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One More River
Terri Beckett and Chris Power


Chapter XVII.

Yet another re-run of STAR TREK, sound muted, was providing counterpoint for Starsky's reading. Book XII of the Iliad, and the Trojans winning. Knowing that they ultimately lost didn't spoil his enjoyment. The names had taken on flesh and become real people. They talked a lot, and in the middle of battles, too, but given the convention of the epic narrative, that was understandable. Homer wasn't writing for TV. The speeches didn't hold up the action here.

James T. Kirk, looking noble, was worried. About the Enterprise, or Spock, or Yeoman Rand, or a Klingon invasion. Probably in that order. S.O.P. Starsky went back to his reading.

'Ah, my friend, if after living through this war we could be sure of ageless immortality, I should neither take my place in the front line nor send you out to win honour in the field. But things are not like that. Death has a thousand pitfalls for our feet; and nobody can save himself and cheat him. So in we go, whether we yield the glory to some other man or win it for ourselves.'

The print was blurring. Starsky swallowed harshly, blinked, focused on the TV screen. The credits for TREK rolled over the familiar star-field, faded. He took a deep breath.

Got right to you, huh?

Time for a break. He closed the book, turned up the sound on the news bulletin, and collected a Coke and a package of cookies from the kitchen, before resuming his cross-legged seat on the couch. There were military rumblings in the Middle East. Cuts in Public Spending appeared inevitable. Cactus rustling was becoming a problem in the Southwest. Someone in Seattle had reported being kidnapped by a flying saucer, resulting in what had to be a close encounter of the fourth kind.

"... and now the local news. Police are appealing today for witnesses to the murder of an off-duty officer. The killing took place early this morning outside a drugstore near the officer's home..." A video-clip showed medics loading a motionless form into an ambulance. A chill numbness invaded Starsky's chest in the region of his heart. He couldn't take his eyes from the screen. "... was married, with two young children. The Chief of Police, in an interview with our reporter, said..."

Death has a thousand pitfalls for our feet.

Hutch, a year ago, saying: "What makes us so smart?"

Starsky shivered. Thinking like this was counter-productive. He switched the set off, tried to concentrate on the book again. But the Iliad had lost him.

The weight of loneliness was suddenly crushing. He'd been carefully not thinking about it, but he was lonelier than he could remember being in his life. He had no one to talk to. To laugh with. No one he wanted to talk to, anyway. The one person he wanted to be with -- just to be with? -- was half a city away.

He could call. But talking over the phone wouldn't ease the ache. Being with Hutch, able to see him, reach out and touch him in reality, not in dreams, was what he needed. The dream always ended too soon.

Crazy. A city of how many million, and I'm lonely.

There was company available. Even for David Stewart. No problem. Except he didn't want any of them. He thought wryly of his own discussion with Hutch, before they came back to L.A. I'm not going to be missing out, he'd said. The whole of the Starsky Seraglio, he'd said.

And there and then, he'd meant it. Had truly believed he could handle the necessary deceptions.

Theory is different from practice.

Damn right. The past three weeks had taught him that. It wasn't the sex. He'd had all the sex he could handle. Genital friction. Purely mechanical. It wasn't enough. He was tired of being a paid stud, performing to order for women who were not of his choice, acting a passion he did not feel. Sure, it wasn't exactly a hardship, but physical release didn't bring emotional satisfaction. That was something he could find only with one man.

A junkie needs a fix. An alcoholic needs just one drink. The operative word is need. Starsky knew what was twisting his gut into knots, making his nerves jump, giving him the cold shivers. Need. Pure primeval need for the something that was lacking in his present life. Hutch, the source of his addiction.

He realized he was sitting half-hunched forward, arms wrapped over the cold hurting emptiness in his middle. It would take so little to warm the pain away -- a touch, a smile. Having gained his notice, the craving grew more intense. Hutch. Oh, Hutch.

Temptation, in the shape of the phone, caught his eye. He wasn't on call. The hell with Benedic's for once -- okay, he was supposed to be a good boy and stay home nights, but who did? He could buck the 'standby' order. Everyone did that, too.

The call tone was answered after three rings.

"Yeah." Hutch's voice. He sounded tired.

"Hi," Starsky said. "Listen. Meet me at the Paradise Plaza, in thirty minutes. Okay?"

"Sure." No questions, instant agreement. "See you there, babe." The connection cut off with a click. Starsky let out his breath in a shaky sigh, put the receiver down, and headed for the bedroom to dress.


Traffic was bad, and Hutch was twenty minutes late by the time he reached Paradise Plaza. No sooner had he cruised the Dodge to the roadside than a figure moved out of the cloaking shadows, crossed the sidewalk, and opened the passenger door to slide into the seat.

"Where to?" was all Hutch said, moving out into traffic again. Starsky had dressed the part, all right -- the white suit, dark green shirt, tasteful gleam of gold at wrist and throat, all spoke of the profession as clearly as a placard. Very high priced, and no mistake.

"There's a motel north of Malibu. The Conquistador."

"I know it," Hutch acknowledged, and glanced across at the shadowed face with a smile. He was curious, but waited for Starsky to explain in his own time. Not pushing it. But there was nothing. Which was odd. Did he or did he not have any new information to pass on? So, finally, he said, "You got anything new to tell me?"

"Not yet." Plainly he didn't want to talk in the car.

"Okay." And, very quietly, "Missed you."

Starsky drew breath raggedly. "Yeah," he whispered. "Me too."

Hutch felt it then, the sudden electric tension, strung taut, singing like a guitar string softly plucked. He took one hand from the wheel, laid it lightly over Starsky's. No explanations needed.

Neither spoke again until Hutch pulled in under the bright-lit sign at motel-reception. "I'll check us in." The clerk was bored and sleepy, glancing out once at the car, but made no sign that he saw anything out of the ordinary. Hutch paid, collected the key. In minutes the car was parked, the door unlocked, and the world was shut out. And Starsky was in his arms.

"Christ, I've missed you," Hutch whispered huskily, feeling the lean strength thrust against him, arms locking around him, the mouth under his hungry, desperate for the contact. Starsky's only answer was a moan, hips grinding against Hutch's, every muscle shuddering with tension. Hutch slipped his hands down over the shoulders and back to cup the tight curve of his lover's ass, pulling him closer, the urgency in Starsky's almost frenzied movements starting an echo fever in his blood.


"It's okay, babe," Hutch murmured. "Take it easy. We got all night." But Starsky wasn't listening, was driven by a need he could not seem to control. Hutch didn't know what had triggered this strange feral mood in his lover, but his instincts told him what was needed. He deepened the kiss, forcing Starsky's head back, arching the man's spine and driving his own hips in a slow sensual rotation against the quivering thrust that exploded into a racking shudder, a stifled cry. Then Starsky's full weight rested in his grasp.

"Ohgod..." A sob. "Hutch, I --"

"It's okay." Hutch held on to him, supporting him, the dark head at his shoulder. "Want to talk about it?"

"Can't." A shiver. "Don't know..."

"Hey. Take it easy," he soothed, rubbing his cheek against Starsky's hair. The curls smelled of a very expensive male cologne, and a soft chuckle rippled in Hutch's throat. "Doesn't matter, babe. Come on, it's all right." But the tension was still there, twisting in every nerve and sinew, an all but imperceptible tremor in the body that still strained close. "Hey," Hutch said again, gently turning him, half-leading, half-carrying him to the bed. "That was a pretty fantastic performance for a guy in your profession." Starsky's mouth twitched in an attempt at a smile, and Hutch kissed the bruised lips. "Don't sweat, lover. I know what you need."

"Do you?"

"Uh-huh." He smiled and kissed him again with an infinite tenderness. "Don't you believe me?"

"Prove it," Starsky murmured, closing his eyes as the lips moved across the line of his jaw to the pulse at his throat.

"I aim to. Soon enough." Hutch stroked slowly up the tensed arms, began a slow massage of the locked shoulder-muscles, fingers working with skilled care.

"Mmmm..." Starsky leaned into the massage. "Forgot how good you are at that."

"I'm good at a lot of things," Hutch promised, and paused long enough to slide Starsky's jacket from shoulders and arms. In the subdued light from the bedside lamp, the shirt glowed like a fluid jewel. "What's this?" Hutch fingered the darkly iridescent silk. "Gift wrap?" He stroked the fabric gently, warm from the flesh beneath it. "Know something?" he murmured into the nape of Starsky's neck. "You don't need it. Your hair is a finer silk, lover -- did I ever tell you that?"

"No." Starsky's voice was equally soft, and he allowed himself to be drawn down to lie quiescent in Hutch's embrace. "Tell me some more."

You want me to seduce you? My pleasure.

Hutch's fingers eased the buttons of the shirt loose, parting the shimmering stuff to move fingertips gently over the steadying rise and fall of the dark-pelted chest, mouth resting still on the throb of pulse above the twisted gold links. "You don't need any fancy packaging," he said against Starsky's skin. "None at all. You're exciting enough."


