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Immersion

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The huge, old farmhouse had some modern amenities, but air conditioning wasn’t one of them. All the windows were open and the ceiling fans whirred rhythmically. This cooled the house enough so that its occupants, an extended family gathered together to celebrate the nation’s 200th birthday, slept peacefully.

Until six figures in hooded black robes chopped the family’s peace into pieces.

~s&h~

“Ummmmmm, I could get used to this,” drawled the tall, well-built, blond man wearing nothing but a slender blonde woman.

The early morning lovemaking had been wonderfully passionate and heated, just like the day promised to be. She reclined on top of him, and began kissing his neck and sucking on his nipples again. She could feel him responding.

As he caressed her small, rounded buttocks, he returned her kisses. But he made the mistake of looking at the alarm clock on his nightstand. Oh damn! I’m going to be late for work! Why do I have…

The woman, having noticed her lover’s attention had strayed, nibbled playfully at his ear. “Oh no, you don’t! I’m not through with you yet,” she whispered seductively while her hands sought then found exactly what she wanted.

How I despise having to leave this - her, he thought as he clasped her upper arms gently and lifted her chest about an inch above his. “Abby” – wet kiss on her left cheek – “oh, Abby” – peck on her chin – “you know” – third kiss to her right cheek – “I have to report” – this time, a long, lingering one to her soft and inviting lips – “to work early today.” He had no trouble filling his sky-blue eyes with regret as he gazed into hers.

“Call in sick.” It was more of a demand than a request.

“Abby, I can’t. I don’t think there’s a cop in Bay City who’ll be working less than twelve hours today. It wouldn’t be right.”

She easily escaped his hold on her arms and rolled off him. She lay on her back, staring at the ceiling. As she pulled the sheet over her nakedness, she said with wounded disappointment, “Sometimes, Officer Ken Hutchinson, your sense of duty can be damned inconvenient.”

The blond man smiled affectionately at his lover. “You, Ms. Abigail Crabtree, can be very alluring.” He pushed the sheet down to her small waist before sucking on one of her nipples and fondling the other breast. “But not today.” He grinned mischievously as he rushed out of bed. The pillow hit him on the back of the head much harder than he thought possible. He stopped in his tracks, looked over his shoulder at the lovely but frowning vision in his bed, cocked an eyebrow, and asked conspiratorially, “Care to join me in a very cold shower?”

Her frown vanished in a waterfall of laughter. “Not today! I’ll fix you breakfast. The usual?”

“Yeah, but could you add a couple of strawberries?” She nodded. “Thanks, Abby.” Why the hell do I have to work on the Fourth of July? He trudged the rest of way to the bathroom.

He was definitely not in the mood to chase the bad guys around the city today.

~s&h~

For once, Detective David Starsky was awake and in the shower before his alarm clock went off. He was as excited as a kid with unlimited financial resources and appetite in a candy store. The Bicentennial Fourth of July had finally arrived, and he had great notions of celebrating it with abandon despite having to work.

Skin still damp from his warm shower, he rushed back into his bedroom to get dressed in his carefully chosen ensemble. First he slipped into his prized stars-and-stripes undershorts, exercising caution so the elastic waistband wouldn’t snap on his still-tender, two-month-old appendectomy scar. Even though he had worn the boxers once a week since he had purchased them from Huggy Bear, they still felt special. Next, he put on one red sock, one blue sock, a red baseball T-shirt with white sleeves, and dark, no-holes, no-rips blue jeans.

He padded to the kitchen in search of breakfast. The remnants of his pepperoni, green peppers, and extra cheese pizza – which was as close to a patriotic pie as he could get, there being no blue food available - beckoned him. He snatched up a pair of slices, folded them together like a sandwich, and grabbed a bottle of Coke. After slamming the refrigerator door shut with his blue-socked foot, he skated over to the small radio on the counter top and snapped it on.

“…new one from the Eagles, the title cut from ‘Hotel California,’ on its way to numero uno with a bullet!” opined the overly-perky disc jockey. “We’ve got lots more hits for you today, because we’re celebrating a birthday and do we have the presents! How about one now? Be the fourth caller at 555-5500 and you win a T-shirt with our call letters on the front and a big ol’ flag on the back!”

Starsky hurriedly put the Coke bottle on the counter. Pizza still in hand and mouth, he crunched the telephone receiver between his shoulder and head then dialed as fast as he could. Damn! Busy signal! Then he heard the DJ announce a winner halfway into his second dial. Awwww! Prob’ly last chance I have today to win anything. Dejected, he replaced the receiver. He polished off the slices and the soda before turning his attention back to the broadcast.

“All right, revelers! It’s gonna be a hotttttt one out there today. Highs close to 90, but with some breezes to cool ya dowwwwn.”

Starsky couldn’t take the energetic announcer any longer – Not this early in the mornin’; bad enough bein’ up at this ungodly hour – so he silenced him with another snap. He headed back to the bathroom to brush his teeth.

The dark-haired cop ran his hands through his drying curls. He looked solemnly at his image in the mirror. “Time for the finishing touches.” He raced out of the bathroom to his closet. There, on the floor, was a brand new pair of blue Adidas running shoes.

But this was no ordinary pair. The night before, Starsky had transformed the outer white stripes into brilliant cherry-red ones. He proudly slid his feet into the sneakers. He danced and dipped around in them for a few seconds before jogging to the hat rack where his holstered pistol hung. Once his shoulder holster was secured in place, he shrugged into a lightweight, waist-length off-white jacket with red and blue stripes on the ribbed cuffs and waistband.

The matador was ready to fight the bulls on this once-in-a-lifetime holiday.

~s&h~

Oh, Abby’s here, Starsky thought as he saw the woman’s Chevelle parked next to the thing Hutchinson called his car – a severely battered LTD that, Starsky was convinced, had been rejected by every junkyard in this and every surrounding county. Did she come or stay for breakfast?

He pulled the Torino in behind the LTD, and quickly jumped out. In a few steps, he was at Abby’s car. He felt the area of the hood over the engine. Stay. He smirked a you-lucky-dog before bouncing to the front door. He thought it best to knock rather than use the key.

“Come on in, Starsk! It’s open!” he heard his partner shout from within.

Starsky flung the door open with a dramatic flair, but maintained his grip on the handle. “How’d you know it was me? Coulda been anybody. Coulda been your paperboy comin’ to collect.”

Hutchinson stood a few feet from the door, having just recently left the bathroom. “At 6:30 in the morning? Besides, I don’t get the paper.”

“Didja ever consider a career as a nightclub psychic?” He released his hold on the doorknob and strutted to his partner’s side.

“Only when I get tired of my current job as a babysitter.”

Starsky used his eyes to call the blond man a smart-ass. He peered around the taller man to acknowledge the overnight “guest.” “Mornin’, Abby.” He waved shyly.

Abby, bundled in a thick, white terry cloth robe, gulped down the remainder of her blended breakfast. “Hi, Dave! Have you eaten yet? I’ll fix you something, if you like.”

Starsky paled briefly at the thought of drinking unpronounceable ingredients whipped into a shake with a resultant color not normally found in nature. Unconsciously, his hand hugged his stomach as if nauseated. “Uh, no, thanks, Abb. Already had breakfast.”

Hutch finally allowed himself the laugh he had been holding in, and Abby joined him.

“Wha’? What’s so funny?” Starsky demanded.

“Abby and I had a bet. I said you’d say you’d already eaten and she bet you’d say you weren’t hungry. I win! Thanks, Starsk.”

“So, what did you win – at my expense?”

“I’ll never tell.”

Starsky playfully backhanded his partner on the shoulder. “Come on, get dressed or we’ll be late for roll call.”

Hutch backed away a few paces and held his arms out to the sides. “You need to eat your carrots, buddy. What do you call this?”

The curly-haired detective shook his head at the royal blue T-shirt and beige chambray trousers his partner wore. One of Hutch’s atrocious secondhand bowling shirts rested on the back of the sofa. On top of that was a pair of white socks. “It’s the Fourth, Hutch. You can’t go wearin’ that kinda stuff today. Where’s your patriotism? You ought to be wearin’ red, white, and blue.”

“Starsky, I don’t let holidays dictate what I wear. And if you paid closer attention, detective, you’ll notice that I am wearing those colors today. Just more subtle and tasteful. Unlike yourself, flag boy.” Hutch sat down on the couch and began pulling his socks on.

“Okay, hot shot, where’s the red, hunh?”

A second later, Starsky caught the kelly green shirt Hutch threw at him before it could cover his curls. Over the left breast pocket was the name “Arnold,” embroidered in dark red. The dark-haired man shook his head in pity.

“Turn it around, Starsk. There’s more on the back.” Hutch stood and made for his gun and holster.

Starsky did as he was told. Out loud, he read, “’Morrie’s Kosher Deli and Lawn Chair Emporium’.” This time he shook his head in disgust. “No, Hutch. There is no way I’m gonna be seen with you on the street. And what the hell is a, uh” – he glanced at the crimson words again – “lawn chair emporium?”

Hutchinson strode almost angrily to stand in front of his partner. Lips tight and jaw set, he snatched his shirt back, then pretended to smooth invisible wrinkles from where Starsky had held it. With great care, he put the shirt on and deliberately took his time fastening the bottom three buttons. “At least I don’t look like I’m missing a pole.”

“What’s that supposed ta mean?” Starsky was beginning to get defensive.

“It means, partner, that your…fashion misstatement isn’t quite finished. And you the nerve to complain about my clothes?”

“But, Hutch, that’s pathetic – wearin’ a shirt with ‘Morrie’s Deli and whatever’! And why would you be ashamed to be seen with me, huh? At least I’m dressed for the occasion. And quite nicely, too.” Starsky elegantly adjusted the cuffs of his jacket.

A memory, unbidden and embarrassing, rushed into Hutch’s consciousness. Sitting in a hospital corridor, holding up a pair of… He coughed, hoping to expectorate that scene from his brain. No such luck. “Please, Starsky, tell me you’re not wearing them.” He furrowed his brow to accentuate his plea.

Starsky lost every ounce of defensiveness, trading it for a dose of elation. “Of course I’m wearing ‘them’! It’s Independence Day, dummy!” How dense can he be?

