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It was no use, no matter what Hutch did, he still couldn’t figure out Cleo Garvey. He’d been laying on his bed the better part of the day, just thinking about her. If she was a reporter like Starsky thought, whom did she work for, and how did she manage to infiltrate security during a federally mediated transfer of an important state’s witness? The questions were mounting fast in his head, but as yet he had no answers. It was five o’clock now and Starsky was due to drop by soon. He’d hoped to hear from her by now with a phone call or a visit, but since that hadn’t happened, he could only assume that the reason was because she hadn’t really felt about him the way he felt about her. It had all been subterfuge to get close to Carlisle, and after she got what she wanted, there was no need for a blond patsy. He’d been played for a fool.

When Starsky and Joyce came through the door laughing and carrying on, he sighed. The sounds of a happy couple wasn’t exactly what he needed to hear right now.

"Hey, buddy, I brought company. Hope you’re decent!"

Hutch rolled off the side of the bed and put on a game face. He picked up the crutches and eased himself up onto them, hobbling out the bedroom to greet his two callers. "Hey, Starsky, Joyce. How’d the trial go?" He positioned himself on the chair near the kitchen table and leaned the crutches against it.

"It went wonderfully. Carlisle’s testimony was the coup de grâce." Joyce replied.

"No kiddin’."

The two of them sat down together on the sofa together. A solemn Hutch remained standing.

"What’s the matter, pal? You look like you just lost your best friend."

"Wouldn’t be too far from the truth. I guess I really thought Cleo and I had something."

Joyce made some space between Starsky and herself. "Come on, take a load off that leg and come sit down."

Hutchinson did as he was told, planting himself down between them. His melancholy was palpable, but nothing his partner hadn’t seen before at one time or another.

"Look, Hutchinson, if ya don’t put a smile on that ugly mug of yours, I’m gonna make ya regret it." Starsky said, doing his best Bogart.

Hutch had to laugh.

"That’s it, that’s what I like to hear."

"I wasn’t laughing at your Bogart imitation, Starsk. I was just thinking about my love life. That’s the joke. Seems I’ve got no trouble *attracting* the opposite sex, it’s keeping them that’s a problem."

Joyce put her hand on his shoulder. "Come on, a great looking guy like you? It can’t be as bad as all that. Even though she and I didn’t exactly hit it off, I got the impression that Cleo was a good person, just a little distracted. I’m willing to bet she’ll come around soon."

"I don’t know, Joyce. I just feel like there’s a window of opportunity you give a person where they’re allowed to explain themselves and be forgiven, and she’s missin’ it. Maybe I’m too old-fashioned."

Starsky made a face. "There you go again, beating yourself up."

"Sorry, can’t seem to help myself. Guess it’s the old Hutchinson family guilt complex flarin’ up again."

"Okay, that’s it!" Starsky got up and walked into the kitchen, throwing open cabinet doors, checking out seasoning bottles. Apparently he was taking stock of the contents of Hutch’s always well-appointed kitchen. "So what would you like, Sport? Veal Parmigiana? Lasagna? What?"

"I’m not really hungry, but lasagna sounds nice. Maybe by the time it’s ready I’ll have an appetite."

"Good enough." He glanced at Joyce conspiratorially.

"I’ll give you a hand, I’m great with lasagna," she said, joining him at the kitchen counter.

"Ah, yet another facet of your many charms."

"You play your cards right, maybe you’ll get to know them all."

He cocked an eye at her lustfully. She surveyed the kitchen and found an apron, wrapped it around her waist and bumped him with her hip as she finished tying it. Starsky pulled down the ingredients for the lasagna, while Joyce started boiling lasagna noodles and putting together the filling. Hutchinson, left alone for the moment, reclined on the sofa, clasping his hands behind his head, losing himself again in his own private thoughts.

