Chapter 11

Feelin' down'n dirty
Feelin' kinda mean
I've been from one to another extreme
Fill my eyes with that double vision
Ooh, when you get through to me
It's always new to me
That double vision always seems to get the best of me
      
      Double Vision—Foreigner

      As he set down a plate and steaming cup on the night table, Starsky watched Hutch stir. His long body began a slow stretch that seemed to fill every inch of the generous mattress.

      Like a big, tawny cat, Starsky thought, smiling affectionately as Hutch woke slowly, blinking drowsily. No, not a cat. You're waking like a well-satisfied man. I'm glad for that.

      He'd been up for an hour, and had risen feeling wonderful, the way he always did after a night of great sex. That's a wonderful gift to give someone. I hope I gave you that much, at least. Even if it wasn't as good as what you gave me. 

      After locating his pajama bottoms, discarded on the floor, Starsky had made them breakfast—quietly this time, so as not to wake Hutch. He wanted to surprise him, give him this small gift.

      Starsky pulled a chair up to the side of the bed nearest Hutch as he rolled, getting reoriented as to time and place.

      And situation, Starsky thought. Before the night was over, you'd wrapped yourself around me again. Protecting me from my own night terrors. And with you there, they stayed away. Did I keep yours at bay, too? I hope so. I can't give you much, Hutch, not nearly what you deserve. But I'll give you what I can. And I'll do everything in my power to stop hurtin' you. It's the least I can do for my best friend.

      "That for me?" Hutch asked sleepily, pushing himself up. He shoved the pillows behind his back and arranged the sheets carefully to keep himself covered. Peering into his plate, his brow furrowed. He still wasn't quite awake.

      "Yep," Starsky assured him. "That's the breakfast in bed I promised you yesterday that you got cheated out of. Same meal. Fresh. Sliced and diced by my own widdle hands."

      Hutch smiled shyly. Starsky's plate was on his lap, as he propped his heels up on the bed and sat back in the chair to eat. He noticed Hutch said nothing about his sitting in the chair, instead of joining him in bed. But Starsky needed a little distance in the light of day, and Hutch seemed willing to grant him that.

      "Hey," Hutch said, his voice clearer after taking a sip of coffee, "this isn't bad! My spoon doesn't even stand up in it."

      "Thought I'd take mercy on ya," Starsky said, smiling amiably. "'Sides, I couldn't afford to risk your health, seein' as how I'll be needing you for back-up tonight at the Parrot."

      Hutch laughed lightly and dug into his meal.

      Starsky thoughtfully chewed his bagel and wondered when he should discuss what he'd decided. Maybe he shouldn't say anything, just act on it. No. He knew Hutch. If he didn't say anything, Hutch would maneuver things to go the way he thought they should. Like I did yesterday. How come we hurt each other the most when we're trying to do the opposite?

      No time like the present. "I've been thinking . . . ." Starsky murmured after swallowing.

      Hutch's jaw froze in mid-chew and a suspicious look darkened his eyes. Finally, he downed the food. "Why is it whenever you utter those fateful words in that tone I want to run?"

      Starsky narrowed his eyes. " . . . About what we were talking about last night. About Callahan and me. And I've decided if she should happen to, you know, ask me out—well, I'm not gonna go. I don't think I should. I don't think—"

      "Don't do that, Starsk," Hutch said, frowning. "It reeks of pity. I told you I was okay with it. I meant that. I'm at peace with it."

      I thought he'd be happy, Starsky thought, exasperated. He sat back in the chair. "Hutch, be realistic. How am I supposed to handle going from your bed to hers? How am I supposed to believe it won't hurt you?"

      Hutch looked away for a minute, then turned back. "If you don't take advantage of this, in two months time—especially if we're not back on the force working as cops—I'll represent everything that's gone wrong with your life. My desire for you will grow so sour you'll hate me. I don't want that, Starsk. I know you're trying to spare me, but it'll end up doing just the opposite."

      Starsky sighed. He should've known it would go like this. When was the last time he'd decided anything that was for Hutch's own good that he didn't argue him into the ground about it?

      I should have known it this morning, in the bathroom, when I found those purple marks you put on my hips. I knew then it would be wrong for me to go with Callahan. You love me. You marked me with your love, I'm wearing the truth of it on my body. How am I supposed to go to her—or any woman—now? Why won't you listen to me? It was time to fight dirty.

