Clothes do Not Make the Man
All eyes were on him. He could feel their curiosity, judgment—even sympathy-- and didn’t want it. He had a job to do and he’d get it done. With the taunts of “Sim-one” bombarding his brain, Starsky filled his lungs with air, forcing a calm he didn’t recognize and nodded. “I understood the question.”
He’d prepared so carefully. New jacket, new tie, even slacks, not jeans. Girding his loins before battle, in anticipation of a fight. This was not a repeat of the hearing in January. He was going to put these bastards away for good. He’d placed his hand on the Bible he’d never read, and sworn to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
He wouldn’t lie.
He would omit certain facts. Private things, stuff he was never going to tell anyone. Not the damned fool psychologist the police department had forced him to go to. Not the lawyer who’d tried to coach him on his testimony.
Not even Hutch.
That hurt most of all because Hutch knew almost everything about him, even the most intimate of details. There were very few subjects they couldn’t discuss, particularly on long boring stake-outs when it was just the two of them and an empty mayonnaise jar to piss in.
“Did you have prior knowledge that Luke, aka Douglas Crenshaw, would be in the men’s bathroom of the Bay City courthouse on the morning January 3, 1977?” Defense Attorney Edward Pearson repeated solemnly.
“No,” Starsky replied, raising his head to look the man straight in the eye. Conveyed confidence, truth—all that bullshit. As a cop, Starsky had long ago learned how to keep a poker face when lying. Very useful when undercover—or hiding things from his partner. Didn’t work forever with Hutch. As a matter of fact, hardly ever with Hutch.
Hutch had known something was up for a while now. Starsky risked a sideways glance at Hutch sitting directly behind Prosecutor Mike Green’s desk. Steadfast, earnest—ethereally beautiful with all that long blond hair. By some quirk of fate, he was dressed the identical clothing he’d worn the day of the kidnapping: tan leather jacket, pink shirt, striped tie.
Seeing him before they’d walked into the courtroom, Starsky had wanted to run. He wasn’t sure where—just run away so that Hutch wouldn’t have to learn the ugly truth of what happened last January. Had he worn the outfit on purpose? Or was that Hutch’s defacto court suit?
Starsky used to save one jacket and tie for court. He didn’t anymore.
Hutch’d already given his testimony the day before and had wanted to support Starsky. He gave an encouraging grin and waggled the end of his tie.
Starsky mustered a smile that was supposed to be brave, but he suspected was not, and glanced in the other direction. To his left, the jury: twelve stalwart souls who were to decide Luke, no, make that, Douglas Crenshaw’s fate. Crenshaw, like all the male members of Simon Marcus’ band of thugs sported the names of the apostles. Luke, Matthew, Peter and so on.
Starsky hadn’t actually known that salient fact until he’d been grabbed by the unholy dozen. They’d pounded their leader’s divinity into him, forced it down his throat, into his—
“Why did you go to the men’s room that morning?” Pearson demanded.
Behind him, Crenshaw stared at Starsky with wide, dark, soulless eyes. The inverted cross on his forehead was partially obscured by an artful styling of longer than necessary bangs.
Starsky shifted his gaze, but everything in the courtroom assailed him with memories. Just his luck it was the same room as last time. The black pseudo-religious robe he’d worn hung like a insult to the right of the judge’s desk.
“Had to take a leak,” Starsky said with deliberate levity. Always leave them laughing.
Hutch bit down on his bottom lip, half a grin escaping.
Starsky let himself breathe again. At least he’d made Hutch smile.
“And, what did you see?” Pearson asked.
“Two of Simon Marcus’ whippos doing what you do in a restroom,” Starsky said. “One of ‘em finished, and moved to the sink. I took my turn and he must’a bashed me on the back of the head.”
“Pejorative language, your Honor!” Pearson called out, all but shaking his finger at Starsky. “Designed to prejudice the jury against my client.”
Judge Brewer banged his gavel and peered down at Starsky, reading glasses perched on his long, narrow nose. “Mr. Starsky, you will be held in contempt if you continue to use language like that.” He leveled the gavel at the jury. “Disregard the last testimony.”
“Your Honor!” Green stood up, directly in front of Hutch.
“Sit down,” Brewer ordered.
Starsky fought the urge to crane his neck to keep his partner in view, clenching his fists. Hold fast, stay strong. Dawn had come and gone, he’d survived once, was a second time possible?
Pearson smiled smugly at his opponent, gesturing widely at Starsky. “Do you care to rephrase that?”
Swallowing his anger, Starsky forced his emotions down deep. He’d rehearsed, coached by Mike Green to expect every single possible question. Why hadn’t this ever come up? “Two of Marcus’…” he locked eyes with Hutch for a single moment, feeling the strength that was his partner shore him up, “people were taking a piss.”