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About an hour later the glorious aroma of the lasagna pervaded the kitchen while its two chefs busily went about setting the table. Joyce took fresh baked rolls from the oven and put them into a cloth-covered basket, then set it in the middle of the table. Starsky put the cooled lasagna on the table with a salad and set three places for dinner. Then the two of them stood back and admired their handiwork.

"Not bad. Not bad." Starsky opined.

"If you must say so yourself. Shouldn’t we wake up Prince Charming over there?"

A deep voice came from the direction of the living room. "I’m not asleep. As a matter of fact, I’m wide-awake and I heard every word you two were saying over there. Including that remark you made about getting it on on top of my kitchen table, Starsky."

"What, who me? You musta been dreamin’, pal." He snuck a look at Joyce and then walked over to the couch and helped his partner up into a sitting position. Joyce undid the apron and pulled out a chair to make it easier for him to sit down. Starsky, ever the gentleman, was next to her in an instant to pull out a chair for her. "Madam."

"Why, thank you, sir."

She draped the apron on the back of the chair and sat down, placing a napkin in her lap. Hutch complained a little, but slowly ambled to the table without the aid of the crutches.

Starsky noticed his accomplishment. "Hey, you must be getting better, you did that all by your lonesome."

"It’s not half as uncomfortable as it was before, that’s for sure."

Starsky pushed his chair in for him. "So with any luck you’ll be back in the squadroom sooner than we thought."

"Hey," he said, putting a napkin over his lap. "Don’t rush me."

Starsky took the seat closest to Joyce and the two men picked up their utensils to start eating. As the two men prepared to dive into their plates, a look of surprise came over the counselor’s face. She instinctively pulled their plates away from them, effectively interrupting the movement of food from fork to mouth. "Don’t you guys bless your food before you eat it?"

Starsky looked somewhat perplexed. "Oh, yeah, all the time," he answered, his voice affecting sincerity.

"Sorry, Joyce. I guess Starsky and I are so used to eating on the run that that little practice kind of fell by the wayside." Hutch answered earnestly.

"You guys." She sniffed. "Okay, I’ll say it. Close your eyes."

Starsky screwed up his face into a pout, held his folk in his hand and waited.

"Come on." She urged him.

Soon realizing his meal was going to be held hostage and he had no choice, he closed his eyes with an, ‘Oh, all right, if you insist’ look on his face. Hutch closed his eyes as well. Once she was confident they wouldn’t start eating before she was done saying grace, she pushed their plates towards them. "Lord, bless this food we are about to eat, and please bless these two guys, because in their own weird and wonderful way, they’re doing your will and making this world a better place to live in. Amen."

"Amen." The two men said in unison.

Starsky looked at her expectantly. "Now?"

She nodded. "Yes, now."

She shook her head and smiled as they plowed into the meal.

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It had been four weeks since the Bartok trial had taken place, and just a little more than five since Hutch had heard from his missing love. The window of opportunity he’d given her was passing her by, and he was beginning to think he wouldn’t be able to forgive her even if she did show up. He was working in the office on this day, going over the reports for some old cases and getting them ready for the dead file. Starsky’s spot across from him was vacant for the moment, so he had a little time to himself.

He stacked the last file folder neatly on top of the others, and then pushed the entire stack to the side. He glanced over at the crutches that were leaning on the corner of a nearby chair and heaved a sigh. The sight of them served as one more painful and reminder of her. He’d almost thought about turning them in to the hospital now that the pain in his leg had diminished to a dull ache.

The arrival of three uniformed officers and his grizzly bear of a captain, Harold Dobey, soon intruded upon his solitude. The big man pushed through the squadroom door using his shoulder, as his hands were occupied with the task of carrying in his breakfast. His fare of choice for this day was a greasy bacon and egg sandwich that would have made Starsky proud, and a large cup of Coke to wash it down with. Loaded down as he was, he didn’t seem to notice the stifled snickers being held back by the officers in the room, including Hutchinson. He stopped in front of his office door and immediately acknowledged the detective’s unexpected presence. "Hutchinson, what are you doing here? I thought you weren’t supposed to be back here for another week."

