The VenicePlace referred to in Mer's story is our Starsky & Hutch slash discussion email list. It's a list with its own mythology as all of us on the list try to act like good neighbors in the virtual apartment building of Hutch's VenicePlace. There are always empty apartments waiting for new tenants in VP, and every apartment has the perfect view of the boys when they come home from work. We have our own special cable station, thanks to the security cameras that are there, nominally, to try to keep people from breaking into Hutch's apartment. People take on community-minded jobs in VP, such as CrowRow (Rosemary) who works hard as the Cabbie from the Twilight Zone, and the infamous Glo-Ira who heads VP bands. There's a Head of Security, Resident Grammarians, animals all over the place, and chaos ensuing on any given day. Entire stories have been writing about the bizarre goings on in the VenicePlace building. This is the best. Thanks, Mer! Anyone interested in renting an apartment can just drop me a note. Flamingo

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Open Letter to the Tenants of Venice Place by Merricat Kiernan (Constance Collins)

(You've all seen it, of course—it's the building Hutch lives (and is occasionally assaulted) in. But you may not know that besides being a real place, it's also a virtual one, home to some of the loyalist & most fun SH fans on the net.

(Something else you may not know is that at least one of the tenants of this virtual building has come home after a long absence. And some of her past has come with her.)

January 16, 2000

Dear VPers,

First off, I want to apologize for the disturbances last week. That coffeepot with the fish in it that Little Otter found in the hall outside Mel's apartment (I'm waiting now for the guys from the carpet cleaners to arrive) and the guy pounding on my door during band practice. As for the story Starsky's been telling about blood needing to be cleaned up—I'm not copping to that one. In the first place it was spaghetti sauce; and in the second place, he spilled it.

I promised the irreplaceable Glo-Ira that I'd tell her all about it later, & I still owe Ro for my cab ride, so I thought this would be a way to work off that debt & keep all of you informed as to what's been going on around here.

It had been a helluva weekend.

A casserole had exploded in my oven. I'd had a surreal conversation with a postal employee, who apparently thought I had complete control over time and matter. And then of course there was Thanksgiving with my family. I'd thought things couldn't get worse, but then I tried to break my writer's block.

I started, I thought reasonably enough, with Wiseguy, since it was my most intense fannish passion. After all, what could be better than sex and friendship and sex and betrayal and sex and suicide and really, really, scaldingly hot sex? So I spent all day Friday and Saturday in Atlantic City, in Vinnie's penthouse. But Sonny just wouldn't cooperate; every time I tried to get him into Vinnie's bed, he'd give me that look, sneer, "He's a cop," and head for the door.

I followed him, arguing. "So what? You don't have to like him to fuck him!! This isn't supposed to be a happy, healthy relationship, you know!" But for no reason I could understand, Sonny was standing on his principles.

"Principles," I muttered, getting on a plane Saturday night. "Who even knew he had principles?! One of the things I love most about him is his lack of principles—and now he pulls this! Dammit!" The flight attendant, Mary Sue Perky, refused to give me a drink, saying (in her perkiest voice) that I'd already had too many. I tried snarling at her, but to no avail. I was reduced to sucking the gin off the ice cubes of the man sitting next to me.

Once in Spokane, I followed the always-confusing directions to Twin Peaks. It was a nice trip, down a long and winding road that eventually led me to a little place in the woods. Saturday night and most of Sunday was spent in an argument with Cooper, which culminated in Harry driving me back to the airport. "What just happened?" I asked.

"I don't know," Harry admitted, "but it happens to me all the time. We're arguing, and everything's fine. Then, slowly, I realize I don't have any idea what he's talking about, but we're still arguing. Then I realize that I don't even have any idea what I'm talking about. And that's when I know I've lost the argument."

I didn't say anything because I was still trying to figure out what the coming winter equinox and the number of feathers in a lapwing's tail had to do with me going back to writing Twin Peaks. Nothing good, I gathered, since here I was, leaving. "Where are you going now?" Harry asked gently.

"Bay City," I told him. He looked a little blank, but that was in character. "It's really LA. It's where I started, after all. If that doesn't work, I guess I'll have to go back to New Jersey and knock heads together."

Harry laughed. "Good luck."

So now I was back at Venice Place, sitting on Hutch's sofa, pleading with Starsky. "You guys have got to help me. This writer's block is driving me crazy, and I thought maybe if I spent some time with you, it would stimulate my imagination."

"It sounds like fun," Starsky said in that guarded way that let me know he was going to say no just like the others. And I had thought Hutch would be the hard-sell. "But Hutch'n me—"

"Now look!" I snapped, at the end of my rope, "You guys are my last chance! If you know what's good for you, you'll cooperate, because if you don't—" I stopped, took a deep breath, then, controlling myself, I said, "Have you read any of the stuff I've been writing lately?"

There must have been something scary in my voice, because Starsky was staring at me, his eyes wide. He shook his head.

"Well, let me tell you—I've killed you guys before and I'm not afraid to do it again."

"When?" Starsky demanded.

"Does the title 'Starsky and Hutchinson Are Dead' ring a bell?"

"We don't die in that!"

I grabbed him by the collar of his t-shirt. "ARE DEAD! What did you think it meant?!"

He carefully removed my clenched fists from his shirt. "That time of the month, huh? You want some chocolate-fudge-swirl ice cream?"

"Only if I can kill you with it," I snarled at him. "Now, I don't want to interfere with your working, so I figure I can ride along with you guys for a couple of days and see if that primes the pump. You don't have any problem with that, do you?"

"No," Starsky agreed quickly, "no, none at all, but Hutch might—"

"You're going to help me convince him."

"Oh, shit," he muttered.

But by the time Hutch got back I'd managed to jolly Starsky into seeing this wasn't such a bad idea. "Hey, Hutch, Mer's gonna ride along with us tomorrow and write about what we do." At Hutch's look, he hastily added, "At work. Bein' cops. You know."

"Yeah, I know," Hutch answered sourly. "First off, she's not a reporter. Her stories aren't going to appear in the paper, just in one of those zines." I showed him my Twin Peaks "Gazette" press pass. "Oh, yeah, real impressive. And secondly, you remember the last girl reporter we had ride with us—"

"Girl reporter! Who are you calling a girl reporter?" I grabbed my press pass back. "And I bought this at MediaWest—I had them make it special!"

"Aw, c'm'on, Hutch. She's different." His tone made me feel like a puppy who'd followed him home, but I didn't feel like changing it. "She lives here at Venice Place. She likes us. She won't write bad stuff about us. Will you?" he asked me.

"Of course not. What do I, look stupid? Do you know how unpopular C. D. Phelps is around here? Everybody thinks she's a bitch. I've got enough problems without bringing that on myself."

"See?" Starsky asked Hutch. "And it's just for one day."

