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Ken Hutchinson sorted through his mail, smiling suddenly when he recognized the return address on the only letter amongst the pile of bills. An envelope from Minnesota meant a note from either his mom, dad, or sister. After the week they had had, he needed a little cheering up, and looked forward to reading the latest news from back home. Dealing with the priestly impostor and the deaf-mute was difficult, reminding him of his own weaknesses.
"What is it?" Starsky asked, peeking over the blond's shoulder to try to read the letter.
"A letter from my family," Hutch smiled again.
"Really? What's it say?" Starsky's tone was encouraging him to read it out loud, but Hutch scanned it first.
"Well, it's from Mom," he began, falling quiet as he perused the news in the hand-written letter, his eyes becoming wide.
"What is it?" the brunet questioned again.
"My sister.... She's moving here!" The shocked look on the blond's face was unwarranted, Starsky thought to himself.
"Kathy's moving here? Hey, that's great! Did her husband get transferred or something?"
"No, Starsk. It's not Kathy. Barbara is coming here to go to school."
Starsky was puzzled by the response. "You mentioned a sister named Barbara once before, but didn't seem to want to talk about it. To be honest, I'd practically forgotten about her. What's going on? I thought I knew all your secrets!"
"She's the youngest," Hutch admitted, sighing. "My baby sister. I was about 13 when she was born, and when she was five, my folks sent her to a boarding school where she could learn everything she needed to know to get by. She's been at that place ever since. With her there and me off at college, we only saw each other on holidays for years, and even less since I came to LA. I guess I hardly know her now that she's a woman."
"Boarding school at five? That had to be awfully rough on her. And I always thought your folks were so nice. How could they do that to a little girl!"
"Barbara was special," Hutch admitted, his face turning slightly pink at the confession. "Mom and Dad thought that the school was her best shot at learning to live a normal life."
"Why?" Starsky asked, concerned now as he watched Hutch's agitation. "Special how?"
"Starsky, Barbara was born deaf. She can't hear at all and she couldn't talk the last thing I knew."
"Oh, buddy! I'm sorry--I never knew."
"You should have seen her on the day they left for the school. She was so pretty, all dressed up in her best dress. She had the face of an angel and was so innocent. How is she ever going to survive in a city like Los Angeles?"
"Hutch, she's not that little girl any more. And she does have you to look out for her. I'm sure she'll be just fine." Starsky waited for Hutch to go on, now that the blond finally wanted to talk about it.
"I remember when they first brought her home from the hospital. I was so jealous for a few weeks there. Mom would keep shushing me, telling me not to talk so loud or play my guitar so loud, but she never woke up. I thought it was because she liked the sound of my voice," Hutch chuckled nervously. "After they found out, Mom cried a lot, and I felt guilty whenever I listened to or played my music. I kept asking why she had to be born that way, but nobody was ever able to give me an answer that I could accept. And by the time I finally managed to deal with how I felt, she left for school."
"Well," Starsky remarked, sliding an arm around the taller man's shoulders, "now you've got a second chance to be the brother you always wanted to be."
"But I can't even communicate with her!" Hutch practically shouted his frustration. "I don't know sign language, and she can't talk, just read lips."
"When does it say she's coming?" the brunet asked, and Hutch was momentarily puzzled at the shift in subjects.
"Ummmm...it says the end of August."
"Well, partner, that gives you lots of time." Starsky looked self-satisfied, but Hutch didn't know why.
"For what?" he asked.
"To learn the finer points of sign language! CSUN has adult-ed classes all the time! I'm sure they've got a beginners class for it." He paused, thinking for a moment. "I'll tell you what. I'll even go with you! After all, any sister of yours is gonna be like a sister of mine."
"You think I should take sign language classes?" Hutch said, surprised at the idea.
"Sure!" Starsky encouraged. "Actually, I'm surprised you didn't think of it a long time ago!"
"Starsky, I haven't seen my sister in almost eight years! And she stopped answering my letters about the same time I came to LA. I think she might've been mad at me for leaving Duluth."
"If she was off in school, why would she care?"
"If I can't understand any woman I've ever dated, what makes you think I'd have any better luck with my own flesh and blood?" Starsky nodded and didn't respond to his partner's recent difficulties with the ladies. "But maybe if I did learn sign language, she'd see that I really do care. We'll have to call the college in the morning and find out about the schedule and signing up. With our work hours, the timing might be rough, but we'll just have to work something out."
"That's the spirit! And who knows? Maybe the teacher'll be really cute and you'll get back on track in that department too!" I've never had to walk on eggshells around Hutch before--no reason to start now!
The following Monday evening found them hesitantly climbing the front steps of the Northridge campus of the California State University. "I sure hope I can do this," Hutch remarked, indirectly requesting the reassurance of the partner who walked beside him.
"You'll do fine. Think about all the things you already do with your hands. The guitar, the piano, doin' all that tiny work on your plants, your paintings.... This'll be just one more talent that you haven't discovered yet."
"I know you'll be good at it," Hutch remarked back to him. "All that detailed model ship building has to have done something for your dexterity."
"I guess we're gonna find out," Starsky remarked as he pointed to the room number above the door where they were headed. "Here we are."
The room they entered was void of people, with the exception of an attractive dark-haired woman who stood at the front, setting up charts and opening books.
"Excuse me," Hutch asked in his most polite voice, "I think this is where we're supposed to be. Are we early or is everybody else late?"
"Well, you are a little early," she responded smiling. "But the class registration was small, so we'll probably just start when everybody gets here."
"Thanks," Hutch remarked, not sure what he was thanking her for. "I'm Ken Hutchinson and this is David Starsky."
"Hello, Ken. Hi, Dave. I'm the instructor, Meredith Sparks."
"Nice to meet you, Miss Sparks," Starsky stepped up to shake the woman's hand."
"Oh! We don't stand on ceremony in my adult education classes. Just call me Meredith. Actually, this works out well, because I like to have a few minutes to get to know my students a little better, and it's hard to do that with everyone here. Did I see on your registration forms that you are both police officers?"
"Yeah, we're detectives assigned to homicide."
"Oh, how fascinating! I've always admired police officers! It'll be a pleasure having two such courageous men in my class."
"Uh, thanks. There is one more thing," the blond man asked gently, hesitant to make a special request of the instructor. "With our jobs being what they are, we never know if something is going to break and we'll have to go to work. How are you set for time if we need to make up some sessions. Can we make them up?"
"Well, gentlemen," she continued to smile, "you just happen to be in luck. This is the only evening class I'm teaching this semester, so if you need extra help or make-up time, we can set an evening aside during the week to take care of it. You may even catch on faster with it being just the three of us."
"Well, I don't know, shweetheart," Starsky said lasciviously in his best Bogey. "Think the Dean would let you hang out with a coupla students?"
Hutch and Meredith both laughed. "I think I'm going to enjoy having you two in my class."
"Do you think we'll be fluent by the time the class ends?" Hutch questioned doubtfully.
"Well, in twenty weeks you should have the basics down pat. But you'll probably have to keep coming for several months longer before you are what we call fluent."
"Sounds like we're learnin' a foreign language," Starsky chuckled, but Meredith responded seriously.
"You are, Dave. And this will probably be as hard or harder than learning French or Spanish or German."
"What about Latin?" Hutch smiled.
"Well, maybe not that hard!" By this time the other students started arriving, so both officers took seats in the front row to get a better look at the demonstrations of the movements. Starsky noticed how determined his partner looked, and hoped it went well. If worse came to worse, they could get used to Starsky not being able to talk to Barbara, but Hutch absolutely had to show her he could be a good brother to her--the brother he hadn't been able to be before.
Starsky, Hutch, and Meredith sat around her large desk, which was laden with books and Chinese takeout.
"It's really sweet of you guys to bring dinner with you. I'll never know how you found out Chinese is my favorite!" Meredith smiled at the pair, the setting sun from the classroom window shining brightly on her face.
"It's the least we could do," Starsky remarked, "seeing as we're taking up your off-hours with class work."
"We really do appreciate it," Hutch said, noticing how her large eyes sparkled. She certainly was born in the right family. The "Sparks" show in the green of her eyes. It occurred to the blond that he was staring and broke the gaze, looking instead at the textbook opened in front of him. "So, what did we miss the other night?"
"Don't worry, I'll catch you both up. Must've been something real important, huh?"
"Somebody found a body a few blocks from here. Believe me," Starsky blanched, " you don't want to hear about it."
"Especially right after you've eaten. I'll just say that someone out there is very sick!" Hutch added. "How about if we just get back to the signing. I've just got to get this right." It was clear he was adamant about the classes.
"What ever made you decide to take a class in sign language, Hutch? It seems an unusual choice for a police detective," Meredith asked gently, and Hutch found he didn't mind talking about Barbara but was uncertain how to go about it.
"Ummm..." Starsky could see the embarrassment in his partner's face as he tried to explain and couldn't think of a way without it sounding insensitive.
"Hutch's little sister is moving to town at the end of the semester," Starsky cut in simply, "and we thought it would be nice if we could both communicate with her."
She turned to Hutch, but her expression was more frustrated than angry. "You mean you've had a deaf sister for all these years.... She's how old now?"
"Twenty-one," the blond answered.
"You've had a sister for twenty-one years and you never learned to talk with her?" She shook her head, but Hutch got the feeling she was more upset with the world at large than him in particular. "Parents just don't understand how important it is that kids who are sent away for school--for whatever reason--not lose touch with their brothers and sisters. Being cut off physically is hard enough, but when they didn't insist the rest of the family learn sign, they cut her off emotionally, too."
"Now wait," Hutch interrupted, feeling his anger rise. "My folks were good parents! They did what they could and as much as they could for all of us. And they did what they thought best."
