Like gravity, karma is so basic we
often don't even notice it.
July 15, 1970
Starsky stretched luxuriously, arching his back and folding his hands behind his head. When that failed to elicit an admiring
comment, he rolled over onto his side. “That was…” He paused, waiting for Kathy to glance back at him. “Not
bad.” He raised his eyebrows expectantly.
“Yes, I’d say that was at least average,” she agreed. A frown
creased her forehead. “Have you seen my bra?”
sighed, disappointed. Wasn’t it the guy who was supposed to be guilty of ‘wham, bam, thank you, ma’am’?
it’s down there somewhere.” He waved vaguely at the end of the bed. When she leaned over the edge of the mattress
to search the floor, his eyes fixed appreciatively on the assets she was displaying. “We can still be friends?”
She slid off
the bed, still looking for her bra. “I thought being friends was what it was all about. If we don’t have friendship,
then what have we got?”
This was dangerous
territory. Pushing it further would almost certainly mean no more lazy afternoons like this one. And Kathy was one of the
best girls he’d ever managed to get into his bed. The last one had been a chain smoker – kissing her had been
like diving head first into an ashtray. And she had left his pillows smelling like smoke.
Kathy, on the
other hand, left behind only the mingled scents of perfume and sex.
up, and discovered the missing article under his hip. Tossing it to her, he suggested, “Raw animal lust?”
“Oh, well, if you put it that way…”
out the garment bag she’d placed in his closet the night before. Laying
it across the foot of the bed, she began to dress. Starsky rolled over onto his stomach and propped his chin up on his hand.
Her flight attendant’s uniform exposed a generous amount of leg, while the tailoring of the jacket served to enhance
what was already a very nicely curved figure.
you didn’t have to leave,” he said, with genuine regret. “I could easily do this for another forty-eight
hour layover. And another after that, and then another…”
her nose. “You know it wouldn’t be much fun after a while. It’d get routine.”
eyes narrowed. “You mean like, if you work at McDonalds long enough, you pretty soon find out that you don’t want
to eat burgers anymore?”
Kathy said, “I suppose…”
Imitating the bored tones of a teenaged counter jockey, he said, “You wan’ fries with that? Oh… it’s
just another Big Mac…”
“You did not just compare me to a Big Mac!”
his features into an expression of innocence. “What? Would it be better if I said you’re like a Filet-O-Fish?”
a pillow. He ducked, covering his head as she smacked him with it. “You’re awful!”
off the bed. “Okay, how about apple pie? You know, All-American and… sweet?”
That last hopeful
adjective was uttered two octaves higher than his normal range as he ducked a flying shoe.
up to Starsky’s apartment were at the back of the southwestern style building, their weathered gray wood standing out
in stark contrast to the pink stucco. Hutch paused and wrinkled his nose. There
was an odd smell in the air, as if something was burning, but vaguely sweet as well. There was only one thing he could think
of that smelled like that…
A door slammed
open above him and Hutch stepped back off the stairs, just as a young woman in a flight attendant’s uniform stormed
down the steps. Starsky, wearing only a sheet clutched around his waist, appeared on the landing above her. “Hey!”
he bellowed, “You’re the one who said it would get routine!”
and Hutch hopped backwards as her overnight bag swung dangerously close to his knees. “Trust me, I’m not worried
about that anymore!”
a high-heeled shoe at her. “But I’ve still got your shoe!”
forcing Hutch back against the garbage cans. “Give that to me. Now!”
the shoe at her. “You know, if Cinderella had been as mean as you –.” The shoe bounced on the stairs and
landed with a clatter among the cans. “I didn’t do that on purpose!”
the shoe and handed it to the woman.
She gave him
an approving nod. “Now you’re a real prince. Not like him!” Shoe in hand, she walked away with her back
straight and her head high. The appearance of dignified outrage was somewhat undercut by the fact that she was listing sharply
to one side.
against the railing and watched her go, a chagrined expression on his face. Then he shook himself and grinned at Hutch. “Hi!
he’d made a mistake dropping by unannounced. “Er…”
was now smiling as happily as if he’d been expecting Hutch all along. “Come on up!” He tossed the tail of
his sheet over his shoulder, turning it into a toga.
this isn’t a bad time...” said Hutch, as he climbed the rickety stairs.
is great!” Starsky backed up into his hallway. “I’m glad you’re here. I’ll show you around Parker Center, get you your locker, introduce you to all the guys, and the girls, except we won’t
let Nancy know about those…”
the door. “Nance… I mean, Vanessa’s great. She knows she’s got nothing to worry about.” He looked
at Starsky’s cluttered apartment, and thought that he definitely didn’t miss his bachelor days. Van wasn’t
much of a housekeeper, but at least she kept things reasonably tidy.
noncommittally. “I guess you’d know,” he said as he disappeared into the bedroom.
a pair of blue jeans off the couch and sat down. He could hear Starsky rummaging around inside his closet on the other side
of wall. A moment later he reappeared, tugging on the zipper of his worn jeans and then hopping on one foot as he crossed
the living room on his way to the bathroom.
going to love Parker Center,
Hutch! Did you know we had to scrape a mugger off the road the other day? There was this little old lady – I swear,
she looked like Aunt Jemima. Anyway, this moron stood right in front of her car and pointed a gun at her, and what did she
do? She hit the gas. Ran right over him! Like I always say, don’t mess with little old ladies.”
pensively as Starsky ricocheted off the walls, keeping up a running monologue as he dressed. They’d been friends when
they’d attended the Academy together. But now they’d be spending hours together every day. Working together, eating
together, shoulder to shoulder in a police car...
If he tried
to spend that much time with Van – whom he loved – it would probably end with someone’s homicide, and he’d
take even odds as to who’d snap first.
uneasy speculation aside, Hutch commented, “Your girl seemed a little put out this morning.”
answer was muffled by a mouthful of toothbrush. “Ah, I jus’ compared her to fast food. She’ll be back....”
He paused and spat into the sink. “In a month or two. Depending on her flight schedule.”
if he’d heard Starsky correctly. “Did you just say fast food?”
The sound of
running water covered the sound of Starsky’s answer. All Hutch could make out was “liberated woman.”
With idle curiosity,
Hutch took a look around the small apartment. An odd clay statue squatted between a scale model of a red sports car and a
brass menorah. A copy of Masters’ and Johnston’s
‘Human Sexual Response’ was sandwiched between ‘Bigfoot: Fact or Fiction?’ and ‘Happiness is
a Warm Puppy’. And an old baseball appeared to have been placed with particular care exactly in the center of the coffee
table, next to a sliding stack of True Crime comic books.
Hutch picked the ball up and turned it over in his hands, expecting to see an autograph, something to explain the significance
of the artifact. There was nothing. It was simply an ordinary leather ball, the stitching a little worn on one side.
He had just
replaced it when Starsky emerged from the bedroom, snagging an army jacket off the back of a chair.
to drop off my rent, okay?” He extracted a crumpled check from his pocket and held it up.
said Hutch, climbing to his feet. They weren’t expected to report in for a good hour yet.
first, leaving Hutch to close the door behind them. “Wait,” said
Hutch. “You forgot to lock up.”
on the steps. “Don’t worry about it.
The lock fell out three weeks ago.”
closer and was surprised to see a hole where a deadbolt should have been. The
white painted handle, meanwhile, appeared to have been jury rigged into place using a piece from an interior closet. “You
don’t have a lock on your door?” In this part of town he would have
expected to find every door not only locked, but bolted and barred as well.
him a lopsided grin. “Just look at the frame, buddy. One good kick and that whole thing will cave right in. If it’s
locked, I’ll be out whatever they stole plus a front door, too. But if my door’s already open…”
trailed after Starsky as he clattered down the stairs. This whole area of town was as confusing a warren of streets and alleys
as he’d ever seen. It was very different from the quiet suburb where he’d been working these last two years.
A skinny cat
hopped up onto a garbage can and glared at the two of them. It jumped down as Starsky banged on a yellow door set into the
side of the building.
Weezie,” hollered Starsky. “I know you’re in there! If you don’t take this money off my hands, I’m
gonna count this month as a freebie!”
Flakes of peeling
paint drifted down to the ground as Starsky banged again. Finally the door opened. A pungent cloud of smoke hit Hutch in the
face as a voice said, “Hey, man, is that the rent? Awesome. I wouldn’t bother with the filthy lucre, but there’s
bills I got to pay. It’s a hard world, brother.”
The smell was
unmistakable. Hutch started to say, “Hey,” but was cut off by an urgent tingling sensation in the back of his
nose. He had barely enough time to cover his face before he was rocked by a resounding sneeze. Two more nasal explosions followed
the first, and by the time he pried his watering eyes open, Starsky had slammed his landlord’s door shut.
Starsky arm. “Just a minute!”
say it,” pleaded Starsky.
smoking marijuana in there!”
shoulders slumped. “Aw, Hutch. Why’d you have to say that? Now I’ll have to bust my landlord, and then where
will I live?” He grimaced. “It’s just a couple of joints.”
Starsky back a step. “That was a lot of smoke for ‘just a couple of joints.’ How can you ignore something
like that? You’re a cop!”
answering, Starsky grabbed Hutch’s elbow and steered him out onto the street. They stopped by Hutch’s two year
old Ford Escort. Starsky hopped up onto the hood and gestured at his nose, saying nasally, “I god a code, see? Can’t
smell a thing!” He gave Hutch a hopeful smile, the backs of his heels bouncing against the front tire.
said Hutch, sarcastically. “And you’ve had this cold how long? For the whole three months you’ve lived here?”
that,” admitted Starsky. “Do you know how long it took me to find a place I could afford? Besides, Weezie ain’t
a bad guy! He’s strictly small time. He’s an independent. He grows it all himself and gives most of the stuff
away for free.” He paused. “And he’s really understanding about late rent.”
and dropped his head to rub the bridge of his nose. After a moment he looked up and said, “You know, I bet you could
afford a better place if you weren’t always sinking all your money into that car of yours.”
swiftly replaced by incredulity. “What’s wrong with my car?” Starsky glanced over at his yellow Camaro as
if expecting to discover that it had morphed into something else overnight.
very… bright,” said Hutch, carefully.
the color of sunshine!”
his arms over his chest, frowning indignantly. “Says the man driving a car the color of puke.”
matter what you call it, it’s the ugliest shade of green I’ve ever seen.” Starsky glanced at his watch.
“Hey, if we don’t get down to the precinct soon, I won’t have any time to show you around.”
He slid off
the hood of Hutch’s car and jogged down the sidewalk. “Just follow me, and you won’t get lost!”
after his friend, “Just remember, we’re not done with this conversation!”
yeah.” Starsky waved a hand at him without looking back.
partner, Hutch reminded himself. Overlooking one little dope peddler didn’t make Starsky corrupt, or even a bad cop.
He was probably a lot more conscientious when he was on the job. After all, he’d been a good guy at the Academy.
The smog hung
low and heavy over the city, turning the sun into a sickly smear on the horizon. The radiant heat of the day was still reflecting
up off of the surface of the road.
uncomfortably, the polyester blend of his uniform shirt sticking to his skin as the sweat trickled down his lower back. Short
sleeves were small consolation in weather like this. As he brought the eastbound traffic to a halt and waved the pedestrians
across, he found himself envying the city workers in their summer shorts.
in the wrong career, thought Starsky, eyeing the guy at the top of the cherry picker, well above the heat of the street. I
bet I could fix traffic lights.
Days like these
always made Starsky wonder what insanity had inspired him to trade one uniform for another after the army. But if he hadn’t,
then he’d still be driving a cab. Starsky gave a sweating cabby a nod and reminded himself that there were worse things
than being a cop. And even cops didn’t have to spend their whole careers in uniform.
over to see Hutch crossing the road toward him. When he was close enough, Starsky said, “If we were detectives, we wouldn’t
have to do this ever again. I bet we could both make sergeant inside of two years, easy. And then we could go plainclothes!”
Starsky, very pleased with the startled look Hutch gave him. That should give
him something else to chew on, besides my hippie landlord.
his way back to the squad car and helped himself to some water from the flask on the front seat. He was relieved to see that
it was more than three-quarters empty. Hutch needed to keep hydrated. Blonds were never any good in the heat. Watching his
partner direct traffic, Starsky nodded to himself, confirming his own conclusion. Under the dark uniform cap, Hutch was already
turning bright red, and his hair was clinging damply to the back of his neck. His forearms were even beginning to look sunburned.
straightened, still holding the water. Hutch had just brought the eastbound lane to a halt, and was turning to signal to the
west. Behind his back, the third vehicle in the lane he’d just stopped suddenly swerved out of line. It was a battered,
blue Chevy pickup truck.
around the two cars in the front, the truck hit the edge of the sidewalk, popped up onto two wheels, and veered into the center
of the intersection.
a brief glimpse of Hutch’s startled expression, and then the truck was across the road and sliding sideways at the squad
car, tires screeching as the driver tried to regain control.
the water and rolled over the hood of his cruiser. He hit the cement as the truck barreled towards him. He heard brakes squeal,
and then the grinding crunch of metal impacting metal. He squeezed his eyes shut in horrified anticipation, only to snap them
back open immediately as he realized that, while the truck had clearly hit something, it hadn’t been the squad car.
head cautiously, Starsky peeked over the hood of the squad car. The rear of the truck had swung to a stop a few inches short
of the driver side door. The nose had crumpled, and there was steam issuing from under the hood.
It took him
a moment to sort out the tangled knot of vehicles. The pickup truck had hit an older series tan Oldsmobile, causing it to
ricochet into the side of the hydro truck in a domino-like chain reaction. The worker at the top of the swaying cherry picker
was cursing loudly.
found himself impressed by how little damage the bumper of the Oldsmobile had taken, compared to the newer Chevy truck. He
wondered what year the Olds had been manufactured – based on the style and chrome trim, he’d have to guess sometime
in the thirties.
that brief moment of distraction, Starsky scrambled over the hood of the squad car.
Hutch was on
the far side of the hydro truck, picking himself up off the concrete. He waved.
Hutch was uninjured, Starsky turned back.
side door of the pickup truck flew open with a bang, and first one work boot hit the cement, followed shortly by the other.
Starsky stared, alarmed, as the occupant of the truck unfolded himself. He had an impression of workman’s dungarees,
topped by a white undershirt with a pack of smokes rolled into the left sleeve. Perched atop a set of broadly muscled shoulders,
apparently without the mediating influence of a neck, was an alarmingly red face.
took a deep breath and drew his shoulders back, preparing himself for a confrontation. They can smell fear, he thought. And
right on the heels of that thought came the realization that the only thing he could smell was beer. Lots of it.
He opened his
mouth, but before he could speak, a furious blur of motion shot past him. Starsky watched astonished as the driver of the
Oldsmobile suddenly laid into the truck driver, shrieking furiously at the top of her lungs.
The man staggered
as her large brightly crocheted satchel swung directly up above her head to impact with his nose. He covered his face with
both hands, and backpedaled swiftly until he was trapped against the side of his truck. “Goddammit, lady!”
“Vigila tu lenguaje, jovencito!” shouted the old woman, her green
velvet hat tipping precariously to the side, tendrils of grey hair escaping her bun. In her right hand she brandished a yellow
inserted himself between them, his hands up, one palm facing the driver of the truck, the other the old woman.
“Ma’am, please!” Starsky said, urgently. “I know he hit your
old bat!” shouted the truck driver, his voice muffled as he continued to clutch his nose with both hands.
“Tu eres el que está loco!” shouted the old woman, reaching past
Starsky to jab the truck driver in the shin with her umbrella.
bellowed the man, hopping on one leg. Grabbing Starsky’s shirt he said, “Goddammit, do something! Help me!”
said Starsky, again.
voice cut through the confusion. “Por favor, señora, permítanos resolver esto a nosotros.”
astonished. “Hutch! You speak Spanish?”
him a quick grin, and then offered his arm to the old lady. She hesitated a moment, still glowering at the truck driver. Then,
reluctantly, she accepted Hutch’s arm. Hutch led her back to her car, talking quietly.
to face the truck driver, who was now staring mournfully at a few drops of blood on his hands.
is your name, sir?”
The man sniffled
and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Eddie Harmer,” he said, nasally. “I tink dat ol’lady broke my
doubt it, but he wasn’t feeling any sympathy for the unfortunate Eddie. “Mr. Harmer, turn around and place your
hands on the truck.”
Eddie exclaimed. “You’re not arresting me!”
said Starsky, evenly. He let his hand drop down to rest on his sidearm. “Turn around and put your hands on the truck.”
With a curse,
Eddie turned and slapped both hands on either side of the driver’s window. He dropped his head. “I can’t
one wrist. Eddie resisted a moment, and then let Starsky bring his hands behind him one at a time to cuff him. “You’re
under arrest for reckless driving, uttering threats, intimidation, disturbing the peace…” Starsky paused and craned
his head to the side to get a better look at the dented nose of the truck. “Oh, and it looks like your left front signal
light isn’t working. I’ll have to write you a ticket for that.”
just wait one dang minute!” Eddie turned to face Starsky, his arms pinned awkwardly behind him. “I’m the
victim here. That crazy old bat broke my nose! Ain’t you gonna arrest her, too?”
forward and looked Eddie up and down, taking a pointed sniff. “I’m adding driving under the influence to the list
of charges, too. How many drinks did you have before hitting the road? Or before hitting that sweet little old lady’s
car, or before almost hitting my partner, while we’re on the topic of hitting things?”
not drunk!” protested Eddie.
you wanna prove it?” Starsky grinned nastily. “I could have you do a sobriety test, if you like. Extend both arms
to the side, close your eyes and touch your nose…”
got me cuffed, and my nose is broken!”
I’m sure the fellas down in lock-up will be real sympathetic when they hear how you got beat up by somebody’s
granny.” Starsky’s smile disappeared, and he shoved Eddie towards the squad car. “So shut up and get in
called in a report on the situation, he could hear Hutch in the background continuing to talk to the old woman in Spanish,
while simultaneously trying to direct traffic around the scene of the accident. He clearly had his hands full, but there was
one more thing Starsky needed to do before he could go and help his partner.
a battered card from his rear pocket he squinted at it for a moment before carefully beginning to read aloud from it.
“You have the right to
remain silent.” Every six months it seemed the higher-ups had to mess with the wording. This latest card had been distributed
only a few weeks ago, and the printing was annoyingly tiny. “If you give up that right, anything you say can and will
be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney and to have an attorney present during questioning.
If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided to you at no cost. During any questioning, you may decide at any time
to exercise these rights, not answer any questions or make any statements.” Starsky stuffed the card back into his pocket
and leaned down to look at Eddie. “Ya got all that?”
with a subdued grumble.
have to say ‘Yes sir, I understand.’”
I got it!” snapped Eddie.
Starsky looked for Hutch. He appeared to have everything well in hand, and Starsky felt an unexpected rush of pride in his
partner. Back at the precinct, he’d overheard the guys speculating openly on how long it would be before Hutch melted
under the pressure. They figured because he’d transferred from a quiet suburban precinct, he didn’t know anything
about real policing.
didn’t know anything about Hutch. It didn’t matter, though. Starsky knew Hutch’s quality, and the rest of
them would figure it out for themselves soon enough.
a cigarette,” grumbled Hutch, as Starsky joined him in the intersection.
no partnership was ever completely conflict-free.
That evening, the sergeant sent
them out with orders to get acquainted with their new beat. Hutch discovered that Starsky had served his time as a rookie
in the club district. It was a little more upscale than most of downtown Bay City, Starsky told him. There would be plenty of action
to occupy them on a typical night, but at the same time backup would never be far away.
“The next best thing to
training wheels,” commented another officer.
Starsky just laughed. “Hutch,
Simmons, Simmons, Hutch,” he said, quickly. And before Hutch could manage a ‘pleased to meet you’, Starsky
had him by the arm and was dragging him down the hall towards the parking lot.
Once on the street, Starsky kept
stopping the patrol car to introduce Hutch to people with the same cheerful earnestness he’d shown in the precinct.
Before long, Hutch’s head was swimming with names and details that he knew he’d never be able to keep straight.
Had that last one really been named Huggy Bear? He had to have heard that
Hutch finally gave up and pulled
out his notebook to try and create a crib sheet for himself. Maybe he could study it when he got home.
Adding to Hutch’s discomfort
was the fact that he had gone all day without smoking and the nicotine craving was hitting him hard. Smoking in the car had
been a matter of course with his previous partner, but the first thing Starsky had done when he signed out the car was throw
a handful of change into the ashtray.
When Hutch had suggested that
perhaps the ashtray could be used for, say, ashes, Starsky had given him a puzzled look and said, “What do you want
to go stinking up the car for?”
With a sigh, Hutch flipped back
to the beginning of his notes and reviewed what he had so far, absentmindedly chewing on the end of his pencil.
Starsky glanced over and saw
what he was doing. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “You’ll get it. And until then, I’ve
got it all up here.” He tapped the band of his cap with one finger.
Hutch gave him a suspicious look.
“This is revenge for all those nights I helped you study in the Academy, isn’t it?”
Instead of answering, his partner
suddenly shot upright in his seat, his head whipping around as something on the sidewalk seized his attention. “Did
you see that?”