I didn't say anything. The truth was, I didn't know how long it would take, and I would have agreed to anything at that moment. I'd been suffering six months of a writer's block so severe even massive doses of Sonny—the right Sonny, the one in Atlantic City, not the one in Miami—had been unable to fix. I needed something drastic to break through it, and I was hoping some time with my first love would jump-start my imagination. And I knew these guys. I could write them in my sleep.

Hutch was still looking doubtful, so Starsky leaned over and whispered something to him.

"She threatened to kill us?!" Hutch exclaimed. "You call that friendly?" More whispering. "We didn't die in that!"

"Yes, you did," I assured him. "And I've become far more cold-hearted since then—in Twin Peaks, I killed a guy just because he was rather annoying. And on the east coast, I've killed all the main characters in the first two arcs . . . well, except Roger. There just has to be a way to get poison into that cheesecake . . . ." I realized my mind was drifting and I forced myself to focus. "Anyway, as you can see, I'm not above a thrill-kill, so I'd advise you both to cooperate."

"Forget it," Hutch said flatly. "I say we tell Flamingo."

"And what? Have me evicted? Go ahead, sweetie. I'll just offer her the story."

Hutch realized he'd been check-mated. Not wanting any hard feelings, I told him, "All I want to do is use this as a framing device, to rewrite a few jokes with you guys in them. I don't see what the big deal is."

"Not that bear joke!" they yelled in horror.

"No, of course not! You guys are paranoid."

"She threatens to kill us, then she calls us paranoid," Hutch complained.

"No use griping," I told him. "I'll see you both in the morning." I was almost out the door when I heard Hutch mutter something. "Just be glad I'm not staying the night to take notes," I told him, and shut the door behind me.

I wasn't surprised to find they'd ditched me in the morning—I'd expected them to. I'd had second thoughts myself; I'd gone so far as to call Vinnie's number. Sonny hadn't even said hello, just dropped the receiver after he picked it up. The sounds I heard were very encouraging, but I was on the wrong edge of the country, and anyway, that gunshot at the end just didn't bode well . . . . Then Cooper had called me, to tell me not to bother to call. I hung up on him.

So, since I needed a ride to the police station, I naturally went down the hall to the apartment of our resident cabdriver from the Twilight Zone (wondering, briefly, if I should worry about that title . . .) and knocked on her door. "Could you give me a ride to Parker Center?" I asked Ro after we'd exchanged good-mornings.

"Sure, sweetie, let me get dressed."

When we stepped into the hall, the carpet squished under our feet. I looked down, to see what kind of wet we were standing in; Ro looked up, to see what might be leaking. "I don't see a hole in the ceiling," she said. The carpet had a dark brown patch with a trail of dark brown leading down the hall. We followed it, finding along the way a rather battered coffee pot. Ro picked it up carefully, preserving any possible fingerprints. Nobody likes the way Hutch throws righteous cop fits when we accidentally tamper with evidence. "You're sure the guys are gone and not just inside, battered and bruised?" Ro asked. I hated to dash her hopes, but I'd checked my tape of the morning's proceedings and they were indeed gone.

"This isn't theirs anyway," I said, taking the coffeepot. I recognized it from Harry's kitchen, though I had no idea how it had gotten so dented. A sudden shriek startled us and I dropped the pot.

Ro and I ran down hall to Becki's apartment where we could hear more shrieking. I knocked on the door and Ro called Becki's name and after a moment she flung open the door. "She's got a fish!" Becki said in some agitation, and Ro and I helped her track down Little Otter and put her outside with her fish. "It was alive when she brought it in," Becki said, rather sadly. "I don't know where she could have gotten it."

"It was in the coffeepot," I told her. "It's Cooper's idea of being subtle." He better watch his step; most people are writing him with Albert, and if he keeps ticking me off, I might join them.

"Cooper?" Becki asked. And Ro asked if we had a new tenant. I promised to explain later, in detail, but I was in a hurry to catch up with a couple of plain-clothes detectives at that moment.

The only twilight-zone-ish thing to happen on the ride to Parker Center was the expensive gold wristwatch we found in the cab. "Where in the world did that come from?" Ro asked.

I picked it up carefully, then checked the back. "Love, Sonny It's Vinnie's. Another message. I'm persona non grata in every universe I've ever spent time in, I guess. Next thing you know, Illya will show up wanting an explanation for that silly insurance salesman story I wrote."

While I was talking Ro had parked the cab in front of Parker Center and was looking at me the way everybody had been lately—like I might just be dangerous. "Are you all right?"

"It's the writer's block. I'll be fine. Thanks for the ride." I put the watch on, depressed by the fact that it actually fit pretty well—only a little too big. "Fat wrists," I told Ro, and got out of the cab.

When I got upstairs, I found Starsky and Hutch at their desks, laughing about how they'd fooled me. "I'm sorry, but you'll have to get permission from Cap'n Dobey," Starsky said smugly, when he saw me.

I walked past him into Dobey's office.

Captain Dobey was pleasant enough, but the way he told me he couldn't approve me riding with Starsky and Hutch—or any of his other cops—told me that he was in on the whole thing. "Requests of this kind have to go through the Commissioner. And you're not really a member of the press," he added, examining my press pass again. "L Gray?"

"That's my name in Twin Peaks. And let's not get into a discussion of what's real and what isn't, shall we?"

"You used to be such a nice girl," he said reproachfully. "What happened?"

"I started hanging out with New Jersey mobsters. Now, do I have to write myself up a commissioner to give me permission—the Lovely Linda, LCabrillo was wonderful in 'Starsky & Hutchinson Are Dead.' Or better yet, how 'bout I just recast you? You know, my friend Nancy played you brilliantly . . . ."

I'd struck a nerve. He got up and walked to his door, opened it and yelled, "Starsky! Hutchinson! Get in here!" And I knew I'd won.

We were tooling down the PCH when Hutch noticed an odd-looking truck in the far right-hand lane, about 4 car-lengths ahead of us. "Starsky, isn't that the guy we pulled over yesterday?"

Starsky looked where Hutch was pointing. "Looks like it. And it looks like he hasn't gotten rid of 'em."

"Gotten rid of what?" I asked.

"Like you don't know," Hutch answered me distractedly. "Pull him over again; this time I'm giving him a ticket."

"Be nice to me or he'll pull a hand grenade out of his glove compartment when you try to ticket him."

Starsky snickered, flipping on the siren as Hutch put on the mars light.

"OK, we saw this same guy yesterday—he's got a truckload of penguins there."


"Yeah—see, you can see their beaks sticking out. Anyhow, yesterday we pulled him over and I told him that he wasn't allowed to keep penguins without a license, they're exotic animals. He didn't have a license, so I told him he'd better take them to the zoo. I figured he'd do it, so I let him go without a ticket. But it doesn't look like he did."

The truck had pulled over and Starsky eased the Torino in ahead of it. "You want me to do it?" Starsky offered.

"No, this guy's mine."

We watched Hutch walk up to the car and talk to the driver, watched him write a ticket. Then he came back to the car and got in, looking puzzled.

"What happened?" Starsky asked.

