Author:  Rebelcat


Gen or Slash: Gen


Rating: PG


Category: short story, pre-series, first case


Disclaimer: They’re only mine in my dreams.


Betas: Nik Ditty, CC, and Elizabeth Helena. And also Rae took a look at it, back when it was a different story entirely. Yep, I needed lots of help with this one. Thanks, guys!


Notes: Written for the Bay City Library “First Case” contest.


Proving Ground

Baby, I think we associate with a very unstable group. ~ Bikini Beach (1964)

“Well now, what have we got here?”

“Fresh meat, I’d say.”

Starsky grimaced. Petersen and Buck: the two people he’d most hoped to avoid this morning. Didn’t think I’d have to back up my new partner right off the bat. I was hoping we’d make it out of the locker room first.

Hutch closed his locker door and turned, extending his hand with a smile. “Hi, my name’s...” His foot caught on the leg of the bench and he stumbled backwards. Starsky ducked, narrowly avoiding an elbow in the nose. Hutch crashed into the lockers with his shoulder, and the sound of glass shattering echoed throughout the room.

Startled by the unexpected noise, they were frozen in tableau: Hutch braced against the lockers and Starsky caught in the action of reaching out to catch him. Then the moment broke. Starsky completed his move, snagging Hutch’s elbow and pulling him up onto his feet.

Reaching behind Hutch, he opened the locker door. They both stared at the shards of glass littering the bottom of the locker; the remains of his shaving mirror.

Starsky heard a muffled snort behind him. He turned and glared at the two jokers, but his expression only served to fracture the last of their control. Petersen howled with laughter as Buck doubled over. Other cops, alerted by the noise, wandered over.

“Aw, geez, Starsky!” Petersen gasped. “You better keep an eye on that new partner of yours. Seven years of bad luck!”

Buck used the back of Petersen’s uniform shirt to pull himself upright. Wiping his eyes, he said, “How long do ya figure it’ll be before he drops his gun, or shoots himself in the foot? Anyone want to start a pool?”

There were chuckles from the others as, curiosity satisfied, they began to drift away.

“You’re an asshole,” growled Starsky, his hands tightening into fists.

“Aw, we’re just having some fun with the new kid,” said Buck, grinning. “Right, Blondie?”

Starsky stole a quick glance at Hutch. He was flushed and obviously angry. For a moment Starsky wondered if he was going to lay into his tormentors, but instead he gave Buck a clipped nod and knelt to pick up the pieces of his mirror.

Guess he doesn’t feel like he’s got the right to say anything, being new and all.

Well, that stricture didn’t apply to Starsky. “You know what...?” he began, but Petersen was already talking.

“Beverly Hills, pretty boy surfer...” His head was tilted to the side and he was examining Hutch with a supercilious air. “Ought’a be hanging with Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon, playing some beach blanket bingo.”

Starsky’s response was immediate. “Fuck you, Ol’ Pete!”

Buck laughed.

Smirking, Petersen took one more pointed look at Hutch, and said, “Seven years, Starsky. That’s a long time to be partnered with an albatross.”

Starsky watched the two men saunter off. After a moment, he retrieved the wastebasket and began helping Hutch put the glass in it. He wanted to say something, maybe about how Pete got it wrong because actually albatrosses were lucky, but the set of Hutch’s jaw and the tension in his shoulders warned against it.

And Starsky couldn’t deny that Pete had something of a point. Hutch couldn’t have been more clean-cut and wholesome if he’d stepped out of a Norman Rockwell Saturday Post cover. In his blues, he looked like a recruiter’s wet dream, like he ought to be helping little old ladies across the intersection and chatting up pretty girls in the soda shop. Certainly he didn’t look as if he would be much use on the streets downtown.

They picked up the glass in silence. Starsky wondered if Hutch was having second thoughts about the transfer. It was one thing to be friends in the academy and drinking buddies afterwards. It was another thing entirely to leave your cozy little suburban beat up in the hills to become a patrolman in the Metro division, downtown.

There had to be more to it than a few drunken promises made on graduation night.

Dropping the last of the broken frame into the pail, Hutch stood, brushing off the knees of his uniform slacks. As he retrieved his cap from the bench, he calmly asked, “Why do you call him ‘Old Pete’? He’s not much older than you.”

