Author: jat sapphire
These characters are not mine; I'm just borrowing them to see them do things that they couldn't on TV. No money has changed hands or will ever be exchanged on account of this piece of fanfiction.
This story is dedicated to Lasha because in the middle of moving out of state (something I didn't know at the time) she made a tape of "Deadly Imposter" for me. Sweetie. Any errors or infelicities are of course mine. Thanks to the several people who read the story in draft and helped me out with it, and those who read it in serial publication on ThePitsFic and sent encouragement to keep going.
Oh, and incidentally, though I've exaggerated its mythology, Egyptian Ratscrew is a real game. Its rules are explained on a page at a site called Oxymoron and there are some way cool little flame graphics there.
They'd seen each other in the john, and in the showers, checked each other out in that sidelong way any two guys might: Is he bigger? Starsky looked bigger to Hutchinson, though he knew his own cock got bigger, a respectable amount, and he didn't know how much Starsky's did. Naturally not. Bad train of thought, there. I don't know him well enough to even wonder ... guess wrong, and I'll miss those teeth later.
For no reason at all, while he was filling out a class evaluation, Hutchinson remembered not wondering about it, and then looked up and caught Starsky's dark gaze on him. The long eyebrows lifted and the long mouth widened, not quite a smile. Hutchinson smirked back and looked down again, hoping the slight warmth in his cheeks was not visible.
The weird thing was that Starsky didn't feel like a stranger. It was more than weird, really. Hutchinson knew that he'd been fairly sheltered; he hoped he was openminded and he hadn't actually lived in a gilded cage, but there was no question that Starsky knew more about big-city streets. And Starsky was a veteran. Previous experience had not led Hutchinson to believe that anyone who had been through that trial of fire would feel much in common with someone who'd been sitting on his butt in a classroom the whole time.
Yet somehow, inexplicably, it wasn't like that. Ever.
After the evals, several guys from this class went out to a nearby pizza and hamburger joint, and as usual --already they had an 'as usual'!-- Starsky and Hutchinson and Colby automatically gravitated to the same table. Colby had gestured toward it and glanced from Hutchinson to Starsky, but the other two were already passing between the intervening tables as if they'd had the place mapped and the whole maneuver planned out beforehand. They had been there before; still, when Hutchinson stopped to think it was almost spooky.
He and Colby talked more, also as usual. Starsky was easily outgunned in anything resembling academic debate, and Hutchinson took casual advantage of that from time to time. But while he and Colby joked and wrangled and batted the odd bit of jargon back and forth, Starsky would occasionally drop in a fact, or a swift short jibe, that pierced the other men's verbiage like the hollow bladder it was. Colby's face tensed up whenever it happened, and Hutchinson put on a frown too, but felt secretly grateful--grounded.
Their burgers, fries, and beers came--and Hutchinson forced his gaze to the plate that appeared in front of him, thinking, Jesus, what a beauty, and not meaning the food. The waiter was one of the most flagrantly gorgeous creatures Hutchinson had ever seen. Couldn't be more than twenty, with eyelashes and lips a girl would kill for and skin like the shell of a brown egg, tanned and smooth. It was a lucky thing they didn't come here often. Hutchinson was definitely concentrating on girls at the moment, but this boy shook his resolve.
At last the hamburger geisha turned away and Hutchinson couldn't resist a long look at his retreating ass, and then a swift one around the table to make sure he hadn't blown it. No, the others were talking and eating and--Starsky turned from his own lingering stare at the waiter, and the dark eyes flashed in panic as he saw Hutchinson see him. And then Starsky relaxed, and a wide, slow grin spread across his face, teeth showing and all. A rare expression, in Hutchinson's experience of the man. Hutchinson grinned too, and shook his head in sheer wonder.
"What?" asked Colby, who was straight but not stupid. "What? Fuck, you guys are always doing that!"
"No, we're not," Starsky said right away in a mock-soothing tone. "You just think we are. It's a something complex, you know ... " and then he seemed impatient when Colby didn't get it. "Come on, you're a college boy. Hutch, help me out here."
"Inferiority?" Hutchinson tried.
"Is that where you are and you know it, or where you just think you are?"
"Either, as far as I know."
"Good, that was what I meant."
Colby looked back and forth between them as if he were following a tennis match, and Hutchinson realized that so far John had rarely if ever been on the narrow end of this triangle. They'd had Colby and Hutchinson as erstwhile college students vs. Starsky, and Colby and Starsky as big-city natives vs. Hutchinson. It felt good to have Starsky and Hutchinson vs. Colby, for once. And over this, even though John didn't know it. And he wouldn't learn from Kenneth Hutchinson, who knew the signs of somebody so straight that even the Sexual Revolution just meant pussy.
"Fuckers," Colby said with an amused tilt to his mouth, and turned to jump into the football conversation going on at the other side of the table.
The other two ate for a while in silence, their mutual discovery too delicate a new growth for even coded discussion. Or so Hutchinson thought.
"You don't mind?" asked Starsky, dumping catsup on his fries, rapping and shaking the bottle.
Starsky looked up, grinned again, and with transparent prevarication said, "Me callin' you Hutch, for short?"
"No." And he didn't mind that. Finding another guy at the Police Academy who knew what it was like to swing both ways, or want to, not to mention somebody he already felt comfortable with--that feeling went beyond not minding. "I'll have to find something to call you."
"You're scarin' me, blondie."
"Good," he echoed Starsky's earlier comment, "that's what I meant to do."
On the shooting range all three of them distinguished themselves. Of course, Starsky had trained with larger firearms, but Hutchinson had been deer hunting every autumn almost as far back as he could remember, and he had done skeet shooting as well. Targets that didn't move were much easier, even though the handguns were unfamiliar. What background if any Colby had, Hutchinson didn't know, but he seemed to have a gift for shooting. Or maybe it was just teeth-grinding macho competitiveness, because Colby was never better than when he'd just seen one of his friends set a new class record.
The instructor, a graying cop with a truly silly Groucho-Marx-style mustache, encouraged the competition. He posted day's-best scores; he ridiculed and roared at students who fell behind their own benchmarks. Hutchinson grumbled about it, not because he was bothered on his own account--Sergeant Hanson gave him only praise--but because it seemed an inefficient, if not counter-productive, way to teach.
