Chapter 12

Well now I don't wanna be greedy
But when it comes to love there ain't no doubt
You just ain't gonna get what you want
With one foot in bed and one foot out
All or Nothin' at All—Bruce Springsteen

      As Peter watched David Starsky stalk up the stairs, he had to work hard not to be overwhelmed by the sight. He'd been impressed before with Starsky's aura of contained intensity, but now, clad in his leather armor, he seemed positively menacing. A magnificent physique, and the kind of rear end he didn't think white men could grow augmented the whole package. He wondered how long it would take the Parrot's regular crowd to stop being intimidated by Starsky's profession and start putting hands on that beautiful ass. He stifled a smile.

      The humor of the situation was quickly lost on him as he got a good look at Ken. All three bartenders working the long teak bar were dressed in white leather, but on Ken, the clothing looked different. It molded to his body, as though specifically made for him. And his fair hair and skin, combined with the bright white clothing, made it seem as if a soft spotlight followed his every move—his every graceful, athletic, masculine move. Peter wet his lips. Ken was the most outrageous example of gay-bait he'd ever seen. He'd kill Sugar.

      That should be easy to do since she was ensconced on a nearby stool where she'd have the best possible view of her latest acquisition.

      Ken spotted him as he stepped up to the bar. His face lit up with a friendly smile. "Good evening, Councilman. How can I serve you?"

      Peter was startled to find his voice locked up tight in his throat.

      "Careful there, darling," Sugar said in her breathy Monroe voice. "An offer like that in a place like this can open up a world of new experiences." She winked at Ken as she took a long, theatrical drag on her cigarette.

      Peter felt himself go red all over as Ken flushed. Ken glowered at Sugar, which only amused her.

      At least the interruption gave Peter a chance to recover from his flustered entrance. "Don't show too much reaction, Ken. It only encourages her."

      "How would you know?" Sugar asked expansively, still doing Monroe. "A girl could die from lack of attention if she were depending on you to feed her ego." Leaning over the bar, she confided sotto voce to Ken, "Around here, Peter's known as the Ice Man. We have yet to find the stud who can crack that chilly veneer." She made a show of looking Ken up and down. "Hmmm. The Ice Man and the Snow King. Now, there's a match!"

      Ken's jaw tightened. "Sugar . . . ." he growled.

      She ignored him. "Oh, don't worry. Your very own Dante's Inferno is busy heating the atmosphere upstairs. Your secret is safe with me."

      Peter wasn't used to being on the end of one of Sugar's matchmaking blitzes and he wanted to spare Ken the embarrassment. Especially before she hit too close to home. "Isn't it time for you to get ready for the eight-thirty show?"

      "Well, that's the advantages of being the star," she reminded him. "The curtain can't go up without me." She gave a Monroe pout. "Don't you have something for your sweet Sugar, or did you just come to check up on your boys?"

      Peter was grateful for the change of topic as he put his briefcase on the bar and unsnapped it. Ken looked puzzled and a bit concerned.

      "Come on. Let's see the merchandise," Sugar said with a touch of impatience.

      Now, Ken seemed uncomfortable. Peter brought out six record albums and handed them to Sugar. "Hot off the presses," he assured her.

      "Delicious!" she breathed as she examined the albums. Catching sight of Ken's quizzical expression, she explained, "Peter has his manly fingers into many things. Don't you, dear boy?"

      "I've got connections in the recording industry," he said. "Sometimes they give me pre-released material to see how 'the market' likes it. Sugar tells me how it plays, and I tell them."

      "Very nice cooperative agreement," Sugar agreed, glancing over liner notes. "They get some early publicity in the gay community, and we get the freshest music in the city. I'll check these out tomorrow. Thanks, sweetheart. Oh, this one's a duplicate. Here, darling, a present for you." She handed it to Ken, who took it with another of those confused expressions.

      Sugar glanced at her watch and sighed. "Well, Punctual Peter you're right about the time. I'll bet your mother was a tyrant during your potty training. And I did so want to watch this little passion play." She tsked loudly and slid off the stool, batting her eyelashes as she tucked the albums under her arm. "You two will just have to play nicely without me. Go right ahead and do anything I wouldn't do, darlings, though I can't imagine what that might be! Just be sure to tell me about it later." She sashayed toward the stage, blowing them a kiss as she left.

