Starsky yanked his red shawl collared sweater over his head and stared out the bedroom window as he pushed his arms into the sleeves. He could barely make out the trees not three feet away on the hillside. Drenching rain inundated the neighborhood. On any other day, he’d be quite happy to see rain—Southern California had been in a severe drought for the last two years, and the green winter grass was a welcome sight. Apparently, Mother Nature was trying to make up for the shortage by dumping half a season’s worth of the wet stuff on Bay City for the last three days.
Starsky groaned, donning his old cowboy boots instead of his Adidas because of the standing water in most of the gutters. “Hutch?” he called. “You ready?”
“I’ve been ready.” Hutch came in bearing hot coffee in a china mug.
Starsky could have kissed him, but first things first. He gulped coffee, then kissed his partner. Hutch looked fantastic in his black turtleneck and black leather jacket.
Hutch grinned. “You’re the one who had to change his clothes at the last minute. We’ve got to get going or we’ll never make it to the courthouse in time.”
“There was no way I was going to wear that suit a second time in two days. I just can’t believe the timing!” Starsky groused, setting down the cup to put on his black leather jacket.
“You’ve known this was on December 18th for the last month,” Hutch chided, hustling him to the door.
“Just—first Jackson Walters’ funeral, and then this, in the same week.” Starsky locked his front door, peering up at the gloomy sky and giving a faint prayer that the rain would stop before they got downtown. Parking could be a bitch around the courthouse on the average day. He hated the thought of having to slog through pouring rain for blocks.
Neither he nor Hutch owned an umbrella. They made a dash for the Torino, jumping in and shaking water droplets out of their hair in tandem.
“Like a couple of wet dogs,” Hutch said affectionately.
Starsky’s dire predictions about parking came to pass—after horrendous traffic on the 405 and inching past two accidents due to hydroplaning cars, they made it downtown Bay City—and there was not a single parking place to be seen.
“You usually have the parking gods on your side. Drive around to Washington,” Hutch suggested, glancing at his pocket watch with a slight frown.
“Hutch, that’s four blocks away!” Starsky steered right and then right again. They were nearly to Metro headquarters. Glory be, he saw a yellow Chevy pull away from the curb and slid the Torino neatly into the vacant space.
The rain was so heavy that it was impossible to take a single step without being completely soaked. Starsky got out of the car and dashed for the narrow overhang of a coffee shop, looking miserably down the sidewalk. Four blocks of this—and they only had five minutes to make it on time.
“Just have to start walking, Starsk,” Hutch said, hunching his shoulders. His blond hair was already plastered wetly to his skull and the water ran down his shiny black jacket in rivulets.
“Of all the luck!” Starsky groused, ducking his head to trudge through the downpour. He could already feel rain dripping from his hair inside the collar of his jacket and onto his neck. “The rain started up the minute we got to the cemetery to bury Jackson and hasn’t let up since. It’s like we’re cursed or something.”
“Superstitions are a ridiculous waste of energy,” Hutch said piously.
Starsky chuckled in spite of his misery. “You’re the one who invoked the parking gods. Fat lot of good they did me today.”
Hutch stepped off the curb directly into white water rapids masquerading as run-off in the gutter. Starsky grabbed him before he took a header into oncoming traffic and tugged him back onto the sidewalk until the light turned green. His black slacks were soaked to the knee. “I think the parking gods may all have drowned.” He sighed.
Both of them were wet to the skin by the time they reached the courthouse. They were not alone—Starsky caught sight of Judge Algernon Carter running into the large front doors, his usually Einsteinian white hair a soggy tangle. His fluffy beard was sparkling with raindrops.
“The judge got here late, too,” Starsky said unnecessarily as he and Hutch pushed through the door.
Everyone in the building was in exactly the same shape as they were. Bay Cityans came rushing into the building clutching broken umbrellas or briefcases over their heads, leaving snail trails of water in their wakes. The large Christmas tree to the left of the entrance swayed in the wind every time the doors opened and closed, causing the ornaments to dance and jingle as if they were alive.
“Good morning, Judge Carter!” Hutch greeted.
“Starsky, Hutchinson, we should be meeting in my chambers right now,” Carter said in greeting. He shed his Burberry rain coat, holding it up with one hand to let it drip into a puddle on the marble floor.
The security guard on the main desk tsk-tsked and surreptitiously called a janitor.
“But obviously, everything is running behind schedule today,” Carter continued. “I believe there are three cases for this morning. With any luck, we’ll be out of here before eleven am.”
