Chapter 7

. . . Ain't no kindness in the face of strangers
Ain't gonna find no miracles here
Well you can wait on your blessings, darlin'
But I got a deal for you right here

            Human Touch—Bruce Springsteen

      "What's the matter?" Hutch asked from the passenger seat of the Torino.

      Starsky turned to him and shrugged. "I dunno. It's just—sitting here with you feels so—" He held his hands up, wanting to grab words out of the air and tame them. "—So normal, that on the drive over it was like prowling our beat, y'know? Like we do every day. Working. Then we pull up to a diner we eat at often, and—" He sighed. "—And two people spot us and whisper together and it bursts like a bubble. We're not working. And if the brass has its way, we might never—"

      Hutch cut him off by pointing a finger at him. "Don't say it! We'll work together again, one way or another. Hell, we're working now! Working to get out of this mess."

      Starsky nodded. "Can't let Gunther win," he said, as if to remind himself.

      "Ready to negotiate the parking lot?"

      In answer, Starsky swung open his car door and stepped out, waiting for Hutch to join him. When he did, Starsky confessed, "I feel so naked without my gun!"

      "I sure hope we can get through lunch in a public restaurant without needing them."

      Starsky looked at him in surprise, then realized he was teasing.

      They scanned the area before moving toward the diner. As they entered the chrome and glass restaurant, a burly man considerably taller than Hutch, with dark eyes and darker wavy hair, met them at the door. They'd seen him when they'd eaten here before and thought he might be the owner. He looked at Hutch. "You Starsky?"

      Before Hutch could correct him, Starsky asked, "Who wants t'know?"

      "I'll tell you that if one of you is Starsky," the man replied smoothly. He didn't smile.

      "I'm Starsky."

      His eyes never left Hutch. "That means you're—" he glanced at a tiny piece of paper in his palm, "Hutchinson?"

      "That's right," he said.

      "Ms. Callahan's waiting for you," the owner said. "This way."

      They eyed each other and fell in behind him. As they walked through the dining area, Starsky tried not to notice that every pair of eyes in the restaurant followed their progress.

      In the back of the diner, in a large circular booth, Starsky saw a single occupant. She wore a professional business suit, and her head was bent over a yellow pad. Her hair was dark red with gold highlights, tied up in a stark bun pinned into submission at the nape of her neck. Papers, pads, and files were spread out all over the booth and the table. In a small cleared space in front of her sat a half-consumed meal that was mostly greens, with a bowl of soup and bread.

      "Are we late?" Hutch asked, reaching for Starsky's left wrist and checking his watch. "No. Right on time."

      "Ms. Callahan?" their native guide said. His tone of voice was much more personal than the one he'd used on them.

      She looked up immediately, eyes wide as if surprised, then tried to stand, but since she was trapped behind the table, she sat again. "Detectives Starsky and Hutchinson?"

      Nice voice, Starsky thought, as he reached over a small pile of folded newspapers and held out his hand to shake hers. Nice face, too.

      She had a pleasant Irish face, if serious. A pretty smattering of freckles covered her classic Irish nose. She had a small, well-formed mouth and wide-set green eyes that looked a little haunted. She wasn't tall, maybe five five, and she had a build that his mom would call "sturdy." Womanly. Not one of those frail twigs Hutch went out with. This was a woman with curves.

      And in all the right places. Something you can hold onto at night.

      She captured his outstretched hand in a strong, dry grip and shook it firmly. He started to introduce himself. "Miss Callahan, I'm—"

      "Dave Starsky," she said. She released his hand and reached for Hutch's, "Which makes you Ken Hutchinson. Please sit down. Order some food. I'm sorry to start without you, but I've been through enough of these meetings to know that once we get started I won't have time to eat. Stavros will be happy to take your order."

      Since her paraphernalia made it impossible to share the booth with her, they stood hesitantly until Stavros moved chairs up to the booth.

      As they sat, Starsky glanced back at the hulking man looming behind them with his arms crossed. Stavros didn't look like he'd be happy to do anything for them. Starsky tried a feeble smile, but it accomplished nothing.

