of the old faces ask you why you're back . . .
"So, we gonna be having clan-des-tine meetings in this car forever?" Huggy asked as he slipped into the Torino's passenger's seat.
"Maybe," Starsky said noncommittally, but he could smile, even if he still wasn't ready to step foot in the Pits. He turned to admire his friend's latest apparel—a purple jacket and orange shirt topping iridescent pants—and wondered what Huggy would say if—when—he got a look at Starsky's new leatherwear. He waved the beta cassette in Huggy's direction. "We think we found something."
Huggy eyed it warily. "Is that right?" He glanced around the car ostentatiously. "What'chu mean 'we,' white boy? Where's your partner?"
Starsky struggled to keep his smile genuine. "Hutch is on a date."
There was a long silence, and finally Huggy said in consternation, "A date? With—?"
"A woman!" Starsky clarified, then winced when he realized he had to. "He's out with our lawyer. K.R. Callahan. He asked her and she said yes. They hit it off great!" He tried to be sincere, but the words sounded hollow in his own ears.
The disapproval radiating from Huggy was ominous. He crossed his arms and frowned. "What the hell were you thinkin', sending that man out with that woman?"
Starsky couldn't mask his confusion. "Huh?"
"Don't give me that 'poor, dumb, white cop' routine. 'Member who you talkin' to. This is Huggy, right? Known you since you got off the bus from that wilderness called Brooklyn. There's only one reason Hutch would go out with a woman now, and that's if you engineered it. You should be ashamed."
Starsky blinked. "What the hell are you—?"
"You're cold, Starsky, really cold. You not only playin' now with your best friend's heart, but with an innocent bystander."
"Maybe you'd like to give me this in a language I can understand, Hug? Hutch asked the lady out, and she seemed happy to agree!"
"I guess she did. I don't know the lady personally, but I'm told she's probably the hardest-working lawyer in this city. She lives on half a shoestring budget and burns the midnight oil every night. The only staff she can afford is volunteers. Her clients are the kind of folks the rest of the world has turned its back on. That's the kind of lawyer she is—the kind of person she is. She could almost give lawyers a good name."
Huggy shifted in the seat, warming to his subject. Starsky wanted to groan out loud. "You wanna know why I don't know her, even though she's had more dealings with people I know than even you two? 'Cause she has no social life, and her still a young woman. The only people she ever meets are down-and-outs and gays, or the sleazy bastards she's fightin' in court. Her idea of a hot night is a meeting with a couple of clients at the Green Parrot. Sugar makes sure she gets dinner out of it, and that's the highlight! So, Hutch in all his tall blondness must have looked pretty good to that lady. And you sent him out with her. Hutch, who hasn't looked at a female in a solid year. Hutch, who's got eyes for no one but you. Yeah, you're behind this. You tryin' to kill two birds with one stone?"
Starsky stared at his steering wheel. "It was for his own good. He'll get over this if he just—"
"Gets laid?" Huggy said cruelly. "Starsky. I've seen you dump a lotta ladies—"
"And been dumped by more'n my share," Starsky reminded him defensively. He'd lost more than his share to Hutch, too.
"Maybe, but Hutch ain't some disposable female. And neither is K.R. Callahan. I'm tellin' you, bro', you better walk soft this time around. Or some good people's gonna get hurt. Maybe even you. And I'm gonna be here to let you know whose responsibility it was."
Starsky wished he were somewhere else. The world had gone upside down on him and seemed intent on staying there. He'd done the right thing getting Hutch to ask Callahan out and wasn't going to apologize for it. Even if his own gut was in knots about it. Even if he couldn't figure out why. He'd pull them out of this damned rabbit hole if it was the last thing he did.
He shook his head. "This is gonna work, man. You'll see. They were meant for each other. Two White Knights, fightin' society together. She'll be good for Hutch, a lady like that. And like you said, she needs a good man—"
"Who ain't in love with his partner," Huggy said frankly. "Look, man, you weren't 'round when that hit on you went down. You were just layin' back in the bed, cuttin' zee's, working on staying alive. I was the
re with Hutch. It was hard on all of us, the other cops, the captain—you know he didn't eat nothing for two days? I mean, nothin'!—but Hutch . . . ! Well, Hutch went a little crazy. You laying there nearly dead, every minute ticking away, Hutch able to do nothing but watch them fill you up with tubes and stuff and wait and wait while fighting off a steady stream of dudes trying to kill you both."
The recitation of events felt eerie to Starsky, like a movie he'd starred in but never got to see.
"Finally, Hutch couldn't stand it no more and hit the streets, so then you decide to die a little. I'll never forget his face when he came flying back into that hospital. I never seen that man scared of nothing, but at that moment, knowing you were dying without him, he was terrified. Somewhere inside me I always knew how Hutch felt about you, even if I never put the words to it. But at that minute, seeing him like that, it was all there on his face. All that love."
Just shove the knife in, why don't you? Starsky closed his eyes. He felt like this was the longest day of his life. "Can you help me with this thing, or not?" He waved the cassette again.
Irritably, Huggy yanked it from his hands. "What'chu got?"
"Some code numbers, or partial numbers. I've stopped the tape a few seconds before an editing split, and there's some other numbers way at the end. It doesn't mean anything to us, but it might to the right person."
Huggy turned the cassette over in his long, elegant fingers as if he'd never seen one before. "I got a cousin works in film labs, but he's on vacation. I'll give Peter Whitelaw a call. He's got contacts in the industry."
Starsky's eyebrows shot up. "Peter Whitelaw! You gotta ask him?"
Huggy stared at him, face completely passive. "Starsky, what is your problem now? How come you can pimp for Hutch when you spy some lonely lady, but you're ready to call out the Marines if you think some mutual interest with Whitelaw might be involved?"
