FREE TO GOOD HOME
"Get-the-door-get-the-door-get-the-door!" Hutch quickly dropped his armload of books and opened the front door so that Starsky could muscle an old easy chair through it. He leaned against the door to watch his partner wrestle the chair down the few steps to the lawn. Depositing the chair next to the sidewalk, Starsky flopped down in it to catch his breath. He looked up at the front door. "Don't worry, Blondie, I got it."
With a smile that never quite reached his eyes, Hutch turned away from the door. Starsky sighed. He'd be so glad when they got settled into this house. He didn't care how hard they had to push, this house would look more like a home before this Saturday was over. Maybe then the sad look in Hutch's eyes would go away for good.
Starsky wasn't sure when he became aware of this strange mood that swirled around his partner these days. He had begun to sense it a few months before, but only fully registered it when they moved in together. The mood came and went. The only consistency to it was the certainty with which it appeared just when he was sure Hutch was returning to normal. Maybe he's just tired; God knows I am, Starsky thought.
When they bought the house a month before, the couple had been too busy at work to do little more than collect their respective belongings from their apartments and dump them in the new house. In fact, some of Huggy's friends had moved most of Hutch's stuff while he was on duty. Each night, Starsky unpacked a few of their possessions, mixing them together and scattering them about the house. Hutch helped when prompted, but didn't initiate any of the activities himself. He seemed to be content to let Starsky's decisions stand without argument – an unusual pattern of behavior that had begun to concern Starsky.
Realizing he was daydreaming, Starsky groaned and stood up, straightening the hand-lettered sign he had put in the yard that morning. The jagged piece of cardboard propped against the porch rail read, 'Free to Good Home.' Scattered around it were all the items the couple no longer needed or wanted. Since most of the stuff was in good condition, they had agreed to pile it on the lawn with the sign, allowing passersby to simply take what they wanted. Two of Huggy's friends would come by at the end of the day to take what was left to their salvage center.
Just as Starsky reached the porch steps, a voice behind him called, "Is this stuff really free?"
Starsky turned to see an elderly woman standing where the private sidewalk joined the public one. The small, wiry woman leaned slightly on a cane. Starsky sauntered over to her. "Yes, ma'am. Especially for pretty ladies like you. May I show you something from our extensive line of housewares?"
When Starsky took her hand, the woman's eyes twinkled behind thick glasses as she smiled. "Oh good, just what this neighborhood needs: another flirt."
"You ain't seen nothin' yet." Starsky winked before kissing her hand.
The woman laughed out loud. "Oh, you are the smooth one, aren't you?"
"I try, ma'am, I try." Starsky still held her hand. "Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Dave Starsky. I hope you're one of my neighbors."
"Eleanor Green. Eleanor to you, and yes, I live three houses down. I've been here forty years now." Eleanor motioned to a small, neat house surrounded by tidy flowerbeds and a velvet green lawn.
Starsky smiled when he saw which house belonged to Eleanor. He and Hutch had joked about needing to meet that particular neighbor since neither of them knew much about lawn care. "When we get settled in, I'd like to stop by and have you tell me how to make our lawn look like yours. We don't really know where to start."
"We?" Eleanor looked inquiringly at the house.
"Yes, my partner, Hutch," Starsky replied, automatically adding, "We're police officers."
He didn't quite know how to break the habit of adding their job title as an inaccurate explanation of their relationship.
"Hutch? My, what an unusual name." Eleanor looked amused and somewhat puzzled.
Starsky smiled and explained. "His full name is Ken Hutchinson, but everyone calls him Hutch."
"Then I shall call him Hutch, too. Now show me what you have out here that I can't live without. I hate to miss out on something free." Eleanor moved only a little further into the yard before she spotted two telephones. "Do these work?"
Starsky picked up the basic black, rotary dial telephones. "Yes, they work fine. We just had enough phones between us, so we didn't need these."
"Well, I do need them. One of my phones went out and all I can find in the stores is these button phones. Did you know they don't make dial phones anymore?" Eleanor was clearly puzzled by the idea.
"I heard that, yes." Starsky fought to suppress a smile. Fortunately, Eleanor was distracted by something over his shoulder. He turned to see Hutch coming down the front steps.
"If that's your partner, I hope he's as big a flirt as you are." Eleanor smoothed her hair.