“Because Ol’ Pete’s got ideas, and those that ain’t vile, are foul,” quoted Starsky. He waited expectantly, but the blank expression on Hutch’s face made it clear that he had no idea what Starsky meant. “You never saw ‘How to Stuff a Wild Bikini,’ did you?”

“How to what?” asked Hutch.

“Annette Funicello? Frankie Avalon?” Starsky threw up his hands in disbelief. “It’s good wholesome fun, Hutch. Geez!”

“I never went for that kind of movie,” said Hutch, as he headed for the door.

Starsky grabbed his hat and jammed it on his head, mashing down the unruly curls. He trotted after Hutch. “Hey, did you know that in the sixth Beach party movie Annette Funicello was pregnant?”

“Way to go, Frankie,” said Hutch, dryly.

A deafening bellow brought them both up short.

“Starsky, get a damn haircut!”

Starsky turned to find Sergeant Tupper standing at the end of the hall, scowling at him.

“I got one last week,” protested Starsky. He assumed his most earnest expression. Playing innocent had never worked on the sergeant in the past, but there was always a first time.

“Like hell you did! You look like some kind of bum.” Sergeant Tupper stalked forward, his face darkening from its usual healthy pink to something more closely resembling red brick.

“Then I’ll fit in better at the beach today, won’t I?” Starsky heard Hutch shuffle nervously at his side.

“You’re not going in undercover, Officer Starsky!”

Starsky decided it was best to fall back on the tried and true. He straightened his spine and lifted his chin. “Yessir.”

The sergeant stopped three inches short of running him down, and pointedly looked him up and down. “Wrinkled pants, threads hanging off your shirt, scuffed shoes... Turn down that collar - you ain’t some kind of rock star... You are a disgrace to this department!”

“Yessir,” said Starsky, equably. He let Sergeant Tupper’s words wash over him, knowing perfectly well that it wasn’t personal. A tour in the army had a way of putting things in perspective like that. The sergeant paused to take a breath, and he inserted another, “Yessir,” just to be on the safe side. That made the sergeant splutter, and Starsky had to bite the inside of his lip to keep himself from grinning.

When Sergeant Tupper finally ran out of steam and marched off muttering imprecations under his breath, Starsky straightened his collar and quickly polished the toes of his shoes on the back of his uniform pants.

“Starsky...” said Hutch.

"Don’t sweat it.” Starsky gave him a quick grin and faked a punch at Hutch’s shoulder. He was amused to see him duck. “The only thing that’d make Sarge happy would be me 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.”

Hutch tucked his chin in, and looked at Starsky from under his eyebrows. “That’s only because it grows straight out to the sides instead of down.”

Starsky laughed but before he could think of a comeback, there was a commotion near the door. A fashionably dressed woman swept in, clearly aware of the effect she was having on the men she passed.


“Van?” Hutch looked surprised to see her.

“Hey, Mrs. H,” Starsky added, determined to be sociable.

She ignored Starsky, holding a brown paper bag up in one perfectly manicured hand. “Your lunch!”

“You brought me my lunch?” asked Hutch. He seemed utterly floored by the concept.

“Don’t let it go to your head,” said Van. She was smiling, but there was an acerbic edge to her voice. “I have some errands to run, and you were on my way.”

Starsky felt a tug on his elbow and turned to find Petersen standing behind him.

“What’s that?” asked Petersen.

“It’s his wife, dummy.” Starsky didn’t bother to keep the smugness out of his voice. Okay, so maybe Hutch was brown-bagging it like some grade school kid, but that didn’t change the fact that he had a drop dead gorgeous gal. This should definitely raise his status among the other cops.

“Huh,” said Petersen. “Figures. Pretty boys like him get all the breaks. Won’t save his ass when he’s facin’ down some whack-job with a knife or a gun.”

Or perhaps not.

“Get outta here!” snapped Starsky, giving Petersen a shove. “Give the guy some privacy, will ya?” He chased the others away as well, but when they were gone he stationed himself just around the corner and eavesdropped without shame.

Because, after all, Hutch was his partner. A man should always know what’s going on with his partner; he might need back-up.

Vanessa was saying, “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 this ugliness.”

Starsky winced, grateful that there was no one else around now to hear Van. Pretty she might be, but with an attitude like that she could kill Hutch’s reputation in no time flat.

Hutch’s voice was calmly reassuring as 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.”

Starsky wondered if that was Hutch’s real reason. Something about the way Hutch was talking made him think that he wasn’t being entirely truthful. Which raised the question of why did Hutch decide to transfer, if it wasn’t to fast track his career?

