Falling Slowly

by Susan

sjames_centre@yahoo.com

 


Falling slowly, eyes that know me
And I can't go back
Moods that take me and erase me
And I'm painted black
You have suffered enough
And warred with yourself
It's time that you won

Take this sinking boat and point it home
We've still got time
Raise your hopeful voice you have a choice
You've made it now

-Falling Slowly, The Frames




 

Part One

 

I was tired, Hutch was pissy. We were a great pair. I crossed my arms and lay my head on the typewriter. “I’m on strike. I’m not typing another word until I get some sleep.”  I thought about holding my breath until he agreed to leave. “You wanna stay here all night again, go ahead. I’m going home.”

 

Hutch looked around the empty squad room before he reached forward and rested his hand on mine. He thought I didn’t notice when he did that. He was always watching, worrying someone would see. No one paid any attention before, I didn’t know why he thought they would now. “Sorry, I’m just tired.”

 

“She’ll still be dead tomorrow, Hutch. There’s nothing left to do tonight.”

 

“She” was Lizzie Chu. Friend of Sweet Alice. We’d barely made it half way home when Dispatch called us back in to take the call. The manager of the Starlight Motel found her lying naked on a blue bedspread stained red, wrists tied to the bedposts, ankles wrapped in rope, a gag still stuffed in her mouth. That was ten hours ago, and except for a pile of half-typed reports, we had nothing.

 

“Now.”

 

He stifled a yawn. “Yeah. Sure. I just . . .” 

 

“Now, Hutch.”

 

He pushed the chair away from the desk with a sigh and combed a hand through his hair. One day he wasn’t going to have any hair left if he kept doing that.

 

“Your place or mine?” I asked.

 

 

****

 

We settled on his, only because it was closer. In the car, he was quiet but kept rubbing at something on his shirt. Stopped at a red light on Freemont and Third, I looked over at him and realized what he was doing—trying to wipe away the black stain of Sweet Alice’s mascara. Hutch had wanted her to hear about Lizzie from him, so we’d stopped by her apartment on the way back from the hotel. I stayed in the car while he went up, and when he came back down twenty minutes later, his shirt was wet where I guessed she’d been crying. He didn’t say anything, but he had that look he gets, the one I call the No Trespassing Stare. I let him be for a while.

 

The streets were empty, like everyone knew something we didn’t and had left town. Hutch’s window was rolled down and the air blowing through the car was damp and cool, and smelled of something I couldn’t place. I asked him and he said it was just the city breathing. Hutch said stuff like that all the time. It was why I loved him. It was also why he drove me nuts. Sometimes when I ask a simple question, I want a simple answer.

 

“Wanna fuck?” I asked him in bed later. It was mostly bravado, I was too tired to get my hopes up, never mind my cock.

 

“Only if I don’t have to be conscious.”

 

He turned and rested one hand on my hip and his breathing slowed. A minute later I could tell he was asleep and I finally closed my eyes. Ever since the whole mess with Forest last year, and what happened after, I liked to make sure he was okay before I went to sleep.

 

****

 

I slept for four hours—not nearly enough, but it would have to do. I lay in bed for a while, thinking about Lizzie Chu and watching the breeze move through the curtains and make shadows against the wall. When I was on sick leave, I signed up for a photography course and it taught me ways to look at light that I’d never thought about before.

 

Hutch’s side of the bed was empty. I found him in the living room, sitting in the old armchair by the window, coffee cup and ashtray on the small table beside him, a faded map of Nevada spread over his lap like a blanket.

 

He looked up and smiled and my heart did that little flip-flop thing it always does when I look at him. His eyes were tired, and his hair was still damp from the shower, combed flat against his head—and he looked younger and older at the same time. He was dressed for work in jeans and an old plaid shirt. He smoothed out the folds of the map with the flat of one hand. “So many places I’ve haven’t been,” he said.

 

He said once how he liked the look of a map, “all that strange geometry of roads coming together and parting, over and over.” I nodded, even though I wasn’t sure I really understood what he meant.

 

He tilted his head, and the light caught one side of his face, and drew shadows under his eyes.

 

He folded up the map and got it right the first time. Like always. I have many gifts, but map folding ain’t one of them.  “I went to sit in the car before, while you were still asleep,” he said. “I wanted to drive away from everything. All of this. Be somewhere else. Be someone else.” He rubbed at the inside of his left arm, he still did that when he was tired.

 

My heart skipped a beat on the word everything.  “Why didn’t you?”

 

“Well, it was your car and you’d have a warrant out for my ass before I made it out of town.”

 

“True.” He scared me a little when he got like this—I worried there was no room left for me. “Anything else?”

 

He shrugged. “Thought I should wait for you.”

 

“To wake up?”

 

“To catch up. You still think we can fix things out there.” He waved an arm towards the window. “It’s all bullshit, what we do, you know that? Like that game at the fair—pound one gopher into the ground, and another one pops up somewhere else.”  He pulled a pack of Marlboros from the pocket of his shirt. I blamed the cigarettes on Forest too. He took one out and stared at it a minute before lifting it to his lips to light it.

 

“We can fix things, Hutch. Not all the time, but enough.” I’m not sure I believed it, but I wanted to. I remembered what he was like when we met in the academy—three years of college sociology under his belt and all the naiveté that went with it. We didn’t see each for a few years after that, then we met again after we both made detective and got partnered up. And for the past year, we had this, whatever this was. Our own strange geometry. I wondered if we were like the roads in his maps, coming together and parting, over and over. I didn’t fool myself that he was in love with me. He was my best friend and he needed me, and most of the time he wanted me. But he still believed a woman was his best chance for a happy ending. I was for everything else. And I knew he’d met someone a couple weeks earlier, a writer, he said. The fact that he hadn’t brought her around yet made me nervous, but I was trying hard not to read too much into it.  

 

I leaned down over him, took the cigarette from his mouth and rested it in the ashtray. “Let’s go back to bed. We have time.” Then I kissed him and pulled him up from the chair.  “I’ll make you scrambled eggs after,” I promised.

 

“Starsk . . . I’m not sure how much longer I can do this . . .”

 

“C’mon. Out there can wait.”  But I didn’t think he was talking about out there anymore. 

 

He nodded slowly and let me lead him back to the bedroom. He stopped at the door, and I thought he’d changed his mind.

 

“My cigarette . . .”

“It’ll burn itself out. It’s time you quit smoking again anyway. A man should only have one vice at a time.”

 

He smiled like I remembered and I pulled him into the room.

 

“And what should my vice be, Detective Starsky?”

 

“Me.”

 

Hutch brushed his mouth against mine and his hands slid slowly down my back, pulling me close.


”God,” is all I managed, my erection pressed up hard against his through the layers of denim. I was breathing hard now, trying to unbutton his shirt, the top button of his jeans. Hutch pushed my hands away and suddenly his jeans and boxers were sliding off his hips to the floor. He shivered a little in the cool air and I wrapped my warm hand around his cock and brushed my thumb over the tip.


“Starsk,” he breathed, his voice rough and scratchy. “Take off your damn pants.”

 

Hutch lay down on the bed, one knee bent, hands laced behind his head, his skin flushed pink with arousal. I lay down beside him and kissed him again and then there was only bare skin against skin, the sound of rough legs sliding against each other. I loved that sound, the strength in Hutch’s grip, the hot press of his cock against my stomach. The noises he made, the low, needy groans that only I got to hear. I loved him most in those moments. And I let myself believe he loved me too.

 

****

 

I never got around to making scrambled eggs. Sweet Alice phoned while I was in the shower, and asked us to stop by. She wanted to talk about Lizzie.

 

I hadn’t seen her in a couple months, not since she pointed us in the direction of Janos Martini. Hutch never said, but I thought he saw her pretty regular. There was something between them I could never put my finger on.

 

This time I went up with Hutch—she had a decent place now and a good enough client list to keep her off the streets. There was coffee and sugar donuts set out on the glass coffee table like we were company.  I sat on the couch and Hutch leaned against the window sill, looking comfortable.

 

“Hutch told me you were all better. I’m glad, honey.” She handed me a full mug and a napkin. “You boys sure do know how to find trouble.”

 

“You wanted to talk about Lizzie?” I asked around a mouthful of donut.

 

“After Hutch left yesterday, I started thinking about Lizzie and the last time I saw her. She was from San Francisco, did y’all know that?”

 

Hutch nodded, we found her parents’ address in her things.

