The Devil's Day Off
(A story following the episode "Partner")
Hutch felt the day catching up with him as he steered the truck down toward their camp site . They had both gotten up before the sun to get here, lousy directions and all and they hadn't actually had a minute to kick back since.
Nothing like running yourself ragged for relaxation, the blond mused. And here he was, less than an hour away from their dinner date with the Dobey's and his foot ached and he felt like he needed a nap. But at least his luck was picking up. Maybe there won't be time for the fishing to get old, if I never get around to it, he thought with a smile, reflecting on his late night appointment.
As he pulled up he eyed the new picnic table, which glowed a bright and stunning red. He already decided he did not care for it. It looked too new. He liked the old, pitted dirty one better.
He was tiredly limping toward the trailer with his bag when Starsky stuck his head out of the door, white towel draped over his shoulder.
"Oh, good," The smaller man said. "You're back. Hot water's ready if you are."
"Yeah? Sounds great!" Hutch sighed in appreciation of this small routine.
Since the first accident, they'd both taken time out at the end of the evening to soak their various bruises in hot water. It wasn't so much the soaking, as it was the time they had made just to sit down together quietly. Not that they'd talked about anything serious so far, but it was the time that counted.
Hutch cautiously entered the small trailer, noticing that his partner was filling a single tub with hot and cold water. He was glad that the beer smell was only slightly noticeable and sat down on the bed with the mattress. "We only packed one tub didn't we. Sorry about that." Hutch sighed. "Guess I forgot."
"No problem," Starsky replied with a smile. "You can have the tub. I'm just gonna use the sink to soak a towel and drape my arm. He held up his left hand and worked his fingers in and out of a fist. "I'm going to leave off the bandage tonight and just go with the sling anyway."
"Don't use it any more than you have to," Hutch warned, leaning past his partner to grab the tub full of hot water and setting it on the floor. "You'll tie yourself up in a knot if you do."
"Yes, Mother," Starsky replied in a patient voice. "Will you sit down and get that bandage off?"
Hutch worked on getting the bandage off of his left foot. Walking and driving made it swell and the bruises were still mostly a deep black and purple, but with a yellow and green edge. It still looked nasty, but he didn't think the bandage was helping any. I might as well leave mine off too, he decided. At least then I could get my shoe on right.
Hutch placed his foot in the not-quite-too-hot water and closed his eyes in a heartfelt sigh. Just a little bit of heaven.... But he only let the relief last a moment, opening his eyes quickly to watch his friend unwrap his arm.
Starsky's arm was just bruised just as deep, only in two places instead of Hutch's larger one. It had been a miracle that he hadn't broken his wrist, but the muscles of his arm made moving his fingers hurt. Hutch still felt a pang on seeing the injury. It was even worse for the darker man, as his left was his best hand and it left him awkward and frustrated.
Hutch watched as he dipped the towel into the hot water he had poured into the sink, knowing that there wasn't any way his friend could wring it out.
"Let me," Hutch interrupted Starsky's efforts. "I've got an idea. You sit down for a moment and let me get us set."
"Why? I've got it. I can...."
Starsky sat down suddenly, eyebrows rising to meet hairline in surprise. Hutch tossed him another towel and had him place his arm on it. Then he carefully draped the hot, wet towel over his friend's forearm. Starsky closed his eyes and sighed.
"Now turn to your right and scoot forward."
The detective did as he was told, curling his right leg up on the mattress and leaving his left foot on the floor. Hutch maneuvered in behind him, replacing his foot in the tub of hot water. Hutch reached up and started massaging Starsky's left shoulder.
Hutch could feel him relax into the movement. He knew just where his friend would be knotted up and went right for the sore and stiff muscles around his bullet scar. Starsky moaned lowly and leaned forward until his forehead rested on the camper wall he was facing, allowing Hutch full access to his back.
Hutch only wished he had realized years ago how rough his left-handed friend had it in a right-handed world. Starsky did a lot of things right-handed and he did them better than Hutch could have with his weaker hand. But the other detective was a lefty and lefty's had a hard time in the world. It had taken a few years, but Hutch had seen the bits and pieces of frustration this had caused the man. There were the doors that didn't swing the right way, scissors, can openers and even bowling balls that caused frustration because the balance was off.