“And after detective?”

“Then I write the lieutenant’s exam.” Judging by the resignation in Hutch’s voice, this was not the first time they’d had this conversation.

“And what’s after that? Captain?”


“Mmm... and then Chief of Police,” said Vanessa, either oblivious or indifferent to the unhappiness in Hutch’s voice.

“That’s aiming pretty high.”

“It’s not too lofty a goal for you, Ken. You’re smart and ambitious. If you want it, you’ll get it.” She tried out the title, rolling it on her tongue. “Chief of Police Hutchinson.” There was a slight pause, and then as if the thought had just occurred to her, she suggested, “Mayor Hutchinson.”

Starsky rolled his eyes as he listened to a clearly embarrassed Hutch try to shut her up. He decided it was time to rescue his partner, and with deliberate casualness, he sauntered around the corner.

"Hey, Hutch!” He paused, and gave Van a cool smile. “Mrs. H.”

Hutch gave him an alarmed glance. Probably worrying about how much I heard.

Vanessa turned and stared at Starsky. She might have been looking at some disgusting insect that had just crawled out from under the floorboards. Starsky ignored her and said to Hutch, “We’re due for briefing in about thirty seconds. If you don’t want Sarge yelling at ya, then we better get a move on.”

That earned Starsky a look of pure gratitude from Hutch.

Vanessa made the most of her goodbye, leaving Hutch in a condition that would likely have Sergeant Tupper hollering as soon as they showed their faces in the squad room. After she was gone, Starsky straightened his collar for him. He couldn’t do anything about the fact that Hutch looked as if he’d just been ravished.

“You see why I love her?” said Hutch, grinning goofily.

Starsky just shook his head. At least no one could accuse Hutch of looking wholesome at the moment.

Except, somehow, he still did.


That morning, they responded to a report that someone was throwing fruit from a high-rise balcony and, according to the old man who called it in, seriously endangering the welfare of pedestrians.

It occurred to Starsky, as he drove to the scene, that all Hutch really needed was one good collar. That would show everyone just the kind of cop he really was.

However, their subsequent discovery of a five year old with a pilfered bag of his mother’s groceries pretty much negated any chance of this becoming the bust that would secure Hutch’s reputation.

A promising call regarding an assault in progress turned out to be five high school kids with a Super 8 camera, trying to film the next blockbuster thriller.

Starsky was disappointed.

But when they finally came across one legitimate case of public drunkenness, neither of them had the heart to bust the old guy. They dropped him off at St. Gertrude’s Mission instead.

“You know our arrest record’s going to look pretty pathetic,” commented Starsky. He didn’t put any heat into his complaint. This wasn’t the sort of bust that would impress any of the guys anyway.

He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, thinking about the broken mirror. Seven years of bad luck...

“In my old precinct we’d have taken him in without arresting him and let him sleep it off in an empty cell,” said Hutch, returning the derelict’s smile and giving him a goodbye wave as they pulled away from the curb.

Why did you let me talk you into transferring, Hutch? “Guess you had lots of empty cells, huh?”

“Usually a few,” said Hutch, cautiously.

“Things are pretty different down here,” said Starsky. “Holding’s always jam packed, and the conditions..." He paused. “Let’s just say you don’t wanna throw a nice old guy like that in there, unless he’s actually done something to deserve it.”

Another call came in. This time, Starsky and Hutch found themselves escorting a family of ducks across the road to the park.

“No, I do not give you permission to use our pictures,” Starsky snapped at the reporter trying for a human interest angle. He marched back to the patrol car with his back ramrod straight. God help us if this gets back to the precinct. He hoped Mildred in Dispatch hadn’t told anyone yet.

Laughing, Hutch climbed in on the passenger side. He reached across and knocked Starsky’s hat askew. “I thought you said this was a tough town.”

"Yeah, yeah.” Starsky was grumpily straightening his hat when the next call came through. For a moment he was too distracted, speculating on how to bribe Mildred into keeping her mouth shut about the ducks, to take in the meaning of the codes or the location.

Then it sank in. Domestic disturbance, suspect armed with a knife.

“Hey, that’s just down by the beach!” Starsky reached for the mike. “Car 23, responding. ETA, six minutes.” He had to clamp down on a sudden urge to whoop in excitement.

The dispatcher’s amused voice crackled back at him. “Car 23, are you sure you’re finished at your present location?”

