title>The Cat Has It by Cindy Robinson
Disclaimer... I do not own any characters found in the series "Starsky and Hutch". This is not intended to infringe on any copyrights held by Spelling-Goldberg Productions, Twentieth Century Fox Studios, or any other holders of Starsky and Hutch copyrights. There has been no money involved nor has any exchanged hands. No reprints or reproductions with the author's permission. This is just intended to be for fun.
It was one of those days again and David Starsky was sweating through every minute of it. And it was not just any 'one of those days', but one of the hottest ones yet. This particular August was a fiery one, with weeks that rarely dipped below 80 degrees at night, while hitting a hundred or more during the day. The whole city was hot, tired and extremely grouchy. And close on their heels was this one off-duty detective.
The muscular, dark-haired man was half-buried in the engine of his bright red car attending to it's regular maintenance. Attire for the day was ratty cut-offs, a dirty, torn t-shirt and bare feet. The latter was only possible because of the relative shade of the apartment's attached garage, the cement driveway outside being well beyond a comfortable temperature for bare toes. Wiping the sweat from his brow with an oil and grime stained forearm, the Torino owner gave the dipstick one last check. He found the oil clear and up to the proper mark. Surprisingly, he found he was disappointed.
I gotta be crazy, he thought to himself, giving his engine a quick glance. I ought'a be at the beach with a million other people, getting sunburned and feelin' half-human in the breeze, not here workin' on this thing again. 'Specially when it doesn't need any work.
He sighed and straightened up carefully, backing gratefully out of the tremendous heat of the drop light, stepping into the pitiful breeze of the elderly fan on the garage's workbench. Deep blue eyes surveyed his prize possession, with frustration. He had actually lost interest in the project some time ago. The Torino had been washed, waxed and vacuumed, every detail patched or scrubbed until it shined. And that was yesterday. Today David Starsky had spent in the whole morning in the darkened apartment garage in order to tinker with parts that didn't need tinkering. Now it just bored him.
So what now? He wondered, reaching for the warm beer on the workbench. There wasn't much incentive in going and staying inside, as his air-conditioner was broken again and had been for a couple of days now. He was on the company's 'to repair' list, but with this heat wave there wasn't much chance they would get to him before Christmas. Three days off in a row and I spend it at home, sweatin' and bored. He sighed and took a swig of the bitter beer, grimacing.
He and Hutch had worked like gang-busters for the past few weeks, doing just that, busting gangs. The heat wave had frayed tempers like a knife on a rope and little slights had turned into deadly wars. He and Hutch had haunted the inner city during the long, warm nights being visible in the bright Torino, delving into large, menacing groups to head off possible confrontations. But they couldn't be everywhere and sometimes arrived too late on a scene, too late to stop a horrible beating, or a death. Twice in the last week Starsky had watched someone die before help could arrive, the direct result of a stupid argument and tempers flaring like a match. But even cops get frayed and tired from such night duty, so Starsky and his partner had been given three days off in the middle of the week to shake out the kinks and sleep during the night.
Unfortunately with a broken air-conditioner in his apartment, even the nights were too hot to handle this week. And the detective was bored. Television was unable to keep his interest and he had seen his fill of movies in packed theaters where the over worked machines could still keep the crowds cool. The beaches were filled up daily and nightly now, with a thousand tourists and locals on every square foot of sand and the traffic anywhere near the beach front was horrible. The detective had even given up hoping of finding a parking place near Venice Place until well after dark, if even then. Not that he had had a lot of reason to do anything but stop by and pick his waiting partner up from the front of the building anyway.
And here it is, my second day off and still no peep from him. Starsky shrugged to himself, pretending he didn't care. If he's got better things to do than to hang out with me on his time off, fine by me. He shut and locked the garage door, taking the old fan up with him into the dark and silent apartment. He positioned the old fan on a counter so it would cover the living room, wondering why he bothered at all. He dumped his warm beer and pulled a cold one from the refrigerator, holding it against his forehead for one wonderful moment before opening it up and plopping down on the couch. So what do I do with the rest of the day? Need to do something....
But a part of him knew that just like yesterday, he wouldn't be able to find any activity that interested him. It wasn't so much that it was too hot to gather much interest in things, it was that he really didn't feel like doing them alone. Most of the people he knew worked during the day and the ladies he dated on and off had steady jobs, so they weren't up to staying up late during the week. Huggy would still be sleeping this early in the afternoon and Hutch... Well, Hutch seemed to have better things to do than to hang around with him anymore.
I'm not going to call him again, he pledged firmly. If he's got somethin' important to do during his time off that doesn't include me, I'm not gonna tag along after him like some lost puppy. I've got a life too, Starsky glanced around with a sigh, somewhere around here. He tried not to think about the growing feeling of loneliness that had crept up on him during the past month or so. That and the feeling of unease that his partner was in some kind of trouble was growing ever more insistent as the days passed. It hadn't been anything sudden or obvious and Starsky really wasn't sure when it had started, but it was there all the same.
It had begun more than a month ago. Hutch had been sullen and quiet, mad about the decrepit LTD needing new tires and the endless work on it's motor. Starsky wouldn't have thought much of it, knowing the tall blond didn't deal with the oppressive heat very well, until he'd gotten the frustrated call from Merl. The agitated garage owner had not really cared which detective he talked to, but unless 'Hutchsky' wanted to be known as a bad credit risk, he'd better get over there and work out some kind of payment plan. Merl wasn't running his garage out of a piggy bank, and those piss-ant payments weren't going to keep that nasty machine rolling on four wheels for much longer.
Starsky had been stunned and speechless. Hutch might be tight with a penny when it came to that ugly car of his, but the man was meticulous about paying all of his bills on time and in full whenever possible. Hutch was a saver and Starsky knew the man could well afford a new car anytime he took a mind to buying one. So the word from Merl that his partner was arrears in his payments had startled him. Starsky had soothed Merl with a few words and had made sure the man was placated before he hung up on him.
