"Do you believe in rock and roll?

Can music save your mortal soul?"

--"American Pie"

By Don McClean

Rhiana was on the phone to her new artists by ten the next morning, calling from her boutique to see if they were suffering the pre-recording jitters yet. Both laughingly admitted they were, and she admitted to having slept the sum total of two hours the night before. She seemed boundlessly enthusiastic about the project, and the shared energy among the trio was good for chasing away nervousness. By the time she hung up, they had arranged to pick her up in the Torino at her boutique at noon.

The second phone call was totally unexpected, and shattered a little of the fantasy they had been living. Dobey's voice brought Starsky back to a reality he had been running from since they launched their new project--eventually, they would have to face their old life, and sever themselves from it. That thought still hurt, as much as this new venture exhilarated him. Being a cop had been a lifetime goal, and a tradition started by his father; one he'd hoped to keep up, maybe even pass on someday to his own son. Giving up on all that was somehow bitterly a reality when he heard his superior's voice.

"How's the recovery going?" Dobey asked congenially. If he knew I had been planning to quit for almost a month now, he wouldn't be so friendly, Starsky thought uneasily. He didn't enjoy the charade, but with no other source of income and no health insurance to cover his medical expenses without the department, he had been hemmed in. Of course, he had given his insides for that department, so why should he concern himself if they supported him while he recovered from being shot in the line of duty?

"Pretty well. I'm supposed to start some light exercise next week."

"Good. I have to get an idea of the time frame for Hutch's leave. Is he there?"

"He just stepped out for a minute," Starsky replied honestly, as Hutch was on a hasty run to a nearby music store to pick up guitar picks and a replacement string for Starsky's guitar.

"Well, the chief's on my back because we're short-handed here, and if your recovery is coming along well enough that he isn't needed with you full-time, I want to talk to him about coming back, at least part-time."

"You'd probably better talk to Hutch," Starsky replied nervously, knowing it was a stall tactic.

"Is there something you're not telling me, Starsky?"


"You know if you need someone with you on a constant basis or not. What does the doctor say?"

"I'm okay by myself as long as I don't overdo it." There was no point in being cagey, because all Dobey had to do was make a phone call to get the information he wanted. "Hutch has been a lot of moral support, ya know?" Starsky tried the sentimental approach. Under that gruff exterior, Dobey had a heart of pure marshmallow. He hoped to tap into that.

"I know this has been a rough road back."

"Real rough. I don't think I'da made it without Hutch." That much was pure truth, no embellishments.

"Well, I'm not going to put a lot of pressure on for him to come back full-time, but there are a few things he could help out with here even on a part-time basis, so when he gets in, have him give me a call."

"I will." Starsky hoped Dobey wouldn't hear the sounds of Hutch opening the door and rattling his bag from the music store as he dug out the supplies. "Thanks, Captain."

Hutch's ears perked up at the name. They both had known they could only keep their career goals a secret for a limited time, but Hutch seemed as disconcerted as his partner that it was all coming down that specific morning.

"What'd he want?" Hutch asked.

"They're short-handed. He wants you back at least part-time if I'm not a basket case anymore."

"What'd you say?"

"What could I say? You know I can't sell anybody that I need a full-time baby-sitter now."

"I suppose not." Hutch plopped on the couch. "I better go have a talk with the captain."

"You could work part-time and not say anything for a little while yet."

"Oh, get real, Starsk. You know how long part-time stays that way. I'll get there, and one thing'll lead to another... I can't tell him I have to leave because I have a recording session and just take off. These two careers won't coexist peacefully. You and I both know they both demand 100%."

"I know."

"Taking the official step is scary." Hutch looked up at Starsky, who was fidgeting with the package containing the guitar string, not really thinking about it. He was standing behind the couch, making it hard for Hutch to read his expression without turning completely around backwards.

"Quitting is going to be hard. It wasn't when we were mad at everything and just stormed in and quit--after we tossed our badges in the ocean."

"We did do that, didn't we?" Hutch answered with a smile.

"We were so bitter, it didn't even occur to us that it wasn't the right thing to do. Now I'm doing it because I'm tired and scared. If I could just be whole again, like I was before..."

"What if physical therapy and exercise puts you back on top? You wanna go back? We haven't severed the ties yet. It isn't too late."

"No." Starsky sat on the arm of the couch. "I wouldn't trust myself on the street anymore. I'm scared, Hutch. Not really scared so much of getting shot again, though I can't picture living through something like this again, but I'm scared of being scared. I'm afraid that I'm going to freeze up, be afraid to take a chance, and get you killed. Or get a victim killed. Or miss apprehending someone because I freeze up or don't want him to shoot at me. You always should be a little scared to be a good cop, but not really frightened. It would only take one hesitation to get one of us or an innocent bystander killed. I can't take that chance. I could wait for years to go back, and there'd always be that little thread of hesitation there."

"Maybe if you saw a shrink, you know, talked it all out--"

"I've talked until I'm talked out. I've dumped all this on you since I regained consciousness in the hospital. You've been great. I couldn't ask for more if I paid ten shrinks. It isn't right anymore. I'm not dependable."

"You did a pretty damn good job of getting me out of the mess with Callahan."

"That was different. When the stakes were your life, it blasted all this little stuff out of the water. But if the stakes were catching a suspect, or saving someone else, I don't know if I'd have the same fearlessness you have to have to really go for it." Starsky took a deep breath, and Hutch enjoyed watching the smoothness of it, inhaled and exhaled without a grimace of pain or any shakiness. His partner was really healing up finally, but what he was saying made sense, and Hutch couldn't argue with him if there was a part of his psyche that wouldn't heal.

"I guess it's time we bite the bullet then. We better go in and tell Dobey we're all through."

"You better plan to buy some books on physical therapy and rehabilitation then, because I won't be going to any doctor for that program."

"The hell you aren't. That's a business expense."

"Come again?" Starsky was totally baffled by the term.

"You heard me. If we're going to do this music project, try to get a deal, try to make an album, you're going to have to be in good shape so we can make a go of it. Touring is hard work, and so is recording. You don't have to be an expert in the music business to know that. If you're only half recovered, we'll never make it very far. We're going to pool our savings and do the best we can until we can make some money. How do you feel about having a permanent roommate until we make some money?"

"You mean you moving in?"

"Yeah. I'm not crazy about the idea either, but we can't pay for two places, and we can't play around with part-time, low-paying jobs while we're trying to get this project off the ground. And your medical expenses are number one priority here. And as much as I hate to admit it, you live in a safer neighborhood. You're going to be starting to walk and maybe jog again, and the last thing you need is to get mugged while you're doing it."

"I can take care of myself."

"I know that, but why take a chance? Getting punched in the guts right now wouldn't do you a lot of good. One of the guys that lives in my building just got robbed about a week ago--three teenagers. They smacked him around pretty well. Normally I wouldn't get paranoid about that, but it seems like a dumb chance to take while you're still recovering."

"This is weird."


"Starting all over like this. We were secure, making decent livings, doin' okay. All of a sudden we're losing one of the apartments, counting our pennies and unemployed."

"We're starving artists, Starsk. Soak up the atmosphere. They say angst is good grist for the song writing mill."

"You're really ready to do all this?"

"There's no half-way with this. We can't sort of be cops. We either are or we're not. And to make a real go of this career, we either are musicians or we're not. It's time to jump out of the plane and hope our chutes open."

"Thanks for that analogy, Hutch. I was looking for something to make me feel more secure." Starsky rolled his eyes and then looked back at his partner. "You can still cut and run, pal. I won't be mad. I can't go back. I know I can't do the job the way it has to be done, no matter what happens with my recovery. But there's no reason you can't."

"Maybe I found something I like better, did that ever occur to you? I haven't felt as alive as I do now in a long time. I actually look forward to getting up in the morning to see what's going to happen next. That hasn't been the case for quite awhile." Hutch paused. "Maybe all this security is overrated. Besides, you told me once a long time ago that you'd rather sell Avon and stay partners than be a cop without me. Well, I feel the same way. I won't be happy going back by myself. I thought about it. I had a chance to try it while you were in the hospital. And even with Tony Sheridan, who would have been a great partner for anybody, I wasn't interested. That's the best way I can describe it. It didn't fit, and I wasn't interested in making it fit. I was distracted and out of sync with Tony. He deserved better."

"I was jealous."

"What?" Hutch wasn't sure he had caught the almost whispered phrase correctly.

"When you talked about working with Tony and how good he was, and how well the case came together, I was jealous. I know it was dumb, and now that he's dead I feel real childish about it. I just couldn't help it. I don't even know why I'm telling you this now except that I feel stupid." Starsky shook his head. "Really stupid."

"I didn't like it when you hit it off so well with Meredith either. I was mad at you for working that well with another partner. Part of me almost got a kick out of the fact that Dobey and I had to pull you guys out of a jam. How's that for stupid?"

"At least we're even," Starsky said with a chuckle.

"Well, you ready to go quit?"

"Before the session?"

"We can walk in with clear minds."

"Clear minds, Hutch? How do you figure?"

"Nothing else but the music. All our hopes hitched to that and nothing else. Might make it pretty intense."

"Yeah, you can say that again."

"Let's go see Dobey. This isn't going to get easier."

"That I agree with." Starsky slid off his seat on the arm of the couch and picked his car keys up off the coffee table.

"Hey, since when are you back to driving?"

"Since now. I'm sick of riding around. I'm ready to get back behind the wheel--of my car and my life."

"That's the spirit." Hutch put on his shoulder holster and his jacket, while Starsky dug his gun out of the desk and tucked his ID in his pocket. This was the moment of truth. Truth and dare.

Dobey was quietly reading a stack of reports when his two wayward detectives made their entrance. He was surprised to see them both, but seemed pleased by the visit and Starsky's improved appearance.

"You're looking healthy, Starsky. Better not let the chief see you or he'll put you back to work."

"That's what we're here to talk about." Hutch seemed lost at how to launch into the rest of the encounter. This time, they weren't storming out in anger and bitterness. Cutting the tie was almost physically painful to both of them.

"I was just kidding. He's not ready for action yet," Dobey commented good-naturedly. "So how about you coming back part-time, Hutch? It might not be real exciting work, but even if we could get some help with backed up paperwork--"

"Cap, we're not coming back," Starsky stated, his eyes darting nervously from Dobey to Hutch.

"What do you mean?" Dobey became serious.

"We're resigning." Hutch took out his gun and badge and laid them on the desk. Starsky did the same, though he lingered a moment before relinquishing the badge.

"You did this once before." Dobey sat back, regarding them curiously.

"I know, but we were doing that hastily, for all the wrong reasons. We've given this a lot of thought." Hutch shifted a little in his chair. "This isn't something we take lightly."

"You realize of course that we'll give you as much time off as you need to resolve this situation with Starsky's recovery."

"It's true that if Starsky hadn't been shot, we probably wouldn't have quit, but he was, and it's made us analyze our lives pretty carefully to figure out what it is we want. I think there's a part of both of us that'll always want to be cops, but we're not as dedicated to it as we need to be."

"I'm not willing to take chances like I used to, Cap. And I can't face a desk job." Starsky looked down a minute. "This is the hardest thing, next to recovering from this damn shooting, I've ever had to do. But I don't trust myself to jump into the action anymore."

"And I'm not interested in working alone or with another partner. Aside from that, I can't remember the last time I really felt a rush of satisfaction from this job that wasn't outweighed by something bad...death, injury, risk...I want out."

"I can't say I'm not disappointed." Dobey leaned on his elbows on the desk. "But I understand. You two are on leaves of absence for now. Starsky, you're still on medical leave. Think long and hard about this. Think about it at least until Starsky is fully recovered." Dobey cast a knowing look in Starsky's direction. "Go through your physical therapy and when the doctors are finished with you, make your final decision. This is not an official resignation. Take your ID's and guns back, and think about this again. If you're still convinced, then I'll accept them with letters of resignation." Dobey had, in essence, given them the green light to stay on until Starsky's recovery had been financed. From Dobey's perspective, he seemed to feel it was the least the department could do, since Starsky had been the human sacrifice to bringing Gunther down.

"Thanks, Captain." Starsky smiled a little uneasily and picked up his badge and gun. He was strangely relieved to have it back, a feeling that bothered him a little. Getting rid of it should have been the relief.

"Thank you." Hutch picked up his things and tucked them away.

"Now get out of here. I have work to do," Dobey announced, dismissing them with a wave of his hand.

"I didn't expect that," Starsky said as he slid behind the wheel of the Torino. Shades of the past that felt pretty damn good. Maybe this was a mistake...

"Me either. At least that's one thing we don't have to worry about right away. I feel better coming clean with him, though."

"Me too. We better get over to Rhiana's. It's almost noon."

Rhiana's boutique was experiencing a lull in business when the car roared up to the curb. Starsky had been driving faster than necessary all morning, but the very act of maneuvering the car seemed to invigorate him.

"Let's go in and have a look around. I wanna see that leather outfit I'd look so good in." Starsky turned off the engine and was out of the car before Hutch could shower him with objections. He followed his partner through the glass doors into "Rhiana's".

There were numerous displays showcasing stage outfits for musicians of all genres. It was obvious this shop would not be the choice of the conservative Beverly Hills set, but would be a hit with the celebrities and the nouveau riche. Leather, satin, sparkle and dramatic color seemed to assault them from all sides. Rhiana was dressed in keeping with her boutique this day, not nearly the conservative businesswoman who had shown up at their door. Her hair was fuller and left to hang in its usual mane of shoulder-length curls, and she was wearing a pair of black satin slacks with a white sparkly poet's blouse tucked into them. Her make up was darker and more dramatic, but she seemed as business-like as ever while she pored over cash register receipts, comparing them against her ledger.

"Hey, you're early!" she proclaimed with a smile. "Good. It'll give you time to shop. You know what we should do--dress you two up for your session today!"

"No way," Hutch responded immediately, though he had spotted a fringed jacket he found interesting.

"Don't be such a party pooper," Starsky snapped at him, exploring the leather jackets thoroughly.

"You're probably right. We'll come in here after closing some night and pick out your image when we have more time to work on it."

"Pick out our image?" Hutch seemed to bristle at the phrase.

"Sure. You can't just wander around in your old clothes to dazzle record companies. And we'll need a good photo taken to go with the materials we submit."

"No photo. I want to make it on the music, nothing else."

"Don't flatter yourself, blondie." Starsky pulled out a red and black leather jacket and eyed it admiringly. "What makes you think your photo is going to make our career?"

"I only meant...oh, never mind."

"There'll be time to argue about that later." Rhiana laid her paperwork aside and smiled at Starsky's choice of jackets. "That's the one I had in mind for you. The pants are over here." She pulled a pair off the rack. "Come on, you know you wanna try it on."

"Oh for pete's sake, Starsky." Hutch rolled his eyes and exhaled loudly.

"You really think I should?" he asked Rhiana, ignoring his grumbling partner.

"Go for it. Fitting rooms are right back there." She handed him the matching pants, and he made his way to the back of the store.

"You really think red and black leather are our image?" Hutch asked, evaluating the white fringed leather jacket with the silver accents.

"No, but I think it would look good on him and he'll feel good about himself when he sees how good he looks in it. Scars can do some funny things to people," Rhiana said quietly.

"But none of his show most of the time."

"He knows they're there. A friend of mine was in a car accident, and she was badly burned on her chest and upper arms. Now when she was dressed, no one would have known anything was wrong. But she was always a little self-conscious, and she didn't feel quite as pretty as she should have, because she really is an attractive woman. Besides, he's been slopping around the house feeling like a hospital patient long enough. This'll give him a lift."

"So you think it'll improve his outlook?"