Starsky glowered. "It must be nice being the world's most open-minded person. Sorry I ain't it. Look, Hug, I'm dealing with this the best I can, but I just don't trust Whitelaw. I don't trust his motives. I don't trust his rap. And I don't trust his intentions towards my partner. Forgive me if I'd like my little world restored to its former balance. It's a fantasy of mine. Okay?"
Huggy just sighed. "You want help with this, I gotta call on Whitelaw. It's that simple."
Starsky took a deep breath. "Okay. Fine. Call him. But when your cousin gets back from vacation . . . call him, too."
Huggy shrugged. "Won't hurt to get a second opinion. Okay, deal. Anything else?"
Starsky looked away. "Just be patient with me, will ya? I'm swimming upstream here."
Huggy's hand settled on his shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze. "Sure. As long as you don't drown your partner while you're at it."
"Yeah. Sure." The hand left him, the car shifted, and the door clicked shut as Huggy left.
The rest of the evening stretched before him. It wasn't even nine o'clock. He needed clothes, but that meant going to his apartment. So, what are you gonna do for the rest of your life—make Hutch pick your stuff up in bits and pieces? You gotta face it sooner or later. He turned the key and aimed the car toward his abandoned home.
Hutch couldn't remember being so self-conscious before a date. He'd always known he was a handsome man—hell, no one ever let him forget it. But tonight, as Starsky had fussed over every item of clothing he'd put on, he'd become more and more nervous until he'd gotten so angry he'd frosted Starsky out of the apartment. He'd had the distinct feeling Starsky was real pleased with himself, too, as he left.
He must think I'll be more enthusiastic about Kelly if I'm furious with him. Typical.
But what the big lummox didn't understand was that Hutch's feelings didn't ebb and flow with his moods. He could be completely enraged with his aggravating partner and still be totally in love with him. He was funny like that.
Which only made him feel more ill-at-ease. He felt like a liar climbing the six—six?—flights to Callahan's apartment. This wasn't an undercover assignment, and Hutch was never good at pretense otherwise. As he drew closer to her door, he wondered again how he would flub his way through this evening.
He paused at the head of the stairs to catch his breath and allow the color to subside in his face. This aged building was similar to the cheap apartment dwelling they'd found Vic Bellamy hiding in. Hutch would've thought a lawyer could've afforded something nicer. Or was that just another stereotype he was laboring under?
Look, God, if this whole mess is to teach me to be open-minded, I got the message!
Moving closer to Kelly's nondescript door set in a nondescript hallway, he started to knock just as the door opened. To his dismay, a man stood there, staring at him in surprise.
Caucasian. About five eight. Medium weight. Probably thirty years old, Hutch cataloged automatically. And gay.
That wasn't normally part of his analysis unless he was dealing with hustlers. But the neat, middle-class fashions and conservative grooming told Hutch this was no hustler.
Dark brown eyes glanced over him quickly, thoroughly, then returned to his face, widening in surprise. "Oh, wow!" the man said quietly, taking a step back. "You're one of those cops."
"I'm here to see K.R. Callahan," Hutch said quickly, using his cop voice. "Who are you?" Damn straight I'm one of those cops!
The man backed up into the apartment, and Hutch used it as an excuse to follow him in. "I'm Joey Langdon. I do some work for K.R. when I get the chance. I'm one of her volunteers. She helped me once in a legal matter. She was supposed to be here an hour ago, but she got hung up. She called me and told me to leave a note on the door when I left." He held out a small piece of paper Hutch hadn't noticed before.
He took it. "K.R. might have to break the date. She'll try to get here by eight thirty, but says it's okay if you don't want to wait."
"You can wait in here," Joey offered. "She won't mind. But she'll probably be late."
"She working?" Hutch wondered.
"Sure," Joey said. "What else? Isn't that why you're here? To help with her work?"
"Not exactly," Hutch said, meeting his gaze. "We have a date."
Joey's expression was quizzical. "You? And K.R.? On a date?"
"Is there a problem with that?"
He shrugged. "I've never known her to go on a date. Unless it had something to do with a case. And I guess I thought you were—"
Hutch stilled him with a look.
"Well, I hope she makes it!" Joey added with false cheerfulness. "It'd be nice for her to do something fun for a change. She deserves it."
The way he said it was a challenge, and that made Hutch feel better about him. He cares about her. He's worried about my intentions. He smiled. "I'll try to make her have fun."
Joey grinned back at him. "That'd be good!" He started to go, then turned back at the door. "If she doesn't get home and you want to leave, the door locks when you shut it. Okay?"
Hutch nodded. "Okay. Good night, Joey."
"Don't let the cat out!" His voice trailed out the door as it shut behind him.
Left alone in the strange apartment, Hutch felt adrift. Standing aimlessly in the living room, he wandered over to an aged radio and turned it on, then off again when he found it tuned to a dry, news-only radio station. There was no television. The furniture was utilitarian, and every flat surface, including strategic areas of the floor, held piles of documents.
As Hutch strolled around the formidable stacks, he recognized an organized chaos to it. Each stack was about a specific topic, like an open filing system. He eyed one labeled, "A.T.&T. vs Blackwater." Another was "The State of California vs Abramovitz."
Nothing like taking on big challenges!
From the partially opened door of a darkened room, a large orange and white tomcat stepped out silently, blinking enormous golden eyes and yawning hugely.
"Did I wake you?" Hutch asked the animal. The cat blinked in silent reproach and stalked into the kitchen. "Sorry, old man."
As he walked around another towering pile stacked neatly on the floor, he spied the words "Gunther Industries" written on one file folder. The neatly printed words were like a bullet to his heart. Cautiously, as if it might be a trap, he lifted the folder to peer inside.
