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Blue Metal Luck
"Sugar," Alice suggested, sashaying, with a Mason-Dixon flourish of cashmere and White Shoulders, inside my apartment, "I'd surely love a change of scene for our supper tonight. In LA, Dirty Nellie's is where the cops hang out."
Alice couldn't live without flirting, but this went beyond the bounds of good taste. She's so sincere with affection: it doesn't make sense, I thought. We'd seemed compatible from the day I'd met her during my first year of teaching; she observed my high school class before deciding on teaching grade school and I felt I knew her well. Alice liked my commiseration with her long struggle to obtain a clear credential and I liked her similar ability to stay positive and focused once achieving her goal. Groupies' insincerity is usually all encompassing, I continued to puzzle, correcting an errant line of sunset pink lipstick with the nail of my little finger. Checking that my cats were outside before locking up, I said, "We can go to Tam o'Shanter to scope out guys, if that's what you want."
Alice looked so crushed, I could have kicked myself. "I didn't mean it dirty like," she said, her eyes becoming mistily wistful. "I promised to meet someone there."
My curiosity piqued, I stopped to ask, "Who?"
She looked up, but her thoughts obscured her sight. "Before I went to school again, I . . . lived a way I don't like to think about. The one good in all that was a man named Hutch. I felt like such a lady with him that I swore I'd make him mine if I could change. He used to go to that bar after work and that's the only reason I want to go there now."
Having already hurt Alice, I hated to bring it up, but I said, "You're sure he'll be there?"
Her vision clearing, she discerned both my meanings, replying, "I've got to go," with a sweetly wise smile.
"Then we will," I assured Alice.
We grabbed our purses to leave, yet Alice stopped in mid-stride at the front door. "I'm scared," she whispered, lips turning white.
I didn't know how to help her until I remembered my Bluebirds' pin. I hurried to my coffee table, unlocked the hinged false top, and threw it open. Alice's confusion in my peripheral vision, I dug past old diaries, letters and travel brochures, unearthing my Campfire Girls' vest at the bottom of the chest; unpinning the bluebird, I temporarily stored its freed medals with my doll's clothes. Pinning the bird in the centered knot of Alice's matching scarf, I led her to the hall mirror to see the effect.
Her expression grew more quizzical. "What's this?" she said, touching the pin.
"A long time ago, a glass bluebird came into my life and something I'd always dreamed of happened. Maybe a metal one can bring you the same luck."
Alice kissed my cheek. I squeezed her hand in response and we headed to her destiny in Los Angeles.
Glen Frey sang "True Love" on the bar's Wurlitzer and I hoped it would be a good omen. "Can you see the guy, Alice?" I asked, squinting due to the sudden dimness. She looked so gorgeous in sky blue, Alice would have gotten his attention anyway.
"Oh," Alice murmured with a catch in her breath, creeping shyly toward a table two feet from the bar where a blond man sat drinking beer. Following her at a distance, I grew nervous and fought the urge to chew one of my nails. Her friend must have heard Alice's slings scraping the carpet because he cocked his head.
"Hutch?" Alice said.
Gentleness suffused the man's handsomely patrician features. "Sweet Alice," he said, crisply nostalgic. I relaxed when he stood and hugged her.
Skirting the back of the table to give them privacy, I listened to their simultaneously cleared throats and laughter at their synchronicity.
Alice, clasped to her friend's side, introduced us, "This is Carrie Matheson, Hutch. Carrie, this is Lieutenant Kenneth Hutchinson." Wondering at the halting way Alice spoke his name, I considered it of little consequence since he didn't notice the change. I shook hands with him.
Hutchinson said, "Well, have a seat, ladies." He pulled out my chair;
Alice beamed in amazement as he did the same for her. She gazed at him so tenderly, he drew his head away in seemingly slight embarrassment. To his obvious relief, a waitress came to take our orders.
"What would you like, Alice?" Hutchinson asked.
"Blond Dubonet with a twist," Alice said sheepishly, knowing I think it's cute that my mom's favorite drink is "an elegant lady's best choice" to Alice.
Hutch caught me smothering a chuckle before I ordered cola; he said, after our waitress left, "I think I'm missing something."
"Just a joke between friends," I said. Alice winked and stroked the bluebird.
Hutch shook his head over us. Suddenly, he slapped his knee. "I forgot to tell you; Starsky's here."
Alice clapped her hands in delight. I guessed the faded, brown bomber jacket hanging over the fourth chair at our table belonged to another police detective; Alice had regaled me during the drive with stories of her days as one of Hutch's informants. "Where is he, Hutch?"
"I dunno, he must still be in the john--hey, Starsk, we've got company."
A slightly Durante voice answered, "I'm coming! Where's the fire?!" A few minutes later, out of a shadowed alcove ambled a dark-haired man with a sexily expansive, floor skimming strut. He made an unusually good, overall impression for a guy with curly hair; now I was the one drawing away.
"And who are these beautiful ladi . . ." Starsky sputtered. "Sweet Alice!" he exclaimed, bending to hug her before plopping into the jacketed chair and, nodding, acknowledged me. Hutch snapped for our waitress, gesturing once to his almost empty beer and to Starsky as she served Alice and me.
About to question them on Alice's nickname, Starsky forestalled me, asking, "So what are you girls up to?"
Alice whipped her head to face Starsky; Hutch interrupted. "Yeah, Alice, what brings you by these parts?" as she opened her mouth to respond.
"I told you if I ever went straight . . ." Alice, falling silent, slowly stood.
Hutchinson's confused expression went as shocked as hers. "Alice, I don't know what to say."
She scurried off in the direction of the rest rooms, leaving Hutchinson's head bowed.
Starsky looked to Alice's departing form, then to me, and said, "Aren't you both in the business?"
I didn't know what he meant, although it boded unsavory. "What business?"
"You know," Starsky insisted, exasperated. I thought he implied drug dealing, however, just one type of woman who commits crimes can hang out in a cop bar. Only the facts that an arrest would result and that my fingernails were curled into my fists kept his face from being slapped.
Pushing away from the table, I hissed through clenched teeth, "We're school teachers."
Hutchinson, holding up a hand to stop me from going to Alice, went to comfort her.
Starsky and I listened to the early evening clientele filter into the bar. He finally relaxed a spine embarrassment had straightened, saying, "Biting the big one--the start of a great evening."
"You ate it, too." Refusing to forget it despite the way his rueful blue eyes outmatched sapphires, I added, "How dare you suggest we're that kind of women?"
Starsky rotated his foamy draft counterclockwise while a wry grin, inches by inches, curved his mouth. "That educated English of yours should've told me something."
Giving him the deceptively mild stare my students dread, I asked, "Digging a hole to China?"
Making me jump, Hutchinson said, "It's cold enough outside," effectively reminding me only the rudest guest willfully spoils a party.
Otherwise ignoring the men, I asked Alice, "It's all right?"
She touched the bluebird with reverence. "I think so." As Starsky apologized to Alice, I silently praised in the direction of the ceiling, crossing my fingers that the rest of the evening would fulfill her hopes.
"If you both will excuse us, Alice and I are going to trip the light fantastic," Hutchinson said, leading her to the dance floor. He pointedly glared at Starsky over Alice's right shoulder, subtlety hinting, in my direction with his head, that Starsky should dance with me.
Starsky shook his head in grudging acquiescence, sighed, and peered at me dually supplicant and penitent. I helplessly giggled at the result. "If Alice still thinks you're all right, the least I can do is discover why," becoming slaphappy at the excruciatingly polite show he made of pulling out my chair.
Soon spinning in a deft myringa, the friction of Starsky's left knee between my thighs gradually made Alice's jukebox selection of Bob Seeger's "Fire Down Below" embarrassingly apropos.
"Why did you cross four fingers?" Starsky said.
Pleased to have conversation command my attention and equally startled he had seen my gesture, I couldn't speak for a moment. Poised to repeat himself, I said, "It's bad luck to cross one set." Desperate for another topic to keep me from collapsing against Starsky's bread warm, Gibraltar hard thighs, I said, "What's the reason that you and Lieutenant Hutchinson call Alice 'sweet'?"
Thoughtful, Starsky shrugged, "She is, isn't she?"
I sensed his evasiveness related to the former snafu, smiling, "Yes, that's Alice exactly." My ears burned with pleasure at Starsky's broad grin; He smiles like Sunday morning, I mused.
"Break it up you two, we old folks need a rest," Hutchinson said, turning me beet red.
"Certainly, pard'." Starsky ushered me to our table.
Another round of drinks waited and I thought, So nice not to have to ask: somebody's smoothness ratio went up.