"It might. How about that jacket, Hutch? You've been eye-balling it since you got here. Try it on. You'd look great in it. Your coloring is perfect for white leather--I still have that one outfit I told you about on order."

"I don't know about an outfit..."

"Slip into the jacket. Come on." She reached out to take his jacket while he tried on the white one. She hadn't lied. It was perfect. "Well, hello there, Mr. Recording Artist. Hutch, it's you. And you look great in it."

"Really think so?" He was grinning a little, checking his reflection in the mirror. It did have a certain appeal--and a giant price tag.

"Well, it's a little rich for my blood."

"Wear it to the session. Come on, Hutch. Think of it as a free home trial."

"How do I look?" Starsky emerged from the dressing room, looking a little sheepish, but at the same time slightly impressed with himself. The striking colors of the outfit were perfect with his coloring, and the fit left nothing to be desired.

"Come on, move in next to each other, you two." Rhiana stood back as they followed her instructions, inspecting each other's appearances.

"Nice jacket," Starsky said genuinely, checking out his partner's new look.

"Starsky, look at us," Hutch said, with a little dismay.

"Good idea. Turn toward the mirror and look at yourselves. Tell me if you don't see star material," Rhiana urged.

It was amazing what different clothes could do. They didn't look like plain clothes cops anymore. They actually didn't look like they ever had before. These were two new people.

"You know, the contrasting images could be fun. How two opposites can come together and make such great, coordinated music?"

"Rhiana, this isn't exactly me." Starsky looked down at his leather-clad image.

"I don't agree, but how about this? How about trading in the leather pants for black jeans and keeping the red and black jacket? We'll add a black t-shirt under the jacket and you'll look a lot less extreme."

"That'd work," he said, nodding.

"Hutch, you need different jeans and a t-shirt and boots to go with that."

"So in other words I just have to completely change my clothes and I'll look okay?"

"You look great in that jacket, but the shirt and the faded jeans and those shoes have to go if you're going to make the right look. By the way, Dave, blue sneakers aren't going to make it with this outfit either."

"I don't believe we're going to be late for a recording session because we're playing dress-up," Hutch stated.

"Here's what we're going to do, and it won't take long. T-shirts and jeans are right over there," she directed, pointing to the racks, "and when you're outfitted, we'll go down the street to this really great shoe store and get the look completed."

"A shoe store on Rodeo Drive? Do you have any concept of money?" Hutch asked, his ire growing with each new addition to his look.

"Yes, and you're going to have plenty of it if you shut up and listen to your manager. The clothes are free--my official investment in the deal--so you ought to be able to spring for shoes. Besides, the people you'll be meeting pretty soon will know if you're wearing cheap knock-offs."

Weary of arguing the point, Hutch followed his partner to the racks and selected the items he was told he needed. After changing in the dressing rooms, they rejoined Rhiana and took the short walk to the shoe store. Trying to ignore the price tags, they each found boots to their liking, and within a few minutes were back in the Torino, looking completely different from when they arrived.

"I think I could get used to these clothes," Starsky announced happily.

"You both look great. Just like professional musicians." Rhiana was seated between them in the front seat, and she looked from one to the other. "Hutch, will you smile? Don't be such a grouch. I never told you we wouldn't have to project some sort of image to make this marketable. Relax. I've seen plenty of pretty boys come and go if they couldn't play a note. Your music is what'll make you a success, but the look will get you noticed."

"Pretty boys?" Hutch repeated, wide-eyed.

"Rhiana doesn't mince words, pal." Starsky was grinning a little from his place behind the wheel.

"Is that what we are?" he asked.

"Ooh, now you're fishing, Hutchinson." Rhiana laughed a little and leaned back in the seat. "You heard me the first time."

When they arrived at Gary's estate, a sleek sports car was parked just outside the gates. Apparently Ed Shannon, the sound man and sometime producer, didn't have the privilege of opening them. Rhiana told Starsky what pass code to punch in, and the two vehicles made their way to the house. When the other man unfolded from his shiny black car, both Starsky and Hutch were a little relieved to have upgraded their images. His preference seemed to be black in everything, including his clothing. He was dressed in a leather jacket and jeans, boots not unlike the ones Starsky had picked out, and a couple of gold chains filled in the neck as he had opted to skip the t-shirt. His shoulder-length brown hair was styled neatly, and he wore other expensive but tasteful pieces of jewelry.

"Ed Shannon, this is Dave Starsky and Ken Hutchinson."

"So these are your discoveries, eh, Rhiana? Glad to meet you," he nodded toward the two former detectives, who returned the gesture.

"We appreciate you taking some time out to work with us on this project." Starsky spoke up first.

"My pleasure. I'm interested in finding new talent to produce. If I like what you do, and if you can stand me, we might have a viable working relationship here."

"Shall we go inside and give it a whirl, gentlemen?" Rhiana prodded, dangling her keys.

Returning to the studio again reinforced the reality of the situation. They were actually going to try this. Ed proved to be a patient man, able to cope with new artist jitters with great understanding. After hearing them run through one of their songs, he worked with each individually and both together, discussing the little idiosyncrasies in their styles he wanted to either play up or eliminate altogether. After two hours of preliminary work, and a half hour break to relax a little and stroll around the ornate gardens, they set about the business of recording. After three takes at Ed's insistence, one at Starsky's and two at Hutch's, they finally ran through the song and hit on a take that made them all happy. Rhiana obviously respected Ed's judgment, as she faded into the background, watching quietly from the sidelines.

After recording the song, they converged in the control booth, where Ed demonstrated how he could bring out some tracks and play down others, therefore tailoring the sound of the recording to what he considered perfection. By six that evening, Ed declared it a wrap, congratulated the new artists on a good first effort, and fled for his car to make his next commitment, for which he was already late. Left sitting with a finished tape and their new manager -- and fashion consultant -- the singing duo of Starsky and Hutch were worn out but happy.

"Ed really liked your style," Rhiana said, smiling.

"He didn't say much about it." Starsky probed.

"He rarely does. But he wouldn't have stayed this long and put this much effort into it if he didn't like you. And I could tell he was pumped about this right away. He really seemed enthused. You couldn't get anybody better to shape up your sound and get it translated on tape. He's fantastic. A stickler, but fantastic."

"This has been a real experience," Hutch said, leaving his two companions unsure of what that meant. Starsky was not above asking.

"Meaning what?"

"It was hard work, but I have a real sense of accomplishment. How about you?" He looked at Starsky, who looked a little wilted but excited.

"Me too. I had a great time. I'm spent, but I had fun."

"I think we should head home," Hutch stood up.

"We've gotta celebrate. Come on, Hutch, let's go over to Huggy's."

"Like this?" Hutch looked at himself and at Starsky.

"Why not? We look great, we have a beautiful woman with us--sounds like a good time to me."

"I suppose you want to go to Huggy's?" Hutch asked Rhiana.

"Where else?" She smiled at Starsky.

The trio made their debut at Huggy's as the bar reached its busiest time of the evening. It was the first nightlife Starsky had glimpsed since leaving the hospital, and he reveled in the normality of it. Once they were at a table, it wasn't long before Huggy spotted them, in their not-too-subtle jackets, and headed over with a pitcher of beer and four glasses. Since he knew Rhiana, he felt completely at ease crashing the group.

"I see you finally got yourselves a good tailor," he announced as he took the empty chair after serving the drinks. Rhiana chuckled a little at the comment, and Starsky simply flipped up the collar of his jacket.

"So you like new look, huh?"

"Sure beats the old look, but that's not a hard act to follow." Huggy leaned back in his chair with his beer.

"Thanks a lot, Hug," Hutch responded, shaking his head with a slight smile.

"So how's the music business?" Huggy opened the previously taboo subject, and despite a little uneasiness about word spreading, the trio updated him, with a stiff warning not to let it get back to anyone at the department.

"We're still on leave, but we don't want everyone to know we're exploring other career options just yet," Hutch explained.

"My lips are sealed," Huggy answered, finishing off his beer and pouring another.

"Hey, Hutch, isn't that Linda Williams? Remember the San Francisco cop we worked with when we were supposed to be transporting Andrew Mello's daughter?" Starsky was craning his neck over the crowd to see a pair of women in a booth at the back of the restaurant.

"I haven't forgotten her. Yeah, that is her. She's with Tony Sheridan's wife. I wonder what they're doing here." Hutch stood up. "Come on, let's go say hello. Will you excuse us a moment?"

"We'll hold down the table," Rhiana answered with a smile, and she and Huggy launched into a conversation about the jukebox, unconcerned with the other pair's departure.

"Oh my God, Starsky and Hutch!" Linda exclaimed with a broad smile. She stood up and hugged each one, and then turned back to Stacy Sheridan, who recognized Hutch and was smiling.

"Stacy, you met Ken, right?" Stacy nodded. "This is his partner, Dave Starsky."

"Hi," Starsky nodded and smiled. "I'm really sorry about Tony. I've heard a lot of good things about him, especially from my partner here."

"Nice to meet you, Dave. Thanks. He really liked it here in LA. He said he had met some really good cops."

"Could we talk you ladies into joining us?" Hutch asked.

"Stacy?" Linda looked back at her companion, who nodded immediately. The private visit with Linda, who had been partners with her husband, was pleasant for Stacy, but the prospect of a jovial large group appealed to her.

"Stacy Sheridan and Linda Williams, this is Rhiana Blake and the one and only Huggy Bear," Starsky made the introductions, and everyone exchanged the usual niceties as they pulled another table up to theirs to expand the group.

"What are you ladies drinking?" Huggy sprang from his seat to get drinks for the two new additions to the party.

"White wine for both of us," Stacy spoke up.

"So what brings you to LA?" Hutch asked Linda.

"Tony was my partner for about a year in San Francisco, before he relocated here. Stacy and I became friends, so when I got a little time off, I decided to come see her. I wasn't able to come to the funeral thanks to an undercover assignment. Deep cover. I'm glad it's over."

"Can you discuss it now?" Starsky asked.

"I was supposed to be a fence for stolen art." She nodded a thanks at Huggy as he set down the wine. "I did all kinds of research for this one, and then I went undercover. There was no way I could take a risk of being spotted here, and I was supposed to make a major deal about the same time. We busted the ring that had been ripping off some of the most affluent private collectors on the West Coast."

"I read about that," Starsky spoke up. "While I was in the hospital, there was a real rash of art thefts. I also read about the ring getting busted, but I don't remember reading your name."

"They might want to use the cover again. You see, the information came from me, but it can't be traced back to me. It's a long story, but I could still conceivably revive this same character again if necessary. Therefore, they didn't want my name in the papers, and least of all my picture."

"Stacy, are you from San Francisco?" Rhiana asked.

"No, actually I'm from LA. That's part of why we came back here. I attended college in San Francisco, where I met Tony, and we stayed there for a few years after we graduated, but I wanted to be close to my folks here. We were planning to start a family. Tony didn't have any family in San Francisco--he was from Oregon originally."

"So you'll probably stay in LA then?" Starsky asked.

"Oh, yes. My parents have been great--very supportive. And I have a job here now. I'm a teacher."

"Oh really? High school or elementary?" he asked.

"Special education, elementary. I really love it."

"My fiancee was a special-ed teacher too."

"Was? What does she do now?"

"She was killed a couple of years ago. She was very good with the kids."

"I'm sorry. Believe me, I know how that feels now."

"I have to ask," Linda spoke up. "What gives with the outfits? I mean, you two look great, but you aren't the Starsky and Hutch team I remember."

"We're going into the music business," Starsky blurted, gaining himself a sharp, reprimanding glare from Hutch. "Oh, they're not gonna tell anybody, Hutch. He doesn't want it to get out to anybody that we're trying this out in case it doesn't work."

"It'll work," Rhiana chimed in. "They're really good."

The evening progressed along pleasantly, through a couple of pizzas and good conversation. It was well after one in the morning when the guys finally made it back to Starsky's apartment. The shot of nightlife hadn't seemed to take any negative toll on Starsky, and Hutch was relieved to see him experiencing some of his old energy level again.

"You looked like you were having a pretty good time with Linda," Starsky hollered at his partner from the bathroom.

"How about you and Rhiana?"

"We're friends." He emerged after brushing his teeth and plopped down in the chair near the opened sofa bed, where Hutch was tossing his pillows in place.

"Friends, huh?"

"That's how it's gonna stay if we're all going to work together. Last thing I want is another Kira mess."

"You don't think that would happen now?" Hutch sat on the edge of the sofa bed.

"I don't think it would but I don't want to find out. I don't ever want to play that game again."

"I wouldn't do that to you again, Starsk."

"You didn't do it alone. You didn't exactly have to force yourself on her. Rhiana likes both of us, we both like her, and right now it's uncomplicated. Let's keep it that way."

"Whatever you say, buddy." Hutch slid under the covers and exhaled loudly.

"How do you think Stacy's doing?"

"She's pulled herself together a lot since Tony's funeral. She had a lot of class, the way she made it through all that, but she's come a long way. Tonight was the first time I ever saw her smile. You really drew her out, talking about the kids and her work."

"I was interested. Terry used to tell me all about her progress with the kids, and you and I used to have some fun going over there and playing basketball with them." Starsky looked reflective as a sad smile spread over his face. "We've had some good times, haven't we?"

"Plenty. We'll have more. Today and tonight were good examples."

"Yeah, they were." Starsky stood up a little slowly. "Well, I think I'll turn in."

"Still feelin' okay?"

"Fine. Tired. G'night, Hutch." He walked into his bedroom.

"See you tomorrow, buddy."

Hutch reached up and turned off the lamp near the couch. He should really move out soon. Starsky wasn't really convalescing, and Hutch was tired of no social life. Maybe he could have talked Linda into a night cap...he chided himself for the selfish thought. Starsky hadn't made any attempt to encourage him to go, and he seemed to more and more come and perch in the living room for these late night heart-to-hearts. This man who would never go to a therapist if his life depended on it was using Hutch as his sounding board, trying to work through what had to be a panorama of emotions and fears and doubts about the future, and the past. Starsky was only now physically healed enough to concentrate on healing his mind and spirit. And now I'm ready to bail out because he depresses me. You really are an ass, Hutchinson, he berated himself.

Starsky stared at the ceiling for the better part of an hour. He was remembering. He could see Terry laughing and encouraging one of her students to cheer on the basketball game. Terry. I'd like you to meet my wife, Terry. Starsky almost mouthed the sentence. That would have sounded so right. And these are our kids...What if...Why should passing his mid-30's be scary? It isn't really old, he told himself. You thought you were losing your youth when you turned 30, he snickered to himself. No gray hair yet, old man. I did look pretty good in that leather suit. Maybe I've still got it...but so much has passed. Quitting the force hurts, damn it. I don't want to go, he found himself protesting. I want to be a cop. I always wanted to be a cop. This is fun but it isn't being a cop. I want to be like you, Dad. I want to stand for something and I want to do something that means something. Damn you, Gunther, for taking everything away from me! Gunther, you son of a bitch, you killed me! You took away my life! Damn you! I hate you, you bastard! Do you hear me? I hate you!

"Starsky! Starsk, come on, snap out of it!" Hutch was shaking him, and Starsky didn't realize for a moment that he had been vocalizing much of what was going through his mind. He wasn't sure if he had been asleep or dreaming or just conscious and hysterical. He looked at Hutch through glazed eyes. "You've been crying." It was a statement, but there was a certain question in it, a search for a cause.

"Have I?" Starsky reached up and touched his own face, shocked at the moisture there. "I guess I was pretty noisy, huh?"

"Something about Gunther. I couldn't make out the rest of it. Are you okay?"


"It's okay if you're not." Hutch squeezed his partner's arm.

"I'm sorry I woke you up."

"I wasn't asleep yet anyway. Besides, doesn't matter if I was. You wanna tell me about it?" he prodded gently.