Looking back at Eleanor, Starsky whispered, "Watch out. He's worse than I am."
"Good. Now introduce me." The old woman's eyes fairly snapped with anticipation.
After he made the introductions, Starsky steered the conversation to gardening and then waited patiently while Hutch peppered Eleanor with questions about the care and placement of various types of plants. It wasn't long before Eleanor's vivaciousness brought out Hutch's brilliant smile. Starsky was elated. This smile – seldom seen in its fullest glory – lit up Hutch's eyes and tinted his face with a rosy glow. How do I make him do that more often, Starsky wondered.
Eleanor and Hutch were interrupted when a young couple strolled over from the house next door, followed closely by a man and woman who approached from opposite directions. Serving as a sort of social traffic director, Eleanor quickly introduced the new neighbors: Bob and Angela were newlyweds; Kelly was a nurse who lived across the street from Eleanor; and Jim lived in the house on the corner. The new neighbors stood talking for a few minutes before Angela asked, "So all of this stuff is up for grabs?"
Starsky laughed and replied, "Yeah, it's all yours."
Eleanor and Starsky watched as the neighbors descended on the pile of discards, laughing and trading good-natured insults. "I think you'll like the people here, Dave. None of us has much more than two nickels to rub together, but we're hardworking and honest, and we look after each other. There's not much we wouldn't do for each other. I think that's the best kind of neighbor, don't you?"
"Sounds almost like a family." Starsky looked at Hutch, who stood across the lawn talking with Jim.
Eleanor followed Starsky's gaze. "Family is what you make it. Since my husband Brady died ten years ago, Jim and Kelly have been my family. My own children live on the East Coast and don't get out here very often. Jim and Kelly make sure I take care of myself and have everything I need. Bob and Angela are quickly becoming like my own children. We're in and out of each other's lives all the time. I hope you and Hutch will become part of our little family, too."
Starsky wrapped an arm around Eleanor's thin shoulders. "That sounds nice. Just give us a little time to get settled and we'll try to join in."
"Okay. I'm counting on it." Eleanor patted the hand that rested on her shoulder. "Dave, I just met you and Hutch, and I don't want you to think me presumptuous, but at my age, you learn to say what you need to say because you might not get a chance to later."
Starsky squeezed the old woman's shoulder. "Eleanor, I'll listen to anything you have to say about anything."
"Before you worry about fitting in with the rest of us, you need to focus on getting rid of whatever's causing the fearful look that keeps popping into your Hutch's eyes."
Starsky looked down at Eleanor in surprise. "You don't miss much. What makes you think it's fear?"
"It may not be fear, Dave. Hutch just reminds me of my Brady when we first got married. For the first few weeks, he walked around the house looking lost, like it wasn't his home. He would be fine one minute and then the next minute, I'd catch this scared look on his face. At first I thought he was feeling trapped by the whole idea of marriage, but after talking to him, it occurred to me that he had no idea what a real home was like. You see, Brady had an extremely bad childhood. His parents abused him so badly he was eventually placed in a foster home. It still amazes me that he grew up to be such a loving man." She shook her head. "And he was a good man. The finest."
Starsky turned to face her. "Brady was lucky to have you love him. But Hutch had a fairly normal childhood. You know: kiddie sports, scouts, summers at his grandparents' farm. I don't think his parents were particularly the warm and loving type, but they didn't abuse him. I don't know what it is, but you're right about one thing. Something's bothering him."
"You'll figure it out. Just be patient. He probably doesn't even know what it is himself."
Eleanor collected the box containing her new old telephones. "Now let me get home with my new treasures so you two can continue getting settled."
The sudden realization that this woman – old enough to be his grandmother - had just given him advice on handling his relationship with his very male lover caused Starsky's face to color. "Um, Eleanor, you surprise me. I wouldn't have thought you'd be comfortable talking about this. I mean, a situation like me and Hutch's."
Eleanor cackled, "Good Lord, Dave. Your generation has the misguided idea that you invented sex. Well, you didn't. We had all the same things in my day that you have in yours. We just didn't talk about it as much as you do." Still laughing, she walked toward home.
After watching her for a minute, Starsky turned to the house. To his surprise, while he and Eleanor were talking, the other neighbors had all disappeared, along with about half of the discards that were in the yard. He noticed that Hutch had disappeared as well. A sudden crash echoed from inside the house. Starsky dashed up the steps.
