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Charlotte Frost

Part One

    You can know someone for years and think you know all about 'em. And, in a way, it can be true. You get to know their habits, the things that yank their chain, the things that make them smile... all the things that make up a person.

    But I don't think you can really know a person's soul until you can trace them back to where they came from. Find their origins. When you understand their origins, that's the true link to understandin' the whole person.

    So, that's why I kinda pushed it when Hutch started makin' noises about spending part of our two-week vacation back in Minnesota. We'd been partners for eight years and I'd never met his folks. It's not that I thought they were terrific people or anything -- or even that we'd have a good time -- it just... well, let's just say it seemed important. It was like there was a part of Hutch -- an important part -- that I'd only heard about from his very biased mouth. Now, I'm not complainin' about him being biased; it's only natural, after all. But I was interested in what kind of light my slightly objective perspective could shed on this very special person in my life.

    I mean, havin' a Hutch for a partner is a full-time job. It's an ongoing odyssey of tryin' to understand what makes him tick. I thought I might very well be comin' to the end of that journey if I could drop in on the Hutchinson past.

    So, I tried -- as subtly as I could -- to encourage Hutch when he started considering the idea of goin' back to Duluth. Bein' too enthusiastic would have made him suspicious and start thinkin' about not doin' it at all. I know how my Hutch works. He has to say "no", even when he knows all along that his actions are gonna be "yes". But if he didn't know how badly I wanted him to say "yes", then he wouldn't concentrate so hard on sayin' "no".

    The reservations were all made, the plane tickets in hand, two months before our vacation was scheduled to begin. That way, we got a discount on the tickets, though blondie still spent a lot of time grumpin' about how much the flight was gonna cost.

    And then he stopped grumbling. And then the reservations started changing.

    See, at first, we were gonna spend ten full days there. And then Hutch up and told me he was gonna change it so we only stayed a week. When I asked him the obvious question -- why -- he mumbled something about needing some of those vacation days to completely rearrange his greenhouse... like he'd been planning it for months. Not that he'd ever mentioned anything like that to me. But I didn't think much of it.

    Then he changed the reservations again to five days, a Wednesday through a Sunday. This time his excuse was that he suddenly remembered that his parents got allergies in the summer and they tired easily and therefore we shouldn't wear them out by stayin' so long.

    Four days before our flight was scheduled to leave, he changed them again. This time we were only staying Friday through Monday, returning to Los Angeles Monday evening. I didn't even bother asking why.

    As the first day of our trip edged closer, he kept getting more and more uptight. And then he'd deny he was uptight. I mean, he acted like he was lookin' forward to seeing his parents, and his sister, who was flying out from the east coast for the little family reunion. But there was a certain forcedness to his enthusiasm. Personally, I think Hutch was slowly starting to remember why he left there in the first place. I mean, in the beginning, when we'd first been planning the trip, he was talkin' about all the things we were gonna do, and all the people and places he was gonna show me. And then he just got quieter and quieter about it. And kept shortening the trip.

    But, finally, we were on the plane. Now, get this: Hutch wore a suit. Well, not a real suit -- no tie or anything -- but a three piecer nevertheless: slacks, button shirt, and a jacket. All brown. He looks real good in brown. And when he saw how I was dressed for the flight -- jeans and nice-looking plaid shirt if-I-may-say-so-myself -- he grumped at me. Then he just snarled, "Never mind," and didn't say anything else about it. I didn't know what the big deal was. I admit I don't fly very often, but when I looked around at the other passengers, many of them were dressed much more casually than I was. The only ones in suits were obviously businessmen who weren't payin' for the flight themselves.

    Anyway, I didn't get mad at Hutch or anything. I mean, his past has always been kind of a sensitive subject. So I didn't let any of his sourness get to me. But neither did I sit there and tell him how wonderful it was all gonna be. I was more interested in meeting his family than spending time with him, if you wanna know the truth. Consider it scientific research. Or just researching the Hutchness of it all.

    And I met his family soon enough

    They were all there -- Ma, Pa, and Sis. Well, I guess it would be more accurate to say Mrs. Elizabeth Hutchinson, Mr. Richard Hutchinson, and Ms. Suzette Landly. That's how they were introduced to me. Well, maybe those aren't the words that Hutch used, but those were the images that got planted in my brain. I mean, it's not like I was told I could call them Liz, Dick, and Sue. Hell, they never even called Hutch "Ken". Not even his sister. It was always Kenneth. And you could almost hear Hutch's teeth gnash every time.

    But I'm getting ahead of myself. Because there was this whole scene when we walked off the plane. Hutch, in a very controlled voice, said, "There they are," as soon as he spotted them. I tried to follow his line of sight, and there was this little group of... uh, very proper-looking people trying-not-to-stare our way. And they wore very polite smiles which sort of broadened as we approached.

