"I still think this is a bad idea," Hutch said, straightening his tie and looking over at Starsky, who was sitting on the foot of the bed, tying a pair of dress shoes.
"It's Aunt Rose's birthday, and she wants us there for dinner."
"She invited you."
"Same thing," Starsky responded without looking up from his task.
"It is when you're married, but--"
"Like I said, same thing," Starsky insisted. Then he looked up. "If an invitation doesn't include you, then I don't need t'be there."
"I feel like we invited me along. What was she supposed to say when you said we'd be there?"
"Nothing. She knows we've always been tight, Hutch. She wasn't even surprised when I was plannin' on bringin' you along." Starsky sighed. "I think we oughtta tell 'em."
"No, that Huggy waters down his beer on Saturday nights." Starsky got up and joined Hutch at the mirror, checking his own tie. "'Course about us, you dumb blond."
"Your Aunt Rose is Catholic. You know how Catholics are about gays."
"We're cops. You know how cops are about gays. You gonna beat me up for bein' a horny queer?" Starsky swatted Hutch's butt as he walked behind him and picked his sport coat up off the bed.
"Starsky, I'm serious."
"I know that." He paused, sighing. "And I know Ma didn't take it too well, but she's tryin' to come around. Rose is gonna know anyway--she knows me too well. She's one'a the sweetest ladies in the world. She loves you."
"She doesn't know I'm having sex with her nephew. And we're not even talking about your Uncle Al. Starsky, you can't tell me you're not even a little worried about how they're going to react."
"'Course I'm worried," Starsky admitted quietly. "They're my family, Hutch. I don't wanna be on the outs with 'em. I just...I gotta believe they love me enough to get over it."
"If they don't, are you going to be able to handle it?"
"I'm not gonna have much choice."
"Starsk, I...I don't think this is the right time. Not at her party. That'd be a lousy thing to do if she doesn't react well to it. This is your aunt's night, not ours."
"I know you're right." Starsky rested his butt against the dresser, crossing his arms over his chest. "I guess I'm just lookin' for one place we can go and...and not worry about how we act."
"I'm afraid we're in that place, babe." Hutch pulled his lover into a hug. "For what it's worth, I'd like to kiss you right in the middle of the cafeteria at lunchtime. I'm not ashamed of you, or of how we feel," Hutch pulled back, framing Starsky's face with both hands, "but I don't want either one of us to die for it."
"Me either," Starsky agreed, his expression solemn. "Think we'll ever be able to be together without hiding?" Starsky asked as Hutch patted his cheek and moved away to tuck his wallet in his pants pocket.
"I don't know. It's a nice dream to hang onto."
"We're gonna be late. Let's go." Starsky tossed Hutch's jacket to him and they headed for the door.
Starsky's aunt and uncle were one of the most mismatched couples Hutch had ever seen. Starsky's mother's younger brother, Al Goldman, was a short, stocky Jewish man with dark, curly hair not unlike his nephew's, though it was considerably less abundant and mixed with silver. He had a rich belly laugh and a playful, affectionate nature that reminded Hutch very much of his partner's own personality.
Rose was a tall, almost statuesque woman with dyed auburn hair, green eyes, and fine features. She was quieter and more reserved than her husband, but she had a warm, gentle nature and a real knack for making her visitors feel like family. An Irish Catholic girl who grew up as Rose O'Connor, she had defied the wrath of her family to marry outside her Church, while Al had drawn similar fire from the elders of the Goldman family for marrying outside his own faith.
Feeling a bit alienated from both families, the couple had moved to California shortly after their marriage and had lived there happily ever since. Al's used car business had prospered, and Rose had worked as a receptionist and bookkeeper for the business.
Whenever Hutch spent time around these two people, he found himself immensely grateful that Starsky's exile to California had resulted in him finding such a loving and positive environment. Losing his father and then being uprooted from everything he knew had to be a traumatic upheaval for him as a child, though he usually shrugged it off as being "for the best."
Childless themselves due to a medical condition Rose discovered shortly after they were married, they had welcomed the relocated David with open arms and raised him as if he were their own. The only complaint Starsky could ever conjure up about his stay with Rose and Al was Rose's cooking--which ranged from bland to toxic, according to Starsky. Fortunately, Al knew how to cook and prepared meals that were more complicated than mixing something that came in a box.
Celebrating her 67th birthday, Rose looked at least ten years younger than her real age. Whether it was her outgoing personality, her carefully done hair and make-up or just her energetic nature, Hutch wasn't sure.
Tonight's party was a gathering of family and friends, though mostly the latter. With the exception of Starsky--and Hutch, whom Rose referred to as "the only blond Starsky I ever met" as her way of adopting him into the family--everyone else at the party were either neighbors or long-time friends. Rose was in the middle of it all now, putting on a show of shaking one of her wrapped birthday gifts before opening it with all the relish Hutch had seen in Starsky's gift wrap-tearing frenzies.
"You want a beer?" Al asked Hutch, who was standing somewhat on the periphery of the group. An ill-timed run to the john had lost him his seat closer to the action, where Starsky was sitting.
"Sounds great," Hutch responded, following him into the kitchen. A momentary break from the din and merriment of the gift opening was something of a relief.
"She'll drag that out for another hour at least," Al said, laughing affectionately as he handed Hutch a bottle of beer out of the refrigerator. "Taught Davey everything he knows about tearin' into presents, I'll tell you that," he added.
"Starsky's a lot like Rose."
"They spent a lot of time together after he moved in with us. I was workin' a lotta hours...keepin' the dealership going. Rose dropped back to working part time at the showroom so she'd be here after school--things like that."
"He was lucky to have you two. Had to be a terrible shock--losing his father, moving out here..." Hutch shrugged.
"Mike's death was a big shock for all of us."