"Well, I asked him if he remembered us pulling him over yesterday, and he said yes. And I asked him if he remembered me telling him he had to take those penguins to the zoo, and he said yes. So I asked him why he hadn't done it. And he said, 'I took 'em to the zoo yesterday. Today I'm taking 'em to the park.' So I gave him a ticket."

The rest of the morning was dull. "No shoot-outs, no explosions, no gunfire, no car chases. Am I in the right car? Where's the gratuitous violence you're so famous for?" There was a deadly silence. "Sorry," I said, ashamed of myself. "I know you're not really like that. I wouldn't have loved you for so long if you were."

"Your taste's deteriorated," Hutch said, rather nastily I thought.

"What can I tell you? I've developed a taste for dark, doomed relationships with no future to them. You should be glad I'm not writing you much anymore, because you'd probably have some great sex and then end up dead."

I watched Starsky think about this for a few minutes. "How great are we talking?"

"Starsky!" Hutch admonished.

"Hey, you know she writes us great sex—"

"But we'd be dead!"

"Not forever! You know how it works—"

"Forget it," I told them. "I just don't see you having a dark, doomed relationship." The thought of dark, doomed relationships made me think about Sonny and Vinnie and I wanted to try Vinnie's number again, so I changed the subject. "Do you think there's a chance one of you will get shot today?" I asked hopefully.

Neither of them said a word. I knew I wasn't making myself popular, so I tried again. "It's almost noon; how about lunch?"

Starsky enthusiastically seconded this idea, and promptly drove us to The Pits.

"I'm glad you guys are here," Huggy said, bringing me a ginger ale without my even asking for it.

"What's up, Hug?" they asked in unison, then looked at each other in annoyance.

"Well, I got held up this morning."

"What?" Hutch asked.

"Why didn't you report it?" Starsky asked.

"It's not really a problem, but I thought you guys oughta know about it."

"This is a new philosophy," Hutch observed. "You don't mind getting robbed now?"

Huggy shrugged. "Guy came in just after I opened, put a twenty on the counter and asked for change. I opened the cash register and he pulled out a gun and told me to give him all my cash, so I did. Then he ran out. Left the twenty behind. It's there on the counter—I didn't touch it, thought you might want to check it for prints. And I got a good look at him, so I can give you a good description."

"Well, that's good, Hug, but it doesn't explain why you're not upset about it," Hutch said.

"Well, see, he left the twenty, but I only had fifteen in the drawer, and ten of that was in change. He got five ones for his twenty." Huggy shrugged. "Far as I'm concerned, he can come back any time. Huggyburgers all around?"

"Sure," Starsky agreed.

We were about halfway through with our food when Starsky suddenly exclaimed "Hey!" in a eureka! tone of voice. Unfortunately, he hadn't swallowed and he ended up spitting hamburger on Hutch and me.

"Hey!" Hutch and I responded in protest and distaste. "Starsky, swallow, then talk," Hutch admonished.

Starsky plucked a piece of hamburger from Hutch's shoulder and popped it back in his mouth. After he'd swallowed, he said to me triumphantly, "You can't do this!"

"I can't do what?"

"You can't write this, this story you're making us help you with. I saw some of your notes, and writing yourself into this story, and I remember from that lecture of Flamingo's that that makes this is a Mary Sue!"

"What?" Hutch asked, puzzled.

"It is not!" I responded indignantly.

"What's a Mary Sue?" Hutch asked. I knew he wasn't as conversant in fan terminology as Starsky was, but I had no idea he was that bad.

"A Mary Sue—" I began, but Starsky interrupted me.

"Hey, I made the discovery, I get to tell him." Knowing how much he loved to show off for his partner, I shut up and let him go at it. "A Mary Sue is one of them stories where one of the girls writes herself into it. One of us ends up falling in love with her—no, wait . . . I think we both fall in love with her, but only one of us ends up married to her."

"Well, that's a relief," Hutch commented. "I'd hate us to have to arrest each other for bigamy."

Now they were looking at me. Horror wasn't exactly the right word for the expression on their faces, but it was as close as my thesaurus came. "Don't even think about it! I'm not interested in either one of you, except to write about! Besides, you left out a couple of important points. In a Mary Sue, Mary Sue is perfect! She looks perfect, she acts perfect, she does everything perfectly! She's not the writer, she's who the writer wants to be! Trust me, guys, this—" I gestured to my lumpy self "is not the person I want to be! I don't know how much weight I've put on in the last couple of months, but it doesn't thrill me. And I wasn't exactly thrilled with the way I looked before that. If I was the perfect me, I wouldn't have to coerce you to help me write, you'd be tripping over your—tongues—to help me. For that matter, I wouldn't be bothering you, I'd just be writing—I would write and write and write and write! Every second of every day when I wasn't doing something absolutely necessary, I would be writing, and during those times, I'd be thinking up stories, and—and this is the important part—I'd be remembering them!" I stopped to breathe, panting and watching their shocked expressions. "I'd have naturally red hair, instead of having to get it out of a bottle! I wouldn't still have this bad perm I got in the spring! My hair would be long and easy to take care of and it would look good every second of the day! I would be taller!" I wailed. "I would be taller, and I would be skinnier! I would have a figure that doesn't require padding!" I realized that I was ranting here, that I was completely losing it, but I didn't care. "I would be beautiful," I said, with as much dignity as I could muster. "If I was writing a Mary Sue, I would be beautiful. And," I added morosely, "I'd probably be in New Jersey, cleaning up the blood."

Starsky picked up my milkshake and offered it to me. "Chocolate?" he asked hopefully. It is as if he had learned this one word of a foreign language—in this case, Female—and he fell back on it whenever he found himself in a situation he couldn't quite get his mind around.

I sighed and took the shake from him. "What the hell."

Starsky and Hutch talked with Huggy about the robbery, and my mind drifted until I found myself, oddly enough, back in Twin Peaks, in Harry's house in the woods. And Sonny was there, which I really hadn't expected. How had he gotten there? Why in the world would he go to Twin Peaks? Why was he wearing his tux?

Harry was looking down at Cooper's lifeless body. "Was that really necessary?" I wasn't sure if he was talking to me or Sonny, so I kept quiet.

Sonny didn't, of course. "The last thing I need in my life is another Fed."

"Last time I checked, this wasn't your life. In fact, last time I heard, you were dead." Harry grabbed the gun out of Sonny's hand and stuck it in his waistband, then began patting him down.

Sonny gave me a pointed look. "Wasn't my idea. For that matter, I don't even know why I'm here." He looked down at his clothes. "Or why I'm dressed like this."

I still didn't know either, but I wasn't going to tell him that. So I shrugged and sat down in a chair by the door. "Vinnie must've taken off. He gets good at that, later on," I explained. I decided not to tell him he was probably wearing the tux because I thought he looked so sexy in it. "And I guess you're wearing your tux 'cause this was a formal hit."

He rolled his eyes, ignoring that last part. "So where is he?" Sonny asked.

"I don't know."

