This story is an amateur publication and does not intend to infringe upon copyrights held by any party. No reproductions without permission. Originally published in the Starsky & Hutch zine Nightlight 2, in 1991 by In Person Press. A longtime fan generously donated digital scanning, typing and proofreading for the archive. Enjoy!

Comments on this story can be sent snail mail to Flamingo, PO Box 823, Beltsville MD 20704-0823, and will be forwarded to the author.

White Feather


Katherine Robertson

Part One

Parker Center resembles nothing so much as a shiny glass box built to stringent Los Angeles earthquake code specifications. It is functional, easy to maintain, and with a lot of tropical plantings, appears typically Californian.

Few Angelenos know or question how closely their lives are supervised by the men who work inside. That is deliberate: there are men with power who choose never to be identified. They work through other agencies...among them, the LAPD. What the average citizen hopes for is a police force composed of incorruptible men who follow its motto: To Protect and To Serve.

The other question Angelenos never ask is: Who protects and serves the cop?

Room 702 at the Center houses the Organized Crime Intelligence Division—known as OCID. On this Monday morning, at 10:20 a.m., it also seemed ready to house the first skirmish of World War Three. Seated at a large mahogany table were two men from the DA's office, one from LA, Captain Harold Dobey, Metro Division Homicide, Captain Martin Shemansky, OCID, his second-in-command, Lieutenant Jerry Tozukawa, and Detective Sergeant Ken Hutchinson.

Although skies were sunny, temperatures mild, inside the room the atmosphere was one of chilling frustration. The person responsible for the temperature drop, Hutch, sat quietly, eyes fastened on the OCID captain.

"Admittedly there is some danger, Sergeant, but by the time it arises we'll have the goods on Leon Keating and his bunch," said Shemansky in a conciliatory tone. "After all, you do fit the description perfectly."

"Plus, you speak German, look German, and know the territory," finished Tozukawa, earning him a nod from his boss.

Hutch glanced at Dobey, read the dark eyes, then said quietly, "Like I said, sir, I've no objection to going undercover, and I do fit your qualifications. However, I'm exercising my right to turn down an assignment that I feel is dangerous in the extreme." He leveled a hard stare at a grey-haired, distinguished-looking man in a brown pin-stripe suit and addressed his next words to him.

"Mr. Templeton, you may think you've got all the bases covered, but from what I've heard there are holes big enough to drive my car through." He shook his head. "I've been on the force for nine years now, and done my share of dangerous work. I'm no coward—"

"Some might take issue with that, Sergeant," retorted Shemansky, face red. He was a large, burly man who never looked comfortable in a suit and tie. His ginger colored hair matched his disposition, and right now he was furious with the hotshot detective from Metro.

"Hutchinson's right," declared Dobey firmly. "He's up for lieutenant and I don't want it on my conscience that I let one of my men put his life at risk because you haven't done your homework!" He coughed, patted his tie in a vain attempt to flatten it, then slowly got to his feet. "Sergeant Hutchinson has turned down the assignment. Take some good advice, tighten up your plan of attack before you go looking for some other cop to be your Judas goat."

Expression grim, Hutch rose and followed his captain out.

The mood in the room was heavy with disapproval, several of the men exchanging glances that boded ill for the departing officers.

When the door behind them closed, the grey-haired man spoke, turning to the man from IA. "Saunders, get me the dossier on Hutchinson. The DA's going to hit the roof when he learns he refused the assignment. What kind of a record does he have, anyway?"

Saunders shrugged, rubbing his knuckles over his balding head. "Hate to tell you this, Templeton, but he's clean...ran a quick check on him before I came here." He smiled nervously. "Oh, he's been in hot water once or twice—he and his partner—but he's never been on the take."

Shemansky lit a huge cigar, not bothering to ask if anyone cared. "You mark my words, Bill," he said, pointing the stogie like an extended finger, "that cop knows more about Fass then he's telling...and I wanna know what it is!" He turned to his aide, blowing a large ring of smoke into the air. "Jerry, haul in a few contacts. Find out what the street thinks of Hutchinson. Any cop who's been on the force for nine years has stepped on a lot of toes."

One person who'd remained silent now cleared his throat. He was small-framed and wore a modest grey suit. Wire-rim glasses sat on the bridge of his nose, reflecting back distorted images of the other men's faces. His eyes were the color of his clothing, and just as lackluster. "Gentlemen, we're forgetting the point of this meeting. Sergeant Hutchinson has turned us down—and he was within his rights—so, who can we get to take his place?"

Templeton stared at his fellow attorney with contempt. "I suppose you believe his remarks about our plan being full of holes," he said accusingly.

"That's immaterial. There isn't time to change things now." Thin nostrils quivered and the glasses dipped down his nose in a slow slide. As he rescued them, he said, "Three days. That's when our man must go undercover. We need someone by Thursday or it will be another year before we're in this position again."

Shemansky nodded. "Al's right. Start calling the precincts. Only this time we stay away from Metro!"

There was a scraping of chairs, the rustle of papers as they were shoved into attaché cases, then the men filed out, leaving behind no evidence of their meeting except an ashtray filled with cigar ash.

Captain Shemansky's secretary was a tall, thin Latina with lustrous brown eyes and a wide smile. She could spell, type, answer the phones, and lie for her boss. She brewed the best coffee in the department—and made the bosses pay through the nose for the kind she liked. She also never dated anyone who wasn't from her own barrio.

