Sarah spotted Dave heading for the door,
and intercepted him. “Thank you for staying with Becky.”
She liked the look of this man, though she
was still somewhat unclear as to his relationship with her daughter. Becky said he was a cop, but he certainly seemed to be
something of a friend, as well.
Starsky took the hand she offered him. “Becky’s
a great girl. I’m sorry she has to deal with something like this.” It was striking how very much Becky resembled
her mother. They shared the same hazel eyes, and had much of the same manner about them.
“The girls have been friends since
elementary school,” said Sarah. “It’ll be hard, but Becky’s tougher than she looks. Are you sure you
need to leave?”
“I’ve got some stuff I need to
look into,” said Starsky, trying to sound as if he regretted having to leave. He liked Becky’s mother well enough,
but he didn’t think he could stand here very much longer holding a conversation with her. Each and every muscle in his
shoulders and neck seemed to be trying to outdo the others in a competition to see which one could twist itself into the most
creative knot. The additional effort of maintaining a somewhat normal stride without his cane was adding to the overall agony
of the moment.
As he turned to leave, his foot collided
with a limp furry form on the floor. Monster, apparently worn out by the events of the morning and his subsequent efforts
to properly announce each new arrival at the house, had collapsed on his stomach by the door. At Starsky’s nudge, he
pulled his elbows in and tried to hoist himself up onto his feet, only to give up with a long-suffering sigh and drop back
down to the floor. Periodic tremors shook the old dog’s back, and he panted, mournful eyes rolling back to look at the
man standing above him. Don’t make me move, his expression seemed to plead.
I’m too tired.
Starsky stepped around the dog and squeezed
out the half-open door, giving the animal a sympathetic glance as he passed by. Believe
me, buddy, I know how you feel.
As he headed for his car, Starsky noticed
Becky’s elderly neighbor making her way toward the door with her arms full of stacked trays of food. Yes, Becky would definitely be well looked after. He didn’t need to have any concern for her in that department.
Forty minutes later, Starsky was pulling
up to his apartment, a newly purchased cane resting against his knee. Hutch’s car was already in the driveway.
“Scrambled eggs?” asked Starsky
in disbelief, leaning against the kitchen wall, his arms crossed. “Who eats scrambled eggs for lunch?” Hutch had
let himself into the apartment with the spare key, and was now standing in front of the stove, scrambling eggs in Starsky’s
battered cast-iron fry pan.
“Don’t worry,” said Hutch,
with a wave of his hand at a brown paper bag on the counter beside him. “I picked up plenty of nutritionally void, artery-hardening
junk for you. Dig in. Destroy your health. Me, I plan on living a few years longer.” He did not fail to notice the limp
in Starsky’s walk as he moved forward to check out the contents of the bag, nor did he miss the hint of pain that crossed
his friend’s features as he reached for it. That lasted only a second however, before a blissful smile lit up Starsky’s
“Chili cheese burgers! Did you remember
“They’ve got chili, black olives,
jalapenos, cheddar cheese, and sour cream. And if your stomach decides to abandon you for more temperate climes, don’t
come crying to me.” Hutch gave his eggs a final stir, before dumping them onto a plate. Starsky’s opinion on breakfast
foods for lunch aside, he was capable of making very good scrambled eggs out of almost anything he might find in his friend’s
fridge. He’d stirred chopped onions, some mushrooms, and a little lean ham into this particular batch. He added some
grated cheese to the top, before joining Starsky at the table.
As they ate, he filled Starsky in on his
activities down at the station that morning. Hutch also would have liked to air some of his thoughts regarding the Missing
Person’s job, but the moment didn’t seem quite right. The Bayside Strangler was a much safer topic.
So far, the investigation looked fairly straightforward,
though the lab boys were still analyzing the data from the crime scene, and the autopsy would have to wait pending proper
notification of Anna’s family. Dobey was trying to keep a lid on the press, not wanting to start rumors before all the
facts were in. It didn’t help that a letter had arrived at the precinct that morning, saying simply, “Another
one bites the dust!”
Was there any connection from the letter
to the two Bayside killings, or was it in reference to something else? Was it quoting the song by Queen, currently at the
top of the charts? They couldn’t be certain, though a partial print had
been lifted from the letter.
“There’ve been psych profiles
saying that serial killers usually want to be caught,” commented Hutch. “If he’s started leaving clues…”
“I don’t want to play games with
the creep, and I don’t want to wait around until he decides he's ready to go out in a blaze of glory,” said Starsky,
sourly. “Any leads on the missing jewelry?”
