This is not intended to infringe on any copyrights held by Spelling-Goldberg Productions, Twentieth Century Fox Studios, or any other holders of Starsky and Hutch copyrights. There has been no money involved nor has any exchanged hands. No reprints or reproductions with the author's permission. This is just intended to be for fun.  Comments about this story can be sent to  They will be forwarded to the author.


The Swing of Things




        It was the insistent honking from under his bedroom window that finally prodded Kenneth Hutchinson out of his dazed state. He had actually awakened some time ago, stretched out and as limp as a rag doll across the too-short bed. He was usually an early riser, but for the last half hour or so, just thinking about moving had sent slight waves of pain rolling across the back of his head. He'd just lain there, soaking up the little bit of warm, midday sun that slid through the grimy window and allowed himself to drift. He wasn't sure he was quite ready to face a new day, but the insistent blaring from the close-packed traffic forced him to face facts.

        Hutch opened one eye, seeing only the blur of the off-white wall. He groaned, then paused, expecting the pounding in his head to worsen at the sound. When it didn't, he smiled slightly to himself in relief. This may just be one of the more survivable hang-overs I've had in awhile, he decided. Not that there had been many in the past year, but then again, he wasn't getting any younger.

        He lifted his head cautiously, moving very slowly so he wouldn't aggravate the hang over. He rolled over on the bed and stretched. Yep, he thought ruefully, rubbing the crick in his neck. Head still attached.

        He glanced around him, but there wasn't much in the small, shabby room to wake up to. The furniture showed its age, having survived many occupants in the last few years. The dented, scratched headboard matched the beat up dresser and night stand. All the furniture in the apartment looked like Salvation Army specials, pitted, lopsided and just a bit warped. The off-white walls of Hutch's room were unadorned. The small potted plant in the window sill and short stack of books on his dresser didn't do much to help cheer up the place. Hutch didn't even notice the room anymore, it was just someplace he slept.

        And I thought life as a cop could really suck, he groaned. At least it kept your attention. Kept your mind working. Not like this garbage we're doing now... The early morning party had been the first tie-on he and Dave Starsky had had in quite awhile. It hadn't been anything special. They'd both just been totally, horribly, bored, but were too broke for dating and their evening-shift hours made meeting girls and planning dates just that much harder. Instead, they'd decided to just stay home, splurge on pizza and beer and stay up for the early morning monster movie 'special' that Starsky had gotten his heart set on. What a life we lead, Hutch grimaced. Too broke to even get drunk properly. And what's worse, I'm even beginning to enjoy those stupid shows.. .

        It had turned out to be just as well that they had planned to keep it quiet. His well-used LTD had developed another flat the day before and even the spare had been useless. Money was going to be a bit tight with a new retread on the car and their rent coming due. If they were careful with the groceries this time maybe, just maybe, they'd still have enough to last until payday tomorrow.

        He carefully sat up in bed and tried to focus on the bedside clock. It was already 11:45 a.m. Damn, forgot to set the alarm! He didn't have to wonder if Starsky was up, as he could hear ragged snoring from across the tiny hallway.

        Hell. Gotta get Starsky up too.

        He moved a little faster, now that the pain in his head promised to stay minimal, and stretched over to grab his faded orange robe off the floor. Not wanting to move too fast, he just sat quietly for a moment, giving his body a chance to get used to being upright. His mind wandered back to their early morning silliness.

        They had gotten off work at midnight, come straight home and had proceeded to devour an extra-large pizza. Sprawled on the couch, eating pizza, unmindful of the crumbs, they had watched the monster movie 'special' that had run for hours. They both had been in good moods, making up alternative lines to the horribly campy shows. Starsky had even managed to get to Hutch once or twice, making him snicker after a few particularly witty ad-libs.

        It had been around 5:00 a.m. when Hutch realized he and Starsky were nicely smashed. But having kept up beer for beer, Hutch had just gotten slower and sleepy and Starsky had grown even more animated. So Hutch had just sat quietly on the couch and watched as Starsky dug out boxes of frost covered ice-cream leftovers out of the fridge and mostly empty cookie and cereal boxes. By the time he got the blender out Starsky had been belting out some show-tune that Hutch couldn't even begin to identify.

        Hutch must have dozed off at some point, because the next thing he knew he was pulling his head up from the back of the couch and Starsky was trying to hand him a glass. It was full of some sort of cold, wet, disgusting looking mixture.

        "Wh-wha's this?" he had stammered, unable to focus his eyes very well.

        "It's d'sert." Starsky had grinned down at him. A bit unsteady on his feet. "We forg't d'sert. No party w'th out d'sert."

        "Wha's 'n it?"

        "Ever'thin'." Starsky smiled, taking a taste of his own glass. "M' own spec'l mix."

        Hutch had tried to stare suspiciously at the drink for a moment, but had decided that he might as well try to get rid of it. He didn't want to hurt his friend's feelings. He took several big gulps of the mixture, not really tasting it.

        After his hell-bent trip to the bathroom, the blond had decided that Starsky had been right. It must have had everything in the kitchen in it. For the life of him, he couldn't figure out why anyone in his right mind would think of putting mayonnaise, ketchup, cookies, ice-cream and gods-knew what else in the same blender. He had called it a night for both of them and had made sure Starsky got to bed before drinking the rest of his 'dessert'.

