When the Chips Are Down, Part One
by Sarah Problem
With thanks to Lucy

SHSVS, Episode 11

**********

The first thing Starsky noticed as he stepped from the cabin and past the plane's open door was the wonderful, clean smell of the midnight air. It was cool and fresh, filled with the scents of the desert and city, mixed with a bit of pine. Taking a deep lungful of it, he waited his turn to descend the plane steps and wished he could share the moment with his partner. Hutch, who had been forced to sit several rows ahead of Starsky, was already on the tarmac. The plane had been full, despite the late hour, and the passengers between them were just as anxious to get off as he was. There wouldn't be catching up with Hutch until after Starsky got to the tarmac himself.

He hoped the separate seats on the plane would be the only glitch on this vacation. This whole trip had been sprung on Hutch at the last minute, and Starsky knew his partner hadn't been happy to discover that all the arrangements had been made without his consent. Starsky wanted these few days off to go well--needed them to--and even the small inconveniences could cause more friction between them.

It had started innocently enough. They'd had a bad few weeks, working double shifts for a while when the summer flu hit the station. Street crime seemed to increase, and their court appearances hadn't gone as well as they should have. It felt as if the two of them had barely had time to take care of their personal business and get a few hours' sleep before they had been called in again. He and Hutch hadn't had a minute to spend on themselves during that time.

He had been planning a vacation for the two of them since Sweet Alice's death. He'd collected all the brochures on motels, rental cars and attractions to visit. He even had the plane tickets priced in advance and a credit card ready to pay for it all. It was to be a surprise, and all he'd needed was Hutch's agreement and the two of them would have a fun-filled vacation in Reno, Nevada, whenever they were ready. So when Dobey had given them three whole days off, Starsky had taken the opportunity and run with it.

The only problem was that Hutch had been tied up at a late DA meeting at the courthouse at the time. Starsky had tried to reach him by phone and on the radio but could not get a hold of him. Feeling the minutes tick away, Starsky had taken the plunge and booked two seats on a flight to Reno that evening. He called the motel and car rental agency from the station and put down his deposit, leaving them only a few hours to pack one large carry-on each, cash some checks at Huggy's and get on the plane.

At least he didn't blow up at me when I told him. I know he's pissed, but I had to get us out of Bay City. Since this whole trip is my treat, he can't be too upset with me. I hope.

As soon as Starsky's feet touched the tarmac, he hurried around the other passengers to try to catch up with Hutch. There were a few spotlights to illuminate their way, but the night sky seemed to dwarf them. The moon had passed beyond the mountains, leaving a heavy blanket of ebony sky above, broken only by the barely distinguishable silhouette of the mountain ranges that surrounded them and a few stars that managed to shine through. Glancing around at ground level, he could see the lights of the city twinkle around them, the various colors reminding him of Christmas or carnival lights at night. Starsky felt as if he were walking on a different planet. The differences in the smells, the view, and the sound of the whole area were that different from Bay City.

Catching up with Hutch, Starsky glanced at his face. He looked tired, uninterested in their arrival and their surroundings, despite his quick stride.

Can't blame him. We only got off duty a few hours ago, had to pack in a rush, just to sit in an airport while the plane was delayed. Then to have our seats get screwed up. Having to sit next to a crying baby for an hour and a half must have used up the last bit of energy he had. But I'll make it up to him. He'll be glad to really get a chance to unwind and put some ghosts behind him.

"Hey, Hutch!" Starsky moved closer to him as they neared the terminal entrance. "Can you smell that air? Smells even better than Las Vegas! I bet that must be sagebrush, huh?"

Hutch didn't answer, nor did he slow his pace.

It took them a couple of minutes to reach the terminal, the crowd of luggage-laden passengers slowing them down at the door. Inside the airport, it was almost as bright as day and as colorful--and as crowded--as any casino Starsky had ever seen. Against the walls were the normal chairs and trappings of any airport, but right in the middle were several long rows of back-to-back slot machines. The sounds of coins dropping into slots and mechanical levers being pulled filled the air.

They really are everywhere, just like in Vegas! They'll put those machines anywhere they think they can get some spare change out of you: grocery stores, gas stations, johns.... Guess an airport shouldn't be exempt.

He didn't realize he'd been staring until he caught sight of Hutch watching him, tired eyes regarding him with a hint of amusement that matched the slight smile on his lips.

"You going to stand there in shock, or can you manage to find our hotel? C'mon, Starsk, all I want to do is crash. Let's go!"

Even though the words were impatient, it was clear that Hutch wasn't totally put off by the impromptu trip. Once they'd gotten a good night's sleep....

Maybe there's hope for this vacation yet!

He didn't realize how worried he'd been about Hutch's reaction until the weariness of the day seemed to creep over him, and the thought of a nice, large bed with Hutch in his arms seemed like all he could ever ask for.

"Sure thing. Just let me find the rental car information and we can get outta here." He set his carry-all down beside him, glad that they had both packed light enough not to have to check in any luggage. He was reaching into his pocket for the information when he was run into from behind, almost pitching him forward, as the person behind him tripped over his bag and grabbed on to Starsky for support.

Grabbing at the falling man, Starsky was able to stop him before he hit the floor. Hutch was suddenly there, on the other side of the stranger, helping Starsky pull him to his feet.

"You okay?" Hutch asked the stranger kindly.

"Oh, my! I am so sorry! It was my fault, really it was!" The man said, looking flushed and embarrassed, pushing thick glasses back up to the bridge of his nose. The tall, thin man was dressed in a light blue polyester jacket with matching pants and a blue paisley shirt. He looked a bit harried, his thick brown hair out of place from his near tumble, and his mustache a bit mussed.

"I'm the one who's sorry!" Starsky replied, feeling badly as he realized he must have put his bag down in the man's way. "I didn't realize I was blocking traffic."

"It's my eyesight," the man explained as he brushed himself off. He waved toward his thick frames. "I need to get a stronger prescription, but I've been putting it off."

A stronger prescription? Starsky thought, feeling even worse for the guy. Those things are practically an inch thick already!

"My name's Roger, Roger Martini."

The stranger held out his hand to Starsky, who shook it politely.

"I'm Dave Starsky, and this is my friend, Ken Hutchinson. Nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you both." Roger extended his hand to Hutch. As his partner shook the offered hand, Starsky could see that Hutch wasn't any more anxious to draw out this meeting than he was. Roger, though, looked as if he were interested in a long conversation. "Are you two visitors or here on business?"

"Ah...vacation," Starsky answered quickly, hoping the man really wasn't interested.

"Oh, well, that sounds wonderful!" Roger said enthusiastically. "This is really a wonderful place to--"

"Oh. Uh...my friend and I really need to get to our hotel," Hutch interrupted. "Late check-in, you know, but it was--"

"Hotel?" Roger repeated, looking even more pleased than he had before. "You know, I made plans so quickly that I never did arrange for a room anywhere. And since it's after midnight I was afraid that nothing I could afford would be open. Do you mind if I share a cab with you two, so I can see if your hotel has a room available at this hour?"

Glancing at Hutch, Starsky saw him sigh and shrug with resignation. The man looked like he could use a little help getting around.

"Well, um...actually we've got a rental car waiting for us," Starsky began. "But if you want to call the hotel to check on vacancies while we're getting our car, we'd be happy to give you a lift. If not, I'm sure a cabbie out front would know who might have some rooms left."

"That sounds perfect!" Roger was grinning ear to ear now. "I'll grab my luggage and give the hotel a call. If you would be so kind as to wait for me by the front door, I'll meet you there."

Starsky gave him the number from the brochure, which he finally found in the fourth pocket he searched, and gave Roger a friendly wave as he and Hutch headed for the rental car counter.

"You know, Starsky, if you'd just learn to step out of the way once in a while--"

"Hey, it wasn't my fault! He ran into me, remember? Poor guy looks like he must be blind as a bat. And he may not even be able to get a room."

"Let's just hope the hotel is full. I'm not sure how long I can keep my eyes open, and I really don't feel like being friendly right now."

Starsky couldn't blame him. the day had been too long already, and they were both ready to start their vacation by catching up on a lot of sleep.

But Ma always said it never hurt to be kind to strangers. You never knew when you'd need their help someday. And I don't think you can get any stranger than that guy.

~~~

Almost an hour later, Starsky pulled a nondescript blue Chevy station wagon into the parking lot of the Green Chip Hotel. Roger had been able to get a room over the phone, so they had had to wait for him, as the plane was slow in getting the luggage unloaded. Then there was the delay trying to find the place, Starsky having made a couple of bad turns along the way.

After the last wrong turn Hutch stayed quiet, no longer even making an attempt to carry on a conversation with Roger, who had not seemed to notice. Even as they pulled up to the hotel, the tall man continued to babble away in the back seat, his voice re-enforcing the nice little headache Starsky was nursing. Turning off the car, Starsky sat for a moment, letting Hutch and Roger get out first.

I can't believe this! This can't be the hotel on the front of the brochure! That place looked really nice, but this place....

The hotel looked fifty years old, needed a paint job and half of the neon lights on the sign were burned out. It looked almost as old and worn as the car he was driving.

If I wasn't so tired....

But he was tired, the room was waiting for them and there wasn't anything to do but hope they could get a good night's sleep and start the next day on a better note.

Sorry, Hutch. I really had a better place in mind than this!

**********

I'm not going to say anything. It's too late to get angry or fight. I'm just going to let it go and relax, try to get some sleep.

Hutch unpacked his bag on the double bed nearest the door, trying to ignore the stale, smoky smell of the ancient room. If it weren't for the traffic outside, he would have wanted to open the windows for some fresh air, but from the look of things they had probably been painted shut a century ago.

The room itself was decorated in the same worn out hotel style that Hutch had seen a million times before, with a mish-mash of furniture and carpeting, wallpaper and bedcovers that had never matched and never would. With their luck, they'd find the plumbing and the mattresses just as old as the air-conditioner unit that whistled annoyingly as it tried to make the night just a little cooler. Heaven help it in the daytime.

At least we don't have to worry about sharing the room with Roger. I didn't think that guy would ever shut up!

Knowing he was too tired to be polite, Hutch kept as quiet as he could on the trip to the hotel. He had heard more about the man's plans to start divorce proceedings against his unfaithful wife than he had ever wanted to know.

Finding his shaving kit, he sat tiredly on the edge of the bed. Listening to Starsky move around in the bathroom, he pulled off shoes that were now too tight. He always had trouble sitting on a plane for long periods of time, and, even though the trip had only been an hour and a half, his legs had managed to cramp up on him. The poor baby next to him had been inconsolable, and the mother had taken his advice the wrong way. He had tried to tell her that the baby's ears were probably hurting because of the change in air pressure and that if she got the baby to suck on something it might be able take some of the pressure off. She had gotten into a snit, announced that she knew what she was doing and didn't need any advice, then had tried everything but the bottle. Hutch had wondered at one point if the flight was ever going to end.

To make matters worse, he hadn't even been given a choice of whether to come or not.

I can't believe Starsky did this! How could he make all these last minute plans without consulting me? He never mentioned it to me, didn't even show me any of the brochures he'd been collecting. Then as soon as we get some time off, he commits us to this vacation. Shit, what if I didn't feel like doing anything but going home and sleeping for three days?

Truthfully, he wasn't sure what he would have wanted to do. His first impulse would have been to sleep in and spend some time at the beach, make a trip up into the mountains, take some time to visit the Museum of Art or something that was quiet and slow-paced. Spend some time away from people, away from crowds. But Reno? Gambling, crowds and bright lights?

He heard a tired cough from the bathroom, listened to the slow movements of his partner as he finished up for the night.

I'm not the only one who's tired, Hutch admitted. We've both been working our asses off; luckily neither of us got sick from being so run down.

He remembered the visible mixture of excitement and fear on Starsky's part as he broke the news to him, how the plane tickets were already bought and the hotel reservations confirmed. Hutch had been angry--and still was-- he had to admit. But it had been Starsky's contagious enthusiasm that had spurred Hutch into running home, grabbing some clothes and packing as quickly as he could, while Starsky cashed their checks at The Pits. He had let loose a lot of his anger at home, throwing clothing into the bag while yelling at the partner who wasn't there to hear it. By the time he'd gotten to Starsky's apartment, where the cab to the airport was to pick them up, Hutch had gotten rid of a lot of his initial anger.

He certainly looked disappointed when we drove up, then again when he saw the room. He's acting like someone has just told him his next birthday has been canceled.

It didn't take much to see that Starsky had had higher expectations. He didn't know what his partner and lover thought they would be getting from a budget-brochure, but this hadn't been it. Hutch's heart had softened further as he had watched that enthusiasm fade as the night progressed.

I'm here because he loves me, Hutch reminded himself, finding the anger of not being included in the planning fading away, the urge to hold Starsky washing over him. He tries so hard to please me, to do what's best for both of us. How can I stay angry at that?

The bathroom door opened and Starsky walked into the room, damp and wrapped only in a towel. His smile was forced as he nodded toward the bathroom.

"Bathroom's ready, such as it is. Don't expect much."

Hutch walked to him slowly, wrapping both arms around him, burying his nose in the crook of his neck. He could feel Starsky relax into his embrace.

"Smart move, hot shot." Hutch gave his lover's damp neck a kiss. "Saving all our vacation money for the fun stuff, instead of putting it out for a car and room we won't be spending much time in." He pulled away enough so that Starsky could see the teasing smile on his face.

The smile that flowered on Starsky's face was real this time, and Hutch felt the arms around his waist squeeze him affectionately.

"Can't take the credit, I have to admit. I really expected a lot better. They must have taken the brochure picture about twenty years ago."

"Well, it's not too bad. As long as we can get a good night's sleep, then it'll do."

Starsky winced. "But the car--"

"I like the car."

"Yeah, I know. I was afraid of that. Next time I'm going to spring for something other than their budget model."

They both laughed, Hutch feeling glad that they were both in a better mood. It would have been a long, sleepless night if they'd both been out of sorts.

"Tell you what," Hutch said. "I'll buy you a big breakfast tomorrow morning and we'll keep the car. No use trading it back in if it'll get us where we want to go."

Starsky's smile grew even wider. "Tell you what, make it a late brunch, or even lunch, and I'll learn to live with it."

"Deal." Hutch gave him a light kiss and pulled away to use the bathroom.

He took a quick shower, promptly giving up on getting anything but tepid water. By the time he was done brushing his teeth, Starsky was under the covers of one of the beds, looking like he was almost asleep.

Hutch was glad the sheets felt clean and crisp as he slid his naked body in with relief. Moving close to Starsky, who was on his back but with an arm up in invitation, Hutch curled himself up at his side. Carefully wrapping an arm over Starsky's chest, a thigh over his thigh, and his head in the crook of Starsky's neck, Hutch smiled to himself. Starsky's arm curled around him, leaving his fingers free to lightly trail up and down Hutch's back.

It didn't take much to realize they were both too tired and travel weary to do anything but sleep. At times like these, Hutch found that snuggling was better for the body and soul than a ton of aspirin or finding yourself on the winning end of an argument. As his aching and tired muscles relaxed he could feel a similar response from the body in his arms. Hutch shifted only slightly, enjoying the soft, sensual feel of curly hairs against his skin, the firm but soft feel of Starsky's hip as Hutch pressed his torso and crotch against Starsky's side. He smiled as he felt Starsky's hand card through the hair at the back of his neck, glad that his lover found something physical about him to enjoy as they drifted off.

It felt so good to have this kind of comfort--this kind of trust--that he wondered how he'd ever done without it.

I don't care where we are, or what it looks like, as long as we can be like this for the next three days.

As sleep claimed him, his last thoughts were of the warm, soft fingers playing with his hair.

**********

Roger Martini stood at his hotel room window, watching the sparse traffic of the early morning hour through a small opening in the curtains. Never one to sleep for very long, his mind was happily busy with the new information he had gleaned upon his arrival.

He smiled to himself as he took a puff of his cigar, enjoying the taste and flavor of the Superba Corona Superba, as well as the anticipated excitement of the next few days.

Detectives Starsky and Hutchinson, the only two men in law enforcement who had ever denied me my prize. What a pleasant surprise! Here on vacation, are you? How very interesting! Would this be a coincidence, or have the local authorities found themselves in such a tizzy that they've had to call in for help? This might be a bit more fun than I had originally anticipated. Life has been so boring of late.

The thought of the two interceding in his planning was actually welcomed news. He had been afraid that this project, while important, would be a too easy success. He enjoyed a good game of cat-and-mouse. After all, where was the entertainment, the satisfaction, of a goal too easily won?

"You may have cost me the Belvedere diamonds, gentlemen, but this time I shall not take you for granted. We shall see who will be the victor in this little game, and what a magnificent game it will be."

The Baron took another puff of the cigar, mindful that he would have to ration his small supply for a few days. The box he had brought with him would now have to be spread around a bit further than his original plan called for. He let his mouth turn up in a slow smile as he blew a series of smoke rings into the air.

But at the cost of a well-played game, the small sacrifice would be well worth it. He had always wanted to find a way to play another round with the two detectives, and with the thrill of making contact, and not being recognized, he was happy to chalk up the points of the first round to himself.

If this really is just a vacation you are on, then I shall have to make plans to have you included in the game. You two will make the competition much more interesting than I had dared hope!

**********

Carefully opening one eye, mind still numb with sleep, Hutch discovered he was in a bed. His head was under some sort of coverlet, and the small bit of the world he could see was tinted a bright orange. He knew that he wasn't home--his or Starsky's. He knew he wasn't alone, since the large warm bulk next to him could only be his lover. All he could make out was a small triangle of chest hairs, tan skin and a hint of the well-formed muscle. The rest of Starsky was blocked by a sheet. Besides Starsky's deep, even breathing, he could hear car doors slamming and voices nearby.

Okay. Hotel room. Vacation. Late night flight. Crappy hotel room.

Blinking his eyes, he ventured enough movement to find his face and rub at them. He still felt a little thick-headed and wondered if he'd over or under slept. The outside light that filtered through the coverlet could mean it was morning or afternoon, but the movement outside definitely sounded like morning.

It's a day off, Hutchinson. Relax. Who cares what time it is?

Yawning, he stretched slowly, enjoying the feeling. He was on his stomach, head facing the center of the bed. Starsky was lying on his left side. The wadded sheets between them showing that they both must have been a bit restless. Hutch lifted his hand to uncover his head, when he saw that the movement had revealed more of Starsky's torso.

Considering the way Starsky was snoring, it was a sure bet he wasn't going to wake up because a few covers were being moved.

Pulling the sheet slowly, Hutch found himself revealing more of the delightfully furred body in front of him. The bright orange light that filtered through the coverlet made Starsky's body hair glint red in places, blending the scars into the rest of his skin so they were almost invisible.

Well, Hutch thought evilly. I'll bet there's one part of him that's wide awake and ready to go!

Since they had become lovers, Hutch could probably count on one hand the number of times he'd known Starsky to wake without an erection. Hutch himself was half-hard, and now the thought of a private strip tease under the covers was making his cock even harder and his body tingle with interest.

Continuing to tug gently, Starsky's belly button was revealed. It was all Hutch could do to keep from moving forward those few inches to explore it with his tongue. It was only seconds later that Hutch found what he was looking for and could make out the outline of hard cock under the sheet. Carefully uncovering the organ, Hutch marveled at how the sight of it could make him feel so drawn to touch it.

Thick and rose-colored when full, the strange lighting seemed to make it look almost angry and desperate.

Hutch yearned to sooth and satisfy it.

Shifting a bit so that his face was closer, he reached out to touch the velvet skin. Tracing a light line from scrotum to the delicate underside of the glans. Hutch watched as the sensitive organ pulsed in response, and he heard Starsky groan sleepily.

Hutch's own cock throbbed at the sound.

Feeling the flush of desire warm him, and wanting to see Starsky's face, Hutch carefully reached above his head to grab the top of the coverlet, pulling it down slowly. The cool air of the room hit him like a refreshing breeze, and he blinked in the stronger light that flooded through the worn, thin curtains. Starsky's skin was now its healthy, glowing olive color, his thick curls the normal dark chocolate.

Looking up, Hutch could see Starsky's face. He had his right arm thrown over his eyes; his left arm was under the pillow, hugging it to his face. Only tousled curls, soft lips and stubbled chin were visible. Hutch had seen that posture before, on those mornings when Starsky had been awake enough at one point to try to hide himself from the light.

Like a kid hoping for a few more minutes before he has to get up for school. He looks so peaceful, like he's never had a care in the world.

This morning, Hutch was going to see that Starsky awoke in one of his favorite ways.

Carefully taking the hard cock around its base, Hutch gripped it carefully, pulling it gently from its firm position against Starsky's abdomen. Bringing it to his mouth he breathed across the glans, feeling the reaction in his hand as a throb. Sticking his tongue out, Hutch carefully touched the tip to the open slit, moving his tongue up and down gently.

Starsky's breath caught and he moaned, sending shivers down Hutch's spine. Hutch paused and looked up, watched as Starsky moved his arm, peering blearily down at him. A crooked, wickedly happy smile took over Starsky's face as his right hand reached down to gently rest on Hutch's head.

Knowing he must be smiling like the Devil himself, Hutch kept eye contact as he licked his lips and placed them on the head of Starsky's cock.

Starsky groaned louder, the sound rumbling through Hutch like rolling thunder on a summer's night. Carefully covering his teeth, Hutch pursed his lips tightly, and pushed the glans past his tight lips and into his mouth, as if there were barely any room for him there.

"Aaaaahhhhhh...." Starsky's fingers fumbled in Hutch's hair, grabbing at random strands as he clenched his fist.

Hutch released the cock, sucking firmly on the head to keep it in his mouth. Moving his right hand to the curve of Starsky's hip, he used his other hand to first caress and then hold both testicles tightly. He could feel Starsky practically vibrating in his mouth, neither man moving.

"Hmmmm...." Hutch hummed loudly after a long moment, moving his tongue on the sensitive spot.

"Aaaahhhhh...mmmaaaannn...."

Hutch loosened his hold on the soft, furry pouch but didn't let it go entirely.

Starsky's hips moved, carefully pushing his cock farther into Hutch's mouth.

Hutch kept his mouth as tight as he safely could, wanting his lover to feel the heat and pressure of penetration.

"Huuutchhh...sogoodsogoodsogood this way...ugh...uh...." Speech turned into grunts, breathing became panting. The grip on his hair tightened, the thrusting increased in speed if not in depth. Minutes passed as Hutch gave Starsky's cock his full attention.

Angling a bit so he could glance up, Hutch could see burning, hooded dark eyes staring at him, as if they were never going to let him go. Starsky moaned, watching Hutch watch him.

The wanton look in those eyes made Hutch's cock ache in earnest need, but he kept the pressure hard and tight, trying to concentrate on doing this for Starsky rather than think about his own desires.

The thrusts became faster, the control waned a bit as Starsky pressed farther than he had before, but still less than halfway. Hutch could tell he was close.

Moving his hand from the testicles, Hutch once again gripped the base of Starsky's cock, feeling the pulse of his racing heart, feeling the strain as the cock filled a bit more.

He sucked harder and rubbed his tongue against the sensitive spot a bit faster, feeling the bits and pieces of Starsky's orgasm as they fell into place inside the taut, straining body.

"Oh...yesyesyes...closecloseclose...ah.... Ahh...." Starsky was out of control now, teetering on the edge of completion and thrusting for home.

"Ahh...ahhh! HmmmMMMM...UH!"

Hutch stilled all movement, feeling the hot spurt of cum at the back of his throat, coating the back of his tongue. More spurts threatened to fill his mouth to overflowing, but he refused to swallow. Hutch's tongue had found the pulse of Starsky's heart and orgasm, and he didn't want to interrupt his pleasure. Not when he was most sensitive.

"Hutch...Hutch...that was so good...Iloveitwhenyouwakemeuplikethat.…"

As the pulse of his cock started to calm, Starsky pulled gently back, letting Hutch know he wanted to be released.

Hutch did so, surprised to feel himself gulp hastily and gasp for air. He hadn't realized he had been holding his breath.        

"Your turn." Starsky's voice was raspy and soft as he rolled to his back and stretched, looking like a panther lolling in the sun. Hutch looked up at him and saw completion and love in the deep blue eyes. The hand in his hair tugged gently, the smile turned wicked. "C'mon. Your turn to yell. Just remember we're in a thin-walled hotel room, lover boy."

Hutch's heart leaped at the wicked smile, his own cock practically yelling at him for attention. The wanton, sultry look that radiated through Starsky's whole body was too powerful to ignore. He knew he could have anything he asked for, and right now what he wanted was that hot body under him.

Launching himself at Starsky, he heard a yelp of laughter as Starsky's hands flew up to keep himself from being squashed. Hutch buried his face in the crook of Starsky's neck even as he laid his full weight on top of him, nipping at skin as he straddled Starsky's thighs. Starsky laughed, wiggling under the onslaught.

Pulling back a bit, Hutch licked his palm and grabbed his leaking cock, holding some of his weight off Starsky with his other hand. Spreading the moisture quickly, he scooted down enough to adjust his erection so that it slipped between Starsky's hairy, muscular thighs.

Bracing himself with a hand on either side of him, Hutch lay back down on the firm, hot body and thrust as deeply into that enclosed space as he could. Adjusting his angle a bit more, he began to thrust quickly, feeling the wet, slick hairs on Starsky's firmly closed thighs like thousands of tiny caresses on his heated and hungry flesh.

Ear to Starsky's chest, Hutch pulled the man to him, wrapping his arms tightly around his lover.

He knew he was making sounds with each thrust, saying things he wasn't paying any attention to. All he could keep track of were the arms that held him and the sweet thunder of his nerves as he humped, thrust and rubbed himself against that electric skin.

Completion called him, daring him to catch and hold it captive. Moving frantically, the sound of his own panting and the erotic slap of his balls against Starsky's thighs filled his ears, mixing with the sound of the heart under him.

He was desperate now, his whole body trembling, ass clenching with the tension of coming. Close to the edge, but not quite reaching it. He was losing his rhythm, losing the pace he had set, and he moaned as the edge of the cliff came within reach.

He fought to throw himself off.

As orgasm hit him, he froze, internal muscles spasmed as that warm, glorious pulsing sensation in his gut spread along tingling nerves to hit his brain with a buzz of sparks. The knot of need behind his balls unraveled as he ejaculated, emptying his body of semen in powerful spurts.

It seemed to go on forever, and he rode with the sensations as they eased, then finally stopped, leaving him feeling hot, sweaty, incredibly relaxed and weak.

It wasn't until Starsky removed a hand from his mouth that he realized it had been there at all.

Fighting the urge to sleep, he began to roll over, knowing he was too heavy for Starsky to support for very long.

Hutch looked into Starsky's eyes as they settled comfortably together. All he had the strength to do was raise a questioning eyebrow at the amused look in Starsky's eyes.

"And I thought I was dangerously loud," Starsky replied to the silent question, a grin growing on his face. "Babe, we're going to have to remember we've got close neighbors around here. I was afraid that if you got much louder we'd have the local cops at the door, thinking there was a murder going on!"

Hutch laughed, a bit embarrassed. "It's your fault, you know. I can't help what you do to me."

They both chuckled softly, pulling each other close. Hutch felt as if he could sleep for a whole day and was glad to see Starsky had the same idea.

With the luxury of satisfaction, free time and no further need for words, Hutch let himself fall into a doze as they held each other gently.

**********

He was hungry. His stomach was almost to the growling point. His throat was dry, and he was sticky in places that weren't going to be pleasant to "un-stick" if he left them much longer. Yet Starsky really didn't want to untangle himself from Hutch. The morning wake-up had been wonderful and being able to doze back off, touching Hutch as much as he could as he drifted, had been heaven. Not having to be anywhere or have anything pressing to do for the next few days, was both exciting and relaxing. They were free to follow their noses, and Starsky looked forward to discovering how the day would unfold. But to experience the day he was going to have to get up.

Everything has its trade-off. He moved experimentally, stretching a bit to see if Hutch was awake. Can't start the day if we don't ever get out of bed. Of course, we have spent a few days in bed.

Smiling, he leaned down to give Hutch's forehead a quick kiss, then moved to disengage and make his way to the bathroom. Hutch was humming sleepily, spreading out over the rest of the bed as soon as Starsky left it. Glancing at the clock he saw that it was getting close to noon.

"You just keep simmerin' there, Hutch, while I take a shower. Why don't you think about what you want to do today? Gotta be some way we can find to get into trouble."

Hutch only grunted, not moving from his face down, spread-eagle position on the bed.

Better be a cold shower! Starsky thought as he headed for the bathroom. I stay in this room too long with Hutch lookin' all golden and satisfied like that, and I'm going to end up back in bed again!

