Publisher's Note: This is an excerpt from a now finished novel that will be published by Flamingo either as a stand-alone zine, or in her up-coming zine, Starsky & Hutch: Dangerous Lives, Dangerous Visions II. Comments on this excerpt can be sent to: flamingoslim@erols.com

Dark Night of the Soul

by

Elizabeth Lowry

Starsky was a model of professional detachment.

Hutch watched him: Casually, carefully, secretly he measured Starsky's every move. Of late Hutch had become expert at this game, spying under half-closed lids, watching from behind dark glasses, listening when he couldn't look. He'd become a master of detection, the Sherlock Holmes of the BCPD. And all his efforts were devoted toward one man. One man who needed all his skills. One man who needed all his attentions. One man who constantly needed . . . .

It had begun simply enough, a vigilance born of necessity. Watch for signs of fatigue, the doctors had warned him. Watch for signs of body stress. Watch for signs of internal bleeding. Watch for signs of muscle atrophy. Watch for signs of impaired mental capacity. Watch for signs of any number of physical calamities that could occur after such a death-defying trauma Watch for it all. And then his vigil had grown to encompass the psychological aspects of Starsky's recovery. Watch for signs of depression. Watch for signs of anxiety. Watch for signs of changes in personality. In effect, watch for signs of Godknowswhat kind of warp that could worm its way into Starsky's psyche and destroy the recovery Hutch had invoked. It was a taxing duty. One from which Hutch could never rest. And it had become that much more difficult of late, now that Starsky had demanded he stop his vigil. But Hutch was an expert at stealth, and Starsky would not catch him at his task again. If Starsky was chafing against this duty, then Starsky would never again discern this duty.

This morning, Hutch observed, Starsky was dressed in khaki slacks, a slate gray shirt with dolman sleeves and large pockets, a loosely knotted light gray tie, and a waist-high jacket that coordinated with the shirt and slacks. A new look for Starsky. Not exactly fashionable, but neither totally ignorant of fashion. It made Starsky look more—mature. Not less youthful, but less—immature. Starsky, of course, was oblivious to Hutch's scrutiny. He'd not noticed the attentiveness to his every move, nor Hutch's inspection of his dress. Not at all.

Starsky was leaning over the dead body "positioned" on the bed. It hadn't been hard to deduce the body had been purposefully arranged; most people didn't die flat on their backs, hands folded across their chests, hair carefully combed, and their bodies scrubbed to a state of absolute cleanliness. Not to mention this was the sixth body that had been found this way. These bodies seemed to pique Starsky's curiosity, presenting a new challenge to an eager, underused mind. They only made Hutch uncomfortable.

Hutch leaned against the doorframe of the tasteless motel room and tried to catch what breeze he could without actually leaving the room. His navy suit coat lay folded over one arm, having been early on abandoned in the morning heat. He pinched at the white-on-white shirt that stuck to his chest, trying to pull some air over his skin Sweating was the body's cooling mechanism, but the sensation this morning was decidedly more uncomfortable than cooling. There was a time when he reveled in his body's sweat, when it signified his physical prowess on the field, on the job, in bed. Anymore, he brooded, "outperform" meant "overexert." Today it just meant hot. Hutch took a deep breath of muck and held it, fingering the silk tie that lay plastered to his shirt. With his jacket off, his sleeves rolled up, his tie loosened, and the top two shirt buttons free, there was nothing more he could do and still maintain the decorum his status called for. He exhaled resignedly.

"Did you get shots of these marks on the neck, wrists, and ankles?" Starsky pointed at the appropriate body parts.

"You bet," Garcia answered from behind him. "Lots of nifty close-ups." He opened his camera, removed the exposed roll, and replaced it with a fresh one.

"Terrific," Starsky turned to him. "Thanks."

Garcia grinned. "You bet!" He tossed the exposed roll into the air, whirled, and caught it behind his back.

Starsky, smiling, shook his head at the photographer's antics. He stepped past him to speak with Lieutenant Grimes, who stood next to an old, battered dresser. Hutch followed Starsky with his eyes.

"Anything?" Starsky asked. He glanced over at Hutch. Hutch deftly averted his gaze.