      "Why do I feel like I just got a last minute reprieve?" Ken asked, as he stashed the album under the bar.

      Peter laughed, grateful that Sugar's showy exit helped him relax. Next to her, he came across as Mr. Bland Normality. He didn't have to wonder why that was so important to him right now. "Sugar loves coming on like an avalanche. You'll get used to it."

      "You think so?" Ken asked, and they both grinned. "You never did tell me what I can get for you, Peter."

      The honest answer—an evening alone with you—was buried so far in his mind it had no chance of being voiced. He sometimes wondered how it was he and John had ever gotten together, since neither of them had been very good at the gay mating game. "Just a beer."

      Ken drew it up for him, and served it with one of the Parrot's colorful coasters.

      "Can I buy you one?" Peter heard himself ask, and was as surprised as if Sugar had forced him to say it.

      Ken smiled hesitantly. "Well . . . I don't know. I am on duty . . . ."

      Suddenly, the bartender serving on Ken's right, Kevin, drew closer. He was laughing. "You better not let Sugar hear you turn down a customer's offer to buy you a drink. That's part of the job. Just another friendly service."

      Ken nodded, taking the advice in the manner it was offered. "It may take a while for me to get used to drinking on duty . . . ."

      "Sugar won't tolerate a drunken bartender," Kevin warned. "But I suspect that won't be a problem with you." Then he wandered back to his own area.

      Ken cocked his head to one side. "In that case, Peter, you can buy me a beer."

      As Peter laid the money on the bar, Ken drew a mug for himself. Peter held his up in a toast. "To your first day on the job."

      Ken nodded his thanks and took a swallow. "Cold!" he said admiringly.

      "Oh, the Parrot's got the coldest brew in the city," Peter said, wiping foam from his mouth.

      "Why do I have the feeling that you didn't come all the way over here just to buy me a beer?" Ken asked. His expression changed, and while still friendly, Peter saw again that piercing cop gaze that could make any smitten gay confess his dirtiest fantasies in a heartbeat.

      "Well, that was one reason," Peter said honestly. "I wanted to make sure the two of you were comfortable here. That the culture shock wasn't too bad."

      Ken laughed. "I don't know what Starsky would say, but everyone's been civil to me. I suspect those who aren't comfortable with our working here just aren't going to show up. I'm worried that Sugar can't afford it."

      "You don't know gay men, Ken," Peter said. "They're not here tonight, but tomorrow's Friday. It's Ladies Night. They'll be here."

      Ken blinked. "Ladies Night? Do I want to know?"

      "Think of Mardi Gras with more enthusiasm and less inhibitions," Peter warned, then laughed at Ken's stricken expression. "You'll be too busy to worry about it, but warn David not to assume anything about the ladies that show up. They won't all be in drag. The Parrot's become the place to be seen on Fridays and usually hosts a bevy of ambitious starlets with borrowed dresses, but you can't tell them apart without a scorecard. Listen . . . ." He leaned forward, wishing for more privacy while grateful for the public forum that was distracting enough to help him keep his mind on business. "I've passed on that tape to friends in the industry. I'm hoping they might have some information for me in a day or so. I won't lie to you. They didn't hold out a lot of hope. They think it might narrow down the film source, but they're not convinced it'll lead to the actual location of the processor."

      "Let me and Starsky worry about that. Just get us whatever you can. And Peter," Ken's big hand enclosed his forearm and the contact made his body chemistry go haywire, "we really appreciate this. Both of us."

      Peter almost laughed out loud. "Both of you? I seriously doubt that."

      "Don't be fooled by Starsky's bravado," Ken said. "He's amazingly adaptable. It's just going to take him a while to get his sea legs."

      Peter nodded. If you say so.

      Just then Kevin approached again. "Listen, Hutch, you haven't had a break since you came on. Thing's will pick up during the eight-thirty show, they always do. Take fifteen." Kevin glanced at Peter, then back at Ken, and winked. Ken looked embarrassed. He started to protest, but Kevin left to serve another customer.

      "Since you've got a few minutes," Peter heard himself saying, "why don't you grab your beer and join me in a booth. It wouldn't hurt us to talk a little strategy. About your case?" Who the hell was this brazen man speaking out of his mouth, Peter wondered, shocked at his own boldness. It scared him a little. This was the way it had gone with John. He'd found himself able to say anything to John—anything to get his attention. He suddenly remembered Sugar's taunting words when she'd called him to tell him she wanted to hire these two at the Parrot.