Apparently Pearson was willing to let the slang pass, but the judge frowned, scribbling a note on a yellow pad.
The prosecutor glowered from his table, probably constructing a brilliant counter attack in his head. Starsky no longer expected protection from that corner.
“Did you recognize my client then?” Pearson pointed to Crenshaw.
“I didn’t see him.”
“You didn’t see him in the men’s room?”
“No.” Starsky touched his tongue briefly to the top of his mouth, feeling dry as a bone. He was sure he was gagged with his own tie, hands restrained behind his back and had to wiggle his fingers to remind himself that he wasn’t cuffed. “Only Matthew and Peter. I knew the names of all Marcus’ followers. We’d ID’d all of them, except Gail, before—“
Gail Christian—her real name, as it had turned out. She’d killed herself with an overdose of heroin three days after being released by the police in early January.
“We didn’t know about her. Found out later she’d just joined the cult,” Starsky said, looking at Pearson. Ugly man, not very tall. Looked like he’d tried to stuff a basketball into his three hundred dollar suit and couldn’t quite get the buttons of the jacket done up afterward. There were already sweat stains under his arms. “She was the carrot they dangled in front of me—to make it seem like they were bein’ nice—“ After they’d taunted him, beat him with sticks, circled him like vultures.
He sought out Hutch’s shining face in the crowd of the courtroom, focused on him. Felt a certain comfort, sure that if Hutch knew the truth, if he found out, it would all be lost. That old saying from his Army days kept popping into his head, snafu: situation normal, all fucked up.
“Did you have sex with her?” Pearson shifted, blocking Starsky’s view of Hutch.
Caught off guard, Starsky dug his thumbnails into the side of his leg. Don’t show surprise. Don’t reveal. “No,” he said truthfully. Not Gail.
“I object!” Green hopped to his feet, bristling with rage.
“I’ll allow it,” Brewer said. “But, Mr. Pearson, you had better be leading to a significant point.”
“Exactly, sir.” Pearson gave a jaunty salute. “My client—“ He moved so that he could include Crenshaw in their threesome, “Says that you were there willingly, to engage in sex with members of Marcus’ church.”
Crenshaw smiled all wrong, like a ghoul rising from a grave showing rotting gums and teeth.
“No.” Starsky didn’t react, didn’t let his brain go anywhere near there. He kept steady pressure with his thumbnail into the flesh of his thigh. Saw Green wince. Saw Hutch glare over at Crenshaw and wanted to warn him of the man’s inherent malice.
Marcus had dubbed Hutch the White Knight. Like Galahad or Lancelot, one of Arthur’s gang, he’d brought the evil sorcerer Simon Marcus down. So maybe Hutch was immune from their virus.
Starsky had already been infected. Which was why he would never tell the whole truth. Simply carefully redacted portions of the truth.
“I did not willingly have sex—“ he stressed the word, imploring Hutch to believe that. Hutch knew that much, already. “With anyone there.”
“So you admit you had sex?” Pearson smirked, crossing his arms over his ill-fitting suit.
“If you want to call it that,” Starsky said remotely, divorcing himself from the victim in his mind’s eye. Drugged and tortured, gowned in a black robe marked with a violently red cross, he’d been dragged into a candle lit chamber. Nightmare time, folks, nothing more to see…
“Sodomy?” Pearson pressed. “Fellatio?”
Starsky froze, the only sensation, only thing he could feel, was the sharp hot pain in his thigh. His anus twitched, burning with shame.
“Is this relevant?” Green stormed, waving his pen.
“Detective Starsky?” Person said harshly.
“You didn’t ask me a question,” Starsky replied on an exhale. He’d tried so hard to lock it all down tight, protect his vulnerability. As he’d feared, Pearson was going to yank his secrets out into view. A new reality, bared for the public.
“Did you perform sodomy?” Pearson asked. “And fellatio?”
“This is a decent court!” Green protested, “Your Honor!”
“Sit down, Counselor. You’ll get your say in the cross-examination,” Brewer advised.
From the corner of his eye, Starsky was aware of the jury as a whole leaning forward. They’d been primed now, they would want an answer. He didn’t look at Hutch. Knew what he’d see anyway. Hutch would be stock still, two fingers resting just above the knot in his brown and pale blue striped tie. He’d been privy to this much. Would he leave when he heard the rest?
“Depends on how you define perform.” He always went for the wisecrack. Kept the demons at bay for a breath longer. As long as he could breathe, he could stand his ground. Only the weak, the broken, were held down while—
“You engaged in sex with the members of Simon Marcus’ church,” Pearson explained as if talking to an idiot.
