This story is part of the zine, Commitment, which was published in 1988. It is still available through Agent with Style. Her web page is: http://www.agentwithstyle.com, or you can email her at: email@example.com. The zine originally was produced on a high quality cream-colored paper. It is reproduced to look as much like its original appearance as is possible. Enjoy! Comments on this story can be sent to Flamingo who will forward them to the author.
A long time later, Starsky lay in the comfort of his sleeping lover's arms, fighting against intruding memories. He pushed sweat-dampened hair from Hutch's face and kissed him. Finally succeeding in pushing the past away, he slept. The surf moving against the sand outside their beach apartment lulled him deeper into sleep.
The gentle waves licked at the banks of the river and the sun shone hot in the blue sky. A beautiful day, except for the bodies they pulled out of the water---body count. The North Vietnamese Army soldiers were piled one on top of the other as an officer made ditto marks on a clipboard.
Starsky supervised the lofty piles so they wouldn't overbalance and fall. But he miscalculated and suddenly, first one tower, then another, toppled onto him. Panic hit as he was inundated with the mass of sloughing, macerated flesh. The stench of rotting tissue filled his nostrils, and choked off his air. Frantically he clawed his way through the layers of bodies, trying to free himself. But every time he moved one corpse, another took its place.
Bathed with sweat and breathing hard, Starsky woke with a snap, knowing immediately where he was--home, safe, with Hutch at his side. Keeping very still, he gauged Hutch's response to his nightmare. Even, deep breathing told him that he hadn't wakened his lover. Good, I don't need anymore questions I can't answer. He settled back to sleep, hoping the past would leave him alone.
The night sky was lit by brilliant orange flames that licked at the blackness like a voracious monster. Kids were crying and screaming; hanging out of the windows of the overcrowded orphanage. Starsky soaked a blanket from a putrid pool and, covering his head, ran into the blazing inferno. Hundreds of hands clutched at his pant-legs and a multitude of voices of all ages, pummeled his ears. He had to get them out or they'd all burn to death, but every time he picked up a child, it exploded in his face. Time and again he reached for the small bodies only to have them burst into a trillion infinite fragments.
Fighting through the morass of sleep, Starsky woke, reaching for Hutch and once again found empty air. This time there was no package on the pillow and the house seemed ominously quiet. Jerking upright, he looked around the room. Outside, the sky was pitch black, "Huuuutch!" Unreasoning fear made his voice inch higher upward until the word was two syllables.
"In the kitchen, get dressed and come here."
Looking again at the Stygian darkness, he decided his robe was safer.
Get dressed, he says. It's the middle of the night! Padding into the kitchen, he was surprised to see Hutch packing their big green cooler, "What're you doing?"
Hutch turned, then kissed Starsky good morning, "Thought we'd watch the sunrise, and drive out to the Marina. I borrowed Molly's day sailor, thought we could do a little sailing."
"Yeah, you seemed to enjoy yourself the last time we went. You're getting pretty good at it, too."
"I did, but in the middle of the night?"
"It's not the middle of the night and if we don't finish packing, we'll miss the sunrise."
What a great idea! Just the two of us in the middle of nowhere. "Sunrises...sailing...morning swims..." Starsky grumbled as he walked back into the bedroom to get dressed. He knew Hutch expected him to grouse about the early hour, but that was half the fun. He pulled on swim trunks, jeans and shirt, then, grabbing his shoes and socks, joined Hutch. Catching the windbreaker his partner threw at him, he helped carry the bulky cooler outside and loaded it into the car.
He followed Hutch around the house and down to the beach. They found a place on the deserted sand knowing that by mid-morning it would be filled to capacity. Donning the windbreakers against the early morning chill, they walked in companionable silence, until they found a relatively sheltered area in the lee of one of the embankments that led down to the beach itself. Starsky spread a blanket, plopped down, hugged his knees and waited. It wasn't long before he felt the warmth of Hutch's arms encircle him from behind. Leaning into the embrace, he settled comfortably to watch the sun come up. The sky was already several shades lighter and he knew sunrise was Hutch's favorite time of day. Starsky didn't mind getting up as long as they were together. Love welled inside him, bringing with it an inordinate sense of forbidding, "I love you so much, it scares me."
"Scares you?" Hutch chuckled, then hugged him tighter.
"Yeah, I don't know why, but it does."
"I love you, too. Did I thank you for the little Hershey kiss?"
"What Hershey kiss?" The hair on his nape prickled.
"The one you left by the coffeepot." One finger stroked Starsky's earlobe.
"Oh, that one, you're welcome." He tried to keep his tone casual, but a nameless fear rose inside, almost strangling him, he hadn't left that piece of candy. He felt like he was on a runaway train without an engineer. He'd loved Bobby and Bobby had died. Hutch was the first person Starsky had allowed himself to really love, since then, and now he was in danger from the same forces that had killed Bobby. He closed his eyes and remembered.
He stood in the compound outside their hooch, watching the green-eyed blond approach from headquarters.
"Hey. Dave, I'm goin' to the OP tonight, see you in the morning."
"I thought it was Keely's turn?"
"It was, but Captain Jimerson said if I took it tonight, I could go into town with you tomorrow. We'll have a seventy-two together."