"Were you two close?" Hutch asked.
"When we were kids, yeah, real close--our families grew up near each other--that's how Rachel and Mike got together in the first place," Al explained, referring to Starsky's parents. "We drifted apart later--with the whole mess over Rose and me gettin' married--our families were pretty riled up about that. Ma wanted me to meet a nice Jewish girl, and her folks were hoping for a nice Catholic boy." He shook his head. "Worked out okay for us. Not sure what the big deal really is with religion in marriages. 'Course, we didn't have kids, so it wasn't a reason to fight--Davey was raised Jewish so he went to Synagogue with me. Not that Rose didn't drag him to her bake sales and her Christmas concerts at the church. He was a cute little kid--she wanted to show him off. She should'a had a whole mess'a kids."
"He must have missed his mother a lot when he got out here. I'm sure spending time with Rose helped."
"Yeah, he did. Rachel didn't have a lotta choice about sendin' him out here, but I know it wasn't a decision that came easy."
"I guess raising two boys alone would be a hell of a challenge," Hutch said, taking a drink of his beer.
"Alone?" Al frowned, and Hutch continued.
"After her husband died--when she sent him out here to live with you and Rose."
"What are you--"
"Al?" Rose's voice interrupted them. "Good grief, you two, you're missing the whole party!" Rose linked an arm through one of Hutch's and one of her husband's. "I'm going to open Ken's and Davey's gift next and I thought you two ought to be with the rest of the guests instead of guzzling beer in the kitchen. Al, you know what the doctor said about too much beer."
"He also said I oughtta take up joggin'. He's got lots'a bad ideas," Al responded, smiling a little impishly. Rose had to laugh at that.
"He's hopeless. Maybe you can influence him," she said to Hutch as they returned to the living room.
"I wouldn't count on it. I haven't had much luck with your nephew."
Hutch rejoined the party-goers, happy that a few people shifted around so he could sit next to his partner--jammed tight against him on a crowded sofa. It was stuffy in the room from the press of bodies, and Rose was dragging out her gift-opening like a Shakespearean actor drags out his death scene, but Starsky was having fun. Even if they didn't know the real story on the two men's relationship, it was one place they could go for the evening as a couple and be treated as two halves of a whole, among family.
Despite all the festivity, Hutch's mind traveled back to his conversation with Al. Something wasn't adding up--that moment of confusion on Al's face and his attempt to clarify Hutch's comment about Rachel Starsky raising her boys alone. It would be a long time before Hutch could simulate the right "spontaneous moment" again to finish that conversation.
"Think she liked the punch bowl?" Starsky asked, starting up the car. They'd trailed through every store in the city looking for something Starsky approved of for his favorite aunt and surrogate mother, and finally, the day before her birthday, had achieved success with an ornate milk glass punch bowl. Rose liked fancy ceramics and dishes, and Starsky had been elated with their find.
"She loved it, babe," Hutch responded, smiling. "I think it was her favorite."
"Really?" Starsky's face lit up, and Hutch had to smile.
"Really." Hutch waited a few minutes, and then decided to capitalize on Starsky's good mood to probe him a bit. "I was talking with Al for a while--he was reminiscing a little."
"He does that once in a while. Hope he didn't bore you with too many old family stories," Starsky said, checking the rearview mirror and making a lane change.
"No, not at all. When I said something about it being hard for your mom to handle you two boys alone, he reacted kind of strangely."
"Oh?" Starsky didn't take his eyes off the road.
"Yeah. It was like he didn't know what I was talking about."
"She wasn't alone," Starsky said matter-of-factly. "My grandmother was still alive back then and there were some other relatives around, so maybe that's why he didn't think of her as bein' alone."
Hutch stared at his partner's impassive profile as he watched the traffic. Starsky was lying. As Hutch had accused him multiple times before, unless he was undercover, he was a lousy liar. There was something off in the inflection in his voice, the tilt of his head and his expression. Starsky was the most genuine person Hutch had ever known--which was probably why, when he lied, it stuck out like a sore thumb in contrast with everything else he said.
"What?" Starsky finally stole a glance at Hutch.
"Nothing. I guess you're right. Your family has always been pretty tight--clannish." Hutch looked out at the dark road himself now. "Well, your Aunt Rose came in then, so we didn't really talk more about it."
"Nothin' more to say," Starsky added, almost mumbling.
Smooth, Hutchinson. You ever think of being a detective? he berated himself silently. If Al knew something Starsky didn't want divulged, there'd be no getting it out of him now.
Still, Hutch was more concerned with what Starsky was keeping from him than his own curiosity. And why, in all the years they'd shared what he thought was every confidence, was there still one held back? Especially now that they were intimate with each other in every way. Total trust and openness...except now, there was something hidden.
Falling silent for the remainder of the ride home, Hutch did his best not to turn what could be a molehill into Mount Everest.
The mattress dipped behind him as Starsky got into bed. There was more movement--probably the watch going on the nightstand--and then the light went out and the other body was moving closer. Hutch kept his back to his partner, though he knew Starsky couldn't be that easily fooled into thinking he was asleep already. Two warm arms slipped around him, and Starsky nuzzled his neck.
"I'm tired, Starsk," Hutch said, his voice coming out a little sharper than he'd planned. Starsky paused a moment, then went back to nibbling gently at the soft skin of Hutch's neck.
"You don't have t'do a thing, babe," Starsky whispered in his ear, tugging at the lobe with lip-covered teeth. At the same time, Starsky's hand made its way down to the waistband of Hutch's boxers.
"Starsky, come on, knock it off," he said, annoyed now. His mind was still obsessing over what he'd come to view as something Starsky was hiding from him, and for some reason the breach of their usual trust was festering into a wound of significant proportion. Sex was the last thing he wanted any part of tonight.