“Good, ‘cause we’re supposed to go to lunch after this,” Starsky put in.
“Sounds great.” Hutch nodded. “Still using courtroom three?”
“Until I’m off the bench,” Carter called over his shoulder. “See you in there as soon as I change into a dry, warm pair of socks.”
Starsky glanced around the Federal architecture rotunda with its white columns and symmetrical design. Even though he’d once been kidnapped in this very building, he’d returned often enough to testify in a multitude of criminal court cases and rarely thought about that rare bad experience. He liked the stately majesty of the lobby. It seemed right that a place where the futures of so many were decided would look like something the founding fathers of the United States had built. Even the festive decorations in deference to the season were nicely old fashioned—the tree was decked with red balls, small gold bells and strings of popcorn.
He poked Hutch. “You want to grab some paper towels from the restroom or just drip dry once we sit down?”
“Drip dry.” Hutch heaved a sigh, heading up the stairs to the second floor. Courtroom three was to the right past the top of the stairs. “Everyone will be waiting for us.”
“I feel like a sheep left out in the rain,” Starsky complained to no one in particular, brushing water droplets off his jacket. He felt a jumble of sadness and delight warring inside. He was still deeply mourning his old friend Jackson. Gunned down by a bigoted cop on his way to work--hardly seemed possible that he was gone, but it had been exactly a week since he died. Two days since the funeral. The horrible twenty four hours after Jackson’s death, when Junior—now Jackson—had let his grief carry him into a well of trouble seemed both ages past and only a moment ago. Starsky had spent a great deal of time with his favorite lady Mrs. Walters, eating her pie, since her son’s death. Today’s events were so polar opposite to the Walters’ tragedy that he was having a difficult time getting in the proper joyful mood.
“Smile, Starsk,” Hutch whispered, putting one hand gently on Starsky’s back. “We’re happy about this. It’s been a long time in coming.”
“I know, and I’m really proud to be a part of this.” Starsky winked at Hutch. “Let’s go in.”
The courtroom seemed filled with children—and with the preponderance of dripping clothes, smelled like a wet dog. Soggy, bedraggled, exuberant children of all sizes were chattering happily, some climbing over the chairs. When Starsky stopped and took stock, he could easily sort the children into three groups—Judge Carter’s aforementioned cases. There were three small Asian girls clustered around a smiling woman with damply curling gray hair and a taller man with fogged-up glasses. Another family sat a few seats away, a black couple holding a chubby baby with a head of black curls. The red ribbons her mother had tied around two puffs of black hair had come loose in the rain and dangled down around the baby’s ears. She was babbling loudly, wiggling and bouncing in the man’s arms.
Kiko Ramos and his mother Yesenia were sitting near the window talking softly. Molly ‘Pete’ Edwards had her back to the room, peering out the rain streaked window, her hands propped against the window ledge with her nose pressed to the glass.
“I don’t see them!” Molly said hopelessly. “This rain is ruining everything!”
“Pete,” Kiko said catching sight of Starsky and Hutch. He waved. “You’re looking in the wrong direction.”
The girl turned around with such joy and hope in her eyes that Starsky felt charged from her energy.
“You made it!” Molly ran over, her wet hair flapping behind her. She hugged the two of them at once, her arms barely reaching around. “Did you have to walk miles in the rain? We did.”
“Bunch of drowned cats, the lot of us,” Starsky gave her a squeeze.
“I’m so proud of you.” Hutch kissed Molly on the forehead.
She giggled, finger combing her lank locks.
“It’s a good day, Molly,” Starsky said. Seemed like there were still rain drops on his face and he wiped them off his eyelashes. “You excited?”
“Not a bit,” Yesinia said, rolling her eyes. “She was up at six o’clock in the morning. I cannot get her out of bed on a school day that early.”
“I thought you planned to wear the dress we gave you for Christmas last year,” Hutch said, holding her at arm’s length to observe the black turtleneck and grey wool pleated skirt she had on.
“I grew.” Molly raised the edges of her skirt as if she was about to make a curtsey. “Do you like this one?”
“You an’ Hutch look like twins.” Starsky laughed. Her skirt and Hutch’s worsted trousers were almost the same shade and their turtlenecks were identical. “Did you plan this?”
“No!” Molly’s eyes were shining with joy and she grabbed Yesenia’s hand. “I wanted to wear something else, but Mama…” She turned to look at the petite woman with such love. “Told me to change into my church clothes.”
