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"Cost of Love"
Los Angeles, California Thursday 16 August 1973
He huddled against the passenger door of his Chrysler. He had not even offered to drive. His hands were unsteady and his eyes burned from lack of sleep, but he was afraid to close them. Christ, love was a miserable disease. He hoped someone discovered a cure before it became terminal.
"You look lousy." Hutch maneuvered the car through the evening rush hour traffic. "You're not comin' down with the flu, are you?"
"No, heat's gettin' to me. Hope it breaks soon." Something's gonna break soon and I think it's gonna be me. Starsky lit a cigarette and handed it to his partner.
"Do you know how much I hate these things?"
Pushing in the lighter again, he watched the cigarette in Hutch's mouth. It was torture and he could not look away. "Apparently not enough to quit."
"Yeah." Hutch stared at the traffic. "Shit. I thought we'd have time for a decent dinner tonight, but I guess we'll have to grab something on the run." Hutch waved his burning cigarette, "If these don't kill us, our eating habits will."
"Yeah, if our job doesn't do it first."
Traffic crawled. Hutch glanced sideways. "You really do look lousy." He dropped his hand to Starsky's knee. "Didn't you get any sleep today?"
"Couldn't." Starsky breathed again when Hutch removed his hand.
"Need some help?"
"Sleeping? Do you need some help to sleep?"
"No. Sometimes I get like this. Happened in Nam. When Seconal doesn't work, nothing does. It'll pass." Yeah, it'll pass when I can put five thousand miles between us.
The freeway looked like a parking lot. "Lack of sleep makes a cop sloppy. I don't need a partner who makes careless mistakes."
Starsky looked up. Hutch's eyes were twinkling with mischief. "Yeah, well...."
"Your words. Tuesday night, remember?"
Was it only Tuesday? "It's not the same thing."
"Oh." The van in front of them stopped suddenly and Hutch slammed on the brakes, throwing them both forward. "Shit!"
"What's holding up this traffic?" Starsky grabbed the mike. "Zebra Three to Control. Traffic report please. Westbound on the Santa Monica near La Cienega."
"Checking." A neutral female voice.
Starsky drummed his fingers on the dashboard, watching Hutch rub his neck.
"Traffic control reports an over-turned produce truck two miles west of La Cienega Exit on the Santa Monica. Do you wish alternate routing?"
"No thanks. We'll exit at La Cienega. Please notify Captain Anderson's office of the delay."
"Roger, Zebra Three."
"Shit." Starsky placed the Mars light on the car roof. "We'd better move over now or we'll never get out of this circus."
Starsky sank back into the seat. "I need a vacation."
"That sounds good. Where should we go?"
"We?" That's all I need, to be more alone with you.
"Yes, we. As in us. Fishing maybe." Hutch moved one lane right.
"Yeah, maybe." Starsky slumped lower. "Sounds terrific."
"We'll go just as soon as my divorce is settled. Okay?"
"And Dobey gives us the time off."
"Yeah." Hutch eased onto the right shoulder, driving slowly.
"What did your lawyer say?"
"Not much. Nothing can happen until I've been served. He suggested I make myself scarce for a while, make Vanessa work a little harder." They reached the exit and merged with the other traffic. "Good thing we're not in a hurry."
* * * * * *
Hix and Baker had the audio equipment set up, large reels which sat stationary on the machine that covered the card table. Hutch picked up the headset. "When did we get the court order?"
"This morning -- for all the good it will do."
Hix flipped a button and Hutch listened through the earphones. "Nothing."
"You got it, man. A big fat nothing. All day long. No sign of the kid, Kraft, or the Easter Bunny." Joe Hix paced the floor.
Putting the headset on the card table, Hutch turned off the machine. "Okay, we've got it."
"Do us all a big favor and wrap it up tonight." Baker opened the door.
"You'll have to forgive my partner," Hix snickered. "He's afraid of spiders."
Hutch looked at Starsky. "Mine, too. Great big men afraid of itty bitty bugs." Starsky couldn't tear his eyes away.
"C'mon, Al. I wanna beer."
"Better make it two," Starsky suggested. "The freeway's a zoo."
"Isn't it always?" Hix shut the door.
Weariness took its toll and Starsky sank heavily onto the chair. "Christ, I'm tired."
"Why don't you get some rest?" Hutch gripped his shoulder; the sudden flash of electricity was painful. "Maybe it'll be a quiet night."
No. Bad idea. Jumping to his feet, he headed toward the door. "I'm gonna check out that building while it's empty."
"Should be some way in from the alley. I didn't wanna try yesterday because the kid was there. Besides I can check out the operation and see if this thing's working," he pointed to the audio equipment.
"Illegal search, and besides, it's already been done."
"But at least we'll know what the kid's doing. I'd hate to think we're wasting our time."
"And if anyone shows up?"
"There're plenty of places to hide." Starsky thought about spiders and shuddered.
"Remember how kind and gentle Charlotte was," Hutch teased.
"Never liked Charlotte much. Templeton's more my speed."
"You'll probably run into him, too." Hutch became serious. "Give me a signal when you get inside."
"Use the field glasses. I'll try to move where you can see me." Starsky opened the door.
"Wish you had a receiver."
"It's not that important." He was lost in the blueness of Hutch's eyes.
There was no air moving as Starsky made his way around the building, across the street and behind the storefront housing the lab. He found a loose board over a doorway several shops down which put him inside the block of buildings. Slowly, he worked his way toward the lab wishing he had that receiver. After all, having Hutch's voice in his ear made these assignments easier.
"Shit!" Starsky jumped as a crate toppled from a stack. He stood still for five minutes, waiting. Nothing. He walked cautiously, careful of each step. That kid could show up at any time.
The wall crumbled in his hand as he eased through a large hole. Bingo.
"Okay, partner, let's see how good that equipment is. I'll give you a running commentary on the layout in several voice tones.
"Looks like an old dry cleaners or something. Back part's piled full of empty crates, cardboard boxes, junk. Looks like no one's been in here in a while. No obvious access to the second floor.
"Across the middle of the store is a fence, you know, like in a pawn shop. Can't find an entrance from this side. Looks like the only way in is the front door. It seems that Mr. Kraft would be smarter than that.
"Elaborate chemical set-up like the one in the coroner's office. You know, bottles and tubes and curled glass. That kinda stuff. A fridge and some animal cages. Looks like a lab."
A noise outside: Footsteps, whistling.
"Oops, company." Starsky dropped behind an empty crate.
A key scraped in the lock. The door opened and closed. Cages rattled. "Sorry I'm late guys." A young voice. "Had to stop by the library and the store." The refrigerator opened, then closed. "I brought you a treat. Here. Now be good, I've got work to do."
Peeking around the crate, Starsky watched the kid light a Bunsen burner and open a brown bottle. The sudden odor of rotten eggs brought tears to his eyes.
Starsky returned the way he had come, careful not to disturb anything. He stopped in the alley to catch his breath before returning to the small room.
"I'm glad you made it back." Relief was written all over Hutch's face.
"Me, too." Starsky plopped down on the cot, wiping his face on his sleeve. "Christ, it's hot. You get any of that?"
"Most of it. Couldn't see you though."
"Couldn't get close to the set-up. It's a strange arrangement for a drug factory. There's no back entrance."
"You're sure?" Hutch picked up the field glasses and looked through the peep hole.
"Not an obvious one anyway. Maybe Kraft goes in for secret passageways." Starsky wiped his face again. "We got anything to drink? I'm thirsty."
"Just water." Hutch picked up the phone. "I'll call for room service. What'd you want for dinner?"
Starsky yawned. "Don't care. It's too hot to think about food. A six-pack'd be nice but I'll settle for root beer." He lit a cigarette and watched a roach crawl across the floor while Hutch talked on the phone.
"I ordered Chinese. Somebody'll bring it by later. Why don't you get some sleep? I'll hold down the fort." Hutch adjusted the headset and draped the field glasses around his neck.
Grinding out his cigarette, Starsky stretched out on the cot and covered his eyes with one arm. It shut out the light, but not the heat or -- the memories. He squirmed, trying to get comfortable. He couldn't afford to sleep, not with Hutch this close and another dream could be disastrous. Find something to think about.
* * * * * *
Mendocino, California Monday 9 September 1968
Or San Francisco.
Maggie Bradshaw refilled thin china cups with rich cinnamon coffee, then settled on the sofa next to her husband. Starsky sipped the hot liquid. It reminded him of Asia. He studied the room and the people in it -- they were the most important people in his life right now. They knew his past and his present, all the secrets, and they didn't condemn him. He tried to smile at Maggie but couldn't. He lit a cigarette and watched the smoke curl toward the ceiling.
"David..." Roy cleared his throat, "David, we have to talk."
"You. Your future."
"I'm not sure I have a future."
"We think it's time you decided." Metal clinked. "David, look at me."
It was an effort, but he managed.
"Here, catch." Keys landed in his lap. "One to the cabin in Mendocino and one to the Mustang."
"Why?" Starsky touched the keys.
"David." He paused, studied his hands. "David, you have to get your head together." He dropped onto the sofa and took Maggie's hand, "We've done all we can for you. Your doctors have done all they can. The rest is up to you."
"I don't understand."
"You're not living, you're vegetating, floating around in a cloud of cigarette smoke and memories. You've got to decide what you want to do. I can get you into the police academy, but I can't keep you there. In your present condition, they'd bounce you out on your ass at the first roll call."
"I don't know what I want." Starsky watched the end of his cigarette.
"David, we only want what's best for you." She reminded him of his mother. "Use the cabin, spend some time alone, make your decisions. You can't stay like this forever." He was on his feet. Angry.
"You throwing me out?!"
Roy stared at him, eyes unreadable. "Yes."
"David, we know what Nathan meant to you. It's hard to lose someone you love."
"But I...." Even now he couldn't admit it.
"You did what you had to do. Now you have to live with it, or," Roy was silent for a moment, "or maybe you should try to find Nathan."
"Nathan's dead." And I...I....
"Are you telling me to kill myself?"
"Hush, Maggie. David, look at me. What I'm saying is that right now you're not living, you're like some kind of zombie. Maybe you'd be better off completely dead."
He used the stub of his cigarette to light another. "I've never thought about suicide." I wonder if it would help.
"Maybe you should. And maybe you'd better think about living. A job, a future -- someone else to fill the empty place in your heart."
"No one can ever replace Nathan." He was so cold and empty inside.
"So maybe you should think about a wife and kids."
Maggie was standing next to him now. "Think about a little boy with dark, silky curls and bright blue eyes. It would make your mother very happy."
"I hadn't thought about that either. All I wanted was to be with Nathan forever. To wake up each day...." He shoved the memory away. It hurt too much.
She took his hand and tugged at it. "C'mon, sit beside me." He moved, but it was an effort, like walking through wet sand. Maggie grasped both hands and held on tightly. "We know how much you loved Nathan; we know how much it hurt to lose him. But now you have to think about you. Would Nathan want you to go on like this?"
Starsky blinked. "I don't know what Nathan would want. Isn't that weird?"
"No, David, it's not weird."
"Kids, huh? I never really thought about kids. Do you think my mom really wants grandchildren?" He turned to look at Roy, then back at Maggie. "Does she know about Nathan and me? Does she know what I did?" He tried to picture his mother, but the image was distorted: a pile of discarded cookie boxes, his untidy room at home, and a stern look on gentle features.
"No, David, she doesn't know. We haven't told her." Roy settled beside Starsky. "She's a very special lady and she loves you very much. But you must decide how much of this, if any, to share with her. Another decision you have to make."
"I guess." Starsky pushed himself off the sofa and walked to the fireplace. "You really think I should go away?"
"Maggie and I both think you should be alone for a while. Drive up the coast, see what's happening in the world, spend some time with the ocean." Roy slid an arm around his wife. "Decide whether you want to end your life or get on with it, whether you want another lover or maybe a wife and kids. David, a lot of gay men have found women who can love and support them."
"Funny. I never really thought of myself as gay."
Maggie's eyes were loving. "How do you think of yourself?"
Starsky played with an ivy vine. "I'm not sure."
"Some time alone might help you decide."
"Yeah. When should I go?"
Maggie served herself more coffee while Roy poured brandy and handed one to Starsky. "First thing in the morning."
* * * * * *
Los Angeles, California Thursday 16 August 1973
Maggie Bradshaw. Starsky shifted on the cot, then sat up.
"I thought you were sleeping."
"Gotta take a leak." He stood. "Anything happening over there?"
"Kid's playing with his toys. Talks to his animals occasionally. Nothing else."
"Be back in a minute."
Maggie. Of course. He should have thought of her before. If anyone could help him, understand him, it was Maggie. He'd never been able to tell his mother -- could never find the words -- but Maggie had known and accepted. He'd call her, maybe take her to lunch. They could talk and she could help him sort out his feelings.
Relieved, he went back to the room. Maybe now he could sleep for a while, if Hutch didn't mind.
"Food's here," Hutch announced. "You hungry?"
"Yeah, as a matter of fact, I am. Did you get chopsticks?" Starsky rummaged through the white boxes.
"No. Use your fingers. I got tea. Don't suppose you want any."
"It's too hot for tea. Did you get me any root beer?"
"Only you would drink root beer with Chinese food. Here. Why so cheery all of a sudden?"
"Just decided to take an old friend to lunch." The chicken and almond melted in his mouth.
"Anyone I know?" Hutch licked his fingers.
"There's the phone."
"Okay, I'll call her when we finish eating."
* * * * * *
The phone rang seven times.
"Yeah?" Breathless male voice.
"This is David...David Starsky."
"David! Hello. It's been a long time."
"Well, you know, twelve hour shifts, keeps ya kinda busy, but I thought I'd give myself a break and take Maggie to lunch tomorrow."
"Oh, I'm sorry David. Maggie's in New York. She went to see her sister, planned on seeing your mother, too."
Starsky's heart dropped. "When will she be back?"
