This story was originally published in the S/H zine COLD PIZZA AND BUTTERFLY BONES. The story is reproduced with the permission of the author and editor. Please do not print or reproduce this story except for your own convenience. Do not post the story to lists or reprint it in zines. Please respect the author's wishes so that the fans of Starsky & Hutch might continue to enjoy this piece of classic fiction. This story was written for entertainment purposes only, and is not meant to infringe on any rights held by any holders of rights to Starsky & Hutch.
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Air, heavy and oven-hot, lay trapped in the valley -- a tangible barrier to movement. Heat, oppressive and mind-numbing, stretching day after day until the longed-for rain became nothing but an elusive promise. Sustaining faith was strained as the tar melted and machinery cooked itself to inactivity. Even the relief of sundown was denied as the heat remained beneath cloudless sky -- blue or black, it made no difference. And the living sought refuge with fellow-sufferers.
"It doesn't improve with inspection," she informed him, refilling his water glass.
The blond head lifted; abstracted blue eyes didn't quite meet her gaze. "Wha--? Oh." He lowered his fork beside the neatly separated piles of food.
"I could get you something else," she offered, keeping one eye on the other customers in Charlie's late-night diner, and observing the flirtation between Katie Dodd and one of a pair of truckers. So much for a peaceful evening. She brushed the perspiration from her brow with her forearm, and looked at the man again.
He picked up the fork. "No, this is fine."
"Hmmm, quieter at least." He raised fine-haired brows in incomprehension. "Than stirring a cup of coffee for three hours," she explained, and grinned at the sudden understanding in light blue eyes.
"Henry says it'll only take two."
"Henry," she said, turning to leave, "is an incurable optimist. He's got two cars in front of yours."
"Doesn't matter," the man muttered, eyes falling away.
Nothing stirred in the atmosphere, as if a giant dome had been placed over the area, then sealed, forever entombing its inhabitants. Gridlock among the air currents.
"Finished? Want some dessert?" She deftly collected the silverware and plate.
"No, thank you. Coffee?"
She grimaced and shook her head. "Isn't it hot enough for you?" She noticed the way his blond hair curled at temple and neck, lank with humidity. It was a true blond, owing nothing to chemicals. His mustache was as rich a white gold as his hair.
He shrugged. "Equalize the heat in and out of the body, then you won't feel it so much." A slight smile tugged his mouth at her skeptical look. "Anyway, it can't hurt," he added mildly.
"I suppose we can always turn you into a local attraction if you melt in the booth," she told him, trading the dishes for a coffee pot. "We can use the business."
"You're the only 24-hour service before L.A."
"If you believe the billboard Henry put up -- told you he was an optimist." She poured the coffee into a cup. "Where're you headed?"
All emotion disappeared from his face, leaving it blank and oddly vulnerable. Her hand wavered.
"Oh, sorry," she apologized for the spill, hastily cleaning it up.
He was silent as she finished, and filled the cup to the brim. Then, reluctantly: "Back to L.A. Probably."
"Been gone long?" She looked at him curiously, noting the way his fingers twisted on the coffee cup.
"No. Left this morning."
She caught a glimpse of the expression in blue eyes before his lashes veiled them. She'd seen that look before, in the mirror once upon a time, and she wanted no part of it now. She backed away.
"Give me a call if you need anything else." And she was gone, safely across the room, pretending fiercely that she was behaving as she always did.
Fifteen minutes later she was back at his table, topping off the coffee, and reflecting on a heretofore unknown weakness for rangy young men with haunted eyes.
"There's a phone you can use, if you haven't called 'em."
"Wha--?" The abstracted air was back. "Oh. No. No one to call."
"You sure? By the time Henry gets done and you're on the road again -- it'll be dawn before you're back in L.A."
He shook his head, and looked away, and she wondered if he even noticed the heat of the coffee cup burning his hand.