Starsky's hand froze on its journey and he slowly withdrew, the warmth of his body moving back to its own side of the bed.
"Sorry, Hutch," Starsky responded quietly. "You feelin' okay?"
"Do I have to be ill just because I don't want to do it like dogs all night?" Hutch shot back angrily. He'd no sooner said the words than he wanted to take them back, hating how horrible and cruel they sounded. Part of him had wanted to hurt Starsky the way he'd been hurt by being shut out of some significant part of his lover's past. The other part of him recognized that he was only being cruel for cruelty's sake, because Starsky didn't understand why he was being treated this way.
"'Course not," Starsky finally answered. "'Night, Hutch." There was clear hurt in his voice, but he didn't say anymore. He simply rolled over, his back to Hutch, and fell silent.
Almost an hour passed as Hutch lay awake with his own thoughts, staring at the opposite wall, when Starsky's voice startled him.
"Why are you mad at me?" Starsky's voice was quiet, a bit hesitant, bearing an almost childlike quality. He'd been so silent and so still for so long that Hutch had finally assumed he'd dozed off to sleep.
"I'm not mad."
"You're mad about something."
"I just didn't want to have sex. That doesn't mean I'm mad."
"You coulda just said 'no'."
"I tried that and you didn't get the message the first time."
"You just said you were tired. I was just gonna make you feel good--you didn't have to do anything."
"Starsky, I just wasn't in the mood."
"Whatever it was, I'm sorry," Starsky said sincerely. "It's not worth you bein' this mad at me. So whatever I did, I...tell me what it was and I won't do it anymore."
Hutch was about to accuse him of being a martyr, but there was such sincerity in that voice that he knew Starsky's sentiments were genuine. If Starsky was one thing, he was perceptive--and he knew Hutch too well not to see that something was behind his sharp retorts.
"I'm sorry, babe. I didn't mean to snap your head off. I'm just tired." Hutch finally relented and rolled over, waiting while Starsky did the same. "Honest. I'm not mad at you," he told the troubled face that finally turned toward him, barely visible in the shadows of the darkened room. "But I'm kind of mad at me for being such a jerk." He reached out and cupped Starsky's cheek, surprised to feel a little moisture there. "Buddy, I'm sorry," Hutch added, pulling Starsky into his arms.
"What's wrong, Hutch?" Starsky prodded again, returning the embrace with a sort of desperate intensity. "I thought...I thought you liked how things are with us...makin' love almost every night."
"I do. I--" Hutch's response was cut short when the phone rang. "Might be business," Hutch said, regretfully.
"Shit." Starsky pulled away and rolled over to answer it. "Starsky," he snapped into the phone. After a grim pause, he responded to whatever the caller had told him. "Right. We're on our way," he said dismally. "That was Dobey." He swung his legs over the side of the bed and rubbed at his face quickly with both hands, then reached up and turned on the light. "Domestic disturbance call turned out to be a homicide. He wants us to take it. Looks like a sticky one." Starsky was heading for the dresser now, rooting around to find clothes.
Hutch got out of bed, resigned that the conflict between them wasn't going to be resolved tonight.
"Did Dobey know I was here?" Hutch asked.
"He didn't ask, but he probably called your place and got no answer."
"He didn't say that, though?"
"No, he didn't mention it." Starsky pulled on a pale blue shirt. "I guess I shouldn't've said 'we're on our way'. I sort of forgot."
"Hard to remember to be so careful all the time. Of course, it's not like I never stayed over before there was anything to be careful about."
Starsky snorted a laugh as he buttoned the shirt and tucked it in. "I'm fuckin' everything up tonight. Maybe you better go on the call yourself. Probably shoot myself in the foot." Starsky strapped on his holster as if to underscore the statement.
"Starsk, you didn't fuck anything up. I said I was sorry about earlier. That wasn't your fault, okay?" Hutch spared the moment it took to lightly caress Starsky's hair. "Don't worry about it." After Starsky nodded, his Adam's apple bobbing a little, Hutch realized his hand was lingering in the soft hair a little too long, and it was time to get back to business. "Did he give any more details?"
"Not really. Guess a black-and-white went out on a domestic and the wife blew the husband away. One good shot in the head, which is all over the living room now. One rookie spent most of the time with his head in the shrubs, and his partner's never handled a homicide."
"Great. Glad I had a big meal tonight."
Starsky pulled up in front of the crime scene, behind the black-and-white unit. A second police car was there, and two uniformed cops were out on the lawn keeping gawking neighbors at bay.
The house itself was an unremarkable two-story frame structure in a neat, working class neighborhood. White with blue shutters and window boxes holding pink flowers, it looked deceptively innocent and inviting despite what lay behind its doors.
Hutch led the way inside, both flashing their badges at the cops outside before heading up the three steps onto the front porch and into the house. There was a small child crying somewhere in the house, most likely on the second floor. Another older child's voice could be heard coming from the back of the house, mixed with the sounds of a woman crying and speaking intermittently between sobs.
In the living room lay the body of a man, what was left of his ruined head in a pool of blood on the hardwood floor.
"Murder weapon was a small hunting rifle," a voice startled them from behind. A middle-aged uniformed officer stood just inside the doorway to the room. "It's right there. We didn't want to bag it or move it until you guys got here." He gestured at the gun, which was leaning against a nearby wall.
"Crime lab boys aren't here yet, huh?" Hutch asked.
"They're on their way. The woman's in the kitchen. She's not making much sense--she's pretty hysterical. There're two kids in the house--the boy that's with her is about nine and the girl upstairs is four. Jane Danner was in the other unit that responded, so she's upstairs calming the little one down." He referred to a young policewoman.
"What happened?" Starsky asked simply.
"Near as I can tell, he was drunk, started slappin' the wife around, then he went after the boy when he tried to help his mother. While the victim was whippin' the kid, Mom blew his brains out."