      We've got to take care of our own, Peter. You know how I feel about that. And besides, those boys are so hot they'd turn even you on.

      Ken's eyes did a quick sweep of the room.

      Looking for his partner, Peter realized. It was the splash of cold water he needed. The only real competition he'd had with John was their closeted lifestyle and their mutual fear of discovery. Not that all our caution saved us, he thought bitterly. He'd never been the kind of gay man who was willing to get involved with anyone who wanted to play the field or who already had a steady lover. The situation between Ken and Dave was confusing enough without his getting involved in it.

      Apparently satisfied that Dave wasn't on the floor, Ken surprised him by saying, "Sure. There's an empty booth over there."

      Peter realized the hand gripping his beer mug felt clammy. Oh, for crying out loud, he scolded himself. You're having a beer with a straight man, not going out on your first date. His body wasn't listening.

      Hutch kept telling himself that every eye in the place was not watching him carry a beer to a nearby booth, but he couldn't maintain the lie. He was too used to walking through bars, aware of every single person in the place, aware of his effect, as a cop, on the people within. His effect now was different. It was so different he wasn't sure he could deal with it, even though part of it was still because he was a cop.

      While following Peter he tried not to be too aware of him either, but that was just as impossible. Hutch was taken by surprise at his genuine joy at seeing Peter enter the bar. He thought it might be because Peter was the first person who'd really believed their story.

      Or maybe it was something else Hutch didn't want to examine too closely.

      Peter slid into an empty booth surrounded by other empty booths, and Hutch wondered how many times Peter had done this same thing with John Blaine. John and I were loners. He recalled Peter saying that when he and Starsky had interviewed him after John's death. After spending an evening watching gay men socialize with each other, Hutch could imagine how isolated John and Peter must've been. John was a cop. Peter, at the time, a teacher. It would've been social death for either man to be discovered.

      But, of course, Peter had been discovered. His exposure had ended his relationship with John. In spite of that, he'd turned that negative experience—an experience that would've destroyed lesser men—into something positive by going into politics and winning his election. Hutch admired that enormously and could only hope he was man enough to handle his own situation half as well.

      "What are you thinking?" Peter asked, as he settled into the booth. "You look so serious."

      Hutch didn't have the energy to dissemble. "I was thinking of what you must've gone through when you were fired. I was wondering how I could've gotten through that."

      Peter seemed surprised. "It's a common story in the gay world, Ken."

      "That doesn't make it any less difficult. I guess I was thinking about you losing . . . John."

      Peter did glance away then.

      "It's none of my business. I'm sorry," Hutch said. He was projecting his own fears. If I lose Starsky . . . . He wouldn't yield to the fear.

      Peter turned back. "Don't be sorry. Friends should feel comfortable saying anything to each other. I'd like to think we can be friends."

      Hutch smiled then drank his beer.

      "I'll be honest, Ken," Peter said and Hutch felt a snake of anticipation uncoil in his gut. "I wanted to talk to you privately because I've got some concerns about . . . police retaliation."

      Hutch blinked, caught off guard. He was startled to find out he was almost disappointed. "Police retaliation? For what?"

      Peter didn't answer immediately.

      "You mean . . . for us?" Hutch said incredulously.

      "Aiding and abetting," Peter agreed. "You have to remember, Ken, that while you and Starsky weren't known for rousting gay bars, it still happens. The faction of your brotherhood that opposes gays on the force wants to make sure there's no chance of your being reinstated. The best way to do that is to discredit you further. Being arrested for lewd and lascivious acts, or passing drugs, could be accomplished during the panic of a raid."

      Hutch the cop wanted to deny that any officer of the law could stoop so low. But Hutch the realist could only think of Russo. "Maybe it would be better if Starsky and I didn't work here. I don't want to endanger these people."

      "Sugar won't hear of you bailing out," Peter told him. "There's got to be another way to work around this. Prepare for it."

      Prepare . . . .

      Peter sat quietly, watching his expression.

      "I'm thinking about my yoga instructor," Hutch said. "I think you know her. Tsuka? She's a strong proponent of passive resistance. Is it too crazy a notion to think we could use a police action against the police? Use it to stage a civil rights demonstration?"

