Noisy. Light's too bright. Head hurts. Feels like ashes in my mouth. Not again.
Close eyes. No. SHIT, head hurts. Focus on aspirin. Little white tablets...wash 'em down with ice cold water, get that lousy taste outta my mouth. It's just pain. Big strong cop, you can deal with it, Hutchinson.
What is that godawful noise?
"Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mi-ind...."
Hutch winced as the joyful din beside him grew worse and tried once again to dig the tiny tin of aspirin from his pocket. "Give me a break, will ya, Starsk?" he pleaded. "If you're gonna torture me, at least do it with something that fits the season, huh?"
"For your information," Starsky began in his best professorial tone, which only increased the clamor in Hutch's head, "Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is just around the corner."
"Aw, c'mon. The party didn't end 'til after two, and then…"
Starsky interrupted his warbling just long enough to flash his partner a warm and intimate smile. "Yeah," he said seductively. "I know."
Hutch blushed, amazed he still did after all this time, and pretended to give full attention to the two small white tablets that seemed determined to elude him. At last, he captured the aspirin, and gulped them down with a swallow of tepid coffee. That task completed, he turned his attention back to the street, squinting in the sunlight of the late summer afternoon. It had been a quiet day so far, for which he--and his hangover--were grateful.
"Zebra Three, Zebra Three."
Spoke too soon.
Starsky lifted the microphone, still humming under his breath, and spoke into it with a cheerful tone that made Hutch's temples throb. Dammit, how does that happen? They'd been up just as long, eaten the same lousy food, and drunk the same amount of beer. How the hell did Starsky escape a hangover every time, while Hutch inevitably found himself battling a blistering headache and embarrassing nausea?
"Zebra Three," Starsky responded. "What's up?"
"Owner of Blue Peacock requests assistance. Reports a gang of teenagers have been lifting tires from his parking lot for the last twenty minutes."
"Ten-four," Starsky said, glancing in his side mirror and one-handing the Torino into a tight U-turn. "We are responding."
Teenagers, Hutch thought with a silent groan as he turned on the mars light and clapped it onto the roof. And a gang, too--probably hopped up on a lethal combination of hormones and angel dust, thereby raising the risk factor exponentially. Starsky hit the siren with an apologetic glance toward his partner, as if he knew what the ululating shrieks were doing to Hutch's head. Hutch cast him a reassuring, if somewhat tremulous smile, then hung on and braced himself for the confrontation ahead.
Starsky cut the siren as they approached the restaurant. "The end of summer," he said as he pulled the Torino to the curb, his voice oddly conversational in the sudden silence. "Pencils...books...juvie jacket.... Your perfect back-to-school accessory." Ordering his head to stop pounding, Hutch shrugged and climbed out of the car.
"It's only the second call this week," he pointed out over the roof. "Don't act like there's an adolescent crime wave every time September rolls around." He scanned the parking lot of the Peacock, which at this time of the afternoon was filled with the Mercedes' and BMWs of businessmen pitching or closing deals over long lunches and multiple cocktails. He spotted a blond head bobbing above a green Jag in the farthest corner and pointed. "There."
Starsky studied the area, too. Restaurant to the north, two busy streets east and west, and an alley with an easily scaled stone wall on the south side. "We need back-up," he muttered, and leaned into the car window to request a silent squad car response. When he withdrew, he and Hutch crossed the street.
"I'll take the lot," Hutch decided. "That way they might not go for the streets, and if they panic and jump the wall…"
"I'll be waitin' for 'em with a new set of friendship bracelets," Starsky finished, patting the cuffs in his pocket.
They had reached the edge of the lot. Starsky strolled casually to the alley's mouth, whistling under his breath, then ducked inside, sliding across the southern wall so he could greet the perpetrators if they hopped over. Hutch watched until he knew Starsky was in position, then began his own seemingly aimless meander into the lot itself. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw two black-and-whites pull up to the curb; turning, he signaled the patrolmen to get out of their cars and cover the street exits.
"Maybe we'll get lucky and they'll run in a clump, like goats," Hutch mumbled inanely to himself, as he wove his way through cars whose upkeep probably ran more than he made in a year. "Gotta hand it to 'em, though, at least they've got the brains to go for the good stuff."
He heard the sound of excited voices and lowered himself silently to the ground, the headache forgotten as he focused on catching their young prey. Lying prone on the asphalt, he peered under a spotless undercarriage and found his luck was holding. From his vantage point, he could clearly see four teenagers: two busily removing the tire from a BMW, and two others packing the spoils into the nearby trunk of a discreet silver Caddy. Their clothes were clearly expensive. As Hutch watched, one of them pulled out a silver cigarette case and withdrew a neatly rolled joint.
Hutch rolled his eyes. This was one for the books, all right. A bunch of high society teenagers, boosting stuff they didn't need, strictly for the rush and a little extra cash. For what? Even as he asked himself the question, he knew the answer--for the funny little cigarettes that filled the fancy case.
"What did I tell you?" Cigarette Case Boy said in a strained voice, as he held the marijuana smoke in his lungs. "My dad comes here every Friday with half the bigwigs in the city. He's always braggin' about it…how they come to this 'dreadful' neighborhood and mingle with the common folks, and emerge unscathed every time." He blew out the smoke slowly, as if savoring its flavor and texture. Hutch could smell the sweet scent from his position on the ground, and surmised that the little rich boys had brought along the finest in Mexican gold. He lowered his risk estimate a little; at least it wasn't PCP.
One of the other boys turned his attention from the tire and peered up at the tall blond boy, who had drawn in another lungful of smoke. "Cut it out and get down, will ya, Pete?" he requested, shoving dark-rimmed glasses back up his nose with a grimy forefinger. "Standin' up there like that, smokin' that stuff, you might as well wave a flag that says, 'here we are'."
Drizzling the smoke from his lungs, the blond boy squatted to his haunches in a single graceful motion. He was athletic and tanned, with classic features and hair shining golden in the afternoon sunlight. For an uncomfortable moment, Hutch was reminded of himself at that age.
"Don't sweat it, Rex," Pete said with a brilliant smile. "That's why Daddy pays his lawyers the big bucks." He slung an arm around the skinny kid's shoulders, then pulled a silver flask from the hip pocket of his designer jeans and slapped it into his companion's palm. "Here," he encouraged. "Have a little liquid courage, on the old man."