~~~

Starsky's shower went quickly, the almost non-existent water pressure not encouraging any lingering under the tepid spray. When he was done, Hutch was already at the sink brushing his teeth. They traded places, and by the time Hutch left the bathroom, Starsky was dressed in a blue t-shirt and tan shorts. He was looking through his bag for his second sandal when Hutch passed, and Starsky leaned over to swat at the tempting ass under the towel.

"So, what's it gonna be?" he asked, hoping Hutch would have something fun in mind.

"Well, I was thinking." Hutch opened his own bag and started pulling out clothing, glancing up to give Starsky a grin. "How about we get a glimpse of the history around here? Get in the car and do a little sightseeing?"

"Uh...." Starsky tried to find the right words, not wanting to put an early damper on things. He didn't want to appear too negative, but they were on vacation. And there were all those casinos close by. "You mean, like a museum, art gallery or...something?"

"Sort of. Consider it a life-sized museum where we could get a bit of a feel for the old west, and have some fun at the same time. How about going to Virginia City?"

"Yeah? Like on 'Bonanza?' That place?"

Hutch sat on the bed as he pulled on underwear, having laid out a white pull-over shirt and matching shorts. "I saw a brochure in the front office about it and looked through it while you were getting the keys. Looked like it's maybe an hour's drive away, up in the mountains. It's really a famous tourist attraction now. They have some of the older casinos open and a real, live Boot Hill. We've got all evening to hit the strip and see some shows."

"That's a terrific idea!" Starsky threw his bag on the floor and began pulling the second bed apart. Two guys had the room, so two beds should look slept in. "I've always wondered if that place looks like it does on TV. Betcha I can get some great pictures!"

"Great! We'll stop back by the office; pick up a brochure and a map. We can ask about a good place to eat so we don't have to spend time looking for one."

They packed up their extra items neatly and debated on what to do with their guns. They had their regular holsters, but it was too hot to wear them under another shirt. They had also brought ankle holsters, which is why Hutch had left his Magnum at home, since it wouldn't have fit. Eventually, they decided to bring the guns, but would lock them in the trunk of the car during the day rather than leave them in the hotel safe--if the hotel even had one. The car was old and dented enough not to have to worry about someone breaking into the trunk for anything valuable.

Starsky had his camera ready to go. They could stop and pick up drinks and snacks for the trip when they stopped for lunch. Starsky had paid for the room in advance, so they didn't need to worry about getting back for any sort of check-in.

It only took them a few minutes to get their things together. Starsky opened the door and stood for a moment, feeling the hot, dry air flow over him like a blanket still warm from the dryer. He had heard the air-conditioner running, but hadn't realized what a difference it would make. The sky was a bright blue, with a few clouds hanging behind the bare looking mountains in the distance. Surprisingly, the heat was almost nice--making him anxious to get breakfast, or rather lunch, so they could start their adventure. He knew that later it would probably build up to be uncomfortable. If they were lucky they could find places during the day to cool off.

While Hutch headed for the car to get their guns locked away, Starsky went to the office to browse through the brochures, feeling happy and excited at the prospect of free time on a clear, sunny day.

So far so good! I'm going to keep my fingers crossed that things don't end up too exciting. I'd like us both to go home in one piece for a change.

**********

With the warmth of the car, the lull of quiet desert driving and the tiredness of a day well spent, Hutch was dozing in the passenger seat of the rental car. They were close to the hotel, and knowing Starsky wanted to hit the gambling strip as soon as it was dark, Hutch had decided to get a nap in while he could. Starsky didn't seem to mind the shared silence any more than he did.

For getting a late start on the day, it had already been a good one. They had grabbed lunch in town, gotten some drinks and snacks along with a cooler for the car. The highway from Reno was easy to find, and the view from the mountains was one of interesting contrasts. One side of the valley in which Reno was located was walled by beautiful, wooded mountains; the other by desert mountains, covered in sagebrush and other desert fauna. When it came time to make a choice of directions, Hutch was struck by the fact that if they turned right they could end up in a forest on their way to Tahoe and all the modern conveniences, or turn left and find themselves in an old frontier town, out in the desert mountains. Reno really felt as if it existed on the edge of two worlds.

The ride to Virginia City had been interesting. The view from the highway, which switched and twisted up the side of the steep mountain range, was fantastic. They had stopped at several sightseeing points on the way up to admire the view. Several times they found themselves with a respectable drop on one side and a rock wall that hosted a myriad of colorful layers of stone and earth on the other, which kept them on their toes during the drive up the narrow road.

Virginia City itself had been a surprise. Starsky had delighted in the fact that it really was nothing like it was depicted on television. On the side of a mountain range away from Reno, Virginia City was not in a valley, but on the side of a hill. A rather steep hill in areas. There were streets that made both cops wonder how a team of horses had been able to navigate the heavy, ore-filled wagons of the past. The buildings in town had aged in the hot sun for decades, giving them a character that couldn't be faked. Some were still occupied, and others looked to be empty but in the process of restoration. The main street had casinos, small restaurants and shops on both sides. Both men had been glad they were middle-of-the-week tourists, since parking was hard to find and must be almost impossible to come by on weekends.

After parking, they had walked both sides of the main street. Hutch was impressed with how the original buildings had been restored with an eye to keeping more than they replaced. Starsky had taken roll after roll of film--many of the pictures with Hutch in them, some he let Hutch take of him, and a few that other accommodating tourists had taken of them both.

They had visited the museum, both of them sobering as they came face-to-face with the everyday items the pioneers to the area had used in their day-to-day lives. The display of an old country doctor's medical paraphernalia was fascinating and chilling at the same time. Starsky shied away from the dental display, which gave Hutch a chance to tease him a bit.

Both had been silent and subdued at the display of old coffins and horse-drawn hearses. The children's coffins, with windows in the lids so that the children's faces could be displayed at their burial, were the saddest. Hutch had even been surprised to find a whole museum devoted to Samuel Clemens, who had written for the local paper while writing some of his stories, signing those works as "Mark Twain" for the first time.

Both men had come away with a new appreciation for the pioneers of the past and had wondered out loud if they would have had the right stuff to carve out a new life in the Old West.

They each ate a snack in a small family restaurant, where they sat and read through the various brochures they had picked up. They drove away their thirst in an authentic, old style saloon, which sported its original, huge, hand-carved wooden bar and lack of air conditioning. But the room itself was so narrow and so deep, they were able to relax in the natural coolness the building provided.

All in all, it had been a day well spent. Hutch had enjoyed learning more about the city and the people who had carved their fortunes, or lack thereof, out of what had been a dry and dangerous wilderness.

Now the sun was starting to set, and they had decided on a change of clothing for the evening and to get a nice dinner on the main gambling strip. Hutch knew Starsky had his hopes set on finding a large buffet somewhere. The rest of the night could unfold as it would.

Hutch jerked awake as the car came to a stop and Starsky turned off the engine. He hadn't realized they were that close to the hotel, nor that it was almost sunset.

"Time to get cleaned up for dinner!" Starsky announced happily, reaching into the back seat for his camera bag. "After we get changed and our stuff is stowed away, we'll ask the hotel manager where the best buffet is. I bet he knows where the best slots are, too."

"Sounds good. We can--" Hutch broke off, as he saw movement from a car several spaces down to their right. Something made his hair stand on end. "Starsk...."

Keeping his eyes on the occupants in the car, Hutch could feel that he had Starsky's attention.

"I see 'em, Hutch. Looks like they're interested in us as well."

There were three men who were getting out of a car and were heading their way. The men were too well dressed to be travelers or at the hotel on vacation, and they had been watching him and Starsky as they drove in. The men didn't look concerned that he and Starsky obviously knew they were on their way over.

"They're packing." Hutch sighed to himself as he moved to get out of the car. Their own guns would have to be in the trunk.

Getting out, Hutch shut his door and leaned back against the car, waiting for Starsky who was walking around the car. As they came within speaking distance, the man in the lead nodded politely at him. Hutch nodded back just as Starsky settled next to him against the car.

"Gentlemen, I'm looking for Detectives Hutchinson and Starsky, from the Bay City PD." The tall, gray-haired man reached into his jacket pocket and revealed a detective's badge. "I assume you two are the ones I'm looking for?"

Hutch gave Starsky a guarded look, which was returned.

Why do I feel that the smart answer would be no?

"That's us." Starsky answered without emotion, holding out a hand to receive the badge that the other detective surrendered reluctantly. After glancing at it, he handed it to Hutch. "What can we do for you, gentlemen?"