“Aw, Mildred,” wheedled Starsky. “Be nice, huh?”

“Car 23, always use code when communicating on the police band.”

Starsky made a face and replaced the handset. “She’s mean,” he told Hutch.

The address turned out to be a brownstone tenement, a building that had once been upscale, but which had faded over the years. Where there had been elegant awnings, now washing hung from the crumbling ledges of the windows and graffiti decorated the walls. There was already a small crowd gathering on the street outside.

Starsky pulled up behind the patrol car already parked on the curb. He quickly checked the identification number on the rear, wondering who had made it to the scene before him.

Shit. Petersen and Buck.

“More cops!”

“Hey, officer, you gonna take that freak down?”

When Starsky climbed out of his side of the car, he was amused to see that Hutch had been waylaid by a pair of girls in bikini tops and shorts.

The blonde one was earnestly explaining, “The other policeman said we couldn’t go upstairs, but all my swim gear is in our apartment... Hey, is Mr. Taft going to be okay?”

“He’s a sweet guy, honest!” said the brunette.

The blonde noticed Starsky now. “Hey, have I seen you before?” she asked. “’Cause you look familiar. Do you ever hang down by the beach?”

Her friend grabbed her arm. “Debbie! You’re doing it again!”

Starsky caught Hutch’s eye over the girls’ heads. “Upstairs,” he mouthed.

Hutch nodded a little too emphatically. Starsky guessed he was probably glad for any excuse to escape the attentions of the overly-familiar Debbie. Marriage could make a guy shy like that, which was another reason Starsky was glad he was still single.

He took a moment to have a quick word with Debbie and her friend, who gave her name as Donna, before following Hutch into the building.

As Starsky climbed the stairs, he could hear above him a man’s frightened ranting coupled with a woman’s hysterical pleas. Underneath it all were the low voices of Petersen and Buck, trying to calm the situation. They didn’t seem to be having much success, and Starsky picked up speed, catching up with Hutch. The stairs and hallways were crowded with curious tenants.

Grabbing Hutch’s shoulder on the first landing, Starsky said, “If you’re not with a girl you love, love the girl you’re with.”

“Let me guess,” said Hutch, as he firmly moved an old lady brandishing a broom out of his path. “More words of wisdom from ‘How to Stuff a Wild Bikini’?”

“Hey! You’re catching on!”

Buck met Starsky at the top of the staircase. “Got ourselves a white male, 34, armed with a kitchen knife, ah... I think it’s a cleaver, actually. He’s barricaded himself in the bedroom. He thinks everyone’s trying to kill him.”

“Buck,” said Starsky. “Do you think you can get these folks to clear out of here? Hutch and me will see what we can do to help Pete.”

“I’m on it,” said Buck, quickly. “Nutcases ain’t my thing.”

Starsky gave him a sympathetic grin as they passed each other. Buck’s past run-ins with Bay City’s more unbalanced citizens were legend in the precinct. He had the unfortunate distinction of having managed to talk not just one, but two suicides right off the bridge and into the bay. Then, just three weeks ago, a sweet-looking old lady bit him when he tried to make her give back the oranges she’d shoplifted. No one could blame him for trying to put some distance between himself and the crazy knife-wielding guy. If Buck was involved, it was bound to end badly.

Inside the apartment they found Pete trying to calm a small dark-haired woman. She was gripping the front of his uniform shirt with both fists, but her attention was on a door set into the right-hand wall of the small cluttered room.

“Don’t hurt him, please!” she begged. “He just goes a little off sometimes. He’d never hurt anyone.”

Starsky stepped to the side, turning toward Hutch. He saw his partner’s eyes narrow slightly as he realized that Starsky was handing him the lead.

Technically, Starsky was senior on the scene, if only by a matter of months, but Hutch was the one with the most to prove. Starsky gave him an expectant look. It’s all yours. Show them what you’ve got.

Hutch nodded and then moved forward. “What’s the situation?”

“It’s my husband, John,” said the woman. “He has nervous spells.” She had a weary, drawn face, one that spoke of a hard life and too many cares.

Pete patted her back reassuringly. “This is Mrs. Taft,” he said. “Mr. Taft has shut himself in the bedroom with a cleaver. He says..."

A voice from directly behind the door suddenly broke in, making them all jump. “They hate me, and they’re trying to kill me! A man’s got a right to defend himself!”