"In front of the child?"
"Yeah--she said she did it to stop him from hitting the boy."
"We'll wanna talk to her in a minute," Hutch said, moving closer to the victim.
"Looks like she got him from the side," Starsky surmised, looking a little nauseous as he gave the unpleasant-looking corpse a visual once-over. "She must know how to handle that thing. Looks like she hit exactly what she aimed at."
"Splatter patterns look like she must've been standing roughly at this angle, give or take a little," Hutch moved away from the body, positioning himself approximately where he thought the shooter had stood. "Look at that blood, Starsk."
"What do you mean?"
"Look at the angle. Now look at the head wound."
"This better be leadin' somewhere interesting," Starsky said, cringing a bit as he took a closer look at the substantial hole in the dead man's head. "Yeah?"
"It goes in about here," Hutch said, gesturing to a spot about in line with his earlobe, "and comes out up here," he finished, pointing to a second spot on the other side of his head, close to the top of it. "Either she was on the floor when she shot him, or she's a really short lady."
"Maybe we ought to go take a look at her and ask a few questions, huh?"
"Yeah. Looks like the lab boys are here."
Kay Jenkins was a small woman, barely five feet tall and slender, with somewhat ragged blonde hair and brown eyes. The photos they'd seen on the walls of the house had shown her to be a pretty woman when she was dressed up and composed. The child with her was a boy about nine who kept one protective arm around his mother's shoulders as he stood next to the kitchen chair she occupied. He most definitely resembled his mother, both in his coloring and features.
"I'm Detective Hutchinson, this is Detective Starsky," Hutch introduced, as they pulled up two of the three empty chairs around the table. The uniformed officer who'd been waiting in the kitchen with her left them to their discussion. "I realize this is a difficult time for you, but we need to ask you some questions about what happened here tonight," Hutch explained, ignoring the obvious fact that they would probably be arresting her before the night was over.
She stared at the surface of the table, obviously past the worst of her tears and hysterical first reactions. She was fidgeting with a tissue, twisting it in her small hands, which were accented with red nail polish.
"M-my husband drinks," she began in a strained voice. "He gets violent when he's drunk." She looked up, and both men could see the beginnings of a black eye and swelling around the corner of her mouth. "I'm not going to make a lot of excuses for what happened. I wasn't going to let him keep beating Danny," she said, reaching up to pat her son's hand. "I...I just...I couldn't stand it anymore."
"Did you say anything before you pulled the trigger?" Starsky asked, jotting down a few notes. Hutch could detect an almost imperceptible tremble in the hand as it held the pen, and wondered if it was the bloody crime scene or the knowledge of what the child had endured that was unnerving his usually steady partner.
"I told him to stop it. I was screaming at him to stop it, but he didn't listen." She let out an ugly sound that was a perverse approximation of a laugh. "He never listens. Nothing gets through to him when he's drunk. It wouldn't have mattered what I said, Detective. I had to do something." She pulled the collar of her robe more tightly around herself, then drew her hand back, somewhat horrified at the sight of blood.
"Would you like to change, Mrs. Jenkins?" Hutch asked, noting the considerable blood stains on the pink robe she wore. He made a mental note to go back to the living room and see if there were spatter patterns in the general area where she must have stood when she fired the gun."
"Yes, please. They wouldn't let me before you got here."
"I understand there's a policewoman upstairs with your daughter." Starsky stood up. "I'll walk you up there and she can help you out."
"I don't need help putting on a clean robe, Detective."
"You might be wise to get dressed," Starsky responded. "And having a policewoman in the room with you will be necessary at this point."
"I'm not going to escape, if that's what you're worried about." She finally stood, then rested her hand on her son's back.
"Danny can wait here with me," Hutch said, smiling.
"I don't want him questioned. He's been through enough," she countered immediately.
"I agree. We won't talk at all unless Danny feels like it," Hutch responded, smiling at the child, who regarded him with some suspicion.
While Mrs. Jenkins and Starsky left the room, Hutch motioned to the boy to sit down in the chair his mother had vacated. Fortunately, Danny didn't appear to have any significant blood stains on his Incredible Hulk pajamas.
"How old are you, Danny?" Hutch asked, smiling. The child simply stared back at him. "Incredible Hulk, huh? When I was a kid, Superman was my favorite." The child's face remained still, as if carved in stone. There was no smile--there was little or no reaction at all. Considering his options when the child's parent had expressly forbidden the questioning of the child, Hutch finally added, "I know this is a scary time for you and your mom and your little sister, but we're here to help you. We don't want to hurt you or your mom."
"Are you gonna put her in jail?"
"I don't know yet, Danny. We need to talk to her some more, find out what happened."
"I don't want her to go away," he stated flatly, without the emotion Hutch would have expected to accompany such a statement. Danny was indeed old before his time, the violence and fear that had reigned in his home for so long obviously having robbed him of much of his childhood.
Starsky waited in the doorway of the little girl's bedroom while Officer Danner accompanied Mrs. Jenkins to her room to change clothes. The four-year-old girl was sleeping now, clutching a rather well-worn doll. She had brown hair like her father's, but Starsky could see very little of her face as it was buried in her pillow and behind her doll's frizzy hair.
He rubbed the bridge of his nose tiredly, blinking a few times, trying to push down the images that were flashing through his mind. His desperation to escape them only diverted his thoughts back to the odd strain that had been felt between himself and Hutch earlier, and what had led his partner to not only pull away from him, but to do so with such harshness. Hutch had a razor sharp tongue, but he rarely unleashed it on Starsky. That he had tonight not only puzzled Starsky but also left an ache in his heart he couldn't seem to dispel at a time when he needed most to feel loved by the most important person in his life.
Think about the case, Starsky. God, pull yourself together.