"Oh, I'm sorry, Ken. I didn't mean to say otherwise. But the staff at the school should have told them all this and also kept in touch with them all along to see how the family training was going. Unfortunately, most school staff is so busy that they can't or won't take the time for it." She smiled at the pair, and the tension in the room seemed to quickly bleed away. "But what's done is done. We're going to get you two ready in plenty of time for her arrival."
There was silence for a few moments, then Meredith's eyes suddenly lit up, as a thought occurred to her. "Hey, Hutch. Why is your sister coming to town?"
"She's coming to go to school. This campus, as a matter of fact. She wants to get her teaching degree." Hutch looked almost proud at Barbara's ambitions.
"That's great!" Meredith laughed. "I'm involved with that program, so I'll get to meet her! I'll keep my eye out."
"So you mean," Starsky said encouragingly, "that if Hutch wants to check up on his sister, he can just call you?"
"Or," Meredith added slyly, "if I wanted to check up on Hutch, I can just talk to her." She winked at the blond and watched him blush. When he was finally no longer her student, this handsome man had possibilities!
Starsky was clearly enjoying his partner's discomfort, but was finally the one to draw the discussion back to the lesson at hand. "C'mon, blondie. If we're gonna be ready a few weeks from now, we'd better get this lesson down."
Barbara Hutchinson carefully folded each piece of clothing and gently laid it in the suitcase spread out on the bed. Two already-filled cases sat near the door, along side several sealed boxes which contained almost twenty years' accumulation of possessions and memories. She placed the final item on top of the others and closed the piece of luggage. She looked around the room that she'd occupied for all of those years, noticing how much smaller the room seemed now than it had when she first came here, frightened and confused. But as frightened as she had been, it was almost as scary at home, where people couldn't communicate with her and she couldn't tell them what she wanted or needed.
The overhead light flashed three times in quick succession, and she interrupted her musings to open her door. The mid-fifties woman who waited for entry smiled, but there was a hint of sadness there too which Barbara didn't miss.
"I can't believe this day has finally come," she signed to the young woman. "I find that I don't want to let you go. You're as much like a daughter to me as my own Karen is. And I know she'll miss you too."
"Bridget," Barbara signed back, her long-fingered dexterity easily forming the words, "you know I can't stay if I want to get my degree. You have been my friend, trustee, and teacher. The only way I can help other children the way you've helped me is to go to CSUN and get my degree. A teaching degree is all that I want--all I've ever wanted!"
"I know, and you're right to go. I'll miss you!" The teacher wrapped her arms around the pupil in a long hug good-bye, the taller woman practically covering Barbara's petite form. She wasn't more than 5'1" tall, and slender to boot. The high heels she wore most of the time created an image of height that could fool some, but not her closest friends.
They pulled out of the embrace, and Bridget signed again. "Write me when you get to Los Angeles, okay? And keep writing! I want to hear all about your experiences."
"I will, I promise. We won't lose touch!"
"Be careful," Bridget almost added as an afterthought. "Los Angeles can be a very dangerous place. And you're not used to a big city."
"I'll be fine. And my big brother will be right in the same city. My Lord! I haven't seen him in so long." She seemed to think for a moment, then her eyes lit with the signs of an idea. "You should come and visit me after I get settled in! Ken used to be so gorgeous from what I remember. Maybe he and Karen will hit it off!"
"I promise, I'll ask her! And I promise, this won't be good-bye. We'll see each other again, child."
Barbara Hutchinson wiped a tear off her cheek and slid into her shoes before hefting one of the larger suitcases. She was obviously much stronger than her appearance indicated. Bridget Kelley picked up the second, and they walked out of the room, leaving the remainder to be brought later. Barbara took one last look at the room, smiled faintly, and left to begin her new life.
"Y'know, Hutch," Starsky began as he watched his blond partner practicing his "homework" for class, "this sign language could actually be really good in our line of work. I mean, how many times have we been in a position where we couldn't talk or we'd give ourselves away? This could save us an awful lot of guesswork!"
Hutch signed yes, and Starsky's eyes opened wide. "Hey! You just said yes! And I knew exactly what you meant! I'm gettin' better and better at this all the time." He wore a self-satisfied grin of congratulations.
Hutch signed again, "Okay, now you try one."
"You want me to try one?" Starsky asked hesitantly. Somehow understanding what was being signed was a lot easier than getting the gestures correct when the conversation went the other way. He knew that was a rarity, but accepted it as a rarity and proceeded from there. "OK," he signed awkwardly, then decided to try for more. "How about going out for a pizza?" He made the motions awkwardly, and seemed to get his fingers tangled together on the last few words, but it was clear enough to Hutch what he wanted.
"Can't we get something besides pizza for a change?" He asked aloud, giving up on the homework for the time being.
"But it's the only thing we can agree on, food-wise," Starsky explained and the blond had to agree. As they headed for the door, the brunet's thoughts turned back to their project. "So, do you think you're ready for the final class tomorrow night?"
"I sure hope so," Hutch said, worried. The previous week, Meredith had announced that their sessions would end with a "field trip" of sorts. They would be required to take the special bus, whose driver was instructed to only communicate in sign, downtown to a certain restaurant, which she knew had several waiters who could wait on deaf patrons, order a complete meal, and make their way back to campus on the same bus. All without speaking a word or having a word spoken to them. Meredith would come along, of course, in case they got into trouble and to monitor them, but they wouldn't be able to lean on her.
"I just hope I don't embarrass myself by getting the wrong word again. That was so humiliating in class last week!"
"You're just lucky," the blond grinned, "that the girl you were partnered with knew that wasn't what you were really trying to say."
"I'm also lucky she pulled that slap before it connected!" Starsky agreed as they headed for the pizza place.
Starsky proudly admired his certificate for the completion of the class while Hutch inserted his into a frame for his wall. The field trip had gone without major incident, with each person in the class accomplishing the required tasks to pass. Meredith had commended both men on their tenacity and ambition in taking on such a large task, even though the dark-haired member of the team was still having some slight difficulty.
"I think you just need more practice," Hutch encouraged him as he pounded a nail in the wall. "I mean, you're very adept with your hands normally; if you were clumsy, you sure wouldn't be certified to carry a gun!"
"I know, but somehow this is different. Between the classes and the practice, though, at least Barbara will probably know what I'm trying to say once she gets here."
Hutch smiled, thinking. "Yeah, and that's only two days away. You know, I'm really starting to get excited about seeing her again. I'm not even sure I'll know her when I see her, but she should recognize me. I haven't changed that much since I went off to college." The blond had finished hanging the certificate and had taken to pacing. Starsky hated it when he paced.
"Buddy, sit down or I'm leaving!" he finally said after watching the third lap around the living room.
Hutch settled himself on the arm of the sofa, but it was pretty apparent to his partner that he wouldn't be staying there long. "I just wonder what she'll think of all this. Mom said she's got a room on campus, but will she be able to get around LA by herself? This is her first time in a big city. I remember when I first came here, everything seemed so overwhelming, and I didn't have the disadvantages she has."
"Don't worry, partner!" Starsky finally exclaimed, stopping the blond as he was about to rise and start his pacing again. "She's got you and me to show her the ropes. And after she's been here a couple of weeks, we can even introduce her to some nice guys who could help too!"
"You wanna set my sister up on a date?!" Hutch exclaimed.
"Sure, why not?" Hutch hated it when Starsky was reasonable. "She's 21 years old, Hutch! She's not a little girl anymore."
"Yeah, but she's not very worldly either."
"How do you know? You haven't spoken to her in years, how do you know there aren't a whole bunch of fellas up at that school just cryin' their eyes out `cause she's leavin'!" He smiled wickedly, which rattled Hutch even more.
"She is only 21. That's practically a baby, Starsk!"
"Remember Rebecca, that stewardess you had a couple of dates with last week? Remember you guys doubled with me and Sharon?"
"Sure, what about her?" Hutch was starting to get confused at this sudden shift in subject.
"Well, when you went up to the bar to get our drinks, we got to talking. Hutch, she's 21 years old, too. And I'm sure you remember what you and she did on that date!" Starsky laughed as the blond's eyes went wide.
"No, I'm absolutely serious. I know it's gonna be tough, but you've gotta keep in mind that Barbara's not the little girl you remember!" Starsky smiled, but clenched his teeth to keep from laughing at the blond.
"Even an adult woman alone, new to the city, needs to be watched over some," Hutch said defensively.
"Yeah, some. But not constantly and not smothering."
"Okay, I'll try. But you've gotta understand how tough it is. You don't know--you've never had a sister."
"But I will soon," Starsky suggested, smiling. He watched as Hutch started to set the table for the dinner which he could smell cooking in the oven.
Putting his nervous energy to some use seemed to help calm the blond a little, but it rattled him when he noticed Starsky watching him. "What are you doing?"
"Yeah. You're staring at me."
"I'm just not used to seeing you so uptight, Blintz. It's interesting. Tell me something: if you're this nervous now, what's going to happen in two days when she finally gets here."
"I can't tell ya, but you'll be there to find out."
Starsky and Hutch both ogled the petite, strikingly beautiful blond woman as they waited on the airport concourse.
"Hey!" Starsky noticed excitedly. "She's coming this way!" He waggled his eyebrows suggestively. He was grateful that something, or someone, had come along to distract his jittery partner.
"Yeah, well, partner, it's just too bad she likes me better." He seemed calmer since they'd actually gotten to the airport, making Starsky think again how odd his partner could be.
"What makes you say that, Blondie?" Starsky said defensively, smiling all the while.
The woman had come much closer now, and both men wore astonished expressions as she ran the last ten feet, dropping her small carry-on bag and throwing herself into Hutch's surprised but not unwilling embrace. She planted a firm kiss on his blushing cheek, Hutch's arms still holding her high-heeled feet half a foot from the floor. Hutch turned with her still in his arms, smiling wickedly at his partner. "See, I told you," he mouthed silently.