Petersen had a wry expression on his face. “Yep, that’s what he’s been saying. I would have tried to disarm him, but..." he glanced over at Starsky.

Starsky nodded. Pete didn’t want to say anything about Buck in front of Hutch. “You needed backup.”

Hutch walked over to the bedroom door, placing his hand against the painted wood. “Mr. Taft? John? I’m a policeman. My name’s Officer Hutchinson. I’d like to help you.”

Petersen gave Starsky a questioning look. Starsky stepped closer and said quietly, “Why don’t we let him try, huh?”

A soft snort. “You wanna go in on the pool? Current odds are forty to one he doesn’t last the week.”

“Yeah, we’ll just see what those odds look like after today.” Starsky tried to project unwavering confidence in his partner’s abilities.

Hutch, I sure as hell hope you know what you’re doing.

John Taft was still behind the door. “You’ll try and kill me, too!”

“No, sir,” Hutch said carefully. “We’re your friends. We’re here to protect you. We won’t let anyone hurt you.”

The protests from behind the door became indistinct, as if the man had moved farther away into the room. Hutch dropped his hand and turned back to Petersen, who immediately continued with his earlier summation of the situation.

“The lock on the door is broken. The only other exit from the bedroom is the window. Mrs. Taft says there’s one light switch, on the wall directly to your right when you enter. There’s also a mattress in the corner against the far wall, no bed frame."

“Our old one broke,” Mrs. Taft said. “We been meaning to get a new one.”

Starsky reached over her shoulder to gently touch her cheek. “Does he hit you a lot?”

Her hand flew up to cover the slight swelling. “No!” she said. “This was the first time he ever hit me. He didn’t mean it. He was just scared.”

“So he’s never hit you before.” Starsky kept his tone neutral, implying neither disbelief nor acceptance.

Mrs. Taft released Petersen and stepped back, clasping her hands together. “Sure, he gets nervous spells, but he’s never hurt no one. Please..." Her eyes darted nervously between the three men. “He ain’t done nothing wrong. He’s just confused, is all.”

From the hallway outside they heard a woman’s voice shriek, “He oughtta be locked up in the looney bin!”

Starsky and Hutch exchanged an exasperated glance, and then Starsky swung on his heel and headed for the front door. In the bedroom Mr. Taft started ranting again, and Mrs. Taft began to cry.

Starsky braced his hands on either side of the doorframe, leaned out into the hallway, and shouted, “Get back in your apartments!” He slammed the door shut and turned back to the others.

Hutch tapped Petersen on the shoulder. “Can you take Mrs. Taft into the kitchen? Maybe make her some tea? I’m going to try talking to John again.”

Pete nodded, and wrapped an arm around Mrs. Taft’s shoulders, turning her away from the bedroom door.

Starsky looked at Hutch. “What’s the plan?”

Hutch grabbed a chair and swung it around backwards. Sitting down in front of the bedroom door, he crossed his arms over the back. “We wait.”

“Yeah?” asked Starsky. He leaned against the wall by the door.

“Sure. Let the crowd outside get bored. Give Buck time to clear the stairs, and give Petersen time to calm Mrs. Taft down, and give me and Mr. Taft here time to get to know each other.” He raised his voice, directing his words at the closed bedroom door. “Isn’t that right, John? We’re going to be friends, right?”

“Friends don’t try to kill each other,” said John from the other side of the door. The floor creaked, and Starsky imagined the man pacing nervously on the other side, clutching his cleaver. He released the snap on his holster.

Hutch glanced over at the sound, frowned, and quickly shook his head. He turned back to the door. “That’s right John, they don’t. So why don’t you tell me who’s trying to kill you?”

“They all are! I hear them talking all the time, saying stuff about me..."

Starsky wondered if Hutch knew there was a pool on him at the precinct. The uneasy thought occurred to him that he might have more self-interest tied up in seeing his partner succeed than was strictly ethical. Had he done Hutch any kind of favor by convincing him to transfer?

He knew his own reasons, they were simple. He wanted Hutch to be his partner. He’d known that with absolute certainty by the end of the first week of training. Hutch was the kind of guy Starsky could still be friends with after eight deadly hours on stakeout, jockeying for elbow room in a hot, cramped car. And Hutch was the kind of guy he could count on to back him up, every time, solid as a rock. But what were Hutch’s reasons?

Hutch said, “John, I’m going to come in now.”

