Chapter 13

In the darkness my fingers slip across your skin
I feel your sweet reply
The room fades away and suddenly I'm way up high
Just holdin' you to me
As through the window the moonlight streams
Oh, won't you, baby, be in my book of dreams
      Book of Dreams—Bruce Springsteen

      Starsky watched Hutch with an almost surreal detachment. His partner was sitting cross-legged on the floor of the dojo with Tsuka and her husband Yoshi, discussing this insane plan he had to involve the patrons of the Green Parrot in a non-violent civil rights protest. Hutch was alert, animated, and as upbeat as Starsky had seen him since this whole mess had started. Starsky felt bad that he couldn't work up the same enthusiasm, but frankly, he was too tired.

      The stress of the night before had nearly wrung him out. The effect of it had surprised him, considering what he usually did for a living. But his work as a cop, even the physical demands of chasing bad guys and getting into fights, had always exhilarated him. It was what he was supposed to be doing. Prowling the strange atmosphere of the Parrot was like stepping into another dimension. The first night had nearly sapped him. He felt that every hour he spent there took him farther and farther away from his real life, his real identity. Instead of working the streets where he felt at home, knowing he was watched by men who feared and often hated him, and by women who sometimes wanted him, at the Parrot everything was upside down and backwards.

      There, even though most of the men feared and probably hated him, that didn't stop them from wanting him. He figured at least half the women hated him, but none of them feared him, and they sure as hell didn't want him. It didn't help that most of the guys dressed a lot better than the women, whether they were in drag or not, and that half the time he couldn't even be sure what sex the person he was dealing with was. He thought of Spike and her friends and knew he wasn't being fair. She'd gone out of her way to befriend him. Granted, it was motivated by lust for his car, but that was an emotion he could relate to and understand . . . though he would've expected that reaction from a guy! It was all way too confusing.

      Hutch asked him something, so he fixed an attentive expression on his face and nodded, even though he had no idea what he was agreeing with. Hutch turned back to Tsuka and continued his animated conversation.

      Hutch was such a good talker. He could convince people to do the weirdest things just by talking. Starsky found himself staring at Hutch's mouth as he outlined his plans.

      He didn't have to do any talking last night, though. He just rolled over, took me in his arms, and put that mouth on me and nothing had to be said at all, did it?

      Unlike the night he was drugged, Starsky could feign no ignorance of his complicity last night. Or of the surge of desire he'd felt when Hutch had turned on him in a rage in the Black Parrot. While he might have kept his mind from the reality of his feelings before they turned the lights out, Starsky knew once they were in bed, there was no way he could refuse any advance Hutch might make. And Hutch knew it, too.

      As Hutch's mouth parted in a smile, all Starsky could see were those glistening lips descending over his body, nuzzling his neck, nipping him sharply, sucking his nipples so hard he wanted to shout in joy. Then finally, when he thought he couldn't bear any more, that mouth took him in completely. Hutch's hand had tightened around him like a vise, holding off his orgasm with deliberate cruelty, until he was shaking violently, until the imploring Please! had been ripped from him against his will. And only then had Hutch let him come, controlling him as no lover ever had, ever could. It had rocked him physically and emotionally and scared him to death. His dream image of Hutch was merging with the real man, and Starsky wasn't sure he could cope with that at all.

      "David, are you really comfortable with all this?" Tsuka asked. The lilting tone of her voice shocked him out of his carnal reverie.

      He shrugged. "Hutch and me are partners. If he wants to do it, I'm-I'm . . . ." He nearly said, I'm in him with it, but stopped himself in time. Blushing furiously, he coughed, covering up his nearly disastrous faux pas. Then he said, "That is, I'll support anything he wants to do."

      When Hutch raised his eyebrows in apparent surprise, Starsky wondered if he'd said too much. Guiltily, he added, "I mean . . . you know . . . at the Parrot . . . ." Helplessly, he turned to Hutch who was giving him a smirky smile. "That's right, isn't it?"

      Hutch just patted his arm and he and Tsuka renewed their conversation.

      At least I got a little of my own back last night, Starsky thought, and then was annoyed with himself for letting his mind wander back to that dangerous territory. But he'd been so shaken by Hutch's overpowering passion, his willingness to give, that he knew he had to do something to even the score. It wasn't like he'd never done it before. Some women loved it, and Starsky had always been willing to accommodate anything that would make a lady happy. But still . . . this was Hutch.

      The minute he'd finished coming, the second he'd regained control of his body, he'd shoved Hutch over onto his back. It'd surprised him, and that had made Starsky glad. He was tired of being the only one in this bed who was overwhelmed. He'd moved down in the bed and took a rough hold of Hutch's heavy member, palming it hard, moving his hand the way he'd already learned Hutch loved it. But that wasn't enough for him now. He wanted to do more. Even though Hutch was humping his hips in rhythm with Starsky's hand, it wasn't satisfying Starsky's own need to please him. If he were honest he'd admit that pleasing Hutch was only half of what he wanted. He wanted to rock him to his soul. He wanted to

shatter him. He wanted to devastate him the way Hutch had done to him. He wanted to give him an experience that could compete with anything Whitelaw could ever offer. And so, as he'd pulled and pumped Hutch to his pleasure, he'd impulsively slid his other hand beneath him and entered him with his finger. He was shaking when he did it, and knew he was too rough, too quick. He couldn't help it. Hutch was so hot inside, so tight. His cock had come up like a snake wanting to strike as he did it. He couldn't lie to himself about how it made him feel. His dream fantasy came on him in a rush, and as Hutch thrashed frantically and clawed his back while calling his name, he finger-fucked Hutch to orgasm and nearly came himself when Hutch fountained all over his own chest.

      As Hutch lay gasping for air, one arm over his eyes as if to shield himself from Starsky's dismayed and confused expression, Starsky went into the bathroom to wash his hands and get a warm cloth to clean Hutch with. But he couldn't return to that bed until he'd jerked off again, in the bathroom, where Hutch couldn't see him, couldn't know the effect that penetrating his partner had had on him.

      He'd tried not to look into the bathroom mirror as he'd soaked a washcloth for Hutch. Because the man in there would've just laughed at him, and told him plainly how much more Whitelaw could offer Hutch. With his mouth. With his body. With all the things he could so easily do that Starsky would not. Could not.

      He found himself staring at Hutch again. Starsky, you jerk. You could hold him with just a kiss. But he couldn't do that. Couldn't deal with what it said about him. No, but you can penetrate him and jerk him off, and think you're still a man. You're not a man. You're thirteen years old again, with no hope of growing up. Hutch is a man. Willing to own up to his honest feelings. You're just a hypocrite.

      "Well, that's the way it is with partners," Hutch said, and sat back, as if finished.