Rebellion grew amongst the air currents, a push for freedom. The mountains were singing and calling, enticing with images of snow and ice and cool forests to roam in. But inertia, as always, robbed inspiration and purpose was lost. The humidity went up a notch, and the living were soon affected as tempers flared.
"Get your hands off me, you jerk!"
In the kitchen, she lifted her head sharply, then hurried up front, all too aware of what was happening.
"You lyin' bitch." It was one of the truckers, his partner rising to back him up. He had one of Katie Dodd's arms in his hand, and was shaking it. "C'mon, girl, you've been askin' for it all night."
She moved to the counter, reaching for the shotgun for added persuasion, as Katie started struggling in earnest. Then suddenly the blond man was there, pushing between Katie and the trucker. He grabbed the trucker's shoulder and shoved him into the wall. Katie wrenched herself free, backing away quickly.
"Just calm down," the blond man said authoritatively.
"Who are you to interf--" The trucker cut off his own words as he swung a fist at the blond. Evading the blow with a practiced duck, the blond landed a punch that brought the trucker to his knees, gasping for breath. The trucker's partner moved in, but the click of the shotgun stopped all action on the floor.
"All right," she said calmly, "fun's over. You two get on out of here before I call the sheriff. Go on!" Swearing, the winded trucker climbed to his feet, set for battle, but his partner shoved him toward the door despite his protests. Soon the roar of a ten-wheeler's engine cut through the late-night silence and gradually faded away. With the danger gone, Katie began eyeing the blond stranger.
Returning the shotgun to its customary place, she glared at Katie. "Go on, you've caused enough trouble for tonight. Is Jeff at home?"
Katie shrugged, tossing her head and sneering. It seemed for a moment that Katie would argue, but instead she turned and slammed out of the diner.
With a sigh, she turned back to the blond stranger. "Married," she said succinctly, as the remaining customers returned to their food and drinks.
"Does she do that often?"
"A couple of times a month. Ever since Jeff's been out of work, really. Damn fool doesn't know what she has in him."
"That could be said for any of us," the man commented, and returned to his booth by the window.
She brought him a slice of peach pie, and held out her hand to him. "Thank you for your help. I'm Marge."
He smiled, taking her hand. "You told me that when you first served me."
"That was the professional Marge; this is personal."
"I'm Ken," he told her.
"Can I get you more coffee with your pie, Ken?"
"I'd appreciate that, Marge."
As she poured fresh coffee into his cup, she asked him: "You a cop?"
He looked surprised, but he didn't deny it.
"The way you handled that trucker," she explained to him. "You remind me of Dennis."
"Highway patrol. Used to come in nearly every day. He quit -- about two years back now."
"Why'd he quit?"
Marge shrugged. "Burn out, I suppose. One too many accidents. One too many drunk drivers. One too many close calls." She looked at him closely. "Know what I mean?"
A noticeable pause. "Yes."
Sleepers tossed in heavy sheets, seeking relief. Those who were awake sat before fans or air conditioners, asking when it would break. Charlie's diner emptied but for those who must stay.
"I used to believe what we did made a difference. I don't know, maybe it does. But...I just don't care, anymore. I'm worn out. Used up."
"Why did you become a cop?"
"Why?" she insisted.
"I...thought I could make a difference."
"You still think you can."
"Then why'd you stop that trucker?"
He snorted. "Case in point -- you know she'll do it again."
"I know that she's able to do it again, because of what you did."
Shaking his head, he said, "What's the point?"
She smiled wryly. "It is a difference -- of a sort."
It took a moment, but then the corner of his mouth curved upwards. "Maybe."
Watching him, while he gazed into his coffee, she found herself pressing the issue. "But why a cop?"
Weary blue eyes lifted to hers, and he hesitated, then admitted quietly: "I wanted to right wrongs. I wanted to right...me."
"You did it for penance?"
"To be the white knight?"
He looked away. "Yes."
Gently: "There's nothing wrong with that."
"It's a selfish reason to do...to do what others do just because it's right."
