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No Easy Answers
Terri Beckett and Chris Power



At three o'clock in the morning, the mocking birds in the lemon tree in the yard began to sing. They always did. The man looking blindly out into the darkness wondered vaguely how the birds knew what time it was. Or if they cared. Whatever, they had started their morning serenade with the usual liquid trilling, heralding the coming of sunrise and the beginning of a new day.

A new day. And it didn't feel as if he'd finished with the old one yet. Hadn't slept. He ran one hand wearily through his tousled hair, glancing over his shoulder at the figure in the bed, lying quiet as always, fair hair catching what little light there was and gleaming like a halo on the pillow. The sight gave him comfort, as it always did. Times like these, it was good to have a partner. But Hutch seemed to have other ideas on that.

"Davie?" His bedmate wasn't asleep after all. "What is it, love?"

"Nothing," he said quickly. "I woke up early is all. Go back to sleep, babe."

"Horsepuckey," said his wife brusquely, sitting up in the bed, the sheet falling into her lap. "You haven't slept all night. I should know. You going to tell me what the problem is? Or do I guess?"

"Sal -- " Dave Duplessis began, but she patted the bed at her side.

"Come on, darlin'. Come and tell momma all about it, huh?"

The feel of her, warm under the satin and lace of her nightgown, made him aware of how chilled he'd gotten standing at the window. She smelled of sleep and the Chanel No. 5 that he'd bought her last birthday, which she'd said was too expensive to wear anywhere but in bed. He rubbed his cheek against her shoulder, closed his eyes, and sighed.

"Problem?" she prompted.

"Oh, just cop stuff. You know."

"I should. I married one." She was stroking the back of his neck, fingertip light, inviting confidences. "Davie -- it's not just cop-stuff. Can't you tell me? I want to help, you know that."

"S'not me who needs the help, honey. It's Hutch."

She was quiet for a minute. "It was Starsky who got hurt, wasn't it?"

Duplessis nodded. Sally didn't know exactly what had happened to Starsky. She didn't know that he'd been the victim of a brutal rape while undercover on the same case her husband had been investigating. She didn't need to know, and he wasn't telling her. The fewer people who did know, the better. But she did know that he'd been 'injured on duty' a few weeks ago. And she'd seen Hutch in the days following.

"Yeah. But he's okay. Seems to be okay," he amended. "There's another Review Board next week. Hutch -- well, Hutch is kinda edgy."

"He was like that last time," Sally reminded him.

"Don't I know it. But this -- this is different."

It sounded lame to his own ears. How to explain what he could see happening to Hutch -- the fraying nerves, mood swings, the ragged edge of breakdown -- the classic signs of stress? How to explain it without revealing what else he knew -- that Starsky and Hutch were not only partners, but lovers, and that Hutch was almost certainly still blaming himself for not having somehow prevented his lover's rape.

"Guilt-trip?" Sally suggested, startling him. "He's just the type, Davie. Starsky got hurt, and he's convinced himself that it's his fault."

"Something like that," Duplessis hedged. "Maybe."

Gently, Sally pulled him down to lie beside her. "Well, as much as I like Hutch -- and Starsky -- there's not a lot you or I can do for them. They just have to work it out for themselves, darlin'."

"Yeah. I know. Don't get involved. Right?"

She kissed him. "You wouldn't be Dave Duplessis if you didn't get involved. You care, lover, and that's one of the things that makes you special. Hutch is your partner until Starsky gets back on duty -- of course you worry about him. But you shouldn't be losing sleep over it."

Good sense. Sally always talked sense. He put his arms around her, held her tight, and tried to banish the niggle of worry to the back of his mind.

Outside, the mocking birds launched into Opus #2.

* * * * * *

Damn you, David Starsky. Jaqi pulled her velvet wrap more securely around her, tucking her feet up on the satin cushion of her peacock chair, and looked again at the man lying insensible in her bed. Face half-buried in the pillow, jaw shadowed with blond stubble, hair tangled into ungroomed elf-locks, he was snoring slightly, too dead asleep to know it. Damn you for doing this to him.

She'd lost count of the number of times Hutch had come to her in this state during the long months of his partner's convalescence after being shot last year. Alcohol had been his only way off the treadmill of stress, overwork, incipient burnout, and the added continual worry over Starsky's recovery. But Starsky had recovered. And Hutch had become again the man she had first met and grown to love, no longer needing the crutch of alcohol to steady him.

She had met David Starsky. Liked him, so far as she could on one acquaintance. Still did, even knowing now the relationship he had with her lover. But she had recognized, even then, that it wouldn't work. ' . . . you're going to end up with more pain than you thought possible.' She hadn't wanted to be proved right.

The change hadn't been sudden -- over a period of a few weeks, beginning with the undercover assignment that had culminated in Starsky's undefined injury, she had seen the tension building in Hutch again. And then, after a period of not seeing or hearing from him for maybe ten days, he had turned up, last night, unannounced on her doorstep.

She had not known what had happened to put him in that state once again -- hopelessly drunk, incoherent, maudlin -- but she could hazard a guess. The idyll was over, and Hutch couldn't handle it. When he sobered up, would he be miserable, apologetic and uncommunicative. She shrugged to herself. She didn't know why it had happened. But the old pattern was plainly reasserting itself.

She could do nothing. He wouldn't -- couldn't -- confide in her. All she could do was take him in, put him to bed, help him sober up, be a shoulder to cry on when eventually he needed it. But nothing else. The helplessness of watching someone she loved hurting, and being unable to ease the pain -- that was hard.

Damn you to hell, David Starsky.

* * * * * *

The files on the Escort Agencies murders were growing ever thicker, and although Hutch was no longer directly involved with the case, there were plenty of people to keep him up-to-date. What had seemed a complicated web of a case had simplified itself down to a consortium specializing in supplying vice and home comforts to VIPs on both sides of the law, guaranteeing at all times 100% security and discretion. Pinning down those specifically involved with the murders of Chris Villiers, Drew Connery, and Richie Sandovall was not so easily done. But it was on these crimes the police investigation concentrated. The drugging and "assault" of one David Starsky, an undercover officer, figured low down on the list of priorities, except where it might lead on to the murderers.

Babcock was Hutch's main source of information, and it was he who passed on the latest information joining them in the cafeteria where they were putting away coffee and sandwiches.

"We got a break," he said quietly, leaning between Hutch and Duplessis, a hand on each man's shoulder. "Munro, the barman who slipped the mickey into Starsk's drink? he wants a deal. He'll retract his retraction if we give him a new face, cash, and a passport with a one way ticket out of America. The D.A. is talking it over, right now."

"That's good news," Duplessis said. He had a damned good idea why Babcock was keeping them -- or rather, Hutch -- in touch with the progress, and it was more than cops sticking together. Babcock had walked the blood-soaked track left by Richie Sandoval. Drugged and mutilated, the young man had dragged himself a long way from where he had been left to die. Babcock did not have much imagination, but it didn't take much to put Starsky in Sandoval's place.

"Once we got the go-ahead on that, we can question Felix Corey over again, and a few others. We'll get the bastards, sooner or later."

"Yeah," said Hutch. "Thanks."

"No sweat," and the detective left them with bitter, uncomfortable thoughts.

* * * * * *

"Intruder," said the radio. "Hotel Malibu, West 5th Street, Room 351. Possible robbery. Units in the vicinity, please respond."

"We're just down the block," Duplessis said.

"Go for it," Hutch answered, reaching for the mike.

As hotels went in that part of the city, the Malibu was pretty good, catering mainly to tourists. They were met in the foyer by the manager, a man more irritated than alarmed.

"That was fast," he said. "But even so, they'll be long gone. Of course, no one's gone into the room, so I don't know what's been taken. Or damaged," he added. "We don't get many break-ins, but when we do, they usually seem to create as much mess as possible."

"Yeah," said Hutch. "We know the pattern. Who reported it?"

"The Hansons. They heard movements as they were about to go in. They came straight to me."

"Did they make any noise? Put the key in the lock, bang the door?"

"Uh, yes. Both of those, and a yell of 'who's there!'"

"Okay. Does the room overlook an alley?"

"Yes. Right at the back, between the hotel and the shoe store on the next street."

"Check it out, Dave. Okay, Mr. -- ?"


"Mr. Ledbury, let's take a look at the apartment."

A porter showed Duplessis the way out and round to the back. The alley matched the hotel; better than some in the city. It was dark, but relatively uncluttered with garbage cans and heaped rubbish. Maybe because of this, it did not seem to have any resident winos. But it was occupied. There was a neat pile of empty cardboard boxes stacked outside of the kitchen entrance of the hotel, a couple of yards away from where they stood. There was a narrow gap between it and the wall, and in the shadow-blackness, Duplessis thought he saw movement. A small, furtive, and silent movement. It might have been anything from a rat to a hobo, but if it was human, it might tell what -- if anything -- it had seen.