Relief quieted me at the ease with which Hutchinson's left arm rest across the back of Alice's chair. She glowed like a firefly. "I guess you're as close to retirement as we are," he said.
I barely swallowed the mouthful of cola I'd almost spat at his question when Starsky added, "Yeah, we'll be off the force pretty soon."
Since Alice is only forty, I didn't think her friends were older. Alice, unbeknownst to her, increased my embarrassment by saying, "Carrie and I have a long spell afore that happens."
The detectives really became befuddled and Hutch asked, "You were reentry students when you applied for teaching certificates?"
"I was, but Carrie'd finished before I met her."
Starsky picked up his beer as if he needed it. Hutch leaned forward, still confused, asking me, "You graduated in 1980?"
"1984," I said, wincing.
While Hutchinson thumped Starsky's back to clear the swallow of beer on which Starsky immediately choked, I grimly thought, Great: a perversely good sign he finds me attractive.
"Y'all right, Starsk?" Alice said.
"Yeah," he answered, slightly hoarse, and sagged a bit in his chair.
"Alice, I just remembered I have to prep the overheads for the Final Review. Why don't you call when you need a ride home?" I fibbed to end the torture of hanging out with 'too fine, not mine'-guy ad infinitum. Gathering my purse and coat, I took my leave with, "It was nice meeting you, Lieutenant Hutchinson and--"
"Carrie?" Starsky interrupted.
I paused stock-still. "Yes?"
"First of all, I'm Dave and this is Hutch. Second, have you had dinner?"
My first thought was, Keep thinking of him as Starsky; it's not as intimate. Sounding more nonchalant than I felt, I answered, "No."
"Dave and I were planning, before you ladies joined us, to have a little pizza with the beer," Hutch said. "Why don't we make it a foursome?"
"If Alice is amenable . . ." My voice trailed off because my question was unnecessary.
Walking out to the parking lot, Starsky suggested, "Why don't we switch drivers so you don't get lost? " Adding, "Milady, your chariot awaits", he directed my attention, with a sweeping bow, to what can be best described as reverse candy cane on wheels.
"No, Starsk, black naugahyde makes her carsick."
"Alice!" I all but shrieked, dumbfounded by her artlessness.
Alice's features took on a sly cast. "Starsky can get more comfortable in the front of your car." I gasped at the audacious reference to how my Renault's bucket seats adjust to a prone position.
Starsky asked, when we got in, "What's the matter?"
"Aspersions cast on my front seats," I explained, showing with my hands. I couldn't read his expression and wanted to kill Alice.
Sneaking a glance at Hutch and Alice piling into Starsky's car, Starsky said, "Anything else I should know?"
"Childproof locks in the back seat doors," I said, conspiring with him.
Just as Hutch drove past my open, front passenger window to take the lead, Starsky yelled, "You and Alice would be safer in here," pointing a thumb behind us.
"You're evil, Carrie!" Alice shouted, Hutch again quizzical.
"Busy as it looks, I've never heard of this place," I said, searching, twenty minutes later, for a parking place in a packed lot lit by a white neon sign that spelled "The Pits." The restaurant/bar's exterior was nothing special; Hutch, noticing my puzzled wonder at the wistful grins, teased, "Another joke between friends," leading me to good-naturedly roll my eyes.
"The Pits's smoothly active mood, set by a live jazz combo's version of "Flat Foot Floogie" when we entered, did impress me: servers attired in smart, red and gray uniforms hoisted tantalizingly steamy platters around red leather banquettes. A full crowd of mostly baby boomers spoke easily against the sensuously saxed instrumental.
From the corner of the chrome railed mahogany bar, a graying, mustached man in a tailored Italian suit, whom I assumed to be the owner because of his watchfulness, proudly scanned "The Pits." Spotting our group, he immediately trotted over, calling out, "Hutch, Starsk, great to see . . . well, Sweet--"
"It's 'Alice' now, Huggy," Hutch interrupted.
Huggy, the owner, clasped Alice's hands in both of his with altered respectfulness. "Good to see you again." Noticing me next to Starsky, the man chided, "Where've you been hiding this lovely woman, Starsk?"
"This is Carrie, Huggy. Carrie,--"
"Huggy Bear, ma'am," he cut in; Huggy made hearing the word "ma'am" applied to me sound flattering, instead of matronly, for once. Linking arms with me and Alice, he added flirtatiously, "Now I know where my boys have been hiding, too."
Starsky scratched the back of his neck as if slightly shy--I considered that a brief glimpse of another good sign--before Huggy led us to our table in the center of the restaurant. It afforded us a prime view of the stage and Huggy silenced the detectives' protests, saying,"Friends deserve the best."
"How classy," I sputtered, reacting to Starsky's accidental touch of my wrist while we slid into the booth. A busboy filled our water glasses while Hutch gave our waiter the cryptic order, "Motherlode, Chicago style, extra peppers."
Alice, strangely awkward at making small talk with her old friends, said aloud, "How can y'all still eat like that?" Nevertheless, she looked too busy enjoying her closer proximity to Hutch to really complain.
I let the music suck me in; Starsky probably thought I gave him the cold shoulder, but it was due more to my dry well of conversational topics and date-rusty nervousness. The need to ignore Alice's courtship of Hutch impelled me to chance jumping into that bottomless pit. "Have you always worked with Hutch, Dave?"
Indigo eyes darting through his memories with censoring keenness, Dave gently smiled at one selection and said, "Most of the time," leaving me jealously certain it involved a woman and peeved at my jealousy.
"Did you always want to be a detective?"
"I ate Army chow for one tour," (no mention being made of where, I thought it wise not to ask) "and Ma thought I looked like Paul Muni--" Hutch's interrupting derisive snort caused Starsky to ape a mortally wounded expression. "Could have been anything. I did wind up acting undercover."
"What did you and Hutch think of each other when you first met?"
Dave, reflecting on this, cupped his hands behind his head with feline suppleness enhanced by the crinkling purr of his leather jacket. "He thought I was a blintz and I thought he was an uptight WASP, but I could relate to an East Coast guy feeling lost in LA; I missed New York bad when I moved here before high school."
I rested my chin on my hands, my elbows long since propped up on the table in my absorption with our conversation. "What undercover assignment did you like best?"
"The time Hutch and I were on Playboy Island: I looked like a scarecrow crossed with a jewelry display." My laughter encouraging him, Starsky held his arms to demonstrate. "We wanted to blend in with the other vendors in the town near the hotel, ya see; I wore cutoff jeans, didn't button my shirt, hung cowrie shell necklaces all down my arms, and even wiggled around like a belly dancer to show off the merchandise."
Laughing too hard to censor myself, I blurted, "Now that must have been a hell of a sight." The sudden subject of three curious stares, I realized my Freudian slip, catching eye, with the gratitude of an ostrich for sand, of the waiter returning with our order.
Soon, I plunged my hand under a huge, heavy slice of Motherlode, hopeful the pizza would, as I know good cooking does, distract my full attention from making a further conversational idiot out of me. My last thick, basil redolent slice of Gorgonzola, red sauce, seafood, veggies, and sourdough came to a screeching halt at my lips when Alice suggested, "Y'all, we should celebrate our reunion."
"A nightcap sounds like an excellent idea," Hutch agreed and I resumed chewing under the assumption she'd meant the three of them alone. I nearly bit my tongue as Hutch said, "We might as well keep the same driving arrangements."
Making me again the focus of the group, Starsky added, "But Carrie has that review to write."
If he's trying to get my goat, he's doing a good job, I fumed inside at him for raising the subject and at myself for saying it in the first place. Trying to bolster finesse evaporating at the idea of being in a still more intimate setting with Starsky, I said, "My students will have to think for themselves on the test, so they may as well contribute most of the questions."
Huddling once I acquiesced, the men, between bites, began what they assumed to be barely audible negotiation. "I say we all go to Venice," Starsky began.
"My house?" Hutch said, discreetly incredulous. He hesitated, waiting for his partner to catch on.
"No," they said at the same time.
"I say we go to your house," Hutch said to Starsky.
"My place?" his fellow detective said, uncomfortably incredulous. My mood improved watching Starsky shift around in his spot. "But my place is . . ." he said with forced heartiness, thinking Hutch--who was trying to look obtuse--would catch on. Starsky turned to Alice and me for help, but could tell from our amusedly unconcerned expressions that he'd lost. I felt even better.
"Why Starsky," Alice drawled, falsely innocuous, "You've got a nice place. I always like those mirrors on your ceiling." We all left Alice's remark unexamined; any questions I made would only have fostered more jealousy and desire on my part, though I did nearly guffaw to see Starsky's face turn a shade I'd never seen on anyone.