      "Hutch, we promised each other after Kira that we'd never let a woman get between us again. We promised!"

      "It's not the same thing," Hutch insisted. "Kelly's not Kira, she's not even the same species. And we're smarter than we were then. We've learned from our mistakes."

      Have we? Callahan couldn't be Kira in this situation. If anything, you're the one in the middle now. And I don't like you being there. 

      "Hutch, I don't think this is a good idea . . . ."

      "If—if . . . " Hutch caught himself stuttering and shook his head as if he could get a grip on his betraying tongue, "When Kelly asks you out, I want you to go. In the long run, it'll be better for both of us. I've thought about this a lot, Starsky. You've got to trust me."

      Starsky looked down. He couldn't stand it when Hutch got philosophical on him. Like you don't have the same heart the rest of us have.

      "You want to do something for me?" Hutch asked softly.

      Starsky turned back to him. Hutch's eyes were sparkling in the morning light, iceberg blue and beautiful. Ask me anything. Just make all this pain and confusion go away, will ya?

      "When Kelly asks you out, when you go—stay there that night, okay? I-I . . . I don't think I could handle that, your going to bed with her, and then coming back here to sleep with me. So, just stay there. I'll be fine after a good night's sleep. Everything always looks brighter in the morning anyway, right?"

      Starsky's eyes were burning. He blinked and nodded. "Sure. Sure, that's easy. I can do that." Makes sense. 'Cause you'd be able to tell exactly how things went with us. You can recognize when I've been destroyed by a lover, when I'm totally satisfied. You know all the signs.

      "Well, I'm glad we've got that worked out," Hutch said with false cheerfulness. "Will you help me study today?"

      Starsky blinked, confused. "Study . . . ?"

      "The recipes for mixed drinks. I haven't played bartender since my college frat days. I thought I'd go over the bartender's guide and refresh my memory. You can test me."

      Starsky snorted and finished his sliced apples. "Look, all you need is the ingredients for every silly girl drink you ever heard of, two tons of sliced fruit, a bunch of fancy straws, and them little paper umbrellas. You'll do just fine."

      Hutch glowered at him. "I can see this is going to be a long night."

      "Oh, Sugar!" Trixie breathed expectantly, "It's gon' be a long night!" The dancer, in complete drag, sequined gown and all, poked her boss and nodded toward the door.

      Sugar—resplendent, she thought, in full Marilyn drag—turned away from the bar to see what just walked in. She blinked, slightly dazed.

      Hadn't she just seen them yesterday in those same outfits?

      Well, technically yes. But now they were both wearing shades and boots instead of the running shoes they'd had on yesterday. The boots helped, of course, especially for Starsky, as did the shades. Sunglasses made Hutch seem more aloof, with that cool blond repression, all that beauty ever out of reach.

      But Starsky . . . . The shades gave him an aura of menace that, coupled with the leather pants and boots and the bullet-scarred jacket, was almost palpable. But there was something else, something more. As they sauntered shoulder-to-shoulder with a casual grace, Trixie put her overly-long manicured nail right on it.

      "I thought you said they weren't lovers!" the black dancer hissed.

      Sugar hesitated. "They aren't. I thought. I think. I . . . ." She couldn't take her eyes off them. The cavalier body contact, dark arm brushing light arm, the lack of personal space . . . . They moved around a table, and Starsky instinctively touched the small of Hutch's back to guide him. A different table, and Hutch took his turn putting his hand on the middle of Starsky's back. Neither of them took notice of the intimate gestures. Under the shades, she could see them glance at one another, their eyes speaking.

      "Sugar," Trixie whispered, "you said . . . "

      "Let me put it this way," Sugar said snappishly, "if I were you, I wouldn't go patting Curly's ass the way I know you're dying to. His blond might rearrange all that expensive bridge work you've just had completed."

      "But you said . . . !"

      "Look, they're cops. Partners. It's a different kind of relationship . . . " she stammered, not knowing what to think, what to make of the pair.

      "What is?" Starsky asked as he and Hutch flanked her, one on each side.

      "What's a different kind of relationship?" Hutch asked, a beat behind his partner.