      Tsuka shook her head dubiously. "If you need any help discussing it with Sugar, let me know. But I think you should broach it first."

      "You boys have been hanging out with queers too long," Sugar said bluntly, hands on hips. "Have you lost your minds?" For once, the entertainer wasn't in drag and Hutch found himself identifying the slightly-built, short-haired man wearing everyday casual clothes with the pronoun he.

      "You're the one who started all this," Hutch reminded him. "You're the one who wanted to make a public statement of support. Well, if we don't back that up with some careful planning it could blow up in all our faces. Are you going to stand there and tell me that you don't have political activists in this crowd? They'll know how to work this out. We need to protect the closeted customers, and get enough regulars who are willing to passively protest—"

      Sugar flapped his hands in the air in denial. "It'll never work. It'll just kill business dead. People don't come here for politics! They come here to have fun. They come here to get laid!"

      Hutch stood dumbfounded, his mouth ajar. And it stayed that way when Starsky chimed in.

      "You're underselling your customers, Sugar. While that may have been true at one time, now at least half of them are involved in some kind of community action work, if the conversations I heard were a fair indication. Whitelaw's campaign showed 'em the public would listen to the right message. You've got people here involved in the gay press, in the ecology movement, in civil rights in minority neighborhoods, in voter registration drives . . . . A bunch of 'em volunteer for Callahan and Whitelaw both. And all of them remember Stonewall. Sure, they come here for fun . . . but they come here to connect, too."

      For a minute Hutch almost got misty-eyed. Whenever Hutch thought he really knew a situation, Starsky could always surprise him with his insights.

      Like last night.

      His anus tingled with the physical memory of Starsky's shocking invasion. That tingle traveled rapidly down his legs and into his cock, throbbing at the head in time with his pulse. He took a deep breath and focused elsewhere.

      Sugar was staring at Starsky. "Well, haven't we become the community activist overnight? Were you suddenly struck by lightening on the road to your bedroom, big boy?"

      That hit a nerve. Starsky's body went bowstring tight but he didn't protest. His face just got that cool blank expression, but his complexion darkened. The distraction gave Hutch the time he needed to collect himself.

      "Peter thinks it's a good idea," he said quietly. Starsky wouldn't look at him when Hutch said that, but his non-reaction spoke volumes. You don't like my mentioning him? Too bad, Hutch thought, surprised at himself.

      Sugar let out a theatrical sigh. "Well, of course, Peter thinks it's a good idea! Ever since he won the election, there's been no living with him!"

      "Will you just think about it?" Hutch asked.

      Sugar pinched the bridge of his nose. "Okay. Okay. You two are scary when you work together—but I suppose you know that already. I'll think about it."

      "Good," said Hutch. "Because Tsuka and Yoshi will be by tonight to talk to you about how we might organize it."

      "I just said I'd think about it!" Sugar insisted. "If they show up tonight, I can't guarantee I'll have time to talk to them. You boys haven't got a clue what Friday nights are like around here."

      "I'd hope a little busier than last night," Starsky suggested.

      Sugar just laughed. Hutch felt a flash of guilt as he realized he'd forgotten to give Starsky Peter's warning.

      Ladies Night, Starsky thought, as he stared at the growing crowd. It was only eight p.m. and already the line was wrapped around the corner. Traffic was heavy, as cars slowed down near the bar to let people out in a steady stream. He'd spied some expensive foreign cars pulling up tonight, cars he usually only saw in magazines. Besides the foreign jobs there were plenty of beat-up heaps, fancy wheels, and sleek sedans—disgorging the most outrageous passengers.

      He'd given up trying to tell the men from the women, even when the women clearly had real cleavage and the men were front-heavy. With this mob, you couldn't tell what was really real and what was kind of real and what was waiting to become real. And the dazzling display of fantastic get-ups made him feel like he was working security for the Oscars, if the Oscars were tripping on LSD. He'd tried to keep his expression bland, but more than once tonight he'd felt like a Tex Avery cartoon with bulging eyes and a jaw clanging to the ground.

      Only as an afterthought did he wonder how they were ever going to fit all of these people into the bar.

      "Good thing the crowd's light tonight," the regular Friday bouncer, Emil, told him. "If this was a normal Friday, we'd already be pushin' capacity." Starsky suspected that Emil might work a regular job as Arnold Schwartzenegger's stand-in, but he wasn't asking. "You let me worry about who's comin' in. I can keep track of who's in and who's out, make sure we don't exceed code. Your job is to make sure things stay nice and sweet inside. Things get rowdy and we could have a riot real easy."

      Starsky gaped, totally dazed. In his previously stereotyped world-view, gay bars were full of happy dancing guys who were too swishy to start any trouble. That he was still clinging to that prejudiced notion after last night's incident in the Black Parrot's bathroom was simply embarrassing. He needed to snap out of it or he'd find himself with an out-of-control mob with only himself to blame.

      "We usually oust the troublemakers without too much hassle," Emil continued to brief him, "but if you need assistance, the bartenders can lend you their helpers."

      He must've looked confused. He knew he could rely on Hutch if things got dicey, but with him all the way behind the bar . . . ?

      "They've got baseball bats under the bar," Emil explained. "Almost never need 'em, but wanted you to know, just in case."

      Baseball bats. Starsky considered quelling a riot with nothing but the force of his personality and a baseball bat and wondered if he was in over his head.

      "Yo! Bro'!" a familiar voice called out, and he and Emil turned to see Huggy sauntering up. The Bear was dressed in a dazzling combo of orange and green with a matching big apple cap, yet he was definitely one of the more conservatively-clad people on the scene.

      "What it is, Mr. Bear?" Emil greeted Huggy, and the two men exchanged a complicated ritual handshake that ended up with them slapping each other's shoulders.

      Huggy draped an arm ostentatiously around Starsky. "You pull m'man's coat here, 'bout Ladies Night at the Parrot?"

      "Yeah, I gave him the scoop, much as words can, Huggy," Emil said and laughed.

      Starsky was beginning to feel like the student who got left behind last year. "Nice to see ya, Hug. Why don't'cha come say hi to Hutch. I know he'd be glad to draw you up something cold." Then, realizing he'd allowed Huggy to step in front of the entire line, he looked at Emil for guidance.

      The big bouncer just waved them on. "The door's always open for Huggy. But, Dave, stay in touch with me, say every fifteen minutes. You'll have to spell me for dinner break around ten. And someone will spell you at nine-thirty."

      "Got it," Starsky agreed as he and Huggy entered the crowded bar. The bar was even noisier than the traffic on the streets. The rumble of sound from the people trying to converse over the deafening din of music blaring at the dancers was like a wall of vibration as they passed through the front door. Queen was declaring, "We Are The Champions," and the crowd was eating it up.

      Huggy leaned in close. "Step into the back with me a minute, huh? I need words with you."