After a moment, the woman pushed herself away from Hutch's imposing figure, smiling up at him with shining blue eyes. As he looked into those eyes, it finally occurred to Hutch just who this was.
"Barbara!" he shouted gleefully, and swept her up in his embrace again.
Starsky stood for several minutes as Hutch proceeded to swing his sister in a circle. When Hutch talked about Kathy, he always regretted not having a sister; that feeling was intensified now. It was as if they'd never been apart. The difficult part was yet to come, though.
Hutch finally set Barbara back on her size 5 feet, but held her at arms length, looking her over again. Finally, as she looked at him inquiringly, he felt brave enough to try all he'd learned.
"Welcome to Los Angeles, Sis," he hesitantly signed, and she smiled even wider as she interpreted his words. He'd gotten them almost perfect!
"Thank you, Kenny," she signed back, causing Hutch to smile as she spelled out the letters of his name, "and thank you for this!" She took his hands in hers, repeating the gestures he'd made and correcting the one small error. The moment was pure magic. Ken's signing was far from perfect, but she was able to fill in the missing words by reading his lips, giving her a full range of what he was saying.
"Hey, Hutch," Starsky finally interrupted, laying a gentle hand on his friend's shoulder. "We'd better go." He smiled contentedly, enjoying seeing Hutch so happy. "And just in case you haven't figured it out, offhand I'd say she's not angry with you."
"Thank God," Hutch responded, then remembered his manners. "Oh, I'm sorry! I guess that was pretty rude, huh?" Starsky didn't nod, but the blond still turned to his sister. "Barbara, this is David Starsky."
Starsky decided to take on the challenge, and began to try his signing himself. "I'm your brother's partner. Very nice to meet you."
"It's nice to meet you too," she responded, feeling drawn to the handsome brunet. "But you're my brother's what???" Her blue eyes were wide with humor, knowing full well what Starsky was trying to say from the motion of his lips. Her mother had written and told her all about her brother and his partner, explaining what good friends the two were.
Hutch wasn't sure what Starsky had mis-signed, but he knew it wasn't quite right. He repeated the sign correctly, causing Barbara to break out into silent laughter. She stepped forward and kissed Starsky on the cheek, the officer blushing as he felt the softness and warmth of her lips.
"I think we should go pick up your luggage," Hutch suggested, taking Barbara's small hand in his own and leading her to the baggage carousel. Starsky was content to stand back and watch the pair as they waited for her bags to come down. They had been worlds apart in lifestyles and experience, but there was no mistaking that they were brother and sister.
When two flowered suitcases came around, Barbara pointed them out, then removed them from the carousel herself, with Hutch trying to do it for her and her not letting him. Starsky tried very hard not to notice how her form-fitting pink skirt showed off the shapely legs as she reached for each case. Soon he realized he was staring again, and shook himself out of it before either of the Hutchinsons could see.
"We brought my car," Hutch informed her, leading her to his beloved LTD. "A lot of room for suitcases."
"Yeah, just so long as the trunk doesn't fall through," Starsky said, simultaneously trying his best to sign the insult.
"Ken, I can't believe you drive this car! It's dreadful!"
Hutch stopped signing, speaking distinctly so she could read his lips. "Did you just say that my car is dreadful?!"
At Hutch's down-trodden look, she tried to lift his spirits. "I'm sorry. I just usually seem to like cars that are a little flashier. You know, something with some zip? Your car looks like something Mom or Dad would drive!"
"For a second there," Hutch smiled, "I almost forgot just how young you are!" He unlocked the passenger side door before crossing to his own side, and his partner felt embarrassingly warm when Barbara slid in first, centering herself on the seat so Starsky could sit next to her. Stop it, Starsk! he thought to himself. If Hutch ever catches on, he'll kill you!
The ride back to Venice was quiet, since signing--or reading sign--is very difficult to do while trying to drive. Barbara's eyes never stopped moving, though, taking in all the activity of big city life. It was like something she'd never seen before, and it fascinated her.
She'd called through the TDD service the day before that there had been a delay in preparing her dorm room, so it was decided she'd spend the next two or three days at her brother's place. They stopped at the apartment only long enough to drop off her luggage, despite Hutch's efforts to talk her into changing into something a little more "comfortable". The men at Huggy's would be swarming like flies if she went looking like that, with he and Starsky spending the entire night trying to fend them off. I can't believe how beautiful she is, Hutch thought.
Once they arrived at their friend's restaurant, Hutch did his best to walk between his sister and the rest of the bar's patronage. Starsky quickly laid claim to an empty booth against the rear wall, and Hutch ushered Barbara into the inside seat, sitting down after her, with Starsky sliding into the opposite side. Thus camouflaged, both men figured they had a pretty good chance at eating a peaceful meal and having some good conversation with their guest.
"What it is!" Huggy exclaimed over the din of music and conversation. He knew, of course, that Hutch's sister was coming to town, but wasn't prepared for the young woman who sat before him. "Hey, good buddy! Why didn't you warn me your sister was such a looker. I was expectin' a little girl!"
Barbara smiled indulgently as she read his lips, blushing slightly as she looked at her brother. There seemed to be no end to the colorful friends her he had. "I'm Barbara," she signed as Hutch interpreted. "It's nice to meet you, Huggy."
"It's great you could come to LA. It was getting a little boring, but I'm sure you'll liven the place right up!" Huggy smiled again as he handed her a menu. "Okay, dynamic duo, what would you like?"
"Don't we get menus?" Starsky questioned, feigning hurt feelings.
"Starsk," Hutch reprimanded playfully, "you could recite that menu yourself!"
Starsky laughed and placed his order for a burger with the works, fries, and a Pepsi, while Hutch ordered the baked fish and potato. Barbara pointed to her choice on the menu, a large garden salad and french fries, and Huggy took off to place their order.
"I think I missed something," she told both men. "Was Huggy just talking about Batman and Robin?"
Both men blushed furiously. The nickname Dynamic Duo had been tacked on them some time ago, but, fortunately, they'd never had to explain it. "It's nothing," Hutch told her, "just a nickname." Barbara smiled but let the matter drop. She'd remember it for the future, though. Some time when she needed to put her brother in his place, she'd bring it up again! She laughed silently at the plan.
Despite the long separation, she felt comfortable with Hutch. Not that she had entirely forgiven him for his absence from her life for the past sixteen years, but it was easier to put it aside than she'd thought it would be. She just wished that she felt as comfortable with his partner. There was something very different about David Starsky--different from all the other men she'd dated, both hearing and deaf. She hoped to herself that he might actually ask her out, even though she knew it was unlikely. He was her brother's partner and best friend. That more than likely put her off limits, she supposed.
The food and company was wonderful; Barbara hated to see the evening end as they departed Huggy's and headed back to Venice Place. It was well after midnight, and they'd all agreed that bed was a good idea if they were to be fresh to see the sites of the city the next day.
It was about 8:30 a.m. when Starsky came bounding up the steps to Hutch's apartment. Happily, he'd slept like a rock and was raring to go.
"Hutch!" Starsky called as he flew through the apartment door. He pulled up short in the livingroom. Hutch was nowhere to be seen, but locating him was easy when Starsky's ears picked up the sound of the water running in the shower. A flash of inspiration made the cobalt blue eyes sparkle mischievously.
Sneaking quietly to the kitchen sink, he filled a glass with water, letting the faucet run for several seconds so it would get very cold, then compounding it by putting in a trio of ice cubes from Hutch's freezer. Prepared with his full glass, he snuck stealthily toward the closed bathroom door.
So far, so good, Starsky thought as he turned the knob and pushed the door open. Hutch hadn't seemed to notice so far. Even through the shower curtain, he could tell there was flesh-colored movement from inside the tub. Trying to make himself as small as possible, Starsky got to within a foot of the shower curtain, reached up, and quickly dumped the icy water over his partner's figure.
He pulled aside the shower curtain at the same moment, not wanting to deny himself a look at the expression on Hutch's face. As he drew aside the curtain, though, the shocked face was undeniably feminine, and before he realized it he was standing there, stunned, looking at the totally naked form of his partner's sister. Barbara, looking at him with wide eyes, was totally stunned, but not so much that she didn't have the presence of mind to grab the shower curtain from him to hold in front of her body.
Both parties involved stood, staring at each other and blushing, too stunned to move further. They were still in this position a moment later when Hutch, fresh from the market on the corner with breakfast fixings, came in. "What the hell are you doing!" he stormed at Starsky, whose mouth moved but no sound came from it. Seeing that his partner was just as stunned as his sister, he led him by the arm from the bathroom, shutting the door behind them, allowing Barbara to return to her shower.
Pushing him down on the sofa, smiling now at the incident, Hutch asked, "Okay, tell me what happened."
Once out of the room for a few moments, Starsky was pretty much back to normal. "Honest, Hutch! I didn't mean anything! I...I thought it was you." He motioned to the empty glass still in his hand. "I thought it would be funny to dump some ice water on you. I didn't think that it was Barbara in there!"
"Well, partner, it sounds like you really found out it wasn't!" Hutch laughed, remembering the look on Starsky's face. "But at least her reflexes were fast enough that she grabbed the shower curtain before you saw something you shouldn't have."
"Uhhhhhh.... Hutch...." They'd never lied to each other before, not seriously anyway, and Starsky was ready to fess up.
A motion came from behind them. Both men turned around as Barbara, folded into a robe similar to Hutch's only pink, came out of the bathroom. "It sure is a good thing I did!" she signed, her message of secrecy conveying itself very clearly to Starsky. Starsky and Hutch had been facing each other, and she had been able to pick up what the brunet was about to reveal. She crossed to stand behind her brother, Hutch sensing her there. "Don't tell him you saw!" she signed for Starsky's eyes only. "I don't want to create a commotion!"
