7

I lost my faith,

You gave it back to me,

You said no star was out of reach,

You stood by me and I stood tall...

 

During the next several days, Starsky continued to heal and the porch continued to materialize, and Hutch spent many of his hours at the precinct following through on the case against Starsky's attackers. His partner, recuperating but still under doctor's orders to stay away from work, found himself increasingly attracted to rooting through cartons and storage chests in the attic. The treasures of someone else's lifetime were fascinating, and he stumbled across more than one antique book or magazine that was worth a few laughs in otherwise boring days.

The one man among the four charged with the assault on Starsky who was "holding out'' finally asked to meet with Hutch almost a week following his arrest. The men had been arraigned, and in an almost unprecedented move in an assault case, the judge had denied bail, citing the sadism and wantonness of the crime and concerns for the safety of the victim, who was still recovering under a doctor's care. He also added that flight risk should be considered high, since two of the men were college students who resided in other states, and neither of the other two owned any property in the area, and also had prior records. It was being appealed, but had held up so far.

Wendell Norton wasn't exactly the visual image of a thug. He was tall and muscular, and his sandy hair was neatly and professionally styled, just brushing his collar. He was soft-spoken and articulate, and surprisingly well-mannered. A second-year student at Radnor, majoring in Political Science, Norton was a 24-year-old sophomore who had taken a few years off between high school and college to travel through Europe. His expenses had been paid by his overly-benevolent family. During his travels, he had managed to land himself in jail in Germany, leading his family into a costly and time-consuming ordeal to extricate him from what ended up being a bar-brawling charge. An angry father had dragged him home, enrolled him in the very humble community college and reduced him to living in a one-room apartment on a meager allowance from the family.

"You wanted to see me.'' Hutch sat across the interrogation room table from the other man. He nodded toward the stenographer who had accompanied him to start recording the conversation. "You have something to say?''

"I think it would be foolish at this point for me to deny that I was involved in this situation.''

"That's probably the understatement of the year, Norton. According to your pals, you're the ring-leader.''

"I figured as much.'' Norton leaned back in his chair and shook his head, smiling slightly. "I was an organizer--but not the mastermind of the whole thing. I know I'm gonna take a fall for this, but I'm not going alone. The jerk who had the idea in the first place is going with me, if I have anything to say about it.''

"And that would be?'' Hutch was already annoyed by this particular man, probably because he was sitting there, trying to behave like this was some high-level meeting with his attorney, his nose still somewhat in the air. Rich little shit with an attitude way beyond adjusting, Hutch thought to himself.

"A guy named Curtis.''

"Curtis? First name or last name?''

"Only name. He introduced himself as 'Curtis'. That was it.''

"Tell me about Curtis.'' Hutch leaned back in the chair.

"I was in a pub with Arnold and Karl,'' he referred to Mercer and another of the attackers, "and we were talking about one of our classes. Arnold is a part-time student, and Karl is full-time like me. We're all poli sci majors. Anyhow, the professor had been talking about the Holocaust, and Hitler's politics, and that's always a hot subject. Watch a classroom come alive when you say you thought Hitler was a great leader.'' His self-satisfied smirk was infuriating.

"Get to the point. Where was this 'pub'?''

"Gulliver's. It's walking distance from the campus. Anyway, we were talking about Hitler and the Jews, and this guy just walks up to our table and asks if he can sit with us. We were a little puzzled why he wanted to, but we said okay, and he sat down.''

"Describe him.'' Hutch had his notepad open now, and was jotting a few notes here and there.

"He was probably 5'10" or so, average build. He was wearing jeans and cowboy boots, a plaid shirt of some sort and a denim jacket. He had a dark blue baseball cap on and sunglasses.''

"In a bar?''

"Well, yeah, that's part of why we let him sit there. We figured he was a little fruity, and it might be good for a laugh or two. He also had a mustache--dark brown, and I think his hair was the same color. A little of it stuck out under the cap.''

"So what did he want with you?''

"He said his name was Curtis, and that he had overheard part of our conversation. He asked if we were actively involved in our politics. We were a little thrown by that--I mean, we were wondering if he was some kind of undercover cop or some kind of government watchdog. Arnold said right away that he was, and that he'd stand up for his beliefs any day--like he took what this Curtis guy said as some kind of 'practice what you preach' challenge.''

"What did Curtis say to that?''

"He said he had a job for four guys--he said he figured it would take that many to do it right. He also said we might get our hands dirty, but we ought to like the work. Then he promised us each ten grand to do it.''

"Ten thousand dollars? Just like that? To three guys he just met?''