      The normalcy of Huggy's request was just the reassurance Starsky needed. It was like Huggy was acknowledging that in spite of everything, Starsky was still a cop, and Huggy was still his connection to the street.

      "What's goin' on?" Starsky asked as they slipped backstage to a discreet, relatively quiet corner. "You hear something about that tape?"

      "Naw, my cousin's still away. But the streets are rumblin' with somethin' else. Somethin' bad."

      "I should've known it would take a serious event to pull you outta the Pits on a Friday night. What's the word?"

      Huggy shook his head. "That's the problem. I don't know. And information is hard to come by. People know we're tight, and not a lot of info has been comin' my way."

      Starsky was confused. "You must have some idea."

      Huggy looked perplexed. "You know I hate givin' you half the message, but it's all I got. And I wouldn't have gotten that, except for Callahan's people. I put the word out with her volunteers. Everyone's got their ear to the ground. But you guys've stirred up something, and it's hummin'. Stay sharp, Starsky. Make sure your partner knows, too. I think there's some players in this who ain't real interested in havin' their day in court."

      "Our case is against the city. You think some politico is holding hands with Gunther?"

      Huggy shrugged. "It doesn't have to be a politician, Starsky. It could be the Chief of Police. Could be the DA. This whole thing ain't makin' them look none too good, y'know. And for that matter, it's not like Gunther is a name I'm gonna hear on the street. That's why the information's so spotty. Just be prepared, huh?"

      For what? Starsky wondered. Another film starring him and Hutch? He thought of last night and felt dizzy. No, that wouldn't work twice in a row. Still, he'd have to be on his guard. He patted Huggy. "Go on. Talk to Hutch. He'll pour you a cold one. Can you hang out for awhile?"

      Huggy nodded and they separated as Starsky began to prowl the packed bar.

      Around nine p.m., Starsky started moving toward the front doors to do his routine check with Emil. Things were intense inside, but amazingly peaceful. People were dancing, partying, having a rousing good time, but even in the leather bar and the punk hangout, the vibes were good. The wild disco music throbbed through his body, and more than once he found himself twitching to get on the dance floor and show a few of these guys how it was really done. He'd started to relax, especially as more people acted as though he belonged there. He'd shared a few jokes with Spike and her friends, found a nice way to turn down the offer of a beer in the biker bar, and in general began to feel like working here wasn't a whole lot different from hanging out at the Pits. There the clientele was often into a variety of illegal activities, but he and Hutch had always felt at home among the street crowd that filled Huggy's place. The Green Parrot and its satellites favored a different flavor of street folks, but there was a familiarity to the vibe that Starsky couldn't ignore. Well . . . except maybe for the bathrooms.

      Every time he'd looked over at Hutch, his White Knight had been busy serving his part of the bar. More than once, he'd seen some guy lean close to Hutch, smile, getting real friendly, sometimes laying a bill on the bar. Whenever he'd spot something like that, Starsky would go tense all over, but Hutch never lost his cool. He'd just smile politely, push the bill away, and in a pleasant way gently say no. Starsky admired his style even while tying his own stomach up in knots with feelings he wouldn't put a name to. He could no longer pretend he was worried about Hutch's ability to defend himself. Not after last night. He was relieved that Peter Whitelaw was nowhere to be seen.

      He finally got to the front doors, but masses of people were blocking them. Fearing a fire trap, he shoved his way through the crowd, forcing people to go in or out, or right or left, just as long as they cleared the area. There was a stir of activity immediately outside the entrance, and as he emerged, he blinked in the glare of painfully bright lights.

      Don't tell me Sugar's ordered spotlights! Like we need more attention here!

      As he finally pulled free from the crowded entrance, he was nearly blinded by bright Kleig lights aimed right at him. Even his shades couldn't protect him against that much glare.

      He put a hand in front of his eyes to dim the light as Emil snapped, "Dave! Get back inside!"

      Huggy's warning and the tone of Emil's voice set every hair on his body on end. His left hand moved toward the inside of his jacket before he could stop himself. He felt so naked without his gun.

      "Dave!" Emil called warningly again, then muttered, "Oh, damn it!"

      Starsky couldn't even see him in the crush of bodies and the overly bright light. Suddenly, the spotlight shifted off his face, giving him a better view of the area. He spotted the reporter at the same time she spotted him.

      "Detective Starsky! Is this where you and Detective Hutchinson are working now? Or are you just socializing?"

      The microphone was shoved so close to his mouth it nearly hit him on the lip. The reporter was the same black woman with the quick wit who'd been at the restaurant that morning. He recognized her now, having seen her numerous on-the-spot reports during the eleven o'clock news. Glancing around the street, he spied the TV van parked near the corner, electric lines snaking all over the street. Traffic was a congested mess as cars slowed down to see what the TV crew was up to. Some of the cars were going around the block again and again just to get a good view. He recognized a yellow Corvette that he'd seen before, and a plain, dark sedan with one headlight out. Dozens of cars just seemed to be idly cruising.

      The cameraman moved into his line of sight and he suddenly wondered if he was on a live feed. His whole body tensed with stress.

      "That's right," Emil said to the reporter defensively, clamping a vise-like grip onto Starsky's arm. "He's working. And he don't have to talk to you while he's on the clock." To Starsky, he said quietly, "Go on, Dave. You don't have to deal with this. Go on inside."

      He didn't like feeling like a deer in the headlights. He casually extracted himself from Emil's grasp. "It's okay, man. I can handle it." He turned to the woman. "Is this live?"

      "Does that matter?" she asked in an off-the-record tone.

      "Yeah," he said bluntly.

      He glanced toward the truck and saw another cameraman filming some of the more flamboyant patrons. Spike and her entourage had come outside and had hooked up with other friends in line. The punks played to the camera, going into character, camping it up wildly. Spike shrugged off her leather jacket and flexed her prominent biceps, showing off her tattoos.

      Starsky had to stifle a laugh. As he worried about what clips the station would use to frame the piece, he had to admire the courage of the gays who stood defiantly flaming at the camera, demanding the world accept them as they were. I don't have half the balls that little girl does, he thought, watching Spike strut her stuff.

      He looked back at the reporter. "Is it live?"

      "I'd like an answer to that, too, Barbara," said a quiet voice behind him.

      Startled, he turned to find K.R. Callahan walking up to them. Primly dressed, bun firmly secured, briefcase in hand, she looked as if she'd arrived for court. He didn't have to ask this time if she'd brought this publicity down on them. She wasn't happy, not at all.

      The reporter dropped the microphone and swung it around on its cord. She waved her cameraman away, sighing tiredly. "Come on, K.R., I got a job to do just like you." She turned to Starsky. "No, it's not a live feed, but I need film to run at eleven."

