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Detective Kenneth Hutchinson brought his tan Chrysler—the latest in a line of long-lived classics that a junkyard hound wouldn't be caught dead near—to a jerky halt in front of Venice Place. He took a fast look up and down the block, then bee-lined for the front door. So far so good. He hadn't been seen.
When he tried hard, he could remember when he'd lived a normal existence, or as close to normal as a cop could ever get. Time was when he got home from work all he had to worry about were assassins and attackers lying in wait for him in his apartment, or, worst-case scenario, the stray psycho of the week he might be dating skulking in his shower with an axe or carving knife. But ever since Starsky had moved in with him—and the building had morphed into the ever-expanding conglomeration of apartments, swimming pools, Jacuzzis, game rooms, art studios and writers' workshops for a battalion of sex-crazed women—Hutch's life had taken a definite turn into the Twilight Zone.
Like every man, there had been a time that he'd wished that he wouldn't have to work so hard to attract the opposite sex, a time when he'd dreamed of being James Bond or one of those other sleek Hollywood action heroes who only had to walk into a room to have women flinging themselves at him. Now all he had to do was step off the street into his apartment hallway and he'd have a dozen women fawning over him. Sometimes the attention was nice, but it never let up, not ever. If he so much as walked out his apartment door, there would be at least four women out there wanting to know if he needed help. While it was true that he'd never had it so good in the flattery and cookie department, there were times when he just wanted to grump through his life like every other hard-working cop. But how could you be depressed and miserable when there were always a dozen people there willing to do for you?
He'd gotten to live that adolescent fantasy of being superstud, and then some. Now all he wanted was some peace and privacy. Sometimes it was living hell to be the object of such enthusiastic adulation.
Abruptly, he recalled one of the few pieces of maternal advice he'd received in his childhood—to be careful what he wished for. Almost, he could think this his mother's revenge, only . . . to regret his current bizarre life was tantamount to regretting loving Starsky, and, no matter how weird the apartment building got, Hutch could never do that. Well, at least not for more than a few infuriated moments.
It didn't take much effort for him to recall the agony his life had once been when he'd been hiding his desires from his partner: the longing that never went away, the hopeless wreck he'd made of his life, the constant frustration that made him strike out at the oblivious cause of his misery. Starsky had taken so much shit from him that last year before they'd become lovers that Hutch sometimes still wondered what had induced his partner to come to his bed on that fateful night when he'd been unable to conceal his feelings from Starsky another moment. But Starsky never acted like it had been any sacrifice to love him. To the contrary, Starsk acted like it was Hutch who had saved his soul and, confused as he was by that, Hutch was grateful for that pride-salving gift. So much so that, no matter what went down in this asylum-without-a-keeper that passed for an apartment building, Hutch would stick it out.
With the ominous ring of the gates of C Block in Sing Sing, the door to Venice Place closed between him and the street, leaving Hutch to pick his way through the detritus from last night's band practice in the huge marble lobby that hadn't been here ten years ago. As ever, he tried not to dwell on the unnatural aspects of his domicile. From the outside, Venice Place still looked like the same two-story building he'd moved into so long ago, but now . . . now the place was like a maze inside. There were apartments everywhere. Long corridors that stretched as far as he could see, with bright-eyed women who grinned and laughed at their stupidest jokes behind every door.
He affected not to notice how there were three new doors at the far end of the hall, two on the left side, one on the right. The wall stopped at the end of that odd apartment on the right. There was no door across from the second new apartment on the left. Hell, there wasn't even a wall there to put a door into, which meant that the left side of the entire building wasn't as long as the right side anymore, which meant . . . which meant he should stop thinking about this right now, before the strangeness freaked him out again.
Almost slipping on the palm fronds, guitar strings, and fringe that were left on the normally pristine floor, Hutch resolved to have another talk with the VP band manager about the mess the band left behind after every practice . . . providing he could screw up the courage to go out into the hall when so many of their neighbors were gathered together. Though he couldn't really complain, for no one had ever laid a finger on him. At least no one he'd caught. His lover couldn't get through the hall during band practice without the back of his jeans ending up stained with enough sweaty prints to keep a forensics team busy for a week. But the fact that Starsky continued to find reasons to pass through the halls while their neighbors were engaged in that infernal caterwauling that passed for music made it very difficult for Hutch to take issue with the girls. Especially not when he reaped the rewards of the glassy-eyed Starsky's return to their apartment. So, debating the necessity of having yet another talk with the over-worked band manager, who hit him up for a donation every time he voiced a complaint, Hutch stopped long enough to get their mail and turned towards the stairs.
He tried very hard not to notice the glowing red dot on the ever-present security camera that turned to trail his movements. It was his paranoia, of course, but he was secretly convinced that those cameras fed into more than just the security guard's station. Starsky insisted that it was all his imagination—and why would his lover be in cahoots with these sex-crazed women, after all?—yet there were too many odd coincidences for Hutch to just shrug off his suspicions anymore. No matter what his gullible, deranged lover insisted, Hutch simply could not believe that the mailman had left a wicker basket full of economy-sized KY tubes as samples on the lobby table the morning after they'd run out at an inconvenient moment. Of course, what that did say about what those security cameras monitored, and about his neighbors, was something that Hutch really didn't want to consider, so . . . so he thrust the suspicion clear out of his mind, as his gender had done with every other inconvenient, higher thought since the beginning of time.
Out of force of habit he jogged up the stairs, but for once there weren't any women trailing him, considerately reaching out to steady his butt in case he should stumble. He was fervently wishing that Starsky would quit promoting that Hutch Klutz image when he missed the second from the top step and nearly measured his length.
It was only as he reached the second floor without encountering a smiling face or offer of assistance—with anything—that the absence of his neighbors finally penetrated. No matter how hard he tried, he hardly ever managed to get to their door without someone accosting him. The only time he had half a chance of being ignored was— No, it really couldn't be that time of the year again, not so soon. But a quick glance down at his watch announced the date as May 15th—less than two weeks till Media. Hutch still wasn't certain what this legendary Media West was. All he knew was that the majority of the worst offenders in the building walled themselves off in their apartments frantically writing, drawing, editing, binding, and collating away for the month before Memorial Day.
Sure enough, as he stepped into the endless corridor at the top of the stairs that once had led only to his own apartment, but now branched into a corridor that was eight doors longer on the left side and seven on the right than the lower floor, Hutch could hear what sounded like a gaggle of geese being slowly strangled. Wondering what type of insidious sacrificial rituals were being enacted to research the latest AU, Hutch belatedly recognized the sound of hundreds of printers simultaneously running at full capacity, and breathed a sigh of relief. They hadn't descended into torturing defenseless animals yet. How could he have forgotten that sound, even for a moment? It was the background noise of his life from April to June every year.
Briefly, he wondered how much his partner had made posing for the building's artists this year. Last year they'd taken a three-week vacation to Hawaii on Starsky's modeling fees.
Glad of the reprieve from observation, Hutch walked to his door at an alien, sedate pace that he felt befitted a detective of his standing, as opposed to the usual adrenaline-induced sprint that was better suited to a teenage rock star fleeing his amorous fans than a man on the verge of forty trying to duck by his neighbors.
Hell, he felt almost normal again—which should have been his first warning. He was actually whistling as he opened his front door, his happy song dying on an off-key, shrill note as he stepped inside.
Hutch's heart lurched in his chest, the breath stopping there as cold fear squeezed his guts when he took in the boxes stacked chin high throughout the room. He'd barely been able to swing the door open, there were so many of them. The last time he'd walked in on a scene like this, Van had been leaving him . . . .
Was Starsky dumping him, after all this time and all those promises? Yes, they'd quarreled last night, but who the hell wouldn't object to having to play the reluctant, virgin cabin boy for the tenth night in a row? Every time Starsky snuck into Flamingo's apartment to boost his ego by reading her works in progress, Hutch inevitably found himself playing bottom boy for the next few weeks. It wasn't that he minded being on the bottom so much, he just wished that Starsky wouldn't take Flamingo's plots so much to heart, that just once in a while, the sex would be consensual so he wouldn't have to resist quite so much or, that when it was consensual, they would make it to a goddamned bed at least once in a sixty page sex scene. His dentist was still pissed with him for the crown he'd damaged biting into Dobey's desk in their last reenactment of a Flamingo classic and he still had a few itchy hives on his hips from where he'd been crushed into those wigs he was allergic to. After all the times he'd humored his lover, the first time he insisted that they make love in their bed minus handcuffs, dildos, and other sex toys or story trappings, Starsky packs up to leave him? What kind of relationship was this? Was that all he was to his partner . . . a cabin boy?
Hutch stood there for a frozen eternity, too hurt and scared to even breathe. It was about the time that his head started pounding and the room started swimming around him from lack of oxygen that a couple of salient facts penetrated—that A.) Starsky did not own enough stuff to pack into the scores of boxes that were crowding the room; and B.) that all of the heavy white cardboard boxes were exactly the same size and shape. Once Hutch drew a much-needed breath, he was able to see the legend of Fruit Fly Printers in garish purple letters on each and every box.
Oh, God, was Starsky storing Flamingo's zines here now? Or worse yet, had the S&H Lending Library been moved into their apartment? Hutch shuddered at that last thought, all too aware of the levels of depravity their neighbors had reached in their historic appreciation of Bay City's most famous dynamic duo. A cold sweat breaking out all over him, Hutch recalled that one story Starsky had made them play out where he'd had long braids with gold tips plaited on the ends of them and Starsky had either been missing an eye or had some kind of freakish artificial eye—Hutch couldn't quite remember. Or the one where he himself was turned into a vampire. Or the one where he'd lain in a coma in Australia for countless months and spent the next three hundred pages or so with amnesia, not getting laid. Or the one where he was a Viking and never got laid at all. But sometimes the ones where he did get laid were even worse. He shuddered in terror, for he knew that Strokes could be in one of those boxes. Hutch had spent three years tracking down every copy of that zine and gleefully shredding it. If Starsky got his hands on that Surrender story, Hutch honestly didn't know if he could take it.
