Before you begin reading The Thousandth Man:

New fans of Starsky and Hutch who didn't get to see the show in first run may need to know some facts that are pertinent to this story. During the first run of the show, the last three episodes - Snitch, the double episode Targets Without a Badge, and the final episode, Sweet Revenge -- were supposed to be shown as a continuing arc. In them, Starsky & Hutch worked strongly together and were a unified team (a good way for the show, which had always been about "two men who loved each other who happened to be cops," to quote David Soul) to end. However, as the quixotic world of network scheduling would have it, the episode Starsky versus Hutch, which featured the boys' fierce rivalry over the policewoman Kira, had had to be pre-empted from its scheduled viewing earlier in the year. So, some genius at ABC scheduled this episode after Targets and before Sweet Revenge. The scheduling was clearly a last minute attempt to get all the episodes shown before the show ended: the calendar in Starsky's house is on an earlier month, and more importantly, Hutch is still driving the Ford that was completely destroyed by a bomb in Snitch. But S vs H got shown when it did, just before the final episode, and so it is canon, and we're stuck with it. So what does a good writer like Suzan Lovett do when presented with such lemons? Why, she makes an excellent novel that is sharp and savory with a tart taste and just a hint of sweet. So, as you read The Thousandth Man, realize that it accepts this canon, and begins at the final scene of Starsky versus Hutch, which was shown immediately before the final episode of Sweet Revenge.
                                                                                          -- Flamingo

The Thousandth Man
Aka "What's a Starsky?"

by Suzan Lovett

"Anger which breaks men into children
Anger which breaks good into doubts
And doubt into similar arcs
And then the arc into unexpected tombs,
has one steel against two daggers.
Anger which breaks the tree into leaves
Anger which breaks the soul into bodies
And the body into dissimilar organs
And the organ into octave thoughts,
has one central fire against two craters."

                                     Cesar Vallejo

Part 1a

It had been a perfect performance, that impromptu act for Kira's benefit. Only the two men knew what it actually was: sheer bravado.

So, lady, Hutch thought, not quite that liberal after all, are you? Another thought occurred: What the hell were we going to do had she taken us up on it?

Well, they had bet on longer odds before. And it had been just like before; with a unity of purpose, moving as one, they had closed ranks, managing to wrest a tiny victory from the ridiculous situation. It had looked so smoothly orchestrated that it had fooled Kira, maybe even Huggy.

One more time: me and thee against the world.


Swan song?

Now that the world is shown the united front, Hutch wondered, what happens to me and thee?

Starsky gave him an indication soon enough. Arms still around each other, they emerged from The Pits into the street, but Starsky's arm dropped away from the taller man's shoulders, abruptly dislodging Hutch's in the process. There was a pause, during which Hutch thought he was expected to say something. It held for a beat. Two. Three. Then it passed.

"Thank you, Hutchinson," Starsky said levelly.

His full name coming from his partner's lips sounded like something in a foreign language. "Thank you," he responded and marveled at how nonchalant he sounded.

"Now you can go to hell," Starsky continued, still levelly, and started for his car.

"Will you be there?" Hutch wondered why he had called that out. Lately he seemed to be doing too many things without knowing why. He knew this was no game, and no attempt to turn it into a joke would make it so. Starsky was dead serious this time.

The question hung in the humid air while Starsky climbed into the Torino. "You ought to know; you punched the ticket." He slammed the door and the car roared away.

So much for me and thee, Hutch concluded.


Ending an eight-year commitment deserved some sort of a wake. However, staying awake seemed to be all the reaction he could dredge up. Hutch wondered if it was possible he didn't care. Maybe he was just numb. Or tired. Or something.

Furthermore, he couldn't stay awake any longer either. He let the dark close in, thinking that apathy was a strange funeral pyre for something which had burned so brightly while it had lived.

It was even stranger in the morning. He woke up, feeling...? Not exactly good, but...? Free? No. Unburdened, was more like it.

Suddenly, he had options again. If he wanted to, he could march right up to Dobey's desk, slam his badge down and walk away. And he would, too, if he was given another half-assed assignment, if he was again ordered to compromise himself by putting someone's head on the chopping block, if he was once more told to drop a case in the middle contrary to all he knew to be right.

