Chapter 8

I wanna find one face
that ain't looking through me
I wanna find one place,
I wanna spit in the face of these
Badlands you gotta live it every day
                Badlands—Bruce Springsteen

      Hutch would've felt fewer qualms walking into a firefight. He stood straight, knowing his height could intimidate, but it didn't help. He was last as they emerged from the restaurant, with Kelly first and Starsky between them. The bright glare of the LA afternoon made him blink.

      Watching Kelly, he tried to think of something else to worry about. How could I let Starsky goad me into asking that woman out? 

      Oh, he liked her well enough. That was the problem. He admired her fire, her commitment to her cause. He liked her too much to toy with her feelings, and Hutch knew he had as much interest in courting her as he did his own sister.

      Right now I'd do anything Starsky asked me to. That should scare me. So, why doesn't it?

      Then they were through the doors and there was no more time to deal with the issue.

      The jostling group of men and women crowded around, nearly swallowing them, and cameras were suddenly flashing in their faces, as microphones were thrust at them. A cacophony of voices called to them.  It sounded like so many baying hounds closing in on a blood scent.

      Starsky was growing tense, so Hutch touched his arm, wanting to anchor him, to remind him Hutch was covering his back, same as always. But just before he connected, he realized how closely they were being watched and remembered why. Jerking his hand back, he clenched his fist in frustration.

      Starsky's jaw tightened as a reporter got right in his face. Hutch feared an explosion.

      "Hey, come on, fellas," Kelly said in her quiet, melodic voice, and the frenzy shifted as every microphone turned toward her. "Back off a little. Don't I always give you a statement? There's no reason to smother us."

      Her chiding had an amazing effect. The journalists looked chastened as they retreated. The other effect Kelly's remarks had was to pull their scrutiny to her. Hutch was surprised at how willing he was to let her take the heat.

      "Ms. Callahan," a journalist called out, "are you representing Starsky and Hutchinson?"

      "Yes, that's correct," she said.

      "And what form will that representation be taking?" another asked.

      "That will depend on the mayor. These men have no business being on suspension. I'll be meeting with him to discuss that." She smiled a shark's smile. "If he's smart, he'll listen to me."

      The reporters laughed, their relationship with her well established.

      "And if he doesn't?" a woman asked.

      "Well, experience tells us that the citizens of Los Angeles do not approve of discrimination," Kelly said. "If the mayor insists on hearing that message again in court, that's what we'll do."

      "So, you'll sue the city for discriminating against a couple of queer cops?" a burly old-timer asked, staring tauntingly at Starsky.

      Hutch could feel his partner's blood pressure climb. Don't do it, buddy! Don't bite. But it was Kelly who surreptitiously touched Starsky's arm. It broke his attention long enough to dampen his anger. Hutch wanted to kiss her in gratitude.

      "Gee, Mike," Kelly's lilting tone never changed, "I read your column every day and you never use inflammatory language like that in it, ever. I guess there must be something about me that makes you feel comfortable using it here."

      To Hutch's surprise, the heavy-set reporter's face actually blushed, no doubt in anger.

      "Come off it, Callahan," he grumbled. "If you're gonna defend the likes of them, you're gonna have to get used to gettin' some on ya. It's not like you're keepin' the best company."

      "Michael Garrity, you surprise me," Kelly responded. "You kill a lot of trees defending every underdog you can find! You were at the forefront of the civil rights movement for blacks, for Hispanics, for the trouble in Ireland, in South Africa. Would you kindly explain to me the difference between Governor Wallace's policy toward black children in the public schools and our city's continuing abhorrent record toward the rights of tax-paying men and woman whose only crime is to love one another? Or are you going to tell me these two men haven't spent their careers bettering this city at the risk of their own lives? You had plenty to say about it when the mayor reinstated them after uncovering the Gunther scandal. You had even more to say when Detective Starsky was mortally wounded last year."

      Garrity had the grace to look embarrassed. Starsky shifted from foot to foot.

      Never get between two Irishmen in a fight, Starsk. His partner's dark blue eyes met his for a moment as if he'd heard that thought.