Hutch straightened. From the
intensity of his partner’s reaction, he expected to see a crime in progress. What he saw instead was a girl in hot pants,
leaning over the hood of her car, her ample bottom facing traffic. “How could I miss it?”
Starsky was now looking out the
rear window, his eyes glued to her rear, and Hutch’s tone sharpened. “Will you keep your eyes on the road?”
Starsky turned to face forward.
Palming the wheel and turning smoothly down a side street, he grinned at Hutch. “I was just practicin’ my lip-reading.”
“You’re crude, you
“Don’t tell me you
weren’t looking,” protested Starsky, indignantly. “You’re married, not dead!”
“What I’m interested
in is the whole package,” said Hutch. “Refinement, intelligence, sophistication.” He stopped abruptly, suddenly aware of just how pretentious he sounded. Uncomfortable, Hutch adjusted the
knees of his uniform slacks, straightening the crease down the front of the leg, and brushing off an invisible bit of lint.
Starsky made a dismissive gesture.
“Aw, that’s too much work. Just give me a girl who knows how to have a good time.”
“You mean like the one
who stormed out of your apartment this morning? What did you say her name was? Karen?” Hutch smirked.
“No, that was Katie. I
mean, Kathy.” He frowned.
“You sure about that?”
Starsky snorted, and then narrowed
his eyes as he slowed the patrol car. “Hey, Hutch? Check out that girl.”
His tone was deadly serious this time.
She was a bright spot of color
against the drab streets: a brunette in a paisley patterned shirt and striped hose, the black mini almost an afterthought.
She drifted past the crowd lined up at the doors of a nightclub with the languid movements of someone wading through water.
As they watched, she collided with a man in a beret and gave him a sweet, if vague, smile.
And then she stepped off the sidewalk directly in front of a taxi cab.
The cabbie swerved, his tires
squealing, and collided with a convertible traveling in the opposite direction. There was a metal-crunching squeal, a bang,
and then the sound of steam hissing from a ruptured radiator.
Cars on all sides came to a screeching
halt, as the street was abruptly made impassable. And in the middle of it all, the girl stood looking around herself with
As Hutch bailed out of the squad
car, he told himself traffic accidents were obviously the theme of the day.
“Man, Lucy’s flying
high tonight,” said Starsky as they pushed their way through the crowd. The cabbie was yelling at the girl and gesturing
emphatically at his damaged vehicle.
Hutch had hardly stepped between
them when she threw himself at him, wrapping her arms around his waist with surprising strength. She was mumbling something,
speaking almost too fast to be understood. “I touched the sun,” she said. “But my wings melted. Now it’s
all bad karma...”
Hutch tried to pry her off, without
success. Tilting her head back, he found her pupils dilated so wide, the irises had nearly disappeared. What had Starsky said?
Something about “Lucy”?
“I don’t think she’s
on LSD,” Hutch tried again to disentangle her, but it was like fighting with an octopus.
Helpless, he looked up at Starsky,
only to find his partner smirking at him.
It was a relief when the paramedics
finally arrived to take her off of his hands, and his midsection, and his leg...
People were laughing. But it
wasn’t the girl’s fault, Hutch reminded himself. She was scared and messed up. Gritting his teeth, Hutch did his
best to hand her over with compassion and care.
An hour later he found himself
back in the patrol car, his knees braced against the dash, filling out a report on the clipboard in his lap. He was craving
a cigarette more fiercely than ever. Shift’s almost over, he reassured
To Starsky he said, “LSD
doesn’t cause quite that sort of behavior, in my experience.”
Starsky pushed Hutch’s
knee to the side, and retrieved a thermos from under the dash. “In your
experience? They got a lot of LSD out in the ‘burbs?’”
Hutch tried to think of an answer
that wouldn’t reveal too much, and then realized he’d let the silence stretch on too long. He looked over to find
Starsky staring at him.
“Hutch? Did you ever?”
Hutch carefully slid the pen
into the clip at the top of the board. He briefly considered making up some sort of plausible story, maybe about a friend
of a friend, but then decided that a new partnership should be built on truth. “Well, back in ’64 I was still
“And there was this guy
we were all reading about called Timothy Leary…”
A broad smile spread across Starsky’s
face as Hutch spoke. “You took LSD!”
Hutch winced. “Just once.
When it was legal!”
“You jumped all over me for just renting an apartment from a pot-smoker, not even smoking anything myself,
and yet there you are, taking acid. I can’t believe it!” Starsky
slapped the steering wheel, and to Hutch’s ears there was something smugly satisfied about the sound it made.
“It wasn’t the greatest
experience, you know.”
“Yeah?” Starsky was
interested. “Did you act like that girl today? All floaty and happy?” He shook with barely repressed laughter,
no doubt imagining a twinkle-toed Hutch breezing down the street.
Hutch rolled his eyes. “Well,
we were happy, but not like that. That’s what I was trying to tell you. You don’t get disconnected from the world
on acid. Well, maybe you could if you took enough of it. I don’t know. But everything’s a lot more intense. It
messes with your perceptions, makes stuff seem... more than it usually is.”
He vaguely remembered what a
bad place the kitchen had been, with its white tiles and the too-bright ceiling light. None of them had wanted to go in there,
and even just walking past the kitchen to the bathroom had been an adventure of heroic proportions. If the girl had been on
straight LSD, the flashing lights and noise of the street should have terrified her.
“So, what was wrong with
it?” asked Starsky.
“You said you only did
it once, and that it wasn’t great. What was wrong with it?”
“It was a lot of fun for
about six hours. We sat around and laughed at everything. But then it didn’t stop. I was tired and I wanted to go to
sleep, and I couldn’t! It just went on and on; the longest night of my life.” Hutch was embarrassed. “I
started worrying that I’d permanently messed up my brain chemistry.”
"Ouch," said Starsky, his sympathetic
response not entirely convincing.
Silence followed, but Hutch knew
better than to assume Starsky was done. Sure enough, a minute later, Starsky said, “So, Hutch –.”
The radio crackled, interrupting
him. The dispatcher announced a fire on Fisher Avenue,
requesting all available units in the area.
Starsky gulped the last of the
coffee in the cap, and slapped it back onto the thermos, ignoring the droplets that splashed onto his sleeve. “Hutch,
tell them we’re responding!”
asked Hutch, as he grabbed the mike.
“That’s my street!”
Starsky hit the siren as he accelerated away from the curb. “Tell them our ETA is about four minutes, and hold on tight!”
They arrived just behind the
first fire truck, the wailing of sirens almost drowning out Starsky’s muttered speculations. “Look, it’s
up at my end of the street. It must be one of my neighbors.”
The flashing red and blue lights
of the emergency vehicles set the shadows flickering into spastic motion, while the smell of wood smoke and burning plastic
lay heavy in the air. A sudden eruption of sparks shot up into the nighttime sky, sending an appreciative murmur rippled through
“That’s my house!”
Hutch flinched as Starsky’s
horrified yelp reverberated painfully in his left ear. He was still shaking his head when his partner jumped out of the squad
car, and dashed directly towards the burning building. Hutch scrambled after him.
Starsky collided with a firefighter.
The man reflexively grabbed him.
“That’s my house.”
Starsky sounded almost plaintive, as if he was hoping it might be some terrible misunderstanding after all.
“Sir,” said the firefighter,
calmly. “Stand back, please. You need to let us do our job.”
The shock in Starsky’s
eyes gave way to something sharper and he hurriedly stepped back. “Sorry,” he said. “Sorry... I’ll
Damn, he moves fast, thought Hutch, as Starsky abruptly bolted into the crowd. Seizing a long-haired man by
the shoulder, Starsky spun him around and grabbed the front of his Indian embroidered shirt. The man stumbled, almost losing
“What the hell happened
here?” Starsky demanded, his face inches from the smaller man’s nose.
“Whoa, man. I know what
you’re thinking. What a bummer, huh?”
Hutch quickly identified the
voice as belonging to Starsky’s landlord. Former landlord, it would seem, based on the flames currently arcing up into
the sky from the roof of the building. He glanced behind himself and saw the firemen working at unraveling a long hose from
the back of the truck.
Starsky repeated his question,
this time punctuating it with a shake that snapped Weezie’s head back.
Weezie grabbed ineffectually
at Starsky’s hands, and gasped, “It was bad karma!”
Hutch reached for Starsky, hesitating
a moment before touching him. He could almost feel the aggression radiating off of his partner. The man in his grip looked
terrified. “Starsky…” He wouldn’t really hurt him, would
Starsky didn’t appear to
hear him. “Bad karma?” His voice was disbelieving. Maintaining
his hold with one hand, he used the other to gesture behind himself, the sweep of his arm taking in the whole scene. “Why’s
my house on fire?”
“Starsky,” said Hutch,
more urgency in his voice.
“I told you!” shouted
Weezie. “It was bad karma!”
“I’ll tell ya what’s
bad karma,” snarled Starsky, pulling the smaller man to within an inch
of his nose. “Bad karma is what you get when you don’t answer my questions!”
This time Hutch did touch him,
laying his hand on his partner’s shoulder. “Starsky!”
A dark gaze flicked briefly his
way, and then Starsky abruptly released his hold on Weezie, pushing him back so that he stumbled and almost fell. “Put
him in the back of the cruiser, Hutch.” Pointing at Weezie, Starsky snapped, “I’m not done with you!”
Swiveling on his heel, Starsky
strode off, shouting, “Okay, everyone, move back; give the firefighters room to work.”
Glancing back, Hutch found Weezie
attempting to discreetly disappear. Snagging the back of his shirt, Hutch said, “No, you don’t!” He didn’t
know how Starsky had determined that Weezie was at fault, but he was willing to trust his partner’s instinct. For the
Weezie slumped in defeat and
allowed Hutch to drag him over to the patrol car. As Hutch placed his hand on the top of Weezie’s head to guide him
in the door, he noticed that the side of his face was reddened, and his eye appeared swollen. Squatting, Hutch gently took
hold of the man’s chin, turning it until his cheek was angled into the uncertain light. “Hey, who hit you?”
“It was bad karma,”
was the baffling reply.
There was little the firefighters
could do to save the old building. They focused their efforts on preserving the surrounding structures and preventing the
flames from spreading. Most of the block was evacuated, and it was quite some time before Starsky had a chance to stop and
appreciate the true scope of the disaster.
Everything was gone.
Sinking down on the curb, he
stared wretchedly at the blackened rubble that used to be his home. The crowd had long since dispersed along with most of
the emergency vehicles. A few firemen walked through the ruins, checking for hot spots, and looking for evidence with flashlights.
Starsky knew he had to make plans,
to start thinking of some way to begin piecing his life back together, but it was all too overwhelming. He didn’t have
insurance. He didn’t have a bed, or socks, or underwear. Even his toothbrush was gone. He’d never be able to replace
the photos of his dad, or the fly ball he’d caught at the last game they’d attended together. Starsky sniffed,
quietly, and wiped his nose on the back of his hand. All he had left now were the contents his locker down at the station
- a single change of clothes and an extra uniform.
And a nearly empty bank account.
It was possible Weezie had been too stoned to make it to the bank with his rent check, but with the way his luck was running
at the moment, he wouldn’t be taking any bets on that.
Aunt Rosie would be willing to
put him up, but she’d moved into that senior’s apartment residence last year, her home was the size of a shoebox,
and her couch was only about five feet long. Guess I’ll be living out of my
car for the next little while, thought Starsky.
Not far away he could hear his
partner talking to the fire chief. Starsky noticed that Hutch was smoking. The red glow of his cigarette was a tiny reflection
of the coals still glowing in the remains of his home.
“What have you got?”
“Small time pot grower,
had himself a hydroponics system going in his basement.” The chief nudged a blackened pot with his foot. “Can’t
say yet whether it was arson or accident. The wiring in that place was a mess. Looks like he rigged it up himself.”
Oh hell, thought Starsky. It
really was Weezie’s fault.
Starsky heard a moan from the
direction of the patrol car. He turned to see Weezie hanging out the window, as far as his one cuffed wrist would allow him,
staring at the pot with a look of grief on his face. “Oh, poor Treebeard, you never had a chance…”
Starsky thought he heard sympathy
in Hutch’s voice. He supposed it was something to do with being a fellow plant-owner. Even back when they’d been
living in the Academy barracks, Hutch had always had a scraggly little row of plants sitting on the windowsill.
The fire chief was less forgiving.
“Idiot! Messed with the wiring, and probably vented exhaust from the furnace, ramping up the humidity until the whole
house was black with mold.” He snorted. “This is the third one burnt down this month. It’s just a matter
of time until someone dies. And I’ll bet you it won’t be the dope-headed moron who’s running the operation,
“Third one this month?”
asked Starsky. “What was the cause of the other fires?”
The man shrugged impatiently.
“What wasn’t the cause? They were dives just like this one. Could
pinpoint half a dozen ways for them to go up, and I’d still be surprised that they lasted even as long as they did.”
He turned and left, his heavy boots sending clouds of ash into the air.
Starsky sighed and pushed himself
to his feet. Hutch was waiting for him by the squad car. He nodded at Starsky and dropped the butt of his cigarette, grinding
it into the pavement with his heel. Bending down slightly in order to see the man inside the squad car, Hutch asked, “What’s
your real name?”
Weezie heaved a huge sigh, and
turned sad eyes up at the two of them. “Leonard Wheeler. Hey man, you couldn’t see your way to letting me just
disappear, hop a train, make tracks?”
“Sorry, no can do,”
said Hutch, not unkindly. “Leonard Wheeler, you’re under arrest for the production of a controlled substance,
and other charges may be laid against you at a future time. You have the right to remain silent…”
Starsky leaned against the roof
of the car and thought about the fact that if he’d simply busted Weezie, he’d still have a place to live. Shoving
his hands into his pockets, he walked back to the remains of his home. He could smell the acrid scent of burnt plastic. The
stucco hadn’t held up well once the interior support beams had begun to burn.
After a moment, he realized that
Hutch had joined him.
“Thanks,” said Starsky,
Hutch shrugged, uncomfortably.
“I wish I didn’t have to.”
Starsky supposed it was hard
to work up much of a sense of accomplishment busting an eccentric little man with less than a dozen plants in his basement.
“Yeah. Weezie’s a nice guy... but what he was doing was stupid. The chief was right. Someone could have got killed
tonight, just because he turned that place into a firetrap. I should have…”
Cutting himself off, Starsky
gave his former home another mournful look. Losing everything seemed a harsh penalty to pay for overlooking just one little
pothead, but that was the way it had played out, and there was no changing things now. From now on, he was busting every dope
head he met, no ifs, ands, or buts.
Or butts, for that matter, thought
Starsky, eyeing the remains of Hutch’s cigarette.
Tobacco wasn’t the same
as pot, not by a long shot, but that didn’t mean he wanted to be partnered with a smoker for the next several years.
He’d had enough of breathing other people’s smoke. He’d had enough of smoke, period.
“So what have we got?”
Hutch pulled his notepad out
of his pocket and checked it over. “Well, the neighbors say they heard a fight about half an hour before the fire. Some
shouting, some banging. Three big guys left Weezie’s apartment, no solid description on them. From the look of him I’d
say he got smacked around a bit.” He paused.
“Do we have any kind of
motive?” asked Starsky. Weezie wasn’t worth venting his frustration on, but the guy who had broken in on him were
“I tried asking Weezie
about that, but…”
“Let me guess,” said
Starsky, sourly. “He said it was bad karma.”
“Yep.” Hutch rubbed
the back of his head, his uniform cap tipping forward into his eyes. “But he said something this morning... Maybe he owed money to someone.”
Starsky felt the blood drain
from his face. “What?” He’d
been three weeks late with his rent. Had that been money Weezie needed to pay
off his supplier?
“Or maybe another dealer
was trying to move in on his turf,” suggested Hutch.
“Turf?” Starsky couldn’t
believe Hutch was talking about his former landlord like he was a big time drug dealer. “Weezie didn’t have turf!
He had Treebeard, Quickbeam, Leaflock, Skinbark…” He paused, trying to tick them off on his fingers. “Um,
let’s see, what were the other ones? I think the girls had names like Wandlimb…”
Hutch blinked. “Starsky,
were you on a first name basis with Weezie’s plants?”
“No!” He crossed
his arms defensively.
Before Hutch could press the
issue, a new voice intruded into their conversation. “Excuse me?” They both turned to see a harried looking fireman
gripping an angry yellow cat in his thick leather gloves. “Which one of you is Dave?”
said Starsky, his forehead crumpling in puzzlement. “But that’s not my cat.”
The man inclined his head over
his shoulder, roughly in the direction of the patrol car. “He said I should give it to you.”
They looked back to see Weezie
once more hanging out the window of the car. “Dave, man!” he shouted. “You’ve got to take Frodo! He
can’t go to jail, he’s innocent. And he’s got no one else in the world but me!”
“Frodo?” asked Starsky,
eyeing the animal in the fireman’s gloved hands. It twisted suddenly and spat. He backed up a step.
“Don’t let him go
to the pound,” Weezie pleaded. “He hasn’t got the cute thing going for him no more. They’d give him
the death penalty, for sure.”
“Look, will you just take
this thing?” said the fireman impatiently. “I’ve got other stuff I need to be doing.”
“How am I supposed to take
it?” asked Starsky, holding his hands up in front of himself defensively. “I don’t have gloves like you
Hutch stepped forward. “Here,”
he said, pulling Starsky up beside him. “Grip the cat here, at the back of his neck. That’s right, take a good
large fistful of skin, just like a mama cat holding her kitten.”
The fireman began to let go,
and Hutch stopped him firmly. “Not yet! Starsky, wrap your other hand around his chest, so he’s resting most of
his weight there. And hold him so that all his claws are facing away from you.”
With a bit of coaching and a
few hands-on adjustments, Hutch managed to get the animal transferred from the fireman to Starsky with no blood spilled. The
cat kept up a fluent commentary in a tone of voice that was unmistakably rude, as it unsuccessfully tried to bring its hind
legs up to rake the hand that had it gripped firmly, if somewhat nervously, around its chest.
“There,” said Hutch,
with some satisfaction. “You are now the owner of the ugliest damn cat I’ve ever seen.” He leaned forward
slightly and took a closer look, careful not to get too close to the flailing claws. “Oh, and it looks like Frodo’s
Starsky examined the furious
cat, gingerly holding it out at arm’s length. He could feel the bones under the animal’s skin, and the ropy muscles
sliding in his hand. The cat had clearly been a little too close to the fire; it was covered with soot, and patches of his
fur were singed black. Its whiskers were mostly gone, except for a few tightly curled and kinked strands.
“Thanks a lot, Nature Boy,”
growled Starsky. “What the hell am I supposed to do with a cat? I don’t even have a place to live anymore!”
“Uh,” said Hutch.
It occurred to Starsky that his
partner seemed to know an awful lot about handling cats. “Hutch? Would you…?”
Hutch backed away, shaking his
head. “No. No way. Vanessa would kill me if I brought that thing home.”
Starsky turned on his heel and
marched back to the car, the cat still held out at arm’s length. “Weezie, I can’t keep your goddamn cat!”
“No man, that’s not
any way to make friends,” Weezie reached through the car window for the cat. Starsky hesitated a moment, and then shrugged
and deposited the angry animal in the other man’s lap. To his surprise, the cat didn’t rip his former landlord
to shreds. Instead it hunched down and stayed there, tail whipping furiously from side to side.
Weezie rubbed its back, saying,
“You got to get into his headspace, see? Be mellow; spread a little of that love around.”
“He’s a she,”
commented Hutch. Starsky and Weezie ignored him.
“He’s homeless now,”
said Weezie. “He didn’t do nothin’ to deserve this, man.”
Starsky shifted guiltily. He’d
never owned a cat. His father had been a dog person, and after he died, Starsky had lived with his aunt and uncle in Bay City. Anything with fur made his aunt sneeze, so there had been no
pets, except for a tragically short-lived goldfish he’d won at a school fair. On the other hand, Weezie was right. The
cat was innocent. It didn’t seem fair to turn the poor creature out onto the streets.
“I don’t know what
cats eat,” he said reluctantly.
“Cat food,” said
Hutch, just as Weezie in the same breath said, “Cheese.”
“What?” asked Starsky,
“Cheese, man,” said
Weezie. “Frodo likes cheese, and ham. Everything but the sandwich part, you know. Deli pickles make him a little crazy,
though, so don’t give him too many.”
“No wonder that cat’s
so skinny,” said Hutch, sounding pained.
Starsky decided that the animal
had to be nicer than it looked, if it wasn’t savaging Weezie. He gingerly reached into the car window, intending to
take it back. As Starsky’s hand came within reach, the cat grabbed his sleeve, applying needle sharp claws to the task
of scrambling up the entire length of his arm. Starsky lurched backward with a shout and grabbed it by the tail just as it
dove over his shoulder. Ten little daggers sank into his shoulder blade.
“Ow, ow, ow! Get it offa
Laughing, Hutch carefully disentangled
each of the small claws from Starsky’s uniform shirt. The cat finally settled into Starsky’s arms, sides heaving,
ears still flattened to its narrow skull. Hutch shook his head, “Starsky, that is one ugly cat.”