"It doesn't make much sense. I was just thinking about Gunther and everything he's cost me...and Terry, and my father, and the past. Weird thoughts. Sad ones."

"Sometimes I get so angry that I want to lash out. Destroy something. I think about Gunther and I want to go to his cell wherever he is and just take a gun and shoot him until there's no flesh holding together to shoot at anymore. Just turn him into mush. That's my revenge fantasy. I hate myself for it, but that's what I want to do. Not too sure I wouldn't do it, given the chance."

"You wouldn't. You're one of the good guys, remember?" Starsky forced a slight smile.

"Let's go out to a shooting range tomorrow. We'll pick a target and pretend it's Gunther and shoot the hell out of it."

"Think that's healthy?" Starsky asked, sniffing and calming considerably.

"Probably not. But I think we both have had to lie down and take this, and I think we're both so damned angry we're ready to tear something in half. I need to release that, and I think you do too. Getting it out is healthy." Hutch looked at his partner.

"I'm really angry at what he took away from me. I'm mad at having to sit back and smile while everything that matters is taken away from me. It isn't fair."

"We've had to survive a lot together, pal. Believe it or not, we'll survive this. We still have the music." Hutch looked hopefully at Starsky, whose face broke into a more genuine smile.

"And we're pretty good at it, aren't we?"

"Damn good. And we're going to make it. We're going to make a go of this music thing. Not only are we going to tell Gunther to fuck off by you surviving and us putting the SOB in prison, but we're going to have an incredibly successful career that we never would have had if we'd stayed cops. Now that's sweet revenge, my best friend."

By eleven a.m. on Sunday morning, the musical duo of Starsky and Hutch were in Gary Olson's studio, playing a variety of songs and generally warming up before the arrival of Eric March. The professional drummer was expected at noon, and Rhiana had deserted them to meet with him in on their own. There was a method to her madness, hoping that by stepping aside for a while, the three musicians would establish their own rapport and chemistry without using her as a middle person. Knowing that Eric had been making noises for months about being creatively stifled with Kingpin, she hoped he might be seduced into the excitement and energy of joining a new project. None of this did she share with her singing detectives, because Eric had confided his discontent to her in a weak moment, then sworn her to secrecy.

Hutch was at the vocal helm, and Starsky was contentedly strumming on the guitar, tapping his toe along with the beat when they noticed a man enter the control booth and take a look at the panel. He was of average height, dressed in jeans, a Led Zeppelin t-shirt and a denim jacket. The only thing that distinguished him as a rock star was his full mane of black curly hair that rested on his shoulders. When he looked up to see he had been discovered, he smiled easily and waved through the window. Opening the door that separated them, he walked toward them and extended his hand. Hutch shook it first, followed by Starsky.

"Hi, I'm Eric March, Rhiana's friend."

"I'm Ken Hutchinson, this is my partner, Dave Starsky."

"You guys sounded pretty good there."

"Thanks. We didn't know anybody was here," Starsky admitted nervously.

"If you get stage fright, you gotta block 'em all out. At least until you get used to it. Then you start getting high on the crowd. Besides, fans are a forgiving lot--if they like you, they'll forgive you even on your bad nights." He grinned a little wickedly. "Of course, the better the night, the more bras they throw on the stage."

"There's something to shoot for," Hutch retorted, smiling.

"Well, as you can see, I sent my drum tech over here yesterday to set up my gear," he explained, approaching the elaborate drum set. "Given any thought to what you wanna play?"

"Rhiana said you're pretty versatile in terms of style--I know you're playing hard rock now," Hutch probed.

"Yeah, that's my favorite, but I can play all sorts of stuff. You like 'American Pie' by Don McClean?"

Both nodded.

"Well, let's start with that as a warm up, and then we'll fiddle around with a few more--see how things work."

"Are we taping anything today?" Starsky asked.

"Rhiana couldn't get Ed over here today, so I guess we're just going to run through some stuff, see how your sound is with a drummer. Ron Adams, one of our sound technicians, is going to stop by later in case we want to roll the tape for awhile informally to check out our own sound. I gotta ask you something," Eric paused, smiling a devilish smile, "Rhiana said you used to be cops. What in the hell makes a cop turn into a musician?"

"Getting four bullets in the guts," Hutch answered, sounding more defensive than the question merited.

"Hutch, take it easy. He didn't mean anything by it."

"You were shot? Man, I'm really sorry. I guess I stuck my foot in my mouth on that one."

"Not him, me. I was shot," Starsky explained. "And I almost died, and I don't want to go back out on the street, and Hutch agreed with me, so we had to figure out what else we'd do if we weren't cops. Hutch has always been a musician. I'm pretty new to it. I usually just sing along."

"I didn't mean to say anything wrong. It's just that the last cop I ran into was waving a night stick at me. I never expected to be in a recording studio with two of them. Cops never seem to exactly have the souls of artistes. Just a personal observation." Eric sat on his drum stool and picked up his sticks. "I hope you're not offended."

"Not really. I'm just a little touchy, I guess," Hutch responded.

"Understandable. Man, surviving four bullets," he said, looking at Starsky. "God must have really been saving you for something important." Eric didn't act as if the remark was terribly significant, but it had an impact on Starsky. He had never exactly put it in that perspective before, as he had struggled through his recovery. He instantly liked the energetic young drummer who was starting to thump out a beat with his foot on the big bass drum. "Are we ready to rock and roll?" He started to laugh. "God, I oughtta have about ten thousand screaming kids in front of me for that one shouldn't I?"

"And at least two flying bras," Hutch added.

"Okay, let's hit it," Eric said with a smile.

The song flowed reasonably well, with only a few stumbles, which didn't seem to concern Eric or Starsky or Hutch, and they all agreed at the end it had been a good warm up and a lot of fun. Hearing their sound rounded out with a back beat made the whole project seem a lot more real for the new musicians. Eric slid out from behind his drums and approached them.

"Can I make a suggestion?"

"Sure," Starsky responded readily.

"Let's do the song again, but this time, you two rotate singing. You've both got strong voices, and if you switch off and then come together on the refrain, I think it'll make your sound more distinct. This way it's just a glob of voices."

"You start." Starsky pointed at Hutch. "He's the singer."

"You fight that one out amongst yourselves." Eric climbed behind his drums again. "Ready?" Both nodded. This time, he cued Hutch to start the song, as a vocal and guitar introduction preceded the drums. Eric's suggestion proved to be a good one, and the more unique sound the duo was capable of was evident at last. Eric had joined them on the refrain, adding a little more power to their combined singing.

"You were right," Hutch confirmed. "That wasn't bad."

"Ready to try a little Zeppelin?" Eric twirled a drumstick easily in his fingers, like a majorette twirls a baton. He cackled a little evilly. "Just kidding."

"'Stairway to Heaven'?" Starsky asked hopefully.

"Seriously?" Eric looked startled and pleasantly surprised.

"I'm definitely bowing out to backing vocals on that." Hutch shook his head.

"Nah, maybe later," Eric retorted with a grin. "We'll just sit around and jam later--maybe import a little refreshment and company," Eric flexed his brows and his companions returned his conspiratory smile.

"Where's Rhiana anyway?" Starsky asked.

"She's back at her boutique I s'pose. She's gonna pick up one of my new stage outfits and bring it back out here. Okay, back to work."

The afternoon passed quickly, with Ron Adams showing up about three o'clock to tape a few collaborations. Starsky and Hutch were feeling more at ease in the studio, and less and less concerned with what was going on in the control booth, thanks largely to watching Eric's complete lack of awe for the setting. He was calm and relaxed, as if he'd been born in a studio, and nothing fazed him very much, including making mistakes on tape. He'd just stop, make a more exaggerated error, make a horrible face of some sort at the control booth, and they'd all take it from the top again. Not that he made many mistakes. He was a competent musician, and a congenial person to work with. His natural cheeriness and energy rubbed off on his fellow musicians, and by the time Rhiana returned to see how things were going, she found the three of them sprawled in the overstuffed leather furniture which was grouped on one side of the room, kept company by a few bottles of wine and a couple of girls Eric had summoned by phone after consulting a genuine little black book.

"Well, you guys look like real live rock stars," she announced, pouring herself a glass of wine and settling on the couch next to Eric. "Corrupting them already, eh?" She poked him gently in the stomach.

"It's not like it was a hard job." Eric polished off the rest of the wine in his glass. "I'll be damned if we don't have three luscious back up singers here. Wanna jam on something?" he asked his two new friends, who after a brief exchanged glance, agreed. "Ron still back there?" Eric craned his neck toward the booth.

"He had to leave. Said he had a date," Rhiana replied. "I can run the tape."

"Okay." He stood up, feigning a little drunkenness, which two glasses of wine hadn't really accomplished. "Who moved the drums?"

"What're we doing?" Hutch asked, not in any hurry to move away from the attentive blonde who had situated herself under his arm that extended along the back of the couch.

"Dave and I are gonna get our Zeppelin fix here. Hey, are any of Gary's old axes around here anywhere?"

"Sure." Rhiana opened a closet and pulled out an electric guitar she knew Gary had no objections to others playing.

"Tina--do your thing, baby," Eric directed as Rhiana handed her the guitar. The brunette who had been on the other couch between Eric and Starsky stood up and took the instrument, moving into the area of the drum set. "She's not Jimmy Paige, but she'll give us the twang we need."

"I'll remember that, Eric. You're no John Bonham, either, hot lips," she retorted with a smile.

"Think you can handle the acoustic parts?" Eric asked Starsky.

"Sort of," he responded, taking a seat on the stool he had occupied earlier.

"You start off with the vocals, and I'll jump in somewhere along the line." Nothing was difficult or intimidating working with this man. You could falteringly feel your way through something you loved to listen to but never played before, and he treated you with the same enthusiasm and professional courtesy as if he were working with the best in the business. And with that kind of a relaxed atmosphere, it wouldn't be hard to become one of the best in the business. There was an odd sense of security in working with Eric. He knew the ins and outs of the business and the studio, almost nothing rattled him, and he was like a ray of sunshine in their venture, as both former detectives tended to have their dark days and nights, even though they had turned a certain corner that night in Starsky's apartment, vowing to make this venture a success.

On the way home from the studio, they stopped at a restaurant for a steak dinner. For some reason, both felt like celebrating. The rented women had left with Eric, stuffed somehow in his low-flung red sports car. Rhiana had opted to go home and balance her books, so left on their own again, they chose food as a companion.

"Too bad Eric's just a loaner," Hutch finally spoke up as he carved a large piece of meat.

"That was amazing today. I think we really have 'a sound' now." Starsky was grinning broadly, and Hutch noticed the usual enthusiasm seeping back into his partner's being, as if it had been injected with a syringe. "So, did you get what's-her-name's phone number? The blonde?"

"No. You get Tina's?"

"Wouldn't you like to know," Starsky teased, chewing contentedly.

"I've got a date with Linda tomorrow night," Hutch announced.

"She's still in town, huh?" Starsky asked.

"For a few more days. But I think we're going to keep in touch even after she goes back. I really like her."

"You two hit it off right from the start. Hope it works for ya."

"Meaning what?"

"Huh? Just what I said."

"We're just going out--this is really going to be the first time we've actually gone anywhere together," Hutch retorted defensively.

"Okay. Don't get so touchy, partner." Starsky paused. "Hutch, I'll be okay if you're ready to move back to your apartment. All that's left of my recovery is just going to the gym and following the program the physical therapist has me on."

"I'm not going to run out on you, pal." Hutch took another drink of his beer and leaned back in the padded booth.

"You wouldn't be. You should have a life of your own, with a few hours out of the day where you aren't worrying about me. I will be okay now. I couldn't have ever made it back without you, but you've done your thing now, and done it well, and I will be okay."

"I'll postpone things with Linda."

"What? Come on, Hutch, this is silly. I'm in one piece, more or less, thanks to some string and krazy glue inside--"

"How can you joke about a thing like that?" Hutch demanded angrily. "Damn it, Starsky, you almost died--hell, you did die."

"I don't think everybody in here needs to know that, pal. Tone it down a little, will ya?" Starsky flushed a little at the attention directed their way by a couple of neighboring tables. "Let's get out of here and talk this out." He pulled out his wallet and hastily threw an approximation of the cost on the table and stood up. Hutch reluctantly followed his lead, and neither of them spoke until they were sitting in the Torino.

"You wanna tell me what this is all about?" Starsky asked. There was no trace of anger in his voice, only puzzlement.

"Sometimes it sweeps over me that you actually died, Starsk. Not a close call, a curtain call. If the doctors had given up a little sooner..." Hutch shook his head and looked out the window.

"And you've never told me any of this was bothering you because you thought I'd go over the edge if you mentioned the cardiac arrest?" Starsky looked away from his partner and out the windshield. "There, I've said it. I had a cardiac arrest and was clinically dead until they brought me back. But like Eric said, God must have had something important in mind for me because here I am. I'm alive, Hutch. I'm recovering, I'm getting stronger all the time. I'll keep getting stronger, and pretty soon I'll beat your sorry butt on the tennis court or jogging--just like before."

"Hey, wait a minute, turkey. You don't beat my sorry butt jogging, so don't pass that one off. I can run circles around you and you know it."

"Maybe in your dreams. You haven't exactly been a paragon of fitness in the last few months, either."

"Can't argue with that, I suppose." Hutch was quiet a moment. "The reality of how close we came, it just startles me."

"I know. Me too." Starsky ran a hand through his hair and then looked back at his partner. "Don't you dare postpone anything with Linda. Let nature take its course, and if you don't make it back to my place, que serà, buddy. I'll be fine."

"So I'm not evicted just yet?"

"Hell no." Starsky laughed a little. "I don't know what's wrong with us--are we that scared to launch into something new that we're hanging onto this living arrangement like a security blanket?"

"That one psychology class you took last year was a good investment," Hutch responded.

"Picture this. You're getting romantic with Linda in the living room, and I suddenly walk out of the bedroom, belching and scratching and stretching and going to the kitchen for a late night snack. I think we both know we're ready to break up this little party and get our lives back."

"What about the nightmares, Starsk?"

"We've got phones. If I get too fruity, I'll call you. If you have one of your bouts of sleepless soul-searching, you call me. We've always done it before.

"True. Time for life to go on, eh?"

"Thank God I've got one to go on with. I'm ready to take my life back, in whatever form I can have it, and live it myself. I can't lean on you forever. I need to take the training wheels off my bike and ride in the fast lane again." He smiled. "And I really love this music thing--I had a great time today, didn't you?"

"Sure did. Maybe we'll make it in this business after all."

"Eric seems to think so."

"Well, now we've got Eric and Rhiana convinced." Hutch looked at Starsky. "It may be we're onto something here."

Hutch made his permanent return to Venice Place the next day. It seemed foreign, as if it weren't really home anymore. He had gotten used to the sounds of life from another person moving around, and Starsky had really been a pretty easy roommate. Going back to living alone again was a little lonely, but Hutch figured he'd adjust pretty quickly. He had always found the quiet peaceful, and there was plenty of that now, so he should be able to get his head together and write something profound in the line of song lyrics. They needed more original material. Their latest had come from an impromptu brainstorming session at three in the morning, leading to some profound lyrics from Hutch, and a melody that seemed to take shape in both his and Starsky's minds as they hummed and strummed and constructed it together. Well, song writing doesn't have to happen at three in the morning.