Starsky straightened, abandoning his internal debate. He had to consciously restrain himself from reaching for his sidearm.

Unseen, John protested, “Don’t open the door!”

“I’m just going to come in, buddy,” said Hutch. He stood, turning the chair around and holding it by the back. “I’m coming in now.” The chair in one hand, he reached for the doorknob, giving one last quick glance in Starsky’s direction. You with me?

Starsky held up both hands, palms out, reiterating the silent communication they’d shared earlier. Your show. He couldn’t entirely suppress his concern, though. Having his shiny new partner end up with a knife in his gut his first day on the job definitely wasn’t part of Starsky’s game plan.

Hutch must have read some of this in his expression, because he gave Starsky a quick reassuring grin before pushing the bedroom door open. The room was dark. John had taped newspaper over the window. Starsky wondered if that was to keep people from spying on him.

Hutch stood in the doorway, the chair in front of him. “John? It’s just me, Hutchinson. We’re going to keep you safe, John, but first I have to turn on the light.”

“No! No lights!”

Starsky heard shuffling in the far corner of the room, and there was a glint in the shadows as the light from the living room reflected off something metallic.

Hutch slowly reached for the light switch, still holding the chair off the ground in front of him, his eyes on the figure in the darkness.

“I’m turning on the light now, John.”


There was quiet click, followed by a soft sob from John, as the room was flooded with yellow light.

“That’s better,” said Hutch, soothingly.

The bedraggled man in the corner behind the dresser blinked owlishly, his eyes tearing. “You’re really a cop?” He was wearing rumpled slacks and a flannel shirt. Dark sweaty hair, thinning on top, was plastered against his forehead.

“I told you, John. I’m Officer Hutchinson. And behind me is my partner, Officer Starsky.”

“Hi,” Starsky said. He mustered what he hoped was a reassuring smile. That cleaver looked very large and sharp, and he didn’t want to think of what it could do to flesh.

Hutch said, “We’ll make sure no one hurts you, John.”

John seemed to want to believe Hutch. He unfolded slightly from his crouch, the knife still held defensively before him.

“A man’s got to protect himself,” he said.

Starsky found himself feeling pity for the man. John’s face was twisted and flushed, his eyes wide and terrified.

“We’ll protect you,” said Hutch. He placed his chair down in the center of the room and leaned on the back, looking and sounding as relaxed as if he were simply having a quiet conversation with a friend.

Starsky heard a noise and glanced quickly over his shoulder. Mrs. Taft and Petersen had come quietly back into the living room. Mrs. Taft had both of her hands over her mouth, and Pete was holding her close.

“You won’t let them get me?” John pleaded.

“We’re going to take you out of here, John,” said Hutch. “We’re going to take you downtown. We’ll find you someplace nice and quiet, where no one can hurt you.”

Starsky could hear a subtle undercurrent of pain in Hutch’s voice. He feels like he’s lying to the poor little guy, but there’s nothing else he can tell him right now. Starsky wished he hadn’t told Hutch about the conditions in the cells downtown.

Cautiously, slowly, John stood, the knife clutched against his chest, his knuckles white. “You won’t let them get me?” he asked again.

“We’re police officers,” said Hutch. “We’re here to protect you.”

John hesitated.

“Why don’t you give me the knife, John?” asked Hutch, extending his hand over the chair, toward the man. “We’re all friends here, and you don’t need it now.”

John stepped forward, but didn’t relinquish his hold on the knife.

Starsky tensed. John was only a few feet away from Hutch now, and the only thing between them was a rickety wooden chair.

At that moment, someone banged on the ceiling of the apartment beneath their feet, and they all heard a woman’s mocking voice. The words were muffled, but the contempt was plain to hear.

John started violently, a shudder traveling up the whole length of his body. He suddenly lurched toward Hutch. Hutch swung the chair up between them, knocking John’s arm to the side. Diving forward, he grabbed John’s wrist, forcing the cleaver up above their heads. His momentum carried them both to the floor as the chair crashed against the wall.

In the living room, Mrs. Taft screamed.

Hutch flipped John over onto his stomach and threw himself across the smaller man’s back, pinning him to the floor. Starsky scrambled forward and quickly snagged the cleaver out of John’s hand. Pitching it low towards the open door, where Petersen could retrieve it, he then moved to secure John’s ankles.