"You can't find Vinnie so you shoot Cooper? Thanks a lot," Harry sounded disgusted. He was getting out his handcuffs, which I thought was a bad idea no matter what use he had in mind for them.

"Um, maybe you'd better not—" I started, but they were ignoring me.

Sonny fingered Harry's collar. "The sheriff suit's cute, but I liked your hockey outfit better." He sounded indulgent and playful, but I was still worried. And then I got it. It had been a long time since they had done Willie & Phil with Paul Mazursky, but they still looked so right together and the chemistry between them was still strong, even with different names and careers and just about everything else.

Handcuffs jingling in one hand, Harry removed Sonny's jacket, then began unbuttoning his shirt. Now this really was interesting. Who cared if nobody else got it—I was having a fine time.

Sonny was watching him as if puzzled by an unexplained natural phenomenon that had nothing to do with him. "What are you doing?"

"You've seen me do this before." Harry removed Sonny's expensive gold cufflinks, looked at them a moment. "Does the phrase conspicuous consumption ring a bell?"

Sonny just laughed. I was finding this fascinating, this fond amusement.

Harry slipped Sonny's shirt off him. "I'm sheriff here, and you shot someone right in front me," Harry said. He gave Sonny a slight nudge, to get him to turn around.

"It only counts if you do it right in front of 'em," Sonny told me, letting Harry cuff him. "Write that down."

"You can pretend this isn't serious," Harry said, "but friend or no friend, I take my job seriously."

"Doesn't matter what you do, she's gonna get me out," Sonny said.

"Out of jail, yeah, having you in jail's no fun," I agreed. "But you know, with Cooper dead, I worry about Harry being here all alone."

"What?" Sonny demanded. Harry was unbuckling his belt, unzipping his pants. "What the hell are you doing!" He tried to jerk away, but without the use of his arms, it was awkward. Harry took hold of his shoulder to steady him.

"And with Vinnie missing and all, there's really no place for you to go," I continued.

"Now wait a minute!" Sonny stumbled backward a step, but Harry grabbed a hold of him again. "Cut it out," he said low, almost conspiratorially.

"Oh, don't worry," I said. "Frank'll find him. Frank always finds him."

Harry smiled at me, reminding me why I'd gotten into this whole thing in the first place. "That's right, Vinnie'll be fine, Frank'll look after him. And it gets pretty lonely here in the woods, not much to do on a Saturday night. The nightlife consists of watching the stars and listening to the crickets. I could do with some companionship."

"Just fucking take me to your rat-trap of a police station so I can make my one phone call—" He was trying for authority, but he sounded a little desperate.

"You can't call your lawyer," I said.

"Why not?"

"I can't remember his name and I'm certainly not doing research for this story."

"What?! Wait a minute—"

"Doesn't matter anyway, I'm not taking you to town," Harry said, holding him gently by the arm and leading him over to his bed. "First we're going to have a little talk—"

"Talk about what?"

"Old times. Cleaning up your act. Then maybe I'll take off the cuffs—"


"And maybe I won't." Something in his tone told me even if he didn't, Sonny wasn't going to be complaining . . . or, rather, he was, but he wouldn't really mean it.

Intriguing as this was, I had to get back to Bay City, if for no other reason then so as not to let Starsky & Hutch off the hook. They were waiting for me in the Torino, very impatient. "We're supposed to be working, you know," Starsky told me, while Hutch held the door for me.

"I'm sorry," I said, sliding into the front seat.

We were driving around the city, on a patrol that two plain clothes detective shouldn't have been on, but what the hell, it was a nice day and I'd never seen Bay City before.

We were cruising down the street when a blue Mustang darted out in front of us and sped down the road. "Where does she think she's going in such a hurry?" Hutch asked. "She's got to be going at least 65 and this is a 30-mile-an-hour zone."

"I dunno, partner, but I'm gonna find out," Starsky said, flipping on the siren and stomping on the gas pedal. Hutch stuck the mars light on the hood of the car, and we tore down the street at a break-neck pace. Several miles later the car pulled over.

Hutch called in the license plate number while Starsky and I got out of the car. "Where do you think you're going?" Starsky asked me. I had my notebook out and was uncapping my pen.

"Where do you think? I'm trying to write a story here."

"Yeah, since when do you write cop-plot stories? Besides, this is boring to me, forget about the ladies lookin' for a little love in the afternoon."

"Since I'm fucking desperate."

"Nice language."

"Oh, hush up."

The woman behind the wheel of the car was tapping her fingers on the steering wheel impatiently, but she smiled winningly as Starsky approached the car, flipping open his ticket book.

"I bet you stopped me so you could sell me a ticket to the Policeman's Ball," she purred at him sweetly.

"No, ma'am," Starsky answered politely. "That's just a story you hear; policeman don't really have balls."

There was a moment of silence while she just smiled, and Starsky, realizing what he'd said, turned bright red. I was leaning against the car, laughing like I hadn't laughed in a long time.

Starsky closed his book, turned, and walked slowly back to the Torino, head down. I was still laughing as I got in the backseat.

"What happened?" Hutch asked.

"Nothing!" Starsky shouted quickly, before I could pull myself together enough to respond. "Not a thing! She had a good reason to be in a hurry, so I let her off with a warning! Is that good enough for you?"

"Yeah, sure," Hutch answered, sounding very puzzled. He looked back at me, but I was laughing again. "No wants, no warrants, nothing outstanding on the car. Did you get her license number?"

"No! She's perfectly clean! Now can we get going?"

"Uh, Starsk? You're the one behind the wheel."

Starsky started the car without another word.

I had to agree that Starsky was right about their day being boring, so I lay down in the backseat and let myself drift. I was really curious about what was going on back at Harry's place.

Quite a lot, I gathered from their appearance; they were naked, sweaty, and nicely entangled together, though one of Sonny's wrists was cuffed to the bedframe. Best of all, they didn't know I was there. This must be what writing in the omniscient POV is like! I thought giddily, then said it aloud. They didn't hear me. "Well, I've reached omniscience—the next step is omnipotence!"

"Face it," Sonny said, "you're getting old."

"I'm getting old?" Harry stroked Sonny's hip. "If you're seriously ready for another go-round—"

Sonny so hated backing down, but there was no recourse. "Yeah, ok, we're neither of us as young as we used to be. So whyn'tcha uncuff me an' we can do something we're both up for."

"Like what?" Harry asked, really intrigued. He hadn't seen his friend in a long time, had missed him, but didn't trust him for a minute. He stroked Sonny one last time, then got up and began picking his clothes up off the floor. One thing he knew for sure: being dressed would give him the upper hand if something came up.

"Chess. I used to wipe up the floor with you in chess," Sonny bragged.

"Your memory's not what it used to be," Harry said. "I used to beat you all the time."

"Yeah, I used to let you win so you'd feel good. We're friends, right? C'm'on, let me up—it's not like I could be concealing anything, ya know." If he could get these damn handcuffs off, getting out of here would be no trouble at all.