Rex eyed the flask, apparently debating whether to further break the law or look like a complete twerp in front of his friends. At length he shrugged, twisted the top from the flask, and took a cautious sip. Hutch almost chuckled at the look on his face; clearly the flask's contents were flaming their way from his throat to an unaccustomed gut. He half-thought Rex would show a little sanity and pass the liquor back, but the boy's expression became obstinate and he took another, longer swig from the container.
Sighing silently, Hutch shifted to a more comfortable position on the ground and considered his options. Alcohol and marijuana were never a good mix, and combined with cocky, probably spoiled, wealthy kids trying to get a thrill and prove something to each other, it all added up, no doubt, to one of their less pleasant busts. Probably a good idea to put the brakes on, before the whole crew got too out of control.
Moving slowly to avoid disturbing gravel and his unsuspecting quarry, he eased himself to his knees, then his feet. "Daddy better pull out his wallet," he informed the four young men calmly, displaying his gun and his badge. "Time to freeze, gentlemen. You're all under arrest."
The two kids who had not spoken dropped instantly to the ground, shouting, "I surrender! Don't shoot!" The two patrolmen, having heard Hutch's command, charged to the scene and had cuffs on them before Hutch could move from behind the car. Dumping his tools, Rex leapt to his feet with surprisingly lightning quickness, and was out of sight almost before the lug wrench clanged to the pavement. Ignoring him, knowing Starsky would nail him when he vaulted the wall, Hutch turned his attention to the apparent ringleader, Pete.
The blond youth showed neither surprise nor dismay at the appearance of Bay City's finest. Lounging against the two-wheeled BMW, grinning insolently at the detective, he arrogantly pinched out the joint and returned it to his cigarette case. Still nagged by that eerie sense that he was looking at an alternate universe self, Hutch holstered his gun, then spun the teenager around and pressed him against the hood of the car...but checked his irritation. If there were ever a kid who would scream "police brutality," this would be the one. He patted the boy down. Finding only the cigarette case, flask, and an equally expensive lighter, he cuffed him and read him his rights.
Task accomplished, he turned toward the alley, expecting to see his partner emerge with nary a hair out of place. When seconds passed and Starsky didn't appear, he jerked his head toward one of the uniforms. "Keep an eye on them," he instructed, drawing his Magnum. "Keep 'em here until we get back, then we'll get the whole gang down to Metro."
"Okay, Hutch," the patrolman said agreeably.
Promptly forgetting both cops and captives, Hutch turned and sprinted toward the alley.
When he reached the entrance, he slowed and sidled along the stone wall's edge. Gun ready, he bent to a half-crouch, then peered cautiously around the corner. He spotted his partner immediately. Starsky was darting back and forth in pursuit of Rex who, despite his nerdy appearance, was fast and agile and had thus far evaded Starsky's best moves. Hutch watched for a moment in indecision. He doubted the kid was packing, and Starsky would be annoyed if Hutch tried to intervene too soon. Eventually, he shrugged and holstered his gun, but remained on alert in case Starsky tired or Rex decided to go on the offensive.
Trash cans clattered. The thin boy seemed to float up one wall, only to have Starsky haul him down. Then Starsky would grip him tightly, but Rex would twist free of his grasp, and the whole dance would begin again. Just as Hutch began to think about stepping in, however, Rex made a fatal mistake. Instead of dodging Starsky, he tried to run past him.
Hutch rolled his eyes. Teenagers. All brass balls and no brains.
Predictably, Starsky whipped out a precisely timed foot and dumped the kid out flat. Almost before Rex could breathe, his hands were shackled, and Starsky was dragging him to his feet. Gripping the boy by the arm and rattling off Miranda, Starsky guided him toward his partner, who was smiling in indulgent amusement at the end of the alley.
"See that?" Starsky said smugly. "Not even winded, and this kid's young enough for me to be his--"
His satisfied smile disappeared as the young man doubled over, emitted a terrifyingly strangled mewl, and covered the ground and his captor--but not himself--with evil-smelling vomit.
For a breath, the entire picture was suspended in time. Hutch had started to step toward Starsky and the prisoner; his hand remained half-raised in the air as his eyes widened in disbelief. But his horror was nothing compared to that of Starsky, who was covered from the knees down with the remains of the kid's lunch. His throat worked, and Hutch wondered in some insanely detached part of himself, if the burritos Starsky had downed that afternoon would soon follow.
Rex retched and sent a second wave after the first. Starsky set his lips firmly and, as fastidiously and delicately as a maiden cat, managed to step out of the way.
It bubbled up from some nasty little place inside before Hutch could stop it. His laugh rang through the alleyway and earned him a glare from his partner, who for once was clearly not amused.
"I'm sorry, Starsk," Hutch apologized, trying to swallow the mirth as Starsky swept past him with all the dignity of an English queen. "Here, let me give you a hand."
"No, thanks," Starsky said through clenched teeth. "Wouldn't want both of us to owe the dry cleaners this month."
"Dry cleaners?" Hutch echoed. "For your jeans and those tennis shoes? Throw 'em in the washer, and they'll be good as new in less than an hour."
Starsky turned toward him, holding Rex at arm's length as another ominous belch arose from the boy. The look in his eyes promised unending mayhem if Hutch didn't curb his laughter. It took an almost physical effort, but the blond detective managed to bring himself under control. "Um...tell you what, Starsk," he said, half-trying to make amends and half-needing to get away from the reek wafting toward him, "I'll go inside and see if the owner has some damp towels."
"You do that," Starsky muttered behind him, continuing to march stiffly toward the other three prisoners and the two patrolmen.
"Or a garden hose," Hutch couldn't resist adding as he hurried off.
He could feel the steely gaze on his back.
He meant it as a joke, but in the end that proved the most efficient and effective method of making his partner's appearance--to say nothing of his aroma--bearable. Starsky refused to allow the hapless youth and his precarious stomach into the Torino, and while the uniforms flipped for the honor of escorting him, the Peacock's owner loaned Hutch the hose he used to clean oil from the parking lot. The look on Starsky's face had become downright dangerous, and Hutch focused on his task to avoid further recriminations. And he was justifiably proud of not dissolving again at the station, when curious looks followed him and his very dignified partner to the locker room, where Starsky changed into a fresh pair of jeans.
The shoes, however, were goners. Forlornly, Starsky toed off one sneaker then the other, then padded to his locker. While Hutch watched, bemused, he dug around for a few moments and eventually emerged with a yellowed newspaper. Tenderly, almost reverently, he enveloped the pungent footwear and deposited the packet in the nearest trash can.