Hutch kneaded hard into the scar tissue, willing it to loosen and stretch under the heat and pressure of his hands. He wanted to make sure it stayed soft and flexible. Since Starsky wasn't able to use his left hand and arm normally, his shoulder tended to get stiff. Hutch could feel the tightness disappear after a few moments of work.
"Man, I needed that," Starsky sighed. "Sometimes I feel like I'm a hundred years old, goin' on two hundred."
Hutch chuckled. "What a whiner. Just wait until you are that old and this'll seem like nothing. Besides, think of all the calories you burn chasing bad guys down alleys and over fences..."
"...and through abandoned buildings, up rotten stairs, over cars and through stores," his companion continued. "Its a wonder we aren't worse off than we are. We could've broken a million bones by now. One these days we're gonna be too old for all that action."
Hutch was silent, agreeing with is friend. He moved his attention to the other shoulder, feeling the tendons relax even further. He closed his eyes, concentrating. It was almost as if he could feel all the way into the joint, telling by touch just in what shape it was in. He continued working on it then moved back to the bullet scar and then Starsky's neck.
He's pretty lose, but still knotted up, Hutch though in concern, concentrating further into what his hands could feel beneath them. He's still sore from the car accident... Sometimes he swore that he could almost feel the blood vessels beneath the skin and if he just looked and thought hard enough...
Hutch jumped, realizing his friend had said something. He released his hold on Starsky's neck and gave him a quick pat. "Sorry, missed that."
"I'm that fascinatin', huh?" Starsky returned with a grin. "I asked you why you never became a doctor." His voice had turned quiet and serious as he dropped his leg to sit on the edge of the mattress. "You could've made a million buck doin' that for money." He smiled and flexed his shoulder and carefully stretched his arm and hand.
"It was just a massage, pal," Hutch replied, pulling his foot out of the water to examine it.
"Nah, I've had massages before, y'know, when they were doin' therapy on my shoulder. An' they were always meant to keep things from gettin' worse and settin' up on me. Whenever you do it, it's like you're actually fixin' something, a little bit at a time. You do it long enough and that shoulder is gonna be better'n new."
Hutch shrugged slightly, putting his foot back into the water, trying to keep the pleased smile off of his face. He had always been proud that he could help Starsky recover from his injuries and relieved that his partner allowed him to do what he could.
"I thought about it, in high school," he admitted. "But doctors go in and out, from one patient to the next..." he trailed off, not know how to express himself. He finally shrugged. "I'd've made a lousy doctor because I'd spend a couple of hours with each patient and the backlog would have been horrible." He smiled at Starsky's amused look. "I just can't detach from people I'm supposed to help that easily. But I did think about being a male nurse, or a therapist. That's why I took some pre-med classes in college. I never followed it too far after I got distracted with criminal science, but I have to admit that having some medical training and background comes in handy on the streets."
"Really," Starsky replied with a knowing grimace. "It's nice to know I've got a partner who knows where all the important parts are." His face went serious as he seemed to stare off into the distance. "You never know when someone's gonna plug ya real good and those first few seconds of care are gonna mean the difference between being rat food the minute you hit the ground or making it until the ambulance arrives."
Hutch felt the hairs on the nape of his neck rise at Starsky's words. He looked at his partner carefully, watching his friend's face as he seemed to see something serious in the distance.
He scares me when he does this, the blond realized worriedly. Like when he sees something on the streets and he knows something's going to go down, just by gut instinct. Intuition? Gypsy blood? Or fear of what could happen? Sometimes I think he might see things better than that psychic Collandra ever did... "We don't have to work the way we do, partner." He nudged his friend gently to get his attention. "You know we can back off and play the game straight. If it worries you..."
"Nah, I'm not worried." Starsky seemed to come out of his reverie and smiled at his partner. "We won't stop any of it unless we get in and walk the edge. And I want us to stop as much of it as we can..." He smiled and rubbed his shoulder, "before we do get to be a hundred and break our last bone. 'Sides, I got you around to keep all my pieces together." He stood abruptly, ending the conversation. "And I forgot to tell you my good news," he added, glancing at Hutch sideways, with a satisfied smile.
"Oh, let me guess. You were able to supervise the correct placement of one new picnic table."
