The Swing of Things




        A 5:30 a.m. meeting between Robbery, Homicide and Narco had been called by Captain Pasquini and all involved had been rousted out of bed, including Starsky and Hutch.

        Homicide reported the confirmed identity of Douglas Kirk as James Leroy Connor. His past criminal record was gone over and everyone filled in on the blackmail theory.

        The lab report stated that Detective Lonnie Gainer had, indeed, died of repeated blows to the head. The murder weapon was a heavy, carved crystal paperweight belonging to Royston Collins and had last been seen on his desk that evening. The paperweight had been found wiped clean of prints and what little blood there was with Gainer's own jacket. There were no fibers and hair embedded in the smashed crystal but Gainer's own. He was struck from behind, the killer most probably standing behind him. Gainer probably never saw the blow coming.

        Robbery reported that Jameson had gone to a bar straight after work and had drunk the night away in public. He had talked to no one and seemed deeply depressed. Staggering to a cab in the early evening hours he had gone home and hadn't budged as of the last check-in by his early morning stake-out team.

        Further questioning of Jameson's alibi by Homicide showed that Ms. Quincy couldn't actually vouch for his whereabouts the entire night. It seems that she was vague about the whole evening and had no memory after their nightcap. All she knew for sure was that she woke up with him in her bed. It had also been revealed that she kept extra keys to the executive offices and carried them with her at all times. Collins' included.

        Liston had been thunderstruck with the news that his personal secretary was being investigated for the robberies, his ties with Daniel Wayne and also with the death of Detective Gainer. He had opted to 'stay home' sick the rest of the week, rather than try to deal with the situation, worried that he could not deal so closely with the man, knowing what he knew about the police investigations.

        After a lengthy discussion with Dennis Liston and Royston Collins that lasted well into the night, the captains of all three divisions had come up with a plan. Liston and Collins had agreed that it was time to push the timetable and bring the case to a close, one way or another. They had guaranteed their full co-operation.

        Liston and Collins had agreed to a 'decoy' run, using a real shipment of jewelry slated to be delivered to a local branch. Collins would set up an early night delivery to the store on the upcoming Thursday evening. This branch was due a shipment and no one would question a change in delivery time. The other shipments would be held to the agreed-upon delivery dates, which were to be staggered through the middle of next week. Collins' secretary would deliver a notice to Liston that one of the upcoming deliveries was to be changed due to the emergency conditions and the memo with the new time and route would be delivered to Liston, right through Jameson's hot little hands.

        Jameson's tail would stick extra close to monitor his contacts off the store premises, so as not to miss any information exchange. If Jameson delivered the information in person, then they would find out who his contact was. If it was an in-store source, then they would probably miss it. There wasn't much they could do about that, but it was agreed that a policewoman would replace Collins' secretary as a temporary. Lois Jones, his long-time secretary, was still at home suffering from shock after finding Gainer's body. Her replacement would go un-noticed and the policewoman would do what she could to keep Jameson in sight.

        Liston would have his employees load up the armored car in the usual manner, with the usual crew of guards. They would leave the lot and a few blocks later a set of undercover officers would catch up, following far enough behind to see whether the car was being followed. Halfway to the site, the armored car would be diverted and a duplicate car would finish the run. Undercover as company security guards, police would 'deliver' empty jewel trays to the store. If all went as the other robberies, then the armored car and it's escort would be hit before they would get to the unpacking part of the plan. The area would be so full of cops that the robbers wouldn't be able to twitch a muscle once they had come out in the open. With luck, someone in the group would break and lead them not only to Wayne's empire, but the killers of Kirk and Gainer.

        They couldn't be more prepared than that, as things now stood.

        It had been decided that Detectives Starsky and Hutchinson were to keep to their schedules and wait for a possible contact by either Jameson or Wayne's men. Although Pasquini had his doubts as to them being drawn into any action once Jameson had what he wanted, he was unwilling to pull them out in case their covers would still be needed. Unless they were called in, they were to be home Thursday night and wait for the outcome.

