Yes, he was doing it again. There was no doubt about it. Hutch was looking over at him with that
sappy smile on his face again.
Starsky sighed. His partner was beginning
to get on his nerves. Certainly he enjoyed a drive as much as the next man and it was heartening that they were finally chasing
down a possible lead on Reg’s whereabouts, but this was a bit much. Besides, he’d woken up this morning to invisible
gremlins jabbing long needles into his shoulders and sides. The therapist said it was a good sign that his nervous system
was beginning to reintegrate or wake up… or some such thing. He’d gone through this before, but regardless, today
it was making him irritable, and it didn’t help that Hutch was sitting there beaming at him in the goofiest way imaginable.
“Okay, what is it?” he asked,
as patiently as he could.
“What?” Hutch blinked. He turned
to look out the window, still smiling. “Oh, nothing.”
“Yeah, right,” grumbled Starsky.
“You look like the cat that ate the canary.”
Hutch shrugged. “I guess it’s
just that my best friend is getting married. Man, I never thought I’d see that day.”
“Yeah?” asked Starsky, offended.
“Any particular reason why you never thought you’d see that day?”
Finally noticing the edge in his friend’s
voice, Hutch raised a calming hand. “Hey, I don’t mean anything by it. It’s just that you surprised me,
The gremlins attacked his shoulder with enthusiasm,
and Starsky concentrated his attention on the road for a minute. When he spoke again, his temper was under better control.
“I surprised myself,” he admitted. “But I think it’ll be okay. Becky’s a good girl.”
The road was quiet. The morning commuter
traffic had long since dispersed, and the curves were wide and gentle, allowing ample visual distance for passing the few
vehicles they encountered as they rose up into the mountains. The air was cooler up here than down in the city, and the drive
“Assuming we survive the wedding,”
Hutch leaned back in his seat, his ankle
propped on his leg and his knee resting comfortably against the door. “From what I overheard last night, Dawn and Becky
are planning some kind of wedding coup. Something involving a change of venue to the beach? With a bonfire? And a rock band?”
“My mom’s gonna think it’s
some kinda pagan ritual,” said Starsky, a flash of humor crossing his face. “Would you believe that Dawn told
me the only thing I’ve got to do is show up with the ring?”
“She did?” Hutch wasn’t
nearly as amused by that as Starsky was.
“Ah, don’t…” Starsky’s
breathing hitched as his gremlins settled in for a knitting circle. “Don’t worry about it. I’m just glad
I’m not the one stuck planning it.”
voice was worried. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. My nervous system
has just decided to throw me a party today.” He rotated his shoulder, and optimistically visualized the little monsters
flying off in every direction. “It’s all part of the healin’ process.” Ignoring Hutch’s dubious
frown, he brought the conversation back to their original topic of discussion. “You know, buddy, I never thought you’d
get married again either. And then, when you did, I thought for sure we were gonna go the Vanessa route all over again.”
Hutch ran a hand through his hair, thoughtfully,
and gave Starsky a sideways glance. “It’s nice to know you’ve got so much faith in my ability to stay married,”
he said wryly.
“I know Dawn’s different,”
said Starsky, slowing to a crawl as he pulled up behind a tractor making its way along the road. ”She’s not jealous
and she’s not some little social climber, but she’s sure got a temper, just like Van did.” He craned his
neck to the side, trying to see around the next bend.
Hutch returned the farmer’s genial
wave as they passed. “I’m older. I’ve learned a few things since Van.”
He wondered again how much Starsky knew or
guessed about the tumultuous relationship he’d had with his first wife. Especially in the last few months before Van
had left him, there’d been a lot done and said between them that Hutch regretted.
hair dark as night, her skin as white as snow, her lips as red as blood; it was a fairy tale marriage, turned to nightmare.
“…I thought you were planning on making something of yourself! I thought you had ambition and drive! I’m not going
to spend the rest of my life sitting around at some ticky-tacky suburban backyard barbeque listening to the other cops wives
complaining about their brats, while you and that moronic lout you call a partner, and all your cop buddies, drink beer and
watch the game on TV!”
tell me to shut up!” Her manicured nails raked swiftly down the side of his face and across his neck, catching him unawares,
the pain a sudden liquid fire.
reacted instinctively, striking back with precise force, the blow causing her to stagger backwards into the wall.
stared at each other in shocked silence, her cheek turning purple and his blood soaking into the collar of his shirt. Then
she wept, and he apologized wretchedly, and the passion of their anger turned to a different sort of passion entirely. Their
love-making that night had an intensity that felt terribly wrong to him, though he certainly made no attempt to refuse her.