"Well, that too," the smaller man replied. "But it just so happens that my dream girl managed to track me down all by herself. Seems I also have a late-night date."
"What some girls won't settle for..." Hutch shook his head in disbelief. "I guess I won't have to worry about you waiting up for me then. And I guess I won't have to bring you any roasted marshmallows from the bon-fire."
"Bon-fire? Hey' we're goin' to a bon-fire too. I guess it must be some kinda park employee thing. She said it was a private get-together."
"She works for the RV park?" Hutch asked in surprise. "You know, that's a coincidence because my girl works here too. In fact, I met her while she was working in the office with that older guy, Sid. I had to get change for my laundry..." Hutch drifted off when he saw his face go blank.
"Don't tell me..." Starsky closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. "She's about late twenties, long, really dark hair hanging down to her waist in a braid. She had brown eyes with these little gold flecks in them, a soul killing smile, legs that go all the way up to her shoulders and..." He opened his eyes and stared at his partner. "...her last name happens to be Calbert and she has a brother named Robert."
"Yeah," Hutch replied in surprised shock. "How the hell do you know all that? I knew she was going to met a Robert someone, but I didn't know that Robert was her brother. You've met her? You must've met her in the office then?"
"Nope," Starsky replied with a heartfelt sigh. "I met her in Peakness when she was in talking to her brother. She's the one I met in town that I was going to trace down. She came by with the new table just a little while ago and invited me to a 10 p.m. bonfire."
"No kidding?!" Hutch asked in disbelief. He suddenly felt as if the whole day had been shot to hell. "I can't believe this! What's going on? Do we have 'Bozo' tattooed on our foreheads or something? And let me guess, she's coming by here at 10 p.m. and you're walking to the bon-fire, right?"
"You got it." His partner sat down in the opposite bed, pushing the rolled up sleeping bags aside. "Must be some kinda group that's trying to recruit members or something. She must be after any warm body she can get."
They were both quiet for a moment, each thinking their own thoughts.
"Are you still going?" Hutch asked, breaking the silence as he tried to stretch out on the mattress.
"Wellll..." Hutch drawled, "if she'd recruiting for some group or something, that doesn't mean that she's not really interested on one of us. I mean, if she is interested it would be a shame to waste the opportunity."
"Yeah, that's true," Starsky agreed. "And when we get there, that doesn't mean that you can't check out the other ladies and meet someone nice..."
"Whoa, whoa," Hutch interrupted. "Don't you start assuming anything, buddy. I'm the one she made a date with first, you know. You could check out the convention after we get there."
"Whichever, but I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you." Starsky stood to unfold the sleeping bags and lay them out in the empty bed frame. "We've got about a half hour before dinner with Dobey and Edith. You don't think she'll be insulted if we leave at 9:30 do you?" He spread the bags out with his awkward hand and lay down and stretched. "And don't get comfortable over there, that's still my spot."
"No, I think Dobey would rather we didn't hang around too much anyway." Hutch snuck a look over at his partner, who was spread out more comfortably than Hutch was able to get. "He and Edith deserve all the private time they've got left on their trip. He'll probably be glad to see us go. And it wasn't my fault my mattress got soaked," he reminded quietly, digging for a guilty spot.
"Wasn't my fault either, fluke of camping," The other man replied quietly, stifling a yawn. "'Sides, the mattress may be fine by now. And you were so sure you wouldn't even make it back here tonight anyway. Confidence slipping?"
By 5:50 p.m. Harold Dobey had the charcoal burning well, so he settle down at the picnic table to await his company. I hope they don't mind if we make an early night of it, Dobey mused. It's been ages since Edith and I've seen a movie together and there's a good one in town tonight. He had actually intended to talk to Edith about it when she had returned, but Edith had beaten him to the punch. But she was sure the 'boys' would understand if they called it an early evening. Not that those two would have the gall to 'mind', Dobey thought with amusement. Not after helping Starsky hose out that mattress. Dobey gave it a bemused glance.
"Hey, Captain," Hutch greeted shyly, blond head poking around the corner.
"We're here!" Starsky chimed in unnecessarily as he followed his partner into the area. "You sure we couldn't go and get something for dinner?"
