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A SECOND CHANCE
By the time he stepped into the yard Starsky had the whole conversation mapped out.
I'll very calmly get a couple beers from the fridge. Hutch will be somewhere in the house, probably reading in the solarium. I'm gonna walk up to him and say, "Hutch, I can see you're not happy here. If there's someplace you'd rather be, go ahead and go. I'll be fine here by myself." If he won't answer me, which is likely, I'll tell him if he wants to stay, he's got to see a therapist. Then I'll tell him I plan to make a full recovery, go back to L.A. and be the best damn detective I can be, with . . . or without him.
Moments later Starsky took a deep breath and stepped, whistling, into the kitchen. He crossed to the refrigerator as planned and immediately noticed a letter taped to the door, 'Dave' written on the outside. He pulled the letter from the door and studied the writing. It was Hutch's hand.
Dave? OK . . . Ken.
Walking slowly through the house, he tapped the letter against his palm.
"Hutch?" he called not expecting an answer and receiving none.
He stopped outside Hutch's bedroom door and knocked, then let himself in. It didn't take a detective to see that the room was empty. Deflated, Starsky sat on the edge of the bed and tore one end off the envelope. The single sheet of paper inside explained everything and nothing. It read:
I need to be on my own for a while.
If you need me Huggy has my number.
He exhaled noisily, crumpled up the letter and launched it toward the waste basket in the corner. It missed.
Hutch . . . Oh, excuse me, Ken . . . ya really know how to steal my thunder . . .
He stalked from the room slamming the door as he went. It was childish, he knew, but he didn't care. There was no way to vent his frustration and he'd be damned if he was gonna get on the horn to Huggy.
This is your choice Hutch. If you insist on fallin' like this, buddy, you better learn how to fly.
He headed to the weight room in the basement hoping that moving some weight would take the edge off his mood. Instead he ended up sore, tired, and frustrated with his lack of strength.
The day drew to a close and Starsky felt lost and lonely in the big house. He made himself a steak on the grill, but couldn't get too enthusiastic about making anything to go with it. He ate the steak with no side dishes, standing by the kitchen sink. Finally, he sat in front of the television so close that he knew it was bad for his eyes and switched channels until he was sure there was nothing worth watching.
As a last resort he strolled out to the Torino and went for a drive around town. Any bar would beat sitting home drinking beer alone. He found an open VFW. To his surprise the parking lot was rather full.
The bar was tiny and located in the basement of the building. The room was occupied by an older couple watching TV and an old man too drunk to be worth talking to. Starsky settled himself on the corner bar stool and ordered a beer. The bartender was a balding, out of shape man in his mid-fifties. He poured the beer without comment. Upstairs there must have been a function hall in full swing, judging by the stomping on the floor above his head.
"What's goin on up there?" he asked the bartender.
"Some kinda 'Ninja' crap," the bartender replied.
"Martial Arts?" Starsky said.
"When do they finish?"
"Oh." Starsky wondered, sarcastically, if the bartender was always this chatty.
The stomping noise on the floor above suddenly changed and the sound of chairs and tables being moved about took its place.
"They're done now," the bartender informed Starsky. "A few will come down for drinks."
"Thanks," he said.
About ten minutes later twelve people came down the stairs into the bar. They were dressed in regular street clothes but red-faced with exertion. Two ladies stood at the end of the bar to order drinks while the rest of the gang moved chairs and tables to create one long table for them all to sit at. The ladies at the bar were in their mid-thirties and as different as they could be from each other. One had short chestnut hair and brown eyes and the other had long black hair and brilliant blue eyes. Both were attractively built and wore no rings. They laughed as they tried to remember all the drinks.
When some of the drinks were up on the bar Starsky took the opportunity to lend a hand and hopefully gain an acquaintance.
"Can I help you with those?" he asked the woman with short hair.
The other dark-haired woman looked him up and down. "Now, aren't you quite the gentleman," she teased.
Starsky shrugged. "Always ready to help a damsel in distress, though I gather neither of you would need any help."
"I never turn down help from someone dark and handsome," the brown eyed woman replied.
"Then allow me."
"By all means."
He picked up two drinks and moved toward the tables where the others were seating themselves. The women followed him with more drinks. When they had been placed on the table, Starsky introduced himself.
"Pleased to meet you," said the woman with dark hair. "I'm Rhonda, and this is Allison."She also introduced him to the rest of the people at the table, finishing with the oldest man in the group whom she introduced as 'Master' Connors instead of by his first name.
Starsky shook hands all around including the 'Master'. They offered him a seat and he took it. The conversations around him varied from the events of the class that had just taken place upstairs to every day events. These people were confident, self-assured and from all walks of life. He was particularly interested in Allison as she seemed to have a humorous and outgoing personality. She sat backwards on her chair, her chin on her hands, gazing at Starsky thoughtfully.
"I've seen you somewhere," she said to him.
"I doubt that." Starsky laughed. "I haven't been anywhere in town yet."
"Oh? Where are you from and what brings you here?"
"LA and . . . well . . . my job."
"What do you do?" she asked, truly interested.
"I'm a detective."
"A Private Eye? Come on, really?"
"No . . . plain 'ol boring detective on a police force. I'm on a special assignment."
"In Groton, Massachusetts?"
"I never said it was exciting, just special."
"I suppose you can't talk about it?"
"No," Starsky admitted, "I guess I can't."
He let her believe whatever she wanted to. If he ever saw her again or if they ever actually had another date he might change his mind and tell her the truth.
She started to rise from the chair and winced as she pushed herself up. "Ouch!" she exclaimed, more to her friend Rhonda than to Starsky. "I think I pulled something today."
"When you fell off?" Rhonda asked.
"Yeah, silly horse spooked at a guy out in . . ." Her sentence tailed off and she studied Starsky with her mouth still open. "Hey! That's where I know you from. You're the one that spooked my horse today! Son of a gun. What's the possibility I'd ever see you again?"
"You're kidding," Rhonda smiled, "this guy?"
"Yup, Dave Starsky, horse-scaring detective. I knew I'd seen you somewhere before."
Starsky smiled, a little embarrassed by the attention, for now the whole table wanted to know the story. He told of the white dog with the tennis ball and then of standing up and watching Allison roll off her horse and fall in the mud. By the time the story was finished they were all laughing and making jokes . . . the evening passed quickly with lots of friendly banter.
As they were leaving Starsky walked with Allison to her car. He apologized for spooking her horse.
"Oh gosh," she said " that's just the way he is. He wasn't really scared. He just used you as an excuse to be silly."
"Do I need an excuse to see you again?" Starsky ventured, giving her a shy smile.
"Well . . ." She hesitated. Rhonda had stopped two cars over and was watching over the roof tops. Their eyes met and Rhonda gave a quick thumbs up and got into her car. "How about an early dinner? Or better yet breakfast."
"Breakfast? Don't you work?" Starsky said.
"I work nights and breakfast is dinner and vice versa."
"Oh," Starsky said happily and couldn't resist, "shall I phone you or give you a nudge?" He winked at her.
She rolled her eyes. "Very poor Dave, boooo, hissss. Besides, I prefer to be kissed awake."
"Well, that's good to know." He gave her his thousand-watt smile. "So, are we on for tomorrow night?"
"Sure," she said, "how about if we meet right here around 7:30?"
"You got it." Starsky opened the car door for her and gave her a very quick kiss on the cheek. "Goodnight, Allison. See you tomorrow."
"Tomorrow it is." She got in the car and closed the door. "Goodnight, Dave," she said through the open window and drove away.
Starsky stood and watched as she drove out of sight then walked back to his own car thinking about the evening. He didn't notice that Master Connor was leaning on the car next to the Torino until he had the key in the lock. He startled when the man spoke.
"You're the detective that was shot a few months ago out in LA, aren't you?"
Starsky eyed him suspiciously. "Who wants to know?" he growled.
"Easy, fella, I won't blow your cover. I just recognized you from the newspaper photos. You planning to stay on the East Coast for a while?"
