Story Notes:

From the Cutting Room Floor took fragments of 'missing' scenarios and alternative tags, scattered across a number of zines and over some twenty years, and reassembled them into one zine. "Ken's Friend" is one of those stories.

'There's no vocabulary
for love that's lived in but not looked at;
the love within the light of which all else is seen;
the love within which all other love finds speech....'

—T.S. Eliot, The Elder Statesman


"Come on. We've got work to do."

But despite the urgency of his tone, Starsky made no move toward the door as Hutch stepped back to look down again at the woman whose lifeless body lay there at their feet. Hutch shook his head in quick protest. "We can't just leave her—like this...." He reached for the telephone and found his wrist encircled, gently, by his partner's fingers.

"I already called this in a minute before you got here," Starsky told him. "They're on the way. Didn't you hear the siren? Gonna be here in no time."

There would be no problem, Starsky reflected, in identifying a perpetrator. Maybe Grossman didn't do this murder himself, but he had removed doubts by his own call. Must be even dumber than he seemed. Dumb and dangerous. It had been clear on the previous morning that it was likely to be Olga who was the brains of that outfit.

He looked searchingly at Hutch, now seated on the sofa back, head bowed, his gaze fixed still on Gillian. "You want to stay here?" he suggested. "I could..."

"No!" Hutch seemed startled back into life and movement. "This is for both of us. You think I can forget what happened this morning? You're not going in there alone," he finished.

The crime lab team would be checking for confirming clues. Scanning the room, Starsky took in the signs of a planned departure—suitcase packed, a coat draped across it. And there, on the coffee table beside it, a familiar envelope, its superscription compelling his attention. His own name.

Steps, though muffled by the thick hallway carpeting, were clearly audible beyond the door, which Hutch had left open, and they both turned toward the sound. With a sense of guilt, Starsky snatched up the envelope, sliding it as far as it would go into a pocket.

Hutch watched him, frowning, puzzled. "What...? You know you can't remove something...."

"I know. Trust me." Starsky was conscious as he spoke of a potentially hollow quality in what he'd just said. "Later, huh?"

There was no chance for further exchanges and Hutch seemed to accept the assurance as the lab team joined them and identities were established. "Going to need a coroner's wagon here," one of them began after a brief, preliminary survey.

Starsky glanced across at his partner who was standing at the window now, back to the room. "That's okay," he said quickly. "I already took care of that when I told them to get you here."

Hutch turned then and Starsky caught his look across the few yards, which separated them. No way was he going to have his partner in this room while the next stages of the investigation took their routine course.

To this point, Hutch had stayed where he was, but now he headed for the door. "Let's go."

"Catch you later," Starsky told the newcomers. "No time now. We know who did this and we know where to look for them." He paused, waiting as Hutch cast a last look back at the room, and then followed him along to the elevator and down to the street where the Torino stood.

And then the fast ride through the night-dark streets to the Royal Theatre rendezvous, with its reminders of a morning's events in the alley at the rear of the building. But there was no time now to think about that time. This would be a different kind of shoot-out; they knew the target and the target wasn't running.

Grossman's shouted invitation to view the movie echoed in the darkness as, by separate routes, they made their cautious way inside. It was difficult at first to concentrate on anything beyond what the screen was showing. "You liar!" Hutch's furious accusation had been hurled no more than a half-hour back. But here, before their eyes, was the confirming, rebutting truth, bringing no satisfaction at all to the man whose initiative had brought them to this point.

As the movie came to its abrupt stop and as, eventually, all three—Grossman, Evans, and Turner—were accounted for, Starsky's thoughts were still following the same track. Afterwards, in the short interval while they waited for their back-up call to bring response, the silence had grown and settled between them. The words for this moment didn't exist and neither had found more to say then.

"Want a lift?" Starsky offered later when Grossman and his goons had been removed from the scene.

Hutch seemed to return to their place and time. "What?"

"Pick up your car?"

"Oh. Yeah."

Back outside the opulent apartment block, Starsky halted the Torino and together they walked the few yards to the LTD, parked just ahead. He intercepted Hutch's thoughts. "No need to go back in there. They'll have done everything that's...necessary."

Hutch brought his gaze away from the high window and looked back at him, expressionless. "Yes." He stopped. "Now we'll have a report to write...."

"It's late. It can wait."

A beat and then, "See you. Tomorrow. Right?"

