might still have time
"Hello, Ma?" Starsky said quietly into the receiver. "It's Davey."
There was a moment's pause, then, in a New York Jewish accent, "So, you remembered your mother's number? I was beginning to think that we'd only hear from you through Walter Cronkite anymore."
He smiled. She was still his mother. "Ma—I know what you've seen in the paper, but—"
"Feh! Who reads the papers? Who listens to such lies?" But she couldn't keep it up. He heard the catch in her voice, the suppressed sob. "Oh, my David! What's happened to you?" And the tears started. Hers and his.
He swallowed, trying to hold back his own pain, and wiped his cheek. It was one thing for Gunther to strike at him, but this was his mother. "Ma—it's not what you think. Let me explain—"
"You think I need you to explain?" she asked, sniffling. "I'm your mother. I taught you about the birds and the bees, because your father, God rest his soul, was too embarrassed. I've lived in New York all my life. I'm not some naive little gonif, Davey."
"I know, Ma, but—"
"Besides," she gave another sniff, "I've met your Kenneth. Such a nice boy. So handsome. So polite. Even then I could see, the two of you—there was something. When I saw the papers—it all made sense. Why you stopped talking about girls. Why Ken was always with you. Did you know he once called me to find out your favorite recipe? I gave it to him, that pot roast you always loved. I wondered then, but I—I couldn't think badly of Ken. I still can't. I could see how much you two meant to each other—"
What? he thought, mind reeling. Hutch had gone east with him a few years ago on vacation, and she'd come out to LA while Starsky was recovering from the shooting. Those were the only occasions she and Hutch had spent any time together.
"Ma! There wasn't anything between me and Hutch then! This was all a set-up this criminal—"
"Please, Davey, I'm an old Jewish mother, but I'm not stupid. I saw the way you two looked at each other. How devoted Ken was to you after you were hurt. Don't lie to your mother, Davey, it's not nice. Anyway, you don't have to lie. I understand. I understand why I'm not a grandmother, why I'm not going to be a grandmother. Well, with the way Nicky is going, who knows? But that's another problem. This is your life, Davey, and you have to live it in a way that makes you happy—haven't I always told you that? Just tell your mother one thing—are you happy?" Her voice cracked on the last word.
He blinked stupidly. "Happy? How could I be happy, Ma, with what's happening to us?"
"No, I mean—are you happy with Ken? I know he loves you so much. And I think he has a good heart. He's a good man. I could bear this, I think, if I knew you were happy with him."
Starsky shut his eyes. Have I been that stupid that I couldn't see what my mother could? Did he love me all this time? He took a deep breath and searched his heart. "Yeah, Mom. Hutch—makes me happy. He's my best friend, my partner. It's just been hard lately with all this bad press. But, yeah, I'm happy."
"Well, that's good, then, I'm happy, too," she said, her voice trembling.
"What—what about Nicky, Ma?"
There was an uncomfortable pause. "It's hard for your brother, Davey. He's a man. He doesn't understand. Not like I do."
Starsky could feel a hand squeezing his heart. "Can I talk to him?"
"I'm sorry, Davey. He won't speak to you now. I think in a week or so, when things calm down, maybe then—"
"My brother won't speak to me?" Starsky said, unable to hide the hurt in his voice.
"It's—hit him hard. You know how things are in the neighborhood. People have been saying things. He can't handle it yet, Davey."
Starsky covered his eyes. They sent me away when I was fourteen, after Dad was killed, because of what was said in the neighborhood. That was twenty years ago. How can anyone remember the shit that went on that far back?
"Tell him, Ma," Starsky said, through a throat tight with anguish, "tell him I'm still his brother. I still love him. Tell him that will never change. Will you tell him?"
"I'll tell him. Will—you be staying in LA?"
"Yeah. We're stayin' at Hutch's."
"Davey, will you lose your job?"
He thought of himself pressuring the city for his job back under the guise of being an openly gay man. "Don't know yet. I gotta warn you. The newspapers and stuff—it's gonna get worse."
"Worse? Worse than the front page of the Daily News? How much worse can it get?" She almost sounded amused.
"We might be suin' the city," he warned. "We might be pursuing it as a civil rights violation."
"Good!" she said, surprising him. "You and Ken are good cops. The best! You could have been sitting on the beach on disability all this time, instead of working so hard! They've got a lotta nerve suspending you because of your private life! Shame on them! You gotta good lawyer, honey? 'Cause your Uncle Benny, he knows this man—"
He had to chuckle. "I gotta good lawyer, Ma, the best in the city. Maybe the country."
"Oh, but it's expensive!" she protested.
"It's okay, Ma, really. But we're gonna fight this thing. So the papers and stuff will pick it up. It's gonna get hard on you—and Nick."
"You don't worry about us, Davey. You got a big fight ahead of you. Know that I'm on your side, yours and Ken's. And, once Nicky gets used to it, he'll come around. I know he will."
Starsky wished he could share her belief. "Sure. I'm sorry you had to find out like this. You know I'd never do anything to hurt you."
"You think I don't know that? I love you, Davey. Never worry about that."
"Call you next Friday, Ma," he said, holding the receiver tight, wishing she were there to hug.
"You're a good son," she said. "I've always been proud of you. You're still my hero, Davey."
He could barely find his voice to say goodbye. He got his emotions under control, not wanting to think too much about the conclusions his mother had come to. For the first time, he began to realize what his relationship with Hutch must have seemed like to others. Were they really so different from other men? Were they that much closer? Was there that much love between them? And if there was, why had he been so blind to it for so long?
