HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS
A Starsky & Hutch Holiday Novel
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© 1995 by Striped Tomato (firstname.lastname@example.org) This novel is a work of fiction, created solely for the entertainment of its readers and for sharing with other fans of the Starsky & Hutch TV series. No infringement is intended on the rights of anyone holding ownership of the Starsky & Hutch characters, stories or names. No profit is being made.
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Starsky was slumped in the driver's seat of the Torino, finishing the last couple bites of a jumbo burrito. While Hutch was feeling the pangs of hunger of a long stakeout, he couldn't bring himself to share the bag of Mexican take-outs Starsky had selected. Oh, well, it was only fair. It was Starsky's turn to pick a restaurant--God help me, Hutch thought with a smirk.
"Here," Starsky turned the open food bag toward his partner. "Come on, Hutch. You gotta be getting hungry by now." Hutch looked down in the bag at the cooling burrito in its orange-grease-stained wrapper.
"Hey, I got you a present earlier. Look in the glove compartment." Starsky finished his burrito and wiped his hands on an already rumpled napkin. Hutch opened the glove compartment and pulled out a small pink bag.
"You bought me a present that comes in a little pink bag? Is this something I really wanna see?"
"Just open it. And I'll have you know I carried that little pink bag through a downtown business district in front of God and everybody."
"I'm touched." Hutch looked inside the bag and saw six nubby-looking cookies in the bottom of it.
"They're whole-grain granola cookies. When I saw the list of organic crud in those things, I thought of you."
"Organic crud reminds you of me? Gee, thanks, Starsk."
"There's a little bakery a few doors down from the Taste of Paradise Club, and they make outstanding bear claws. I went in there this morning to get breakfast and I got you those."
"What were you doing at a strip club at breakfast time?"
"Questioning Al Dalton--the manager."
"I remember him. Greasy little toad, but he comes up with some good tips for the right price."
"Well, it seems that the owner of Delancey's restaurant across the street complained that a couple of Al's girls are branching out to solicit for a little extra income. I guess one of them approached a customer at Delancey's and he wasn't too amused--Delancey, I mean. The customer was probably amused. Anyway, Dobey figured since Al is one of our sources, one of us should handle this. I drew the short straw."
"Since when did you consider visiting a strip club drawing the short straw?"
"Since it was breakfast time and all I got out of it was a visit with charming Al, his mono-syllabic bartender and a good whiff of stale sweat and cigarette smoke."
"Sounds exciting. Thanks for the cookies. They're pretty good," Hutch commented, chewing.
"Good. Don't be such a pig. Give me one, will ya?" Hutch responded by handing him a cookie. "I don't think anybody's gonna show here tonight. Huggy must be slipping--he seemed pretty convinced there was going to be a big drop made here tonight." Starsky appeared less than thrilled with his cookie, but finished it anyway and chased it with a gulp of coffee.
"And so we get to stare at the side of an empty warehouse for eight hours. Remind me to thank him for this one." Hutch poured himself a cup of coffee out of the thermos. "By the way, what do you know about this?" Hutch pulled a folded up form out of his pocket and handed it to Starsky.
"Dobey just approved me for a month's vacation--the entire month of December. I didn't even try asking for Christmas Day off this year."
"Was there anything in my in-box?" Starsky handed him back the form.
"Yeah--same thing. What gives?"
"YES!!" Starsky exclaimed gleefully. "I don't believe it. This is like picking the right door on 'Let's Make a Deal'--you know, when you win the car?"
"Starsk, if I knew what you were talking about, I wouldn't be asking. Now I know Dobey wasn't just visited by three spirits who convinced him to give us a month off in the spirit of the season."
"Not three spirits. Just one, and you're lookin' at 'im."
"I don't get it--and a month? That's all the vacation we've got."
"I submitted these requests about Thanksgiving time, and I had a talk with Dobey."
"That must have been some talk."
"I just leveled with him about some things. I told him we've both had a couple of really rough years. I mean when you think back, we've been through the whole thing with you getting kidnapped, Prudhomme, Bellamy and that whole poison thing, that lunatic Marcos and his band of junkies, you getting sick, me getting shot, Gillian, Abby, Terry, Rosey--I told him I thought it would really help us get our perspectives back if we could get away from all this for a while and spend a little quality time with our families. I also told him we've almost never had Christmas off and I've never had Hanukkah off to go see my mother. I asked him if we could have December off so we could go spend Hanukkah with my family and then Christmas with your family. Come on, Hutch, you could act a little enthused about this. Whaddya say, huh?"
"I don't believe he granted a month off all at one time. You must've given a real performance."
"The point is, he granted it, and this is a great opportunity. I figured we could take a road trip--drive across country to New York first, spend Hanukkah there, then we'll travel back to Minnesota to do the Christmas thing with your family." Starsky read the skepticism on his partner's face, and he looked almost panicky in response.
"Starsk, a cross-country road trip in December? You know, snow falls in other parts of the country--does the phrase 'snow-covered and slippery' mean anything to you? And what about our cases? Our contacts? We can't just drop off the face of the earth for a month. Besides, we'd spend most of our time in this car, eating greasy take-outs. Do you have any idea how long it would take to drive to New York?"
"So what? If we start out December first and it takes us a week, we'll still be there in plenty of time. We can stop along the way and see some sights and take some pictures. Aw, come on, Hutch--we'll probably never get another chance like this. You and I both know how fast all your chances can be taken away from you. This could be fun."
"You know I hate long car trips."
"This'll be different. We'll take our guitars, we'll trade off driving," Starsky paused, growing more desperate at Hutch's unmoved expression. "We'll even go in your car and you can pick all the restaurants."
"Come again?" Hutch raised his eyebrows.
"Oh, hell, I give up." Starsky slumped back in the seat. His genuinely miserable expression was not lost on Hutch.
"This is really important to you?"
"It would be to you too if you'd stop shooting holes in it long enough to think about it."
"It would be nice to see my folks again. And I'd like to meet your family--you know, see how far the nut fell from the tree."
"That's the apple, Hutch," Starsky corrected with a glare.
"Oh, right," Hutch responded with a snicker.
"Please?" This was Starsky's last ditch effort, short of getting out of the car and dropping to his knees, which he hadn't entirely ruled out in his mind.
"You'll do it?" Starsky's eyes widened.
"Why not? You're right--a month off for the holidays is something only a couple years of solid misery could earn us."
"This is going to be great! I can't wait to call my mother and tell her. She's not going to believe it."
"I imagine she won't. I don't believe it."
Starsky gladly took responsibility for mapping their route, figuring out driving times and estimating the costs of hotel stays along the way. Hutch deferred to Starsky on the point of which car to take, because Hutch had to admit the Torino would be more road-worthy over the long haul than his beloved Hutchmobile.
At exactly six a.m. sharp on December first, Starsky pulled up in front of Hutch's apartment building, and waited impatiently for a few moments before turning off the engine and bounding up the steps to hurry Hutch along. He planned to be viewing the Grand Canyon that afternoon, which meant getting an early start. He rapped insistently on the door, and Hutch opened it quickly. He had everything packed for the trip and was just adding some last-minute shaving gear to his luggage.
"This is the first time you've been all fired up to go anywhere at six in the morning," he commented, zipping his duffle bag.
"If we get going, we can make the Grand Canyon by this afternoon." Starsky paused. "Do you think 10 rolls of film will be enough?"
"Starsk, trust me, we won't pass more than 240 landmarks on the way. Besides, they do sell film in other states."
"I just don't want to have something spectacular right in front of my Nikon and miss it because I don't have the stupid film. I'm hungry." He opened Hutch's refrigerator and withdrew quickly, disappointed. "No leftovers?"
"I tossed everything last night. We'll be gone for over a month. I don't think there's much point in leaving perishables around to stink."
"Terrific. Well, let's get a move on. We can stop to pick up donuts on the way."
"There's a healthy thought. I thought I was going to pick out the eating places on this trip." Hutch turned out the light in his kitchen and carried the last of his things to the front door.
"Donuts don't count." Starsky gathered up a suitcase and Hutch's guitar case and started for the car while his partner carried his duffle bag and a couple bags of provisions for their stints of non-stop driving.
"So when do we arrive at the Canyon according to your itinerary?" Hutch tossed the duffle bag to Starsky, who loaded it in the trunk with the suitcase. The food and guitar joined Starsky's guitar in the backseat of the Torino.
"About two, unless I luck out on the road. Hey, did you remember to pack your ski jacket? Unless we want to buy winter coats, they're probably about our only chance of not freezing to death once we hit our destinations."
"Damn. I'll be right back." Hutch darted back into the apartment building and Starsky slid in behind the wheel. He'd have to get Dobey a real good souvenir from this trip, considering all the red tape he had gone through to approve this vacation. No one at the precinct seemed to ever recall a cop getting more than a week off at the most, and here was this whole month. Dobey had sensed Starsky was honestly feeling very burned out the day they had talked, and he had responded by doing something to "stop the rot". He had used that phrase to Starsky the last day they were at work. "If this trip 'stops the rot' so I don't lose a couple of my best people, then it's worth it."
Hutch opened the passenger door and startled him out of his reverie. Tossing his jacket in the backseat, he settled in for the official launch of the cross-country holiday odyssey, as he had jokingly called it. Starsky handed him a few sheets of paper with the painstakingly constructed itinerary.
"Tell me what you think." Starsky started the engine. Hutch silently scanned the information.
"Two nights at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville? Starsk, if we do something like that, we're going to be out of money before we even get to your mother's house, let alone Minnesota and back."
"Happy Hanukkah. The reservations are all made, prepaid on plastic. My treat."
"How can you afford that?"
"I'm not totally destitute, you know. Besides, you've always said you'd like to go to the Grand Old Opry--and I seem to recall something about you wanting to play on stage there."
"I was kidding, Starsk. I mean about the stage part."
"I have it on good authority there's an amateur contest there the second night."
"I don't know what to say."
"Easy. Say 'gee, Starsk, that sounds like fun.' It's real easy to be agreeable. Just try it."
"It does. Thanks."
"You're welcome. How do you feel about a donkey ride through the Grand Canyon? A friend of mine did that last year, and he said it's a great way to get a closer look at the rock formations, and some of the Indian ruins. I think we'll have time to do that."
"Sounds interesting. You really have this mapped out to the last detail. That's not like you."
"Well we can't very well just wander aimlessly across the country with no clue where to stop."
"I know, but you usually go for spontaneity."
"If we ever get two months off, we can be spontaneous about it."
"Maybe when we retire." Hutch snorted a little laugh. "We probably won't get another vacation until then."
The first four hours of the trip were fairly uneventful. Starsky agreed to take the first eight-hour shift of driving, but midway through, both were ready to stop and stretch their legs. After making a stop at a rest area to move around a little, they continued their journey. Starsky made some good time on the highway, and was impressed with himself to be approaching the Grand Canyon an hour ahead of his planned time. He followed a road around the South Rim of the Canyon, giving them a little taste of the sights to come. At Hopi Point, which was reputed to be one of the best vantage points, they stopped to take in the view with a number of other tourists.
The Colorado River could be seen winding like a thin snake through a bed of schist far below them. Starsky immediately had his camera focused and began shooting pictures of the river, and of the rock formations, which provided a colorful display of rosy sand stone and grey limestone caps.
"I read that there are actually marine fossils in the caps on the mountains," Starsky commented, momentarily looking out from behind his Nikon.
"This is...immense, isn't it?" Hutch leaned forward on the railing, as if the inclination of his body might help him more fully experience the vastness of it all. "Kinda makes you feel insignificant, doesn't it?"
"Something this vast and this old? Yeah, pretty much," Starsky retorted with a smile before snapping more photos.
"If we're going to do the donkey ride, we probably better head for the nearest visitor center and find our asses."
The remark brought a laugh from Starsky, who put his camera back in the camera bag and followed Hutch back to the car.
"Hey, wait!" Starsky pulled the camera back out. "Let's get a couple perspective shots here--you know, capture how small and insignificant we are?"
"You want me by the railing?"
"Yeah. Then you get one of me."
"Or we could take one of both of you if you take one of us," a female voice interjected. Starsky turned to face an attractive redhead carrying an elaborate camera. Close behind her was a petite blonde with a stunning smile.
"There's a deal I can't refuse. Especially if I get to try that camera," Starsky responded.
"Trade ya," she said with a smile as she lifted the strap bearing the camera over her head and handed it to Starsky, who did the same with his camera.
"I'm Dave Starsky, this is Ken Hutchinson."
"Samantha Thomas and this is my friend Janine Marsh. We're from Phoenix--how about you two?"
"L.A.," Hutch spoke up.
"We just arrived a little while ago. We were thinking about taking a donkey ride through the canyon. Have you ladies tried that yet?" The wheels were turning in Starsky's mind, and they seemed to be moving in unison with Samantha.
"Not yet, but we're game," she said, glancing at Janine who nodded a confirmation.
"I hope that was an invitation, or we just invited ourselves," Janine added.
"It was. We'd love the company, right Hutch?"
"How about that picture?" Samantha prodded.
"If you ladies will kindly strike a pose over there by the railing, I'll see what I can do." Starsky took a few shots of the girls, who then traded places with the guys and returned the favor. After trading their cameras back, the foursome went caravan-style to the nearest parking area and abandoned their cars to find a more primitive means of transportation through the Canyon.
Once mounted on their respective donkeys, the foursome started making their way down the trail. Since Samantha was a veteran Canyon visitor, she was elected to lead the parade. In her words, hired tour guides "are for sissies". Starsky seemed to bond with this more forceful member of the pair, while Hutch and Janine brought up the rear, conversing quietly, yet almost continuously as they made the tour. They also were greatly amused by the unofficial photography contest that Starsky and Samantha seemed to have initiated. Each would photograph the same landmark, from his or her selected angle, and of course boast that it would be the better of the two.
"So what do you guys do in LA?" Janine finally asked.
"We're police detectives," Hutch responded.
"So this is where police detectives spend their vacations, huh?" Samantha probed.
"Part of it. We're driving across country and back," Starsky volunteered.
"That would be a great photo op. Sorry. I'm a free-lance photographer--big surprise," she said with a grin.
"Now she tells me. Do you believe this woman?" Starsky asked in mock outrage. "I've been trying to compete, with my motley little camera, against a pro? Geez."
"What do you do, Janine?" Hutch asked.
"I'm a full-time secretary, part-time college student. I'd like to be a teacher. I work at one of the magazines Samantha works with pretty frequently. We both love to travel, so here we are."
"My partner here decided we should take this major road trip in December. I think we're going to hit some rocky weather myself."
"Yeah, but you can't go home for the holidays in July," Starsky protested.
"Where are you from originally?" Samantha took aim at a rock formation and fired her camera.
"L.A. does bring some interesting combinations together, doesn't it? I mean, what are the chances of some guy in New York ending up friends with some guy in Duluth?" Samantha handed her camera to Starsky. "I need a couple donkey-joke photos."
"Donkey-joke photos?" he asked, focusing the camera on her.
"Yes--you know, 'this is Samantha, sitting on her ass in the Grand Canyon'. Or, 'when I was in the Grand Canyon, I let this really cute guy take pictures of my--' well, you get the drift."
"Did ya hear that, Hutch? I'm really cute. Remember that one, Mr. Lady's Man."
"Just shut up and take the lady's picture, will ya?" Hutch looked over at Janine and laughed.
The afternoon drew to a close near four, when the group returned their animals to the visitor center and made their way back to the parking lot.
"Anybody but me hungry?" Starsky asked.
"Starving," Janine responded, with an uncharacteristic enthusiasm.
"Well, I think there's a hot dog stand or something around here," Hutch started scanning the terrain. "Where are you girls staying?"
"The new lodge they just finished building--you have to drive through Petrified Forest National Park."
"That's where we're staying, too," Hutch volunteered, which Starsky considered a pretty smooth move, since they were really planning to stay at a cheap motel a few miles away. Hopefully this new lodge wouldn't be booked solid.
"There are some great shots of the Painted Desert--I guess normal people would call them 'views'--from the road that leads up there. The lodge also has a dynamite restaurant."
"Have either of you been to the Navajo reservation?" Hutch asked.
"We went yesterday. Is that where you guys are headed next?" Janine asked.
"They have Indian souvenirs in New Mexico, too. We'll be passing through there tomorrow, so it isn't urgent. Right now I want something to eat."
"Me, too," Janine chimed in with Starsky.
"I guess we should take that drive toward the lodge then," Hutch concluded.
Despite their professed hunger, neither Starsky nor Janine grumbled at spending a considerable amount of time taking in the view of the desert from the road to the lodge. Samantha and Starsky snapped their photos, and finally concluded they needed to exchange addresses so they could mail the results back and forth. Janine and Hutch preferred to stroll along the road and get to know each other better while their more effusive counterparts captured the scenery on film. Not since Gillian had Hutch clicked so immediately with a woman, and he planned to use every possible moment to make a lasting impression so they could stay in touch after parting company.
Janine was a health-food enthusiast who made many of her own recipes, practiced meditation on a regular basis and liked to sing, though she claimed to be 'kind of lousy at it'. She hoped to teach music and art to grade school children. Her quiet, subtle personality and friendly, open nature were a pleasant change of pace from the usual game-playing that seemed to accompany first dates. Is that what this was? Hutch wondered. Maybe this trip was fate...
"So, is there a Mrs. Starsky back home?" Samantha asked.
"There almost was," Starsky answered almost involuntarily. Why did he feel the need to bring Terry into this conversation? Maybe because liking Samantha this much felt like cheating on her.
"Is that my cue to ask something else or mind my own business?" Her tone was good-natured, but this was not a woman who minced words.
"My fiancee was killed about nine months ago in LA. This lunatic who was after me shot her. She had a bullet lodged in her brain, and it was inoperable. She only lived about a week or so after it happened."
"Oh, my God. Dave, I'm so sorry."
"Well, we packed a lot of living into that week, anyway." Starsky sighed. "I didn't mean to be such a downer."
"You have a right to be a little down over something like that."
"How about you? Is there a Mr. Samantha in Phoenix?"
"No," she laughed. "I've been dating this guy off-and-on for a couple years, but we aren't exclusive, and it doesn't seem to be going in any specific direction. Maybe I don't want it to, I don't know."
"Well, I think I've photographed every rock visible from here. Should we head for the lodge?" Starsky asked.
"If we can get those two to quit batting their eyelashes at each other long enough to eat," Samantha added with a smirk, nodding to Hutch and Janine, who stood almost nose to nose, talking and giggling back and forth.
"Okay, kids, time to eat!" Starsky bellowed, and the other couple started a little, then fell into step with Starsky and Samantha.
Fortunately for the guys, there were a few vacancies at the lodge. They signed in and parted company with the girls so everyone could change and freshen up for dinner. Upon learning there was a disco on the premises, no member of the foursome was about to launch into the nightlife looking like a tourist and smelling like a donkey.
"You know, Starsk, this trip might not have been such a bad idea after all," Hutch checked out his reflection in the mirror. The tan sportcoat set off his coloring perfectly, and he was more than mildly satisfied with his look.
"I see you and Janine are kind of joined at the nose. Every time we looked at you two, I don't think your faces were more than an inch apart." Starsky pulled on the jacket that was the final piece of his light suit. He had the Saturday Night Fever look down pat.
"You didn't seem to be too miserable over there with Samantha."
"She's a neat lady. Are we ready to go?" He turned toward Hutch.
"As we'll ever be." Hutch led the way out the door and downstairs. They passed through the rustic lobby, complete with fireplace and a wall made of logs. Down a wide hallway, past the reception desk, the rustic image ended. The pulse of the disco beat filled the room, flashing lights set the atmosphere, and a large mirrored ball suspended from the ceiling cast its reflections throughout the room. Samantha waved to them from the bar, where she and Janine were sipping their wine.
"This is kinda embarrassing--they got ready before we did," Starsky commented under his breath.
"Hey, it isn't easy to be this beautiful, Starsk." Hutch elbowed his partner with a chuckle.
"You guys look great," Samantha sprang from her barstool and greeted Starsky with a kiss on the cheek. Dressed in a bright red dress and red strappy shoes, topped off with her mane of red hair, Samantha reminded Starsky of a flame. In shorts and an old shirt, she had been pretty. In this outfit, she was stunning.
"You look...amazing," Starsky commented, stepping back. Hutch ordered a couple of beers for them and took up residence on the barstool next to Janine, who was dressed in a dark blue dress and silver heels. Her long blonde hair was pulled on top of her head, and little ringlets framed her face.
"And you," Hutch turned to Janine, "are a thing of beauty. And a thing of beauty is a joy forever," he concluded, kissing her hand. Starsky and Samantha rolled their eyes at each other.
"Should we find a table? They serve great burgers here," Samantha craned her neck to see beyond the dance floor to the tables, which were located on a portion of the floor elevated above the dance floor, surrounded by a gold railing.
"I'm starved. Let's go," Starsky responded.
After finishing dinner and taking some time to visit and relax for a while, the dancing bug finally overtook Starsky and Samantha, who headed for the dance floor. Janine and Hutch followed on the next song, the slow and romantic "I Like Dreamin'". Holding Janine close and swaying to the music, Hutch stole a glance over her shoulder to see his partner doing the same with Samantha. And then Starsky suddenly stepped back, said something to his date, and hurried out of the room. Hutch stopped his movement, and Janine looked up at him with a puzzled expression.
"Janine, would you excuse me just a minute?"
"Sure. Is anything wrong?"
"I'm not sure." He started across the dance floor and paused when he met Samantha. "What's with Starsky?"
"He just said he was sorry, and that he couldn't do this yet, and then he took off. Ken, I know about his fiancee. Look, just tell him it's okay, and to give me a call anytime he'd like a friend."
"Thanks, Samantha. I know he likes you, but..."
"No explanations necessary. Go see if he's okay. Janine and I'll be fine."
Hutch followed her instructions, and when he didn't see Starsky in the lobby, continued upstairs to their room. Starsky had tossed his jacket on a chair and was lying on his bed with his back to the door.
"Starsk? Are you okay?" Hutch stood at the foot of the bed. Starsky sat up and sniffed loudly.
"Why don't you go keep the girls company? I just don't feel too great."
"The girls are okay for now, and you're lying." Hutch sat next to him on the side of the bed. "You wanna try telling me the truth?"
"I don't know how to explain it myself," he looked at Hutch through puffy eyes. "I really like Samantha. I guess after losing Terry...nothing seems to fit right. First there was Helen, then Terry... and then Rosey, and for the first time since Terry died I really felt something again...and then she left. I know it sounds crazy but I guess I'm just not ready to go through that for the fourth time. I mean, Terry didn't leave me by choice. But the first person I really trusted after her was Rosey, and I know that whole mess was a mistake from the get-go, but I thought she loved me. Maybe she did, but not enough to stay with me. Ultimately it's like Terry was still the only one that was really right. Then tonight, for a few minutes it felt really good with Samantha, and then all of a sudden it was like it just made me miss Terry that much more, and I thought about what it felt like to watch Rosey walk away, and I couldn't get away from her fast enough. Maybe I never got over Terry...I know I didn't. I still miss her so much I feel like there's a knife right in my chest."
"Nobody ever promised grief would be logical," Hutch commented, putting an arm around his partner's shoulders.
"Maybe it's just that stupid song. I heard it the first time about a month after Terry...I was on my way to pick you up to go to work, and it just voiced everything I was going through--dreaming about her, reaching out and she's not there anymore--and the future I can picture us having that we lost--you know, the whole 'I see us with our children and our happy home' part? It's a beautiful song but every time I hear it, it takes me right back to feeling like I did when she first died. That one day, I had to pull off the road and just sit there and cry like an idiot. I think I was about a half hour late picking you up."
"Yeah, and you tried to tell me you looked like hell because you had developed allergies."
"Well, I couldn't very well tell you the truth, could I?" he responded with a weak chuckle.
"You can always tell me the truth, dummy. Besides, I know anyway, so you might as well not put so much energy into trying to fool me."
"I guess it's just that it still hurts so much. I meet somebody like Samantha, somebody I could really like, and I'm not me anymore. Do you think I'm ever gonna get over this, Hutch?"
"If you mean do I think you're gonna forget Terry, no, I don't. If you mean do I think you're going to reach a point where you can fall in love with someone else and not be miserable, yes, I do. It hasn't even been a year, Starsk. Give yourself some time." Hutch tightened his hold momentarily. "Hang in there. It isn't going to hurt like this forever. Eventually you're going to run into another 'right person', and she isn't going to walk out on you."
"Promise?" Starsky tried to force a smile with the question.
"I promise." They sat there silently for a few moments, then Hutch moved away a little. "We abandoned two really gorgeous women downstairs. Think you're up to going back?"
Starsky stood up and walked to the window. "You go ahead. I'll be okay now."
"You sure about that?"
"I'm sure." He turned back to face Hutch and sat against the window sill. "Thanks for checking up on me." He smiled slightly. "Hutch, I really will be okay. I'm not going to jump out the window and end it all."
"Out of a second floor window? That risk isn't really worrying me too much." Hutch stood up and moved toward the door. "You're sure you're okay?"
"I am now."
"Oh, I almost forgot. Samantha said to tell you it's okay, not to worry about anything, and to call her up if you ever need a friend. I think she really likes you, buddy."