      One side of her smile turned up in calculated coyness. "Cops. Partners. I was trying to explain it to Trixie here."

      "That's Trixie?" Starsky's eyes widened behind the shades. He eyed the tall, spectacularly dressed and made-up dancer blatantly.

      Trixie glowed under his attention, sashaying her narrow hips for his benefit. Her dancer's outfit didn't leave much to the imagination and Trixie, of all the dancers, made a beautiful woman. How the bitch managed to get her skinny boy's chest all pushed up and out to make an actual bosom Sugar would love to know.

      "Wanna ask me how I got my name, handsome?" Trixie asked, batting her lashes.

      "I'm afraid to," Starsky said, stunned.

      Trixie giggled and blew him a kiss.

      Hutch smiled benignly. "All right, ladies, we're here. We're on time. What's next?"

      Sugar pulled her attention back to the work at hand. She tried not to think about all that magnificent blondness behind the bar all night, or the dark mystery prowling the floors. Who the hell would be looking at the dancers? "I've got your tax forms right here, boys. If you'll make them all nice and legal so Uncle Sam can get his . . . ."

      Hutch pulled off his shades to fill out the form, but not Starsky. Apparently, the jacket wasn't enough armor for him.

      Once the paperwork was finished and filed, Sugar led Hutch behind the bar and gave him a tour of what was what and where was where.

      "Roger and Kevin will be working on either side of you, since you're new. If you're asked for something you've never made before, it's okay to ask the customer how it's made, or get one of the other bartenders to make it."

      He nodded, giving her serious attention, while Starsky leaned his back against the bar with the taut grace of a panther.

      "'Sides," Trixie added, "all you really have to remember is where the sliced fruit, fancy straws, and little paper umbrellas are, and you'll be fine."

      Starsky smirked broadly at Hutch who just gave him a disapproving glower.

      "You guys look great in leather!" Trixie gushed, unable to contain herself any longer.

      Sugar rolled her eyes in annoyance as Hutch blushed and stammered, "Uh . . . why, thanks . . . ." She waited for him to scuff his toe to complete the Midwesterner-off-the-bus routine, but instead, he glanced nervously at his partner.

      Starsky snorted. "May as well be in leather. For that gen-u-wine slab-o'-meat experience."

      Trixie pouted.

      "Don't like it much, do you?" Sugar snapped, unable to stop her mouth. "Being displayed like a piece of meat? Well, maybe now you'll have a little more sympathy for the way women feel when you examine them like a horse at auction."

      Starsky grinned, enjoying the verbal fencing. "Hey, I never checked a girl's teeth in my life! And I find it ironic that you think workin' here is gonna help improve my technique with women."

      "It's just a thought, darlin'," Sugar told him. "Don't let it bang around under those pretty curls all by itself now."

      Hutch chuckled as Starsky frowned.

      "Anytime you want to work on your technique with women, darlin'," Trixie told Starsky in that little breathy voice she cultivated when she was in drag, "you come see Trixie. She'll help you with that. Oh, yes, she will."

      Hutch grinned. "Be grateful, Starsk. God knows you can use all the help you can get."

      Starsky looked like he might want to strangle Hutch, and Sugar found herself totally confused. What is going on with these two studs? Are they, or aren't they? Could they be so closeted, even they don't know? Something's going on . . . and Momma Sugar's gonna get to the bottom of it.

      But then it was time to open and customers started trickling in. 

      Trickling being the operative word, Sugar thought irritably as she glanced out at the wide-open bar around eight that night. She knew there might be problems with having cops working the place, but she really thought curiosity would bring in enough trade to make it worthwhile.

      She came out from behind the stage curtain and moved to the bar. Hutch's area was deserted. He was leaning against the supply cabinets, keeping an eye out for his non-existent customers. Sugar shook her head. She couldn't see Starsky at the moment. Maybe this would be a good time to dish some dirt with the new boy.

      She sidled over to the middle of the bar and planted herself on a stool. Hutch had the grace to smile. When she produced a cigarette in a long holder, he lit it for her without prompting.

      "What'll it be, ma'am?" he offered in that sultry voice. She wondered if he sang.

      "Now, there's an opening line," Sugar said, batting her lashes.

      He laughed. "Okay. What'll it be to drink, ma'am."

      "You make me feel like a school marm with that 'ma'am' stuff. Let me have a Chivas, neat."

