Chapter 18

When we found the things we loved,
They were crushed and dying in the dirt.
We tried to pick up the pieces,
And get away without getting hurt,
But they caught us at the state line,
And burned our cars in one last fight,
And left us running burned and blind,
Chasing something in the night.
      Something in the Night—Bruce Springsteen

      How many times have we come here for one another? Hutch thought as they hurried into the intensive care waiting area. As was typical whenever a cop was injured, a number of detectives and uniforms were milling around. Hutch wasn't surprised to see Russo and Wilson conferring off in a corner. It had become second nature for Hutch to place himself between them and Starsky, so he moved into position hoping Starsky hadn't had a chance to notice them.

      Baylor snagged his arm before he could spot her among the taller cops. She towed him off to the side and Starsky followed.

      "What happened?" Starsky asked her.

      Hutch didn't like the sound of his voice. Starsky was strung tight, anxious and wired.

      Baylor shook her head. "It don't look good, boys. He's got a bad concussion. They can't say how bad yet, but they had to relieve some of the pressure on his brain. He's got a bunch of broken ribs, a bruised heart, his jaw's broken real bad, his nose is, too, his cheek is cracked . . . and he might lose the vision in his right eye. They don't know yet. He wasn't just beaten, he was stomped. One hand's broke up, one ankle is crushed, and . . . he's gonna lose a testicle . . . . His knuckles are all banged up, so we know he tried to fight back, but he was obviously surprised and overwhelmed. Had to be more than one guy. More than one real big guy. Tomas had martial arts training."

      Starsky swallowed a couple of times, trying to contain his emotions. "Was it some kind of random attack? A robbery? What?"

      Baylor locked eyes with Hutch. There was something she didn't want to say in front of Starsky.

      "Linda . . . ." Hutch said. There was no way she could hold back with Starsky standing right there.

      She glanced at Starsky nervously, then looked around at the other cops. Quietly, she said, "Whoever got to him . . . knew he was gay."

      Hutch felt the shock run up his spine like a current. "What?"

      Linda clenched her jaw, then admitted, "They marked his face. Cut him. 'Fag cop'."

      She'd been speaking more and more quietly until Hutch was forced to lean forward to hear her. But when she said the last two quiet words, they stunned him so much it was as if she'd shouted them. Hutch's mouth went dry. The pall of responsibility fell on him like an anvil.

      Beside him, Starsky went stone rigid.

      "Where . . . ?" Hutch managed to choke out. You're a cop. Think like one. At least pretend.

      "They found him in an alley near his place. He was off-duty, on his way home. Someone heard them, called it in as a gang fight in progress, but by the time the black-and-white got there, it was over. At least he got emergency medical care right away. Meredith's over at the site now, supervising the forensic team. And I got all his clothes from the emergency room. Something might shake out."

      She didn't looked like she believed that.

      Hutch rubbed a hand over his face, trying to take it all in. "They were waiting for him. They'd targeted him. They had to know him."

      Linda looked uncomfortable. "They took his wallet, his money, his watch, his badge—"

      "Lame," Starsky said. His voice was tight, too controlled. "Lame attempt to cover it up."

      Linda glanced around, as if worried they'd be overheard. "Meredith found something."

      Hutch stopped breathing. He knew he wasn't going to like this.

      "A marksmanship pin," she said in a whisper. "At least one of 'em was a cop. A uniform."

      "Who knows this?" Hutch asked.

      "Me. Meredith. Dobey. Now you."

      "Can we see him?" Hutch asked. He didn't know why that was important, but it was.

      "You sure you want to?" she asked.

      The look they gave her was enough. She nodded. "Come with me. I already talked to the doctor on duty. I figured you'd want to see him."

      She led them out of the waiting area to the nurses' station where she spoke to one of the nurses. The woman looked at both men, then back to Linda and nodded. To Hutch and Starsky she said, "Ten minutes, that's it."

      They nodded, and followed Linda to a room entirely too much like the one Starsky had nearly died in. Hutch was beginning to feel like he was experiencing some hideous deja vu.

      They entered silently. As with Starsky, there were tubes and hanging bottles, catheters and beeping machinery taking the measure of a wounded man's life. They would have to take Linda's word that this was Tomas' room. The man on the bed might've been anyone. He was splinted and bandaged to the point where he was unrecognizable. Hutch was struck by how small he was, as though he'd lost stature from what had happened to him. His face was obliterated by bandaging, and much of his body was, too.