“I figure we’re just going to
have to hit the pawn shops and fences one by one. Did you find a good photo?”
“Two,” said Starsky. “Different
angles.” Crumpling the soggy wax paper his burger had been wrapped in, he tossed it into the brown paper bag. Pushing
himself back from the table, he climbed stiffly to his feet. “I’m going to take a shower before we go out. Wash
some of this salt off.”
Hutch nodded, not for a moment taken in by
Starsky’s excuse. Yes, he did take a dip in the bay this morning, but it wasn’t the dried salt on his skin that
drove him into the shower now. It was obvious he was in pain. He had been shifting uncomfortably in his chair the entire time
they ate lunch, and whenever he turned to look at Hutch, he had moved his entire upper body as one unit, unconsciously keeping
his head and shoulders oriented in the same position. His shoulder had seized up again, and he was undoubtedly hoping that
the hot water would loosen things up.
The shower ran for a long time while Hutch
stacked the few dishes from lunch neatly in the sink. He pulled out his pocket notebook, and was sitting on the couch
to decipher his own erratic
shorthand when Starsky finally emerged from the shower, wearing a clean pair of jeans, trying to do up the buttons
of his shirt one-handed. Hutch eyed him speculatively. He had heard the muffled grunts and groans from the bathroom as Starsky
“Hey, Starsk,” he called out
cheerfully. “Put your hands up!”
Starsky glared at him. “Whaddya think
yer doing? Putting me under arrest?”
“No, I just want to see you raise your
arms up over your head.” Hutch smiled.
The expression on his friend’s face
“Can’t do it, huh?” Hutch
smirked. “Let’s see you turn your head and look over your shoulder.”
“Okay! So, I’m a little stiff.
So what?” Starsky crossed his arms over his chest, trying not to wince as the movement pulled at his shoulder. He had
a pretty good idea where this was going, and he didn’t like it at all. Hutch could be a real sadist, sometimes.
“You need to be in better shape than
that if you’re going to back me up out there today. Those streets are mean.” Hutch unfolded his long form and
stood up, flexing his fingers.
Starsky backed away. “Don’t you
touch me!” He tried the warning finger, though that was usually Hutch’s specialty. “Or, or I’ll…”
He struggled to come up with a threat effective enough to keep the other man at bay.
“Or, what?” asked Hutch, with
feigned innocence. He stepped forward. Starsky stepped back again and collided with the wall.
“Or… or I’ll sic my therapist
on you! You know she’s a scary woman…” Over the past year Starsky had come to view his actually-quite-attractive
physical therapist as a cross between Attila the Hun and a mountain gorilla on steroids.
“Yeah?” asked Hutch, his expression
“Yeah,” verified Starsky firmly,
trying not to show how nervous it made him when the blond Viking looked down his nose at him like that.
Hutch raised one eyebrow. “Well, then
maybe I’ll just call your therapist, tell her what you’ve been up to lately, and get you bumped back up to five
sessions a week. How does that sound?”
“You wouldn’t!” squeaked
Starsky, outraged at the betrayal.
“I would, and I will, if you don’t
co-operate.” Hutch pointed at the ground. “Now get down there and take your massage like a man.”
Glowering, Starsky dropped his head in defeat
and lowered himself carefully down to the floor. As he removed his shirt and rolled onto his stomach, he mumbled, “I’ll
bet you say that to all the guys…”
“What?” asked Hutch, placing
a knee on either side of Starsky’s body, his strong hands probing the area around his shoulder blade, searching for
the worst of the tension.
“Nothin’,” said Starsky,
sullenly. He gritted his teeth as Hutch drove a thumb into the center of his left shoulder. He felt a knot slide to the side
in a particularly sickening way. “Ow! Hey, what are you doing?”
“Nothin’,” replied Hutch,
in deliberate imitation.
Hutch’s massages bore no resemblance
to the very entertaining kind you could sometimes get from certain girls. He went after each knot and twist with single-minded
intensity, pressing down hard with his fingers and forcing the muscles to release their tension. The process was remarkably
painful, and invariably left Starsky feeling bruised. However, it was also effective. He bit back a curse and closed his eyes.
By the time Hutch was done, he would have most, if not all, of his former mobility back. He would also feel as if he’d
been forced through a garlic press.
Hoping to distract his friend from some of
the discomfort he was inflicting on him, Hutch asked, “So, why don’t you want the Missing Person’s job?”