Once inside, Starsky was relieved to see that the noise had only been books crashing to the floor when the bottom of the box gave way. Hutch looked up from the floor where he was sorting out the jumbled mess. "It's better this way. Saves the monotony of taking them out one at a time."
Starsky smiled. "You always manage to find shortcuts, don't you, Blondie? Tell you what, why don't we work for about an hour and then break for lunch?" Receiving a grunt and a nod in return as Hutch moved books from the floor to the bookcase, Starsky headed to the back of the house to unpack boxes there.
The last hour of the morning passed in relative silence as the couple carried out their respective tasks. The open windows sent a calming breeze flowing through the house. Pleasant Saturday morning sounds – birds chirping, lawnmowers droning, children playing - wafted through the rooms, creating a symphonic backdrop of soothing peacefulness.
"Hey, Hutch. You ready for lunch yet?" When he received no answer, Starsky went to the living room. Hutch was nowhere in sight, but Starsky heard his muffled voice filtering in from the front porch. As he headed toward the front door, Hutch walked through it carrying a plate covered with plastic wrap.
"What's that?" Starsky was clearly interested in Hutch's bounty.
Hutch pulled the plate out of Starsky's reach. "Bob brought some sandwiches over. He said Angela was worried that we wouldn't stop to eat. I told him that she didn't have to worry with you around." He carried the plate into the kitchen, Starsky close on his heels.
As Hutch unwrapped the plate of sandwiches, Starsky grabbed two beers from the refrigerator. They both tore into the sandwiches, not even bothering with the minimum in table talk. When Hutch went to the refrigerator for more beer, Starsky broke the easy silence. "Looks like we got good neighbors."
"Yeah, looks like. You and Eleanor seemed to hit it off real well." Hutch reached for another sandwich.
"Yeah, she's a sweetheart. I think she's gonna be a lot of fun." Starsky smiled, thinking about Eleanor's parting comments.
Hutch noted the smile on his partner's face. "I think if she was on this side of seventy, I might have something to worry about."
"Nah. I might have something to worry about, though. She says you remind her of her husband when they first got married. I'm gonna have to keep my eye on the two of you." Rising to take his plate to the sink, Starsky reached out to ruffle Hutch's hair as he passed. He snagged a bag of cookies from the counter on his way back to the table.
"You just ate three sandwiches. How can you want cookies, too?" Hutch shook his head.
"What can I say? I've been working hard." Starsky offered the open bag to his partner, who held up his hands in refusal. "Hey, Hutch. Can I ask you something?"
Hutch leaned back in his chair and replied, "If I say no, you're still going to ask me, so ask me."
"Well, I was just curious about something." Starsky busied himself breaking a cookie into small piece. "Does this feel like your home?"
"Of course it feels like my home. I sleep here. I wake up here. All my clothes are here."
Hutch's confusion was genuine.
Starsky rolled his eyes. "No, dummy, that makes it your house. I'm askin' if it feels like a home to you. You know, like you belong here."
"What in the hell are you talking about, Starsky? Of course I feel like I belong here." Starsky might have been convinced if Hutch had looked at him when he answered. His suspicions were confirmed when, after taking his plate to the sink, Hutch remained there. While Hutch fiddled with the few dishes in the sink, Starsky decided to push a little.
"Okay. Do you ever feel like you don't belong here?" Starsky kept his eyes focused on the table in case Hutch turned around.
"No." Hutch didn't expand on his answer, compelling Starsky to push again.
"Not ever? Even once?" Starsky got up to clear the rest of the table.
Hutch stalled before he answered. "No, I guess I can't say I never felt that. I might have once or twice. But it always goes away, so I don't worry about it."
"I'm glad it 'always' goes away the once or twice you might have felt that way." Starsky crossed the kitchen to stand behind his partner. "Why didn't you say something?"
"There was nothing to say, Starsk. It's not a big deal." Hutch turned to face his partner.
"What's it feel like?" Starsky prodded.
Hutch rolled his eyes and tried to squeeze past his stalwart partner, but Starsky grabbed him around his waist, effectively cutting off his escape. "C'mon, tell me."
"I don't know. Every once in a while I just feel kind of…hollow. Like I'm disconnected."
Hutch looked over Starsky's shoulder at the wall.
"Like you don't belong here?" Starsky prompted.