And it hadn't been pleasant relaying Merl's message to the tall blond. Starsky had passed it along quietly when they were back out in the Torino and the darker detective had seen the man flush even redder in the never ending heat. Hutch hadn't said a word, but acted embarrassed for the rest of the day. When they had parted that evening, Starsky had watched the LTD pull out of the police garage and head Merl's way.
The call hadn't been mentioned again and Starsky didn't want to pry, but he started noticing the smaller incidents more and more. On duty, Hutch didn't eat lunch anymore unless he brought something with him. The blond said he ate breakfast at home, but the few raids Starsky had managed of his friend's refrigerator didn't show much there anymore. The man's cabinets seemed a little barer than usual, even of the healthier items the man was so fond of.
And then there were the other odd signals. Hutch didn't seem to want to eat out anymore and begged off when his partner suggested it. On the few nights when they had gone to Huggy's to hang out, Hutch would spend pocket change on one beer, but no more, refusing Starsky's offer of buying a round. The blond claimed to have lost interest in betting on their pool games, leaving Starsky to challenge the other regulars. Once or twice he had seen Hutch and Huggy conferring quietly in the background and later when Huggy mentioned Starsky's bar tab was due, no mention was made of Hutch's.
This had gone on for several weeks, until Starsky was certain that his partner was in financial trouble. He didn't want to pry and he didn't want to insult, but he quietly let Hutch know that if he needed anything, anything at all, all he had to do was ask.
Hutch had ignored the implication of the off-hand remark, but Starsky could tell it hadn't sat well. The darker detective couldn't tell if his friend's disquiet had been caused by the mere suggestion that he was in a bind, or with himself for being there. But the man had reacted to Starsky's well-meant offer immediately. That's when he shut me out, Starsky decided, sipping his beer in the dark. It was like he shut a door, with him on one side and me on the other.
Everytime they had a moment off to relax, Hutch seemed to be busy. The blond always seemed to have some place to go, or something to do that didn't include his partner. When Starsky did call, he never seemed to be home. And when he dropped by, Hutch always acted startled and a bit guilty, glancing around as if to look for any stray evidence. What was worse was that Starsky had gotten the feeling that Hutch was just waiting for him to leave, too nervous to relax. It felt wrong. Really wrong.
David Michael Starsky hadn't felt this lonely in years. Not since he'd first moved to California, leaving all his family and friends behind, had he felt like such a loner. Since meeting Hutch at the academy, Starsky had felt free of the solitude he had suffered as a teenager. Even with the demands of the academy, a rookie patrol and a less-than-understanding wife, Hutch had always managed to fill in a spare moment or two with his friend. When Hutch and Vanessa had divorced, he and his partner had pretty much become inseparable. Starsky had always figured Vanessa's loss had been his gain and he might actually have been relieved to see her go if it had not hurt Hutch so much at the time.
So here I sit, left to my own devices again, and I'm not thrilled with the company. Starsky finally admitted the truth to himself. He didn't want to do anything but see what his partner was up to and shoot the breeze. But what if Hutch isn't home again? I can't track this whole city down for him. What if he brushes me off? Starsky took another look around the dark and sweltering apartment. An evil grin spread across his face as an idea took hold. I guess I'll just have to claim heat prostration. A guy's gotta get out of this sometime and since his air-conditioner still works, last time I heard, I'll just borrow his. He can either stay gone, put up with me and talk, or kick me out. And if he throws a fuss at the electric bill, then I'll offer to pay it.
Decision made, the detective sprang into action, collecting extra clothes and a bathing suit in case he needed it. No use wasting all his time off inside if Hutch wasn't going to co-operate. After all, there was still a nearby beach of a thousand people per square foot he could goof off in.
Starsky sat sullenly in bumper to bumper traffic, trying to keep his temper under control. Even with the Torino's air on high it was searing, so the detective settled for humming along with the new cat food commercial and watching the lovely ladies in short-shorts make their way toward the beach. He had found himself humming the silly advertisement over and over as he had circled Venice Place in the hopes of finding any parking at all.
After circling the area for a good three-quarters of an hour he finally found a space six blocks away from Venice Place. Still humming that commercial tune, Starsky sweated every inch of the way to the blond's apartment, enjoying the random ocean breezes that swept in and around the low buildings. He almost ran up the enclosed steps of the building, then used his spare key to enter after a quick knock.
The apartment was dark and only slightly cooler than the air outside. Every window was wide open, and even the glass door to the green house was propped open an inch with and old broom handle locking it in place. Hutch had apparently tried to catch whatever ocean breeze existed, but Starsky had other plans. After turning his partner's air-conditioner on and feeling the first flush of an icy breeze, he closed all the windows and closed the door to the greenhouse, feeling no sorrow for the greenery trapped outside.
There, he thought in satisfaction as he threw his gym bag in a corner, now if he's upset about the air-conditioning, I'll pay for it. It he's strapped for cash, I'll get the groceries. But he's not getting me back out into that heat unless he kicks me out on my keister. And he's not gonna do that unless he tells me why, first.
With the last beer from a mostly empty refrigerator in his hand, Starsky looked around the apartment with a trained eye, wondering what he should be looking for. Something was going on with Hutch and the darker detective tried not to feel hurt that he hadn't wanted to talk about it. Starsky felt that Hutch knew his partner was there for him, but sometimes the blond didn't know when to give it up and let things go. He did have his pride.
Well, now's the time to make him share, Starsky decided as he settled on the couch after turning on the TV. I'm not leaving 'til I find out what's going on. Even if it isn't any of my business.
The afternoon actually passed pleasantly for the detective as the dark apartment gradually cooled off under the roar of the struggling appliance. Starsky had finished the beer long ago and was foraging for the fifth time through mostly empty cabinets when he heard the rattle of a key in the lock.
Show time, Starsky thought decisively, putting on his best smile. Let him take his best shot and see how far it gets him.
