This story appeared in the zine "Blond Blintz". Special thanks to JendaZZ for getting it ready for the web.

Rite of Initiation
Teri White

It's like a lion at the door;
And when the door begins to crack,
It's like a stick across your back;
And when your back, begins to smart,
It's like a penknife in your heart;
And when your heart begins to bleed,
You're dead and dead and dead, indeed.

The beat-up VW pulled to a stop next to the curb and the horn sounded sharply, once, then, after a moment, again. Ken Hutchinson sighed impatiently and raised his hand a third time. Just then the door of the apartment building crashed open and Dave Starsky came out at a run, pulling on his windbreaker as he moved.

Starsky threw himself into the passenger seat. "Hi."

A grunt was his only reply.

Starsky held out a paper bag. "Want a doughnut?"

The offer garnered him a dirty look.

"Chocolate glazed," he added enticingly, holding the bag right under Hutch's nose.

Hutch batted away the bag as if it were a wasp that might sting him and gave his partner of two month's standing a disgusted look. "Don't you know what garbage like that does to your insides?"

Starsky contemplated the doughnut for a long moment. "I like them," he said defiantly.

"Hah. Tell me that in ten years when your stomach falls out." Hutch pulled the car away from the curb and into the Monday morning traffic.

"Rough weekend?" Starsky asked around a big bite of doughnut.

Hutch only grunted again.

"I asked because you seem kinda grouchy this morning," Starsky explained, as he finished the last doughnut, crumpled the empty sack, and stuffed it into the litter bag.

Hutch turned into the precinct parking lot. "I'm not grouchy," he muttered.

"Well, you're certainly not behaving like the usual ray of sunshine that comes to brighten my every day."

Hutch opened the car door. "Are you trying to pick a fight with me or something, Starsky?"

Starsky was getting out. "Who, me?" he replied innocently.

They looked at one another over the top of the car and the sight of Starsky's silly twisted grin made Hutch smile in response.

The locker room was crowded and noisy. Starsky, who'd overslept, took a shower before donning his uniform. He walked out of the shower cubicle, thoughtfully toweling his hair dry. "Say, Hutch," he said.

"What?" Hutch said absently. He was carefully combing his hair and studying his reflection in the mirror.

"How'd you like to come out to the motorcycle races next Sunday?"

The comb stopped in midair. "You go out to watch motorcycle races?"

"l don't watch. I race."

Hutch thought about that for a moment.

"Come on, why don'cha?" Starsky urged. "Might cheer you up a little."

"I don't need cheering up," Hutch said, slamming his locker closed. "You're going to be late for roll call," he added.

Starsky, still dressed only in a towel, glanced at the clock and swore. Hutch smiled for the first time that morning and left the locker room. He walked down the hall to the muster room and took a seat in the back. Although he had not admitted it to his partner, Hutch was feeling down. The reasons were varied and difficult for even him to understand completely.

He had been very disturbed by a case they'd handled the previous week, involving a seven year-old girl who'd been beaten to death. The sight of the pitifully battered body had made him so sick that he'd thrown up. It was much worse to discover later that the child's own mother had committed the brutal act.

Maybe, Hutch thought, he wasn't really cut out for police work.

Then the letter on Saturday. The latest in a series of tirades from his father; the message never varied: Being a cop is a waste. You're much too intelligent for that kind of work. Come home, go back to school, you know how I've always wanted you to join the firm. You could be a very fine architect.

Hutch sighed. Maybe his father was right.


"Huh?" Roll call had proceeded. "Oh, here." The seat next to him was still empty. Starsky was going to get in trouble if he didn't stop being late all the time. Just as Hutch had that thought, a familiar blue-clad figure dropped into the chair.


"Here!" Starsky said loudly; then he slumped back in the chair, his still damp curls glistening. "And not late," he muttered to Hutch.

Hutch snickered.