    Then Hutch was smiling and he kissed his mother on the cheek. She's a slim woman, but pretty big-boned, with reddish hair.

    And then Hutch shook hands with his father.

    I gotta tell ya, I've always known that Hutch didn't grow up in the warmest of families. I mean, all families have their own ways of communicating with each other. And, I guess, fathers and sons showing any kind of emotion can sometimes be really difficult. All that masculinity crap.

    But no matter what Hutch had told me, and no matter what impressions I'd gotten over the years, nothing prepared me for the way those two greeted each other. They were smiling at each other. And they were shakin' hands. And that was it. They didn't even look like they wanted to hug each other. There was absolutely no indication of that I-really-love-ya-but-I-don't-want-to-make-a-scene-plus-it-makes-me-uncomfortable stuff. It was just a simple, raw handshake. Not even cold. Cold has emotion behind it.

    I realized later, after I'd recovered from the shock, that Hutch gets most of his looks from his father. Richard Hutchinson was tall -- even taller than Hutch -- and had that pale, pale hair. His face was smooth, too. Blue eyes. And a manner that said breeding, though not quite in the outward way that Elizabeth did. I mean, I kinda got the impression that Mr. Hutchinson knew he was well-bred, so he didn't need to show it off. That's how Hutch is.

    Not that Mrs. Hutchinson was over-dressed, or anything. Her display of breeding was more in the form of... well, her phony smile. She just had a look of plastic about her. Like she was a toy that could be wound up to meet whatever need was required. I didn't like her.

    When Hutch turned his attention to Suzette, I got the impression of a very, very shy girl. She kinda took a step back, like she wasn't sure how to greet him. He just sort of clutched her hand, touched his lips to her cheek, then stepped back to smile at her. And his smile was genuine.

    "Too bad Lawrence couldn't make it," Hutch told her. I took it that was her husband. She looked a little young to be married. I think Hutch told me she was about six hears younger than he was. To me, she looked a little frail, and I found myself hoping she didn't intend to have children. And then I remembered that Hutch had once told me she didn't... or couldn't... or something.

    The reunion complete, all eyes turned to me. Hutch reached behind him to take my arm. "Everyone," he said in that soft tone that can melt hearts, "I'd like you to meet my buddy, my partner, and my very best friend, David Starsky."

    Well, hell, with an introduction like that, it was kinda hard not to bounce on my toes.

    The toy stuck out her hand. "So very nice to meet you, Mr. Starsky."

    When I grinned and it hurt the corners of my mouth, I realized I'd already been grinning the whole time. I guess it was from nerves. You know, it's always nerve-wracking meeting people that you don't want to cause any embarrassment to. I took her hand, shook it maybe a little too enthusiastically. "David, please. Or just Dave. Very nice to meet you, too. I love your son, ma'am."

    I cringed almost right away. Well, inside, anyway. Outwardly, I laughed kinda stupidly, trying to cover my embarrassment. Well, hell, I wasn't embarrassed. It was the truth, after all. And I guess a part of me thought she would want to know that. Every mother wants to know her son is loved. It's just... well, the way it slipped out, I figured it probably embarrassed Hutch, and that's the last thing I wanted to do.

    But a funny thing happened. I turned my head just enough to see Hutch's anger through the corner of my eye. But he wasn't angry. He was lookin' off to one side, a little smirk at his mouth. I don't know if he was amused by me, or by my attempt to put his mother off balance.

    Because, well, I gotta admit I guess that's what I was tryin' to do. Something in me wanted to get through all that plastic. I guess some part of me was tryin' to say, "Hey, I can say it. So can you." But the toy just widened her smile like I'd said, "Have a nice day," and didn't say a word.

    I turned to her husband. "Nice to meet you, sir." His handshake was more firm... and more gentle. But he didn't say anything. He kind of reminded me of a statue that had had its finer edges dulled.

    Now the sister. "Hi, Suzette. Very nice to meet you. You go by Suzy or Suzette?" I was babbling. Nerves again.

    She smiled sort of embarrassed-like, like she was sorry for me that I hadn't gotten it right the first time when Hutch introduced everyone.

    "Suzette, I guess?" I ventured.

    "Yes, nice to meet you." Well, at least she talked.

    We all started walking. "How was your flight, Mr. Starsky?" That was Elizabeth.

    "Oh, David, please, ma'am."

    She eyed me a little funny. Then an over-blown smile. "If you insist."

    "I insist, ma'am." I sorta of laughed then. I don't know why. Hutch was walking behind me, Suzette a little behind him. I kind of got the feeling no one was going to talk unless I did. "The flight was very nice. Good food. Hardly any turbulence. Didn't throw up or anything." I glanced back Hutch, grinning like an idiot, hoping he appreciated that my lack of tact, if nothing else, was at least amusing.

    But he was looking off into the distance, where planes were lined up for take-off on the busy runway. I don't think he even heard.

