Meredith and Starsky had split the files which might give them some leads in the latest rash of arms stores robberies. The hardware had started surfacing in homicides. The pile of folders was impressive and Meredith had tuned out the squad room in her concentration. At length, sounds of rattling metal made her look up. Detective Hutchinson was rifling through the drawers as if he had a personal grudge against them.
For a while, her attention stayed on the man. Even before she had first been teamed with Starsky and met Hutchinson in the process, she had heard about him. Some of her female colleagues had carried on about this tall, gorgeous Viking at Metro, with the cornflower blue eyes and sunshine in his hair. She wondered if those women had been blind, or was she? At the moment, that same man had a black cap jammed over his head. Whatever perfection of features there may have been, it was now hidden behind a scowl and a scruffy mustache. He had dark circles under bloodshot eyes, and his hair hung in limp strands over the collar of a shapeless black jacket. He looked like a disreputable refugee from the Merchant Marines. Only the Salvation Army could find him worthy of attention now.
Dismissing the woolgathering, she started to go back to the files, and caught Starsky also looking up. Or an ex-partner, she amended her last thought.
Starsky hastily averted his eyes, burying his face so far into the file he was holding that Meredith wondered if he intended to flip the pages with his nose. Apparently, Hutchinson had turned around. She heard him calling Robbery to ask, tersely, if they had removed a certain file without bothering to sign the register. She was trying to concentrate on her reading when she noticed Starsky gently sliding a file toward her. Oh.
She picked it up. "Detective Hutchinson, is this what you're looking for?"
There was a second's hesitation before he stomped over to yank it out of her hand. Without a word, he carried it to his desk, leafed through, jotted down a few things, and brought it back. "Next time, sign the material out so the rest of us won't have to spin our wheels," he snapped as he thrust it into her hand, and stormed out.
Meredith thought better of voicing the retort that almost left her lips and settled for slamming the dossier down.
"Don't mind him," Starsky said quietly, seemingly absorbed in his work. "Dobey's had `em on all-night stakeouts for a week. He always gets grouchy when he's tired."
Meredith stared at the bent curly head. That had sounded like an indulgent parent excusing his ill-mannered child.
Hutch decided that it was the basic stupidity of the petty criminal, rather than the expertise of the police, that still gave the human race a break. Really, haggling over the price of a handgun through the closed door of an apartment? A neighbor had called it in. By chance, he and his partner had been around the corner.
He kept the seller immobilized with one arm twisted up behind his back while he picked up the phone and called for a black-and-white to take the collars off their hands. O'Donnell was letting the buyer get dressed, listening to his avalanche of woes of how an honest citizen needed to protect himself in these lawless times.
Hutch replaced the phone and reached for the handcuffs. O'Donnell's man had just realized the detective wasn't a sympathetic listener and he was getting arrested. Hutch added the amateur criminal to his list of the mentally deficient.
There was a flurry of motion behind him, and a sudden silence. Hutch spun around, instinctively going into a half-crouch. The owner of the house obviously had more weapons tucked away. O'Donnell was facing a gun. Hutch straightened slowly, approaching the two men. The seller he had been too slow to cuff immediately ran for the door. Later for him, Hutch decided and ignored him.
"Don't be an idiot" he said loudly to divert attention from his partner. "Where do you think you can run?"
The gun wavered between the two officers. "You're not arresting me," the man yelled hysterically, "you're not!"
"Okay, okay, take it easy," O'Donnell soothed.
"I won't let you hurt me!"
"Nobody's going to hurt you," Hutch said reasonably, edging away slowly so the gun wouldn't be able to cover both officers. "You're the one with the gun."
"Don't move!" the man shouted. "STOP MOVING!"
"All right," Hutch said mildly, obeying, hands spread open at his sides. Following the path of the gun peripherally, he tried to catch his partner's eye.
"Put that away and we'll talk," O'Donnell drew the attention back to himself, but as the gun swerved in that direction, Hutch heard the safety being released.