Starsky grinned and pulled his lover close for a passionate kiss, "That's to remind you to be careful because I'll be waiting for you."
"As if I could forget that. See you in the morning."
But Bobby didn't return in the morning and they didn't find his tortured body until four days later.
A picture of Jimerson standing over Bobby's body wavered in front of Starsky even after the flashback faded. He had to warn Hutch. Oh, sure, warn him about what? The Hershey kiss? He'd have you in the hospital as fast as you got done talking. Still, he had to try. He took a deep breath and looked around, there, just in sight, down the beach, stood a man in summer greens. Starsky could barely make out the uniform even with the pre-dawn light glinting off the insignia on each shoulder. The stranger raised a hand, and saluted in their direction. Jimerson! Starsky had seen that mocking smile often and it was clearly visible in the pink light of dawn. He shivered involuntarily and Hutch's arms tightened.
"Starsk. You falling asleep on me?"
Mentally shaking himself, he looked down the beach, Jimerson had disappeared but his intention was now clear and it terrified Starsky.
"You're shaking, babe, are you all right?"
"Just a chill from the breeze. The damn sand's wet, ya know."
Hutch said nothing, only pulled his arms closer around Starsky and rested his chin on Starsky's shoulder. The sunrise was well worth the effort it took to get out of bed to watch it, but Starsky saw little. His mind focused on the fear. The fear that made him desperate to get closer to his partner. The only thing he was aware of were Hutch's arms around him and the warmth of his friend's breath on his neck. As soon as the sun was fully up, Hutch stood, pulling Starsky into a quick hug, "C'mon, Molly said she'd meet us at the Marina at seven. She has a flight out at nine, so we'd better be on time."
"Let's go, then. This place'll be crowded soon." They folded up the blanket and climbed the sand to the Torino. They arrived at the Marina just as Molly was getting out of her car. The copper-haired imp eyed Starsky suspiciously as she handed the keys to Hutch, "Does he know how to sail?"
"He's coming right along, Molly. Nothing'll happen, I promise."
"I hope not, I'm holding you responsible. It's not paid for, yet."
"We'll be careful." Hutch flashed her his most sincere smile and she relaxed. "Have fun," she said, then, hopping into the MG, she sped off in a good imitation of Starsky.
"And she worries about me hurting her sailboat!" He growled sarcastically.
"She'd lend you her car in a minute," retorted his lover.
After the usual first few minutes of nervousness, Starsky settled down and followed Hutch's direction. He enjoyed sailing now that he had some idea of what he was doing, but mostly, he enjoyed the chance for them to be alone. They were running with the wind, open sea the only sight in any direction, Starsky manned the tiller, while Hutch went below for beers.
When Hutch returned, he surprised Starsky by threading his way through the accumulated gear on deck to one of the chairs. Well aware, from painful experience, what would happen if he suddenly released the tiller, Starsky waited more or less patiently for Hutch to bring him his beer, "Hey, I thought you were getting beer for both of us?"
"I did, come here and get yours."
"I can't. You know what'll happen if I let go of this thing."
"Tie it down, like I showed you and come here."
Starsky did as instructed, then moved to join Hutch. His partner was lying on a towel spread on the deck. The beer cans stood beside him in the open ice chest. Starsky hooked one, popped the top, and swallowed thirstily.
"Put some suntan oil on my back, Starsk."
Starsky took another swallow, then knelt beside Hutch and poured oil into his hands, warming it before applying it. He couldn't help admire the beauty of Hutch's skin; smooth, bronze, only slightly lighter than his own, minus the dark hair. And Hutch never seemed to lose the tan. Sunlight danced on his muscles as he moved beneath Starsky's hands, the warm oil making the skin glisten. So beautiful. One more caress down the long back and he stopped at the top of Hutch's trunks. He worked his hand under the waist band to cup the firm buttocks. Moving his hand up and down the soft flesh, he trailed a finger along the crack, stopping when he found the secret place. The secret place that opened for him and him alone. He put pressure on the opening and heard Hutch gasp. Using both hands now, he slid the trunks over the twin mounds and, with Hutch's help, down the long legs and off. Starting with the toes, he nibbled and kissed upwards, stopping to thoroughly explore the backs of the knees, then moved up the thighs to the cleft in the buttocks. After teasing the puckered opening with his tongue, he gently turned Hutch over.
Hutch's erection stood tall, pointed upward from its blond nest. Starsky's own groin ached from the stricture of his trunks and his rapid breathing matched his lover's. Hutch reached and gripped Starsky's shoulders, pulling him down into a hungry kiss. Not a word was said, but the empathy was so complete that none were necessary. Crossing his legs around Starsky, Hutch rolled, ending up on top without difficulty. He nibbled at Starsky's ear, then moved down to taste the collar bone. Starsky was sweating, unable to lay still. The mixed sensations of warm wood, cool breeze and hot, moving armful of lover was almost too much. Now the tongue was at his belly button and Hutch's hands gripped the top of Starsky's trunks.
"You forgot something, babe." Hutch pulled the tiny briefs off and placed a kiss on the tip of the straining cock.
"Thought you wanted this?" Hutch's eyes were bright with need.