"Yeah. We thought it was pretty far out, but hey, for ten grand, I'll hear anybody out once. So we said, yeah, we might be interested. He said he had this Jew he wanted us to take care of for him. We all thought he meant kill him, and so Karl and I right away started objecting to that--neither one of us wanted to have any bodies to bury. Arnold...I don't know but what he wouldn't have gone along with it. But that's beside the point. Curtis said we weren't going to kill anybody. He said there was this Jew that he wanted us to 'teach a lesson'--mess him up, mess up his place. The only condition was that Curtis wanted to come along and watch. He didn't want to participate in any way--just watch.''

"So you agreed to do it?''

"Look, I've never done anything like this in my life. I've been involved in the neo-Nazi movement since I was in junior high. My uncle introduced me to it, and I've been active as I could ever since. I find a lot of value in Hitler's concept of a master race--''

"I don't want your resume.''

"What is your big crusade, Detective? I mean, you're the perfect Aryan type. Wouldn't you find this world a little more appealing if positions of power and authority were held by others like yourself? If you weren't losing job advancement to blacks and Chicanos and if Jews weren't cornering the retail markets and jacking prices up out of your reach?''

"Listen, in case word hasn't traveled back to you through the jailhouse grapevine, the detective you messed with is my partner, and my best friend. So no, I don't think my life would be richer if Jews were oppressed. I think my life would be a damn sight poorer if that were the case. And I'm not here to discuss politics with you or whether or not I fit into some physical category by some accident of genetics. You said you were ready to talk. So I'm listening.''

"What I initially started to say was that I have always supported the neo-Nazi movement, have attended rallies, have made contacts within a certain high-profile white supremacy group...but I haven't ever committed a violent crime. In theory, I agree with the master race idea, and I want to continue to work for white supremacy. But I never actually thought too much about the violent side of it. I know it exists, but I never saw it in action until this whole situation.''

"So what's your point?''

"I'm getting the rap as the leader, and all I did was put some structure into the thing so we could get it done without getting caught, and I provided the van we used. I never beat that guy, and I sure as hell didn't ask for a turn with him upstairs.''

"Okay, slow down and back up. Let's just follow the chain of events here in some logical order. You made the deal with Curtis to do the job. Then what happened?''

"He had a photo of the guy--said his name was Starsky, that he was a cop, gave us his address. Arnold liked the photo. He asked if when we were finished doing the job Curtis wanted done, if he could have a little 'quality time' with him.''

"Arnold's gay?''

"He goes both ways, I think. I know he had a girlfriend for awhile, but he slapped her around once too often and she dumped him. I think he gets off on violence more than he does on who he's with, if that makes any sense.''

"In a perverted sort of way, I suppose. So Arnold asked Curtis if he could rape my partner, is that what you're telling me?'' Hutch felt his blood turn cold. His stomach was in a knot. He wondered if the sweat he felt on his forehead was visible.

"Not in so many words, but that's what he had in mind. Curtis laughed. He seemed to think it was pretty funny, and he said sure, that Arnold could do whatever he wanted to him, as long as he didn't kill him. That was a big stipulation--that this Starsky guy be left alive.''

Hutch was trying to process the mental picture of four guys around the table in a bar, passing Starsky's picture back and forth, laughing about what horrible way they were going assault him as if it was just another Saturday night recreation. He fought the wave of nausea valiantly, and finally won.

"So where the hell is Curtis and why are you the only one who seems to remember this guy?''

"Because he promised to pay us off big when we got out of prison if anything went wrong and we had to take a fall for this. I don't care about that anymore. I just know I'm going down hard and I want him with me when I do.''

"What arrangements exactly did you make? And when did Marv Tyson get involved?'' Hutch referred to the fourth man, who had not been present at the bar meeting with the mysterious "Curtis''.

"He gave us the address, like I said, and said we should go there the next night. We met him on a Friday night, the night before we did it. Then, right there in the bar, he calmly pulls out this big envelope and counts out two grand for each one of us, and says we'll get the balance when the job's done. We were floored. Karl and I thought about bolting with that money, but something told us that this Curtis guy would track us down if we pulled that. Anyhow, he told us to show up at that address, and he'd meet us there. He said that Starsky's partner would be gone, and he'd be there alone.''

"And you found Tyson on your own?''

"Yeah. He was a friend of Arnold's--so actually, Arnold found him.'' Norton took a deep breath and ran his hand back through his well-coifed hair. He looked more like a Ken doll than a Nazi. Jailhouse Ken, Hutch thought, recalling the ridiculous names the dolls sometimes got, having bought a few for Lisa Graham as she progressed from baby dolls to fashion dolls.