"Right." Starsky knew that, for both of them, the effort of finding words presented too big a challenge at this time. Hutch nodded and got into his car. Starsky stood watching him as he drove away.

A couple of hours later, Starsky punched out the familiar number. There was no long wait as he'd half-expected, half-feared, before he heard Hutch's answering "Hello?" and remembered suddenly, vividly, the last time he'd called Venice Place. Was that only last night? Then he'd listened in despairing disbelief to the note of happy, exuberant anticipation in his partner's voice, a bitter contrast to the dead tone he heard now. He searched for something to say.

"Awake?"

"You guessed."

"Okay?" Then, "I know, I know. Dumb question." Hutch didn't answer that one and Starsky went on. "I called in. Dobey knows about...about the theatre shoot-out."

"Right." There was silence until Hutch said, "Been a long day, huh? So...see you...in the morning."

"A long way down" seemed to echo between them, and Starsky recalled how that Vegas case had carried some of this same numbed weariness. "Tomorrow," he confirmed as the line went dead.

He replaced the receiver. It was going to be a long night, with no prospect of satisfying his urgent need to talk or the need to be with Hutch. Too many obstacles there, first among them the conviction that his partner's need was for time alone. The thought of Hutch's feelings dominated every other consideration right now and the contact of mere seconds of telephone talk had brought only minimal comfort. Events had moved too fast, turning life upside down. Only a couple of evenings back there had been the first meeting with Gillian Ingram and it had been a good time. Why should Hutch have thrown that accusation at him? "You never did like her!" But I hardly knew her. Did the questions begin to show so much, so early? "He talks about you all the time," Gillian had said. And what did she, in her turn, think of that? Vividly, her last words came back to him. Gillian was smart as well as beautiful to see so much, so deeply, so soon. And honest in acknowledging the significance of what she saw....

"Ken's friend," he'd announced himself. Ken? He never used the name. Why Ken? Because 'Hutch' belonged to another, a different relationship, whose existence Gillian had not failed to notice but in which she did not share? His thoughts were busy, squirreling around in an overloaded mind.

Tired emotionally and physically, he began the end-of-day preparations, the shower bringing no kind of relaxation. Bed? But with the realization that sleep could never be compatible with this brand of tiredness, he made coffee and returned to the sofa. Too much had happened too fast, too much to absorb or make sense of, all within the span of mere hours. If only...if only there had never been that happy evening at the bowling alley when Gillian had joined them, if there had not been that chance of treatment for stiffening shoulder muscles and if he hadn't stayed behind at the Venus Massage place and thus recognized the woman he'd met only hours earlier.... A chain of "if"s.

He'd gone through the rest of yesterday in his own kind of daze, which he imagined Hutch must have noticed had his mind not been focused elsewhere. And we don't work that way.... He should have known something was wrong. So he'd done nothing then, simply carried the crushing knowledge around with him for the rest of the day, working beside a partner strangely unaware of anything amiss.

Disbelief had come first: this could not be. But the picture of what he had seen in that sleazy place was imprinted, unforgettably, on his memory, returning unbidden and unsought to flash its image as if on a screen. Yet he had done nothing, said nothing, clutching at possible explanations, rejecting them all, trying to talk to Hutch and failing at every attempt to find the words.

Back home yesterday evening, he'd stared at the open newspaper, trying to read but registering nothing of the print he held. Call Hutch...? And then...? How could he talk to his partner about what he had seen that morning? Maybe the evening hours would offer a better opportunity? But when the time came, there was a kind of relief in Hutch's obvious eagerness to cut conversation short, and again Starsky could find no words for the thoughts that had dominated his day. Hutch in a hurry meant a kind of reprieve.

The call to Huggy brought some slight lessening of tension with the knowledge that he was doing something—following standard procedure, checking out people at the scene. Huggy Bear knew the neighborhood, might come up with some rational explanation. Starsky couldn't really believe in that possibility. But whatever, Huggy would know, would find some answers.

Answers.... Any answers, he was sure, were going to bring more questions, crystallizing fears, confirming the evidence of what he'd seen that morning. Should have talked to Hutch that same day. Then, maybe, there wouldn't have been that panic impulse to confront her when Huggy called, and there didn't seem to be the time.... Excuses? Should have talked to him then.... Why didn't I? Because it all felt like alien territory, the kind we'd never known before...no maps...like what had just happened in the alley...never anything like that in all the years.... And I didn't tell him anything about the call or about...her...and he didn't ask, never seemed to notice anything.... So I just didn't talk, acted alone. Not the way we work. A dumb idea to save a partner, and maybe risk a partnership....