Hutch rolled his eyes and threw up his hands in a gesture of surrender.

Abby could hold her tongue and laughter no longer. Between chuckles, she asked, “What in heaven’s name are you two talking about?”

Starsky’s cobalt blue eyes brightened further and he bounced the few yards over to the dining table. “What, you mean Hutch’s never told you about my underwear?” Rapidly, he began unbuckling his belt. “I got these shorts that look like an American flag, bought ‘em from Huggy.” He unbuttoned his jeans.

Abby, eyes wide in both disbelief and anticipation, said nothing though she did lean back in her chair.

“Starsky,” Abby’s lover said in a low tone loaded with warning.

The target of the warning didn’t hear it. As he unzipped his jeans, he said, “They’re great! Even got Hutch a pair, but –“

“STARSKY!”

Irritated, with zipper only halfway down, the dark-haired man shouted, “What? Can’t you see I’m busy here?”

Hutch, leaning forward with his hands on his waist, spoke slowly and enunciated clearly, “Zip it, button it, buckle it, now.” It was an effort for him not to scream.

“Abby, you wanna see this, right?” Before she could answer, Starsky did it for her. “See, Hutch, she wants to see this great pair of underwear.” She didn’t contradict him.

“Your underwear, my girlfriend. No. End of story.” Hutch’s voice got tighter and quieter.

“Uh, Dave,” Abby said sweetly as she rested her hand on Starsky’s left forearm, “maybe I’ll look at them another time. When you’re not in them.”

Starsky, all eager innocence up to this point, interpreted Abby’s statement in a way she had not intended. He turned as fiery as his sneakers’ stripes and promptly zipped, buttoned, and buckled. “Oh, sure, sounds good, I mean, see ya later.” He bent over to kiss her head, but stopped before lips could meet hair. Standing upright quickly, he took her right hand in his and shook it formally. “See ya later,” he mumbled again. Using a walk reminiscent of Groucho Marx, he brushed past the slightly taller blond man. “See you in the car.” He issued a sigh of relief when he passed the threshold.

Hutch’s anger at his partner quickly faded. He grinned widely as he played back the scene at the kitchen table in his head. He was beginning to wonder why he had gotten angry with his partner at all when he felt two soft hands wrap around his right arm. I’m not angry with Starsk; I’m ticked at having to work today. His left hand touched Abby’s face tenderly. He smiled warmly and kissed her forehead. “Be here tonight when I get back?”

“If I get back from the fireworks display in Seal Park in time, but I’ll be here.” She returned his smile. “Hutch, you aren’t really mad at Dave, are you? It was all perfectly innocent.”

“No, I’m not really mad. I just can’t believe he was about to show you those ridiculous boxer shorts of his!”

“Never a dull moment with you two. Oh, and could you tell him I didn’t mean it, about seeing the shorts with him not in them, that way? I don’t want him to get the wrong idea.” Abby’s raised eyebrows expressed her worry.

Hutch’s laughter came with a hint of wickedness. “I’ll tell him, but he’s gotta sweat a little. He knows better than to strip in front of my lady.”

“Kenneth Hutchinson, you better tell him!”

“Promise.” Eventually. He smiled and gave her a peck on the cheek before he hooked a finger at the crossroads of her closed robe and pulled. Peering in, he smiled lasciviously and sighed. “Somehow, I think this is going to be a very long day.”

~s&h~

Starsky’s reddened complexion calmed down to its normal olive hue. Eyes closed as he listened to the heavy chatter on the police band, he resigned himself to two things: he would have to endure Hutch’s wrath and the police force would be busy today. Lost in his thoughts, he didn’t notice his partner’s arrival at the Torino until his three sharp raps on the hood. Starsky jumped and looked out to see Hutchinson’s fury assaulting him through the windshield.

“Starsky! What the hell is this?! What did you do?” Hutchinson, prepared to feign anger, didn’t have to. “I am not riding around the city in this…this…offensive, tacky carnival ride from the fifth ring of Hell!” He gawked at the patriotically festooned Torino. American flag stickers obliterated the front and rear bumpers. The antenna had a cheap, personal-size flag secured to it, along with red, white, and blue streamers. The white stripe on the Torino was cut in half by a two-inch navy line.

The dark-haired detective sprang from his vehicle. “Hey, what are you hittin’ my car for?”

“Better your car than you, right?” The blond head shook several times. “I am not riding in this car today.” He sounded positive, unequivocal, unswerving.

Starsky had seconds to convince Hutchinson otherwise. Taking a chance, he challenged, “Okay, partner, we’ll use your car today if it starts up on the first try.” He rested his bent arm on the top of the car door, propped his head in his hand, then crossed his right foot so it rested toe down.

Hutch sneered at his friend. “Fine. Better get ready to move it, Starsk.” He strolled confidently to the LTD, opened the driver-side door, and gave Starsky one last triumphant smirk. Once behind the steering wheel, he cleared his throat and gently inserted the key. He turned the ignition to the start position and…

Absolutely nothing.

He pumped the accelerator to within an inch of its pitiful life, cursed, and turned the ignition again.

There was something this time. Starsky’s roaring laughter. Quickly followed by the roar of the Torino engine. “Come on, Hutch, we’ll be late for work!” Hutch could hear the tease in his partner’s voice. He smacked the wheel of the dead car.

Seconds later, he stomped his way to the decorated Torino. Sulking, he slammed the door. Just as Starsky opened his mouth to rebuke his partner, Hutch’s lips disappeared and his index finger pointed at Starsky so sharply that it could have cut him.

Starsky stifled the reprimand. He backed the car out and began whistling Sousa’s The Stars and Stripes Forever with cheery enthusiasm. Hutch hung his head and tried to ignore the tri-colored stars dangling from the rearview mirror and the Statuette of Liberty with a bobbing head on the dashboard.

~s&h~

Avery Perkins, the day shift desk sergeant at Bay City’s Metropolitan Division, was the police department’s best man in that position. Now fifty, with thinning brown hair, compassionate and intelligent brown eyes, a trim build except for a thickening waist, he still had the stamina and energy of a man twenty years his junior. Almost a decade ago, a brazen rookie by the name of David Starsky had recognized this and promptly dubbed him “Perk.” This meaningful shortening of his name was so natural, made so much sense, that within a week, everyone was calling him that. As a rule, Perkins treated everyone equally and played no favorites, but David Starsky was the exception. Kenneth Hutchinson had become the only other exception when he had transferred into Metro to partner with Starsky.

Now, Perkins looked out over the crowded, noisy conference room at Metro. Along the shores of the sea of deep blue before him were the plainclothes detectives. Ordinarily, they did not take part in roll call at the start of each shift. But today they would. Today, they all had to work differently.

Perkins counted only five pairs of detectives. The missing pair was instantly obvious to him – Starsky and Hutchinson. He decided he couldn’t wait for them since it was already past 0700, so he began the briefing. “Okay, folks, let’s settle down.” The room drifted into silence in a few moments. “I have a couple of things for you before Cap’n Dobey…ah, Starsky, Hutchinson, how nice of you to join us.”

Starsky, first into the packed room, let the condescension in Perkins’ tone float right past him. “Mornin’, Perk. Good to be here. Right, Hutch?”

Hutchinson jabbed his ebullient partner in the side. Starsky winced and mouthed an “Ow!” but kept smiling. Hutch cleared his throat. “Sorry about being late, Sergeant. Please, continue.”

From somewhere in the middle of the police ocean, someone piped up, “Leave it to Starsky to dress for the occasion!” Jovial snickers bubbled from virtually every officer in the room.

“Fergie, that you?” Starsky said with mock contempt. “Yeah, go ahead, Ferguson. Make fun of me. You’ll never wear plainclothes. Ya just keep missin’ the first question about name on the detective’s exam.”

This brought down the house. Starsky and Ferguson had a long-standing, friendly game of one-up-man-ship going ever since Ferguson had lost a bowling tournament for the Metro team. Ferguson now belly-laughed with the rest of the cops. Determined to win this match, he shouted, “Hey, Perk, aren’t we supposed to be on the lookout for suspicious characters dressed like Starsky? You know, unhinged patriots?”

Just loud enough for Starsky to hear, Hutch muttered, “He’s got you pegged, Starsk.” The self-satisfied grin was classic Hutchinson.

The dark-haired detective flung a you’ll-get-yours look at his partner. As he readied to deliver his answer to Ferguson’s dig, Captain Harold Dobey barged into the conference room.

“What the blazes is going on in here?” the large black man with the voice to match barked. “This is roll call, officers, not a party! Sergeant Perkins?”

Starsky spoke before Perkins could open his mouth. “Cap’n, it’s my fault. Per- uh, Sergeant Perkins had nothin’ to do with this.”

Dobey glared at Starsky, then at Hutchinson who merely shrugged his shoulders and plastered an expression of long suffering on his face. “I should’ve known you’d be involved in this, Starsky.” Secretly, he had been pleased on hearing the laughter. The heat, the mandatory double shifts, and the anticipated high volume of incidents requiring police intervention would put a strain on the entire force, and hitting the streets in good spirits was essential. Secretly, he thanked Starsky for whatever he had said or done, and Hutchinson and Perkins for not stopping him. “You two, in my office, later,” he said as he wiggled a finger between his two best detectives. “Now, Sergeant Perkins, don’t you have some business to conduct?”

“Yes, sir. Okay, folks, as you know, Metro has been divided into six sectors according to activities scheduled for the occasion. Chronic trouble areas have also been factored in when we determined patrol teams and sectors. Each patrol team is assigned to one sector and one pair of detectives.” Perkins paused to scan the audience. No one appeared lost or clueless, so he continued. “You are strongly encouraged to write out citations rather than arrest, to work out conflicts on site. Only the really serious stuff requires arrests. Everybody with me so far?”

The nods were unanimous. There was some shifting and shuffling, so Perkins waited until the group settled down again.

“The zebra units will function as they normally do. And for today, our vice and robbery detectives will also function as zebra units. Now, uniforms, if you have a situation where an arrest is warranted, call your detectives. They’ll take it from there. We want you uniforms in your marked cars out on the street, very visible, as much as possible. Got it?” Perkins made the last two words sound more like a command than a question. He expected no one to respond any other way than the affirmative.