"Tell her I'm sorry--and I will call her when I get my head together."
"In that case, I'll tell her not to wait by the phone," Hutch said with a snicker as he headed for the door. He felt less concerned about leaving when he heard Starsky chortle a little in response.
Samantha excused herself from the threesome after a short time, feigning a headache, leaving Janine and Hutch on their own, which neither seemed to mind. In fact, the evening continued on for quite a while on the back porch of the lodge, gazing at the stars, far from the noise and confusion of the disco inside.
"You told me you liked to sing," Janine prodded. "How about a little sample of your talents?"
"My musical talents?"
"You're bad," she playfully hit him on the arm. "Yes."
"My guitar's in the car. Sit tight." He hurried around the lodge and through the parking lot to the Torino. Relieved he had his set of keys, he unlocked the car and fished out his guitar. Janine looked beautiful in the bluish white light of the moon. And she had a beautiful heart. She was so full of enthusiasm and kindness and creativity. The perfect woman...and she lived in Phoenix. And this is why God made airplanes, Hutch thought to himself with a grin.
Samantha hesitated, then tapped on the door. She had to see Dave one last time before the guys got their early start for New Mexico in the morning. After a few minutes, the door opened, and he stood before her in his bathrobe.
"I'm sorry. I didn't know you were in bed already."
"I'm not. I'm just kind of lying around. Come in." He stepped back while she came inside and closed the door behind her. "I'm really sorry about earlier."
"That's okay. I can go to a disco anytime. Look, Dave, I just wanted to tell you in person how much fun I've had today, and that I really think of you as a good friend. I don't want you to not ever call me again because you think it has to be something more involved than that. If it turned out that way someday, that would be okay too, but you can never have too many friends."
"You're an incredible lady, Samantha. By the way, have a seat." He picked up his sportcoat off the one overstuffed chair in the room and when she was seated, sat opposite her on the foot of the bed. "I really had a good time today, and for the first time since Terry...died, I really felt something. I'm just not ready to handle all that again." Starsky refrained from mentioning Rosey. After the initial pain of losing her, he had developed a real anger at her choice of loyalties...at her walking away from him and a life with him on the right side of the law to go into hiding with her gangster father. Damn those mob bosses and what they've taken away from me, he thought to himself. But none of that should matter to Samantha, and there was no point in telling her the miserable story of his life.
"I'm not so insecure that it bothers me that you loved someone else that much before. It just means you're capable of giving so much of yourself to another person, that when you lose that person, it takes a long time to heal. There aren't too many guys out there with that problem. Most of them are so damn selfish they couldn't invest enough in a relationship to mourn it for long."
"I don't know if I deserve any special praise for being miserable, but I appreciate the kind words."
"Look, Dave, I know that Janine is going to use up most of her life's savings keeping in touch with your partner, which means she's going to want to drag me to LA every chance she gets because she hates to travel alone."
"So you mean we're going to be stuck being friends whether we want to or not?"
"That's about the size of it. Because I think that you and Ken are sort of a package deal, too. Janine and I are like sisters, and we do everything together. So I guess we'll have to get along."
"It'll be tough, but I'll force myself." Starsky smiled, relaxing a little.
"I'm going to turn in. Hopefully Janine can pry herself away before too much longer, or you're going to have to do all the driving tomorrow while Romeo sleeps." She headed for the door and Starsky sprang to his feet to reach it before she did.
"Samantha, I'm really glad we met today."
"Me too. Take care of yourself, Dave. And remember one thing: you're a very sensitive person, and I'm sure that you made Terry very happy. Don't ever wonder about that."
"Thanks, pal," he embraced her, and she returned it tightly.
"Call me--and don't forget to send me your pictures. We still have a contest running, remember?"
"I won't forget--any of it."
"Me either," she smiled and slipped out the door.
Hutch spent the better part of an hour serenading Janine in the moonlight, and finally coaxing her to sing along with him. Seeing this evening end would not be easy. And it didn't end until almost two in the morning. Upon delivering her to her door, he inclined slightly toward her, and she gladly accepted the overture. They exchanged a prolonged good night kiss before Janine fumbled for her keys a little nervously. An old fashioned girl--that was a little refreshing, if not a little frustrating.
"I'll call you on each one of our stops--and describe all the sights worth seeing."
"You do that. I'm going to miss you."
"Phoenix isn't China, you know. We'll be seeing each other again--I promise."
"Good. Drive safely, huh?"
"We will. Goodnight, Janine."
"Goodnight, Ken." She smiled and held his gaze for a moment before quietly letting herself into her room.
The alarm shattered the golden silence of sleep. Starsky took a swing at it but missed. Hutch made a direct hit which not only ended the ringing but knocked the clock under Starsky's bed.
"Good shot," Starsky grumbled and rolled over.
"I suppose if we don't get up now, we'll miss out on all sorts of enriching experiences in New Mexico," Hutch murmured into his pillow.
"I'll drive 100 miles an hour all the way there if you'll just shut up and let me sleep." Starsky pulled a pillow over his head. Hutch was moving around. Mr. Early Bird. Where's a cat when you need one, Starsky thought with an evil grin.
"You've got a couple spots marked on your itinerary that sell Indian pottery and various other souvenirs, and you also noted here what a wonderful experience it would be for us to see the Aztec Ruins National Park and the Taos Indian Reservation."
"The ruins have been there a thousand years. They'll be there an hour or two later."
"Come on, sleeping beauty. Time to rise and shine."
"I don't get this," Starsky came out from under his pillow and sat up in the bed. "You get three hours of sleep and you're all up and bouncy and perky. I've been in the sack since midnight and I feel like crap this morning."
"It's my diet. I told you to start watching what you eat, but do you listen to me?" Hutch grabbed a towel. "I'm going to shower and get dressed." Hutch went into the bathroom and the shower started. Showering and dressing--at least a ten minute reprieve, especially if he threw shaving in there, which he probably would.
By six-thirty, the Torino was gassed up and back on the road toward New Mexico. Driving itself had already lost its novelty, so Hutch pulled his guitar up front and started strumming along, arguing with his partner about what they ought to sing. Both despised the concept of "Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall" or "Row, Row, Row Your Boat", so Hutch finally wracked the musical portion of his brain and came up with "This Land is Your Land", which was so appropriate that it even shook Starsky out of his drowsy early morning slump.
"You know any Christmas songs? I mean this is a holiday vacation," Starsky prodded.
"'White Christmas'? We'll be doing more than dreaming about it in a couple days."
"Hit it," Starsky responded, fumbling under the seat for something.
"Will you watch where you're going?" Hutch reached over and yanked the wheel toward him, pulling the car out of the wrong lane and the path of an irate motorist.
"I wouldn'ta hit him," Starsky grumbled, producing a small Santa Claus on a red ribbon from under the seat. "This fell off the rearview mirror. Tie it back on there, will ya? It'll make things official."
"You're one strange Jewish guy, Starsk." Hutch tied the dangling St. Nick in place and settled back in the seat. Before beginning the Christmas song, he continued, "I didn't think Jewish people celebrated Christmas. Never could figure out how you got away with that one."
"My family cheats. That way we get more presents and two holidays in December." Starsky cackled a little wickedly. "Seriously," he continued, his smile fading a little, "my aunt was Catholic, so even though my uncle--my dad's brother--was Jewish, my aunt loved Christmas, and she celebrated it to the hilt. So once I moved to LA, I got into the whole Christmas season thing with her, even though I didn't convert."
"Knowing how you like presents, I'm not surprised you figured out a way to stretch the issue." Hutch laughed a little as he tuned a couple strings on his guitar.
"Guilty as charged," Starsky returned the smile, but then became serious. "It's more than that though. It's about family, friends--and it's one of the few times of the year people actually treat each other better. There's a lot of love and giving and family gatherings. I just like it, I guess. And where my aunt was concerned, you could get in the spirit or move out!" he concluded with a laugh. "So how about a little of that Christmas music now?"
They passed most of the morning driving with their sing along. Starsky seemed happy to stay behind the wheel for the nearly six-hour drive, letting Hutch handle the musical accompaniment. Though there was some scenery of interest to both of them, the majority of the drive was uneventful
until they approached the area of the Aztec Ruins National Park, and began to spot a few sources of souvenirs. Near noon, Starsky pulled over at a fast food restaurant, fearing it would be the last one they would encounter for a while.
"I think rigor mortis just set into my back," Starsky complained, stretching as he got out of the car.
"Probably nothing a plane ticket to New York City wouldn't cure." Hutch stashed his guitar in the backseat. "It's feeling a little cooler here."
"The farther east, and then north, we go..." Starsky let his voice trail off. He caught hold of Hutch's arm. "Look inside."
There was a tall man standing behind a young woman with dark hair. He had his arm around her neck and a gun at her head.
"We better get back to the car for the guns." Hutch turned to walk back quickly and Starsky followed him. "We should probably just call the local cops. We're out of our jurisdiction here."
"Yeah, and if that nut blows somebody's head off while we're on the phone, we're going to feel kinda responsible." Starsky checked his Beretta's ammo.
"So what's the plan?" Hutch leaned on the roof of the car, looking across the top at Starsky.
"One of us goes in front, plays the dumb tourist while one goes around to look for a back entrance?"
"And play it by ear?"
"Pretty much. I'll be the front man." Starsky tucked the gun in the waistband of his jeans and put his leather jacket on to conceal it.
"What if he shoots you when you walk in?"
"Then we'll know it was a lousy idea. I don't think he'll do that, though. He's got a hostage."
"Okay. How long do you want before I come in?"
"Just a couple minutes. We're working on distracting him, and I can only keep him interested for so long."
"Always do," Starsky responded with a hint of a grin. Hutch watched him stride confidently toward the restaurant. Hutch ducked behind the parked cars and hurried to the back of the building to look for an entrance.
Starsky swung open the front door and walked up to the front counter to place an order, not paying any attention to the gunman until he pretended to be surprised by the unresponsiveness of the girl at the cash register. He turned to look at the man who held the woman tightly in his grip.
"Hey, man, I'm just here to eat. I don't want any trouble," Starsky raised his hands in the air.
"Yeah? Well, you got some, amigo," the gunman responded. He was an Hispanic male, about thirty. The woman looked to be approximately the same age, also Hispanic. "Get over there with the others," he directed, waving the gun toward a group of terrified diners huddled in the eating area of the restaurant. Starsky complied silently, sitting in a chair at the end of a table where a family was seated. There had to be at least fifteen kids in that restaurant all together, Starsky thought grimly. No way to protect 'em all, no matter how well this plan might work.
"What's up with you? There's not that much here to steal, man," Starsky prodded.
"Ask the slut!" He shook the woman in his grip. "Filthy brujerita!"
"Hey, that's no way to talk to a lady, pal," Starsky retorted.
"This ain't no lady, man. Somebody in here's been meetin' her. All I want's her lover. All she gotta do is point, and everybody goes home but him."
"Manuel, please don't!" She sobbed and tugged at his arm, but he only tightened his grip on her throat.
"Maybe you want I should kill this guy?" He brandished the gun in Starsky's direction. "Or maybe this little kid?" He pointed the weapon at the little girl who sat next to Starsky. As almost a reflex action, Starsky stood up and stepped in front of her. The child's mother let out a strangled sob, but was held down by her husband. "Okay, baby, this is what you want. I'm startin' to kill one of these people for every minute you don't tell me who you been with!" he bellowed. He pointed the gun at Starsky, who maintained his post in front of as many of the children at the table as had managed to get behind him.
"Let her go, it was me," Hutch made his entrance from the back. The gunman whirled around to fire at him, but Starsky was ready for the lapse in his concentration and the clear shot at his back. He drew his weapon and fired, hitting the gunman in the shoulder and as he spun, in the hand that held the gun, which flew out of his wounded hand. The young woman went sprawling to the floor unharmed in one direction while her wild-eyed boyfriend flew forward in the other.
Hutch ordered one of the girls behind the counter to call an ambulance and the local police while Starsky helped the woman to stand. She was shaken but otherwise unharmed. Her boyfriend still moaned and cursed in a variety of languages from the floor where he had rolled on to one side and was cradling his wounded hand. Hutch gathered up the extra weapon, using a napkin to preserve the criminal's prints, and tucked it in his belt.
"Nice work, partner," Hutch said as he approached Starsky and the woman, who was seated at a table with a glass of water offered by one of the other customers. "Who's he?" he asked her.
"My boyfriend, Manuel Martinez. I was going to break up with him, because I met somebody else, and he found out, and he must've followed me here. Thank you both."
"Is there someone we can call for you? You'll have to wait and talk to the police, but someone who could wait with you?" Starsky asked.
"My mother." She wrote the number shakily on a napkin with a pen Starsky handed her. One of the waitresses volunteered to make the call.
Upon showing their credentials to the local police, the travelers were only held up a very short time from returning to their vacation. Once they had given statements and a couple of phone numbers where they could be reached in the event of a court trial, they were free to go.
"Somehow I didn't feel like staying there for lunch," Hutch commented with a slight smile as they got back in the Torino.
"I'm sure they'll have a hot dog stand or something in the park. You know I didn't think I'd have to carry this thing around on vacation." Starsky took out his gun and looked it over.
"Well, so much for escaping the loonies in the city."
"Yeah. Well, at least we can drive away from this looney and let someone else do the report." Starsky started up the engine. They were two hours delayed on their trip, and as they hoped to make it at least into Oklahoma before staying over again, they had to make their stop at the Aztec Ruins fairly time-efficient. Having viewed some Indian ruins at the Grand Canyon, they settled for stopping at a little mission that sold numerous Indian goods and loaded up on souvenirs, some of which would also serve as Hanukkah and Christmas gifts at their destinations.
"You and your table cloths," Starsky teased Hutch as he tried on a poncho.
"This is a poncho, Starsky."
"The last time you gave it some other goofy name."
"Whatever. It still looks like a table cloth with a hole in the middle for your head to stick out."
"And you look so much more sophisticated in that hat."
"This hat is a sombrero, amigo. I thought I'd hang it on my wall at home. Hey, do you think your mother would like this?" He held up a hand made throw displaying a range of soft southwestern colors.
"You're getting something for my mother? I don't have anything for your mother."
"So pick something out."
"Pottery?" Hutch pulled an attractive, brightly colored vase off one of the tables.
"I think she'd love it. Hey, we better get a move on if we're gonna eat and make Oklahoma before stopping again." Starsky headed toward the table where an elderly woman was collecting money from shoppers. Arms loaded with pottery, jewelry and other accessories, they made their way to the car and set about the task of finding places to tuck their new purchases among the luggage.
Dinner wound up being a couple of burgers and fries at a take-out restaurant on the way out of New Mexico. Eating in the car wasn't what they had envisioned, but it was getting cooler as night fell, and eating outside was the only other alternative at the drive-in where they stopped.
"Don't drop anything on your dress," Starsky goaded Hutch about the poncho he was wearing to dispel the coolness of dusk.
"I swear, Starsky, you have no sense of culture."
"Who planned this trip?"
"You did, but I--"
"And who picked out the stops?"
"You did, but--"
"So haven't you gotten your fill of local color in the last couple days?" Starsky bit into his hamburger again and chased it with a slurp out of his drink.
"Okay, all right, you have a sense of culture."
"That was a close one back there at that restaurant." Hutch hadn't brought it up again until then, and Starsky hadn't wanted to dwell on it. They risked their lives on a fairly regular basis at work, but this was supposed to be a vacation, and somehow it had hit harder in this context.
"I kinda thought I was gonna buy the farm when he aimed at that little kid. The scary part is that I think he woulda shot her."
"I feel sure he would have. And he wouldn't have hesitated to shoot you first to get to her."
"I know that. But you know, I couldn't just sit there and let him kill a little kid right next to me. Better me than her. I'm just glad you didn't get your head blown off pretending to be that woman's lover. Unless of course you have a little something going I didn't know about."
"Well, I didn't want to brag, but it doesn't take long for me to strike something up in a new town." Hutch snickered a little and took another drink of pop.
"Thought anymore about Janine?"
"Thought anymore about Samantha?"
"I asked first."
"Yeah, quite a bit."
"Me too. About Samantha, I mean." Starsky leaned back in the seat. "Our first stop might have been our best."
"So it's all downhill from here?"
"Well, we've met two great women, been involved in a shootout, and picked up a bunch of cool souvenirs. If we went home now, most people couldn't top our stories."
"But you're not interested in doing that?" Hutch asked.
"Hey, if we did all that in the first couple days, think what could happen by the time we really get home?"
The drive from New Mexico to Oklahoma was a long, tiring and uneventful one. Starsky relinquished the driving duties to Hutch for the second leg of the journey, which stretched into the small hours of the morning. There was something incredibly peaceful about the last few hours of that drive for Hutch. Starsky had dozed off somewhere after eleven, and the only sounds were the consistent rumbling of the engine, the low drone of the radio and Starsky's even breathing of deep sleep. Time to think...it was a rare commodity that the last couple of years hadn't really provided. Everything had been such a high-speed blur that it was hard sometimes to remember everything that had happened, and even more impossible to put it in perspective. Strange how a brush with death, like the one in the fast-food restaurant in New Mexico, could have such a profound and soul-stirring impact in this relaxed setting while several brushes with death over the last couple years had swirled into a big blob of tension that never had time to release.
He glanced at Starsky. Maybe he didn't give his partner credit for being as insightful as he was at times. This trip was like an oxygen mask to a dying man...a chance to breathe easy for a change. It was also a time to confront a lot of pushed-aside feelings, which to Hutch seemed like the downside. Frightening memories of the helplessness and desperation of being trapped inside a heroin addict's body, grief over losing Gillian, the horror of watching Starsky die a slow and tortured death from a poison eating its way through his system...thank God they'd stopped it in time, he thought, glancing away from the road at Starsky again. After Terry died, Starsky had said that at least no matter how rotten things went in either of their lives, at least they each could count on one thing--each other. How many rough spots had that pulled them out of lately? Plenty.
Hutch started humming along with the radio a little and thinking about going home again. Would seeing the rolling hills and country roads near the farm make him unhappy with his city lifestyle? Going home for any length of time was almost scary, because the first few years in LA had been such a hard adjustment. Not that it wasn't exciting and he didn't love it, but there was something about sitting on the big back porch and strumming on his guitar and looking out over the fields that was so peaceful and so perfect that going back to his cramped apartment and the smog and dirt and depravity that too often characterized his new home was a whole new culture shock all over again. Man, I'm gonna nail you in one hell of a snowball fight when we get to the farm, Hutch thought with a snicker as Starsky shifted in the seat and started snoring a little. But then, having grown up in New York, his partner was probably a veteran snowball warrior.
What would going home mean to Starsky? He seemed so anxious and vehement about doing it, and yet what would it be like? Home had been a hard place for Dave Starsky. His father's shooting when he was just a kid, just a couple blocks from their house, his mother playing footsy with Joe Durniak...and a gangster paying for a cop's funeral. And it hadn't ended with Durniak's death. Starsky had admitted, acting ashamed as if he himself were consorting with the mob, that his mother was maintaining a close friendship with Tommy Goretti, Durniak's second in command. Starsky had never elaborated on the nature of his mother's sudden friendship Durniak, nor did he describe her connection with Goretti, but it was obvious that both were a source of unhappiness and embarrassment to him. Was Durniak just being a supportive friend at the time of Starsky's father's death, or was he covering his tracks for killing him, or did he really respect the fallen cop and resent his murder by a rival crime family? Starsky himself didn't seem sure what to believe, but then he was only a little kid at the time it all happened. What could he know? And a cop's murder left to fester for over twenty years, unsolved, no shooter in jail. Could the NYPD be that blase about the shooting of one of their own, or was the case so volatile that they buried it in a file drawer and tried to forget it? These night time questions...where could they possibly lead? Nowhere useful, Hutch thought.
And what would life have been like with Gillian if she had lived? There was a horrible question that Hutch had been able to squelch under a pile of cases and crises that had kept both of them on the run since she died. But now, here he was, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night, Starsky asleep, no distractions...and there was Gillian and that nagging question.
Could he have ever gotten past her past? Would he have always pictured her with other men, doing what she had done best for the last several years? The grief had been so overwhelming when he had seen her dead on the floor of her apartment...so overwhelming he had actually wanted to "kill the messenger" as they say, when Starsky explained what she really did for a living. Geez, partner, I guess I did deck you for that one, didn't I? What for? Gillian was the one who betrayed me, he thought a little bitterly. And there it was. That underlying anger and betrayal that made her death so different for him than Terry's was for Starsky. Not less painful, but different...there were two reasons to be miserable: not only had the love of his life wound up murdered, but she hadn't really been the woman she pretended to be. She was someone totally different. So maybe he was mourning a woman who never existed...and yet, what they felt had been so real...it had to be. Even Starsky had said that it was her love for Hutch that was making her face off against Grossman to get out of her old line of work. She died for our love, then. Somehow he had spiraled into a line of thinking that made him feel worse, not better. Think about something else. It was more of a challenge out here on the road to get rid of night demons than it was when there was always another case file handy to exercise his brain.
"Hey, sleepy head." He poked Starsky. There was no reason to wake him up yet, but Hutch needed a diversion, and Starsky would have to be it. If he knew the real reason, he wouldn't mind. Not that Hutch planned on telling him.
"What?" Starsky started a little in the seat and then straightened up. "Are we there yet?"
"Why do I suddenly feel like my father driving the family on vacation?" Hutch snickered. "No, we're not there yet. Will be in about an hour or so, I think."
"Something wrong?" Starsky blinked a few times to come to. He was really out of it, Hutch thought a little guiltily.
"I got bored. I didn't want to risk dozing off," Hutch lied.
"Oh. Well, I guess I have to do something interesting then to keep you entertained, huh?" Starsky was quiet a moment. "I could drive the rest of the way if you want. I'm conscious now," he finished with a smile.
"Nah, that's okay." Hutch turned off the radio. "How 'bout dazzling me with your musical talents?"
"You never like to admit I have any. You must be real desperate for something to do." Starsky leaned over the front seat and fumbled around until he disentangled his guitar and pulled it up front, almost smacking Hutch in the head with it.
"That woke me up," Hutch returned to a straight position after ducking to miss the oncoming instrument.
"Sorry." Starsky was quiet a minute while he thought about what to play.
"Something upbeat. I'm going to fall right across the wheel if it's a slow one." Just don't play a love song or something deep and introspective, Hutch thought. As the first notes of a Jim Croce song, "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" emanated from Starsky's guitar, Hutch smiled. Knew I could count on you, Starsk. A Jim Croce wannabe, Starsky knew every one of his songs by heart, and he wasn't too bad at it either, though Hutch was loath to admit that to him. But the upbeat spirit of the song had Hutch singing along with the refrain before long, and the last hour of the trip progressed quickly, the oppressive darkness in the corners of his mind lit up by this diversion. Lit up by his irrepressibly energetic partner. Thanks, Starsk, he thought with a grin.
Tulsa, Oklahoma. All it represented at that moment was a chance to stop the car. Hutch pulled into the parking lot of the Holiday Inn and parked the Torino near the building. It was almost three in the morning, and if they wanted to get to Tennessee in time to have any fun, they'd need to get a reasonably early start.
"Kinda makes you wonder if it's worth paying out for a hotel room for a few hours, doesn't it?" Hutch turned off the engine.
"Let's see. A real bed, a shower, room service for breakfast..."
"Okay, point made." Hutch got out of the car and grabbed his duffle back out of the trunk and tossed Starsky's to him. After checking in at the desk, they made their way back to their room. Starsky pulled off his jacket and crawled on top of his bed and moaned in relief. Within moments, he had resumed the nap he had been shaken out of on the road.
Hutch took the time to turn back his bed and get out of his clothes before falling into bed for a brief sleep.
In a remarkable role reversal, it was Starsky who was awake at seven the next morning, shaking his partner insistently. Since they had both neglected to set an alarm, that meant his inner clock was actually capable of functioning before ten.
"Does the phrase 'welcome to the Grand Old Opry' mean anything to you?" he asked Hutch as one squinted blue eye looked out at him from under a droopy lid. "Come on, if we don't get moving, we're not gonna get there in time for the show tonight!"
"You're up early this morning," Hutch grumbled as he rolled over and sat up in bed.
"I just don't want to throw the schedule off too far, that's all. I'll drive us there today--you can just relax."
"You're dressed--but then I forgot you fell on the bed that way."
"I showered and shaved already. I'm way ahead of you. I'll call room service for breakfast while you get your act together."
"Order something that won't clog off my arteries by noon, will ya?" Hutch asked as he wandered through to the bathroom.
Starsky ignored his partner's directive and ordered eggs, bacon and hash browns for both of them. Despite his best mini-speech on the evils of cholesterol, it didn't take Hutch long to polish off his plate. The prospect of visiting the Grand Old Opry and staying at the posh Opryland Hotel was a nice thought, even if it was the off season, and some of the attractions would be closed.
Starsky had his heart set on taking a scenic route through Arkansas that would take them through the woods and past the Ozark Mountains. It was apparent that he was itching to start taking pictures again, since all he had managed to capture on film in New Mexico was a couple shots of the mission where they had bought the souvenirs, and the front of the Tulsa Holiday Inn from Oklahoma. Well, at least no state went entirely undocumented. Hutch couldn't complain that he wasted much time on this pursuit, however, because he would jump out of the car, quickly snap a few photos and then hop back in and keep going.