Hutch, briskly wiped his mouth and said, "It's settled then," signaling for our waiter to bring the check.
The velvet night framed lights strewn out like handfuls of diamonds, garnets, and tourmaline encircling the enormous Harvest moon that oversaw our progress to the cars. I drove out into the street, wishing like the narrator of DuMaurier's Rebecca "that I was forty-five in black satin and pearls," because I had nothing in common with a man about whom I wanted to know everything. Starsky will make a move if he wants to, I thought to calm myself.
Unbelievably, Starsky said, "Do you think mirrors over a bed is sexist?"
"No," I replied with a tad too much enthusiasm; my mind had gone into visceral overdrive since Alice's remark and I'm grateful I didn't say worse.
Dave didn't seem to notice my tone of voice, going on to say, "I'd take 'em down 'cause they're out of style, but they were hell to put up in the first place and . . . I like 'em."
Curious from knowing no one who had them, I said, "Why?"
Flippant, scrutinizing my car ceiling, Dave said, "I don't have to get out of bed to comb my hair." He warmed to the subject at my laughter, "Seriously, if I get a call at night, there's barely enough time to put my pants on. With mirrors . . . in my room," Dave inexplicably edited, "I can clean up without wasting time. You don't believe me?"
"I believe you," I kept on laughing, "except I use the front of my glasses."
Carrie crossed her legs and I told myself, Just drive, ya perv': she's too damn young. What would your mother say? Why the hell did I wear these jeans? Every time she laughed, I was more "carroty," as my aunt used ta say.
By this time, we had reached Dave's condominium complex in El Centro. Hutch and Alice waited, possibly unaware of the passing time seeing as how her lipstick looked freshly applied and the Torino's windows were fogged.
Dave led the way in; this was my excuse for checking if his strut looked as good from behind as it did from the front. I was pleased the pockets of his jeans didn't, as with some of the older men I'd seen in denim, ride below his butt.
"Alice was right, this is a nice place," I said. The well lit condo was cozy and the way a hanging spider plant engulfed one corner of the living room assured me Dave had a good sense of humor.
"See Starsk, you had nothing to worry about," Hutch said.
Still nervous, Dave said, "How about I get everyone coffee?"
"May I have water instead?" I asked.
"Help yourself," Dave said, "I'll show you where the glasses are."
"Can I help with anything?" I said after sipping my water.
"Sure. The cups are in that cabinet beside the glasses."
I brought over three cups. Forgetting my manners in relaxing, I sat on the counter. Dave looked over, startled by the noise.
I said, "Excuse me," and began to climb down.
Laying a restraining hand on my arm, Dave said, "Don't be so formal; I like the company."
I stared at my feet, trying to hide my eyes if I couldn't hide my smile.
Dave put away the coffee can, saying, "This will take a while; my coffeemaker's slow." Then he walked in front of my perch.
"What are you doing? I have to climb down."
"Giving you a hand."
"Silly, I'll squash you, now move."
"If you're going to be stubborn . . ." I relented, "How do we manage the logistics?"
"Put your hands on my shoulders."
I obeyed, enjoying the opportunity. Dave put his hands around my waist and effortlessly lifted me down. I liked the ride until my feet touched the floor. The muscles from waist to my ankles flexed to the point that I weakly joked, "I seem to be rooted to this spot," in a strained voice.
I could have cried in relief when Dave kissed me. Wanting to control myself, unsure if it was just a pity kiss, I had to hang onto him anyway. Now my only operable muscles were in my lips. Dave took one hand off my waist to pull my head closer, the way he worked my mouth making it clear why passion is part of compassion. I started to cry in earnest pleasure.
With seconds before we, if I had anything to say about it, wound up flat on the linoleum, Hutch called out, "Where's that coffee, Starsk?" ragged, higher-than-normal tone suggestive of a similar struggle for self-control taking place beyond the kitchen.
Dave and I broke contact, tremulously chuckling, to gather the coffee and cups.
Hutch and Alice sat apart, upon our reentering the living room, in a way that confirmed their previous closeness. Dave flopped into a barcalounger beside Hutch's place on the sofa; Alice, exchanging a knowing grin with me, took a mug. Setting the rest and the coffee pot near Hutch on the coffee table, I sat next to her on the long, worn couch.
The men drank three cups a piece with a distracted air, but Alice nursed one the rest of the evening, after languidly stirring in sugar and half n' half which she calmly requested I bring from the kitchen.
Hutch finished his third cup, breaking the silence, "Look at the time! I really should go; ready, Alice?"
She nodded, slipping on her purse and coat. I put mine on, taking the hint to end our visit. Once we got to the parking lot, Hutch said, "I'll drive Alice home, Carrie. It was a pleasure meeting you."
We shook hands as Alice hugged Dave good bye. Before Alice left, she waved to me.
We can't just shake hands like strangers and Dave obviously knows it was been nice meeting him. I puzzled over how to say goodnight; crickets made the most of a pregnant silence. Finally, I did shake his hand good bye, saying, "Alice keeps good company."
Dave shook my hand, yet kept hold of it. "I'm not sure what's going on here," he said quietly, gazing into my eyes," but I want to find out."
"Really?" I squeaked.
"Of course, yes, sure."
I gripped his hand, then let go, feeling my face grow red hot.
We moved to my car, Dave opening the driver's door for me with seductive courtesy. Swallowing to clear emotional cotton from my mouth, I got in and said goodnight. Dave shut the door, saying, "I'll call you in the morning."
He focused on my car as I drove off. I rolled up my window and let out an exultant, "Thank you, Jesus!"
The next day, in the middle of my blissful dream of us on his kitchen floor, Dave phoned me. We arranged to leave for an early evening date that night from my house.
Wearing a white dress shirt under his "cat" coat and spiced with Gray Flannel cologne, Dave arrived on time without the ubiquitous single red rose; I preferred that slow warm smile anyway. "You're the one I had the date with."
Overanxious, I said, "I certainly hope I am." Waves of his deep, hearty laughter rolled behind me while I locked my front door. Dave beat me to the passenger door handle, opening it and nudging my wide swing coat away from the door frame; he'd remembered Alice's remark about naugahyde because he'd rolled the Torino's windows down part of the way. The ease of his courtesy nonplused me; "Thanks." I unlocked the driver's side to keep from looking at him as he shut my door; otherwise, I felt I would break into an irrepressible grin. We cruised down my street, Sunset Drive, to Oak Street and it pleased me beyond words to be alone with him.
"You're the boss tonight," Dave said.
The Regency Lanes being only four blocks away, I blurted, "How about bowling?"
"Better and better," he said, eyeing me. My grin emerged, victorious over sensitivity.
In the midst of my tying my bowling shoes' laces ten minutes later, Dave joked, "Know what they say about girls with big feet?"
"They stand up for themselves."
Playfully groaning at his goofiness, I found an open lane near the bar. "In case you need something to steady your nerves," I rebutted him over my shoulder. Dave goosed me in my sides and I squealed.
Scoping Dave out from the corner of my eye as I picked an eight-pounder from the ball rack, I sighed: he sat, all sprawled arms and knees, in our booth looking way too good to me in spite of that.
Walking to the lane, I asked, "Ready?" he mock yawned, a twinkle in his eye. Concentrating on form, I lined up with the guide marks on the left edge of the lane, took three strides, and swung, knees bent, releasing the ball on my third step. It sloped ominously towards the gutter, then veered to the center for a sharply cracking strike. After another strike and a spare, I gleefully spun on my heel, doing a victory shuffle, to return to our lane's booth.
Dave picked up his ball with an air of distraction. Rubbing his chin, he rolled a back-up, slamming every pin but the right hand three in the back row. He shook a finger at me while I gloatingly hummed, "Nyah-nyah-nah-nah-nyah." Play continued; we scored eighty and one hundred respectively, fortified by three colas a piece; his shots grew increasingly complex until his commander called, leaving us only ninety minutes for dinner. Therefore, we called a halt to the game and I suggested dinner at Los Mariscos; it's less than half a block from Sunset Drive.
We sat at a table on the patio watching the TGIF traffic surge up Oak Street's overpass. Dave sampled my Camarones Veracruz, offering me forkfuls of his giant burrito in turn; fingertips of the hand he placed under the tines of his fork occasionally brushed my lips, causing sparks in my abdomen each time. I settled into the passenger seat in complete comfort during the brief drive home. Dave walked me to my door, linking hands with me while I switched on the entryway and landscape lights. "Next Thursday?"
"Oh yes," I assented, squeezing Dave's hand. We didn't say goodnight aside from looking into one another's eyes as we unclasped our hands. Dave waited for me to enter the house and, standing at my porch side living room's picture window, I watched him get into his car.