Now, he intercepted O'Donnell's glance and signaled. "Be sensible," he quickly put in to keep the gun from fixing too long on one target. "Don't compound a minor charge." The weapon shifted to him and he readied himself for the move.
Nothing happened. He was so used to his body signals being instantly read and followed by his partner that he almost made the mistake of moving himself while facing the gun point blank. Quickly restraining the impulse, he threw a look at O'Donnell. He seemed to understand that Hutch was trying to get a message across, but couldn't comprehend what.
Damnit, hear me, Hutch's mind called out, you're supposed to hear me. Not a hint of realization in his partner's eyes, nothing. He resigned himself to talking. Hopefully, the highly agitated man could be kept from any drastic moves until the appearance of the uniforms served as a distraction.
"What have you got here? Buying or owning guns without a license. No big deal. Just a lecture and a fine. You really don't want to add resisting arrest and holding officers at gun point to that, do you? Why don't you give yourself a break and leave it at simple misdemeanor?" He was talking to gain time. Obviously, the man had too many screws loose to listen to sense. "Tell you what. Put that thing away right now, and we might forget we ever "
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed O'Donnell slowly going for his gun. So did the man. As if in slow motion, Hutch saw the muzzle leave him and start toward his partner, the finger tightening on the trigger.
Suspects usually responded to one or the other of the interrogating officers. Starsky had been the one to get through to this one. Meredith quietly went to the phone on the wall of the interrogation room to call down a stenographer, and stayed out of the way.
The stenographer came in, stray bits of conversation from the hall drifting in alongside her.
"What's the charge?" someone called out.
"It was illegal purchase of firearms," someone else answered, "but the damned fool shot one of the arresting officers."
"Oh? Who got shot?"
The door swung shut on the last words. "Detective Hutchinson."
Meredith glanced at Starsky. He had heard; color had instantly drained from his face. He stayed frozen for a moment, then turned to her, white-knuckled grips anchoring him to the chair. Meredith wondered what was keeping him a prisoner when he so obviously wanted to dash out: the possibility of spooking the suspect and losing the confession, or his obstinate pride that insisted he shouldn't care?
"I'll find out," she mouthed and slipped out the door.
The person who had shouted out the information was gone. The officer booking the man who looked like somebody's kindly uncle didn't have any details. Meredith rushed upstairs, located someone who knew, then called the hospital for good measure. She started down the steps and found Starsky already bounding up. Pride hadn't lasted too long. He braced himself visibly when he saw her.
"He's all right," she assured him. "It was just a flesh wound in the shoulder. I called the hospital. He's already been released."
Starsky let out the breath he had been holding. "Which one?"
"Which one what?"
"Shoulder. Which shoulder?"
"I don't know. Why?"
"His left side is already a mess, that's why!" he said, almost angrily. "Don't you remember where he was shot when we first teamed up?"
"Oh." If you care so much, she wanted to ask, what's this charade? "I'm sorry. I didn't think to ask. I'll call back."
He grabbed her arm as she turned. "No...no, it's okay." He looked embarrassed. "Doesn't matter."
It's no crime to care, she thought, but are you just lying to me or to yourself as well? "I can use a cup of coffee," she said, checking her watch. "How about if I fixed us some at my place?"
A cup of coffee turned into three consecutive cups and then to dinner, which flowed into a night on the couch, in front of some senseless old TV fare. Starsky seemed inordinately absorbed in the movie in which men talked out of the corners of their mouths while women fluttered eyelashes and gestured dramatically. Meredith was reminded of a child from her past, who had also sought refuge in a box of manufactured distraction to shut out the present.
"What really happened between you and Hutchinson?" she asked softly.
Starsky jumped. "Told ya don't wanna talk about it. Not important anyway."
"Sure. You don't care if he lives or dies. So why were you so scared back there?"