    So, the conversation kinda went like that all the way through the airport and getting our luggage. I did most of the talking, most of the laughing, asked most of the questions. Mrs. Hutchinson put in appropriate comments when there was a lag in my speech. Mr. Hutchinson didn't say anything at all, unless it was something like, "I'll get the car." Or, "Here, let me carry that." Just gentlemen stuff, you know? It was easy to forget he was there.

    Hutch and Suzette were hardly saying a word. But they stayed near each other, kinda smiled at each other. Every once in a while, one of their mouths would move, and they would seem to say something to each other without making eye contact. But with the crowd in the airport, and my babbling to Mrs. Hutchinson, I had no idea what the words were. Except once Hutch reached up and sort of smiled and rubbed at his mustache, so I knew she must have commented on it right then.

    Apparently, the Hutchinsons had already planned to take us straight from the airport to an expensive restaurant. I assumed this since there was no discussion about it. When we were in the car, Mrs. Hutchinson said something like, "I hope you're hungry, because we're going to The Blue Lagoon." I knew it was expensive, because Hutch had told me about it earlier, since he was sure we would be taken there at some point during the vacation.

    So, after picking up our bags, and waiting for Mr. Hutchinson to drive the Lincoln Continental around, we were on our way. Me and a car full of Hutchinsons. I was sitting in the back between Hutch and Suzette; I'm not sure how it worked out that way, and I felt kinda bad about it, because I sensed they wanted to be together. But no one was complainin'. In fact, after a while, Hutch leaned over me and said to Suzette, "So, how's Lawrence's new job going?" Then he glanced at me. "Her husband's an architect."

    "Oh," I said, then waited for an answer.

    Suzette looked in our direction. "He's been working over 60 hours a week, but he likes it. The company seems to have a good future."

    "That's good," Hutch said with gentle sincerity. Then his smile broadened. "What about you? Still planning on opening your own decorating store?"

    Her smile was real bashful. "I hope to. I'm still trying to get enough investors. It takes time getting all the legalities and financial details worked out."

    "I can imagine," Hutch said. Then he glanced at their father and his smile went away. I couldn't help but wonder if he was thinking that maybe Mr. Hutchinson should be helping his daughter out in her venture into entrepreneurship. But, then, maybe he already had. It wasn't any of my business.

    Then Hutch's smile returned as he looked back over at Suzette. "I can still invest a little, if you're interested."

    She shook her head, maybe met his eye a quarter of a second. "I'll keep it in mind, but I'd really like to do it all on my own."


    "Just let me know if you change your mind," Hutch said, settling back.

    Mrs. Hutchinson turned in her seat to look back at us. "Have you ever been to Minnesota before, Mr. Starsky?"

    "Dave, please. Uh, no, ma'am, I haven't. But Hutch has told me so much about it that I almost feel like I know it." Then I giggled again. Nerves, you know.

    "Are you able to travel much at all?"

    "No, not often. I don't really have that urge to go different places, like a lotta people. I stick pretty close to my roots."

    "You've lived in Los Angeles all your life then?"

    "Well, not exactly. See, I'm originally from New York. After my father died, when I was nine, my mother sent me to Los Angeles to be raised by my aunt and uncle."

    Her lips sort of puckered and she sympathetically said, "Oh, that must have been rough, being uprooted at that age, and having your mother send you away."

    I had to correct the impression she was getting real fast. "Uh, ma'am, it wasn't like that, at all. You see, after my father died, I got to be real difficult to handle. I needed a man in the house, and my uncle provided that. If anything, it took a lot of courage on my mother's part to send me away, and I love her for putting my needs above her own. It all worked out, and we talk on the phone every week."

    "Oh, that's nice." But she didn't sound convinced.

    Things got quiet, and I noticed that Hutch just seemed to be staring out the window. I felt funny doin' all the talkin' at the exclusion of their son. "Hey, you know, on our last vacation, Hutch took me hiking."

    "Really?" She said it enthusiastically, just glanced at Hutch, then looked at me, waiting for more.

    "Yeah, you know, Hutch is really into the outdoors. I never liked it much at first, but it's kinda grown on me." I nudged my partner in the ribs. Hutch was looking at me now with a little, indulgent smile, like he appreciated the effort I was making, but wasn't going to encourage things along. "Hutch here is real good at fishing. You shoulda seen the one he caught our last trip."

    "Yes, Kenneth always liked to fish and hunt whenever he got the opportunity. I imagine he misses the fresh air, out there where he is."

    I thought it was funny how we were talking about him like he wasn't there. "Hutch, tell her about that fish you caught on our last trip, the big one."

    I could hear him make this real quiet sigh. Then he spread his hands. "It was maybe this big, a six-pounder."

    "Oh, did you have it for dinner?"

    "Naw, we threw it back," I said.