Maybe because you knew how much pain it could cause? Because of what happened in New York to a confused kid who'd just lost his dad? Did you lock up all your feelings after that, reserving them only for what was acceptable?
He rubbed a hand over his face. He'd need a psychiatrist before this was over. He wondered if Peter Whitelaw had one in his network.
Picking up the phone, he called Huggy to ask a favor, and then went to the kitchen to tell Hutch the phone was free. Now, it was his partner's turn to have his heart ripped out.
"How long will it take you to set this up?" Starsky asked Huggy, as he carried the awkward box into the apartment.
"'Bout ten minutes," Huggy told him, putting the box down near the television. Starsky thought Huggy still seemed more subdued than normal—though his wildly colorful clothes had that wonderful aura of Huggy-normalcy. "What'chu want this for, man?"
Starsky bit his lip, then looked his friend in the eye. "Someone gave us a copy of the film on tape. We're still cops. We gotta get to the bottom of this. We need to look at that film objectively, as evidence."
Huggy stared at him in amazement. "You gonna look at that thing like it was evidence? You think you can do that? Man, you crazier than I thought."
"We gotta, Hug. The department's not gonna find out who set us up. 'Cept for Dobey, they don't care. They just want us gone."
Huggy shook his head as he pulled out a mass of black cables and started hooking them up to the TV. "Where's Hutch anyway?"
"On the phone in the bedroom. Talkin' to his folks. He's awful quiet, though."
"That's 'cause his folks are from Minnesota," Huggy said knowledgeably, "not New York City. Them white bread Midwesterners don't solve problems by yellin'. They get real quiet when they get mad."
"That ain't good news for Hutch," Starsky admitted, "'cause I ain't heard a peep since he went in there."
"Maybe you should go check on him," Huggy suggested.
"Yeah. Maybe. Didn't wanna invade his privacy. You need my help?"
"Naw," Huggy told him. "I'll set up this Betamax VCR, then I'll let myself out."
"Hey, Hug . . . how come you gave this address to Peter Whitelaw?"
Huggy flinched. "Now, don't be mad, Starsky. I just thought—hell, I was afraid if I gave him the phone number, y'all wouldn't see him. And he's the only one in the city in any position to help you." Huggy looked at him almost shyly. "You mad at me?"
"No, I guess not," Starsky mumbled.
"But—?" Huggy prompted.
Starsky shrugged. "I, uh—think he likes Hutch. If you know what I mean, and I think you do."
Huggy laughed. "You better get useta that, man, specially if you take that gig down the Green Parrot. Hutch is hot. He's got the look those fey brothers love, all those long legs and that big blond body. 'Sides, you're not interested, so wha' do you care? Or, do you want Hutch to be a monk 'cause you are?"
Starsky stared at his friend in amazement. "No one ever accused me of bein' a monk before, Huggy, least of all you!"
"You have been this past year. Not sure why. Not sure you know why. Maybe you need to be askin' yourself those kinda questions, 'steada worryin' about other dudes diggin' your partner. He's grown, and can make his own decisions."
"Thanks for the advice," Starsky said sarcastically, only to have Huggy grin.
"Why, any time, friend. Any time at all."
Starsky left Huggy to his VCR and moved around the corner to the bedroom. He paused just out of visual range and tried to hear if Hutch was still on the phone. Nothing but silence. Finally, he stuck his head around the corner and found Hutch sitting on the bed, back against the brass headboard, looking out through the window. His long, bare legs stretched across the bed, crossed at the ankles. His face was blank.
"Knock, knock," Starsky said.
Hutch didn't look at him. "I already know who's there. Come in if you want."
Starsky did, sitting on "his" side of the bed. "How'd it go?"
"Not too bad. My dad was waiting for the call. Mom wouldn't come to the phone."
Starsky blinked in surprise. It had never occurred to him his mother might not come to the phone. He tried to imagine that and couldn't.
"I'm out of the will," Hutch said too casually. "And out of the family. I won't need to be calling them again." He turned, and Starsky could see the hurt hidden by the gentle smile. "I'm disinherited—which is no big deal, since Dad's been threatening that since I became a cop."
Starsky's gut wrenched. He remembered thinking just a day ago that he never wanted to see any more pain on that handsome face that had been caused by him. "They disowned you, Hutch? How could they do that?"
"How could Nicky refuse to talk to you?" Hutch replied. "They can't handle it, that's how. It's their problem, Starsky, not ours."
Starsky put a hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry. It can't be easy hearing something like that from your family."
"You should know, partner," Hutch said, his blue eyes intense as they watched Starsky's face.
"I—I don't understand," Starsky stammered, "how people who are supposed to love and care for you, can turn that off just because of somethin' like this! It's not right!"
"But it's real," Hutch said reasonably. "We've got to be each other's family now, Starsk."
"You've been my family since we met," Starsky swore. "That's never gonna change."
"No?" Hutch asked plaintively, his eyes watering before he got them under control.
"Hutch, come on! I know a lot of this has freaked me out, but I'm not runnin' away from it! I'm here with you, tryin' as hard as I can to deal with it. You just gotta be patient with me—and—be my family, like you've always been."
Hutch touched Starsky's cheek gently, then pulled his hand away. His voice was surprisingly firm. "I'm ready to be anything you want me to be. You know how I feel about you now."
"I know," Starsky said, and tried not to sound miserable about it. "Hutch, I think there's somethin' else we gotta do today."
He frowned as if he couldn't bear anything else. "What now?"
"We got a lotta stuff—hurt and anger and negative vibes—to work out of us, or it's gonna kick our butts when we ain't expecting it to. I think we need to see if we're still welcome at the dojo, and if we are, do our regular workout."