"Got bored, Cap. Couldn’t take sitting at home another week."

"Well, make sure you take it easy. I wouldn’t want you to have a relapse or something."

Hutch smiled. "I’ll make sure I don’t overexert myself filing. Thanks, Captain."

Dobey headed for his office door, realizing too late that unless he somehow acquired telekinetic abilities, the door wasn’t going to open by itself. One of the officers stood up to help him, but he motioned him back. "I can do it." He grunted. The officer sat back down. Now all eyes were on him. Dobey shifted the cup of Coke to his left hand and put the sandwich in his mouth, paper wrapper and all. Then with his freed right hand he successfully opened the door. He turned, took the sandwich out of his mouth and gave the officers a cocky ‘I knew I could do it,’ grin. "Tell your partner I want to see him when he gets here." He indicated to Hutchinson before closing the door.

"Will do, Cap’."

Hutch was pouring himself a second cup of coffee when his partner walked in, armed with his usual exuberance. In his hand he was carrying a magazine, and there was a huge smile pasted on his face. Hutch looked over at him as the man pulled up a chair and straddled it.

"What’re you so goddamned happy about?" Hutch asked, setting his coffee cup down on the table.

"Got something to show ya. By the time you’re done readin’ it, I think you’ll be pretty happy, too!"

"I doubt it. What is it?"

The dark haired man opened up the curled magazine and confidently handed it to his partner. "Take a look. I think you’ll find it’s a good read."

Hutchinson at first gave the rag no more than a perfunctory glance. The magazine, aptly titled Inside, was a fairly innocuous publication he remembered seeing on the newsstands, but never found interesting enough to plunk down any change for it. It was definitely Starsky’s cup of tea, though. The headline jumped out at him: ‘The Bartok Trial: Memoirs of a Mob Informant or The Double-Edged Sword Of Criminality’, photos and exposé by Maxine Garvey. He was confused, who was Maxine Garvey?

"Is this the article…on Carlisle?" he asked.

"Bingo!"

"And Maxine Garvey is…"

"Cleo…"

"Right again."

Hutchinson put the magazine down as if it had a curse on it. Starsky picked it up again and thrust it back at him. "Read it!"

"I-don’t-want-to-read-it." he insisted.

"Read it," Starsky commanded, "or I’m gonna read it to you."

Hutch refused to comply, folding his arms across his chest and staring directly at his partner.

"Okay, Turkey Buzzard, if you’re gonna be stubborn, I’ll read it to ya. Mind you I’ll be skippin’ past the appetizers, so’s I can get to the entrée."

Hutch cocked an insouciant eyebrow upward.

Starsky began to read: "Okay, here goes. ‘This article could not have been realized without the dedication and perseverance of some very courageous individuals. Due to the nature of their professions, these individuals shall remain nameless, but for the sake of decency, I feel an obligation to right a great wrong that was done to one of them in the name of journalism. This ‘shining’ individual whom I must acknowledge, is someone who might have been considered a knight in shining armor in another age, but in this day and time might be deemed somewhat of a bleeding heart.’"

Hutch winced at this description of himself, but Starsky continued on.

"‘This person, in the face of danger, risked his life for the life of another and expected nothing in return. For his unselfish act, you the reader reaped the reward of reading this exposé and I got to write it. But what was his remuneration? There was none. So, in an attempt to correct this dreadful oversight, I would like a chance to express my appreciation. If this individual is willing and open to receive it, a message will be communicated to him that will require a response, positive or negative, that will indicate to me whether or not the bond formed was irreparably breached or whether it is repairable. It is up to him. P.S. Until contact is made, just know, I am in your debt and as always, UYS. Signed Maxine Garvey, BKA "Cleo".’"