"Why don't you join our class until you decide? I think Allison would enjoy that immensely."
"Maybe I will, sir."
"You are welcome anytime, Detective Starsky. Anytime." The man got into his car and drove away leaving the parking lot empty except for the Torino and the bartender's car.
Starsky got thoughtfully into his car and went home to bed.
The dinner date with Allison the next evening didn't start off well. She was late--really late. Starsky waited patiently in the parking lot of the VFW, beginning to doubt that she would show, and no way to contact her if she didn't. She hadn't given him her phone number. He was just about to give up, figuring she had changed her mind, when her battered Pinto pulled into the lot next to the Torino.
She leapt from her car into his passenger seat breathless, apologizing and babbling a mile a minute about loose horses and broken fencing. Starsky sat quietly grinning at her while she continued to vent her frustrations of the day, most of which he didn't understand. He nodded indulgently and smiled some more.
When she started to apologize for the third time, Starsky put a hand on her arm. "Slow down." He peered at her, head cocked, eyebrows raised. "Apology accepted, okay? Are all the horses tucked in for the night?"
She blushed, "Yes, they're fine, the silly beasts. I was so afraid you wouldn't still be here and I didn't have your number or anything. I hate it when opportunity knocks and I'm in the shower, ya know?"
Starsky chuckled and shook his head. "I was having the same thoughts myself. How many horses do you have?"
"Just four," she replied. "Mine, my mother's horse, and two others that are boarders."
"So you have your own place?"
"Well, I hope it will be mine."
She studied her fingernails. "I'm going through a divorce and I might not be able to keep the place."
"So," Starsky wasn't liking the implications, "you aren't single?"
She looked him straight in the eye. "He moved out a year ago and I haven't seen him since. The wheels of justice move slow when property is involved and neither one wants to give it up."
Starsky grimaced then stared straight ahead thinking.
"Hey," Allison sighed, "I understand if you want to call this date off right now. I know all the schtick about dating chicks on the rebound. Not too mention ones that aren't completely unattached."
Starsky looked back at her. "Where are we going to eat? I'm starved."
"You like Mexican?" She grinned at him, relieved.
"Hot chachacha." He gave her his best Durante impression.
"Don't quit your day job," she teased.
"Oh, you really know how to hurt a guy. So, where are we headed?"
"I'm sorry, I forgot you don't know you way around. Why don't you follow me? I need to have my car with me tonight."
"Why's that?" He looked at her strangely. "You don't like my car?"
"No silly, I have to go to work later."
"Tonight?" Starsky was disappointed. "What time?"
"Eleven to seven. You know; neither sleet, nor snow, nor dead of night . . . ?"
"The Post Office?"
"Very astute. You oughta be a detective."
"You deliver mail at night?"
"Sort mail," she corrected. "All night, every night. Somebody else gets to deliver it."
"Oh." Starsky was bemused. "I didn't know that."
"Most people don't," she admitted. "So, is Mexican okay with you? I could really go for some fajitas."
"Allison, you're a woman after my heart."
"Among other things," she mumbled.
"Wha . . . ?"
"Nothing. Follow me, handsome." She hopped out of his car and into her own.
Over dinner they kept the conversation light, mostly talking about their childhoods and families. The more they discovered about each other, the more Starsky felt that Allison was the perfect match . . . for Hutch. It was uncanny how similar her upbringing had been. She was down to earth and easy going, but serious about her health and loved music of all kinds. She had grown up camping and horseback riding, gone to college for advertising, but changed her mind about working in an office. She preferred to work at a more blue-collar job in order to allow time to pursue her hobbies. As she spoke about herself, Starsky grew somber thinking about his partner.
"Ah . . . Dave?" She waved a hand in front of his face. "Come back, Dave. I've lost you. Are you okay?"
Starsky snapped out of his reverie to answer her. "Sorry, you just reminded me of someone I know."
"Not an old girlfriend, I hope?" She made a face.
"Nothing like that."
"Then what? Geez, You look like you lost your best friend." She was concerned. It certainly wasn't a pleasant memory.
"It's kinda complicated."
"You don't want to talk about it?"
"Okay, I know when to leave well enough alone--sometimes."
They finished dinner in good humor. Allison gave him a quick kiss and a hug in the parking lot and sped off to work. Starsky was left standing there wishing she didn't have to go, but actually glad that things hadn't gone any farther. He was feeling insecure about his scars, and as the evening progressed, he had been worried that when and if the time came, they might turn her off completely. So worried, he hadn't gotten her number or made plans for another date. He almost got in the car to follow her, but had second thoughts about that as well.
Allison drove to work convinced she had made a complete fool of herself. When Dave didn't ask for her number or another date, she simply figured he wasn't interested. Had he pulled away from her when she leaned in to give him a hug? She was sure he had.
Well Alley, she thought, there are other fish in the sea.
"Men," she muttered into the darkness of the car, "can't live with 'em, can't shoot 'em."
Jeff pulled into his brother's yard to find Starsky standing in the shallow end of the swimming pool, shorts wet, wearing a sweatshirt with cut off sleeves, his hair a wild mass of uncombed curls. He was trying out his new, gas powered, radio controlled model boat. So this was one of L.A.'s finest detectives? Jeff grinned to himself thinking of this man paired with Ken.
As a consolation prize, of sorts, for his flopped date with Allison, Starsky had found a hobby shop in town and treated himself to the high-priced model. It took two weeks and several trips back to the store to finally finish. This was the boat's maiden voyage. Now, fully involved with piloting his new toy, Starsky didn't hear the scrunch of gravel under the cruiser's tires.
Jeff touched a toggle switch letting the siren whoop once to alert the oblivious detective. Starsky spun at the sound and seeing the police cruiser had only one thought . . . Hutch, something has happened to Hutch. He clambered from the pool forgetting the tiny boat. The officer stepped toward the pool gate smiling broadly then stopped and motioned frantically to the pool with one hand Starsky looked back and hit the kill switch on the radio controller just in time to save the speeding model from smashing into the tiled wall of the pool. He turned back to the officer and grasped his hand over the fence.
"Dave Starsky." His voice was tense with worry.
"Jim's brother. I thought you looked familiar. What's the bad news, Jeff?" Starsky hunched his shoulders in anticipation.
"No bad news, Dave. Well," Jeff amended, "some bad news."
"What's happened to Hutch?" Starsky blurted out. "He's okay, isn't he?"
"Yeah, Hutch." Starsky was near panic. He forced himself not to take the trooper by the shoulders and shake him.
"He's fine. I'm sorry, I should have realized you'd think that."
Opening the gate to allow Jeff into the pool area, Starsky walked to a chair and sat wiping his sweaty palms on his shorts. "You scared the daylights outta me."
"Sorry." Jeff followed, stopping to stand in front of the detective. "My sister-in-law asked me to stop by and check on you."
Starsky squinted up at him. "Emily?"
"The one and only."
"Why didn't she call?"
"She's tried but hasn't been able to reach you. She was worried."
"Oh, that was nice of her." Starsky smiled then asked what he really wanted to know. "So, you know where Hutch is?"
Jeff was surprised. "You don't?"
"Well," he explained, "I have a way to reach him but I don't know exactly where he is."
"He's staying at my place."
Starsky couldn't keep the sarcasm from his words. "Oh, how nice for him." He took a deep breath and exhaled forcefully. "Hey, I'm forgetting my manners. You want coffee or anything?"
"I could go for some coffee," Jeff admitted.
"Come on in then." Starsky stood and stretched. "I'll put on a pot of coffee and you can tell me what that dopey, blond partner of mine has been up to."
Once inside Starsky started the coffee and busied himself putting out mugs, a carton of milk and a bowl of sugar. He tried desperately to be nonchalant but three weeks of silence had left him starved for news of his partner's well being.
"So, Hutch is staying at your place?" he asked.
Jeff saw the tension in Starsky's movements but the reason for it wasn't clear. "Ken's fine. He's doing some maintenance work at my place for the summer."
Starsky fiddled with the coffee pot. "Maintenance work? Like mowing the lawn and weeding the garden?"
