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A QUESTION OF
Hutch exited the men's room, and started down the hall. He noticed a trio of fellow cops, including his partner, standing around the bulletin board where Belinda Davenport of Human Resources had just pinned up a new notice. As she briskly walked away, the group of cops closed in to read the new notice.
"What's up?" Hutch asked as he came up behind his partner.
"Contest," Starsky said, his eyes on the announcement.
Hutch leaned over Starsky, trying to see between the shoulders of the two other cops in his way. One of them grunted. "Yeah, like anyone in this department can write worth a damn. Just look at how much our superiors complain about how badly we write reports."
His partner chuckled and even more people began to gather around the bulletin board. "Yeah, but look at that first place prize. A four-day weekend in the Bahamas, all expenses paid." He released a whistle. "Sorry, Brinkman, but if I win the contest, I'm taking someone blonde and curvy. So, forget me taking you."
The first partner grumbled good naturedly. "Fine, I'll remember that. You'll watch my ass, but you won't take me to the Bahamas with you." He sighed forlornly. "So much for unconditional love."
Other cops laughed.
Hutch was trying to read the notice. Creative Writing Contest was the bold heading. But he was distracted by murmurs from the back of the gathering group.
"Yeah," someone was saying in a sad voice, "they had to amputate his leg, so he's taking it pretty hard. Can you imagine? Someone so young and strong and athletic as that. And now he's going to have to live with an artificial leg the rest of his life."
Hutch turned toward the voice. Patrolman Gunderson was the one who had spoken, and he looked up from where he'd been speaking with his partner and met Hutch's eye.
Hutch didn't know what to say.
Gunderson eased the moment. "My nephew," he explained to Hutch. "He was in a bad mountain climbing accident, and he lost his leg."
Hutch felt a profound sadness come over him that he didn't understand. "Sorry," he muttered, wishing he had something more to say than that.
Gunderson's shoulder was squeezed by his partner, and then the two moved away.
"Panel of judges?" Starsky was asking of no one in particular. "I wonder who makes up the panel."
"It says panel of a dozen volunteer judges," someone else pointed out, then mock-complained, "Well, shit, no one asked me to volunteer." Others laughed.
Hutch was trying to focus back on the board when Starsky turned to him. "Did you see this, Hutch? Human Resources is staging a writing contest. First place is a four-day weekend in the Bahamas."
Hutch stuffed his hands in his pockets. "Yeah. So?"
"Whaddya mean, so? It would be great to win a prize like that. Maybe you and I can write a story together."
Hutch sighed inwardly. "Neither of us has a talent for writing, stupid."
"Party pooper." Starsky turned back to the notice.
"The deadline is two months from now," someone said. "It's worth a shot for a prize like that."
Hutch stepped away to the mailboxes. He grabbed the papers in his and Starsky's slot and turned toward the squadroom. His partner caught up to him just as he moved inside the double doors to face the excessive load of work at their table. He tossed to the table the usual irrelevant notices that had been in their box. Remaining in his hand was a plain envelope with the words "Sergeant Kenneth Hutchinson" written on the outside.
"What's that?" Starsky asked.
"I haven't opened it yet," Hutch said with irritation as his fingers ripped along the sealed flap.
"Okay," his partner grumbled back.
Sorry, Hutch thought, but didn't say so. In his mind's eye, he imagined Gunderson's young, energetic nephew with only one leg.
He took the sheet of paper from the envelope and unfolded it. "Dear Sgt. Hutchinson" was handwritten, but the rest of it was a form letter. As he read, he felt his blood pressure rising. Today was not a very good day all the way around. But at least, there was good news in the letter: Starsky couldn't badger him about writing a story together.
"Well...?" Starsky asked hesitantly.
Hutch grunted triumphantly and tossed the paper at him. "If you want to enter the contest, you're on your own. I'm disqualified from participating."
Puzzled, Starsky picked up the paper. "Dear Sgt. Hutchinson," he read out loud, "As chairperson of the Committee for Off-Duty Activities, I have selected you as a `volunteer' to be one of a dozen judges for the LAPD's first annual Creative Writing Contest. Your presence is required at a meeting of all the judges on Thursday, February 12th, at 2:00 PM in the Human Resources Conference Room. Congratulations on receiving this honor. Yours truly, Belinda Davenport, Director of Human Resources. P.S. `Unvolunteering' yourself is not allowed." Starsky laughed as he tossed the paper back at Hutch.
