"Thank you for coming, Sgt. Hutchinson."
Hutch lifted an eyebrow at the obvious insincerity of the remark. "Let's just get on with it, okay, Simonetti?"
Simonetti leaned back in his chair. "Sure." He motioned at the small couch in his office. "Have a seat, Hutch. We don't want to keep you any longer than we have to. Do we, Dryden?"
The black man merely turned his head from where he was studying a file atop the metal cabinet and stared at Hutch. "Nope." He let his gaze burn into Hutch, then resumed his study of the report.
"Well then. Let's begin." Simonetti swiveled sideways in his chair and watched his partner page through the file folder. "Where were you on the night of October 12, Hutch?"
Hutch folded his arms across his chest. "Do I need a lawyer for this?"
"You're always welcome to make use of PPL-provided council. However, why don't you just sit down and answer the question. It will make it a lot simpler and quicker for all of us."
Hutch hesitated, then sat down on the edge of the plastic black cushions.
"Yeah, Hutchinson," Dryden flipped the file closed, walked over to the desk, and perched on its corner. "Just answer the question."
"You're a regular Richard Pryor, you know that, Dryden." Hutch smiled wryly.
"And you're a regular David Letterman. Answer the question."
"Fuck the question," Hutch continued to smile.
"Fuck you," Dryden smiled back, eyes glittering.
"All right," Simonetti swiveled back to face Hutch. "Hutch, answer our question. Where were you on the night of October 12?"
"Home," Hutch answered.
"Doing what?" Simonetti probed.
Hutch settled back into the couch. "Nothing."
Simonetti's gaze never wavered. "Be more specific."
"You be more specific."
Simonetti nodded. "All right. We'll play this your way." He leaned forward to pick up a pencil and rolled it between his palms. "Where were you between the hours of 10pm October 12 and 4am October 13?"
Hutch stroked his moustache. "Home."
Simonetti rolled the pencil slowly. "Doing what?"
"Alone?" Dryden interjected.
Hutch shifted his gaze to Dryden. "That's none of your business."
The corner of Dryden's mouth lifted. "Trying to protect someone, Hutchinson?"
Hutch's eyes hardened. "No, Dryden, I'm not."
A predatory gleam partnered the smirk on Dryden's lips. "Are you certain about that? Maybe there was a young lady you shouldn't have been with?" He paused. "Or someone else you'd prefer we didn't know about?"
"I understand you come here often." Dryden sat down at the table, positioning himself across from Hutch.
Hutch wiped the foam from his upper lip. "If you're looking for company, I'm not it. Beat it."
Dryden took a sip of the beer he'd brought with him. "Your company is not something I look for, seek out, or desire. It's something I tolerate in order to do my job."
Hutch stared into his beer. "I take it you're here for business, then."
Dryden took another swallow of his drink. "You could say that. Where's your partner?"
Hutch looked up sharply. "Why?"
"Is he here tonight? I understand you both spend a lot of time in this bar."
"You think you understand a lot, don't you?" Hutch continued to glower at Dryden.
Dryden smiled. "I think I do."
"Oh?" Hutch lifted an eyebrow. "And what exactly do you think you understand?"
Dryden leaned back in his chair. "I think I understand about you and your partner."
Hutch's lips drew into a grim line and his hand tightened around his glass.
"Of course," Dryden continued, "we're both aware that current law prohibits the department from judging you on--certain criteria."
"But it doesn't stop you," Hutch guess.
"There are quite a few stories about you and your partner," Dryden met Hutch's eyes. "Enough to fuel certain conjecture."
Hutch relaxed his grip on his drink long enough to take a sip. "I don't stoop to responding to unfounded rumor."
"Is it unfounded?" Dryden broke into a grin.
Hutch settled back in his chair and thought a moment. "It doesn't really matter, does it, Dryden? You said yourself it's no grounds for dismissal. If it's true, and you try to force us out, you're in for a lawsuit. If it's not true, and you try and force us out, you're still in for a lawsuit."
Dryden leaned forward. "Things could become very unpleasant, Hutchinson. Rumors can become truths. A lot of people--a lot of cops--don't like those kind of truths. They'd like to see those kind of truths disappear."
