.  He really doesn't have time to ride much now."

Starsky firmly said, "Hutch doesn't either.  Plus, the nearest stables are probably fifty miles away, that have any kind of riding space."

"Yeah," Hutch said regretfully, still patting Poncho. 

They all started down the trail, and Starsky then mentioned Gus's cousin in Oklahoma, so talk turned to the subject of therapeutic riding. 


Hutch was still all aglow when they were back on the road, with Starsky driving.  He asked, "You had a good time, didn't you?"

"Yeah, especially after Gus started talking about his cousin.  Pretty cool,  huh?"

"Yeah."  After a moment, Hutch said, "I'm sure glad we brought enough cash to tip them well.  You usually don't get a ride like that, with rental horses."

Starsky looked over at him, smiling.  "Gus said you're a natural rider.  It sounds like his buddy just acts as a guide when he has time.  I suspect you're one of the privileged few, amongst ordinary folks, who got to ride Poncho."

"He's the best horse I've ever been on," Hutch gushed.  "You just barely nudge him, and he takes off.  Then you just barely pull the reins and he stops.  He turns on a dime."


Hutch looked over at him.  "How come you keep looking at me like that?"

Starsky's grin widened.  "Just making sure you aren't going to regret not buying Poncho.  I mean, I think he'd be more frustrating than anything, because you'd never get to ride him much.  And then he'd probably get lazy and fat.  Still, if you really, really wanted to find a way to make it work, I'm sure we could figure something out."

Hutch was thoughtful, and then said calmly, "It's not in the cards, buddy.  Not right now."  He nodded toward the backseat, where the guitar was in its case.  "I've already made one expensive purchase this trip, and I'm really happy with it."



Two nights later, they were in a hotel outside of Boise, Idaho.  Hutch was strumming his guitar on their third story balcony.  Starsky had gone out for sandwiches from the fast food restaurant across the street.

Hutch heard Starsky come into the room, and then get on the phone, probably to check for their messages.  He continued to play, realizing how thoroughly relaxed he felt.

A short time later, Starsky opened the door to the balcony, his hands filled with sacks for their dinner.

Hutch put his guitar aside.  "You check messages?"

"Yep," Starsky said, sitting down.  "Dobey called."


"He said that Rosie's birthday is coming up, and," Starsky voice dropped an octave and became gruff, " 'she says she wants a racehorse.  Not a pony, mind you, but a racehorse.  I blame you two.' "

Hutch chuckled as he unwrapped his steak sandwich. 

Starsky took a bite of his burger.  After chewing, he said, "You know, if you would have bought Poncho, we could have gotten Rosie riding lessons for her birthday.  And then she could have ridden him, when you weren't."    

Hutch scoffed, "That would be an awfully long drive for her parents to make on a regular basis."

"Yeah, I guess," Starsky relented. 

"Starsky, we'd have to get saddles, one for me, one for her....  It's not the right time for a riding horse, buddy."

Starsky shrugged.  "Just like seeing you happy.  You looked so, so happy riding Poncho."

"Well, you know, absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that."

Starsky eyed him.  "Except where we're concerned."

Hutch grinned and lowered his eyes.  He knew they were going to make love tonight, after giving priority to sleep the past two evenings.  He asked, "Who else called?"

"Nick said he got pictures to prove the husband is cheating, for the case with that lady from Hawaii.  Sounded real proud himself."

That was a case that Nick had started, since the phone call had come in after they had left for vacation.

Hutch sipped his soda, and then said, "I guess we should let him go ahead and talk to her about what he's found out, since it'll be the first case he's handled from beginning to end.  You think he's mature enough to deal with that?"

"We'll find out.  It sounds like he's doing well with his job at the complaint center for the airlines.  He knows how to say the right things to people, that's for sure."

Hutch chose not to comment on Nick's ability to lie.

Starsky said, "I'll call him as soon as we're done eating.  We can ask if any of your precious plants have died in his care."