      Peter sat back as if totally surprised by the suggestion. "You're thinking that a bar full of gay people—most of them heavily closeted—could work together during a raid as civil rights protestors? You think we could pull a sit-in? I don't know if that's the craziest notion I ever heard . . . or the most brilliant."

      Hutch warmed up to the topic. "Better that than a Stonewall riot. I'll talk to Tsuka about it, but I'm sure she could help us organize it. So many of the patrons are regulars. If they passively resisted, like King's people in Alabama, any action on the police's part would be brutality, a violation of civil rights. Between the case they lost recently and our own court action, it would just make them look worse."

      "I don't know, Ken. Some of the people here can't risk being exposed."

      "That's why we have to plan. The most vulnerable people have to have an escape route. The people willing to resist have to cover their escape. If there are enough resisters . . . ."

      Peter blinked. "It's crazy enough that the punk regulars might go for it. But the leathermen?"

      "It'll take a while to organize. We'll have to have drills." He found the prospect exciting.


      "Sugar can discuss it during her shows," Hutch insisted. "We can pass out literature. We can have organized practices while we're closed during the day or after our official closing at night. It's worth a try. Then if we get raided, everyone will know their roles, and the police who run the raid will end up looking like Nazis."

      Peter stared at him. "This is a pretty weird scenario to be suggested by another cop."

      Hutch glanced around the bar. "These people have stuck their necks out for us. We have to think of something to protect them. That's what real cops do. They protect people."

      "Okay," Peter agreed with an amused expression. His intense gaze was fixed on Hutch, and Hutch suddenly felt as if the room had gotten five degrees warmer. Peter was a charismatic man. Attractive, masculine, with a strength of character Hutch admired.

      He suddenly needed to get out of the booth, get away from this moment. He slid out of the seat and stood abruptly. "Listen, I don't have much time left, so I'd better go check on Starsky, make sure everything's okay with him."

      "Sure," Peter said, looking startled. "We'll talk about this again. I'll see you, Ken."

      Hutch nodded and strode away, feeling Peter's gaze on his back. Last time he'd looked, Starsky had gone up to one of the upstairs bars. He headed for the staircase, peripherally aware when Peter left the bar.

      Hutch stood at the head of the stairs, not wanting to examine his reactions but unable to ignore them. Starsky's outraged comments from the other morning ricocheted around his head.

      He wants you!

      Hutch thought he had no problem with that concept. Peter was a young, unattached gay man and Hutch was an attractive man. So, Peter wanted him. So what?

      So what if you might want him back? So what if you discover this isn't just about Starsky? So what if you find you swing both ways? So what about that, Hutchinson?

      He closed his eyes, took a deep cleansing breath and mentally hummed an Om, shutting everything else out, the noise of the bars, the smells, and the unsettling feelings he didn't really want to explore. His body relaxed a bit and he blanked his mind. He needed to see Starsky, touch base with him. Starsky had always been his anchor, his grounding when life around them got too crazy. Just spending a minute with him would help put everything in perspective.

      So, where was Starsky?

      Standing on the landing that served as a broad entryway to both upper level bars, Hutch looked over the territory. On one side were the doors leading to the punk bar, the Rainbow Parrot. The doors sported an embellished carving of a large, garishly-colored Macaw-type bird with a rainbow crest on its head that looked like a Mohawk haircut. Around its neck was a spiked dog collar, and through its beak was a safety pin. Hutch snorted and tried to imagine Starsky's expression when he first saw it.

      Across from the punk bar were black leather padded doors bearing their own logo. This was a big, black cockatoo-looking bird that sported a huge crest with a leatherman's cap perched jauntily to one side, red-rimmed eyes, a formidable beak, and a sinister expression. It also wore a chrome studded leather jacket with a silver key chain that was practically a required uniform of the bar's patrons.

      In a choice between the Rainbow Parrot and the Black Parrot, Hutch chose the leather bar. He pushed through the doors without hesitation.

      Every man in the place noted his entrance. The low rumble of conversation stopped for a moment as he stood inside the doorway, scanning for Starsky. The place was packed with men, almost all of them wearing the same thing.

      Great. A solid mass of black leather, silver zippers, and biker boots. Starsky might as well be wearing camouflage.