Not that time.
not the next time, either.
Starsky glanced over at his friend. He kicked
himself mentally for bringing up Vanessa. Every time he did, Hutch got that whipped-dog look, as if the guilt was too much
He wondered if perhaps this time Hutch was
ready to let go of a little of the burden. “What kinds of things have you learned?”
“Well…” Hutch grimaced.
There was one lesson that stood out from all the others. “Did you know Dawn slapped me once?”
Starsky’s eyebrows shot up. “No
“Mm. I was so angry, I almost slugged
her right back. It scared the hell out of me.” At that moment he had found himself right back in the midst of his first
disastrous marriage. The phrase ‘seeing red’ he discovered was not a metaphor after all. It was quite a literal
description of blinding rage.
“Why’d she do that?” Starsky
was still trying to wrap his mind around any woman wanting to slap Hutch. Or, for that matter, the revelation that Hutch had
come anywhere near hitting a woman. He was as chivalrous a man as Starsky had ever known.
“It doesn’t matter.” Hutch
dismissed the memories. The fight had long since been resolved. “The point is that I scared her almost as much as I
did myself. So we talked about it and we came up with a rule. There won’t be any hitting in our house. She won’t
hit me, and I won’t hit her.”
“And this is something you learned
from Vanessa,” said Starsky, slowly. He found himself wondering for the first time just how bad their fights had been.
Who the heck needed to make up a no hitting rule in a marriage, anyway?
Hutch’s expression was unreadable.
“Yes,” he said. “And we won’t spank our child, either. One rule for everyone.”
Starsky gave him a disbelieving look. “Oh,
well, that’s going a little far, don’cha think? I mean, you can’t raise a kid right without spanking them
sometimes. I remember once when I was ten, I told Nick that Santa stuffed bad kids into his sack and carried them away to
work in the plastic mines, and it scared him so much that when the mall Santa asked if he’d been naughty or nice, he
peed himself right there on Santa’s lap. Man, by the time Ma got through with me…” He shook his head. “I
couldn’t walk straight!”
Hutch frowned at him. “There’ll
be no hitting in my house,” he said firmly.
“Buddy, I sure hope you get yourself
a sweet, well-behaved little girl then!”
“If you treat children with respect,
recognizing them as intelligent, reasoning human beings…”
Starsky suppressed a smile as Hutch launched
into a passionate lecture on the subject of child-rearing. He’d obviously never spent much time around little kids.
Starsky had a feeling that the next few years were going to be very interesting ones.
McLean’s last reported address turned out to be a low, sprawling ranch house at the end of a long unpaved lane. The
road to her door was blocked by a weathered wooden gate, upon which hung a red and white sign reading ‘Beware of Cow’.
Starsky stopped the car and leaned his head
out of the car window, searching the field on either side of the house. Hutch hopped out of the vehicle and began to heave
open the heavy gate. After a moment, Starsky followed him, only to halt as a rangy black and white form ambled slowly into
Hutch gave the animal a brief glance, and
then looked back at his partner with exasperation. “Starsky, it’s a cow, not a bull!”
To Starsky’s eyes, the creature bore
little resemblance to the fat jolly animal that smiled at him from the front of his milk carton. This one had prominent ribs,
a sagging back and jutting shoulders. It held its head low to the ground, and its eyes were yellowed and rolling instead of
soft, warm and brown. Knobby knees framed an empty wizened udder that flapped under its belly. “It’s looking at
me,” he said, tightly.
Hutch turned to glare at him, his hands on
his hips and his back to the cow. “It’s not going to do anything to you. It’s just a cow!”
Starsky stopped outside the fence. “It
outweighs me by at least a ton, and it’s got a mean look in its eye,” he said. After all, he thought, why would someone put a sign up, unless there was
actually something to beware of?
“Starsky, will you just come on?”
called Hutch, impatiently.
“Don’t underestimate it!”
returned Starsky. “Did you know that more hunters are killed every year by deer than are killed by stray bullets?”