He saw assorted materials, most of them personal, most of it news to Hutch—Gunther's past marriages (four!), foreign connections, personal and financial ties to politicians and presidents—it was an odd jumble of information, but it was only the top of the pile. Everything beneath it— two feet of paper—had to do with Gunther. And all of it looked well-thumbed.
Right beside it were two other stacks. One was labeled "Starsky." The other "Hutchinson." The piles weren't as tall as Gunther's, but they were substantial.
Better not to know. It was information she needed, after all. It was confidential. Still—
His hand crept to the Hutchinson folder and, hesitantly, he started to open it.
Feeling watched, he looked up to see the cat staring balefully at him. He pulled his hand back. "I was just going to straighten it out," he said.
The cat just stared unblinking. He sat, tail primly tucked around his feet and continued to observe Hutch.
"Look, I won't tell if you won't, okay?" he offered, reaching for his pile.
K.R. Callahan jogged up the first three flights of stairs then halted, gasping for air, on the third. Damn, she was really late! She groaned, clutching her chest as her lungs screamed for air. Would she ever remember to take the stairs at a normal pace rather than running up faster than she could handle? No, of course not. Not as long as she was always late.
Swallowing, she stormed up the rest of the way. Maybe Joey would still be there. Maybe Hutch had forgotten what time they were supposed to meet and came late. Oh, forget that! No doubt he'd come and gone already. Did it matter? There was no way she could make time for a date tonight! When had she ever?
She hit her door running like always, way too fast, and it banged open. "Damn! Joey, are you here?" she called while peeking to see if she'd done any damage to the wall. How many times could she repair that spot? At least Buddy had learned to stay clear and no longer got smashed behind it when she entered in a rush.
She heard a sound and looked up. A big blond cop clutched his heart in surprise as he sprawled awkwardly against mounds of strewn paper. He'd stumbled against her mobile filing system and toppled a couple of piles. His right hand had settled on his breast bone only after it had groped uselessly under his left arm.
Looking for the gun he had to turn in. I must've really surprised him.
K.R. moved to the center of her living room, blushing furiously. "Oh! You're here! I thought maybe Joey told you—that is—well—" She paused, dropped her briefcase, and took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, I didn't think you'd wait. I didn't really expect to see you at all."
Her big yellow cat jogged over to greet her. Yowling softly, he wrapped himself around her ankles. She never knew if he was really happy to see her or was trying to kill her. She stepped cautiously around him and stroked his head.
Having recovered a bit of his aplomb, Hutch managed a thin smile as he lurched to his feet. "Sure, I waited. Hey, I know what it's like to be late for a date because of work. I can't tell you how many times Starsky and I've been ditched over that. Listen, uh—" he looked guiltily at the piles of collapsed paper and tried restacking them. "Any chance I can blame this on the cat?"
"Nope," she told him, joining him before he scrambled her system hopelessly. When she saw the most flattened pile was his, she suppressed a smile. "Buddy never knocks anything over. He's had too much stuff fall on him."
"Buddy, huh?" he murmured, as if he didn't want the cat to hear. "I don't think he likes me."
"He meets a lot of strangers," she explained. "It takes him a while to warm up." Buddy was staring at Hutch with cold yellow eyes.
"Uh, Joey had to leave," Hutch told her. "He said you were running late."
She felt guilty and was totally bedraggled. Her hair wasn't neatly confined anymore. She looked like she'd been running all day just to stay the same distance behind. She may as well tell him the truth. "I'm not just running late, Hutch, I'm running! I'm still working. I've got to meet someone—damn, I feel bad about this."
"Hey, hey, come on," he soothed, moving closer to her. "You've had a long day. Will you sit down for a minute and take a breath? What exactly do you have left to do?"
"I've got to talk to someone about—well, about your case, actually." She plopped herself unceremoniously on her couch and leaned over to rub an ankle. Buddy landed on the floor beside her hand and tried to convince her to rub him instead. "It could be important." Her feet were killing her, but she hadn't noticed it until she'd stopped moving.
"You've got to meet an informant?"
"I consider them 'sources.' But, yes."
"Well, why don't I go with you?"
She hesitated. "He might not talk to me if you're there."
Hutch's smile lit up his face, making it, if possible, even more beautiful. "I'll drop you nearby and cruise around. He'll never know I'm there. Believe me, I'm good at this."
She returned the smile. "I've never had a cop for a client. I can see advantages to it."
"Will you be done then? After you talk to your source? We can go to dinner. I'll bet you haven't eaten since lunch. Your feet are bothering you—take off those shoes."
She groaned. "Don't mention food or I'll pass out. And if I take my shoes off I'll never get them back on."
Hutch shook his head. "Where are you meeting this source?"
She told him. It was hookers' row.
He blinked in surprise. "That's a pretty heavy part of town. Were you planning on going alone—like that?" He indicated her lawyer's garb.
"You'd be surprised the places I go like this," she said mildly.
"I bet I would. Why don't you freshen up, get into something more casual—including some comfortable shoes—and we'll hit the road. The sooner we get this over with, the sooner I can get some food into you. It really makes me look bad when my dates pass out."
"Yes, sir!" she said, saluting, as she forced herself to leave the couch and head for her room. Buddy jogged ahead of her, knowing that he could usually scrounge a few ear rubs while she was changing. She paused in the doorway. "Are you always this nurturing on a first date?"
Hutch grinned. "Starsky says I have the soul of a frustrated Jewish mother."
She nodded and went into her bedroom. As she closed the door, she mumbled, "Well, the last thing I'd want is for you to be frustrated!"
Starsky sat in his car for fifteen minutes before finally getting up the nerve to approach his own front door.