"I do, it's...I'm too close...want to come...come with you...with you in me." And the need to have Hutch inside him was suddenly overwhelming. He watched, barely coherent, as Hutch smoothed suntan oil onto the golden shaft, then slipped a coated finger into Starsky. "Now, Hutch...now...I'm so close...so close..."
Legs lifted onto tanned shoulders and Hutch was there, iron hard and hot...so hot. One...two...three quick strokes and he was lost...exploding... shattering into a thousand tiny pieces. At the same time, he registered the searing warmth as Hutch came inside him. Wrapping his legs around the precious. body, he held Hutch close, trying to keep them together...a part of each other.
Maybe this is what we should do, sail away to Never, Never Land.
"Shh, Starsk, you don't have to cry. Everything's all right."
Am I crying? And he knew he was. Crying in the relief of illusive safety. Crying in the encompassing love. He relaxed and dozed.
When he awoke, it was late, the breeze was cool and he was covered with a light blanket. Groggily he shrugged the blanket aside and found his jeans where Hutch had put them. Once dressed, he joined his partner at the tiller, claimed a kiss and settled down for the silent ride home. The sunset was spectacular and it was dark when they pulled into the dock where Molly berthed the sailboat.
After tying up at the dock, they secured the sails and gathered their gear. Walking toward the car, Starsky couldn't help but look back at the spunky little craft that had been a haven for them during the day. Unlocking the door, he slid behind the wheel before leaning over to unlock the passenger door. The sun and fresh air made him tired in spite of his nap. But he was content at the moment, and couldn't think of another place he'd rather be.
"I had a great time, today, Hutch. We'll have to do this again sometime."
"I wish we had more days to spend like this. Did you really have fun?"
"Yeah, but all that fresh air sure makes ya' tired." He punctuated his remark with a jaw-cracking yawn.
Hutch's only comment was a chuckle as Starsky pulled the car into the street and headed for home. Once there, the two exhausted men fell into bed, asleep before they were prone.
Waking early, Starsky realized that it was Monday morning, the last day of their respite. Too soon, there would be no buffer between him and the past; no way to protect Hutch. But, right now, his lover was safe and the thought comforted him enough that he was quickly asleep.
"Starsky! Wake up! C'mon...wake up, it's okay...Wake up!"
Forcing his eyes open, Starsky saw only a blurred jumble of colors. After several agonizing moments of trying to see through the mist, he recognized that his eyes were filled with tears. He furiously blinked them away and Hutch's face slid into focus. Swallowing a sob, he sank gratefully into the damp, soap smell of his partner, letting the peace and comfort fill him.
"It's all right, babe, I'm here. You're okay, now, tell me about it."
"The dream...nightmare. Must've been a bad one. I was shaving when I heard you scream, then begin to cry hysterically. Tell me about it so it stops haunting you."
What do I tell you? If I tell you the dream, you'll think I'm crazy. If I don't tell you, you'll think I'm holding something back. Here goes, love. "I was walking through the jungle. The rain was dripping down, making steam rise from the hot ground. I was alone. I couldn't find the rest of the team. I knew they had to be there, but I couldn't see or hear any of them. My feet were wet and when I looked down, I saw I was walking in a river of red...mud, I thought," He stopped and burrowed closer to the safety that was Hutch. Shivering violently, he felt Hutch's arms tense. "But the water got darker and I knew it was blood. I didn't...didn't know where it was coming from, but it got worse. Bodies started floating down around my feet. Some were skeletons, sometimes only skulls and some still had rags of skin attached. I put my hands up to cover my eyes and saw that the river of blood came from my palms. My arms and legs shriveled as the blood ran faster from my hands, until I fell down and joined the others."
Starsky was pulled closer into the embrace and he lay there, soaking up the love and security. A tremor ran through him when Hutch started combing fingers through his hair.
"No wonder you yelled, that's a helluva dream," his lover murmured.
"I've had worse, right after I came home from 'Nam." Scenes from 'Night of the living Dead' and other similar themes.
"A few not so bad, lately," The words were punctuated with a kiss.
"Of course, you're not a quiet sleeper at the best of times, let alone when you're having bad dreams."
"I thought you were asleep."
"I figured you'd wake me if you wanted to talk." Hutch paused, "Have you ever talked about the war to anyone?"
"Only the doctors, when I got back, but that's not the same. You know what it was like, nobody wanted to listen to a G.I., then." Baby killers... war mongers...Starsky remembered the names he'd been called at the airport.
"Not sure I can talk, now. I've hadda lotta years of keepin' quiet. Give me time, I'll try," changing the subject, "Why're you up so early?"
"I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep, so I decided to take a swim. I knew you'd had a restless night, so I wasn't going to wake you. Now that you're awake, want to come?"
"Yeah, but you're goin' swimmin'," He leered and waggled an eyebrow.
"Starsky! I meant..."
"I know what you meant. No, I'll stay here and rest up for when you return."
"When I return, we're tackling that closet of yours."
"My closet's about as open as you can get, it's your's I'm not so sure about."
"David Starsky! I meant your clothes closet. It's a disaster waiting to happen."
"You're beginning to sound like my mother and you don't have the legs for it. Do we have to?" he wheedled in his best little-boy whine.