After Starsky finished reading Hutch was able to come down off his high horse long enough to reach for the magazine his partner was holding out to him. The blond looked it over from the cover to the postscript. Then he put the magazine down on the table, careful to avoid knocking over the unstable stack of files. "Well, I don’t see any message."

"I’ve got it."

"You’ve got the message? How’d you get it?"

"Easy. Joyce. Joyce has a subscription to Inside magazine. She read Maxine’s message and knew exactly who it was for. She called me at home."

"Okay, you’re so smart, what’s the message?"

"Okay, get this, according to Joyce…Cleo, I mean Maxine, wants to meet with you."

He tried to appear nonchalant. "Meet with me where?"

Starsky leaned in close to the blond detective and whispered conspiratorially in his ear. "She wants to meet you at Huggy’s tonight, in the booth in the back, in the corner, in the dark."

"At Huggy’s…okay, what time?"

"Oh, ah…seven o’clock. She said to come dressed to impress."

Hutch stood up. "Okay, got it. Oh…ah…by the way…the Captain wants to see you."

"Oh, yeah? What does he want?"

Hutch shrugged, grabbed his jacket from the back of his chair and headed for the door. Starsky noticed that he was moving with just a bit more of the grace of his former self now. He picked up the magazine and started to reread it, then looked up. "Hey!"

Hutchinson stopped at the door. "What?"

"Let me know how it goes, okay?"

"Yeah, okay." He agreed, answering without much conviction, and then departed without a second thought.

The door to Dobey’s office opened quietly, and when the big man caught sight of Starsky sitting there, blatantly reading a magazine, he almost exploded. He knew good and well that Hutchinson had relayed his message. Mildly incensed, he decided to give the man a good scare and teach him a lesson at the same time. With his eyebrow raised in playful irritation, he walked up behind the detective, bent down to ear level and then whispered, "Starsky."

The detective was so deeply engrossed in the article he didn’t even notice that the captain was trying to get his attention. He dropped the magazine on the desk and stood up over the chair. "Yeah, Cap?" he answered a little shakily.

"In my office, NOW!"

Starsky stepped over the chair awkwardly and followed the rotund black man into his office. Dobey was already back in his chair, finishing off the last of his breakfast when he walked in after him. He looked up at the detective and wiped the residue from the sandwich from his mouth. "Didn’t Hutchinson tell you I wanted see you?"

"Ah, yeah, he sure did. I guess I got distracted. Sorry."

"So tell me something I don’t know." He downed the rest of the Coke. "Where is he?"

Starsky stood there quietly, waiting for him to finish his drink.

"Well, don’t just stand there looking obtuse, sit down."

Starsky sat down obediently. "Ah, he left for an…ah…appointment. What’d you want to see me about, Cap?"

"I wanted you to try and talk your partner into staying at home and taking it easy for a few weeks. Why he came in to work today is beyond me."

"Ah, you know Hutch, it’s hard to keep him reined in."

"Well, be that as it may…let him know he’s got two weeks off with pay. I want him back on the job in tiptop shape. He’s no good to the department or me at half capacity."

"You’re right about that, Captain!" Starsky enthusiastically agreed.

"It’ll also be a chance for you to get off the streets, too," he added, smiling deviously.

"Whaddya mean?"

"I mean I'm putting you on clerical detail for two weeks."

Starsky’s eyes opened wide and his mouth dropped open. "Clerical detail!? You’ve gotta be kiddin"!"

"Nope. You saw that stack of files on the desk out there. That’s a month’s worth of reports that didn’t get filed while your partner was laid up in the hospital."

Starsky sulked. "Thanks a lot, Captain."

"You’re welcome."

The mischievous grin that crossed Dobey’s lips as one half of his top team rose to leave was undeniable. Serves him right, he thought, after some of the stunts the two of them have pulled on me.

Starsky closed Dobey’s office door and picked the magazine up from the desk, noting that Hutch had left his crutches behind. He grabbed them and left the squadroom in a funk.

 

 

>Continued