He expected that Hutch would immediately put John in cuffs. But Hutch made no move to unclip his handcuffs from his belt. Instead, he spoke quietly to the agitated man, telling him to relax, that everything would be fine, that he was safe now...

Starsky craned his head to the side, trying to see what was going on. Hutch had pressed his hand to the side of John’s face and was stroking his neck with his thumb, the way you might calm a nervous dog. It was a curiously intimate gesture, and when Hutch asked, “We’re friends, aren’t we John?” Starsky wasn’t at all surprised to hear John agree. He could feel the tension easing out of John’s body as Hutch continued to soothe him.

He’s really good! thought Starsky, with a sense of astonishment. He’d always known Hutch would be competent at his job, but so was Buck - and he was hopeless at handling the nutcases. Starsky realized now that the main difference between Buck and Hutch was that Hutch had real empathy, and he knew how to use it to connect with people who were hurting. Pete, I hope you’re watching this. He’s going to make you sorry you ever bet against him.

He refocused on the situation at hand, in time to hear Hutch say, “I have to put handcuffs on you now, John. I don’t want to hurt you, so I need you to stay relaxed..."

Starsky watched, deeply impressed, as Hutch talked John into cooperating with his own cuffing. By the time Hutch helped John to his feet, the man was smiling, convinced that Hutch was his best friend in the whole world. Even when Mrs. Taft darted forwards to hug him, her cheeks wet with tears, John still kept his eyes trustingly focused on Hutch.

“Not bad, Hutchinson,” said Petersen, easing Mrs. Taft away from her husband.

Hutch grimaced. “If I’d just had a few more minutes, I think I could have talked him into giving me the knife.” Checking to ensure that the hallway was empty, he guided John though the door, keeping a reassuring hand on his lower back the entire time.

Outside, Debbie ran up, with Donna right behind her. “Poor Mr. Taft! Is he going to be alright, officer?”

Starsky gave Hutch a nudge with his shoulder. “You’ve been working hard, I’ll handle this one.”

Hutch rolled his eyes.


They spent the better part of the afternoon getting John Taft processed and settled in a cell. It was a thoroughly depressed Hutchinson who finally retreated to his desk to write the report.

Starsky quietly took the seat opposite him and tried to attend to his own work, one ear open for the inevitable outburst.

He heard the paper tear and glanced up in time to see Hutch slam his pen down with enough force that it bounced and rolled off onto the floor. Cursing under his breath, Hutch bent down to retrieve it and very nearly gave himself a concussion on the underside of the desk. Starsky winced, but quickly schooled his expression into one of polite interest as Hutch righted himself and slapped the pen back down.

“Why the hell doesn’t this city have a place we can send the mentally ill, huh? Telling me we don’t have a doctor on call... That poor guy’s going to have to sit in there all night with all kinds of hardcases, and no one’s going to even look at him until tomorrow!”

“Well...,” began Starsky. The fact of the matter was that the duty officer had done his best to make sure John Taft wouldn’t be victimized. He had been placed in a cell with a guy in a self-induced catatonic state, a flasher, and a transsexual pickpocket, none of them violent men.

“I know!” snapped Hutch, misinterpreting Starsky’s abbreviated remark. “I had to bring him in. No other choice. He’s delusional, and he might have become violent.” He pushed his chair back from the desk and began searching through his pockets.

All day Starsky had been asking himself why Hutch had agreed to transfer to Metro. Now, seeing how worked up the man had become over one little lunatic, he thought he had part of the answer. Hutch wanted to help people, to make a difference.

“I think...,” said Starsky.

“It’s not so bad when it’s a small quiet jail,” interrupted Hutch, pulling a pack of cigarettes out of his breast pocket and shaking one to the top. “You bring a guy in, let him shake off the DT’s or sleep off his drunk. You can make them pretty comfortable. Give them a cell all by themselves, and you know the guy on duty will be there if they need anything.”

Starsky decided it was wisest just to nod.

“I lied to him,” said Hutch. He lit his cigarette and stared unhappily at the glowing end. “I told him we were taking him someplace safe and quiet.”

Starsky heaved a sympathetic sigh, and then grimaced as a cloud of Hutch’s tobacco smoke drifted his way.

Hutch shot him a sharp glance. “Okay, what’s your beef with my smoking?”

“It stinks. And you know what? When we make detective, you’re gonna quit.”

“Says who?” Hutch frowned.

“Says me.” Starsky straightened and jabbed his thumb into his own chest for emphasis. “I’m not having you turning my car into a tar pit.”