This is ridiculous. You're acting like a baby.
He fit his key into the lock and swung the door open, then stood there frozen in indecision. Stay or go? Enter or leave? Placing one foot over the threshold seemed as difficult as entering the vacuum of space. Finally, he did. A second step, then a third. Shut the door. He was inside.
It's your place. Stop acting like this!
He took a deep breath and looked around. So familiar, yet so different. His plants were still in place, the ones Hutch had given him. He'd water them. His mail was on the floor where it had fallen through the front door slot. The place smelled stuffy from being closed up, and who knew what was going on in the refrigerator. He should clean it out before he left.
Scooping up the mail, he sorted through it, leaving the bills and tossing the junk. He watered his plants, removed some science projects from the refrigerator, and straightened up. But finally, the busy work was over. He needed to pack some clothes. He needed to enter his bedroom.
He turned to it, seeing the half-open door and the innocent-looking mussed bed. He approached it as if it were a suspect, as if it might rise up and grab him. His own bed.
Leaning against the door frame, he looked at the bed as if it had come from Mars. Hutch had been able to come in here, grab some clothes, and come right out, none-the-worse for wear. Starsky could still see the impression of Hutch's body in the sheets. If he bent over he might still smell his unique cinnamon-like clean scent. Hutch had been curled around him that morning, surrounding him, keeping him safe.
That's all I remember, just waking up. Not realizing—not remembering. But Hutch did.
What must that have been like for him, waking up with a new lover who was an old friend and finding out that lover remembered nothing? Finding out that lover didn't want to be his lover, did not want to want him anymore. That must've hurt bad. Starsky remembered how he'd felt when he saw Hutch walking out of Kira's bedroom. He wondered if that was what Hutch had felt like, that raw kind of hurt. He wouldn't wish that on anyone, least of all Hutch.
Starsky walked to the bed, then sat on Hutch's side, not wanting to crush his impression. There were blond hairs on the pillow.
It felt good waking up like that, with Hutch all around me. And after I puked so hard and got so cold, he warmed me with his own skin and kept me close to comfort me. That felt good, too. So why can't I remember the rest?
He didn't like thinking about it, but the truth was he'd hated giving Huggy that tape. He wanted to watch it again, wanted to see if it would open up the memories, even though he'd watched it enough and nothing had happened. He wanted to see himself loving Hutch until it was imprinted on his brain. Himself, going down on his friend. Himself, kissing, loving Hutch as ardently as he had any woman. Himself offering his body, asking Hutch to fuck him—
He shook his head, unable to believe that had really been him, his desire. Oh, the desire could be found, he knew that, Hutch had proven it just last night. It scared him how easily Hutch had proven it. But it wasn't them. Couldn't be them.
He'd always seen their future so clearly, dancing at each other's weddings, being the favorite uncles of each other's children. Painting each other's picket fences. It'd been such a clear vision, even though it had been tarnished after Terry's death, and after Rosey left him. The personal disaster area that was Hutch's love life hadn't restored any of its bright promise either. But still, Starsky clung to the vision. The two of them, married, fathers, retiring at advanced ages from the police force, vacations together, maybe even sharing a resort property with their families— Had it all been a fairy tale?
Always together. Every image of your future included Hutch. The women were a blur, but the picture of Hutch was always clear as a bell.
He imagined Hutch out with K.R. Callahan, imagined him doing his charming cowboy routine, half "gosh-shucks, ma'am," half blond bombshell. How many women had Hutch charmed away from him like that? How many times had it made Starsky crazy jealous?
He tried to see Hutch wooing the attractive lawyer, tried to see them in bed together, but it was too insubstantial. It didn't matter whether he could see it or not. It would happen. What woman could resist that Nordic beauty? Huggy had said Callahan was practically a nun. She didn't stand a chance. She'd probably pounce on Hutch before they ever got to dinner.
He imagined Hutch dragging his ass home as the sun rose, saw himself waking alone in Hutch's brass bed and ribbing him good-naturedly about his conquest when the sleepy blond traipsed into the shower looking beat. Yeah. That's just how it would go.
Inexplicably, Starsky felt a hardened lump of anxiety lodge in his gut. Last night's gentle passion flooded his mind, and suddenly, Hutch's hand on him was as real as if he were sitting beside Starsky. He grew stiff thinking about it. Hutch was so tender, so loving, had worked so hard to give him whatever pleasure he could stand, whatever joy he could tolerate. It had been so good between them, that simple act . . . .
He plucked the shed hairs from the pillow and twisted them around his finger as he felt a sudden stabbing need to remember the first night between them. He could recall every warm female body he'd ever slid into, even when he couldn't bring back their names or faces. Why couldn't he remember loving Hutch, the most important person in the world to him? Loving Hutch with his own free will. Loving him with all the passion he had.
It was a feeling he was afraid to release, afraid to share, for fear that it would give too much power to his lover. But that night, he suspected, that was what he'd given Hutch. The one person he knew would never abuse it. The yearning to remember squeezed his heart hard.
Furious with his own weakness, he lurched off the bed. Going to his dresser, he roughly pulled out clothes. He couldn't remember. It was better not to remember. And trying to remember only brought more dreams—
—Of Hutch in white leather kneeling before me. Touching me. Taking me into his mouth.
He slammed the underwear drawer so hard he nearly broke his thumb and shouted a curse. He went into the closet, yanked out jeans and shirts, and stuffed them into a bag.
He had to get out of here.
He was nearly to the front door when he thought of something. Walking back to the phone, he lifted the receiver and dialed.
Three rings. "This is the Pits. What's your pleasure?" Huggy said. The bar was hopping; Starsky could hear the racket in the background.
"I need another favor," he said abruptly.
