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Man's Best Friend
"I don't like them," Ken Hutchinson said sullenly as he shut the door to his cottage behind another group of interviewees.
"What's not to like?" Starsky asked from his slouched position on the living room couch. "They're the all-American family, Hutch! Father who works, mother who doesn't, two kids, a girl and a boy. What more could you ask for?"
"That man looked shifty, and did you see the look on the boy's face when he saw Sal? He looked like he was just waiting for a chance to pull on his ears or poke him in the eyes!"
"They looked perfectly normal! C'mon, Hutch," Starsky begged. "That's the eighth family you've seen, and you didn't like any of them! Cripes, you said that one guy looked like an ax murderer!"
"I have to find just the right family. Salvador won't be happy with just anybody." Hutch stroked the white and black spotted fur affectionately as his eyes met the dog's. "He saved my life, Starsk. More than once. I owe him at least a good home."
"Yeah," Starsky agreed, remembering fondly how the dog had lured them out of harm's way when Rogers had opened fire on them. They had been shocked to discover that three of the PD's best were crooked, and equally surprised when their best backup turned out to be a two-year-old Dalmatian. "But with the hours we work, a good home isn't with one of us. And at the rate we're going, we're never gonna find anyone you approve of." He watched for a moment as Hutch continued to pet the dog, pausing only to scratch behind his ears. "Hutch, you can't keep asking your neighbors to come over and take care of him if you happen to not get home in time to feed him, and if your landlord finds out he's here, he's gonna kick you out! Your lease says no pets."
"I know I can't keep him, Starsk. I just want to find someone good. When I see them together, I'll know if it's right."
"What about that vet you took him to? The one who told you he was healthy and about two years old? Maybe he knows someone good."
"I asked him already, but he said there aren't many people in the city who want a dog this big."
Starsky found a seat on the coffee table, across from Hutch and next to the dog they'd both come to care about. There was definite chemistry between his partner and Sal, as if the dog was more an extension of Hutch than a separate life. There was something so right about seeing them together like this; his heart cringed to think of not having that face awaiting them after a long day at work. Somehow, having the dog there over the last two weeks had buoyed Hutch's mood tremendously. To have to say good-bye to the love that Sal so eagerly rained on him was going to hurt.
All efforts to find the dog's real owner had failed, and soon the dog had settled into their lives so smoothly and so quickly, it hadn't surprised Starsky at all when Hutch had bestowed the name Salvador on him. Hutch had chosen it because he'd saved him, and Sal had taken to it immediately, answering to it as if he had his whole life. He and Hutch had quickly become inseparable whenever Hutch was home, including taking the blond's daily jog with him. That presence was definitely going to be missed when they found a new home for him.
He tried to lighten the mood. "Hey, maybe you should start giving them lie detector tests! You know, 'Does your son pull dogs' ears?' or something like that." He chuckled, and Hutch did along with him. Even Sal's ears perked up and his tail wagged energetically.
"Well, there are two more families coming over tomorrow," Hutch reminded him. "Maybe one of them will be just right for him."
Hutch didn't notice Starsky watching him the rest of the evening. Through TV movies and a game of chess, Sal never left the blond's side, and when it came time for the dog to be walked, he wagged his tail eagerly as Hutch picked up the leash. Starsky knew it was going to break Hutch's heart when he had to finally give away his newest friend. Suddenly, the brunet had a flash of inspiration.
"Hey, you wanna come along?" Hutch asked as he affixed the leash to the dog's collar.
"Nah, I'm too bushed," Starsky excused himself. "I'll just wait here 'til ya get back."
"Okay. We shouldn't be long," Hutch added as an afterthought.
"Don't worry, I'll still be here."
Starsky went to the window and watched outside until he saw Hutch and Salvador making their way around the canal's edge. Then he picked up the phone and began to dial.
Neither of the two families they met with the next day, Saturday, met with Hutch's approval, and the dog seemed leery and uncomfortable around them, inciting Starsky to comment on a theory he'd heard about kids and animals being the best judges of character. This time, he didn't chide Hutch on not accepting either option for a new home for Sal.
They were sitting dejectedly in Hutch's living room, Sal's chin resting on Hutch's leg, when the phone rang. Sal barked once as Hutch grabbed the receiver. Starsky watched him cringe.
"Yes, I know. I'm sorry, it couldn't be helped. . . Yes, I'm working on that now. . . I'll take care of it soon, I promise. . . . No, we couldn't do that . . . . he's a bona fide hero . . . he saved my and my partner's lives . . . okay, thanks. I appreciate your giving me some leeway. Okay, bye."
Hutch looked Starsky in the eye as he hung up the phone. "That was my landlord. He wanted to know about the dog - I don't know how he found out." He took on a pleading expression. "What am I gonna do, Starsk?"
"Well, we're not out of options just yet," Starsky grinned. "Yesterday, I talked to a fantastic couple who might want to take him. I told them to come over this afternoon, just before supper. Maybe you and Sal will like them better."
"Somehow, I doubt it," Hutch answered dejectedly. Once again, Sal's chin was resting on the blond's leg as he stroked the soft fur.