“Wait a minute! Who says we’ll be using your car for undercover work? It’s lemon yellow! The crooks would spot us coming a mile away, assuming your engine doesn’t crap out first.”

“It’s not lemon, it’s sunshine. And I’ve been saving up for a new car,” said Starsky. “Red cars are faster, you know. Especially if you put a racing stripe down the side.” He paused thoughtfully before continuing. “Anyway, we sure as hell ain’t gonna use your car. I wouldn’t be caught dead in that piece of junk.”

“If you were dead, you wouldn’t have much say in the matter,” said Hutch. He stubbornly took another drag on his cigarette, thinking about what Starsky had said. “Do you really think we should go for detective together?”

Starsky looked at him suspiciously. “What? You don’t think I got what it takes?” Maybe he’s thinking he doesn’t want to be partnered with me for that long.

“It’s not you I’m wondering about.” Hutch examined his cigarette, rolling it in his fingers and watching the smoke twist from the end.

“You?” Starsky made an impatient noise. “Hutch, you make a real pretty patrolman, but I don’t see you in blues for the rest of your life. You’re too smart.”

Hutch glanced around quickly before leaning forward to meet Starsky’s questioning gaze. “Ssh! You’ll get me in trouble. What if one of the older guys heard you?”

Starsky grinned. “Aw, it’s true. You and me, we’re meant for bigger things.”

Hutch’s voice dropped further, his jaw tightening. “If you start talking about Lieutenant, Captain, Chief of Police, Starsky, I swear I’ll knock you on your ass.”

“Relax!” said Starsky. “You gotta have a college degree to go for Lieutenant, and then they keep ya trapped behind a desk for the rest of your life. That ain’t me!” He gave Hutch a speculative look. “Could be you, though...”

“Don’t even go there!”

“Of course, I could also see you as mayor...”

Hutch groaned and let his forehead hit the desk. “You were listening!”

“I’m just surprised she stopped at mayor. D’ya suppose she doesn’t think you’re presidential material?”

Slapping his palms on the surface of the desk, Hutch suddenly lunged forward and tried to grab Starsky. His papers went flying and Starsky scooted backwards, laughing.

“Asshole!” snapped Hutch

“But you love me anyway,” said Starsky, as he beat a hasty retreat out to the hallway. He was teasing, but it hit him suddenly that there might be a kernel of truth in there somewhere. Maybe not the love part exactly... He stuck his head back around the door.

Hutch met his eyes, scowling.

Starsky asked the question quickly, because if he gave himself time to think it over he’d probably chicken out. “Hey, why’d you transfer here anyway?”

Hutch flopped backwards into his chair. He looked surprised, and it took him a moment to answer. “You’re my best friend, where else would I be?” He looked down, embarrassed, and picked up his pen. He stared at it for a moment, then glanced up with a triumphant look. “Besides, working next to you, I’m always going to look good.”

Starsky was pretty sure he wasn’t hiding anything. The grin he could feel on his face probably gave the whole game away. I’m his best friend?

But what he said was, “I’m getting myself some coffee. You want any?”

Sometimes the questions you thought were the most complicated, had the simplest answers of all. Hutch had transferred for the same reason Starsky had suggested it in the first place.

To be partners.


Petersen and Buck caught up with them after work, just outside of the precinct. Petersen said, “Hey, hang on a minute. Hutchinson, you did alright today. Let me buy you a beer.”

Starsky glanced down the sidewalk and spotted the people he’d been waiting for. As he waved the girls over, he smirked at Petersen. “Nah, we’re late for the beach party.” With a nod first at Donna and then Debbie, he said, “We’re gonna go hang with Frankie and Annette, here.”

Debbie said, “I thought I was Frankie.”

Hutch’s eyebrows were crawling up his forehead, but he let Starsky drag him off with the girls.

“Starsk, you know Van isn’t going to like this,” Hutch said, as soon as they were out of earshot.

“Oh, that’s okay. I’ll cover for ya. After all, what are partners for?”

It was clear from Hutch’s face that he thought Starsky was offering to cover for him with Vanessa. Starsky let him squirm for a good long moment, and then he slipped an arm through each girl’s elbow and sauntered off with both of them, leaving Hutch standing on the sidewalk with his mouth hanging open.

Seven years of bad luck, buddy. And here’s to hoping it’s many more than seven!