Hutch looked as if he might refuse, then he smiled and said, "That's a very positive thing to do. We can't afford to cut back on our health program when we're under so much stress. The exercise will do us good. I'll call."
Starsky sat back on his heels while Hutch made the call and tried not to feel too pleased with himself. Hutch always handled things better when he could blow off steam. If Hutch didn't express his pain physically through exercise, he'd become so moody and depressed Starsky wouldn't be able to stand him. Starsky knew it would help him relieve some of his own stress, too, and right now he felt like a pressure cooker.
While Hutch was on the phone, Starsky heard Huggy leave.
"Spoke to Sensei Shiro," Hutch said, putting the phone down. He smiled, and for the first time in twenty-four hours, it touched his eyes. "Our appointment stands, and he expects us there."
"He—didn't have anything to say about—?" Starsky started to ask.
Hutch shrugged. "I was pretty blunt with him, told him that I'd understand if he would prefer we not come anymore. He sounded insulted. Said we should be on time."
Starsky smiled. "Maybe they don't read the papers? Watch television? Maybe Japanese people have no problems with queer students?"
"I think," Hutch said, "that we'd better be on time. And you still have to take a shower!"
"You got it!" Starsky called, on his way.
This was a good idea! Hutch thought as he and Starsky went through their traditional warm-up. It felt good to get out of the apartment. A few people recognized them from the papers, but overall, the trip had been fairly uneventful. Once inside the dojo, it felt so right, so safe, so real, Hutch could pretend that they were the same two cops they'd been just a few days before.
The dojo was owned by a classic California couple. They were American-born Japanese who'd both gone to Japan to study the traditional arts. The sensei, Yoshi Shiro, wasn't much older than Hutch, stood about five foot five, and had a fourth degree black belt. His wife, Tsuka, was a diminutive five foot, weighed as much as air, had a second degree black belt, and was a certified yoga instructor. When they were tested for new belts, she was the one they had to go up against. She'd mopped up the floor with them often enough that they dreaded the testing. But worse was the half-hour of yoga training she put them through to increase their flexibility.
The sensei's curriculum had taken into account Starsky's recuperation. His ability to learn new defense techniques quickly helped him regain his confidence. Hutch believed it had speeded Starsky's recovery.
Maybe it'll help us both recover from this, he thought. He was worried about the long-term effects of what they were going through. How could two men who were close live in each other's pockets, when one was desperately in love and the other wasn't, and they were both surrounded by such intense public scrutiny?
They finished the warm-up and the sensei shouted out the brisk commands to prepare to spar. Hutch smiled. Yeah. This was normal. This was good.
Facing him, Starsky's blue eyes twinkled. He was feeling it, too. The sensei gave the signal, and they paused, bowed respectfully to each other and the sensei, then resumed defensive stance and started circling.
"Five bucks says you take the first fall," Starsky challenged, grinning.
"You're on," Hutch said through his teeth.
Hutch moved first, depending on the fact that Starsky was at a mental disadvantage because of the unnecessary guilt he was carrying. His longer arms and legs were an advantage, too, but Starsky was used to that, and moved in close to negate the power of those long limbs.
They threw punches, chops, jabs, kicks, grabbed lapels and sleeves, but they were evenly matched. Each held his ground, racking up points and breaking into a damned good sweat. Hutch's heart rate picked up as adrenaline coursed through him. His long hair stuck to his sweaty forehead as he feinted, jabbed, then reached to counterbalance and throw. But Starsky slipped from his fingers at the last second and stayed on his feet.
As klutzy as Hutch could be, at the dojo he felt graceful, where his long limbs and quick reaction time were an advantage.
"Doin' pretty well today, ya big blintz," Starsky razzed. "Ain't tripped on your belt yet. Defenses up. Maybe you're a little worried about your partner takin' advantage of you, huh?"
Hutch smiled. When Starsky couldn't beat him on technique, he'd try to rattle his cage. It was part of Starsky's Law—talk a little, win a lot. But two could play at that game.
"Maybe you're just not good enough to take me, Starsk," Hutch taunted back.
"Oh-ho," Starsky said sarcastically. Hutch could tell he was stung. "Very funny. I think I can take you any time I want to."
"Is that right?" Hutch challenged. "Well, we both know you want to, babe, so why don't you just go ahead and try."
Hutch was almost surprised when Starsky lost his patience and moved in too quickly, too aggressively. He telegraphed his move so much, Hutch counteracted perfectly, moved in, got behind him and overpowered him with a counterbalance throw. Starsky stared at him in amazement from the floor.
"Five bucks," Hutch crowed.
"Double or nothin'," Starsky barked, and was back on his feet instantly, swarming Hutch. Starsky fought back hard and soon they were at it, no holds barred, all over the dojo floor. Block, jab, chop, punch, kick, block, feint, over and over, faster and faster until Hutch got a leg between Starsky's bowed ones and threw him down on the mat. But Starsky was ready, planting a foot in Hutch's abdomen and tossing him ass over teakettle, then pouncing on him when he was down, throwing his weight across Hutch's back, pulling his arm up high behind him to keep him on his face.
"Ten bucks," Starsky purred in his ear.
But Hutch wasn't above fighting dirty. Starsky's groin was pressed suggestively against his rump, holding him down. Hutch looked over his shoulder, caught Starsky's gaze, then rotated his hips suggestively.
"Starsk," he murmured seductively, "you devil! Not here!"
Starsky's jaw dropped in shock. Loosening his grip, he shifted away from Hutch's ass. Which was exactly what Hutch knew he'd do. With the pressure off his arm, he bucked, flipping Starsky over, pinning him to the mat.