        If I feel this 'used and abused' this morning, Starsky's gotta feel like hell. Hutch grimaced to himself, just a tad glad that he had gotten rid of most of the beer. They still had to work today and he had just as soon go in feeling human. Starsky, having kept all of his beer, not to mention 'dessert', was going to have a long shift ahead of him. Well, it's not going to get any easier, he sighed. Time to get up and get moving.

        Hutch slipped his robe on and made his way out of the small, bleak room.

        He stumbled into the tiny bathroom, tripping over the warped and mislaid tiles, grateful that his aim at the john last night had been good. Nothing like cleaning up that kind of mess with a hang over, even a mild one. He bleakly looked himself over in the small, cracked mirror over the sink. Blood-shot blue eyes looked back at him from under a messy cap of thinning, blond hair. Some days he barely recognized the man who looked back, but after the last several months Hutch could almost see someone he once knew.

        Except for one thing, Hutch sighed and rubbed his naked upper lip. Damn it, I really liked that mustache! It, like a lot of things lately, had been a casualty of their current 'situation'. One loss among many. One change for the good side had been his extra weight. He'd originally lost it through worry and stress, but had managed to keep it off. It had not been easy, considering that his goal for himself was to keep it off, while needing to put weight back on Starsky.

        While staying with Starsky during his recovery, he had gotten himself and his friend back to the healthier food they both needed. Starsky had bitched and complained, but Hutch had ignored him for as long as he could get away with it. When Starsky had been well enough to get out of his apartment and do his own shopping, he had been pleased to see that he had taken his doctor's, if not his own, lectures seriously. The Candy Bar King had come home with more fresh fruit than sugar and more basic foodstuffs than pre-made.

        Hutch had even gotten back to jogging again with Starsky's prodding, which Hutch suspected, was more to get his 'mother-hen' out of the apartment once in awhile than anything else. When the time came for Starsky to include jogging in his routine, the blond had been back up to his old speed and distance. Hutch knew he was now more fit then he had been in a long time. It's just my personal life that looks like hell, he mused.

        After finishing up his morning shower and bathroom rituals Hutch felt much better. While not quite up to 'whistling a happy tune' his headache, fairly mild to start with, had faded to a slight whisper. He still wasn't going to chance breakfast this morning. No use tempting fate. After cleaning up Starsky's mess, I know I won't have an appetite.

        He strode the few steps out of the steamy bathroom and down the hall to Starsky's open bedroom door. He had left both doors open so he could hear if Starsky got sick. The man was now buried under mounds of covers with the pillows kicked to the floor.

        "Rise and shine, Starsk!" Hutch yelled from the doorway. "It's after noon already! We've got things to do!"

        The only answer was a low, pitiful moan from Starsky, hiding somewhere under the covers.

        Hutch walked over to the window, pulled the shade and opened it, letting the fresh air in. He dragged the covers off his friend as he passed by and dropped them on the floor, out of Starsky's reach. His friend moaned and threw up an arm, trying to block out the grimy sunlight. Hutch leaned back against the door frame, giving Starsky another minute and surveyed his friend's room.

        It was exactly the same size as Hutch's, with the same used furniture and dirty walls. But Starsky had taken great pains to decorate his. Centerfolds covered the room. A few were of shapely ladies, in various stages of undress, but the majority of the pictures were of sleek and expensive cars pulled from his favorite hot-rod magazines.

        Every time Hutch saw the room he snickered. Whoever heard of a grown man suffering from car withdrawal? Hutch shook his head, grinning. This looks like a teenager's room, like he's not sure which he gets off on more, the cars or the girls.

        Having to leave the much abused Torino behind and depend solely on Hutch's car had been a low blow for his friend. Starsky had dealt with the fact bravely, knowing that they didn't really have any choice in the matter. The monthly payment and insurance would have been too much on their limited budget. Just one more casualty to their changed lifestyle.

        "Get up, Starsk! You've got 30 seconds to sit up or I'm gonna get the ice cubes." So far Hutch had never had to resort to Mrs. Starsky's favorite method of getting her night-owl son out of bed for school. But it was a fun threat, the taller man having been granted permission by Mrs. Starsky herself to apply the ice as needed.

        Starsky's only reply was another moan, only louder.

        "I'm going to the kitchen, Starsky," The tall, blond threatened, not moving from his perch against the door frame. "I'm getting the ice tray..."

        "Still got time to sleep...." the sleepy man mumbled, rubbing at the dark curls covering his head, "...have some respect for your better half." Starsky tried a smile but moaned instead, holding his head still as he started to sit up. He was not quite successful at opening his own deep-blue eyes the first time, blinking in the midday light.

        "At this point I have more respect for your paycheck. We gotta get up and earn our pay, Starsk."

        Hutch stood quietly, watching to make sure Starsky didn't try to lie down again. Pale with sleep, headache and probably a nasty stomach, the scars across Starsky's chest and abdomen stood out more starkly than they had for months. The sight never ceased to amaze Hutch. No one should have been able to live through that kind of damage. But Starsky had and not a day went by that Hutch wasn't thankful for it.