Not being one to take foolish chances, Duplessis took out his gun and edged closer. "I'm an armed police officer," he said quietly. "Come out with your hands away from your sides."

"Can't," said a small gruff voice. "Hurt my leg."

"When? How?"

"This guy jumped on me. He was on the fire escape."


"Just now. Don't shoot, huh?"

"What're you doing in there?"

"I was scared. So I hid."

"So come out. If you got in there, you can get out again."

There were scuffles, a few grunts, and a boy of about fourteen shuffled out on his backside. By the look of the dark hair raggedly cut across forehead and collar, he was of Latin American stock. He didn't try to get up, just sat there huddled over in a denim jacket several sizes too big over a plain red tee-shirt and blue jeans. "What's your name?" Duplessis said crisply.

"Don Amuergo."

"You with a street gang, Don?"

There was a slight pause. "No."


"Said so, didn't I?"

"Okay. So tell me about this guy who jumped you."

"Jumped on me. From up there. Like, I was in the way and he wasn't stopping."

"Describe him."

"Uh, twenty -- twenty-five, about six foot, dark hair. White."


"Green shirt. Blue jeans."

"Carrying anything?"

"Don't think so."

"Okay, Don. I'll tell you what I think. I think it was you who came down off that fire escape, only you didn't make a good landing, and you damaged your leg."

"Bullshit!" the boy snapped. "You pigs are all alike."

"Then it's okay if I search you."

"I want a lawyer."

"Don't need one if you're telling the truth. Stand up."

He did more than stand. He came to his feet like a released spring, but an obviously painful ankle slowed him enough for Duplessis' first grab to hook onto the collar of the jacket and the shirt beneath.

"That was dumb," the detective said grimly. "Hutch!" he yelled. "Hear me up there?"

"Yeah. Loud and clear."

Duplessis glanced up, one fist twisted firmly in fabric. Hutch was leaning out of a third floor window, six feet away from the fire escape ladder. Not an impossible jump for a young, fit cat-burglar. "Could be we've struck lucky. There's rings, necklaces, and a fancy gold watch missing."

"Let's see what Don's got in his pockets," Duplessis grinned, "C'mon, punk. I'll bet even money you know the procedure from here on in. Hands on the wall."

"You can't do this! I'm a juvie -- " the boy yelled, voice no longer gruff. It was clear as a struck bell, and an octave higher. The pulled-open jacket revealed the swell of breasts under the tee-shirt, and there was a certain maturity to the bones of the dirty face. And in the first pocket Duplessis emptied was a tangle of gold and jewels, including a beautiful wristwatch with a chased gold bracelet-band.

"Jackpot," he called, "We got us a female Raffles."

"Read her her rights, and we'll take her in. Is she hurt for real?"

"Dumb pigs!" she yelled. "My fuckin' ankle's swollen like a balloon!"

"Yeah," said Duplessis. "Looks like she might be."

"We'll go via the hospital."

* * * * * *

Her name was Donna Amuergo, she was nineteen, and had a record of petty theft that started when she was nine. Shoplifting, mostly, and the occasional purse snatch. But she had kept out of trouble for four years before launching a new career in burglary. Even with a cigarette in her mouth, she still looked like a fourteen-year-old boy. The effect was obviously deliberate. The search that Minnie and another woman officer had conducted revealed that her breasts had been bound flatter with wide strips of rag, and padding had been sewn into the shoulders of the jacket to make them seem wider.

She wore no make-up, and though there were holes in her earlobes, she wore no earrings.

The latest photograph in her file showed a pretty girl with long dark hair and a confident, challenging stare. That was at fifteen. Her brother ran with the Diabolos, and was a close friend of Damio, one of Moynihan's suppliers.

"Anyone set you up to rip off that hotel room?" Duplessis said quietly.

"No," Donna answered stubbornly.

"How much was Tip Moynihan paying you?" Hutch snapped. "Couldn't you make enough on the street?"

"I'm no hooker!" the girl flared, "an' I don't work for Moynihan nor anyone else!"

"What've you been doing for the last four years?"

Duplessis cut in, voice sympathetic. "This is the first time you've been picked up for quite a while, and it isn't for the sort of things you used to do."

"Natural progression," Hutch sneered. Good-cop, bad-cop routines were something they had down to a fine art now.

"Fuck you!" Donna yelled. "I got a job!"

"In a massage parlor?" from Hutch.

"No way! I work for old Mendiz in his grocery store, and I go to night classes!"

"Then why risk all that by breaking into that hotel room?" Duplessis said over Hutch's snort of disbelief.

She hesitated for a split second. "I needed the money," she said sullenly.

"For the night classes? What are you studying?" Her face suddenly twisted, but she forced back the tears.

"Want to be a nurse," she whispered. Then: "None of your fuckin' business! You gonna charge me? So do it!"

"I want to know why you did it," Duplessis leaned forward, expression earnest. "I think it wasn't your choice. Was it your brother? Damio? Moynihan?"

Donna's body became rigid, hands clutching the table edge like talons, the knuckles showing bone-white. Her face was starkly pale, eyes wide and staring, mouth a rictus of what looked like terror. "No," she said in a monotone. "No no no no -- "

"Christ," Duplessis muttered. "That hit a nerve. Take it easy, honey. Tell me what's goin' down, huh?"

"Don't touch me!" she screamed, although he had not moved. "It was me, no one else! Don't call me honey, you motherfucker!"

"Donna -- "

"It's Don. I'm a dyke. Want to make somethin' of it, pig?"

Hutch sat frozen in his chair, unable to speak for the moment. Minnie had also found severe and recent bruising all over the girl's body, as if she had been beaten up. But her reactions were all too familiar, and suggested a more serious assault.

"We want to help you," he heard Duplessis say, and knew exactly what her response would be.

"I don't need help! Not from you, or anyone! You're all the fuckin' same!"

"Everyone needs help, girl," Hutch said gently, "especially when the world's kicked us in the guts. Who did it to you? Who raped you? Tell us who did it, and we'll make sure they pay for it. Help us to get them."

She stared at him in confused horror and Duplessis got quickly to his feet. "That's about it, Don. Me and my partner are going to have a talk outside. Officer Kaplan will stay with you. Hutch," he continued, and indicated the door with a jerk of his head. "Out here." Mouth and jaw were set in controlled anger and Hutch, caught up in the overlap of Starsky's and Donna's turmoil, was taken entirely by surprise when that anger was directed at him. A stiff armed shove slammed him back against the wall, and Duplessis closed in.

"Don't you ever pull a stunt like that again!" he hissed. "We are cops, not problem counselors, and you keep your own personal crises out of our jobs, understand?"

"But -- "

"No buts! You could have blown the whole thing, and we might lose a good lead on Moynihan. Just pray Minnie can salvage something out of this."

Hutch spun around defensively. "Yeah, okay, okay. But she was just so like -- " He stopped, held up his index finger in a warning gesture. "Don't push me."

Duplessis paused. "Let's go get a cup of coffee, give Minnie a chance to work." Morosely Hutch followed him to the cafeteria. Duplessis was right, and the knowledge was bitter.

By the time they returned to the interview room Minnie had done more than salvage work and was waiting for them outside.

"You guys have got the luck of the devil," she said. "The poor little girl was attacked by her brother and some of his friends. They told her to work the hotel rooms or they'd do it again. Seems like they were getting ambitious, wanted more gold for Moynihan and more stuff for themselves. Like watches, credit cards, wallets, anything they could fence or spend. She won't testify against them, of course. Scared they'll do it for revenge, but she'll tell us all she knows about the gang's link with Moynihan. As long as we keep her name out of it. She can convince them she escaped without being seen, and can use her ankle to keep out of shit. Does she have a deal?"

"Well, she hasn't been charged with anything," Hutch said. "I think we could get Dobey to see it our way."

"If her information is worth it," Duplessis added dryly.

"Oh, I think you'll find it useful, Davie-boy," she smiled. "Take it very carefully with her. She just plain hates men for what was done to her, and who can blame her for that? I'm giving her names, phone-numbers to contact for help and counseling."

"Thanks, Minnie," Hutch said quietly. "I owe you."

"Yeah," she agreed.

Hutch let Duplessis take the statement. He went to the cafeteria and sat at a corner table with his head in his hands. He was cracking up. Couldn't take much more of this.

"Oh, Christ," he sighed. But he had to pull himself together. Starsky needed him. Didn't he?

* * * * * *

"Here y'go, Starsk." Minnie put a fresh cup of coffee down at his elbow.

"Thanks, Minnie. You're an angel," Starsky said around the pencil between his teeth, not pausing in his typing.

"You're doin' real good, now. Gonna miss you when you go back on the street." She looked with approval at the stack of completed reports -- fruit of his day's labors.