"That was cheatin'!" Starsky complained.
"You fell for it," Hutch said, laughing. "All's fair in war, too!"
Starsky pushed him off and swung, and they were back on their feet fighting, battling their inner demons. Hutch kept waiting for the sensei to end the sparring, but he didn't. They kept pursuing each other around and around the room until their movements slowed and their arms and legs felt like lead. As their performance grew slack, the sensei barked out corrections. Starsky had a tendency to bend his knee during kicks, lessening their impact. Hutch telegraphed his punches with his shoulder. The sensei moved onto the mats with them, pushing them harder.
Sweat dripped into Hutch's eyes, his body wracked with exhaustion. He braced his legs to stay upright, and prayed the sensei would call a halt to the sparring. Couldn't he see how spent they were? His only consolation was that the extreme exercise might help sweat the last of the drug out of their systems.
Under the sensei's remorseless drive, Hutch took a last swing at his partner, who barely ducked in time. The follow-through, however, was Hutch's undoing. Collapsing on his back, arms and legs akimbo, he gasped like a fish out of water. He heard a thump and saw Starsky beside him on his knees, butt in the air, face in the mat. The two of them wheezed like old men, their gis stuck to them with hard-earned sweat.
"Well," said the sensei, standing over them, "I hope you've gotten that out of your systems."
Hutch peered at his teacher, as Starsky cast a baleful blue eye in the man's direction.
"When you come to the dojo," the sensei said, "you must come as students ready to learn. Leave the outside world behind, so that your mind and body are open to new skills. You cannot bring the pain and anxiety of the outside world here, or all you will do is battle the enemy you think you know, instead of learning to fight the enemy you have yet to meet."
They exchanged a glance, then looked away.
"And above all," he continued, "you must never come here to challenge each other. You spar together, and because you know each other so well, it makes you good opponents. But today, you didn't fight as partners, but as strangers. That is why I didn't end the sparring. Now, you know how evenly you are matched, because you have fought to a draw. Stop fighting each other, when there are so many ready to oppose you. Whatever pain is between you must be resolved."
Hutch shut his eyes. How was it everyone knew them better than they knew themselves?
The sensei sat in a lotus. "Do you know anything of the samurai?"
They moved stiffly into a lotus as their breathing evened out.
"I took Hutch to see the movie, The Seven Samurai," Starsky said. "Does that count?"
The sensei smiled. "The samurai were men who lived together, learned together, fought together, died together. Today, the police are the samurai. They serve a lord—the commonwealth—and work for the good of the people, even if it means death. I have worked with other police—but never met any I thought could understood the samurai until I met you. A samurai would give up his life for his lord, or his brother samurai. And he would give up his life for his honor. That is a forgotten word in our culture. But you two understand that word: honor."
Hutch found it hard to look at his teacher, and almost impossible to look at Starsky.
"There are many stories of samurai who loved one another as brothers—and as lovers," the teacher said bluntly. "Men who shared so much that involved life and death would need to share love, too."
Hutch glanced at Starsky, found indigo eyes boring into him, then looked back at the sensei.
"When you are betrayed," the sensei said to them, "your honor is not compromised. Those who have betrayed you, they are the ones who lose honor. Take comfort in this."
They nodded at him, accepting his wisdom. His wife joined them and began their yoga session. With quiet grace she took them through the asanas. Her training had helped Starsky recapture his cat-like flexibility and reflexes when the doctors had predicted limited mobility and strength. Even though exhausted, they flowed through the movements. The ancient exercises infused Hutch with strength and peace.
Then came the ritual relaxation at the end—Starsky's favorite part. They lay on their backs, several feet apart, palms up, eyes closed.
Tsuka's melodic voice urged them to give up their tensions, to relax their bodies, one muscle at a time. Hutch went wonderfully boneless.
"Now, find your center and hold it as you breathe evenly, deeply, slowly," she instructed. "Find that place you can retreat to when there is no where else to hide."
In earlier sessions, she'd talked about a pure white beach with clouds rolling overhead and gently lapping waves. There was no one else on this beach, just peace, quiet, and endless ocean. Hutch pictured himself on that peaceful shore.
"The beach stretches before you," Tsuka intoned. "It's your future: beautiful and hopeful."
Hutch felt a catch in his throat. He couldn't believe that their future was that optimistic.
"The beach meets the ocean," she continued, "and the ocean rises up to greet the beach again and again and again. The ocean is love. Too vast to be ignored. Impossible to satisfy. But the beach is there with open arms to embrace the ocean. It is the perfect union, always the same, yet ever changing."
Hutch felt like she was talking just to him. His relationship with Starsky mirrored the ocean and the beach: stormy, unpredictable, impossible to satisfy, yet wonderful all the same. Even though his heart hurt, the memories of their night together, no matter how it had been instigated, were still there. Those memories filled him with joy. It didn't matter how strained things were now. He had those memories—something Starsky didn't have. Hutch would relish them for the joy they brought him, and try to stop longing for what could never be. We'll always have Paris, he thought wryly.
Then Tsuka chanted the Om, her husband joining her, and Hutch felt the sacred word fill his mind, then his heart, then his soul until there was no more room for pain and sadness, just Om. It reverberated through him, rejuvenating him, lifting him from his depression like wings on his soul. Gunther could never destroy them. They would live well and be happy no matter what that despot threw at them. And theirs would be the final, triumphant word.
Finally, the Oms faded to a quiet hum, and Hutch came back to the present. He opened his eyes, sat up, and smiled at his teachers. As usual, he felt rejuvenated, optimistic, renewed.
