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Two days later, while on the way home, Starsky stopped at a shopping center that contained his favorite auto parts store. Hutch had spent a good part of the day in court testifying against a suspect they had nailed six months ago, and the blond had already left for home since court had recessed early. Starsky's testimony had been delivered the previous day, so Dobey had expected his presence in the squad room.
Starsky emerged from the store with a sack full of spark plugs and an air filter. He hoped the items were all he was going to need to keep the Torino in repair. The car had been performing poorly in recent months, even after having had major work done the past year. Maybe, after 120,000 miles, it was into its final days. But Starsky continued to hope.
The auto store was at the end of the row of shops, and while getting into the Torino, he noticed a display of some sort at the other end of the mall that various people were flocking to. Curious, he slowly drove the Torino down the length of the shopping center, wondering if it was a special sale or if there was some form of entertainment going on.
A pet store dominated that end of the mall. As he neared, Starsky saw a banner over it that read, "Los Angeles Dumb Friends League". And beneath that, "Give yourself the gift of unconditional love. Adopt a pet." Apparently, the pet store was sponsoring some sort of special adoption day, for it was offering a 10% discount on all supplies purchased with an adoption. The animals themselves were in wire cages of various sizes, stacked on top of each other on long tables in front of the store. Next to the tables was a makeshift pen that contained a couple of dogs too large for the cages.
Starsky parked the car and got out. As he approached the display, which many people were gathered around, including lots of children, he thought about how he had never had any particular interest in animals... other than Louise, who turned out to be a common guinea pig instead of a chinchilla. But the image was firm in his mind of Hutch at the policemen's barbecue. Hutch petting the black lab with such enthusiasm, talking and cooing to it. Hutch, who seemed to grow more pragmatic and grumpier with age, delighting in the simple presence of the dog.
Starsky stood to the back of the group of people crowding around the cages. His eyes wandered to the top row of animals. The first sign he saw said "Sheltie mix". A miniature Lassie-looking dog was contained within.
Nope, he thought, imagining himself vacuuming. Hair all over the place.
The next cage said "Terrier mix". It was a little red dog, barking at the crowd in a high-pitched voice.
Uh-uh. Can't stand those yappy little wimp-dogs.
Next there was a playful trio of black and white puppies.
Not housebroken yet. No way.
In another cage there was a sturdy-looking animal with saggy jowls.
Drool. Germs. Yuck.
Starsky's eyes darted over the rest of the cages, seeing variations of the same dogs he had already rejected. He turned away with impatience, then noticed the pen with two larger dogs in it. The first was a friendly looking Great Dane.
Too big for our little yard, Starsky thought reluctantly.
The next dog was smaller, but still too large to fit in the cages. It was brown and white, with short hair. Its tail was a mere stump. As Starsky made eye contact, its whole rear end began to swing back and forth, as though making up for the fact it was missing a tail.
Starsky stepped closer to the cage. "You're friendly, aren't ya?" he asked. The rear end swung frantically in reply. He looked at the two signs posted on the cage, disregarding the one that was obviously for the Great Dane. The second one read: "The General. German Short-Haired Pointer (no papers). Neutered."
Starsky sighed at the last bit of information. He supposed it was just as well, though the idea of having a male animal who wasn't really all male made him a little uncomfortable. But, surely, the dog was housebroken...?
Starsky turned to a smaller table next to the larger ones where a woman sat. The crowd was still looking at the animals, so Starsky didn't have to wait to get her attention. "Uh, Ma'am," he greeted and pointed toward the pen, "do you happen to know anything about that brown and white dog?"
"Oh, The General," she smiled at him and began riffling through a small file box. She pulled out a card and studied it a moment. "Oh, yes, we have quite a bit of information. He's already neutered, so you don't have to worry about getting that done. He's four years old," she read, "he's housebroken, he gets along well with children and other animals, he obeys all the basic commands, he loves to ride in the c-- "
"Uh," Starsky interrupted, "if he's so terrific, how come his prior owner gave him up?"
She studied the card. "It says the elderly couple that owned him was moving from a house to an apartment. He needs regular exercise, so they felt they couldn't keep him."
"How much exercise?" Starsky asked, hopes fading.
"Well, he is a Pointer and they're bred for hunting. But he's been living in the city, so I'm sure a yard would do."
"Our yard is kinda small," Starsky admitted.
"Is there enough room to run in?"
Starsky looked over at The General and tried to imagine his extended stride against the backdrop of the backyard. "Yeah, he could a little."
She was smiling again. "With access to the yard and regular walks I'm sure he would be all right."
That was a relief. Hutch would enjoy walking him. Be a damn sight healthier than sittin' on the couch with a beer bottle watching the damn tube. Maybe even he would enjoy walking occasionally, too. Starsky nodded at the card. "What else does it say?"
"He likes car rides and fetching things. He's used to sleeping on the bed with his owners. They believe he's a purebred, but they don't have papers. They've been feeding him dry dog food." She glanced back up. "That's it."
That all sounded good, except the sleeping on the bed part. "What do I have to do to adopt him?"
"Have you ever owned a dog before?"
"No, but he's not for me. He's for my... roommate. He knows a lot about dogs." Starsky didn't know if that was true, but it seemed to relieve the woman's growing expression of concern.
She was pulling out papers from a folder. "Do you own or rent your home?"