“Hey!” Kiko hissed, waving a hand at them. All around, the babble of happy families was dying down. “Here come da Judge!”
“Oh my…” Molly gulped and sat down abruptly. “Who’s first?”
“The honorable Judge Algernon Carter presiding! All rise for the judge,” the bailiff sang out.
Starsky and Hutch took off their jackets, finding chairs next to Kiko, and Yesinia urged Molly to her feet. Carter welcomed the group in and apologized for the rainy weather. Everyone finally sat down, many of the children squirming in the uncomfortable wooden chairs.
“I’d like to meet with John and Sara-Jane Hastings and…” He frowned, squinting through his reading glasses at a piece of paper. “Hein, Ahn and Thuy Thao—did I pronounce those right?”
“Close enough,” John Hastings spoke up, hefting the smallest of the girls in his arms.
“We’re gettin’ ‘Merican names t’day!” one of the girls cried, her smile revealing missing teeth in front. “I’m Thynthia now!”
“Come into my office, please.” Carter ushered the Hastings and the three girls back behind his desk into a paneled door.
“They don’t do it in the courtroom?” Molly whispered loudly, twisting her fingers nervously in her lap.
“I haven’t seen one before, sweetheart,” Starsky whispered back, beginning to feel just as nervous and excited as she was. Suddenly, he could see the balance: a funeral had ended one life, but today was affirmation of a whole new life—and a future, for all of these children.
It didn’t take ten minutes. The three little girls burst out from the paneled door, jumping up and down like they were made of springs. The middle one cried, “my name is Katie Ahn Hastings now, forever!”
The people waiting in the courtroom applauded with calls of congratulations. Starsky liked this sort of court far better than the usual cases he witnessed—he’d never been in such a stupendously joyful room.
“I feel sick,” Molly moaned. “I shouldn’t have eaten two donuts for breakfast!”
“You got donuts?” Starsky asked. He glared at Hutch. “This one made me eat granola.”
“Hutch!” Molly stared at him, too. “That’s just cruel.”
“I’m only trying to promote healthy living,” Hutch said virtuously, crossing his arms.
“He’s always trying to get me to eat granola before we go fishing or to a ballgame.” Kiko nodded. “Just bring snacks when you go anywhere with Hutch. I always put Gancitos in my pockets.”
“Have you had a Gancito?” Molly elbowed Starsky. “Almost like a Mexican combination of Twinkies and Hostess cupcakes but with strawberry jelly inside. They’re terrific!”
“Hutch, we gotta shop at the Mexican grocery more often!” Starsky said, licking his lips. Now he was hungry. He hoped that Yesenia had made tamales. She usually did for the Christmas holidays.
The Hastings finished signing various papers and marched proudly out of the room, the three little girls trailing behind them like ducklings on a pond.
“Me next, me next,” Molly chanted under her breath.
Yesenia put an arm around her. It took Starsky a moment to realize she was praying in Spanish. Even Kiko looked pale and nervous.
“I’d like to meet Yesenia Ramos and Molly Petranella Edwards,” Judge Carter said in a friendly voice.
Molly blushed furiously. “Did you have to put my middle name on the form?”
“It’s on your birth certificate—and a beautiful name,” Yesenia replied, standing up.
Kiko snickered. “Y’know, the judge looks like Santa Claus with that white beard.”
“Then Santa Claus is bringing my wish this year,” Yesenia said with a lovely smile. “A daughter.” She clasped Molly’s hand and led her to the bench. “Can my son—her new brother, come with us?”
“Of course.” Carter beckoned them into his offices. “Starsky and Hutchinson can come be witnesses, too.”
“C’mon, Hutch!” Starsky barreled over to the Ramos family, Hutch following more sedately behind.
They all crowded into the Judge’s chambers, an old fashioned room with books lining the walls and a large wooden desk. “Just a few formalities since you seem to have every form filled out completely.” Judge Carter sat down, glancing over the paperwork with an experienced eye. “Molly Edwards, do you wish to be adopted by Yesenia Ramos…”
“And me, Kiko,” the boy put in impulsively.
“And Kiko Ramos?”
Molly had tears running down her face which made her cheeks blotchy pink. Her drying hair was fluffing up in the steamy heat of the room. She looked ridiculous and blissfully happy. “Yes, yes, I do.”