The man sitting outside the closed door to Shemansky's office was sorely testing her determination on that rule. He was tall, had a head of dark curls, and beautiful, expressive blue eyes. He was bronzed from the sun, and was wearing a pair of tight slacks and a well-cut jacket. Earlier, while he'd been toying with the leaves on her favorite fern, she'd noticed his hands. They, too, were beautiful.

He accepted a cup of coffee, flashing her a big smile, but his gaze kept drifting back to the conference door, and soon his expression was serious, almost sad. She knew instinctively he was a cop.

"It's supposed to be over around eleven," she offered, wanting to see him happy again.

He nodded, finished the coffee, and set the cup down, his glance back on the door.

Which swung open, and two men strode out. Her unknown companion leapt to his feet, barring their way. She saw another emotion soften his features, but couldn't quite place it.

"What happened? Did you take it?" His voice, while pleasant, had a decided edge.

The taller of the two, a blond man, stepped forward, extending his hand, laying it on the dark man's arm. "No. No, I didn't. Let's get the hell outta here."

The second man—whom she knew was Captain Dobey—paused, glancing at his watch. "Glad you made it, Starsky. I've a meeting at eleven-thirty. You two head back to the station and I'll see you about one." He gave her a brief smile and was off. She wasn't fooled; she could tell he was pissed about something.

The one named Starsky hadn't moved. If anything, he stood even closer to the blond. "That the truth? You turned 'em down?"

This time a slight smile turned up the corners of the blond's mouth. It took away some of the tension from his face, making him look much younger.

"Scout's honor. It's a suicide mission, partner, and I'm not about to volunteer." He looked into the watchful face. "I gave you my word, didn't I?"

whitefeather1.jpg (56354
click illo to see larger image

She moved away, embarrassed without knowing why. What they were talking about seemed too personal to be shared, and she was certain that what they were discussing wasn't meant to be over-heard. She didn't look back until the door to the hallway opened and shut, and the office was empty.

Her curiosity piqued, she did open the outer door and peek down the hall, just in time to see Starsky's hand drift down the other man's back. A gentle shove and they were on the elevator and out of sight. Smiling, she ducked back into the office and heard the captain bellow for her services. The door to the conference room opened and its occupants filed out, all of them wearing grim expressions. She was shrewd enough to guess that whatever the blond had refused to do must have been important—and now these lobos would be after his blood.

Then she remembered his handsome partner and smiled. Too bad if Shemansky and crowd were furious...the cop named Starsky had seemed pleased by the refusal.

"Ya gonna tell me what happened, or do I have to wait for the six o'clock news?" Starsky slowed down for a light, then headed for the station. Hutch had been strangely silent, glancing over at him now and again, sometimes smiling, sometimes not. He knew better than to push his lover of three years, but right now his curiosity was killing him.

"Not much to tell, actually. They need someone who can pass for Wilhelm Fass...and I fit the bill." He shrugged. "Right height, weight, age, coloring, background...everything." He looked out the window, falling silent once more.

Something was wrong. It wasn't like Hutch to brood once he'd made up his mind. Starsky had to admit, however, that he couldn't remember the last time his partner had turned down an undercover assignment. "You refuse because of our promise?" he asked abruptly, wondering if that was what was chewing away at Hutch.

"Yes and no," came the instant response. "Yes, because we swore we'd never again take stupid risks, and no because the goddamn plan they had was unworkable." He turned toward Starsky, angry now. "That shithead, Shemansky, actually had the guts to admit they hadn't had time to let their mole know a ringer was coming in to play Fass!" He clenched his fist, almost hitting Starsky as he slammed it onto his knee. "And you should have seen the goddamn phony papers they had—a kid of ten wouldn't spotted them as queer. I-I tell you, Starsk, I had the damnedest feeling the whole thing was a set-up. One that would end with this cop being iced."

Starsky said nothing, mulling over his partner's recitation, committing it to memory. He and Hutch had rehearsed this very scenario time after time, arguing the pros and cons, the consequences to their careers such a move might make, each time coming to the decision that nothing was going to threaten them again. His being shot and nearly killed had brought home to both of them how truly short a cop's life can be under the best of circumstances. They had vowed that if need be they'd quit the force rather than act hastily. Hell, they'd quit before. Still, today was the first real test of that vow.

He parked automatically, then spoke. "Thanks, Hutch. It musta taken real guts to turn them down. It would've looked good on your record, especially with your promotion comin' up."

"Yeah, well, we'll have to see about that little deal, now. The way John Templeton was glaring at me, I'm not certain I'll get it." Hutch looked strangely undisturbed by his pronouncement.

"Templeton was at that meeting? Jesus, just who is Wilhelm Fass and why is he so important?" Starsky looked at Hutch and sighed. "A real cherry assignment, huh? And you had to turn it down."

The face Hutch turned to him was smiling now, and after casting a quick glance around, he lightly tapped Starsky's thigh. "Idiot. Can you imagine me as that Teutonic, probably certifiable, gangster? Do you know anything about Wilhelm Fass's background?"

"Neo-Nazi?" hazarded Starsky, trying valiantly to recall the mystery man. He couldn't even remember hearing about him before.

This time Hutch laughed. "Thank God, no. Wilhelm Fass sells chemicals. Hard-to-get, government-banned chemicals and pharmaceuticals."