"Next week, Friday, I think. We haven't seen you in much too long. Let's do dinner as soon as Maggie gets back."
"Sure. Next week."
"David, I have to run. Next week for sure."
A dial tone buzzed in his ear and he replaced the receiver slowly.
"Hey, buddy," Hutch's hand settled on his knee, "you look like you just lost your best friend."
"Maggie's in New York." The fingers seared his skin through his jeans. He peered out the window, the light in the storefront the only sign of civilization. "I really wanted to see her."
Hutch stacked up the empty white boxes. "Didn't I hear you say next week? That's not all that long."
"Yeah." Starsky's mood was shattered. "Look, why don't you get some sleep? I'll watch for a while."
"Okay. Sitting around a lawyer's office isn't the greatest way to spend the day, but don't let me sleep all night."
* * * * * *
Starsky watched the kid through the glasses. John McGuire. Male, Caucasian, sixteen. Five foot seven, one hundred forty pounds, brown hair, blue eyes. Didn't say much about a person, too much like Army dog tags, but too often it was all a cop had to go on.
The lights went out. Ten forty-five. Starsky logged his report and settled back to watch the darkness. He wished Maggie was here. He needed someone who understood and could help him be strong. But Maggie wasn't here and he'd have to do it alone. He could ask Roy for advice, but it wasn't the same. He needed comforting and cuddling and mothering. Roy couldn't give that.
Another cigarette. How many in the past week? How many in the past year? Too many. His thoughts drifted with the smoke. From Maggie to Miranda. Miranda Hutton. Female Caucasian, age twenty seven, five foot two, one hundred and twenty pounds, blonde hair, blue eyes. Or she had been in nineteen sixty-eight. A nice succinct description -- an entire personality reduced to an IBM data card. He wondered if he drove up the coast right this minute, would he still find her on that point?
* * * * * *
Mendocino, California Sunday 22 September 1966
Sand and sea and silence.
It wasn't much of a cabin, just four walls and a ceiling. Well, the west wall was all glass and it was perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific. The place was small and very clean. It contained a closet sized toilet, fireplace, hot plate and a ratty sofa that unfolded into a bed.
Popping the top on a beer can, he dropped the aluminum ring into a bright green pottery ashtray and watched the sun slip below the horizon. Pink, yellow, gold, orange. September sunset. It had been a long time since he'd watched a sunset.
San Francisco had been a bust. Hippies, hustlers and hash. Pretty little boys strung out on acid peddling ass; pretty little girls strung out on acid peddling pussy. Love beads and free speech. All bullshit. No, worse -- plastic bullshit from plastic people who did not know the first thing about love. It did not come in fancy brass pipes or multi-colored pills. Love was a part of reality, like war, and life came with both. He had laughed at the war protesters who waved signs and spouted Marxist revolutionary speeches. How could they hate something they couldn't begin to understand? They did not understand life or love or death. Most of all, they did not understand death.
Make up your mind, Roy had said. Well, he had eliminated one choice: Street walking in Haight-Ashbury was not for him. He would rather face Nam again.
There were more decisions he had to make, but he had no energy to do so now. It was dark, his beer can was empty and so was the cigarette box. It was an effort to pull the mattress from its place in the sofa. In the distance a fog horn sounded while a streak of light from the lighthouse crossed his face every twenty seconds -- all night.
* * * * * *
Mendocino, California Monday 23 September 1968
Nine o'clock. The Mendocino morning was thick, damp, gray fog. He shut his eyes but the chill surrounded him, seeping into his pores. The bare floor was cold under his feet, the stained porcelain even colder.
The rich smell of brewing coffee filled the small room as Starsky worked the fire, but the redwood log refused to burn. He reached for the stack of old newspapers, crumpled several sheets and tossed them onto tiny flames. The paper exploded into a ball of heat and light. As he reached for another, he stopped to look at a picture of Robert Kennedy, smiling, hands raised above his head. Underneath was the front page story.
"There was an atmosphere of victory as Robert Francis Kennedy made some short remarks to an enthusiastic crowd, consisting mainly of campaign workers, in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Kennedy captured one hundred seventy-four delegates' votes for the Democratic nomination. Everyone in the room was convinced that Bobby Kennedy would be the next President of the United States."
Starsky blinked as he stared at the date. Only three months ago. It had not even meant anything to him then, but now it hit him full force. He wadded the paper and dropped it in the fire. Blue flames leapt higher and higher, a corpse dancing in each: Hutchinson, Williams, Sam, Nathan, Bobby Kennedy.
He stood and shook his head, trying to exorcise the ghosts. Over a cup of steaming coffee, watching the fog evaporate, he saw a four point buck. They stared at each other, aliens from different worlds, alone. The deer returned to his breakfast as a lonely bell rang and a wave broke high over the rocks, sending white spray across the window. The quiet remained, grew louder until the crackle and pop of the fire echoed like rifle shots, driving him outside.
He stopped beside the red Mustang, then walked past it and up the incline to the paved road. Left led around Casper Beach, back to the main highway, and into Fort Bragg. Right led to the state park and into Mendocino. He headed right, wanting the seclusion and the beauty of the beach under the bridge where the highway crossed Russian Gulch. But when he reached the intersection leading to the inlet and Highway One, his stomach dictated the way. He could not remember his last meal and sea air always made him hungry. Mendocino was only two miles south. It would not hurt him to run part of the way.
* * * * * *
Clam chowder, thick and creamy white. The steam and aroma swirled up from the heavy pottery bowl and fogged the window. He looked around the small cloud on the pane and watched the waves break over the rocks and spray white foam in all directions. A gull cried and landed on the sign in the front yard. It read, in Old English script, The Soup House.
"More?" Quiet question from a young blond waiter dressed in faded jeans and a ragged beige sweater.
Starsky looked up, saw blue eyes, the color of a mountain lake, and smiled. "Please. It's very good."
In the kitchen an older man with a full, dark beard whispered something to the blond, who smiled a lover's smile and blushed. Starsky looked away, out to the empty sea.
The man hesitated. "Haven't seen you before."
"Drove up last night. From Frisco."
"Going to be here long?"
Starsky toyed with his soup. Lover or wife: Was he looking for one or the other? Both? Neither? "Don't know."
"Mark." Commanding voice from the kitchen.
Laying his hand on Starsky's arm, Mark whispered, "I'll see ya around. Maybe we could...."
The chowder lost its appeal. Starsky dropped bills on the table and ran out the door. He roamed the few populated blocks of the town in search of a market. There was only coffee and beer in the cabin and he needed cigarettes.
He took his time on the walk back, balancing his sack of groceries and enjoying the nippy sea air that was pungent with dead fish and rotting kelp. Autumn had left her mark on the oak tree where a squirrel was busily stashing nuts for the winter. Starsky kicked a stone down the road and whistled tunelessly. It made it easier not to think.
* * * * * *
The main attraction of the Northern California coast was the sunsets and a thin layer of clouds promised brilliant colors this evening. Starsky added a log to his fire and secured the screen; it would be chilly after the sun went down. He took his jacket from a large nail on the wall that served as a closet and went in search of a front row seat for tonight's performance.
Easing himself over a ledge, he discovered a trail through the thick carpet of purple blossomed succulents to a point jutting out into the foaming sea. He scrambled around the rocks and found himself face to face with pale blue eyes surrounded by soft blonde hair.
"Sorry. Didn't mean to intrude." He turned to go.
"It's okay. Plenty of room for two." She spread her arms to indicate the flat space at the end of the rock, where centuries of wind and water had created powder fine garnet sand.
"You don't mind the company?"
"Who the company is." The woman smiled, her eyes sparkling.
Starsky dropped to his knees beside her. "What are you doing?" He pointed to the array of pastels and paper.
"Sketching the sunset. I use the bands of color in my pottery." She wiped her hands on her faded jeans. Her short nails were stained with clay.
"You do your own work?" Interest flared, and it surprised him. "Kiln and everything?"
"Yeah. Then sell it in a shop in Mendo." She shrugged. "Don't make much, but no one ever appreciates an artist 'til she's dead." There was a note of amusement in her voice as she picked out colors matching the oranges and pinks that streaked the sky.
"Did you do the stuff at The Soup House?" He remembered the heavy bowl full of steaming chowder. And Mark.
"They buy my stuff, yeah. Sell a few pieces to customers."
"It's nice. I like it."
Waves crashed against the rocks below and the salt spray misted Starsky's face. Large clumps of sea weed made eerie dark shapes in the surging water, one looked like a submarine about to surface. A lonely seal barked and the sun sank into the distant blue. Magenta and gold remained until the night painted them with black. Artificial light revolved over the point every twenty seconds.
Starsky lit a cigarette and offered her one, but she shook her head, the straight short hair catching the light in a halo. He pulled himself up and held out his hand to her. Warmth radiated from the contact. "Do you have a name?"
"Randi." He could hear the smile in her words. She picked up her things and put them in a canvas bag. "You?"
"Dav...Mike." Never be Davy again. "How about some coffee? The place isn't much, but it's close and I left the fire burning."
"Sounds good." They climbed around the rocks and when they reached the trail, he carried her bag and took her hand, smiling in the dark as her fingers curled around his.
* * * * * *
"You make good coffee." She watched him across the rim of a chipped brown mug.
"Thanks." He placed her sweater on the nail beside his jacket, touching the stains and removing several pieces of dried grass.
"I haven't seen you around before." The sofa creaked as Randi curled up on it, cradling a faded pillow.
"Just drove up last night. How long have you been here?" He stood by the fire.
"Couple of years I guess. Time doesn't seem to flow here the way it does in the rest of the world. People here just live one day at a time and don't worry much about anything."
"Maybe that's why Roy likes it so much."
"Roy Bradshaw. Guy who owns this place."
"Oh, I think I've seen him. Usually comes up with another man."
"Probably a fishin' buddy. Roy loves to fish, but Maggie hates it."
Starsky squatted down by the fire, watching the flames dance. Then he turned back to her. "Where were you before here?"
Randi was quiet, her face set, giving him the impression that she was about to tell him to fuck off. Then her features softened and she said quietly, "Mendo's a great place to drop out. The last place I guess. I dropped out of college, dropped out of marriage, dropped out of being a drop-out. Frisco was a bore, so I wandered up here one day looking for something. Myself I guess. Found it." She pushed her hair out of her face and finished her coffee.
"More?" Starsky picked up the battered aluminum pot and refilled his own cup.
She shook her head. "Not really sure what brought me up here, but there's a peacefulness that makes me stay." She played with her empty cup. "What about you? Why are you here?"
He lit a cigarette. "Tryin' to get my head together."
"Yeah." He was surprised at the understanding he found in her blue eyes.
"There aren't enough words to describe it." Starsky gazed out the window. The light returned precisely on twenty.
"Why didn't you go to Canada?"
He turned and stared at her. Hutchinson had asked the same question. "Don't know. Maybe I should have." He picked up a redwood log and set it in the fireplace, mesmerized by the tiny blue flames that marched across the wood, like tiny soldiers.
Randi joined him, her hand touching his shoulder. "Are all the memories painful?"
He sat on the floor, his back to the heat. She took his cigarette and tossed it into the fire. He studied his hands. "Right now they are."
The silence was broken by a lonely fog horn.
"Was she pretty?"
"The lady who broke your heart."
Starsky forced himself to look at this stranger. It would be so simple not to say anything, and yet, he was compelled to explain. "Wasn't a lady."
"Oh." She held his eyes. "I understand."
Anger surged and he jumped to his feet. "Don't patronize me! How the fuck can you understand?"
"Michael." Her voice was calm. "I spent two years on the streets in Haight-Ashbury. I've seen it all."
He sneered at her. "That bunch of hippie freaks -- they don't know the first thing about real problems." He paced the small room, then returned to the window and watched the moonlight sparkle on the dark water.
"I suppose your fuckin' war's a real problem."
"It's not my fuckin' war. I didn't start it and I sure as hell can't stop it." The anger was gone, replaced by cold, depression. He played tic-tac-toe with himself in the condensation on the glass and lost.
"You could have run." She was quiet for a moment. "No, I don't suppose you could."
Dropping to the floor next to Randi, Starsky studied her face in the firelight. "If you understand so fucking much, explain it to me."
"I can't explain you to you -- only you can do that. You have to think about who you are and what you want...to begin with, the man who broke your heart -- what happened?"
"He died," Starsky said shortly. He did not want to talk about it.
Just 'oh', like when she had mentioned Roy. That was all she said. Her face remained neutral, there was no indication of disgust or condemnation or even curiosity, but her eyes were soft. Maybe she really had seen it all and understood. Maggie accepted without understanding. Maybe, just maybe....
"We were on patrol forty miles from Da Nang. A lousy jungle storm. Nathan fell, tripped a booby trap." Starsky stopped the images and squeezed his eyes shut.
"Nathan," she repeated thoughtfully. "Did you love him?"
Her hands were touching his face, his cheeks. "I'm sorry, Michael. Love comes so seldom to so few."
Her lips were soft, her mouth as delicate and clean as the ocean air. "Will you stay with me tonight?" he asked.
"I'm afraid to be alone."
"Is that all? Wouldn't you rather have a teddy bear?" She tried to pull away.
"No, wait, please. It's more. I felt it when I first saw you. Didn't you feel it?"
She smiled. "Yes."
"Then will you stay?"
"Yes." He held her tightly, but she slipped out of his embrace and disappeared into the bathroom.
* * * * * *
Her body was delicate and firm. Tracing her features with his fingers, he watched the light play over her as it turned the blonde hair to silver. The bed was lumpy and sagged in the middle like the one he had shared with Nathan so long ago. He could not remember the last woman with whom he had shared a bed. He wondered if he had ever made love to a woman or if his mind had been captured by fantasy.
He cupped Randi's small breast in his hand, kneading the tender flesh and teasing the nipple. She moaned and pressed against him. He caressed her flat stomach, then tangled his fingers in her tiny blonde curls. It felt so empty. He could not suppress the sigh.