Absent most foliage, there was little of interest to be seen by driving through the woods. The temperature outdoors was in the fifties for most of their trip, but once they left the relative mildness of Tennessee's climate and entered Pennsylvania, Mother Nature would take the gloves off.
Arriving in Nashville on Friday night had not been any accident in Starsky's travel plans. He figured that if they were going to plunge into the Nashville nightlife, the weekend would be the time to do it. Before going to the hotel, Starsky cruised around for a while, giving them a chance to scout out places they would hit on their two night "hillbilly blitz", as Starsky billed it.
The room was much more luxurious than anything they had stayed in so far, but then they had been watching out for their increasingly limited cash prior to this splurge in Nashville. This was the only stop where they had actually unpacked more than two or three things, and where they actually took their guitars inside with them.
"This ain't bad," Starsky closed the door as the bell boy left after carrying most of their luggage upstairs.
"This must've cost a fortune, Starsk."
"Ah, so what? Oh, incidentally, we better get ourselves together and go grab something to eat. Otherwise, we'll be late for this." He handed Hutch a pair of tickets.
"You got us tickets to a Hee-Haw taping? I thought you hated that show."
"I do, but when in Rome...hey, it might be funny. They're doing a special concert in the concert hall, so it isn't going to be all those bad hillbilly jokes--mostly music, they tell me."
"Who's 'they'?" Hutch was still in a slight state of shock at the amount of planning Starsky seemed to have put into this stop. He did know how to give one hell of a Hanukkah present.
"The lady I made the reservations with here. I asked her if there was anything good going on I could still get tickets to. She said that a customer had just canceled out their reservations and they had these tickets they wanted to unload, so I told her to hold them for me. Of course, I had to exert a great deal of personal charm--"
"And give her your credit card number."
"Yeah, that too," he responded with a snicker. "We ought to pick up some brochures in the lobby so we can decide what we're gonna do tomorrow. I got a few ideas out of the atlas and from the desk clerk, but if we've only got one day, we gotta make it count."
"You really get into this whole tourist thing, don't you?"
"I just think this trip is a once in a lifetime thing, you know? I mean, even if we did get to do something like this when we retire, who knows if we'll both still be here in another thirty years? I think we have to make the most of it."
"What's got you spooked about packing all this living into a month? Don't get me wrong--I'm having a great time so far. It just seems like you're trying to get a lifetime into a month."
"When somebody tells you you're gonna die in 24 hours, it puts things in a whole new light. That day, while we were chasing our tails around trying to catch Bellamy and the professor, even though we were busy and I felt lousy, I still had all this stuff playing itself out in my head that I wasn't going to get to do, and all the places I wasn't gonna see, and how much of my life I had wasted doing everything that everybody else wanted me to do and never really just getting in my car and following the road wherever it led. My dad lived like that--working long, erratic hours like we do, taking every second of overtime he could handle to keep us going, and he never got to go anywhere and he was dead in the street with a bullet in his head at 43 years old. So I said to myself that one of these fine days, Hutch and I ought to just take off down the road and go on a vacation--see all sorts of interesting places, meet some different people...then last month you got sick, and I thought you were gonna die before we could drag Callendar in to get the antitoxin. And I thought, here you go again, Dave--you let life get away from you. I didn't make a commitment to Terry right away, because the whole marriage thing makes me skittish. And by the time I knew what I wanted, I couldn't have it. Watching you dying in that oxygen tent, I thought I'd messed up again. Then everything turned out okay, and I just snapped. I decided I wasn't going to wait for the next near-death experience to teach me that there was just too much out there for us not to break free for a while and enjoy it. Over the last two years, we've both looked death square in the eye. And if it had won, our families wouldn't have seen us for years before it happened. That's not a nice thought either. So when I essentially begged Dobey for this time off, I promised myself if I got it, that we'd used every minute of it to the fullest."
"I guess I never thought all that through," Hutch responded quietly.
"You probably haven't had time." Starsky stood up from the seat he had taken on the end of his bed and looked at his watch. "And we aren't gonna have time to eat if we don't get a move on."
The concert was crowded, noisy and did include a number of bad hillbilly jokes, but Starsky's summation of "when in Rome" about covered it. It was the atmosphere and the enthusiasm of the crowd that made the concert most memorable. Hutch had some interest in country music, so he was more genuinely entertained by the performances than his partner, who was vowing to himself to find a good rock concert as soon as they arrived in New York. But this was a Nashville vacation, and it would never have been complete without at least one concert to attend.
After the show, they took off in the Torino to cruise some of the area clubs. They decided it might be a good idea to check out the one offering amateur night on Saturday, just to see what the atmosphere and crowd would be like.
It was a large building, with an exterior of rustic wood with a big wooden sign hanging from the overhang that read "Watering Trough". Inside, it was spacious, with a good-sized dance floor surrounded by dozens of tables for four, all covered in tablecloths of various country prints. The music was pumping through a powerful sound system, and waitresses dressed as saloon girls made their rounds from table to table with cocktails and snack foods ranging from french fries to pizza.
The guys found a table near the stage, where a sign promised a local band would be performing again at midnight.
"Hey, this is kind of a nice place," Starsky glanced around them. "You didn't happen to notice that table behind us and to the left, did you?"
"You mean the two brunettes and the blonde?"
"You did notice it."
"Three on two--whaddya think, Starsk?"
"The more the merrier. I think we oughta mosey on over there."
"I think we oughta send them some drinks first. See if they have big ugly boyfriends lurking around here somewhere." Hutch flagged down a waitress and told her to go to the girls' table and offer them a free round of drinks with his and Starsky's compliments. Both detectives watched with interest as the waitress approached the table and made the offer. The first brunette, a tall woman with long wavy hair that easily reached her waist, craned her neck to have a better look at their benefactors. The other girls turned around to join her. Finally, they nodded in agreement and sent the waitress back with a message.
"The ladies said they accept if they can buy you a round, and if you'll join them."
"Make it two beers, then," Starsky spoke up and stood, leading the way to the other table. "Good evening, ladies. I'm Dave Starsky, this is Ken Hutchinson. We're visiting from LA."
"Sit down, guys," the blonde spoke up. As they followed her suggestion, she introduced herself and the other two. "I'm Karen Moore, this is Lisa Hirsch," she indicated the long-haired brunette, "and this is Tania Davis." Tania was also a brunette, but her shorter hair was curly and barely brushed her shoulders. Everyone exchanged hellos, and the drinks were served.
"So what brings two guys from LA to Nashville?" Lisa asked.
"He's a singer. Amateur night," Starsky patted Hutch on the back, who shot him a black glare before trying to recover his winning smile for the ladies' benefit.
"Actually, we're on a holiday vacation, driving across country. This is just one of our stops."
"How exciting," Karen cut in. "Where've you been so far?"
"We toured the Grand Canyon, saw some Indian ruins--"
"A Holiday Inn in Tulsa," Starsky cut in, adding a little levity.
"And now we're here. Next stop is Pennsylvania. So, tell us about yourselves. Are you all Nashville ladies?" Hutch probed.
"Born and bred," Tania spoke up. "I'm a legal secretary. What do you guys do?"
"I guess you could say we're tied into the legal system too. We're detectives with the LAPD," Hutch responded.
"How about you two?" Starsky turned toward Lisa and Karen.
"I'm a boutique manager. We sell western accessories to gullible tourists," Karen smiled and poked Starsky on the arm.
"I work for a travel agency," Lisa added.
"So how does a travel agent, a legal secretary and a boutique manager wind up in one place?" Starsky asked.
"College. We all went to the University of Tennessee together. Lisa and Karen were from here originally, but I was from Kentucky. I love it here, so I stayed. Now tell us about your music, Ken."
"It's nothing, really."
"Oh, he's too modest. He's really terrific. You oughtta hear him. The hit of every police barbecue for the last six years running."
"Starsk, will you knock it off," Hutch tried to tone down the edge in his voice. Starsky was smirking at having gotten so effectively under his partner's skin so quickly. "I mean, just because you lead a couple sing-a-longs doesn't make you the next Johnny Cash." He shot another withering look in Starsky's direction. His partner was undaunted.
"Anybody here feel brave enough to teach me how to dance Nashville style?"
"Don't look at me," Hutch responded dryly, taking a sip of his beer.
"Don't worry, I wasn't."
"I'm up for it," Tania stood up, and she and Starsky made their way to the dance floor. It struck Hutch that his partner looked pretty idiotic out there fumbling his way through dancing to country music. Mr. Disco King goes down home, he thought. His number was up soon enough when Lisa asked him to dance. Karen said she would be happy to hold down the table and dance with whichever guy learned fastest when they got back.
The band took the stage on schedule at midnight, and played a country-rock style music for their 45 minute set. Some of the audience danced, while others ordered snacks and watched from their tables. In their opinions, having made fools of themselves long enough, the guys were relieved when the ladies were happy to order a pizza and watch from the sidelines.
"I think you'd be a real hit here," Starsky said to Hutch, with no trace of teasing in his voice.
"I don't know," Hutch was obviously embarrassed by the reference to his possible performance the following amateur night, but he had to admit, at least to himself, that this seemed like a good crowd for his style. They weren't all hard core country music fans, and his easy going style, that could have a little country flavor when he wanted it to, would be a good fit.
"I mean it. I think you're gonna win that contest tomorrow night." Starsky took another gulp of his beer and leaned back in his chair.
"Do you write your own music?" Tania asked. "Have you recorded anything?"
"I do a little songwriting--just for fun mostly."
"He's really good--you ladies will come back tomorrow night?" Starsky prodded. Hutch shifted nervously in his chair and shot him a withering look.
"We wouldn't miss it," Lisa spoke up. "Would we girls?" The other two shook their heads vehemently.
"I'm gonna get you for this one," Hutch whispered in Starsky's ear as the girls turned their attention to the band.
"What? I'm just trying to drum up a friendly audience, that's all." Starsky grinned a little wickedly.
And then he thought about dancing with Samantha. If she were here, we'd be out on that dance floor, making idiots of ourselves. I wonder what angle she'd have chosen for that shot of the front of the Opryland Hotel? he queried to himself. Lisa, Karen and Tania were nice girls. If they lived in LA, he might even be concerned to get their phone numbers...but there was no chemistry, no spark. That had made the evening more fun and less emotional, but it had made him regret the missed opportunity of spending more time with Samantha while they were in Arizona. A girl who could bat her eyelashes, dress up for him...do all those old fashioned things...and still compete with him and be his buddy. God, what a rare find that woman was...like another rare woman he had known not too long ago...And he had let the stupid paranoia he seemed to carry with him since Rosey left ruin their time together. Can you really live your life in fear of the people you love leaving you? How could you ever have any love in your life at all if you functioned that way? Maybe he really was going nuts. Maybe Rosey had been the last straw where women were concerned. Maybe it was the beer and depressing themes of lost love that seemed to permeate country music that was sending him in all these odd directions...
He took another bite of his cooling pizza and tried to turn his attention back to the evening at hand. There was no point in screwing up every attempt they made at a little nightlife. Maybe all this time to relax and think was a dangerous thing. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide from all these repressed thoughts and memories. "Photographs and memories...all that I have are these, to remember you..." Jim Croce's words played through in his mind.
"Starsky?" Hutch's sharp tone shook him out of his reverie.
"Tania's talking to you, pal. Look alive," he said with a smile.
"I'm sorry. I guess I just drifted with the music for a minute," but not this music, he thought.
"Do you want to dance? It's a slow one--no stomping around, I promise," she said, grinning.
"Sure." He followed her to the dance floor and swayed to the music with her, but it did not seem to have any profound effect on him like it had with Samantha. Hutch was relieved to see the evening flowing without a hitch. After the way things went in Arizona, he was beginning to doubt his partner's capacity to have a good time. Those fears were dispelled as he watched Tania and Starsky break into a fast, if not awkward, dance pattern when the music picked up its tempo.
A tall man dressed in a plaid shirt, jeans and a cowboy hat walked up behind Lisa and tapped her on the shoulder.
"I think you owe me a dance, Lis," he stated grimly. She looked instantly nervous.
"I'm with someone, Gavin," she stated firmly, linking her arm through Hutch's.
"I said, you owe me a dance and a hell of a lot more, baby. What the hell are you doin' out messin' around with pretty boy here?"
"Damn it, Gavin, I told you to leave me alone!"
"I think you're upsetting the lady, and I'd like you to leave," Hutch stated, standing.
"I bet you would like that, blondie. Why don't you make me?"
Tania felt Starsky's body tense and his movement cease. She turned to watch the scene he had noticed transpiring at the table. He moved away from the dance floor toward their table just as the discussion became loud and heated, and a swing from Gavin sent Hutch sprawling backwards onto the table behind him. Starsky walked up behind Gavin, as he was leaning over Hutch to launch another attack, tapped him on the shoulder, and decked him with a left to the jaw. Everything appeared under control until the other men at Gavin's table came forward. Two about his size, not looking at all friendly.
By now, Hutch had regained his equilibrium and awaited Gavin's retaliation, but Gavin leaped to his feet and rushed at Starsky, tackling him to the floor. Gavin's friends arrived and one grabbed Hutch to hold him while the other prepared to swing. Using the first man's hold on him for leverage, Hutch kicked his approaching attacker in the stomach with both feet and delivered a blow to the other man's ribs with his elbow, temporarily freeing himself. Gavin, for his part, sailed backwards into yet another table, courtesy of a rumpled and ragged Starsky, who despite a bloody nose and split lip had finally gotten the upper hand. Gavin appeared knocked out, and momentarily Starsky rushed over to join the dance going on between his partner and Gavin's friends. Hutch had sustained a couple of bruises but was dodging and punching pretty effectively. Starsky's arrival was a deciding moment in the fight, as Hutch had his hands full with one of the men as the other rose from the floor where he had been knocked down and was heading back for revenge. Starsky blocked his aggression, successfully dodged a right cross and managed a knock out punch.
And then the cops arrived. Hutch was still struggling with the final member of the trio, but managed to overpower him with much effort in time to hold up his badge for the incoming cops.
"What happened here?" The first officer picked his way through a maze of broken chairs and overturned tables.
"He started it all," the restaurant manager pointed out Gavin, who was staggering toward the scene with an angry look on his face.
"He was harassing this lady," Hutch spoke up, pointing to Lisa. "We were in a group together, so I asked him to leave her alone, and he wouldn't."
"But that guy threw the first punch," Starsky spoke up, mopping his nose on his sleeve. "I intervened after he attacked my partner and these other two goons popped out of the woodwork somewhere and turned it into a free-for-all."
"Did you identify yourself, Sergeant?" The oldest of the patrolmen handed Starsky back his ID.
"I didn't exactly have time to reach in my pocket while this guy over here was beating my face in. I also didn't want him getting his hands on this." He pulled back his vest to display the gun in its holster that only Tania had noticed was there while they were dancing. "If somebody here found one of us was armed, they might've thought it necessary to bring something more than fists into this, and then you'da probably had a couple dead bystanders to deal with.
"Are you interested in pressing charges?" One of the uniformed officers turned to the restaurant manager.
"Damn straight I will--against those three." He pointed to Gavin and his companions. "They hassled these folks and then started the fight."
"Okay. Here's what I think we oughtta do with this mess," the older officer began. "You guys all punched each other around, that's obvious. I don't think we're gonna serve any useful purpose trying to sort out assault charges. If you get your damages covered is that going to do the job for you?" he asked the manager.
"Pay the man, Gavin."
Starsky and Hutch exchanged glances as Gavin pulled an enormous bankroll out of his pocket and peeled off several large bills and handed them to the manager. They were even more amazed that assaulting a police officer wouldn't be worth the effort to pursue. Of course, pursuing it would mean a major hold up on the trip, and a dirtbag like Gavin wouldn't reform his wicked ways from one slap on the wrist, which probably wouldn't be a hard slap since he seemed to have cash to burn. The familiar tone used to him by the cops and their immediate willingness to let him pay his way out of trouble indicated a pattern that was not encouraging. Both LA detectives kept their mouths shut and let the situation be resolved according to the patrolman's suggestions.
"You wanna tell me what that was all about?" Starsky asked, taking a napkin offered by Tania to hold under his nose, which didn't seem likely to stop bleeding.
"He came up to Lisa, started giving her a hard time. I told him to get lost, and you know the rest."
"I'm really sorry about all that, Ken. I didn't think he'd take it that far." Lisa joined the group, followed by Karen. "I went out with him a few times last year, and then I told him we were finished. He doesn't like to take no for an answer, but usually if he shows up and I'm with somebody, he makes a couple of snotty remarks and leaves. Of course, not all the guys I've been out with are gentlemen enough to stand up to him either."
"Let's find a quiet corner here and get you guys cleaned up." Tania rejoined them followed by a waitress carrying a tray with a bowl of water and several cloth napkins and a couple of glasses of ice.
They moved to a table in the back corner of the night club, as far as possible from the commotion of the personnel cleaning up the mess. Tania took up residence next to Starsky while Lisa fussed over Hutch with ice packed in one of the napkins for his eye, which was swelling as they watched.
"How's the nose?" Tania asked.
"Okay, keep the napkin right where it is and lean forward."
"Trust me." She waited while he followed her directions. "Is it both sides?"
"Just one--the left."
"Okay, press your index finger firmly on the side of it, just under the bone, and hold it there about ten minutes. It should stop."
"Well, this has been a night to remember," Hutch mumbled as he borrowed a mirror from Karen to survey the damages. His right eye was the most noticeable, though a few other light bruises were appearing. He was most uncomfortable from a couple of blows to his stomach, but he didn't feel they had done more than bruise and wind him.
Starsky's biggest problem was his nose, though it was not broken. The left side of his mouth had swollen considerably by now, and Tania was holding ice on it while he kept the pressure on his nose.
"Let's check out that nose," Tania confirmed by her watch that the appropriate span of time had passed. Starsky sat straight and was pleasantly surprised to find her remedy had worked. He borrowed the much in-demand purse mirror and started washing off his face.
"I think we should go back to the hotel. We've had enough fun for one evening. You know, Lisa, you really ought to file a complaint against that lunatic before he does something to hurt you," Hutch advised.
"I think if I file any reports it'll just make matters worse. He's a pretty influential guy around here. I guess I was supposed to be impressed by that."
"Ken, if you can talk her into a complaint, please do it. I've been trying to tell her for months she better do something." Karen sat back in her chair and crossed her legs. "That nut's liable to come back and kill you one of these nights."
"Thanks, Karen. I really needed to have that spelled out for me."
"Listen, we'll follow you ladies home just in case Gavin is lurking around anywhere." Starsky stood up, signaling that he was finished with the ill-fated evening.
They followed each of the women to their apartments, and when they were satisfied each one was safely in for the night, they returned to the hotel, obtained a bottle of aspirin from the front desk clerk, and went up to their room.
"I feel like a freight train just ran over my head," Starsky groaned, stretching out on his bed.
"How's the nose?"
"Now it's just throbbing. Of course it takes my mind off the lump on the back of my head from where Gavin smacked it against the floor a couple times trying to knock me out. How about you? You aren't movin' real fast," he commented on Hutch's snail-like walk across the room to his own bed, where he lay on his back and let out a loud sigh.
"I think I picked up some bruised ribs, and that eye's damn near shut, but other than that, I feel fantastic."
"Well, this was a real highlight, wasn't it?" Starsky stared at the ceiling, and then looked at Hutch. For some inexplicable reason, they started laughing. Hutch held onto his side, but he still shook as he lay on the bed.
"I'm glad we took this trip to get away from all the pressure and danger in LA!" He winced at the pain in his ribs but laughed hard enough to evoke tears.
"Yeah--I think we've gotten roughed up and threatened more in the last two days than we have in the last two months back home. I guess we just know how to attract the finer element of society."
"What do you call that move--the one where you were riding around on Gavin's back there for a few minutes?" Hutch asked, still chortling.
"Oh, you mean right before he threw me up on the stage? I think desperation is the name of that maneuver."
"Incidentally, thanks for jumping in there for me."
"I didn't see his two friends." Starsky groaned a little as he pulled himself up and sat against the headboard.
"That wouldn't have stopped you."
"Nah, I'da still been dumb enough to jump right in."
"You're good backup, partner. I owe you one." Hutch said, completely serious.
"Right back at ya, pal. As far as owing me one, I think we lost count a long time ago."
"Yeah, I think you're right," Hutch replied with a smile.
"So, I guess we might as well hose ourselves down and get some sleep. If we can move tomorrow, we could go see some sights." Starsky swung his legs slowly over the side of the bed and then stood up gingerly. "I've seen my grandmother move faster than this." He stretched, vainly trying to ease the stiffness in his back. "Man, he really slammed me on that stage."
"Do you think you ought to get looked over by a doctor for any reason?"
"Nah. How about you? Are you sure it's just bruised ribs? I mean we shouldn't mess around with it if there's any danger of internal injuries."
"It's nothing a couple days won't heal up. If you want the shower first, go for it. I don't think I'll ever get up again."
Starsky plodded into the bathroom and caught sight of himself in the mirror. The nosebleed had left him with enough stains to resemble a stabbing victim. He touched the cut on his lip with his tongue and winced. It would be a couple of days before his characteristic grin could get back in action. His head was engaging in a full fledged pounding by now, emanating from the large lump on the back of it. He turned on the shower and hoped that tomorrow would be a better day.
The following day was better, and the weather cooperated. It was sunny and mild, the temperature climbing up to almost 60 degrees. While neither of them moved swiftly, the previous night's injuries appeared to be superficial, and nothing that would prevent a little sightseeing. Starsky's camera was back in action, and their first stop was the Hermitage, the white-pillared mansion of Andrew Jackson. The tour of the inside of the house was interesting from an architectural standpoint, and staying true to form, Starsky had unearthed at least one piece of strange trivia for the occasion.
"See that mantel over there?" He nudged Hutch. "One of Jackson's soldiers worked on that for 24 years."
"It's beautiful--doesn't look quite that intricate, though."
"He only worked on it one day each year."
"He must've had about as much time off as we do."
"More. He had time to take up woodworking in the first place." Starsky captured the mantel on film.
The gardens of the house were impressive, but not at their peak during the winter season. There was more of interest to look over at the Belle Meade mansion, which boasted a good collection of old carriages and a wealth of equestrian history, with the ancestors of the famous racehorse, Secretariat, having been bred there. Hutch added the Cheekwood Fine Arts Center to their roster of sites for the day. This was not popular with Starsky because it meant delaying lunch to "traipse around and look at art".
By mid-afternoon, they stopped at a restaurant to eat, and contemplate the possibilities for the evening. As their steaks were served, Starsky broached the subject of returning to the Watering Trough for amateur night.
"I just hate to see you get screwed out of playing there because I think you'd win it. I'm not just blowing hot air now, either. I really think you'd be a hit there."
"Well, Starsk, I don't plan on getting tossed around the bar again."
"Look, this time, we know what the dangers are. I'll be your bodyguard."
"Yeah, sure. You're in a lot better shape than I am, Quasimodo." Hutch referred to Starsky's stiff back and shoulder, which he had favored most of the day. "I'm just not interested in starting something."
"Hey, last night we were a couple of stupid tourists who walked in and acted like civilians when a fight broke out. If I go in there tonight, I go in as a cop, with my defenses up and my hand a few inches away from my gun."
"You made the right call not bringing a gun into that fight last night. Could've made matters a lot worse."
"Yeah, yelling 'freeze, police' would've been a lot harder than getting thrown around the bar." He stretched uncomfortably in the booth. "If we decided to go there, we could call the manager first, see if he's gonna put a ban on Gavin and his goons coming in there. If he is, then I can keep an eye out for them while you do your thing."
"I was kind of planning on you for my backup band."
"I can't play the guitar and play bodyguard at the same time. Come on, Hutch. I've just got this really good feeling about tonight--about that contest."
"What're the prizes again?"
"$500 first, $250 second and $100 third."
"$500, huh?" Hutch contemplated the prize money as he chewed another bite of meat. "I suppose we could talk to the manager. I mean if they're going to keep Gavin and company out anyway..."
"We might as well not let it ruin your chances. Maybe you'll get discovered. I could handle managing a star--you know, supervising your security to keep the sex-crazed women away."
"Or at least just screening them for me," Hutch retorted with a smile.
"You'll do it then?"
"Why not? We've lived through this much, we might as well go for it and hope our luck holds."
"It will. I have--"
"I know--a feeling."
Hutch managed to convince Starsky to go entertain himself elsewhere for the afternoon while he worked on his material for the night's performance. There was a song bouncing around in his head just dying to come out, and he wasn't sure how Starsky would react to it. Something about his partner's continuing grief over Terry, and the depth of a love that would cause such a continuing level of pain, was inspiring to the songwriter in him, and despite his misgivings of how Starsky might feel about it, Hutch put pen to paper and started writing lyrics. And when they came, they flowed like a river, and the soft, gentle strummings of the guitar that would bring them to life seemed to come with equal ease. Maybe this song would help. Maybe it would let Starsky know that someone else really did understand how he felt, and maybe that would make it easier. Maybe it wouldn't...Hutch didn't know, but the song was beautiful, and just maybe if Starsky thought he wasn't so alone in remembering Terry, he'd be a little less depressed.