"I still don't trust you."

"I don't suppose my word would be enough for you." Harry laughed for so long Sonny became offended. "My word is as good as anyone's!"

"You don't want me to laugh, don't make jokes." Harry said, still chuckling. He stopped suddenly, one shoe in his hand, and stared at the floor in surprise. "Cooper's body's gone."

Sonny grinned at him, feeling even better about this. "See? I told you she was on my side."

"How do you figure that?"

"She got rid'a the body for me," he answered smugly.

Harry just smiled. "He's probably asleep in his room at the Great Northern til this is all over." He wondered where Cooper had been while he was dead...or had he been dead at all? Not breathing and no heartbeat, but the rules kept changing, and apparently there was something else at work here that separated "alive" from "dead." Cooper could probably explain it when he got back. And, Harry thought, undoubtedly would.

Sonny was thinking along the same lines, if in more confusion. "How does she do that?"

"I don't know, but since you were dead in canon, I figure knocking Cooper out for a while should be a lead-pipe cinch." Assuming, he added to himself, there's any logic to be found here at all. Which I'm not betting on.

Sonny got that uncomfortable, disoriented sensation he always did when someone mentioned his death. He didn't remember being dead and had the sneaking suspicion he hadn't really been, that this was some elaborate practical joke. He hoped so, really, since the alternative made him even less comfortable. Putting that out of his mind, Sonny jangled his handcuffs. "C'm'on, unlock me. You can trust me."

Harry had just been standing, musing on all the things he didn't understand. Or at least, he mentally amended, the most recent ones; there wasn't enough time to list all the things he didn't understand, let alone muse on them. "Sure I can."

"Chicken," Sonny taunted.

Harry laughed. "That's not going to work." He sat down on the edge of the bed to tie his shoes.

"Fine, don't uncuff me, we can still play chess. I'll move the pieces with my nose." If I can just get up from this bed . . . .

"This I gotta to see." Harry had finished dressing. He unlocked the handcuff and recuffed Sonny's hands behind him, then helped him up and walked behind him into the living room. "You want my robe, or you want to sit by the fire?"

"Very considerate captor. Of course, you always did have such nice-boy manners." There was a definite sneer in the sarcastic words, but that affection was still there.

"Fine, freeze your ass off, I'll sit by the fire." Harry held out a chair for Sonny at the small table with the chessboard set up on it, then sat down across from him.

"No question who's black and who's white, is there?" Sonny asked, and Harry smiled.

"No, but I've got the home-court advantage, so I'll let you start."

"You wanna make it interesting?"

"That'll be hard to do," Harry said. "She doesn't know how to play chess, so it's going to be a pretty sketchy game."

Sonny rolled his eyes, wondering if Harry had been this dim when they were friends. "I meant a bet. Buck a piece. Or is that illegal in these parts?"

"A small, private wager? No, that wouldn't be illegal."

Sonny leaned forward to make a move.

Harry watched for a moment. It was funny, but he wasn't really enjoying himself. "Look, we are a long way from anywhere—it's a good 5-mile hike to the main road, and the only time there's traffic on it is when someone's coming to visit me. It's 12 degrees out there, and it snowed last night. She took your clothes with her when she left, and she did something to my transmission, so my car's in the shop." He knew that anyone with any sense would at least be deterred by this recitation of obstacles. And he knew that Sonny wouldn't be hindered in the slightest. "And if I uncuffed you, you'd still be pig-headed enough to try to escape, but I really don't want to watch you play chess with your nose. So if you get frostbite, so be it." Harry got up and uncuffed Sonny.

Sonny turned and grabbed hold of Harry's shirt with one newly-freed hand, keeping Harry's face close to his. "Lemme ask you something," he said, his voice soft and urgent.


He looked around—right past the place where I was sitting—and dropped his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "Who the hell is she?"

"No idea," Harry admitted. "She just shows up and stuff happens. I learned not to mess with her when she catheterized Cooper so she could keep him asleep for something like 5 days straight." Sonny winced empathetically. "She plays dirty, that's for sure."

Fear and respect! I thought giddily, feeling better than I had in a long time. Yes! That was exactly what I'd hoped to inspire! I went back to the Torino just as Starsky pulled into his parking space in front of Venice Place.

"I hope you've got what you need, because our work day is over," Hutch said with chilly civility.

"Well...." I stalled, wondering what I could do to get them to let me spend the evening. "I was wondering—"

"No!" they yelled in unison.

"Just for the evening?"


"I'll cook dinner," I offered. There was no immediate response to this, so I went on. "Spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread, I've got a nice bottle of wine, and I'll even make dessert."

"That sounds great," Starsky said agreeably, but he was looking at Hutch for the final OK. Hutch was looking at me the way you would look at a sworn enemy who was using a steak to lure away your loyal dog.

"I'll write you a smoldering sex scene," I said flatly.

"Hey!" Starsky exclaimed in happy surprise at this unexpected bonus.

"Nobody dies," Hutch warned, pointing his notorious finger at me.

"Girl Scout's honor," I pledged.

"All right, you can spend the evening."

"Thank you."

I let them have a little privacy while I cooked, figuring that if they were doing anything really interesting someone would be videotaping it. While the food was cooking, my curiosity got the better of me so I took the opportunity to check things out at Harry's.

"You going to make your move or not?" Harry asked. Sonny was still examining the chess board.

"You in some kind of hurry?" Sonny asked.

"Not particularly, but since you're going first and you haven't done anything yet, I was just wondering."

There was a long silence while Sonny continued to give the chess board his full attention. "I don't know how to play chess," he said announced abruptly.

Harry didn't laugh, though he wanted to; instead he sighed. "I must have been thinking of someone else," he said.

"Look, I got places to go—"

"People to kill?" Harry suggested, and Sonny gave him a nasty look.

"I don't know why you're blaming me for that! She's the one who really shot him."

"I know," Harry agreed. "It's just a plot device so we could spend some time in the sack."

I knew Sonny wasn't quite getting this—he wasn't that savvy where the intricacies of fanfic were concerned. But it sounded like something he could use to his own advantage. "Yeah, right. So, now that we have, we're stuck pretending to play chess. So I got an idea. Why don't I just take off? The way I figure it, the sooner I'm outta here, the sooner your fed friend's gonna wake up an' come back."

Harry gave this a second's consideration. "You're probably right."

Since I had taken Sonny's clothes, Harry got him a uniform to wear. "Did she say where she was going?" Sonny asked, rolling up the cuffs of the pants.

"I thought you were going after Vinnie," Harry replied.

"I don't know where the fuck he is!" Sonny snapped. "Did she give you any hints? Hell, maybe I should check out this Great Northern, for all I know I'll find him with your fed friend."

"She said the last place you'd look," Harry said grudgingly, not wanting to see anything more happen to Cooper. "She also mentioned someone named Roger."

"I don't know Roger."

"The only Roger we ever had around here was from the Bureau, but he's been gone quite a while now. And I don't think she liked him very much."

