Comments about this novel can be sent to: kmankatz@CandW.ky
One More River
Hutch looked in before he left for work. In spite of the unavoidable noises of his preparing for another day, Starsky had not woken. He was lying still as Hutch had left him, curled on his right side, face burrowed into the pillow, one hand outflung, palm up. The bruises around his wrists had darkened into sooty bracelets. Hutch knew that the bruises he couldn't see would be the same. Bruises fade; flesh heals. The other damage he was not so sanguine about.
Nothing can change us. God, we were dumb. Everything changes. The whole of life is change, and thinking we were immune was pure fantasy. We've changed. Our relationship, ourselves, our situation. It'd be wrong to wish it otherwise. We can cope with the changes, Starsk. We can handle it. Just -- don't stop loving me.
"Have to go, babe," he said quietly. And on impulse he crossed soft-footed to the bed, straightened the quilt, and bent to brush the unshaven cheek with a kiss. "Wish I didn't have to leave you alone, but --"
Doesn't matter, because you won't wake up for hours, and even then you'll be too woozy to move. I got work to do. I'll be back.
Because Munro was expecting to be questioned, they left him to stew a little, turning their attention to Sutcliffe instead. He had not been caught in the raid on Belle Vue, but in the swoop on Hidalgo and Benedic's. The two detectives decided on the classic scenario, Hutch as bad cop, Duplessis as the friendly, but-helpless-in-the-face-of-his-partner's-fury good cop. Hutch did not have to psych himself into the role for once. With Duplessis on his heels, he strode into the interview room, slapped the morgue shots down on the table in front of Sutcliffe, one by one. "Chris Villiers, aka Robin Parrish," he hissed. "Drew Connery. Richard Sandoval. Some of your little babies, Momma? Take a real good look."
After that it hadn't taken long. The main problem was making sense of the man's incoherence, his expressions of horror and disbelief. It seemed that Mr. Sutcliffe had not known of the ultimate fate of his pretty babies. Unlikely though that sounded, the two detectives chose to accept his word on it for the present. Especially when he began to remember things. Connery he hadn't known, but Sandoval had recently turned down Jeff with more brusqueness than was necessary. And Jules.
"-- and Robin -- he walked out on an assignment with Mr. Hart, said he didn't play that kind of game. I thought it'd been a mistake. The files are clearly coded. He should never have been sent to Hart in the first place. Then when he disappeared, I thought he'd gotten disenchanted and gone home. Some do, you know. OhmyGod -- Skip was scheduled for Mr. Hart this time --"
"What happens to them, Sutcliffe?" Duplessis interrupted.
"I -- I don't know. I think they're taken out to Tadleigh. For R&R, I figured. Hart likes to play rough. Skip -- ohmyGod..."
"So help us." Hutch leaned forward. "Tell us what you know." Sutcliffe hesitated, and Duplessis threw in another straw.
"Maybe we should check the morgue. I guess I could still recognize Skip, even with that done to his face." He gestured at the photographs. "Or Sutcliffe could, for sure."
"No! God, no, I couldn't! Please..."
"Three counts of Murder One, Sutcliffe," Hutch said stonily. "And you set 'em up. Supplied the pretty chickens. What does that make you, huh? That's going to put you up there in front of the judge right along with --"
"Of course," said Duplessis quietly, "if you were to turn State's Evidence, the D.A. could take that into account."
Sutcliffe's panic-stricken gaze fastened on his face as if he were a drowning man and Dave had thrown him a rope. He drew in a deep, shaky breath. "I'll need protection," he said, the words tumbling from his lips. "There's big money and bigger connections behind this, and God knows what strings they can pull. You've got to protect me."
"We will," Hutch promised. "So what do you know?"
"I can do a deal with the D.A.?"
"Yeah, you can talk to him as soon as you like. He wants this case wrapped up fast and tight as we can make it. There won't be any problems on that score."
"Okay." Sutcliffe pulled out a handkerchief, wiped his face and his sweating palms. "There's another man you should talk to. He might be willing to deal as well. Name of William Borrows. He works for Mr. Corey, but he fouled up on something. I don't know what. He got an official reprimand, and was suspended. He didn't work for any of the agencies, but he was down for Hart's party. And Skip -- for God's sake, Denny, what happened to Skip?"
"Skip didn't go to the party," Duplessis said gently.
"Thank Christ. Don't tell me why, or who informed, I don't want to know. It's over..."
The session was far from over. Duplessis went and fetched coffee, gave Sutcliffe reassuring pats on the shoulder and offered him a cigarette, all of which seemed to steady the man, and he sat up from his sprawl across the table.
"Jules," Hutch said, as Sutcliffe lit the cigarette. "What else?"
"Forenzi. Juliano Forenzi. He's the editor of a string of yachting magazines."
"Yachting?" Duplessis echoed.
"Yes. 'Inshore Yachtsman', 'Sail and Rigging', 'Ocean Racers'. Stuff like that."
"Managing Director of the Homestead food store chain. He's based in San Francisco."
"Jeff Wright. A realtor in San Diego."
"Alex?" Hutch inserted the name without any trace of emotion in face or voice.
"Alex? He wasn't in Hart's party."
"You're sure of that?"
"Quite sure. He rarely comes to L.A. When he does, Mr. Corey takes special care of him. But he's never been involved with Hart."
"How about Richie, Drew, and Robin?" Duplessis asked. "How involved with them was he?"
"He wasn't. Not at all." Sutcliffe was not going to be shaken on that. "If he was, I'd tell you, believe me."
"How about Rick Salvacci, Jurgens, Hagan?" Hutch wanted to know.
"I swear to God, Forenzi, Hart, and Wright are the only ones I know who for sure buy the snuff parties."
"Separately or together?"
"And to your knowledge they booked Villiers, Sandoval and Connery for those parties?"
"I thought it was faked, I told you, I swear I didn't know that --"
"I believe you," Duplessis murmured, "but I gotta be able to convince the D.A. -- let alone Mr. Hutchinson here. You have to give us something we can check."
"Whatever you want, I swear --"
"Why don't we get all the details down on paper?" Hutch suggested. "Dave, get a stenographer in here. I'm gonna talk to Dobey."