The Watering Trough was even more crowded than usual for the amateur contest. Hutch had been one of the last allowed to sign up, with a total of twenty local musicians on the roster to play one song each. The manager had assured them that Gavin was not welcome at the club, and had no objections to a little free security service from Starsky, who lived up to his bodyguard job by keeping a constantly vigilant eye on the entrance throughout the evening.
Lisa, Karen and Tania didn't show as they had said they would, but given the chances of a repeat of the previous evening, the guys didn't blame them. Furthermore, they probably assumed Hutch's plans to compete in amateur night had been scrapped.
Hutch shifted nervously in his chair. They had only seen two acts, and he was tenth on the list. Stage fright seemed to be seeping in, right on schedule, Starsky thought with slight amusement.
"You're ten times better than those two turkeys," Starsky said calmly, and he genuinely meant it. He hadn't heard anything he considered serious competition from the first two performers: one a young girl who had problems singing in the right key for more than a few notes and the other a middle aged man who performed an old Hank Williams song very well, but didn't seem to bond with the crowd, who only applauded politely. Hutch seemed encouraged by Starsky's assessment.
"You really think so? 'Course we've only heard two acts."
"I already told you you're gonna win. I don't know why you won't believe me. Besides, you're wearing your lucky dress."
"Serape, Starsky, serape."
"Serape, poncho, dress, what's the difference?" Starsky needled.
The next few acts were quite good, a band with a country-rock style, a woman who sang a pretty decent version of a Crystal Gayle love song, and a couple of young men who sang more up tempo country hits. Hutch had rehearsed most of the afternoon and planned to play a new song he had written but never performed before. In Starsky's opinion, it was a beauty and a sure-fire winner. It was slow and a little melancholy, but it gave Hutch's voice a perfect showcase, and would probably go over well with the couples in the crowd.
"Let's have a big hand for Tammy Garner, folks," the emcee took the microphone after the ninth act finished. "Our next performer is visiting Nashville from LA, where he spends most of his time chasing the bad guys. Let's give a big Watering Trough welcome to the singing cop from California, Ken Hutchinson," the large man clapped loudly, and as the audience joined him, Hutch headed for the stage, with a backward glance toward Starsky. His partner raised his fist slightly and grinned. He has every confidence I'm gonna win this thing, Hutch thought to himself. Maybe he's right...
Hutch's performance was flawless. He had most of the women obviously entranced, making significant eye contact with a few of them during the song. What a song it was too. Hutch had announced its title as "The Light of Shooting Stars":
Now and then I find myself
Reflecting back on you,
Memories of the love we had
Return so painfully true.
I've been all alone it seems
For such a long, long time,
Since the first time I kissed you
... And called you mine.
Loveliness that never fades
Since time has yet to pass,
You were called away from me
From a love that still lasts.
When I'm in a crowded room
Or with a love that's new
Why am I there all alone
... Still loving you?
Now I've learned to live
By the light of shooting stars,
I have no more left to give
Since all I want is what was ours...
And it fell so fast and bright
Just like the heavenly flight...Of shooting stars.
Through the flood of tears I've cried
In the darkness of the night,
I see the beauty of your smile
In the dawn's first rays of light.
Oh, my love, you promised me
You would always be
My special angel up in heaven...
Watching over me, so...
Now I've learned to live my life
By the light of shooting stars.
I have no more left to give,
Since all I want is what was ours...
And it fell so fast and bright
Crashing through the darkest night...
Just like the heavenly flight...
Of shooting stars.
Can I hold you one more time?
Can I kiss you or call you mine?
Is the river you crossed too wide
To see you on the other side?
Or are you still there loving me,
Somewhere in the light...of shooting stars.
Starsky found himself fighting back tears at the words, which expressed so perfectly and so beautifully everything he ever felt about Terry's death. And maybe what touched him the most was that someone else understood his very soul so completely that they could speak for him...and that someone cared enough to put into words what he couldn't himself. He barely remembered to snap a few shots of the performance, but this was a moment too special to miss.
When Hutch finished, he was rewarded with an enthusiastic round of applause, which of course was helped along by Starsky, who had prodded a couple of tables near them to join him in starting a standing ovation. Hutch didn't know there was any subterfuge involved, and in Starsky's opinion, there probably wouldn't have had to be. Of course a little insurance never hurts. After they saw at least six people on their feet, most of the other tables followed suit. Hutch left the stage amid the cheers and returned to the table. He gave Starsky a high five and sat down for a gulp of beer. The people at the nearby tables made various positive comments, and one woman even handed him a slip of paper bearing her name and phone number.
The next act took the stage, and Hutch looked infinitely more relaxed.
"I told you you'd do great tonight. You had the audience right here," Starsky pointed to the palm of his hand. "That song is beautiful. It really hit home, but it was beautiful."
"I'm glad you liked it. I wrote it for you."
"I know. You're never going to know what it means to me."
"I know how much you and Terry had together, and I loved her too--as a good friend. When she died, I watched you suffer a lot, but I also saw you come back out of it, get back on the job and go on with your life--but I know that it never really got better. You just found a way to put it somewhere inside so you could move on. The whole situation just inspired the words in the song. I was afraid you'd feel like I was trivializing the situation by making it into a song, but you were the one who encouraged me to do this, which is something I always wanted to do, so I wanted to acknowledge that somehow. Plus I wanted you to know that I really did understand what you were trying to tell me."
"It did a lot of things, Hutch, but trivializing the loss isn't one of them. I don't even know what to say." The gesture seemed to have moved Starsky even more than the song.
"I see you had your camera in action again," Hutch tried to lighten the mood a little, but Starsky would not be that quickly diverted.
"Thanks, Hutch. I know Terry loved it, too."
"No more than we loved her, right?"
"Right," Starsky replied with a slight grin.
"No sign of Gavin?" Hutch craned his neck to scan the club.
"All's quiet on the western front, as they say," Starsky responded.
Both of them enjoyed the remainder of the evening, the pressure of Hutch's performance behind them. The other acts were all pretty good, but Starsky maintained to the bitter end that his partner would emerge victorious. The judges were a group of ten people who cast ballots, and they supposedly based their decision on their own opinions as well as audience response. The emcee took the stage near midnight to announce the winner's list.
"Hey, gang, let me have your attention. We've got some prizes to give away here." He opened a sealed envelope, slowly and deliberately as the audience and performers fidgeted nervously. "Okay, our third prize of $100 goes to...Marie O'Connor! Marie gave us her best Crystal Gayle impersonation, and it got her a hundred bucks. Come on up, Marie." The audience applauded, and the young woman accepted her prize and disappeared back into the audience. "All right, settle down, folks. We've got two more winners here. Second prize, $250, goes to...The Horse Shoes!" The country rock band hurried up to the stage, all four of them, to collect the prize. The audience settled their cheering rather quickly in anticipation of the upcoming announcement. Starsky had the fingers of both hands crossed, and had moved to the edge of his chair. Hutch was alert now, too, still as a statue watching the emcee. "And now, for our grand prize winner, the one who gets the big prize, the Watering Trough's favorite amateur...the winner of 500 big ones...our singing cop from LA, Ken Hutchinson!"
Both Starsky and Hutch were out of their seats with the rest of the cheering crowd instantly. Hutch took only a second to briefly hug his partner before running up to the stage to accept his prize. This was another standing ovation, and Starsky hadn't had anything to do with it. Hutch waved to the crowd as he left the stage, and he had to admit, Starsky had been right about this one. It had been probably the most exciting live performance experience of his life. A big crowd of strangers who had no reason to be polite. These people genuinely liked him. In one of the country's music capitols, he had been a big hit.
"Man, I don't believe this," Hutch said gleefully as they sat back down at the table and were served a free pitcher of beer, compliments of the management. "What a night!"
"Glad you came?" Starsky poured them each another drink.
"Oh, yeah. I have you to thank for that one. I didn't wanna get back into this crowd again after last night, but this was...incredible." Hutch was more animated and enthusiastic than Starsky had seen him in a long time.
"I'm glad we didn't let some overgrown dirtbag mess it up. I told ya you'd blow 'em away."
"It's weird, you know, performing in front of a group where you only really know one person in the crowd. I mean, you were the only one who would've clapped for me anyway if I had been lousy. Playing for get-togethers, or even a couple times at Huggy's for fun--those people are gonna be polite, even if you stink. These people were genuinely into the music. My music. People who have everything in Nashville at their fingertips all the time, were excited by my music. I'm tellin' ya, Starsk, this was the ultimate high."
"It was a tough crowd, but you won 'em over. Say, what about that phone number you got?"
"Souvenir. I've tangled with enough ex-boyfriends for one vacation."
"Yeah, I s'pose you're right about that."
It was after two in the morning when they returned to the hotel, which was later than they'd planned, since they had a fourteen-hour stretch of driving to Pennsylvania planned for the next day. It was getting dangerously close to Hanukkah, and bad weather had been reported in some areas of Pennsylvania and the East Coast, so holding to their driving schedule would be essential to making it there on time.
Starsky stared at the ceiling for a number of hours before dozing off. He was sleepy, but somehow his mind wouldn't turn itself off for the night. The song lyrics replayed in his mind. He should be taking Terry home to meet his family. How had Hutch captured it all in that one song?
Going home again. That was an odd thought. He had consciously avoided returning to the Brooklyn neighborhood of his youth for a number of years. His mother had begged him to visit, but he had always found some other way to spend his vacation time. He wanted to see her again, to see his brother and his cousins and his old friends, but the ghosts of the past were everywhere in that old neighborhood.
Hutch was sleeping soundly in the other bed, though it had taken a while to peel him off the ceiling from his performance. What a performance it had been. That guy shouldn't be wasting his time chasing sleazebags around the city. He ought to be doing this for a living. He was too talented to just waste it away on half-drunk cops lying around belching and eating ribs at the next police barbecue.
It was almost six. They had agreed to start out at seven. Maybe he ought to forego waking his partner for another couple hours. Last night had been a big night.
"You awake, Starsk?" Hutch's voice startled him.
"Yeah. Have been for a while. You want to start out on schedule or sleep in a while?"
"Nah. I'm awake. I think we ought to do our damnedest to get to Pennsylvania by tonight. I don't want us to get thrown too far off if we hit some bad roads. The weather report I heard yesterday said they had about six inches of snow in parts of Pennsylvania over the last day or so with more on the way."
"Swell." Starsky sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes. He was suddenly sleepy now that the night was over. "Hutch?"
"Thanks again for the song."
"Think of it as an early Christmas present," Hutch replied, seemingly a little uneasy with the subject. But then he never did like emotional moments.
"It said it all. Everything I've tried to explain, you know in little disjointed parts? It pulled it all together and made sense. I could've never put it all in words, but you did. I was thinking about it while I couldn't sleep, and it amazes me."
"I don't know how amazing it is."
"It's amazing, if not a little scary, that you must know me better than I know myself."
"I'm just more naturally eloquent than you are," Hutch teased, getting out of bed.
"I guess that must be it," Starsky said with a slight smile. "So, should we go downstairs for breakfast? They put on a pretty good spread down there."
"Okay. You want the shower first?"
"No. Go ahead. I get to stay in bed longer that way." Starsky slid partway down into the covers again.
They loaded the car before going into the dining room to put away a big breakfast. They were a little behind schedule getting started, but Starsky vowed to make it up on the clear roads before they entered what they had come to call "the snow zone".
The first part of the drive was uneventful, if not dull. Starsky did make good time on the highway, sending trees and mountains whizzing by the windows in drab-colored blurs. Hutch teased Starsky at one point that the impressionist painters had gotten their perspective on nature while traveling with him. They opted to eat munchies out of their provision bags rather than stop for a meal. The weather was getting increasingly colder as they traveled, and there were even snow flurries as they entered Virginia. After Starsky complained of a stiff back from so long in the car, they stopped at a rest area off the highway through Virginia. The snow was picking up pace now, and the temperatures were in the low thirties, threatening the possibility of freezing rain with a little fluctuation of the mercury. It was near dinner time, almost six, when they gave up and made the stop. Starsky had been determinedly driving like a demon down the highway, and he didn't seem interested to break that stride until almost eight hours had passed. Hutch had dozed off for a stretch, and was amazed that he had slept for two solid hours while his partner kept going.
"You want me to drive the rest of the way?" Hutch offered.
"That's not fair. The weather's getting crappy now."
"I'll get even with you on the way to Minnesota. The keys?" Hutch held out his hand and Starsky tossed them to him and went to the passenger seat of the car. He was relieved to be off the hook for a few hours, and it wasn't fifteen minutes down the highway that he was asleep.
The weather was increasingly treacherous as they moved through Virginia and into Pennsylvania. The snow had picked up again, and by the time Hutch was seeing signs for Lancaster, he was traveling about twenty miles per hour under the speed limit. The windshield wipers were working overtime tossing the wet snow back and forth, and the headlights were reflecting off the white stuff Hutch hadn't had to contend with on the road since he was a teenager. The wide tires on the Torino did a good job in the snow, but it was still a white-knuckler for an LA resident to make his way down a highway at night in a snowstorm. Starsky stirred and came to as they took the exit for Lancaster, which was their destination. It was almost ten at night.
"Whoa--I guess we're in the 'snow zone'."
"We've been there for a few hours now, sleeping beauty."
"What time--" Starsky squinted at his watch. "Man, ten o'clock. I didn't mean to die on you like that."
"No problem. I've had my hands full with the road conditions anyway. We should be in Lancaster any minute now, so you might want to get the directions out for that bed and breakfast."
"By the way, when we get into Lancaster, don't hit any Amish people."
"I don't think there are any on the expressway in horse-drawn carts, but thanks for the warning," Hutch retorted with a snicker.
Starsky read the directions aloud and would continue as they met each landmark until, having passed a couple of horse-drawn carts struggling through the snow on less-traveled roads, they arrived at the bed and breakfast. It was probably the only non-Amish dwelling in the immediate area, and Hutch had to admit Starsky had picked the perfect spot for them to soak up a hot shot of local color. The snow had accumulated to almost a foot in Lancaster over the past couple of days, and they both trudged, with soaked feet, through a considerable amount of it before completing their trail to the front entrance. Boots and gloves had slipped both their minds, so dressed in ski jackets and scarves, they arrived at the front desk with frozen hands and saturated shoes.
"Welcome to the Traveler's Inn, gentlemen. Do you have a reservation?" The woman behind the counter was an older lady with greying hair and a pleasant smile.
"Starsky and Hutchinson," Starsky spoke up. "I called you a week or so ago."
"I have it right here. You'll be in room 2B. Just follow the stairs up to the second floor, turn right. It's the second door on the left-hand side of the hall." She glanced at the reservation form. "That room has its own bath, so you won't have to worry about sharing." She pulled a key off a hook on the wall and handed it to Hutch. Starsky had been blowing into his cupped hands to get a little feeling back to sign the register. "Oh, and I did manage to get you the one with the fireplace, Mr. Starsky--just like you requested."
"That's great news. Thanks again." He smiled as he signed the guest book.
They followed the directions and found the room easily, unlocked it and dumped their luggage inside the door. It was a large square room with rich woodwork, finely striped wallpaper and heavy decorator shades in the window, burgundy to match the carpeting. There was a large fireplace with a good supply of firewood stacked in a brass holder on the brick flooring immediately in front of it. Two overstuffed chairs faced the fireplace, while twin beds, a dresser and a desk completed the room's furnishings.
"This is quite a place," Hutch pulled off his blue ski jacket and scarf and hung them on the back of the desk chair. Starsky didn't seem ready to relinquish his red jacket and black scarf anytime soon. He crouched by the fireplace and started working on stacking the wood for a fire.
"I can't believe neither one of us had the presence of mind to wear boots."
"How many times has it snowed in LA in the last few years?" Hutch sat on his bed and kicked off his wet shoes. "Where'd you find this place?"
"You know Tom Sherman at headquarters, right?"
"The records guy? Sure."
"His parents live around here, and when I told him we'd be passing through Pennsylvania, he asked if we were interested in seeing Amish country up-close. I said yes, so he told me about this place. The lady who owns it is a friend of his mother's." Starsky struck one of the long fireplace matches and thrust it into the center of his log pile. A few weak flames began crackling. Satisfied, he straightened up and took off his jacket and tossed it on the foot of his bed.
"You did a lot of research into this project, huh?"
"You can't just start out and keep driving. I mean, you could if you had a few months to do it, but since we've got plans for the holidays and we have to travel pretty quickly, I didn't want to miss anything." Starsky returned to look at his fire, which was beginning to leap and crackle invitingly. He slumped in one of the chairs and removed his shoes and wet socks, flexing his toes a few feet away from the fire. Before long, Hutch joined him in the other chair.
"I wouldn't want to drive that straight through many times," he commented, pushing back some damp blond hair from his forehead.
"It was a little intense, I guess. But it seemed like a good way to pick up some time."
"It was, I'm just tired," Hutch concluded, through a wide yawn. The warmth of the fire was seeping into the room, and it was hard to fight the urge to doze off and sleep in the chair.
"She said something about a bathroom," Starsky stood up and located the door and disappeared into the adjoining bath. The bathroom, Hutch thought. I might go if I could get out of the chair, he pondered with another yawn. "Are you hungry?" A voice called from the other side of the door.
"Starving." Hutch was quiet a minute. He heard the pipes clang as Starsky turned on the faucet. "I s'pose they only serve breakfast here," he called over the running water.
"Hence the name," Starsky replied, returning to the room. "I guess we shoulda stopped." He looked at his watch. It was after eleven.
"That's probably my fault. I didn't want to be out on the roads too much longer."
"I better give my mother a call. She'll be worried when she hears the weather reports." Starsky picked up the phone and dialed the number quickly. After a few rings, he began talking. "Ma? Yeah, it's me...no, we're fine. That's why I'm calling. It's a little snowy around Pennsylvania...yeah, a bed and breakfast in Lancaster. We're going to look at Amish people tomorrow..." He looked over at Hutch who smirked at the comment. "The roads were kind of nasty near Lancaster--Hutch did most of the driving in the bad weather tonight, so he'd be a better judge than me...I'm hoping we'll be on schedule, but I promise--right, I promise if things get too hazardous we'll stay over somewhere...No, I won't...I hope so too." He sat on the edge of the bed while she apparently elaborated on something. "So he's not gonna be there? How long's he been gone?" Another long pause. "Who's keeping you shoveled out?" Starsky suddenly looked irritated. "Ma, I told you not to...You know very well why Vinnie shouldn't be hanging around there...I don't care," he said firmly, and stood up again, pacing back and forth. "So hire somebody." He waited another long stint. "I'll pay for it myself when I get there but I don't think--...I know you've been running the house fine on your own, but I'm tellin' ya I don't want Vinnie and his cohorts anywhere near you. You know they're nothin' better than thugs for Goretti," Hutch's ears perked up at the mention of this name. Good old Joe Durniak and his band of merry men. They still had their foothold in Starsky's family even after the old mobster was dead. "Okay, yeah, you're right. Will you please just pay the neighbor kids for the driveway? Unless it does anything unusual in the meantime, I'll look at the furnace when I get there. If you have any problems just get it done and have them send a bill. I'll take care of it." He sat back on the edge of the bed. By now, uneasy at eavesdropping on the conversation, Hutch had disappeared into the bathroom. "Okay. No, I understand...right. I love you too, Ma. See you soon...Bye." He hung up the phone.
"You can come out now!" Starsky called to Hutch, who looked out of the bathroom a little sheepishly. "You don't have to hide in the bathroom. There's nothing new happening you haven't heard about before. My flaky brother is in Florida with his new girlfriend, my mother is letting hoods that work for Tommy Goretti keep her driveway shoveled...damn it, some things never change."
"She's still in touch with Durniak's people, huh?"
"I don't know." Starsky shook his head and sat back in one of the chairs by the fire. "Somewhere, my dad is turning over in his grave as we speak."
"Did the NYPD ever have anything on him in connection with your dad's shooting?"
"Nobody ever had anything concrete on that toad for very long. I remember seeing his fat, ugly face across the dinner table in my father's chair...turned my stomach then and just thinking about it does now. I made a sort of peace with him at a point when we were guarding him. He explained a lot of things to me about how he felt about my mother, and that he was essentially turning state's evidence on a lot of his old rivals because he was getting uneasy about her safety. But this Goretti character was always in charge of Joe's muscle. He led the thugs in their daily activities when Joe didn't want to get his hands dirty." Starsky hit the arm of the chair with his fist.
"Hey, Starsk, take it easy." Hutch sat on the arm of the other chair and rested his hand on his partner's shoulder. He groped for some other wise advice, but he could think of nothing profound. Durniak was a gangster, and he had spent a lot of time moving in on Starsky's father's territory after his death. But Durniak had been "the end of an era" as he had said himself. He was the last of the gangsters with hearts of gold who protected women and children just out of the goodness of their hearts. Goretti was nothing more than a common hood, and Starsky's anger, frustration and pain over that fact was justified.
"Getting all worked up over this. It's nothing new." There was an uncharacteristic tone of resignation in Starsky's voice that saddened his partner greatly. As argumentative as he could be, as optimistic as he could be that he could change the status quo if he just tried hard enough, on this one point he seemed resigned to a miserable situation.
"You don't want Tommy Goretti to spoil your visit with your mother, do you?"
"Hell, no. But I didn't want Durniak coming over for dinner and kissing her goodnight either, but he did that too. Of course I was a lot smaller then. If Goretti touches her now, I'll knock him on his ass before he knows what hit him."
"If she doesn't want him to." Hutch ventured the remark, but Starsky did not react angrily.
"I guess I don't want her to want it. That doesn't mean she doesn't."
"Come on, let's go find some food." Hutch stood up. "Maybe they'll let us have something from the kitchen.
"Okay," Starsky rose from his chair and followed his partner downstairs, where they followed a hallway back to a darkened kitchen. No one was at the front desk, the lights were dimmed, and it was obvious the owners were off-duty and retired to their own private quarters. Finding an unguarded refrigerator was too much to hope for.
They found a ring of bologna, some mustard and ketchup, a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine. It wasn't gourmet fare, but it looked pretty good under the circumstances. Starsky was silent and moody while he ate, the call to his mother not having had a good effect on him. Hutch was quiet as well, but for more pleasant reasons. He couldn't get his successful performance in Nashville out of his mind, and he had been thinking a lot about Janine. Tomorrow, he would call her and tell her that.
"So, what's on our itinerary tomorrow?" Hutch broke the silence.
"Well, being it's winter I don't know how much fun touring an Amish farm is gonna be--there's one here open to tourists. Given the weather, probably touring the Euphrata Cloister wouldn't be too bad--the tour guides still dress up like monks, I understand. One thing I really want to do is visit the Weaver Bologna Plant in Lebanon."
"We're in the middle of all this history and you want to visit a bologna plant?"
"This stuff we're eating now is generic grocery store stuff. That's supposed be the best bologna in America."
"There's a highlight I can share with my grandkids."
"We can stop at Valley Forge on the way to New York--is that historic enough for ya?" Starsky took another bite of his sandwich.
"Far be it from me to keep you apart from your bologna," Hutch said with a slight grin. "Starsk?"
"What?" He looked up from his plate at the serious tone of his partner's voice.
"You think this Goretti thing is going to get out of hand when we get to New York? I know just mentioning his name gets you going."
"It's up to him if it gets out of hand. Maybe I should say it's up to my mother."
"What exactly was the relationship between your mother and Durniak after your dad died--if you don't mind my asking?"
"You can ask me anything you want to, you know that. I just wish I knew the answer. He paid for the funeral, and he'd come over for dinner a couple times a week, and he took my mother out a few times...and his guys were always in the neighborhood. It was like they always had an eye on us. Before my dad was killed, he was investigating Durniak and another mob guy--well, I say 'mob guy'--he had his own mob of over-aged street punks...Stan Martelli. Stan was good at what he did though. He used terror tactics. He beat up some guy's ninety-year-old grandmother because he missed the deadline to pay off a gambling debt. He usually hired these real young guys...they weren't too smart, but they were ruthless. The only thing is that when they got caught, Martelli had set up this deal with them that he'd pay them off big when they got out of the joint and take good care of their families while they were in as long as they took the fall themselves. If they fingered him, he threatened them he'd do something bizarre to their families. They knew he wasn't lying, so they all kept their mouths shut."
"So you think Martelli hired a shooter to go after your father?"
"Maybe. It was him or Durniak. My dad used to run into Durniak once in a while--when we were out somewhere. The funny part of it was, it was almost like they were enjoying the whole cat-and-mouse thing of my father trying to bust him. Durniak would make a couple of leading remarks, my dad would respond with a couple of veiled threats...it was almost like a chess game...but it would be the perfect cover to pay for the funeral and get all chummy with the widow if you had just offed her husband."
"What about your dad's partner--or the NYPD as a whole? Did they just let it go?"
"More or less. They hit a lot of brick walls during that investigation. The odd part is, I woulda thought my dad's partner would have been a little more persistent. I mean, if somebody shot you in cold blood on a sidewalk on your way home, I'd turn the world upside down and shake it until the shooter fell out with his hands up...I'd never give up on it until I died or he was in the joint--whichever came first. My dad was so loyal to the guys he worked with. It really hurt when they closed that investigation...it hurt that there wasn't anybody that cared enough to hang in there."