We waved until the Torino pulled away from the curb. I exclaimed to my cats, "The best date and the nicest man!"
Four days later:
I let Hutch drive; he'd bought a gold Crown Victoria for his promotion to lieutenant in '83 and it looked a damn sight better than the hunk of squash. He noticed my smile at remembering his LTD and asked, "How was Carrie?"
"Great," I said.
Hutch sized me up. "There haven't been too many 'greats' for you lately."
"What do you want me to say!?" I was peeved at his grilling me.
"All I'm--" Hutch started to say.
"Zebra-Three, Zebra-Three," the radio blared. "See the man at La Brea."
I responded to the call and said to Hutch, "Huggy doesn't stay open after hours."
Once we drove into Huggy's lot and saw the meat wagon, we knew why. We rushed the place; Huggy was at the bar, this time with his head in his hands.
"What's wrong?" Hutch said.
"Oh man," Huggy groaned, barely looking up from his beer. "In there," he pointed to the little girls' room, "then you tell me if I've got a right to be freaked."
I canvassed the scene ahead of Hutch; he got waylaid by some rookie on M.E. Detail. A tech printing one of the stalls leaned to the left to let me open the door. The blood in the toilet gave me a turn; been around women, should be used to it. I didn't see . . . I blocked out what the baby's face looked like. One look at those stiff little fingers reaching from the water had me barfin' in the men's room like a rookie myself. Rinsing my mouth, I whispered to Hutch, who was drying his hands under the air dry machine, "Can you believe that kid was left like it was no different from . . ." Nausea came at trying to say what. I shut up and went to the bar.
Huggy had a seltzer waitin' for me. "Hutch?" he offered. Hutch shook his head. I hauled my keister over a barstool an' had to wait a good ten minutes before I could even sip.
My partner says, "At least--"
Hutch was trying to cheer us up, but my fuse was too short for that. "Don't."
There was a long lull in the conversation, then Huggy said softly, "Of all the things in the world . . . ." We sat there for hours listening to the Coroner's people bag and tag. Dobey had fresh coffee brewing by the time we brought Huggy to the station.
Showing Huggy to his office, Dobey says to Hutch and me under his breath, "I want you to take the rest of the day off--don't argue with me. I'm leaving myself once I interview Huggy; it's been a hell of a night."
Hutch joked, "It's amazing, how does he do it?"
I was halfway out the door when he stopped erasing his name from the duty board and saw me. "Where're you goin', Starsk?"
"Bakersfield," I said; the door swung shut. The sharp gust from the harbor made my eyes water when I rolled down the car window to stay awake on the Grapevine. "I hope she's there, it's not a night to be alone."
The knocking merged into steady rapping. I groaned and creaked my way out of bed to the front door, too sleepy to think to put on my robe and slippers. Clutching the gap at the neck of my pajamas closed with my right hand, I opened the door's peep window to see Dave on the porch. I smacked on the porch light and he was still there--fighting like me to stay awake. "What on earth?" I faintly rasped, even that too loud at five in the morning.
"Any room at the inn?" Dave said, his eyes blending in with the sky.
"Sure," I said, opening the door.
He slowly walked in, briefly smiling like he'd found a safe haven.
My mind less groggy, I bustled to the front room's sofa bed, tossed its cushions into the closest armchair, and bent to pull the mattress out.
"What's that for?" Dave asked, easing into my barcalounger and rubbing his eyes.
"You look like death, so I thought I'd make a place for you to sleep," I said, straightening upright.
Dave half laughed through a yawn. "I had a different place in mind."
Shaking out the sheets and thin blanket on the sofa bed to air them, I croaked, suddenly embarrassed and shy, "Dave, it's too soon." I looked up from smoothing the wrinkles on the sofa bed to see him standing, hands in his jacket's pockets, beside me.
He shrugged, saying, "Just meant I didn't plan on sleeping alone."
I looked into his eyes, considering what might have influenced him. "Bad night?"
"Can't . . ." Dave faltered.
"Then why don't you take off your coat?" Helping him wriggle it off, I hung it in the entryway closet, came back to pick up his sneakers where they'd tumbled to the floor, and put them near my bedroom.
Taking a winter blanket from the hall storage closet while coming back to the front room, I found Dave, hair rumpled against a pillow, already under the sofa bed's covers. Anything more than what I'd done to comfort him seemed excessive, but I wanted so much to lay with him.
What can I do? I thought, rubbing the wool blanket in my arms.
Dave woke up when I laid down atop the sheets; "I thought it was too soon for you, " he yawned.
"It's not too soon to hold you," I explained, spreading the thicker blanket over us. He rolled into my open arms; the sound of his breathing shortly put me to sleep. My alarm clock blared to life an hour and a half later and I scurried to my bedroom to quickly shut it off. After washing up for work, I dressed and slipped outside to the curb to get the newspaper. Once inside the house, I ate leftover pancakes and tried not to overreact as usual to red grapefruit's zing. Reading the newspaper as if it was sheet music, I carefully cleared the dishes into the washer to not disrupt Dave's sleep. Before leaving for work, I left the paper on the kitchen table with a note saying: tuna in the fridge, cereal in the cupboard over the sink, home for dinner at six.
I woke up to the smell of maple syrup, getting snapped back against the mattress when the bit of shirt I hadn't twisted under my elbow during the night stretched far as it could. "That was a short day," I laughed, swung my feet onto the floor, scratched at the grizzle on my chin, and kinda pulled my hamstring when nothing looked familiar. Realizing where I'd gone the night before, I chuckled. I found Carrie's note, the paper, and milk, but I couldn't figure where she kept her tea; she musta figured I just go for coffee, like typical cops. Setting the milk on her kitchen counter, my mind went back to the first time I'd met Dobey; he did a lecture at the academy about on-scene deduction and grilled the hell out of me. Goofing around, I mimicked him, "Officer-candidate Starsky, what can you detect from the evidence on the scene?"
Carrie had a whole, beat-up collection of Enchanted World books in a bookcase by her TV, so I said, "The occupant reads and probably, judging from the juxtaposition of the material, watches fantasy, Captain."
I took in the way a bay window lit the breakfast nook and the kitchen's citrus wallpaper, still playing. "She prefers bright colors and being close to nature year-round." Opening a kitchen drawer at random, I cracked up to see a mouse shaped bottle opener actually had a big ass on the opposite side. "She's definitely got a sense of humor."
"But what conclusion do you arrive at, Officer candidate, concerning the tea's location?" My voice gettin' rough from sounding deep as Dobey. "Due to the occupant's appreciation of color and fantasy, Captain, and her sense of humor, chamomile tea would most likely be . . . in the blue wizard tin by the bread box."
Kiwi-strawberry--I shoulda known--was all she had, but it's all right. I read the paper in a kitchen chair facing the street while the tea brewed in the percolator; guess where she put the coffee mugs?
Back at the squad
'"I thought I told you to take the day off,"' Dobey muttered to me before we entered his office.
'"This is one morning I couldn't sleep in,"' I said, suggesting where Huggy sat by one of its glass walls.
"Okay, here's what went down, Hutch," Huggy began as the sketch artist left a drawing Huggy'd helped him render during my non-shut-eye. "This girl called my joint yesterday morning about ten asking if she could buy my place out for a party last night; her mom recommended me. The kid's sorority preference party got kicked off campus last minute and it was short notice, but I did her a favor, on account of her mother and all that.
"Well I'm damn glad I got a big deposit from the chick 'cause they left my joint lookin' like a hellhole. My new-and-now-ex-bartender, Joey, over-served them, they broke into my freezer and ate me out of $300, and left some used rubbers on the cloakroom floor. I wouldn't have found . . . been there except my hostess called me, all pissed, when they left at one a.m.
"I told her to chill, drove over to help clean it up."
"Do you have any idea who--" I began.
"Oh yeah I do, that bitch--'scuse me, Commander--who set up the party. Robbie--my hostess--said this girl was in the bathroom three or four times during the evening. Though the chick didn't partake, if you know what I mean, in the festivities, she came out lookin' about as hyper as ten cats thirty minutes after the last time she went in. The girl then starts drinkin', tokin', pulls this big frat dude into the cloakroom where I guess they left condom number three. Robbie said it was real weird, like the chick didn't have to think about nuthin' all of a sudden," Huggy concluded; his anger at ebb, he fell silent, stroking his mustache.
Dobey, with the fire that came into his eyes every time he sent Starsk and me out on a big lead, handed me the sketch, saying, "There's your girl; I want to see her today."
"Yes, Commander" Tough cases always bring out a deference, rare in me, where Dobey's concerned.