"A little more involved than that, more like painting, replacing siding, fixing our porch. It's an old house and I just don't have the time or the know how. He's been busy." Jeff watched the detective carefully. All of Starsky's movements signaled he was uptight about something.
"Is something wrong, Dave?"
None of this news was making Starsky feel any less tense, in fact, it was sending him through the roof. Three weeks of worry and all the time his partner is playing 'Joe Fix-it' in someone's back yard.
"No," he said finally letting the irritation show, "not a thing. Everything's just great. Love it here, couldn't be better." He slammed the coffee mugs on the table, hands shaking. "My suicidal partner ducks out on me and never looks back. Not a word from him for three weeks. Then a state trooper shows up. Not to tell me that he's blown his head off. No, to tell me he's fine and dandy and playing 'Mr Fix-it' at his house." He spun back to the sink, ran cold water and splashed his face with it.
Jeff was stunned. "Suicidal?"
Starsky wiped his face with a dish towel. "Yeah, suicidal, or at least he had me thinking he was. I couldn't get two words outta him the week he left here."
"So, if you were so worried why didn't you track him down, get him some help?"
"Don't give me that line a crap." Starsky was shouting now, not at the trooper, at his own frustration. "You don't know anything about me and Hutch. Don't you think I've tried?" He hadn't realized until now just how frightened he had been. Without knowing it, he been waiting to hear that Hutch had killed himself.
"Easy, buddy." Jeff raised his hands as if surrendering. "I don't know why you think Ken . . . Hutch, would be suicidal. He hasn't given me any indication he was doing anything but giving you some space."
"Space? Did he actually say that? That 'I' needed space?" He flopped in a chair, twisting the dish towel he still held in his hands. "He's been miserable for the whole trip and I don't know why. I think it has something to do with me and the shooting but I'll be damned if I can figure it out. When you pulled into the driveway I just figured he'd . . ." Starsky's sentence trailed off. He stood again and stared out the window over the sink. When he continued his voice grew husky with emotion. "When you pulled in I just assumed he'd killed himself."
Jeff quickly changed the subject to give Starsky a moment to compose himself. "How about them Red Sox?" he quipped.
"Yeah, they're somethin' else." Starsky wiped at his eyes with a dish towel. "Probably go all the way this year."
They laughed, both of them understanding the ploy.
"Well, he seems fine to me . . . quiet, great with the kids. He's teaching my ten year old daughter to play guitar. He told me you guys just needed a break from each other. Sounded reasonable to me."
"I guess it is reasonable." Starsky scrubbed his face with one hand. "I just wish he'd let me know he just needed a break. I guess I've been sitting around here waiting for the bomb to go off."
"I do have a bit of a bombshell for ya, Dave," Jeff warned.
"Lay it on me, I can handle it," Starsky said bravely.
"James Gunther earned himself a 'Get Out Of Jail Free' card."
Starsky gaped at him. "On second thought, maybe I can't handle it. What have you heard?"
Jeff explained that his sister out in L.A, being in Internal Affairs, had access to privileged information. She had discovered some rather unsettling news about the Gunther case. The awful truth was that Gunther was turning state's evidence. He would probably never spend more than a night or two in jail. That wasn't the worst of it. The two hitmen, hired by Gunther, appeared to be taking it personally that they had missed. Even though Gunther had more than likely called off the hit, there were two losers nosing around the city looking for the 'pigs' that had gotten the best of them. It was only a matter of time before they discovered where Starsky and Hutch were. There was a good possibility they would try again.
"Where did she hear this?" Starsky was appalled.
"Most of the information came through I.A. Then I asked her to do some more digging. Having your partner at the house had me more than a little worried that my family might be in danger. She spoke with your captain and he checked with a friend of yours on the street." Jeff took a small notebook from his shirt pocket and flipped it open. "Guy named . . . Huggy Bear? Does that sound right?"
"Huggy would know," Starsky agreed.
"Well, this Huggy guy got his placed busted up last night. He told your captain the guys that did it were looking for you two."
Starsky slammed the table with both hands. "Was Huggy okay?"
"I don't know," Jeff said. "Your captain didn't say. I think it was just the place they busted up."
"Dammit, it's not right. People gettin' beat up just because they know me. God, I hate that." Starsky stirred his coffee angrily. "If Gunther called off the hit why would these creeps care?"
"Hit-man pride?" ventured Jeff.
"Oh, I agree," said Jeff, "but 'professional hitman' doesn't exactly strike me as the job choice of the mentally stable."
"So these guys are out there still looking for us because they got some notion they need to prove themselves to 'The Hit Man Club'? I wonder how long it will take them to track us here?"
"I guess that depends on the security of information in your department and their determination."
"Terrific," Starsky muttered. "Have you talked to Hutch about this?"
"Not yet, why?"
"Do me a favor?"
"Don't tell him the part about the hitmen still being after us."
"You think that's wise?"
Starsky's eyes sparked with intrigue. "I got an idea I want to check out first."
They finished their coffee and walked back out to the cruiser. Jeff eyed Starsky, a grin coming over his face. "You wanna ride shotgun with me some night?"
A look of doubt crossed Starsky's features.
"Ahhh, come on," Jeff whined like a kid then he added brightly, "I'll let you play with the siren."
Starsky snorted. "An offer I can't refuse."
"Great, I'll give you a call next time I'm working a late-night shift."
They shook hands and Jeff slid into the cruiser.
As he was closing the door Starsky stopped him. "Can ya do me a favor?"
"What do you need, Dave?"
"Run a license plate for me?"
"Sure, what is it?"
"New Hampshire vanity plate umm . . . BLK-BLT."
"Black Belt? You got a name too?"
"Yeah. Allison Hall."
"Okay," Jeff said dubiously. "Hang on a minute I'll give it a go."
He used the radio in the cruiser to get the info from the State Police Dispatcher. They came back with a long list of minor traffic violations, equipment warnings and speeding tickets. He cut the dispatcher off and looked at Starsky. "I wouldn't get into a car with this chick driving if I were you."
Starsky laughed. "I'll try to avoid it."
Jeff grinned. He wrote the woman's address and phone number on a piece of paper then as an afterthought wrote down some directions to the address then handed the paper to Starsky. He sobered. "You be careful. It's only a matter of time before these dudes figure out where you are, if they're serious about finding you--and Dave?
"I won't tell your partner the whole story but you gotta promise me you'll keep me informed if you hear anything else about these guys, okay?"
"You got it. Can ya give Hutch a message for me?"
"Tell him I'm not angry with him . . . take all the time he needs." Starsky leaned on the window frame of the cruiser and growled. "Tell him I still want my partner back."
"Roger. Consider it done."
Jeff put the cruiser in gear and drove down the long driveway.
What have I gotten myself into this time? When will I ever learn?
Jeff had warned Starsky to avoid getting in a car with Allison. He should have warned him to stay away from her all together. Now, here he was clinging to a saddle horn, strapped to a Mr. Ed look-a-like.
I wonder if I can cite her for detective abuse?
Since their flopped date, Starsky hadn't been able to get Allison off his mind. All the things that made her a perfect match for Hutch, he reasoned, just might make her a perfect match for himself. After all, didn't he and Hutch get along famously? Well, usually.
After Jeff had run Allison's license plate number, finding her had been a snap. Keeping up with her was another matter. Since he had strolled into her yard two days ago they had been going non-stop. She had taken him to dinner, the movies, running, hiking and now for the second time, horseback riding. The first ride had been a little learning foray around the barn yard and had hardly counted as a ride. It was more like a dare.
"I bet the only horse you've ever ridden needed a nickel to make it go," she had joked.
"So? It can't be all that hard to do," he'd blustered. "Look at all them cowboys. They don't have any trouble."
So he had climbed aboard the Palomino Quarterhorse she was just bringing in from the riding ring behind the barn. His name was Frosty but Starsky thought he looked like Mr. Ed.
