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Part Four, Chapter Two

A nightmare ejected him out into freefall, slamming him down into wakefulness with such brutal force it left him gasping for air, his heart jackhammering in his chest. He lay awake for several minutes, slowly regaining his equilibrium. The dream left behind no memories, only a vague lingering sense of terror now past.

At least it hadn’t been one of the suffocation dreams that so often accompanied the use of any of the stronger painkillers. The docs must have got the dosage right, for once.

He started to push himself up and then froze.

A floorboard creaked.

The sound of breathing.

A presence in the darkness.

The touch of something cold and damp on his calf sent him scrambling backwards with panicked speed. He had the pistol in his hands, before sense returned and he realized what it was that faced him in the darkness.

“Wuff?” asked the dog, quietly.

“Monster?” whispered Starsky. “What the hell are you doing here?”

His body decided to register a belated protest against his energetic actions and he folded forward with a muffled groan, the pistol a forgotten weight in his lap as he tried to ride out the pain. He felt the bed shift as Monster put his front paws on the edge and nudged the side of his face in a worried manner.

Cold nose; Starsky tried to push him away, one-handed. He grinned shakily, the rush of adrenaline leaving him with a sudden urge to giggle. It was pretty funny, actually. Well, accidentally shooting Becky’s dog wouldn’t have been the funny part.

Becky? If Monster was here, then that must mean…

Starsky sat up, carefully, giving all due respect to the muscles seizing in his abdomen, chest and shoulders, and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. After a moment, he stood and moved forward to where he could see around the dividing wall into the living room. The grey of early dawn was lightening the sky outside the patio doors. The sleeping form wrapped in a blanket on the couch was much too small to be Hutch.

Puzzled, Starsky tried to remember what he knew, if anything, about this arrangement. Clearly he must have approved it, because, well, there she was. Except why would he have agreed to make her sleep on the couch? She didn’t belong there. He’d never in his life made any girl sleep on the couch.

Monster’s warm furry shape pressed against his leg, and Starsky realized that he still held the pistol in his right hand. Turning, he placed it high on the shelf behind him.

It had to be the meds. They messed with his mind, and he couldn’t remember anything these days. He never should have let Hutch talk him into taking them last night.

Oh well, it wasn’t as if he was unhappy to see her.          

He was trying to move quietly towards the kitchen when the figure on the couch stirred.


Starsky stopped. “Hey, kid.”

She sat up, tousled and yawning. “What time is it?”

He leaned over the back of the couch and kissed her lightly on the temple. “From the look of the light outside, I’d say it’s about five.”

She pulled away. He heard a rustle, saw her reach for the lamp, and then winced as the light suddenly came on beside the couch.

Becky blinked blurrily at a piece of lined notepaper she had retrieved from the coffee table, before dropping it into her crossed legs, freeing her hands to rub the sleep out of her eyes. “You’re supposed to take some pills at five, or whenever you wake up, whichever comes first.”

“What the…? Give me that!” Starsky leaned over the back of the couch, briefly losing his balance as he snatched the paper out of her lap. He had to stop a moment, breathing in a carefully controlled manner, until his ribs let up their complaint. Then he pushed himself back up onto his feet, the note firmly in his grip. He smoothed it out one-handed, recognizing the neat, careful printing.

“Hutch wrote it out for me,” said Becky, innocently. “It’s all your meds and when you’ve got to take them.”

Starsky staggered backwards, thumping into the wall behind him. He slid down to the floor, landing on his rear. He snorted, trying to control the laughter that threatened to erupt.

“Are you okay?”  Becky hung onto the back of the couch, looking at him worriedly.

“It only hurts when I… when I laugh. Seriously.” He buried his face in his knees, then threw his head back against the wall, wiping at his eyes one handed, chuckling breathlessly. “Damn, Hutch. You’re a bastard, you know that?”

Important Instructions Regarding the Proper Care and Feeding of One David Michael Starsky

The first part of the letter was a straightforward description of his drugs, and the schedule on which he was supposed to take them. Nothing unexpected there, though he did not recall seeing “crankiness, mean temper, whining, and dragon breath in the morning” listed in any of the literature on side effects that the hospital had sent home with him.

It was the second part that undid him.

With regard to his lousy eating habits:  Care must be taken to balance his diet. Healthy food may initially be a shock to his system, but the long-term benefits will outweigh any short-term discomfort. Ignore claims of withdrawal symptoms. He is not physiologically addicted to burritos for breakfast.

You may have to reassure him that, yes, some vegetables are green, and that’s okay. Green foods can be good for you, so long as they start out that way.

Make him pay a dime every time he cusses. By the end of the month, you should be able to afford a substantial down payment on your honeymoon.

If he starts acting like he doesn’t know who you are or where he is – he’s faking it!

Starsky is tough, and resistant to injury. He is also unique, irreplaceable, and my best friend. In the event of damage due to mishandling, there will be no replacement or refund. So, play nice!


Ken Hutchinson

P.S. He does too snore!