I dropped Huggy off at his house on Los Feliz Boulevard and drove to the address for the second contact number the suspect had given him. "Why would someone so potentially," I reminded myself, "thoughtless take such pains to be responsible?" It was an odd fit.
I cruised past the security gate of the Long Beach estate that matched the address. A Twiggy-thin blonde in a red Ungaro parked a Lotus convertible in the circular porte-cochere as I turned off the Crown's ignition. Until she removed her sunglasses, I thought it was the suspect.
Nearly shut the driver's door on my hand, seeing Kira shocked me so. She smiled, calling out with that Old World lilt, "My dear Hutch, how have you been?" like Starsky and I had dumped her at the Pits only yesterday instead of twelve years ago.
"Living well, as I see you have." Her familiar, mellow chuckle got a rise out of me.
"You're still the child," she added, softening the barb at my glare, "in some respects. Come, I'll tell Olga there will be three for lunch."
Before I could (some things never change) open my mouth in protest, Kira called out, "Bitte!"
A maid appeared almost instantaneously; she had iron hair and, probably, iron arms the size of picnic hams. "Ja, Madame?"
Without a glance at Olga, Kira said, "Bitte, hier ist ahnliches Ergebnis sur."
Regarding me like a shark would one of those picnic hams, Olga replied in a thick German accent, "Follow, please."
I reluctantly entered the house between thick clerestory doors that had to be five inches' worth of solid oak; Kira's heels clicked off somewhere in the distance behind me. Olga quickly led me through a barrel paneled entryway, past a library that could have passed for a designer's showcase room if not for the battered, low end computer and Chinese and Calculus textbooks in a poorly lit corner.
I wound up on a canopied, limestone patio; Kira sat at an almost Gothic, wrought iron picnic table, awaiting me with a cold collation for brunch.
"Edel!" Kira shouted, rather sharply I thought.
A cowed dark redhead in a baggy, pleated skirt, orthopedic shoes, and an ice blue blouse more suited to an eight-year-old stumbled down the three step flight to join us. Catching her by the shoulders before she would have fallen, I was stunned by how the contrast between her expressionless white face and passionate gray eyes called to mind the actress Deborah Kerr in her prime.
Kira commented, "This is my daughter, Edel. She, we hope, one day will be as beautiful and graceful as she is intellectual." The sharp "crunch" of Kira's perfect teeth into a salmon roe-smothered toast point punctuated her offhand manner.
I rolled my shoulders reflexively, backing my little Renault into the driveway after a day spent settling how much extra credit could pull up final grades and why quoting scenes from "Hellraiser" or "Aliens" couldn't compare the arabesque with grotesque in the section on Poe. Two more hours of post-class work nearly began before I remembered someone less inured to my absence than my three cats waited at home. Irving Berlin's "Let yourself Go" floated through the open bay window as I walked across my porch. Opening the kitchen door, I could hear Dave puttering about; Ebony, Charlie, and Pearl purred in nooks and crannies they'd found nearest him. Imagining for the briefest that I was Dave's wife, I said in my fantasy, "Honey, I'm home."
In reality, I joked, "Wow, he cooks?" leaving my briefcase and purse in their spot on the entryway table. I laughed in surprise to see he wore my 'good' apron; it has a silk-screen saying, "So many men, so little time."
"Is that any way to treat a guy who's made you roast pork?" Dave said in feigned exasperation.
"I'm terribly sorry," I effusively joked, rushing to give him a sloppy kiss on the cheek. As Dave shooed me away, I saw he'd smeared a little gravy from the serving spoon in his left dangerously close to the edge of the apron while chastising me. I could almost see the pork and mashed potatoes baking; their scents, intensified by real butter, marjoram, and sage, inspired me to say, I thought, the ubiquitous, "That looks good enough to eat."
From the youthful cast to Dave's face, I realized I'd Freudianly slipped, "You look good enough to eat."
"I'm setting the table before I make an even bigger fool of myself." For a moment, setting the kitchen table seemed a way to avoid overwhelming him further with my happiness. Thinking of all the times people had been waiting for me to share feelings, I thought, "Why not celebrate?"
Opening the breakfront in the dining room, I removed the china tea service and two of its settings, leaving it all on the sideboard. Two dinner plates followed, but I opted for regular wine glasses instead of crystal. After shrinking the pedestal table two scales, I spread a round of Irish linen over it, then carefully finished our place settings with sterling flatware and matching napkins.
Dusting off the porcelain centerpiece, I took it outside, filled it with a few sprays of white wisteria that I broke from vines shading the opposite end of the porch, and added water from the garden hose by the driveway. Settling the vase back on the table, I went to see what serving dishes Dave needed; he, in the midst of carving the pork loin, mock shooed me away. Endeared by his absorption in his task, I took the silver plate chargers out, leaving them--domes off--on the breakfast table before returning to the main room to relax.
Carrie'd pulled out all the stops for me; I couldn't get over it. It inspired me to blow off the funk I'd been fighting. I whipped a napkin over my wrist, like the waiter did when I took Ma to Cademattori's in Frisco, and hoisted the domed plate with the butatas over my shoulder. Bowing real low to Carrie, I whipped off the lid doing a lame Orson Welles. "Your spuds, madame."
She giggled even though I fogged up her glasses and surprised me by saying, "Merci, Monsieur." Finally, a dame to practice my high school-French with.
I love her laugh, too, so I march like I got a stick up my ass to get the other dish I'd left on this low chest near the table, faking almost dropping it. Not wanting to fog up those big blues again, I eased the lid off a little farther from the tip of her nose. "Votre cochon, mamselle."
Her laugh really gets going and I guess she didn't mean it, but Carrie said, "I certainly hope so." She looked surprised as I felt. Figuring it must be one of those flirty zingers she'd been throwin' at me when her teacher side wasn't lookin', I just grinned big, thinkin', Man, does this girl want a piece of me and not even know it.
"Nothing wrong with a good appetite," I said instead.
She sighs, chewin' the pork like it's manna from heaven or something. "You're very tolerant."
"Comes with working street," I said, swallowing some butatas.
Dinner and dishes done, I said, trying to relax Carrie--who musta felt tense as me about what would come next--"Nice not to eat alone, too." Bad idea; her faces blushes all over and I start thinkin' what that means . . . an' where the color g . . . Anyway , I stumble over my tongue, "How about a game of Parchesi?" I saw the box in her hall cupboard when I was putting away the sofa blanket.
She cracks up, relieved I didn't ask for somethin' else, I guess. "The last time I played Parchesi, I lost."
Wiggling my eyebrows, I said, "Not with me, schweetheart.'" She's laughin' even harder and I can't take it anymore; start creepin' toward her like a Creature Feature fiend and she takes off running to the backyard. I knew it had to be Hutch when the doorbell rang just as she let me catch up with her.
Two weeks later
"Take a load off, honey, Laura Ashley doesn't bite," I teased Hutch's reflection in my bathroom mirror while changing my curls; he didn't say, 'til he came to get me for the big dinner at Chasen's that he'd promised me on the way to Starsky's, that we were goin' to the movies instead. I allowed Dobey had my boys on a tough one and let it go, but I still took pleasure n' watchin' Hutch sit on my parlor sofa like a polecat soretoothed with nerves. Switchin' from a fifty-dollar-a-plate dinner to $12.50-with-popcorn takes any true Southern lady time, I thought, smilin' at the puffy cats on my sweatshirt.
"Interesting decor you have here, Alice," Hutch called out to me.
I couldn't figure why, then I recollected how even Carrie said "There's at least one item with a rose on it in every corner" of the house.
"Now, don't be shy, sugar," I chuckled at him. "Most people say I certainly like a rose or two."
"I suppose it's your favorite flower," Hutch says, mind elsewhere.
"Rose of Sharon's everyone's favorite, sugar," I said sharper since I was speakin' of Our Lord.
Hutch slipped that cool face like he does when he's stupefied and asked, humbler, "So you're Pentacostalist . . . or Baptist?"
Givin' my spirals one more fluff of the little pink pick, I dusted myself off, sayin', "Just Methodist, baby; I ain't got a lick of patience for hellfire and brimstone 'cause I may have more n'enough by and by," coming into my parlor.
"Alice!" Hutch gets to his feet to reproach me.
I kissed him long and deep to still him. "If you ain't a thin skinned body, I ain't never seen one."