Another night at the burger joint--which was a lot easier to go to, somehow, once he knew he wasn't the only one tantalized by Little Boy Beautiful--Hutchinson was holding forth about it, and Colby was arguing with him, and Starsky was watching, a small smile on his face and who knew what thoughts in his head.
"Will you tell me," Hutchinson said, probably repeating himself, "what good it does to reduce anybody to the state Williams was in today? It's a wonder he could find the trigger, for god's sake. I saw his hands shaking. Fine, that's what I want to see on the range, somebody on the edge of losing control completely. Another ten minutes, I swear the guy would've been bawling."
"If he can't handle the heat ... " Colby said, and he was definitely repeating himself, for maybe the tenth time, his voice hard and high in its range. "Do you want to work with a ... a ... nancy-pants like that?"
"'Nancy-pants'?" said Starsky and Hutchinson simultaneously, and then they all started to laugh.
"Holy shit," said Starsky after a while, his voice still uneven with laughter, "I haven't heard that since my grandmother used to say it."
"Your grandmother used to say 'holy shit'?" Hutchinson asked, and Starsky snorted again.
Colby had had several beers, and couldn't seem to let the conversation go. "You guys, you guys don't get it," he said, shaking his head. He fixed his eyes solemnly on Starsky, looking like a bewildered child. "And I don't get that. Him I understand, he's some kin'a college-hippie idealist, got a golden rule for everything. But you were in the Army."
"Yeah," said Starsky, all humor gone, "I was."
"You're not gonna tell me your Basic Training sergeants handled you with kid gloves and cared about your feelings."
"No, I'm not gonna tell you that," Starsky said.
"So why aren't you agreeing with me?"
Starsky's shoulders lifted with a long breath, and he turned from Colby to Hutchinson and back. "I can't say I'd want Williams as a partner myself. Maybe the guy isn't cut out to be a cop, and if that's so, he'd better find out now. A man oughta do what he's good at. But on the other hand, I don't like seeing anybody bullied. I felt for the guy. And anyway," he grinned, "I love to see the big blintz here show all that soft cheese he's got inside."
Hutchinson rolled his eyes but felt gratified. "Colby calls me a hippie and you call me cheesy--with friends like you ... "
"With friends like us you can forget about getting big-head disease," said Starsky, reaching for the tab.
It was certainly true that with friends like Colby and Starsky, Kenneth Hutchinson was in no danger of taking his own strengths for granted. They tested him, competed with him--and, of course, he tested and competed and pushed right back. It was the style of male companionship he knew best.
They played cards. As card games for three players often didn't work all that well, they traded off choosing what to play. Colby always chose some form of poker. Hutchinson traded off between sheepshead and rummy. Starsky, who seemed to know every game ever invented, if not to make up games as he went along, chose a new one almost every time, taught it to the other two, and then beat them.
"Okay," said Colby one evening, surrendering the pack to Starsky with that small-mouthed grin that threatened to split the tight skin across his high cheekbones, "what weird new thing are we in for this time?"
"Been thinkin' about a game I used to play," said Starsky, and Hutchinson thought he was telling the simple, and rather melancholy, truth.
"Crazy Eights? Again? Or Go Fish, or what?" asked Colby. They had played Crazy Eights, at Starsky's prompting, and actually Hutchinson had enjoyed it though he hadn't said so.
Starsky shook his head and looked down at the cards he was shuffling. He shuffled and bridged and shuffled again, and Colby got restless, and Hutchinson began to feel that the strong sun-browned hands were reaching into the past to capture that lost game again.
"Well?" he asked, as much to see Starsky's eyes as to find out the name of the game he was destined to lose.
"It's called Egyptian Ratscrew," Starsky said in a surprisingly soft and ruminative voice.
"It's called what?" asked Hutchinson.
"You are shitting us," said Colby.
"No," said Starsky, "I learned it in the Army, and that's its name. 'Course," he went on with regret, "we don't have lighter fluid or nothin', but I think we can make do."
"Lighter fluid," said Hutchinson. "Lighter. Fluid."
"Yeah, and I don't smoke no more, so I don't even have matches. But maybe," he brightened, "maybe nobody'll slap three sixes."
"I think I'd better take notes," said Colby.
It wasn't really that complicated, but it was wild to play, a lot of yelling and slapping the cards and swearing. Hutchinson couldn't really see soldiers playing it, despite the name--but then he could see that Starsky loved it, so maybe he just had to let go of the little war-movie image of the soldier that he still had in the back of his head. So John Wayne wouldn't play this. So what?
Anyway, Hutchinson couldn't let himself get distracted. Already he'd slapped an 8 and a 9, thinking it was a pair, and lost the pile to Colby; then later he'd slapped first, and correctly, but let his hand get caught under the edge of Starsky's fist. Shit, that had hurt. Okay, maybe this was a game for the macho and the bored.
At last Starsky had won, collecting all the cards in his hand again and shuffling them one last time. At least he never mentioned setting anything on fire.
Hutchinson was still curious about it, though. "What was the lighter fluid thing?" he asked, leaning forward from the back seat of Colby's car on the way to be dropped off at his tiny rented room.
To add insult to the injury of beating them, Starsky had downed beer after beer while they played, and now wasn't even trying to keep up his end of the conversation. He just rested his head on the high seat-back and, now, laughed quietly.
"He's too high to answer," said Colby rather sourly. "I'm taking him home first."
Hutchinson, fairly relaxed himself, only minded because he liked looking at Starsky's denim-clad, bowed legs and feeling the warm curls that brushed his arm when he leaned on the top of the front seat. He reached over, grasped Starsky's shoulder and waggled it. "Come on, what was the lighter fluid for?"
"Used gas'line," he responded sleepily. "Threw the pack in the gutter an' doused it ... went up like a, dunno. Flare. Damn." He sighed. "Feels better when it's a game, when ya do it y'rself. Don' it?"
"I don't know," said Hutchinson, feeling sad that he didn't, though in his sober mind he would never regret missing Vietnam.
"None 'f 's got laid for a month," Starsky mumbled, grinning with his eyes closed. "'S what happens, you lose Ratscrew."
"Now you tell us," Hutchinson said.