"The D.A.?" Sutcliffe clutched at his sleeve.
"Yeah, the D.A.," Hutch reassured. He had to talk to Dobey about Tadleigh Hall, as well, get some black & whites down there. If the kids were taken there afterwards, for whatever reasons, maybe Borrows had been, too.
The Sheriff's Department closed in on Tadleigh Hall, expecting -- and hoping for -- a hornet's nest. But there was hardly any resistance. And the round-up netted six heavies, and that was it. The house-staff were long gone, as were all the guests that had clearly been catered for in the kitchens and dining hall. But in the furnace-room, they found Borrows. He'd been drugged, bound with wire and bundled into a sack for disposal, but for some reason no one had gone through with it. When the deputies broke in, he was alive and kicking, half out of his head with terror, but otherwise unharmed.
And it turned out that he knew a lot of fascinating things about garbage disposal.
At noon, Hutch put through a call to Starsky's number. The phone rang a long time before it was answered.
"Yeah?" A guarded and borderline-hostile monosyllable.
"Hi," said Hutch. "Did I get you out of bed? I'm sorry."
"No. I was watching TV."
"How are you doing?"
"Have you shopped this morning?"
"No. Only just got up."
"Listen, I'm going out to Sherwood Court to collect your stuff. I'll do some shopping on the way back if you want."
"Okay." Flatly non-committal. Hutch could almost hear the shrug. "Whatever."
"I'll see you later, then."
"Okay." And the line went dead. Slowly Hutch replaced the receiver, and looked up to meet Duplessis' steady gaze.
"Come on," the kid said quietly. "It's time we took us a lunch break. Don't know about you, but I could sure use something to eat."
Hutch wasn't hungry, or at least didn't think he was until they got to The Pits and scented the aromas seeping from the kitchen. It had been some time, he realized, since he'd sat down to a proper meal. Letting himself sink into a morass of depression wasn't going to help himself, and it was the last thing Starsky needed. Over double burgers, coleslaw and fries, Duplessis suggested clearing out the DuCann apartment, followed by Sherwood Court, which seemed like a good idea to Hutch. He'd welcome Duplessis' company.
The DuCann place didn't take long to clear, with the two of them packing, and within a couple of hours, they were at Starsky's temporary pied-a-terre. There was a slight problem here, with the number of books and papers acquired for the Literature course, but a cardboard carton discovered in the kitchen solved that. Hutch stacked the lecture notes and essays away neatly, eyes caught by the odd word and phrase, but he resisted the temptation to read. Time for that later, if Starsk was willing to share. He couldn't yet reassume an automatic acceptance into his lover's life. Not until Starsky recognized that he was not a threat and drew him in.
"Is he gonna be okay?" Duplessis' voice, quiet and anxious, filtered through into his awareness.
"Starsky. The rape. Is he gonna be able to handle it?"
"I don't know. Yes. I hope so."
"But how the hell do you help, huh?" Duplessis muttered, forcing the lid of a suitcase closed. "They never tell us that, do they? Any kind of grief or pain, they never teach us --" He broke off with a short, angry gesture. "And the ones who are closest are the ones who get kicked in the teeth, sometimes."
"Yeah," Hutch said. "It goes with the territory." For better, for worse.
Duplessis nodded, as if he'd heard the unspoken thought. "Guess it does," he said. "Maybe that's where the helping really begins. I'll get the bags down to the car, if you wanna give the place a last check-over, see if there's anything we missed."
They hadn't. The apartment was as empty and anonymous as the day Starsky had rented it. But there was a loneliness that ached in the shadowed corners, and it found an echo in Hutch's heart.
Oh, babe, don't shut me out.
He picked up the carton of books and files, went down to the street. Duplessis was grinning. "What's so funny?"
"The sheriff's finally turned Borrows over to Metro. Dobey says he's mad clear through, and ready to put the finger on Corey."
"What about Lazero?"
Duplessis shook his head. "Dobey didn't mention him. But there's no law says we can't drop the name on Borrows, see if it rings any bells. Dobey wants us to do the interrogation. The sooner the better."
Hutch sighed. "Okay. Let's go in now."
But although Borrows clinched the case on Corey, Hart, and the other two, he had never heard of Alex Lazero.
A chill feeling took root in Hutch's chest. The man was sand, and was slipping through his fingers...
It was late by the time he finished at Metro, and there was still the shopping to get in. Earlier in the evening he had tried to call Starsky to tell him he'd be late, but got a busy signal. He made another attempt to get through just before he left, and the line was still busy.
When he let himself into the dark apartment, he found out why. The phone was off the hook. Dumping the groceries beside the sink, he checked the bedroom. Starsky was asleep.
Hutch smiled, but didn't touch him. Moving as silently as he could, he put away the foodstuff, brought the bags and the carton up from the car, and started to slot the books into gaps on the shelves. The files and loose papers were not so easily disciplined. He grabbed at a sliding sheaf of paper, and his own name leaped out at him from a page. His resolution not to read disappeared.
This was no essay. Or lecture notes. Nor was it exactly a letter or a journal. More a conversation -- Starsky speaking to him from the paper, all the joy of his discoveries and his love shining beacon-clear. As it had been before the self-imposed isolation that was wounding them both. Hutch put the thought aside, let himself be caught up by the words.
He became so deeply engrossed in what he was reading that he didn't notice the passage of time. Here indeed was the pure gold of his lover, and more beside. The gold he had always known to be there, but the lyricism and fluent, articulate passion were a revelation.
Thought I knew everything about you. But I never guessed at this. You even had me fooled.
Slowly, page on page, he read his way through, with total fascination, captivated.
The unexpected sound startled him, and he snapped the file shut, obscurely embarrassed, as if he'd been caught doing something illicit. "You should be asleep," he said softly, glancing at the slender shadowy figure beyond the circle of light from the table-lamp.
"I... had a dream." The voice sounded distant, uncertain. "I woke up."
Hutch went to the kitchen, switching on the light there. "I'll get you a drink. Maybe you better take a couple more of those pills."
"Do I have to?"
Hutch turned to look at him. Starsky's eyes didn't seem quite focused, but wide and dark, oddly defenseless, confused. He stood there as if he wasn't quite sure what to do with himself.