      They approached silently as Linda hung back to give them a chance to see him.

      Beside him, Hutch could hear Starsky breathing harshly and waves of tension rolled off him. Even though they were here to see Tomas, Hutch's focus was, as it had always been and always would be, on his partner.

      Starsky approached Tomas silently. Without touching him, he leaned over and said, "Tomas, it's Starsky. Hey, amigo, can you hear me?"

      No one moved for a moment. Starsky had turned away to look mournfully at Hutch, when he thought he saw the flutter of eyelashes from the one eye that was not bandaged. His expression must've alerted Starsky, because he turned back in time to see the eye open, blink, and focus on his face.

      "Hey, buddy," Starsky said with mock cheerfulness. "Tomas. Can you hear me?"

      The eye slowly blinked closed, then opened to signal his understanding.

      Baylor moved up beside Hutch. "He awake?" She sounded incredulous.

      Hutch nodded, never taking his eyes off Tomas' face. "I think."

      Starsky leaned close. "Can you tell us who did it, Tomas? Can you give us anything?"

      "Starsky," Baylor said patiently, "his jaw's wired and his lips are so swollen . . . ."

      Starsky looked pained over his inability to communicate.

      Hutch was so intently watching Tomas' face that he almost missed it. Then, a flutter of movement caught his attention. He stared, trying to understand it. "Starsk. His hand."

      Starsky pulled his gaze away from Tomas' eye reluctantly and glanced at the hand closest to him, Tomas' right hand. His arm was splinted to keep the intravenous catheters in place, and the bandages covered him to the knuckles. But the fingers that were free were moving, gesturing, flexing and shifting. Starsky gazed at them as Tomas stared fixedly at him.

      "The letter 'C'," Starsky muttered.

      "What?" Hutch said. He had the feeling he was missing something he should be able to figure out.

      Starsky looked at Tomas' face again. "Are you using your hand to spell? Is that the sign language alphabet?"

      Tomas' eye closed slowly and then reopened.

      Yes! Hutch thought, memory and awareness flooding back. He and Starsky had both had a brief exposure to sign language when they had solved that case with the phony priest. Starsky had been fascinated with sign language for a short spell after that, reading about it, practicing some of the letters until he could successfully spell a few rude words.

      Hutch turned to Linda. "You've gotta find someone who knows sign language, at least the alphabet. But you've got to keep it quiet. If anyone finds out he might be able to communicate, even a little . . . ."

      "No kiddin'," Baylor said. "I'll find somebody. Don't worry. I'll be careful."

      "Tomas," Starsky said, his expression intense, "was it Russo?"

      The eye blinked twice and his head moved fractionally back and forth.

      "No?" Starsky said. "You sure?" He seemed incredibly distressed.

      Tomas shook his head slightly again.

      "Starsky," Hutch said warningly.

      The nurse who'd granted them the visiting privilege opened the door. "Time's up, Officers."

      Hutch turned to her. "You might want to call the doctor, ma'am. I think he's awake."

      She approached the bed, saw Tomas' eye drift close. "I don't think so," she said quietly.

      Hutch took her arm and walked to the door. "This man was nearly killed. The people who did this to him are still at large and dangerous. They might be masquerading as police officers. He attempted to communicate with us. Get word to the doctors that he had a moment of consciousness, but to protect his life, be discreet. It would be better if no one outside this room thought he had any awareness."

      The nurse glanced at the three detectives. "Of course. I'll explain it to the doctor."

      "You hang in there, Tomas," Starsky said, even though he was sleeping again. Starsky's voice was rough. "We'll get these fuckers."

      Starsky turned on his heel and strode to the door. Hutch was right behind him, but felt like he was playing catch up. He didn't like the set of Starsky's back or the tension in his jaw.

      Once they left the room, they spied Dobey standing by the doorway of the waiting area. When he saw them, he met them halfway. He looked as stressed as Hutch had ever seen him.

      "What the hell is going on here?" he growled. "What happened to my detective?"

      "Cap'n," Hutch began, wanting to stave off Starsky's impending explosion. But before he could say another word, Russo was marching up to them with his partner, Wilson, riding his wake, grabbing ineffectually at his elbow.

      "What the hell are you doing conferring with them?" Russo demanded loudly of Dobey. "Diega was working with me and Wilson. He's our concern. They've got no part in this. They shouldn't even be here! They're on suspension. They're not even cops—"

      Hutch grappled Starsky in mid-lunge, needing all his strength to contain him in a full body hold. "Starsky!" Hutch hissed, "not here!"

