Ken Hutchinson entered the squadroom whistling a soft tune between his teeth and headed to the coffeepot. As he poured a cup for himself he turned to his desk with a raised eyebrow and let his tune rise to a sharp tweet to get his partner's attention. The dark head raised sharply, eyes instantly alert for a quick scan of the room, then relaxed into a slow smile as they fell on Hutch standing, pot extended in a question.
The dark head looked back down to the papers he was reading without any comment beyond taking the Coke in his hand and raising it in explanation of his lack of need for coffee.
"I thought you were going to be in late this morning. Weren't you going to the doctor?"
"Yeah, but the appointment got cancelled. We spent most of Saturday at the hospital trying to stop premature labor, so she's home with her feet up and her mom's there to watch Alicia," Arturo Flores answered as he signed a report and passed it to Hutch for his signature as well.
"Everything's okay, isn't it?" Hutch asked ignoring the page, the concern in his voice evident.
"Yeah," Arturo smiled and looked up. "Everything's fine, truly. If it weren't I wouldn't be here at all. She got a little dehydrated. She's having a lot more trouble with nausea this pregnancy, maybe that means it's a boy this time, huh?" Arturo's smile broadened. "Everything's fine, thanks for asking."
"You should go down to the Property Room and check out a beeper. Then if we're away from the radio and she needs anything, you'll know right away," Hutch offered, his concern unappeased.
Arturo leaned back in his chair and patted the beeper clipped to his belt, hidden like his gun by the loose jacket. "Great minds," he answered with a soft chuckle. "Did you and your wife have any kids?"
"No, no we didn't. Considering how the marriage ended, it's probably best."
"I've seen how you are around Alicia. I bet you didn't think so at the time," Arturo pressed.
"No, not at the time," Hutch answered easily. "But hindsight being 20/20...."
"Ever see her?" Arturo asked.
Hutch looked up from the page he had scanned briefly before signing. "Ah...no, no I...ah...she was...killed a few years ago."
"Oh, man, Hutch...I'm so sorry. I had no idea. You said you were divorced...I...." Arturo fumbled.
"It's okay. You had no way of knowing. We'd been divorced a number of years...it's okay, all water under the bridge now." Hutch stood and carried the paper to Dobey's in box and returned to sit in the chair. He reached over and gave his partner's shoulder a squeeze, wanting to dispel the look of embarrassment the younger man still wore. "It's okay, honest. Come on, let's see what's new on those ritzy break-ins."
Arturo handed over two of the folders he dug out from under the newspaper section on the corner of the desk. "Here, I added the stuff from records already, and the primary fingerprint sheets didn't yield anything useable. Smudges and others that weren't on file anywhere."
"Yeah, I'm not surprised." Hutch gave the folders' contents a quick read, then put them down with a sigh. "That one maid acted offended that the police were dusting for prints at all," Hutch recalled with a snort. "How dare we think there would be any fingerprints on glass that she cleaned daily?"
"Right, if looks could kill, you'd be breaking in another new partner this morning," Arturo joked and looked up when an icy silence cooled the air. "Hey, Hutch...I was only kidding." With a shake of his head he drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Shall we start over?" he asked. "Hi, partner, how was your weekend? Is Starsky doing better? Want to drop by and take him with us to lunch if we have time?" Arturo asked sheepishly, a blush tinting his smooth olive skin.
"Sure," Hutch answered, willing himself to release the tension caused by the earlier remark. "If you think you can keep your foot out of your mouth long enough to eat."
"I'll work on it. Let's go talk to some more of the people on this list."
Hutch drove while Arturo shuffled papers and jotted down names and addresses. "If we hit the Century Street Cleaners first, we can talk to the owner there. According to the clerk I spoke with on Friday, he's in first thing Monday morning to do the books. Three out of the five used him for at least some of their dry cleaning services, either clothes or furniture upholstery cleaning in the past six months."
"Five?" Hutch questioned. "Has there been another hit over the weekend?"
"No, but the two sisters? Only one of them used Century, the other used someplace else." Arturo shrugged and mumbled. "Quein sabe...."
"Yo no se," Hutch answered, falling into the friendly banter they had acquired since the day Arturo had taken off on a tangent in Spanish, not knowing Hutch was bilingual. The younger man had been thoroughly embarrassed by Hutch's answer to every one of the gripes Arturo had voiced.
This current case had been an exercise in frustration. Hours of legwork were boring at best. Add to that the tension and awkwardness of a new partnership, however temporary, and the fragmentation Hutch was experiencing in attempting to keep his mind on his work and off his partner, now in every sense of the word, healing at home. Home, the word sparked more feelings now than Hutch could ever remember at any time in his life. It didn't matter whose apartment they were in, wherever Starsky was...was home. He felt his lips curve into a smile and saw Arturo glance at him out of the corner of his eye. Then as always, the younger man went about his business, no questions, and no assumptions. Arturo was a good partner; he had no complaints there.
The man was well-educated and had solid experience under his belt, even though he'd been a cop in Phoenix several years less than Hutch had been a cop. He was the antithesis of every stereotype associated with Hispanics. Yes, he was fluent in Spanish, and equally so in Japanese, while speaking English without any trace of an accent. He and Hutch shared a double degree, both carrying one in Criminal Justice, and while Hutch's minor was reflected in Pre-Med, Arturo's was in Psychology. He drove a sensible, mid-priced family car and was happily married to a girl he'd met in college. They had a beautiful daughter just turning four and another baby on the way. Arturo had transferred to the BCPD from Phoenix and was fitting in nicely. By any cultural standard, he was successful. Hutch felt himself smile again, thinking Flores had his vertical alignment in order, as his father used to put it. He was rock solid, yet as the detectives went about the tedious task of interviewing the burglary victims in this case, and all the various associations the affluent persons had in common, it was painfully clear Hutch was a WASP and his partner was not. He had tried to make it seem like an advantage for them to press rather than an ethnic slur. He repeatedly pointed out to Arturo that while the victims themselves looked directly at Hutch as they spoke even if it had been Detective Flores that had asked the question; it was the same when the maids and gardening staff had been questioned. Hutch, then, the one being all but ignored.
Hutch slid the car into a parking spot in front of Century Cleaners, and both men entered to interview the owner.
After flashing badges as identification, the two officers were shown to the back office where the owner, Mr. Harold Carson, if the name on the door was accurate, was seated at a cluttered desk. The clickity-click of the adding machine as the ribbon was printing each entry was in steady rhythm under the older man's fast-moving fingers. It took a second knock to make their arrival noticed.
"Yes? Wasn't there someone at the counter?" The older man frowned as he stood.
"Yes, there was a clerk there, but we aren't here as customers, sir." Reaching for his badge again, "My name is Detective Flores and this is Detective Hutchinson. We spoke with your on-site manager last Friday and made an appointment for this morning."
"We'd like to ask you a few questions in the hope that you might be able to help us in the investigation of some burglaries in one of the nearby gated communities you provide service to," Hutch offered after also holding his badge out for scrutiny.
"I service gated communities all over this area, what one are you referring to specifically?"
"Highland Heights," Arturo answered.
"Oh, yes. Are you investigating the murder of Stan Zychowicz's wife? They have been customers of mine for over fifteen years. Terrible thing...terrible." Harold shook his head sadly and sat heavily down in the chair.
"Do you have a log of all the deliveries and pick-ups for that area, sir?" Flores asked.
"Yes, I do. I'll get it for you." Mr. Carson rummaged through several ledger books standing upright against the back of the desk before finding the correct one. "Here, this is Highland Heights, and every delivery and pick-up in the past three months is logged in there."
"How many drivers do you have, Mr. Carson?" Hutch asked.
"I have three full-time and two part-time. The part-timers are students; they work evenings and weekends mostly. The full-time guys are Monday through Friday peak hours; six a.m. is the first run. They usually turn it over to the kids after three or so."