      Key chains jingled as the men at the bar shifted, their gaze raking over Hutch in unabashed interest.

      Starsky probably loves it up here, surrounded by the creak of leather and the rank musk of testosterone. 

      Still, he could find no familiar curly head. The bar was extensive enough that he had to prowl around a bit. Noticing that the bartender was in a black outfit similar to Starsky's, he approached the bar, sidled in between two of the patrons and got the man's attention.

      "Have you seen Starsky up here?" he asked. They'd been introduced to all the staff before the place opened for business.

      The bartender nodded. "Yeah, he was here just a few minutes ago. I didn't see him leave, but . . . " he shrugged.

      "Thanks," Hutch said and started to move away when he felt a heavy hand on his waist.

      "Leavin' so soon, Cinderella?" said a huge bear of a man. He was so swarthy and had so much dark hair on his head and face, Hutch found himself wondering if he'd just discovered the missing link. A name stitched over a patch on his vest read, Roland.

      "That's right," Hutch said boldly, removing the hand from his body. "Fairy godmother's orders. Gotta be home before midnight. Don't want my coach turning into a pumpkin."

      Roland laughed good-naturedly, as if appreciating Hutch's humor. "If you're looking for your Prince Charming, you might wanna check the john. That's the last place I saw him."

      Hutch nodded his thanks and walked away. Of course. Should've looked there first.

      He pushed his way through the men's room doors, trusting Starsky not to use the "Ladies" facility the way some of the gay men did.

      Man, even the bathroom is a biker's wet dream, Hutch thought, as he gazed at the pictures of broad-chested men in skin-tight leather with swollen groins sitting suggestively across the biggest Hogs Hutch had ever seen. He had a flashback of Starsky lying nearly horizontal across a motorcycle that Huggy had been using. It was during the Matt Coyle case. As they'd talked to Huggy about Laura Lonigan's affair with Coyle, Starsky had casually swung a leg over the bike, then draped himself across the seat . . . legs spread wide . . . jeans tight across his groin . . . looking good enough to—

      Stop right there before you throw a rod! He shook his head to chase the memory.

      "Starsky, you in here?" he asked the empty bathroom irritably, as he glanced at the open stalls. The surprisingly clean bathroom was dark, covered in glossy black ceramic tiles with black toilets, urinals, and sinks. Only the gleaming chrome of the fixtures sparkled in the dimness. The dark, shiny tiles absorbed the soft lighting provided by motorcycle headlamps.

      It occurred to him that it could be awhile before he got another chance to use the facilities himself, and stepped up to one of the urinals and unzipped. He'd try the punk bar next, he decided, wondering if Starsky had already gone downstairs in the course of his rounds. Patrolling the strangest beat we've ever had. He finished, shook off, and was zipping himself up when he realized with grim humor that his white clothing was the brightest thing in the room. It made him stand out like a beacon.

      Or a target. 

      His cop's instinct suddenly lifted every hair on his body. As he started to turn, his hand reached automatically under his left arm, only to find nothing there.

      Before he could complete the turn, he was hit from behind, grabbed, shoved hard against the side wall, his arms restrained roughly against the tiles.

      He assessed the situation as adrenaline surged through him. Three guys. At least. Two of them bigger than me. Much bigger. He lurched, but he was pinned as a massive weight pushed intimately against his back. A heavy hand grabbed a fistful of his hair, pressing his cheek against the cool wall. The outline of a meaty erection shoved obscenely against the crack of his ass as a husky voice murmured in his ear.

      "Hey, there, Cinderella!" Roland purred. "It ain't midnight yet. Your Prince Charming's just arrived, and he's ready to dance."

      "I'm telling you, Starsky, these spark plugs were made for cars like yours," Spike said.

      Starsky worked at not staring at her safety pin earring, or her crewcut red hair. The five-foot woman was wiry tough, her muscle shirt showing off impressive biceps for such a slender person. "Okay, I'll try them. If they're as good as you say, I'll tell my mechanic about 'em."

      "How about giving me a turn behind the wheel of that gorgeous beast?" Spike prodded. "I sure would like to let her out on the straightaway."

      Starksy's eyes widened. Drive the Torino?

      "'S'matter?" Spike teased. "Never let a girl behind the wheel of your testosterone special?"