    Now her expression was like of course. Like we'd made it up. I said, "We had a long hike back and didn't want to carry it. We were just, you know, fishin' for the sake of fishin'. We weren't trying to catch our dinner, or anything."

    Elizabeth looked at her husband and laughed, "Richard, this isn't the first story you've heard about one that got away, is it?"

    I could see him smiling in the rearview mirror, and he shook his head, like he was just trying to please her.

    Then all the remaining conversation was about how good the food was at The Blue Lagoon. And Hutch just kept looking out the window.

* * *

    I was glad to be outta the car, around more people, even if they did seem to be a bit stuffy-looking. I felt kinda out of place in my jeans, but everyone was too polite to say anything.

    The Blue Lagoon was one of those places where the waiter memorizes everyone's order. And most of the conversation was in proper, subdued tones. No real laughing or anything.

    We spent a lot of time talking about the restaurant, the food, and what our orders would be. Most of the attention seemed to center around me, like I was from another country or somethin' and needed help. But I really didn't mind; it kept the conversation going.

    Once our orders were placed, Mrs. Hutchinson looked at me and said, "Well, now, Mr. Starsky, do you eat out often in Los Angeles?"

    "Mother," Hutch said firmly, "will you quit calling him that? He's told you twenty times to call him 'Dave'."

    She put a hand to her throat. "Oh, I didn't realize I was still calling him 'Mr. Starsky'." Then she laughed nervously and nodded her head at me. "I'm sorry, Dave."

    I grinned to ease the tension. "It's okay. But, please, do call me Dave. Or David."

    She looked at her son. "You call him Starsky. I've heard you."

    With forced patience, Hutch said, "But not Mister." Then he grinned at me. "I can't see you as a 'Mister' anything."

    It was supposed to be a joke, with me as the butt, but I didn't mind, because I really wanted to see Hutch smile. "I can't either," I said. For a moment, everything threatened to get quiet, so I tried hard to remember Mrs. Hutchinson's last question. "Well, ma'am, Hutch and me eat out almost all the time. But not at places like this. Usually, just fast-food burger or Mexican joints. We don't have much choice, our schedules being the way they are."

    It was starting to gnaw at me again that me and Mrs. Hutchinson were doing all the talking. I looked at Mr. Hutchinson. "Hutch tells me you're an accountant."

    He folded his hands on the table top. "Yes, I am."

    "Interesting work?" I meant it seriously; I was desperate for something to talk about.

    "Most people wouldn't think so," he answered in an even voice. "But I appreciate the discipline of it." He glanced at Hutch.

    Hutch's jaw firmed, then he looked away. I didn't get it; Hutch is the most disciplined person I've ever known. That is, as long as I don't make him break his routine. He'll do it for me, but I have to push the right buttons.

    Things got a little quiet, for lack of something to say, while we waited for the food. Hell, Hutch hadn't seen his folks in four years. There should be tons of things to talk about.

    They brought the bread and Mr. Hutchinson did the slicing and passing it around. While that was going on, I said, "You know, Hutch and me got a commendation for cracking the Leland case." I know it sounds like bragging, but I wanted to brag on Hutch, and of course whatever exploits he was involved in, I was involved in, too.

    The phony smile from the toy. "Oh, really, that's nice."

    "Yeah, we both got medals, but it was Hutch who was mainly responsible for finding the kidnapper. He figured it all out. I just went along." I glanced proudly at my partner. He just wore that little smile, like he understood what I was trying to do.

    "Kenneth has always had a good head on his shoulders." This, believe it or not, was from Mr. Hutchinson, though I got the feeling something was being left unsaid. Still, I beamed proudly at Hutch, but his father just kept paying attention to his bread.

    All of a sudden, I felt a little pinch on my left thigh. And since Hutch was sitting at my left, it was pretty easy to figure out where it came from. But before I could say anything, Hutch pushed his chair back. "Excuse me," he said to everyone and sort of tilted his head toward a far corner of the large room. I followed his tilt and saw the restrooms. I could take a hint.

    "'Scuse me." I grinned at everybody. "We haven't been to the little boys' room since our flight." And then I went to catch up to Hutch, whose long strides had already carried him halfway across the room.

    The men's room was fancy, had an outer parlor-like, between the door and the actual facilities. And it was carpeted. Hutch moved to one corner of the parlor and waited for me to join him.

    "Starsky," he whispered, putting a hand on my shoulder, "I understand what you're trying to do, and it's not that I don't appreciate it. But, buddy, ease up, will ya? Quit trying so hard."

    "Hutch," I squeaked in protest, then made an effort to lower my voice when his eyes darted about to see if anyone heard. We were the only ones in the parlor, though stately-looking gentlemen crossed between the door and the inner room. "It's not that I'm trying so hard, it's just that your family doesn't talk. What's the matter with them, anyway? What's the matter with you? For goodness' sakes, you haven't seen them in four years. Can't ya at least join in the conversation a little bit? Geez, these four days are going to be a long weekend if no one talks to each other." And then I shut up, because I'd just realized why Hutch had kept changing the reservations.