"Clean as a whistle," Grimes shoved a small notebook into his pocket. About four inches shorter than Starsky, Grimes was about 40 pounds heavier, and it was all in his belly. Gray hair bristled from his head, emphasizing his 52 years, but the tidy beard and moustache remained jet black. Pale blue eyes peered out from under heavy eyelids and black brows. A dark blue suit hung haphazardly from his frame. Grimes was a career cop—no wife, no family, no outside entanglements.

"Bathroom, dresser, table, doors—everything's spotless." Grimes was cataloguing the room. "Looks like the maid was through here after the guy died. I'm sure the lab will find the usual traces of commercial cleaners and cleansers all over everything."

Hutch finally found some energy to move and pushed away from his sentry position by the door. He joined Grimes and Starsky.

"I hope you've got something—" Starsky greeted him, as though he hadn't known Hutch was leaning all that time by the door, "—because we've got nothing."

"I heard." Hutch glanced at Starsky to see if he'd caught his admission of eavesdropping and getting no reaction, turned his attention to the body. "Sorry, but I can't add much. Our Mr. Morris checked in as 'J. Richards' around 11:00 p.m., and the desk clerk didn't see anybody with him. The drunk in the room next door thinks he heard music all night." Hutch's voice took on a mocking tone. "He's not sure, but he thinks it was The Doors. No one else heard anything or saw anyone. The maid who came up here to clean this morning said the door was unlocked, and when she wheeled in her cart she found the victim like this. The guy's car is outside, and doesn't look as if it's been touched." He addressed himself to Grimes. "Robbery ruled out?"

"Yes," Grimes replied. "Wallet, cash, plastic, jewelry; everything seems to be right here. Looks to me like murder, pure and simple." He shook his head.

"What's so pure and simple?" A woman joined their group. In heels she was as tall as Grimes, and while nowhere near as heavy, her figure had "matured." Hutch knew her to be about 45 years old. Short, short red hair that was beginning to mutate into a muddy brown framed a ruddy, freckled complexion. An ill-fitting, burnt orange suit gave the impression she was not particularly concerned with appearances, as well as her disregard of any makeup. Her reputation as a BCPD detective, however, was impeccable. Hutch found her to be a more-than-capable task force leader, as well as pleasing to be around, which was in part, he decided, explained by her appearance. She could put all her energy into her work and personality, and not her looks, because she didn't have any looks.

"Unfortunately, nothing's really pure and simple anymore, Ruthie," Grimes smiled wistfully at her. "Did you get anything, hon?"

Ruth Boggs smiled back. "No witnesses, no answers; nobody knows anything." She reached out and patted Grimes' cheek. "And I'm not your 'hon,' dear."

Starsky grinned and looked over at Hutch. Hutch returned the smile. After spending the last several weeks working closely with Boggs and Grimes, Hutch had begun to understand why so many in the past had taken such an interest in watching Starsky and him. The show was free, and always entertaining. They should have been more careful about that over the years, he and Starsk.

"Sorry, baby," Grimes returned the pat, adding a pinch to her cheek. Ruth grimaced good-naturedly. "Did anyone get the race results?"

Ruth flipped through her notebook. "Sure, sweetie pie. Let's see. Eleven got here first, followed by five, four, and then nine."

"Damn," Starsky muttered. "I had Channel 4 to win."

Hutch clicked his tongue and arched an eyebrow. "Starsky, you've got to stop making bets based on the looks of the 11 o'clock newswomen."

Ruth laughed. "Surely you've got better taste than Channel 4, Dave. I figured you for a Channel 7 man." She reached over and flicked one of his curls mischievously.

"Next time I've got 4 to win, place, and show." Starsky rummaged through his pockets, pulled out two crumpled ones, and offered them to Ruth.

Ruth plucked them from his fingers, made a note in her book, and tucked the bills away. "Let's hope there is no next time, eh, boys?"

The group nodded in agreement. Grimes buttoned his collar and adjusted his tie. "Ready for duty, sweets?"

Ruth brushed his hands away and fixed the tie herself. Ruth and Grimes were like that, Hutch noted. Partners. No boundaries between their personal space. "I'm always ready to face the media, sugar pie," Ruth patted his collar. "But you—try not to sweat so much this time, Harry. You look like Nixon when he debated Kennedy."