"If Stan Martelli was in the picture, they might have had families to consider."
"My dad's partner at the time was a bachelor. His folks were both dead...he could've gone for it if he wasn't afraid for his own hide." Starsky slumped back in his chair and tossed a rumpled napkin onto the table. "Happy Hanukkah," he said with a sneer.
"I shouldn't have brought it up again, Starsk."
"Nah, it's not your fault. I'm just realizing that there was a reason I haven't come home for several years, and this is it. It makes my skin crawl to even dig all this crap back up again, let alone go there and deal with it."
"Would you rather skip visiting New York altogether?"
"Yes and no. I know if I don't just take the bull by the horns and go there, I'll never see my mother again. She's getting older, and she hates airplanes, so unless I come to her, I probably won't get to see her."
"Did you ever stop to think that maybe the visit won't be all that ugly?"
"You heard that phone call. I haven't even gotten there yet and the fight is already on about Goretti." He paused. "We better get this stuff cleaned up." He stood up and started clearing the disposable trash off the table and tossing it in the wastebasket. Hutch started putting away food and they washed up the dishes they had used and left the kitchen looking as it had when they started.
"We'll pay them for the food before we leave tomorrow," Hutch suggested as he flipped the switch that darkened the room.
The next morning was cold, with the temperatures hovering in the twenties. The sky was clear and the sun was shining, and the weather forecast did not include more snow for a couple of days. The roads were still slippery when they started out after a big breakfast in the inn's dining room, but with only a four-hour trip necessary to get them to New York, they had time to stop at a store and buy boots and gloves, and then make the sightseeing stops they had planned.
Their first stop was an Amish market, where Starsky completed his holiday gift-buying with a handmade quilt for his mother and a framed good luck hex sign for himself. Hutch fell prey to the quilt idea for his own mother and picked up a few knick-knacks for his apartment as souvenirs.
The Euphrata Cloister was a good "photo op" for Starsky, who was not only taking pictures for himself, but seemed determined to let Samantha see the full extent of their trip through his camera lens. The medieval architecture and austerity of the buildings was impressive, but the high point of his photography session was getting a good-natured Amish family to pose with them for a photo taken by a pretty Amish girl he personally instructed on how to "point and click".
At this point, the trunk of the Torino was protesting loudly to any new additions, so they were forced to pack the backseat of the car until it was nearly full. Only a clear shot of visibility to the back window was left empty. Starsky considered it a happy coincidence that their side trip to the bologna plant would fall right about lunch time.
"We aren't going to make it to your mother's before dark if we stop off at Valley Forge," Hutch stated as they left the bologna plant with some of the coveted product added to their collection of merchandise.
"You think us trudging through the snow with no boots last night somewhere in the state of Pennsylvania was close enough to get the historic flavor of it?" Starsky asked with a devilish grin.
"Close enough for me," Hutch settled back in the passenger seat, content to finish their lengthy driving sessions for a ten-day visit at the Starsky household.
"Okay, then I guess we're on our way to the Big Apple." He started the engine, and in a roar of displaced snow, they were on the road again. "How about some Christmas music?" Starsky suggested.
"I can't reach my guitar. I think there are two Amish quilts, a sombrero and an Aztec throw on top of it."
"That's too much work anyway." Starsky turned on the radio and started dial-hopping. Before long, he hit paydirt. "Home for the Holidays" boomed out of the Torino's speakers, and it didn't take long for them to be singing along with it, merrily making their way to the first of their two principal stops on the trip.
Starsky found the driving a little challenging on the icy spots, not having navigated ice and snow on the roads since he was a teenager. All in all, the trip progressed smoothly, and they were right on schedule as Starsky took all the necessary exits from the various connecting highways to lead them to his Brooklyn neighborhood. It was dusk, and most of the houses had their Christmas lights lit, and in a few windows, menorah signified the season being celebrated.
The Torino slowed to a crawl in a block of modest frame houses; some two-storeys, some bungalows lined the quiet street. Starsky turned the car into the narrow driveway that ran beside a white two-storey house with green shutters. The first leg of the journey was complete.
"Well, this is it." Starsky turned off the engine and looked at his partner.
"I think we've been spotted," Hutch pointed to the front door, where Rachel Starsky was emerging, with only a sweater wrapped tightly over the top of her dress. Her son got out of the car and hurried toward her, hugging her and much to her amusement, lifting her up and spinning around twice before letting her down again.
"Oh, David, just like your father," she said with a quivering smile and hugged him again. She was a petite woman with dark wavy hair streaked with grey. Even at sixty-two years of age, there was a prettiness about her fine features and ready smile. "And this has to be Hutch," she said, stepping back and motioning to Hutch to come closer and join the group. She hugged him too. "After everything David's written me about you, I feel like you're family already."
"Thank you. And may I say your pictures don't do you justice?" Hutch kissed her hand in an exaggerated gesture.
"Hey, take it easy. That's my mother you're hitting on," he poked Hutch in the shoulder with his fist. "Ma, you've gotta be frozen out here. Go on back in and we'll get unloaded out here."
"Okay. I have dinner in the oven," she called over her shoulder as she hurried up to the house.
"I think she missed you." Hutch opened the trunk and started pulling out luggage, handing it to Starsky.
"I've missed her a lot, too. If I could take her out of this setting...but she's here for the duration." Loaded down with two suitcases and two duffle bags, Starsky made his way to the front door while Hutch located the guitars, the perishables (namely the bologna) and the wine they had picked up on the way into New York to use for dinner. Goretti's guys did a good job cleaning out the driveway, Hutch thought with an ironic smirk as he followed his partner into the house.
The living room was warm compared to the outdoors, and the smell of a pot roast simmering in the oven filled the house. Everything was neat and tidy, but it occurred to Hutch that not much must have changed in the interior of the house since Starsky had been a child there. The carpeting was clean but drab and well-worn in spots, and Rachel Starsky had become very creative with the placement of doilies over the arms of wearing furniture. Certainly not the abode of a gangster's kept woman, he reasoned. He followed the creaking on the staircase just in time to see Starsky go up the last couple of steps to the second floor. Hutch followed him, and found his partner depositing his own luggage in a small bedroom immediately at the head of the stairs.
"Well, this is it--the old room," Starsky stated as he tossed his suitcase up on the single bed that was covered with a blue quilted bedspread. The room was somewhat barren, the effects of his childhood obviously having been removed after he left home. "It's sure neater now than it was then."
"Where should I go with these?" Hutch asked.
"I'll show ya," he responded, leading the way down the hall to another bedroom a couple doors away. "Since Nick's gone, you can have his room." He reached inside the door and turned on the overhead light. The room was about the same size as Starsky's, but it was cramped and obviously currently inhabited. Starsky walked in and opened the closet door. Upon seeing no room remaining, he grabbed a bundle of clothes in his arms and lifted upward until the hangers came off the rod. "I'll hang these in the attic for now."
"Nick won't mind?"
"So what if he does? I'm still bigger than he is." Starsky trudged down the hallway with his armload and up a narrow staircase at the end of the hall.
On Nick's wall was a photo of the family, which must have been taken shortly before the shooting. Starsky had to have been about ten years old, his brother only five or so. The four of them were standing together with a ferris wheel and other amusement rides in the background. Next to that picture was a shot of Michael Starsky in his police uniform.
"I put the stuff in the attic." Starsky stood in the doorway.
"When was this taken?" Hutch pointed at the vacation photo. Starsky moved in a little closer for a better look.
"Coney Island...about a month before it happened." Starsky backed away from the photo. "Dinner smells pretty good. Think we oughtta head downstairs?"
"Sure." Hutch followed his partner to the kitchen, where Rachel was putting the last of the silverware next to the plates.
"Dinner should be ready any minute," she announced with a smile.
"Need some help?" Starsky asked, peeking under the lid of a pot on the stove.
"Get out of there!" she snapped in mock anger, taking the lid out of his hand and replacing it. "Just like your father..." she muttered with a smile. "He always had to taste a little bit of everything before it made it to the table."
"That's a genetic thing, huh?" Hutch asked.
"It is in this household." She checked her roast in the oven. "Why don't you pour that wine you brought, Ken? I think we'll be ready shortly."
"The glasses are in that cupboard over the refrigerator. There should be a corkscrew in the drawer by the sink."
The dinner was all it smelled like it would be, and the meal passed with pleasant social conversation of Rachel asking Hutch for more details about his background, and telling a few stories about Starsky's childhood, as all mothers do, that left him shifting uncomfortably in his chair. He could foresee several years' worth of teasing being created in one sitting. She suggested they move to the living room for pie and coffee. While she was preparing dessert, Hutch scanned the numerous family photos on the wall over the couch and on the mantel of the fireplace. He noticed a few in particular: Rachel and Michael Starsky's wedding picture, a picture of a uniformed Michael Starsky holding a child of about two, wearing his police hat lopsidedly (which Starsky admitted with a grin was himself), and a photo that was totally unexpected. The chubby, grinning face of Tommy Goretti leered back at him from the mantel, only inches from the picture of Michael Starsky and his son. Starsky must have spotted the photo about the same time, because he reached past his partner and snatched it off the mantel.
"Starsk, take it easy--calm down--" Hutch tried to advise him as he stormed into the kitchen.
"What the hell is this?!" He waved the framed picture toward his mother.
"David Michael, don't you take that tone with me," she retorted angrily, matching the angry fire in his eyes with her own. Raising two boys alone had not been an easy job, and she was used to out-glaring them whenever the need arose.
"Answer me!" he exclaimed, ignoring the admonition.
"Starsky, come on--" Hutch tried to intervene.
"You stay out of this!" he bellowed at Hutch. Turning back to his mother, he continued. "I wanna know what this is doing on the mantel!"
"I don't have to answer to you for having a friend's picture up in my own home."
"A friend?" The way Starsky repeated the word, it did have some ugly connotations. He threw the photo the full length of the kitchen and it smashed on the wall. "What the hell is your definition of a friend? And why is it Goretti is still hanging around here? I could even understand it with Durniak--maybe I even believed that he wanted to protect you and not just make himself look good after Dad..."
"David, I have a right to have friends of my own without your permission." Hutch found her reply a little odd, but of course, true. But why Goretti?
"The likes of Tommy Goretti doesn't hang around women just for friendship, so don't try to hand me that--" Starsky was cut short when his mother slapped his face.
She stood there with eyes wide with her hand over her mouth, and it was a draw who looked more stunned: Starsky, his mother, or his totally embarrassed partner, who was wishing he could slink into the living room unnoticed.
"David, I--" She started to speak but Starsky flew through the kitchen and out the back door before she could finish the sentence. She looked back at Hutch imploringly.
"I'll go after him." He ran out the same door as his partner had, but Starsky was already revving the engine in the Torino. He was on the street and skidding off, engine roaring, before Hutch could stop him. No car and no idea where to look, he went back into the kitchen. Starsky's mother was crying quietly at the kitchen table. Tommy Goretti's picture lay among the shards of glass and splintered frame on the floor near the back door.
"Ken, I'm sorry. We've never had an argument like that in our lives...and God help me, I never hit David, even when he was a child."
"There's a lot of pent up anger in him about his father's death, and about Durniak--and now Goretti. I know it gets under his skin, and he just blew. He was out of line with what he said."
"But I slapped him...I should have explained, or tried to...But then I could never communicate with him once his father died."
"Or once Joe Durniak started coming over..." Hutch said, almost unconsciously. Mrs. Starsky looked surprised. "I'm sorry, it's just that there isn't much we don't talk over with each other, and he was upset about it after he called you from Lancaster, and he told me about your...acquaintance with Goretti..." Hutch had struggled for a word that wouldn't sound sordid, and he wasn't sure he'd succeeded. He was quiet a minute. "Listen, there's got to be a lot of emotional...stuff going on inside his head being here again. Give him a little time. He's kind of a hot-head, but you know as well as I do he's got one of the biggest hearts in the world. He'll get over it, and you'll work things out. It's obvious he loves you."
"He's just like his father. He looks like him, he talks like him, he thinks like him--everything is black and white. You're a good guy or you're a bad guy, there's no gray area." She took a deep breath and looked up, her composure back again. "One thing he could never accept is that this neighborhood, and our lives, are one big gray area. You make a lot of choices differently when you're alone with two children and your husband was just murdered because he antagonized gangsters once too often."
"The awful part of this is that I don't know. But I know that having Durniak for a friend offered me a measure of safety, and that always extended to the boys. Then when Joe turned state's evidence, he warned me things could get complicated, and that if anything went wrong, I should always turn to Tommy, because he'd watch out for me. So I've kept in touch with him."
"Nicky always liked Joe, got along with him. I know there were a lot of times David felt he was all alone, in his own little world. He became very sullen and isolated after his father was killed. He didn't trust me anymore because of my friendship with Joe. Nicky adjusted very well--and he liked Joe, looked to him as a father figure. I don't know how good or bad that was, but it was easier. With David I was always scolding him, sending him to his room, trying to keep him in line when Joe was around because Joe didn't take disrespect well, and I knew if he ever hit one of my children that I would never let him in the house again...and I think that would have been more problematic than maintaining the status quo, not that it was perfect. Nicky and David had almost no relationship once Joe entered our lives, and he spent most of his time alone, or with Tony DeSilva, which was worse than being alone."
"Who was Tony DeSilva?"
"Ironically, Tony worked for Joe as an errand person--"
"You mean a runner?"
Mrs. Starsky caught the connotation and weighed her response carefully.
"As I said, he ran errands for Joe, and he had some rough friends. But David liked him, and he became a sort of 'big brother' to him. David eventually found out Tony worked for Joe, but it didn't matter all that much by the time he did, because he left home at sixteen anyway, and he didn't find out until he was in high school. It was another betrayal, as far as David was concerned." She took a deep breath. "I know I won't win any awards for mother of the year, but I've handled a volatile situation the only way I knew how. Tommy's picture on the mantel is kind of a cross to the vampires, if you get my drift."
"Maybe if he understands that, if you can explain it to him, he'll understand."
"Understand what? That his mother is under protection from a crime lord? That's all he'll see if I tell him any of this."
"With all due respect, you haven't really told me anything. I know you've been friends with Durniak, I know your husband was investigating him and Stan Martelli at the time of his death, and I know that my partner has been about as comfortable as a beached fish since we crossed the border into New York State."
"If David is coming here as a cop, he might as well go home. If he can stay here as my son, enjoy our visit and the holiday, and go home and leave well enough alone, we might be okay. I've been paying the price for his father's crusade against crime since he was killed." She stood up and walked toward the sink, looking out the kitchen window at the small back yard. "I'm not going to pay for David's. You can tell him that if you like, or I will. I've lived my life controlled by the men in it...Michael's investigations, Joe and Tommy's protection, David's resentment...I've managed my life for the last sixteen years since my son walked out that door and never walked back in again. We've seen each other at a couple of family reunions, and he talked me in to meeting him in New England for a color tour one autumn, but he's left me to fend for myself, and that's nature. I didn't expect him to stay here and take care of me, but I also expect him to respect what I have to do to take care of myself."
"So if he asks any uncomfortable questions, you're going to ask him to leave? If that's the way it is, let me find some other way to talk him into going, because I don't want him hurt like that. You and I both know he isn't going to stick his head in the sand."
"I love my son very much, Ken. He's the very image of his father, and he was the love of my life, but I am a realist. My husband probed a couple of major hornet's nests, and it cost him his life. I've learned to make friends with a few of the hornets, and that way I don't get stung. I don't have to run and hide, I don't have to fear reprisal. I let Tommy worry about my safety, and as long as his picture's on the mantel and he views me as part of his extended 'family', I don't have to be afraid. David isn't going to move back here and guard me."
"So this is an ultimatum? He asks questions and he's evicted?"
"Essentially, yes. Hopefully you can talk to him." She turned out the bright kitchen light leaving only the dim fixture above the sink burning. "I'm going upstairs for the night. Leave everything as is in the kitchen. I'll take care of it in the morning." She walked out of the kitchen and could be heard ascending the stairs. A door closed decisively.
Hutch wandered into the living room and looked at the one feeble flame on the menorah. Starsky's mother must have lit it at dusk, as is the custom. Some evening of family togetherness this turned out to be. And where the hell was Starsky?
The only light burning in the house was the dim light in the kitchen and the flickering light of the menorah candle in the living room. It was after midnight, and assuming no one was still up, Starsky slipped in the back door and walked stealthily through the kitchen and into the living room, where the stairs rose to the second floor. He was startled to see Hutch stretched out in an easy chair, obviously having dozed off waiting for him. The other man stirred at the movement, and opened his eyes.
"What time is it?" He sat up and blinked a couple of times.
"About midnight. You didn't have to wait up." Starsky turned back toward the stairs.
"Hey, hang on a minute." Hutch stood up. "Where'd you go?"
"To see Tony--"
"Yeah--how'd you know?"
"Your mother mentioned him--said you were friends when you were kids."
"Til I found out he was a runner for Durniak, yeah, we were. But I figured that would make him kind of a good source for what I needed to know."
"And was he?" Hutch probed. Starsky walked over to the couch and sat down, and his partner returned to his place in the easy chair.
"He doesn't work for Joe's people anymore. Said someone else made him a better offer. He also said he didn't know anything about what was going on with Joe and my mother, other than the fact all Joe's guys had directions not only to not hassle her, but to watch out for her. I asked him about my dad's death, but he said he wasn't very far up in the operation in those days--just an errand boy."
"You asked him point blank about that?" Hutch was appalled at his partner's lack of technique or caution.
"Tony and I go way back. There's no point in my trying to play-act with him. I told him he might as well level, because I was going to re-open the murder investigation one way or the other, and I also told him I'd make sure he was the first small-time hood to go down when I did."
"Are you crazy? Did you forget everything you ever learned in the academy? You don't just toss threats of major investigations at leading crime bosses and see what happens. From what you said about Martelli--"
"Tony isn't going to say anything. He knows I've got enough on him to put him away...he had lines on a mirror on his coffee table when I got there. Besides, Tony's a lot of things, but a killer isn't one of them. If he got Martelli all riled up, he'd probably put a hit out on me, and I don't think Tony's gonna want to be responsible for that."
"Were you serious about re-opening the investigation?"
"I dunno. I said it mainly as a threat to shake up Tony, but it isn't a possibility I've ruled out. I keep running into brick walls when I try to find anything out. I've done some checking from home--you know, called up my dad's old friends--I use the term loosely--and did some checking with the medical examiner to see what they had for forensic evidence, anything left at the scene...I keep getting stall tactics and half-answers..." He shook his head. "I never shoulda come back here."
"What about your mother? That was a pretty ugly scene. How do you feel about that?"
"Well, she doesn't quite have Gavin's right cross, but she does okay for a little lady." Starsky tried to add levity to the situation, but it fell flat.
"She seemed to feel pretty bad about hitting you."
"It was kind of a surprise," he said quietly. "I didn't mean to say what I said the way I said it...what I mean is, I know there's more to the story, and I know that Goretti isn't the kind of guy to do something purely out of the goodness of his heart. What Joe expected in return for his protection and what Goretti might have in mind are two different things. If he's forcing her into something she doesn't want to be into, I want to get her out of it--right after I neuter him and throw him in the harbor."
"She's afraid of what you're going to stir up while you're here. She wants you to pull in your horns. I can't see much point in our staying here and riling her up if we're going to launch a full-scale investigation instead of spending a little harmless vacation time here."
"She gave you the 'don't ask any questions because I made friends with the hornets' speech, huh?" Starsky shook his head. "If I had a dollar for every time I heard that one for the first six or seven years after my father died, we could both retire and buy a villa on the French Riviera."
Hutch wondered how to say that she wanted them to leave if they were going to make trouble.
"Maybe we should let sleeping dogs lie this time." Hutch waited for an explosion, but none was forthcoming. Actually, an uneasy span of silence followed the remark.
"Why am I the only one who still cares that this cop, a damn good cop, was shot down in cold blood on the sidewalk two blocks from his house? Why am I the only person who still wakes up in a cold sweat on a hot summer night and jumps out of bed to see where the gunshot came from? I can hear that shot in my mind as clearly as I did the night it happened. And I'll never forget it. I just don't understand why I'm the only one who still misses him."
"I think your mother cares very much, and I don't have any doubt she misses your father. I just think she's a survivor. She's living in a different world than we are, Starsk. I think I realized it for the first time in New Mexico."
"What do you mean?"
"We risk our lives pretty frequently at work. We get in some dirtbag's face, read him off, do our jobs despite any threats of reprisal...we're used to that, and when you take one of those incidents where you nearly get your head blown off out of context, and put it in the middle of peace and tranquility and strumming our guitars and being civilians for an extended period of time for the first time in a lot of years, it stands out. It shook me up to come that close to dying in that restaurant. It shook me up to see you come that close to dying...but remember the Barnes case? Remember when we got tangled up in that domestic dispute? I mean the guy was taking pot shots at you with a shotgun, and I was stuck in the house trying to figure a way to get the kids out...and because it worked out all right in the end, neither one of us lost much sleep over it. It was all in a day's work. But when you put the same risks in the middle of relative safety, it stands out. Your mother may have lived around law enforcement, but she isn't a cop. She gets scared at the thought of some gang of hoods coming into her house and roughing her up." Hutch paused, his words seeming to have captured at least his partner's interest, if not full agreement. "One thing your mother said to me is true...with us, everything is black and white. We have the blessing of living in a black and white world--you're a good guy or you're a bad guy, and there are no shades of gray because the regulations don't allow it. Did you ever think how uncomplicated that makes life from our perspective? If something's illegal, don't do it. If you see it, report it. If you're a witness, testify to it. If someone rapes, beats or kills you for doing that, we'll arrest them. And if someone in your life has dirty hands, you get away from them and turn them in so we can bust 'em. No gray areas. No allowances for a woman left alone with two kids whose husband poked the wrong hornet's nest and stirred up something he died before he could finish. Maybe Durniak was the lesser of two evils, and maybe out of respect for him, Goretti is carrying on the tradition. Maybe it's that simple. Starsky, you can pursue this thing about your father until you turn into a bitter old man who still doesn't have the answer, or you can reconcile this with your mother and accept it."
Starsky was deathly silent for a long time, staring straight ahead. When he finally spoke, what he said surprised Hutch. He had expected objections, admonitions...something vehement. Not such mildness.
"I have to think." He stood up and walked toward the stairs. "I'll see you in the morning."
Hutch retired to his room about one, and only dozed fitfully. He couldn't help but wonder what was going on in his partner's head. At three, he heard the floorboards overhead. Someone was in the attic. Despite any misgivings that perhaps he should refrain from interfering any further, he pulled on his robe and a pair of socks and made his way up to the attic.
Starsky was sitting in a tattered old chair, wearing a police hat, digging through a carton. He looked up and smiled when he saw Hutch.
"Haven't seen you in one of those for a while," Hutch pointed at the hat, taking a seat on the chair's matching ottoman, which was next to it.
"My dad's. I'm going to ask my mother if I can take some of this stuff home with me. It's been gathering dust up here since Joe became our favorite houseguest. Look at this." He handed Hutch a framed medal with an inscription. It was a citation for extreme valor in the line of duty. "He traded himself for a woman in a hostage situation. Almost got himself killed."
"You're dad sounds like quite a cop."
"He was," Starsky responded with a wide smile. "I used to always want to hear everything he had done, all day long. Every stupid detail. And he would always take time to tell me. And then he'd tell me to go to college and not to do something stupid like being a cop...but I think he was kidding. He loved it like we do."
"Looks like he was interested in traveling too, huh?" Hutch picked up a well-worn atlas of the United States.
"I'll tell you a little secret about this trip. It wasn't all my idea. My dad always wanted to go across the US, see everything. I feel like I'm doing something for him taking this trip."
"So it's kind of like that Jim Croce song you keep humming--you know which one I mean."
"'I Got A Name'?"
"'Livin' the dream that he kept hid'?" Hutch's quoting of Jim Croce lyrics took Starsky off guard, but made him chuckle a little. "What about the case, Starsky?"
"I've been thinking a lot about it, and about what you said, and about my dad. I had to get back in touch with him again, to think the way he'd think. He was all law and order, you know, but the only thing he loved more than this," he took off the police hat and looked at it thoughtfully, "was his family. And if being true to this," he held up the hat, "meant putting us in danger, and he had the choice to make I have now, I think he'd have been okay with walking away. The one thing he couldn't stand was seeing my mother unhappy."
"You know I'm on your side no matter which way you decide. Anything I said was just food for thought. I didn't want you to think I wouldn't be there if you wanted to go ahead with it."
"You're always on my side, partner. That's one constant I don't have to worry about."
"So you're going to smooth things over with your mother?"
"Yeah, and not ask any more sticky questions," he answered with a slight smile, putting the police hat on Hutch and tapping the visor down past his eyes.
Starsky set an alarm and planned to do something special for his mother to get back in her good graces. He slid downstairs and washed the previous night's dishes and gathered up the supplies to make some of his famous farmer's omelettes, which even Hutch had to grudgingly admit were good.