      Without looking at the menu, Hutch turned to Stavros and said clearly, "We'll have the tuna salad, but with Romaine lettuce, not iceberg, with extra raw vegetables, and we want the dressing on the side."

      We do? Starsky thought for the thousandth time since he'd been shot. Pretty soon he'd have to file his teeth down like they did for rabbits.

      "Extra sprouts on mine," Hutch finished. "Oh, and coffee for both of us."

      Thanks for that! Starsky thought with relief.

      Stavros never uncrossed his arms or wrote anything down, just glowered and walked away.

      Callahan smiled as she checked her yellow pad. "Forgive Stavros. We go back a long way, but he doesn't always approve of my clients."

      "He's the owner, isn't he?" Hutch asked, as a young man around nineteen filled their water glasses. The boy was swarthy and clean cut, with a look that told Starsky he was probably Stavros' kid, working his way up in the family restaurant.

      As the boy filled Hutch's glass, he kept glancing surreptitiously at him. Hutch finally noticed the odd looks the kid was giving him, and in typical Hutchinson manner tried to relax the boy with a smile. It had the opposite effect, unhinging the kid so badly he turned red and overflowed the glass, splattering water all over.

      The kid jerked the pitcher away too quickly, nearly dousing Hutch who jumped out of the chair, knocking it over with a huge bang. Every head turned to watch them. Starsky tried not to cringe. But Callahan only looked amused.

      The kid babbled an apology and mopped the table rapidly as Hutch picked up the chair and tried to assure the boy everything was all right. When he placed a hand on the young man's shoulder, Starsky thought the kid would faint. That's when it hit him.

      Oh, jeez. The kid's gay. And Hutch is bein' . . . .

      Beautiful. The way he always was. The way he couldn't help but be. And his beauty, his gentleness, was killing the kid who was probably falling in love with him. And all the time Hutch just kept making it worse without realizing.

      Starsky tried to get his attention, but he was still trying to help the kid. Finally, Callahan came to their rescue.

      "Steven, it's okay!" Her voice cut through the chaos, and the boy turned to her gratefully, eyes huge. "Would you get some bread, please?"

      Steven nodded rapidly and disappeared, leaving the water pitcher behind in his confusion. Hutch eased back into his chair.

      Realizing how much attention they'd drawn, Hutch glared at the other diners and said crisply, "Do you mind?"

      Every head in the place went studiously back to their plates.

      Finally, Hutch turned confused blue eyes on Starsky that clearly asked, What the hell was that all about?

      You really don't know, do you? Starsky thought, his stomach tightening.

      Starsky knew that Hutch was aware of his attractiveness to women, but he appeared oblivious to the effect he had on those of his own sex.

      Like yesterday with Whitelaw.

      It was Stavros, not his son, who returned with the rolls, salads, and coffee. He dropped them on the table with a clatter, making them jump. They were both smiling at the big man nervously, though Hutch kept throwing baffled looks in Starsky's direction. Starsky was painfully aware of all the attention they were once more attracting from the other patrons.

      "We're going to need some privacy, Stavros," Callahan said smoothly.

      He nodded and said ominously, "Any trouble, you just call, Ms. Callahan."

      She nodded as he left them. "You guys are going to have to get used to this kind of thing."

      Hutch turned to Starsky, still confused. "Get used to what?"

      "I'll tell ya later," Starsky grumbled, and reached for a roll. His face was flushed, and it annoyed him.

      "Why don't you tell me about your captain's offer," Callahan said, pulling them back to business. "Was he speaking for himself, or—?"

      "He said he'd gotten the agreement after negotiating with the mayor's office, the DA, and the union," Hutch told her.

      "Called it 'delicate negotiations'," Starsky remembered, staring into his tuna salad. He frowned at the tiny cup of dressing on the side, tasting it. It was sharp, vinegary. He preferred blue cheese, but Hutch would hit the roof. "Said meeting with you could ruin the whole thing."

      "Is that right?" Callahan said.

      Starsky looked up at her faintly humorous tone of voice to see her wearing a disarming smile that lit up her green eyes. He found himself smiling back and for a second it was just the two of them at the table. An attractive lady lawyer and a simple street cop having lunch.