He didn't say much on the way to Grauman's Theater. And he'd turned too far inside himself to notice when we reached the head of the preview line. Laying a gentle hand on him, I said, "We don't have to see 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,' Hutch, honey; is there something else--"
"Whatever you choose is fine," he snipes, rubbin' his temples between his fingers. I asked the cashier for two for "Scoundrels" myself. I knew what my baby really wanted, leadin' his discombobulated self to the darkest corner of the back row. When he finally notes it, he lifts the armrest separatin' us, with a quiet-that-gives-me-goose-shivers. "Don't get too fresh, Miss Alice, I'm a good boy."
That same night
Home from Carrie's again, dog tired, I snapped off my holster and yanked out my shirttail on the way to my bedroom. Next thing I know, there's a knock at the door and I'm thinkin' it's her, like when my eighth-grade girlfriend climbed up the fire escape one night my parents were league bowling. Remembering Carrie taught, I came back to reality. "Not on a school night, Starsk."
The only thought in my head was how Martians selling cookies woulda been less of a shock than seeing Sharman Crane. Her hair was a little greyer, but she still looked beautiful just in blue jeans and an argyle sweater.
She had some crumpled papers; I could barely hear her explain, "I couldn't find the key."
All I could say was, "It's been ten years."
She waved off whatever else I mighta said like it didn't matter, clearly soused, and the ghost of the anger I felt finding her trashy in that Traction Avenue SRO returned. Her blue eyes looked like melting bubble gum, they were so teary; pity choked my anger and I could almost smell the Sharmaness again, once strong from having to dry her hair like a baby.
"I know I'm one sheet to the wind," she tried to joke, "but I've made this bed too many times to want to lie in it." I moved away from the door and watched her lopsidedly seat herself on an arm of my sofa.
"This is the last of husband number three," Sharman sniffled, rustling her papers, "and, not expecting to miss him, I couldn't find someone to talk to before the Chivas did. But I thought maybe you could keep a double from turning into a fifth. It is a hell of an imposition--"
"I said the key would be under the mat and it still is. How about some chamomile tea?". She gave that blue lightening smile I remembered.
We waited for her ride to Beverly Hills, talking about anything; I offered to pay for a cab or drive her--knowing this time I'd have the balls to walk her to her door; she blew me off, but in a teasing way. "You've protected and served your share today, Sergeant."
After teacup number five, I felt I could ask about her new look: "Don't get me wrong; it's great on you, but it's different."
"This is who I am not smothered under layers of Halston and makeup."
"Those were some of my favorite magazine covers," I joked. We smiled, yet I think we both regretted that she hadna come sooner; Sharman was leaning toward where I sat on the sofa to say a warmer hello or maybe goodbye. The beep of a car horn broke our nostalgia for 1979.
A cute redhead, who put me in mind of the woman on the beach in "From Here to Eternity" called through the screen door from the window of a custom, compact wagon Merle the Earle would envy. "Hi, is my Aunt Char here?"
"Present and accounted for, Edel, sweetie," Sharman said, strutting down the walk from my condo. I got a lump in my throat to see sass in it and wondered why her niece's name sounded familiar. It came to me--"Holy shit, the suspect!"--and I took off after Sharman, mellow as I could, to walk her to the girl's car.
"You're okay?" Edel asked her; why Hutch said this girl was a dead fish, I dunno, 'cause her eyes looked like smoky pearls.
"Fine, hon', I love the stencils on those jeans; been to Forenza, right?" Sharman changed the subject, which brought up how this Edel had changed. She'd gone from a washed-out kid to a gold spitfire and I wondered if she let more than her hair down for Sharman. Before they lost me discussin' what only women find comprehensible--Fashion--I had to ask, "Whydya call her Char?"
They laughed same as sisters and now I was sure they were related. "Now, Dave, " Sharman belly-laughed, "you, of all people, know I used to get more than a little baked."
I couldn't help joinin' in the laughter, even with her bad pun, as they zoomed down the street. Back in my place and guilty for Carrie put out of my head for more than the case, I whistled long and low at my predicament like Bogey in "To Have and Have Not."
The following Monday: Hutch
"What do you want to do about this girl?" Dobey rumbled through a turkey and sprout pita that he'd ordered as junked up with mustard and cheese as his pre-diet, pastrami-on-rye. Nevertheless, his much-smaller barrel chest belied that fact, to my unending amazement.
Feet crossed behind the "out" basket on Dobey's desk , Starsk leaned over his sneakers to swipe a dill gherkin lolling near Dobey's upended lunch bag. Left to fill the conversational void in the absence of any substance in Starsky's endless void, I said, "I could lean on her mother; Kira was adept at divide and conquer when we knew her, but she might be too vain to notice once she's on the receiving end."
Gesticulating with the half-eaten gherkin, Starsk said, "Sharman's too close to Edel for that to work. Besides, Sharman could read me like bad tea leaves anyway."
"Looks like it's up to you, Hutch," Dobey concluded rather inanely, pushing away from his desk to clear the remains of lunch. "Kira sounds like she's been living off her whip appeal for years; a player's always the easiest played. Men," he intoned solemnly, drawing our attention as we left his office, "this case may not be a priority to the chief, however, this section of the brass," prosaically pointing a thumb to himself, "is damn tired of babies in the trash. Run this girl to ground."
Noticing me straightening my Hermes tie, my rapier-witted partner tried to joke, "Gets tighter and tighter, don't it? Maybe we could have Kira and Sharman over to dinner at your place, wring the truth out of them with that macrobiotic stuff you cook." Somehow emboldened by my unresponsiveness, Starsk kept going, "What's Kira like now? I mean. Compared to Alice, she must be--"
A touch of righteous Bostonian indignation in my reply, I slipped on my Jean Paul Gaultier jacket and said, "I'll tell Alice about Kira if you tell Carrie about Sharman."
Managing a modicum of calm as I walked out of the squadroom, I heard Starsk mutter, "Grouch."
Kira , amber skin showing despite a black satin robe, answered the door on my third ring of the chime, saying, "Hutch! I wasn't expecting visitors under Edel's circumstances and I dismissed the servants for the night."
"Actually," I said, "I hoped to speak to you alone."
"Then it's a propitious synchronicity; please, come in," Kira said graciously.
I felt lost the moment I entered Kira's house. The gloomy foyer glowed with the brilliance of an Irish crystal rheostat; cinnamon potpourri simmered in the white-hot flames of the library's fireplace, firelight shooting the paneling with gold; and recessed accent lighting combined with the gurgle of a hot tub I couldn't see to soften the patio's austerity. A bottle of VSOP and a hammered silver bowl of split walnuts sat next to a large, optic crystal snifter on the table where we'd brunched. The total effect led to my wry comment, "I guess you're not the type to bake a cake if you know I'm coming."
Either dissembling or out of her lingual depth with the slang, Kira ignored my dry humor. "Help yourself to the brandy; I prefer not to drink in the Jacuzzi; it's dangerous," she said.
After a splash I assumed she made breaking the tubwater's surface, I followed the path she took around a far corner of the patio. She actually dipped a toe to test the heat of the sunken tub. To my wrenching shock, the black lace monokini she wore only accentuated curves time and motherhood hadn't changed an iota . Smile easy and almost smug, Kira lithely stepped into the froth. Too constrained to stand, I half-kneeled at the edge near her head.
The moonlit water robbed her suit of any opacity it might have had, taking my professionalism with it. Remember Alice, damn it! I berated myself to stop a flashback of the feel of Kira's brown nipples under my tongue and gripped my left wrist to subtly cover my crotch.
In complete control of the situation, Kira gloated, grinning at my obvious erection, and asked, "You have a question for me, dear Hutch?"
Sweaty from the effort of concentrating, I said, "You've heard what happened at Huggy's?"
"Could a friend or acquaintance of Edel's be responsible?"
"In regards to the damage, liebling? You may assure your friend Huggy that my daughter is well aware of her responsibility in this matter. As for the child," Kira paused to lick poppy-red lips.
"Yes?" I asked, swallowing for some unfathomable reason.
"I have a question for you," she asked.
Impatient with her games, I dropped any pretense at charm and barked, "What?"
She wrapped a dripping, poppy-tipped hand around the end of my tie, pulled my right ear to a fraction from her mouth, and whispered, "Erop nahouden geslachtdad samen met mij?"
Some guys lose control over a girl speaking French or wearing no underwear; only Dutch could have gotten me into that hot tub clothes and all, until Kira's wet hands went further. Making love to her was easy as it had always been. I never could get into Bryan Adam's "Run to You," but as we roiled around in the Jacuzzi, I bitterly understood.
God, why can't I just get up and leave, I thought before Kira, underwater, took me into her mouth in the way that had become a standard which none of my other lovers passed. Moaning like it was my first fuck, I watched her honey hair stream up through the bubbles while I streamed uncontrollably inside her mouth. I'd bring myself to remember seeing Alice get her nickname, then Kira would pop my testes like grapes between her painted lips. Or she would rub her nethers on my face if I recalled Alice's sighs in Starsky's car. And Kira's touch or her flavor would erase all my reason.