"OK, thanks." Dressed, if badly, Sonny was ready to go. He was embracing Harry when the oven timer went off and I had to take out the garlic bread and put in the angel food cake.

Dinner went very well. Starsky & Hutch both had seconds and Starsky was happy to see there was even enough left over for his breakfast in the morning.

"So, guys, what's on the agenda tonight?" I asked.

"Hooking up that new computer Gordo here insisted we had to have," Hutch said with a grimace. "I don't suppose you know anything about them...." There was a hopeful look in those summer blue eyes.

"Sorry," I said, looking at the desk with a monitor, CPU, keyboard, printer, and various other pieces of electronic equipment on it. There were big cardboard boxes and lots of Styrofoam all over the floor around it. "I've got a Mac."

"Real men don't use Macs," Starsky said. It had to be the oddest display of 'male superiority' I'd seen him show yet.

"Well, that works out OK, Starsky, what with me not being a man, real or otherwise."

Starsky looked defeated after that. I think he'd been hoping for the kind of battle of the sexes he sometimes had with Flamingo.

"I'm not bad at electrical stuff, though," I told Hutch, who was looking discouraged at the whole mess.

"Too bad the same can't be said for the guys you hang out with," Starsky muttered.

"Hey! One more crack like that out of either of you and I'll dig out the notes for that story I was going to write where Hutch decides to be celibate."

Both men paled. "You wouldn't." Hutch spoke for both of them.

"I would. It was supposed to be a straight story," I said pointedly to Starsky, "but that could be changed. Got any more electricity jokes to make?"

He was silent. I wasn't surprised; I'd hit him where he lived. "All right then."

"Why do you let her buffalo you like that?" Hutch demanded.

"Well, face it, Hutch, you are always going on those weird kicks," Starsky said morosely. "It would be perfectly in character for you to decide to become celibate, not even considering how it would affect me. In fact, knowing you, you'd try to talk me into becoming celibate!" In spite of the dismalness of this potential future, Starsky laughed at the absurdity of his giving up sex.

"I am not becoming celibate!" Hutch argued.

"Don't bet on it," I warned him. "I could stick you in an AU and make you both monks if I wanted!"

Starsky balked at this. "I'm Jewish!"

"You'll convert! Now shut up!" I went over to the desk and found the instructions to the computer which I took over to the sofa. I unfolded the page and began to read.

"'IMPORTANT!' it says. 'READ THIS BEFORE USING YOUR NEW COMPUTER. Congratulations! You have purchased an extremely fine computer that should give you thousands of years—' Thousands of years? Thousands?"

"Just keep reading," Starsky instructed. "You're supposed to be helping here." He had taken the desk chair and Hutch had pulled up a footstool near the computer. I noticed a toolkit open on the floor in amongst the boxes and that worried me some.

"Where was I? Oh. '—thousands of years of trouble-free service, except that you undoubtedly will destroy it via some typical bonehead consumer maneuver. Which is why we ask you to: Please, for God's sake, read this owner's manual carefully before you unpack the computer.... You already unpacked it, didn't you ?'"

"Well, yeah!" Hutch said defensively. "I just took the pieces out of the boxes. They had to come out, didn't they? Is that a crime?"

"'You unpacked it,' I read in a disapproving tone, "'and plugged it in and turned it on and fiddled with the knobs, didn't you?' Didn't you?" I repeated for emphasis. "'And now your partner, the same one who once put a valuable record album in your oven and turned it on is also fiddling with the knobs, right? Hell, we might as well just break these damn things before we ship them out, you know that?'"

"Where does it say that?" Hutch challenged. "Just show me where." I pointed to the paragraph and watched him read. "It really does say that."

"'Sorry!'" I continued. "'We just get a little crazy sometimes because we're always getting back 'defective' merchandise where it turns out that the consumer inadvertently drove around with the product in the back of his virtually shock-free vehicle for a week, shaking the stuffing out of our delicate product. So, in writing these instructions, we naturally tend to assume that your skull is filled with whipped cream, but we mean nothing by it. OK?'" Hutch was going through the boxes, looking for something, and Starsky had the toolbox on his lap and was laying out screwdrivers and pliers as if he were preparing for surgery. I noticed the electric drills were already out. "'OK?'" I repeated.

"Yeah," Hutch muttered.

"Uh-huh, sure," Starsky mumbled.

I continued reading. "'Now let's talk about: One: UNPACKING THE COMPUTER. The computer is encased in foam to protect it from the Shipping People, who like nothing more than to jab spears into outgoing boxes. Please inspect the contents carefully for evidence of spear jabs or bottle caps, pull tabs, candy wrappers and Lord knows what else.' Do you see anything like that?" I asked.

"Huh?" Hutch asked. He was looking at all the different cords and plugs and such. Starsky had crawled under the desk, looking for a screwdriver that he'd dropped and which had rolled under the sofa. I was about to point that out to him when he got down on his hands and knees and stuck his ass up in the air.

"'WARNING:'" I continued, a little preoccupied. Hutch had stopped looking at the computer and was now looking at his partner. "Um...oh, yeah. 'WARNING: Do not ever, as long as you live, throw away the box or any of the pieces of Styrofoam, especially the ones shaped like peanuts. If you attempt to return the computer to the store, and you are missing one single peanut, the store personnel will laugh in the chilling manner exhibited by Joseph Stalin just after he enslaved Eastern Europe.'"

"What'd you drop, Starsk?" Hutch asked.

"Screwdriver," he answered, preoccupied by the search.

I held it up and saw Hutch grin. "Why don't you look over there, near the wall?" Starsky crawled over. "No, over a little more." There was something about the way his butt wiggled when he crawled that interested Hutch far more than the computer did.

"No, it's not here. I can't figure out where it could have fallen."

"I dunno, Starsk. Try over by the coffee table."

Starsky crawled over, but as he got close to me, he spied the tool I'd put down next to me on the sofa and snatched it up. "Very funny."

Hutch and I were both laughing. "At least you found it," Hutch said.

"Keep reading," Starsky snarled at me.

"'Besides the computer, the box should contain: Eight little rectangular snippets of paper that say "WARNING."'"

"—five, six, seven, eight," Hutch tallied, putting them in a neat pile on the desk.

"'A little plastic packet containing four 5/17 inch pilfer grommets.'"

Starsky held up a cellophane container with four little metal things that looked like they could be used on the Martian space probe. "These?"

"I guess so. Are there four of them?"


"Then those must be them. 'Two club-ended 6/93-inch boxcar prawns.'"

"Prawns?" Hutch asked. "I thought prawns were shrimp."

"I did too," I agreed.

Starsky held up another package. "These?" There were two weirdly shaped little devices.

"OK, sure. 'You will need to supply: a matrix wrench.'"

Starsky looked at all the tools. "What's a matrix wrench?"

"Don't ask me."

"I gotta have one here someplace," Starsky said, in the same desperate tone I'd expect him to use if he'd lost a part of his anatomy.

