a dark cloud rising from the desert floor
As the heavy barred doors of the lockup clanged shut behind him, Starsky gripped the bars and felt his barely banked fury climb. The place was unfamiliar, which meant it was out of his jurisdiction. The institutional green paint was cracked and peeling from the walls and the bars. There were no windows.
"Where's our goddamn phone call, you bastards?" he shouted after the horde of cops who'd thrown him in here. "We haven't even been booked! We're entitled to a lawyer and a fuckin' phone call! I want it now!"
"Just pray we don't gas all you queers in the shower," one of the uniforms said. Laughter drifted down the hallway as the cops left, the heavy metal door clanging locked behind them.
Still frantic after being held in the truck outside the bar for almost an hour, then confined longer after the brief ride to the detention center, Starsky paced the long, narrow cell. It was a community tank, like the ones on either side of him, and it was filled with the Green Parrot protestors. Starsky had been delivered last, even though he'd been one of the first detained. They knew he'd give them more trouble than anyone else, even the leathermen, and he'd been forcibly carried in by an army of cops.
He stormed over to the cell on his left. Roland was there, along with most of his boys. When Roland spotted him, he walked over.
"Hutch in with you?" Starsky asked, peering through the thick group of men. He knew he wasn't, since his white leathers would've been easy to spot in the throng of black skins.
"I thought he was with you," Roland said glumly. He was going to have a huge shiner the next day to add to his other battle scars. Some of the leathermen were bleeding. It looked like they'd gotten roughed up pretty badly.
"They hauled me outta there after he Pearl Harbored Wilson," Starsky said. "All I saw after that was him going under a dozen uniforms. Then they carried me out. What did you see?"
"It got pretty rough there for a while, and Hutch was givin' as good as he got, or better," Roland said with pride. "They had their hands full with him. He kept calling your name and fightin' off cops. It was something to see. But they finally subdued him and carried him off. Some of the guys saw him tossed into a wagon, but I don't know who he ended up with."
"He's not in here," Starsky said worriedly. "I'll check the other cell." But he knew Hutch would have to be unconscious not to be searching for him.
"Hey, Starsky," Roland said.
"Man, you two got something pretty amazing together, you know that? I never saw a man fight like that for a lover before. It was spectacular." He made a fist as a salute.
Starsky felt as though that fist was squeezing his heart. He nodded, and went to the other side of the cell. He saw some of Spike's people there, but Hutch was not with them.
Peter was, and approached him. "Looking for Hutch?"
"Did you see what happened to him?" Starsky asked.
"I saw him attack that cop," Peter said. "The other cops overwhelmed him and carried him out bodily. I don't know how many of them it took. He was fighting like a one-man force of nature. They tossed him into an empty wagon. It left as soon as they locked the doors. Did they take some of us to another lockup?"
That hadn't occurred to him. "I can't think of anyone who's missing but Hutch."
Peter looked concerned. "You're right. Everyone else seems to be here. Why would they take him somewhere else?"
"Why would they do any of this?" Starsky asked impatiently. "It's crazy."
"Rousting gay bars is an old police tradition," Peter reminded him. "Some cops do it for sport. The charges are always trumped up. People get beat up just for the sheer fun of it."
Starsky looked at him worriedly. "I know all about that, Peter. I never did it, and neither did Hutch. Whenever we rousted a bar, we only did it to get information or find a suspect. It was always legit. I don't understand this. You don't roust a bar with fifty cops and a half dozen wagons. No one could justify that much manpower. And I didn't recognize any of those cops except Russo and Wilson. Where did they come from? Russo and Wilson haven't been in uniform in years. None of it makes any sense."
Peter seemed pensive. "Sounds to me like you're describing a conspiracy."
"Yeah, but what's the point? There's got to be an objective to it." Neither of them could think of anything else to say. Hutch's absence took on a more sinister cast.
"David," a soft voice called.