"How did you end up the organizer?''

"I offered to use my van--it's all black, real inconspicuous at night. I also mapped it out along with Arnold--he was the idea person, but I was the timekeeper. I mean, if this Starsky guy lived with somebody and they could come home at some point, we couldn't just camp out there all night. Curtis told us to wear the black outfits and ski masks. Anyway, I kept nudging things along when they tended to linger on one thing too long. I mean, Arnold must've spent forty-five minutes just trying to get that guy to lick his boots. I told him to back off when he kicked him in the stomach that one time. I was afraid he was going to end up killing him by accident.''

"Arnold was essentially the leader once you got in then?''

"Yes. Karl and Marv held the guy and Arnold worked him over most of the time. When he was settled down enough from slapping him around, I tied his wrists. He was like a wild animal when we got a hold of him. It took four of us just to settle him down, and then he was still wiggling a lot until Arnold got done with him. Once he was tied up, Karl and Marv still stayed on either side. They went through all their games with him--with the pictures, breaking up the house, the whole boot-licking thing. I really got scared when they shoved him down and started kicking. I was afraid they'd kill him, so I called it off--I told them we weren't supposed to kill him. The way Marv was beating him with this...thing--I think it was like a riding crop but it seemed bigger--I figured if the kicking didn't kill him, they'd probably kill him because he couldn't get up. I think that's when I got really turned off. I mean, they'd already worked him over and torn up the house. I thought it was time to clear out.''

"So you were just an innocent bystander, watching the action?''

"No. I smashed up some things, and I helped tie him up, but I didn't beat him.''

"Not too pretty, your doctrine, when you see it in action huh?''

"It was...well, it was just that the guy honestly couldn't move. I mean, up till then it had been like a game--breaking his will--because you could let him have it and he'd get back up and spit in Arnold's face. He was the toughest SOB I ever saw. But after they'd kicked him, and they were yelling at him to get up, from where I was standing, I could see he was trying. He just couldn't do it. Then Arnold grabbed him by the hair and pulled, and when I saw he actually pulled some of the guy's hair out, I knew he was really unable to move, because usually just your reflexes would make you move with your hair, or at least fight having it pulled like that.''

"How was he supposed to get up with his wrists and ankles tied together when you had him laid out on the floor?''

"Just on his knees. We had him on his knees most of the time.''

"That's nice.'' Hutch took a moment to regroup his thoughts. He didn't know how much he could stand of this story. He'd heard it before from Starsky, but not with the coldness of the assailant. He'd heard the pain and the fear and the degradation...and he'd held his partner while he trembled and sobbed with the memories of what they'd done, and what they'd threatened. He'd watched him suffer through the aftermath of the beating, and he'd watched that indomitable spirit put itself back together and rise above it somehow... Even on his knees, he was head and shoulders above you, you sick bastard, Hutch thought.

"He seemed to pass out a couple of times, and I was afraid he was dead. I checked his pulse, and it was okay. Curtis was just standing in the corner, watching everything--and he'd snicker once in awhile at something Arnold did. Arnold told me not to untie his ankles until we got upstairs. He brought the guy--''

"Starsky. He is a human being with a name.''

"He brought Starsky around, and got real close to his face and started talking to him, sort of stroking at him. It made me retch a little, because it sounded like you'd talk to some woman you were seducing. He was all hunched over him, so we couldn't see or hear real well what was going on, but the guy--Starsky--was wriggling around, trying to get away from him. When Arnold stood up, he asked for help taking him upstairs. Curtis asked him why up there, and Arnold said, like it was a big joke, 'ain't you got no decency?' Anyway, Marv helped drag him up there, and Karl, Curtis and I followed them. Starsky was saying something, but I couldn't hear it. He wasn't playin' with a real full deck by then, I don't think, because he had been sort of passed out for awhile. But he knew what was goin' on, because he started trying to wiggle around again upstairs. He wouldn't tell Arnold which room was his--I guess that was something Arnold was needling him about. Anyway, they dropped him in the hall, and Arnold asked if anyone else wanted a turn when he was done.''

"Starsky was conscious while this was going on?''

"Oh, yeah. But he must've been in hard shape because Arnold untied his wrists and brought his arms around front and tied them together again and he didn't fight to get away. I think he was drifting in and out.''

Hutch took a deep breath and tried to bolster himself. Starsky hadn't mentioned hearing this exchange where he was being offered up for grabs to anyone who wanted it, but he had to have heard it.