"Good. Then we don't have to check with the landlord. Here," she handed him a paper, pencil and clipboard, "please fill this out. The adoption fee is twenty-five dollars and includes a leash."
Starsky squatted on the ground and filled out the form. He hurried through it, for the rest of the onlookers were getting restless and it made him antsy. One child was squealing with delight as she looked from cage to cage, and another threw himself on the ground in a fit of crying as his mother firmly told him, "No, you can't have a dog."
"Here," Starsky told the woman as he handed everything back to her, just making it before more people began to line up behind him, intent on adopting a pet. "Now what happens?"
"I need twenty-five dollars, and then you can have your dog."
Starsky pulled out his checkbook. He hesitated a moment, wondering if the payment should come from his own account, or Hutch's and his combined account, which they used for groceries and household expenses. He decided this was a gift to Hutch -- though not associated with his birthday -- and filled out the check.
"Uh," he said as she wrote down his driver's license number, "I think I need to go in and buy some supplies before I take him."
"That's fine." She handed him a receipt. "Just show this to the clerk to get your ten percent discount. When you're ready, I'll take him out of the pen."
"Thanks." Starsky put his wallet away and walked into the pet store. He felt rather intimidated as he looked upon the rows and rows of goods, for he had no idea what he was supposed to get. He started with food, getting a fifty pound bag of dry mix. Then he noticed the aisle full of treats; and, not being sure what The General preferred, he bought a variety. It was also impossible to select a single item from the toy section. Since The General was not going to be sleeping with him and Hutch, he bought a nice-sized basket and pillow. He thought about a dog house, but the prices deterred him and he wasn't sure it would be necessary. He thought books definitely were necessary, and he amassed a small library about German Shorthaired Pointers and canine feeding, training, and health. He found a green collar that he thought was attractive. And though the adoption fee included a leash, Starsky found a more expensive one that he liked much better, because it could extend fifteen feet and was retractable. By the time he left the store, he had spent almost a hundred dollars.
He took his purchases out to the car and put them in the trunk, except for pulling out the collar and leash. There was now a long line of people waiting to adopt some of the pets, but the woman asked the others to wait while she pulled out a key and opened the lock to the pen. Starsky handed her the collar, and she put it around The General's neck. The dog was excited about the attention and licked at her face, which Starsky was grateful she didn't seem to mind, for he doubted he would feel the same way. When the collar was secure, he handed her the leash. After it was attached, she led the dog out of the pen and handed the leash back to him. "Here you go. Good luck with him."
"Thank you." Starsky took the leash and started toward the car. "Come on, boy."
The General followed readily. Starsky opened the car door, hesitating about where to put the dog, but the animal relieved him of the decision and jumped into the driver's seat. Starsky pushed at his rear. "Move over," and The General stepped into the passenger seat.
Starsky got in, deciding right then that this was the only ride The General was ever going to have in the Torino. While the dog seemed clean, he didn't like the idea of filthy paws, or his seat covers being ripped by sharp toenails. If Hutch wanted to take the dog for car rides, then fine, but it had to be in his car.
The dog was sniffing at the window, and Starsky recalled that he'd seen other animals in cars with their heads stuck out the window. He reached over and rolled the passenger window down about half way, but The General didn't stick his head out until the car started moving.
"Now, don't get any ideas," Starsky told him, though his passenger didn't seem to be listening, "about how I rescued you from the gas chamber, or anything like that. You can't be indebted to me. You're Hutch's dog. Give all your loyalty and unconditional love to him."
As he drove, Starsky found himself braking at all the yellow lights. He shifted his hands on the wheel, feeling sweat in his armpits.
Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. Maybe Hutch didn't like dogs that didn't have tails. Maybe Hutch would be embarrassed at having a neutered dog. Maybe Hutch would rather have a small dog that could sit in his lap. Maybe Hutch would rather have a female. Maybe Hutch would rather have a puppy that he could raise and train. Maybe Hutch downright didn't like dogs.
No, that wasn't true. Starsky had seen too much evidence to the contrary. But maybe, even though he liked dogs, Hutch had never had any desire to own one. Maybe that's why he'd never mentioned getting one, even after they bought the house.
Starsky supposed if Hutch hated The General, then he could always just take him back so someone else could adopt him. And the pet store would probably take back all the supplies, except for perhaps the collar.
Starsky let out a heavy sigh as the Torino pulled to a halt behind Hutch's battered pale green Mercury, the blond's latest metallic love. It was funny that, even after all their years together, Starsky couldn't always anticipate his partner's moods and reactions. He supposed that unpredictability helped keep their relationship interesting, but it also made for difficult moments. He hoped this wasn't going to be one of them.
"Wait right here," he told the dog. Dusk was falling as Starsky got out of the car and carefully closed the door, for The General acted as though he wanted to get out, too. "Be back in a minute."
He entered the house a moment later. Hutch was in the kitchen, chopping up celery next to a partially made salad. It looked good. And from the looks of the other ingredients on the counter, it was obvious that Hutch was using his time off work early to make a nice dinner. That was always a special treat, because their lives were still so busy, even after "settling down", that only rarely did either of them have the energy to make a full-fledged meal.
"Uh, Hutch," Starsky greeted, rubbing his hands together.
"Hey, there," the blond returned, glancing up. Then he frowned and straightened, noting Starsky's distress. "What's wrong?"
"Uh, Hutch, look, I gotta surprise for you. So... can you like go on the back patio or something until I'm ready?"
