Comments about this novel can be sent to: kmankatz@CandW.ky
One More River
It might have been that first awakening--the setting was the same, the sunlight and leaf-shadows and tumbled bed. But this time the world was brighter and full of lazy laughter and all things made new. Hutch lay on his right side, head propped on hand, and looked at his lover with wonder and affection and delight. Mine. All this--beauty--mine...
"Hey," he said, the smug grin still on his face--he couldn't seem to get rid of it. "You gonna tell me what you decided?"
The indolent sprawl of tanned limbs beside him didn't stir, but a languid voice, muffled by the pillow, said, "Sure. Soon as I come down off the ceiling."
"The ceiling?" Hutch queried.
"Yeah. I'm on my way down from Cloud Nine." And he gave a chuckle. "Hope you don't have shockable neighbors. That last time, they musta heard me clear down to the beach."
"Around here, they're used to shocks." Hutch paused and considered. "Anyone asks, we're practicing psychotherapy, and what they heard was the Primal Scream."
The chuckles continued. You could grow mushrooms in that chuckle, Hutch decided, and reached over to draw one finger down the curve of Starsky's spine in a lazy caress.
"Tickles," Starsky informed the pillow, with a squirm. The dark knotted indentation under Hutch's finger was a bullet scar. Another puckered the skin here, and here too. There was an older, silver line of scar-tissue over his left shoulder blade. "What are you doin'? Huh?"
Counting the scars, Starsk. Oh, terrific.
"Checking you out for erogenous zones," he said lightly.
"Oh." A pause. "Let me know when you find 'em."
"When I find 'em, I won't need to let you know." Hutch smiled, and self-indulgent let his hands follow the contours of the lean, muscular body, perfectly relaxed under his touch. To think I've known him for nine years, and never realized before just how beautiful he is. And I came so close to losing --
"Nothin'. Just wanted to say it." Starsky rolled onto his back and stretched like a cat under Hutch's gaze. There was no uncertainty, or shame, or self-conscious shyness in him now, only a brimming content, the awareness of loving and being loved in return. "Hey. You wanna kick me outta bed?"
"No. Why should I?"
"For behaving like a prize dip."
"A dip, huh?"
"All along the line." He smiled, and Hutch felt the flicker of kindling desire.
"Oh. Well," he said, studiedly casual. "Yeah. Maybe you do owe me for making me go through all that."
"So?" Deliberate provocation.
"So I'm thinking how I can collect on the debt. With interest," he whispered, and watched the blue eyes darken with anticipation as he closed the little distance between them and kissed the waiting lips.
"You told me once I wasn't a good kisser."
"So I was wrong," Hutch murmured. "So sue me," and he kissed the quiet mouth again, gently. This time I'm not gonna rush things, babe. This time I'll let you set the pace--take it as it comes. There's so much I want from you, so much I want to give, but you're calling the tune from now on. I can wait.
He let the kiss deepen, tasting the sweetness of his lover's mouth, hearing the stifled moan of pleasure as Starsky turned in his arms so that they lay locked mouth to mouth, breast to breast, thigh to thigh. Hutch pulled back just enough to see Starsky's face: features softened with arousal, eyes dark and unfocused. And he knew that anything he wanted, he could take now. But taking wasn't part of it--giving and receiving were the key words.
"Starsk," he said softly. "David. Do you want this? Are you sure?"
"S'a helluva time for Twenty Questions..." Starsky's voice was blurred with desire, and his hand came up, fingers splayed, to fasten in the blond hair and hold Hutch immobile while he sought and found the anxious mouth, tongue probing, demanding. "That answer enough for you?"
Desire fed and grew with the feeding, insatiable. Hands and lips explored and discovered a brave new world of pleasure. Minds and bodies as one, pleasure amplified by empathy.
"-- tell me what you want me to do--"
"-- oh god I--"
"This? You like this? Is this what you want? Tell me --"
Starsky's hand lay over Hutch's heart, feeling the racing beat, knowing it was matched by his own. He could feel himself shaking still with reaction, or maybe it was Hutch who was trembling. He wasn't sure of anything right then, except his love for the man beside him.
"I love you," he murmured, and touched his lips to the hollow of the tanned throat, tasting the salt of Hutch's sweat. Arms tightened around him.
"Say it again."
"What? That I love you? Why?"
"Because I still can't believe it."
"Thought I'd just proved it to you."
"Hearing you say it is something else."
"Yeah? Then I'll never stop saying it." But the solemnity was spoiled by a sudden chuckle. "Geez, Hutch, this is getting awful soapy."
"Isn't it," Hutch agreed, smiling. "Do you care?"
"Nope." He settled his head on the smooth curve of tanned shoulder. "Never felt like this before. About anyone."
A warm, drowsily companionable silence enfolded them both. Then, "Hutch."
"Cutting out on you. Leaving--I just wasn't sure--I didn't know --"
"Doesn't matter," Hutch murmured. "You're here now. Besides," he added brightly, as if he'd just thought of it, "love means never having to say you're sorry."
Starsky snorted. "Now that is soapy."
"So? Lovers are allowed to be. It's in the Bill of Rights. Or if it isn't, it ought to be." Hutch was interrupted by a noise. "Starsk? Is that your gut rumbling?"
"'Fraid so," Starsky confessed, apologetic. "Didn't have much of an appetite yesterday. And now I guess I'm hungry."
Hutch gave a groan. "You would be. I can see that romantic moments with you are going to be few and far between."
"Not if you feed me first," Starsky pointed out. "Hey. Do I get breakfast in bed?"
"No, you don't. You can get up and--ohmigod!! Is that the time?" He sat bolt upright, dislodging Starsky.
"Hutch. It's Saturday," Starsky protested, puzzled. "You don't haveta work today --"
"You've forgotten where we're supposed to be right now?"
His mind a blank, Starsky nodded. "Wherever, it can't be that important, can it?"
"It is if you want to get there before dark." Hutch swung his legs over the side of the bed and got up, hunting for his clothes. "Come on, Starsk. Haul ass. This is Day One of our vacation--and we're already four hours behind schedule!"
When the date for the Review Board had been announced, six weeks ago, they had finalized plans for the vacation, and settled on a nine a.m. starting time. The eventful evening and morning had driven all thought of vacations or departure times from their minds, but once recalled, it was not long before the Torino was heading south down the Pacific Coast Freeway, its occupants gradually recovering from their burst of frenzied packing.
"What a dumb thing to do," Hutch muttered, scowling over the wheel at the car in front. They'd flipped a coin for the first driving spell, and he'd lost.
"He ain't done nothin'." Starsky, sprawled relaxed in the passenger seat, grinned at him. "Marginally over the speed-limit, maybe, but --"
"Not him. Us."
"Forgetting a vacation. Christ."
"Perhaps," Starsky said demurely, "you had other things on your mind? Schweetheart?" And when Hutch shot him a sideways glance, he pursed his lips and fluttered his eyelashes.
"Cut it out, clown." Hutch chuckled. "That doesn't work."
"Maybe not. But I know what does." The smug tone of voice won another grin from Hutch.
"Not while I'm driving, Starsk..."
Starsky laughed, and laid one arm along the back of the seat, fingers resting lightly on Hutch's collar. "Hey," he said suddenly. "You gonna stick to your plans for this vacation?"
"After last night? Are you kid-- Oh. Yes," said Hutch, picking up on the wariness in Starsky's tone. "The physical therapy. Yup, every bit of it. Early morning swim, hill-walking, maybe tennis or racquet-ball to sharpen up your reflexes, and swimming again in the evening. Steady light exercise to get you thoroughly in condition."
"Light exercise! That what you call it? Marathons and mountaineering? Hutch, I always figured you had a sadistic streak in you somewhere, but I sure as hell don't want to find out about it now!"
"I said hill-walking. Trails in the woods and foothills."