"Does it matter?"
He looked at her. "I -- don't you think so?"
She smiled, feeling more than a trace of wistfulness. "My husband had the same problem. Always charging off to rescue others. He lived for it. And he died for it." She looked directly at him. "I live with that. Chose to, a long time ago."
He closed his eyes.
She said, "Do you truly not care anymore?"
A long silence. Then, a whisper: "No."
"You still believe in justice." She made it a statement, not a question.
"Yes." It was said reluctantly, she thought, but with firmness.
She studied him, recognizing suddenly that this was an argument he had long ago won with himself. It was nothing now but a convenient excuse. She thought back.
"Tell me, Ken, who's 'we'?"
Out across the ocean the wind blew, sweeping across great distances. Rumors grew of the blockade up ahead and forces gathered, preparing for battle. Cold raged the wind as it surged onward, toward shore.
"We weren't even on a case, just the past come to bite us. The vengeance of a sick old man. He took it out on Starsky."
"And you -- they were shooting at you, too."
"They hit him." He breathed in quickly. "It's always Starsky who pays."
"He might not agree."
He shrugged, looking away.
"You'd have traded places with him."
"Of course." He looked at her. "Wouldn't you?"
Her eyes fell. "I don't know. I wouldn't have wished these past years on Jamie, either." She looked at him again, resolutely. "But your Starsky is alive -- it's different."
"Yes," he admitted, and he balanced the fork on his middle finger with great concentration.
"Why are you here, Ken?" she asked him.
"I don't know."
"Does Starsky know you're here?"
There was a lengthy silence, and she felt the perspiration rolling from her neck, down the cleft of her breasts. Perhaps he wouldn't answer.
"The shooting was eleven months and eight days ago," he finally said, placing the fork carefully down on the table, just so.
She remained silent.
"Starsky was passed fit last week. He started work this morning."
And you're here, she thought, wondering what she would have done.
"He fought back. Defied death, the doctors, Dobey--me," he finished in a hushed voice.
"He proved you wrong," she said.
His eyes met hers at that, rueful laughter springing to life, briefly. "Oh, yes."
"He must be very strong."
"Yes." His gaze fell again, the shadow of his lashes clear against pale skin.
"What happened, Ken? This morning?"
He shrugged, eyes closed. "I left."
"I got in my car, headed toward Starsky's -- and took a right rather than a left. Ended up...here."
"Which way are you going?" she asked softly.
He stood, abruptly. "What the hell is taking him so long? I'm going to check on the car." He headed toward the door.
He ignored her, walking out, the door swinging shut behind him with a bang.
He's running, she thought, as she watched him stride away from the diner, under the glow of the streetlights. Even from a distance she could see the dark patches of sweat on the back of his shirt. She shook her head, then turned her eyes to the ceiling, in a familiar gesture begun fourteen years and thirty-six days ago.
Consultation over and decision made, she stood and walked to the back of the diner.
Advance scouts infiltrated the ranks of stagnant air, drilling tiny cool tunnels, stimulating movement.
He was back. She looked up from the counter she was wiping down, and saw apology in his eyes.
"How's the car?" she asked.
He grimaced. "You were right about that. It's going to be another couple of hours."
"Is he actually working on it now?"
"Then you're in luck -- it really will be a couple of hours. Want something to drink?"
He shook his head. "Nothing right now." He settled onto one of the stools at the counter. "Is it usually this quiet?"
She looked around at the empty diner. "Typical for a Monday night -- or Tuesday morning I should say."
"How does Charlie stay in business?"
"There isn't a Charlie -- there is an Eddie. And we do all right."
"With Henry's help."
"Why Charlie's Diner, then?" he asked.
"Sign of a promise kept."
"They met in England -- training for D-Day. It's all Charlie wanted, Eddie says. Oh, a little more upscale, perhaps -- Charlie liked class -- but his own place, that was the important thing."
"Charlie didn't make it home, did he?"