The frown deepened. "Starsky, we agreed: no gifts."
"This has nothin' to do with your birthday," Starsky interjected quickly. "It's just something I... saw... that I thought you'd like. It's just coincidence it's two days after your birthday."
Hutch didn't seem to know what to say to that.
Starsky pressed his advantage. "Hey, come on. It's just something I wanted to get for you. If you don't like it, I'll take it back."
Hutch sighed wearily and wiped his hands on a towel.
The lack of an answer didn't mean no. "So, will you just go out on the back patio for a sec? Give me a chance to bring it in?"
"Oh, all right," Hutch grumbled and moved to the sliding door.
Starsky shook a finger at him. "And no peekin'."
He trotted back to the car. When he opened the passenger door, The General jumped out gratefully, and Starsky was lucky to grab the leash before the dog got away. He locked the setting at a length of a couple of feet, then knelt beside the dog. "Now," he whispered to it, "we gotta be real quiet until Hutch sees you, so he'll be surprised." The wet nosed sniffed curiously at him, and Starsky quickly turned his face away and rubbed it against his sleeve. Then he stood. "Come on."
When he had the dog inside the front door, he was grateful to see from the part of the back door that was visible that Hutch was obediently looking out into the yard.
Starsky pushed on The General's rump. "Sit."
The dog sat.
"Good boy." Starsky knelt at his right and took a deep breath. Then he called, "All right, Blintz."
Hutch came through the glass door and turned to shut it behind him. Then he looked up as he approached the living room. And stopped at the edge of the carpet, his eyes glowing with surprise.
Starsky grinned, certain from the small reaction that, if nothing else, Hutch didn't hate the gift. He nodded at the dog. "This is The General." To his left, he said, "General, meet your new master."
A smile tugged at a mouth corner. "A dog."
Starsky's grin widened. "Uh-huh."
In disbelief, Hutch asked, "You got him for me?"
Starsky stood and held out the leash, immensely pleased with himself. "He's all yours."
Hutch took the leash, eyes on The General, who now stepped forward. Hutch knelt and the dog sniffed at his face, then licked at him.
Hutch chuckled with delight as he petted him, causing the rear end to swing frantically. "Where did you get him?"
"The Dumb Friends League was having a special adoption day at the pet store at the Greenland Mall." Starsky shrugged. "It was just a spur of the moment idea."
While Hutch continued to pet and hug The General, and The General continued to get his germs all over Hutch's face, Starsky told him everything that was known of the dog's past.
"Poor thing," Hutch said, petting The General's head, who was now sitting quietly. "To be given up by his owners like that without being able to understand why."
"Yeah," Starsky agreed. Then, "Hey, maybe we need to let him out, in case... you know. And I've got a bunch of supplies out in the car."
While Hutch let The General out, Starsky brought in the dog food and the large sack of canine accessories. Then he moved to the back patio to join Hutch, who was standing beneath the porch light, watching as The General sniffed around the perimeter of the yard.
"Look at that," the blond whispered excitedly.
The dog had frozen in position on all fours, one foreleg lifted and bent.
"Yeah," Starsky grinned. "He's a Pointer. You know, a hunting dog."
"Terrific," Hutch chuckled with delight. "Don't know what he can hunt back here, except maybe some squirrels."
"Yeah," Starsky said again. "But it's kinda neat." The General had moved on and proceeded with his sniffing.
While they both continued to watch the newest member of their small family, Starsky felt an arm come around his back and pull him close.
"Ah, buddy," Hutch said, "this is a great idea. I've always wanted a dog."
"No reason now why you shouldn't have one." Starsky looked up and found himself gazing into eyes that were glowing at him. "Even with us bein' gone a lot, he can still spend all day moseying around in the yard. And we can walk him in the evenings."
The arm tightened and Starsky found himself pressed closer against the larger body.
"Love you," Hutch whispered softly.
Starsky laid his head against Hutch's shoulder. He loved the feel of the hand that was rubbing up and down his arm. And then Hutch shifted and both arms came around him. When they were secure, Starsky was gently rocked back and forth.
It seemed amazing to him that he could have ever doubted that he knew what would make Hutch happy.
* * *
Hours later both men were stripped down to their underwear. The bedroom light was on, but the rest of the house had been shut down for the night. Starsky patted the plush cushion in the basket, which he had placed in a corner of the bedroom. "All right, General, here's your bed, all nice and comfy."
The General glanced at it but didn't move.
"Whatsa matter?" Starsky asked, patting it again. "Come on, this is your bed."
Hutch was lying on their bed, and The General stared at him, rear end swinging slowly back and forth.
"Ah, Starsk, he wants to come up."
On the last two words, The General obeyed and jumped up on the mattress.
Starsky was instantly on his feet. "No, you don't," he said firmly and pushed him off. "You sleep in your own bed."
"Starsky, he's used to sleeping with his owners."
Starsky turned to Hutch. Even more firmly, he told his partner, "He's not sleeping with us. There's no reason why he can't learn to sleep in his basket."
"What's wrong with him sleeping with us?" Hutch wanted to know.
The shorter man's eyes widened in disbelief. "I am not sleeping with a dog in my bed. I like the current company just fine, thank you."
"He's not going to hurt anything if he sleeps at the foot of the bed."
The General was standing and watching the interchange, rear end in motion.
Starsky sighed and sat on the mattress, leaning toward his partner to enforce his point. "Hutch, there won't be any room for our feet if he's sleeping on the bed. I'm not going to adjust my sleeping position for him."