"You're just sayin' that," he gave her a smile, which managed to look positively piratical, "'cause you don't want to lose my pretty face around here."

"Trashy boy," she scolded, swatting him lightly with a file-folder.

"That's me," he agreed, finishing a page and ripping it clear with a flourish.

He was doing real good, she acknowledged silently But Hutchinson needed his ass kicked. The way he'd been acting . . . She gave a small shake of the head. If he were the one facing a Review Board, he'd be off the force so fast his ass would blister. Which was a shame. It was a cute ass.

Right on cue the squadroom door opened and Hutch came in. He was snapping a reply over his shoulder at Duplessis as he entered, but his gaze immediately swung to Starsky, checking him out with a tense anxiety that made Minnie swear under her breath.

"Okay?" he asked, an odd note of caution in his voice. But Starsky looked up with a smile.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Aside from typing my fingers to the bone." The expression on his face was warm with tolerance and understanding, and Minnie wanted to hug him. "You and the kid look like you could use some coffee."

"Don't call me kid," Duplessis said, in automatic response.

"Haven't got time. Just checked in to pick up that file." Hutch rummaged through the clutter on his desk. "It's not here." He looked up, scowl fixing on Minnie. "Did someone take it?"

"Take what, Blondie?"

"The file on Moynihan. I put in a request for it yesterday morning. A written request."

"He did," Starsky confirmed. "I typed it."

"Well, bully for the both of you," Minnie cooed. "Then I guess it's in the system and R&I'll send it right along when they get around to it."

"It's about time someone woke them up!" Hutch shoved papers out of the way and grabbed his phone. "What the hell do they think they're playing at? I need that information now, not next year!"

"Ease up, sweetie," Minnie counseled. "Yours isn't the only case they have to deal with, y'know. What are you trying to do? Give yourself -- and us -- ulcers?"

"How the hell can I conduct an investigation without help?" Hutch growled, plainly ready to mount a one-man war against bureaucracy. "And this isn't the first time!" He warmed to his subject.

"Hutch," said Duplessis.

"They conveniently lost the Horowitz papers for five days -- five days -- "

"Hutch -- "

"And they're not gonna pull the same stunt now! What?" he barked, rounding on Duplessis, whose grin would not be smothered, and looked as if he couldn't decide whether to be placating, ingratiating, or just plain amused. Duplessis was holding up a buff folder.

"It was on my desk."

"Your desk?" Offered a new target, Hutch forgot R&I. "Since when were you promoted, huh? Who put you in charge of this fuckin' case? Well, come on. We've lost enough time as it is." He snatched up the file and stalked out.

Duplessis followed with a shrug and a wry wink for Minnie.

"One of those days, I guess." Minnie picked up the papers Hutch's impatience had scattered on the floor. "Give me one good reason I shouldn't bang his head against the wall," she asked the room in general.

"I guess," said Starsky, voice neutral, "he's got a lot on his mind."

Minnie's snort was expressive. "And you haven't, I suppose."

"I get by," he said, and went back to his typing.

* * * * * *

When Hutch returned to the squadroom at end of shift, he paused long enough to pour himself a cup of coffee, made no attempt to tidy his desk, and placed the Moynihan file pointedly and with precision atop the jumble. By the time the coffee was half finished, the room was almost empty, in the strange limbo between one shift logging off and the next taking over. Hutch abandoned the mug and the bitter dregs, and headed slowly for the locker-room. It was deserted by the time he got there, except for the solitary figure astride the bench.

"Want a ride?" Hutch asked superfluously.

"How else am I getting home?" Starsky wanted to know. "Yeah, I want a ride. You're late. Do you feel as lousy as you look?"

"Lousier." Hutch waited for Starsky to volunteer to do the driving, but the offer didn't come. He sighed. "Okay, partner. Let's go." He nearly said 'home', but somehow the word stuck.

The traffic was its usual rush-hour pattern, fast and homicidal, with every man for himself. Waiting at a red light Hutch glanced at his partner. Starsky hadn't said word one since they got into the car. He looked tired, but there was no tension there. His hands rested in his lap, long fingers relaxed. But the weariness was more than physical -- reason enough for not wanting to take the wheel? He never did, now.

The Torino sat at the roadside, accumulating a layer of dust and grime, inscribed with finger-drawn graffiti from neighborhood kids.

"If you're still antsy about driving -- " Hutch began.

"I'm not." Flat statement.

" -- why don't you mention it at your next counseling session?"

"Nothing to mention. The light's green."

Hutch pulled in behind the Torino outside Starsky's apartment and Starsky got out, shutting the door carefully behind himself. Hutch took a deep breath.

"Do you want me to come up?" he asked tentatively. Starsky paused, but didn't look at him.

"Do what you like," he said. Nothing could be read from the expressionless voice or the set of shoulders and spine. Nothing at all. For a moment Hutch's hands clenched on the steering wheel. Nothing changes . . . but you keep right on trying.

Got no choice.

"Okay," he said, and climbed out of the car.

Since Starsky walked straight past the mailbox, Hutch checked it and removed the contents, following him into the apartment.

"Bill . . . bill . . . advertising . . . this looks like a letter from your Mom," he said, taking off his jacket and dropping it over a chair, then handing over the bundle of envelopes. Starsky tossed the mail unlooked-at onto the coffee table. Then he switched on the television and sprawled on the couch.

"Looks like we may be getting somewhere with the Moynihan case," Hutch said over the gabble of prime-time. "We've found a link with a couple of kids from the Diabolos on Eighth. All we need now is the next fence in the chain . . . "

"Hutchinson," Starsky cut in, contempt frosty in his tone, "you're talkin' with your mouth again. You want to be here, so do something useful."

Hutch's hope and false buoyancy dissolved under the acerbity. It was part of an increasingly familiar pattern -- the mood-switch would cut in somewhere along the road home. Hutch had not yet managed to isolate the exact moment, nor did he know why it happened. "So what do you want to eat?" he asked, ignoring the hostility.

"Suit yourself."

No, dammit, you 're going to make a decision!

"We can send out for pizza, I guess. What do you want on yours?"

He got no direct answer, Starsky merely turned up the sound on the T.V.

Sure, Hutch, pizza'll be fine: pepperoni, mushrooms, heavy on the anchovies. Okay, Starsk, consider it done. Thanks, partner. No sweat, for a partner.

What he said was: "I'll fix some scrambled eggs."

* * * * * *

The meal took its predictable course, and Hutch retreated to the kitchen to wash the dishes. As usual, Starsky had pushed his food around the plate, spent more time finding fault than eating. At the same time, Hutch knew that if the meal hadn't been prepared for him, Starsky wouldn't have eaten. He was needed here, in spite of appearances. The psychiatrist had warned him of the power plays that would almost certainly develop, and sure enough they were appearing with increasing regularity.

"A need to exert control," Jerry Greenroom had said. "Go along with it."

So he had. It was not always easy. Part of the time, though, Starsky was maneuvering him so that choices, decisions, should be his, perhaps needing to be convinced over and again that nothing had changed. Except that everything had. Or at least, that Hutch's commitment had not changed. Or maybe that was wishful thinking on Hutch's part.

Everything changes; nothing stays the same. We accepted that, when we first became lovers: the inevitable changes in attitude, in lifestyle, in the way we think, act, relate. Life itself is change. We coped with it. People do, or go crazy. And I can cope with this -- I know you got problems, goddammit, I know you're hurt and scared and screwed up inside, but you're not alone. I'm here. If you could just acknowledge that --

But I can cope. I just need one constant to hang on to.

We used to have that. Right from the beginning, long before we became lovers, we had that because we had each other. Someone to trust, someone to rely on, whatever came down. And after that, the love.

'He was my north, my south, my east, my west;
My working week, my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song
I thought that love would last forever.

I was wrong.'

When are you going to grow up, Hutchinson? Quit seeing the world through a rosy glow of everything-is-beautiful?

You did that to me, Starsk. I used to see things clear, all the crud and shit in crystal clear microscopic detail. Then you loved me, and turned my head around, and I couldn't see anything but you.

I still can't. Even now, when you're hanging on with one hand and pushing me away with the other, when you act like you hate me but can't live without me. I still love you, David Michael Starsky.

Guess that's my constant.

Guess I hang in there.

Guess I got no choice.

* * * * * *

Starsky was sprawled on the couch again when Hutch came back to the living room. For a moment that relaxed, untidy slouch revived a flicker of hope.

"Get me a beer." Hope took it on the chin, and Hutch gritted his teeth, obeying without comment. When he got back, Starsky had moved to the chair.

So Hutch took over the couch, consciously trying to unravel the tension that ached through every muscle. Okay, Starsky needed his care, needed a target, needed proof of his love. A pity the target was starting to get punchy, a little frayed around the edges. But what the hell. No limits, babe.

Has to be even more a truth now. Has to be .