"Crap. I've changed my mind. I want out. Right now, Acapulco'd do me a whole lot more good than your idea of relaxation. Man, I had kinder drill-sergeants in boot-camp!"
"Sure you did. Listen, one week in Acapulco and the Board would take one look at you and sign you into a Home for the Geriatric Confused. No, you stick to my program and you'll stroll through."
"So give me a written guarantee, then I can sue."
"Take my word on it, Starsk. Trust me, buddy."
Starsky gave a howl. "Oh, yeah! An' if I do, what does that prove? Only that I'm as nutty as you! Any guy who pays good money to get the kind of cars you do has to be a total flake--an' I don't take a flake's word on the time of day."
Hutch sighed. "Are you about through? Or do you want to hitch rides the rest of the way?"
"Think you're tough, huh?"
"Gonna throw me out of my own car, huh?"
"I get it." It was Starsky's turn to sigh, dolefully. "Discarded --"
"Abandoned is the word you're looking for, babe," Hutch supplied, and memory brought the smile to his mouth. Starsky's answering smile softened as he shifted across the seat closer to Hutch, and unspoken content filled them both.
Finding the cabin, in spite of the detailed map Huggy had provided, was not easy. Ten miles of narrow, unsurfaced road seemed to be leading nowhere, but suddenly the stand of trees opened out into a clearing on a cliff top, and there it was. Shingle roof, wooden siding, a wide porch, and panoramic windows opening onto a sun-deck.
"Hey, terrific!" Starsky scrambled out of the car, tried the screen door. It was, as he should have expected, locked. "You got the key? You better have, because if it's in LA, I'll divorce you."
"I've got it." Hutch grinned and tossed it over. "It's quite a place. Huggy's done us proud."
"Yeah." With the enthusiasm of an otter questing new territory, Starsky checked out the place. "Fantastic. TV. Stereo. And a freezer! All mod. cons. Except--no pool. No pool, Hutch."
"Who needs one? There's the Pacific over there. Private beach."
"Now quit goofing off and help me unload."
Transferring their belongings, bag and baggage, from car to cabin and stashing it took some time, since Hutch had inevitably brought along enough fresh, dried, canned and packaged food to feed the Third World for a month, most of it high-protein and concentrates. Starsky, after the third carton had been dumped in his arms, rebelled. "Thought you'd kicked that health-food habit," he grumbled. "Don't get any ideas about givin' me that glop to drink. I'll just throw it right back up--"
"Quit bitching," Hutch said peaceably. "Look at that view. Isn't it something?"
"Sure. Terrific. Trees, cliffs, ocean. What's on TV tonight?"
"Nothing. A place like this, you don't watch TV."
"Oh? So what do you watch?"
"The sunset," Hutch said, striding past with both arms full of groceries. Starsky gave him a look of amused, affectionate tolerance as he followed, depositing his burden on the pine worktop.
"Different down here, are they?"
"Sunsets," Starsky repeated patiently. "Are they different?"
Hutch smiled and reached out to cup his face. "Different as can be, Starsk," he said softly, and kissed him.
"C'n hardly wait," Starsky murmured. But he left Hutch to sort out the jumble of foodstuffs, and wandered back into the spacious living room. The windows slid smoothly back to give access to the deck, which, facing westwards, was flooded by the late sun, but he turned his back on it and surveyed the room with satisfaction. Besides this and the kitchen there were two bedrooms and a bathroom, all to the same luxurious standard. "Hey. Can we afford this place for two weeks?"
"C'mon, Starsk. It's not the Hilton."
"It's owned by a friend of Huggy's. Who never uses it. So Hug got us reduced rates."
"Guy must be crazy. A place like this and he never uses it?"
The furnishings offered comfort, if not style: a wide couch, its deep cushions upholstered in bulrush-brown velvet, fronted the flagstone hearth that took up almost the whole of one wall. A bookcase held a collection of paperbacks, and drew Starsky to investigate. It was an eclectic assortment, with something for every taste, from hearts-and-flowers romance, through blood-and-guts thrillers and westerns, to old science fiction classics by Heinlein and Asimov. A stolen Gideon Bible stood next to the Satyricon, while Jonathan Livingston Seagull propped up Plato's Symposium.
"You won't have any time for reading," Hutch said. "Anymore than TV."
"Try and stop me," Starsky said absently, leafing through a broken-backed Starship Trooper. "I'm hungry. What are we eating?"
"Omelet," Hutch told him, and earned a groan.
"Again? Christ, Hutch."
"Unless you want to wait an hour. Or fix yourself something."
"I'll take the omelet." Book in hand, he went out onto the deck and positioned the lawn chair to catch the direct sun. Shedding his jacket, he settled down to immerse himself in the Heinlein, and the adventures of Rico held him until a shadow fell across the page, and a voice that failed to be acerbic said, "You want to eat, hedonist?"
"Mmm." Starsky deliberately made a production out of considering. "Yeah, guess so. Bring it out here, huh?"
"Bring it out?"
"Yeah. Don't want to waste all this great sun. 'Sides, you can watch the sunset from here."
Hutch's response was a sound that defied translation, but he obeyed, bringing everything out to the stripped-pine barbeque table.
"Not bad," Starsky said, halfway through his play-safe-plain omelet.
"What?" Hutch said absently.
"Food's pretty good. A little plain, is all."
"The spice comes later," Hutch said mildly, with a small gleam in his eye, and Starsky grinned.
"I can get behind that," he agreed, and turned back to wolf the remainder of his dinner.
The breeze off the sea chilled with the onset of night as the sun sank, and though Starsky was reluctant to leave the deck, the room behind was more comfortable. Sprawled on the couch, however, he found the saga of Heinlein's hero increasingly difficult to follow as his concentration was undermined by the simple fact of Hutch's presence. It was crazy. It was ridiculous. It was even farcical--but he still didn't know what to say.
Nine years of knowing you, working, waking, eating, sleeping, and suddenly I don't know you at all. Hell, if you were a girl I'd just walk over and kiss you and say let's go to bed. But you're not a girl. You're Hutch...my beautiful, loving, vulnerable Hutch. I want you, and my God, I should be able to tell you, but--make it easy for me, babe? Read my mind.
It had to be telepathy, or maybe Starsky's intent gaze finally triggered something in Hutch's subconscious. He looked up, and the rapport was instant...
Neither needed to say anything. Hutch got to his feet, crossed to close the windows. Starsky, hand on the light switch, waited until he was done before cutting the lights, and Hutch came to him in the darkness.
"Let's go to bed?" The whispered entreaty was answered by Hutch's hands reaching to cup his face, an aching tenderness in his touch. It drew him close until their lips met, and he caught his breath at the dark, blinding joy of that meeting.
"I've been wanting to do that for the last two hours," Hutch said huskily, as the kiss ended.
"So why didn't you?" Starsky asked, mildly curious. He was in no hurry to move, now--Hutch's arms were around him, and it was going to happen again, nothing in the world could prevent it. Anticipation was running arpeggios up and down his spine.
"Don't know," Hutch admitted.
"Can't afford to waste opportunities like that, y'know. Carpe diem?"
"Come to bed."
It had been different, before--that first time, and last night. He'd been pitched into situations over which he had little or no control. Now, consciously and of his own will, he accepted what was happening. Aware of the slow, building pulse of his own desire, he leaned into Hutch's embrace, relishing the feel of strength holding and enfolding him.
"I love you," Hutch said softly. "Turned my world upside down and inside out. And I love you."
"Sshh...don' have t'say it." Starsky brushed the wide mouth with his fingertips. "Know what they say--show, don't tell."
Stripped, stretched out on the bed, the covers turned invitingly back, he lay and watched Hutch. The power and grace of the lean body, big-boned without heaviness, the smooth ripple of muscle.