Hutch glanced at the badge and the ID card that accompanied it. It was authentic.

"I'm Detective First Class Abner Reighter. These are Detectives Frost and Williamson. If you don't mind, we'd like to have a word with you two."

"Voluntarily or involuntarily?" Hutch asked, wondering how important this was and how pushy the detectives would be.

Reighter raised his hands, palms up. "Really, it could go either way. We can discuss it here, or downtown. You gentlemen know the drill."

"Great," Starsky murmured unhappily. "There goes one nice day down the toilet. You might as well come in."

Hutch unlocked the trunk and retrieved their guns. Starsky pulled the empty cooler and camera case from the back seat.

Once inside, Hutch was glad to feel the room was still cool. He hadn't realized how used to the heat he had gotten and the difference felt refreshing. He also noticed that both beds had been made and none of their bags seemed to have been touched.

They all filtered in, and no one said anything until the door was closed.

"Okay," Starsky said impatiently. "Let's get this over with. Why are you here?"

The three men exchanged glances.

"Look, gentlemen," Reighter began, sounding as if he were trying to control his anger. "We know that you're cops, but you're poaching on our territory. And, frankly, we don't need any help, haven't asked for any, and resent the fact that you feel you can just walk in and do whatever you want."

"Wait, wait!" Hutch snapped, glancing at Starsky to see that he was just as confused. "I don't know what the hell you're talking about! My partner and I have a few days off and are on vacation. A spur-of-the-moment vacation that we didn't even know we were taking until late yesterday afternoon."

"So if you want to start making some sense," Starsky continued, irritation radiating from him, "then you'd better start at the beginning of this fantasy of yours."

"You want us to believe that you're not here on a case? Or here for a personal vendetta?" Frost asked.

Hutch shrugged helplessly at Starsky before replying. "What do you want? A lie detector test? We told you why we're here. How about telling us why you're here?"

Reighter signaled for the other two to follow him into the corner for a quiet conference. Hutch joined Starsky at the other side of the room to follow suit.

"Who knows we're here?" Hutch whispered, eyes on the other three across the room.

"Just Dobey. I had to let him know where we were going. And I mentioned it to Huggy when he cashed our checks."

"You tell Dobey we were coming to this hotel?"

"Yeah, in case of an emergency. How much do you want to bet we've got a note at the office to call him back?"

"No bets," Hutch replied grumpily. "What could they think we're here for?"

Starsky gave him an unhappy glance. "Since when did I start to read minds?"

This wasn't looking good, but it could be worse. At least they hadn't been arrested or anything.

The party at the other end of the room broke up. Reighter was apparently going to be the spokesman once again.

"Seems we may have a misunderstanding, Detectives. Why don't we sit down and I can fill you in?"

Reighter sat on one bed, but the other two men didn't. Deciding to get the ball rolling, Hutch sat on the other and Starsky joined him.

"As you can guess," Reighter began, "there is a lot of money that changes hands in Nevada. Cities like Vegas and Reno rake in their share of physical currency from all over. After a while, all that paper money and the coins need to be returned to the Federal Reserve for redistribution."

"And what does this have to do with us?" Starsky asked, impatience in his voice.

Reighter looked at the two men with him, and Hutch noticed that Frost gave Reighter a slight nod.

Reighter may be the spokesman, but he's not in charge, Hutch decided.

"There's a big armored car shipment due to make the San Francisco Federal Reserve run on Friday. It's an unofficial convoy of sorts, where more than one car makes the trip loaded with coins and bills of all denominations. Last month there were several large tradeshow conventions; every hotel in the area was booked and people from all over came in loaded to the gills to gamble. The banks need to empty their vaults of the excess cash."

"And you think we're here because of all this?" Hutch knew he sounded angry, but he wasn't seeing any connection. "Why would you tie us in with this?"

Reighter reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out an envelope and handed it to Starsky.

"We've already dusted it for prints," Reighter assured them as Starsky opened it.

Starsky unfolded a sheet of typed paper, and Hutch moved close to read it over his shoulder. It read:

Plans will change. Stand by for adjustments.
Detectives Starsky and Hutchinson on the case.
Be on the look out for them.
They already know too much.

Hutch felt his eyebrows run to his hairline, wondering what in the world the note was about. He certainly couldn't deny they were mentioned by name.

"What is this? Who got this note and why do you have it?" Starsky handed it back, looking disturbed.

"We are aware of a plan to rob the armored cars before they can get to San Francisco. One of our informants--a local thief--was contacted by someone to make certain preparations for the heist. There are other local criminals in on this project, and we've been keeping an eye on them all while they make their preparations. So far they've been well paid, but it's clear that they're only being paid to set up this end of the deal. They've not been promised a split of the proceeds, or given any instructions beyond what they're to do in Reno itself."

"So you think they're the small fry, and that bigger guns will handle the actual robbery?" Hutch asked. "And I'm assuming that you don't have any idea who the big league guys are, or what they're planning."

"That's right," Reighter admitted, looking uncomfortable.

"So where did this paper with our names come from?" Starsky asked again. "And who is funding all this? You got a name?"

"This paper was smuggled to us from our informant in the group. It arrived early this morning and the information was passed around. Our informant didn't recognize your names, but couldn't tell if the others in the group did or not. Apparently they're all sitting on their hands now, waiting for further instructions."

"Any ideas on who's running this thing?" Hutch asked, noticing that Reighter hadn't gotten around to answering that question.

All three men seemed to focus in on him and Starsky, as if looking for a reaction.

"The man who is funding the heist is only known as 'The Baron'."

"The Baron!" Starsky sounded as surprised as Hutch felt.

Their past gift of Superba Corona Superbas from the thief immediately came to mind. He and Starsky had been charged with keeping a priceless collection of diamonds safe from the man until they could be auctioned off. With Huggy's help they had been able to trick The Baron, who made away with cut glass duplicates. No one had ever been able to identify The Baron, nor get a confirmed set of prints. As far as they knew, the famous thief had gotten away scot-free, only to send each of them one of his trademark cigars and a nice note.

"Why would The Baron think we know anything about this?" Hutch asked Starsky, feeling confused. "We didn't even know we were coming ourselves until the last minute."

"That's an awfully strange coincidence, wouldn't you say?" Frost asked, the look on his face saying plainly that he didn't believe either of them. "The Baron plans a large heist and you two show up a few days in advance? And, according to Captain Dobey, you are on vacation. He certainly didn't know anything about you being on a case. So I wonder why it feels as if you two have been digging around into The Baron's activities and are here to succeed where you failed in Bay City?"

Before Hutch could react, Starsky was already on his feet.

"Failed?! I'll have you know that my partner and I beat The Baron and completed our assignment in a satisfactory manner!"

"He got away, didn't he?" Frost sneered.

"Our assignment wasn't to catch The Baron," Hutch replied angrily, joining Starsky who was standing with hands on hips. "We were to protect the diamonds and we did that. And with no one getting hurt, by the way!"

"If you had been doing your job, you could have done both," Frost said icily.

"Okay, that's enough!" Reighter was now on his feet, standing between the partners and Frost. His eyes were on Starsky and Hutch. "We'll leave it at this, but I'm warning you two. You try to get in our way, and we'll take you downtown to holding until we can get your butts back on a plane to Bay City. We can't prove that you're keeping anything from us, but any interference and you're out of here. Understood?"

"If we 'interfere' it'll be in our capacity as cops," Starsky snapped back. Hutch didn't have to look at him to know how threatening Starsky looked about now.

"If someone thinks we know something, then they'll be the ones making the first move, not us," Hutch added. "We don't have any contacts here and wouldn't know where to start! All we plan to do is enjoy our vacation."

"And if something happens, we'll act appropriately, even if that means calling you guys," Starsky said, moving slightly closer to invade Frost's personal space. "But don't go around threatening us, Detectives, 'cause we haven't broken any laws and don't plan on doing so."

"I'd say this meeting is over," Reighter said, his own anger clearly in better control than Frost's, who was looking as if he'd love to go a round or two with Starsky any minute now. Digging in his wallet, Reighter handed Hutch a card. "You'd better reach us if you hear anything that could help us on this case. If we find out you had info you didn't share, we'll not only make your careers a thing of the past, but we'll make sure Dobey regrets letting you two loose as well."

Hutch grabbed Starsky's arm before either he or Starsky could say anything that would make things worse. Starsky didn't move, and the two of them stood and watched as the three men stormed out of the room, Frost slamming the door behind them.

"They'd play a better game of 'good cop, bad cop' if they had any good cops with 'em," Starsky muttered.

"It just doesn't make any sense." Hutch sat down on the edge of the bed, feeling tired all of a sudden. "We don't know anything. We didn't even know we were going to be here until yesterday. Why in the world would The Baron send that message to his men?"

Starsky, arms crossed, started pacing back and forth. "Well, you gotta know they're taking this seriously if they've called Dobey already. He's probably just as upset with us as they are."

Hutch sighed, falling backward on the bed. "Why do I get the feeling that we're going to have another interrupted vacation?"

Starsky stopped his pacing and looked over at him for a moment. Hutch watched as his partner checked the door, making sure it was locked. He then moved the curtain aside, watching something outside. Hutch heard a motor start and a car pull away. After a moment Starsky closed the curtain, then slowly sauntered over. Hutch knew that smoky look, that sensuous walk.

Smiling, Hutch put his hands behind his head, lacing his fingers. Whatever was on Starsky's mind was going to be more than okay with him.

Time to get this vacation back under way.

**********

The sight of Hutch stretched out on the bed was enough to drain the anger out of Starsky in a second. Determined that these few precious days would be the healing Starsky felt his lover needed, he advanced toward the bed.

Blond hair almost white from the sun was spread out like silk tendrils on the bedspread. Where it stuck to Hutch's face and neck it curled, looking like gold against the tan, heat-flushed skin.

Eyes followed the warm skin down to the neck and strong shoulders, then down the muscled torso that was clearly outlined by the white shirt. Starsky could feel his own desire building up as his eyes traveled down the long form, taking in the slim hips and heavy bulge of crotch. The white shorts were tight and cut high, ending just where thick, tan thighs began. Hutch had the longest legs Starsky had ever seen. A runner's legs, they matched Hutch well.

When Starsky had first laid eyes on Hutch, he had seen a man made for movement, quickness and grace. One of the first things that had drawn him to Hutch, as an individual, was the strange mixture of strength, power, and those klutzy moments that many a time had Starsky hiding a smile of amusement. Hutch was beautiful, but not perfect. When Starsky had first realized that Hutch himself had never claimed, nor believed in "perfection," it had allowed him to see beyond the cool, pretty-boy exterior.

Hutch was beautiful inside, open in ways that weren't healthy for their kind of work, yet hard in the places that kept him going. It was those places that had taken a beating of late, crumbling around the edges, letting the painful ugliness too close to a tender heart.

Starsky moved toward Hutch slowly, not hiding the fact that he was looking his fill and liking it. Hutch looked back at him the same way, eyes drinking him in from top to bottom. Starsky's eyes found the mound of Hutch's crotch again, and he could tell that Hutch's large cock was filling and hardening, even as his own was. As their eyes met Starsky felt almost faint from the look behind the growing lust in Hutch's eyes.

Love. He loves me. Trusts me. Needs me.

Coming closer, Starsky resisted the urge to pounce on Hutch. He didn't want to rush the moment. Kneeling on the bed, he reached his left hand out to hover over Hutch's crotch, watching with growing heat as Hutch spread his legs farther apart. Starsky placed his hand on the mound gently, squeezed it softly at first, then a bit harder, feeling the excitement of such an intimate touch start his own nerves humming.

Then Hutch moved, reaching out to cover Starsky's crotch with one large palm. Starsky pushed into the touch, bracing himself with his other hand as he leaned down toward him. Their eyes met again, and Starsky could see the ocean blue eyes turn dark as irises dilated. Hutch's face was flushed now, lips curled in a smile that called Starsky's to them.

Leaning down, Starsky's lips met Hutch's, and both of them softly rubbed and caressed each other as their hands started to mimic the motions on their covered cocks.

It was Hutch who opened first, giving Starsky access to his mouth. Groaning at the taste, Starsky sent his tongue deep, searching out every flavor he could find of their shared day.

He lost track of time, lost in the taste and feel of Hutch under his hands and in his mouth. They parted to breathe and as they did so, Starsky realized his erection was almost painful in the tight shorts, and Hutch's own mound was tight and hard under the stretched cloth.

Giving the swollen mouth one more kiss, Starsky moved toward Hutch's crotch, angling his own toward Hutch's head. They both shifted on the bed until they were in a sixty-nine position. As soon as he was on his side, Starsky's hands were at Hutch's shorts, undoing the snap and pulling down the zipper. Hutch's hands were at his own zipper, and Starsky moaned as his cock was set free.

Pulling Hutch's shorts down a fraction, Starsky first saw the ashen curls that framed his lover's cock. Not quite as blond as the hair on Hutch's head, it was fine and faintly curly, but not very abundant. Starsky reached into the layers of shorts and underwear to grab at the thick base of Hutch's cock, pulling the large organ from where it was swollen down the inside of his shorts. If there had been more room in the shorts, Starsky wouldn't have been surprised to find Hutch's cock head poking out of the bottom of them. As it was, Starsky had to carefully pull and angle the long cock until it was free. He could see it filling, the head flaring and needy.

He could feel Hutch's hands on him and he spread his legs farther apart, wanting him anywhere Hutch wanted to be. He mirrored the movements but also found himself scratching here and pinching gently there in addition, knowing that those spots drove Hutch crazy. He could hear Hutch humming, the sound coming through his body and making it feel as if the large man was purring.

Starsky knew he was making his own noises, and whatever sounds he made seemed to signal Hutch to do the exact right thing. His own nerves hummed and thrummed as if Hutch was speaking for them both.

They played with each other for long minutes, Starsky growing harder and harder just as Hutch was. Starsky could feel himself leaking pre-cum and felt Hutch spread the liquid around his glans and shaft.

He gripped Hutch's cock tightly around the base and pulled it closer toward him, his other hand still kneading Hutch's balls in a rhythm that always seemed to elicit a powerful response. He could see it then, a droplet of pre-cum at the slit. Sliding his hand up Hutch's cock, Starsky milked that drop out of him, rubbing it around the glans with his thumb. More and more leaked out, and Starsky could feel Hutch doing the same to him.

A few seconds more, and Starsky knew they would be sucking each other to completion, but this time he wanted more than that.

Letting go of Hutch's cock, he pushed away, pulling his cock back from Hutch as well.

"What?" Hutch's voice sounded thick and breathless.

Glancing at Hutch, seeing the hot, hooded eyes and flushed face framed by the golden-white hair, Starsky knew what he wanted.

"Wanna screw you," Starsky admitted in a heavy whisper. "Wanna pound you into this bed, lover, and never let you up."

"Return the favor?" Hutch asked with an evil grin.

"Get rid of the clothes. I'll get the stuff."

Starsky pulled away, his heart beating a hundred miles an hour as he gave Hutch an evil grin. Throwing his clothes into the room, not caring how they landed, Starsky hurried to the bathroom to retrieve the lube he had in his shaving kit. He felt deliciously evil and lewd, his heavy cock bobbing in the open as he hurried on his mission.

They usually tried to come together when they made love, to share climaxes, but there were times when they'd take turns fucking each other, letting the other indulge himself selfishly. It was a great freedom--to let yourself go while trusting that the other one would find his own pleasure the same way, in his own turn.

Starsky was in too much of a hurry to be neat, so dumped the contents of the small bag into the sink, grabbing at the tube as soon as he saw it. Returning to the bed, Starsky stood at the end, his whole body throbbing as he looked at his partner.

Hutch was now nude, on his back and looking impossibly sexy with his disheveled hair and long limbs wantonly relaxed. Hutch watched Starsky open the lube and apply a liberal coating to himself but didn't say anything. Starsky knew Hutch was waiting for him to call the shots.

He also knew he'd be free to set whatever pace he wanted--fast or slow--knowing Hutch would enjoy it in his own way. Starsky would have to be careful not to touch him, or fuck him, in ways to bring him off, because he wanted Hutch hard and ready when his turn came. Hutch would be like a tiger pouncing on his kill and Starsky would be relaxed and open to whatever rhythm Hutch wanted to set.

"How do you want me?" Hutch whispered excitedly, a smile on his face.

Starsky tossed the lube to the side of the bed. "On your stomach."

Starsky grabbed the two extra pillows from the other bed as Hutch complied. Coming up on the bed behind him, Starsky helped Hutch position the pillows under his hips. Feeling as if he must be shaking with excitement, Starsky reached under and pulled Hutch's genitals down so that balls and cock could be seen against the pillows. He knew that once he started, Hutch would be tempted to rub himself against the pillows. Starsky didn't want him that close to going off.

Lust threatened to take over, filling Starsky's head with the sound of his own heart and making his cock bob with each heartbeat. He took a deep breath and held it, as he took in the sight of his lover's gorgeous ass. Hutch's butt was lighter than the rest of his skin, smooth and almost hairless. His ass cheeks were nicely rounded, and in between was his secret center--the place that only Starsky had access to. Hutch moaned his anticipation and Starsky was sorely tempted to stroke the thick, long cock that was hardening against the pillows.

Getting more lube, he carefully applied it to Hutch's opening, making sure that he was relaxed enough to accept him. After a few moments, Starsky was sure Hutch was open enough, so took the base of his own cock in hand and moved closer, the other hand on Hutch's hip.

Pressing his cock head to Hutch's center, Starsky waited a fraction of a second to give Hutch time to protest. Hearing none, Starsky pressed forward, his cock feeling electrified by the pressure and heat as he passed the tight muscle ring. It was all he could do to hold still to give Hutch time to relax with the pressure.

"More," Hutch whispered thickly. "Do it the way you want it. Make me feel it!"

Starsky could feel Hutch's muscles relax and pushed farther in, relishing every fraction of an inch that he penetrated into the tight, slick heat. The tight fit squeezed him, making every nerve on the skin of Starsky's cock sing with excitement.

In a moment, he was completely sheathed inside his lover, his cock jumping with his heartbeat. He paused, hands gripping Hutch's hips as he closed his eyes and enjoyed that first sense of completion, his cock buried up to the hilt in the soft flesh of the man he loved more than life itself.

But his control never lasted, and this moment was no exception. He had to move, so pulled back carefully. Then he pushed back in.

The heat and pressure pulled at him, milking his cock. Starsky took a firm grip of Hutch's ass. He could feel Hutch try to move with him, as little as he could, and found that he was thrusting faster and deeper with each passing minute.