        They had talked about the scars only once, when a newly awakened Starsky had finally been allowed a glimpse of his reconfigured body. He had nearly panicked at the sight, sickened at the marred torso. But Hutch, who had seen the wounds in much worse shape, swollen, stitched and discolored, had been able to calmly steer his friend away from the horror and revulsion at the sight of the pink and drawn scars.

        Over that long night's conversation, Starsky had gradually and painfully come to accept this new fact about himself. The scars meant that his life had been saved. Hutch had assured him that eventually they would fade to pale, thin lines, a fact that Starsky well knew, but was too shocked to remember.

        Although still a little sensitive to them, Starsky had become more and more comfortable with the scars lately. Now and again someone would catch sight of him changing in the locker room and react with awe and a heavy dose of respect. He had even electrified some of the younger men with his 'story', which got more impressive with each telling. As for the ladies, Starsky hadn't seemed to have any complaints so far. Not that either of us have had to worry about that lately, admitted to himself.

        "Come on, Starsk," Hutch sighed, "we've got to be at work by 3 p.m. and we have shopping, laundry and our uniforms to pick up at the cleaners. We've got a lot to do today!" Hutch yelled over his shoulder, walking into his own room to start dressing.

        Hutch was dressed and halfway through the kitchen clean-up when a dressed, but still wet and bedraggled Starsky padded down the hallway and carefully lowered himself onto the hard, gray couch. It, an end table, a lamp, a coffee table, an old TV and TV stand were the only other things in the small living area.

        "Damn, Hutch," Starsky groaned, rubbing the back of his head with the damp towel. "What did you feed me last night? This hang-over tastes awful!"

        "Hey! That was your concoction, not mine. You damn near poisoned me this morning," Hutch retorted, having decided from the kitchen mess that it was a miracle they had both survived. He surveyed the small kitchenette again. It was amazing how messy four feet of kitchen space could get. "I should just leave this mess alone, it would kill the mice."

        "Anything left?"

        "Some dry cereal, cookie crumbs, sour milk, margarine and a couple of slices of cheese." Hutch grimaced, knowing what that meant.

        "Great! Breakfast!" Starsky grinned a little lopsidedly, but carefully. He stood carefully and walked slowly to the kitchen trying not to move his head any more than possible.

        "Seriously, we've got errands this morning. Besides the fact that we're out of food, we have to get some laundry done, you just used the last clean towel. And our spare uniforms should be ready at the cleaners. How much cash have you got?"

        Starsky shrugged, munching on a cheese slice from one hand and a handful of cereal from the other. "Maybe five or six dollars. It's on my dresser."

        Hutch left him to his breakfast and headed into Starsky's room. He finally managed to dig a few bills out of Starsky's junk-filled wallet and took an extra few minutes to track down the silver coins scattered around the mess on the dresser. He was hoping to find enough change to do all the laundry, so he headed for his own bedroom to dig through his change jar. He found little silver among the pennies. Starsky had apparently been raiding his jar again. He counted the fewer, but larger bills he found in his own wallet.

        "Well," Hutch began, walking back to the couch, "We'll need to brown bag dinner again, but we've got enough left 'til tomorrow if we behave ourselves and watch what groceries we get. Then we'll be ahead on food for a couple of days."

        "What's first?" Starsky asked. Having finished his breakfast he had combed his hair and was now pulling on his sneakers.

        Hutch shrugged. "We'd better split up if we don't want to cut our timing too close. Your choice. You can either do the laundry or let me get the groceries."

        "Gee, thanks." Starsky smiled with a roll of his eyes. "You're sooo good to me."

        "Hey, someone's gotta be a responsible adult and make sure we actually get real food this time. Your choices don't usually leave us with much to work with in the kitchen, you know." They both knew that Starsky was not a patient shopper, frequently giving in to impulse buying and Starsky rarely argued the point anymore.

        "I'll just take my beauty sleep between wash cycles and dream of pizzas to come then." Starsky grinned, stretching like a cat. "Unless, of course, Trudy shows up today."

        Trudy Coates was a 'laundry friend' of both of the guys. Tall, brunette and shockingly top-heavy for a woman her size, Trudy was a stripper at the club down the street. Everyone for blocks around knew her and would stop in to say hello. She had happily introduced Ken and Dave to most of their neighbors. She usually came in once a day around noon to do a small load of her few work clothes and would talk the time away with anyone around.

        Hutch grinned at his friend. "Well, if she does show up, she'll try to twist your arm into coming by and critiquing her act." Everyone around knew who Trudy's favorite was. Whenever Starsky was near, Trudy made sure he got an extra good view of her considerable assets. Starsky was constantly blushing, which always made her giggle.

        "No thank you!" Starsky said meaningfully, "At this point, it'd feel like peeking on a sister. She's nice, but I really don't want to get anything started. Laundry is about all I can handle with that girl."

        It only took them a few minutes to round up their laundry and pack. They locked up and made their way down the two flights of stairs to the street. Hutch gave his bag to Starsky, along with all the loose change he had collected and headed down the block to the LTD. He told Starsky he would be back in an hour and would meet him at home.