      All of a sudden, Starsky realized he was in the company of the one woman in LA who would willingly speak to him. Look at him. Smile at him. Laugh with him. Maybe even like him. He stared at her more intently, wondering how long her hair was.

      "Well, it always makes me happy to hear that I have that kind of power," Callahan said, her voice almost a throaty purr.

      Or maybe it was Starsky's hearing. He felt like it had been a year since a woman had spoken to him with kindness. Then he remembered that that was exactly how long it had been.

      He felt a slight stirring below his belt, and his relief was shocking. Oh, thank God! I'm still attracted to women!

      "Well," Hutch said, snapping him out of his self-centered reverie, "your name sure rattled our captain's cage."

      "Oh, I'm persona-non-grata down at the mayor's office," Callahan assured them. But her eyes were still on Starsky, and he hadn't been able to move his from hers. "That's the price you pay for being a troublemaker."

      "I don't suppose winning a two million dollar judgement against the city for discrimination hurts," Hutch added.

      Pulling her gaze from Starsky, she smiled at Hutch. "No, it doesn't. It doesn't hurt at all."

      Starsky watched for Hutch's reaction, tensing automatically. But Hutch's returning smile was bland, unfocused.

      That's not like him. 'Least, not before Gunther's hit. If a woman so much as smiled at me, it was like a declaration of war. Hutch wouldn't be happy 'til he'd won her for himself. But whenever he did, he lost interest . . . .

      He tried not to think of the last, worst time that had happened. Just before the hit in the police garage. Kira. The woman who'd nearly ended their partnership. He pushed the bitter memories away, realizing for the first time what that had been all about.

      You didn't have to work so hard to keep the ladies away from me, Hutch. I always loved you more, anyway.

      It was a surprising insight, and while it didn't make him comfortable, it was the simple truth.

      "Tell me more about your captain's offer," Callahan said, distracting him. But Hutch took up the story of Dobey's visit, leaving him to watch his partner and their lawyer interact.

      It's different now. The way you look at her, the way you look at me, all different.

      He glanced at Callahan. She wasn't really Hutch's type—but his type had always been disastrous for him anyway. He felt an idea niggle at his mind.

      "Starsky thinks it's their way to get us on the force, and yet defuse the issue by separating us," Hutch added. "He thinks once they have us back, they'll bury us until everything's forgotten and they can team us up with other partners."

      "That's very insightful, Detective Starsky. But that's not acceptable to you?" she asked neutrally, jotting notes in shorthand on her pad.

      To Starsky, her scrawling looked like some alien language, like Klingon, all weird curves and dots and lines. He'd never seen a lawyer use shorthand before—only secretaries used it.

      Hutch looked at him, waiting for him to respond. When he didn't, Hutch continued, "We've been partners for eight years. Our records are the best in the city. When we tried to quit we were reinstated at the personal request of the mayor. We're good cops, but we're better as partners. We complement each other."

      Starsky had the sudden urge to nod at Hutch and say My, don't you look nice today, but squelched the inappropriate humor. Hutch would be proud of him if he knew.

      Softly, he said to the lawyer, "No, that's not acceptable to us." Nothing could make him apologize for wanting Hutch to be his partner.

      She made more notes. "What is acceptable?"

      "Complete reinstatement," Hutch said. "And clean records."

      "That's all? No back pay? No damages?"

      "We just want our jobs back," Hutch said, digging into his salad and looking depressed.

      Wouldn't mind getting our privacy back, but I figure that's a lost cause, Starsky thought.

      She flipped through a few pages of notes, then said, "I know you've talked to Peter and you're aware of his interest in this case. I need to know how you feel about that. There's more than one way to approach this."

      Hutch looked at him. "Well, I don't know how to feel about it. I guess we can't escape the notoriety now. The damage is done."

      She frowned. "The damage can get worse." She flipped through some pages on her pad. "Detective Hutchinson, you've been a Big Brother for several years, haven't you?"

      Hutch grew very still, and Starsky's stomach tightened up so much he knew he wouldn't be able to eat now. "Yes."

      "Well, the Big Brother organization will probably ask for your voluntary resignation."