"Detective Hutchinson," the sensei said, "my wife and I think you and your partner should increase your training. We are aware of the pressures you are under. Would you be willing to come three times a week instead of two?"
"Well, I—uh, we'd love to, but we're not working and I'm not sure we could afford—"
"Please," Tsuka interrupted, "we have no interest in increasing your obligations. But your training is at a critical juncture."
"Well—all right. If we can pay it back when our—situation improves."
"We'll work that out later," the sensei said, and stood gracefully from the lotus.
"That all right with you, Starsk?" Hutch asked, turning to his partner, only to find him still stretched out in relaxation posture, snoring softly. Hutch had to laugh. It wasn't the first time Starsky had fallen asleep during relaxation.
"Wake him gently," Tsuka said. She wore an odd expression. "I think he is still on the beach."
Then they left them alone.
Hutch knelt by Starsky and watched his eyes move rapidly back and forth under his lids. We really tore each other up today, huh, buddy? Physically and mentally. He paused, enjoying the chance to watch Starsky sleep. You're so beautiful to me now, and I love you so much. But that's okay. It's the love that's important, not how we express it. You don't have to love me the way I love you. I can live with it. I want to live with it, just so I can keep loving you in my heart. That'll be my revenge on Gunther—seeing you live and be healthy, helping you be happy, however I have to do that.
Hutch lifted his hand, considering how best to wake his partner, when suddenly Starsky arched his neck, and opened his mouth in a soft moan. Hutch watched him quizzically, as his body twitched slightly. He realized Starsky was semi-erect, his phallus beginning to tent his gi.
Starsk, not here! What the hell are you dreaming? Hutch spoke his name softly. There was no response, just more eye movement.
He ached to cup his hand over Starsky's groin, to feel that strong organ grow in his palm, but controlled himself. Instead, Hutch said Starsky's name again, then gently touched his shoulder.
Starsky's eyes flew open wide in confusion.
"Easy, buddy," Hutch murmured, leaning over him. "We're in the dojo. You fell asleep during relaxation. You were dreaming."
Starsky shook his head then blinked, gazing around the room.
"Where were you?" Hutch asked.
"Beach," he whispered. He focused on Hutch's face intently. "With you." Impulsively, Starsky reached up, touched Hutch's cheek then ran the tip of his thumb over Hutch's lower lip. Then he jerked his hand away, sitting upright.
"What's wrong?" Hutch asked, the touch of that thumb along his lip searing him inside. "What's the matter, partner?"
Starsky rubbed his hands briskly over his face, pulling into himself and shutting Hutch out.
He could barely stand it. "Starsky, what did you dream? Tell me."
"I can't!" Starsky said, his voice mournful. "Don't ask me, Hutch. I can't. It was just a dream, anyway. It doesn't mean anything."
To you or to me? Hutch wondered. He went to touch Starsky's shoulder again, then thought twice about it. Whatever his friend had imagined in his dream was still too raw.
"Come on," Hutch said casually. "My ass is whipped. Let's go home, make some food, then sleep for two days."
Starsky nodded as if finding refuge in that offer. "Yeah. Take me home, will ya?"
As they were leaving the dojo, Starsky pointed out a small decal on the window they'd never noticed before. It read, "We Support Councilman Whitelaw on Zoning Issue 12."
Starsky was nearly done making them burritos for lunch when Hutch spied the VCR.
"Where'd this come from?" he asked suspiciously. "And when?"
"Some detective," Starsky chided, trying to downplay its appearance. "Huggy brought it while you were on the phone. Thought we could catch up on our movies since we ain't workin'—"
"You're gonna make me watch that, aren't you?" Hutch said, his heart pounding. "You're gonna make me go over and over it, looking for something that isn't there. Aren't you?"
"Hutch," Starsky said softly, "I never wanna make you do anything you don't wanna do. But it is evidence. And we're still cops. And if this ain't our case, it's nobody's. It's the only piece of evidence we've got. We can't let our—personal feelings interfere with the investigation or there will be no investigation! Look, if you can't watch it, that's okay. I'll watch it by myself."
Hutch sat at the table, staring at his lunch. "My head knows you're right, Starsk, but my heart— All right. I'll watch it."
"Hey, maybe it'll jog my memory loose," Starsky said, hopefully.
"You think you should be eating first?" Hutch asked pointedly.
"Ha-ha," Starsky said, and dug into his food, watching while Hutch picked at his.
As they finished cleaning up, Hutch asked, "You want to do this now?"
Starsky shrugged. "Up to you."
Hutch kept drying the plate, until Starsky gently took it and put it away.
"I promise not to act like a jerk this time," he said in a low voice.
Hutch wouldn't look at him. "Not your fault. It took us both by surprise. The film, I mean. Maybe if I'd told you what had happened—"
"Stop," Starsky said quietly. "Let's do this. Should I make popcorn?"
Hutch glared at him, then punched his arm. "Clown. Get the thing. Let's get to it."
Starsky plopped himself onto the couch as though they were about to watch Casablanca. Hutch knew it was all bravado, that once this thing started rolling his friend wasn't going to be so cool. Hutch eased himself onto the couch about a foot away from his partner.
"Ready?" Starsky asked, unwrapping the cord of the hard-wired remote control. He'd already put the tape into the machine.
"No," Hutch said honestly.
"Me neither," Starsky replied with equal honesty, then surprised Hutch by lowering the lights in the room. "Figured it'll help us see better since the lighting's so dim on the film. Besides . . . my blush will be bright enough."
In spite of his nerves, Hutch smiled.
They turned on the tape. The picture came up right away, dimly, almost romantically lit.
"We should be grateful that there was only one camera," Starsky said, his voice tremulous.
