Chapter 17

You say there's a better place for you to be. 
It's not with me.
           Take Me Back—Bonnie Tyler

      When K.R. woke up right after dawn, she felt like Scarlet O'Hara the morning after Rhett had carried her up Tara's staircase. Her body was loose-limbed, satisfied, and a bit licentious. Not at all like her normal self.

      Hang on to that feeling, she told herself. Who knows how long it'll be 'til the next time.

      After a luxurious stretch, she realized she was completely alone. Drowsily, she patted the bed beside her and frowned when she found it empty. She looked around, confused. She knew David wasn't going to stay and didn't expect to find him there. But it was one thing to be abandoned by a man, and another to be deserted by your cat. Buddy never woke up before her, not ever. Was he so annoyed by all the stress of last night that he'd decided to find a more peaceful place to sleep? Or was he shunning her for having the nerve to show affection to another male? With that cat anything was possible.

      Then she smelled something. Something . . . wonderful. Fresh coffee. Really good fresh coffee. It was way too early for any of her volunteers to be here. She wondered if David's guilt complex involved delivering breakfast to make amends. She hoped not. She wasn't ready to see him again. She'd never been in a situation like this before and wasn't sure how to act. As much as she was attracted to him, she genuinely hoped he and Hutch had been able to communicate effectively last night and come to some compatible arrangement. David Starsky was a very confused and unhappy man.

      The aroma of fresh coffee and the mystery of her missing cat were too much for her to resist. Reluctantly, she shed her Scarlet O'Hara lassitude, found her robe and left her bed.

      She opened her bedroom door to find an angular, garishly dressed man spreading a variety of aromatic foodstuffs on her table as he poured steaming coffee into two mugs. As he worked, he kept up a dialogue with Buddy, who was attentively watching his every move.

      " . . . And this," Huggy explained seriously to the cat, "is the finest French Roast in the city. Not that that would impress you, of course. But combined with the other delicacies of warm apple compote, scrambled eggs de la Bear, challah bread French toast—that's one of those mixed cultural things, you dig? A little French, a little Jewish, with a touch of cinnamon and sugar to make it all get along—fresh-squeezed orange juice and broiled grapefruit with orange blossom honey, and what you have here is the best breakfast money can't buy."

      Buddy seemed enthralled. As soon as Huggy stopped talking, he let out a plaintive meow.

      "Would I forget you?" Huggy asked. "I am hurt, I say wounded, that you could even ask such a thing. For you, my fine furry friend, I have brought something extra special. Your reputation precedes you, sir, and I am well aware that you cannot be easily swayed, and certainly not by mere food. Therefore, for you, from my own private stash . . . ." Huggy reached into his pocket and pulled out a plastic bag filled with what looked like dried herbs.

      K.R.'s eyes widened.

      "This, my compatriot of color," Huggy said, sprinkling some of the green stuff on the floor, "is primo catnip. The finest in all of LA. Enjoy."

      Buddy's nose twitched as he investigated the herb. Collapsing on the floor with a loud purr, he began to roll all over it.

      "Isn't it a little early to be getting my cat stoned?" K.R. asked, leaning on the door frame.

      Huggy looked up and grinned unashamedly. "It's never too early to feel good, m'lady. I hope it wasn't my catty conversation that woke you."

      "Who could sleep through those incredible aromas?" she said, approaching the table. It occurred to her that this was the second time in twenty-four hours she was entertaining a man in her bathrobe. She hoped this wasn't going to become a trend. "If I'd known you delivered," she told Huggy, "I would have ordered breakfast from you long ago. Of course, I don't remembering ordering this one . . . ."

      "Sit! Sit!" he encouraged, as he placed a prepared plate before her. Everything smelled wonderful and was still hot. "Let's just say Providence provides . . . ."

      "Providence . . . what is that?" she asked as she dipped a spoon into the sweet, warm grapefruit. "Starsky's middle name?"

      Huggy's expression turned wry. "You need to understand Starsky. Food's important to him. I think he has an oral fixation."

      K.R. turned beet red to her hairline. Don't I know it!

      He noticed her color, but only smiled and said, "Poor choice of words, perhaps. But a gift of food is often his way of expressing . . . regrets."