Starsky surveyed his newly neat living room. Hutch had happily camped there, keeping his personal effects stashed in various spots, usually under the couch, but occasionally strewn here and there around the room. Well, the life support system is really turned off now, Starsky, he said to himself. Time for you to take the reigns again. No machines, nurses, doctors or Hutch to do it for you. This is your life back, time to take it back again. At Starsky's insistence, Hutch would not be joining him for his session at the gym. His partner needed some space, and Starsky was capable of taking care of himself now. He had a new career, so now it was time to go get his tired body back in shape to face the rigors of all night recording sessions and touring...if all that came to pass. He caught a glimpse of the photo of his father on the bedroom wall as he was getting ready to leave for the gym. In his dress blues, looking very official...Starsky remembered when he first saw that photo. Developed two weeks after the funeral. Mike Starsky had won a commendation shortly before his death, and the family had celebrated. His mother suggested having a formal portrait taken to commemorate the occasion, and so there it was, frozen in time. Damn it, Dad, I wanted to make you proud. Being a cop would have done that. I don't want to give my badge back, Dad. He found himself mentally talking to the face in the photo. That face had always softened for him, the usually serious countenance broken by a smile. He was gentle, understanding, and he thought the sun rose and set in his eldest son, who was his image and likeness. Maybe if you had been afraid like I am now, you'd still be here, Dad. He lingered, looking at the photo for a moment, and then picked up his gym bag and left the apartment.

Hutch picked Linda up at seven, and drove to the expensive French restaurant where he had made reservations. She was easy to be with; an attractive woman who knew their strange occupation well and was an interesting conversationalist. Their strange occupation. Not our occupation anymore, he thought a little sadly. Her occupation. I'm a musician now. Why doesn't that make me happy? he queried to himself. Starsky's alive, getting healthier and stronger everyday, we're out of the line of fire, we're still partners doing something we both enjoy, and I'm finally rid of the career that's been making me so miserable. Why am I so damn depressed?

" cover. So I figured I should just lay low. I think that was the right thing to do under the circumstances," Linda concluded. Hutch panicked. A conversational land mine, and he had stepped squarely on top of it. She was waiting for a response, and whatever he said would sound detached and meaningless. "Hutch?"

"I'm sorry," he said, opting for the truth as he pulled up in front of the restaurant, where the parking valet was appraising the battered LTD with a look of horror in his eyes. "I didn't mean to, but I guess I was distracted."

"Is everything okay with you? Is there anything wrong with Starsky?"

"No, he's doing very well, actually. We've got a lot of stuff to work through before we go back on the street again. I guess it just has me a little stressed," he lied smoothly.

"I think he wants to park this," she indicated the antsy valet.

"I don't think he particularly wants to. I think he wants to get it over with," Hutch joked as he got out, leaving the engine running to open Linda's door. The dismayed valet took the driver's seat and disappeared around a corner to the parking lot.

The restaurant was quiet, dimly lit and very elegant. Linda was a little surprised at the extravagance of the evening, but always felt that under the tough cop exterior there was a man who appreciated the finer things in life. She was both amused and impressed as her escort debated the wine choices with the waiter, and made a suitable production out of tasting the one he brought to the table before it was served to both of them.

Months of take out food and pizza in Starsky's living room had left Hutch yearning for something expensive, delicate and tasteful for dinner. Going to a restaurant this expensive was a little much for a first date with a fellow cop who was also a friend, and he hoped she wouldn't think he was using it to soften her up for later. Of course, if it had that effect, he wouldn't consider the evening exactly a failure, either.

Hutch did manage to rein in his over-active brain and direct its attention to his date. All this self-analysis was getting him down, and he finally had some intelligent female company to enjoy. She updated him on a few of her more memorable cases, and she wanted all the details on the Gunther case, which Hutch dutifully provided, though he felt it curdling his escargot with each sentence. The Gunther case had made national headlines, so he didn't really blame her for wanting to know more. If the situation were reversed, he knew he'd want all the particulars from her. It was a generally enjoyable evening, and Hutch found himself wondering if Starsky's first solo evening in months was going well for him. He thought of calling him, just to check on him, but refrained. I'll be damned if I start acting like an overprotective parent and calling home from my dates.

Starsky finished his take out burger and fries and settled in front of the TV with his milk shake. The gym is supposed to be building my cardiovascular stamina, not reducing my weight, he reasoned as he continued to eat everything that was not healthy. His stint at the gym had gone pretty well considering. He was surprised at how much he was capable of doing already, his first time there. It was true he was winded in about the third of his usual time, but it was a good start. He was relishing the fact that this new exertion hadn't brought about any undue bouts of pain. Maybe things were finally healing up for real.

The doorbell rang. A good TV show, a strawberry shake and an old sweatsuit. Heaven interrupted by a damn doorbell. He grudgingly got up and went to the door. Upon looking out the little window, he saw Rhiana waiting there. Relieved it was someone he actually wanted to see, he swung open the door and welcomed her with his best host's smile.

"I'm sorry to drop in like this, but I wanted to talk something over with you guys. Is Hutch around?" she asked as he stood aside for her to enter the apartment.

"Hutch moved back to his place today. It's just you an' me, kid," he said in his best Bogie voice. Rhiana laughed a little and settled on the couch.

"Oh, a 'Streets of San Francisco' re-run. I like that show."

"Want anything to drink or eat? Can't watch TV without snacks." Starsky returned to his seat on the couch.

"Thanks. I just ate dinner."

"So did I," he responded, resuming his attack on the milkshake. "So what?"

"Let's just see the show. We can talk when it's done. Nothing that can't wait." She shifted comfortably on the couch until they were shoulder to shoulder and settled in to watch. Starsky suddenly remembered why he liked Rhiana so much. She was at ease in almost any situation, and she didn't make more of anything than what it was. She was dressed in jeans and a baggy sweater tonight, no glitter or satin or leather. Just comfortable old clothes you'd wear to go visit a friend. And this lady who travels with rock stars and owns a Rodeo Drive boutique is spending her evening in her old clothes watching TV reruns with me. He smiled a little at the situation and relaxed, finishing his shake and watching the show.

"You had something to tell me," he spoke up as the ending credits rolled. Stone and Keller had solved yet another complex on-screen case, and driven off into the sunset in their brown Ford Galaxy. He finally extricated himself from the comfort of the couch and turned off the set. He quickly resumed his seat in close proximity to his TV companion.

"I probably should wait until Hutch is here."

"You'll have a long wait. He's on a date with Linda."

"Well, I got a call from Eric this morning. He was pretty upset."

"About what?"

"He had a big run-in with one of the other guys in Kingpin--artistic difference, I guess you'd say. They got in each other's faces and I guess it came to blows until one of the other band members pulled them off each other. The long and short of it is he's quit the band."

"I'm sorry to hear that. He's a great guy--good musician too."

"Well, I'm glad you feel that way, because he's really interested in joining up with your project on a permanent basis."

"You're not serious? He could probably get a gig with any number of big name acts."

"He could, but Eric's been feeling a little burned out, Dave. He's been touring since he was eighteen years old. He's thirty now. Kingpin made it fast and big, and they've never slowed down. I think the guys are growing up and realizing they aren't as compatible as they were when they were teenagers. And Eric's been through the hype and the fame and the screaming fans for his whole adult life. I've never seen him as relaxed and happy as he was working with you two."

"We had a great time working with him. I think it would be like an answer to a prayer to get somebody that good to hook up with us permanently."

"Well, I know you'll want to run all this by Hutch, but let me know what your answer is as soon as you decide."

"I don't see it as a tough decision, but you're right, I can't say anything final without Hutch."

"You doing anything special tonight?" she asked.

"Yeah--sittin' here with you trying to figure out what to watch next."

"Ooh, you are a charmer, David Starsky."

"I do my best." He put an arm behind her on the couch, and she happily rested her head on his shoulder and started flipping through the TV listings.

Hutch had thoroughly enjoyed Linda's company, and remembered now what a good rapport they had developed instantly on that undercover assignment four years ago. She looked even prettier tonight, of course, than she had then. Her long brown hair was swirled on top of her head, and she was wearing a simple black dress with a little sparkle to it. He had warned her they were going somewhere fancy, and she had dressed the part perfectly. He was ready to head for a nightclub that offered live music and dancing, when Linda spoke up, breaking a peaceful but friendly silence.

"I think I should be getting back to Stacy's. I told her wouldn't be late."

"How is she doing?" Hutch had thought of asking after Tony Sheridan's widow earlier in the evening, but he had selfishly wanted to avoid the topic of shootings, death and Gordon Callahan.

"Not well. She's very depressed. I worry about going back to San Francisco and leaving her, but I have to get back at the end of this week. No more vacation time left."

"Tony's death was really horrible and meaningless. It was a big shock to all of us."

"He was a great guy. A good partner too."

"I know. I worked with him only a few times, but he was sharp, and very dedicated."

"That he was. You're very lucky Starsky recovered. Losing a partner is hard. Even though we couldn't work together anymore, and there was never anything more than friendship between us, there's that bond of watching each other's backs, and a companionship--but then I don't have to describe that to you."

"Not really," Hutch answered with a smile.

"Mind taking me home now?"

"Yes, but I will," he answered with a good-natured grin.

"You know, I'm still trying to decide."

"What?" Hutch asked as he drove toward the Sheridan house.

"About this," she said, playfully tugging at his mustache with her thumb and forefinger.

"Oh, that. Guess I wanted a change of look." He smiled again, not having a better answer than that. "Well?"

"I'll let you know," she replied, leaning back in her seat.

The phone was ringing. Starsky noticed immediately that he was stiff, and there was something weighing him down. He forced open his eyes and looked down at Rhiana, sleeping soundly on his shoulder. The TV was still gibbering on in the background, some early morning talk show having replaced the old movie they had fallen asleep watching the night before. As he attempted to move, she started a little and sat up, blinking herself into consciousness while he answered the phone.


"Morning, partner." Hutch's cheerful voice came over the line, annoying Starsky with its buoyancy at seven in the morning.

"What do you want? It's seven a.m.," he grumbled. He looked at Rhiana, who looked as bleary-eyed and disheveled as he did, and smiled brightly. She returned it following a long yawn.

"You're in a good mood. How'd things go at the gym?"

"Really good. I'm not my old self yet, but I held up better than I expected. I'm a little stiff this morning, but I think I slept funny." He winked at Rhiana, who chuckled a little as she wandered into the bathroom to freshen up a bit. "Oh, listen, can you come over? Rhiana has some news for us."

"She's there? And you're grumbling about me waking you up. Let me do some simple deductive reasoning here..."

"It's nothing like that. She came over last night and we fell asleep in front of the TV."

"Watch out, Starsk. Sounds like a couple of old married people."

"Or a couple of good friends. I've fallen asleep watching TV with you a few times too and I haven't proposed yet, have I?"

"Guess you just don't have very good taste, then," Hutch responded with a smirk in his voice. "I'll be over in about half an hour."

"How'd things go with Linda last night?"

"We had a nice evening."

"A 'nice' evening? Hutch, when I go out to eat with my aunt and uncle, we have a 'nice' evening."

"She's pretty special. But she went home early to be with Stacy."

"When's she going home?"

"End of this week."

"Hey, you've still got time to dazzle her, blondie." He heard the bathroom door open, and turned his conversation in a decidedly less chauvinistic direction. "I'm glad you had a nice time," he concluded.

"Rhiana's back in the room, eh? I'll be there in a little while."

"See ya." Starsky hung up the phone.

"Want some breakfast? After falling asleep on you the least I can do is feed you," Rhiana said as she inspected the refrigerator.

"Sounds good. Whatever you come up with. Hutch is coming over."

"I'll make some scrambled eggs. Enough for everybody."

Like she did everything else, Rhiana made eggs with flair. They weren't just yellow gobs of egg, but she added cheese, ham, onions and any other seasoning or ingredient she thought might be appreciated. While Starsky showered and shaved, she created a feast, and by the time Hutch arrived, even his healthier instincts didn't prevent him from agreeing to join them in their cholesterol binge.

"Rhiana has some news for us," Starsky announced as they started passing around the eggs, and reaching for toast off the plate piled with it in the middle of the small table.

"Good news or bad news?" Hutch asked, starting the bacon plate around. This woman must have cooked everything in the refrigerator, he thought to himself. Of course, he wasn't complaining.

"Well, the bad news is that Eric had a fist fight with Kingpin's lead singer. He has a fat lip. The good news is that he quit his old band, and he wants to work with the two of you on a more permanent basis."

"With us?" Hutch echoed Starsky's earlier surprise.

"With you," Rhiana confirmed. "'He really enjoyed himself, and he'd like to be involved with something new and fresh and totally different. Of course, you and Dave have to agree it's what you want. I'm sure he'll understand if there's some reason you'd prefer to find someone else."

"Why would we do something stupid like that?" Hutch answered immediately, with a little difficulty through a mouthful of eggs.

"Rhiana, would we be paying Eric like a session musician?" Starsky voiced a concern that had only just occurred to him.

"Oh no. He'd be part of the band. He'd share in the royalties, anything you guys made--it would get divided up equally. And he'd like the chance to do some song writing with you." She took a sip of orange juice and continued. "This wouldn't be a big contractual thing right away, being you're not signed yet. You could all test drive the arrangement for a while, and if it doesn't work, then you go your separate ways."

"I think we'd be nuts to pass this up."

"I'm with Hutch. I say go for it."

"I'll call Eric--better yet, why don't one of you call him? When we get together again Tuesday, the three of you can really collaborate."

The continued collaboration with Eric March yielded some new and exciting material. Not only did having a drummer help round out their sound, but Eric had some very original ideas for melodies and lyrics that, coupled with their own ideas and partially finished songs, produced some memorable material. Rhiana rented a small upright piano which was delivered to the studio during their first week as a trio. Hutch could handle the keyboard work in the studio, but they would need a keyboardist if they were ever planning to appear live.

Ed Shannon returned to the project by mid-week, and two more songs were added to the one-song demo tape. One was a ballad, relying predominantly on acoustic guitar and the other was a more up-tempo song for which Eric had written the music and all three had collaborated on the lyrics. It included the rounded out sound of piano, drums and guitars. There seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel, as Rhiana stated she would be satisfied with a five-song demo to circulate.

Gary Olson made a rare appearance at his estate in a break in his tour, finding his studio completely inhabited by this new pet project of his former girlfriend. The tall, sandy-blond guitarist didn't appear to object to the situation, as Rhiana had kept him apprised of their progress. Starsky and Hutch were beyond being intimidated by famous spectators, having a famous musician as part of their band, and having endured the jitters of having at least a half dozen of his friends dropping in to wish him well and check out his new project. Rhiana seemed concerned that their group would turn into just that--Eric's project--but he assured her he had no interest in the spotlight. He further encouraged her to market the demo without using his name. His involvement was kept among a few of his closest friends, and he made no effort to outshine the two front men. He didn't feel it was an illogical concern to let these two new musicians build a reputation before they were judged on the basis of which musicians they had been able to recruit to round out their band line-up.

Gary took up quiet residence in the control booth with Ed, collaborating with him on the producing duties. The former detectives found the community of musicians to be something like the community of cops, oddly enough: clannish, collaborative and generous toward one another. Their occupation seemed to be their connection, and Gary treated them much like old friends after he had only spent a few hours in their company. He was a quieter sort than Eric, more reserved and straight-faced, but his talent was enormous and his ear for perfection relentless. He was the perfect foil for Ed, who fancied himself the most brilliant sound man and producer around. Gary could give him a run for his money behind the controls, and could nit-pick even more minutely than Ed.

Proving to be a good friend in terms of sharing his studio and sound equipment, Gary was "vacationing" himself and therefore raised no objections to their use of his facilities. His only interference in the project was teaching Starsky some of the fundamentals of the electric guitar, as he had watched Gary play a couple of solos with such rapt fascination that the musician couldn't resist sharing a few pointers with an obvious fan. Starsky was a quick study, and to Hutch's slight chagrin, spent some of their rehearsal time working on mastering a number of chords on one of Gary's old electrics.