"Hey! Give 'em a chance. Ya never know, buddy." Starsky tried to look concerned and sad, but inside was dying to release the laugh he was holding in. A distraction, that was what he needed. "C'mon. I'll beat ya in a game or two of chess before the new couple gets here."
The chess match, in fact, proved to be no contest. Hutch was far too distracted by thoughts of the animal who was quickly becoming his second-closest friend, while at the same time Starsky was totally relaxed in his knowledge of the very special qualifications of the new couple who were to come. It was shortly before 4:00 when Hutch finally gave up for good, knowing that his heart just wasn't in the game.
Starsky was putting the pieces carefully back in the box when both of them heard the sound of a car pulling up out front. Not unusual, people came to watch the moonlight on the water all the time, but in his restlessness the blond went to look out his front window anyway.
"Anyone interesting?" Starsky asked from across the room.
"Nope. It's no car I've ever seen before. Looks like a rental or something." He plopped down on the sofa without another thought about it, Salvador settling down next to him pretending to be a lap dog. They were seated less than a minute when there was a knock on Hutch's door.
Starsky tried to hide his smile as the blond rose morosely and headed for the door, Sal walking at his side as if he'd always been there and always would be. But that presence was all but forgotten in shock at the two people who greeted him when he opened it.
The woman was tall and stately, graying, but wore a warm and loving smile; the man beside her was well over six feet tall and shared several features with Hutch. "Hello, young man. We came about a dog?" The woman's smile grew at the astonished expression on the blond man's face. "We spoke to another very nice young man yesterday."
"Mom!" Hutch laughed aloud, only hesitating a second before he wrapped the woman in his eager embrace. Her laugh joined his and his father's as he kissed her on the cheek and shook hands with his father.
"Good to see you, Dad!" he said as he pumped his arm.
"What, you're too old to give your Dad a hug, too?" Hutch's father joked, prompting Hutch to release his hand and embrace his father as well..
"C'mon in," Hutch said after he released his hold, shepherding his parents into the interior of his home. "What are you doing way out here?" he asked, leading them to the living room area.
"Like I said, Ken, we came about a dog!" his Mom laughed again as she sat, her husband joining her. Hutch looked at her curiously, taking a chair where Starsky at on the arm. "No, really. Dave called and explained the situation with Sal, and since we've really missed having a dog since old Buster passed on, your Dad and I talked it over and decided he could come to live with us back home in Minnesota! This way, you can still see him when you want, you'll know he's being taken care of, and you won't keep getting in trouble with your landlord."
"You called them, Starsk?" Hutch looked slightly accusatorily at his partner, who blushed and smiled slightly.
"Well . . . . I couldn't just let you go on getting closer and closer to Sal, knowing you were gonna have to give him up. This way, you won't. He loves you as much as you love him, and this way at least he's still in the family."
"But how will he react to them?" Hutch said worriedly, stroking Sal again, then scratching behind his ears.
"Let's find out," Hutch's father suggested, leaning forward from where he sat. "C'mere, Sal. C'mere, boy." It wasn't clear whether Sal liked him or if he just sensed the similarity between father and son - they definitely shared many characteristics - but Sal unhesitatingly rose and went to the older man. "Good boy!" the elder Hutchinson commended, scratching him behind the ears as the dog moaned in bliss.
"Hey, that's great!" Starsky exclaimed, smiling broadly. "He likes your Dad, Hutch!"
"I can see that, dummy," Hutch laughed, reaching up to ruffle Starsky's curls. His expression became more serious as his eyes met his partner's. "Thanks, buddy. This really means a lot to me."
"Don't thank me, thank your mom and dad. I just suggested it."
"Thanks, guys," he repeated to his parents as his mom petted and was licked in exchange by Sal.
"It's nothing, Son. We've been wanting another dog for a while, and this one is very special because you love him." She got up to kiss Hutch on the cheek again, watching him blush.
"I have to ask a question, though," his dad said. "Why 'Sal' of all names?"
"Oh," Hutch grinned shyly. "It stands for Salvador. Since he saved our lives, it just seemed right. And he seems to like it well enough."
"That's good enough for me." They watched as Hutch's mom retrieved a new black leash and collar from the confines of her large handbag. "How do you like your new collar, boy?" Sal sniffed it a few times, then nuzzled her hand happily. "Guess he does! And it matches his spots."
"You're not going already, are you?" Hutch asked, wondering if they were planning on heading right back.
"We don't have to," his dad remarked. "We rented a car and planned on driving Sal home if it worked out. No reason to subject him to the dangers of flying if we don't have to, right, boy?" he seemed to be asking the dog, who responded by an energetic wag of his tail.
"Great!" Starsky interjected, content to remain an observer for the most part. "Hutch can cook us all dinner, and we can relax for the evening since you don't have to head home right away."
"That's a great idea, Starsk," Hutch enthused. Turning to his parents, he added, "it's been too long since you've visited me." He paused a moment, searching his memory. "Definitely too long."
The evening was a treat for everybody, but Hutch couldn't quite keep the crack from his voice as he said good-bye to his parents and Sal. Watching them walk to the car, Starsky put his arm over the blond's shoulders. "Don't worry, buddy. We'll go and visit him soon."
"I know," he responded. "I just can't believe how lucky I am to have the four of you." He smiled gently and turned back into the house, Starsky following without losing his contact with the blond.