"It's a mess." But the mouth curved and there was a glint in the blue eyes that promised a lot.
Starsky watched Hutch pull on his trunks, then leave. He sat there trying to decide how much he could safely tell his lover, but his stomach curdled at the thought of telling him anything. I'll talk to Travis tomorrow, when he brings the documents, see what he says. Maybe he'll pull me off this detail since Jimerson's nosing around.
That thought eased the worry and he drifted back to sleep.
In his dream, Hutch was kissing him, tongue scouring his teeth and dueling with his own tongue, sending fire to his toes and fingertips. He felt a cold, wet something land on his shoulder and realized that the lips warming his, were ice cold, and knew this was no dream. He opened his eyes and pulled back. Hutch hovered over him, hair dripping all over everywhere. "You're wet! And cold!"
The blue eyes looking down at him twinkled when Hutch smiled, "So warm me."
Starsky thought he would die right there. Without hesitation, he wrapped his arms around his lover and pulled him into a tight embrace. Rolling them so Hutch was underneath, Starsky tried to cover every square inch. To warm and excite, send him climbing, higher and higher. "Gonna warm you up, love. Gonna get you so hot..
"Love me, David...make love to me...fuck me..."
Starsky almost came right then, when he heard those, too infrequently said words. He liked making love to Hutch as much as he liked having Hutch make love to him, but, always conscious of the abuse Hutch had received from his step-father, he waited until asked. Now, as usual, he looked closely at his partner, watching for signs that he didn't really want this, but was offering because he knew how much it meant to Starsky.
"Go on, lover, fuck me. I want to feel you come inside me...hurry, I'm too close to wait long...want to come with you..."
Doubts fled and Starsky eagerly covered the beloved body with kisses. Moving down to the already hard nipples, he laved one then the other, the hardness sending prickles of sensation to his center. His hand found Hutch's soft silky balls and carefully kneaded them between his fingers, feeling Hutch twist and squirm in his arms.
He looked up and saw Hutch's face bathed in sweat, writhing in desperate need. Head flung back, neck arched, trying to merge the two into one. Starsky continued to watch as he moved his hand behind his lover's balls to slide a finger into the waiting opening. It seemed to suck his digit inside and Hutch's body arched higher, pulling at him. Now, barely able to control his own storming desires, he pulled the finger loose, replacing it with his burning shaft. Deep...deep, into that dark wet tunnel. He was sucked in, held securely even as he pulled free only to enter faster and deeper until he was lost in the spiraling sensations.
Hutch's cry matched his own as twin volcanoes erupted spewing molten lava to fill, bind, cement their love.
Minutes, hours, years later, he woke to the feel of hands soothing his sweat-moistened back, heard the harsh rasp of his lover's breathing as it mixed with his. Willing heavy limbs to move, he crawled up to lie beside Hutch, twining his arms around his sated lover, "Are you warm, now?"
"Wise ass," Hutch chuckled affectionately. "We'd better get up. I meant what I said about your closet."
Starsky looked over at the monster. It did look rather disrespectful. He couldn't even get the doors shut anymore and he was the one who liked the house tidy. On the other hand, Hutch had dripped cold water on him, waking him from a delightful dream, "That why you dripped cold water all over me? Because my closet's a mess?"
"I didn't mean to, Starsk. You looked so tempting that I couldn't help but kiss you. I'm sorry I got you wet."
"You interrupted a perfectly good dream...hey, want me to show you what I was doing to you..."
"I think you already did. C'mon, get up. Breakfast, then that closet. One of these days something in there's going to attack you."
Starsky looked at the jumbled mess of worn-out shoes, tennis rackets, unfinished projects, and numerous bits-and-pieces of paraphernalia accumulated over the years, all jammed unceremoniously into the closet when they'd moved in six months ago. "Okay, okay, but let me pull things out. I don't want you jerkin' out the wrong thing and have everything fall down on top of you."
"That's exactly what I mean."
Two hours later, after showers and breakfast, with much grumbling from Starsky and a considerable amount of anti-pack-ratting from Hutch, the lower part of the closet was clean and neat. Only the shelf above the clothes rack remained cluttered. Starsky pulled the first offending piece of junk down and was promptly hit on the head by a shoe box that spilled its contents everywhere. Photographs fluttered to the floor; all of men of varying races in military uniform. Hutch picked up several of them, and Starsky's heart started pounding, but he kept silent.
"Are these from 'Nam? Your unit?"
"Did you take these?"
"Some...some were taken for me with my camera." He watched Hutch scrutinize the pictures, one by one, stop to look closely at one for several seconds before holding it out.
"Is this you?"
Starsky glanced at the black-and-white photo. It had been taken after body count on a day when the team had six confirmed kills. Three had been Starsky's and he was standing over the bodies in a big-game-hunter's pose, "Yeah, that's me."
"You look so...so proud." The furrow between Hutch's eyes deepened.
"That's how I felt. Confirmed kills were a good psychological tool to use against the enemy, and we were experts at psychological warfare. The team with the highest body count in a week, was given a three-day pass."
"You were a Green Beret?"
"Cream of the crop," Starsky stated matter-of-factly.
