This Suzan Lovett story was originally published in the S/H zine Code 7 #4 in 1987, published by BOUND IN LEATHER PRESS. The story is reproduced with the permission of the author and editor. Reprints of the four S/H Code 7 zines can still be obtained from Agent With Style: firstname.lastname@example.org. Information on these and other SH zines can be found at: http://www.agentwithstyle.com
We would like to thank Suzan Lovett for her generosity in making this terrific story so easily available. We would also like to thank BOUND IN LEATHER PRESS who graciously encouraged us to include the story in the Archive. Special thanks also go to: Sebastyin, for starting and supporting the Archive; Yolanda and Flamingo's Favorite Fanny for proofreading; KayCee for lending (and allowing it to be battered) her copies of The Code 7 zines.
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Foster-child of Silence and Slow Time
It was May 14th, and spring had already surpassed itself, promising a sweltering summer. The suit jacket felt too heavy to Hutch. Dry heat would've been bearable; humidity sapped his energy. He hoped they wouldn't have to stay long at the engagement party as Starsky parked the Torino among a long line of cars in front of Joseph Haymes' estate.
The blond shrugged. "Might as well be. We're here."
"Come on, Hutch, don't be a grouch. It's a beautiful day." Starsky waved at the party in full swing on the luxurious lawn. "The scenery ain't bad, either. We've got the day off, so cheer up."
"It's just an obligation," Hutch muttered.
"Don't feel like it to me. Besides, what if you were Chinese?"
After eight years, Hutch should have been used to his partner's off-the-wall comments, but they still managed to throw him, now and then. And the ones prefaced by `what if' brought a sense of dread. "Huh?"
"Think about it."
"Starsky, don't. It's too hot. Give me a break, huh?"
"If you save a life, you're responsible for it from then on, right? But you ain't Chinese, so all you gotta do is attend one little party. Not that big a deal when you look at it like that, see?"
Hutch shook his head, and forbore pointing out Starsky's error. The blond hadn't meant obligation on their part. He'd been referring to why he felt they were invited to Joanna Haymes' party in the first place. A chuckle made him glance at his partner. Starsky was regarding him with an amused, speculative gaze. "What now?"
"Oh, nothin'. Just imaginin' how you'd look with slanted eyes and a braid down your back. Hmm...you gotta be a lot shorter. The sides of the mustache have to come down, oh, three inches at least. Guess you'd have to pass as an albino Chinese, though."
Despite himself, Hutch was drawn in. "If you're going to go that far, why not just imagine me as dark?"
"Nah, you were born to be blond."
"I was born to be tall, too."
"Anyway, your big feet would give you away."
Hutch sighed. "You did it."
"Made the outside of this car preferable to the inside. Let's go."
In the two years since they had last seen her, Joanna Haymes had changed from a schoolgirl to a young lady. Still, her youthful exuberance was evident when she rushed to the two men and greeted both in a flurry of satin and lace and warm hugs. Hutch wondered how she managed to look fresh while he was wilting. Briefly, he returned her greeting.
Starsky, on the other hand, circled her tiny waist with one arm and kept her close. "No fair, sweetheart. If you'd told me you were gonna turn into a knock-out, I'd have--"
"Uh, Starsk." Hutch tapped his partner on the shoulder, indicating the big bruiser of a young man who had suddenly materialized behind Joanna. "I'd watch it if I were you."
Starsky seemed to remember the better part of valor and disentangled himself. Joanna was instantly reclaimed and enveloped in the crook of a massive arm. "This is my fiancé, she introduced. "Sam, meet Sergeants Starsky and Hutchinson."
The young giant was all beaming friendliness, but Starsky mimicked pain at the handshake, making the couple laugh. "Defensive back, I take it."
Obviously, Sam thought he had a lot to thank the cops for. When it turned embarrassing, they quickly extricated themselves with promises to fully enjoy the party. Starsky stared after the couple. "Glad my football days are over. They make `em bigger every day."
"Yeah -- younger, too."
"Whattssa matter, partner, feelin' your age?"
Starsky's arm wrapped around the blond's shoulder. "Don't worry, babe. Whatever improvements they've got nowadays, they can't make `em like you anymore. Take it from me."
"I'll have to, seeing that there's nobody else to take it from."
"Somethin' wrong with that?"
"Nope. Not a thing." The eye of the beholder was, after all, what counted.
"Right." A smug grin. But the eye of that certain beholder was already roaming over the pretty little things scattered around the garden. The arm slipped off Hutch's shoulder after tightening affectionately for an instant.
Hutch stifled a sigh. "Light on a free one, huh? We're not dressed for a brawl with the Turbos."
"My antenna -- "
"Your antenna has a way of landing me in trouble, so -- "
Something had drawn Starsky's attention. "Hey, look who's here."
Hutch turned. The man Starsky had indicated was standing to one side, looking ready to duck behind the shrubbery or take flight. "Uh-oh. Maybe we'd better stay out of his way."
"Nah. He looks ready to jump outta his skin. Let's see if we can put him at ease."
"Starsk, I..." Hutch began, strangely reluctant, but his partner was already bounding away. He followed.