"So who asked for a turn?'' Hutch asked after swallowing hard.

"Nobody. None of us go that way. So Arnold started making this big production out of taking Starsky's belt off--I mean, I figured since he'd changed the way Starsky was tied up, he was going to use it to restrain him somehow, probably to the railing, but Arnold was making the most of the moment. Marv and Karl said they'd hold his legs down. That's when I said we should check the time. It was like that was the first time it dawned on Curtis to check it, and he agreed that we should get out. It was 11:30, and we'd been there almost two hours.'' Norton shifted a little nervously in his chair. "It wasn't the time that was bothering me. I guess I didn't want to see them do that. I mean, they'd beaten the hell out of him, called him every name in the book--and it was somehow like a game most of the time because he was so...I don't know...lively, I guess. He never gave up, and as long as he could still get up or talk, he kept fighting back. But after Arnold yanked his arms up, which I figured had to hurt like hell, and Marv and Karl held his legs down, and Arnold untied his ankles...I think...I'm not real sure about this, but I think he was crying. I just thought it was overkill.''

"You're a real humanitarian, Norton.''

"Look, I'm not trying to win any popularity contests here. But the mastermind behind this was Curtis, not me. I don't want to take the fall for more than what I did. And for whatever you think of me, I really didn't want to see it go all the way. Plus I was worried it would kill him. I didn't know how badly hurt he was.''

"What happened after you mentioned the time?''

"Arnold was furious. He said he was getting cheated, that this was part of the deal. Then he started telling that it wouldn't take him long--they argued--Curtis and Arnold--a second or two. Then Curtis said the deal was off if we didn't haul ass out of there right then. He told Marv to knock out Starsky first, so he couldn't call for help for awhile. I think Marv hit him in the back of the head with the gun butt. Marv, Arnold and I had guns. I think Curtis did too but he didn't draw it. So we left, us in the van, which was parked about a block up, and Curtis in some kind of dark European sedan. I think it might have been a Mercedes, but I'm not sure. It was real dark where he'd parked.''

"When'd you get paid?''

"Curtis said he'd messenger the money to us, probably in the next couple of days. We got it about three hours before Arnold was hauled in for questioning--delivered in plain envelopes, small bills, right to our door. I never saw the delivery person. They must've literally rung the bell and run because I only have one room in my apartment and by the time I opened the door, no one was there--just a fat envelope propped against the door frame. Eight grand, in cash, paid in full.''

"And you never had a phone number or any kind of contact information on Curtis?''

"No. And he never said why he wanted Starsky worked over either. It was pretty obvious at times that he wasn't interested in the whole issue of white supremacy. He just seemed to enjoy the show.''

"Do you have anything to add to your statement, Mr. Norton?'' Hutch asked, wanting nothing more than to run screaming out of the horrible little room...to go home and see Starsky, though he didn't have the faintest clue what he'd say...

"That's about it. I really...I didn't like how it ended...we were just going to do a little damage, beat the guy up...''

"Mr. Norton, you profess to believe in the doctrines and the philosophies of Hitler. Of the Holocaust. That involved putting people in concentration camps, torturing them, subjecting them to unthinkable deaths and unheard of cruelties. Men, women, children, old people--just because they were born in the wrong place on a map or because they worshiped in the wrong type of building. You got to see it in action, and despite how atrocious this was, it was just a microcosmic view of what your brand of hate supports. So think well while you're cooling your heels in here.'' Hutch rose from his chair and headed for the door, then as an afterthought, turned to the stenographer. "It ends where he says 'that's about it','' Hutch instructed. "You can review and sign the statement as soon as it's been typed.''

The corridor was a blur. Hutch had started out in a brisk walk, and then opened up into a run, not slowing until he'd bolted down the steps and out to his car. He drove erratically through the mid-day traffic, finally turning onto Cherry Street, then into the driveway of his house--no, finally coming home, Hutch thought, slamming on the brakes and getting out of the car, frantically working the side door lock with shaking hands. It mercifully cooperated and he was in the kitchen at last, calling for Starsky as if the house were on fire.

"Hutch? What is it?'' The other was carefully making his way down the steps, though he was becoming more fluid at it every day as the injuries healed. As soon as Starsky emerged from the back stairwell, Hutch was at a loss for what to say to him, but just seeing him had seemed necessary after hearing Norton's diatribe. "Hey, partner, come on--what's the matter, huh?'' Starsky asked gently, concerned at Hutch's frazzled appearance and obviously overwrought state of mind.