"Do you mind if we take this with us and return it tomorrow?" Hutch asked.
"No, just give me a second to make a copy of today's runs." Harold took the ledger back and walked to the copy machine against the wall. "You're sure I'll get it back tomorrow? Tuesday is a big pick-up day. I don't want to run two logs any longer than I have to; it's too easy to miss something that way. I've never lost a garment," he said proudly. "I've been in business here for twenty-three years. Never lost anything that belonged to a customer. I don't want to start now, know what I mean?"
"Yes, sir. We'll see that it's returned to you as soon as possible," Flores assured him.
"Do you have personnel files on your drivers, Mr. Carson?" Hutch asked reaching for the ledger.
"Yes, do you want to take those, too?"
"Only if they have photo IDs in them."
"Well, I have a copy of their current driver's license, that's got a photo on it. I won't hire anyone that doesn't have a good driving record. I'm liable for them driving my truck. I insist they have a clean driving record, and I don't use any...." he hesitated, eyes darting to Flores. "Anyone who isn't a citizen. They've got to have a green card. I make them show it to me."
"That's good, Mr. Carson. Thank you for your co-operation. You've been very helpful. If we can see the photo IDs of the drivers, we won't take up any more of your time," Flores said, smiling as he stepped closer to the desk.
"Here, this is everyone that's currently on the payroll," Carson handed over the small group of files.
"Has anyone quit in recent weeks?" Hutch asked.
"No, the most recent one to quit was one of the part-timers. She was a student, her mother died. She went back to Ohio where she was from. That was about four, maybe five months ago, now."
"Thank you, here's my card. If you think of anything else, or if you have any questions, feel free to call. I wrote on the back of it, one ledger and five personnel folders and today's date." Hutch extended his hand to the older man as Arturo passed his bundle over to the other arm, freeing his right hand to extend in a handshake.
The rest of the day was spent following leads that went nowhere, and it was with no small amount of relief that Hutch headed back to the station to file the reports and put an end to it. Flores was in the same frame of mind. Hutch had seen an edge of distraction throughout the day that was not usually there, manifested by random touches of the beeper he wore on his belt and stopping frequently to call home and check on his wife and the unborn child she carried.
Hutch caught sight of the Torino in the parking lot as he drove in and knew his face had taken on a sappy grin, but he didn't care at all. With more spring to his step than he'd exhibited all day he hurried to the squadroom. Starsky was seated at their desk engaging in an animated discussion with another officer when Hutch and Arturo entered. Flores gave him a pat on the shoulder as he reached over Starsky's back to grab the phone and call home once more before leaving, while Hutch snagged the hand holding the candy bar long enough to take a bite before letting it go.
"Hey, watch the fingers...." Starsky complained good-naturedly in Hutch's direction before turning to Flores. "I suppose you want a bite, too?"
Flores smiled and pinched off a piece of the candy bar with a wink at Hutch, then concentrated his attention on his phone conversation.
"We had a quick and early lunch," Hutch explained, eyeing the candy bar again.
"Oh, no you don't, the rest is mine, go get your own," Starsky warned as he popped what was left of the candy in his mouth and, wadding up the paper, made a successful toss to the trash can at the nearby desk. "Two points," he announced proudly.
"What brings you down here?" Hutch asked, as he shuffled the papers and notes from the interviews of the day.
"Had to pick up the papers for the physical review board so I could drop them off at Dr. Fielding's. She'll add her two cents worth and then I see them for their determination of when I can come back to light duty." Starsky looked up with such a mixture of fear and anticipation that Hutch had to fight the urge to hug him right there in the squadroom.
Hutch reached out a hand to squeeze Starsky's shoulder instead, with a look that sent all his love and reassurance. "You're doing great, babe. There won't be any stopping you," Hutch offered softly.
Arturo hung up and reached for a share of the papers near Hutch's hand. "Here, let me get some of these done, then I need to get home and rescue my mother-in-law. It sounds like she's had all of an irritable pregnant woman and a rambunctious four-year-old she can handle for today."
"Hey, I'll do these, you go on. Take care of things at home, I'll see you tomorrow." Hutch batted Arturo's hand away and motioned him out the door.
"Thanks, man...Dave, you're looking good, see you tomorrow, Hutch," Arturo said as he quickly left.
"What's going on with him at home?" Starsky asked.
"His wife had an episode of premature labor yesterday, she's home in bed until they can keep it stopped. He's been as nervous as a cat all day." Hutch leaned closer to whisper, "He was as bad as I was, worrying about you, when I first came back to work."
Starsky rolled his eyes but took on a smugly pleased expression, even if it was slightly blush-tinged. "Want to go get something to eat?" Starsky asked, standing and grabbing his file folder. "If I'm going to get poked and prodded from one end to the other tomorrow I need to keep up my strength."
"Yeah, you go ahead, get a table at The Pits and order, I'll be right behind you, give me thirty minutes to get a couple of these done." Hutch sat down at the desk and began writing furiously.
Starsky nodded to the other men in the room and walked with almost his usual jaunty stride, out the door.
Hutch stretched at the kink in his back as he sat over the typewriter and glanced up at the clock. His thirty minutes had quickly become over an hour and he pulled out the form he'd just finished, hastily signed it, tossed it in Dobey's box, and made a dash for the door. He zigzagged through early evening traffic and pulled up at The Pits. His dash through the doors stopped short as he pulled his sunglasses off and tried to see in the dim light. He saw the back of a curly head and an arm lift to wave in the air and he headed toward it.
"How'd you know it was me that came in?" Hutch asked as he slid in the booth.
"I figured unless the place was being robbed, nobody else would open the front doors like that." Starsky gave him a slow smile, letting his long fingered hand rub up and down the top of Hutch's thigh where it rested close to his own under the table.
"Sorry I was longer than I thought...."
"It's okay, after all these years, I know how long your thirty minutes can be. I'm hoping that will carry over to some other things," Starsky broadened the grin.
Hutch could feel the heat of the blush starting up his neck to his hairline and knew that even in the dim light, Starsky could see it, too. "Payback's a bitch, keep that in mind," Hutch warned.
The two men nibbled at the nachos while they waited for the order Starsky had put a hold on until Hutch actually arrived, to come to the table. After finishing their meal Starsky snapped his fingers in front of Hutch's face startling him. "What?" Hutch asked.
"You. Where do you go when you get that blank look in your eyes?" Starsky asked. "You've been drifting off a couple of times tonight. What's up?"
"Just thinking about Flores and his wife, I guess."
"Why?" Starsky asked directly.
"They're a nice family. His daughter's really cute, a bright-eyed, happy little girl. Just wondering that's all...."
"About what, Blondie?"
"If you'd given any thought to what you were ready to give up. If you're serious about being in for the long haul with me, you'll never have that, Starsky. I thought it was what you always wanted."
"What about you?" Starsky asked.
"I don't think I ever let that particular balloon fill up with air after Van left me and popped it. It isn't something I can't do without," Hutch answered.
"And you think it is for me?"
"I don't know.... It's something I've heard you talk about as long as I've known you. We've never talked about how this changes everything. I just wondered if you'd have regrets later." Hutch looked at the surface of the table making water-ring circles with his sweating beer mug.
"Right now, Hutch, the only regret I can think about having is what I'd be missing if you hadn't found me at the beach house." Starsky reached to rest a warm hand on Hutch's thigh. "You're all the family I need."
Hutch looked up into sincere blue eyes. "You're all the family I want," he answered softly, covering Starsky's hand with his own.
"Let's get out of here. Your place or mine?" Starsky asked with a suggestive wag of his eyebrows.
"Mine. It's closer," Hutch answered, throwing a ten spot on the table and walking out toward his car with both hands shoved deep in his pockets to hide the erection he was sporting.