      Hutch could see by the sparkle in Russo's eye that he'd gotten the reaction he'd wanted.

      Dobey spun on Russo, his face dark with anger. "Since when do you tell me how to do my job?" he bellowed, facing him down. "If you don't want to be suspended for insubordination right now, Russo, you'll watch your mouth."

      Starsky was panting in anger, but he backed off. Hutch released him but continued to use his body to block him. He knew better than to trust Starsky when he was this wired.

      "Still playing favorites?" Russo barked. "Even after finding out the truth about these two—?"

      Baylor had to help him restrain Starsky this time.

      Before Dobey could lose his cool, the head nurse brought a halt to everything.

      "If you all aren't off this floor in thirty seconds," she snapped, fearless in the face of men taller and broader than herself by half, "you'll be forcibly removed by Security. And if you think I can't have the police arrested, think again. Out of here! Now!"

      Stunned into sense by her anger, they subsided. Russo allowed Wilson to pull him toward the waiting area. Dobey, Hutch, Starsky and Baylor followed at a discreet distance.

      Dobey passed the waiting area and all the deathly quiet cops within it. Obviously, they'd witnessed the altercation—and Russo's accusation of favoritism. Hutch didn't like it.

      Dobey kept going with a familiarity borne of too many vigils in this place. He came to a closed door and tried the knob. It opened, and he ushered them all in. Hutch recognized the room as the place Dobey had used for his base of operations when Starsky had been lying near death. Dobey sat heavily in a chair and mopped his face with his handkerchief.

      "Does anyone have anything for me?" he asked wearily.

      The three detectives exchanged a look. Hutch realized that for some reason, they were waiting for Starsky to speak first. He was the one who'd gotten the response from Tomas. It was up to him to reveal it, or not, if he didn't trust Dobey.

      Starsky exhaled in a rush. "Tomas had a moment of consciousness, Cap. He tried to communicate. We think he knows sign language. He kept moving his hand like he was trying to spell something out."

      Dobey looked interested. "His mother is deaf. He learned sign language in the crib. Can we get an interpreter up here?"

      "I'm gonna make the arrangements, Cap'n," Baylor said. "We're keepin' it quiet. No one knows about Tomas coming to except the cops in this room and some of the medical staff."

      "We think it should stay that way," Hutch said.

      Dobey nodded. "I agree. Now if someone could just tell me why someone would attack this detective—?"

      Starsky got tense all over again. "You know damned well why! It was a warning. To us. Someone targeted Tomas for the sole purpose of rattling our cage. Last night it was our lawyer. Today, a friend who was supporting us. Tomorrow . . . . Baylor? Meredith? Or any of the other half-dozen cops who are on our side? And you know something else you don't want to face. Cops are behind this."

      "I'm not ready to accept that," Dobey insisted.

      "You know about the marksmanship pin!" Starsky snapped.

      "You know how many cops have had altercations in that neighborhood, on that street, in that alley?" Dobey said. "It's a war zone, that neighborhood. And even if I agree that the evidence points to a cop's involvement, that doesn't mean there's some vast conspiracy. It could be one bad cop. We just don't have enough evidence yet. I can't very well arrest the whole department!"

      "Okay, let's all cool down here, huh?" Hutch said as tempers flared. "We don't need Florence Nightingale throwing us out of here, too."

      "Cap," Baylor said quietly, "Meredith talked to the person who called in the complaint. He's a nightwatchman. He just got home after his shift and was getting ready for bed. His bedroom window looks out over that alley. He said at first all he noticed was some normal noise, like some folks having a conversation outside his window. He noticed it right away, since at that hour, even LA is pretty quiet." Linda moved closer to Dobey. "Me and Meredith, we both figure that means Tomas had to know at least one of the guys who beat him. A cop out of uniform would've been wary of anyone approaching him on the street at that hour—except someone he knew . . . or a cop in uniform. It would account for the sounds of 'normal conversation' at first."

      "I'll go along with the probability that he knew at least one of his attackers," Dobey said, "but to assume that the person he knew was also a cop, is presuming too much."

      Hutch was surprised when Dobey said. "They told me . . . about his face. Is . . . Diega gay?"