"I'm sorry, Starsk. I...I don't know...I just had to...'' Hutch gave up on explanations and walked past Starsky to the sink, where he held onto the edge of the counter. The nausea was rising again, and his whole body seemed to contract with trying to control it.

"Just take it easy, buddy. Deep breaths,'' Starsky soothed, rubbing his partner's back slowly. "Dobey called--he was worried--he saw you run out. He told me you'd been with Norton, taking a statement. Hutch, I'm okay. It's all over.'' Starsky waited until he felt a little relaxation in his partner's taut frame. "It's okay for you to be upset about this too, buddy. I know that stuff's hard to hear...hard to watch somebody go through...'' He felt a little tremble in his partner that felt suspiciously like restrained tears. Starsky stopped the motion of his hand and rested it on Hutch's shoulder. "Didn't I blubber like an idiot all over you once we got that serum for Callendar's plague?'' Starsky backed away a little, as Hutch started laughing a bit unevenly.

"Talk about waterworks,'' he mumbled, trying to pull his own under control.

"Sometimes it's the stress letting loose, finally. Sometimes it just hurts too much to hold in anymore. Whatever it is, it doesn't matter, pal. It has to come out sometime.''

"I feel like I'm going to be sick.'' Hutch dropped into a kitchen chair, and Starsky pulled another up opposite his, just a short distance away.

"Try to relax, buddy. Take a deep breath.'' He placed a steadying hand on Hutch's shoulder and watched as his partner did his best to obey the instructions. "Feelin' better now?''

"Yeah, I guess so.'' He leaned back in the chair and then looked at Starsky with a sheepish grin. "I feel like an idiot.''

"You want to tell me what brought this on?''

"It wasn't a random hate crime, Starsk. I don't even think the motivation had anything to do with anti-Semitism. According to Norton, some guy named Curtis hired them to do what they did, and he was the fifth man in the house that night. He wanted them to come after you specifically.''

"That personalizes the whole thing, doesn't it?'' Starsky let out a long but uneasy breath. "Any leads on Curtis?''

"Not really. Norton claims they never knew more about him than that one name, and he paid in cash.''

"How did the photo enter into things?''

"Not sure yet. The only thing is, now that you mention it, he claims they met up with Curtis on Friday before it happened, and you got the photo in the mail before that...so Curtis could be presumed to be behind that, if Norton is telling the truth, which means Curtis may have ties to Radnor.''

"Or he went there to the presentation to see who the rabble rousers were who showed up, so he'd know who to approach.''

"Possibly. And while he was there, helped himself to the photo.''

"The plot thickens.'' Starsky got up slowly and poured a glass of water for Hutch.

"Thanks.'' Hutch took it and swallowed a little, relieved that his stomach didn't toss it right back at him.

"Hutch.''

"What?'' He took another sip of water, and then noticed Starsky's attention riveted to something out the kitchen window. "What is it?'' He joined him, then needed no answer. The swastika flag had been removed from the window of the house behind them. "Fancy that,'' Hutch said, smirking a little as he finished the glass of water.

"Do you know anything about that?''

"No. Honest. Maybe he just got nervous after being questioned.''

"Hmm.'' Starsky stared at the empty window for another minute, then went to the phone. He dialed a number and waited while it rang. "Mel? Yeah, Dave Starsky here...doin' better, thanks....oh, yeah. Hey, do you know anything about Schoemacher taking the flag down? I just looked over there--'' a long pause, during which Hutch watched a decidedly evil smile curl the corners of his partner's mouth. "That's really great. I don't know what to say...well, yeah, I know, but...sure....I don't think we could tonight. Rain check?'' Another considerable pause. "Okay, great. We'll plan on it. Thanks, Mel.'' Starsky hung up.

"What was that all about?''

"I just thought I'd call Mel and see if he knew anything about the flag. He said he got the neighborhood watch group together--about fifteen guys in all--and paid Schoemacher a visit, strongly suggesting he take down the flag.''

"I'm surprised he responded to that.''

"I guess they were pretty emphatic about what would happen if he refused. That's why they didn't want us in on it--wanted to leave the neighborhood cops out of it.'' Starsky smiled a little wickedly. "Guess he's out-numbered around here now.''

"You and Mel seem to be getting pretty tight,'' Hutch said, returning to his seat at the table. Starsky came back to his own chair.

"Well, he gets home around four, and his wife often isn't home yet, so he comes over and has a beer and shoots the breeze awhile. He said he and his son could give us a hand with the planting if we want to put in a few shrubs or at least dig out some of the old dead stuff. Whadd'ya think? He knows about the most I can do is stand in the yard and run stuff through the mulcher--he's got one of those--but he's still offering to help out.''