"That's a crock," Hutch noted, sitting down. "I don't know anything about how to judge a story contest. This Belinda person has to be out of her mind."
"Sounds like a clever lady to me," Starsky said, also sitting. "She probably figured no one would volunteer, so she selected the panel herself."
"Based upon what?" Hutch demanded. "The whole contest is a scam if the judges don't know crap themselves about how to write."
Starsky shrugged. "Well, all I got to say is that I'm glad one of the judges is someone I share hearth and home with." He winked. "Because I'm gonna enter the contest, and it'll be good to have at least one of the judges on my side."
Hutch blinked, watching as Starsky opened a file from the stack sitting on the table. He wondered why the image of Gunderson's one-legged nephew haunted his mind.
* * *
Hutch was one of a dozen unhappy policemen and policewomen sitting around the conference table when Belinda Davenport strode in, her arms filled with file folders. "Good afternoon, everyone," she greeted with a cheerfulness that grated on Hutch's nerves. She put the folders down and stood at the head of the table. "I'm glad to see how excited you all are to have been honored by the selection committee. Of course," she relented without skipping a beat, "that selection committee had only one member, and that was me." She grabbed the folders and started moving around the table, placing one before each officer. "I'm sure you're all wondering how you managed to be honored with being volunteered for the panel of judges. I assure you that I've done my research. Some of you have written for your school papers, some of you even have published work in other publications. Some of you write excellent reports in your day-to-day work. In short," she again stood at the head of the table, having passed out the folders, "I am convinced that you all, at the very least, know how to string two sentences together. That qualifies you to be a judge in our little contest."
The officer to Hutch's left looked at him and rolled his eyes. Hutch rolled his eyes back.
Belinda continued, "Morale has been very low in the LAPD due to all the publicity from the police brutality suit that was filed last month. Therefore," she raised her voice in such a way that it was impossible to ignore her, and Hutch had to admire her public speaking skills, "the LAPD is putting on this creative writing contest to give our good people something else to focus on. So, let's put on a cheerful face and be glad for our part in helping to put together this contest. Without judges, a contest can't happen."
A policewoman from R&I raised her hand timidly. "Ms. Davenport?"
"I have to be disqualified from the judge's panel. My husband works down in the cafeteria and he always likes to enter contests. There's no way I can be impartial. If I voted for anyone else's story, it would mean divorce."
"Same with my two brothers," another officer said. "They're both cops in this precinct. I know at least one will try to enter the contest."
"Not to worry," Belinda said. "It would be impossible to put together a panel of judges who weren't close to some of the entrants. But there's no reason why every one of you can't be impartial, no matter who your friends and relatives in the LAPD are. That's because the copies of the stories you're given won't have bylines. You won't know whose they are, unless the writer shows you a copy of the story ahead of time. But more importantly, no one will ever know who voted for what stories. So," she concluded cheerfully, "just smile and tell your friends and relatives that you voted for their story. They'll never know the difference."
There were a few nervous laughs around the table. Hutch wondered if he'd ever be able to keep from Starsky the fact that he wouldn't hesitate to vote for anyone else whose stories were better than any pathetic writing attempt of his partner's.
"Now," Belinda said, "open your folders. You'll see that there's a list of criteria that make up a short story - plot, characterization, originality, consistent point of view, etc. I've included some descriptions from literary sources on what you should look for under each category. There are also worksheets for you to jot down notes on each story and what percentage of the standard they meet for each category. The worksheets are only for you; you don't need to turn those in. All we're looking for from you is a first through sixth place ranking, after you've read all the stories. I'll apply a point system for how many points a story gets for its placing with each judge. From that, the total number of points will determine who gets first place, second place, etc. There will be first through third place awards, plus three honorable mentions. The winners will be published in the July through December issues of The LAPD Review. " She looked up. "Any questions?"
There was a long silence, then someone asked, "How long do we have to read the stories?"