Eyes closed, head back and muscles tense Starsky let himself go, humping and thrusting as if he would never do so again. His ears were filled with the beating of his heart and the distant slap of his balls against Hutch's ass. Hutch was talking to him, saying sweet things that he couldn't fully concentrate on, urging him to go faster, harder and deeper.

It was heaven, his body burning and hungry, racing to a climax that he needed more than anything. He quickened his pace, thrilling in the freedom to hump, push and rub in selfish indulgence. He turned his attention inward and was encouraged to take what he wanted with no guilt attached.

His heart hammering, his hips bucking in frantic search of his goal, Starsky could feel it coming like a storm on the move. Nerves thrummed and beat, his insides filled to bursting as it came upon him.

It was like getting hit by lightening, the shock to the nerves and the strained reaction of muscles and flesh stilling him as he hit climax. He fell against Hutch's back, feeling himself slick from his own sweat on the much cooler skin. His body pulsed hard, forcing his semen out in wave after wave of pleasure. He was filling Hutch up with himself, marking Hutch in places no one else ever would.

If he had had his wish, they would have been glued together like that forever. But as soon as the pulses started to die, he pulled out carefully. All he had the strength to do was fall to the side to let his golden lion claim his own pleasure.

When Hutch moved, it was with such strength and purpose that any other person might be frightened of him. Not many knew, as Starsky did, how strong he was. Starsky stayed relaxed as Hutch moved him to his back and placed a couple of pillows under each knee, opening him to Hutch's will.

All Starsky could see in his post-orgasmic state was how golden Hutch was. How big and powerful and how much he lusted for Starsky. The golden tan was splotched with red patches of his sexual flush; his eyes were almost black in their desire, and Hutch's face....

Hutch's features screamed of power, soul deep hunger and the need to claim his prize. Starsky felt his center coated with lube; fingers found their way inside and prepared him. And not one muscle in his body could find any reason to complain. It was nice, even inspiring, to be the subject of such need.

Hutch pushed in carefully, waiting until Starsky gave him a slight nod.

Starsky watched as Hutch's head fell back, his eyes closed and his plush mouth fell open in ecstasy as he sank all the way into Starsky.

Hutch was large, and Starsky was still amazed he had come to accommodate the man. But what had been work at first to accept was now pleasurable. He had gotten used to the feeling of stretching and filling, and while they still had to be careful to prepare each other, his body had learned to desire the feeling of being filled and to look forward to it.

Hutch sighed as he held them together, eyes still closed but bliss written on his face and body. Starsky relaxed even more, knowing the hands grasping his hips like a vice would keep them together.

Hutch followed a pattern that Starsky was coming to recognize as something uniquely his own. Starsky knew he himself tended to fuck frantically when at his highest point, while Hutch tended to slow down, as if he were suddenly hypersensitive. Starsky liked to pull back until he could feel the muscle ring at the sensitive spot under the head of his cock, then push back in, never coming all the way out. Hutch liked to pull out and re-enter, filling Starsky slowly over and over in a maddeningly slow motion.

And he loved it. Starsky loved to see Hutch indulging himself this way. He knew that anytime he felt uncomfortable Hutch would stop, or speed up, whichever Starsky asked for, but he felt far from used or uncomfortable. And little by little, thrust by thrust, Starsky could feel the increase in rhythm, hear his lover's gasps increase in speed and depth.

Just as Starsky was certain that Hutch was close, he saw his eyes open, seeking Starsky's eyes. Holding that deep, heavy gaze as Hutch pushed in harder than he had before, Starsky knew his lover's climax was near. Hutch leaned forward, pushing Starsky's hips up even higher as he tried to go deeper. Starsky pulled his legs back, holding behind his knees to open himself as fully as he could. Hutch's weight increased until Starsky felt as if he were holding Hutch up all by himself.

Hutch froze and Starsky could see Hutch was on the edge. Not moving, close to falling into his climax, Hutch leaned forward and kissed him. Starsky kissed back as much as he could, careful not to move too much.

Hutch threw his head back, his eyes closing as they rolled back, the grip on Starsky's hips growing almost painful.

"Starssss-K!"

Only then did Hutch's hips flex slightly, once, twice, three times as his orgasm rode through his body like a wave. Hutch was filling him over and over with his semen, and Starsky wished that Hutch could stay in that moment forever.

Collapsing forward, touching his forehead to Starsky's, Hutch relaxed onto his partner. Starsky raised his arms to hold him, drawing him as close as they comfortably could in that position. As the next few minutes passed, Starsky could feel Hutch flex his hips once in a while, knowing that Hutch was enjoying the closeness they had even after climax.

When Starsky sighed at the fact that it was becoming uncomfortable, Hutch caught on and pulled his weight off him, pulling out carefully. He curled up to Starsky's side, throwing an arm over him.

They were quiet for a few minutes, Starsky enjoying the body-length contact and wishing they were teenagers again so that they could go another round.

"God, that was good," Hutch breathed huskily, surprising Starsky who thought he'd fallen asleep minutes ago.

Starsky pulled him close, knowing he was smiling evilly. "What can I say, we're the two hottest studs in town."

"Good thing we're keeping each other busy, or we'd have the rest of the city up in arms over our arrival," Hutch snickered.

"Busy enough that I'm starting to get hungry," Starsky admitted sheepishly. "And if we doze off, I'll be starving when I wake up."

Hutch snorted, sounding amused at Starsky's obvious hint. "You've got so much energy, you take a shower, give me a few minutes to recover, and I'll take mine while you make plans for the evening."

Deciding that was a good idea, because he really was starting to get hungry, Starsky kissed him and pulled away.

Time to go out and find adventure, if it doesn't find us first.

**********

Roger Martini, aka The Baron, threaded his way through the mass of late-night gamblers outside Taylor's Mine, one of the biggest casinos on the strip. The objects of his attention--Detectives Starsky and Hutchinson--had been making the rounds of many of the casinos on Reno's brightly colored main street. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, eating at a popular buffet, playing the slots, hitting the craps and blackjack tables here and there, making their way from one casino to another as the mood seemed to strike them.

For The Baron, the evening would have been dull if it hadn't been for the fact that the two detectives themselves were being followed. It had been an interesting game, to follow the four men throughout the evening. The Bay City detectives had caught on quickly that, as soon as they left the hotel, someone was on their tail. The Baron had been amused at the tactics of Detective Starsky, who had led the Reno pair on a merry chase. It had been almost more than he himself could do to keep up with Starsky.

Hutchinson and Starsky seemed to give up the game during their dinner, eating leisurely and obviously enjoying themselves. After spending some money at the games, they started their tour of the strip, even losing their tail once or twice, only to casually walk by the harried Reno detectives and pretend they didn't notice them.

All in all it had been an interesting evening, but The Baron was glad to see Hutchinson and Starsky settle on a late night casino show. He had other preparations to make, and was glad to see this opportunity present itself.

Making his way to the food service area, he moved as if he belonged, eyeing the busy crew as if he had the right to judge them and their work. Walking through the back rooms unchallenged, he kept his eye open for possibilities.

**********

Hutch settled back in the deeply padded booth, trying to relax in the blaring boom of the midnight show. There were several big-name stars in Reno, but he and Starsky had arrived too late and those were sold out for the evening. There were a lot of smaller "theme" shows in all of the casinos, tailor-made for those who wanted to see bright lights and glitter but who didn't want to shell out much money. Starsky had gotten tickets for tomorrow night to see a famous actress that he was fond of, so for tonight one of the smaller shows would do. They had been able to get seats near the front of the stage, close enough to see every fringe on every tassel the chorus girls were barely wearing in the tribute to old stage shows.

My, my, my, Hutch thought appreciatively as he sipped his vodka. They really have some nice looking ladies in Reno.

Hutch himself didn't mind the strobe lights as much as he wished they would turn down the sound a notch or two. The rest of the show--some talented singing, a fairly good comedian and the chorus ladies in their G-strings and pasties--wasn't Shakespeare, but it had its draw. Ladies in G-strings and pasties were definitely part of that draw.

Glancing at Starsky, who was sipping his own drink, he could tell he, too, was thoroughly enjoying himself. If there was one thing that becoming lovers hadn't touched, it was the fact that they both enjoyed watching a beautiful woman. And several women, mostly naked, were enough to keep their attention for long, enjoyable, periods of time

Wonder if our "escort" is having just as nice a time, or are they stuck out in the lobby, waiting for us to leave?

Their tail from the hotel had been obvious, and both he and Starsky decided that either the local cops didn't think much of them, or they wanted them to know they were being tailed. At this point it really didn't matter, since he and Starsky didn't have anything to do with The Baron. They had decided to make it a fun part of their evening to ditch their tail whenever they got bored. Hutch was pretty certain that the two men who were tailing them were also playing the game, since Hutch was certain that if the Reno PD wanted them covered, casino security would be only too happy to keep them on film. Hutch had learned a lot about casino security while in Las Vegas and knew that every mirror--every ceiling tile in the hotel--was probably tied into some camera set somewhere. If the local cops lost them in here, it was only because they wanted him and Starsky to think they were safe from prying eyes.

It's still got to get old, trailing the two of us around. We're not even gambling enough to make it interesting.

The musical number came to an end, the lights dimmed and applause erupted. There was movement in the audience as people got up to make bathroom trips and waiters attended tables before the next part of the show. A waiter came up to them in the darkness and asked if they would like something else. Hutch passed, knowing the vodka would be more than enough for the night. Starsky passed as well. As that waiter left, another stopped at their table, placing a long, thin box in front of each of them, saying, "Compliments of the house," and moving to the next table before they even realized he had been there.

The words were almost lost in the blare of music that signaled the next number, the sudden glare of stage lights almost blinding after the moment of darkness.

As the next song got started and the dancers pranced on stage to the tune of "Hurray for Hollywood," Hutch picked up the box in front of him.

He waited to see what was in Starsky's box. As the lights flickered and the dancers went through their routine, Hutch had to focus to see over Starsky's shoulder. Opening the long box, Hutch was surprised to see Starsky pull out a cigar.

Both men looked sharply around the room, but there were no waiters near them. Whoever had given them the cigars had moved quickly. Hutch cursed himself for not paying more attention.

I should have known this would happen! Hutch gave his partner a look and a nod, and both of them started to get up from the table. I guess The Baron wants us in this, whether we want to be or not. If I had only gotten a better look!

They caught a waiter on the way out and asked for their bill. As the young man who had served them before came up with it, Hutch scanned the other faces of male and female waiters, trying to remember some physical detail about the one that had handed them the boxes. Other than it was a tall male, he couldn't remember any more, his eyes having suffered from the sudden lighting of the floorshow.        

Starsky paid the bill and they made their way out into the lobby.

Finding a fairly quiet corner in between the crowded gambling area and the showrooms, they turned their backs to the crowd. Hutch held up his box and opened it. Inside was a cigar--a Superba Corona Superba.

"Just like mine," Starsky said with a sigh.

Hutch took out the cigar and put it in his shirt pocket. "There's something underneath mine." He pulled out a slender piece of paper, cut to fit the bottom of the box and noticed Starsky removing one from his as well.

Turning it over he read the words:

THE FABLED CRANE KNEW HIM VAIN

He held it out so Starsky could see it. Starsky held his out as well.

FINE PLUMAGE DON'T MAKE FINE AVES

"What the hell does this mean?" Starsky asked, turning his paper over and checking both sides.

"I don't know," Hutch admitted. He took the cigar out of his shirt pocket, looked around to see if he was being watched, then smelled it. It certainly smelled like a Superba Corona Superba, from what he could remember. "But it's either The Baron or someone who wants us to think it's from him."

Starsky frowned. "So, what do we do? We don't have any contacts here to even start an investigation. We have to be home Friday night and, frankly, I want to be off duty this week."

Hutch shook his head, not liking the feeling of walking away from something, but there were times when you just had to leave the work to others. "I think we ought to play this one straight, Starsk."

Looking into Starsky's eyes, Hutch could see he felt the same reluctance to walk away.

"Yeah, you're right. Guess we ought to behave ourselves this time," Starsky admitted, glancing behind his and Hutch's shoulders. "We're too late to the game to play in it, no matter what cards The Baron is dealing us."

"And we don't need these pieces of paper--"

"To have a reason to keep our eyes open." Starsky smiled at him and turned to head down the lobby.

Starsky had spotted their evening tail and was heading toward them. Hutch followed, trying not to laugh as the two men realized they'd been seen and gave each other a sour glance.

"Gentlemen," Starsky began grandly, as if bestowing a great blessing. "My partner and I would like to turn these over to police custody."

The two detectives--one tall, black and distinguished looking; the other smaller, Caucasian, who looked like an out-of-place cowboy--looked at the cigars, papers and boxes with suspicion.

"Look," the taller detective said. "It's bad enough that you know who we are and we know you know who we are, but are you sure this isn't some trick to humiliate us further?"

"Yeah," the misplaced cowboy added. "How do we know what you're up to?"

Hutch sighed, stabbing the box and cigar in the other detectives' direction. "We were handed these at our table by a man we couldn't see, but who was dressed as a waiter. If you have any way to get a film of the transaction you might find you have The Baron on tape!"

Giving each other a glance that spoke of two detectives who've been working together for a while, both men gingerly reached out to take the items from them.

"Come on, you might as well be in on this," the taller man said.

Starsky and Hutch followed the two men as they hurried through the crowd with their prizes, one of them pulling a walkie-talkie out of his inner pocket and saying something that Hutch couldn't hear.

They moved quickly to a door next to the cashiers' cages, following the detectives inside. They were suddenly in a long, sterile-looking hallway with a lot of doors. They ended up at the very last door, and the other side of it looked like what Hutch had always envisioned NASA must look like on the inside.

It was a large room with TV cameras on all the walls, all on and flickering, making the wall look like it was alive and moving. He and Starsky stood back, while the two detectives talked to someone who appeared to be the head of hotel security. Whatever they told him didn't seem to make him very happy.

The three talked for a minute, then, with a glance to him and Starsky, they moved to the other side of the room to play with a TV and what looked like some kind of tape machine under it. The smaller detective asked a question from a passing individual and, after a minute, was brought a large manila envelope in which he put the cigars, boxes and slips of paper.

The security guard fiddled with the tape, all three intent on the image it showed, but Hutch didn't think they could get much off of it. Even from where he stood, it looked too dark.

After a few more minutes of discussion, the two Reno detectives turned back toward them. Neither looked very pleased.

"So I assume it didn't work," Starsky announced, arms crossed and looking bored.

"Afraid not," the smaller detective said, shrugging as if he hadn't expected it to. He offered his hand. "By the way, Detective, I'm Darrel Palmer and he's Smithson."

Smithson gave Starsky and Hutch a tolerant smile while offering them his hand. "Detective Harvey Smithson."

"But you were right," Palmer continued. "The surveillance in this joint is pinpointed on the front doors and the gaming tables. They only have one camera in the showroom; all they watch for is a brawl breaking out. Can't see much detail, and with the house lights off, we can't make out faces."

"We found you two only because we knew where you sat."

"But we're having Security run us a copy of the tape in case our people in the lab can get more out of it," Palmer said.

"So, how long have you guys been tailing us?" Hutch asked, curious to see how honest the other two detectives would be.

Smithson gave them a big smile. "Probably as long as you've known we were," he said. "Can't say you've been considered top priority around here, but you also have the advantage of being able to dress appropriately." Smithson waved toward his suit that looked at home in this security room. "Our new mayor has decided that Reno needs a better image, so plain-clothes' cops have been 'cleaned up' a bit."

"Damned hard to infiltrate people who are laughin' at your monkey suit," Palmer said, bitterness in his voice. "If I'd been allowed to wear my 'tourist' outfit, you never would'a spotted me."

"Yeah, well, what now, gentlemen?" Hutch asked, feeling the day catch up with him. "I know I'm ready to crash. Are you going to need us for anything else?"

"No, we know where to find you in case the captain or the chief needs to see you. We'll turn this in and let the college boys try to figure it all out," Smithson said.

"You goin' straight back to the hotel?" Palmer asked casually. "'Cause if you are, we'll just call it in and have the next guys meet you there. 'Fraid you've got round-the-clock coverage."

"Sure. Whatever," Starsky said, rubbing the back of his neck, telling Hutch that he was as tired as Hutch was. "We're not here to make trouble, but we don't want any from your end either. We are on vacation, you know, and we really don't appreciate being followed all around town."

Smithson shrugged. "Can't blame you there, partner. But it looks like we're both stuck with the way this is playing out."

"Hey, c'mon out here," Palmer said, waving them out into the hallway and leading them back out into the busy gambling area. "Listen, guys, let's make a deal. We've gotta keep you tailed for the next couple of days, keepin' an eye out for that Baron guy, and having to be ready to pull you two in at any time. You could make our jobs real difficult, and spend too much of your vacation trying to ditch us, or we could work together."

"How's that?" Hutch asked, flashing Starsky a look of amusement.

"Tell us where you're going and we'll keep back so far you'd swear we weren't there. And to sweeten the pot..." Palmer looked around furtively, digging into a jacket pocket. His actions made Hutch want to look to see if they were being watched as well. Palmer pulled out a sheaf of dollar-size pieces of paper. "I've got all kinds of coupons you guys can use while you're here."

"Coupons?" Starsky asked. "What kind of coupons?"

"What in Reno doesn't have a coupon attached?" Smithson said dryly. "Palmer here is related to half the workforce in this city. He's got coupons for anything you could want and several things you've probably never heard of."

"Yeah, I've even got a couple for the Stallion Ranch I'd be willing to throw in for you."

Hutch had heard of the place--one of the biggest, legal cathouses in the United States. In Nevada, prostitution wasn't the crime it was in other states, and the legend of Stallion Ranch was known even down in Bay City.

"Look," Hutch began, not very eager to share their vacation with the detectives, but Starsky jabbed him in the ribs before he could continue.

"Tell you what," Starsky said, sounding too interested for Hutch's taste, "pass them all over and we'll give them a look through." He shrugged casually. "If we find something we want to do, we'll wander on over and let you know. If not, then we're on our own if we can lose you."

With Palmer and Starsky exchanging the wide smiles of two men who think they've each got the better part of a deal, Palmer passed the whole wad of paper over to Starsky.

Hutch was glad when they parted, but uncertain about Starsky's deal with the two detectives. He had no doubt there would be another pair of cops to follow them if he bothered to look, but he didn't want to know for sure. It was bad enough that they'd had their vacation sidetracked once, it was going to be a real imposition to have it constantly interrupted by both sides of the law. And at the rate Starsky was taking inventory of the coupons, it looked like they were going to be obliged to go along with the Reno two. The thought didn't sit well with him at all.