      "Before the eight-thirty show?" he asked playfully. "You think that's a good idea?"

      "Mama knows best, darlin'. Besides, it's my bar." She tapped a fingernail on the bar, and he produced the drink. "Very nice."

      "Is it always this quiet on a Thursday?" He leaned toward her, elbows on the bar.

      She looked at him directly. "Never. I'm a little surprised."

      "Sure you can afford this . . . gesture?" He spoke quietly, earnestly.

      "I can't afford anything else," she assured him. "If we don't support you who will?"

      He shrugged. "It's not your problem . . . ."

      "It's every gay's problem. What's happening to you has happened or will happen to us sooner or later. If we don't support ourselves . . . ." She saw the opening, and took it. "Of course . . . we're straddling the fence with you two. It's bad enough you're cops, but . . . ."

      "We're also straight, huh?" He didn't look at her when he said that.

      "There's been some debate about that backstage," Sugar admitted. "Wishful thinking on the dancers' part, but don't be surprised if you get a few phone numbers tucked in your tips."

      He laughed good-naturedly. "Starsky, too?"

      Very non-committal. Hmmm. "He's too intimidating. If he wants to pretend he's straight, I don't think anyone will argue with him."

      Hutch seemed surprised. "You think he's pretending?"

      "I've seen plenty of macho boys like him, honey. They're the ones who are in the closet so deep they can't even find themselves."

      Hutch suddenly colored, and was about to say something, when Starsky appeared as if from nowhere. Ignoring Sugar, he leaned over the bar to get Hutch's attention. It seemed urgent.

      Hutch glanced at Sugar apologetically. "What is it, Starsk?"

      "We've gotta find another place to go to the bathroom," Starsky hissed. He was coiled like a rattler, hands balled into fists, every muscle taut.

      Really lovely, Sugar realized, eyes raking over the man as he leaned toward his partner.

      "What are you talking about?" Hutch asked in a weary tone.

      "We sure can't use the bathroom here!" Starsky insisted.

      Hutch closed his eyes tiredly. "First off, none of the businesses on either side of the Parrot are going to let you use their bathroom, especially as often as you need to. Secondly, you've got the weakest bladder in all of LA. You'd never make it to another facility. What's the problem with the bathrooms here? There's six of them. Surely, one of them would suit you."

      Sugar started to laugh, which only made Starsky glower at her. "Oh, there's six bathrooms, darlin', but they've all got queers in them. Isn't that right, Starsky?"

      Grinding his teeth, he glared at her. "I don't care that they got . . . queers in 'em. What I care about is that I be allowed to use the facilities without any help!" He appealed to his partner. "It's not safe, Hutch! There's more action in the johns here than in the local No-Tell Motel!"

      Hutch sighed. "Want me to come with you, Starsk, and watch your back?"

      Now, that, Sugar thought, eyeing Starsky's sleek spine, sounds like a job I could handle!

      "That's not the only part that needs watching, though that would be a start." He jabbed a thumb in Hutch's direction and said to Sugar, "Big joke. He's got a twelve-hour bladder."

      Sugar had to laugh, and Hutch joined her.

      "And another thing," Starsky continued, "just what is the big deal about bowed legs?"

      Sugar almost snorted her Chivas. Maybe Starsky should use another bathroom. She dabbed at her lips with a paper napkin, careful not to disturb her makeup.

      "If I hear one more crack about my damn bowed legs . . . ."

      "Calm down, Starsk," Hutch soothed him. "I'm sure the guys are just hazing you 'cause you're new. Remember when we were new in uniform? Come on. It can't be that bad."

      Starsky gave him a look. "Hutch. When we were new in uniform, not one single senior cop ever got on his knees in the john and offered to blow me while I was takin' a leak."

      "Too bad," Sugar purred. "It would give a whole new meaning to, 'To Serve and Protect'."

      "Ha-ha!" Starsky said with no amusement. He waggled a finger at Hutch. "You just wait 'til you need to go. See if I have any sympathy for you!" And off he stormed to prowl the abnormally quiet floors of his domain.

      "Is he always this intense?" Sugar asked.

      "You think that's intense?" Hutch said, as the bullet-riddled jacket disappeared. "You haven't seen intense. That's just a little anxious."