He drove to Venice Place in record time, the Torino right behind him. Both men took the stairs two at a time and fell into each other's arms as soon as the door was shut. Hutch drew Starsky tightly against him feeling their heat increase as the two bulges in their jeans pressed together. He vaguely registered that the run had only slightly winded Starsky, and he made a brief mental note to compliment him on it later...much later. At present he was more intent on exploring every centimeter of the hungry mouth pressed against his. Hutch groaned as Starsky's hands grasped his ass and ground their groins together.
"If you don't stop long enough for me to get naked I won't be wearing these jeans tomorrow, and they're the last clean pair I have," Hutch panted in the warm spot between Starsky's neck and shoulder.
Starsky's breath woofed out in a chuckle and he pulled back. His impatient fingers fumbling with the buttons on Hutch's shirt, while Hutch loosened his belt and slipped free of the tight jeans, raking down his briefs in the process. Hutch's cock sprang free and he gave a sigh in appreciation of the freedom. He reached to take Starsky's jacket off, tossing it on the couch out of his way, but when he reached for the shirt, Starsky stiffened and hesitated. "Let's go in the bedroom," he said, his voice a husky whisper. Hutch held out his hand and let Starsky lead the way. As they entered the alcove Hutch's hand went for the light switch and Starsky deliberately pulled him past it. "Leave it off...please?" Starsky asked without turning. "There's enough light coming in from the other room." Starsky turned then, a slightly artificial smile pasted to his lips softening the request for darkness that broke Hutch's heart. The smile melted into an increasingly hot gaze up and down the naked blond. "Come here, make love with me." Starsky slid his own jeans down his legs and jerked free of his shirt before kneeling to get in the center of the big bed.
Hutch crawled in next to his lover, both hands softly caressing up Starsky's legs to his belly, kissing and running his tongue lightly through the soft hair and continuing up to his chest. He kissed and nipped at his nipples, loving the passion-driven sounds coming from Starsky. "I love you," Hutch whispered against Starsky's neck before sucking strongly on the tender flesh there, marking him. "I love, loving you. You're so beautiful, my heart sings when I touch you, when I hear how you respond to me. To see you so hot and know I took you there. It means everything."
Starsky arched into Hutch's demanding mouth, covering his back and butt with hands that kneaded and pressed their bodies closer. Starsky eased his body under Hutch and lined their cocks up to rub wildly against each other. The pre-cum leaking from them both added to the pleasure. "Come with me, Hutch. God, just another couple of strokes, I'm so close. Yeah, oh, babe, just like that, harder now...faster. God, Hutch, I'm gonna...ohhhhh, yeah, now, NOW...Hutch, let me feel you...." Starsky screamed his completion into Hutch's mouth, as the hot spurts that Starsky shot between them took Hutch over the edge as well.
Hutch eased his shaking body off to the side and drew Starsky tightly against him. He planted tiny kisses in between panting breaths on whatever flesh his lips could reach, covering Starsky's shoulder and face.
"Holy shit, I feel like a seventeen-year-old discovering sex all over again," Starsky gasped, his hand rubbing idly up and down the incision on his torso.
"You okay? I didn't hurt you laying on you like I was, did I?" Hutch asked when he noticed the motion.
"No, I'm fine." Starsky stilled his hand and moved it to rest on the side of Hutch's face. "I'm better than I can ever remember being. Everything's great." Starsky ruffled Hutch's damp hair and smiled before letting his arm drop back to the bed. "I love you, too."
Hutch eased away to get out of bed when Starsky's voice stopped him. "Where ya going?"
"To shower, sorry to break the mood, but I am not sleeping in sticky sheets. Come on, you, too."
"Man, the honeymoon's over before we ever had one," Starsky complained good-naturedly, but moved as directed to follow Hutch to the bathroom.
The rest of the evening passed in front of the TV as Starsky watched an old black and white creature feature, and Hutch sat reading, with Starsky's legs draped over his thighs. With a jaw-cracking yawn as the final credits rolled, Starsky stretched and got up. He padded into the kitchen to peruse the inside of the refrigerator, then checked the cabinets for snacks. Finally shutting the doors with a shrug, he paced to the greenhouse window and then back by the couch. But didn't sit down.
Hutch watched the restless movements without comment until he couldn't stand it any longer. "What's wrong?"
"Nothin', why?" Starsky asked.
"You're acting like we're in our last hour of a stake-out and you can't wait to get relieved and get out," Hutch said.
"Oh...I'm just a little wired. Thinking about tomorrow, I guess," Starsky answered as he paced back toward the greenhouse. He stood there looking out into the twinkling lights of the city drawing Hutch's orange bathrobe more closely around him.
"Starsky, tomorrow is the first step in a process. It isn't the final answer by any means. Even if they say you aren't clear for light duty tomorrow that doesn't mean they won't clear you next week, or the week after. What did Dr. Fielding say? She's making the recommendation, right?"
"Yeah, she told me what she was recommending."
"And?" Hutch prompted.
"She's pretty much given me a green light to do anything I want. Told me to use my own judgment, stop if I got tired or something hurt...." Starsky turned briefly with a short laugh, "More than it usually does." Looking back out on the city he continued, "That's better than I ever imagined a couple of weeks ago. Her only stipulation is that I'm not assigned to any of the holding cell areas so I wouldn't be likely to get in any fights. Body blows right now wouldn't be high on her list of activities." Starsky unconsciously rubbed at his midsection, then stopped when he noticed the action and slowly lowered his hand.
Hutch stretched and stood, closing his book and setting it aside. "I'm beat, you coming to bed?" He asked as he moved toward the sleeping alcove.
"Yeah, I'll be there in a little while, you go ahead. My tossing and turning would just keep you awake." Starsky rubbed at his incision again as he spoke.
"Are you hurting? You keep rubbing your chest. Before when we were making...."
"No, you didn't hurt me...I'm fine." Starsky took in a deep breath and let it out with an air of frustration. "This time of day everything hurts, you know? Tonight isn't any different."
"Take something so you can get a good night's sleep."
"No! They might do a urine test for a drug screen, I want to be clean."
"Starsky, you're being reviewed to come back for light duty. There's nothing wrong with you still taking a prescription for pain pills if you need it. It's what the doctor gave you."
"I said no, not even an aspirin and that's final, so leave it alone. I'm not going to hand them anything to use against me for re-instatement. It'll be uphill enough, don't you think?"
Starsky drew in a shaky breath and ran his fingers over his face and through his hair. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to take it out on you, go on to bed, babe. I'll be in as soon as I can."
Hutch nodded and went toward the big bed pulling off his sweat pants and tossing them over the top of the open closet door. He cast a glance back at his still pacing lover and walked to the linen closet and rummaged for a moment. Finding what he sought, he went back to the bed. The scrabbling in the closet piqued Starsky's attention and he drew closer.
"What are you doing?" Starsky asked.
"Getting something to help you rest," Hutch answered as he leaned past the nightstand to plug in the heating pad. Hutch settled in bed, holding the covers up in invitation. "Come here, let me hold you. See if this will help."
Starsky shrugged out of Hutch's robe and kneed his way into bed.
Hutch pulled Starsky closely to him, settling the smaller man's back tightly against his own chest and placed the heating pad against Starsky's abdomen his large hands holding it in place there. After a moment he could feel Starsky's body respond to the warmth engulfing him on both sides. Hutch let his hand, hot from holding the heating pad firmly in place, slide between the pad and Starsky's body, rubbing slow firm circles over Starsky's abdomen and chest, and was gratified to feel Starsky relax even more.
"It's going to be all right tomorrow, don't worry...."
"Ever play ‘what if'?" Starsky asked.