And if he even suggests using those Stallion Ranch coupons he'll be free to use both of them, because he's going to find himself sleeping in that extra bed by himself for the next few nights.

~~~

Back at the hotel, Hutch put away his toothbrush and turned off the bathroom light. Starsky was sitting cross-legged on the bed, naked, reading through the wad of coupons.

"I still don't like it," Hutch said, walking over to the bed, as naked as Starsky was. "I don't like these guys tailing us."

"Well, I don't either, but we might as well make the best of it. We've got one full day tomorrow, then we're on a plane Friday afternoon. Not like anyone is askin' us what we want."

Yawning, his eyes feeling gritting and his body tired, Hutch pulled up the sheets on his side of the bed. He slipped under them, pushing Starsky with his feet to make him move over.

"Well, at least put those stupid things away, will you? I'm beat." Hutch turned toward the center of the bed, trying to find a comfortable spot.

"Hutch, I'm tellin' ya, these things are like gold! Palmer must save a mint on meals with these things. Buy one, get one free: buffets, dinners, pretzels, ice cream, drinks at the bar. Then there's fifty percent off the evening shows--which I could'a used when I bought our tickets--sixty percent off movie tickets, one day's free rental car, free video game coupons and even..." Starsky announced excitedly, shaking one coupon in the air, "five dollars of free chips at most of the casinos. If we used all of these coupons--"

"We'd be running miles up and down the strip all day, trying to collect on all of them."

"Well," Starsky said with a growing leer, "we could save some running and go out to the Stallion Ranch--"

Hutch was drowsy, but not drowsy enough not to grab Starsky's pillow and throw it at him, making Starsky laugh and spilling the pile of coupons on the bedspread and the floor.

"You can spend all day and all night watching sexy G-stringed girls with bouncing breasts if you want, and I'll be there with you. But you even think--"

"Who? Me?" Starsky chuckled as he swept the loose coupons in a pile, then got up to put them on the dresser. "If I even thought of doing something like that, my lover would kill me. He's the jealous type, you know."

"So I've heard." Hutch relaxed back into the pillow, smiling at Starsky's teasing. "Now turn off that light and come to bed, will you? I'm practically dying here."

Starsky turned off the light, and the room filled with the dim light from the parking lot that filtered in through the thin curtains. Hutch scooted toward Starsky as he slipped under the covers, kissing his cheek as he settled himself.

He really was tired and wanted to rest, but waited to see what Starsky wanted to do. If anyone could get his motor running it was his curly-headed, fully-loaded pistol of a lover.

But Starsky only turned toward him and they settled limbs together carefully, wrapping up in each other.

Hutch relaxed into the embrace, not opening his eyes as Starsky kissed him lovingly.

"I love you, you know."

The shyness in Starsky's voice never failed to grab at Hutch's heart. Starsky said those words a million times a day--in the way he moved and acted, in the way he watched Hutch, and the way he was always concerned about him. But to hear Starsky say them in that uncertain, little-boy voice is what always convinced Hutch that his heart was well and truly owned by this man, and had been for a long time.

"Love you too, babe. Sweet dreams." Hutch could feel the grin against his shoulder. No mistaking that mischievous smile, even in the dark.

"And if I dream about those girls?" Starsky whispered. "The ones with the tiny G-strings and the bouncing boobs?"

"As long as you leave some of them for me to dream about, and you're prepared to act it all out in the morning for my benefit...well...I might be able to forgive you." Hutch laughed, knowing that Starsky wasn't taking any of his threats seriously and glad of it.

"You got it, stud."

And with that Hutch drifted off, his arms full of a naked Starsky and his alarm clock turned off.

Couldn't ask for much more than that for any successful day.

**********

In a booth in one of the casinos, The Baron sipped his drink, eyes on the thinning crowd of late night/early morning gamblers, mind busy with plans and details. He had stuck around the other casino--where he had delivered the clues to the detectives--just long enough to see that his timing had been, as usual, perfect.

He had done his homework, had studied the security layouts of the casinos and found that they all followed a predictable pattern. Most had made the mistake of hiring the same designing firms for their security systems, so most were near enough alike to be identical where it counted.

He knew he was shamelessly indulging himself by giving the two detectives clues to what he was really up to. But there was something irresistible about the idea of inviting them into the game. Maybe it was because they had beaten him in Bay City. He remembered his own mind-numbing shock when he had reached safety after the diamond heist only to find that he had nothing to show for all his expensive planning and hard work. Nothing but cheap glass.

Instead of being angry, he had found a growing respect for the two police officers who had won the game. He had always planned on requesting a rematch, and it had been too much temptation when he had seen the two on the plane. His successful completion of this project was so probable that he had found the excitement seemed to be missing. The local police were easily fooled, spending all their time watching his "hired thugs" and trying to figure out how he was going to hit that armored car convoy. They had easily fallen for the smoke screen.

Really, do they think I would stoop to something that crude? That dangerous?

Of course they did, because they didn't stop to think, didn't do their homework like they should have. It should have been obvious that he was after another prize. One more artistic and much more valuable than mere money.

And if the detectives could figure out what his target really was, then he would have a more enjoyable game than he had originally anticipated.

Don't disappoint me boys.

**********

Starsky rolled over sleepily, reaching for Hutch. The warm, sweet body he was expecting wasn't there and the coolness of the sheets spoke of a long absence.

Hutch? Where--?

As soon as he heard the crinkle of paper from the other bed, he started remembering earlier parts of the morning. He remembered Hutch being restless, getting up and telling him he was going out to get a newspaper. Starsky had a vague memory of dozing fitfully until Hutch had returned, then drifting back to sleep.

Glancing in that direction, he saw Hutch propped up against the headboard dressed in shirt and shorts, long legs stretched out and a paper in his hands.

"Hey, Sleeping Beauty. Good morning." Hutch turned to smile at him. "There's a box of donuts and a carton of milk on the dresser. I couldn't find any decent coffee around here."

Starsky stretched and yawned. "Would've been a better morning if you'd've woken me up like yesterday," he complained sleepily.

Hutch shrugged slightly, looking apologetic. "Sorry, buddy. You were really out of it."

Throwing back the covers, Starsky rubbed at his face and sat up. "That's okay. You all right?"

"Yeah, I just couldn't get those clues out of my mind."

Starsky smiled, recognizing the signs of Hutch on a case. He didn't doubt for a minute that Hutch's mind had tried to figure out the obscure clues in his sleep. "What time is it, anyway?"

"About ten o'clock."

Starsky stood up and walked over to the dresser, opening the box of donuts. Hutch hadn't taken any and Starsky wasn't surprised. Grabbing the still cold milk container and snagging a donut, he padded over to the bed. Hutch gave the donut an unhappy look but didn't say anything as Starsky arranged the other pillow against the headboard and settled himself next to Hutch.

"Don't get too full," Hutch warned. "I'm in the mood for a big brunch."

"Sounds good to me." Starsky took a bite of his pre-brunch snack and eyed the paper Hutch was reading. Didn't look like much he'd be interested in. "You find anything in there to help us figure out those clues?"

"No, but I did talk to Palmer and Smithson. They just came on duty when I was coming back from the store down the street."

"I bet they were glad to see you come up on them," Starsky said around a drink of milk from the container. "There's nothing like having your marks catch you tailing them time after time."

Hutch smiled. "Actually they didn't try to hide from me. I think they really trust us not to make their job any harder. I get the feeling that no matter what their superiors think, those two really do believe that we're on vacation and don't know anything."

"Did they have any news?"

Hutch reached over and took the milk from Starsky, taking a swallow before answering.

"Well, they took in the clues while the second team followed us here. Apparently the big shots haven't made heads or tails of them. They didn't say, but I got the feeling that things are going on in the background with The Baron and the armored car thing, so they're concentrating on that. I don't think that those in charge are giving any real attention to the clues at all."

"Maybe they think The Baron is trying to side-track us away from the case. That they're red herrings."

Hutch looked thoughtful. "They might, but I don't. We didn't know a damn thing about any of his plans, and the local police wouldn't have known or cared that we were here except for that note his henchmen got."

"The Baron is teasing us."

"That's the only reason I can think of why he'd include us. He wants to play another round with us since he lost the last one."

"So...." Starsky took the milk back, taking a gulp. "Let me guess. You want to see if you can figure out the clues."

Hutch gave him a sheepish look. "Look, Starsk, I'm sorry--"

"Don't be," Starsky interjected, rolling over to lean snuggly against his partner. He looked in Hutch's eyes. "I knew The Baron's challenge was going to be like an itch we both need to scratch. There's no reason why we can't do a little research here and there during our vacation. If we don't crack that crazy code of his then at least we tried, and if we do--"

"Then we tell Palmer and Smithson and let them take it to their superiors. What they do with it is their problem."

Hutch was smiling again and Starsky immediately felt as if they had made the right decision. If they ignored the clues, they'd never feel right about their trip, wondering if they could have done something to help.

Deciding that there had been enough time spent on the issue, Starsky leaned over to kiss Hutch and was met with an enthusiastic response.

"Care to take a shower with me before we get to 'work'?" Starsky smiled, wiggling his eyebrows in invitation.

Hutch laughed, using the newspaper to swat at Starsky's ass. "Get going, you lech. We need to eat."

Doing his best to wiggle his rear as he walked, Starsky headed for the shower.

Well, it's one way to spend the day.

They had decided to catch lunch then find the local library to do some research. Hutch knew it wasn't exactly what most people did on vacation, but Starsky also knew him well enough to know when he had hold of something that he couldn't let go. They had informed Palmer and Smithson of their plans, and had received a lunch recommendation in return.

Just a couple of hours, he promised himself over his club sandwich. If I can't find what I'm looking for then I'll drop it. But I know there's something familiar about that passage.

Whatever it was that was trying to fight its way out of his memories, was going to bug him until he figured it out. Sitting quietly as Starsky finished his lunch in the crowded restaurant, Hutch tried to think back to when he had woken up. He had come fully awake hours before Starsky, sure that he had a vital piece of the puzzle. Then, like most dreams, it had disappeared while he was trying to capture it.

'The fabled crane knew him vain.' Now why would that ring a bell?

"Ya know," Starsky said around a mouthful of his lunch, "I keep thinking about that one line. Wasn't it 'Fine plumage don't make fine av...uh...?"

"Aves," Hutch supplied, wiping his mouth with a napkin. "It's a class of animal that includes birds."

Starsky gave him a pleased look. "Knew you'd know what it was. But that sentence doesn't sound right to me. The grammar is wrong."

"Yeah, you're right." Hutch took out a pen and wrote it out on the back of a paper napkin. "It should be 'Fine plumage doesn't make fine aves'."

"Big words. It doesn't sound right," Starsky complained, looking at the bill the waitress just dropped on their table. He reached in his pocket and started digging through their stash of coupons. "If the 'aves' word is short for birds, then plumage is short for feathers, right?"

"That would make it 'Fine feathers don't make fine birds'." Hutch felt himself frowning. "I've heard that somewhere before."

"So we just have to find out how the next one connects. 'The fabled crane knew him vain' has got to hook up somehow; otherwise, The Baron wouldn't have bothered sending it to us."

They both got up, Starsky going to the cashier to pay with cash and coupon. Hutch waited outside, noticing how much hotter it was after only an hour in the air conditioning. At least the day was going to be bright, if fairly hot.

A thought struck Hutch as he got into the rental car. He reached out to put a hand on Starsky's arm. "Maybe we're going about this all wrong."

"Think so?"

"Sure!" Hutch looked at Starsky, feeling that part of his morning revelation coming back to him. "Tell me, what do you think of The Baron's plan--the one to rob the armored cars?"

Starsky turned the engine on and adjusted the air conditioning vents, but made no move to do any driving. His face was serious with thought.

"Doesn't sound like him."

"Precisely! The Baron's profile showed that he went after more artistic items, artwork or jewelry. And when it came to the robberies, he always did the actual theft himself."

"And an armored car robbery is big, messy and depends on way too many people," Starsky agreed. He looked over at Hutch with a look of dawning comprehension. "The robbery is to get the cops' attention, 'cause it's not something he'd even be interested in pulling off! So that means that he is after something else."

"That's what the clues are for. Not to involve us in the bank job, but to give us clues to what he's really after."

"So you think we can find an answer at the library?"

Hutch shrugged. "We can give it a few hours and try. I think I've heard that one phrase before. I've got an idea where to start. You can check out the local papers and see if there's anything going on tomorrow that would catch The Baron's attention."

"Okay, sounds like a plan."

Starsky pulled away from the curb, having gotten directions from the waitress. The library wasn't too far away.

"You don't mind?" Hutch asked quietly. They really needed this vacation, and Starsky had his heart set on being a real civilian for a while. "We could just drop it here."

Starsky shrugged, giving him a bright smile. "So we use our heads for a while. I guess they won't fall off. If we don't try we won't be able to relax anyway."

Hutch smiled back, glad once again to be with someone who understood him so well.

~~~

The library was a surprise to Hutch. He'd expected something large, business-like and...well...library-like. What they found was a two-story building with a large, open glass front. Once inside, Hutch found himself on a ramp that cut through the center of the building, displaying three levels on both sides, from the second floor to the basement. The library was completely open in the center, with many plants along the ramp and lining every free space on all the other levels. The air was cool, but not cold, and the plants were green and healthy-looking. Walking to the side of the ramp, he could see down into the open area of the basement, which contained what looked like the children's section. A fountain supplied a small man-made stream that moved across the bottom level, filling the quiet building with the sounds of bubbling water.

It looked and felt like an oasis, with the water and large groupings of greenery, the fanciful stairways and green shaded reading nooks.

It took them both a few minutes to orient themselves. A librarian at a desk at the head of the ramp helpfully pointed them in the right directions. Hutch left Starsky with a collection of local newspapers and went to the section he thought might hold his answer.

After a couple of hours of research and one dead-end after another, Hutch excitedly searched for Starsky with a book clutched in his hands.

He found him where he left him, in a quiet nook surrounded by plants and shelves of magazines and newspapers. Starsky looked up at him from behind a newspaper.

"There you are," Starsky said excitedly. "Know what The Baron is after? Betcha I do!"

"How can you?" Hutch asked quietly, looking around to see if they'd drawn attention. "I just now found the passage I was looking for!"

"Okay," Starsky grinned at him, voice now a whisper, "you go first. Then we'll see if I'm right."

Hutch sat down next to Starsky, turning pages in the book quickly in his excitement. "At first I thought the 'fine feathers' thing was part of a quote. I've looked through every book on quotes they've got in this place and didn't find anything to match. But then..." Finding the page, he put it on the table and pointed out the passage he was interested in. "I finally realized that the word 'fabled' in the other sentence meant that it was from a fable, not a quote. So I looked up various fables and look what I found?!"

Starsky took the book and read the passage Hutch pointed to.

"The Peacock and the Crane. A peacock spreading its gorgeous tail mocked a crane that passed by, ridiculing the ashen hue of its plumage and saying, 'I am robed, like a king, in gold and purple and all the colors of the rainbow; while you have not a bit of color on your wings.'

"'True,' replied the crane; 'but I soar to the heights of heaven and lift up my voice to the stars, while you walk below, like a cock, among the birds of the dunghill.' Fine feathers don't make fine birds."

"See?!" Hutch asked excitedly. "The 'fabled crane' and the 'fine feathers' passage! Right there in 'Aesop's Fables!' We used to read these in school. I knew I'd heard it somewhere before."

"That's great!" Starsky said with a delighted smile. "Now can you guess what The Baron is going to go after?"

Hutch looked at Starsky a bit sheepishly. "Okay, let's hear what you think it is. I don't have a clue."

Starsky turned a couple of newspaper pages over and pointed at a small article in one of the back pages. "Whaddya see?"

Hutch quickly scanned the article. It had to do with a retirement dinner for one of the owners of a local casino--The Olympus. A Raymond Wyatt, the elderly owner of the casino, had announced his retirement in favor of a son, and was being honored at a dinner in his own restaurant by various civil leaders. There was a long list of things he had done for the city since he opened the casino almost fifty years ago. It was on the second column that one word caught Hutch's eye.

"Peacock?" He read that part of the article again. "What's this about retiring the 'Golden Peacock' at the same time? What are they talking about?"

Starsky pulled out a brochure and handed it to Hutch. "The story is at the back."

Turning it over, Hutch saw a bright and shiny picture of a golden peacock. He went on to read about its history, learning that about thirty years ago Wyatt, newly rich from his successful casino venture, had had the eighteen-inch gold peacock made as his first wife's birthday present. It had been given a home at The Olympus, where countless visitors had been able to view it through protective glass and security guards. Several years after the death of his wife, he had lost the peacock over the turn of a single card in a poker game between him and a rival casino owner. The peacock had disappeared into the home of the rival casino owner, although the two had still remained friends. Then about five years ago, the two had played another high-stakes game, with the peacock at stake once again. Raymond had won the piece of artwork back, and it had been on display at the entrance of The Olympus' main dining room ever since.

"It's perfect," Hutch found himself whispering. "This is what The Baron is after."

Starsky nodded sagely. "I looked up some old articles about it. It's eighteen inches tall, twenty inches wide and is actually hollow, so it's not as heavy as it looks. It's worth quite a bit for the gold, but is actually worth much, much more because of the craftsmanship involved. I didn't recognize the artist's name, but apparently it's a one-of-a-kind deal. An article five years ago said it would be worth three quarters of a million in the art circles."

"If I remember correctly," Hutch said, "the peacock is the sacred bird of Hera, and Hera was the wife of Zeus--"

"Who lived on Olympus. Apparently Raymond's first wife was nicknamed 'Hera' at the casino. So that sort of makes sense as a present for her."

"Hey," Hutch said. "Maybe The Baron has been hired by that other casino owner to steal it back."

"Don't think so." Starsky shook his head. "Some of the articles over the years seem to hint that Raymond lost it on purpose the first time. Seems his second wife was doin' some crowing about gettin' the bird for herself, so Raymond 'lost' it to a good friend. He divorced and married again, then divorced again about six years ago. One year after his divorce was final they played that second card game--which was more publicized than the first game--and he 'won' it back. Now that he's retiring, he's planning on taking it off of public display. And I think," Starsky said, his voice growing even quieter, "that they arranged the games that way to keep his second and third wives from getting it."

Hutch found himself nodding in agreement. He'd seen people do stranger things for love.

"Okay, so we know what and why, but do we know when?"

"It's the 'when' that ties it all together," Starsky reminded him. "This Saturday and Sunday are the last days of the display. There'll be locals and tourists all over the place to take one last gander at it. But it's off display now--"

"Let me guess, it's being cleaned." Hutch smiled as the whole thing fell into place. "So they take it away to brush it up for its last hurrah, and while it's sitting in the back room that would be a great time to make it disappear."