      Before Hutch could respond, Starsky was in Dobey's personal space. "Does it matter? He's a cop! A good, honest cop. A cop who might die, and if he doesn't die, might be permanently disabled because someone believed he was gay. If you find out today that he's gay, is he not as good a cop as he was yesterday when you didn't know? If he is gay, has he somehow earned what's happened to him? And if he's not gay, is it only then that this becomes a crime worthy of the department's attention? Or, if he's not gay, does that make what's happened to him worse?"

      Dobey was out of the chair and ready to return fire. "Starsky, calm down! I asked because it will help me if I know. It's bad enough that this is a crime against a police officer, but I have to know if it's complicated by Diega's sexuality. But whether he is, or whether he isn't, as far as I'm concerned, he's a police officer with a perfect record who graduated top of his class and has several commendations, and who has now been mortally injured in a felony assault. He's my detective and I'll fight for him every step of the way. Just like I have for you!"

      To Hutch's surprise, Starsky backed down. "Look," Hutch said, "we're not going to solve anything in this room. We need to get out in the streets, pass the word around, shake things up—"

      Everyone turned to look at him, and the reality of his suspension hit him again hard. He was really tired of this. "There's no law that says we can't talk to people on our own time!"

      "But there are laws against interfering with an ongoing investigation," Dobey reminded him. "I'm not going to tell you not to do it, because frankly, you two are the best qualified to handle this—but you don't have a badge or a gun to back you up. And if there are any complaints, either by the public, the press, or other officers . . . there won't be anything I can do to save you. Walk lightly. Both of you."

      Dobey looked at Baylor. "I want Meredith to stay on top of the forensics team. I don't want anything to happen to that evidence. If it's mislaid, or lost, or delayed in testing, I want Meredith to be able to figure out where it went and who's responsible for side-tracking it." He turned back to Hutch and Starsky. "The two of you need to turn up leads, so get on it."

      Hutch moved closer to Dobey. "Is anyone going to question Russo about his whereabouts while Diega was assaulted?"

      "I already know where he was," Dobey said tiredly. "He was in the squadroom filling out paperwork with Wilson. They'd sent Diega home ahead of them while they finished up. There were other witnesses. I already checked. Besides . . . I know there's no love lost between you two and them, but Wilson and Russo seemed to be working fine with Diega. They got along well enough in the squadroom . . . . Diega made no complaints. And I was told that when Russo heard about the marks on Diega's face, he went into a rage, furious that someone had 'ruined the rep of a good cop'."

      Hutch decided to level with Dobey. "Russo and Wilson have been staking out the Green Parrot when they have the time. The other night, they sent Diega in to shake up the bar and see how we were doing. It could've been a ploy. If they had anyone on the inside when Diega came in, it would've been obvious to them that he had friends there. That he was a regular. If Russo then believed Diega was gay . . . . It's a lot of extrapolation, Captain, but Russo's behavior at the crime scene after the shooting is on film. You can't deny his prejudices."

      Dobey sighed. "I'll talk to Internal Affairs. I'll make sure there's follow-through on this. I'll arrange to be there during the questioning."

      Starsky nodded, as though satisfied. He glanced around and said impatiently, "We're not solving anything here. Hutch and me have to get on the street if we're gonna find anything out."

      Hutch felt an unexpected surge of poignancy at the phrase, "Hutch and me." And it reminded him again of the importance of the partnership they shared, a relationship so significant, that it would be worth sacrificing anything for. As they left the room together, he hoped he could remember that tonight when he was alone.

      By the time they got to the Green Parrot to talk to Sugar and Trixie, the closed bar was full of people. When he and Starsky walked in, the whole place went silent and every eye turned to them. Hutch recognized some of the regular customers he had served. He saw friends of Spike. He made eye contact with Joey, the man he'd met in Kelly's apartment, and nodded in greeting. Roland's crew and other leathermen were there. Roland made a closed fist sign at him and Hutch nodded back.

      Sugar was sitting on the bar, in the center, wearing everyday clothes and his male persona. Hutch always had a little trouble dealing with Sugar when he was being male. When he'd first met her, during the Blaine investigation, she was doing her routine, and the abrupt change from female drag to male had been something he'd never been exposed to before. He wondered if he'd ever get used to it.

      As soon as they were near enough to be heard, Sugar asked, "How's Tomas?"

      Hutch said to the crowd, "He's critical."

      A slender young black man on a barstool near Sugar turned to Hutch. His eyes were puffy; he'd been crying. In a choked voice, he asked, "When can I see him?"