As the sergeant finished roll call, the lieutenant entered and sat down. He began to run through outstanding warrants, areas of the precinct that needed special attention by patrolling zone cars, and various other minutiae of interest to the duty shift. Starsky's posture and expression gave the appearance that he was scarcely listening, but Hutch knew that his partner was absorbing every detail, as if by osmosis, and would be able later to repeat the instructions word for word. It had taken Hutch approximately one and a half days of partnership with Dave Starsky to learn not to underestimate the other cop's abilities and intelligence.

The sergeant was giving the car assignments in a bored voice. "Car 1712, Starsky and Hutchinson," he finished. "By the way -- Sgt. Peters' mother died yesterday. The funeral is Thursday. That's all."

Hutch led the way to the parking garage. "Who's driving?"

Starsky shrugged. "Don't care. I will." He always said he didn't care and then offered to drive. Hutch suspected that he liked tooling around in the black-and-white, but didn't want to admit it.

The checklist was disposed of quickly, Hutch radioed that they were officially on call, and they both settled into the already-familiar routine of patrol.

"So what about next Sunday?" Starsky asked a few minutes later as they cruised slowly up Wilshire Boulevard.

Hutch was silent for a moment, his eyes never leaving the scene outside the car window. "Okay, I guess," he finally said. "I'll come watch you race."

"Great," Starsky said enthusiastically.

"Hope you're better at that than you are at darts," Hutch added.

Starsky winced; his recent loss of twenty-five dollars to his partner in an impromptu dart match continued to rankle. The match was still under protest, as far as he was concerned anyway; he maintained that he should have been told beforehand that Hutch had been collegiate darting champion. Hutch, an the other hand, held that as Starsky subsequently won over thirty dollars by arranging matches with other unsuspecting bar patrons, he had no legitimate gripe.

The car slowed a little. "Isn't that Eddie Fish?" Starsky asked.

Hutch saw a small man in a brown suit shoving through the crowd on the sidewalk. "Yeah. Thought he was doing ninety days."

Starsky made a quick U-turn and started back. "He was. Looks like his sticky fingers are back in business."

"Looks like. You ever bust him?"

"Huh-uh. I saw his rap sheet in your files."

Hutch remembered that the day they were made partners, Starsky had spent a couple of hours going through his files and studying cases. They were both watching Fish now. "Wonder what he's up to."

The car pulled to a stop next to the curb. "Up to no good, as usual," Starsky said as they got out and moved toward the unsuspecting Eddie. He was busy eying possible victims in the crowd of businessmen on the sidewalk and didn't see the two blue-uniformed figures coming toward him.

Hutch came from behind and took the smaller man, not gently, by one arm. "Hi, there, Eddie," he said quietly.

Eddie spun around. "Oh, uh, Officer Hutchinson... hiya."

"Thought you were out of our fair city for a few months."

Eddie jerked nervously, giving a sick smile. "I got back."

"So I see. But it looks like you don't want to stay around very long."

"I wasn't doing nothing, honest."

"I'd make book on that," Starsky said dryly.

Eddie's rummy gaze shifted to him. "I don't know you. Who's that, Officer Hutchinson?"

"That's my new partner. Starsky."

Eddie gave a half-bow. "Pleased to make your acquaintanceship, Officer Starsky. Any friend of Officer Hutchinson's is a friend of mine."

"Thanks for nothing, Hutch," Starsky muttered.

Hutch pushed Eddie back against the building. "Let me tell you about my new partner, Eddie. Shall I do that?"

"Sure, sure," Eddie said eagerly.

Hutch paused dramatically, gazing on Starsky with what appeared to be a peculiar blending of pride and fear. "Eddie, Starsky is mean."

"Mean?" Eddie glanced at Starsky, who put on his most ferocious expression. "No! They give you a mean partner, Officer Hutchinson?"

Hutch nodded sadly. "They said I was being too easy on you all. Said I needed a partner who would crack down."

Starsky leaned close to Eddie. "If I see you look like you're even thinking about putting your fingers into somebody else's pocket, Fish, I will be the most irritated. Get my message?"

Eddie glanced at Hutch, who only shrugged helplessly. He looked back at Starsky and nodded. "I understand, Officer Starsky. Sure, I understand."