Hutch smiled and continued to sip his beer.
Dryden leaned further forward. "Your kind disgusts me," he hissed.
"My kind?" Hutch laughed. "My kind?" He suddenly sobered. He reached across and snagged Dryden's lapels, pulling him up onto the table. Hutch stood nose to nose with him. "You have no idea what 'my kind' is," he snarled, "except that for whatever reason, your small mind has decided it's not 'your kind.' I don't know what we ever did to you, Dryden, but whatever it is I hope you live it over and over and over." He gave Dryden a jerk. "If you've got charges to make, make them now and make them public. But if your game is to inflame rumor in order to force us out, then you'd better be prepared for the backlash." Hutch shoved Dryden back into his chair, rumpled and unsteady. He reached for his beer, downed the remainder, and walked out.
"Either say what you mean, Dryden, or keep your scummy innuendo to yourself," Hutch threatened.
Dryden threw his shoulders back. "I certainly wouldn't imply anything I didn't have reason to suspect." He glanced down at Simonetti. "Unless, of course, there's something you'd like to tell us."
Simonetti looked at Hutch. "Were you alone, Hutch?"
Hutch shifted uncomfortably. "Yes."
Hutch laid his palms carefully on his knees. "I got home close to eight. I watched the news, ate a little dinner, put on some Charlie Parker, and went to bed. Alone. I got up at six the next morning, left the house at seven, and got to the station before eight. Good enough?"
Simonetti shrugged. "You didn't make any trips to the store at any time that night, or make or receive any phone calls, or entertain any visitors?"
Hutch set his jaw. "Did I say I did?"
"You didn't say you didn't."
"Fine. I didn't."
So in other words," Dryden folded his arms across his chest, "no one actually saw you remain in your apartment all night."
Hutch imitated Dryden's pose. "Not unless the woman across the way was using her telescope again."
Dryden turned away. "Very funny, Hutchinson."
"I always like to keep a smile on your face, Dryden."
"Enough." Simonetti shot Dryden a warning glance. Dryden answered with a shrug and a roll of his eyes. Simonetti nodded, then turned back to Hutch. "Let's get this straight. You were alone the entire night, but you have no witnesses to attest to that fact?"
"If I had witnesses, I wouldn't have been alone, would I?" Hutch shot back.
"Please just answer the question."
"I was alone," Hutch stated flatly. "I have no witnesses."
"Thank you." Simonetti reached behind himself and picked up a piece of paper. "Let's see. It's become known to us that you were with the deceased the afternoon prior to her murder. Do you want to tell us about that?"
Simonetti chuckled. "Hutch, Hutch, Hutch. You're only prolonging what you perceive of as an inquisition, which this is certainly not meant to be." Dryden and Simonetti exchanged smiles. "In fact, your constant evading and uncooperative behavior lead us to wonder if you aren't hiding something, if not about this case then about something else."
Hutch remained silent.
"Hutch. Three witnesses saw you with the deceased at Gorky's at 3:15 on the afternoon of October 12. Three witnesses saw her get up to leave, saw you grab her by the arm, and saw you yell at her. Three witnesses saw her pull free, slap you, and run out of the cafe. Now you tell me what the hell happened down there."
Hutch leaned back into the hard cushions. A smile danced in his eyes. "It was a private conversation."
Simonetti's voice smoldered. "It had damn well better not remain private if you don't want to remain our number one suspect!"
Hutch shook his head. "I'm not you're number one suspect," he stated calmly. "You have a suspect in the lock-up now. In fact, you have all the evidence you need, not one piece of which implicates me." Hutch suddenly shot up and pointed a finger at Simonetti. "You are on a vendetta, and I'm not going to let you get away with this!"
Control returned to Simonetti. "Sit down, Hutch."
"That was some little display, eh, Simonetti?" Dryden broke into a grin. "Are you sure you're not trying to protect somebody?"
Simonetti looked down at Dryden. "Oh, I don't believe he has to protect anybody but himself, although he may desire to protect someone else." He returned his gaze to Hutch. "Talk to me, Detective. You really have little choice. The sooner we get your statement, the sooner we can take care of this little mess."