      "In fact," Kelly went on, "I'm wondering why all you fine men and women of the press—"

      "Uh-oh," said another old-timer theatrically, "here she goes, appealing to our better natures!"

      The entire group laughed, while a black woman in the back said, "Honey, she's the only one in this city who thinks we even have one!" There was more laughter.

      In spite of his nerves, Hutch found himself relaxing as he waited for Kelly to finish.

      "As I was saying," she continued, "I'm wondering why you fine men and women of the press aren't asking the city the hard questions—like why it would hamstring its two hardest working cops? You've filled up columns on the work of these men—or have you all forgotten your own copy? Bill Madsen, you were nominated for a Pulitzer on an expose where you used the arrest and conviction records of these two cops to prove that twenty percent of the department wasn't pulling its weight."

      The reporter ducked his head in assent.

      Jeez, those articles were written years ago. I'd forgotten about them, Hutch realized. She's done her homework.

      "And how many of you could stand the scrutiny if you'd had a camera perched in your bedroom and had the resulting film distributed?"

      There was an uncomfortable shuffle among the group until the woman in the back piped up, "Wouldn't bother Garrity! You can't film a void!" Everyone cracked up.

      "Okay, fine, Sister Mary Callahan," Bill Madsen said sarcastically. "What's your point?"

      "The same point I'm always trying to make. As usual, you guys are hunting up the wrong story. Not one of you has asked the right questions—such as—who would deliberately attempt to destroy these two men and why? Obviously, to eliminate them from the police force. Who would have the most to gain? I shouldn't have to be telling you this. You call yourselves investigative reporters."

      "Okay," Mike Garrity said. "You. Starsky! You think the DA's office is out to getcha? Rocked too many boats?"

      The reporter had clearly been addressing Hutch, but before he could respond, Kelly nodded at Starsky to answer.

      Starsky's voice was oddly subdued. "No, I think the DA's just responding to public pressure. I think whoever's behind it is a lot better connected. But you know I can't name names or it could screw up a conviction."

      "You're investigating someone?" a woman who'd moved close to Hutch asked.

      "Uh—" he stuttered, but Kelly nodded at him. "We're suspended right now. Without pay. We're looking into it, but as citizens we're restricted. We've been assured the department is investigating it officially."

      "If the department thinks it's so important a case to solve," Kelly said, "why would they want to bring these two back only to separate them and bury them in meaningless paperwork? So far that's been their best offer."

      "Very interesting," Garrity agreed, "but the ultimate question is—do you think we should have queers—pardon me, Ms. Callahan, homosexualson the police force?"

      "That's not the question," Kelly interrupted forcefully, stepping in front of Starsky before he could advance. "The question is—should two men who have given all but their lives for this city be judged by anything that happens between them privately, rather than the work they've done? The work they could be doing right now. How would you like to be judged in this world, Michael Garrity? By your performance in bed, or by the information you share with this city every day? You ask yourself that question."

      "Oh, I think we all know the answer to that," the black woman with the sharp humor interjected before Garrity could respond.

      There was more laughter, then Kelly brought it to an end. "Party's over, kids. These men have business, and I'm due back in court. I'll let you know what the mayor has to say after I see him."

      To Hutch's relief, the reporters seemed satisfied. Taking hold of his and Starsky's arms, she walked toward the parking lot.

      "You guys did fine," she said, as if sensing Hutch's weak knees and Starsky's clenched jaw.

      "You think that little scene's gonna help us?" Starsky muttered, still tense.

      "I'm crossing my fingers," she said.

      "Why do I have the feeling you know something we don't?" Hutch wondered.

      Then he spied a familiar figure waiting for them by the Torino. His stomach tightened.

      Starsky stopped dead when he saw her.

      But it was Kelly who spoke first. "Christine! I was wondering why you weren't with the rest of the pack."

      Hutch swallowed. C.D. Phelps. It had been over a year since she'd ridden with them and written her articles. While the first hadn't been very complimentary, a harrowing experience with a suspect had given her a different view of police work. But Hutch couldn't imagine what her view of them was now.