 

“She came down here a few years ago. Thought she was going to be a movie star.” She smiled that slow, sad smile of hers. “We were all going to be actresses. Guess we got what we wished for. Lizzie worked for Travis for a couple years but decided to go it alone a few months ago.”

 

“You think Travis was holding a grudge?”

 

“He said a few things, worked her over pretty good. But she wouldn’t go back to him, and he let finally her go. Probably because she started using again, and Travis won’t keep a girl if she’s hooked. Eats up the profits, he says.”

 

Hutch helped himself to another cup of coffee, then rooted around the cupboard over the sink until he found what he looking for. A bottle of Jameson’s—his brand of Irish whiskey. He added a shot to his coffee. “The lab results won’t come back for a few days, but her arms looked clean. Bunch of old scars, nothing new.” 

 

“That’s what I wanted to tell you boys. I saw her last month. She told me she met someone and was staying at his ranch up in Topanga Canyon. Sounded like it was one of those communes, you know? She talked a bunch of crazy religious stuff. Dreams and visions and shit. Pardon my French.” She shook her head. “She wasn’t doing smack, but I don’t think she was clean.”

 

“Did she tell you his name, Alice?”

 

“Just his first name. Simon.”

 

****

 

On the way to the station half an hour later, in the middle of a conversation I thought was about how we needed to find out more about Simon Something, Hutch said, “I thought I’d bring someone Saturday night.”

 

“Saturday night?”

 

“Bowling, remember? You wanted to go bowling.” 

 

“Right. Bowling.”  

 

“I want you to meet her. The writer I told you about? I really like her, Starsk.”

 

“She have a name?”

 

“Gillian. Gillian Ingram. Why don’t you bring someone too? It’ll be fun.”

 

He sounded like my mother, trying to convince me and Nick that cod liver oil tasted good.

 

“You breaking up with me?” I was aiming for sarcastic and missed by a mile. I took the turn into the parking lot too fast and his shoulder bumped against mine.

 

He waited until I pulled the key from the ignition. “Starsk  . . .c’mon. You know it’s not like that.”

 

I wanted to pull him close, wrap him in my arms. Instead I fidgeted with the keys and stared out the window. “Let’s just go do our job, okay?”

 

Ahead of me in the empty stairwell, Hutch paused at the third floor and waited for me. He leaned up against the wall, and planted one foot on the closed door behind him. I tried to pass him, but he grabbed my wrist and pulled me into his arms. I buried my head against his shoulder, breathed in deep and wondered how the feel of his worn flannel shirt against my face, the scent of soap and skin, could make me so hard and so sad all at the same time.

 

“I’m sorry,” he said, his voice thick. “Don’t you see? I need to have something else. Something separate from us, from the job. Try to understand.”

 

The worst part of it was that I did understand.

 

I pressed him back away from me and looked at him. He was pale, a mixture of hope and uncertainty written across his face.

 

“I’m sure she’s great, Hutch,” I lied. I could give him this, at least.

 

The uncertain look went out of his eyes and he relaxed, smiling a little. We went up the last flight of stairs and into the squad room together.

 

 

 

I spent the day making calls about Lizzie Chu’s mystery man and trying not to look like my dog just died. By the end of the shift, I had a last name. Marcus. Our guy was Simon Marcus. We also found out, thanks to Huggy, that he ran a little storefront “church” on Freemont. Hutch had called around and came up with two more cases like Lizzie’s in the last six months. One out in Torrance, another in Santa Monica. Tied up the same way, tortured and stabbed. The girl in Santa Monica was only fourteen, a runaway from Seattle named Lisa Wilson. The other girl, Mary-Jo Kestler, was a waitress until a few weeks before her murder. She left work one day and didn’t come back, and no one heard anything until three weeks later when her very dead body turned up in a cheap motel out near the boardwalk. We’d go meet the detective on the Torrance case tomorrow, we were hoping we could nail a connection between these girls and Marcus. That would get us enough for a search warrant at the ranch, if we could get a line on where exactly it was. We were also waiting to hear back whether Marcus had a record anywhere else—he’d come up clean in California.

 

I went home alone, made myself dinner and watched a game on TV. I found Nancy Rogers’ phone number and called to ask her if she wanted to go bowling with me and Hutch on Saturday night. Nancy was sweet, not bright, and I felt a little guilty at how happy she was to hear from me again.

 

I almost called him, but I was determined to be an adult about this—I needed to let him have his own life. If I said it often enough, maybe I’d start believing it. But the ten-year-old kid in me—the one who shouted “No fair!” when bad things happened—secretly wished that Gillian Ingram would break his heart.

 

 

 

Part Two

 

He was on his back, my arms curled around his hips. I felt his hands on my shoulders, in my hair, I grabbed his ass and pulled him closer to me. He arched up into my mouth and I could tell he was on the edge, ready to come, then he shoved one last time, shuddering and calling my name.

 

I woke with my mouth watering for the taste of him, the echo of his voice in my ears.

 

I tried to untangle myself from the sheets that wrapped themselves around me in my sleep. I was soaked with sweat and my cock was hard, throbbing with what it thought it was doing in my dream. I wrapped my hand around it, and I could still hear him in my head, taste him in my mouth, when I came.

 

Terrific.

 

****

 

Each new case we caught got piled on top of all the others, so we spent the morning trying to catch up. We had three other open murder cases, four rapes, and at least six assault cases—these ranged from a shove on the midtown bus to a girlfriend in intensive care. Two of last week’s assaults went down on Porno Row—the three block strip of Main near 8th that was all porno all the time—movies, bookstores, strip clubs. A real classy part of town. Two assaults didn’t exactly constitute a crime spree, but we were keeping an eye out anyway. It was a real juggling act to keep all our balls in the air—the older a case got, the less chance we had of closing it.

 

We decided to drive out to Torrance after lunch to see the detective in charge of the Kestler case. On the way, we stopped at the morgue and picked up Lizzie Chu’s autopsy report. We were still waiting on the blood work. Don’t catch a murder on a weekend if you need anything done fast.

Hutch hadn’t mentioned his date with Gillian, so I decided not to mention my date with my hand. We were learning fast.

 

Hutch read from the report while I drove.  “Doc says she was dead for three hours before we got there, give or take an hour. The air conditioning was turned way up, so he can’t pinpoint it any better than that. Rope burns around her ankles and wrists, but we already knew that.”

 

He paused and I heard him blow out a breath. “He estimates she was tied up for at least eight hours before she died. He thinks she was conscious and struggling for most of it.”

“Christ.”  I tried hard not to imagine what must’ve been like for her.

 

“Yeah.” He rushed through the details. “Twelve stab wounds to her chest and abdomen. More than one knife. None of them fatal by themselves, but taken together . . . cause of death was exsanguination.” He looked over at me. “She bled to death.”

 

“I know what exsanguination means.”  It drove me nuts when Hutch thought a college education meant he had to explain words to me.

 

“Sorry.” He sighed and rubbed his eyes.

 

Yesterday he would have scowled and told me to fuck off. Today he apologized.

 

“Was she raped?”

 

“Not sure. Evidence of semen, no tissue trauma. She’d been pregnant at least once. And her last meal was spaghetti.”

 

“Did I really need to know that? Anything else?”

 

“Don’t think so.” He ran his finger down the page, reading fast. “Listen to this. She had two perpendicular cuts in the shape of an inverted cross on her left shoulder. Says here they were about a week old, just starting to heal, but it was definitely going to leave a scar. Doc thinks it was deliberate—you thinking what I’m thinking?”

 

“Simon Marcus?”

 

“Simon Marcus.”

 

****

 

Detective Joe Manley was fifty going on retirement. I knew the type, doing the job just enough so no one could claim he was slacking off. He slid a picture of a smiling girl with long dark hair across the desk in front of us.

 

“This is Mary-Jo Kestler.” He pulled another picture out of a very slim file. “And this is Mary-Jo Kestler.”

 

I felt like I was on To Tell the Truth.

 

The second picture was a crime scene photo of a naked girl, wrists tied to opposite ends of the headboard, ankles wrapped in rope. Blood stained the sheets beneath her. She’d been stabbed more than once. More than ten times, it looked like.

 

“Cause of death?” Hutch asked.

 

“You blind, Detective? Look at the picture and tell me what you think.”

 

“I meant were any of the stab wounds fatal?” His voice was even.

 

“She’s dead, ain’t she?”

 

Manley stared. Hutch stared back. I could’ve told Manley he didn’t have a chance. At least I never did.

 

“Detective Manley, please . . .”

 

The detective coughed and picked up the file again, then pulled out a typed form.