Starsky smiled and nodded his head, which Hutch took as his answer to whatever the blond had been talking about. Starsky had no idea what he'd said, but at least he was avoiding the figurative "hot water" the incident could have gotten him into. Barbara headed for her suitcases, picking out a comfortable shorts outfit and heading back to the bathroom to dress. By the time she was dressed, combed, and ready, Hutch had a simple breakfast on the table.
Starsky stood unhappily in line at the county art museum. "Don't know why we had to start the tour here," he grumbled, loudly enough that his partner could hear, but not their ever-present guide.
"I don't know what you're complaining about," Hutch whispered back. "You seemed to like my idea well enough this morning when I came up with it. You even smiled when you agreed to it!"
"Yeah, well..." Starsky thought fast, trying to cover. "I thought I'd at least be able to tell what the paintings were of! You know I hate abstract art!"
"These aren't so bad, Starsk. Just give `em a try. The museum personnel have even been nice enough to keep us in the front so Barbara can read the guide's lips. Not every museum would do that, you know."
"Excuse me, gentlemen, but would you mind..." Both men looked guilty when they realized how loud their voices had gotten, interrupting everybody's tour.
"Oh, I'm sorry, ma'am," Hutch blushed. The tour was continued, with Starsky politely refraining from making the crude comments that crossed his mind about the "art".
After the museum tour, Barbara managed to convince them to spend the remainder of the day shopping, which neither man particularly enjoyed. Like the dutiful brother, though, Hutch showed her to all the affordable local department stores. Starsky, at first, was only interested in watching the sales women dressing the mannequins, and wasn't paying much attention to what Hutch's sister chose. His attitude changed quickly, his shadowed eyes reflecting what he dare not say, when she moved from the blouses and jeans to the swimming suits.
As they left the final store after several hours, Starsky remarked, simultaneously signing, "I never knew that shopping for clothes could take so long!"
"Well," Barbara signed, intentionally slow so her brother could catch every word, "if Ken hadn't insisted on arguing about every outfit I wanted to buy, it wouldn't have taken so long." She was smiling as she said it, but Hutch saw the sparks behind her eyes and knew she was not pleased with him.
"I'm sorry." He did his best to look chastised, but wasn't certain he was succeeding.
Starsky broke the tension in typical fashion. "Hey, how about we go get some dinner. It's after 6:00, and I'm starvin'!" Barbara simply nodded her agreement, so Starsky took the shopping bags from her in his right hand and held out his left arm for her to take. She couldn't help but notice the well-muscled bicep and forearm as she wrapped her arm around his. They had gone two steps before they realized Hutch wasn't with them.
"Hey, aren't you comin', partner?" Starsky asked, pulling up short.
"Yeah, I guess," the unhappy blond muttered as he took a position on Barbara's opposite side.
Considerably more discussion ensued inside the Torino before they were finally able to decide on a restaurant, ending up at a homey Italian place near the station. It was the best compromise between the junk food Starsky wanted and the health food Hutch preferred. Barbara, it turned out, adored Italian cuisine, so it worked out for everybody.
It was after nine before Starsky dropped the siblings off at Hutch's apartment, the blond laden with Barbara's purchases of the day and his sister laden as well with the doggy bag full of their leftovers. The food had been fantastic, but the portions had been large; in the end, even Starsky hadn't been able to finish his meal. But there was enough left over for all three of them for dinner the following night, giving Barbara the perfect opportunity to invite her brother's partner to come over when they finished their shift.
Hutch piled her bags in the corner as she deposited the leftovers in the refrigerator. "If I'm going to get up for work tomorrow, he told her, I'd better get some sleep. My shift starts at 6:00, so hopefully we'll be home early."
"How early?" she questioned.
"I'm afraid we rarely get to work just eight hours. But maybe by four."
"Okay," she agreed, standing on her toes to kiss him on the cheek. "Goodnight, Ken."
He sat on the bed listening while she moved about getting ready for bed, spending some time in the bathroom and finally settling on the couch to sleep. He'd offered her the bed, but she dismissed it quickly, logically stating that she was easily able to fit on the six-foot couch, while he wouldn't have fit. He'd given in rather than argue.
Once he believed she was asleep, he went about doing his own pre-bed routine. Lastly, he snuck a look at his sister over the back of the couch, noticing the even rhythm of her breathing and the innocence of her face. "Good night, Barbie," he said, resorting to the name he'd used for his baby sister all those years ago back in Duluth, yet knowing she wouldn't hear it.
"Hey! I've got a great idea," Starsky enthused suddenly as the red car continued down its patrol route. "How about you call Meredith and we all go out for Chinese tonight?"
"Starsky, she's our teacher!" Hutch said.
"Not anymore. Besides, it'll give Barbara a chance to get to know her before she actually starts her classes."
"Gee, partner. It's sure nice to see you so concerned about my little sister! And here I thought you weren't going to be able to relate to her because you've never had a sister of your own."
"Speaking of that," Starsky began, doing his best to look innocent. "Remember what I said about any sister of yours bein' a sister of mine?"
"Yeah?" Hutch responded, uncertain what was coming next.
"Well, forget it!" Starsky tried his best to take the sting out of the admission, but Hutch was still taken off guard.
"What the hell do you mean by that, buddy?"
Starsky was rescued from having to answer by the radio. "All units in the vicinity and Zebra 3," it announced. "Citizen report of a dead body at 246 Hemingway Lane."
"Responding," Hutch said into the radio, slapping the light on the roof. "And don't think this discussion is over!"
Starsky laughed as he shifted into high, and Hutch misinterpreted the reaction. Thank God, he thought. He's only kidding.
The squealing tires brought the Torino to a halt in front of the address they'd been given. A middle-aged woman with wide eyes ran up as they emerged from the car, pointing to the thin alley which ran between the buildings.
"In there! It's in the dumpster! I swear, I didn't have anything to do with it!"
"Take it easy, lady," Hutch did his best to calm her. "We'll check it out. Wait here for the other officers who'll be coming." She nodded silently as Starsky joined his partner in approaching the alley.
Starsky noticed that Hutch's gait had slowed. Hutch hates checking out dead bodies. Wish he didn't have to. He purposefully sped up so he was certain to get to the dumpster first. Leaning in over the edge, he saw the thin arm, then pushed the rubbish aside until most of the body showed. "Female, and young," he announced as Hutch took a quick peek over the edge, his face pale.
"Not another one!" Hutch muttered, rubbing his eyes. The blond set his jaw and looked again at the figure in the dumpster. "She couldn't be more than 24!" he said, sounding astounded. If he lived to be 147, he would never understand this kind of thing.
He blanched as Starsky reached again into the dumpster, touching the woman's wrist. "She's real cold, Hutch. Must've been dead for awhile."
"Damn!" the blond shouted. "This is the third this week! What does this maniac think he's doing?!"
"At the moment, he thinks he's outsmartin' a bunch of dumb cops who can't catch him," Starsky admitted as he extricated his top half from the garbage container. Three squad cars and the coroner's wagon pulled up as the pair made their way out of the alley. "She's in the dumpster, Collins," he told the first uniformed man.
"Tell the forensics team to catch everything!" Hutch ordered curtly.
"Hey," Starsky whispered, laying a calming hand on the blond's arm. "Don't take it out on him. We all want this guy!"
"I know! But, dammit, Starsk!"
"I know, buddy. I know."
"Alice Adams," Dobey announced, handing the duo a file. "Twenty-two years old and a senior at CSUN. This is everything we've been able to get on her. Her family's being notified as we speak."
"Hmmm." Hutch perused the file. "Good grades, part time job. Looks like she was probably on her way there when she was killed...."
"Which adds up to a whole lot of clues and no way to tie `em together," Starsky finished, his frustration showing.
"Well, this is the eighth girl in the last month and a half, three this week alone! So you'd better find the key!" Dobey's attitude showed his own frustration.
"It's gotta be some kind of psycho, Captain," Hutch said, turning to his superior. "All the victims were college girls, but not the same campus. All worked a job after hours, but none in the same place. All were dedicated students, not party girls. All the bodies were found in dumpsters."
"And," Starsky added, slumping down in his chair, "almost all the victims had double initials. That's such a common thing, there's no way we can predict which student he'll hit next! And that doesn't explain the ones who don't follow that pattern."
"Well, the state the bodies were found in would certainly substantiate the idea that it's some kind of psycho," Dobey agreed. "Why would any sane person shave these girls' heads before dumping them?"
"I thought the hair was a good clue," Hutch said, beginning to pace the squad room, "until the fourth victim. The first three victims were brunettes. Then he branched out. Two blondes, a redhead, another brunette, and this last girl had auburn hair."
"So hair color can't be an issue after all," Starsky stated, completing Hutch's thought.
"Do you think the families of the other girls are up to answering some questions?" Hutch wondered aloud.
"If we wait for `em to be ready, we may never get to talk to `em." Starsky scribbled the names on a pad and rose to follow his partner out of the squad room.
By clock-out time, they'd interviewed four of the families, but the information, at this point anyway, proved unhelpful. Both men were surly as they pulled up in front of Venice Place, although they were also looking forward to a dinner of the flavorful leftovers from the previous night's dinner.
Hutch smiled as he slid the key into the lock, allowing them entrance to the apartment. Good girl, he thought, she remembered what I said about locking up while she's here alone.
Starsky noticed the worry-crease in his partner's forehead deepen as he looked around the empty apartment. "Starsk, she's not here!" Hutch remarked, his eyes frantic.
"Look around. Maybe she left a note telling us where she went."
"Where would she go?" Hutch challenged. "She's a stranger in this city, and she's only seen the places we've taken her! If something happened to her because she was here, in my apartment, it'll be all my fault!"
"Partner, you're gettin' all excited for nothin'! Look around!! Are there any signs at all she's been snatched?"