      Spike's lover, Denise, leaned over to join the conversation. "Well, hell, Spike, he could still say that if you drove it."

      He flinched at the jibe even though the two women and most of the men around them cracked up in laughter. One of the guys, dressed almost identically to Spike, said, "I'd like to see you on a straightaway. Girlfriend, you can't even drive straight!" They all howled some more.

      "Hey, ease up, guys," Spike admonished through her laughter. "Starsky here's looking seasick again. You know he's sensitive." She turned to him and patted his arm consolingly. "We're just teasing, Starsky. It's okay."

      "If you say so." He wondered if he'd ever understand humor that made fun of the very thing that ostracized them from society. Maybe you'd understand it if you weren't so freaked by the double life you're leading. Insisting you're straight all day, 'til you go to bed with Hutch at night. Hypocrites always have trouble laughing at themselves.

      "Hey, Starsky," said the young slender boy who'd teased Spike, "here's a joke for you. How can you tell when you're in a gay bar?"

      Starsky smiled. Remembering the joke about the lesbian bar, he offered, "The pool tables have no cue sticks?" His response took the crowd by surprise and everyone laughed.

      Spike gave him a thumbs-up. "Quick answer!"

      "Yeah, but it's the wrong one," said the boy, smiling.

      "Okay, I'll bite," Starsky said. "How can you tell when you're in a gay bar?"

      "All the bar stools are upside down," the boy said, and the group laughed again.

      Starsky just blinked, mystified. He smiled weakly, not wanting to admit his ignorance, though he imagined they could figure it out from his expression. He tossed the spark plug in the air, then caught it deftly. "I'll let you know how these work out, Spike. I'll be up a little later."

      "Well, at least I have something to look forward to," the boy cooed, and everyone laughed some more.

      "Glad I could brighten your dreary day," Starsky tossed off to more laughter, as he headed for the exit. As he left the Rainbow Parrot and stood on the landing, he noticed how quiet the leather bar seemed to be. Well, he'd been in there not ten minutes ago and that motley crew was acting positively civilized. Maybe Sugar's puttin' something in their drinks.

      He hesitated a moment before descending the stairs. He didn't want to admit it, but he was hoping that he'd see Hutch working his part of the bar with Whitelaw nowhere to be seen. But when he got partway down the stairs he realized only half his wish had come true. There was no Whitelaw in sight. But there was no Hutch either. For a cold second his stomach knotted as he wondered if they'd left together, but then he dismissed the notion. Hutch would never abandon his post.

      He approached the bar and rapped his knuckles on it to get Kevin's attention. When he glanced his way while serving a customer, Starsky asked succinctly, "Hutch?"

      "On break," Kevin responded just as briefly.

      Could he have left with Whitelaw? Starsky didn't want to acknowledge the twist of jealousy in his chest, but it was hard to deny as it made it difficult for him to breathe. Before he could ask, Kevin finished with his customer and came over.

      "You didn't see him?" Kevin asked. "He was looking for you."

      His relief surprised him. "Where?"

      "Upstairs. That's where we thought you'd gone."

      "I was upstairs. In the Rainbow—"

      "Then Hutch must've gone to—"

      A lump of cold fear immediately replaced his jealousy. Those bikers were crazy. They respected Starsky, he believed, because of the aura of his bullet-riddled jacket. But one glance at that innocent-looking blondness and—

      There was a sudden loud thud from upstairs and the unmistakable sounds of a serious scuffle. Every head turned toward the staircase as the bar went still. Two more heavy thumps sounded, and the silence in the normally boisterous bar became ominous.

      His fear coalesced into a familiar surge of action as Starsky bolted for the stairs, shouting Hutch's name.

      A heavy hand slid around Hutch's waist as he was held captive. Thick fingers groped for his fly. "Now you just hold still, little girl," Roland ordered. "This won't take too long. Me and m'boys here are gonna give you a sweet thrill. Then we'll send you back to your dark Prince with some serious experience under your belt."

      Hutch's mind was racing even as his body sagged helplessly against the tiles. He shuddered beneath the weight of his attackers. "Please, don't!" he gasped.

      The men holding him chuckled. "You'll thank us for it, baby. Everyone needs to have a real man at least once in his life." Roland's clumsy digits finally found the zipper pull under the flap of his fly. "Ah, there it is. Now hold still. Don't wanna ruin these beautiful skins."