Hutch seemed to fold in on himself, as though backed into a corner. He walked over to the window and stared outside. “She asked me to meet her there, alone, so I went over on my break that afternoon. She was having trouble with her old man, and she asked me to take—to try and fix it for her.”
“And you said?” Dryden prompted.
“And I said…I said I’d do what I could.”
Dryden snorted impatiently. “And that’s when she tried to run away and you forcibly stopped her.”
Hutch ran a finger along the glass. He appeared distracted. “No. Of course not. We simply—we discussed other things.”
“Such as?” Simonetti prodded.
“We talked about her leaving L.A., okay?” Hutch turned in exasperation. “I said she should get out of this town and start a new life somewhere. Is that specific enough for you?”
Simonetti ignored the question. “I take it she didn’t like your suggestion?”
“God, how can anyone let themselves be used and abused like that, day after day, year after year? Doesn’t anybody know how to be worth anything anymore?”
“In other words,” Simonetti continued, “you got into an argument about her choice of profession.”
Hutch sighed. “Yes.”
“Tell me, Hutchinson,” Dryden examined the cuticles of his right hand. “Did you ever, oh, partake of her services?” He emphasized the her.
Hutch took two steps forward, fists clenched into his thighs.
“Hutch!” Simonetti’s voice stooped him from going further. “Remember where you are,” he warned. “Dryden’s asking a perfectly legitimate question in the context of this investigation.” Simonetti’s eyes narrowed as he glared at Hutch. “Just how well did you know the deceased?”
Hutch’s eyes continued to burn on Dryden. “I don’t like that question.”
“Touch shit,” Dryden returned the glare. “Answer it.”
“Damn,” Hutch lowered his face, then turned away. He took a deep breath. “Look. I’ve known her for 12—no, 13 years. She’s just someone on the streets. A source. An informant, sometimes. She never hurt anyone."”"”nd you and your partner let her operate?” Simonetti’s words were more accusatory than questioning.
“Life works like that on the streets, Simonetti,” Hutch turned to face him. “Not that you’d know much about life on the street,” he taunted. “You see, you’ve got to give a little to get, well, to get a little. You want to bust me for not bringing her in every time I saw her whisper in some guy’s ear?”
Dryden looked at Hutch coolly. “Maybe if you had she wouldn’t be dead.”
The color drained from Hutch’s face and his body became rigid. Simonetti was suddenly between him and Dryden.
“Sit down,” he ordered. He grabbed Hutch by the shoulders and tried to force him back toward the couch. Hutch resisted.
“Sit down,” Simonetti repeated through clenched teeth. “This is not over yet, unless you are willing to take a suspension.”
Hutch glowered at him, then suddenly acquiesced and sat down.
“Thank you.” Simonetti adjusted his tie and returned to his desk chair. He took a deep breath. “Now, you’re in the café,” he picked up the line of questioning. “You begin to lay on the guilt about hooking. She gets up to leave, and you stop her. Why?”
Hutch buried his face in his hands, then let them drop between his knees. “I don’t know,” he shook his head. The words were barely audible. “I—I just wanted her to understand what I was saying. I wanted her to help herself just this once. Just this one time. If people would just do something for themselves jus once in a while…”
“Such as?” Dryden mocked.
“Such as not letting other people step all over them and take advantage of them!” Hutch shot back. “People have to have a little self-respect!”
Dryden smirked. “You feel strongly about that, do you?”
“Damn right I do!” Hutch continued to shout.
“Why’d she slap you,” Dryden countered with cool, caustic tones.
“I don’t know! I don’t—I don’t—I guess I pushed too hard.” Hutch shut his eyes.
“What did you say?” Simonetti asked.
Hutch shook his head. “I said too much. I said the wrong thing.” He was talking as much to himself as to the other officers.
“But what did you say?” Dryden was beginning to lose his patience.
“Something. Nothing. It was just wrong, okay?”
Hutch grabbed her elbow and held tight. She glared at the restraining hand, then glared at him. “Let me go,” she hissed.
Hutch gave her a jerk to emphasize he meant business. “I want to know why the hell you went back to him after everything we talked about. Why!” Several heads turned to get a better look at the arguing couple, but no one tried to intervene.