"What can I say?" Grimes pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and mopped his face. "The camera loves me." His grin disappeared. He looked around the room. "I don't have to remind everybody we're not attributing this to our serial murderer until the lab results come back, do I?"

Everyone shook their heads.

"And you two—" Ruth ran two fingers through her bangs, then circled back to point at Starsky and Hutch, "—low profiles—still. No comments, no interviews, don't even get close to those cameras. With me on this?" Starsky shrugged. Hutch nodded. "Well, then, are we ready to go?"

"Ready," Grimes offered his arm to his partner. "Shall we, then?"

"Love to," Ruth took his arm. "We'll give you boys a ring later this afternoon," she said over her shoulder as the couple exited the room.

"Quite a pair, huh?" Hutch watched them go.

Starsky moved up beside him. "Yeah. I'm glad they're heading up this task force. We could have done a lot worse."

Hutch used his shirtsleeve to blot the sweat from his upper lip. "Let's get out of this sweatbox."

Starsky took a final look around the room. "Okay," he agreed. They moved out onto the small, second story balcony sidewalk overlooking a filth-encrusted pool. "You know—" Starsky proposed, apparently doing some scrutinizing of his own, "—you wouldn't sweat so much if you didn't dress like a partner in one of those Century City law firms."

Hutch coldly eyed Starsky's choice of apparel. Why should Starsky have any interest in Hutch's clothes? It was none of his business. Especially the way Starsky was dressing lately. "At least I don't look like I just walked out of one of those Melrose Avenue trendo-mats wearing this week's fashion fad." He pinched the material of Starsky's jacket. "How much flattery did the salesgirl use to get you to buy that outfit?"

Starsky frowned at the remark. Hutch was immediately sorry he'd let his comments become cruel. He shouldn't have let his irritation emerge like that. Beside, there was really nothing wrong with Starsky's clothes. It's just that he simply hadn't wanted Starsky's opinion of his own attire.

Or was he really just uncomfortable with the implication that Starsky had been studying him? Hutch shook off the thought No reason anybody would want to study him. No reason anybody would need to study him.

"You want the jeans back?" Starsky finally retorted.

Hutch raised an eyebrow to announce the subject was closed.

Starsky accepted quietly (as he should) and turned his attention to the knot of camera crews and reporters that surrounded Boggs and Grimes. "I'm just as glad we don't have to handle that," he tilted his head toward the group.

Hutch slipped a pair of sunglasses on. "I think they really enjoy it."

Starsky shrugged. "You're just used to holding back your identity, laying low, not letting too many people get a fix on you. They're not."

Hutch froze. Starsky had exactly hit on what he'd been thinking. Hutch had never liked it when people understood what was going on inside his head, or why he was doing what he was doing; and he was not happy that Starsky had identified a portion of his secretiveness at this point in time. It was nobody's business why he did what he did. But even more important, why had Starsky picked up on this? Could Starsky really be studying him? He'd have to be a little more alert to not only Starsky's personal behavior, but his behavior toward Hutch.

Hutch turned and jogged down the stairs to the parking lot, suddenly eager to move away from Starsky's scrutiny. Starsky followed behind. Hutch listened to the rhythm in Starsky's gait, noting the steadiness in his step as well as the energy. Leg strength. Muscle tone.

False hopes.

"That's the one thing I always hated about tying up a case and testifying," Starsky went on as they reached the blacktop. He wasn't giving up this line of thought. "People find out who you are. Sometimes I think being undercover is safer than being out. Then no one can get to know you."

Hutch lost a step at Starsky's admission. Starsky seemed to mark it as just another example of his clumsiness. But it was obvious the statement had been directed at Hutch. Of late Starsky had been very free with such offhand remarks. Remarks that sounded very matter-of-fact and innocent, but held deep truths that Hutch was often uncomfortable with, for more often than not they were made for Hutch's benefit. He took it to be a manifestation of Starsky's involvement in psychotherapy. He hoped the phase would end soon.

They wound their way between two mobile units to their car. Starsky leaned against the hood and looked back up at the motel room. Hutch opened his door to let the interior cool off.

"This is exactly like Browning," Starsky folded his arms across his chest.