"You bet." The green silk followed the jacket, and Hutch leaned on one elbow, cupping the curve of jawline, fingers spread. "You're beautiful." He bent his head to the waiting mouth, drew back to look down into the half-closed eyes, blue drowned to black under the long lashes, and his breath caught in his throat. "My god, so very beautiful." Wondering awe in his voice. "Do you know how much I love you? Have you any idea?"

"Tell me."

"Can't. Not all of it. There aren't words enough." He sat up long enough to remove shoes and socks, then lay back beside him, fingers tracing feather-light over the furred chest and midriff. "Silk," he breathed, and followed the touch with lips and tongue. Starsky made a sound in his throat like the purr of a large cat, and Hutch laughed quietly, one hand gliding over chest and belly to the waistband of the white pants. The slim hips moved involuntarily, but he did not immediately unfasten hook or zipper, resting his palm over the growing hardness beneath the damp fabric. "You're not going to be the Fastest Gun in the West this time. We're going to make it last." He eased down the zipper slowly, stripping the garment from the long lean limbs, leaving him naked but for the chain at his throat and the heavier links on his right wrist. Against the dark bronze of his tan and the sable sheen of body hair, the gold gave him a barbaric kind of beauty. Under Hutch's regard he stretched languorously, holding out his arms, and Hutch came into his embrace, the two melting into one for a moment. "Dear God," Hutch said breathlessly, pulling away to look down at the indolent body consciously displayed to his gaze. "You're vain," he accused with a grin. "This how you turn your ladies on?"

"Better believe it." Starsky moved slightly, flexing one knee, the ripple of muscle-play under sheened skin turning him into living sculpture.

"I do. God, I do..." And Starsky writhed suddenly under his worshipping hands, gasping his pleasure. "... Yeah, that's it, babe. But slowly -- we got all the time in the world. Move. I want to watch you." Giving him no choice in the matter, kissing his throat, the side of his neck, sending quicksilver ripples through his lover's body. He took the kiss Starsky offered, the intoxicating flutter of darting tongue overcoming for the moment all his control so that he bore down and heard Starsky moan under the savage strength of the embrace.

You don't know what you do to me.

He drew back, breathing hard, stroking down the taut belly to cup the heavy-hung groin, the velvet hardness of the rigid shaft, moving between the thighs spreading for him, exploring, probing.

So sweet, beloved. So hungry.

Lifting the long legs into position, thrusting hard as Starsky arched, pushing against him for swift, deep penetration, Hutch knew neither of them was able to wait now. The dizzying ecstasy was mutual and unbearable. Ripples of contraction and relaxation gripped him, milking him. Starsky's face contorted, head thrashing, hands clenched on the sheets, body arched like a drawn bow. A wordless exultant scream erupted as he convulsed, grinding himself onto his impalement, eyes blind, his release jetting from him as Hutch thrust more deeply and felt his own life-force stream from him in a violent orgasm that seemed to go on and on and on.

Starsky was completely limp, a deadweight, eyes closed. But as Hutch broke their contact he stirred, reaching out. "Stay with me..."

"Not going anywhere," Hutch reassured, lying beside him, their bodies touching, turning towards each other to join mouth on mouth. Starsky sighed his content, one arm heavy across Hutch's waist, Hutch's name murmured like a thanksgiving. He was already more than half asleep, and Hutch relaxed, cheek against the silky, sweaty curls. With his free hand he located the light switch to drown the room in sudden darkness.

He didn't sleep. He had thought he would be unable to keep his eyes open, he was so tired, but now although the weariness was no less, he felt that to sleep would be to waste time. Time that they had so little of, a time to be together like this, a time for love. It was so long since he had been able to lie with his lover at his side in the deep sweet sleep of sexual exhaustion. He wanted to lie and drift on the after-glow, enjoying their closeness, knowing that for a little while they were safe and together.

As his eyes grew accustomed to the dark, he found his gaze drawn to the window, which because it faced out from the garish neon of the forecourt, allowed the moon ascendancy. A clear night: there would be stars, the sky alive with pinpointed brightness, pulsing, living jewels. Uncountable, though he had sometimes tried, on nights spent in the open, to number the stars in one patch of sky. First star of the evening, burning in the west after the sun has gone -- Venus, wasn't it?

Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight...

An old song drifted into his mind. "You are my lucky star."

He turned his head to look at the sleeping man. Starsky. Star. My Lucky Star. Not that alone. Beacon star, giving me direction when I'm lost and don't know where I'm heading. Guiding star, leading me forward. Polaris... An echo from the past made him frown. Marcos was wrong. No cold North Star, not you. 'Morning Star, day's harbinger.' Milton, of course. Or Shakespeare. '--that I should love a bright particular star.'

What the hell have you done to me, babe? I could write a thousand songs for you, and never tell the whole of it. Is this what being in love does? Because if it is, then I've never been in love before.

Truth. I haven't been in love before. Not like this. Pale ghosts of love, shadows of the reality. This -- what we've got -- is outside any of my experience until now. I've been waiting for this all of my life, except I didn't know it. Now... I'm not ever gonna let you go, my David, my lover. To have and to hold. You wouldn't let me say it, would you? Still scared of what it'll mean, still not sure if you can make that final step. You don't have to. And I don't need to say it aloud.

To love and to cherish. As long as we both shall live. Longer. Yeah, I can even believe in that, now.

Starsky made a small sound in his sleep, and his face pressed into the hollow of Hutch's neck before he subsided again into quiet. Smiling, Hutch drew him closer, and closed his eyes.


The muted burr of the phone penetrated Hutch's sleep -- he stirred, groped for where it should be, failed to find it, and opened his eyes, remembering at the same time where he was. The motel.

Locating the instrument, he reached out an arm and hooked it towards him, mumbled an acknowledgement, replaced it, and turned to his partner. "Time to wake up, lover," he whispered, following the words with a kiss. Under his lips the sleeping mouth responded with dreaming sweetness, and Starsky moved closer into his embrace. "Hey." The response conjured in his own body made his voice husky. "You better quit that."

"Why?" Without opening his eyes, Starsky burrowed against him. "Doncha like it?"

"S' got nothing to do with it, damn you. Wouldn't have thought you'd got anything left after last night."

"Training, Blondie." A chuckle. "Practice makes perfect. We got time for a quickie?"

"Don't be crude," Hutch admonished sternly. "Strictly speaking, no we haven't. I asked the desk to call us at seven. It's ten after, now."

"We got time," Starsky decided. "Doncha love me any more?"

"Don't even think that." Hutch gave up the unequal struggle and succumbed to temptation. It wasn't a quickie, either, but slow and considered and gentle, without the urgency of the previous night.

"This is what I miss, y'know."

"Hmm?" Hutch, with one ear pressed against Starsky's shoulder and the other muffled by the pillow, hadn't heard all of the sentence.

"I said this is what I really miss. Waking up with you," Starsky repeated. "Going to sleep with you, waking up with you. I miss that."

"Me too." He remembered what it had been like during his marriage to Van -- how lonely the bed had seemed in the months after the divorce. It was a very married feeling, sharing a bed. He smiled. "Best way to start the day, too."

"You said it. Ought to do this more often." With obvious reluctance Starsky disengaged himself and pushed back the sheet. "I'll take a shower, then split. Call me a cab?"

Hutch stared after him. "Starsk?"


"What about the information?"

"Huh?" Puzzlement.

"What you've found out. You called me out, babe, there has to be something --" But Starsky's expression now was a dawning guilt, and he didn't need the denial. "You didn't have a reason, did you?"

"No," Starsky said after a moment. Unspoken, the risk taken hung in the air between them. But there were no regrets, Hutch knew that. He reached for the phone again.

"I'll call the cab."

Starsky nodded, disappeared into the bathroom. The real world was pushing intrusively into their lives again, reminders of jobs to be done, covers to be maintained. Hutch raised his voice. "You'll want to show a profit on the evening, in case they ask. What's the going rate?"

Starsky's face appeared at the bathroom door, drawn. "Don't joke, babe."

Hutch shook his head, serious. "For your cover. How much? Department's money, anyway."

"Two hundred." He disappeared again. Hutch took four fifties from his billfold, added another one. Made him an offer he couldn't refuse. It felt sordid, even though it was no more than the maintenance of a very difficult cover. To hide his distaste, as Starsky came out of the bathroom toweling himself, Hutch said, "We could do something about that, you know."

"My asking price?"

"No. Waking up together."

Starsky was engaged in getting damply back into his shirt, so didn't immediately answer. Hutch didn't continue, however, and Starsky glanced at him quizzically. "So? Shoot."

"When the job's over, we move in together," Hutch said, voice neutral. Starsky flashed him a smile.

"Great idea, babe. In theory. But we've been that route, remember? Nearly drove each other crazy."

"That was before."

"Yeah. But what else has changed? We just don't have compatible lifestyles, love."

The endearment, as always, sent a sweet tingle through Hutch. "I know that. All I'm saying is, you ever want to try it again, you only have to say." This time he couldn't keep the yearning out of his voice.