The inevitable grumping came, because the energy crisis had made use of air conditioning in the squad cars verboten and now the uniformed officers’ only chance for heat relief – the escort of arrestees to Division – had been pulled away from them. The collective mood took several steps backward.

“All right, settle down!” Perkins paused until the room was reasonably quiet again. “Listen up for your sector.” He read the names from a clipboarded yellow legal pad. “Got that? Good,” he said before anyone could answer. “Captain Dobey, the floor is yours.”

Dobey, whose portly body was clothed in a dark blue tropical-weight suit, cleared his throat with authority. “The detectives will not be working on any of their open cases today so they will be available. And cut the vice and robbery guys some slack. Being zebra units is different. Keep a high profile, and this ought to be a fairly uneventful holiday. Sergeant Perkins?”

“Thank you, Cap’n. And in case anyone’s wondering, our boys in IA will be here, doing intake duty.” The thought of Simonetti and Dryden processing all the arrested people brought gloating smiles to everyone’s faces. Perkins then instructed everyone to collect the maps of the newly sectored Division provided by R & I’s Officer Minnie Kaplan. “And one more thing, officers.” The room seemed to freeze in time as its inhabitants, a superstitious lot when it came to this, waited for Perkins’ signature send-off. “It’s gonna be a hot one out there today. Keep your cool, and see you back here later.”

~s&h~

After Starsky and Hutchinson spent a few minutes speaking with the uniforms that would be patrolling Sector Six along with them, they headed for Harold Dobey’s office. The empty detectives’ squad room was unnaturally quiet, almost funereal. Even the holiday decorations on Starsky’s desk failed to lighten the atmosphere. Both men shivered.

Suddenly and inexplicably embarrassed, Starsky said in a hushed voice, “Let’s get this over with.”

Hutch cocked an eyebrow upward and said, “I’m way ahead of you, buddy.” He rapped three times on the captain’s door and opened it without waiting for a summons. “Cap? Wanted to see us?”

Dobey was just hanging up the telephone when Hutch’s disembodied head thrust itself through the opening door. He waved them in, and Starsky closed the door behind them. Hutch remained standing. Starsky made a beeline for the chair closest to Dobey’s desk. Up went the feet to rest on the desktop.

Down came the feet as Dobey swept them off. Starsky frowned for a millisecond before sitting up and leaning forward in the chair. “What can we do for ya, Cap?”

“I know I said the detectives wouldn’t be working on open cases, but I’m feelin’ the heat from downtown about that tourist homicide so you have my permission to work that one today. But quietly. Don’t want the other detectives to get bent out of shape thinking you two are special.” He laughed sarcastically.

Starsky flopped back in the chair, frustrated at the reminder of how little progress they’d made in this extraordinarily tough case and pissed that Dobey’s superiors had the nerve to put pressure on him. Murder was murder, and it angered both detectives when downtown considered solving one person’s untimely demise a higher priority than another’s.

Hutch made a sweeping gesture as he said, “Captain, we’ve turned over every stone in this precinct and a lot of them in other precincts. Believe me, moss is not growing anywhere in this city. And between the two of us, we’ve asked the crime scene team at least four times to go over the evidence again. Hell, even we’ve gone over it twice.”

“Hey, I know you’ve been bustin’ a gut trying to solve this one. I just don’t want a day to go by without something being done on this case.” Dobey’s tone was the perfect blend of sympathy and pep talk.

“Okay, Cap, you got it,” Starsky replied softly. “Anything else?”

“Yeah, you two, there is. I don’t want you giving Simonetti and Dryden a hard time when you bring in your arrests today.”

“That should be interesting. Lucy and Ethel doing actual police work.”

“No, Hutch, they’re Laverne and Shirley now, remember?”

“They’re fellow officers, and as such, deserve your respect!” Dobey fumed in silence for a moment. “Their work in Internal Affairs is just as important as what you clowns do!”

“Cap’n, I don’t like bad cops any more than the next guy, but these two They’re headhunters, and think of their fellow cops as potential trophies.”

“Starsky, that’s enough! Now, treat them as you would any other intake officer, you hear me?” To emphasize his point, Dobey punched the air between him and Starsky with a tooth-marred pencil.

Hutchinson could see a heated argument about to form, so he grabbed his partner’s jacket sleeve and pulled him out of the chair. “He hears you, Captain. Anything else?”

Dobey cranked down his temper a notch or two at Hutch’s even tone. “No. Now, get outta here and on the streets.” He shook his large head several times before resting it on raised fingers. He waved twice to Starsky’s parting exclamation of “Happy Independence Day, Cap’n!”

~s&h~

“Starsky, will you please stop that whistling?” Hutchinson momentarily regretted his decision to stay partnered with a holiday addict. He was also regretting his decision to be a detective. Having to dress in layers to conceal his weapon in heat like this did not please the already perspiring blond from the upper Midwest.

The curly-haired man ceased whistling and sighed. “You got a problem with The Stars and Stripes Forever? Probably the greatest march ever written? Hutch, you promised me on that day I had the appendectomy that you wouldn’t bah and humbug the Fourth like you do Christmas.” Starsky let a tiny amount of peevishness color his words.

“Yeah, you’re right, I promised. But Starsk, do you have to whistle all the time? I can barely make out what’s coming in over the radio.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll hum. Hey, look in the glove compartment, wouldya?”

Hutchinson shot his partner a sideways glance as he cautiously opened the compartment. There, amongst the papers and extra magazines for Starsky’s handgun, was a little red gift box topped with a bright blue bow.

“Go ahead, open it. It’s for you.”

Hutch couldn’t imagine what the present could possibly be, or even what the occasion was. Feeling like a kid sneaking a peak at a Christmas gift, he lifted the top to see, resting on a bed of cotton, an enameled lapel pin shaped like a fluttering U.S. flag. One star glittered. He picked it up and was surprised by its unexpected heft.

“One of the stars there is a diamond chip.”

Hutch looked at his friend. The joy on the darker man’s face seemed to outshine the sun. “Starsk, I…”

“Look on the back,” he interrupted anxiously.

Gently turning the pin over, he strained to read the inscription. “Our friendship long nay, no it’s may, long may it wave, 7-4-1976.” This is corny as shit, thought Hutch, but I love it! “Starsky, I don’t know what to say. I mean, it’s great! Thanks,” he said as he pierced the crimson name on his shirt with the pin. “But what’s with a present? Who gives anybody a present on the Fourth of July?”

Starsky grinned broadly. “Hutch, when are you gonna realize this is a special Fourth? There’ll never be another Fourth like this again, ever. It’s one we’ll never forget.” He paused to allow that to sink into his partner’s Scroogish gray matter. “So, I dunno, getting you a gift just, well, felt right. Ya know?” He ventured a longer look at his partner since traffic in the area had thinned somewhat. “You really like it?”

“Yeah, Starsk, I do.” Hutch watched as Starsky’s grin grew even broader. Maybe it’s not so bad after all, partnering with a holiday fiend. And it is a Fourth we’ll never forget.

Neither detective knew then how right they were.

~s&h~

The first hour of patrolling turned out to be trouble-free, despite increasing traffic on the roads and bodies on the sidewalks. Both detectives knew this wouldn’t last once the alcohol began its alteration of people’s good sense.

Starsky had stopped the Torino at a crosswalk to let pedestrians by before he turned right. He was admiring the numerous, scantily clad women, many of whom had very long legs and blonde hair. He sighed deeply and smiled weakly. I gotta get me a girlfriend. He had just picked out one leggy beauty with dark red tresses for a hasty fantasy when a smack on his arm interrupted his licentious imagination. “What?” he asked a bit crankily, but continuing to look at the unofficial parade before him.

“It’s Huggy, down there, on the other side of the street. At least I think it’s Huggy.”

“Unh.” Starsky didn’t move his eyes from the women.

Hutchinson shoved his partner this time. “Starsk, we’re supposed to be watching out for trouble, not ogling the ladies.”

In a faraway voice, Starsky responded, “Well, what I’m thinkin’ about some of those ladies could get me in trouble…”

Hutch snickered quietly. He nudged Starsky’s arm and said, “Come on, let’s go see Hug. Go straight and circle around the block, okay?”

Reluctantly, Starsky said, “Yeah, okay. But you coulda let me daydream a little longer.” Again, he sighed and accelerated the powerful vehicle carefully across the street when traffic allowed.

A minute later, they were out of the car and approaching a tall, thin man wearing a red and white broad striped morning coat and matching bell-bottom pants. The top hat he wore matched the suit and was additionally adorned with a blue band studded with large white stars. On his feet were navy blue platform shoes with gold stars pasted on the chunky heels. As the detectives got closer, they finally confirmed Hutch’s suspicion that he had spotted their next-to-best friend, Huggy Bear.

The bar owner and entrepreneur was busily trying to convince a couple with a young child in a stroller to buy some Bicentennial memorabilia from him. “This is genu-wine polymerized materiel, will last until the Tricentennial, my friends. And the bottom is weighted with a real magnet. This authentic reproduction of that proud lady in New York Harbor would look perfect perched on your automobile’s dashboard.”

The partners grinned at each other as they watched the couple unhesitatingly shake their heads and Huggy reach for another item. “How about this exquisite necklace of red, white, and blue beads alternating with tiny flags? Or these salt and pepper shakers? Just the ticket for your holiday picnic!”

Again, the couple shook their heads and moved away from the stand, stroller squeaking and baby cooing. The baby reached out to the detectives as they passed each other.

“Starsk, one day that could be you pushing a stroller.”

God, I hope so. “What about you, pal? Don’t you ever feel paternal?”

Huggy Bear spoke before Hutch could answer. “Well, well, here’s the fuzz out to bust a small businessman who’s only tryin’ to do his part in shoring up a recessed economy.” Long, thin, graceful fingers stroked a phony ivory goatee.

“No, but we ought to arrest you for being a public eyesore. But then again, if I arrested you, I’d have to arrest flag boy here.”