But relaxation was impossible. Starsky was watching him, a basilisk stare that was intense and unreadable.

Suddenly Starsky was on his feet. "We're going out," he said.

"What? But -- "

"To the Pits. You're driving."

"Starsky -- "

"We're going to socialize." The smile was false.

"Is that wise? Jerry put you on Adapin, and he said don't mix it with alcohol. You've already had one beer."

"We are going out. Now." Starsky was poised on the balls of his feet, tense as a cat waiting to spring.

Something feral was glittering in his eyes, and Hutch resisted the urge to respond with anger. That would get neither of them anywhere. Another one of those fucking power games, and Dr. Greenbaum, who ought to know what he was talking about, had said go along with it.

"Okay," he said neutrally. "But go easy on the beer, okay?"

"Sure." The smile was one of triumph. "No sweat." He started for the door, then stopped and shrugged. "Maybe not, though. Ain't no fun socializin' on orange juice." The challenge was back, demanding a response that would feed it. "Let's hit the sack. Lover. That's what you're here for, isn't it?"

The dark blue eyes fixed him briefly, then Starsky walked into the bedroom.

Hutch stood up, knowing he was going to follow, knowing what it would be like. He was right. Tenderness had become a memory, non-existent now -- this was a conflict, unspoken battle in the struggle between them. Worse, it was a struggle that could never be resolved. No one could win.

There was no enjoyment in the act for Hutch, no gentleness, nothing of the together-discovered ecstasy that had been so much a part of their loving. This was animal rut. The initial penetration hurt, because he was tensed and unreceptive -- all he could do was try to relax as much as he could and hope it wouldn't take too long. If it hadn't been so tragic, it might even have been grimly laughable -- the sex-act, something that should be cherished and joyous reduced to the equivalent of a trip to the proctologist.

It never did take too long, now, he had that to be thankful for. The mere genital friction achieved a result.

Starsky's fingers bit into his hips, pulling at him, and he flinched in spite of himself.

"Ride, you son of a bitch," Starsky moaned through clenched teeth, and Hutch felt the spasming of his climax and let out a silent breath of relief.

Nothing had changed. But one day -- Please God, soon! -- healing would change the pattern.

* * * * * *

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It hadn't made the front page, of course, nor even a banner headline. It had a box of its own on the fourth page, headed in black boldface: 'LAS VEGAS BUSINESSMAN SLAIN IN MYSTERY SHOOTING'.

Alexander Lazero was dead. A single high-velocity bullet through the back of the skull. Nobody was sure why.

There wasn't much detail in the two-inch column story, but Starsky read it again at breakfast alone next morning, trying to sort out his own tangled feelings. On the one hand, relief -- the bugbear, the boogieman of the nightmares, the man who had raped him, was vanquished forever. But another part of him raged at being denied a personal revenge, the primeval demand of blood for blood, regardless of the veneer of civilization that denied him that right, and the overlay of police discipline that reinforced the denial with an iron-clad 'Thou Shalt Not'.

The half-full yellow legal pad that had recorded his notes for his Literature course had found a new use. The lucidity he had discovered in himself no longer had the outlet of dissertations on Homer or Eliot or J.D. Salinger, but once discovered it refused to be dammed up. It flowed from pen to paper, a stream of consciousness carrying with it thoughts and emotions, things that could not yet be spoken.

Weird that the news should break today. Like finishing one chapter, and the Review board starts a new one. Please God, let it start a new one. I'm going crazy typing reports every day. If I wanted to fly a desk, I wouldn't have busted a gut to get back on the street. They'll see that. I made it back after the shooting. Massive damage. This is just a formality. S.O.P. I'm fine. No scars. Not where they show, anyway.

Hutch never said anything this morning before he left. Not even 'good luck'. It's been tough on him. I've been tough on him. Can't seem to help it. I don't want to say those things -- it just happens. I can hear my own voice talking like it belonged to somebody else. I don't want to hurt him, either. Maybe I'm schizoid. I'm not telling the board that. And if the shrink hasn't managed to dig it out after three weeks of 'counseling' sessions, I'm not gonna tell 'em.

I'll make it. Lazero's dead. Everything's going to be all right again.

The pad was slipped back inside its file. He never reread what he had written, any more than he would retrace the course of his thoughts.

* * * * * *

"Did you see the papers?" Duplessis said, shutting the car door and settling into the passenger seat. "Lazero's dead."


"Someone shot him through his office window. Can't say I'm sorry." He pulled a wad of newsprint out of his pocket. "Page four. No leads so far, they say. Wanna bet what the obituary will call him? 'Pillar of Society'; 'Public Benefactor'; 'Will be deeply mourned.' Makes me want to puke. I'd like to know who did it, though. Don't know if I'd arrest him or shake his hand. He was the public benefactor."

"It's kind of out of our territory," Hutch pointed out with a mildness he was far from feeling.

"True enough. Maybe someone'll do the same for those other bastards who got away with what they did to Starsk. Times like this I can almost understand vigilante cops."

Hutch didn't answer. Couldn't. He read the brief article again, then tossed the paper onto the back seat and put the car into gear.

"Sorry," Duplessis muttered as they eased into traffic.

"What for?"

"Dunno. Everything. The whole stinking mess. Corey, Hart, Forenzi, and Wright on three counts of Murder One. The rest of their snuff-party pals set to walk. No charges of kidnapping, drug abuse, sexual assault -- the D.A. could have thrown the book at 'em. But they're either 'not guilty' or plea-bargained an easier sentence, and the only good thing is that the D.A. won't put Starsky on the stand. Will he have seen that article?"

"By now, yes."



"What time's the Board?"


"Shit," Duplessis said again. "He'll make it okay, Hutch. Just like last time."

"Last time was different," Hutch said bitterly. "He's got to make it. For his own sake." And mine.

But what a time for the news to break. He'd been half expecting it ever since he'd phoned Henderson to have Lazero 'taken care of', favor for favor, but as the weeks had passed, he'd lost touch with it, as if it had been a fantasy, a wish-fulfillment divorced from the real world. But the nausea now was real enough. Vengeance is not sweet. It is gall and wormwood, bitter and unclean. He had murdered Lazero as surely as if he had pulled the trigger himself, which made him no better than the one hired for the hit. He had no doubt that Lazero's death had been Henderson's doing, and thereby his. But if he had that time over again, would he still have made that phone call? He knew the answer was yes.

Yet now Starsky would be paying the price. What would it do to him, reading the death notice and the glowing obituary?

And would he be able to handle his reaction before he had to face the Review Board? Dear God, please let him be okay. Maybe this is the shock he needs to set him back on the road to recovery. Maybe it'll work out for the best after all. Maybe I should have told Starsky what I did . . .

The morning dragged. Twinges of soreness that were the legacy of the previous night made Hutch even more restless. Every five minutes he looked at his watch, to discover it was only five minutes after from the last check. Luke Moynahan, secure in his packrat store of assorted secondhand junk, was not at all co-operative, though on the face of it he was doing his best to be helpful.

"Jose and Damio? Sure I know them. Doesn't the whole street know them and their doings? I just thank God they're not my kids," he said piously. "Not that any child of mine would run with a pack like that. But as to the other question . . . ?"

"Gold," Duplessis said patiently, "have they ever offered you any items in gold? Chains, watches, jewelry?"

"Ah, you'll be jokin' with me, won't you now, Officer." The brogue was getting thicker by the minute. Hutch decided that if Moynahan referred to himself as a 'son of t'ould sod' he'd run him in for abuse of clichés. "We don't see much of that stuff down here, more's the pity."

"I'm sure," Hutch agreed. "But you're not exactly a model citizen, are you, Tip?"

"Sure and wasn't that five years ago, Sergeant Hutchinson? I'm clean as a maiden's thoughts now."

Duplessis stifled a snort of amusement. "Right. I really hope so, Mr. Moynahan."

The ex-fence spread his hands in a gesture that was more Gallic than Gaelic. "I swear to God -- "

"Don't perjure yourself, Tip," Hutch said shortly. He had dealt with Tip before, and was not taken in. "And keep thinking about it. We'll be back, with a warrant to search this little Aladdin's Cave of yours if necessary. Oh, and tell Jose and Damio that they don't qualify for Juvie any more."

"And we tend to come down hard on street scum like them," Duplessis chimed in with his half of the warning.

"I'll be sure to do that. If I see them." Moynahan almost bowed them out of his shop, and watched them out of sight.

"Do you think he'll tip them off?" Duplessis asked on the way back to the car.

"Nope. He's the kind who thinks he's so much smarter than us dumb cops." He glanced at his watch again. Eleven twenty-eight.

"How about an early lunch?" Duplessis suggested. "I could really use something. And you could call in, see if there's any news."

Which seemed like a good idea, but when they reached the car, the radio was already paging them, quietly persistent. Hutch snatched up the mike and snapped out his name. Dobey's voice came over, heavy.