 

“Okay, okay.” He opened the file and started reading out loud. “Each wound in of itself is insufficiently traumatic to cause death.” He looked up from the report. “Why can’t these guys just talk plain English? However, despite the relatively minor nature of each individual wound, taken together, total blood loss was substantial, ultimately resulting in death by . . .” He stumbled over the next word.

 

“Exsanguination?” I asked.

 

I could see Hutch bite his lower lip to keep from smiling.

 

“Right.”

 

“Any other marks on the body? Tattoos, scars?” 

 

“A scar in the shape of an inverted cross on her left shoulder. Relatively new, it says here.”

 

We had our connection, now we just needed to put Simon Marcus in the picture. I went for it. “Joe, you said on the phone she walked away from her job and no one heard from her from three weeks. Any idea where she went?”  I wanted to add, “you dumb shit,” but this was his sandbox and we had to play nice.

 

“Look, Dave. . .”

 

He was annoyed. Apparently, I thought “you dumb shit” louder than I meant to.

 

“I may not be some hotshot like you.” He looked me up and down. “Maybe the tie I wear cuts off the circulation to my brain, so I don’t know how to run a murder investigation as good as you. Yeah, I tried to find out where she was those three weeks. Believe it or not, I thought that might give us a clue to what happened to her.” He glared at me. “One of the waitresses at the diner told us Mary-Jo started talking about this guy she met. Said he had a farm or ranch somewhere up in the hills. We tried tracking this guy down, but we never had any luck. Case went cold after that.”

 

I had a feeling his idea of tracking someone down was looking up a name in the phone book.

 

Manley leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. “We only had a first name to go by,” he added defensively.

 

“Simon?” Hutch and I both said it at the same time.

 

“Hell, if you knew that, why didn’t you say so in the first place?”

 

****

 

Back in the car, I was pretty hyped about Simon Marcus and talked about going out to Santa Monica in the morning. We made a list of all the people we needed to talk to, calls we needed to make. Leads didn’t come any better than this one and I wanted to get started right away.

 

Hutch had other plans.

 

“Drop me off at home, okay?” he asked when we got close to Bay City. He said it casual, like he was asking me to pass the salt or stop for cigarettes.

 

I checked my watch. “It’s only four, I thought we’d drive by Freemont, check out Marcus’ storefront place, then make a few calls and find out who we could talk to in Topanga Canyon.” I also wanted to swing by the hospital, check out our assault victim—make sure she hadn’t changed her mind against pressing charges against her boyfriend. “And we still haven’t finished the paperwork from Vegas.” Pruitt’s preliminary hearing was in less than a month. “Captain’s going to be on our ass about it again.” 

 

The temperature dropped about ten degrees when I said that. Jack Mitchell was high on the long list of things Hutch wouldn’t talk about.  

 

“You can’t do any of that by yourself, Starsk? I’ll make up the time tomorrow.”

 

“Did I say I couldn’t? Didn’t think we worked that way, that’s all.”

 

I dropped Hutch off at his place, worked for a few hours, and then did what I always did when I was pissed at him—went to Huggy’s and got shit-faced.

 

****

 

I learned a lot over the next few days. That Simon Marcus served five years in a Texas prison for assault. That Lisa Wilson had been two months pregnant. That Marcus hadn’t been seen in the city since we’d started asking questions. I had a guy up in Topanga Canyon asking around about Marcus. I also learned that eating alone every night could drive a man crazy. Hutch, on the other hand, seemed happy—whistling when he thought I couldn’t hear him, using the pay phone at the back of the diner to call Gillian, even a new haircut. Sometimes I wondered how he ever worked undercover, he was so fucking transparent.

 

I was beginning to feel invisible, even when we were working. I overheard him on the phone in the squad room a couple times—he’d turned into a walking talking Hallmark card. I didn’t know whether to be sick or jealous. Little of both, I guess.

 

Friday night I went to see Jaws.  By myself.  Not exactly a barrel of laughs. I always knew there was a reason I wasn’t crazy about the ocean.

 

Going alone to a movie reminded me of that long summer after I was discharged from the army. I was back living with my aunt and uncle, driving a cab every night and sleeping the mornings away. Every afternoon I wandered the city alone, always ending up in one of the new Vietnamese restaurants that had sprung up in Chinatown, drinking ca phe sua da and eating banh mi, and listening to the voices of the old men as they played Tam Cúc for nickels and dimes. They let me join them sometimes, pulling out a chair for me at their table at the back of the restaurant. They told me stories of Saigon before the war and listened quietly when I talked about the siege at Khe Sanh.

 

Ma called me every week that summer, trying to convince me to go back to New York to take some college accounting courses at NYU.

 

“You’re good with numbers, Davey. Just like your father.”

 

My mother summoned my father’s memory every time she thought she was losing an argument. It was her not-so-secret weapon.

 

“I don’t even like numbers, Ma. Anyway, I’m thinking about going to the academy.”

 

“What? You want to be a priest? They take Jews now?”

 

“Calm down. Not the seminary—the police academy. Lots of guys I knew in Nam are joining up.”

 

“I thought you said you’d never wear a uniform again.”

 

“This is different. I want to help people.”

 

“You know any of these people you want to help so bad?”

 

“Ma . . .”

 

“I don’t understand you, Davey. You miss being shot at so much, you want to be a policeman now? A Jewish policeman?”

 

“Well, I can’t be a Jewish priest, can I?”

 

“Don’t be smart. And I suppose your Aunt Rose thinks it’s a wonderful idea. Her nephew getting shot at.”

 

“It’s not that dangerous. Most cops never even fire their guns. Really.”

 

“Let me speak to your aunt.”

 

“I’m not twelve anymore, Ma . . .”

 

 

A few years later my mother admitted she’d really wanted me back in New York to keep an eye on Nick, who’d started hanging around with Joey Massimo and his cousin Frank. Their family owned Massimo’s, an Italian restaurant in the old neighborhood. The restaurant, besides serving a mean linguine, was head office for the Massimo family business. Numbers, racketeering, all that good stuff. We knew Joey and Frank since we were kids—my grandmother lived upstairs from the restaurant for a few years after my grandfather died. I found out later it was no coincidence my father found her that apartment. Since then, I’ve learned most things happen for a reason—the trick is figuring out what the reason is before it’s too late.

 

****


Saturday morning I did laundry and cleaned my apartment. All in all, it had not been a great week. I suspected a nut job named Simon Marcus might be a serial killer but we had no idea where to find him. Someone had beaten a harmless old man to death in the parking lot of a bookstore on Porno Row. I was having nightmares about big white sharks and leaky boats and would probably never set foot in the ocean again. And I’d made a date to go bowling with a woman who’d never read a book without pictures and who thought the Electoral College was a school for politicians.

 

On the bright side, there was no one around to complain when I ordered pizza for the third night in a row. 

 

I missed him.

 

****

 

After lunch, I drove out to my aunt and uncle’s house. I’d been promising to fix the screen door on their back porch for weeks. Uncle Al was not the handyman type—he was more comfortable sitting on the couch watching the ball game or working on one of his model ships. They still lived in the same house I’d moved into after my father died, and it had eventually become the place I thought of as home. New York was where my mother and Nick lived. Where my father came from.

 

When I’d arrived for what I thought was the summer, my aunt and uncle put my things—two small suitcases and my baseball bat and glove—in the small guest room that faced the back yard. It was decorated in early Sears-Roebuck—rose and ivy wallpaper, pink chenille bedspread, lacy white curtains and a braided rug that Aunt Rose had made herself from old clothes and sheets she bought at yard sales. She had crocheted the white doilies that lay under every lamp and figurine in the house, knitted strange wool poodles that fit over toilet paper rolls, and collected small spoons from places she’d never been. With the all the superiority of a twelve year old know-it-all, I pointed out that she was cheating—people were only supposed to collect spoons from the places they visited.

 

“That’s true, David. Most people do it that way. But I don’t need spoons to remind me where I’ve been. I have photo albums and my memories for that. I’ve found that sometimes I get so busy doing all the things that need to be done, I forget the reasons I’m doing them. I forget there’s more to life than working and cooking and cleaning. See that spoon with the Eiffel Tower on it? That’s to remind me to go to the museum more often or just sit and listen to an Edith Piaf record. And the one on the bottom row? From Milwaukee? I found that at a second hand shop downtown. Paid two dollars for it.”

 

“So what does Milwaukee remind you of? Beer?” I was making fun of her but she was nice enough not to notice. Or smart enough to ignore me. 