        Hutch sighed as he started the LTD and checked the gas gauge, flicking the dial to see if it would move. Better put another dollar in. We're almost down to fumes again. Hutch patted the dashboard affectionately, knowing she was doing her best. The LTD still had a few more months in her, but even Hutch had come to realize that her days were numbered. He had to admit privately that she was looking pretty old and battered, even for his tastes. Even the police radio that had given her a useful appearance was missing, making her look just three steps from collapse. Keep it up, old girl, Hutch pleaded. We need you for awhile longer.

        He headed for his first stop, their uniform pickup. They were going to have to be careful with both sets of uniforms this week, so they didn't have to get them dry cleaned so often. Their jobs at as security guards at Iverson's called for the neat and pressed look even for those who just walked their halls at night. Iverson's, the flashy store chain catering to the 'very well-off Californian' had their main store and headquarters not far from the apartment. Off the beaten track, as far as the fancier stores went, its massive size and unparalleled selections brought the public in to this unlikely area.

        Hutch grimaced at the memory of his last uniform lecture. He certainly didn't want another run-in with the supervisor of the Security Department as he and Starsky needed these jobs. They had been twenty minutes late for their shift a couple of weeks ago. His car had stalled and Ms. Marsha Quincy, supervisor and moral defender of Security's virtue, had laid them low as soon as they had come in. It had taken every ounce of will Hutch had to just stand there and take the dressing down. Starsky had been able to just tuned it out and nod his head at the proper times. After Quincy had gotten through with her tirade, she had taken another good look at them both. Their running late had cost him his mustache and them both a close haircut. Hutch was leery of catching her attention again. All he and Starsky wanted at this point was to be left alone to do their jobs, such as they were.

        It took Hutch longer than he had planned to pick up their uniforms and sort through the groceries and produce. The blond had actually been able to buy quite a bit by being careful with the coupons he had badgered Starsky into cutting out. When he opened the apartment door, he found Starsky already home with the laundry, putting it away. He noticed right away that Starsky looked tired and his bouncy mood had vanished.

        "What's up, Starsk?"

        Starsky just shrugged and came over to take one of the grocery bags and carry it to the kitchen counter.

        "I'll help you carry up the rest." It was all the darker man would say.

        After one last trip to retrieve the uniforms he confronted his friend.

        "Okay, spill it."

        Starsky just looked a little sheepish. "It's Trudy. Just when I thought there was a little good left in everybody, I get blown out of the water." He smiled a bit embarassedly.

        "What gives? You change your mind and decide to ask her out?"

        "No." Starsky dug through the bags, apparently looking for lunch. "She showed up soon after I got there and we got to talking about our favorite old movies. She kept acting funny, checking the crowd, like she was looking for something or someone. She finally came out and asked where you were. I told her you were getting groceries. She acted kinda relieved and I asked her why. Then she tells me she knew we were pretty short on cash and could help us out." Starsky shrugged, giving up his digging and started putting the items away. "Trudy's the main drug supplier for this area. She offered to get me anything I wanted, on the cuff 'til payday."

        "Damn," Hutch muttered, setting out sandwich items. Nothing he discovered about people really surprised him anymore, but Starsky always had such high hopes. "I can't believe we didn't notice her action. I just thought she was just popular, with her 'well rounded personality' and all. I never saw her pass anything. How does it go down?"

        "They slip her the money at the laundromat. Then they pick up the stuff from her later while she's at the strip-club." Starsky sighed. "I passed on her offer, but asked why she hadn't said anything 'til now. She thought that you looked clean, but that I must be hurtin' for somethin'." The smaller man grimaced. "She wanted to be sure about you, if you used too, before she offered. She hinted that she's looking for someone to handle this area and we could earn some extra money by pushin' on the side."

        Starsky made a couple of quick sandwiches, grabbed some juice and sat on the couch. Hutch followed him, juggling his own plate. They were both quiet until they got settled.

        "What did you tell her, Starsk?"

        "Told her we were both pretty clean, but we both liked a party now and then. I said we had enough to tide us over for a few days, but that we'd keep our options open for a little business on the side. I said we wanted to keep clean mostly for our security jobs, for now. Thought we'd wanna keep our options open at this point. 'Course, I'm afraid to find out just where she stuffs the money," Starsky replied in his best Groucho voice, trying to lighten his own mood.

        "It doesn't mean anything, Starsk," Hutch said quietly, knowing what was really bothering his friend. "You still look a little thin for your frame, is all. Even though you got your muscle tone back, your clothes still look a little large on you. Plus, this morning's binge didn't do either of us any good. This summer you'll spend more time out in the sun and you'll look more your old self."

        Hutch was glad to see that Starsky finished his lunch as usual, but he still seemed pensive.

        "I don't know," Starsky said quietly, leaning back on the couch. His eyes roamed the small apartment, cataloging their meager belongings. "It just never seems to go away, or get back to normal. I work like hell to get better, get my heart set on getting back to the force so we can get in the action again and we end up here. All that work and now look where we are, living in this crummy apartment and working as lousy department store security guards. It's not exactly what I had in mind when I went through all that therapy hell." The darker man suddenly got up, took his plate back to the sink and paced slowly back and forth across the small room. "And it isn't fair for you to have to take this kinda shit with me. I mean, is that why we're here, 'cause I still look like death warmed over?" He stopped to stare out the window. "Or is this all I can do?"