Alice, the following Thursday:
Kenny walked in all sulky and I knew somethin' was wrong when he wouldn't take his coat off. "Found a nice bottle of Beaujolais at Smart and Final for thirty dollars and Carrie--sometimes she's not nice at all--got me this here red silk choker--see how it personates a rose, baby? We should play 'From Russia with Love' with it." It was only when I turned to show him my naughty idea that I saw him deaf to every word. "Sugar, what's wrong?" I said, trying not to fret.
"Come here, dear Alice," Kenny said in his special, kitten-soft tenderness. I sat at his feet by his chair, holdin' hands uncommon cold for him. He finally said after hemmin' and hawin', "Do you remember Kira?"
I truly laughed. "Lord, yes, Hutch, honey. If that weren't the funniest cut-low I've heard tell of, I--"
Kenny spoke over me again and he wouldn't hold my hands. "It's been difficult to keep my priorities clear since this case involves her." He wouldn't let me speak to comfort him, just kept on talkin'. "I went to Kira's last night thinking I could get at the truth. Maybe I'm fixated that all Scandinavian women are like that porno, 'I am Curious Yellow,' but from the moment I saw her last week, I wanted her . . ."
Hutch couldn't see my world had slid from its perch and smashed flat. He kept talkin' 'bout her smell and the way she'd touched him. "We must have been under the influence of some dual hallucination--yes, that was it!--that led to a crisis of conscience. It was weird, she had hot chocolate waiting on the nightstand when I woke up and it moved me. You must have known men with this problem, infidelity."
It came to me then why he thought I'd want to know. All we'd shared back when and now meant tellin' about cheatin' on me didn't matter. He paced up and down between mumblin' all they'd done while I broke inside, smaller an' smaller, 'til he finally shut up.
After I poured my heart, ending with, "I can't understand it," Alice picked up her purse, drawling, "Honey, when you get over your fixation that Scandinavian women are all piping-hot-chocolate-on-your-nightstand-and Curious-Yellow-every-morning, let me know."
Hutch 'bout clear broke this ole heart tryin' to drag me around the other side of my door by my key hand afore I left for work. Made my way through the day 'til Hiram Beene broke the sharpener pack of crayons. Before the district teachers meeting the next Tuesday, I finished replacin' the' pack, 'cept the yaller wouldn't fit. It was big and bright as Hutch'd been to me and me n' all the crayons fell down in the storeroom together.
Alice's principal wasn't specific; I came to take her for one of the lunches we'd scheduled during the long afternoon breaks of in-service days, whereon he told me, "Something has arisen which you, Miss Matheson, can hopefully help Alice resolve sometime prior to the return of my other educators," and we hurried to a supply room. He unlocked the door in leaving. I fervently wished he and his Guccis met up with a banana peel.
Alice laid curled in a ball on the floor, keening with grief, jamming a big yellow crayon over and over in a jumbo box of regular ones.
I guessed why. "Hutch is a bastard." I helped her walk to the faculty lunchroom.
November 26, Four p.m.
Nervously adjusting the neckline of my raspberry corduroy dress, I parked my car near Dave's condo. His Pits case stalled, the stolen shipment of live Zacky farms chickens discovered at the bottom of a West Hollywood Comedy Sportz dumpster, and no clue to whereabouts of tassels stolen from 500 fez in storage at MGM Studios, Dave had been too preoccupied for more than hugs preempted by calls to duty or kisses that left me starving. I was more than happy when he asked if I'd drive to LA for a visit Thanksgiving weekend.
He plied me with steak fries and kielbasa for dinner (glad I wore my girdle); we cuddled later watching the fire. Starting to wonder if any fires lay banked under his blue baseball shirt for me, I inadvertently sat on his hand in the act of refilling his coffee.
"You did that on purpose, didn't you?" Dave, grinning at my prescience, made my eyes cross by wiggling his fingers. To my satisfaction, when the free hand with which he'd been drawing maddening circles on my bare back somehow discerned, upon sliding to the small of it, that I'd worn no underwear (I removed the girdle in the bathroom; never makes for an exciting striptease), his eyes crossed also.
Dave got the hint, his tongue's French figure-eights leaving me limp. I threw my arms over his head, linking my wrists, and he dragged me fireman-style to his bedroom. He'd left those mirrors hanging over his huge, curtained bed; my hormones cheered.
Last scrap of clothing gone, Dave's unbelievably beautiful body had the angel which normally battles the devilish imp of my Danish side joining the imp for a duet of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."
His hoarsely humorous, "Like any Army man, I'm at attention," brought me back to Earth.
I drew my skirt up and the whole dress off in one fluid movement. My eyes turned green as toy soldiers to see him stare hard as his cock. I left on my thigh-high silk stockings. Turning down his bed, I clambered up, kicked off my patent flats, and said over my shoulder, "Come in where it's warm."
Standing by me, Dave took the cream lace top of one stocking between his teeth, peeling it down my leg while I obligingly rolled onto my back. He slung that bared leg over one side of his head; my right leg followed suit on the other.
Slippery as potter's clay, I arched, saying, "You wouldn't dare," toward his full-lipped mouth.
Glancing at me, his sapphire eyes gleamed in rebuttal; I blacked out at the first flick of his tongue between my legs.
The shocking ring of his phone jolted me back to reality.
"Bloody Mary!" Dave shouted.
Alarmed at losing momentum, I begged, "Leave it alone!"
He growled, crawling across the bed to the receiver. "I've got to, it could be mother," and managed to crack me up.
"Hey, babe," Sharman teased through the earpiece, "catch you at a bad time?"
By reflex I grabbed a loose sheet for cover and muttered, "Actually--"
"'Nuff said. Just wanted to thank you for last month."
"Gotcha." I smiled hanging up.
Carrie said, more interested in tickling my blue balls, "What was that all about?"
Jesus, I almost pulled my carrot as she wrapped her legs around me.
His undulating thrust grinding my brain to nothing, I could only ride while he raced. Sweat coursing down the backs of my knees made the tempo slip, but I actively matched his time.
The white heat of David's muscles poured through my skin. I loosed perceptions of his desires onto his body and wept at each panted affirmation. Screaming his name after three fevered bouts, I thought I would die and I did: storm for his earth.
Tenderness edged out passion. Hands tangled in Dave's graying hair, I tiredly burrowed my face in the Lord's field of his chest.
Carrie studied me and I thought, No snow on this damn roof. "That call before, Ken and--"
"Can you believe what he did to Alice?" Carrie fumed.
She confused me, so I said, "Baby, it's not what you think."
Carrie flung herself off me. I tried to ignore the way she bounced and she half broke my eardrums with this screech: "Why do you condone him being an asshole?"
"He's my friend!" I yelled to warn her off talking like that, then I thought, What the hell am I yelling for?
"You're undergoing a similar 'crisis of conscience?'" She got the bullshit Ken slung to cover his ass down pat and it put me on the same page with her. But jerk that I was, I thought Sharman was a whole lot simpler, and Carrie saw that.
I accused Dave more for release. The accuracy iced my spine. Running for the bedroom door, I fought Dave's tries to stop me. Caught, I struggled against him and the enticing last notes of after shave.
Hugging me fast to him, Dave said, "It's NOT the same; I don't want Sharman."
Aggrieved at teenage-level jealousy, I still whimpered, "Why was she calling at this time of night?"
Shaking my head, I sighed at that peppermint body. "You've got nothin' to worry about."
Carrie blushed all over. "Stop, you'll get me too horny to talk."
I picked her up.
"Put me down," I cautioned, "you might strain something." But I loved how he made me feel delicate in spite of my height. We fell on the bed as Dave laughed himself silly. I wound my legs around his like twin vines and waited for whatever came next.
More serious, Dave asked, his face above mine, "Did you mean the pig remark?"
"Tonight, insecurity reared its head for the last time," I teased, soon on more blissful topics.
Precinct House, early December: Hutch:
I arrived at work in time to see Edel, Kira, and a small phalanx of lawyers follow Starsk into an interrogation room. Dobey sat with Sharman Crane--Edel's aunt by marriage--drinking coffee at Dave's desk.
Dobey said without preamble, "It looks like your partner is doing your work for you, Lieutenant Hutchinson. Come into my office."
He shut the door after me with baleful eye. "I don't tell my men how to live off duty; never have and never will. But when one gets involved with a citizen who could end that detective's career, I have to ask what the hell is going on?"