“Hiya, Hug. Pay no attention to my holiday-hating partner here. He’s just jealous.” An expanse of dark mahogany skin showed above the deep V of the dark blue vest Huggy wore. “What happened, get up too late to finish dressin’ this morning?”

“I’ll have you know, my brother, that the fewer clothes one wears, the less time it takes to get undressed. You know what I mean?”

“Yeah, easier to strip when the armed forces recruiters come after you for impersonatin’ Uncle Sam.”

“Starsky, I’ll have you know that I am the black man’s answer to Uncle Sam. They call me Mister Sammy.”

Hutch, who had been examining Huggy’s wares while he listened to the interchange, chuckled and turned his azure eyes to meet the black man’s almond ones. “Anything at all on that tourist murder, Hug?”

Huggy took a deep breath and hooked his thumbs in the pockets of his vest. “Nothin’ since the last time you asked less than twenty-four hours ago. Nada. Zip. Man, it’s spooky. Like whoever did this is a ghost. Nobody seems to know nothin’. I hear anything, even just a peep, I’ll dial so fast that Ma Bell’ll call the fire department ‘cuz she’ll think the circuits are on fire.”

“Thanks, Huggy. Talk to you later.”

“Whoa there, my blond brother. You can’t leave without buyin’ somethin’.”

“That’s okay, Hug,” Starsky said before Hutch could launch into a tirade about sacrilege and crass commercialism. “Hey, you been holdin’ out on me. This noisemaker is great!” He twirled it several times, delighting in the loud, metallic, ratchety sound it made. “How much?”

Hutch snatched the instrument of aural torture out of his partner’s hand. With self-righteous pomp, he dropped it back into Huggy’s suitcase. He glared at the offended, open-mouthed detective while he asked, “Huggy, how much for you not to sell this overgrown adolescent any more of this…stuff?”

Starsky found his voice. “Hutch, don’t you… Huggy, don’t accept anything he offers!” He pleaded like a junkie being threatened with losing his only connection.

Huggy cocked an eyebrow. “That depends, my man. You know, the man here with the funny last name is my best customer.”

Hutch whipped out his wallet and found a twenty-dollar bill. “This should take care of it.” He held it out to the black man.

“Hutch! Huggy!” The desperation in Starsky’s voice fell on indifferent ears.

Huggy grinned and silently accepted the bill. Starsky’s disappointment showed on his face and in his posture. Huggy played with the greenback and shrugged. “Hard to deny our seventh president a new home.”

“Come on, Starsk, we have work to do.” Hutch did little to mask his smugness as he headed for the Torino. “See you later, Huggy.”

Starsky walked slowly backwards, hurt violet-blue eyes still on the black man. Huggy shrugged again, admitting he couldn’t fight the irresistible force known as Starsky, before reaching into his suitcase. He underhand-tossed the detective the same noisemaker he had just been playing with. Huggy put a finger to his lips.

Starsky, eyes a brighter blue now, nodded in acknowledgement and shoved the toy into a jacket pocket. He ran the rest of the short distance to the car, arriving before his partner. “Come on, slowpoke. We got peace to keep.”

~s&h~

After pulling into the ever-growing traffic, Starsky started humming the Sousa march once more. Hutch admitted to himself that it was more enjoyable than listening to countless verses of Jingle Bells, with official and Starsky-written lyrics, and that he was beginning to enjoy the holiday.

“Oh man, this heat is really somethin’ today,” Starsky observed after several uninterrupted minutes of humming. “Does this new apartment you’re lookin’ at have air conditioning?”

The mention of the apartment in a building with the name of “Venice Place” brought new life into the blond man. “Don’t know, Starsk. But you should see this place.” As he began describing the apartment, he became increasingly animated. “There’s a partially enclosed deck off the kitchen, and the landlord is actually considering letting me turn it into a greenhouse. And the doors are just magnificent.”

“Wait a minute here. You want this apartment because-a the doors? That’s nutty, buddy!”

“That's me, the ice cream treat all the ladies crave! " The curly-haired detective groaned and rolled his eyes. “Seriously, Starsk, that’s only one nice thing about this place. It’s in a great little neighborhood, with an organic foods co-op only a couple of blocks away. The beach is –“

The radio interrupted the conversation. “Sector Six. Man climbing Tucker Building, corner of Williston and Market.”

The partners looked at each other knowingly and shouted together, “Percy!” Hutchinson yanked the microphone from its holder and said, “This is Zebra 3, we are responding,” while Starsky spun the steering wheel to cut down a litter-strewn alley to shorten the four-block trip to the building.

The Tucker Building, an unimpressive ten-story structure housing mostly accountants’ and insurance agents’ offices, was completely surrounded by gawking onlookers when the Torino arrived at the scene less than a minute after the call. No one gave the detectives a second glance as they continually excused themselves and shouldered their ways closer to the façade.

Percy Dowling was at the fifth floor and climbing when Hutch called out, “Um, Percy, what do you think you’re doing?”

The small man in a dark blue bodysuit with thin red stripes and white fingerless gloves cautiously looked down. “Hi there, Hutch! Is Starsky … oh, there you are!” One of his bare feet slipped from its tenuous hold and the bystanders collectively inhaled noisily with fear. When his toe regained its purchase, sounds of relief rippled through the crowd. “You two know it’s not nice to distract Captain America!” Percy shouted.

Starsky and Hutch looked at each other and shrugged. Neither had any idea what to do next. Percy restarted his climb to the top.

Finally, Starsky called out, “Percy, I thought you were Spiderman. I mean, you been Spiderman ever since we met. Now you’re Captain America? Why don’t you come down so we can talk about this, hunh?”

“I’m working, Starsky!”

“Well, yeah …” Starsky paused and frantically gestured for Hutch’s help.

“Uh, Percy, even superheroes get holidays off.”

Starsky whispered, “How’s that supposed ta get him down?”

“Well, then, you come up with something better,” Hutch replied sternly. Starsky scrunched up one side of his face and signaled for his partner to continue. Raising his voice again, Hutch said, “Percy, if you don’t come down, I’m gonna have to send up the real Captain America.”

“Oh yeah?” They could hear the worry in the small man’s tone. “Well, I don’t see him nowheres, and besides, I’m Captain America today.” He pulled himself higher by one more brick.

“Sorry, Percy, you’re Spiderman. Starsky here is really Captain America. In fact, several people have recognized him already.” Hutch mouthed to his ticked-off partner to play along.

Starsky wiped some sweat from his forehead and gave Hutch a nasty look before shouting up to Percy, “You better listen to what Bucky here’s sayin’, Spidey. You know how I don’t like anybody impersonatin’ me. Now, get down here. And use the fire escape like you usually do, wouldja?”

“Wh-wh-wh-where is it?” came the tremulous reply. “I forgot!”

Oh shit! He’s losin’ it! No time to call the fire department, thought Starsky as he took the three steps necessary to get to the escape ladder. The crowd sensed it, too; all talking and a lot of breathing halted. The bottom rung was a good ten feet off the ground, and he cursed when he couldn’t jump the distance. He could hear Hutch’s voice getting closer by the second as he continued to talk with Percy.

“It’s okay, Percy. Stars – Captain America is comin’ to help you.” Hutch was now beside his partner. He squatted slightly and made a cradle with his strong hands. Starsky put his left foot in the cradle and Hutch lifted him up. Starsky grabbed the rung with both hands and began pulling himself up. Hutch took a couple of deep breaths. “Take it easy, Percy. Remember that you’re really Spiderman, and Spidey doesn’t fall. He doesn’t panic. He’s very brave. That’s you, Percy, I mean, Spiderman. You’re going to be just fine.”

Starsky clambered up the clanging metal stairs with breakneck speed. He dared not waste his breath on words until he arrived at the landing nearest Percy. Sucking air hard, hands on knees, he sputtered, “I’m here … Spidey … jus’ come ta … me now.” Percy was only a few feet away, but it seemed like miles.

“Nnnnnno, you’re Starsky,” Percy whimpered.

Perceiving Percy’s hesitation and doubt, Hutch urged, “Go on, Spidey, go to Captain America.”

“Bucky? Is that you? Then he must be Captain – “

“Yeah, tha’s me,” interrupted Starsky. He put his trust-me face on. Back against the building, he swung his left leg over the handrail so he could straddle it. He wrapped the other leg around a skinny vertical bar. He reached out for Percy, whose closest hand was still six inches to the left and at least that much more above. “Come on, Spiderman, you can do it.”

Percy gulped. Then his sight fell upon Starsky’s altered Adidas sneakers. “You truly are an Avenger!” he said so quietly that even Starsky couldn’t hear him. But the detective could see the confidence build in the small man’s eyes. Hurriedly, he wiped his wet palm on his jeans, then he leaned further to the left. Their hands were one inch closer.

On the ground, Hutch kept uttering, “Come on, come on,” like a yoga mantra. He ignored the heavy beads of briny perspiration that tickled his face and neck as he watched Percy slowly creep toward his partner, who, in Hutch’s opinion, was leaning over far too much.

The Spiderman wannabe slipped twice on his way to Starsky and the security of the fire escape. Then, their fingertips touched. Soon, fingers met palms. Starsky could feel the slickness of the man’s hand and knew he had to grab Percy around the wrist. “C’mon, just a little farther,” he entreated Percy as he stretched even more and gripped the rail tightly with his right hand.

Hutch cringed when he saw Starsky shift more of his weight off the safety of the rail. The mantra took on a feverish aspect.

Starsky, now blinking furiously to clear his vision blurred by sweat, attained a flimsy hold on Percy’s slender wrist. Immediately, Percy cried out in fearful relief and let his hold on the building go.

The sudden increase in weight, complicated by its movement, threatened to pull the dark-haired detective off his perch. “Damn!” Starsky yelled. Bending over from the force of the falling Percy, he somehow managed to use the momentum to swing him further to the right. Starsky released his hold just before Percy hit the handrail of the landing below Starsky’s. Once again, momentum worked in Percy’s favor as it sent the top half of his body over the rail. He still had the wherewithal to grasp the vertical bars and heave the rest of his short body over the rail. In the meantime, Starsky had righted himself and fell onto the landing in an exhausted, damp heap.