      "My resig—!" Hutch's voice trembled. "I've been Kiko's Big Brother since he was nine! He and his sister Molly have grown up with me and Starsky. I coach his ball team and Starsky coaches Molly's. We're the only fathers those kids have! I'm supposed to resign from that?"

      Callahan's gaze never wavered. "I'm not recommending you do. Have you ever had, or attempted to have, an inappropriate relationship with your Little Brother?"

      Hutch went white so quickly Starsky thought he might faint. Quietly, he hissed, "Hutch!" When he turned to Starsky, some of his color had returned. "Someone's gonna ask you, Hutch, sooner or later. She's trying to prepare you, just like we do with witnesses all the time."

      Hutch sucked in a ragged breath, pulled himself together.

      "If they ask for your resignation, simply refuse," Callahan told them. "Refer them, or anyone else with similar questions, to me. That is—if you want to work with me on this."

      "Suppose we say yes," Starsky asked, toying with his salad. He didn't want to be distracted by those green eyes. "What can you do about it?"

      "I can threaten lawsuits," she said. "Detective Hutchinson has an exemplary record. If Kiko corroborates that their relationship is appropriate, and still wants to be his Little Brother . . . ."

      Hutch looked at Starsky, his eyes anguished. "I-I don't know that he wants that. I—we haven't had a chance to talk to him yet."

      Starsky held his stare. How many times would they have to confront the same pain? Under the table he slid a hand over Hutch's thigh and gave it a squeeze. Hutch brightened slightly.

      "Regarding your positions with the police department," she said, "I'd recommend you turn down your captain's offer. I think Detective Starsky is right, that they have no intention of allowing you to work together again. I can pressure them with the threat of a discrimination lawsuit. More importantly, I think you have been targeted because of your performance. Someone's trying to get you out of the way. But that'll be harder to prove. If we could uncover any implication of other police officers in the plot against you it would help. Are the two of you investigating the incident?"

      The incident, Starsky thought, wanting to laugh out loud. "Uh, yeah, we're workin' on it."

      "If I'm involved, I'll need to be kept informed of any progress you make. And I'll keep you up-to-date on anything I find out. But if I take the case, I'll want to push for damages. Big ones."

      "Is that necessary?" Hutch asked. "The police department didn't do this to us, James Marshall Gunther did."

      She nodded. "You're probably right about that, but neither the police department nor the city were willing to stand behind you regardless of all the times you've sacrificed yourselves for them. They should have."

      Starsky had a vivid flash of his locker with dripping red letters reading COCKSUCKER and his anger flared anew. He looked at Hutch, who only seemed more distressed.

      "Look," she said softly, the charm back in her voice, "you two probably need to discuss this. I've got to visit the little girls' room. Maybe you can decide something while I'm in there." She slid around the circular booth and walked away from them.

      Starsky was so confused, he never even bothered to admire her rear.

      "What do you think?" Hutch murmured to him. He sounded anxious.

      Starsky looked at him, realizing, distractedly, that Hutch had never responded to Callahan as a woman. Not once. That bothered him. A lot. "I'm thinking that we're having lunch with the only lady in LA who'll give us half a chance to be men—and you haven't even noticed."

      Hutch sat back in his chair, stunned. "That really is all you ever think about! Starsk! Get your mind back on business! Should we let her represent us? Come on. You had to have been here for at least part of the conversation. What do you think we should do?"

      Starsky exhaled. "I think we should sic her on the city. I think we should sue them 'til their balls ache. I think she's got the greenest eyes I've ever seen, and—I think you should ask her out."

      "You really think we should hit them with a big lawsuit? I've got some reservations about that—Wait . . . ! What did you just say?"

      "Ask her out, Hutch," Starsky murmured huskily. "I want you to do it."

      Hutch blinked. "Was there something wrong with the tuna? Do you have ptomaine poisoning, or are you just losing your mind? We're about to enter a professional relationship with this lawyer. The last thing I should do is—"

      "You've been out with lotsa lady cops and lawyers who were workin' on cases with us before. This is no different. Ask her out, Hutch."

      His face turned grim. "Don't do this to me. Don't try to 'cure' me. I resent it. And for your information, the lady isn't interested in me. She's only got eyes for you. If you're so interested in her, you ask her out. She'll turn me down."