Take Kay Jenkins, for instance. She was just a little thing--about the size of his own mother, actually. Wouldn't stand a chance against a big, angry drunk intent on cleaning her clock, and couldn't do a hell of a lot for the boy, either. Not without a weapon. Starsky let his head drop back against the wood of the door frame. A lot of women lived with fat lips and black eyes and a lot of children saw a lot of things they shouldn't see, and a lot of families were held hostage by a single violent member. Many of those people survived, found their way out somehow...and not all of them used a hunting rifle to do it.
Still, it was hard to muster sympathy for a bastard who beat his family...but it was equally hard for Starsky to muster sympathy for this woman who took the easy way out. There was no easy quick-fix for domestic violence, but there were ways out that didn't end up with someone carried out in a body bag.
"Are you arresting me?" Kay Jenkins asked, startling Starsky out of his thoughts as she approached him in the hall, Officer Danner behind her.
"We have a few more questions to ask you, ma'am. We'll be taking you downtown for that. If you have a family member who could take the children, this would be a good time to make arrangements."
"My mother can take them." She walked calmly down the steps and picked up the phone on a small table near the staircase. She paused and watched as the gurney bearing the zippered body bag was wheeled past them and out of the house. Standing stock still for a moment, staring after it, her eyes fluttered closed and Starsky caught her just as she collapsed.
"Doctor says she'll be fine. She's in shock, but she'll be okay," Hutch said, hanging up the phone. Seated at their desks at the station, they had been awaiting word on Mrs. Jenkins' condition. "Her sister's over there now."
"While you were on the phone, Dobey got a call from the DA," Starsky explained. Their captain, who was also pulling an all-nighter in his office because of this case. "He said we should go ahead with questioning the kids."
"The four-year-old?" Hutch's eyes widened.
"You and I both know she could've seen or heard something. She'd probably be more honest than the boy. He's gonna protect his mother--but she's pretty little to make up alibis."
"You know, Starsk, this whole damn thing stinks. A woman finally has all she can take of getting whacked around and watching her kids beaten up, loses it and does something about it, and we have to figure out a way to turn her own kids into witnesses for the prosecution."
"Let me tell ya somethin', partner," Starsky began, leaning forward on the desk with an intent look in his eyes, "there are lotsa women out there gettin' slapped around and lotsa kids gettin' beaten up by asshole drunks, and not all'a those guys end up in body bags. Blowing his brains out was a great shortcut for figuring out how to solve a bad situation."
"I'm not condoning what she did. I'm just saying that she was caught in a situation that made her desperate, and unless this guy's got some huge life insurance, she sure didn't kill him for his vast estate. The boy's got some ugly bruises on his arms that would be consistent with an adult grabbing him, and he's got almost no emotions or reactions left anymore. She didn't make the right choice, granted, but I never feel good about pushing to put someone in prison whom I don't believe would ever kill again, and who only killed the first time in a state of desperation."
"She had a bad problem, and she took the easy way out." Starsky stood up and gathered up their notes on the case so far, tucking them into the file folder. "Let's get movin'. I wanna talk to those kids before their grandmother has much more time to coach 'em."
A little stunned at his partner's hard-nosed reaction to the situation, Hutch shrugged and slipped on his jacket, about to follow his partner out of the squadroom when the phone on his desk rang.
"Hutchinson," he barked into the receiver, the unsuspecting caller receiving the ill humor Starsky's little tirade had created.
"Yeah, Hutch, this is Mike in the lab. Thought you might wanna know that the gun was wiped clean of all prints but Mrs. Jenkins'."
"There are no other prints on it?" Hutch frowned, and now Starsky moved back toward the desk, watching him with interest.
"Just hers. I figured that was a little weird because wasn't it the husband's gun?"
"Kind of odd she'd wipe it clean and then handle it again--especially when she's admitting to shooting him anyway."
"Thanks for letting us know, Mike. What about the angle of the shot? I thought that looked a little...odd."
"She's a small lady, isn't she?"
"About five feet tall, I think."
"Possible then. The victim was a little over six feet tall, and the shooter definitely fired the shot at an upward angle, but it looks like she oughtta be a few inches shorter yet. 'Course, some of that could be due to how she held the gun or the angle she fired it. We're still analyzing things."
"Okay. Let us know what you find out," Hutch concluded. After hanging up, he met Starsky's inquisitive expression. "The gun was wiped clean of prints except for hers. Why would you wipe your prints off a gun, then handle it again, then admit you'd done the shooting?"
"Maybe she was gonna try lyin' about it at first, then decided to tell the truth and that's why the gun was wiped clean at first and then had her prints on it."
"Could be. Guess we'll have to ask the lady for more details."
Mrs. Jenkins' mother, Fran Sternowski, was a petite woman in her late fifties who bore a strong resemblance to her daughter. Though she wasn't overjoyed to receive a visit from the police shortly after dawn, she offered the two men coffee from the pot she'd just brewed and went upstairs to get the children from their temporary lodging in her guest room--one child at a time. Both men were concerned that together, the children might either confuse each other or the older boy might guide his sister's answers. Therefore, the little girl was brought downstairs first.
"These two nice men are trying to help Mama," she said as she reached the foot of the stairs, which were in view of the living room where Starsky and Hutch sat. The child had seen both of them when she was taken out of the house, and she showed some slight glimmer of recognition. "We're going to talk with them a little while, okay?"
"When's Mama coming home?" she whined, her head drooping on her grandmother's shoulder as the woman carried her to the living room.
"As soon as she can, honey." Mrs. Sternowski sat in an overstuffed chair across from the couch where the two detectives sat, with the child in her lap.