      Trixie? Hutch thought, stunned, then tried to hide his dismay. "Whenever you think you can handle the heat from the cops. They're all over the place. Someone's going to ask you who you are and what your relationship is to Tomas. He was attacked by more than one assailant. Everyone who goes in there will be suspect."

      Trixie looked at Sugar, but before he could say anything, Starsky spoke up.

      "You don't have to talk to them," he said.

      Hutch was surprised. He'd never heard Starsky warn anyone off his brother cops.

      "If they stop you before you enter his room," Starsky continued, "just put 'em off. Tell 'em you'll talk to them after you see your brother. Don't let them interfere with your visit. If you're listed as immediate family, they can't stop you from seeing him. And don't let them go in there with you. See him by yourself. Tell them you'll talk to them when you're done. But if you do talk to them, and suddenly you don't like the questions they're askin', or if you think they're trying to focus on you as a suspect, stop answering and insist on a lawyer. And stick to it. They'll have no choice then but to back off."

      Sugar looked at Trixie sympathetically. "Can you do that, honey? Can you be strong in the face of those cops?"

      Trixie wiped a tear away. "You forget. I live with a cop. I can handle those guys. If it means seeing Tomas, you better believe I can."

      "We're going to work the streets for information," Hutch told the group. "If anyone here knows anything about the assault on Tomas, or if you even think you know something, you've got to let us know. We need leads to find out who did this."

      There was grumbling among the group. Sugar's jaw tightened. "You think the cops will do anything even if you do find out?"

      "Our captain will," Hutch said. "He'll make it happen. But first we've got to find them."

      It was Starsky who asked the question that was sitting in the back of Hutch's mind.

      "Why are you all here? What's going on?"

      Sugar waved a hand at the crowd. "It was your idea. These are the volunteers for our civil disobedience."

      Hutch stared at the leathermen and his eyebrows shot up. They noticed it and laughed. "Uh . . . Sugar, you did explain to everyone that this was a passive demonstration." The leathermen laughed some more.

      "They know what the plan is, honey," Sugar said. "Good thing you guys are here. Class is about to begin."

      Before he'd finished, the door of the bar opened and several people walked in. As they approached, he realized it was Peter Whitelaw, accompanied by Tsuka and Yoshi Watanabe.

      Hutch glanced at Starsky, but he was too busy watching Whitelaw's approach. After wrestling with his partner in the hospital, Hutch wasn't ready for a repeat performance over Whitelaw. When Peter got closer, Starsky went to meet him halfway. Peter stopped and waited, his face calm, almost serene, while Hutch's heart rate climbed steadily. He followed Starsky closely, hoping to avert disaster.

      Starsky, don't do this! 

      Hutch's heart ached as he remembered Peter's words during their conversation this morning. "I won't lie and say it doesn't matter to me, Ken. You matter to me, a lot. I really care about you. But I've been gay all my life, so it's not like any of this is much of a surprise to me, either. I knew last night things weren't going to work out for us. Your feelings for your partner are far too intense. I understand, really. Maybe someday, if your feelings for him change . . . ."

      Hutch had hung up after telling Peter he hoped they could be friends. It had sounded so trite in his mouth he was ashamed. Peter had agreed, and Hutch knew that he'd meant it. He would be Hutch's friend if he could.

      Hutch didn't know if Starsky would permit that. And he didn't know how he'd react if Starsky wouldn't.

      Starsky paused in front of Peter, his body tense. Hutch moved up beside him, his eyes boring into him, but Starsky ignored him. Peter glanced at Hutch, but he knew who to pay attention to.

      "Councilman . . . " Starsky started, then stopped. "Peter. I want to apologize for last night. I was out of line. I was hoping . . . we might be able to put it behind us."

      Peter glanced at Hutch, who only shrugged in confusion. Whitelaw asked Starsky bluntly, "Are you serious?"

      Starsky smiled. "Yeah. No kiddin'. I mean it. I'm sorry." He held out his hand.

      Still looking wary, Peter shook it firmly. "Okay. I appreciate it, Dav . . . Starsky. Let's forget it."

      Starsky nodded, and without another word, turned and walked back toward the bar, leaving Hutch and Peter staring at one another in surprise. Finally, they followed him.

      Tsuka and her husband were conferring with Sugar, who'd come down from the bar. When they were finished, Tsuka turned to the group.

      "Thank you for coming. You are volunteering to do a difficult but courageous thing. Let me explain about civil disobedience . . . ." She discussed the philosophy of passive resistance, then outlined the risks and dangers, including injury and arrest.