Starsky's rehabilitation was progressing without a hitch, and he wasn't sure if it was his enthusiasm about this new project or just the willingness of a body whose strength he'd underestimated that was moving him along so smoothly. Or maybe it was Rhiana, who was making it more and more of a habit to spend long evenings with him. With his old pep and stamina returning, they spent less time dozing in front of his TV and more time in restaurants, movie theaters and nightclubs.

Hutch's relationship with Linda had taken a definite turn for the better. They had gone out twice during her week's vacation, and she applied for a detective's job at the LAPD. She was making the move largely to be moral support for Stacy Sheridan, who still was not recovering well from Tony's death, but her friend was not the only motivation for the move. A certain blond former detective, whose mustache she hadn't committed to liking just yet, figured heavily in her thinking. Hutch delighted in being able to communicate so easily with her, and the fact there was a substance beneath her beauty. She had brains, street-smarts and a wealth of life experience.

With some coercing on both sides, they all managed to arrange a triple-date, with Hutch and Linda, Starsky and Rhiana, and Eric and Stacy. Eric was fiercely leery of blind dates, and considering her grief, Stacy was uninterested in any type of date at all. With the evening billed as simply a "gathering of friends", Stacy had been convinced, and Linda was relieved to get her out of the house for a change.

The group attended a symphony concert. Much to their surprise, Eric turned out to be a fan, and managed to get them six tickets. The entire group seemed to enjoy the music, and it was a good excuse to get dressed up and then follow the concert with dinner at a fancy restaurant. Stacy seemed uncomfortable with the fact she was having a good time, but she actually smiled and laughed a few times, and knowing what she had been through, Eric made cheering her up his personal crusade. It was a task that came easily to his friendly nature. Rhiana and Linda seemed to get along well together, which was always a good omen for Starsky and Hutch, who had a propensity for winding up on double dates on a regular basis.

After three weeks of work on the demo tape, it was considered finished, and Rhiana went about the task of marketing it. She had the unenviable task of convincing Hutch the band really should pose together for a publicity shot to accompany the tape, but he finally relented, and an outdoor shot was taken of Starsky and Hutch, standing against the backdrop of a desert sunset, dressed in jeans and the leather jackets they had chosen at Rhiana's boutique. Eric refused to pose for the photo, saying he feared his notoriety would be the thing record company execs focused on, rather than the music the band was capable of. He steadfastly remained the "phantom drummer", at least until the band was signed.

With the publicity shot taken, the demo completed, and the process about to begin, a full night was spent sitting among discarded pizza boxes and beer and pop cans in Eric's living room trying to come up with a name. Both former detectives had rejected billing the project as "Starsky & Hutch", since they had no desire to officially exclude the for-now-covert third member of their trio. Various police terms were tossed around, musical terminology, street slang, weather elements, natural disaster terms, household objects...anything and everything that might be construed as a band name. By one that morning, Starsky stood up and stretched ostentatiously.

"I'm gonna call over to The Pits and see if Huggy'll toss another pizza together for us if I run over there and get it."

"Dave--wait a minute--" Rhiana's whole slouched demeanor straightened. "The Pits."

"Thanks, pal," Eric laughed and fell backwards on the couch, kicking off his sneakers and putting his feet up on the cushions.

"A little self-deprecation never hurt--besides, it'll convey a kind of dangerous, grungy image."

"Hutch couldn't look dangerous and grungy if his life depended on it," Starsky sat on the arm of the couch near where his partner sat. He playfully messed his friend's hair and was rewarded with having his hand shoved away with no small amount of rancor. The needling had worked, he thought with a snicker.

"How about 'The Anchovies'?" Eric added.

"The 'Pepper Rings'," Starsky continued.

"Oh, all right, forget 'The Pits'. It was just a thought." Rhiana laughed a little at the difficult group that were getting silly as the long night wore on.

"Wait--wait! I've got it!" Starsky looked as if he wanted to say a name but couldn't get it out. "Hutch, that poem, the one about the boat--you know, the one when I was sick--"


"That's it! 'Passages'." He looked hopefully at Eric, who was quietly rolling the thought around in his mind, then nodded.

Hutch was a little surprised his partner ever gave the poem a passing thought anymore.

"I like it," she responded simply. "'Passages'. It's unique, very cryptic--doesn't limit you to any particular style."

"Hutch?" Starsky looked back at his partner, who hadn't joined in the conversation one way or the other.

"It might work." He nodded, then smiled. "I like it too."

"Gentlemen, we have a winner!" Rhiana slumped back in her chair in a mixture of joy and relief. "Okay, 'Passages', let's go down and party at The Pits. We've got almost an hour before closing."

"Huggy'll never throw us out anyway--he'll just join the party when he gets rid of everyone else." Starsky stood up and grabbed his jacket from the spot on the floor where he had tossed it earlier. "Hey, let's go pick up Linda and Stacy."

"Starsky, it's one in the morning," Hutch protested.

"So? It's Saturday night. They could use a little excitement in their lives. Come on."

"Stacy, huh?" Eric smiled. "I kind of liked her, but she never would return my calls. I don't know as she'll want to see me again."

"One way to find out." Starsky led the procession out of the house, and after piling into Hutch's LTD, the only vehicle that would carry all four of them plus two more, they headed for the Sheridan house.

Hutch went to the door, slightly relieved the lights were still on in the living room. Before long, Linda looked out and then opened the front door.

"Ken, what're you doing here?' she asked with a slight smile. She was in her robe and slippers.

"We picked a name for the band, and we're going over to The Pits to celebrate. Thought you and Stacy might want to come along.

"What is it?"

"Are you coming?" he teased.

"Give us about fifteen minutes. I'll drag Stacy by the hair if I have to."

"Eric's with us, so if you need help, maybe he can do it. She might go for that whole caveman image."

"The poor guy's called here about six times," Linda whispered. "I think Stacy's a little nervous about starting anything."

"I'll tell him to be on his good behavior."

"We'll be right out." She closed the door as Hutch returned to the car.

"They're going to get ready and be out in about fifteen," Hutch informed the group as he got back in the car.

"Man, I thought my car was messy," Eric commented from the backseat he shared with Rhiana. "Mine's mostly take out bags. I think your whole life's in here, man."

"Oh, great. Another one with a smart mouth about my car," he said, shooting an accusatory look at Starsky, who simply smiled, knowing he was way too guilty to protest.

"Is Stacy coming?" Eric asked. It seemed redundant, since Hutch had said "they", but he humored the question.

"Yeah. Linda said Stacy's a little skittish about dating anyone--that's why she hasn't called back."

"I'll back off. No hurry. I don't wanna get married or anything. I just liked her company."

Before long, both women emerged from the house and Starsky got out to let them in the front, and then joined Eric and Rhiana in the back. The old car made its way laboriously toward The Pits, and Huggy was not at all unhappy to see the party goers make their debut as the night's crowd was fizzling.

"Hey, it's the wandering minstrels. What it is?" Huggy greeted cheerily as the group approached the bar, where only a few stragglers remained, looking somewhat the worse for wear.

"We're celebrating, Hug." Starsky began. "Hey, this is Eric March--the official keeper of the beat for our little project."

"Eric, my man," Huggy said as he reached across to shake hands.

"Eric, this is the infamous Huggy Bear."

"Creator of the Huggy Double or Nothing pizza? I'm impressed," Eric responded, laughing.

"At last, a man of taste. So what are we celebrating?"

"We have a name," Rhiana spoke up. "These guys are finally official enough to have a name."

"And what might that be?"

"Passages," Hutch spoke up.

"Passages," Huggy repeated, mulling over the name. "I like it."

"Then it's unanimous," Starsky announced.

"We're going to shove a few tables together over here," Hutch stated as he and Eric began moving tables and chairs to accommodate the six, soon to be seven, person group.

As soon as the bar was officially closed, Huggy joined his friends for a pizza and a pitcher of beer. Starsky and Hutch couldn't help looking around the bar, remembering how many cases they'd worked on over one of the small tables, or how many calls they'd answered here because Huggy had a tip or was in some sort of scrape. It seemed fitting to celebrate a new beginning if it gave life some strange sense of continuity.

"So how's the workout program coming?" Huggy asked Starsky as the noise level of the other five people rose over a joke Rhiana was telling.

"Great. I'm back up to running now, instead of just walking. I'm not as fast yet, and my stamina isn't what it used to be yet, but it keeps getting better. I won't be working with a physical therapist anymore after this week, because the doctor said I'm beyond having to worry about any relapse from my injuries. He said it's just a matter of getting back in the shape I wanna be in again."

"So that means it's about time to make that resignation official, huh?"

"Just about." Starsky took another gulp of his beer.

"You don't look happy about that."

"I'm not. But I think it's the best thing to do."

"I thought you were all excited about this music thing."

"I am." Starsky eyed the others carefully to be sure they were still enraptured by their conversation, and that the noise level stayed high enough for him to finish. "I always wanted to be a cop, and it was something I shared with my dad. He died when I was so young, and it seemed like this way, there was something I was doing with him, for him--if that makes any sense. I wouldn't have walked away from it for anything."

"Except this?"

"Except I don't think I'll have the nerve anymore. And that's not something you can experiment with on the street. Maybe I would, but on the chance that I wouldn't, I won't risk it."

"You two look way too serious over there," Hutch probed his partner. Starsky felt an odd void when he looked up at him. This project seemed to divide them up, put them in this group atmosphere all the time. He hadn't had a real talk with Hutch in a long time.

Things were heating up between Hutch and Linda, so what time was spent away from the band was usually spent with her. Starsky had found himself spending many hours with Rhiana, which wasn't at all unpleasant, and their relationship had deepened considerably during that time. What was only a casual friendship was taking a decidedly romantic turn, and that was wonderful. But it still left that gaping void...

"Just soul searching," Starsky finally responded with a little grin.

"Well, lighten up, this is a party."

These words from Hutch? Starsky smiled back at his partner and followed the directive. If this career move had inspired Hutch to adopt such phrases as "lighten up" and put him in this kind of a cheery frame of mind, it was worth it. He had been grouchy and sullen in their last months on the force, so maybe this change was for the best anyway, regardless of Starsky's own situation.

Stacy was laughing and visiting happily with Eric. He seemed to have a good effect on her, and it was a source of curiosity to the group why she wouldn't return his calls. They seemed to have a natural rapport.

Hutch was hoping he could lure Linda away from her friend to spend a little quality time together after the party broke up. She was less and less committed to being constantly by Stacy's side, as the young woman seemed to be coming out of her initial severe depression. This had allowed Linda the latitude to spend more time with her new love interest, and also made her transition into the LAPD less stressful. She had been hired shortly after applying, as she had made a favorable impression on Dobey and other police administrators during her work on the Andrew Mello case. Since then, she had built herself a solid reputation in undercover work with the SFPD.

Starsky had no idea how his partner's evening turned out, but he was pleased with himself that Rhiana had agreed to be dropped off at his apartment with him for a "nightcap". It was almost four-thirty in the morning, so inviting her in for breakfast would have made more sense.

Rhiana walked in as he opened the door and then closed and locked it behind him. She flopped on the couch and exhaled loudly.

"I had a lot of fun tonight, but I'm really wiped out. How about you?"

"I don't think it's even exactly night anymore, is it?" Starsky moved her legs long enough to sit down and then brought them back up on his lap. He leaned back into the cushions and yawned. Not exactly his sexiest move, he suddenly realized he was so comfortable with Rhiana that it hadn't occurred to him to play games with her.

"So why did you invite me over here if you're so winded?"

"I thought we could be winded together. More fun than doing it by yourself." He looked over at her and smiled. That smile always had melted her heart from the first time she saw it, and though up to this point they'd only been friends, it had the same effect every time. She shifted positions to sit next to him, resting her entwined hands on his shoulder.

"You have a beautiful smile."

"You make me smile," he answered honestly, leaning down to kiss her. And one led to another before he slowly, and somewhat hesitantly pulled back. She was just as beautiful as he thought she was, even in their present tired-eyed state. She reached up and rested her hand on his face for a brief moment before encouraging him to lean toward her again. He slid his arms around her, pulling her close and leaning back on the cushions of the couch. He could feel her fingers working on the buttons of his shirt, and he froze.

"Dave--what's wrong?" She looked into his eyes across the inches that divided their faces.

"I think maybe this is moving too fast." He leaned back on the couch, and she straightened up to face him. He was reaching to close the part of his shirt she had opened. She reached over and took a hold of his hand, gently stopping him in his task.

"What is this really about? I'm not going to be shocked by a few scars, David."

"Don't be so sure," he responded with a characteristic grin.

"I'm sure. You trust me, don't you?"

"It's not that. There hasn't been anybody since..."

"It's like riding a bike, Dave. You don't forget how to do it."

"I wasn't worried about that," he said, laughing a little.

"At least you're laughing. That's a start."

"Only we could consider that a start to a night of passion."

"That's because we're always friends first." She smiled. "Why don't you let me see the scars? Once that's out of the way, we can both relax," she said quietly.

"I guess I never thought too much about the fact I never showed them to anybody. I mean Hutch saw them, but I sort of wondered what I'd feel like...maybe more how someone else...would react."

"Try me?" She smiled a little, moving his hand gently away from the partially opened shirt. He offered no resistance to her opening it the rest of the way and exposing what he considered an unsightly network of scars. No shock or dismay registered on her face. "Can you tell me what they mean?" She looked up, her clear green eyes meeting his.

"What do you mean?"

"How you got them--what each one is from specifically?"

"I guess." He looked down, and began explaining which ones were entry wounds, which ones were surgical scars, and before long had forgotten to be self-conscious about them. He was even pointing out a couple of exit wounds on his back.

"I'm going to tell you what they mean to me now," she began, gently resting her hand on an entry wound scar. "This is a bullet that you were strong enough to survive," she moved her hand to an incision scar, "and this is a surgery that saved your life." She moved to another scar on his chest. "And this means your lung is all right because it could be repaired in surgery--so you have the breath you need to sing or talk or laugh or yawn or run or dance. And all of these together mean that your life is a miracle, David Starsky. These all mean that you overcame insurmountable odds and you survived. And you know what?" He just looked at her, too choked up to say much of anything. "For that reason, I think they're beautiful, just like you, just like your heart and soul."

Unable to say anything that would even begin to describe what her words had meant, he just pulled her close, holding her tightly. He felt her wind her arms around him and settle against him contentedly.

"I think I love you," he finally murmured into the soft red curls that were just under his chin.

"Took you long enough to figure that out. I knew I loved you a long time ago. First time I saw that silly big grin of yours." She laughed softly against his chest. "I was so...horrified when I heard what happened to you, I wanted to come and see you, come and tell you how I felt, and tell you to come back to me, so we could have a chance...I thought you'd die and I never would have told you."

"Why didn't you come to see me? Or call?"

"Well, you would have been at an unfair disadvantage to know how you felt. I didn't want to show up, help take care of you and have you mistake gratitude or dependence for love. Though it was the hardest thing I ever did not to come and dote on you non-stop while you were recovering."

"And then I called you."

"Think maybe it was fate?" She looked up to meet his eyes, and he kissed the end of her nose.

"I'd bet on it, Rhi."

"Do you know how much I love to listen to this heartbeat? It's so healthy and strong."

"A lot of that strength came from you. You helped Hutch and me get something started we could believe in again. It was an incentive to keep getting better. Just when I thought I had lost everything..."

"You miss being a cop, don't you?"

"More than you'll ever know. I loved it and hated it at the same time, but it was what I was--part of me. I just don't trust myself out there anymore. And I don't want to get shot again. I'm afraid."

"Me too. I don't want you to get shot again either. Not much chance of that happening in a recording studio."