Starsky must have heard it, because he paused halfway through buttoning his shirt, coming to sit on the bed beside Hutch. "You want it, don't you?" he said softly.

"Yes," said Hutch equally quietly. "I miss you. Being apart like this --"

"You think I don't know? But it can't be for much longer." His hand closed over Hutch's. "Wait until it's over. We're neither of us thinkin' clear right now." A hesitation. "Right now, there's nothing I want more. I want to be with you every minute, waking or sleeping, working or off-duty. I want you close enough to touch, sharing everything... But let's wait until this is over, okay?"

"Okay." Hutch took the hand in his, kissed the palm.

Whatever you want.


Time spent apart, waking in an empty bed; it still ached, but now there was something more to look forward to. Okay, Starsky hadn't come right out and said yes, let's move in together, but -- to share all of their lives, not just the working hours, the nights taken by stealth. The problems would be many, but their need would be strong enough to weather them, surely. The love certainly was.

Until that time, it would be easier to handle this, the enforced separation, knowing that someday there would be an end to it. In spite of circumstances, Hutch was more relaxed and cheerful than he'd been for days, and Duplessis got in some sly needling. He didn't mind, even if the kid was assuming that Jaqi was at the root of it.

She herself was not there to see it, which was probably as well. He'd had a postcard from San Jose del Cabo, telling him to take care and to give her regards to both Daves. A second had said 'Good news at last,' so maybe Senor Delgado was finally talking turkey. Hutch didn't think that particular fish would get off the hook. Jaqi was one hell of a fine businessman. Woman.

He chuckled, and Minnie paused by his desk.

"Laughin' to yourself is a sure sign that you're comin' unglued, honey," she commented. "What's the joke?"

"Nothing much." He smiled. "Can you spare a hard-working detective a cup of coffee, Officer Kaplan?"

"Oh, sure, Sergeant Hutchinson. As long as you pay your dues first. By the way, Dave called in, he's off-duty and catching up on his beauty sleep. He says."

"Who are we to argue." He fished in his pocket for cash. "Y'know, if you ever gave up being a cop, Minnie, you'd be a wow in the I.R.S."

"Sweet talk'll get you nowhere, blue-eyes." She removed the right amount in bills and coins from the pile he dumped on the desk. "Gonna pay for Dave's and Starsky's as well?"

"What do you think I am? They haven't been in here for weeks; and no way would I be subsidizing them if they had!"

"They're on duty, ain't they?"

Hutch scooped the money back before she could take more. "The I.R.S. for certain. Or the Mafia."

"Can't blame a girl for tryin'."

Hutch sighed and reached for the phone. He'd better check with Huggy before he started the day's routine. But before he could pick it up to dial, it rang.

"Hutchinson," he said, and Starsky's voice completed his day.

"Hi, babe."

The busy squadroom, Minnie bullying coffee-dues out of Simmons and being hazed by Babcock, and the other ringing phones all faded into a background as he listened to his lover's voice.

"Listen," Starsky continued. "I'm due at a high-level meeting to discuss my present status, future prospects, and possible fields of operation at Benedic's."

"A what?" Hutch said, frowning at the phone as if it had suddenly started transmitting in scrambled code.

"You heard me. I'm gonna be put in new fields." Starsky's voice was at once prim and ribaldly amused.

"You get to do it in fields?" Hutch wondered aloud, and his partner's rich chuckle echoed in his ear, warm and intimate. Almost he could feel breath on his cheek.

"Anywhere you want it, lover," came the predictable reply. But underneath the complacency was a raw ache of yearning that matched his own. "Could be I'm in line for promotion."

"Or maybe they want to pair you with a dog so bad you gotta be bribed," he countered.

"No sweat -- I'll lie back and think of you. Where'll you be?"

"Here. Give me a call when you get back, huh?"

"Count on it." The unsaid words passed between them, and Hutch slowly replaced the phone.

The address Starsky had given him was one they already knew to be linked with Benedic's and several other agencies. It was a spacious mansion, set back in its own grounds behind a perimeter wall of high-security technology. It was used as a conference center, secluded luxury suites of offices where high-powered wheeling and dealing could be conducted smoothly, without any chance of annoying interruption. It also served on occasion as a weekend retreat for over-stressed business persons, and for extravagant partying. Duplessis had 'escorted' a Virginian widow to one of those parties, the first of a few, and his report had read like the outline script for a Fellini movie.

A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. Duplessis was handling his assignment well, tackling the difficult role with calm good sense. For a while, at least, he did not have two people to worry about.

But undercover cops are never off-duty, and when the phone rang just after lunch, he was not altogether surprised to hear the familiar voice.

"Hi," said Duplessis. "Miss me?" A code phrase to indicate he couldn't speak freely. In the background, disco music was blaring, with muted gabble of conversation and clinking of glasses.

"You should be getting your beauty sleep. Something's happened?"

"Of course. You don't have to be jealous, I told you. Listen, I've got some free time, why don't we spend it together?"

"Where and when?"

"I'm at Mario's. Why don't you pick me up here, buy me a drink or two, and we could drive up the coast?"


"Hey, make it real soon, lover. I miss you, too."

New developments. Something so hot it couldn't wait? Hutch took a few minutes to report his movements, and headed across town to Mario's bar.

One or two of the regulars nodded to him as he entered. He and Duplessis had become known to some, over the weeks, and had apparently managed to pass. The barman caught his attention, grinned, and rolled his eyes stage-left. Hutch followed the direction of his gaze, and saw Duplessis sitting at one of the small tables. With him was a dark-haired kid quite a few years younger. Bobby Lewison, he called himself. Real name, Samuel Blomenfeld. One of the Hidalgo stable, he'd attached himself to Duplessis with a kind of wide-eyed determination, and Duplessis had not given him the brush-off, since Bobby was a natural yenta, and gathered in gossip and general information with trawl-net capacity. Evidently he didn't give Duplessis any problems he couldn't handle.

They looked up as Hutch halted by their table, looming over them, a frown on his face. Duplessis grinned, and Bobby scrambled to his feet. "Hi, Ken," he said quickly.

"Hi." He kept his voice noncommittal. Duplessis chuckled.

"S'okay, Bobby, I told you, he don't bite. Well, not in public, anyways. Hey, cool it, lover, we've only been rappin'. Girl talk," he added.

Bobby giggled, and sidled past Hutch. "I gotta go," he said. "Was just keepin' Denny company, Ken. 'Til you showed up."

"Yeah, sure." Hutch saw the glitter of amusement in Duplessis's eye, and frowned. Behind that bright smile was tension. The powerful young frame was taut, despite the seemingly relaxed sprawl. Hutch took over Bobby's chair, and leaned his elbows on the table. "What's come down?" he asked quietly.

Duplessis' hand closed over his, fingers cool and hard, rock-steady. "I think one of my contacts may have come up with the goods," he murmured, the smile fixed on his face.

"Car's out front. We'll talk there. Come on." Hutch stood up, pulling Duplessis with him, and towed him out, the picture of an impatient and jealous lover.

"Wait 'til he gets me home!" Duplessis grinned at the barman. "Seeya, Joey."

"Cut out the clowning, willya?" Hutch growled. "You're beginning to enjoy it, right?"

"Gotta keep in character until we're in the car."

"In character, hell." But he was smiling in spite of himself. "Okay, so who's got what, and how'd he get it?"

Duplessis didn't answer until the car was in traffic. "Skip -- you remember, the kid I told you about? Works exclusively on Hidalgo's gay side? -- well, he'll take almost anything, sorta specializes in the kinky stuff. A little bit of S&M, B&D, and he's hot. D'you know," he added, temporarily sidetracked, "he actually boasts about the fists he can take? Fists! Anyhow, he's got a couple of regular clients, and one of 'em is into chicken."

"Ah-huh," said Hutch. "And did Skip know Connery?"

"Nope, but he did know Sandoval. This chickenhawk is really into the heavy stuff, but for that he won't use Skip. So Skip gets a call from him a couple of days back, telling him that if he got an invite to Belle Vue, he was to stand 'em up. There's a special session laid on, and he didn't want Skip to be involved. Like he could get hurt for real. Skip says he knew Sandoval disappeared after a 'special session', and he put two and two together, panicked, and started phoning around. Including Bobby and me."

"When's it due to happen?"

"Don't know. Could be anytime today, from what Skip said. Uh, Belle Vue's off Topanga Canyon. Way out of our territory."

"Yeah," Hutch said. "Well, at least we got a man on the inside."

"We have?"

"Starsky. He's got an interview there."

"Oh." A pause. Then, "Hutch -- you don't think --"

"No, I don't! He's overage for a chicken party!" Hutch snapped. "But if he gets wind there's one going on, he could blow his cover and the case, trying to stop it. Just call it in, willya?"


Delay was almost inevitable. Dobey's instructions were to get there and sit tight, and backup would be with them as soon as possible. But sitting tight became harder as the time dragged on. They watched cars pull in at the gate, halt, be waved on by the guard, and still no word came that the Cavalry was on its way. A boy could be dying in there, slowly, and they were stuck outside, waiting. Doing nothing, except note license plates, putting names to faces.