The crowd, which had grown considerably larger since the detectives had arrived on site, let out riotous, boisterous cheers and applause. Hutch, nearly deafened by the roar, became weak-kneed with relief. Within seconds, he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned to find Burke and Miller, two uniforms working Sector Six.

Burke, the senior partner with close to twenty years on the force, spoke closely to Hutch’s ear. “We were cruising by when we saw this mob. Knew this had to do with that call you took. We’ll disperse ‘em while you check on the climber and Starsky, okay?”

Hutchinson gave the older man the okay sign. Miller began moving the crowd along while Burke helped Hutch onto the fire escape. Taking the steps two at a time, Hutch found himself kneeling by the trembling Percy in seconds. “You okay, Spidey?”

Embarrassed, Percy avoided eye contact. “Naw, I’m really Percy. And you’re not really Bucky. I just forgot, I guess. Sorry, Hutch.”

“You stopped taking your medication, didn’t you, Percy?” Hutch asked with nonjudgmental concern.

Percy nodded his guilt. “The medicine makes me feel bad.”

“I know, Percy. Now, you stay here. I’m going to check on Starsky.” He patted the slumped shoulder several times before rising to climb another flight of stairs.

The blond detective arrived on the next landing just in time to see his partner struggling to stand. He began worrying when he saw Starsky grimacing and favoring his left arm. He gripped the darker man’s upper arm to help him in those last few inches to the upright position. “Starsk, it’s your shoulder again, isn’t it?”

Screw that stupid, trigger-happy punk Joey! And Linda Mascelli didn’t help things none when she flung me across her apartment… “Yeah, it’ll be okay in a minute. How’s Spidey?” Several of the stretched and overtaxed muscles contracted without warning, causing him to inhale sharply. Under the flush of activity, he turned pale.

“Percy’s okay, Starsk. You need to get that arm checked out. We gotta take him to the hospital anyway.”

Starsky thought about protesting, but the continuing spasms conspired with his partner. “Guess it’s a good thing Percy used ta be a jockey, you know, before he went crazy,” he said to divert his partner’s attention away from his unsteady descent down the escape.

The diversion didn’t work on Hutchinson, but he respected Starsky’s wish to downplay his injury and discomfort. “Yeah. If he were much bigger, he’d be riding Man o’ War right about now.”

Once on the landing with Percy, Starsky said with sweet concern, “Percy, are you tryin’ to give Hutch an’ me heart attacks? Ya know your elevator don’t go all the way to the top.”

Percy huffed and replied condescendingly, “Of course I know that, Starsky. Why do you think I climb?”

Hutch’s chest jerked with silent laughter as he helped Percy stand. “He’s got a point, Starsk.”

Starsky’s lips withdrew into a frown. “Let’s get down from here, okay? Makin’ me nervous.”

~s&h~

Since Starsky’s left arm was more or less nonfunctional, Hutch had insisted on driving the Torino to County General Hospital. Starsky, already sullen from the injury, had become more so when he had relinquished the keys. The heat, nearing oppressive levels, and his thirst had compounded his misery.

Once Percy had been handed off to several mental health specialists, Hutch had cornered an emergency room resident he knew from Vinnie’s Gym to take a look at his partner’s shoulder. The young physician diagnosed muscle strain after a quick but thorough history and examination and Starsky had left the ER with an ice pack strapped to his shoulder and a small complimentary bottle of aspirin after a long draft at the water fountain.

Now, as the detectives stood in the shade of the ER entrance’s overhang, Starsky said, “Hey, I’m still thirsty. Whaddya say we play a game for who buys the drinks?”

The blond man immediately became suspicious. “Okay, Starsk, I’ll bite. What kind of game are you talking?”

Here’s where all that readin’ pays off. “How ‘bout an Independence Day game of horse. Like in the basketball game, ‘cept we ask each other questions about the Revolution.” Cautiously, he rotated his strained shoulder and noted the pain had lessened significantly. “Instead-a ‘horse,’ we could call it ‘fourth’!”

“You mean, we play like it’s horse, but we ask questions instead.”

Starsky smiled wickedly to himself. “Yeah, that’s it. And for each question you get wrong, you get a letter and you buy the drinks.”

Why do I get the feeling I’m about to be had? Hesitantly, Hutch replied, “All right, let’s play. I’ll go first.”

“Wait a minute, partner. Let’s make this more interesting. How about whoever gets to ‘fourth’ first springs for all the beer at Huggy’s next time?”

“Okay, Starsk, you’re on,” Hutch said with a cockiness he didn’t feel. This has got to be a set-up, and I’m walking right into it. “But don’t go crying in the beer you’ll be buying us when I beat the sneakers off you.” He cleared his throat. “Here goes, first question. How many people signed the Declaration of Independence?”

Without missing a beat, Starsky replied, “Fifty-six.” He grinned triumphantly. “You got an ‘f,’ buddy boy, and you owe me a drink.” Starsky paused a few moments to decide what he wanted; Hutch, open-mouthed and stunned, stared at this partner. “I want a tall, cold lemonade.”

Annoyed, the blond man shook his head. “Let’s go, Eye-gor, and find you a lemonade stand.” He slipped on his amber-lensed glasses and stepped out into the bright sunlight.

“’Hump? What hump?’” Starsky chuckled. “Hey, you can’t call me that!” he called out to Hutch’s back. “His hump kept switchin’ sides! Mine’s melting!” He had to sprint to catch up with his partner, who was sliding behind the Torino’s steering wheel.

~s&h~

By the time Hutchinson had found and paid for two lemonades, the Fourth of July parade was well underway. Starsky, never one to miss such a spectacle, had radioed in to Metro that they would be on foot patrol for a while. The ice in his pack had completely melted, the condensation having made a good deal of his jacket and T-shirt wet. He was just finishing removing the elastic bandage that had held the bag in place when Hutch returned to the car.

With eager sheepishness, Starsky informed his partner about the call to Metro. He waited for several seconds before Hutch replied, “Good idea, Starsk. It’s about time we watched a parade, rather than be one like we have all morning.”

“Are you tryin’ to tell me somethin’ about my car?”

“Yeah, partner, I guess I am. It’s a mobile spectacle, Starsk, and, I mean this sincerely, it looks like a parade float from Mars!”

“You really think it looks like a float?” Starsky slurped a large gulp of the sugary-tart beverage.

Hutch sighed and rolled his eyes. “Yes, I do.”

“Terrific! That’s what I was shootin’ for!” He skipped forward a few steps. “C’mon, Hutch, we’re gonna miss the parade!”

The detectives chose to walk against the procession of participants and floats. Hutch concentrated on studying the throngs of sweaty, celebrating spectators, while Starsky paid more attention to the goings-on in the street.

About ten minutes into their foot patrol, Hutchinson felt a change in his friend’s disposition. He focussed his attention on Starsky. The bounce had left the darker man’s gait, and he was staring at something. Slowly, he stopped walking. Hutch stopped as well and shifted his gaze from Starsky to what he was watching.

Passing the detectives was the veterans’ group of marchers. One man walked in front, carrying a large American flag. Behind him in rows of military precision were vets of all ages. A few were in wheelchairs. Some wore their dress uniforms, others wore civilian clothes, yet others wore combinations. As they passed by silently, making no sound but the clomping of their boots and shoes as they hit the pavement in unison, Hutchinson felt the urge to salute them, and didn’t fight it. Out of the corner of his eye, he observed that Starsky’s right hand now covered his heart.

“How many Fourths did you have overseas, Starsk?” asked Hutchinson quietly and respectfully as the veterans moved farther away.

Starsky answered his partner by lifting two fingers off his chest. Inwardly, he grinned his appreciation of Hutch’s sensitivity. Only Hutch would say “overseas” and not Vietnam. “I’ve had enough of parades for one day. Let’s go back to the car. I’m drivin’.” Starsky squinted as his gaze passed briefly over Hutch’s face.

Hutch easily recognized that Starsky had become subdued and introspective. One of these days, he’ll talk about his tour. If not to me, then someone else. “Sounds like a plan. You sure your shoulder is up to it?”

“Yeah, it’s okay now. Aspirin’s had a chance to kick in.”

“Hey, did I see Marcellus Cobb? I thought he had moved back to Chicago to be with family. You know, to get clean.” Hutch shuddered, feeling empathetic for what Lt. Slate’s snitch must have gone through.

“That’s what Dan said a coupla months ago. Looks like Marcellus prefers the warmer climate and gentle ocean breezes and easier access to Mexican brown."

Hutchinson nodded grimly, sadly agreeing with the implication that Cobb most likely had not been successfully rehabilitated.

They about-faced to head back to the Torino. As they strode briskly through the many revelers, Hutchinson marveled at the strength of his friend, grateful that he had come out of Vietnam so unlike Cobb.

~s&h~

Minutes after returning to the car and resuming their regular patrol, a still restrained Starsky spotted a small gathering of people huddled around something or someone several blocks off the parade route. “Hey, Hutch,” he said in the tone that always made his partner prepare for action.

Hutch, who had been scanning the opposite side of the street, first glanced at Starsky, then followed his line of sight. “Let’s see if we can get invited to the party.”

Starsky nodded and double-parked the car, leaving only one lane for traffic open in that direction. Horns started to blast angrily and impatiently, so Hutch slapped the mars light on the roof and initiated the flashing. He caught up with Starsky in the middle of the street, where he held his badge up in a futile attempt to get oncoming vehicles to stop.

“You’re a native New Yorker, Starsk. Why don’t you cross the street like one?” teased the native Minnesotan.

“’Cuz the people here don’t know how to drive like New Yorkers.” Starsky inspired deeply and snorted. “Aw, hell, here goes nothin’!” This time, he held up an empty hand and stepped beyond the road’s dividing line, Hutch a half-pace behind him.

Tires and brakes squealed, followed closely by belligerent honking, flipped birds, and colorful epithets. Starsky responded to the unexpected behaviors from normally laid-back Californians with some hood smacking and some hand gestures of his own; for a moment, he felt like he was back in the Big Apple. Hutch laughed to himself as he envisioned what things would be like walking the mean streets of New York City with his assertive partner.

Starsky had his shield out once more in his right hand. With his left, he moved people aside as he said amiably yet forcefully, “Po-lice, let us through here. Come on, break it up now.” Hutchinson remained at his heels.

