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Part Four, Chapter Eight

The past twenty-four hours had been unusually warm, energy building in the atmosphere all day and through the evening, until early morning came and storm clouds condensed in the sky. The old dog woke with a sense of unease, his skin prickling. There was a sharp smell of ozone in the air, and he could hear the wind whistling through the door to the deck. As he lifted his head, fat heavy raindrops begin to strike the wood and the dark sky flickered.

He pushed himself up onto his feet and padded into the bedroom, nails clicking. His people slept, oblivious. He paced a few steps and whined, but neither of them stirred. He stood and placed both paws on the end of the bed, waiting for them to acknowledge him and take away the fear. Then the brightest flash of all lit the room, throwing the shadows into sharp relief. Almost simultaneously, a deafening staccato crack rattled the windows. It was more than his nerves could take. With a yelp, he leapt for the center of the bed.

Starsky barely had time to register the sound of thunder before eighty-five pounds of terrified dog landed on top of him. Jolted awake into excruciating pain, he roared.

Monster realized belatedly that he’d jumped into something far scarier than the storm outside. Tail between his legs, he bolted off the bed and out of the room, searching for somewhere safer to hide.

Startled, Becky began to laugh, and then stopped. Dave was curled forward on the edge of the bed, his arms wrapped around himself, his breath hissing through clenched teeth.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“No, goddammit!” He rocked, trying to ride out the agony in his ribs and chest.

Her eyes widened as he abruptly launched into a long string of curses, all apparently having to do with her dog. She’d never heard most of those terms, and she rather doubted whether some of them were even in English. She knew he’d fought in Vietnam, so that explained some of it, but the rest had to be a mix of everything he’d ever heard on the street, including… was that Yiddish?

Biting her lip, she sat up in bed, crossed her arms over her knees, and waited until he wound down and finally stopped. There was a moment’s silence, and then he said, “Ow.”

“Can I get you anything?” she asked, turning on the lamp beside the bed.

Belatedly, Starsky remembered Becky’s presence. Crap, he thought, realizing what she must have just overheard. He would have turned to apologize properly, but his muscles were too cramped to even allow that much movement. He settled for a simple, “Sorry, kid.”

She could still hear hurt in the rough texture of his voice, and she scooted across the bed to sit beside him. “Don’t worry about it. My ears aren’t going to fall off.”

He snorted with amusement, and then winced as even that slight movement sent more pain flaring through his shoulders and chest.

Monster, hearing calmer voices in the bedroom, cautiously began to make his way back. Belly to the floor, he crawled forward and looked inquiringly around the corner into the room. Becky silently shook her head at him, and he retreated unhappily, ears pressed tight to the side of his head. Outside, the thunder continued to crack and growl, further adding to the dog’s misery.

Then he heard the man say his name, quietly calling him back. He waited, undecided, and the man called him again. With a wary glance at Becky, Monster slunk into the room, knowing full well that he was a very bad dog indeed.

Starsky carefully rubbed the dejected animal’s ears, deciding there truly wasn’t anything in the world more wretched-looking than a sad dog. Liquid brown eyes looked up at him pleadingly and he felt the last of his anger at the painful awakening vanish.

Becky was not quite so quick to forgive. “What did he do to you?” she asked.  The sharp tone of her voice made the dog whine quietly, deep in his throat.

“It’s not his fault,” said Starsky, rubbing the side of the animal’s head, causing his ears to flap in an undignified manner. The right one ended up inside out on the top of his head, but the dog didn’t care in the slightest. He draped his chin adoringly over the man’s knee and eyed his mistress worriedly.

Starsky said, “I’m a little sore from yesterday…”

The appalled expression on Becky’s face informed him immediately of his mistake. “No, no, I don’t mean that!” he said, quickly.

“Oh,” she said, relieved. “I was afraid I’d done something to hurt you.”