Whatever mood Starsky thought he had been prepared for, it had not been the smiling, happy face of his partner or the cheerful greeting he was given.
"Starsk! How long have you been here? I was just going to call you." The blond, sweating and heat flushed looked happier than he had in days. He took off his extra shirt and removed his holster and gun.
"Hope you don't mind some company for a few days," Starsky answered uncertainly, surprised at the man's obvious welcome, "but I've moved in to steal your cool air. Mine's on the fritz again. Didn't think you'd mind." The smaller man watched his friend with a practiced eye.
"Sure," his partner replied with an unconcerned smile and a shrug. Hutch walked over to the unit and stood in front of it, eyes closed and head back in rapture. "Man, I can't tell you how much I've missed this, air you can breath without searing your lungs out."
"So why did you?" Starsky asked casually.
"Why did I what?" Hutch asked distractedly, obviously soaking up the cool air with relish.
"Why did you miss it? Why not just turn the thing on?"
Hutch tensed for half a second and turned to shrug. "Just hadn't been home enough to worry about it I guess." He waved toward Starsky's gym bag excitedly. "Hey, did you bring some good clothes? I got this great idea I was going to call you about. I've heard about this great new Indonesian restaurant uptown on...."
"The new one?" Starsky asked with surprise. "The one Yates in Juvie was going on and on about?"
"Yeah!" Hutch answered enthusiastically. "I've heard the food is wonderful and the service excellent. We wouldn't have to dress up real fancy, just nice slacks and a clean shirt. You want to try it out with me?"
"Ah, didn't Yates say it was real pricey?" Starsky asked in confusion. "I mean, it's still a coupl'a day 'til payday and..." the darker man drifted off, not wanting to mention Hutch's apparent poverty during the last month.
"My treat," Hutch announced, watching Starsky with an almost pleading look. "It's been ages since we've eaten out and I really want to try this place. What do you say?"
"Well, sure, but you don't have to..."
"Ah!" Hutch raised his hand to fend off Starsky's denial of his offer. "My idea, my treat. You can get the bill next time. Now I," he continued, going to his closet and starting the selection process, "am going to take a shower and get ready. We can beat the crowds if we don't wait for a late dinner. Then we can sit in air-conditioning and not come out until the sun goes down, if we time it right."
"Okay," Starsky answered cautiously and was rewarded with a heartfelt smile.
"Great! I'll call for reservations, in case they get full." Hutch made the short call and quickly hit the shower.
Okay, maybe I've been off base all month, or maybe something's changed, Starsky thought in confusion. But I know that something is going on, he's trying to keep me away from whatever it is. I just hope he's in a talking mood tonight. And I hope he can really afford it.
They had showered and changed quickly, discussing the location of their respective cars. Hutch had managed to find a space several blocks closer than Starsky had, so the smaller man only argued half-heartedly for the Torino. He kept it light and friendly, hating to push Hutch's good mood too far. Actually in this heat, settling for the closest car was fine by him.
By the time they were ready to leave, Hutch's air-conditioner had just managed to make the apartment feel normal. Starsky almost gasped with his first step onto the shaded steps from Hutch's apartment, sweat breaking out anew. He waited on the sidewalk while Hutch locked the place up, glad the evening breeze had started up a bit early.
Hutch joined him quickly, but was it his imagination, or had Hutch flashed him a glare just then? It had passed too fast for Starsky to be sure.
"Looks like you're going to be swamped tonight," Starsky remarked cautiously. He nodded toward the still-packed street and the crowded sidewalks, wanting to make conversation. "Lots of late night parties in the works."
Hutch nodded and turned toward his car's direction, setting a quick pace. "Yeah, it's always swamped this time of year. The local precinct has doubled up on the black 'n whites in the area during their night patrols. They've given up trying to get the people off the beach at night. Now they're just settling for keeping the commotion down."
The rest of the walk was like a obstacle course as they dodged other pedestrians and those entrepreneurs who had opened instant business', following the crowds to the beach.
Contrary to logic and fate, Hutch had been able to park closer to the beach than Starsky had. Coming up to the dirty LTD, the first thing Starsky noticed were the four new tires that it wore. They were a strange sight on the beat-up old vehicle and Starsky spent the few seconds waiting for Hutch to unlock his door by studying them closely.
All season radials, steel belted, name brand, Starsky cataloged in surprise. Big bucks for this wreck. Hutch has never shelled out that kind of money before, not for tires anyway.
"You coming?" Hutch asked through the passenger window, startling Starsky out of his inspection. "I've got the air on already."
The LTD's seats were searing, even with the weak airflow from the dashboard. Starsky was tempted to just open the window and be done with it, but decided to let Hutch have this small fantasy of a fully functioning car. "When did you get the new tires?" Starsky asked, watching his partner's face as it closed off just a bit. "That's a lot of money you've got on there."
"Yeah, got those on and balanced this morning," Hutch answered casually, but the slight shrug he gave was tight. "I've had a bad time with those re-treads and decided to just get new ones so I don't have to worry about it for awhile."
"Oh." Starsky leaned back and studied his friend. Definitely uncomfortable about something, he decided. "Well, what have you been up to this last month, buddy?" he ventured, not sure how to keep Hutch's wall from coming up. "Feel like I haven't talked to you in ages."
"What do you mean?" Hutch answered quickly, sparing him a slight glance over the heavy traffic. "I've been just the same as always."
Not hardly, Starsky answered silently. "Just seemed like you'd been busy all month. Like you said, it seems like it's been forever since we've even eaten out together or just hung out. I was just wondering when I'd get to meet her."
"Her?" Hutch asked in confusion. "Oh, no, there's been nothing like that." He sounded uncomfortable. "And if there were, you would have met her by now."
Well, scratch that idea, Starsky though into the continuing silence. A glance at the blond showed he was unusually interested in the traffic, so the smaller man decided to drop the subject for awhile.
