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The Next Step

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Dear Ms. Fortenay,

Thank you for dropping off Kenneth Hutchinson's manuscript while you were in New York. I must say that I am impressed with Mr. Hutchinson's writing and believe him a talent to watch. His story, however, seems a bit too controversial for the kind of mass-market publication we'd like for Mr. Hutchinson's work. Because of the taste of the current commercial marketplace, I don't see a successful publication. Regretfully, I will have to pass.

Please do keep me informed of Mr. Hutchinson's projects, should he decide to write another novel with a theme more in keeping with the current taste.

Reuben Hart
Associate Editor


I will have to pass... pass... The word rolled through his mind as Hutch stared down at the letter his agent had forwarded. He rubbed his eyes. This was the seventh time a publisher who'd seemed genuinely interested in his novel based on the Gunther trial had turned it down.

Later, he called Hannah Fortenay, his agent, and he thought he noted a hint of exasperation in her voice. He hoped not. Even she, serious and business-like Hannah, had been so excited about the novel, and he wondered when and why it'd gone wrong. His first two books, documentary style "real life" accounts of some of his and Starsky's cases, had gone over well, and he felt he'd started to make a name. The publishers had seemed to think so, too. So why did they all turn him down now? Starsky deserved this, deserved to have his story told. But even now, seven years later, Hutch felt he needed the distance of fiction to tackle the subject. He did think it had helped, and he'd felt freer because he didn't have to stay so faithfully with the actual facts. More able to draw out important points and give Starsky the credit Hutch wanted him to have.


Hutch jumped at the soft voice that seemed to come out of nowhere. "Hey yourself," he said, turning toward Starsky, who'd slipped in to sit on the arm of the sofa. He patted the seat beside him. "Come here."

Starsky sat down. "A pass again?"

"Yeah. It was 'too controversial'." Hutch made quotation marks in the air with his fingers. "Wasn't to 'the taste of the current commercial marketplace'," he grumbled.

Starsky patted Hutch's thigh. It was a light touch, but Hutch savored its gentleness. "You know," Starsky said, "when I read the manuscript, I really liked the way you brought out Gunther's trial. Showed what kind of person he was and how far he fell." He smiled. "And you gave 'em Rigger's story, too. Read almost like one of those, what'a you call 'em... jewlogies. I'm glad he got that, he deserved it."

"Eulogy," Hutch said, and couldn't help smiling at Starsky's mispronunciation.

"Yeah, ewloggy, like I said." Starsky grinned and gave Hutch an elbow in the side. Hutch grinned back. Next thing Starsky knew, Hutch was holding him down and threatening his ticklish spots.

"Starsk—, you were always so exasperating." Hutch stayed still, keeping hold of Starsky so he could look at him, and traced his face with his fingers, as if preserving it for memory. "I think I love you for it now."

"You always loved me, Blintz." Starsky squirmed out of Hutch's hands. "Gave me that special place in your book." He got up and ran his fingers through his hair, trying in vain to tame the now freely growing curls. As he reached the doorway, he turned and sent Hutch a finger kiss. "To tide you over for now, lover." He winked, and when the door closed, it was as if the wink lingered in the room. Like the smile of the Cheshire Cat, it was the last thing that faded.


That evening Hutch sat down at his desk, determined to give the manuscript a good second look. Or twelfth, really, between the rewrites and the editing it'd gone through. Some of the advice had been good, and some Hutch had wondered about. One editor had seemed particularly determined to cut parts of scenes with Starsky out, and Hutch had fought him over it. This was Starsky's story. Even during his convalescence, Starsky had been involved in the case, reading reports and giving feedback and suggestions. It was his case as much as Hutch's, and Hutch wanted it to show. Wanted to show off Starsky's bravery.

Hutch pulled out the original and lined it up with the current copy. It was a daunting task, but if he could at least try to figure out what had happened to the original text, he could perhaps figure out what it was that made this latest version, apparently, unpublishable.

As he worked through them, he started to notice how much of Starsky had been cut. A mention here, a short scene there. The editors who'd commented, and Hutch's own reaction to their comments, had focused on Gunther, displaying him as this evil spider in his web, finally brought down by Hutch in revenge for the garage shooting. As Hutch read on and compared, he saw the love in the first version turn into mild affection in the latest.

It got late, but Hutch still sat, engrossed in reading. It wasn't until after midnight, very early in the morning that he reached the last page and leaned back in his chair, stretching. It had been a journey, indeed, and it wasn't finished yet. Going to the kitchen for a cup of instant coffee, the choice of someone who'd stopped caring about himself, he looked fondly at the original manuscript. Yes, the love was all there, all over the pages, as Starsky had said.

Sipping the hot coffee, Hutch mulled over what he'd read. He had always known he loved Starsky, but he'd never appreciated exactly how much. Strange that it should take a few bigoted editors' and publishers' rejections to show him. Apparently the latest publisher thought the idea of Hutch loving Starsky, in whatever capacity, was something the public couldn't handle. That they'd need to edit it out....

He got angry and sat down again at his typewriter and put in a blank page.

Dear Mr. Reuben Hart,

Thank you for your rejection of my novel, "Sweet Revenge". It made me stop and think, which I wouldn't have done without it. I now realize that the story is more important to me than any rejection. "Sweet Revenge" is mine and will always stay mine, but it will never be published. I think I understand, too, why it is deemed too controversial by you, but frankly, I don't care anymore.

Kenneth Hutchinson


The raucous early-morning chatter of the birds outside woke Hutch. His whole body was stiff from sleeping in a chair, his head on the desk. Slowly, he stirred and pulled himself up, stretching and trying to wake up.

Noticing the paper in the typewriter, he sat back down again to read it. He vaguely remembered trying to get back at the latest publisher, and wondered what Hannah would say if he really sent it. She wouldn't be pleased, that was for sure.

Leaning back in the chair, trying to go as far as possible without tipping over, the balancing act made him think of Starsky. Starsky who always went as far as he possibly could. Hutch realized that was what he'd done, too, in the book — gone as far as he could to show Starsky he loved him. He'd have to tell Starsky that now he knew.

Love. The word felt strange in the light of day, but Hutch knew it wasn't wrong. Not ever. He looked forward to the next time Starsky would show up. He could tell him then. It wasn't quite the same, sitting on Starsky's grave and talking to his headstone — he never knew if Starsky listened. At first, Starsky's sudden appearances had been disconcerting. Hutch, still barely managing after Starsky's unpredicted, fatal heart attack, thought he was losing his mind. Then he'd gotten used to Starsky's visits. Yesterday, Starsky had seemed so real, so close, and Hutch wished for one more time like that, just a few moments when he could really tell him and Starsky would really know.

The swelling of emotions took his breath, and Hutch gripped the edge of the table. He had to sit down. The feeling got worse. He couldn't breathe, and it was as if a tight hand briefly, painfully clutched his heart. He reached out, searching, and found the manuscript. I love you, he thought, as he realized he'd never get to say it out loud.

Starsky caught him, holding him until Hutch came to.


"You're with me. You're okay," Starsky reassured him.

Hutch looked up. Now he could tell him.

Starsky smiled.