The quality of the silence in the apartment told him that Starsky wasn't home. So, Hutch raced to the nearest box, as fast and gracefully as if he had a battalion of their neighbors on his tail. He ripped the lid off the nearest box and gasped as his worst fears were confirmed. The thing was stuffed with spiral bound literature. Either some very hefty Jehovah's Witnesses had been at their door this morning, or his worst fears were about to be confirmed.
Almost passing out from a level of anxiety that had his heart racing like a bunch of fans pounding their way into the dealers' room when the doors were flung open in those first minutes of feeding frenzy, Hutch forced himself to take a few deep breaths and calm down. Think, he told himself. You're a detective. Detect.
As he tried to stare past his horrified visions of being handcuffed to his brass bed for the next two weeks after being cajoled into playing out Surrender—for no matter how absurd or unsavory, when Starsky turned that look on him, he knew he would in fact surrender—Hutch forced himself to study the contents of the neatly packed box like he would the clues at a crime scene. One thing was obvious; this could not be the lending library. Each of the manuscripts in the box were of identical size, that size being something close to an unabridged dictionary. And all the books looked unread, unpawed by sweaty hands, which meant . . . his lover was storing Flamingo's latest endeavor.
Starsky was probably hiding it here to shut Crowrow's whining up, not that Hutch could really blame Flamingo's beleaguered roommate. Starsky had reluctantly confided the contents of Flamingo's latest when he'd returned white-faced and shaking from his last foray into the most dangerous apartment in the building (Hutch still didn't get how Starsky got past the one-toothed, attack-trained poodle every time; the hundred pound Doberman and psycho border collie were known to be a joke throughout the building as far as protection went, but that tenacious poodle had discouraged even the most dedicated of door-to-door salesmen). According to his traumatized partner, Flamingo's latest venture contained leather body harnesses, whips, b&d, forced drugging and partner rape, all in the first scene. Though Starsky had adamantly refused to say more than that, Hutch had divined from his partner's reluctance to talk about it and Starsky's obvious shock that, for once—ALLELUAH!—Hutch himself was not the reluctant bottom boy. Hutch was curious to see if they would get to play out that story for two weeks like they usually did whenever one of Flamingo's stories saw print.
Wondering just how much of his own he'd get back in this one, Hutch took a final glance around the apartment to make sure that he wasn't observed, and then carefully pried one of the tomes out of the box that was as tightly packed as Starsky's jeans. He hoped that Suzan hadn't been too explicit with the cover art. He remembered that that last breathtaking piece of a naked Starsky splayed over the back of a white horse had just about made him cream his jeans.
Finally getting the book out, he laid it on the top of another pile of boxes, stood up on tip toes to see, and then rolled the tome over to view its cover. His jaw dropped in horrified disbelief. This was no Suzan Lovett. There in splotchy black and white glory was his lover's inimitable ass or, more accurately, a very bad photocopy of his lover's ass. The cover was, quite literally, a photocopy of Starsky's living flesh squashed flat against the glass of the Xerox machine. Hutch recognized it because his tongue had explored the luscious depths of that butt less than twelve hours ago.
Staring at the astonishingly bad copy job, one thought passed through Hutch's terrified being: God help them all; Flamingo had lost her mind! Or at least her art sense. Who in their right mind would ever expect someone with working eyes in their head to buy something with a cover like this? Had the one-toothed poodle gotten revenge and switched the files on Flamingo, or maybe a jealous competitor had sabotaged the zine?
In either case, Hutch wanted to know how the hell they'd gotten their hands on what he knew to be an actual photocopy of Starsky's best feature. Unless, of course, that story about the new AU Flamingo was writing had been Starsky's way of protecting his masculinity, he thought, recalling his partner's trauma of several weeks ago. Hutch was struck by the vivid image of his terrified, out-numbered partner having his pants forcibly ripped down to his knees as a dozen fans lifted his poor Starsky onto the icy flatbed of the copier and took this image without his consent . . . .
Taking a deep breath to ease the painful constriction in the front of his jeans, Hutch did his best to ignore the hard-on that he got from just the thought of Starsky laid out on any flat surface as he saw red. Peeking in at their private sex life was one thing, but nonconsensual photocopying was quite another! They'd finally gone too far! Flamingo was going to have a lot to answer for . . . .
Only, he'd seen how that crew responded whenever Starsky so much as turned around or batted his eyelashes at them. Nobody that glassy eyed with arousal would've been able to overwhelm his butch partner. If Starsky's ass had been on show, then those women would've been drooling too heavily to get a grip on him. Hutch had seen how his neighbors gave that slobbering monster from Alien and Flamingo's drooling Doberman a run for their money whenever Starsky shook his butt at them. No way would they have had the control to overwhelm Starsk.
And, beyond all logic, Hutch simply couldn't see their neighbors doing something like that. Flamingo, Kath Moonshine, Merlin, Mer, Linda Cabrillo, Blue, Jane, Kim, Solo, Crowrow and company always took Starsky's side, no matter what. Didn't matter what Hutch said or did to justify himself, if Starsky acted like the offended party, those women always backed him up, even when Hutch insisted that they check those damn security cameras for validation. If his partner so much as pouted or, God forbid, made a Hutch was mean to me comment, Hutch would find himself in the doghouse with them for the next month, or at least until Starsky and he made up with spectacular sex, which, theoretically, their neighbors shouldn't know about, but which always seemed to mollify both Starsky and neighbors . . . . No, the girls were just too soft-hearted to have forced Starsky to take this hideous picture. Which left . . . what? Consensual photocopying?
Modeling for Kath Moonshine or Suzan or Virginia Sky was one thing, but Starsky had better sense and taste than to agree to this—didn't he?
Remembering whom he was contemplating, Hutch moaned. This was the guy who thought the cartoon figure on the front of his Captain Crunch cereal box was fine art. While it was true that the girls probably couldn't have paid Starsky enough money to agree to this, Hutch knew all too well how easily his lover could be manipulated by compliments. All it would take was one of Flamingo's devious plots—something along the lines of "They're saying that that skinny, no ass space monkey on Stargate's got a better butt than you! We've got to prove them wrong!"—and Starsky would be dropping his pants and mounting the Canon in the basement Rumpus Room ASAP (once the ladies had all turned their backs, of course, while his modest partner doubtless forgot the ever-present security cameras).
Now that he had a livable theory as to how this . . . this piece of . . . art had come into existence, Hutch could only stare at the grainy, blotched recreation of one of the seven wonders of the world and once again ponder what had happened to Flamingo's better sense. Surely, even in the heat of post-pants-dropping that discerning taskmaster must have realized that the product fell woefully below her standards. The thing didn't even have a zine title on it, for Pete's sake! How were the customers supposed to know what they were buying? With Starsky's precious posterior pressed so flat, the thing could easily pass for a new Pros zine.
Hutch shook his head, marveling at the tasteless zine cover when, what to his wondering eye should appear, but a miniature text box with zine title there. His blood literally froze in his veins as he read the tiny words in eight point Garamond print: Hutch and Me Get It On a Whole Lot.
Hutch and Me, that was as far as his brain could get. The implications of those three simple words terrified him far more than an entire net archive of BDSM stories all featuring him as the enslaved bottom boy. Hutch and Me, that meant . . . .
His hand trembling like that fly that was about to get swatted by that newspaper made infamous in the 2002 SHARECON play, Hutch reached out and opened the monstrous fanzine. He could feel his eyes bulging out of his head as he read down the table of contents:
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Hutch & Me Get It On In the Head
Hutch & Me Get It On In the Torino
Hutch & Me Get It On On the Captain's Desk
Hutch & Me Get It On In The Dentist's Chair
Hutch & Me Get Caught Getting It On At Hug's
Hutch & Me Almost Get Caught Getting It On On Flamingo's Laptop
Why Hutch & Me Shouldn't Get It On On the Kitchen Range Anymore
Hutch & Me Make Up After the Policemen's Barbecue, or Back to the Burn Dr. for Hutch
It went on like that. He had to turn the page to get to the last entry, Hutch & Me Get It On On Top of the Manuscript. That doozie came in at page 456. Starsky had written almost a full ream of this . . . stuff.
Nearly shell-shocked, he flipped through the manuscript, scanning the occasional page, his stomach churning. Yes, it was fully as bad as he feared. Worse, even.
When he'd read all he could bear, Hutch rolled the thing closed, flopping it over as one would a dead sea cow.
It was then, as he stood there frozen with shock that a new, far more terrifying thought occurred to him. Hutch slowly raised his gaze from the nearly indecipherable, eight point Garamond, double columned, no margined . . . thing to stare numbly around at the boxes crowding his living room, wearing no doubt the same expression that Kevin McCarthy had at the end of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers when he saw those 18 wheelers filled with pods. He had the literary equivalent right here in his living room. Forty-six, no, forty-eight boxes of pods, packed up and ready to roll.
Hutch was still staring at the mountainous boxes looming throughout the living room when he noticed that the top box on the pile nearest the couch had what looked like a shipping order taped to the side. He could see from the torn state of the protective plastic around the bright yellow slip that someone—presumably the author of this . . . thing—had already perused the paper.
He stumbled over and pulled the yellow slip out of its protective holder. He knew it was none of his business, that Starsky was an adult and had every right to engage in whatever semi-legal pastimes he might choose, but playing cabin boy for ten nights straight gave him some rights. Besides, he knew his partner. Whenever Starsky embarked upon one of these get rich quick schemes of his, it was always wise to have a reasonably sane adult around (and, stars knew, no one other than himself, and perhaps Flamingo's partner Anne, fit those criteria in this building!). And, beyond all that, he was featured in this literary endeavor and therefore had every right (not to mention moral and legal obligation) to ensure that this . . . thing never reached its intended destination.