      "Hi, Callahan!" C.D. said cheerily, but her gaze was on the two men. "Hiya, fellas."

      They nodded and greeted her.

      Then Christine turned her attention to Kelly alone. "There was a reason I wasn't at your impromptu street conference. My editor won't let me cover the story."

      Kelly looked concerned. "Why not?"

      She made a face, crossing her arms in annoyance. "He thinks, because of my previous association with these guys that I'm biased. That homophobic jerk Dawson he assigned in my place, he's not biased, but I am."

      Kelly frowned. "Shit."

      Hutch stared, startled by the expletive.

      Kelly looked at them both. "Christine and I have 'worked' together before on issues we felt strongly about." She turned back to Phelps. "I was counting on working with you again . . . ."

      Christine started to say something, but Hutch blurted out, "What issue here do you feel strongly about, Christine?" Starsky glanced at him, but Hutch wanted to know. Kelly might trust Phelps, but he wasn't sure he did.

      "My brother's gay," C.D. said quietly. "He lives in San Francisco. We're very close."

      Hutch nodded, not happy with the answer.

      ". . . And what they're doing to you stinks."

      "You believe the press?" Starsky asked.

      Hutch wanted to see her squirm out of that.

      She faced Starsky squarely. "Hey, I rode with you guys. It's damned hard for me to believe . . . but, it's hard for me to disbelieve my own eyes, too. Believe it or not, fellas, I really am neutral about it. It's none of my business. But I happen to know the kind of cops you are, and I want you back on the force." She turned to Kelly. "Which won't do us any good if my editor won't give me column inches on the topic."

      Kelly shrugged. "There are other ways to help, Christine. I'll call you."

      She nodded. "I watched your circus act. You had 'em eating out of your hand."

      Kelly wore a cat-ate-the-canary smile. "That's 'cause you weren't there flaying me alive! Asking them to put themselves in someone else's shoes was a gamble, but I hope it'll pay off."

      Kelly turned to them to explain, "The black woman with the sense of humor is a closeted gay. I represented her and her lover in a dispute with a landlord years ago—and won. Two of those guys who eat up the most page space on the sanctity of the family, blah-blah-blah, get theirs regularly from working girls."

      "And your grudge against Mike Garrity?" Starsky wondered.

      "Mike Garrity lost his wife of twenty years when he gave her the clap," she said bluntly. "He caught it from an underage hustler. He could've blamed it on one of the working girls or an extra-marital affair, but he got caught with the hustler by a cop who shook him down for a pay-off he couldn't manage. The cop told his wife when Garrity didn't cough up the cash. I found out about it when she came to me to look for a good divorce lawyer. Garrity knows I know, and sometimes I can make him sweat with it. Not that I've ever threatened him face-to-face—that would be unethical." The shark's smile was back.

      Hutch was glad she was on their side.

      "Who was the cop?" Starsky asked. "The one who shook Garrity down?"

      Kelly shrugged. "I don't know."

      "I might be able to find out," C.D. said.

      Starsky nodded. "Might be good to know."

      Christine pulled out a pad, scribbled on it, then put it away. "Well, I wanted to let you know what the situation was. I'll call you if I get anything on this. Good luck, guys."

      "Take it easy, C.D." Hutch said as she walked away.

      "We'll have to check tonight's news to see if we made a favorable impression with the mob," Kelly said. "They could turn public opinion, and the mayor responds to public opinion."

      "Our captain won't like finding out we talked to the press," Starsky muttered, as he opened the passenger door for her.

      "Well, screw him," Kelly said, in that same lilting tone.

      Hutch glanced at his partner, and they burst out laughing.

      "If it's all the same to you, Miz Callahan," Starsky said pointedly, "I think we'd rather save that privilege for—" He stopped himself just in time. "For someone a lot prettier."

      She flushed, surprising Hutch. He'd decided nothing could faze her. That ol' Starsky charm. Works on everyone. He had to look away. Maybe it was a good thing he'd asked her out after all. Of course, Starsky didn't know that yet.