"A horse is a horse, of course, of course," he sang as he climbed aboard. He picked up the reins and shook them. "Giddy up." Frosty pinned his ears against his head and didn't move. Starsky kicked gently, shaking the reins at the same time. "Giddy up," he tried again. Frosty backed two steps and casually reached his head down to nibble a dandelion from the grass.
"I don't think he's listening to me," Starsky admitted. "Come on, Mr. Ed, I'm trying to impress the lady."
"Oh, I'm impressed," Allison snickered, more amused than impressed. "I'll give you an A plus for balls and an F for execution. Now, will you let me show you some of the finer points of making that hay burner go?"
"Please do," Starsky conceded.
He had enjoyed it immensely, and after half an hour was walking the yellow horse all around the barnyard with no problems. Today, however, she had talked him into going on a picnic trail ride. He was back aboard 'Mr.Ed', a.k.a. Frosty, and out on trail the ground seemed to be a long way down.
Well, at least the view is good. He ogled at Allison's backside as she leaned forward to stroke her horse's neck.
She swiveled in her saddle to look back at him. "You're not afraid of heights are you, Dave?"
"Nah," he lied. "It's not how high you are anyway."
"It's how hard you hit the ground," she finished for him.
He let go of the saddle horn to shoot a finger at her. "You got it." Frosty stumbled and Starsky clutched for the horn . . . again. Cowboys on TV made it look so easy.
"You're doin' great," Allison called encouragingly. "Hang on tight now, here comes the fun part." She turned her horse and dropped out of sight.
"Oh, shit," Starsky muttered to himself. His horse broke into a shuffle to catch up, turned on his own and stepped into space. Starsky closed his eyes.
"Lean back, Dave," Allison called from the bottom of the sandy slope. "Let 'ole Frosty do the work."
He did as he was told and to his amazement arrived next to her still aboard and unharmed.
"You made it." She beamed at him. "We're almost there. Just a little further and we'll stop for lunch."
"Great," he said, " I'm starved."
They picked their way down a rocky trail flanked by waist high bushes of fragrant pink and white flowers.
"Who planted all these flowers?" Starsky called ahead to her.
"They're Mountain Laurel, silly. They just grow here all by themselves."
"They're amazing." Starsky wished he had brought his camera. From his horseback perspective it felt like they were riding through the clouds.
The trail opened up and in front of them rose a small abandoned granite quarry. Water cascaded down one rock face into a deep pool of teal green. Mountain laurel clung to every available ledge, framing the water in pink and white.
Allison dismounted, swinging effortlessly to the ground. Starsky tried to imitate her smooth dismount but the ground was farther down than he remembered. His left foot hung in the stirrup leaving him hopping after Frosty who chose that moment to step forward for a grassy snack.
"Son of a . . ." he cursed and wrestled his foot free.
Allison caught Frosty's reins and handed them back to Starsky. "Hang on to him while I get my horse settled."
She loosened her horses' girth, removed his bridle and replaced it with a halter and lead. In moments she had done the same to Starsky's horse and them both to a stout tree.
"There," she said satisfied the horses were well cared for. "Time for lunch."
"Yum." Starsky rubbed his hands together in anticipation. "What's on the menu?"
She untied saddlebags from her horse and selected a large, flat rock overlooking the quarry to use for their table. The bottle of wine came wrapped in a blanket which she spread for them to sit on. She handed the bottle to Starsky. "Hey handsome, open this for me."
He searched his pockets for his army knife, pleased he had remembered to bring it. "Can you be arrested for riding under the influence?" he asked as Allison laid out sandwiches and chips.
"You're the cop. You tell me."
"If I arrest you, you'll have to be frisked." He leered at her. "I'll have to be sure you don't have any concealed weapons."
"Quick," she said, "pour me some wine. I don't want to miss that opportunity."
They sat cross-legged and ate their lunch. Dragonflies dodged about the quarry, their wings iridescent in the sunshine. Before they finished the sky began to fill with ominous rain clouds blocking out the sun. Starsky lay back, hands behind his head and watched the clouds. "I didn't know horseback riding was so tiring," he yawned.
Allison leaned over and kissed him on the nose. "I think it's the wine, not the riding, that's making you sleepy."
He reached up to cup a hand behind her head, pulling her close for a kiss.
"I think it's raining," she murmured against his lips. "I just felt a drop."
"Mmm," he silenced her with a kiss.
"It's definitely raining." She pulled away slightly to look down at him.
"So?" He pulled her down again.
"You left the windows open in your car," she said just as their lips touched.
"Shit," he grumbled and sat up. "I think you're right."
She stood and pulled him to his feet. "Come on, Romeo. Let's get home before the thunder and lightning start."
The ride back to the barn took them down an old railroad bed. The tracks had been removed years before leaving a wide path with perfect footing. The rain came harder, pelting them with fat drops driven by a rising wind. Starsky's horse swiveled his ears and pulled nervously at the reins. Allison's shook his head and pranced sideways.
"What's wrong with them?" Starsky asked, concerned with the change in his horse's placid behavior.
"They want to be home out of the rain and I usually canter here." Allison steadied her mount with a firm rein.
"Canter, lope, gallop, pretty much the same thing . . . fast."
"Can we try it?"
"What do I do?"
"Hang on," she suggested laughing.
"Okay, wise guy," he admonished her. "How do I stop?"
"Lean back and say, whoa."
"Seriously." She turned to look at him. "Don't worry, he'll just follow my lead . . . you concentrate on staying aboard. Holler if you're having trouble. Okay?"
"Tally ho," Starsky answered with a grin.
It was hard to see with the wind and driving rain but the faster gait was easier to sit than the slower, bouncier trot. Starsky actually started to feel like one-horse-power might be fun. He leaned forward and encouraged Frosty to go faster. "Yeeehaw!" He whooped his enthusiasm.
Just as he was beginning to tire and lose the rhythm, Allison raised a hand signaling she was stopping.
"Whoa!" He commanded. Frosty immediately slid to a stop sending Starsky rolling forward over his head.
Allison turned just in time to see him land on his backside directly under Frosty's nose. The yellow horse stuck his neck out and snorted, blowing dirt and snot down Starsky's neck.
"Ohhhh . . . yuck," he groaned, "that's disgusting."
Allison was at his side in an instant. "Are you okay?" She hid an unconfined smirk behind her hands.
"I forgot to lean back," he confessed. "Then Mr. Ed here decided to blow his nose in my hair."
Frosty yawned a jaw-cracking, eye-rolling yawn and snorted again. They both burst out laughing.
"I don't think Frosty likes his new nickname," Allison chuckled. She helped Starsky to his feet. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"Just a bruised ego," he groused.
The rain came a little harder. In the distance thunder rumbled. With a little help from Allison, Starsky remounted. They walked the last half-mile to the barn without mishap. By the time the horses were warm and snug in their stalls munching hay, Starsky and Allison were cold and shivering. They sprinted through the rain to the house.
Inside they were greeted by Rocco, Allison's Jack Russell Terrier.
"Rocco, the irresistible." Starsky bent to pat the dog. "Where's your tennis ball, buddy?"
Rocco's eyes sparkled. He cocked his head at the word 'ball' then raced out of the kitchen into the living room.
Starsky laughed. "Where's he going?"
"To find a ball," Allison responded putting a teapot on the stove. "If you're lucky he won't find one right away."
"Once he does you're doomed to throw it for him 'til death do you part." She looked at Starsky critically. "You look like a drown rat. Go get out of those clothes and take a hot shower." She shooed him into the bathroom and closed the door.
Starsky peeled his wet clothes off and left them in a heap on the bath mat. He turned the water on as hot as he dared and studied himself in the mirror plucking a strand of hay from his hair. The scars on his chest were still clearly visible but fading and less noticeable than they had been three weeks ago. He stepped into the shower and let the hot water soothe his aching muscles.
I'm gonna be sore tomorrow.
It would be a 'good' sore he decided. The kind that means you pushed yourself having a good time. He was lost in thought, the hot water drumming on his shoulders when Allison stepped into the shower behind him.
"Save any hot water for me?" She paused, taking a quick, surprised breath.