"We got the results of the Review Board." He sounded dispirited, angry, and Hutch's stomach gave a lurch. "You better get back here, Hutch."

Deja Vu. But this time it was worse. Death of a hope, of a career. Because he knew -- had known right from the start, but would not admit even to himself -- that Starsky wouldn't get through this Board. His partner was a sick man, and right now had just received a gut-kick of a setback.

* * * * * *

He heard the edge on the raised voice as he walked into the squadroom and did not need the watchful, embarrassed faces to tell him what was coming down. Very rarely had he heard Starsky sound like that, with Dobey or anyone else. It backed up the certainty of bad news.

Dave Duplessis, on his heels, caught at his arm as he headed for the captain's door. "Hutch -- "

"Later," he said shortly, and pushed into the office. The two occupants broke off, Starsky swinging to face him, anger and hurt naked in his eyes.

"I'm out," he said before Hutch could speak. "Did you know? They don't want me any more. Kiss off." His voice was shaking, verging on the edge of total loss of control. Hutch winced, and laid a hand on his shoulder, gripping hard in lieu of the embrace he wanted to give.

"Easy, babe. Take it easy. Captain? There's a mistake here, isn't there?" There has to be.

Dobey heaved a sigh, obviously distressed about the situation but unable to alleviate it. "I'm sorry, Hutch. The report -- "

"Stuff the report!" Starsky yelled, wrenching free of Hutch's restraining hand, slamming his fist onto Dobey's desk. "That's an excuse and you know it! Dammit, they passed me fit just a coupla months ago! There's nothin' wrong with me!"

"Dave," Dobey said helplessly, "I told you, there's nothing I can do right now, but we can put in an appeal -- "

"And stuff that too!" Starsky spat, wrenching his badge from his ID wallet, throwing it onto the desk and slamming out of the office. Hutch spared the captain one glance and followed, catching Starsky just outside the squadroom and steering him to the nearest place he could think of for comparative privacy, the washroom. It was empty.

"Calm down, lover -- "

"Oh, sure! I'm out on my ass and you tell me to calm down!"

Hutch threw caution to the winds and grabbed hold, pulling Starsky into his arms, holding him tight -- and after an initial resistance that lasted no more than a heartbeat, Starsky got a double handful of leather jacket and leaned against him, face hidden on Hutch's shoulder. He was shaking, and Hutch hesitated, then began to massage the taut muscles of shoulders and back in slow circles.

"It got out, Hutch." Voice dulled to a monotone. "God knows how, but it got out."

"What did?" Hutch queried stupidly.

"The business with Lazero. The rape. Tough macho cop Dave Starsky gangbanged by a bunch of perverts. They all know. The whole friggin' department." Of course. The grapevine would have spread the word. There didn't seem anything Hutch could say, so he kept silent. "And the Board -- they dress it up in fancy language, but that's what it's all about. Stress disability. Means I can't be trusted. Gonna go to pieces too easy. God, Hutch . . . " His voice failed him.

Wordless, Hutch laid his cheek against the disordered curls. It shouldn't have been like this. I could have broken it to you better. Should have been there.

"No big deal, Starsk," he said at last, softly. "I hear Bolivia's a real nice place at this time of year."

After one disbelieving instant, Starsky went rigid. "Are you crazy?" His voice cracked up a full octave as he pushed away, eyes glossed with tears of sheer fury. "It's me who's out, dammit! Me. Not you. You're not -- "

"Starsk. Take it easy." Hutch reached for him again, but Starsky backed off, evading his grasp. "David -- please -- "

But Starsky shook his head like a tormented animal. "No, Hutch!"

It was warning and entreaty in one.

Hutch let his hand drop. "Okay," he said. "Whatever you want to do, lover."

"I want -- " Starsky sucked in a deep breath, visibly reaching for control. "I gotta get out of here."

"Okay," Hutch said again. Waiting. When he's ready . . . "You want me to drive you home?"

"You got work to do." There was the slightest extra emphasis on the first word. "I'll be all right." He tried for a smile, didn't make it, and the attempt was worse than the lack. "I'll be all right," he said again.

"Yeah. You sure I can't . . . ."

"Sure. I'll see you later."

Hutch let him get to the door, then --

"I love you."

Starsky's eyes were unreadable -- then he nodded once, and the door closed quietly, leaving Hutch alone in the empty washroom.

* * * * * *

"I tried, Hutch. God knows I tried." Dobey dug fingers into the kinked thatch of black hair shot with grey. "I told them. One of the best men I got. Half of the best team. We got him back from the edge of the grave after Gunther's hit, and that was okay, that they could deal with. This -- they don't want to take the risk." He faced the arctic chill in the Hutchinson gaze. "Hutch. I'm relying on you now. His reaction -- dammit, that's understandable, he's been through hell and back. Maybe you can help him over the worst. Don't let him go off the rails. Give it time . . . maybe we can work something out."

"You mean about the appeal?" Hutch said stonily. "What are the odds on that, Captain? For real?"

"Off the record -- pretty slim. Oh, they'll give him a desk job, transfer him to another department, wash their hands of him. But they won't put him back on the street. He's through in Homicide. And that's the bottom line." The captain heaved another sigh. He looked tired, Hutch realized suddenly. Tired and old. "I'm sorry, Hutch. More than you know."

"Yeah," Hutch said absently. So that's it. All over. It wasn't Butch and Sundance after all, Starsk.

"He went home?"

"I guess so." It occurred to Hutch that Starsky hadn't said where he was going. Hutch had assumed that he would go back to his apartment. But he wasn't certain.

"You got any business can't wait? Anything Duplessis can't handle?" Hutch thought of the legwork and questioning and minutiae of policework still to be done. But suddenly they weren't important any more. He shook his head. "Okay. You better go see him through it. It's gonna be tough."

Duplessis was on his feet the moment Hutch came out of the office, half a stride behind him as he went into the corridor. "We going back on the streets?" he wanted to know.

"Starsky's walked out," Hutch snapped, not pausing. Duplessis caught up.

"Don't worry, we'll find him."

Unexpectedly, Hutch halted in mid-stride, and the glare he turned on Duplessis stopped the younger man in his tracks.

"Get off my case. He's my partner."

Duplessis did not flinch or back down. "Yes," he said grimly. "So am I. Like it or not, you're stuck with me. So get off my case, Hutchinson," he echoed, eyes like polished granite. "I don't like being a convenient target for your beef against the world, and I'm not going to take it. Okay, go look for him. On your own. When you want help from this partner, you can ask for it."

"That'll be a cold day in hell," Hutch snapped, and stalked away.

Duplessis' first impulse was to grab him by the shoulder and swing him round for a right hook to the jaw. But he squashed it, giving himself the childish satisfaction of going back into the squadroom and slamming the door behind him.

* * * * * *

Starsky wasn't home. The apartment was empty. Maybe it was his own over-stressed imagination, but the emptiness was more than the lack of a physical presence. In some ways, Starsky had not been home for a month or more.

Okay, so where was he? Huggy's was the obvious place, and that was his first phone call. Starsky was not there. And Hutch had no idea where to begin looking for him. When a man doesn't want to be found, Los Angeles is a good place to get lost in, and Hutch knew perfectly well that even if he'd had unlimited time and manpower at his disposal he wouldn't have been able to track down a determinedly evasive Starsky. It didn't stop him from trying -- a fruitless round of calls that left him drained and frustrated.

" . . . No," Huggy said wearily, "he still ain't here, Hutch. An' I still ain't had no word on him, from anyone or anywhere. I told you, I'll get back to you soon's anything turns. Man, it's one-thirty in the morning -- get some rest, willya? He'll be okay."

"Yeah, sure. Thanks, Hug . . . " Hutch put the phone down, slumping in the chair. Outside the circle of light from the table-lamp beside him, Starsky's apartment was dark and still. The pressure of an incipient headache pulsed warningly behind his eyes; he ground the heels of his hands against his eye sockets, conjuring violent green and purple ghost patterns under his closed eyelids. He should get some rest. Right. Short of knocking himself cold, he couldn't think of a way off the treadmill of anxiety.

Starsky could look after himself. Sure he could. He'd managed okay so far, hadn't he? Why the panic because he'd taken it into his head to cut loose? He wasn't dumb. And you're not his keeper, Hutchinson.

No. But I'm his partner. And his lover. Or I was both, until a few hours ago. Now I don't know what I am.

* * * * * *

The snick of the lock disengaging jerked him out of his doze, disoriented, blinking in the light of the lamp. The dark figure beyond the edge of the golden light could only be Starsky, and the relief flooded through him.

"Where have you been?" As if it mattered. "Are you okay?"

"Sure," said the voice out of the darkness. "I'm fine."