"And March, and Vasquez, and Jun," Hutch added from the other side of the car.

Starsky counted on his fingers. "And Lopez and Fields. This one makes seven in—" he counted on his fingers again, "—sixteen weeks."

Hutch rubbed a thumb on a spot on the car top, then slid in and reached across to unlock Starsky's door. Starsky folded into the car, Hutch started the engine, and a warning buzzer sounded. Hutch pulled his seat belt around, buckled it, then waited for Starsky to do the same. Starsky appeared preoccupied with something outside his window.

"I'm not moving—"

"All right!" Starsky grabbed at the metal clasp and jerked it around, shoving it into the catch. "I'm gonna have that buzzer disconnected one of these days," he fumed.

"Fine." Hutch shifted into gear and pulled out of the lot, knowing his acquiescence would be ignored. "Whatever."

Starsky glared at his partner, then sighed. Hutch smiled inwardly at his handling of Starsky's discontent, although he wasn't happy that Starsky fought the belt every single time he rode in the car. It had practically become a routine. "Where to?" Starsky settled into the seat, leaving the seat belt issue behind.

"Where do you want to go?" Hutch replied. Immediately he regretted the question; he should have kept his mouth shut. Starsky would pick anywhere but the office, which was where they needed to stay.

Starsky gave it some thought "Hell if I know. Might as well start with the guy's family and business associates."

Hutch kept his eyes on the traffic flow and his composure calm. "I'd just as soon head back to the office and get started on the paperwork. We've got those uniforms they temporarily upgraded to take care of the legwork." There. That wouldn't sound too emphatic.

Starsky sniffed. "I never met a uniform who could give me enough information so that I felt like I didn't have to go look things over myself. Besides, we've been assigned to this task force for six weeks now, and I'm tired of the desks and paper."

"Grimes and Ruth said they'd call later." Hutch continued to keep his eyes on the road and his voice expressionless. He didn't need to look at Starsky to know what was in his face. This was well trod-upon ground. Ever since Hutch had agreed to take this case, Starsky had constantly pushed to get back on the streets. It was as though Hutch's agreement to even take on this case carried with it a clause that allowed them to also return to their pre-Gunther methods of detective work. It didn't And it wasn't as if they hadn't discussed what accepting the case would mean. Hutch had been very explicit. They would use this assignment to become re-acclimated to each other and to the department, and to ease into more managerial roles. He knew Starsky understood it did not include days spent chasing after witnesses and suspects, and nights spent staking out possible trouble spots. He knew Starsky understood it to mean office hours and desk work. He knew it.

Starsky shifted within his belt to stare at Hutch. "They'll either route the call to us or take a message," he challenged.

A challenge. Hutch kept silent. A shiver exploded through his body; needles and pins flashed down his anus and out his fingertips. The adrenaline rush took him by surprise, and he glanced sideways to see if Starsky had noticed anything.

He hadn't.

"Okay." Starsky folded his arms. "How's this: We'll head back to the office. You can get going on the paperwork. I'll pick up my car from there and drive out to Morris' place to talk with his wife." He waited for a reaction.

Hutch set his mouth in a grim line. His choices were to either agree with Starsky's idea and let him go off alone, or admit defeat and give in to Starsky's earlier game plan. It was the first direct assault Starsky had made on him since they'd begun the case. Starsky wasn't giving in to Hutch's itinerary, he was offering alternatives. Well, thought Hutch, lose the battle but win the war.

"No. Forget the paperwork. It'll be easier if we go to Morris' house first, then swing back by his office before we hit Metro." At least he could control Starsky's activities.

Hutch stole a glance at him. Starsky smiled and settled back into the seat, apparently thinking he'd won something. Starsky was testing him, marking his limits, discovering his boundaries. Fine, he determined. Starsky could damn well find those limits, and learn to live inside them. It would be better for all concerned once that was taken care of.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Starsky shoved his clothes into the lopsided locker and slammed the door shut. Things were simply becoming too unwieldy lately. Things were becoming too confusing, as well as unmanageable. "Things," meaning Hutch. And this evening had certainly been a prime example of that.

Starsky walked automatically to the shower area and splashed briefly under the warm spray. After the shooting, once he'd been able clear the drugs and pain out of his system and could think clearly again, he'd finally noticed the new man who'd been attending him throughout his convalescence.