"One month. The deadline for entries is April 30th. Each of you will get a copy of all the entries at that time. Your rankings of first through sixth place are due on May 31st. The winners will then be announced at the LAPD's annual barbecue in June."
"I read slow," someone announced defiantly near the front of the table. Everyone laughed.
"Well, then," Melinda was still smiling cheerfully, "you'll just have to spend more time at it than everyone else."
"Can I be unvolunteered?" another asked.
"No," Belinda replied.
There was more laughter, and some grumbles.
More gently, she added, "The announcement has only been out a few days, and I hear the contest being discussed in the halls all the time. People are excited about the contest. I think it'll be good for morale. So, let's all do our part. Any other questions?"
Everyone was silent.
"Good. We'll meet again shortly after the deadline, and I'll distribute copies of all the entries to each of you. Have a good day."
The hapless dozen stood and pushed in their chairs, most muttering under their breaths.
Hutch found himself hoping that Starsky truly wasn't going to enter. He was certain that a judge and a contestant living under one roof could only make for an unhappy home.
* * *
His face looked so forlorn, his clothing ragged and torn. He was hopping around on one leg in the Minnesota snow, new flakes falling all around him. He looked so lost. He was about ten years of age, and his whole life should be ahead of him. Instead, there would be only hardship in his future.
There's nothing I can do now to help him, Hutch realized.
When he awoke to darkness, Starsky gently snoring beside him, he wondered why his heart felt so heavy and sad for a one-legged stranger.
* * *
Girlfriend turned her brindle head from the living room window to look worriedly at Hutch, who was sitting on the sofa.
"I don't know when he's going to be home," he told her gently. Dusk had fallen and Starsky still wasn't back from work. As they often did, they'd driven separate cars. Hutch was reading the newspaper while rubbing and petting The General, his pointer who lay beside him. Girlfriend was Starsky's dog, a small mutt, and she now turned her head back to watch out the window. Trying to keep his attention on the newspaper, Hutch decided it was safe to elaborate to the dogs. "Maybe Uncle Starsky has decided to not come home. Maybe he's really mad at Master Hutch for dumping oatmeal on his head."
Hutch restrained a sigh as his eyes continued to scan the paper. He didn't know why he'd done that at breakfast. He and Starsky had been eating oatmeal. Hutch had gotten up to put his dish, with its few reminding bites, in the sink. At that moment, Starsky had said something irritating - Hutch couldn't even remember what - and, on impulse, he'd dumped out the oatmeal onto Starsky's head. Starsky had leapt to his feet, called Hutch a "dick face", and marched into the bathroom to clean up. True to his usual forgiving nature, Starsky hadn't behaved as though he were still mad at Hutch throughout the day. But it was puzzling that he wasn't home yet.
"Sometimes," Hutch continued explaining to the dogs, "Master Hutch does really stupid things for no reason. Maybe Uncle Starsky has decided he's had enough." Hutch's chest tightened at the possibility that it might really be true. He petted The General and said to Girlfriend, "Just hard to believe that he'd leave his little princess behind."
She turned her head back to look at him.
"It's okay," he assured, "me and The General will still take care of you if Uncle Starsky decides never to come back home."
Girlfriend suddenly spun around and whimpered excitedly. She raced toward the door and spun around some more.
"Ah, he's home," Hutch said, hearing a car motor turn off. He'd better not want me to apologize. That was unlikely, at least. Starsky wasn't one to carry around anger. Hutch opened the newspaper wide and hid his face behind it.
The door opened and Hutch listened while his partner enthusiastically greeted, "Hey, there, Girlfriend. How's my little princess?"
She whimpered some more.
"All right, girl, you need to get back out of the way, so Uncle Starsky can bring this inside."
Hutch lowered his paper. He watched while Starsky awkwardly carried a huge box into the house. "What the hell is that?" It said Brother on the side.
"A brand new electric typewriter," Starsky replied breathlessly as he put it on the floor. "Complete with bells and whistles." He disappeared outside again, then brought in a typewriter stand.
"What's it for?" Hutch wondered.
Starsky closed the door behind him and grinned. "For writing my story for the contest." He began tearing the box open.
With disbelief, Hutch demanded, "You bought an expensive typewriter just for that?"