"Sally, I'm Dave," Starsky began, moving over to sit on the ottoman that matched the chair. "Do you think I could ask you a couple questions?" he asked, smiling hopefully at the child. His response was a silent nod. "Good girl." He paused, groping for the right way to launch into such an unthinkable line of questions with a four-year-old. "You were wakened up a long time after your bedtime, when it was still dark outside, weren't you?" She nodded.
"Mama was yelling at Daddy," she said.
"Could you hear what they were saying?"
"No." She shook her head emphatically.
"When you heard Mama and Daddy yelling, what did you do?"
"I called to Mama."
"Did she come?"
"When your Mama didn't come upstairs, did you call to her again?" Her response was another shake of the head. "Why not?"
"Daddy was mad...I don't...like Daddy when he's mad and he smells funny. He smells like cough medicine, and he hurts Mama."
"Did he hurt Mama last night?" Starsky waited, and she nodded. "Did you see him hurt Mama?" This time, she shook her head.
"Mama was crying, and I heard the bad sounds."
"Bad sounds?" Starsky asked, feeling the bottom drop out of his stomach. God, what bad sounds...fists connecting with soft, female flesh, cries of pain...things no child should hear.... He closed his eyes, fighting down a wave of something that threatened his very equilibrium.
"Hitting noises," she whispered, as if she were confiding something of the greatest secrecy.
"What happened after the hitting noises, Sally?" Starsky asked, swallowing hard, feeling the sweat springing up in beads on his forehead, his heart pounding a little too rapidly.
"I'm not s'posed'ta get out of bed when I hear the bad noises...Mama said so."
"Did you get out of bed? I promise you aren't in any trouble, Sally. You can tell me the truth."
"I opened the door and looked out. Danny saw me and he made me get back in bed."
"Danny was in your room?"
"He was in the hall. He made me go back to bed and said he'd tell if I didn't."
"What did you do?"
"I got back in bed."
"What happened then?"
"Lotsa yelling," she said, her head drooping back on her grandmother's shoulder. "Then there was a big boom and Mama was yelling and crying."
"Did you get out of bed again?" he asked.
"Not 'til Jane came," she said, referring to Officer Danner.
"Thanks for talking to me, sweetheart," Starsky said, smiling at the little girl, who looked at him for a long moment before returning the smile very faintly. "You've been a really brave girl."
"You want to go back to bed, honey?" the child's grandmother asked her. She nodded, yawning widely. "Come on. We'll go back upstairs." She headed for the stairs with the drowsy child and began her ascent to the second floor.
"What do you think?" Hutch asked his partner, who was still sitting on the ottoman, staring somewhat fixedly out the nearby front window.
"I'd like t'know what Danny was doin' upstairs. How could his father be beating him if he wasn't even downstairs?"
"Maybe he went downstairs and that's when it happened."
"Sally never mentioned hearing Danny yelling or crying. Just her mother." Starsky swallowed hard. "Nine-year-olds make plenty'a noise if they're getting beaten up."
"Maybe not as much if they're used to it."
"A child doesn't get used to that." Starsky stood up and walked over to the window. "Any more than he gets used to watchin' his father smack his mother around."
"I'm sorry, but Danny won't come downstairs," Mrs. Sternowski said as she re-entered the living room. "I'm not going to force him."
"We need to speak to him, ma'am. He's an eyewitness," Hutch responded.
"You can come upstairs and ask him a couple of questions, but if he won't talk to you, I won't let you force him. Not after what he's been through."
She led them to the second floor of the attractively decorated older home and opened the door to a guestroom where Danny Jenkins sat in the middle of a double bed, glowering at the adults in the doorway.
"Danny, we talked at your house last night. My name is Hutch, remember?" Hutch approached the bed, thinking that perhaps he would have a tiny advantage through the child's familiarity with him.
"When're you gonna let my mom outta jail?" he retorted.
"She isn't in jail, Danny. She's in the hospital. She's going to be just fine, but she was pretty shaken up about what happened last night and she needed some rest." Hutch sat on the foot of the bed. "We need to know what happened last night. Do you think you could help us out? See, we want to be fair to your mom, make sure we understand how things really happened."
"I don't remember."
"Danny, this is important, honey. Tell the truth," Mrs. Sternowski interjected.
"I don't remember," he repeated, crossing his arms over his chest. "I wanna see my mom."
"I told you we'd go see her today, Danny," his grandmother replied. "If you remember anything about what happened, it's very important that you tell these gentlemen," she said, sitting on the side of the bed next to the reticent child.
"I don't remember anything and I wanna see my mom!" he shouted back at her.
"I guess your questions will have to wait," she said, looking up at Starsky and Hutch.
"Son, I know you've had a bad time of it, but don't use that tone with your grandmother. She deserves your respect," Starsky said, and Danny regarded him with considerable surprise--as did Mrs. Sternowski, though she said nothing. "I know you think you're doing what's best for your mom, but not telling the truth about what happened isn't gonna make things better for her." Starsky moved toward the door of the room. "Mrs. Sternowski, please call us if Danny remembers anything. We'll be back in touch," he concluded.
"What was that about in there?" Hutch asked as Starsky started up the car.
"That little lecture to the kid about respecting his grandmother. Under the circumstances, it's not too surprising he's a little confrontational."
"Them lettin' him turn into a nasty little shit who yells at women isn't gonna help him any. He's had a real bad example with his father and he's gonna have to start learning a little respect for women. If he can't learn to use it with his grandmother, he's not gonna be good for much."
"You can't solve that, Starsk."
"He's got to see that there are men out there who respect women."
"That was nice work with Sally," Hutch said, hoping something positive would help lift the odd cloud of tension that seemed to hover between them.
"Starsk, what's the matter? I know we had an argument last night, and I'm sorry about that. I don't know what else to say."
"You don't have to say anything else about it."
"Then what's wrong?"
"Nothing, now can we drop it?" Starsky retorted, annoyed.