“Engaged—sounds like I wanted to marry the fuckers,” Starsky lashed out.
The jury recoiled, shocked whispers rolling out of their wooden box.
“Mr. Starsky, that is the second time. If you continue with that sort of language, you risk a night in jail,” Judge Brewer said sternly.
Starsky nodded. He’d gained time to consider his options, how to answer. He caught movement from the gallery, Hutch’s blond hair gleaming in the overhead lights. Hutch trying to get his attention. Starsky ignored him. Looking at Hutch would assuage his guilt when he couldn’t allow himself to go soft. This was a battle he had to win. Bring down Crenshaw—for Gail’s sake, for Hutch’s. Put him in a cell next to Marcos. He simply couldn’t admit the whole truth. It would destroy everything.
“Did you engage in sexual practices of a deviant nature—sodomy and fellatio with Douglas Crenshaw or any other members of Simon Marcus’ church?” Pearson repeated.
“No,” Starsky said quietly. “They had an orgy.”
“Which you participated in.”
“Objection!” Green yelled.
No one paid attention to the prosecutor. Every eye was on Starsky; spectators in a Roman coliseum.
“They had an orgy,” Starsky insisted, the smell of sex, sweat and skunk-sweet marijuana smoke in his nose. He’d vomited up the drugged water all over Peter and been bashed in the head for it. Afterwards, he wasn’t sure—so if he didn’t say the words aloud, were they really the truth? They’d used his tie again, around his neck, depriving him of air as they shoved…
“My client maintains you had sex with him, performed fellatio on his…” Pearson went suddenly Puritan, “male member while another of the group gave you—“ He cocked his head with a shrug. “Perhaps you need a reminder?”
Starsky couldn’t close his eyes. To do so would show his weakness. The chanting had gotten louder, “Si-mone, Si-mone,” and he was sure the whole courtroom should be hearing his cries. His pain.
He pressed one hand against the green tie that had coordinated so well at the men’s shop with his green striped shirt. A manifestation of the useless prosecutor’s name? He’d tried for a new court suit, but it wasn’t working.
He’d been nothing but a body to be used and tossed away, a leftover black gown with a bloody red cross. He could be so tough, so strong, on the street when he had the armor of his leather jacket and jeans. Where was that guy now?
“Your Honor, I would like to introduce this into evidence, found in the location of the old zoo.” Pearson held up a bag containing a large wooden cross. There was a streak of rusty brown red on one end.
Starsky couldn’t ignore the phantom pains in his ass any longer. The chants inside his head almost drowned out the voices in the courtroom.
“So noted.” Judge Bower pushed up his glasses to scribble something on his legal pad.
“Do you recognize this, Detective Starsky?” Pearson asked snidely. “It’s been tested. It has several prints on it—yours included. And your blood type.”
He felt the blood was draining from cheeks, his brain, leaving him woozy and light headed.
“Why would that be?” Pearson questioned.
Starsky finally looked over at Hutch. He was still there. Still that strong, beautiful rock providing support and succor. Maybe there was hope after all.
“Because I had to pull—“
“Speak up, Mr. Starsky,” the judge said quietly. “So the jury can hear you.”
He didn’t look at Pearson, Crenshaw, Green, or the twelve men and woman on his left. Just at Hutch. Fell into that compassion, those blue eyes of a good, honest man. “I had to pull that—“ he pointed at the cross, “out of my own ass.”
Hutch barricaded them inside an empty office, fending off reporters, both main attorneys, even Dobey and Judge Brewer. When the shouting had quieted after Starsky’s testimony, Hutch had marched up to the witness box, pulled Starsky against him and hustled him out.
Was it protection or condemnation? Starsky had pushed away from Hutch, yanking the green noose from around his neck. He wrapped it around his fist, listening to Hutch read the riot act to those gathered at the door, and slammed his knuckles repeatedly into the wall.
Blood stained the green tie, turning it to a muddy brown color.
“Why, Starsk?” Hutch whispered. “Did you think I couldn’t handle the truth?”
“I didn’t want to—“ Starsky had run out of explanations, excuses. He looked down at his fist. His whole hand hurt, but at least his ass didn’t ache any longer.
“You couldn’t do that if you tried.” Hutch wrapped his arms around Starsky from behind. “Stop hurting yourself. Not to protect me. Not to protect yourself.”
Oh, God, this is what he’d wanted from the start. When Hutch pulled him into his lap that morning, just after sunrise, Gail hanging on like an extra appendage, Starsky had wanted salvation.
“When they hurt you, they hurt me,” Hutch whispered. “So we will fight them, bring them down and move past. Do you hear me?”
Leaning against Hutch’s chest without looking at him, Starsky nodded. The chanting in his ears had stopped completely.