He already had to suffer the knowing glances of every woman who lived in this building. If Starsky's fanzine were disseminated, he wouldn't have a single secret left. They'd know everything about him: that special spot on his dick that Starsky's tongue knew how to titillate (featured on page 36 and creatively spelt tonuge); that ticklish spot under his left elbow (page 241); how he'd scream as Starsky's cock expertly rocked against his prostate (featured on pages 3, 8, 14, 17, 21, 27, 29, 32, 36, 39, 41, 46 . . . featured on a hell of a lot of pages); how he'd let Starsky talk him into doing it in the car, the Pits, Dobey's office, an airplane john, the movie theatre, the cafeteria, his dentist's office, the SAFEWAY, Mulholland Boulevard . . . almost as many places as pages. If this . . . thing ever saw print, he'd have to change his name and move to a foreign country, one that didn't have satellite television or regular mail deliveries, someplace like . . . Kansas. God, he was getting as bad as Dan Quayle!
Hutch took a deep breath and pulled himself together. Once his panic impulse had been firmly squelched, he carefully unfolded the yellow slip, which turned out to be the printer's bill. Right there beneath the cutesy purple logo of two conjoined male symbols and the legend Fruit Fly Printers was the sum of the charges, which read $26,735.42.
Realizing that there was another yellow sheet behind the first, the shell-shocked detective turned the page. The second missive was a hand written note, also in bright purple.
Doing some quick math in his head, Hutch sank slowly down onto the nearby couch. A twenty-seven thousand dollar printing bill. A two thousand dollar shipping bill. And a matinee date with a guy who writes in purple ink, someone who'd actually read Starsky's epic. Starsky was so dead that it wasn't even funny.
Recognizing that it probably wasn't the best idea to have the inevitable upcoming discussion with a Magnum within easy reach, Hutch hauled himself back up to his feet. At first he'd thought he'd just hang his gun up, but then he figured that it'd probably be better if he just left for a while. Yeah, maybe a little space would help.
When Hutch returned two hours later, the halls were still eerily empty and still vibrating with the sound of strangling geese. However, there was music emanating from his own place and lights showing under the door.
"Hi, ya, Hutch!" Starsky greeted as Hutch squeezed his way in between the two towers of fanzine boxes flanking the door.
His lover wasn't a complete maroon. Obviously, Starsky knew he'd have some accounting to do, for he was in the kitchen making tacos.
Hutch tried to hold onto his anger, but the faded, skin-tight blue jeans and light blue denim work shirt Starsky was wearing were enough to jump start a dead man's libido, if he were that way inclined. Despite his deranged partner's best efforts to stop his heart this afternoon, he wasn't dead yet.
Even from here Hutch could see that Starsky's curls were still damp from the shower.
"What is all this stuff?" Hutch asked, giving his partner the chance to come clean at the start.
But Starsky just gave him a conspiratorial wink and grinned, "It's a secret."
A thirty thousand dollar secret. Right.
"Starsk, there are 48 boxes from a printer in my living room. I think I've got a right to know what's in them." He tried to be reasonable. It took Herculean effort. All he wanted to do was start screaming.
Those blue eyes gave him the once over. Even without Flamingo present, they made him feel like a criminal.
"You peeked!" Starsky accused, looking so affronted and ill-used that Hutch knew if his neighbors saw him with that expression that Hutch would be on their poop list till the next millennium.
For once he didn't care.
"Of course, I peeked! I thought you were moving out. What the hell are you gonna do with all those . . . things?" Hutch tried to be diplomatic. Long years in the building had driven home how sensitive budding authors were about their first endeavors.
"They're not things! They're fanzines. I'm gonna sell them at Media West," Starsky replied, an unvoiced DUH in his tone.
"You're not going to Media West. You don't even have a membership," Hutch pointed out. "And Mel told me that they sold out three months ago."
"I don't haveta go myself. Most fanzine producers have agents these days, who sell their fanzines for them and just send back the money."
Like that was gonna happen, Hutch thought, but didn't voice his belief that Starsky's agent wouldn't make enough to pay for a postage stamp off his epic. Instead, Hutch settled on the less contentious, "Who would agent this . . . thing?"
"I'll have you know that I already have an agent all lined up. She said she'd sell it off her table and wouldn't even charge me a commission," Starsky informed Hutch in his most puerile How-do-you-like-them-there-apples tone.
"Who?" Hutch demanded, but before Starsky answered, he already knew.
"Crowrow volunteered to sell it for me," Starsky announced proudly.
Which only confirmed Hutch's suspicion that Crowrow would sell anything on her table.
"Okay, so let's just say that Crowrow is . . ." recognizing that the word imbecilic probably wasn't the most politic to use at the moment, Hutch settled on a strained, ". . . kind enough to sell this thing for you, how much were you planning to charge for this . . . epic?"
Starsky practically expanded to twice his size, puffing up like the little yellow bird shaking its tail in The Discovery Channel vid. "I know it's a big zine, but I'm gonna just charge enough to make back the printing costs. I thought twenty dollars would be a bargain."
"Starsky, have you done the math here?" Hutch demanded.
Hutch waited until his lover had removed the sizzling pan of chopped meat from the stove and he was assured that he had as much of Starsky's attention as he was ever likely to attain out of bed. "I saw your printing bill. It was almost twenty-seven thousand dollars. Your shipping bill is gonna be close to two thousand dollars."
"Yeah, so what?" Starsky asked like the cantankerous child Hutch was convinced he was.
"You only made three hundred copies of your . . . zine," Hutch reminded.
"So you're gonna have to charge almost ninety-five dollars a copy just to recoup your expenses."
Starsky blinked, got that Norman, coordinate expression in his eyes and then countered with, "How come is it that you've always gotta look at the down side'a things?"
"The down side! Starsky, this is crazy!"
"You just don't want me to succeed! Ever since that manuscript of yours got rejected by the publishing house you've been real down on writing. But I toldya, the Valley of the Molls was light years ahead of its time! You ain't got nothin' to be sorry for. I wish you wouldn't be so jealous . . . ."
"Jealous!" Hutch sputtered. "If I were talkin' jealousy here, we'd be screamin' about your boyfriend Bill and not this stupid fanzine!"
"Your purple-penned prose lover from the Fruit Fly Printers." At Starsky's completely blank look, Hutch explained with as much patience as his last frayed nerve would allow, "Bill—the guy at the print shop who sent you the love letter with your bill."
"What're you talkin' about?" Starsky asked.
"That note that I can see right over there next to your Dr. Pepper on the dinner table. You know, the note where Bill asked you out to lunch," Hutch reminded him.
"Oh, you mean the guy who looked into the shippin' charges for me?"
"That wasn't all he looked at," Hutch shot back. "He asked you to have sex with him."
Starsky was looking at him like he'd taken complete leave of his senses. After a second, an expression of such pity came over those devastatingly handsome, but aggravatingly not-with-it features that Hutch seriously thought he might throttle his partner. "See, that's just what I'm talkin' about! You always gotta twist things and see somethin' dirty where there ain't no . . . ."
"Starsky, he asked you to a matinee!" Hutch shouted.
"What's wrong with goin' to the movies with someone?" Starsky shouted right back at him.
"It's not a movie, Starsk."
"Then what the hell is it? He says right here in bright purple ink 'a matinee'! What the hell else could he be takin' 'bout, but a movie?"
It was only at that point that Hutch finally realized the scope of what he was up against here and how utterly innocent of blame (not to mention sense) that his lover was. Of course, Starsky hadn't understood the reference. If his partner had led this guy Bill on in any way, or understood the meaning of the offer, Starsky wouldn't have left the note out in plain sight or been waving it around like that.
Temporarily derailed, Hutch took a deep breath and forced himself to chill. Yes, his partner was a blithering idiot to think that he was gonna be able to sell this dreck, even at a price that wouldn't reimburse a twentieth of his expenses, but at least Starsky wasn't a cheating, blithering idiot.
"Starsky, don't you remember back in the early seventies when Dobey loaned us to Vice to reprimand us for losing that Russian Ambassador at that Flower Power Rally?"
"Remember all those movie houses we used to raid where the guys would be doin' each other right there in their seats while the Bugs Bunny Cartoons were playin' on the screen?" As Starsky gave another unconvinced nod, Hutch explained, "Well, that was called a matinee."
"Oh. You mean . . . ?"
"Bill was interested in a lot more than your literary prowess."
"Shit. No wonder you were so ticked off! You know I'd never . . . ."
"Yeah, I know," Hutch nodded.
"I'm sorry about the note, okay?"
"Okay," Hutch said, pinned by the outraged innocence of that compelling stare. He didn't know how Starsky managed to argue without a leg to stand on, espouse a degree of sexual naiveté that was terrifying in someone who'd lived with another man for nearly a decade, and still manage to look sexy and hot as hell as he did so. "Maybe you're right. Maybe I was outta line about Bill. I'm sorry."
"What about the fanzine?" Starsky challenged, not totally mollified.
Reminding himself that he was dealing with a writer's delicate sensibilities here, Hutch tried to defuse the situation with a soft, "Why don't we talk about that later?"
"Okay," Starsky grudgingly agreed. "I'll finish cookin' dinner."
"Fine. I'll water my plants." Hutch said, thinking that retreating to their separate corners wasn't a bad idea.
The greenhouse wasn't looking bad. He was only out there about ten minutes watering. But the hanging plants in the living room and bedroom were dry as a bone. Cooing to his favorite spider plant, Hutch started to water the plant in its hanging pot.
He almost jumped out of his skin when a voice shouted behind him, "Don't water that thing over my zine boxes! You'll get them all wet!"
Thinking that drowning would only improve the fanzine's quality, Hutch chose the response that at least gave him a small chance of getting laid tonight. "Ah, sure. Sorry. I didn't notice them there. I'll move them."
Resting his watering canister on the coffee table, Hutch lifted the uppermost box, which weighed as much as Dobey after an all-you-can-eat Sunday buffet. He was manhandling it on top of the nearest chin-high stack of boxes, which made the zine boxes taller than himself, when another command of, "Don't stack 'em that high! You'll crush them!" sounded behind him.
Freezing, Hutch counted to ten and lowered the box to the floor with extreme care, instead of letting it crash to the carpet as he was tempted to do.
"Okay, I'll water later," Hutch said with the patience of a saint—though most saints he was familiar with probably didn't have fantasies of battering their loved ones to death with bad porn dancing through their heads.
