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Mortal Coil

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MORTAL COIL

By Elizabeth Lowry

 

“Find anything yet?”

Hutch shook his head, not looking up.

Starsky slouched a bit further down into his chair. “Bummer.” It wasn’t that the chair was uncomfortable, it was just his habit.

Hutch flipped through a stack of computer printouts. “There's just not enough  here,” he murmured. “No connections...nothing.”

“What?” Owens turned to look at Hutch. Phillip Owens and Hutch sat back to back in the cramped squad room.

“Nothing,” Hutch replied, turning slightly toward Owens. “Just talking to myself.”  He gave a half-hearted smile.

Owens returned the smiled, then returned to his work.

Starsky grinned, bringing his hands behind his head and stretching out his legs. “Bad habit, Hutchinson, talking to yourself. People will think you're crazy.”

Hutch glared at Starsky, who continued to grin back at him. Hutch ignored him and returned his gaze to the printouts.

“Hutchinson!”

Hutch turned around again, this time toward the door.

“Let's roll. Looks like we've got another one.” Jonathan Brand rubbed a thumb across his forehead. He looked tired, he looked irritated, he looked frustrated. Sweat beaded across his brow.

Hutch groaned inwardly and glanced at Starsky. Starsky shrugged. “Maybe it won't be related,”  he said half-heartedly, then tossed his head as if to say “go on.”

Hutch rose and lifted his jacket off the back of his chair. “Where this time?” he asked Brand.

“Western and 57th,” Brand answered. “Liquor store dumpster. Another kid.”

“It's related,” Hutch pronounced tiredly to Starsky.

Brand held the door to the squad room open as Hutch passed through. “This horror has got to stop,” Brand said. “You find anything in those printouts yet?”

 Starsky slid through the door behind them.

Hutch slipped into his jacket as they walked down the hall. “Only about 75 convicted felons living within a 5 block radius. Gangs. Gambling encroaching from Compton and the track. Chop shops. Drugs. Prostitution.” Hutch sighed. “How many officers do we have canvassing?” They reached the elevator.

“Two uniforms,” Brand smiled sweetly, sarcastically. They took the elevator to the garage. “But it could be a hundred, and still no one would have anything to say to us.” The elevator came to a stop and the doors opened. “Partner—” Brand put his hand on Hutch's shoulder, “—we're going to have to pull this one out of thin air.”

Hutch looked at Starsky. “Thin air.”

Starsky gestured as if he were a magician.

 

vvv

 

Hutch sat on his heels and studied the broken concrete of the back alley. Cigarette butts. Used condoms. Stale vomit. A used tampon. Actually about the same as you might find on Venice Beach these days. Hutch dropped his face into his hands, then stood up. Brand walked over.

“No ID on the kid yet. Maybe 8 years old. Maybe 9. Maybe 10. African-American. No signs of molestation—at least recent molestation. Strangled.” Brand ticked off the list from his pocket notebook. “I'm ready to release the body to the coroner. You?”

Hutch nodded. Brand signaled back to the group gathered around the dumpster. A couple of men began prepping the body for removal. A criminologist continued to bag evidence. “I'm gonna personally pull the balls off this bastard when we catch him. What do you think?” Brand turned back to Hutch.

“You know what I think,” Hutch answered. “I think he's getting rid of his victims. This is the fourth kid, and you know as well as I do the coroner's going to find evidence of past molestation.” He motioned to a uniform, who immediately walked over. “Drive over to Washington and La Brea to get an I.D. on the boy.”

“Gut feeling?” the officer asked.

Brand shrugged. “That's where all the other victims lived.”

The uniform nodded and left.

Hutch took a look around the alley. A few rubberneckers were hanging around, old men, liquor store denizens. The store owner was standing vigil at his back door, arms held tightly against his chest, brow furrowed. Three teens, probably gang members, were hanging at the south end of the alley.

Hutch glanced down at the north end. Starsky appeared from around the far corner, next to an old apartment building.  He motioned to Hutch. Hutch turned back to Brand. “Uh, I'm going to take a last walk-around. I'll meet you back at the car in a few.”

Brand nodded an okay and walked back to the coroner's wagon. Hutch strode down the alley.

“Anything?” Starsky asked.

“No. You?”

Starsky raised an eyebrow. “Nothin'. Didn't see anyone, didn't spot any possible evidence. Cased the whole building, too.”

Hutch eyed him warily. “You do any breaking and entering?”

Starsky turned his face away from Hutch. A slight smile played upon his lips. “Not yet,” he said under his breath.

Hutch heard him anyway. “You know what I've told you about that. You may be able to get away with it, but I sure as hell can't justify it.”

Starsky looked back at Hutch. “If it's important, we'll figure out a way.”

“Starsk, I am not losing a case because of inadmissible evidence, improperly served warrants, or anything else of that nature.” Hutch shook his head. This was a losing battle with Starsky of late. And even though they'd never played exactly by the book, this was a little farther than they'd taken things before. Starsky not only wanted to do a walk-through of every place they investigated, but he'd been hinting of late he'd be happy to make evidence “available” to Hutch. “Starsk,” he warned again, “I've got to have better reasons for a search warrant than my partner cased a joint and pointed out the smoking gun.”

“Just trying to help out.” Starsky smiled, waggling an eyebrow at Hutch. “I did another test of our ‘50 yard rule’.”

“Yeah?” Hutch lost his anger, his interest piqued by this new topic.

“Further than 50 yards, and I’m there instead of here.” Starsky shrugged. “Coolest feeling.” He looked pleased.

Hutch glanced back up the alley. Brand was walking back toward them. “Uh-oh. Gotta go.”

Starsky also saw Brand coming their way. He sighed. “Okay,” he began ambling back toward the apartment building. “Catch you later.” He raised a hand in departure and disappeared. Brand was flipping through pages in his notebook as he walked up to Hutch

“No one around here can I.D. the kid. I'll bet the so-called evidence Perea is bagging is just the regular neighborhood crap. I think the kid was just dumped here, out of his neighborhood, like the others.”

Hutch took a deep breath of Los Angeles muck and held it. “This is not my favorite case.”

Brand turned around, shoving his notebook in his coat pocket. “'Like to know why you got assigned anyway,” Brand mumbled under his breath.

“What?” Hutch asked.

“Nothing.” Brand was still turned away from Hutch.

“You mean, why put a white boy down in South Central?” Hutch prodded.

“I didn't mean anything.” Brand pulled his shoulders back and faced Hutch

“You ready to roll?”

Hutch didn't blink. “Fine.”

Hutch followed Brand back to the car.

 

vvv

 

Hutch tried laying perfectly still on his back, sheet pulled up nice and tight over his body.