The farther away they got from the beach area, the better the traffic got. The LTD's laboring fan was putting out a decent, if not cooling breeze and Starsky settled down for the drive. He was studying a lovely young thing in hot-pants at the corner who was making eyes at him when he was startled by his friend's outburst.
"Starsky, do you have to do that?" Hutch asked in exasperation, throwing his partner a slight glare.
"What? What am I doing?" The darker man glanced around in with confusion.
Hutch sighed and shook his head slightly. "Nothing, never mind."
"I wasn't doing anything," Starsky replied, a bit defensively. Was I?
"I know, never mind, I didn't mean to snap at you," Hutch replied quietly, reaching for the radio knob. "Let's see what's on the news."
Starsky shifted again, wondering if he had been drumming his fingers on the passenger door while making eyes at the young lady. He discretely put both hands in his lap to forestall the possibility and listened to the evening news.
The same old thing, day after day, he thought with disgust. Everyday it just gets hotter, tempers get shorter, more fights and more deaths. If it doesn't cool off soon.... It was then that he caught the tight lipped glance his friend threw at him. "What?"
"Nothing. Nothing," Hutch replied quickly, suddenly switching the radio off.
"Hutch, this is getting ridiculous," Starsky said seriously, turning to study his friend across the hot space. "I'm not blind you know. First off, for the past month you've been acting like you're broke, when I know you've got more money stashed away then a squirrel saving nuts for retirement. Then you spend a month avoiding me like the plague, never having a moment to just hang around." Starsky shrugged a little and lowered his voice. "You know a guy can understand bein' broke, things happen. But when you start avoidin' a person, they start to wonder what they did wrong."
"It's nothing you did, Starsk. Don't worry about it." Hutch had replied with a forced smile. "Everything's fine now."
Starsky had seen the smile for what it was and knew that whatever was bothering his friend, it wasn't fine. But his thoughts were interrupted by their arrival at the restaurant. Hutch pulled in and parked the LTD in the only available spot, next to some very expensive cars.
Whoa! I don't know about Hutch, but if this is the kind of clientele they draw, I'm not sure I can even afford to walk into the place, Starsky thought uncomfortably.
"Look, Starsk, like I said," Hutch said quietly, "it's been forever since we've gone out to eat and just talk in something that resembles a normal temperature. I'd just like to kick back and enjoy it. No third degree, okay?"
Starsky saw the pleading in the sincere blue eyes and realized that if he pushed the subject, it would ruin a meal for both of them.
Well, it's already been a month, I guess I can give him a few more hours. "Sure," Starsky replied with a small grin. "But you'd better make sure you've got enough cash, partner. I would take it personally if I had to wash dishes to cover my supper."
"Don't worry, Starsk," Hutch patted his back pocket as he climbed out of the car. "Got it covered."
Dinner was a success. A full and hedonistically satisfied Dave Starsky stretched out in the LTD beside his partner, reclining in the cooling evening breeze on the way back to Venice Place. The atmosphere of the new restaurant had been exotic, dark and relaxing while the warm and spicy smell of it's specialized cuisine had encouraged their appetites. Hutch had been true to his word to treat his partner this time out and hadn't skimped when it came to ordering. He had even bypassed Starsky's attempts to pay his part of the tab and wouldn't hear of his friend pitching in.
It had been an all around pleasant evening, cool and relaxing with good food and good conversation, in which Starsky had felt himself the center of attention. But it hadn't fooled him for a moment. For each mild question about Hutch's whereabouts and actions during the past month came ten or more questions about Starsky's mother, his brother, his current hobbies and toward the end of the meal, the Torino. A sure sign of desperation on Hutch's part.
Since the darker detective planned to spend the night and the next day off in his partner's company, he had decided to give the third degree a rest on their way back to Venice Place. They both sat quietly, taking in the early evening sights and moving slowly with the heavy traffic. Starsky had caught a brief glimpse off an annoyed glance from his partner, but still had no clue as to what he was doing to earn them.
This time Hutch wasn't so lucky and was forced to park five blocks from Venice Place. The walk back was just as crowded as the last one, people coming out in droves for the evening hours. They both sighed with relief when entering Hutch's apartment and the crisp air within.
"Hey," Hutch asked on his way to the kitchen, "You're staying the night, right? Want to go out and do something tomorrow? I have a feeling it's going to be our last day off for a good, long while."
"Don't know." Starsky flopped on the couch and sighed, feeling better now that he could loosen his belt and get comfortable. "Depends on what you want to do and how hot it's going to get. I'd just as soon stay here if you're thinkin' of somethin' outside." He propped his feet on the coffee table and stretched.
Hutch dug through his cabinets and refrigerator, hand on hips in disgust. "Well, looks like I'm going to have to run down to the corner, my kitchen is bare. I might as well go before I get comfortable for the evening. Anything specific you want while I'm out?"
Starsky shrugged unconcernedly. "Just some ice cream or some soda. Whatever."
Hutch left for the corner store and Starsky moved just enough to turn on the TV set and grab the viewing schedule for the evening.
So, for weeks he seems to be broke, then he's flush enough to buy four new tires and splurge on an expensive meal, Starsky mused uncomfortably. He has no spare time for weeks on end, now he can kick back for awhile. And he definitely doesn't want to talk about it. So whatever it is, it must be settled. Maybe, Starsky wondered, it really isn't my business, if he's really okay now.
Hutch's phone rang loudly, startling the thoughtful detective.
"Hello?" Starsky answered distractedly.
"Hutchinson? Ken Hutchinson?"
"Sorry, he's out for the moment. Need to leave a message?"
"Yeah, sure! This is Daniel, over here at the studio. Tell him we've got his last paycheck over here, anytime he wants it. Sorry we couldn't have given it to him with other one, but we just didn't have all the paperwork sorted out. And with him using a stage name, well, it takes an extra step to make sure we've got our records straight."
"Uh, paycheck?" Starsky stammered in surprise. "His last one?"
"Sure, unless we can talk him into performing for us again. You know, we don't usually take people right off the street like that, but when Janos Martini sent him over..."