"While the cops in the area are all over the banks, protecting them, the Feds are geared up to follow the armored cars around, and no one is worried about a golden bird that the locals are so used to having around they don't even give it a second thought."

"And when it disappears, The Baron will get not only the prize but a lot of public attention he's not gotten before."

Hutch sat back, his mind going over and over the scenario. "But why hand this to us on a platter? He had to have known that we would try to figure out what he's doing. This is almost too easy."

Starsky shrugged. "Maybe he's bored. He did say he wanted a rematch with us, and now he sees an opportunity to bring us in on it to spice up the job. As much as he's gotten away with in the past, he's got to be well set up by now. He's never been caught, has more money than he needs tucked away somewhere overseas, and isn't getting a big thrill out of his 'hobby' anymore."

"So you think he wants to be caught?"

Starsky smiled. "Could be. Could also be we're going to make big fools of ourselves and will look like first class idiots by the time we leave."

"You think anyone will believe us?"

"Well, with that passage and the clues that we were handed, they'll probably give it a look."

"And laugh at us behind our backs."

"That's what I figure," Starsky smiled, leaning over to elbow Hutch gently. "But we're on vacation. Next time they actually want us to bring him in in handcuffs they'll have to arrange it ahead of time with Dobey. They can laugh at us at their own peril."

Hutch laughed himself, nodding in agreement. "Let's get copies of this and see if we can spot Smithson and Palmer. We can dump these off with them and let them call it in."

"They're outside, across the street. In a dumpy blue Ford that's first cousin to yours."

"Well, then, lets get this done and brighten up their day."

**********

The Baron got out of his car, enjoying the bright, clear skies. It was a beautiful day, and a trip to the library was just what he needed.

He hadn't intended to follow the detective pair today, having other things he should be attending to, but there was no real hurry now, and he would enjoy a few restful hours inside that beautiful building.

Not to mention the suspense was starting to get to him. He really did want to know if they had been able to unravel his clues.

Knowing those two, he probably should worry more about them being too smart, rather than not smart enough.

**********

Starsky waited at the front door of the library for Hutch to finish with the copying. It was only going to take a few minutes, so he volunteered to play "spot the cops" once again so they could walk right up and give Smithson and Palmer the paperwork. Starsky was glad to see the two were still there.

He laughed when Smithson actually raised a hand and waved at him.

Nice guys. I like their style.

He was deep in thought when the door opened and someone bumped into him as they entered.

"Oh, excuse me!"

Starsky looked up and found himself looking at Roger Martini.

"How nice to run into you, so to speak!" the tall man exclaimed, grinning at him. "How is your vacation so far?"

"Fine," Starsky said politely, not really wanting to start a conversation. The guy was nice enough, but was a talker when he got started.

"That's great! I'm just here to see what I can find in apartments. Found out I have to qualify as a resident before I can file for divorce. Well worth the wait, if I do say so myself."

"I'm sure it is," Starsky said quickly, looking for Hutch and feeling relieved as he saw his partner on the way down the ramp. "And it looks like we're ready to go. Nice seeing you again!"

He grabbed Hutch's arm and hurried him through the door, letting Hutch know by his actions that they didn't need to stop and visit. At least he didn't need to.

It was still hot and bright at mid-afternoon, and Starsky felt sorry for the two cops stuck in a car in this heat. He gave the two a smile as he and Hutch crossed the street.

"So, how're the spinster sisters today? Looks like you're working hard. They actually pay you two to goof off like this?" Starsky asked with a mischievous smile.

"Yup," Palmer said with a long, lazy drawl. "We pull in a load of bucks just sittin' on our backsides all day, staking out such exciting things as the public library. Never know when someone's gonna get it in his head to take off with a rare book or two."

Smithson, sprawled out in the passenger seat, grunted, looking tired and bored. "Don't you two have anything better to do on your time off? Hell, I'd rather chase you in and out of casinos all day than sit here and watch the shadows grow."

Hutch, who had gone to the passenger side of the car, handed Smithson the copies he'd made. "Well, why don't you two take a gander at this? Pretend like you're actually accomplishing something."

Smithson took the papers, glancing over them quickly, puzzlement on his face. He passed half of them to Palmer. Starsky walked around the car to join Hutch at the window. He and Hutch stayed quiet while the two men read.

"See anything that rings a bell?" Starsky asked after a few minutes.

"Well, shit," Smithson said, looking through the papers a second time. "You'd think we should've been able to pull this out of thin air."

Palmer grunted, rolling his eyes at his partner. "You, maybe, but I don't think I've ever heard of this Aesop guy. Do we buy it?"

"Yeah, I think so," Smithson answered, looking at Starsky and Hutch who were practically hanging in the passenger window. "We'll call in and see if we can't cut you two loose so we can give this to the big shots. But don't be surprised if they laugh it off."

"Yeah, even if they believe it's what The Baron wants you to think, they'll still keep their noses on the armored car heist."

"They've been lusting after capturing The Baron red-handed on that case too long to give up on it."

"Wouldn't expect them to," Hutch admitted. "But you can't say we didn't do our part."

"Beyond the call of duty," Smithson agreed. "Okay, we've got it now and will make our report whether the big brass bites at it or not. You'll both be in the clear if that bird disappears."

The four said their good-byes, and Starsky and Hutch decided to go back and change into their evening clothes to hit the strip early. They had that ten o'clock show that Starsky had tickets to, and there were several casinos they hadn't lost any money in yet.

~~~

Later that evening after the casino show, Starsky found himself smiling as he and Hutch left the showroom with the crowd.

Great show! I think she looks even better in real life than on the screen! She sure can sing! I wonder if I can get an autographed picture?

He knew Hutch had enjoyed himself, too, even though he wasn't as much of a fan of the actress as Starsky was. And the best part was they hadn't been thrown any clues or reminded that they had a job to be back at on Saturday morning.

Then he spotted Smithson and Palmer lounging over by a row of slot machines, obviously waiting for them.

Oh, great, Starsky thought, his good mood tempered at the sight. Just the way I wanted to end the evening.

He did notice right off that they were in civilian clothing this time. Looking at Hutch, he could see his partner was just as tired of seeing these two as he was, but at the same time he knew it wasn't personal.

"Okay, what's up?" Hutch asked as they walked up to the pair.

"Nothin' much," Palmer answered with a wide smile. "Just out slummin' around. Smithson's wife is out with the girls tonight, so we decided to come and give you two a hard time."

"Any news on the case?" Starsky asked, wondering if these two would feel comfortable enough to let them in on the local news.

The two Reno cops looked at each other and shrugged.

"We turned in the info, they looked at us like we were Martians and had us fill out reports. They don't seem to be interested in the peacock theory and are now even less interested in you two than before," Smithson said with a grin.

"They think it's a red herring, so I doubt you'll be called in for questioning. In fact," Palmer leaned forward, causing the other three to lean in to hear him. "They've called off all the tails on you guys, so you've got the rest of your vacation to yourselves."

"That is good news," Starsky said, then added, "I guess."

"Yeah, makes us feel real important to know we carry so much weight around here," Hutch added, a slight look of disappointment on his face.

"See?" Palmer said to his partner, a mischievous look on his face. "I told you; you just can't please some people."

"Apparently." Smithson smiled at them. "Actually, we wondered if you guys wanted to hit the bars and hang loose. They've got some really nice places around here with better shows than these. Less glittery but more talent."

Starsky looked at Hutch and saw a slight nod.

Why not? I've got a feeling they want to do some talking about the case.

Normally they'd be tired of work intruding on their vacation, but this interruption wasn't their usual type of case. Usually, when off duty, they fell into a case by accident, through acquaintances or because they themselves were the target. But when the bad guy sends you such an interesting invitation it was hard to pass it by.

"Okay, lead on," Starsky said. "Show us one of these secret places you locals have hidden from us tourists. But I'm keeping the wad of coupons for a while."

**********

Hutch sipped his drink--vodka with a twist. Smithson and Palmer had taken them down a lot of back streets to the outskirts of the city, to a small jazz bar that was dark and comfortable inside. It wasn't too crowded, not surprising for a Thursday night. The lady singer had a good voice and a nice selection of songs. Hutch wanted to like the place, but it reminded him too much of Marianne Owens to be totally comfortable. Another memory that crept up on him once in a while to stick a pin in his conscience. He glanced over at Starsky, glad to see he seemed to be enjoying himself.

I guess he didn't spend as much time at that club as I did, so this one doesn't trigger any bad memories. Not one of your finer moments, Hutchinson.

The four of them sat at a back table and had spent the last few hours trading cop stories and each telling a little bit about themselves. Starsky had even gotten out the wad of coupons Palmer had given him, and the two were going through them like kids talking about trading cards. Starsky had picked a few out for their last day in Reno, giving the rest back to Palmer.

So far, the talk had been about everything but the current case. Hutch got a feeling that was going to change when Smithson seemed to get serious.

"Listen, you guys, I know we shouldn't be talking about this, but Darrel and I wanted to let you know what's going on."

"About the peacock?" Starsky asked, throwing Hutch an "I knew it" look.

"Yeah," Palmer replied. "When the big boys decided to throw your info into the 'in' box and leave it there, Smithson and I went over to The Olympus to have a little talk with some of the security guards over there."

"We sort of like to keep on their good side, if you know what I mean," Smithson added.

"And they told us that the peacock is secure in the back room and is being buffed up for its last presentation this weekend. The 'official' unveiling will be Saturday morning."

"They going to have extra security this weekend?" Hutch asked.

"Like the White House," Smithson said. "This town pretty much runs twenty-four/seven, so starting Saturday morning while moving the peacock back to its perch, they plan on having not only hotel security on overtime but are hiring extra bodies to come in and stand watch. Once it's unveiled there will not only be the security surrounding it but all the tourists pressing their noses up against the glass as well."

"So if it's going to get stolen, then Friday night would be the time." Starsky ran his finger over the top of his glass, looking lost in thought. "Are they taking this seriously? About The Baron, I mean."

Smithson took a sip of his own drink and shook his head. "That's the problem. Palmer and I can't let them know about The Baron, the armored car plot, or the fact that the big boys from the government are buzzing around the area. That's confidential info. So without the details..."

"They don't know what's going on in the outside world, so they don't know what kind of thief they should be planning against." Hutch shook his head. "I can see why they don't think they're vulnerable. Hardly anyone hears about The Baron unless they're in the loop."

"That's what we thought," Palmer admitted, emptying his glass and signaling for another. "So Smithson and I thought we might hang around The Olympus tomorrow night, see if we can make sure nothings happens."

"Or get yourself a nice little collar," Starsky said with a knowing smile at the two Reno cops.

"Never hurts," Smithson admitted, smiling back. "And we two lunatics were wondering when your plane leaves."

"Not until eleven tomorrow night," Starsky admitted, throwing Hutch a look that said he was uncertain. "But I'm not sure...."

Starsky let his sentence hang. Smithson and Palmer glanced at each other.

"Understood, guys," Palmer said, sounding as if he meant it. "But if you want to show up at The Olympus sometime tomorrow afternoon, at about six when the crew getting the peacock all shiny goes home for the weekend, then we'd be happy to run into you and chew the fat."

"Thanks for the invite, guys," Hutch said. "Who knows where we'll be?"

Smithson looked at his watch and groaned. "Make that today. I gotta get home."

"Hen-pecked," Palmer said with a small smile.

"Jealous," Smithson responded, giving his partner a thump on the shoulder as he got up and snagged Palmer's drink. He gulped half of it before setting it back down in front of his partner. "You need another wife to worry about you. C'mon, you gotta take me home."

"I need another wife like I need another alimony payment to shell out," Palmer muttered, giving Smithson an evil glare. "I told you to shoot me if I ever got near any of these wedding chapels again."

"Got my gun all ready," Smithson laughed. "You'll never know what hit you."

~~~

After the two Reno cops left, Hutch decided against a refill, not wanting to get drunk on their last full night of vacation.

It was just as well, as a few minutes later Starsky tugged on his arm, signaling that he wanted to leave. Hutch followed him out.

Neither man said anything as they got into the rental car, but Hutch slid close to Starsky so that their thighs were touching and his arm was draped across the back of Starsky's seat. It was a beautiful evening, having cooled off quite a bit. Away from the main strip, Hutch could see a hint of stars. He wished he could be out of the city so he could really see the sky. He relaxed to the gentle strains of romantic music that came from the radio.

"Wanna go for a drive?" Starsky asked quietly. "Get out in the country for a little bit?"

Hutch was surprised, thinking they were headed back to the hotel room. "You've got an idea of where you're going?"

"Sure." Starsky gave him an evil smile. "Don't you trust me?"

"Trust you to do what?" Hutch smiled back.

"Got an idea."

It was clear that Starsky didn't want to elaborate, and Hutch decided he really didn't care where they went.

"Okay. Whatever."

After a few comfortable minutes, it became clear that Starsky was heading for a highway out of town. There was almost no traffic this time of night and once out of town, where houses grew sparse, their headlights seemed to be the only light around.

Hutch snuggled closer, knowing no one could see inside the dark car.

"Wish we could cruise our beat like this," Hutch said, hand playing in Starsky's hair.

"Guess we'd be a bit too obvious if we did," Starsky said with a small laugh. "We'll just have to behave ourselves for a while longer, huh?"

"Wish we didn't have to."

"I know. I do, too. But one day...."

"One day...what?"

"One day, if things change," Starsky said quietly, "or we get to a point where we don't give a shit about them anymore. Then we'll march right up to IA's office and show them how we feel about each other. Lips, tongue and groping included."

Hutch laughed at the image. He could just see the stunned response of the IA officers in his mind. "Someday, huh?"

"Sure." Starsky reached over to pat Hutch's thigh. "No one says we have to be cops forever. If we're lucky we'll be able to be both, cops and a couple. If not, then when we're done we can tell them to kiss our asses."

"But we shouldn't have to."

"No." Starsky sighed. "We shouldn't have to."

They traveled on for a while and Hutch recognized the route. They had come this way to go to Virginia City, and when Starsky turned off toward the mountains, he had an idea of where they were headed.

The mountain road was narrow and seemed even more dangerous at night than it had during the day. Hutch relaxed and watched out the windows, as the valley seemed to fall down into the darkness. There were no cars on the road, and Starsky wasn't in any hurry, so he got to watch the scenery unfold below them.

They reached a lookout point they had stopped at before, at the top of a mountain where the city was completely blocked from view, as were the lights. What had been a gorgeous view of a nearly empty valley below now was a showcase for the stars in the clear sky.

Hutch got out of the car, the cool air more refreshing than any air conditioner could ever be. They were not far from the stone wall that kept the cars in the small, circular parking area. Starsky turned off the lights, and it took a second for Hutch's eyes to adjust.

When they did, he felt like he was inches from a ceiling of stars.

"I thought it would be like this," Starsky said as he stood beside Hutch. Starsky put an arm around his waist just as Hutch put one over Starsky's shoulders. "I figured up here, with the city behind the mountain, you could get a better view."

"It's wonderful," Hutch said quietly. The mountains were only dark silhouettes now, the moon behind them, and the sky was almost moving with the glitter of the twinkling stars.

"C'mere." Starsky pulled him toward the stone wall. "Let's sit for a while."

They sat on the wall, their feet hanging over the edge into what looked to be a bottomless fall, but Hutch knew the ground was only a foot or so lower than their feet. He could see the dark outline of pine trees here and there, could smell the sagebrush. None of those things kept him from feeling like he was sitting on the top edge of the world.

They sat close, arms around each other.

"Sorry I made plans without askin'."

"That's okay--"

"No." Starsky shook his head, and Hutch turned to see him looking out at the scenery. "It's not. Not really, even though it's turned out okay. I felt you needed to get away, but I needed to get away, too, Hutch. After Alice's death...."

"Yeah, I know." Hutch sighed, drinking in the strong warmth at his side. "We've both had some bad times lately."

"A lot of good times, too," Starsky insisted. "But I just needed to get far enough away from the city to figure out if I wanted to go back."

Hutch pulled Starsky closer, feeling a chill at the words. "You ready to quit?"

Starsky didn't answer, but the arm around Hutch's waist tightened almost enough to hurt.

An animal noise, faint and thin, came from somewhere below them. A cool breeze blew by them, and the stars continued to dance in the sky.

Hutch waited.

When the answer came, it was hardly louder than the breeze that had blown by.

"No. I'm not. But so help me, Hutch...."

Hutch waited another long moment.

"So help me, I'm afraid I'm going to regret staying. Someday it's going to catch up with us. Like it almost caught up with us when Gunther's men shot me. Every day we're walkin' the trapeze wire, and one of these days we're both going to fall off. But right now, this minute, I can't say I'm ready to call it quits."

Hutch stayed silent, letting the words float off into the distance so the darkness would swallow them. He wasn't sure he knew what to say to that painful admission--that bit of fear they always carried with them.

"I'm not ready either, Starsk." Hutch had decided on the truth. "I know what you mean, about wondering if I'll regret staying. If I'll regret pushing you to come back, helping you to get what you wanted."

"You once said that if I hadn't made it back--"

"I might have quit. I don't think I could ever be the same kind of cop without you that I am with you. Maybe a desk job or something else if a job opened up I might be interested in. But not on the streets."

"Did you want to leave?"

Hutch heard the tinge of guilt in Starsky's question.

"No," he replied. "I was content to wait for your return. And I wanted you to come back because you wanted to. I didn't want the choice taken away from you. I might have left the force if things had turned out differently, but I waited because...well...because I wanted to keep doing what we were doing."

"And now?"

"And now?" Hutch repeated, eyes tracing the mountain's silhouette. "Now I feel like we're still accomplishing something. I guess when I helped bring Gunther in, I found I could really make a difference. For a while, I felt like we were just barely treading water, that last year.… Nothing seemed to make a difference, and I felt that everything we did was wasted." Hutch shrugged slightly. "I don't know if I can explain it better than that."

"Getting burned out. How many times we've seen it happen, Hutch? How many times have we heard about it happening?"

"Too damn many," Hutch said bitterly.

"I felt like you needed a safe place to unwind, and I needed a quick reality check. I had to get us out of the city long enough to see it from a distance. But I'm not ready to stop being a cop, or stop doing what we're doing."

"Then it was worth the trip. I've certainly enjoyed it. I'm glad you took charge and got us on that plane, even if I was dragging my heels a bit."

Starsky turned, bringing their faces close together. "Wouldn't have come without you. Guess you're stuck with me and my impulsiveness."