Hutch grunted, hoping Nick didn't have any trouble doing something as simple as watering plants.

After Starsky went back inside to call, Hutch picked up his guitar.  He began strumming a tune, singing softly beneath his breath, determined to extend his utter and complete contentment as long as possible. 


The next day, they were driving through the southern half of Oregon, with the top down.

Hutch was in the passenger seat, strumming his guitar and singing an old Lobo tune.  "I can still recall the wheat fields of St. Paul, and the morning we got caught, robbing from an old hen.  Old McDonald, he made us work.  But then he paid us for what is worth.  Another take of gas and back on the road again."

Starsky joined in the chorus.  "Me and you and a dog named Boo, traveling and a living off the land.  Me and you and a named Boo, how I love being a free man." 

He stopped so Hutch could start the next stanza.

"I'll never forget that day, we motored safely into big L.A.  The lights of the city--  Starsky, turn around."  Hutch stopped strumming.


 "I saw a sign back there."

Starsky braked.  "A sign that said that what?"

"I think it said something about therapeutic riding.  Let's go look."

Starsky muttered, "That would be quite a coincidence."  He made sure the road was clear, then turned the Corvette into a wide arc on the two-lane highway.  He drove slowly back to where there was a gravel road, lined by trees.  He turned onto the road, and then stopped to read the sign.  It said Pine Hills Therapeutic Riding Center

"What do you know," Hutch marveled. 

Starsky eased the Corvette up the lane.  A large barn came into view.  Then various corrals.  Then smaller dwellings for animals.

"Looks abandoned," Hutch said.

"Yeah.  But there's a pickup truck there."  Starsky drove to the far side of the barn, where a Chevy truck was parked.

A man appeared from inside the barn, wearing gloves.  "Can I help you gentlemen?"

They both got out of the car.  "We noticed the sign," Starsky said.  "We're just kind of curious about the facility."  He held out his hand.  "David Starsky."  He gestured.  "Ken Hutchinson."

"Frank Williams," the man said, shaking each of their hands.  "Are you looking for a place to buy?"

"Oh, no, no, no," Starsky said.  "We live in southern California.  We're just tossing around the idea of starting a riding center for handicapped kids sometime in the future, when we're retired.  We're just wondering what's all involved."

Hutch said, "Doesn't look like anybody else is around."

Williams sighed.  "Yeah, unfortunately, they had to shut this place down a few months ago.  They lost most of their funding when the government agencies cut back, because of the recession.  Had to sell all the horses and the other animals.  It's a darn shame."

"Who's they?" Starsky asked.

"The owners, the Woodsons.  I was the manager.  They had the place going for about three years."  Williams smiled.  "I saw a lot of kids go through here, get a lot of benefit out of it.  It wasn't just handicapped kids, but troubled kids, too.  You know, the kind that get into trouble with the law a lot, or have severe socialization problems.  Animals don't judge them.  It makes all the difference."

Hutch said, "That's too bad.  Sorry it had to shut down."

"Me, too.  I'm just here to do some final touches before the Woodsons put it up for sale.  But, with the economy the way it is, they're pretty much resigned to losing it to foreclosure."

"Man," Starsky said regretfully.  "So, a place like this runs mostly on government funding?"

"Mostly.   Donations, too.  They charged tuition, but most of the families can't afford it, so they have to apply for government assistance.   There's a lot of paperwork involved, and it can get frustrating with how slowly things move, as far as approvals and what not."

Hutch said, "You mentioned other animals.  Was there more involved than just riding?"

"Oh, yes.  Occasionally, kids have a genuine, deep-seated fear of horses that they can't overcome.  So, we usually have them work with a dog, or even a llama.  Plus, there's only a certain number of horses you can find that are good for something like this.  They've got to be completely foolproof."

Starsky nodded, thinking of his conversation with Gus.  "Yeah, we've heard."