      "Drop me at the courthouse?" she asked. "I'm running late, as usual."

      "A privilege and a pleasure," Starsky assured her, opening the passenger door with a flourish.

      As she slid into the middle of the front seat, Hutch stepped in front of Starsky and handed him a five-dollar bill.

      Starsky stared at the bill uncomprehendingly, then remembered their bet. His jaw dropped for a moment, then he grinned, punched Hutch on the arm, and jogged to the driver's side.

      That wasn't quite the reaction I wanted, Hutch thought, as he folded himself into the car and shut the door. It only got worse as Starsky took off with a squeal of tires while regaling their passenger with tales of their past exploits.

      "Y'know," Starsky began, "Hutch here's real quiet, but he's the brains of this outfit. And that whole thing with snaggin' Gunther—that was all Hutch. I was out of it, flat on my back in the hospital. Yeah, it was Hutch who—"

      Hutch rubbed a hand over his tired eyes and tried to figure out what he had done in a past life to bring this kind of karma down on himself.


      "Now what's the matter?" Hutch asked as Starsky brooded behind the wheel of the Torino.

      They'd left Callahan on the courthouse steps and driven to the Green Parrot. They hadn't spoken after leaving her, as if they were both so trapped in their own concerns they couldn't find a place to connect. Starsky parked the Torino in front of the bar, then sat in glum silence.

      Starsky stared at the bar and shook his head. "I dunno, Hutch. I don't know if I can do this."

      "It's not the first time you've been here," Hutch reminded him.

      "That was different. We were cops then. We were investigating a murder."

      "We're still cops," Hutch said. "We're suspended, that's all. And we're gonna need cash. This festive vegetable doesn't run on air."

      Starsky sighed wearily. "If that's why we were here it wouldn't be so bad. But it's not. We're here to dance to someone else's tune, fulfill somebody's agenda. It don't feel right, us workin' here."

      "'Cause it's a gay bar?" Hutch said, wanting to make Starsky lay it on the table. "And we're not gay?" He knew his own nebulous feelings about his sexuality weren't helping them right now, but then, neither was Starsky's total denial.

      Starsky's jaw tightened. "You gonna tell me labels don't matter now?"

      No, Hutch wasn't ready to tell him that. He glanced away, struggling with his own feelings.

      "Anyway, that's not all of it," Starsky said. "It just—doesn't feel right." He sighed. "But how many things have we done that didn't feel right 'til we made 'em right?" As if that realization squared something for him, he decided, "Let's go, partner. Let's get this show on the road!"

      To Hutch's surprise, Starsky was out of the car and approaching the bar before he had time to react. He caught up to Starsky just before he reached for the door handle.

      "Hey, wait!" Hutch called. "Did you take a look at all this?" He pulled Starsky back a few feet so they could examine the front of the bar.

      "Where—?" Starsky muttered as he looked over the building. "Did they expand, or what?"

      "Looks like the Parrot's taken over the two properties on either side of the original bar. The upstairs, too. This place is—huge!"

      Starsky looked at him wryly. "Good. Maybe nobody'll notice us!" He reached for the front door again, and Hutch followed him into the darkened interior.

      The sense of deja vu only lasted a moment. Some things are universal to all bars, especially during off-hours, whether it was a gay cabaret or a straight joint like the blues club Marianne Owens had sung at. Overhead lighting not normally used during business hours lit the place just as it had when they'd investigated Johnny Blaine's death. But it hadn't seemed that large then. The Parrot hadn't just expanded, Hutch realized, it had been completely remodeled.

      The long bar with its stained glass backdrop was still there, but the interior of the place had tripled in size, as had the actual bar. It would take at least three bartenders to serve it now, when one had served before. The dance floor had expanded, and there were more tables. There was a huge screen near the ceiling, and posters of actors and actresses were everywhere. Hutch wondered if Starsky would ever make a connection between his own interest in movies and all the gay camp in the posters.

      A professional cleaning crew was mopping, polishing, dusting. There were enough plants to qualify the place as a fern bar.