In fact, he could do it right away. He didn't owe anyone any justifications. He no longer had to feel responsible for someone else's life and career. It was just that right now he did not happen to have something else he'd rather do. Besides, resigning left a door open, as he had found out. Maybe he'd get lucky and be fired. What difference did it make?

There was nothing or no one to hold him.


"IT'S A CELEBRATION - CELEBRATE - CELEBRATE," the radio suddenly blared, some DJ's idea of getting the day off to a bang-up start. Starsky knocked miscellaneous items off the nightstand in his haste to stifle the offending noise. It sounded like a particularly incongruous note for the wake-up feature of the radio to hit upon, but at the moment he was too groggy to figure out why. He only knew he didn't want to hear it.

He burrowed deep into the pillows, hoping to indulge a little longer until Hutch showed up to drag him out of the bed. It took a little while for his fuzzy brain to process that thought and remind him that this was not a business-as-usual morning.

"Shit," he mumbled as he sat up, rubbing his face, awake now but feeling lousy. He didn't know at what ungodly hour he had found his way to the bed. He didn't care. All he knew about the night was that the phone or the doorbell had failed to ring. Unfinished business.

He told himself he'd had too little sleep to get to his feet right away, he was still too tired, that there was plenty of time to go to work, his eyes weren't quite focused yet, but finally he had to admit that he was just delaying. Somehow, leaving the bed meant acknowledging the start of the new day. And the end of the old one. Or is it only unfinished to me? Come on!

The silence was as unbroken as the space of silence he had left right after walking out of The Pits. It didn't even have to be an outright apology, but there had to be something that came close, before the grace period ran out, before the distance became unreachable. He had been serious when he had walked away, but somehow he had also been sure Hutch cared enough to try and change his mind. And it wouldn't have taken too much.

Damn it, just a coupla words. Is it too much to ask for?

Something. Anything. But it better be now.

Nothing reached into the early morning cocoon of his apartment.

To hell with it!

He jumped up, got dressed and left. Dobey wasn't going to like his request for a new partner. Tough.


When Hutch stepped into Dobey's office that morning, he found out that Starsky had already brought the Captain up to date, at least to the extent that the Starsky and Hutchinson team was history. Dobey was angry. He kept pulling on his hair, and shuffling and reshuffling papers as he railed at Hutch, at the air, at both the ex-partners. He had to be aware that his tirade was serving no purpose, but he was on a roll.

Slumped in his chair, like a stringless puppet carelessly abandoned, Hutch thought: Stuff it! Instead of lecturing me about being a responsible cop, how about explaining why we were told to drop the Clayborne case and put on the dancehall psycho instead? Tell me again how there was no place left to go. No corruption that goes as high as the DA's office and prompts Clayborne's assassin to kill herself on the day of the arrest stops there. For all I know, our dear Mayor who so eagerly handed our shields back, spouting praises up to high heaven, could be neck-deep in it. If we could've had the chance to follow our case, then maybe I'd have felt taking back this piece of tin was worth it. As it is, save it. All you have is a body to flesh out the duty roster until I change my mind.

"And let me tell you, I don't much care for " Dobey continued.

"You can always transfer me, Captain." Or fire me.

"Right, Hutchinson. Two of my detectives are having temper tantrums, please take one off my hands. Would look great on paperwork! Forget it. If I transferred my officers every time they got miffed at each other, I'd spend my life playing musical chairs. You'll get a new partner. In the meantime, you'll do a little desk duty."

Hutch straightened. "Desk duty? Hell, I can handle the streets alone for a while, you know that."

"Yeah, yeah." Dobey waved it away. "That other idiot said the same thing. You both should know better. Anyway, I wasn't putting it up to a vote. You'll do as I say and like it."

Hutch shrugged and sank low into the chair again. What difference did it make? What difference did anything make anymore? He looked up to see Dobey regarding him with a smug expression, as if imposing this bit of old-fashioned punishment did wonders for his blood pressure.

"Now get out of here and clear up your old paperwork," Dobey said. Hutch sighed wearily, got up and left.


Within a month, Captain Dobey was regretting his decision not to transfer either man. But his aversion to being thought incompetent at handling his officers was still greater than his aversion to headaches and gastritis.