Starsky padded out to the pool and chose a middle lane. He dove in awkwardly and began his laps with a steady crawl. Even as he'd struggled with his own feelings and confusion and tried to put some semblance of normalcy back into his life, he'd also had to deal with Hutch's adjustment to what had happened.

He thought he'd known what to expect from Hutch, and had counted heavily on Hutch's consistency in his reactions to Starsky's hospitalizations. Surprises were not what he'd needed.

But surprises were what he got. At first Hutch had done all the usual things, hovered over him protectively, smothered him with attention, bothered him with "doctor's orders," and taken over the daily details of everyday life so Starsky would have no worries. It had been a comforting cocoon to convalesce in.

But after several months the officiousness had become tyrannical. Hutch became regimented and regimental. Schedules had to be adhered to. Appointments could not be missed. Timetables had to be set. And it all had to be done Hutch's way, or not at all. Hutch knew best, Hutch was always right; Hutch would take care of everything and everyone. Hutch would do it all.

At first Starsky had teased Hutch, calling him the "Great Blond Dictator," but Hutch had met each affectionate jibe with perplexity or anger. It was increasingly clear that Hutch had no sense that he'd turned onto a road of confinement and imprisonment; he seemed to think he was acting in the only way possible. Hutch simply expected everyone to do things his way, because his way was right. Starsky's therapist explained it all very simply: Hutch was attempting to control his environment, as well as Starsky's, because he'd been unable to control Gunther.

And as long as they were discussing Hutch, the therapist thought it also sounded as though he might be depressed, anxious, and in need of evaluation. Did Starsky think Hutch would accept some counseling also?

No. Starsky didn't think so.

Starsky switched to a labored sidestroke. Therapy had ultimately been his lifeline. He'd been able to start facing his fears; accepting some and changing others. He'd discovered strengths he never knew he had. He'd found possibilities he'd never considered. He'd found himself.

And he'd lost Hutch.

The man who had come out of their ordeal with him was not the same man Starsky had known before. The shell was there, but the insides had been removed and revamped. Sort of like a pod person. All the equipment was there, but somewhere a key component had been replaced. It was not only frustrating, but downright scary sometimes. Starsky wanted back the Old Hutch.

The Old Hutch. Starsky explored the image. Not just the Old Hutch that was lean of form, physically graceful and beautiful to look at. But the Old Hutch that wasn't afraid to be near him and touch him. The Old Hutch that trusted his choices and enjoyed his presence. The Old Hutch that took pleasure in their being together. As Starsky had healed, he'd come to miss that comforting presence.

What's more, he'd come to crave that comforting presence.

That had been a shock. Not only was there something missing in his life, but now he wanted something that had never been there to begin with. It was as though the bullets had broken through to places inside him he'd never known were there. Huge, empty caverns had been opened up to exploration, and he'd discovered their secret was in being filled, not plastered up. And they demanded to be filled with Hutch.

How many months before he'd admitted the need inside himself? And how many more before he'd come to accept that need? And then the inevitable question: What are you going to do about it?

Eventually he'd decided, it was worth the risk of seeking out Hutch. It had come down to this, simple and stupid but nonetheless true: their time together could be too easily ended and Starsky wasn't going to go through the rest of his life regretting he'd never at least told Hutch how he felt. But he wanted to tell the Old Hutch. He wanted to tell the Hutch he loved.

It was only recently that Starsky had felt strong enough to start searching for the Old Hutch, the familiar Hutch, the gentle and loving Hutch. To start pushing here, and prodding there; challenging the new rules and structure. He'd wanted desperately to confront Hutch since they'd started the case, but until he could count on his own strength to shore himself up, he knew he couldn't hold Hutch up. And he had no idea how Hutch would react when Starsky made his confession.

Not to mention he'd have to be there for Hutch anyway, because this new, regimented Hutch was destined to take a fall regardless. Hutch simply couldn't keep up his incredible facade of control forever. So Starsky would have to be there, just as Hutch had been there for him. But how complicated the whole thing was. And how tiring.

Starsky had lost count of his laps. He did a few more side-strokes for good measure, finished with an awkward backstroke, and called it a day.