The inescapable fact was that he'd tried to buy her off, an attempt he had no right to make. 'You never did like her' echoed again in memory. Not true: on that point, at least, his conscience was clear. He had liked her. Hadn't he been glad that Hutch had liked her....

But Huggy's call put everything in a different perspective. This morning, faced with those facts, the need to act, to protect his partner, had precluded deliberation. Hutch had accepted his facile lie without a second's hesitation. Weird...and he always says I'm not a good liar...must have grown a special talent this morning. He'd fled the squadroom to make the dash for dollars and then to talk to her. The hurried activity felt furtive, combined with the nagging undercurrent of suspicion that maybe this was all wrong, that he could be putting certain important things at risk. It was strange, he thought now, that talking to Gillian should come more easily than talking to Hutch. Or not strange? Because the fear of hurting was so much less....

'He's got to know,' he had insisted. The financial inducement was a mere frill compared to that essential message that he must get across. He knew he had made the message one hundred percent clear. And precipitated what followed? The responsibility had to be faced.

'No choice?' she had asked.

Choice? She wanted choice? What answer did she expect?

There had been only one choice.... 'Or I'll tell him in the morning.' He knew by heart the lines of their conversation.

But the telling hadn't waited so long. Hutch knew now, though not the whole story. That was something which still waited. And Starsky would be awake, tonight, with that knowledge.

The urge to pick up the telephone again was strong and Starsky had to fight it. The need to comfort was insistent but some wisdom said that Hutch would prefer solitude in this long night. He must respect that: he could help more by staying away. A bitter truth. He remembered times when his partner had been there for him—too many times for the counting. Like when Helen had died or when he'd ignored the rulebook in order to provide sanctuary for Sharman Crane. The memories crowded in and sleep stayed far away.

But it was Gillian Ingram who stayed in his mind as the other question returned—the one for which he could find no answer. Why had she been in that place that morning? From Hutch's happy references and from what he himself had observed, their relationship was serious. So—why? How could she have kept that date at Venus Massage if Hutch was truly important in her life? It didn't fit. 'Pretty name,' Huggy had said. How pretty was the reality? It was a question he couldn't stifle.

The mixed emotions had been churning as he braked outside the classy apartment building. He'd never been inside, though he knew the address. How does she afford a place like this? Does Hutch wonder about that? But why should he? Would I have had any of these questions if I hadn't seen her at the Grossman place? Maybe Hutch hasn't spent time here either. Maybe they've been at his place, any place but here? Gillian seemed surrounded, hemmed in by questions.

He'd gone to bed last night and awakened this morning with the same thought pushing out all other considerations: He's got to know. And its corollary: Don't make me be the one who has to tell him. Gillian was as elegant, smart, beautiful, in her own style, as Vanessa. Was that old misery to be replayed? Paradoxically, it was Gillian's last words as he'd left her which brought some solace now, a comfort to cling to in the bleak hours stretching ahead until morning, words which understood his own motives, putting them in true perspective, voicing the central truth: 'You love him, too.'

Right.

The sunny streets felt colorless as Starsky drove to work the next morning. Getting through this day was going to be like climbing a very high, very steep cliff. A tentative phone call had raised no reply and, early as it was, he found Hutch already at their desk. The mug before him, half full of cold coffee, looked as if it had been standing there for a long time. One sure way of not being late for work.... All-night thoughts to keep you sleepless.

Starsky dropped into his accustomed place, leaned back in his chair and looked across the desk. "Good morning."

Hutch lifted his head to return the steady gaze. "Yeah." He pushed a thin file in Starsky's direction. "This one's top of today's pile."

Starsky read the subject's identity, which headed the case report. Today's priority...that pretty name again..."Juliot left this?"

"He's signed it. How'd you know that?"

"He was working on it last night when I was here," Starsky said, reading through the brief, factual account in which their colleague had recorded his part in the previous evening's investigation.

Hutch was watching intently as he looked up from the reading. A second sheet was pushed toward him. "Here's what I saw." And, not giving Starsky time to read the few lines, "Guess you'll have more that you can add to that. Coroner's report will be here later. It's a straightforward case...uh...injury. Means they can go right ahead with...the rest. No hold-ups there."