"That's such bullshit," said Colby, and Starsky began to laugh helplessly again. Hutchinson tousled his hair.
"You are a little shit," he said affectionately.
"Little?" asked Starsky, but Hutchinson wasn't getting pulled in. Not when he could see perfectly well over the seat that what was barely crammed into those tight jeans looked even less little than usual.
They reached the apartment building, a two-story cinderblock thing with small, square windows that looked like a cheap dorm or perhaps a barracks. Starsky just looked out the window at it, not making any effort to leave the car. Colby frowned, and Hutchinson twisted and wrenched at his own door handle in an effort to get out and help Starsky out before Colby said anything. But while Hutchinson was still trying to remind himself how the handle worked, Colby seemed to get over it, sort of, and just stared out the windshield with that taut look on his face.
"I'll do it," said Hutchinson, finally wrestling the handle into submission. The door popped open meekly.
"Can you?" asked Colby.
Ah, another challenge. "Sure I can," Hutchinson boasted, got out of the car in one smooth move, and then hung onto the car and the door while his head swam.
"You can't," said Colby.
"Sure," said Hutchinson again, "I can." He wasn't really drunk. He opened Starsky's door much more easily than his own and grabbed onto his arm. "C'mon, Starsk," he said, not really meaning to shorten the name but liking the sound of it once he'd done it.
Starsky lurched upward, and Hutchinson pulled and guided and braced him until they were both leaning against each other and the car door.
"Jesus, you'll kill yourselves," Colby's voice said from inside the car.
"We'll be fine," said Hutchinson. I can do this. He needs help. I'm fine, almost fine. "Starsk?"
"Yeah?" Starsky answered immediately. He stirred, and Hutchinson thought about how warm and heavy he felt, and then Starsky put his hands on Hutchinson's waist and pushed away. "I can walk," he said carefully.
"Sure, you only drank beer." Hutchinson closed both car doors as Starsky stood, wavering but basically okay. "Should I come up with you?" Hutchinson asked, thinking he might not have to.
Starsky reached back without looking, and that made him sway again, so Hutchinson put an arm out and Starsky clutched at his sleeve.
"Got you," said Hutchinson, and put his other arm around the shorter man. They walked up the sloping grass to the sidewalk. At least Hutchinson thought the grass was sloping; he decided not to look down and check.
They got to the door, and Starsky, leaning against Hutchinson, managed to get his keys out of his jeans pocket. He unlocked the door, pushed off with a hand against Hutchinson's stomach, and they went in.
"Upstairs?" asked Hutchinson. Starsky shook his head, which was an immediate relief but not a long-term one. "It's safer," Hutchinson said. "Y'know? Like in class?"
"Want I sh'd sleep on the roof?" asked Starsky, fiddling with his keys as they walked, fairly steadily. Okay, that was the wall, be steadier than that. "Had one vacancy, I got it, 's on the first floor." He seemed to be talking more clearly. Maybe he really had been falling asleep before, in the car. Or maybe Hutchinson was just getting used to listening to Starsky drunk.
Starsky stopped, and so did Hutchinson, and they both stared as Starsky got the key almost in and then really in the lock. Opened the door, stepped in, looked back where Hutchinson was still just standing there.
"You're okay now," Hutchinson said, in between statement and question. Starsky said nothing, so the answer seemed to be yes. "I won't stay, then."
Starsky grasped his arm again, and his other hand came up waveringly and settled against Hutchinson's cheek. His eyes looked impossibly large and dark. "Some," he said, "day. Some day we will." His thumb brushed the edge of Hutchinson's lower lip.
"Yes," Hutchinson said. No point in pretending he didn't want to. "But not while Colby's waiting in the car."
Starsky shook his head, and his hands, moving, left cool spots on Hutchinson's body. Without really thinking at all, Hutchinson reached out and hugged Starsky to him. Tightly. Starsky returned the hug, but after a few moments pushed away. "G'night," he said.
"Night," said Hutchinson, and turned. And was briefly disoriented, as he saw only the unfamiliar hall and the faceless repetition of apartment doors.
"Other way," said Starsky's voice, and Hutchinson looked over his shoulder and found the front entrance. He sketched a salute and glanced over to catch Starsky's grin, and then went back out to the car, walking almost straight.
As soon as Hutchinson got in the front seat, Colby asked, "He okay?"
"Sure," Hutchinson smiled, liking Colby better than he had for a while, lately. "You're a good guy, John."
But Colby picked Hutchinson's hand off his arm and dropped it, saying in a cool voice, "Don't start with me now."
"You two are all over each other. You're fine with it, okay, your business. But count me out." Colby never looked at him, and the broad thin shoulders were stiff.
Hutchinson told himself, He's driving, that's why. He's watching the road. "Starsky was drunk. You saw."
"Yeah, tonight. I'm not talking about just tonight."
Hutchinson had to really think about it. He'd always horsed around with his friends, the other college wrestlers especially. Punched arms, grabbed each other into headlocks, carried each other, all that stuff. He didn't do more with Starsky, did he? No, he knew he did less. He thought it must be less.
"My dad never touched me that much," said Colby, sounding like the boy he often looked.
Oh, well, if we start talking about fathers-- Hutchinson almost said it, and almost laughed even when he didn't at the vision of Richard Hutchinson knuckling the top of his head or swatting his rear. Not in a million years. His father had never even spanked him, not with his hand. "That how you measure? Never do anything with your buddies you wouldn't with your dad?"
Colby jerked his shoulders up and dropped them, a movement so awkward Hutchinson had to replay it in his mind to see that it was a shrug.
"Well ... " Hutchinson wasn't up to a long discussion. "I don't. Don't think that way. But don't worry, John. I'm not after your ass." And it was completely true, pretty though John's ass was. But perhaps if Hutchinson had been sober he would have been more tactful. Straight guys didn't like being reminded that was what they were nervous about.
"Shut the fuck up, Hutchinson."
Yup, made a mistake. If he'd offended Starsky he would have ruffled his hair or grabbed his shoulder, but that was the point, wasn't it? He couldn't touch Colby at all now. "You're surly when you're not drunk, Colby," he said mildly, and looked out the passenger window for the rest of the ride.