Maybe it wasn't a kid. Maybe it was Starsk.

Hutch shivered, and pushed down the growing fears. They had no reason to suppose Starsky's cover had been blown, that he was in any kind of danger, let alone that he was likely to be the star attraction at a party of any kind.

This was part of the price. He'd be paying it in installments for the rest of his life; nameless fears born without real cause, triggered by imagination and 'what if.'

"Take what you want," says God. "Take it and pay." Oh, Christ, David, I'll be paying with every stand-off, every undercover job, every time we have to go in on a potentially dangerous situation. I guess -- I know -- that goes for you, too. If I loved you less, I don't think I could handle it. Where are you, babe? Talking with Dragon Lady in her office, or -- oh, God. You're a cop, Hutchinson. For God's sakes, think like one.

But the 'what if' would not stay squashed. It gnawed at the edges of his patience until it reached raw nerves, activated nightmarish imagining, urged him to get in there fast. He stayed where he was. To go in now, with no reason but his own fears, would be to blow the whole operation, and jeopardize lives that might not otherwise be at risk. Nor could the two of them take on the Belle Vue personnel on their own.


Duplessis slouched lower in the seat and sighed. Hutch didn't appear to be taking any notice. The slightly narrowed eyes were still riveted on the greenery that more than half concealed the house. As if, Duplessis thought, he could by sheer concentration penetrate that landscaped clutch of trees and the walls beyond to discover what was going on.

It was hard, waiting. After all, they knew that something bad was going down in there, or would shortly be. True, they didn't know that Starsky was going to be involved in it, but they knew he was in there. That was what had Hutch so on edge. His partner was in a hairy situation, and he wasn't there to back him up or bail him out. It was natural for him to feel like that. Duplessis himself would feel like that, if his partner -- if he had a partner on a permanent basis -- were in danger. Sure.

The atmosphere was tense enough to slice. Stakeouts with Hutch were not normally this electric. Usually, Hutch would be relaxed, alert, calm. They'd learned quite a lot about each other on stakeout. He'd never seen Hutch like this; it was weird. But he'd never been on stakeout where Starsky was concerned, so that had to be the difference. He wondered if Hutch would be so edgy if it was himself in there, incommunicado, and had no idea what was going on. For some reason, he didn't think so. But then, he and Hutch hadn't been partners as long as Starsky and Hutch had. Nine years, was it? Or ten? He'd been told, but couldn't remember. That was a helluva long time. You get to be more than partners -- more than friends, too. Someone, he couldn't remember who, had once said a good partnership was like a marriage. Except you spend more time with your partner than you do at home with your wife and kids. You know him better, too. He shares more with you: the sorrows, the defeats, the anger. Closer than a marriage. Till death do us part.

Yeah, well, that was on the cards, too. And last year, Starsky had almost died. Duplessis remembered the call going out on the air, asking for blood-donors. And how Rogers had cursed and swung the radio car in a tight curve and headed for the hospital instead of back to Metro. He'd caught a glimpse of Hutch in the corridor, just a fleeting impression of the drawn pale features, the stunned expression. Because his partner was dying... What did it feel like, he wondered morbidly. What did it feel like, to know that your best friend is going to die? And you can't do a damn thing about it, except watch. And wait. And pray.

The way they were waiting now. He glanced at his watch again, and it was five minutes later than the last time. What was going on in there? Skip hadn't been specific, except that it obviously scared him shitless. He'd picked up names sometimes -- Alex, and Rich, and Jeff. Didn't mean a thing to him until the names started matching up with certain gentlemen known to be visiting the city. Gentlemen, for the most part, whose reputation was hardly stainless. But what would they want with Starsk? He didn't fit the bill. Too old. So maybe he wasn't involved after all.

Hutch is worried. That's enough for me.

If it wasn't that sixth sense between these two telling Hutch that something was wrong, badly wrong, then Hutch was sweating blood out here because of nothing. And I don't buy that.

It must be hard, to be as close as the two of them were. Maybe it wasn't wise to get that close to someone after all. The drawbacks were pretty daunting. Or maybe the good parts outweighed the bad.

"Zebra Three," Dobey's voice crackled on the radio. "Backup and warrant on the way. We'll be with you in twenty minutes." Duplessis acknowledged.

"Twenty minutes," Hutch muttered. Then he jerked open the glove compartment, pulled out Duplessis' gun and police ID. "We're going in. You got your Hidalgo card?"

"Never travel without it," he said lightly, stowing weapon and wallet away.

"Let's go to the party."

Chapter XVIII.

Starsky's neck itched under his collar. He ran a finger surreptitiously around to ease it, and sneaked another look at his watch.

"Make sure you're on time." Terrific. I've been here nearly an hour.

The hospitality had been generous; a kid in a white jacket with a wide grin and a lot of gold bridgework had offered him a drink, which had helped to pass the time. The window looked out over the driveway, and he'd wandered over, curious, to see several cars arriving. He wasn't sure he recognized any of the faces, but at this distance it wasn't easy.

Now his glass was empty again, but the Chicano was nowhere in sight. Starsky stood up to take another look out of the window, but there was something wrong. He had no co-ordination, no control over his body. He thought instructions at his legs, but there was a short-circuit somewhere about knee-level; they just weren't answering. Sensations crawled over his skin, distorted. A weird floaty feeling intensified in his head, made it difficult to think straight. His fingers felt like a bunch of bananas, boneless and non-functional.

What's going on?

A hand passed in front of his eyes. He tried to focus on it, but it was blurry and he wasn't sure how many hands there were.

"He's ready," said a hollow voice, echoing in his skull, meaningless.

Great. Ready for what? Hands lifted him to his feet. Oh, we're goin' somewhere?

The room tilted and rocked crazily. Feet grazing the floor numbly, he was being half-carried through a doorway, across a hall, through another door.

Loud noise. Music -- if you could call it music. Puke rock. He giggled to himself inanely. Won't dance -- don' ask me...

People. More people. Stuffed shirts 'n' penguin suits. Hey, we gonna have a party? Things were swimming in front of his eyes, like being very drunk, except that he didn't get this way on a lousy Scotch-and-water. Must have been very special Scotch? Or very special water...

His jacket was gone. He didn't remember it going. His shirt was next, and they didn't bother with the buttons, either. "Hey, take it easy," he mumbled. "These threads cost money..."

But the words didn't come out properly. Scintillating conversation wasn't going to be his forte tonight.

"Very nice, Corey. Very nice."

"We aim to please, Alex."

No jacket. No shirt. What is this, strip-poker?

Annoyed that no one seemed inclined to tell him what the rules of the game were, he swung an uncoordinated fist at the helpful type unbuckling his belt, and connected. This was evidently not in the script. Someone grabbed his wrists and wrenched them back, and then he couldn't move them any more. He began to feel a niggling worm of worry eating at the sense of ridiculous euphoria. Bondage isn't my scene, fellas -- what goes on here? Huh?

The expensive beige slacks went the way of the jacket and shirt. This was no longer funny, this was getting scary. He wasn't drunk, it had to be dope of some kind. Hands fumbled on his body. He tried to jerk free, but succeeded only in losing his balance completely as they pushed him down onto a couch. Musty scent from dusty velvet cushions, velvet prickling his ultra-sensitive skin.

He arched back, aware now that he wanted out, that whatever was coming down was going to be bad, and he didn't want any part of it.

He wasn't going to be given a choice. The music was louder, a half-dozen banshees getting gang-banged by a bunch of howling hyenas. Hands on his ankles spread him. Weight on his back pressed him down, flesh, hairy and sweating. Sudden, startling pain, a lancing thrust that made him scream in shock and outrage before his head was forced down and the sound stifled in the cushions.

Oh god no this can't be happening can't be not to me oh god no please no hutch


Denny DuCann was a known face. He'd been through the checkpoint enough times with ladies for the casual flip of his Hidalgo ID and a warm smile to get him and Hutch a nod of recognition.

"Booked for the Catullus suite," Duplessis drawled. "Brad Nichols' party."

"And him?" The guard peered through the window at Hutch.

"The other half of the double act. Know what I mean?" Wryly, Hutch watched Duplessis eye the man with heavy-lidded appreciation. "Hey, how'd you like to take his place sometime?"

"Forget it, kid." The guard stepped back with more haste than was necessary. "You better get in there. Mr. Nichols arrived a while ago."

They got as far as the lobby with its wide sweep of stairway before the alarms went off.

"I think he's just found out Brad ain't expectin' us," Duplessis panted, as the strident bells filled the air. "Second floor, east wing. The Tiberian suite, at a guess, from what Skip said."

They sprinted up stairs and along corridors. Others were running as well, in various stages of undress, but no one seemed to connect Duplessis or Hutch with the Red Alert. With their guns out of sight, they were just another pair aiming to get out of sight as fast as possible. But the large suites, like the Tiberian, had their own emergency exits.

Duplessis had guessed wrong. The rooms were empty.