"Drugs? He's a lousy drug dealer?" Starsky stared in disbelief. "What in hell's all the fuss over a drug merchant?"

Hutch unlocked the car door and got out, rubbing his back as he stretched. His expression was grim. "Sorry I didn't make it clearer, Starsk, but the drugs Fass sells aren't for the street trade, they're far more exotic. Drugs that can paralyze a city if they get into the water supply. Or wipe out an army with certain gasses. In fact, Gunther may have had dealings with him."

Starsky moved as if in slow motion; the very idea of Hutch impersonating someone that dangerous scared the hell out of him. "And what were you supposed to do? Have they got Fass stashed somewhere?" His mind was buzzing with a thousand questions, yet he wished he could take Hutch aside and make him lose that rather forlorn look. Surely, his partner hadn't wanted to accept the job. "Wanna stop for lunch? We've got forty-five minutes before that briefing."

Nodding, Hutch locked his door, waiting until Starsky joined him. "Okay. But let's eat in the cafeteria. Minnie told me today's special is roast beef and gravy."

They joined their fellow officers in line, joking and teasing one another about the probable ancestry of the steer and how it had met its demise. To their surprise the meat was tender and moist, the gravy composed of more than fat. Starsky cleaned his plate, then reached for Hutch's.

"You through? Too rare for you?" Hutch had eaten half his portion, and left the mound of mashed potatoes untouched.

"Hmm? No. Just wondering who's going to be the unlucky cop they call on next." His head drooped a bit, and he scanned the nearly full lunchroom as if searching for a suitable replacement to impersonate Wilhelm Fass.

"You ain't gonna find him here, Hutch," came the quiet admonition from Starsky. "'Cause none of these other blonds look like you. Therefore, they can't look like Fass. Right?" He tried to smile, but deep inside he understood that while Hutch had turned down the foolhardy assignment for the best of reasons, he'd yet to convince himself he'd done the right thing. Suddenly not hungry anymore, Starsky pushed away his plate. "Come on. Let's get outta here."

They lay in bed, a tangle of arms and legs, warm bodies pressed together in sated pleasure. Hutch, barely awake, had just enough energy to kiss Starsky's nose. The act earned him a chuckle and a groan, plus a swipe at his ear.

"Sorry, babe, there's not even enough left to kiss you," Starsky muttered, snuggling closer. "Wake me up in the mornin', willya? Wanna sleep forever."

His curls, damp and cool, pressed against Hutch's chest, and automatically he reached up to fondle them. He loved this man with all his heart and soul. Loved him so deeply it frightened him sometimes...yet any alternative was equally terrifying.

They'd beaten Gunther, defied society in their own quiet way—letting Dobey know they loved one another—yet still hadn't made the commitment of living together. It was a final step they simply weren't ready for and they knew it. There wasn't enough room in either apartment for them both, and so they spent their weekends together, sometimes not even making love. They had actually come that far.

Hutch pulled the sleeping man even closer to him. This time had been different; he'd needed Starsky, needed to claim him, needed to know he was loved even if he had run out on a job. Starsky had understood, had responded to their lovemaking with the same sort of desperate energy he, himself, had used. They were literally fucked out, and yet he couldn't sleep. Some part of his subconscious was still wondering about the meeting he'd been to, and why it was suddenly so important to have Fass' close appear to set up a buy of rare chemicals.

He shivered, fighting off a sense of dread he knew threatened to wear him down. Starsky was all that truly mattered to him, but he was proud of his hard-won reputation as a brave man...what had he done to that reputation?

Careful not to disturb Starsky, he relinquished his hold and moved away, sitting up on the side of the bed. After a moment of staring blindly into the darkness, he rose, intent on taking a shower. As he lathered soap across his chest, he wondered if he was simply getting clean, or trying to cleanse himself of guilt.

Lying very still, Starsky tried to rouse from sleep. He listened to the sound of running water, noting that Hutch wasn't humming or whistling as he usually did. Sleepy as he was, he knew better than to intrude on his lover's privacy. This was something Hutch had to work through, and when he was needed he'd be there. He closed his eyes, drifting back into an unfinished dream wherein he and Hutch were walking along a beach somewhere. He smiled; he knew the rest of the dream by heart.

Wednesday dawned clear and fair, perfect weather with windswept skies of April blue. As Hutch drove in to work he could see the mountains in the distance, some still wearing the last traces of a late snow. His spirits rose accordingly; perhaps he and Starsky should get the hell away, go up to Arrowhead for a few days. They could both use the break, God knew, and maybe he'd be able to forget this Fass thing entirely. It certainly wasn't fair to Starsky for him to be acting this way, especially when their partnership was in its final stages.

That hurt. No matter how much they'd talked this step through, no matter how often he'd tried to deny he wanted this promotion, it was something they'd always known would happen. Neither wanted to remain sergeant, either, any more than they intended spending the rest of their lives on the streets.

He shifted gears, soaking in the sun, smiling to himself. The one truly good thing about their separating was Starsky's going back to pick up the credits he needed for the lieutenant's exam. He was fast approaching the age limit to qualify, so it had been fairly easy to persuade him to crack the books. Hutch grinned, recalling the challenge shot his way in those blue eyes. Starsky had the smarts to do anything he set his heart on, all he ever needed was the proper motivation. His own heart thudded hard in his chest; had he really agreed to buying a house together? Jesus! They both must have been drunk! He sighed, not denying the pleasure the idea gave him. Living together...more than he'd ever dared hope for.