A path to the focal point of the small assemblage readily formed. Starsky grinned when he recognized who the center of attention was. “Hiya, Fingers. Long time no see, schweetheart. Good to see ya.”

Hutch elbowed his way to stand beside Starsky. “Mandy! When did you get out?”

“A coupla weeks ago,” the young white woman with mousy brown hair and light brown eyes replied. Mandy Hill, who had been dubbed “Fingers” by Starsky on their first encounter, stood behind a TV tray covered with playing cards. Even though she was just over five feet tall and tipped the scales at 90 pounds, her extroverted personality made her seem much larger. “Lookin’ good, DM, lookin’ real good.”

“Yeah, I bet even Hutch would look good after six months.” Starsky ambled over to stand close to the petite woman.

“Even though the two of you busted me, put me in stir, don’t hold that against ya. You were just doin’ your job, hey, Hutch?”

“Mandy, you didn’t have to go to jail. Starsky and I did warn you about pickpocketing. And what are you doing here? Not games of chance with a little wagering, I hope.”

Fingers audibly inhaled and screwed her face up. “Do you honestly think I’d do something illegal?” she asked with righteous indignation. “Hey now, learned my lesson. Don’t have to roust me twice!”

“Then what are you doin’, Fingers?”

“You see, DM, I learned a few tricks in stir.” Starsky and Hutch exchanged uh-oh glances. Mandy stomped her feet to draw their attention back to her. “Hey now, I learned card tricks. Simple, fascinating, blow-your-mind card tricks. Nobody wagers anything. If they like, they give me gift. Monetary gift. Legal tender acquired legally, and tax-free.” She smiled ingenuously.

Starsky’s hands found their way to his hips and he bent down to come face-to-face with the girl. “I hate to tell you this, Fingers, but this looks awfully suspicious. We could probably make a case against ya, but me and Hutch, well, we’re warnin’ you again. How’s about packin’ up your cards and your table, and go enjoy the parade, okay?”

Mandy stared into the sapphire eyes for a few seconds. “Okay, DM, but only for you.” She winked seductively at the darker man and comically at the other. Hutch smiled sweetly and headed for the curb. She began the process of folding up her business.

“That’s a good girl.” He playfully patted her cheek. “Keep your nose clean, all right? You’re too cute to be locked up.” He had only walked a few steps away from her to join his partner when she said matter-of-factly, “Hey now, DM, forgot your toy.”

He looked back at her while he thrust his hands into his jacket pockets – empty except for his hands. “Fingers,” he growled and scowled. Taking one long stride back – close enough to retrieve his noisemaker but far enough to make picking his pockets much harder – he grabbed his toy and quickly returned it to its proper hiding place. “Learned your lesson?” he scolded.

The girl bowed her head and raised her eyes to the officer. “Yep, sure did. Returned it, didn’t I? Hey now, just a pick for old time’s sake.” She smiled innocently. “Oh, almost forgot your badge.”

Starsky snatched the sweat-stained leather case from her open hand and grumbled something to himself. She giggled and blew him a kiss before going back to packing her belongings.

Seconds later, Starsky stood by Hutch at the curb. “I oughta run her in for that, Hutch. Did you see what she did?”

“What I saw was that stupid noisemaker. How did you get it? Huggy caved, didn’t he?” Hutch’s ire rose a few notches.

“But, Hutch, it can’t be the Fourth without a little noise.”

The blond man sighed sharply and audibly. He rolled his head and put his left hand on his hip and his right index finger in Starsky’s face. “So help me, Starsk, if you start cranking that … thing, so help me, I’ll –“

“Okay, okay, you don’t hafta paint me a picture. Hey, who’s that hangin’ out near my car?” Starsky started across the busy boulevard, again playing the part of an aggressive pedestrian.

Hutchinson instantly recognized the shabby figure pacing along the street between the Torino and the car it blocked in. Wailin’ Willie! Wonder what he’s got for us. He was on Starsky’s heels once more as the latter stopped traffic with a New York flair.

“Hutch!” the old, gray man called out as the detective joined him on the passenger side of the Torino. Starsky held back a few paces in deference to the sometimes informant who preferred to interact with Hutch.

Hutchinson smiled warmly at the elderly man with gray, straggly hair, wearing a colorless, threadbare suit jacket several sizes too large. “Hi, Willie. What’re you doing this far from your stomping grounds?”

“Had to find ya, Hutch. I saw sumpin’ that you might wanna know. You know that old storefront on Kensington near the packagin’ plant?”

“The one that used to be a, uh,” he said, snapping his fingers in hopes of jarring his memory.

“Massage parlor,” interjected Starsky.

“Yeah. So what about this old parlor, Willie?”

“’Bout a week or so ago, I decided to sleep in the alley next to it and I seen this man with no hair anywheres on him, come outta the side door of that place.”

“How do you know he didn’t have any hair?”

“’Cuz he was buck nekkid, I tell ya, Hutch. And he was carryin’ a dirty meat cleaver, swingin’ it around and growlin’ like some kinda aminal. I ain’t sleepin’ there again.”

Hutchinson could feel the snitch recoil from the recollection of what was surely a frightening sight. “Anything else that you can remember seeing, hearing?”

Willie paused a moment while he searched his muscatel-muddled memory. “I’m not sure, Hutch, but I think he had some kinda mark on his chest. Cain’t say for sure.” He hung his head, ashamed and disappointed that he couldn’t be of more help to the only cops that treated him with respect.

“That’s okay, Willie. If you remember, you know how to find me and Starsky. By the way, Willie, you working today?”

“Yeah. Gotta sing for my supper.”

Behind his back, Hutch signaled for his partner to come up with some money. Starsky had already pulled a ten-dollar bill from his money clip and stuffed it in Hutch’s hand. “Well, Starsk and I want you to take the rest of the day off, okay?” Hutch fished a ten out of his wallet and gave both bills to Willie.

The old man’s drab, rheumy eyes brightened at the gift. “Thanks, Hutch, Starkey. It’ll be nice, givin’ the voice box a rest.”

Starsky began to correct Willie, but halted, knowing it was useless. Must be Eddie Hoyle’s cousin, he thought. “Thanks for the information, Willie. And Happy Independence Day,” he said over Hutch’s shoulder. Hutch lightly squeezed Willie’s scrawny shoulder as his good-bye.

“You, too, Starkey. Your car sure is dressed for the occasion. Looks nice.” Willie paused again, until he found the word he wanted. “Festive.”

The dark-haired man grinned broadly while he jabbed the taller blond in front of him in the back. “Ah, a man with taste. Thanks, Willie.” Starsky virtually pranced to the driver’s door.

Hutch gave a mock grimace of pain followed by an equally mocking look of disgust as he climbed into the car. As Starsky started and revved the engine a couple of times, Hutch said, “You do realize that Willie lost his job in advertising because he had poor taste.”

“Give it up, Hutch. In your heart, you know this car looks great today.”

Hutch unbuttoned his bowling shirt and flapped it several times in an ineffectual attempt to cool off. “Well, I do believe Willie when he says he saw a naked guy with a meat cleaver,” he declared as he pulled the mac light back into the car. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

“Yeah. The coroner said the wounds on that dead tourist were probably made by a cleaver, and I don’t think he meant Wally or the Beav.”

“And the crime team couldn’t find any hairs or fibers that didn’t seem to belong.”

Starsky slowly began accelerating the car. “I think it might be time to quietly check out that abandoned building, make sure there aren’t squatters there. You know, for the public’s safety.” Hope this is the break we’ve been lookin’ for.

“Starsky, in this car, we can’t do anything quietly.” In response, Starsky started whistling The Stars and Stripes Forever again. Hutch glared at him and said impatiently, “So, what do you suggest we tell dispatch? I think that building is in Sector Five. We’re supposed to be keeping any investigating today quiet.”

“Why don’t ya have ‘em patch you through to Dobey? Let him figure it out. Besides, we got time; it’ll take us forever to get there in this traffic. A snail with notarized papers stating it unfit for escargot is moving faster than us.”

“Good idea, partner.” Hutchinson removed the microphone from its holder to begin the process of deviating from the official orders of the day.

As they waited for Dobey to respond, something not quite right in a small, nearby corner park drew Hutch’s focus. “Starsk, 2 o’clock, old lady getting mugged!”

The dark blue eyes shifted to the direction indicated just in time to see a young white male lance the elderly woman’s arm with some sort of knife. The detectives simultaneously realized that they could get to her and her assailant faster on foot. Hutch was out of the car before Starsky could bring it to a complete stop.

His long legs swiftly eating up the yards, the big blond arrived just in time to catch the aged woman before her head could make contact with the ground. He had a damp yellowed-white handkerchief out of his back pocket and on the woman’s bleeding arm before Starsky could catch up. Hutch then lunged after the mugger, who had made the mistake of not taking off as soon as he had pushed his prey down. He brought the boy down, both of them grunting in unison. “Police!” breathed a slightly winded Hutch. The perpetrator was able to free a leg and gifted the officer with a glancing blow to the head as he shouted, “Pig!”

Hutchinson, stunned, involuntarily loosened his hold on the mugger’s other leg. The latter easily pulled free and scrambled on all fours in an effort to put some distance between him and the scene of his crime.

Starsky, believing that his partner had everything under control with the mugger, had stopped to aid the woman. “You’re gonna be okay, ma’am,” he reassured the silently hysterical victim as he patted her thin, bony hand. Just as he reached to apply pressure to her wound, he saw that the thief was free and quickly snaking away from his dazed partner. He stood to pursue but was held back by the unexpectedly strong grip of the victim. “Lady, let go, wouldja?!” he insisted as he jerked his arm away.

By this time, the mugger had regained his footing and dashed away from the three people on the grass, leaving his plunder behind. Before giving chase, Starsky allowed himself a quick glance at his partner. Hutch was on his side, slowly rocking back and forth, but with eyes open. Relieved that he seemed okay, the dark-haired detective hurdled over Hutch and with arms churning like a windmill in high winds, bolted after the perp.

The mugger had a decent head start on Starsky but the crowds prevented him from increasing that lead. He slowed and began wielding the knife to convince the people to let him through. The already noisy celebrants increased the volume with high-pitched shrieks.

