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Crime and Punishment


Miriam Elizabeth Cooper

I did consider the men's room, but that would be a little weird, even for me. And Starsky might really flip out if I do it in there, maybe take a swing at me or something, which wouldn't be good for either of our purposes--even if Starsky doesn't exactly know he has any purposes yet.

So we're grilling this German illegal who's making like he doesn't speak English, except it's apparently an intermittent kind of thing because he was able to haggle half a dozen decks from an undercover narc without much of a problem. And round about the time the guy's deciding that maybe he could string together a few words after all, that's when it dawns on me, like...well, less like a light bulb and more like a big neon "DUH!" sign lighting up over my head.

The interrogation room. I mean, how perfect can you get?

We finish up with Weimaraner or whatever the perp's name is, and the guys come to take him out. "Hang back a sec," I say to Starsky, moving toward the door to the observation area while the others exit through the hallway. He shrugs, Starsky-speak for okay, and I see him flop into one of those plastic khaki chairs, propping his feet up on the table. So far, so good.

I speak brainlessly with the Assistant DA for a few minutes--was it a clean bust, did he understand his rights, where the hell are the INS people?--until she finally departs in a huff of annoyance and perfume. I linger in front of the window, watching Starsky carefully, knowing that I need to time this just right.

It doesn't take long for him to start fidgeting. Up on the table, the tips of his Adidas knock together and apart in an increasing rhythm; soon he pulls them down altogether, leans forward in his chair. His fingertips begin a rackety dance against the armrests; he rolls his neck back and around, eyebrows twitching. Then he's on his feet and pacing, and I make my move.

I could have played on that damned football team, I tell you. I'm on Starsky deft and fast, smooth like a cat, or a running back. The poor guy would never know what hit him, but by now I don't care, have not one atom of sympathy left in me. Three solid weeks I'd given him, twenty-one days to get through it, get over it, get it together, just get it, for chrissakes. No go; he wouldn't even talk about it with me. Time to take matters into my own hands, literally and figuratively, whether he likes it or not.

He doesn't like it. First thing out of his mouth is "What the fuck--", followed by a rapid, mushed-together litany of other expletives, followed by, "Hutch, get the fuck off me!", which I do not, will not. I have my arms locked around him good and tight, holding on with a strength kindled by that one of a kind mixture of determination and adrenaline. He is flailing around in my grasp like a wild bird.

"Hutch, somebody could walk in!" he hisses, to which I respond by tunneling my fingers through the back of his hair; I think he might have a heart attack. Steadfastly I continue holding on to him, embracing him, fitting his body firmly to mine, pressing his protesting head repeatedly against my shoulder. I say nothing, ignore his embarrassed raging. I am confident that this is the right way, and I guess not a little gleeful about it. I got this vengeful streak from my father, see, and no matter how hard you try, there are some things from which you just can't extract yourself.

As Starsky is quickly discovering.

But there now, yes--he is slowing down. I ease up on him slightly in response, trusting him. I feel some of my own terseness come away in sheets as I allow myself to enjoy this on a different level, the good one: how he feels, the warmth of him against me. And then finally there comes the defeated-sounding sigh close to my ear, and he is still.

He's not relaxed, though. He's trying to figure me out, the wheels turning like crazy. I know it won't take him long--I mean, the guy didn't get to be a detective sergeant because he collected the most Popsicle sticks. And it doesn't hurt that he knows me from the inside out, every devious and loving little part of me.

Three weeks. Jesus. When did I become so needy, anyway?

I swear there is an audible click! as all the pieces snap together in his head, accompanied by a whisper of a groan. Now he's deciding whether or not to be pissed at me, whether to shove me or yell at me or just stand there or what. I'm counting on the yelling option, bracing for it really, and so I'm quite frankly a little stunned when suddenly his arms stretch around my middle and he is leaning in, hugging me back.

Not that I'm complaining. I find myself hyper-aware of him for a moment, almost dizzy with how good this closeness is, how full and sweet and intimate. And I'm feverishly wondering what the hell is wrong with people, and I almost lose it; but that's when I feel Starsky's hand at the nape of my neck, not quite in my hair, caressing real soft and slow.

An apology.

I kiss the top of his head, release him.

He is studying the floor, his cheeks and ears pink--a different kind of embarrassment, now. "Aw, shit, Hutch," he mutters. "S'just--"

"I know," I say, and I honestly think that I do. He acted the same way after Blaine, except that time he was over it in three days. "But Starsk, you can't let it get to you, you know that. I mean, first of all--"

"It ain't none of their fuckin' business."

"Right," I agree. "And second of all--"

"They're a buncha bigoted jerks and we shouldn't be givin' 'em the satisfaction."

"So tell me," I say gently, "if you've got this all figured out, how come...?"

He bites his lip, hard; a patch of white appears and fades on the flesh in the space of a nanosecond. I touch his cheek, wait for him to look at me. "Rhetorical question," I say, smiling.

"Rhetorical, schmetorical," he replies, his voice rough. "We just don't wanna look at what the real thing is here."

"Yeah, what's that," I say mildly, covering up my surprise; I thought for sure he'd take the out.

"The fact that I..." He swallows dryly, but lifts his chin enough to look straight into my eyes. "That I'm just like them. That I'm one of those bigoted jerks, too, Hutch."

I can feel my whole face sink; God, my whole body. "That is not true," I say forcefully, although he is already shaking his head. "Nuh-uh, Starsk, it's no good. No way in a million years would you have ever done anything like those assholes did..."

He waits for me to shut up, then says quietly, "Just because I don't go around spray-paintin' people's stuff doesn't mean I'm not a bigot. You know as well as I do that there's plenty other ways to do that."

I close my eyes for a minute--just a minute. But instead of blissful black, all I can see is that sick, sloppy red. Fat, oily letters over dull metal, spanning the distance of our adjoining lockers.


Shit. How did I suddenly get to be the one looking for an out? How does he manage to turn these things around on me? Does he know that I fear the glint of truth in his confession even more than he does?

There is a light pressure on my arm. I open my eyes, and amazingly, there is Starsky, grinning up at me crookedly.

"Let's get some lunch," he says, answering all of my questions. He squeezes, lets go.

God, he's generous. I wish you could bottle that.

And still my ego kicks in. "Listen, Starsky," I tell him, in a patented Hutchinson alpha-male tone, "you are not a bigot, you got that? You are nothing like these motherfuckers. They got no respect for people. They got roof insulation between their ears. Okay? Trust me. You're no bigot. You're nothing like them. Quit thinkin' that way, I mean it."

His head tilts to one side, and from that gesture alone I know he's still seeing clean through me. I also know he's turning over the idea of making a joke at my expense about the insulation thing, and I know the exact second when he decides against it.

"Sure, Blintz," he says instead, amiably. "So you wanna get somethin' to eat now or what? And no more jumpin' me in public places, I still gotta find a date for Kanowski's party next week."

I'm still wondering how it came to be that he's offering me something. I do have some amount of grace, though, not to mention sense; I nod this time, elbow him playfully in the ribs.

I mean, I know I'm the one who started this whole thing. And it's not that it usually bothers me to dig deep, to get all the way down there in the shit, you know? I just really need him to be okay about touching me.