He parked almost automatically, taking time to watch the passing parade at Metro. Unlike Parker Center, there were no big limos here, no fancy-dressed phonies eager to tell all to the vultures in the press. Metro was the best...and its entire squad knew it, that made him feel better, and he hurried into the building, senses tingling at the thought of seeing his lover again. It was a feeling that never went away. Didn't matter which one of them got there first, there was always a welcome that was spoken only with their eyes. He began whistling...nobody could say good morning like Starsky.

A very tall, very blond patrolman stopped him by the elevator. "Excuse me, are you Sergeant Hutchinson?" The voice was deep, with a slight mid-western intonation. The hair was wheat pale, the eyes winter-cool.

Hutch felt the hairs on his arms prickle. "Yeah. Who needs to know?" He kept staring at the smooth face with its youthful, rather hard features.

A slow grin melted the reserve. "I do, sir. I'm Lud Anders, from Hollenbeck Division. I've been assigned to the Fass case." From his extra height he looked down at Hutch.

whitefeather2.jpg (77785
click illo to see larger image

Who saw the unspoken pity in those pale eyes. Saw it and flushed. Goddamn punk...who was he and what did he know about life?

"I see," he replied. "And just what do you need from me? Hasn't Shemansky filled you in?" God, this one'll never make it, he thought fleetingly. He shrugged as the elevator door slid open. "C'mon up to the my partner. Then ask away."

Within five minutes all the amenities had been observed and the three of them were seated in front of a stack of files. Anders was obviously out of his league, and Starsky flashed Hutch a puzzled look. "Uh, how long have you been a cop?" he asked, fingers closing around his pen.

Anders looked from one to the other, then said, "Three years in June. Long enough to have gone undercover a couple of times." He was clearly defensive, not willing to give an inch.

"Did Shemansky send you over here to talk to me?" Hutch wondered aloud. "Because if he did, there's no way I'm going to change my mind."

This time the glance Anders gave him was almost contemptuous. "I'm here because I need to know what you know about this Fass character. They said I look enough like him to pass, but you know all about his personality—his quirks." He drew out a pack of cigarettes, asking silently if he could smoke. Starsky nodded, but Hutch's hand shot out, snatching them away from the startled man.

"Better get ready to go cold turkey, pal. Fass doesn't smoke, never did. In fact, he's a health freak." He cast a critical glance over Anders. "He's also at least ten years older than you are—so be careful. His compadres go back a long way.

This time it was Anders who turned red. "Shemansky told me that with make-up they can age me good enough to last for four days. That's all the time they need, you know."

Hutch looked away, tapping his fingers angrily on the desk top. when he turned back to face the other man, he fought to keep his temper leashed. "I have to be honest with you, Anders. I've got a gut feeling about this—that you're being set up. Just as I was. The DA and that whole, ignorant bunch don't know who or what they're dealing with!"

Starsky was watching now, eyes narrowed, face impassive. "If Hutch says this is a lousy set-up, ya better believe him, pal. That's why he turned it down." His glance slid over to his partner, approving.

Their words had no effect on the younger man. Clearly impatient and obviously thinking Hutch was simply scared, he pulled out a small notebook and clicked his pen, jotting the date and time in the upper right-hand corner. "All I need are the basics. I don't have to go under until 6 a.m. tomorrow."

"You married?" Starsky asked abruptly.

Surprise registered on the even features. "Yeah. Been hitched a year and a half." He grinned, showing white, perfect teeth. "Wife's due in about six weeks. A boy..." He ran his fingers through thick hair. "She wanted to know so we could decorate the room." Eagerly, Anders reached for his wallet, bringing out a folder with snapshots of a dark, intense-looking girl. "She's Creek—from a big family. Says we're late getting started." He laughed self-consciously, then patted the billfold while putting it away. "Got lucky, I guess. She and her brothers sort've adopted me before the wedding...I don't have any family."

"Anders—" Hutch began in a halting voice, "—perhaps it would be better if I did take this...He looked helplessly at his partner. "Christ, she's gonna have a baby, Starsk. Maybe I'm just worried about n-"

Anders frowned, sitting upright. "Sorry, sergeant, but this is my big chance for some recognition. You know how hard it is down where I work to land something like this."

"He's right, Hutch. Let the man have his moment in the sun." Starsky's smile was genuine, but there was a hard light in those blue eyes. "You're already too famous...somebody'd be sure to recognize you. Just tell the man what he needs to know and let him get back to that pretty wife."

Starsky was right, of course. He'd warned the guy, warned everybody, for that matter. It was in the hands of the gods, now. Clearing his throat, he began sharing his knowledge with the far-too-eager cop, some small, inner voice cursing all the Shemanskys and Templetons in the world.

"Wanna catch the news?" Starsky asked, pulling away from Metro. It was going on six p.m., and the evening rush was still in full force. Friday traffic out of L.A. was the worst, so tuning in on the pilots who flew the traffic watch had become a necessity.

"So are you gonna tell me how come you know so much about this Fass sleezo? You been moonlighting for Interpol or something?" Starsky's tone was light, but his expression was serious. "I mean, it's one thing to know his M.O. and the fact he's an international crook, but that stuff about him bein' a health nut and not smoking..."