Starsky, now fairly drenched in sweat, rapidly closed in on the mugger. He unzipped his jacket to partially free the Smith & Wesson from its holster. Staying several arm lengths behind the now-jogging perp, Starsky shouted over the screams, “Stop! Police!”

The mugger ended his flight abruptly and whirled to face his pursuer, and for the first time, the curly-haired detective got a good look at him. Damn! Can’t be more’n 15, 16. A dingy T-shirt that had been white at one time and faded blue jeans with multiple tears and holes hung on his gaunt body. The brown hair was filthy and matted. His boots were well-worn camouflage Army surplus. But the stormy, hopeless eyes told Starsky the most important piece of information. Christ – he’s a hype.

Starsky kept his distance, acknowledging that it was the better part of common sense not to charge a heroin addict in need and who had already shown that he wasn’t afraid to use the chef’s knife he held in his right hand. Since everyone in the vicinity also had exercised good sense, the mugger had no one close enough to snatch for a hostage. The detective took one cautious baby step forward. He slowly raised his own right hand, palm up. “I’m not gonna hurt you. I’m a cop, I’m here to help you.” He tried to sound soothing and reassuring, even though he felt anger for what the perp had done to Hutch. He chanced another baby step forward.

The mugger’s stare widened, but he didn’t back away. What had been minor tremors that had not been noticeable before now became glaringly obvious. The only part not shaky was the hand with the weapon.

Another tiny step closer. For an instant, Starsky felt like he was a tot just learning to walk. A sudden stab of the knife in his direction jerked the detective back to reality. “Okay, okay. I’m not comin’ any nearer. But I can still help you. All you gotta do is put the knife down and I can help you.”

Starsky could see the thug trying to think, trying to decide. Then those agitated eyes telegraphed that he had made up his mind. Starsky held his breath and waited for the mugger to make his move.

And that move was straight at Starsky, with the knife leading the way. Starsky had plenty of time to side-step to his left. The knife passed harmlessly through the underside of his right jacket sleeve. In almost the same instant, he lifted his right knee. It connected with the attacker’s lower abdomen. Starsky controlled the boy’s descent to the hot concrete.

Efficiently grabbing and tossing the knife just out of reach of its owner, Starsky’s nostrils flared at the stench. The young hype reeked of stale urine and sweat, staler cigarettes, week-old vomit, and desperation. The officer’s curly head and infamous iron stomach swirled for a brief moment. As he snapped the handcuffs on the perp’s trembling wrists, he spoke out, “All over here, folks. Go on back to enjoying yourselves.” Picking the knife up with his left hand, he stood. With his right, he took the upper arm of the boy and helped him to his feet. “Come on, let’s go inspect the damage you just did, huh?” The mugger stumbled and swayed, requiring Starsky to help him return to the scene.

By the time the pair retraced their steps, Hutchinson had recovered from the blow to his head. He had the victim reclining on the grass, her head propped on her massive, rescued purse. He was kneeling beside her, speaking calmly and applying pressure to her laceration, all the time wondering how she could carry a bag big enough for a double kitchen sink.

Starsky, his head telling him that Hutch was all right, his heart telling him not to believe his head until he himself had checked out Hutch, picked up the pace. The junkie-assailant stumbled but managed not to fall. Once they were a few feet from his partner and the old woman, Starsky growled impatiently, “Park it!”

The junkie looked around for something to sit on, but didn’t see anything nearby. “On what?” he said with hostile contempt.

Starsky roughly pulled, then pushed the thief to the ground. “On your keister, whaddya think? Gotta have a head to sit on that.”

“Police brutality!” yelled the hype. When no one paid him any attention, he rocked himself and cursed the shaking that signaled the onset of the earliest stage of withdrawal.

Starsky wiped the heavy perspiration from his forehead before squatting next to his partner. He held a closed fist in front of his face. “Hey, Hutch, how many fingers I got up?”

Hutch stared at the fist in his face, then glared at Starsky. “What is this? Some kind of trick question?”

“Just answer me, huh? How many fingers?” he repeated as if he were talking to a first-grader.

Frustrated with his needlessly concerned partner, Hutch responded testily, “Starsk, I’m fine. Didn’t even lose consciousness.”

“How many?”

Hutch rolled his eyes and wondered if his friend had actually arranged to get more than his share of stubbornness when it was passed out. “Okay. None. You happy now?”

“Good! Now, that didn’t hurt a bit, did it?”

A tanned, heavily muscled young man wearing a sleeveless T-shirt and Hawaiian print baggies interrupted any further conversation. “Sir, an ambulance is on the way.”

Fifteen minutes later, Mrs. Hilda Benford was on her way to County General for treatment of the cut on her arm. Now feeling safe, she began animatedly relating her tale of terror and of salvation to the ambulance personnel and to the few people determined to see the incident’s conclusion.

As the detectives reached for their prisoner, he vomited what seemed to be a gallon of extraordinarily foul lumpy liquid. Somehow, none splattered on them but that didn’t stop the expression of their disgust.

“Well, Starsk, at least it, whatever it is, is out of his system,” Hutch said once he had controlled his urge to imitate the prisoner. He could tell that Starsky was still having some trouble.

They heaved him up and practically carried him to the Torino between them. Hutch opened the passenger door and folded the back of the seat forward. “Hey, kid, what’s your name?” Starsky released his hold and headed for the other side.

“Bbbbbarry.”

“Well, okay, Barry. Get in. We’re taking you to Metro Division to book you on – “

“NO! You can’t do that! I’m hurtin’, man, I need some help, you know what I mean?” Barry’s voice shook with panic.

Hutch canted his head and said conversationally, “What makes you think I know what you mean?”

Starsky, watching the two over the roof of the car, instantly recognized that Hutch’s body language didn’t match his tone. He primed himself to move quickly.

Barry slipped into addict-manipulative mode. “I, I, I don’t know, man. I guess you seem like the understandin’ type, ya know?”

In an instant, Hutchinson was on Barry, smashing the boy’s back against the Torino and crushing his chest with an arm. Starsky raced over the hood and danced around the open door to grasp Hutch’s shoulders from behind.

“No, I don’t understand. Why would you be a junkie, a hype, hunh?” Hutch’s tone was menacing and angry. “Did somebody kidnap you, tie you up six different ways -“

Starsky tugged gently at the tense and quaking shoulders and whispered, “Hutch?”

Hutch twisted to remove his friend’s hands. “And keep you in the dark, and you find yourself wishing you couldn’t hear either, and they beat you till you were senseless and half-dead – “

“Hutch?” This time, Starsky was more urgent and less gentle.

“Dammit, Starsky, leave me alone! Can’t you see we’re having a conversation here?” he raged softly. He turned back to their prisoner and spat out, “Did anybody force that needle in your arm? Against your will? Hunh? ANSWER ME, DAMMIT!”

Barry was petrified and totally incapable of responding. His eyes began to resemble those of an animal with its leg caught in a trap of spikes. He tried to shrink away, but he had nowhere to go.

Starsky was frantic with worry. He had seen Hutch deal with heroin addicts a number of times since his own ordeal less than a year ago, and he had been the picture of sympathy, if not empathy. Now, Starsky had no clue as to why his best friend had exploded like this. But before he could help Hutch, he had to save Barry from Hutch. Putting his entire body into it, the darker cop uttered an “Aaaaaarrrggggghhhhhh!” and wrenched Hutchinson away with enough force for him to twirl around several times. Panting heavily from both the exertion and his fear for Hutch’s sanity, he helped Barry into the Torino’s back seat. Barry promptly laid down and sobbed.

Hutchinson was walking in tight circles in some invisible cage, eyes hooded. Fuck you, Forrest! thought Starsky with more vehemence than he expected. Finally, Starsky approached him. Don’t crowd him, he advised himself. “Hey, babe, you okay? That was some act there. I think you may have cured him.” He gave the quaking, enflamed man a lopsided grin. “Maybe you oughta be bad cop from now on, huh?”

The long legs ceased their circling. Sky-blue eyes looked upwards for a few moments before settling on sapphire blue ones. Hutchinson ran a hand through his damp hair and grinned with both shame and gratitude. Starsk, how do you always know what to say? “Yeah, I’m okay. But this bad cop thing. Doesn’t feel natural for me. You can keep that job, okay, buddy?”

Starsky accepted the implied apology and the return of Hutch’s usual demeanor. Maybe this blow-up was what he needed. He put his arm around the blond’s shoulders and led him back to the car. Starsky didn’t bother to say anything to the large group of bystanders that had congregated. Hell, it’s a holiday. Let ‘em stare and stay here all day if they wanna.

Hutch’s grin became much more shame than gratitude when he saw the whimpering, quivering junkie in the back seat. He decided not to say anything, lest he send the boy back into heavy sobs. As Starsky closed him in, the radio squawked their call sign. “This is Zebra 3, go ahead.”

“Zebra 3, switch to Tac 2 for Captain Dobey.” Hutchinson made the necessary adjustment while Starsky settled himself in the driver’s seat.

“Where the hell have you two been?!” roared Dobey. It was so loud that both detectives reached for the volume control together, conking heads lightly. “Dispatch has been trying to raise you for the last 20 minutes!”

“Well, Captain, Starsky and I witnessed an assault in progress, and the victim was hurt, Starsky had to direct traffic –“

“I don’t want to hear it!” Dobey wanted to be furious with them for making him wait, but he knew they had done the right thing. “Is it too much to hope for that you actually caught the assailant?”

“We were just on our way in with him, Captain.”

“Good. As soon as you drop off your collar, report to my office. I’ll tell dispatch you’re on your way in.”

“10-4.” Hutch replaced the microphone. “Starsk, can you spare a couple of those aspirins?”

~s&h~

Even with the mac light flashing, the journey to Metro Division was slow going. To pass the time and take their minds off the junkie – who had fallen into a restless sleep – they continued to play “Fourth.” Starsky was pulling into an open spot on the street at Metro’s main door when he crowed, “That’s an f-o-u-r for you, and nothin’ for me! By my calculations, you owe me three drinks.”