“Oh, for god’s sake!” Hutch
threw his hands up, spun on his heel, and resumed his march down towards the house. The cow’s head swung around to watch
Starsky watched in horror as the animal suddenly
picked up its pace to a heavy trot, and charged at the blond man.
It swerved at the last moment, its shoulder
slamming into Hutch and knocking him off his feet into something squishy and disgusting. He jumped up immediately and yelled
angrily at the animal, which backed away, shaking its head. Encouraged, he waved his arms at it and stepped forward, still
shouting. It retreated several more steps.
But as soon as he lowered his arms to try
to inspect the damage to his pants, it started forward again.
was ridiculous! He was not going to be made a fool of by an antique Holstein. Hutch
started towards the cow with determination in his step. The animal eyed him with alarm. It was not used to being challenged,
and it wasn’t sure whether this noisy creature was a serious threat.
A sharp voice cut through their detente.
Both man and animal were startled. Their heads shot up in unison as they turned to look at the short elderly woman who had
appeared in the doorway of the ranch house. She was wearing jeans, a flannel shirt, and heavy leather boots. Her hair was
pulled back from her face into a tight grey bun.
“Cain’t you read? It says ‘beware
of cow’ right there on my fence. You’re supposed to stay out there an’ honk if you want me.” She frowned
and crossed her arms over her chest. “But as I don’t entertain solicitors, you two can just hightail it right
on out of here.”
“Ma’am, we’re police officers,”
said Hutch, fishing his badge out of his back pocket. He grimaced as his hand found more of the muck caking his rear end.
Transferring the badge to his other hand, he tried to shake some of it off of his fingers.
The woman eyed him with disapproval, taking
in his disheveled state. “Well, I ain’t inviting you inside, so you can say your piece right here.” She
looked over at Starsky, who was hanging over the fence, wide-eyed. “You, too! C’mon in. Venus de Mine Own won’t
bother you none now.”
Starsky kept a wary eye on the cow as he
picked his way across the field, but it seemed to have lost interest in the two of them. It dropped its head and began studiously
cropping weeds. At the moment, it looked a little less like a demon beast and a little more like the picture on the milk cartons,
though still a lot skinnier and meaner.
“You’re lucky my old goose died.
Now there was an animal that would’a had you hoppin’!” said the old woman to Hutch, cheerful certainty in
“Then I’m glad I never had a
chance to meet him,” said Hutch, with a somewhat forced smile. “Are you Mary McLean?”
“Yes, that’s me,” she said,
“And do you have a sister named Elizabeth
“Half sister,” she corrected.
“And you can forget that Malcolm name. She’s Elizabeth McLean. Did you find her body?”
Starsky stepped forward. “Um, no,”
he said, a little puzzled by Mary’s calm certainty that her sister was dead. Usually families held onto some hope where
missing persons were concerned. “We were hoping you might be able to give us some information on her whereabouts. Five
years ago you reported her missing…”
“Of course I did!” her voice
was indignant. “They said she ran off with that Irish fellow. Stupidest thing I ever heard. No way would she have run
out on her youngest boy. He never would have met such a bad end if it weren’t for that no account husband of hers and
that other one.” She shook her head. “I always said there was something not quite right about that Reginald. Got
hisself a smile that could charm the feathers off a hen, and eyes so cold, they’d freeze your blood at the same time.
I’ve seen the news on him, and it don’t surprise me at all!”
“Do you have a name on the Irish man?”
asked Hutch. He glanced at Starsky, who nodded and tucked his cane under his arm in order to fish his notepad and pen out
of his jacket pocket. Normally, Hutch would have taken the notes, but he was still covered in… mud. It was definitely
just mud, Hutch told himself, trying to ignore the distinctive stench rising from his khakis.
“Shawn or Shamus, or some such thing.
I can’t recall his last name, but he works at that private college... the one over in Mountain Springs. He’s a
janitor, I think. I can’t say I paid much attention to what old Harry had to say. It was ridiculous!” Her eyes
Starsky nodded, scrawling quick notes. “Would
you happen to know who Elizabeth’s
dentist was?” The report had been lacking dental records.
“I don’t know who she was seein’
in Bay City, but when she lived up this way, she saw the same
gentleman I sees. Dr. Grant. He’s got an office down in the town there.”