Still, he was comforted by the memory of a discussion he'd had with some of his neighbors in the hall the other day. Hutch was still impressed with the highbrow moral debate he'd interrupted. So rarely did anyone in this building discuss anything other than Starsky and him and television that Solo's question had impressed him immensely. She'd been there in the lobby, deep in a heated debate with Moonshine and Crowrow when she'd solicited his opinion on the subject, asking: If a guy had done something really bad a really long time ago, like killed ten thousand innocent people, say three or four thousand years ago, but was now just basically a beer-guzzling regular guy whose worst offense was bad puns, would that make him a terrible person? Hutch hadn't really been able to answer because, although he approved of their discussing anything other than his own sex life, he hadn't understood the parameters of the question. But it had been clear that Solo had been inclined to forgive the man in her hypothetical question, so he figured if someone could be forgiven ten thousand actual deaths than he himself could be allowed a little justifiable homicide fantasy.
"Dinner's ready," Starsky called, the tightness in his tone telling Hutch that he might as well have slaughtered ten thousand innocents, drenched the damn fanzines and dropped the box, cause he sure as shit wasn't getting any nookie tonight.
He took his seat at the table beside his brooding lover. Trying to pretend not to notice that Starsky was just poking at his food, Hutch picked a dripping taco off the plate in front of him and took a bite. "This is great."
Starsky gave a glum nod.
Damn, he hated this. It always happened this way. Starsky would propose some preposterous scheme, and then Hutch would end up feeling like a monster for poking holes in his logic. Hell, as far as he could see, he'd been remarkably restrained for a guy who was thirty thousand in the hole. But then he thought about all those overblown golden god, blond Adonis, and Hutch-angel-baby allusions in the boxes of pods, er, fanzines and his conscience got the better of him. How could he possibly stay mad at Starsky for taking the trouble to write five hundred pages about how much he loved him? It was the thought that counted, wasn't it?
"Look, I'm sorry I hurt your feelings, Starsk," Hutch heard himself say after another strained silence. "I'm sure your book is gonna sell just fine."
"Liar," Starsk replied, not even looking at him.
"No, really. It's very . . . big, a real bargain at twenty bucks," Hutch assured, pasting on his most earnest expression.
Sure enough, Starsky glanced his way. "I just don't know why you don't think I'm gonna be able to sell them. It's a great zine. Hundreds of people read every one of Flamingo's fanzines."
"Starsk, I'm not sayin' this to be mean. I just don't want you to get your feelings hurt if you're disappointed. Flamingo's a professional writer. She gets paid to put words together."
"Well, Kath Moonshine isn't a pro and everyone loves her stuff, too!" Starsky argued.
"Yes, but Kath Moonshine has a bachelor's degree in English. And she's a professional editor."
Starsky thought hard for a moment.
"What about Crowrow?" Starsky argued at last. "She just sells manure outta her wheel barrow in the lobby. You're not gonna tell me she's got some degree or is a professional writer or editor—are you?"
"Actually," Hutch broke it gently, "she does have an English degree. That's why she's selling manure in the lobby. It pays better."
Stricken, Starsky went down the list of neighbors. "Jat Sapphire?"
"More letters behind her name than in your Lucky Charms box."
"Nurse," Hutch reminded.
"Former school teacher—in French."
"No wonder she's a natural at slash! That's an unfair advantage."
Of course, all of their neighbors ability to write in non-colloquial English with legitimate punctuation was probably an unfair advantage in Starsky's mind, but Hutch kept that theory to himself.
Starsky pondered his argument again and then questioned, "Linda Cabrillo?"
"Retired school teacher." Not wanting to go through the entire building's manifesto, Hutch said, "You're just up against some pretty stiff competition. These gals all know their stuff. I don't want you getting hurt if your fanzine doesn't . . . do as well as you're expecting it to."
"It's gonna do fine, Hutch. I've already got tons of preorders," Starsky argued with his old fighting spirit.
His blood freezing at the very idea, Hutch rasped out, "Tons?"
"Well, three. SHaron, Solo, and Viv paid for it sight unseen."
Which was just about the only way anyone would, Hutch thought, but was wise enough to keep the observation to himself.
"That's . . . great, Starsk. Really great," he tried to sound enthusiastic. At least they'd made sixty back on their investment, not that they'd be able to keep it once the buyers saw this thing.
Whatever happened, Hutch knew that his lot in life now was to ensure that this creation of Starsky's never made it to Media. Unsurprisingly, logical argument had failed. Now it was the time to employ extreme measures. A tentative plan forming in his mind, Hutch stared at his friend, wondering how good his acting talents were. If he screwed this plan up, Starsky might be packing his boxes for real.
"See, I do know what I'm doin'," Starsky insisted.
"Never doubted it for a minute," Hutch crossed his fingers under the table.
Their eyes met, and Starsky was leaning across the table towards him. Seconds later, their lips crushed together. Sweet, Starsk's mouth was always so unbelievably sweet and juicy, Hutch thought, his hands jumping to Starsky's shoulders. His fingers clenched tight in the denim shirt, pulling Starsky closer. No matter how hard they tried, they never seemed to be able to get close enough.
The kiss deepened, as it always did, and before he knew it, Hutch found himself slipping down onto the carpet, drawing Starsky on top of him. The warmth of that powerful form filled him.
He'd been right before. Starsky had recently showered. His skin and hair was pleasantly scented with soap and shampoo.
Instantly hard, Hutch pressed his hips up at his partner, sighing as a matching lump of steel met his own. Drowning in the kiss, they rocked together for delightful minutes.
Finally, Starsky drew back for air. Those blunt, capable fingers moved to undo the front of Hutch's plaid shirt.
Wondering if Hutch and Me Get It On Under the Dinner Table was going to be the first addition to Starsky's second literary endeavor, and remembering just how bad his rug burns had been the last time they hadn't made it to a piece of cushioned furniture, Hutch peeked up at his lover through his eyelashes and softly asked, "You wanta play Cabin Boy in the bedroom again?"
"You're volunteerin'?" Starsky seemed astounded.
Wanting to make amends for their earlier fight, and also thinking that some heavy sex might be just the ticket to put Starsky out long enough to deal with the pod boxes, Hutch opened his eyes to his widest, most sincere, and nodded. "Yeah, I really wanta. Why don't you go inside and get in character and I'll join you in a few minutes?"
"Yeah?" he asked, though he was pretty sure he knew what was coming.
"Would you wear the jacket?" Starsky entreated.
"Yeah," he agreed.
"And the white pants?"
Since he had so much to make up for, Hutch gave a nod. "Give me a few minutes."
The clothes were in the closet by the front door, just where Starsky had carefully hung them the other morning. Hutch claimed them and headed into the bathroom for a quick shower.
Ten minutes later, clad in the form hugging white pants he'd worn on their undercover Love Boat case and a white-button down shirt under the short black seaman's jacket that Starsky had worn in the same case, Hutch headed for the bedroom.
He paused at the door, looking in. Aside from the addition of the computer station over by the window, little had changed here in the last few years. The closet and bureau were bulging, trying to contain both their wardrobes, but other than that, the place looked pretty much the same—old fashioned brass bed, night stand and bureau. Starsky's model ship and Wells Fargo wagon were on the bureau top now, but other than that, the room looked pretty much the same.
Hutch had eyes only for the man seated on the chair in front of the computer. Starsky was fully in character now, wearing the white naval uniform tunic that Hutch had used in the Love Boat case on top of his jeans and denim shirt. His dark head was bent over the fanzine that had started all this as Starsky pretended to study it. By now, they both had it memorized by heart. Hutch wondered which scenario they'd play out tonight. Cabin Boy Fever had an entry from almost every one of their neighbors. The tone of the tales ranged from the ludicrous to the lewd, with a healthy smattering of b&d thrown in for good measure. The basic premise of each story was the same—the virgin cabin boy (himself) interrupted the dashing captain (Starsky) in his cabin, and sex ensued.
There being no door separating the bedroom from living room, Hutch rapped on the wooden door jamb.
"Come in," Starsky called, not looking up from his papers.
That told Hutch that the mutual can't-keep-their-hands-off-each-other stories that made up 80% of the zine were out. They were either doing the predatory captain story or one of the 36 hurt/comforts.
"Sorry to disturb you, sir, I've brought your . . . what am I bringing you tonight, Starsk?" Hutch asked, realizing that they'd forgotten to work out the details.
"My limejuice," Starsky answered.
"Right, I've got your limejuice, sir . . . Starsky, why the hell is a cabin boy bringing you limejuice?" Hutch asked, distracted by the answer.
"Kath Moonshine said that the English sailors used to drink lime juice to ward off scurvy. I thought it'd be a nice touch of verysimilarotool." Starsky informed him. Hutch supposed that one benefit of the building was that, if nothing else, Starsky was getting an education of sorts from the women living here. "That's why the British were called limeys. Now get back in character."
"Oh, yeah, right. Your lime juice, sir." Hutch moved over to where his partner sat at the desk and pretended to proffer the limejuice on an imaginary tray, while standing at taut attention.
Starsky pretended to take the juice and sip it, his smoky gaze speculatively roaming over Hutch's long figure.
Hutch hid his smile. They were doing the predatory captain skit.
"This is your first tour of duty—isn't it, boy?" Captain Starsky enquired with a wicked gleam in his eye.
Though it was all a game, Hutch nonetheless felt himself flush as Starsky blatantly eyed his crotch. Hutch did as any well-trained subordinate would at such a time and gazed steadily at the wall in front of him. He was supposed to be an unwilling participant in this story. Starsky pulled this one out whenever he was annoyed with him, because he knew it drove Hutch crazy to have to feign not just disinterest but actual repugnance to the touch he lived for. It had become a little contest of theirs to see how long Hutch could hold out and stay in character.
He didn't have to play at the jerk he gave when Starsky's hand settled on his ass and stroked suggestively down the curve of his left buttock, pressing hard against his tight white pants.
This wasn't good. He was sweating already, his heart hammering against the wall of his chest with need. He was never going to make it to the scene where he was taken at this rate.
"Fire and damnation, boy!" Starsky bellowed, deep in character now, his eyes hot and absorbed. "You just spilt that confounded juice all over my papers! Clean it up! Fast!"