"Good." Starsky turned on his heel and stalked back to the car.

Hutch released his hold on Eddie. "You see how it is, Eddie?" he said. "I can't do anything with him. He's mean." He winked and then followed Starsky.

Neither of them spoke until the car was moving again. Starsky sighed, once more searching the passing scene. "How come," he said mildly, "how come I end up being the mean one in this relationship?"

Hutch shrugged. "Typecasting." He glanced over, smiling with sticky sweetness. "I mean, who would believe me as a bad guy?"

"Ha," Starsky grumbled.

"You seem a little grouchy, Starsk. Have a bad weekend?"

Starsky hunched over the wheel, muttering under his breath.

Hutch was watching two teenaged boys loitering in front of a small drugstore. "Pull in here," he said. As the car slowed, he continued, "Somebody has to be mean, you know. That's the way real cops do it."

"Yeah? You been watching too much TV," Starsky replied. "What's up with them?"

"Nothing probably. Just want to see what they might be thinking of doing." They sat watching the boys, who were as yet unaware of the car sitting half a block away.

"What say we go halvies?" Starsky suggested.


"Half the time I'll be mean and half the time, you'll be mean. Doesn't that sound fair?"

One of the boys darted into the store suddenly. Hutch and Starsky opened their respective doors simultaneously and got out. "Maybe you could give me lessons, Starsk, in how to be mean."

"Stuff it, Hutch," Starsky said genially as they moved toward the drugstore.

As they approached, the boy on the sidewalk saw them. "Willy!" he yelled once, before taking off around the corner.

"I'll get him!" Starsky shouted, setting of in pursuit.

Hutch waved in agreement and kept going, entering the store. The boy inside had heard his friend yell, but lingered just long enough to sweep the money bag from the counter. It was a moment too long. Hutch grabbed him as he turned to run, shoving him against the wall. "Not so fast, chum," he said.

Willy tried to reach into his jacket pocket. Hutch intercepted the hand, however, and reached in himself, coming up with a lethal-looking hunting knife. He put it safely out of reach. "That's a dangerous toy, Willy. How'd you like to join my partner and me in a little trip downtown?"

He pushed the boy ahead of him across the store and outside. Starsky and the other would-be thief were nowhere in sight. Hutch handcuffed, the prisoner and shoved him into the back seat, locking the door. He turned to the store owner, still hovering in the doorway. "Where's that lead?" he asked, pointing to the corner where the boy had run.

"Into the alley."

He headed the same way. Even on this sunny morning there was an unpleasant gloominess in the alley; sunlight and fresh air never managed to get back here. Hutch walked quickly, but carefully between cardboard boxes and overturned trashcans. The smell of rotting garbage was enough to make his stomach churn. So quiet, he thought with one part of his mind. Shouldn't I be able to hear them? "Starsk?" he ventured finally. "Hey, Starsky?" There was no answer and suddenly Hutch was afraid. It was too damned quiet.

He kicked aside an empty box sending it flying against the building. It landed with a dull thud and that was when he saw Starsky. He almost missed him. It was hard to make out the blue-clad figure amid the clutter that covered the ground. Starsky lay sprawled behind a garbage can, very still. Hutch licked his lips nervously as he slowly walked closer. "Starsky?" he said, crouching beside him.

His partner's eyes flickered and then opened. "Hutch...?"

Hutch leaned closer. It was then that he saw the knife, identical to the one he'd just taken from Willy, except that this one was lodged in Starsky's side. A spreading patch of red covered the concrete. "Jesus," he whispered. "Jesus Christ, Starsk."

"Just... a kid," Starsky said in a bewildered tone. "Just a kid...knocking over a drugstore...didn't know he...had a knife...didn't know he'd...kill me..."

Hutch shivered. He reached for and held Starsky's hand, not knowing whether he was offering consolation or seeking it. His first numbed reaction was fading, replaced by a cold flame of anger. He knew, somehow, that this flame, now that it had been lit, would never go out. It would burn always and finally it would consume him. That knowledge shaped the reality of his life now and forever. He clasped Starsky's hand more tightly, anchoring him. "Take it easy, buddy."