An empty, taunting smile grew on her lips. “Y’all wouldn’t understand.” She tried to pull away from him.
Hutch suddenly gave her a spin and caught her by both arms. “Lady,” the word was dripping with sarcasm, “what I do or do not understand is none of your business. Your business is to answer my questions. What did you do with the money I gave you? Where is it?” He gave her a swift, hard shake.
Her head snapped back, then fell to her chest. Hair fell forward and hid her face. “I’ll pay it back,” she whimpered.
Hutch shut his eyes. His lips became nearly invisible as they stretched into a grim line. “I don’t want the money back,” he said between clenched teeth. “I want to know why you gave it to him instead of using it like we discussed. Why!” His voice rose to a shout again.
She shook her head. Her face lifted a bit, enough for him to see tears glistening in her eyes. She continued to shake her head. “I don’t know,” she could barely get out the words, “I don’t know. I’m sorry. I’ll get the money back, Hutch. I promise.” She wriggled in his grasp. “Hutch, y’all are hurtin’ me. Please.”
A wave of different emotions passed across Hutch’s face, anger giving way to disgust, then to resignation. He released her. “I’m sorry,” he managed a semi-sincere apology. He lifted his hand helplessly, then brought it up under her chin and lifter her face to his. His thumb brushed at the tear gliding down her cheek. “I’m sorry.” The words were softer this time.
The chin twisted from his fingers and she took a step back. Her eyes were suddenly empty of any moisture and defiance lit her face. “Y’all are such a sucker,” she threw the words in his face. “Such a sap. “ She laughed. “Pretty boy. Rich boy. Sap.”
Hutch’s face became a mask, but his chest heaved.
“Y’all think you know it all, that you’ve got all the answers.” Her face flushed with fury. “If only everyone would do things your way, the world would be perfect. The world according to Hutch.” She took a few short breaths. “Well, let me tell you somethin’, Mr. Hutch, Mr. Perfect, the world is not yours to tell what to do. And more important, I am not yours to tell what to do.” She stopped, glancing around her. Several café patrons continued to look on with interest. “I’ll tell you somethin’ else,” her voice lowered and she leaned toward the steeled man. “I never had any intentions of takin’ off with the money you gave me. I like you. I like you a lot. And part of my likin’ you is wantin’ to sleep with you. And I finally figured out how to that the night you gave me that money. All I had to do was listen to your pretty words and dreams. All I had to do was take your pretty money. And it made you feel like such a damn white knight you would’ve fucked the world as part of your generosity.” She straightened, finished with her verbal attack.
Hutch’s gaze focused just up and to the left of her head. His eyes were stony, but his control didn’t extend to the flush in his cheeks, the shortness of his breath, or the clench of his fists. He held his body so still every heartbeat, every muscle spasm was revealed. He licked his lips, but didn’t speak.
“You are a self-servin’ martyr of the worst kind,” she spat. “You pretend to be makin’ these great sacrifices for all of us, then expect—no, demand we follow your every whim.” She clasped her arms about her, gathering herself up. “Y’all are a fake. A phony.” Real tears began to form in her eyes. “Y’all are only really concerned with yourself.” Her voice caught. She swallowed, then coughed. “All I ever wanted from you was a good fuck. And that’s all you ever gave me. A good fuck.”
He knew before he said it what would happen, how she would react. He knew before he said it she would slap him with every ounce of passion she ever had for him. He knew before he said it he would regret the description from not ‘til Judgement Day. He said it anyway.
“Let’s have it, Hutch,” Simonetti’s voice was hard. “Now. Or you’ve just bought yourself that suspension.”
Hutch fell back against the tough plastic, his body limp. “I called her a whore,” he confessed.
“How original,” Dryden snickered.
The corner of Simonetti’s mouth lifted with a hint of a smile. He steepled his fingers in front of him, barely hiding his grin. “Did it hurt when she slapped you?”
Hutch appeared to have lost all resistance. “Yeah,” he murmured.
“Did it hurt enough for you to go back and teach her a lesson that night?” Dryden moved around the room, finally settling on the skinny arm of the couch next to Hutch.