As Starsky's lips touched his, Hutch found that the seriousness of the last few minutes seem to disappear, leaving only the rightness of their being together.

They kissed softly at first, lips only, moving from mouths to cheeks, to noses, then to necks. Butterfly touches that spoke more of internal feelings than sex. They held each other close, laughing a bit as they rubbed nose tips.

"If we go any further you know the Highway Patrol is gonna pull up. I doubt they'd be very understanding of two naked guys doin' the nasty in a parked car at the best scenic stop on the whole mountain."

Hutch laughed heartily. "Guess not! We should head back, so we can get serious."

"Sounds good to me." Starsky pulled away, leaving a kiss on Hutch's lonely lips.

Hutch hated to stop, wished they could neck and enjoy the view like teenagers, but it was just too dangerous to get anything started in such a public place, even if it was in the middle of the night.

They were only about a mile down the mountain, when they passed a Highway Patrolman going the other way, headed for the spot the two detectives had left not long ago.

"Someone is still looking out for us," Hutch said, smiling at the feeling of having gotten away with something.

"Let's hope we're always on their mind, whoever they are," Starsky said with a laugh. "'Cause I think we're in for a hell of a lot of close calls in the future."

"Amen!"

~~~

The drive home was spent in silence, the romantic music on at that very early hour of the morning filling the car and echoing in the minute touches they made. Thigh against thigh, arm along shoulders, hands on the nape of a neck and on a knee. Nothing overt, but every touch needed and treasured.

The hotel was quiet when they finally pulled up to it--no one moving, no lights on but the "vacancy" sign and the lights from the office.

As they entered, Hutch blinked at the strong light that filled the room as he flipped the switch. He went to make sure the door was locked behind them, checking the curtains to make sure they were pulled all the way shut. Starsky moved the bag from one bed to put it next to the bag on the other, choosing the bed they would share for the night.

Before Starsky could take anything off, Hutch stopped him with a hand on his arm.

"Don't move, okay?"

Looking interested, Starsky nodded. "You got somethin' in mind?"

"You trust me?" Hutch said with a teasing smile and echo of their earlier conversation.

"Trust you to do what?" Starsky gave him a wink.

"Just stay here."

Going to the bathroom, Hutch dug out supplies from his shaving kit. He crossed the room and opened his bag on the other bed. Digging inside, he brought out a thick, but stubby, white candle that looked a bit nicked and dented from its ride in a side compartment.

He grabbed a clean ashtray from the dresser, setting the candle in it on the nightstand between the beds. Lighting a match from the book he'd picked up at the jazz club, he lit the candle and ran over to turn off the light.

It wasn't as dark as he had wished, but the tired room took on a warm and cozy glow. Starsky's smile, as he stood over by the bed, was as soft and loving as his expression. Turning on the radio, he was lucky it was set at the same station they'd been listening to all night.

"Care to dance?" he asked.

Starsky's responding smile made Hutch's heart race. He held out his arms for him.

Just because we can't do this in public doesn't mean we have to miss out. I know how you love to dance.

They embraced, neither moving for a moment as the slow song drifted across the room, Starsky's arms around his neck and Hutch's hands on Starsky's hips. They pressed close, temple to temple, chest to chest.

Hutch relaxed, feeling Starsky do the same. They both leaned into each other, holding the other gently as they began to sway to the music.

It felt warm, cozy and like home to Hutch as he emptied his mind and moved with the music, following Starsky's body as it led them in small circles. Hutch splayed his fingers across Starsky's sides, caressed them, sliding his hands to the broad back. He pressed their bodies even closer together, wanting to feel Starsky's heart beat, needing more.

Starsky's hands were in his hair now, fingertips massaging his scalp. A light kiss was placed on his jaw. Hutch could hear Starsky's contented humming to the music as it vibrated through his chest.

Hutch pulled Starsky's shirt up and ran his hands on the warm skin. He massaged the muscles, moving his hands higher and higher until it only took a slight movement to raise the shirt, inviting Starsky to slip out of it.

The coldness left in Starsky's place as he moved away made Hutch want to pull him back. As Starsky lifted the shirt over his head Hutch did the same. They came together again, slowly wrapping their arms around each other, moving slightly side to side in matching rhythm to the music. Hutch closed his eyes, sliding his face into Starsky's curls. They were soft and springy, caressing his face even as the hairs on Starsky's chest made loving circles against his skin as they moved.

He adored the way his lover was covered with soft, curly hair. As a teenager, Hutch had longed for chest hair and had been very disappointed when nothing developed. There were a lot of blond men around Duluth, among his friends and family, and many of them had almost as much body hair as Starsky did. He had always been a little jealous, feeling more than a bit deficient in that area. With Starsky he had secretly been jealous at first, but now he thoroughly enjoyed the difference in them. He loved the feel of hair against him, loved the way even Starsky's dark lashes and brows curled. He loved to nuzzle the wild sideburns that framed his face. Hutch seemed to need Starsky against him, as if every pore in his body was hungry for the man's touch. He kissed Starsky's temple, nosed gently in his ear as Starsky returned the favor, both of them moving slowly, teasing each other.

Hutch was more than half-hard in his slacks now, leaning his cock against Starsky as they moved, feeling Starsky's cock grow harder against him.

He moved his hands down, slipping under the waistband of Starsky's slacks, able to get his fingers a short way beneath the form-fitting cloth. He moved his fingers as much as he could, even as Starsky was pressing kisses on his collarbone.

Oh, how I need him!

His need was more than body deep; it went down to his soul, filled his thoughts as he tried to pull them even closer together. Starsky was a warm, flowing fountain of life that Hutch needed more than anything else, and the clothing between them had gone from being exotic to being an impediment to his fulfillment.

Starsky got there first, his hands leaving Hutch's shoulders to pinch and tweak their way down Hutch's sides, their chests still together, skin tingling like an electric buzz between them. Starsky's thumbs were in his waistband, urging the slacks down as far as they would go.

They pulled apart mere inches, each fumbling with the other's buttons or zipper. In seconds they were both kicking slacks across the room, their naked bodies pressed back together.

The next song that came on was a bit faster, and they both ground against each other to the beat. Both cocks were hard now, and Hutch found himself gasping as they rubbed each other just right, sending a jolt through him that made his toes curl.

Their kisses grew faster as well, bites and nibbles that were becoming harder, more demanding. Hutch felt the heat in him build up, fueled by the taste of Starsky in his mouth, on his tongue, the unique scent that meant safety and friendship and belonging. It was all wrapped up in Starsky, and Hutch was starving.

The song ended, and, as their movements slowed, he gently pushed Starsky backwards, letting him know it was time to go to the bed.

They moved in sync, never letting each other go, finding the bed was suddenly under them both.

Panting with desire, cock hard and yearning, Hutch pulled away a bit, looking at Starsky in the candlelight. Starsky's eyes were hooded, dilated with desire, a flush making him look wild and wanton. And in those eyes, behind the desire, was love.

A love that Hutch knew he needed to acknowledge often, for to take it for granted was to lose it.

"David Michael Starsky," he began, his voice husky, his throat so thick with emotion he didn't know if he could say the rest. "I love you. Love you more than life itself."

Starsky's smile went from lusty to soft, his eyes grew a little shinier. His voice was low as well. "I love you, too, Hutch. I can't even tell you how much. Words would never be enough."

They kissed then, hungrily, each fighting for possession of the other until Hutch let Starsky in. Hutch sucked on the tongue that explored his mouth, loving the slick, exotic taste of his lover.

Their bodies were writhing together, rubbing and thrusting randomly. Hutch rolled with Starsky, to put him flat on his back, putting first one knee, then the other between Starsky's strong thighs.

Hutch pulled his mouth away, fighting Starsky who didn't seem to want to let him go. Hutch latched onto Starsky's neck, sucking and nipping at the tender spots he knew so well. With Starsky's hands moving from his hair to his shoulder, kneading and pulling, Hutch moved down to the hollow of his throat, licking the salty flesh and cataloging every sound, every moan and hum that Starsky let loose.

He moved down to the broad, muscular chest, swirling chest hairs on his way to the right nipple. He placed his mouth over it, sucking it and the skin around it, first hard, then soft, using his tongue to flick at the sensitive tip, feeling Starsky buck under him as he tried to pull away and force more of himself into Hutch's mouth at the same time. After a moment, Hutch covered the wet, swollen nub with a thumb, working his way to the second nipple, kissing, biting and pulling chest hair with his teeth so that his lover would never have a second's rest.

He sucked in the left nipple carefully, knowing that Starsky's left side was just a bit more sensitive. He kissed it and caressed it, still thumbing and pinching the other one.

Starsky was moaning now, wiggling and panting, his skin hot and slick. Starsky's hands were in his hair, on his neck and shoulders, moving constantly. When both hands gripped a handful of Hutch's hair, he stopped playing with his nipples, knowing then that Starsky was on the edge.

Hutch moved down Starsky's torso with his mouth, touching, kissing and tasting all the different flavors of skin type and consistency, giving the scars their own attention. As he moved he could feel Starsky's hard cock poking at him, trying to rub against whatever part of Hutch it could find. Hutch tried his best to stay out of its path, not wanting Starsky to be able to rub off on him. Not just yet.

As he licked at Starsky's belly button, Hutch moved his hand to Starsky's ass, knowing his legs were spreading wider and wider with each passing moment.

"Please, Hutch! Do something! Gotta do something!"

Starsky's pleading cut like a knife through the roar of desire in Hutch's ears, the sound making his own cock bob hungrily.

Hutch nibbled the sensitive skin just below Starsky's navel, giving Starsky's taut balls a quick squeeze before carefully tracing his fingers down behind his soft sac, following the sensitive seam of skin to the tender-skinned opening.

Keeping up the kisses and nibbles to the top of Starsky's pubic hair, his fingers caressed a ring around Starsky's opening, one finger playing with the center.

"Need you, Hutch! Need you in me!"

Hutch's mouth was near the base of Starsky's cock now, and he could feel it pulse, could smell the arousal. He held off on the impulse to take the beautiful organ in his mouth; he wanted to make Starsky wait.

Pulling his mouth away, Hutch reached over to the nightstand for the lube he had put there. Squeezing a line of it on his middle finger, he leaned back over Starsky, kissing his stomach as his hand found Starsky's ass once again. Finding Starsky's opening he rubbed it softly, then pushed his finger inside, twisting it around to spread the lube.

Starsky moaned again. Hutch could see his head thrown back, his eyes half closed and his mouth open in pleasure. Starsky was breathing heavily, his curl-covered chest moving quickly, the pulse in his neck giving Hutch the rhythm to use in his preparation. Another finger was added to the one moving inside him, and Starsky's legs came up even higher, giving him more access. Starsky's hands were on his head, carding Hutch's hair through his fingers.

Hutch knew when he found the right spot, could feel the small nub inside Starsky that would throw sparks through his insides. He could feel the difference in the flesh, rubbed it carefully, and moaned himself as Starsky's body bucked at the touch.

"THERE! Yesyesyesyes, there!"

Starsky was ready, and Hutch didn't think he could wait any longer.

Grabbing a pillow, Hutch lifted Starsky's hips up to slip it under him. Starsky pulled his knees up, and the sight, so provocative and trusting, made Hutch feel like he was shaking. His heart was beating a frantic call for completion; his cock aching and needing more than his own hand that spread the lube up and down his shaft.

Gripping himself, he leaned forward and guided the head of his cock to the dark rose-colored opening, groaning in pleasure as his cock head touched it. Starsky sighed deeply, pulling his knees even closer to his chest, his head back and a pleasure-grimace on his face.

"Love YOU!" Hutch gasped, pushing into the tight, hot space, his cock throwing electric shocks to his gut, his heart, as it was slowly buried inside his lover's body.

Starsky gasped, exhaling deeply in a low hum that seemed to shake them both.

Hutch didn't stop, keeping the pressure constant, wanting to enter his lover in one smooth, slow stroke. He didn't stop when his pubic hairs brushed Starsky's ass, didn't stop when the base of his cock was firmly entrenched, didn't stop when he was in as far as he seemed to be able to get. Hutch leaned his weight on Starsky, forcing Starsky's ass cheeks even farther apart, using his weight to go as far as it was ever going to be possible to go.

Starsky gasped again, his eyes opening wide. Hutch watched him closely, looking for any sign of pain.

"I can't get inside you far enough," Hutch choked out, his eyes meeting Starsky's surprised ones. "No matter what we do, no matter how we do it, I'll never be as much a part of you as I want to be. As I need to be." He tried to smile, wanting Starsky to know that he accepted the fact as a part of life. "But I will always be a part of you. I can't be me without you!"

Starsky's eyes searched his face, a loving smile of understanding taking over his own. "I can never have you in deep enough. Never be physically in you deep enough. Impossible to do." Starsky's hand came to cover Hutch's heart, fingers spreading to cover his chest. "But in here we'll always be a part of each other. Always."

Hutch backed off a little, pulling out slowly until his cock was over Starsky's prostate. He pushed, angling up so the head rubbed at it, pleased to see Starsky gasp and grab at the bed covers.

He wanted to fuck, to move and thrust, but he wanted to see Starsky fly even more. As Starsky's face took on the grimace of pleasure, he kept up the slow rubbing, pulling Starsky's legs to his own chest so he could control his penetration.

"Oh...oh...oh...oh...please...yes...oh..." Starsky moaned between pants, echoing the rhythm of Hutch's angled thrusts. His whole body was tense, muscles straining, neck arching his head back, even as Starsky's head moved back and forth. Starsky's knuckles were growing white with his grip on the bed. "Don't stop...ooooooooh...don't...so close...oh, please!"

Starsky's cock was hard, flat against his own body, leaking pre-cum; his balls were tight to his body under the soft, curly fuzz that coated them.

It was when Starsky's left hand started to unfold that Hutch knew the time had come. Before Starsky could grab at himself Hutch did it for him, gripping the base of the large cock and pulling at it in a firm grip, feeling the soft skin move against the blood engorged core. When Starsky's glans slid into his grip, Hutch twisted ever so slightly, spreading the pre-cum that was still leaking over the top of his glans and Hutch's palm.

Using the lubrication, feeling the lava burn in his own cock and balls, Hutch pumped Starsky once, then twice, hearing himself groan deeply as he tried to hold off his own climax.

"Ahhh.… Uhhhhh.…" Starsky's body froze, his face a grimace, eyes squeezed shut. Hutch thrust once more, hand moving quickly on Starsky's cock "YESSSSSSssssssssssss...."

As Starsky exploded in his hand Hutch milked him from the base of his cock to the tip, carefully trying to match the pulsing he could feel in his hand and the ripple of abdomen that accompanied Starsky's climax. The powerful spasms of his internal muscles gripping and releasing at Hutch's deeply seated cock like another hand.

He lost it as Starsky started to take deep breaths and his eyes rolled open, leaving him looking glazed and incredibly smug.

Hutch thrust hard, the hot slide putting mind-blowing pressure on his needy cock. He pulled out, anxious to repeat that moment, enjoying the motion itself. Then he thrust again, finding himself moving faster, pushing harder. Muscles straining, he held his breath as he pumped, feeling the electricity flowing through his body from his cock and balls grow close to overwhelming.

He opened his eyes, focused on Starsky's face, and drank in the look of love and drowsy pleasure before he hit the wall.

Hutch hit it hard, the orgasm taking over his body, taking his breath away, tightening his muscles until he felt something would snap, making his cock and balls feel huge and electrified. It seemed to go on forever, throwing sparks around his brain and making his insides tremble. As the pulsing wave diminished, Hutch felt himself weaken with them, gasping as if he would never be able to breathe right again, feeling his heart still racing in his chest.

He was emptied and weak, trembling and dizzy, not sure where his limbs were and not caring. He was on a body that was furry and satiny, warm and compliant--where he needed it to be, the perfect resting place. There was a loving voice that wooed him awake, but kept him relaxed. It asked him to do things and he did them, not paying attention to what was going on. He moved, Starsky moved, he was wiped off with something--none of those things important enough to bring him out of his mental and physical cocoon of satisfaction.

He heard the candle being blown out. Then furry, hard muscles were under his head, a heart beat lazily into his ear, and his body was wrapped around the person he loved.

It was so perfect he couldn't help but fall asleep.

**********

Starsky was the first one to awake the next morning, but only because his bladder was threatening to revolt. He carefully slid out from under Hutch, all of his muscles feeling happy from his workout, although his ass was a bit sore. A happy, well-fucked sore, but one that reminded him that he needed the bathroom for more than one thing.

From the light coming through the curtains and the relative silence from people outside who were coming and going, he realized it must be mid-afternoon. Glancing at the room's alarm clock, he saw it was close to two o'clock. Time to get up before room service came to clean up.

We're going to have a hell of a time getting used to a regular schedule. This is almost like when we were on the night shift. Takes a while to get used to going to bed earlier than three or four in the morning.

He padded to the bathroom, took care of business and decided on a shower. He was hungry now, and this was their last day of vacation.

So what are we going to do for an encore? Wonder if Hutch is up for a movie this afternoon. We never seem to get around to going to the movies when we're home. Or we could hit the strip again.

His thoughts were interrupted by the bathroom door opening. Through the frosted glass of the shower, he could see Hutch lumber into the room, heading for the toilet. By the time he finished his shower, Hutch was brushing his teeth. Their eyes met in the mirror and Starsky gave him an evil leer.

"Any more nights like that," he began moving to embrace Hutch and rub up against him, dripping on the smooth skin while his eyes never lost contact with Hutch's, "and the hotel staff is going to be real surprised when they come in to clean up and find two cops who've passed away from pleasure. In the same bed."

Hutch snickered around his brushing, then spit into the sink. "Good thing you told them not to make the room up until after three."

"It's Reno," Starsky shrugged. "They're used to night owls sleeping late. And I made sure to tip the manager enough that he was happy to make sure his people complied. But..." Starsky let Hutch go long enough to look around the room. "We're cutting it close on this one."

"Not enough time left to mess up the other bed, huh?" Hutch asked as he stepped into the shower.

"Not if you plan on both of us doin' it, but that reminds me.…" Starsky toweled off quickly then walked naked over to the second bed, opening his suitcase and stuffing yesterday's clothing and underwear into a side pocket, throwing in the used candle as well. Pulling out the last of his clean slacks and shirt, he dressed quickly then moved the bags to the used bed. He then messed up the other bed so they wouldn't draw the attention of the hotel maids.

"It's a shame you have to do that without me," Hutch said, grinning from the doorway.

"You could join me, anytime."

"No, I like to watch you. You always were sexy going solo."

Starsky stuck his tongue out at him.