"No.... But there weren't any when Forrest grabbed me either!" He crossed to the telephone, grabbing the receiver savagely.
"Who're you callin'?" Starsky asked.
"Headquarters. I'm going to have them put an all-points bulletin out for her."
"Hutch, have you lost your marbles?" Starsky grabbed the receiver from his hand, simultaneously hitting the button and disconnecting the call. Hutch was reaching to grab it back when the door clicked.
Both men turned as Barbara, her arms laden with brown grocery sacks, came through the door. Her hands being occupied, she was unable to say hello, but her bright smile greeted them. Starsky rushed to take two of the bags from her.
Neither Starsky nor Barbara saw Hutch seeth as they crossed to the kitchen area of the apartment. As soon as the bags were set on the counter, Barbara began to talk excitedly, giving her good news.
"I got a telegram today! Do you remember my talking about my teacher Bridget? She's coming for a visit in the morning, and she's bringing her daughter Karen. Karen was my best friend for all the years I went to school!"
"Where the hell were you?!" Hutch asked, grinding his teeth together and clenching his fists so tight that signing was impossible. She read his lips anyway.
"I wanted to make a special dinner for them tomorrow night, and you had absolutely nothing usable in that refrigerator, so I went to the grocery store." She was clearly perplexed by his reaction; was this how her brother looked when he was angry?
"Do you have any idea how worried I was when I got here and you were gone? You've only been in the city a few days! How was I supposed to know you hadn't been hurt or grabbed or anything!"
The more excited Hutch got, the harder it was for Barbara to interpret what he was saying. She tried to sign for him to slow down, and her hands flew faster and faster in her frustration. Starsky, for the most part, was doing his best to stay out of the way. Finally, the woman turned her back on her brother, giving up on his tirade.
As soon as Barbara was no longer facing Hutch, Starsky watched again as Hutch continued to reprimand the girl. "Hutch!"
"Not now, Starsky!" Hutch asided to him, then went back to addressing his sister.
"But, Hutch!" He shouted back. "You're givin' yourself laryngitis for nothin', dummy! She can't hear you!"
Hutch suddenly fell silent, blushing in embarrassment, as Starsky's words sunk in. With her back to her brother, yelling at Barbara was paramount to addressing nobody.
"Looks like, for once, I'm gonna have to be the level-headed one here," Starsky said, dragging his partner over to the couch. "Sit down." A slight push sat the tall man beneath Starsky's line of sight, giving the shorter man the dominant position. "Stay!"
A light touch on Barbara's arm brought her light blue eyes up to meet Starsky's darker ones. Starsky was struck again by how much they looked like her brother's. "Come with me, please? I think we all need to talk."
He led her to the same couch where her brother still sat. She daintily lowered herself at the other end of the sofa, keeping her eyes from her brother's by staring at Starsky. There were so many things in her face, Starsky noticed: hurt, anger, and confusion were the strongest.
"Okay," Starsky began, speaking and signing at the same time. "I'm going to try to play counselor here, and you're just gonna have to put up with it. Now first, Hutch, you've got to understand that Barbara is not a little girl. If she chooses to leave the apartment, it's her own decision and nobody else's. I don't care if she's gettin' groceries or playin' tennis, she doesn't need your permission."
Hutch looked properly chastised, knowing in his heart that he had been in the wrong. He turned to his sister, his movement attracting her attention. "I'm sorry," he signed precisely. "I was just worried about you."
Starsky waved his hands to get Barbara's attention. "That brings me to the second part. Barbara, you've gotta understand that, because we're police officers, there are a lot of people who would like to hurt us. There have been a lot in the past, and they don't always just go after Hutch and me. They've gone after friends, dates, and family lots of times. So if Hutch seems overprotective, there's a good reason. Please, can you agree that, at least while you're staying here, if you do go out, you'll leave a note. Just let him know where you're headed and about when you'll be back. Okay?"
"Okay," she signed back, smiling at the handsome brunet. He was so kind! The smile fell as she looked undecided for a moment, then more determined.
"Ken," she addressed her brother, "I think we need to discuss what just happened. We're both adults, so we're going to disagree from time to time. But how we disagree is what I need to talk about."
"We were fighting," Hutch admitted, "and I was upset. That's nothing unusual for adults."
"You don't even know what you did, do you?" Hutch shook his head, puzzled, then looked to Starsky. He seemed to know what she was going to say, but let her say it anyway. "One of the rudest things you can do to someone who is hearing impaired is to deliberately not sign in front of them when you know how."
"Oh, my God!" Hutch whispered. Was that what he'd done? He looked to Starsky disbelievingly as the brunet half-smiled and nodded his head. "I'm sorry," he addressed Barbara, speaking and signing once again. "I was just so freaked out that I forgot all about it! I'm so sorry! I promise, the next time we fight, I'll remember. Or better yet, we just won't fight any more!"
"Don't say that, Ken. We will fight because that's something that adults do. As for my part, I promise to be sure that I sign slowly enough so you can understand what I'm trying to say. I forget too, you know. I forget that you've only been able to sign for a few months, and that you learned to do it just for me. Not every guy would do that for a girl, either here or back home. And here I've got two in the same city. You're some guy, big brother!"
He leaned toward her, encircling her with his arms and simultaneously smiling at Starsky. "Thanks, partner," he said, for Starsky's ears only. A moment later he pushed her away, asking her, "So what is this about your having visitors?"
"My teacher is coming for a visit. When I left, I asked her to come see me when she could, and there just happens to be a conference in Los Angeles starting tomorrow."
"She sounds like she was more to you than just a teacher," Starsky noted.
"For a long time, she and her daughter were everything to me. Her husband died in a car accident when I was still pretty little, so the three of us spent a lot of time together. She was sort of a foster mother for me while I was separated from Mom and Dad."
"I can't wait to meet her," Hutch smiled.
"I can't wait for you to, either," Barbara winked at Starsky. "Bridget and Karen will be here tomorrow, so I'm going to make a special dinner. You will come too, won't you Dave?"
"Wouldn't miss it!" he smiled lopsidedly, jumped up and kissed her on the cheek. "But what about tonight? Are we gonna eat or not? I'm starvin'!"
They were both becoming more and more frustrated with their lack of progress on the case. Brainstorming as they ran through their daily patrol route seemed to merit them nothing new.
"I don't know about you," Hutch mumbled, rubbing his eyes, "but I need a break! I feel like my head is going to explode."
"Too much thinkin', I guess," Starsky responded. "It's 11:30. How about we stop for an early lunch. There's that place just around the corner..."
"Sounds good, although I'm not sure how much I'm going to feel like eating." Starsky turned on his signal and pulled first into the turning lane, then left onto the next street.
The passenger-side tires bumped the curb as the Torino came to a halt, the blond simultaneously opening his door. He'd just slammed it shut when a shout brought his attention to a pair of struggling figures on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. Before Hutch could get to them, the man had pushed the woman to the pavement, finally taking possession of her purse and fleeing into an alley.
Hutch was panting heavily as he pursued the snatcher into the dark, sensing his partner running just behind him. He could barely make out the shadow as it jumped atop a dumpster at the end of the alley, attempting to use it to scale the fence someone had erected there. Both officers were apparently more agile than the thief, because he was unable to get over the fence before the blond had jumped up right behind him. As Hutch grabbed the man by the scruff of the neck, Starsky jumped up behind the first two, noticing peripherally that the container where they stood was half open and half closed, with a split lid that allowed for it.
As Hutch reached for his cuffs, the perpetrator made an unexpected shove, pushing the blond into his stunned partner. Both police officers, grasping at the air in a futile attempt to stop their fall, dropped into the open portion of the duster, the thief falling in after them due to Hutch's iron-like grip on his shirt.
"Damn!" Starsky exclaimed as he attempted to brush a small garbage can's worth of food remains from his clothes. He looked up at his partner, realizing that, although he, himself, was a mess, Hutch was in even worse shape. But true to his duty, he was putting the cuffs on the stunned purse-snatcher.
"I don't know, Hutch. I'm not sure I want you sittin' in my car lookin' like that!" He laughed as Hutch joined in, climbing out of the dumpster and lending a hand in pulling their prisoner and his partner out.
"If I didn't need to get back to my place for dinner with Barbara's friends, I wouldn't have anything to do with your stupid car," Hutch confessed, his irritation showing. As they emerged from the alley, dragging their prisoner along, two uniformed officers emerged from a zone car. Hutch was relieved to see that the victim had regained her footing and was looking at the culprit and chastising him with vinegar in her voice.
"Fitzgerald," Hutch addressed the first uniformed man, "this is your perpetrator, here is your victim, and you're surrounded by witnesses. Do you think you can take it from here? I've got an appointment to make."
"Sure, Hutch. We'll take care of `im."
Starsky finally gave up trying to brush the refuse from his favorite jacket as he climbed into the Torino. "C'mon, partner. Let's go home."
Hutch lowered himself in next to Starsky. "At least we've got a couple hours to clean up before Barbara's friends are due for dinner. Thank God," he amended as Starsky squealed the tires in the direction of Venice.
"You can use my shower," Hutch offered as they climbed the stairs, "and I'll run our clothes to the laundromat down the street while you're in the shower. By the time Barbara gets back with Bridget and Karen, it won't even look like this happened!"
"Sounds like a good plan t'me," Starsky agreed. "Is that me stinkin', or is that you?"
Hutch laughed as he reached for the key. "I don't know any more, but one of us smells like spaghetti."
"I think that's me. Knowin' you, you wouldn't smell like anything but salad or vegetables!" They sprawled into the apartment, beginning to strip the sticky, uncomfortable clothes from their bodies. "Since you're gonna do the laundry, maybe you should get in the shower first; I'll take mine while you're gone."
The proposal made perfect sense. Both men were shirtless as they turned as one, responding to the click of the door.