Then at last came the class none of them was very good at. Hutchinson knew there had to be something--they weren't supermen--still, it was an unpleasant surprise when they found themselves fumbling in custody control, losing hold of the cuffs or even the 'suspect,' bumping into each other. Hutchinson hadn't felt so klutzy since he was fifteen. Odd how the other two, who seemed so graceful in their normal movements, were having just as much trouble as he was, as if awkwardness were contagious.
They'd stayed behind for more work on Friday afternoon and had at last, each of them, wrestled one of the others to the floor and cuffed him without making any major mistakes. Now the locker room was almost deserted, except for a few guys who might be instructors or cops coming to use the gym. None of the cadets they knew. Colby was still in the showers. Starsky and Hutchinson were finished; Hutchinson, nearly dressed, glanced again at Starsky who seemed lost in thought on the bench, towel in a lump on one side and shoes and a sock waiting on the other. He had one sock on, and was staring at it as though he'd never seen his own unshod foot before.
"Starsk?" Hutchinson said softly. He'd taken to using the shorter form of his friend's name when he most wanted to get through to him.
"Huh?" The dark head, odd-looking with the hair wet and combed back, lifted and the pensive eyes fixed on him.
"You okay? Hurting anywhere?"
"Nah." This was unlikely. Hutchinson knew he'd taken a couple of hard knocks and could see a bruise or two. But he knew what Starsky meant: that wasn't the real problem. "'S just ... "
"I don't like having to go so close in," Starsky admitted. "Rather be back a ways with a gun, y'know? Stupid, I know. This is the real bust part, the success part."
"We'll get used to it," Hutchinson said. "We're getting better. Just takes practice."
Starsky nodded, put on his other sock and stood up to get his uniform pants out of the locker. But he was still preoccupied, and Hutchinson hated to see it. He might have reached for Starsky, patted his back or something, but just then Colby reappeared from the shower and Hutchinson felt self-conscious. So he did a locker-room thing instead: picked up Starsky's towel and twirled it between his hands, snapped his friend with the damp whip of it and then turned and snapped John too, just for good measure.
"Hey!" Starsky yelped, and then, "Gimme that!" and chased Hutchinson clear out of the row of lockers and down the next aisle, hopping onto the bench and running there, then down again, swinging on the edge of a locker door. They rounded the other end of the lockers and found Colby sitting on the bench, his own towel half off, laughing hard, more relaxed than he'd looked for days. And suddenly Hutchinson felt his own tension drain out--and when he looked at Starsky, he looked better too. Something to this horsing-around thing.
"O-kay," he said, swaggering a little on his way back to his own locker, so he was caught completely off-guard when Starsky snapped him right in the rear, cracking Colby up all over again.
They could move like cats in the locker room. Hutchinson shook his head over it and finished buttoning his shirt.
None of them had dates tonight. Hutchinson thought he'd go looking over the weekend, at least for a bar or club he'd enjoy. He was going to live here a while and needed to start getting his social bearings. Starsky had a date Saturday with the young woman who'd come to speak to the cadets about dispatching. If Colby didn't score soon, Hutchinson thought he was going to start blaming Starsky for that joke about the card game, Rat's-ass or whatever it was called. But tonight they were going to play some pool.
Starsky hefted a cue, letting go and catching it again. Colby pulled another one out of the wall-rack and tilted it toward the table like a rifle, then lowered it. Hutchinson settled back to watch them, not wanting to argue even in a friendly way about who was playing first. He'd wait and play the winner. Starsky tossed a ball to Colby and walked around the corner of the table to meet him for the lag. Together they drew back their cues and shot. Colby's ball sped straight to the end of the table and back; Starsky's rolled to the edge of the corner pocket and stopped. Colby grinned and Starsky said, "It's just an instinct: straight for the pocket."
"Right," Colby said. "Curb your instinct. I'm breaking, and you probably won't get a chance to exercise it again."
Starsky winked at Hutchinson as he walked around the table again to rack the balls. Hutchinson wasn't sure what the wink conveyed: Starsky had deliberately lost the lag? Starsky would rather have played with him? Starsky was certain he'd win even though Colby had the first turn?
Oh, shut it off, Hutch, he told himself, hardly aware that he had begun to call himself by the nickname Starsky had invented. Just watch the game. It was certainly no strain to play the audience as the other two prowled around the table. Hutchinson's memory was full of other games he'd watched, especially at the little bar near the family cabin, which had sometimes seemed the only air-conditioned spot on the whole northern Mississippi River. He'd been surrounded by girls in halters and boys without shirts, watching local kids who knew the bar's old quirky table as if it were their own, playing as long as the bar's owner would let them stay, skins and hair gleaming under the hanging light.
Starsky and Colby, of course, kept their shirts on, Starsky's open over a dark tee and Colby's buttoned up under a pullover knit vest. And Colby was playing well, intensely focussed, as if success here would make up for their difficulties in class. Starsky kept the table between them as Colby moved, his eyes also intent. At last Colby missed a pocket and Starsky chalked his cue and began his own turn.
They seemed so serious about it that Hutchinson began to wish he had a squirt gun or a noisemaker. "Is something riding on this?" he asked in case he'd missed a bet.
"Should there be?" asked Starsky in the midst of his shot. The cue-ball banked, hit the twelve ball, sent it glancing off the five and into the side pocket. "Except who's the real pool player around here. Thirteen in the corner, there." He gestured with the stick.
Colby snorted. "Dream on." Hutchinson was a little surprised. It was going to be a difficult shot, but the one Starsky had just sunk wasn't easy either.
When Colby said, "Pass me the chalk, I'll need it in a second," Starsky flicked the cube at him, seeming not to look, and then took a few steps sideways. Hutchinson couldn't see the table, so he slipped off the barstool he'd appropriated and went to stand behind the pocket for a better view. Starsky glanced up and grinned; then down and shot.
The cue ball hit the five squarely; the five passed a hair's-breadth away from the thirteen but didn't touch it. While Colby was opening his mouth to speak, the five bounced off the side of the table and connected with the thirteen, which seemed to jump sideways and went straight into the pocket.
Colby shut his mouth. Starsky smiled quietly at the table.
"There's still time to lay bets," Hutchinson suggested, deadpan.
"Save your money," said Starsky, "for the next game. Me and you, Hutch."
But when he shot this time, the ball rebounded from the very edge of the pocket.