"When I was a kid, Nicky and I used to play this game with Mom. We'd say ‘what if'...and we'd say the most outrageous thing we could think of and she'd answer accordingly. But she'd always end it with, ‘but I'll still love you'." Starsky grasped Hutch's hand and wove their fingers together. "So it might be something like...what if I flunked Math? And she'd say, ‘Well, you'll just have to try harder and ask for help, but I'll still love you'," Starsky said.
"So you might say what if I got in a fight at school and they expelled me...?" Hutch started.
"She'd say, ‘I've told you before about fighting and I wouldn't like it, but I'd still love you'."
"Your mother was a smart woman. You were lucky to grow up that way," Hutch sighed. "So, what if I said I didn't want to be a cop anymore and we should go rob banks in Bolivia?" Hutch asked.
"I'd say we can't do that, but I'll still love you," Starsky answered.
Hutch responded by kissing the side of Starsky's neck and snuggling him close in a warm hug.
"What if...?" Starsky started then was quiet. Hutch just waited. "What if they don't let me come back?" Starsky asked, his voice so quiet Hutch had to lean in to hear him.
"Then you'll do something else and I'll still love you," Hutch answered.
"Will you?" Starsky asked.
"With everything in me...forever," Hutch answered with solid conviction. He leaned over and kissed along Starsky's shoulder and neck again, flattening his hand to resume the slow circles over Starsky's abdomen, each pass going lower until Hutch eased his fingers free of Starsky's hand altogether and rubbed his hand over the warm skin. He ran his long fingers in tickling trails through the soft curls below Starsky's belly button, avoiding the hard and bobbing cock that jutted up toward the roving hand. Hutch skimmed his fingers up the softer, sparser hair on Starsky's body toward his chest where it became thicker and coarser again. At intervals the fleshy pads of his fingers would swipe across differently textured skin and it wasn't until he felt Starsky stiffen and twist slightly that he realized Starsky was trying to move his torso so Hutch's fingers missed touching the scars at all.
Oh, babe, what am I going to have to do to make you believe you aren't ugly and that the scars don't matter?
Trailing his fingers down to circle Starsky's cock he stroked slowly, running his thumb over the head every few strokes the way he knew Starsky liked. Hutch pressed closer to run his tongue along the rim of Starsky's ear, then moved down to kiss and suck along his neck and the junction of his shoulder. Starsky was squirming and making pleasured moaning noises. Hutch kissed back up toward Starsky's ear to whisper hotly, "Feel good? You're so beautiful like this...so hot and getting ready to come. Go with it, babe, come for me...." The words worked their magic and Starsky grabbed Hutch's thigh where it rested behind his ass in a fierce grip and bucked his hips strongly into Hutch's fist as it stroked him. He sent his ejaculate flowing over Hutch's hand in strong spurts. Starsky's breath came in air-hungry gulps, as he slowly loosened his white-knuckled grip of Hutch's leg and relaxed bonelessly against Hutch's body.
"Oh, man," Starsky moaned. "I can't believe what you do to me...."
"Think you can sleep now?" Hutch asked.
"What about you?" Starsky reached for Hutch's groin.
"Me?" Hutch answered. "I came right after you, just watching you."
"No shit?" Starsky asked, looking amazed.
"I can't believe what you do to me either," Hutch answered with a laugh as he eased off the bed pulling at his briefs. He went into the bathroom and returned with a warm cloth and towel.
He cleaned off his sleepy lover, and dropping the wet things on the floor, he snuggled in place and wrapped Starsky in his arms again.
"Thanks," came the soft mumble and it was the last thing Hutch heard.
Starsky hummed to himself as he opened the door to the squadroom with his typical flourish. With a wink at one of the female officers and a wave at Simmons, Starsky moved jauntily over to his desk. He ran his hand lovingly over the piggybank and dug in his jeans for some change to feed it. Taking note of some of the doodling and recognizing the style as Hutch's, he grabbed a pen and drew a prominent mustache on one of the large-nosed cartoon faces Hutch usually drew. It was a long-standing joke between them that dated back to their Academy days. It was their form of ‘Gilroy was here.' He let his eyes rake over the surface of the desk, seeing the additions. He saw notes on the appointment pad in a handwriting he didn't recognize and felt his earlier elation ebb. Don't get too comfortable, Flores, this won't be your desk long if I have any say in it. Starsky turned to look around, drinking in the familiarity and drawing a sort of strength from it.
The door behind him opened and a voice bellowed, "Starsky! How the hell are you? Good to see you. I got the call a few minutes ago, does Hutch know yet?"
"No, I came by to tell him myself, but they must be out...."
Looking at his watch, "They'll be checking in before too long. Flores is a pretty committed family man, like's to get out of here on time whenever he can." Dobey laid down the stack of files in his hand and clapped Starsky on the back as he returned to his office. "Damn glad to have you back, even if it's light duty to start with."
"Thanks, Cap', great to be back." Starsky looked at the stack of files and slowly sat in his old chair. "I won't consider myself back until I'm right here and nobody else's coffee cup is taking up space," Starsky muttered. He let his hand drift to the cup with the Phoenix PD logo on it and was surprised to find the sides of the cup still warm. Much warmer than he would have expected if both detectives were out in the field. He glanced at his watch with a grimace, knowing he couldn't wait much longer if he was going to get these papers from the board to Dr. Fielding's office for her signature today, so he could return with them to work in the morning.
He left the squadroom making a detour to the men's room before hitting the road, already making plans in his mind for the celebration dinner he'd make for Hutch tonight at his place. As he pushed into the men's washroom, he saw two figures huddled in the far corner. The back that faced him, he would recognize from the opposite end of a football field. The sight of that body standing in the bathroom with his arms wrapped around another man hit Starsky like automatic weapon fire and took his breath. For a few seconds Starsky really believed his legs would buckle and he'd make his presence known in the washroom by falling flat on his face. Then his ears kicked in and he heard the sound of sobbing. Shaking his head to clear the red rage of jealousy that was threatening to blind him, he looked at the stance of the two men. This time really seeing. Hutch stood, arms wrapped around Arturo Flores while the younger man was crying bitterly into Hutch's shoulder. He was clutching handfuls of Hutch's jacket in his intense misery. But Starsky's rage lessened very little. All he could feel at that moment was what it felt like to be so engulfed. Those arms that had held him so many times over the years, and the level their physical relationship had escalated to over the past weeks, had taken those hugs to a whole new height. Now there was another man sheltered in that wonderful comfort, usurping Starsky's place. He really didn't give a shit why. At that moment, the reason didn't matter. No one belonged inside Hutch's arms but him.
"I'm so sorry, Arturo," Hutch's voice intoned. "Your wife is safe, the two of you can have other children. I know that doesn't help the pain right now, but someday it won't hurt so badly, believe me. That is one thing I do know. Time will heal it."
"She looked so guilty when she told me, like it was her fault, like she'd done something wrong that caused it. She didn't do anything, it wasn't her fault she lost the baby." Arturo stopped to cough out another sob. "She kept apologizing that she'd lost our son, like the fact that it was a boy made it harder for me somehow. Why would she think that? I don't love my daughter less than I would if she'd been a boy. This baby was my child, I didn't care what sex it was...I just wanted it. Oh, God, how I wanted it. My child, our child...he was so tiny, so perfect, but just too little to live." Arturo took in a shuddering breath and pulled back, wiping his face and straightening out of Hutch's arms. "I need to get my car and go back to the hospital. The doctor said I could take her home this evening if she isn't bleeding too much and not running a fever or anything, I think that will help. Be home, us together. It'll be good for both of us." Arturo glanced up and met Starsky's gaze looking a bit uncomfortable as he cleared his throat and stepped to the sink to wash his face. Hutch hovered close, appearing not to have picked up on the presence of anyone else in the room.