"Guess not," he replied with a soft laugh.

"Unless you and Eric go off on another Zeppelin tangent. I think Hutch'll shoot you himself."

"I think you're right," he said, laughing again, thinking of Hutch's irritation at his and Eric's occasional digressions from the tasks at hand.

The phone rang. Starsky debated whether or not to acknowledge it, but Rhiana moved away from him immediately, as if she expected he would answer it. He got up and with a groan picked up the phone.

"Starsky," he barked, sometimes forgetting he wasn't at his desk at the precinct.

"It's Eric, Dave. I'm in big trouble." The other man's voice was shaking, and it was obvious he wasn't exaggerating that the situation was serious.

"Okay, just take it easy, pal. What's wrong?"

"I got arrested...they think I killed Matt Armstrong."

"Who? Isn't that the singer from your old band?"

"Yeah. I went over to talk to him, and I found him. He was dead--murdered...I called the cops, and they arrested me. I don't know what to do..."

"Okay, just stay calm. I'm your phone call, right?"


"Okay. I'm going to call a damn good lawyer for you, and we'll be there as soon as we can. Rhiana, Hutch, the lawyer and me. Your cavalry's on the way, buddy, so just hang in there. Who arrested you--was it a detective?"

"Yeah, some guy named...Stevens, I think."

"I know Hal. I'll get a hold of him and see what's going on. Don't worry. Arrested ain't convicted, Eric. We have a lot of suspects dragged in who get out before anything goes to court, so don't panic. We'll be there as fast as we can."

"Thanks, Dave."

"See ya later." Starsky hung up and looked back at Rhiana's concerned expression. "Somebody killed Matt Armstrong and they think Eric did it."

"Oh my God." Rhiana was off the couch and heading for her purse immediately to go out the door.

"Hold up a second." Starsky was flipping through the phone book. "Aldon Andrews. He's the best damn defense attorney in town. He's the one we all hate to see on the other side of the courtroom. I've got to get a hold of him for Eric. If they hauled him in this fast, they must have one hell of a circumstantial case."

Starsky finally reached the lawyer at his home number, and he agreed to meet them downtown. Then he placed a call to Hutch.

The ringing of the phone startled Hutch out of a moment he had worked on creating for the better part of an hour. Linda was in his arms, they had kissed, and they were basking in a moment of eye contact that spoke volumes. More from habit than anything else, Hutch grudgingly reached for the phone. He was used to living like a cop, accepting interruptions at any time. Hard to remember that wasn't the case anymore...

"Hutch, it's me. We've got big trouble, buddy." Starsky sounded upset.

"What's wrong?" Hutch seemed to snap back to reality at the concerned tone of his partner's voice.

"Eric's been arrested. They think he killed Matt Armstrong."

"Who's he?"

"Kingpin's lead singer."

"The one he had the fight with? Oh, great."

"I already got Aldon Andrews meeting us down there. Can you meet us there ASAP? Hutch?"

"Yeah. What?"

"I think we should ask to end our leave. It's the only way we can help him."

"You're assuming he didn't do it."

"You're damn right I am."

"We'll talk when I see you." Hutch hung up the phone, and Starsky did the same.

"They arrested Eric March for murder." Hutch disentangled himself from Linda and went for his shoulder holster, badge and jacket.

"I'm coming with you. Who's on the case?" Linda straightened her rumpled clothing and checked her hair in the bathroom mirror.

"I don't know that much yet. Just that he's been taken in."

One of the first people Starsky looked for when he arrived at the precinct was Hal Stevens. The young detective was busily jabbering on the phone to someone, discussing blood evidence sent to the lab. He smiled when he saw Starsky, and after he hung up, greeted him enthusiastically.

"Hey, Starsky, you're lookin' good, man," he said happily, extending a hand, which Starsky shook with a faint smile.

"What's going on with the Eric March arrest?"

"You heard about that, huh?" Stevens looked pleased with himself. "We got a report of a disturbance of some kind, something that sounded like a fight, going on over at Matt Armstrong's apartment--he's the lead--"

"Yeah, yeah, I know who he is. And?"

"When we got there, here's March standing over him with a knife in his hand, blood all over him, all over the knife, his hands..."

"So you arrested him?"

"Yeah. Short of watching him do it ourselves, we got about as much as we can get. Plus Armstrong's girlfriend, who was in the bedroom at the time, says he and March have been fighting on and off for quite a while now."

"She was in the apartment when it happened?"

"She was a little stoned. She isn't too clear on what went down tonight. She was still upstairs when we got there, babbling about noises downstairs. It's one of those big fancy penthouse deals." Stevens wrinkled his brow. "You know these people, Starsky?"

"Eric March is a friend of mine. And he's no killer, Hal." Starsky looked around, and as he did, spotted Aldon Andrews making purposeful strides across the squad room. He was a tall man with receding white hair and a booming, imposing voice. Dressed in a dark business suit, even being summoned out of bed at five in the morning didn't prevent him from looking the part of a top-flight attorney.

"Sergeant Starsky," he greeted, shaking hands with Starsky. "You're Stevens?" He nodded toward the younger detective.

"That's right."

"Eric March is my client. I'd like to see him now."

"Right this way. He's still in an interrogation room."

"Apprised of his rights, I hope," Andrews stated curtly.

"We do understand the Miranda Law here, counselor," Stevens retorted, ruffled.

Starsky entered the interrogation room with Andrews, and Stevens briefly debated, then decided against, reminding the other detective he was still on leave. Eric sat at the long table, dressed in jail blues, looking jittery, tense and sad.

"Will you excuse us, Detective Stevens?" Andrews asked curtly. The other man left the room with a shrug, and when he did, Eric's face broke into a smile of pure relief.

"God, am I glad to see you, Dave."

"Be glad to see this guy too. He's had a few of our best cases for lunch. Aldon Andrews, this is Eric March. Eric, this is one hell of a lawyer."

"Thank you for the introduction, Starsky," Andrews responded, smiling and shaking hands with Eric.

"Listen, I can't stay in here while you talk with your lawyer. I'm only on leave. I'm still a cop."

"I don't have anything to hide--from you or anybody else."

"I know that, but it's in your best interest to talk with him in private. Then I'll come back in and we can talk if you want. But as of now, I'm still part of this department, and what you say in front of me could get you in trouble later if they call me to testify, if it comes to that."

"Okay. But I want to talk to you."

"I know. I'll be back, and Hutch'll probably be here by then." Starsky smiled. "You're in good hands, so just try to stay calm, okay?" Eric nodded, and Starsky took his leave.

The lawyer's brisk demeanor vanished, and he sat across from his client and looked him in the eyes.

"This is where we level. I don't care if you're Charles Manson. My job is to get you off the hook. So let's not play games. Did you kill this guy?"

"No!" Eric shot back, as if he took the question as a personal affront.

"Had to ask. Okay, since you're innocent then, who do you think did it?"

"I don't know. Matt could be kind of a jerk sometimes, and he could get people mad at him pretty easily, but I don't know anybody who wants him dead."

"Starsky said you had a big blow-up with him a while back, came to blows, with witnesses."

"That's true. I left the band a few days ago. Up 'til then, Matt and I were best friends for the whole time we were in Kingpin, way before we made it big--back when we were kids. As the years went by, we grew up differently. We handled fame differently. Matt was all glitter and women and drugs and sex and booze and cars--not that I'm finding fault with glitter, women, sex and cars, but the drugs and booze made him kind of an asshole at times. But he was my friend, so we got past that most of the time. Lately, he's been getting heavily into heroin, going through pot like there's no tomorrow...I know he's been killing himself slowly for the last several months. I tried everything to get through to him, but that kind of made me the enemy as far as he was concerned, and it spilled over into us fighting about the music, which we never fought about before. I finally decided to get out because I couldn't watch him commit suicide, and we couldn't work together anymore."

"So what happened last night? What were you doing there?" Andrews asked.

"I wanted to resolve things with Matt. When we picked the name for the band, it seemed so final, and that was okay, because I wanted out, but I knew it was permanently over. I just felt bad to let the friendship die. I wanted to talk it out with him."

"A name for the band?" Andrews asked. Eric was in a spot now, and explained himself, despite his companions' pleas for secrecy.

"I'm in a band with Starsky and Hutch. It's just an informal thing, for fun," he lied, attempting a little damage control. "But we just picked a name last night, and I wanted to tell Matt about it. I know it's nuts, because we were at each other's throats, but he was always the first person I shared everything with since I was about ten years old. I wanted to fix things between us..." He shook his head and fought back a couple of tears. "Guess that isn't going to happen now. I've been so wrapped up in being arrested I guess it's just sinking in..."

"Well, I need to find out all the particulars on what the cops have. You've got an alibi of any kind?"

"Not really. I mean I was dropped off at my place about four-twenty--I was with Starsky and Hutch, Rhiana Blake, Linda Williams and a guy named Huggy Bear--at his bar. We were celebrating picking the name. After that, I just felt like talking to Matt."

"At dawn?"

"We've always kept weird schedules, so it's not unusual that he'd be up all night and sleep all day--me either for that matter."

"So no one saw you after four-twenty?"


"Okay. I'm going to talk to the cops. I don't have too many concerns that we can't get you out on bond--any priors?"

"Nothing big. A couple of disturbing the peace things from about six years ago, but since then I've kept my nose clean even when we're on the road."

"No sixteen year old statutory rape groupies?"

"I'm not stupid, Mr. Andrews."

"I'm not implying you are. Just want to be sure we won't have any nasty surprises at your arraignment, which I'll try to see happens by this afternoon at the latest."

"I really don't want to spend the night in this place."

"We'll do our best to avoid that."

While Eric met with his lawyer, Starsky looked around for Hutch. He found him waiting impatiently in the hall, not looking any too happy. Rhiana was sitting next to him on a bench, and both stood anxiously when Starsky rounded the corner.

"You've seen Eric?" Rhiana asked Starsky.

"Yeah. He's pretty shaken up, but he seems okay."

"This is great. You're never gonna guess who's on the case."

"Stevens, right?" Starsky responded to Hutch's cryptic remark.

"Yeah, and his new partner--Linda."

"Oh, terrific." Starsky threw his hands in the air. "Nothing like a little conflict of interest."

"She's in there getting briefed by her partner. Dobey's been called, and is due here any minute. They're expecting a press nightmare on this one."

"Shit," Starsky muttered, pacing back and forth. "Well, maybe this'll work out for the best. Linda's met Eric, she knows--"

"She knows what? That he's a good conversationalist? She's in there right now hearing what a great case they have on this famous guy, who killed another famous guy--a real career-maker. I've already been chided because you called a lawyer for him. She thinks we were out of line getting involved in that since we're still cops."

"Maybe she'd rather just lynch him and get it over with," Rhiana added angrily.

"I think we should wait to talk to Dobey. I'm going to ask him to let us back on duty, and to let us have a shot at this case. We've got seniority--we could probably blast those two out of the water."

"I don't know," Hutch responded hesitantly. "Dobey'll see it as a conflict of interest. Unless of course he thinks Stevens and Williams are too preoccupied with a conviction to properly handle the case..." Hutch looked knowingly at his partner. It frightened Rhiana a little that the woman Hutch had probably either already or almost been sleeping with was suddenly spoken of by her last name. There was something in the exchanged look between these two men that left her feeling utterly shut out. The silent communication, the sense of unity...the closing of the ranks between Starsky and Hutch. They had a mission in sight, and suddenly the mellow musician Rhiana had almost made love with had disappeared.

Captain Dobey came striding down the hall toward the squad room and his office, and stopped short when he saw his favorite team of prodigal detectives waiting for him in the hall. Rhiana slipped away from the group and took a seat on another bench, some distance away. David Starsky was back in his world, and out of hers.

"What're you two doing here?"

"We need to talk to you about the Armstrong murder. We know the guy that's been hauled in, and this kind of a crime really doesn't fit with his nature," Hutch tried to make the vote of confidence for Eric sound as well-thought-out as possible.

"My office." Dobey motioned them to follow him. The team of Stevens and Williams were on their feet instantly, but he waved them away for the moment to meet with his senior detectives. The other team looked understandably angry, and Linda shot a look at Hutch that would have killed if possible. "I know the details on the case, so get to the point. Why do you think we've got the wrong guy?"

"Well," Starsky began, "I guess we should tell you something first. While we've been on leave, Hutch and I have been fiddling around with music--we even went into a recording studio for a while. Eric March, the guy who was arrested, has been playing the drums on our little project. I realize that we haven't known him for years, but we're pretty good judges of character after all the years we've had on the force. He's no killer, Captain."

"Well, it's a strong circumstantial case. Armstrong was stabbed to death--about six times. March's prints were on the murder weapon, the victim's blood was on his hands and his clothing, and the body was still warm when Stevens got there. If he didn't do it, I'm damn surprised he didn't bump into whoever did on the way in." Dobey wrinkled his brow. "A recording studio?"

"If you walked in and found a friend lying on the floor in a pool of blood, wouldn't you go to him, touch him somehow? He could have gotten blood on his hands and clothing just by going near the victim," Hutch argued, hoping he had successfully dodged the probe.

"And that's why they call it circumstantial evidence. I'm not saying it's conclusive proof. But that coupled with their current hostile relationship..."

"They were friends who had a big fight. It happens." Starsky looked knowingly at his partner. "We oughtta know. We've fought hard and dirty with each other in the past few years, but it's safe to say one of us would cut off his own arm before seriously injuring the other. I'd never be able to find the desire in myself to kill Hutch, even if I was so damn mad at him that I had to slug him." Starsky paced back and forth. "Eric March was mad at his friend, and his friend was mad at him, and they fought. Big deal."

"Look, Starsky, all this psycho babble is well and good, but this is a strong case."

"But it's no good if it's against the wrong guy. Let us have this," Hutch made the plea.

"It's already assigned to Stevens and Williams."

"So un-assign it," Starsky shot back, then thought better of the insubordinate remark. "I mean, assignments can be changed if necessary, can't they?"

"So you two can work to get your friend out of trouble?"

"We've had to haul in a friend before." Hutch spoke up. "If March is guilty, he deserves to pay for it. But isn't it better to be a little less convinced that those two out there are? Stevens has practically got the guy in the gas chamber and he just arrested him an hour or so ago. Furthermore, I think arresting anybody this fast was a little hasty and irresponsible. He saw a big name case, a couple of rock stars--he assumed the worst about Eric March--I think you'll find the guy drug-free. We oughtta know the signs of addiction when we see it, and he seems clean." Hutch paused, then continued. "I hate to say this, but I see a sort of glint in the eyes of that team out there that I don't like."

"Wait outside. I have to talk to Stevens and Williams. I'll let you know what my decision is. Furthermore, I can't put you back on active street duty without an okay from the department's physician, Starsky."

"So put me on desk duty. I can still work the case if I'm at least off leave--you know that as well as I do. Nobody's gonna watch whether I'm at my desk or in my car."

"Get out of here, both of you. I'll let you know."

As Starsky and Hutch walked out of the Captain's office, Linda grabbed Hutch by the arm.

"You bastard."


"Don't Linda-me, Detective Sergeant Kenneth Hutchinson. You two arrogant S.O.B.'s just pulled rank on us in there, didn't you? You pulled your damn rank so you could have this case."

"Dobey wants to see you, Linda." Starsky spoke up, and Linda looked over her shoulder to see Dobey standing in his doorway, eyeing the situation with great interest.

"This isn't over," she muttered to Hutch as she and her partner filed in to Dobey's office.

"I sure hope Eric appreciates this." Hutch dropped into his chair, and Starsky took his old seat at his desk across from him.


"Yeah?" The other man looked up, still rubbing his eyes from a sleepless night.