 

“In a way. It makes me think of my first date with your uncle. He was trying so hard to impress me, but he was so nervous he ordered ‘two shits’ instead of two Schlitz. And of course I laughed and he got embarrassed—he barely said another word the rest of the night and I thought he’d never ask me out again. Every time I notice that spoon, I fall a little in love with him all over again.”

 

That was the first time I’d ever heard adults admit to being in love. I thought once you got married, you forgot about all that stuff. “Anyone ever tell you you’re weird, Aunt Rose?”

 

 

A month after I’d been there, and a week before I was supposed to go home, Aunt Rose dragged me along with her to the paint and wallpaper store. I sat sullenly in the front seat and thought of all the places I’d rather be. Like the swimming pool. Or the baseball field. Or Brooklyn. I assumed she wanted new paper for the dining room since she’d been talking about it all summer. Uncle Al always told her that he didn’t care what color the walls were, as long they’re weren’t purple, he hated purple. Purple reminded him of grape jelly and he hated grape jelly. He wouldn’t eat in a room the color of grape jelly. But when we got to the store, she said she wanted new wallpaper for the guest room—my room—she said that looking at pink roses every night might drive a teenage boy to drink, and that I should pick something from one of the sample books that was more to my taste. She put her hand on my shoulder and added softly, “Something you can live with, David.”

 

That’s how I found out I wasn’t going back home after all.

 

 

It was two by the time I got to the house on Oakview. I let myself in with my key. “Aunt Rose?”

 

“David? About time. I was beginning to think you boys forgot where I lived.”

 

I followed her voice into the kitchen. She was standing at the sink doing dishes wearing a pink housecoat and slippers. Aunt Rose didn’t believe in getting dressed on the weekend unless she had to. She smiled when she saw me and I kissed her on the cheek. She smelled like Yardley English lavender, same as always.

 

“You’re alone? Where’s Ken?”

 

“We’re not joined at the hip, you know.” I leaned against the counter. “Where’s your better half?”

 

“At the ballgame. Where else? He tried calling you last night. A customer gave him a couple tickets behind first base. He ended up going with Sid from the lodge. He hates Sid. I’ll probably have to listen to him complain all night.” She tossed a dish towel at me. “Make yourself useful.”

 

I dried a couple mugs in silence.

 

“Talk to me, David.”

 

I felt like a teenager again. Aunt Rose and me had all our big discussions over a sink of dirty dishes. It just seemed easier to talk about things when my hands were busy.

 

“It’s nothing.”

 

“It’s never nothing. Where is he?”

 

I dried a grape jelly glass. Same one I drank milk out of every night at dinner for years. “Hutch is just busy lately.” I took a breath. “He met someone a couple weeks ago and he wants me to meet her. We’re all going bowling together tonight. I even have a date.”

 

“Aha.”

 

“There is no aha. Don’t turn this into an aha conversation.”

 

“Hmm . . .”

 

“No hmm either. Like I said, it’s nothing.”  I threw a dirty fork back into the sink. “You know you should wear your glasses when you do dishes.”

 

“Best defense is a good offense?” She held up the fork and wiped it clean. “Is Ken serious about this girl?”

 

“He’s acting like a lovestruck kid. He’s whistling, for chrissakes.”

 

“And you’re jealous?”

 

“Impatient. It’s only a matter of time. Like always…it’s just that . . .”

 

“Do you think he loves her?”

 

“I don’t know . . . maybe . . . he’s different this time. And don’t you dare aha me, Aunt Rose. I know exactly how I sound.”

 

She turned to look at me. “You knew this might happen one day. You said it was worth it.”

 

“I say lots of things.” I put away the plates on the top shelf of the cupboard and went to find my uncle’s toolbox. “I’m going to go fix the door.”

 

“Do it right or I’ll have to listen to Al complain about that too.”  

 

When I was leaving later, she hugged me and whispered, “I love you, sweet boy.” Then she pushed a Tupperware container of leftover macaroni into my hand.

 

I laughed and held up the container. “Then why are you trying to kill me?”

 

****

 

I met Gillian last night. She was beautiful and smart and classy. Everything Hutch said she was. And one thing he didn’t. He never told me she was in love with him too.

 

Fuck.

 

 

Part Three

 

“You never were a very good liar, David.” Al rose stiffly from the kitchen table and refilled his mug from the coffee pot on the stove.

 

I stared into my Coke. “It’s not a lie . . . I’ve been thinking about a buying a sailboat for a long time, and I’m getting a good deal on this one. I’ll pay you back something every month.”

 

He sipped the coffee and made a face. “I’ve been married to your aunt for almost thirty-five years, it’s a wonder I got any stomach left at all.” He added more sugar and sat down. “I just always figured you’d get better at lying—working undercover and all. Now that Serpico fellow—he was a good liar.”

 

“It was a movie, Al, everyone was lying, except it’s called acting.”

 

“Just tell me one thing. What the hell are you going to do with a boat?” 

 

“Boat things. I dunno . . . sailing, fishing. Fishing is supposed to be relaxing, right?”

 

“So’s a bubble bath. Lot cheaper, too.”

 

I wasn’t sure why I’d thought asking Al for money was a good idea. Aunt Rose teased him that he was so tight moths flew out of his wallet  And he always knew when I was lying—from the day I got off the bus from New York and told him I wasn’t hungry. Sometimes he went along with the lies—the bullet barely creased my shoulder, Al, the doctors are just being cautious—and sometimes he didn’t.

 

“So remind me how much we’re talking about for this boat? Does it have a name, by the way?”

 

He would’ve made a good cop. “The Orca. And $3000 should do it.”

 

He leaned back in his chair thinking. “Hey, ain’t that the name of the boat in . . .?”

 

“Al, just give him the money, for crying out loud.” Aunt Rose appeared in the doorway, one hand on her hip. I hadn’t heard her come in. “David must have a good reason or he wouldn’t ask.”

 

She stood behind Al, rested both hands on his shoulders and kissed the top of his head. “Go get your checkbook, dear,” she said to him. “We can give him $1600 today and the rest by the end of the week. Will that be all right, David?”

 

I only nodded, embarrassed. How many times had they bailed me out of trouble? I guess that’s what families—parents—do. I also knew how hard it was for her not to ask why I needed the money.

 

Al disappeared in search of his check book, and Aunt Rose took his place at the table. “Do I need to worry?” she asked.

 

“Would it help if I said no?”

 

“Not really.” She covered my hand with hers and sighed. “Take your time paying us back. If you listen to him, you’d think we were on the verge of bankruptcy. We’re not. Not even after feeding you for all these years.”

 

“Thank you. For the money. And for not asking. I’ll pay you back. I promise.”  

 

“I know you will. And if not . . .” she smiled again, then pointed a finger at me and tried to look tough, “I know where you live, Detective Starsky.”

 

“That’s right, young man,” Al echoed. He walked over to me, and tucked a folded check into my shirt pocket. “So when do I get a ride in this boat of yours?” 

 

Aunt Rose scowled at him. “Al, just go watch the game. I’ll make you some lunch.”

 

“God help me,” he laughed.

 

I cashed the check on the way to Gillian’s apartment.  Less than twelve hours later, she was dead.

 

****

I found a parking spot half way down the street from Venice Place. He’d been quiet since we left the station, smoking and staring out the window. But like a suspect with a guilty conscience, I couldn’t shut up. “The paperwork’s all done and the Grossman arraignments aren’t until five tomorrow, so Captain said we can go in around four. But I think we should leave your place early and talk to the DA first.” It seemed I’d say anything to fill the silence. “I’ll go back to my place in the morning and pick up some clean clothes for court.”

"Stop it.” Hutch sighed and sort of sank back in his seat. “Just stop."

I threw the car in park and turned it off. I had my hands curled around the steering wheel so tight they hurt, and I leaned forward and let the side of my head rest on the top of the wheel as I looked at him. "I’m sorry. About Gillian, I mean.”  

He was watching me. The streetlight we were under was out, but even in the dark of the car, his eyes looked huge. He reached out his hand, hesitated for a second, then ran it slowly through my hair. I shut my eyes. He let out his breath in a long rush, and when he was done, he was cupping the back of my neck with his hand. I just leaned there, waiting.

"I know," he said softly.

I opened my eyes and looked at him in the dark. "She loved you. That was never a lie.”

“Lies, 10. Truth, 1,” he said bitterly. “Not even close, Starsk.” He reached for the door. “Not even close.”

And then he was gone.

 

****

A few hours after I dropped him off, I was still awake. Just lying in bed, eyes open, not even trying to sleep, because I knew there was no way I could.