Hard pressed for an answer, I leapt to the wrong conclusion. "Whatever problems I have with Alice are between the lady and myself, Commander, and I can't understand why Starsky would--"
"Dave didn't mention a thing to me; I was referring to this mess with Kira Benninghofer. Had I known 'getting her off balance' involved some harebrained seduction scheme, I wouldn't have okayed it. And how does Sweet Alice factor into this, Hutchinson?"
It's bad if Dobey uses my last name twice. "She doesn't. A few weeks ago, I met up with Alice again at The Pits. She got it into her head that we were serious, but I never thought it would interfere with my job performance."
Dobey, quietly staring at the top of his desk, slowly sat in his chair. "If you hadn't started thinking Lieutenant grade made you hot shit on a plate, you'd have brought Edel Benninghofer in yourself."
"That's entirely unjustified!"
"I'll tell you what's unjustified: bending so far over backward for you and Starsky these twenty years that I've kissed your . . ." Dobey paused his tirade. "Before you were a blip on her radar, I knew Alice. Yeah, she was one of your better paid snitches; still, when the same story would get Huggy a fifty, you'd give her a twenty 'to be polite,' let her eat what was left of your latest meal, or bring her hand-me-downs from your girlfriends. I treated her different because she was my first collar back when I was hungry to be sergeant.
"I thought getting this dumb white girl home to parents who must have been worried sick would get me noticed by my captain. Alice kept telling me there was nothing for her there, but I chalked it up to another lame story from a spoiled junkie brat. Already spit shined for the captain, I towed Alice up the steps to her door on Figueroa.
"The house was empty; turning Alice out at eighteen was her folks' last chore before leaving Cali. Child welfare had no way to find them and no place for her since she'd aged out of their system. You know the chance I stood as a bachelor of becoming her guardian?
"I went to my captain to see if he or one of the family brothers on the squad could put her up until I found a solution. He wasn't man enough to say an honorable 'no.' The fool told me 'Sucks to be her, doesn't it?' It all taught me people only give the credit they think you're worth. Remember that the next time you entitle yourself to someone's charity. The free ride you and Sergeant Starsky had is over; get off your ass and down to work."
10:00 a.m., Starsky:
Hutch sloshed a little coffee walking in the interrogation room. He's only clumsy to throw off a perp, so we weren't workin' at cross purposes anymore. Edel, coming back from the john, headed in the spill's direction. I held back from stopping her when Hutch gave a shake of his head only I could see.
Kira shouted at her, "Wipe that off the floor!" and sat watchin' Edel do it. "Thank you." Turning to Hutch, Kira said,"I can't abide a mess."
It occurred to me the thanks was mostly show for Hutch's benefit.
Pretending to be bored with the case so nearly closed, I said, "Cleanliness is a big deal to you, Kira."
Have to credit her for bringing F. Lee Bailey out of retirement for Edel. Thought he felt the change in my strategy when he stared from the lawyers' cluster, but they kept talkin' amongst themselves.
Kira winked for old times' sake. "I like curly hair and dark blue eyes."
Musin' Lord she backhands her compliments, I wondered if she did that carrot-and-stick routine with Edel.
Hutch pipes up, all innocent, on my train of thought. "You and your daughter have a close relationship?" I roll my eyes to heaven prayin' no one hears me snigger; it's obvious from what he'd said about them she can't stand the kid.
"Why, yes." Kira crosses those racehorse, Rodeo Drive'd legs. "She's told me from childhood each little crisis: boys who didn't like her, friends she couldn't make." Edel shrank like a saddle bug with every word. Kira kept it up, saying "I've lost count of trips to the dermatologist, the orthodontist, the optometrist, salons, tutors, the dentist--mein Gott, what endlessness."
I wanted to slug Kira. Pushing the opening she'd left, I said, "The mess at Huggy's musta made you livid."
"You should have seen it."
Bailey's co-counsel, introduced as Chris Darden or somethin', interrupted in a lather. "We've arranged with Mister Ursus to reimburse him."
"Gott ein Himmel!" It made Kira even more hard-assed. "She called me away from a church steerage meeting to help her; I arrived to a zoo. Where was my daughter? In the bathroom as during anything important. I made her come out and be a responsible hostess. She was predictably ineffectual; another squalid mess of hers to clean. To find what she caused in her stall--" Kira stopped. One a' Bailey's junior partners, Marcia Clark, tried to end the interview, but Kira had steam to burn. "Any woman knows to keep herself and surroundings immaculate at certain times. Edel hasn't such maturity; I could hardly move the handle."
Pasty-faced, Hutch asked,"Did you?"
In all that hot air whistling through the caverns of her mind, Kira got wind to be evasive. She snapped out, "Anil would have paid to fix it, yet Edel didn't even have that decency."
Somehow, I said, "What happened?"
"I flushed until the toilet stopped."
Edel's kid, I kept thinkin'--couldn't stop picturin' all the baby's freckles--wouldna had a better chance with Edel than she had with this broad.
No one spoke. The phalanx scraped together a new defense in the process as Dobey, reading Miranda, left with Kira. Out of a bizarre placidity, Edel said, "I don't suppose you're my dad or anything?"
Tears welling, I said, "Sweetheart, I wish."
Face seamed like a raisin with grief, she was deaf to me. "Did everything I could to be what she wanted and she hates me that much anyway?"
Once she broke down, her cackling tore at my guts. Lurching to the door, I yelled for Sharman. "She needs you." The lady beat my best sprint time getting there.
Ramon Garza Elementary, Bakersfield, December 28, 1988: Hutch:
I opened the door to Alice's classroom. She wore black deely-boppers and a bumblebee patterned short leisure suit and led kindergartners painted like butterflies to the beat of some Muppet song: "There's nothin' out there you can't do; hey even Santa Claus believes in you."
She looked beautiful. There's still time, I thought, to chaperone a school dance for a daughter or teach some freshman how to shave.
Next thing I knew, I'd knelt in their midst. Protective of her, the students' glitter spangled tissue paper wings fluttered in my face. I held Alice's hands, apologizing to the floor. "I'm not used to needing and too used to games." Blinded by my own damn mush, I blinked to continue. "Van' . . . died in my home. I want a better memory; join with me there, have all of me?"
Waiting for the answer, the song I wrote for, strangely, my last anniversary ran through my mind: "Don't give up on us, baby . . ."
January 1, 1990: Hutch:
Sipping Dom Perignon in my atrium, I said, "Huggy, you've outdone yourself." He'd woven roses of every size and color in the gaps of the lattice fencing and festooned it with garlands of wedding bell shaped lights. While the Pits' kitchen staff concocted a Bostonian yet bayou meal, he somehow fit enough seating to test Venice Place's fire code around tables topped by opalescent silk. More roses sat in huge glass bowls on the round tables; the water in each bowl reflected the shimmer of its encircling votive candles onto LA's finest. The guests, unrecognizable in attire befitting an after six wedding, included Carrie, Sharman, and a peaceful Edel.
Huggy took a platter from one of his servers and proffered it to a petite brunette in a clipped silver-and-white chiffon skirt-suit. "You haven't lived 'til you've tried my baby quiches."
Jannette, Carrie's new matchmaking ploy, flirtatiously harrumphed, "No man feeds me what I don't eat myself."
She, Huggy hurrying after her, sauntered over to the arch matchmaker. I said to Starsk, "If Carrie has any more friends, there'll be no singles working for the department."
Ken started laughing at how I wore the spats we got for the cover job in Vegas. "Didn't I see you on the late, late show last night?" It already p.o.'ed me that the tux he'd rented for me turned out 'high cut' in the crotch.
"I'm not the only penguin," I said a little on the defensive. Admirin' Carrie's backless blue satin number calmed me down. "However, there are compensations."
Huggy gave me away. Carrie held my bouquet and the arm of the only choice for best man.
Kenny and I cut our first wedding slice as man and wife as Hutchinson nieces, my nephews, Dobey grandkids, and other officers' children ate the groom's cake. I baked it myself in the shape of a police badge. Everybody danced. I felt amazed this all started with the same song: "True love, that's got a lifetime guarantee."
While my brother's band took five, everyone tromped downstairs to throw birdseed at the getaway cruiser. In the course of our good-byes to Ken and Alice, Dave drew me close--rattling my pearls.
Noticing his new bride and I smiled tearfully once the patrol car left the curb, her husband teased, "Dear, you can't take the bouquet with us."
"Catch it, sugar!" she hollered to me in tossing it from the passenger window.
One of Ken's old C.I.'s won the toss.
Magnanimous, I said, "I had plenty of luck by finally being a bridesmaid."
"Who says?" Dave grinned broadly.
The whole squad cheered when Dave got on bended knee.