        "Damn!" Starsky exploded, pounding his left fist into the LTD dashboard as they drove to the store for their dayshift. "Damn, damn, damn!"

        Hutch barely spared him a look. "Gee, I've got a couple of dents in the fender you might want to work on," he said sarcastically. "Feel better?"

        "Yes, actually I do," Starsky replied with a sigh. "It just gets to me, bein' outta the action like this. I feel like a fifth-wheel around here. We haven't gotten a damn thing accomplished."

        "Look, Starsky, we've got almost two whole days to work around on this thing. Who knows what could happen in that time? So, we sit back and take it easy this time. We were pretty much a fifth-wheel team when we came in, so we go out that way. Don't take it so personally."

        At the store, the usual shift announcements were made and much to Hutch's chagrin he was back to being totally ignored by the blond-and-beautiful Sarah. The worse part was that he was slowly getting the feeling that she wasn't ignoring him to play hard-to-get. He didn't get the impression that he bothered her, just that he didn't really exist. Invisible Man time again. He sighed. Guess I'd better think of moving on. Of course, there's always the rest of the store to get to know.

        Hutch had been assigned to the Sporting Goods floor and Starsky had gotten Lingerie and Cosmetics, which wasn't too bad, Hutch reflected as they each could indulge a few fantasies during the slower moments. The crowd had died down drastically today and business went pretty much as usual.

        First break came with no news. The detectives had pulled different lunches this time, Hutch getting his first. Retrieving his brown-bag lunch, he found a free spot at a far table and was happy to see Arnold Ford chatting away with Kathy Winters and some of the other women from the upper floors. They were listening with patience as the old security guard finished presenting them with another of his 'war' stories. Hutch wondered how often the ladies had heard this one. He thought he had heard it least twice so far.

        "Mind if I sit here?" Hutch gestured to the seat by Arnold, getting smiles and nods.

        "Kenny! Well, I saw where you and Dave had moved up in the world." He beamed at the blond. "Too bad it took such a mess to get you on days, though." Arnold scratched his gray head and sighed. "You just don't know what the world is comin' to anymore. You just can't be safe anywhere. But I'm glad you two are doin' all right." He patted Hutch's back.

        "So, guys." The undercover detective glanced around at the table, using his most welcoming smile. "What's the new word for today?"

        Sandra from Cosmetics shook her head. "After all this nasty stuff last week, there doesn't seem to be much going on today. The only thing I've heard are..." she paused ticking the items off on her fingers. "Wally and April finally got together now that she's quit the store. Mrs. Jones may never come back after finding that body upstairs. Gary in bookkeeping finally picked a wedding date. Kim and Janet in Lingerie had a cat-fight over Kim's boyfriend and a lot of us are talking about quitting." She sighed. "At least I've gotten my boyfriend to pick me up in the afternoon. He's not good for much, but at least he can stand there and look tough for me."

        Kathy Winters snorted into her coffee. "At least your boyfriend cares. My husband just tells me if I'd keep my nose out of everyone else's business, I wouldn't have to worry about being attacked. Fat lot he cares." She stared morosely at the far wall, sipping at her coffee.

        "Well, now," Arnold replied kindly, "a little interest in your co-workers and friends is healthy. We all gotta take care of each other. We're all family here ya know."

        Well, looks like the grape-vine is tapped dry, Hutch though. I heard this all this at morning break. Maybe.. . He cleared his throat. "You guys wouldn't happen to know anything about Sarah Keats, would you?" It couldn't hurt to ask, could it? "I mean, is she seeing anyone, or... um, anything?" He felt himself smile in embarrassment. It's not like I need help or anything... but since Starsky isn't here...

        Sandra and Lisa exchanged amused looks and Kathy blushed and cleared her throat. "Really, Ken, I think she's spoken for and, well..." Kathy was obviously trying to find the right words. "I just don't think she's your type."

        "Oh?" Hutch replied, confused. He was getting some kind of signal here and he knew it was going right over his head. He glanced at Arnold, who seemed about to have a laugh attack, but was trying to be polite. "I guess she's pretty... serious about someone, then?" He searched his memory. I know I checked for a wedding ring and no engagement ring either. She never said she was going with anybody, never told me to 'bug off'...