Williams said, "I'll be seeing the Woodsons in a couple of days, to pick up my paycheck.  I can give them your information if you'd like, and tell them you'd appreciate a call to find out what's all involved in getting an outfit like this started."

Hutch took out his card.  "That would be great.  There's no hurry.  It's a new idea for us, so nothing's going to happen anytime soon.  Here's our cards for our current business of being private investigators."

"Private eyes, huh?" Williams accepted the card.  "That sounds exciting."

Starsky shrugged with a chuckle.  "Occasionally."

"We really appreciate it," Hutch said.  "We won't take up any more of your time."

"No problem," Williams said with a wave.  He then turned away.


That night, in a motel in Lakeview, Oregon, Starsky groaned as his seed released into Hutch's body.  He let the sensations overwhelm him, and felt that he was sinking, sinking, sinking.....

All was release and relief, and then pleasurable awareness was left in their wake.

He kissed a shoulder blade, and then rubbed his cheek against it.  "Mmm."

Hutch was relaxed beneath him, having already been given attention earlier in the evening's activities.

With an airy sigh, Starsky started to shift away, and placed his hand on Hutch's rear in warning.  He carefully withdrew, and then collapsed to one side.

There was a lamp on, and Hutch moved to his feet and went into the bathroom.

Starsky would be glad that, when they got home, they'd be back in their waterbed, have use of their helpful wedge pillow, and have familiar supplies nearby.   It would be a long trip through California to reach the southern part of the state tomorrow, but with trading driving duties, they should be able to pull it off in one day.

He was dozing, when a few towels, and a wet washcloth, were tossed to him.  Starsky sat up and cleaned himself, while Hutch crawled under the bedclothes.  A few moments later, Starsky turned out the light, and also got beneath the covers, curling up with his love.

Hutch put his arm around Starsky's shoulders. 

Starsky's eyes were closed, as he was still awash in afterglow.  "You think we'll ever get tired of having sex?"

Hutch chuckled softly.  "If we do, hopefully it'll happen to both of us at the same time.  And then it won't be a problem."  After a moment, he said, "Guess we'll rest up the day after tomorrow, and then get back into the routine on Monday."

Starsky took a breath to rouse himself.  "Now that we've been talking about the therapeutic riding center, it's hard to think about going back to the everyday routine, where we're focused on other stuff."

"Buddy, it's going to take a long time for that whole thing to gel.  Maybe we should consider our forties to be our money-making years.  We work really hard, save as much as we can, and maybe we can retire when we're fifty, and get something like the riding center going.  I bet if we dropped everything and focused on the riding center as soon as we get back, that it would probably still be years before anything could happen, even if we got loans or grants to start it.  There probably needs to be certifications and stuff like that, and the government is notorious for moving very slowly."

Starsky kissed the bare kin that was beneath his lips.  "Yeah.  It's going to feel weird hoping we hurry up and get to fifty."

Hutch chuckled softly.  "I'd like to think we can spend the years, in the meantime, figuring out how to go about it the right away.  We wouldn't want it to get shut down like that one place did, because the funding ran out.  I'd like things to be stable enough that a temporary recession wouldn't bring it down."

"Yeah," Starsky admitted sleepily.  "As long as we're moving forward with it, to some extent, I guess I'll be okay with us doing things as per normal."

"You haven't written on your book in a while.  That would give you something else to focus on."

"Yeah, there's just been so much going on."

Hutch rubbed along Starsky's back, and Starsky smiled.

"I know," Hutch said.  "But I bet that would make the time pass faster."  After a moment, he went on, "Maybe we should plan to have a meeting with Emerson in the near future, and tell him we want to be aggressive about early retirement, and needing to have a few hundred thousand in savings and investments, in ten years.  Of course, so much depends on us being as busy as we've been lately.  And it's hard to know much or how little of that picture Darla will be a part of." 

Starsky grunted, his eyes having closed again.  "She's going to be some part of it.  She was in the dream with Terry."

All was silent, and Starsky realized he had started to drift off, when he heard Hutch whisper, "Love you."