But he didn't sound fine. The brittleness that even the slurring of alcohol couldn't dull lurked under the words, and Hutch levered himself to his feet. "Why shouldn't I be okay -- " Starsky went on. "I've just been kicked out of the job I'm good at, the only job I know. I've been stigmatized for something that happened to me, something I never asked for. Sure, I'm terrific."

Pure vitriol, unslaked rage, and the monstrous pain underneath. Hutch took a step forward, and another, reached out and laid his hands on the taut shoulders, close enough now to see the twin reflections of light glinting in Starsky's eyes. It'll be all right, he wanted to say, even opened his mouth to say it, but before the words could form in his throat, Starsky's hands came up, brusquely disengaged his grip, and he stepped back from it.

"I can't shake you, can I?" he said, wonderingly.

"You're my partner," Hutch said. The rejection had thrown him, and he groped for a truth to hang on to. "We're a team, Starsk."

"Uh-uh." A mocking negative. "Not any more, buddy-boy. I'm out, remember? As of eleven-thirty this morning. Yeah, you still got a partner. But it ain't me."

"We're partners," Hutch said stubbornly, "nothing changes that. We're partners, in the force or out of it. There are other things we can do -- "

"We?" The emphasis should have warned him. "There's no 'we' any more."

"Of course we, what else?" The half-formed embryo plans took shape even as he voiced them. "I'm not staying on the force without you. Dobey'll have my resignation in the morning. We can -- "

Laughter cut in on the speech, hard-edged as broken glass, no humor in it.

" -- do what? Be football players? Star in porno movies?" Starsky's voice was ice. "Congratulations, Hutchinson. You've been looking for an out ever since they talked you into taking your badge back. And now you think you've found it." Hutch stared blankly at the shadowed face, at the chips of freezing indigo, like the crevasses of a glacier that were his lover's eyes. "Wrong. Dead wrong. You're not gonna use me as a scapegoat, partner. No way."

"David -- " Hutch knew now that this wasn't real, couldn't be happening. Surely soon he would be able to wake out of the nightmare.

"Listen up," said the stranger behind Starsky's eyes. "You quit, and I walk. You hear me? Right out of your life. You'll never see me again." Give me a reason, whispered a ghost voice in Hutch's ears. Let me go, turn me loose. And a bitter hiss of accusation -- I can't shake you, can I?

Someone had scooped out his guts and replaced the empty hell with ice mush, which was odd because he hadn't felt it happen. His legs felt rubbery, not entirely willing to support him, and there was a cold knife driving slowly up under his ribs.

The changeling in front of him gave a short nod, as if Hutch had spoken -- but he didn't think he had -- and the room was suddenly still. Hutch knew he was dreaming. He couldn't even hear his own heartbeat, or his own breathing. Stasis. Limbo. Why doesn't it hurt?

"Come on," said Starsky's voice, except it didn't sound like Starsky. And "Let's fuck," the changeling said.

* * * * * *

Cold trickles ran from the wet hair on his nape down over naked shoulders and spine, but the unpleasant sensations were nothing. He didn't feel numb any more. He wished he did.

The silence and darkness of the pre-dawn at least allowed him a kind of anonymity. A degree of non-being. Here in limbo he didn't have to be supportive friend, loyal partner, devoted lover. All of which were pretty farcical under the circumstances. He didn't even have to be Kenneth Richard Hutchinson.

But solid flesh doesn't melt for sheer wishing, however much Hamlet desired it. Scott Fitzgerald had it right when he talked about 'the dark night of the soul, when it's always three o'clock in the morning'. Human kind cannot bear very much reality.

The shower had washed away the surface grime. It couldn't touch the memories, burned into him like the marks of Starsky's fingers on his flesh. The smell and taste of stale liquor on Starsky's mouth. Too much liquor, obviously, for all the urgent fumbling and desperation, hurting them both because he couldn't achieve enough of an erection to make penetration possible.

Hutch winced. Even the usual catharsis of sexual release had been out of reach, though by that time Starsky had been beyond realizing it.

Memory hurt worse than the bruises. Sweat-slicked skin, fingers gripping like talons, hips thrusting in a vain attempt to batter co-operation from insensate flesh. But worst of all, the voice -- not mocking or demanding as so often before, but pleading.

"Please . . . " a gritty whisper forced out in a gasp of exertion. "Please -- " against his shoulder, shuddering with effort. "Please!" a groan of despair . . .

Hutch leaned his brow against the windowpane.

I can't help you. I don't know what you want from me. I can't help you, Starsk. I don't know how.

* * * * * *


For a moment before he got out of the car at Starsky's apartment, Hutch leaned on the steering wheel, closed eyes laid against his wrists. He felt punchy, slightly sick with lack of sleep. In the week since the Review Board's verdict, he couldn't recall getting a full night's sleep at Starsky's place. Come to think of it, he hadn't had much sleep before, either. When had he last awakened warm and comfortable, drowsily content to meet the new day?

Inevitably the two weeks in the cabin just before the first Review Board earlier in the year came into his mind. A bright jewel of memory, precious, unsullied -- a heartbreaking contrast to the present. He drew in a shuddering breath, unable yet to get out of the car and go into the apartment. It shouldn't be like this. He had tried every way he knew to help, support, strengthen Starsky, even when his concern was thrown back in his face, ripped apart and mocked.

Starsky was sick, and getting sicker. Hutch no longer knew how to help or guess what was needed, but he couldn't give up. That was unthinkable, wasn't it? You don't give up on a partner.

No, he shook his head wearily. Cancel that. Why wasn't Starsky's therapist helping him to readjust? Think of that instead. Surely the man must know the state his patient was in? Oh, Starsky could bluff with the best of them, but Jerry Greenbaum was a shrink, for godssakes. Tomorrow he'd phone, tell the man to get the lead out and start practicing his trade a whole lot more effectively. Because he, Ken Hutchinson, was reaching the end of his tether.

Abruptly he felt sick, because that was no more than the truth. Only a month ago, Starsky had pleaded for time. As long as it takes, he'd said, and meant it. But now? He was hollow, drained empty and aching, with no reserves left. Dear God, 'time' wasn't always measured in hours and days.

The mailbox hadn't been emptied. He took the handful it contained up to the apartment. The place smelled stale -- he wrinkled his nose in unconscious distaste as he closed the door behind him. The television in the living room was on at full volume, and Starsky was sprawled on the couch. One glance told Hutch the worst: Starsky was barefoot, unshaven, wearing a stained tee-shirt that should have been torn up for rags long ago, and jeans that Goodwill would have refused.

"I thought you had that interview this afternoon," Hutch said. One of Dobey's contacts had a job opening in his security firm -- it seemed like an ideal opportunity.

"I didn't go," Starsky said curtly.

"For godsake, why not? You're not gonna get many offers like that." Hutch's temper got the better of him. Starsky shot him a look of intense irritation and turned the sound up on the T.V.

"I don't need a job," he said with finality.

"Really. You're gonna live here for free, huh? Or are you hoping it'll rain manna on the back porch? I got news for you -- you don't qualify." Hutch threw the mail onto the coffee table. "There's another letter there from your mother. You'd better start answering some of them or she is gonna turn up on the doorstep. Has she called today?"

Starsky shrugged. "Dunno." His eyes were riveted on the screen.

"Didn't the phone ring?" Starsky didn't answer him.

Hutch swore and strode into the kitchen, yanking open the fridge and reaching for the milk carton. There was perhaps a quarter-cup of milk in it, sour clots floating in the rancid dregs. Hutch poured it down the sink. There were no eggs. An open can of beans had begun to grow a fur coat. Further investigation revealed that aside from a slice of cold pizza in its box on the kitchen table, and a half-eaten packet of Oreos, there was nothing edible in the place. "Dammit, Starsky! I thought you were going to shop today!"

"I didn't feel like it." Starsky's tone dared him to make something of it, and Hutch bit back the retort that sprang to mind. Tight-lipped, he left the apartment without another word, drove the few blocks to the local Safeway, spent half an hour and thirty dollars buying necessary foodstuffs, and drove back. The double armful of paper sacks hampered him somewhat in climbing the steps, and even more so as he fumbled for his key, since he knew there was no hope of Starsky stirring himself to let him in. A phone was ringing -- he didn't realize it was Starsky's phone until he got inside. Starsky was still sitting on the couch, feet on the littered coffee table. The T.V. was now yelping inanely through 'Family Fortunes'.

Hutch dumped the groceries precariously on the drainboard and grabbed for the phone. "Yeah. Talk to me."

"Oh -- Hutch? This is Jerry Greenbaum. Is Starsky there?"

"Jerry -- uh -- yeah." Hutch glanced at the heedless figure on the couch. "What's the problem?"

"The problem is that Starsky hasn't kept any of his appointments for the past two weeks," the department psychiatrist said. "What's happening, Hutch? He's not out of the woods yet. He still needs help -- "

"Tell me something I don't know," Hutch snapped. "I'll get back to you, okay?"