      As she painted the bleakest picture she could, Hutch began to wonder just what he'd gotten these people involved in. But he couldn't ignore Huggy's warning, and he couldn't turn his back on what had happened to Tomas.

      Tsuka assigned Starsky, Hutch, Whitelaw, and Roland the roles of aggressive cops, as she proceeded to drill the group on passive resistance techniques and ways to protect themselves if the police used force.

      As she walked through the crowd, showing them safer postures, warning them of what an active encounter would be like, she encouraged the "cops" to harass the demonstrators and then chided them when they weren't "rough" enough. She taught the demonstrators how to conquer their own fears and panic reactions. She also taught them how to calm themselves and how to resist passively.

      Hutch found these drills no less intensive than their regular workouts in the dojo. After nearly an hour, Tsuka had everybody go into deep relaxation, then answered questions from the demonstrators. After that, she and Sugar worked out a plan on how demonstrators could safely buy time for the customers who needed to escape. Sugar told Hutch that he'd already contacted regular customers who simply couldn't risk exposure. He'd actually encouraged them to take their patronage to a safer bar, warning that the Green Parrot could be the victim of police harassment.

      "This can't be good for business," Hutch said.

      Sugar looked away, as if it were too difficult to talk about. "Look, honey, after that shooting there isn't too much we can do to help business anyway. Gays are tough, and loyal to their bars. We'll put up with a lot of problems—watered down booze, bad sound system, poor service, crummy neighborhoods—-but random assassination attempts have a tendency to discourage patronage."

      "Look," Hutch said, distressed, "maybe Starsky and I should bail out of here. It's crazy to endanger these people any further and destroy your business!"

      Sugar sighed. "I'm not going to lie to you. Quite a few people I talked to today suggested we do just that. Many of them are angry about Spike, about the other people hurt, about the whole scene. It helped when I explained that they were really after K.R., but . . . ."

      "They wouldn't have been after her if she weren't our lawyer," Hutch finished. He knew many of the bar's regular patrons had bitterly resented the presence of both him and Starsky since they arrived. They made no secret of it. Hutch imagined they were really angry now—having to give up their place of refuge from the world just to support two men who represented one of the most hateful factions in the life of many gays—the police.

      "And if this goes on for weeks?" Hutch asked. If the bar failed, what would they have proven?

      Sugar patted his arm. "Some things are more important than the bottom line. Even to me."

      He tried to distract himself by focusing on his partner. Starsky had always played the role of bad cop well, which had never surprised Hutch. It was a role he obviously enjoyed and had honed to a fine art. How often had they had to use it in interrogations? But how did Starsky really view all of this?

      Tsuka brought the training session to an end.

      "Tomorrow," she said. "We'll do it again. And the next day. Then we'll go to every three days. Tomorrow we'll work out signals. Something we can all recognize instantly in a crowded, noisy place."

      Sugar sighed theatrically. "Well, I don't know how crowded it will be now."

      As the group began to mill around, talk, or leave in small groups, Hutch walked up to Roland. The man waited for him, his mountainous bulk impressive by any standards.

      "Yes, sir," Roland said respectfully, "what can I do for you, sir?"

      "Well, you can drop all that 'sir' shit, for starters," Hutch said amiably.

      Roland smiled. The swelling on his face had gone down, but he still looked as if he'd been in a brawl. "Okay, bro'. What's your pleasure?"

      Roland's inflection made Hutch shudder. "Listen, be square with me. Can these guys," he indicated the other leathermen with a nod of his head, "really handle this? Passive resistance?"

      "You mean can they contain their natural tendencies to kick the ass of any pig who lays hands on them?" Roland grinned unabashedly, showing teeth, even the missing ones. "Sure. They've got incentive."

      Hutch looked dubious. "I hope you're right. If they break training, it could get ugly."

      Roland shrugged. "We'll handle it." He gave Hutch a friendly punch on the arm.

      Hutch resisted the urge to rub the spot and knew he'd have a bruise there tomorrow. To match my other bruises— He looked for Starsky.

      His partner was in a conference with the group of young punks who'd been close friends of Spike. Whatever they were telling him, he was listening to it intently, his entire being focused on this conversation. Finally, he answered them with a few brief words, and the small group of gay men and women embraced one another and Starsky in a community hug. Hutch wasn't surprised to see Starsky's display of camaraderie with these people. His ability to deny his own prejudices to befriend those who were different from him was one of the things Hutch had always admired in him. But what he was surprised at was how emotional Starsky seemed when the embrace ended and the group wandered away, arms slung around each other. Starsky stood looking after them, his face a mask of conflicting feelings.