Starsky remained motionless knowing she was studying the scars on his back, waiting for her reaction.
She stepped forward and ran her hands down his arms. "Let me guess," she murmured, moving in closer to kiss his neck. "You were on an African safari and were attacked by a raging rhinoceros?"
"A rhinoceros?" Starsky snorted.
He shook his head.
"You were surfing the 'Pipeline' in Hawaii and a shark attacked you?"
He shook his head again.
She put her arms around him pressing herself against his back. "You were shot," she said softly.
He nodded slowly. "You knew before now . . . who told you?"
"A little birdie?"
He shook his head.
"Master Connor's. He showed me a newspaper article about it. You're lucky to be alive."
"Does it still hurt?"
"Were you scared?" she wondered.
He turned to face her, kissing her forehead, wrapping his arms around her waist.
"Nah," he said, kissing her nose.
"How come I wasn't scared?"
"Yeah." She nuzzled his neck, exploring his back with her hands.
He pondered the question for a moment. The answer occurred to him like a vision.
"Hutch," he said as if that was all the explanation needed.
"What's a Hutch?"
"Who's a Hutch," he corrected.
"Everywhere a Hutch, Hutch." She giggled, found the soap and lathered his chest.
"Remember our first date?" He took the soap from her and lathered her front.
"How could I forget."
"I said you reminded me of someone."
"Uh-huh." She turned so he could lather her back.
"That someone is Hutch."
"Who is Hutch?" She pivoted to face him again.
"My partner, my best friend." And much more.
"I remind you of a guy?" she said incredulously, hands on hips.
He embraced her, running his hands down her back to firmly grasp her rear. "Your personality, not the rest of you . . . and he's not just any guy."
She growled in his ear, "I think I need to meet this 'Hutch'."
He pulled them under the water to rinse off the soap. "You will."
She shivered suddenly. "This water is getting cold."
Starsky studied his finger tips from over her shoulder. "I think I'm turning into a prune."
"No," she leaned back looking down, "no, you're not."
"Shall we adjourn to the bedroom?"
"We shall," she agreed.
Outside the lightning flashed and thunder rolled across the sky.
Starsky and Allison lay on rafts in the pool, Allison face down, sound asleep, both arms dangling into the water. Starsky floated sitting in a chair buoyed by Styrofoam padding. He had dozed as well but the sun had finally fallen below the tree line and the shaded air combined with the cool water made him shiver. They had planned to meet for dinner but Allison had arrived hours earlier, obviously upset.
She had banged on the door, then let herself in, storming passed him into the kitchen without a word spoken.
"Yikes!" Starsky exclaimed, her abruptness taking him by surprise. "What's goin' on, Alley?"
He had never seen her angry before and it struck him as amusing. He leaned in the doorway of the kitchen, grinning, watching her slam open cabinets looking for something. "I thought we weren't meeting 'til later," he ventured.
She stopped banging doors and gave him a scathing look. "Fine," she spat vehemently then turned on her heel and marched passed him out of the kitchen.
"Whoa there, Tiger," he caught her arm as she brushed by. "I didn't mean you had to leave. I just thought you had things to do today."
She yanked her arm free and glared at him saying nothing. Starsky raised his hands and backed away. "Don't mind me," he said stifling a grin. "I just live here. Carry on." He leaned back against the doorframe, waved a hand toward the kitchen then crossed his arms on his chest. She turned back into the kitchen and slammed open the refrigerator. Taking a diet soda from within, she opened it, took several swallows, then belched and wiped her mouth with the back of a hand.
"Very lady-like," he observed. "What do you do for an encore?"
She fixed him with a frown. "I am NOT having a stellar day and you can wipe that silly grin off your face. I'm in no mood."
He approached her carefully, still grinning, arms folded, eyebrows raised. "You're not mad at me, are ya?"
"No," she grumbled, drinking more soda.
He searched his memory for the list of activities she had mentioned the day before and wondered which one had caused the change in her usually sunny disposition. "You worked last night," he stated.
She nodded affirmative.
"Went home and took care of the horses." He looked up at the ceiling, thinking hard for the next item. "Went to Karate class . . ."
"I'm quitting," she snarled and moved to the sink to stare out the windows.
"Oh?" Starsky leaned a hip on the counter near her. "Is that what has you all in a snit?" He cocked his head to peer into her face.
She frowned at him. "You could say that. Among other things."
Her expression changed from anger to resignation. "He went one step too far this morning."
Starsky looked puzzled. "Who went one step too far?"
"He has no right to tell me who I should or shouldn't date. It's none of his goddamned business," she groused ignoring his question.
"Master Connors?" Starsky guessed.
"Grrrr," she sneered and finished the soda.
"Gee, and I thought he liked me. Who wouldn't? Hmmm?" He grinned at Allison again, hoping to lighten her mood.
Her eyes grew dark with fury. "It wasn't funny, Dave."
"Sorry," he mumbled then leered, "but your eyes are really sexy when you're angry."
She threw him a withering look. "I'm going for a run before I get violent." Turning her back to him, she stomped from the room.
"Wait for me." He called after her. Chuckling to himself, he grabbed his sneakers and pulled them on without untying them.
Allison ran down the driveway setting a blistering pace. Starsky didn't try to catch her. He trundled along at his own speed confident that she would circle back to him when her anger had cooled. Sure enough, after a mile or two he caught sight of her coming back in his direction. She reached him and turned to jog next to him, breathing hard.
He grinned at her. "Feeling better?"
"Somewhat," she admitted.
"So tell me what Master Connors said that got you so worked up."
"Let's just finish this run, then I'll tell you all about it."
"Will your eyes flash like they did before?" He looked at her hopefully.
She opened her eyes wide and stuck out her tongue, "Like thith . . . ?"
He laughed. "Not exactly."
They turned into the woods to take the shorter way back to the house. Allison stayed in the lead until they reached the driveway then Starsky sprinted ahead to hold open the back door for her. He bowed low ushering her inside with a flourish. "My lady of the flashing eyes, your castle awaits."
She curtsied and swept into the kitchen. "My hero. My knight of the ample sword."
"Ample? Hey, whadda ya mean, ample?" he cried indignant. Letting the door slam behind him, he strode into the kitchen peering into his shorts.
She stood at the counter pulling glasses from the cupboard. He put his arms around her from behind and gave her a hug. "I'll show ya ample." He kissed her neck.
Shrugging him off she moved to take ice cubes from the freezer. Starsky shouldered himself under her arms to pull lemonade from the refrigerator. She pushed him aside with her hip, put the glasses on the counter and he poured the drinks.
Allison started the conversation as if there had been no pause. "It felt like he was threatening me." She placed both hands on the sink and stretched back, dropping her head down between her arms. "Then he proceeded to pick on me through the whole class. By the time we got to sparring I was ready to flip out." She drank most of the lemonade. "I lost it with a punk, yellow belt. The idiot thinks he's the next Bruce Lee. Nothin' worse than sparring a gung-ho, yellow belt guy."
Starsky looked at her dubiously.
"I tagged him twice and then had to stop the match before I hurt the stupid . . ." She let the sentence trail off and placed an ankle up on the sink reaching forward to stretch her hamstring.
Starsky winced. He had never been flexible enough to do that. "Why would Master Connors care if you and I dated?" he asked.
"Power trip thing is my guess." She switched legs and stretched again. "He likes to think he can control most of the women in class . . . especially the single ones. Unfortunately, most of them fall for it."
He looked at her more seriously. "You didn't."
"Me?" She dropped her leg to the floor and said thoughtfully. "I almost did . . . it's pretty heady stuff when you first start in the martial arts. Having 'the Master' pay attention to you feels special, at least until you realize he's just another 'guy' hitting on the ladies. I can forgive him that, but . . . this was different."
"How so . . ." Starsky was curious because, truth be known, 'Master' Connors gave him the creeps.
"He seemed a little panicky about my seeing you . . . maybe because you're a cop . . ." She stopped to contemplate that thought. "Maybe he's doing something illegal and thinks you'll find out."