"Pull it out...pull it out, Hutch...please...oh, God..."

"I can't, Starsk. I can't; you remember what they told us in class..."

"...hurts..." Silent tears rolled down Starsky 's cheeks. "Hutch, please."

"I know, Starsk, I know it hurts. I'm going to get help. I'll be just a minute, okay?"

"Don't leave..."

"I gotta. I'll be right back." For a moment, he thought that Starsky wasn't going to let go of his hand, but then the fingers loosened.

He jumped up and ran back through the alley, shoving aside the trash cans viciously. The people gathered on the sidewalk stared at him as he burst into view and kept running. He jerked open the car door and threw himself across the seat, ignoring Willy still sitting huddled in the back. One hand grabbed for the radio. "Officer down," he said between gasps. "Officer down... corner of Third and Stewart...officer down...please...send an ambulance...he's bleeding..." He waited a moment, heard the acknowledgement, and shoved himself out of the car again.

The store owner was watching with interest. "What happened?" he asked.

Hutch paused. "I think the other one's killed my partner," he said, realizing that he was about to cry. He turned and charged back into the alley.

Starsky's eyes were open and glazed when Hutch got back. Hutch dropped to his knees. "I'm here," he whispered, afraid to touch him.

"Hey...Hutch," Starsky said, grabbing to hold onto him.

Hutch gripped his hand again, noticing for the first time that he was covered with Starsky's blood. No wonder everyone had stared at him. "Yeah, partner, I'm's on the way. Just hold on." His voice cracked. "Please. Don't die..."

"Naw...don't wanta...hey, buddy, I been wondering..." Starsky paused, convulsed by a sudden chill. When it passed, he spoke again."...wondering...what do you have for breakfast...anyway?"

Hutch blinked once. "Huh?" Was the stupid bastard trying to make him feel better? He reached to tripe sweat and tears from Starsky's face. How can he be shivering and sweating at the same time? His fingers left a wet red streak across Starsky's cheek. "Oh, yogurt sometimes," he said finally. "Or a special milkshake I mix up in my blender."

"With ice cream?"

"No...goat's milk...vitamins...desiccated liver, stuff like that." He thought that he could hear a siren in the distance.

"Yeach," Starsky said. "Think...I'll stick doughnuts."

"Okay, you do that." Hutch was massaging Starsky's hand absently. "Ruin your stomach. But don't say that I didn't warn you."

The siren rose to a crescendo and died abruptly very nearby. Starsky heard it. "Hutch..." The word was a whimper of pain.

Hutch heard someone enter the alley; he straightened slightly and saw dark figures in profile against the sunlight. "Over here!" he yelled.

Starsky gave a weak tug on Hutch's hand, pulling him down closer. "Hey, Hutch..."

Hutch could feel Starsky's lips moving against his ear. "What?"

"I'm scared... I'm really hurts so much."

"It's going to be all right," Hutch said, trying to sound sure, hoping that his own fear didn't show. "I'm here, Starsk, and everything is going to be all right."

One dark blue eye peered at him. "You wouldn't lie to me, wouldya?" Starsky murmured.

"No," Hutch replied. "I won't. Ever."

One of the medics carefully pulled his hand from Starsky's and urged him aside. He stood and walked a few steps away, wiping his bloody hands on the front of his trousers.

Two other cops approached him. "What happened?" one asked. He was a young officer, whose name Hutch knew but couldn't remember.

Hutch cracked his knuckles. "Couple of kids trying to rip off the drugstore. This one used his knife on Starsky."

The other cop was Jacobs, an older man, whose hair was starting to go gray and whose face was creased. "Tough," he said. "Hard to lose a partner. You been together long?"

Hutch jerked his attention back from the medics, who were carefully lifting Starsky onto the stretcher. The knife was still in him. "Huh? Oh, two months."

Jacobs nodded. "Well, maybe that's good. You haven't had a chance to get very close yet." Bitterness reflected from his tired face.