"Yeah, hey, if there's anything you need, give me a call, huh?" Hutch asked, resting a hand on Arturo's shoulder and giving it a squeeze. "Anything, doesn't matter what time it is either, okay?"
Arturo nodded his thanks, meeting Hutch's eyes in a serious look as if gauging to see if the words had been just empty expressions. Seeming to internalize that they had indeed been sincere, he nodded again and left the washroom, giving Starsky a short nod as he passed.
Hutch took in a deep breath and stood staring into the mirror. The surprise on his face clearly showed he had no knowledge of Starsky's earlier arrival.
Starsky took in his own expression as it was reflected back, but was helpless to soften any of the stony features. He stood stiffly in accusatory silence.
"Flores's wife lost their baby. It was a boy. We just got back from the hospital...he was dropping me off so he could go back there and I could bum a ride home." Hutch walked slowly over to the urinal to relieve himself. As he zipped he turned to look at Starsky, Hutch's face darkening in a frown. "What's the matter?"
Starsky stared at Hutch, struggling to get the earlier picture of his lover and Arturo out of his mind. He fought within himself, wanting to let go of the anger and the jealous hurt of a few minutes ago, and feel sorry for the grief the Flores family was experiencing, but he couldn't do it.
"Come on, I've got to get to Dr. Fielding's office before they close. She's got to sign a paper for the department." Starsky turned without another word and headed for the car.
The blond got in the car with a slam of the door and stared straight ahead while Starsky pulled out into traffic. He knew Hutch hadn't deserved his abrupt attitude and he knew it wouldn't be long before his partner called him on it, yet he was dreading having to explain what he'd been feeling. Hutch had never given him any reason to be jealous, and they had talked out Starsky's feelings about Flores at length while they were at the beach house. Starsky himself didn't fully understand where that dark rage had come from, but he easily recognized it for what it was.
Taking a deep breath in preparation to face the music he turned to Hutch. "I'm sorry."
"What the fuck is the matter with you?" Hutch said at the same time.
"You first," Hutch jumped in again.
"I'm sorry...I...I...I don't know what to say. I was all excited to tell you I got the re-instatement for light duty and came by to surprise you and you weren't anywhere around. I figured you were working, and I'd just go home and fix something special and surprise you there later. I walked in the john and saw you and Flores in a clinch...."
"You saw us in a what?" Hutch exploded.
"He was all wrapped up in...." Starsky started, hating the way the explanation sounded even to his own ears.
"Pull over!" Hutch demanded.
"You heard me, we aren't going to discuss this not looking at each other, and you can't look at me and drive. Pull the fucking car over!"
Starsky changed lanes and exited off the main street they were traveling and pulled into the almost empty parking lot of a small strip mall. He turned off the engine and waited for the continued fireworks from the passenger side of the car. There was nothing but silence. He let his hands fall away from the steering wheel and slowly turned to look at Hutch.
"I said I was sorry...." Starsky started as he searched his lover's face.
"I don't understand where this is coming from, Starsk. We're just getting started and you're acting like I'm some hormone driven flake that can't keep his hands to himself. Have I ever given you any reason to believe I'd cheat on you?"
"You've known me forever. Even when my marriage was in the crapper, was I unfaithful to Van?" Hutch asked.
"Then why would you think, seeing me holding Flores, that there was anything sexual going on? Why wouldn't you initially assume there had been some tragedy?" Hutch's eyes were chips of ice-blue flint.
"I...I don't know why.... That's the first thing I thought of, okay? I don't know. I saw you and all I could think of was all the times as your partner before we got together like we are now, how you held me like that...it just seemed threatening somehow, I guess. I said I was sorry. Look, I feel like shit about it. Not only for the way you're looking at me...like I crawled out from under a rock, but for Arturo's family, too. Don't make me feel any worse, okay? I apologized, what else do you want me to do?"
"I want you to trust me." The words were spoken softly and without anger or accusation, but their impact was extreme. Starsky felt his breath catch painfully.
"I do, Hutch, I swear to God, I do. I trust you with everything I have...everything I am. That's nothing new, I've always trusted you." Starsky reached out to grip Hutch's arm.
"You trust me as your friend and your partner, and as a cop. Trust me as your lover, will ya? Trust me that I love you, not just for now, but for the long haul. Believe me when I tell you I love you, I don't want anyone else, just you...just you...." Hutch paused to let the emphasis of that sink in. "You, exactly as you are. Cop, not a cop, scars and all. Can you wrap that thick head of yours around that?" Hutch covered Starsky's hand "Do you trust me enough to leave the light on?"
Starsky instantly recognized what Hutch was asking, and sitting there in the front seat of his Torino fully clothed, he had never felt so nakedly vulnerable. He looked into Hutch's face and knew his lover deserved that trust. His mind flashed back to days in the hospital when he'd been so sick. Hutch had held him sweaty and throwing up, bathed him, emptied bedpans, there was no level of intimacy Hutch had shied away from. If it was something Starsky needed, Hutch did it, without hesitation and without compromising his dignity in the process. Starsky knew in his heart, if the situation had been reversed, he'd have done the same thing. So why was this so hard? He swallowed as best he could around his suddenly cotton-filled mouth and whispered, "I'll try."
"That's all I've ever asked of you," Hutch answered and leaned across the car to cover Starsky's lips with his own in a gentle kiss. When Hutch pulled back, Starsky felt Hutch's hands tangle in his hair on each side of his head and grip the curls there. The next meeting of their mouths was more demanding. Starsky opened up willingly to the plundering tongue, meeting it eagerly with his own. After a moment they eased apart. When the world felt like it was on a solid foundation again, Starsky smiled as he looked under lazy, passion-hooded eyes into a face he knew as well as his own.
"Let's go, before you miss Dr. Fielding," Hutch said. He smiled back and tousled Starsky's hair before sliding to his own side of the car.
The stop at Starsky's doctor quickly turned into a rowdy celebration with laughter and hugs all around. As Dr. Fielding handed back the form for Starsky to report to work with the next morning she passed him an envelope with it.
"I took the liberty of getting you something to celebrate with. One of my patients just opened a restaurant, go, enjoy, let me know if the food's good. If you get sick, don't sue me. See you next month," Dr. Fielding said, her smile growing as Starsky leaned over to kiss her cheek in thanks.
As they walked to the car Starsky handed the envelope to Hutch, while he looked with supreme satisfaction at the paperwork Dr. Fielding had signed, reinstating him in the ranks of the employed.
"This is for fifty dollars. It's that place we saw down by the beach with all the flags out in front, remember, you pointed it out to me? We thought it looked interesting. Small world."
"Let's go now, then. I was gonna cook, but this is better, and I'll think of something special to celebrate with you when we get back to my place."
"Mine's closer." Hutch offered.
"We were there last time, mine has a mirror on the ceiling...." Starsky felt himself blush and Hutch laughed aloud, the dark cloud of earlier lifted.
The meal was good and both men appreciated the quiet, intimate atmosphere they could enjoy, being well ahead of the normal dinner crowd. After dessert they drove to Starsky's, detouring by Hutch's long enough for him to pick up clothes to wear to work the next day.
The atmosphere from the restaurant continued in Starsky's apartment as he went around lighting candles while Hutch tuned in the radio station that boasted "Love Songs from the Coast." Hutch took Starsky's hand after he lit the last candle and drew him into his arms, kissing his face and neck. Starsky leaned into his partner's warm lips, loving the feel of them on his skin. Starsky pulled at Hutch's shirttails to get his hands under the shirt and run the length of the smooth skin on Hutch's back and pull them closer.
"This has been a beautiful evening, thank you," Hutch whispered into Starsky neck, causing a shiver.