Detective Sergeant David Starsky now had the dubious distinction of being assigned his third partner inside of thirty days. The first partnership had ended almost as soon as it was formed over an escalating disagreement about, as Starsky put it, bribes, and a free cup of coffee and donuts, from the other man's point of view. His next partner was an older man, in line for promotion, who insisted on being alive to accept that promotion. In two weeks, he had decided that being partners with a hothead was seriously hampering his chances of survival. It still remained to be seen how the third partnership would fare.

There was no shortage of replacements, of course. Through the years, Starsky had gained enough of a reputation as a top cop that newly promoted detectives were eager to be assigned to him. However, Starsky didn't have the temperament to be a good teacher at the moment if he ever did and Dobey did not want a young officer injured or dead because he or she had tried too hard to live up to the reputation of the senior member of the team.

Hutchinson was a different story altogether. He, at least, stayed with his assigned partner, but Dobey suspected that he'd have done so even if a tailor's dummy was propped up next to him. He was only taking the path of least resistance. His partner, Patrick O'Donnell, was an experienced officer in his forties. In O'Donnell's opinion, Hutchinson was poised on the brink of a burnout. It happened to policemen often, but it hurt Dobey to think it could be happening to one of his favorite sons. O'Donnell claimed that, although Hutchinson acted like he saw no point in what they were doing, he still functioned adequately, and was utterly dependable in dangerous situations. The older man considered him an acceptable partner; how Hutchinson felt about it, nobody was privy to.


At first, Hutch wondered why he was being shunned by his co-workers. Then he realized he was being treated as always. He had never noticed how he and Starsky had shut others out of their exclusive world. The few people they had been relatively close to now seemed to consider the end of the partnership as some sort of offense. Even Minnie wasn't talking to either unless necessary, and then her tone was that of a coldly disapproving mother.

In many ways, it was like the aftermath of his marriage. The tearing of interwoven lives left tangles in the unlikeliest places. One day it dawned on him to wonder what he was still doing with snacks carrying Mexican names in his cabinets, and umpteen bottles of root beer in the refrigerator. He cleared them out, only to find himself unthinkingly reaching for the same items while shopping. His closet and drawers too often yielded something of Starsky's. Once he pulled on a t-shirt which had been in residence for so long that only after he had arrived at work he remembered whose it really was. Strangely embarrassed, he kept his jacket on all day long, carefully zipped up to the chin. Little things kept catching him unawares, like automatically pouring two cups of coffee, or taking change out of his pocket and casting about for the piggy bank, which was now at the other end of the squad room. Old habits died hard.

His first day back on the streets, he had the mike all the way to his mouth before realizing that the Zebra-3 designation no longer included him. Fumbling, he replaced it, grateful that his new partner had not noticed, or was pretending not to.

Dobey had paired him with an older detective, a new transfer to Metro, and a lot of awkwardness existed between them. But there was one saving grace. O'Donnell seemed to believe in minding his own business and keeping his mouth shut, which suited Hutch very well. He'd go through the motions; other than that, he just wanted to be left alone.


Dobey heard a commotion in the squad room, took a moment to identify the voices, and sighed as he went to the door. Here we go again.

"If we'd taken my car like I wanted to " Starsky's new partner Marcelli was arguing.

"I'll ride a bug the day we start catchin' turtles," Starsky loudly interrupted. "Just don't ever, you hear me, ever, touch my car again, except to get in and out of it."

"I said I was sorry. What was I supposed to do? There was no other way I could've caught up and the keys were in the ignition."

"I was in a hurry, damnit! Do I have to worry about what you're gonna do to my car every time I have to run out after a felon?"

"If you'd taken the trouble of telling me what you were going to do, I wouldn't have been left so far behind." Marcelli was getting angry, too. "Then I wouldn't have needed your goddamned car!"

Dobey had tried to cut in, but hadn't been heard. "Quiet!" he shouted. "Into my office. Now!"

Both officers headed that way, but Starsky wasn't through. "If you weren't so attached to that 20 pound flak jacket like a baby to a security blanket, you wouldn't be so slow on your feet."

Marcelli whirled on him. "I like to stay alive! Do you mind?"

"So do I! Which means I expect my backup at my back, not 200 yards behind me when I'm lookin' down the wrong end of a gun."