Joe Collandra -- shaved, combed and dressed neatly for a change -- regarded their approach with a baleful glare. "I owe this to you," he said, annoyed, before the cops could open their mouths. "I thought we had an understan-- " He cut off abruptly and his eyes fixed on Starsky. "So, I owe this to you."
Hutch felt uneasy while Starsky just shrugged. "Figured a man's got a right to know his debts, have the chance to pay `em. I'd want to; why shouldn't Haymes?"
"If you're interested, I returned all his checks."
Starsky shrugged again. "That's between you two."
Hutch couldn't have explained why he didn't care to have the man's eyes riveted on his partner, but he stepped into the line of sight anyway. "It didn't do you any harm, did it? Haymes kept your secret."
"What if he hadn't?"
"The man gets enough grief from the media himself. Little chance he'd throw anybody to the news hounds."
"Besides," Starsky added, "I don't see the chains that dragged you here."
Collandra looked embarrassed. "I...I just wanted to see how she turned out. And an invitation is not a check." He took a deep breath, seemingly loath to let go of his grievances, and continued accusingly, "You stuck her inside my head. You got any idea what that's like? I can't get her out, don't you understand? Once I focus as hard as you forced me to focus on her, that's it. I can't leave her behind, ever, not completely. You think that's fun, you think that's -- ?"
"Hey, hey, take it easy," Starsky interrupted. "Come on, you wanted to help her as much as we did. And wasn't it worth it? Look at her, will ya?"
That seemed to calm Collandra. He even smiled as he watched the obviously-happy couple, but then a frown creased his brow, an expression akin to pain crossing his face. Hutch felt an unidentifiable, prickling sensation. "She'll be all right, won't she?" he asked, almost fearfully.
"Huh? Oh, yes. I think so."
"See? All's well that ends well," Starsky put in.
There was something cloudy in the man's eyes when they focused on Starsky again. "Ends well?" He shook his head as if to clear it. "Yes, I suppose so."
"There you go." Starsky patted the man's shoulder. Just a friendly gesture, but Hutch could swear that Collandra flinched. "Let's join the party," Starsky continued.
"No, you two go ahead." Collandra waved them on with a vague motion. "I'm leaving."
"Aw, come on, you came this far." Starsky reached out, but Collandra hastily backed away from the contact. "What's the matter?"
"I...uh, my head hurts. Too much sun. I'm not a day person. Anyway, I have a business to run. Gotta go. Uh...stop by sometime, okay?"
"Yeah, sure," Starsky called out after the fast-retreating figure.
Hutch stared at the man's back. How would you like to go to a party, the memory echoed, and know -- know... He shivered.
Starsky tugged at his sleeve, pointing at the colorful crowd on the lawn. "Come on, partner, let's go smell the flowers." No flower had ever been made in the shape his hands gave form to.
"You go ahead. I'll join you in a minute."
I don't know. I'm suddenly so cold, and I don't know. "I said in a minute, Starsky!" Hutch snapped.
Collandra was fast disappearing. The blond hurried after him, relieved that Starsky didn't follow. His long stride covered the distance quickly. "Joe, hold up a minute."
Unexpectedly, the man whirled on him, his expression furious. "You were out, dammit! You had to go back?"
Caught off guard, Hutch stopped dead in his tracks. "Huh?"
"Both of you -- you'd quit the force. Why didn't you stay the hell out?"
Something coiled tight inside Hutch. "How...how do you know that?"
Collandra looked exasperated. "From my crystal ball. Shit, what do you think? I saw it on TV."
The spring uncoiled with a snap, a weakening sensation. Dizzying. "Oh."
"Oh," the man mimicked unkindly.
"Sorry." Hutch felt stupid, found refuge in a laugh. It came out brittle. "Guess we don't make things easy for you."
"Tell me about easy. Better yet, go away, Hutchinson."
"What's the matter, Joe? What're you running from?"
The dark eyes flickered to a spot behind the blond. Hutch glanced back, saw Starsky waiting where he'd been left, his stance indulgently patient. "Joe, tell me, please." For a reason he couldn't quite fathom, he was pleading. "What're you afraid of? I believed in you from the start, remember?"
"Why did you?"
For an undetermined time, Hutch found his eyes and mind snared by his partner's form, by the pose only Starsky could assume, looking so thoroughly relaxed and so intense at the same time, and how the sun turned his hair into a flaring mane of tangled copper. Tiger, tiger, burning bright -- the line came out of nowhere. He shook his head and faced Collandra again. "Hmm?"
"Believe in me from the start? Huggy said you'd be the skeptical one, but it was your partner who balked. You swallowed it hook, line and sinker. Why?"
"I don't know. I didn't at first, but then -- I think it was because you called Starsky's car `a red tomato.'"
"Then I thought it was yours. Wasn't batting a perfect score, was I?"
"No, but I'm the only one who calls it that. How did you know?"
Collandra lifted his shoulders. "Told you. No channel selector, no fine tuning. Things just come. Jumbled, mostly."
"What came now, Joe? What's got you spooked?"
"Nothin'." A grumble.