      "Mmmm," she said around the succulent fruit as she tried to regain her aplomb. Not that she could have much anyway as she sat with uncombed hair in her bathrobe. "It may have been his idea, Mr. Bear, but you were the one who followed through. You didn't have to do all this." She took a sip of the coffee and closed her eyes in bliss. "But I'm grateful you did."

      Huggy's warm brown eyes fixed on hers. "I wanted to. So, enjoy."

      She smiled at him and did just that. "Do you do everything with such panache? I can't believe you went to all this trouble."

      Huggy had brought breakfast for two and was spearing a piece of French toast when he said, "Why, 'panache' is my middle name! Huggy 'Panache' Bear Brown. And it's not nearly as much trouble as you've gone through for friends of mine."

      She nodded and continued eating. "Lord knows I'm going to need this for energy. Thanks to your friends, my day's going to be pretty harried. I'm sure I'll have to be meeting with those detectives over what happened last night. And I'm going to have to go another round with the mayor's office. They're running me in circles. They won't bend on the issue of returning the guys to active duty together. They'll let them go back only if they work with other partners." She paused in mid-chew. "I never even got a chance to tell them anything about that last night."

      Huggy made a sympathetic face. "Actually, those weren't the friends I was referring to. I was thinking of some of my regular customers who've had occasion to work with you."

      She wondered again how he'd become so involved with the two detectives. "But . . . you have been friends with them for a long time?"

      Huggy paused. "I've been friends with Starsky since he came from New York. We were both kids. Ran the streets together. Got into and out of too much trouble. Hutch came along later. After they met in the Academy."

      They ate companionably for a while, then Huggy finished and put down his fork. Holding the coffee mug in his long, slender hands, he said, "Listen . . . I told myself I wasn't going to say anything . . . but I really have to. There's something you need to know about those two."

      She had to stop herself from saying, You mean something I didn't learn last night?

      "I've known them as long as they've known each other," Huggy said. "And right from the start, it's been rare that anyone's ever been able to come between them. One time, Starsky had a lady named Terry, a special lady . . . and suddenly the three of them were everywhere together. But . . . she died . . . and that's really the last time anyone's even come close to being in the middle. Usually, women get battled over, competed for . . . and in the long run left behind. For years, I wondered if there were something—I don't want to say sexual, because it's heavier than that—so let's call it some special bond between them that the rest of us mere mortals could only observe. But every time I thought I'd figured it out, they changed the rules again. It pains me to see them going through this, when it should be so easy for them—so natural. But Starsky never did like doing things the easy way. And I know he can't handle seeing himself the way the world is viewing him now."

      K.R. couldn't think of anything to say, so she sipped her coffee and waited.

      "They've always loved each other more fiercely than they ever loved anyone else," Huggy said. "I can't see that changing. Even if they break apart over all this, that won't change. They'll just be broken and alone, still loving each other. They're all they really have."

      "I wouldn't like to see that happen," she said honestly, "them separating. Thanks for telling me that. It . . . helps."

      He shrugged and smiled.

      "How did you meet Sugar?" she asked, curious.

      His expression changed, warming even more. He seemed to be thinking back before answering, as if figuring out how much to say.

      "I met Sugar when she first started performing. Long time ago. I was young . . . and so was she. I hung with a mixed crowd—gays, straights, blacks, whites, never mattered much to me if the people were good at heart. But I'd never met anyone like her. She was altogether somethin' else. For about a year, she and I were, as they say, an 'item.' Like I said, I was young. I was in love. She knew better. Finally sent me back to the other side of the street. We've stayed friends all this time. Helped each other out of a few jams. We'll always be close."

      Instinctively, K.R. knew he'd just shared more with her than he would've with most people. "She's been a good friend to me, too."

      Huggy smiled, his gaunt face animated, his dark, liquid eyes sparkling. "Considering all the good friends we share, it's amazing we haven't gotten to know each other before this."

      "I think part of that is our business hours. Yours are late at night, and mine, normally, are during the day. Isn't this early for you to be up?"

      He nodded. "Haven't been to bed yet. I'll catch some zzz's a little later on. Fortunately, I'm not opening up today, my other bartender is. I won't have to be at the Pits until late." He cocked his head to one side. "Right around dinner time, in fact. Any chance I could interest you in some supper—on the house?"

      She laughed. "After doing all this? I couldn't possibly impose on you for another meal."

      He was about to say something else when the phone rang. After lifting the receiver and saying hello, she was surprised by the strange voice she heard on the other end.