Hutch was only half-listening. "We met in Nam," he mumbled. "Went through the Academy together."

"Yeah?" Jacobs said. His voice turned hard. "I once had a partner ten years and then he was killed, shot down by a goddamned street punk. One minute he was okay and, you know, and we was joking around about where to have dinner. I wanted Italian and he wanted Chinese. I heard the shot. He fell over on top of me and died while I was holding him. I got all bloody." They all stared at the blood covering Hutch. Jacobs shook his head. "I don't make friends no more. Ain't worth it."

Hutch clenched his hands into tight balls, to keep them from. trembling, and fought to hold back the hot tears that hovered just behind his lashes.


One of the medics was speaking to him and he tried to pay attention. "Yeah?"

"Your partner wants you to come with us. Can you do that?"

"Well..." Hutch hesitated.

"It might help," said the medic.

"Go on," the younger cop said. "We'll handle everything here."

"Thanks, " said Hutch, handing him the keys to the squad car.

He waited as the medics lifted the stretcher. Starsky's hand dangled over the edge and Hutch gripped it, walking alongside as they left the alley and emerged into the sunlight. He still felt cold, as if the shadowy dampness of the alley had entered his very soul and would not now be vanquished.

A woman gave a soft scream when she saw Starsky's bloody form being carried past. "Hey, somebody iced a pig," another voice said. Hutch wanted to strike out at the anonymous being, longing to smash whoever it was saying those words, not only for the words themselves, but for everything. For the pain. For the blood. For the aching terror that was beginning to grow within him. Someone had to pay. There had to be retribution or how could it all be borne? Christ, he thought, patting Starsky's arm, were the two of them supposed to face it all alone? Just Starsk and him against the rest of the bloody world?

When they reached the ambulance, Hutch climbed in first and waited as the medics slid the stretcher in. Starsky stirred restlessly and opened his eyes. "Hut...Hutch?"

"Yeah, buddy?"

"You still here?"

Hutch tightened his grip. "Sure."

"Good...lucky and me...I'll be okay..."

"Sure you will," Hutch replied. "What kind of a cop would I be if I let anything happen to my partner?"


A medic injected a needle into Starsky's arm and he slept almost immediately. They continued to work over him and Hutch just tried to keep out of the way, not letting go of Starsky's hand even for a moment.

When they reached the hospital, though, they wouldn't let Hutch into the emergency room. Instead, he was guided to an empty waiting room and very gently pushed into a chair. "We'll call you as soon as there's any word," a nurse said.

"But I should be there," he said. "If I'm not, he might..." He broke off, knowing it was useless, knowing that she wouldn't be able to understand.

She patted his shoulder once and left him alone in the room.

He got up after a little while to call the precinct. Jacobs and his partner had delivered the car and the suspect as they had promised, and the desk sergeant told him to stay at the hospital and wait for news. He gave a description of the second suspect and hung up.

After a moment, he dropped another dime into the phone and dialed the long distance operator. "I want to make a collect call, to Duluth," he said, giving her the number. "It's Ken calling."

His father's voice came clearly over the wire. "Hi, son, what's up? Why are you calling in the middle of the day?"

Hutch leaned his forehead against the cool tiled wall and closed his eyes. "Hi, Dad. I'm... I'm at a hospital."

"You're hurt? My God, Ken, what happened?"

He could hear his mother's voice in the background. "No, I'm fine," he said quickly. Really. It's my partner. Starsk."


"Starsky. Remember, I wrote you about Dave."

His father was relaying all the information to his mother. "It's his partner, not him. He's okay."

"Thank God," his mother said.

Hutch felt dizzy. "Dad, Starsky is hurt bad. Some bastard, just a kid, put a knife in him. He was bleeding...he wouldn't let go of my hand... I've got blood all over me..." He was crying now, turning his head so that anyone passing in the hall wouldn't see the big cop bawling like a kid. "I'm scared, Dad. I'm scared."

"Ahh, Ken... I told you...didn't I? That kind of work, it's no good for you."