When Hutch and me started last year, after all that time I spent imagining it, I could get turned on by anything. Hutch looking happy, just his eyes looking happy would be enough to get me hard. I’d sit there at the table some mornings, sipping my coffee, just watching him, but not daring to do anything about it because I’d already fucked him against the wall when we’d come home the night before without even taking our jackets off. Then we had headed to the bed, but got distracted by Hutch’s new couch, which looked a lot softer than his old one, so we did it there too, me whispering his name against his shoulder when I came. So there I’d sit, drinking my coffee, thinking to myself that enough was enough. Grow up, Starsky.  But Hutch would sit down beside me and look happy, and I’d get hard and bounce my knee under the table until he’d sigh and shake his head. Then he’d give me a long, dark, coffee-flavored kiss before dropping to his knees right beside the table, and make me see stars. Again

Since that day in the stairwell, I learned that it was the small things I missed—over and over. Hutch’s hands on my shoulders, his breath against my face, his heartbeat underneath me. The memory of those moments held me back, stopped me in my tracks every time I’d start believing that we could go back to being what we were before. Or thinking that maybe it was time for me to move on, to be a cop somewhere else. That maybe I needed to just let him be.

It was still dark when the phone rang. I answered it and my voice sounded strong, like I’d been expecting his call all along. Hutch’s voice was soft in my ear. “Starsk? Sorry, I know it’s early. I just . . .”

His voice trailed off and I held the phone tight, half believing that whatever he was going to say next would make everything all right again. Like Hutch had all the answers and he’d show me the way out so I’d never have to tell him what I’d done, how I’d forced Gillian’s hand, set the whole thing in motion. I heard him breathing and I said, “Hutch,” but then realized I had nothing else to say, so I waited.

“Can you come over?” he said. He sounded sorry and undone and tired and lost. He sounded like all the things I felt.

“Give me twenty minutes.”

And all at once I knew, just knew, that I could never leave him.

 

Part Four

 

Lying in bed one night, not long after I arrived in Bay City, I overheard Al tell Aunt Rose that my mother had turned mourning into a high art form. I didn’t understand then what he meant, but I knew from his voice that it wasn’t good.

 

“I know she’s your sister, but I never met a woman who could cry as much as her. Her bladder must be next to her eyes, I swear.”

 

“Al, stop. She lost her husband, for crying out loud. How should she act?”

 

“Like a mother. Every time she calls, all I hear is David trying to make her feel better. What’s he doing here anyway? Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great kid and I like having him around. But he’s her kid, not ours. And I know you—you’re too soft. You’ll get attached to him and it’ll break your heart when he leaves.”

 

I could hear the fridge door open and close and the sound of a Coke bottle being opened, then the scrape of a kitchen chair against the floor.

 

“I love my sister, Al, but I know what she’s like better than anyone.”

 

“Then why’d you agree to take him?”

 

“I’m not doing it for her—I’m doing it for David. He needs to be a boy again, even if it’s only for the summer. Try to understand.”

 

He laughed. “You could sell ice cubes to Eskimos, Rosie. I guess it wouldn’t kill me to take him to a ballgame this weekend. We could stop for Mexican at Ponak’s on the way home. Think he’s ever had a burrito?”

 

 A few years later, in the spring of my junior year of high school, my mother wrote and asked me to spend the summer in Brooklyn with her and Nick. I didn’t want to go—mostly because Al had promised I could work in the garage with him that summer, but also because a part of me was still angry with her for sending me away.

 

It was Aunt Rose who convinced me to go. “I’m not saying what she did was right or wrong, I just want you to try harder to understand it. After your father died, your mother’s grief was like a heavy stone she carried with her everywhere. Eventually she started to believe that if she put down the stone, if she moved on with her life, it would be like forgetting him.”  She cupped my face in her hand. “She’s missed so much of your life, David, don’t shut her out of the rest of it.” 

 

I used to hate my mother for sending me away and letting Nick stay, but it turned out that I was the lucky one after all.

 

****

 

“No more beer, Hug. It’s taking too long.”  I slid the unopened bottle back down the bar.

 

“Living in the fast lane, bro?” He motioned to Kelly and pointed to the bottle of Jameson’s on the wall behind the register. She set the bottle and two shot glasses on the counter in front of Huggy. He filled both glasses and pushed one toward me. “Spending another Saturday night alone? Starsky, my man, you look like someone in need of some good lovin’.”

 

“You offering?”

 

“You had your chance, as I remember.”

 

“Long time ago, as I remember.”  I lifted my glass. “To second chances?”

 

Huggy blinked and his lips curved into a small smile. “I ain’t blond and I ain’t white. Don’t think I’d survive the cut this time round. Just sayin’ . . .”

 

We drank in silence and he refilled our glasses quickly. I swallowed and felt the warmth all the way down to my toes. The evening was looking up.

 

Huggy walked around the bar and sat on the stool next to me, his leg pressing up against mine. “Where’s the blond bombshell this fine evening? Still holed up at his place?”

 

“I guess.  After Grossman’s arraignment, Hutch told Captain Dobey he was taking some time off and just walked away.  Next day, he told me to go home—promised he’d call if he needed anything. I go by his place everyday, but . . .” I ran my finger around the rim of the glass. “The guy’s turned being miserable into a high art form.”

 

“It’s only been a couple weeks, man. Give the dude some space.”

 

“If I give him any more space, we’ll be in different countries.” I lifted my glass and he filled it slowly, shaking his head. “I’m worried, Hug. He tried going it alone after Forest, and look how that ended. I can’t go through that again.” I felt the weight of Huggy’s hand on my shoulder, tugging me around to look at him.

 

“Hey, man . . .you gotta hold it together. He’ll come around.”

 

I shook him off and drained my glass again. “I’m sick of holding it together. You know what pisses me off?” I was slurring my words a little and the room started doing a slow, leisurely spin. Fuck being sober. Fuck being the patient one. “Let’s do the math here, Huggy—Hutch knew Gillian for what? Four weeks? Give or take a day or two. Was in love with her for maybe two. That’s it, two fucking weeks. I’ve had pizza in my fridge longer than that. Fuck both of them.” I started counting off on my fingers. “They didn’t have a favorite restaurant, they never went to a movie together, or on vacation. They never had makeup sex. They didn’t even have a fucking song yet.”

 

Huggy emptied his glass and leaned in. “Even we have a song, man.”

 

“Fucking right we do.”

 

He poured two more shots and we started singing loud and off-key, glasses held high.

 

Who's the black private dick
That's a sex machine to all the chicks?
SHAFT!


Ya damn right!

They say this cat Shaft is a bad motherfucker
SHUT YOUR MOUTH!
I'm talkin' 'bout Shaft.
THEN WE CAN DIG IT!


Shut your mouth, motherfucker!

 

Good thing Huggy owned the joint or we would’ve been thrown out for sure.

 

“You know what he told me one day? He loved how she breathed. How do I fucking compete with that?”

 

He nodded sympathetically. “This is some seriously messed up shit. Only one sure cure for it.”

 

Huggy put down his empty glass, leaned forward and put one hand on the back of my neck, pulled me forward and kissed me. Like he meant it.

 

“Just to remind you what you been missing,” he said, smiling.

 

Everyone in the place was laughing and hooting. Huggy stood unsteadily, smiled again slowly, then took a small bow and retreated upstairs without looking back.

 

“You going to follow him? That kiss looked kinda serious.” This voice behind me was definitely sober. And definitely Hutch’s.

 

I spun around and my stomach did that little flip-flop thing it always did, but this time I think it was the whiskey. “How long you been standing there?”

 

“Long enough. Nice song, by the way.”

 

“Fucking great song.”

 

“You’re drunk again.”

 

Again?

 

“So I’m told.”

 

Huggy, you traitor. I am not fucking drunk. I am blotto, tipsy, shit-faced, maybe even a little soused. Also six sheets to the wind.”

 

“Three sheets.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

“No, I mean the expression is three sheets to the wind. It comes from sailing.”

 

I’d worked up this whole head of steam and he was playing with me. “I hate sailing,” I told him. “I hate boats. I hate the fucking ocean.” I waved the bottle, now almost empty, in his general direction. “Want some?”

 

He shook his head. “Let me take you home.” He took the bottle from my hand and put it on the bar.

 

“Isn’t that my line, Detective?”

 

“Nice, Starsk, real nice. You want a ride or not?”

 

“Fine, but we have to go in your car. No one pukes in the Torino, not even me.”