Starsky had, of course, transferred his fanzine script to his lap.
Hutch pulled out the handkerchief he had up his sleeve for just this occasion, bent over his partner and made a half-hearted swipe at the unmarred paper.
"Blast it, boy! That's not going to work! Get down there and do it properly," the captain ordered, pushing him down to his knees.
Trembling with a want that would pass for fear, Hutch reached out a tentative hand to blot at the zine again. Beneath the thick fanzine, his fingers could feel Starsky's sex growing and pulsing to life.
"Harder!" Starsky barked. "It's got on my thighs, too!"
The cabin boy reluctantly ran his hanky over his commander's inseam, affecting not to notice the groan his superior gave.
"Did anyone ever tell you that you've got a gorgeous mouth, boy?" Starsky asked, running his index finger around Hutch's lower lip.
Oh, no, not the mouth! That wasn't fair!
"Please, Captain, sir, I've got duties to perform . . . ." Hutch ad libbed, barely able to breathe with the erection choking the front of his pants. He protested this game, but it always got him hotter than a vinyl car seat baking in the California sun.
His body froze as Starsky's index finger pushed past his full, tightly clenched lips. "Suck the limejuice off it, boy! That's an order!"
Almost too hot to think, Hutch did as commanded and sucked on Starsky's finger.
"Good, lad," Starsky approved, sounding more like a pirate from Long John Silvers than a British naval officer now. "Now, my bucko, be a good laddie and lick it off my brand new pants."
The cabin boy wasn't really given a choice in that. His over-long blond hair was caught in a strong fist and his head pushed down towards Starsky's groin.
Faking inexperience, Hutch tentatively ran his tongue over the faded denim at Starsky's thighs. It tasted dry and hard against his tongue, but he could feel the flesh moving below it. His partner groaned and spread his legs wider.
"That's it. Use your teeth, boy!"
Following instruction, he pressed his upper front teeth along the seam, following it up to Starsky's fly, which was barely remaining zipped under his raging hard-on.
"It's seeped through me britches. You're gonna have to clean it off me," Captain Starsky determined, pulling the cabin boy's head far enough back so that he could fumble his zipper open. Starsky was, of course, going commando (Hutch noted the anachronistic thought, but couldn't figure out a way to think it in period). His partner's swollen, red shaft surged out of his jeans as soon as they were opened.
Hutch stared down at the meaty cock rising out of its bed of dark, wiry pubic curls. How the hell was he supposed to feign the shock of a complete novice there under duress when all he wanted to do was pounce on that tower of power and worship at its feet?
"Go on, boy, lick it off," Starsky ordered, nudging his head forward.
Hutch stuck out his tongue and tentatively tickled Starsky's wide, circumcised glans, wiping off the glistening beads of preseminal dotting it.
The flavor rushed through him. It was so much like Starsky—strong, male and provocative. It made him want to swallow it whole and deepthroat Starsk till his partner screwed his brains out, but he had to keep in character and wait to be instructed to proceed.
The rate of Starsky's breathing and the size of his erection made Hutch suspect that they might not make it to the main event tonight, that Starsky might come the moment he was engulfed.
"Suck it," Starsky grated out.
Knowing that he might be getting the upper hand here, even though he could hardly see straight in his desire, Hutch slowly licked his lips, as though with nervousness.
Starsky gasped, his hungry gaze locked onto Hutch's tongue.
"Damn you, do it!"
"Yes, Captain," the cabin boy answered with suspect sweetness.
"You'll pay for this, boy," Starsky rambled, barely in character as his hips arched pleadingly up at Hutch's face.
His mouth widening to its fullest extension, Hutch absorbed his partner's meaty length, sucking Starsk deep into his throat. They had this down to an artform. Hutch's own cock was fit to burst as his head bobbed up and down on Stasky's straining erection, his longish blond hair falling against Starsky's flat stomach as Hutch worked away at their pleasure.
To his surprise, he was halted midway to heaven. Starsky's hand locked in his hair, pulling him off.
"Time to pay, lad. You've been a very bad boy," Starsky growled, barely coherent. "Stand up."
This wasn't in the script. The cabin boy was supposed to suck off his captain and come for the first time while in the act.
Unsure if his shaky legs would support him, Hutch did his best to comply. He stood there, barely upright, his gaze focused on that saliva-slicked cock like a cat's on a mouse.
"You know what happens to bad boys—don't you?" Starsky grated out.
Having no clue where this was going, Hutch shook his head no, no doubt looking like the besieged cabin boy at the moment.
"They get punished," Starsky finished.
Hutch shivered. This went against all the rules. Those lines were from the spanking scenario that they'd done last Friday. Starsky was mixing stories. That was plagiarism, which was the only thing that got fans more upset than those annoying song vid disrupting station identification logos in the corner of the screen on every show.
"Come closer," Starsky commanded.
Hutch took a step nearer, halted more by his inability to get his rubbery legs to respond than any effort to stay in character. But the hesitation obviously earned him some points. He could tell his barely coherent partner was impressed.
"You're a big lad, aren't you?" Starsk drawled as his left hand reached out to outline Hutch's throbbing erection, which was about to pop through the zipper of the tight white pants. "Even so, big lads get punished, too. Open your pants."
That was really too much to expect. He could barely stand and breathe at the same time, he was so turned on. It was completely unfair of Starsky to mix the scenarios and then expect him to maintain his role. Still, if he failed, he'd never live it down. Then Starsky would know without a doubt how much he enjoyed playing cabin boy. So, Hutch did his best to fumble his zipper open.
His briefs seemed to thwart Starsky for a moment, for he could see how disappointed his partner was when the open fly revealed the crisp white cotton, but it scored him some character points, because a modest virgin cabin boy would certainly be wearing his knickers.
Hutch stifled a smile as his impatient partner reached out to slide his briefs and trousers down to his knees. Score one to the cabin boy.
His entire being vibrated. Hutch held his breath, awaiting that first, perfect touch. But he'd miscalculated. Though he could hear every ragged breath his partner drew, Starsky was still in character.
Instead of stroking Hutch's hungry cock, Starsky reached out to hook his elbow.
"Over you go," Starsky rumbled, guiding Hutch down over his knees in the traditional spanking position.
Hutch grunted as his penis crushed against Starsky's iron erection, his hands scrambling out in front of him to help stabilize his position.
"You might be a bad cabin boy, but you've got a beautiful bum," Starsky said, quoting the preposterous lines from the spanking story.
Hutch tried to lie perfectly still in place to express the horror his character would be feeling in this situation, but it was all he could do to resist grinding his hips. He hissed in a breath as Starsky's palm stroked across the cheeks of his ass, his stomach constricting provocatively, his cock pulsing from the pleasure burst.
"So smooth, so pure, like ivy . . . I mean, like ivory," Starsky flubbed his line. "Pity to mar it, but bad boys must be punished."
Hutch held his breath and, sure enough, the first spank came, loud and stinging.
It was a testament to the state of his twisted need that this kink he'd never really understood excited him to the point of orgasm. His head swirled under the visceral assault as his body responded to that one smack like it were the most potent of turn ons, which, Hutch was beginning to recognize, it was. He couldn't do this with anyone other than Starsky. The fact that Starsky could excite him this way was extraordinary.
Gasping for breath, he waited for the next spank to fall. He savored it as he did Starsky's kisses, feeling every aspect of it as it rocked through him, from the painful, stinging heat on his buttocks where it initially landed to the titillating vibrations as it jiggled his heavy testicles.
Starsky gave him a few more swats before the inevitable occurred and his partner began to stroke his fingers across the cheeks of Hutch's buttocks like a blind man learning his way by feel. That hand trailed down to his upper thighs, leaving him a shivering wreck as it explored there. Then, at last, those blunt fingers slipped between the cheeks.
"Anyone ever touch you here before, boy?" Starsky astounded him by remembering the lines to the script.
Hutch jerked up on Starsky's knees as his partner's fingers probed his tight sphincter, jolting like a spooked virgin, though it was incendiary want blazing through him.
Almost sane, Hutch remembered his line. "No, Captain, sir."
The breathiness could have been fear, Hutch supposed, providing that no one saw his raptured face. He could feel the sweat dripping down it and could only guess at the emotion twisting his features.
Starsky's left hand abandoned his butt for a moment.
Hutch blinked as the hand appeared in front of his face.
"Spit," Starsky ordered.
His mouth was dry as the Pits on a Sunday morning, but he managed to produce some saliva. His every sense focused on his partner, Hutch waited.
There was an unexplained pause, a sound like fumbling, and then at last, Starsky's fingers returned to his anus.
Hutch had to smile as Starsky's gooey index finger felt its way to its objective before carefully entering him. The story might call for a dry and painful penetration, but Starsk never took chances. They might act out these absurd farces, but Starsky never did anything that would really hurt him. The possibility of it, though, kept him on his toes, figuratively speaking.
His Christian upbringing always tried to insist at this point that this was something that no real man would enjoy, but since it lit his lights like nothing else he'd ever known, Hutch ignored that niggling doubt.
As ever, his anus was hot-wired to his cock. As Starsky probed, pressed and stretched him there, Hutch's cock got harder and bigger. Unable to help himself, Hutch made a pleading, yearning sound and ground his hips down against Starsky's groin.
Starsky gasped, his index and middle finger beginning to slowly and expertly finger fuck him.
Hutch arched back against that sure touch, crying out as it unfalteringly found his prostate. Reality blacked in and out around those pleasure bursts.
Starsky kept it up for a truly astonishing length of time. Finally, his partner's fingers pulled out, Starsky delivered another half-hearted slap to his rump and grated out, "On your feet, boy!"
With Starsky's assistance, Hutch stumbled up. He'd hardly attained the vertical when he was being pushed down again, this time across the desktop. Hutch slipped his fingers down between the wall and the far end of the desktop to get a grip that'd keep Starsky from fucking him right out the nearby window.
Starsky's hands fumbled at his ass, then parted the cheeks. Hutch held his breath as his partner pushed himself in and plunged home. Starsky's hands jumped to the sides of Hutch's hips, taking a firm hold, and then the ride began in earnest.