They had been home ten days, and not only were they working on a case for David Placing, but another lawyer had called for their services. 

They were both in the office, trying to catch up on paperwork.  They each needed to leave for later appointments.

The phone rang.

Hutch paused in his typing of an invoice and hit the speaker button.  "Starsky and Hutchinson."


"Mike?" Hutch questioned.

Starsky turned away from the filing cabinet.  "Is Darla okay?" he asked worriedly.  Since she was getting a break from racing, Hawkins no longer called regularly. 

"Yes, she's fine," he answered.  "But, look, I've got some news."

Hutch held his breath.  "Sounds like bad news."

A soft chuckle came from the phone.  "No.  At least, most people wouldn't consider it bad news.  But maybe you guys will."

"What is it?" Starsky prompted, moving to sit in his desk chair.

"Well, I know this guy, Carl Weathers.  He's a bloodstock agent, representing buyers and sellers.  Completely above board.  A real professional.  He's representing a couple that has started a farm in New York, to take advantage of the new state-bred program they've implemented there.  In the coming years, there' s going to be a lot of lucrative races in New York that are restricted to New York-bred horses.  This couple is currently in the area, buying up fillies and mares with Carl's help, to take back to New York and be broodmares on their farm.  They're offering $175,000 for Darla." 

"What?" Hutch gasped.

"You're kidding," Starsky said, unhappily. 

"No, I'm not.  Look fellas, I'm not into the breeding end, and I don't claim to be an appraiser of horses, especially not breeding stock.  But I know virtually everyone in the industry is complaining about how they can't get their money back out of their horses, because of the recession.  I'm certain this is a fair price.  Carl wouldn't tarnish his reputation by taking advantage of greenhorns like you guys.  He would be embarrassed to offer less than any good appraiser will figure she's worth.  And frankly, as nice as she is, I think it would be close to impossible to get that from her in future purse money.  Of course, I can't say that you wouldn't be able to sell her later for a better price, depending on how she races in the future."

Starsky muttered, "I don't think we want to sell her at all, even after she's retired."

Hutch quickly asked, "What would you do, Mike?"

"That's not really a fair question, because I'm in a whole different situation than you, being a trainer.  I see horses come and go all the time.  I will tell you that I've known far, far more owners that regretted not selling their horses when they had the chance, than I've known owners that were later glad they held onto a horse when they could have sold.  There's that saying about a bird in the hand being better than two in the bush."

Hutch thought of their mortgage payment every month, that was so aggravating to pay. 

Hawkins went on, "But please don't get the idea that I'm trying to pressure you to sell.  Even though I'd take five percent as a fee for being your agent, I would like to keep Darla in my barn.  She's the best young filly in the stable, and I like having you guys as owners.  Of course, if you took the money and then let me buy you a few more horses, I'd be happy with that, too.  I make my living off of volume of horses." 

Hutch glanced at Starsky and saw the stark look on his face, and knew how this was going to end up.  Still, he said, "We'll need to talk it over."

"Of course.  But the way these people are operating, is that they want no fuss, no haggling.  They're offering a 'take it or leave it' fair price, and if they don't get a yes by nine tomorrow morning, they'll move on to the next horse on their list."

Worriedly, Starsky asked, "So, these people would just retire her, and she'd never race again?"

"I'm not sure.  If they bought her, they might race her a few times, before breeding season starts in February.  Or they might just put her on the van to their farm in New York, and just be focused on breeding her." 

"Man, the idea of her being owned by somebody else...."

"That's always a tough one for first-time owners.  But look, guys, one thing that should absolutely not figure in your decision is whether or not Darla is going to be taken care of.  Between her bloodlines and her race record, Darla has guaranteed herself to be treated like a queen the rest of her life.  Nobody is going to pay that kind of money for a horse, and then just throw her out in a pasture and not pay attention to her.  Everyone involved in a broodmare's care wants her to get pregnant, take that pregnancy to term, and then deliver a healthy foal."