"Little, light-weight stuff,'' Hutch added, smiling a little. "Hey, if they're willing to help, I'm game to put in a couple days on it. Incidentally, what are we taking a rain check on?''

"Grilling out steaks. He invited us tonight, but I thought...well, I think we could use some peace and quiet. Besides, you still didn't answer my question, Hutch.''

"About what?'' Hutch knew fully well what Starsky was driving at, but he was stalling. He was just starting to feel a little less frazzled, and now he was supposed to bring it up again.

"What did Norton say that freaked you out? You knew what happened...'' Starsky seemed to have a slight dawning himself, but he said nothing more.

"He filled in a few blanks about Arnold...makes me a hell of a lot more upset about dismissing that one supposedly minor charge.''

"Damn it. You didn't need to hear any more about it than what you already did.''

"I didn't know the exact timetable, what was said...''

"It was fuzzy at times for me too. I passed out after they got done kicking me, then I came around again, then I blacked out for a few minutes...I was picking up on things like bad radio reception. I know for sure there are some things I heard and saw and felt, and I know there were others that could be part of a nightmare my mind has worked up or they might have happened. I don't know.''

"Were you clear on what happened upstairs?''

"Crystal,'' Starsky replied without hesitation. "And that's the part I didn't want you to ever have to hear the details of, because I know how I'd feel if I were you. I got out of it without it going all the way, and for that I'm grateful, and I guess I'd rather just forget it happened. I won't let it take this house away from us.''

"Whoever ordered this is still out there. That's the part that bothers me most. This was personal. I'm going to call Dobey and get that unit put back on guarding the house.''

"I won't argue with that. Hey, the doctor said I could go back on desky duty next week.''

"Oh, shit, I forgot your doctor's appointment this morning.''

"No big deal. Huggy drove me over there. He also gave me the green light to start driving again, so I'm not housebound anymore.''

"That's great. I'm really sorry, Starsk. I don't know what happened...I guess I got distracted.''

"You've been a little busy nailing the guys who did it. That's a good excuse in my book.''

"Curtis. I better call Minnie and tell her to start working the computer for anyone named Curtis who might have a grudge against you.''

"Or you.''

"Good point.''

Hutch called Dobey first and apologized for his hasty departure, discussed Norton's statement a bit, and then asked him about getting the unit back to watch the house--more specifically, Starsky. Then he was transferred to R&I, where Minnie, resident guru of the new computer system, was holed up in an alcove with an ominous-looking machine attached to a keyboard. It seemed she could find anything on anyone in that computer, provided the poor souls who had been elected to enter the information into the system had done their work accurately. There was the threat of terminals popping up on every detective's desk someday, and the thought made Hutch's blood run cold. Starsky, on the other hand, had spent so much time watching over Minnie's shoulder that he was starting to put down roots there. He was fond of lecturing Hutch on the evils of slipping behind the times and technology of crime-fighting.

Minnie took down the brief information and assured Hutch she would make it top priority. Anything remotely related to Starsky's situation seemed to rise to the top of everyone's piles at the precinct, and it had been obvious in the speed with which the case had been brought this far.

Hutch surrendered to ordering pizza for dinner, and feeling much more settled both in mind and stomach, found himself enjoying the food in front of the TV, which they still hadn't moved back downstairs from the library. That gave birth to another soliloquoy from Starsky on why they needed another color TV with a remote, and a video cassette machine. Starsky had been drooling over the pricey toys for a year or so, and made it quite clear that his life wasn't going to be complete until he had one and could tape movies and ball games and all sorts of things they missed while they were at work. Enjoying the drone of Starsky's voice, Hutch ate his pizza, oddly unruffled by his partner's entreaties to update their entertainment equipment. Maybe Starsky was right. They could afford it together, going in half and half. Of course, if they split up housekeeping, they'd probably end up in a custody battle over the video equipment. The little metal children of two bachelors, Hutch thought, laughing to himself.

Since his partner had screamed for some quiet time to rejuvenate his brain and do a bit of reading, Starsky resigned himself to doing something other than staring at the TV. He was not going to take another of Hutch's barbs that he was a slave to his remote control.

The attic was always a fruitful place to explore, so he made his way to the lumpy old easy chair he'd found up there and sat down, picking up where he left off in "sorting''. Ostensibly, he was preparing it to be finished one of these days, going through old cartons and hopefully disposing of other people's trash. Instead, he found himself drawn into the unfolding saga of the Oliver Family.