"This feels pretty damn good, doesn't it?" Starsky's hands were laid on his desk, palms down. "Kinda like home?"

"Oh, God, Starsk. What're we doing?" Hutch shook his head. "We just ran in here without a thought and asked to go back to work."

"We're trying to save Eric's butt."

"If he's innocent."

"He's innocent. You didn't see him, Hutch. It was the look in his eyes. He was scared and grieving and angry--all at the same time. He was too damn jittery to be guilty."

"Meaning what?"

"You and I both know guilty suspects are never as terrified as the ones who've been dragged in here who haven't done anything. He's petrified."

"You're glad to be back?" Hutch probed.

"It feels right--I'm sorry, Hutch, but I've felt lousy ever since we decided to quit." He looked across the desk hesitantly to meet his partner's eyes.

"That makes two of us, partner." Hutch walked over to the familiar coffee pot and poured two cups of the semi-drinkable liquid and handed one to Starsky. "This just feels natural. Like we belong here."

"What if I flunk the physical?" Starsky looked up at him as Hutch stood next to him, and there was a horrible fear in his dark blue eyes. Hutch rested a hand on his shoulder.

"You're not going to flunk it, buddy." He moved back to his own chair. "But if you do, we've still got our demo tape."

"What about you? You're saying you want to come back too. Why wouldn't you still want to?"

"I said it felt like we belong here. That's what I meant. You and me," Hutch sipped his coffee and grimaced at the taste.

"Me and thee, huh?"

"Same as always," Hutch said, the grimace turning into a smile.

"Same as always," Starsky echoed, smiling. "What about the demo tape--oh, God, I forgot Rhiana." He got up and hurried into the hall. The bench she had occupied was empty. He stood alone in the sparsely traveled hall, never busy in the early dawn hours. Rhiana was gone...and suddenly the big dreams of being musicians, and all the good times they had in the studio, and the love that was all seemed to spiral out of sight. Why did everything always have to cost so much?

"She left?" Hutch asked.

"I guess." Starsky shrugged. "It's my fault. I left her out here. Hell, she probably looked in and saw us sittin' there drinking coffee while she sat in the hall. God I can be an asshole, sometimes."

"Won't argue with that," Hutch retorted, smiling.

"This is probably the end of things for you and Linda."

"Maybe, maybe not. But right is right. I can't let them railroad an innocent guy into a murder rap."

"Wonder what Dobey'll come up with." Starsky led the way back into the squad room, and they returned to their desks as the team of Stevens and Williams emerged from the captain's office.

"Thanks a lot for pulling rank and getting us ousted," Stevens barked at Starsky. "I never woulda figured you for the type."

Dobey came to the door of his own office. The younger team of detectives headed for the door of the squad room, not due on duty for another couple of hours, and relieved of what they thought would be their landmark case.

"You two get in here." He stood aside while Starsky and Hutch entered the office. "Hutch, you're back on active duty and officially assigned to the Armstrong murder investigation. Starsky, you're back on desk duty pending approval from your doctor and the department's doctor's okay for you to go back on street duty. You are also assigned to the Armstrong case, but officially you're supposed to handle the paperwork, keep up with the lab tests, do the desk stuff. Make sure that base is covered because I don't plan to give you a lot of supervision on this." (Translation: "Do what you have to do but keep your butt covered. I'm not responsible if you screw up.") Starsky smirked at the real meaning of the orders.

"Thanks, Captain. I know this was a sticky situation."

"Hmph. To say the least. But I didn't like their attitude," he added, in a rare moment of candor. "All the notes and crime scene information are in this file," he said, handing it to Starsky, since he was the official keeper of the paperwork. "So go dazzle us with your professed brilliance."

The two detectives left the office, feeling lighter and more at ease than they had in weeks. A major, complicated, high-profile murder investigation, a famous victim, a famous suspect, a couple of sticky personal situations...felt like business as usual.

"There's Andrews," Hutch announced the obvious as the attorney made his way down the hall toward them.

"I need to talk to the detectives on my client's case."

"You're looking at them," Hutch responded.

"I thought it was Stevens."

"Change of plans," Starsky answered.

"My client is pleading not guilty, but I've advised him to make a statement in my presence. Of course, it goes without saying he will not answer any questions without my approval."

"Wouldn't expect anything else," Starsky retorted, and they walked toward the interrogation room.

Eric's statement revealed that he had arrived at Matt Armstrong's penthouse about 4:50 a.m., knocked, but got no answer. He tried the knob and found it unlocked, so he went inside. He couldn't explain fully why he went in at all, but said he and Matt never used to stand on ceremony about knocking at all, so he didn't hesitate.

When he walked into the living room, Matt was lying in a pool of blood in front of the marble fireplace. There was a knife sticking out of his chest. Eric recalled rushing over to check for a pulse, trying to rouse his friend, taking a hold of the knife to pull it out but then remembering that he had heard somewhere that it is more dangerous to do that than to leave it in place. He called the police, and also an ambulance, though he believed his friend was already dead.

He did not see anyone coming in or out of the front entrance to the apartment complex, nor was he aware that Matt's girlfriend was upstairs.

"Do you know of anyone else who would have a motive for killing Matt?" Hutch asked.

"No. There were plenty of people who didn't like the guy, but I don't think anybody was that mad at him. I know I wasn't."

"What do you know about the girlfriend--Lynne Cooke?" Starsky referred back to the file.

"Lynne is the reason Matt got into heroin at all. He always smoked pot--since we were kids. I tried it a couple of times but got off it. But with Matt, he was always looking for some new thrill, and Lynne was a rich girl gone bad with a $150-a-day habit, and it was a match made in heaven. I think our friendship went downhill after she entered the picture, because Matt changed. He turned into a drug addict with a nasty attitude toward everybody."

"Who was Lynne's supplier--do you know?" Starsky asked.

"Uh-uh." Eric waved away a cautionary look from his lawyer. "I know what Matt turned into, and I saw him shoot up once, but I didn't ask any questions. I don't know where the stuff came from and I didn't want to know. I just wanted him to stop." Eric looked down sadly at his folded hands that rested on the table. "I guess he did."

"Eric, your statement is finished," Andrews directed his client. "That's all we have to say for the record, gentlemen."

"Anything else you'd like to add before we get this typed up?" Hutch concluded.

"No, that's pretty much all of it," Eric agreed.

"Okay. We'll type it up and you can review it with Mr. Andrews here and sign it. I'm going to check on the arraignment time. Hopefully we have something in motion by now." Hutch left the room, followed by his partner.

"Well?" Starsky probed as they started down the hall.

"He didn't do it. That puts us to who did. I mean this guy doesn't have a motive, even if we didn't know him personally. There's no reason for him to kill Armstrong. Nothing to gain."

"The girlfriend couldn't have done it according to the crime scene information. She was upstairs, there was no blood on her, no blood between the living room and the bedroom where she was, no other bloody clothes found at the scene. I think a few of the lab boys are still over there. Think we should go check it out?"

"Yeah, right away." Hutch led the way downstairs, and they headed for Starsky's car. Taking off out of the police lot toward the crime scene felt like old times. And it felt right...

Matt Armstrong's penthouse apartment was as lavish and overstated as they imagined it would be. Decorated in predominantly black and white, the black marble fireplace was the centerpiece of the huge living room, which boasted floor to ceiling windows with a stunning view of the city. The drying blood had oozed into a large mass on the white shag carpeting.

"Can you picture walking in like nothing's wrong and finding your friend chopped up like that? Eric's gotta be really torn up." Starsky squatted by the darkened area.

"Well, they were right about the girl--white carpeting on the stairs over here. We'd know if she'd gone up after doing this."

"Damn. There's somebody out there somewhere that wanted this guy dead. What about an obsessed fan?"

"Possible," Hutch granted, though he felt it unlikely.

"Maybe Rhiana would have some ideas. If she knows Eric this well, she probably knows the rest of the band." Starsky straightened up and walked over to the mantel. There were a couple of music awards there, and the walls boasted numerous gold and platinum records. "This guy'll be a saint before the day's out," Starsky observed, thinking of the millions of fans who would mourn the singer's passing, glossing over his flaws and considering him some type of divinity because he was dead.

"Let's have a look around upstairs." Hutch started up the spiral staircase to the second floor. A couple of crime scene specialists were just picking up their supplies as the two detectives entered the master bedroom. Mirrored ceilings, animal skin rugs--Eric had been right about the glitter. Armstrong was a cliched glitzy celebrity if he was nothing else.

"Find anything?" Starsky asked, recognizing one of the lab guys from a prior case.

"Nothing up here. The first detectives who were here confiscated some dope."

"Yeah, that's in the report," Hutch responded.

"Other than that, pretty standard stuff. Looks like somebody walked in, killed the guy and walked back out. Nothing appears to be disturbed. There's a wall safe over there with about ten grand in cash and some jewelry in it, and a lot of loose jewelry and money on the dresser. Nothing missing." The stocky middle-aged man continued his journey downstairs, followed by a younger companion.

"Thanks, Mike," Hutch called after him.

"Since I've been here, I've seen about four of these." Starsky held up a photo of Eric and Matt together, the tall, yellow-blond Armstrong having his slightly shorter companion in a feigned wrestling headlock. Both were dressed in flashy stage outfits. "That's really sad." Starsky set the photo back on the dresser. "How do you s'pose a friendship falls apart like that?"

"Don't know." Hutch sat on the corner of the unmade bed.

"Here are two guys who grow up together, are really close, and then all of a sudden it just starts to disintegrate." Starsky shook his head. "Scary. There were times last year..."

"What?" Hutch probed for the end to the unfinished comment.


"You had something in mind. What were you going to say?"

"There were times last year when I thought that was happening to us. Something changed, Hutch. I don't know what it was exactly, or if I did something that made you mad, but there were times last year I really felt like you'd just as soon have another partner."

"That's ridiculous, Starsky." Hutch stood up and started pacing.

"Is it? Did I do something that made you angry?"

"No more than usual, buddy," Hutch retorted with a snicker.

"I'm serious."

"I don't know what you're trying to start here, but it's getting on my nerves, Starsky."

"Well it got on mine for months, so maybe we're even. It just seemed like all of a sudden the only time I saw you laugh was when you were making fun of me or pulling one of your clever little mind games and making me look like an idiot."

"That's a bunch of crap and you know it. I think you better shut your trap before you say something you'll regret."

"I'm not saying things aren't better between us now, but maybe that's just because you feel bad that I almost died. I want to know what changed, Hutch. I'm not gonna lie to you--it hurt like hell to be shut out like that. And then the thing with Kira...nobody ever hurt me like that, Hutch. Maybe because I never cared that much..."

"So this whole damn thing is about Kira?"

"She was a symptom, not a cause."

"Now you're talking in riddles. This is stupid. Standing around in a dead man's apartment analyzing something that was said or done months ago."

"But why? What did I do? Why didn't you want me around anymore? Why was my friendship suddenly so unimportant to you that you'd go to bed with somebody I told you I loved?"

"Is that what you thought? That I didn't want you around?"

"Oh, not exactly. I was a good scapegoat for your jokes."

"You're being melodramatic. We've always teased each other."

"Yeah, but not all the time--and not like that. It really hurt me sometimes, the way you treated me. I didn't understand it. Maybe it was less that you were giving me a hard time than the fact that you weren't really there for me anymore the way you used to be." Starsky paused, as if trying to gather his thoughts. "If I have to spell it out for you, I needed you...I needed the friend who pulled me through Terry's death, the one who kept me going when I got poisoned--the one who loved me and valued my friendship and showed me once in awhile. It seemed like you were almost...indifferent."

"All the stuff we went through with Rigger, I thought that brought us pretty close together."

"It did, but that was because you needed somebody too. We got through that together, but then as soon as the pressure was off, the Kira thing happened."

"Will you please drop the damn 'Kira thing'? Okay, I slept with her. Big deal. Are you gonna carry that around for the rest of your life and throw it in my face every time we have an argument?"

"I've never thrown it in your face, Hutch."

"Until now."

"Well it hurt!" Starsky shouted back at him, his voice breaking. "It was the only time you betrayed my trust, and it hurt more than I could ever tell you. The only thing that would have hurt me more was giving up on our friendship permanently, so I got over it."

"Apparently you didn't."

"Damn it, Hutch, is there a heart in there somewhere? I used to feel like you really cared about me. But there's something I can't get under the surface and touch anymore. It's under so damn many layers of insulation I can't even see it. A spray of bullets from Gunther's hit men cut through it for a while, but once I was out of the woods, and we were working on the music, and everything was okay, I could see you retreating again, and I was getting the same impersonal treatment I was getting before." Starsky sniffed a couple of times and pulled his emotions back in check. What he said next cut Hutch deeply. "I love you, Hutch. I always will. You're my best friend. You're the only person I ever really cared about who stuck around--who didn't die or leave or let me down. When you decided somewhere along the line that you were going to change the rules, shut me out, it hurt...a lot. Why?"

"I don't think we should be talking about this here."

"Why not? Who's going to listen in? Armstrong? He's dead, Hutch. The girlfriend isn't here--this is a dead man's home. It doesn't get anymore private than that. Talk to me. Talk to me like you used to."

Hutch returned to his perch on the end of the bed. Starsky plopped down next to him, waiting for something profound to be said.

"I was burned out a long time ago, Starsky. Long before anything happened with Gunther. I wanted out. I wanted to get out of this business, out of the department, do something like we started to do with the music."

"But now that we're doing it you wanna come back?"

"Let me finish."

"Sorry. Go ahead."

"It's okay. Didn't mean to snap at you, buddy." Hutch squeezed Starsky's arm briefly and then released it. "I wanted to leave, but I knew being a cop was everything to you--a family tradition. Something almost sacred because of your father. We're a team, and I knew if I left, you'd leave, and then you'd be miserable. I knew I wanted out, so I tried to put some distance between us. I thought maybe it would make it easier for you if we weren't so close anymore, so if I left, you'd go ahead and stay on and be what you wanted to be." Hutch shook his head. "Then I felt so rotten about that whole Rigger thing that I couldn't stand it anymore. And I felt so damn rotten about myself. I had pushed you away for so long, given you the cold treatment, withheld so much of my friendship from you...sometimes I couldn't help myself. Like when I showed up just in time--remember Monique?"

"How could I forget her and her alter ego, the fun-loving Harry the killer?"

"When I first saw you lying there and thought you were dead...I just had to sit there and hold onto you because I was so glad you were alive. But most of the time, I was building a wall so I could quit. Quitting became some kind of a goal I promised myself with each passing case. Then Rigger was killed, and I made the commitment to quit...threw my badge into the ocean. Dear God, after all the distance I had tried to put between us, you were right by my side quitting with me anyway."

"Not easy getting rid of me, is it?" Starsky asked with a slight grin.

"Thank God," Hutch muttered, almost under his breath. "When Kira came along, I just got into this self-destructive game with you, and I don't know why I did it. I stopped looking at your feelings or your trust for what they were, but as sources of weakness--holes in your armor, I guess. I had so much hostility inside of me from the last four or five years we'd both been through--and being on the right side of the law, always bringing the bad guy to justice. Letting someone torture you or me or some innocent victim and then just arresting them and giving them due process and humane treatment when I just wanted to lash out and...I don't know..."

"Like your revenge fantasy with Gunther? Where you go to his cell and shoot him full of lead?"

"Yeah, just like that. But I can't do that to the criminal slime because they have rights. I don't really in my heart want to intentionally torment and kill other human beings."

"I know that, Hutch."

"I just had all this hostility inside and nowhere to put it. When I took it out on somebody I was seeing romantically, they'd end the relationship. But there was one person I could blast it all out on who kept coming back for more and still loved me no matter how many rotten things I said, no matter how many times I let you hurt by yourself when you counted on me to be there...I could take it all out on you, and you'd still stay. You'd be the receiver. You'd take it all, take me as I was, and you loved me unconditionally."