      Hutch relaxed further as he felt the strange hand fumble against him. Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath, found his center, then waited a half-second more until his assailant was preoccupied with unfastening him.

      Without warning, he kicked back, the blow short and sharp, connecting his booted heel with Roland's shin. At the same time, Hutch slammed the back of his head into his attacker's face. There was a satisfying crack and a stunned shout of pain. In the next second, Hutch lurched back, using the strength of his legs, and shoved Roland into the urinals behind them. As he pulled the two men on his arms along with him, he kicked out to his right, connecting with the knee of that man. He grunted and sagged, easing his grip. Hutch yanked back as hard as he could, jerking the two men closer together as they struggled to hold on.

      Finally, he managed to pull his right arm away. Grabbing that man by the back of his head, Hutch slammed his forehead into the face of the man holding his left arm. That one went down like a tree, out cold. Hutch brought his freed left fist up in a smooth arc, and connected sharply under the chin of the right-hand man, knocking him backwards into the sinks. He landed hard and fell to the floor, moaning softly.

      But Roland, still behind him, wasn't down. With a roar, he grabbed Hutch around the waist and hoisted him off his feet, squeezing his diaphragm so tight he couldn't breathe.

      "I love a bitch with fire," Roland growled.

      Hutch saw spangles behind his eyes as he struggled for air.

      "Bet you've never been fucked with your head in a toilet. First time for everything, Cinderella." He hauled Hutch bodily toward the stalls.

      Swinging his feet up, Hutch braced them on either side of the stall's doorway. He locked his knees as Roland tried to shove him forward. Bending low at the waist, Hutch grasped his own fist and drove his elbow back into the big man's face. When Roland's grip loosened promisingly, Hutch hit him again, sucking in air to clear his head. Roland's hold released suddenly, and Hutch landed on his feet in a crouch. Before Roland could react, Hutch spun and landed the hardest punch he could to the man's jaw, sending him sprawling backwards. Roland slipped on the slick tiles and landed heavily on top of his boys, pulling more groans of pain from them.

      Hutch heard someone yelling his name. The door to the john slammed open with a bang.

      Starsky skidded to a stop and stared open-mouthed at the pile of three piteous bikers floundering together in various stages of devastation as Hutch stood over them. In his white leather, he must've looked like some enraged avenging angel. Starsky's mouth opened and closed a few times, but finally he said, "Hutch . . . you okay?"

      It was a ridiculous question and it made Hutch furious. He was keyed up, gasping, and could hear his blood rushing in his ears. The adrenaline flowing through him needed a safe outlet.

      He rounded on Starsky. "Am I okay? Ask them! What the hell are you doing here?"

      Starsky looked dumbfounded. "I-I'm your partner. I came . . . ."

      "To rescue me?" Hutch advanced on Starsky until he was standing against the wall, then jabbed a finger in his breastbone. "And just what is it that makes you think I would need rescuing? You're not my Prince Charming, and I'll be goddamned if I'll be your Cinderella. You're my partner. And here's a news item for you, pal. I'm perfectly capable of defending my own honor." He turned to the injured mass of leather-clad men, who were now sitting up and assessing their damage. "Isn't that right, boys?"

      There was a grumbled begrudging agreement from the aching men who were struggling to help one another to their feet.

      Starsky was still stammering, trying to recover from whatever he'd expected to find. "It's just—I couldn't find you. Last time I looked, you were with Whitelaw. Then you're gone . . .  and I didn't know—"

      Whitelaw again? It only added fuel to Hutch's anger. He shook his finger in Starsky's face, and pitched his voice low so that only Starsky could hear him. "If I hear one more word from you about Whitelaw, so help me—"

      Starsky kept glancing between the slowly recovering bikers and Hutch, and as Hutch snarled at him, he finally seemed to recover. Turning his attention back to his partner, Starsky's face took on that amused expression that always drove Hutch crazy. His blue eyes glittered as he said, "Now that's the Hutch I know." His lopsided smile dared Hutch to hold onto his anger.

      That hadn't been what he'd expected, and he didn't know how to respond. He felt some of the heat drain from him and backed off, running a hand through his hair to recover his aplomb. Finally he nodded and said, "My break's over. I need to get back to work."