      Sugar perched her chin on her palm. She was tired of beating around the bush. "So, are you sleeping with him, or what?"

      Hutch colored brilliantly, but whether it was embarrassment or anger she couldn't judge. Jaw set, he stared at her. "That's not a fair question."

      She raised an eyebrow. "What's not fair about it? A simple yes or no would . . . ."

      "No, it wouldn't. Where I'm sleeping and who I'm sleeping with has nothing to do with what I'm doing if all I'm doing is sleeping. But if I say it's none of your business—"

      "Which it's not," she conceded graciously.

      "You'll assume—"

      "—That you are sleeping together. And I'll assume you're doing more than sleeping. And if you say 'no,' I get to decide how good a liar you are. You're right. It's not a fair question."

      He nodded, pleased that she agreed.

      "So, are you sleeping with him, or what?" she asked again.

      His eyes widened.

      She held up a hand before he started sputtering. "Get used to it, darlin'. You're working in a gay bar. That is the question, the only question, anyone here cares about. Who's sleeping with whom. If you're sleeping with him, it would take some pressure off him—but not much. He's too cute. If you're sleeping with him, it might take some pressure off you, too. Everyone here knows you've had a taste. Sometimes straight guys like to walk on the wild side. We all know that. They usually walk on the wild side with us, 'til they lose interest or the right lady comes along. It's a fact of life. So, are you sleeping with him?"

      He was flustered, completely speechless.

      So, you're a lousy liar, but you don't trust me enough to tell me the truth.

      "Whether we're sleeping together or not is hardly the issue," he prevaricated. "Technically, Starsky and I have been sleeping together since he got shot last year. It was safer for us to be together with the constant threat to our lives . . . ." He trailed off, realizing Sugar wasn't buying it.

      I've really put him in a spot. He's carrying something heavy, with no one to share it with. She took a leisurely drag off her cigarette. Glancing around, she found Starsky perched by the door, checking I.D.'s. As soon as he was done, his eyes moved back to the bar, to Hutch. And Hutch was ever aware of the scrutiny. His gaze traveled just as automatically to his partner.

      "I'm sorry," she said honestly. "I didn't mean to . . . . Well, maybe I did. You two are the most interesting pair we've had in here in a while." She pointed to two women off in a corner. "That's Dale and Letitia. Letitia's been married for ten years. Tuesday and Thursday are her nights out with the girls. Have been for all those ten years. She and Dale have been 'together' all that time."

      Hutch blinked. "Isn't that kind of hard on Dale, when she has to go home alone?"

      "She doesn't go home alone on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Letitia goes home with her, and doesn't go back to her husband until the sun rises. He asks no questions. Those two guys in the corner?" Two average looking men were hunkered together over a small table, foreheads nearly touching in intimate communication. "That's Jim and Larry. Larry's been married twenty years. Jim's been married thirteen. They're in here together two or three nights a week. Sometimes they spend the night at the St. Francis—their wives prefer they do that rather than drive home drunk."

      "Their wives ask no questions?" he asked.

      Sugar shrugged. "Hard to say. They seem happy in their family pictures. They both have kids. They love their wives. But they're really in love with each other. This works for them. Everyone in here has a story. Yours and the Dark One's is a bit more complicated, but . . . . It's just another soap opera around here."

      "Well," Hutch said, withdrawing slightly, "it's my soap opera. I'm not used to spilling my guts in a bar—not even to a lovely lady. I'm a cop, Sugar. I'm used to people spilling their guts to me."

      She nodded, understanding. "Good experience then, for a bartender."

      Suddenly, Starsky appeared again. He seemed just as coiled, but this time he was wearing a little grin. "Hey, Hutch."

      "Now, what?"

      "A lady upstairs just told me a joke!"

      Hutch looked interested. "A lady?"

      "A dyke," Sugar interjected.

      Starsky winced. "Do you have to call her that?" He looked at Hutch plaintively. "That's what she called herself. Where I come from that's the worse thing you could call a woman! But she said it just like you did, Sugar. Like it was something to be proud of."

      "Why isn't it?" Sugar asked. "Dykes, gays, queers, lesbians, faggots, cocksuckers . . . . That's what the world calls us. If we use the words, find pride in them, we take the power away from them and use it for ourselves."