His manner was contained, business-like, somehow insulated from emotion, but Starsky had no need to guess. 'Hutchinson-the-efficient-cop' was clearly the mode of choice. But he knew the shock and grief masked by outward appearances. He pushed the papers aside.

"I'll do it. Soon. But right now, can you—we—talk?" He paused, waited. "Please...."

Hutch seemed to share the need to be elsewhere. "Why not?" Again his look met Starsky's. "Maybe find some coffee worth drinking," he added over his shoulder as he led the way out of the squadroom.

Without discussion they gravitated to the parking lot and Starsky unlocked the car. As so often, the Torino offered a refuge and, at this early hour, the duty rotas gave a precious reprieve of time before they needed to log in. He drove away from the precinct building, heading for their favorite nearby coffee place.

But once there neither made a move to leave the car. The pressures felt heavy, the time felt short, for all the things that clamored to be said...so many questions needing resolution, too many to fit neatly into this mere hiatus, this brief respite from the public patterns of the day ahead. Both of them were trying, desperately, to absorb in their different ways the shocks which had shaken the past twenty-four hours and all the after-shocks which would not subside.

It was less than twenty-four hours since a routine call and a routine pursuit in a deserted alley had thrown a new, bewildering factor into this partnership they had. 'I didn't work the way we work,' Hutch had said then. And did I? Starsky asked himself now. Scared both of us for different reasons. Things taken for granted until now had suddenly become elusive, their substance threatening to dissolve into mirage....

Hutch's voice broke in on the somber musings. "Do you want to talk? We still have work to do."

"I know." Starsky knew, too, that it was not only the completion of case reports that his partner had in mind. Rather, it was their partnership, which maybe presented the toughest challenge it had yet faced. He knew this must be something they both recognized. There was a lot of work waiting to be done there if something they both valued was going to make it through to the other side of all the questions as yet on hold.

"I know," he said again. "And we don't have the time right now. And this isn't the place."

"Back to work, huh?" Hutch had been staring out of the open window but now he turned to Starsky. "Funeral's probably going to be soon.... They're fixing a time."

A beat and he went on. "You coming?"

Starsky was aware of one more emotion added to the turmoil of feeling. Here was one more pain to be lived through and yet Hutch's assumption that he should be involved was a thread of solace running through all the rest.

"Yes," he said quietly. "I'll be there."

Hutch echoed his sigh and then lifted Starsky's wrist, checking the time.

"So.... Paperwork's waiting. But now, since we're here, how about that good coffee...partner?"

Almost, then, there was a smile between them.

Starsky slid the key from the ignition and opened the car door. "I could handle that."

Together they headed for the uncomplicated comfort of the coffee counter. "Let's get today done," Hutch said. "Then, afterwards...."

Starsky nodded. "Later. But first.... Did you eat breakfast?"

"Did you?"

"Well, not really. Not yet. So...."

Starsky put a sustaining arm around his partner's shoulders, propelling him through the restaurant door into the warmth and the simple consolations of the breakfast bar.


~~~


The phone call came through minutes before Hutch was about to go home. Starsky took the call, and listened for a couple of moments before passing over the receiver.

"You want to take this? They're saying you asked to be told."

Hutch listened, and learned that there were now no circumstances of a kind which might delay funeral arrangements. Those involved had been consulted, and matters could go ahead...day after tomorrow. With time and place fixed, there was only the optional attendance to affect them on this level, just one more stage to be lived through in a nightmare sequence.

Apart from the morning's interlude, it had been a strangely silent day. There had been so many times over the years when talk had been superfluous, but this was different, each of them locked within his own thoughts. Now, Hutch got to his feet and prepared to leave.

Starsky, watching him, asked, "Pick you up tomorrow?"

"Sure." On his way out Hutch made a detour which took him past his partner's chair so that his hand, in passing, gripped Starsky's shoulder and rested there for a long moment. Communication could work without the words.


~~~


Hutch was tired. Grief and confusion of the kind that blanked out sequential thought had dominated the previous sleepless night. He was trying, still, to absorb the fact that so much of his dream of Gillian had been grounded in illusion. Not all, maybe. 'I love you, really love you,' she had said. He wanted to cling to the thought that the words had been sincere. Yet the doubts persisted and wanting to believe otherwise could not silence their nagging. If she had truly meant those words, then how could she continue with that double life? How could she, within hours of saying that to him, keep the appointment which the Grossmans had set up for her? He could not forget that while he and Starsky had been checking on Al and Olga, Gillian, too, had been there in another part of the same building, on her own different business. Impossible to dismiss that fact: it had haunted him since he learned of it.