      "Sure," Starsky said. "But you might wanna zip up and tuck in your shirt, Butch. We don't wanna give anyone the wrong impression as we leave the john together, huh?"

      Hutch looked down at his disheveled clothes and reassembled himself. "Thanks," he muttered. The look Starsky gave him told Hutch things were back to normal again.

      Roland finally stumbled to his feet, gingerly touching his puffy nose and swollen lip. Hutch tensed, though he didn't think these guys were in any condition to take on both him and Starsky.

      But the big man only held up his hands in surrender. "Truce! I'm wavin' the white flag. I know when I've been whupped and whupped good. I misread you, sir. I'm sorry."

      Hutch nodded. "A truce it is." He turned to Starsky. "You just gotta know how to talk to them." Starsky chuckled appreciatively.

      As they left side by side, they were treated to a round of applause by the other bikers. Hutch magnanimously saluted the crowd and they strode out of the place. He was still pumped, adrenaline flowing, emotions conflicted. Why was he so mad at Starsky? Maybe it was that look of total panic on his face when he entered the john. He was used to seeing Starsky worried or concerned whenever Hutch was in battle without him, but this expression was different. He'd come to save Hutch. Was making love to Starsky causing his partner to feel overprotective, the way he would a woman? The very suggestion made Hutch bristle.

      "Hey, Hutch," Starsky said, halting them before they started down the steps, "how can you tell when you're in a gay bar?"

      He stared, realizing Starsky had once again caught him in one of his exasperating non-sequitars. "I have no idea. How can you?"

      Starsky's own expression seemed confused as he said, "The bar stools are all upside down."

      Hutch barked a sharp laugh, as he was taken by surprise by the punch line. "Cute."

      Starsky only looked more dismayed. Quietly, he said, "You get it?"

      Hutch nodded. Wasn't he supposed to?

      "Wanna explain it to me?" Starsky implored.

      Hutch opened his mouth but found nothing would come out.

      He felt again the gripping strength of a man determined to violate him, and realized for the first time how close he'd come to having to endure that. At the same time, his memory supplied him with Starsky's drugged entreaty: "Go ahead. Do it. I want you to." He shuddered involuntarily remembering just how badly he'd wanted to. How badly he still wanted to. How badly he wanted Starsky to—

      Stop. Now. That is not happening. Things had altered too much between them already. Starsky's action in the john had proved that to him. He couldn't afford for their relationship to get even further out of sync. Not if they were going to continue being partners. Equals.

      He shook his head. "Ask me later, okay?" He started descending the stairs without allowing himself to look into that baffled expression again. As he expected, Starsky moved along with him, accepting his decision.

      As they got about halfway down the stairs to the main bar, the sound system came on with a blast of music. Hutch recognized the sounds of the Village People, but this wasn't one of their more popular numbers. The main bar suddenly went dim, and the big disco ball started rotating. Red and blue lights reflected off it oddly, not like the typically bright ones that threw rainbow patterns over the dancers. He and Starsky paused as the curtains parted on the stage and the dancers pranced out for their first number. The chorus line was wearing skimpy, sequined blue dresses that ended at their crotches, their long stocking-clad legs as beautiful as any woman's. On their heads perched jaunty blue caps. Hutch realized with a jolt that the costume was a parody of a uniformed cop's jacket and hat. It even had a silver sequined badge on the cap and over the pocket.

      Starsky muttered a low moan. Hutch was too mesmerized to spare him a glance.

      As the recorded sound of a siren chimed in, the dancers broke into their synchronized routine, and sang along with the Village People.

      "Watch me, watch me crossing the floor,
      "checkin' out every star who comes through the door.
      "Yeah, I'm mellow, mellow as I can be,
      "but baby I'll burn you if you're dancing with me.

      "'Cause I'm a hot cop!
      "Hottest cop on the disco scene.
      "People say that I'm a dancing machine.
      "'Cause I'm a hot cop, hottest cop that you've ever seen . . . ."

      As if they were part of the performance, every customer in the place turned and broke into applause at the sight of the two real cops descending the staircase.

      Oh, yeah, Hutch thought wearily, as he made his way back to his station, it's going to be a very long night.

Come on blow your whistle
Play with my tambourine
Don't stop, don't stop doing your thing . . .
You're making me so hot . . . .
Hot Cop—The Village People