Hutch’s head rolled back against the wall. He stared at the ceiling, hands limp at his sides. “I already told you,” he answered softly. “I was home all that night. All night. I didn’t see her again after she left Gorky’s. Not until—“
“Until what?” Simonetti prompted.
“Until we picked up that call for the 187.”
“You were first on the scene?”
Hutch pushed himself forward, elbows on his knees, face in his hands. He rubbed his eyes. “No.” He let his hand drop. “It wasn’t our jurisdiction. We recognized the address and drove over.”
Dryden shifted slightly. “They found your card in her things.”
Hutch opened his mouth as if to speak, closed it, then took a deep breath. “She always knew how to find Starsky or me. We give our cards to a lot of people.”
Dryden looked to Simonetti. “So she kept your card for—business—reasons?”
Hutch turned his head toward Dryden. “Ask what you mean.”
“I think what Dryden means is, did you have a personal relationship with the deceased?” Simonetti locked eyes with Dryden, and Dryden nodded.
Hutch looked forward again. “She provided my partner and me with information from time to time. Very useful information sometimes. That information was always given freely. We never used force or coercion. Occasionally it was paid for with a few dollars or a blind eye. Neither of us saw her socially.”
“We’re only interested in you, Hutch,” Simonetti said.
Hutch’s eyes focused on Simonetti. ”I never saw her socially.”
Dryden stood, smoothing the wrinkles from his slacks. “Never gave her a little tickle?”
Hutch exploded. “No!”
“My, my!” Dryden held up his hands and took a step back in mock retreat. “Said that a little too quickly, didn’t we, Hutchinson?”
“Cool it, Hutch.” Simonetti leaned forward. “So you never slept with her?”
Hutch struggled for control. “Of course not.” He clasped and unclasped his hands. “We—we never slept together. Our relationship was strictly professional. I mean, strictly business. I mean, strictly police business. Sometimes she came to me for a little extra help, and sometimes I gave it to her. It works that way between cops and informants.” He looked across at Simonetti. “I don’t suppose you know much about that, either.”
Simonetti glanced at Dryden. “Like I said before, we’re only interested in you, Hutch.”
Hutch straightened. “Let’s just get this over with.”
Simonetti shrugged, as though speed has always been his top priority. “Of course. Now then: This woman slaps you and runs out. What happens next?”
“Nothing.” Hutch’s voice was even and steady. “She ran off, and I left and went back to the stationhouse.” He smiled. “I do have witnesses to that.”
“Mmm. And how did you feel after she slapped you? Were you mad? Angry?”
Hutch sighed. “No. I wasn’t mad or angry.”
“What were you?” Dryden asked.
Hutch cleared his throat. “Ashamed.”
“Ashamed?” Dryden’s eyebrows lifted.
“Yes.” Hutch’s chin rose, defiant. “Ashamed. I demanded she treat herself with respect, then I refused to give her any. That made me ashamed.”
“And how does that make you feel, when someone shames you?”
“Get off the psychological garbage pile, Simonetti. I’m not about to—“
The beep of the phone suddenly interrupted Hutch’s rejoinder. “Hold it,” Simonetti picked up the receiver. “Simonetti here…Yeah, right here…No kidding? When?…The whole thing, huh? Well, I guess that takes care of it. Thanks.” He hung up, settling back into his chair. “Well, Hutch, it seems something else has come up, so we won’t be needing you any more today. You may return to your duties.”
“I’ve got some more questions,” Dryden looked at Simonetti.
“Forget them for now, Dryden. We’ve got other business to attend to .” Simonetti stood up. “It’s always a pleasure, Sergeant.”
Hutch rose slowly, looking from one man to the other. “Likewise, I’m sure.” He turned to leave.
“Tell your partner to watch his step.”
Hutch paused, hand on the doorknob. He stared at Dryden. “Thanks. But if I were you, Dryden, I’d be a lot more concerned with my ass than his step.” Hutch clicked his tongue, winked, and left.
He nearly walked right into Starsky. Starsky caught him by the shoulders, saving his own toes in the process. Hutch stared into two turquoise eyes. Flecks of gray lent pattern to the irises.
“So? What happened?”
Hutch disengaged himself and took a step back. “How long have you been outside?”