Hutch opened his mouth, thinking it might be time for him to offer some words of comfort. But Starsky dove into his locker again.
When he straightened this time, Hutch blinked at what he held. One eyebrow went up, as he looked from Starsky's hands to his eyes. His lips twitched on the journey upward, but Starsky's expression warned him that his mirth quotient was pretty well met. Silently, he watched as his partner tied the brand new, white-striped Adidas to his feet.
But he couldn't help wondering if Starsky had a lifetime supply of the sneakers in his locker, stacked and magically stored as in the fabled compartment of Fibber McGee.
For the first time in recent memory, they were caught up on their paperwork. Never ill-tempered for long, Starsky left his sourness in the locker room with his befouled clothes and lost footwear, and he again whistled cheerfully as he typed up the report on their "big crime caper." He could have written it in his sleep, and the simple matter of the work gave him ample opportunity to steal fond glances at his partner through lowered lashes. Hutch's headache seemed to be better, but the slight furrow between his brows suggested something was on his mind.
Starsky ripped the report out of the typewriter, signed it with a flourish, and returned the battered machine to its communal place on an empty desk. Tapping Hutch on the shoulder, he yanked his light cloth jacket from the back of his chair and nodded toward the door. "Let's go," he suggested. "Clear out before Dobey finds some nickel-and-dime thing for us to do."
His partner was clearly in agreement. He rose immediately to his feet and shrugged into his own jacket, as Starsky tossed the report and the slender file into Dobey's inbox. They left the squadroom, Starsky's steps light as he anticipated a quiet evening at home. Maybe they'd experiment with something new for dinner, if the sultry Bay City heat relented enough to make the kitchen bearable. He was in the mood for beef of some type--and a little beefcake later on.
The optimistic thoughts were jarred out of his head, as they turned the corner and headed for the main entrance. The longer-legged Hutch, who had been leading the way, had stopped so abruptly that Starsky had no time to correct, and ran right into him. Shaking his head to bring himself reluctantly into the present, he peered over Hutch's shoulder to see what had triggered this precipitous halt.
In the middle of the hall, engaged in an intense discussion that disregarded the constant traffic, were the boys they had just brought in. Sprung, apparently by the tall, distinguished-looking gentleman who stood, briefcase in hand and countenance firm, as he addressed the ringleader of the well-to-do gang.
"...will not stand for this for another minute, Peter Joseph Harrison," he stated sternly as the two detectives watched. Rivers of people streamed around the small gathering, casting curious but perfunctory glances before going about their business of enforcing or breaking the law. The teenager slouched, hands in his pockets. His demeanor was ostensibly subdued and obedient, but Starsky had seen enough of these kids to note the fists clenched defiantly in his pockets and the stubborn set of his shoulders.
"You are a leader in your school and your community," the tall man, obviously the blond boy's father, continued. "This is the third time I have had to cut short a business day to address your juvenile escapades, and I will not tolerate it further. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir," came from the lips set in a tight line.
"Now, when we get home, you will apologize to your mother for upsetting her, and then we will sit down and have a discussion about the types of people with whom you associate," Harrison's authoritarian voice went on. "I think you all should consider that--carefully." His gaze swept the other boys in the hallway, two of whom leaned against the wall not far from Pete, their faces pained with embarrassment over this public dressing-down. "James, Anthony, you should be ashamed of yourselves for causing this kind of disgrace to your family."
Harrison's hard, steel-gray eyes continued down the hall to find the last member of the tire-lifting party--the skinny dark-haired boy with thick spectacles. Unlike his peers, he had removed himself from the group, and sat dejectedly on the floor, head resting on his crossed arms. "And this...this..."
"Rex," the blond youth supplied helpfully, and Starsky did not miss the flash of insolence in his eyes.
"This...Rex," the elder Harrison went on, his lip curling slightly as he waved a hand contemptuously toward the huddled boy. "I had my doubts about your association with him in the first place, and now I know my instincts were correct. He could not be a worse person for you to befriend."
The boy curled into himself farther, as if to escape the tirade. Starsky was aware of Hutch in front of him, hardly breathing, as if the words were being hurled at him instead of the spoiled adolescent.
"Nouveau riche poseur," Harrison declared, spitting out the epithet as if the words tasted bad. "And if that weren't bad enough, I know for a fact that this boy is...morally unsound. I will not have you exposed to this tawdry lifestyle, I will not have the neighbors thinking that you..."
Amazingly, words seemed to fail him, and he merely shook his patrician head. "I've bailed you out for the last time, Peter, you and your friends. Now let's go. Your mother's waiting for us at home."
The two silent boys pushed themselves off the wall and followed, as Pete, head held high, marched away from his father and toward the exit. Harrison lingered for a moment, to crouch down beside the dark-haired boy, still hunched in a miserable heap on the station floor. "Now you listen to me, you little fairy," he snarled, in a voice that lifted the hair on Starsky's arms. "I know who and what you are, and I will not tolerate your taint on my son. Keep clear of him and his friends, or I'll see to it that you and your family don't have a moment's peace in our neighborhood. Is that perfectly clear?"
For a moment there was only pathetic stillness from Rex, like a vulnerable rabbit frozen in the headlights of rushing death. Then, almost imperceptibly, he nodded.
Harrison rose to his feet and strode purposefully away, clearly believing he had sufficiently dispatched this threat to his son.
Starsky's eyes flicked back to Hutch. Chest moving shallowly, Hutch was transfixed by the departing man. Starsky followed his gaze, wondering as he did what had Hutch so spooked.
Then he understood. The strident voice, the commanding I will not be disobeyed demeanor, even the expensive camelhair coat that swung arrogantly behind the aristocratic frame, were all eerily familiar. Especially, no doubt, to Hutch.
He touched a light hand to Hutch's shoulder, expecting his partner to jump, but Hutch merely turned to look at him. "What?" Starsky asked gently, though he was sure he knew the answer. For a moment, Hutch did not speak, his eyes only darting back toward the departing figure. Then he shook himself and favored Starsky with a faint smile.
"Nothin'," he assured his partner. "Come on, let's get outta here. This place stinks, worse than usual."