      "A little color reporting?" Kelly Rose asked. Her voice was clipped. She looked grim.

      "Well, what did you think?" Barbara asked her. "That these guys were going to be able to work at this place, the most notorious gay bar in LA, and no one was gonna do a piece on it? Come on, girl! At least you know I'll play it serious, not like Donald would if he'd gotten the call." She was referring to the station's other on-the-scene reporter who was known for his sarcastic social commentaries. She grinned at Starsky. "He'd be right up in your face, baby, asking when you were gonna get in drag so he could be sure and get some tape on that."

      "He'd only get to ask once," Starsky said.

      Callahan glanced at him warningly and placed a hand on his arm. The difference between her light, warm touch and Emil's overpowering grip made them seem like two different life forms. That made Starsky think of another contrast—Hutch's hands—touching him lovingly last night. He shuddered and was grateful when K.R.'s serious tone brought him back to the problem at hand.

      "Look, Barbara, if your station is going to play this for a lot of sensational anti-gay hype, you can forget about any cooperation. I won't have any choice but to advise my clients to say nothing to the press, to give no interviews—"

      "Okay, okay," Barbara conceded, swinging the microphone absently while considering her options. "You know I only have so much control over how the station edits the piece—"

      "They can only edit what you give them," Callahan reminded her. She pointed to the cameraman still working the crowd on line. "You know what they'll do with that footage."

      Barbara sighed, clearly exasperated and torn between her own journalistic conscience and the demands of her job. She leaned closer to the lawyer and said quietly, "You think it's easy playin' the game with those fat white cats at the station? You know how easy it is for them to bring in some new pretty little thing and send me on my way? You're asking a lot, girlfriend."

      Another woman's voice chimed in from the side. "Oh, come on, Barbara, it can't be that hard. We're all so much smarter than they are!"

      Starsky blinked as C.D. Phelps joined the other two women. Standing behind and to the side of her was a still photographer.

      Callahan and Barbara both chuckled quietly.

      "Well . . . that is the truth . . . ." Barbara drawled. "What the hell are you doing here, lady? I thought you were forbidden to put any work in on this scene."

      "Christine?" Callahan asked, obviously surprised to see her.

      C.D. nodded at Starsky, but she was clearly here to talk to the other two women. He was beginning to feel like an afterthought. Like him, the cameraman and the photographer were also standing by and waiting for direction from these women. He wondered, for the first time, if this was how most of the female police officers felt when the guys pulled rank on them and took over their most interesting cases. He cringed, wondering how often he'd done it.

      "I found a way around that," C.D. said. "I've got an ally on another paper. She's gonna run my piece in her rag as being staff written."

      Barbara looked stunned, and Callahan didn't seem too pleased either.

      "You'd give up your byline . . . ?" Barbara said, dismayed.

      "Christine, that'll violate your contract," Callahan warned. "You could not only lose your job, you could lose your professional standing and get sued besides!"

      C.D. just shrugged. "That's okay. I've got a really good lawyer. Right?" She looked meaningfully at Callahan, who smiled and nodded in reassurance. "Hey, look, I think there's a good story here. I'm not passing it up because my boss is a jerk. And besides, we are smarter than those fat cats in charge. My boss never reads the competitor's paper. In fact, most of us don't think he reads ours, either. There's a rumor going around the office that he can't read at all. Of course, I started that one . . . ."

      The three women all laughed, while Starsky just stood there feeling out of his depth as they plotted. He thought of that modern adaptation of Shakespeare's MacBeth that Hutch had dragged him to last year. The three witches in that play hadn't been haggard crones, but stunning Hollywood starlets. They'd played their roles as women who were contemptuous of all the foolish men who didn't have the sense to listen to their good advice. He shuddered a little, glad at least two of these three were on his side. He still wasn't so sure about Barbara.

      "How are you going to play this?" C.D. asked Barbara pointedly, putting her on the spot.

      The black woman looked tired. "You know how I want to play it. I just don't know if I can get away with the sympathy angle." The other two women stared at her. "Okay! Okay! You're right. We are smarter. I'll think of something . . . ."

      "Good," Callahan said agreeably. "In that case, I'll make sure my client has time for an interview. That all right with you, Dave?"

      Realizing someone was finally interested in his input, he nodded on cue.

      "You okay?" C.D. asked him solicitously. She must've sensed his consternation.

      He had to smile. "Are you kidding? I haven't had this many women interested in me since my mom and my Aunt Rose came to my Police Academy graduation. If you three represent the new career woman, then us guys are in big trouble! You ladies are something else."

      "How about it, Dave?" Barbara asked him. "K.R.? Come on, give me some tape. I've got to have something to work with or they'll take it out of my hands and show nothing but clips of the circus." She indicated the waiting line.

      Callahan waited for him to decide.

      "Sure. Okay," he said, then hoped he wouldn't make a total jerk of himself on camera. Hi, Mom! It's me, Davey. Working security at a gay bar on Ladies Night! But it's okay, Mom. I'm still your butch son. I'm a little worried about Hutch, though . . . .

      "How about if we stand over there?" Callahan said to Barbara. "You can get the logo of the bar, yet avoid the noise of the crowd."

      Four of the drag queens were going into a dramatic chorus of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" that would do Judy Garland proud. There was no way they could do a piece of film and not pick up strains of that. Well, Starsky thought philosophically, at least they're in tune.

      "Sure," Barbara said agreeably, signaling to her patient cameraman, "we can do that. Here, the two of you stand side by side over here . . . ."

      "I'll give you a statement, Barbara," Callahan said, "but I want you to take some footage of Dave by himself. And maybe we can get Ken out here for some tape, too. I don't want people to think they can't speak for themselves."

      Barbara rolled her eyes. "Well, hey, girl, why don't you just come down to the station and edit this thing for me, too?"

      She smiled charmingly. "Oh, could I? That would be real helpful!"

      C.D. Phelps had moved to the side and was jotting notes, while her cameraman took a few candids, but all three of the women laughed when Kelly said that.

      "Come on now, K.R.," Barbara's cameraman chimed in, focusing. "You know how this works. Move closer to your client so I can frame this right." He looked around the camera at them for a minute and smiled. "Dave can you slouch down a little? Or can someone get that lawyer a box to stand on? You look like a midget, K.R."

      "I was always told good things come in small packages," Starsky said quietly, and the group laughed good-naturedly as Callahan's freckles stood out from her blush. The look she gave him was not strictly business-like.

      You're a pretty lady, Starsky thought, gazing back at her. Hutch's right. You don't deserve to be jerked around by a couple of cops who can't figure out what they are. But he couldn't deny how good, how normal it felt to be standing beside her just as one man and one woman.

      "Do I look okay?" he asked her quietly.