"Michael," Randi held his face in her hands, made him look at her. "I'm a woman. I can't change that. Wouldn't if I could." She pushed him down on the bed. "But there are many things I can do for you."
She explored his neck and chest with her mouth and when she bit his nipples, he cried out. Fire he had not felt in months coursed through his veins as she kissed the head of his cock and slid her tongue over the smooth skin.
"Oh God," Starsky moaned as her fingers slipped into his body. He closed his eyes and saw Nathan. Straining frantically, he pushed upward as the mouth worked its magic. Nathan smiling, licking his lips, teasing with his eyes...Nathan, oh Nathan.
Climbing higher and higher, Starsky relished the pressure of the fingers and mouth. His heart pounding and blood roaring in his ears, he gasped for breath, then relaxed in Randi's arms. She stroked his face and throat while his body calmed and the jungle memories faded. There was no room for death here -- only life.
Randi's tickling fingers worked their way around his ribs and he squirmed. "Pretty good for a girl, huh?"
"Not bad. What else do you do?"
She licked at his nipples like she was eating an ice cream cone. "No way, lover boy. Your turn. How good are you?" Dear God, she knew all the right places to touch and he responded to all of them. He could see the desire in her eyes as the lighthouse kept its appointed rounds.
She rolled onto her back, pulling him on top of her. She laughed and ran her fingertips down his arms, then teased his eager cock. "Do you know how to do this?"
He watched her for two streaks of light, then kissed her mouth. "Oh, I think I can figure it out. Let's see, insert tab A into slot B, right?"
"There's always slot C." Wickedly seductive, Randi wrapped her legs around him.
Starsky pushed into the yielding femininity, the sensations assaulting him. He was still, enjoying the unfamiliar dominant role, until she squirmed. Christ, it felt good--
Her nails raked down his back. "Fuck me, goddamn it. Use this beautiful body of yours."
Eyes closed, he thrust and her legs wrapped around his waist, pulling him deeper. He remembered that last time with Nathan, when he had been on the bottom and had tightened his legs around Nathan's powerful body. Oh, God, it's not fair! He rammed into Randi. We should have had this. I should have made love to you, if I had to tie you to the bed to do it. Goddamn you....
Her voice jolted him back to the present and he paced himself to her, aware of her needs because they had been his needs. He paced his rhythm with her until she dug her nails into his hips and screamed. He leaned forward, captured her mouth and shared the pleasure with her.
Their breathing quieted as the light circled again and again. He traced abstract patterns across her stomach with his fingertip. "Randi?"
"Are you going to work with clay tomorrow?"
"Ummm-hmmm." She nestled her head against his shoulder.
"Can I watch?"
"Sure." The light circled. "Michael?"
"Yeah?" He wanted a cigarette but didn't want to get up.
"Would you like me to teach you?"
"What?" Starsky wrapped a strand of blonde hair around his fingers.
"Whatever. How to make pottery."
"Yes." He sighed, relaxing into the shared warmth. It was different holding a person rather than a pillow -- frightening in a way, but also reassuring. He wasn't alone now.
* * * * * *
Mendocino, California Wednesday 30 October 1968
"It looks like shit." Starsky rotated the malformed cup in his hand, then looked out the window that was the west wall of Randi's cottage. The sun was burning off the fog early today. "The colors are wrong. Everything is wrong."
Gentle touch on his arm. "Patience, Michael, patience. You can't learn everything in five weeks. It takes time and practice. You'll see."
He twisted the cup in his hands, studying its flaws. "I wanted everything to be perfect." He smashed the offensive object against the base of the rickety staircase that led to the sleeping loft where they shared their nights. "I want so much."
Randi went back to her potter's wheel. He watched as she placed fresh clay on the work surface and molded it. "It will come to you -- in time. But first you have to find yourself, live with yourself. You still have those decisions to make." She looked up at him. "Michael, what are you going to do?" What do I want to do with the rest of my life? He watched her hands as they worked the clay, skilled and sure. He sighed, remembering just how skillful those hands were. But it was not the joyous abandonment he had known with Nathan. He wanted to love her, to be in love with her, but he could not. Maybe he would never be able to love again. Maybe he did not want to. "I -- I think I'd like to stay here...with you."
Her eyes hardened. "And if I don't want you to stay?"
Anger flared, brief and hot, at Miranda, at Roy Bradshaw, at Nathan, at the whole fucking world. "Are you throwing me out, too?"
She stopped the wheel and faced him. "On just what you plan to do with yourself. I have no intention of supporting you, or any man, emotionally or financially. If I'd wanted that, I'd still be married to Frank."
"I really don't know what I want to do."
"Then I suggest you decide." Randi went back to her clay.
Starsky waited for a minute, but she had dismissed him. He shoved his hands into his jeans pockets. Maybe she had dismissed him permanently. He opened the door quietly and slipped out into the tattered remains of the morning fog.
He walked the trails along the cliffs that over looked the ocean. Two hundred feet straight down, water surged and roared against the rocks. The furious pounding suited his mood. He found a hidden cove that was sheltered by a towering bluff from the wind and the world. He perched on a rock, lit a cigarette and watched the clouds and the powerful waves. The unanswered question hung in the air, tormenting him: What do I do with the rest of my life?
New York--childhood home. Bright lights, city noise, Jewish holidays, his mother's sugar cookies. Wonderful memories complicated by horrible memories. But it was another part of his life, a part where he did not belong anymore. Where do I belong? Not here. He loved the serenity, the beauty--but it was not his home; it was Randi's. He was just a parasite, had been for a long time. Nathan, Roy and Maggie, Randi...could David Michael Starsky survive on his own?
Another unanswerable question. Starsky leaned back, basking in the sunshine, watching the ocean pound the rocks in unceasing, ancient rhythm -- in and out, in and out -- hammering the base of the cliff again and again and again. Eventually his blood pulsed in sync with the waves, the sound as regular as a metronome.
I am just a poor boy
I, DAVID MICHAEL STARSKY
Though my story's seldom told.
DO SOLEMNLY SWEAR AND AFFIRM
I have squandered my resistance
THAT I WILL SUPPORT AND DEFEND
For a pocketful of mumbles,
THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES
Such are promises.
AGAINST ALL ENEMIES
All lies and jest,
FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC
Still a man hears what he wants to hear,
THAT I WILL BEAR
And disregards the rest.
TRUE FAITH AND ALLEGIANCE
When I left my home
TO THE SAME
And my family,
THAT I WILL OBEY
I was no more than a boy
THE ORDERS OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
In the company of strangers
AND ORDERS OF OFFICERS
In the quiet of the railway station
APPOINTED OVER ME
TO THE REGULATIONS
IN THE UNIFORM CODE
Seeking out the poorer quarters
Where the ragged people go,
Looking for the places
SO HELP ME GOD
Only they would know.
Asking only workman's wages
I do affirm and swear
I come looking for a job.
I can get you into the police academy
But I get no offers.
The hell you don't
Just a come-on from the whores on Seventh Avenue.
I do declare.
There were times when I was so lonesome
"I'm afraid to be alone."
I took some comfort there.
Now the years are rolling by me
They are rocking evenly
I am older than I once was
Younger than I'll be
But that's not unusual
No, it isn't strange
After changes upon changes
We are more or less the same
After changes we are more or less the same.
Then I'm laying out my winter clothes
And wishing I was gone,
A green canvas room, a flag-covered coffin
Where the New York City winters
Where the ocean is on the wrong side of the land
Aren't bleeding me,
Nathan, Dad, Hutchinson
To protect and serve
Fidelis ad Mortem -- Faithful unto death
In the clearing stands a boxer,
Officer Joseph Malachi Starsky
And a fighter by his trade,
Put the bullet between his eyes, Davy
And he carries the reminders
Of ev'ry glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out
Lieutenant Kenneth Hutchinson
In his anger and his shame,
Sergeant Nathan David Wise, U.S. Army
I am leaving, I am leaving.
"Are you telling me to kill myself?"
But the fighter still remains.
Wonder if LA blue will match my eyes the way NYC blue matched Dad's?
Paul Simon and his music -- so appropriate to my life. My life....
Perched on the rock shelf two hundred feet above the water, Starsky watched as the foam rose higher and higher with each crash. He leaned forward, staring into the blue depths. If he just let himself fall, everything would be over. It would take about three seconds, then all the pain in his life would be gone. He was so tired, tired of hurting, of thinking, of remembering. All he had to do was nothing.
A seal barked sharply. The sound echoed like a rifle shot.
He looked for the source of the noise and saw a large seal slapping a rock. For a moment, Starsky thought the animal was trying to get his attention, but then another seal popped up on the rocks and the two of them yipped at each other.
They chased each other around the rocks, then disappeared in the foam of the pounding waves. The sunlight sparkled through droplets of water, creating misty images. Nathan waded across the water, his rifle on his shoulder.
Shaking his head, the image cleared then returned. "Are you asking me to join you? Nathan! Say something." But the image disappeared and the seals pounced back up on the rock. "Goddamnit, I love you. Can't you at least tell me where you are and how I can get there?" The seals nuzzled each other.
Images of green tents and green jungle meshed with images of flag covered coffins. People he loved were dead and all he had to do to join them was lean forward. But the granite edge of the cliff cut into his fingers and he hung on. I can't stay on this tightrope any more. Please, someone, show me the way out.
A butterfly hovered just beyond the tip of his nose, green and gold and black bright in the sunlight. It fluttered to a nearby flower, then disappeared with the wind. The seals below splashed in the water and a cloud drifted across the sun. Live or die.
Why can't I just let go? Maybe because I really don't want to, maybe there is still something here for me.
Joseph Starsky. Nathan Wise. Kenneth Hutchinson. Roy Bradshaw. Rebecca Starsky. Maggie Bradshaw. Miranda Hutton. People. Important people in the life of one David Michael Starsky. Maybe it's time I started being worth what they all think I am.
* * * * * *
Starsky ran the three quarters of a mile to the phone booth at the Wigwam Motel. Panting, he dropped a dime into the slot and dialed the operator. "I'd like to make a collect call please. Mr. Roy Bradshaw. Two, one, three, five, five, five, seven, three, one, one." The coin clinked through the machine.
"Yes, operator, I'll accept the charges. David? David, are you all right?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I think so."
"Are you coming home?"
"Yes. Can you really get me in the Police Academy?" Starsky pressed his forehead against the cool glass, feeling the weight lift from his shoulders.
"You'll have to take the test."
"I'll have to see when it's scheduled. I don't think you'll have any problem passing it. Should be able to get you in the academy by, oh say, January."
"Terrific. I'd like to see Ma, too."
"David, I think that's a marvelous idea. Come take the test first, then go see your mother."
"Soon." Starsky depressed the metal bar, retrieved his dime and redeposited it. "Operator, I'd like to make a collect call please. Mrs. Rebecca Starsky. Two, one, two, five, five, five, forty eight hundred."
"Yes, operator." Breathless excitement. "David? David, where are you? Are you all right?"
"Yes, Ma, I'm fine. Honest, I'm okay. Just give me a minute and I'll answer all your questions. I'm in Mendocino -- Roy and Maggie's place. I'm fine, Mom. The pain was in my head," and my heart, "and the doctors helped me sort it out. Mom -- please Mom -- let me finish. Mom," deep breath, "Mother, I'm going to be a cop."
"Mom, please Mom, say something."
Muffled sob -- unseen tears.
"I'm sorry, David, but...it's so much all of a sudden. I haven't talked to you in so long -- since you were in the hospital. I didn't know...."
"Mom, I'm sorry. Don't cry. Please don't cry. I didn't mean...Mom...Mom...look, Mom, I want to come to New York. Mom, I want to come home. I want to see you. Is it -- is it okay? Mom, please don't cry."
"When?" She sounded calmer and maybe a little happier. At least he hoped so.
"Soon. I still have a couple of things to do here. Ma, I love you." He replaced the receiver and pressed his nose into the corner of the booth. Tears slid down his face, his mother's features swimming in and out of focus. He'd taken her for granted, put her through all kinds of hell, and she still loved him. Soon, Ma, I promise. The road back to the cabin took on new life. He lit a cigarette, watching a squirrel struggle with a large acorn and a gull soar over an oak tree. The sun sent slanting rays through the leaves. Sunset. He crushed out his cigarette and ran. He wanted to share this sunset with Randi.
* * * * * *
"It was spectacular! Did you see those colors?" Starsky danced across the room while Randi put away her pastels and sketches.
"What's with you tonight?" she smiled at him. "Some strange new disease? Or have you just finally flipped out?"
He laughed at her, with her, and swung her around.
"Michael, enough already, put me down!" He complied, still grinning. She touched his face. "Have you eaten? I saved you some soup. I'll warm it."
Placing a log on the fire, he gave it his full attention until the flames danced. As he stood, he saw the pieces of his cup where he had thrown it earlier. He knelt beside the fragments and picked up the largest one. "Randi?" He waited until she looked at him. "Can I stay long enough to learn to do it right?"
"Does that mean you're leaving?"
"We both know I have to."
"Yes, we do, and yes, you can stay." She poured his soup into a bowl and set it on the small battered table. "Where are you going?"
He sat down opposite her. "Back to L.A., to do what I think I've always wanted to do." He tasted the clam chowder. It was too hot to eat. "My dad was a cop. He wore a uniform and walked a beat until the day he died." His face twisted at the memory. More pain. It never ends. But there must be more to life than pain!
"What happened?" Clear blue eyes watched him.
"He was on his way home one night. There was a robbery in the market on the corner. It was a family business and -- they shot him. They were just kids -- not much older than me -- and they shot him. He died in my arms." He choked, unable to go on. Tears filled his eyes, trailed hot and salty down his face. Miranda led him to the sofa and cradled him in her arms.