"Hutch, you should've put that money down," said Colby. Starsky swung his cue around in a slow arc and hit Colby across the shoulders with it. "Hey!" Colby exclaimed, though he had to have seen it coming.
Half of Starsky's mouth canted up, the other stayed level. "Take your best shot," he drawled.
Colby's jaw clenched tight. Then he miscued. Starsky reached for Colby's shoulder as he was going to walk past him, and Colby moved away but said, "You're such a good winner," in a tone Hutchinson couldn't quite identify.
It went on like that, a close game filled with the teasing of friends and the tension of antagonists, intertwined so closely it was hard to tell which was which, even for Hutchinson, even knowing both men so well--even, he suspected, for Colby and Starsky themselves. It was tiring to watch. When Starsky sunk the last ball, Hutchinson said, "Rain check on the next game? Sometime when we're both fresh," and Starsky just nodded. Hutchinson grabbed the back of Starsky's neck and shook him a little, then let go. Colby looked back and forth between them, the wayward lock of hair that made him look ten years old shadowing his eyes, and didn't speak.
After a couple of drinks and not much talk, they went out the back door into the parking lot. Hutchinson wasn't sure where they'd parked and didn't immediately see the cars, so he looked back at Colby pausing on the threshold, presumably thinking the same thing. Starsky appeared behind Colby and slapped his shoulder, mouth opening to speak, but Colby jumped as if shot and whirled, almost bumping into Hutchinson.
Starsky raised both hands, palms out. "Sorry," and he laughed a little, "didn't mean to surprise you."
Colby didn't stir. Starsky tilted his head and dropped his hands. When the other man still didn't move, Starsky took a step around him--only to be grabbed and shoved face-first into the wall.
"Hey!" Hutchinson went after Colby, reaching for the arm that held Starsky while Colby's other hand reached into his back pocket and pulled out--what? cuffs?
Colby was grinning and his voice was heavy with laughter and rough with menace, both at once. "How's this for a surprise?" Could he think he was horsing around?
Hutchinson tugged on the forearm and shoulder he held, and Colby turned his head, but froze again, staring out into the parking lot. In that instant, Hutchinson pulled him off and Starsky pushed away from the wall, and then all three of them heard the sounds of another struggle, a woman crying out, "No ... no!"
They ran in the direction of her voice. She stood pinned to her car as Starsky had been to the wall, long dark hair fallen forward, the man behind leaning his whole weight on her and reaching for the keys she had tossed onto the roof of the car. One of her arms lay stretched up there, splayed fingers not far from the wild furry top of the little troll doll on her key chain, the mugger's hand already groping past her wrist. She twisted her shoulders, and he grabbed her jaw through her hair and banged her head against the metal, yelling something covered by Colby's "Stop!" and Starsky's "Police!" and Hutchinson's own "You're under arrest!"
Starsky slammed into the mugger and they both went down. Colby grabbed the woman and pulled her around the car's front end. Hutchinson reached out without a word and Colby put the cuffs into his hand as if they had rehearsed it. Starsky, too, hardly glanced up as he moved aside to let Hutchinson get to the mugger's arms and cuff them.
"Miss," Colby was saying, "What's going on here? Do you know this man?"
"No," she gasped, then sobbed, her hands and hair covering her face. "Just--he just--grabbed--"
Hutchinson got to his feet and turned toward her as she leaned into Colby's arms. "Miss, we need to call the police. Let's go back in the bar."
"Call?" She raised her head unsteadily. "Aren't you--I thought I heard--"
"We got a little carried away," said Hutchinson, and looked over his shoulder to frown down what he knew Starsky was about to say. Then smiled at the woman as reassuringly as he could. "We're, uh, in training. Anyway, John, could you help the lady?"
"Yeah," said Colby, "sure," and he cupped her shoulders in his hands as gently as if he'd just been playing with kittens instead of slamming a friend of his--Hutchinson still could hardly take it in. He turned back to Starsky, who was astride the mugger as he bucked and kicked and yelled.
"Not cops? If you're not fucking cops then get these fucking cuffs the fuck off me!"
"Fuck, no," said Starsky.
Hutchinson held down the flailing ankles, and Starsky knelt on the mugger's shoulder as he turned to face Hutchinson. Starsky was practically giving off sparks and every tooth in his head showed as he smiled.
"Wild," he said, and Hutchinson grinned back, nodding, even as he checked for bruises that hadn't had time to darken yet.
"I'll sue your asses," their prisoner said, struggling.
"Ain't you ever heard of a citizen's arrest?" asked Starsky.
Hutchinson doubted this was quite what the framers of the law had in mind, and definitely knew that these cuffs were not at the Academy to be borrowed like this. Why the hell did Colby take them to begin with?
"Maybe he's into restraints," Starsky said, and for a moment Hutchinson thought he'd been speaking his thoughts aloud. He must have looked startled, because Starsky explained, "Colby."
"Yeah. Maybe. Unsuspected depths, John's got, that's for sure."
Starsky nodded, eyes dropping as if to check the prisoner. "Sore loser, anyway."
"Think that's it?" asked Hutchinson, but the mugger started swearing at them again and then a black-and-white pulled into the parking lot and there was no time for character analysis.
Colby bounced out of the bar some time later, as wired and happy as Starsky. "Jesus, how about that? We were fucking reading each others' minds, like, like telepathy or something! Like, I don't know, the Three Musketeers with ESP. No, like those other guys, the, um, help me out."
"I don't know," said Hutchinson, who thought he did but didn't want to get into it. Dammit, he was still angry with John.
"Same guy, I mean the same writer, god, I read it in school or something. There was a movie too. Huh."
"These guys, they push each other into walls much?" Hutchinson asked.
"Huh? Oh, that. You still mad, Starsky?"
Starsky rubbed his chin, probably at the point of impact. "I'll get over it. But what was it about?"
"About?" Colby looked from one to the other. "I was goofing around, you know."
"Head-knuckling is goofing around," said Hutchinson. "Stealing my uniform while I was in the shower was goofing around."
"We didn't steal it, Hutch, we just gave you mine," said Starsky.
Hutchinson turned on him. "What side are you on, here?"