"Bunch of gung-ho fools, from what I've heard. What were you thinking of? You had to volunteer for Special Forces, you weren't just assigned. I know that much."
"Soldiers who met certain qualifications were recruited. Besides, it was the only group I felt safe with." He felt the corners of his mouth twitch. When you thought about it, you didn't feel safe anywhere in 'Nam, but somehow you never thought about it. "When I was in basic, the other trainees found out that a guy in our company was gay...they beat the crap outta him and he spent the two weeks before his discharge came through, in the hospital. I didn't want that happen' to me. No one messed with anyone wearin' a green beanie."
"It's hard to think of anyone messing with you. Your tough guy act can be pretty intimidating." Hutch said with grim conviction.
"Not on the other side of the world. The berets were my back-up. A lot of G.I.'s deep in the bush turned to each other instead of the local girls, if there were local girls. The officers tried to stop it, but usually weren't successful. In the boonies, you didn't know who was friend and who was enemy."
Starsky left the room, going to the kitchen for beer, leaving Hutch to sort through the memories in the shoe box. Before opening the can, he replaced it and pulled a half full bottle of whiskey out of the cupboard. After pouring himself a generous portion, he returned to the bedroom.
Hutch looked up as he entered, "Are these the men you worked with?"
Starsky swallowed whiskey, then looked at the picture. It showed six men three Americans and three orientals, "That was the team I was with my first tour. All bought it from 'friendly fire'. A real fugazi. Fuckin' gun ship pilot thought he knew more about where we were than we did. He reversed the co-ordinates and fired on us instead of the N.V.A." He emptied the glass.
"You don't think it was done intentionally, do you?"
Starsky leaned back against the headboard and wiped his hands across his face. Hugging his knees, head thrown back, he closed his eyes, "Hell, I don't know. Damn chopper jockeys were always braggin' 'bout how good they were."
He was quiet for several minutes, then whispered, "I downed that chopper, Hutch. Took me three days to walk outta the jungle, alone, but I brought all of my team's dogtags back."
"You're telling me that you deliberately shot down an American helicopter?"
"You do what ya' hafta do."
"You had to kill those G.I.'s?"
Starsky shrugged his shoulders.
"You liked it over there." Simple statement of fact, no surprise, no condemnation.
"I hated it over there."
"You went back a second time."
"Being home was worse." Starsky padded back to the kitchen, refilled his glass, drank half, and refilled it again before rejoining Hutch. As he neared the bedroom, he heard the sound of cloth-covered metal against metal. Oh, no, babe, not the medals.
"It says here that your quick action in spotting and springing an ambush, saved a whole squad of soldiers. I think that's something to be proud of and you hide these away."
"Dumb bastards would've seen it themselves if they'd kept their mouths shut and eyes open. There were signs all over, nothin' special."
"What's it called? The medal, I mean."
"I recognize this one, Purple Heart. It looks just like its name. I didn't know you were wounded."
"Stepped on a pungi stake first tour. Six weeks in Japan took care of it and I was back in the jungle."
"What 's this one?"
Instead of answering, Starsky grabbed the medal and packed the mementos back into the box, "I don't want to talk about the war no more."
"You've got to talk this out, get it out of your system. You want your dreams to stop, don't you?"
"My dreams have nothing to do with those medals. They have to do with what I saw, what I did. But, mostly, they have ta do with what I didn't."
"What do you mean, 'What I didn't?"
"My unit was part of several experimental long range roving patrols. We operated miles behind enemy lines. We interrupted their radio communications, called in air strikes, assassinated their leaders, whatever it took to demoralize them."
Starsky sipped whiskey; Hutch watched and waited.
"But we also, had a secondary mission. If captured, we were not supposed to try to escape. We were supposed to send coded letters to our families telling of conditions and locations of the camps, set-up escape routes for other prisoners, whatever we could do. All of us were code experts with top clearances. If Charlie had found out who we were, we would've died very, very slowly. I got caught, but the conditions were worse than anything I've ever encountered. I couldn't hack it, I had to escape, run, even if it meant dying. I was a coward. I don't deserve those medals."
"Did they know what the conditions were in the P.O.W camps, when they made this great plan?" Hutch asked very deliberately.
"Then, I don't see where you have anything to be ashamed of. You should be proud of those medals."
"I should be proud of the men and women I killed?"
"So, your dreams are about the people you killed in 'Nam? Starsky, I don't think you could kill without a good reason, I know you too well."
"My dreams aren't about anyone or anything, they're just distorted scenes and sensations. And yes, I could and did kill for what you wouldn't consider a very good reason. Special Forces personnel are cross-trained and each have at least two M.O.S's...sometimes more. I was a cryptographer and..." he paused, trying to gauge Hutch's reaction, wishing the discussion hadn't gone this far, yet knowing he had to finish, "...a trained assassin. I killed when they told me to and who they told me to. War is... you do things in war, that you wouldn't think of doing anywhere else. Whoever said, 'War is hell.', knew what he was talkin' about."
"Aw, Starsk, you were in a situation that you had no control over."
"I had some control, at first. Like you said, I didn't have to sign up for Special Forces. I didn't have to go to sniper school. I wanted to."
Starsky finished the whiskey in his glass, not quite daring to meet Hutch's eyes. He didn't consider his past pretty or even commendable and he didn't expect Hutch to either."