He dubiously eyed the small woman sitting next to him. Five foot nothing-much, and probably ninety-five pounds soaking wet. And she was afraid of hurting him? That was just plain embarrassing.

“Kid,” he said, “you don’t ever have to worry about that.” The doubtful look remained in her eyes, so he tried to explain further. “I had a very active day yesterday, so I’m a little stiff now.”

“I remember, you said you fell in a river.” She cocked her head quizzically. The dog echoed the movement, as if equally interested in hearing his explanation.

“I didn’t say I fell in the river,” protested Starsky. Put like that it made him sound completely incompetent. “I said…” He paused. “You remember yesterday I told you that we ran into Reg, but he got away from us? That was because he used his van to knock a woman’s car into the river and Hutch and I had to stop and help her and her kid out of the water.”

“And that did this to you?” Becky took another look at her lover. He was still hunched forward, but he seemed to be recovering. He no longer had his arms wrapped around his midsection, but was now bracing himself on the edge of the bed. He was wearing his sweats, and it suddenly occurred to her that he hadn’t once taken his sweatshirt off last evening. Not even when he’d made love to her. He’d said he was cold, but she doubted that could be true now, the way the sweat shone on his face and dampened his hair.

“Among other things.”

“You seemed okay when we, um…” she stopped, coloring.

The corner of his mouth quirked, his eyes crinkling. “I hope I was better than okay.”

She squeaked, and covered her face with both hands.

He began to laugh, and then had to stop, breathless. Damn, his chest was tight. “It takes a while to really get stiff, plus Hutch made me take my meds in the car, and then I took some more when I got home. Trust me, kid, I’m no masochist. If I’d been in any pain last night, you would have been the first to know.”

Again he tried turn towards her, but was forced to halt as an electric muscle spasm shot up the right side of his neck. This was definitely not good.

Plus, he was acutely aware that he needed to visit the bathroom. Soon.

“Where are your pills?” asked Becky, her eyes on his face.

“In the bathroom. No, I’ll get them,” he said as she jumped to her feet. He started to push himself up off the bed, and then sat down again abruptly. “Oh, crap.” He suddenly realized that he had no idea how he was going to get there. It was only a few feet away, but with the way he was feeling, it could have been miles.

Becky stood in front of him and regarded him speculatively. “Where’s your cane?”

“I lost it yesterday.”

“In the river?”

“Nope, when I fell down the stairs.”

“You fell down stairs?” Her hands were on her hips and her eyebrows were climbing higher all the time.

“Well, I’d say it was more like I was pushed.” He waited for pity or censure. What he got was a simple, matter of fact…


“Yeah,” said Starsky, relieved that she wasn’t going to make a big deal about it. “That was kind of my reaction, too.”

Becky began to grin. “So, can I go get those pills for you, or would you prefer to crawl there and get them yourself?”

Startled, he glanced up. She’s laughing at me?

She held her breath as conflicting emotions chased across his face, defensiveness and resentment warring with amusement. C’mon, it’s a joke!

Then suddenly he returned her smile, and she knew that everything was going to be all right.

“I don’t suppose you could give me a hand instead?” asked Starsky. “Or better, a shoulder to lean on? ‘Cause, you know, I got these scrapes on my knees and crawling would probably not be very good…”


The crackle of thunder woke Hutch, jarring him from sleep. He turned in his bed, automatically checking on Dawn, but as usual she was undisturbed by the noise. He smiled ruefully to himself as lightning illuminated the room. It was perfectly clear which of them would be getting up with the baby in the middle of the night.

He heard a soft click as one of the numbers on the clock radio flipped over, and he glanced over to see that it was nearly 7:00 am. He’d slept later than usual, his rhythm thrown off by the unusual darkness.

As he swung his legs over the side of the bed, his sore and strained muscles made themselves known. He stood and yawned expansively, feeling the stiffness in his lower back as he stretched. Well, it made sense that you couldn’t go bodysurfing down river rapids and expect to be a hundred percent in the morning.