Hutch wiped at his eyes angrily. "Damn it, Dad...not now. Starsk is dying. He's my partner. He's...a nice guy, you know? Nice and tough and a good cop and...he makes me laugh. Dave makes me laugh. And somebody stuck a knife in his gut."

"I'm sorry."

"Yeah, Dad. So am I."

There was silence on the other end of the line for a moment. "It's a rotten world, Kenny, when somebody can do things like that and get away with it."

"He won't get away with it, Dad. I'll get him."

"You sound vengeful, son. That's not like you."

"It wasn't like me. Maybe it is now. Did you ever feel your best friend's life pouring out of him in some shitty alley?"

"We'll pray for him."

"Thanks," Hutch replied hopelessly.

"Think about coming home, Hutch. Your place here..."

"Not now, Dad," he repeated. "Starsky is in the next room and I don't know what's happening with him. They wouldn't let me go in."

"I expect it's' the rules."

"Damn the rules." He paused and then sighed. "I gotta go, Dad."

"Take care of yourself. Your mother says to say we love you."

"I love you, too, Dad. 'Bye." He hung up slowly. He took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his nose. Nobody seemed to understand. Not the doctors or Jacobs, or his parents. Starsky was dying.

Later he tried to drink some coffee from the vending machine, but it made him gag, so he threw the rest away and went back to the chair. He just huddled there and waited to find out if Starsky would live or die.


He fought his way back through the blackness. The only sensation was a throbbing ache in his side and he concentrated on that, holding on to the pain as the one piece of reality he had. ...pain...a knife...the alley...pain...Hutch. He flexed his fingers; seeking Hutch, but no one was there. Had something happened to his partner?

He opened his eyes. A nurse was smiling at him. "Welcome back, Officer Starsky."

"Am I back?"

"How do you feel?"

Starsky tried to smile. "Like somebody stuck a knife in my gut," he said. "How long have I been here?"

"Nearly six hours," she replied. "The doctor had some patching up to do."

"I bet...did he? Patch me up, I mean?"

"Everything is going to be fine." She checked the IV and tucked the blanket around him more tightly. "Do you feel like having a visitor?"

"Depends. Who?"

"An Officer Hutchinson."

A warm feeling started in Starsky's chest and spread through him, "Hutch is here?"

She laughed softly. "Very much here. We've been trying to send him home, but he wouldn't go until he could see for himself that you were all right. He was quite... adamant."

Starsky considered that. "Yeah, I'd like to see him," he said. "Hutch is my partner."

"I gathered that. I'll get him." She disappeared through the door.

Starsky closed his eyes for a moment. So. Hutch hadn't left him. That was nice. He opened his eyes again and saw Hutch standing next to the bed. "Hi," he said.

Hutch's uniform was stained and wrinkled. "Hi," he said softly. His eyes looked too bright. "How are you?"

"Hungry," Starsky said.


"Yeah. Those doughnuts...don't stick with me long. He smiled. "Thanks for hanging around."

Hutch looked uncomfortable. "Sure, I mean, never mind. I wanted to." He gazed at Starsky for a moment and then walked away from the bed. "I'm...just so damned glad you're okay."

"Guess I learned a lesson. Don't trust anybody." He paused. "Except you, of course."

Hutch was staring at a ghastly painting of a clown that hung on one wall. "I think maybe we should request new partners," he said suddenly.

Starsky's mouth was dry. "Can I have same water?" he whispered.

"Sure." Hutch came over and poured a glass of ice water. He lifted Starsky's head a little so that he could sip. "Through?" he asked after a moment.


Hutch lowered him gently and moved away again. "Did you hear what I said?"

"I heard." Starsky was staring at the ceiling, wishing he could see Hutch's face, wondering how to read the sound of his voice. "Hey...hey, I blew it I was, dumb, I guess...but it won't happen again. You can trust me Hutch."

Hutch could have kicked himself. Starsky had misunderstood completely; he heard the pain in Starsky's voice and it hurt him. "It's not that," he said. "I trust you. I do, more than I've ever trusted anybody."