Didn't work.

Neither had lying on his left side, his right side, his stomach, his head propped up with two pillows, his head propped up with one pillow, the sheet on his body, the sheet off his body, the window open, the window closed, the radio on, the radio—Starsky lifted the sheet and slid in next to Hutch. Starsky's skin was wonderfully cool and blissfully alive.

“Does your brain ever shut down?” he asked softly. He ran a finger over Hutch's forehead, then down his nose.

Hutch turned his head to look at Starsky. He closed his eyes and shook his head. “You're a miracle.”

Starsky let his finger slide over Hutch's lips, down his chin, up around his jaw line. “How many times have I told you to stop looking for explanations?” he said wearily.

Hutch grabbed Starsky's finger. He held it away from his body, studying it, as if trying to memorize it. Then he released it. Hutch sat up, bringing his knees to his chest, wrapping his arms around his legs. “Acceptance has always come easy to you. I need reasons.”

Starsky remained on his back. He took his finger and began tracing patterns on Hutch's back. “We belong together. Reason enough for me.”

“I don't think I could've gone on if you hadn't come back to me.”

Starsky grinned. “Yes, you could have, babe. But I like that I did get to come back.”

“All those weeks you were in the hospital. All the surgeries, all those doctors standing there letting you die, while I watched you through that window…trying to bring down Gunther and landing in lawyer hell. Old obstacles. New partners. It was just too much—“ Hutch shivered under Starsky's light touch, then looked straight at Starsky. “Tell me again.”

“Shit, no.” Starsky rolled onto his side, away from Hutch.

Hutch rested his cheek on his upraised knees, his face toward Starsky. “I keep thinking, the next time you tell it, I'll find the answer I've been missing.”

Starsky sighed. He rolled back toward Hutch. “There's no missing answer.” Then he sighed again, resigned. “I don't think it's something you can really understand until you've felt it yourself.” Again, he touched Hutch, running his palm over Hutch's firm upper arm. “I was dizzy,” he began quietly. “Felt like the air had gotten heavy and fallen to the ground, there was nothing to breathe. I could hear a buzzing in my ears and everything else sounded far away.” He pulled on Hutch's arm. Hutch resisted briefly, then eased back down to lay next to Starsky.

“I could see, but I wasn't looking.” Starsky frowned. “I mean, I could see, but I could swear my eyes were closed.” He looked for understanding from Hutch, who nodded at any rate. “And then my whole body began to vibrate. I held my breath so I could hear my heart and make sure it was still beating. But once I held it, I couldn't let it go. I kept wanting to breathe, but I just couldn't take a breath in or let one out. My chest was frozen”

Hutch put his palm on Starsky's chest, over his heart. Cool, dry, skin. Chest rising and falling.

“Felt like my head was going to burst,” Starsky continued. And there was this sick, yellow light everywhere. And it was suffocating me. And that's what it felt like.” Starsky put his hand over Hutch's.

“And what I kept thinking was, 'this is not how it's supposed to be.' It's supposed to be beautiful and peaceful and wonderful, and there's supposed to be a light guiding me forward. But this is like drowning in a bowl of chicken soup.” He chuckled. Hutch just kept looking at him. “And it was tearin' me up inside that I couldn't see you, or find you. I kept thinking, if I could just see you and grab onto you, I could breathe again.”

Hutch squeezed his eyes shut. Starsky reached over and stroked his temple “I know you were there, babe, watching me, holding onto me, I just couldn't feel it.”

Hutch opened his eyes. “I know,” he lied.

Starsky grinned crookedly. “Liar,” he teased. He let his hand caress Hutch's face, stroke his shoulder, follow Hutch's arm back to the hand over his heart.  “Felt like forever,” Starsky continued. “Wrapped up in some kind of blintz dough. Yellow everywhere. Couldn't yell. Couldn't breathe. Couldn't move. Thought I would go crazy.” He smiled a little more. “I think that's when it happened.”

Hutch told the rest of the story. “You came back.”

“Suddenly I was next to you, just like this.” Starsky scooted closer to Hutch. “Only you had a much more panicked expression on your face than now,” Starsky laughed. 

Hutch didn't get the joke. He never got this joke. “I thought you were dead,” Hutch breathed wondrously.

“I was!” Starsky laughed again, delighted. “Clinically, technically dead! You brought me back!” Starsky lifted himself up and moved to hover over Hutch’s body. “Best thing you ever did for me,” he murmured, lowering himself to place a kiss on Hutch’s lips.

Hutch’s hands slid around Starsky’s back, stroking the smooth skin, tracing the masculine musculature. He pulled Starsky into a strong embrace, holding him against his torso, enjoying the full-body sensation. Calf pressing against calf, thigh pressing against thigh, belly pressing against belly—hard—harder.

Starsky continued to kiss him, slow, deep kisses that spoke of time and continuance, permanence and faith. Starsky sucked on Hutch’s lips until he could feel them swell.

“Sometimes,” Starsky said softly, “all I want is just a part of you in my mouth. A lip, a tongue….” Starsky stopped to suck Hutch’s tongue in his mouth, to measure it, to taste it. “Or maybe a succulent nipple….” Starsky formed sucking kisses on Hutch’s throat, which traveled down to Hutch’s breast, then over to Hutch’s nipple. Starsky sucked and measured and tasted this piece of flesh, too.

Hutch shifted pleasurably and stroked his fingers lazily along Starsky’s back.

Starsky released the hardening nub and nuzzled it with his nose. “Sometimes,” he said, his voice husky and low, “I want a more substantial offering, something more generous and filling….” Starsky used the tip of his tongue to trace a roundabout curlicue down to Hutch’s pubis. Starsky’s arms moved under Hutch’s legs and he slid Hutch’s thighs onto his shoulders, at the same time lifting himself erect and pulling Hutch’s ass off the bed and leaving only Hutch’s shoulders and head on the mattress.

Hutch loved this show of strength in Starsky’s body. He shifted to spread his weight more evenly.

Starsky bore the weight easily, his attention focused on the alive and lively cock in front of him. Starsky licked at it, blew on it, teased it to a throbbing heat, then took it in his mouth and used it for his pleasure as well as Hutch’s. Starsky’s tongue measured the circumference of Hutch’s cock, felt it’s skin grow taut, felt it throb inside his mouth.

Hutch closed his eyes and let sensation override thought, let the rasp of Starsky’s tongue and the pressure inside Starsky’s mouth send slivers of electricity through his body to his brain. He was vaguely aware Starsky was holding him steady as his back arched and his hips bucked and his cock became a searing explosive showering heat and light and pain and pleasure over them both.