And if he was feeling it, Starsky had to be just miserable.


Starsky wasn’t entirely sure if he liked this new state of affairs. It was hard to ask for help, especially from Becky. Hutch… well, Hutch always knew what he needed before he said anything. Sometime he knew better than Starsky did, and it didn’t matter how much he bitched about it, Hutch would make sure he was looked after.

Becky is different. The absurdity of that statement stopped him in his mental tracks. He made a face at himself in the bathroom mirror, leaning on the sink, taking in the wild hair and stubble. That’s a lovely sight, ain’t it? Obviously, she was different, and in general that was a very, very good thing. But she was just a kid, and he was the one who ought to be looking after her, not the other way around.

You’re lucky she hasn’t run screaming in the other direction at the idea of being tied down, stuck nursing an old man like you.

The object of his thoughts returned to bounce cheerfully on the balls of her feet in the doorway of the bathroom. “What else can I do?”

Surrendering to the inevitable, he said, “You could help me get out of this shirt.”

She caught the sour note in his voice, but ignored it. “Sure!” she said. “What do I do?”

The question caught him off guard. If she had been Hutch, she would have simply stepped forward and done what was necessary to help him out of his sweatshirt. But this was Becky, and she clearly had no idea where to start.

Sitting down on the lid of the toilet, he said, “Here, just pull on this sleeve and I’ll see if I can get my arm out.”

It was harder than either of them expected, and by the time Becky was standing behind him, working the sweatshirt up over his head, they were both sweating with the effort and laughing helplessly at the absurdity of it all. Then Becky suddenly fell silent. He felt her hands on his back, and belatedly remembered Hutch’s reaction to those bruises yesterday. He had no idea what they looked like now, but he had a suspicion it wasn’t good.

“Wow,” she said, her voice quietly awed. “I think you’ve got rubber stair treads printed on your back.”

He was impressed. “Really?” He turned, rather pointlessly trying to look over his shoulder.

“Yeah, really.” There was a pause. She was still behind him, inspecting the damage. Finally, tentatively, she said, “Um… last night? How could you not notice this?” She meant the large, ugly bruise on his side.

“Believe me, I had other things on my mind last night.” He got up and leaned on the edge of the tub, reaching for the faucets. This conversation needed to stop, now. He was going to take a shower, stretch a little, loosen up and let the meds do their work.

“If I’d known you were this banged up…” she said, her voice distressed.

He stood, letting the water run unattended as he turned to look down at her. “Then you’d never have offered, and where would we be now?”

She didn’t answer, nor did she look up. He frowned at the top of her head. All right, so it was true that in the short time they’d known each other, he’d been laid up more often than not, but she was still going to have to get over this notion that he was somehow fragile.

He reached forward and brought her chin up, gently but firmly forcing her to look at him. “Kid, believe me, I was feeling no pain.” He stroked his thumb across her cheek, trying to think of some way to convince her of the truth of what he was saying. After a moment, he snagged a small white bottle off the back of the sink and showed it to her. “See this? These are some of the strongest prescription painkillers you can get. Did you know this junk actually has a street value? I could make a killing with the contents of my medicine cabinet.”

The insecurity in her expression was replaced with interest. “Really? Wow…”

He waggled his eyebrows at her. “Why do you think I don’t like to take this stuff, except when I absolutely gotta?”

“’Cause…” she paused. “’Cause you’re saving up to buy a small island in the Pacific?”

Surprised, he started to laugh and had to catch himself on the edge of the sink. “Ow! Don’t do that to me!”

“It only hurts when you laugh?” she asked with more of that blatantly unconvincing innocence.

“Oh, it hurts a lot more often than that,” he said lightly, the admission costing him nothing, since they both already knew it for a fact. “Now get out of here, and let me take my shower!”

He was very pleased to see that her bounce was back as she left.