      The stage where Hutch had first seen Sugar perform was much bigger, too. He might have wondered if it were too big for the small man in drag to handle, but Sugar was up there right now. He wasn't in costume, but he still managed to dominate the space. Six fey men in casual wear were rehearsing choreographed dance steps while singing "It's So Good to Be a Girl" to a piano accompaniment. Sugar was counting off the moves, dancing in front of them, leading them in the choreography.

      Feeling Starsky's gaze on him, Hutch said, "I wonder if they'd be interested in your rendition of Aretha's 'Natural Woman'."

      The indigo eyes narrowed to slits. "If you even mention . . . ."

      Just then Sugar spotted them. He grinned broadly. "Oh, cheese it, girls, it's the cops!" The "girls" stopped dancing and the pianist quit playing, as everyone stared.

      Hutch smiled as he approached the stage. "Hey there, Sugar, how's it hanging?"

      The chorus line broke into titters and even Starsky smiled.

      "Well, darling," Sugar told him as he climbed off the stage, "since the surgery, not at all."

      Hutch's eyes widened and Starsky went pale.

      The chorus line cracked up as Sugar flapped a hand. "Relax! I'm kidding. You two have to lighten up if you're gonna work here."

      "That's what we came to talk about," Hutch said. "Is the owner around?"

      "That slumlord!" Sugar said. "He'd better not be. We'd all tear him to shreds, wouldn't we, girls? No, I'm afraid you've come all this way just to talk to me. I'm now the manager of this pathetic establishment."

      "And," the pianist murmured, "half owner."

      "The better half," Sugar insisted.

      "So, what happened to this joint, anyway?" Starsky asked. "Somebody hit the lottery?"

      "What happened?" Sugar said. "Your memory that bad, Detective? You happened, that's what happened. Your undercover operation—you remember the one where I was nearly killed and the entire bar was shot up? Hundreds of dollars in damages? The night we found out Starsky here can't count?"

      Starsky frowned as they recalled his desperate move against the Narco cop Corday. Starsky had thought Corday had used up six bullets. "I was only off by one!" he grumbled.

      "Yes, darling, that night," Sugar continued. "Well, it generated an incredible amount of publicity. We thought we'd be ruined, but within days the crowds were just unmanageable! I made a deal with the owner, bought up the leases on the surrounding properties, and before you knew it," he flung out his arms like Marilyn Monroe, "Hollywood!"

      "Well, it's nice that something positive came out of all that," Hutch offered.

      "Yes, well, I must say, it's all been quite the windfall for this place and moi, personally," Sugar told him. "So, of course, when I heard about your troubles, well—I felt I owed a debt. Kind of weird, feeling obligated to a couple of cops, but I've had stranger bedfellows."

      The chorus broke into gales of laughter, but Sugar withered them with a look. "That's enough from the peanut gallery," he said in his Bette Davis voice. They subsided reluctantly.

      "I don't suppose havin' us here on a regular basis will cause you any inconvenience either," Starsky muttered. He was the hard-nosed street cop, arms crossed, face somber. "There's bound to be plenty of publicity over it, don't'cha think?"

      Sugar sashayed over to him, challenging his personal space while blatantly eyeing his body. In seconds, Starsky was squirming under the scrutiny, glancing at Hutch for help.

      "Let's get one thing straight, sweetheart," Sugar said. "You're real cute and you've got a great ass, but if you think for one minute having two cops working in this place is good for business, you're crazy. I've been told you two choir boys have never rousted gay bars, but there isn't a regular patron here who hasn't had his head busted by some macho boy in blue just for having a beer with his friends."

      Starsky colored under the scathing remarks, but kept his peace. They'd rousted plenty of bars in their day, but never without a serious need for information, and never just to harass a gay clientele. Yet, Hutch was well aware it was sport among guys like Russo.

      "So, here's the deal." Sugar strolled back to the stage. "Hutchinson works the main bar—"

      "The main—?" Hutch said, confused.