"You said, 'You do things in war that you wouldn't think of doing anywhere else.' If that's true, and I believe it is, you should try not to be ashamed of what you did. From what I understand, some nasty things were done in World War II and Korea, but the people here, accepted the outcome better, that's all. Let it go, babe, and it'll be all right."
"Let it go?" Starsky quoted wearily, feeling very much older than his partner. "That's easy for you to say. Don't think I haven't tried, it just doesn't work. Vietnam was like going under cover. You weren't the same person there you were in The World, but, when you came home, you weren't the same person you were when you left. I was alive and others were dead. It was a long time before I found out who was the real me and I never have figured out why I survived and others didn't. I spent a year trying to get my head together, trying to forget." Restless, he got up and shoved the shoe box into place at the back of the closet; paced the room, picked up the whiskey glass, found it empty and hurled it against the wall. Hutch's arms closed around him, held him tight.
"I didn't say, forget it, I said let it go. There is a difference. Remember the Haymes kidnaping? Remember when the kidnappers had me running all over town with ransom?" He pulled back and forced Starsky to face him, "Do you have nightmares because you blew those men away?"
"I thought they'd kill you." He said in a small voice.
"I know. I also know that hitting the gas tank wasn't a freak accident, a bullet gone astray. I know that you're a good enough marksman to put that bullet exactly where you wanted. Vietnam was..."
"Hutch, I . .
"Vietnam was a war. What you did there makes more sense than what you did to those kidnappers. Let it go, love, and get on with your life."
A weight lifted off his shoulders. What Hutch said, made sense, "Maybe you are the brains of this partnership."
"Of course I am. I'm hungry, let's eat."
Working together, they made a quick lunch of thick chicken sandwiches, left over potato salad and beer. Starsky stayed with root beer, considering what he had consumed earlier. After washing dishes, they left for the planetarium. Starsky had never been there just to look at the stars, but went because it pleased Hutch. He found it fascinating. As they left, mingling in with the crowd, he turned to his partner, "That was beautiful. I never thought something so dull to read about, could be so interesting."
"You mean to tell me that you never came here as a kid?" Hutch looked startled.
Starsky looked at the ground, watching the toe of his sneaker push dirt around, "Of course I did. It was one of the best places around to neck in.
Hutch's laugh sounded like it started at his feet and bubbled up until it flowed from his mouth, "It figures. I'm glad you liked it this time, we'll go again, if you want."
"Could you find the constellations without the help of the guide?" Now, he was all bright-eyed enthusiasm.
"Sure, I took several astronomy courses in college. Someday, maybe we'll go to the mountains or the desert for vacation, and we can lie on a blanket at night and I'll show you."
Starsky shuddered. He could remember times in 'Nam on deep patrols when they were waiting in ambush, he'd had to let all sorts of creatures crawl over him. One time a snake had actually crawled across his face, "There'll be snakes and spiders and..."
Hutch, climbing into the car, laughed again, "All right, city boy, I'll settle for an observatory or a cabin with a skylight."
"Yeah, in the bedroom, so we don't hafta get outta bed." He grinned.
Hutch playfully rumpled the dark curls before pulling into traffic and heading home. He hummed a little tune that Starsky didn't recognize.
The next morning was bright, with the smog down to a thin haze on the horizon. The day was so beautiful that Starsky was able to push all thoughts of top secret codes and unpopular wars to the back of his mind, until he looked over at the sleeping Hutch and saw a Hershey kiss laying on the pillow next to the blond head. Cold fury mixed with terror hit and he almost doubled over with the pain. Instinct told him, take Hutch and run, but reason, close on panic's heels, won out.
Jimerson, damn you, leave him alone. Afraid to tell Hutch anything and, at the same time, afraid not to, he decided to wait until he talked to Travis. Unable to go back to sleep and still too agitated to be successful at fooling Hutch, he set the coffee to brew, dressed, then returned to wake his lover. Leaning down, he put a hand on either side of Hutch's head, simultaneously cupping the piece of candy in his right hand and kissing Hutch awake. He placed small greedy kisses all over the beloved face, until there was an answering response.
"Morning, lover." The candy was slipped into his jeans pocket.
"Mmmmm, morning, Starsk. How come you're up first?" Sitting up, Hutch stretched and yawned, then reached out to touch Starsky's chest.
"I'm all rested up from the weekend. Gotta get in and see what my new office looks like." Starsky laughed as he pushed the roaming fingers away. "Are you listening?"
"Yeah. I still think you should take some down time. What if that letter bomb was meant for you?"
"It wasn't. We've all been getting our share of anonymous threats." I hope. "Coffee's ready, if you hurry, we'll have time to share a cup before we leave."
"Just a cup of coffee?" Once again Hutch was reaching for him. How he longed to give in and cling, a little while longer, to the loving.
"Sorry, it's already six-thirty, you forgot to set the alarm." He smiled, "But, I forgive you."
"I was pre-occupied." The look on Hutch's face was blissful.
Starsky rolled his eyes meaningfully, "Oh, yeah, you might say we both were. Do stars always turn you on like that?"