Seen him naked often enough. But never like this. God, he's beautiful. Do you know what you do to me, babe? I guess you can't help but know, it's kinda obvious. You don't have to hold back any more, lover. I know you are, you're as new to this as I am, we're both in the dark, neither of us sure where we're going--except that we love each other. For now, that's enough. Don't be afraid.
But there was a curious hesitancy in Hutch's movements, almost a reluctance. Starsky propped himself on one elbow, extended a hand. "Whatcha waiting for?" he asked softly, and was rewarded by Hutch smiling, taking his hand, his lips caressing the palm. Then Hutch moved closer, reaching for him.
"Should really have taken a shower," he murmured guiltily into Starsky's hair.
Starsky chuckled. "'S too late to be thinkin' of that. Anyhow, you taste better with seasoning."
"You bet," he agreed cheerfully. "Hey. Just a thought. I didn't get dessert."
"You want me to tell you what you can do about it?"
"Think I can guess."
He shifted around on the bed to face Hutch's hips, and the urgent flesh under his hand pulsed like something with an independent life of its own, leaping to the first tentative touch of lips and tongue as if avid for the sensations he could provide. A part of him had the childlike desire to examine and explore minutely, but the immediate need, his own and Hutch's was too great.
First time for everything. Hope I can make it as good for you as--ohgod, Hutch, what are you...
Electric thrill as Hutch's mouth fastened on him, erotic sensation multiplied, magnified, each action of his echoed and complemented until he wasn't sure if he was making love to Hutch or to himself. Before he could decide, the surge of Hutch's orgasm was filling his mouth and his own body exploded helplessly into the eager throat...
"You can't go to sleep down there."
"Because I want to hold you."
The best of reasons. Sleepily, he uncurled himself, slid up to the waiting arms, settled there, nuzzling a drowsy kiss into the hollow of the long throat.
"Not bad for a beginner, huh?"
"Oh, go to sleep, Starsk..."
Starsky was woken by the butterfly touch of sunlight on his eyelids. He moved his head and it was gone, and still half asleep he rolled over to snuggle back into Hutch's embrace. Except that he didn't, because it wasn't there. He groped out a hand--touched cool linen. No Hutch.
"Hutch?" he mumbled, still not wanting to have to wake up quite yet. But there was no answer. He opened reluctant eyes, squinting at the brightness; the big window faced east, and the drapes were pulled back, letting the early light flood the bedroom in long golden streams. He was alone with the sunshine.
"Hutch?" He raised his voice a little, in case Hutch was in the bathroom or kitchen. "Hey --"
Silence was the only reply. Starsky sat up, hugged his knees. Oh, terrific. The first morning of the vacation, and I'm abandoned. He grinned to himself, considering how he'd make Hutch pay for that. Have to find him first, though.
Okay. So you're the detective...
It didn't take much detective work. A note rested on the kitchen table, anchored by a carton of orange juice. "Gone for a swim. When you wake up, come down to the beach. I'll introduce you to the mermaids."
"Mermaids--?" Starsky's left eyebrow climbed. "Mermaids are no fun, babe, unless you're a fish." Then, "Okay. The beach it is."
He rooted out his cut-offs, pulled them on, slipped his feet into sneakers, and headed out, taking the rough path to the cliff top. Below, on the curve of pale sand, a red towel lay in an untidy heap a little way from the white scalloping of the waves. He couldn't see Hutch, but he began the climb down, taking his time about it. Private beach was all very well, but a guy could break his neck getting to it.
The sun was just clearing the cliff top when at last he reached the sand and the scarlet smear of the towel. He shaded his eyes, looking out to sea. Out there in the calm flat blue, a swimmer's head, sleek as a seal's, broke the surface, an arm upraised in greeting.
"Yeah," said Starsky. "Come on in, the water's fine." He dropped his cut-offs, kicked off his shoes, and walked down to the water's edge to wait. There were no words spoken as Hutch waded towards him, the new sun gilding the smooth tan skin webbed with water, and Starsky went to meet him.
Hutch's mouth tasted of salt, his lips cool. After a long moment Starsky broke the kiss, still without speaking, and slipped to his knees. His palms touched the wet body lightly, with a caress as gentle as the sun's on his back. Sensations crowded him--cool trickles of water down his shoulders from Hutch's fingers, the hot, hardening flesh in his mouth, his own physical excitement. Fingers and lips and tongue teasing, exploring, he brought Hutch to a pitch of yearning. Hutch's fingers tangled in his hair, digging into his scalp, and the mounting tension now was almost pain, aching for release. He changed rhythm subtly, and Hutch moaned aloud, unable to control the reflexive thrusting of his hips as the climax overtook him.
Starsky released him reluctantly, but couldn't support the weight as Hutch's knees buckled and the shallow water received them both with a splash.
"That'll teach you to run out on me," he whispered huskily, his cheek crushed against the wet blond hair. "C'mere--now--aahhh, Hutch..." The racking shudder of orgasm, the hot jetting lost the next moment in the silken surge of the sea. "Christ. Fastest gun in the West."
"Shut up, Starsk," Hutch murmured. The peace of the afterglow wrapped them both; the receding tide tugged imperceptibly at their entwined bodies, the sun dried their exposed skin.
After a while, "We better move. I don't wanna get sunburn on my ass," Starsky said into Hutch's neck, and felt the silent chuckle in the broad chest.
"You're gross, Starsk."
"Yeah." He felt revoltingly complacent. "'N I'm hungry, too."
Babcock was a different species of animal from Hutch, Duplessis discovered. His approach to his work was far more orthodox--no less effective, but his painstaking attention to detail, convention and the Rule Book demanded that hunches be backed by solid evidence. There was little that Duplessis could do save sit on the hunches and carry on the program of systematic checks, waiting for the dental records to come up with a name. In his off-duty time, he combed the out-of-state records for other John Does who had died in similar fashion.
The idea was a good one, but maybe he had spread the net too wide. He did find two deaths with marked similarities, one from Topanga, one from Marina del Rey. Both in the L.A. area. This was more promising. In both cases, decomposition had been advanced, but the Topanga DB still had evidence of whiplash marks and sexual assault, while the boy's age and general appearance paralleled their own John Doe. The Topanga body also had a name--Chris Villiers, a student at Berkeley, working at several jobs part-time to pay his way through college. The Marina del Rey corpse, fished out of the water eighteen months ago, had no ID and had been long enough immersed to have lost most evidence of injury. But the M.E. had detected the same lash-marks and sexual assault.
Duplessis took his findings to Babcock, and collected a sour, cynical stare, but it was Babcock who argued Villiers' full file out of County. Coincidentally, on the same day the dental records produced a name for their body--Andrew Connery, originally from Phoenix, Arizona.
Connery's address was one room rented in the ground-floor of an old apartment block on the edge of Pasadena, and the interior reminded Duplessis of the place he'd rented in his own college days, before he had met and married Sally Warner--cluttered and untidy without being squalid, garish with poster art but comfortable. Math and physics reference books were stacked along shelves, sharing space with a collection of underground comics and Playboys. Babcock seemed more impressed by the pennants and swimming trophies from USC, all recent.
"Clean-living, all-American boy," he grunted, his voice loud in the closed-in quiet of the room. "Check the desk. I'll take the closets."
"Okay." Duplessis sat at the desk and opened the drawers. Files and project notes, a catalogue of scuba gear and diving equipment, a stack of bills and bank statements, and a heap of letters. "Paydirt."
Most of them were from Phoenix, written by Conner's mother, his sister, a few old school friends, and a girl called Katie who signed herself 'yours for always'. there were cards and notes from college buddies on vacation, some from boys, some from girls. There was nothing in any of the correspondence to suggest that Connery was anything other than heterosexual, but Duplessis knew better than to count on that.
The bills were all paid up, none outstanding, and were mainly for reference and text books. There were a few for clothes and diving gear, and the clothes that tied in with the bills were hung in the closet: a tuxedo, a brown velvet suit, silk shirts, lightweight casuals, leather shoes and boots. None of them, from their quality, the sort of thing to be found in an average student's wardrobe.