He turned to find Tsuka behind him. Somehow, she'd gotten through this without a single ebony hair out of place. She was like an apparition, a single spot of calm in the center of a typhoon.
Her serenity seemed to mock him. "Please, don't tell me about my chakras right now, huh? I don't think I could take it."
She looked pained. "You've lost your center. You're burning up energy at a frightening rate. You must calm yourself. David, please, sit with me and try to regain your—"
He shook his head, unable to listen to her. He didn't want to be calm. He wanted to tear this cell down bar by bar and find Hutch.
Suddenly Yoshi was beside his wife. He placed a restraining hand on her shoulder. "You're asking a soldier to be calm in the heat of war. He can't do that right now."
She rejected that opinion. "Even the samurai maintains his center, his focus, if he wants to defeat his enemy. He must—"
Starsky walked away from them, unable to listen to anything that didn't pertain to his most immediate need. Sugar and the dancers were in with him, but they'd done all they could for him in the wagon. They knew enough to let him pace, grip the bars, and worry.
He had walked to the back of the cell to get a drink from the fountain, when he heard the hallway door clang open, then shut again. Thinking that they were bringing Hutch in at last, he turned around to see. They must've worked him over pretty bad, but if they just let them be together—
But it wasn't Hutch or more prisoners. It was only a single cop sauntering down the aisle toward the cell. Starsky recognized Russo's distinctive, bulky silhouette immediately. His blood chilled down ten degrees.
"Hello, ladies," Russo said with false civility as he stood before the bars. "Hope everyone finds the accommodations to their liking. Especially you, Starsky."
Starsky came forward, but didn't get too close. He didn't want to give Russo any excuse to work him over or to brutalize any of the people in lockup with him. His every nerve was on hyper-alert. Russo was here to gloat.
"You don't think you're gonna get away with this, do you?" Starsky asked. "There's still a justice system in this country. Something to balance out stupid bigots like you."
Russo chuckled. "Still the little rooster, performing for all your hens. Well, at least you won't be lonely, Starsky. You've got enough company to keep even a stud like you satisfied."
He ached to know where Hutch was, but that was the only reason Russo was here, to taunt him with that knowledge. He wouldn't play.
"Ain't'cha gonna ask, Starsky?" Russo wondered, grinning. "Where's your sweet blond, huh? Or have you been so distracted by your other lovers that you haven't noticed he's missing?"
Starsky clenched his teeth. Russo wasn't the only one here who could gloat. "How's your buddy, Wilson? Is he conscious yet? Hutch barely touched him and he went down like a tree. Hope someone remembered to zip him up."
Russo's face darkened, letting Starsky know he'd gotten a hit. As Russo moved closer to the bars, Starsky marveled that he was still able to get into his uniform. Needing to keep a safe psychic distance, Starsky took a step away from the front of the cage. If Russo wanted him, he was going to have to come in after him.
"Don't you worry about Wilson," Russo grumbled. "He's gonna be okay. You won't be able to say that about your blond bitch."
Starsky froze, and all three cells of prisoners grew quiet. He's just goading you, wanting to see you lose it. Don't believe him. He was born a liar. But he knew he couldn't hide the tension that ran through him.
"Still won't ask, huh?" Russo taunted. "Don't wanna know, or don't care? Outta sight, outta mind? And I thought you guys were tight. All those years dickin' each other. I always knew there was no loyalty among queers."
Starsky's jaw worked back and forth. If he just stood here and listened to this son-of-a-bitch he was going to lose it and that was just what Russo wanted. If Hutch was here you know what he'd say. Focus on that place between your eyes, your inner eye. Find your center and don't let him get to you. That's what Hutch would tell you to do. So do it.
He turned his back on Russo as if in contempt, gathered his inner resources, centered his focus and hummed his Om. He focused on Hutch, on his face, bringing his features to the forefront of his mind and held the image there. Hutch, shining bright and beautiful, dressed in white leather, soft hair glowing. Hutch. Ooooooommmmm.