        "Oh, I'd say she's serious," Lisa said, sneaking a glance at Sandra. "Sarah never flirts with anyone. It'd make her girlfriend Tammy mad." Lisa and Sandra started to giggle, giving him a pitying glance.

        Girlfriend? Hutch mused, puzzled. Why would she care?

        "Now, you two." Kathy admonished. "Don't be gossiping. We don't know anything for sure. You could get her into big trouble and you're just embarrassing Ken." Kathy picked up her lunch trash and waved at the other two younger women. "Time you two got back to work. Go on." She waited for the other two to say quick and amused good-byes and the trio left together.

        Still confused, Hutch threw a questioning glance at Arnold.

        The older man smiled strangely at him. "I hear her girlfriend gets vicious when she's jealous." He paused, waiting for Hutch to catch on.

        Girlfriend? Jealous? Oh... OH! Hutch could feel himself turn red. Damn! No wonder I've been invisible all this time. I've been trying to court a lesbian?! Hutch knew he must be as red as a tomato. And they've all been watching me go after her, day after day. Damn! Man, I'm glad Starsky isn't here! It was, in fact, the only saving grace he could find at the moment.

        Arnold, seeing the play of emotions across Hutch's face couldn't hold it any longer and burst out laughing. "Hell's bells son, I thought you knew! Davey said you were as stubborn as a mule, that you'd just take it as a challenge." Arnold broke into a loud guffaw and slapped Hutch's back.

        If it was possible to turn any redder, Hutch was afraid to find out, he felt like he was burning up as it was. "Davey knew?" Hutch heard himself ask incredulously. "How long has Davey known about her being gay?" That sonofabitch!

        Arnold grabbed a breath and gave Hutch a huge grin. "Hell, son. It must'a been the first week you guys came to work. We both noticed that you seemed taken with the gal, so I gave him a quick word to pass along to you." Arnold lost himself and started laughing again. "I thought it was a bit peculiar, you being so gung-ho about courting the lady. But like I said, Davey told me you liked a challenge." Arnold got up, still laughing and patted Hutch on the back. "Don't be too hard on him son." And with that he left for his rounds, still chuckling merrily.

        He's gonna get it! Hutch fumed, trying in vain to cool his blush. He felt certain that everyone was looking at him. He grabbed his leftovers and made for the trash can and door. Sonofabitch knew all this time and never said a word! I don't know how and I don't know where, but David Michael Starsky is going to regret this. The rest of the afternoon was spent in evil contemplation.

        Wednesday's shift ended without event. Hutch had not learned anything new about the case, but his time spent in research had not been wasted. He had spent a few extra minutes after his shift to take care of some business. He knew his partner would be waiting for him, as usual, in the locker room. Now was the time to start his plan for revenge.

        "Hey, Dave," Hutch said, greeting Starsky with a cat-ate-canary smile. "How'd your shift go?"

        "Fine," Starsky replied, curiosity obviously aroused. "Good news?"

        Hutch heard the real question and backed off his enthusiasm a little. "Oh, no. Nothing I've heard." He started to change, humming to himself, still using that self-satisfied smile.


        "So, what?"

        "What's with the grin?" Starsky asked suspiciously. "You look like you just won a million dollars."

        "Oh, that," Hutch answered with a grin. "I took off a little early and was able to catch Sarah before she left. We had a wonderful conversation and I was able to charm the lady off her feet."

        "Oh, yeah?" Starsky replied, blank faced.

        "Oh, yeah!" Hutch returned, pulling his shoes on. "You should have seen me. I was sooo smooth. You would have been proud. I went in there, gave her my best lines." Hutch grinned, elbowing his partner in the ribs, "She gave in. We've got a date."

        "A date?" Starsky was obviously stunned. "You and Sarah? A date? For when?"