He hung up, closed his eyes for a moment. Then strode into the living room, switched off the television and turned to face Starsky's glower.

"Okay. Gonna tell me why you haven't been keeping your appointments with Jerry?"

Starsky gave him an unreadable look, then tilted his head back against the rainbow-serape-draped couch, avoiding Hutch's angry eyes. "You think I need a shrink?" His voice was toneless, dangerously soft.

"Are you telling me you don't?" Holding rigidly to his self-control, Hutch forced his voice to stay even. In spite of an urge to knock Starsky's head against the nearest wall, he was well aware that he couldn't afford to lose even an inch of ground in this battle.

"I'm telling you," Starsky said silkily, "that shrinks talk a load of bullshit. They don't know diddly-squat about what counts. An' that I'm teed-off with having Greenbaum grubbing around in my head. Okay?"

No. It's not okay, dammit.

"Jerry says you need help."

"Jerry says," Starsky sneered. "Sure! 'Jerry says' and everyone listens. Like the fuckin' Board. He said I wasn't fit, the bastard! He ditched me, and you say go and see him. What help can that jerk give me?"

"Help with picking up the pieces and getting on with the rest of your life," Hutch shot back. "Because this sure as hell isn't it. Take a look around you -- this place is a mess, and so are you."

"And going to a shrink is going to sort that out, huh?"

"It'll help you to accept what happened -- "

" -- what happened?" Starsky threw his head back with a bark of angry laughter. "Say what you mean, Hutchinson. Accept the rape? Do I have a choice? It happened. I should know, I was there!"

"That's why you need a shrink."

Starsky swung himself to his feet and marched to the bathroom. "You know me so well," he flung over his shoulder,"you go." And the door slammed shut.

Hutch stood there, eyes screwed shut, and took a long, calming breath. "Yeah," he said to the silence. "Maybe I will." For a few seconds he hesitated, then let himself out and drove home to Venice Place. He needed a respite.

Starsky came out of the bathroom as the front door shut. Hutch had gone. He stared at the sacks of groceries, rummaged through them for something immediately edible. He found cookies, and a carton of milk, took them both to the couch and settled down in front of the television again. Hutch would be back. He could put the stuff away. He awoke to the strident clarion of a morning news bulletin that gave way to the weather jingle as he stared at it. Morning? Gone eight o'clock in the morning. Hutch had let him sleep on the couch, damn him. Bleary-eyed, he got to his feet and headed for the kitchen. At least there would be hot coffee left from Hutch's breakfast. The coffee pot was cold. The groceries lay where he had spilled them, the few once frozen items now defrosted, spreading sogginess through the rest.

Hutch had not come back last night.

Gradually Starsky became aware of the emptiness of the place. The sound from the television seemed to echo, the way voices do in empty places. It emphasized rather than negated the feeling of isolation. Gradually too, he became aware of the smell. Of squalor, degradation, like his life. Himself. Christ, he stank. No wonder Hutch didn't come back. Dimly, from trauma-lectures in the past, he remembered some of the phases that victims go through. That he was going through. Jerry Greenbaum had said so too. This was A Phase, and it was time he snapped out of it. Had to get cleaned up. The sooner the better.

* * * * * *

Jerry Greenbaum's office was a place Hutch had come to know well, even before Gunther's hit -- ever since department regulations had required that officers involved in shootings or stress-inducing incidents should have professional counseling. He and Starsky had come in for their share.

"Hutch," Jerry said, smiling. He was a small man, slight in build, with tightly curled hair and a dapper little moustache. He looked as if he'd blow away in a strong wind. In reality, as Starsky had once had occasion to remark, he was as tough as Texas steak. He always reminded Hutch of a terrier -- one of the kind sent down holes to flush out prey. "Good to see you."

"Thanks for seeing me on such short notice." Hutch shook the offered hand.

"No sweat. Sit down. So, how's Starsky doing?"

Hutch took a chair. "Not good," he said warily.

"I gathered that much. Last time I saw him was -- " he checked a desk calendar, " -- more than two weeks ago. He seemed to be coping okay then."

"He was. We both were. But you heard about the Review Board?"

"Hutch," Jerry said quietly, "I had to give them a report."

"Then you know what happened. And you can make a damn good guess about how he took it," Hutch said shortly.

"Tell me about it." Jerry leaned back in his chair.

"I know you can't give me time limits, but," Hutch broke off and glanced away, "it seems like he's getting worse."

"Since he failed the Board?"


"In what way?"

"The place is a mess. So is he. He won't do a thing about it. And the power games are tough to take. Oh sure, you warned me, told me to go along with it, but for how much longer?" Desperation, fear, put an edge to his voice. Fear for his own sanity as well as Starsky's. "He's off the force, but he's still my partner. But I don't know how much longer I can take it without hitting back. I don't know how to help him any more."

Jerry got up, wandered to the window, looked out. "Hutch, there are four stages in trauma crisis recovery -- denial, depression, anger, and acceptance. That's what the books tell us, and experience shows that to be a standard -- "

"I know all that, for godssake," Hutch snapped. "I've had the lectures often enough. But what's going on with Starsky doesn't fit the pattern. He's getting worse, not better -- "

" -- a standard, at least, for Joe Public," Jerry went on as if Hutch hadn't interrupted. "Cops are different. Cops are a special case. What I'd expect from Starsk is what you're describing -- anger, rage, often self-directed, which can account for the neglect you've mentioned. Cops tend to think they're invulnerable -- that all the shit they see hitting everyone else can't happen to them. When it does, they can't handle it. He resents being shown that he's as vulnerable as anyone else. And there's a need for vengeance. He can't direct it at the persons responsible, so he hasn't got a target. Except the people closest to him."

"In other words, me." Bitterly.

"In other words, you," Jerry agreed, turning and leaning back on the window ledge. "It's hard to be sure without seeing him, but this could be the kind of classic progression I expected. Controlling you, yes. Soon he'll be controlling his environment, but what he's really trying to control is his sexuality. With no wife or current girlfriend, that'll cause problems. The anger -- well, how long this phase is likely to last -- I can't say. Every case is different. As to what you can do to help him through it -- " He paused. "He isn't the only one who's not been showing up. But in your case, you haven't even been making the appointments. This isn't something you can do on your own, Hutch, and if you'd come to me sooner, I could have told you this."

"What?" a bark of growing anger. "I was doing as you said -- go along with it. Humoring him for Chrissake!"

Would a wife or girlfriend be able to handle the kind of shit he's handing out, Hutch wondered grimly.

"Don't jump on me, Hutch. Listen. Partners develop an interdependency over the years, and you two are no exception. Which is why you've taken my advice a stage too far. You've been over-protective, and that is counter-productive. It's slowed down his recovery to an extent, maybe done more harm than good. Protection was good, initially, but now you've got to give him space. Time to face the world on his own."

"Now wait a minute." Hutch was on his feet, white faced and furious. "Are you telling me you gave me bad advice?"

"No. I'm telling you you went too far with the good advice. Give him that space, Hutch."

"That's crazy! He can't cope on his own! Won't cope. Like yesterday. He wants for me to make his decisions."

"Sure. Because you're there, and he can control you. But only because you let him. He won't starve, I promise you, because you're not there to cut up his meat for him. I've told you both before that a trauma victim has to find his own way to acceptance and recovery. All we can do is provide back up. What's more," he went on, leaning forward to emphasize the point, "you need space. You're as much a victim in this as he is, but you are not Siamese Twins. Take some time for yourself. I'll put it on prescription if you like. Also, make appointments and keep them. Like next week. Okay?"

"Oh, sure," Hutch snapped and walked out.

* * * * * *

Give him space. Over protective. Counter-productive. More harm than good . . . If you'd come to me sooner, I'd've told you this . . .

The words haunted Hutch, overlaying Duplessis occasional street commentary and the bursts of relayed messages from the radio. Damn it, was he being accused of worsening Starsky's condition? After all he'd done, tried to do, for his partner? All the abuse and emotional blackmail, all the mute and confused apologies, to be told now he'd been wrong all along the line? While he'd been worrying himself sick thinking he wasn't doing enough, for chrissake! What the shit did Greenbaum know anyway, especially about their bond of friendship. Okay, he didn't know they were lovers, but the bond of partnership was over and above everything else, and this so called psychiatrist didn't have the first idea about --

"Shit!" Duplessis yelled, gleefully. "Damio, a purse snatch in broad daylight! Take a left, now!" Automatically Hutch obeyed, skidding the car into the next street. Ahead of him, and running like a stag, was Damio, a bright shoulderstrap purse clutched in one hand. The street punk glanced round once, black hair tossing, teeth a white grin in the tanned face. Then he flipped a finger at them and jinked down an alley too narrow for a car. Hutch slammed on the brakes. "It takes a sharp left bend," he snapped as Duplessis piled out. "I'll cut him off round the next block." But the younger man was already sprinting down the alley.