"I thought he taught Martial Arts for a living."
"No, it's just a hobby for him. He works for some high-tech company in Southern New Hampshire."
"So what are you gonna do?"
She stared at him for a moment. "I'm here aren't I?"
"You mean you're not going to bow to Master Connors wishes and ditch the cop?"
"HAH!" she exclaimed, "Come on, 'Ample Knight' let's hit the showers." She took his hand and led him from the kitchen.
A Second Chance by Diana Tyson / Pinto
Hutch stepped back from the house, wiping the sweat from his face with a red bandana. He surveyed the replaced porch railing with a critical eye. His new occupation as a carpenter and painter suited him perfectly. Everything simple and finite. No mysteries to solve, no dead bodies to look at. Porch railings rarely offered to resist arrest.
And never shot back.
Tanned and more fit than he had been in years, Hutch sighed and pulled his belt a hole tighter. He had lost weight with all the running and manual labor. The painter's pants he bought six weeks ago were getting baggy. He had shaved his moustache and gotten a haircut after spending several days trying to remove spattered paint from his face and hair. Now he wore a Red Sox baseball cap whenever he was working on the house and usually donned the white painter's pants without a shirt when it was hot.
Later in the day he looked forward to giving Kate a guitar lesson and maybe playing a game of catch with the boys. The days were running together in a pleasant haze of banality. He had politely refused the offer to ride 'shotgun' with Jeff, though he knew Starsky had done so more than once. He was very happy spending his evenings reading or fiddling with his guitar.
Jeff had kept his promise to Starsky and not told Hutch about the hitmen wanting some sort of revenge, but the latest rumblings from his sister in L.A. had him a little worried about the detectives' safety. Without saying why, he had insisted that Hutch carry a gun at all times. Hutch had balked at the request claiming his Python was too bulky to wear while hanging off a ladder. Jeff silenced the argument by handing Hutch a .38 revolver that could easily be worn clipped to the inside of his waistband.
Hutch wasn't fooled when Jeff claimed he had reasons other than Gunther's hitmen for asking him to be armed at all times.
"You stop paying your bills down at the hardware store?" Hutch joked. "They have a heavy doing their collecting?"
"No," Jeff scoffed, "nothing like that."
"Have a run in with Kevin's Little League coach?" Hutch gave a fake shudder. "He is kinda scary."
"Give me a break will ya , Ken? Just wear the gun."
"Starsky wants me to carry, right?"
Jeff shrugged his reply.
"I thought so." Hutch sighed. "If it'll make both of you more comfortable . . ." He tucked the gun in the waistband of his pants.
"Yeah, you're welcome." He climbed back up the ladder where he had been painting trim on the old house.
"Hey," Jeff shaded his eyes to look up at Hutch. "You mind if a couple people join us tomorrow for our run?
"Not at all." Hutch glanced down at him. "The more the merrier."
"Okay, great!" Jeff responded enthusiastically. "Ken?"
"Yeah?" Hutch had resumed painting and didn't look down.
"I'm gonna be gone the rest of the day and I'm heading straight to work after I finish my errands. I won't see you again until morning, okay?"
Hutch wasn't sure why it mattered. Jeff was often gone overnight, but something in his voice made him feel uncomfortable. "Everything all right?"
"Yeah, Ken." Jeff grinned. "I just thought I'd let you know."
"Okay." Hutch dipped his brush in the paint can. "I'll keep an eye on the place."
Jeff spent the afternoon at the police station investigating the background of martial arts instructor, Lawrence B. Connors. When he picked Starsky up at 10:30 that evening he had disturbing news for the detective.
"You're gonna love this." Jeff shook his head as Starsky climbed into the cruiser, carrying coffee and donuts for both of them. He was dressed in his usual faded blue jeans and a red polo shirt.
"What?" Starsky asked suspiciously.
"Master Connors is a busy man."
Starsky handed Jeff a coffee and took a sip of his own. "Doing what, dare I ask?"
"The I.R.S. has been chasing him for quite some time."
"Ah hah," Starsky exclaimed into his coffee mug.
"Oh, it gets better," Jeff promised. "The I.R.S. is only after the Karate school."
"I wonder if that's why he didn't want Allison dating a cop."
Jeff was alarmed. "I thought he didn't know who you were?"
Starsky looked at him quizzically. "He recognized me the first night I met him. It was kinda spooky. He said he remembered seeing my picture in the paper."
"Shit," Jeff muttered. "That's not good."
"Why?" Starsky asked, a sick feeling growing in his stomach. "What difference does it make?"
"Lawrence B. Connors is the Executive of Operations for a high-tech manufacturing company called Opti-Tron."
Starsky shrugged, still confused.
"Opti-Tron, my friend," Jeff explained, "is a subsidiary of the San Francisco based firm by the name of . . ."
Starsky's eyes widened; he truly felt sick to his stomach. "Gunther Enterprises," he choked.
"Ding, ding, ding, ding," Jeff chimed, "We have a winner! Tell the detective what he's won." He continued in a deep baritone. "A year's supply of Turtle Wax and fifteen cases of Rice-a-Roni . . ."
"The San Francisco treat," Starsky finished for him, mumbling. "Somehow I wish I could trade for door number three."
Jeff started the cruiser and pulled down the driveway. "Cheer up." He glanced at Starsky. "At least now you can't say you're paranoid."
Starsky looked at him, a grimace on his face. "Why's that?
"Someone's probably really after you." Jeff wiggled his eyebrows. "What did you find out today?"
Starsky thought a moment then gave Jeff the lowdown. "I talked to Huggy and he confirmed that two guys trashed his place. He walked in on them and got a bash on the head for his trouble. The same two guys harassed the man that fixed my car. They were looking for information on what happened to the Torino. Claimed they wanted to buy it. Earl thinks his mechanic might have told them who shipped it, but couldn't remember where it was going. If they ask the right person the right question, they could trace the Torino right to the house." Starsky sighed heavily. "It doesn't really matter if Connors is in cahoots with Gunther. They're gonna find us soon."
Jeff used his radio to log himself on duty and drove the cruiser to his beat. He placed the car strategically on the median of a busy section of highway to watch traffic for a while. Starsky knew from previous nights riding shotgun that Jeff liked to start the evening stopping a few traffic violations and then they would cruise the streets for several hours. If nothing came up they would finish the night catching early morning speeders. This being a weeknight, neither expected anything very exciting to occur.
Starsky settled against the passenger door and watched Jeff watch the traffic. He spoke after a moment or two. "I wonder why they haven't tried to take us out yet?"
"Your pretty sure they know where you are, aren't you?" Jeff's eyes never left the road.
Starsky shivered though the night was warm. "They know."
"So what are they waiting for?" Jeff studied Starsky carefully. "You're awfully calm about this."
Starsky shifted in his seat. "I met Connors the same day Hutch moved into your place. I haven't seen him since. My guess is that they can't find him and they're hoping I'll lead them to him. Then again, if they've connected you to him they're only waiting to take us out sometime when we're together. Just like old times."
"So," Jeff hesitated, "what's the plan?"
"You're not part of it." Starsky was adamant. "I'll get Hutch to move back in with me and we'll wait it out. They'll make a move sooner or later but this time we'll be ready for 'em."
"Like you were before," Jeff muttered, and wished he hadn't said it when he saw fury rise in Starsky's face.
"Listen, Dave," Jeff pleaded, "let me help. You're gonna need more fire power than you've got with you anyway. I'll send Anne and the kids up to the lake for a couple weeks and we can hole up at my place. Three sets of eyes are better than two. I can get back-up, too."
"No way." Starsky shook his head. "This isn't about busting drunk drivers or pulling over a speeder. These guys mean business."
"Yeah and whose gonna watch your backs while you argue over where to go eat?" Jeff meant it as a joke but Starsky looked at him without humor then shook his head and smiled.
"You got me there," he admitted. "Does Hutch know I'm coming running with you in the morning?"
"He knows someone is coming. I didn't tell him it was you and Allison."