      Starsky had to hold back a smile. "Five bucks says you're wrong. Ask her out. She'll go. And you'll owe me five."

      Hutch shook his head. "You're wrong this time. She won't bite."

      But Starsky could see the competitive glint in Hutch's eye. Just one more push . . . . "I always did have better luck with women than you." He shrugged "I don't blame you for giving up. You still owe me ten from that last bet over—"

      Hutch, glowering, jabbed him too hard to let him know the lawyer was on her way back.

      Callahan struggled to get back behind the table and started assembling her things, stuffing them all into a valise-like briefcase. "Did you decide anything, or do you need more time?"

      "No, we're okay with it," Starsky said before Hutch could answer. "But we do need to know something. If we go for the lawsuit—how will we pay for it? We're both suspended—without pay."

      "That's one of the reasons we press for damages. I'm paid on a contingency. Sort of a money back guarantee. We win, I take five percent. We lose, you owe nothing."

      "Hard to beat a deal like that, huh, Hutch?" He smiled pleasantly.

      Hutch's pale blue eyes were ice crystals boring into Starsky. "Uh—yeah. That—that's great."

      "Well, now that we've agreed on that, would you do me a favor?" Starsky asked Callahan with all the charm he could muster.

      She gave him one of those amused half-smiles and muttered, "That depends."

      "Get Stavros to bring me a piece of lemon meringue pie while I hit the john, huh?"

      On his way out, he poked Hutch, but his spine was already ramrod straight. Do it, partner. It's for your own good.

      What's with these two? Callahan thought as she watched Starsky walk away from them. No, not walk—prowl. Stalk. She stared, mesmerized by the smooth action of the man's incredible rear end. She swallowed. Nope, not just a pretty face. Kelly Rose, don't even think about it—his blond might slit your throat.

      She had no trouble snagging Stavros' attention. His eyes hadn't left their table since the detectives had sat down, his disapproval fierce. He was a good friend and would respect her choice of clients, she knew, but the fact that these two were cops—cops who'd been accused (rightly, he believed) of being homosexual—went against his every cultural belief. Nevertheless, she got him to bring Starsky a piece of pie, and then finally forced her attention back to the remaining partner.

      Hutch smiled at her gamely, even though he clearly felt awkward. His eyes were so somber. She'd seen that look on other faces—they were eyes that had seen too much.

      Finally, he asked, "Ms. Callahan—do you really think you can make the city take us back into our old positions in spite of . . . everything?"

      They can't even put words to what's happened to them, she realized sadly. She'd worked with dozens of gay couples, men and women, over civil rights issues, but she'd never seen two people who were so clearly a couple act so uncomfortable about it. Could it be true? she wondered. Could they be straight? Was it only the drug? It seemed so preposterous.

      "In all honesty, Detective Hutchinson, if I hadn't won that big judgement recently, we wouldn't have nearly as much bargaining power. But I'd still take up the fight. What they're doing to you is wrong." Whether you're gay or straight, it's wrong. Do you believe that?

      He wet his mouth. "I'm not used to lawyers dealing with issues of right and wrong. I'm used to hearing them talk about 'win or lose'."

      She nodded. Yes, that is what they'd be used to. How many good arrests had been dropped because a politically motivated DA's office wouldn't take on cases that might be lost? "Well, if I only dealt with win or lose, I'd be unemployed, Detective." My employment isn't all that profitable, but it's a living.

      "Call me 'Hutch'?" he said suddenly. "It feels weird hearing us called by our official titles in a diner. We rarely stand on formalities, especially . . . with people we like." With a charming awkwardness, he stammered, "That is, unless you'd rather not—"

      "No, that's fine. If you want, you can call me—oh, pick one. A lot of my—" she almost said "gay friends" and caught herself in time. "A lot of my friends call me 'Callahan.' Or, 'K.R.' or even 'Kelly' or 'Rose' or 'Kelly Rose.' I'm easy."

      "Oh, yeah? That's not what we were told." He smiled, and this time it was genuine and lit up his strikingly handsome face. "But then you can't believe everything you hear, can you, Kelly?"