"Like I don't belong anywhere, not just here," Hutch sighed. "But it's just for a minute or two, I swear. Then it goes away."
"What makes it go away?" Starsky began rubbing small circles on Hutch's back.
Hutch laughed, "You usually start bellowing at me from the other room, or I see some of your junk food in the refrigerator, or I wake up with your elbow in my mouth, and then I know that I'm right where I belong. I just have to remind myself every once in a while. It'll go away, Starsky."
Starsky continued massaging Hutch's back. "When did it start?"
"I don't really know. Couple of months ago, I guess."
"Before we bought the house?" Starsky hadn't expected that.
"Yeah, I think so. I don't really know." Hutch looked a little puzzled, and then shook his head as if to clear it. "Detective Starsky, if you're going to continue asking me all these questions, I'll have to insist on having my lawyer present."
The emergence of Hutch's smile – his real smile – made Starsky feel confident that he had been told as much as Hutch himself knew. "Okay. But you need to tell me when stuff like this is buggin' you."
"Okay, I will. Now, are we going to finish unpacking?" Hutch shifted to move around his partner, but was stopped by Starsky's hands on his chest.
"Not so fast. While I've got you here, I might as well move on to another touchy subject. Then we'll be done." Starsky smiled, hoping to keep Hutch calm. "Have you given any more thought to when we're gonna tell Dobey?"
"No." Hutch returned his gaze to the wall above Starsky's shoulder.
"Don't you think we ought to tell him soon?"
"Starsk, I know we should. I feel bad not telling him, but I just can't deal with that now." When they shifted to look directly at Starsky, Hutch's eyes were almost pleading.
"Okay. I'm not gonna push. We agreed we both had to be ready. I'm just letting you know that I'm ready and I think it should be soon." Starsky clapped a hand on Hutch's shoulder and backed away. "How 'bout we get back to work?"
Refueled, the partners made substantial progress in the hours that followed. Hutch finished shelving the couple's considerable book collection and cleared all the boxes in the living room, dining room, and kitchen. Starsky managed to get all of their clothes put away and then began attacking boxes stacked in the spare bedrooms. Each partner was claiming one bedroom as his private domain. Unfortunately, the boxes belonging to each were scattered between the two rooms.
Starsky made quick work of the unpacking, dispensing items between the two rooms, until he came to a stack of boxes in the far corner of the second room. These were not like the other boxes that they had scavenged from Huggy's or the station. All of their other boxes were scavenged liquor or grocery store discards. These boxes were uniform in size and had a small imprint on the top of the box: Viking Moving and Storage. There were five in total and all except one had strapping tape keeping it securely closed.
Looking more closely, Starsky could see a shipping label on the top of each box, with Hutch's name and apartment address. When he heard Hutch coming down the hall to collect more empty boxes, he called out, "Hey, Hutch, c'mere a minute."
As Hutch came into the room and saw the boxes stacked in the corner with Starsky standing in front of them, he stopped short. "Oh, um, let me put those in my room. I'll unpack them later."
"What's in 'em?" Starsky leaned over the boxes again. "Are they care-packages from your folks?"
Hutch snorted and mumbled, "More like 'we don't care' packages." He said a little louder, "I told you, I'll get them later."
"You only opened one of them." Starsky toyed with the top of the opened box, curiosity aroused. "Mind if I take a look?"
Hutch's shoulders slumped forward and as he turned away, he held up his hands in surrender. Unopened packages would drive Starsky crazy, which in turn would drive him crazy.
Starsky's eyes sparkled in anticipation. He rubbed his hands together gleefully before opening the box. "Okay. What do we have here? High school yearbooks. I'll save those for later. Report cards. All A's I see. Honor Society certificates – a result of the A's on the report cards, I guess. I'm surprised your mother didn't want to keep all of this stuff." He glanced up at his partner, who just shrugged and inspected the floor.
"What else? Junior Achievement Award. I always knew you were the enterprising type. What's this?" Starsky leaned into the box to retrieve a book lying on the bottom. The book was covered in white leather over some sort of padding. When he turned it over to see the front cover, Starsky's heart dropped. A little oval frame centered on the cover held a black-and-white photograph of a little boy. Hutch.
"It's your baby book." Stunned, Starsky leafed through the pages of the book. Through eyes growing bright with anger, he noted pages for 'Kenny's first tooth' and 'Kenny's first day at school.' Why would they send him his baby book, he wondered.