Hutch wisely stayed clear for a few days, before checking in on Starsky again. By then his friend had cooled down enough to merely make several pointed references to justifiable homicide, rather than actually attempt to commit it.

Becky couldn’t have been happier.


Between one thing and another, it was more than a month before Dawn got her dinner date with Starsky and Becky. Halloween had passed and Thanksgiving was approaching. The wreckage from the train derailment had been cleaned up, and everyone was back in their homes. The Bay City Gazette was sponsoring a commemorative photo journal that would be out in local stores before Christmas. Dawn had managed to convince the photographer to give her a print of her favorite photo from the incident. She had it framed, and placed it on the shelving unit in the kitchen, among Ken’s plants.

She glanced at it now as she washed the romaine lettuce for the salad. It was a grainy nighttime shot of red flames and black smoke. The figure silhouetted in front of this vision of hell was almost too small to see, only the shock of blond hair giving any clue to his identity.

The subject of the photo was currently in the living room, straightening up some of the clutter. Ken was in a good mood, singing along with the radio. Dawn smiled as he launched into a campy rendition of ‘Crying’.

“Oh, you don’t love me, and I’ll always be, cry-i-i-ing over you…” The effort dissolved into a series of coughs as he overshot his vocal range. “God, that hurts!”

Dawn laughed. “I can’t believe I’m hearing my husband sing falsetto.”

“Hey, but I can do it!” he protested, and gave it another shot as the song continued. “Yes, now you’re gone, and from this moment on, I’ll be crying…” This time, as he went for the big finish, he pulled it off, much to Dawn’s surprise. He then dropped into a somewhat lower range for the next song, Billy Joel’s It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.

“Okay,” she said. “I believe you can do it. But I still prefer that other voice of yours.”

Hutch lifted a couch cushion and discovered a single sock, forty-seven cents in change, and three of the marbles he’d been using as drainage material in the bottom of his larger planters. “That’s not the voice Don McLean was singing in,” he commented.

“You’re not Don McLean, and your voice sounds nicer when it’s lower,” said Dawn decidedly. She rarely sang herself, but she had definite opinions regarding what she liked and Ken warbling like a candidate for the Harlem Boy’s Choir wasn’t among them.

A knock on the door distracted her from further commentary. “Hey, Hutch! Open up, already!” came the impatient voice from the other side.

Ken tossed the sock into the bedroom and pocketed the rest as he hurried to the door. Dave gave both Dawn and Ken a broad smile as he swept inside. Dawn couldn’t help but appreciate how much he had changed over the past few weeks. Health and mobility had returned, bringing with it an appreciable change in his mood. Becky followed him somewhat more slowly, clearly distracted by the tree design inlaid in wood on the front door of the apartment.

Dawn liked what she saw. Becky had an open, honest expression, and there was something about her that appealed immediately to Dawn’s protective instincts. Perhaps it was her utter lack of artifice or pretension.  The girl’s first words, as she stepped inside, were directed at both Dawn and Hutch equally. “Oh, your place is beautiful! Look at all the plants!”

Starsky rolled his eyes dismissively. “It’s like a jungle in here. If I had to live here, I’d be worried I’d wake up some night and find that they’ve come alive and strangled me in my sleep.”

“If they strangled you in your sleep, you wouldn’t be waking up,” said Hutch, pedantically. “Besides, plants are our leafy green friends, generously exchanging oxygen for the carbon dioxide waste products we produce with our every breath. It’s a symbiotic relationship, in which we all benefit.” He was leaning forward fractionally, frowning in the manner which had caused many a suspect in interrogation to crumble. Starsky only grinned.

Dawn saw Becky’s mouth drop open slightly in surprise as she looked back and forth between the two men. Obviously, she’d not yet adjusted to the usual comedy routine.

Leaning on his cane, Starsky jabbed his forefinger into Hutch’s chest.  “Yeah, well, maybe some day they’ll grow a collective brain, decide that it would be more efficient to just harness all that carbon dioxide producin’ potential, and we’ll wake up to find ourselves slaves to the plant people. Did’ja ever consider that, smart guy?”

Oh boy, thought Dawn, here they go again. She touched Becky’s elbow and said, “Hi, I’m Dawn.”

The girl gave her a startled glance. “I’m Becky. It’s nice to finally meet you!” She paused, her forehead wrinkling as she observed the men continuing to debate the likelihood of malevolent plants attacking in the night, and the possibility of them having an extra-terrestrial origin. “Do you need any help in the kitchen?”

“No, but why don’t you come and chat with me? We’ll leave protecting the earth from invasion to the boys.”

Starsky suddenly noticed that the women were leaving. “Oh, hey, wait. Becky, I need that folder!”

“Oh, yeah.” She’d almost forgotten she was holding it. She came back and handed it to him.

“What’s this?” asked Hutch.

Starsky’s back straightened, and he looked very pleased with himself as he handed over the battered file folder. “This is a five year old report on a missing woman named Elizabeth Malcolm.”

“Reg’s mother?” Hutch asked with expectant interest.