"No," Hutch said carefully, aware now that something was coming down, and bracing himself to take it, whatever it was. "No, Starsk. You don't have to. But they'll help."
Take it easy, Hutchinson. Don't spook him.
He saw the shudder, the quick shake of the head. "Nothing helps." A whisper of loss. Desolation made vocal. Then, "Hutch -- oh god it hurt --" His voice broke on the final word, and the shakes hit him, and Hutch knew that this was what he had been waiting for since Starsky had been let out of the hospital. He grabbed hold, pulled Starsky close, and this time there was no twisting away, no flinching rejection. Starsky's fists bunched in his shirt fabric as he clung, driving his face into Hutch's shoulder, his body heaving as he fought for control.
"Let it out," Hutch whispered. "Come on, lover. You need this. Let it out."
It was bad, but better to be able to hold him like this and offer what comfort he could, than to be held back behind the walls, witness to the silent anguish that he could do nothing to assuage. And it felt so good to hold him. Hutch closed his eyes, resting his cheek on the soft curls, rubbing one hand rhythmically up and down the quaking back.
The release of pent-up tears was almost orgasmic in its violence, and the wrenching sobs tore their way past any shreds of self-control Starsky might have left. Hutch knew himself to be needed: storm-anchor, safe harbor, the circle of his arms a haven desperately sought. It seemed it had always been this way. He remembered other times of holding and being held. Gillian's death. Terry's. Snatching Starsky almost literally from the edge of death at the hands of Marcos's disciples. He couldn't remember who had held on to whom, those times. And they had both cried. The times when he'd wanted to grab hold, and couldn't. Like seeing Starsky hooked up to all those frightening machines, after the shooting. Or, further back, after Bellamy's poison had almost succeeded in killing him.
Wanted to hold you then. And couldn't. Were there times like that for you, partner? I guess there were. When they had me in Isolation with that damned plague. I remember waking up to see your name written up across the observation window and I knew you'd been there. Wasn't a lot, but it helped. As much as anything could.
Shared pain. Shared sorrow, shared despair. All those things made easier because we didn't have to bear them alone.
Starsky was calming, the racking sobs slowing to the awkward hiccups of emotional exhaustion. Hutch loosened his grip, still keeping one arm around him, and guided him back to the bed, making him lie down and keeping the contact by lying beside him, cradling him. He began to talk to him, voice soft and even, a measured lulling monotone. What he said didn't matter. The head on his shoulder grew heavy, breathing deepening. He continued the crooning monologue, voice dropping to a whisper, and had leisure now to take a little of what he needed, the simple pleasure of contact of touching, just being near him without any sense of Starsky flinching away. Continuing his litany of loving, not caring whether or not he was heard on any conscious level, Hutch let his words be absorbed subliminally. Lightly at first, then with increasing confidence, he caressed the dark hair, the features he loved, the strong line of the throat where the pulse beat slow and even and steady. He brought the long fingers to his lips, kissed the hard palm.
"I love you." He folded the slender hand in his. It was enough to lie there and hold him, desire and yearning transmuted into answered need, only the love unaltered.
Only? Since when has loving been 'only'? He smiled to himself. I have this. I have all I want in the world. Right now, 'only' is more than enough.
The fingers tightened on his, trembling slightly. Starsky shifted position in his arms, one knee pushing between his, and he felt the hardening flesh against his thigh, insistent, and his own response as his breath thickened and caught in his throat. He knew what Starsky wanted, knew that now it would be a healing as well as a release.
"Wait, lover --" He reached for the drawer of the night-table, found what he wanted, and prepared himself before opening to the impatient body. Starsky's weight bore down on him, grip urgent, his movements almost frenzied. Hutch locked his legs around his lover's waist in an attempt to gain a kind of control, succeeding in slowing the desperate thrusts to a rhythm he could match. It built to a swift and sharp-edged climax, Starsky stiffening, arching his back in a shuddering surge, and the pulsing flood triggered Hutch to orgasm seconds later, gazing up into wide open eyes that stared blankly through him.
Starsky sagged into his embrace, breathing ragged, turned his face into the pillow, and was still. He had not spoken nor made a sound, throughout.
The early morning sun was an acid-sharp brightness that sliced even through closed eyelids. Hutch muttered in his sleep and rolled his head to escape the intrusive light, and in doing so surfaced enough to register where he was. Starsky's bed. He smiled, aware of the warm body curled close along the length of him, shoulders to toes.
S'all right. Everything -- finally -- all right...
He sighed and let his eyes drift to the face half-buried in the dark-blue pillow. Never could figure how you can breathe like that, babe. The blue outlined the curve of brow and cheek, the delicate fan of long lashes in a crescent on the cheekbone, the sensual mouth.
"C'mon, Sleeping Beauty," he whispered, one hand stroking firmly down the exposed line of shoulder and back. "Time to wake up." And he captured the passive mouth beneath his.
There was one instant to enjoy it before rigidity froze his partner. Then the shaking started, a tsunami of tremors that had nothing to do with arousal or desire. Hutch's morning-drowsy contentment vanished as abruptly as if he'd been drenched with ice-water. He pulled back, focusing on eyes blue-black with terror enormous in the drained face, unrecognizing.
"Oh God. Starsk?" He gripped, hard, his fingers biting into the shoulder-muscle. "Starsk. It's all right. It's me, lover."
There was a convulsive shudder under his hands. "Hutch?" It was a strained whisper, a plea that reached inside Hutch and twisted his heart. "I can't..."
Hutch blinked rapidly, eyes prickling, and his voice cracked as he altered his grip. sliding his hands from shoulders to nape to cradle the dark head against his chest. "It's all right," he repeated. "All right, David... It's only love."
The answer was barely audible. "I know." And, "Hutch. I'm sorry."
"Don't say that. You don't ever have to say that." He continued the gentle caress of fingers through the soft springing hair, and the tension slipped away as Starsky relaxed against him. "Listen. I love you, you know that." His own reflection looked down at him from the mirrored ceiling, eyes haunted, as the reassuring murmur went on. "You don't have to be afraid. Not any more. Not of me, David." He'd been a fool to think it would be that simple, as if his love was a magical cure-all. Couldn't afford to make that mistake again.