    He must have understood what I was thinking, because he grinned kind of smugly. But then his face softened, and he took both my arms in hand. "Listen, buddy, you're a real pal for coming out here with me. I hope it isn't too uncomfortable for you. But will you trust me? I lived in the same house with those people for twenty years. I know how best to get along with them. And, believe me, the best way for me to get along peacefully with them is to not say much of anything. Because if I say too much, the things I say aren't going to end up being very nice. And I'd like to keep it peaceful."

    I had to think a second about what he'd said. "But, Hutch, what would they say that would make you say not-nice things? They seem pretty harmless to me."

    Now he sighed, and kind of looked down, and let go of me. "Of course they seem harmless to you. But certain things get under my skin, that's all. And if I start talking more, the things I say will get under their skin...."

    "But it might be a more honest way of dealin' with things," I couldn't help but put in. I mean, sometimes a little honest anger is good for relationships.

    But Hutch was shaking his head. "Trust me, buddy. We're all doing the best we can to be cordial. Nothing good ever comes out of any of our arguments."

    This was getting complicated. "So what do you want me to do, just sit there and stare at the wall?"

    He seemed perplexed for a second. Then he said, "No. I want you to just be yourself. But quit trying so hard to make me into a saint. They don't care. Honestly, they don't."

    He said it so casually, like he was discussing the weather. And it really isn't like I hadn't heard all this before. But actually being there, in his home town, with his relatives... it just made it hard to match the faces of those people out there to the monsters that Hutch always seemed to want to make them into, or truly believed they were.

    And what the hell did catching a fish and getting a commendation have to do with being a saint?

    But this vacation was for Hutch. Sure, I was along for research, but they were for my own purposes, and Hutch's feelings came before my needs. So I nodded. "Okay." I patted him. "It'll be cool."

    He squeezed my shoulder. "Thanks, pal," and turned toward the door.

    "Hey," I called after him. When he turned, I gestured to the inner room. "Don't you have to...."

    "Oh, yeah." He joined me.

* * *

    So, I stopped trying so hard, but me and Mrs. Hutchinson still did most of the talking -- about inane things, like whether the western painting on the wall was of Colorado or Arizona. Then the food arrived and everyone got serious about eating. It was good, really good. I had lobster tail and steak. Hutch had some kind of linguini and crab, with some creamy-looking sauce. You know what was really funny? After he noticed me looking at it, he offered me a bite. Held out his fork for me. Now, we do that kind of exchanging food stuff all the time at home. But, here, I hadn't intended to ask for a bite because I thought... well, in this kind of restaurant, it wouldn't be proper. And I didn't want to embarrass anybody. But be yourself, Hutch had said. So, hell, I leaned over to him and let him put the fork in my mouth. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched his parents try real hard to pretend not to notice. But I noticed Suzette watching us, almost like with fascination. There was something about her expression that made me feel real sad.

    We were all stuffed, but the Hutchinsons seemed to take offense when I started to decline dessert. Me, Hutch, and Suzette ended up splitting cheesecake three different ways. Suzette seemed happy to be part of the sharing.

    Then we made the journey home or, rather, to the Hutchinson home. It was on the outskirts of town, in a ritzy area. Took about a half hour to get there. It had this nice little paved lane, lined by trees, that lead up to it. I gotta admit, I'd sorta gotten this image of Hutch growing up in a mansion or something. So, at first, I was disappointed because while the house looked big, it didn't look all that big. But once inside, it was a whole different perspective. A person could get lost in a house like that. Hutch explained that his grandfather on his father's side had originally built the house when it was way out in the country. Now, the city was closing in, but they had no intention of selling.

    Anyway, the first order of business was to show us to our rooms. We went up the wide, wooden staircase, and the first door on the right was the room that Hutch took. "This the room you had when you were a kid?" was the first question out of my mouth.

    "Yep," he said as he brought his suitcase in.

    I stood in the doorway, looking around. Boy, was I disappointed. The room was nice and clean, with a queen-size bed, but it was pretty sparsely furnished. And there was nothing about it that said it had been occupied by my partner in his youth. I wondered if, maybe in a back closet, there was some of his old belongings. If not in the room, then there had to be in the attic. Or basement. Or somewhere. Those were the kinds of things I had wanted to come on the trip for.

    Mrs. Hutchinson reached for my arm but didn't quite touch it. "Now, David, let's show you your room." She seemed pleased to be leading the way down the hall, like she was real proud of the house. I couldn't blame her for that. It was fancy, but not overly so.

    I was glad, too, that Hutch was following behind, like he was wanting to make sure I got settled in okay.