"What else is along this corridor?" Hutch demanded, aware all the time that he'd gone in way too soon. Apart from any other considerations, there were only the two of them against an unknown number of heavies. What right do I have to risk Dave's life for my lover? Oh, sweet Jesus, I'm screwing up all along the line. But -- we're committed now. No going back.

"The Versailles and the Xanadu." Duplessis pointed out the doors.

"You take Xanadu." And Hutch lunged for the Versailles, gun in hand. The first room was empty, but cigar-smoke hung in the air, and the wall-lights glowed. Tall double doors stood wide, showing the vast bedchamber similarly deserted. To the left of the canopied bed, another door stood ajar, and his straining ears caught a thread of movement under the racket of the alarm and the thunder of his own heartbeat. He flattened against the wall and froze, listening again. Nothing. He pushed the door wider with his heel, and it swung on silent hinges. Nothing, again.

Hutch went in fast and low, ending up crouched in the shadow beyond the door. The room was dark, shades drawn, no lights. His eyes took moments to adjust. He lifted his gun.

"Police. Come on out."

No response. He could make out shapes now -- chairs, a low backless couch. In one corner there was movement. He swung that way, gun leveled. Someone was there, hunched awkwardly in the angle of the walls as if trying to hide. The alarm cut off. In the stunning silence he could hear ragged breathing, almost a sob. Hutch moved a few paces nearer. Then, not wanting to believe the evidence of his own eyes: "Starsk?"

He was stark naked, wrists secured behind him with tape. Hutch holstered the gun, knelt beside him.

"Starsk -- Christ, babe, what --" Nothing, no response. The dark blue eyes were open, but not recognizing, not even seeing him, fixed in a glazed stare on a point somewhere past Hutch's left shoulder. There was blood on his face, and the darkening prints of bruises. Hutch flinched. "Hold on. I'll get you loose..."

It took him a few minutes to peel the tape away. There were bruises there, too. He took hold of Starsky's shoulders, felt the flesh under his hands slick with sweat, cold and tense, a continuous spastic shuddering shaking him.

Shock. He's in shock. Why? Hurt? No obvious injury --

Hutch cursed the dimness, located the switch and snapped on the lights. The brightness showed clearly the sick, drained pallor of Starsky's face, highlighting the sheen of sweat on his body, glistening with every shiver, every ragged breath. Hutch pulled off his jacket, wrapped it around the naked shoulders, automatically checking for injury. The blood on face and chest seemed to be the result of no worse than a split lip and nosebleed. But the thick clotted smear matting the dark downy hair on the back of his thighs was another matter.

"Oh, babe..." Hutch heard his own whisper distantly, his voice cracking with pain. "It's all right. It's over now. All over. You're gonna be okay..." He got both arms around the unresisting body, held him close, his cheek against the tangled curls. He could feel the shallow racing pulse in counterpoint with the leaden thud of his own heart.

"Hutch?" Duplessis swung through the door, body crouching, gun poised. "Jesus Christ who -- Starsky! Oh my God!" But he didn't immediately drop his guard.

"They're long gone," Hutch said savagely. And I sat out there waiting in that car while they were -- He cut off the thought, postponed the recriminations. Right now the most important thing was to get Starsky to the hospital.

"Here." Duplessis hunkered beside him, holding out the crumpled light tan slacks. "Get these on him. I'll find the rest of his things."

Hutch didn't speak. It wasn't easy, but somehow he got the pants on Starsky. Starsky didn't resist, but he didn't co-operate, either. It was like trying to dress a large, stiff-jointed doll. And all the time the dilated eyes stared through him, seeing nothing but -- what?

When he lifted Starsky upright, he had to take the whole of the man's weight. Starsky seemed incapable of coordinating any muscle response. Drugs as well as shock? He gritted his teeth, supported the abused body as gently as he could, and with Duplessis on the other side, they started the trek for the car.

All Hutch's attention was on Starsky, but peripheral awareness picked up distant sounds: sirens, staccato shouts, a few scattered shots. The seventh Cavalry. Anger gusted through him, as much against himself as them. He hadn't acted on his hunch until too late.

Useless imaginings -- worse, counter-productive. What had happened was bad enough, but it might have been a helluva lot worse. The fact that he'd fucked up the whole show paled to insignificance.

No one stopped them. The Topanga County Sheriff's Department were about in full force, but Duplessis' shield got them through the cordon with no holdup. Hutch thought he heard Dobey bellowing in the distance, but paid no attention.

He got Starsky into the back seat of the car, slid in beside him, gathered the shaking body into his arms. Acceleration slammed them back against the padding as Duplessis hit the gas, but Starsky didn't react. Hutch stroked the sweat-damp hair back from his lover's brow, eased the head into the hollow of his shoulder. He'd dealt with enough rape-victims in his career to know the nightmare of pain and disbelieving horror and shame that had to be endured, and not by the victim alone. He'd always felt singularly helpless, and now that was increased beyond measure. All he could do was hold on, sickeningly aware that nothing in his experience had prepared him for this reality.

If he'd gone in at once, none of it would have happened. He'd blown the case, anyhow, so what did it matter against the overwhelming weight of Starsky's safety? He could have saved him from rape -- and he had not. Bottom line.

A small sound, half-gasp, half-moan, came from the man in his arms. He tightened his hold, pressed his lips to Starsky's forehead, buried his face in the dark curls. "Ssh, lover," he murmured, keeping the shake out of his voice. "You're safe. I got you. Not gonna let you go. Love you..." He squeezed his eyes shut, fighting back the bitter tears.

If only -- God help us -- if only ...


Duplessis sat down in the waiting area, feeling as if his knees were about to give. Reaction, he knew. Always hit after a piece of heavy action, and left him feeling drained and at a loss. He needed someone to talk to about it, the post mortem dissection of the case that would unwind his tension.

Starsk isn't dead. We got there in time. He's gonna be okay, of course he is.

His mind's eye saw again the white fury and anguish on Hutch's face, the limp and seemingly lifeless body of his partner cradled in his arms like a child. He hadn't answered any of Duplessis' questions about what had happened, but then he hadn't really needed to. Duplessis had seen the bruises and could guess at the rest. And Hutch hadn't needed to ask him to drive them to the hospital, either; he'd thrown the car through the mid-city maze, siren and wailer winning him a clear road, Hutch in the back seat holding the unconscious Starsky, cushioning him against the rough ride. Glimpses he'd caught in the rearview mirror had shown him no change in expression except when Starsky had made a sound -- nothing coherent, a moan or a whimper -- and Hutch had held him tighter, burying his face for a moment in the disheveled tangle of dark hair, his face contorted by grief.

It was only now that he had leisure to think about it. He knew what he'd seen. And abruptly two and two added up to four -- a thousand unconnecting pieces fitting together to form a complete picture.

Hutch and Starsky. The changes he'd seen, and attributed to any reason but the right one. They weren't just partners and best friends. They were lovers.

He took this revelation, pinned it up, and thought about it. Never considered the possibility that they were gay. Or maybe gay was the wrong word, if the promiscuous lifestyle he'd been a part of briefly was anything to go by. These two had a commitment, a depth of feeling, that he'd seen before only in some heterosexual relationships. Like his own marriage. Yes. Like that.

It was still a jolt, but who was he to judge? Hell, maybe for them it was right. Who else knew them as well? Who else could they trust, in the final analysis, but each other?


Oh Christ Jesus. And Hutch had waited and waited until he couldn't wait any longer and they'd gone in and found -- that. Not his partner and friend. His lover. And what had been done to him.

No wonder Hutch had been nearly out of his mind. It put a whole new light on the situation. And on a lot of other things.

A figure approached. Focusing quickly, Duplessis saw Hutch walking towards him. He looked the way he had nearly a year ago, waiting outside the Trauma Unit, pale, dazed, blank-eyed. Duplessis stood up.

"You better sit down," he said. "You want some coffee or something?"

"What...?" Like a man struggling to awake from a bad dream, Hutch blinked at him. "Oh. Dave... What are you doing here?"

"I thought I'd wait. Is he -- I mean, how's Starsky?"

"They're taking tests. Won't let me see him." He did sit down then, dropping his head into his hands. "Damn. If I'd just --"

"Don't say it." Duplessis put a hand on his shoulder. "He's gonna be okay." He got no response to that, so he went to the coffee-machine and got a cup. "Here." Hutch took it from him absently, but didn't drink. "Hutch -- what happened -- it's not your fault." It was trite, but he had to say something.

"No. It's all my fault," Hutch said softly, but he was talking to himself. "Right from the start, it's all been my fault. I should never..." Then he seemed to collect himself, and saw the coffee. "Thanks," he said, and took a drink.

There didn't seem much else to say. Duplessis simply sat there, unsure what else he could do to help, not sure if Hutch even knew he was there. But he felt better, himself, for having even this silent company.


"Sergeant Hutchinson? I'm Dr. Russell."

Hutch looked up from his intensive study of the scuffs on the floor tiles. "Yeah. How is he?"