"Ah, poor thing," Hutch cooed in The General's direction, and the rear end swung faster. "Big, bad Uncle Starsky won't even let you sleep in comfort, even after having your life completely uprooted and being brought to a strange house with strange people."
Starsky sighed heavily. "Oh, knock it off. He'll adjust. We're all going to be adjusting for a few days." He pointed at the basket, and to The General he said, "There's your bed. Now go and lay down."
The dog merely looked at him.
Hutch got under the covers. Grumbling, he said, "He doesn't understand what you're saying. He doesn't know that basket is a bed. He only knows what a real bed is like."
"Fine," Starsky decided. He turned off the light and also got under the covers. "He can sleep on the cold floor then."
"Bet he doesn't get any sleep," Hutch said with exaggerated sympathy. "You wouldn't either if you were in a strange place and didn't understand why."
"Well, there's nothing we can do to make him understand," Starsky pointed out. "He'll get used to us and his new life soon enough."
* * *
Every time he started to drift off, the sound of toenails pressing against the hardwood floor brought Starsky back to consciousness. The General seemed to pace almost constantly, though he never left the bedroom.
Starsky couldn't stand it anymore. He sat up in bed and bellowed, "General, LAY DOWN!"
The pacing stopped.
Levelly, Hutch noted, "He'd probably lie down if we let him up here." Quickly, he added, "Just this once."
"We can't do that," Starsky snapped. "It'd be mean, because then he wouldn't understand why we wouldn't let him up later. We've got to nip the habit in the bud right now, or he'll always want up."
Hutch didn't reply. The pacing resumed. And none of them got any sleep.
* * *
It got better the following days, but The General still took no interest in his basket. He preferred, instead, to sleep on the floor. Starsky also put an immediate stop to the new member of their family being on the sofa. There was no reason, he told Hutch, for the dog to be on the furniture. Hutch was again sympathetic to The General's wishes, but Starsky put his foot down and prevailed.
Starsky soon learned, however, that staying off furniture and being housebroken didn't solve all the problems of dog ownership. The second day in his new home The General threw up on the rug. Starsky muttered and swore as he cleaned it up.
"It's not his fault," Hutch noted, petting the dog while watching Starsky work. "He's adapting to a change in diet."
"I got him dry dog food like he'd been eating before," Starsky pointed out.
"Yeah, but it was probably a different brand."
Owning The General also affected a part of their lives that Starsky hadn't anticipated. He had hoped the dog would encourage Hutch to get out of the house every evening and go for a walk. And Hutch did so. But it wasn't just in the evening. A couple of mornings, before work, Hutch had wanted to go for a jog with the dog at his side. Of course, after doing it two mornings in a row, The General decided it was routine, and every morning he paced and nudged at his master until Hutch gave in and got out of bed. That put a complete stop to any early morning love-making.
As for evening love-making, Starsky had felt very strange the first few times, doing it with the dog in the room. But The General never commented on the activities.
* * *
Three weeks after having the new member added to their family, Hutch was called back into the courtroom for more cross-examination. He again got the additional benefit of the court dismissing him after only a few minutes and took the opportunity to go home a couple of hours early rather than reporting back to the squad room.
Starsky came home at the regular hour. As soon as he walked in the door, he found Hutch lying on the couch, barely-open eyes staring at the television. The General was stretched out alongside his master on the sofa, enjoying having his neck and ears scratched.
Starsky's eyes widened in disbelief. Angrily, he said, "General, DOWN. Bad dog. Bad dog." The dog quickly obeyed, and Starsky glared at Hutch. "How could you let him up there?"
The blond shifted to sit up, batting his eyelids as though he'd been dozing instead of watching the tube. "I was just petting him."
The anger that was already there flared within Starsky's chest. "He's not supposed to be on the couch. You know that, he knows that, and I know that!"
Hutch rubbed at his eyes. "For Chrissakes, it's not hurting anything."
Disbelief and confusion now circled about the anger, causing Starsky's voice to rise. "Hutch, we agreed. It just confuses him to let him up sometimes but not at others. We agreed: he's not allowed on any of the furniture."
Hutch met his Starsky's eye with his own, which also carried the brightness of anger. "If you dislike him so much, then how come you got him in the first place?"
"I don't dislike him," Starsky protested, feeling a pinch of hurt that Hutch would think such. "I just don't see why he should have to get on the furniture." He placed his hands on his hips, trying to get back to the matter at hand. "But that's not even the point, Hutch. The point is we agreed that he wasn't gonna be allowed on the furniture, and you're disregarding our agreement totally." A thought struck then and Starsky demanded, "What about when I'm gone and you take naps? Are you letting him on the bed?" The thought was totally infuriating.
Hutch was on his feet, eyes flaring. "You'd like that, wouldn't you? Then you'd have another reason to be mad at him."
Starsky jerked his finger at his partner. "Let's get one thing straight, buddy boy. It's not him that I'm mad at. It's you. Understand?"
Hutch grumbled something unintelligible and turned toward the kitchen.
"Hey, I'm talkin' to you!" Starsky followed him.
Hutch spun around to face him. "Yeah, I know. And when I listen all I hear is...," he waved a hand dismissively, "a lot of hot air."