"Battle of the Bulge. A lot of boys didn't make it home."
Their eyes met, and held.
"Did you think you were unique?" she asked.
Clouds followed, moving slowly into place, carrying their own armament. In the dark, no one noticed.
"Have you told him you love him?"
"Let me rephrase that: have you told him you're in love with him?"
"It shows, huh?"
"He probably knows."
"I wouldn't be surprised. Doesn't matter, though."
He hesitated, gazing at the calendar on the wall behind the counter. "I can't live as we used to; work as we used to. I can't pretend that nothing has changed."
"Because you're in love with him?"
He shook his head. "Because he lived," he answered softly.
Stasis. Cold pressing against heat; movement against stillness, as two forces grappled, like wrestlers locked in a struggle for dominance. Cold Pacific winds met hot valley air; everything paused, waiting for the final outcome.
She set another cup of coffee in front of him, startling him from his abstraction. "Only another hour or so, and you'll be on your way."
He reached for the cup and drank.
"Question is -- which direction will you go?"
"Home," he said quietly. "I'm going home."
"I'll give you a lift," another voice spoke from the door. Ken jerked on his stool, spilling the coffee. He swung around.
"Hutch," the new man said, walking forward. He was as dark-haired as Ken was fair, and he moved with a natural grace that reminded her, painfully, of Jamie. He nodded at her, but his attention was focused on Ken.
"Starsk -- how--?" His confusion was evident, but so was his delight.
She saw the way Ken's eyes devoured his partner, felt its effect inside of her, like a knot pulled tight. And she turned away for a moment, only to be drawn back by the need to witness.
"Missed you this morning," Starsky said, settling onto the stool next to Ken.
Starsky reached out a hand and gently laid it on Ken's arm, stilling the words that he might have said. She watched as an entire conversation took place in silence. And for the first time that night she saw Ken smile fully.
"That junk heap of yours broke down, didn't it?"
"It's not a junk heap," Ken protested.
"It broke down, didn't it?"
"Henry said it'll be done in an hour."
"Not good enough," Starsky said. "Dobey said we hafta be in his office by seven. We'll come back for your jun -- car."
"He's not too pleased with you, blondie."
"Why didn't you tell him I was sick or something?"
"Well, next time let me know when you're gonna disappear and maybe I will. Jesus, Hutch, when you didn't show up -- my heart can't take this, y'know."
She had never truly seen a face lose all color before.
Starsky grabbed hold of Ken's shoulders, shaking him a little. "Hey! Don't you do this to me. It was a joke, dammit. If I can't joke about it with you--"
Ken straightened, and Starsky took one of his hands from his shoulder, but the other remained.
"How'd you get here, Starsk?"
"Got a phone call. C'mon, let's go."
Ken hesitated, and she saw despair enter his face. "I -- I can't do it anymore, Starsk. I--" Helplessly, he shook his head.
"Hey." Starsky moved closer, running his hand up and down Ken's arm. "We'll talk, babe. Let's go home first though, huh?"
For a moment longer Ken sat there, held in Starsky's gaze. Then he stood slowly. "Yes." He looked around, saw her, and smiled. "Thank you."
"Stop in when you come back for your car," she told him. "I'll tell Henry you'll be along. Bye now."
As Ken turned away, Starsky glanced at her and nodded again, but this time there was the flicker of a smile for her, and gratitude in his eyes.
She watched as they walked out together, and wondered about their future. Hope was something she had learned to avoid. With a small sigh, she picked up his coffee mug and started toward the kitchen. The sudden, unexpected sound of raindrops on the roof altered her course. It couldn't be. She went to the door, and peered through the screen at the rain that fell more and more quickly, striking the parched earth and chasing away the remnants of the heat.
It was not the rain, however, that drew her eye, or caused her smile of relief, of joy. It was the two men, standing beside the red and white striped car, oblivious to the water pouring down on them -- wrapped in each other's arms, kissing.