After a moment, he continued, his face buried in Miranda's neck. "Dad didn't have any last words or -- or any final advice, he just looked at me with those blue eyes of his until...until he was gone. I sat there for a long time, holding him. Just holding him. Then another policeman came over. He...stooped down beside me and he closed Dad's eyes. That's when I knew -- I knew he was really dead. The policeman made me get up, made me let go of Dad. I think I would have died right then, but Ma was there and I couldn't let her see Dad. I had to stop her. She hung on to me and cried."
Starsky hung on to Randi and cried. She stroked his long, wild curls. "I know it hurts, Michael, but at least you're feeling something. I didn't think you'd ever feel anything again."
"Yeah," he mumbled as he went to the bathroom to wash his face. Yes, he was feeling again. There had been tears of joy and tears of sadness. He smiled at himself in the mirror. The good and the bad -- they always go together.
She was waiting with brandy. It warmed him. "I think I've always wanted to be a cop, to be just like my dad."
"You'll have to cut this gorgeous hair." Randi tangled her fingers in the curls and kissed his mouth. "And that's a crime."
He laughed. It felt good. "Has gotten a little long, hasn't it? Guess it's just rebellion against the army and the jungle."
"Well, I like it. And I'll bet Nathan would have too."
His stomach tied in a knot.
"Michael, you've got to let it go. Since we've been living together, you've been more dead than alive -- even when you make love to me. I think you're just going through the motions."
"I can't help it. There's so much pain in my life."
"How old were you when your father died?"
"And is this the first time you've cried over him?"
Starsky nodded, remembering the times he had tried to cry and couldn't.
"Are you going to carry the pain of Nathan's death that long?"
"I can't help it."
"You have to find a way. Nathan's dead. You're alive. The pain will fade, and you'll have good memories to make you smile. Smile for me now?"
He tried, a little shakily. "Nathan did like my hair. And there were plenty of good times...." The smile was easier now.
"Good." She went into her tiny kitchen, rummaged in a cabinet and returned with a small, tissue wrapped bundle. "I want you to have this."
"What?" He pulled at the tissue layers, dropping them to the floor until a large mug sat in the palm of his hand.
"From our first sunset," she offered hesitantly.
He caressed the finished surface, ran his finger over the bands of color. "It's beautiful." He had difficulty speaking, his damned emotions threatening to flood once again. "Thank you." It seemed inadequate.
"You're welcome." She took the cup, set it in the center of the table, then opened her arms to him. "You're a very special person, Michael."
So are you. He went to her.
* * * * * *
Los Angeles, California Friday 17 August 1973
Miranda, beautiful lady Miranda. I still have that cup and I think of you every time I look at it. I wonder where you are and what you're doing and if you ever think of me.
Starsky stood and stretched his tired, aching body. A hot shower and eight hours sleep would be nice. Stubbing out his cigarette, he watched Hutch sleep. No sleep for me while you're around. I can't trust myself. And I can't afford to love you. I've already got more invested in you than I should have. If I had to hold you in my arms and watch you die....
He shoved the image away and thought about spiders.
The sky slowly brightened and Starsky yawned. Another day to get through. One day at a time. Maybe he could sleep today. Maybe Hutch would not dominate every thought. Maybe he would not have any more dreams. Yeah, and maybe the sun will come up in the north.
He walked to the foot of the cot and looked at Hutch. He wished he could just stand here forever. Well, Sleeping Beauty, it's time to get up. "Hutch."
No response. "Hutch." I wish I could kiss you awake. He tugged Hutch's ankle. "Move your ass, partner."
Golden lashes fluttered on smooth tanned cheeks, blue eyes were drowsy and innocent. They held him immobile. Hutch's mouth was relaxed and soft -- inviting. Shit, this isn't fair. Starsky marched to the window and stared out.
The quiet lasted long minutes. When he could bear it no longer, he looked around. His partner, still draped over the cot, yawned and stretched, his hips jutting upward. Don't do that. "Why'd you let me sleep all night?" Hutch sat up and dropped his feet to the floor. "I asked you not to."
"I know." He returned his attention to the street. "But I figured you had things to do today." He could feel Hutch moving closer.
Warm fingers touched the back of his neck. "This has to stop, you know."
Goddamn right it has to stop. You're driving me crazy. "It's okay. If Maggie'd been home, I'd have slept last night, but since I don't have any plans for today and you do...."
"All right, I give up. But if you don't get some sleep today I'm gonna tie you to the bed." Hutch walked quickly to the door. "I'm gonna check out the plumbing."
What gods have I angered to deserve this? In his mind he was spread-eagled on a bed of fire, his hands tied and Hutch, golden god Hutch, just like in the dream. Oh God....
A light tap sounded at the door. "Morning Starsky." Hix and Baker strolled in carrying pink donut boxes and fresh, steaming coffee. Starsky did a quick pivot to face the window, hoping the men had not noticed his aroused condition. He was in no mood to be razzed, even about women. "Your captain's very generous. He said he'd buy if we'd deliver." Baker smiled at the older man. "My partner's got a sweet tooth."
Hix looked for a place to set the donut box, but the table was covered with equipment so he decided on the cot. "Where's Hutch?"
"Making use of the facilities." Starsky poured coffee from the thermos into a styrofoam cup and took a long drink. "God, that tastes good." He selected a chocolate glazed. "Hey, these are still warm."
"Doesn't take much to make you happy." Baker took a cinnamon roll and perched on the edge of the cot.
"After a night in this place, anything would make me happy." Starsky swallowed the last of his donut and reached for another.
"Save some for Hutch." Hix took the chair. "Anything after the kid left last night?"
"Not a thing," Starsky answered. "Have either of you been inside over there?"
"Both of us. And the guys who installed the bugs," Baker replied.
"I couldn't find an exit through that grating." Starsky lit a cigarette, checked the street below. "Is there one?"
"We couldn't find one either." Baker and Hix exchanged a look, then Baker said, "It's a strange set-up."
"Are you sure this is the right place?"
"Reasonably sure." Hix poured more coffee. "We met with Anderson and Dobey this morning. No one's seen Kraft since Wednesday night. He has not surfaced anywhere."
"I found it." Hutch stood in the doorway, patches of dirt dotting his face and staining his pants. Dusty cobwebs clung to his hair.
"What?" Starsky walked over to his partner and wiped dirt off, then stopped himself, and went back to the window. "The largest spider metropolis in North America?"
"Nope. Didn't even run into Charlotte." Hutch smiled smugly and tossed a bottle of pills to Starsky. "That's what I found, upstairs, at the north end of the block. Had to pull a concealed ladder down."
Starsky dumped the green and white dotted capsules into his palm. "How many?"
Millions of amphetamines. "Illegal search." Starsky looked at his partner. "What else?"
"Boxes and boxes, all marked Smith, Kline, French."
"Stateside or Mexican?"
"I couldn't tell. Probably both. Stuff's got a long shelf life. No way to tell how long it's been there." Hutch caught the bottle as Starsky threw it back.
"Anything else?" Baker was on his feet, alert.
"Coupla hundred cases of Carnation powdered milk. And," Hutch held up a small empty plastic bag, "boxes of these."
Hix looked out the window. "Now we know what we're doing here."
"Anderson say anything about a major import?" Starsky shifted his gaze from Baker to Hix.
"No," Baker answered.
"Okay," Starsky felt alive now that he had something to think about, besides Hutch. "Looks like you two sit it out here while Hutch and I hit the streets and rattle a few cages."
"Wrong, partner of mine." Hutch looked ridiculous trying to be stern with a tiny spider swinging from his ear. "You sleep. I work the streets."
"Not on your life. Dobey'll have a fit."
"Look, it isn't the first time and it won't be the last. You were up all night, dummy, your own damn fault. It only takes one of us to talk to people. Besides, when this operation goes down, it'll go down fast. We have to be ready."
"Okay, okay. But at least take a shower first. You're a mess and that goddamn spider's trying to build a web in your hair."
Hix waved his arm. "Will you two take your domestic quarrel and go home?"
Starsky, feeling the color rise in his face, hurried past Hutch and out the door.
"As soon as I get something, I'll let you and Anderson know," Hutch said as he joined Starsky in the hallway. "I'll drop you at home."
"And you'll come up with me, take a shower, and eat a proper breakfast."
"Yes, mother. What do good little Jewish boys eat for breakfast?" Hutch's laughter lifted the gloom of the old building and Starsky's heart.
* * * * * *
When Hutch left for his ten o'clock appointment, it seemed he took the sunshine and laughter with him, leaving Starsky with cold dread. He washed the breakfast dishes, dried them, and put them away. He wanted sleep, but was afraid to close his eyes, afraid of the dreams. He felt close to the breaking point and hoped he wouldn't fail on the job. If Hutch died or if he was responsible for anything happening to Hutch.... Stopping the thought, he swept the kitchen floor, mopped and waxed it, then pulled out the vacuum. Ma always cleans when she's uptight. Maybe it doesn't help, but it doesn't hurt.
Skipping the coffee, he took the Times to the bedroom, and read the entire paper before falling asleep.
Sweltering, steaming, tropical heat.
His own sweat blisters as it pours off his body,
burns behind his eyes.
He cannot move.
Fiery green vines twine around him, searing his flesh, confining him.
He struggles, writhes under the merciless sun.
Gray smoke chokes him, stench of sulfur thick in his nostrils.
He awaits his god.
Glowing golden skin, shining golden hair, blazing eyes of blue flame.
Cool knife of polished obsidian in the god's hands.
It touches him,
Vines holding his left leg part under the icy touch.
He shivers, freezinghot.
The knife touches his balls,
It is time--
The god's hands touch him, inflame him, brand him.
The god's fingers explore, red hot pressure inside him.
He is opened
Pulsing heat in his body, filling him to bursting.
Throbbing warmth above him, around him.
He is taken
The god releases him, lifts him, carries him.
Up through the heat and flames and sulfur, spiraling ever upwards, to the top.
They stand on the brink of a volcano, lava boils and bubbles at their feet.
He is lifted, high higher in the billowing smoke.
down through the heat and smoke and sulfur
down into the boiling melting lava flow--
He screams for his god.
Starsky landed on his bedroom floor.
"Starsky?" Hutch's voice called from the front room. "Starsk?" He appeared at the door. "What are you doing on the floor?"
"You -- you just threw me into a volcano." Dazed, Starsky scrambled to his feet and grabbed his robe.
"I guess I was dreaming. You threw me into an erupting volcano."
"I dunno. Guess you were pissed at me." You sure would be if you knew what I wanted from you.
"I promise not to boil you in lava if you get your ass in gear. I want a decent dinner tonight." He looked at the bed, then at Starsky. "God, it's hot. I want a shower."
"Me first." Starsky escaped to the solitude of the bathroom, needing the time to wash the images from his mind and the desire from his body. But he couldn't until he'd pumped his cock harder and harder over the vision of his beautiful blond god. He slumped against the tiled wall. Dear God, when is this going to stop?
Strains of Simon and Garfunkel floated in as Starsky turned off the water and toweled his hair. "Silent Night, Holy night, President Johnson today ordered a ban...."
Wrapping a towel around his waist, Starsky walked into the living room. "Why'd you put that on?"
"You had it laying out and I always thought this was one of Simon's more brilliant ideas." The song ended and the arm returned automatically to its resting place.
"If you want dinner, you better move it." He waited until he heard the shower running, then went back into his bedroom. He wanted to be dressed when Hutch came out of the bathroom.
He lit a cigarette and sat on the sofa, listening to "Mrs. Robinson" and thinking about the seduction of Dustin Hoffman. The water stopped and Hutch walked out into the living room, drying his hair. He was nude, droplets of water glistening on the smooth golden skin. Starsky tore his eyes away. What are you trying to do to me?
Hutch slung the towel over his shoulder and leaned casually against the bookcase. "So where do you wanna go for dinner?"
"I don't know, steak maybe." Starsky watched his cigarette smoke curl up to the ceiling. "But it's kinda early for all the good places."
Hutch was still standing there, a half-smile on his face. "We could do Happy Steak or something."
"No. Not in the mood for chain stuff." He risked a quick glance at his partner. "You find out anything today?" he asked the Boston fern on the top shelf.
"Yeah. I'll fill you in over dinner." Hutch finally disappeared into the bedroom. "Hey," he called, "I know a great place over on Washington -- we should be able to get in." He returned, dressed only in a new pair of jeans -- and they appeared to be two sizes too small. He moved to the window, standing in a patch of sunlight. It haloed his hair.
You're destroying me. And you don't even know it. Starsky turned off the stereo. "Sounds good. Whenever you're ready."
"You'll need a tie. You got one -- or shall I lend you one of mine?" The blue eyes sparkled as Hutch grinned.
Tossing a pillow in Hutch's direction, Starsky mumbled, "Yeah, I gotta tie. Don't know why I have to dress up to eat...."
* * * * * *
Pierre's, a small elegant place, had just opened when they arrived. A tall, thin man with dark features greeted them at the door. He smiled when he spotted Hutch. "Monsieur Hutchinson, it has been too long."
The two men embraced. "Yes, Pierre, far too long." He indicated Starsky. "This is my partner, David Starsky. Pierre Andre."
Starsky extended his hand.
"Pierre, I know it's early but Starsky and I have to work all night."
"No problem, my friend. Take any table you like. I'll have the chef prepare anything you wish."
"We can't do anything fancy tonight. But I'd like to bring David back for one of your seven course dinners." There was a wistfulness in Hutchinson's voice that wiped out the bitterness for a moment.
"Would you like to begin with the house salad?" Pierre draped a napkin across his left arm.
"That would be just fine," Hutchinson said as he sat down.
Starsky noted the dark, quiet surrounds that whispered class and money. Fresh orchids in thin undecorated crystal adorned the linen tablecloths. The salad, sliced tomatoes on the right side, sliced avocados on the left of several types of fresh lettuce in the center, was served on thin white china with a simple black ring on the edge of the dish. As he sampled the food, finding it lightly zestful, he asked, "How'd you find this place?"