"I just don't understand what you're so angry with me about."
"Join the club. I didn't understand why I was gettin' my ass chewed last night because I did what we always do every night'a the week unless one of us is sick. You got all quiet after we went over to Rose and Al's, and then we got home and you light into me for no good reason."
"I apologized, Starsk. I don't know what more you want from me."
"Maybe you ought to tell me why you were so mad at me for tryin' to make love to you."
"Maybe because I didn't think we kept things from each other until last night."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Starsky spared a confused glance at him before diverting his eyes back to the traffic.
"It means that...it means that I think there's something you're not telling me about your family."
"Like what, for instance?" Starsky asked, his voice rising an octave.
"Why you really moved out here."
"Ma needed help raisin' us, and Rose and Al offered. I need to draw you a fucking picture? My dad cashed in his life insurance policy to pay off some debts and we didn't have two nickels to rub together. Ma didn't have the money to take care'a two of us. One of us had to go and Nicky was too little, so I went. That answer your question?"
"I didn't know things were that bad."
"Yeah, well, surprisingly enough, we might've been poor, but we had a couple shreds of pride left. Some things are family business."
"Funny. I thought we were family."
"You know what I mean."
"There's not one single stupid thing about my childhood or my family that you don't know. I've got no secrets from you. I feel like a fucking criminal for asking about your past."
"Maybe not all of us had money out the ass and fancy prep schools and summer jobs as lifeguards around country club swimming pools. Some of us have cesspools in our past we'd just as soon not go back and wallow in."
"I'm sorry I brought it up."
They rode in silence for quite a distance, until Starsky finally pulled into the parking lot near the station and cut the engine.
Hutch froze with his hand on the door handle.
"Babe, I'm sorry. I just...this case is makin' me a little crazy, I guess. And...there're some things I just don't wanna talk about."
"I'm sorry for how I treated you last night. You didn't deserve that."
"Maybe after we get done with some'a the paperwork, we could go home and make up?" Starsky waggled his eyebrows and Hutch chuckled, risking a caress to his lover's face.
"I love you."
"I love you, too, Blondie. Gonna show you as soon as we get home."
Plans for a romantic interlude at home had to be postponed for another trip to the hospital to question not only Kay Jenkins, but also her sister and brother-in-law, who had been with her at the hospital since the previous night. The medical report from the doctor who had briefly examined both children before releasing them to their grandmother's care had revealed a few interesting facts.
"Mrs. Jenkins, according to the analysis of the gun, it had been wiped clean of all prints except for a single set of very distinct ones--yours. How do you explain that?" Hutch asked.
"I was advised not to talk to you anymore until my lawyer was present."
"You aren't under arrest, ma'am," Hutch clarified. "The information we get now, the results of our investigation, are what will determine what kind of charges are brought in this case. We would appreciate your cooperation, but of course, you have the right not to answer questions."
"Then I think I'm going to invoke that right. I just want to get released from the hospital and be with my children as long as I can."
"This whole thing is ridiculous," Karen Delaney, Kay's slightly older sister, interjected angrily. "He was beating her child. What was she supposed to do? What would any decent mother do?"
"There's more than one way to end an abusive situation than with a hunting rifle, Mrs. Delaney," Starsky retorted sharply. "We have to form our own opinions about your sister's actions without her cooperation. Also," Starsky opened up his notepad, "the doctor who examined Danny last night didn't report finding any new bruises or indications of a recent beating or even a spanking. The only bruises the child had were fading bruises on his upper arms, which appeared to be the result of someone with large hands grabbing him." Starsky looked up from his notes. "So you see, there's something here not adding up, and if your sister doesn't want to help us put the pieces together, we'll have to do it on our own, based on the evidence."
"What's going on here?" A dark-haired man of about forty, dressed in jeans and a sweater, entered the room carrying two cups of coffee. Obviously, Karen's husband had made a cafeteria run. "Kay, I thought I told you to wait until Jake got here," he added.
"I haven't told them anything," she replied, running a hand back through her hair. "Jake is my lawyer," she clarified. "And he isn't here now, so I'd like you to leave."
"You must be Mr. Delaney?" Hutch asked.
"And you are?"
"Detective Hutchinson, this is Detective Starsky. We're the investigators assigned to your brother-in-law's case."
"Didn't she tell you she wasn't going to answer more questions?"
"Yes, she did, and you know what? She doesn't need to. We'll base our conclusions on the evidence, because what's adding up isn't looking good." Starsky headed for the door and Hutch, a little surprised, followed. "Your sister-in-law is this close to bein' arrested for murder one. A little cooperation at this point would be a real wise thing to consider."
Once they were out in the hallway, Hutch spoke up, punching the button for the elevator.
"You think threatening her with murder one is the best route right now?"
"All I know is, she's hidin' something. And we've gotta rattle her cage until she spills it." As the elevator doors opened, they waited for a couple of nurses to exit before entering the empty car themselves and pressing the lobby button. "I'm beginning to think she wanted her husband out of the way and used the protective mother story to get herself off the hook."
"Her face is bruised up, and the kid has old bruises. The little girl is no stranger to abuse in the household. We know the abuse part of the story isn't fabricated."
"That's true, but it's the immediacy we have to worry about, Hutch. Did she have to shoot him then to protect her child, and if she did, was it necessary to blow his brains out over it considering the kid's got no new bruises?"
"Maybe it was open-handed slapping, something that wouldn't leave a bruise."
"Guys like that don't open-hand slap their kids. They hit hard enough to knock 'em on their asses. They leave bruises and they break bones. This kid hadn't even had a healthy swat on the ass according to the doctor. I'm just getting the feeling she wanted to get rid of the guy and she's usin' her kid to do it. I'm not sayin' he wasn't a jerk."