      Starsky shook his head. "I don't think I could ever use them with pride—but I guess I better think it over some more."

      Her surprise must've shown on her face.

      "I'm stuck with 'em, too, ain't I?" he said.

      She waved her cigarette hand languidly, conceding the point. It would be hard to look at Starsky and think queer, faggot—cocksucker? No, she couldn't imagine it. The blond maybe, but this barnyard rooster?

      "So, what's the joke?" Hutch said, bringing Starsky back to the point.

      "Oh. Yeah! How can you tell when you're in a lesbian bar?" Starsky grinned.

      "I don't know, Starsk. How can you tell when you're in a lesbian bar?" Hutch was enjoying this. He was smiling, relaxed, his eyes shining as he watched Starsky's merriment.

      "The pool tables have no balls." Starsky smiled at his partner, who laughed lightly, then gently punched him on the arm.

      "Good one, Starsk."

      "The lady was cool when she told it to me, Hutch," Starsky explained. "She didn't even get mad when I laughed."

      "Where was this?" Hutch asked.

      "In the punk bar, upstairs," Starsky explained. "You shoulda seen her. She had a crewcut and a safety pin through her ear. But she was laughing and cutting up so much, she made me laugh, too. She was real people. Said her name was 'Spike.' Well, I better get back to the door. See ya, Sugar."

      And he was gone, taking all his contradictory reactions with him. Sugar watched his rear switching away and sighed. "Me," she said wistfully, "I couldn't sleep with that and not go after it. I couldn't last a night. If you can, then you're straighter than I thought, blondie."

      He colored violently but said not a word.

      Sugar stared at him for a moment, then said, "Be careful, Hutch. Fooling around is fine if you're straight. But if you fall in love, all bets are off. And that one's got 'heart-breaker' written all over him." Before he could argue the point, she slid off the stool. "Gotta freshen up for the eight-thirty show. See you later, handsome."

      By midnight, business had improved. Starsky was moderately busy on the door. A few people were sitting at Hutch's part of the bar, but compared to the other bartenders' sections, it was still pretty bare. Starsky wondered if Hutch was feeling hurt at all by the patrons deliberately avoiding him, or if he didn't care. It was hard to tell when the blintz was wearing all that cool Hutchinson armor like he was now. Starsky envied him that ability. Hutch could freeze out the devil himself when he wanted to.

      Starsky was checking ID's when he did a double take at a man who walked up to him.

      "Gonna card me, Starsky, or will you assume the Academy doesn't graduate underage cops?" It was Tomas Diega, the rookie detective who was being trained by Russo and Wilson.

      Starsky reached inside himself to find some of that Hutchinson cool, but as usual, it deserted him when he needed it most. His stomach tightened, and every muscle went taut. "What do you want, Diega?"

      "A beer, Starsky. Just a beer."

      Starsky growled through his teeth as he leaned threateningly toward the man. "Russo send you to check up on us? Gonna make a complete report?"

      Tomas smiled gently, keeping his voice low. "As a matter of fact, Russo and Wilson did send me. But how 'bout we take this inside, huh?" He started to walk into the bar.

      Without thinking, Starsky's arm shot out to block his way. "We've got the right to refuse service to anyone. What are you doin' here?"

      Tomas' dark eyes were liquid in the streetlights as they looked at the arm obstructing his way, then back to the hostile eyes glaring at him. "Starsky. Let me in. You won't regret it. I've got something for you and Hutch."

      "Like a subpoena?"

      He stood his ground. "Nothing legal. I can't show it here. They're watching us, amigo."

      Starsky froze. "Russo?"

      "And Wilson. Let me in. Wait a few minutes, then follow me."

      Starsky paused, weighing his options, then finally dropped his arm and jerked a thumb over his shoulder, indicating Tomas should enter.

      His eyes scanned the street, finally lighting on a nondescript Ford sedan a block away that had two shadows in it. He kept his eyes away from it after that. When no more patrons showed up after a few minutes, he left the door.

      He didn't have to search for Tomas. He was quite conspicuous, standing in the middle of Hutch's section of the bar. As Starsky approached, he realized Tomas was chatting with a couple of guys to his left. Then he realized he was chatting in Spanish. Then he realized . . . .

      Those guys know him. They called him by name. He wasn't in here long enough to make friends that fast.