    Suzette disappeared into the first room on the left. She'd arrived two days before Hutch and I. The second room on the left was where Mrs. Hutchinson stopped and opened the door and stood aside so I could enter.

    It really didn't look very different from Hutch's room, but it was the nicest guest room I'd ever seen. Another big, queen-sized bed. Large windows. Wooden floors. A bureau opposite the bed. A plush chair in the corner. Hell, it beat some of the apartments I'd seen in LA.

    "This is very nice," I said as I entered. "Thank you."

    "You're very welcome. Make yourself at home. I suppose you and Kenneth both," her glance took in Hutch, "will want to rest up for a while. We'll have some drinks a little later, about nine, if you want to come down then."

    "Thank you," I told her.

    She left then, closing the door behind her. I looked at my partner. "Wow, this is really something. I didn't think it looked all that big from the outside, but... wow."

    He sort of grinned. "There's a lot of houses like this around here. They weren't that expensive to build, back then."

    "Yeah, but you had plenty of room to grow up in." I moseyed over to the window and looked out into the back yard. "How many acres is there?"

    "A couple."

    "Looks bigger than that." Of course, I didn't really know how big an acre was supposed to be. I turned back around and sat on the bed. "Hey, I thought your room would, you know, still look like when you were a kid. Kinda silly, huh?"

    He just sort of a smiled, then shrugged. "I haven't lived here in fifteen years or so, pal." He sat down in the easy chair. "And considering how little I visit, it would be kind of dumb of them to keep it the same." He brushed at some lint on his trousers, which told me he was a little nervous discussing the infrequency of his visits.

    Then he looked up, chin resting in his hand. "It's just a guest room now."

    I didn't bother pointing out that my mother still kept some tokens from my childhood in my old room.

    "You and my mother seem to get along pretty good," he said.

    "Yeah, she's okay."

    "She likes you. I can tell that." He seemed pleased about it.

    I just shrugged. Mothers did tend to like me. But I was more interested in his other relatives. "Suzette seems really kinda shy. I don't remember you telling me that."

    He shrugged again. "She's only like that around our parents. Get her away from them, and she's really a neat person."

    "Oh." I was dying for an explanation, but wasn't sure if it would be pushing it.

    But I shouldn't have worried. Hutch seemed to read my mind. "I think she's come to the same conclusions I have over the years. Don't say much, and everything will be tolerable."

    I took a deep breath. "That's admirable of you both, but I think it's a rotten way to live."

    He looked at the floor and his voice was quiet. "We have our reasons."

    I wasn't sure what he meant by that. But suddenly he was on his feet and he pressed his hand against my stomach. "Hey, as soon as you get your stuff put away, I'll show you the rest of the house."

    I liked that idea. "Okay."

    "I'll be in my room." He turned to leave, then turned back. "Oh, the bathroom is...," he gestured with a thumb, "at the end of the hall."

* * *

    It was fun going through the house. There was all these little stories for Hutch to tell about various rooms and furnishings. There was even a little knife that dated all the way back to the early 1700's, when the Hutchinsons first came to America. The family seemed proud of its heritage and the wealth it had made; though, in current times, they weren't as wealthy as they had been in the past. There was even an ancestor who had once been a Norwegian princess.

    Most of the interesting stuff he showed me was kept in the attic. We didn't go through all of it; just the stuff Hutch thought I'd want to see. He seemed a little bit proud about his past, and I could tell that he was really enjoying showing me all the items and telling me stories. His voice had the intense, soft quality that it gets when he's speaking about something that's important to him.

    Finally, we picked everything up and put it away in the trunks and chest of drawers that were kept in the attic. As we were brushing the dust off our jeans, I remembered what I really wanted to see. "Hey, Hutch, isn't there any old belongings of yours up here?"

    He seemed surprised. Then he asked, "Like what?"

    I shrugged. "Didn't you have a favorite teddy bear or something? Or baseball glove? Things like that?"

    He seemed kind of amused, maybe even a little embarrassed. "Oh, sure. But I didn't keep them."

    Well, okay, it wouldn't be like Hutch to keep his favorite teddy bear. But... "Well, there's got to be something of yours around here... isn't there?"

    He thought a moment. Then he looked at me with that open expression of his. "No, there isn't. I took all my belongings with me when I moved to LA." Then he shrugged. "Really wasn't much. I never was into having things."

    Well, that was true enough... at least now. I suppose it must have always been true. He must have rejected his parents' fondness for the good life from the very beginning.

    He seemed to realize I was disappointed, because his face suddenly brightened, and he said, "My mother always kept lots of photo albums. Want to see some of those?"

    "Yeah, as long as you're in 'em."

    He led the way toward the staircase. "Come on. I think my mother keeps them in her bedroom."

    We went from the attic to the second floor. The house seemed really quiet, almost cold-like. I guess everyone else was downstairs.