"Hell.... A cop shot. Anyone would've "
"Save it, Dave. You're not a very good liar."
That seemed to throw him. He stared at the ghostly picture on the tube while Meredith wondered what long-ago image he was seeing instead. "Except when I'm undercover. Yeah, I've been told before." He took a deep, ragged breath. "Damn it, when you've spent, what, fourteen to eighteen hours of your day, damn near every day, with someone for eight years, it ain't so simple to shrug him off. I haven't been that close to anyone for that long. Ever. Not even my own mother or brother. I mean, he was my partner, for cryin' out loud. What do you expect I should do? Pretend I don't know him from Adam?"
"Hey, that's my side of the argument. Why are you getting defensive with me?" He looked like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "Dave?" she coaxed.
"Well, it's just that.... Oh, damn! If I only knew why. It wouldn't be so bad, I think, if I could just figure out why."
"Why what? The breakup?"
He nodded. "I know what caused it, but I don't know why."
"What did cause it? I heard rumors, but they don't make any sense."
"What'd you hear?"
"That you came to blows over a woman, a Vice officer you were working with. Didn't believe a word of it. Sounded so juvenile. Of all the reasons."
"That we came to How the hell does anybody know that? There was just Hutch `n me...oh. Kira. Damn, we sure can pick `em."
"You mean it's true!?" She had expected better. "You guys also in the habit of beating your breasts now and then?"
"Oh, shit! I know how it sounds, but it wasn't like that. I don't know when Kira stopped bein' the issue if she ever was. But I know she had nothin' to do with the fight. She kept sayin' we couldn't fight over her as if she had no say-so about it, but she didn't, not really, not anymore. It was just between Hutch `n me; Kira didn't count by then."
He paused briefly, then sighed. "Wasn't much of a fight, actually. I hit Hutch more than a couple o' times, I think. He never hit back. Tried to hold me, but he never hit back. It's funny, you know. When I think back on it, I can't figure out if he was tryin' to hold me off, hold me back, or just...hold me. Maybe I shouldn't have lost my temper. I feel like I blew up and missed something important there. But it hurt. Work out the problem, he'd said. He came all on his own, you see. So I just laid it on the line. Straight, you know, just like I always did. I believed him, damnit! I mean, why not? Never had any reason not to, never, so why not, right?"
She wasn't following him very well, but he seemed to need her what? Support? Assurance?
"But he never ran out into the street he never did! Right sis, right?"
"Right, J.J." As if performance-past-perfect could somehow change the painful reality. "He never did, darling. Never."
"Right," she soothed Starsky.
"The same morning, of all things! Must've gone there immediately. How could ? He could've come out dressed, you know? I'd never have known. I mean, he coulda been to the bathroom or somethin' how would I know? It was like he wanted to make sure I saw, knew on purpose! God, it hurt."
The ramblings didn't make much sense to her, except for two things: it obviously still hurt, and he was talking only about Hutchinson; Kira had been lost somewhere. The disappointment in Meredith eased. She hadn't liked the image of Starsky coming to blows with his best friend over a woman, like a primitive male defending what he considered his possession. The anger and hurt of betrayal coming from the least-expected person, that she could understand only too well.
The past briefly flashed by again.
"Why did he leave, Mama?" Wanting an answer to a question that didn't really matter, but too afraid of hearing the answer to ask the one that did: "Is he ever coming back?"
She reached to wrap her arms around him and pulled the dark head to her chest. Too often that comfort had been the only one she had received, the only one she had been able to give in her turn. He surrendered, slipping his arms around her waist, holding tight. He didn't say another word; she didn't push. When the arms loosened, she gave enough for him to turn around, but didn't release him altogether. He swung his legs onto the couch to rest against her. They watched what remained of the movie in silence, her fingers absently tugging on his thick curls. She hit the remote control button to turn the set off as the final credits were running.
Starsky attempted to get up. "I should be gettin' "
"Stay," she interrupted.