      Before he could work it all out, Trixie appeared from behind the stage curtain. She shrieked theatrically, "Oh, Tomas, querido!" and flung herself down the steps and across the floor until her sequined platform shoes had minced double-time all the way to Tomas' side. He grabbed up the dancer and swung her around, kissing her blatantly.

      Around the reuniting couple, Starsky and Hutch exchanged looks of sheer amazement.

      Once Tomas settled the tall black dancer back on her feet, Trixie leaned toward Starsky. "You look surprised, honey!"

      Before he could answer, Hutch said quietly, "Starsky. Your jaw. Close it."

      He did with a snap, then narrowed his eyes at Hutch. Like you ain't shocked shitless, Mr. Cool!

      "These hard-ass cops aren't giving you any trouble, are they, querida?" Tomas asked the dancer, sending her into a fit of giggles.

      "More like the other way around," Starsky grumbled.

      "Trixie," Tomas said threateningly to his lover, "you better behave yourself. These are my brother cops. They'll tell on you."

      Trixie pouted, then blatantly blew Starsky a kiss. "I just wanted your brothers to feel at home, honey!" She giggled some more when Tomas slapped her lush ass.

      Then he released her and reached into an inside pocket. "I can't stay too long," Tomas said as he dug out some small rectangular objects and dropped them on the bar. They were Polaroids, about a dozen. Hutch picked them up, thumbed through them. A funny look crossed his face as he started handing them over to Starsky.

      It didn't take long for Starsky to realize what he was seeing. It was the police locker room. His and Hutch's lockers were still emblazoned with the epithets, Faggot and Cocksucker in blazing red. But on Russo's locker, the one beside Starsky's, there was also a message. It read, Shakes Down Whores. Another locker—Starsky wasn't exactly sure whose it was—read, Bigot. Another read, Takes Graft. Another read, Gambler. Another, Brutalizes Minorities. Others: Lazy Cop, Sellout, Liar. Starsky flipped through the pictures. Not all the lockers were victimized, but many were. His and Hutch's were lost amid the accusations.

      "What's all this?" Starsky asked Tomas, still unsure of what he was seeing.

      "Just another in a series of vandalism problems we've been having in the police locker room," Tomas said nonchalantly. "Dobey's having a fit. He's ordered the lockers repainted, and he swears if one more piece of graffiti shows up, he's having the place dusted for prints."

      "You, uh," Hutch muttered, "you wouldn't know anything about this, would you?"

      Tomas shrugged. "I haven't been a detective long enough to make value judgments of my brother officers, Detective Hutchinson. Though, rumor has it there is a small, but vocal, coalition of officers who have protested your suspension. Dobey said there wasn't enough evidence to accuse anyone of the vandalism—either the original vandalism or this latest attack."

      "Russo must've had a cow," Starsky said, staring at the big man's locker. "He's been shaking down prostitutes for years and everybody knows it, but to see it right there . . . ."

      "Yeah," Tomas agreed. "It's real different when someone writes the truth all over your locker, ain't it, bro'?"

      Starsky looked at him. "Tomas, you . . . you're . . . ?"

      "Marišon, Detective Starsky," he confirmed. "And no, neither Wilson nor Russo have a clue. They sent me here to see how things were going for you. I protested enough, but I can't stay long. What do you want me to tell them, amigo?"

      The partners glanced at each other, at a loss.

      "Oh, honey!" Trixie said, "Tell them the truth! They never expect that." As Starsky wondered what Trixie's version of the truth might be, she said, "Just tell them Hutch is workin' the bar, and Starsky's the bouncer, and that everyone's scared to death of 'em!"

      Starsky started to smile. It was the truth, and it would let Russo and Wilson think they weren't fitting in here, they weren't succeeding. He nodded at Tomas. "She's right. Tell 'em the truth. Hutch?"

      He nodded. "Are they watching the place every night?"

      "In between other stuff," Tomas assured them. "They're not the only ones. But some of the guys cruising by—you should excuse the expression—are on your side. Like Higgins, and Linda Baylor and her partner. But the situation at Parker is tense. Everyone's coming down on one side or the other. It's a divided camp, and Dobey's desperate attempt at maintaining neutrality isn't helping. He's caught in the middle." He kissed Trixie on the cheek, then let her go. "I've got to get back. It wouldn't be a bad idea, Starsky, if you 'escorted' me out."