“Just hold your horses, pal of mine. How can I be sure about what you say the answers are? What you’ve asked is so, so obscure!”

“What, you sayin’ I’d cheat you, my best friend in the whole world? I’m hurt, Hutch, really.” Starsky pretended to be deeply offended.

Hutch backed off from being so harsh, but continued his objection. “Starsky, I’m not saying that. What I’m saying, I guess, is that maybe there ought to be some verification.”

“Fine with me, but you’re just gonna put off the inevitable.”

“Anyway, Starsky,” said Hutch, waving a hand about to emphasize his point, “who knows how many signers of the Declaration owned slaves? Or which two presidents died on July fourth? Who cares? Hell, when I was in school, I learned practical things, like reading, writing, and arithmetic.”

“Didn’t you take civics?”

“Yes, I took civics, but I don’t remember all that useless information.” The blond’s complexion reddened with the peevishness he was experiencing.

Starsky’s mouth turned up slightly at each end. “It dudn’t seem so useless to me – you’re the one losin' this little game. I’ll take a Coke.” He was out of the car before Hutchinson’s wrath could descend on him. He peeked back into the car and shouted to their human bundle in the back, “Hey, Sleeping Beauty! Wake up before you swallow the apple.”

It was overwhelmingly obvious that Barry was in need of a fix, and soon. The partners hustled the young addict up the stairs and to intake after notifying Sergeant Perkins of their arrival.

Simonetti was involved with one suspect brought in by Babcock and Simmons, the zebra unit detectives assigned to Sector Three. It was easy to deduce the Internal Affairs officer’s frazzled state of being. Even in the air conditioning, his high brow glistened with perspiration and his eyes and lips looked pinched, as if lemon juice had been squirted in them. His sport coat was off as well – something no one in the division had ever seen while he was on duty.

Starsky and Hutchinson exchanged sly smirks as they and their suspect approached Simonetti. Before either detective could speak, Simonetti snapped, “That one’s Dryden’s.”

Hutch said amiably, “That’s all well and good, Simonetti, but you seem to have misplaced him. Are you sure you haven’t processed him?” Starsky suppressed a snicker with difficulty.

“You’re too funny, Hutchinson.” Simonetti’s tone was as dry as Death Valley. “Maybe you ought to have your own TV show.”

“Who, Starsky and Hutchinson?” This comment came from behind them. Still clinging to the mugger, the two detectives swiveled their heads to see Dryden a few feet behind them. He sniffed several times and adopted a look of profound disgust. “P-yew, Starsky, don’t you ever wash?”

“That’s not me, Dryden. It’s your upper lip. And Simonetti here. You figure it out.”

Hutchinson laughed quietly at the absurd but humorous implication of his partner’s words. “Got a live one for you, Dryden.” They turned toward the desk where Dryden had already sat his long frame. “Oh, sorry, is it Laverne or Shirley? I forget.”

Dryden cast a quick scornful glance at the blond man, but treated Starsky to a long one of utter loathing. “One of these days, Starsky, you’ll get yours. And I’ll be there to celebrate.”

“Terrific. Then you bring the hats,” Starsky rejoined. He glared into the almost black eyes of the junior IA officer. “Now, here, process him, so Hutch and I can get back to doing real police work.”

The black man started to rise from his chair but stopped halfway when Simonetti said in an even tone, “Dryden, we have a few more arrests coming in. Better get a move on.” Dryden slowly lowered himself into the chair, without once breaking eye contact with his curly-haired adversary.

~s&h~

Starsky had no trouble convincing his partner to head for the cafeteria after they were through in intake. Both were hungry, and were not sure when they’d be able to eat once Dobey was through with them. “Besides,” Starsky had said when trying to persuade Hutch, “you owe me a Coke, and I want it now.”

The cafeteria was deserted. Guess this is as good a time as any to ask what happened, thought Starsky as he pulled the knob for a Snickers bar. He peeled down the wrapper to bare half the candy bar, then took a big bite.

Hutch, 16-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola in one hand and an orange juice half that size in the other, joined Starsky. “Here,” he said as he presented the Coke to his partner. Then he grasped the hand holding one of his favorite confections and bit off the rest of the exposed bar. “You know, buddy, that one of these days, Dryden’s gonna come after you with both barrels if you don’t stop provoking him like that.”

“Aw, screw Dryden. He’s too scared to do anything that might jeopardize his precious career. If you can call IA a career.” He took a long sip of the ice-cold soda and enjoyed the distinctive fizz that the chocolate and cola made in his mouth. As he finished unwrapping the candy, he said calmly, “Now do you want to tell me what happened with that hype?” He offered Hutch the next bite.

The sky-blue eyes narrowed slightly as they studied every contour of the Snickers. The white teeth cut into the multi-textured food and then chewed it for a few moments, taste buds relishing the wondrous blend of flavors. The remaining piece left his field of vision. Then he heard Starsky’s chewing and felt his infinite, stubborn patience that so few people even knew existed. You’re not going to let this one pass, are you, Starsky? “I think it was his age, Starsky, that got to me. The fact that he made such a horrible choice so early in life.” He snorted in frustration and rolled his head in a circle. “Oh, hell, I’m not sure that’s it. Maybe…” The blond man paused and began to tremble.

Starsky let a few heartbeats go by. “Maybe what?”

In a tiny, weak whisper, Hutchinson continued. “Maybe I saw in him what I could have become without –“

“No way, Hutch. You didn’t want that shit, never did, never will. You got clean because you wanted to, more’n anything else in the world. Me and Huggy just helped.” Starsky grinned broadly, the pride he had in his partner manifesting itself.

“Starsky?” The voice was stronger, more confident.

“Yeah?”

“Maybe chocolate, peanuts, and caramel are brain food.” Hutchinson’s free hand cupped the nape of his friend’s neck for a few seconds as he smiled in return.

~s&h~

The detectives took their time getting to Captain Dobey’s office. They had agreed not to enter through the squad room, but to go straight in using the hallway door. Starsky had a grip on the doorknob when they heard Minnie Kaplan call out to them.

“Where have you guys been?” Minnie asked with rapidfire speech. “I been looking all over for you. Cap got a call to go out to a homicide and now he wants you to join him.” She shook her head in mock wonderment. “Why he would want you two to investigate anything escapes me.” She gave them directions to a farmhouse on the edge of their jurisdiction and suggested they hurry. “Oh-captain-our-captain made this sound real urgent. Never heard him sound like that. Well, better get back to dispatch. Things are really heating up in this town.”

“Thanks, Minnie,” said Hutch as he and Starsky trotted for the stairs.

She pushed her glasses, a perfect copy of the specs worn by her musical hero Buddy Holly, up the bridge of her nose. “Hey, Starsky!” He stopped at the head of the stairs and looked back at her. “You can investigate me any time, honey.”

~s&h~

Even with lights and sirens, a trip that would ordinarily take 20 minutes in those circumstances took close to thirty. This, plus the blinding heat and the knowledge of yet another homicide they had to solve, had shortened Hutchinson and Starsky’s tempers considerably. They didn’t speak for the entire drive there.

Starsky turned in at the mailbox at the foot of the farmhouse’s long and winding gravel driveway. The rear end of the Torino fishtailed but this fact didn’t slow him down.

Hutchinson broke the silence. “The mailbox read, ‘Jeff and Linda Fox.’ Think it could be –“

“The tight end for the BC Buccaneers? Prob’ly.” Starsky prayed he was wrong. He and Jeff Fox had gone to high school together, when Starsky, as a senior on the varsity football team, had some limited association with the promising freshman player. After a spectacular college career, Fox pursued one in professional football and had three impressive seasons with the Buccaneers. Starsky had followed that career closely, even during his stint in the army. His brow furrowed as he tried to remember a write-up about Jeff and his family some months ago.

Hutchinson had met Fox several times around town at bars catering to country-western music lovers. Fox had stopped frequenting the bars once he married Linda; Hutch hadn’t run into him for over a year. The cop had found the athlete to be down-to-earth and unassuming. He prayed, too, that this crime did not involve an acquaintance. Working a homicide was taxing enough as it was without making it more personal.

A cloud of light gray dust enveloped the Torino as it skidded to a stop near the only patrol car present. The coroner’s wagon was there, as was the crime team van, those two vehicles being closest to the old farmhouse. Dobey’s car was on the lawn. Everyone who was supposed to be at the scene of a homicide was there, but no one seemed to be working. Both uniforms were in the back seat of their vehicle, with someone sitting between them. Everyone else but Dobey was outside, doing nothing but standing around and looking lost and dazed.

The detectives exchanged concerned, puzzled glances over the car’s roof. Starsky jerked his head toward the house and took off for it, not stopping to talk with anyone. Hutchinson made for Dobey’s car, hoping to find him and get some sort of explanation for what was, or wasn’t, going on.

He found the large man sitting on the front passenger seat, wing-tipped feet on the pale green grass. The captain had buried his face in his thick hands. Hutchinson noticed that his commanding officer was shaking. Never having seen Dobey do this except in the throes of anger at him and his partner, the crease in Hutch’s forehead deepened. “Cap? You want to tell me what this is all about?”

With uncharacteristic slowness, Dobey raised his head to Hutch’s question. The latter gasped when he saw the blatant and total sad helplessness on the pudgy face. He knew something was horribly wrong.

“Hutch,” the captain began in a hushed tone so as to betray no emotion, “I don’t know what to do.”

“What do you mean?” Hutch could feel his color start to drain.

“You’ve seen the pictures of the Tate-LaBianca murders.”

“Yeah. So?”

Dobey sighed heavily. He rubbed the top of his coarse-haired head several times. “That doesn’t even come close to this.”

Hutch’s mouth dropped open as his brain tried to imagine what the scene inside the old structure could possibly look like. He found himself speechless.

“I can’t decide whether to have more than one team work on this, or just one. How do I decide who to send into that, that …” Dobey stopped, unable to find anything in his vocabulary to describe the carnage. “All I know for sure is that no one is to go in there alone.” He paused and looked around. “Where’s Starsky?”

Hutchinson found his voice. “He went to check out the scene. Alone.” He didn’t wait see Dobey’s shocked and distressed expression; he sprinted at top speed straight toward the house,