"And Hutch figures he wasn't a working boy, huh?" Babcock grinned.
"That's right," Duplessis said stubbornly. "There's nothing here to suggest different, either."
"Sure of that?"
"Well, look. No literature, letters, photographs, or gay magazines, no baby oil, KY, not even Crisco. Unless you count the suntan lotion. Or the margarine in the fridge."
"Okay, I'll give you that one," Babcock conceded. "For the time being. Maybe his campus pals will have something different to say. Did you find any bills to account for the watch and the chain he was wearing?"
"No. They could have been presents--family gifts."
"Yeah, sure. His father'll be along for the ID tomorrow, we'll check 'em out with him. Along with his lifestyle. Threads like these don't go with a one-room pad. The kid was a high-priced hustler, sure enough."
"Maybe." Duplessis shrugged, refusing to be drawn. He'd already discovered that Babcock liked to debate, and could make the most feasible theories look like comic-book fantasies. He also tended to get fixated on ideas of his own, and refused to be distracted from them. Bad temper or not, halfway through Hutch's first week of leave, Duplessis would have forfeited a year's pay to have his former partner back on the case.
Going on the cards and notes, Duplessis and Babcock found half a dozen of Connery's friends who had spent the Sunday morning before his death with him, training in the pool on campus. They had had lunch together, and then Connery had split, saying he had a date lined up for the afternoon and evening. No one knew who the date was, but it wasn't anyone from the university, they were sure of that. "Sometimes I saw Drew on the Strip with some very classy ladies," one of the boys volunteered. "He never talked about them, though."
"What kind of job did he have to pay his way through college?" Duplessis asked.
"Dunno. He never said. But it must've brought in the bucks, 'cause he was never broke."
Casually, Babcock said, "Maybe he was hustling."
That got hoots of ribald amusement. "Drew gay? Shit, he didn't even swing both ways!" one snorted.
"Yeah, and Tim here oughta know, he asked him enough times," the first boy said, nudging him in the ribs.
"Are you sure?" Babcock persisted.
"Sure we're sure." This from one of the girls. "What's this all about?"
Duplessis cleared his throat. "Connery's dead. He was murdered." As the young faces went pale with shock, he went on. "That's why we have to know about anyone who might have harbored a grudge against him. Maybe some gay put the moves on him, got turned down, and was mad enough to kill?"
Out of the collegiates' sickened horror the reactions were unanimous--no one would have done that to Drew.
But someone had.
By the end of the day, the two policemen had talked to Connery's teachers and swimming coach as well as friends and fellow-students. They were no wiser than before. There was no hint of evasion, but there were more than a few missing answers. What was Connery's part-time job that raked in the cash? Where were his driving license and apartment key? Who was the girl he was supposed to be dating the evening he died? And not only who, but where. It could be that she too was a victim.
No one knew.
Mr. Connery was a clerk in a meat-packing factory, a paunchy, florid-faced man in his late forties, brown hair receding as if in retreat from ferociously bristling eyebrows. His daughter was with him, a tall, slender girl of twenty-three, with long mouse-blonde hair and straight grey eyes, attractive rather than beautiful. Her brother had got the lion's share of the good looks.
Strained, distraught, Mr. Connery sat hunched forward in the easy chair in Dobey's office. The photograph supplied by the morgue had not been enough for him. He'd admitted the likeness, but couldn't--wouldn't--give a positive ID. Almost triumphantly he had denied knowledge of the chain and the watch. His boy had neither owned nor wished to own such expensive gaudiness. But it was clear that he was dreading the moment when he would have to go into the morgue and see the cadaver.
Duplessis cleared his throat, a swift glance at Dobey's impassive black face winning him an infinitesimal nod. "Drew wrote home frequently?" he asked, voice quiet and sympathetic. The girl's eyes turned to him, dark and grieving. For her, at least, the photograph was proof enough, though she had known nothing of the jewelry either.
"Yes," she said. "Long letters. He was always good about that. And phone calls."
"Did he mention his friends? Talk about them?"
"Oh, yes. Many times."
"How about a boy called Chris Villiers?"
She frowned, thinking hard, then shook her head. "I don't remember the name."
"Did you keep Drew's letters?"
"Mom has. I think I've got most he wrote to me. And Katie will have all hers, I know." For a moment her voice wavered and she closed her eyes.
"We'd appreciate seeing those letters, Miss Connery," Dobey said gruffly. "All of them. Do you remember him saying anything about a job that would help him through college?"
"Uh--no...well, he wouldn't need to," she said. "He sold the car soon after he started at USC--he wrote home asking for Dad's permission. It had been kind of a family gift, you see, for his eighteenth birthday."
Babcock leaned forward, eyes on the girl's face. "Miss Connery," he said gently, "we have to ask you this, and we need your considered, truthful answer. To your knowledge, was your brother involved in any kind of homosexual liaison?"
The girl stared at him, wide-eyed and shocked, and it was her father who responded. "What the hell are you saying?" he blared, surging to his feet. "Drew ain't like that! My boy's ramrod straight! He's no sick pervert! Goddamn it, you take that back, I'll bust your--"
"Take it easy, Mr. Connery," Dobey said. "These questions have to be asked. My officer did not say your son was homosexual, merely asked if he might be. Miss Connery, we would like your answer."
"Drew wasn't gay, Captain," she said. "If he did have those kind of feelings, I think he'd have told me. We were pretty close. He didn't have any hang-ups about it. You have to have a reason to ask --"
"We're trying to trace his last movements--who he was with, where he'd been. Your brother had been sexually assaulted, Miss Connery, prior to his death. It would help us if--"
"What?" A groan of horror from the father. "God, no ...!"
"He wasn't gay," the girl repeated steadily, her hand on the older man's arm as he slumped back in his seat.
"Proves it wasn't Drew," he rallied enough to interrupt. "It's one of your Californian drop-outs peddling his ass, asking for trouble--"
"I'm afraid not," Dobey put in heavily. "Mr. Connery, will you come to the morgue and make a formal ID, please?"
"It isn't Drew," he insisted.
"We'll make the identification," his daughter said, the grey eyes, liquid with pain, lifted to Duplessis' face.
"How do 'droids do it?" Starsky lay belly-down on the goatskin rug in front of the hearth, chin propped on hands, staring at the dog-eared paperback in front of him.
After apparently giving it some thought, Hutch said, "Mechanically, I should think. Are you still reading that Star Wars thing?"
"The Empire Strikes Back," Starsky declaimed dramatically. He sat up and clasped his arms around his knees. "Will you take me to see the movie?"
"We've seen it twice already," Hutch snorted, trying to get back into Norman Mailer's American Dream.
"Yeah, but not since--not for a while. Will you? Huh?"
"I'm not necking with you, Starsk. Not in the theatre."
"Who asked you to?" Starsky chuckled. Hutch shot him an exasperated look. Reclining on one elbow now, gazing up at him, Starsky smiled slowly. Hutch might not show it on the surface, but Starsky knew what buttons to push, and loved deliberately pushing them. Hutch returned him a rather confused, blushing smile, and suddenly Starsky found himself equally ambushed by the mood he had awakened in his lover. Lover... The word alone started frissons of erotic pleasure up and down his spine.
My Hutch. My lover...oh babe, when you smile at me like that ...