        "No, no," Hutch replied and nudged his partner. "We've got a date. For Friday. I figure we oughta be over this by then. If not, we could always cancel. She's got a girlfriend named Amy and Sarah said she and Amy were pretty 'inseparable'. Now I can understand that." Hutch paused with an understanding shrug. "You know, some girls like to double the first date, to get to know the person and see if they really want to get involved or not. So I told her I completely understood', that I knew where she was coming from. I told her you'n I were the same way. 'Inseparable'."

        The blood seemed to drain from Starsky's face. "You told her what?!" he squeaked.

        "I told her we were like them. Inseparable. Companions." Hutch ignored the stunned look on his partner's face. "Well, I wanted to put her at ease. Not like I was trying to put a heavy move on her or anything. So she called Amy and they agreed to a double date on Friday. She said it would be great to get together and talk. 'Compare notes' she said." He gave Starsky a serious look. "You haven't made any plans, have you?"

        "What? Uh... no." Starsky looked bewildered.

        "So, you ready?" He asked. Starsky still looked a bit confused. "Hey, you listening?"


        "I said I'm ready. Let's go." The taller man smiled as a suddenly quiet and preoccupied Starsky followed him out the door. Just wait 'til Friday, Pal. Just wait. He could feel his smile turn smug.

        The trip home was quiet. Hutch made a quick trip for groceries while his partner stood guard over the phone. It wasn't until Starsky was making their dinner that the phone rang. It was Pasquini.

        Hutch took the call, which was short and sweet.

        "Well?" Starsky asked, frying the hamburger for spaghetti sauce.

        "Pasquini says the pass was good," Hutch responded, feeling let down. "Jameson saw the altered transfer orders for tomorrow night and almost floated away with relief. At lunch he high-tailed it to Troy and they had a nice, little twenty minute conversation. Then he was back at work, nervous, but much relieved."

        "Sounds like tomorrow night is when the fireworks go off." The darker man sighed, finishing up the spaghetti. "And we aren't invited."

        "So far, Starsk, so far."

        They both sat down with their dinner of spaghetti, salad and garlic bread.

        "So," Starsky began, mopping the last of the sauce from his plate. "What do we do tonight? It's was only 7:00 p.m."

        "Beats me." Hutch took both their plates to the sink and set them to soak with the other dishes. "If we didn't have to stay home, I'd go out for a run." He gave a great stretch and a yawn. "Sweat some of this case out of my system."

        "So go. I'll hold down the fort 'til you get back."

        "No way. I step foot out that door again and all hell will break loose. I can't be ready at a moment's notice if I've got to shower and change when I get back." Hutch shrugged and headed for his room. "Besides," Hutch yelled down the hall, "I might get mugged. Then I'd have to call the cops."

        Hutch could hear Starsky flipping through the TV channels. Must not be anything on tonight, Hutch realized, hearing Starsky work his way through the selections for the third time. And I'm running out of reading material. He took a moment, trying to decide which of his favorites would hold his interest tonight. He grabbed the one he wanted and plopped down on the lamp side of the couch.

        "What about cards?" his partner asked, sitting on the couch next to him.

        Hutch tried to ignore him, searching for the chapter he wanted. "I'm not playing cards with you. Besides, I'm reading."

        Starsky reached for his book, twisting it to give the spine a glance. "You've read that twice already and the others at least once. What about cards?"

        The blond gave him a frustrated glance over the top of the book. "Starsk, I am not playing cards with you with three cards missing out of the deck."

        "Why not? They're not even the important ones. We can play around them."

        He gave his friend a disgusted look. "Why not? I'll tell you why not. No matter what we play, I'm going to need those three cards. All three of them. Forget it. Besides, you're already playing with less than a full deck." He snickered to himself, as he turned back to his reading, knowing that Starsky had made a face at him when he thought he wasn't looking. I'm going to ignore you, Starsky. Watch TV. His partner settled back into the couch and sighed. Hutch had managed three paragraphs before the other man sighed again. Not just any sigh, but his 'I'm bored' sigh.

        No, Starsky, I'm ignoring you, he thought in response. It was almost four paragraphs later before another sound filled the silence. This time it was Starsky's 'lost little boy' sigh.