"There isn't a side. I'm okay, and Colby says he didn't mean nothing by it. Now I'm bushed and I got plans tomorrow, so I'm goin' home. You pick a fight if you want," and he walked away.
Colby started to follow, but Hutchinson grabbed his arm, hard. "No more cuffs, brother, or I'll show you how the Corsicans did payback."
Colby stared back until Hutchinson let go, wondering what exactly he had just done. Then John nodded. "Right, The Corsican Brothers, that's the book I meant," was all he said.
Hutchinson was left alone in the parking lot, shaking his head. A very strange evening.
The Corsican nickname gradually became commonplace. Hutchinson didn't know for sure that it was Colby's own doing, but the novel certainly wasn't on the top-ten bestseller list.
Eventually Starsky asked about it. Hutchinson noticed that he chose a time Colby wasn't present--the man had finally lined up a date and had gone off walking on air. Now, Starsky said, "What's this corkscrew-brothers thing people keep saying? Like it means you and me and Colby?"
They were eating pizza. Hutchinson put his slice down, wiped off his hand, and picked up his beer mug before he answered. "Corsican," he said, "as in Corsica, the place?"
Starsky shook his head and shrugged, quite a sight as he was also taking a bite of pizza with everything, and the everything was trying to slide off the end while Starsky was trying to stuff the whole square slice into his mouth.
"For god's sake," said Hutchinson, "can't you eat like a normal person?"
"u'm eetnlk unnuml--"
"Stop!" Hutchinson put up his hands as if he were directing traffic. "Stop! I can't stand it! Just chew it and swallow it and then we'll talk." He drank some beer in the interim, and couldn't help a reluctant quirk of his lips at Starsky's contortions as he tried to chew the whole wad in his mouth.
"Look," Starsky said when he'd swallowed, "pizza is just not the kind of thing you eat with three forks and linen napkins, okay? A normal person picks up the slice and sticks it in their mouth--"
"--and bites off a moderate-sized bite," Hutchinson interrupted. "And doesn't try to talk at the same time. That was gross, buddy."
"All right, Miss Post, can we get back to the cuskin brothers?" Starsky picked up another slice, glanced at Hutchinson, and nibbled elaborately on one corner of it, wagging his eyebrows up and down and rolling his eyes.
Hutchinson cracked up. Put one hand over his eyes and stared down at the beige edge of the soft fiber coaster under his beer and tried to stop snickering. Not really that funny, what am I laughing for? "Okay," he said unsteadily, not looking up, "um, have you heard of the Three Musketeers?"
"Sure," Starsky answered. "'Course." His voice was fairly clear, so Hutchinson risked a look, and except for the mischievous tilt to half his mouth, things seemed back to normal on the Starsky side of the table. Hutchinson put his hand down.
"It's a book," Hutchinson said.
"Oh, did they make a book out of it?" Starsky picked up the pizza slice again, this time with his pinkies sticking out, and his elbows, too. Even without the gesture it wouldn't have been easy to figure out whether the ignorance was put on or real.
Not trying to decide, Hutchinson snorted at the slapstick and went on, "It started out as a book. By a French author named Alexandre Dumas."
"'S he good?"
"That's a matter of opinion. Anyway he was popular, and the stories have gone on being popular."
"Then he was good." Starsky now seemed to have settled down to eat in a fairly unremarkable fashion. "But Hutch, you got the wrong book, don'tcha? Or are these cuckisan brothers in the Three Musketeers book?"
"No, it was a different one, but by the same author. In that book, Dumas says he was travelling in Corsica, which is in Italy, and met a pair of twin brothers. They looked exactly alike but their personalities were opposite. One of them was a scholar, and the other a fighter. One loved the city, and the other loved the country."
"Twins are that way, sometimes," said Starsky. "You know any?"
"A couple," said Hutchinson, and Starsky rolled his eyes. "You know what I mean. Anyway, there's a complicated plot, and the ghost of the twins' father appears, and a lot of other nonsense. Oh, and there are at least two vendettas. I hardly remember."
"You remember a lot. I don't remember books I read that way."
"And a good thing too," said Hutchinson. "You've got more room in your brain for useful stuff."
"No, Hutch, you're just smart about things like that." Starsky frowned. "And boy, I must be dumber than I thought, because I sure can't figure out what all that has to do with you and me and Colby."
"Me either, buddy. The only thing I can think of is what Colby said, you remember, about ESP?"
"I remember but I don't see--"
"No, 'cause I didn't tell you just now. But the twins in the book can sense each other. When something's wrong, when one is unhappy or physically hurt."
Starsky frowned, his eyes on the middle distance, and ate some pizza, looking lost in thought. "Twins. That's still only two."
Now it was Hutchinson's turn to shrug and shake his head.
"What happened to 'em, Hutch?"
"One twin challenges a man to a duel and is killed. The other avenges him and then dies too."
"I'm not likin' this," Starsky said. "I'm sorry I asked."
They ate in silence for a little while. "Sometimes," Hutchinson said, "I wonder about John. I can't understand him."
"He's hurting about something," said Starsky with conviction.
"But what?" Hutchinson asked, but Starsky shook his head. "And anyway, isn't everybody hurting about something? Aren't you?"
It took Hutchinson off-guard somehow, though he should have expected it. "Oh, s'pose so," he said, "I'm no different from other people."
"Up to now," said Starsky, pensive again. "We've got each other, now, that makes a difference. And John."
They ate some more. Hutchinson licked his fingers and Starsky laughed at him. "I'm corrupting you."
"No, you're right. Pizza has to be eaten this way."
Starsky put his half-wiped fingers to his forehead like Johnny Carson in his Carnac the Magnificent skit. "I'm reading your mind--no, I'm reading your stomach ... you are feeling full."
"Do you read my mind that it's your turn to pay the tab?"
"No way, José! It's yours."
"Well ..." Starsky pulled down his chin and looked out through his lashes and the edges of his eyebrows. "Really it's Colby's turn."
"Ah. Well, unfortunately, he's not here, so one of us will have to pay it."
They kept wrangling. They flipped a coin and Starsky lost it off the side of the table. Hutchinson spotted it but let Starsky keep hunting for a while, suspecting that he had deliberately let it get away. Then Hutchinson paid the bill and they left.