Fingers playing absently with a tuft of the goat hair, Starsky gazed at the man sitting at ease in the chair. Plaid shirt and jeans, not shining armor, for this White Knight. And as he watched, Hutch stretched and pushed his firelit blond hair back, still smiling. They were both intensely aware of the small sounds that somehow deepened the silence: the soft silken rustle of the flames, the occasional snap as a piece of driftwood burned, the gusting wind driving the rain against the windows with a subdued rattle. The overcast morning had promised rain, after several days of sun, and the afternoon had delivered it. "No twenty-mile hikes today," Starsky had announced with satisfaction, hoping for a day of relaxation, not to say downright idleness. He felt he deserved it--Hutch had been keeping him to his fitness program doggedly--but he had been disappointed. Even if they couldn't go outside to run, Hutch had made him work out with weights indoors, and they did go out to swim anyway. Finally, as evening came on, Hutch had let up. They had eaten, pulled the drapes across to shut out the deepening greys of the sodden view, and they settled down in companionable silence to read.
Do you know what you're doing to me, you bastard? Of course you do.
"It ought to be a tiger-skin," Hutch said, his voice sounding remarkably impersonal. "Or a bear. Polar bear."
"What?" Bemused, Starsky continued to stare at him, one eyebrow climbing.
"The rug. Did I ever tell you about this fantasy I have?" He put the book aside, slid down to kneel beside Starsky.
"No." Starsky heard his own voice take on a husky tone, but he didn't move. "Which one?"
"The one with the tiger-skin rug. Or the polar bear rug. I'm not sure which I really prefer."
"For what?" Starsky murmured, knowing perfectly well but wanting to be told, wanting to have Hutch say the words. He could feel his jeans constricting him already, and Hutch hadn't even touched him yet.
"For making love," Hutch said softly, and bent to cover the waiting mouth with his own. Starsky tasted the urgency of his warm lips and thrusting tongue, as Hutch took his time about it. At last Starsky made a small helpless sound in his throat and pulled away.
"Will you settle for goatskin?" he whispered breathlessly. "Ohgod, it isn't fair..."
"What isn't?" Soft flutter of laughter accompanied the delicate butterfly kisses over the taut arch of his throat. "Tell me, babe. Say the words. Tell me."
"...please...." Carry on like this and I'm gonna cream in my jeans, an' then I'll kill you...
"Easy, lover, easy...we've got all the time in the world..." Fingers unbuttoning his shirt, the touch of the coarse fur of the rug on his naked skin unbelievably erotic. Hands slipped under him to cup his buttocks, pulling him roughly closer, hips ground against his, teeth in his shoulder, in his throat, Hutch's weight pinning him, holding him down. "Tell me, babe. Tell me. Now."
"Hutch, please..." He wasn't going to last another ten seconds, couldn't hold back, couldn't even think...
"Like it this way? Is this how you want it? Tell me?"
Beyond speech now, beyond any reasoned thought, drowning in the rip-tide of sensation, Starsky gasped with pleasure as the mouth fastened on his rigid, straining flesh, drawing him in, tongue circling--reality slipping away from him, his consciousness clouding, the whole fucking universe rocking on its hinges--Hutch oh Hutch--shuddering thrusting upwards too soon too fast too late dissolving...Hutch hold me...
He was cradled, loving arms around him, supporting, gentle. Hutch's heartbeat was synchronizing with his own.
Starsky didn't want to move, but his pubic hair was glued stickily to the long fur of the rucked-up rug and it was rather uncomfortable. He slipped a hand down and freed himself, let his hand rest in a languid caress on the warm thigh pressed to his, and let himself drift.
"Mmm." A kiss was dropped into his hair. "Yeah. Think we'd better move to the bed."
A good idea. Untangling themselves, they made for the bedroom, and Hutch detoured to the bathroom. Starsky hauled back the quilt and top sheet and subsided full-length, burying his face in the pillow with a sigh of content. By the time Hutch returned, toweling himself dry, he was three-quarters asleep.
"Aren't you going to take a shower?"
"Mmm. Sure. In th'morning..." he muttered drowsily. A damp towel cracked against his bare rump and he yelped.
Hutch chuckled. "Slob."
Settling himself in the curve of Hutch's arm, head on his shoulder, Starsky sighed again. Memories, sweetly sensual, drifted through his sleepy mind. The goatskin rug, tickling...
"What now?" Hutch groaned.
"You reckon Han Solo ever gets his rocks off with Chewie?"
"Oh, for Chrissakes, Starsk..."
For some while, Starsky wasn't altogether sure he was awake. For a start, the darkness was the same, whether his eyes were open or closed, which was a novel if slightly unnerving experience. He literally couldn't see his hand in front of his face. If he squeezed his eyes shut, he did get some pretty colored patterns, but when he opened his eyes--nothing.
You can go blind, you know. The memory of that old myth made him snicker. I got twenty-twenty vision. At least, when the drapes aren't closed.
The chill of the rainy night was shut out, and the room was drowned in a blackness that was positively Stygian. He congratulated himself on the metaphor. Without sight, his other senses became hyper acute. The feel of linen against his skin, the warmth of Hutch's body, close enough to touch if he reached out. The steady even breathing of his partner. His scent, too. The faint aura of musk, of sex, mingling with the more socially acceptable aromas of soap and male cologne. It wasn't cold, just cool enough to make body-contact more than indulgent pleasure. He slipped one arm around Hutch, molding himself to the long lean back, and kissed the nape of his neck where the blond hair feathered into soft tendrils.
"Hey..." he said, breathing it, whispering the name like a mantra. "Hutch." And stroked his free hand down from waist to thigh, across the jut of pelvic bones, smooth skin under his fingertips, sensitive flesh stirring to life before Hutch had even begun to wake properly, and still half asleep, he tried to turn over. Starsky laughed and kissed him, loving hands rediscovering and playing on his body, exploring the deceptive flat plates of athlete's muscle, caressing the hairless chest, finding the invisible growth of down that flowed from a ridge at the navel to the blond curls at his groin; down like peach fuzz, visible only when the light caught it, but plain to his stroking hands.
"You know you're always sayin' you can read me like a book?"
"Would you believe Braille?"
His mouth on Hutch's was unhurried, leisured, savoring his responses. Tongue-tip teased, playing games.
"Starsk...oh, David..." Hutch writhed, panting, pressing himself back, arching for closer contact with his tormentor. Starsky treated every inch of his spine to an exquisite, excruciating attention with fingers, lips and tongue.
"Shhh...let me..." Starsky was almost on the edge of control himself. He knew now what he wanted to do, but-- "Hutch?"
"Oh, God, yes --" voice blurred and breathless with desire. "All of it, babe. Everything."
Gently, almost fearfully, Starsky let his hands explore the perfect curves of back and buttocks and thighs, the hard muscle trembling under his touch. He found the cleft, probing, gauging the depth of pleasure by the soft helpless moans, the increasingly-desperate movements.
Supposed to use something, some kind of--oh, god, I can't stop now!
"Wait, lover --"
"No. Now. Please...I can't..."
He heard Hutch gasp aloud at the shock of penetration--pleasegodIhaven'thurthim?--but the body under his was not passive or rigid with pain but moving, responding instinctively and adjusting, sharing their delight, the sharing itself an intoxication. The tension mounted, built to a peak. "Now, Hutch, now come with me now Hutch --"
Coming down. Shattered scattered senses returning to where he floated mindless in the dark. His arms were locked still around his lover's body, feeling the shaken breathing and pounding heart, his own chest heaving in ragged, broken gasps.
"Hutch..." It was almost a sob, a snatched breath of pain. "Oh god Hutch I didn't mean--did I hurt you?"
"Hurt?" A sated whisper. "Babe, that was the best ever." Fingers touched his face, questing; as they traced the line of his lips, he kissed them. "David, I love you." Hutch turned in his embrace and found his mouth in the darkness without any difficulty, drawn to it as if to a lodestone. It stilled the quivering fear in him. "Your first time, huh? Like that?"
"With girls, once or twice. If it turned them on." He was gently stroking, soothing.
"Guess that means I got your cherry, Starsk."
"Wouldn't have wanted it any other way," Starsky mumbled. He snuggled closer, wrapping himself over and around as much of Hutch as he could, like an affectionate octopus.