He was intimately familiar with the scarred expanse of Starsky’s back, but not nearly so clear on what was going on
inside his friend’s head these days.
One blue eye cracked open to roll back at
him. “Have you seen… ow! … the guys they’ve had working that job? It’s like Captain Mack said,
only the… ones too old or too sick to do real work. I’m not going to sit around getting… jeez! D’ya
have to press so hard? I’m not gonna be some old fat guy in uniform sitting behind a desk. That’s not why I became
“Why did you become a cop?” Hutch’s
tone conveyed only mild interest, as his hands continued to work on Starsky’s back. He applied pressure to a particularly
tense spot and was rewarded with a thump in the back as Starsky suddenly kicked him. “Hey!”
“Sorry,” mumbled Starsky into
the carpet, not sounding in the slightest bit sorry at all.
Hutch sighed patiently, and asked again,
“Why did you become a cop?”
“You know. T’ help people. Same
as you. Except I’m not a sadistic partner-mangling bastard… Ow!”
Hutch blinked, surprised. How long had it been since Starsky had referred to him as his partner? He smiled to himself, thinking that things
were definitely beginning to look up, even if his friend hadn’t realized it yet.
“Starsky, hasn’t it occurred
to you yet that they need someone so badly you could write your own ticket?”
“Huh?” The curly head turned
to look at Hutch, clear evidence of the effectiveness of the massage.
“If you don’t want to wear a
uniform, don’t. What’s Mack going to do, fire you?”
Hutch nodded. “If you don’t like
the way Missing Persons is being handled, then change things. You have a chance here to rebuild this division from the ground
up. You could create a system that actually works.”
hooked, thought Hutch. Now to reel him in. “Of course, from what I’ve heard, those files are a real mess. You won’t
be able to handle them all by yourself. You’ll need help; someone with good looks, intelligence, a certain savoir faire…”
Automatically, Starsky gave the standard
snide response, “Yeah, but there’s no one like that around here.” He stopped, suddenly, as the real meaning
of what Hutch was saying sank in. “Wait, does this mean you actually want to work Missing Persons with me?”
“Of course I do, dummy. You’re
my partner!” He grinned wickedly at the stunned expression on Starsky’s face. “So, should I take it from
your answer that you actually agree I’m better looking and smarter?” His searching hands found one of the last
few knots remaining in his friend’s back, and he tackled it with determination.
Starsky’s pained response described
Hutch’s illegitimate parentage and questionable personal life at length.
“Yeah, but you love me anyway,”
said Hutch, contentedly.
He worked on Starsky’s back in silence
for several more minutes, before finally releasing him with a pat. Starsky stood up and rotated his shoulders, feeling the
burn in his back, but definitely appreciating the increased mobility. Hutch collected his notebook, once more scanning the
contents. This case would have to be cleared up before he could consider leaving the department.
“Hey, Hutch?” There was a tentative
sound to Starsky’s voice that made Hutch give him his full attention. His friend had stopped working his shoulders and
was looking at him with as vulnerable an expression as he’d ever seen.
“Why do you want to work Missing Persons?
It’s not just because of me, is it?”
Hutch had been thinking about this one ever
since Starsky had blown up at him in the garage yesterday. “I’ve been feeling kind of burnt out for a while now.”
Starsky looked stricken, but Hutch cut him
off before he could speak. “No, not just after you were shot. I’d been feeling it about a year before that. It
was as if the joy had gone out of what we do. I felt like we weren’t getting anywhere. It sometimes seemed as though
we were being buried alive in the filth of this city and this job.” He grimaced. “I know I took it out on you,
more than once.” He didn’t need to mention the Kira debacle; they both remembered that one well enough.
“So, it’s not ‘cause I
wasn’t there for you…?”
“Starsky, you got shot!” Hutch
frowned at Starsky, but his friend’s expression was unyielding, demanding answers. “I was tired, okay? We’d
gone through hell over the previous three years, and there didn’t seem to be any end in sight. And now? I’ve got
a family, Starsky. Dawn deserves better than to become a widow, just because I was too dumb to know when to quit the streets.”
Starsky stared at him with a peculiar intensity,
before he finally nodded. “It’ll be a big change.”
Hutch flipped his notebook closed and pocketed
it, satisfied. “Not as much as you think, buddy. It’ll still be me and thee, like always.” He didn’t
need to see the smile spreading across Starsky’s face. He knew it matched his own.