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Part Four, Chapter Nine

Dawn frowned at the catalog in her hands. Bright cheerful pictures of nurseries decorated with trucks, flowers or rainbows, all in the most soothing shades; hardwood cribs with sides that lowered; the latest in battery-driven baby bouncers and rockers; the coordinated changing table and dresser that no new mother can live without; guilt and anxiety were written in pastel on every page. Just buy all of our products, and you’ll be a guaranteed Good Mother (no refund or exchange).

Ken had asked her to make a list of what the baby would need, but how was she supposed to know what babies required? Most of what she knew about babies she had learned while babysitting for the McCracken family. And their youngest had slept in a dresser drawer.

Of course there was also the year she’d lived with Ms. Carr, who always maintained that babies didn’t need anything much but a few warm sleepers, a good pull at the boob, and the occasional diaper change. Her babies had all slept in her bed with her, until they were old enough to join their assorted half-siblings on the big mattress on the floor.

She hadn’t thought about any of these people in a long time.

Until last night, that was, when Ken had for some inexplicable reason decided to ask for her life story…

“Why do you want to know?” she had asked him, suspiciously.

He showed her his palms, as if to say, ‘Don’t hurt me, I’m unarmed,’ and smiled at her. “I’d just like to know. We’ve never really talked about that sort of thing, and now Becky knows more about you than I do.”

Dawn made a face at him, wrinkling her nose. “That was just girl talk.”

This statement of hers triggered a moment’s silence in which she thought she could almost see the wheels turning in that blond head of his. Then he dropped his chin slightly, looked at her from under raised brows, and asked, “So, does that mean I need to break out the ice cream and chocolate sauce to get you to talk to me?”

Okay, so he definitely knew how to maneuver her into agreeing to whatever notion was on his mind. All he had to do was make her laugh, and she was putty in his hands. Of course, he had other ways as well…

As he moved behind her and pulled her into his arms, she tilted her head back to keep him in sight. “A beer would be more appropriate, if it weren’t for the wee spawn here.”

Ken sighed, his breath warming the back of her neck. “I wish you wouldn’t call the baby that.”

They’d gone over this argument before. Dawn maintained that frequent kicks to the bladder, near-constant heartburn, and an aching back, gave her the right to call her baby anything she pleased. With a dismissive sniff, she pulled away from him and flopped down on the couch. She indicated the vigorous movement in her swollen stomach. “You don’t think spawn is a fair description? Take at look at this!” She tapped one side and immediately a foot, or possibly a fist, hit the wall of her uterus.

He was impressed, but not in the quite the manner she’d intended. Ken immediately sat down next to her and poked the other side of her belly with a finger, grinning with delight as the baby responded enthusiastically.

“Oh, sure,” said Dawn, without any real rancor. “It’s a lot of fun for you. Me, I feel like an extra from that movie, Alien.” The excitement of the first fluttering movements had worn off in the last few weeks as her tenant had appeared to have decided to take up gymnastics as a hobby. She fervently hoped this wouldn’t be indicative in any way of its energy levels after birth.

Hutch leaned back comfortably, hooking his elbows over the back of the couch, and took a good look at his wife. Despite her grumbling, she kept a hand on her belly, unconsciously responding to the unseen infant’s movements. There was tenderness in her actions, even if it wasn’t in her words. He found himself wondering what it was that made her so defensive. How she could have the most loving, gentle touch, and in the next moment say something that would make you feel about three inches tall?

“Tell me,” he said. “Where did you grow up?”

Becky had heard the ‘for public consumption’ version of the story; the one Dawn told mostly for comic effect. But there was something in Ken’s eyes that told her he didn’t want a lot of smoke and mirrors, and she knew him well enough to know that he wouldn’t be distracted by them for long anyway.

So, that night she had told him the truth…

Dawn tossed the magazine down onto the end table and closed her eyes to listen to the rain outside. Talking about her past had been harder than she’d expected. It had been a long time since she’d thought about where she’d come from and there were parts that were still sore.