      She gave him a perfunctory once over, straightened the lapel of his leather jacket, then pulled off his shades. "Wearing sunglasses after dark makes you look like a hood," she said, as she tucked the folded glasses into his pocket. "Or a vampire. Besides, we wouldn't want to hide your lovely eyes." That last statement seemed to have escaped against her will, and she looked slightly uncomfortable.

      He found himself giving her the grin Hutch called his moving-in-for-the-kill grin. "You like my eyes, huh?"

      She didn't answer, but gave him an intense stare, her green eyes more captivating than he remembered.

      "I like yours, too," he said.

      Then the moment was broken as the cameraman cued the reporter. "Okay, we're on."

      Barbara came right to the point. "Ms. Callahan, do you think it was a good idea for your clients to take on jobs at LA's most prominent gay bar, the Green Parrot? Is that the kind of work policemen should be engaged in?"

      "It's an honest job," Callahan said distinctly, "and they're currently suspended without pay from the police department. How many of us can afford to be without a salary? The gay community wants to support these men against the discrimination they've endured at the hands of the city. But, of course, what we really want is to see them back in their careers, protecting all of the city, not just some of its citizens . . . ."

      While the tones of her lilting voice washed over him, Starsky became more and more aware of the sense of her physical self as she stood close to him. He caught the pleasant scent of something she was wearing—perfume? soap?—and was able to admire the clean shine of her tidy hair. Next to some of the glamorous starlets that he'd seen tonight, both the real women and the elaborate drag queens, her simple suit and the way she underplayed her own attractiveness was a refreshing change. As Starsky listened to her defending him and Hutch against the entire world, he felt drawn to her on many levels. It wasn't just because she was the only woman in the city willing to look at him as a man, either. In a city of a million liars, she was totally honest and sincere. How often did he and Hutch ever find anyone like that?

      He realized suddenly that she had stopped talking and that he'd lost track of what she was saying.

      "Okay, Dave," Barbara said as her cameraman moved into a different position. "You're the star now."

      Callahan smiled reassuringly at him as she stepped away, and there was a glint in her eye that he wanted to believe was just for him. He felt his emotions careening back and forth. Hutch had told him to go ahead, ask her out, go with her . . . but the memory of Hutch's touch still burned on his skin.

      If he didn't stop thinking about all of this, he'd be so confused he'd never be able to act on anything. He blanked his mind, softly hummed a silent Om and tried to regain his center.

      "Just stand there, Dave," Barbara advised him as her cameraman refocused, "and try to look natural, okay? Then we'll go get your partner and get some more tape with him." She looked back at the cameraman to see if he was ready, as he proceeded to adjust his settings.

      Starsky fidgeted and scanned the street, aware of the crowd watching the taping and calling encouragement to him. C.D. Phelps was talking to Spike and taking notes, while her photographer snapped pictures. When Spike caught his eye, she gave him a big grin and pantomimed driving his car. He started to laugh, then had to struggle to compose himself for the camera. He didn't need to look like a grinning idiot during this interview.

      "Okay, Dave, we're on," Barbara said, when her cameraman nodded. "Detective Starsky, were you and your partner regular customers of the Green Parrot before your suspension? Is that why the owners offered you work?"

      The question, and its blatant implication, startled him and he glanced at Callahan for guidance. She nodded encouragingly, and he remembered her telling him to answer honestly.

      He turned back to the reporter. "No, actually, the only association my partner and I had with this establishment was during a murder investigation involving another police officer several years ago when . . . ."

      He trailed off as his peripheral vision spotted a plain, dark sedan with a missing headlight rounding the corner to cruise by the bar. He'd seen that same car four of five times tonight, always moving slowly, going around and around the block . . . . He couldn't remember seeing it ever letting anyone out or picking anyone up . . . .

      "When what, Dave? Dave?" Barbara sounded exasperated. "Did you forget what you were going to say? Listen, that's okay, but let's take this again from the top. You need to make your statement all at once. From the beginning, okay? I'll ask the same question and you give me a complete response this time. We ready?"

      But Starsky was too distracted by the sedan. Behind him, by Emil's station, he could hear Huggy's voice as he joked with the big bouncer. He remembered Huggy's warning.

      The streets are rumblin' with something . . . something bad.

      So when the sedan slowed down even more and the snout of an automatic weapon emerged from the passenger's window, Starsky wasn't even surprised. The weapon took aim at Callahan standing alone on the sidewalk.

      Starsky launched himself, grappling the woman in a full body tackle and throwing her down to the ground as bullets shattered the glass of the Parrot's big front window.

      "GET DOWN GET DOWN GET DOWN!" Starsky shouted to everyone around them. He climbed over Kelly, shielding her small frame with his bigger body. The automatic chattered, bullets tearing into the bar, flying wildly over them. Glass fell all around them, on them, in his hair. He kept their heads low and pressed them into the unyielding sidewalk. Why couldn't he have a goddamned gun?

      Beneath him, Callahan clutched his leather jacket, her body shaking. Yeah, I'm scared, too, sweetheart!

      The crowd flattened like a trained squadron, as screams tore through the bystanders. How many had been hit? He had no idea. Had Barbara caught a bullet? C.D.? Emil or Huggy? He didn't know. All he was aware of was himself and the woman he was trying to save.

      Tires screamed and he glanced up to see a trail of smoking rubber as the sedan sped away, careening around the corner. Huggy was instantly by his side, and a second later, Hutch emerged from the bar, baseball bat in hand, expression frantic. People were crying, shouting, wailing in pain.

      Starsky got up and grabbed Huggy, shoving him at the dazed, terrified Callahan. "Get her inside! She's the target. HUTCH!"

      His partner dashed over, as they all helped Callahan to her feet.

      "They missed. They're gonna come around again," Starsky yelled and Hutch nodded.

      Hutch turned to Emil. "Keep everyone down! They're coming back. Stay down!"

      People shrieked in panic, some fleeing across the street through the flood of traffic.

      Barbara was clambering to her feet, clutching at her cameraman. "Did you get hit? Are you okay?"

      The man was dazed, and there was blood on his arm. "Nicked me," he said, gasping. "I'm okay. But I got the footage."

      "You're a genius!" Barbara said, looking worriedly at his arm.

      "That's evidence!" Starsky said, pointing at the camera.

      They just about had Kelly to the bullet-riddled doors of the bar, when Hutch yelled, "Here they come! EVERYONE DOWN!"

      Starsky spotted the sedan as it turned the corner onto the main avenue and started rolling toward them. It was moving faster now. He gave Huggy and Callahan a final shove inside the bar. A dozen drag queens who'd been standing in the doorway, camping for the camera, surrounded them and pulled them inside to safety then slammed the heavy door shut.

      He turned to Hutch. "Hey, I'm the baseball player here. Gimme that."