"Gonna be an interesting morning." Starsky slumped against the door and looked out the window into the night. He was excited about seeing Hutch again, yet nervous, and a little afraid, that Hutch wouldn't feel the same way.
Hutch heard the single whoop of Jeff's patrol car siren signaling the trooper was home. He downed the last of his coffee and stood stretching, knowing it would be a few minutes before Jeff would be ready to go running.
A moment later a knock on the apartment's screen door took Hutch by surprise. The female voice that called "Hello," stopped him in his tracks. When Jeff had said some people would be joining them this morning Hutch had assumed he meant state troopers, male troopers. He self-consciously dragged a hand through his hair. On his way to the door he scooped dirty socks from the floor and a shirt and towel from the back of the couch. He stuffed the items into a closet and slammed the door.
"Just a minute!" he called, organizing a stack of magazines and picking up empty beer bottles from a table in the living room.
The woman outside the screen door had her back to him, gazing toward the driveway. He had a chance to look her up and down and appreciate her slender, tanned body before she turned, hand raised, to knock again. She jumped, startled at his sudden appearance. "Jeez," she exclaimed, "you scared me."
"Sorry," Hutch apologized. "May I help you?" He pushed the door open and leaned against it.
She eyed him critically. "So," she said, "this is a Hutch. You're much better looking than I expected."
Hutch looked down at himself, suddenly embarrassed. "Ah . . . yeah, well . . . this is me. And you are?"
Without warning, she threw her arms around his neck, pulling him off balance and planted a kiss firmly on his lips. To keep from tipping over he placed his hands on her hips. She leaned away from him, hands still around his neck and smirked at him. "I am very pleased to finally meet you."
"I'm afraid I have know idea who you are." Hutch shrugged, laughing.
"Allison Hall." She released his neck and offered her hand. "Dave's told me all about you."
"Dave?" Hutch said, taking her hand but still confused. He was thinking of state troopers.
"Uh-oh," Allison grimaced, hoping she hadn't made a terrible mistake. "You are Ken Hutchinson, aren't you?"
"The one and only," he replied.
"Phew!" She wiped her brow in mock relief. "I'd hate to think I'd lip-locked a total stranger."
It finally dawned on him who she was talking about. "You mean 'Dave' Starsky?"
"Dark, curly hair, blue eyes," she said gesturing around her head, "nice buns, ample ah . . . never mind."
Hutch laughed. "Where is the dirtball?"
"Out by the cruiser; he's checking out the cows across the street." She rolled her eyes. "He thinks they're 'neat'."
Hutch dropped her hand and started down the steps.
"Hey, Hutch!" Allison called. He stopped to look back at her. "Can I use your bathroom?"
"Oh sure, help yourself." He continued toward the driveway.
Starsky leaned on the driver's door of the cruiser, elbows on the roof. Across the street black and white heifers grazed peacefully. He watched them in fascination, mostly wondering how something so big could survive on grass. Not being able to resist the temptation, he mooed out loud. One of the cows glanced up at him and Starsky chuckled to himself. "Hey, cow. How's it goin'?" He waved at them and mooed again. "Moooo."
"Learning a new language?" Hutch called, walking down the grassy slope to the car.
Starsky spun and looked at him over the top of the cruiser. His grin spread. "Ain't you a sight for sore eyes?" He took in Hutch's tan and obvious good health and nodded with satisfaction. "You look great."
Hutch's smile widened to match his partner's. Starsky leapt, cat-like, over the hood of the cruiser and landed at Hutch's feet, hand extended. Hutch took the hand, shook it once then pulled Starsky into a bear hug. They clung silently to each other for a moment then separated, Hutch leaving his hands on Starsky's shoulders. He looked the smaller man over carefully. "Looks like you've been busy getting well." He smiled broadly. "How ya feelin', buddy?"
"Better than ever," Starsky replied, grinning ear to ear. They embraced again, thumping each other on the back, then stepped back, sniffing and wiping at their eyes.
"God, it's good to see you. Come on in the house." Hutch put an arm around Starsky's shoulders and turned to the house. "We got a hell of a lot of catching up to do."
"You ain't kiddin'," Starsky mumbled, mostly thinking of the Gunther situation. "Wait," he added, "let me get my running stuff." He ducked out from under Hutch's arm and once again bounding over the hood, returned to the driver's side of the cruiser. Fumbling with the door, he realized it was locked and stuck his arm through the half open window to unlock it.
A dark sedan came around the corner too fast and caught the shoulder of the road, throwing dirt and sand in a cloud.
The situation was so familiar Hutch gaped in amazement as the car squealed around the corner. He had lived this scenario in his dreams so many times it felt perfectly normal and he knew exactly what to do. Everything around him slowed to a surreal crawl. It seemed he had all the time in the world to play out this scene.
Starsky had the lock button up and his hand out of the window when Hutch shouted, "Get down!" He dropped as if struck by lightning, hugging the ground.
A wave of satisfaction washed over Hutch as he shouted and Starsky instantly dropped from view. The first shots fired from the sedan hit the ground as the car bumped and careened back onto the pavement. Now, get your gun out . . . Hutch wished for his Python but made do with the .38, putting two shots through the windshield and one through the driver's window, all while gaining partial cover behind the engine compartment of the cruiser. The next shots from the road tore into the side of the patrol car, the last one finding Hutch's left shoulder and spinning him around. He tried to maintain his balance but his legs refused to cooperate and he slid to the ground, leaning on the front wheel of the cruiser. Through a haze of pain he heard Starsky's Barretta and, squinting over to the porch of the old house, saw Jeff level and fire a shotgun.
Starsky cringed as the bullets bit into the ground in front of him. He held his breath, waiting for the lead to find its mark. To think he would be shot again was more than his mind could bear. Instead, he heard the unfamiliar bark of a handgun and more bullets slammed into the cruiser just above his head. Flattening against the ground, he pulled his Barretta and took aim at the back of the sedan from his prone position. The rear window shattered and the car swerved. From somewhere behind him a shotgun roared and the sedan veered off the road and out of sight. Metal screeched and black smoke billowed up from where the car had disappeared. He heard a resounding whump and flames rose within the smoke.
Jeff sprinted by, shotgun at high port, visually checking Starsky as he headed for the crash site. "Call for backup," he shouted.
Starsky took a ragged breath and exhaled, pushing himself to his knees. "Hutch?" he listened carefully. There was no answer and he panicked. "Hutch?" he cried scrambling to his feet. "Hutch!"
Hutch answered weakly from the other side of the car. "I'm here."
Starsky climbed over the hood, this time landing in a heap as his legs shook with the after-affects of the adrenaline rush the gunfire had caused.
Hutch sat against the front wheel of the cruiser, his feet stretched in front of him. He clasped his left shoulder, blood seeping through his fingers.
Starsky knelt next to him. "Jeezus, Hutch, you're hit." He reached to touch him then pulled away not wanting to cause his partner any unnecessary pain, undecided what to do next. Hutch's head was bent down and his shoulders shook. Starsky put his hand under Hutch's chin and lifted. "Hey, Blondie," he said peering into Hutch's face. "You okay?"
Hutch was laughing, tears streaming down his face. "No, I'm not okay, ya dope, but I'll live."
"What's so damned funny?" Starsky said quietly, thinking he was delirious.
"You," Hutch said, still grinning.
Starsky pointed to himself. "Me?"
"Never saw anyone hit the deck so fast in my life." Hutch rolled to support himself on his good elbow, still laughing. "If you'd only done that the first time . . ." He rambled to himself. "Of course, If I'd stayed standing, like I just did . . ." He stopped and took a deep painful breath. "Oh boy," he moaned, "I don't feel so good. Think I'll just lay down for a minute." He started to stretch out on the ground.
"Hey!" Starsky grabbed his shirt front. "Not here, big guy, let's get you into the house. You don't make any sense. You're crazy. You saved my ass both times. Are you nuts?" he prattled pulling Hutch back into a seated position. "Whadda ya mean if you'd stayed standing? If you'd stayed standing before, we woulda both been full of holes. Is that what's been eatin' you this whole time? You are nuts."