“Yep!” Starsky gave him a broad grin. “And she has a sister. How do you feel about a drive out to the country tomorrow?”

Dawn noticed that Becky paled at the mention of Reg’s name. It was clear that she’d had no idea of the significance of the file which Dave had asked her to carry for him. The men were too engrossed in their discussion to notice, so Dawn stepped forward and placed her hand on Becky’s arm. “C’mon.”

Becky didn’t resist as Dawn tugged her into the kitchen area. Dawn sat her down at the table and poured her a cup of coffee. “Here.”

“Thanks.” Becky wrapped both hands around the mug. After a moment, she looked over at Dawn and asked, “Does it ever get to you?”

Dawn was patting romaine leaves dry between paper towels. She took a moment to answer, knowing perfectly well what Becky meant. “Yes, it does. But…” She gestured at the two men who were just settling down on the couch, intent on their conversation, passing the pages of the report back and forth between them. “Just look at how happy they are! This is what they’re meant to do.”

Dawn lied, a little. The danger intrinsic to Hutch’s life rarely worried her, except when it struck as close as it had that night of the train derailment. But she suspected Becky had lived a much more sheltered life than she had, and at that precise moment, she needed the comfort of believing that someone else knew what she felt.

The silence was becoming oppressive as Becky stared into her coffee mug so Dawn decided to change the topic. Dave and Becky had announced that they would be getting married in early December. She put the leaves into a large bowl and sat down at the table to tear them into pieces. “So, how are the wedding plans coming?”

Becky looked up and gave her a wry smile. “Well, I haven’t entirely ruled out eloping. We could get a judge to tie the knot for us inside of a week – no muss, no fuss!” She paused thoughtfully, and then shrugged. “Okay, lots of fuss. My mother’s already booked the hall, and talked to the caterer, and picked the flowers, and chosen my dress…”

Dawn’s right eyebrow had been climbing higher on her forehead with each item on Becky’s list. “So, I take it that your mother’s the one marrying Dave?”

Becky laughed. “You’d think so, wouldn’t you? Actually, I don’t mind most of it. Except the dress, but…”

Dawn pushed the salad bowl aside and leaned forward. “Didn’t you get any say?”

“I was there, but it was basically all between my mother and the wedding planner… I don’t know. I mean, I’m sure I’ll look great.” Becky sounded as if she was trying rather unsuccessfully to convince herself.

“Girl, you’ve got to take control of this wedding! You only get to do this once, you know. And that’s if you’re lucky!” Dawn had a sudden flashback to her own wedding, at the courthouse. Her wedding dress had been a sensible suit jacket and skirt. Most of the guests had been friends of the groom, and a person would have had a hard time imagining a more disreputable-looking bunch. The best man tried very hard not to show his resentment at the whole situation, but he still couldn’t help glaring at the bride. In retrospect, Dawn considered that Dave’s effort to support Ken had most likely been a heroic one. But as weddings go, it wouldn’t go down in the annals of history as a shining example of how such a ceremony should look.

She rested her chin on her hand, and considered Becky. “Is the dress still at the shop?”

“Yes…?” said Becky, hesitantly.

“Then tomorrow, why don’t we go down together, you and me, and take another look at it?” This girl’s got a chance at a proper wedding, if she isn’t too much of a people-pleaser to stand up for herself.

Becky tilted her head to the side and gave Dawn an assessing look. Finally she said, “Okay, it’s a date!”

They agreed on a time, and Becky warned her that the wedding planner her mother had hired was a bit forceful in her opinions.

“The important thing to remember,” said Dawn, firmly, “Is that she works for you.”

“Mm,” said Becky, agreeably. She looked at Dawn again, and asked, “So, have you decided on any names for the baby?”

“Not yet,” Dawn gave her a wicked look. “You won’t believe some of the terrible names Ken has been suggesting lately. Especially for a girl!”

Becky thought about it. Something in Dawn’s expression told her that this was not just a matter of yet another man wanting to name his daughter ‘Precious’ or ‘Angel’. “Oh no,” she said, as a sudden appalling thought occurred to her.

“Not… Davida?”


Starsky looked up from the couch at the sound of feminine laughter behind him. The women had their heads together over the kitchen table, and their voices were too low for him to hear. Becky gave him a quick glance before turning back to speak to Dawn, and he saw the tips of her ears turning red. He had a sinking feeling that he and Hutch were the current topic of conversation.

He poked his friend in the side, distracting him from his perusal of the Malcolm file. “Dawn and Becky sure have hit it off fast.”

Hutch caught the slight undercurrent of worry in Starsky’s voice and asked, “Would you prefer it if they were at each other’s throats?”

“Not with the way Dawn fights! She’d suck the fun out of any catfight.”

Glancing back at the giggling women, Hutch easily divined the source of Starsky’s discomfort. He patted his friend’s leg, grinning. “I’m thinking killer plants from outer space might be the least of your worries, buddy.”

Starsky huffed indignantly. “Sure, you’re one to talk!”


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