"Yes, I got it just for that," Starsky emphasized, not looking at him. He carefully pulled the foam protection pieces away and then lifted the typewriter out of the box.
It was the biggest and most sophisticated typewriter Hutch had ever seen in his life. He remembered now why he had dumped oatmeal on Starsky's head. Starsky had made some comment about how Hutch would love his story after he wrote it. Hutch had resented the inference that he was supposed to automatically judge it to be the outstanding entry in the contest, just because his partner wrote it.
"You can't type worth a damn," Hutch pointed out, hiding behind the newspaper again.
"Yeah, but I'll get better while I'm using this machine. It even has automatic correction. It can remember up to five pages. I can even do bold and line up the right margin, and stuff like that. It'll even count the words in a document. Because, you know, they won't allow anything longer than five thousand words for the contest."
Hutch mentally shook his head. He couldn't imagine Starsky sticking to this writing stuff long enough to write fifty words, let alone five thousand. "Sounds like a computer," Hutch said suspiciously. How much had the damn thing cost, anyway?
Starsky picked up the stand. "Well, the sales guy was tryin' to talk me into a computer, because he said typewriters are gonna be obsolete in just a year or two. But I didn't want to spend that much money. Just wanna write my story." He carried it down the hall.
Hutch tried to become interested in the newspaper while listening to Starsky carrying the new furniture into the second bedroom, which was primarily a storage room. Later, there was a grunt as Starsky lifted the huge typewriter.
Hutch listened with smug satisfaction for the next hour as sounds of swearing and muttering came from the second bedroom, along with noises of things being moved around and the pages of a manual being roughly turned. He was tempted to offer sincere help when, finally, there was the noise of the first success of keys hitting paper. Hutch settled back and turned on the television. It would be only a short time now before Starsky lost his enthusiasm for the whole project, and Hutch would be spared the expectation of voting for his partner merely because he was his partner.
* * *
Three evenings later, Hutch pointed the remote at the television and turned up the volume. That damn typewriter of Starsky's was loud. Worse, Starsky had indeed gotten faster at typing, making the clatter of keys all the more irritating. Hutch was surprised that Starsky had kept at his story the past few days. Even more surprising, his partner hadn't shown any of it to him. He'd been certain that, after typing the first two sentences, Starsky would have called him in and demanded praise for his enormous effort.
Hutch reached beside him and patted The General, needing the comforting feel of his pet's unconditional love. He knew he would have the dream about the one-legged child again tonight. But he didn't understand why.
* * *
"There," Hutch told The General as he unplugged the cord to the vacuum cleaner and gathered it up. "All done. Now I can enjoy my Sunday with my good boy." The General wagged his rear end excitedly and Hutch petted his head. "Just let me put this up and we can go play in the backyard with your new toys. Maybe Girlfriend will play, too." She was lying at the end of the hall, chin resting on her paws. Though she had been watching the vacuuming activity, Hutch knew her main "activity" was waiting for her master to come home, as Starsky was out doing errands.
Hutch put the vacuum cleaner in the hall closet. "Let's see what new toys we've got," he whispered enticingly. He walked into the second bedroom, where he'd tossed the sack of new dog toys after his last visit to the pet store. He opened the sack and pulled out a package with a squeaky hot dog inside. As he tore the plastic package open, The General whimpering in anticipation, he noticed the typewriter stand with pages scattered around it. Hutch squeezed the newly freed toy, making it squeak, then tossed it into the hall. "Go get it!"
The General obeyed.
Unable to squelch his curiosity, Hutch went over to the typewriter and picked up some of the pages. They looked neat and clean, proving that Starsky had, indeed, learned to use the machine well. Hutch squinted his eyes when he noticed the names "Blondie" and "Curly" on the pages. He scanned the sentences, amazed that they were complete and, for the most part, correctly punctuated. Then he stopped noticing the peripherals and found himself enraptured. It took a while to figure out, but he finally realized that the story was being told from the point of view of Starsky's old Ford Torino, which thought of its occupants as "Blondie" and "Curly". The Torino commented upon the antics of the humans - both humorous and serious - as they went about their day-to-day lives.