"Yeah, it's no big deal, actually. Believe it or not, he got a big write-up in Newsweek, back when there were all the scares about how vulnerable cities are to biological and chemical sabotage. He was numero quatra on the list of bad guys." Hutch saw Starsky nod, his eyes narrowed as he concentrated on the traffic. Why admit the idea that he resembled someone who was a real warpo bothered him? Hell, Starsky would only chew him out for worrying about something he couldn't help.

Hutch settled back, listening absently to a rough spot in the Torino's engine. If he said something to Starsky, he knew the weekend would be spent on tuning the engine—something he didn't really want to do. But not telling him wouldn't be kosher. "You've got a miss—might be a plug," he said finally, looking over at the dark, vital features. The curls were wild, thanks to the April wind, and were beginning to get too long.

"Yeah. Gonna take it into the shop tomorrow morning. Took you long enough to say something."

Hutch caught the amused glance and smiled. "Didn't want to spend the weekend ass over teacup tuning your engine," he declared, then turned crimson when Starsky roared with laughter at his statement. "Just drive, you jerk," he muttered, flicking on the portable Starsky always had on the seat. "You know damn well what I meant."

"Your feet are big, partner, but you still manage to shove 'em into your mouth once in a while," Starsky chuckled. "Along with other things."

"Mmm. Not hard to guess what's on your pitiful mind. Now, shut up and let me listen to the air watch." Hutch turned up the volume and closed his eyes. All the same; slow-moving, but no major pile ups. Something to be grateful for, he supposed. "Looks like clear sailing for us -"

He froze when Ines Pedroza's voice announced, "The body of an unidentified man has been washed up at Point Mugu. Authorities are refusing to release any details of his death. All KNX has found out is a general description; late twenties, over six foot, and blond. We will bring you all the latest as soon as the news breaks."

"It's Anders," Hutch finally whispered, the ache in his chest so painful he could barely speak. "Jesus, Starsk, I know it's him."

"There's no way of knowin' that!" Starsky said sharply. "Shit! There's a million blond guys in this city—so don't go gettin' paranoid on me." Starsky hadn't taken his eyes off the road, but his right hand reached out and gripped Hutch's leg. "It's not him—can't be." But this time he sounded less convincing. "We'll call from your place," he finally said, his hand remaining on Hutch's thigh.

It was another twenty-four hours before Anders' name was released. A grim-faced Chief Davis promised swift and heavy retribution to his murderer's, yet offered no hint as to who they were. Behind him stood a phalanx of L.A.'s finest, trim, tough, and by their very uniforms, vulnerable.

Cursing softly under his breath, Hutch switched off the TV, then flung himself into the chair, chin on his chest. He had gone to work that morning, pale, quiet, answering questions in monosyllables. Even Starsky was barely able to coax a smile onto his haggard features.

"Hey! How many times do I hafta tell you it wasn't your fault?" Starsky knelt beside his lover, hand resting on one knee. He searched Hutch's face, and was finally rewarded when cool fingers ruffled his curls.

"So they say. But I know different." The fingers trembled, then withdrew. "They tortured that poor bastard until he died...and he probably couldn't tell them one goddamn thing."

The cry came from Hutch's heart, and Starsky swallowed the lump in his throat. "It could've been you, babe, and then what? Huh?"

Eyes, red-rimmed and narrowed, stared blankly at him. "You think I don't know that? I thought about you—and me. That dumb jerk didn't think about his wife and baby! All he thought about was the job, like we would've done a few years ago."

"And you think your turnin' down that fuckin' assignment put temptation in his way? Shit, man! That kid was hot for it, wanted to grab for the gold ring." Starsky eased up, then drew Hutch to his feet, putting hard arms around him. "I know what's going on under that blond hair. You're wondering if he was a better cop than you are, 'cause he took the chance. Right?"

Hutch hugged him back, forcing a smile. "Never could fool you. And before you ask me how I'd be feeling if you'd taken the job, I'll tell you..." Soft kisses rained on Starsky's head and face. "I'd be planning your funeral, and then—who knows?" He averted his gaze.

Starsky drew back, wisely letting the subject drop. "It was his time, babe; when it's ours, well—" he shrugged.

"I don't want to live without you!" Hutch burst out, pulling his lover into a desperate embrace that caught Starsky by surprise.

He felt himself drowning in loving warmth, and struggled to surface before they both broke down. "Who says you're gonna get the chance? Just start saving your nickels and dimes for a down payment on a house." His fingers found a spot in Hutch's ribs and dug in, turning tears to laughter, then curses.

The weather had changed by Tuesday, the day of Anders' funeral. Over her doctor's advice, clad in heavy black crepe from head to toe, Helena Anders toiled slowly toward the row of chairs reserved for the family of the deceased. Her son kicked within her womb, and she caught her breath. Supported on one side by her brother, Miklos, she steadied herself and moved forward. So many policemen, so many flags, but nowhere did she see the face she loved the most. She knew Lud lay asleep under that blanket of spring flowers, but it made no sense. He was too young to be dead.

"Careful, Sis, the ground's soft here."

Big Stavros, the gentlest of her brothers, held her by the elbow, keeping away the press of bodies. Was it only a few days ago that he and Lud had wrestled in the living room, each wanting to win her approval? She'd felt like a queen then. And now, what was she? A widow—a crow destined to pick over other women's leavings. She remembered her grandmother; and the stories she had told of the old days back in Greece, and the family's obligation to follow the old customs of mourning and revenge.