"I got there, didn't I? Anyway, I'm not your backup, damnit, I'm your partner!"

"You couldn't prove it by me, and after today's performance, don't count on it."

"I'll be the judge of that!" Dobey bellowed. "You want to get into my office now, or do you want to be slapped with insubordination right here?" Bristling, sullen, the two officers filed into the room. "Don't you all have work to do?" Dobey admonished the interested occupants of the squad-room. He noticed Hutchinson was by the coffee machine, seemingly oblivious to the altercation, but trying to pour a cup of coffee out of an already empty pot. "Children," Dobey muttered. At whom, it wasn't clear.

As soon as he had shut the door, Marcelli started complaining, while Starsky looked disgusted. "Shut up!" Dobey said as he squeezed himself into his chair. "Now, do either one of you have a real complaint to make? Not just this picayune stuff."

Both were silent for a minute, looking at each other, and at Dobey, warily. Marcelli spoke up. "He's trying he acts like he's trying to get me killed out there!"

"Starsky?" Dobey asked.

Starsky shrugged. "Not my fault if he can't do his job."

"I do my job as best as you let me "

"You can't even drive a "

"Starsky!" Dobey's shout shut them up again. "Obviously you two don't get along."

"Coulda told you that," Starsky muttered.

Dobey ignored him. "When partners can't get along, they're a liability to everyone." He studied the sullen faces. "All right, I'll find you both new partners. Till then, you'll work together. Peacefully." He punctuated the last word by pointing a pencil at them. "Marcelli, you can go."

The short man left the room quickly, as if afraid Dobey would take back the offer. Starsky lounged insolently in his chair. Dobey knew he was being difficult just to be difficult. For someone who expressed disdain for any car less than his own, he'd driven around for years in a string of disasters which could only be called Hutchinson's Shame the Umpteenth. And the blond detective had always been granted liberties with Starsky's precious red and white baby. This last argument with Marcelli was just as contrived as any Starsky insisted on inventing lately. No, there was nothing wrong with the partners Starsky used up as loose change, except none were Hutchinson.

"That's number three," he said mildly.

"I don't need a partner," Starsky grumbled.

"Well, that's good, `cause you sure can't hold onto one. And if you don't wise up real soon, you're going to be on desk patrol. Permanently. Do you read me?"

"I don't need "

"Shut up!" Fury blazed in Starsky's eyes, but this time he controlled himself. "I'll give you one more chance, Sergeant.
One. Don't blow it. Now, dismissed."


A week later, Starsky was having another disagreement with the candy machine when the Captain motioned at him from the door that connected his office to the corridor. Lately, conversation between them wasn't pleasant and more often than not, turned into shouting matches. As Dobey was expecting, the detective attempted to dodge.

"If it can hold, Cap'n, we're already late hittin' the streets, and I still gotta find Marcelli."

"Save the hard-working routine, Starsky. Obviously, you haven't even looked at the duty roster this morning."

"Uh, exactly what I was about to "

"Get in here!" Dobey yelled. The detective sighed and obeyed. "Marcelli's been assigned a new partner." Starsky brightened and lost the smile at the Captain's next words. "And so have you."

"Aw, Cap'n, you know I can hack it alone. Whose hand am I supposed to hold now?"

"You know the regulations as well as I do. Besides, if this partner lets you hold her hand, consider yourself lucky."

By then Starsky had seen the black woman waiting in the office. "Meredith!" he burst out with genuine pleasure. "My new partner?" he asked Dobey, who nodded. "Good to see you again, partner!" He started to pull her into a warm hug.

But Detective Sergeant 2nd Class Joan Meredith didn't react with the same enthusiasm. Starsky pulled back to look at her with a frown. "Hello, Dave," she said with a lovely smile. "Been a while."

Her smile seemed to pacify Starsky. "Too long a while," he agreed. "Cap'n, gotta hand it to you." He hustled his new partner out the door, already giving her a rundown on their present workload.

Dobey congratulated himself. Meredith had rated the title of `partner' right off the bat. So far Starsky had called his string of partners everything he could think of, from `associate' to `hey, you,' carefully skirting the most fitting form of address. Yes, this team might survive I hope, he amended, remembering Meredith's restraint.