They took a few steps toward the door, then Hutch paused and determinedly retraced his steps. Starsky stopped, too, but held back as the blond crouched near Rex. He couldn't hear Hutch's voice, but he knew what he was saying. Are you okay, kid? Don't let that guy get to you. He's nothing but a bully, plain and simple. And if his son's anything like him, you're better off without him. The boy nodded, then replied briefly, wiping tears from under his fogged lenses. Hutch nodded, with a sympathetic look that Starsky knew, and that made his heart swell with fiercely renewed love for this man who had room in his soul for everyone, from the lowliest prostitute to the grimiest kid. Hutch placed a gentle, reassuring hand on the boy's shoulder and spoke at length.
Starsky figured he knew the gist of that conversation, too, and when Rex scrambled awkwardly to his feet as Hutch rose, he congratulated himself on his outstanding intuition. Accompanied by the lanky boy, Hutch returned to his partner. "Rex doesn't want to call his parents," he told Starsky matter-of-factly. "Since the charges were dropped--courtesy of Mr. Harrison--I thought we could save him some trouble and give him a lift home."
"Sure," Starsky agreed instantly, though he knew it would delay their quiet dinner. Earlier, he had been annoyed that the kid had lost his lunch all over him while sustaining nary a splash himself; now, he was grateful.
They dropped Rex off a discreet distance from his modest home. As Starsky pulled away, Hutch watched the dejected figure slink down the sidewalk, and knew Starsky was doing the same, despite his studied attention to the road. They drove a short distance in silence, then Starsky cleared his throat.
"Where we goin'?"
"My place, I guess," Hutch responded slowly. "There's food left from the party, and I bought some stuff for us when I went to the market."
"Your place it is." Starsky palmed the Torino into a turn, and they headed toward Venice.
They spoke idly of inconsequential topics on the way there. By the time they arrived, Hutch's headache had returned, as the incident with the teenagers refused to be left at the office.
Starsky was clearly feeling more buoyant than his partner, as he leapt up the stairs like a blue-jeaned gazelle. Following him, Hutch couldn't help but smile and feel gratitude well up inside him. He'd watched Starsky precede him up the stairs hundreds of times, maybe thousands, but there was something particularly reassuring about it since the shooting. After months of not knowing whether his partner would ever be the same, the sight of Starsky moving with his usual agile grace took his breath away in more ways than one.
Unlocking the apartment door, Starsky must have felt Hutch's eyes on him, for he glanced over his shoulder with a fond smile. "What?"
"Nothing," Hutch said, returning the smile and feeling his headache briefly retreat. "Just enjoying the view."
Starsky twitched his firm and well-muscled derriere. "Watchin's easy," he teased. "Are you planning on gettin' into the game?"
"Dinner first," Hutch insisted.
Above him, Starsky mock-pouted. Hutch reached the landing and nudged him gently out of the way.
"Stop it," he ordered. "Dinner means more stamina...and besides, anticipation's half the fun, right?"
He watched Starsky's eyes grow dark with lust and love, and risked a brief kiss on his partner's lips as he entered the apartment.
As usual, Starsky headed straight for the bathroom, while Hutch sorted absently through his mail--bills, a letter from his sister, solicitations from credit card companies who clearly had unrealistic ideas about a cop's earning potential. He dropped the stack onto his desk. Turning a knob on his new answering machine, he moved toward the bedroom to shed his jacket and holster.
Starsky had given him the thing for his birthday, soon after acquiring one himself, and Hutch still wasn't sure whether it was a blessing or a curse. It was easier for Huggy to alert them to the fact that he needed a meet, and they could ignore Dobey's grumbling if the matter wasn't urgent, simply by letting the machine answer and listening to the message before deciding whether to pick up the phone. And they'd both fallen into the habit of leaving each other and themselves reminders and, sometimes, tender messages during the work day.
On the other hand, both Huggy and Dobey's calls seemed to increase in direct relationship to the number of times they let the machine pick up.
Today, the messages were fairly benign. As he moved toward the kitchen and began poking through the fridge to select items for dinner, Hutch listened as Huggy rambled on, a dentist's office reminded him of an upcoming appointment, and Starsky whispered how much he loved him. That one made him smile, but the soft expression faded as the next voice emanated from the machine.
"Ken, it's your mother," Miranda Hutchinson began. Reflexively, Hutch's shoulders straightened as he busied himself with precision slicing of tomatoes. "Honey, I know you're busy, but I really need to know what your plans are for the Labor Day party. Cathy plans on coming and bringing a friend, and I want to be sure we have enough rooms aired and cleaned if you're coming, too…"
The bathroom door opened. Almost simultaneously, Hutch sliced his finger instead of the fruit, swore tersely, and took two quick strides to shut off the machine--but it was too late. He could sense Starsky's expression without even looking, so he avoided it as long as possible, giving careful attention to staunching the bleeding of his finger.
Eventually, however, he had to look up, and the combination of surprise and hurt in his partner's eyes was exactly what he had expected. Starsky nodded toward the machine.
"That was your mother."
Hutch sighed. No way around it. "Yes."
"You said you hadn't heard anything about the big Hutchinson bash this year."
Starsky's eyes narrowed, not angrily or even unhappily, but as if he were examining Hutch more closely, trying to find the answer in his face and his body language. "What's goin' on?"
His voice was soft and concerned, and Hutch felt a thousand times worse than he had for the past two weeks. Interesting. He hadn't thought that was possible. Cursing the machine, wishing he'd yielded to the numerous temptations of throwing it out the window, he tightened a washcloth around his injured finger, rehearsing a dozen answers in his mind. Finally, he gave up, shrugged somewhat helplessly, and told Starsky the truth.
"I don't know." He sighed. "It just seemed like it would be too...complicated this year."
"Complicated?" Starsky echoed. "Because of--?" His hand flicked back and forth between the two of them.
Hutch nodded. "They're judgmental enough as it is, Starsk. I mean, it's not like they're going to openly snub you, or treat you like--"
"Like that kid in the hall?" Starsky interjected.
Hutch laughed ironically, wondering why he was surprised. He'd been fussing over this decision since his mother's first phone call about the party, trying to decide what to do, but the events of this afternoon had cast considerable weight on the Don't go, don't even tell Starsky side. The emotional dismembering of that poor kid had played repeatedly in his head, like a film with an endless loop, and Starsky knew it, as well as if they'd both been in the same cranial theater.
"Right," he admitted. "I don't think my father would ever stoop to that level, but if he knew that we were...lovers as well as partners..." He shook his head. "I just don't know, Starsk. And I don't want to put you through that."