Starsky looked down at the cat.
It swore at him again, just once, a low drawn-out imprecation from somewhere deep within its chest. Underneath all the soot
and singed bits of fur was a cat that might have been handsome once, if a little on the underfed side. It was blond, long-limbed
and definitely a fighter.
“I dunno, Hutch. He kind
of reminds me of you.”
had been a time when Nancy had made a point of cooking dinner every night. During the early months of their marriage,
before she’d changed her name to Vanessa, she had even tried her hand at making bread, an enterprise that ended with
a jar of nasty-smelling stuff the book assured her was ‘sourdough starter’. She threw it out. Ironing ended after
the third burnt shirt, and she decided not to try darning any socks. The way
her luck went, she’d end up putting the needle though her eye.
the perfect wife might have been easier if Hutch been the perfect husband, working a respectable job and arriving home at
a predictable hour every night. But, on the rare occasion she took the time to think about it, she had to admit that her flirtation
with domesticity was likely doomed to be brief, whatever the case. Nancy
had been a girl who needed a hero, but then she grew up and became a woman who could stand on her own two feet. She was much
happier being Vanessa, and immersing herself in the complex social maneuverings of the fashion and modeling scene, making
contacts and brokering deals.
was not the sort of woman who appreciated it when her husband was four hours past due, and hadn’t bothered to call.
It worried her, and worry made her irritable. By the time she heard him come in, she was well beyond feeling glad to see him.
you should have warned me you were going to be late…” Vanessa swept into the living room, halting as she realized
that there was a third person present, standing two steps behind her husband. Unembarrassed by her current state of near-undress,
she propped one hand on her hip and accorded this person a coolly assessing gaze.
she wouldn’t have thought it possible, Dave was looking even scruffier than usual. He was wearing tattered jeans, five
years out of style, a plaid flannel shirt with a frayed collar, and a faded green army jacket. Clutched in his arms was something
she presumed had to be a cat, though it looked like nothing so much as a skinny yellow rat.
Her tone was impeccably polite.
shoulders tightened defensively, but before he could reply, Vanessa turned to Hutch and said, “Darling, you never told
me we were having company over. I would have dressed.”
quirked one eyebrow ironically, privately amused at the notion of Dave being ‘company’. She was pleased to see
a slight flush creep into Ken’s cheeks. Dave’s expression, however, remained closed.
Never mind, Vanessa consoled herself. It’s
not as if his opinion counts for anything, anyway.
house burned down tonight,” explained Hutch.
how terrible!” said Vanessa.
told him he could stay with us,” said Ken, “until he finds another place.” His voice was matter-of-fact,
warning her that this particular decision was not up for debate.
pursed her lips together, and then said, a shade too sweetly, “Ken, honey, we need to talk.” The mask slipped
for a moment and there was clear irritation in her last word. “Alone.”
grip on the cat tightened, and it squirmed, protesting. He backed up a step towards the door, his legs colliding with the
corner of the black leather couch. “Look, Hutch. I don’t wanna impose. I’ll see ya at work tomorrow.”
line between Hutch’s eyes deepened, and his mouth tightened, the corners drawing down. “Starsky,
sit!” His finger jabbed emphatically at the couch.
automatically sat. Wide eyed, he looked up to protest, but Hutch cut him off. “Don’t move! You’re staying
Hutch grabbed Vanessa’s elbow and pulled her into the next room.
exhaled wearily and slumped down into the cushions of the couch, absently petting the discontented Frodo. He should have refused
to accept Hutch’s offer of a place to stay, but Hutch had insisted, and he didn’t have very many other options
at the moment.
respect to the situation, he allowed himself a brief wallow in self-pity, and then gave himself a mental shake, determined
to try to look on the bright side of things. What did he have? A good job, a nice car, a bright shiny new partner…
That was a lot, wasn’t it?
could hear his mother in the back of his mind, telling him, Your Grandpapa Perchik
arrived in this country with only the clothes on his back and sixty-seven cents in his pocket!
Yeah, it was a lot.
much determined wiggling, Frodo finally freed a long arm and reached out, snagging a single claw in the leather upholstery
of the sofa. Starsky carefully released it and tried to rub away the small hole. “Hey, quit it.” The cat ignored
him, and twisted, struggling to extricate himself from his grasp. Picking him up, Starsky held him so that they were face
to face. “Behave yerself,” he growled. “We’re guests here!”
small pink mouth opened wide in a hiss, baring yellowed fangs, as Frodo let him know exactly what it thought of that idea.
is not going to work.” Vanessa propped both of her hands on her hips and scowled up at Hutch.
glared back at her. “It’s going to have to work. He’s staying and that’s the end of it.”
not the kind of woman who gave up easily. It was a trait he normally admired in her. “Did you see that creature of his?”
she asked, waving her hand in the direction of the living room. “Where did he get it from, the bottom of a dumpster?”
Her expression changed to horror. “What if it starts clawing the furniture? What if it attacks someone? Ken, have you
forgotten? We’re hosting a cocktail party tomorrow night. These are some very important people in the fashion industry.
It’s critical that we make a good impression!”
party. Vanessa had been planning it for weeks, and she was right – Starsky would fit in about as well as a crow in the
middle of a flock of finches. Still, that wasn’t reason enough to put him out on his ear.
rubbed his palms against the legs of his slacks, and looked away. Van was standing too close, and he had to purposely restrain
himself from taking a step backwards. He thought about sitting down on the edge of the bed, but then decided against it. Any
appearance of weakness or indecision would only drag this out longer. “He’s my partner, Van, and he just lost
everything he owns.”
laughed at the absurdity of that statement. “Surely Dave didn’t own anything of value. So what if he’s lost
a few car magazines? He’ll land on his feet, his sort always does.”
I’m your wife.” Vanessa grabbed his forearm, her expression shifting to vulnerability, her eyes dampening. “Ken,
I’m really nervous about this party. I want everything to be perfect. Why can’t he just go stay in a motel? I’m
not trying to be mean, but I’ve put a lot of effort into trying to get things ready. I want to make a good impression.”
unspoken accusation lay between them. I’m only living in this crummy little
loft apartment because you decided to go and become a cop, and now we can’t afford anything better.
can’t afford to put him up in a motel,” said Hutch. “But I doubt Starsky wants to stick around for your
cocktail party, either. How about if he and I go out for some beers or something while it’s on?”
she exclaimed. “But I need you!”
you don’t.” Parties like this always made Hutch feel like part of the scenery. When he was a child it had been,
here, meet my talented son, doesn’t he reflect well on me? With Vanessa
it was a variant of the same thing. Look, here’s my handsome husband, doesn’t
he look good on my arm?
Maybe he was just tired of playing along. He remembered the first time he’d
realized that it was all just a game, a big social dance with rules that
had to be followed impeccably. Say this and do that, drink just so much and never more; empty compliments and emptier promises.
He’d tried to tell his mother about it, only to be met with horror and her insistence that it was all completely genuine.
you are not leaving me to face all of these people alone! I couldn’t bear it.” Vanessa sounded truly frightened.
grimaced. Reared to the role, he couldn’t help but capitulate. “All right, I’m sorry. I’ll be there.”
A gentleman never makes a lady cry.
me this is going to work out,” said Vanessa, pleading.
party?” asked Hutch. “It’ll be a hit. They’ll love you.” Who
couldn’t love Van? The guilt tugged at him, reminding him again that Vanessa had married him believing that he
was an up and coming law student, following in his very successful father’s footsteps. He hadn’t intended to lie
I mean this job move of yours.” She stepped back now, throwing her hands up into the air in a dramatic motion. “Policing
downtown – it’s so dangerous. You’ll be dealing with drug pushers and pimps and all sorts of violent, crude
people. It’s not our kind of environment. I don’t understand why you want to immerse yourself in all that ugliness.”
the fear he heard in her voice as loving concern, and wanting to reassure her, he said, “There’s more opportunity
for advancement. I’ll be able to make detective sooner, if I have a couple years downtown under my belt.”
said Vanessa, dubiously.
Hutch returned to his original position. “Starsky gets the couch.”
tossed her head, condescending. “You’ve always been a soft touch, Ken. You never could turn down a stray. You
and your causes.”
needed her to stop talking, before he said something in reply that he would regret. Taking her shoulders, he pulled her close,
and pressed his mouth to hers, effectively cutting her off mid-sentence. She returned the kiss, moving closer, her body molding
tongue parted his lips, and he could feel a competitive tension in her, resisting him, forcing him to meet her need, to give
instead of take. He loved her. He just wished he could stop disappointing her.
shout from the living room caused them both to freeze. “Frodo, get back here!”
winced, and pulled back. There was a look of horror on Vanessa’s face. “If that creature is destroying my rug!”
waved a calming hand at her. “Let’s just check it out, okay?”
the living room they found that Starsky lying on his stomach with his blue sneakers in the air and his head down at carpet
level, peering into the shadows underneath the couch.
he went under there, and he won’t come out!”
himself onto all fours, Hutch placed his head next to Starsky’s and took a look under the couch. A pair of luminescent
eyes glared at him from the shadows. Sitting back up on his heels, Hutch said, “Frodo’s just scared, Starsky.”
better not be doing anything nasty under there!” said Vanessa, sharply.
let himself slide down to the carpet, twisting so that he landed on his shoulders. “Hutch?” he asked. “How
do you know if a cat needs to, um, go out? Do they scratch at the door, or something?”
can’t put it outside. It’ll just try and find its way home again, and probably get hit by a car on the way.”
pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to think. Despite Starsky’s high opinion of his abilities as a cat wrangler,
his only experience with them was on his grandfather’s farm in Duluth.
The half-wild barn cats had been a pretty self-sufficient bunch.
idea suddenly occurred to him and he jumped to his feet. “Hang on,” he said to his puzzled partner, and he headed
to the kitchen. He pulled open the drawer underneath the stove with a noisy metallic clatter, and found what he was looking
for underneath a stack of pans.
what are you doing?” Vanessa had followed him into the kitchen. She frowned at the sight of her husband brandishing
the turkey pan.
putting together a litter box for Starsky’s cat,” Hutch said. He shoved the drawer shut with his foot and placed
the pan down on the counter.
house is going to smell like a barn!” protested Vanessa.
briefly recalled the sweet musty smell of hay bales, and then shook his head, dismissing the old memory. “Lots of people
keep cats inside. I’ll get some scented litter tomorrow.”
was a cupboard by the back door. Inside he found what he was looking for, and pulled it out. Using the bread knife to cut
through the thick plastic, he upended the bag of potting soil into the turkey pan.
“You’re going to buy me a new pan,” said Vanessa, disgusted.
course,” said Hutch. He spread the soil evenly in the pan and then stepped back to admire his work.
if that animal tracks dirt all over my carpets?”
put the pan back here in the kitchen,” said Hutch in his most reasonable tone. “If the cat kicks any dirt out,
we’ll be able to clean it up easily.”
our food?” Vanessa’s voice rose.
simply looked at her, his jaw tightening stubbornly.
can’t you see how ridiculous this is?” asked Vanessa. “Yes, it’s true that lots of people have indoor
cats. But they own Siamese and Persians and animals with papers and pedigrees. They don’t have…” She wrinkled
her nose, her mouth pursing into a moue of disapproval. “Alley cats. What if it decides to start spraying everywhere?”
not going to spray,” said Hutch, levelly. “It’s a female cat.”
a girl?” asked Starsky. Hutch glanced over to see him standing in the doorway, his arms crossed over his chest.
about Starsky struck Hutch as odd, and it took him a second to put his finger on it. Starsky was normally in constant motion,
always touching things - and people - his feet tapping and his hands talking expressively. But at this moment he was absolutely
still, contained entirely within himself.
He’s not comfortable here, thought Hutch, feeling a pang. Aloud he said, “Yeah,
I’ve been trying to tell you that for a while now.”
Starsky looked at the pan on the table. “How’s Frodo going to know what to do with that?”
could…” Hutch paused. “…introduce them.”
going to bed!” announced Vanessa with a toss of her head, long brown hair flying. She waited a moment, clearly expecting
ignored her. He wasn’t in the mood to play any more of her games tonight.
asked, hopefully, “Do you have any ham or cheese?”
an hour later, Starsky was back in the living room with a blanket, a pillow, and several slices of ham on a plate. As Hutch
pushed open the door to the bedroom he could hear his partner in the background continuing to try to lure the cat out from
under the couch. “Fro-do… Frieda…?” The slightly muffled quality of Starsky’s voice suggested
that he was eating a good portion of the cat’s dinner himself.
mild amusement Hutch felt at that vanished as he saw his wife.
was sitting up in bed with her arms crossed and storm clouds in her eyes. Hutch sighed. “Van, I’m sorry. I know
you weren’t expecting this tonight…” He unbuckled his belt and sat down on the edge of the bed, sliding
his slacks down his hips. It was after two in the morning and he was tired. All he wanted to do was go to sleep, and forget
about guilt and broken promises for a few hours.
laugh was brittle, and sharp-edged. “You’re right. I wasn’t expecting it!”
he didn’t respond, Vanessa slid closer, her arms wrapping around him from behind, and her long elegant fingers on his
I love you anyway,” she said, more gently. “You’re always trying to save the world, aren’t you?”
tensed. All he wanted to do was sleep, yet despite himself he was responding to her touch. His stomach rumbled, nervously,
and he felt her laugh silently.
hungry.” Vanessa’s breath touched his ear.
had no desire for food at the moment, but he was willing to go along with the fiction. “It was a busy night.”
are leftovers in the fridge,” suggested Vanessa, a single gleaming fingernail tracing a path down his abdomen, daring
him to get up and walk away.
a groan he fell backward onto the bed, pulling her down with him. Carefully, he nipped her shoulder, and said, “This
threw a leg across his body and murmured, “Chief of Police Hutchinson,”
in his ear. He knew she was teasing, but for a moment his desire cooled. Then she moved her hips against his, the cotton of
his shorts creating warm friction between them, and he forgot all about his guilt.
television came on in the living room.
felt Van freeze. Oh no, he thought. No, no, not now. He reached down, under the waistband of her silk underwear, hoping to
shoved herself away from him, saying coldly, “I can’t do this.”
tried to hold onto her, but she firmly extricated herself and slid back under the covers on her side of the bed. “I
can’t do this,” she said again, firmly. “Not with him out
jumped to his feet, and came very close to doing exactly what he knew she wanted. He almost marched out into the living room
and told Starsky to hit the street, so he could screw his wife. His groin throbbed with frustrated desire.
leaned his forehead against the wall and took a deep breath. Then he straightened, combed his fingers through his hair, and
said in a strained voice, “I’ll ask him to turn it down. Okay?”
shrugged, clearly disappointed, but just as clearly not willing to discuss it any further.
to the living room, Hutch found Starsky seated comfortably on the couch with a ham sandwich in his hand and a glass of water
by his elbow, completely absorbed with the flickering screen of the television set.
watched as Starsky tore a tiny piece off of his sandwich and leaned forward to hold it down near the carpet. A paw emerged
from under the couch and swiped at his fingers, forcing him to drop the morsel. A moment later a narrow head emerged from
under the couch to swiftly grab the food before vanishing again.
spotted him in the doorway. “Hi, Hutch! I made you a sandwich, too.”
thanks,” said Hutch with as much enthusiasm as he could muster. He looked at the TV. “What’s on?”
smile increased to a brilliant intensity. “High Noon!”
Abruptly Hutch was nine again, sitting in a darkened theatre with his grandfather. Shoving Starsky over a few inches he sat
down next to him. A low, rumbling growl issued from beneath the couch, and he slid his ankles out a few inches, just by way
watched in silence for a few minutes, and then as the movie paused, and Mr. Clean rescued yet another hapless housewife, Hutch
asked, “Hey, Starsky?”
you become a cop?”
wanted to help people.” His tone made it clear that he thought the answer ought to be obvious. Giving Hutch half a smile,
he asked, “You?”
looked down at his hands, considering his answer. Before he could decide what to say, Vanessa’s called from the bedroom,
“Ken? Are you coming to bed?”
looked at the television set, and then at Starsky. The irritation in his wife’s voice was clear. Pushing himself up
off of the sofa, he said, apologetically, “Another time, okay?”
sure.” Starsky gave him another lopsided grin, and Hutch was relieved to see nothing of either judgment or accusation
in his eyes.
At least one person in the house wasn’t unhappy with him.
Hutch made breakfast. He didn’t
want to consider what Vanessa would do to the eggs if he suggested she make them. The silence in the kitchen was excruciating.
Every small sound, each clatter of the pan and scrape of the spatula, was heightened to painful intensity. Starsky sat at
the table staring at his hands as if fascinated by his own knuckles, while Vanessa read the latest issue of Vogue, snapping
each page as she turned it.
Hutch considered pointing out
that the vomit stain the cat had left on the rug was really only noticeable if you were looking at it in a bright light, and
from the correct angle. He took a deep breath, opened his mouth to speak, and then discovered that his vocal cords didn’t
seem to be working. The hostility in the room was too oppressive. Feeling very much like a coward, he quietly stirred the
eggs in the pan and watched them congeal into yellow lumps.
When they were done to his satisfaction,
Hutch carefully divided them between the three plates on the counter and added an equal number of bacon slices to each one.
He gave the first plate to his wife.
Unfortunately, at that moment,
Frodo slunk into the kitchen.
An expression of disgust crossed
Vanessa’s face and she abruptly pushed her plate away and stood up. “I’ve lost my appetite,” she said,
as she left the room.
Hutch made no attempt to follow
her. He’d already tried to make things better, to reason and to explain, and he just didn’t have it in him to
try any more this morning. Leaning forward, he braced one hand on the counter, closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his
nose. Aspirin couldn’t even begin to touch this headache.
Behind him, he heard Starsky
clear his throat, but he didn’t look up. Another long minute passed, and then Starsky said, “Hey, you wanna split
This was not at all what Hutch
had been expecting to hear. He’d been anticipating sympathy, condemnation, or, worst of all, some comment on Van’s
behavior that would force him to have to say something in her defense. He had not been expecting a perfectly ordinary question
regarding the disposition of breakfast. Surprised, he looked first at Starsky and then at the three plates cooling on the
Frodo had climbed up onto the
empty chair and was now standing on her hind legs, looking over the edge of the table.
She extended a curious paw towards Vanessa’s abandoned breakfast. Starsky
grabbed the plate and moved it out of the cat’s reach. The hungry expression on Starsky’s face almost exactly
mirrored that of the cat.
A laugh bubbled up inside of
Hutch. He pressed his lips together, stubbornly preventing its escape. Shoving his chair back, he thumped down into it. Grabbing
Vanessa’s plate, he shoved the entire thing across the table to Starsky.
“Go ahead.” Hutch
picked up his fork and attacked his own breakfast with grim determination.
He could feel Starsky’s
eyes on him, but after a moment the intensity of that gaze shifted away and he heard his partner’s fork scraping the
plate. A soft chucking sound, followed by the brush of the cat’s body past his feet informed him that Starsky was no
doubt feeding Frodo from his plate.
He could only pray it was the
bacon he was giving her, and not the eggs.
The wreckage that had once been
Starsky’s home had this much in common with the cat: it was not improved by viewing in the light of day.
The walls stuck up like broken
teeth around the rubble. Starsky hunched his shoulders and felt the collar of his jacket scrape against his cheek. He’d
told Hutch he was stepping out to buy a new razor, but the real reason was that he’d needed to come back one more time.
The guts of the building lay
strewn across the ground, spilling down to the sidewalk. Bypassing the yellow tape and barricades, he picked his way over
them, keeping an eye open for broken glass or metal sharp enough to slice through the soles of his sneakers.
“Man, that’s a bummer,
Starsky was startled. Preoccupied
with his own dark thoughts, he hadn’t noticed the person standing a few feet away, looking at him curiously. Straightening,
Starsky shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket and examined the stranger through narrowed eyes.
He was a skinny man with long
brown hair, wearing a striped Patagonian shirt, with corduroy panels flaring out the legs of his jeans. Starsky vaguely recognized
him as a frequent visitor to Weezie’s house. His name… Starsky shuffled through his memory. He had tried to keep
track of the people who came and went from his landlord’s house. Weezie had called this one Dougie.
Starsky doubted that Dougie recognized
him. The man was regarding him with nothing more than a sort of vague interest.
Briefly considering the myriad
possible answers to the man’s original observation, Starsky settled on simple agreement. “Yeah.”
Dougie squinted at him. “Did
you hang with Weezie?”
Now, that was an interesting
question. Starsky recalled Hutch’s comment; that the thugs who beat up Weezie were trying to take over his turf. He
still didn’t think it made much sense, but it was true that his former landlord was the third little grower to go up
in flames in recent weeks and it was a stretch to believe it was all just due to faulty wiring.
Or late rent checks, leading
to the growers all defaulting on their loans.
Pushing aside any question of
guilt, Starsky slipped into an old persona. Not Starsky, the straight arrow cop, or even David, the tired, cynical vet. This
was Davy; the guy from New
York whose accent had only thickened after moving to Bay City.
The guy you didn’t mess with, because he was Trouble with a capital T.