Hutch nodded as he watched himself sitting on the edge of the bed in nothing but briefs. Watched as his best friend seduced him.
"Hutch, you look really freaked," Starsky said quietly.
"I was," he admitted.
"What, uh—so, what was I sayin'?" Starsky asked.
"You were trying to console me," Hutch remembered. "The drug made me paranoid. You said you'd take care of me." His voice got thick. "Here," he pointed to the screen as Starsky's hand trailed up his arm. Hutch felt a shiver run over his skin in memory. "You're telling me you love me. Asking if I love you."
"Damn," Starsky muttered, "I'm hard as rock. What are you sayin' now?"
Hutch didn't want to tell him. "I, uh, well, I'm trying to tell you we're drugged, that this is not really us, what we're feeling—"
"You're tryin' to get me to back off," Starsky said, clarifying the issue.
Hutch nodded. "I warned you that if we did this, you'd—never get over it. You swore it would be okay. We loved each other. We couldn't go wrong together."
Starsky ran a hand over his face.
"Then I lost
it," Hutch confessed, as Starsky's mouth claimed his on the
TV screen. He swallowed, feeling the pressure of those lips.
"I was wrong." His voice was husky. "You're a hell
of a kisser."
"Aw, shit," Starsky said.
As Hutch watched Starsky swarm his own body on the screen he grew half-hard and had to adjust himself, then realized Starsky had crossed his legs, and wondered.
The film was cut, so Hutch signaled to Starsky. "They took out the long pause while you told me about your near-death experience. How I chased you into death."
"Jeez, Hutch, I got a damned stranglehold on your dick," Starsky said, mortified.
"Yeah," Hutch agreed mildly. "This is when you said you wanted to put flesh to our marriage. I tried to talk you out of it—"
"Again?" Starsky seemed amazed.
"You said you wanted me. Not a 'pair of pretty women to take the edge off.' You said this time you wanted the real thing. Me."
Starsky's jaw hung open. "I look furious."
"You were. You were intense. Wired. You wanted me. You were even jealous, possessive. You kept saying, 'You're mine now, only mine.' Things like that." Hutch started paying close attention to the weave of the couch fabric.
On the screen, Starsky continued his aggressive oral assault, and Hutch felt every nip, every lick. If anyone touched him now, he'd send off sparks.
Starsky groaned mournfully. "That really is a hickey on your stomach. I kept thinking—hopin'—you'd run into something."
"I did," Hutch said, feigning cheerfulness. "You."
When Starsky finally went down on Hutch in the film, he found Starsky staring wide-eyed, mouth half-open. Starsky murmured huskily, "I look like I been doin' that all my life. Hutch? Was—was it any good?"
"Look at my face," Hutch said distantly. "How can you even ask?"
Starsky looked at him worriedly. "This—turnin' you on, now?"
Hutch wanted to say something clever, but couldn't. "Yeah," he muttered. "You?" That was facetious, but when Starsky didn't answer, he faced him. "I answered you honestly."
"Yeah," Starsky said. "But that don't make me feel good. Seein' the way I treated you."
"What are you talking about?" Hutch asked, confused. "As a lover, you were—wonderful."
"I never gave you a choice," Starsky said. "I just did what I wanted, even when you tried to talk me out of it. You were sayin' no, and I went ahead anyway. Your best friend. Your partner."
"Starsky," Hutch said softly, "don't make it sound like rape. It wasn't. It was seduction. If we hadn't been drugged it would've never happened. I don't blame you, and you've gotta stop blaming yourself. This was done to us." He glanced at the set. "See, here I'm doing it to you. Going after you. Overwhelming you."
Starsky sighed, miserable. On the film, Hutch paid homage to Starsky's scars. "What's happening here? You're saying something."
Hutch smiled. "This is the moment when I realized I was in love with you. Probably had been for who knows how long. At least since the shooting. I was telling you how I raced to the hospital to tell you goodbye when you lay dying. And to tell you how much I loved you."
The words hung suspended between them like a challenge.
Starsky picked up the challenge. "So, tell me. Like you did that night."
"Why?" Hutch asked, with more bitterness than he intended. "To make you unhappy, uncomfortable? You're already flinching every time I touch you. Why should I make it worse?"
Starsky's eyes were wide, dark, glittering. "I wanna hear it. I wanna hear what you said since I can't remember it, dammit. In the last two days, every person I've talked to has told me they knew what I couldn't figure out. I feel like the jerk of the century. Huggy said it. My mother said it. Even Dobey implied it. You've been in love with me, and I've been ignoring you! I don't wanna ignore it anymore. I wanna deal with it. I wanna hear it from you like you meant it that night." He grabbed Hutch's shoulders. "Tell me!"
Hutch closed his eyes, his emotions threatening to overwhelm him. As if the words were pulled out of him by the force of those searing blue eyes, he whispered, "I love you, Starsky. Like a mate. Like a spouse. And when you were shot, I knew I couldn't live without you. If you had died, I couldn't have lived—"
"My God, no!" Starsky yanked Hutch into his arms. "Don't ever say that! Don't even think it!"
Hutch wrapped his arms around him. "I couldn't have stayed without you. I would've found those responsible, killed them, then—"
"No! Don't! Don't say it!" Starsky squeezed him so hard, Hutch couldn't breathe.
"Then you said you loved me, too," Hutch reminded him, burying a hand in his thick, curly hair. He ached to kiss the side of his face, but didn't dare. "Begged me to make love to you."
Starsky groaned against his neck. "I'm so sorry, Hutch! So sorry I hurt you!"