Hutch realized he felt better, with those reassurances.

Starsky still looked unhappy.  "You said these people are raising New York-breds?"

"Yeah, the state program has really taken off in recent years.  I was just reading an article the other day on it.  California is the leader in state-bred programs, but New York wants to make its mark in the coming years."

With frustration, Starsky asked, "Well, how come there's such a thing as state-bred programs, anyway?"

Hawkins drew a breath.  "I'm not an economist, but it's an attempt to keep all the commerce surrounding racing in the same state as the racetrack.  Like here in California, between all the trainers and jockeys, and blacksmiths and vets, and the shipping companies, and the feed stores and tack stores.... there's billions of dollars of business going on all the time, and any state with a racetrack wants to collect as much of it as they can, in the form of sales tax and income tax revenue.  So, they do state-bred programs, with bonus money, to encourage the breeding of horses within its borders.  Those against state-bred programs always argue that it rewards the breeding of mediocre horses, because most states, other than Kentucky, don't have outstanding breeding stock.  But, as you guys have probably noticed from Darla's purse money, it's sure nice for the owners and breeders to get that bonus money."

"Yeah," Hutch said forlornly, thinking, as he looked directly at Starsky, that this was all a moot point. 

"Well,  I'll leave you guys to talk it over.  If I don't hear back from you, I'll know it's a never-mind.  Just know that I can appreciate that it'll probably be a difficult decision, and I'll stand behind whatever you guys decide.  For whatever it's worth, I'm okay with it, either way."

"Thanks, Mike," Hutch said, cutting the line.

Starsky released a heavy breath.  "Damn.  Why did they have to offer so much money?"

Hutch felt a flare of hope.  "I guess because they know she's worth it."

Starsky slowly shook his head, staring at his desk.  Then he looked at Hutch and demanded, "What do you want to do?"

"I'm thinking that with the money from selling her, and taking another seventy-five thousand out of savings, we could pay off the mortgage," he glanced around the walls, "and own this house, free and clear, while still having a lot left in savings.  With no mortgage payment, we can be a lot more aggressive about putting money away.  And then, when we're ready to get the riding center going, we can borrow against the house, if necessary."

Starsky pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes, and rubbed.

Hutch's hope receded.  "I know this is all a moot point.  You don't want to sell her.  And I don't want to sell her, if you're going to feel lousy about it."

Starsky put his hands down.  "Hutch, in that dream I had, I just feel that Terry was trying to tell me something.  Even though racehorses aren't therapy riding horses, I just feel that since Darla was in the dream, she's somehow connected to making this all happen."

Feeling reasonable, Hutch said, "Maybe she meant that Darla would be indirectly responsible for financing it."

"You mean, by us selling her?"


Starsky was thoughtful a long moment, and then shook his head.  "No.  That's not it.  It doesn't feel right."  He softened.  "Besides, Hutch, I want us to own Darla when she has babies.  I mean, in what other circumstances are we ever going to be able to do the baby thing?"

Hutch couldn't restrain a grin.  "I didn't know that a four-legged animal counted as us having a baby."

"It's as close as we're ever going to get!"

Hutch waved a hand.  "Let's just forget about it.  All right?  We're not selling."

Starsky gazed at him a long moment.  "Are you mad?"

"No.  I'm not eager to sell Darla, either, when hopefully she's still got some exciting races ahead.  I just keep thinking about the whole 'bird in the hand' thing.   And how nice it would be to not have to make a big mortgage payment every month."

Starsky muttered, "Then we'd lose the interest deduction and pay even more fucking taxes." 

Hutch felt lighter.  "Well, there is that."  He glanced at the clock.  "You need to get going to see that lawyer on Cisco Street."

Starsky stood and gathered his notebook.  He stepped over to Hutch, and leaned down to kiss him.  "Love you."

Hutch squeezed his hand, and then turned back to the typewriter to finish their invoice. 




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