He twisted around to look at her doubtfully. She leaned to kiss him
lightly. "I thought you didn't..." he said, puzzled.
"You want to analyze the intricacies of a female mind all night long, or could I interest you in something else?"
"Never could analyze the female mind," he said into her lips.
Click to see larger image
He still slept like an affectionate octopus, Meredith noted, trying to find a comfortable position under warmly entwining limbs. They had been like this only once before, and that had been the usual `first time.' Satisfying, but riddled with the awkwardness of unfamiliar bodies that belonged to two people who didn't really know each other. Whatever she had expected of this time, the past hours hadn't been it. Men who hurt inside too often used sex either with an anger or a desperate need. Starsky had just been a very natural, very free sexual creature. And considerate. Their time had belonged to them, unspoiled by outside factors.
She moved until she could see the barely visible profile. She had definite notions of what constituted an `ideal man.' In so many ways, he didn't even come close. Still....
"David Michael Starsky, what are you doing to me?" she whispered into the curls that tickled her nose when she cuddled close again.
"You're sure you're ready for this?" O'Donnell asked as he reached to open the car door.
"Positive," Hutch answered, getting to the handle first. He had taken the sling off and the movement hurt. But one more day alone in his apartment, and he was sure, they would have taken him out of there in a straitjacket.
O'Donnell got in and started the car. "You might change your mind when you see the case."
Hutch waited for the rundown, fighting the urge to rub the ache out of his arm; he was in no mood to attract sympathy.
"Two murders and a botched suicide attempt. The boy was a runaway from a small Alabama town. Working the streets and the porn trade. All of sixteen years old. The father's been searching for months. Finally found him. In a motel room. With a trick. Shot both. Then himself. According to the hospital, the old man should live. I doubt it. He says sinners have no place on God's Green Earth. One of those. He's got enough will to die, whatever the doctors say."
"Sounds pretty final. Where's our case?"
"He got some information while looking for the boy. I pried some out of him. Sounds promising. We might track down some kiddie porn peddlers."
Hutch nodded, wishing he had taken the painkillers that morning as prescribed, instead of believing he could grit his teeth and bear it. He didn't want to take them in front of his partner; it had to wait until he could duck aside somewhere.
"Didn't get the chance to thank you," O'Donnell said some time later. "Thank you."
"There's nothing " Hutch started.
"Sure there is. You could've left. You stayed. You didn't have to get in the way. You did. Thank you."
I had so much less to lose, Hutch didn't say. Neither did he say that keeping faith with a partner was the only thing he still managed to believe in. He shrugged.
After a while, O'Donnell spoke again. "Back there. What were you trying to say?"
"Before the shooting started. You were trying to tell me something."
"Oh. Something I used to do with Uh, it's a ploy. After I signal, I talk to draw attention. When my partner's ready, he makes a move as if to jump the felon. The movement attracts the gun. But what he really ends up doing is to drop out of the line of fire. That leaves me free to move in. If you're synchronized, it works like a charm."
"Sorry. I didn't know."
"Not your fault. I was taking too much for granted." My mistake, he thought, for being so standoffish that we never had the chance to get our acts together. Maybe I should suggest that we
O'Donnell spoke before he could open his mouth. "Having a steady partner for too long does that to you."
Later, Hutch decided. He didn't feel like talking anymore and his shoulder was throbbing abominably.
It was a waste of time, that's what it was. The real thing was out in the streets which were probably going to hell in a handbasket while their guardians tinkered with toys.
Starsky realized he was pounding on the steering wheel with his fist and forced himself to stop, wishing Meredith would hurry up. It was past lunch time, and he was already in a rotten mood, without his stomach also issuing protests. He had kicked up a fuss, uselessly, when Dobey had informed them that it was now their turn to be evaluated by the latest rage at the Academy: the computer simulators. And he had flunked.