She looked down at her black coat; God, she was supposed to wear this color for a solid year! To mourn the man who had loved her in reds and yellows. She moaned low in her throat, stifling the sound immediately, as Miklos and Stavvy became concerned. "I'm all right. Please, let's get this over."

The baby kicked again, and she thought of his room; pale green, bright orange, such a happy place...and a mother condemned to wear black! Her mind screamed its outrage at such irony. Someone would pay for her grief, for Lud's pain, for her son's losing a father...if there was justice, someone would pay.

Helena heard the whirr and click of camera shutters as she took her seat and adjusted her veil. She was glad they couldn't see her red eyes and pasty a dead fish, she thought. Another widow, years ago, came to mind, one who'd had to face the world in her sorrow. She sat straighter, taking comfort in the comparison. Her husband had died in the line of duty...for his sake she would be strong. She clutched at her brothers' arms as her son, protesting her change of position, turned abruptly.

The priest stepped forward and she quietly bid farewell to her husband, resting her gloved hand on her stomach. As surely as God would receive Lud into heaven, she would devote the rest of her life to making his killers pay. Tears rolled down her cheeks, but she ignored them. They were washing away her agony, leaving her filled with the white fire of vindication. Lud's death would have meaning, after all. A name seared itself in her brain—Lud had mentioned it the night before his death. A coward—afraid to die.

She accepted the flag with outward calm, murmuring her thanks, watching while the coffin was lowered into the ground. Poor Lud, who loved the sunlight, was going into darkness. Oh, no! That was wrong! "Lud!" she screamed, falling onto her knees. "Lud! Ah, Jesu!"

Miklos slid his arms around her misshapen body, and got her to her feet. Stavvy tossed a small white flower into the grave. It was then a plan took shape—just as her baby had taken shape. Only her whole family would help to bring forth this one; his name would be revenge.

They led her to the limo and as she glanced out the window, she saw row upon row of men wearing black, shields glittering as her Lud's shield had once glittered. She smiled sadly; Lud would have appreciated the respect of his peers.

The atmosphere in the squadroom was hushed, the mood somber the day after Anders' funeral. A copy of the Los Angeles Times with its headline story lay on top of a file cabinet. On one of the chairs was the Santa Ana Register featuring a similar layout and headlines. More than one officer started to say something, then fell silent when Starsky shook his head. Some of the glances that came Hutch's way were sympathetic, others cool.

Starsky glanced at his partner, then got slowly to his feet. Hutch was sitting hunched over his typewriter, pecking furiously away at an overdue report. Beside him sat two stacks of confidential files on Leon Keating and his suspected dealings with Wilhelm Fass. Hutch had read each one, cursed, then lapsed into moody silence. It was time to talk to Dobey, Starsky decided, and he went quietly into the captain's office.

"What do you think you're doing?" asked Dobey gruffly, pushing aside a disorderly heap of papers. "Can't you knock like everyone else?" Since hardly anyone ever knocked on his door, his tone was rather plaintive.

Starsky closed the door, leaning up against it as if to keep intruders at bay. "It's Hutch. He hasn't slept since Anders' funeral. I'm worried." He no longer concerned himself with what Dobey thought about their relationship; the man seemed to believe they could handle it, so they did. "He's out there now going through all those files...hell, it isn't even our case—it's Hollenbeck's!" He knew he was being unfair. When a cop was killed the entire force did what they could to catch his murderers, but again, the niceties didn't concern him; Hutch did.

Harold Dobey nodded. "I know, but I'm between a rock and a hard spot, Dave. The DA's office is giving me a lot of flak because I didn't insist Hutch take the damn assignment in the first place."

He wiped a fly spot off his calendar, then gestured toward a chair. "Sit down. We need to talk and I don't want to yell." Leaning forward, he lowered his voice. "I can't put my finger on it, but something's going on. One of our patrolmen came in yesterday all steamed up. Seems someone's put out a rumor that Hutch had prior knowledge about a hit, and that's why he refused the job."

"That's a fuckin'—excuse, me, Cap'n—lie!" Starsky snarled. "You and I both know it. That whole bunch down at Parker Center is just pissed off because he was right and now they've got a dead cop on their hands." His eyes gleamed with a hard, cold light. "Hell, they had that poor kid so hyped about this bein' his big chance...Hutch warned him, but he wouldn't listen."

He pushed his chair back, and began pacing about the room. "Did you see Anders' widow on TV? Jesus, the press was on her like flies on a carcass." His expression changed, softened. "I was watching Hutch when the eleven o'clock news came on...he looked like he was going to toss his cookies."

A note of worry crept into his voice. "If Anders told her about Hutch's turnin' the case down, and she tells the press, they'll crucify him—and the whole department as well. Can't you see the headlines?" He stopped pacing long enough to fill a cup with water, finishing it in one gulp. He tossed the cup into the wastebasket with an expert flip.

"Sit down and stay put! And just listen, will you?" Dobey's face settled in sober lines, concern shading the brown eyes. He hesitated, wiped his upper lip, then said, "I'm going to ask you something that will probably make you mad, but I want you to hold on to your temper. What do you know about Hutch's finances?"

The detective's eyebrows arched in surprise, but he didn't raise his voice. "What do you mean? He lives on his salary, same as you and me. Hutch ain't on the take, Captain!"

Dobey withdrew a folded piece of paper from the desk drawer. "Read this," he ordered.