Starsky shrugged. “I came up when I heard about Kleinhoff.” His lopsided grin appeared. “I guess he sure spoiled their fun, huh?”
Hutch’s eyes narrowed. “What are you talking about? What about Kleinhoff?”
The grin disappeared. “You don’t know? They didn’t tell you? Weick called up just a minute ago and told them.” He glared at the door. “They didn’t tell you? I’m gonna give those two sisters a piece of my mind!” He shouldered past Hutch.
“Starsky!” Hutch grabbed him and brought him up short. “What?”
Starsky abandoned his mission. “Kleinhoff confessed! His lawyer couldn’t keep him quiet! Described the whole scene and everything. That plus all the physical evidence is gonna get him a nice long stay in one of our lovely prisons.”
Hutch closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
“I can’t believe those two old maids didn’t tell you,” Starsky continued his diatribe. “I’m really sick and tired of the way they harass us. Maybe we oughta make out a complaint, Hutch?”
“Let’s go back downstairs.”
Starsky gave Hutch’s arm a quick squeeze. They walked toward the stairwell. “Did he say why?” They walked down the stairs easily, not slowly, but casually.
Starsky nodded. “Yes. Said she laughed at him. Said she made fun of his size.”
Hutch stopped. Starsky stepped down next to him. “Alice would never do that. She’d never risk losing her money or getting hurt by making fun of a trick.”
“Well, whether she did or didn’t, that’s how he saw it. He started hitting her, then he got his hands around her throat, then he used his Swiss Army Knife for good measure.”
“Amen. Least we got him.”
Hutch resumed his descent. Starsky followed. “But not before he got her.”
Their pace was rhythmic, Hutch’s boots echoing in the stairwell, Starsky’s sneakers muffled but in time. “She knew the risks, Hutch. She was lucky she’d gone this long with as few scrapes as she did.”
Hutch glanced at his partner. “Don’t give me that ‘she knew the risks’ crap.”
“Sure. All right.” Starsky suddenly stopped. “Hutch?”
Hutch, a few steps below him, stopped and turned. “What, Starsk?”
Starsky stepped down beside him. “They located her family.”
Hutch pondered the information, then sat down slowly. Starsky planted himself next to Hutch. “It’s about time,” Hutch finally said.
“Well, she wasn’t exactly from Alabama like she told you.” Starsky rubbed at an ink mark on his thumb. “She was using her cousin Alice’s name, and the cousin was from Montgomery. Want to know where she was really from?”
Half a minute passed. “Where?”
“Tracked her to Virginia. Her family is big in tobacco. Wealthy as sin. Leslie told me they make half the cigarettes and stuff in this country. Major money.” Starsky succeeded in blending the ink into his tanned skin. He clasped his hands and waited.
“What was her name?”
“The family name is Lee. Apparently they go way back to the Lees that—“
Starsky sucked in his lower lip. “Her name was Jane. Jane Lee. Kind of plain, huh? No brothers, no sisters, but lots of aunts and uncles and cousins. All that family, makes you kind of wonder, doesn’t it?”
Hutch had yet to look at anything but the wall in front of them. “You mean, why she ran away and came out here, why she lied about her background?”
“No.” Starsky held his breath. “Why they won’t pay to have her body flown home.”
Hutch blinked and shook his head. “What?”
“They flat refused. Said they didn’t want it. Said we could do whatever we wanted with her.”
Hutch stared at Starsky. “Are you serious?”
“Yeah. For a while, Leslie said they even claimed they never had a daughter. Then, they didn’t want to believe Sweet Alice was their daughter. Maybe that’s why they won’t spring for the plane fare. They can’t, or don’t want to believe she’s their daughter.” Starsky looked at Hutch. “You okay?”
Hutch didn’t answer.
“Simonetti and Dryden really did a number on you, didn’t they. Piss on their badges.” He laid a hand on Hutch’s knees and squeezed.
“You know, Starsky, we were more alike than I ever knew. Jeez, I mean, if I’d stayed with my family and she’d stayed with hers, we would’ve been a perfect match.” Hutch let his head drop to his chest. “Why’d she lie to me about her family?”