"After we left the academy and I worked down here -- well, Luke and I ate here. It was our special place. We'd come here after a good bust or something."
Picturing the older handsome man, Starsky said, "I haven't seen him lately, have you?"
"Not since he made captain. You know how it is."
"Yeah, but first partners are always special."
"Luke is definitely one of LA's finest. Maybe I should give him a call. Bring him here for dinner." Hutchinson smiled briefly, then slumped. "Vanessa hated the fact that this was one place I would never bring her. I just couldn't and I couldn't make her understand why."
Starsky bit his lip to stop his angry words. He didn't want to discuss Vanessa, so he played with his salad and watched his partner eat, contemplating the most sensuous mouth in the world. His fiery dreams haunted him. Oh, God, I want you. I want you over me, under me, in me. I want.... "Oh, shit!" A tomato fell from his fork, splattering Roquefort dressing onto his tie.
Hutch smiled, his fork poised in front of his mouth. "You should pay attention to what you're doing."
You bastard. "I was thinking about Kraft and the drug operation." He dabbed at the spot with his napkin. "What'd you find out today?"
"Not a lot. And I tapped every source on our circuit. Rumor of a big shipment, but nothing solid and a big shipment is the only thing that makes sense, Starsk. I can't see Kraft wasting the sweet set-up he's got on penny-ante stuff."
The first course arrived. Pierre supplied Cabernet Sauvignon '69. "I know you have to work, but it's criminal to eat my food without the wine."
Hutch laughed and shook his head. "Okay, one glass." They watched as Pierre opened the bottle expertly and poured the ruby liquid into Hutch's glass. Hutch lifted it to the light and sampled the bouquet before tasting the wine. "Excellent, of course." Pierre filled both glasses. Hutch raised his in a salute, "Merci."
The owner acknowledged the compliment with a slight bow and departed.
"It's really hard to think about Kraft and dope and all that slime when we're sitting here."
"Yeah." Starsky sipped the rich wine. We could be playing footsies under the table or I could reach over and run my hand up your leg or we could hold hands in the candlelight. If wishes were horses.... Why can't you be fat and bald and-- He looked at Hutch and smiled. I'd love you if you were two foot three and had warts on your nose.
"What's so funny?"
"Nothing. It's just nice to be here with you like this. Like we had a little hide-away no one else knew about."
"That's what Luke used to say. It was like the world had to wait outside for us. Here, you wanna bite of my escargot?" Hutch waved his fork.
Starsky stared at the plate containing three artichokes littered with snails and covered in an emerald green sauce.
Hutchinson speared a morsel, studied it carefully, then slipped it into his mouth, holding Starsky's attention during the procedure. Chewing slowly, his expression radiated pure pleasure.
"No, I do not want a bite of your snails. Hutch, those things look like something out of a horror film. They're green!"
Toying with another bite, Hutchinson lectured, "The green is from fresh parsley, finely chopped and sautéed in butter with just a hint of garlic. That's the secret, just a hint of garlic. Pierre created this dish for Luke and me because we were tired of only tasting garlic when we really wanted to taste something else." Smiling, Hutch studied Starsky's plate. "Something wrong with your food?"
"No, just have a little trouble with yours. I think you're trying to ruin my appetite."
Stealing a forkful of the pasta on Starsky's plate, Hutch pronounced it wonderful. Starsky wanted to fall into those blue eyes that seemed to be teasing him, to accept the gentle banter over their food. It soothed his taut nerves because it was ordinary and they did it all the time. It set the mood for the rest of the meal and, he hoped, for the rest of the evening.
* * * * * *
"More coffee, gentlemen?"
"Pierre, as much as I'd love to spend the rest of the evening right here, drinking coffee and that special brandy of yours, duty calls." Hutch picked up the check. "My treat. Call it rent for shackin' up at your place."
"Where else would you go?" And why can't you? And would I let you?
"Ramada Inn. Motel 6. That's what they're for."
"Oh that's a terrific idea. Motels are lousy and you know it. However, I'll let you buy. It's suitable payment for making me watch you eat those horrid slimy little things." Starsky headed toward the men's room, enjoying Hutch's quiet laughter behind him.
As Starsky returned to their table, he heard a man's voice ask, "Kenneth Hutchinson?"
Hutch turned. "I beg your pardon."
Two men -- one short and blond, the other tall and dark, both strangers -- were standing beside Hutch. The blond said quietly, "I'm sorry, sir. I just asked if you are Kenneth Hutchinson?"
Starsky stepped forward. "He's Starsky. I'm Hutchinson."
"Won't work, Starsk. These guys are only doing their job. I'm Kenneth Hutchinson. Give me the bad news."
The blond pulled a folded document from his jacket pocket and handed it to Hutch. "I'm sorry, Mr. Hutchinson, but like you said, it's our job. And it was so much easier than we had been advised it would be. For detectives, you are easy to trail. You have now been served." They left as silently as they had arrived.
"I'm sorry." Starsky laid his hand on Hutch's shoulder and squeezed lightly.
"It's okay. Had to happen." Hutch sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. "Let me make a call, then I'll meet you at the car, okay?"
He lit a cigarette and watched the cars and the pedestrians through his smoke. Damn her. Why does she always have to intrude? She had him, could have had him for life -- his body and his heart -- but she threw him away. Stupid broad. And then she had to spoil my evening with Hutch, a few quiet minutes when I almost managed to weave a dream.
He drummed his fingers on the dash and checked his watch for the third time in fifteen minutes. They were going to be late. Then he spotted Hutch hurrying down the sidewalk. "Sorry, I got stuck on hold." He slid into the car and Starsky pulled away from the curb.
"I see my lawyer in the morning. Nothing else I can do once the papers have been served. She won't stop until she's sucked every drop of blood I've got."
Hutch sounded tired -- worse, defeated. Starsky gripped the steering wheel, holding in his anger and hatred of Vanessa. Oh babe, if I say anything, you'll still defend her, won't you? Aloud, he said, "Tomorrow's Saturday."
"For the kind of money I'm paying him, he can work on Christmas."
Traffic was heavy on the freeway. Starsky drove automatically, stealing glances at Hutch. The proud head drooped, the beautiful eyes were closed. What are you thinking, babe? Are you giving up? Don't let her do this to you! Clutching the wheel, he thought of a dozen ways to murder Vanessa -- all of them slow and painful.
* * * * * *
Hix and Baker looked like wilted vegetables. Baker wiped his face on his sleeve. "Christ, I'm glad you're here. I didn't think this day would ever end."
Hanging up the phone, Hix said, "Anderson said movement in certain circles indicates a big buy. If it's gonna go down, should be soon."
"I hope so. I'm tired of this place." Starsky sat on the cot and unbuttoned his shirt. He was glad they had left their dress coats and ties in the car. He wished he could shed his gun as well.
"Any signs of activity today?" Hutch asked.
"Kid's been here since three doing whatever it is he does. Nothing else." Baker flipped through his notebook. "We did manage a count of that stuff over there. Two million five hundred thousand pills -- give or take. SKF can't even account for the loss. There are two hundred thirty-five cases of powdered milk, all Carnation. No way to trace it. And I don't even wanna think about how much shit that'll cut."
Hutch was quiet for a moment. "I don't want to think about it either. I couldn't turn a thing on the street today. Not one word. And where does this kid fit in?"
"Don't know." Baker stretched and rubbed his shoulder. "And right now, I don't much care. I want a beer, three hours in the pool and a good night's sleep."
"Not tonight, my bachelor friend, Sally's cooked a special meal just for you." Hix turned to Hutch. "Sally's my daughter--just learning to cook. You know, the joys of partnerhood."
"Yeah," Hutch acknowledged.
"See you in the morning." Starsky waved his cigarette. "Now we wait."
"That's the name of the game." Hutch slumped into the chair.
"Did your lawyer say anything?"
"No, he couldn't really. He hadn't gone over the papers or Vanessa's demands. He should know by tomorrow."
"Hutch, I'm sorry." He felt the need to touch, to share the pain. He walked over to his partner. "I wish there was something...."
Hutch took Starsky's hand, gripped the fingers tightly. The blue eyes looked up at him and he fell in love all over again. "You have helped, just by being here for me." Blond lashes lowered briefly over the golden skin. "I know I've got to work this out myself, but I need you here for me. I...I couldn't make it without you."
Starsky squeezed Hutch's hand, then tried to pull away from the vulnerable blue eyes, the mouth that was an open invitation. But Hutch's fingers clung to his; Hutch's pain and love held him, controlled him. I'm either gonna kiss you or run screaming from this room.
Engine noise from the street below.
They took positions at the window -- Hutch left, Starsky right--and peered out. Hutch said, "Brown Chevrolet, nineteen seventy-one...."
"...Impala. License number four, seven, three -- shit, I can't see!"
Starsky grabbed the glasses. "Four, seven, three, David, Atlas, Charles. They're cruisin' the area -- drivin' too slow for this neighborhood."
"Occupants?" Hutchinson was dialing the phone.
"Two. Male. Both Caucasian, early thirties. Wearing sunglasses. Driver's wearin' a plaid jacket with elbow patches. Passenger has on a coat and vest. Gray. Don't look like local slime."
"Don't think so. No maps or anything. Probably know exactly where they are."
Hutch murmured something into the phone, then hung up. "They'll give us a call as soon as they've got a name." Hutch returned to the window. "Where'd they go?"
"West on Fifth. Picked up speed in the middle of the next block and disappeared." Starsky put the glasses back on their hook. "I think they're casing the place."
"Me too. I want to check out our roof and the alley behind the lab. Why don't you call Anderson, see if he can scrape up someone to watch that alley?"
"Okay. But you be damn careful, huh?"
"Only be gone a couple of minutes. Then I want you to get some sleep. If anything goes down tonight, it won't be until late." Hutch's fingers ruffled his tight curls. "If I throw you in anymore volcanoes, I wanna be here to rescue you."
The light on the black telephone blinked and Starsky grabbed it, motioning Hutch to wait. "Starsky," he answered, then listened, nodding.
After hanging up, he said, "Car was rented. John Smith from Houston."
"Somehow I'm not surprised." Hutch closed the door as he left. Starsky stationed himself at the window. Can't sleep. Not with you this close. The dreams are too vivid and I don't wanna explain them to you or complicate our lives any further. He pressed his forehead to the scratchy wood and allowed his mind to wander.
* * * * * *
Los Angeles, California Monday 20 January 1969
U. S. Army.
Doubled-over and panting, he held his left side and tried to slow his breathing. Soft. Too much of nothing to do and too many cigarettes. Miranda had helped him put his head back together, but it was up to Starsky and the police academy to get his body back in shape. Months of inactivity had made mush out of his muscles. It was time to fix that. And he intended to.
Watching his classmates of three days, Starsky found it was surprisingly easy to pick out those men with military training; even easier to distinguish between those who had known the jungle and those who had guarded gates. The experiences were etched in movement, expression, tilt of the head.
Head. Hair, blond and shining with captured sunlight. The brilliance made him blink. Starsky dug his fingers into his palms, remembered slimy mud. His heart pounded and his lungs burned. Brightly colored spots danced in front of his eyes and he dropped to the ground. Beautiful angel...no. You're dead. A steel band of pain circled his rib cage and he lowered his head. Breathe, you stupid fool, breathe. The world is full of beautiful blonds.
The potter's wheel spins faster and faster, demanding all the attention. Never time to think of anything but the clay...clay...clay.... Starsky took a deep breath, then another. The racehorse in his veins slowed, the roar in his head quieted to a steady ache.
A hand rested on his shoulder. "Starsky?" Hesitant question. "Dave Starsky?"
He jumped up quickly. Too quickly. His eyes met eyes of cornflower blue framed by golden blond silk. The world slipped sideways as pain jabbed under his left lung. "Hut-Hutchinson?" Can't be. He slid off the edge of the world into darkness.
"Starsky." Fingers touched his face. "Starsky, wake up."
Slowly he opened heavy lids. The same angel stood over him. "Are you Gabriel?"
English, not Hebrew. Ma will be so disappointed.
Warm hands, strong hands pulled at him. "Here, try to sit up." The blue eyes were twin suns, the center of his universe. Starsky reached out to touch the shining hair. "How come you don't have wings?"
Fingers stroked his neck, tangled in his hair. "How hard did you hit your head?"
"Doesn't matter. Nothin' matters. You're dead. I must be too. Is Nathan here?"
Hands clamped hard on his shoulders, shaking him. "C'mon, soldier, pull yourself together."
"Hutchinson? Lieutenant Hutchinson?" Starsky rubbed his eyes with balled fists.
"But you're dead."
"Funny, I don't feel dead."
Starsky was hauled to his feet as a group crowded around. A uniform approached and a harsh voice demanded. "What's the problem here?"
Words smooth as sun-warmed honey. "Probably the pollution, it hits them hard if they aren't used to it. Mind if I take him to the locker room -- just in case?"
No one talked to a D.I. like that. Starsky was stunned as the crowd parted and he was led away, Hutchinson's arm around his shoulders.
The locker room was deserted. Starsky straddled a bench, his body limp, drained of emotion. "Why aren't you dead?"
"Why should I be?" Hutch sat astride the same bench, facing Starsky.
"Because you knew too much, because you could not be trusted to keep your mouth shut, because you were a liability the army couldn't afford." Starsky studied his hands. "Disposal's simple, routine."
"You mean the General Williams thing?"
Starsky flinched and turned white, fighting panic.
A hand touched his shoulder. "It's all right. You see," Hutchinson spread his hands, "I don't remember anything. They told me I picked up dengue fever in the jungle and was shipped to a MASH unit. By that time Dad knew what was going on and he hot-footed it to Saigon." Hutchinson rose, paced the floor. Restless. Angry. Silent. The long legs moved powerfully, the perfect ass taunted and the blond hair fascinated. Starsky's heart constricted in pain. All his dreams merged into one golden god, dissolved into a puff of cigarette smoke.