"It ain't over yet, Blondie...come here." Starsky took Hutch's hand and moved toward the bedroom. There were candles glowing on the bedside table and several more on the windowsill nearby. The room was bathed in a soft fragrant glow. Starsky turned just inside the door and, placing his hands on either side of Hutch's face, pulled it down to him and kissed him sweetly. He reached past Hutch's shoulder to flip on the light switch and smiled when Hutch opened his eyes from the kiss and blinked at the brighter light. Hutch looked up briefly at the mirrored ceiling and swung a hand around to turn off the light.
"The glare will interfere with the view. The candles will do nicely tonight. But I appreciate the offer," Hutch said gently.
"You sure?" Starsky asked.
"I'm sure," Hutch's response was soft, as his lips met Starsky's and they stumbled toward the bed to fall in a tangle of arms and legs.
Clothes hit the floor in record time and the kisses became hotter and more demanding. Starsky looked up into the mirror and saw Hutch's long body covering most of his. The candle flickers picking up the angles, and every bit of light in the room seemed to center on the pale blond hair that fell in such a striking contrast next to his own dark curls. "You look like an angel laying over me." Starsky's whisper finally broke the silence.
Hutch leaned on one elbow and rose over Starsky to look down into his face. "I love you, my angel."
"Show me." Starsky's entreaty fanned his own fire and he knew it worked similarly on Hutch, as he saw his partner's nostrils flare with a quick intake of breath before that beautiful, lush mouth lowered to kiss him again. Hutch's mouth left his to travel down his neck and shoulder, then kiss a path to first one nipple then the other, the little bites and sucks sending shooting stars right to his groin. The onslaught was slow and lingering, an exquisite torture that had Starsky thrashing on the bed, his arms and legs trembled by the time Hutch's mouth took him into the wet heat that finished him. Fighting the afterglow that tried to pull him into sleep, he reached for Hutch to take that long golden cock in his mouth and pleasure him the way Starsky had been pleasured. The soft moans and groans of appreciation that Starsky heard from above him egged him on. He could feel Hutch's soft balls as they drew up in preparation for his climax and Starsky sucked harder, taking in as much of Hutch's length as he possibly could. He fought the gag that threatened with the force of the spurts hitting the back of his throat, and hung on until Hutch shivered one last time and sank like jello into the bed.
Starsky crawled back up Hutch's body to the open arms that awaited him. He rested his cheek against Hutch's smooth chest, and relaxed into the warm embrace. He glanced up at the mirror, seeing their arms and legs wrapped around each other and smiled at the sight. Resting his head to nuzzle his lips against Hutch's chest, he noticed their reflection in the mirror on his dresser, seeing the reflection cast from the ceiling at a different angle. The angle coming from slightly over Starsky's shoulder giving him an unobstructed view of his back where it was visible below Hutch's arm. The unnatural whiteness of the scars of the multiple exit wounds shone starkly in the candlelight, and Starsky's perception of their disfigurement totally ruined the mood. He reached roughly for the sheet to cover himself, deliberately not lingering on the questioning glance from his lover.
Hutch drew the sheet over Starsky and snuggled him more closely in his arms, kissing the top of his head then releasing him to slowly get out of bed.
"Where you going?" Starsky asked, a tingle of fear sharpening his voice.
"To get something, I'll be right back." Hutch's answer was calming, and Starsky fought to rid the mental picture of what he'd seen in the candlelight from his mind's eye.
Hutch padded back to the bedroom carrying Starsky's guitar. He held it close to his ear as he strummed softly, tuning it. "Move over," he instructed, easing into the bed facing Starsky, and began to play chords. "I want you to listen, to think, and pay attention, damn it."
Hutch began a slow picking melody, then started to hum a tune Starsky had never heard before. Pulling himself to sit straighter in the bed and doubling a pillow to support him, he waited. Then Hutch began to sing a haunting soft melody with words that struck him straight in the heart.
"What do I see when I look at you?
Sometimes you're a winter man
Wrapped in winds of discontent,
Your cool, calm and collected sham
Hides deep layers of regret,
But I'll stand by and watch the tide
Waiting for the ice to break,
I'll let my loving be your warmth
Mine to give and yours to take.
Sometimes you're a summer breeze
Sweet and sunny on the sand,
Playing out where nature frees
The boy that's in the man,
And I'll come out and watch you run
Follow footprints in the sand,
Your laughing eyes will warm my soul
As you come and take my hand.
When I look at you glowing with sunshine
And I watch you playing your games,
I see reflections of life like a summer wine
And I'll stay with you In love's name.
What do I see when I look at you?"*
Starsky stared as Hutch looked down to watch his fingers pick the last refrain again in retard and then slowly set the guitar aside. "What do I see, Starsky? Everything that means anything to me." Hutch eased the sheet down a few inches and leaned over to place a soft kiss on the center of Starsky's scarred abdomen. "You're beautiful." Hutch smiled a little self-consciously. "I said you made my heart sing, so I wrote that for you, pretty sappy, huh?"
"Yeah," Starsky replied, swallowing against the lump in his throat that threatened to choke him. "But I liked it. One of the nicest things anyone has ever given me. Write the words out so I can have them? I might need to refer to them once in a while, until I can really believe it."
"Sure, but you better work on believing it, Mister. I'd hate to have to tattoo them on your ass." Hutch laughed, and Starsky joined him before pulling his lover back to lie fully out on the bed with him. After a few more soft and lingering kisses they fell asleep.
The next morning was a flurry of playful excitement, as they got ready to go into work together. When they hit the squadroom there was a note on Hutch's desk saying Detective Flores had taken a personal leave day to stay home with his wife. After reading it Hutch passed it without comment to Starsky. "We should call him, see if they need anything...." Starsky offered solemnly. "I'll check with Minnie and see if she's started a collection or anything yet." Hutch nodded, giving Starsky a soft smile.
"Welcome back, partner," Hutch said.
"Let me go check in down in R & I and see if there's anything pressing I need to do there, if not I'll come up here and help you go through the interviews and stuff, okay?"
Hutch nodded again, "I'll make some fresh coffee." He all but danced to the coffeepot, feeling more right with the world than he had for months.
He was sitting at his desk sipping hot coffee and shuffling papers into piles according to each burglary location when Starsky returned.
"Minnie's got a pot going for Flores, the slush fund is sending a plant to the house and I put in money for both of us and signed the card." Starsky looked so earnest when Hutch met his gaze, it warmed him more than the hot coffee.
"Thanks, I'm sure it'll help as much as anything like that can, with him being so new here. Got to be tough." Hutch shook his head sadly.
"Yeah, we should give him a call or drop by maybe later. Take a pizza or something," Starsky offered.
"Yeah, I'd like to do that." Hutch smiled at his lover, at that moment not giving a damn who saw him. "In the meantime, let's get to work on this case, what d'ya say?"
"What is it?" Starsky asked, turning his chair backward to straddle it and reaching for the nearest stack of files.
"Multiple burglaries in an affluent, gated community, the last one resulted in a homicide," Hutch answered.
"Not really any single strand of commonality to speak of. A few of them had the same gardener, but not all; a few used the same cleaners for pick-up and delivery of laundry, but not all. I feel like it's right under my nose, but I just can't see it, you know?" Hutch scraped his chair closer, to look at the various pages with Starsky.
"Why don't we go pay a visit to each one again? Let me get a feel, maybe there's something new they've thought of," Starsky asked hopefully.
"I don't know. If there was a call of some sort, are you okay with sitting in the car? Light duty means just that. I won't take a chance...."
"Hey, mother hen. It's okay. We'll sit out anything, just go there and back. Okay?"
"Okay," Hutch answered, convinced in his heart that no matter what Starsky asked right now, he'd do it.
They spent the rest of the afternoon making stops at each of the residences that had been victimized. Hutch introduced Starsky at each place with the pride of a parent showing off a child newly ensconced on the honor roll, and Starsky reveled in it. As they finished up at the last stop, Starsky was looking over some notes he'd scribbled as they went from one address to the other.