"Hey." Now there was an aggravated glint in Starsky's eyes, as he tossed the hand towel back into Hutch's bathroom and took a few steps past the threshold. "We've known each other long enough that you should have some things straight, Hutch. First is, you don't get to decide what's best for me. Second is, you sure as hell don't get to do that without talking to me first."
Hutch held up his hands in a conciliatory gesture. "I know, I know," he said soothingly. "But the weekend's never that much fun, it's mostly a bunch of rich people dropping names, comparing Mom and Dad's spread to their own, and driving the help batty with the latest fad diet. I just thought we'd skip it this year."
"Did you last year?" Starsky asked.
Hutch shook his head and sighed again. "No," he admitted. "I hardly ever get to see Cathy anymore, and I wanted to."
"Same thing, then," Starsky pointed out. "Let's go, see your kid sister, and have a good time. We can skip the name game, I think your folks' place beats yours and mine all to hell, and I'll be satisfied with a burger and a Coke."
"The Coke's not the problem," Hutch teased, relieved that Starsky wasn't angry. "It's all those exotic fixings you want, not to mention the precise level of charcoal the meat's gotta have before you'll shove it down your gullet."
"Hey, I'm a burger connoisseur," Starsky pronounced loftily. "I bet the 'help' will be glad to serve something all-American for a change."
Hutch snorted deep in his throat. Starsky's expression softened.
"You don't hafta tell them about us, Hutch," he said gently. "We've been keepin' the secret from Dobey for a long time. I think we can handle a weekend with your parents."
"Long weekend...four days," Hutch reminded him. "And trust me, it's gonna seem a lot longer."
"Four days," Starsky said thoughtfully. A mischievous glint entered his eyes, and he moved purposefully across the room to pull Hutch close. "Figure you won't want to do none of...this..." His lips brushed softly across Hutch's, as his pelvis did the same to his partner's lower regions. "...while we're in your folks' house."
Hutch felt a snort was the only reply that observation deserved.
Verbal reply, that is.
Starsky clearly felt the movement and firmness in Hutch's groin. He grinned and, impossibly, he pressed himself even closer. "So...seems we should get some extra...in...before we leave."
Hutch suddenly found it hard to breathe. Amazing, he thought. After all this time...
"What about...dinner?" he whispered, the words gently stirring the curls near Starsky's ears.
In answer, Starsky caught Hutch's head between his hands and, for several minutes, greedily devoured Hutch's lips with his own. Just as Hutch thought his knees were going to give, Starsky leaned back and grinned again.
"Food we can get at your folks'," he whispered. "Right now, I got all I want right here."
Starsky sat bolt upright on the bed. From the closet, Hutch glanced over his shoulder toward the door, one eyebrow raised inquiringly. For a moment, neither spoke, then Hutch called in a deliberately casual tone, "Come in."
The door flew open, and a blonde and pink blur blew swiftly across the room to envelop Hutch in hugs and delighted cries of "Ken! You're here! You have no idea how glad I am to see you!"
As Hutch hugged his sister tightly, nearly lifting her off her feet, Starsky leaned back onto his elbows on the bed, and appreciatively sniffed the smells of warmth and happiness Cathy Hutchinson Fuller always seemed to bring with her. Today, dressed in rose-colored shorts and a crisp sleeveless blouse, she bore the varied scents of berries, coconut, and the sunshine of late summer.
"You look terrific," Cathy said breathlessly, finally loosening herself from Hutch's grip and stepping back to examine him thoroughly. "You've been out in the sun...you've been working out...you've lost that gray look you had the last time I saw you."
Hutch ignored this last reference to gallantly return the compliment. "You look great, too, Cath. Doesn't she, Starsk?"
"She sure does," Starsky agreed with genuine fondness, as Cathy abandoned Hutch for him and gathered him into her tanned arms.
"And you!" she exclaimed delightedly. "Dave, you are almost too good-looking to be seen with this brother of mine."
"That's what I keep tellin' him," Starsky agreed modestly. "What can I say? I'm a sucker for the poor guy. Never a phone call, never a date...y'could tell he was desperate by the time I came around."
Hutch snorted and returned to the closet where he was, for reasons passing Starsky's understanding, hanging up four days' worth of shirts and slacks.
"So," Cathy said, clasping Starsky's hand in hers and turning to face her brother again. "How are you two? How's college...and the house-hunting?"
Hutch launched into a description of the various dwellings they had seen--and the many potential headaches each one's flaws represented--while Starsky simply grinned and drank his fill of the lively, lovely woman beside him. In many ways, she was a feminine version of Hutch, with the same golden-blonde hair and blue eyes. She was somewhat plumper than Hutch, and it gave her an appealingly soft and nurturing appearance. With her glowing tan and sparkling eyes, she was the picture of happiness and health.
"So, Dave," she was saying to him now. "Are you nervous being back in school?"
Starsky shrugged. "It's been okay so far," he admitted. "But it's been a long time since I cracked a book, and I never was a genius like the big blond here."
"Yeah, he always was first in his class," Cathy said proudly, beaming at her brother, who rolled his eyes. "And his grades weren't bad either."
The two of them dissolved into snickers and giggles. Accustomed to the way they were when they got together, Hutch shook his head indulgently and turned back to his unpacking, only to find everything was put away and he had nothing to do with his hands. He blushed and shifted awkwardly from one foot to the other. "Uh...where're Mom and Dad?" he asked at last, when his sister and his lover had finally contained themselves.
"On the boat, of course," Cathy replied. "We can't get Dad away from there since he reduced his hours at the hospital. He spends more time tinkering with it than ever. Mom's finally decided she either has to go along or forget seeing him until the lake freezes over."
Hutch nodded, cleared his throat, and thrust his hands into his pockets. As he gazed out the window toward the lake, he felt Starsky and Cathy watching him expectantly. Then, with a somewhat forced half-smile, he came to a decision and headed toward the door. "I'll, uh, just go down and see if I can catch them...say hello."
Behind his back, Cathy frowned, the furrow between her brows a mirror of Hutch's when he was puzzled or concerned. As soon as the door clicked softly closed, she turned to Starsky. "What's the matter with him?" she asked worriedly. "I mean, he looks great, but he seems...edgy."
Impressed but not surprised by Cathy's swift summing up of her brother's mood, Starsky shrugged. "He's been like this since we got on the plane in Bay City," he told her. "Fussin' about everything, snappin' at me, half off in another world. I think he's worried about what this weekend's gonna be like."