Back home, he faced the prospect of the empty evening. With the mail checked and the plants watered, he picked up a can of beer and sank down on the sofa. He supposed he might make dinner...later. The events of the past twenty-four hours seemed to cancel interest in everything else. Gillian Ingram.... How much did he really know about her? So much, he had thought only days ago, but now...? True she had talked about herself, answering his natural interest in things which concerned her. But.... Just answering my questions, he remembered, rather than volunteering details.

A writer, she had told him, and, confronted by Starsky's shattering revelation, he'd seized on that scrap of information. Maybe it was the truth. Writing.... And more. How much else had she withheld, leaving his partner to do the telling? And he could guess at the kind of courage that had been involved on Starsky's part.

His confusion grew. If she had been a writer, why the need to stay with the Grossman outfit? This was no inexperienced teenager with no prospects and nowhere to run. With the talents she had claimed, she surely had freedom to choose and had chosen to work for A1 and Olga Grossman. Why? It paid well? She liked the life? Have-it-all time? Starsky's words, voicing the kinder interpretation, returned to him: 'She was going to give it all up—just for you.' So why didn't she? If that was true, why had she kept that other date?

And if, that morning, there had been no witness to precipitate the questions.... What then? How long would she have gone on with the play-acting, the duplicity? He knew the words were harsh. And accurate. Yet, he reminded himself, they were not the whole truth.... Was that anything he would ever know? The work which he did daily had shown him enough of the complexities which so often underpinned human action and motivation to make him mistrust the too-rapid conclusion. He could not judge her too harshly. Should he, indeed, judge her at all?

The questions refused to be hushed. Should he have been attuned to any warnings? Twenty-twenty hindsight gave bitter meaning to Gillian's image of bursting balloons. And Starsky had made that unexpected call and had never given any reason for it—or any message. Trying to tell me something? He did call me and I didn't wait to listen to anything. Almost didn't pick up the phone.... Or should I have wondered why she never really let us spend time at her place?

The shock of finding Gillian lying there was something which no lapse of time was going to ease. He knew that Starsky understood his initial reaction to what he saw and, in turn, he could understand Starsky's desperate wish to find some way out which would cause his friend the least hurt. No one could claim that the method had worked but Hutch had no doubts about the caring motive. Only, Starsk, there was no way out of that...no possible cover up.

Always, his thoughts returned to Starsky—his center. To the recognition that the only real loss would be the loss of this partnership. The word covered life and living. One question eluded easy answers: he was trying, still, to confront the meaning of what had happened to him during that alley shoot-out. It had been a devastating experience, throwing a sharp spotlight on priorities, on all that the partnership with Starsky represented in his life. And then had come the fear, the sense that all those things could change, were somehow threatened. In those mere moments he hadn't tried to analyze his reaction, and analysis wasn't really necessary. The sense of irretrievable loss was overwhelming in those frozen seconds.

These were going to be days which they had no choice but to live through. And they would have to find a time to talk. But he knew his answers there. 'What ifs?' didn't feature where Starsky was concerned. Me and Thee was long established as the bottom line.