Hutch's chest swelled with the realization that his partner was writing a wonderful story, and telling it in a shockingly poignant manner. He swallowed with difficulty, silently admitting how rotten it had been of him to not encourage this bold endeavor of Starsky's. Reverently, his fingers touched other pages lying near, and he finally came upon the first page. The title read, "The Little Red Car That Could".
There was a squeaky noise and The General nudged his knee. Hutch looked down and took the toy from him. "Go get it!" he said, throwing it across the hall into the main bedroom. The General bounded out of the room, Girlfriend trotting behind with minimal interest.
Hutch carefully laid the pages back as he felt a tremendous burden fall from his shoulders. He could vote for Starsky's story, his conscience completely clear.
* * *
The dreams of the one-legged child went away.
* * *
"I would say that our contest idea was a success," Belinda told the skeptical dozen sitting around the conference table, where a tall stack of papers rested before each seat. "We had a total of thirty-two entries. You all have a copy of each story before you. Remember, you have one month to read them. You need to turn in your choices for places one through six by the 31st. So, give it your best shot. These thirty-two authors worked hard on their submissions; I hope you all give them the attention they deserve. Any questions?"
The room was silent.
"Okay, that's it. Remember, as official judges, I must ask that you not share the stories with anyone."
Someone said, "I don't think there's that much secrecy. I've already heard people talking in the halls about what they're writing. Fred Porter was showing his story to everybody and trying to get them to tell him whether it was any good or not."
Belinda said, "Let's keep as much integrity as we can in the process. I know that some of you can't help the fact that you already know about some of the stories, and who wrote them. But I have absolute faith that none of you will be biased when it comes to filling out your final ballots."
Again, the room was still.
"That's it, then. Happy reading."
Hutch picked up the stack of papers, surprised at how heavy it was. He wondered where Starsky's story was in all this paper. In any case, it would wind up on top. He found himself feeling more positive about being a judge than ever.
* * *
Hutch shifted on the sofa, trying to lean over the arm of the couch - and away from his partner. He was on page three of a story where none of the words had yet registered with his brain.
But Starsky was right at his shoulder, despite The General resting his head on Hutch's hip. "Well?" Starsky asked again. "Is that one any good?"
"How do I know?" Hutch asked with irritation. "I can't concentrate with you hovering. Besides, these are all supposed to be confidential. So... go play with your typewriter or something."
He listened to a pitiful sigh, which was followed by, "You've been reading these damn stories for the past two weeks. I may as well not exist."
Hutch looked up at him. "It's not my fault that Belinda whatshername had the stupid idea of having me be one of the judges." He, too, sighed, and felt his irritation easing. Poor Starsky; he really had been ignoring him lately. More gently, he said, "Why don't you type a letter to your mother, huh? It's been a while since you've written to her, right?" He turned farther and smiled into those rich, pathetic blue eyes, and softened even more. "She'll really enjoy hearing from you, especially if you use a lot of bold and italics. She'll be impressed that you have such a fancy machine."
Starsky perked up. "Maybe I can even use the `justify' feature. She'll really be amazed if the right side of the page is all lined up."
Hutch patted his knee. "I'll just read this one story and that'll be all for tonight."
Starsky was on his feet. "How many more nights is this gonna take?"
Hutch shrugged. "One or two. " Then, feeling self-righteous, "I'm trying to do the right thing, you know. I really want to be sure which stories deserve to be selected."
Enthusiastically, Starsky said, "But mine's the best one, right?"
Hutch chuckled and scolded, "All the other writers have to wait until the picnic. So do you."
"Urrgh," Starsky growled, then said to the small dog who was beside the sofa, "Come on, Girlfriend, let's go type a letter to Ma."
She followed him out of the room.
Hutch went back to the first page and started reading more carefully.
* * *
Hutch stared at the envelope as he stood next to the drinking fountain, a few yards from Belinda's office. The envelope was sealed. On the front was written "Ballot for Story Contest" in blue ink. Since there were only twelve envelopes needed, Human Resources hadn't bothered having them formally printed. Probably Belinda herself wrote them out.
Belinda. How could one well-meaning person create such havoc with his life?