"What about it? Oh." Cathy's frown deepened as the question trailed away. "Is he...? He's not thinking about telling them this weekend, is he?"
"Don't know," Starsky admitted. "He's gone back and forth a dozen times since your mother first called. One minute, he's sure he's not ready, the next, he thinks he'd better tell them before they find out some other way."
"Dave, this would be the worst possible time," Cathy said decisively. "All their society friends are here, and some of Dad's colleagues from the hospital. He'd blow a gasket if Ken dropped this on him now."
"Cathy, will you tell me something?"
"If I can," Cathy said somewhat absently, her gaze drifting back to the door as she nibbled on a shell-pink nail.
Starsky hesitated. It was a question he'd wanted to ask Hutch for almost as long as they'd known each other, but every time he introduced the topic, Hutch shut down completely. Press him, and the fireworks began. But things were different now--they were different now--and this particular question was growing in importance. "What's with your dad and Hutch? I mean, I've known Hutch a lotta years, and I've heard him talk about his dad maybe a dozen times. And I've met the man exactly twice." He hesitated again, then continued quietly, "Is there something there that I should...know about?"
"Like what?" Cathy asked, puzzled. At the look in Starsky's eyes, though, she shook her head emphatically. "No, nothing like that," she reassured him. "Dad's a good man, he really is, and he's way too well-bred to take a hand to either of us. Besides, he grew up in a different generation, you know, where the father's job was to put the food on the table and the clothes in the closet, and the mother took care of the kids. For the most part, he was just this person we had to be quiet for when he came home at night." She sighed. "The only time Ken really got his attention was either when he really, really excelled at something...or when he did something wrong." She half-smiled, but it was a sad one. "Ask Ken to tell you about the speeding ticket sometime," she said softly. "That'll give you a pretty good picture of the relationship they had--still have, really."
"What...?" Once again Starsky hesitated, but again he found the courage to push through. "What do you think he'd say about...?" It was his turn to let the question trail away.
"About you and Ken?" she supplied. Starsky nodded. She sighed. "Well, he won't be happy, I can tell you that."
Starsky wasn't really surprised, given Hutch's studious avoidance of both contact and conversation related to his father over the years, but he was disappointed. "You don't think that...being a shrink, I mean...he'd be kind of used to this kind of thing?"
Again, Cathy shook her head. "You have to understand some things about my dad, Dave," she said gently. "I've seen him a few times with his patients And he is...he's great with them; he really is--very caring and incredibly accepting. But it's like..." She groped for the words, squinting and staring at the ceiling with that frown. "...it's like the rules are different at home. He's got a position to maintain, a reputation to protect, and really, nothing comes before that. I know Ken always felt like Dad's love came with all these strings and conditions attached...and I'm afraid he's right."
"You seem to be okay," Starsky observed.
"Oh, I'm different, I'm Daddy's little girl," she teased him. "All I had to do was marry well and start giving him grandchildren, and I've done that." She sobered then, and her eyes sought Starsky's, their blue depths pleading. "Listen, Dave...I know Ken hates secrets and deception, and I know this is going to be hard for him. But, please...if there's any way you can, try to talk him out of saying anything this weekend. It was tough enough on him when Dad found out he was becoming a cop. This...well, this is not something you tell my father when he's in his 'pillar of society' role."
With a tinge of anger, Starsky said tightly, "Hutch's happiness should be more important to him than what a bunch of other people think."
"You're right, it should," Cathy agreed ruefully. "But it isn't. There's no point in Ken making this any harder on himself than he has to. It'll be better for everyone if he waits."
Starsky sighed. "All right, all right," he said reluctantly. "I'll see what I can do."
"Great," Cathy said gratefully. "Now, c'mon...I want you to meet Polly."
Meanwhile, the topic of their conversation was striding toward the jewel blue of Darabian Lake, where the Hutchinsons kept a number of watercraft, operated by motor or sail.
As Hutch neared the lake, he shielded his eyes against the glare of the sun from the water and almost immediately spotted the white sails of the Id. The majestic sailboat was his father's pride and joy; the name was a classic example of Richard's ironic humor, since, as he often said, "I live a life ruled more by superego." A petite, dark-haired girl, dressed in a white bikini top and faded denim shorts, was standing on the pier, waving as the graceful craft dipped toward her, then swooped away. By the boat's swift, sure movements, Hutch knew his father was at the tiller.
He stopped at the end of the pier as the Id skimmed away. The girl turned, looked him up and down, and grinned. "Oh, you have to be Ken," she greeted him cheerfully. "You look just like your dad."
Hutch gave her the obligatory fake smile he always gave in response to this non-compliment.
"I'm Polly Drake," she went on, extending her hand. "Cathy invited me out for the big weekend."
They shook hands, then Polly turned back to gesture toward the Id. "Your dad's boat is gorgeous. Have you seen it since he's been fixing it up?"
"Nope," Hutch responded. "I live in California. Don't get out here too often."
"Oh, right, you're a cop!" she exclaimed, the silky black hair twitching to one side as she turned to look at him again. "Cathy told me you're a homicide detective, right?"
She grinned at him again. "Yep, nope. My, aren't we the laconic one?" she mocked gently. "Who are you, Dirty Harry?"
Hutch chuckled. Despite his trepidation about seeing his father, he found himself relaxing in this girl's presence. She was so open and unself-consciously chatty, he couldn't help responding, "Cathy's been talking about me, huh?"
"Bragging is more like it," Polly said with a comical roll of her dark eyes. "She says, among other things, that you're quite a marksman. Not to brag, but I'm pretty good, too. Do you ever shoot while you're here?"
"Sometimes," Hutch replied evasively. Richard Hutchinson had a small collection of handguns and had set up a target area a suitable distance from the house. Though Hutch knew he could outshoot his father even on a bad day, he rarely accepted the invitation to do so. Richard tended to turn recreational target practice into a fierce competition, and wasn't too pleasant to be around when Hutch easily beat him. "It's too much of a busman's holiday for me," he added, trying to lighten his own mood, and then skillfully changed the subject. "So, how do you and Cathy know each other?"
"We both play tennis at the club," Polly answered. "Our better halves wanted to play doubles for a while, but Cathy and I got tired of playing for blood. So now we let Craig and Pat beat each other's brains out, and we take a court at the other end and have fun."