"In the long run, you and I both know the kids'll have better lives without him."
"Yeah? Well, getting rid of him and shooting him are two different things."
"Maybe she couldn't accomplish one without the other."
"Since she's not talking, I guess we'll just have to figure out what was goin' on in her head." Starsky led the way out to the car, and the two men rode in silence for a while. "It's gettin' late. Let's sign out for today and get back at it tomorrow."
"Good idea," Hutch concurred.
They picked up a bucket of chicken, some potatoes and coleslaw from a take-out restaurant near Starsky's place. Upon arriving in the apartment, they shed their jackets and holsters and, after grabbing a couple beers, began devouring the meal. They'd spent most of the day running down leads, and lunch had been part of a hamburger before they'd responded to an armed robbery in progress.
"How about a shower?" Hutch suggested, smiling softly at his lover. They'd had a miserable day and the strain between them wouldn't feel resolved until they took the time to show each other again how much love there was between them--and how little the minor squabbles really meant.
"I'll get the water started while you clean up," Starsky said, grinning a little devilishly.
"Nice try, Gordo. Come on, you can manage dumping your bones."
"I'd rather be jumping your bones," he retorted, grudgingly tossing his old chicken bones in the depleted bucket while Hutch did the same.
"Patience, babe. I don't think we want stinky chicken bones and coleslaw for breakfast." Hutch put away the remaining portion of salad, and together they cleared the table and disposed of the trash. "Of course, judging by what you usually eat in the morning, it probably would be better for you."
"The first thing I usually eat in the morning is you, babe." Starsky wound his arms around his partner from behind, his hand finding its way to the growing bulge in Hutch's jeans. "And this bone ain't no chicken bone." Starsky was nuzzling Hutch's neck now. "You sure we need t'clean up all'a this stuff, or you think maybe it could wait, hmm?"
"Go start the shower," Hutch responded in a husky voice. "And get naked," he added, angling his head back for a kiss.
"Best way to take a shower," he quipped, swatting Hutch's butt before retreating into the bedroom, already unbuttoning his shirt.
Hutch lost no time in disposing of the trash from dinner and then stripping off his clothes and leaving them in a heap next to Starsky's before going into the steamy bathroom. His naked lover was carefully adjusting the water temperature, and Hutch paused to enjoy the play of muscles in Starsky's back and shoulders. He'd worked hard to regain his tone after the shooting, and he looked damn good now. Not that he hadn't always looked beautiful to Hutch, even when he was underweight and his muscle tone was fading.
Now, though, he had that healthy, strong, Starsky look about him again. The scars were fading as scars generally do, and while someone who hadn't seen Starsky shirtless before would most likely give them a second look, they were just a part of the landscape to Hutch now. Fortunately, Starsky's own insecurity and self-consciousness about them seemed to have waned a bit in recent weeks.
"Oh, shit!" Starsky jumped when he turned and saw Hutch standing there. "What're you tryin' to do, give me a heart attack?" he challenged, breathing heavily from the surprise of Hutch just appearing behind him, his approach unheard.
"Sorry, babe," Hutch said, smiling. "I was just enjoying the scenery."
"Oh yeah?" Starsky moved over and slid his arms around Hutch's waist.
"Yeah." Hutch reached up and caressed Starsky's cheek. "I love you."
"I love you, too, you old blond blintz," Starsky said, turning his face to kiss the palm of Hutch's hand. Then he moved forward to capture Hutch's mouth, covering it with his, a hungry tongue demanding entry.
"Maybe we oughtta move this under the water?" Hutch suggested when his lips were momentarily free.
Together they moved toward the shower, finally stepping in and pulling the curtain closed. Bathing together had always seemed like their special retreat from the world. There was something about pulling the curtain closed, about the steamy closeness, that seemed to lock everything else outside, where it belonged.
Hutch took his time shampooing the thick curls, smiling when Starsky indulged in the endearing habit he had of slipping his arms around Hutch and resting his cheek against a wet shoulder while his hair was washed. Hutch smiled as Starsky purred low in his throat, thoroughly enjoying the feeling of Hutch's long fingers gently massaging his scalp.
"Tip back, babe," Hutch said softly, carefully rinsing Starsky's curls under the spray, shielding his eyes from the shampoo and water with a protective hand. He grabbed the towel he kept handy on the shower rod to blot the worst of the water from the soaked hair, which would trickle into Starsky's eyes for the rest of their shower if it wasn't absorbed now.
"Must be real easy not havin' so much hair to fiddle with all the time," Starsky observed, taking his turn at shampooing Hutch's hair--a project which, at his most languid, he couldn't drag out very long. Hutch's hair was fine and a little fragile, but there was still plenty of it for Starsky to bury his fingers in while he shampooed.
"Your hair is beautiful, Starsk. I've never seen anything like it," Hutch said honestly, feeling the wet curls with his fingertips. "When you used to wear it shorter--in the Academy and when we first went out on the streets?" Starsky nodded, cringing a little at the recollection of his old, rather flat-to-the-head look. "I used to wonder what would happen if you let it grow out, do what it wanted...the way it always curled up right away in the shower or in the rain."
"You were lookin' at my hair back then?"
"I never was with anyone who had hair like yours. Not so thick or curly. Most of the women I'd been with would have killed for hair like yours."
"A few inches of it is enough, babe. Some poor woman with a foot or so of this stuff would go nuts tryin' to beat it down," Starsky concluded with a chuckle, giving Hutch the same careful rinse job Hutch had given him. "Hope you don't mind if I don't grow it down to my shoulders."
"The thought had occurred to me," Hutch admitted. "What it would feel like...in bed."
"Me, with hair down to my shoulders?" Starsky laughed softly. "I'm not seein' it, buddy," Starsky concluded, soaping up his hands and using them to wash Hutch's arms and shoulders.
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