"Don't you dare!" Edith Dobey chastised with a laugh from the RV doorway. "We have more than enough for everyone. Why don't you two come and let Harold give Ken the guided tour? He's been dying to, you know."
"Yeah, wait'll you see it, Hutch," Starsky agreed with awe. "It's like a whole apartment in there."
All four crowded in and Dobey once again gave the grand tour. It was a beautiful piece of equipment and he felt the same jolt of pride showing it's features off to Hutch as he had to Starsky. It took only a few minutes, but Hutch looked duly impressed.
"Really nice, Captain!" Hutch gave Dobey a mischievous grin at the end of the tour. "You wouldn't happen to want to lend it out once in..."
"No," Dobey interrupted with a smug smile, leading them back out to check on his fire. "Not a chance. Especially when I've seen what happens when you two get ahold of a camper." He nodded toward the soggy looking mess propped up against a nearby tree.
"Yeah, well, we should'a gotten a bigger instruction manual with ours," Starsky replied sheepishly.
Edith laughed at the admission. "Well, that's how we learn, Dave, by our mistakes. And I'd tell you about Harold's misadventures with his new baby, but I'm sure you can worm them out of him eventually." She turned toward Hutch with a smile. "I could use a hand with the salad if you don't mind."
"That's me," Hutch volunteered quickly.
"Take a beer with you," Dobey nodded toward the nearby ice cooler with an amused smile. "That is, unless you're tired of it by now."
Starsky reached the cooler first and tossed his partner a beer, holding up one for Edith, but she shook her head at him, declining the offer.
Dobey accepted the beer on his wife's behalf and eyed the progress of the charcoals. The detective wandered up to him and stood quietly, watching the coals slowly turn to the needed shade of ash.
"Ah... Cap'n," the detective started quietly, "I hope you don't mind if Hutch and I cut out a little early this evening. We, umm..."
"Made some late plans?" Dobey asked just as quietly. "Actually, Edith and I were hoping you wouldn't mind if we made our escape a little early ourselves. We're thinking of hitting the late show at the Peakness cinema."
"Hey, no problem," Starsky replied quickly, obviously relieved. "How's nine sound for calling it an evening? We have a date for about ten..."
"Fine with me." Dobey agreed. He returned to his lounge chair, leaving his detective the picnic table seat. "So," he began quietly, "I can see Hutch is in a better mood. Is he enjoying this trip yet." And what was that scene in the truck about? Dobey wondered silently, not daring to ask it out loud.
"Well, I think he's given up fighting it," Starsky answered with a disgusted grimace. "You wouldn't believe what happened this afternoon. Hutch went up to wash his clothes from the beer mess and everything was stolen from the washers."
Dobey felt his eyes widen at the news. "Turn in a report?"
"Yeah, to the management," the dark half of the team sighed as he leaned back on the table, careful of his injured arm. "We went into town and he got some thrift store stuff to tide him over." He gave a small chuckle. "He's pretty much decided that he's jinxed, so he's not going to worry about it anymore."
Dobey saw the worried look behind the chuckle and wasn't fooled. "Does he think he was jinxed, or that he deserves anything bad that happens?" He asked softly, eye on the RV door.
Starsky looked up sharply, that protective gleam in his eyes that Dobey had seen many times before. But the curly haired detected just relaxed and shrugged. "Yeah, he's still not sure he's forgiven for the whole amnesia thing. He doesn't really believe it's over and done with. Back to normal." He took a sip of beer, eyes focused on the distance.
"Is it?" Dobey asked softly. "It was a pretty nasty scene, all the way around."
"Yeah, as far as I'm concerned, it's over," Starsky said shyly. "It wasn't all his fault you know."
Dobey grunted at the statement, taking a sip of the cooling beer. "I figured as much. You wouldn't believe the citizen complaints I had coming in about your driving right before the crash." He said it softly, not wanting to accuse or blame. The flush of Starsky's face told him he knew full well what the reports must have said. "They were all taken care of, but the Chief made a notation in your file...." He saw the grimace, "And about Hutch..."
"I scared the shit outta him, Cap'n," Starsky admitted quickly. "Twice in fact. He told me the night before you found out about him faking it." He sighed and placed his beer on the table, stretching and taking a furtive glance at the cabin door.