Without asking permission, Starsky pulled his pocketknife open and slit the tape on the remaining boxes. The second box contained framed certificates and awards. At its bottom was a smaller white box. With tentative movements, as if afraid of what he would find, Starsky opened the box to reveal a baby gown. It was white with tiny blue satin ribbons at the neckline. He quickly closed the box and tossed it back with the other memories. Starsky knew he had just seen Hutch's christening gown, worn by infants while their Christian parents pledged to God to love their children and raise them to be upstanding and moral people. Well at least they got that last part right, Starsky thought to himself.
Very quietly, Starsky asked, "When did you get this?"
"A few months ago, I guess." Hutch shrugged and continued boring a hole into the floor with his eyes. "About a month after I told them about us."
Starsky peeked into the third box. This one was full of Styrofoam peanuts and contained various trophies and award plaques. The fourth box revealed more of the same. It was as if they had packed up everything that Hutch had ever touched and sent it to him.
Sighing, he turned to look at his partner, who had moved to inspect the doorframe. "Hutch?" It came out a whisper. He cleared his throat and called again. "Hutch?"
"What?" Hutch replied, flatly.
"Why didn't you tell me about this?" Starsky kept his eyes on his partner's back.
"I don't know. I just never seemed to be able to work it into a conversation. I mean, what was I going to say? 'Starsky, I got a childhood-in-a-box today,' or 'Starsky, I think I'm an orphan now.' Besides, I knew you'd just get all upset over it."
Starsky stormed over to the door. "You're goddamned right I'd get upset about it! How do you know think I feel, knowing I caused this?" Starsky's face was an angry crimson.
"Starsk, don't do this. It's not about you. Not all of it. When I told them about us, it was just the final straw to them – the ultimate humiliation. It started when I didn't go to law school or med school. Then I became a cop. Then I divorced Vanessa. Then I fell in love with you. Don't you see? To them, I've been just one big disappointment after another." He grabbed Starsky's shoulders in an attempt to keep him still.
Starsky took a deep breath to calm himself before he spoke. "Hutch, don't tell me you're defending them."
"It's not that hard, Starsk. It's not like they were bad parents. I had everything I ever wanted when I was growing up."
"They might not have been bad parents when you were growing up, but that don't mean they're good parents now, Hutch. Good parents don't stop loving their children just because they don't love the 'right' people. Good parents don't stop loving their children because they chose honest, fulfilling careers for themselves. Or divorced a scheming, conniving bitch who made every day of their son's life a living hell. Good parents don't have to like your choices, Hutch, but they don't just throw you away after you've made them. Not these kind of choices anyway." Starsky's eyes had grown brighter with anger, unshed tears burning just behind them. He turned away and rubbed his eyes.
"Starsk, look at me. It's not your problem. I'm working really hard at making it not my problem either. It's their problem. It's just going to take me a little while to get used to not having a family, even that family." Hutch managed a tremulous smile that was quickly erased when his partner exploded again.
"Don't you ever say that again, Hutch. You do have a family. I'm your family. Huggy's your family. Every cop in that precinct is your family. Hell, even Dobey. Admit it, you respect Dobey a lot more than you ever did your father." Starsky stabbed Hutch's chest with his index finger as he tried to make his point. "What was it Eleanor said? 'Family is what you make it.' Well, face it. You made us your family and we're staying with you."
In response, Hutch simply wrapped both arms around his partner, squeezing him until Starsky thought he wouldn't be able to breathe again. "How do you do that? Take the worst of times and just make them evaporate. God, I love you for that."
"I love you, too. You know that now, but you need to remember it when you start that disconnected stuff, too." Starsky held Hutch's jaw while he spoke, so that his partner maintained eye contact. "Now, what are we gonna do with this stuff?"
Hutch backed away and looked tiredly at the pile of boxes. "I don't know. I'll keep a few things, but I guess the rest I'll just throw away."
"Oh, no you won't!" Starsky's horrified look was almost comical. He crossed the room to a footlocker that rested against the wall. Opening it, he tossed out the blankets he had just placed in it. Then he started transferring items from the open boxes to the trunk.
"Starsk, what are you doing? You can't want this junk." Hutch rolled his eyes.
"Look, girls get to have their hope chests. I'm gonna have a Hutch chest." He grinned over his shoulder at his partner.