"There shouldn't be a set of conditions on love, partner. You either do or you don't."

"Yeah? Well, you're the only person I ever met who felt that way. So when Kira came along, I just went for it. And I forgot how bad I was gonna feel if you ever did get pushed too far...I don't know exactly what I was working for--I thought I wanted out of the police force, and that would be best for me because I wouldn't keep getting in all these violent, ugly situations that were feeding this...discontent inside. And while I felt trapped in the job, I just kept taking it all out on you, like I did with that target at the shooting range that day you and I went out there."

"You mean when we picked our paper Gunthers and let him have it?"

"Right. You were my target, because you kept taking it."

"I didn't know what else to do," Starsky answered honestly.

"How would you? You're so damn loyal it wouldn't occur to you to tell me to fuck off."

"It occurred to me," Starsky said with a smile. "I just didn't want you to take me up on it. I knew something wasn't right, and I kept hoping that you'd let me in on it eventually. After we got through the Kira thing, it seemed like things got better."

"They did. I almost blew it. Almost got what I wanted. You were so hurt and angry and betrayed when you walked into her house and I was there...I still didn't want to stay on the force, but I also didn't want to lose you. The two things seemed incompatible, and I didn't know what the hell to do but hope I'd get over hating my job. I knew I couldn't risk using you for an emotional target anymore."

"So you thought if you quit--"

"You'd quit too. Just like you did."

"Ya know, Hutch, I can think for myself. Just like we talked about this morning...doing all this seems right when we do it. Yeah, I became a cop for my dad, and I love it. It's part of me, and I feel like what I'm doing is important...people's lives sometimes depend on what we do, and that's a meaning like no other job has. The music is wonderful, and if I can't be a cop anymore, I'll be the best damn singing ex-cop I can be, but this is my life. But everything about this job is us, not me. I feel like I'm hopping around on one leg working alone. I could get used to it, just like an amputee gets used to a wooden leg. I could get a new partner, and probably do the job and get some satisfaction out of it. But if I was ready to walk away from that, it's because I made a choice. Neither one would be good--being a cop without you or quitting with you...but I chose the lesser of the evils. It still makes me laugh a little when I think about us job-hunting together. I mean how many times do they hire two people at once at the same place?"

"We were determined to find one if it existed," Hutch smiled at the memory. "When you said you wanted out--that night in the hospital--I was so relieved. I thought that's what I wanted. And the music project was amazing. We were working together, no death, risk, ugliness, violence--just working on something we loved to do together. But I think maybe I saw what you're talking about--how sometimes even people's lives depend on what we do in this job. Like right now with Eric--his life is depending on our investigation, and maybe the lives of other potential victims if we don't find this killer and get him off the street. I'd hear Linda's stories and I'd feel left out. I wanted to be back in the action again. This job is so contrary to my nature, but yet it's in my blood, and I can't leave it, anymore than I could, in the end, break up our friendship. I found that out after we tried leaving it. When you said you wanted to go back..."

"But both times you waited for were willing to stay miserable so I could be happy. No one's ever given me that much don't sell yourself short, pal. I just didn't know why things changed...and knowing what I know now, I don't blame you for any of it. I just wish you'd talked to me."

"And told you what? I'm so damned angry and frustrated with all the ugliness and the pain and the dying that I want to put my fist through a wall, but I'm going to make a few cheap jokes at your expense instead?"

"I was there when Gillian died, remember?"

"I'm not likely to forget that, Starsk."

"I know how much anger was inside of you, so much that you lashed out at me, and I don't blame you for that. I never have. We all react to pain in different ways. I should have known that you just couldn't hide your anger that time, and it came out--and that all the times you were so level-headed in a crisis situation, it was still there. But the rest of the time, you swallowed it. Kept swallowing it down, pushing it down until it backed up and choked you. You were always the cool-headed one. While I was ranting and raving and ready to take a swing at somebody, you were expected to be the voice of reason. And you always were. You balanced me at the expense of keeping all of it inside yourself, hidden under a cool exterior. So we didn't get in trouble the way we would have if you had let yours rip at the same time mine did. It's no wonder when we turned on each other it was deadly. And it's no wonder you felt some hostility toward me, even if you still cared about me." Starsky paused. "I've grown up a lot in the last few months, Hutch. I know there were a lot of times you had to take more responsibility, or be a watchdog for my behavior. It isn't going to be that way anymore. I'm not the same man I was before the shooting, and in some ways that's bad, but in other ways, it made me grow up and get serious, and lose a little of my idealism. I needed to do that."

"I never expected this to make sense to someone else."

"I'm not just someone else, Hutch."

"I know that."

"Thanks for telling me. I know it wasn't easy. It just makes me feel a lot better to know that there was something else going on in your head. I felt there was, but I didn't know."

"I really am sorry."

"I think we can call it even, pal."

"Sometimes I wonder what I ever did to deserve you, buddy."

"Musta been something pretty bad, huh?" Starsky joked, but Hutch remained serious.

"I wonder what I ever did that was good enough that I was blessed with a friend like you." Hutch watched his partner's smile fade a little, and his adam's apple bobbed a time or two before he responded.

"I think that's probably the most special thing anybody ever said to me," he said in a slightly wavering voice.

"I really do love you, you know that, don't you?"

"I know." Starsky smiled. "But did ya have to tell me in a room with a mirror on the ceiling?" Hutch laughed a little. "Think we oughtta figure out who killed this guy?" The sentimentalism was getting a little heavy for both of them, and while it needed to be said, they were ready to change the subject.

"Sounds like a plan to me, partner."

Eric was arraigned late that afternoon, and released on a $1 million bond. The prosecution justified the high sum on the basis of the brutality of the crime and the considerable financial means of the accused. Any lower amount, they argued, would be considered pocket change to Eric March. That position, of course, was accurate. Even the $100,000 he had to actually produce for his release was the simple matter of writing a check.

The district attorney on the case, Raymond Morgan, cornered Starsky and Hutch by the end of the business day, demanding some answers as to why they were investigating every other avenue but strengthening the case against Eric March. They replied simply that they did not believe the case was strong enough to make it an exclusive investigation, and that they further felt the arrest had been irresponsibly and hastily made by an inexperienced detective whose head was turned by the possibility of a quick resolution to a high profile case. None of these observations gained them any popularity, as the DA had been bragging to the press what a fine case they had and how convinced they were they had the right man in custody. When Morgan threw this argument at Starsky and Hutch, Hutch simply replied with one of his oh-so-innocent smiles: "Nobody asked us if we thought you had the right guy." Their meeting ended with Starsky accusing Morgan of being no better than Stevens, grandstanding and using Eric March as a vehicle of upward mobility whether he was actually guilty of anything or not, and Morgan threatening that Dobey would hear from him about their conduct.

This didn't faze either detective. It wouldn't be the first time they had sent some city official raving, cursing and demanding disciplinary action into their captain's office. They were both willing to bet it wouldn't be the last time, either.

The bulk of day one of the Armstrong investigation consisted of routine research--the visit to the crime scene, background research on Armstrong himself as well as his "known associates", such as Eric, Lynne Cook, the remaining three members of Kingpin, and assorted friends and business associates Eric and Lynne Cooke had listed as significant. Lab and coroner's test results trickled in during the day, and by seven that evening, Starsky and Hutch were back at their desks, buried under a mountain of papers, folders and forms, trying to keep the sweet and sour sauce off the papers and on the eggrolls and other Chinese delicacies they had imported from their favorite take-out place for dinner.

"Looks like Armstrong was just about broke," Starsky announced, flipping through information on Matt Armstrong's bank records and other business dealings. "I guess the ten grand in the wall safe was about the extent of his accessible cash."

"How was he maintaining that apartment?"

"He wasn't. Behind two months on the rent." Starsky took a break to devour another half of an eggroll. "So what'd the coroner have to say?" he asked, voice muffled under shredded cabbage.

"Is Eric right or left-handed?"

"Who knows? He's a drummer."

"Think back--when he signed his statement...I didn't watch him."

"Right-handed," Starsky responded. "I also saw him sign a form to get his personal effects back when he was released."

"Okay. According to the coroner's report, the wounds were made by a downward motion, and most likely by someone left-handed, based on the angles."

"The DA'll argue that's not conclusive proof he didn't do it."

"Fortunately our system doesn't work that way. Also, if you're right-handed, and you're attacking someone using your left hand, for whatever reason, you'd probably have less strength and agility in that hand. Now according to the coroner's report, Armstrong had some drugs in his system, but nothing that would put him under or make him sluggish. He was a good size guy--6'3", it says here. He'd be fighting his assailant. You wouldn't use your less capable hand to strike out with the weapon, and you'd have some battle scars too. Eric didn't have a mark on him--not a bruise, a scratch--hell, he should have looked like something the cat dragged in after that fight." Hutch shook his head. "There was skin and blood under Armstrong's nails on his left hand, his knuckles were bruised--the only reason the living room wasn't trashed from the struggle is because it's so damn big there isn't that much furniture near the fireplace to get overturned." Hutch paused. "How tall is Eric?"

"I don't know exactly, but he's not quite as tall as I am, so probably about 5'10"."

"With or without the hair?"

"With it, I s'pose," Starsky replied, laughing a little.

"Huh." Hutch took time out to poke around in a container of Szechwan pork. "So we've got a bigger victim, killed by wounds inflicted with the left hand, who has blood and skin under his nails and bruised knuckles. We have a smaller suspect, right-handed, without a mark on him."

"And Stevens would have known that if he'd, A, waited for the test results, and, B, let Eric wash up before arresting him to see that the blood was all Armstrong's, and none of it Eric's." Starsky rubbed his forehead. It amused Hutch that the gesture was not unlike one of Dobey's distress signals. "I think the DA should drop the charges against Eric before we all look like a bunch of bozos."

"Too late," Hutch retorted through a mouthful. "We already look like a bunch of bozos. But at least we'd be admitting our mistake early in the game instead of hanging onto a bad arrest. And I'm not just saying that because it's Eric."

"No, I agree with you because he's the wrong guy."

"Tell me about Armstrong's financial set up." Hutch pushed the coroner's report aside, figuring morning would be early enough to argue with the DA about dropping the charges.

"Well, he was in debt up to his spiky little hairdo and he had sold everything that wasn't nailed down in terms of his assets. He had a couple pieces of rental property handled by an investment company up in Santa Rosa, but even one of those is on the market. I understand it's a pricey little contemporary overlooking a vineyard."

"We're not talking slum rentals here, then."

"Not by a long shot. But he obviously was going through money faster than he was making it. Even the rents on these places must not have been off-setting his debts. Now here's the interesting thing. The guy doesn't have any major purchases accounted for anywhere in the last year, but his financial picture has fallen apart in that time. Must be one hell of a drug habit."

"What did we get on Lynne Cooke?"

"Only what I could get through her social security number. She's not exactly cooperating. Guess I'll have to work on getting a court order in the morning." Starsky made a note on a pad on the desk. He was planning to indeed cover himself in keeping up with the paperwork. "Anyway, she's got cash advances out to the limits on all her credit cards, only negligible balances in the bank, and a trust fund that has been cut off."

"How'd you find that out?"

"The girl at the bank? She's a friend of Huggy's."

"Huggy's got a friend working in a bank? There's a scary thought "

"Well, when we got talking about Huggy, she loosened up, and told me Lynne used to get a monstrous check every month from a trust fund set up by her grandmother. The old lady's lawyer is authorized to cut off the payments to Lynne, and just accumulate the money, if Lynne is doing something 'unsuitable' with her life. So he cut it off about six months ago."

"Shortly after she hooked up with Armstrong."

"You got it." Starsky closed yet another folder. "So as I see it, we've got two junkies living the good life off Armstrong's assets. Two pricey drug habits eating their way through his loot."

"But doesn't it seem like an awful lot of money to be going through just on the drugs alone? I mean we're talking millions here."

"I thought about that. Guess we need to talk to Eric again."

"Think he knows something?" Hutch queried, finishing off his container of pork.

"He might."

"What about those other turkeys Armstrong hung out with?"

"Well, there's Tim Drew, the bass player. He's been hauled in for a couple of drunk and disorderlies, slugged a cop once and spent a couple weeks in jail...not really huge stuff. His financial picture is pretty good, from what information I could get."


"A pot bust in '78, but nothing since then. The other guys are cleaner than that. They aren't a group with a real bad reputation. Armstrong has a few drunk and disorderlies, and a statutory rape charge pending against him in Texas. The others don't have anything pending, and the worst were a few hotel fights back at the time Eric was hauled in for the drunk and disorderly charges. Their real wild days seem to be over."

"They're over now, anyway."

"Well, if it's not the girlfriend, and it's not Eric, who out of this group would be a possible?"

"Anybody's possible, but I'm not seeing it. There's something big missing out of the puzzle, Starsk."

"Yeah, probably." Starsky chased his mouthful with the last of gulp of his Coca-Cola. "Armstrong has an ex-wife and kid."

"Ex-wife, huh? Maybe we should go after that angle next."

"A woman couldn't have done this."

"I agree, but if she thought there was something to gain--if she didn't know Armstrong was broke, and the kid's in his will, and his ex has somebody new...maybe she's in on it with someone. Wouldn't be the first time."

"True. I've gotta get a hold of his lawyer tomorrow and get my hands on a copy of that will. That might be fun."

"Murdered for his money and there isn't any? I can appreciate the irony..." Hutch leaned back in his chair, the whisper of an evil grin on his face.

"Well, whadd'ya say we call it a night? Everything I go to do, the offices are closed by now anyway."

"Oh, yes, I forgot--you're the paperwork guy this time," Hutch reminded, sneering just a little, thinking of the times Starsky had sloughed the paperwork off on him.

"You'll be laughing out of the other side of your face when I pass that physical."

"So when is that supposed to happen?"

"I see the department doctor next week. I'm going in to see my doctor...oh, damn it, I'm supposed to go in the morning." Starsky flipped a page on the desk calendar. "I thought it was the day after tomorrow."

"What's wrong with tomorrow?"

"I guess I wanted more time to get mentally prepared. I called in to get an appointment after Dobey let us on the case, and she worked me in for tomorrow morning."

"You could be getting good news, buddy."

"I know. But he could take one look at me and tell me to forget it, too."

"I doubt that."

"I'm really scared about this, Hutch. There's so much riding on it...coming back on the force, this being partners. I really don't want to lose all this now that I know it's what I want."

"The only thing working yourself up over this is going to do is make your blood pressure look high."

"Thanks for the encouragement, pal," Starsky snickered a little.

"Seriously, think positively. You're feeling okay, aren't you?"

"Yeah. I feel good. I'm working out longer at the gym, my stamina's better."

"Not 100% yet though, right?"


"'Course they let guys on the street who are in a lot worse shape than you ever thought of being."

"Because nothing's happened to challenge them. They're going to be going over me with a fine-tooth comb."

"I think we oughtta get out of here so you can go home and get a good night's sleep. You want some company to go to the doctor's tomorrow?"

"I'd like some company to watch some TV tonight, too, if you're free."

"You have to ask?"

"I thought maybe you'd want to work out things with Linda."

"You know any other good jokes, partner?" Hutch laughed a little, shaking his head. "I think you and I both know we both made choices this morning. Me with Linda and you with Rhiana."

"You made a choice. I forgot Rhiana, for pete's sake. Left her sitting in the hall."

"I think we have to concentrate on these doctors' appointments and this case right now. If Rhiana really cares about you, she'll come around. We had a lot on our minds this morning."

"True. Let's head home," Starsky suggested, grabbing his jacket off the back of the chair and leading the way.