There were levels of eroticism. Some sexual encounters were nearly mundane. They could make a guy come, but they never touched him where he really lived. It had never been like that with Starsky. Whether they were acting out these ridiculous fanzine plots or just humping away like bunnies in their own bed, Starsky always touched him where he lived, owned him to his soul. Hell, if those thrusts got any more powerful, Hutch was gonna end up on the street below with the imprint of Starsky's cock on the back of his tonsils, his hold on the desk notwithstanding. He'd never wanted anything in his life the way he wanted Starsky pounding into him.
One primal thrust later, and Hutch was spinning out of control, his cock spurting its load all over the bills on the desk as Starsky climaxed deep within him. Starsky's groan and his cry mingled in the air.
Perhaps it was just his imagination, but Hutch thought he heard a feminine voice cry out at nearly the same instant from the apartment next door.
The moment stretched into eternity, then passed as it must.
Starsky slumped onto his back, a heavy beloved weight. Hutch fought for air, shivering as the back of his neck was covered in kisses.
"Love ya, Hutch, love ya so much. . . ." Starsky was muttering.
"Me, too. How 'bout you stand up and let me up and we'll get ready for bed?" Hutch suggested.
It took a couple of minutes, but Starsky finally hauled his weight off him. Hutch could barely move himself. One glance at his partner showed that his plan had worked perfectly. Starsky was whipped. His lover always slept like a vampire after sex.
They managed to get out of their costumes, get naked, and climb into bed.
Hutch hugged his partner close, raining kisses down on Starsky's head, counting his partner's breaths as he valiantly tried to remain awake. This little performance was going to do him no good if he sacked out, too.
"Starsk?" he called a long time later. The lightly snoring bundle in his arms made no response.
Leaving his partner sleeping the sleep of the thoroughly fucked, Hutch crawled from the bed and staggered to the john. He had 48 boxes of pods to dispose of.
Fifteen minutes later, after he'd showered and changed into something baggy that wouldn't drive his neighbors to distraction, Hutch stepped out into the hallway with a copy of Hutch and Me Get It On A Whole Lot tucked under his arm. It was still eerily empty, resounding with the pressure of zine editors trying to make their deadlines, in spite of the fact that the zines were still barely half-written. He didn't know why he was bringing his problem to his neighbor's doorstep, but like every other bizarro development in his life, he figured these women were probably the cause of it. God knew, Starsky would never have turned his hand to zine production without their example to follow.
When Venice Place had first started expanding, Starsky had been convinced that their new neighbors were otherworldly wizards who were in hiding on their planet. That was the only explanation his partner could come up with for the almost daily addition of apartments to their building. Hutch himself didn't fully understand the virtual reality explanation an urbane Stargal had given him one day when the laconic Suz was particularly forthcoming, but Hutch had seen enough of these women to know that they were no Galadriels in hiding. The only ones hiding out in this apartment building were Starsky and himself, and his partner didn't have the self-preservation instincts of a Hershey Bar on the third day of a con when it came to their neighbors. Still, if the girls were somehow responsible for the bewildering addition of apartments, perhaps they'd be kind enough to help him spirit away 48 boxes of pods.
Drawing a deep breath, Hutch paused before Flamingo's apartment door, measured his courage, and then knocked. At his first rap, a high-pitched barking immediately sounded on the other side of the door as the deaf, attack-trained, one-toothed poodle sprang to the apartment's defense. After a long moment, another higher pitched bark joined in as the terrier woke up, and then, an embarrassingly long time later, the shrill screech of an hysterical border collie filled the night. Hutch waited in dread for the hundred pound Doberman to join the chorus, but, like most of his breed, the dobey was probably laying in wait on the other side of the door, waiting for the interloper to make his day and enter Flamingo's den uninvited.
"Who is it?" an annoyed sounding voice demanded in a tone that was more a bark than that of her canines.
Knowing in his heart that he was making a monumental mistake here, Hutch cleared his throat and hesitantly offered, "It's me—Hutch."
"Oh, yeah, Hutch, ah . . . hang on a minute." Then she said in a hushed undertone to whomever was inside with her, "You get the art down, I'll deal with the zine covers. Anne, do something about the screen savers! The rest of you case the bathroom."
As always happened whenever he or Starsky knocked on this particular door, several minutes of frenetic movement sounded from within the apartment. About the time he was ready to go down the hall and try another door, Flamingo's swung open. The breathless listmom stared up at him with open curiosity and barely disguised lust.
"Hi, Hutch! What can we do for you? Come on in."
Said the spider to the fly, he thought, gulping. No matter what, she always got the best of him. This was a definite error.
For a second he just stood there staring at her bright pink nightshirt, which she was wearing over a pair of sweat pants. His partner's image was there all over it, with the bewildering inscription of NOOOO CLOOONEY! below each picture.
Just as he'd feared, the hundred pound Doberman was laying in wait on the other side of the door. Only, its eyes were closed and it was snoring louder than Starsky.
"Oh, don't mind him," Flamingo said. "Step right over him."
So he did and was instantly assailed by a blond fluff of a terrier and blur of black and white border collie, while the one-toothed blond poodle sat on the back of the couch and defended her territory to the death.
"Shut up," Flamingo and Crowrow yelled at the dogs in unison, to no effect.
It was only when a quieter voice, lovingly known as the voice of God, emerged from the kitchen with a threatening, "Shut your yapping up now or I'll use that razor again!" that all canine sound ceased immediately.
Bemused, Hutch followed his brightly clad hostess to the kitchen, wondering as he passed through the living room (as he always did whenever he entered a neighbor's apartment) at the huge blank spaces on an otherwise over-decorated wall where scores of photos and paintings of Starsk and him hung. What was even more confusing was that Hutch could see a bunch of picture frames that clearly matched the blank spots turned in so that they faced the couch.
Flamingo led him to a disorderly lineup of the usual suspects: Kath Moonshine, Kim, Laura T., Cindy L., April Valentine and Crowrow were sitting at the kitchen table and all over the floor with dozens of piles of paper around them, while the only sane person in the house, Flamingo's partner Anne, sat in the living room apart from the mania of zine production, grumbling to herself as she read a PC World magazine.
"Hi, Hutch," everyone greeted as if on cue.
"You want some tea?" Flamingo offered.
Hutch stared at the table and numerous, newly installed counters, unable to see where a teacup could rest to be filled amidst the tons of papers.
While he looked for his tongue, Anne rose gracefully off the couch, somehow got over the human obstructions on the kitchen floor and retrieved a beer from the fridge. "Here, you look like you could use this."
"Ah, thanks," he stammered, but the only other sane person in the asylum had already returned to her magazine.
"So what's up, Hutch?" Crowrow asked from her seat on the floor. She had a blue blanket around her and enough clothes on to be outfitted for an arctic expedition, although the room seemed pleasantly warm to him.
"I, ah, have a problem that I was hoping you could help me with," he said.
"Sure," Crowrow instantly agreed, without waiting to hear the nature of the problem.
The more suspicious Flamingo inquired, "What sorta problem?"
"Well, it seems that Starsky has made three hundred copies of a fanzine that he intends to sell at Media West," Hutch explained.
"That's great!" Crowrow enthused. Then, when every face in the room had turned to stare at her like she'd lost her mind completely, she uncertainly added, "Isn't it? I mean, he was so excited about his creation the other day. I, ah, offered to agent it for him at Media West."
"You what?" like the faithful frog chorus in a Greek comedy, everyone in the room except Flamingo gasped out. Studiously ignoring the melodrama being enacted in her kitchen, Anne read on.
With a long-suffering sigh, Flamingo asked, "How bad is it?"
Hutch proffered his lover's pod, er, fanzine. Flamingo took it from his hand and the entire group, save Anne, who obviously knew better, mobbed around her to get a look at the thing.
"It doesn't look too bad," Crowrow, AKA Candide, bravely commented into the mortified silence that fell on the group when Starsky's bare behind stared up at them in all its bad-copied glory.
Everybody ignored her. The apartment could be ablaze with fire, its right side sinking into a pit from California's latest earthquake, with a mudslide overwhelming the left while a SWAT team of copyright police raided the place, and their little Candide would have some cheerful comment to add to the mix. The fact that she had survived this long without being pelted to death by bad I'm Okay, You're Okay new age drivel books was either a testament to the residents respect for all life, or an indication of their laziness. Hutch was just glad he'd left his Magnum upstairs.
"Is that dirt across the bottom on every cover?" Kim asked.
"You mean the zine title?" Hutch asked innocently. "Yes, it's on every cover."
Another long pause followed.
Then the world-wise Flamingo, who no doubt knew where this was leading, solicitously commiserated, "That's really too bad, Hutch. You must feel terrible. Do you want another beer?"
"No, I don't want another beer. I want you to help me fix this mess. I've got 48 boxes of these things up in my living room, labeled and ready to go," Hutch shot back, too tired to be polite. He should be decently sleeping in bed like his thoroughly shagged partner, not standing here staring at the worst piece of English literature printed since Old Man Guttenberg first fired up his presses.
"We're really busy trying to get ready for Media West, Hutch," Flamingo said, "but I'd be more than happy to go into my computer and see what I can do about fixing that cover up for Starsky."
"I don't want you to fix the damn cover! I want you to help me decently destroy the thing! The stories are even worse than the front. Pages upon pages of," Hutch snapped the tome out of her hands and started reading where his eyes fell, at the beginning of Hutch and Me Get It On A Whole Lot On A Dark and Stormy Night. "It was a dark and stormy night, the dark-haired handsome, virile, sexy, homicide detective stared dark and stormily across the bed at the very blond blond white knight, knowing what was on the sleeping man's mind . . ."
"What happens next?" Crowrow asked when he stopped reading.
"Another fifty pages of bad metaphors and run on sentences, that's what happens next," Hutch snapped, wondering how fast he could get his gun and whether the other ladies in the room would try to restrain him were he to do them all a favor.
"She has her uses," Flamingo said, as if reading his thoughts; though, for a second, it seemed a near thing.
Recognizing that it would probably take as long to dispose of a body as 48 boxes of pods, Hutch let it drop.