The alarm sounded, cutting into the carefully structured peace with buzz-saw urgency. He killed it, but knew it had to be obeyed. He kissed Starsky's forehead, felt the swift pulse at the temple under his lips. "Have to get up," he whispered. There was no answer. Briefly Starsky's hands curled to hold on to him, and he did not move until the light grip slackened. "You stay put for a couple of hours. I'll see you later. If I can, I'll stop by at lunchtime. Okay?"
Still no answer. Starsky looked to be half-asleep. Hutch kissed him again, and with infinite care eased out of the bed.
A shave and a shower didn't take long, and he was ready to go. Silently he came back to the bed. There was a vulnerability about the man lying there that hurt every time he saw it. "Take care, lover." He touched the sleeping face with his fingertips. "Love you."
But it was very hard to leave him.
Floating free and effortless in a golden cloud, Starsky was summoned from sleep by the buzz of the phone. Half-asleep still, he reached for it. "H'lo?"
"Starsk?" Hutch's voice. "How're things?"
"Fine," he said, and realized it was the truth. The drowsy thistledown haze was still around him, his body relaxed and rested. "How 'bout you?"
"Me? Oh -- uh -- okay." He sounded surprised. "You just woke up?"
"Mmm. Sorry." He glanced at the clock; the digital figures flickered to 12:45. "I just crashed out for another five hours."
"Don't knock it. Did you good." Affectionate chuckle and, "The life of luxury, indolence and sloth," Hutch said. "Make the most of it, partner. You could be back at work next week."
"I can't wait."
"I'll bet. Sorry I couldn't make it over at noon. We're kinda rushed. Tell you about it tonight --" There was a muted rumble, and Hutch's voice, just a touch harassed, "Yeah, right away, Cap -- Starsk? See you later."
He put the phone down, lay back in the nest of pillows and quilt that had molded themselves to his body as he slept. He could almost have gone back to sleep again if it hadn't been for the necessity of relieving his bladder. He splashed face and throat with tepid water, brushed the cottony taste from his teeth, and discovered he was fully awake.
The bedroom smelled stale. He propped the windows open, stripped the bed and remade it with fresh linen. In fact the whole place still had that shut-in atmosphere. Since it had been closed up for weeks, that wasn't surprising. The routine chores were cathartic, and it seemed that as he worked, his mind cleared itself of the confusion that had clogged it, and events assumed their true proportion and perspective.
Bottom line: Hutch loved him. Whatever had happened, that was and would be a constant. Without that knowledge, the trauma would be immeasurably harder to bear. It wasn't going to be easy to come to terms with the rape, it was going to take time. But Hutch would be there for him. However long it took. Hutch would wait until he was ready, the scars healed, and they could rebuild together. Until then, Hutch would give him all the time he needed.
The afternoon went before he was aware of it, and with the evening came Hutch. Seeing him with a new sharpness unblurred by self-centered misery, Starsky noticed the drawn look around the blue eyes, the overall expression of deep weariness. And he saw how the spark of love glowed into life and lit his partner from within when they came together.
"What's different?" Hutch wanted to know, glancing around warily.
"Nothing. I cleaned up some, that's all."
"Looks a lot better." Hutch shrugged out of his jacket. "And so do you," he added quietly.
"Really." Natural, to accept the tentative touch that became a caress and then an embrace. Good to be able to return a little of the love that Hutch had been offering unstintingly. The misunderstanding of the morning had been because he hadn't been fully conscious. Now he was. This was Hutch, who loved and was in love with him. Partner, friend, and lover.
All I need to get by.
He could feel the catch in Hutch's breathing, uneven, and the slight tremor in the arms around him. He could sense through his skin the weight of the man's exhaustion. "You're wiped out."
"No, I'm not. Well, not that much." A chuckle. "Yeah. I'm getting old, can't take the pace the way the kids can." But there was a sparkle in his eyes, and a contentment.
"Over the hill," Starsky said, and found that he could grin. It felt strange, as if he'd forgotten how.
Hutch grinned back. "Hungry? I stopped by Safeway last night. You were fresh out of just about everything."
Appetite was one thing that wasn't returning to normal, but he made the effort. Meanwhile Hutch made up for him, and Starsky wondered if he was bothering to make time to eat during the day. It didn't look like it.
Conversation was a disjointed account of the progress of the case so far, which Starsky stood for as long as he could before putting knife and fork down and saying, "Hutch."
"... Dobey thinks that Sutcliffe's testimon -- yeah?"
"Less of the day-in-the-life-of, huh?"
Hutch looked at him steadily for a minute. "Sure," he said at last. "Whatever you want, Starsk."
I'm not ready for that, not yet. Aloud, he said, "S'okay. It's just that a lot of it doesn't make sense right now, and can't until I'm back in the swim."
"No big deal."
Some of the old easy companionship was back, the simple pleasure of being together just because they wanted to be. With nothing on TV to appeal to either of them, they played Monopoly for an hour, but Hutch was too tired to make much of a fight of it, and it seemed to be infectious. Tonight, Starsky decided, he wouldn't need the Seconal.
Nor did he. His sleep was deep and untroubled, and he woke to sun and Hutch's quiet breathing. No doubt about it, waking up together had a lot to recommend it.
The pale lashes fluttered, and the summer-blue of Hutch's gaze locked with his own. "Morning," Starsky said softly, and kissed him. Hutch tasted of sleep, his lips warm, and they let the moment pass in peaceful stillness, their empathy returning to guide them.
As Starsky moved to trace caresses on the golden skin, Hutch mirrored his touch: the rituals of love, familiar and new, until his flesh was shivering with pleasure. He turned so that Hutch was pressing against his back, curved close, breast to spine, breath hot on his nape, fingers demanding.
He wanted this. God, he needed it with a terrible desperation that was a physical ache. He wanted the reassurance of possession, of being covered, filled, owned, and the proof that he was still loved and desired, in spite of --
He froze against the probing fingers, tense, ice in his blood, a sickness coiling in his gut.