Starsky seemed to sail through the day with the aplomb Meredith remembered so well. He either threw himself wholeheartedly into the job at hand, or chattered away irreverently, and he still refueled his system with unheard of combinations of edibles at an alarming frequency. The inexplicable charm which had earlier made Meredith accept his metamorphosis from a hostile stranger to a lover in a few days was reasserting itself.

She wasn't going to get involved again. She wasn't! Not after the way it had ended the first time. Once Hutchinson had checked himself out of the hospital, he had refused to go back. Starsky had instantly appointed himself nurse, valet and errand boy extraordinaire. A bullet wound and an arm encased in a sling notwithstanding, Hutchinson had pushed to reclaim his partnership. Although it would mean babysitting more than anything else, Starsky had backed him up all the way, both of them managing to prevail against Dobey. Meredith had found herself cast out.

Strangely enough, she had never been able to resent Starsky. He had been so guileless about it. He simply did things for his long-time partner, not against anyone else. He could have cheerfully continued the personal relationship whenever he could have found some spare time. But Meredith had chosen to take the parole officer opening at the Department of Corrections, letting time and distance complete the separation. Her career had been heading for a dead end there, so she had accepted the offering from Metro eagerly, although it meant pairing with Starsky once more. At least this time the blond detective would not be getting in the way.

Meredith didn't know exactly what had happened to the famed partnership. She didn't care to pay attention to gossip, and Dobey hadn't been a fount of information. It was clear, however, that the detectives weren't even on speaking terms. Nonetheless, Starsky didn't seem unduly disturbed or changed. Maybe this time she could get to know the man as an individual, not one half of a parcel, the other half of which had never particularly appealed to her.

Still, she would have liked to know what could possibly have happened to make Starsky act like Hutchinson did not exist.

About three days later, Meredith realized that that was a false assumption. They were on a stakeout, unable to respond, as
they followed, secondhand, the involvement of the O'Donnell and Hutchinson team in a raid that turned into a shooting match. The backup units responded quickly and the "all clear" came within ten minutes. Not that long a period except when one forgot to breathe, Meredith realized, studying Starsky. The first call had brought him over from the back where he had been sleeping. She suspected that the only reason they hadn't taken off and blown the stakeout immediately was that she happened to be at the wheel. He sat staring at the radio, as if willing it to come back to life. Meredith had the feeling that one more minute and he would have bodily removed her from the driver's seat. When it was over, he went back, his expression forbidding any comment.

Obviously, Hutchinson still existed for her partner, except now he preferred that fact to be a secret. Meredith decided that it was prudent to keep some distance between herself and Starsky. She wouldn't bargain for another letdown.


"A pet rock?" Meredith asked in disbelief.

"Right on," Huggy answered. "Made twenty bucks from that deal."

"Twen ! A pet rock?"

"Well, gave him a discount. He's a friend, after all. And I knew the little rock would have a good home."

Meredith laughed. "Come on, Huggy, nobody's that naive." Over a cup of morning coffee at The Pits, Huggy had been introducing her to a side of Starsky she didn't yet know and wouldn't have dreamed of suspecting: the side that was mystified by mysteries and tended to be gullible at times. But twenty dollars for a rock? Obviously, the brother was exaggerating. "You know you shouldn't jive the police."

"Po-leece, I don't care `bout. Wouldn't jive a foxy lady, especially when she happens to be the future Mrs. Bear." Meredith kept laughing. Huggy pretended to be insulted. "She don't believe me!" He raised his head. "There. I'll prove it to you."

Starsky had just walked in, late as usual. "Need a new alarm clock," he complained, turning a chair and straddling it.

"Need originality," Meredith corrected.

Huggy had other concerns. "Tell me, m'man, how's your pet rock? Didn't throw it away or anythin', did you?"

Starsky didn't seem to find anything unusual about the subject of a rock as early morning conversation. But the notion of having cast it out apparently disturbed him. "Throw it away!? After he saved my life? What do you think I am?"

I know you're pulling my leg and I'm not buying it, Meredith thought to herself as Huggy asked: "He?"

"Well, I'm not real sure. Ain't easy to tell in a rock, you know. But I named him Morris and he didn't object or anything."

"How's Morris doin' lately?" Huggy clung to the subject.