      "It's for you," she told Huggy, handing him the phone.

      He didn't look surprised to be receiving a call at her place. Taking the receiver, he said, "Excuse me," then, into the phone, "It's Huggy." He listened for a moment without comment, concentrating on what he was being told. "I hear what you're sayin'. What else? Uh-huh. Okay, I'll pass it on. Let me know if you find out anything else. You got it, cuz." He handed her back the phone, but looked troubled.

      "Everything okay?" she asked as she replaced the receiver.

      He paused, again seeming to decide how much to say, then finally told her, "One of my cousins was looking into some info that was on that film spread all over town. He works in the industry, in one of the film labs. He thinks he knows what lab developed the original film."

      "Great!" she said, then hesitated at the look on his face. "Isn't it?"

      "The info's righteous," Huggy assured her. "My cousin knows his stuff. What's troubling me is my cousin says there are three guys in that lab who are part of Whitelaw's circle . . . and yours, too."

      She sat back, the information disturbing her. "You mean . . . some of my volunteers . . . ?"

      "Gay volunteers," Huggy said specifically. "And I know Whitelaw was talking to someone over there about this same information. I expected him to come up with the answers before my cousin did, since he was away on vacation. But so far, he hasn't . . . and if his people are working in that lab, you think they would've told him immediately that it was their code."

      K.R. didn't like where this was heading. "You . . . think that gays are trying to cover up the origins of that film?"

      Huggy sighed. "Doesn't make much sense, does it? Unless . . . someone in the gay community has a hand in this."

      "Why would they? What could they gain?"

      "Political advantage. Starsky and Hutch were two of the best known, and best thought of, cops in the city. With you on their side, the odds are not only that they will be reinstated, but with honors, and become the city's first official gay cops."

      "I can't accept that," K.R. said. "Gay people—of all people—know what it's like to have their lives ruined by exposure. Peter Whitelaw knows that better than anyone. He's the most ethical man I know. I can't believe he would ruin the lives of two men he barely knew . . . ."

      "I'm not ready to believe that either," Huggy said quickly. "Not about Peter, anyway. It's not his style. But gays are just as capable of selling out as anyone, if the price is right."

      She couldn't deny that. "Political advantage is an odd motivation . . . but . . . ." Looking around the kitchen, she spied her briefcase where she'd dropped it last night when David had—Don't think about that now. Don't do that to yourself. She grabbed the beat-up bag and searched through it. Pulling out a notebook, she glanced at Huggy and decided to repay his confidence with her own. "A few nights ago, one of my contacts gave me this. He . . . uh . . . lifted it from a place he delivers to. It's a scratch pad from Gunther's current lawyer, Josh Cantrall."

      Huggy's eyebrows lifted to his hairline and he whistled. "Well, I've got to admire the young man. That's a trick I've employed myself at a critical moment. Obviously, there's something in it that bothers you."

      She flipped through the pages, her fingers finding the reference. "When he snatched it, he didn't really think it had anything relevant in it, but since the opportunity came up, he took advantage of it. There's a few notes so terse as to be incomprehensible, a few notations of 'See the old man today,' which probably refers to meetings with Gunther, and then there's this . . . ."

      She finally found what she was looking for. "It's a diagram with nearly indecipherable notes. I can't figure out what it's for . . . but there are two different handwritings on it. Most of it is in the same hand as the rest of these notes. I'm assuming it's Cantrall's. But then below the diagram is a line jotted by someone else, as though this were drawn during a meeting, and the other person had something to add. The line doesn't mean anything to me . . . but the minute I saw it, I thought the handwriting was familiar. I haven't had time to figure it out. But I know that writing. Which means I know who wrote it. And if I know the person that well . . . that means they work for me or that I'm working for them. So why is one of my volunteers, or my clients, having meetings with Gunther's lawyer and helping him draw diagrams? It's been on my mind ever since I picked it up."

      "Can I see it?" Huggy asked.

      She pushed it over to him. The second he looked at it, his face registered surprise.

      "What?" she asked impatiently.

      "This—diagram. It's really rough, but that's a drawing of the inside of Starsky's apartment." He peered at the note scrawled on the bottom and shook his head in dismay. "That's an abbreviation of Starsky's address . . . and the address of my bar. So this note here, '20 min,' probably refers to the average amount of time it takes to get from my place to Starsky's."