"Do you have kids in Brian's play group, too?" Eyes on the Id, mind only half on his attempts at pleasant conversation, Hutch assumed Polly must be Cathy's age and thus married with children, too. Brian was Cathy and Craig's precocious two-year-old son, who had delighted his uncle at last year's Labor Day party by producing a version of his name that was almost recognizable.
"No, but I have a cat that weighs about as much as he does." Her voice sounded surprised that he'd ask, but at that moment, Hutch was distracted by a soft bump that announced the approach of the Id, which his father was maneuvering into its slip at the dock.
Suddenly, he felt like an awkward and inadequate adolescent, waiting for his father's return home, knowing he had a poor report card in his pocket. He stepped back from the slip and wiped damp palms on his jeans. Polly moved forward to help secure the bowline to the pier's cleats, and Hutch watched as his mother stepped with surprising nimbleness from the boat to the dock. Her face lit up when she saw him, and she hurried to gather him in her arms.
"I'm so glad you decided to come," she exclaimed, breathless from the strength of Hutch's return hug. "Where's David?"
"Up at the house, with Cathy," Hutch replied, rolling his eyes. "You know how those two are when they get together...can't separate them with a crowbar for the first twelve hours, and can't stay in the same room with them either."
Miranda laughed, then drew back as if to examine him more closely. Hutch did the same, pleased to see she looked happy and fit.
Though the blond, blue-eyed Hutchinsons all resembled each other to a certain extent, Hutch, as Polly had noticed, took strongly after his father. Cathy's petite frame, delicate cheekbones and catlike chin, however, were clearly inherited from her mother. Like her daughter, Miranda Hutchinson was nearly a foot shorter than her son, and her physique was slender and compact, testament to a healthy diet and plenty of exercise. She was more tanned than Hutch remembered, probably due to the increased time outdoors, and her silvering hair framed her face in a new style that was short, sleek, and flattering. Her smooth skin bore fewer lines than expected, given her age, and Hutch knew she spent hours with anti-aging treatments--not out of personal vanity, but because she was always conscious of Richard's standing in the community and her role in helping maintain it.
She selected her clothing with as much care as she lavished on her complexion, and she monitored the household staff with a sharp eye to the smallest domestic detail. Her keen awareness of the family's social status extended to the children, and she expected both Ken and Cathy to conduct themselves with dignity and maturity. Even now, Hutch could instantly recall a myriad of childhood reminders and gentle corrections: Stand up straight, dear, and Let's find something a little more appropriate for you to wear, and This isn't the time or the place for this discussion. She tolerated little criticism or even discussion of Richard's flaws, and never in front of non-family members.
But Hutch knew there was more to his mother than simply the gracious hostess and lovely, learned doctor's wife, and he admired the deft way she kept harmony in the Hutchinson household. Though her loyalty and love for his father was absolute, she also seemed to sense how much Richard demanded of their son, how rarely Hutch gained his approval, and how desperately he longed for it. As if to compensate, she had tried to find the occasional opening in her social schedule to attend his various school functions, encouraged him when he labored over tests or homework, and praised him wholeheartedly when he brought home awards and trophies. Even in adulthood, Hutch could count on at least a dozen hugs and kisses from Miranda each time they saw each other. He could not recall his father doing the same, even once.
Miranda had clearly shared Richard's disappointment when Hutch had chosen law enforcement over medical school, but once the decision had been made, her support had been subtle but staunch. After Vanessa left, Richard had responded with displeasure and a catalogue of things Hutch must have done wrong, but Miranda had simply inquired after her son's welfare. And when he told them Starsky had been shot, Richard had accepted the news without comment, other than to ask medical questions Hutch couldn't answer, and hadn't the stomach to. Miranda had only murmured her sympathy, but the next day, a colorful, tasteful bouquet had arrived at Starsky's house. It bore both his parents' names, but Hutch knew who had sent it.
In short, she had always been an island in the often tumultuous and overwhelming sea of life with his father.
"Ken," his mother's voice came, interrupting his thoughts. "You're staring. Is my hair a mess from being on the boat?"
"Yep," Hutch teased, as he gave her another quick, affectionate squeeze. "Looks like Phyllis Diller on a bad day, and the entire Lady's Auxiliary is on the porch, just waiting to capture it for next month's newsletter."
"Oh, hush." One hand went automatically to her hair, but her smile widened fondly as she laid the other hand on Hutch's cheek, as if assuring herself that the healthy color and firm flesh were real. "You look wonderful," she declared. "Last time we saw you, you looked so worried--almost
Though he knew she was delighted by his improved appearance, Hutch shifted uncomfortably under her gaze. "It was a rough year," he said softly. "Things are...better now."
"I can tell," she returned, then her delicate brows drew in as she continued to look at him. "There's something else," she mused. "Something that hasn't been there for a while. It's almost like you're--" She paused, the pensive frown deepening, as if she were groping for a memory.
In love, Mom?
Panicking, worried she would guess his feelings despite his attempts to keep them hidden, Hutch sorted rapidly through a dozen evasive responses to the expected query. Ironically, he was saved from answering by his father, who had finished securing the boat and was now striding toward them.
Typically, however, the rescue from the proverbial frying pan was followed by an immediate descent into the accompanying fire.
"Ken," Richard said as he joined them, the stiff greeting a cold contrast to Miranda's warm embrace. His clinical gaze swept his son from head to foot. "You're looking...well."
"You, too," Hutch returned cordially, conscious of the formality in his own tone.
"Yes, well, a little relaxation after a long day's work never harmed anyone," Richard declared.
"True," was all Hutch could think of to say.
There was a moment of silence, and Hutch counted the pulse in his head, praying for at least a postponement of any unpleasantness. But it was not to be, for Richard rocked back on his heels and said disapprovingly, "We weren't sure you were coming. It took you quite a while to give your mother an answer."
"Yeah, well," Hutch stammered. Again, he searched desperately for a response that wouldn't send him straight into the lion's maw, but his adult brain abruptly deserted him, leaving an unarmed adolescent in its place. "We've been pretty busy, with work and the class and all," finally emerged, seemingly of its own volition. "And besides," he went on hurriedly, when Richard looked dissatisfied with that explanation, "we weren't sure until the last minute if we could afford it."
The second the words left his mouth, he delivered a mental slap to his forehead. Oh, sure, just give him the opening, why don't you?