"Fine. He likes to sit on the windowsill in the kitchen, next to the fern. Gets nice `n warm in the sun. Since that one time when I almost lost him, I don't carry him around much. He's a house rock." Meredith changed her mind, going from skepticism through surprise to amusement, at his sincere tone. "Think he might be lonely, Hug? Maybe I should get him a lady."

"If I find a deservin' match I'll let you know. This one's on me, Bro."

"Terrific. Every mother's son needs a good lady." The last was said to Meredith, pointedly.

Huggy left them to get the tray his waitress had started preparing as soon as Starsky had shown up.

"You have a pet rock?"

"Sure. Adopted him from Huggy."

"I see. And it uh,, saved your life?"

"Luckily, I had him with me. There was just one bullet in the gun, you see. It coulda been a bad scene without Morris distractin' " He caught Meredith's look and shrugged. "You hadda be there."

Obviously, she thought.

"I'll introduce you if you want. He's kinda cute." He rubbed his stomach and called out, "Hey, Hug!"

"Don't shout, man, I ain't deaf," Huggy objected from right behind him and put a plate down, which Starsky fell on immediately.

Meredith kept studying her partner busily appeasing his stomach. For some reason, something as ridiculous as the notion of being attached to a pet rock was endearing. He seemed to have stubbornly held onto an innocent streak.

"Whassamatter?" The words coming out competed with the food going in.

Meredith realized she had been regarding him with affection. She didn't know what to say and settled for shaking her head, smiling.

"Anythin' that makes you look at me like that, I won't argue with. Just wish I knew what it was for future reference. My clothes? Cologne?"

"I wouldn't set store by those clothes and you don't wear cologne."

"Sure I do, at times. I can dress real sharp, too. If I had a reason. But the lady won't go out with me."

Meredith felt her resolve weaken. Where was the harm? "Maybe the lady's been too hasty."

A lopsided grin decorated his face as he pushed the plate away. "Let's go to work."

"You didn't finish."

"Man doesn't live by bread alone. Let's put in our hours and get to the better things in life. Just remembered that I never took you dancin'."


The day was relatively peaceful and Meredith also found herself looking forward to the evening, but there was only one thing predictable on the streets: unpredictability. They had rounded a corner and were cruising past the high school when Starsky suddenly slammed on the brakes, turning the wheel sharply at the same time, which made the car skid sideways until he brought it under control and hit the gas again. The abrupt move and what came out of his mouth momentarily startled Meredith. He used mild profanity occasionally, but she had never heard him burst into truly gutter language. She looked around to see what he had spotted.

Partially hidden by the shrubbery, on the other side of the school fence, were a white man and a black teenager. At the sound of screeching tires, they took off in opposite directions. Meredith hadn't seen a transaction take place, but innocent people usually didn't take flight. Starsky sent the car after the boy, passed him, and pulled to a rolling stop at a gate.

"Get him!" he shouted at Meredith. She was barely out the door when the car turned again and roared after the man.

It wasn't hard to find the boy. He had stopped running and thought himself hidden, but all Meredith had to do was to stop and listen for the labored breathing he was trying to stifle. "Come down from there," she said to the top of a tall dumpster, her gun out.

The boy panicked into trying to scramble up the wire fence. "Bet I can shoot faster," she threatened, knowing she would do nothing of the sort. He was a minor, didn't display a weapon, and she hadn't actually seen a crime being committed. But this school was as classy as it got in this neighborhood; the boy was young and wore decent clothes. Chances were, he wasn't used to dealing with the police or violence. "You know how bad a bullet in the leg can hurt, boy?"

Reluctantly, he came down, looking scared. Meredith read him his rights, but couldn't search him since she hadn't seen anything change hands. Still, she could probably talk him into doing it himself. If she worded it carefully, without making it an order, it might hold up in a court. "How about letting me see what you have on you?" The way he cooperated told her he was clean, but she made sure anyway. "All right, where did you throw it?"

He shrugged, now more sullen than scared. Keeping him close, she looked around, knowing it was a lost battle. Whatever she found, she could no longer connect to the boy. She turned his face to check his pupils and pulled up his sleeves. He looked clean, at least at the moment, and obviously wasn't into mainlining. Not heavy stuff then, probably uppers and downers.

"Let's go see what my partner has to say."