      Her eyes widened. "I don't get it. Why isn't there a diagram of Hutch's place? They had cameras planted there, too."

      "Maybe that page got removed. There are pages missing; you can see where they've been torn out."

      "Well, the guys are convinced Gunther had something to do with this, but this isn't anything concrete enough to do anything with."

      "Yeah, but it tells us something else. Something I really don't like."

      "Such as?"

      "Whoever oversaw that film operation was in my bar when the guys drank that tainted brew. That person knew he or she had about twenty minutes from the time I left with the guys, to get to the lab and get things cookin'."

      "The bartender, maybe? The one who drugged the champagne in the first place?"

      Huggy frowned. "Couldn't be. He was there all night. Left after closing and then didn't show the next night. Skipped town before everything hit the fan. But he worked the night through, like everything was hunky-dory. No, it had to be someone else. The bar was crowded . . . but it was mostly regulars. And everyone's comfortable at the Pits. There's at least a dozen of your volunteers or Peter's who drop in there often enough for me to know their names. And it's not like we can go through the gay community asking for handwriting samples."

      "No . . . . But we can pin Peter down. See who he's got working with him at the film labs."

      Huggy shook his head. "I don't think we should tell anyone about this yet. I believe Peter is above something like this . . . but if there's one thing I've learned on the streets, it's never give up more than you have to. Let me see what I can turn up . . . . And in the meantime, you keep an eye and ear out. You might trip over the information if we're lucky. That okay with you?"

      She realized they were conspiring together, but it felt right. She trusted him, and her instincts were good. "Okay. For now."

      "We'll need to get together again. I might be able to wring some details outta my contacts by tonight." He grinned unashamedly and batted his long lashes. "So, how 'bout coming around for dinner? Strictly business, of course!"

      She had to laugh. "Mr. Bear, if I didn't know better, I'd think you were toying with me."

      He grew serious. "Ms. Callahan, where affairs of the heart are concerned . . . I never toy. I think highly of you, lady. I'm asking you out for dinner. It's not the Ritz, but the food is good, and . . . so are my intentions."

      His response took her by surprise. She sat back and realized she was gaping at him.

      "Okay," he said softly, "my timing may not be perfect. But who knows when I might have another opportunity to have your complete attention? If I've offended you, I apologize."

      "Oh, no!" she said quickly. "How could I be offended? Your gesture is kind, and I'm sure it's from the heart, but I don't need a consolation prize because of . . . last night."

      It was his turn to look surprised. "Last night? You think I asked you because . . . ?" He closed his eyes, then reopened them and leaned forward. "I'll do a lot of things for Starsky, but if I was in the business of repairing the emotional damage he's done to the ladies of LA, I'd have died of exhaustion a long time ago. My interest in you has nothing to do with either of those clowns. It's just me, Huggy Bear, having breakfast with a lady he'd like to know better. Share another meal with me. Let's become better friends. And not worry about what comes after."

      Beneath the table, Buddy had finally come out of his catnip-induced euphoria. He meowed weakly and stropped against Huggy's legs. She had to laugh. "Well, you've got his vote. That's saying something. Okay, Mr. Bear. I'll be there for dinner. Maybe one of us will have turned up something significant and we can confer."

      He nodded, and leaned down to pet the cat. "Yo, bro', good job. I'll make sure you're supplied with all the catnip you can snort." Then he looked back at her slyly. "Now all I have to do is convince the lady that it's time to move this relationship to a first name basis . . . ."


      The heavy door locked securely behind James Marshall Gunther as he entered the prison's private conference room. Cantrall was there already. He looked tense. A bead of sweat was trailing down the side of his jaw.

      "If you'd have told me what you'd planned for them," Gunther said quietly, "I would've warned you. Do you have any idea how much money and effort I've put into trying to kill them, only to have it backfire in my face?"

      Cantrall swallowed. "I wasn't interested in killing them. I knew you wouldn't want that. It was . . . Callahan I wanted to eliminate."

      Gunther was startled. "Callahan? You have so little confidence in your own abilities that you have to murder your legal opponents?"

      Cantrall closed his eyes. "I don't think you appreciate how dangerous she is. She's getting the public on their side, something I wouldn't have believed possible."

      "And you helped that along with your foolish attempt at killing her. You've made them heroes again—the very thing I wanted destroyed, and you've recreated them in a new light. How does this help us?"