"Janos?" Starsky asked, shocked and desperately trying not to sound like it. "Isn't that the Janos Martini that makes those skin flicks? The porn guy on Chandler Avenue?"
"Sure, that's the one," the disembodied Daniel replied enthusiastically. "Like I said, we don't usually take someone off the streets, but when Janos slipped us the word, we gave him a tryout, you know, just as a favor for someone who knew the business. But Janos was right and we've got the audience ratings to prove it!"
"Audience?!" Starsky asked dumbly. He knew he sounded as bright as a forty watt bulb, but he knew he wasn't quite getting this. What would Hutch be doing with that scum Janos and a studio? All that guy knows is skinflicks!
"Yeah, he's sure a favorite around here! I know he really isn't into this kinda thing and we were lucky to get him for our projects. But he sure helped out when we had that problem the second time around. He even had a few tricks we hadn't seen before. Since we're just a fledgling studio, we really needed all the help we could get and our clients were thrilled with the results."
"I bet they were," Starsky replied in budding disbelief. He could feel his face turning red at the obvious conclusion he was being forced into. "You... you said something about a stage name? On his check?"
"No, no," Daniel replied hastily. "We got all the paperwork fixed this time around. He won't have any trouble cashing this one. We hadn't worked with many stage names before as most guys in the business really don't care what name they work under or what name goes on the credits. We actually hadn't done the paperwork that often, but I can see why a guy in his line of work wouldn't want the word to get around, if you know what I mean." Daniel chuckled, sounding amused at the idea. "So, hey, tell Ken we've got his real name on this check, so we should all be squared away now. And if he wants some more work, tell him to stop on by and we'll find him some way to show off, even if it's just a spot in the back with the extras. We'd love to have him."
"Uh, yeah, sure," Starsky swallowed thickly, not knowing what else to say or how to pry further without being obvious. "So you're Daniel, from...?"
"Sin-Naps Studios," Daniel answered. "Gotta go, so tell Ken 'hi' for me and if he doesn't pick up his check in a week, I'll throw it in the mail. Thanks!"
"Bye," Starsky answered distractedly into the dial tone. I can't believe it! Starsky felt as if his brain were frozen with the shock of it all. Hutch in porno movies! How the hell could he do a thing like that? I mean, in front of a camera? How could he do...that... in front of a camera? He gets stage fright in front of a group of five or more just singing. And a stage name? Didn't he think people would recognize him? Starsky was suddenly glad he was sitting down, as the thought of his partner in nothing but socks and a mask threatened to throw out everything he thought he knew about his long-time friend.
Desperate, the smaller man decided. Hutch had to be really really desperate to do something like that. The nagging feeling that in some way he had let his partner down was pushing it's way forward, again. He could've come to me, Starsky declared silently, surprised at how angry he felt. He knows he could've come to me and I would have helped him out. He didn't have to go compromising' himself in front of the whole world like that. He knows I would have given him my last dime, my last penny, if he needed it, so why not ask? Starsky's thoughts suddenly drifted to a dark possibility he hadn't considered. Just the suggestion of the possibility threatened to twist Starsky's stomach into knots.
For a few years now the smaller man had purposefully pushed Hutch's forced heroin addiction aside in his mind. He had very rarely dwelt on what he knew full well to be a lifelong problem for those who were unlucky enough to have started the deadly cycle.
But he would've told me, wouldn't he? Starsky wondered numbly, his spicy dinner like a rock in his gut. If he'd been drawn back into that mess, wouldn't he have told me about it? I know he's still ashamed of it and still feels like he could've done something to stop it. Could he have gotten to a point where he thought he could handle it himself and failed?
Starsky paced the living room, furiously thinking back in time, past the month when an renewed addiction could have eaten away at a full bank account. But he couldn't think of anything that could or should have been a warning signal. Hutch had been well, as far as Starsky could tell, thin, but not unusually so. There had been a few scrapes and bruises on Hutch's part, nothing big enough or serious enough to make him act sick or in pain. Or strung out, Starsky mused unhappily. But then again, if he's getting enough to keep him going....
It was with a small bit of relief that he remembered that Hutch had taken off his outer shirt just as he returned home this afternoon. The blond had been hot and unselfconscious at removing the long sleeved shirt that hid the gun and holster, revealing bare arms in a light t-shirt. And if there had been any tracks, Starsky knew he would have noticed them in a split second. But Hutch had been very self-conscious about the needle tracks from Ben Forest's attack. It had taken a whole summer and a dark tan before the man had really felt comfortable that all the outward signs were gone. But Starsky well knew here were other places an addict could inject that would not show as readily. And if Hutch were hooked again, he would not be stupid about it.
You're just guessing, Starsky admonished himself, pausing and taking a calming breath to get his emotions under control. You have no proof and this porno thing is throwin' you for a loop. Whatever reasons he had to do what he did, you're going to find out what it is and help him set it straight. You've left the whole thing alone for way too long now. He's had his privacy, but you've got too much invested in the guy to let him screw up his life now. Starsky poured himself a glass of cold water and drank it slowly, preparing for the moment when his partner walked through the door.
Several long, tense, minutes passed before the curly haird man heard a familiar step beyond the door. He dashed over and opened it up to see a heavily laden Hutch making his way up the stairs.
"Here, these are yours," Hutch announced, nodding to the overloaded sacks in his left arm. "Next time I'm shopping for both of us, you're going too. It's still too hot to be carrying all this by myself." Hutch handed over the sacks and repositioned the remaining two he had left. "You should see the crowds in the grocery store, Starsk! Molly's dad is having a run on business. He's almost out of everything in there. I guess this hot weather is doing wonders for the beach front business', even with the parking problems."
Starsky followed his partner into the apartment, pausing just long enough to shut the door behind them. Hutch seemed hot and out of breath, but in a cheerful mood. Both men unloaded groceries while Hutch talked nonstop about the beach area and the encroaching crowds. The darker detective listened without comment and with only half an ear while they both unpacked the brimming bags.