 

I tried standing up. Tried it again a minute later. He put one hand out to steady me and pointed me towards the door.

 

“Are you really going to be sick, Starsk?” 

 

“Fucking right I am.”

 

His lips twitched right then. It wasn’t quite a smile, but it was a break in that shut-down expression he’d been wearing for two weeks. About fucking time.

 

 

****

 

I expected him to be gone by the morning, but when I finally made an appearance around ten, bleary-eyed and with a headache the size of Mt. Rushmore, he was sitting at my kitchen table reading the Sunday paper and drinking coffee. I noticed a plate in the sink, so he’d helped himself to breakfast too. I’d passed a folded blanket and pillow on the couch, so I figured my virtue was intact. Wasn’t sure how I felt about that.

 

“Any coffee left?”

 

He looked up and smiled. “Just made a new pot. Want some eggs?”

 

My stomach did the flip-flop thing again, and this time it was definitely him. Well, maybe 80% him, 20% hangover. “No thanks.”

 

“Suit yourself.” He went back to reading the paper and started humming to himself. It sounded like Shaft.

 

“Maybe I should have a shower first. And some aspirin. Maybe a lobotomy.”

 

“Yeah, that last one sounds right.” Then he smiled. Again. That was twice in five minutes.

 

I almost checked the date on the newspaper to make sure I hadn’t slipped through a time warp and landed back here a few months ago.

 

The shower helped. So did four aspirin and two cups of coffee. While I did that, Hutch kept reading the paper. I never understood it—it only took me ten minutes to read the newspaper every morning—it took him an hour, and he still never knew who won last night’s ballgame.

 

I leaned up against the counter and watched him. “Why are you here, Hutch?”

 

He lowered the newspaper. “I need a reason?”

 

“Never used to. But these days . . .”

 

He got up slowly, walked toward the fridge, and stopped in front of me. I could feel his breath against my face. I watched him, waiting. Wary.

 

I saw a flash in his eyes. “You like watching me, don’t you?” he said. His voice sounded slow and thick.

 

“No.”

 

He lifted his hand up and rested it on the side of my throat—I was sure he could feel my pulse pounding there.  His lips curved into a smile again.

 

“You like this, don’t you?”

 

I shook my head slowly.

 

Then he dropped his hand from my throat and pressed it to the front of my pants. “Yeah, you do.”

 

He pressed forward against me, trapping his hand between us. He leaned in and brought his lips close to my ear. “I think you like it a lot.”  He tightened his fingers around the outline of my cock through my pants.

 

“Hutch,” I said, trying to push him away a little, but I didn’t want him to stop.

 

His breath came in a gasp and then he was yanking me away from the wall and pushing me ahead of him towards the bedroom. Somewhere in my head I was thinking maybe we should talk first, but then I wasn’t thinking about much at all.

 

“Hurry,” he breathed against my neck, pressing closer behind me. “Get undressed,” he ordered as soon as we were in the bedroom.

 

I was trying to pull my t-shirt over my head, but then he got a hold on me, kissing me. I tried to kiss him back but his lips kept wandering over my cheekbone, my ear, my neck.

 

"Oh, fuck, right there, God." Because he found this spot on my neck and it felt amazing, like it was connected to my cock somehow, and then he did this thing, where he took his tongue and just tasted me. I thought I would come standing right there. I finally got my shirt off and his hands were at my jeans, fumbling to get them open.

 

He pushed me back on the bed and then I was arching under him just as his mouth landed on my lower stomach, his tongue tracing across me, and I was shuddering under him. He ran his tongue, slow and deliberate, up the length of my cock. My hands were laced in his hair and when he finally took me into his mouth, I pulled him closer and he tightened his hands against my hips, pulling down my jeans even more.

 

I wasn’t going to last much longer and I wanted to pull back but I couldn’t, and then my orgasm was just rolling through me, wave after wave, until there was nothing left.

I was dead, lost, limp and sprawled across the bed. Hutch’s face was fierce and he got his pants open quickly. I tried to move so I could get to him, but he just leaned up on one elbow and took his cock in his hand. He was panting, his hand moved in quick, slick movements, and then his panting turned to low, desperate groans and he came while I watched.

 

I was exhausted and sweaty and more than a little bewildered. “Fuck, Hutch.” 

“I . . .” he stopped and blinked. “I. . .you . . .I’m sorry. I just . . .”

“Shut up.” I dragged myself closer to kiss him. I spent a few moments doing that before pulling back and letting my head fall on his chest. “That was amazing.”

I moved, finally, and we went to shower and then back to bed. The room was cool, the curtains moving slowly in the breeze. I untangled the sheets and tugged them over us, and we fell asleep like that. When I woke, he was looking down at me in the pale light, and his eyes were alive again

****

 

Later Hutch told me he was going back to work the next day—he couldn’t mope around forever, he said, and he didn’t want to use up any more vacation days.

 

He left after dinner. Stood at my door, one hand on the doorknob and told me he’d pick me up for work at eight the next morning since my car was still at Huggy’s.  I turned away from the door before he could finish talking, I was tired of watching him walk away from me.

 

But then I felt a hand on my shoulder, tugging me around and pressing me up hard against the door. He kissed me, his tongue licking its way into my mouth. He pulled away finally and pressed his forehead against mine. His breath came in soft gasps as he said, “I need you, Starsk . .  .you know that, right?”

All I could do was nod. And then he was kissing me again, his tongue in my mouth so I couldn’t breathe, didn’t need to breathe. And then he was gone again.

 

Bastard.

 

****

 

A long time ago, my uncle told me a story about two brothers.

 

Charlie was twelve and was always bragging how much smarter he was than his eight year old brother.

 

“Watch this,” the older brother would tell his friends. “He doesn’t know anything about money. He falls for it every time.” Then he’d call his brother, “Hey, Tommy, get in here!”  And Tommy would eagerly join them.

 

Charlie had a dime and nickel in one hand and held them out in front of his brother. “Pick one,” he said to his brother.

 

Tommy picked up the nickel and ran off.

 

Charlie snickered as soon as left the room. “Stupid kid.”

 

Later, the one of his friends felt sorry for Tommy and pulled him aside. “Look, the nickel is bigger, but the dime is really worth more. You should take the dime, believe me.”

 

Charlie looked at him and said, “I know that. But if I take the dime, the game’s over. This way at least I get a nickel every time.”

 

I looked at my uncle and thought it over, then asked him what it meant.

 

“Sometimes, Davey, you’ve got to settle for the nickel.”

 

 

Part Five

 

While Hutch had been off for two weeks playing the tragic hero, contemplating his navel and ignoring me, I’d been working my ass off doing both our jobs. The Captain had agreed to take me off the board for as long as he could, so I spent my time running open cases and working my way through the stack of half-finished reports on my desk. It didn’t help that Hutch had spent the two weeks before Gillian died working strictly on the clock, and the paperwork had multiplied faster than tribbles on Star Trek. Between feeling sorry for myself and drinking too much, I still managed to clear some of our older cases—including a string of afternoon liquor store robberies the press had dubbed “The After School Specials.” Unfortunately, this bust had nothing to do with brilliant detective work—the case solved itself when Johnny Fontaine’s girlfriend caught him in bed with her cousin Gina and ratted him out to us. I wish Hutch had been around to see the stunned look on Johnny’s face when I picked him up.

 

I partnered up with Manny Campos for a few days the second week, while his partner was out having his wisdom teeth pulled. Manny was okay, serious about the job, and even more serious about not letting me drive.

 

“You’re joking. I always drive, Manny.”

 

“I told you—I get car sick, ever since I was a kid. I gotta drive.”

 

“Fine, but you’re not driving my car.”

 

He rolled his eyes. “You kidding me? I wouldn’t drive your car if you paid me. It’s like driving a fucking bull’s eye. There’s nothing wrong with my car,” he added defensively.

 

“You’re an old lady, Manny, driving an old lady’s car.” I muttered after him. What the hell kind of cop drives a Gremlin

 

 And just in case I needed proof that God had it in for me, Matt Hobart, the crime reporter from the Times, was sniffing around the Grossman case, asking questions about Gillian and leaving messages I didn’t return. He was always rooting around for a scandal to hang his career on. So far I’d managed to avoid him, but he was a persistent bastard. Last year, Hobart—who Hutch had nicknamed Woodstein—suspected there was something fishy about Forest’s plea bargain. But since none of us was talking, his story on Forest’s sentencing hearing was buried on the back pages—between that month’s city council meeting and pictures of the fire department’s new Dalmatian.. Word was Hobart thought Hutch was dirty, and was working hard to prove it.