Taking the paper, Starsky scanned it quickly, then handed it back. "Lies," he said evenly. "Hutch never accepted one red cent from anybody. He doesn't need the money."

"Can you unequivocally state that you're familiar with Hutch's finances...that you've actually seen his bank statements?" The captain's tone was almost conciliatory, but his eyes bored into Starsky's.

Reluctantly, Starsky replied, "No. But I know—"

The grizzled head wagged. "Feelings don't count, Dave. In fact, given your, ah, involvement with Hutch, a lawyer could say you were lying on his behalf." He stuck a large finger inside his collar, then loosened the knot in his tie, clearly uncomfortable.

There was a dangerous calm about the detective. "So. Because we love each other, nobody can trust us anymore?"

"Don't get on your high horse! To my knowledge, your personal life is off the record." Dobey drained the last dregs of coffee from his cup, peering into it in frustration. "Keep this to yourself, Starsky. Apparently, the DA's office has a tail on your a word to the wise..."

Staring, open-mouthed, Starsky started to say something, then saw the look in Dobey's eyes. The man was right, there wasn't any reason to get mad at him, besides, hadn't he just clued them in? "Gotcha, Cap'n," he said casually, "but what happens when Hutch spots the tail—and he will, you know."

A broad smile lit the dark features and the captain chuckled. "That's what I'm counting on, Dave. That's what I'm counting on."

Two days later, at a busy downtown intersection, Hutch said to his partner, "Drop me off at Parker Center, will you? I'm going to meet Jack Lockwood for lunch."

Starsky turned to give him a quick, critical glance, then quipped, "Gonna step out on me, huh?"

Hutch favored him with a broad grin. "Jack? Jesus, the man must have eight kids by now...he hasn't got room for me." He relaxed a bit, finally volunteering, "Don't look now, but I think some weirdo's following me. He's good—"

"But not good enough. You think IA's responsible?" Starsky remembered Dobey's warning just in time so said nothing more, but a heavy weight settled in his gut. This was Hutch!

The smile faded. "First noticed him yesterday, but thought it was my imagination." He kept his head turned, adding, "See that blue Camaro to our left? Old guy in the maroon shirt? Well, that's him." Hutch patted his jacket. "For two cents, I'd pull him over and scare the shit outta him. You game?"

Starsky shook his head. "No. Wait until you talk to Jack. This bozo doesn't look like anybody from IA." But just the same he memorized the license plate, and the large dent in the Camaro's right rear fender.

He heard Hutch's chuckle, and smiled. "Yeah, I know. Gettin' to be a pair of old fogeys. Right?"

A warm hand squeezed his knee, sending shock waves through his system. God, so much love.

"Not too old, I hope?" Hutch's tone was soft, caressing, and the look of promise in his eyes made Starsky flush.

"Ya wanna ditch Lockwood and share a burrito with me?" He knew Hutch would turn him down, but at least he'd made the offer, and, while his partner was busy, he'd run a make on the Camaro's tags.

"Can't. The guy broke another appointment just to see me. Besides, I have to go to the bank, afterwards."

Starsky felt his skin prickle. "Bank? It's not broke already?"

Did Hutch hesitate a moment too long? "No. I've got some business to attend to, that's all." He sounded distant, his voice deliberately formal.

When they pulled up in front of Parker Center, Hutch got out and slammed the door, leaning in to talk to him. "See if that fat ass follows me inside. Oh, better run a make on his tags."

"Will do," was all Starsky could say. He watched his partner stride up the steps, those long legs eating up the distance. Why would anyone want to frame a good cop?

The driver of the Camaro got out to drop some coins in the meter. When he settled down behind the wheel again, Starsky frowned. Apparently the man figured as long as he sat here, Hutch wasn't going to slip away. Grinning to himself, Starsky revved his engine and whipped out of the parking lot, burning rubber all the way. As soon as he was out of sight, he parked the Torino and ran back to see if the Camaro was still there. It was, and the driver was still behind the wheel. So, who in hell was he, anyway? Turning, he slowly walked back to his car. If he was from the DA's office...what was he looking for?

He called DMV, then put the mike down. No DA, no IA. The Camaro was registered to one Miklos Collis, private citizen. And just who was he? A bill collector? Or one of Keating's boys?

His glance narrowed, and he settled his sunglasses on the bridge of his nose. Lockwood would probably drop Hutch off at his bank, in which case the old guy should follow them. The Torino stuck out like a sore thumb, but there were always other white Caddy convertibles. The Pits wasn't that far away. He let out a low whistle; he's always loved playing pin-the-tail-on-the-jack-ass. But before he could make any plans, a call came through from Dobey. Sighing, he put his plans on the back burner and drove back to the station.


Lunch with Jack Lockwood had proved two things; IA, while not after his butt, knew he was in some sort of trouble, and Lockwood had the same culinary tastes as Starsky. Hutch had always liked Jack, a laid-back, easy-going man in his forties. The short, rather pudgy figure belied a keen mind. More compassionate than most of the IA staff, Lockwood had always seemed on the cops' side—sometimes too much so. Nevertheless, he had no information to share.

After a meal of burnt, chopped sirloin, limp fries, and wilted lettuce, Hutch was ready to call it quits. Jack willingly dropped him off on South Union Street so he could go to the Credit Union. With his lunch resting like a rock in his middle, he paid scant attention to the milling crowd around him. As for the Camaro and the tail, well, Starsk would take care of that problem.