"Me neither," Hutch whispered. The darkness enfolded them both in a timeless womb, closer than brothers, purged of passion.
"I am holding you."
And sleep washing in like a black tide, submerging thought, feeling, all emotion.
It was an odd question, and caused Hutch to arrest his pencil in mid-line. He looked thoughtfully at his subject, then shrugged, giving up on the effort. "Wondered what you were looking so serious about."
"Wednesday. Thursday. Somewhere around then. Does it matter?"
"So lie still. I'm almost through."
He worked on for another ten minutes, while Starsky obediently lay still. "Hey. It's not another of your Dying Gladiators, is it?" he wanted to know.
"What if it is?"
"Just that you've about done that idea to death, is all."
"Michelangelo did dozens."
"Yeah, well, we all know about Michelangelo," Starsky snorted. "Hurry it up, willya? I'm getting a cramp."
"All through," Hutch announced. "And before you ask -- here."
The completed sketch put into his hands, Starsky studied it for a long moment. "Aside from I don't look like that, it's not bad."
"You expect a photograph?"
"Your way is more fun." Starsky rolled over and sat up, grinning wickedly. "Your way I get to lie around and do nothing for a couple of hours, except look gorgeous. So what are you calling that one?"
"L'Apres-midi d'un Slob," Hutch told him concisely. "C'mon, off your ass. We'll go for a swim."
"Okay." Starsky got lithely to his feet and padded in from the deck. The faint residue of tanning lotion remaining on his skin lent a polished sheen to the cleanly defined structures of his body. He moved lazily to collect a can of beer from the icebox, indulging in a cat-like stretch and a wide yawn.
"You can't be tired," Hutch said, catching that. "You've done nothing but sleep all afternoon."
"So I'm catching up." Starsky grinned at him, sidelong. "Y'really know how to wear a guy out, lover-boy."
Hutch chuckled, and laid his hands on the warm shoulders. "Hope you didn't get too much sun," he said absently, nuzzling into the soft disordered curls, breathing deep of the scents that were Starsky, overlaid with sun and air. "Maybe you should go lie down in a darkened room or something."
He felt the chuckle begin down in Starsky's midriff. "So what about the swim?"
"The swim can wait."
"Oh, you got a better idea?"
"Always knew I was the brains of this partnership." Hutch licked delicately at Starsky's ear, smiling as the man shivered and leaned into the embrace.
"Better believe it."
"You smell good enough to eat, babe."
"Ah. Now that's what I call an idea."
The windows of the second bedroom faced west, and the room was full of a hazy golden glow as the light filtered through the loose-weave yellow drapes. Slim bronzed body languid on the primrose percale, dark curls backlit by a stray sunbeam, the shadows making his face an archaic mask. Pan, enigmatic. Eyes hooded and heavy with desire, darkened to indigo. Hutch touched him, the deep probing kiss leaving them both breathless: tongue flicking over tongue, slick hardness of teeth, taste of honey-sweet spice. He traced patterns on the glistening, oil-sleeked body-hair, from the flat copper coins of nipples to the indentation of navel on the erratically quivering plane of his satyr's belly. Sweat beaded in droplets, trickling down the pelvic hollows.
Hutch laid his cheek on the curve of thigh, caressing the sensitive skin of the heavy sac, fingers drifting featherlight up the straining shaft, the vein pulsing blue under the skin. Lips and tongue followed, delicately touching, until Starsky moaned aloud, hips bucking. "Please..."
Hutch, however, was determined not to be hurried.
"Do it, you bastard... don't tease..."
Taking his time, Hutch gave the matter in hand due care and attention.
"Yeah... like that... oh God babe... " Voice shaking now, dark head rolling, hands clenching in the sheet. Hutch laid one arm across the thrashing hips, pressing Starsky down, then slipped his free hand between the parted thighs, stroking the cleft of the buttocks, touching the tight entrance. Starsky gave a shudder, a whimper of need, pushing himself against the questing fingers, gasping as they entered him. "God... Hutch... now oh Hutch please now..." Words lost in a sharp cry, the slender body arching against Hutch's restraint, the sudden flood pulsing into the willing mouth that drank him avidly, greedy for all he could give.
When Hutch raised his head to look at the beloved face, the unfocused eyes and swollen mouth told their own story. The fine-boned hands, slack and half-open now, showed dull red crescents imprinted into the palms.
"All right?" Hutch whispered, touching his lips to Starsky's.
"Mmm..." A murmur of satiation. "'m wasted..."
"No stamina," Hutch said softly.
"Whaddyamean? That was a compliment."
"Really." Hutch knelt up, delivered an affectionate pat to the flat belly. "Over easy, boy."
"Wha'for?" Starsky mumbled, but obediently heaved himself over, burying his face in the pillow.
"Can tell you never went to college," Hutch chuckled, and reached for the bottle of baby-oil on the night-table. "A touch of the Magic Fingers, what else?'
"Oh..." A small, sensual wriggle. "Okay."
The flesh under his hands, warming to the oil-slicked palms and fingers, was firm and pliant, totally unresisting, muscles loose as cotton. Kneading and stroking, Hutch worked on the wide shoulders and down the brown back, pausing at the narrow waist, his hands splayed, thumbs touching in the spinal groove.
The soft downy vee just below the waist and above the cleft of the lean ass tempted his lips. He allowed himself the luxury, the answering sleepy squirm of pleasure making him smile. He knelt between the strong legs, tipped a few more drops of oil into his hand, and spread it over the neat buttocks, paler than the rest of Starsky's body, rotating his palms in a slow, expert rhythm. Completely relaxed, in a love-induced trance, Starsky was utterly at his mercy, and Hutch began to massage down the crease between the cheeks.
"David..." He made the name into a one-word love-song. "I want you, babe..."
"Y'got me..." came the drowsy mutter. "Don't stop... 's good..."
"Gonna be better." Hutch heard his own voice thicken with wanting, the ache in his groin urgent now, catching his breath at the sensations his own touch produced as he slicked himself, stretched himself carefully over his lover, and guided himself to his target. The first resistance yielded sweetly to his thrust before Starsky made a small sound in his throat and tensed. "Easy..." Hutch breathed. "Relax, love. Let me --"
Roused out of his near-sleep by the sharp stab of pain, the more shocking because it was unexpected, Starsky forced himself to lie still, to accept what was happening, and sank his teeth into his lower lip again, though not in the transport of rapture this time. Face buried in the pillow, hands tight-clenched, he tried to suppress all feeling, wanting it just to be over.
I did this to you. And I wasn't as careful as you're being. Dear God -- Hutch -- I can't --
Pain flared, and in spite of himself he moaned. Above him Hutch gasped an endearment, and he was filled, possessed totally, held immobile by Hutch's weight.
Can't take it, Hutch... I can't ... you're killing me...
He bit down on the scream, tasted blood, the plunging pressure-pain tearing him, devouring him from inside like fire. But then there was something else, too, spreading through him. Joy, reinforced with each thrust. Wildfire pleasure blazed up to cancel out the pain, making him buck backwards for more, piercing him, engorging him, stopping his breath and his heart and his life....
A soft voice, calling his name.
"David? C'mon, babe, please. C'mon back..."
Tender kisses on face and throat. His body was his own again, heavy-limbed, familiar stickiness wet at his groin. Hutch's arms were around him, voice gentle in his ear.
Right into orbit. God. Wonder how many times my heart can stand that? What a way to go...
He summoned the strength to turn his head, open his eyes -- his lashes were wet. Hutch was looking down into his face, concern and love and fear in his eyes. "Starsk..."
He got a hand up, fastened on Hutch's nape, pulled him down. "You can kill me like that anytime..."
"Christ, babe..." Anguished remorse filled the voice.
"Hey -- what's with the guilt-trip? You're the expert, right? Supposed to know what you were doing..."
"I wanted it to be good for you, too."