Hutch shuffled toward her office. He swallowed thickly, and scolded himself for letting his throat get so tight. This whole process was so ridiculous. A contest was supposed to be fun. Some of the thirty-two stories had been genuinely interesting and enjoyable to read, but most were rather ordinary, and some were downright pathetic. His partner's had definitely fallen into the first category.
Hutch turned into her office, and was relieved to see that she wasn't at her desk. No chance of small talk. He stepped to the makeshift cardboard box on the bookcase that had a paper taped to it that said, "Story Contest Ballots".
Hutch's wrist rotated a moment as it hovered over the slot at the top. Then he dropped it.
He walked away, knowing the dreams would return. But still not understanding why.
* * *
"All right, everyone," Belinda Davenport said from the microphone at the makeshift podium, "gather around." All the off-duty cops began to take their seats in the folding chairs scattered around the podium at the north end of the park. The annual LAPD barbecue was always a popular event with all the cops and other departmental employees. "I know you've all been waiting on pins and needles to see who the winners are of our very popular creative writing contest. Then, after that, we'll start the flag football and badminton games."
She waited while everyone had a chance to get settled. "All right, here's the skinny. We had thirty-two entries, and I think we all - the Human Resources staff and judges alike - were amazed at the quality. Some of you guys and gals are in the wrong profession."
There were chuckles from the audience.
As Starsky sat beside Hutch, he hoped that she'd hurry up and get on with it. As much as he'd badgered Hutch, his big blond kept insisting that he didn't know anything in terms of how the other judges were voting. Since his partner seemed so sensitive about the whole subject, Starsky had reluctantly made an effort to quit bothering him and was resolved to wait for the results.
Belinda continued, "All the judges told me how difficult it was to choose among the stories. Remember, all you who submitted an entry are `winners'. We're sorry that the LAPD's budget is such that we can't give all of you a prize." She paused while there were a few more chuckles over the reference to the department's endless financial woes, especially with its likely having to pay in a lawsuit filed by the suspect who was brutalized earlier in the year. "But you should all be very proud," Belinda concluded.
Starsky shifted again, wondering how Hutch could sit so still.
"In fact," Belinda continued, "separating the two top finishers was particularly difficult. In the spirit of true bureaucrats, my colleagues and I had a meeting to see if it were possible to give away two first prizes, the placings were that close. Unfortunately, it just wasn't possible and we decided we had to stick with the original rules, and that was to treat the combined scores of the judges as final, which means declaring a first and second place finisher, even though there only four points - out of a possible one hundred and twenty - separating the first and second place stories."
Starsky's stomach tightened. He had hoped his story could win with flying colors.
"Okay," Belinda continued, "enough of the background; let's get to it." She glanced at her notes. "Our first place winner - which gets the prize of a trip for two to the Bahamas - is an extremely poignant and stirring piece of work called `The Powerless', by Lt. George Munsell."
Starsky felt as if he'd been kicked in the solar plexus. There were whoops and cheers next to Lt. Munsell.
Why had he ever thought his own story was any good? he wondered as Munsell made his way to the podium. Everybody, except Hutch, probably thought his story - with a car for the narrator - was incredibly stupid and childlike. He'd been foolish to think he could actually write something that was good. And Hutch probably looked foolish in front of Belinda, and whoever else was privy to such things, for having chosen it for first place.
"Speech!" some called as Munsell accepted a certificate from Belinda. "Uh," Munsell said into the microphone, clearly uncomfortable with being in front of a large crowd. "Uh, I'm just really, really happy that the judges thought my story was good. It was inspired by something that happened to my uncle, who was a cop in Cincinnati for twenty years." Munsell looked toward the sky. "I know you're watching me, Uncle Joe. This is for you." He waved the certificate at the sky.
Gee, sounds heavy, Starsky thought. He realized that "heavy" was what he should have striven for to win the contest.
Belinda was back in front of the microphone. "Congratulations, Lt. Munsell. Okay," she glanced at her notes, "now to the second place story, which I remind you was only four points behind the winner. The prize - a three hundred dollar gift certificate to Miller's Sporting Goods - goes to a delightful piece of work. In fact - sorry there's no prize for this specifically - many of our judges made a point of mentioning how amazed they were at the sheer originality of the story. Second place in our contest goes to....," she paused and chuckled, "well, the title is a little borrowed, but... `The Little Red Car that Could', written by Sgt. Dave Starsky."