      Hutch watched the circling sedan as he tossed the baseball bat to his partner. Starsky caught it cleanly, and exchanged a meaningful glance with his partner. They nodded resolutely, and without another word, split up, Starsky going left, Hutch going right. They moved low in opposite directions along the line of parked cars, using them for cover. Starsky ran hunched over, cradling the bat as he got closer to the sedan. Hutch moved farther away from it, then waited until it drew close.

      The sedan slowed, no doubt looking for its intended victim. Panic erupted among the people lying on the ground, and more of them bolted to escape the anticipated hail of bullets.

      As the sedan cruised parallel to the bar's doors, Hutch jumped out between two parked cars and appeared directly in front of it. Standing up and waving his arms at the occupants, he was a shocking apparition in white. "HEY! ASSHOLES!" he shouted. "LOOKING FOR ME?"

      That was Starsky's cue. He bolted from his hiding place beside a parked car and came up behind the sedan. As the automatic weapon emerged from the window and aimed for Hutch, he brought the baseball bat down onto the muzzle with all his might. The gun went off as Hutch dodged out of the way, and the bullets slammed harmlessly into the street. The butt of the weapon jerked upwards, striking the shooter in the chin, dazing him. Starsky tried to grab the weapon, but the driver accelerated with a screech of tires and Starsky couldn't hold it.

      The sedan lurched forward, but now the heavy traffic worked against it. At the sound of gunfire, drivers had reacted without thinking and there were tangles of cars all over the main drag. Hutch took off down the sidewalk, going after the sedan on foot. Starsky ran into the street, nearly getting clipped by a car trying to escape the scene. Darting around it, he ran straight up the center line as cars zigged around him as they tried to avoid colliding with the accelerating sedan. He saw Hutch struggling to catch up to the car as the crowded thoroughfare slowed its escape route. The thought of them losing the car in traffic enraged Starsky and his anger gave him a surge of power as he raced down the middle of the street, dodging vehicles and fleeing pedestrians.

      At the next intersection, heavy traffic had come to an involuntary halt, and the sedan, trapped, slowed. Starsky saw the weapon emerging from the car again, as if the killers could shoot the cars around them dead and enable their escape.

      Not this time, buddy, Starsky thought. His speed never faltered as his legs devoured the distance to the vehicle. He'd lost sight of Hutch and prayed he was nearby as he caught up to the car, jumped onto the back of the trunk, then the roof. He slammed the bat down against the half-opened passenger window, throwing all his weight into it. The window shattered and the bat connected hard with the face of the shooter.

      Then Hutch was there, grabbing the weapon, controlling its aim, yanking it out of the hands of the wounded shooter.

      Without hesitation, Starsky spun around and smashed the bat into the driver's side window, trying to stop the driver from pulling forward as cars frantically cleared out of their way. The driver ducked and escaped the bat's blow. Starsky slammed the wooden weapon against the windshield again and again, until it was a maze of cracks impossible to see through. Let's hear it for safety glass, he thought.

      The sound of distant police sirens cut through the air, as Hutch successfully wrested the weapon away from the shooter, yanked open the car door, and pulled the dazed man out onto the street. He was bleeding from the mouth and nose, but still struggled to get free. Hutch slammed him against the sedan, making it rock, then shoved the guy onto the ground, where Starsky lost sight of him.

      Starsky jumped down to the ground on the driver's side as a small handgun emerged from the driver's window. The muzzle was aimed his way and discharged as he flattened himself against the sedan's side. The bullet missed him, but blew out the tire of a nearby car. Its driver skidded away from the scene on the rim. The baseball bat whistled before it connected with the driver's wrist. The man screamed as the bat crunched on bone, and screamed again when Starsky tore the gun out of his hand, and pulled him from the car by the broken wrist.

      The sirens grew louder. As Starsky subdued his prisoner, he heard pounding feet, as if a well-shod herd were about to run them down. He looked up to see half the patrons of the Green Parrot—drag queens, conservative gays, leathermen, and punks—bearing down on the scene. He suddenly feared the riot he hadn't considered possible before.

      "Hutch?" he called, unable to see him around the car.

      "I'm okay," Hutch answered. "My man's down."

      "Mine, too," Starsky said. "But we've got company, partner."

      The approaching sirens couldn't cut through the angry voices as the enraged mob approached.

      "HOLD IT RIGHT THERE!" Hutch shouted, as he stood up beside the sedan. He'd hauled his prisoner to his feet and shoved him, face first, against the car, holding him there.

      The crowd slowed, but Starsky could see how angry they were.

      "Go on back to the bar!" Hutch ordered. "We've got this under control."

      "The hell we will!" one of the more flamboyantly dressed queens answered. "They think they can shoot us down in the streets? They think we won't fight back because we're queers? We're gonna tear these bastards apart." The crowd shouted in agreement.

      Starsky's prisoner suddenly grunted, and Starsky realized it was in fear. The man cringed against him, as though trying to hide.

      "No, you're not!" Hutch shouted back. "We're going to handle this right. By the law! Go back to the bar!"

      The crowd wavered and Starsky had the sudden, sickening realization that they were on the razor's edge of losing total control of this situation. As his prisoner struggled to escape his grasp, he tried deflecting everyone's attention.

      "Hey!" he called out. "We gotta secure these guys. Anyone got any handcuffs?"

      There was a sudden murmur in the mob, then a dozen leathermen stepped forward, holding out an assortment of cuffs, like a bizarre metal bouquet. The nearest ones were from the three guys who'd jumped Hutch just the night before. Starsky caught Hutch's eye, and they both almost smiled at the bizarre situation. Gratefully, they accepted two pairs of cuffs and secured the shooters to the car.

      While Starsky was tightening the cuffs on his prisoner and wondering how to calm the crowd's anger, the first cop car arrived. It was an unmarked vehicle with a Mars light on top. Starsky looked up in dismay as Russo and Wilson emerged. He'd totally forgotten about them hovering around the bar, hoping to get something on him and Hutch. Russo's expression was positively gleeful.

      "HANDS ON THE CAR!" Russo shouted, gun drawn.

      It took Starsky a second to realize the big cop was shouting at him. He glanced at Wilson, who also had his gun drawn and was moving around to Hutch's side of the car. Wilson looked unhappy, but he was letting his partner run the scene. Tomas was last out of the car and hung back as if unsure what to do.

      "YOU HEARD ME, BOY!" Russo bellowed at Starsky as he moved closer, gun unwavering. "HANDS ON THE CAR! LEGS SPREAD! ASSUME THE POSITION!"

      "What the hell are you talkin' about, man?" Starsky asked him, facing down the gun. "These are the perps, you jackass. Me an' Hutch did everything but tie a bow on 'em for you."