      "I can do that," he agreed.

      Tomas pointed a finger at Hutch. "Keep my special girl out of trouble, Hutch."

      "Me?" Hutch looked shocked.

      "What?" Tomas said, nodding at Starsky. "You think I'd trust him?"

      Starsky felt himself coloring under the good-natured jibing and scowled at Hutch and Diega. Giving Tomas a gentle shove toward the door, he grumbled, "Ain't it time for you to go?"

      Once they got in the street, Starsky moved right into Tomas' private space, going nose-to-nose with him, poking his chest, just to make things look good to Wilson and Russo.

      Tomas seemed a bit surprised by the aggressive move, as Starsky said quietly, "Watch your rear, man. You've got no back-up playin' this game. And Russo can maneuver you into something dangerous, so you'll take the bullet, and he can't be touched."

      "You're pretty worried about a faggot," Tomas said quietly, "aren't you, Starsky?"

      "I'm worried about a brother cop, Tomas," Starsky told him. "Let's leave religion out of it."

      Tomas backed off, nodding, then headed for the Ford as Starsky slipped back inside.

      Diega's gay! Starsky marveled, thinking of him spinning Trixie around the floor. He's not just in love with another guy, he's in love with a drag queen! And I'm losing all this sleep worrying about Hutch!

      Watching surreptitiously from behind his dark shades, he saw Tomas climb into Russo's sedan. As the car moved into traffic, Starsky turned to peer into the bar. There was suddenly a thicker crowd at Hutch's part of the bar. His partner was busy for the first time that night.

      He's so focused on the job, Starsky realized. Doesn't matter whether it's being a cop or making a drink. Whatever he's gotta do, he focuses everything on it. 

      He had a sudden, startling memory of the care Hutch lavished on him last night, how intent he was on Starsky's needs, Starsky's pain. Hutch was moving like a dancer, his sometimes-clumsy body pivoting gracefully, reaching for bottles high on their shelves, pouring and mixing liquor in a smooth, practiced way.

      He's beautiful, Starsky thought, and felt his cock nod lazily in agreement.

      "Do you need to card me, too, David?"

      Starsky spun, taken completely by surprise by the tall man standing behind him. His train of thought completely derailed, he had to struggle not to show his startlement. What the hell was he doing anyway, standing there, staring at Hutch as if he'd never seen him before?

      "No, Councilman," he managed to say smoothly. "I figure anyone in public office has gotta be of legal age."

      Peter Whitelaw smiled. "Then can I enter?"

      Realizing he was bodily blocking the entrance, Starsky stepped aside. "Sure thing." He glanced over Whitelaw's conservative business suit and briefcase. "But I think you might've come to the wrong place. Far as I know, there's no political rally goin' on inside."

      "Even a politician needs a beer once in a while," Whitelaw said as he walked through the door. "How's it working out—the job?"

      Starsky nodded. "It's a living." His conscience gave him a swift kick. "We appreciate it, Councilman."

      Whitelaw snorted a laugh. "Really, David, there's no need to be so formal. It's Peter."

      His conscience gave up the fight. "I'm just the doorman, Councilman. I wouldn't want to show disrespect."

      Whitelaw shook his head, remaining silent.

      Starsky watched him walk through the bar in a bee-line for Hutch's section. Hutch looked up, spotted his approach, and smiled one of those warm, good-natured Hutchinson smiles at him, all butter and invitation.

      Do you have a clue, Hutch, how good you look dressed like that? Even a single clue what your friendliness is saying to that man? Feeling every muscle in his body tense, Starsky deliberately turned away and tried humming his Om. It didn't help much.

      Deciding it was time to do his rounds, he headed for the stairs that would take him up to the leather bar. At least up there he wouldn't have to hear Hutch laughing at something Whitelaw said, or see him serve the politician with that eager, interested expression.

      As he jogged up the steps, he heard Huggy's admonition ringing in his ears.

      Starsky, what is your problem now?

We said we'd walk together baby come what may
That come the twilight should we lose our way
If as we're walking a hand should slip free
I'll wait for you
And should I fall behind
Wait for me
      
                        If I Should Fall Behind—Bruce Springsteen