      Hutch approached his friend cautiously. This whole day had been a roller coaster of intense emotions, starting with breakfast. Hutch couldn't imagine what had just happened to make Starsky wear this expression on his face. "Hey, partner," he said softly. "What's going on?"

      Starsky's eyes were dark and stormy, his face a mixture of anger and grief. He nodded toward the retreating group. "They . . . uh . . . said the medical examiner might release Spike's body today. They've made arrangements to have her cremated. They're gonna spread her ashes over the water. That's what she always wanted, to go back to the sea. She loved the beach, Hutch. I didn't know that. They're gonna do it right near your place, in Venice." Starsky stopped speaking, as though he couldn't say anymore.

      "Is that what her family wants?" Hutch asked. "To cremate her and scatter her ashes?"

      Starsky blinked. "She don't have a family anymore. They disowned her when they found out she was gay. They didn't care if she shaved her head, or wore a million tattoos, or put safety pins in her ears—but when they found out she was sleepin' with Denise, they threw her out." He paused for a minute, then looked at Hutch again. "The kids . . . wanted to know if I'd carry her urn to Venice . . . in the Torino."

      Hutch had to physically stop himself from pulling Starsky into a powerful hug—an embrace he knew they both desperately needed. But he couldn't, not after everything they'd been through. Still, he couldn't stop himself from reaching out to grasp Starsky's shoulder, wanting to give some kind of touch.

      When Starsky saw it coming, he stepped away before Hutch could complete the action. He shook his head. "I'm sorry, Hutch. Not right now. I couldn't handle it."

      Hutch understood. Things were too raw between them. There wasn't any such thing as an innocent touch between them now, and Hutch wasn't sure there ever would be again. Of all the things that were going wrong between them, this might be the one that hurt the most.

      He nodded. "You ready to hit the streets?"

      "Oh, yeah," Starsky said. "I'm ready."

      The streets weren't very cooperative. After connecting with a number of people who might've had something for them and getting nowhere, they realized they were running out of time. Deciding to eat before they went back to the Parrot to work, they headed for the Pits.

      To Hutch's surprise, Starsky didn't balk at entering the bar where all their problems had started. When they discovered Huggy wasn't in yet, they decided to forego the food. Using the Pits' phone, Hutch called Huggy at home.

      He sounded half-asleep. "Uh . . . yeah . . . it is . . . what?"

      "Boy, you sound rough," Hutch said.

      "Mmmm," Huggy agreed. "It's the middle of the night. What now?"

      Hutch grinned. "Why, Huggy, it's the middle of a beautiful LA afternoon. The sun is shining, the birds are singing—"

      "And Huggy's hangin' up the damn phone if you don't get to the point right quick."

      Hutch sobered and, making sure he wasn't being overheard, gave him the news about Tomas. That woke Huggy up.

      "I always knew being friends with you guys was a risky proposition, but—damn!" Huggy said.

      "You definitely want to watch yourself," Hutch warned, "but I think this is one time when you're out of the line of fire. We need information, maybe more than ever before. We can't risk what happened to Tomas happening to anyone else. Watch your back, but see what you can find out. We couldn't turn up a thing today."

      "I hear you," Huggy said. "Well, I'll be at work in a few hours. I'll make some calls before then, see if I can find out anything."

      Quietly, hoping Starsky couldn't hear him, Hutch asked, "How's Kelly?"

      There was a pause then Huggy said, "She's fine. Very, very fine."

      Hutch stared at the receiver. "And what's that supposed to mean?"

      "Nothin' for you to worry about, my friend. Ol' Huggy's got everything under control."

      "You scare me when you say things like that!" Hutch said, then hung up the phone.

      It wasn't until he and Starsky were going back to the car that Hutch realized Huggy hadn't said anything to him about whether he'd been able to come up with any info about their tape. Neither had Whitelaw. Was that just another dead end? He decided not to worry about it. It was time to go to work.

      The day seemed interminable. The bar had been less than half-full, and there wasn't enough to do to keep Hutch's mind off their troubles. There was no change in Tomas' condition. Baylor had found an interpreter, but Tomas had not regained consciousness. By the end of the night, Hutch ached all over. He couldn't wait to get home, shower, and crawl into bed.