~~~

They left to go to the strip and find a good buffet for a leisurely meal. They didn't have to worry about packing yet because Starsky had paid for the room until Saturday noon. Starsky figured they were on the same wavelength since it wasn't until dessert that the topic of The Baron came up.

Digging into his pie, Starsky decided that they'd better decide what they were going to do. Before he could swallow his first spoonful, Hutch, who was eating a concoction of mixed fruit, beat him to it.

"We do have a reputation to keep up," Hutch said as he speared a few pieces of his dessert.

Starsky knew exactly what Hutch was saying. "We've beaten him once already, it would be a shame to let him get away this time."

"Smithson and Palmer will be hanging around The Olympus. Also the hotel will have their own staff."

"Didn't sound like the local PD is going to pay much attention to us solving those clues," Starsky said, shaking his head. "I haven't seen a tail today, so I think the locals have their hands full with all that bank stuff. They're probably brushing off this peacock thing because they've got too much time and energy invested in the armored car heist to worry about anything else."

"Well, a bank heist would be a bigger haul and more embarrassing, not to mention dangerous, if The Baron was really after it."

"But it's just not his style," Starsky argued. "If they'd studied his files like they should have, it should'a rung a warning bell with someone."

"So...you want to stake out The Olympus for a while?"

"No," Starsky gave Hutch a mischievous look, "but I wouldn't mind visiting it, as a tourist, sometime this afternoon."

Hutch grinned back. "Wouldn't be butting in if we're sightseeing, right? But what if we miss our flight?"

Starsky shrugged. "Well, we have the room for tonight if we want it. If we help catch The Baron, I don't think Dobey could yell too loud at us for getting home a bit late."

"And if we miss the plane and don't have The Baron in handcuffs?"

Starsky smiled knowingly at Hutch. "Then we apologize, listen to him yell while we just grin at him like two idiots, and he'll give up on trying to get through our thick skulls. Eventually."

"Well, it looks like we've got a few hours to kill until six o'clock then, doesn't it?"

~~~

They walked up and down the busy strip, watching the crowds on the sidewalk and inside the casinos slowly get thicker and thicker as evening came on.

Starsky thought there was a different feel to this city than there was to Las Vegas. It was smaller and the casinos weren't as big, nor were they as far apart, but there was a certain charm to the fact that the city had a long history.

They spent some money gambling, eventually losing all that they cared to lose. Starsky knew that they'd never again have the luck they'd had in Vegas, and that was fine with him. Winning a lot of money would be nice, but he wasn't looking for that kind of a break to "fix" anything in his life. He enjoyed his life too much to want to change it too much. So they only gambled a little, enjoying the games for what they were.

At five-thirty, they drove the car down to The Olympus. The place was impressive, and farther down the strip than they'd been before. It was a tall building, about fifteen stories tall with a huge parking lot.

The parking lot was pretty full, even at that early hour. The first floor entrance was mostly glass, and inside the decor seemed to be mostly blues and gold, with white wisps here and there that were supposed to look like clouds. Starsky decided people were supposed to feel like they were walking through a city in the clouds--like the real Mount Olympus was supposed to be. Like most of the casinos they'd been in so far, it was ridiculously overdone, but fun nonetheless.

Especially the pretty girls in togas and high heels that ushered them in and served drinks.

He and Hutch walked around the busy, loud gaming rooms, stopping to watch people play at the tables once in a while. Basically, all the games in all the casinos were the same, and only the decor was different. It was in the back rooms where each casino made its mark. Some had a lot of small shows during the evening, others had famous entertainers in fewer, and more expensive, shows. Most had a couple of different type of dining rooms--from the cheap buffets to the very expensive and exclusive rooms. The Olympus had both types of shows, along with a buffet, various stores and the "Peacock Room." He and Hutch followed the directions to the latter, keeping an eye out for Security and the two detectives they knew would be there.

Starsky didn't see anyone but the obvious "suit 'n tie" security men in place. The Peacock Room was guarded by a man in a tuxedo, who carefully checked his reservation sheet before letting anyone in. By the look of some of the clientele that entered, some from an apparently hidden back entrance to the casino, the meal would probably be the type that cost an arm and a leg. Next to the door, but far enough down the hall to keep the regular tourist traffic from blocking the entrance to the restaurant, was a large, glass-enclosed case.

He and Hutch walked up and took a look at the items inside. The first thing he noticed was the center of the case, with a plush, purple velvet display that was empty. The plaque below it labeled it as the resting place of the "Golden Peacock" and a note that it would be displayed for the last time that weekend. There were other objects inside the case relating to the history of the casino, and Starsky noted, a lot of pictures and personal objects of the owner's first wife.

So the other two wives didn't exist, as far as Raymond Wyatt was concerned.

Starsky elbowed Hutch and nodded to the back of the case. It was obvious that the whole back of the case could be moved aside and the contents worked with from the back. That wall would be accessible from inside the restaurant. Hutch nodded, letting Starsky know he saw the set-up.

They moved away, across the wide hallway, stopping beside a large potted tree. Hutch, his eyes on something down the hallway, put a hand on his arm.

"We've got company."

Turning, Starsky saw Smithson approach them with a smile. The tall black man was dressed in white shorts and a striped shirt, looking like a tourist.

"Evening, gentlemen," Smithson smiled, actually looking happy to see them. "I see you've looked over the set-up here. Nothing in there right now worth stealing, and I've noticed that hotel security is now at its lowest in this area."

"So you think they'll be in full force tomorrow?" Hutch asked.

"Yeah, with the peacock safe down in the basement for now, they're not worried about this empty display."

"You really think The Baron is after the peacock?" Starsky asked. "Or is this just an 'in case it's true' stake-out for you?"

Smithson was quiet for a moment, chewing on his lip as he thought. He shrugged. "I don't know a lot about The Baron's past, but I have to say that from the little the Feds let slip that the armored car set-up does sound like something he wouldn't be interested in. My guts tell me that this is more his style. So, why not check it out?"

"Where is the peacock now? Downstairs somewhere?" Starsky asked.

Smithson nodded. "Palmer is talking to a couple of security guards he knows, to see if he can get the layout. This place has a whole floor downstairs for staff--the laundry for the rooms upstairs, the security staff, store inventories, costume storage and floor maintenance. Cooking staff and kitchen supplies are here, on the same level with the restaurants.

"How open is the casino?" Hutch asked, eyes on the tourist traffic that seemed to pass them by without a second look.

"The place is wide open. The doors never close, and there are front and side entrances for the tourists and those renting rooms, along with a semi-private entrance at the back for those who want to eat in the Peacock Room without rubbing elbows with us low-lifes."

"What about the stores?" Hutch nodded in the direction of the numerous small shops that lined one side of the long, wide carpeted hallway. "They open all the time?"

Smithson frowned for a moment, eyeing the shops closely before he spoke. "I think the clothing, toy, souvenir shops, and the small National Bank branch close fairly late, about nine or so. The restaurants keep day only hours, but the coffee shops and both bars are open twenty-four hours. Of course, the kitchen is open for room service all day, as is the laundry."

"So there could be people coming and going through these rooms all the time, and Security may not see any need to stop them and ask questions if it looked like they belonged," Starsky said.

"This place never really sleeps; it just slows down for a few hours to clean up and restock," Smithson answered.

"Maybe Palmer will be able to add something to this," Hutch said, nodding toward the far side of the hall.

Palmer, dressed in jeans and a cowboy shirt, was sauntering toward them. They greeted him quietly, the four of them moving closer to the wall, trying to create a more private space.

"Fancy meeting you two here," Palmer said with a wicked smile. "Here's the deal. Security is full of themselves and doesn't see any problems with the peacock sitting on its ass downstairs. They've never had it stolen before, so don't feel that they're in any danger. They've got plans for extra security for tomorrow, but not until six in the morning. Then they plan on setting up some sort of line of guardrails in front of the display to help keep the visitors moving along, past the display, in an orderly manner."

"So it doesn't have any extra guards on it now?" Starsky asked.

"Nope," Palmer replied. "It's downstairs, in one of the locked security rooms, sitting on the same shelf it's been sitting on all week while it's been cleaned. All by its lonesome."

"Sounds like the perfect set-up for The Baron," Hutch said.

Both Reno officers nodded.

"So, any ideas?" Starsky asked looking around the huge hallway. "Where do we start?"

"Well, you know this guy better than we do. He wanted you here, so if this is a rematch between you guys then you must have some idea of what he'd do; otherwise, you wouldn't be much competition."

"The Baron likes to use distraction. Get everybody running to the other side of the building and then go in. In our case, we had to move our entire operations to a less secure area, which gave him his chance."

"So when we see something big happen, we should go the other way?"

Starsky smiled at Smithson's question. "Something like that."

Palmer's expression turned sober. "Are you guys packing? I'm afraid this could get serious."

"Ankle holsters," Hutch moved his leg just enough to show Palmer the bulge of the gun under his slacks. "We've got our badges, too, for show. But if we can, we'll let you guys do the actual grunt work. Less paperwork that way."

"Then I guess we can't do anything else but wait and see what happens," Smithson said, looking frustrated.

"Here's hoping we recognize his work before we stumble over it," Hutch said.

**********

The Baron smiled to himself, as he placed the last of the devices in its pre-determined location. So far the day had gone very well, with all of his work unfolding according to plan. If everyone was keeping to schedule, right now ninety percent of the local police force would be following the armored cars from bank to bank, the Federal Government would be ready to escort them to the San Francisco Federal Reserve, the local thugs he had hired to case the banks and get the shipment schedules would be waiting at home for further instructions that would never come, and Starsky and Hutch would be somewhere downstairs waiting to catch him.

He had carefully watched them in the hallway and had been pleased to see things going well.

It is, of course, a calculated risk to invite them along, but one that has elevated the game considerably.

After doing his own research on the two cops, he knew that being this close--and failing--would work on their nerves more than anything else. It had just been too good an opportunity to pass up. There was always time for a more proper form of revenge later. Now it would be enough just to rub their noses in it.

Backing out of the vent, he pulled off his surgical gloves and stuffed them in his pocket. Everything should now be in place. Time to start the fireworks and put his plan into motion.

**********

Hutch sighed to himself, walking through the gaming tables once again. The four of them had been walking around the casino for two hours now, and nothing strange had presented itself. It was almost eight o'clock and they had two hours left before their flight. If something didn't happen soon, he and Starsky were going to have to call it a day and leave in time to check out of the hotel and return the rental car.

There were some things Hutch learned about himself as he made the casino's rounds. The first was that gambling got boring very quickly. The second was that he never wanted the job of a security guard. It had only been a couple of hours and he was tired of the place, the games and the people. He needed a bigger space to move in. At least working the streets gave him that.

He was just about to head for the store area when a series of loud alarms went off and the lights flickered. As most of the tourists looked around in confusion, he moved quickly toward their agreed upon meeting area.

"Attention please. Attention please." The background music had quickly been replaced by a booming voice. "The Olympus now asks all visitors to please make an orderly departure through the nearest exit. We appreciate your cooperation and will have the technical difficulties sorted out as soon as possible. Blue light, 12-15."

Hutch could only guess that the strange code at the end was a signal to all gaming table personnel, as they had stood motionless until it was announced. As a group, they started to stuff all their currency into the special slots that sent the cash to the basement. Most were not allowed to keep more than a certain amount of currency on their table anyway, so it was a quick procedure to get rid of the rest. The announcement was repeated, almost overwhelmed by the loud talk of speculation, fear, and some disgust from those who must have had their winning streaks interrupted.

Hutch fought the moving crowd down the hall to their meeting spot, having to show his badge in order to get past the security people who were now shepherding the guests toward the emergency exits.

Smithson was already at the rendezvous.

"There's been a report of smoke from the upper floors of the hotel. The fire department is on the way," Smithson reported, sounding out of breath.

"Didn't see anything up front," Hutch said. "You see any of the smoke? You think it's a real fire or a smoke screen?"

"Didn't see it myself, so I can't say."

Hutch didn't for one minute believe it was anything but a smoke screen for The Baron. Timing was too precise.

"Guess it wouldn't help to call in the on-duty cops?" Hutch said.

Smithson shook his head. "Believe me, the ones on duty who can come will already be on the way."

Both men looked around for their partners, not wanting to take off unless all four of them had touched base. The outward movement continued, as did the announcements. Hutch kept his eyes open, scanning the confused crowd moving past them.

Palmer came running up next. "There's smoke coming in from the vents in the kitchen area. They've almost got all the diners out."

"Same with the hotel rooms. There must be smoke bombs in the vents somewhere," Hutch said, eyes frantically searching for Starsky. "Great cover! Who's going to notice anything going on in this evacuation?"

The crowd was starting to thin, as most of them had already been herded outside. Hutch could see shop managers closing up their stores, checking their cash registers and pulling down the rolling gates that guarded the doors.

Hutch breathed a sigh of relief when he saw Starsky weaving through the crowd.

"The basement's being evacuated and the security teams are covering the exits. What's up?"

"Smoke from the vents in the hotel and kitchen areas," Hutch repeated. He turned to Smithson and Palmer. "What would Security be doing about the peacock right now?"

"Most of Security will be helping hotel management do a floor-by-floor sweep upstairs, making sure all the rooms are evacuated. They'll also be stationed at the exits and checking the bathrooms."

"Leaving the rooms downstairs vacant?" Starsky asked.

"Just a few will be downstairs, and they'll be concentrated in the money collection area. A few will probably remain to watch the monitors and make sure there aren't any looters. It's a maze down there, so I don't know if any of them will have a good view of the hallway. If The Baron takes out the cameras in that area he'll have a clear shot at that door."

Starsky grabbed at Hutch's arm and pulled. "Let's go!"

The four of them, badges held high, made their way to the staff entrance, bypassing the elevator and using the stairs to go down to the basement. The complex underneath was immense and fairly empty, but it wasn't long before they were challenged and let through after their badges were inspected.

A tall, blond man in a suit halted them as they made their way past the storage and laundry areas to another set of secure doors.

"Palmer! Damn it, man! Is this why you were asking all those dumb-ass questions? It's going to be worth my job if you don't tell me what the hell is going on!" The man looked Starsky and Hutch over quickly. "You vouching for them?"

"Sure. Hutchinson, Starsky, this is Riggs," Palmer introduced them without preamble. "He's Security Manager for this shift. We think that this is a smoke screen--"

"For the peacock or the cash rooms?"

"The peacock," Palmer replied.

"Damn! I knew it!"

"How?" Starsky asked.

"If they were going to hit the cash rooms they would've hit us before we made our latest bank deposits. We just dumped a fortune in cash at the banks yesterday. I told my boss we should have put the peacock in a more secure place."

"What's the story so far?" Smithson asked Riggs.

"Reports from upstairs are that one of my men pulled a smoke bomb out of a vent before he was overcome. We're advising the firefighters of what we've found. There's too much smoke for just a few devices. Must be a couple dozen at least."

"And your security down here?" Hutch asked.

"I've got a few men who've volunteered to stay by the money processing areas, I couldn't order anyone to stay in a fire situation. I've been in the monitoring room and saw you guys coming down. Come with me and we'll see if we can nip this in the bud!"

They all ran down the well-lit hallway, turning random corners. Hutch tried to catalog their route in case they had to make their way back out on a run.

This hallway dead-ended, Riggs stopping before a large metal door. He looked relieved as he yanked on the handle and the door didn't budge an inch. "Great! No one's been here yet."

Hutch got a chill down his spine as he reached out to touch the door, feeling how thick it was. He looked at Starsky, who looked back at him with what must be the same thought.

The Baron has already been here! I'd bet our last dollar that it's already gone and on its way out of town!

"Can you open this up?" Starsky asked Riggs.

"No, I don't have the master key. Once it's secure only the head of Security has the key. He's on his way in right now."

"Go wait for him," Palmer snapped to Riggs, his eyes on Starsky and Hutch. "We'll need to check."

"But--"

"Riggs, go! Don't put your job in any more jeopardy!"

Riggs looked at him a moment before it dawned on him that they thought the peacock was already gone. Going pale, he nodded once and pulled out his walkie-talkie, calling for someone upstairs to let him know when their boss had arrived.

"What's upstairs, right above this area?" Hutch asked Riggs excitedly.

Riggs looked at him blankly for a moment. "Oh, it would be the toy store."

Starsky reached out and put a hand on Smithson's shoulder. " Hutch and I'll go upstairs and see what's goin' on."

Hutch turned with Starsky and they ran back down the hall. Hutch was glad they'd both been paying attention to the twists and turns of the corridors so that they both could find their way out. They had to flash their badges to keep from being tackled by Security who apparently guessed that if you were running, you must have done something wrong.

Almost out of breath, they hit the stairs and climbed up to the main level, stopping once past the staff entrance and in the main hallway.

"So," Starsky began, panting, looking up and down the hallway. "We're thinking that The Baron has already gotten in that room and is using the distraction to get the peacock outside, right?"

"Yeah, but if so, he's already outside and long gone. Maybe if we can find the way he got into the room we can find a clue as to where he is now."

"Down there," Starsky announced pointing to his left. "It was down there."

Following Starsky, Hutch sprinted down the empty hallway to the cage-enclosed door. The pull-down cage only covered the door area, though, and as soon as Hutch got an idea he glanced at Starsky who shrugged and muttered, "Well, this is gonna cost us!"

Moving as one, they grabbed at a small, potted tree, pushed it over and picked it up by its trunk. Using it as a battering ram, they turned their faces away and struck the glass window in the front of the store.

Hutch heard hundreds of pieces of glass hit the tile floor inside. They used the tree once again to remove any dangerous shards left hanging. Dropping the tree, they carefully stepped in through the now empty window frame, knocking the display toys every which way.

They quickly searched the front area. Starsky held up his badge to keep out the upset security guards who came running at the sound. Hutch heard Riggs' voice over the walkie-talkies they carried, ordering his men to stay back and leave them alone.

This was a fairly large store, filled with stuffed animals and small souvenir games, and toys that had the Olympus' logo all over them. Seeing nothing amiss in the front area, Hutch headed for the back rooms behind the counter.

There was a small hallway, with one door on either side and one at the very end. Hutch opened the first door on his right. A small office. The one across from it was what looked to be a fair-sized storage room full of toys waiting to go on the shelves.

Hutch opened the room at the end of the hall. He stopped as he entered. It was a fairly large, single-toilet restroom. What held his attention was a small electric saw sitting on the floor in a pile of plaster dust and tiles, a sizable hole in the wall behind them.

Looks like we're a little late. And more than a dollar short.

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 2...

**********

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Next week on Starsky & Hutch:
"When the Chips Are Down, Part Two," by Sarah Problem

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