Starsky sucked until his mouth ached, until he was satisfied, then laid Hutch back on the bed and settled his head on Hutch’s abdomen, his cheek on Hutch’s warm skin. Hutch twined his fingers through Starsky’s hair, pulling at the curls, stroking them softly.

 

vvv

 

“Unbelievable.”

Hutch looked down at the scrawny body laying on the coroner's table. “But this kid is 9.”

Dr. Mih continued his work. “Tissue trauma tells the story. The rectum has been blown way out of proportion, pardon my French. There's scarring, too”

Brand stood next to Hutch. “But the injuries are old.”

Mih nodded.  He pointed at the young boy's right nipple. “Look at this. See this scarring?” Hutch and Brand leaned forward, scrutinizing the faint scar. “Bite mark. Years old, though. Totally off the record, I'd say this kid's abuse stopped a couple of years ago.”

“But he was strangled?” Brand asked.

“Consistent with the other victims.” Mih pointed at the bruises on the boy's neck. “Doesn't mean the same person killed him, though.” Mih crossed his arms thoughtfully. “Again, off the record, I'd say this is another of our killer's victims. Victim is African-American, with signs of past rectal trauma. Victim died of strangulation. Victim’s body was found in the vicinity of other victims.”

Hutch glanced at Brand. He'd been coming to the same conclusion. “Thanks.” Hutch and Brand stepped back from the table. Hutch glanced over at Starsky, standing in the corner. Starsky handled abuse of children worse than anything else. “Let's go outside.”

They left the room. “I don't know about this one,” Brand said. They found a scratched wooden bench to sit on. “We may have found him in the same neighborhood—”

“And he was strangled—” Hutch added.

“But he's three years older than our oldest confirmed victim,” Brand finished.

“Fits with your theory, though, Hutch,” Starsky offered. He was leaning against the wall across from them. “If this creep is getting rid of his victims, then he has to get rid of all his victims—past and present.”

Hutch looked up at Starsky. “All his victims,” he repeated. His eyes narrowed in concentration.

“What?” Brand asked.

“All his victims,” Hutch reiterated. His brow furrowed. “If he's getting rid of all his victims, the ones he used to molest and the ones he's molesting now, then maybe there are some kids still out there who know who he is.” He turned to Brand.

Brand looked puzzled. “We've already been asking the neighbors if they know of any ‘funny’ men running around out there. So far, nothing. Just a lot of finger-pointing and vague suspicions, neighbor against neighbor kind of stuff.”

“Ask the kids,” Starsky said.

Hutch smiled up at Starsky. “Ask the kids,” he repeated.

“We have been asking the kids,” Brand sighed.

“Not the older ones,” Hutch reminded him. “We've been talking to the mothers and talking to the little ones, but we haven't done much with the teens in the area.”

Brand took a deep breath. “You mean, try and find a kid this guy might have done a few years ago, instead of trying to find one he's doing now?”

Starsky nodded.

“Yeah,” Hutch answered, excited. “Talk to the older kids. Maybe even some of the young men in their twenties. Who knows how long he's been at this?”

“Who knows where he's been at this,” Brand settled back on the bench and folded his arms across his chest.  “He may be moving around. Not to mention the fact we're dealing with sexual abuse here. I don't have to tell you that getting anyone to admit to that under anything but a clinical setting is nearly impossible. Especially macho young black men growing up without fathers in South Central, hanging around the 'hood and resting everything they are on their tough reputations.” Brand sounded bitter.

Hutch glanced up at Starsky as Brand’s musings became—personal. Starsky shrugged, as if to acknowledge Brand's singular point of view.

“You could try talking to them,” Hutch suggested.

“I could.” Brand tightened his arms against his chest. “I was wondering when we were coming to that.”

Hutch gave a small laugh. “I don't think they'd take well to my lily-white skin.”

“But they'd take well to my black one?” Brand challenged. Starsky looked down the hall, refusing to become a part of the conversation.

Hutch took a deep breath. “Look. I don't know where you're coming from right now, and I don't really care. What I do care about is a bunch of little kids who are having things happen to them that no one should ever have to experience.” Hutch stood up and started down the hall. Starsky followed.

Brand caught up to them. “Sorry man. My shit.”

Hutch stopped and spoke. “This is a case. This is not an exercise in race relations.” He hated being accused of something he didn't mean.

“I know, man, I'm sorry.” Brand sighed. “I hate this case as much as you do.”

Hutch clapped him on the back. “Let's go talk to people,” he said.

 

vvv

 

It was an inspired bit of thinking on Brand’s part, checking out the movie theater on La Brea. It was the first—and only—black-owned movie theater in the city. In the country, for that matter. First-run titles, too.

“Do you really think I should go with you on this one?” Hutch asked.

Brand navigated the evening traffic as they headed south on La Brea. He took the question seriously, instead of as an offence. He nodded. “I think it’s time we upped the ante. We go in as The Man, and we make sure everyone knows who we’re looking for and why. Flash our badges, ask questions, get the community up in arms. Time to get the black mothers mad.”

Hutch shot Brand a look from over the top of his sunglasses. “I’m going to be the only white person in the place.”

“So?” Brand shot back. “Maybe it’s time you got to know what it’s like to be a minority. Besides, you’re supposed to be the more experienced officer on this case.”

“He’s got a point,” Starsky said from the back seat.

“But if it’s going to make you uncomfortable…” Brand continued.

“No. I’m fine with it,” Hutch replied curtly.

Brand made a right off La Brea into the theater’s parking lot. The three men exited the car and walked up to the box office. Brand flashed his badge. “Manager in?”

The woman behind the glass nodded. “He’s in his office. Want me to get him?” She scrutinized Hutch.

Brand shook his head. “We’ll find him.” He glanced at Hutch. “Let’s go.”

Starsky and Hutch followed Brand into the lobby, the ticket seller watching him as he went. In fact, she was turned around and still watching him as the officers walked toward the door bearing the MANAGER’S OFFICE sign. And she wasn’t the only one. The line of people at the concession counter, as well as the concessionaire, were looking at him. How could they miss him? He was not only taller than everybody there, but whiter.

Brand knocked on the manager’s door and slipped inside.

Starsky looked at the sign above the theater door. “Hey, this movie is first run! I haven’t seen this yet. I’m gonna take a look.” Starsky slipped inside.

Hutch looked around. Patrons were conducting their business only as it didn’t interfere with staring at him.

Hutch walked to the end of the candy counter and settled a hip against the glass. He lifted his wallet and let it flop open to reveal his job, his status, his raison d’etre. “You kids heard about the killings around here?”

Eyes fled from Hutch’s body and focused on other objects.

“Maybe you knew some of those boys. Maybe some of them were your friends.” Hutch paused for effect. “Maybe one of you knows who might have wanted to hurt them.”