"Hutch, I can see you're upset, rightfully so, but I don't see how we can possibly dissuade Starsky from selling it if you've already failed." Flamingo sensibly tried to keep them out of the mess.
It was too much. Hutch had promised himself that he would maintain his cool, but he just snapped.
"This is all your fault," he insisted. Everyone ducked as the famous Hutchinson finger came into play as he stabbed it in Flamingo's direction. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Anne—like any good partner prepared to back up her more impulsive other half—slowly lower her magazine as the other fans scurried for cover under Crowrow's blanket, leaving their listmom to play out High Noon on the new Maplewood floor. "If you'd never shown him a fanzine, he never would have gotten this hare-brained idea. And, rather than nipping it in the bud, your cohort encouraged him. You have got to help me fix this." Running out of steam, for who in their right mind would voluntarily attract Starsky's wrath, Hutch just looked at her and finished with a hopeless, "Do you have any idea how crushed he's gonna be when we have to pay to ship all these things back unsold?"
A nerve-rending "Awwww," emerged from the lumpy blue tee-pee in the center of the room as a bunch of teary-eyed, tousled heads peeked out at various corners.
"We've got to help him, Flamingo." Laura T. insisted.
"Yes, it'd be morally wrong for us not to!" The lovely Kim gave an impassioned endorsement, her cheeks pleasantly flushed with feeling, or perhaps it was just from the heat under the blanket.
"You're right. This is too great a burden for one person to bear," Flamingo said. "If by my roommate's life or death I can help you," her chin gestured towards Crowrow with a far too hopeful gleam in her eyes, "we are at your service."
And then Crowrow voiced the four most terrifying words in the English language: "We can do this."
Once everybody had stopped shuddering in terror, Hutch turned his eyes from the grimacing Flamingo to stare at Starsky's erstwhile agent and voiced the question that inevitably followed the utterance of the four most feared words in Venice Place, especially from that particular mouth. Normally, this single syllable was enough to slap Crowrow back into reality. "How?"
His bowels tightened up in dread when she remained uncowed.
"I sold out my manure this afternoon. We can use my wheelbarrow to move the zine boxes down to . . . where are we bringin' them? We can't just trash them. Too many trees died to make them."
"The recycling center on Campus," Kath Moonshine said. "I know a back way in."
"There're too many boxes to fit in your wheelbarrow," Hutch desolately reminded her, unable to believe for a single moment that he was actually considering a POA from this unlikely source.
"You have my dolly," Kath Moonshine solemnly offered.
"And my rollerblades," Laura T. added.
"And my axe," April Valentine stepped forward like a dwarf about to embark on a sacred quest, before she caught herself and muttered, "Sorry, I got carried away."
"Wait, we're coming, too," two excited voices called from the office. In a breathless swirl of apricot and honey blond hair, Merlin and Lasha raced in to join the secret council in the kitchen.
"You can't do this without us," Merlin insisted. "You'd never make it to a single con without helpers of our quality. We're going, too."
When five foot two Merlin dug her heels in, it was something to see.
And, so, the Fellowship of the Pods was formed that night right there in Flamingo's kitchen, as the fans joined Hutch in his quest to ensure that the pods never made it to Media. The moment might have gone down in fanlore history as the first totally serious, important, mature, mundane decision the inhabitants of VP had ever come to, had Lasha not chosen that moment to voice her question of, "What are we doing?"
Once they'd explained, Moonshine and Flamingo went to unearth their dollies while Crowrow raced down to the lobby to retrieve her empty wheelbarrow.
They were on their way to the door when Starsky's agent interrupted them with, "There's one thing we didn't think about."
Everybody stopped to stare at Crowrow. There was a 99% chance that whatever concern she was about to voice would be inconsequential to anyone inhabiting the real world, but there was always that 1% that got to them. Hopefully, she was about to report that they needed an Oreo break before they got to work.
The Fellowship glanced from one to the other before Flamingo finally sighed and snapped, "What didn't we think about?"
"Well, we can recycle Starsky's 300 copies, but what's to stop him from taking the master to the printer tomorrow morning and making 300 more? He does still have almost two weeks till the con," Crowrow reminded them.
Of course, this would have to be one of those almost unheard of occasions when her brain was firing on the same cylinders as the rest of reality.
"She's right," Flamingo said. "He'll just print more. Last year April here finished a half-written zine on the way to Media and then printed it up at the con."
"So it really doesn't make any point to throw these away?" Hutch glumly accepted the fact that he was going to have to adopt the life of a fugitive in the next three weeks.
Barely formed, it seemed the Fellowship would shatter, when hope came from the most unlikely of sources.
A quiet voice from the living room remarked, "That would assume he had a file to print from."
With a collective Huh? The Fellowship turned towards Anne, known to all of those who didn't consider her the Voice of God as the Computer Queen.
"What do you mean?" Hutch asked, trying not to put too much hope in the question. "Starsky is bound to know I did it if his files are erased the same night his zines are stolen."
"His files will be there," Anne said. "They'll just be empty."
"I'm not following you," Hutch said, voicing the thought on his companions' faces.
"Starsky apparently isn't very familiar with software," Anne explained graciously. "He stopped me in the hall the other day to ask me how he could change the font on a file. I told him how to highlight the entire file, change the font and then save it. He still didn't seem too certain of the procedure when he left me. I'm not suggesting you do this, of course, but if you were to go into his files, highlight everything, delete it and then save the empty files, he'd have nothing to open. And he'd no doubt assume he messed up the procedure."
"That's mean," Kim, Merlin, and Crowrow chorused.
Flamingo's eyes lit with appreciation. "It's brilliant. That's why I keep her around. Anne, can you doctor the log? Starsky might know how to check to see the last time the file was altered."
With a long suffering sigh and a grumble, Anne got to her feet again. "Give me a minute to change."
"What about the security cameras?" Laura T. asked. "Isn't Starsky gonna want to check those tomorrow?"
"Good thinking," Flamingo approved. "Why don't you and Merlin pop down to our head of security and see what Diana—don't call her HOS—can do about helping us out."
"Consider it done," Laura T. said as she and Merlin rushed off.
By the time Anne had changed, they were back.
"Diana's got her story all set. Luckily, tonight is Buffy the Vampire Slayer's season finale," Laura T. reported. "Spike gets cursed by a demon and ends up having Buffy's lovechild."
"Laura, focus. What about Diana?" Flamingo snapped her friend back to reality.
"Oh, yeah, Diana. She's gonna tell Starsky that her security cameras showed me borrowing one of the security tapes an hour before Buffy started. Since I got reprimanded three times last week for doing just that, Starsky will believe it," Laura T. said.
"Okay. Can anyone think of anything else?" Flamingo asked the group.
"Do we really have to be so mean?" Crowrow questioned.
Flamingo winced and asked, "Can anyone else think of anything we missed. Okay, let's go."
A few minutes later the nine members of the Fellowship of the Pods were following Hutch as he crept back into his apartment. The rollerblades had been nixed from the mix as being too noisy. Although the two dollies and wheelbarrow could barely fit through the door, they trundled in rather quietly.
Hutch tried to ignore how his companions all peered around the box-piled apartment, gaping and staring as though they were on hallowed ground.
"Look, there's the table Starsky handcuffed Dryden to when . . ." someone whispered from behind him.
"Ssssh," Flamingo hissed. Hutch was impressed. He could see how her gaze kept straying towards the bedroom where his partner's tousled head was sticking out from beneath the comforter, but she was still focused enough to lead the team. "Anne, go do your thing while we load this stuff up."
"Lucky Anne," Kim said, watching as the unimpressed Anne entered the sanctum sanctorum of Starsky and Hutch's bedroom to hack into Starsky's files.
Hutch turned to load the nearest mountain of zine boxes, only to find them gone.
"Where . . . ?" he muttered.
Turning, he saw Kath Moonshine standing behind him with a fully loaded dolly. She'd gotten the pile loaded faster than he could have lifted a single one. As always, he was more than a little awed by her. She was the only person in the building who came close to being on eye-level with him, and when it came to that impressively muscled body, he knew she could just snap his spine over her knee if she so chose, and he'd be helpless to prevent it. The fact that she was the gentlest and least maniacal of their neighbors went a long way in comforting him, but God help them if the brilliant editor ever decided to take over the world. She'd be a force to be reckoned with.
"Do you need a hand with those?" he asked when he realized his stare was bordering on the rude.
Kath just gave him one of her infamous grins and assured in her soft, utterly calming voice, "Nope. Don't worry, buddy. We'll make this happen."
And then she was gone, like George Reeves in those old black and white Superman episodes that Starsky loved to watch.
In a remarkably short time, the boxes had vanished. Returning with Flamingo from their last run to the street, where nine zine-bulging cars were revved up and ready to caravan over to the recycling center, Hutch glanced into the bedroom and froze at the oddest sight. The computer was shut down now. Anne was on top of the desk, walking across the bills towards the half open window. When she got to the far end of the desk, she knelt down lifted herself up on her arms and carefully lowered herself to the floor in absolute silence.
"What's she doin'?" Hutch asked her partner.
"Haven't got a clue, but she sure looks good doing it—doesn't she?" Flamingo said admiringly. As Anne joined them, they headed back out to the hall where the rest of the Fellowship was waiting to start the trip to the recycler's. Flamingo asked, "What was with the gymnastics?"
"I opened the window to leave some false clues and throw Starsky off our track," Anne replied.
"But there's no fire escape near that window. It looks out on Vermont Avenue," Hutch reminded her.
"I know, but it will keep him guessing for a while." Anne gave a wicked smile, then peeled off the latex gloves which they had only just noticed she was wearing.
There would be no prints at all, Hutch realized. It really would be as if a wizard had spirited away Starsky's pods, er, fanzines.
"God, you girls are so good, it's scary," Hutch said, knowing that his case was hopeless. He was doomed to live a life with security cameras in every room in the house and a freakishly expanding building so long as he was up against a force this unstoppable. Starsky was right. They really were wizards. That was the only explanation that made any sense. "Before we go anywhere, I want to thank you all for your help. I couldn't've done this without you."