Starsky shrugged. “Why does anybody? She probably thought you wouldn’t understand how someone who’d had all the big advantages could end up on the sewer side of things. I don’t know. Maybe she just wanted to be somebody else.”
“I want to talk to her family.”
“Leslie gave me their number.” Starsky reached into his pocket and brought out a slip of paper. “Here.”
“Think you can convince them to accept Sweet Alice?”
“I can talk to them.”
“And if they still don’t want her?”
“I’ll take care of her.”
Starsky nodded. Another half-minute of silence passed. “Hutch?”
“I’m sorry. I know you feel—well, it’s like I said last night.”
Hutch slumped into the middle of his couch. His legs fell apart, his hands fell between them, his chin rested on his chest. Drops of water fell from his hair and disappeared under the thirst of his robe.
Starsky looked at him from the kitchen. “I think you’re supposed to look more rested and relaxed after a shower.” He came toward Hutch. “You look like a rag doll who’s been through the washer too many times.”
Hutch didn’t move.
“Beer?” Starsky offered. “Tea? Coffee? Whiskey? Milk?”
“Nothing,” Hutch managed hoarsely.
Starsky came around the coffee table and sat next to Hutch, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, knee to knee. He squirmed to find maximum comfort, then settled down. He turned to Hutch expectantly.
Hutch picked at a loose thread on the belt of his robe. “I don’t think,” he began quietly, “I can handle one more person dying on me.”
Starsky cocked an eyebrow. Dyin’ on you? he muttered under his breath. “The last straw, huh?” he said for Hutch to hear.
“Yeah,” Hutch agreed.
“Is she really the last straw, Hutch?” Starsky folded his arms, “Or do you just want her to be the last straw?”
Hutch flicked the end of his robe with annoyance. “Don’t, Starsk.”
Starsky reached behind Hutch. He stroked the wet nape hairs, then began to massage the tightened neck muscles.
“You didn’t love her,” Starsky stated.
“I cared for her,” Hutch protested.
“I know,” Starsky continued to knead. “And she cared for you. And sometimes you were able to do things for each other that made your lives a little easier.”
“But?” Hutch leaned into the expert hand.
“But.” Starsky sighed. “I cared about her, too, Hutch. And I’m sorry and sad and I think it all stinks.”
“But?” Hutch persisted.
Starsky stopped the massage and draped his arm across Hutch’s shoulders. “But I think half of what you’re feeling isn’t about Alice, it’s about you, and what you could have or should have done.”
Hutch leaned sideways and laid his head on Starsky’s shoulder. “When did you get to be so smart?”
“I don’t know,” Starsky squeezed the arm he held Hutch by. “Maybe I learn things from people I’m around.”
Hutch nodded into his shoulder.
“You’re thinking about what kind of couple you and Alice would have made.”
Hutch chuckled. “And when did you get to be a mind reader?”
Starsky rested his cheek on Hutch’s head. “It’s okay to feel bad, Hutch. Just feel bad about the right things.”
“I’m okay, Starsk.” Hutch stood up.
Starsky raised his hand for help; Hutch grabbed and pulled. They started back down the stairs together.
“I was thinking, Hutch,” Starsky began.
“Uh oh!” Hutch interrupted.
“No, really!” Starsky bumped shoulders with Hutch. “Maybe Alice fell for you because she saw what she could’ve had if she hadn’t gone the way she’d gone.”
Hutch mulled his way through the thought. “Maybe. Doesn’t matter now.” They reached the their floor and entered the corridor.
“We’ve got that briefing at eleven.” Starsky looked at his watch.
“Shit,” Hutch groaned. “Think Beckman will miss us if we show up late?”
Hutch scrubbed his moustache. “Yeah, okay. I’ll call Alice’s family this afternoon. Let’s get some coffee before we settle in for the briefing.”
Starsky stuck a hand in his pocket and dug out some change. “My treat for candy bars.”
Hutch suddenly covered the coins in Starsky’s hand with his hand. “Forget it. I’m going to phone now.”
Starsky smiled. “I’ll sit near the back and cover for you.”
“Thanks.” Hutch started for the squadroom. “See you later.”
Starsky waved him away. “Sure. Good luck.”
Hutch turned. “Thanks. It’s about time somebody got some.”