      He'd forgotten about that. As Starsky pulled up in front of Venice Place, the realization that he'd be staying all alone hit him unexpectedly.

      Starsky sat in the idling car, looking straight ahead, saying nothing. He'd been incredibly taciturn all day, speaking rarely, not at all like his normal, voluble self.

      They sat in the car, both dressed in fresh leathers, like two kids on a date that had ended badly. Realizing that Starsky wasn't going to say anything, Hutch finally took the initiative. Might as well get it over with. "Thanks for . . . taking me home, Starsk. Will you pick me up tomor—"

      The sound of a gun's report suddenly shattered the stillness and the two of them flattened against the seat, Starsky blanketing Hutch's body with his own. They froze in position when it sounded again, closer this time. On the third repetition, Starsky lifted his head.

      "Hutch," he muttered, sounding relieved, "it's a car backfiring. That's all." He sat up, and Hutch did, too, his heart slamming in his chest.

      He watched an ancient, poorly maintained Volkswagen crawl by, backfiring repeatedly. He sagged against the seat wondering if he were getting too old for this.

      Starsky shook his head. He turned in the seat to face Hutch. "We're not doin' this."

      Hutch felt confused. "Doing what?"

      "This," Starsky said abruptly. "This . . . this stupid thing. We're not separating at night, or ever. Not after what happened to Tomas. I've been working it out in my head all day, and there isn't any solution except the one we found a year ago. We've spent the day warning people about the danger of being alone, getting cornered, not trusting anyone who comes up to them . . . but we're gettin' ready to do just that. Go off alone. Separate. We supposed to run from the sight of every cop we know? Have a heart attack every time some car burps? It's crazy."

      Hutch turned away from the intense expression on Starsky's face. "Starsk . . . ."

      "I can't do it, Hutch. I can't face the chance that tomorrow I might have to go to the hospital to see you looking like Tomas. Or worse. Seeing you in the morgue. You ready to do that with me?"

      Hutch shut his eyes, the vision of Tomas more dead than alive too vivid in his mind. "Starsky, that isn't fair."

      "I know it ain't fair. Not fair to Tomas, not fair to K.R. last night. But if someone's gonna try to nail us, we'll make much better targets by ourselves. You know that. They know it, too."

      Of course he did. But he knew himself as well. "What do you think I am, some kind of plaster saint? Do you think I can lie next to you at night and not ache for you?"

      The raw statement hung there between them.

      "I'm no saint, either, Hutch," Starsky said quietly. "And if you don't think I'll be feeling the same, you're wrong. I know it's not fair to you to put this pressure on you, but we've got no choice. I'm either sleeping upstairs on that couch, or down here in the Torino. You decide. But I swear to you, Hutch, on my mother's heart, if you let me stay upstairs, I won't lay a hand on you. I won't go near you. I promise."

      Even if I want you to? Hutch thought. No, things were too confused between them. They needed time apart. But he knew, too, that Starsky was right. Separated, they were targets. He wondered if that wasn't part of the plan.

      "Okay," he said, his gut twisting. "We'll stay together. But we're sleeping separately. I'm holding you to your promise. And I'll make the same to you. I won't touch you or approach you, no matter what. Not 'til we can figure out what's going on between us."

      Starsky shut off the car, and the two of them walked up the stairs to Hutch's Venice Place apartment, just as they'd done a thousand nights before. But as familiar as it was, it was still different. Because never before had they stayed together as two completely separate men. Careful of each other's space, more respectful of each other's privacy than they had ever been before, they were like two strangers forced to share a hotel room. Conversation was minimal as they prepared for bed. Both of them donned pajama bottoms after their showers. Starsky made up the couch without saying anything. And finally, each man went to his separate corner and bid each other a hesitant good night.

      As Hutch lay restlessly awake in the dark, he knew Starsky was, too. It struck him as painfully ironic that it should come to this—both of them sleeping together in the same apartment in a relationship far less intimate than when they were just buddies. But even so, he found his partner's presence oddly comforting. No matter how awkward things were between them, they were still acting as partners, watching out for each other. He was glad Starsky had insisted on it. Listening to the repetitive sounds of Starsky's sighs and his tossing and turning on the couch, and wanting him with the fiercest need he'd ever had for anyone, Hutch finally dozed fitfully alone in his bed.

Holding you a feeling I never outgrew
Though each and every part of me has tried
Only you can fill that space inside
Here I Am—Air Supply