 

And then there was Simon Marcus. Last Friday, my guy up in Topanga Canyon called me. He told me that two or three weeks earlier a rancher named Crowe made a report that some of his best cattle were missing. Thursday, Crowe called the sheriff back to say he found the carcasses a few miles away.

 

“Turns out he’s been letting this crazy bunch of kids use his place—figures it was them. Thought of you when I heard that. I know this sounds crazy, Detective,” Jim McMaster said slowly, “and I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it myself—but it looked like the damn things had been sacrificed. Someone built an altar out there. There’s blood everywhere.You need to drive up here Monday and take a look at it." 

 

I checked my watch. “Look, I can be there in about forty-five minutes. If it is Marcus, I need to talk to him before he gets spooked and takes off. Where can I meet you?”

 

McMaster cleared his throat, and I guessed I wasn’t going to like what was coming.

 

“Well, that’s just it. Crowe called the highway patrol right after he called the sheriff—he had them thrown off his land. So you’re kinda back where you started. Sorry about that.”

 

And Hutch wondered why I drank so much.

 

****

 

He picked me up the next morning and we drove over to Huggy’s to switch cars. I filled him in on the Marcus case on the way. By the time we got to my car, I was at the part about the missing animals.

 

“So this is where it gets interesting. McMaster tells me that Crowe—that’s the rancher—found his cows . . .”  I slid into the Torino and leaned over to unlock Hutch’s door.

 

“Cattle.”

 

“Whatever.”

 

I started the car and pulled out of the alley. After a few days riding shotgun in a Gremlin, I was happy to be the one doing the driving again. “So like I said, Crowe finds the bodies and then, not far too away, he finds a homemade altar covered with blood. The animals weren’t stolen, they were sacrificed. Crowe’s so freaked out, he kicks the whole lot of them off his land.”

 

“Why was he letting them stay there in the first place?”

 

“I asked McMaster that. He said Marcus likes to be surrounded by young girls. Apparently he doesn’t mind sharing.”

 

“How does your guy know it’s cow’s blood?”

 

“Cattle blood.”

 

He smiled. “Whatever.”

 

“Said it tasted like rare steak. How do you think? They sent a sample to the lab and had it tested. Came back as bovine blood.”

 

He arched one eyebrow. “Bovine? I’m impressed.”

 

“Whatever.”

 

I grinned. Maybe we were going to be okay after all.

 

He reached in his jacket pocket and pulled his hand out empty with a curse and a sigh. “I quit smoking. Again.” He leaned back and ran his hands restlessly over his legs. “Now what do we do?”

 

“I figure Marcus had to go somewhere and he’s still got that storefront place on Freemont. We could start there—at least Jim got a decent description from Crowe.”

 

He rolled down the window and tapped his fingers along the edge. “So what does a Simon Marcus look like?”

 

“You’re not going to like this.”

 

“What? He’s got two heads? Horns and a pitchfork?”

 

“Might as well have. Crowe said he was the spitting image of Charlie Manson.”

 

He gave me a sideways glance and ran a hand through his hair.

 

I pulled into a space in front of Marcus’ storefront.  There was no sign outside to say it wasn’t exactly what it looked like—an abandoned storefront—but I could see two or three people moving around inside.

 

“Let’s go play Simon Says,” Hutch said, already stepping out of the car, squinting against the morning sun. 

 

I caught up to him on the sidewalk, the adrenaline pumping through me. I had a good feeling about this.

 

Hutch held the door open for me and grinned. “After you, Sherlock.”

 

 

Part Six

 

I stepped past Hutch into a room that didn’t look like any church I’d ever seen.  The place was filthy—boxes stacked against the walls, the floor littered with garbage. The air smelled of pot and something else I couldn’t identify. Cleanliness was obviously not next to godliness at the Church of Simon Marcus. Folded chairs were propped up against the cardboard boxes, probably moved there to make room for the half dozen stained mattresses spread out on the floor. At the far end of the room, behind a battered wooden desk, dirty window panes had been painted to look like stained glass. The only other decoration was a large red cross. I’d have felt a lot better about things if it wasn’t hung upside down. It took me a week to sleep with the lights off after seeing Rosemary’s Baby.

 

“I swear I saw someone in here a minute ago,” I said to Hutch. “Hello? Anybody home?” That smooth move was one of those special investigation techniques I learned at the academy.

 

Hutch rolled his eyes at me, then lifted his chin towards a closed door at the back.

 

I nodded and walked to the door.

 

“Don’t knock,” Hutch whispered. “Just try the doorknob.”

 

“I wasn’t going to knock, jeez, give me a little credit.”  Actually, I was going to knock, but he didn’t have to know that.

 

My hand was a few inches from the doorknob when I heard a voice come from behind it—young and female and very polite.

 

“Are you here to see See-Moan?”

 

See-moan? It took me a second to realize who she meant. Pretentious son of a bitch. “Is he here?”

 

“Yes. Just give us a minute.” She sounded embarrassed, like we’d caught her with her hand in the cookie jar. Or down someone’s pants.

 

The door swung open, but it wasn’t a girl standing there, it was a very big guy. Short hair, bulldog face. Below his black T-shirt, his arms were covered in jailhouse ink. Shit.

 

“Anyone ever tell you that you sound like a girl?” I asked. Not the smartest thing I’ve ever said.

 

Without a word, Big Guy reached down and grabbed two fists full of my jacket, lifted me up off the ground and slammed me against the wall. I went down on my hands and knees and was gathering the strength to get up when he put his boot on my hip and shoved me down again.

 

“Let him go.” The pissed-off, slightly winded voice of my partner.

 

I couldn’t lift my head enough to turn around to look at him. Instead I was getting well acquainted with the floor pattern—checkered dirt.  I tried to get up again and this time Big Guy decided to let me. I turned and saw Hutch being held back by two guys, one on either side of him, holding his arms as he struggled. Where the hell had they come from?

 

Simon Marcus 1, Cops 0. Not that I was keeping score.

 

“Who are you?” Big Guy asked. I thought about lying, maybe claiming I was only there to say a few prayers to the great and powerful Oz, but they’d seen our guns and our badges were only a frisk away.

 

“Cops, you assholes. Let go of my partner now and we won’t charge you all with assault.” 

 

They looked uncertain, until someone said, “Let him go. And apologize to our visitors, boys.”

 

Hutch shook off the two men, straightened his jacket and walked over to the man who was standing in the doorway smiling indulgently, like a parent who just caught his kids squabbling. He was wearing jeans and a dirty t-shirt, Jesus sandals. Long hair, messy beard. Charlie Manson’s long lost brother.

 

Hutch held out one hand. “Simon Marcus, I believe,” Hutch said. “I’m Detective Hutchinson. My partner here is Detective Starsky. You’re a hard man to find.”

 

“Not if you know where to look, Ken.” Marcus said slowly. 

 

Hutch’s head shot up. “How the hell. . . .”

 

“You’ve been haunting my dreams, Detective.”

 

I had no snappy comeback for that one. Beside me, Hutch was silent.

 

He crossed the room and sat on the desk. His “boys” stood behind him, arms folded. A girl with long blonde hair in jeans and a halter top, and not a day over twenty, appeared out of the back room. Simon nodded at her and I caught a flash of white bandage on bare shoulder as she walked by me to join him at the desk.  He ran a hand absently down her back and she leaned into him.

 

“Are you here for enlightenment, Detective Hutchinson?”

 

Hutch still said nothing, but his hands clenched into fists at his side.

 

“Oh, for Christ’s sake. Knock off the mumbo jumbo shit. We’re taking you in for questioning.” That was me. Officer Bad Cop.

 

“There is nothing illegal in telling the truth to those who want to hear it. However humble it appears, this is a church. If you don’t have a warrant, you need to leave. Otherwise I will have to report you for harassment.”  The Three Stooges stepped forward, but Marcus waved them back.

 

I’d heard enough. “Did Lizzie Chu come here to listen? What about Lisa Wilson, you sick bastard? She was fourteen. Did you enlighten her too?” 

 

Marcus didn’t blink at the mention of the girls’ names.  “Joanna, please show the gentlemen out.”

 

“We’ll be back, Marcus,” Hutch said, his voice sharp. “With a search warrant. Don’t go anywhere.”

 

Joanna wedged herself between Hutch and me and murmured, “this way, please” and walked us to the door. She leaned in against me and told me she’d pray for my enlightenment.

 

“Terrific.”