After finishing up his sack, Starsky waited until Hutch's next lull to break in with his news. "There's something I need to tell you," he announced casually. "Daniel called."
Hutch stiffened immediately, his back turned to his friend and an uneasy minute of silence passed. "Daniel? Did he say what he wanted?" Hutch's voice was cautious and Starsky could tell he had the man's whole attention.
"Your check is ready," Starsky said emotionlessly, watching the frozen man like a hawk.
"Yeah. Your second and last check is ready."
"Ah." Hutch resumed the unpacking of the groceries, as if he didn't care in the least. "Did he say anything else?"
"Sure did." Starsky walked up to his partner and turned his back to the counter, leaning against it in order to get a good look at Hutch's face. He was unsurprised to see the blond had flushed red and was not meeting his gaze as he fiddled with his purchases. "It seems they would love to have you back and that you're using a stage name threw them off, which is why your first check took so long to process."
"Oh." Hutch replied with a careful shrug, playing at washing the produce. "Well I guess I can run over and get it tomorrow. Did he say anything else?"
"Enough," Starsky replied sharply, "Hutch just what the hell is going on here?"
Hutch screwed up his face in disgust and tossed a hapless carrot into the sink, utterly forgotten. "Ah, man, Starsk! I really really wished he hadn't told you anything. This is not something I really wanted anyone to know, least of all you. Look it's over now, can we just forget it?"
"Forget it? Forget it?! How the hell am I supposed to forget something like that?" Starsky exploded, no longer willing to hold himself back. He grabbed Hutch's arm and hauled the larger man over to the couch. "Sit!"
Hutch gave him an incredulous look, but obeyed, slumping like a annoyed teenager. Starsky perched on the end of the coffee table, facing his friend. "Look, you're not just my partner, but my best friend," Starsky stated as if reciting a well known lecture. "You know that. If you had needed anything, and I mean anything, you could have come to me, right?"
"Look, Starsky, I know all that." Hutch leaned forward, elbows on knees and looking totally embarrassed. "Really I do and I appreciate it. But I did something really stupid and it didn't work out like I thought it would. I just needed the second job to clean up some bills I had. I didn't know how things were going to turn out and I didn't want you to worry about it."
"Hutch, I'm not stupid nor blind," Starsky shot back, surprised at his own anger. "I've been worried about things for weeks now. I didn't know if you were mad at me or what, but I sure as hell noticed. And if it's not something I did, I figured it was something you didn't want me to know about. And that made me feel even worse."
"Hey, I'm sorry, buddy." Hutch reached over and gave one of Starsky's knees an affectionate squeeze. "I just didn't want to spill my troubles over to you, that's all."
"Well, they've gone and exploded, so I'm in on it now." Starsky sighed and gathered his strength for the next question. "Hutch, I know you had a big chunk of money stashed away just a year ago. And there's only a couple of things I know that would burn it up that fast. Gambling or drugs."
Starsky held his breath, watching Hutch's eyes as he took in what Starsky was saying. As soon as he said it, Hutch's face registered his utter surprise and annoyance.
"What?! Starsk, why would you think I was into either of those thing? I'm not stupid either," Hutch said the last angrily and sat back into couch, obviously upset. "I mean, you know I don't gamble and why in the world would you think I would get into --"
"Back into..." Starsky interrupted quietly, trying to soften the accusation with the tone of his voice. He saw Hutch's eyes widen as the horror of the thought registered in the blond man's whole face and body. They were both quiet for a few minutes, Hutch studying him just as closely as he was being studied.
Suddenly Hutch sighed sadly. "Damn. I'm sorry, Starsk. It never even crossed my mind that you would think something like that, not even for a second. I'm not hooked again and if I even felt a twinge I'd tell you. You've got to know that, don't you?" Ice blue eyes expressed sorrow and sincerity at the question.
Starsky shrugged at the response from the other man. "I had thought so. But we both know what people will do when they get into that stuff, Hutch." Images of the tall blond trying to escape from him while recovering from withdrawal still made Starsky cringe. "You're only human, y'know? I don't expect miracles from you."
Hutch rubbed at his face with both hands, nodding at the suggestion. "Yeah, but I've got more help than most and I know that. I also know full well what it could do to me, to my career and to you. But you're right and I'm not super human. So anytime you need to check me out, just ask. And if I say no, just wrestle me down and check me out anyway." Hutch gave him a small, shy smile. "It'll remind me that I've got someone else to answer to." Hutch studied Starsky's face for a long moment. "You've seen my arms recently, need to see the rest?" Hutch asked the question quietly, moving as if ready to comply.
Starsky knew in an instant that he wouldn't find any track marks on Hutch anywhere. Hutch was too willing and too sincere to be bluffing. "No. Guess not." He smiled at his blond friend, feeling greatly relieved that the worst of his fears were out in the open and swiftly dealt with. "But I still don't understand. How did you get so broke?"
Hutch leaned back against that couch and shook his head unbelievingly. "It was my own fault and I was lucky everything worked out in the end. You know my brother-in-law?"
"Mark?" Starsky asked in surprise.
"Yeah. He called me about four months ago with a sob story. Apparently he'd gotten himself into a financial bind and needed money to keep himself going until some kind of deal was closed. It had to do with some land deal he was going to buy, then turn over for some big bucks. He had already borrowed against the house and had cashed in all their CD's to get the deal started. Apparently something hit a snag and the deal wasn't going to be closed in time. He didn't have enough left to pay the bills on the ranch while he was waiting. He didn't want my sister to know about it and you know how my folks would have taken it if he'd asked them. So he asked me for enough to tide him over until the deal went down."
"And he cleaned you out." Starsky shook his head and moved over to sit next to his partner on the couch. "This from a man who said 'never loan to a family member, 'specially is his name was Mark'?" Starsky settled and gave Hutch a teasing nudge in the ribs. "Anything for your sister, huh?"