Oh no. No. Hutch, I can't --
But Hutch either did not realize or misinterpreted the signals, his hand moving down to guide himself into the sheathing tightness, his voice breathless with tenderness, "Want you, my love --"
Starsky twisted under the weight like an eel, wrenching free of Hutch's grip, thrusting him blindly away with a harsh moan of sheer terror, rolling from the bed and stumbling for the bathroom before Hutch could realize what had gone wrong.
He was shivering violently, uncontrollably, teeth chattering, eyes flooded blind by the acid tears of sickness. Kneeling beside the toilet bowl, clutching the cold porcelain for support, he fought for breath and coherence, stunned by his body's rebellion.
What's the matter with me?
The worst of the attack seemed to be over. He straightened and climbed shakily to his feet.
Gotta go out there, and see the hurt on his face. God, Hutch...
It wasn't Hutch's fault. Not really. He told himself that firmly. But it wasn't altogether clear to him why the reaction had hit. He'd been ready, he wanted Hutch as much as Hutch had wanted him. At least, in his head he did. His body seemed to have different opinions on the matter. No question why.
So much I can't remember. The dope, I guess. I do remember the first one, though. Alex. Dear God, it hurt. Never knew it could be that bad. And the next one. It didn't get any easier. Then Alex got inventive and when I still wouldn't play they started the rough stuff. After that -- zilch. Don't know what happened next. Don't even remember Hutch finding me. But I wasn't out, he said I was conscious. I just didn't recognize him. Shock. Yeah, well... I don't want to remember. What they did to me...
He closed his eyes, shivering.
The dreams. Nightmares. I can remember those. The same every time, all of them. Every -- filthy -- thing. And then when they were holding me down and I couldn't stop it happening, somehow it was Hutch -- his hands on me, not theirs, and the pain flaring --
He gulped down the nausea that rose in his throat.
It can't always be like that. I love him. I do love him. He loves me. He'll want me, want me again, want to --
There was nothing left in his stomach to come up, but he retched, choking on the bitter taste of bile, until the spasms eased. Flushing the toilet again, he sat on the edge of the bathtub, wiping the cold sweat from his face.
Can't go on like this. Can't even think about it without wanting to throw up. What am I going to do?
"Starsk. You okay?" And when he didn't answer, the door opened and Hutch silently wrapped the blue robe around his chilled body. He was expecting reaction, but it didn't happen, and he was glad of the gentle warmth of Hutch's hands. Love he could handle, it seemed. But not sex. Hutch, I love you. He wanted to say it, but the words wouldn't come.
Hutch took him back to bed, covered him with the quilt, and sat on the edge holding his hand. That was the impression he carried with him into sleep: the strength and warmth of Hutch's hand closed around his. Hutch. Make it all go away?
When he woke, he was alone, and there was a note on the pillow beside his head. 'Be back as soon as I can. I love you.'
I love you.
He'd lost count of the number of times Hutch had said it -- but this was written down. Which made it more permanent. Real. He could look at it any time he wanted and renew the knowledge of that essential truth.
Soapy. But I can understand now why some people keep their old love-letters.
When the phone rang around noon, he was expecting it to be Hutch, but Dobey's gruff voice came over the line.
"Checkin' up on me, Cap?" Starsky wanted to know, and heard the grunt.
"Hutch isn't saying much. I wanted to know if you're going to be fit for work sometime next week. We need every man we got at the moment."
"Sure, I'll be back. Would be right now, if the doctor hadn't vetoed it."
"Can't afford to take chances," Dobey said. "Hutch been keepin' you up-to-date on the case? One big can of worms, Starsky, bigger than we ever suspected. But most of the main men we can trip for a long fall."
"Yeah. Corey, Hart, Forenzi and Wright are going to face charges for three counts of Murder One. I'm only sorry we can't pull in some of the others. It does look as though Lazero'll get clean away. No concrete evidence --"
"Lazero?" He wasn't certain he'd actually managed to vocalize. Vegas. Nick. The blackmail. "Alexander Lazero?"
"Right. Big shot from out-of-state --"
Starsky wasn't listening any more. Alex. Lazero. Dobey was still talking and Starsky presumed he'd made the right responses, but he wasn't conscious of any of it. After a bit he found himself sitting with the dead phone in his hand, a sickness in his gut, and a tangle of wildly confused thoughts in his head. Lazero. Alex is Lazero. Nicky's blackmail 'victim.' Or one of them. 'So clean he squeaks.' Gets off on rape. And he raped me. Alexander Lazero.
He came to the realization that the westering sun had left the bedroom dim, and that he must have been sitting like this for hours. Hutch was home. Wondering where he was. Hutch.
"I'm in here." He stood up as Hutch walked through.
"Hi. Sorry I couldn't get back any earlier, but -- what's wrong?"
"Nothing. How was your day?"
"Lousy. Starsky, are you all right?" Concern dawned in the blue eyes that watched him. "David? What...?"
"Yeah, he said he might."
"Told me you'd got Corey and Hart for sure. But there's no way you can get Lazero."
"He wasn't involved with the murders," Hutch said. "Not that we know, anyway."
"Lazero," Starsky repeated. "From Vegas."
A pause. Then, "I should have told you before this. I just didn't think that it would --"
"-- Make any difference?" Starsky shook his head. "I guess it doesn't. Shouldn't. I just never made the connection -- Alex and Lazero -- until Dobey said."
"No reason why you should."
"Hutch --" The question was burning in his brain. "Why me?"
"Picked you out of the book, so we're told. Coincidence, babe."
"Is it? Me'n'Nicky -- we look kind of alike."
"No you don't. David, you're not like Nick. I could pick you out a dozen guys on any street who look more like you than he does --"
"But they weren't in Corey's book."
"It was coincidence, Starsky," Hutch said again. "Look, don't try to make this worse than it is. We'll get something on Lazero. Maybe not this, but --" He faltered to a stop.
Starsky gave a half-shrug and turned away. He couldn't put his fears into words, for they weren't coherent enough, not even to himself. He didn't know why Alex being identified as Lazero made a difference, only that it did. As if the man somehow knew his relationship to Nicky and had acted on it. "Won't change anything, will it? Whatever you get him on. If you get him. Won't make any difference."