      She smiled back, suddenly liking him. She realized with embarrassment that she'd paid little attention to him while his partner was present. "Or what you read, Detec—Hutch. Peter says you and your partner aren't lovers. Is he right?" She flinched at his shocked expression. She hated it when her mouth lived a life of its own. "I'm sorry, Hutch. We were doing so well, too."

      "Don't apologize," he said quickly, leaning toward her. "It's a nice change for someone to come right out and ask instead of skulking around staring. You're our lawyer. You should feel like you can ask us anything. No. Starsky and I—we—I mean . . . . No. We're not lovers."

      But you're something. Don't have a term for it? Don't know what to call it? Or maybe the word 'lovers' is just too scary? She realized she didn't want to know just now. "Okay. I'll take your word for it. As far as the case is concerned, it wouldn't make any difference to me."

      "But personally—?" Hutch asked.

      Personally, I would try harder not to make a fool of myself over your adorable partner. She grinned. "I don't get to spend too much time in the company of straight men. I've missed it."

      He raised his eyebrows as if that hadn't occurred to him. "Well, in that case—I mean, I hope you wouldn't be offended but—" he stopped, collected his wits, then said in a rush. "Could I take you to dinner?"

      The request took her totally by surprise. Through this entire lunch I've been nothing but a lawyer to you—only your partner saw me as a woman. Where did this come from?

      Then another, wiser voice said, Don't look a gift man in the mouth. He says he's straight. He's gorgeous. He's intelligent. And he's asking you out. You can't even remember when you last had a date. Just say yes.

      "Well—sure!" she muttered.

      He nodded, and she found herself wondering why neither of them looked that pleased about it. He glanced around nervously. "Later tonight? Maybe eight?"

      She scrambled for her calendar which was peeking out from under the newspapers. No late meetings. Great. "Yeah, eight would be fine. How should I dress?"

      That smile again, taking the pain and worry from his face. He really was beautiful. "What would you prefer?"

      Oh, shit! What's clean? Probably just jeans and a sweatshirt. God help me!" Casual?" she asked hopefully.

      He nodded, "Fine. That's fine. Okay, if I, uh, could have your address—?"

      "Oh yeah." She rummaged for a card, wrote it on the back. They were both acting as if they couldn't remember the simplest social amenities attached to this arcane act. As she handed him the card, she spied Starsky gliding back toward them. Without consciously meaning to her eyes roamed his body, then jerked guiltily back to the man she'd just agreed to go out with. The two of them—what a wealth of riches!

      "Now, that's a piece of pie!" Starsky announced, eyeing the mountainous meringue.

      "You never ate your salad," Hutch said disapprovingly.

      "Sorry, Mom, I wasn't in the mood," Starsky said, without losing a bit of his good humor. He tackled the pie with a shameless pleasure. "You gotta excuse Hutch. After I got shot and nearly died, he thinks God appointed him my keeper."

      "You didn't just nearly die, you did die. And you need a keeper," Hutch muttered.

      Starsky was unfazed. "I keep hopin' he'll find a nice lady and settle down sometime, so he can drive her and his kids crazy for the next eight or ten years an' lose interest in nursemaidin' me."

      "So you can croak in four of coronary heart disease," Hutch interjected.

      Kelly felt something twist inside as they quibbled back and forth. She eyed Starsky warily. Don't tell me this date was your idea! Her feminine ego wasn't very sturdy but she wouldn't let herself believe that. But she did have a feeling that these two were going to be more trouble than she anticipated. Peter warned you!

      "Listen, before I forget," she interjected, as she finished packing her bag, "Peter said that they're expecting you at the Green Parrot after lunch. For an interview and a fitting."

      Starsky's mercurial mood altered again, as he suddenly glared at Hutch who just shrugged.

      "You will be working there, won't you?" she asked. Peter had made it sound like a done deal.

      "We're still discussing it," Starsky grumbled.

      "We've got to have income," Hutch reminded him quietly.

      Starsky turned to him. "A fitting? What's that about? If you think I'm wearin'—"

      Starsky jumped and Callahan realized Hutch had kicked him—hard—under the table. Embarrassed, they both turned to her and smiled, but Starsky's was clearly plastered in place.