"Yeah, well, his 'I'll pay you back next month' turned into three months and when I had the LTD at Merle's all the time, still needed new tires, had my car insurance due and the electric bills from the heat..." Hutch shook his head at the memory. "I didn't have anything left to fall back on and was caught between a rock and a hard place."
"So? Why didn't you come to me?" Starsky asked quietly. "You know you could've borrowed what you needed."
"Starsky, by then I didn't think I was ever going to see my savings again, not after Mark brushed me off every time I called him. I thought I'd been royally had," Hutch admitted, looking sheepish. "Besides the fact that I didn't want to admit I'd made a very costly mistake, I didn't have anyway to pay you back. Either way, I was going to have to moonlight. At least that way I could stand on my own and build my savings back up by myself, without bothering you."
"It wouldn't've been a bother," Starsky admonished seriously. "And it would have been a lot easier on me than wonderin' if I'd done something wrong, or to know you had to go out and... and... do that."
"Yeah, that really was embarrassing," Hutch admitted rubbing at his face shyly. "I mean, sure, I may have some talent in that area, but it's not exactly where I wanted to go with it, you know? And it was a hard decision, but they were willing to work around my hours. The pay stunk, but I couldn't be too choosy."
"But really, Hutch," Starsky interjected with disbelief, " I mean, couldn't you have found something more dignified. Of all the things you could have done, did you have to go with that?"
"Well, it wasn't that bad," Hutch replied a bit defensively. He got up and walked to the refrigerator. "I told you, they could work around my hours and they really appreciated my expertise. After all, I did use a stage name, so it wouldn't come back to haunt me and the studio is all the way on the other side of town." Hutch waved a beer in Starsky's direction and he nodded his consent. Hutch handed it to him as he sat back down.
"Well, that's okay, 'n all, but weren't you..." Starsky was suddenly stuck for a word and found himself waving his hands in search of one, unknowingly threatening to slop his beer.
"Nervous? Sure," Hutch answered around a swig of his own drink. "I mean, I had to trust that this wouldn't get out to the station, but Sarah was great. She showed me the ropes before anything was taped."
"Sarah?" Starsky wondered if he should ask, but couldn't help it. "Who's Sarah?"
"She was my partner," Hutch answered simply. "She was great. She took the time to let me know what was going on, what was going to happen. Once we got going, I didn't even notice the studio equipment anymore. But man!" Hutch shook his head in disbelief. "All those takes and re-takes just about drove me crazy."
Starsky sat stunned through Hutch's dialog, not quite knowing what to say to all this. "I just can't believe you could do that," Starsky mumbled, mostly to himself. "I mean, never in a million years would I have thought you could have just walked in to a studio and made love on film."
Hutch suddenly choked, nearly spraying his beer with a sudden coughing fit. Starsky watched as Hutch struggled to gain a clear breath, trying to remember if you were supposed to thump someone on the back when they were choking on a drink as well as food.
"What?! What did you say?!" Hutch finally croaked out.
"What?" Starsky answered in confusion, startled at his friend's shocked look. "What I said about you walking in and...."
"Making love?! What in the world are you talking about?" Hutch was glaring now, getting up to wipe his face with a nearby kitchen towel. "Who said anything about making love?!"
"You did!" Starsky replied in defense. "Just now. I mean I know you needed money, but ..."
"Whoa!" Hutch coughed a few more time, obviously thinking furiously. "I thought you knew? I mean, you've been humming the damn thing all afternoon, so I thought you were just baiting me." Hutch held up a hand when Starsky opened his mouth to speak. "Wait, let's start at the top. When did Daniel call?"
"While you were getting groceries."
"Not before I got home? Earlier? What exactly did he say?"
"That he was from Sin-Naps Studios," Starsky started counting the items off on his fingers. "That your second check was in, that they wanted you back, that they'd fit you in with the extras in the back if you wanted a job, that you used a stage name and that Janos Martini recommended you because he knew the business." Starsky watched Hutch's face as he finished his list.
"No, no, no, Starsk. That's 'synapse', like in a brain function." Hutch laughed slightly, as if he were replaying their last conversation in his mind. "I didn't know Janos was in on this. Damn! Well I guess I can quite worrying about the information getting out. Not if Janos knows about it."
"Huuutch," Starsky found himself growling in mass confusion. "If you don't start explainin'...!"
"Starsk, it's a small studio on the other sided of town called Synapse Studios." Hutch sat back down next to his obviously befuddled partner, an embarrassed grin on his face. "Sweet Alice had told me about it some time ago. They record radio commercials for the local area. I thought she was the one with connections, not her old boss Juno. I thought she set up the audition with Daniel for me."
Starsky quickly let out the breath that he didn't know he was holding and felt his face grow red. "Radio commercial? You're tryin' to tell me your big, bad secret is you've done some radio commercials?" Starsky stood up and walked over to the kitchen, putting the untasted beer in the sink. "Why all the fuss, Hutch? Why not just tell me what it was?"
"Because I didn't want the whole department to know about it and I knew you'd think it was hilarious," Hutch countered defensively. "They don't pay much, but I took the job seriously, and..." Hutch shrugged sheepishly, "it's not something I wanted on my resume. Besides, I knew you'd never let me live it down."
"Hutch, you know, that really hurts me," Starsky replied as if his dignity had been insulted, unable to keep the relieved smile completely off his face. "Here I am, your best friend, probably the only person in existence that can stand you for more than an hour at a time, and you go and assume the worst about me. And here I hold you in such high esteem...
"Porno movies, Starsk," Hutch reminded him around a sip of beer, shaking his head in disbelief. "You thought I was doing porno movies."
"Well, yeah, guess I did," Starsky admitted with a chuckled. "But only for a second, and only the really artsy kind where everyone wears those weird costumes and you don't see nothin' really good anyway."
"Gee," Hutch said in a long suffering tone, "nice of you to believe I have such high standards, pal." Hutch shook his head and studied the beer label, face turning red once again. "I'm beginning to feel I would have had been left with a lot more dignity if you had been too embarrassed to blab it all over the station."