"Well, you got that right." He closed his eyes again, his head resting against the broad smooth chest. "I can hear your heart beating."
"So I should hope. If you couldn't, either you'd be deaf or I'd be dead." A thread of laughter lightened the mood, and Starsky gave a relieved chuckle, kissed the satiny skin, and wrapped both arms around Hutch.
It was evening when he woke, and they were pressed together still. Even in sleep, separation was unbearable.
So much for the swim.
Starsky craned up on one elbow, careful not to disturb his lover, and leaned over to study the quiet, shuttered face. Was he asleep? Borderline, he decided, and grinned to himself. Fair game. Should he wake Hutch up fast and sudden or slow and easy? The grin became a chuckle.
"That has to be the dirtiest snigger I've heard in my life," Hutch murmured, not opening his eyes or moving.
"Go back to sleep, Briar Rose," which won a snort of outrage from him. But when Hutch's eyes blinked open and he started to get up, Starsky's hands on his shoulders pushed him down. "No. Stay there."
"Don't ask damn-fool questions."
"Being masterful, huh?"
"You better believe it."
Hutch awarded him a Bronx cheer, but relaxed under his pressure. His gaze, shadowed and heavy with sleep and loving, rested on Starsky's face. "What yuh gonna do now, Butch?" he drawled.
Starsky leered down at him. "Gonna fix myself some supper. G'night, schweetheart." And he sauntered off to the kitchen. Hutch laughed and cursed him, sent a pillow flying after him, which Starsky fielded and returned accurately. "You want somethin' to eat?"
"No, thanks." The words were lost in a yawn, and when Starsky padded back to the bedroom, half an hour later, Hutch was asleep again, starfished in the middle of the big bed.
"That's a habit I'm going to have to break you of," Starsky told him. "Shift it." But there was no imperative in his tone, and the golden body did not move. So he slid under the single sheet and propped himself on one elbow, lying on his side within the angle of Hutch's outflung arm. This was no borderline drowse, but the real thing. Hutch's face was relaxed, a slight smile lifting the wide mouth. He looked at peace, utterly content, the light perspiration of sleep highlighting bone and muscle in the glow of the bedside lamp.
Starsky got rid of the sheet, letting it slide to the floor, and gazed down the length of their two bodies. His own, dark-furred on deep tan; Hutch's a dusting of fine down on lighter brown, the blond hair darkening to gold at his groin. Michelangelo could have done him justice, or Praxiteles -- one of those guys who really knew what beauty was about. Or Rodin, maybe.
"You look like a beached alligator," he said to the sleeping face, and gently stroked a fingertip over his lips. Hutch stirred, murmured his name, and Starsky acknowledged the tingle that coursed through him with a wry delight. But he did not move, because Hutch did not wake up. He could wait. They had time enough in this their own country.
An age of the world away, Hutch had looked down on his sleeping face, he remembered, though their resting-place then had been a couch, not a bed. And had seen something -- what? -- in him that had opened up a whole new dimension in their relationship. Could he, with hindsight and empathy, find the same key?
"Hell," he whispered, half to himself. "I don't know. What's inside you is beautiful, and the outside's not bad, but that's not it, or this would have happened years ago. So what is it, lover?" There was no answer to be read in the face turned towards him, not even the flicker of an eyelid. "Not tellin', huh? Maybe you don't know either. Hutch, listen, everything I am is yours. Everything, nothing held back. I'll tell you again when you wake up, if I remember." He touched the soft mouth again, knowing that Hutch's heart and mind were as open to him as his body, offered in total trust -- and that was it, he abruptly realized. The key. Complete commitment, given and received, all along the line. Hutch had seen that, or discovered his own need for it. "Eureka," Starsky murmured, and kissed him, not on the mouth, but the hollow of his throat.
The skin under his lips was smooth, tasting faintly of salt. He felt the quiver of indrawn breath, Hutch's mouth in his hair, whispering his name. Didn't have to tell him anything -- Hutch knew it already, without words passing between them, and that was so right it was almost a physical pain. He gasped on the tightness of his lungs, and Hutch's grip on him loosened.
"You okay?" Gentle concern. "Easy, love, it's all right."
"Yeah. Yeah, it is." He took a deep, shuddering breath, and pushed himself back onto his elbow. "It's better than all right." Leisurely he stroked his left hand down the length of Hutch's body, cupping the wakening erection, watching Hutch's face as his eyes closed on a small wordless sound of pleasure and his head pressed back into the pillow, his hips moving involuntarily. Starsky smiled and kissed his throat where the pulse was bounding just beneath the surface, traced an invisible line with lips and tongue over Hutch's chest. The rediscovery, newly made every time, of the contrast between the cushioned hardness of muscle and silk-smooth skin was an erotic shock that quickened his heartbeat and conjured a sexual magic. He lifted his head, caught a brief glimpse of his lover's expression, eyes closed, lips parted, a man drowning in pure sensation. It was all there, nothing withheld, offered up for him to claim -- but he wanted to give.
"Hutch." Excitement, desire, made his voice shaky. "Babe... do you want me?"
Hutch's eyes opened, met his, read there what he was trying to say. "Are you sure?"
"Only this time I want to be with you right from the start. No sneaky tactics."
"You got a deal." Hutch's arms closed around him, and he yielded to the strength and tenderness of the man who was companion, friend, brother and lover. Lover...
"Love me, Hutch."
"It's indecent," Starsky said accusingly, from the bedroom door. Hutch paused in the middle of wrapping sandwiches and looked at him. Naked, tousled, and sleepy, the man managed to look devastatingly sexy and thoroughly unsavory at the same time.
"What is?" he asked, returning to his wrapping.
"You. Up with the lark, showered, shaved, dressed, packing lunch -- it's the crack of dawn, for God's sake. Why are you packing lunch?"
"Because you'll bitch like hell if I don't. Go grab a shower while I finish this, why don't you?"
"You've got something planned," Starsky said suspiciously. "Something I'm not gonna enjoy. I can tell."
"Nonsense." Hutch took a six-pack from the icebox. "You are going to love it. It's not far."
"What isn't?" Starsky asked warily.
"Lake," Starsky repeated. "How far is 'not far'?"
"Maybe ten miles. We can make it by midday if we take the cliff trail."
The anticipated groans of protest didn't come, and Hutch glanced up to see why not. Starsky hadn't moved, but the pose was suddenly all languorous invitation, hooded eyes, jutting hip, and Hutch was almost ambushed. But he managed to get a hold of his libido just in time. He left the lunch, walked across, and took his lover in his arms, accepting the offered mouth in a long deep kiss before pulling away and gazing into the flushed face.
"Shower, Starsk," Hutch whispered, grinning.
"Right," Hutch agreed. "Shower."
With a martyred sigh, Starsky headed for the bathroom. He wasn't long; Hutch was just putting the finishing touches to the packing when he came out of the bedroom clad in denim cut-offs and t-shirt, hauling on his track-suit top.
"All set, Coach," he announced.
"Great. Sit down. This won't take a minute."
Mildly puzzled, Starsky perched himself on one of the stools at the breakfast bar. He looked inquisitively down at the top of the blond head as Hutch knelt and took Starsky's feet in his hands, checking the fit of the cushioned training shoes. "This isn't the marathon, y'know."
"I know. But I don't want you getting blisters. Are they comfortable?"
"Okay. The track Coach at college used to check, every time. Paid off, too." Before he got up, he dropped a kiss on Starsky's inner thigh.
"I'm sure. And did your track coach do that, too?"
"Not that I know if," Hutch said, picking up the pack and settling it on his own shoulders. "But then, I never was a track star."
Hutch made sure there was little breath to spare for bitching by setting a fast pace to begin with, but Starsky seemed to take enjoyment from the sheer ability to run free. He had no trouble keeping the pace with Hutch, running shoulder to shoulder the first two miles. But when the trail opened up along the cliff, he stopped suddenly.