The car was full of darkness. Comfortable and yet strange. They were parked in front of Hutchinson's apartment building and had been talking for a while, nothing of importance to say, but neither seeming able to say goodnight. Starsky drummed his fingers against the steering wheel, looking out the windshield, and sighed. Hutchinson thought he'd outstayed his welcome.
"Well, sweet dreams," he said, and reached for the door handle.
"Wait," said Starsky. His hand reached out, fell, landed perhaps by chance on Hutchinson's leg above the knee. The fingers curved to fit and the whole hand moved back and forth. Once, twice, again. Hutchinson watched, felt the pull and push of the cloth against his skin, his mind full of silence, the touch all he knew.
Then Starsky took his hand back.
"No," Hutchinson said, "don't, Starsk," and he caught at the retreating hand and held it.
"Don't pull away."
But they sat for a long moment with just a gaze and that contact of hands between them.
"Colby's not waiting this time," said Hutchinson. "But is this really a good idea?"
"I don't know," Starsky said. "What's the down side?"
Hutchinson shook his head. Swallowed. Looked at the shadowy curve of Starsky's cheek, his hair, his shoulder; then the invisible lap and the dark smudges of his thighs. "Too involved? Emotional?"
"I ain't gonna burst into tears, Hutch. You, um, you in love? With anybody?"
"Me either." Another deep breath. "You're my pal. And you look so good. I want to."
"Sweet-talker," said Hutchinson, smiling. "I've never," wagging their joined hands up and down for emphasis, "never had a friend I feel so close to. And you know damn well who the sex symbol in this car is."
"Well, for fuck sake then, what are we waiting for? I never had to talk so much to a fuck buddy before."
He wants to see action? Hutchinson moved all at once, surging across the space between them, one knee bumping the shift, one hand on Starsky's shoulder, the other diving straight for the bulge he'd eyed so often. He bent his head past the white-edged eye so near him, and sucked the lobe of Starsky's ear between his teeth. Stroked up to hold the other side of his head, and what a feast of texture it was, the beard-shadow scraping his palm, the lips parting at the end of his thumb, his fingers on the short-cut sideburn and into the springy hair.
Starsky's breath hissed and there was a thump, perhaps his arm against the steering wheel because the next moment he was rubbing up and down Hutchinson's side while the other hand reached for Hutchinson's crotch.
Hutchinson jerked and his elbow hit the wheel. He let go Starsky's ear and pressed the side of his head against those curls, kneading the handful of cock that heated and grew in his palm and reaching down the neck of Starsky's shirt, fingers thrusting into the warm chest hair. "Horn'll go off any minute," said Hutchinson, trying to stop the movement of his own hands and not having much success. "Let's move this inside."
"'S right," Starsky agreed, "before a patrol checks us out," but his hands didn't stop either.
Blp! said the horn under Hutchinson's elbow, and they both jumped. Away from each other.
Backing up along the car seat was hard enough without trying to look at Starsky at the same time, so Hutchinson dropped his eyes only to find Starsky's leg beneath him, and he couldn't resist drawing his hands down its muscled length as he retreated. He'd meant to say that getting a ticket would be a down side, but joking seemed too much of a distraction when touch was speaking so much more urgently and truly.
"Shit," said Starsky, slumping more and pushing his leg farther along the seat.
Hutchinson knocked into the window handle with his tailbone and then into the roof with his head. This really was ridiculous. He slapped Starsky's knee. "Get out, get out," he said.
They both did, and walked quickly up to the apartment entrance, neither looking at each other nor coming close enough to touch. Hutchinson opened the outer door and led the way into the tiny lobby space, and while he was getting his key into the lock, Starsky bumped into him from behind, the whole length of his body resting there, and the jolt ran through both of them. The key skittered uselessly across the lockplate.
"If you don't back off," said Hutchinson in the voice of a desperate stranger, "we'll never get inside."
Starsky stepped away but it wasn't much help: Hutchinson's nerves were still singing and he could swear he still felt the warm pressure against his back, ass, thighs. "Come on," said Starsky, and his voice was as hoarse and strange as Hutchinson's had just been.
On the third try, the door unlocked. Hutchinson led the way up the two flights of stairs and down the corridor, opened his own door without trouble, and turned to take Starsky in his arms, pulling him inside and slamming the door after him. Starsky pushed closer still and reached around to grasp the cheeks of Hutchinson's ass, rubbing his face into Hutchinson's throat.
"God," said Hutchinson, his head tilting back and the pulse beating in his ears like stormy surf.
"How long has it been for you?" asked Starsky, then turned his face again into Hutchinson's skin and licked his neck.
"Don't talk," Hutchinson said, pulling on Starsky's collar, the sleeve, the buttons. So while their eyes adjusted to the darkness of the room they undressed each other and themselves by touch, a whirlwind of textures, skin and linen and cotton and denim, smooth and thready and soft and slick with sweat. Starsky pulled fiercely at the tails of Hutchinson's shirt, and when it was off, bit the newly-bare shoulder. Hutchinson pushed him back.
Darkness was so magical that he almost didn't miss the difference between Starsky's normal dark-blue eyes and the black dilated pupils: right now Hutchinson could only see two darker patches on the dim shape of his face. Hands on Starsky's shoulders, Hutchinson dropped to his knees and stroked down the tense body he could barely see, took Starsky by the waist and leaned in to find his erection with a hungry mouth. At the first contact, Starsky's crown against Hutchinson's chin, Starsky made a small sound, barely louder than a breath. Hutchinson looked up the chest the color of clouds near the moon, darker where his hair grew, saw the strain in the neck and imagined it in the shadowed face. Slid one hand up into the dark and felt the crisp/soft curls, circled the base of the cock he had wondered about. He couldn't tell to the inch but it was certainly filling his mouth. Starsky had one hand over Hutchinson's where it clutched his hip, the other in Hutchinson's hair, holding his scalp, pushing and kneading, trying to move his head. Starsky's hips moved almost as if he were dancing, and Hutchinson followed them everywhere. He opened his eyes and saw the same stars that spangled in his eyelids. He heard Starsky's voice, louder this time but no more articulate, and felt its vibration through his hands and lips. He breathed in and tasted the same wine-sweet musk.