"Hutch has this thing about speed." The detective leaned forward so he wouldn't be overheard. "Gets real nauseous at times, won't even go on the fast rides at the amusement parks. It doesn't bother him in the cities, 'cause you can't really pick up the pace when you gotta take a turn at a second's notice. 'N he's got a good grip on it when we're after some really nasty bad guys. You know, it keeps his mind offa the chase. But I got carried away and he tried to tell me that the chase wasn't worth the risk. I just ignored him and then the crash happened..."
Starsky reached over to rub at his hurt wrist absently. Looking uncomfortable. "I woke up pretty quickly at the scene, but Hutch was unconscious all the way in. We were separated in the ER and when he woke up they wouldn't tell him anything," his voice grew serious. "Hutch pulled a couple of dead drivers outta cars when he was in uniform Cap'n. He said that the steering wheel can rip a guy's heart outta his chest on impact. He hadda help move a couple of bodies like that and saw the results. And then at the ER, when he couldn't get any information about me..."
Starsky took a thick swallow, rubbing absently at this hand and wrist. Dobey let him have the silence for a moment.
"So he thought you were dead." Dobey sighed. As a cop, he and the detectives knew that hospital personnel would rarely inform a patient of the death of another. They would let you know that your companion was alive, if it soothed your own recovery, but they left the bad news up to family, friends or law enforcement when they could. No use getting an emergency patient upset until he was stable. "They must have moved you to another area and another set of doctors. They just didn't know what to tell him."
"Yeah," the smaller man replied with a sigh. "It was quite awhile before he heard my name mentioned by chance. He heard that I was okay, just shaken up and bruised. By the time the specialist came to check his head and spinal X-rays, Hutch was in pain and mad at me for the whole thing. That's when he started in with the amnesia. Do you know that the Doctor never even checked his file for the standard head injury questions? You know, like 'What's your name?' or 'Who's the President?' Since the X-ray's for Hutch's head and spine were clear, the guy never checked any closer."
"So, Hutch wanted to get back at you." Dobey's voice grew gruffer than he had intended. "A nasty trick."
"He didn't mean for it to get so outta control, Cap'n," Starsky replied quickly, almost apologetically. "He was in pain from the accident and they couldn't give him the good stuff because of the morphine thing. He just wasn't thinking right." The younger man waved his arm helplessly. "He didn't realize that once he'd started, there wasn't any good way out of it. Then he got too scared to let go and admit to what he'd done. Until that night..." He smiled lopsidedly at the Captain. "We had one hell of a fight too. We woke everyone on the floor up with our yellin'. When they threatened to move one of us to another room we calmed down enough to talk it through."
"But did you fix it?" Dobey wondered out loud.
"Yeah, nothin' was really broken anyway." The darker half of the team shrugged. "We were both just having a bad day at the same time. But he really was sorry about bein' nasty to you and Huggy. That's why he came by right before you left and brought you that wine. Huggy got some too."
"An expensive vintage," Dobey said, taking another sip of the beer. He clearly remembered the night before his vacation, packing and loading the RV when Hutch had arrived, driven by his partner. Hutch had been contrite and had apologized sincerely, presenting him and Edith with the wine as a bon voyage gift. Dobey had accepted his apology with a minimum of growling. "We really enjoyed it. It meant a great deal for me to be able to relax on this trip." And not leave with hurt feelings and unsettled issues, Dobey added silently.
"Apology accepted?" Starsky asked solemnly, watching Dobey face closely.
"In full." Dobey smiled and watched the detective as he grinned back, visibly relaxed now that that had been settled. Dobey raised his bulk out of the lounge chair and headed for the RV. "Looks like it's time for those stakes. Wait until you get a taste of my new marinade."
Edith Dobey busied herself with the marinade after setting the salad ingredients out for Ken. She could see that her husband and Dave were safely over by the grill and out of earshot and felt relieved that she could talk to the tall blond in private. She had been worried about all three of the men. Harold had been worried about the whole affair.
Nothing about that whole scene sounded like Ken at all, she mused in concern. And I can't help but worry about how Ken and Dave worked things out. They look fine on the surface, but I know Harold is concerned about the partnership. She knew that Harold had adopted the two long ago and felt responsible for their welfare.