His thoughts were on money, namely if there was enough in his savings to use toward a house. He grinned self-consciously as he started up the steps; must be all kinds of a fool to even think about setting up housekeeping with Starsky. But, then, he was a fool in love and that made all the difference in the world.

"Excuse me?"

He stopped on the steps, looking down at a clean-cut young man who held out his hand.

"Yeah? What's the problem?" Funny how he always expected someone to want help.

"You're Sergeant Kenneth Hutchinson?"

"Right. Look, I'm in a hurry, so come to the point..." Before Hutch could say anything else, a fat envelope was shoved into his hand and the other man hurried away.

Christ. A process server? Or was he being subpoenaed for some damn case? He sighed in exasperation, then ripped open the envelope, gaping when he saw it contained a thick stack of bills.

The breeze caught at several corners, whipping them out of Hutch's hand. He heard several people yell as they gave chase, but hadn't the sense to refuse the returned money. "It's not mine," he finally muttered. Since more than one passerby was now staring at him, he decided to go inside to examine the envelope and its contents.

There was a note which read, 'Thanx...W.F.', but since the initials were unfamiliar, he was none the wiser. Seventy-five hundred dollars in new bills—all in sequence. The odd amount made him frown, but until he talked to Dobey there was nothing to do but finish what he'd come to do.

He spotted a line with only two people in it and hurried over, filling out a request for his account balance while he waited. After signing his name he stared at his checkbook. One of the deposit slips was missing...had he asked Starsky to bank his last paycheck? No. Perhaps he'd simply torn out two instead of one—he'd done that before.

"Ah, Sergeant, back so soon. The city must have given you a raise." The teller greeted him warmly, and Hutch smiled, wondering if she'd gotten him confused with someone else.

His confusion mounted when she handed him a slip with his latest bank balance. "There's some mistake," he said, tapping the counter to get her attention. "This must be somebody else's—not that I wouldn't like it..." He pointed to the wooden plaque with her name on it, "...ah, Sandra." No reason to upset her when he needed more of her time.

She was large and motherly, and she beamed at him as she took back the slip. "Honey, look here..." She swiveled the monitor around so he could get a better view. "...see? That last deposit was for seventy-five hundred dollars. How could you forget you made it?" Behind her gold-rimmed glasses, her eyes sparkled.

He felt nauseated. Felt the blood drain from his face. There, in glowing green numerals was a deposit dated the Friday before his meeting with the OCID. It couldn't be; and yet...Reluctantly, he took out his badge case and showed it to her. "LAPD," he said tiredly, "I'll need to see the original deposit slip and talk to the teller."

But her attention was already elsewhere, looking behind and beyond him with apprehension. He spun around, hand snaking toward his Magnum, when a familiar voice said, "Don't go for it, Hutchinson! We've been expectin' you." It was Shemansky and his sidekick Tozukawa, looking immensely pleased with themselves as they covered him with their guns.

"You're scaring the other customers!" Hutch hissed, hands already at his sides. "You wanna start a panic?" He was tempted to add 'you assholes,' but held back.

"Shut up!" Shemansky ordered, "What's that stickin' outta your pocket?" He reached over and withdrew the envelope.

The sick feeling spread, and Hutch could do nothing but stare at the two men. "It's a frame-up, isn't it? A stupid, little frame-up!" Still, for the first time, he felt afraid. Where was this going to lead?

Shemansky riffled through the bills, then replaced them in the envelope. "Cool it, Hutchinson. Every cop can use a little extra incentive pay. You ain't the first."

"Let's go. I want to talk to Dobey." More to the point, he wanted to get away from the onlookers and their curious stares. "Are you placing me under arrest? Because if you are, you'd better be prepared to speak to my lawyer."

Tozukawa cleared his throat and looked uncertainly at his captain. "We arresting him?" His bristle-cut black hair stood on end and he appeared decidedly unhappy. Three very large, brightly dressed matrons huddled behind him. Hutch thought he resembled a small mouse being pursued by three calico cats.

He smiled reassurance at them, then muttered, "Let's get out of here! I'll tell you my side of this, then you can explain why you're on my case." He made a move toward the front entrance.

"Hang on, wise guy!" Shemansky went over to the teller's window where Sandra was white with shock. "You waited on Sergeant Hutchinson, right?"

Her glance was anything but friendly now. "Yes, I did—before you came in. He wasn't trying to rob the bank, you know!" Her voice ended in a little squeak, and she dabbed at her mouth with a lacy handkerchief. "He said he was a p-policeman."

"I am," Hutch soothed, "There's been a mix-up, that's all. You go ahead and locate that original deposit slip, then this'll be cleared up. But don't give the information to anyone without my consent. Is that understood?"

Shemansky turned livid. "You got a helluva nerve! OCID's got a right to see—"

That did it. Hutch pushed aside the .38's barrel, then snapped, "You want to see my account, you get a goddamn court order! Either we leave now, or I'm going to leave without you and raise hell down at Metro! If you want to make the headlines, then you're going to get them in spades." He recognized his mood, yet wasn't willing to control it; Hutchinson arrogance even in the face of big trouble. However, things had gone too far—he'd hidden his past for as long as he could—time to pay the piper. He smiled sourly; at least he had the money to do matter what the bill.

They left quietly after his outburst; Shemansky and Tozukawa putting their weapons away. Hutch was ushered into an unmarked city car and whisked away.