A fusillade of faintly-spoken filth fell to the floor.

Hutch ignored the uncouth commentary.

“We don’t think it’s over,” he said. “We think whoever’s doing this is going to keep going and going until someone stops him. That means no one’s safe.”

“Oh, like we’re safe now,” someone muttered, “’specially with your type around.”

“I’m saying if someone knows something, they can stop this.” Hutch lifted off the counter and stood at his full height. “I’m saying it could be you, or your friend, or your brother, next.”

Candy and popcorn transactions continued, ticket holders moved into their theaters. Plenty of personal space was left around Hutch as the lobby emptied.

Starsky sauntered out of Theater 2.

“How was the movie?” Hutch asked.

Starsky shrugged. “Wasn’t as funny as it looked in the previews.”

“They never are,” Hutch agreed.

“Had to stand the whole time, too.”

Hutch’s brow furrowed. “Why? Was the theater full?”

Starsky rolled his eyes. “No, stupid. Apparently you’ve never been in this theater before.”

“Oh. Yeah.” Hutch nodded.

“How’d you do?” Starsky asked.

“As best I could make out, six ‘honkys,’ five ‘white boys,’ three ‘fucking pigs,’ and not a friendly face in the place,” Hutch answered sourly.

“What did you expect? Your blond ass is whiter than the popcorn in this place.”

“I expected the community to ignore racial boundaries and come together to find this fucking child molester. Instead, they think I’m the enemy.” Hutch pulled out his sunglasses and slipped them on. He walked from the lobby to the small parking lot in front of the building.

Starsky was right behind him.  “Want to hear what they were calling you behind your back?”

“No,” Hutch leaned against the hood of Brand’s car. Ticket buyers glanced at Hutch, others stared, a few ignored him. “It’s kids, Starsk. Why can’t people put down their prejudices for the sake of the children?”

“You’re asking me? A Jesus-killer?”

Hutch slid his sunglasses down his nose and glared at Starsky.

Starsky shrugged. “Hey. I’m just saying, prejudices are hard to let go of. The black community’s been getting the shitty end of the shaft for years. No reason they should trust a white cop with a gold badge.”

Before Hutch could answer, Brand emerged from the lobby. He flipped his notebook shut and shoved it into the breast pocket of his suit jacket. He walked over to Hutch.

“Theater manager hasn’t seen any suspicious males hanging around bothering the children. Neither have any of the employees. He said he’d ask around of his other workers and see if anyone’s seen anything.”

Hutch nodded.

“I also asked around some of the theater patrons. Most of them were more than happy to give me the name of some neighborhood queer or local they think is ‘funny.’ Nothing concrete.”

Hutch pushed his glasses back up his nose. “You’d do better to talk to them one-on-one, rather than as a group.”

Brand put on his sunglasses. “Is that official advice from a seasoned officer? Or a commentary on the propensity of the black male to put on a macho front while in the company of other black males?”

Hutch merely lifted himself off the hood and walked around to the passenger side of the car.

“Smart ass.” Starsky said. They both got into the car.

“Head back on Jefferson. I want to canvass the neighborhood again.”

Brand started the car. “Me, too. I’d especially like to talk to that grocer again.”

Brand drove them down Jefferson, back to the corner grocery.

 

vvv

 

Hutch followed Brand to the store, but stayed outside as Brand went in. He watched as Starsky sauntered down the sidewalk, taking in the neighborhood, scouring the area for—anything. Anything that might help.

Hutch decided to do another walk around the business. He pointedly ignored the teens hanging around the outside soda machine, and took his time as he walked a ragged square down the sidewalk, back into the alley, and up again to the storefront. Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing odd—except him. Hutch stopped outside the front door. Brand emerged.

Starsky pounded around the corner, breathless. “Hutch. Back here. Behind the house.”

Hutch looked over at Starsky, then back at Brand. Starsky started running back from where he’d appeared. Hutch took off after him.

“Hey!” yelled Brand. “Where are you going?” He took off after Hutch.

Starsky ran down the block, then between the two stuccos and into the backyard of the one on the right. Hutch was not far behind. He pounded into the backyard to find Starsky standing to the side of the free-standing garage. Hutch came up beside him.

“In there.” Starsky pointed at the dented aluminum garbage can.

Hutch reached for the lid.

“Fingerprints,” Starsky reminded.

Hutch jerked back his hand and dug for his handkerchief. He used it to grab the lid’s handle.

“What are you doing?” Brand finally arrived.

Hutch dropped the lid to the grass and stared inside.

A tiny body was slumped in the can.

“Holy shit.” Brand looked into the can. “How the hell did you know to come over here?”

A sudden wail grabbed their attention. A boy was backed into the chuparosa at the edge of the yard. Eyes wide and unfocused, he was shivering, an unholy sound emanating from his throat.

“He found the body,” Starsky explained. “I was following him. He came back here for whatever reason, lifted the lid, then slammed it back down and backed into the bushes.”

“Call it in,” Hutch ordered. He moved toward the boy. The boy began to scream.

Brand shoved him aside. “You call it in,” he rebuffed. Brand went over to the child and comforted him.

Starsky touched Hutch’s arm. “S’okay,” he gentled. “Let’s go get some back-up.”

Hutch reluctantly obeyed.

 

vvv

 

More uniforms canvassing for witnesses and clues, more reports to fill out, more time to waste waiting for the coroner to call.

And then back home.

Starsky sat down next to Hutch on the couch. Only the lamp on the end table was lit, softly lighting the end of the couch where Hutch was going through a week's worth of mail.

“More junk than ever,” Hutch sighed, tossing another piece in the wastebasket. “Half of it porn trash.”

“I like lots of mail,” Starsky said.

“Why didn’t you go through it, then?” Hutch asked.

“Can’t touch in until you touch it,” Starsky reminded.

“Then here,” Hutch tossed the pile over to Starsky, who caught the batch against his chest. Hutch closed his eyes and leaned back into the soft cushions.

Starsky absently sorted through the envelopes. “Good news. Here's a bill,” he pulled out a notice from the gas company. He offered it to Hutch.

Hutch's eyes remained closed. Tears clung to the lashes.

Starsky set aside the mail. “Babe. What's wrong?” He slid sideways and touched Hutch's cheek.

“Nothing,” Hutch opened his eyes and brushed at the tear.

“Little kids,” Starsky guessed. “Babies.” He continued to stroke Hutch's cheek.

“Yeah,” Hutch folded into himself, crossing his arms tightly across his chest. “I guess.” He stared straight ahead. “It was that little kid today. The brother. How hard he was crying because his older brother was dead.”

 Hutch suddenly shut his eyes again. A shudder passed through him. “I love you,” he said.