Carelessly, he said, “We
did some business, that’s all.” He kicked at the rubble in front of him and thought he saw something familiar.
have blown them off,” said Dougie. “Everyone knows it’s nothing but bad karma these days. He should have paid his operator’s fee.”
“What d’ya mean?”
asked Starsky, trying not to reveal how jolted he’d been at the mention of those two words. Weezie had mentioned ‘bad
karma’ several times the previous night. He felt the germ of an idea beginning to form in the back of his mind.
Dougie backed up a step, shaking
his head. “If you don’t know, then you ain’t part of the scene.” A worried look crossed his face.
“What are you? A narc?”
Starsky got right up into the
guy’s face at that one, letting him see all of the anger he’d been storing up since his place had gone up in flames.
“Do I look like a goddamn narc?” He threw up his hands and stepped back. “Geez, ya ask a simple question…”
“All right! I’m sorry.”
But Dougie’s apology was shaky and there was still suspicion in his eyes. “Everyone around here knows about bad
Except when Dougie said ‘bad
karma’, it sounded like ‘Bad Karma’ with capital letters.
Starsky kicked a chunk of concrete,
raising a cloud of dust and sending it flying into a wall nearby. Once again his eyes briefly tracked over the shape half
buried in the ground nearby. A flicker of hope ignited inside, and it was almost a physical effort to drag himself back to
the task at hand. “Maybe I’m not from around here, didya think of that?”
He could see the evidence turning
around in the Dougie’s head. He was putting together the accent with the attitude, and coming up with a reason to believe
Starsky. Finally, he said, “You need to go talk to Sister Charity. She’ll get your head on right.”
“What?” asked Starsky,
truly puzzled. “You tellin’ me to get religion?” His eyebrows drew together. Maybe this had been a dead-end
“I’m just sayin’
you need help, man.”
Dougie was backing away now,
clearly unwilling to say anything more. Starsky let him go. Never mind this Sister Charity, whoever she was. He knew there
was at least one person on the street who would talk to him, so long as he could come up with the right questions to ask.
He stood still for a few minutes,
turning things over in his mind. Bad Karma. A slang phrase meaning bad luck? Or a gang? Or a person?
A small avalanche of rubble dislodged
above his head, the gravel bouncing off of his legs. He looked up to see some kids trying to climb up onto the ruins of the
wall behind him. There were three of them, maybe twelve or thirteen years old at most, two black and one white, their jeans
covered with grime and soot from scrambling around in the ruins.
“What’re you doing
up there?” he shouted.
A fuzzy headed kid grinned down
at him. “We thought we’d see if any of the weed survived…”
“Get out’a here!”
Laughing, they jumped down and
ran off. The white one, dark haired and scruffy, stopped at the edge of the sidewalk long enough to shout, “You could
use a little of the mellow stuff yourself, mister!”
Starsky shook his head. Dumb
kids. He could remember doing the same thing himself, with his friends and at that age, but he also easily recalled the rusty
nail he’d jammed up into his foot through the thin sole of his sneaker, and the very large needle the nurse had used
to give him his tetanus shot afterwards.
Bending down to brush the dirt
off of his jeans, he recalled the object that he’d thought he’d seen buried in the rubble earlier. Kneeling, and
trying not to hope too much, he carefully moved a half burnt piece of board aside.
Starsky had to blink rapidly
for a moment. When his vision had cleared, he picked up the scorched baseball.
He rubbed it against his shirt, brushing the dirt off.
He tossed the ball up into the
air and caught it easily. It occurred to him that it was interesting how life seemed to keep bringing him around again, back
to where he’d started from. When he’d first arrived in Bay City,
resentful and scared, missing his old gang somewhat and his father much more, he’d had nothing to call his own except
a suitcase of clothes and this baseball.
The ball sat in his hand with
a comfortable familiarity that was in no way lessened by the dirt and soot on the worn leather, or the slight fraying of the
stitching on one side. He threw the ball sideways, feeling it smack into his right palm, remembering a time when he was going
to be a major league baseball player; a left-handed pitcher like Spahnie. He could still feel his father’s hands, wrapped
around his chest, lifting him up into the air to catch the fly ball.
Boyish dreams, cut short by the
bullet that had killed his father only a handful of days later. And then there had followed those long ugly years during which
dreams had seemed something for chumps and losers, and life had meant nothing more than grabbing whatever you could for yourself.
No love, and no loyalty, but still he’d kept the baseball.
Now he threw the ball up into
the air and caught it again, feeling that perhaps fate was smiling on him after all. As if in agreement, the sun broke out
briefly from behind a cloud and he grinned at it. It was time to run down the bad guys. Time to find out what, or who, Bad
Karma was. It was time to go get Hutch.
Hutch discovered a block of half-melted
butter behind a stack of dishes on the counter. He parked his cigarette in the ashtray before retrieving the butter. Leaving
the water running in the sink, he crossed the kitchen to the fridge.
Frodo stuck her head inside the
refrigerator when he opened the door.
“Hey, you,” said
Hutch. “Get out of there!”
The cat placed her paws on the
vegetable crisper, tilted her head back, and gave him a questioning, “Rrow?”
“Don’t you give me
any of your lip!”
“Oh, all right.”
Reaching past the cat, Hutch snagged the cheese. Crumbling a corner off of it, he tossed it onto the floor behind her.
The cat immediately twisted around
to catch it, and Hutch laughed as she inadvertently batted the morsel into a corner. She charged and pounced on it fiercely.
Hutch said. “You make darn sure that cheese is dead before you eat it.” Replacing the cheese in the fridge, he
added, “You never know when one of those things might jump up and bite you right in the nose.”
Retrieving his cigarette, Hutch
turned back to the now full sink. Turning off the tap, he fished a glass out of the soapy water.
His good humor faded as he paused,
the glass in his hand, staring at the thin soap membrane stretched across the rim like a drum skin The sunlight slanting into
the kitchen caught the shifting rainbows in the bubble, but his attention was on the unstable spot without reflection in the
center. He watched, bemused, as the emptiness grew larger and the rainbows were pushed to the edges. Inevitably, the delicate
equilibrium was lost and the bubble burst.
Hutch let the glass slide into
the soapy water. He knew he was avoiding Vanessa, but he just didn’t want to deal with her at the moment. All he needed
to do was get through the day without a major blow-up. Vanessa’s party would be a success, she would relax finally,
and the balance that made their marriage work would return.
It takes two to fight, he reminded
himself. Vanessa was under a lot of stress, so it was up to him to be the mature one.
Hutch heard a clatter on the
back steps and turned just as Starsky burst in the door at the rear of the kitchen. Starsky nearly stepped into the cat pan
in his haste and hopped several steps on one foot. Frodo fled.
Hutch stubbed his cigarette out
and patted his hands dry on his pants. “Starsky, what…?”
“C’mon, Hutch. Get
your rear in gear. I’ve got someone I want you to meet – investigatively speaking, ya know? We’ve got to
find out who’s been driving guys like Weezie out of business, and the day’s getting old.” Starsky was talking
too fast. The energy poured from him in almost palpable waves.
Hutch fished his pocket watch
out of his jeans and checked the time. “Our shift doesn’t start for another two hours.” He eyed Starsky
dubiously. It was debatable whether Starsky would be presentable by then in any case.
His partner stood in the doorway,
shifting impatiently from foot to foot. His hands were black with dirt, and he had a smudge across one unshaven cheek, but
he seemed oblivious to that as he repeatedly tossed a grimy baseball up into the air and caught it. He was alternating hands,
and Hutch was strongly tempted to offer him two more objects so he could juggle properly.
“He won’t talk to
us if we’re in uniform,” said Starsky, his attitude suggesting that Hutch ought to know exactly who he was talking
about. “It’d be bad for his image, ya know?”
Hutch could feel a smile tugging
at the corners of his mouth. It would be good to get out of the house for awhile, and away from Vanessa’s hostility.
He had no idea what had happened to Starsky that morning to put him in such an upbeat frame of mind, but his current mood
Before that however… Grabbing
a handful of suds from the sink, Hutch threw them at his friend’s face.
Starsky ducked too late. “Hey!”
“Wash up. You’re
a mess. What’d you do, go back to your old place?” Where else could he have gotten so filthy in such a short period
Wiping the soap from his eyes,
and unconsciously leaving behind another smear of ashy mud, Starsky said, “I had to see if anything made it.”
He looked at the baseball in his hands, smiled, and then suddenly pitched it into the basin. Soapy water splashed up in a
fountain, drenching Hutch.
There was silence in the kitchen
as Hutch glared at him, blond hair dripping down his forehead, and soap suds melting into a puddle around his feet. Starsky
started to look worried. Then Hutch’s hand emerged abruptly from the water in the sink and the contents of an entire
glass of water hit Starsky in the face. Startled, he jumped backwards and collided with the table. His feet skidded on the
wet tiles and he went down hard on his rear end.
Hutch dropped the glass back
into the water and began laughing. Starsky squinted up at him, and Hutch thought he caught a flash of anger in his eyes before
just he grinned sheepishly.
Reaching up, Starsky said, “Give
me a hand, will ya?”
Still chuckling, Hutch reached
for him. Starsky grasped his forearm. Just as Hutch leaned back to pull him up, Starsky made a sudden grab for Hutch’s
Hutch, anticipating the move,
stepped back and Starsky missed, his fingers just barely brushing Hutch’s cords as he fell forward. Off balance, Starsky
had no time to recover before Hutch ducked over his shoulder, grabbed his wrist and yanked hard. Starsky’s sneakers
skidded on the wet floor and his shoulder slammed into the cupboard.
Before Starsky could react, Hutch
seized his leg and tossed him over onto his back, landing on his chest with a thump that drove the air right out of him.
Starsky spluttered. “Get
off’a me!” He tried to roll over, but Hutch had hooked a leg behind his knee and he had his arm twisted through
“Give up?” asked
Hutch, again, smirking. “You should know better. I used to wrestle…”
“In college! I know, goddamnit!”
The sound of Ken’s laughter
drew Vanessa towards the kitchen. She was curious, but also a little resentful of the fact that Ken was having a good time
without her. He was supposed to be unhappy that she wasn’t talking to him, not horsing around with that lout, Dave.
The sight that met her eyes as she came around the corner was more than enough to give her pause.
She cleared her throat pointedly,
and watched as both of their heads twisted around to stare at her with matching expressions of surprise on their faces. Then
they looked back at each other and seemed to realize for the first time just how compromising their position appeared. With
an awkward scramble of limbs they disengaged and scrambled up onto their feet, Starsky steadying Hutch when his feet threatened
to slide out from under him on a particularly slippery patch of tile.
She didn’t need words.
The glare she gave them said it all, and she felt a minor amount of satisfaction at the deflated, embarrassed expression on
Then she looked over at Dave
and found him looking at her with the same opaque expression he’d had the previous night.
Turned on her heel, Vanessa left
the room, baffled by the conflicted emotions she was feeling. Ken was her husband. He loved her, and he’d do anything
for her. But he never laughed like that when he was with her, and the thought made her unhappy. Somehow she’d been cast
into the role of the bad guy in this story, and she didn’t like it.
She was a fun person. A good
Before she could work out the
complexities of the situation, an ominous noise caught her attention. A scratching, tearing sound. She turned just in time
to see Starsky’s cat sink his claws into the arm of her expensive leather sofa.
Hutch hadn’t had anything
in particular in mind when Starsky had told him that he wanted him to meet a friend of his, but if he had, it wouldn’t
have included being driven up one back alley and down another in his partner’s lemon-yellow car while Starsky leaned
out the window asking various disreputable looking members of the populace if they’d “seen the bear?”
“The Bear” turned
out to be a bone thin black man in a bright paisley shirt, velvet flares and Cuban heels, loitering in front of a brownstone
tenement with three girls whose state of near un-dress probably violated several local ordinances. He’d greeted Starsky
with enthusiasm, but had turned a jaundiced eye on Hutch. Starsky had given Hutch a quick apologetic glance, wordlessly assuring
him that he’d be back in a moment, before following his friend across the street, where they could talk without being
That left Hutch to the not-so-sweet
mercies of the girls, who introduced themselves between giggles as “Alice”, “Rolanda” and “Tiffany”. Hutch doubted whether he’d find any of these names on their driver’s licenses.
“Could I be so bold,”
sweetly, “and ask why a nice young man like you decides to become a policeman?”
“Is it for the power?”
asked Rolanda. “Do you like pushing people up against the wall and telling them to... spread ‘em?”
“I think it’s for
the pretty uniforms,” said Tiffany, innocently.
Hutch took a deep breath and
plastered a determined smile on his face. “Yesterday I helped an old lady cross the street, found a lost little girl,
and rescued a cat.”
The girls squealed delightedly.
“Man, I’m surprised
these streets ain’t eaten him alive already. What did you do? Peel him off the recruiting poster for the lily-white
Huggy Bear eyed the conservatively
dressed blond man across the street again, trying to see what it was that Starsky saw in him. The girls certainly liked him
well enough, but in a ‘fresh meat’ sort of way. He was backed up against the passenger side door of Starsky’s
car, trying to be polite to the young women who were closing in on him like piranha. Their teeth flashed white, and once more
Huggy wondered how it was that anyone could imagine these girls needed protection on the mean streets. They were downright
“Huggy, give him a chance,”
pled Starsky. “Hutch is my partner…” He trailed off, realizing that this statement was in no way likely
to impress Huggy. His last partner had been less than understanding where the Bear had been concerned, and there had been
several unpleasant confrontations. “And I asked for him. He’s my friend, Hug.” Starsky tipped his head to
the side and grinned. “So go ahead, I dare ya. Tell me I don’t have good taste in friends.”
Given all the times he’d
defended his friendship with Huggy to outsiders, this at least ought to be worth something. He waited as Huggy’s mobile
face clearly reflected the silent debate he was having with himself.
Finally, Huggy said, “You,
sir, have excellent taste in friends, at least insofar as the Bear is concerned.”
Starsky relaxed slightly, but
Huggy wasn’t finished yet.
“What I question is whether
you’ve done that poor dude any kinda favor by taking him out of his natural habitat.”
“What do you mean?”
asked Starsky, puzzled.
“Every creature on this
planet has its proper environment, wherein it can flourish and grow as Allah intended.” Huggy nodded over at Hutch,
and Starsky followed his gaze. “That boy there looks about as comfortable as a cottontail bunny on the center line of
Starsky winced. Hutch had his
back to the two of them, but his ears were turning a shade of red so vibrant it was visible even from this side of the street.
“He’s new to all of this, Huggy. But he’s really smart. You just wait and see. Once he gets a little of
that polish rubbed off, he’s going to be one of the best cops on the force.”
Huggy rolled his eyes dramatically.
“And that’s supposed to endear him to me, how?”
Starsky hesitated, thinking. “Because the more good cops on the streets, the less you got to pay out in graft, right?”
He raised his eyebrows hopefully. “Right?”
Huggy laughed, offering reluctant
acknowledgement of the truth of his words. “So, why are you here? You never talk to me these days unless you want something.”
“Huggy, what do you know
about this Bad Karma business?” asked Starsky, ignoring the mild accusation.
Huggy’s expression became
guarded. “I know it’s bad news, and you don’t want to go there, Starsky.”
Starsky hardened his voice, trying
to remind Huggy that this was about more than just busting some dealers. “They burned down my house. I can’t let
them get away with that kind of crap.”
Huggy shook his head, sadly.
“This is for your own good, my pale brother.”
With a sigh of frustration, Starsky
turned away. He knew perfectly well that when Huggy dug his heels in, there was no budging him. He took two steps, and then
threw his hands up in the air as he turned to face Huggy once more. “Fine! How about you tell me where to find this
A knowing grin crossed the other
man’s face. “Man, you can’t turn around in the club scene these days without bumping into her. Try some
of the finer establishments, where the purebred cats like him,” his nod indicated Hutch, “go slumming.”
Starsky bounced back and clapped
him enthusiastically on the shoulder, making his companion wince. “Thanks, Hug! I knew you’d come through.”
Huggy cleared his throat, crossed
his arms over his chest and gave Starsky a significant glance.
“Huh?” It took Starsky
a moment, but then he remembered. He deflated. “Oh.”
“Much as I love you man,
you’re the fuzz,” said Huggy. His voice was kind, but firm. “Information ain’t free.”
Once upon a time Huggy would
have talked to him just because they were friends. Now… Starsky turned and yelled at his partner. “Hutch! Stop
makin’ eyes at the working girls and get over here.”
Hutch gave Alice a regretful smile. “I’m sorry, but duty calls.” He slid between Tiffany
and Rolanda, trying to avoid contact and failing miserably.
“Hey, mister, if he’s
more your type, I’d be happy to make it a threesome.” More laughter rippled around the group, followed by protests
that ‘Ally’ shouldn’t be so greedy.
“All right, a five-some!”
Ignoring them, Hutch crossed
the street. “What’s up?” he asked.
Starsky waved a hand at Huggy.
“Pay the man.”
“What? What for?”
“You’ve got money,
just give him some!” Starsky was embarrassed, and it made his voice sharper than he’d intended.
“Um, is ten dollars good?”
asked Hutch, uncertainly. He pulled out his wallet.
Huggy gave him a disgusted look.
“I guess I’ve got
“Stop that!” snapped
Starsky, spinning on his heel. Pointing a finger at Huggy, he said, “You didn’t give me anything I couldn’t
have got from anyone else. You wanna play it like this? Fine. But I ain’t gonna let you take advantage of him just ‘cause
he don’t know when you’re hustling him.” He smacked Hutch’s elbow, forcing the hand with the ten dollar
bill forward. “Ten is fine. More than he deserves.” Starsky glared at Huggy.
Huggy accepted the money, unruffled.
“Starsky, my man, you got to come to terms with the new order. You can’t be Davy and Starsky at the same time.
You made your choice.”
Starsky shrugged. He had nothing
more to say to Huggy. Something sour was churning in the pit of his stomach, and much as he wanted to believe that it was
just hunger, he knew better.
He was halfway across the street,
when Huggy called after him, “Make sure you get a hold of one of her little books of uplifting sentiments. They’ll
blow your mind.”
As Starsky started the car and
pulled out from the curb, Hutch debated with himself how to begin. Finally, he said, “He’s a snitch.”
“I suppose so,” said
“And a pimp?” asked
“Might be. He does a lot
“But you said he was your
Starsky sighed. “Believe
me, Hutch, he doesn’t think much of you, either.”
Hutch was surprised to discover
that the old hurt was still there, and not buried so deeply after all. Somewhere inside of him, a teenager whined that it
wasn’t fair to be judged on the color of his skin or the size of his Dad’s bank account. Yet, he knew perfectly
well that in this neighborhood he had no right to protest. If he wanted respect, he was simply going to have to earn it. The
problem was that he didn’t know where to begin.
Starsky’s voice broke in
on his thoughts. “Hutch, Vanessa buys your clothes for you, doesn’t she?”
He looked down at himself; slacks,
and a sports jacket over a neatly pressed shirt. “What’s that got to do with anything?”
“If I keep taking you places
with me, people are gonna think… Oh hell, I don’t know what they’re going to think. You’re so clean-cut;
you make the health inspector look like a slob.” Starsky patted him reassuringly on the knee. “Speaking of health
inspectors, do you want to go get some lunch before our shift starts?”
Hutch gave him a thoughtful look.
“No,” he said. “I’ve got a couple things I want to do before that. Why don’t we swing back by
my place so I can get my car? I’ll meet you at the precinct.”
Then again, maybe he did know
where to begin, after all.
When Starsky walked into the
locker room at the precinct, he found a number of cops in a loose huddle, their heads together. They glanced at him and fell
silent as he approached, in that unmistakably significant way that told him they had something to hide.
Starsky eyed the red-headed cop
in the center of the group. He was trying unsuccessfully to shove a small spiral notebook into his trouser pocket. “Okay,
what’s up, Richards?” he asked. “I already know about the bet you guys have going on Hutch, and I told you
he’s tougher than he looks. He’s not going to wash out.”
Richards grinned, his freckled
face creasing. “Wanna bet on that?”
“Yeah!” Starsky answered
quickly, and was already reaching for his wallet when harsh reality reasserted itself. “Except…” he grimaced,
embarrassed. “I don’t got any stake right now.”
Richards exchanged a knowing
glance with the men around him. Starsky caught a couple grins exchanged among the small group, but they were friendly ones,
“Okay, tell me what’s
going on,” he said, growing more puzzled by the moment. “You got some kinda pool going on me now?”
“No, no, nothing like that.”
Richards gave up on hiding the notebook, and instead used the spiral binding to scratch the back of his neck. He seemed uncharacteristically
shy. “We were just taking up a little collection for you. You know, something to help with, um…”
new apartment!” finished Dillon. A sympathetic murmur from the crowd echoed his words.
“Yeah, sorry to hear about
“Life’s a bitch,
“Nice to hear your partner
came through, though.”
“We’re up to almost
four hundred already,” said Richards. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a fat wad of bills, and handed it to Starsky.
Starsky’s mouth opened
in silent astonishment at he stared at the money in his hand. It took him a moment to find his voice. “Aw, geez, guys,
you didn’t have to…”
“You’re one of our
own, Starsky,” said Richards, and the men around him nodded in agreement.