"Blab? I never blab I'll have you know," Starsky replied, assuming an air of bruised dignity. "And how bad can it be anyway? So you sang some background music..." Starsky broke off at the sheepish shake of Hutch's head.
Again, a red faced 'no' from the blond.
Hutch studied his nails.
"Come on, Hutch! Give me a clue here," the smaller man begged, knowing this was something really really good. The suspense was killing him.
"I, uhmmm..." Hutch replied in a embarrassed mumble and Starsky leaned forward to hear him better.
"I barked." Hutch grimaced.
"You barked." Starsky sat sideways in the couch next to his friend, propping an elbow on the headrest and leaning his head in his hand. He watched his partner cringe at the inspection, blue eyes fixed on the other side of the room. "Like a dog?" Starsky asked cautiously. "You barked."
"In the first commercial. For a minute and a half," Hutch replied matter-of-factly, still not looking at his partner. "In duo with Sarah, in over three octaves, to the background score."
"Oh." Starsky bit his lip on the relieved giggle he felt forming over the news. "What kind of dog was it?" he asked with a big grin.
Hutch just gave him a warning glare and didn't answer.
"So, have I heard this performance? I don't remember hearing it on the radio."
"It... it didn't sell very well, but it played." Hutch got up and paced, apparently feeling jumpy. "But I got paid anyway. Then they called me in again for a few more jobs, and I gave them a few pointers on their sound mixing and the basic scores."
"Ah, those 'new tricks' Daniel mentioned to me." Starsky nodded knowledgeably around his ever-growing grin, holding back a chuckle or two. "So, did you get to bark some more?"
"No," Hutch answered in annoyance, reluctantly returning to the couch. "I did a few background vocals in a couple of standard soap commercials. But the last one was more successful and since I helped write part of the score, besides being the main voice, I get a share of the royalties when they're collected. That ought to come out to about a buck and a half over a year's time." Hutch just shook his head unbelievably and rolled his eyes. "In fact, you actually caught me working on different versions of the score the last few times you came by. That's what I thought you were ribbing me with today."
"So, what was this miracle of vocal and technical talent?" Starsky asked, grinning at the thought of all the possibilities. "And if all that was chump change, what about the new tires and expensive dinner?"
"Mark finally paid me back in full yesterday, with no interest, the cheapskate." Hutch shook his head at what must have been a lesson well learned. "The new tires were because I needed them. The expensive dinner was because I missed not hanging around with you, although why, I don't know. Not after I spent all evening wondering if you were intentionally making fun of me or not. You were driving me crazy, you know. I couldn't for the life of me figure out how you could've found out about it. I had Sweet Alice and Dobey sworn to secrecy."
"Dobey? You told Dobey but not me?" Starsky asked, a trifle hurt at the admission.
"He had to sign the papers giving me permission to moonlight, remember? I. A. would have a fit if I didn't have permission and they found out about it."
"Oh, yeah! That's right. I'd forgotten about that," Starsk admitted sheepishly. Cops, like military personnel, weren't always allowed to do whatever they pleased on their off duty hours. Not if it would reflect on the department, hampered them in their jobs, or created a conflict of interest. "Okay, I'll buy that, but just how did I drive you crazy?"
"By your humming," Hutch exclaimed in annoyance. "Everytime I turned around you were humming that stupid commercial. I didn't know whether you were just doing it without thinking about it, or if you had found out what I was doing and were making fun of me. You've been driving me nuts all evening."
Starsky was quiet for a moment, searching his memory. "The cat one? Itty Bitty Kitty Food?" he asked incredulously. He suddenly broke out in helpless laughter. "You helped write that?! The one where the cat purrs to the jingle and meows to beg for a taste? I love that one!"
"Apparently," Hutch answered bitterly around the last sip of his beer. "I've been hearing that thing for a week now and I hate it. Everywhere I go, there I am..."
"What part?" Starsky interrupted excitedly. He really did love that commercial and it had been playing non stop in his head since he had first heard it. "What part did you do?"
Hutch sighed deeply, as if handing over the last of his dignity. "I re-composed some of the harmonies in the background and I'm... uh... the one who's purring and meowing."
"You?" Starsky snickered delightedly. "I didn't know you can do that! Do it now, just like in the commercial."
"No," Hutch replied forcefully. "Never again. And if I ever hear that song from you again, I swear, Starsky, you'll regret it. And as for the rest of the station...!" Hutch glared menacingly at his partner, the threat perfectly clear.
"Okay, okay," Starsky chuckled his agreement. He reached out and grabbed Hutch by the scruff of the neck and shook him affectionately. "I'll keep your deep, dark secret. Along with all the other stuff I'm too embarrassed to let people know my partner does."
"Yeah, right," Hutch answered with obvious hopelessness. "I know you, Starsk. First you'll have to tell your mother about it and I'm sure her coffee club will be thrilled. Then I'm sure Nicky will get a kick out of hearing the news. Then some cute new thing at the station, who doesn't know any better than to talk to you, is going to ask me about it in public. And the rest of the department is going to take up humming jingles and making cat sounds whenever I'm in the room. And if I'm really lucky, you'll get me a litterbox for my birthday," Hutch finished with a defeated sigh. "We both know I'm going to regret this for the rest of my life, don't we?"
"No, no. Really." Starsky smiled and stretched out on the couch, ready to enjoy a well earned, cool evening of getting on his friend's nerves. "I'll never let on to anyone how famous you really are. After all, I wouldn't want to start a cataclysm. Why that would be a catastrophe." He found himself chuckling at the truly evil look Hutch gave him. "After all, categorically cataloging that caterwaul would be the catalyst for a catatonic or cataleptic response from those in the station who...."
And as luck would have it, Starsky never could remember just what would have come next, losing track just seconds after receiving the unwarranted couch pillow to the face. But he had to admit, if only to himself, that he had been on a hell of a roll there.
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