"At present, under sedation. But you can take him home tomorrow." He smiled, and Hutch managed a shaky response. "However, I'd like a few words with you, if you don't mind."

Hutch never saw Duplessis make himself scarce. "There's something wrong --"

"No." The doctor took his arm, led him aside. "There was no serious damage done, I assure you. He's going to be stiff and sore for a few days, but the internal damage was relatively slight. If he'd resisted, he might have been badly torn up."

"If?" Hutch cut in incredulously. "What do you mean, if he'd resisted? You don't think he invited that --" Words failed him.

"He was drugged. When the tests come back we can be sure, but at a guess it was a mixture of alcohol and methaqualone. Dangerous. Knocks you down without knocking you out. Goes right to the central nervous system and turns you to jelly."


The doctor quirked an eyebrow at him. "It was fortunate. There's a certain amount of tissue damage, but that should heal itself."

"So what's the problem?" Hutch forced the useless rage and hurt to the back of his mind.

"The physical damage can be repaired. It's the mental and emotional trauma in these cases that can cause difficulties. He isn't married?"


"No steady girlfriend? Permanent domestic arrangement?"

"He lives alone," Hutch said. "There are girls -- nothing serious, though."

"Uh-huh. That's a pity." The doctor took off his glasses, polished them absently on a corner of his white coat. "He could experience a certain amount of -- difficulty -- in sexual relations. I'm not saying it's always that way, but it's best to be prepared. An understanding wife or girlfriend could help him come to terms with what happened. Reassure him." Hutch said nothing. "You're his partner. I imagine you know him pretty well."

"Uh -- yeah."

"He's normally a stable personality? Well-adjusted?"

Hutch combed one hand through his blond forelock. "I -- don't know," he said lamely. "In our line of work... hell, he's managed to cope with every kind of shit life's thrown at him so far."

But can he cope with this?

"Then I don't think there'll be much to worry about." The doctor smiled again. "If there are any problems, of course, we recommend psychiatric counseling. But that may be unnecessary. They pay us to be pessimistic."

Psychiatric counseling? Let a shrink dig into his mind and find out he's got a father-figure castration complex or some other crummy name for what goes on inside him?

"Yeah," he said noncommittally. "Can I see him?"

"He's not awake."

"That's okay. I just want --" he gave a slight one-shoulder shrug, "-- to see him."

"Room 15E. Down the hall."

It wasn't natural for Starsky to lie like that, flat on his back, arms neatly at his sides. He normally slept on his side, half curled up, like an animal in a nest. They had cleaned him up, washed off the blood. The bruises showed dark against his pallor.

Hutch pulled up a chair and sat down beside the bed.

Take what you want, says God. Take it and pay.

He stayed there for almost fifteen minutes, until they came to make some more tests, and he was evicted. So he wandered back to the waiting room, and sat there, lost in thought.

"Hutch?" Duplessis' voice penetrated his daze. "Hutch? You okay?"

"Huh? Oh -- uh -- yeah." Hutch dredged a response from somewhere. "Yeah, sure. Guess I'm a little shook."

The brown eyes were gentle, sympathetic.

"Hutch, you want to come home with me?"


The direct gaze did not waver. "You're welcome to stop over if you want." A pause. "Hutch. We thought you shouldn't be on your own."


"Captain Dobey'n'me." But Dobey had not been there when they'd found Starsky, nor during the ride to the hospital. And Duplessis had.

He knows. The kid knows.

But all he could see in those candid eyes was a reflection of his own distress. Slowly, Hutch shook his head. "Thanks, but no thanks. Got things to do. Reports. Got a lot of questions to answer back at Metro, I guess."

"You'n'me both."

Hutch didn't answer.

Even knowing that Starsky was not likely to wake up for some hours, and that he wasn't seriously injured, it was far from easy to leave the hospital. But he had to find out how much, if anything, had been salvaged from the wreck of the case. And when he did wake up, Starsky would have to be questioned. That was one task Hutch did not intend to relinquish to anyone, come what may.

Chapter XIX.

All the interview rooms were full, the squadroom was crowded with officers uniformed and in plainclothes, and witnesses were being taken through their statements. It was a hive of vociferous activity.

"Hutch." Minnie shoved a Vice officer out of her way. "Cap'n Dobey wants to see you in his office. Is Starsk okay?"

"Yeah," he said automatically.

"He better be. I'm not having him roughed up on his first case in God knows how long. That's plain careless. Dave, you gotta start on your report right away. Captain's orders. And he wants to see it before anyone else, regardless."

"Got it." Duplessis said, gave Hutch's shoulder a quick squeeze, and plowed towards his desk.

"Hutch, what's wrong?" Minnie asked quietly. "You're awful pale, honey. You sure my boy's okay?"

"Yeah. It came a little close, is all." He avoided her eyes and got into Dobey's office fast.

"Sit down, Hutchinson," Dobey greeted him. "I had the hospital on the phone a while back. As soon as Starsky's conscious, I want you back there to get his report." There was a gravel undertone of anger in his voice, and Hutch braced himself. "How the hell did they break Starsky's cover?"

Hutch stared at him. "We don't know that they did," he said. "As far as we know there's no reason why they should suspect him. His cover was as airtight as we could make it." Except for one night --

"Yeah, well, we'll deal with that later. Right now I've got Vice, the Sheriff's Department and the Chief of Detectives on my back wanting to know why you didn't wait for the warrant and the back-up."

"If I had, my partner could well be dead. Or a hell of a lot more seriously injured than he is!"

"I know that, dammit! But that's not what I'm asking, Hutchinson. For all you knew, Starsky was there for a bona fide interview in another part of the building, no connection with any kind of party. For God's sake, it's no thanks to you we hauled in the guys we did --"

"A hunch. I played a --"

"That's no kind of answer! I want something I can give --"

Hutch came to his feet, the deep rage in him finding a temporary outlet. "Get off my case, Dobey!" he yelled. "We've played hunches before! Sometimes they paid off, sometimes we bombed out! What makes this one so special? Politics? Go play your fuckin' power games in the Chief's office, not here with me!"

"Hutchinson --"

"I'll be at the hospital. Send someone over with the mugshots."

"Hutchinson!" He shut the door on the outraged bellow and shouldered his way out, ignoring the turning heads and startled expressions.


Unfair, unfair. And untrue.

Hutch gazed at the floor between his feet, the sick aftermath of his fury coiling through his stomach. He had had no cause to lash out at Dobey like that. The man was more than a superior officer -- he was a friend, a good, loyal friend. Furthermore he would have been pretty shaken up over Starsky's rape, and as Captain he was the one who had to answer to the higher authorities for the failings of his men. Pressures enough, without him shooting off at the mouth. He straightened up, looked around. There was a payphone by the nurses' station, and he headed for it, digging change out of his pocket.

It took a little while to get through to Dobey, and when he did, the man sounded tired.

"Captain, I'm sorry," Hutch said. "I had no call to sound off at you like that. I -- guess I needed a target, and you got in the way."

"Yeah, I know." The Captain heaved a sigh that seemed to come from the depths of the barrel chest. "S'okay, Hutch. I had Duplessis in here; he gave me a pretty good report of the circumstances. You can give me yours when you bring in your partner's. The kid is on his way over with some photographs for ID."

"That was fast. Is anybody talking?"

"Some of 'em. And we're gettin' names. Corey may not be the main man, but he's big league. However, Corey isn't one of the ones doing the talking. I have to go now; Duplessis will fill you in."

"Okay. Thanks, Cap."

On the way back to his seat, Hutch detoured to Starsky's room, easing the door open. But he did not enter. Starsky was asleep. Time enough for him to wake up later.


Hutch didn't have to wait long for Duplessis. The kid arrived with a thick brown envelope in his hand, and a feral bounce to his stride that was oddly familiar. The same fierce triumph was glittering in the brown eyes.

"How's Starsky doing?" was the first thing he said.

"Still out. I phoned Dobey; he said you were on your way."

Duplessis grinned. "I'd sure hate to cross you when you get made Captain," he said. "D'you want the good news or the bad?"

"I'll take the spoonful of sugar afterwards. What's the bad?"

"A lot of the out-of-town big-shots got away clean. Also it looks like the alarm circuit was not connected up to the legitimate business offices/conference center wing, and among the folk we rounded up were a couple of politicians, the Mayor's Personal Assistant, and Stainer from the D.A.'s office."

"Terrific. No wonder Dobey's sweating."

"Yep. There's a helluva lot of self-righteous hot air being blasted around headquarters."

"So what's the good news?"

"We got Harry Munro -- Ms. Searls' right-hand-man? She may be a legit front, but he had a lot to do with the other side of the business, and not just for Benedic's. He's giving us bits and pieces. Spills it in one breath, denies it in the next, but off the record we're building up quite a picture."

"So what have we got?'

"The main man in L.A. is Corey. Felix Corey."

"Dobey said that wasn't for sure. Do we have him? It looks like you and I blew a lot of the set-up."