Before launching the omelette project, he pulled the loaded trash bag out of the wastebasket in the corner of the kitchen and headed out to dump it in the can by the back porch. It was a bitingly cold morning, but he figured he could dash out, dump the trash and run back inside before the cold really hit him. As he was stuffing the bag in the can, something hit the back of his head and everything went black.
Rachel Starsky woke at about eight o'clock. Her argument with her son had kept her tossing and turning most of the night, but toward morning, she had dozed off and slept quite soundly. She could hear an electric razor humming in the bathroom. David had warned her his partner was an early riser, so she surmised he must have used a great deal of self-restraint to forego shaving this long to let her sleep. She pulled on her robe and stopped at her dresser mirror to run a brush through her hair and add a little powder to her face. No need to scare the houseguest, she snickered to herself.
Hutch noticed Mrs. Starsky's door still closed, but Starsky's door open. He went downstairs to the kitchen, where the overhead light was burning brightly in the early morning gloom. There was a bevy of food neatly lined up on the counter, but no sign of Starsky. All dishes had been washed and put away, but Mrs. Starsky was still in her room. Her son had been here, but where was he now?
The back door creaked open a little.
"Starsk?" Hutch spun around to face it, but no one was there. The door stood a few inches from its frame, the cold breeze invading the kitchen. Hutch drew his weapon. Somehow in the midst of all the talk of gangsters and "gray areas", he had felt it wiser to keep it handy again. Had Starsky done so too? He approached the door and cautiously opened it further and then pushed the storm door open a bit. The back porch light was on--it had not been the previous night.
"Starsky?" Hutch called louder now, edging onto the small porch. Next to it were two trash cans: one covered and one whose lid was sticking out of a snowbank. There were a number of footprints in the snow, with longer impressions, as if someone had lost his footing, in the middle of
the grouping. The Torino was still parked in the driveway. Hutch cursed that the driveway was as clean as it was--no snow, no footprints beyond the few around the trashcans. Oh, God, Starsk, what've you gotten yourself into now? Hutch thought to himself.
"David? Ken?" Rachel Starsky was standing inside the back door.
"I think we have a problem here. How do I get a hold of Tommy Goretti?" Hutch asked Rachel.
"Where is David?"
"He's gone. His car isn't."
"Dear God." She fled back into the house and Hutch followed her. She was dialing a number on the wall phone in the kitchen. "Bruce? This is Rachel Starsky. I need to speak to Tommy--it's an emergency..."
When Starsky came to, he could not move at all. He was in a straight chair, his wrists bound together tightly behind him and then somehow fastened to the chair itself. His legs were tied to the legs of the chair. He tried to moan a little, but his mouth was immobilized by a knot of cloth stuffed in it with another length of cloth tied at the base of his skull to hold the gag in place.
The first thing he saw as he focused was the pudgy, mustached face of Tommy Goretti, sitting across this barren gray cement room from him in a similar straight chair, though he was not bound in any way. So this is where it ends for me, Dad: hog-tied in a basement...Is that better or worse than being gunned down in the street?
"Sorry the boys got a little rough with you, David," he stated in a husky voice. "I apologize for all the ropes and the gag, but I know you'd never sit still and listen to me any other way." He stood up and began pacing. "That visit to DeSilva was a sloppy move, kid. You're in a whole mess of trouble, but Tony, he doesn't forget his old pals. Tipped me off about your plans to stir up the murder investigation. You look like your old man, but you're a damn sight clumsier." He watched while Starsky fought furiously against his restraints. "That'll only get you bloody wrists and out of breath, so you might as well save it." He watched Starsky's chest heave, trying to get enough air through his nose to feed his pounding heart. "I hope you know what you've stirred up here-- probably a mob war, with your mother in the middle. All so you could satisfy some sordid curiosity about something that's none of your business. Let me tell you a little story." He settled back in the chair and crossed his legs. "In 1944, I was just getting established--Joe was second banana to one of the most powerful syndicate men on the East Coast. Believe me, we didn't have any problems with the ladies. I wasn't always thin on top and thick on the bottom," he quipped, chuckling as he spoke. Starsky had caught his breath a little, but felt the ropes cutting painfully into his wrists. No gun, no wire, no damn witnesses--just me and him and the truth. "Joe and I were visiting one of the local grocers, collecting for the boss. He spotted this woman, picking out tomatoes, and I swear I never saw Durniak at a loss for words before." He was smiling at the memory. "'Black hair, red lips and red fingernails'--that's how he summed her up. Watching him stumble over himself like a sixteen-year-old was pretty amusing. He tried his best lines, but she'd barely look away from that box of vegetables to notice he was even there. He even tried telling her about his old family recipe for homemade spaghetti--which he was ad-libbing, by the way--anything to get a conversation going, but she was a cool one. After she'd let him make a complete fool of himself for several minutes, she looked up from the produce counter and said simply: 'My husband is a policeman. If he catches you bothering me he will most likely shoot you.' Joe was in love. That pretty girl was Rachel Starsky. Next time we saw her was at an Italian restaurant, the one Cardoni's used to own. She was eating lunch with your father--he was in uniform. She was very pregnant, so Joe sends over a bottle of the best wine in the joint to congratulate them. She sent the wine back with a note that read: 'This will go very well with your homemade spaghetti. You'd best take it with you.' Joe was embarrassed at first, then he laughed out loud. His interest in your mother is mostly what fanned the flames and kept the sparring going between him and your old man. I think it bugged your father that she actually was having some fun bantering with Joe--and don't ever mistake that--she might have loved your father, but your mother's a lady who likes a little excitement in her life, and Joe provided that."
Starsky writhed again in his restraints. Goretti was uninterested. He continued his saga.
"We only saw your mother occasionally, at a restaurant or a grocery store or Coney Island, once you kids came along. Your father made being a burr under Joe's saddle his personal crusade. He busted quite a few of our guys, too. Out-maneuvering Mike Starsky and his pals was one of the great challenges of Joe's career--probably the only serious threat to the operation. Now you've got some idea that something sleazy was at play here with your mother and Joe. She is a lady--a class act. She's a spunky one though, and she liked the attention and matching wits with him over the years." He became serious. "Your father would have always been safe poking his nose into Joe's operation. Joe always said we had enough expendable street hoods to let Mike Starsky bust a few here and there. Most importantly though, for all her flirting and sparring with Joe, Rachel was a faithful wife. Anytime somebody in the operation suggested sending your dad for a long walk off a short pier, Joe'd tell them to back off, and he'd handle it. He never wanted to hurt your mother like that. No, your father's big mistake came in thinking that Stan Martelli did business the way Joe Durniak did it. We heard there was a hit out on him the night it happened, but it was too late to do anything about it. The reason your dad's pals spotted some of our guys in the area of your house the night it happened is because we had orders to find your father and tip him off." He paused, and Starsky tried to fight a couple of tears that were welling up in his eyes. If Goretti was to be believed, how close his men came to stopping the murder...
"Once it happened," Goretti continued, "all Joe could think of was protecting Rachel and her boys. He wasn't sure if Martelli would go after the family as a precaution, in case they knew anything. I don't think he really expected at that point she would fall in love with him--she hadn't in ten years of pursuing her. But he loved her anyway, and he always made it clear to everyone in our operation that she was like royalty. She was to be looked after, protected--nothing should touch her, or her boys." Goretti was quiet a moment. "When Joe decided to testify for the FBI, it was because he was afraid of Martelli's increase in power. He loved Rachel, and he was afraid he wouldn't be able to keep her safe from Martelli. Believe me, Martelli had some designs on wiping out whatever was left of Mike Starsky's family. He got some inside information on Martelli's drug operation--and that caused the hit. Martelli never rested easy that Rachel didn't know something. Joe finally decided if he could see Martelli put away, Rachel and her family would finally be off the hook." Goretti took a deep breath and exhaled. "Joe Durniak was the best friend I ever had. You and your partner are tight like we were. Joe left everything here under my direction. He made me promise to keep up looking out for Rachel if anything went wrong. So your mother and I are friends--no more, no less--and I will protect her as long as I'm alive. And I won't admit a word of any of this outside this room." Goretti moved closer to Starsky's chair and looked straight down into his eyes. For a moment, he looked straight into Mike Starsky's angry eyes. Ah, the battles his old pal Joe had fought with that irritating cop that should've been dealt with the old way. Now I'm stuck with his son, Goretti thought to himself with an ironic smirk. Thanks a lot, Joe. You would pick a cop for a friend. And that's what Mike Starsky had actually been more like--a friend. They made their little innuendos and threats to each other, engaging in all the subtle chess moves that the younger breed of cop couldn't even understand, let alone execute. Only the law mandated they were enemies. Crossing Martelli was the only dumb thing the elder Starsky had done...like father, like son.
He untied the gag and pulled it out of Starsky's mouth. He watched the younger man gasp for breath for a moment, then lick his lips and swallow. "So now you know what you came to find out." Goretti expected a shower of insults and expletives from his captive, but none were forthcoming.
"It was Martelli that ordered the hit?" he asked in a weak voice.
"No comment." Goretti stepped back to face him. "You got what you came for, now I'm going to pick up the pieces. Just keep your mouth shut and your head down."
"Why do you want to protect me?"
"You don't listen so good, do ya? Never did...Joe always said you were a mouthy little brat...Joe loved your mother, and watching her son shot down like her husband was would probably kill her, and Joe left her as my responsibility. I don't take vows made to my friends lightly."
"So nothing ever happened..."
"I told you, kid: she was a lady, and for whatever else Joe Durniak did, he was a gentleman when it came to her." Starsky could hear other footsteps from behind him, and Goretti's attention shifted to whomever was back there. "Get him out of here and teach him a lesson. He's Rachel's boy, so go easy--but make sure he learns not to poke his nose in where it doesn't belong." Goretti looked back down at Starsky, who was almost too shocked by all the recent revelations to process the thoughts of what being taught a lesson would entail, and what Goretti's leg-breakers would consider 'going easy'. "We never had this conversation, David." He walked out of the room. Starsky could hear the shuffle of other feet behind him. The gag was put back in place and a blindfold added. Only his legs were freed so he could walk on his own, led by a group of about three, he judged by the footsteps. He was not going to be trusted to see the location of the basement meeting spot.
Rachel Starsky hung up the phone and looked back at Hutch.
"He told me not to worry--that there wasn't any emergency."
"No, Bruce. He's been Tommy's right hand man ever since Joe died. He said he knew why I was calling and that I should just sit tight and wait."
"At least we know who he's with. I'll stop worrying when he shows up without a bullet in his head." Hutch saw Starsky's mother flinch a little at the remark. She should flinch, he thought angrily.
"You don't have a very high opinion of me, do you?"
"Your my partner's mother, so I respect you."
"But that's only a courtesy. You think I've been a bad influence on my children. I can tell you blame me for this incident today."
"All I know is that I have more respect for Starsky now because I can see how much he had to overcome to become what he is. You were relieved that your younger son accepted a mob boss for a father figure. You oughtta be thanking God that at least one of your sons was old enough, and loyal enough to his father's memory, that he'd stand up to Durniak even when he was ten or eleven years old. I can't come in here and judge you--I don't know you. You handled your life the way you thought it should be handled, and I try to focus on that, and tell myself that it's none of my business, but I keep having this mental picture of a ten-year-old kid whose father's just been murdered trying to sort it all out alone because he can't cope with his mother welcoming into the household someone who might have been involved in the murder. You said yourself he's just like his father, so that left him on his own."
"He was better off isolated than dead," she shot back. "I don't need to make any excuses about how I raised my boys. I love both of them, and I always have. I did what I had to do, and for the times David had to be alone, or isolated or feel betrayed because of it, I'm sorry. But at least he's alive, and he did overcome it."
"Like I said, I can't judge you, and I won't. But please don't keep painting this tragic portrait for me so that at some point I'll agree with you and say that I think you did everything right. It isn't gonna happen. I think it's a subject we should consider taboo. You did what you thought was right, with good intentions, that I'm sure of...whether or not it was right isn't mine to say."
"At least I get credit for not intentionally being a monster."
"I didn't say you were a monster at all. Your kids love you, and it's obvious you love them. Apparently, you're not a monster. I just don't share some of your ideas, and that's no reason for us to have a strain between us that makes things more difficult for David to handle right now. If there is some conflict here, then I propose a truce. I'll keep my mouth shut about my opinions as long as no one asks for them."
"I suppose that's fair enough," she replied.
"I don't mean to be so testy with you. It's just that if I were in LA right now, I'd know who to call, who to trust at the PD...I don't know exactly what we're in the middle of here."
The phone rang again. Rachel answered it.
"Give me Hutchinson," a gruff voice ordered. She held the phone toward Hutch. "He asked for you."
"Hutchinson," he responded into the phone.
"If you wanna come get your partner, he's gonna be in an old warehouse by the docks." The man continued with detailed directions, which Hutch scribbled on a notepad Rachel had brought to him. When he hung up, he explained the call.
"I'm going with you."
"No way. You stay right here. I'll go get him and we'll come straight back here. If we can't for any reason, I'll call as soon as I can. If we're not back in an hour, call somebody at the NYPD your husband trusted and give him this address." He wrote the warehouse address on another slip of paper and handed it to her.
Hutch hurried out of the kitchen and upstairs to grab his coat and gloves. It was an icy fifteen degrees outside, and he was more than little unnerved when he saw Starsky's coat, scarf and gloves still piled up on the chair in his room. Hopefully he hadn't been in that abandoned warehouse for very long. Hutch grabbed his partner's things and raced downstairs, through the kitchen and out to the Torino.
Hutch followed the directions to the abandoned warehouse on the waterfront. He found the door with the sign that read "Office", as instructed, and discovered it was unlocked, as promised. He pushed the door open carefully, his weapon in hand. With Starsky's coat under one arm, he cautiously made his way through the office area, which was lit, into the warehouse beyond, which was only illuminated by the glow from the office and the daylight that fought its way in the dirty window nearby. Tied to a chair, Starsky sat shivering in the middle of the open area, gagged and blindfolded. A shirt and jeans were a poor match for the icy coldness of the dank old building. Hutch saw him tense immediately at the sound of footsteps.
"Relax, buddy, it's the cavalry," Hutch spoke up as he approached. He set the jacket on the floor and holstered his weapon. He removed the blindfold and then the gag, pausing to put a steadying hand on his friend's back while he coughed and choked in his first unobstructed breaths.
"Real glad...to see...you," Starsky panted, stuttering partially from the dryness of his mouth, his reduced flow of breath for the past few hours, and shivering, which he tried but couldn't stop.
Hutch went around to the back of the chair to undo the ropes. The thin, wiry cord was imbedded in his partner's bloody wrists and his hands were nearly purple.
"How long have you been tied up this tightly?" Hutch couldn't hide the edge in his voice.
"I think they grabbed me around seven."
"It's almost eleven..." Hutch paused, figuring his venting was not doing anything to calm his partner. He carefully removed the bonds, but Starsky flinched as he did. "Take it easy, buddy. We're almost there." Once his wrists were freed, Starsky brought his arms stiffly around himself against the cold. Hutch worked rapidly on freeing his legs and then grabbed the ski jacket off the floor and feeling how clammy it was, took off his own jacket. "Come on, put your arm in here..." he directed, holding his jacket while Starsky slid into it. Hutch pulled on Starsky's jacket, shivering a little at the coldness of the fabric.
"God, I'm cold," Starsky muttered, not objecting to Hutch zipping the front of the jacket for him. He had almost no feeling in his hands anyway. "Feels good," he murmured.
"Okay, let's get a little circulation going here," Hutch took off his own gloves and took one of his partner's hands in both of his, trying to generate a little warmth and massage a little feeling back into the icy fingers.
"I think it's coming back," Starsky said, managing a slight grin. Hutch put one of his gloves on the first hand and started working on the other hand. He hoped the trapped body heat in a coat and gloves that had been on another person might help warm Starsky up faster than his own cold things would have.
"Better?" Hutch smiled as he put the other glove on the second hand.
"Yeah, a lot. Thanks."
"Are you okay?" His expression became serious again.
"Just a nasty headache, but I'll live."
"They knocked you out?" Hutch felt the back of his partner's head and located a large egg-like lump. "I guess they did. Come on, Starsk, let's get out to the car. There's a heater in that heap of yours, remember?" He took a hold of Starsky's arm and pulled as he stood up. Starsky unexpectedly embraced his partner and held on tightly until Hutch returned it.
"I'm real glad you're here. Didn't think I was gonna get out of this one for a while there."
"What aren't you telling me, buddy?" Hutch held on for a few seconds, figuring the physical warmth, as well as the reassurance, would do Starsky good. Then stepping back a little, he said, "Tell me, Starsk."
"I was okay 'til the ride over here. I guess having a cop to push around was too much for Goretti's goons to pass up." Starsky was still holding onto Hutch's forearms, and the other was only marginally aware of the bloody stains appearing on his own sleeves from the abused wrists as he continued to support his partner.
"What did they do, exactly?" Hutch couldn't see any other visible injuries, but then professionals didn't always leave marks, and he felt that Starsky was shaking from more than the cold.
"Played Russian Roulette with me in the back of the car on the way over here. They told me afterward that the gun was empty anyway. I didn't know that for most of the twenty minute ride over here, though. I could hear them spin the chamber, snap it shut, and then I'd feel the metal against the side of my head, or under my chin...then this hollow click. I couldn't see, and I couldn't breathe too well with that gag in. One of them had something--a cattle prod I think--I know that wasn't empty." He smiled a little. "I guess it could've been worse...they could've forgotten to unload the gun."
"If I ever see that fat son of a bitch I'll blow his freaking head off." Hutch rested a hand on Starsky's shoulder. "You're sure you're okay now?"
"Yeah. I'm sorry. I was just a little shook up, I guess."
"You've got a right, buddy. You're positive you're all right?" Hutch inclined his head to have intent eye contact with his partner.
"Oh, yeah." Starsky nodded.
Once they were in the car, with the heater on full blast, Hutch pulled his poncho out of the back seat and tossed it over Starsky's lap.
"We better get you to a hospital."
"No. I just wanna go home and see my mother. And then I really need to talk to you."
"Somebody ought to look at that mountain on the back of your head, and those wrists are pretty torn up." Hutch slammed the steering wheel angrily.
"Hey, take it easy on my car." Starsky grinned a little at his partner. He was feeling a lot less wobbly now and had caught his breath. "Come on, Hutch, don't fight me on this, okay?"
"Okay." Hutch started up the engine. "What's this all about? Your visit to DeSilva?"
"That triggered it. Goretti had some explaining he wanted to do, so he dragged me onto his turf to do it."
"Great. He didn't have to give you such a rough time."
"Joe was a different kind of crook--I remember he kept telling me I should put 'the end of an era' on his tombstone. I did that, you know--made sure they put that on there. It was the end of an era for me. I don't know if it was a good one or bad one anymore, but it was different. Goretti and his guys were always the hairy-knuckle-kneecap-breaker types. If Joe hadn't felt about my mother the way he did, they'd have probably broken every bone in my body and left me in a ditch. The last thing I heard him tell his guys was to take it easy on me because I was 'Rachel's boy'. I guess that was their idea of easy, and I s'pose Goretti wanted to give me a taste of tangling with the mob to scare me. Two hours in an unheated warehouse, a round of Russian Roulette and an over-sized joy buzzer wasn't a lot of fun, but it didn't leave many marks, and Goretti wouldn't want to send me home to my mother looking like something the cat dragged in." Starsky leaned back in the seat. "But then, the information I got was worth it. Listen, when we get home, do me a favor--don't act like this was some big terrible thing--"
"Nah, getting kidnapped is no big deal." Hutch paused. "Two hours? You're damn lucky you didn't freeze to death in that place." Hutch stated.
"I mean about the wrists and the warehouse and...all of it. She doesn't have to hear about that."
"No, I think we should protect your mother from knowing what her pals are capable of doing."
"Hutch, it isn't her fault--really. I shot off my mouth to DeSilva, and I should have expected..."
"Starsky, you sound like some mixed up battered woman. 'I should have expected it' or somehow you're turning this into your fault. Damn it, it's Goretti's fault, and quite frankly, your mother opened the door for him."
"There's a lot you don't know, Hutch. I'll explain when we get home. Just take it easy on my mother. She's not the ogre in all this. I don't want her to get all upset about what happened."
"Okay. I'm sorry. I'll follow your lead."
When they arrived at the house, Hutch slipped upstairs to give the Starskys their reunion in private. He garnered up a few first aid supplies and then waited in Starsky's room. After about twenty minutes had passed, Starsky joined him.
"She's fixing us lunch," he stated, carefully peeling off his gloves and gingerly removing the coat to avoid contact with his wrists. He sat on the bed and rolled up his shirt sleeves while Hutch set his supplies on the small chair that matched the desk in the corner of the room. Starsky eyed the basin of water, antiseptic and gauze with no small dismay.
"I need to talk to you."
"I'm right here. Fire away." Hutch sat next to him, balanced the dish of water on his lap and took a hold of Starsky's right hand. Using a wet washcloth, he started carefully flushing the dried blood off his wrist.
"I need to talk to you like we're not cops."
Hutch looked at his partner a moment, then dried his hand on his pantleg and pulled his ID out of his pocket and tossed it on the floor.
"Just you and your paramedic," Hutch replied, trying to keep his tone light.
"I don't know what to do. I don't know if I can trust anything from Goretti, and part of me wants to believe him because the story makes sense, but it could all be lies."
"Okay, slow down," Hutch answered calmly. He completed the unpleasant antiseptic portion of his task with the first wrist. Starsky squeezed Hutch's hand tightly but didn't complain. With a wave of anger, Hutch figured he had probably been through worse earlier. "What exactly did he tell you?" Hutch cut a length of gauze and wrapped it firmly but gently around the wrist.
"That Stan Martelli ordered the hit on my father."
"But he could be making that up?"
"That and the part where he tells me how Joe only had this pure unrequited love for my mother for years and he's just being a good buddy by looking out for her. Aw, Hutch, I don't know what to do about it. He claims my visit to Tony has launched a 'mob war', and that Tony just tipped him off as a favor for old times' sake and that Martelli is out for blood because he thinks I'm gonna try to get the murder investigation reopened. Goretti told me to keep my mouth shut and my head down and he'd handle it and protect my mother."
"So out of all this, Durniak was just a lovesick slob with a schoolboy crush and clean hands?" Hutch completed bandaging the second wrist.
"Hard to swallow, isn't it?"
"Frankly, yes." Hutch set his supplies aside and sat across the foot of the bed so he could lean against the wall. Starsky pulled the pillows up against the headboard and turned to face Hutch.
"Thanks for the repair job."
"There's a part of me that believes him because everything makes sense the way he explains it."
"Why don't you just take a deep breath and start at the beginning? I wanna hear it all."
And so Starsky recapped the entire conversation, from the sighting of Rachel in the grocery store to the tip off from DeSilva to Goretti. Hutch wracked his brain for some sage piece of advice, or plan of action, but none came easily. Without hiding behind a badge, thrust into a world of gray areas where syndicate men held all the cards, this was a challenge. Must've been a real challenge for a ten-year-old kid whose father had been murdered.
"Starsk, you've always hated Goretti, and you were never too thrilled with Durniak either. You've got no special reason to change the way you feel. I think your gut feeling is what we need to follow here. If you think Goretti's on the level, given the bias you had against him to begin with, he probably is. His willingness to take on Martelli is either just a way to use your family as an excuse to go after a rival, or it's the only way out for him to still protect your mother from any backlash."
"There's a part of me that wants to see him go after Martelli. I can't go shoot the guy down in cold blood, like he ordered done to my father, but there's this hateful piece of me that wants to let Goretti do the job for me."
"Let's look at it another way. Let's think like cops for a minute here. We're walking into Dobey's office and laying this out for him. What would he say? 'Go away until you've got some hard evidence.' We've got nothing tangible on anybody. And I'd bet a month's salary that good old Tommy paid well for a very strong alibi for this morning. Maybe we're gonna just have to be passive on this one and let them fight it out among themselves."
"You really think so?"
"Starsk, if we took all this to the DA right now, he'd send us home and tell us to go back to LA and mind our own business. There's no witness to anything Goretti said to you, and they even managed to torture you without leaving many marks--so it's all hearsay. And if Goretti and Martelli are looking for an excuse to mix it up, telling the cops would only delay it a little." Hutch paused. "I don't see that we've got a new decision to make here. You decided, for your mother's sake, not to push to have the murder investigation re-opened. Since we don't have any proof of anything, we might as well stick with that decision, at least for now."
"You're probably right." Starsky leaned back and sighed. "I'm really sorry for dragging you into all this. I'm sorry you had to get roped into my sordid past."
"You don't have a sordid past, Starsk," Hutch replied with an affectionate chuckle.
"What do you call it? My family's essentially in bed with the mob, even if not literally. Now I'm backing down too."
"Because your mother's life is worth more to you than busting up a crime ring. There's nothing wrong with that. And if your mother insists on staying 3000 miles away from you in the middle of mob turf, it's about the only way you have to protect her. Your hands are tied, buddy--sorry about the choice of words."
"I smell food." Starsky grabbed onto a chance to change the subject. "Think we oughtta investigate that?"