"Don't mention it," the Greek chorus in the hall chortled, almost loud enough to wake Starsky.
"You bet your ass you couldn't have done this without us," Flamingo agreed, and then smiled, "but you're welcome."
"Well, we better hit the road if we're gonna dump those things tonight," Hutch said, so tired from loading the cars that he could barely move.
Flamingo's hand settled on his arm. "We got it covered. You better get back inside in case he wakes up."
"I can't let you all do this by yourselves!" Hutch insisted.
Anne stepped forward, giving him that icy blue, withering eye that was only slightly less intimidating than the Voice of God. "Believe me, they'll work better without you there to distract them."
When Hutch opened his mouth to make another protest, Anne added the coupe de resistance, "You don't really want to be bending over those bins in a completely deserted lot at two in the morning with this bunch behind you—do you?"
Hutch looked at his coconspirators. So far tonight, they'd been remarkably well behaved. No one had touched him once, but he'd felt their eyes on him the entire time. "Ah, I guess you've got a point."
"Have a good night, Hutch," Anne said.
"Yeah, good luck with the morning after scene," Flamingo said, grinning, looking like she was enjoying all this way too much.
Hutch shuddered. He knew he was gonna owe her big time after this. The others were all manageable, for he could play on their sympathies, but Flamingo was a hard sell. The twinkle in her eye as she followed her troupe out told him she'd read his thoughts.
Sighing, Hutch stepped back into his blessedly normal looking apartment. He took one last tour around the living room to make sure that no evidence had been left behind, before he stripped off in the bathroom and crawled back into bed beside his blissfully oblivious partner. All he wanted was eight hours of undisturbed sleep. That wasn't too much to ask for, not after having destroyed all those pods—was it?
Hutch jolted up in the bed, his hand reaching for the Magnum that was hidden on the floor between the bed and night table. The safety was off and he was in the living room backing up his partner before he even knew what was going on.
Still half-asleep, he scanned the room. There were no intruders. He could see nothing out of the ordinary.
"What?" he asked of the naked man who was just standing there in the living room doorway looking like a kid who'd discovered a boxful of coal under the Christmas tree. Hutch slowly lowered his gun.
"My zines," Starsky all but sobbed, making Hutch remember his clandestine raid of the night before. "My zines are gone."
Hutch felt like a total shit as he looked into his lover's teary eyes.
"Gone?" Hutch repeated, for want of anything brilliant to say. "How can they be gone? There were 48 boxes here last night."
Starsky's gaze narrowed upon him. "Good question."
"What are you lookin' at me that way for?" Hutch asked, wondering if his guilt were written all over him, the way it felt.
"You wouldn't know anythin' about their disappearance—would ya?" Starsky demanded in that dangerous, quiet tone that always raised Hutch's hackles.
Too aware that his entire future happiness completely depended on his acting talent at this moment, Hutch took a deep breath, met his partner's eyes, and gave his lover the absolute, unadorned truth. "That's right, Starsky. I got up in the middle of the friggin' night and moved 48 boxes of zines out of here using Crowrow's stinking wheelbarrow!"
Starsky stared at him a moment, sniffed the air and then checked the rug by the door. "You're right. I'm sorry. It was a stupid thing to accuse you of."
"Don't worry about it," Hutch said, and looked quickly away. He was gonna have to live with this lie for the rest of his life.
"The window in the bedroom's open. It was closed when we went to sleep last night. Since the front door's still locked, that must be the way they came in and out. There are a couple of footprints on the papers on the desk. Looks like the guy might've been about my size," Starsky reported, seeming to focus on inconsequentials. "I just don't understand how they coulda got the boxes out that window without wakin' one of us up. Let alone how they coulda used that window at all. You think they just dropped them down onto the street?"
Knowing that some intelligent comment was called for, Hutch asked, "Could they have come down from the roof?"
"I don't know. This is just so crazy, Hutch."
Feeling like a Class A prick, he watched as his shell-shocked partner crossed to the phone.
"What're you doin'?" Hutch asked when Starsky began to dial what he knew to be the extension for Metro North.
"Callin' it in. We've been robbed," Starsky mumbled.
Hutch quickly rushed to the phone and pushed down the button.
"What'd'ya do that for?" Starsky demanded.
"Starsk, have you thought this through?" Hutch asked, a little desperate now. Lying to Starsky was one thing. Lying on official police reports was something else entirely.
"If we don't put in an official report, we can't get our insurance company to reimburse us," Starsky explained patiently.
His stomach clenching up at the thought of insurance fraud, Hutch stalled. "Huh?"
"We been payin' theft insurance for over ten years now. It's about time we used it."
"Starsky, we can't do that!" Hutch jabbered.
"Why the hell not?" Starsky asked.
Hutch tried for calm as he softly asked, "What are you going to tell the investigating officer?"
Starsky looked at him like he was a few marbles short of playing with a full deck. "That we've been robbed?"
"My fanzines, of course," Starsky grumped.
"And when he asks you for a description of the items?" Hutch prodded.
"Huh? I'll tell him that it was 48 boxes of . . ." Starsky faltered. ". . . books."
Hutch straightened himself up and looked as official as a guy standing stark naked with a morning erection could look and assumed the role of the investigating officer. "Could you be a little more specific, please? Did your books have titles?" At Starsky's horrified stare, Hutch said softly, "Babe, you can't tell him that you lost 48 boxes of a book called Hutch and Me Get It On A Whole Lot. We'll be out of a job before you can even submit your claim. The title was on your printer's bill, too, so we can't even turn that in." Hutch tried to sound sympathetic, instead of relieved.
"Damn, what am I gonna do, Hutch? I got tons of preorders to fill . . . ."
"We can write to Sharon, Solo and Viv, return their money and tell them what happened . . . ."
"No, I-I still have a week! I can reprint it!" Starsky crowed, joy and determination returning to his expression.
If he were truly innocent, Hutch knew that he would be mentioning how wasteful it would be to reprint a $30K zine, but knowing what he knew about the state of Starsky's nonexistent files, he kept his mouth shut. This was a lot harder than he'd thought it was gonna be.
Starsky turned and rushed to his computer, Hutch following at a more reluctant pace.
Hutch winced at the gasp Starsky gave when he'd booted his machine and accessed his files. He'd discovered his empty pages.
"The files are gone! Nothin's here! The only thing left is my scan of the cover. Everything with print on it is totally blank!" Starsky sounded distraught.
"How could that have happened?" Hutch asked, as any non-guilty party would have questioned the mysterious disappearance of Starsky's files.
Starsky was quiet for a moment. "I, ah, highlighted the complete file to change the font. I guess I musta hit the space button or somethin' while they were still highlighted, 'cause they're all gone now. Every last one of them."
"I'm so sorry, Starsk."
Knowing he was the worst kind of coward, Hutch moved to lay a hand on Starsky's shoulder. He was almost beginning to regret last night's escapade. It was only when he saw that cover on the screen and recalled the . . . quality of the stories that Hutch knew he had made the right decision.
Starsky just nodded.
"I know you put a lot of time and expense into your zine. We can dig into our retirement fund to pay the printing bill, Starsk. You don't have to pay for it by yourself." It was the least he could do, Hutch thought.
"We don't have to dig into our savings, Hutch," Starsky said, his voice so filled with love that Hutch really hated himself at the moment, even though he knew he'd done the right thing.
"You're not payin' for it alone. It'll bankrupt you. I know you made a lot modeling for our neighbors last year, but you can't have made enough to cover . . . ."
"Hutch . . . ." Starsky looked up at him, sounding guilty of all things.
"I, ah, lied to you. I didn't make the money modeling for Kath and Suzan and Virginia like I said I did," Starsky confessed quietly.
"You didn't?" Hutch said. It made sense of course, for none of their neighbors had that kind of bread.
"Then where did you get the money?" Hutch asked.
Taking a deep breath, Starsky said, "Well, you know one of our neighbors has all those Hollywood contacts?"
"Yeah." Hutch nodded, not following.
"Well, last year she came to me and said that one of her producer friends had a problem. See, he was producing this Mel Gibson movie, and, ah, Mel isn't as young as he used to be. They had this scene where Mel's bare butt was gonna be on the screen and, his butt just wasn't up to snuff, so, while you were up at the Horticulture Convention in Winnipeg last February, they asked me to be his stand-in for the butt shots and I did it. Then last summer when you were in Detroit lookin' for that spare part for your . . . car at that Detroit Dinosaurs Convention I did another shoot with them, so . . . we don't really have to worry about the money, Hutch. I'm sorry, I shoulda told you a long time ago."
Too overwhelmed with his own guilt to even react, Hutch just nodded. Vaguely, he wondered if Starsky's zine cover was part of his portfolio. Realizing that his head was starting to hurt from the whole damn thing, Hutch decided to stop thinking about it and simply try to enjoy what was left of their weekend.
"Look, why don't we go back to bed for a while?" Hutch suggested softly.
Starsky glanced at him, then back at his monitor. On the screen, an empty file entitled Hutch & Me Get It On 635.doc was displayed. "I, ah, thought I might play with it for a while and tryta . . . ."
Hutch slowly ran his index finger down the sleek length of his lover's spine. "Wouldn't you rather play with me instead? We can do Cabin Boy again if it'll make you feel better."
Considering the size of his guilty conscience, Hutch figured he'd be playing Cabin Boy for the next six years.
Hours later, when his cabin boy uniform was spread throughout the bedroom, and they were a sweaty, sticky heap in the center of the bed, Hutch deposited soft kisses all over his lover's curls and murmured, "I'm really, really sorry about your zine, babe."
He'd thought Starsky was asleep, but his partner gave a tired nod, kissed the chest his head was pillowed upon and whispered in a reassuring tone, "Don't be. I think I can rewrite it. Maybe even by Media."
His body turning to solid ice, Hutch lay there listening to his lover slip over into deep sleep. Less than two weeks till Media. Starsky might just do it.
Sighing, Hutch tried to make his mind as blank as Starsky's zine files. Whatever happened, it was in the hands of the gods. He'd done his part to protect the world from the pods. Someone else was just gonna have to step forward and do their part next time.