      He sighed. "I . . . I still have a contingency. Something . . . I've been working on for awhile."

      Gunther was intrigued. Cantrall was inexperienced, but ambitious. Viciously so. "I think this time you'd better share the plan with me. I could've forestalled last night's disaster. If there are weaknesses in this other plan, I might have suggestions that could strengthen it."

      Cantrall seemed interested. They sat across the table from each other. Finally, Cantrall said, "It involves the police . . . ."

      Gunther smiled. He always enjoyed irony.


      When Starsky opened his eyes, he knew something had woken him, but he couldn't tell what. He lay still, getting his bearings. He was alone, which didn't surprise him. The place where Hutch's big body had lain was cool, so he knew he'd had been up for awhile. He'd slept through Hutch's rising.

      No wonder, he thought. His body felt more sated than he could remember. The memory of fucking Hutch was alive in every nerve cell, skittering along his skin, raising goose bumps. He forced his mind away from that and his mind was happy to comply. It wasn't nearly as mellow as his body.

      But there were no dreams. Maybe Hutch was right. Maybe he wouldn't have them anymore. Maybe you'll even miss them. No, he rejected that betraying thought.

      Then he heard something and concentrated. There were hardly any walls in Hutch's place, so there was little to stop sound. Hutch was talking to someone. That was what had woken him.

      The sound was coming from the living room, a soft murmuring of conversation. One-sided conversation. Hutch was on the phone. Starsky immediately felt a stab of jealousy. He remembered Hutch reassuring Whitelaw that he'd call him. Starsky had no doubt that's who Hutch was speaking with now.

      Stop it! Whitelaw probably thinks you murdered Hutch last night. It's only reasonable for Hutch to reassure him everything's okay. 

      That almost made him laugh mirthlessly as he imagined Hutch's side of the conversation. Yeah, Peter, everything's just fine. My partner just about raped me last night, claimed total ownership of me, but still doesn't love me. And this morning he has to work up the balls just to face me. Yeah, everything's just peachy.

      The least he could do was get out of the bed and shower and give Hutch the privacy he deserved. He flung back the covers and sat up. Glancing at the brass headboard, he was confronted with the stark evidence of last night's activities. The brass bars and the wall behind them were splashed with Hutch's semen, dry now and flaking. He wondered if it would stain the brass or the paint and be a permanent reminder of what he'd done.

      He left the bed and went into the bathroom, shutting the door and any chance to overhear Hutch's conversation. What a saint, he chided himself as he stepped beneath the warm spray.

      When he emerged, he felt marginally better and hoped, after drying himself, that the phone call was over. He left the bathroom and found his faded jeans and pulled them on. He could no longer hear any murmured dialog, and the apartment was now scented with aromas he had not enjoyed in a year. He frowned in confusion.

      Quietly, he approached the kitchen. Hutch was bustling around the stove. There were two mugs on the counter and two plates. The toaster popped and Hutch wrestled with hot slices of bread, nearly burning himself. Taking a spatula, Hutch flipped something that was cooking in a frying pan, then paused for a moment before sliding it out of the pan and onto a plate before doing the same thing to another one.

      Starsky drew near cautiously, having no idea what his reception would be like.

      Hutch was wearing his dove grey cords and a similarly colored tee shirt. Even those neutral shades looked good against his skin, and the tight pants and close-fitting shirt outlined his body attractively. It surprised Starsky that he could now see how attractive his partner was. How beautiful. Hutch's long blond hair trailed whitely over the shirt, and the memory of his grabbing a fistful of it tingled in his hand. His groin pulsed, and he realized if he didn't do something he was going to throw a rod from staring at his friend. He hated himself for feeling physical desire without any emotional response other than friendship.

      Friendship. You're quite a friend, aren't you?

      He suspected Hutch had gotten fully dressed so Starsky wouldn't have to see the vivid evidence of the bruises and bite marks he'd inflicted last night. Hutch's fair skin marked easily, but Starsky was used to seeing the tell-tale lines of women's fingernails written on Hutch's back. Not a man's rough hand marks. Not the impression of his own teeth.

      Forensic evidence, he thought humorlessly. Stuff that could hold up in court.

      "Breakfast is done," Hutch said without turning around. "Sit down. We're ready to eat."

      It didn't surprise Starsky that Hutch knew he was there. What did surprise him was his bland everything's-just-fine-here attitude.