"I'm starved." Hutch followed his partner downstairs, where Rachel served soup and sandwiches. She seemed anxious to forget the morning's incident, and Starsky didn't bring it up, nor did he mention the rhythm section that was pounding away in his head. She still needed Goretti, but if she knew the details, she wouldn't want anything to do with him, and that would put her in danger.
"I invited Sam and Anna and the kids over for dinner tonight, but I can cancel if you're not up to it," she said to Starsky.
"Sam's my cousin," Starsky explained to Hutch. "Kids, plural?"
"Anna had a little girl this summer."
"I'd love to see them again. No problem."
The rest of the day passed uneventfully, both of Rachel's house guests content to stay around the house, doing a few odd jobs and strumming away on their guitars as afternoon turned to evening. A heavy snow had begun to fall by the time Sam and Anna Starsky and their children arrived. With three-year-old Sam, Jr. and four-month-old Sarah in tow, they gathered with their hosts to light the menorah. Anna and Rachel worked on a traditional Jewish meal they all shared, and later the group gathered in the living room where Sam Jr. eagerly tore into his Hanukkah present, which was a set of two racing cars. It wasn't long before "Uncle Dave" was on the floor, giving the cars a thorough test drive with his young cousin. Starsky found spending time with this energetic toddler just the right tonic for his frazzled state of mind after the morning's experiences.
Sam and Anna talked about their being new restaurant owners, having purchased, of all places, Cardoni's Italian Bistro. Anna had been a teacher, but for the time being she was a full-time mother and part-time restaurant hostess. Starsky, of course, was not without his camera nearby, so he captured some significant moments on film, telling Hutch to stay in the pictures because he was now an "honorary Starsky".
Scrape. Silence. Scrape. Silence. Hutch opened his eyes slowly and looked at the alarm. Almost nine. It was odd for him to sleep so late, but this had been the first peaceful night they had passed in a while. He peered out his window and could see Starsky on the driveway below, shoveling for all he was worth. At least another six inches of snow had fallen since the night before.
When Hutch was dressed and shaven for the day, he pulled on his jacket and gloves and headed downstairs to go out and help with the shovelling duties. Taking the kitchen route to the back door, he saw Rachel sitting at the table with an attractive brunette...a very attractive brunette.
"Good morning, Ken," Rachel greeted him.
"This is my niece, Jennifer." Niece, huh? No competition from Starsky on this one. "Jennifer, this is David's partner, Ken Hutchinson."
"Nice to meet you, Jennifer."
"Jenny is Sam's sister, in case you were wondering. She works with them at the restaurant."
"Really? I enjoyed meeting the family last night. We'll have to all have dinner there sometime during our visit," he directed at Rachel.
"On the house, of course," Jenny spoke up. Hutch's blond good looks hadn't been wasted on her, either.
"Thanks. If you ladies will excuse me, I'm going to go out and do a little shovelling."
"You mean before David comes in after you?" Rachel spoke up. "He used to wait only so long before he'd come in after Nicky and put a handful of snow down his back to wake him up," Rachel recalled with a grin.
"I'll keep that in mind. Nice meeting you, Jennifer."
"You too. Hopefully we'll see you at the restaurant soon."
"Oh, you will, I'm sure." He headed out the back door.
Starsky was leaning on his shovel, taking a break after completing half the driveway. Hutch couldn't resist such an opportunity. He gathered up a handful of snow, packed it into a ball, and then yelled at Starsky.
"Think fast, partner!" He tossed it, making a direct hit in the middle of Starsky's chest as he spun around.
"This is war," the other man announced, as they both scrambled for more ammunition. "I'll have you know," Starsky began, firing a snowball toward Hutch, "that you just launched a battle," another snowball hit from Hutch interrupted him, "with the 84th Street snowball champion!"
"Yeah? Well meet the star pitcher of the Minnesota farm boys' snowball league, sucker!"
The battle intensified and moved to the front yard. Though the voices were deeper, Rachel Starsky could almost picture a yard full of children: her son and his friends, making more of a mess out of the snow than any headway in shovelling it. She grabbed Starsky's camera, determined to capture the moment to posterity. Jennifer followed close on her heels, both women amused at the free-for-all of spraying snow in the front yard.
At first she thought her son had spotted her with the camera when he straightened up slowly and a partially formed snowball tumbled out of his hand. But he was looking toward the street and did not even see the women on the porch.
"Get down!" he yelled suddenly, tackling Hutch as a spray of gunfire destroyed the peaceful sounds of laughter and snowball fighting.
Hutch was almost smothered in the snow underneath Starsky, and the grim realization hit him that he would probably be safe as any bullet would pass through his partner's body before it could reach him. The shots were so rapid that neither of them dared to move to see what was happening. At some point, glass shattered, and the shooting stopped. Tires squealed. Starsky ventured a look up in time to see the black sedan--with no license plates--speeding into the distance.
"I'm okay--you?" Starsky got up and offered a hand to his partner.
"Yeah," Hutch replied, standing.
"Oh, God." Starsky spotted the broken front window of the house and fled toward the front porch. Before he reached the door, his mother cautiously peered out. "Ma! Are you okay?" He burst through the door and embraced her. "Where's Jenny?"
"Over here," Jenny replied, looking out from behind the couch. She was uninjured.
"Everybody okay in here?" Hutch joined the group. They could hear sirens in the distance.
"This is war!" Starsky paced back and forth angrily. "If Goretti doesn't take care of this, I'll damn well do it myself!"
"Starsk--take it easy. The local cops are just pulling up outside."
"Let me handle this," Rachel pushed past both of them and stepped out on the war-torn porch.
"Mrs. Starsky, we received a call about shots fired into your house and yard from a passing car...I can see they were accurate," the young patrolman commented, surveying the damage.
"Yes, Keith. They almost hit my son and his friend--they were outdoors." Starsky and Hutch moved to the foreground as she said this. "Officer Keith Whitman, this is my son, David and his partner, Ken Hutchinson--they're with the Los Angeles Police Department, here visiting."
"Sorry to meet you guys under these circumstances. Didn't happen to get a plate number did you?"
"There was so much gunfire we couldn't see much of anything until they were past the house. There was no plate on the back of the car," Starsky stated.
"Car description?" An older officer joined the group who had now moved out onto the porch.
"Sergeant Ted Haynes--I worked with your dad, David." He shook hands with Starsky, who introduced him to Hutch.
"It was a black four-door, I think about a '72 or '73, probably a Ford Galaxie, but I couldn't swear to it," Starsky explained.
"Any idea why anybody would want to take pot shots at you?" Sergeant Haynes asked.
"I've mentioned to a few people that I had some unanswered questions about my father's murder. I know that's not a real healthy thing to say around here."
"Dave, I'll level with ya on that. When the case was closed, it was because we had a ton of manpower ramming their heads into brick walls. People were either afraid to talk or didn't know anything meaningful. I think we all know some of the implications surrounding the case, so if you're carelessly telling people you want to snoop around about it again, I'd be prepared for some hassles." He took a couple of notes. "We'll write up a report on this, get the lab boys out to recover some slugs. Maybe ballistics'll turn something up."
"But you don't expect it to?" Hutch probed.
"I expect it to be traced to a stolen weapon, which will probably be destroyed by the end of the day today. But that doesn't stop us from checkin' on it."
And with that, the cops began their analysis of the crime scene. Jenny, Rachel, Hutch and Starsky sat around the kitchen table with a pot of coffee in virtual silence. Hutch sensed his partner was formulating a decision about something, and that his mother was doing the same, because a series of exchanged knowing looks began. Finally, Starsky stood up, maintaining an intent eye contact with his mother.
"David, why don't you take the coffee in the living room and you three relax a while? I have a few things to do in the kitchen." There seemed to be a silent message passing between them, and Starsky followed her lead unquestioningly.
"Yell if you need me," he said, leaning forward and kissing her cheek.
"Run along--all of you."
"I think I'll be going," Jenny announced as she stood.
"I'll have one of the guys walk you home." Starsky escorted Jenny outside. Hutch looked back at Rachel Starsky, knowing she would soon dial the magic number and launch the Goretti-Martelli war. He turned and walked out to the front porch. Starsky was watching the lab boys pack up their supplies.
"How did things get this screwed up?" He turned to face Hutch.
"We tried using our rules to play somebody else's game."
"I should've never come back here." Starsky looked at the heavy plastic he and Hutch had tacked over the broken living room window. "This isn't home to me anymore."
"So what do you suppose happens next?" Hutch sat against the railing and folded his arms over his chest.
"Goretti called it."
"You think a full-blown war is on the horizon?"
"Probably. And my mother's in there firing the first shot with her telephone."
"The hoods in the black car fired the first shots. And you can see how diligent the cops plan on being with this investigation. They're already convinced it's a dead end before they start. In this case, it's probably the voice of experience."
"I'm sorry I got you into this mess. I was born into it, but it isn't your battle."
"I'm an honorary Starsky, remember?" Hutch tried to lighten the mood a little without success.
"Hey, aren't you lucky? Welcome to the Addams Family, pal."
"Starsk, this is probably one of the toughest things we're gonna go through. No matter what else we've faced, we've always had the badge to fall back on."
"We're still cops. I may be a dirty one now, but we're still cops."
"You're not a dirty cop--and everything we talked about as cops still holds. We can't prove anything." Hutch was quiet a minute.
"That didn't take long," Starsky said, nodding toward a gray sedan cruising past the front of the house. "Tommy Goretti--the one and only. I can't make out the other one from here," he said, squinting at the passing car.
"That's Goretti?" Hutch started for the porch steps, but Starsky grabbed his arm.
"What the hell do you think you're gonna do?"
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe play a little Russian Roulette--or maybe just work him over with a gun butt for a few minutes."
"Don't be stupid, Hutch. He isn't going to just sit there and wait for you to attack him. His goons'd be all over you before you made it to the street." Starsky nodded toward a second car, a blue Lincoln Continental, which pulled up to the curb across the street.
"So we're officially 'under protection' now?"
"That's muscle. Four big, ugly apes that would just as soon kill ya as look at ya. Hutch, you can't go after Goretti, so just calm down." Hutch returned to his original spot on the front porch. Starsky snorted a little laugh as he inclined his head toward the Lincoln. "Bodyguards for my mother. As soon as he sees us leave, Tommy'll be back to visit. Let's get out of here."
"Think your mother's okay here?"
"Actually, she's probably safer without us here because the good old boys'll feel more comfortable to move in closer and do their jobs. I'll let her know we're going out for a while." Starsky disappeared into the house for a couple of minutes and then sailed out the door and down the front steps. "Come on, let's get outta here for a while." Hutch followed him to the Torino, which struggled through the un-shoveled portion of the driveway to the street.
"Where to?" Hutch asked after they had ridden in silence for a few minutes.
"This was supposed to be a vacation. I thought maybe we could do something 'touristy'. Oh, wait, this I gotta show you." Starsky brought the car to a stop at the curb in the middle of a business district not far from his house. Amidst the storefronts was a small Italian restaurant called Antonio's.
"Gettin' there, yeah."
"Come on." Starsky got out of the car and led the way inside. "This is the Italian restaurant my grandmother lived over when I was a kid."
"I never doubted your story that it existed, just that it resembled every Italian restaurant in LA," Hutch needled. He was relieved to see a little of his partner's humor coming back as he took the teasing with a roll of his eyes. Actually, it did look a lot like the last Italian restaurant they had been in: when Starsky had been shot and they had spent a few tense hours in the middle of a hostage situation. Neither of them had been in a genuine Italian restaurant since that night over a year earlier.
Childhood memories seemed to be outweighing any more recent or unpleasant ones for Starsky.
"I used to come here after school, and Mary, the owner's wife, would always let me have some cannoli, spumoni or some other dessert concoction she put together. Then I'd go up and see my grandma. I think I loved her so much because she wasn't one of these diplomatic grandmothers who give you the old 'I-love-all-my-grandchildren-the-same' speech. When I showed up, she'd just ask me, 'How's my favorite grandson?' Pretty soon it got reduced to just 'How's my favorite?' I always looked like my dad, so maybe that was part of it. When I got old enough to come on my own, I was here everyday, for as long as I could get away with."
An elderly woman emerged from the kitchen as they chose a table and sat down. There were only about twenty tables in the place, and only two others were occupied. It was eleven thirty, no lunch crowd yet. Starsky looked up with immediate recognition at the old lady who made her way to the table.
"Mary?!" He stood up, and she hesitated for a moment, and then covered her mouth and gasped.
"Little David Starsky? Oh, look at you!" She ran over and hugged him. Stepping back, she continued to rattle on merrily. "You're so...big!"
"And you're still beautiful as ever," he retorted.
"Ah, and you're still a charmer, just like your father was. You'd both say anything for a little cannoli."
"Some things never change," Hutch spoke up.
"Mary, this is Ken Hutchinson. Hutch, Mary D'Angelo. Best cook on the East Coast."
"I've heard a lot about you--and your restaurant," he said charmingly, shooting a knowing look at Starsky. "Every Italian restaurant on the West Coast reminds him of this place."
"Except when the food comes. You still are queen of the kitchen, as far as I'm concerned."
"Not anymore. I do a little baking, but my granddaughter, Carla, does most of the cooking."
"Little Carla?" Starsky asked with surprise.
"Little Carla is twenty-six now, David. Time marches on, you know. Little Carla has little Mary now--she's almost two."
"Is she here?"
"In the kitchen, of course. She'll want to see you. Just sit tight and I'll send her out. Would you like something to eat?"
"Lasagna. Trust me on this one, Hutch, you gotta try the lasagna."
"Lasagna it is, then," Hutch responded. Mary retreated to the kitchen. "Vino de casa?" she called back the question. Something about it froze Hutch's blood. The last thing he and Starsky had talked about before they parted company, and the shooting started...
"Hutch? You want wine?" Starsky prodded.
"Yeah, that sounds great," Hutch finally responded. Mary nodded and disappeared into the kitchen.
"Are you okay?" he probed Hutch.
"Just a little preoccupied."
"Yeah. The 'vino de casa' thing threw me for a minute too. I haven't heard that since..." Starsky let the sentence trail off, then continued on a bouncier note. "Boy, it's great to see this place again. Maybe there are a few pieces of home left here anyway. I wish you could've met my grandmother. She was a great lady."
"She passed away quite a long time ago, didn't she?"
"I was sixteen. She was pretty much the last reason for me to stick around, so that's when I bought an old jalopy with the money I saved up and headed west. I drove like crazy 'til I made it to LA and my Aunt and Uncle's place. They were always inviting me to come visit. So I did."
"And never went home?"
"I never thought I'd get away with it, but I think Durniak was so happy to be rid of me and my mother's life was so much easier without the tension between us that she said if they were okay with it, she was too. So I finished high school in LA and lived with them 'til I went into the academy."
"Do you think things are any better between you and your mother since this visit? I mean it seems that a lot of things are out in the open now that weren't before."
"In a way they are, because I can see how impossible it is to fight the status quo here. We're cops, and we can't figure out a way to do it. There are some things that work the way they're gonna work, and you can't change it. I don't think I accepted that until now. I don't know if that's good or bad..."
"Not being able to change it is bad...You ever heard the Serenity Prayer before?"
"Don't think so."
"'God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.'"
"Whoa, that hits it on the head."
"I think it makes a point we need to hear right now. There are things you can't change, and sometimes being wise enough to walk away from those things is the best you can do."
"How would you feel about leaving here ahead of schedule?" Starsky's question hung in the air while a waitress served the wine. When she had left, Hutch responded.
"You think your mother's safe now?"
"Goretti can protect her better than I can. Some great cop I turned out to be. I can't even take care of myself let alone her." Starsky took a large sip of his wine. "I'm just stirring the pot by hanging around here, and quite frankly, I've had all I can handle of this walk down memory lane."
"Starsk, what happened to you could have happened to anybody. These guys are professionals. That doesn't make you an incompetent cop because they got to you. Besides, you were putting out the trash, not running a stake out. You were unarmed and off guard." Hutch shook his head. "I'm ready whenever you are."
"I know who killed my father--at least I have the most reliable answer I'm gonna get. And as much as I hate to say this, Goretti is in a better place than I am to handle Martelli. I've smoothed over some rough spots with my mother because now I understand the tightrope she's been walking for the last twenty-some years. But this isn't my environment anymore--PR with wiseguys and syndicate bosses. It never was, but it really isn't now. I'm afraid the longer I stay here, the dirtier we're both gonna get. We're in deeper than we should be now."
"Very true." Hutch leaned back in his chair. "What about Hanukkah?"
"This is a disaster, and I think we should cut our losses. My mother's safe--just like always. I'm ready to hit the road."
"Yeah. I haven't slept all that great in the old room."
"How're you feeling, anyway?"
"My head's stopped pounding, so that's a good sign. Don't think I'll be wearing a watch for a while yet, but thanks to this paramedic I know, the wrists are coming along okay."
"I'm in this for the duration if you want to stay."
"Thanks. I know that. But I don't want to."
Lunch was delicious, and they were introduced to "Little Carla", who was only a child the last time Starsky had seen her struggling to reach all the way across the tables she would wash after school. After eating lunch and reminiscing with Carla for a while, they set out to find something interesting to do with the rest of the afternoon. Hutch was flabbergasted when his partner actually agreed to spend the afternoon touring the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Natural History. Starsky was desperate to return to the role of tourist when he'd agree to an afternoon of gawking at displays, as he usually called it. They capped their day with a visit to Lincoln Center as darkness fell, to watch the giant Christmas tree light up, and of course, for Starsky to snap a few pictures.
"You ever been on a pair of those?" Hutch pointed to the ice-skaters not far from the Christmas tree area.
"Only twice. Both times were disasters. How about you?"
"Oh, quite a few times. There isn't much to do on a farm outside Duluth in the dead of winter. How about it? There are some pretty decent-looking women over there." Hutch inclined his head in the direction of a couple of girls who were tying on their skates, seated on a nearby bench.
"Why not? I love to make a complete idiot of myself in front of a large audience which includes beautiful women."
"Come on, it'll be fun. Let's go rent some skates and try it out. I thought you wanted to do something 'touristy'."
"That's what we've been doing all day," Starsky grumbled in response.
"So? Let's get a quick round of skating in before we go back to the house." Hutch hadn't intended to use a return to the house as a way of swaying Starsky into staying out longer, but it had that effect. He was suddenly willing to try ice skating.
After a few rough starts, Starsky found he wasn't all bad on the ice. The early struggles were worth a few laughs, and he was moving smoothly enough to keep up with one of the cute blondes they had spotted earlier. Hutch was a little more advanced with his technique, able to almost "dance" with the girl he had chosen to pursue. Starsky allowed his female companion to teach him a few more complicated moves, and was able to make a pretty fair showing during their hour or so of skating. This was the vacation he'd envisioned--and he felt confident that once they were disentangled from Goretti and all his tentacles, they would have a good time again.
It was almost eight o'clock when they pulled into the driveway, which someone had finished cleaning out while they were gone. The window had even been repaired. The blue Continental was still parked across the street, and the gray sedan was parked immediately in front of the house. Tommy must still be lounging around inside, Starsky thought angrily.
"You wanna go in?" Hutch asked after they had sat in the car for a few seconds.
"Sooner we go in, sooner we go to sleep, sooner we get up and leave. Yeah, let's go in."
Tommy Goretti was sitting in the living room, sipping coffee and visiting with Rachel when they walked in through the kitchen. Dinner had been served and cleaned up, which didn't worry Starsky since he had told her they might not be back in time.
"David, is that you?"
"So much for slipping in unnoticed," Starsky grumbled. He had no desire to make nice with Goretti, but it was apparent that they were not going to be able to escape some sort of encounter.
"Yeah, Ma, it's just us."
"Tommy's here," she stated the obvious as they entered the living room.
The older man stood to shake hands with Starsky, who crossed his arms over his chest in such a way that the bandages on his wrists appeared.
"This is my partner at the LAPD, Ken Hutchinson." Starsky glanced toward Hutch, who surprised them all by stepping forward. When Goretti thought he was going to offer to shake hands, Hutch instead delivered a blow to the other man's middle and one to his jaw that sent him sprawling on the floor.
"Ken!" Rachel exclaimed in shock, hurrying over to Goretti, who was awkwardly trying to pull himself up.
"Pleased to meet you," Hutch stated. "Nobody messes with my partner--you got that? I don't care if you've got fifty of your crooks hiding in the shrubs. You want to take me on, you just come get me, old man."
"Hutch, come on, back off," Starsky took a hold of his arm. "This isn't going to make things any better."
"I'll be going now, Rachel." Tommy stood up. "I don't want you worrying about a thing. Everything's under control, I've got the house under 24-hour surveillance. If there's anything out of the ordinary, we'll handle it."
"Thank you, Tommy. I'm so sorry about this."
"Don't give it another thought." He glowered toward Hutch. "I'll be in touch." He went out through the front door, and when Rachel closed it and turned around, she did not look at all happy.
"What was that?" she demanded. "You know if we're opting to play this the old way, then you'll have to..."
"We won't be causing you any problems with Tommy or any of the others after tonight. Hutch and I are leaving first thing in the morning."
"But you just got here," she protested. "This will blow over, David."
"Ma, look, you know I love you, and I always will. But we're still cops, and we've seen and heard more in the last couple days here than we should ever know and not act on with the proper authorities. I'm not going to stay here until I have to make a choice between my loyalty to you and my badge."
"Because the badge would win?" She walked toward the replaced living room window. The light of the menorah played on her face for a moment.
"I don't want to find out," Starsky answered honestly. "Stay right there," he said to Hutch, who was heading for the stairs. "There's nothing going on here you can't be part of. God knows you're part of a hell of a lot more than you should be right now."
"So it was Tommy that kidnapped you. What happened, David?" Rachel finally asked, not looking away from the window. "What did Tommy's people do to you?" She paused. "He told me they only picked you up and took you somewhere to talk, because Tommy said you'd have never sat still to listen to his side of things any other way. He said he wanted to warn you about what you were getting us all in the middle of if you actually re-opened the investigation."
Hutch exchanged glances with his partner, almost feeling the need to physically cover his own mouth not to give her a complete and gruesome rundown.
"The ropes got a little tight, and you know how Tommy's muscle guys are--they don't have to beat you up to make your stay with them unpleasant. I don't want to digress into that whole incident. It's over."
"I'm sorry, David. I really am sorry that...well, that everything had to turn out this way."
"I don't blame you anymore for this, Ma. I used to, but I've learned a few things from this little visit, and I know what you've been up against. This isn't your fault, but you're not a cop either, and we are. And I can't sit still for this stuff anymore, and I know I'm only gonna make matters worse if I stick around and stir the pot."
"You were right, Ken."
"About what?" he asked uneasily, as Starsky's surprised and penetrating stare was upon him.
"I do thank God that one of my sons can stand up to this and be the man his father was in spite of his surroundings. I'm sorry you had to both get in the middle of this."
"I started it, Ma. I went to see Tony DeSilva, and if I hadn't done that..."
"Stop it right there," Hutch interjected. "You want me involved in this, fine, I am. Don't try to blame yourself for this situation--it isn't one of your making, and you know it. If you had gotten the answers you asked for the first time, you wouldn't have been at Tony DeSilva's mercy for information."
"Ken's right," Rachel spoke up before Starsky could say anything, not that he knew exactly what to say. "I take full responsibility for this."
"It isn't exactly all your fault either, Ma. And it isn't Dad's because he was a good cop. It's Goretti and Martelli's fault."
"Joe and Tommy never did anything to hurt this family, David. They have been allies to us anytime things got sticky with Martelli, even while your father was still alive. Joe's people tipped him off more than once when he was about to walk into a trap. I don't expect you to respect Tommy or consider him a friend, but at least don't blame him for this. This situation is one of Stan Martelli's making and you know that."
"I can't do this anymore--split hairs as to which gangster is worse. I love you dearly, Ma, and I hope you'll come see me in LA sometime, but I won't ever be back here." Starsky turned and headed for the stairs. Rachel and Ken passed and awkward moment alone in the living room.
"You win," she said quietly.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Hutch asked.
"He's had a choice to make since the first moment he walked in that door. A choice of loyalties to his family or to you and his badge."
"I think you're putting too much emphasis on me and not enough on the badge. He takes that badge very seriously."
"He also takes your friendship and your opinion of him and this family very seriously. Maybe you aren't realizing how much emphasis he puts on that." She turned and walked toward the stairs. "I'm not angry with you, Ken. If anything, I'm grateful. I'm grateful that David has formed ties outside all of this that are strong enough to pull him back out of it again. I hope you two will say good bye before you leave in the morning."
"Good night, then." Rachel climbed the stairs and went into her bedroom and shut the door.
Hutch made his way upstairs and tapped on Starsky's closed door.
"Come in." Starsky was lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling.
"You okay?" Hutch asked, poking his head in the door.
"Yeah. I think we're doing the right thing."
"So do I. That doesn't make it easy."
"Yeah, well, doing the right thing generally isn't." Starsky sat up, ran his hands through his hair and then rested his elbows on his knees.
"There's something here I'm not too clear on," Hutch said, straddling the desk chair and resting his folded arms on the back of it. "What was the need for Goretti's people to rough you up at all? Recreation?"