Isaac Oliver had built the house in 1889, and he'd found not only a bible with a family history in it which detailed all this information, and even more back as far as 1870, but also photos. There were a couple of faded photos of a man, woman and two small children, all in clothing which dated them to the late 19th century. He was delighted to have found some photos taken inside the house, one featuring the ruined staircase, which he had passed on to the contractor. A picture was, indeed, worth a thousand words, and the man seemed confident he could reproduce what he saw.

Starsky had begun to feel like the lost Oliver relative, since he knew more about them than Harry Oliver's offspring--or at least he was willing to bet he did.

The little girl in the family portraits had married and raised her family in the house, with her elderly mother living with them until her death. Isaac Oliver died relatively young in a fire at his office building. As near as Starsky could tell, the bedroom he was using had belonged to one young Oliver who died during World War I, and then to one of the Oliver girls, who met a happier end in marrying and moving away. He pieced all this together from letters, diaries, even notes jotted during decorating projects of past generations. The Olivers were obviously great note-takers and writers, and Starsky, being a detective, was a great assembler of such fragments. Harry Oliver had begun working on a history of the family, and his nearly illegible notes were neatly gathered into a few manilla folders. Apparently, he had collected as much of this stuff as he could, hoping to reconstruct it the way Starsky was doing now. Why he felt compelled to do the old man's geneaology/history research was beyond him, but he found it to be a fascinating, though vastly different, kind of detective work.

"Oh, that's you up here. I thought we had rats.'' Hutch was smiling as he approached the spot where Starsky sat, and took a seat on the top of an old foot locker.

"Done expanding your grey matter?'' Starsky asked, not thoroughly finished perusing a photo album he'd only recently unearthed from the interior of the foot locker on which his partner sat.

"For now. Hey, it's late. We should probably turn in.''

"I don't have to get up early. You go ahead.''

"Starsk, you know you still need plenty of rest.''

"I don't do anything worthwhile all day. I get plenty of rest.''

"What's so interesting up here, anyway?''

"I've been getting to know the Olivers.'' Starsky closed the album and leaned back in the chair a minute. "You know, it seems so weird. All this stuff--personal stuff, letters, photos--and those people, they just don't give a damn about any of it. You know, old Harry Oliver put three kids through college, had four--one died young--a wife, a good job--all the stuff you're supposed to do, and here it all ends. He dies by himself in a rest home and some stranger is digging through his stuff.''

"Funny how things turn out that way. You do what everyone else wants you to do, and in the end, nobody's happy.'' Hutch was staring into space almost as if he were personalizing the discussion.

"It's like nothing goes the way you planned it anyway. Harry did everything right--he found a nice girl and got married--well, Mel says his wife was real nice--had kids, put 'em through good schools...he shoulda been enjoying kids and grandkids and one of them should be livin' here, raising their family...instead, they just threw him aside like an old bone after they cleaned all the meat off.''

"Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men. That's always been my dad's favorite saying. You plan everything a certain way, and it doesn't follow the plan anyway.''

"Like my mother, for instance. My dad was supposed to be there, to raise us...they should have been growing old together, playing with their grandkids--not that Nicky and I haven't dropped the ball pretty pathetically in that department. I mean, she has one grandson, but Nicky has yet to admit that--and he's still dodging the paternity test, the irresponsible little weasel. Her life sure went off in a different direction.''

"For so long, I lived my life trying to please everybody. In school, I tried to please the teachers. Shit, I was so worried about pleasing them I ended up valedictorian. Of course, there was pleasing my parents, which meant not only the grades but the sports and the clubs and the whole social scene...friends like Jack Mitchell who came from 'nice' families. Jack...talk about the best laid plans, poor guy.'' Hutch shook his head. "Then I married Vanessa, because she was from a good family, and marriage and kids was what I was supposed to do next.''

"What about college? Was that your idea or theirs?''

"Mine. I don't regret getting an education. Of course, if I had opted not to, I would have found out in a big hurry how displeased my folks could get. They expected it.''

"I've never done anything I was supposed to do, I guess.'' Starsky laid the photo album aside. "I drove my teachers crazy, blew off my classes in high school--which drove Aunt Rosie and Uncle Al crazy. I think they thought they'd signed up to help raise the antichrist once I got here. 'Course it all backfired on me because my grades were too low to get any scholarships to college. I asked. It's funny, but when it dawned on me that high school was gonna end and I was going to be out in the world in a few months, I started getting interested in what was coming next. After I messed around with a bunch of dead-end odd jobs, I finally got serious and decided to try the Academy.''