“I know.”

“Do you think this will last?” Hutch asked.

“These murders?” Starsky asked. Hutch shook his head.

“Us.” Starsky asked again.

Hutch thought a moment. “What will happen when I die?”

Starsky took a deep breath. “I've been thinking about that.”

Hutch lowered his chin, looking at Starsky. “You have?”

“Just trying to figure out how this all works,” Starsky explained “I don't think we can get away from each other at this point.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. I figure it this way. If I die, and come back to you, then if you die, you come back to me.”

Hutch pulled his legs up onto the couch and huddled into the cushions. “But you already died. In the hospital.”

Starsky thought a minute. “You know how some people believe in reincarnation, and think you can have lots of different lives? Then maybe you can also have lots of  different deaths.”

Hutch looked askance at Starsky.

“No, really,” Starsky was becoming excited by his idea. “I died, but I didn't die, so I've still got a death coming. You haven't died, so you've still got a death coming.”

“Thanks,” Hutch muttered.

“But if I can die, and not die, then who's to say that the next time I die I'll really die and not do another turnaround like I did last time?” Starsky tangled with his train of thought. “Or who's to say this isn't my final death, and I'll be stuck here like this forever? Or maybe--”

Hutch closed his eyes and scrubbed a hand over his face. “Starsk?”

“Yeah?” Starsky came back out of his musings.

“Promise me no funny business on this case.”

Starsky frowned.

Hutch reached out to touch Starsky's face. “Promise me. No moving of evidence. I guess going into people's backrooms and closets to look for stuff isn't so bad, but don't pick it up and bring it to me.”

“You know I can’t touch anything you haven’t already touched.” Starsky smiled sadly. “But it's just so tempting. All those years of not being able to do this and not being able to do that because of the legalities, and now that I can pretty much go where I want, you won't let me help you.”

Hutch took hold of Starsky's shirt and pulled him close. “Promise me,” he growled.

Starsky laughed delightedly. “Whatever you want, partner. Whatever you want.”

Hutch pulled Starsky closer and kissed him. And kissed him again. Then gently pushed him away.

He stared up at the ceiling. “Tell me more about the 50 yard rule.”.

“You won’t understand it,” Starsky sighed and rolled off Hutch, but kept his shoulder against Hutch’s as they sat side by side. “I’m not sure I understand it.” But Starsky proceeded anyway. “Best I can figure, if I get farther than 50 yards away from you, I lose contact with you.”

Hutch took a deep breath. “Where do you go?”

Starsky waved his hands in the air, trying to put shape to the sensation. “Babe, in a million years I could not explain to you what happens. I’m just not here anymore, I’m there.”

“But where’s there?” Hutch insisted.

Starsky let his hands fall back on his lap. “You wouldn’t understand.”

“Try me.”

“Hutch, I just can’t tell you. There aren’t words. I’d tell you if I could, but I can’t. So just quit asking.” Starsky sat up to look at Hutch.

Hutch mused on this. “So you're really tied to me.”

“If I want to be here, I am here. But if I’m here and you get too far away from me, then I go there. So if I want to get back to you, I have to think here again.” Starsky answered, poking Hutch in the chest. “But you make it sound like we're in that movie ‘The Deficient Ones.’ Like we’re handcuffed together whether we like it or not.”

“‘Defiant Ones,’ Starsk,” Hutch said quietly.

“Whatever,” Starsky answered. “Just another way for you to feel guilty about this whole thing. You can feel bad about keeping me here, even though I keep telling you I want to be here. I guess it’s either that or feel guilty about my dying.”

Hutch lifted to move from the couch.

Starsky grabbed Hutch's arm, pulling him back to the couch. “Quit feeling guilty about me dying, and quit feeling guilty about bringing me back,” Starsky said seriously. “What's done is done.”

He draped himself over Hutch’s body and kissed him. “Now get some sleep. We’ve got work to do tomorrow.”

“You’re right.” Hutch started to push Starsky up and off.

Starsky didn’t budge. Instead, he planted more kisses on Hutch’s lips. “Lots of work to do,” he murmured.

Hutch chuckled. He held Starsky’s head in his hands and kept their mouths pressed together, opening his to accept a questing, tantalizing tongue, offering his own in return.

Starsky fumbled between their waists, tugging at snaps and zippers, trying to free their desire. Years of practice should have helped, but it always felt clumsy, working around denim and corduroy and cotton. Still, the results were always worth it.

Hutch sprang to life between them, sliding up alongside Starsky’s passion, stroking against it, rubbing, grinding. Starsky used his weight to grind back, all the while keeping his lips suctioned to Hutch’s.

They tussled on the couch, hips rising and falling, legs intertwining, cocks stroking and striking and sending each other to engorged satiation. Starsky came first, grunting into Hutch’s mouth, spasming over Hutch’s hips. Hutch followed soon after, thigh muscles contracting and clenching, completing their congress.

 

vvv

 

Starsky and Hutch were already at the station, and digging through more file folders, when Brand appeared in the hallway outside the detective’s room. They watched as he lifted a small child in his arms, holding him so he faced the window and looked in at the officers. Starsky frowned at Hutch. Brand was holding the child with one arm, while he pointed out things inside the squad room. A few other detectives looked up and smiled, waving at the child, who ignored their pleasantries and concentrated on scanning the room with a serious look.

A woman walked up next to Brand, smiling at both him and the child as they scrutinized the squad room. The child wriggled from Brand and fell over into the woman’s arms. Both adults laughed.

“Is that his wife and kid?” Starsky asked, trying not to sound too surprised.

Hutch was feigning interest in the file in front of him. “I don’t know. I never asked.”

Starsky leaned over and whispered to Hutch. “She’s white!”

“Yeah? So?” Hutch focused more attention on the folder.

Starsky watched as Brand kissed the woman, then the child, then waved them off down the hall.

“Wow,” was all Starsky responded. And then, “she’s a looker!”

Brand entered the squad room, posture severe and defiant, as if he expected someone to confront or challenge him.

“Ask him,” Starsky urged.

“Hey Brand!” Owens sat back in his chair. “Was that Lisa?”

Brand set his shoulders. “Yes.” He settled himself at his place on the table, next to Hutch. Hutch continued to ignore him.

“How come you didn’t bring her in and introduce us? Afraid she’ll find something she likes better?”

Brand pulled a file folder off the stack next to Hutch and opened it carefully. Without looking up he replied, “No, I’m afraid you yahoos will explode if you get too close to her brilliance.” A very small smile crept onto his lips.

“Man,” Starsky whispered to Hutch, “and you’ve been razzing him about him treating you like a honky!”