“Why do you think Elizabeth is dead?” asked Hutch.
“Well, she’s got to be, don’t
she? She spent twenty-five years caterin’ to that sorry sonnuvabee, and insisting she was as happy as could be the entire
time. Why would she just up and run off, without any word to her kin? She didn’t even show up for our daddy’s
funeral two years ago, and she was always the apple of his eye.” Mary scowled. “I figure he died of a broken heart,
poor old man.”
Hutch nodded sympathetically.
She fixed the two of them with a gimlet eye.
“Do you got any more questions now? Because I have work to attend to; this place don’t run itself, you know.”
Starsky and Hutch exchanged another quick
look, and then Hutch inclined his head courteously. “Thank you for your time, Mrs. McLean. We appreciate the help.”
Starsky stepped forward to offer his hand. He doubted anyone would want to shake Hutch’s hand at the moment.
She snorted and ignored his effort. “Whatever.
Make sure you latch that gate when you leave, or I’ll be chargin’ your department for the cost of one prize-winning
Hutch turned quickly and put a hand on Starsky’s
shoulder, attempting to cut off the indignant protest. “Let’s go.” The look on his partner’s face
“If that’s any kinda show cow…!”
“Starsky, let it go.”
The brunet turned towards him, his brows
knitting together and his expression darkening. “If we had to pay five bucks for that animal, we’d be payin’
“Seriously, Hutch! That thing’s
gotta be half a million years old, and half petrified besides.”
Hutch raised his eyebrows significantly,
as he tugged Starsky towards the gate. “I think it’s looking at you.”
His friend glanced nervously over his shoulder.
Mary McLean had gone back inside the ranch, and the cow was indeed regarding him with a rheumy gaze, its jaw rotating in a
slow deliberate motion, as if to suggest that it would be just as happy to munch on him. Starsky picked up his pace back to
Hutch followed with a smirk. He made sure the gate was securely latched and headed for the passenger side door.
“Stop right there.”
Hutch looked over the roof of the red Torino at his partner. “What?”
“You’re not getting into my car
like that.” Starsky’s voice was firm.
“Starsky, it’s just a little
is not mud. And I’m not having it smeared all over my car seats. Plus, I don’t want to sit next to you. You stink.”
“Well, I’m not going to walk!” protested Hutch.
“Don’t tempt me!” Starsky
paused a moment, and then said, “I’ve got some sweats in the trunk. You can change into those.”
“What, right here?” Hutch looked
around himself. He was standing in an open lane, with fields on either side and very few trees. The highway was visible in
front, and the ranch house was behind.
“I’m sure Mrs. McLean won’t
mind the show,” Starsky said.
“Your sweatpants don’t fit me.”
It was a last ditch effort.
“My car. My rules. You wanna smear
cow shit all over your car, that’s your prerogative. I’m not having it in my car. You should have read the sign.”
He pointed significantly at the gate.
Hutch rolled his eyes. Starsky folded his
arms over the hood of the car, obviously willing to wait as long as it took until his partner capitulated. With a long-suffering
sigh, Hutch began to peel out of his clothes. Starsky popped the trunk, handed him the gym bag, and then pulled out a grey
woolen blanket which he spread over the passenger seat, just in case.
“You know,” said Starsky cheerfully,
as he began backing up the car prior to turning around in the lane. “I think we’re close enough to the college
to try and look up that Irish lover of Elizabeth’s
today.” He glanced over at his partner, who was slouched unhappily in the seat next to him, his ankles and wrists sticking
out of the sweat suit Starsky had loaned him. “You’d better let me do the talking, though. You look like your
mother doesn’t love you.”
“I’d say that would be my partner,
not my mother,” said Hutch sourly.
“Gee, you really know how to hurt a
guy, don’t you?” Starsky made a mental note to pack some of Hutch’s clothes in the trunk of his car when
they got back to town. He was sure he had a complete change somewhere around his house. It was amazing how often these sorts
of situations turned up.
And these days, with a missing persons case
and a homicide coming together as one and the same, they even had a legitimate reason to work together. Not that anyone in
the department would have denied Starsky the chance to do a little investigating of his own where Reg was concerned.
time it was Hutch who noticed that his partner kept looking at him with a pleased smile on his face, whenever he thought he