When the blond man finally spoke, his voice was bitter. "Between my old man's power and the fact that I couldn't remember anything...."
"At the time, no. The doctors told me I kept screaming your name, but they didn't tell me why and I couldn't remember. Still don't. They finally decided it was hysterical amnesia and that maybe the memory would come back and maybe it wouldn't."
"Has any of it come back?" Starsky watched the man move and stifled his desire.
"Flashes. The Army told me certain things, trying to trigger the memories. Names, dates, places. I remembered your name and your face. They told me you saved my life, but I don't remember." Hutchinson opened a locker and removed a flip-top box of Marlboros. "You want one?"
Starsky's hands trembled as he took the cigarette. "I wasn't sure that I had done you a favor. Saving your life, I mean. I thought Nathan had killed you." He held the smoke in his lungs until it burned.
"Nathan?" Hutchinson returned to the bench.
"Captain Wise. We...worked together. Do you remember him?"
Hutchinson held his head in his hands for a moment, then looked up. "Vaguely. I think he wanted to kill me, but I don't know why."
I do. "Part of his job."
"What kind of job?" The blue eyes were wide.
"You don't wanna know. Probably why you can't remember. It's not pleasant." Starsky's turn to pace.
The warm hands touched him again, stroking down his arms. "Are you sure you're all right?"
He shook loose from the grip. "Yeah. I'm just out of condition. Need some exercise."
"Starsky?" A hesitant question. "What happened to Wise?"
The knife in his heart twisted, pain slicing through his body. Oh God, will it ever stop hurting? He rested his forehead against a cold metal locker and whispered, "Nathan's dead." Nathan. Beautiful Nathan covered in mud and slime and blood. Dead.
Hands moved down his back, soft words tickled his ear. "I'm sorry, David. I'm sorry." Starsky was turned, held firmly. "The war fucked up everybody who touched it."
It would be so easy to fall into those arms, to capture that vulnerable mouth, to lose himself in this beautiful man. Starsky took a deep breath, steeling his heart. It could never be. This fantasy must always remain a fantasy.
Suddenly the room exploded into the noise and the musky odor of male sweat. He and Hutchinson separated as the group approached them. "Hey, Hutch. That was quite a performance." A handsome, dark-haired man draped an arm over Hutchinson's shoulder. "You got some kinda style, man."
The blond shrugged. "Yeah. John Colby meet Dave Starsky."
Firm handshake. "You okay now?"
"Yeah. Hospital time saps the life out of you."
Colby eyed him critically. "Nothing serious?"
"Nothing that shows."
The golden smile was like a sunrise. The slap on his ass was just playful fun. "Okay, guys, let's hit the showers." Starsky swallowed. Dozens of beautiful nude male bodies hadn't aroused him. One just might destroy him.
* * * * * *
Los Angeles, California Friday 17 August 1973
Hutch returned and Starsky gasped as memory collided with reality. Oh, babe, you could still destroy me. Just one word, just one look.
"Starsk, you all right?"
He shook his head to clear the images. "Yeah. I'm fine."
"You don't look fine. You're pale and shaky." Hutch pushed him gently but firmly over to the cot. "You rest, or I really will toss you in that volcano."
Starsky settled on the uncomfortable bed, watching Hutch move around the room. Not a good idea. Better to be lost in yesterday.
* * * * * *
Los Angeles, California Friday 7 March 1969
"And here's to you Mrs. Robinson...."
Cold beer slid down Starsky's throat, the perfect end to a good meal. Hutchinson lit two cigarettes and handed one to Starsky. "John?"
"No thanks, Hutch. Hey, there's a gorgeous blonde at the bar just begging to be picked up. If either of you two is interested, we could flip a coin." Colby looked from one man to the other.
"No thanks," Hutch answered, smiling "She's all yours."
"Last chance. Okay, suckers, I'll see you tomorrow." Colby winked and sauntered over to the bar.
"You know, Hutch--" Hutch. Starsky liked it better than Ken. It suited the man. Hutch. Blond, beautiful, untouchable.
"I was just going to say that if you really wanted that girl, Colby wouldn't have a chance." He's not even in your league.
"I know." There was no arrogance in the simple statement. Hutch crushed out his cigarette in the ashtray and signaled for more beer. "I get tired of the games. After a while the girls are all the same -- just bodies to use and discard. I want more than that."
"Yeah, but finding it's not so easy." The fresh glass of beer tasted better than the last. "Hutch?"
Foam lined the man's upper lip like a pale mustache. "Yeah?"
"What're we doing here? I mean how'd our lives cross like this?"
"Fate." Hutch shrugged and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
"Oh, c'mon." Starsky lit another cigarette. "Why are you here?"
"Don't know. I couldn't go home. I couldn't face what money and power do to people. I hate what my father does." Cold fire burned in ice blue eyes.
"But why a cop?"
Hutch slammed his mug onto the table, spilling foam and beer. "Because he hates it so much!"
Starsky recoiled from the overwhelming fury, but he still wanted to know. He needed to know everything about this man -- good and bad. "Are you sure that's the only reason?"
Silence. Hutch lit another cigarette, watched it burn. "I guess not. I thought about a lot of things. Dad's money would have bought me anything I wanted. Med school. Law school. My own business. A piece of his."
"There's always a 'but' isn't there? Would've been easy. If I didn't hate him so much maybe I could've taken it. But things get screwed up, like my cushy job in D.C." Hutch shrugged. "I decided that if my life was going to be fucked up, then I should be the one fucking it up, not my old man."
"That's all?" Starsky sipped his beer, watching Hutch over the rim of the glass.
"Nothing's ever that simple. Dad had a screaming fit when I told him I was gonna be a cop. He threatened to disinherit me."
"That doesn't bother you?"
"Shit, I wish he would, but Grandfather Hutchinson would never allow it. You see, not only am I the fair-haired beauty, I'm the only son. Somebody has to carry on the family name." The sarcasm was as bad as the anger.
"There's more to it than that, isn't there?"
"How do you know so fucking much?"
Starsky knew the fury wasn't directed at him. "Well?"
"Yeah, there's more." Hutch shredded a paper napkin. "I've never put it into words before. It's kinda scary."
"Hey, you don't have to tell me anything."
"I think maybe I do. Maybe I ought to understand exactly where I'm coming from before I take a badge and gun."
"Only if you want to."
"Yeah." He arranged the bits of napkin into a small pile, then ripped a cigarette filter into tiny strips. "I hate my father. Not just what he is, but who he is. Oh, he's not a common criminal. There's nothing common about a Hutchinson." The bitter note was back in his voice. "He doesn't peddle dope or run guns or rob banks, but he's just as guilty when it comes to screwing the little people."
"The little people?"
"Yeah, you know. Joe Blow. John Q. Citizen. The guy who just barely makes it through life, the guy who wants to have dinner with his family every night and take a vacation in the summer and pay off the mortgage on his house. I wanna do something to help those people."
Starsky tried to lighten the mood. "Hey, Superman only lives in comic books. Didn't your mother ever tell you, you can't save the world?" An icy stare stopped him.
"Nora Covington Hutchinson never took the time to tell me anything." Contempt outweighed the bitterness.
"I'm sorry, Hutch. I didn't mean...."
"'S okay." Hutchinson drained his glass. "Okay, your turn. Why are you here?"
"My father." Starsky smiled at the startled glance. "He was a cop. A damn good one and he died for it. Guess I wanna be as good as him -- maybe get even with the guys who killed him."
"And you call me Superman."
"Maybe. But I'd like to see justice done once in a while." He frowned. "Not the killing though. It makes me sick."
"But you do it so well."
Put the bullet between his eyes, Davy. Starsky knocked over the chair as he ran from the restaurant. The foggy night air chilled him, but he didn't stop until his lungs were screaming for air. Somehow, Hutchinson was there, beside him. They gasped and wheezed until Starsky could finally speak. "I thought...you said...you didn't...remember anything?"
"I don't -- at least not on a conscious level. The doctors said the memories are all there, buried somewhere." He shrugged. "I know what I said, but I don't know why. I'm sorry--"
"What do you remember about General Williams?"
"Let's find the car, it's cold out here." Hutch headed back towards the parking lot. "I don't remember anything about the general. All I know is what the Army told me, that he died when the plane crashed."
"You don't remember the crash?"
Hutch shook his head. The blond silk, tipped in silver moonlight, floated in the darkness. "Don't remember anything after Hawaii."
I wish I didn't.
Over the roof of the silver Corvette Hutch smiled. "C'mon, let's go back to the dorm. I'm sorry about what I said."
"It's okay." Starsky slid into the passenger seat.
After putting the key in the ignition, Hutch turned to face Starsky, laying a hand on his knee. "You wanna talk about it?"
"Can't. You know that."
"Yeah." Hutch moved his hand, started the car.
"Look, I appreciate the offer. It...it would probably do me good to dump some of this shit. Maybe if you remembered...but I can't tell you the stuff I saw--" And did! And did! his mind screamed at him. "--and did, Christ! Nobody should ever...."
"'S okay." Hutch drove down the empty street. "Remember, I'm here."
* * * * * *
Los Angeles, California Friday 17 August 1973
Yeah, you're here all right and I wish to God you were any place else. And I know I wouldn't let you go. Starsky got up from the cot abruptly. "Anything?"
"Thought you were sleeping."
"Hafta check out the plumbing. Thought you were watching the lab."
"Kid left at his usual time. Nothing else going on."
"Be back in a minute." Any convenient spot. Just like the jungle.
When he returned Hutch was settled in the chair, his feet on the corner of the card table. He blew smoke in Starsky's direction. "Get some sleep, huh? Looks like a quiet night and I got a lot of things to think about."
Vanessa. "Yeah." Starsky stretched out on the cot. "Wake me when you get tired."
"I seem to remember telling you the same thing last night." Hutch chuckled.
"But I slept all day...."
"And ended up in a volcano."
"Was only a dream."
"You won't dream sleeping on that damn thing, you'll be too busy bein' uncomfortable."
Starsky wiggled, but Hutch was right. He watched the orange glow of his partner's cigarette and drifted.
A bonfire blazing high in a black and moonless night.
Orange flames encircle the white draped altar.
Red-robed hierophants revolve
He is one of them, with them, part of them
A dark figure leaves the circle,
mounts the steps
pulls away the white cloth
feeds it to the flames.
Hutch. Nude, golden, bound to cold, dark stone.
The dark man touches
The red-robed adepts circle and chant, circle and chant.
He is one of them.
He watches the dark man prepare to take the sacrifice.
He tears off his robe
Runs through the fire
You can't have him
Shoves the dark man away
You can't touch him
Kneels between spread thighs
Blue eyes gaze up at him, begging
asking to be rescued
He struggles with his lust
The fire burns hot within him
He is lost.
Oh beautiful man you're mine YOU'RE MINE
"Starsk? Starsk, wake up." He was being shaken, hands gripping his shoulders.
"Hmmmp." He tried to focus his eyes. "Wha'?"
"Another volcano?" Hutch leaned over the cot, his mouth dangerously close.
"Huh?" Starsky tried to think, but he couldn't block out the image of that mouth.
"You were dreaming again. Moaning and thrashing around." Hutch's eyes traveled the length of Starsky's body. "Must have been some dream."
"Don't remember." He tried to roll sideways but Hutch held him securely.
"Just as I woke you, you said 'Oh beautiful man, you're mine.' Man, Starsky? What man? What man is so beautiful that he can do this to you?" Hutch's hand covered the bulge in Starsky's jeans.
Groaning, he tried to escape the touch that held him trapped. "Please."
Voice so low it was almost a whisper. "Please what, beautiful man?"
He couldn't answer, couldn't think, couldn't move. Hutch held him bound to the altar, ready for sacrifice, ready to be thrown into the raging inferno. He couldn't stop it. He had to stop it. Hutch's mouth descended.
The sudden noise of a car engine from the street below was as devastating as being thrown in a volcano. Hutch pulled back, something indefinable flickering in his blue eyes. Starsky followed him to the window. Below, three men had entered the storefront lab and turned on the light. Hutch grabbed the field glasses. "Kraft." He flipped the switch on the tape recorder and reached for the phone. "Zebra Three, priority patch through to Captain Anderson." He turned to Starsky. "Anything?"
"Hutchinson here. Kraft is in the lab. Equipment is running. Get somebody to watch the front so Starsky and I can cover the back."
"They'll probably head upstairs. Hutch, you should--"
"Go. You cover the south end. I'll take the upstairs as soon as the back up arrives." Waving his hand, Hutch went back to the phone.
Starsky checked the street between the buildings. One man stood by the front door; Kraft and another man were inside. Radios. Let's do this one by the book. Quick dash to his car and back -- seven seconds. Hutch was just coming out. Starsky tossed his partner a walkie-talkie. "Catch."
Starsky rounded the corner and tested, "Hutch?"
"I can hear you just fine. I'm moving. Let me know when you're inside."
"Right." Starsky worked his way across the street. A black and white waited in the silent shadows. Fishing for his badge, Starsky tapped on the window of the car. "Starsky."
"Miller," the uniform officer inside said. "And Andrews. Hix and Baker are on the way. Anderson wants to run the show."
"It's his party." He held up the radio. "They can reach Hutchinson 'n me, if they need to."
Starsky ran silently towards the hole he had discovered earlier, cursing and blessing the darkness at the same time. Slow. Don't bump into anything. He stopped to catch his breath behind a stack of empty crates, then he pushed the button on the radio one short beep. Jungle signals echoed in his mind.
"I'm here," Hutch whispered. "You set?"
"Not quite. Where are you?"
"Where I can see the crates of milk. We can get 'em for the uppers, but I want the whole ball game."
"Yeah. Be careful, huh?"
Starsky attached the radio to his belt and peered around the crates. A rat squealed and scurried across his foot. Shit. He moved quietly, working his way forward until he could see through the grating.
Kraft paced the floor. "Well?"
"Mr. Kraft, it takes time. Please be patient or I'll mess this up." The other man stood with his back to Starsky.