        No way, forget it. He was determined to read this chapter, hell or high water. But after a page and a half, the next sound was his 'I'm all alone in the world, Hutch breaks down again' sigh.

        "Will you knock it off?!" Hutch exclaimed angrily, giving his partner a scathing glare over the top of his book.

        "What? I'm not doing anything!" Starsky replied in contrived confusion.

        "You keep 'sighing'. Over and over. Knock it off."

        "So I'm bored. So sue me," Starsky replied with a slightly wounded look. He crossed his arms and tried to look a little lost.

        "If you want to play cards so much, why don't you go and play solitaire or something," the suggested, trying to remember what he had been reading.

        "With three missing cards?" his partner asked incredulously. "Besides, it's not my fault we gotta stick around here and be bored. I'm just trying to pass the time. But if you're gonna gripe about the way I breath..."

        "So, what else do you want to do?" Hutch finally asked in defeat. He could tell by now that the other man was not going to let him read in peace. Doesn't matter much anyway. I've read the same paragraphs over and over. I'm almost as bored as he is. He tossed his book on the end table.

        "I don't know. If I knew that I'd be doin' it." Starsky sighed, gaining another dark look from his partner.

        Hutch sat back and crossed his arms and stared into space, trying to concentrate. He had an idea...

        "What?" Starsky asked, after a few moments of careful staring. "Some kinda new yoga thing?"

        "No, no," He replied, thinking hard and rubbing his chin. "I read about this ancient game in one of my library books awhile back. I've been looking for a playing board, but never could find one. Was trying to see if I can remember all the rules."

        "Game?" Starsky was suddenly interested. "What kinda game?"

        "It's a board game of sorts they used to play in ancient times. You play it with a board and stones. Or beans."

        "Doesn't sound like much fun." Starsky snorted, losing interest. "How much fun can playing with stones be? Besides, we don't have stones, beans or a board."

        "Look, you want to learn or not?" He asked with irritation. "Go in and find me..." He paused, thinking for a moment. "Get me 48 pennies."

        While his partner was busy chasing down the coins, He took a section of the paper and unfolded it. He took a jar lid and traced six circles in a line down the center of the paper and repeated the circles in another line right beside the first. He then took a saucer and traced one big circle on each end of the double row. He spread the paper on the coffee table and took over the couch side, facing one of the rows horizontal in front of him.

        Starsky came in with a handful of coins. "So, now what?"

        "You sit on the floor. Give me the pennies."

        Starsky settled himself on the floor, looking in curiosity at the circles on the newspaper. "What do we do first?"

        He gave him back half of the pennies. "It's called Mancala. They used to play it in ancient times. These," He pointed to the row of small circles closest to him, "are my circles and this," he tapped the large circle to his right, "is my mancala. My storage bin. Yours is on your right."

        "And this is my row." Starsky gestured at the row closest to him. "Now what?"

        "You put four pennies in each of the smaller circles. We'll call them 'bins' and the pennies 'stones'."

        He waited until they both placed all of the pennies. "Now, the object of this game is to empty your six small bins. When that happens the game is over and you get one point for each stone in your mancala."

        "How do we do that?" the smaller man asked, not looking very impressed.

        "I'll go first." He picked up all the pennies out of one of his bins. "You chose a bin on your own side and take all the stones, then put one stone in each bin to your right, until you use them all. You circle the board." He ended up by placing his last stone in his own mancala. "Mancala stones are 'retired', they stay there 'til the end of the game. Since I put my last stone in my own mancala, I get another turn. That's the only time you get to go again."

        Starsky gave him a sharp look. "You sure you're allowed to do that?"

        He just grinned. He took another pile of stones from his side. This move put another stone in his mancala and his last one in one of Starsky's small bins. "You go around in a circle as far as you can. Now, my last stone ended up on your side and not in my mancala, so it's your turn. One other thing, if I make it that far, I don't put a stone in your mancala and you don't put one in mine. We just skip each other's mancalas as we circle around. And once you touch your stones, you have to play them. You're not allowed to touch them to count them either."