      He sat as Hutch turned off the stove and carried a mug of coffee and a plate of food to him. Returning for his own, Hutch set it on the table and sat across from him. Starsky was relieved to see him plop down and sit normally, as if Starsky hadn't brutalized him last night.

      But then Starsky looked at his plate. He stared at it as though he'd been given pheasant under glass. Dismayed, he finally said, "Bacon? Eggs? Hash browns? Toast?"

      "Very good, Starsk," Hutch said as he cut into his eggs. The yolks ran thick, cooked perfectly, the way Hutch always made them. "And orange juice. You forgot that. Later we'll work on colors."

      The near-normal banter was more startling than the meal. Starsky felt like he'd gotten his wish, that they'd been transported back in time to before and it was a typical Sunday after a Saturday spent doing nothing, and they'd gotten up late after playing Monopoly too long the night before. But he knew that wasn't the case.

      "I don't get it," he said. Part of him wanted to eat and pretend nothing had changed, but he couldn't. Things had changed too radically. "You haven't let me eat like this in a year. If you're trying to kill me in revenge, I think this'll take too long to be really satisfying."

      He picked up a piece of bacon as tenderly as if it were a work of art, and smelled its aroma before taking a bite. It was cooked just the way he liked it, a little crisp, a little chewy. His mouth filled with saliva as the savory, salty taste and the pleasurable texture overwhelmed his senses. He remembered Hutch going on about fine caviar that time they were working that bum Amboy. Those nasty fish eggs weren't worth anything compared to this, a fine piece of hickory-smoked bacon. There were four pieces on his plate. It nearly brought tears to his eyes.

      Hutch smiled, as if appreciative of Starsky's return banter. "Well, the last couple of mornings you've been making breakfast the way I like it. I thought I ought to return the favor. While you were sleeping I went out for a grocery run."

      Of course. None of these forbidden foods, except the potatoes, had been in the house. What time did he get up? Starsky cut into the eggs, admiring how perfectly they were cooked. The rich taste was part of his childhood and thoroughly entwined with his memories of a thousand mornings like this with Hutch. Mornings of innocence. Of before.

      Before he could stop himself, he said, "Everything okay with Peter?" He congratulated himself on his civility. Too bad he couldn't have found any of that last night.

      Hutch paused. "Yeah. He's fine." He took a gulp of coffee, then put the mug down. "Starsky, I apologized to Peter for last night. For letting him think that . . . that I might be interested in him. I told him that I'd like to be his friend, his real friend, but . . . that was all there could be between us. He's okay about it. He understands."

      He does? Starsky thought in anguish. Can he explain it to me? "Why'd you do that, Hutch? Because I was so crazy last night? He . . . he has real feelings for you. Not just . . . ."

      Hutch shook his head. "I didn't do it for you. I did it for me. It was wrong for me to try to find myself by using someone else's feelings for me—just like it was wrong for me to push you at Kelly. It wasn't fair to either of them. And in the long run, it wouldn't have helped me. I know how I feel, and who I feel for. Coming to grips with it—I need to do that on my own. No one else has the answers for me."

      That's my Hutch. The Great Analyzer. All I can feel is panic and confusion while he's off figuring out what he needs to do to go on.

      "Look, Starsky," Hutch said, again in that calm, matter-of-fact, don't-you-hate-the-Dodgers'-line-up conversational style, "I know you're sitting there tearing your heart out over what's happened. I wish you wouldn't. I don't regret anything. Well . . . " he smiled charmingly, "I wouldn't mind still having a functional stereo, but I'm okay about it. I feel good this morning. Physically . . . and about myself. So, if you're going through the hairshirt routine, do me a favor and spare me, huh?"

      Starsky shook his head. "I'll never understand you if I know you for a million years. I acted like a maniac on steroids last night. I was as wrong as those guys who jumped you in the john. I couldn't think, I couldn't listen, all I could do was treat you like a piece of property I'd invested in that someone else was trying to snatch. And that's okay with you?"

      Hutch had a funny look on his face. He seemed both distant and sanguine. As if he'd come to some understanding that truly satisfied him. "You acted like a man afraid of losing something he desperately needed. I'm in love with you, Starsky. I want you to need me. But I know how you feel later, after you've been out of control. I feel bad about that."