"I guess one's better'n the list you usually give me," Huggy said laconically.
"The crew that cleans your bar, can you get them to come to my apartment? The crime lab's been here, there's fingerprint dust everywhere, the place is a wreck." It was the truth, but he'd barely noticed it when he'd entered.
"Sure, no problem. They'll be happy to have the work. What else?"
He held his breath, trying to control his respiration. "Have them strip the sheets, do the laundry, make up the bed fresh, okay?"
The pause was brief but Starsky heard it. "Sure. Got it." Another beat. "You there now?"
Starsky didn't answer. Couldn't.
"You okay?" Huggy said softly.
"I will be," he murmured. "Thanks, Huggy. I'll drop off the key and a check." On my way home—to Hutch's. He hung up the phone gently.
How long could he consider Hutch's place home? How long could he keep sleeping with Hutch, knowing what might happen?
Hutch was with a lady tonight. This could work out for him, it could! It had to. Starsky rubbed his face roughly. He left the apartment without looking back.
Hutch squeezed Belle into a parking space too small for anything else and left the little car idling. Belle was every bit as conspicuous as the Torino, he realized, as people walking up and down the strip eyed the odd foreign compact curiously. But Kelly's connection didn't notice, and that was all that mattered.
The lawyer had changed into faded bell-bottoms, running shoes—Adidas! Well, at least they're green—and a shapeless sweater that managed to take shape nicely on her. Hutch watched her warily as she walked down the street from where he'd dropped her off.
On the way, she'd confessed she was grateful for the transportation. She was a Los Angeleno who didn't drive, didn't even own a car. She said she got around fine on public transportation and hated the freeways, but Hutch had the feeling she simply couldn't afford the expense of owning a vehicle.
He concentrated on her as she walked alone, just as he would if he were on surveillance and she were another officer working undercover. Perfect date for a cop, he thought wryly. She knew, too, that he was enjoying the chance to do a little police work in spite of his suspension. For all his complaints about it, Hutch was good at what he did, and took pride in it. While it was a heartbreaking job, at least he had Starsky beside him to ease the really rough spots.
Unless Starsky was the rough spot. Like when he got shot— He moved his mind away from that, shaking it off. If he hadn't learned how to do that, the whole thing would've driven him over the edge. And Starsky wouldn't let him go over the bend. Though he came close to sending me there tonight.
Kelly had paused near a storefront whose garish banners promised amazing close-out bargains, just as it had for the last ten years. A man stepped out of the doorway and moved beside her. Hutch tensed as they walked slowly, shoulder to shoulder, up the street, talking. They slowed even more, intent on the information they were sharing. Finally, they paused at the mouth of a dark, narrow alley, then walked into it.
Oh, no you don't! Hutch thought worriedly, as he hoisted himself over Belle's door and jogged across the street dodging traffic. His hand groped for a gun that wasn't there.
Flattening himself against the wall of the alley's entrance where he couldn't be seen, he listened for voices, any indication where Kelly might've gone in the darkness. Easing around the corner of brick wall, he slipped into the alley's shadow and crept along until he finally overheard a low murmuring.
That's her. After a few minutes, soft footsteps approached, so he eased out of the alley the way he came, lounging near the mouth like the half dozen other men standing there. When Kelly emerged with her escort, the man gave her a fierce, quick hug then walked away. Kelly looked for Hutch, but only spied the empty car. Easing up beside her, he took her arm. She spun in surprise, then grinned in relief.
"You were supposed to stay in the car," she chided.
"And you were supposed to stay where I could see you," he reminded her.
She glanced around. "Let's talk in the car."
"Ready for a hot meal?" he asked.
"More than ready," she said. Checking traffic, they walked across the street casually.
She's good at this, Hutch realized. She's done it before, lots of times.
As he pulled into traffic, Kelly took a small notebook from her waistband where her sweater had hidden it. "We went into the alley so he could hand me this." She flipped through some pages, frowned, then nodded.
"What is it?" Hutch asked.
"A copy of Gunther's lawyer's itinerary for the last month," she said casually. "Looks like he's been visiting the old man pretty often."
"Well, they are appealing for bail, a grand jury, uh, a new trial, or whatever, aren't they?"
"Yeah. Still. A lot of that can be done over the phone. Not much reason to actually visit the client. It's not like they've got any new evidence that would help Gunther's case."
"Except for us," Hutch remarked sourly. "Our credibility's damaged."
"Perhaps," she allowed. She flipped through more pages, then mumbled, "This is odd."
"What?" Hutch asked, glancing over.
She closed the book. "Sorry. I'm too used to working alone, and I talk to myself—or to Buddy. Nothing for you to worry about—and some things I do need to keep confidential. Now, I'm really starved. Where are we going?"
"Well, actually," Hutch confessed, realizing what street they were on, "I guess I've been automatically driving to the Pits. That's where Starsky and I usually eat, especially when it's late. We're good friends with the owner. Unfortunately, that's also where we got drugged, so neither of us have been in it since. I guess we feel a little spooked."
"If you've got a friend there, then you need to get over that. You haven't done anything wrong. Time to start showing your faces. The Pits sounds fine—" She frowned. "Couldn't your friend have picked a better name?"
Hutch laughed and continued on course.
Huggy looked up when the bar suddenly went still. Quiet in a bar usually meant trouble. He was startled as trouble walked right on in—Hutch and his date. Huggy shook his head, pleased beyond belief that one of the two finally found the nerve to set foot in his establishment again, yet disturbed at the sight of the attractive young woman walking beside Hutch.
There were other cops in the place, four off-duty uniforms. Three of them glanced uncomfortably at one another, then threw some money on the table and walked out. The fourth argued with them for a moment, then remained, looking grim. Huggy didn't like the expression on the remaining cop's face and hoped he wouldn't make trouble. Most of the other patrons started mumbling to one another.