“Besides, I remember how
much you put into the fund for my Janie’s braces,” said Carroll.
“Well, you couldn’t
have the poor kid starting high school all buck-toothed,” protested Starsky.
“And you contributed to
Morgenstern’s honeymoon,” another man said.
Other times he’d made contributions
were thrown out, until even Starsky was surprised at the way the numbers added up. He hadn’t realized that anyone paid
any attention to stuff like that. When your fellow cops needed a hand, you simply gave it to them.
And that was what they were now
doing for him.
Starsky grinned, feeling a sense
of belonging that eased all of the doubt he’d felt during his conversation with Huggy. “Well, in that case…”
He peeled some bills off of the bundle in his hand. “I wanna put something down on Hutch. What odds have you got on
him staying the course?”
Richards flipped through his book. “Six months or more: currently thirty to one against. The odds are variable, based
on the spread.”
“Easy money!” crowed
Starsky, slapping the bills into his palm.
“Wait a minute!”
protested Dillon. “I don’t know if we should to let Starsky bet on his partner. He might try to influence him
Starsky rolled his eyes. “Of
course I’m going to try to influence him. I would have anyway, bet or no bet.”
Nervous glances were exchanged
among the officers present.
As Starsky sauntered away, he
heard a voice saying, “Richards? I think I want to change my bet.”
The showers were empty for once,
and Starsky took his time washing the soot and dirt off. His clothes were looking rather worse for wear but there was nothing
he could do about that at the moment. There might be enough time to wash them before his shift started, but it would take
too long to run them through the dryer. And he wasn’t quite desperate enough to hang his clothes over the lockers to
dry. Not to mention, the staff sergeant would probably object to Starsky turning the locker room into something that could
better pass for a refugee camp.
Starsky chuckled to himself as
he wandered back to his locker, rubbing his hair dry in a towel, imagining the officious man’s reaction to finding his
shorts hung up in the doorway. Unable to see where he was going, he collided with someone standing in his path.
“Huh?” Starsky let
the towel drop down to his shoulders. It was Hutch. Except that it wasn’t.
Hutch had been shopping, and
from the look of him he’d made most of his purchases from the Salvation Army shop down the block. He was still too clean-cut,
but he was now wearing a long brown leather jacket. It would have been an expensive jacket, except that the elbows were scuffed
and the lining was worn at the neck. Instead of slacks he had cords, rubbed bare at the knees, with a flared leg, and he’d
found a pair of boots to replace his loafers. A plain black turtleneck completed the look.
He looked… better.
He still stood out, but not as
a patsy or potential mark. Starsky grinned, feeling an unaccountable rush of pride on behalf of his partner, and saw the man’s
shoulders relax slightly.
“I called the hospital,”
said Hutch, tapping the ashes of his cigarette into the canister by the door.
“Huh?” Starsky blinked. “What hospital?”
Hutch took another drag from
his cigarette as he walked over to his locker. “The girl from last night,
remember? Donna Pepper?”
Starsky sneezed as a cloud of
smoke passed him in Hutch’s wake. “You mean Lucy. The one who was high on LSD?”
Hutch parked the cigarette in
the corner of his mouth. “No,” he said, shrugging out of his jacket. “I mean Donna Mary Pepper, who was certainly high on something, but it wasn’t
“It sure looked like LSD.” Starsky wrapped his towel around his waist.
“What did the doctors say?”
“They said it was some
kind of new designer drug, and the whole case is going to be turned over to the Drug Squad.”
Starsky yanked open his locker
door. “See, this is another reason we need to get out of these uniforms. We’re always there at the beginning of a case, but we never get to see the end. It’s always Narcotics, or Vice, or Homicide, that gets to investigate and make
the big bust.” He rescued his uniform pants from the floor of the locker. “How is Donna-Madonna doing, anyway?”
said Hutch. “And it turns out she’s underage, so Children’s
Aid has taken her into custody.”
As he dressed, it occurred to
Starsky that until Hutch had mentioned her, he’d completely forgotten about the girl.
But Hutch hadn’t. Even after the chaos of the fire, and a night
spent fighting with Vanessa, he had still cared enough to find out what had happened to her.
Yeah, thought Starsky, he was
definitely going to win the pool on Hutch. As partners went, he was almost perfect.
He sneezed again.
Hutch was doing up the last few
buttons on his uniform jacket when he realized that Starsky was staring at him, a slight frown creasing his forehead.
“What?” asked Hutch,
Starsky cocked his head to the
side, and gave him a half smile. “Hey, Hutch? You should lose the cigarette.”
Starsky shrugged, and pulled
on his undershirt. “They’re not very healthy, you know.” His voice was muffled.
Hutch looked at his cigarette.
It was burning down, nearly gone already. After a moment he crossed the room to the ash can and stubbed the butt out. God
damn it, he thought. I changed the way I dress for him; isn’t that enough?
When he turned around he found
Starsky peering at him around the side of the locker door, his expression expectant.
Hutch held up a warning finger.
“Don’t get all excited. I’m not quitting!”
Starsky looked disappointed.
Hutch said, “But I might
consider cutting back. A little. I figure it’s the least I can do if I’m going to be spending all day in a patrol
car with you.”
Starsky brightened again. “Stick
with me, buddy. I’ll get you to kick the habit, sooner or later.”
“In your dreams,”
“See that?” said
Starsky, waving a hand at the man they were trailing slowly in their patrol car. “Someday that’s gonna be us.”
The staff sergeant evidently
did not believe in letting his officers sit around. They’d been tapped for what was termed a “fishing expedition.”
Hutch gave the undercover detective
ahead of them a dubious look. “You see yourself on a bicycle, trolling for dealers dumb enough, or stoned enough, to
sell dope to someone they don’t know.” They’d already ferried two of them back to HQ for booking.
“Well... I don’t
see myself on a bike, exactly.” Starsky slowed the squad car, letting
Detective Bachman turn the corner without them. “I was thinking maybe a flashy car, some flashy clothes... Work my way
into some of the bigger organizations, make the big busts.”
“I don’t think you
get to pick your assignments,” said Hutch. He leaned forward, trying to see down the street, as Starsky pushed the nose
of the squad car past the corner. He felt like he was trying to tiptoe stealthily in a pair of steel toed work boots. With
tin cans tied to them.
“A red car...” said
Starsky, his tone dreamily reflective. “...with a white racing stripe.”
They rounded the corner just
in time to see a scruffy-looking character backing away from Bachman, shaking his head.
Hutch rubbed his mouth. He felt
itchy. Normally he wouldn’t be craving a cigarette this soon after the last one, but the thought of quitting had put
him on edge.
Not that quitting would be that
big a deal. It was just a matter of willpower, of strength of character. And therefore he shouldn’t have any trouble
letting cigarettes go. Assuming he really wanted to stop smoking.
But why should Starsky always
get his way?
Hutch deliberately let his voice
take on a challenging tone. “What’s your issue with smoking? Everyone does it.”
Starsky didn’t answer immediately.
Bachman had cut through an alley, and rather than follow him, Starsky turned around the far end of the block. He parked and
waited as the bike pulled onto the street behind him. Bachman flashed Starsky
a peace sign and a grin as he passed the car.
As he resumed their slow-rolling
surveillance, Starsky said, “Just because everyone does something... You can’t be always trying to meet everyone
“So I should just measure
up to your expectations?” asked Hutch, sharply.
“Only because I know what
you’re really trying to do with your life.”
“And how do you know that?”
Hutch wasn’t sure he knew himself, so there was no way Starsky could have any more insight into the problem than he
Starsky tapped the side of his
head. “Gonna be a detective, remember? You should brush up on your observational skills.”
Hutch was outraged. “Hey!”
“Sure, I’m showing
you the ropes now,” continued Starsky, unperturbed. “But you can’t expect me to carry you forever.”
“Now just wait one minute!”
“Oh, hey! I think I just
saw money change hands!” Starsky hit the gas and the siren simultaneously. Hutch grabbed the armrest as he was slammed
back into his seat by the sudden acceleration.
Hadn’t this conversation started with the question of why Starsky was so opposed to smoking? How had it got turned around on him?
your hands up. Get them up where I can see them!” ordered Hutch.
am, I am!” protested the dealer, though his hands were still inside of his jacket.
your hands up!” repeated Hutch, shoving him against the squad car.
tried to reach between the car and the dealer to grab a wrist, but the man was squirming too much. Another pair of hands would have been useful, but Bachman was leaning up against the wall with his arms
thought Starsky, as he redoubled his efforts to subdue the dealer. The man’s face was red and he was wheezing like an
asthmatic on the verge of collapse. But he was still resisting and loudly insisting
that he wasn’t resisting.
Hutch stepped back and grabbed the man’s collar. Flipping him around, Hutch
shoved him face down on the ground. The man’s arms flew up over his head,
his hands landing on the gutter grate.
hell!” Starsky grabbed the dealer’s ankles and yanked him back into
the middle of the road, ignoring his protests. “Did you see what he just
asked Hutch, climbing to his feet.
just threw a box into the sewer!” Starsky knelt on the man’s back
and cuffed him.
chuckled. “Seen ‘em toss their junk in the bushes. Even seen ‘em swallow it. Never had one throw it down
the gutter. How are you going to get it back?”
dealer tried to roll over onto his back. “I don’t have any drugs
on me! You’re making a mistake!”
ignored him. Leaving the dealer in the road, Starsky walked over and peered into
the grate. “I think I can see it, Hutch.” He could see a lot of other things, too, besides the red box. Potato
chip bags, cigarettes, and condoms. “Who’s going after it?” The gutters in this neighborhood were deeper and wider than most, designed to carry
overflow from the hills down into the sea. The box had missed the edge of the
catchment ledge and was lodged further down.
me,” said Bachman.
turned and frowned at him.
a coin?” suggested Hutch.
but I’m calling heads.” Starsky stood up and fished a quarter out
of his pocket. With due ceremony, he flipped it into the air and slapped it down
on his arm. “It’s tails.”
me see that!” demanded Hutch.
showed him, smirking.
scowled, and began rolling up his uniform sleeves. “Get out of my way.”
aren’t my pills!” shouted the dealer.
up,” said Starsky. Crossing back to the dealer, he grabbed the back of
the man’s shirt and hauled him up to his feet. “I saw you throw that
box in there. And who said anything about pills?”
gave Hutch a hand moving the grate cover. Hutch paused for a moment, and then
lay down on his stomach beside the gutter.
can’t reach,” he said, after a few minutes of trying.
looked around for a stick or a bottle, anything that could be used to lengthen Hutch’s reach. There was a dumpster nearby, which might have something inside, but digging through it would be almost
as bad as searching the gutter.
he looked back, he saw Hutch climb to his feet.
up already?” asked Bachman, smirking. “Afraid to get your blues dirty?”
said Hutch. His jaw was set.
grimaced in sympathy as Hutch sat on the edge of the sewer opening and gingerly extended his legs inside, bracing himself
on his hands. It was a tight fit.
can get it with my feet,” said Hutch.
the dealer fell silent as Hutch tried to fish the box out of the gutter.
on... I’ve got it!” Hutch twisted, trying to lift himself up. “Someone give me a hand, here.”
dealer stepped forward, and Starsky hauled him back. “Not you!”
grabbed Hutch under his arms and began to pull.
wait... damn! Dropped it.”
time when the detective lifted him up, Hutch had the item held firmly between the sole of one shoe and an ankle. His socks were no longer uniform blue. They were brown and
soggy. His shoes were in worse shape.
not a box,” said the detective. “It’s a book.”
book?” Starsky scowled at his prisoner. “Why the hell would you throw
a book in a sewer?”
told you I don’t have any drugs!” The dealer paused. “Can I have my book back?”
of answering, Hutch used two fingers to open the book and look inside. His eyebrows
lifted, and he passed it to Bachman.
said Bachman, gingerly peeling the cover back.
asked Starsky. “Let me see.”
Still hanging onto the dealer’s cuffs, he tried to peer over Bachman’s shoulder.
turned and tossed it to him instead. “Don’t think you’re getting
out of this without getting your hands dirty.”
Starsky grimaced as he caught
it with his free hand. The book had no title, and the grime smeared cover featured
only a picture of a naked man with wings. It was surprisingly light for its size,
and when he opened the book he discovered the reason. Someone had glued the pages together, cementing them to the back cover,
while cutting out the center.
And hidden inside was a plastic
bag full of pills.
“Huh,” said Starsky.
“Nifty little hiding place.”
“I think it’s a terrible
thing to do to a perfectly good book,” said Hutch. He stamped his feet, trying to shake off the slime he’d picked
up in the gutter.
“That’s not mine!”
said the dealer.
Bachman shook his head. “You said it was yours – you asked for it back.”
“I had a different book!”
Hutch peered into the gutter. “No other books in there.”
“This isn’t fair!”
“Right,” said Bachman,
collecting his bicycle from where he’d leaned it up against the wall. “I’ll
see you two back at the precinct. Hutchinson,
if you don’t come down with diphtheria or hepatitis from wading in that sewer, I’ll be happy to change my bet
“Bet?” asked Hutch.
But Bachman was already cycling
“How do you know it was a perfectly good book?” asked Starsky as he led the dealer back to their
squad car. “Maybe it was boring.”
“I don’t believe
in cutting up books,” said Hutch, irritably. “It’s almost as bad as burning them.” He patted his pockets,
as if searching for something.
“You quit, remember?”
said Starsky. “Four hours ago.”
Hutch scowled at him. “I
did not quit!”
“Did you notice Bachman?”
asked Starsky, deciding it was a good time to change the topic. “Didn’t
lift a finger, did he?”
“Well, he did help a little,”
“No, I mean for taking
this guy,” Starsky gave the dealer a shake and then shoved him into the back seat, “down. And who, may I ask, had to climb into the sewer?”
Hutch sat down in the passenger
seat and looked at his shoes. He wrinkled his nose. “I think I stepped in something.”
Starsky got a whiff as he sat
down next to him. “Aw geez, Hutch!
Do you think you could just hang your legs out the window on our way back?”
“I could light up,”
suggested Hutch. “That might cover the smell.”
try,” growled Starsky.
“It’s a hippy love-in!
We’re getting to go to a hippy love-in!” Starsky’s eyes glowed, no doubt with blatantly immoral visions
of long haired groovy chicks in skimpy clothing.
“Starsky, many of these
people have legitimate political and social concerns they're trying to bring to the attention of the government,” said
Hutch, as he laced up his freshly cleaned and polished shoes. His hair was still
damp from a hasty shower, and he felt a drop of water trickle down the back of his neck.
Hutch glanced up to find Starsky
looking at him with a speculative expression on his face.
“So, college boy, done
a lot of demonstrating in your day?”
Hutch felt a moment of panic.
Oh shit, he was in Vietnam.
“Relax!” said Starsky.
“I’m not going to bite your head off. I just wanna know. Did you have long hair? ‘Cause I already know you
were doing the whole mind-expanding drug thing.” He waggled his eyebrows meaningfully.
Before Hutch could respond, the
duty sergeant bellowed, making them both jump.
“Starsky, get a damn haircut!”
Hutch turned with Starsky to
find the sergeant standing a few feet behind them, scowling.
“I got one last week,”
“Like hell you did! You
look like some kind of hippy.”
“Then I’ll fit in
better at the park today, won’t I?”
Hutch wondered how it was Starsky
always seemed to get away with being such a smart mouth. If he tried that line, he’d probably find himself facing disciplinary
“You’re not going
in undercover, Officer Starsky!”
Of course, even sergeants had
their limits. As their superior stormed off, Hutch said, “Starsky…”
“Don’t sweat it,”
said Starsky, unconcerned. “The only thing that’d make Sarge happy would be shaving my head, and so long as I’m
regulation they can’t make me do that. And I am regulation, see?” He angled the side of his head towards Hutch.
“My hair doesn’t touch my ears.”
“That’s only because
it grows straight out to the sides instead of down.”
“Bah.” For the second
time that day Starsky dismissed him. Hutch had a feeling he would be getting a lot of this over the course of the next few
years. Something else to get used to…
Hutch frowned as he followed
Starsky to the parking garage. He wondered if Starsky would listen to him when it really counted, like when their lives were
on the line.
Hutch climbed into the car on
the passenger side. The sudden clatter of change landing in the ashtray brought him out of his thoughts. He stared at the
silver in the bottom of the tray, realizing that once again he would be going the entire shift without a smoke. Which was
something else they would have to resolve if this partnership was going to work.
Surely Starsky couldn’t
always get his way, could he?
Starsky turned into the parking
lot at the park and immediately hit the brakes with a shocked gasp.
“What,” began Hutch,
but at that moment a very small, very naked boy ambled unconcernedly out from in front of their cruiser. He squatted down
beside the wheel on Starsky’s side and coolly picked up a pebble. He looked
to be about four years old, tow-headed and chubby.
Hutch climbed out to try to talk
to the child, while Starsky dropped his head onto the steering wheel and hyperventilated. A few people in the crowded park
were able to direct them to a van, which the boy’s mother had turned into a traveling home.
She was friendly in a vague way,
but they were unable to make her understand the danger her child had been in. Hutch became increasingly frustrated trying
to get through to her. He was very close to shouting when Starsky grabbed his elbow and hauled him away.
Hutch turned and hit a nearby
tree with his fist. Then he yelped and shook his hand.
Starsky caught it and examined
the scraped knuckles. “What’re you gonna do, huh? The kid’s obviously healthy, and he’s clean too.
He doesn’t look abused.” The juvenile department was overwhelmed and there was no sense dragging in a kid whose
parent’s only crime was that she wouldn’t keep track of his whereabouts. There were other kids, hungry and hurting,
who needed the attention more.
Hutch retrieved his hand. “It
just makes you wonder how some kids even make it to adulthood.”
“God protects fools, drunkards,
and small children,” Starsky said. He held up a finger. “Wait a minute.”
The little boy had already started
to wander away from the van again, heading back towards the center of the parking lot.
Starsky intercepted the little boy.
Gesturing at the pavement, he
said, “Hey kid, you know what this is? This is a parking lot, and it’s just like a road. What do you find on roads?”
The boy thought about it for
a moment. “Cars?”
“Yeah, and what do you
think happens if you’re out there and some car drives over you?”
“Do you know what dead
is, kid?” Starsky waited a moment for an answer, but when none was forthcoming, he continued. “Dead is a bug that
just got stomped on. Have you ever seen a dead bug? That’s what would happen to you if you went out there, and some
car ran over you. You’d be squished flat like a bug. You’d be dead. Forever.”
By the end of this speech, the
boy’s eyes were like wide blue saucers.
“You gonna go play out
The boy shook his head solemnly.
“Good.” Starsky ruffled
his hair. The boy was cute. Hutch
probably would have looked like that when he was a kid, if his parents had ever let him run around naked.
Hutch was aghast. “Starsky,
I can’t believe you said that to a little kid.”
“What? I just told him
the truth.” Starsky headed across the grass. The sergeant on site had said he would meet them at the central parks office.
“He’s probably going
to have nightmares.” Hutch sneezed.
“But he won’t play
in the middle of the parking lot anymore, will he?” asked Starsky. “So, that means he’ll be alive, having
nightmares. Not a bad trade, hey?”
“Don’t tell me your
parents talked to you like that!”
Starsky stopped, his eyebrows
climbing up his forehead. “Of course they did. There was an empty lot near where we lived, full of nails and stuff.
After I got one through the bottom of my foot, my dad told me the place was full of werewolves, all of them just waiting to
rip me into bloody chunks if I ever went back there again.” He grinned.
“No, that’s love.”
Starsky didn’t miss the bemused expression on Hutch’s face. His new partner had a lot to learn about love. There
was a lot more to it than Vanessa had to offer, whatever her charms.
A pretty girl in a tie-dyed bandanna
top offered Starsky a flower. He gave her a sly grin and stuck it in the buttonhole of his shirt. He would have stopped to
get her number, but Hutch’s hand landed between his shoulder blades, propelling him forward.
A black man with a thick shock
of dark brown hair, barely restrained by a red headband, shouted, “Jesus was a long-haired freak, just like me!”
Hutch ignored him, his attention
on a man near the vendors’ tables. “Starsky, who’s that guy?”
“Huh?” Starsky was
looking for the central parks office.
“He’s staring at
Now Starsky looked. “Oh
him? That’s Dougie. He’s a friend of Weezie’s.” Starsky waved at him, and Dougie ducked out of sight.
“He didn’t know I was a cop the last time we talked.” He watched for a moment longer and then shrugged.
He certainly wouldn’t be getting any more information out of Dougie now.
Something else caught his eye.
He grabbed Hutch’s arm. “Hey, will you look at that? What’s she doing here?”
Hutch looked. Starsky was eyeing
an old woman in a flowered hat. She had a large bag over her shoulder. “She
looks like someone’s grandma…” But as he spoke, the object of their attention reached into her bag and handed
a small red book to a girl with beaded hair.
Starsky straightened. “Hey!
That’s got to be Sister Charity and her little books of uplifting thoughts, or whatever it was. I want to talk to her!”