"We do. Babcock 'n Simmons picked him up, and it was a good bust. Corey says he's got a cast-iron alibi for today, but whether he's got one for Sandoval and Connery is another matter. So far he's refusing to co-operate with a semen sample."

"Any reason why he should?"

"According to the barman, Corey was the one who ordered the extra in Starsky's drink. And Munro mentioned him in connection with Sandoval."

"Ah-huh. Dave, do we know why they picked on Starsk?"

"A guy called Alex picked him out of the Book. No other reason. Alex is a big out-of-town hood, but we had him on file, so his picture's in here, along with quite a few others. Names and descriptions given by the security guards, some of the other guests, and Munro."

"Did we get this Alex?"

"Not yet. Munro's the only one that connects him with Starsky. Apparently Starsky reminded Alex of somebody."

"Alex and Corey -- who else links in with Starsk?"

"Don't know. That's why the package is kinda thick. Maybe Starsky can tell us."

"Yeah. Maybe."

"Hutch, I gotta go. Listen, if you -- if there's anything -- just call me, huh? And you can crash out at our place any time you need to."

"I'll remember. Thanks, Dave." And he meant it. Whatever Duplessis had surmised, clearly he wasn't about to throw stones.

Once again he had the waiting room to himself, and he opened up the envelope.

Faces. Many of them were official mugshots, either taken from files or newly printed from the haul at Belle Vue. Some were less formally posed, surveillance shots with names, dates, and locations written on the back. And some he did know. One in particular sent a chill shock through him, and he did not need to read the name on the file-sheet.

Alex. Alexander Lazero from Las Vegas. Ohgod...

The bitter memories would not stay where he had hidden them; he saw again the movie-film that Nick Starsky had shot to blackmail Henderson and Lazero -- bright chains and black leather, and the thin lash snaking over Nick's nakedness. He said Starsky reminded him of somebody. And it was his lover's body held in bondage for the vicious games. It was but a small step to see the violated and slashed bodies of Sandoval, Connery, Villiers. Alex Lazero. Ohgod.

How much would Starsky remember?

For one intense, painful moment, he prayed that Starsky would be unable to recall a thing. But they needed proof.

A nurse walked down the hallway, the sound of her footsteps a brisk efficient rhythm. She went into Starsky's room, but stayed only a few minutes. Hutch was standing as she emerged, and she smiled at him.

"You can go in now, Sergeant Hutchinson. He'll be waking up very soon."


Hutch eased the door shut behind him and crossed to the bed. Starsky was lying half turned away, he might still be asleep; but before Hutch could speak, Starsky was looking up at him out of drug-dulled eyes, and his lips moved in a whisper of greeting. Hutch managed a smile, pulled a chair to the bedside, and took the hand that was already reaching for him. The usual platitudes didn't have much significance. He didn't need to know how Starsky was feeling, he had too clear an idea already. So he tightened his clasp on the long fingers instead.

"You've been out for some time, babe," he said quietly. "I've been waiting for you to wake up."

"... sorry..."

"S'okay," Hutch murmured. "Take it easy. You're going to be a bit woozy for a while."

"... a bit?" It was almost a smile. "... can't think..." His head turned restlessly. "Can I have a drink?"

"Sure." Hutch poured some ice-water from the covered pitcher, held it for him to drink. "Better not too much for a while."

"Thanks..." He looked fractionally more aware, and Hutch knew he could put it off no longer.

"Listen, Starsk. Dobey needs some IDs, a report. S.O.P., right?"

It hurt, to see the realization and the memory penetrate the drug-haze, to see the pain dawn on the pale face. But Starsky was first, last and foremost a cop. He drew a deep breath. "Yeah."

First hurdle over.

"Okay. Let's get it done." To occupy himself, he adjusted the backrest and pillows before taking the photographs out of their envelope and passing them to Starsky. "Anyone you remember, just say."

"C'mon. I do know that much." The first dozen shots got negative response, but the next one was different. "Yeah. This guy. Rick. He was at the house."

"One of the guys who --"

"No," Starsky cut in. "If he was, I don't know about it. I wasn't keeping score."

"Steady," Hutch said. "Starsk, this isn't easy, I know, but --"

"I know, I know." There was a tremor both in his voice and hands. "Yeah, this guy too. For certain. Alex."

"Alex --"

"Before you ask, yeah, he was one of them." The tremor became more noticeable, and Hutch took the photographs from him before they could spill over the blankets. "Hutch, I --"

"This one?"

"I don't know." He hadn't looked. "Hutch, no more."

"Come on, babe." Hutch leaned forward, slipped an arm behind his shoulders. "It's got to be done. We've got to nail these bastards. This one?"

"Yeah. I think so. Hutch, please --"

Hutch could have let no one else do this. "He was there, in the room? Did he rape you?"

"-- Yes -- no more --" His pallor had a green-gray tinge, and Hutch feel nausea rising in his own gut.

"How about this one?"

"I don't know." But he did not protest again, and went through the rest of the pile, concentrating on getting it done. He made two more positive IDs, three maybes, then leaned into Hutch's shoulder and closed his eyes. His report was brief, a dull monotone that shed no new light on the case. Perhaps when his mind was clearer, he would remember more.


"Michael Hagan," said Hutch, placing the mugshot on Dobey's desk. "Territory, Albuquerque. Accessory before and during Aggravated Assault. Richardo Salvacci; territory, Sacramento. Ditto. Peter Menzies, also Sacramento, along with Joseph Greer of Phoenix and Alan Atford of Catalina possibly present." He paused, spreading the prints like a card game. "Felix Corey, Los Angeles, Aggravated Assault. Alexander Lazero, Las Vegas, Aggravated Assault. Erik Jurgens, San Francisco, Aggravated Assault. And from our other information, we can link Corey for sure into at least one count of Murder One."

Dobey stared at the eight photographs, face grave. "Well, Jurgens we've got," he said. "Forensic found blood on his clothes. Matches Starsky's. Must have gotten dressed in a hell of a hurry. Munro and Lee have given us enough to convict Corey on other charges if not this one. The possibles are another matter. We've got evidence they were in the house, but only Starsky's word they were involved in his assault. We couldn't get them to a hearing on that, let alone a trial."

"But --"

"Starsky was drugged, Hutch," Dobey said quietly. "You know as well as I do that makes his evidence on what happened inadmissible."

"And Lazero?"

"One guard thinks he passed him through the gate, but he's not sure. Lee didn't see him there, but knew he was due to arrive. Munro has retracted and denied every bit of information he's given us, and no one has put the finger on Lazero for anything in this state, from a traffic violation up. He's Mr. Squeaky-Clean. The Vegas P.D. confirms that."

"Captain. He raped Starsky."

"He's also back in Las Vegas right now, and within his rights to refuse us the time of day, let alone a semen sample. And without that, we've got nothing."

"Captain --" Duplessis started, anger in his voice.

"That's the law!" Dobey snarled. "Okay, the man's guilty as hell! I know it, we all know it, but we have to prove it in a court of law before a judge and jury. We do not have that kind of hard evidence! We can't touch him. Even if Munro swears he was there, we still have to prove it."

"Okay." Hutch held his feelings down. "So we can't pin Starsky's rape on him. We don't know that he's not involved in the murders. Munro is a weak stick, but the leads he's given us so far haven't all been followed up to the end. So there's time enough to put him down."

"I hope you're right. The last thing I want to do is put Starsky on the witness stand. It's lucky his undercover work didn't turn much that was vital to the case, and nothing we didn't find elsewhere. All his information only verified what we already knew. But Corey's got the best lawyer money and clout can buy, and we all know what Brewster can do to a prosecution witness. Admissible evidence or not, it won't stop him from slapping a subpoena on Starsky and bringing the whole thing out in open court. He'll crucify Starsky without a second thought. And apart from what that could do to his mental state and his career, it could jeopardize our case all round. It wouldn't take much to have Starsky -- and you, Duplessis -- accused of entrapment at the very least.

"And there's something else I have to point out. I hate to say this, Hutch -- I feel as sick about Starsky as you do -- but we're not investigating a case of Aggravated Assault or Rape, but three counts of Murder One. And those are the things we have to concentrate on."

Neither Hutch nor Duplessis had an answer to that, and Dobey nodded at the door.

"Go get some rest," he said. "You can start in on Munro in the morning."

Hutch was half out of the door when Minnie called him back. "Hutch -- for you. The hospital."

He almost snatched the phone from her hand, irrational terror icy under his ribs. "Hutchinson."

"One moment, please." A calm, impersonal nurse's voice. Then, "Hutch?"

Relief made his knees weak. "Yeah, Starsk. How're you doing?"

"They say I can go home. I need a ride. Can you come get me?"

"Sure. I'll be right over." Thank you, God. Thank you. Every timbre and tone of the beloved voice sounded as it should.

"You could pick me up a change of clothes on the way."

"Right. No problem. Be about, uh, an hour, okay?"

"See you." The line went abruptly dead. Well, what else could either of them have said, given their lack of privacy? There would be time enough. Everything was going to be all right.