Time to make a presentation. Let the populace know Hutch is welcome here any time.
Draping a clean towel over his forearm, he sauntered over to the table Hutch had chosen—his and Starsky's usual—and plastered as sincere a smile on his face as he could muster. "Well, well, well! What a pleasant surprise! Detective Hutchinson, it's certainly good to see you again. And who, may I ask, is this lovely lady gracing my establishment this fine evening?"
The woman raised her eyebrows in surprise as Hutch chuckled and said, "It's good to see you, too, Huggy. This is our lawyer, K.R. Callahan. Kelly, this is our close friend, Huggy Bear Brown, owner and manager of the Pits."
She held out her hand to shake his, but Huggy took it by the fingertips and pressed a kiss to her knuckles. "It's an honor. I've heard good things about you from friends you've aided. Mi casa es su casa. What is your pleasure?"
"To find a dozen men in this world with your manners, Mr. Bear!" she said, laughing.
He shook his head. "To you, Ms. Callahan, it's Huggy. Perhaps some evening you'll wander in here without a Viking on your arm and let me explain how I got my name."
She blushed, which charmed Huggy all the more. She was neither the evil harridan nor the avenging angel he'd heard about.
"Careful, Huggy," Hutch said quietly, looking amused. "I think she can take you."
"Just makes it more interesting," Huggy told him, never taking his eyes off the lady.
"Are the specials good tonight?" Hutch asked.
"Why should tonight be any different from any other night?" Huggy shot back.
"Is that a 'yes' or a 'no'?" Hutch retorted.
Huggy looked appropriately affronted. "You're pushing your luck, Hutchinson. The Huggy-Burgers are superb. Prepared by my own hand. The fries are the lightest, most delicate—"
"Got it!" Hutch said quickly, cutting him off. "Bring 'em on."
Kelly looked concerned. "I'm sorry to be a problem, but . . . I'm a vegetarian. The fries are fine, but—"
Huggy held up a hand. "Never fear. Huggy, the creative chef, is here! I'll whip up a special special for a special lady. Can you stand to have this Neanderthal tearing into oozing flesh right in front of you? If not, I can—"
"No, that's fine," she assured him with a grin. "Hutch can have meat; it won't bother me."
"Wait a minute, Hug," Hutch said, before he could leave. "If you're going to make a vegetarian special for Kelly, I'll have the same. Starsky and I aren't eating much meat these days. It'll be better if I don't backslide now, especially since I've nagged him so much."
"Have it your way, Blondie. Between you and Starsky and your special recovery regimen, this place is turning into a veritable health emporium. I need a new motto—Eat at the Pits and enjoy the fruit from the tree of life!"
"Wasn't that the Tree of Knowledge?" Kelly wondered, eyeing Huggy suspiciously.
"I hope you're not insinuating that there are snakes in my family, my lady!" Huggy suggested in mock horror. "Beer okay for both of you?"
"I'll have tea," Kelly said.
"Tea it is," Huggy assured her. An Irishman who doesn't drink. More and more interesting.
As he left the table, he glanced back surreptitiously. The two people immediately engaged in conversation and seemed easy in each other's company. But something was missing. Hutch might as well have been talking to one of his police friends, Huggy realized. There was no spark, none of the flirtatious interest he usually showed female companions. He was warm, sure. Hutch couldn't help but be warm. But there was no interest—no sexual interest.
At least not on Hutch's side. K.R. was interested enough.
Starsky, if you were here now— Huggy thought irritably. He shook his head. Starsky had his own demons to conquer, and Huggy wondered if Starsky's rigid black-and-white view of the world would ever let him do that.
Huggy rinsed out a rarely used two-cup teapot and found some Irish tea back on a shelf. Setting the tea to steep, he put a cup and saucer with lemon slices on the bar, then poured some cream into a little pitcher. Lastly, he pulled up Hutch's beer. Long used to serving himself, Hutch came over to the bar to collect the drinks.
"Hey, big fella," Huggy said amiably, "we deliver!"
"With all that tea paraphernalia," Hutch said, grinning, "it looked a bit much for one man to handle."
"That's what trays are for," Huggy reminded him, pulling one out from behind the bar and loading the items on it. "Y'know, I could say the same for your lady friend there. Looks a bit much for one man to handle."
Hutch's brows raised in surprise. "I'm not sure I disagree with you. This was Starsky's idea. I may have bitten off more than I can chew. She's a lot of lady."
Huggy eyed Hutch, wondering how far he should go. "I have it on the best authority that she's good people, Hutch. Step lightly, will ya?"
Hutch turned a serious expression on him. "I like her a lot, Huggy. She is good people. My intentions are strictly honorable, sir!"
Huggy laughed. "That's what I'm afraid of. Hey, your partner was by this evening."
"Starsky was here? He came into the bar?"
"Not exactly. I had to meet him outside. He wanted me to find something out for him." Huggy deliberated mentioning Starsky's call from his apartment, but decided against it. "I know things aren't easy between you right now. Just remember, if you need a friend to talk to . . . ."
Hutch smiled warmly. "Who else would I go to, Huggy? Stop worrying about us. We'll be okay. We've been through worse messes."
Have you? They'd dodged death a hundred times, been through attacks, kidnappings, fire fights, and been unjustly accused of crimes. But Huggy wasn't sure they'd ever faced the kind of pressure they were under now.
"The lady's thirsty," Huggy said, lifting the tray. "And I've got a veggie special to create."
Huggy had just finished pouring the tea—lingering just long enough to charm the lady a little more—when he felt a presence beside him. It was the fourth cop who hadn't left with his friends. Not again. Not another Russo.