"Hey," he called, hands on knees, breathing deeply. Hutch pulled up ten paces on, walked back.
"You're goofing off."
"Am not. I want t'look at the view."
"Like I said. Goofing off." But he dropped beside him onto the grassy bank beside the track, and they sat there in silence gazing out over the sea. The horizon and the sky met in a hazy melting line, blue on blue in endless reflection. The coast was red rock and white sand, vegetation overflowing like frosting on a cake, spilling down the sides.
"My God. That's so goddamn beautiful." It was said quietly, with reverence. Hutch looked at the intent profile of the man sitting arms around knees, the wind off the sea stirring through the sweat-crisped dark curls, sun striking auburn highlights in the tangle.
"Beautiful," he agreed softly.
Starsky took a deep breath, closing his eyes, head back. "Want to know something?"
"Talk to me."
"I'm happy. I can't remember ever being so completely happy. It can't last, but I don't care."
"Live for the moment."
"It's the only way, babe." It had been a mistake to halt; his body was relaxing, surrendering to inertia. But what the hell -- there weren't going to be many days like this. His mind shied away from the inexorable passing of time that would bring them, too soon, back to the reality that still existed outside this private world. He sat and watched the motionless enamel blue of the sea, listened to the murmur of wind in the trees. Starsky was silent beside him. When he did glance around eventually, it was to find Starsky stretched out full-length in the grass, right knee flexed slightly, hands behind his head, eyes half closed as he followed the dizzying glide and swoop of a gull riding the shining air above him.
I should be used to this by now -- what the sight of him does to me. But I still get taken by the sheer beauty of him. "We'd better move if we want to get to the lake by noon," he said, trying to get the huskiness out of his voice by clearing his throat.
"What's wrong with right here?"
That grin -- damn you, David Michael Starsky. You know, don't you? "On your feet, slacker," he said briskly, getting up.
"Sure. Give me a hand, huh?"
But the extended hand was a ruse, as Hutch found as he braced himself to pull Starsky up. There was less resistance than he expected, and the result was that he found himself with both arms full of laughing Starsky, both of them teetering on the edge of balance.
"Don't tempt me," he gasped, as the contact thrilled through him, undermining all resolution.
"Wouldn't dream of it," Starsky assured him, sliding free and bounding a little way off along the trail. "C'mon, Blintz -- you wanna make it to the lake by lunchtime?"
"There's a word for bastards like you," Hutch yelled, recovering his equilibrium and pounding in pursuit of the light, loping stride.
"Yeah? What's that?" floated back from the maniac ahead.
There was a squawk of outrage, a howl of laughter. "Cocktease!? You'll pay for that, Blondie!"
The lake was a pure reflecting mirror of turquoise, cupped in the cradling valley, touched into shivering ripples by the breeze that rustled the aspens and bent the grass.
"Christ on a kayak..."
"Told you it was worth the trek, didn't I?" Hutch said, smiling. "Real unspoiled natural beauty. You can't get here except on foot, and the nearest road is four miles back, so not many people bother."
"Just flakes like you, huh?" Starsky grinned. "Okay to take a swim?"
"Sure. Watch out for alligators. And piranhas."
The white teeth flashed. "Up yours, Blue Eyes."
Starsky was down to skin with indecent haste, and heading for the water. Hutch stood and watched him, savoring the unconscious grace of movement as he sprinted out onto a rocky promontory to perform a racing dive into the clear water. Seconds later, with a strangled spluttering yell, he shot to the surface.
"It's like ice!"
"Tones up the system," Hutch told him, more leisurely in his undressing, knowing what to expect as he waded into the cold water. Starsky ducked him, and the retaliatory fight ended with them both drenched and out of breath. Hutch escaped finally to stretch out in the sun of a flat rock, as Starsky discovered the warmer waters of the shallows. It wasn't that the hike had tired him, he was sure of that; it had to be the soporific effect of sun and silence that lulled him into a doze. He was woken by a splatter of wetness, blinked his eyes open to see a grinning satyr, devilish glint of mischief in dark blue eyes, about to shake his wet curls again like a friendly dog.
"Creep," Hutch grumbled. "Go be a nuisance someplace else." This got him another shower, and he rolled over, cursing.
"You were asleep." Starsky made it sound like a capital crime as he reached for the towel and sprawled beside him on the rock. "You didn't hike all the way up here just to sleep did you?"
"No." Hutch squinted at him. "But then, I didn't hike up here for any particular purpose, except to get you off your ass and exercising. How do you feel?"
"Me? Terrific. This place is really something else." He gave a sigh of content, the towel draped over bare shoulders, and sat gazing over the lake. Hutch grunted and closed his eyes again, resting his head on his folded arms. The sun caressed his back, the gentle breeze brushing over his skin. "You're gonna burn," came a murmur, and a hand was smoothing oil onto his back, then two hands, long firm strokes from shoulders to hips, massaging warm oil into sun-warmed skin. Hutch moved slightly with drowsy pleasure in this little intimacy. "You're like a cat," affectionate, half-laughing, "a big, golden cat. You gonna purr for me, pussycat? Huh?"
Hutch growled. "You're weird, Starsk."
"C'mon, puss," coaxing, "purr for me." And strong fingers dug into his ass unexpectedly, making Hutch gasp, fully awake now, as the touch of his lover's hands burned on his body, nerve ends thrilling.
"We gonna play games, puss?" Starsky's voice had dropped to a whisper, and he bent his head to nibble on Hutch's ear, smiling as Hutch relaxed, languid and accepting -- then yelped involuntarily as the situation was abruptly reversed and Hutch was holding him pinned to the rock, laughing down at him.
"Fooled you, didn't I?"
"You don't play fair..."
"So who ever promised you fair? There aren't any rules, babe. You start games like that, you have to learn to take the consequences."
"Hutch --" Starsky squirmed, but Hutch's grip was implacable. "Hey, let me up-"
"I don't think I want to," Hutch said softly, and he let a note into his voice that made Starsky shiver. "I think I like holding you like this. You can't do a damn thing about it, can you?"
"I'm not trying, am I?" Starsky countered. "You want to play Mr. Machismo, okay, whatever turns you on --"
"You do that," Hutch said. "Without even trying, love."
Starsky's mouth opened under his, and one arm hooked around his neck, pulling him closer. Starsky's hips rocked to meet his, the slickness of oil and sweat exciting them both, Starsky's head arching back, pressing moisture from his wet hair onto the rock, his body writhing, voice sobbing aloud as Hutch possessed him, tasting the essence of power and rejoicing in it. "Come on," Hutch ordered breathlessly. "I want to hear you, babe --" And bore down hard, demanding, relentless, until Starsky bucked under him, crying out:
Birdsong returned, gradually, to fill the silence. Hutch lay gazing into the depth of the blue sky, mindless, at peace. The stickiness on his belly was drying, puckering at the skin -- he'd have to go swim, but didn't want to move just yet. Starsky, lying at his side, seemed to be asleep: eyes closed, breathing deep and even. Hutch turned his head to look at him and smiled. A butterfly had settled on the dark curls, fanning its wings slowly, bright jewel colors, saffron and copper and peacock blue, a living ornament for what needed no adornment.
There was a magic in the moment that he didn't want to lose. He wanted to hold it like the butterfly, a delicate thing that might bruise or break with ungentle handling. But moments don't last. Unaware of the weightless presence on his hair, Starsky opened his eyes and turned his head and the butterfly was gone.
"You're no pussycat." His voice was blurred with sleep and the afterglow of passion. "You're a cougar. Mountain lion..."
"You trying to make me blush?"
"Succeeding. Unless that's sunburn."
Hutch leaned over to kiss him, cherishing the purr deep in Starsky's throat, the lazy response in the sated body. "You scared the birds away, you know that? You're the noisiest screw in the county, schweetheart. And now who's blushing?"