      "Oh, that's right," Sugar remembered. "You haven't had the grand tour. Well, it's not Tara, honey, but it's home." He indicated the circular stairways that climbed into the ceiling. "There are two bars upstairs. One's for the leathermen and the other's for the punks. They're both smaller, but there's plenty of space for dancing and tables. The bartenders who work up there are specialists. Each bar has its own music piped in. The main bar here is the only one with live entertainment—on stage, that is. It can get pretty hairy upstairs. Most of us trip the light fantastic up there once in a while just to see what's what. But this bar's for the mundanes—the preppies, the suits, closeted businessmen, the straights."

      "You get straights in here now?" Starsky piped up hopefully.

      "Oh, honey," Sugar assured him, "thirty percent of our customers are straight. It's getting so you can't tell them apart! Except maybe in the bathroom." Both Sugar and the chorus line laughed. "Seriously, between Peter Whitelaw's politics and Callahan's legal actions—not to mention the publicity from you guys—the Green Parrot has become one of the trendiest places in town. We get celebrities, jet setters, everyone! It's the place to be on Saturday night."

      "Is that right?" Starsky murmured doubtfully.

      "Of course," Sugar went on, "we expect business to drop off when you come on board, but we're hoping after a while that'll balance out. So, we'll keep Blondie behind the bar. He'll look good there. Decorative, and useful, too." He turned knowing eyes on Starsky. "You're security. You'll work the door, carding patrons, watching for trouble-makers, ejecting them when necessary, and you'll roam the interior—including the upstairs bars—for the same reason. Spotting underage kids is critical—our license depends on it, and we all know how happy everyone would be if we lost our license. Controlling rowdy customers is important, too. Especially upstairs. Think you can handle it, handsome?"

      Starsky's blue eyes bore into Hutch as he said sarcastically, "Strong-arm the patrons of this place? I suspect I can manage."

      The tallest of the chorus "girls" purred, "You said he was butch, Sugar, but I didn't think you meant butch!" The rest of them laughed.

      "He's breakin' my heart," another one swore and blew him a kiss. There was more laughter as Starsky's face darkened.

      "I thought you were the one with the sense of humor," Sugar said to Starsky reproachfully. "I guess you haven't had much to laugh about lately, have you?"

      Concerned that Starsky was being pushed past his limits, Hutch stepped forward to distract Sugar. "How about some details. Like work hours? Pay scale? Benefits?"

      "We'll need you Thursday through Monday, six pm till closing," Sugar told them and gave them the hourly rate. Quickly calculating their incomes, Hutch realized the money was nowhere near what they were used to, but they could survive on it. "Plus, the bartenders get tips. We're a full-service restaurant now, so you get free meals, too. Drinks are free as long as you can handle the job. If you get drunk, you're fired. And there's one other benefit—wardrobe."

      He turned to one of the chorus "girls" and snapped his fingers. "Trixie, wheel over that clothes rack like a good girl, will you?"

      A lanky black man flounced off the stage, returning quickly with a wheeled garment rack packed with clothes, all in black and white.

      "I guessed at your sizes," Sugar muttered, looking them both over, "but how could I ever forget those bods?" He started sorting through the hanging garments, pulling things out.

      Starsky gave Hutch a quizzical look, but he could only shrug.

      "Try these on," Sugar said, tossing items out.

      Hutch realized the white pants he'd snagged were leather. They were soft, like kid, and expensive. There was a matching vest and a silk shirt to go with it. He glanced at Starsky who was fingering a pair of black leather pants; his expression was ominous.

      "Men's room is over there, boys," Sugar pointed. "Let's go. We don't have all day!"

      "Need any help in there," one of the "girls" called after them, "just holler!" Another round of laughter followed them into the bathroom.

      Starsky looked like a gathering storm cloud as he pushed his way into the men's room.

      To deflect his concerns, Hutch said, "It's just another uniform, Starsk. If we don't want to wear them, we won't. But it can't hurt to try them on. I mean, they're free and we won't have to wear our own clothes while working here."

      Starsky nodded grimly and stepped into a cubicle to drop his jeans.