Hutch pulled out of the embrace, putting some distance between them. He touched Starsky's cheek and was cheered when he didn't pull away. "I'm not. I know our lives are screwed, but I can't help it. I'm not sorry it happened. It was wonderful for me. It was for you, too. I only wish you could remember."
Starsky opened his mouth, then just shook his head in remorse.
"It's not the end of the world," Hutch told him, trying to be upbeat. "I've gotten over a million women, not to mention a heroin addiction—I can get over this, too. I'm not gonna let it ruin our friendship, Starsk. I mean that."
There was a flicker on the set, and Starsky glanced over to see Hutch riding his back. "Can't believe you didn't take advantage of that."
"You wanted me to," Hutch told him, getting himself under control. "It's a wonderful memory, Starsk. I cherish it. No one ever offered me so much of themselves from their heart."
"Oh, is that the organ I was workin' off?" Starsky said with a crooked smile.
On the screen, Hutch was going down on Starsky. His face reddened.
"Man, Hutch," Starsky said, "looks like you're killin' me!"
"Yeah, well," he said, "you died happy."
"I can see that! Now, what the hell am I arguin' about here?"
"You were having another jealousy fit. I think the drug was making you paranoid."
Starsky's brow furrowed. "Maybe not."
Hutch glanced at him, but nothing more was forthcoming. "It's winding up now. You might not want to watch—"
"I'm okay," Starsky insisted. He drew his legs up to his chest, wrapped his arms around them and rested his chin on his knees.
But it was Hutch who turned away as Starsky came in his mouth. He swallowed convulsively as he refused to watch himself swallowing his friend's essence. He jumped when Starsky suddenly rubbed his shoulder.
"It's not the way we ever saw ourselves," Starsky said softly, "but it happened. And we're gonna be okay about it. I promise."
It was an impossible offer. Hutch felt himself collapsing from the inside out. Can I get over you? Now, when we're so close every day?
Starsky saw it and pulled Hutch against him, so that his spine was tight to Starsky's chest. He could feel Starsky's heart pounding against his back. Strong, comforting arms surrounded him, warmed him, like they'd done a thousand times before. "I'm here for you, like I've always been."
Hutch shook his head. No, Starsky couldn't be there for him for this. Not this. If he had any hopes of getting over this, he would have to be alone in it.
Starsky hugged him tighter, rocking him gently as the film finished playing out. How many cases have ended like this, with one of us hugging the other, just trying to get through it. Too weak to deny himself this small pleasure, Hutch gave in to the comforting embrace just as he had so many countless times before.
"I'm here for you," Starsky repeated. "I swear it." Hutch tried not to read too much into that, but knew how open-hearted this man was.
Hutch shook his head. "No pity. I couldn't stand it. Not after having had the real thing."
Starsky held on. "'S'not pity. More like dues." He rubbed Hutch's stomach with warm hands.
Hutch rested in the sanctuary of those arms. "You see anything on that film that looked like evidence?"
Starsky sucked in a sharp breath. "Lots of evidence— Oh, you mean of a crime!"
Hutch rolled his eyes and hugged his arms.
Sighing, Starsky turned back to the television set, but there was only a dark screen from the end leader. "Sure woulda helped to have some credits, like, 'Directed by I.M. Scum' or 'Cinematography by Ima Sleeze.'"
There was a quick blip of white, then the screen turned to static.
"What was that?" Hutch asked, frowning.
"What was what?" Starsky asked. "The end of the tape I guess."
Hutch pulled out of Starsky's embrace and reached for the remote. He pressed rewind and watched as the leader rolled back, then pressed play again. He did it twice before he figured out how to slow it down to frame-by-frame.
"There!" Hutch said, halting the frame on what had been a white blotch. There were some numbers, cut in half. "What's that?"
They stared at it until Starsky said, "Remember when we busted that kiddie porn set-up?" To document evidence, they'd had to watch reel after reel of sickening footage. "Weren't there numbers on some of the film leaders?"
"There's usually sequencing numbers on film frames," Hutch recalled. "They're put on during the developing process so that editors can splice film together properly."
"Isn't other stuff usually put on film at the same time?" Starsky asked as they stared at the partial numbers. "Like codes for inventories."
"Yeah, I think so," Hutch agreed. "A lot of it's put on automatically, especially in the bigger labs, so they can keep all the different films identified." He rewound the tape some more, remembering another quick white spot at a spliced place. He tried to ignore the images of himself and his partner having frantic sex backwards, but when Starsky started to snicker it was hard not to join him. He jabbed an elbow back, connected with sensitive ribs. Then he found it. More partial numbers. He looked at Starsky. "Think Dobey might have more numbers on his copy? He has real film."
Starsky shook his head. "I'd be kinda surprised. The perps were sending that to a police captain. They were probably more careful with that film than any of the others. Probably figured this one would never leave Whitelaw's office, so they could cut a few corners. Time would've been critical."
Hutch gazed at the meaningless numbers. His mind clicked into gear in spite of the distracting pressure of Starsky's arms and the heat from his body. "Dobey said the camera was defense issue. Real high-tech. Those images were transmitted from your bedroom to—where? Some lab. Then turned into film, video tape, and still pictures. How many places could receive a transmitted picture, and have enough high-tech equipment to turn out so much stuff in just a few hours?"
"Hutch, this is LA. Film capital of the world. Could be dozens of places."
"Yeah, but most of those places wouldn't touch work like this. Think, Starsk." Hutch pushed far enough out of the embrace to look into his partner's eyes.