Starsky jumped up, disbelieving after the disappointment of losing first place. "WOO!"
Hutch slapped him on the back. "Good going, partner!"
The clapping from others sounded loud as Starsky trotted up the rows of chairs, then stepped up to the podium.
"Congratulations," Belinda smiled at him, handing him the gift certificate, along with an official second place parchment.
"Speech!" some chanted.
Starsky turned to the microphone. "Uh, well, I guess... well... there's probably not much chance of George taking me to the Bahamas with him since I was only four points behind...."
"NO WAY!" Munsell shouted and the crowd laughed.
"Figured as much," Starsky mock-pouted. "I guess I need to figure out which judge I forgot to bribe for those extra four points...." He listened to more laughter. "But, seriously, some of you who have been with the Department for a long time might remember the souped-up Ford Torino I used to drive. I'm not ashamed to say that I really loved that car. To me, it seemed to have a personality all its own." He was shocked when he felt his throat closing with emotion, and knew he'd better cut the speech short. "Well, you'll understand what I mean when the story is published and you can all read it." He waved the papers he'd been given. "Thanks!"
As he started back to his seat, he heard Belinda say, "Congratulations, Lt. Starsky. Now, let's move along to our third place winner...."
Hutch had left his seat and was standing against a tree behind the rows of chairs, as though stretching or seeking shade. "Pretty cool, huh?" Starsky said as he came up to him.
"Yeah, partner, you oughta be proud."
"I am. Just wish I coulda had those other four points, and we coulda been heading for the Bahamas next month."
Hutch shrugged. "Four would have caused a tie. It would have taken five to win."
Starsky did a quick calculation. "Meaning moving my story from second to first for any one judge, since ten points were given for each judge's first place, and five points for the second placing."
"It's not necessarily that simple," Hutch said. "Your story could have been fourth, fifth, or sixth, on some judges' lists, and moving it up one place - say from sixth to fifth - would have only given it one more point."
"Yeah," Starsky relented. Then he grinned. "Too bad I don't sleep with some of the other judges."
Hutch's eyes flared. "Stop that!" he hissed with gritted teeth.
Starsky blanched. He quickly glanced at the row of chairs closest, but everyone was clapping and cheering for the third place finisher's humorous speech and not taking note of them.
"Don't cut yourself down like that!" Hutch spat. "You wrote a damn good story. You don't need to bribe someone or sleep with someone. The story stood on its own merit."
Wondering why Hutch was reacting so strongly, Starsky hesitantly admitted, "Just wish that merit would have gotten it first place instead of second." For that matter, he just now realized that Hutch had seemed to have more mood swings than normal ever since this whole story contest thing had begun.
"It would have been first in any other contest," Hutch pointed out. "It's just that Munsell's story was brilliant."
Starsky digested that and found that it didn't go down very well. His eyes narrowed. "You telling me that you thought Munsell's story was brilliant?" A feeling of disbelief was starting to twist his stomach.
"Yes, it was brilliant," Hutch said, the earlier anger in his voice replaced by a hint of desperation.
Starsky gazed into his partner's eyes, seeing the... fear?... there. "So, tell me," he demanded in a whisper, wondering why Hutch now seemed so meek when he'd been outraged a moment before. He wanted to fight with a wolf, not a lamb. "Just whose story did you vote for, for first place?" He had his answer the moment Hutch flicked his gaze away.
"Hey, congratulations, Starsky."
They both looked up to see Lt. Gibson - not their favorite person - idling by. Gibson sneered, "I'm sure your partner being one of the judges had nothing to do with your placing so highly." He walked on.
Starsky would have told Gibson to shove his head up his ass, but he was much more interested in his partner's unwilling confession at the moment. He turned back to Hutch, annoyed again with the sheepish demeanor. "You voted for me to be second, didn't you?"
"Hey, Starsky and Hutch."
They both looked up at the voice from their left. The crowd had broken up, now that the awards were over. A group of officers in cutoffs were struggling with a badminton net. "You two going to just stare at the scenery, or are you going to give us a hand here?"
Starsky released a heavy sigh as he and Hutch moved to assist.