But before he could move, they
both heard a bellow above the crowd. “Starsky! Hutchinson!”
Starsky deflated. “Oh,
“Front and center. Now!” The sergeant was standing with both hands on his hips, looking irritated.
Hutch gave his discouraged partner
a pat on the shoulder. “C’mon, buddy. You’ll get another chance.”
Starsky took one more look over
his shoulder, but Sister Charity had already disappeared into the shifting crowd. It just wasn’t fair.
Two hours later, Hutch was hot,
sweaty and his pants were full of burrs – or stickers, as Starsky insisted on calling them. The sergeant had given him
and Starsky the task of keeping the revelers out of the more overgrown segments of the park. Unfortunately, it seemed that
no sooner had they cleared a section of brush than it would fill right back up again with amorous couples.
“Why doesn’t the
city plant poison ivy and brambles back here, huh?” Hutch groused. “These people are worse than rabbits.”
Starsky shifted uncomfortably,
then reached down and adjusted the front of his pants.
Hutch glared at him disapprovingly.
Starsky gave him a cocky grin.
“What? You jealous?” He squirmed again, and muttered, “Not like m’ doin’ it on purpose.”
Brightening, he added, “But hey, that last girl was pretty hot, huh?”
“Don’t think I didn’t
notice you giving her your phone number! And did you have to give her your work number?”
“Don’t have a phone
anymore, remember? Anyway, she’s new to the city and I didn’t want her to feel unwelcome.” Starsky pushed
aside another bush, and froze. “Oh God, Hutch. It’s a couple of guys. In the bushes. They’re…”
He waved his hands in an entirely non-descriptive fashion, looking panicked.
Hutch laughed. “You want
me to deal this one?”
A disheveled head popped up from
the center of the bushes. “We’re not ashamed of our love!”
The man’s partner reached
for his shirt with as much dignity as he could muster. “Yeah, we’re like Damon and Pythias.”
“Or Alexander and Hephaestus,”
said the first.
“Achilles and Patroclus!”
“What? Are those porn stars?”
Hutch braced an arm on a tree
and leaned forward, his expression bland. “That’s very nice, but don’t you think you could get a hotel room?
There’s little kids here, and they don’t need this kind of history lesson.”
The first man stood and faced
Hutch, his hands on his hips. “It’s a sick society that finds it more acceptable for children to witness violent
murders committed on television, than an expression of the purest love in real life.”
Hutch didn’t blink. He
inclined his head to encompass both men, the one standing naked in front of him and the other who was rapidly dressing. “Sirs,
if you two don’t move on, I’ll have to pull you in on a public indecency charge. And I really don’t want
to have to do that, not when there’s a perfectly good motel right just down the road where you can explore your Greek
side in privacy. They even charge by the hour.”
The man facing Hutch opened his
mouth, apparently determined to pursue this debate, but his partner tapped his shoulder. “Mickey, I can’t afford
to get arrested. I’m still on probation for the skinny dipping thing, remember?”
Hutch exchanged a glance with
Starsky. Skinny dipping? In the Bay?
Later, after the men had gathered
up their clothes and disappeared, Starsky said, “Man, think about all the couples we’ve rousted out of these bushes
today! That motel ought’a start payin’ us a commission.”
Trails crisscrossed the overgrowth,
winding randomly through the greenery. Hutch picked one at random and began hiking down it, keeping half an ear out for sounds
of passion, or illicit drug use, or anything else that might interest him.
“Remember that club?”
asked Starsky. “The one Lucy – I mean Donna – was hanging out at?”
“I remember it,”
“Let’s go there after
our shift’s over.”
“Why?” Hutch brushed
a twig out of his face. It sprang back into position immediately, nearly hitting him in the eye.
“Well, ‘cause I’m
“You’re always hungry,
and there are better places to eat than the Jungle Club.” Hutch found the twig and tried to snap it off. The green stem
simply bent, and he got sap on his fingers. “You’re hoping to run into this Sister Charity person again, aren’t
Starsky made a noncommittal sound.
“We’ve got no authorization
for undercover work.”
“What we do on our own
time is our own business. Look, Hutch, I’m just asking you out for a drink. What’s wrong with that?”
Hutch let go of the mangled twig
and stared at Starsky. “I think I’m flattered, but I don’t know if I should accept.”
“Well, what about my reputation?
What will people think if they see me going to bars with strange men, and allowing them to buy me drinks?”
Starsky’s mouth dropped
open. Then he snapped it shut, and growled, “Asshole!”
Hutch chuckled. “Anyway,
“Van’s cocktail party’s
tonight, remember? If I don’t make it on time, she’ll be serving me divorce papers instead of breakfast in the
morning.” Hutch pointed at the next clump of greenery, which was bobbing in a very suspicious manner. “I think
there’s some action in that one. Your turn to check it out.”
“Wait! I did the last one.”
“And I did the three before
that. Just tell them to clear out, will you?”
Grimacing, Starsky waded into
the bushes, and took a look over the top. He straightened suddenly and turned with a grin. “Hey! It’s a lesbian
threesome. You know what, Hutch? You’ve been working really hard, handling all that kinky stuff. Why don’t you
take a break? I’ll take care of this one.” Starsky rubbed his hands together in happy anticipation, as annoyed
squeals and protests issued from the bushes in front of him.
That evening Starsky announced
that Hutch would be driving the cruiser. He read the want ads in the newspaper aloud as they patrolled their beat. “Two
bedroom, roommate, non-smoker...” He wrinkled his nose. “I don’t want a roommate.”
He paused briefly as Hutch slowed
down to look at a man and woman yelling at each other on the street corner. They sent him matching one-fingered salutes, which
made Starsky laugh before he turned back to his perusal of the paper.
“This one sounds nice,
but the building’s described as ‘heritage,’ which at that price probably means it ought to be condemned.”
He squinted as the street lights cast shifting yellow shadows across his page. “Oh, hey, this one’s close!”
Starsky looked up. “Make a right, here!”
“Where are we going?”
asked Hutch as he made a sharp turn.
“2000 Ridgeway Avenue.” Looking over the top of his newspaper, Starsky said, “Make
another right after those lights.”
So we’re checking out houses while on duty? Hutch thought about it for a moment and then shrugged to
himself. A slight detour from their assigned beat wouldn’t hurt anything.
Several minutes later, however,
he was starting to get worried. A slight detour was one thing, but... “Aren’t we a little off course?”
“I know exactly where we’re
going. Don’t worry, we’ll be back before anyone knows we’re gone,” said Starsky, confidently. “I
just want to take a look at this place. It sounds almost too good to be true. I’m wondering if it’s right next
to the train tracks, or something.”
Two-Thousand Ridgeway Avenue turned to be a loft perched above a three car garage. The
white siding had been redone recently, giving it a tidy appearance. Hutch stopped the car across the street, and they looked
at it in silence for several moments. Then Starsky said, “What do you think?”
The area seemed quiet enough,
in the foothills and just a stone’s throw from downtown. It was a little shabby, working class, but definitely a step
up from Starsky’s previous neighborhood. “I think it’s too dark to tell,” said Hutch.
“We could see if the landlord
will let us in,” said Starsky, hopefully.
“In uniform,” Hutch
reminded him. “On duty.”
“We could claim we were,
uh, investigating a report of suspicious characters lurking around the premises.”
Despite his better judgment,
Hutch found himself wavering. “We’d
be the suspicious characters, Starsky.”
Hutch never got to hear the rest
of Starsky’s argument, because at that moment the radio in their car crackled to life. Backup was being requested, to
search for a mentally disturbed individual who had been spotted creating a disturbance in an apartment complex.
While Hutch restarted the car,
Starsky leaned across and hit the lights and siren.
Dropping Hutch off at the door
and running seemed like an unfriendly thing to do, especially considering there was still an hour before Vanessa’s party
was due to start. Starsky followed Hutch up the back stairs to his place, entertaining vague notions of seeing if there was
enough left over in the fridge to make another ham sandwich.
The first thing he noticed upon
entering the kitchen was that Hutch’s improvised cat litter box had disappeared. The next thing he noticed was the phonebook
placed prominently in the center of the kitchen table, with an ad for an animal shelter circled in red.
Starsky looked under the table.
“Van!” barked Hutch.
She appeared in the doorway,
smiling smugly. “I had the shelter people come and take it away.”
Starsky was surprised by the
intensity of his sense of loss. It wasn’t as if the cat had ever shown him any affection. Still, Frodo was one of the
very few things left in the world that he could consider his own. His hand slipped into his jacket pocket, confirming that
at least his baseball was still there.
Hutch was outraged. “You
can’t do that!”
“I already did it,”
Vanessa pointed out, reasonably. “The filthy thing was clawing on the arm of the couch and making a mess of the kitchen.
There’s no way I could have guests over with that animal around.” She lifted her chin, defensively. “You
should be thanking me. It completely destroyed your spider plant.”
She threw away my cat, thought Starsky, still unable to quite believe it.
Hutch’s face had gone from
red to white throughout the course of Vanessa’s speech. Now, he stepped forward and grabbed her upper arm. She tried
to yank herself free of him, but his grip was firm. “We need to talk,” he said. His voice was quiet, but there
was a dangerous note in it.
Starsky backed toward the door,
but Hutch had apparently already anticipated that move. He pointed at a kitchen chair. “Starsky, sit! There’s
food in the fridge, help yourself.” His tone left no room for argument, so Starsky nodded and sat down.
As Hutch steered his wife from
the room, Starsky blew out a long breath of air. Propping his elbows on the table, he dropped his head into his hands. There
were trays of hors d’oeuvres still wrapped in plastic from the deli on the kitchen counters. The kitchen smelled faintly
of tuna and garlic, plus lemon cleaning solution, overlaid with air freshener.
He could hear them arguing all
too clearly in the next room.
“How could you do that?
How could you just give his cat away? It wasn’t yours!”
“I never agreed to have
that thing in my house! It smelled, and it was clawing the furniture, and I’ve got important people coming over in...
in less than an hour!”
“What about Starsky? He’s
“Ken, this is your future. We have to make a good impression on these people.”
“I don’t give a good
goddamn what your friends think of me, and I’m sick of everyone going on about my future. I’m a cop, Van. It’s
what I am, and it’s who I want to be. You need to accept that and stop trying to change me. I’m not one of your
Listening, Starsky winced. I’ve been trying to change him, too, he thought. Almost as much as Van has. He pushed himself back from the table and reached for the doorknob. He didn’t
want to listen to this.
Starsky decided he’d tell
Richards, next time he saw him, that he didn’t want to be part of the pool on Hutch after all. Hutch would succeed,
and he’d do it on his own terms.
His hand on the door, Starsky
Van’s voice was loud and
clear. “What are you wearing?”
Crap, thought Starsky. She’s finally noticed Hutch’s
new clothes. Something else that’s my fault.
“Trust me, Van. I’ll
be presentable in time for your party. I won’t embarrass you.” Hutch’s voice sounded tight, as if he was
just barely holding onto his temper.
“I’m already embarrassed.
Where did you get this jacket? Out of the Goodwill bin?”
“Don’t what? Try
to maintain some quality and class in our lives? It’s not like you give me much to work with. You had a secure future
in your father’s firm, and you threw it all away for this ridiculous, romantic crusade!”
I should leave, thought Starsky. But he stayed where he was, his hand on the door knob.
“At least I’m trying
to make a difference in the world! I’m not some shallow, social-climbing, money-grubbing--”
Starsky heard the unmistakable
sound of an open palm striking flesh, and Hutch’s words cut off abruptly.
In the silence that followed,
Starsky was frozen. She hit him. Oh man, she just hit him.
A soft sound broke the silence.
It was followed by another, and Starsky realized that Van had begun to cry.
Miserably, Hutch said, “I’m
sorry. I shouldn’t have said... I love you, Van. I’m so sorry.”
Great, thought Starsky, disgusted. She hits him, and he apologizes.
He took two steps toward the living room, and then realized what he was doing and stopped himself. There were few things dumber
than getting between a man and his wife during an argument.
Their voices dropped to a murmur,
the words becoming indistinct. And then...
Starsky was outside, down the
back steps, and heading for his car without any further hesitation. Never mind that Hutch had ordered him to stay. Hanging
around listening to them fight was one thing. Listening to them have make-up sex was another thing entirely.
Vanessa’s parties. It wasn’t
as if Hutch had anything against them. There had even been a time when he’d enjoyed them a great deal. The intellectual
debate could be stimulating, and the exchange of ideas was exciting.
Once upon a time, he’d
thought he could change the world with ideas alone.
But of late, it seemed that he
was hearing the same old arguments being recycled time and again, and the world wasn’t changing at all. Hutch had changed,
though, and now he found that his old acquaintances didn’t want to hear his new ideas.
Vanessa caught him in the bedroom,
as he was adding more coats to the pile on the bed.
“Ken, people are wondering
if you’ve had a death in your family. Why are you being so serious? Aren’t you having fun?”
“The party’s great,
Van.” Hutch paused, knowing full well that what he was about to say next was a mistake. He said it anyway. “I’m
just worried about Starsky.” He gave Vanessa his best don’t-be-mad-at-me look.
Unfortunately, marriage had made
her immune. “You’re thinking about Starsky?”
Hutch winced. “Well, we
practically threw him out, and he’s got nowhere to go...” Starsky had disappeared rather abruptly. Given what
he must have overheard, Hutch had no reason to believe he would return. Worried at the thought of how he was going to explain
things to Starsky tomorrow, Hutch patted his pockets.
Then he remembered he’d
left his cigarettes in his other jacket.
Vanessa stalked over the dresser,
and withdrew a pack of Virginia Slims. She tossed it at Hutch saying, “He’s a grown man, Ken. He can look after
himself for one night. Now, come on, I have someone I want you to meet.”
Hutch didn’t move. He stood
staring at the pack in his hand, irresolute.
“What’s the problem
now?” asked Van.
“I’m thinking of
almost said something about Starsky wanting him to give up smoking, when his common sense finally made a belated arrival at
the party. He snapped his mouth shut, and said instead, “You’re right. I’ll quit some other time.”
Because, dammit, he was going
to need cigarettes to get through tonight.
“Excuse me?” Starsky
craned his head around the doorway to look into the back room of the animal shelter.
An older woman closed the door
on a cage containing a mewling pile of puppies. She straightened, wiping her palms on her jeans. “Yes? Can I help you?”
Starsky gave her his most endearing
smile. “I’m looking for a cat that was brought in today. Um… kinda yellow, a little burnt up around the
Recognition crossed the woman’s
face. “Oh yes, that one.”
Starsky’s hopes were immediately
dashed by her next words.
“She’s not here anymore.”
Starsky. “I know he wasn’t pretty, but you didn’t have to gas him right off!”
The woman’s face folded
into a frown. “Sir, this has been a no-kill shelter since its inception eight years ago!”
“Oh!” The relief
Starsky felt was considerable. “Where…?”
The woman pushed past him and
headed to the front of the building. Starsky followed on her heels.
“One of our student volunteers
asked if she could adopt the animal. Normally we have a waiting period, but the lady who dropped the cat off was very clear
that it had no other home.” She stopped by the front desk and reached for a black leather datebook. “We can contact
the girl who took it…”
The woman raised an eyebrow.
Starsky quickly explained, “No,
I mean if someone wants to give him a home, that’s great! I was just worried…” Trailing off, he pulled his
notebook from his jacket pocket and searched the desk for a pen. Finding one, he asked, “Can I?”
When the woman nodded, he began
writing. “If you could just let the girl know, his – I mean, her – name’s Frodo. And she likes ham
and cheese, hold the bread. And pickles and olives make her crazy.” He finished with a flourish, and handed the scribbled
note over, along with the pen.
She looked at his instructions
dubiously. “I’m sure Becky will find this useful.”
Starsky grabbed her hand, and
kissed it enthusiastically. “You’re a gem, thank you!”
Starsky returned to his car with
a lighter step and a feeling of immense relief. Van might have been high-handed about getting rid of Frodo, but at least she’d
picked a no-kill shelter.
Pulling away from the curb, Starsky
turned toward downtown. Now that Frodo was in good hands, he could start looking for the wiseguys who’d burnt down his
The first club was too classy.
The bouncer turned Starsky away at the door. He took the rejection in good humor, figuring if he couldn’t get in then
neither would this Sister Charity person.
Not that he was entirely sure
why he was looking for her, except that Huggy had said he should. Starsky wished Huggy had been more forthcoming about her
role in drugs and people’s houses burning down. What connection could an old lady distributing religious texts have
with a bunch of dealers?
Maybe Sister Charity was somebody’s
mother or aunt.
Starsky stopped outside the next
club and frowned. Another glitzy facade and too many over-dressed party-goers lined up at the ropes. Friday night, time to
see and be seen. For a second he thought he’d spotted Donna. But she disappeared into the crowd, and he couldn’t
be sure. Anyway, it wouldn’t have been her.
Hutch had said she’d been given over to the care of the Children’s Aid Society.
Starsky turned away, his hands
jammed deep in his pockets and his jacket collar turned up. Who wanted to waste their time hanging with the beautiful people,
anyway? Hutch could fit in, if he wanted to, but he wouldn’t be happy, thought
He almost walked right past the
third club. It was tucked into a corner, with steps leading down a dark stairwell to a door that had been propped open. Starsky
would have missed it entirely if not for the smoky blues melody winding its way through the noise of the streets.
The sound put Starsky in mind
of his academy days, studying in Hutch’s room, listening to his blues albums on the record player.
Those first weeks at the academy,
Starsky had assumed that Hutch was just as shallow and over-bred as he looked. It didn’t help matters that the guy had
been intensely reserved, avoiding contact with the other recruits. It didn’t occur to Starsky until later that Hutch
might have been scared, lonely, or even a little homesick. All he'd seen back then was a stuck-up, white bread, spoiled rich
kid who obviously thought he was better than everyone else.
Then one day Starsky had twisted
his ankle while on a cross country run, and Hutch had been the only guy who’d bothered to drop back and keep him company.
As Starsky headed down the steps
to the blues club, he chuckled at the memory. Poor Hutch. The last thing
he could have expected that day, when he'd offered his fellow recruit a hand up out of the mud, was to get a face full of
furious Starsky, shouting, “I don’t need any of your goddamn pity!”
Hutch had flushed and muttered
a stiff apology, turning away. Starsky, feeling like the biggest heel in the universe, had tried to go after him. His ankle
had made an ugly sound. He'd felt something pop out of place, and he'd gone right back down into the mud with a pained yelp.
Hutch had been back at his side
in an instant. “Look, I know you don’t like me...”
Starsky had cut him off. “No!
You know what? I take back what I said.”
“Look at me!” Starsky
had gestured at his mud-spattered, bedraggled self. “Did you ever see anything more pitiful?”
Hutch had laughed, in a surprised
sort of way, and right then and there Starsky’d decided that he’d been wrong about the guy. It was funny how a
person could seem completely different when he laughed. Like maybe you were seeing the real person behind all the masks.
Caught up in his memories, Starsky
almost didn’t see her.
She was working the tables in
the back of the club, a short elderly lady with a large satchel slung over her shoulder and a hat with plastic flowers perched
on her head. Her long gray hair had been collected into a tidy bun at the nape of her neck. And she was holding an oddly familiar
red book in her hands, close to her chest.
Jackpot, thought Starsky.
His first impulse was to walk
up, introduce himself, and start asking questions. What is Bad Karma? Who’s been burning down independent marijuana
But it occurred to him that if
she did know she wouldn’t answer, and if she didn’t know he’d probably just scare her. Starsky glanced around
the room and finally found himself a table in the corner, from which he could watch the entire room undisturbed. Eventually
she’d make her way to his table, and he could talk to her then.
When the server came by, he ordered
a beer. Propping his feet on the table, he settled in comfortably.
If Hutch had bitten his tongue
any harder, he would have lost a piece of it.
“We need to reform the
welfare system. These people are relying on it as a way of life!”
This statement was from a young
woman who lived a life of leisure, paid for by her much older, married lover. Hutch wanted to ask her to define the term ‘welfare,’
but in deference to Vanessa, he held back.
Some of the others were agreeing
with her. A man in an expensive and fashionable suit said, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him once, teach him to fish,
and you’ve fed him for life.” He made this pronouncement with much gravity, as if it was something he’d
come up with himself.
People nodded. “You can’t
make things too easy for these people, or they get lazy.”
“I don’t want to
have to pay just so some woman can go on having babies and raising them at my expense.”
“You know, there’s
this awful man, hangs out in front of Mitzi’s. I don’t know why the cops haven’t made him move on; he’s
really bringing down the tone of the place.”
It was too much. Hutch asked,
“You mean he’s homeless?” He wondered if he could find the man and give him a hand. There had to be better
options than sitting on the sidewalk getting sneered at by girls with over-fluffed hair.
The young woman who had been
speaking tossed her head, annoyed. “He’s a panhandler, and he’s got no excuse. I’d understand if he
didn’t have legs or something, but he’s perfectly healthy! That sign he made up says he’s a vet, so I assume
he’s got to have some kind of pension from the army.”
The man in the expensive suit
nodded knowingly. “He’s probably drinking all his money away.”