"You can't turn your back on this one, Starsky," Russo said, raising his voice to make sure he was heard. "Can't pretend it ain't happening. Not such a glory hound now, are you? Let's see, what time is it . . . ? Nearly midnight. Oh yeah, it's been going on for awhile. Probably even done. Depends on how much fun they were having."
Starsky kept the image firm. Beautiful Hutch. Powerful Hutch. Fighting an army of men to save him. His Hutch. Ooooooommmmm.
"You ever heard of the Christians in the lions' den, Starsky? Oh, I guess not—you're Jewish. Yeah, well, us God-fearing Christians know all about that. How the Romans threw the Christians in the lions' den and the lions ate 'em up. Like a yummy snack. We couldn't get any lions, Starsky. But we didn't have any trouble finding us a den of big, hungry bulls."
Hutch's eyes were so blue, so deep, and they held so much. They held honor, and truth, and strength, and all the wonderful things Hutch believed in. Starsky knew Hutch believed in him, too. He kept on believing. Believed that someday I'd remember how I'd felt about him that night. If I only could've done that . . . . Ooooooommmmmmmmm.
"Ever been down to County lockup, Starsky?" Russo's voice was like silk, as if he were tantalizing him with something wonderful.
Starsky's focus wavered.
He knew all about County lockup. It was the oldest one in the city, a place so dismal he hated going there. Its labyrinth of cells was deep underground, and the lighting system was so old it was always dim and dank. Used as a transfer station, its cells were usually overcrowded, full of some of the most vicious, dangerous men being held in the city. They kept violent offenders there during long court trials, or until they could move them to whatever facility they'd be serving their sentence in. Some of the men stayed there for months, with nothing to do but vent their rage on each other. Suicides were a regular occurrence, though most cops knew they were usually cover-ups for murder. Rape was so common, none of the cops in charge paid any attention to it. Hutch believed working there was a punishment, and Starsky agreed. The cops manning the place were often one step away from being fired. It was a special little corner of Hell, and the men that ended up there—both police and prisoners—usually deserved it.
"It wasn't hard to arrange a special party, just for Hutch, at County," Russo purred.
Starsky turned slightly and glanced at Russo over his shoulder. Russo was enjoying every minute of this, grinning like a fool. He'd moved closer to the bars, pressing his face against them, to be sure Starsky heard every syllable.
"Took just a little grease on the right palms," Russo said, talking slowly, savoring the story. "Set up a special welcoming committee, just for your big, pretty blond. Cell about this size. All the way in the back of the lowest level. Walls this thick. Natural sound-proofing. Put maybe thirty bulls in that cell. Hard-core guys with nothing to lose. All of 'em waiting to go away for the rest of their days. Some of them, Hutch put there himself. They were the most eager. You never saw a cell full of hard-timers look so happy when they were told what to expect. They couldn't have been more pleased if we'd put Hutch in a cake and had him jump out naked."
Starsky turned away and clamped his eyes shut, needing to blot out Russo's glee. He's lying, ain't he, Hutch? Yeah, he's lying all right. No cop, no matter how crooked, would ever do something that crazy. How could anybody hate us that much—? The image of Hutch wavered and the sacred word lodged dryly in his throat.
There was total silence in the cells. No one moved. Everyone was too mesmerized by the horror Russo portrayed.
"Hutch was the first one taken in," Russo told him. "The rest of you were held at the bar 'til we had everyone restrained and the place secured. Then we transported you here and let you stew awhile in the wagon before we moved everybody, one wagon at a time into lockup. All that time, and Hutch was in County. Just him and thirty lonely guys. Thirty really mad guys. Now Hutch is tough, we all know that, don't we, Starsky? Big man. Strong man. How long d'ya think he could last against thirty guys?"
This is a lie, Starsky told himself, but his fear was overwhelming. It's just a big fat lie he's telling me to make me crazy! It was working.