      Deciding he wouldn't faint if someone walked in on him, Hutch stayed near the spacious area by the sinks to slip on the luxurious white pants. Even though they were low cut over his hips, they were incredibly comfortable, fitting his body as if they'd been tailored for him. Clinging to his upper legs, they belled out gently below his knees. He donned the long-sleeved shirt, tucked it in, then put on the vest. The front panels of the vest each had a deep vee cut in front, which made his legs look longer, and, he realized, his crotch more pronounced. He rolled his eyes. Turning, he saw that the clinging pants drew attention to his rear and his thighs. He sighed wearily. Now he knew what women must feel like when they had to wear skimpy costumes. At least he'd have the bar between him and his customers.

      He glanced up as Starsky emerged from the cubicle, and watched his image in the mirror. Starsky was all in black, but his pants were biker's pants, made of denser leather, yet still skin tight. The dark leather gleamed dully in the fluorescent light of the bathroom, and the various zippers on the pockets glittered. The pants were tight at the ankle, with zippers that made them easier to pull over boot tops.

      Starsky, wearing a tight-fitting black tee shirt he'd tucked in, was still tying the leather thongs that closed the fly of his pants. Once he finished, he looked up and saw Hutch in his white clothes. His color blanched almost to match. 

      "What?" Hutch asked, looking down at himself. "Is something showing? Does it look that bad? What's the matter?"

      Starsky shook his head. "You ain't wearin' that," he muttered, his voice ragged. "An' I ain't wearin' this. We can't do this, Hutch, we can't!"

      Taking three long strides to Starsky's side, Hutch gave him a hard shake. "What the hell is it? You look like you've seen a ghost! Talk to me, dammit! They're just clothes!"

      Starsky stared at him, nearly in shock, and kept shaking his head. "You ain't wearin' that!"

      "Dammit, will you tell me—?"

      Starsky pulled away roughly and turned his back. "It's just, oh shit, I can't—" He rubbed a hand over his face. "I-I been having dreams, Hutch. Really weird, heavy dreams. An-and in the dreams . . . ." He couldn't continue.

      He didn't have to. Hutch's dreams had been odd, too, yet, comforting. They were on the beach in his dreams. And they were lovers.

      "You trying to tell me you've been dreaming . . . about us . . . in clothes like these?" Hutch asked gently.

      Starsky nodded without looking at him.

      Hutch leaned against the sink. Were the dreams hot, Starsk? Did I touch you in them? Love you? Did you let me? Did you like it?

      He swallowed and wouldn't let himself ask those questions. "When I was a kid, Starsk, I read that Indians believed dreams were a message sent from the spirit world. And the only way to get rid of the dream was to reenact it."

      "Don't say that, Hutch," Starsky begged, sounding miserable.

      Hutch shrugged. "Hey, maybe wearing the clothes will end the dream. Ever think of that?"

      Starsky looked at him worriedly. "You think?"

      "They're just clothes, Starsky. God knows we've worn weirder things."

      That made Starsky smile. Yes, they'd certainly done that.

      "It's just another undercover gig," Hutch insisted. "What does all this matter, huh?"

      Starsky finally looked at Hutch. "You look good. Like the White Knight for real."

      "White Knight with a bar rag? I don't know. Those things comfortable?"

      "Except for all the jingling, yeah."

      "Maybe you should wear your old boots with 'em. Your Adidas look kind of weird—"

      "Oh, heaven forbid I look weird while working at the Green Parrot!" Starsky said.

      "If you're not out in five minutes," Sugar called, "I'm sending in reinforcements!"

      They gave themselves a final adjustment, then left the rest room. They were greeted with an enthusiastic round of catcalls and whistles. Hutch felt his face heating up, and the look on Starsky's was one for the books.

      Trying to be good-natured to people who were only trying to help them, Hutch held out his arms to model his outfit and obligingly turned around for a better inspection.

      He laughed when Trixie yelled, "Starsky, how did you get those pretty bowed legs?"

      "The usual way," he shot back, surprising Hutch. "Too much time in the saddle."