"There are plenty of production labs in LA, places set up to produce this stuff and distribute it. If I wanted this much stuff produced in a few hours, I'd find out who'd be capable of doing so much work in so little time. Who'd have the motivation and the means to distribute. And if they had an ax to grind—so much the better." Starsky mulled it over. "There'd have to be a chief tech. Someone who really knew how to handle this high-tech stuff, get the best image off it. You wouldn't want too many people involved. Most of the production could be automated."
"Which means some codes would've been stamped onto the film," Hutch said, "then had to be removed later. Maybe not always perfectly."
Starsky pondered that. "Lotta this stuff hit the streets. Wonder if Huggy could run up any leads. Never occurred to me to ask him."
"Think he'll—" Hutch hesitated, "—want to deal with it? It could cause him trouble on the street. It's not your usual scam."
"He'll tell me if it's a no-go," Starsky said confidently. "'Sides, he's feelin' so responsible, he'll really pull out the stops to help us."
Hutch nodded, then thought of something else. "We've got other options. We could talk to Peter, see if he could run some checks on—"
Against his back, Starsky stiffened.
"What? What did I say?" Hutch asked.
Starsky pulled out of the embrace decisively. "Just wonderin' why you'd think of calling him into this, 'stead of Dobey."
Hutch smiled. "You are jealous!"
Starsky frowned. It wasn't funny to him.
"For your information," Hutch reminded him, "Peter offered us help on exactly this kind of problem. We don't know what kind of cooperation we're gonna get out of Dobey. I know the big man's on our side, but the rest of the force wants us gone. Starsky, those pictures were put into every officer's mailbox. That had to be done from the inside. There have to be some cops involved in this."
"And maybe Whitelaw's hand is in it, too," Starsky suggested sharply.
"With what motivation?" Hutch fired back.
"He gets his sacrificial lambs!" Starsky said. "You heard what he said. We do all the dirty work of fightin' for our jobs back, and they've got gays on the force without any of their people havin' to lay their careers on the line. Even if we lose, we make it easier for the next gay cops! It's a perfect set-up for Whitelaw's people."
It was clear cop-thinking, Hutch had to hand him that, but he wasn't letting him off the hook so easy. "That's not the real issue, is it, Starsky? You never relaxed the whole time he was here. Never stopped watching him—"
"Watching you!" Starsky blurted, and Hutch could see he regretted it as soon as it was out. Starsky got off the couch and paced. "He never took his eyes off you! I never looked at a woman as brazenly as that guy looked at you."
"Please, Starsk," Hutch said, trying to cover his amusement, "I've seen the way you look at women. Peter never even came close to giving me a patented Starsky once-over."
Starsky spun on him. "Stop actin' like you didn't notice! Stop actin' like it didn't mean anything to you. He wanted you—and you responded! To a guy!"
Hutch saw, with some alarm, the same irrational jealousy he saw the night Starsky had made love to him. Maybe it wasn't the drug after all. "You're a guy. And I sure responded to you. Maybe I'm starting a new trend."
"That is not funny!" Starsky said. "Huggy says the guys at the Green Parrot are gonna flip over you. He says I'll just hafta get used to it. Well, that ain't happenin'!"
"Starsky," Hutch said quietly, "you're acting like a jealous lover. Why?"
The words brought Starsky up short. He couldn't look at Hutch. He shook his head. "I don't know. It doesn't make sense. I never felt this way when you were with women. All I know is when Whitelaw looks at you I wanna pound him. The thought of him—" he shook his head and stammered, "touchin' you makes me crazy. If I caught him—or any other guy—puttin' hands on you, I don't know what I'd do. And that ain't fair! You've got the right to do whatever you want—with whoever you want!" He collapsed on the couch, burying his head in his hands, resting his elbows on his knees.
"As long as it's with you," Hutch said, defining what Starsky couldn't articulate.
"That's not what I meant."
Hutch stroked his friend's hair. "Remember what you said to me in Dobey's office?"
"I said a lotta things," Starsky said miserably.
"When I told you that we didn't just have sex that night," Hutch said softly, "that we'd loved each other, made commitments to each other, you said something like—'Whatever I said—somewhere inside me I know I meant it.' It's true. You meant it. Somewhere inside you, all those feelings you expressed for me are there, fighting their way out through all the walls you've built around them. The walls the world has made you build. This is the irrational, crazed, possessive, scary jealousy. So if that's in there, the love is too. I'll just have to be patient and wait for it to break through."
"You could wait a long time, Hutch," Starsky said, not looking at him. "There's mighty big walls around this stuff. It could be a long, lonely wait. You don't deserve that."
"It won't be lonely," Hutch said. "I'll have you to keep me company, partner."
Starsky looked at him through impossibly sad sapphire eyes. "I don't want you to love me, to wait for something I might never be able to deliver. You might wait forever! Don't you think I want you to be happy. You should be gettin' married, havin' a family— Shit! We both should!"
"Starsky," Hutch said with a calmness that surprised even him, "we're both pushing forty. For two guys who are intent on getting married and having a family, we're pretty slow starters. If that's what you want—or what we both want, just for argument's sake—then why haven't we done anything about it in close to a year? We haven't double dated, we haven't done anything to meet any 'lovely females' as Huggy put it—since Kira. Even before you got shot."
"Huggy asked me 'bout that. And my mother said somethin' 'bout it, too." Starsky was sounding more and more morose. "Hutch, I can't think about this anymore. My head hurts."
"Yeah, I'm beat, too. Why don't we call it a night, take our showers and hit the sheets."
The phrase struck both of them funny, and they caught each other's guilty glance and laughed. It was the ice-breaker they needed.
"Hey," Starsky said sincerely. "Tomorrow night. Casablanca. I'll bring the popcorn."
"You've got a date, big boy," Hutch said.
late night so long ago