"Oh, my!" The exclamation came from a woman, perhaps twenty-five years older than Hutch, who stood behind Barbara. The look on his sister's face told Hutch that she was thinking the same thing.
"Ken, what happened to you? You're filthy!! And you're not even supposed to be home yet!"
"Hazards of the job, Sis," Hutch communicated aloud and through sign. "We had to come home to get cleaned up!"
"We fell into a dumpster chasing a purse snatcher," Starsky explained. It was difficult for Barbara to concentrate as his hands moved. The waste and grime did nothing to hide the hairy and muscle-covered chest. Even filthy he's gorgeous!
Hutch broke into her reverie, touching her on the arm so she looked at him. "We're being very rude, I'm afraid. Who are your visitors?" He already knew, but gave Barbara the opportunity to make a formal introduction. Fortunately, she realized, neither Starsky nor Ken noticed the focus she'd made on her brother's partner.
"Oh, I'm sorry! It was rude of me!" She turned around to wave the woman behind her into the room, the guys only then noticing that there was a third person behind the older woman. "Come in, come in! Bridget Kelley and her daughter Karen, I'd like you to meet my brother Ken and his partner Dave." She smiled devilishly, a smile that Starsky noticed she shared with her elder sibling. "Don't worry, they don't always look this way!"
Handshakes were exchanged all around. "You were Barbara's teacher?" Hutch questioned rhetorically. He was addressing Bridget, but his detective's mind was cataloging both women. Karen was a beautiful girl, not as petite as his sister, with the most luxurious-looking waist-length auburn hair he'd ever seen. He wondered if her mother's had been the same rich color before it had turned gray.
"It started out that way," Bridget stated, "but it's been a long time since I thought of her as just another pupil." Her affection was clear in the tone she used, and Hutch wondered, since she couldn't hear it, if Barbara sensed the warmth in another way.
"Karen is my best friend," Barbara admitted, her eyes meeting the other girl's, "and Bridget has been my mentor and biggest support system!"
"I'm sorry," Starsky broke in before Hutch could. "I didn't quite get that word. The one before `and'." He looked to his partner for an answer, but Hutch shrugged his shoulders.
"I don't know either." Two sets of blue eyes looked at Bridget, knowing she could interpret. Before she could speak, though, Barbara held up a restraining hand.
Once she knew both men's eyes were on her, she carefully spelled out each letter. m--e--n--t--o--r. Starsky and Hutch took turns identifying and repeating each letter as she signed it, until finally the last one completed the word.
"Mentor," Hutch said aloud, and Barbara nodded her head, then repeated the sign again, slowly, so the officers could repeat it.
When they could duplicate her motions perfectly, Bridget smiled with pride. "You're going to make a terrific teacher, sweeheart!" she said, hugging her star pupil.
Suddenly, Hutch remembered exactly what he and his partner looked like. "If you ladies will excuse us for a few moments, we'll get cleaned up." He and Starsky went behind the room divider to the bedroom area.
"What am I going to do?" Starsky asked, embarrassed. "I don't have any clothes here, and yours won't fit me. You can't leave the apartment to do our laundry without it looking bad, either."
"Yeah, our plans sure are shot, aren't they?" Hutch started going through his dresser drawers and his closet. "Well, the shirt shouldn't be a problem, you can take one of my T-shirts. As for the bottoms, you have a couple of options as I see it. You can wear these running shorts--they're elasticized so they should fit okay--or you can wear a pair of my sweatpants and roll up the cuffs. What do you think?"
"Well, neither would be my first choice," Starsky admitted, "but since I don't have a choice, I guess I'll take the shorts. At least that way I won't be tripping over the bottoms." Hutch put the shorts, a T-shirt, and a pair of clean socks in his hands, shooing him toward the bathroom.
"Go on, get your shower. I doubt the garbage soaked all the way through to your underwear, but I'll check back just in case you need to borrow a pair." Starsky waved at the women as he gently closed the bathroom door, and soon Hutch heard the water running.
As Hutch himself was stepping into the shower, the smell of dinner cooking overpowered the scent of the soap. It smelled delicious, and he wondered who taught his sister to cook. He had almost as much water in his mouth as there was in the shower as he identified sage, garlic, onions, and some other herb he couldn't readily name. By the time he emerged, scrubbed, soaped, and dressed, the women were putting the food out on the table. Starsky, in stocking feet with his legs showing, had been put to work at the stove stirring a large kettle of a deep red sauce, which he now carried to the large hotpad on the table. Bridget snickered to herself when she noticed how Barbara's eyes kept straying to the brunet at the stove.
Hutch was impressed at how delicious the food was and how thorough his sister had been in her preparations. It was every bit as scrumptious as his mother's cooking, he thought, wondering if culinary talent was genetic. The conversation was friendly as they dug into the cheese ravioli, garden salad, and garlic bread.
"This is great!" Starsky exclaimed, his hands and his mouth full. Barbara had a difficult time making out what he was saying, but finally figured it out, then smiled and blushed.
"Thank you, Dave!"
"Ken, did you know that Barbara made the sauce from scratch?" Karen asked, smiling at the handsome blond. "It didn't even come from a jar or anything! You'd never know that Mom taught both Barb and me to cook at the same time. She does great, and I'm lucky if I can boil water!" As soon as the words were out, she wondered if she'd said too much. Maybe Ken Hutchinson only liked women who were the domestic type.
"You made this sauce?" Hutch asked his sister, and she nodded and blushed again. Both men noticed that the meal was meatless; come to think of it, she hadn't eaten anything with meat since arriving in LA. Hutch made a mental note to ask her about it later, after their guests had left. Living in California, vegetarians were nothing new, but it would help prevent any difficulties in future meals together.
"So, Karen," Starsky asked Bridget's daughter, "how are you going to spend your time while you're mother's at the seminar?" A twinge of jealousy flared in Barbara's eyes, then the girls' eyes met, Karen's communicating that there was nothing to worry about.
"I've talked to the Dean and he's agreed to let me sit in on some classes on campus. There are a lot of fascinating classes available; if I find some I really like, I might decide to register full time here!"
"It sure would be great to have you around all the time!" Barbara admitted, taking her friend's hand in her own.
"Well! I like that!" Hutch said, feigning hurt.
"I'm afraid a brother is very different from a best friend, Ken," Bridget stated in a motherly tone. "Not very many people can balance a brother relationship with a best-friend one. You and Dave do a remarkable, but rare, job of it!" Both Starsky and Hutch thought that she sounded like their own mothers.
"Speaking of the campus," Barbara remarked, "Ken, would you call tomorrow and see if my dorm room is ready? Tomorrow makes three days, after all."
"Sure, Sis. Will you forgive me if I say I almost hope it won't be?"
Barbara smiled gently. "Yes."
The remainder of the evening was filled with laughing and interesting conversation, everyone being equally hesitant to put an end to the festivities. Finally, Barbara kissed and hugged Karen and Bridget as they left for their hotel; Starsky left for his own apartment shortly after that, leaving the siblings to head for their respective beds.
As it turned out, the dormitory room was completely ready by the next day, and after work the following evening, they spent time moving Barbara's luggage to her new room. When they arrived, they found that several large boxes containing the remainder of her possessions had been delivered. The miniature apartment was much more spacious than they'd expected, including a good-sized bedroom, living room, and kitchen.
Hutch picked up a box marked "bedroom". "Do you want me to take this into the bedroom?"
"Yes," Barbara signed, "but I need to get something out of it first." She pulled the tape off the top and retrieved an electronic-appearing device. "Okay, now you can take it." Hutch didn't pick it up right away because he was studying the strange object.
"What is that?" Starsky asked bluntly.
"This is a TDD. That stands for Telephone Device for the Deaf. With it, hooked in to the phone line, I can use the telephone just like anybody else. You see, it goes through a service. An operator reads what I type on the screen, places the call to the person I want to talk to, and relays the information."
"Really? Cool!" Starsky enthused, taking the device from her hands and studying it more thoroughly. "You mean, the operator reads the message to the person you're calling, then types what they say back to you?"
"Exactly, Dave." He was so intelligent, she thought, smiling.
"I've heard of these just recently, but I've never seen one," Hutch commented, looking over Starsky's shoulder.
"Yeah, that's too bad." Starsky saw a spark behind her eyes that there was more to the comment than simple conversation. She'd obviously had this machine back at the boarding school; maybe she was disappointed that Hutch hadn't arranged to call her. But then, from Hutch's reaction, he truly hadn't known that such equipment existed while she was growing up.
Unaware of the meaning behind the young woman's words, Hutch quickly hefted the box and carried it into the bedroom, gently removing the contents and laying each item on the bed or floor as the situation warranted. Books went into the small bedside bookcase and personal items on the dresser.
Meanwhile, Starsky and Barbara went to work on the two other boxes. After much bending and straightening while removing items from the first box, Starsky made a suggested to the pretty blond woman. "Why don't we put this one up on the couch. It might make it easier on both our backs." He stretched his spine, his hands on his back, making the point.
"I think so," Barbara agreed. "Why don't we?" Starsky and Barbara giggled as they tried their best to maneuver the box into position, with each person taking an end. As soon as they had it hefted, they realized it was much heavier than they'd anticipated. They managed to get it to the couch where they dropped more than set it on the cushions. The man and woman leaned close over the top of the carton, both breathing heavily and smiling.
Starsky wasn't sure what happened next or whose idea it had been, but he suddenly realized that he was kissing his best friend's sister, and more to the point, she was kissing him back, fervently. He thought for a moment about pulling away--he really shouldn't be doing this--but instead pulled her even closer.
The kiss seemed to go on and on, both participants lost in time and space. They were harshly brought back to reality, though, when Hutch emerged from the bedroom.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?!" he yelled, storming to the sofa where Starsky and Barbara had guiltily pulled apart. Hutch crossed to his partner's side, his face very close to his best friend's--so close that Starsky could feel the hot breath of his rage emanating from the blond.