        Hutch eyed his partner, not answering for a moment. He wanted to see how deep this mood was going to go. The taller man hoped it was just Starsky's slightly hurt ego talking, being reminded of Gunther's hit after having felt that the recovery was finally behind him.

        "Lighten up, Starsk." Hutch tossed a couch pillow toward his partner, catching him in the small of the back. He watched his friend's reaction and saw the small smile, even if Starsky didn't turn around to retaliate. "It was our choice, no regrets, remember? That means the good jobs and the bad. I'm here because I want to be, because it's a job that's got to be done. It may not be glamorous, but once we get back into the swing of things it'll get better."

        "Hutch," Starsky replied with a sigh, "I'm not askin' for glamorous, but if it doesn't get better before much longer, they're gonna find me fallin' asleep at my post. I just don't see anything comin' out of this job. I feel like I'm wastin' away here."

        "So, it's easy duty." Hutch got up to stand with his friend in the window, wanting to make sure he had the right perspective, "we aren't the most interesting or most important characters in this operation, but you heard what Dobey said just as well as I did. They just needed some outside cops to come in and be their eyes and ears for a few months. It was just our luck we could cut out of Metro at a days notice like that and not have to worry about leaving family behind. We play poor, restless and cash hungry. If we hear anything, or get offered easy money, we report to Gainer." Hutch nudged his partner. "This is the perfect case to get us back into more serious business. Then the Chief won't have any reason to come down on Dobey for sending us into the heavy stuff again." Hutch smiled. "By the time we get back, the Chief probably won't even remember who we are."

        Hutch knew how hard Dobey had fought with the Police Chief to keep them together. After the Gunther case had started to die down in the papers and the first of the many side cases started it's way through the court system, the Chief had demanded that they both be re-partnered and Starsky assigned a permanent desk job if he recovered enough to work.

        Even though Starsky had been passed for active duty by the police doctors and psychiatrists, the Chief and Dobey had fought about keeping them together and on the streets. Everyone knew the Chief did not care for the two and their alternate style of police work, results or no results. He had pounced on the need for the detectives to be able to stay safe and be available to testify in the numerous upcoming court cases, including the case against James Marshall Gunther himself. Cases that could run on for years.

        Dobey had stood firm and had come close to putting his own job on the line. He had demanded the right to run his department as he saw fit and nobody on the force was going to break up his teams without his approval. Only the pair's striking conviction record and the real threat of losing all three from the force caused the Chief to finally back down. This small, boring, loaner assignment was meant to lay aside the Chief's fears and keep them out of his sight for awhile

        "I know," Starsky answered sheepishly, "I just hate to be low rung on the ladder. Lonnie Gainer drives me bananas." He shrugged. "He's such an asshole sometimes. I just hate to think of him as my superior in anything." The darker man looked around their apartment once more and glanced at his partner, a glint in his eye. "And I also didn't realize that it called for us living in constant poverty, on beginning salaries and having to leave the Torino at home. I'm just not suited to being this needy, 'n that car of yours is enough to drive anyone into permanent depression."

        "Yeah?" Hutch shot back, glad that Starsky's mood was passing, "Well, my old car's doing a fine job in getting us where we need to go. It's already gotten Trudy's attention. And that over-grown paint job with wheels would have been real believable on our budget." He grinned at the play of emotions on Starsky's face. "Of course, you could have volunteered to have it repainted a nice, respectable color, like, say, dented gray or something. And speaking of depression," Hutch added, glancing at his watch, "we've got to get a move on. Wouldn't want to be late for work and get fired, would we? Gainer would love that. He hates us being in on this."

        "Don't you mean Mr. Thomas Underwood, assistant secretary to Dennis Liston?" Starsky replied sarcastically, heading for the closet to retrieve the clean work uniforms while Hutch packed them both a brown-bag dinner. "Wouldn't that be a big loss. At least then we could go home and our lifestyle would take a definite 'n immediate step up."


        The locker rooms in the basement of Iverson's were the cleanest set Hutch had ever seen. All the lockers were kept neat and freshly painted, the changing rooms kept swept and litter free while the sent of pine freshener flowed through the cool and filtered air. It and all the other employee rooms located in the first-floor rear were painted in light and cheerful colors and it annoyed Hutch to no end. Like working for Disney or something, he mused. But I guess if you're fond of your workplace, you'll goof off and steal less.

        Arriving with plenty of time to spare, the two detectives made their way over to their lockers and started to get changed for work. Hutch sighed as he pulled the plastic bag off of his fresh uniform. He hated the tight fit and suspected it clashed with his coloring. It made him feel like a bellhop. Hutch dressed in a few moments then checked his utility belt. That's a joke, he thought. No gun, but a large leather belt with a set of keys, a flashlight, a walkie-talkie clip and a nightstick. None of them he was actually supposed to use, except for the walkie-talkie.

        "Ready yet , Ken?" Starsky's put-upon voice sounded behind him as he was fixing his hair.

        "Whenever you are, Dave," Hutch replied with a snicker. I may clash, but at least I don't look like an overgrown leprechaun, Hutch thought with amusement.