"Come on. Why're you so concerned about us being back on the force?"
"It's a dangerous job."
"You're blowing your reputation, Joe. Tell me something I don't know."
"If you know it, why didn't you stay out?" Collandra sounded like it was a personal affront.
"It wasn't any safer outside. We were getting shot at around every corner. No badge, no guns, and people were still trying to kill us."
"Oh. Maybe..." The man frowned, took some steps back as if to bring both partners into his line of sight. "Tell me, did you get shot at from a moving car?"
Hutch remembered. "Yeah. We were at a cafe and -- "
"Fast! So fast. Out of nowhere." The dark eyes lost focus again, became distant, haunted. "And the noise... oh, God, it's so loud. It echoes -- make it stop, please, it hurts." He cradled his head in his palms, fingers grasping his hair.
Instinctively, Hutch closed the distance between them and held Collandra by the wrists. "Hey, it's okay," he said soothingly.
"Will you stop shouting!"
"Joe, snap out of it. I'm not shouting. You are."
The eyes cleared as suddenly as they had clouded over. "Did you?"
"Did I what?"
"Shout? At him? Warn him, call out his name, that time?"
"I don't know, might've. Guess so. I don't remember."
"Maybe..." Collandra took a deep breath. "Maybe that's it. Okay, okay."
He had calmed down, and Hutch started to drop his hands, found them caught by Collandra. His palms were turned up, inspected. A tentative finger rubbed at one of his wrists. "What?" He was released.
"God, I don't know. Maybe and maybe not."
"Joe, you're scaring the hell out of me. If there's a reason I should be scared, I'd like to know."
"You know what the biggest mystery is, Hutchinson? It's time. Time obeys no rules `cept its own. We break it up into little pieces so we can pretend to understand it; we give it names, but we can't control it, change it, stop it. Time is its own master. This gift, this curse, whatever it is that I've got, there's no time sense to it."
"I'll settle for any sense, Joe."
Collandra shook his head. "Can't. People who claim to predict the future... I did, too, at one time -- had to eat. We're charlatans. No, not because you can't see what hasn't happened yet, but because time won't be pinned down. I can't tell the future from the past or the present." Collandra spread his hands, a helpless gesture.
"Don't snow me," Hutch insisted stubbornly. "You once told me you knew somebody was going to be dead in a week. What about that?"
"Did I? Well, time yields, sometimes. To death. You sure that's what you want to hear?"
Everything in Hutch cringed from probing into that.
His reluctance wasn't lost on Collandra. "Good. I don't make those predictions even if I can. Mostly I can't, anyhow. That boy in Atlantic City, I didn't know he was dead. So I don't know, Hutchinson. Your partner, you, danger clings to both of you, death hovers around you -- you reek of blood. Yours, those you've spilled, will spill -- I don't know. It's there. I don't know anythin' else."
"Would you tell me if you did?" Hutch asked, hearing the defeat in his own voice even before the silence stretched out and he knew he would get no answer. He made one more attempt. "Just tell me one thing. Should I be scared for myself or for him?"
There was a sadness in the man's eyes. "Makes a difference?"
Hutch gave up and started to walk away, a strangely urgent need inside him to be close to his partner, and a sense of time tumbling, spinning away.
Collandra's voice behind him caught the blond like a blow. He whirled. "What!?"
"Tell him." Gentle. Almost a plea.
The words touched a tenderness inside, barely born. Made it tremble. "Tell him what?" He couldn't help the challenging tone.
Suddenly irritable again, the man answered in clipped tones. "How the hell do I know? I'm not writin' your life story. If you have something to tell him, tell him."
It was too fragile, owning existence but not life, an infant cast into the world without immunity, protected inside a glass bubble, imprisoned in sterility. "Mind your own business!" the blond hissed. Biting, harsh -- defensive.
"Don't I wish. Think about it, Hutchinson. Which is sadder, death or still-birth?"
Hutch approached to tower over the man menacingly. Anything to mask the vulnerability. "Damn you, get out of my head!"
Collandra looked unimpressed. "I'm not in your head. What'd you think I am, a telepath? I'm just a receiver, a sensitive, that's all."
"Something wrong here?"
Hutch jumped at Starsky's voice, then realized that he had unintentionally summoned his partner with his hostile stance. "No, nothing," he mumbled, making an effort to look casual, unable to meet the deep blue eyes that were capable of seeing too much.
Starsky didn't push. Neither did he distance himself.
"It knows no master," Collandra said softly into the silence. "It runs out on you sooner or later -- sometimes sooner." He turned and left the two men alone. Nobody stopped him.
"What was that about?" Starsky asked after a long, frozen minute.
"Okay." Not belief, not acceptance, but a choice granted in one word.
"Damn, it's hot," Hutch said, because it was something to say, because it would've been silly to say he was shivering in this heat.
Again. Not a question, not an agreement. One of Starsky's watching-and-waiting words. The silence lengthened until it had to be broken.
Two choices, Hutch knew.
Let's join the party -- nice and safe.
Let's get out of here; I have something to tell you -- the gamble.
Winner takes all.
Hutch opened his mouth.