Her mother had been much too young to settle down. She had wanted nothing more than to return to the parties and glamour that she loved, so once the novelty of her newborn had worn off and she realized that there was a lot more crying than cuteness, she ran away and was never heard from again. Her father was a traveling man: never able to settle down in any one place for long, always moving on and being moved on, taking his young daughter with him. One day, when he announced he was leaving town, instead of saying, “Where to now?” Dawn had said, “Goodbye,” and that was the last she saw of him. It made for a lot of funny stories, but there was an undercurrent of sadness about it that always left her feeling particularly prickly.

It was a feeling that had carried over into the morning, and she had been somewhat more sarcastic than usual over breakfast.

Now she thought to herself, I probably shouldn’t have picked on him so much this morning.

She wanted more than she had grown up with. She wanted a stable marriage, and a peaceful home, and…

A crib.

Reaching for a scrap of paper and a pen, Dawn began to make a list.


“What I’d really like to do is move back to my old place,” said Becky, without any real hope of being taken seriously.

The garbage cans had been rescued and righted, and the rain was washing away any remaining trash they might have failed to collect. Hutch hung his wet duster over the curtain rod in the bathroom, and Starsky disappeared briefly into the bedroom to find a dry shirt. When he finally reappeared, Becky had decided there was no point in putting the discussion off any longer and made her rather diffident announcement.

Both heads swiveled around to look at her and in one breath they said, “No!”

There was a moment’s pause in which the two men realized that they’d spoken simultaneously and silently set about sorting out who had priority. Hutch acceded to Starsky with a fractional nod.

He leaned in the open doorway of his bedroom, his arms crossed over his chest. “Look, kid, I know you miss your place but it’s just not safe as long as Reg is still out there.”

Becky jammed both her fists into the front pockets of her jeans. “I don’t see why not. Can’t those cops park outside of my house just as easily as they can yours? And maybe I could get some sort of alarm system put in.”

She looked up at Dave with a frown. “I heard what that woman said. Monster needs to be out of here by the end of the day. I don’t want to get you in trouble with your landlord.” And there isn’t anything on earth that would convince me to move back in with my mother, so he can just forget about that being any sort of option.

“Landlady,” he corrected, absently. Monster was standing at his feet, looking up at him with a worried expression, as if somehow aware that he was the cause of their concern. “Look, I’ll take care of it, okay? I just need to think…”

Becky knew something was out of place here, but she couldn’t articulate to herself exactly what it was. She usually liked the way Dave took charge of things. It was one of the qualities that had attracted her to him in the first place. But, right now, she found herself feeling inexplicably irritated. It was nice having a guy care about you, but after a while you could get a little tired of always being told what to do.

Besides, wasn’t Monster her dog? If there was a problem, shouldn’t she get a chance to help figure out the solution?

Hutch noticed Becky’s lower lip come up slightly, her chin jutting forward stubbornly. He’d seen that expression on Dawn’s face often enough to know that unless there was an immediate change of subject things could get rather unpleasant. Clearing his throat, he reached into the inner pocket of his duster and extracted a slightly soggy manila envelope. “Ah, Starsky? I picked up your mail for you.”

Starsky blinked, his thoughts temporarily derailed from the issue of what to do with Monster. “Huh? That’s early. My mail guy usually doesn’t come by when it’s raining.”

“What about ‘neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow’?”

“I think he must have skipped that class in postman school,” said Starsky as he took the envelope from Hutch. “He told me once that he likes to save up my mail until he figures there’s enough to make it worth delivering. I see him about three times a week…” He paused, frowning. “Hutch? There’s no stamp on this.”

“What?” Hutch leaned forward, taking a good look at the envelope for the first time since he’d snagged it out of the box and shoved it into his pocket. Starsky’s name and address were printed clearly on the front of the small brown envelope, but there was no stamp or postmark. “Hand delivered?”

Starsky’s eyes met his. Reg.

“What is it?” asked Becky, catching some of the undercurrent of tension, but unsure of its source.

“Becky,” said Starsky in a distracted voice, still staring at the envelope. “Could you go make us some coffee?”

She sighed, annoyed. “You’re trying to get rid of me.”

Hutch couldn’t quite suppress a small snort of amusement. Starsky looked up at him and then back at Becky. Caught out, there was clearly nothing to do but admit the truth. “Okay, you’re right. I’m trying to get rid of you. But, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t also love a hot cup of coffee.” He gave her an appealingly rueful smile and then glanced back at his partner, searching for support. “And I bet Hutch would like one, too. Wouldn’t you, Hutch?”