"Ahhhh..." Starsky tried to excuse himself, "I'm sorry, Hutch! Really, I am! It's just...I mean, I was just...we were...she was..." He wasn't sure he could go on, considering how guilty he felt at what he'd been caught doing. Shortly, though, he discovered he didn't have to.
"What I am doing is none of your damn business!" Barbara communicated in angry movements. Her face was as red as Hutch's as she stepped in between the two men. "I kiss whomever I want to kiss, and you're not going to tell me otherwise! This was my idea as much as, or more than, Dave's!"
Hutch realized, too late, that she was right, but Barbara was on a roll, purging feelings she'd kept bottled since she'd gotten to town and for years before that. "But...I was just trying to protect..." Hutch tried, but she interrupted him with her hands.
"You've got a hell of a lot of nerve trying to run my life now! Where were you when I went on my first date?! Where were you when my first boyfriend broke up with me and I needed a shoulder to cry on?! Where were you, Brother?!! I can tell you where you weren't, and that's not with me! If it weren't for my letters from Mom, I wouldn't even have known you were still alive all those years! And now you want to interfere in my life here in Los Angeles? No way, Brother. If you can't accept that, then you can just get out of my life! I got along without you through most of it, and I can keep doing it!"
Her hands still moved angrily, and even though they were moving too fast for Hutch to comprehend every word, he understood enough for her message to come through clearly. "I'm sorry," he signed back, not speaking. "When Mom wrote that you were coming, I was afraid you'd be upset with me for exactly this reason. I was surprised, actually, that you weren't. But I guess you are after all."
Starsky stood by, no longer an active participant in this conversation. He may have been the catalyst, but he knew from what he could read from Barbara's speech that the argument went beyond their simple kiss.
"No!" she signed abruptly, her anger still vibrant in her face. "Do you think that I'm a little girl?? That you can make it better just by saying you're sorry? The worst part is, I don't really believe that you are sorry. I want you to understand me loud and clear! I've gotten along for sixteen years without your help; I sure don't need it now. And if I should want it, I'll ask for it!" Barbara turned her back on her brother when she felt the tears start to come. She hated it when this happened; somehow it seemed like such a "female" thing to do. But the emotions she had kept in check were bursting out in every direction. So help me, she thought, if he offers me a handkerchief, I'll slap him!
Barbara was determined not to turn back to the men until her eyes were dry, so she stayed riveted in place. Her brother, his concern obvious, came up behind her. She hastily shrugged off the hands he lay on her shoulders, taking a step away from him. Deciding to try again, his hand appeared over her shoulder, handing her a small white cloth.
He expected her to take it from his hand. What he didn't expect was what actually happened. Hutch's petite sister spun, quickly and gracefully, as she swung her arm. A fraction of a second later, five thin finger marks were tattooed on Hutch's cheek. He quickly raised his hand to cover them in stunned surprise as Starsky took a step forward, deducing that he'd have to interfere after all.
"No, Starsk," Hutch halted him with two words, "I'm okay." Starsky looked into his partner's eyes and saw that he was most definitely not okay--at least not emotionally. This time it was Ken Hutchinson's eyes that were moist, although he was doing his best to hide it. Seeing the pain his partner was in, Starsky went to Barbara and turned her to look up into her brother's face. Her expression softened slightly when she saw the shining blue eyes.
"I really am sorry," Hutch told her, fearing he'd lose his tenuous control. "And if you want me to leave right now and never come back, I will. All you have to do is say so."
"I'm sorry, too," Barbara admitted, the gentleness in his face calming her where his words hadn't. "Please don't feel like you have to go; that's no way to solve a disagreement, even if it's been going on for sixteen years. I thought I'd worked all this out of my system before I ever came here. Ken, if you and I are going to live in the same city and try to get to know each other as brother and sister, you can't try to control my friends, and especially not my dates! If I want to kiss a man, or him to kiss me, you've got to stay out of it! Even if it's Dave!" Starsky blushed guiltily but didn't interrupt.
"I promise, I'll try," Hutch agreed, "but I'm very uncomfortable with the idea of something happening between you and Starsky. He's fourteen years older than you, and a lot more experienced! Plus, he's like a brother to me! With you being my sister, it just feels like incest or something!"
"Ken, it was just a kiss!! For God's sake! I didn't drag him into my bed or anything!" Hutch blanched as he imagined such a scene. "Besides, how do you know how experienced I am?!"
That's somewhere I do not want to go, Hutch thought to himself. He shrugged his shoulders and pulled his little sister into an embrace. "I'm sorry," he said aloud, his lips close to her ear, even though she couldn't hear him. He could feel her muscles were still stiff under his arms, but she let him hug her, and that meant something. Then his eyes moved to his partner, a feeling of regret settling in his heart like a stone. Starsky's blue eyes looked angry--would he be able to make amends with him? "I owe you an apology too, partner. I'm sorry I got so out of line. Will you forgive me?"
"Buddy, you were my best friend long before I ever met your sister." A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "Of course I'll forgive you, just so long as you promise not to do it again. If anything happens between your sister and me, it's all three of our business. But you can't interfere." He let the smile come as Hutch nodded his agreement to the stipulation.
Hutch finally let go of his sister, explaining, "I'm going back to my work in the bedroom. If you guys need anything, just holler." The woman's eyes weren't completely satisfied as she watched him go, but the pact would hold for now.
"Of course," Starsky answered, his smile growing even larger as he watched his partner leave the room. "What say we get back to work ourselves?" Starsky signed to an equally smiling Barbara.
By the next morning at Metro, Starsky and Hutch were working together as if nothing had ever happened. It would be a lie to say that the blond was particularly happy about the possibility of his sister dating his partner, but he was resigned to it. If he had to admit it to himself, in fact, he probably would be feeling this way about any man who was significantly older that she might date. She'd spent one last night at Hutch's place, since everything wasn't set up at the dorm yet, and when he'd left for work he still felt she hadn't totally forgiven him. He couldn't put words to the feeling between them--somehow, it was stiffer and more formal.
"Hey!" Starsky suggested excitedly. "How about stopping at the Taco Haven for some breakfast?" He abruptly put on the Torino's signal and turned left down the street that led to his favorite take-out place.
"Starsk, what do you think you're going to get for breakfast at a taco joint? Even you wouldn't eat a taco for breakfast!" Hutch made a face at the thought, drawing a sip off the Styrofoam coffee cup he held between his fingers.
"Of course not! But Tito--he's the chef there--he makes the world's best breakfast to go! And he made it up all himself!"
"I seriously doubt that Tito could be called a chef in anybody's book!"
"Well, he is in mine!" Starsky responded indignantly. "Ya see, he takes these scrambled eggs, mixes `em up with some hot peppers, cheese, and onions--kinda like an omelet, y'know? Then he rolls it all up in a burrito shell! I tell ya, Hutch, it's a sheer stroke of genius!"
"Sounds disgusting!" Hutch commented again as the car came to a stop in front of a tiny shack with some tables and chairs haphazardly set up in front. The only truly remarkable thing about the place was the line at the Order & Pickup Window. "Where the hell did all these people come from?" he said, astonished.
"I told you his egg burritos are fantastic! Mark my words, partner. One of these days some big-name restaurant is gonna pick up on this idea and make a million!" Before Starsky could order his breakfast, the radio crackled, waylaying his dash for the counter.
"Control to Zebra 3, we have a report of a dead body. Alley between 256 and 260 Westwood Drive."
"Responding," Starsky watched Hutch say into the radio, as he suddenly realized he wasn't hungry any more. He spun the car around and headed in the appropriate direction, his hands on automatic pilot as he wondered if the topsy-turvy feeling in his stomach was hunger or regret at another murder victim.
This time the victim had been removed from the dumpster by the time the pair arrived on the scene, the lab team pulling up only moments after the Torino. As they watched the team head for the garbage container, Starsky and Hutch directed their attention to the sheet-covered body and the uniformed rookie standing next to it. He looked slightly green to the more experienced officers.
"She been dead long?" Starsky asked before checking out the body for himself. He'd gotten used to seeing murder victims, but he knew that each new one still got to his partner and was trying to let Hutch prepare himself for viewing the body.
"No, only a few hours as far as I can tell. Looks like she was walking from the Stratford Hotel to the CSUN campus."
"Why do you say that?" Starsky asked abruptly.
"She's got a campus visitor's pass in her wallet and a hotel key to the Stratford in her purse. What would you think?"
"Any witnesses?" Hutch asked, his tone clipped, not deeming to answer the question.
"Just the guy who found her," the officer, whose name badge said Mahoney, responded respectfully. He knew who these two were, even if he'd never been introduced. The only way to get ahead was to show respect for your superiors, and a pair of Sergeants certainly outranked a lowly rookie. "That's him over with my partner."
Satisfied that the man was being thoroughly interviewed by Mahoney's seasoned partner, there was nothing left now but to examine the body. Starsky lifted the sheet slowly and gently, noting but not reacting to the flinch from the blond. "Same MO," Starsky muttered, noticing that the victim's head had been entirely shaved. "Wonder what color it used to be?" he said sadly.
As he continued to pull the sheet further down the stiffened body, he heard Hutch's sudden and painful-sounding gasp. It took Starsky a few minutes longer to recognize the girl, feeling like the walls were falling around him when he identified that face. Still, he recovered before his partner.
Starsky quickly covered the face, which had smiled so warmly at them both just a few days ago, and stood to take Hutch by the arms. The touch seemed to help; Hutch turned to his best friend with pain in his eyes. "It's Karen! Karen Kelley, Starsk!! My God! She was Barbara's best friend, how am I ever going to tell her?"
"We'll do it together, buddy. She'll be okay--she's strong, like her brother." After making sure that everything was being attended to at the crime scene, Starsky led his still-worried partner to the car.