"It shouldn't be too long before Harold has the grill ready," Edith said, hoping to start conversation. "He's been experimenting with these marinades for the last two weeks and I have to admit this one is much better than mine." She smiled at the tall detective. "Now if I can only get him to cook like this over a stove..."
"Ah, but it's never quite the same over a stove as it is over a fire," Hutch answered in amusement. He was working on cutting carrots for the salad. "It always seems to taste better when you're outside, anyway."
"Well, Harold has enjoyed all of this vacation so far," she added, watching her husband as he talked to the darker detective. "But it's so hard to get him to take his time off. We were lucky he got to take his overdue leave all at once, so he can really feel like he's had a rest." She glanced at the blond. "We really enjoyed the wine, Ken. And it meant a lot that you brought it over when you did." She saw a slight flush color his cheeks.
"I hope so, Edith. I'm really sorry about the whole thing, with the Captain and all." Hutch paused in his slicing and looked at her sadly. "I really blew it and wish it had never happened."
"You must have been very mad at Dave," she responded softly. Edith continued with her work, but reached a hand out to pat the detective's arm. "I'm sure you must have been in a lot of pain at the time."
"Well, not enough to excuse anything." Hutch nibbled on a carrot slice and sighed. "I just... well... didn't think beyond the moment when I started the stupid act and I was mad at Starsk. Then I didn't know how to get out of it. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that he may never forgive me. I just couldn't admit to it or stop it. At least while I had amnesia, he could stand to be in the same room with me."
Edith felt for the man. She knew how dear Starsky was to him. "Well, I can't blame you for being mad at Dave like that. Harold told me about the citizen complaints about his driving and how dangerous it was." Edith busied herself with finding place settings.
"It wasn't Starsky's fault," Hutch said quickly. "He may push the envelope in that car once in awhile, but he's the best. He had control until the last second. It didn't help that I was distracting him like I was." Hutch shrugged at her and smiled helplessly. "I tend to get sick at high speeds and I was getting to the point of loosing it that time." Hutch gave a forced chuckle. "You can imagine how he would have reacted if I'd actually messed up that Torino from the inside."
"But was the chase necessary?" She asked. "Did he need to put all those pedestrians at such risk to catch those criminals? Were they that important?" She already knew Harold's feelings on the subject. A 'rookie maneuver' he had fumed at the time. But while Ken had been sick, her husband hadn't the heart to chastise Starsky.
"I honestly didn't think so at the time," Hutch answered candidly, resuming his work on the salad. "But he was the driver, it was up to him to decided."
"Not if you're working as a team, Ken." Edith stopped to look up at the man, hoping to ease his embarrassment. "I can understand how mad you must have been afterwards and how scared you were for him. I can understand your reactions and even forgive you for them, as I know Harold has done. We all make mistakes and hurt those who are dear to us sometimes. You both were very lucky that it ended the way it did. But have you and Dave really made your peace over it? You know I worry over you both."
"He says I'm forgiven," Hutch said simply, not looking fully convinced. "We talked over the whole thing that night and Starsk isn't one to hold a grudge or to lie about his feelings. And I'm not mad at him anymore. So I'll take it on faith that it's okay again. But I still wish..." He trailed off with a helpless shrug.
"I know," Edith replied softly. "And I'm glad everything worked out. After all," she added with a kind smile, "if Harold's favorite team was to break up, I'd never hear the end of it at home. And you know what a bear that man can be."
"Yes, I have to say that I do," Hutch replied with a shy chuckle.
"Must be time for the steaks," Edith said suddenly, spying her husband moving toward the camper. I'm glad to hear that everything is forgiven, if not forgotten, Edith thought with a satisfied smile. Even if Ken isn't sure of it yet.
The two detectives took their leave after a fine dinner and good company and walked quietly back to their camper at the allotted time. Starsky could tell that Hutch's enthusiasm for the rest of the evening was just as low as his. If it weren't for the fact that they would get to meet some of the other campers, he would have almost felt too disappointed to go.
I'm being petty, he decided as they made their quiet way back. Tina did invite me for a reason and I knew it was a group convention. If she ends up as Hutch's date, then I'm gonna be big about it. But it ain't over 'til the pretty lady sings. Starsky chuckled to himself and saw Hutch give him a glance as he unlocked the trailer.