Hutch had looked up from his seat, and his face had gone cold, the way he usually looked when facing a suspect. "Can I do something for you, Higgins?" he asked softly.
K.R. tensed, drawing back in the seat as if to give the man room to work. Huggy noted, however, that she didn't seem afraid.
"No," the other cop said quietly, "but I thought I'd do something for you and Starsky."
"And what might that be?" Hutch asked in the same tone.
"I just wanted to let you know, Hutch, that—well, not everybody down at Parker Center feels the same way about—about what you two are going through. Some of us feel like you got a really raw deal. Your private life's your own business. They were wrong to suspend you. A couple of us have been putting pressure on the union. They ought to stand behind you on this, and instead they're kissin' the mayor's ass. It's not right." Higgins looked around as if realizing he'd raised his voice. "You're good cops. You always backed up your brothers. Some of us haven't forgotten. I wanted you and Starsky to know."
Huggy glanced at Hutch and saw the big blond groping for something to say through his surprise. Finally, he blinked himself out of it and said, "Thanks, Higgins. I'll tell Starsky. It'll mean a lot to him. It means a lot to me, too."
Higgins held out his hand and Hutch gave it a quick shake and the man left.
No one said anything for a moment, then Hutch began. "We were the first on the scene of a fire fight he and his partner had walked into a few years back. Higgins got shot pretty bad. I did first aid, while Starsky did this broken-field running thing and drew their fire. I guess Higgins still remembers that." Hutch took a sip of his beer. "Too bad his partner doesn't."
Huggy looked confused.
"His partner was one of the three who walked out when Kelly and I came in," Hutch explained, still staring at his beer.
Kelly reached over, gripped his wrist. "It took a lot for that man to come and say that. You've got to take this one victory at a time."
Hutch glanced at her and gave her a smile. "You're right." He looked at Huggy, then showed him his glass. "But even if this glass is half full, I'm gonna want another with dinner."
Huggy gave him a quick salute and went to start their meal, mentally computing just what he did have to use in a vegetarian special.
Those stairs aren't so bad when you take 'em slow, Kelly realized as they strolled up to her apartment door, still continuing the conversation they'd started at the Pits, carried on in the car, and now worked at on the long walk up. It was rare that Kelly got to discuss law with someone who knew it almost as well as she did and who wasn't trying to use his knowledge against her in court. It was like the debates she'd get into in college. It was fun. Hutch was fun.
She slipped her key in the lock while he was making his final point, and stepped into the apartment, with him right behind her. Once he had hold of an idea, he was like a bulldog, hanging on for dear life, and he was wrestling this one right into the ground.
"That's a fine argument, Hutch," she acknowledged as she went into her tiny kitchen and put her kettle on for tea. "But remember, you're looking at all that from the vantage point of theory. It shakes out a little differently when it gets put before a jury."
"Don't I know it," he complained, running a hand through his long hair.
"Can I offer you some tea?" she asked, as Buddy appeared between her ankles, making his presence known. He scowled disapprovingly at her escort. "I'm not a coffee drinker, but I might have some instant here for the volunteers."
"Tea's fine. You're not a beer drinker either. I was paying attention."
She smiled. "Alcohol never did anyone in my family any favors. I decided when I was ten that I didn't really need it in my life."
"And when did you decide to be a lawyer?" he asked, seeming genuinely interested.
"When I was nine," she said, setting up the teapot and putting cups on the counter, while trying unsuccessfully to shoo Buddy off a kitchen chair so she could sit. Finally, she shared the seat with him. Hutch sat across from her.
"Let me guess," Hutch said, perching his chin in his palm. "Someone close to you had a bad run-in with the law."
She shrugged. "Not very original, but there it is. My dad. He did a year in prison for embezzlement. I always suspected his boss's son took the money, but Dad was the bookkeeper—" She took a deep breath. "It devastated our family. But that was a long time ago. And you became a cop because . . . ." She tried to guess, unsuccessfully. "Well, it's surely not because you look good in uniform!"
He laughed. "I became a cop to help people. It was the last thing my folks wanted. They saw me as a professional, like the rest of the family. Dr. Hutchinson, or something. Funny, but these last few years I haven't felt like I've been helping people very much. If it weren't for Starsky, I don't know that I'd still be doing it."
Right on time, she thought wryly. Are you afraid that if you don't say his name at least every five minutes, he won't exist anymore?
He was looking at her oddly. "I said something wrong just then, didn't I?"
"No, not wrong," she reassured him quickly. She must be tired if she was letting things show on her face so easily. "It's just—" She needed to ask him, needed to hear him say it. She had the right, after all, he had asked her out. Under false pretenses? She had trouble believing that; he was one of the most guileless men she'd ever met. And she really liked him. And he likes you, Kelly, that's obvious. He'd be your best friend—if that's what you wanted from him.
She wet her suddenly dry mouth, just as Buddy crawled into her lap deliberately to keep himself between her and his competition. She stroked the cat, then deposited him gently on the floor and moved over to the boiling kettle.
She poured water over the loose tea in the pot, then replaced the lid and covered the pot with a cozy. Turning back to him, she asked simply, "Hutch. I'm sorry to be so blunt, but I really need to know. What's the situation between you and your partner?"
He eased back in the chair, and the knot between his brows deepened. "The situation?" He gave a short laugh. "I thought we discussed this in the diner. In all honesty, Kelly, I'm not sure what you want me to say."
"Just the truth. I mean—I spend most of my time with men who love other men. My evenings with them are a lot like this one's been. We have fabulous conversations, discuss art, culture, law. I have a wonderful time with them and look forward to those 'dates' even though those men will never see me as a woman. Still, they care about me, even love me. They can be fiercely protective and my very best friends. I would never think less of them . . . ." She trailed off. "I've had a really fun time with you tonight, but—you're no more interested in me as a woman than those men are. You weren't at lunch today, and you aren't now. So, forgive me if I'm curious, but I can't figure out why you asked me out."