“Shut up!” Hutch exploded. The entire squad room went quiet. Brand shifted threateningly in his seat, turning to stare at Hutch.

“You got a problem?” Brand asked.

The squad room became instantly silent.

Hutch glared at Starsky, then at Brand. He willed his facial muscles to relax. “No, sorry.” Hutch swallowed hard. “Just these possibles. Perverts and pedophiles and…” Hutch’s voice trailed off.

Brand nodded, but didn’t drop his defensive demeanor. “Yes.”

Hutch looked away, then stood up and moved toward a file cabinet. “Coffee?” he offered.

“No, thank you.” Brand looked at him a moment longer, then turned back to his work.

Hutch poured himself a cup. Starsky smirked in the corner. Brand studied a case file. The other detectives knew better than to do anything but go back to what they were doing.

 

 

Hutch and Brand spent the morning doing the tedious work of plowing through paper, hoping a single piece might hold the key that cracks the case.

Starsky hovered over both, reading along with them over their shoulders.

It was about noon when Brand said, “Oh.”

Hutch ignored him.

“Wait.” Brand shuffled the papers in front of him.

“I think I got him,” Brand said, smiling wonderingly.

“How?” Starsky scanned the files on the table top.

“How?” Hutch looked confused.

“Look. I went out last night. Late. Walked the neighborhood.” Brand turned toward Hutch.

“Without informing me?” Hutch’s eyes narrowed. “I thought we were partners on this case.”

“We are, but I just went out. I wanted to look around again. See who was out, who was running what, just look.”

Hutch straightened in his chair. “But without me.”

Brand also straightened. “What, you never went out without a partner before? Never looked around on your own?”

“No,” Hutch stated.

Starsky snorted.

Hutch gritted his teeth.

“So I guess the stories about you and Starsky were true, you were joined at the hip?”

This time, someone toward the front of the room snorted.

Brand continued to stare. “I’ll conduct this case, and myself, as I see fit, Detective.”

“And I’m lead, so I’ll conduct this case if there’s to be any conducting.” Hutch’s eyes were also unwavering.

“You could,” Brand answered, “but you said it yourself. You’re not fit.” Brand crossed his arms against his chest. “You’re lily-white and I’m orchid-black. One of us flourishes in the climate, the other withers.”

Hutch set his jaw. “This is bullshit. If you’re not going to abide by my lead, I’m taking myself off this case and out of this partnership. You cannot hotdog behind my back.”

“Hutch,” Starsky said sharply. He put a hand on Hutch’s shoulder.

“As if you’ve been doing more than following me around and watching me do all the legwork,” Brand shot back.

Hutch pointed his finger at Brand. “I have done plenty to pull together the background information on this case that is now sitting on this table!” Hutch now pounded the table with his finger.

“Hutch!” Starsky said again. He squeezed Hutch’s shoulder. Hard.

Hutch stood up and shrugged off Starsky’s grip. His adrenaline was building.

Brand quickly followed.

“And I put it together with some talk I picked up in the ‘hood last night!” yelled Brand. “You do your part, I do mine! We work to our strengths!”

Hutch knew better, but he did it anyway.

He pushed Brand.

Brand pushed back.

Harder.

And suddenly the two cops were on each other, pushing the table back against the wall, forcing the other officers in the room back towards the opposite wall. None of them wanted to get involved, even though the Captain wasn’t in his office at the moment. They knew better.

Starsky didn’t. Hutch had touched Brand, so Starsky could touch Brand, and he did so by grabbing him and pulling him off Hutch. To anyone else, it merely looked as if Hutch had thrown Brand off. Which was fine and dandy by Starsky.

Brand righted himself and adjusted his wayward suit. Hutch ran the back of his hand over his mouth and shifted his shoulders so his jacket hung properly. Starsky had nothing to adjust so he simply glared at Hutch.

“I hope you feel better,” Starsky said. He was behind Hutch, holding Hutch’s upper arms, kneading the taut muscles.

“Leave me alone,” Hutch replied. He ran a hand through his hair.

“I would,” Brand answered, “but we’ve got kids involved here. And I’m not finished with you until those kids are safe. I don’t have time to bring another partner up to speed. Especially since I’ve got a lead we need to check out now.”

“Think about it, Hutch,” Starsky said softly, leaning into Hutch’s ear. “Just hold it together until this sicko is put away. Then you can work out your personality differences.”

Hutch took a deep breath. He wanted to touch Starsky, to hold him, to find the stillness he needed in Starsky’s embrace. But he couldn’t. When Starsky had been his partner, it was accepted, if not expected, that he and Starsky could touch each other and support one another physically. But not now. Hutch would look even….crazier.

“Who?” Hutch asked quietly, without looking at Brand. He managed to calm his body.

Brand let a corner of his mouth turn up. “It was the grocer who gave me the lead, although I didn’t know it at the time. You know what one of the biggest problems in the city is?”

Hutch shook his head. Starsky leaned against him and gave his arms another squeeze. “Just listen.”

“Food,” Brand said. “There are no grocery stores in the area, or none close enough to walk to. There aren’t a lot of cars, so people either have to be able to walk to get food, or take a bus. And even then, they can’t carry very much that way. Especially if they’re old.”

Hutch’s brows furrowed. “So?”

“This grocer was telling me about it, how he has lots of regulars, because they can’t move out of the neighborhood.” Brand crossed his arms over his chest.

“And?” Hutch shut his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“And that means there are a number of people in the neighborhood who have been there for a while. So the grocer gave me a list of men in the area who’ve been around for years. I did some walking and talking and turns out one of them has been around for about 30 years, single, worked as a janitor at the elementary school, works as a crossing guard now, likes the kids in the neighborhood, gives them candy, sometimes watches them when their mothers aren’t home—“

“So?” said Hutch.

“So, “Brand tapped the file in front of him, “he’s also been brought in seven times since 1963 to be questioned about missing children.”

Hutch’s back straightened and he looked at Brand. Starsky patted him on the back. “This is where your anger belongs,” Starsky whispered.

Hutch nodded, and began to feel the adrenaline build, but for a different purpose this time. “Got an address?” Hutch mutated his anger at Brand to anger at this suspect. “Let’s pick him up.”

Brand smiled smugly. “I’ll drive.” 

 

vvv

 

The building was old. Dirty, filthy, reeking of urine, pick your favorite unclean adjective. Just another typical dwelling in that part of the city. Hutch followed Brand inside the building. Starsky followed Hutch.

Brand looked around, then pointed down a side corridor. “1D.”

“One bedroom, a living room, kitchen, bathroom. No one else in the apartment. No weapons in plain sight. Couple of windows on the outside,” Starsky advised. “One in the living room, one in the bedroom, both leading to the side alley and then the street.”