"Only with the right people." This time Hutch was not about to be turned away. He took Starsky into his arms, "Don't really need stars."
The distress that had been building since waking, erupted and Starsky physically pushed Hutch back. "Stop! Stop it, I can't go on like this, any longer, I can't!"
Hutch flinched, his hurt palpable, "I thought this was what you wanted? If it's not..."
Hutch had misunderstood, but then, how else was he supposed to take it when he knew almost nothing of what was simmering inside of Starsky.
"Hutch, I didn't mean...I'm sorry...shit! Hell, here..." He dug the now-mushy piece of candy out of his pocket and held it out, "...look at this. I found it sitting next to your head this morning."
"Another candy kiss? What's with the candy, anyway? What's going on, Starsky?" His expression .was bewildered, skittish, like he wasn't quite sure where to duck.
Starsky waited, knowing his words would soon sink in, too emotionally drained not to need help.
"Wait a minute. You said, you found this candy on my pillow?"
"Yeah. And I didn't leave the other one, either." He was beginning to relax now that Hutch was with him, even if only for this much.
"Who did, then?" Hutch's look darted around the room. Starsky knew he felt the same sense of invasion that he had felt when he saw the candy.
"Jimerson...or one of his flunkies."
"Are you sure?"
"If you mean, do I have any proof, no. But, remember, I told you he walked in on me and my lover, in 'Nam?" Hutch nodded thoughtfully, gathering clothes and dressing as Starsky talked. "What I didn't tell you was that his name was Bobby..." It still hurt to say the name. "...Bobby Hershey."
Hutch dropped the comb he'd been using and turned to face Starsky, "Oh, shit. Where is he now?"
"Bobby? He's dead. Jimerson pulled the same stunt with Bobby that he did with me, only Bobby didn't come back. We found his body hanging in a tree four days later."
Hutch's expression was grim, bordering on anger, "Why didn't you tell me?"
Starsky wanted to put his arms around Hutch, but sensed the timing was wrong. "Jimerson's good at his job...too good, and so are his people. I'm not sure I can prevent whatever he's got planned. I...I thought, maybe, if you didn't know what was going down, he'd leave you alone. We're..."
"You were going to leave me deaf, dumb, and blind? Thanks a lot, partner!" Hutch was livid and Starsky understood why.
"That's the trouble, we're not partners anymore, not on the streets, and I couldn't figure out how to protect you. I wanted..."
Again Hutch interrupted, "It's been a long time since you had to protect me on the streets."
Now Starsky felt foolish. He'd been wrong and he knew it. Jimerson scared him and he'd let that fear displace the trust he'd always shared with Hutch. "I was gonna talk ta' Travis today. I was hoping he'd pull me off, with Jimerson nosing around.
"Will he?" The icy tone told Starsky he wasn't forgiven, yet.
"Probably not. Got any ideas?"
"Anything else you haven't told me?"
"Hutch, m'sorry, I wasn't thinkin'."
"Damn right you weren't thinking. You know this guy better than I do, hell, I don't know him. What can we do?"
"Nothing," at Hutch's skeptical look, "There isn't anything I can think of to do that he wouldn't know how to counter." Starsky stated miserably.
Hutch looked at him, hard, eyes boring right through, like lasers, Starsky thought. But he waited, knowing Hutch would come up with something. It wouldn't work, but it would be something. "If I understand this right, the threats are sent to you, but I'm the one he'll try to take out."
"Yeah." For the life of him, Starsky couldn't utter another word.
"All right. I'll call you, once in the morning and once in the afternoon and before I start home, instead of only one time a day. If I can't call, I'll let Dobey know where I am so you can get me if you have to."
"It wouldn't work, but at least they'd go down fighting. "Okay, I'll be at my desk." They stood there looking at each other, Starsky not wanting to take his eyes off his lover. "Hold me, please," he whispered.
Hutch did, pulling him into a fierce embrace and toe-tingling kiss. "Get the bastard, Starsk, so I don't have to watch you be afraid anymore."
Starsky felt fear, but he wasn't sure whose. Hutch would be on guard. If Jimerson got one of them, they'd both go out together, because they were a team again. A team and, for the first time, Starsky believed they would be partners on the job as well as at home. He hugged Hutch quickly and kissed him on the nose, "Better leave before we don't make it at all."
"Yeah," Hutch agreed, pulling back, "But, today is going to be a real bitch to get through."
They left the apartment side by side, separating only to go to their own cars. The Torino followed the tan Ford through the maze of early morning traffic. Starsky sighed, he still didn't approve of his partner's taste in cars. This one was tan, but it wasn't an LTD, it was an Escort. It was bigger than Belle, true, but still small. Almost too small for Hutch to get his long legs into. Starsky's mind wandered for a moment considering those long legs. Bare, tan legs that led up to...and that thought left him in a state unsuitable for work. He concentrated on the car in front of him with difficulty. He had to admit the car was economical and newer than the old LTD, but it just wasn't Hutch.
Suppressing the desire to blow Hutch a kiss, he waved as his partner pulled into the parking garage at Metro, then continued up the street to the Federal Building. At least, if Hutch needed him, he wasn't too far away, providing the traffic was reasonable. There were days when running down the sidewalk took less time than driving.