"Don't let this get to you, huh?" He sensed Hutch moving closer, but didn't want even to be touched. Without speaking, he shifted out of reach. And heard the pain in Hutch's voice. "If we'd gone in sooner at Belle Vue --"
But that was too unthinkable even to consider. Stalemate. And out of the impasse, across the gap between the, came Hutch's grieving plea.
"Don't shut me out, Starsk."
He didn't answer.
Guffawing laughter faded into a dog food jingle, and Hutch groaned aloud. Oh, Christ, not again. He didn't need to reach out to know he had the bed to himself. Starsky would be in the chair in front of the TV, using it not so much as chewing-gum for the eyes, as counter-irritant for the dreams. Why wouldn't he just turn to Hutch, say, 'I can't sleep, I had this nightmare,' and talk it out? Useless speculation. Hutch looked at the clock and groaned again. 5:36. His own sleep had been punctuated by unpleasant dreams as well as by his lover's restlessness. It would have been good for both of them if they could have curled up together the way they used to, but that was something Starsky didn't want. Classic rape-syndrome, to mistrust any body-contact -- except that it hadn't lasted long at first, had virtually disappeared, in fact. Then Alex became Alexander Lazero, and it was back to Square One.
Hutch didn't get up to coerce Starsky back to bed. He'd tried that on Thursday, five mornings ago. Starsky had made it bitterly clear that he was where he wanted to be and had no intention of going back to bed. Instead, Hutch lay awake, listening to commercials, ScoobyDoo, the news, weather, traffic reports, all interspersed with more commercials, until the alarm sounded.
He showered and shaved and fixed breakfast, all to the background hype from the living room. But at least he didn't have to sit down alone. Starsky joined him at the table, hunching over the steaming cup poured for him, and didn't say a word.
Hutch rubbed his hand over his sore and aching eyes, sipped at the scalding liquid in his cup. The coffee was black and strong, but it did little to wake him up, restore much-needed energy. There's a point in physical exhaustion where even caffeine doesn't help. Hutch felt more as if he'd had a five-mile run in high humidity than a night's sleep. Part of a night's sleep.
Worry chewed at his nerves, centered on the morose, drawn face of the man sitting opposite him. Would it have made any difference if Starsky had known from the start who Alex was? Yes, it probably would. Like making it a helluva lot worse. Three steps forward and two back were still better than Lazero taking on a Machiavellian role in Starsky's head. But maybe Starsky had a point. Was it merely coincidence that Lazero had picked him out of the book? 'Said he reminded him of someone.' After they'd left Vegas, had Lazero started checking up?
Dammit, he was getting paranoid.
He poured more coffee, filling Starsky's cup as well. "Listen," he said. "If you can't sleep, and won't take the pills, go back to the hospital and see the --"
"No way! I don't need it!"
"You need sleep," Hutch pointed out. "And you're sure as hell not getting any sitting in front of a TV twenty-four hours of the day. If you need something to take your mind off it, what's wrong with your college work?"
"Get off my case!" Starsky hissed, pushing away from the table and stalking back to the living room. The TV clicked on, sound defiantly high.
Hutch gritted his teeth, pain beginning to throb behind his eyes.
Give him time, a little more time, and he'll come to terms with it, the way he was before Dobey's phone call.
But instinct wasn't happy with that, not now that Lazero had assumed the darker aspect. Time would work against them there, could distort and build up until it was all turned awry. God knows the dreams were bad enough already. No. Lazero had to be gotten into perspective, and soon. What was lined up for the morning? Sutcliffe and the D.A. Borrows and the D.A. Hutch's presence wasn't vital. He could afford to be a little late. He pulled over, double-parked, and ducked into a phone booth. The call only took a minute, and he was heading back the way he'd come.
He could hear the TV as he climbed the steps. He opened the door, let it swing closed behind him, walked through to the TV and switched it off.
"We have to talk," he said firmly, facing Starsky's wide, startled eyes. Anger -- a defense mechanism -- glittered in their depths. "Don't argue. We should have talked before."
"What about?" A barely audible growl, and after the first astonished resentment, he would not meet Hutch's gaze.
"You and me. What's important to us. Why you won't sleep, won't get help. And why you're shutting me out again." He went past Starsky to the kitchen. The coffee was still hot; he poured two cups and put one in front of Starsky. "Lover, we need to talk."
"No we don't. All I need is --"
"Stop running, hiding. Talk to me, David. Tell me what's wrong. What you're afraid of." Silence. "You are afraid?" he suggested. A strong sense of protectiveness arose in him. I won't let anything hurt you. Never again.
"No. Yes. I don't know." Unsure, almost hyper, Starsky got to his feet, avoiding Hutch's questioning, headed for the kitchen. Hutch followed him.
"Scared of what?" he persisted, and when Starsky wouldn't answer him, seized hold of his wrists, forcing him to stand still and face him. "Of what?"
"I don't know!" Starsky wrenched free, turning away. Then, bracing himself against the sink, head down, he said, "Yeah, scared. Of standing up in court, telling the world what they did to me..." His voice was muffled.
"Is that all?"
"All?! Isn't that enough?" Astonishment.
"You've got no reason to feel ashamed. Or afraid. None of what happened -- no one's about to lay any blame on you."
Words. He knew what would happen in the courtroom. The counsel for the defense would shred Starsky's testimony, offer veiled insinuation and accusation, twist evidence and statements. Crucifixion. There was even the chance that their own affair could get dragged out.
"Tell me about it," Starsky said dully. The fight had gone out of him. He leaned against the sink, head drooping. Hutch risked touching him then, and wasn't rebuffed.
"You're the only witness against Lazero and his cronies. Corey and Hart and the others -- we can get them without your testimony. But not Lazero."
"There's no other way, Starsk."
"Yeah." Toneless agreement. It tore at something inside Hutch's chest.
"Believe me, if I could find a way to get you off the hook --"
"-- you would," Starsky said, and let his head rest for a moment on Hutch's shoulder. Carefully, Hutch held him like that, cherishing the closeness.
"Yeah, well, what are partners for? It may not happen. Let's wait and see what comes down, huh?"
"Sure." Starsky lifted his head, tried for a smile and nearly made it. "Don't know what I'd do without you. But right now, shouldn't you be at work?"