        Starsky glared back. Hutch knew that it drove Starsky crazy when he said 'Dave' that way. It felt strange to Hutch too, which is why Hutch liked to say it in the most irritating way he could.

        Their cover names had been pretty generic and for a change both detectives had decided to use their own first names. They did not usually do that, but decided that since their private lives were to be used as part of their cover there would be less chance of a slip-up this way. Now that they were stuck with them, Starsky had remarked that he was not sure it had been a good idea after all. Calling Hutch 'Joe', 'Harry' or 'George' wouldn't have seemed as strange as calling him 'Ken' all the time. And hearing Hutch call him 'Dave' in that tone was just out-right weird. Now they were stuck with 'Kenneth Avery' and 'Dave Coleman' for the duration.

        Hutch finished his fussing and settled his hat carefully upon his head. Without a word he reached over and straightened Starsky's too.

        "Three minutes 'til show time, Dave. Let's go."

        They made their way through the mill of employees to the time clock and found their cards. They both managed to punch in right before 3:00 p.m. and made their way to the large-windowed security office to pick up their assignments for the night.

        "Kenny! Davey!" They were greeted just as soon as they entered the large room.

        Arnold Ford stood leaning against the counter, smiling like his best friends had just entered the room. Arnold was an older man, close to retirement. His white hair, jaunty smile and unending cheerfulness made him one of the all time favorites of the employees at Iverson's as well as it's many regular clients.

        "How's it going Arnold?" Hutch asked, making it a point to come over and shake the man's hand.

        "Just swell, Kenny, just swell!" He grinned, shaking Starsky's hand as well. "How's it going with you two? Feel settled in yet?"

        "You know it, Arnold." Starsky smiled back. "Getting to feel like home."

        "Oh, that's great guys." Arnold beamed.

        "Yeah, Arnold," Hutch joined in, "we really appreciate all the help you gave us when we hit town. It would have taken us days to find anything we could have afforded this close to work. You really were a lifesaver."

        "Well," Arnold replied in a whisper, glancing around to make sure they were the only ones within earshot, "When my old friend Tommy called and told me about you guys needing jobs, what can a guy do but help out?" He patted Starsky's arm sympathetically. "When I found out about Davey's accident, I knew I could get you both work here. Tommy sure gave you a both a glowing recommendation. Ms. Quincy wasn't pleased, you know." He glanced again towards the back office, lowering his voice. "But I have my own bit of power around here." He grinned mischievously.

        "No doubt about that Arnold, no doubt about that," Hutch replied with a smile. He knew that Tommy had been a local cop and he and Arnold had been best friends forever. Retired now, Tommy had been persuaded by his old captain to call his friend with a cover story for the two detectives.

        As far as Arnold knew, Dave Coleman had been in a near fatal car accident and had to have massive surgery. Dave had lost his job and his insurance had balked at some of the therapy bills. A longtime friend of his, Kenneth Avery, had suffered through a nasty divorce a few years back and had taken Dave in to help share expenses. After Dave's bankruptcy, both had decided to call it quits with the area and try to start fresh somewhere else.

        Arnold had taken the story to heart and had assured Tommy that if the two wanted a job at Iverson's to come on down and he would get them one. True to his word, when Ken and Dave had arrived in town in a beat-up LTD with all their worldly possessions stuffed in the back seat and trunk, Arnold had not only 'found' them two starting positions in security, but had scouted out the nearest apartments. He had been apologetic at the beginning salaries and the fact they'd have to share an apartment because of it. Hutch had been overwhelmed with the man's winning personality and his heart of gold. They had been able to talk with him over for a few dinners and had happily listened to the old man's life stories.

        The other night shift guards came trickling in and Arnold greeted every one of them. While he was on the day shift, there was an hour overlap and Arnold liked to hang around and meet the next shift as they came in. He liked to see everyone settled into their work before he left at 4 p.m.

        Sarah Keats, secretary to Ms. Quincy, came into the office from the back room carrying the night's schedule with her. She was a sunny blond with short hair, a bold smile and a very sexy figure. Hutch had made it clear from the first day on the job that he would love to get to know her better. But try as he might, he still couldn't seem to get even the time of day from her. All he had managed so far was a shrug and an uninterested 'maybe some other time' in response to his most charming moves. All the more interesting for the challenge, he thought with a sly smile, making an effort to stand a little straighter as the diminutive blond entered the room. Now if I can only get on days and catch her on a break...

        "Hi, guys!" Sarah loudly greeted the group, flashing a bright but distracted smile. She set the schedule on the counter and started on her nightly litany. "Read it and weep, boys. Don't forget to check your 'talkie batteries. Today is Thursday, so closing time is 8 p.m. Keep an eye on the Lingerie and Costume Jewelry counters, we show a big loss there this week. Ms. Quincy asked me to remind you that whistling, humming or talking to the customers is prohibited, except for answering direct questions and giving directions." She glanced at Starsky out of the corner of her eye, who grinned mischievously back. "Cash drawers will be empty by 8:30, so be at your stations before then. Check in every 30 minutes to the base by 'talkie after lockup." She looked around and shrugged, "Same as usual, guys, shift change in 45 minutes." And with that she waved at the group and headed into the back office as the guards checked the sheet and headed out towards their posts. Hutch hadn't even rated a glance.