    Hutch went to the top of the stairs and called down, "Mother, are the old photo albums still in your bedroom?"

    Mrs. Hutchinson appeared at the base of the stairs. "Well, yes, they're in my closet." She started up the stairs. "Here, I'll get them for you."

    Hutch frowned. "I can get them if you just tell me where they are."

    "Don't be silly. I know where everything is."

    She reached the top of the stairs and led the way down the hall. She glanced back and asked, "How far back did you want to see?"

    I answered, "When Hutch was in diapers."

    "Well, you know, Kenneth, there are those two albums you haven't seen yet from when your father and I went to Japan. We had a very nice time and -- "

    "Mother, Starsky wouldn't be interested in that," Hutch said firmly. "He wants to see when I was a kid."

    "Maybe another time we can see the ones of Japan," I assured her. I gotta admit, it sort of grated on me that Hutch had to point out to her that I was interested in him. I was beginning to see, just a little bit, how much Hutch had to struggle to be considered important in his mother's eyes. I hoped I was misreading things and over-reacting.

    His mother didn't really say anything but lead the way to her bedroom. It was really big -- bigger than all the guest rooms -- and she went back into a walk-in closet. She went to a stack that must have had about twenty albums, and began to sort through them, talking to herself. "Let's see, this one has Kenneth.... I know this one does.... I think this has some pictures from when he was in college...."

    When she came out of the closet, she was carrying four albums. They didn't look as thick as some of the others, but by this time I just wanted to see anything of Hutch's past.

    She led the way back downstairs, and I realized we weren't going to be allowed to look at them alone. I really didn't mind -- it would be interesting to have her input -- but I got the feeling Hutch was thinking he and I would go back to his room, or something. But he didn't say anything.

    Mr. Hutchinson was reading the newspaper, with the TV turned low, sitting in an easy chair, when we came down. He eyed us then the albums. "You found them, did you?" he asked his wife.

    Scoldingly, she said, "I know where they are. I've always kept them in the same place."

    His attention turned to Hutch. "It's all the old photos, I imagine. I suppose you didn't bring anything new for us to add."

    Hutch sighed tiredly. "No, I didn't. I didn't think you'd be interested."

    Uh-oh, I thought and braced myself. But Hutch hadn't said it mean-like; his tone was kinda casual. And, sure enough, his father just grunted and went back to his paper.

    His mother paused beside the sofa. "It would be nice to have something recent of yours, Kenneth."

    His tone was carefully patient. "If I think of it, I'll send one."

    I took the top album from Mrs. Hutchinson's arms and plopped down on the sofa next to the lamp. I couldn't wait any longer, and I opened it to the first page. Mrs. Hutchinson sat beside me, and Hutch stood behind the couch, looking over my head.

    The first few pages were of other relatives, and Mrs. H. went through them quickly, pausing when Hutch occasionally asked a question, or pointed something out to me. Every now and then, Mr. Hutchinson would throw in a comment from across the room. All in all, they seemed like a normal group of relatives -- the eccentric uncle, the pregnant niece, the cousin who wound up in the state pen. All of it was from decades ago.

    Then, finally, there were some baby pictures. I grinned. "This must be Hutch."

    I could feel my partner smile behind me, and Mrs. H leaned a little closer. "That's Kenneth all right. Six pounds I think it was, three or four ounces. Born eight minutes after we reached the hospital."

    It was the usual assortment of baby pictures. All black and white. Most all of Hutch by himself, lying on a blanket, or sitting in a stroller. There was one of his mother holding him, but her smile was kind of forced. Hutch wasn't a particularly attractive baby. His hair was real, real light. And his cheeks were chunkier than one would think. And he didn't smile a whole lot.

    I turned a page and suddenly an older, serious-looking child was there.

    "That's Kenneth on his first day of kindergarten."

    I frowned and flipped back. "That's all of Hutch as a baby?" It was a rude question, I realized almost right away, and I didn't mean it like that. But, truly, I was surprised. I mean, most people get ridiculous about taking pictures of their kids. Every little movement and sound is considered a momentous occasion and worth rolls and rolls of film. These looked like there was one roll taken over a few month's time. And none were of Hutch as a toddler.

    The man himself seemed sorta amused by my question. "Gee, Starsk, we'd be here all night if there were more."

    I tilted my head back to look up at him. "Well, I was kinda hopin' to see you stumble on your first walk." My grin widened. "Or on your first crawl."

    He sorta grinned back at me, then he shrugged. Then he ruffled my hair, and it made me feel good that he would do that in front of his parents.

    Mrs. H. was reaching to turn the page back again. "And so Kenneth started school..."