"I've got to tell her, Starsk," Hutch muttered. "I owe her that much, at least." He felt his stomach churn, but wasn't sure whether it was from the task at hand or the horror he'd just seen.
"Karen's mother has got to be told, too," Starsky added, remembering again how happy Bridget had looked to have her two daughters with her again.
"Barb said she was going to today's seminars with Bridget, since her classes haven't started yet. At least they'll be together when we tell them--that should help a little." Starsky heard his friend's voice crack throughout the last sentence, gently squeezing Hutch's shoulder in comfort.
"Having you with her will help Barbara too," Starsky reassured his best friend, whose worried face was filled with pain. "You'll all help each other." Even though Hutch had included Starsky like a brother, he still felt a little out of place in the proposed group, but was willing to go along as moral support for Hutch.
Once on the campus, both officers realized that they had no idea where the conference was being held. They did, however, know someone who would certainly be able to point them in the right direction.
The name plaque on the office door read "Meredith Sparks". It was partially opened, but Hutch knocked anyway before pushing it the rest of the way into the room. Meredith smiled as she looked up to admit them.
"Dave! Ken! How are my two favorite students? Keeping in practice, I hope?"
Hutch couldn't seem to muster a smile for her as Starsky did, but shook her hand when she offered it.
She could immediately tell that the handsome blond was upset. "What's wrong, Ken?"
"Can you tell me where the conference is taking place? I need to locate my sister and a woman named Bridget Kelley. You don't know Bridget, do you?"
"Sure, I'll show you the way there; a person could get lost in all these corridors. I've been meaning to get there anyway, if for no other reason than to finally meet that sister of yours, but preparation for the new semester has kept me too busy. I remember seeing the name Bridget Kelley on the attendance list, but I'm not familiar with her. Dave," she turned to the other man, "what's wrong?"
"Bridget Kelley was Hutch's sister Barbara's teacher back at the school. Sort of a surrogate mother too. We..." Starsky stammered, unable to meet his partner's eyes. "We found Bridget's daughter, who also just happens to be Barbara's best friend, dead this morning. She'd been murdered by this lunatic serial killer we've been hunting."
"And we've got to tell them," Hutch whispered, almost choking. Meredith watched as Starsky subtly laid a comforting hand on Hutch's arm, and wondered if they realized what a precious gift such a simple thing was.
"Oh, I'm so sorry! C'mon, I'll show you the way to the auditorium. If we can't spot them in the crowd--there're probably about 150 people in that room--we'll interrupt the speaker to ask them to come outside." Meredith's step was quick and purposeful as led them down a succession of corridors to a set of large double-doors. Opening one as quietly as possible, they stepped silently inside and looked around.
"There she is!" Hutch whispered, recognizing Barbara's honey-blonde hair. He took a tentative step forward, then was halted by Meredith's gentle hand on his arm. "Ken, she's going to be scared to death when she sees that look on your face. Yours too, Dave," she said, turning to Starsky. "Why don't you wait here, and I'll bring them out to you. I know I wouldn't want to be told this kind of terrible news in a room full of strangers!"
"You're probably right." Hutch swallowed hard, his opinion echoed by Starsky's nodding head. The teacher squeezed each man's hand and strode down the aisle. The partners slipped to the other side of the door, the room starting to seem stifling to them both. Once in the hallway, Hutch bent over, bracing his stiffened arms, his hands on his slightly crooked legs. Starsky watched his back spasm, the heaving breaths coming faster now.
"Take it easy, Hutch!" he comforted, rubbing the taller man's shoulders to calm him. "Slow it down, buddy...slow it down...you're gonna hyperventilate if you don't stop this. You can't face Barbara this way!"
"I know!" Hutch panted as he stood up straight. The anxiety attack had hit fast and hard, leaving a crushing pain in his chest. His mind flashed on the words "heart attack", although he knew better than that. The ache would go away as soon as he got his breathing under control, and that had to happen before Miss Sparks returned with the two women. Two women whose world he was about to bring crashing down around them, one of which he loved with all his heart.
"You okay, buddy?" Starsky asked finally, and the blue eyes that looked into Starsky's were clear once again, although the sadness was still etched there. Hutch nodded just in time to see the door begin to move.
The men turned to face them, side by side, feeling each other there. Once they were all in the corridor, Meredith had the graciousness to make herself inconspicuous while keeping close enough in case she was needed. Both men were grateful for her presence.
"What is it?" Bridget demanded, clearly unhappy at being pulled away from her seminar. Barbara looked into her brother's face and knew, right away, that he didn't want to tell her.
"I'm sorry, but it's important," Hutch said gently, forgetting to sign. Barbara watched his lips carefully and intensely, waiting to see what he would tell them.
"Tell us," Barbara asked him, and his eyes started to water as he looked at the two women before him.
"It's about Karen..." he began, and swallowed when he found he was unable to go on. Somehow, a connection neither knew existed imprinted words Barbara did not want to believe in her mind. She closed her eyes, signing simultaneously.
"No, I don't want to know! I don't have to know." If I keep my eyes closed, she thought, I'll never have to believe it--never have to know it!
Meredith came up behind Barbara as Starsky approached from the front. He laid a gentle hand on her shoulder as Meredith gently pulled the determined hands from the young woman's face. She had known the ignorance couldn't last, no matter how much she wanted it to, and let Meredith hold her hands as Starsky stayed nearby.
Bridget had missed the empathy Barbara and Hutch shared and was still in the dark when Hutch took a step closer to her. "I'm so sorry, Bridget. She's been killed." Barbara watched her brother's lips carefully, interpreting every word.
The victim's mother continued to look at the blond, stunned. Finally, she managed words. "She was in an accident?" He was peripherally aware of Barbara's sobbing in Starsky's arms, feeling guilty that it was him she turned to instead of her brother.
"No, I'm afraid she's been murdered. There's a serial killer going after women between 20 and 25. We found her an hour ago." By the time Bridget's tears finally came, Starsky, Barbara, Hutch, and Meredith were already in tears themselves. Thankfully, the corridor was deserted and the women cried themselves out eventually.
"I...I want to see my baby," Bridget managed, her face still wet.
"You don't have to do this," Hutch told her. Viewing the body would be even more difficult than hearing the news, and since Starsky and he were both able to ID the body, it just wasn't necessary. He looked at his sister with pained eyes, and she pushed herself away from Starsky's strong chest and wrapped her thin arms around her brother.
"Yes," Bridget said bravely, "I do."
Starsky led the older woman out of the building as Hutch kept a tight hold on his sister. They thanked Meredith as they left, promising to keep her updated on the whole situation. Bridget was ushered first into the back seat, but Hutch stopped Barbara before she could crawl in next to the now-trembling woman. "Would you please," he asked, resuming his sign, "consider staying at my place tonight. I don't really want to be alone, and I don't think you do either."
"I can't leave her alone, Ken. When we're done at the hospital, we'll go back to her hotel room. I'll stay with her." She climbed in as Starsky and Hutch shrugged at each other over the top of the Torino. They soundlessly agreed that they, too, would be spending the night in that hotel room. Barbara was being very brave, but both men were determined to be there for her if she needed them.
Starsky and Hutch had managed to convince Barbara to get some rest in Karen's room of the suite she'd shared with her mother. Bridget had gone into her own bedroom as soon as they'd returned, while Starsky, Hutch, and Barbara had sat on the couch in the small livingroom. Both men were glad that Barbara, who still seemed stunned, didn't have to listen to the heartbreaking sobs which resounded throughout the suite.
Now, hours later, it seemed that Barbara's shock had worn off. Hutch's eyes looked painfully into his partners as he listened to the sniffles that told him his sister was crying. He wanted to go to her, hold her and comfort her, but he was uncertain. Would she even let him?
"Go on," Starsky said in answer to his friend's unvoiced question. "It'll be okay. She needs you now, even if she doesn't want to admit it." The blond had tried before to put his arms around his sister, just after they got to the hotel room, but she'd pushed him away.
"Okay," Hutch whispered as he rose on creaking joints from the sofa. The clock on the wall next to the bedroom door said 4:00; the sun would be coming up in another hour or two. Barbara had to be ready for another day.
The door was open enough for Hutch to peek in, and in the dimness he saw the shadow sitting on the bed, her sweatpant-covered legs pulled up in front of her with her thin arms wrapped around them. She looked so small. Her head rested on her knees so his approach was unseen until she felt his hands on her. The tear-stained face she turned toward him made Hutch's heart cringe as he tried to pull her closer.
She shook her head no as she pushed away from him.
"You don't have to go through this alone, Barbara," Hutch told her. "You need me!"
"I don't need you! I can be just as strong as any man--even my big, brave detective brother!"
"Everybody needs to lean on somebody when life gets tough! I couldn't tell you the number of times I couldn't have gotten through if I hadn't had Starsk to help me! You've got nobody but the people in this apartment--and Bridget is in no shape to help. Please! Barbara, I love you! I need for you to let me help you through this. I know we still have problems to work out, and this won't affect that."
Barbara looked at her brother with tear-filled eyes, noticing that the blue eyes she peered into were filled with pain. Pain for her, or because of her? She wasn't sure, but she didn't want to see him hurting like that, even if she didn't understand him. She took the first step, reaching for the hand she had pushed away mere moments ago, and he let her take it in her own. Once in her grasp, she pulled him down on the bed next to her and wrapped her arms around his waist, burying her face in his shoulder. He held her, hesitantly at first, until her sobs diminished; he could almost feel how tired she was, nearly asleep on his shoulder.
Finally confident that she'd be able to sleep the remainder of the night, Hutch gently lowered her head to the pillow and covered her with the warm quilt. She snuggled into it and her breathing evened out as he watched, then Hutch left the room to return to the uncomfortable haven of the sofa.