        His partner studied the board with suspicion. "Hutch, this will take forever! We'll never get all these stones in the mancalas."

        "Ah, but there's more." He pointed to the two now-empty bins on his side. "If I can get all the way around and put a stone in one of my empty bins, then I get to put that stone and all the stones in the bin directly across it from your side into my mancala. I've captured them. Then it's your turn. At the end, I'll show you how to count the points."

        "Okay!" the other man said, seeing the pattern. "So as we get goin' we get great piles of stones in our bins, but they can be captured from the other side." He grinned. "You wanna keep score?"

        "Starsk, we're just starting this. You sure you want to embarrass yourself like that?" He asked with a sly smile.

        "Hey, it's no game if you can't keep score." Starsky grabbed a pen and started a scoreboard on one side of the newspaper page.

        The first thing Starsky did was to copy Hutch's opening moves and end up with two stones in his mancala and two empty bins.

        The game moved smoothly for awhile, each man emptying a bin, then moving their pieces around the board and slowly racking up points. But as the game progressed and the bins were filled to over-flowing with stones, they slowed their play. The moves became more critical. Hutch was the first to empty his six bins.

        "Okay, game over, Starsk. Now, my bins are all empty, so I 'won', but you get to keep all the stones in your small bins and they count as points for your side. Sometimes it's better not to be the one to go out if you're going to leave the other player lots of stones."

        The first game went to Hutch, 25 to 23. Starsky dutifully wrote down the score.

        "Now that we've practiced," Starsky said, with a mischievous gleam in his eye, "let's play for real."

        They played for several hours in near silence and to Hutch's surprise they were stayed pretty evenly matched, steadily keeping within 40 points or so of each other. They played quietly, totally ignoring whatever was on the TV.

        It wasn't until He realized that he had a king-sized kink in his back that he noticed the time. "C'mon, Starsky, better pack it up. It's 11:00 p.m. Time to watch the news. I've got to finish the dishes." He yawned and stretched. "By the time we get around, it'll be too late for visitors. I think we've been stood up again."

        But Starsky had taken to the game with a vengeance. "Aw, c'mon, Hutch! Let's play 'til one of us gets to 500 points." The other man was acting too enthused to want to quit. "'Couple more games and we can quit. I promise."

        "Why?" He got up from his cramped position on the couch. "What's so special about 500 anyway? It's just a number." He stretched while on his way into the kitchen to drain the dishes and start the hot water. "Why shouldn't I quit now?"

        "'Cause you're winning, that's why," Starsky replied, stretching out on the floor. He, too, moved stiffly. "And it's not fair for the person who is winning to just up and quit. It's rude."

        "Rude?" He asked incredulously, looking sharply at his partner. Starsky had joined him in the small kitchenette. "How in the world can you say that? What's rude about walking away while you're ahead?" He placed a few washed dishes in the drain. Starsky grabbed a towel and started the rinsing and drying.

        "It's just rude, that's all. The winner shouldn't be based on some arbitrary score. We should have some mutual goal in mind and work toward that. You got up and ended the game without my consent." Starsky smiled mischievously. "You owe me another one."

        "That's ridiculous." He drained the water and rinsed out the sink, passing the last dish to his partner. "If we were going to pick a goal, we should have done that when we started. As it was, each game was a goal unto itself. You're the one who is picking 500 as an arbitrary objective. I didn't agree to that." He smiled at his own point while taking the last beer from the fridge.

        "Ah," Starsky replied with a grin, placing the last, dry dish on the shelf, "but 500 is a nice, round number. A goal that's possible with only a couple more games." He suddenly reached out and snagged the unopened beer from his startled partner, quickly moving out of reach. "We could play for something real, like the last beer."

        "Starsky!" He growled dangerously, reaching for the can.

        "Hey!" His friend scolded with a laugh, barely able to keep the beer out of Hutch's long reach. He double-timed it back into the front room, keeping the can away from his stalking friend. "No one said you had rights to the last one. You want it? You play me for it!"