 

I had one hand on the door when Marcus said, “She comes to me in my dreams, Hutchinson. She used to call you her White Knight, didn’t she? It’s so difficult to save the ones we love.” He smiled, but it never reached his eyes. “Do you dream about her too?”

 

“Fucking bastard,” Hutch spat out. 

 

Hutch started towards him, but I wrapped one hand around his wrist and pulled him out the door. On the sidewalk, he bent over, hands on his knees like he was going to be sick.

 

I waited until he stood up. “C’mon, we’ve got some homework to do. I think we underestimated Simon Marcus.”

 

Simon Marcus 2, Cops 0. Now I was keeping score.

 

****

 

 

For my thirteenth birthday, Aunt Rose gave me a gift-wrapped copy of H.G.Wells’ The Time Machine. It was part of her campaign to get me to read something besides the sports page and comic books. I’d been hoping for a new baseball mitt, so a book, especially one written in another century, was a serious disappointment. I was ready to toss the book in the back of the closet when my aunt made a deal with me—if I read the book, she’d buy me the mitt I wanted.

 

Al was on my side. “For God’s sake, Rosie, just buy him the mitt,” he grumbled. “He’s thirteen, he should be out playing ball, not sitting inside reading books.”

 

“The way you two are going on, you’d think I was asking him to read War and Peace.”

 

I’d only been staying with them for a few months, but I already knew no one won an argument with Aunt Rose. Especially not me. I gave in and started the book because I wanted the mitt, but I finished it because I loved it.

 

I thought a lot about time travel after that. About whether it was possible to go back and change history. And if you changed one thing, would it change everything else in ways you couldn’t predict? What if I could go back and warn my father—convince him not to go to work that last day—would that have kept him alive? Or would they just have found another way to get to him?

  

I spent a lot of time over the next few weeks wishing I could go back to that morning and do it over again. If I could go back, I would stand on the sidewalk outside Simon Marcus’ storefront church, reach into my jacket pocket and find the note that Joanna left there. But it was warm that morning, too warm for the leather jacket I was wearing, so before we got into the car to drive back to the station, I took it off and pitched it in the back seat of the Torino. I didn’t empty my pockets until late that night, and by then, of course, it was all over.  

 

****

 

While we’d spent the day trying to get a search warrant for the storefront, Simon Marcus—feeling cocky after sending us on our way—drove Joanna to a motel outside Bay City. He made her take off all her clothes, tied her to the bed and stabbed her twenty-three times. A maid found Joanna’s body the next morning when she let herself in to clean the room.

 

I don’t want to end up like Lisa and Lizzie. Help me. Please.

 

That note, along with Simon Marcus’ thumbprint, found on the underside of the toilet seat in the motel room where Joanna Sinnett was murdered, was enough for an arrest warrant.

 

News stories of the arrest resulted in calls from five other police departments across the state. Five more dead girls, all killed the same way as ours. Three more fingerprints. In a televised press conference, the governor appointed a special prosecutor, Tom Flanagan, to handle the trial. It was risky, but Flanagan decided to try Marcus for all the murders in a single trial. Two other men were charged with four counts of accessory to murder and tried separately. My testimony alonelasted a week. Flanagan never called Hutch to the stand—too risky, he said. He didn’t say, but I guessed it had something to do with the Grossman case.

 

In jail awaiting trial, Simon Marcus carved an upside down cross into his forehead with a sharpened spoon and claimed he was the new Messiah. Matt Hobart, aka Woodstein, was granted a jailhouse interview and wrote a series of articles about him called “Messiah or Murderer?”  The number of followers who sat on the courthouse steps every day chanting his name doubled after that. No shortage of loonies in Bay City. 

 

Two months later, a jury convicted Marcus on all nine counts of first degree murder. 

 

Marcus’ sentencing hearing was scheduled for early January. The DA was asking for nine life sentences. It didn’t seem nearly enough.

 

****

 

Hutch was looking at me in the dark, and I slid off him a little, so I could prop my head up on my hand. I ran my hand over his chest, lazy and slow, not the quick, desperate touches of earlier tonight. Both ways were good. He smiled at me, sleepy.

 

“Hey,” I said.

 

“Hey, yourself,” he said, and his voice was still low and ragged, maybe from yelling so hard when I made him come earlier.

 

I smiled back at him. “You doing okay?”

 

His hand moved down from my hair to my back and his fingers traced a slow line across my shoulders, then further down. “Yes, Ramon.” he said. “I am very okay.”

 

I wondered how long he was going to call me that. “Good,” I said, my hand resting on his chest. 

 

My hand wandered lower, and his arm tightened around my shoulder, pulling me closer. I let my hand stroke down his chest, over his stomach, then down his side. There was a bruise there, a big one, almost healed now, from where he got kicked last week restraining a suspect. I pressed my hand against the bruise lightly, knowing it didn’t hurt anymore, just wanting to be sure that he was all in one piece. His other hand came up and pressed on top of mine.

 

I sighed a little and moved my hand out from under his, then let it move down to his hip. There was a long, thin scar there. I ran my fingers over it, tracing it slowly.

 

“Knife,” he said. “Rookie year on the street. Doped-up mother.”

 

I moved my hand down to his thigh and came to a small, raised half-circle there.

 

“Hockey skate. Player from the other team fell on me.”

 

I knew all these stories. How he got hurt and then got better and got hurt again, long before I came around. I had scars too—parts of my history he wasn’t around for. He knew my stories too. Maybe this was what love was—our two stories coming together.

 

I shivered again. The sweat had dried on my skin and the room was getting chilly. I shifted so that I was on top of him again, and he spread his legs, arranged us so that I could rest against him. He smiled at me again in the dark and tilted his head forward, and kissed me. He looped his arms around me, rested them against the small of my back.

My hand ran up the inside of his left arm and I found the scars. He tensed up and I was afraid he’d pull back and shut down, not tell me. It had been more than a year and he’d never really told me what happened with Forest. Not all of it, anyway.

 

He licked his bottom lip, the way he did when he was thinking about something really hard.  He took a long breath. “They tied me to a chair and blindfolded me. They wanted to know where Jeannie was. I wouldn’t tell them.” He stopped talking, his eyes looking off into the darkness.

 

“So they beat you.” I managed to keep my voice level, because he needed me to listen more than he needed me to be angry. My heart was beating so hard I was sure he’d be able to feel it against his chest.

 

“Yes,” he said, his eyes slowly refocusing on me. “Yes. Over and over. I’d pass out and they’d wait for me to come to, and started all over again. I thought all I had to do was outlast them. Then they tied something around my arm. Until the moment the needle went in, I had no idea what they were planning to do.”

 

“I’m fine now,” he said. “You know that.” He took a breath. “No permanent damage.”

 

He was watching me now, and maybe he did feel my heart beating, because he wrapped his arms around me firmly again, and leaned forward to brush his lips against mine.

 

“Just these,” I said, reaching up to rest my fingers against his scars.

 

“Just these,” he said.

 

Then he shifted under me, pulling me up a little so he could kiss me. This one was harder and more serious than the one before. “Starsk,” he murmured and I knew he was finally asking for something I could give him.

 

I pressed against him until I was straddling him—he was hard already, and I was getting there real quick. The sleepy look was gone from his eyes and I leaned down and started to move against him. His hands were holding tight on to my hips and he was pulling me against him again and again. He kissed me hard and then he was moaning into my mouth. Like he wanted to get lost in me. He pulled his mouth away from mine and pressed it against my shoulder, gasping out words like please and now and Starsk.

 

I drove myself against him and came hard, growling and biting against his shoulder. And his voice was in my ear, saying “yes, yes, yes” when he came.

 

He was moving now, easing me over to lie next to him. I looked at him lying there in the darkness and I got a shiver again. I moved my hand up his arm, and shifted closer. He was watching me now, but his eyes were so dark I couldn’t read them.

 

He looked at me. “I love you,” he said softly.

 

“Yeah,” I said. “I know.” 

 

He reached over a minute later to pick up the alarm clock from the night table. “Marcus' sentencing hearing’s at nine. I’ll set it for six-thirty, okay?”

 

“Sure. That’ll give us enough time to drop your car off at Merle’s on the way.”

 

He leaned forward and kissed me quickly. “Merle is not touching my car.”
 

“Sure, whatever you say, Hutch.”

We were both worn out, but we stayed awake a while longer, talking quietly in the dark.

 

~~~

 

 

September 2007

Big thanks to Kaye for all her help.

 

Vid by Laura McEwan of the same name at http://www.hawksong.com/~lauramcewan/starskyhutch_index.html#Vids

 

 

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