"Well, if you don't, I'm sure you have something that'll work."

"Of course you do, Starsk," Hutch soothed him. "You know you have all the right equipment."

I snickered and continued reading. "'60,000 feet of tram cable.'"

Hutch held up a huge spool of cable marked TRAM in enormous Day-Glo orange letters. "Think this is it?"

"Could be," I answered with a smile. "'If anything is damaged or missing, you should immediately turn to your partner and say "Starsky, you know why this country can't make a car that can get all the way through the drive-through at Burger King without a major transmission overhaul? Because nobody cares, that's why." WARNING: This is assuming your partner's name is Starsky, and not something else.'"

"It does not say that!" Hutch exclaimed. I showed him the paper, pointing out the specific paragraph. "It does say it . . . . What the hell kind of computer is this?"

"I told you when I got it, it's a Cadranda."

"Sounds like the name of that psychic," Hutch muttered.

"'Two: PLUGGING IN THE COMPUTER. The plug on this computer represents the latest thinking of the electrical industry's Plug Mutation Group, which, in a continuing effort to prevent consumers from causing hazardous electrical current to flow through their appliances at them.'" I paused, lowering the paper so I could regard them closely. Neither man said a word, though I noticed that Starsky was smirking and Hutch had one eyebrow raised in a sarcastic quirk. I waited a moment, just to be sure, then I resumed, "'First they developed the Three-Pronged Plug, then the plug where one prong is bigger than the other. Your computer is equipped with the revolutionary new plug whose prongs consists of six small religious figurines made of chocolate.'"


I pointed out the offending passage and Hutch subsided "'Adapters are sold separately and require 16 weeks for delivery. Please call 1-900-YOU-FOOL for current pricing. (You must be 18 or older to call; $17.95/ minute. Average call duration: 3 hours.)'"

"Now I see where they make their money," Hutch grumbled.

"'Do not try to plug it in! Lay it gently on the floor near an outlet, but out of direct sunlight, and clean it first with a damp handkerchief. Then, give us a call.'"

I paused, expecting an objection from one of them, but nothing was forthcoming. "'Three: OPERATION OF THE COMPUTER. WARNING: We manufacture only the attractive designer case. The actual working parts are manufactured in Japan. The instructions were translated by Mrs. Shirley Peltwater of accounts receivable, who has never actually been to Japan (or anywhere else for that matter), but has a second cousin who once was.'" Hutch buried his face in his hands, and even Starsky looked depressed. "'INSTRUCTIONS: For results that can be the finest, we advising that: NEVER to hold these buttons two times!! Except the battery. Next taking the (something) earth section may cause a large occurrence! However. If this is not a trouble, such rotation is a very maintenance action, as a kindly (something) virepoint from Drawing B.'"

"What does that mean?" Starsky pleaded.

"I don't know; I don't speak Japanese."

Hutch was now staring off into space, but I heard him chuckle.

"'Four: WARRANTY. Be it hereby known that this computer, together with (but not excluding) all those certain parts thereunto, shall be warranted against all defects, failures and malfunctions as shall occur between now and next Thursday afternoon and shall be repaired/replaced at no cost to the owner. After that time, a slight service and shipping charge shall apply. Information on this extended warranty is available from Mr. Lance Haskill of the Last National Bank's Third Mortgage Department in Last Gasp, Wyoming.'"

"This has got to be some kind of joke," Hutch said, taking the paper from me. He looked at it and read the final line: "'This warranty does not cover the attractive designer case.' Starsky, where did you get this computer, anyway?"

Starsky mumbled something.


Not meeting his partner's eyes, Starsky repeated more clearly, "From Huggy. One'a his cousins—"

"Finds computers," Hutch finished. "This is a hot computer!"

"It is not! It's—uh—it's an off-brand. He works for the company and he got it real cheap."

"Not cheap enough! Designed by a maniac, with directions written by a schizophrenic! And what do you want to bet that this thing blows all the fuses in the building when you try to turn it on? And then Flamingo will be up to yell at us—what do I mean, us? Yell at you—"

"Fine partner you are!" Starsky retorted. "Desert me in the face of danger—"

"Danger? What's she going to do to you, come up and show you up, wound your pride?"

"If she's writing on her computer and you kill the power and make her lose everything, she'll vivisect you," I warned him. "And she'll have the enthusiastic help of every tenant who's waiting to read her latest chapter, not to mention the way the other writers working on stories will feel when—"

Both men now looked at the computer with all the friendly regard they would give a box full or rattle snakes.

"I'll take it back," Starsky said finally. "In the meantime, maybe April will let me use one'a hers—she's got almost as many computers as she does VCR's, and she can't use all of 'em at once, can she? She's gotta take some time off to print zines, right?"

"Why anyone would need more than one computer—" Hutch began, but I cut him off.

"She's a fan," I defended my friend. "She has to have lots of different electronic equipment. It's in the fan handbook, and if I could find my copy, I'd show you." I smiled sweetly at Starsky. "Anyhow, you wouldn't be interested in any of April's stuff; they're Macs."

He was probably going to say something nasty in return, but at that moment there was a knock on the door. Hutch answered it and Glo hurried in, tapping her penis-shaped chocolate baton against her thigh in a very annoyed manner. Belatedly I remembered that we had band practice scheduled for that evening, and wondered if Glo was there in her official capacity as bandleader. "Mer, there's a man pounding on your door, and he's disrupting band practice."

"Band practice?" Hutch asked. "If you were having band practice, wouldn't we be hearing some music?"

"Not with that band," Starsky laughed.

Glo looked hurt by this remark, so I hugged her and explained, "They've been having a really bad day. You can read all about it later," and that seemed to cheer her up.

"Just how did this guy get into the building?" Hutch wanted to know. "I thought Security was supposed to prevent stuff like this. What do we even have a security system for, if anybody can just walk in off the street?"

Glo shot him a steely look. "You know perfectly well that the head of VP Security doesn't like confrontation. She's hiding under her desk."

"Yeah, remember, Hutch?" Starsky chimed in. "She's got a little placard on her door: 'Call me if you need me; I'll be under the desk.'" At his partner's cold look, Starsky added, "Well, I thought it was cute."

"Of course you did—it's not your apartment that keeps getting broken into!"

"Most of the time they don't break in, they just unlock the door," Glo pointed out. "Maybe if you didn't leave the key over the door, you wouldn't have this problem."

Rather than try to defend himself, Hutch continued on the offensive. "And where is the rest of security?"

"Band practice!" Glo answered, pointing out what I thought was the obvious. "All the members of security are also members of The Venice Place Serenade Flamingo Ragtime Rambo Jim Headed Band. For that matter, what are you all doing up here?"

"They were just helping me with a story I'm trying to write," I said, "But if you want—"

The magic words Story I'm Trying to Write did the trick. "No, that's ok, you stay up here. About this guy—you want me to send him over here, or—" She paused. I believe her next intended words were to be "throw him out?" but she seemed to think better of it. "You want me to send him over here?"