      Russo grabbed him roughly by his jacket collar, slammed him belly first against the car, kicked his feet apart and dug the gun into his ribs. "I SAID ASSUME THE POSITION, FAGGOT! YOU CAN FIGURE OUT WHICH ONE! DO IT NOW!"

      Starsky looked over the roof of the car. Hutch was braced against the roof as Wilson patted him down. Hutch stared at him, red-faced with anger, but mouthed, "Don't resist!"

      Starsky started trembling with rage as Russo pawed him roughly, shoving him against the car, touching his body as if he were a common criminal.

      "You're busted, boy," Russo said to him cheerfully. "I'll see the two of you in the tank tonight and off the force permanently in the morning. I'll get you accommodations in the same cell so at least you won't be lonely, cocksucker." Russo clamped a cuff on Starsky's left wrist as he threatened him. He was paying no attention to the real criminals—and no attention at all to the mob.

      "Russo," Starsky spat back defiantly, "you are just too stupid to live."

      Russo shoved the gun muzzle hard into Starsky's ribs in payment, making him wince.

      "WHO THE HELL YOU CALLIN' A FAGGOT, PIG?" The voice belonged to Roland, the big bear who'd gone after Hutch last night. He was still sporting a black eye and a swollen nose and lip from their fight, but he was clearly ready for another round. "You'd better let those guys go, if you know what's good for you!" He and his buddies advanced threateningly on Russo and Wilson, and the rest of the mob was ready to follow.

      For a minute, Russo looked stunned, and Starsky realized he was operating under the same prejudices Starsky himself had earlier this evening. He could almost read the confusion in the big man's small mind. Gays can't possibly be any kind of real threat, can they?

      "Don't do it! Don't!" Hutch implored the mob. "Go back to the bar. We can handle this. It'll be okay!"

      Will it? Starsky thought doubtfully, as Russo grabbed his other wrist and jerked his arm around to cuff it too tightly. Starsky would've happily killed the bastard if he could get loose.

      "They're not takin' you in," Roland told Hutch. His fists were clenched in anger, and all the gays behind him started shouting at the cops to release Starsky and Hutch.

      "Go back to the bar!" Hutch implored them. "We don't want anyone else to get hurt."

      The bikers looked at Hutch and hesitated. Clearly, they respected his authority, but they were ready to tackle Russo and Wilson.

      More sirens blared as several black-and-whites and unmarked cars converged on the street. To complicate matters, the TV crew caught up with them and were filming like crazy. C.D. and her photographer, looking a little ragged around the edges, were working to get the best coverage. Barbara was snapping orders to her crew, and even the wounded cameraman was getting good tape.

      Starsky turned as a new voice was heard over the racket of the mob and the sirens.

      "Russo, are you outta your fuckin' mind?" A slender figure dodged nimbly around the melee of cars. It was Linda Baylor, and she was pissed. Starsky was startled to realize she was partnered with an old partner of his—Joan Meredith. Meredith glanced at him sympathetically, then went around the car to argue with Wilson.

      "Get those goddamn cuffs offa that cop, you stupid bastard!" Linda demanded. Starsky wasn't so sure her mode of debate wasn't going to get him in more trouble.

      Russo leaned over her threateningly, his huge bulk an intimidating presence against her small form. "Don't think that I'd hesitate a single minute to kick your narrow ass, Baylor, just 'cause you're a bitch. Now, you and your girlfriend can get the hell out of here. Wilson and I are handling this."

      Linda was clearly not the least bit impressed. She got right up in his face. "You threatening me, Russo? Go on, take your best shot. Then I'll get to take mine. You uncuff that cop! Any jerk, that is any other jerk except you, can see they apprehended the shooters on this scene." She nodded toward the approaching cameramen. "This is gonna make you look real good on the eleven o'clock news!"

      A number of uniforms were now milling around, looking nervously at the mob of furious gays. Ray Higgins moved toward them.

      "She's right, Detective," Higgins said to Russo. "The telephone reports were pretty clear. Two shooters in a black sedan, with Starsky and Hutchinson taking off on foot in pursuit to apprehend." He glanced at them. "They were identified by name by everyone who called in. There's no reason to assume anything else but that they collared these men. If you're taking them in, you've got to charge them with something and you don't have anything."

      The mob started shouting at the cops to free Starsky and Hutch. The mood was turning ugly. But Russo was in his own world, Starsky knew. His need to disgrace them overrode any rational arguments anyone else might have.

      He and Hutch exchanged another worried glance. Wilson still hadn't cuffed Hutch, but Starsky knew Wilson wouldn't try to argue with Russo when he got like this. Starsky couldn't see any way out of this and wondered how many people would get hurt during the ensuing riot.

      There was a flurry of activity in the crowd and several figures suddenly emerged.

      "Everyone just cool it!" demanded a commanding voice.

      It was Sugar, decked out in costume for the ten o'clock show, which had been so rudely disrupted. She was sequined, begowned, and bewigged within an inch of her life, without a hair out of place. She was an aristocratic, outraged Bette Davis, and the mob parted before her like the Red Sea before Moses.

      "Now quiet down!" she ordered. Amazingly, everyone did just that. Sugar turned around, and held out her hand. Huggy appeared, took it, and came forward. He had his arm around someone; it was Callahan limping up to Sugar's side.

      Callahan looked like she'd been through a typhoon as she stood next to the perfectly made-up Sugar. Her hair was a wreck, her suit dirty and disheveled, she'd lost the heel to one of her shoes, and her face was smudged. Starsky could see she was shaking.

      Sugar and Huggy stood on either side of her, helping her over to where Starsky and Hutch were being held. In spite of her rattled condition, Callahan shoved a loose tendril of hair out of her face, drew herself up to her full height, and faced Russo squarely. Starsky could hear the quaver in her voice, but he didn't think anyone else would. Every camera was trained on them.

      "Detective," she said calmly, "you'd better have a damned good reason for restraining my clients, or this is just going to be another charge in the civil rights action we have pending against this city."

      "I don't have to tell you nothin'," Russo growled, leaning forward.

      Callahan was so shaken she flinched slightly, but didn't budge, didn't drop her gaze. "Oh, yes you do. You have to explain to me, to the media, and to every citizen who just witnessed this assassination attempt," she gestured at the angry crowd of gays, "why you are arresting the targeted victims of the attack before you would arrest the actual people who committed the crime. My clients courageously pursued, apprehended, and then placed these dangerous men under citizen's arrest at the risk of their own lives, and everyone here saw it. Including this television crew and myself. What are the charges, Detective?"

      "We can discuss this down at the station," Russo insisted.

      Yeah, Starsky thought, and if Hutch and me acquire some brand new bruises on the way there, well, that had to have happened during the original altercation, right?

      Russo tried to shove Starsky forward by the cuffs. He planted himself and refused to budge.