Starsky wanted to burst with pride. He glanced over at his partner, his best friend, his lover—Hutch looked like the proud father that he almost was. He and Yesenia had decided months ago that Hutch would be father in all but legal status. Single parent adoption was a very new thing, but with the help of Diane Perkowitz, Yesenia had been able to get the green light. It had been a struggle, getting all the authorities on board—yet they recognized the Ramos home as a loving and stable environment for Molly. Even if Hutch had wanted to adopt Molly, there was no way on earth that the courts would have granted parental rights of a pre-teen girl to a man in his mid thirties. This was the best of all possible worlds.
“Yesenia Ramos, do you freely take Molly Edwards into your family, assuming all parental responsibilities for her future?”
“I do,” Yesenia said firmly.
Molly reached over and grabbed both Yesenia and Hutch’s hands. Hutch placed his other hand on the small of Starsky’s back. Kiko grabbed his mother’s hand and they were all linked.
“Then the court grants this adoption—from hence forth, you will be known as Molly P…”
“Just say Pete,” Molly interrupted.
Carter chuckled. “Molly Pete Ramos.”
“Gracias, Dios!” Yesenia cried, hugging her daughter close. “I love you!”
“I love you, too, Mamacita,” Molly kissed her.
“Thank you, Judge.” Hutch pumped his hand. “This meant a lot to the family to get it done exactly a year after Molly’s father died.”
“Glad I could help,” Carter patted Hutch on the back, shook Kiko’s hand and congratulated Molly.
“May I take a picture?” Yesenia asked, holding up an old camera with a flashcube mounted on the top. “I know you are busy, but…”
“Certainly—this is my favorite part. Who wants to stand next to me?” Carter asked. “Miss Molly?”
Molly and Kiko giggled, jockeying for position around the judge and pulling Hutch in beside them. Yesenia stood proudly beside her two children, directly under Hutch’s chin.
That was how Starsky came to take the photo to memorialize the day. He couldn’t help staring at his lover through the viewfinder, wanting to focus on that beautiful blond. The picture was not just of Hutch. This was a family—the Ramoses. Didn’t matter that everyone was still dripping, that hair was weather blown and damp—there was so much happiness in the room it filled the heart.
Starsky, Hutch, Molly, Kiko and Yesenia gathered up coats and walked out of the court room as the last new family was approaching Carter’s bench for their turn at a future.
“I’ve made tamales,” Yesenia said, as Starsky had hoped.
“After we eat, I’ll take Kiko to the one hour photo kiosk at the strip mall and we can get that picture printed up so you can show it to the relatives in Mexico,” Hutch said, giving Kiko an affectionate punch on the arm. “I know you planned to drive down next week.”
“That’ll be great!” Kiko jumped down two of the marble stairs in the main staircase.
Not to be outdone by her brother, Molly took three at a leap, teetering on one foot like a ballet dancer.
“Whoops!” Starsky grabbed the back of her soggy down jacket and Hutch took her arm, both helping her to walk down safely.
“Don’t want to break a leg on the first day as a Ramos,” Hutch chastised.
“The two of you!” Yesenia muttered to herself in Spanish. “What am I going to do with two daredevils?”
“Feed us tamales?” Kiko grinned, recklessly jumping down every other step.
“I’ll eat all of yours if you break your neck!” Molly laughed.
Starsky laughed, memories of similar scenes throughout his life flitting through his brain. First, he and Nicky teasing and challenging each other that way. Then, after he’d moved to California, it had been Jackson Walters who filled in as his surrogate brother—and John Blaine as his father because his own had been murdered. He’d been raised mostly by a single adoptive mother—Auntie Rose, who never made a good bowl of wonton soup in her life. In a way, his life weirdly mirrored Molly’s. Or maybe it was the other way around. He’d have to tell her his own tale one day.
“Look!” Molly had run ahead to open the front door for the adults. She pointed outside at the sky.
The whole group pushed through the doors to stare up at the glorious sight. A rainbow stretched from one side of the city to the other, the beautiful colors as bright and fresh as if painted by an artist’s palate. the sun had pushed past the clouds to shine bravely despite the last few scattered raindrops falling.
“Take a picture of that!” Molly cried, raising her arms as if she could grab the rainbow with both hands. “I don’t even need the pot of gold, I already got my treasure!”
“And so do I,” Hutch whispered to Starsky, standing back to let Yesenia take a picture of her children cavorting in the showers under a sky full of colors. He slid an arm around his partner’s shoulders, standing as close as they could in public.
“You’re an old softie, blintz,” Starsky said very quietly, just for his pal. He pinched Hutch’s butt.