Davis met him at the door of the common room that had been assigned to the Gunther Task Force. Partitions had been erected to section off small work areas. Desks and filing cabinets made up the operative's "offices", it was one of these that had blown up around Starsky the previous Friday. Most of the debris from the explosion had been cleared, but there remained the charred remnants of the plastic and metal walls that had once belonged to Starsky.
"Since people don't leave you alone, even when you're not aggravating them, I've decided to put you out of sight, and hopefully, out of mind. Follow me."
Starsky followed Davis to the far rear of the larger room, to what had been used as the storeroom and catch-all. It was one of the two "real" rooms, with four walls, a ceiling and a door that could be locked. All the extra supplies and homeless litter had been replaced by a desk, filing cabinets and a phone. Thank God they hadn't decided he needed his own computer, too. He still needed help with the one he shared with Neal. A small nameplate, unreadable from further than three feet, pasted to the door, identified this closet as belonging to Sgt. Starsky.
"We salvaged what we could from the mess, it wasn't much. Luckily Neal had logged every query you ran Friday and we pulled up the sheets, again." Davis sounded like he did this often, "They're on your desk. The only thing really lost, was the mail. Happy hunting." He chuckled and moved off, leaving Starsky nothing to do but enter his cell and get down to work.
He picked up one pile, scanned it quickly, realizing that all his neatly referenced lists were now a hodge-podge of computer print-outs stacked willy- nilly on his desk. Swearing in every language he knew, Starsky started reorganizing and re-arranging the massive amounts of paperwork in front of him. He was deeply engrossed in the project when a knock on the door interrupted him. "Who is it?" He growled, not bothering to stop.
The voice was familiar and, resignedly, Starsky stacked his papers and opened the door. Sure enough, Travis stood there, brown pants, white shirt with sleeves rolled up and brown tie. He looked like any other non-descript mail-boy they'd ever had. "Get in here."
"I have your mail," Travis held up a bulky envelope.
Starsky glanced around outside his door, nobody was in the aisles, so he grabbed the front of Travis's shirt, pulling him inside. "Get your ass in here. I gotta talk to you." And you'd better listen real good, because I ain't gonna play games with ya'."
Travis stepped in, shutting the door behind him, "I see your new office has everything we could ask for, even a locked file cabinet. The combination's inside the envelope."
"How come I can't get any answer at the number you gave me?"
"I got called back to Washington to pick these up," Travis raised the envelope. "You weren't supposed to make contact except in emergencies."
"Yeah, well, we got one. Ralph Jimerson, know him? He's called me a coupla times wantin' ta' know what I'm workin' on for you. He's made threats against me and my partner, unless I tell him everything I'm doing."
"Shit. Yeah, I know him," Travis paced the small room for several minutes, hand held to furrowed brow, head bent in deep thought. Starsky perched on his desk, feet on the chair to give the man more room. "Special Forces Colonel. He's been working in the San Francisco office, so he's suspect." The pacing resumed for several more minutes, then Travis, hand on doorknob, faced Starsky, handed him the packet, "We'll have someone at that number around the clock. Me or my partner, Perkins. We didn't expect trouble at all, and definitely not before you had the letters. I'll put someone on Jimerson' s tail."
Travis left and Starsky, laying the envelope on the desk, went to the coffee pot, poured a cup, doctored it with sugar and cream, then returned to his office. He opened the package slowly, peering inside before withdrawing its contents. Inside was a book on breaking codes that Starsky remembered from school, plus the letters and a slip of paper with the combination to the lock on the filing cabinet. He leaned back and started reading the book, refreshing his memory. Midway through, he was interrupted by a phone call from Hutch.
"Hiya, partner, just checking in. Want to join me for lunch?"
"Can't, I just got started on this assignment. How about dinner at the Pits?"
"Sounds good. I'll meet you there."
Hutch hung up and Starsky returned to his book. The phone rang. Damn, how the hell am I supposed to concentrate? "Starsky..."
"Travis here. Listen, we want you to stay away from your usual haunts until we get a line on Jimerson. He seems to have slipped the traces."
"Terrific, some back-up you guys are. Hutch and I are meeting for dinner at the Pits."
"Try Number One, a Vietnamese place on Pico."
Travis hung up and Starsky returned to the code book. An hour later, he'd refreshed his memory on the most common codes used during Vietnam. Curiosity aroused, he moved everything off his desk except one letter and the phone, then read it through once, before settling down to find the hidden message. This was something he was good at---or had been in the past. He reread the letter, more carefully, this time.
I received your letter last week but had to put off answering. Have you been acting on any plans based on information received from me? Excerpts from the Golden Goose Collection are here until you hear from Susan, Ted or me.
There has been a slowing of service and an increase in postal rates. A series of security investigations into the Postal Service are uncovering irregularities in hiring. Many people that have been employed for years have been retired early. Backgrounds buried for years were uncovered. If the press hears, the news won't wait. Nothing important will be released until the situation is controlled. All possibilities have been examined and plans explored. My personal feeling and position is not to trust the mail, and definitely not anyone until it is entirely resolved, clear and safe. I'll not write to anyone, including you, again, until they have the culprits and are done hunting.
The spider story you sent me was wonderful. I'd like more if