He was so absorbed in the merging of his senses that Starsky's orgasm took him almost by surprise, bursting into his mouth with more force than he remembered from his last blow job, sharper and better on his tongue, hotter. "Starsky," he tried to say, but it came out all smothered vowels, and he throbbed helplessly and drank what was in his throat and held up the other man when his knees buckled.
"Yessss, yesss, yes, yes," Starsky was saying, somehow down on the floor now, holding Hutchinson tightly against him, rubbing firmly wherever he could reach. "Come on, here's the wall, sit there, where is it? Come on, Hutch, babe, come on, give me a chance." And the seeking stroking hands found Hutchinson's cock, spread his knees and then were back on the shaft, and Hutchinson leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes to keep the wonderful dark inside himself. Wild, it was like riding the wind, like the dreams when he could fly or breathe underwater; he wasn't sure which direction was up or who was sucking him. The mouth felt like his own, it seemed to know him so perfectly. That thought pushed him over the edge and he came, calling for Starsky as if he were far away, not crouched glimmering in front of him.
Starsky lay with his head on Hutchinson's thigh, an arm around Hutchinson's waist. Hutchinson began, slowly, to feel cold, seeping from the smooth paint behind his shoulders. He moved his hand into Starsky's hair, rubbing the scalp through it, copying Starsky's earlier gesture. "Uh," said Starsky, "what."
"There's not much bed," Hutchinson said carefully, "but I'd rather be in it."
"Yeah, okay," Starsky agreed, not moving.
"Really. Come on." Hutchinson rocked the curly head back and forth.
"Hey," Starsky protested. But he did roll to his side, get up to hands and knees; then he stood. And then bent to grab Hutchinson's arms. "I don't even know where the fucking light-switch is, so get up," he said, but when Hutchinson scrambled to his feet, Starsky pulled him close for a moment and hugged him--then, as he had the night they played Ratscrew, let go abruptly.
Let go. Hutchinson stepped away, groped along the wall, said, "Okay, here comes the light," and turned it on.
It battered their eyes and they stood motionless under the onslaught for several seconds. Then Hutchinson looked at Starsky as Starsky looked at the room, its streaked paint and weird little kitchenette inside a cabinet, an armchair in one corner and a narrow single bed in the other, the end-table between them.
"Jesus, Hutch, this is ... I mean ... "
Hutchinson knew exactly what Starsky thought of the apartment, exactly how he was wishing they had fucked at Starsky's place, even if Colby had been waiting in the car that night, how Starsky wasn't sure if Hutchinson couldn't afford anything better or actually liked living in a walk-in closet. He couldn't help but smile as Starsky tried to be tactful, buck naked in an ugly rented studio-apartment. And then Starsky looked at Hutchinson again, and smiled back.
"Here I thought you were just too hot for me, and that was why we were on the floor," he said, taking the few steps that separated them and putting his hands on Hutchinson's waist. "But there's not enough room anywhere else."
"Buddy," Hutchinson said, "it's a long story. I'll tell you, but I'm too wiped now. You want to stay, now you see it? Or go?"
"I'm not an interior decorator. I didn't come up here to see the room."
They dumped their clothes in an indiscriminate pile on the armchair, and Hutchinson turned on the lamp on the end-table so they could turn off the overhead and still find the bed. Starsky lay next to the wall and Hutchinson put his head on the hard shoulder, draped his arm and leg over Starsky's body and was asleep almost before Starsky had reached across to shut off the lamp.
Hutchinson's kitchenette didn't have two of anything, so they went out for breakfast. Neither had slept well, waking each other every time they shifted position, and twisting the covers into useless tangles. Hutchinson had fallen out once. Starsky had been too warm and Hutchinson too cold. Neither had been in any mood for sex when they finally gave up trying to sleep. Now, at the IHoP, they hunched over their coffee and wrestled their tempers in silence.
They needed a distraction and Hutchinson remembered that he had promised to explain his choice of living arrangement. He wasn't sure how to start, though.
"You, uh, you get along with your father?" he blurted.
Starsky raised baffled and irritated eyes from his cup. "What brought that on?" But before Hutchinson could try to explain, Starsky looked back down, saying, "My father's dead."
Oh, brilliant lead-in, Hutchinson scolded himself. "God, Starsk, I'm sorry."
Starsky's eyebrows went up, then leveled, and he sighed, but didn't meet Hutchinson's eyes. "Long time ago." He sipped, set the cup down, reached without looking and Hutchinson nudged the sugar bowl into his hand. Then Starsky did look up, while he was still dumping sugar in, spraying some over the edge of the cup onto the table, stirring with the serving spoon. "I'll tell you sometime, huh? What were you going to say?"
"I told you I'd explain the room, that it was a long story." Hutchinson rubbed the lower half of his face, noting a spot he'd missed when shaving. He stirred his own coffee though he hadn't put anything in it.
"Oh. You don't, then. Get along."
"No. Not now. When I applied to the Police Academy here, got in, he said ... well, anyway, I didn't want to take his money. And there wasn't much that wasn't his money, or family money. And he's the trustee. So I just grabbed the first space I could find that I had the deposit for. Figured I'd really look later."
When Starsky didn't say anything, Hutchinson finally looked at him again, and saw that all the irritation had gone from the oval face. Starsky smiled, slowly, eyes warm. "That wasn't a long story," he said when the smile was about halfway. "But then, you left a lot out."
Hutchinson looked down again, shaking his head.
"Hey, Hutch, it's okay. I wish you had a bigger bed--" Starsky was rubbing his neck, turning his head, in illustration, "but never mind. Hey, where are those pancakes?" But the waitress wasn't in sight.
"In the mail," said Hutchinson. Starsky had ordered the French ones, fake crepes, and turned with a face of such pure and comic outrage that Hutchinson couldn't help but laugh. "Air mail, air mail, keep your shirt on," he said.
"They'll be cold," Starsky groused. "And what are they doing with your stuff, laying the eggs fresh? Digging the potatoes?"
Hutchinson wouldn't have thought Starsky would know how potatoes were harvested, not that it mattered. "Planting them," he said, and won a little snort from Starsky. "Pal." That got Starsky's attention. "Thanks."
Starsky didn't ask what Hutchinson was thanking him for. Hutchinson couldn't have said, there were so many things mixing in his mind by now, so it was a good thing Starsky knew.