        "I think you're wearin' her down, Ken." Starsky grinned, making his way over to the night's schedule. "She almost looked at you that time. Oh, man," Starsky moaned, checking the sheet for his name, "I got the Children's floor tonight."

        "I thought you loved that floor," Hutch said, throwing one last, longing look toward the back office and the absent Sarah. "What's up?"

        "I do, but not with Reynolds." Starsky glanced around the room, making sure Reynolds was not close enough to overhear. "'The Grinch that stole Christmas'. He scares the kids. Won't even smile or anything. Plus, he gets pissed if I just happen to spend a few minutes in the toy section. Claims I'm goofing off," Starsky added, steering Hutch in the direction of the employees elevators after his quick glance at the sheet.

        "You're not supposed to check out the toys," Hutch reminded him with a grin and waited for the elevator door to open. They were lucky and got an empty one. "I got Wally Kraft on the Jewelry and Perfume floor. There goes my sinuses for the evening. At least Wally is easy to spend time with."

        While both men worked the night shift, Starsky and Hutch had yet to be paired off on a floor. This was not surprising. As thorough as Ms. Quincy was, she should know that it was only common sense to keep patrols changing and close friends separated. She was too sharp not to notice that the two men always arrived together and that their folders held the same home address and phone number. This gave the guys a good chance to get to know many of the guards on their shift and to cover as much ground as possible while apart. Some of the pairings were more enjoyable than others, however.

        On his first night shift with Reynolds, Starsky had been disgusted to report that he had been lucky to get a grunt or two out of the man. Starsky had complained that despite his friendliest attempts at conversation, he had learned little about the man, other than he didn't like guys who asked too many questions. The smaller detective had been forced to do little make his rounds quietly when pared with Reynolds.

        Hutch had fared better for the evening, having always enjoyed working with Wally Kraft. Tall, built like a mountain, the painfully shy black man was in his early twenties. When finally coerced into conversation during one long night's shift, Wally had shown himself to be exceptionally well-read. He was a daytime college student and had little time for socializing off the job. He was currently working through some of the 'less loved' plays of Shakespeare and had been overjoyed that Hutch was willing to discuss the bard endlessly.

        This evening both detectives had drawn the first dinner shift and would see each other at break. Until then, Hutch had another evening of looking out for shoplifters, tag switches, reuniting lost children with their parents and steering people towards the rest rooms.


        Hutch made it to dinner break first, carrying the two paper sacks of food. The employee grill was closed and the dinning room was pretty much deserted this time of evening. Most of the employees who were still here at 7:00 p.m. were only on coffee breaks. They only had an hour or so of work left and looked forward to going home to family and dinner. The cleaning crew would not arrive until after closing, so the only ones actually eating a meal were the guards. Hutch found an empty table over in the far corner, away from the rows and rows of vending machines. He threw his hat at one end of the table and sat their dinner sacks at the other. This way the other employees would know the whole table was saved. The guards always tried to eat together and talk during the break, so it wouldn't be such a lonely meal.

        Hutch was choosing juice out of one of the machines when the others started trickling in. Iverson's left one guard on duty on a floor at all times during business hours and two after closing, so there were usually around six people or so for each dinner break from the 'floor walkers'. Starsky came in with Saputo and Ames, laughing at a joke one of them made. He waved toward Hutch and settled down with the other men. Starsky checked out both sacks before deciding picking one.

        "So, how's business tonight guys?" Hutch asked the group as he made his way back to the table.

        "Aw, man, it's slower than hell up there." Saputo yawned, unpacking his own lunch. "Sometimes I wish something big would happen, just to liven up the evening."

        "Not me," volunteered Jefferson, who had just joined the group. "I like my work nice and quiet. It's during my off duty hours that I like to live in the fast lane."

        "You must live pretty fast then, Jefferson," Starsky said, digging through the items in his dinner sack. He grinned wickedly. "How many kids you got now?"

        The rest of the group broke out in laugher at the red faced but smiling Jefferson. Everyone well knew the man was getting close to adding another little one to his already substantial family.

        Evening talk continued towards store gossip through the rest of the dinner break. Not having much contact with the other employees while on the evening shift, most of the guards knew each other's life stories pretty well. They had all heard about Dave's car accident and how he had nearly died and how he and Ken had made it out to this section of California. In return, the two new men had been treated to most everyone else's life history.

        It's amazing how much you can pick up from bored employees in just over a month, he mused. This place is almost as bad with gossip as Metro.

        As usual, the talk turned serious for awhile. Speculations were made about the latest robberies to hit Iverson's. Hutch knew that this branch of Iverson's held the main headquarters and collection area for the other branches' jewelry supply. Many of the gems, pearl necklaces and set stones were purchased from overseas in bulk by Dennis Liston, head of Iverson's Jewelry department for the entire chain. The shipments arrived here and were sorted and stored in the vaults in the vast Jewelry lab, deep in the store's basement. Once a month or so, the new arrivals were divided, packed and transported by armored cars and chartered planes to the different branches across the United States.