Starsky blinked, staring at the man he had loved intensely for a dozen years. He couldn't believe Hutch said that, couldn't believe he was being treated with such blatant disrespect. He knew one thing: they were both angry. And when both were in that state -- instead of one calmly balancing the other's wrath -- the result could be downright dangerous.
Starsky spun on his heel and walked away. He kept walking until he was out the door and in the Torino. And then he drove away.
* * *
In twilight's grayness, Starsky sat on a bench in a park, miles away from home. The more he ran the scenario over and over in his mind, the more the anger disintegrated, only to be replaced by the greater pain of raw hurt.
How could Hutch have done that? Sure, he could admit he was probably making too big a deal out of The General being on the furniture, but how could Hutch have agreed that they wouldn't allow the dog up, and then carelessly disregard the agreement the minute Starsky's back was turned? It made him feel manipulated... and that Hutch didn't respect him.
Maybe that was what was wrong with them. For years, they had enjoyed the most intense of relationships, protecting each other's life day in and day out, but choosing to be friends because they truly enjoyed each other's company, not simply because they were one another's greatest protector. As the years went on, it just seemed natural to take that intensity one step further. It had been so good then, such all-encompassing love, even with Starsky's hesitations about doing that. And then, when the flame's brilliance had burned down to a more manageable level, it had seemed only natural to want to settle down, to set up house together. There had been all the careful financial planning, all the working together to make it happen, and all the agreements about how they would live their lives as honestly as they could without making any announcements or allowing themselves to be backed into a corner if anyone asked about their relationship. All of that, they had done together. And they had accomplished what they wanted.
Now they had a house and a reasonably comfortable life together. As Hutch's comfort level increased, so did his desire for beer, the sofa, and the television set. Of course, Starsky himself wasn't exactly an icon of physical activity, but he did tend to putter around the house a lot more. The result was that he did almost all the housework. He also did most of the maintenance on the yard, though when it came to major things -- like removing a dead tree -- he could badger Hutch into helping without too much trouble. And, in recent weeks, Hutch had been very good about keeping the yard free of dog poop.
Starsky supposed that, since it was himself who put so much effort into maintaining the house, that was why he was so sensitive about The General messing things up, getting things dirty with his simple presence. What he couldn't fathom was why Hutch didn't understand that, why Hutch couldn't simply appreciate his efforts without ridiculing him.
One thing Starsky did know for sure was that answers weren't going to come to him while he sat in the park. As the sun dropped below the horizon, he moved back to the Torino, determined to return to the house and argue as calmly as necessary to make sure Hutch understood how he felt.
And then they could make up.
* * *
When he was a half mile from home, the Torino coughed and choked. And then it died when he came to a stop at the next intersection.
Thankfully, he was in a residential area and there wasn't any other traffic. Starsky turned the key and attempted to restart the motor. It made noise, but it wouldn't turn over.
"Damn it," he swore beneath his breath. He popped the hood and took a flashlight from the glove compartment. The Torino had had a lot of things go wrong with it in the past year, and he wasn't sure what the particular problem was now.
After setting the hood up, he shone the flashlight over the motor. As he had feared, nothing was apparent to his naked eye. He knew he would probably have to remove a few parts to get to the root of the problem. And that was something he certainly couldn't do in the dark, and probably not something he would want to do without the assistance of a trained mechanic.
He straightened and looked around. A Seven-Eleven was a couple of blocks away. As much as he hated to, he was going to have to call Hutch to come and get him. Either that or walk. And walking would be even more humiliating.
Starsky turned at the sound of a car behind him. After his eyes adjusted to the brightness of the headlights, he recognized the red lights on the hood. Great. A police car.
It stopped next to him. "Hey," a female voice called from the window that was being rolled down, "is that you, Starsky?"
Starsky nodded, trying to place the voice.
"Need some help?"
"I think it may be beyond help," Starsky admitted.
They turned on the overhead lights to alert any oncoming traffic, and then both officers got out of the car. The driver was tall and lean. Neil Richardson. The quarterback with the great arm.
And the woman? He saw the blond hair beneath her hat. And then, as the moonlight reflected upon her face, he recognized her. Cindy Pearson.
"What's the problem?" Neil asked. Both officers were standing beside the Torino.
"Who knows," Starsky said with frustration. "It's been having all sorts of problems lately. If maybe you can help me push it to the curb, I'll send Merle over for it in the morning."
"Sure," Neil said. He looked at his partner. "Maybe you ought to steer and we'll push."
"Glad to," she replied.
Starsky held the door open for her, and she got into the driver's seat. "Put it in neutral," he directed.
"Right," she replied with a hint of sarcasm.
He and Neil got behind the car and pushed until it was out of the intersection and parked at the curb. Cindy locked the doors before getting out and handing Starsky the keys. "Want a ride?" she asked.
Starsky looked around. He was uncomfortable with the idea of her knowing where they lived.
"It's close by, isn't it?" she pressed. "I heard you two lived in this neighborhood."
She seemed to know a lot about them. "I didn't know this was your beat," he told her.
"Got transferred last week."
Neil was back at the police car. "Come on, we'll give you a lift."
"Okay," Starsky agreed reluctantly. He supposed it beat Hutch having to come and pick him up. "It's 311 Garrison. It's fastest if you go up Trinity."
They all got in the car. After it was moving, Cindy turned back to him. "So, what were you up to tonight?"
Starsky shrugged. "A little of this, a little of that."
Neil said, "Think the Torino may have seen its last days?"