Hutch threw up his hands and backed away. “Oh, no. No way! I’m not any part of this!”

“Coward,” muttered Starsky. Hutch simply grinned.

Becky eyed the two of them. Despite Hutch’s words, they still presented a united front. The letter, whatever it was, would not be opened in her presence. “I’ll go make some coffee,” said Becky, finally. “But you’ll tell me what this is all about afterwards, right?” The worried tone in her voice was clear to all of them. Drat, I wanted that to sound more authoritative, thought Becky.

“Of course,” said Starsky brightly.

She gave him a suspicious look, not entirely sure she believed him. Then again, it stood to reason that sometimes there would be occasions when his job would take precedence. She really couldn’t expect him to tell her everything. She just wished she didn’t suspect the letter had something to do with Reg, because that was something that did concern her, very much.

As soon as Becky had left, Starsky shot a dark glance at Hutch. “Nice back-up, buddy.”

“Hey, armed gunmen are one thing. But when it comes to your love life, you’re on your own.” Moving into the bedroom, Hutch sat down on the end of Starsky’s bed. “So, do we open it, or do we give it to the boys down at the lab?”

Starsky dropped down next to him, holding the envelope gingerly by one corner. “It’s too small and flat to be a bomb.”

“What about fingerprints?”

“We already know who he is.” Starsky began to carefully open the end of the envelope. “It’s addressed to me, so I’ll open it. And hey, maybe we’re wrong.”

“Right, maybe we’re wrong,” agreed Hutch.

“After all, it could just be an invitation to the neighborhood block party.”

“Absolutely. Block parties happen all the time.”

Starsky tapped the end of the envelope and several photos spilled into his hand. Hutch couldn’t make out the pictures, but he saw his friend’s puzzled frown change to recognition a fraction of a second before his back went rigid and he lunged to his feet.

Starsky was out of the room before Hutch had time to react.

“Stupid, incompetent… What th’heck were they doin’? Sitting around with their thumbs up their…” he heard his partner ranting as he headed for the front door.

“Starsk, wait!” Hutch couldn’t imagine what could be in those photos to cause such a precipitous reaction, but he knew it had to be bad. He scrambled to intercept the other man before he could leave.

Starsky stopped and turned, stumbling as his left leg protested the sudden movement. The mixed fury and pain in his eyes stopped Hutch in his tracks. Starsky slapped the envelope against his chest, and Hutch grabbed it automatically.

Leaning in close, Starsky said, very quietly, “She can’t see them. Ever. Got that?” He did not wait for Hutch to nod.

The loud slam of the front door made Hutch wince.

From the kitchen, Becky asked, “What’s up?” She sounded frightened.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Hutch. His back turned, he slipped the top photo out and took a quick look. It took a moment to resolve the somewhat grainy black and white image. A telephoto lens, shot through a glass door…

Oh, hell.

He jammed the picture back into the envelope, and turned just as Becky came up behind him. He gently grasped her shoulders and said, trying to communicate as much reassurance as he could, “Just wait here. Everything will be fine.”

She nodded, biting her lip. He released her with a pat and headed out the door after Starsky.

He heard his furious partner well before he saw him, despite the hiss of water falling from the sky.

The continuously sheeting rain had given everything a flickering black and white quality, like an old movie, with dirt on the filmstrip and a stuttering reel. Starsky had one of the patrolmen backed up against his car and was shouting into his face. The other man was climbing out on the passenger side, his expression baffled and angry. As Hutch approached them, he saw Starsky slap his hand against the roof of the car, sending droplets of water flying.

The patrolman flinched and Hutch saw his hand move towards his sidearm. Stepping forward, he grabbed his partner. Starsky reacted violently, swiveling on his heel with his fists clenched.

Then he saw who it was and dropped his hands, staggering badly enough that Hutch automatically reached out to steady him.

Starsky pushed his hand away and braced himself against the roof of the car instead. “Reg was on my porch last night, taking pictures of us! How could they not notice something like that? What’s the point of assigning protection, if the guy can just walk right up to my door without anyone noticing?” He punctuated his words with his free hand, his gestures sharp and emphatic.