"Then haul your ass outta here. I'll be okay. I promise. And we'll talk some more when we've got more time."
"Deal." Hutch tentatively bent his head, and Starsky met the kiss with only a fractional hesitation.
Hutch stared at the files lined up neatly on Dobey's desk. Corey, Hart, Forenzi and Wright. Other charges on other people would follow, but those four would be facing trial for murder, thanks to Sutcliffe and Borrows.
It wasn't enough, not for him. Nor was it for Duplessis.
"Captain," the young officer said, "what about the guys who raped Starsky? Lazero, Hagan --"
"Nothing." Dobey's voice was flat.
"Nothing?" Hutch's head came up. "Captain, do you know what kind of hell my partner went through? Is still going through?"
"Yes, dammit, I do know. I'm not an insensitive fool. But we've been over this before. And I've talked to the D.A. besides."
"He won't jeopardize the case against Corey and the rest by involving Starsky in any way. And he won't have Lazero and Hagan indicted on Aggravated Assault and Rape on one man's evidence -- drug-affected and therefore inadmissible in any event. The same goes for Salvacci and Jurgens." Anger and frustration were harsh in Dobey's voice, but there was a deep compassion as well. "Look at the bright side, Hutch," he went on. "At least Starsky won't be subjected to the ordeal of giving evidence in open court, and the kind of cross-examination he'd get from the defense counsel."
Hutch did not answer. His eyes locked with Dobey's until the dark brown gaze slid away. He felt cold, and the slow inexorable adrenaline surge grew in his blood but did not bring heat with it. He stood within the eye of a storm, in a cool, calm passionless stasis, waiting.
"Lazero is a top-level gang-boss," Duplessis objected. "Surely the Vegas P.D. --"
"No," Dobey said. "We can't touch him. Hutch, I'm sorry. Believe me. But maybe it's for the best." On the edge of his vision, Hutch saw the jerk of the head that ordered Duplessis from the office, heard the door close behind both of them.
Dobey was being tactful, giving him a little time alone.
A voice in his head, from a couple of months back spoke; Lazero, tone confident, authoritative. "But he does have a brother, whose name is not Sinclair." His men had dumped Starsky in the desert. Name and address on a driving license -- if I were Lazero, would I leave it, or follow it up? And Nick had been traced to Starsky's apartment, the place trashed, desecrated. There'd been photographs there. Starsky and Nick. Starsky and Terry. Starsky and himself. A face in a trick book, different surname, same initials.
And a neat, savage revenge on Sinclair's brother.
'We can't touch him.' No, change the intonation. 'We can't touch him.'
Slowly Hutch picked up the phone, got an outside line. In his mind, it was as inevitable as an avalanche in slow motion. Unstoppable. The Vegas number was clear in his memory, despite the months between, and it took surprisingly little time for Henderson's gravelly voice to come over. "Yes?"
"The name is Brandt, Mr. Henderson. You may remember me. We had some business earlier in the year. You had an interest in the movie industry."
A pause. "Brandt. Yes. I figured I'd be hearing from you again before long. Let's see... the associate-director was Nick Sinclair. Right? Getting greedy, Brandt?"
"Mr. Sinclair is no longer in business," Hutch said neutrally. "I won't take up your valuable time, Mr. Henderson. I just thought you should know that Mr. Lazero is causing complications. And you know what that will mean if the matter isn't dealt with."
Another pause, longer this time. "Yes, indeed. I think you can safely leave that to me, Mr. Brandt. I'll take care of it."
The connection clicked off, and Hutch replaced the receiver, fumbling it. His hands were shaking now, and his palms were slick. He'd never passed sentence of death before -- not like this.
He sat down hard, watched the fine tremor in his hands as if they belonged to somebody else.
The remarkable thing was, they looked quite clean.
On balance, the days were marginally the worst, because he was alone. Nights, even with the dreams, weren't so bad, because Hutch was there. And there were the Seconal to sink him deep beyond the reach of the horrors.
Days were bad.
He'd exhausted every distraction during the week. Now, on Friday morning, he had nothing left to do but think. The apartment was cleaner and tidier than it had been for months, he couldn't find anything further to do there. Even the laundry was done. He could go shop again -- but what for? And anyway, he didn't like going out. Reason told him that it was ridiculous, sick imagination, but he felt people watching him. Felt they knew.
Better to stay here, in his own place.
The TV droned a background to his aimless wandering. There was nothing to watch, but it was better than silence. He tried to read again, but his attention skittered off after a few paragraphs. He dropped the book heedlessly beside the bed, lay back on the pillows, stared at the ceiling, at the reflection of himself. Not a good idea. The pillow beside his head still held a ghost fragrance of Hutch's aftershave. Definitely not a good idea.
In a burst of false energy, he swung from the bed, made for the kitchen, found the fresh orange juice Hutch had fixed earlier, which he hadn't wanted then, any more than the eggs or the granola or the toast and marmalade, and drank nearly the full half-pint, grimacing slightly at the bite of it. There was a bottle of Dr. Pepper. He opened it, took a pull, the bland sweetness soothing his palate. Carrying it with him, he went through to his living room, slumped into the chair and regarded the cartoon idiocy on the screen. Jerry was being chased across a pool-table by a line of balls while Tom watched, grinning fiendishly.
"When you're ready, babe. I'm here."
Irritated by the ghost voice in his head, he flicked through the channels, but there was nothing to hold his interest. In the end he gave up.
"Talk to me, lover. Tell me what's wrong."
He couldn't talk about it. There weren't the words. No, that was wrong. The words were there, but he couldn't vocalize. Not now. Not to Hutch. Knowing how it would hurt him, an unnecessary, futile hurt, for there was nothing to be done about it, no way to put it right.
But once I could have told you. Once, there would have been nothing I couldn't tell you, no hurt I couldn't share. And I could cry in your arms, the way I cried after Terry, the way you wept for Gillian and Van. I could accept the comfort of your caring, your love, and not be afraid of what else it would mean.
But you're not just my friend any more. You're my lover. And in a weird kind of way, I don't know you. Not now. Thought I knew all there was to know about you. But the truth is -- we're strangers.
Lovers and strangers.