"I figure it took them maybe thirty seconds before they had his blond ass stretched over that bench and got the party going! Thirty guys, who ain't seen anything that pretty in a long time—"
Starsky couldn't take it. The image was too powerful, too visual. He had seen Hutch buried under a tide of uniforms. It was too easy to imagine him being hauled out of the bar, helpless under the force of all those men. All those men . . . . His Hutch . . . . Alone.
In terror and grief, Starsky succumbed and fell to one knee, curling in on himself, his mind going black. Hutch! Oh, God, Hutch!
The only thing left for him to respond to was Russo's voice.
"I tell ya, Starsky, they couldn't wait. I figure, as crazed as they were to get at him, the party's probably winding down just about now. Or maybe it's over. 'Cause there was a definite end point, and the bulls didn't wanna drag it out too long. You know how they are. They like to take it hard and fast then end it just right with one last big violent rush."
Starsky moaned, unable to stop the involuntary sound from passing his lips. And as he did, the release of pent-up anguish did something to his mind. He felt as if he were shattering into pieces, as if he were being destroyed atom by atom.
But when atoms split, don't they make an explosion?
"So," Russo continued on blithely, "after each of those boys had a sweet taste of Hutch's ass, they were gonna do the one thing every one of them had always wanted to do to a cop. But, I figure that was a kindness really. After all that fun Hutch had just had, he'd probably be pretty damn grateful to have it brought to a final end. I'd like to say a merciful end, but I don't think that's in the cards for Hutch. And looking at the time, I figure that's either happened already, or maybe it's happening right now."
Right now? This was happening to Hutch right now? While he stood helpless, trapped in this cell miles away, the most important person in the world to him, the one human being he loved the most was being raped and tortured to death at the hands of some of the worst scum the city could produce? Starsky's body shook violently, and pressure built dangerously behind his eyes. He swayed, in danger of passing out.
"Hey, Starsky," Russo chided, "tight as you guys were, you think you'll feel Hutch's spirit when the last fatal blow finally lands in his gut, and the last gasp of air is choked from his lungs? Think you'll feel his soul passing when he finally croaks for good?"
Something tore in Starsky's mind. It was physical, like a stroke, but clean. He could hear the tearing like a curtain being rent from hem to hem. It hurt, physically, and he cried out, a sharp, clear sound.
And then he remembered.
That night—me and Hutch—my hands on him—my mouth on him—the way I wanted him—the way I loved him. Oh, God, how I love him!
The shock was too sudden, and he staggered, falling forward onto his hands. Sugar and Tsuka ran to him, tried to gather him in their arms, but he was rocking in place, mad with grief. Insane with the memories that flooded his mind. Memories of passion so powerful it had overwhelmed him. Memories of a need he thought he could never satisfy, for how could he ever get enough of Hutch? And the most painful, the memories of a love so strong it had staggered him with its beauty and perfection. His love. For Hutch.
Russo was chuckling happily, and Sugar turned on him in a rage as she tried to comfort Starsky. "Will you shut up, you sick fucker?"
"If you don't behave yourself, you little candy-ass bitch," Russo said, pushing his face through the bars to taunt her, "I'll come in there and show you what a real man can do."
"You'll never get away with this!" Peter shouted. "Every person in this place will bear witness to the crimes you've committed! Every one of us will testify to what you've said."
"Yeah, like anyone's gonna give a damn about what a bunch of queers has to say," Russo spat back. "You ever look up the stats on how many complaints homosexuals put in every year against cops, and how many of those complaints ever come to anything? And hey, if Hutch ended up in the wrong lockup, well, that was just a mix-up in the paperwork, right? Unfortunate error. Suspended fag cop gets accidentally put in a cell with some real men. Outcome can't be good." Russo laughed. "And a lot of good your testimony will do to Hutchinson's cooling corpse."