His last thought that night, before sleep finally overtook him, was thankfulness that Starsky was going to be with him through the inevitable aftermath.


~~~


"Coming my way?" Hutch inquired as they left the chapel in the late afternoon. The question was serious, Starsky knew—no lightly uttered social gesture. He hesitated.

The half-hour had delivered its own brand of stress and he was aware of the toll claimed by the sleepless hours of the past nights. We need to talk but I'm not ready for it...the words are going to come out wrong...I'll forget something...

"Now?" he asked.

Hutch nodded, waiting beside the LTD, ready to drive off. "Now."

Quit the excuses, Starsky told himself. I'm not going to forget the points that matter...one point particularly.

Postponement time had run out. The longer they found reasons to duck out of time spent together, time to talk, the heavier the strain would grow. He's gotta know.

"Your place?" he confirmed. "Okay. Go ahead, I'll follow you."

Conscious of mounting constraint with every turn of the Torino's wheels taking him to Venice, he parked the car, and stayed for a couple of minutes immobile where he sat. He couldn't recall any time to compare with this in all the years they'd known each other. Over those years they'd talked about a thousand things—agreeing, disagreeing, disparaging, encouraging, confiding, offering gratuitous advice or criticism, seeking comfort and support—but always with the same quality of spontaneity and directness. Now, it was as if Gillian's death was acting as some sort of catalyst, bringing them up against a new frontier, which would have to be crossed whatever the outcome. The priority had to be honesty. Honesty had hurt his partner but its absence had to hurt more.

At the top of the stairs Starsky opened the unlocked door of the apartment and found Hutch setting out beer and an assortment of sandwich components.

"Do-it-yourself time," he announced. He pressed a plate into Starsky's hand. "Just don't eat more than you can lift."

Putting together a sandwich dinner offered a kind of distraction, as did the television news and sports bulletin. Outwardly everything was like unnumbered previous occasions. Finally, setting down his plate, sandwich half-eaten, Starsky picked up a beer can. Can't spend the evening watching TV.... We're not getting anywhere like this.... He raised an inquiring eyebrow in Hutch's direction and reached for the 'Off' button.

"So...." Hutch said. "You want to go first?"

Starsky set down the beer can. "What...what d'you want to know? What don't you know?"

"I know what you told me. And I know you were telling me the truth. There's more?"

More than you know.... Moment of real truth....

"Okay," Starsky said. "For a start.... You've been wondering about this?" He produced a crumpled envelope. "Remember this?" He passed it to Hutch.

Hutch investigated, read the name. "Nothing here."

"Not now. Remember it?"

"The one you took from...from the apartment. Has your name on it." He frowned. "She was writing to you? Left you a note?"

Starsky drew a deep breath. "I'd seen her, talked to her, that day." He met Hutch's look of surprise and went on. "I told her you'd have to know. And now there's another thing you have to know...."

"Yeah? What, then? What?"

"Remember you said that she—that Gillian—had plans to open a boutique?"

"So?"

"So, I offered to help her, help finance it—like a business deal. The—uh—financial help was in that envelope."

"And?"

"And she didn't say no. Didn't tell me to get lost. And then, afterwards, there was this envelope she'd left there on the table. I knew what it was and it wasn't something I wanted them to find lying around."

Hutch seemed to accept the force of the statement. "That's it? That's all?"

"No.... Come on, how could it be all?"

"So...?" Hutch prompted again.

"Think about it. You're the one has a way with words. How about bribery? How's that for a word? Or you could call it interference: interference in your life." Starsky broke off. "Bribery and interference," he repeated. "Take your pick. Didn't work out, huh? Not on any level."

Hutch was regarding him quizzically.

"Aren't you mad?" Starsky said at last. "If I'd stayed out of it, she'd probably be alive now."

"That's not true." The contradiction was emphatic. "You didn't kill her. Let's be clear about that. That was all down to Al Grossman, with little Olga right behind him. And they did it without any help from you."

Starsky shrugged. "Aren't you mad?" he asked again.