It was the greatest grief of his life. But there were no tears to cry for it. Some things go too deep.
He sat and waited for the day to pass, for Hutch to come home to him, for the pain of not-sharing to begin again -- because even that was better than the cold dry aching emptiness of being alone.
Someone was being asked the name of the world's longest river, and the expectant hush lengthened. "Uh-oh I'm not sure -- is it the Amazon?" Tumultuous applause, an ovation befitting a Nobel Prize winner. "Congratulations, sir, you have won for yourself a --"
Hutch clicked the set onto another channel, and a manic Fred Flintstone tried to convince Barney Rubble they could become rock stars. PBS wasn't much better; several intense women were into a serious discussion on some vitally important subject incomprehensible to anyone who hadn't been tuned in from the beginning.
"If this is daytime TV, they can keep it," Hutch said in disgust, switching off.
"There was a Trek episode earlier," Starsky offered absently, wandering from the kitchen with an apple. "Did he win?"
"The guy on 'Wheel of Fortune.' Did he win?"
"Oh -- yeah, I guess. Is that all you've eaten today?" There were no signs of a meal, unwashed dishes or pans, or even crumbs.
"Wasn't all that hungry."
"Think you could maybe raise enough appetite to tackle a steak?"
"I guess maybe." A fleeting smile. "Hey, you didn't have to go to any trouble."
"I didn't," Hutch said shortly. "Picked up at the market on the way over, after I dropped the kid off. That's why I'm late."
How long do you think it takes to stuff a veal? The ghost-whisper conjured memory of the illicit picnic-party that had celebrated his living. Gonna remember this night for a long time to come.
"Okay, how'd you want it?"
"What?" The reverie broken, he stared at Hutch's questioning face.
"Your steak. How'd you want it?"
"You need to ask?"
So easy, the old familiar banter. As if nothing had changed or ever could. Lovers. Strangers.
"Just checking." Hutch gave him the smile that was his alone, and he ached with the response it called up in him. He turned away, knowing his seeming indifference would hurt but unable to do otherwise.
The steak was unexpectedly enjoyable -- unexpected because he hadn't been hungry, or hadn't known he was, until the meal was in front of him. He cleared the plate, to Hutch's undisguised delight, before he quite realized he'd done it. It was the first food he'd really appreciated for days. Eating had been just another chore to get through. "That was terrific."
Hutch looked as if he'd been given an accolade. Ridiculous, but somehow unbearably touching.
So easy to make you happy, babe.
"Thank you, Robert Carrier. You can help with the dishes."
"Knew there'd be a catch."
The evening had that touch of pinkish-gold radiance sometimes seen in Renaissance Art and often in Californian sunsets. Starsky leaned on the branch of the living tree that grew through and helped to support the sundeck, and tried very hard not to think. His thoughts never got anywhere -- spun round and around in repeating circles, like a squirrel in a treadmill.
'... takes all the running you can do, to stay in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that...'
I'm tired of running.
"Want a game?" Hutch said quietly. The chess-set was laid out on the slatted teak table, the pieces neatly ranked, and Hutch sat waiting. Hopeful.
Well, why not? Give us both something to occupy our minds.
"Sure. Care to make it interesting?"
"No way. You're too damn good at it."
"Idiot savant, more like. Okay -- loser buys dinner for the winner."
"Restaurant of my choice?"
"Don't be too sure you're gonna win, babe."
Mock-generously, Starsky turned the board to give Hutch white. "Any other advantages you might like?"
"That's what I like to see. Confidence."
Concentrating on the game, he didn't need to talk. Except that he couldn't concentrate on the game, so his moves were random, unconnected. If Hutch noticed, he probably thought it was part of some incredibly convoluted Master Plan, no doubt. But it soon became apparent that any victory of Starsky's would be of the Pyrrhic variety. Bishop, pawn, knight were taken from the board under an inexorable attack, and his heart wasn't in any spirited defense. Well, it was only a game. Even if losing smarted. He castled to avoid the pressure of the white rook, and now the White Knight came into play, stalking the battlefield.
"I love you," Hutch said quietly, and waited. For answer or riposte. Starsky kept his eyes on the squares, unable to say anything, his throat closing, aching. Dirty pool, babe. "I've told you. Guess I could keep on telling you until I'm blue in the face. I love you, and nothing changes that. What happened -- I know you can't forget it. You asked for time. You got it. As long as it takes. I promise. But don't ask me to back off. Don't shut me out. Trust me? Please?"
"Don't, Hutch." He couldn't keep the tremor, the hurt, out of his voice.
"I've got to, Starsk. I can't carry on like this. I need you. I love you, and I need you. If I can't have you -- well, there's no one else I want." Starsky watched his own fingers tighten on the chess piece until the bloodless flesh showed white and translucent. He couldn't look at Hutch. Dared not. "Look. If it was the other way around -- if it'd been me -- how'd you feel then?"
Shock brought his gaze to his partner's face. "If -- it had been you?"
"How would you feel about it? About me?"
"Hutch, I love you." His voice wouldn't work above a whisper. "Couldn't change that."
"That's how I feel, too. Starsk -- David -- this can only affect us if we let it. If you let it."
The white knight moved again, and the black king was cornered, all escape routes blocked, no way out. Checkmate. And, after an age of silence, Hutch said softly, "Make your move, babe."
Starsky watched his own hand reach to touch the black king, the carved crown.
Make your move.
His fingertips stroked the grain of the carving, and he could feel Hutch's eyes on him. He didn't need to look up -- hardly needed to speak, because Hutch knew his thoughts. Always had. Always would.
With sudden decisiveness, Starsky tipped the ebony piece forward in surrender, conceding the game. And with a catch in his throat, unable to speak, raised his eyes to meet Hutch's, which were fixed on him, gravely tender.
Silently, Hutch held out his hand.
I love you. Now and forever.
-- My north, my south, my east, my
Starsky reached out and took the offered hand, their fingers closing together in a grip that had no uncertainty in it any more, no doubts, trust given and received in equal measure.
Whatever came down, they could face it. Together.
We've walked both sides of every street,
The third novel in the Red Light Trilogy -- No Easy Answers -- will be posted as soon as it is transcribed for the Web.