“He scares me,” she
Hutch said, “Sometimes
people end up in situations they can’t control. It could happen to any of us. If we got a mental illness, for instance...”
He realized that they were all staring at him.
“Oh,” said an older
woman, in a tone of sudden revelation. “You’re Vanessa’s
husband, aren’t you? Ken, is it?”
“And what do you do?”
asked a younger one, a shade too sweetly.
Hutch frowned at her. She was
a good friend of Van’s and should know perfectly well what he did for a living. “I’m a cop.”
Silence greeted this announcement.
Then Van’s friend said,
“Isn’t that interesting!”
Hutch decided that the next time
Van threw one of these parties, he would arrange to be working overtime at the precinct. Surely someone would agree to trade
shifts with him. Or if not, maybe they wouldn’t mind if he hid out in the locker room for a few hours.
The conversation continued awkwardly
for a few minutes. There were a handful of rather unfunny jokes about getting him to fix their parking tickets, and then they
Hutch wandered off, discontented.
He spent some time at the coffee table, picking at the hors d’oeuvres until Van frowned at him from across the room.
He was debating how much angrier she would be if he bailed on the party now, than if he stood around alienating all of her
friends, when he noticed a familiar face.
The heavyset black man gave him
a broad smile, his hands thrust deep in his plaid jacket, no different in appearance than he’d been in college, years
ago. “Ken, how’re you doing these days? How’s being a pig lackey for the running dog capitalist establishment
working out for you?”
Hutch laughed, genuinely happy
to find a real friend at Van’s party. Maybe he should have paid closer attention to the guest list. “It’s
going great! How about you? Are you famous yet?”
“If I was, you would have
heard.” Harry shrugged good-naturedly. “I got some gigs, sold a couple songs. My guitarist quit, though. Missed
his mom, wanted to move back to Pensacola. So, there’s a place for you, if you want it.”
Harry winked. “C’mon, man. Fame, fortune, and all the pretty girls you could desire.”
“It’s a tempting
offer,” said Hutch with a grin, knowing Harry wouldn’t take him seriously. “What’s your set list look
like these days? Are you working on any new songs?”
It was amazing what a difference
one good friend could make. If Starsky was here, Hutch would have considered the evening perfect. Any notions he’d been
harboring earlier of trying to sneak out the back door vanished. Hutch chatted with Harry about his music, and gradually their
conversation began to draw others.
Before long, Hutch was fending
off requests to get his guitar. It was Harry who finally convinced him, telling everyone that Hutch was by far the better
man on a guitar, whereas he was simply a songwriter. It was with equal amounts of reluctance and anticipation that Hutch headed
back to his bedroom to pull his guitar out of the closet.
When he got there he stopped,
hearing voices and laughter on the other side of the door. For a moment, Hutch hesitated. Obviously some of the party-goers
had decided to disappear into his bedroom for privacy.
Hutch almost turned away, but
then decided that it was his bedroom, and they had no business making out
there, friends of Van’s or not.
It never crossed his mind that
they might be doing anything other than having sex.
Hutch flung the door open. He
was three steps inside before his brain fully registered the lines of white powder on a hand mirror on the dresser.
Hutch went from mildly irritated
to spitting nails in an instant. The girl sitting on the bed squealed, and Mr. Teach-a-man-to-fish stood up, wiping his nose.
Before he’d even managed
to get out, “Who do you think you are?” Hutch had him face down on the bed with his hands out to the sides. The
girl fell off onto the floor, shrieking. Hutch ignored her, patting the man down with controlled efficiency, finding a wallet
and a baggie of cocaine.
Blood was pounding in his ears.
He could barely hear himself reciting the Miranda rights to Mr. Alvin Sprung. People gathered at the door to the bedroom.
“Call the cops!”
Hutch snapped, when it seemed that no one was going to do anything other than stand around and stare.
Van crossed her arms in blatant
refusal, but Harry stepped forward and said, “I’ve already called them.”
Hutch gave him a curt nod.
“You can’t arrest
our friends!” protested Van.
“They’re your friends,
Van, not mine.”
“I’m your wife!”
He said, “This is my job.”
She turned away without a word.
Three beers and two hours later,
Starsky had his own copy of Sister Charity’s book.
It had a red cover with a picture
of a naked angel on the front. It was exactly like the one Hutch had fished out of the gutter earlier that day except that
his didn’t contain any kind of secret box. All he found inside was a collection of homilies, sanctimonious enough to
make his eyes glaze over within two paragraphs.
Sister Charity seemed like a
sweet lady. She’d smiled at him and expressed concern that he was spending his evenings in a den of iniquity like this
one, when he ought to be settling down with a nice girl.
She sounded just like Starsky’s
mother. Surely she couldn’t be involved in anything shady. Besides, just
because one of her books had been used to hide drugs, that didn’t mean any of the others were being used that way.
He decided to try a direct approach
after all, catching up with Sister Charity just as she was leaving the club.
She smiled. “Yes?”
“You’re around a
lot. I was wondering if you’d ever heard of a group or maybe a gang, named Bad Karma.”
“Oh my,” she said.
“No, I can’t say I have. Gangs? My word!”
“Oh,” said Starsky,
“Why do you ask?”
“Well, I heard they might
be responsible for some fires.” He stopped himself. “But it’s nothing you need to worry about.”
She patted his arm, reassuringly.
“But you must have had a reason for coming to me.” Giving his arm a gentle tug, she pulled him over to a table
near the door. “Tell me, please?”
What a nice lady, thought Starsky as he sat down across from her. “Well,” he said. “I found
one of your books, but someone had cut the inside out, so they could hide something inside. Drugs, I think...”
She gasped, and her hand came
up to cover her mouth. “Someone cut up one of my books?”
“Yes, I’m sorry,”
Sister Charity patted his arm
again. “Never mind, it’s not your fault.” She paused. “But why do you want to know about these things?”
“Well, my place got burned
down the day before yesterday. I just wanted to know who did it.”
“So you can turn them over
to the police?” asked Sister Charity.
“Of course,” said
“I’m so sorry I don’t
have anything to tell you,” she said, regretfully. “I hope you do catch these terrible people.”
Disappointed, Starsky decided
to have a few words with Huggy later on regarding useless tips. Standing, he helped Sister Charity out of her seat. “Are
you going home? Can I walk with you?”
She twittered, and brushed him
off. “Sweet boy! I’m more than able to look after myself.”
Starsky sat back down, and watched
her walk to the door. Just as she reached the exit, a familiar person walked
in. It was Weezie’s pal Dougie.
He looked nervous, his eyes darting
around the room as he took Sister Charity by the arm and leaned in close. Starsky
sank down and tried to look inconspicuous, wishing he could listen in on their conversation.
As Starsky watched, Sister Charity’s
demeanor changed from warm and nurturing to sharply critical. Dougie ducked his head and looked abashed. Starsky grinned,
feeling sympathy for the man. He’d been in a similar position with his mother and aunt more times than he cared to count.
Sister Charity dug deep in her
bag and gave Dougie one of the books from near the bottom. Dougie handed her something in exchange, which Starsky assumed
had to be the suggested dollar donation, though it looked like more.
Dougie tucked the book under
his arm and took off through the back of the club.
Curious, Starsky got up to follow
“You can’t do this
to me! You can’t lock me up with these animals! I have rights!”
Hutch shoved Alvin
into the cell, ignoring his protests. As he removed the man’s cuffs, he spotted a familiar face. “Hey, Weezie.
“My chakras are all out
of balance, man. Nature’s children don’t deal well with confinement.” Weezie’s hands shook as he took one last drag on his cigarette and then dropped
the butt into the toilet in the corner. “Saw the Judge. Says I’ve
got to pay the Man.” John gave Hutch a nervous smile.
“But it’s all right. My friend Dougie came by. He’ll find the
“Good. You want another
“’Preciate it, yeah. How’s Frodo?”
Alvin interrupted. “What about me? I shouldn’t even be here!”
Hutch glared at him, and Alvin backed down immediately. To Weezie, Hutch said, “I’ll
stop in tomorrow, make sure they’re still treating you right, okay?”
“And Frodo? Are they treating him right?”
said Hutch, suppressing an urge to cross his fingers behind his back.
He gave Alvin one last scowl before leaving. The whole party had been a disaster, and Van had damn
well reconsider organizing another if Alvin and his ilk were
the kinds of people she considered worth impressing.
The paperwork took some time,
which suited Hutch just fine. He knew he was avoiding the issue, but he couldn’t stomach returning home to face Van
An hour later the prospect didn’t
look any more appealing. With a groan, Hutch dropped his head into his hands. There was only one person he wanted to see right
now, and it wasn’t his wife.
“Hey, Dougie. What’ve
you got there?”
Dougie jumped and clutched the
book to his chest.
Starsky leaned against his car
and tossed his keys in his hand. “C’mon, Dougie. Why don’t we go for a ride? We can have a friendly chat,
and you can show me your book.”
“You’re a cop!”
Starsky snorted. “And you’re
the guy who knows how my house got burned down. Let’s go.”
Dougie’s eyes flicked to
the side, focusing on something behind him. Starsky started to turn, and then something hard and heavy collided with the back
of his head, knocking him to his knees.
Black dots danced across his
vision as he struggled to regain his feet. A heavy weight landed on his back, crushing him to the pavement and forcing the
air out of his lungs.
Starsky went limp, gasping. “Hey,”
“Shut up, or I’ll
hit you again!” snapped the elephant sitting on him. His assailant had to be an actual elephant, because nobody else
could possibly weigh as much. He could feel his ribs bending.
“Hit him anyway,”
suggested a second male voice. The elephant’s friend, Starsky assumed.
Starsky heard more footsteps,
lighter ones this time. Buttoned boots and the hem of a flowered skirt moved into his line of vision.
Sister Charity said, “Thank
you, dear. Now if you gentlemen wouldn’t mind, I’d appreciate it if you could put our policeman friend in your
car. We’ll want to talk to him somewhere more private.”
Hutch spotted Starsky’s
yellow Camaro just inside the alley. He backed up, and reversed, stopping in front of the other car. It was past two in the
morning, and the clubs had let out over an hour ago. The only sounds were the cicadas in competition with the electric hum
of the street lights.
Hutch climbed out of his car
and looked up and down the alley.
For all he knew, Starsky had
met some pretty girl and was spending the night at her place. As he turned to go back to his car, a glint of silver on the
pavement caught his eye. He bent to take a closer look and felt his breath catch in his throat.
Starsky’s car keys.
Hutch called it in immediately,
from the payphone on the corner. But the desk sergeant was unconcerned, clearly of the opinion that Hutch was being over-excitable.
“So he dropped his keys.
I’m sure he’ll be glad you’ve found them.”
When Hutch continued to protest,
he added, “I’ll ask the patrols in the area to keep an eye out for him, but I’m sure there’s no reason
to worry, son. We’ve had no reports of any disturbances in that area, other than the usual drunks.”
The sergeant sounded calm and
reasonable. By the time Hutch hung up, he was half-convinced himself that he’d been over-reacting. Probably Starsky
was just out with a girl. Maybe he didn’t even know that he’d dropped his keys. Maybe she'd distracted him.
In any case, it was too much
to ask that the department dispatch a forensics team on the basis of one set of lost car keys. Hutch suddenly realized how
his call was going to appear to the other officers tomorrow. It definitely wasn’t going to help his reputation in the
department. He hoped Starsky wouldn’t be too mad at him.
Hutch walked back to Starsky’s
car and picked the keys up off the road. Aloud he said, “Except, I know Starsky wouldn’t lose his keys. He loves
his car, and I don’t think even Rachel Welch could distract him from that.”
He bounced the keys in the palm
of his hand, considering. Finally coming to a decision, he opened the door of Starsky’s car and climbed in on the passenger
side. He paused for a moment to examine the interior. It felt odd to be sitting here without Starsky.
As always, Hutch couldn’t
help noting how neat and clean the inside of the vehicle was. Careless about many other aspects of his life, Starsky was meticulous
about how he kept his car. Hutch leaned forward and popped open the glove compartment. On top, he found the vehicle’s
registration and a well-thumbed copy of the owner’s manual. There was also a candy bar, half a pack of bubblegum, and
a slightly scorched baseball that Hutch recognized as the one Starsky had pitched at him when he had been washing dishes.
Beneath the baseball, he found
a hardbound black notebook. Hutch opened it, expecting to find phone numbers, such as those Starsky had been collecting from
the girls in Griffith Park.
What he found instead were lists
of names and descriptions, organized alphabetically, one to a page. And it wasn’t a list of available girls. Some of
the pages had mugshots taped to them. Hutch flipped through the book, finding contacts, snitches, and he even found himself
in there, listed simply as “Hutch”.
“So much for keeping it
all in your head, buddy!” said Hutch aloud, amused to discover that Starsky had his own crib sheets.
Hutch rubbed his thumb over his
page. His old address had been neatly crossed out, and his new one written in below. Starsky had clearly been keeping this
book for years.
Turning back a page, he discovered
that the one directly in front of his own was labeled “Huggy Bear”. It was organized similarly to his own page
– no picture or list of convictions, so definitely someone Starsky considered a friend. The list of addresses was long,
and they were all crossed out, ending with nothing more than a question mark at the end of the page.
Hutch stared at the neat writing
for a long minute, considering. Starsky might be out with some girl. He’d really like to believe that.
if he wasn’t…
Hutch decided he’d rather
live with Starsky being irritated at him than be wrong about this.
“How much do you know about
Starsky scowled at his interrogator,
and the barrel of The Elephant’s gun jabbed into his side.
“Answer the lady,”
growled The Elephant. The Elephant’s friend, who Starsky now thought of as ‘The Gorilla,’ tightened his
grip on Starsky’s arm.
Starsky’s prospects were
looking grim. Dougie had skedaddled right after ratting him out in the alley, but that left two big goons and Sister Charity
to run the circus. And Sister Charity apparently didn’t feel charitable towards nosey cops – or at all squeamish
about using the basement of a church to conduct her interrogations.
“Let’s see…” Starsky tugged on the ropes binding him to the chair and found them depressingly secure. “I know you’re all part of some gang, calls itself Bad Karma. I know you
use those books to distribute drugs.” He could see the back door, leading
out to the alley. It was just at the top the stairs, only a few yards away, and
it might as well have been on the moon. “You probably cut the pages out
and hide the stuff inside. And I know you’re going down hard for kidnapping a cop, but hey, if you let me go now I’ll
probably put in a good word for you. Ow!”
Starsky glared at The Elephant
who had just dug the pistol into his side again. The man really did have a gray cast to his skin, especially where he’d
shaved his head smooth. He looked like he’d been carved out of granite before being given life. Starsky twisted, trying
to see better. He wouldn’t have been particularly surprised to see Emet inscribed on his forehead, like the golems of
his childhood stories.
“Who have you told?”
demanded The Gorilla. He wasn’t particularly hairy, but he did have a simian cast to his features, especially around
Starsky, defiantly. “I told my partner. I told my sergeant. I told my mom. I even told my cat! There’s no way
you’re getting away with this!”
Sister Charity’s eyes narrowed
and her mouth pursed. “He’s the only one who knows,” she said.
Starsky winced. It occurred to
him that he might have overplayed his hand. Maybe he shouldn’t have mentioned the cat.
She turned away with a wave of
her hand. “Stash him for now,” she said. “We’ll figure out how to dispose of him later.”
Hutch leaned out of the window
of his car. “Alice! Hey, Alice!”
The girl paused, tossing her
blond hair back. “I’m done for the night, mister -- oh, I didn’t recognize you. It’s Hutch, isn’t
“Yes. I’m looking
for Huggy Bear.”
“I’m just about dead
on my feet, but I could make an exception for an officer of the law.”
“No, I just want to talk
to Huggy Bear.”
“You know, he’s not
actually my pimp -- ah, not that I’m saying I’m a working girl or anything, either.”
Hutch closed his eyes for a moment.
“Alice, please. I think you’re very pretty, but
right now I need to talk to Huggy Bear. I think Starsky might be in trouble. Do you know where Huggy is?”
She smiled brightly. “You
think I’m pretty?”
“All right. Huggy has a
place on Fifth and Sequoia.” She gave him the address, and then added, “You know, I think you’re pretty,
too. But what I really like is that you act like a gentleman. Any time you want a friend, you can look me up, Handsome Hutch.”
Starsky wiggled his index finger
into the knot between his wrists, trying to keep an eye on his captors. They were ignoring him for the moment, filling boxes
and stacking them near the stairs. Sister Charity had decided it was time to pull up stakes and leave.
The boxes were labeled “Cooking
Supplies” and “Charitable Donations.” Starsky wondered what Sister Charity had told the priest. Maybe the
priest was in on it all, too. Maybe the whole damn congregation was nothing more than a bunch of drug peddlers.
He felt something give in the
ropes that bound him, and redoubled his efforts. Just a little more...
“Hey, he’s trying
to get away!”
Starsky felt the ropes loosen
and fall from his wrists, but in that same moment The Elephant’s fist crashed hard into the side of his head. Fireworks
exploded behind his eyes, and instead of springing to his feet, he fell off the chair. A booted foot pounded into his midsection
and he curled forward with a gasp.
Sister Charity. “Pick him up!”
Rough hands grabbed Starsky and
hauled him back up off the floor. For a moment he dangled at the end of The Elephant’s
grip as the chair was set upright again. Then he was slammed back down onto it.
He wheezed, trying to pull air
in as he was forced to sit up straight.
“You’re nothing but
trouble, aren’t you?” said Sister Charity. “Well, I do like to reward perseverance.” Turning to The
Gorilla, she asked, “Do we have any more of those nice little blue pills? I’m sure you know the ones I mean.”
Pills? thought Starsky, alarmed.
said The Gorilla. “Right here.” He turned and opened a box sitting on a shelf against the wall. It had a peeling white label on the side identifying it as “Medical Supplies.”
“Good. Now open his mouth.”
Starsky tried to slip out of
The Elephant’s grip, but thick fingers grabbed his face and forced his jaws open. He bucked and kicked and managed to
knock over the chair. They threw him on the floor and knelt on his chest, forcing his head back against the concrete floor.
“You’re worse than
my kitties when I have to give them their medicine,” said Sister Charity, leaning over him with a blue pill held delicately
between her fingers. “Just relax. You’ll feel absolutely lovely in a moment.”
Starsky looked up at her through
watering eyes and wondered how it was such a sweet-looking old lady could be so thoroughly evil. She should have been home
knitting scratchy sweaters for her grandchildren, not selling drugs and kidnapping cops.
Then the pill dropped into the
back of his throat and he was choking and gagging, struggling hard to cough it back out. He had a glimpse of Sister Charity
standing over him with a glass of water and then The Gorilla pinched his nose shut. Water hit his face with a cold splash.
He spluttered, gasped and finally had no choice but to swallow. He felt the pill slide down his throat.
The Gorilla patted him with a
heavy hand, grinning as Starsky struggled to regain his breath. He could feel liquid rattling in his lungs.
“Now just one more,”
said Sister Charity.
Starsky protested inarticulately,
digging his heels into the ground and trying to buck them all off of him. But once more he found his cheeks seized in a bruising
grip and his mouth forced open. The second pill went down faster than the first.
“There, that wasn’t
so bad, was it?”
Time stretched like taffy, and
Starsky heard their voices slow down. Then suddenly it snapped and the voices around him sped up. He felt dizzy.
“You can let him go now,
boys,” said Sister Charity, sounding disturbingly like a chipmunk.
The Gorilla stood up, brushing
off his hands. “You’re going on an expensive flight, pig.”
The Elephant nodded. “First
class all the way.” He also got up, leaving Starsky on the floor.
Starsky climbed to his feet,
wondering how hard it would be to take them all on. What if he grabbed Sister Charity? They’d have to let him go if
he was using her as a hostage. Or maybe it would be better to just make a break
for the exit. After all, the door was right there, at the top of those metal
stairs, and once he was outside they’d never catch him.
“Joke’s on you! I
don’t feel… uh… oh. Whoa.” Starsky abruptly sat back down on the concrete.
He hardly noticed their laughter.
Huggy answered his door wrapped
in a shiny red bathrobe and indignation. “Just because you’re Starsky’s partner, that doesn’t give
you special privileges.”
“Starsky’s in trouble,”
“Of course he is,”
said Huggy. “That man’s been courting trouble since the day he was born. What is it this time?”
“He went down to the clubs,
looking for Sister Charity. Someone grabbed him.” The more time Hutch had to think, the more convinced he was that this
was exactly what had happened to Starsky.
Huggy’s eyebrows shot up.
“Grabbed? As in cop-napped?”
“As in all I found of him
were his car keys, on the ground in an alley off Main Street.”
Huggy briefly closed his eyes
and shook his head, as if deeply disappointed. Then he turned and walked into his apartment, leaving the door open behind
Hutch followed. “Who was
Instead of answering, Huggy shut
the bedroom door in his face. Hutch could hear him on the other side, opening and closing drawers. A girl’s voice rose
in query, and he heard Huggy reply in reassuring tones.
“Who’s got him?”
demanded Hutch when Huggy emerged fully dressed.