Hutch started to chastise Starsky for casing the apartment, then thought better of it. He had seen those same routes of escape as they had driven up.

Brand walked up to the door. Peeling paint, splinters of wood missing from the door, he pounded hard on a relatively clean piece of surface. “Mr. Anders,” he called. Hutch took up a position on the opposite side of the door. Starsky hung back.

“Yeah?” a voice answered from inside.

“Police,” Brand shouted back. “We'd like to talk to you.”

There was a sharp click and the door opened. Dan Anders opened the door, but stood in the opening. He was an older black man—maybe 50, maybe 60, couldn’t tell—solidly built and standing about six foot four.

“Yeah?” the man repeated.

“Police.” Brand and Hutch pulled out their identification wallets. “Can we come in?” Brand took a step forward. The man took a step back, and Brand pushed his advantage by stepping inside. “I guess,” the man answered, finally moving aside.

Hutch followed Brand inside, Starsky behind him.

“Mr. Anders,” Brand did a slow walk around the tiny living area, “how long have you lived in the area?”

Anders shrugged. “'Bout 25 years, I guess. What's this all about?” He seemed calm, relatively unfazed by the cops' sudden appearance at his front door.

Brand ignored him. He leaned over a counter and peeked into the even tinier kitchen. “In this same apartment?”

“Yeah,” Anders turned to Hutch. “I do something?” He was asking a question, but didn't seem too concerned with the answer.

Hutch removed his sunglasses, and fixed Anders with his gaze. “We're just here to ask you some questions.” He folded the glasses and tucked them into his suit jacket. This man was cool, very cool.

“You like the neighborhood kids?” Brand circled back into the living room.

“The little ones, I guess,” Anders squinted. “Before they start running with the gangs. Then I stay away from them, and tell them to stay away from me.” Still no reaction from Anders, either in his voice or his demeanor.

Brand walked over to the bedroom. “You mind if I look in here?”

Anders purposefully walked past Brand and pulled the bedroom door shut. “

“Yeah, I mind. It's dirty.” Finally, some kind of reaction. Anders was definitely upset that they wanted in his bedroom.

Starsky started to walk past Hutch, but Hutch grabbed his arm and stopped him. “Don't,” he hissed. “Don't blow this.” Starsky glared at Hutch, then relented and stepped back.

Brand walked back to the center of the room nonchalantly. “So. You tell the older kids to stay away from you. What about the younger kids?”

“What about them?” Anders eyes narrowed. He was becoming a little more assertive in their presence.

“You tell me,” Brand shot back. “What about them?”

Anders looked from Brand to Hutch. “I don't think this is right.” His voice held a note of suspicion and anger.

Hutch moved over to the window and looked outside the dirty glass. “Oh, this is right.” He kept his back toward Anders, starting to gain control of the interrogation. “We can question you all we want. Big question is, do we do it here or do we take you down to the station?” He pointedly turned his head to stare at Anders.

“Ever been down to the station?” Brand followed up quickly.

“You tell me,” Anders snorted, trying to appear unfazed. “I got a feeling you already looked into that.” He sat down on an afghan-covered couch and crossed his arms.

“You do any entertaining here?” Hutch felt the moth-eaten material pretending to be curtains. He continued to keep Anders in his sightline.

“I keep some women company at times,” Anders replied haughtily.

“You ever invite the neighborhood kids over?” Brand asked.

Anders thought a moment. “Sometimes I do some baby-sitting.”

“The kids come over here?” Hutch asked.

Anders thought again. “Yeah.”

“How do you entertain them?” Brand's turn.

“I let them watch TV.”

“Anything else?” Hutch.

“You play games?” Brand

“Give them comics?” Hutch.

“Read magazines?” Brand.

“Take naps?” Hutch.

“Give them baths?” Brand.

“What the fuck kind of question is that?” Anders said. “No I don’t give little kids baths. If they’re dirty, they don’t get in my house.” Assertiveness was turning into aggression.

“Mind if we look around a little?” Brand began pacing the room again.

Anders stood up. “Got a warrant?” he said defiantly.

Brand glanced at Hutch. “Do we need a warrant?”

“Yes,” responded Anders.

There was silence in the room.

Hutch finally spoke. “Let's take him downtown.”

Brand's eyes locked onto Hutch's. “Yes. Let's.”  He faced Anders. “Get your things.”

“Like I said,” Anders answered calmly, “got a warrant?”

Starsky suddenly walked up to Hutch. “Take a piss,” he whispered in Hutch's ear.

Hutch frowned.

“Take a piss,” Starsky whispered more urgently.

Hutch glanced at Starsky suspiciously, then stepped toward the bathroom.

“Mind if I take a leak?”

Brand looked questioningly at Hutch. Hutch shrugged. “Weak bladder.”

Anders motioned toward the bathroom. “Leave a dime on the tank.”

Starsky gave Hutch a thumb's up. Hutch walked into the bathroom and closed the door. Against the far wall was the bathtub, hidden by a yellowed, scum-covered shower curtain. Hutch was aching to take a peak behind it, but that wasn't legal. On his right, a rust-stained sink, the pipes visible beneath. Above that, a rectangular mirror covered with water spots and soap flecks. On his left, a formerly-white toilet with missing enamel chips on the seat. Next to that, a plastic set of stackable shelves filled with discount store items. Hutch lifted the toilet seat and positioned himself as if he were going to piss.

And that's when he saw them. Sticking out between the toilet and the wall.

Time passers. Magazines. Reading material.

Pornographic material.

Pictures of naked little boys on the covers. You could see them if you leaned to the right and bent over and peered into the slit where they were stuffed.

Hutch reviewed quickly. He'd asked permission to use the bathroom. Anders had given permission. The magazines were in full view. Obvious and in plain sight.  But—

Had Starsky dropped them there?

No, he couldn’t have. Hutch had never seen them, so couldn’t have touched them, so Starsky couldn’t have touched them, either.

Hutch decided, he'd found them fair and square. They were admissible. Enough on which to take Anders down to the station. Enough to get more search warrants.

Hutch smiled to himself.  And he actually took a piss before he left the room.

When he came back to the living room, Brand was positioned to the left of the front door, Anders was leaning against the opening to the kitchen. Hutch glanced at Brand, who glanced back, dumbly, serenely, naively, not a clue as to what Hutch had just told him with his eyes. So Hutch would simply act, and hope Brand would follow his lead.

“I’m afraid we’re going to have to take you in,” Hutch pulled his cuffs from his back pocket and stepped toward Anders. Brand’s brow furrowed in puzzlement, but he straightened and also stepped toward Anders.

Anders, belying his age but taking advantage of the tiny kitchen behind him, quickly reached to his side and brandished a butcher knife.