"No", Hutch slurred. " I screwed up the last time. No doubt about it." He batted at Starsky's hands. "I don't want to move right now. Leave me be."
Allison appeared, wide eyed, and knelt next to the two men. "Don't move him, Dave, an ambulance is on the way. I called the local police and the fire station, too. How is he?"
"It's just a flesh wound," Hutch quipped in a strange British accent. He dissolved in a fit of giggles. "'Tis just a scratch," he managed.
Allison caught on immediately, snickered and answered in the same accent. "A scratch? Your arm's off."
"No, it isn't," Hutch countered, still laughing. "I've had worse." He started to lose his balance and Allison caught him, moving forward on her knees to support his uninjured side. He pushed at her weakly with his good arm. "Have at you," he rallied.
Allison laughed out right. "What're ya gonna do? Bleed on me?"
Hutch clung to her, giggling out of control. Starsky watched in total confusion as they both laughed and snorted.
"I'm invincible!" Hutch stated.
"Your a looney," Allison rebuked.
"I think you're both ready for the men in white coats." Starsky was appalled. "What are you two going on about?"
"Monty Python," Allison managed between giggles.
"And The Holy Grail," Hutch finished. "I love that movie."
"A movie? I thought that was my trick," Starsky blustered.
"Beat ya to it, partner." Hutch grimaced in pain and sobered. "Don't make me laugh any more, okay?" He looked up at Allison. She grinned down at him then shifted to help keep him upright.
"Your mother was a hamster and your father . . ." She trailed off.
"Enough," Hutch chuckled, "you're killin' me."
They could hear sirens in the distance growing louder as they approached. Allison cocked her head to listen. "Sounds like half the state is on its way."
"I should go check on Jeff." Starsky rose to his feet but stopped when Hutch called to him.
He knelt back down in front of his partner.
Hutch grabbed his arm. No sign of laughter in his voice. "I'm sorry," he choked.
Starsky studied the blond's face. "Sorry about what? You're the one got shot."
"Not about today." Hutch faltered and coughed, "about the last time. I really screwed up. I didn't cover you."
"Don't do that to yourself." Starsky took his partner gently by the front of the shirt. "There wasn't anything you could have done differently."
"Yeah, there was," Hutch insisted. "I proved that today."
"And you got shot," Starsky reasoned. "You did the best you could both times. Besides, if you got shot last time who woulda taken care of me?"
"I walked out on you," Hutch said in dismay.
"You needed a break, buddy," Starsky soothed. "I understood. I was all better by then anyway. You were the best nurse a guy could ask for. Hey," he brightened, "I never woulda met this pretty lady if you had stayed."
Hutch looked up at Allison. "You're probably right. I woulda kept her for myself."
The paramedics arrived pulling a wheeled stretcher. Allison and Starsky stood aside while they assessed Hutch's condition and loaded him on a backboard.
"I'm riding with him," Starsky announced to no one in particular. He turned to Alley and gave her a quick, apologetic kiss, torn between staying with her and going with his partner.
"Go," she said. "He needs you. I'll catch up with you at the hospital."
"You sure you're okay?" Starsky worried.
"Go." She pointed to the retreating stretcher. "I'm fine."
He hurried after the paramedics, placing his hand on top of Hutch's as he caught up.
Allison stood with her arms wrapped around herself, shivering, when Jeff came up behind her and put an arm around her waist. "How're they doing?" he asked, watching the men load Hutch into the ambulance.
"I think they're better than they have been in a long time." She sighed thoughtfully.
"How 'bout you?" he asked.
"I'm going for a run," she said resolutely. "And then I'd like a ride to the hospital . . . How are the guys in the car?" She watched the ambulance pull away.
Allison shuddered and closed her eyes. "I'll be back." She promised and jogged out the driveway and onto the street in the opposite direction of the wreck.
Jeff watched her go then wandered back toward the fire trucks to speak with the still arriving police.
Starsky slammed the trunk of the Torino and leaned on it, arms folded across his chest. He breathed deeply of the crisp, clear October air and gazed at the heifers across the street, still marveling at the contrast between their black and white coats and the orange, red, and gold of the trees surrounding the pasture. He must have taken fifty pictures of those cows this summer and fall. Allison had kidded him about his fascination with bovines claiming he must be a farm boy at heart.
Saying his final farewells, Hutch came down from the porch of the Maxwell's house. A chorus of goodbyes followed in his wake. He stopped next to Starsky and put a hand on his shoulder. "All set?"
"Why the long face?"
He shrugged again.
"Want me to drive first?"
Starsky shook his head no and levered himself off the trunk. He walked slowly to the driver's side door then looked across the roof at Hutch, who stared back at him.
They both visibly shuddered.
"Open the damn door, will ya?" Hutch hissed.
Starsky nodded and slipped behind the wheel. Hutch waved one last time to the family on the porch and got in.
"You gotta stop doin' that," Starsky said resolutely.
"Makin' me get in first."
Hutch shrugged. "Maybe . . . someday."
They looked at each other solemnly then Starsky stared at the steering wheel, making no move to start the car.
"Well," Hutch asked, breaking the long silence, "are we going or staying?"
Starsky started the car, pulled down the driveway and headed east.
"Isn't this the long way?" Hutch noted.
"You in a hurry?"
The road paralleled a river. Red and gold oaks and maples formed an arch over the water and the road.
Hutch gazed out the window. "This is beautiful."
"Mmmm," Starsky replied. He had fond memories of riding here with Allison, tying the horses and having a picnic lunch on the riverbank. Splashing and wading in the cool water.
Hutch turned his attention to his sulky partner. "So? Did you ever ask her?"
Starsky startled out of his reverie. "Who? What?"
"Allison, dopey. Did you ever ask if she might like to come to California?"
"With us? Right now?"
"No, later. Like for a visit or something."
Starsky shook his head.
"You never talked about maybe getting together?" Hutch couldn't believe it. "I guess I misinterpreted your relationship."
"No, you didn't." Starsky mumbled.
"So, why didn't you ask her?"
"Ask her to leave all this?" Starsky gestured out the window. "To leave her family, her horses, her job, for me?"
"Silly me," Hutch said sarcastically. "I think there might be a horse or two in California and the Postal Service probably has an office somewhere in the state. I thought you two were in love."
"Forget it," Starsky snapped.
"You never asked, did you?" Hutch persisted. "How come?"
Starsky sighed, "I was afraid she'd say no."
They rode in silence for a moment.
"Hey, what's that?" Hutch pointed ahead and across the road. A horse and rider trotted along a path on the opposite riverbank.
Starsky's stomach did a flip. He sped up not believing what he was seeing. What were the odds? Pretty good, he mused, considering she rides here at least twice a week.
He pulled the Torino even with the pair and slowed to match their speed. "Hey, Alley!" he yelled out the window, "race ya!"
She did a double take, then laughing urged her horse faster.
He gunned the car and raced ahead. Around the next bend a bridge spanned the river. The Torino squealed across and spun into a sand parking lot on the other side. Alley came into the lot galloping, slid her horse to a stop and swung to the ground.
"Starsk?" Hutch stopped him with a hand on his arm.
"I guess it's our year for second chances, huh?"
Starsky paused, thoughtful. "Yeah, I guess it is." Smiling, he asked, "Hutch?"
"Wish me luck."
Hutch punched him on the arm, grinning. "Good luck, buddy, good luck."
Starsky sprang from the car and met Allison with an embrace.
Nobody knows your name
Nobody sees you there
And when you try your best
Nobody seems to care
You're afraid you don't fit in
You stop your trying cause you never win
You really need to tell someone
Before you turn and run
Not one more sleepless night
Not one more word to say
No arguments this time
You're gonna leave today
A distant road, a stranger's face
I know your searching for a better place
Somewhere a second chance is calling you
One thing before you go
Sound a warning shot
Don't just run away
Sound a warning shot
Love will find a way
SOUND A WARNING SHOT by Dennis DeYoung