Stubbing out his cigarette, Kraft said, "All right, Al, it's been fifteen minutes. How much longer's it gonna take?"
"Finished." Al held up a beaker of white powder. "Good stuff. It's ready to be cut."
Rubbing his hands together, Kraft said, "'Bout time. I'll bring the stuff from upstairs."
"You don't think that kid found anything?"
"Nah, he's too busy doing whatever it is he does in here. He's not too bright." Kraft laughed nastily and went out the front door.
Backing away into the shadows, Starsky pushed the transmit button on his radio.
"The real thing?"
"You got it. And Kraft. He's comin' your way."
Starsky pushed the button once, twice. "Hix, Baker, Anderson, anyone? But keep it quiet."
The radio emitted a loud burst of static. Starsky hit the transmit button and checked the lab. Nothing. He whispered harshly, "I said quiet. You wanna get us killed?"
"Sorry. Couldn't be helped." Captain Anderson spoke softly. "Report, please."
"Looks like they're gonna cut and package a shipment of heroin."
"And the kid, McGuire -- looks like he might not be involved after all."
"I've sent a unit to pick him up. You can ask him."
Returning the radio to his belt, Starsky found a spot where he could see the lab clearly. He settled back to wait, trying not to think about Hutch or Hutch's hand or Hutch's mouth or.... "Give me a hand, Al." Kraft returned, balancing two boxes, one marked 'Carnation.' This enough milk or do you need more?"
"Won't know till I get started. It'll go faster if you bag as I measure."
Sparkling white crystals in tiny plastic bags. One, two, three, four, five, man, woman, birth, death, infinity. Starsky lost count. The bags became screwed up kids, pretty little hookers, strung-out GIs roaming Southeast Asia. The same God that created green grass, daffodils, Pacific sunsets and Hutch also created bright orange poppies. C'mon, Anderson, move it.
One beep. Hutch. "Yeah?"
"Lots of smack."
"Not yet. Should be soon." Starsky stared at the radio, willed it to speak. He hated this silent waiting. He didn't want time to think.
Two beeps. "Yeah?" he whispered.
"Baker here. We're upstairs. Captain should be here in five minutes. How do you wanna take it?"
"Five minutes?" Baker asked
"Make it ten. Starsky, meet me in the alley."
"Ten four and good luck."
Starsky pocketed the radio and inched back through the dark room. It was eight long minutes before Hutch arrived, then they returned inside to await the others. Two minutes later Baker appeared from the shadows and pointed his gun at the lookout. Starsky glanced at Hutch and they stepped forward, guns level, aimed through the wire mesh. Anderson strolled through the front door, Hix close behind, his gun drawn.
Anderson addressed the man formally, "Randolf Kraft, you are under arrest. You have the right to remain silent...."
Hix pulled out his handcuffs, started for Al. Baker's prisoner broke free, rammed into Baker, whose gun went off. The wild bullet shattered a bottle, then ripped through Anderson's arm.
Al stepped forward.
Starsky aimed at Baker's prisoner. "Don't move."
Hutch aimed his gun at Al. "That goes for you, too."
"That's hydrofluoric in that bottle. Ask your man here how bad his arm hurts. If the acid isn't washed out properly -- and damn fast -- he could lose that arm."
"Captain?" Hutch asked.
"Burns. Not just a bullet wound...hurts like hell." He dropped to his knees, cradling his arm.
"Kraft." Hutch's voice was cold. "Over here, hands behind your back. I don't want to have to shoot you and spend the whole weekend doing the paperwork, so if you please...." Kraft stepped quickly up to the grating. "Cuff him to the fence, Starsk." Hutch turned his attention to Anderson. "Okay...."
"Al," Starsky supplied, snapping on the handcuffs.
"Okay, Al, tell me about the acid."
"You'll need to wash it with sodium hydroxide. Here." He lifted a plastic squeeze bottle. "But he needs a hospital. "
"Hix, give the man a hand. Baker, call us an ambulance and get those uniforms in here."
As the ambulance squealed away, Baker and Hix took Kraft and company, leaving Starsky and Hutch with the clean up squad. A very bewildered John McGuire and his irate father were ushered into the lab by a uniformed officer.
"Sergeant Hutchinson, it's four-thirty in the morning. Just what is going on?" Mr. McGuire asked.
"See this stuff?" Hutch pointed to the white powder. "It's heroin. High grade. Upstairs, in factory boxes, are millions of amphetamines. And in the middle of this whole mess, in a building you own, is your son, the chemist."
"But I didn't...." the young man stammered.
Starsky touched him on the arm. "For your own best interests, don't say anything." The boy nodded.
Hutch continued. "Mr. McGuire, we have reason to believe that your son was not involved in the drug operation, but this is his lab and your building. We need a complete statement from both of you as soon as possible. And for your protection, I'd recommend your attorney be present."
"Am I under arrest?" John was ghostly pale.
Starsky smiled reassuringly. "No. Not yet. But we do have to know what you were doing here."
"Hey, I need a hand with this stuff." A voice said from behind a box labeled Smith, Klein, French.
"Can you handle this, partner?" Starsky looked at Hutch, then at both McGuires.
"Yeah. Give the guy a hand. I'll wait here until the heroin's been inventoried. It'll complete my testimony when Kraft goes to trial."
* * * * * *
It was five hours later when Starsky folded his arms across his typewriter, and pillowed his head on his arms. He was so tired he could sleep for a week and not even have time to dream. A hand caressed his shoulder. Hutch's hand. "Here, I got you some fresh coffee. And a Danish I snitched from Dobey's desk."
"Thanks. How's Anderson?" Starsky stretched, leaning back in his chair.
"Looks like he's gonna be fine. Some of that acid splashed into the wound, but Al knew what he was doing. Probably saved his arm."
Starsky drank some coffee. "Will Al testify against Kraft?"
"To save his own skin? You bet. He's already singing like a bird." Hutch glanced at his watch. "Oh shit, it's nine-thirty. How much more do you have to do? I gotta meet my lawyer."
"Paper work, McGuire's statement. Nothing I can't handle. The D.A. has your statement. Go."
"Okay." Hutch leaned over, whispered in Starsky's ear, "I'll see you later. We've got some unfinished business, beautiful man."
Before Starsky could reply, Hutch was gone.
* * * * * *
His apartment had become a dark cave and he was never going to leave it. Starsky squinted at the clock, but it was too dark to see it. He didn't really care what time it was. He didn't care about anything. Hutch had promised to come, but that had been hours ago -- or maybe it had been a lifetime ago.
He twisted his glass, watching the ice swirl in the amber liquid. It created ghostly patterns of volcanoes and altars and sacrifices and Hutch. Beautiful Hutch. Impossible Hutch. Or are you? The memory of Hutch's hand started a fire in Starsky's groin, spreading tingling fingers of need throughout his body. He sipped the bourbon, hoping it would quench the flames.
There was a knock at the door.
Go away. Starsky settled on the floor, his back against the sofa, his legs stretched out in front of him. I don't wanna see nobody but Hutch and he's not comin'.
"Why are you sitting in the dark?" Soft light glowed from the table lamp. Hutch's hand touched his neck and Starsky trembled, hating the ice that settled in his stomach. "Starsk...babe..." The voice was feather soft. "You okay?"
"Yes. No. Didn' think ya'd come." Looking up, Starsky wondered why his partner was so fuzzy. He shook his head, but that only made things worse. He drained his glass.
"Told you I'd be here." The glass was taken from him. The refrigerator opened, shut. Ice cubes clinked. "Any reason for drinking this shit?"
"'As a high alcoh'lic content."
"That sounds logical." Liquor splashed over the ice, then the glass bottle dropped on other bottles. "How much of this stuff have you had?"
Starsky stared at the ceiling. "Not enough."
The glass was returned to him as Hutch sat down on the sofa. "Anything to eat in this place?"
"Nope." Starsky drank the bourbon, wishing it would numb the pain in his heart, and drown the fire in his loins. "Not hungry."
"Are we celebrating or commiserating?"
"What's to celebrate?"
"We made a good, clean bust last night. We could celebrate that. Or," Hutch scooted closer to Starsky, "we could celebrate my divorce." He was silent for a while. "I saw Vanessa this afternoon."
"What? Why? Oh, Hutch." Starsky wanted to stand, but his legs wouldn't cooperate.
Hutch lit a cigarette. "I spent the morning with my lawyer and the rest of the day with Vanessa. Even took her to dinner."
"What'd you' lawyer say?"
"Vanessa wants everything and she's got a sharp lawyer. If I'm not careful, she could get it all."
"Don' ya e'en get half? I thought community property meant community property." Starsky changed positions so he could watch the soft light play on the blond hair.
"Don't kid yourself. She'll use whatever she can to take me to the cleaners, not just now, but for the rest of my life." Hutch drained his glass, then stood. Lines creased his face, made him look ten years older. "She wants everything." He walked to the kitchen and opened a cabinet. "Got anything else to drink?"
Starsky struggled to his feet and staggered to the kitchen. "Over the fridge."
"Christ, how much have you had to drink?" Hutch counted the bottles in the trash can. "There're four empties in here."
"None of 'em 're full," he protested, then reached for the cabinet above the refrigerator.
"Here. Let me." Hutch grabbed the bottle. "Hey, this is the Southern Comfort Colby bought us before he left the Academy and rejoined the Air Force. I thought we were saving it for a special occasion."
Starsky leaned against the refrigerator. "Oh, I think Hutchinson versus Hutchinson's a prett' special 'casion." He opened the freezer. "Wan' more ice?"
"Yeah." Hutch carried the bottle back to the sofa.
"Can you get back any of your things?" Starsky took his place on the floor and let Hutch fill his glass. "You said there were some things you wouldn't let her have, like Venice Place." Then he mumbled into his glass, "Bet it doesn't even have a tower or a moat or nothin'."
"Nothing. Go on."
"My piano. It was a gift from my grandmother. She was the only person who ever cared about me when I was a kid. And there's a brooch -- ugliest goddamn thing I've ever seen. But it was hers, too, and she loved it. It's an heirloom, it belongs to my daughter, if I ever have one, not Vanessa."
"How ya gonna get it back?"
There was a sudden feral gleam in Hutch's eyes. "Van wants Hutchinson money."
"But you said...."
"That I didn't have any." Hutch settled back and drew on his cigarette. "There's a whole different set of rules for the rich, Starsk. Tax evasion and loopholes and hidden money." His laugh was bitter. "Only this time the old man got caught."
"Van's lawyer found forty acres of rich New Mexico oil land in my name. That's Hutchinson land. Has been for a long time."
"I don' understand." Starsky tried vainly to clear his head.
"For some reason my father deeded those acres to me. Only his timing's bad. This time he gets screwed. I told my lawyer to sell the land and use the money to buy off Vanessa." Hutch ground out his cigarette savagely. "At least I'm not the only loser this round."
Starsky could feel the anger building in his partner. "Why did you see her today?"
"My lawyer suggested a meeting so we could discuss a reconciliation." He snorted. "Fat chance, but it looks good on the record." He swallowed the liquor remaining in his glass, then refilled it.
"Hutch?" Starsky hesitated. He wanted to know, but he was afraid to ask, "Hutch...would you...could you...go back to her?"
Starsky waited for Hutch to continue. There was so much he needed to know. "Why did you marry her?"
"I loved her. Or thought I did. She told me she loved me and I believed her."
And she was terrific in bed. Let's be honest, Hutch. Starsky remembered the marks on the blond body. Turning, he knelt in front of the sofa, gripping the fabric for support. "Maybe she did."
"No." Hutch twisted the glass in his hands. "She only loved the money. Maybe that's the only kind of love there is in this world." Bitterness and anger distorted the beauty of the man.
You're wrong, beautiful man. There's another kind of love, a love between two men that's so powerful it destroys what it can't own. The price of that kind of love is too high....
Hutch pressed his leg against Starsky's arm. For a long moment Starsky relished the touch, wanting it to last forever. But Hutch didn't want love; he only wanted comfort.
Starsky pulled away and wobbled to the window, staring out at the nighttime city. Lights, cars, planes, and smog. People hurrying to get nowhere. Love's just a dream. And dreams could torment a man -- awake or asleep. Nathan. Loving Nathan. Losing Nathan. Those long, endless nights in the Army hospital, afraid to sleep, terrified of the dreams. Pacing his room like a caged tiger for hours, days -- fighting sleep until he had to be restrained and sedated. But the medication was never strong enough. The demons always returned. Old memories knotted his stomach, and his skin was suddenly clammy with cold sweat. The glass slipped from his hand, shattering as it hit the floor.
There was warmth and life in the arms that held him, strength in the quiet words. "Starsk, c'mon, this way. Here -- sit on the bed." His shoes were removed, then his shirt. His belt was unbuckled and Hutch tugged at the jeans. "C'mon, babe, help me get these off. You're drunk. You need some sleep."
"No!" Not sleep. He couldn't. He shoved at Hutch and staggered away from the bed, tripping over the pants that bunched around his ankles.
"Starsky." Strong arms forced him back to the bed. "You're gonna hurt yourself."
Words, shapes, shadows, fears. Sergeant, you're going to hurt yourself. You must get some sleep.
The walls were closing in, spinning wildly. Lights flashed and thunder clapped and then he could see Nathan hanging on that tree. Then it was Hutch. "NO!" Struggling, Starsky tried to run, tried to escape. "Don't make me sleep. Dear God, please don't make me sleep." Then he was clinging to Hutch desperately. "The dreams, oh Christ, the dreams. Please don't make me sleep."
The strong arms closed around him, rocking him. Warm words touched his ear. "It's all right, babe, I won't let you sleep. I won't let the dreams hurt you. I won't throw you in any volcanoes. Just close your eyes. I'll keep you safe."
He floated in the peacefulness, lulled by Hutch's promises. But the jungle memories leapt from hidden ambush. He could hear gun fire echo in his mind and feel the shelling rock the ground. He could not see. There was only cold wet blackness and the stench of death.