She found him in an alley, some blocks down. He had cornered the pusher before the man could drive away. The Torino stood angled against the front of a car that Starsky was searching. Tearing through was a more accurate description. Meredith wondered why the man was following her partner so closely, like a well-trained puppy, looking pained but very obedient, until she saw the hold Starsky had on him and stopped wondering. She also winced.

"Anything?" Starsky asked.

"Clean." He spat out an obscenity and slammed his fist on the roof of the car. His reaction made her suspicious. "Did you see anything for certain?"

"I don't have to see a dog bite to know it's rabid!" he snapped.

So neither had witnessed a crime, and since Meredith hadn't found anything on the boy either, the search of the car was illegal. It wouldn't hold for two seconds in a court. Add to that the way Starsky was handling the man...

"Let's go, Dave."

"Forget it! It's here somewhere and I'm gonna find it."

"What good is "

Starsky wasn't listening. He grabbed the man by the neck and slammed him against the car, his right hand never leaving its initial hold. "Didn't I tell you what I was gonna do if I caught you peddlin' your shit at the high school again? What'd I say?" he shouted into the man's face. The pusher was struggling to breathe.

"Dave, stop it!"

"I told this sonuvabitch!" He loosened his hold on the neck a little. "Tell me, bastard, what'd I say I was gonna do?"

"Ha...have my " the rest of the sentence got choked off and turned into a gasp as Starsky's right hand tightened.

"You wanna keep `em? Tell me where it is, now!"

"Ba back seat, under...under "

"Get it out!" He released the man, grabbing him by the back of the neck as he doubled over, and roughly shoved him into the back seat. "All of it!"

Meredith realized nothing short of a bullet would deter Starsky at the moment. Dobey had warned her from the first that her partner was likely to explode at some point. Obviously, this was it. At least he seemed to have hit the peak and was now on the down curve; she'd have to ride it out. She glanced at the boy. It wasn't only her hold that was keeping him from bolting. He was frozen, watching the madman Starsky had become. Maybe she could salvage something from the situation. She pulled him away.

"Before he gets to you, I'm going to let you go on one condition. I'll give you a name and an address. It's an officer at the Juvenile Hall. Go see her and ask for `a tour.' She'll know what you mean. If I find out you haven't been there by the end of the week, I'm sending him after you."

The threat went home. Meek as a lamb, he waited until she wrote out the note, then took off like a shot. Hopefully, an up-close lesson in what drugs did to a human body would make him swear off from such adventures in the future.

Sighing, Meredith made a note to check on him periodically for a while. Why did every young, slight, lost-looking boy remind her of J.J. and promise to become a personal crusade? She had left Juvie when the load had become too heavy to bear, but they found her everywhere.

Starsky had made the pusher carry a sizeable pile of plastic bags, filled with powder and colored pills, into the trunk of the Torino. He slammed the lid down, shook the man by the neck one more time and thrust him away.

"You better learn to listen to me, creep, or the next time the only thing your treasures are gonna be good for is makin' omelets, and I'll make you eat `em, too. Get outta my sight."

When they got into the car, Meredith took a deep breath and counted up to one hundred. Slowly. "Do you know the position you've put me into if he decides to bring charges?"

"If he does, you just do what you know is right. I can take care of myself."

"How much did you accomplish? It was illegal search and seizure. You can't even turn that junk in."

"I can flush it down a toilet so it won't ever poison a kid!" he came back, still angry. "If you think I did somethin' wrong, feel free to report it."

Meredith took another deep breath and counted again. "You know I won't report it. Believe me, I understand. But that doesn't mean I like your tactics."

"Yeah, well...."

The rest of the afternoon passed in silence. After logging out, they pulled up to the back entrance of The Pits where Meredith had left her car. Starsky brought out a tablecloth, filled it with the plastic bags and got rid of them for good. Meredith waited until he was through. When he joined her, he was his usual self, but she had seen two opposite selves in one day. She didn't yet know how to balance and incorporate them into her perceptions of the man.

"Okay, I blew it as a `good' cop. Just how badly did I blow it with you?" he asked, a wistful smile on his face.

"Not as bad as all that," she answered sincerely, "but I have some more thinking to do."

"Guess that means no dancin' tonight."

She shook her head, somehow feeling sad herself.