"Okay, they don't use the same security system and you checked to see if there were any connections between the employees of the companies represented and came up empty. Did you notice anything else that they all had in common?"
"Like what?" Hutch asked, as he parked the car in front of Parker Center.
"Like their health...." Starsky started, looking a bit uncomfortable. "I guess I might not have noticed either, if I wasn't mending myself, but each one of those people had some health issue they were dealing with."
"What are you talking about?" Hutch asked, reaching their desk, he flipped open his own notes on the case. "One of the sisters has arthritis, she uses a walker and a wheelchair sometimes, I saw it in the hallway."
"Yes, and Mrs. Zychowicz had a bad back, remember her husband's comment?" Starsky asked.
"The other house, Petries? He has bad knees. Probably from college football if the trophies in the library are any indication. And Mrs. Petrie, did you notice the way she held her head? She had a scar down the front of her neck and she didn't hardly turn her head at all. It was like her neck was almost stiff."
"Yeah, I remember when we interviewed her the first time she was rubbing at it, and I guess I thought it was stress at the time. She noticed me watching her because she made a reference to having a bad neck. She said she had a cervical fusion, but it hadn't helped much. You're right, they all have some orthopedic issue. You think they might use the same doctor?" Hutch asked.
"If not the same doctor, maybe the same physical therapist, same pharmacy. Do they have their prescriptions delivered?"
Hutch rifled through his notes, I think I asked them about any delivery services they used and that wasn't a common thread, but I know we never inquired about doctors or physical therapists. If they had doctor's appointments or therapy on a weekly basis, that would get them out of the house at a specific time. All the robberies were in broad daylight. Let's see, Mrs. Zychowicz was the one who came home unexpectedly and was killed. She was coming home from getting her hair done."
"Okay, but was that the only place she'd gone? Did she have another appointment before or after that on the same day?" Starsky asked.
"I don't know, we didn't explore that." Hutch looked up and felt his face break into a big smile. "You may be on to something, let's check it out."
Hutch picked up the phone and, fumbling with the pages in his notebook, found the number he was looking for and quickly dialed it.
"Mr. Zychowicz, I'm sorry to bother you, this is Detective Hutchinson. My partner and I were there a short time ago. I need one more bit of information if you can help us, please. When your wife returned to the house the day of the burglary, you said she'd been coming from the hairdresser. Was that the only appointment she had that morning? Could she have gone some place else first, or had another appointment later in the day that she didn't go to?"
"She had a physical therapy appointment, then a massage. After that she went to get her hair done. The appointment in front of her had cancelled so she was taken early at the hairdresser's. Otherwise she'd have never surprised them...funny just one appointment off and it made such a difference," Stan said sadly.
"Yes, sir. That appears to be it exactly. Do you happen to know the name of the facility that your wife went to for her therapy?"
"San Marcos Rehab Center."
"Is that where she had the massage as well?"
"Yes...well sometimes. If she was going to be out, she'd go there, other times the massage therapist came here to the house. It just depended on how she felt."
"Is the massage therapist with the rehab center, or someone she independently contracted with?" Hutch asked.
"I'm not sure. Both at times, I think. She preferred to have it done here. She felt it did her more good if she could have it here at home rather than becoming all relaxed and having to drive home and tense up all over again. But it was harder to get the appointment for the therapist to come here. Why?"
"We're just checking every possible connection, that's all. Thank you so much for your time. You've been very helpful. I hope I won't need to bother you anymore today."
"Catch my wife's killer, Detective, and I don't care how many times you need to bother me. We were married forty-three years. She was my best friend. Do you know what that feels like? To lose your best friend?"
"Yes, sir, I do." Hutch closed his eyes against the memory of time spent staring through an ICU window and took in a steadying breath. "We'll keep you posted on our progress, sir. Goodbye."
"Bingo!" Hutch leaned back in the chair and beamed at his lover. "She had come from a PT visit and was taken in early at the hairdresser's because the person ahead of her cancelled. That's why she got home early."
"Timing is everything," Starsky muttered with a sad shake of his head. "So let's go check out the rehab center. Maybe some of the therapists there moonlight and go to patients' homes. They'd have to get in to know what to target. There was a lot of general stuff worth stealing at these places, but they only took the high priced jewelry and art. They had to have been there before to know where it was and what it was worth."
"Right, let's go...partner."
They were almost out the door when a shrill shout stopped both men, "Starsky!" Minnie stood with her hands on her hips. "Where do you think you're going now? I've got a pile of work with your name on it, you trashy boy. No sneaking out of here again, you hear me?"
"But, Minnie, we've got a lead here to check out—"
"You let tall, blond and handsome do the checking. Until there's a note from the medical board to say otherwise, you belong to me. Got that?"
Starsky hesitated, looking toward Hutch for help. Hutch moved closer to the small, uniformed woman, sliding his arm around her slender shoulders. "Minnie, this is really an important break-through on a big case. It's perfectly safe. You know I'd never do anything that would put Starsky at risk before he was back physically at one hundred percent," Hutch said.
"What I know, blue-eyes, is that Dobey has called down looking for Starsky twice now, and just like the two of you, he's my boss, too. The next time he calls, Starsky is going to be there to answer the phone, you dig?"
Starsky stepped back, looking defeated. Hutch watched Minnie as she walked out from under his arm and, with a pull on Starsky's sleeve, she took him with her toward R & I.
"I'll go check it out and get back with you as soon as I can. Hang in there, buddy," Hutch said as Starsky and Minnie moved down the hall.
Hutch drove to the address he'd gotten when he looked up the San Marcos Rehabilitation Center. He alternated between feeling the elation of earlier when it had felt so good for ideas to bounce and mesh between him and Starsky as if the last months had never happened, and resenting the fact that he was going on a call to check out an idea that had been Starsky's, without him.
He parked the car and walked into the lush lobby of the center. After flashing his badge for the receptionist he was ushered into the director's office. A muscular man at the desk stood and extended his hand as Hutch entered. "Detective Hutchinson, come in, I'm Derek Hanson, how can I help you?"
"Mr. Hanson, I'm investigating a series of robberies, the last of which resulted in a homicide."
"I don't see how that is anything I can help you with."
"Mr. Hanson, one of the patients you've treated here was killed in a burglary when she returned home early and surprised them. A number of the other homes that were burglarized may have had physical therapy treatments here. If not in this facility itself, by perhaps massage therapists they may have come in contact with through this facility.
"That would be Mrs. Zychowicz you're referring to then? Yes, she was a patient here. I don't know about any problems with any of the other patients, no one that I'm aware of has mentioned they were robbed."
"Do you provide in-home services for your patients?" Hutch asked, sitting down in the leather chair making solid eye contact with the man behind the desk, wondering what it was about him that made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.
"Yes, we have in-home services for patients who are unable to come here for treatments." Hanson crossed largely muscled arms over his chest.
"Do you have a log of which therapists went to patients homes and when?"
"Yes, but Mrs. Zychowicz wasn't a patient who was on the home care program. She was able to get around pretty well, she could drive and she routinely came here."
Hutch took in the stance of the large man, and it suddenly struck him why he felt such an instant dislike. He reminded him of the therapist in the hospital who had worked a few times with Starsky. A man, built much like Hanson, maybe a few years younger, but the same beefed-up hard body that seemed to take almost a sadistic pleasure in pushing Starsky too hard and hurting him with his manipulation, then discounting any indications Starsky gave that he was in pain. The last session Starsky had with the guy that Hutch had witnessed was the last straw. Hutch had put an end to it after taking all he could handle of the "no pain, no gain" mentality. He took Starsky back to his room and demanded that another therapist be assigned to him, and Starsky had never been subjected to the sadistic bastard again. In Hutch's mind, the two men were cut from the same cloth, and he was very glad Minnie had intervened and Starsky was not with him to be reminded of the painful humiliation.