"Possibly." Starsky was grateful to change the subject. "I'll see what Merle has to say after he's had a chance to look at it."
Neil shook his head. "That would be a shame. That's a neat car. I always hoped that if I become plainclothes, I'd have a car like that."
"Well, if so," Starsky commented wryly, "I hope you have a partner who doesn't hate it as much as mine does."
They all chuckled at that.
"Here it is," Starsky said a moment later. The black and white came to a halt behind Hutch's car. Loud barking was heard from the house.
"You have a dog?" Cindy asked.
"It's Hutch's dog." Starsky felt proud saying it.
"Speaking of which," she went on, turning in her seat as he cocked the door handle, "is that beautiful blond stud going to come out and say hello?"
Starsky shrugged, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. "I'll tell him to come out." He opened the door.
Cindy also got out of the car, then leaned back against it.
Starsky bent to the driver's open window and whispered to Neil, "Does her boyfriend know she behaves like this?"
The younger man shrugged. "I doubt it. But she's okay," he noted congenially. "It isn't easy for a woman to make it in this job, you know. Her abrasiveness is what's got her where she is. She's a good cop."
Starsky nodded, realizing he shouldn't be surprised that Neil stood up for his partner. "Thanks for the lift." He turned toward the house.
Hutch had come to the front door just as Starsky opened it. "What's going on?" he asked with concern.
"The Torino broke down on Stellar Street," Starsky explained rapidly. "Neil Richardson and Cindy Pearson happened to come by, so they gave me a lift."
"Oh. I didn't know Cindy worked this area."
"She just got transferred." Starsky was in the house now and he jerked a thumb back toward the door. "Go out and say hello."
Starsky gritted his teeth. "Hurry up and say hello so she'll leave. She wants to see you."
"Because she thinks you're a fucking god." Starsky wasn't sure if his annoyance was because of Cindy or because he and Hutch had unfinished business. "So go out there so she'll hurry up and leave."
Obediently, Hutch pushed the door open and marched out.
Starsky sighed and looked down at The General, who was standing before him, wagging his behind. Though The General never greeted him as enthusiastically as he did Hutch, the dog nevertheless always made him feel welcome.
Starsky dropped to his knees and petted him. "Ah, that's a good boy. I'm sorry Master Hutch and Uncle Starsky were yelling at each other earlier, but it's not your fault. You're a good boy." At the placating tone, The General sniffed at Starsky's face and Starsky tolerated it.
He heard noises of departure and stood back up. There was the sound of a car driving off, and an instant later Hutch came back into the house.
"Was she satisfied?"
"I don't know," Hutch said with annoyance. "She said she'd like a tour of the house sometime, but I told her it wasn't a good idea."
Starsky looked at him worriedly. "What did she say to that?"
The big shoulders shrugged. "Nothing. What could she say?"
Starsky took a deep breath. "She and Neil are probably talkin' about us right now. You know, sharing their suspicions."
Hutch's hands were in the back pockets of his jeans. "Starsky, people have been suspicious about us for years. As long as people as important as Dobey keep being smart enough to not ask questions, nothing's going to happen. Neil and Cindy can talk to each other all they want. What would they gain by spreading rumors?"
"Yeah," Starsky relented, turning toward the kitchen. "I hope you're right." He went to the refrigerator and took out a can of root beer. The house suddenly seemed silent, and it reminded him that they had a conversation to finish. He abruptly turned and found Hutch watching him from the entrance to the kitchen, arms crossed over his chest.
"You ready to talk?" Starsky ventured.
"Are you?" Hutch asked in a soft but pointed voice.
Starsky took a deep breath. "I've been ready to talk," he said, not wanting to sound argumentative but knowing that he did. "You're the one who blew me off this afternoon."
"Yeah, well," Hutch shrugged delicately, "what choice did I have?"
Starsky set the root beer on the table so he could gesture with his hands. "Hutch, you're the one who drew first blood. You and I made an agreement, and the minute my back was turned," his voice raised with hurt, "you went against it."
Calmly, the other said, "Starsky, I didn't agree to anything about the dog being on the furniture."
Starsky blinked. "What?"
Hutch took a step forward, voice firmer. "Starsky, I said I didn't agree to anything. You're the one who made all the rules about the dog."
Starsky felt betrayal once again. With disbelief, he pointed out, "You didn't disagree."
"Of course, I didn't," Hutch snorted. "You didn't leave the door open for any disagreement. Or compromise. You just said, 'This is the way it's going to be and that's that.' What good would it have done for me to argue?"
"The good is," Starsky's voice rose further, "that we could have argued about it then instead of arguing about it now."
"You didn't want me to argue," Hutch pointed out firmly. "You didn't want my input into the situation. You didn't want to know how I felt. You give me this great gift, but right away you started laying down rules about how and when I can enjoy it."
Starsky started to speak, then abruptly shut up. Maybe Hutch was right. Maybe he'd come on too strong about the whole thing. Maybe he hadn't been fair.
Hutch added, "You weren't willing to compromise about any of it."
"Well, Hutch," Starsky said, voice now a bit meek, "it's kinda hard to compromise about a thing like that. I mean, he can either be on the sofa or he can't. He can either be on the bed, or he can't." He had a sudden feeling that he was going to lose this argument. He'd had everything his own way ever since getting the dog. Now, it was going to be Hutch's turn....
Gently, Hutch said, "We can compromise."
Starsky met his partner's eye. "We can?"