    "Wait a sec," I said, holding the page firmly to keep it from being turned. "I just want to look at these again." I could sense both her and Hutch's impatience to get on with the growing-up process, but my detective instincts were in full gear. Even within the baby pictures, there was something missing. I looked at them all carefully again. And again. What I didn't see made me kinda sad, and I wasn't even sure why. But I was careful to keep my voice light. "Hey, I wanna know why, when Hutch looks at my baby pictures, he gets to see my naked little baby's butt. How come I don't get to see his?"

    Truly, Mrs. Hutchinson seemed embarrassed. She tried to turn the page again, and I let her. "Well, we couldn't have Kenneth exposing himself, and...." she trailed off, and then started right in with Hutch's first day of school and look-at-that-nice-outfit.

    I couldn't believe it. I mean, everyone has that classic lying-naked-face-down-on-the-blanket-cute-little-baby's-bottom-up picture. Innocent, round little baby's butt. Exposing himself?

    It was all I could do to keep from whistling in disbelief. And, behind me, I sensed Hutch's tension. I doubted if he was able to understand what I was thinking, but something that was being said had struck a nerve.

    I quickly focused my attention on the school days presented before me. Hutch looked so godawful serious. And he was growing up fast. And then there were baby pictures of his sister. And Hutch joined in the conversation, making warm comments about cute little Suzette. And she was a pretty thing, though she had that sad expression, too. There was one particular picture of her, about six or seven, holding her uncle's hand. Her uncle's arm was around her shoulders, but she looked real tense, like she didn't like being next to him.

    God, what a warm, loving family.

    The first album was done and we moved on. There were pictures of Suzette and her pony. Then of ten-year-old Hutch and his dog.

    I leaned back again to look up at him. "Hey, I didn't know you had a dog."

    His fingers ran along his mustache. He was now sitting with one hip on the back of the couch. "I didn't have him for very long."

    "We had to get rid of him," Mrs. H. put in cheerfully, "because he barked too much."

    "Only because I didn't pay enough attention to him," Hutch said firmly, "because there was a limit on how much time I could spend with him." There was definitely anger there, and he wasn't trying to hide it.

    But Mrs. H. didn't turn a hair. "Of course there was a limit, Kenneth. Otherwise you would have been with him all the time and neglected your studies."

    "My other responsibilities didn't keep me from my studies."

    "Yes, but you were only ten when you had the dog," she explained with exaggerated patience. "It's difficult for young children to be in charge of a pet."

    "Especially when they don't get the opportunity to prove that they can."

    She looked back at him. "What difference does it make? You grew out of your fondness for dogs, anyway. You've never owned one since then."

    I was looking back at Hutch, and he opened his mouth, but then suddenly shut it. I could just feel what he wanted to say -- things like he wasn't home enough, his landlord wouldn't let him have one, and all of that. But he suddenly seemed to feel it wasn't worth arguing over.

    So be it. I looked back at the album. "Is Suzette still fond of horses?"

    "Yes," Hutch replied triumphantly. "She has two." His voice softened. "She's a real good rider, too. She took two firsts in an intercollegiate championship a few years back. You know, jumping over fences."

    "Really?" I said. It was difficult to imagine someone as timid as Suzette doing something as bold as jumping thousand-pound horses over fences. I was happy for her.

    Mrs. Hutchinson put a hand to her throat. "Yes, she still hasn't grown out of that. She's going to get her neck broken one of these days."

    "But at least then I would die doing something I loved."

    We all turned to see Suzette coming down the stairs. She'd made her statement with such determination, but then she seemed meek all over again as she approached and sort of nodded to me and Hutch.

    I smiled at her. "Hey, I hear you're a real horsewoman."

    She shrugged as she came up to the couch. "I'm not that good. I have a real good coach. And good horses." She seemed to perk up when she saw the photo albums. "I haven't seen these in ages." She reached for the one we already looked at.

    I started leafing through the pages of the one I had. "Any pictures of you jumping?"

    "No," she replied quickly. "I didn't start doing that until after I'd left home."

    "Do you have any with you?" Hutch asked. His voice had dropped an octave.

    She shook her head. "No, I'm afraid not. Maybe I'll remember to send one with my next Christmas card."

    "You do that," I told her. I turned back to the album. Now, she joined in the discussion of the photos, and Hutch participated more, too. Mrs. H. only made a few comments, and -- before we'd gotten through the last album -- I think Mr. H. had spoken up a total of three times from the far end of the room, with his sudden comments about the fate of certain relatives.

    Drinks had been served, too, by the time we finished. I closed the last album with a sigh of finality.

    "So, there you have it, buddy," Hutch said, "my entire life story through young adulthood."

    "Or at least an abridged version," I said. Really, I'd been kind of disappointed. The photos didn't tell much of a story. Or maybe the lack of many meaningful ones was the story.

    I yawned and stretched, realizing what a long day it had been. "I think I'm ready for bed."

    "Me, too," Hutch said.

    I thanked Mrs. H. for the drinks and the albums, then followed Hutch up the staircase.

Part Two

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