"I was afraid Huggy had blown my cover," he admitted ruefully. "In comparison to his colorful 'Lothario' routine, I'm afraid I came off pretty cool. I guess I wasn't being very honest either, with you, or myself. Don't misunderstand, Kelly. I do care about you. You're a hell of a woman, but—" He stood up restlessly, and held out his hands as if he had no idea how he'd come to be here like this. "In the last few days my whole life's been turned upside down and I don't know which end is up anymore. And my partner thinks that if we just act like everything's normal it will be again, just by wishing it."
"So, you asked me out to make him happy?" Her brows lifted in surprise.
"Don't be mad, Kelly. I know it sounds nuts, but it made a weird kind of sense at the time . . . ."
She nodded, amused in spite of herself. "Your partner's got a form of logic all his own. I'm not mad." She held his gaze, wanting the rest of it. "Hutch. Are you in love with him?"
His expression fell, a shadow of fear, regret, and longing all competing for dominance in his eyes. Meeting her gaze, he murmured, "Yes."
"Is he in love with you?" she asked softly, hating to push but needing to know.
His expression changed, coalescing into a blankness that said one thing to her—loss. "No."
"Are you sure?"
He laughed sarcastically, a snort of bitterness. "Oh, I'm sure. I mean—Starsky loves me. We've been partners for years. We came up through the Academy together. We were best friends the first week, were making plans to work together as partners after the first month. We've never been afraid to say we loved each other. But after Starsky got shot—everything changed for me, even if I wouldn't let myself realize it. It was too scary. We would've gone on the same old way, I guess, forever. But then we were drugged. You know the rest."
"And you're sure he doesn't feel the same way, even after—"
Hutch shook his head. "You don't understand. He doesn't remember that night. I do. Every minute. Everything we said. Everything we felt. But it never happened for him. And I'm stuck with it. The memories. The feelings. He's still my best friend, still loves me, but— To make matters worse, this is the second time one of his closest friends turned out to be—something he never expected. He's been incredibly patient, understanding, giving. But what I want from him—it's just not there. And he's convinced that if I just act like nothing's happened between us, including asking out friendly women, that it'll all go away."
"That can't be easy on you," she said, pouring tea for them both. "Cream? Lemon?"
"Cream, please. Well, it could be a helluva lot harder. He might not be speaking to me at all. He's still my partner. Still Starsky. And I know he still loves me. That counts for a lot."
She looked at him and stopped herself from expressing the doubt she really felt.
Hutch stirred sugar into the tea and glanced at her guiltily. "You should be really pissed."
"Oh, yeah?" she asked, smiling, sitting back down in the chair. "Well, maybe I can afford to be gracious because I've got my own ulterior motives to be honest about."
"Don't tell me you're really a lawyer after all!" Hutch chided, his smile lighting up his woebegone expression.
"You're sure he's not in love with you?" she pressed. "You're not just saying that to protect him?"
"Starsky doesn't need me to protect him; he does well enough on his own. You don't know him, Kelly. This has really thrown him, my 'changing' on him the way I have. The whole thing is so alien to him, so bizarre. If I'd developed schizophrenia, or-or grown another head, I think he could understand it easier. What has this got to do with your ulterior motives?"
She sipped the tea and considered her words. She liked Hutch. She didn't want to hurt him. "How would you feel if—if I asked him out?"
To her surprise, he threw back his head and laughed softly. "I told him you were interested in him and he didn't believe me. If you ask him out I'll get to rub his nose in it! You'll be doing me a favor!"
"Will I?" she asked bluntly, not really believing his lovely bravado.
"Yeah, really, you will," he insisted. "Starsky's never going to roll over one morning and fall in love with me. And I want more than anything not to damage our friendship. If you ask him out, if he goes with you, it'll take some of the pressure off us, Kelly. It's one of the reasons I went with his wishes and asked you out, to give him that breathing room. To show him I was willing to try."
She shook her head, wanting to believe him, but still doubting. "I really like you; I want to be your friend, too. I don't want to do something that could hurt you. It's not worth that to me."
He slid his big hand over her small one and gave it a squeeze. "We are friends, Kelly. We've become friends tonight. So, our date's been a success. And our friendship will make this easier for me. It's going to happen sooner or later. Better with someone I trust, someone I think is worth it, than some strange woman who might not have his best interests at heart. It'll help, Kelly, honest. The fact that you cared enough to ask helps, too." He leaned across the table and kissed her forehead like a brother.
She sighed, torn between her interest in Dave Starsky, and the chance that something she might do might hurt the vulnerable man with her now. "I know male lawyers that go out with their female clients all the time, but I always wondered about the ethics of it. With my usual clientele, I assumed it would never be a problem for me. It certainly complicates things. I may think about this for awhile before I act on it."
Hutch looked thoughtful. "Don't wait too long, or Starsky might beat you to the punch."
"Hmm," she murmured thoughtfully. "I'd rather have the mental advantage of asking first. I get the feeling he's quite a handful."
Hutch's smile was wry. "Oh, yeah. You can say that again!"Everybody's got a hunger,
A hunger they can't resist,
There's so much that you want,
You deserve much more than this,
But if dreams came true, oh, wouldn't that be nice,
But this ain't no dream we're living through tonight,
Girl, you want it, you take it, you pay the price.
< span style="font-size:12.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-ansi-language:EN-US;mso-fareast-language: EN-US;mso-bidi-language:AR-SA"> Prove It All Night—Bruce Springsteen