Russo's attention turned back to Starsky. "And what better way to render this pansy useless, but to take his favorite piece of ass away from him? We got a pool going on the precise date. Most of us figure he'll be good for maybe a month before he sucks off a gun."
"Don't listen to him, baby," Sugar said to Starsky. "He's a lying asshole and you know it. Hutch is gonna be fine, you'll see."
But Starsky could tell by the quaver in her voice that Sugar didn't believe that. Just as he didn't.
Wasted. All that time wasted. Hutch doing everything he could to make me love him, and me, not man enough to recognize my own feelings for him. All gone now. All wasted. Oh, God, Hutch, how I let you down. My partner. My best friend. My only love.
"Now, don't you worry, Starsky," Russo continued relentlessly. "We'll make sure you're out of here in time to identify the body. Somebody's gotta look at that mess and put a name to it. Too bad he won't be so gay-boy pretty any more. Wonder if you'll be able to stomach giving that sorry lookin' sack of cold meat one last juicy goodbye kiss."
Starsky came up off the floor like a cobra.
His reaction was purely physical since he never thought it through. But in the space of a syllable, he was on the bars and had Russo's head in a punishing grip.
Russo jerked back, using the bars for leverage, but Starsky had him by the chin and the back of the head and his anger gave him a strength he'd never known before. At this moment, he was Death, and by the shocked look in Russo's eyes, Starsky knew Russo recognized that. The big man was pushing hard on the bars, trying to break Starsky's grip. But Starsky kept a counter-pull on his head, so if Russo relented even a little bit, his face would smash into the bars. It made it difficult for Russo to get any leverage. He didn't dare release the bars. Every muscle in Starsky's back, shoulders, and arms strained, as he struggled to either break Russo's neck or smash his face into the bars hard enough to drive the bones in his nose into his brain. Russo resisted with his own formidable strength, but the sudden attack had taken him by surprise, and fear was working against him.
The cells erupted as all the leathermen cheered wildly, shouting encouragement, telling Starsky to "Kill the fuckin' pig!" and "Avenge Hutch!" They began chanting, "Do it! Do it!" But Starsky was only dimly aware of that. His focus was clear.
Suddenly, there was a weight on his back, but that was easy to ignore. He felt Russo's arms begin to weaken, felt his powerful, thick neck give slightly. He increased the pressure. He would never tire, never suffer fatigue. Death was unyielding, and he was Death.
"David, stop!" It was Tsuka shrilling in his ear. He blotted it out, not letting the voice of reason interrupt the execution of his vengeance. "You can't do this! Hutch wouldn't want you to do this! David, please!"
She clambered up his back bodily, searching for the pressure points in his own neck, which were hidden under the collar of his leather jacket. She could render him unconscious; he tensed against the blow. But suddenly she was gone. Someone had pulled her off him.
He could hear her husband, Yoshi. "He has the right to avenge Hutch! Don't interfere!"
"Have you gone crazy, too?" Tsuka shouted. "This isn't feudal Japan, it's California! They'll execute him for this!"
"Tsuka, stay out of it! Without Hutch, how much longer do you think he can live anyway?"
What a smart guy, Starsky thought. How long could he live without Hutch now that he knew his true feelings? Not long at all. Russo grunted softly and the slight sound of weakness gave Starsky another surge of adrenaline. Behind him, the other prisoners were shouting wildly. Part of him realized some of them were calling for help, wanting to stop him before he murdered this man, but afraid to interfere. Insanity was like that. It scared people. And at this moment, he was truly insane. You had to be crazy to assume the mantle of Death. His muscles protested the constant pressure, but he ignored them and twisted harder, turning Russo's chin a little more.
His eyes never blinked as they bore into Russo's tiny, close-set ones. He was grimacing with effort, but that must've looked like a shark's smile. Russo was sweating, his body trembling. But Starsky was made of steel and never quavered from his objective. He would not be stopped until Russo was dead in his hands. After that, he didn't care what happened. He had no life without Hutch anyway.