Random and realistic, they were supposed to be. Bullshit! He'd dare any collection of circuits to be as random as what he faced in the back alleys day in and day out, and `realistic' was a joke. What was so realistic about compressing a crime scene and its participants into images on a screen? The scores didn't, couldn't, mean a damn thing when one sat in a sterile room and imagined himself in a scenario. More than performance ratings counted out there, when the adrenaline flowed, body and mind worked in tandem with all instincts engaged, where a mistake carried its own penalty. They could take their scores, and if they needed suggestions as to what to do with them
Meredith slipped into the passenger seat. "Waiting long?" He mumbled something incoherent and started the car. "How did you do?" she asked. A growl answered. "Sorry, I don't know Neanderthal Primitive. Try a language I can deal with."
"I blew more scenarios and got maimed or killed more times than I can count," he grumbled.
"If it helps, I didn't do great either."
Starsky negotiated a turn way too fast. "It's crap, you know that? I'm a good cop, and I've got the record to prove it. A green cadet fresh from swallowin' textbook garbage might leave me eatin' his dust on the fancy machines, but on the streets, he's dead meat, and I know it!"
"If you know it, why are you so mad?"
"I'm not mad!"
"In that case, where's the fire?"
Starsky realized he was fairly streaking over the pavement and brought the car down to a manageable speed. "I'm not mad," he repeated, stubbornly.
"Disturbed?" Meredith suggested indulgently.
"Yeah, well...a little. I mean, I kept gettin' killed, for cryin' out loud. It may not be real, but it ain't fun to sit there and watch the computer come up with all kinds o' ways you can buy it. I wanted to smash its shiny face and show it that machines ain't eternal either!"
"Come now. You don't get nightmares after watching horror movies, do you?"
"As a matter of fact, I do!" he snapped. "But I still watch `em. I'm not scared. I just don't like bein' constantly reminded of the danger."
"Hey, it's all right to be scared. Didn't you once tell me that people who aren't scared scare you?"
That was true. Fear had long been his companion, grudgingly respected, but not pampered. They had met in the streets of New York, become uneasy familiars through the years. He knew it carried a final name, by which it would introduce itself one day. And on that day
Her hand on his thigh brought him out of his reverie. "Huh?"
"Want to talk about it?"
"I was just thinkin'."
"It's silly, really." She didn't push; neither did she remove her hand. He looked down at it. "Well, I was just thinkin'...if I died, who'd Do you know what Kaddish is?" She nodded. "I was just wonderin' who'd say it, that's all. I was thirteen when I said it for my father and my son ought to say it for me, if I last that long. If I don't...."
"Don't you have a brother?" Meredith asked softly.
"Nicky?" He gave a short laugh. "Nicky is...well, Nicky. Oh, I suppose he'll say it once, and then he'll be too busy with his `chicks-n-schemes' to remember. It's supposed to be said once a month for eleven months. I've got as much chance of bein' faithfully remembered by Nicky as I've got of gettin' elected President tomorrow." He blew the horn at a car too slow off the mark when the light changed. "I wonder if "
"Uh, nothin'." He wasn't about to admit it, but he was wondering if Hutch still remembered the prayer, or if he'd even care to say it anymore.
After the Vic Bellamy incident, Starsky had asked his partner to learn it, just in case. Hutch had fussed and called him morbid, paranoid, and a few other things Starsky couldn't pronounce, then he had griped about the absurdity of a lapsed-Episcopalian country boy from Duluth trying to get his tongue around something as convoluted as ancient Aramaic. But he had carefully memorized it anyway. The reason for his reluctance had become clear later, when in an uncharacteristic burst of superstitiousness, Hutch had gruffly admonished: "Just because I know what to say now, don't dare go and die on me, got that?"
He became aware that Meredith had said something. "What?"
"I said, then you're just going to have to stay alive until you produce a son."
He knew she was trying to dispel his gloom. "I intend to. Hey, wanna give me a hand?"
"Watch your metaphors. You don't really want to ask for my hand, do you?"