"I'd appreciate it." After Glo left, I ran my fingers through my hair, then shook it forward to make my bangs fall right.

"Why don'tcha wet your lips, too?" Hutch asked acidly, while Starsky mumbled, "She never primps for us."

I didn't bother to answer. Well, it was true. I went in the kitchen, took the spaghetti out of the refrigerator, and stuck it in the microwave.

They'd followed me. "What's this all about?" Hutch asked.

"Let's just say you're not the only ones who've been having a bad day."

"Doesn't your conscience ever bother you?" Starsky wanted to know.

"No, as a matter of fact it doesn't. I had a rather brilliant surgeon remove my conscience just after I moved to Atlantic City, and I've never even felt a twinge of phantom pain." I pulled down my sleeve and showed them my left shoulder. "See, not even a scar." I dished the spaghetti onto two plates and got a couple of forks out of the drawer. "I can tell you, though, this isn't going to be pretty." I took the spaghetti into the living room where Sonny was now standing, looking really cute in that ill-fitting uniform, but I decided it would be better not to say so. Vinnie was standing next to him, sort of wavering, looking like he might tip over at any moment. Since I was pretty sure none of us would be able to pick him up if he did, I shoved him into the rattan chair and handed him a plate of spaghetti.

"What the hell did you do to him?" Sonny demanded.

"Where did you find him?" I asked, quite genuinely puzzled. I'd assumed he was with Roger, in some tropical paradise, but I didn't see any reason a little R&R with Roger like that would leave him looking pale, unkempt and shell-shocked. At the very least he should have had a tan. I handed Sonny the other plate, which he looked at with great suspicion before setting down it carefully on the coffee table.

"I've been from one coast to the other," he said, his anger and frustration held in tight check. "I've been everywhere I can think of, and do you know where I found him?"

I shook my head.

"He was handcuffed to a pipe in his own goddamned attic! How do you explain that?"

"I can't," I said, honestly bewildered. "I mean, Frank locked him up up there, but that was just a joke, just a little AU, and I really don't see how—"

"A what?" Sonny was well-past the end of his rope.

"Alternate universe," Starsky explained. "It means stuff that couldn't've happened because it violates canon. There's a lotta controversy about just what's an AU an' what isn't. Some people, like Flamingo, say that all fanfic is AU an' some people say that you've got to directly contradict canon, like if Hutch bought himself a Mazaratti instead'a that hunk of junk—"

"Hey!" Hutch protested.

"It wouldn't work," I told Starsky. "AU's only work if the characterization isn't tampered with, and as you can see, Hutch doesn't want a Mazaratti. If I made him want one, I'd be changing him."

"Or how about you give the dirtball here a striped pumpkin instead of the striped tomato?" Hutch asked, getting back at his partner.

But he'd made my point for me. "Oh. Yeah. Character assassination." Starsky pushed aside his disappointment that his partner's taste in cars couldn't be so easily altered and once again directed his attention to Sonny, who was staring at him, transfixed. "Where was I? Oh, yeah. An' some people say all slash is AU—unless you were really boffing him on the show—"

"Starsky!" Hutch objected to this very none-of-his-business remark and I quickly stepped in front of Sonny, hoping to avoid more bloodshed.

"But then, there's some people who say that that's not slash, that it's—I don't remember what they called it."

Hutch grabbed Starsky by the arm and hauled him toward the bedroom. "That's it!" he yelled "I'm taking that computer back to Huggy in the morning, you are not going to be on any more lists, and I don't want you hanging around the lobby with the tenants of this building anymore! What have I always told you? Stay away from the other tenants in this building. Smile, say hello, but keep walking. Do not—" he shot me a look "—let them corner you. Don't go to their apartments and don't let them in ours. Mine," he corrected himself. "Don't you remember what we had to go through to get you out of the Manure-of-the-Month Club that crazy cabdriver started?" He gave Starsky a push and Starsky reluctantly went into the bedroom, though I could see him peeking around the doorjamb. Hutch shot me an icy look. "When you're done, clean up any blood, turn out the lights and lock up. Oh, and do me a personal favor and forget that steamy sex scene. You're a bad influence." He spared Sonny a glance, then looked a moment longer. Sonny stared back. "Do we know each other?"

"No," Sonny answered immediately, not breaking eye contact.

"Oh. Well, if you want my advice, you'll watch out for her. She's threatening people with celibacy." And he followed Starsky into the bedroom and slammed the door.

"Guess it's just you and me," I said pleasantly.

"Celibacy?" Sonny asked, rather pointedly I thought.

"Oh, don't worry. It would be in character for Hutch, he goes on these kicks, and it would even work for Cooper, since he's...well...odd. But with you I'd get lynched for character assassination."

Sonny wasn't paying much attention to me; he was looking at Vinnie, who was still just holding his plate of spaghetti.

I gave Vinnie a sharp slap. "Snap out of it!"

He blinked, then his eyes focused. "This doesn't look like El Salvador."

"It's not, it's California."

"Frank said I was in El Salvador."

"Well, you're back now, and you're fine. Eat up, you'll feel better."

The look Sonny was giving me should have incinerated me. "Are you finished playing games?" he asked me.

"Hey, you started it. You stopped cooperating. Has anybody else brought you back as yourself instead of just a pale imitation? Has anybody else written you the kind of sex scenes I have? Huh? And what do you do? You hold out on me!" It felt great to be able to yell at him, to just get it out in the open.

"You should have told me he was a fed!"

"Why? The first thing you did when you found out was shoot him—there's not really anyplace for a story to go from there!"

"Yeah, well, wha'd you want me to do?"

"Trust me," I said, smiling. "Just trust me. You think you can do that?"

Vinnie had perked up, and was listening to this exchange. "I trusted Frank and he locked me in my attic."

"It won't happen again," I assured him. I returned my attention to Sonny. "You didn't by any chance shoot Roger, did you?"

"Who the hell is Roger?"

Damn. "Oh, well, something will come up. How'd you get him out of the attic?"

"I took the key out of his pocket, unlocked the handcuffs, and we left."

I looked at Vinnie. "You had the key in your pocket?" I asked in disbelief. I hadn't known that when I wrote the story.

"Well, yeah. But Frank didn't want me to...."

"You see?" Sonny asked. "He used to be smarter'n anybody, and now his brain's like soup!"

"Split pea," I agreed. "He was a good boy...." I stopped myself before I could go off on a tangent. "But he'll be fine, trust me. Just take him home and give him a few hours."

"Trust you, huh?"

"Like you got a choice?" I offered. Sonny sighed, took the empty plate out of Vinnie's hands. "C'm'on." He looked at me. "If I see this Roger, I'll take care of him for you."


So I washed the dishes, turned out the lights, and came back to my Mac, to write it all down.


Mer (c)

"No blood, no foul"

Post Script:

Less than week after I finished this story, Sonny obliged me by shooting Roger in the head. Ya gotta love a guy like that.

The End