"Shhh. Starsk. It's me, Hutch. I'm here. It's okay."
Starsky opened his eyes, trying to see. The images were blurred and distorted. "Hutch? Oh, Lieutenant? Where's Captain Wise? I have to find him."
"Starsky -- oh, babe, please...."
"Where's Nathan? Nathan! NATHAN!"
Thunder exploded inside his brain as the man slapped him, swinging his head to one side with the force of the blow. His cheek burned. Hutchinson gripped his shoulders, shaking him until he could focus his eyes.
"Starsky. Talk to me."
"H -- Hutch?"
"Starsky, Nathan's dead. Do you remember that Nathan is dead?"
"YES!" And the picture was vivid in his mind, blood red on death black.
Hutch's mouth moved, but no sound emerged. Then the mouth came closer and closer until Starsky could smell the rich liquor and taste the tobacco. He swam in the sensation as his mouth was invaded by Hutch's tongue. But the image of Nathan remained, grew brighter, and exploded. Then it was his beautiful golden Hutch covered in blood, dying in the bug-infested, mud-caked jungle.
Terror seized him and he pushed Hutch away, desperately trying to escape from the nightmare. Inside his head the screaming wouldn't stop.
Hutch held him tighter and Starsky realized his face was resting against bare skin rather than the soft knit of Hutch's shirt. He snuggled closer, hiding from the ghosts.
"Tell me what happened."
He buried his face in Hutch's shoulder. "I can't. You know I can't."
"No, I don't know. And I think you'd better tell me before it destroys you. I know some of it, babe. I know you belong to the Army for life. I know General Williams died in a plane crash and that you thought I died too. And I know Nathan Wise died and that concerns you." Hutch eased them down onto the bed, and threw his leg over Starsky's.
He forced himself to meet Hutch's eyes. "It isn't pretty Hutch. I don't want you to know, to be contaminated with my...ugliness."
A soft kiss on his forehead. "I promise not to be contaminated."
"I don't think you have any idea how horrible Vietnam was and I don't think you wanna know."
"How bad could it be?"
"Worse than anything you've ever seen or imagined. So bad that you blocked it completely out of your memory."
"I had dengue fever."
"Okay." Starsky shrugged. "Okay. What do you know about Nathan?"
"You worked with him and...and I think he was very special to you."
"Hutch, look at me. Hutch, Nathan was my lover."
Silence. No expression in the blue eyes. Say something, goddamnit!
"Hutch? Did you hear me?"
"Yes. I...I was trying to remember. There was a log against a tree and...."
"Don't know. More feeling than memory really. No, it's gone. Did you love him?"
"Yes." And he loved me too.
"Why?" Hutch shifted, pulled Starsky closer.
"Why did I love him? Don't know. Didn't at first, but then it just sorta happened. The last night we spent together was so perfect, the beginning of something." A tattered bedspread, a squeaky bed, champagne, laughter and love.
Starsky pressed his face into Hutch's chest. "Nathan's dead."
"I know, babe, I know. Tell me." Lips were cool against his forehead.
He closed his eyes. The memory was there -- it always had been, waiting deep in his mind, though he had denied its existence. Hutch, don't hate me. I couldn't stand it if you hated me. "We were on patrol. About forty miles from Da Nang. The fighting was heavy in our sector. It was the worse night I ever remember. Ching was dead. Nathan always made sure and I always but the bullet between their eyes. I can't! I can't tell you these things. Please don't make me."
Hutch touched his eyes. "I need to know. I need to know what you're thinking in here." He stroked the springy curls and waited.
Starsky swallowed his fear. "It was pitch black and raining like hell. Shells were dropping all around us. I couldn't see or hear. And then there was an explosion right in front of us. Nathan just sorta flew up in the air, then hit the ground, rolled, tried to run and lost his balance." The images unrolled behind his closed eyelids, a vivid motion picture he could not stop. Tears burned as they slid down his face.
"Shhhh. It's okay." Hutch's arms were strong.
"Nathan tripped a wire, a booby trap. It threw him against a tree and impaled him...oh, Hutch, they dip those stakes in shit. Even if you can get a guy off without ripping him to shreds, you can't fight the infection. Not in the jungle, it sets in too fast. Nathan...Nathan was there on that goddamn thing and there wasn't anything I could do!"
Hutch rocked him gently. "Easy, babe, easy."
"But he wasn't dead, not Nathan. Never easy. His face was all twisted in pain but his voice was strong as ever. 'Put the bullet between my eyes, Davy.' Just like that -- not good-bye or I love you; just one last order, just like the first time. S-Sam was a friend and I had to...oh God Hutch...General Williams. He didn't die in a plane crash, Hutch, I shot him, I'm the one who put the bullet between his eyes. I had to, just like I had to with Nathan. Hutch, I killed him--"
Starsky ran for the bathroom. The walls were spinning and he couldn't remember where he was. Cool hands steadied his head as he vomited. The smell of sour whiskey and bile blended with the odor of jungle death.
Weak and shaking, he was led back to bed. A soft wet cloth mopped his face. "It's okay now. I've got you." The touches were feather-light. "Then what happened?"
"I don't know. All I remember is holding him. Sitting in the slimy, filthy mud and holding him." Starsky opened one eye cautiously, Hutch was there, and the room wasn't spinning anymore. "Next thing I remember is a hospital. Guam I think. Don't know. And the nightmares." He shivered and Hutch pulled the blanket up. "They made me sleep and every time I did, I had to kill Nathan over and over again."
"You really loved him?"
"How does it feel to love somebody like that?" Hutch settled back on the bed, drew Starsky close.
"It hurts. When Nathan died it was like a part of me was ripped away."
The room was quiet for several minutes. The bedside clock ticked louder and louder until Starsky thought it would explode.
"If you shot General Williams, why didn't you shoot me?"
"There's no if, Hutch, I did shoot the general. It was part of my job."
"Why didn't you kill me? Christ, I wish I could remember!"
"No you don't. I wish I could forget." Starsky closed his eyes and buried his head in a pillow. Then Hutch was gone and he was alone. Frantic, he screamed, "Hutch!"
"I'm right here." The sound of running water distorted the voice. When Hutch returned, he was carrying a pan of steaming water.
"What're you doing?"
"I'm gonna wash you, babe, wash away the mud and the sweat, the pain and the fear. I'm gonna take it all away." Hutch sat on the bed. "But first I want to know why you didn't kill me."
"I couldn't. I broke every rule in the book, disobeyed a direct order, but I just couldn't."
"Do you love me?"
Starsky rolled to the far side of the bed, curling his knees to his chest. "No," he whispered. "Please no. I don't wanna love you. It hurts too much."
A finger trailed down Starsky's spine. "Did you want to love Nathan?"
"I didn't have a choice."
"Am I the only man since Nathan?" Hutch pulled him back to the center of the bed.
Starsky nodded. "Girls were easier. It's not the same."
Hutch washed him with water scented with mountain herbs. "Monday night, when you made love to me...."
"You remember? But you didn't...."
"I had a lot on my mind, a lot of decisions to make."
"And I shouldn't have...."
"Maybe not, but you did. And it cost you, didn't it? It brought back all the old memories, all the old hurt?"
"I loved him, Hutch. He was my whole life and I killed him!"
It was no longer a washcloth stroking his body, but Hutch's hand caressing the flesh. "David, do you love me?"
"Yes. I don't want to, but I do."
"Then let me love you."
Fire curled in his belly as Hutch's hand closed over his cock. He found Hutch's mouth, then clung to the man, savoring the taste of bourbon and tobacco, craving the male strength.
And Hutch gave. Starsky was pinned under his weight as the man explored his body, covering it with kisses. He moaned, a cry of mingled pain and pleasure, as Hutch's mouth engulfed his rigid cock. The sensations triggered sweet fantasies that dissolved into reality. Hutch. My beautiful, golden Hutch.
The tingle started in his toes, moved up his legs, exploded into Hutch's mouth. Starsky sagged, his energy drained, his defenses shattered. He hovered on the edge of sleep. Hutch's arms cradled him, soft words comforting him. "Love you, beautiful man."
Starsky drifted in velvet darkness.
Distant gunfire reached him, pulling him back to awareness. And a man's arms. "Nathan?"
"No, babe. I'm not Nathan. I'm here and everything's gonna be fine." Strong knowing fingers entered Starsky's body. Desire flared.
Starsky opened his eyes to meet the crystal blue ones of his partner. "We shouldn't do this."
"Because Vanessa will destroy us -- you -- when she finds out."
"I'm not going to tell her. Are you?"
Starsky pushed against the invading fingers. "No, but she'll find out--" And I want you so bad right now, I don't even care.
"No, she won't. But that's not all, is it?" Hutch nuzzled kisses in the springy curls.
"No...when I lose you, it'll kill me."
"You're not going to lose me."
"Be realistic, Hutch. We're cops. We work the streets. That's just about as safe as the jungle. Somebody'll take you from me one day. Or worse. It'll be like Nathan."
"No, babe, never like that. I promise. Never. That's over. You have to let it go."
"Help me." Love me, Hutch, make all the hurt go away.
The fingers were withdrawn and he wanted to cry. Then the blond body covered his, solid, hard muscles tensed against him. Hutch's mouth took his, demanding everything he had, everything he was. Hips and cock pressed into him, thrusting rhythmically. There were no thoughts of pain and death, just the warm love this man could give.
"Fuck me, Hutch." Fill my body and my heart.
"Please, Hutch, I need you."
"No. I won't be Nathan for you. I'm me and you have to love me."
Starsky laughed, letting the joy wash through him. He turned the man onto his back. "You stupid goddamn fool. I never wanted you to be Nathan. I've loved you, you beautiful golden dream, since I saw you at the academy and knew you weren't dead. I thought Nathan had killed you. Even when he denied it, I didn't really believe him." He stroked the inside of Hutch's thigh and watched the cock respond, feeling the matching fire in his own body.
Hutch wiggled his hips, flaunting himself. Desire, longing, need forced Starsky to take the man, to flip him over onto his belly and enter him brutally, ignoring the muffled cry of pain. Ownership of this fleeting dream consumed Starsky, dominated his mind until he was alone and Hutch was just another convenient body.
No. Not Hutch. Starsky slowed his raging emotions, he stopped his frenzied movements. He wrapped his arms around Hutch's waist and pushed gently and Hutch did the rest as tight muscles pulled the life from Starsky. Arms around his new lover, Starsky clung tightly, never wanting to break the delicate connection. I love you I love you I love you.
But it was not enough. He wanted more, needed more. He wanted to feel Hutch inside him, to revel in the man's power and strength. He slipped a hand down to grasp Hutch's cock. "Fuck me."
"No." The word was soft and final.
Swallowing a sob, Starsky rolled away and covered his eyes with his arm.
Something warm and wet touched him. "What're you doing?"
"Washing you." Hutch ran the cloth across Starsky's belly, between his thighs, around his balls, over his cock. The cloth was put aside and Hutch took a bottle of baby oil from the bedside table. "Watch me now. I'm going to make love to you." He poured oil into his hands, then slowly, deliberately, stroked the length of his cock until it glistened in the soft light of the bedside lamp.
Starsky shifted his gaze from Hutch's hands to the clear eyes. The pure carnal lust that blazed in those blue depths told him what words could not. Hutch wanted him, David Michael Starsky. Sexually. Passionately. Hutch's hands, slick with oil, caressed his legs, his balls, his cock. A long finger entered, explored. Starsky closed his eyes, drifting on the ecstasy.
The hands stopped. "I want you to watch me love you. I need you with me."
Forcing his eyes open, Starsky locked glances with his lover and nodded. The fingers slipped away, leaving a sharp pang of emptiness. His legs were lifted and placed on Hutch's shoulders.
The blue eyes burned with wildfire and it was an effort to look away, but he had to see. He raised his head and watched as Hutch eased the hard column of flesh into his body until they were fully joined.
Sagging under the weight, Starsky dropped his head to the pillow. Hutch smiled as Starsky squirmed, pulling him deeper inside, relishing the power and the strength.
Their eyes held until Hutch's glazed and dilated. Hot fluid streamed into Starsky, filling him with love and a tiny portion of Hutch that no one else would ever have. Starsky slipped his legs down to encircle Hutch's waist, held him inside and pulled the man to lie across him. The weight of his lover and the exquisite pressure triggered a final release. The stickiness bonded them together and they lay in sated darkness.
* * * * * *
Los Angeles, California Sunday 19 August 1973
Morning light was peeking through the curtains when Hutch groaned and rolled onto his back. The musk of sex mingled with early morning smog and stale cigarette smoke. The essence of life -- the symbol of what they had become -- adorned Hutch's chest and belly. Starsky watched his lover, seeing the contentment in his relaxed face and closed eyes.
The warm skin tasted of salty sweat and bitter semen. Starsky's tongue licked in lazy patterns over the flat abdomen.
Hutch stayed his movements and a slurred, drowsy voice asked, "What're you doin'?"
"You're like a great dark cat lapping cream." The words and the intimate laughter caused Starsky to look up. There was love written there -- and understanding. Starsky consumed the lingering traces of himself on Hutch, then stretched and reached for the box of Marlboros. He pulled out the last two cigarettes.
"Hand me the lighter, huh?"
"No." Hutch took Starsky's empty hand. "I hate these damn things. Let's quit."
Turning Hutch's right hand over, Starsky kissed the yellow stains on the fingers. "Think you can?"
"I think I want to." Hutch took the cigarettes, laid them on the table and turned out the light. A shaft of sunlight streaked through the curtain, touched the corner of the table. The cigarettes rolled together, gleaming in the fresh morning light.
Starsky watched the brightness shift and change, then pulled Hutch into his arms, pressing their bodies together.
"I love you, David Michael Starsky. Totally and completely. Everything you are. I love you forever."
Dear God, please let forever be a long time.
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