He grinned at her enigmatically. "Ooops."
Starsky was still fussing when they got to the cafeteria line at Metro. "You know what's happenin', don't you?" he said, pulling his tray along. "One o' these days, it's gonna be machines `n operators instead of honest-to-God cops, surveillance equipment instead o' patrollin' a beat. And you `n I are gonna be..." He searched for the right ward.
He glared at her with a sour expression. "Outdated. Don't put fancy words in my mouth. I used to get enough of that from Just don't do it. Okay?"
"Okay," she agreed mildly, wondering what protective coloring demanded he should constantly downplay his intelligence.
He continued his tirade as if uninterrupted. "And that's the day I'll quit this man's force." He bumped lightly into someone ahead of him, turned to apologize, and seemed to falter.
"Hello, David." The woman had a light, assured voice.
" `llo." It was a mumble, and the way he shifted uncomfortably made Meredith lean over to inspect the woman. Tall, blonde, slender: an all-American beauty. Something in the way she was regarding Starsky bothered Meredith.
"How have you been?" the woman asked.
"Just great. I took all my leave time to study for the board exams. It paid off. I got a line number for promotion."
"That's nice." Starsky's voice was devoid of enthusiasm.
"What happened? I hear you and "
"Ah, there!" Starsky cut in, too loudly, reaching to grab a plate. Meredith would have bet anything that he didn't know what was on it. "This is all I want. Excuse me."
He stepped around the woman and proceeded to the end of the line. Meredith, after picking a plate of roast beef, followed. She caught up with him just as he was sitting down and realizing his plate contained lettuce, cottage cheese and peach halves. He wrinkled his nose in distaste.
"Trade?" she offered sweetly and exchanged plates without waiting for an answer.
He frowned at her offering. "You don't eat red meat."
"And you don't eat the stuff you picked up. We're even."
For a minute, his look said he wasn't sure whether or not he liked being transparent to her, then he decided to smile. "Thanks."
They ate in silence and lingered over coffee.
"Kira, I presume," Meredith concluded. He nodded reluctantly into his cup. "She's very beautiful." He nodded again. "Were you in love with her?" He didn't look inclined to answer. She tried a tactic. "Are you in love with her?"
The reaction was instantaneous. "Good God, no! How can you possibly " He cut off at seeing her smug expression. "Your interrogation techniques are terrific, Officer." He sighed. "Gonef."
She didn't know the word, but figured he was using it to mean "smartass."
"I'm not tryin' to put you off," he continued. "Just that if I told you, no, I wasn't in love with her, I'd be lyin'. And if I said, yes, I was in love with her, it'll be more than the truth. It was just startin' out and it was nice. I didn't know where it was goin'. I just wanted a chance to find out." He traced haphazard patterns on the table with his coffee cup. "I wouldn't mind it so much if he loved her. Hell, if he loved her, I mean, really loved her, I'd have.... Anyway, I know he didn't."
Meredith noted that once again the conversation had started with Kira and had unerringly gone back to Hutchinson. Poor Kira. Somebody should have told her that it wasn't wise to tug on Superman's cape or spit into the wind.
"When he falls for real, he gets this sappy look, goes all sweet and soft, like a marshmallow. It'd be funny if you didn't know he took it so seriously. He sometimes finds a soul in need or hurtin' and thinks he's in love, but he's just motherin' then. Goes into his White Knight act: strong, protective."
Meredith wondered if Dave knew how much affection he was revealing.
"Wasn't like that at all," he continued. "It was like when he gets into pure lust. Someone must've dumped a lot of morality and sin garbage on him when he was young. He wants it bad, but doesn't like it very much. So he gets pushy, rude, defensive-like. I figured, if that's all he wanted, I had a better reason." Suddenly impatient with the subject, he looked around at the wall clock, making Meredith wonder again why he wore an expensive watch when he never used it. "Time to earn our keep. Come on."