"Mr. Zychowicz told me his wife had therapy at the house. Was she treated at another therapy center, in addition to this one, that you're aware of?" Hutch asked leaning forward slightly.
"I doubt it, if I remember correctly, she was sent here because we had the contract with her insurance company. She wouldn't have gone anywhere else unless she paid for it, which she certainly could have, living in the Heights," Hanson answered.
"Do any of your therapists moonlight?" Hutch asked.
"Do you mean doing in-home therapy for the patients that come here and getting paid under the table for it?" Hanson's smug expression intensified. "That would be grounds for dismissal."
"Have you terminated any of your employees for that practice?"
"Not since I took over as manager of this facility."
"And how long have you been here?"
"A little over three years," Hanson answered.
"Okay, thank you for your time," Hutch rose and extended a card. "If you think of anything else, give me a call at that number."
"I'd be glad to." Hanson took the card and placed it in the Rolodex on his desk. He reached out for a handshake as Hutch prepared to leave, following him out.
As Hutch passed down the hallway back to the reception area he noticed a bulletin board. One brightly colored flyer caught his eye, the writing touting the benefits of full body massage and the price. "I thought you said you didn't allow moonlighting?" Hutch asked as he pointed to the flyer.
"That's not moonlighting. Any therapist that is also a certified masseuse can offer that service, and any patient here can take advantage of it as easily as choosing one out of the phone book. At least by using our staff here, they know they're getting someone knowledgeable about the physical issues that require treatment in the first place. But it's a massage they take to the home, not unauthorized physical therapy. There's a big difference." Hanson's tone was condescending.
"Yes, I'm sure there is. Thank you, if I have any further questions I'll get back to you," Hutch offered, pasting on his brightest smile to cover up his desire to knock the perfect teeth out of the perfect face in the perfect head sitting on top of the perfect body.
"Call first, if you don't mind," Hanson said.
Hutch turned with a hard look as Hanson continued. "Just to be sure I'm here, I wouldn't want to waste your time," Hanson finished.
"Right, thanks," Hutch replied as he left through the opulent entrance. He felt less dirty out in the smoggy street.
Hutch glanced around as he drove back to Metro, realizing he was only a mile or so away from the Flores home. He radioed his detour to the dispatcher and took the turns to the apartment off Magnolia.
An older woman answered his knock, with Flores's bright-eyed daughter peeking around her skirt. "Hutch," the child squealed with delight and launched herself into his arms.
"Hey there, pretty girl. How are you?" Hutch answered as the older woman smiled and stepped aside to let him enter.
"I'm fine. Are you going to make Daddy go to work with you?" she asked seriously.
"No, Daddy's got the day off. I just dropped by to say hi and to see you." Hutch's reply earned him a tight hug.
"Where is Daddy?" Hutch asked, looking around.
"Daddy's right here," Arturo answered, coming out of the kitchen, drying his hands on a towel. "Can I get you a beer?"
"Yeah, thanks. How are you?" Hutch asked as he placed Alicia gently down on her feet.
"Better than yesterday. Sorry about that. Amazing what a good night's sleep will do." Arturo handed Hutch the beer with a sheepish smile.
"Hey, don't give it a thought. How's Carolyn?" Hutch asked.
"She's better today, too. The department sent over a plant. That was nice, please tell everyone we appreciate it. I didn't expect anything, being the new kid on the block."
"You don't know Minnie, she'd never let that stop her. There'll be more stuff coming, too. She takes care of all that stuff like a pro."
"How's the case, anything new?" Arturo asked, changing the subject, while motioning Hutch to sit at the kitchen table.
"Actually, yeah. Starsky and I went and did some backtracking. You know what he picked up on?" Hutch asked, his excitement showing.
"Something to make us look bad, evidently," Arturo joked
"Well, he did get a different slant on things. He noticed that all the victims had some sort of physical problem. When we questioned Mr. Zychowicz, he said his wife was coming from having her hair done, remember?"
"Yeah," Arturo nodded as he took a drink of his beer.
"Well, she'd had a physical therapy appointment before that. When she didn't go to the rehab office for her treatment, she had someone come to the home to do massages for her."
"Means and opportunity, the motive is obvious," Arturo mused.
"Isn't it, just? I have a real hunger to take down the manager of that rehab center. I've got a gut feeling he's behind it, whether he actually did the deed himself or had it done. The Medical Examiner said Mrs. Zychowicz's neck was broken. This guy looked like he could press a couple hundred pounds with no problem. Snapping a little old lady's neck wouldn't have made him break a sweat."
"You thinking we should get in there with someone on the inside and see if he bites again?"
"Yeah, how's your back?" Hutch asked, smiling
"Your back, that old college injury that flares up now and then...."
"I never...oh...yeah, you mean the one I got from wrestling, huh?"
"Yeah, maybe it needs a little treatment?" Hutch offered his beer up and Arturo touched the end of his own bottle to it in salute.
"Let's see what we can set up," Arturo said. "I'll be in tomorrow. Why don't we have Starsky sit in and we'll brainstorm together."
"You got it. Let me run, this was Starsky's first day in, he's probably ready to head home and we rode in together." Hutch stood, draining his beer and handing off the bottle.
"Thanks for coming by, I really appreciate it, and thanks for yesterday. I needed someplace to do that. I felt like I needed to hold it together for Carolyn. Dumb macho thing, huh? We cried together later, but right then, I...."
"No sweat, glad I could help. I wish it could have been more...."
"It was what I needed. You're a good man. I don't care what Dobey's said about you," Arturo teased to lighten the mood, and Hutch gave him a playful poke as he turned to leave.
"See you tomorrow," Hutch said as Arturo saw him to the door.
Starsky was siting at their desk reading over some files when Hutch entered. He looked up when he heard the door open as if he'd been anticipating Hutch's return.
"Well, what'd you find out?" Starsky asked excitedly.
"I think you found the wedge we needed to break this thing wide open. I stopped off to check on Flores, he agreed. He'll be in tomorrow and wanted the three of us to set up a sting. See if we can get a plant in at the rehab center, someone that we can list at one of Highland Heights' fancy addresses. Then see if we get any takers. Greed is a powerful motivator. They've gotten away with everything so far, let's see if their ego will fuel a willingness to give it one more try."
"Want to give Dobey a head's-up before we leave?" Starsky asked.
"No, let's wait until we can present the whole thing. A concrete plan. I think we need to talk to one of the neighbors around where the other robberies took place and establish whether or not someone is willing to let us plant a decoy at their address. If we get no takers in the area, that will hinder things," Hutch said.
"Got any ideas from the people you interviewed?" Starsky asked.
"Not sure, I'll have to look through the notes again."
"What about Lotsoff?" Starsky asked, reaching for the piece of paper he'd been reading when Hutch came in. "He's a retired army officer, veteran of Korea and Vietnam, CID background. I bet he'd jump at the chance." Starsky looked up questioningly.
"Old cops never stop being cops, even military ones?"
"Especially military ones," Starsky returned with a laugh. "Let's get outta here for now, we'll give it a shot tomorrow." Starsky's look spoke of an entirely different thought for the rest of the evening.
"You got it." Hutch put the files away and the two men walked out to the car. "Tired?" Hutch asked as they drove away from Parker Center.
"A little, missed my nap," Starsky said. "But it's a good tired, you know?"
"You can take a power nap while I fix something for dinner, if you want to go to my place," Hutch offered hopefully.
"That sounds good, babe. I've got an idea or two that I'm sure will help me drift right off. Cook something you can put in the oven, and you can take a nap with me." Starsky's cheeks colored slightly. "I'm not that tired."
"Good," Hutch replied, feeling his own face redden and the heat echo in his groin.
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