"Then why? I thought..." Starsky struggled for the words. "I thought... I thought we were friends."

"We are," Hutch said. He took a deep breath. "We are friends. I mean... Starsk, I feel closer to you than anybody I've ever known. And that's why I said what I said." He stared at his hands, seeing the blood caked around his fingernails.


Starsky's voice was soft. Hutch sighed and looked up. "Jacobs was talking to me... he told me that he had a partner for ten years...they were friends, too...and then his partner was killed.

"Yeah?" Starsky was puzzled. "So?"

Now Hutch wouldn't look at him. "You almost died today, Starsk," he said. "I held you while you almost died in that stinking alley."

Starsky began to understand. "Oh. Yeah." He traced a design on the top of the blanket. "If I had died, " he said slowly, "I would have been...glad to have you there, holding me. That maybe sounds selfish, but it's true. It would be a lot worse to die alone or with somebody who didn' about me. I think you care." Hutch nodded silently and they both watched the IV dripping into Starsky's vein. "So," Starsky said finally, "you figure that it'll be easier if we just quit now? Before...before we start to care too much?"

Hutch nodded again.

"Yeah, that might work. Makes sense. I mean, we're just starting, right? So it should be easy."

"Should be," Hutch said very softly.

Starsky's voice was suddenly hoarse. "Then how come it hurts so much?"

Slowly Hutch turned to look at him. "Starsk?" he said tentatively.

Starsky struggled to raise his head a little. "Damn it, man. Maybe it wouldn't hurt you to walk away now...but it would sure as hell hurt me. You're my friend, Hutch. I want you to be my partner."

"I'm sorry," Hutch whispered.

"I'm willing to take a chance," Starsky said. "I'll take a chance on someday being hurt if...if we can go on being friends. I think it's worth it."

Hutch kept his head bent; he wasn't used to such frankness in dealing with his feelings. His family was not openly demonstrative. "So do I," he finally said. "I think... I guess it's worth it,'s...scary, " he added with a sheepish half-smile.

"Besides," Starsky went on with carefully studied cheerfulness, "If we take care of each other, then we'll both be all right."

Hutch's resolve, so intricately constructed during the hours of waiting, had crumbled. He rubbed one hand across his eyes and raised his head, "We'll take care of each other?" he said.

"Sure." Now Starsky was grinning. "After all, if you dump me as a partner, you'll just go right on eating yogurt for breakfast. But if I stay around, someday you'll be eating chocolate doughnuts. I'll corrupt you. We'll have a lot of fun."

Hutch laughed, albeit a bit shakily, and came close to the bed again. "You think so?"

"For sure. I think we make one terrific team." He yawned hugely. "Think I'll take a nap, he murmured. "You better go on home."

"I guess." Hutch hesitated, then gave Starsky's hand a firm squeeze. "See you later."

"Uh-huh." Starsky seemed to be asleep already.

Hutch held Starsky's hand for another minute, then started for the door.


He stopped. "What, Starsk?"

"We are going to be okay. Don't you think so?"

"'For sure'," he quoted. "Go to sleep, dummy."

"Yeah, sure...whatever you say...bring me a pizza later...pepperoni."

Hutch opened his mouth to retort and then realized that Starsky really was asleep this time. He stared thoughtfully at his partner, wondering, if he could really have walked away and left Starsky behind. Somehow he doubted it. Now he was committed. The idea didn't bother him as much as might have thought.

He new then that he was also committed to the idea of being a cop. It was sometimes a rotten job, but it was what he wanted to do, more than anything else. He was a cop, damn it, for better or worse.

He shrugged and left the room, suddenly hungry. Steak and salad sounded good. And he had to find a place to pick up a pizza later. No pepperoni, though. Plain cheese. He'd wean Starsky off all that junk food he ate. It was his duty, after all. They were partners.

Ken Hutchinson was whistling softly as he left the hospital and headed for the bus stop. His partner was going to be okay. Everything was going to w okay. It was maybe a rotten world, like his father had said but he and Starsk would beat it. Together they could beat it.