      Starsky finished his bacon and stared into his plate. "I'm scared of the way I need you. It isn't healthy. And it isn't fair. It'd be different if it was based on love. The kind of love you have for me. But it's not. It's just raw male need, like when you see some woman who's got something you just gotta have. And once you get it, you're happy and never need to see her again or even think about her. Like when I was a kid and I needed Eddie. You mean too much to me. I don't want to feel that way about you."

      Hutch shook his head. "There's more to it, Starsky, a lot more. You're just not ready to deal with it. And being on top of each other like this, it's not helping. I mean, most people, when they're coping with a difficult relationship, have some space to do it in. They see each other when they're ready to deal with the issues, and they separate again when it gets too intense. That's why people date. We're like two old married folks who still have a lot of passion but who've become so incompatible they can barely stand being together . . . except at bedtime."

      Starsky pushed his plate away. "So, Doctor Brothers, what's the solution? I know you've got one."

      Hutch wiped his mouth and put his fork down. "We need some space from each other until we figure out where we're going. I think we should consider living apart for awhile."

      The statement hit Starsky like a bullet, and he feared he'd lose the breakfast Hutch had so carefully made for him. Ain't this somethin'? You've been trying to get away from him for days, trying to sleep on the couch, thinking of going to hotel rooms, and here, when he comes up with the suggestion, you're ready to pass out.

      "But, Hutch," Starsky said, striving to sound reasonable, "after that attempted hit last night, I'd say we're still in someone's crosshairs, probably Gunther's. Separating makes us more vulnerable. That's why we stayed together in the first place." His tone of casual logic didn't come off nearly as well as Hutch's.

      Hutch sat back. He seemed surprised. "I . . . uh . . . I thought you'd be relieved . . . ."

      "I just . . . I mean, it's just . . . we've been stayin' tight with each other for safety, and we've been doing it for so long . . . . I just don't know if this is the right thing to . . . y'know . . . do . . . right now." He was stuttering as badly as Hutch ever did and felt himself blush. He frowned. Hutch was right. He should be relieved. But he wasn't.

      A chill settled over Hutch's mood. He smiled, but it didn't touch his eyes. "Starsky, let me tell you this joke I heard in the Green Parrot. This guy goes bear hunting . . . ."

      Starsky started to open his mouth. Hutch wanted to tell jokes? Now?

      Hutch held up his hand to forestall Starsky's protest. "He just can't wait to bag a bear. So, as soon as he spots a small brown bear he takes a shot at it. The minute he does, there's a tap on his shoulder. A big black bear is right behind him. The black bear says, 'You've got two choices, pal. I either maul you to death or we have sex.' Needless to say, the guy bends over and gets royally reamed."

      Starsky went still. He didn't like where this was going.

      "Well," Hutch continued, "he's sore for two weeks, and now he's mad. He heads out into the woods, finds the black bear and shoots it. There's a tap on his shoulder. This time it's a huge grizzly. The grizzly says, 'That was a big mistake, pal. You've got two choices. Either I maul you to death or we have rough sex.' Again, the guy complies. He survives, recovers after a few months, then, outraged, he's back in the woods. Shoots the grizzly. He has a brief moment of sweet revenge, but then there's a tap on his shoulder. It's a giant polar bear. The polar bear smiles and says, 'Admit it, pal. You don't come here for the hunting, do you?'" He leaned forward, serious now. "Starsk . . . do you want to stay with me for the hunting . . . or what?"

      Starsky's heart was beating as hard as if he'd run a race. "You really want me to leave?" His voice sounded small, and he hated that.

      Hutch's face softened. "No. I don't want you to leave ever. I want you in my bed every night, loving me, making me feel as needed as you did last night. But I want you there willingly. Right now, you don't feel like what's happening between us is something you want. Until it is . . . hunting season's over for both of us."

      He's right. We already know what happens when I sleep on the couch. If I stay here . . . I'll be nailing him to the mattress every chance I get. After having had him once, how could I not want him again? 

      "All you've wanted is for us to be partners again," Hutch reminded him gently. "I don't want to lose that. It's the most important thing to me. I'm just trying to find a way to help both of us cope." He sat back again as though he'd said it all. "Anyway . . . that's my idea. I'm not saying it's the best one. What do you want to do?"