As expected, Richard's shoulders rose and fell in an overly patient sigh. "Yes," he murmured. "I imagine it would be a strain on a police officer's income."
Prickles of annoyance clawed up and down Hutch's spine. He shifted his feet, acutely aware of Polly, who was watching with carefully neutral eyes, and his mother, whose expression handed him the responsibility of backing down. With some difficulty, he bit back his retort about psychiatrists growing rich on other people's misery and settled for a tight, non-committal smile.
Mercifully, Miranda stepped swiftly into the opening he provided, tucking one hand through Richard's arm. "Let's go up to the house," she suggested. "I imagine everyone would like to shower and change before dinner."
She gently tugged her husband toward the path leading to the house, while Hutch and Polly remained behind. Fighting to regain his composure, Hutch unclenched his fists and reminded himself that he didn't want to spend the next four days choking down resentment at his father's disappointment.
"Wow," he heard Polly whistle beside him. "That was totally unexpected." She turned to look at him, dark eyes a mixture of bewilderment and sympathy. "Your dad's been a charmer since I got here," she observed. "Where the heck did that come from?"
Hutch drew in a ragged breath and puffed it out. "From being in the same space as me," he replied tersely.
She seemed about to speak again, but his expression must have reflected the miserable struggle within. She simply laid a hand briefly on his arm, squeezed, and started up the path to the house; Hutch followed.
En route from Hutch's guest room to the dock, Starsky and Cathy had paused at the white wrought-iron table on the front porch so Cathy could spread out the latest pictures of Brian. Almost immediately, a member of the house staff appeared with a pitcher of ice-cold lemonade, set it in front of them, and poured tall glasses of the tart concoction. The two looked at each other, as the plump woman retreated, then Starsky grinned, and clinked his glass against Cathy's.
"I'd rather stay here anyway," he admitted. "Watching the first fireworks between Hutch and your dad'll be a lot more bearable in the shade."
"They'll be here soon, and you can meet Polly then," Cathy agreed. "Besides, I wouldn't want to hurt Jamie's feelings--she makes the best lemonade in the state."
Starsky took a sip from his glass and closed his eyes in ecstasy. "Can't argue with you there," he moaned as the sweet/sour liquid slipped down his throat.
"Okay, now I want to hear all about this course you're taking," Cathy urged Starsky after she had sampled her own lemonade. "Ken refuses to say anything other than the topic and when it is. He said he wanted you to tell me about how you're doing and what you think of it."
"He would," Starsky snorted, nearly sending a burning shot of lemonade up his nose. "Yeah, he'd want me to tell you about all the trees that were sacrificed for the first Starsky composition. Meanwhile Hemingway sits down at the typewriter, starts playing the thing like it's his damned piano, and bing." He snapped his fingers. "In the time it took me to write one sentence, he whips off another Hutchinson masterpiece."
Cathy was laughing merrily and had to plant her glass on the table before she spilled lemonade on both of them. "Oh, c'mon, you must be exaggerating," she chided. "I remember Ken spending hours on his papers when he was in college, trying to get them just right--"
She halted, laughter fading to be replaced by a demure half-smile. Puzzled, Starsky half-turned in his chair to locate the cause for her change in mood, and understood perfectly. Richard was ascending the front steps, accompanied by his wife and followed by Hutch and a dark-haired girl Starsky assumed was Polly. Leaning back in his chair, he felt the emotional temperature drop several degrees and figured Hutch and his father had already had their first run-in.
He ostensibly concentrated on his lemonade, while Cathy, Miranda and Richard exchanged a few words, but his eyes were flicking back and forth between Hutch and his father, amazed as always that two people could share so many surface features and yet look completely different. Like Hutch, Richard's frame was long, lean, and athletic, and though his hair was tinged with silver now, it was clear it had once been as golden as his son's.
But their carriage was different. Despite the childhood instructions, Hutch tended toward a loose-limbed posture that occasionally became an outright slouch, while his father's stance would have made a drill sergeant proud. Hutch's mouth, though it could be tight and hard in times of annoyance or confrontation, was also often soft and tender, even vulnerable. Looking at Richard's stern, unyielding lips, Starsky couldn't imagine them trembling at the sight of a teenage junkie, smiling or laughing with the sudden freedom and joy that lit Hutch's entire face, or touching anyone with affection or love.
The tight mouth now turned up minutely at the corners as Richard regarded Starsky with a flat, unemotional gaze. "Mr. Starsky," he said formally. "I understand you've joined us as well."
Some juvenile part of Starsky wanted to laugh out loud at this obvious statement that served as Richard's excuse for a greeting, but he curbed the impulse for Hutch's sake. He could practically feel his partner's tension from where Hutch stood at the foot of the steps, hands stuffed into his back pockets, head down, one toe drawing invisible lines in the perfect lawn.
"Dr. Hutchinson," he managed to say levelly. "Thanks for having me."
"Yes, well, continue to make yourself at home," Richard said, with a meaningful glance at the glass of lemonade, then crossed the porch and went into the house.
Miranda stayed behind for a moment, to squeeze Starsky's shoulders in a brief but welcoming hug, then followed her husband inside.
For a moment, no one said anything, and everyone studiously avoided looking at Hutch. Starsky swapped glances with Cathy, who introduced Polly to her brother's partner. Starsky and Polly exchanged the usual greetings, teased each other about being "the token brunettes," then fell into an awkward pause. After a moment, Polly excused herself, and turned to speak to Cathy in a soft, hushed tone, as if the situation had turned funereally grim.
Starsky turned his gaze to Hutch, still in mute choreography on the grass. He debated with himself, knowing how mercurial Hutch could be at these moments, then shrugged and pushed himself up from the chair.
He was descending the steps when Hutch suddenly wheeled and strode away, hands still jammed into his pockets, back stiff in that Leave me alone look Starsky knew well.
There was silence again, then Cathy's voice, gently: "He's probably going back to the lake, Dave, if you want to go talk to him." She sighed. "He spent a lot of time there when we were growing up."
"No-o," Starsky said, reluctantly conceding that he needed to honor Hutch's silent request. "He probably ought to be by himself for a while, pull himself together."
"Well, then, you can come on up here and have another glass of lemonade," Polly said brightly, clearly trying to lighten the mood. "We'll leave Ken the seeds and rind. That'll teach him to go off in a snit and leave us alone with the likes of you."
Forcing a smile, Starsky wrenched his eyes from his partner's retreating back and complied, rejoining the girls at the table.