      She put on her best lawyer's face, not knowing whether to be amused or worried. Are you both homophobes, or just you, Detective Starsky? With a stab of regret, she was suddenly glad it was Hutchinson who'd asked her out.

      Suddenly Stavros appeared. "Ms. Callahan, we're having a problem out front."

      She glanced at her watch. Well, it was time. Late, in fact. "We'll be leaving in a moment." Stavros went toward the front of the restaurant. She finished assembling her things and snapped her case shut.

      "What's the matter, Kelly?" Hutch asked, instantly alert. Starsky poised with the last piece of pie in mid-air, and turned to his partner.

      "Look outside, toward the front of the diner," she told them.

      The two men stood and peeked through the blinds. When they sat down again, they'd both turned pale.

      "There's gotta be twenty reporters out there," Starsky said somberly, the pie forgotten.

      "We can slip out through the kitchen," Hutch told him, touching his arm.

      Ready to protect him from anything, aren't you? she thought, wondering again about them. "You're not going out the back," she said. "You're going out the front. With me."

      They both stared at her aghast.

      "Did you call them?" Starsky asked in a low, deadly tone.

      She was very grateful she had not. "No. I didn't have to. They figured out I was the only lawyer in town who would be willing to take your case. I knew they'd find us here."

      "And you let it happen?" Starsky asked angrily.

      She didn't like to see those compelling indigo eyes unhappy with her but it couldn't be helped. "Did you think you'd never have to face them?"

      "It was one of our top five wishes," Hutch said blandly, glancing out the window.

      "Better here than at your homes," she reminded them. "Throw them a bone and they'll be happy for awhile. Make them chase you for it and we'll all regret it." She stood up. "Come on, let's get it over with."

      "What the hell are we supposed to say to them?" Starsky hissed. "You didn't say that if you represented us you'd be turning this into a three ring circus!"

      "Starsk!" Hutch said warningly, grabbing his elbow. Starsky shrugged off his grip.

      She had to fight back her own anger as she felt blood rushing to her face. Starsky's hostility was definitely getting her Irish up.

      "You were part of a circus before I ever met you," she reminded him. "It's a circus you built yourselves, with your flamboyant street theater, and your outrageous behavior before someone slipped some funny stuff in your lemonade. You didn't mind being on the trapeze then, as long as you had control of the act. Now that someone else is the ringmaster, you want no part of it. Well, it's too late for that. So, pull up your tights, sweetheart, the calliope's playing!"

      Starsky's jaw opened slightly. Like a lot of people—a lot of men, she amended—he'd underestimated the little Irish colleen. But if she couldn't handle him—if he wouldn't allow it—they may as well know it now and drop the whole thing.

      "Wait a minute, Miss Callahan . . . " he said.

      "That's Miz Callahan," she announced, jabbing a finger in his chest. Nice, one part of her brain registered. Solid. "You don't like being defined by a sexual preference? Well, I don't appreciate being defined by my marital status. Remember that and we'll get along better, Detective Starsky. Now, either follow my lead with the press, or let's end our arrangement."

      Starsky shut his mouth with a scowl and turned to his partner, as if to say, Will you do something with her?

      Hutchinson only asked quietly, "What do you want us to do?"

      "The only thing I will ever ask you to do—be honest. Keep your cool." She glared at Starsky. "And always remember that we are in the right. I'll take the lead, but if I signal you to answer, do so, honestly. Be straightforward. You're both cops. Act like professionals. Okay?"

      A beat. Two sets of blue eyes conferring. Hutchinson nodded. "Okay."

      "Sure," Starsky added grudgingly.

      "Fine," she said, her voice softening. "We're a team. Let's be sure of that if nothing else."

      They exchanged looks again, then nodded. Starsky's eyes were fixed on her again and she nearly squirmed. Don't do it, Callahan! She stared back at him, gave him a short nod, then led the way out.

Ain't no mercy on the streets of this town
Ain't no bread from heavenly skies
Ain't nobody drawin' wine from this blood
It's just you and me tonight

      Human Touch— Bruce Springsteen