There was a loud clang and a familiar voice bellowed his name. Dobey. He never looked up, never took his focus off Russo's perspiring, beet-red face. He was so glad he'd learned how to focus all his energy.
"STARSKY!" Dobey shouted. "Starsky! Let him go! The whole thing was caught on camera, on tape. We've got everything Russo said. And Callahan's got a witness singing his heart out. He's fingered Russo and Wilson, and Higgins ID'ed two of the cops from Metro who were involved. They're all talking a blue streak trying to make deals. It's over, Starsky! Let him go!"
It meant nothing to him. If all the cops involved got a hundred years of hard time with the hardest cons in the world, what did it matter? Hutch was dead. Starsky's life was over. And if he was doomed to spend eternity in Hell he was going to make sure Russo was right beside him, so Starsky could abuse him forever more.
"Can't any of you stop him?" Dobey shouted at the prisoners, as he tugged ineffectually at the steel bands of Starsky's arms.
"Why would we want to?" Sugar asked wearily, and numerous voices agreed.
Dobey's meaty hands grasped Starsky by the wrists, trying to break his hold. But Death could not be defeated by mere human hands. Starsky's grip remained firm.
It was almost over, he realized with a pang of regret. Russo's body began to go slack and his eyes fluttered and started to roll up. Just a little bit more and Starsky could force the final snap that would separate the vertebrae . . . .
Russo began to sag. Starsky prepared to make his move.
The hallway door crashed open again. A voice rang out in one beautiful, clear tone: "STARSKY! STOP!"
Tears filled Starsky's eyes. One final torment. That he should hear a voice so much like Hutch's when his task was almost finished. It broke his concentration.
Russo's eyes rolled up and he lost consciousness. Starsky struggled to force the snap, but the big man's weight was dragging him out of his grasp, and the sweat on Russo's skin made his fingers slip. But he was determined to do it . . . . He shifted to get a better hold.
Powerful hands grasped Starsky's wrists. "Starsky, don't! Let him go! I'm begging you!"
Tears blurred his vision. He saw a swirl of gold, and stared. His insanity was making him hallucinate. He imagined Hutch before him, grabbing his wrists, trying to pull him off Russo. It was a beautiful hallucination. He wondered if it would disappear when Russo died.
"He thinks you're dead!" Tsuka shouted.
"Starsky, snap out of it!" the vision of gold demanded. "It's me, dammit. It's HUTCH! I'm here, I'm alive. Let him go!"
"He's lost it, Hutch," Dobey said.
Hutch . . . ? He squeezed his eyes closed and when he opened them his vision cleared. The hallucination grew solid, substantial. Hutch!
He released the unconscious Russo without a second thought. He fell like a dead weight, and Starsky instantly forgot him.
Others must've entered with Hutch, because Dobey was yelling orders. "We need medical help! Get Russo away from those bars, but be careful. Stabilize his neck and head. He's out cold, but he's alive."
Starsky thought he heard Baylor's distinctive accent and Meredith's cultured voice, but he didn't care enough to pay attention.
Hutch walked a few steps away from where Russo collapsed, and Starsky followed him along the bars like a shadow. He was afraid to blink, afraid to find out he was dreaming.
"Hutch? How . . . ? What . . . ? He said you were dead . . . !" Starsky was nearly incoherent, his rage and grief and hopelessness too raw to let him believe in miracles.
"I never got to the cell," Hutch said, grinning. "When they pulled into the lockup, Kelly was waiting for them with Baylor, Meredith, and a really pissed-off judge. Kelly had an informant who knew everything and was talking a blue streak. It took a while to sort it all out down at County, but the cops who brought me in were arrested right then. They've busted Gunther's lawyer. And all the cops involved with this are gonna take a heavy fall. Every precinct had some guys involved, from rookies to old timers ready for retirement. Every rotten egg in the city, all in one basket."