“Bad Karma,” said
Starsky was vaguely aware of
impending catastrophe, but he couldn’t make himself get up and do anything about it. He couldn’t even bring himself
Experimentally, he tried raising
one hand, but his eyes closed before it came into view. He listened to Sister Charity barking orders, as a languorous haze
wrapped around him and lifted him up, away from everything.
It was like flying and falling,
a good meal and a fast car, and the best sex he’d ever had, all wrapped up together.
“So let me get this straight,”
said Hutch. “Sister Charity is Bad Karma, and she’s running her operation out of a church basement?”
Huggy looked chagrined. “I
truly believed that Starsky was a man of reasonable caution. Not a lot, mind you, but a reasonable amount. What did he do?
Walk up to her and announce he was a cop?”
“She’s a sweet little
old lady,” snapped Hutch. “Of course he did!” Huggy had taken
him around to the alley behind the church, where they had found a panel van rapidly being filled with boxes by a pair of goons. It seemed that someone was in a hurry to move.
“Right, right.” Huggy sounded grim.
“Why didn’t you tell
him more?” asked Hutch. “Why didn’t you tell him anything important?”
“Because he’d just
go sniffing around, poke that inquisitive nose of his somewhere it wasn’t wanted and end up...”
“Inside that church there,”
Huggy inclined his head in reluctant
acknowledgement. “We might be so fortunate.”
Hutch understood clearly what
he wouldn’t say. If they weren’t fortunate, Starsky had already been killed and his body dumped in the bay.
“I saw a phone booth two
blocks back,” said Hutch, pulling change out of his pocket. He dumped it all into Huggy’s hand without counting
it. “Call the police. Give them this address.”
“And what about you, Kemosabe?”
I can’t wait around. I’m going in now.” Hutch reached for his gun, and then realized that he didn’t
have it. It was at home, unloaded and hanging in his bedroom closet, where he’d put it before Vanessa’s party.
“I’m going in now,” he repeated.
Huggy saluted him, and left quickly.
Starsky opened his eyes as he
was hoisted up onto his feet. “Wha’, wha’re you doin’?” His tongue felt thick and swollen in
his mouth. He’d been having a perfectly nice time before the Circus had arrived in town. He didn’t want to deal
with Elephants and Gorillas and Evil Little Old Ladies. He’d been dreaming
about flying, like the man on the cover of the red book.
Maybe the reason the man was
naked was because he’d figured out that clothes tied a person down. Clothes and all the things that come with them,
like rules and expectations. Family and friends weighing you down.
“You’re coming for
a ride with us,” explained Sister Charity, patting his cheek. “You’re going to be our insurance.”
Starsky felt someone take his
arm and he found himself leaning against a large shoulder. He tried to brace his feet under himself and tripped over sneakers
that suddenly seemed to have grown three sizes. He heard a curse, but he wasn’t sure whether it was The Elephant or
Probably The Gorilla, he decided. The Elephant was all the way over on the other side of the basement moving boxes in
a grey, ponderous kind of way. Which meant it had to be The Gorilla who was digging
his fingers into Starsky’s armpits.
“I don’t like you,”
said Starsky to Sister Charity.
“There, there, dear. It’s
just for a little while. After that, you won’t have to worry about anything else, ever again.”
Isn’t that nice, thought
Starsky, as he was dragged past the Sister Charity and up the stairs, the toes of his sneakers hitting the metal steps. Then
he realized that whatever it was Sister Charity had planned, it wasn’t nice. Just like her. She looked like a nice little
old lady, but she was really an evil drug dealer.
The Gorilla –
Starsky blinked; for a moment the man really had looked like a gorilla, dragging knuckles and all – opened the door
at the top of the stairs. The alley lay beyond, crumbling brick lit by the single yellow light bulb over the back door, and
a large panel van parked directly in front. As he stumbled outside, Starsky felt
the cool night air hit his face like the contents of another glass of water.
It was just the wake-up call
he needed to lock his knees and throw himself sideways. In that same moment, he saw a two-by-four plank of wood crack The
Gorilla up the side of the head, knocking him right off his feet.
Starsky blinked. Holding the
two-by-four was Hutch, red-faced and breathing heavily.
Hutch kicked the door shut and
braced the two-by-four under the knob. The man he’d just hit was still out, and the large dent in his forehead suggested
he wouldn’t be going anywhere any time soon. Hutch propped him up against the side of the church and patted him down,
finding a pistol inside his jacket. A cheap Saturday night special, but fully loaded.
“Starsk, are you hurt?”
he asked, as he stuck the gun into the waistband of his slacks.
“Wow,” said Starsky.
Which would have been reassuring except for the fact that he was still sprawled on the ground, unmoving.
“Are you hurt?” demanded
Hutch again. Something heavy thudded into the door, causing it to shudder. The
two by four seemed to be secure for the moment, but he didn’t know how much longer it would hold.
Receiving no answer from Starsky,
Hutch seized his arm and hauled him up onto his feet. “Come on!”
“Wait!” Starsky slung
an arm limply around Hutch’s neck and stared down at the front of his slacks. “Uh... did you forget your gun?
Your other gun?” He chuckled.
He sounded drunk or worse. Bracing
Starsky against his side, Hutch looked around, searching for cover as the door rattled in its frame. Starsky wasn’t
in any shape to run, and he was too heavy to drag very far.
The panel van was the only option.
Hutch steered Starsky over to the idling vehicle. They had just reached the back bumper when the two by four slipped and the
church door banged open. Starsky tripped and landed on his knees, just as a bullet buried itself in the side of the van.
Hutch dove over Starsky and rolled
back up onto his knees. Grabbing the back loops of Starsky’s jeans, he pulled him into cover behind the wheel of the
van. Another bullet dug a gouge out of the dirt an inch from Starsky’s sneaker.
Hutch. “Lay down your weapons!”
A third bullet ricocheted off
the bumper in response.
Hutch yanked his gun out of the
waistband of his pants and returned fire. There was a brief lull in the shooting.
He could feel the vibrations of the van through his shirt, and it occurred to him that he might be able to load Starsky inside
and drive the entire thing away.
“You know why I really
don’t like smoking?” said Starsky, slowly.
Hutch grabbed Starsky’s
chin, tilting his head up into the light from the street. His eyes looked like black ball bearings, with almost no blue left.
“Starsky, I don’t have time for this. People are shooting at us!”
“Because of the heroin.”
“Is that what they gave
you?” asked Hutch.
“Nope,” said Starsky.
“Don’t go to sleep!”
Hutch grabbed Starsky’s shirt and shook him. The back of Starsky’s head hit the van.
Starsky made a noise that sounded
suspiciously like a giggle.
A bullet took a chunk out of
the brick wall behind them. “God damn it, Huggy, where’s our back up?” This wasn’t how he had envisioned
dying on the job. He was supposed to go out heroically, saving hundreds from certain death, while his parents – and
hopefully Vanessa – wept over the fact that they’d never really appreciated him.
He was not supposed to die in a filthy alley with a drugged out partner beside him.
“Who’s that naked
angel guy, anyway?” asked Starsky. “Thought he was Gabriel, but he forgot his flaming sword. Like you forgot your
gun. What kind of cop forgets his gun?”
Hutch tried to open the passenger
side door. Finding it locked, he peered around the nose of the van. There was a dumpster just a little further down the alley.
If he could get down there, he might have a better angle from which to cover the door. “Naked angel guy?” What
the hell was Starsky babbling about?
“On the book!” Starsky
tried to stand up. “I’ll show you.” He got halfway to his feet, and then his knees gave out. He sat down
“Starsky, get down!”
Hutch saw the door of the church
open a crack. He fired a shot, and it closed. “Your naked angel is Icarus,” he said rapidly. “It’s
a myth from ancient Greece. He had wings made of wax and string and feathers.”
Taking a deep breath, Hutch ran
diagonally across the alley to the dumpster. Halfway across, the door opened and bullets chewed up the ground behind him.
He threw himself the last few feet, landing hard on his shoulders.
“What happened to him?”
called Starsky, apparently undisturbed by the firefight around him.
“He flew too high, the
heat of the sun melted the wax holding his wings together, and he fell into the ocean and drowned.” Hutch bellowed back. He shook his head. Starsky’s questions were making an already surreal situation
He could see the driver’s
side door clearly from this angle, but if he tried to run back and open it now, he’d almost certainly end up with a
bullet in his back. What he needed was a distraction. Unfortunately, Starsky was in no shape to provide it.
“But the higher you fly,
the colder it gets,” argued Starsky. “The wax would have frozen before it melted.”
The door opened again, but this
time instead of bullets there was only a feeble elderly voice. “I give up, gentlemen. You wouldn’t hurt an old
lady, would you?”
Hutch peered around the side
of the dumpster. Sister Charity was standing in the doorway, clutching her purse.
“Don’t trust her,”
said Starsky, though it wasn’t clear whether he was offering advice or talking to himself.
Hutch stood up, covering her.
“Where’s your weapon?”
“My weapon?” she
said. “Oh, my goodness, no. I don’t have a weapon. My man had the gun, and he’s run out the front door.”
Hutch glanced behind himself.
The entrance to the alley was empty. He edged out from behind the dumpster. Behind Sister Charity, he could see Starsky leaning
against the van.
“I’ve been completely
abandoned,” said Sister Charity, pathetically. She began to cry.
“Okay, uh... You’re
under arrest,” said Hutch, deeply unsettled by the fact that the villain was an old lady who was now in tears. He lowered
his gun and stepped forward, wondering what to do next. It didn’t seem right to throw her up against the van and frisk
“Behind you,” shouted
Unquestioning, Hutch dropped
and fired toward the entrance of the alley. A large bald man staggered back a step before regaining his balance. Then he raised
his weapon and fired. Hutch rolled toward the wall. Flying fragments of cement bit into the side of his face as a bullet narrowly
Hutch fired again, and saw the
man fall. Behind him, he heard Starsky yell, and he looked back just in time to see Sister Charity draw a small silver pistol
from her purse.
“Hold it right there, copper!”
she shouted, and there was no trace of weakness in her voice.
Hutch froze. Armed or not, she
was still an old lady.
Sister Charity inched sideways
toward the van.
“Be sensible,” pleaded
Hutch, scrambling to his knees. “You can’t get away with this!”
She opened the driver’s
side door with one hand. “I’ve been at this gig since before you were born, boy!”
Hutch pointed his gun at her.
“Stop right there!”
Sister Charity climbed inside
the van. “You wouldn’t shoot a little old lady!”
“Stop!” Hutch jumped
to his feet. The van began to roll toward him, and behind it he saw Starsky stumble and fall. Trapped,
Hutch finally fired a shot, shattering the windshield.
Instead of stopping, the van
sped up, Sister Charity grinning maniacally behind the wheel. Hutch threw himself back against the wall of the church. The van scraped the side of the dumpster, narrowly missing him. He fired again, and
the back tire disintegrated into shreds of rubber.
Hutch squeezed the trigger again,
but this time the hammer of his gun fell on an empty chamber. Out of bullets, he watched helplessly as the van sped out of
the alley. He had one last glimpse of Sister Charity’s exhilarated face, as she fired wildly out of the window. Then
her front wheels hit the body of the man he’d shot, and the van bounced. The back doors of the vehicle swung wide and
a box fell out, breaking open and scattering packages of white powder across the ground.
It all seemed to happen in slow
motion. Hutch watched as the remaining front wheel failed to find traction on the road, and the van shot straight across the
intersection. With a screech of tortured metal, the vehicle folded itself around a telephone pole.
One glance behind him told Hutch
that Starsky was fine, sitting on the ground in the center of the alley, staring at the crumpled remains of the van. Hutch
ran to the vehicle and tried to yank open the driver’s side door. It was jammed. He tried again, and then stopped. Through
the shattered glass, he could see that Sister Charity was dead.
Hutch let go of the door and
dropped his head, his gun suddenly very heavy in his hand. He could hear sirens approaching in the distance. He wondered what
had taken Huggy so long, and then realized that the entire fight could not have taken more than ten minutes.
Wearily, he walked back to Starsky
and dropped down next to him.
“I still don’t get
it,” said Starsky, slowly. “His wings should have frozen.”
“It’s a myth,”
said Hutch, watching black smoke begin to fill the front of the van. There was a fire in there somewhere, and he supposed
he should keep trying to get Sister Charity’s body out before it burned. “It’s about the danger of reaching
for glory and fame. We’re supposed to stick to the middle road.”
Sister Charity hadn’t stuck
to the middle road, thought Hutch. Maybe she’d appreciate having a funeral pyre. In any case, he doubted he’d
be able to get her out and was too tired to try.
Starsky made a rude noise. “Who
wants the middle road? If we choose the middle road, we’ll end up in blues the rest of our long, long, boring lives.”
He lay on his back and looked up at the sky.
A black and white pulled to a
screeching halt beside the van, blue lights flashing. Hutch could see the cop inside on his radio, no doubt calling for a
fire truck. “Starsky, there was this other Greek guy, named Achilles. He was given a choice between living a long, ordinary
life, or a short, glorious one.”
“Yeah?” said Starsky,
still looking at the sky. “Have you made your choice yet?”
“I think so,” said
“Sister Charity wasn’t
just any old lady,” said Hutch.
Starsky tried to open his eyes.
They felt as if they’d been weighted down with lead. He finally cracked one open and peered blearily at Hutch. “Go
Hutch sat down on the end of
his hospital bed. He tapped the side of Starsky’s face with a rolled up sheet of paper. “You’ll want to
hear about this.”
“I’m tired, Hutch.
And the nurse won’t let me go home.” This was the worst hangover he’d ever experienced. The initial pleasant
lassitude had been replaced with an inexplicable case of insomnia, and a miserable conviction that Sister Charity had damaged
his brain with those blue pills and he’d never sleep again.
Hutch unrolled the paper and
held it up in front of Starsky’s nose. “Your walking papers. The doc says they still don’t know exactly
what you were given, but whatever it was doesn’t appear to have any lasting effects.
It looks like you were dosed with the same designer drug as Donna. Except
you got more of it.”
Starsky opened both eyes. “I
get to go home?” His initial delight was swiftly replaced with dismay. “Except I don’t have a home.”
“Yet,” said Hutch.
“If you get dressed, we can go check out that place on Ridgeway. Now are you going to let me tell you about Sister Charity
Starsky sat up, and blinked a
few times, waiting for the static to clear. He wasn’t sure he wanted to hear any more about Sister Charity. She was
dead, and it was his fault. What more was there to say? “Go ahead.”
“Sister Charity, A.K.A
Doris Daly, A.K.A Calamity Dame--”
Starsky. “What did you say?”
said Hutch, enunciating clearly.
“No, no, you turkey. The
last one. Did you say Calamity Dame?” Starsky was wide awake now.
Hutch nodded, grinning.
“THE Calamity Dame?” Starsky had once owned a True Crime comic book devoted entirely to her exploits.
“The one who masterminded
that big rum-running operation during the Prohibition? And started that charity home for orphans that she used as a front?
And who shipped the rum in crates disguised as baby formula?”
“Yes, yes and yes. Same
lady. She got out of prison just last year, and it looks like she was trying to rebuild her empire. With drugs this time,
instead of bootleg booze.”
“Wow,” said Starsky,
blankly. “Oh, wow. And we made her drive into a telephone pole.” Somehow, finding out that Sister Charity was
Calamity Dame, the infamous Lady Gangster, made him feel even worse.
“She made herself drive
into that pole,” said Hutch. He handed Starsky his jeans. “Get dressed.”
Starsky took the jeans and swung
his legs off the side of the bed. “What about Donna? Is she still here?”
Hutch grimaced. “Unfortunately, no. She ran away.” He blew out a breath and said, “At least we don’t
have to worry about her falling back into Sister Charity’s hands.”
Starsky pulled his jeans on, he said, “I feel like we just took down Al Capone.”
“Not bad for our first
Starsky stopped in the middle
of doing up his fly. “Hutch, we killed a little old lady!”
Hutch didn’t answer immediately. Then his shoulders straightened and he said, “We took down the head of the biggest
drug smuggling organization in Bay City, and we did it alone.”
Starsky nodded, hearing the grim
determination in Hutch’s voice. He was right. There was no other way to look at it. Sister Charity might
have been an old lady, but she’d made her choices and she’d reaped the consequences, same as any other wiseguy.
Hutch passed over Starsky’s
shirt. “I think the odds in the ‘Will Hutchinson Survive’ pool are going to change dramatically.”
Oh hell, thought Starsky. He
“Stop looking so shocked,”
said Hutch. “We’re going to be detectives, remember? We have to be able to detect things.”
“This place is great!”
Starsky stood in the center of the living room and turned 360 degrees on his heel, taking in his surroundings with apparent
Not that there was much to take
in. The apartment was utterly bare, except for peeling paint and some exposed wiring.
“It… needs a little
work,” said Hutch, carefully.
“Sure, but did you see
the size of that bathroom?”
What Hutch had seen was rusted
pipes and brown glue stains where the tiling had been ripped off the walls. “Starsky.”
“So maybe it does need
a little work.” Starsky emphasized the ‘little.’ “But there’s nothing here I don’t know
how to fix, and I really doubt Mrs. Henderson is growing pot in the basement of this house.”
“No, I’m sure that’s
one of her other properties. She’s probably got Weezie and Dougie managing
it.” Hutch’s mouth tightened as he suppressed a grin. Starsky’s enthusiasm was contagious, and despite his
better judgment he was starting to see the possibilities in this place.
“Aw, she’s a sweet
old lady. And those two are probably miles from Bay City. I’d still like to know who was the moron who let a wanted man post bail for
his buddy.” Starsky wandered over to the light bulb hanging from the ceiling.
There was a short cord dangling from it. He pulled it, without success.
Hutch couldn’t believe
Starsky’s determined optimism where old ladies were concerned. “Sweet? She
threatened to call the cops when you tried to inquire after this place.” In
retrospect, driving straight to the property from the hospital hadn’t been the best plan. “You’re lucky I was here to make you look respectable.” Hutch found a light switch by
the door. He waited for Starsky’s nod before flipping it.
The bulb stayed dark.
“That’s because she
didn’t know I’m a cop. And a hero! She loves me now,” said
Starsky, unscrewing the light bulb and shaking it next to his ear. With a shrug, he tossed it onto a heap of broken drywall
in the corner.
Hutch winced at the sound of
breaking glass. “Not enough to give you a parking spot.”
“Bah.” Starsky waved
him off and strolled over to the sliding deck doors. He stretched in the fading light, and patted his chest, contentment written
clearly in every line of his body. Beyond him, the sunset glowed red.
Hutch rubbed the back of his
neck. He’d put off asking the question as long as he could, but it was getting late. “Uh, Starsk?”
“Can I crash here, tonight?”
Starsky grew still. Carefully
he said, “Van kicked you out, didn’t she?”
“She did not kick me out!”
Hutch took a deep breath. “She’s just not very happy with me right now.”
Starsky turned around, his arms
crossed. “Saying ‘don’t come back’ is a little more serious than making you sleep on the couch, you
“I’m not breaking
up with Van.” Hutch’s voice was flat.
“Marriage is a commitment,
and I take it seriously. I’m not going to abandon her.”
“You don’t think
we’re going to last,” said Hutch, accusingly.
Starsky grimaced. “I know
you love her.”
“Damn right.” Hutch
turned away, shoving his hands into his pockets.
Starsky pushed open the sliding
door and stepped outside. When he returned he had a plastic folding chair in hand. He set it down in front of Hutch. “Here,
you can arm wrestle me for the only piece of furniture in the house. Mi casa es su casa, and I promise I won’t even
get on your case about smoking.”
Hutch patted his pockets and
then turned up empty hands. “See? No cigarettes. I’ve quit.” He felt a brief qualm at the thought of never
smoking again, but the look on Starsky’s face was a reward it itself.
“But you’ve got to
tell me the truth now. What’s the connection between cigarettes and heroin?”
“Cigarettes and heroin?”
Starsky bit his lip.
“Back in the alley, you
said heroin was the reason you don’t like smoking.”
took a deep breath. “That’s how you got your heroin, back in Vietnam.
You’d dump the tobacco out of a cigarette, mix the heroin in, and then smoke it.”
“You as in you,”
asked Hutch. “Or ‘you’ as in everyone else?”
Starsky looked back outside.
“I remember my first day in country. I was nineteen. A bunch of guys walked up to me, offered me opium and told me that
if I bought any drugs, I’d buy it from them. If I bought drugs from anyone else...” He shrugged. “In Saigon there were little kids who would sell you black market smokes, just a dollar and cut with all
kinds of garbage.” Turning to face Hutch, he said, “Besides, I really don’t like the smell of tobacco, you
know? It stinks.”
“Good thing I’ve
quit, then,” said Hutch. “But Starsk?”
“Yeah?” Starsky was
“If you ever rag on me
again about my college experiments with LSD...”
“It’s not the same!”
“Right, because the drug
I tried was legal!”
Starsky grinned. “Why don’t
we go get ourselves some legal alcohol and a pizza? A home’s not a home if the fridge isn’t stocked.”
Hutch took one more look around
as Starsky collected his jacket. Despite the exposed wiring, stripped walls and lack of food, Starsky’s new place already
felt like home.