Hutch paused. "I might be. If it were anyone else but you, I might be." He got up from the sofa. "Here." He tossed over another can of beer. "But it wasn't anyone else. It was you—makes a difference. I know, I know, you can make me mad on any day without even trying, but...."

Starsky was watching him closely, hanging on the words. "But...?"

"Emptied out your bank account, huh?" Hutch went on.

"I'm not that dumb. You know how it is. Bills to pay, gas to buy...."

Hutch returned to the sofa, opened his own beer. "You think I don't understand why you did all that? Like I said, from anyone else, I might think, 'Stay out of my affairs.' I might think, 'Interference."' He raised his beer can in a kind of salutation. "With you, partner, that's one word that doesn't fit here. Okay?"

"Really? You feel that.... You're not mad?"

"Business deal?" Hutch went on. "One more of your 'get-rich-quick' ideas?"

"Better prospect than those Bolivian banks." Starsky halted then, searching for the words to carry him over the last difficult revelation. Couldn't Hutch guess? His own words came back to him. 'He's gotta know.'

"There's more?" Hutch asked as the silence continued.

"Can't you guess?"

"Tell me about it."

Starsky picked up the discarded envelope, began folding and refolding it. "I think you already worked it out. Was meant to be a way of...."

"What?"

He could no longer escape confronting part of his own motive. He didn't try to avoid Hutch's very direct look as he made that central admission. "It was a way to stop your life being broken up."

He waited then for comment but Hutch was silent, his expression inscrutable.

"I guess the whole idea was wrong—could never have worked. But I couldn't just let things go ahead, not after I'd seen her that morning. And I know you've gotta know—all of it—and it was a dumb idea and I didn't have the right...." He came to another halt, waited for Hutch to look at him before he went on, the words coming fast in contrast to the difficult admissions of the previous minutes. "I wanted her to open that boutique a long way from here."

"Figures. That's it?"

"It? Wouldn't you say that's enough? I just made everything worse."

"Starsk." Hutch waited until Starsky looked at him again. "Thanks."

"You're thanking me for what I did?" Starsky couldn't find the words to continue.

"Right. Thanks. For all the bribery and the interference. For the caring."

"I never meant things to go the route they did," Starsky said.

"You don't have to tell me that. And it wasn't you made it happen that way. It was just the way some things already were. The way, maybe, they'd been for a long time. And don't tell me you're challenging my monopoly." Hutch smiled at his partner's totally puzzled expression. "On guilt trips," he explained.

Starsky managed a grin at that. "I didn't know how to handle it without hurting you more than I knew you were going to be hurt. You know how it was—I'd just met her that evening and everything was fine—great—and then.... Everything changed."

"Yeah. Things are different.... Like maybe Grossman's kind won't be bothering that neighborhood now."

"That, too. And maybe people like Lonely are going to feel a little safer."

"Another beer?" Hutch suggested, but Starsky waved aside the invitation.

"Drivin'. But I could just take something to eat on the way."

"You don't want to watch the late movie?"

The temptation was strong, but Starsky resisted. "Another time. Wouldn't even stay awake for the first shots. Too tired." He looked inquiringly at Hutch. "Aren't you? Can't remember the last whole night's sleep. Can you?"

"So sleep tonight," Hutch recommended.

"Feel like I could sleep for a week." Starsky yawned comprehensively as he started down the stairs, then looked back to where Hutch still stood at the open door, and turned. "Forgot something."

Hutch waited, watching until Starsky reached the landing and stood facing him.

"Wanna hug?" Starsky didn't wait for an answer. He held Hutch close and inevitably, remembered another time. But this time the comfort held no desperation.

There was a different quality here—retrieving, celebrating, things which were no longer threatened.

Hutch hugged back, smiled back. "Thanks," he said again.

"Yeah. See?" Starsky took a step back into the apartment. "Gonna be okay." Their old formula, voiced so often against so many odds. Starsky was remembering. 'You love him too.' She got that right. Maybe they both owed her something for that clear-sighted avowal. And maybe, one day, there'd be a moment when he'd share with Hutch the words which Gillian had spoken then.

A few steps on his way down, he turned again. "Hey. Some time—next week, maybe—how about I make dinner...my place?"

Hutch raised an acknowledging hand. "It's a date."