Starsky realized he was crying and didn't care. He swabbed at his face to wipe the annoying moisture away. "Hutch, I gotta tell ya—" he swallowed, the words jamming up in his throat. "Oh, God, Hutch. I thought I'd lost you. Thought you'd died the most horrible death."
"Ssshhh," Hutch soothed, reaching through the bars to stroke his hair. "It's all over now, buddy. Try to relax."
Starsky shook his head. "Can't. Gotta tell ya—"
Hutch turned around for a minute and yelled behind him, "Can't somebody get the goddamned key and open these doors?"
Starsky reached through the bars to grab a fistful of white vest and pulled Hutch around to face him. "Hutch! Listen! I love you!"
Hutch's face softened into the warmest smile. "I know that, buddy. I love you, too."
He's not getting it, Starsky realized, frustrated. "No. Not like that!" He closed his eyes, tried to collect his scrambled thoughts. "Hutch! I remember!"
Hutch only looked more confused, as if trying to figure out a complex puzzle that he was missing critical pieces to.
At a complete loss, Starsky reached out, grabbed the back of Hutch's neck, and yanked him foreword. His mouth met Hutch's firmly as their faces pressed against the cold bars.
Hutch stiffened in surprise, but only for a second. Then his arms snaked through the bars, grabbing at Starsky's jacket, the same way Starsky was clutching at his arms and his long hair. Their mouths opened at the same time, as their tongues clashed together hard as they attempted to climb down each other's throat.
The desperate kiss was just as beautiful as Starsky remembered. Hutch moaned softly into his mouth and Starsky went as hard as the bars surrounding him. They pulled apart to catch their breath just long enough for Starsky to say, "I love you!" This time, Hutch understood. His beautiful, healthy, breathing blond's eyes filled and spilled over, then they were kissing again and Starsky swore he'd never let him go.
The blood was pounding so hard in Starsky's ears, he barely registered the cheering and clapping going on all around them, as his cellmates celebrated Hutch's return from the dead and their blatant display of love.
Dobey must've been really preoccupied with giving first aid to Russo, because he suddenly snapped, "What the hell—?" as he spied his two best detectives trying to copulate through the cell bars. "Starsky! Hutchinson!"
They pulled apart reluctantly, but didn't release their grip on each other's clothing.
"We're on suspension, Cap," Starsky said. His voice was ragged. "That means we're on our own time."
"You tell 'im, babe," Hutch said, grinning, resting his forehead against the bars. His face was flushed red, his sexual excitement so obvious it just made Starsky ache for him more.
"The hell you are!" Dobey blustered. "I'm petitioning the deputy chief of police to reinstate you retroactively from your suspension, and he doesn't dare refuse me now."
They both turned to him, confused. "The deputy chief . . . ?" Hutch muttered.
"The chief has been implicated in encouraging these rogue cops in their illegal activities," Dobey told them. "He's suspended and under house arrest for the time being. Since you two are credited with helping to uncover this huge conspiracy of illegal activities, the deputy chief, who is now in charge, wouldn't dare deny me your reinstatement."
"What about the mayor?" Starsky asked, afraid to hope.
Dobey grinned hugely. "The mayor is backpedaling like crazy, scared to death that someone's going to finger him as being involved." His expression grew stern again. "So, as far as I'm concerned, you two are on the clock. I expect professionalism from my men, especially if they're going to continue to work together! But . . . what the two of you do on your own time is your own damned business."
They gave each other an awkward hug through the bars and separated enough for decorum. But Starsky couldn't bear to pull his eyes away from the solid form of the man he loved, and Hutch had trouble looking elsewhere also.
"Captain," Sugar said, sidling up to the bars. Her voice was a low and throaty Marilyn purr. "What a towering example of manhood you are! Can you tell us just how long us poor helpless girls are going to have stay in this dump?"