"I knew you'd worked odd jobs first--kind of deciding what you wanted to do. I didn't know you wanted to go to college.''

"Yeah, well, I did what I wanted--played it cool, which meant not being a 'brain' or a 'nerd' in high school--and it still didn't work out in the end. I guess that saying's right. Doesn't matter what, or how, you plan. It doesn't guarantee you anything.''

"At a point I got sick of trying to please everyone. Everyone was pleased except me. After college, instead of law school, I signed up for the Academy.''

"You told me your dad's reaction to that one.'' Starsky laughed. This was kind of an old discussion, but he didn't mind revisiting old ground again. It was much friendlier territory than more current issues they'd had to face.

"'Fine, Ken, why don't you just flush a four-year education down the john'.'' Hutch shook his head and smiled. "Maybe I married Vanessa to get back in their good graces. Maybe it isn't all her fault it didn't work out. I never liked not pleasing my family, being on the outs with them. At least they felt I was still planning on a 'respectable' life--and of course, there was always the chance of my ending up police commissioner or something.''

"Your parents seemed so nice when I met them--like they'd be real supportive.''

"My parents were good to me. They both love me, I'm not arguing with that. They just have ideas of what a successful, respectable life involves, and being a cop wasn't part of that picture. Neither was being a 35-year-old bachelor with no kids.''

"Yeah. Ma tries to be real supportive of everything I do, but she's disappointed, I know. She wanted grandchildren real bad. I'm still tryin', but I think she's losin' hope.''

"The schedule's tough on a marriage. It was tough on Vanessa, and then on top of it, I don't think we were ever deeply in love. It hurt like hell to get dumped the way she dumped me, but looking back, I don't think we were meant to last forever. But Sandra...she understood it, and it was worth the effort to make time for each other...''

"How about Cecile? You never did tell me how that went.''

"Starsk, I--''

"Hey, you goin' out with her's got nothin' to do with what happened to me. I wanna know how it went.''

"It went...okay,'' Hutch said with a smile, lending a very positive connotation to a somewhat lacklustre word. "She's smart, funny--we've got a lot in common. I just don't think I'm ready yet. I think I will be someday, but it's like there's something dead in there I just can't revive.''

"I know. But it never hurts to have a few attractive...'' he cleared his throat, "friends.'' They shared a little snicker over that concept, then Starsky became more serious again. "Are you glad you broke away, became a cop?''

"No regrets there.''

"None?''

"No. See, during my stint in the academy, and then starting out as a cop, I had one of the most liberating experiences of my entire life. For the very first time, I met someone I didn't have to work hard to please. Someone who was pleased with me just because...I was there, I was me.'' Hutch paused, as if reflecting. "That was a whole new experience. And maybe that's when I learned what it meant to make a friend--to form the right kind of relationships--not present myself and then try like hell to be what that person wanted, but to just...be...me, and let them take it or leave it.''

"If they don't take it, it's their loss, buddy,'' Starsky responded, smiling warmly.

"That's what I mean, partner. You were always pleased with me, even when you had reasons not to be. I guess that's what made me realize that if I was working that hard--be it with Vanessa, or my folks, or anyone else--to stay in their good graces, maybe it wasn't worth being there...that maybe I was building my relationships on something artificial, something unimportant.''

"I think, if it's real--whatever kind of relationship it is--if the foundation of it is strong, and real--it's like having a home you can come back to but you're still free to leave it, to go out and do something so completely outside of what you think that person might like or approve of, and it doesn't matter...they don't judge you.''

Hutch picked up the photo album, flipping through the pages.

"Poor old Harry lived the ideal life, just the way he was supposed to, and look where it got him. Their love stifled and killed him.''

"He wrote in his notes--he was assembling a family history, and he had a foreword all put together. He wrote that he always wanted to travel, but he tells about all the family stuff that got in the way, but he doesn't sound bitter--it's not like he's saying he resents it, just that it stopped him from ever doing any of that. Made me kind of glad I stopped waiting for everything to be the way it was supposed to be and just started living my life. Buyin' this house...it was a great idea, I think.''

"Me too, pal.'' Hutch stood up. "So would getting some sleep. Come on. You need your beauty sleep--very badly,'' Hutch needled.

"Hey, my face is almost back to normal.''

"Yeah, your version of normal, anyway,'' Hutch kept teasing, descending the stairs as Starsky pulled the cord and turned out the overhead light.

"Wendy likes my version pretty well.''

"Wendy?''

"You think the only person who visits me when I'm here alone is Mel?'' Starsky shot back, grinning.