“Mr. Starsky, we’ve been getting complaints.” Rainwater dripped off of the older woman’s umbrella, her silver perm squished under a clear plastic hood.

Starsky leaned against the door, feeling it rattle as Monster repeatedly slammed his bulk into it, howling. Behind the racket he could hear Becky, shouting at her pet. “Quit it, you big brat! Settle down!”

Trying not to think about what Monster’s nails had to be doing to the wood of the door, he gave his landlady his best and most charming smile. “What about, Mrs. Henderson?”

“Mr. Starsky, you know the tenant’s agreement specifically prohibits large pets.” Her voice was stern.

“He’s just a guest,” protested Starsky. The rain was dripping down his forehead onto his nose. He sneezed pathetically, but his landlady was unmoved.

“He’s been a ‘guest’ for weeks, and he’s overstayed his welcome. I expect you to find another home for that animal immediately, or I’ll have to consider you in violation of the terms of your lease.” She was made of granite, as inflexible and unmoving as anything he’d encountered before, and utterly impervious to his attempts at charm.

Starsky was at an obvious disadvantage, with the dog at his back, apparently trying to claw his way through the door. He felt a cold trickle of water run down his back, and it occurred to him that he probably should have thrown his jacket on before answering the door.

He was trying to figure out what else he could say, when he spotted Hutch coming up the stairs behind her. Somehow in the overcast gloom, he’d missed his partner’s junk heap pulling up outside the house. Hutch had on a long brown duster that Starsky hadn’t seen before and a wide brimmed hat. Rainwater dripped off the rim, and beaded on his coat.

“Hi, Mrs. Henderson,” said Hutch genially.

The woman scowled at him before turning back to shake her finger at Starsky. “You just remember what I said!”

They watched her sweep away, and then Hutch turned to his partner, eyebrows raised inquisitively.

Starsky shrugged. What was there to say? It was pretty obvious what the problem was, what with Monster still flipping out on the other side of the door. “You look like a cowboy,” he said. “Did Dawn buy you that outfit?”

Hutch colored slightly, shoving his hands in the pockets. “She said my old raincoat was falling apart.” He thought he kind of liked the look, but he wasn’t entirely sure. It didn’t help that Dawn had gone on at length about how sexy it made him look, only to say in the very next breath that he sort of reminded her of one of the Village People.

Still, he had to wear something today.

Pulling open the door and allowing Monster to erupt out onto the landing, Starsky said, “All you need is a shotgun and badge. I’ll get myself a leather vest and we’ll be all set for our new career as lawmen in the old West.”

Hutch had no chance to answer. Monster charged into his knees, almost knocking him down in an ecstasy of delight. He grabbed the big animal’s neck, as much for support as in greeting, and gave it a thorough shake. Blunt nails scrabbled at the wooden floor as Monster tried to shove his head between the tall man’s knees.

“Hutch!” shouted Becky over the racket. “Just hold him there like that, will you?” Leash in hand, she grabbed first for Monster’s tail, which was closest, and then for her dog’s collar.

The top of her head hit Hutch’s thigh, and he stepped backwards to try to give her more room. This caused Monster to lunge forward again. Hutch lost his balance and, arms pinwheeling, stumbled into the metal garbage pails behind him on the landing. They tipped over and one clattered down the stairs with a deafening metal clang.

They all heard Mrs. Henderson’s outraged exclamation, “Well, really!”

Hutch had landed on his rear. He twisted to look down the stairs. “Are you all right, ma’am?”

“I want to see that creature gone by the end of the day!” was her very clear and extremely irritated response. Kicking a banana peel and some coffee grounds off her shoe, she marched away, her back stiff.

Starsky breathed a sigh of relief. At least she hadn’t been hit by the can. But Monster had to be out of his house by the end of the day? What am I going to do with Becky?

Hutch picked himself up, and gave his partner a sympathetic glance. Things can’t ever be simple, can they?


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