"Like my mother said--it was a warning, to let me know what I could expect from Martelli's people if I started poking around. And it was kind of a punishment for what happened to Joe. In these circles, you and I were supposed to guard him, and he was shot and killed while he was with us. I suppose there are some in Durniak's organization who thought we set him up. Who still think that. I know Tommy doesn't trust me. I sure as hell wouldn't trust him. It's only been Joe's connection to my mother that kept Tommy from really taking the gloves off with me." Starsky looked up at Hutch. His eyes were tired, and he looked drained. "I'm too tired to fight this anymore. I'm tired of everything, but most of all I'm tired of feeling bad about this situation. I just want to get out of here and put a few states between me and it. I'm just sorry I dragged you into this--and that scene with Goretti didn't make him one of your biggest fans, either. Not that I didn't enjoy watching," Starsky concluded with a slight grin.
"Maybe we oughtta get the hell out of Dodge while we still can."
"Maybe you're right." Starsky sighed. "I guess we'll just have to spend more time in Chicago than we originally planned."
"That wouldn't be all bad. I hear their nightlife is pretty interesting."
"Yeah, and, God help me, there are more museums there."
"You could stand to expand your intellectual horizons, you know."
"How many dried out mummies can you look at and still find it exciting? I prefer to check out more...current bodies, if you get my meaning."
"You're a dirty old man, Starsk." Hutch stood up. "I think I'll go downstairs and see if I can find something on TV."
"Okay. I'm in."
They passed a quiet evening staring at the television, but neither of their minds were particularly on anything they watched. Hutch was wondering if his seemingly divisive influence on the Starsky family was s good thing. Maybe if he hadn't been there, things would have gotten worse, if that was possible. For any rift he had helped widen with Rachel Starsky, he was sorry. He didn't feel any small amount of guilt at her assessment that his partner had somehow chosen being loyal to him over being loyal to his own family, but Hutch still did feel strongly that it was a loyalty to everything his father stood for that was dragging Starsky out of the middle of the workings of the mob protection system.
Starsky noticed that Goretti's picture was back on the mantel. Didn't take long, he thought with a wave of irritation. Given the recent events, though, it wasn't odd that his mother felt she had to wave the party flag for everyone to see. At least she had told him to take his choice of souvenirs from the attic. He had garnered the police hat, framed medal, a handful of snapshots and the well-worn atlas of the US. I hope you'd agree with how I'm handling this, Dad, Starsky thought to himself. He replayed the Serenity Prayer in his mind. He hoped leaving wasn't just a cop out; that it was an example of having the wisdom to know the difference when you can't change anything. And he hoped he hadn't been foolish to trust Tommy Goretti's summary of past events. After all, it did paint Durniak and him in a stellar light, and made Martelli the villain. Making Martelli a villain wasn't hard. Making Durniak and Goretti saints was a lot more of a stretch.
When morning finally dawned, Starsky and Hutch were busily loading the Torino by the light of the back porch and the streetlight. All the while, faceless shadows in a sedan across the street kept watch. Rachel had risen early and insisted on fixing a big breakfast before they left, and Hutch presented her with the vase from New Mexico and Starsky gave her the Amish quilt as peace offerings for the slightly strained way things were being left. When it was time to go, Hutch said his goodbyes and took the last of the luggage out to the car. Starsky stayed behind a moment.
"I don't want any arguments when I send you a plane ticket to come out and see me in LA."
"You know how I hate flying. Maybe a bus ticket."
"Ma, a bus to LA? Do you know how long that would take?"
"Probably not much longer than it takes by car," she replied with a smile and a nod toward the Torino.
"Touche," he retorted with a smile. "Would you think about moving? I think you'd like LA once you got settled--the weather's terrific most of the time...I could look out for you there."
"David, this is my home. You know I don't want to leave it now."
"I know. You can't blame me for trying--and I won't give up either."
"I won't change my mind. And you won't be back. Where does that leave us?"
"You giving in about the airplane thing?"
"How did it wind up with me giving in?" she asked.
"Because your a mom and you do things like that, right?" he asked hopefully with a little grin.
"Okay, you win. I will fly out and see you sometime soon."
"That's the spirit. Now if anything at all isn't going well, you call me. I'm gonna call you every time we stop until this thing settles down."
"You don't have to--"
"I want to. Look, I don't feel good about the fact that I'm damn close to useless to protect you here. Maybe it won't do any good for me to check on things, but I plan on keeping an eye on you anyway. If Goretti falls down on the job, I can still be a pretty nasty opponent when I wanna be."
"I know that. You two be careful, and try to have some fun. This will blow over like every other little scare we've had with Martelli."
"That never included shots fired at the house."
"David, trust me. This is the best way. I'm not happy to say goodbye this fast either, but you were right when you said that your staying here would just stir the pot. You're the one who said you wanted the investigation re-opened in the first place, not me. Martelli might back off if he thinks you're out of the picture and the threat's over. I'm just so sorry you had to have such a bad experience while you were here. Are you sure you're all right?"
"Fine." He embraced his mother and held on briefly. "I love you, Ma."
"I love you too, sweetheart." She pulled back. "Now you two go have a little fun before your vacation's over, and don't worry about me here. I've taken care of myself for a long time, and for whatever else he's done that isn't good, Tommy has always been dependable when it comes to protecting me. I'll be fine."
"Remember--if you have any problems, you call me. I'll check in everyday so you know how to get a hold of me."
"Okay. Now get going." She shooed him toward the car, and he got in the driver's seat, closed the door and rolled down the window.
"Have a safe trip, now," she called from her position on the walk that led to the front porch.
"I'll be in touch," Starsky called back. His mother made a shooing motion at him with both hands. With a snicker, he rolled up the window and backed out into the street. They both waved at her as they drove away, and in the rearview mirror, Starsky caught a last glimpse of the house as his mother mounted the front steps and disappeared inside.
"How're you doin'?" Hutch asked.
"I'm okay." Starsky was quiet a minute. "I figured we'd try to make it as far as Ohio today. All together it should take about seven hours to make it to Youngstown."
"We could probably push it a little further to make better time."
"Yeah, but we aren't in a hurry, remember? We aren't due at the farm until the 21st."
"I don't know about you, but I'm running out of hotel money," Hutch checked his wallet.
"You've got credit cards."
"Yeah, but bills come eventually." Hutch tucked his wallet back in his pocket.
"We'll pay for and charge whatever we think we can, and I guess if we bottom out, we'll have to sleep in the car and eat potato chips 'til we get to the farm." Starsky seemed unconcerned about the money issue. Maybe he was right, Hutch thought. It's only money, and this was a once in a lifetime trip. Who was he to bring up such a mundane and vulgar subject as money? he thought with a snicker.
The weather cooperated that day. The sun was shining, it was a moderate temperature for winter, and they were fortunate to encounter nothing more ominous than a few snow flurries. They took a break from driving long enough to grab lunch in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and then continued the drive until they arrived in Youngstown, Ohio about five o'clock. As had become the standing joke when they didn't have sightseeing plans in a certain city, Starsky dramatically lined up a shot of the roadside motel where they stayed and fired his camera at least three times. Maybe ten rolls of film wouldn't be enough after all.
"Are you awake?" Hutch probed his partner about 2 a.m., after staring at the ceiling for two hours.
"Any special reason?"
"Not one in particular, no. What about you?" Starsky turned to look at his partner, whose face was barely visible in the odd blue moonlight filtered through the thin curtains. "Maybe the fact these beds have bigger humps than camels in the middle of the mattresses has something to do with it." Starsky rolled over on his side, but found no relief.
"How was your mother when you called her earlier?"
"Fine. But I think Goretti was sitting at the kitchen table with her. I didn't ask. I didn't want to know."
"I hope I didn't cause problems between you and your mother. I mean I told her what I thought about a few things, and I hope that wasn't a divisive influence."
"I asked you to get involved. I couldn't ask that and then ask you to just sit back and shut up when you had something to say. My mother and I are probably closer now than we have been since my dad died. I think I understand what she's lived through a lot better. Look at us. We're these big hot shot cops from LA, and we had to back down and turn it over to the crooks to fight it out among themselves. If we couldn't do any better, how could she?" He was quiet a minute. "I always loved her, that never changed. I just took her friendship with Durniak a lot more personally than I do now. Of course her still hanging out with Goretti isn't my favorite thing in the world, but if it keeps Martelli at bay, I guess it's one of those things you have to live with."
"She said you spent a lot of time on your own after your dad died."
"I did. Nick bonded with Durniak, my mother was friends with him, and I knew that my dad was always trying to bust him, so he was a bad guy, right?" Starsky didn't wait for an answer to the rhetorical question. "I made up my own little world and lived in it by myself, except for my grandmother and Tony...and even Tony turned out to be a rat. But my grandmother kept me in my tree."
"How did she feel about Durniak?"
"She had a name for him in Yiddish, I can't quite remember it, but I know it was something bad. In English, she called him a devil, a beast, a crook, a hood, a shifty slob...and those were the times when she wasn't mad at him."
"I think I would've liked her," Hutch responded with a smile.
"She knew I was miserable at home, and she had a few opinions about my mother's connection with Durniak--she thought it was the ultimate disrespect of my father's memory." Starsky paused, and when he continued, Hutch could hear a smile in his voice. "My family wasn't always the screwed up mess you saw. Before my dad was killed, we had some really good times, and those have carried me through a lot. But hey, this is enough heavy soul-searching for one night. How do you feel about going to the Pro Football Hall of Fame tomorrow? We're not on such a tight schedule we can't take a few detours."
"Sounds interesting. Where is it?"
"About an hour or so from here--I think it's in or near Avondale. I thought we could check it out, grab something to eat and then see where the road takes us."
"All this talking about childhoods--makes me wonder what went wrong with Gillian's."
"She came from Cleveland, right?"
"Yeah. Funny how you can be in love with somebody and know almost nothing about them."
"She wasn't telling very much, in all fairness."
"That's true...but I didn't ask too many questions."
"So is she buried there?"
"You wanna go there tomorrow?"
"I don't know. Hadn't really thought about it."
"Maybe it would be a sort of closure. You didn't go back east for the funeral, all things being considered, and I think that was the right thing to do then, given the whole scene with Grossman and her family having to find out what she was doing. Maybe now's the time to make the visit. You probably won't pass near Cleveland again anytime soon."
"I can't argue with that assumption." Hutch snickered a little. "I'll think about it. But the football thing sounds great."
"Okey-dokey," Starsky responded, followed by a big yawn. "Overall, are you glad we took this trip--be honest. I won't let you go home even if you say no."
"Is that right?" Hutch responded with a laugh. "Yes, I'm glad. I think it was an inspired idea."
"Hold on a minute," Starsky leaned up on one elbow and squinted to read his partner's expression in the bluish light. "You just gave me credit for an 'inspired idea'?"
"Well, miracles do happen," Hutch shot back.
Slightly annoyed at his partner's quick comeback, Starsky plopped back down on his bed and rolled over to face the wall.
"So now you're gonna pout?" Hutch needled.
"No. Plot maybe, but not pout."
This was the man who threw snow down his brother's back to wake him up. Hutch wondered what "plotting" could lead to. On that light-hearted dilemma, he dozed off to sleep.
By a little after ten the next morning, they were back on the road again. No further mention was made of visiting Gillian's grave, but the thought hung in the back of Hutch's mind throughout their visit to the museum and their meal at a good restaurant that served steaks. Starsky had had his fill of junk over the last few days, and Hutch had the overpowering desire to eat somewhere they actually might serve a salad with dinner, so despite their dwindling resources, they opted for a tasty mid-afternoon meal.
As Starsky was launching an assault on his hot fudge sundae, Hutch finally resolved to settle the Gillian question.
"Are you up for a ride to Cleveland?" he asked his partner.
"Ready, willing and able," he responded through a mouthful of ice cream. Hutch picked up his spoon and dug into the side of the sundae toward him. "Hey--wait a minute. What happened to all that stuff about too much sugar rotting your teeth? If I was gonna share with you, I'da asked for two spoons," Starsky teased.
"Aw, shut up. I've got a gun." Something about the remark struck Starsky funny, and he sat back in the booth, laughing. Hutch chuckled a little himself, but not so much he couldn't continue his attack on the sundae.
Starsky made very good time on the highway to Cleveland. They wanted to make it before dark, which they managed by arriving near four o'clock. After stopping at a florist to buy a bouquet of roses, they drove directly to the cemetery Hutch recalled as the correct burial place.
The snow blanketed the rolling hills of the cemetery, with the roadways cutting through them in dirty grey strips. The sexton's office had given them a section number, so Starsky cruised slowly along as they watched for the signs. In Section C, they noticed a tall grey marker bearing the family name of "Ingram".
"That must be it," Starsky pulled to the side of the road and stopped. It was almost beginning to show signs of dusk, and the air seemed bitingly cold. They were the only visitors in sight.
"Must be," Hutch replied, not moving from the car.
"You wanna go take a look?"
"Sure." Hutch opened the door.
"Do you want company? I can wait in the car if you want."
"No, you don't have to do that." Hutch made his back-handed request for Starsky's moral support, and he gladly got out of the car and followed Hutch up the side of the slight incline through the snow to the gravesite. The smaller stones for each individual family member were slightly raised above the ground in front of the large family marker, but were nearly hidden under the blanket of snow. Hutch crouched down and brushed the snow away from the one marked "Gillian Ingram, Beloved Daughter". He laid the roses against the small stone and stared at it in silence for a few minutes.
"This really does make it final, doesn't it?" Hutch threw the rhetorical question more to the icy wind than to Starsky, who stood silently behind him. "Strange how things turn out, isn't it?"
"Isn't it? Do you ever let yourself wonder what it would have been like now if Terry and Gillian had both lived?" Starsky sat on a nearby stone bench.
"I try not to, but sometimes I can't help it. Those what-if's will drive you crazy."
"I think we'd have had pretty good lives, myself." Starsky smiled a little at the thought. "Did Gillian want kids?"
"We didn't exactly get that far in our discussions," Hutch responded, taking a seat next to Starsky on the bench.
"Terry and I did. The weird thing about these two women was that we both liked them and they both liked both of us--if you can keep score with that. I've dated some women you didn't like or that didn't like you, and you've dated a few that I didn't like or that really didn't like me. These relationships were so easy."
"Which women did you date that didn't like me?"
"Candice, for one."
"Candice was a flake, Starsky. Don't even try to tell me she had a personality under all that teased up hair and those giant..."
"Eyes?" Starsky asked with an evil grin.
"Right." Hutch answered, smiling.
"But see, you didn't like her either," Starsky added.
"Okay, point made." Hutch looked back at the tombstone with his smile fading. "I can picture us as these middle-aged cops with houses and families and cookouts in the backyard and watching ball games on the weekend...the whole package."
"Well, Gillian knew I loved her. I wish I had known what was going on so I could have helped her. I wish she hadn't lied to me for so long...I wish I wasn't still angry with her for being what she was. God help me, as much as I loved her and as much as I miss her sometimes, I'm furious at her that she lied, and I feel betrayed, you know?"
"I knew Gillian had a life before she met me. I didn't think I was the only one she'd ever been with...but thinking about her being with God knows how many guys doing the same things and saying the same things she said and did when we were together, and getting paid for it--it makes me sick, and it makes me angry, and there's no one to tell, no one to explain it--we can't even have it out. Then I feel guilty for thinking ill of the dead."
Starsky rested his hand on his partner's shoulder.
"Gillian was what she was, you can't go back and change that. But she wanted out--she chose you over all that stuff with Grossman. She loved you, and I think it's safe to say that there were things she said and did when she was with you that she didn't share with anyone else."
"You really believe that?"
"Don't you? Think about the last time you were with her--I mean really with her. Do you seriously think that she was just doing a job like she did with any other guy?"
"I don't want to."
"Hutch, she loved you. I tried to pay her off to get out of town, but she chose telling you and getting away from Grossman over an envelope of cash and a fast getaway."
"You seriously tried paying her off? How?"
"I have some savings, and I was going to take out my pension, but she didn't take the offer, so I didn't have to. Hutch, she turned down a clean break and hard cold cash. She wouldn't have done that if her feelings for you weren't pretty special."
"Why didn't you tell me before that you tried to pay her off?"
"I figured you'd be mad, and there didn't seem to be any point in it after the fact. Are you?"
"I probably would have been at the time. In retrospect, no, I'm not. You did what you thought was right, and you were willing to clean yourself out of your last penny to do it. How could I find fault with that?"
"After Gillian was murdered, I wondered sometimes if I had caused it--I gave her an ultimatum the day it happened. I told her that she had to level with you, tell you what was going on when she saw you that night, or I would do it first thing the next morning. She agreed, but maybe if she hadn't had to move so fast with Grossman..."
"Shutting me out of helping her get away from Grossman was her decision. She could have come to me first, told me what she was into, trusted that I'd love her enough to help her get out. She'd probably still be alive if she had trusted me enough to do that."
"Are you glad you came here today?"
"Yes and no. In a way it's closure, in another, it's nothing. I'm staring at a rock in a snowbank, and somehow that doesn't equate to 'coming to see Gillian'."
"I know what you mean. After my dad died, I tried to find something meaningful in going to his grave. I'd stare at the inscription on the stone, and at this piece of ground. And I watched the grass grow over it the first year or so, until it looked like all the others. It was just hollow. I always envied these people I'd see bringing big arm loads of flowers and trimming around the stones and making a real outing out of, well, like you said-- 'going to see so-and-so'. It just never moved me a lot. I never felt like he was there anymore. I don't believe Gillian herself is lying there under the snow. She's gone. All that's here is what was left to bury."
"Maybe you are capable of more than one inspired thought in a day," Hutch elbowed his partner with a slight grin.
"I have my good days and my bad days," he responded, smiling back.
"I think we should hit the road." Hutch stood up and took one last look at the grave.
"I hear there's a pretty good ski resort a little ways from here--whaddya say, huh?"
"Ski resort? Starsky, does the concept of money register with you at all?"
"Only when I don't have any, and I haven't run out of it yet. We could rent skis, do the winter sports thing. Come on, it's about the only thing we haven't done yet on this trip."
"You're right about that," Hutch responded, following Starsky down the hillside toward the car.
"Is that a yes?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"Sure. You can be a pain in the ass and say no." Starsky got into the car and started up the engine.
"How can I refuse when faced with such charm and courtesy?"
They arrived at the ski resort, were fortunate to find a vacancy, and hauled their luggage up to it. No bellboys here, apparently, Hutch thought with a little irritation, considering the price they paid for the accommodations. Of course the lodge was very rustic, and the fireplace in the room and the view of the rolling hills outside weren't bad either. If only he could get the nagging thought of the bills out of his mind, Hutch figured he could really like this place. He couldn't seem to pound into Starsky's head the idea that leaving his mother's house so early had left them with several nights of hotel accommodations to pay for, and the only way to not annihilate their budget was to stay in some cheesy places or go the farm as soon as possible. Starsky wasn't biting on either option.
"I noticed a few unattached ladies relaxing by the fireplace in the lobby," Starsky commented as he unpacked a few items from his suitcase.
"How do you know they were unattached?" Hutch challenged.
"There were three of them, no men in sight, and they looked like they were having a good time. That probably is a pretty good set of indicators," Starsky answered.
"Looks like they have some lit up trails--you wanna try a little skiing tonight?" Hutch took in the view from the window.
"I don't think I ever skied in the dark before."
"You don't ski in the dark, dummy. That's why they light up the trails."
"You know what I mean," Starsky dug into his pocket for his wallet. "How much're the rentals?"
"Getting a little low there?" Hutch needled.
"Will you give the money thing a rest?"
"Yeah, sure. When you'll admit we're running out of it and we aren't even two-thirds of the way through this fiasco."
"Fiasco? So that's how you really feel about this--it's a fiasco, huh?"
"You've got to admit, we've had more restful experiences at work. Since we left LA, we've broken up a hostage situation with a shootout, we've been in a major fist fight, you've been kidnapped, we've had a brush with organized crime...let's see, does that qualify as a vacation?"
"It seems like I'm the only one who remembers anything positive about this trip. We've seen some beautiful sights, met a couple great ladies...I thought we'd had some pretty important experiences, but apparently I was wrong. Or maybe this just means more to me than it does to you. Maybe I was crazy thinking that I could expect anybody else to want to go on this stupid trip with me." He threw the wallet on the bed angrily. "Damn it, Hutch, I thought this trip was starting to mean something to you, too. Look, we can pack up after tonight and get out of here and you can take the first plane you can get to Minnesota or LA--or to hell for all I care!" He turned and stormed out of the room, slamming the door. Hutch was left with his mouth slightly agape, stunned at the violent outburst from his partner. He didn't exactly mean to imply that there was nothing good about the trip, but it had come out sounding as if he were just marking off his time until the trip was over, and that was not the case. Somebody had to be the voice of reason, didn't they? After all, neither of them were exactly loaded on cops' salaries. Belittling the trip hadn't been how it started, but it was the way it ended.
Starsky made his way through the lobby and out the front door. There seemed to be a footpath leading around the side of the lodge, so he followed it. He pulled his gloves out of his jacket pocket and put them on as he rounded the corner of the building. This trip was turning into a disaster. Maybe it had been one from the start. It had seemed like Hutch was actually starting to enjoy himself...of course, why should he, given the whole mess in New York? Maybe nobody's that good a friend to come through that mess and still come up smiling.
It was a cold night, but the panorama of stars in the sky were beautiful. There was something about the peace and solitude of this one part of the grounds, away from the lodge but not quite out to the slopes or trails, that calmed the soul, Starsky thought to himself. No matter what else, this moment in time was one that should be savored, and he would do just that. He glanced back at the lodge, and noticed the festive strings of Christmas lights that decorated it. The giant tree in the lobby was visible through a back window. Maybe he was out of line to get so angry at Hutch. What did he really say? He called the trip a fiasco and was worried about money, but he had a right to his opinion. This trip had taken on an almost sacred meaning to Starsky after a while, and maybe he was just transferring that to Hutch automatically, not realizing that he might not feel the same way. Starsky had come to view it as a unique opportunity to experience new things, revisit some old ghosts, share some very important confidences and get a better perspective on life in general. It seemed like that was all happening, but apparently only for him.
"They tell me it works better with skis," a voice startled him from behind. Hutch joined him where he stood, watching the skiers launching onto the cross country trails in the distance.
"Yeah, well, I like to do things the hard way." Starsky wasn't sure what to say, nor was he sure what he wanted to say next.
"I'm sorry about what I said in there--I didn't mean to imply that there was nothing good about the trip. I'm just worried about racking up a bunch of bills I can't pay later, and I gotta admit the last week or so has been a little wild, not quite what I expected on vacation."
"I didn't mean what I said about you leaving--well, at least about the going to hell part. I was mad...and disappointed I guess." Starsky paused and looked back at the skiers. "I did mean we can break up this little adventure if you've had enough."
"You told me I couldn't leave, remember? Last night?" Hutch asked with a slight grin.
"That was when I thought you didn't want to. I don't want to force this stupid trip down your throat. You have a right to enjoy your vacation time. I should've never just taken over and organized this. I was out of line to do that."
"When I called the trip a fiasco, it was just a word. I didn't mean I wanted to go home."
"That's how it sounded--like you were just marking off the days until you could go home. If that's how you feel--"
"That's not how I feel. I guess it's like work. There are days you're tired, and you're frustrated and you've got all sorts of 'stuff' messing up your head, and you want out. But you don't get out because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts...what I mean is, the value of the overall experience is more important that the little individual things that happen that get you down."
"So what does all that mean?"
"Well, I haven't quit the force yet, have I?"
"No, but that's your job. You're not supposed to have to stick with this if you don't want to. It's a lame attempt at a vacation."
"Well, we started out having fun, of course then we had to play cop again, then we had to forget we were cops, and now that we have a little time to enjoy ourselves, we're damn near out of money."
"I just had a depressing thought."
"You just described what retirement is gonna be like."
"Oh, great, Starsk. Thanks for drawing that analogy." Hutch chuckled a little.
"Look, if you want out, I'll understand."
"I don't want to go home, okay? Now can we get off this ride?"
"Yeah, okay," Starsky replied with a smile. "Hey, you got enough money left to rent skis?"
Skiing in the dark, as Starsky called it, was a great opportunity to do something mindless and refreshing and liberating--all the things a vacation was supposed to be. It also gave them a smooth opportunity to introduce themselves to the women Starsky had spotted in the lobby. Since there was a disco about two miles from the lodge, it was an opportunity too good to pass up.
Starsky worked diligently at convincing his partner that they owed themselves another day and night at the ski lodge, and finally, Hutch gave in. So the plan was to sleep late and then hit the slopes whenever the spirit hit them. As the bills mounted, Hutch tried to calm himself with the concept that it was only money, and this was the stuff of which life was made (Starsky's justification for going into debt) and that they probably would be lucky to ever get another vacation in their lives, given the length of this one. Starsky had a point when he said they could use all their upcoming overtime to pay the bills later.
Sleeping in, skiing and eating occupied the majority of their day at the lodge, and of course, Starsky's camera was back in action to capture the snow-frosted pine trees, the Christmas decorations of the lodge and its grounds, and the stunning views of the holiday lights at night. This was one of the more picturesque stops, and one of the most peaceful. Maybe there was hope for this trip after all.