He knew just how wrong everything was the moment he saw the brash aggressive attitude that extruded from his partner like the quills of a porcupine. Noli me tangere. The instinct was to reach out, to make reaffirmation by touch of their continuation, but Hutch held it down. It wouldn't be for long. Starsky would see his need, would know without seeing. The bright, brittle facade was for the world, not for him. So what, see if I care, wanna make somethin' of it?

He knew Starsky better than that. Knew him too well to be taken in by any playacting. Behind the mask, he was hurting. And afraid.

Drop the pretense. You don't need it with me.

He couldn't say it. Starsky needed that pretense, needed the distance it gave. The damage was deep, and needed time to heal. Questioning the facade, probing behind it, would strip the scab from the wound. He couldn't -- wouldn't -- do that, wouldn't add to the pain.

"Hospitals," said Starsky, managing to inject a world of contempt into the word as he slid into the driver's seat of the Torino.

"Move over. I'll drive."


"C'mon, shift your ass." Christ, Freudian slip. Ignore it. "I said I'm driving. The doctor told me you'd be a bit woozy, with the sedation and all."

"I'm feeling fine." Argumentative.

"Maybe. I'm driving."

For a moment it looked as if Starsky was going to make an issue of the point, then he shrugged, moved over into the passenger seat. Hutch got behind the wheel, started the engine. "My place or yours?" he asked casually. Another shrug.

"Mine, I guess. You can drop me off."

Hutch said nothing. Arguments weren't going to solve anything at the moment. He drove out of the city in a silence that lasted the whole journey. Pulling into the driveway, he switched off the engine, and without looking at him, Starsky got out. "Thanks," he said absently, climbed the steps to the front door, fishing for his keys. Hutch followed on his heels, uninvited. That wasn't questioned, either. But he could sense the tension in Starsky, like a silent scream. Whatever happened, he had to be there.

"You hungry?" Hutch headed for the kitchen, not giving his partner a chance to query his continued presence. He got a shake of the head in reply.

"Uh-uh." A pause. "I'm gonna take a shower."

There was damn near nothing in the refrigerator, since Starsky hadn't been there for several weeks, but there was a motley collection of canned food in the cupboard. Hutch hunted through the stock, ignoring the more exotic items. Did Starsky ever intend to eat Calamari in su Tinto? On second thoughts, he didn't want to know.

Chicken soup. The universal anodyne. You couldn't go wrong with chicken soup.

Starsky was a long time in the shower. The soup was ready before he was. As a late snack it wasn't exactly imaginative or tempting, but Hutch had done the best he could with the materials available, and it was at least edible. The sound of the water cut off at last. Barefoot, his blue robe belted tightly, Starsky appeared in the kitchen. The dark hair was curling in damp spiky tendrils over the collar, and he was clean-shaven. He looked somehow vulnerable, as if in trying to wash away the experience he had shed a skin, leaving nerve-ends too near the surface.

"You trying for webbed feet?" Hutch said, because anything was better than the silence. Starsky grunted and sat down at the table, taking up the spoon laid ready more from force of habit than anything else, reaching for one of the crackers on the plate between them. Childlike, he crumbled it, flecking the surface of the soup, and childlike, drowned them with the spoon. But he never tasted a drop. "Didn't your mother ever tell you not to play with your food?"

Starsky blinked at him, a little startled, as if he'd forgotten Hutch was there. Then he put the spoon down, got to his feet.

"I'm not hungry," he said, and went to switch on the TV. Hutch heard the sudden inanity of an early-evening program, gazed at the soggy mess of soup and crackers, sighed, and put down his own spoon, his appetite deserting him. The complete impossibility of the situation swept over him again. He wanted to help, knew the help was needed, too, but didn't know how, or what to do.

Problems, the doctor had said; and not just in sexual relationships. There was the day-to-day living as well, the damaged pride and self-respect, having to face the people who knew what had been done. Building the defensive wall was all very well, but he, Hutch, was on the wrong side of it.

Starsky was sprawled in a chair, eyes on the bright flicker of the screen. If he'd been on the couch, Hutch would have sat beside him. As it was...

"Hey," he said, touching the still-damp curls. Starsky didn't obviously flinch away, but the muscles in neck and shoulder tensed. "Care to give me a hand with the dishes?"

"Yeah. Sure." But he didn't move. Hutch stretched out a gentle hand to his shoulder, wanting to touch to show his love and caring. But Starsky abruptly leaned forward and picked up the TV Guide from the coffee-table, stayed there elbows on knees, while he leafed through it.

Hutch went in to the kitchen, washed, dried and put away the dishes. When he got back, and before he could speak, Starsky stood up and stretched. "See you in the morning," he said, and made for the bathroom.

"Starsk --" Hutch started. The door shut, and he heard the snick of the bolt.


This time Starsky didn't seem to stay under the shower so long, and he passed Hutch without speaking as he collected the bottle of pills and returned to the bedroom. Hutch reached out to him, and he somehow avoided the contact without making it an obvious rejection.

"Starsk?" Hutch whispered. There was no reply.

Give him time.

He waited a few minutes, then went into the darkened room. "D'you mind if I crash out on the couch?" he asked casually. He could have said, "Do you want me to stay?" Except he wasn't sure what he'd do if Starsky said no.

"Do what you like," came the mutter. 

Hutch closed his eyes momentarily, squashing the desire to grab him, shake him, force some kind of reaction from him, to break through the wall.

Time. He has to have time.

"Hey," he said quietly to the dim shape on the bed, "If you need me, I'll be here." And walked back into the living room, to collect pillow and spare blanket from their storage place.


Starsky lay there staring up into the darkness, hearing the tenderness and compassion and understanding in that brief sentence, but not letting himself even begin to respond to it. Reality was creeping back to him like the slow inexorable advance of the tide. Couldn't ignore it. Had to face up to it, finally, without the cushioning of the sedation.

He hurt. He hurt in a lot of places and in several different ways. The surface bruising was a lot of nagging aches; they'd worked him over pretty thoroughly, but he'd had a lot worse. No concussion, but his head ached and it felt good to be horizontal. He was tired, still fuzzy from the shots they'd given him. He'd feel better when he'd slept. Everything'd look different in the morning.

Jesus, he was sore. They'd given him a tube of anesthetic gel at the hospital, but although it numbed the pain temporarily, the discomfort was always there. No real damage, they'd assured him. Bruising is all.

Who're they trying to kid? Thought I'd been split like a melon.

He had a vague recollection of hearing Hutch's voice through the foggy haze of shock as he lay on the treatment table in the Emergency Room, while careful impersonal hands worked to clean him up. But he'd been able to make no sense of it before the warm dark sea of oblivion swallowed him up. No dreams, too deep for that.

Just wanted to be on my own, that's all. No big deal. I'll get it together. Hell, how many rape-victims have I seen -- interviewed? Hundreds. Men, too. They handled it. So can I. Tough macho cop, I should be able to. Sure I can, just give me time, okay? S'no big deal.

... Pain. The helplessness. Humiliation. Degradation. Just words. Can't begin to tell it like it was... hurting...

The Seconal took hold, dragging him down into unconsciousness.


Hands were on his shoulders, gripping hard. A voice, urgent, frightened, called his name. His throat raw from screaming, he gasped for air like a swimmer breaking water, clutching to reality as the nightmare left him shaking and nauseated.

"... Starsk? Are you awake now? Starsk --" Hutch was holding him, eyes dark with anxiety. Starsky felt the sour rush hit the back of his throat and wrenched free, rolling from the bed and diving for the bathroom, but the first spasm wasn't over before Hutch was there, supporting him as he crouched beside the toilet, retching. Starsky had no defenses left. In extremity, he hung on to the steadying arms, let himself be lifted, half-carried back to the bed.

He couldn't stop shaking. "'S the s-shot they g-gave me." His teeth were chattering. "Or the d-damn pills..."

Hutch had fetched a towel, was rubbing the cold sweat off him, wiping his face for him as if he were a sick child. "Take it easy, it'll pass. You'll be okay in a minute."

Starsky didn't look at him -- couldn't look at him. He kept his eyes tight closed, and felt the quilt settle over him, light and warm. The shaking didn't let up. In the back of his mind, the nightmare horror lingered, waiting for sleep to release it again. "H-hutch...?"

"I'm here, babe. It's all over."

Not all over. Never can be. Christ how can it be when I can't bear for you to touch me, when your hand on me makes me vomit?

He caught his breath on a sob, unsuccessfully stifled, and there were arms around him, holding him close. He froze, rigid, in the remorseless grip. "Sshh..." Hutch murmured into his hair. "Easy. It's over. Just take it easy. Relax..."

A firm hand stroked his back, the taut muscles of his shoulders, strength and warmth and love enfolding him. Slowly, like ice melted by the sun, the tension began to leave him, the resistance draining away. Even the shaking eased into spasmodic tremors. And all the while Hutch held him, voice whispering reassurance. Against his cheek, Starsky could feel the steady pulse in Hutch's throat, a soundless beat that lulled him towards sleep. And this time there were no dreams at all.