Hutch shook his head. "You're crazy, you know that?"
"Crazy for you, that's for sure." Starsky had almost emptied the open boxes. When he cut the tape on the fifth box, he was surprised to see it contained two smaller boxes.
Looking over his shoulder, Hutch laughed, "This is some of my stuff from college. I didn't know where it was."
Starsky pulled a blue ceramic cylinder from the box. He might have thought it was a vase except for the tube protruding from its side. Scratching his jaw, he asked, "Hutch, what is this?"
Hutch's eyes lit up when he saw what Starsky held. "That is a bong, my friend. A very high quality one, too, I might add." Misunderstanding Starsky's confused expression, he continued, " We smoked dope in it, dummy."
"I know what it is and I know what you did with it. What I don't know is why you still have it?" Starsky peered down the tube.
"I don't know, really. It's just something fun to keep." Hutch shrugged.
"Well it's illegal, you know." Starsky turned a stern eye on his partner.
Hutch shrugged again. "A lot of other stuff that goes on this house is technically illegal, but I don't hear you complaining about that."
Starsky couldn't suppress the smile that tugged at the corners of his mouth. "Touché.
But you're keeping it with your stuff and if we ever get raided, you're on your own."
Hutch collected the empty boxes and took them outside, where he was pleasantly surprised to find Huggy's friends from the salvage center loading the few discarded belongings that remained. They quickly agreed to take the empty boxes as well.
After clearing the lawn, Hutch sat at the top of the front steps. Starsky came out with beers for both of them. He sat on the step directly below Hutch and leaned back, using his partner's legs as a backrest. "Hutch, I've been thinking. I think we should tell Dobey about your bong at the same time we tell him about us. He'll be so pissed off that we have drug paraphernalia in our house, he won't even register the rest of it."
In lieu of a response, Hutch spread his knees so that Starsky fell back until the top of his head rested on Hutch's chest. "Yeah, well I've been thinking about Dobey, too. I think we should tell him. How about Monday?"
Starsky tilted his head to study Hutch's face. "You sure?"
"Yeah, I'm sure. He's family. He deserves to know," Hutch responded with confidence. "About us anyway. We should probably just leave the bong out of it altogether."
Hutch wrapped his arms around Starsky's chest and stretched his legs out alongside his partner's. Starsky covered Hutch's hands with his own.
The couple sat in silence, assimilating the sights and sounds of their new neighborhood that was already starting to feel like home. Within minutes, Starsky began to snore and, once Hutch shifted so that his back rested against a post, he fell asleep also. Neither man was aware when a tan, late-model sedan pulled up at the curb.
As he parked, Harold Dobey glanced up at the house and was surprised to see the two men he called his best detectives wrapped in each other's arms, asleep on the front porch. So that's how it is, he thought to himself, a smile twitching the corners of his mustache.
Dobey exited the car, shutting the door quietly. He opened the trunk and retrieved the Polaroid camera he used to photograph crime scenes. Tiptoeing as quietly as a man of his bulk could do, he moved closer to the sleeping couple. A passing car conveniently provided covering noise for him to quickly snap two photos. Returning to his car, he swapped the camera for the bottle of wine he had brought as a house-warming gift. He walked back up to the porch, placed the wine on the bottom step and propped one of the photos against it. Then he turned and walked back to his car, smiling at the remaining photo he still held.
As he neared the street, an elderly woman strolled by, her cane gently tapping the sidewalk. "They look so contented, don't they?" Eleanor Green smiled at the captain.
"I hope they are," Dobey replied. "They certainly deserve it."
"You must know them well. I only met them today." Eleanor looked fondly at her new neighbors.
"I've known them several years now," Dobey responded, shifting his feet. "They're almost like sons to me. It's kind of a strange relationship."
Eleanor smiled at the captain before she continued down the street. Just past the captain's car, she called over her shoulder, "Family is what you make it. That's what I always say."
Dobey looked at his treasured photo again as he got into his car. In all the years he had known these two men, he had never seen them so at peace. Hutch's brow held no furrow from worry or stress. No lines or shadows of fatigue marked Starsky's eyes. Dobey smiled at the comforting photo and noticed for the first time the sign that appeared at the bottom of the picture, propped against the porch rail: Free to Good Home. He laughed out loud as he drove away.