Hutch pulled up close to the alley mouth and started down it, gun drawn. Damio was a well-known user of knives. That young man was flattened against a wall, hands empty, still grinning, as the two cops approached from each side.

"Hey, I'm clean," he called, "no sweat." And tried to dodge past Hutch. Sprinting speed may have gone, but Hutch's reactions were pretty fast. He grabbed the man by his yellow shirt and slammed him back against the wall.

"Sure, no sweat," he said coldly. "You're booked, Damio." Too-bright eyes squinted in laughter, and the febrile energy in the lean body was warning enough, but even so, Hutch could not entirely avoid the knee to his groin. H took it on his hip, and at the same time Damio chopped at his wrist, twisting free from numbing fingers.

"Hey, viejo!" the kid hooted. "Hey, old man, can you still run?" and took off like a 100 meter champion.

"Leave him for me!" Duplessis yelled from behind him. "I'll run the bastard into the ground!"

Which was very nearly the last straw for Hutch. From somewhere he found the reserves, and pounded after the yellow shirt, goaded on by insult and bullring cries. Once he almost caught up, but Damio spurted away with a derisive: "Ai, toro!" Then Damio's sneakers skidded on garbage and he staggered, giving Hutch enough chance to lunge forward and grab a handful of collar and hair.

"Marico!" Damio yelled, lashing out with fists and feet, and Hutch, pushed past endurance, raised the heavy Python to bring it down across the boy's skull with all the strength he possessed.

Hard fingers closed on his wrist, checking momentum, wrenching his arm up and back.

"For Christ's sake, Hutch!" Duplessis bellowed. "What the hell are you doing?"

Damio took his chance and disappeared at a run, and neither man spared him more than a passing glance.

"First Donna Amuergo, now this. What the shit are you trying for? A swift kick in the ass out of the L.A.P.D?" He let Hutch go, stepped back, a mixture of compassion and anger on his face. "Damn it, Hutch, you're too good a cop for this!"

The words echoed strangely in Hutch's mind like a heavy door slammed shut on an empty room. Duplessis was right. Again. Self-disgust battled with fury, and neither won, because something else was reborn. There were other doors, other rooms, and a granite determination grew beneath the rawness of emotion. There were other ways to help Starsky, and to help himself.

"You're right," he said distantly. "It won't happen again."

"I hope not. We better cruise around for a while; see if we can spot our fast friend. At least I got the purse," holding it up. "The zipper's still shut, so she could be lucky."

"It's about time someone was," Hutch grunted.

* * * * * *

Line on line of the lefthander's backhand scrawl covered the legal pad. He's right. He's absolutely right. This place stinks. So did I. Dirtball. Damned-near scrubbed my skin raw in the shower. But at least now I can stand downwind of myself without getting grossed out. I'll clean this place up next. And I'll call Dobey's buddy, see if the job's still open. Maybe I should call Jerry, too. The pen faltered, the words becoming an ever decreasing spiral. Then it jerked into motion again. But he's too good at his job. Too clever. All the father-confessor act, that 'good listener' pose, everything steers me down the one path, and I can't tell him about Hutch and me. I can't. It doesn't matter for me, now, but if I.A. got one smell of it, Hutch would be in the shit. Another pause. He didn't come back last night. I need help. Jerry's probably the only other person who can give it. I've started. I'm out of the rut. All I need --

Slowly, Starsky put down the pen, and reached for the phone.

* * * * * *

Going out, leaving the haven of his apartment, took more nerve than Starsky had guessed. The Torino was a surrogate shelter, enclosing him in its familiar shell, but he still had to get out, walk up to Jerry's office. His spine felt naked, the hairs on the back of his neck prickling. It was a sensation he knew well. Had felt it in a hundred back alleys, a hundred dark streets. Fear of the unknown, lurking danger.

Except that no danger threatened here. No PCP-crazed junkie, no cold-blooded rip-off artist with a loaded gun; only Jerry Greenbaum.

Nonetheless, Starsky felt better when the door closed behind him.

Jerry saw the nervousness and uncertainty in Starsky's stance -- it backed up the phone-call. He stayed behind his desk to put the man at ease.

"How y'doin', Dave?" He used the standard friendly opening. "Glad you could make it."

Starsky gave a short nod, and cleared his throat. "Guess it was about time," he conceded.

"Yes, well, I didn't want to twist your arm. Okay, suppose we pick up where we left off . . . ?"

"Sorry." A shrug as Starsky sat down. "Where exactly was that?"

Reading body language was a skill Greenbaum had cultivated, of necessity, down to a fine art. Starsky might appear relaxed, at least superficially, but his movements were constrained, lacking their usual fluidity. He was clearly unsure, unwilling to betray himself in any fashion. Jerry, who worked on gut instinct much of the time, recognized this to be one of those times.

"You got me," he said with a grin. "Look, suppose we forget all that, play it by ear?"

"Sure. Whatever."

It didn't take as long as Jerry had expected. Starsky didn't say much in response to Jerry's inconsequential conversation. "Jerry," he said abruptly. "I haven't been straight with you. I couldn't. It isn't just my secret."

"Seal of the confessional," Jerry said quietly. "Or professional confidentiality, if you prefer. Whatever you say goes no further than these four walls."

"I know that. That wasn't what I meant." He took a deep breath. "Hutch and me . . . It started a few months back. Just before the Review Board. The first one. One night we got smashed -- well, high, anyway -- on a couple of bottles of wine, and one thing led to another . . . and we made love."

He was avoiding eye contact, stumbling over the words as if he was having trouble vocalizing his thoughts. No surprise, Jerry reflected. He probably hadn't said any of this to anyone before.

"I couldn't handle it at first. But it was so right, so inevitable. It had to happen. It was like we fit, you know? Like no one else before. We were so right together."

It was the last piece in the puzzle, the piece that pulls all the others into a coherent shape. Jerry waited, but Starsky didn't seem to have anything more to say.

"Why are you telling me all this now?" Jerry said.

The man looked at him for the first time. "It doesn't matter any more," he said simply. "I'm off the force. The department doesn't care what I do with my life. And Hutch -- Hutch makes his own choice. I got nothing to hide anymore."

"You felt you had to hide what you and Hutch felt for each other?"

Blue eyes fixed him. "Hutch and me -- we never hid how we felt about each other." It had a kind of pride. "When -- when it changed, then it was . . . different. It's okay to be buddies, but if all the world loves a lover, someone forgot to tell the L.A.P.D. IA would have thought it was their birthday."

"You're probably right there."

"Probably? Remember the dog-and-pony-show over John Blaine? That man all but raised me. Still the best damned cop in the business. But that didn't count for shit when the scandal broke."

"I remember," Jerry agreed.

"Yeah, well, I didn't want that for us." Starsky's voice had dropped. "We weren't freaks, perverts. Just two people who loved each other." Past tense, Jerry noticed. An obituary.

"Your relationship with Hutch -- you want to tell me about it?"

"What relationship?" Starsky said bitterly. "What's to tell?"

"Take it easy, Dave."

"Well, okay, but what do you want to know? Who does what to who, for God's sake?" There was a fine, almost imperceptible tremor in his voice.

"I think you know me better than that, Dave," Jerry said gently. "All right. Let me make a guess. You say it started just before the first Review Board? Hutch made the first move, didn't he?"

"Christ." Starsky stared at him. "You read minds as well?"

"Nothing so simple. I'd counseled you both up until then -- right up to your Review Board. And you weren't in the closet then. As to the other -- fifty per cent chance of being right. What's more, I don't think you adapted as easily to being gay -- "

"I'm. Not. Gay." Starsky bit the words out.

"All right. It's a label. You've had a sexual relationship with another man. What do you want to call it?"

"I don't know." The flash of anger was gone, but the unease was a strong undercurrent. "It's a label, like you said. Maybe I just don't like labels. Especially that one. Gay. Jesus H., that has to be the worst choice of words in the history of the language." He locked his fingers together. "What's 'gay' about being regarded as some kind of social leper? Having to hide and lie or be branded unclean? That wasn't us, Jerry. Not me and Hutch."

"Dave, what do you think when you think 'gay'? Is that it? Men like John Blaine? Or the kids who work the streets? There are as many kinds of 'gay' as there are straight. Yours wasn't a unique situation, you know."

"Maybe not. But it felt that way."

The age-old conviction of lovers, that no one else can ever have experienced this ecstasy, the power that remakes all creation anew because the beloved breathes and moves and speaks, and because for a little time, there is no loneliness . . . The tragedy is that it is transient, false coinage, and vanishes like words written on water.

There had been a breakthrough. But Jerry could foresee that there was still a long way to go.

"Okay, Dave," he said quietly. "We'll take it from there next time I see you."