Hutch knew his friend had every right to be furious. The problem was… “Starsky, these aren’t the guys you’re mad at. They probably weren’t even on shift last night.”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell him!” shouted the patrolman.

The tall blond turned towards him, and the look of restrained anger on his face made the other man step back, tensed for a fight. Very quietly, Hutch said, “I’ll deal with this.”

“Yeah, you do that,” said the patrolman, reaching behind his back for the car door handle. Under his breath he grumbled sourly, “Goddamn lunatic…”

Hutch ignored him. His primary concern at the moment was his friend. Starsky had stumbled several steps away to drop awkwardly down onto the curb in front of the patrol car. He was soaked, and his hair was dripping down over his forehead. He tried to wipe the water off his face, but quickly found that the effort was futile and gave up.

After a moment, Hutch decided that he couldn’t get any wetter than he already was, even sitting in a puddle. Resigned to the fact that he would likely be sitting in the rain for quite a while, he settled himself down onto the curb next to his distraught friend.

“Aw, Hutch, how could they let him do that?” Starsky didn’t really expect him to respond. He already knew there was no answer. It wasn’t even really the patrolmen’s fault. Stake out the house, make your presence known, and take a few strolls around the perimeter every hour or so…  Most of the time, the simple presence of a black and white was enough.

Most of the time, but evidently this was not one of those times.

Hutch watched the rain fall into the gutter, transitory bubbles forming on the surface of the water. “He’s trying to rattle your cage.” He wondered how his friend had managed to earn Reg’s particular enmity. Was it just that he’d failed to kill Starsky the last time he met, or was there more? What had occurred on those stairs at the college in Mountain Springs?

“Yeah, well, he succeeded,” said Starsky, bitterly. “I’d have rather just faced him head on, than to know that he was… He was outside on my balcony, when we…” With a moan, he dropped his head, fingers digging into his hair, unable to continue.

Hutch rubbed his back, feeling him shiver through the wet fabric. After a few minutes, when it became obvious Starsky wouldn’t be continuing the conversation, he said, “I wonder why Monster didn’t notice him out there.”

“He’s old, he sleeps all the time, and his hearing isn’t so good anymore,” said Starsky. “Half the time he doesn’t even notice me until I’m already in the door.” He made a helpless gesture as he looked up, “What gets me, Hutch, is that Reg went and took something beautiful and made it all, all… sordid. You know?”

Hutch felt his heart twist at the raw misery in his partner’s words. He really hated what he was going to have to say next.

“We’ve got to take the photos downtown, Starsk.”

Starsky groaned. “Aw, Hutch… You know what they’re like. Everyone’ll end up seeing them. It’ll be a big joke.”

“It’s evidence, buddy.” Hutch paused, and then added as optimistically as he could, “And if anyone leaks the photos, Dobey will have their head on a platter.”

“Leaks happen. You can’t stop it.” Starsky watched the black water puddle between his feet. He wiggled his toes experimentally, and felt the water slosh inside his sneakers. Leaks, indeed. Without looking up, he said, “They’re sitting there being mad at me, aren’t they?”

Hutch did not look over at the two patrolmen in the car. He didn’t need to. “Well, you did yell at them for something that probably wasn’t their fault.”

Sighing, Starsky grasped Hutch’s shoulder and used it to push himself back up onto his feet. He did not relish the idea of having to go apologize and explain, but he knew it had to be done. Looking down at his friend, he suddenly realized that Hutch had come out after him without either his duster or his hat.

“You know,” he said solemnly, “That fancy new coat of yours isn’t much use if you don’t wear it.”

Hutch shrugged, unfolded his long length and stood. “I’m sure I’ve still got a change of clothes somewhere in your closet.”

Starsky stopped, suddenly remembering. “That’s right! Your blue shirt with the guitar on the back! That’ll go perfectly with the rest of the look. Like Roy Rogers… the singing cowboy.” He stopped, and his mood darkened again. “Becky can’t know about this, Hutch.”

“She won’t.”

This time when Hutch reached out to steady him, Starsky did not push him away. His friend was offering much more than physical support and he appreciated the gesture.



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