      "Oh, if only it were with me!" Trixie moaned.

      That convulsed the entire group and they shrieked in glee. The raucous remarks got worse until one member of the chorus line pressed the back of his hand to his forehead and swooned dramatically, announcing, "I think I'm in love!"

      "Get off it, Mary," Sugar jibed back, "you fall in love every hour on the hour." He turned back to them. "There's a ghost of a chance you might fit in here. Give me those sizes and I'll make sure you have a few changes. And I've got jackets, too." He pulled a heavy black biker's jacket off the rack and held it out to Starsky.

      But Starsky only shook his head and slipped on his own leather. "I've got a jacket."

      "Brown leather with a black outfit? Puh-leeze!" Sugar protested. "At least try it on!"

      "I said," Starsky  insisted, "I've got a jacket."

      "Let him wear it, Sugar," Trixie said. "It's cut higher. We don't want to hide that ass."

      Sugar looked intrigued. "Okay, Starsky, turn around and give us a good look and maybe I'll forget the black jacket."

      Glancing at Hutch, Starsky mimicked him, turning around slowly, modeling, but stopped when his back was in full view of his audience.

      As the bullet holes came into view the entire group stilled. Sugar's expression sobered and his face, for once, showed his age. Trixie moaned and turned away.

      There wasn't a person in the city who hadn't seen the photos of Starsky lying on the ground, his head nestled in his tire, the round holes of Gunther's bullets tattooing a deadly trail across his back while an emergency medical team worked to save his life.

      "Okay, fine, you win," Sugar said, hoarsely. "That's your jacket. You'll be even more intimidating in it, if that's possible."

      Hutch walked over and took the black leather from Starsky's hands, and slid his arms into it. "Can I take this one? It fits."

      "May as well," Sugar told him. "There's a white one here you can have also."

      Hutch nodded. "When do we start?" If it was tonight he could get out of his date with Callahan.

      "Tomorrow's Thursday," Sugar told him. "Be here at five so you can fill out the paperwork. Keep Uncle Sam happy."

      Hutch was about to agree when he realized he and Starsky hadn't had a chance to talk about it. He looked a question at his partner.

      Starsky caught the look, paused, then said to Sugar, "Five. Tomorrow. We'll be here." Slinging his tattered jeans and his plaid shirt over his shoulder, he sauntered out of the bar.

      Hutch tossed a salute to the chorus line and followed him, hearing Sugar snap orders. "Okay, the scenery's gone, girls, let's get back to work."

      Out in the sunlight, Hutch jogged to catch up to Starsky who was about to get in the Torino.

      "You okay about this, partner?" Hutch asked. His eyes traveled over Starsky's leather-clad legs, then he snapped his attention back where it belonged. "I mean, really?"

      "I'll manage, Hutch," Starsky murmured. "C'mon. I wanna go home, chill out for awhile. And you got a date. Don't want'cha to be late."

      Hutch sighed. No, Starsky wasn't about to let him be late. He'd be lucky if he didn't come along to "coach" him on his technique.

      "So, what are you gonna do while I'm out with the lovely Ms. Callahan?" Hutch asked as they pulled away from the curb.

      "Cop work," Starsky said, surprising him. "Gonna talk to Huggy 'bout that video tape, see what he can find out. Maybe we'll get lucky."

      Hutch almost brought up Whitelaw's name, then decided against it. This would be the first time that they'd be separated since the "incident." Maybe that was what they needed, a little time away from each other, some room to breathe.

      Then why does my chest constrict when I think of being apart from him?

      "Be careful out there tonight," Hutch muttered. "There are still people after us."

      "Hey," Starsky said, grinning, "be careful yourself. I ain't the one likely to be distracted, if you know what I mean. And I think you do."

      Hutch groaned and slid down into the seat.

Now if you're lookin' for a hero
Someone to save the day
Well darlin' my feet
They're made of clay
But I've got somethin' in my soul
And I wanna give it up
But gettin' up the nerve
Gettin' up the nerve is a man's job
Lovin' you's a man's job baby
Man's Job—Bruce Springsteen