"Yeah. It's simple. He's not ever allowed to be on the bed, but he's allowed to be on the sofa."
Starsky thought about that. He'd never considered the two as separate privileges.
"He's not going to hurt the sofa," Hutch emphasized. "We obviously won't let him up if it's been raining and he's all muddy, or something like that. But otherwise... what's the harm?" The blond's voice gentled. "You saw him today. He really liked lying down with me. He's such a good dog. I couldn't have picked a better one myself."
Starsky took a deep breath. The last line may have been a bit manipulative, but everything Hutch said was true. Would it really hurt so much to have the dog on the couch? Especially knowing he wouldn't have to worry about ever arguing about him being on the bed?
He let out the breath. Then he managed a smile. "Okay."
Hutch smiled back. "Nothing we can't solve if we talk about it."
"Yeah," Starsky agreed a bit sheepishly. It was true. He had shut the door to communication without even realizing it.
"Let's give him the good news." Hutch turned back to the living room and Starsky followed. They both sat on the couch and Hutch patted the cushion between them. "Come on, General, come on."
The dog wagged his rear end but looked at Starsky skeptically.
"It's okay." Starsky, too, patted the couch. "Come on up. Come on."
Hesitantly, The General jumped onto the sofa.
"Good boy!" both detectives said in unison. They petted and stroked the brown and white coat.
When the dog was settled, Hutch leaned over to his partner and took his chin. Then he moved closer to plant a kiss on the other's lips. "I love you," he said after pulling back.
Starsky grinned knowingly. "Especially when I give you what you want." Then he shrugged, sheepish again. "Sorry I was being an ass."
Hutch's grin was playful. "Hey, it's okay. You can't help being what you are."
Starsky picked up a sofa pillow and threw it at him.
* * *
The next time Starsky did laundry, he took a tip from one of the canine books he'd bought. He pulled out some of Hutch's underclothes from the hamper and placed them in the basket that The General had never shown any interest in. He called the dog over and The General sniffed about the basket. When Starsky returned to the room nearly an hour later, he found the dog curled up in it.
"Ah, good boy," Starsky said, kneeling beside the basket and petting its occupant. "Such a good boy. Now you have a bed that smells just like Master Hutch." He grinned. "Of course, Master Hutch himself belongs in my bed."
* * *
Starsky cut the engine as he pulled the Torino into the parking lot at Dennys. Merle had patched the car up so that it was operational, but the writing was on the wall. He was going to have to get a new car. Hutch would be delighted. The blond had dropped him off at Merle's and then headed on to work without waiting to hear the verdict.
Starsky went into the restaurant and picked up a complimentary newspaper from the hostess and sat at the counter. He may as well fill up on breakfast while perusing the ads for possibilities for a new set of wheels.
Starsky started to skim the ads in the classified section, then heard a female voice say, "Hi, Starsky."
He glanced up. "Oh, Cindy. Hi." He looked around. "Where's Neil?"
"Making a phone call. I saw you so I thought I'd say hello."
"Oh," Starsky said, feeling his usual sense of discomfort when around her. "Hello." His eyes skimmed back over the paper.
"How's the car?"
He sighed heavily. "Not gonna live much longer. I'm lookin' for a new one." He pointedly kept his eyes on the ads.
"I bet Hutch is glad of that."
"He doesn't know yet."
There was an awkward silence, so Starsky decided to be polite. Over the top of the paper, he looked at her and admitted, "But I'm sure he'll be glad when I tell him."
She studied him a moment. "You don't like me, do you?"
Starsky put the paper down and drew a deep breath. "Cindy, I like you fine. But I find you a bit nosy, if you want to know the truth."
She managed a half smile. "Most people don't notice nosiness unless they have something to hide."
A waitress appeared. "Coffee?"
Starsky turned his cup right side up. "Please. Cream and sugar."
The waitress complied, then glanced at Cindy, who shook her head. She pulled out her pad, directing her attention at Starsky. "What can I get you?"
"The Grand Slam special. Over-easy. White toast."
"Comin' right up." The waitress moved away.
Starsky rotated his chair to face Cindy, who was still regarding him expectantly. Since nothing else seemed to work, he decided to be straightforward. "What is it you're so sure I'm trying to hide?"
"You've got that beautiful blond holed up at your house."
Calmly, he noted, "The house is his house as much as mine, and he's not 'holed' up. He can come and go as he pleases."
Softly, with underlying sadness, she said, "But he always comes back to you, doesn't he?"
Starsky shifted in his chair. "Cindy, if you've got a thing for him, don't try to get to him through me. You're going to have to confront him yourself." He wondered if he were being cruel by not mentioning that she didn't have a snowball's chance of getting anywhere.
She shook her head, her whole stance softer now, as was her voice. "That's not what I'm talking about."
Curious, Starsky tilted his head. "What are you talking about?"
She shrugged, her manner suggesting a degree of bashfulness. "You guys seem like such great friends."
"We are great friends."
"I mean real friends."
Neil walked up. "Hi, Starsky."
"Hi ya, Neil."
To his partner, Neil said, "Come on, we've got to get rolling."
"Be right there," Cindy told him. After he turned away, she got off her stool and laid a hand on Starsky's arm. "May we all be as lucky," she whispered. And she was gone.
Starsky stared after her.
His breakfast was placed before him and he turned his attention to it. As he took the first bite, he tried to imagine what his life would have been like had there never been Hutch.