        "You...! You...!" He sputtered, unable to catch the elusive beer without starting a major wrestling match. He was not going to start acting like a child. "Okay, you're on, Mr. Hotshot. You want to play to 500? Fine, but why make it just a beer? Why don't we make it something more substantial?"

        "Hey, fine with me! You name it." Starsky challenged. He set the prized beer can on the coffee table, right where their scores were listed.

        "Okay." He thought for a moment and suddenly smiled. "If I win, I get the beer and you get to change my spark plugs, clean out, wash and wax my car. By hand. Two coats."

        "Now that's gross! That's not a car, that's road kill! And your rusted spark plugs are the only thing that's holdin' the engine together."

        The blond stood, arms crossed and smiled. "You're always complaining about it. Now's your chance to do something about it."

        "Okay, okay." Starsky grinned evily after a moments consideration. "Fine. But if I win, I get the beer and you get to repaint my bedroom and living room. To my satisfaction. At least two coats."

        "Paint your apartment?" the blond asked, suddenly curious. "Why? Why not have me work on your car?"

        His partner smirked. "'Cause I've seen your car, that's why, 'n the landlord said if I wanted to repaint, he'd take the cost of materials and labor off of my rent. It's past due and I'm tired of dirty white."

        Hutch paused for a minute, thinking it over. "Painting, okay, but we both move the furniture," Hutch insisted.

        But the other man wasn't quite ready to cave in. "Okay, we both move the furniture, but you gotta do the bathroom too. Trim and everything."

        Hutch almost balked, but decided that it didn't matter that much. He wasn't going to lose anyway, as he was still ahead by 30 points. Time to pull out all the stops! "Fine. Deal." They shook on the matter and set up their make-shift board for two more rounds of play.

        The first game went quickly until the last few rounds, when the game play slowed to a painful crawl. It was tricky to plan strategy when you couldn't count the stones in the few large piles that were left. As it was, Hutch seriously misread the amount of stones in one pile and ended up placing the last few stones on his nearly empty side of the board, killing his chance to be the first one out. Starsky was able to clear his side in his next turn. They were both now within 20 stones of the magical goal of 500.

        Neither one said a word when they set up the last round.

        In this game, even the beginning moves took on supreme importance, every move was worked and reworked before play, causing more than one frustrated glare at a partner. The end-game seemed to go on forever, one capturing as many stones as the other. It was with a final flourish that Hutch placed his last stone in his mancala.

        "Hah! Got you there. Now we see who's really won."

        "Don't be so sure. It ain't over 'til the counting is done." Starsky eyed the fairly even piles.

        But after the count, the final score ended up being Starsky 497 and Hutch 511, much to the taller man's glee.

        "You know what your problem is?" Hutch gloated, picking up the now warm beer can. "You never quit before you get too far behind. You should have left well enough alone. My car thanks you." He raised the can in a mock toast.

        "Ah, man!" Starsky moaned. "I really, hate that car. Just being seen next to it tarnishes my reputation. Putting wax on it is a waste of good wax." He sighed and watched as Hutch ceremoniously opened the beer and took the first swallow. "Okay, I'm not gonna bitch. I asked for it. When do you want your curse worked on?"

        "Oh, I don't know." Hutch took another swallow and relaxed into the back of the couch. Content in the glow of victory. Grinning the grin of a well-fed cat he drained the can half-way. "After we get this case over with, when we get back home." He sighed, stood and stretched, yawning loudly. "I figure you can work on it right after we get your bedroom and bathroom painted." Shrugging, he handed his partner the rest of the warm beer, knowing the other would be up for awhile yet. "But not yellow. I'm not helping you paint anything in your apartment yellow. Everything you've got would clash worse than it does now."

        Starsky sprawled himself across the couch and grabbed the TV listings. "Blue, I was thinking of 'egg-shell' blue."

        "Yeah? Well, we'll talk about that later. I'm packing it in." The tall detective yawned and waved at his friend. "Good night, Starsky."

        "'Night, Hutch," Starsky replied to the retreating form.

        Sweet dreams, kiddo.

THURSDAY Comes Around Again.