      Besides go back to bed and wake up later and try this all over again? He shrugged. "I don't know. I'm just so . . . fucked up about all of this. Maybe you're right. I need to grow up and deal with it. A grown man should be able to sleep in his own bed in his own apartment by himself without needing a . . . hand to hold. Okay. We'll try it. After work tonight . . . I'll go on back to my place." But I'm not sleepin' in that bed. I couldn't stand looking at myself all night, alone.

      "Starsky," Hutch said, looking hopefully at him, "Eventually things will work out."

      Yeah, but does that mean I'll make you happy by being your willing lover, or you'll make me happy by being content to be my best friend? Starsky wished he could have Hutch's optimism, but couldn't. He felt like he was getting the "let's just be friends" speech from some woman who was dumping him. It only added to his confusion.

      "Finish your coffee," Hutch said when Starsky had sat there quietly for too long. "Sooner or later Baylor or Meredith is going to need your statement about last night."

      He had a near-panic reaction as he imagined them pumping him for the details of his assault on Hutch, then realized Hutch was talking about the shooting. "Yeah," he said morosely. "I wanna find out what's happening with Spike's . . . arrangements."

      "I'm sure Sugar will know," Hutch said.

      The phone range suddenly. Starsky was so grateful for the chance to talk to someone else about anything else that he nearly leaped from the chair. "I'll get it. It's probably Baylor."

      Hutch took the opportunity to clear the table and start running the dishes under soapy water.

      "Hello," Starsky said, picking up the phone on the third ring.

      "Starsky, is that you?"

      He wasn't sure he recognized the voice. "That depends. Who's calling?"

      There was a sharp inhalation on the other end and a choked voice said tightly, "It's Sugar. Listen, we've got problems. Big problems."

      He frowned. "What's the matter?" He could hear someone crying in the background. His gut tightened and with the heavy food in it, it wasn't a pleasant sensation.

      "It's Tomas," Sugar said. "He's in the hospital. He was beaten within an inch of his life. He might die. Trixie just found out."

      He realized the strain in Sugar's voice was her attempt not to cry while she was talking to him. "What hospital?" he said.

      Hutch's head snapped around as he said that.

      "Memorial. He's in intensive care."

      Starsky was speechless as he envisioned Tomas fighting for his life. Who? Why?

      Sugar interrupted his inner monologue. "Trixie says that he called her late last night, a few hours after the shooting. He wanted to make sure she was okay. He said he had something important to tell you two, but that it could keep until morning. He said it had to do with other cops, but then she heard someone calling his name and he had to hang up. She waited for him to come home, but he never did. She wasn't worried since that's happened before when he's worked nights. But then the hospital called. Trixie's listed on his records as his 'brother,' otherwise, she'd have never known."

      The explanation helped him focus. "You stay put. Keep Trixie with you. We'll find out what's going on and call you. But until we know more, stay away from the hospital, understand?"

      "Sure," Sugar said. "That's what I've been telling her, but it's killing her. I'll keep her here."

      "Right," Starsky said abruptly, eager to go. "We'll be in touch."

      He slammed down the phone, all of his nervous energy surging inside. Hutch was staring at him, waiting for an explanation. "Tomas. He had something for us, but someone got to him first and tried to beat him to death. He's at Memorial. We gotta go."

      The phone rang again.

      "Go get dressed," Hutch said. "I've got this."

      As Starsky dashed into the bedroom and scrounged for clean socks and shirt, he heard Hutch from the next room. "Right, Captain, we just heard. Never mind how. We're on our way. Of course I think it's involved with our case, don't be naive! Look, we can argue about it later. We'll meet you there. Make sure Baylor and Meredith are involved, will you? Thanks."

      Starsky came out tucking his shirt in, as Hutch hung up the phone and reached for his grey leather jacket.

      "That was—" Hutch started.

      "I heard. Let's move." Starsky snagged his bullet-riddled jacket on the way out.

      They were in the Torino, pulling away from the curb when Starsky said, "Put the light on, will ya?" He reached for the switch that would turn on the siren.

      Hutch grabbed his hand and stopped him. "Starsky. We're suspended. We can't."

      He and Hutch locked eyes, then Hutch released him and flipped the switch himself. "Fuck it," he said and slapped the Mars light on the roof.

      Starsky hit the gas.

 Wild boys fallen far from glory
Reckless and so hungered on the razor's edge you trail
Because there's murder by the roadside
In a sore afraid new world
They tried to break us, 
Looks like they'll try again
           Wild Boys—Duran Duran