He drew a blank.
And then he thought he understood what people like Cindy saw. And felt.
* * *
The Frisbee sailed through the air in perfect rotation, spinning out toward the ocean. Just as it began to weaken and descend, The General leapt from the sand and snatched it in his teeth.
"Good boy!" Hutch called from the sidewalk, then bent, slapping his leg. "Bring it here, bring it here."
They'd been playing this game for a solid twenty minutes while strolling along the sidewalk that paralleled the beach, and Starsky thought The General was looking a little haggard as he trotted toward his master, carrying his prize. Yet, he knew it was difficult for Hutch to deny the dog, whose eyes never failed to sparkle with anticipation of the next toss.
"Ah, good boy," Hutch rubbed the sleek coat as he took the Frisbee, "such a good boy."
"Maybe he needs to rest," Starsky offered, watching the panting sides even as The General tensed in preparation for another chase.
"He wants me to throw it again," Hutch protested, straightening so the three of them could continue along the sidewalk.
"He'll always want you to throw it again, he's so damn loyal."
"It's not loyalty," Hutch said, tucking the saucer at his side, "he just likes to play."
"But he chases after it to please you."
"How do you know?" Hutch shot back. "What makes you such an expert on how dogs think?"
Starsky sighed, letting the subject drop because it was an argument that couldn't be won. Besides, it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, great for a family gathering on the beach, and many people were doing just that.
The General was now walking beside them, but when Hutch switched the Frisbee to his other side, the dog began prancing with anticipation.
"One more time," Hutch said.
Starsky wasn't sure if the blond was talking to him or to the dog.
The Frisbee was thrown half-heartedly and it wobbled, then turned on its side and spun into the center of a crowded picnic table. The General came to a halt beside the table, rear end wagging uncertainly.
Hutch cringed and trotted over to the group of people who were making forlorn noises as they picked the plastic saucer from their potato salad.
Starsky stayed where he was, judging from the faces that none of the picnickers were going to make an issue of the small catastrophe.
"Sorry," he heard Hutch say.
A young lady sitting at the end of the table had the Frisbee, and she squinted as she looked up at the tall man standing beside her. "Hi." Her greeting carried more enthusiasm that was appropriate for the situation. Starsky realized right then that everyone at the table was paired up... except her.
Hutch fidgeted and blushed as he took the Frisbee from her. "Thanks. Sorry." His eyes flicked to the others at the table. "Sorry about that." They made noises of congeniality. One of them reached to pet The General.
"What's your name?" the lady at the end beamed at Hutch.
"Uh... Ken." Hutch nodded and stepped backwards. He indicated the Frisbee. "Thanks." Then he whistled before turning toward the ocean, pretending not to hear something else the woman was trying to say. "Come on, General. Come on, boy." He sent the saucer sailing in the direction of the water, and The General took up chase.
Starsky continued walking along the pathway. Between the two of them, Hutch might be the one who was aging more quickly, but he was also the one still breaking hearts.
And why not? Hutch looked fantastic. He had dropped almost ten pounds since becoming a dog owner, for The General would not allow him to miss a morning or evening of exercise. He had a nice tan and the sun had bleached his hair, contrasting nicely with the color of his skin.
The dog had retrieved the Frisbee a final time, and he and Hutch came back to Starsky.
"Here," Hutch said, handing his partner the Frisbee, "you take it."
Starsky tucked it under his arm.
"No more," Hutch told the dog in a voice the was unsuccessful at being firm. "Uncle Starsky says no."
"You know," Starsky said, grateful that The General had settled into stride beside them, "it's a good thing he's not a child. Because if he were, it'd really tick me off that you tell him all the little unpleasantries in life are my fault."
Smugly, Hutch replied, "He's not a child. He's 'just' a dog, as you're fond of pointing out at times."
"Right." As usual, Hutch was determined to win the argument. Starsky let him. Then he said, "You know what else?"
"You're the best lookin' guy on the whole beach."
"I didn't know you were checking out guys."
"I don't have to check out guys to know you're the best." There, he'd won a point that Hutch wasn't going to dispute.
Hutch put his arm around Starsky's neck, chuckling softly. "I love you, you big dope."
After a moment, Starsky realized that he didn't have his usual urge to squirm when Hutch was openly affectionate in public. He leaned into the other. "Likewise." He had the urge to kiss, but he wasn't going to go that far. They were near the parking lot where Hutch's Mercury was, however, and he said in a low voice, "When we get home, let's fuck."
"Shhhh," Hutch scolded, then whispered, "Not in front of the dog." He looked down and cooed, "Ah, poor boy, Uncle Starsky using words you'll never know the meaning of."
The dog's rear end swung frantically at the attention from his master.
"Oh, for Chrissakes," Starsky said, but he couldn't restrain a grin. "At least he doesn't know what he's missing."
"How do you know?" Hutch wondered. "He may have gotten laid before his operation."
They were at the car. "Well, he can't tell us, so we'll never know."
The General jumped into the back as soon as the door was opened for him. Starsky and Hutch followed, settling into the front seat.
Hutch turned to his partner and took Starsky's chin. Then he leaned forward for a quick, powerful kiss. After pulling back, he looked his partner in the eye. "At least we know what we would have missed."
"Right," Starsky agreed, loving it when Hutch got sentimental. He pulled at the seam to his cutoffs, trying to shift things around. "Let's go home."
Hutch started the motor.