        Once each month, for the past three months, one of the overland car shipments of jewelry to a Iverson's branch had been waylaid and the jewelry disappeared. The shipment's times and routes had always been kept secret, but the thieves had known exactly where they would be and at what time they were the most vulnerable. Almost half a million dollars in merchandise had been taken so far and to make matters worse, not one piece had shown up in any of the underground markets, even after three months.

        No one had been seriously hurt in the first robbery, but in the second one a guard had been killed. While the transportation and security operations for the whole store chain was under the department of Royston Collins, Ms. Quincy's boss, a step up the corporate ladder meant working under Collins. Over the past several weeks he had heard many of his fellow guards questioning whether the increased pay and training were actually worth the risk.

        Detective Sergeant Lonnie Gainer of Robbery for this precinct had been one of the detectives working to solve these robberies. Most of the men working on the case had centered their investigations outside the chain store, in fences, possible overseas market connections and known jewelry thieves in the area. Gainer had convinced his captain that there was good reason to believe that the robberies were set up from inside the store, from someone higher up in the executive branch. With the knowledge and co-operation of Dennis Liston, he had been hired as Thomas Underwood. He was to be an assistant to Liston's own secretary, Aaron Jameson, who had been kept unaware of Gainer's real identity. After a month undercover with no results, his captain had been tempted to pull his man from this aspect of the case. Gainer had fought to stay inside, pointing out that all the other avenues had also proved fruitless.

        Captain Anthony Pasquini had allowed his officer to stay, but had decided to put more men on the case to work at it from different angles. That was when Pasquini had talked to Dobey at Metro to see if he had any men he could spare for a few months in an undercover setup.

        It had not been one of the more exciting assignments on the list, but Dobey had convinced Starsky and Hutchinson that it was a good way to get out of their Police Chief's way for awhile. After accepting the temporary transfer and meeting Detective Gainer, they had both come away with the feeling that they had just put themselves into a dead-end situation.

        Captain Pasquini had not seemed to have much confidence that there was actually any connection between the store employees or management and the robberies and had reported his doubts to Starsky and Hutch in their first briefing. As he had pointed out, any operation could conceivably overcome any secrets in merchandise handling by simply becoming familiar with the stores schedules. The thieves had been ham-handed and seemed amateurish in action and timing. Except for the amount of jewelry taken, they appeared to be small time thieves.

        While not impressed with the character of the man, Hutch had been struck by Detective Gainer's willingness to take a stand on this case, when there seemed to have been little to back him up. Gainer had kept to his guns throughout the many briefings, insisting that his informant was on to something and the robberies were coming from inside. Later, the darker man had admitted that he hadn't thought much of Gainer. He had grumbled that he did not think that Gainer was taking a stand to save his case as much as he did not want to admit he was wrong.

        Gainer had not been pleased with the addition of the other detectives on 'his' case and had not volunteered his informant's identity. He had, in fact, not volunteered any information to the new detectives, leaving that job to his captain. Since Gainer had been given authority over the new 'recruits', Starsky and Hutch had to be content with reporting anything they discovered to Gainer and letting him handle the case as he saw fit. So far, there had not been anything to find as far as the detectives could tell and if Gainer was onto something, he apparently was not inclined to share.

        Dinner break for the guards ended quietly, each man apparently mulling over the robberies. Hutch made his way up to his assigned floor and reported in. With most of the other guards he teamed up with, he would have to chase them down in order to relieve them for break, but today Hutch knew right where Wally Kraft would be.

        If Wally isn't at the Jewelry counter, making eyes at April May Sims, then he's gonna be pretty damn close to it, he thought, grinning. He made his way over to the Jewelry section and smiled to himself as soon as he saw Kraft. While not actually setting foot in the Jewelry department, Kraft had found a place against one of the walls where he could keep an eye on the pretty young lady behind the counter, yet melt into the background as much as possible.

        Hutch had had the pleasure of meeting April Sims during his first night shift and anything he had not learned from her had been supplied by Wally. April was a shapely, handsome black woman who knew her way well behind the Jewelry counter. She was quiet, sharp and seemed to be well liked by the customers. She had some college courses under her belt, but was mostly self-taught in the gem trade. She hoped to have her own jewelry line some day. Wally seemed to think that April was a genius. Hutch had been amused at Wally's obvious pride in April's accomplishments, since the man had yet to actually ask the young lady out.

        Hutch had been glad to do his part to help matters along whenever he could, cruising the rest of the floor while allowing Wally to hover around the Jewelry counter. Wally usually returned the favor by letting Hutch steer clear of the perfume counters after closing.

        Hutch saw Wally on his way to his dinner break and back before the closing announcements were made at 7:45. Iverson's announced closing every five minutes and the guards and salespeople were kept busy with rounding up customers and politely heading them towards the door. As usual, it was around 8:15 when the final customer of the night was heralded over to the elevator and Hutch could radio down that their floor was closed.

        By 8:30 the cash drawers were emptied and balanced and the money, check and charge receipts collected and locked up by the bookkeeping employees. The whole store quickly became like a tomb as the last of the day employees left, leaving the store to the night guards and the cleaning crew.

        Hutch had always considered that two guards to a floor was overkill, even for a massive store of this size, but time did pass quicker with someone else around and it helped to keep the guards honest. But still, the next three and a half hours seemed like forever and Hutch was going to be more than ready to call it a day.