      Callahan, with Sugar and Huggy's support, moved directly in front of them. "What are the charges?" she demanded.

      "Yeah," Linda Baylor chimed in. "I'd like to know that, too."

      "Tell us all," Roland bellowed, and the crowd took up the chant.

      Wilson called over to his partner, "Russo! Give it up. We've made a mistake. It happens. The confusion of the scene. Let it go."

      Russo glared at the older detective and there was a tense moment, but finally Russo had to concede defeat. Furious, he unfastened Starsky's cuffs. "Yeah. Okay. You're right, Wilson. It's a mistake. It happens." He turned to Baylor. "Why don't you handle the rest of it?" Without another word, he walked away. Wilson followed him, and they climbed back into their car.

      Tomas lingered another moment, and Starsky realized he was trying to make eye contact with Trixie, to make sure she was okay. Starsky spotted her near the back of the crowd waving a scarf, and Tomas must've seen it, too, because his face relaxed as he got into the back seat and shut the door. Russo drove away.

      The tension at the scene noticeably relaxed as they left. The crowd burst into applause. Roland raised his fist to Hutch in salute, and Hutch nodded and smiled back.

      As the police moved forward to take control of the shooters, Hutch spoke to the crowd. "Come on, now, let's all go back to the Parrot. Let the police do their job. If you witnessed the action, we'll need your statements, okay?"

      Starsky saw a number of uniformed cops moving through the crowd, collecting information. Traffic would be snarled here for hours, the congestion eventually branching out to the rest of the city. There'd be a lot of coverage. Well, at least he didn't have to worry about what they'd look like in it. They always looked good when they were in action. He glanced at Barbara and she gave him a thumbs-up and a grin. It would make her look good, too, to be on the scene for something like this.

      Huggy and Sugar were still standing close to Callahan, whose freckles stood out starkly against her pale face. He moved over to her and gave her a smile. "Hey, there. You look like you could use a drink, lady."

      She smiled gamely back at him and then her legs gave out. Sugar and Huggy caught her before she fell.

      "Hey, none of that now!" Huggy said worriedly.

      "She's looking a little shocky to me," Sugar said.

      Anxiously, Starsky took hold of her hands, which were clammy.

      "I'm okay," she said, her voice a tremor of its normal self. "I'm okay, really."

      "Yeah, sure you are," Starsky said.

      "There's paramedics and ambulances back at the bar," Sugar said. "Let's get her back there. Let them check her over."

      "I'm okay," she insisted as her eyes started to roll up. She sagged against Huggy.

      Enough, Starsky thought, and scooped her up in his arms.

      Hutch appeared beside him. He looked anxious and placed a hand against Callahan's forehead. "She didn't get shot, did she? She's cold."

      "No," Starsky assured him, "I think she's coming down from the rush of adrenaline. I'll take her to the paramedics. You okay?"

      "Yeah," Hutch assured him, giving his arm a squeeze. "I'll handle everything here. You take care of her."

      Starsky nodded. It was just another crime scene, him and Hutch working together to get it done right. He had to remind himself he still didn't have his badge.

      "I can walk," Kelly insisted, looking embarrassed in his arms.

      "You just lay there and swoon like a lady," Sugar insisted, patting her hand. "Who knows, Kelly Rose? You might get to liking it."

      Callahan smiled weakly as they approached the chaotic rescue scene in front of the bar.

      "Why don't I get you a drink?" Huggy offered as they drew closer.

      She shook her head. "No. I don't drink."

      "Get it anyway," Starsky insisted. Huggy nodded. They both recognized that she wasn't in any condition to make decisions for herself.

      "Trust me, honey," Sugar chimed in, "everyone needs a good stiff one once in awhile. Even you."

      Starsky shot her a look and then realized she hadn't intended the double entendre.

      Sugar had the grace to look embarrassed as Callahan mustered the strength to chuckle.

      "Who said that?" Sugar said in dismay. "And I wasn't even doing Mae! Well, it's still good advice."

      "I'll remember that," Kelly murmured, but she couldn't look at Starsky when she said it.

      "What's this?" a paramedic asked as Starsky set his burden down on the bumper of his wagon. "She get hit?"

      Starsky shook his head. "She nearly fainted. She's been bounced around. Might've hit her head. She's a little shocky, I think," Starsky said.

      The paramedic nodded, then leaned down and spoke to Callahan directly as he shined a light in her eyes. Huggy appeared with a brandy, but she waved it away until the paramedic nodded. She took a sip then made a face and handed it back to Huggy.

      Starsky looked around the scene. There were at least six people on the ground being treated for either gunshot wounds or injuries caused by flying glass. It was a miracle he and Callahan had escaped unscathed.

      At the outskirts of the makeshift triage site, he spotted several of paramedics working hard over a tiny figure. He couldn't see the person, but then one of the medics moved, and he saw a flash of arm, and a familiar tattoo. Then he recognized the small crowd of frightened-looking people standing nearby.

      He was moving toward them before he was willing to accept it. He slipped in among the medics working on the injured woman. Picking up her right hand, he found it cold, limp. His throat tightened as he stared at the multiple gunshot wounds stitched across her chest.

      "Spike?" he murmured around the lump in his throat. He squeezed her hand, willing a response. "Spike? Come on, girl! Hang in there. You can do it!" He looked up into the face of the nearest paramedic, his eyes asking the only important question.

      The man looked back at him morosely and shook his head.

      Starsky couldn't believe it, couldn't accept it. He glanced at Spike's friends, saw them holding onto Denise who was weeping inconsolably as her lover's life slipped away. He looked back down at the girl just as he felt her squeeze his hand back weakly. She opened her eyes, gazed up at him and gave a thin smile. "Dave . . . ?" She looked so tiny, so frail, all the power of her personality leached away by small pieces of indiscriminate lead.

      "Don't talk!" he said. "Save your strength. You're gonna be okay, you hear me? You gotta believe that, Spike! Who's gonna explain all those gay jokes to me if you don't? And when you're all better, you gotta take the Torino out and let her rip. Don't you wanna do that?" He felt like he was babbling, begging her to live.

      "The Torino?" she whispered. "You'd let me?"

      "I promise," he swore, gripping her hand too tight.

      "Can Denise come?"

      "Everyone," he said. "We'll take everyone for a ride. You can drive her all day. Spike? Spike?"

      She was still smiling, still staring at him, but he realized she wasn't seeing anything anymore as her hand relaxed completely. As if Denise could sense the passing of her lover's essence, she started to wail, and her friends enfolded her, bracing her with their bodies against the loneliness of her grief.

This is a prayer for the souls of the departed
Those who've gone and left their babies brokenhearted
Young lives over before they got started
This is a prayer for the souls of the departed
            Souls of the Departed—Bruce Springsteen