“Not good, old man,” said Brand. He put out his hand. “Give me the knife.”

Hutch traded his cuffs for his gun. “This isn’t what you want,” said Hutch, his magnum leveled at Anders’ head. “Put the knife down and keep your hands where we can see them.”

Starsky was right beside Hutch. “Shit on a stick,” he breathed. “This is falling apart way too fast.”

Hutch held his Magnum with one hand, and used his free arm to block Starsky from moving forward. It suddenly occurred to Hutch that keeping Starsky physically safe was totally irrelevant, so he brought his arm forward as if asking for the knife.

Brand walked slowly toward Anders. “Listen Mr. Anders, it’s just a trip downtown. You’ve taken those before, you know it’s just a few hours of your time. We won’t even mention this little incident once we get there.”

Starsky briefly touched Hutch’s shoulder. “Tell that dumb ass to stay back. He’s going to get in the way.”

“Shut up,” Hutch mumbled. He kept his eyes on Anders. “Drop the knife. Now.”

“Tell that dumb ass to step back and get away from the old guy,” Starsky insisted. “He’s going to end up in your line of fire.”

“Shut up!” Hutch retorted.

Brand’s head snapped toward Hutch, anger and puzzlement firing from his eyes.

Anders leapt.

Brand and Anders were immediately on the ground, struggling. Or rather, Brand was on top of a shouting Anders, who was trying to push the cop off from on top of him. Anders hands were trapped somewhere between his chest and Brand’s, and Hutch wasn’t at all sure where the knife was. Both men yelled and shouted, Brand to drop the fucking knife, and Anders to get the fuck off of him. Starsky, meantime, was shouting something entirely different!

“Touch something!”

Habit made Hutch glance quickly at Starsky, to assess his position and make sure he was safe. Then Hutch shuffled a few feet to the right, and a few feet to the left, all the while aiming, trying to ignore the voices filling the small apartment.

There was a quick upheaval on the floor, and Anders was suddenly on top of Brand, then it was the other way around, and Hutch couldn’t get in a shot.

“Damn it, Hutch, touch something!” Starsky yelled. “I can’t use anything! You haven’t touched anything in here! I can’t pull Brand away or Anders will stab him! And I can’t grab Anders because you haven’t touched him!”

The struggle seemed to lessen, the bodies quieted, and Brand seemed to stop moving, his body covering Anders. Hutch moved slowly toward the tangle on the floor, trying to identify which body part belong to whom.

“You’re walking on the carpet,” Starsky complained. “I can’t use the carpet as a weapon.”

Hutch walked to within a foot of the bodies and leaned over them, gun aimed somewhere at the middle of the pile.

“Brand,” he said, leaning closer.

Brand shifted, and suddenly moved up and back and against Hutch’s legs.

Hutch stumbled as Brand was shoved into him, and a hand flew upward and sliced his arm.

Hutch managed to hang onto his Magnum, but his arm dropped groundward, wilting with pain. He fell to floor, landing on one knee, his other knee landing on Brand.

Anders kicked at Brand’s body and scooted backward until his back was to the front door. He held the knife in front of him, ready to either stab or cut.

Hutch fell back onto his ass, the gun finally slipping from his numb fingers. It fell between Hutch’s legs, and gave Anders the opportunity he was looking for. He lunged at Hutch, throwing himself over Brand, knife-first.

Hutch brought up his good arm to block the attack, managing to shove Anders’ arms aside so the knife plunged into the carpet next to his neck.

“Finally!” Hutch heard someone shout, and Anders was lifted off him.

Brand moaned and rolled over onto his back. He looked down at his chest, touched the blood, and brought his fingers in front of his face. “Fuck,” he said weakly. Then his eyes moved to where Hutch and Anders were.

It flashed across Hutch’s brain that what Brand saw was his white-ass partner struggling to get up off the floor, while Anders, having dropped the knife, was scrabbling at something invisible circling his neck and choking the life out of him. Oh well. Brand could just chalk it up to shock.

Hutch struggled to his knees, retrieving his gun, managing to hold it shakily in his left hand.

“Okay, Starsk,” he rasped, “I’ve got him.”

“No, you don’t.” Starsky had his arm wrapped around Anders neck, his other hand completing the choke hold. He released Anders, but caught him by the neck before Anders could fall forward and instead threw him headfirst into the wall.

“Shit, Starsk.” Hutch let his gun drop and he found his feet. “They’re gonna think we beat him up.”

Starsky wiped his hands. “Tell ‘em he got hurt when he was fighting with Brand.” He moved over to Hutch, taking the gun from him and setting it on the nearby end table. Then he lifted the wounded arm.

“Not good,” he apprised, as he peeled back Hutch’s coat sleeve and shirt sleeve. “But I think it’s just muscle. You’ll need stitches.”

Hutch looked down at his arm. “And Brand needs help. Where’s the phone?”

“Kitchen.” Starsky pulled the handkerchief from Hutch’s shirt pocket and pressed it against the wound. They both moved into the kitchen.

 

vvv

 “Well look who’s coming through the door.” Starsky lifted his feet off the table top and returned them to the floor.

Hutch looked over at the door. Jonathan Brand walked through.

“Are you crazy?” Hutch smiled and rose, offering Brand his chair.

Brand accepted the seat. “Just bored,” he answered. “Thought maybe I could do some paperwork or something.”

“Or nothing,” Hutch sat down on the chair next to Brand, forcing Starsky to scramble off and away before Hutch squashed him. “You shouldn’t be here at all. You should be home with your family.”

Brand looked away. “Funny, my wife thought I should be here.” He looked back at Hutch and smiled. “I think I’m getting on her nerves.”

Hutch returned the smile. “Can’t say I’m having much fun on desk duty myself.” Hutch lifted his bandaged arm.

“Lunch,” Starsky said from behind Hutch.

Brand nodded, seemed ready to say something, but didn’t.

Hutch nodded in response, wanted to say something, but didn’t.

Starsky shoved the back of Hutch’s chair with his foot.

“Lunch!” he hissed.

Hutch took the hint. “How about lunch?” he offered.

Brand thought a moment. “Well, yes, I could manage that.”

Hutch nodded. Starsky kicked his chair again. “Good, then. I know a little place a few block from here…?”

“Sure,” Brand said. “Sounds nice.”

Hutch rose, and turned to grab his jacket from the coat rack. “Coming?” he asked Starsky.

“Coming,” answered Brand, lifting himself carefully from the chair.

Starsky shook his head, but smiled. “Not this time.”

Hutch smiled, shouldered into his jacket, and turned to Brand. “Lunch, then, partner.” The two men left the squad room, and Starsky disappeared.