Dobey smiled and drew himself up the way he did whenever he was in the presence of attractive women. "Well, ma'am, we're working on that right now. The cops who incarcerated you unjustly also took the keys, probably to ensure you weren't released too soon."
Hutch glanced at Starsky, amused. "Uh . . . think we should tell Dobey that Sugar—?"
"Not on your life," Starsky said. Hutch grinned.
The hallway door opened noisily. Starsky looked up to see Kelly hurrying toward them. The minute she got within reach, Starsky grabbed her arm and towed her close. "You're the most beautiful lawyer in the whole wide world, you know that?" He got choked up again as he tried to embrace her through the bars.
She blushed and looked flustered, but smiled. "Listen, this thing's not over yet. You have no idea how much chaos there is. We've got the keys, and you all have to appear at a hearing now, so we can sort the whole thing out. The judge doesn't want to release anybody without getting everything on record. So, all of you will be going upstairs before the judge—"
"Hold it," Starsky said indignantly. "You mean, we have to prove our innocence? That's not how it works. This was a false arrest. We weren't given due process, we weren't even booked! And we were subjected to serious police brutality. We should not only be released without question, but the judge ought to come down here to personally apologize to everyone in these cells. We've had our civil rights violated to the max, and the city can expect a civil suit . . . " he looked at her expectantly, "as soon as our lawyer can draw up the papers!"
She smiled. "Of course. They know that. But the judge insists on seeing everyone—"
"Then he can damned well come down here and see us. See how banged up we are. How much punishment we took. We're innocent. We're not goin' before some judge and proving it to his specifications. K.R., you know damned well this is because we're a group of gays. If we were part of a nice, straight civic group, they would've opened the bars and carried us out." Starsky gave Hutch's arm a squeeze. "I'm sorry, babe, but this is all wrong." He turned to the group behind him. "We're not leaving!"
Walking back to stand in their midst, he lowered himself into a lotus, crossed his arms and held out his hands. Tsuka immediately sat beside him and took one hand, while Sugar sat gingerly beside him and took the other. In the cells on either side, Roland led his men in the sit-down, linking arms through the bars with Starsky's group, and Peter did the same with the group in his cell so they formed one continuous band of humanity.
"Why do sit-ins always have to happen on the floor in dreary places like this?" Sugar complained. "Why can't they have sit-ins on some nice, attractively-upholstered divans in a well-appointed room?"
"I don't remember the words to the song," Starsky confessed to Tsuka.
"That's all right, David," she assured him. "You remembered the really important words."
"What the hell is he doing?" Dobey demanded as Baylor and Meredith came forward with the keys. As Baylor looked on dazedly, Meredith just grinned and gave Starsky a power salute. He nodded at her as the group began to sing.
"He's leading a peaceful civil disobedience in protest of the unjust treatment he's been subjected to and the violation of his civil rights," Hutch said. Starsky could hear pride ringing in his voice. "And I'm going to join him!"
"No, you're not!" Kelly said, tugging excitedly at Hutch's sleeve. "You're coming with me before the judge. This might actually work out better for us. Since we have proof that your arrest was a conspiracy to murder you, your statement will carry a lot of weight. Their peaceful protest shores up their argument that they were unjustly incarcerated by a rogue group of cops acting illegally. Let's go talk to the judge, just you and me. We'll tell him what's happening and why, and see his reaction. It'll make terrific press! Barbara's upstairs with a camera crew and C.D. Phelps and her photographer are waiting! I called them with the story and they beat me here. Come on!"
Hutch could barely stand to pull his eyes away from where Starsky sat as the rhythmic voices of the protestors chanted slogans and sang spirituals. Starsky mouthed, "I love you," as Hutch left, and the expression on that beautiful face filled his heart with joy.
Hutch was alive. Hutch was his. Nothing else mattered. Life was a wonderful thing. And as soon as all this bullshit was over, Starsky was going to show Hutch just how wonderful it could be, in every way he could imagine. Every day and night of their lives.
now and then I know