~~~


Standing in the doorway, listening to the Torino pull away, Hutch remembered Eddie Hoyle's lack of comprehension when Lonely Bloggs had died. 'We're nothin'.' Now, as he thought of Starsky, the thought occurred: Always have time for the nothings, don't you?

His partner...the one who found practical ways to meet the needs he saw, whether for a ride to the Mission for creamed tuna or for opening a boutique as a way of saving a partner from imminent hurt. 'Interference' was an irrelevant concept here. We could never jeopardize all we have in the name of 'interference,' throw away those building blocks of our lives...the honesty, the generosity and the giving, the love based on trust and on genuine caring. We'll go with that wherever it's taking us.


~~~


Dinner, a week later, was to be at Starsky's place. The day had been punctuated by references, some explicit, some oblique, to the delights which lay ahead. Finally Hutch interrupted the current oration.

"Starsk, why all the commercials? I've had dinner at your place a hundred times. More."

"True. But not like this. This is going to be different." Starsky seemed to catch signs of incipient trepidation in his prospective guest's reaction to the statement. "You're really gonna like this," he promised confidently.

"You shouldn't go to any trouble...." Hutch began.

But Starsky brushed aside the protests. "Just wait. Quit worrying. You'll see."

Hutch waited. And wondered. With Starsky in charge, anything was possible.

"Help yourself to beer," Starsky invited as, some hours later, they entered the apartment. "Dinner'll be ready in no time."

"Like a couple of hours?" Hutch seized on the possible escape route. "I'm really hungry tonight. Bread and cheese would be fine."

"In no time, I said. Everything's done and ready. Wanna watch?" He led the way into the kitchen.

Hutch watched, fascinated, as dishes were removed from the refrigerator and set out on the kitchen table.

"Cottage cheese?" Hutch's voice rose in disbelief.

"Of course, cottage cheese. And your very own favorite—" Starsky added a further item. "Really healthy brown rice. Isn't that nice?"

With a flourish, he next produced a colorful dish of grated carrot, green peppers and tomatoes. "Look!"

Hutch's emotions were compounded of incredulity, lingering suspicion and growing gratification, as yet another offering appeared. "Bean sprout salad!"

Starsky beamed. "You got it!" He seemed to be waiting for the ecstatic outburst which he apparently felt must follow. "Nibble if you like," he encouraged generously.

Hutch selected a sprig of green. "Starsk...it's—it's—too much...."

"You're welcome. I owed you anyway," he added as Hutch reached for half a mushroom and a couple of almonds.

"Banana chips later," Starsky promised, taking a chair. Hutch sat down too while Starsky surveyed his creations with satisfied pride. He smiled sunnily at his still puzzled partner.

"Owed?" Hutch questioned.

"Sure. You remember. You think I'd ever forget the Paul Muni Special?"

Hutch smiled back in happy reminiscence, taking in the feast spread out before them. "All this? For me?"

"Who else? You want scrambled eggs, too? No problem. Or—" He half-turned from the table, producing one more item. "You could even share this...." He whisked away a shrouding cover from the pizza, which had been lurking on the counter behind him. He transferred a substantial wedge to his own plate and then filled their glasses.

"Go ahead. You don't have to watch me go to work on this if it would spoil your appetite for higher things. C'mon, eat your vegetables."

Hutch went happily ahead. This, they both knew, was special. It meant a celebration of precious things, which had seemed suddenly precarious, but now safe again, recovered. This dinner was important in marking some unverbalized stage, which this relationship, central to both their lives, had now reached. They pledged one another with the red wine.

Afterwards when coffee time came around, Hutch noted the less-than-free movement as Starsky began to reach for the head-level shelf and then abandoned the attempt.

"Here." Hutch deposited the jar on the counter. "That shoulder's still bothering you." The observation brought back recollections and he stopped sharply. And there were some rough moments which can't have helped anything. The memories came back. "Never did get that fixed, did you?"

Starsky was busy with the coffee mugs. "It's okay. Told you. Just something that happens once a century."

They carried the coffee back to the sofa and settled comfortably. "See?" Starsky said, relaxing. "Better already."

Hutch considered him. "Maybe I'll do something about it—later," he announced.

"Yeah? Well, okay. I've known you work some near-miracles before now."

"In a minute," Hutch promised. He thought about the situation. "Maybe it's time you let me teach you a quieter game."

"Like what? I should warn you I sorta grew out of stamp collectin' a while back."

Hutch smiled in anticipation. "Not what I had in mind."

"So—like what?" Starsky prompted.

"Like chess."

"Chess....?"

Hutch smiled again, knowledgeably. "I'm good," he stated simply. "Could help you along." Bringing together Starsky and chess promised intriguing possibilities. He became aware of Starsky's brooding look. "We mustn't expect too much at first," he cautioned. "But you'll like it."

"Chess, huh?" his partner mused. "This is just one more phase in your brain and brawn thing, right?"

"Nothing like that," Hutch reassured. "It's just for your own good. Educational, too. Don't worry."

Starsky thought about it. "Chess.... Neat.... Original...." He apparently came to a decision. "Okay, you're on. Know something? I have this hunch I'm going to be a real hit here."

"You do?"

Starsky's confident air of happy optimism sparked a sudden small doubt as Hutch remembered the folly of taking anything for granted where this partner was concerned. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to check out a few finer points in the chess manual before he began the instruction.

"Guess that's something we're both going to find out," he said, "just as soon as we get the time for it."

The discovery process, he reflected, could prove satisfying.



'Restored, renewed...the lost are borne
On seas of shipwreck home at last.
See, in this fire of praising, burns
The dry, dumb past, and we
The life-long days shall part no more.
The light of recognition fills
This whole great day."

—W. S. Auden, 1907-1973

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