"Good mood, huh?" Hutch asked with a smile. "Not too disappointed?"
"Nah. It's true, she's a knockout, but I'm gonna enjoy this vacation. And there are plenty of eligible ladies around. Why worry?"
"Good point, Gordo," the blond replied, waving his friend through the door first. "Lose with grace."
"Depends," Starsky replied with an evil smiled toward his partner, "on who's Grace and if I like her better."
They both grabbed towels and evening clothes, ignoring the still strong beer smell and walked up to the nearest facilities for their showers. Starsky noticed that his friend's limp was less pronounced without the bandage and while his own arm was still sore it was fine with only the sling. They showered and changed, then hurried back to the camper, tossing their old clothes in a corner and settled at the bright red table.
Starsky enjoyed the evening darkness and sounds of nature, as long as they were punctuated by human sounds and dapples of lights from various sources. They both sat quietly, listening to the night settle in. They hadn't been there for too long when he saw a bobbing flashlight approach. "There she is," he announced.
"Hello!" called a familiar voice. "Are we ready?"
"Yes," Hutch called bemusedly. "We are."
Starsky watched in appreciation as Tina Calbert came within the faint light of the camper's open door. She looked wonderfully fresh in hiking boots, tight jeans, a white wide-collar shirt and a dark blue windbreaker. Her thick, dark hair had been loosened to flow freely down her back, held back from her face with a blue hair-band.
"Ken, you look nice!"
Starsky felt his stomach drop at the greeting and smile she flashed at his partner. Tina barely glanced at him as she walked up to Hutch.
"Thanks," Hutch replied, sounding a bit subdued. "You look real nice too, Gina."
Gina? He thought with a hidden smirk. He's even got her name wrong.
"You've met my partner, Dave Starsky." Hutch nodded in his direction.
"Actually, no," Gina replied, turning toward Starsky and smiling her familiar smile. "I can't say that I have. How do you do?" She held out her hand. "Ken told me he was here with his partner."
The detective felt struck with her rudeness. He felt like making a snappy comeback, but saw the look on Hutch's face. He's uncomfortable with the situation too. Well, nothing left but to be a gentleman and not call her a liar to her face, Starsky thought, forcing a smile and reaching for her hand. Maybe Hutch can salvage something from this.
"Uh oh! No you don't!"
He felt himself freeze at the nearby, more-than-familiar voice. He turned to see another flashlight bobbing toward their door.
"That one's mine, Sis! Hands off!" The voice laughed delightedly as Starsky felt his eyes widen. "Hey, Dave. Lookin' good. But no touching that one. She's my mortal enemy."
Out of the shadows of the night another young lady stepped into the faint light. And exact duplicate for the first, with only the hair and the clothes to mark any difference.
"Twins!" Hutch laughed delightedly. "They're identical twins."
"Didn't she tell you?" Gina asked him. Her eyes rolled at the shake of his head and she shook her head disgustedly. "I thought you told them, Tina," she said toward the new figure.
Tina Calbert laughed again, shrugging at the situation. "No, I didn't tell them. When would I have told them?" Tina smiled at Starsky. "Sorry, Dave. We are twins, but mirror twins. And I didn't realize that Tina and I had picked out guys from the same lot number until we were getting dressed to come and we compared notes. I thought I'd hang back and see what happened." She was still smiling at him but reached out to give her sister a slight shove and stuck her tongue out. "We don't usually have this happen anymore, so I don't make it a habit to warn my dates ahead of time."
All four adult laughed good naturedly at the situation.
Starsky, feeling infinitely relieved, was once again looking forward to this convention. "I still can't believe it," he admitted, looking from one to the other. Tina had arrived in boots and jeans too, but she wore a light red shirt under a new, white sweatshirt, her braid hanging down in back. "So we've got Tina," he said pointing to his date, then looking toward Hutch's date, "and Gina Calbert. And somewhere is brother Robert."
"You catch on quick, sir." Tina laughed.
"And you say you're mirror twins?" Hutch asked with interest. "Do you know what that means? They're not only identical, but opposite."
"Opposite?" Starsky didn't quite understand.
"Like a mirror," Gina answered. "Mainly, one of us is left-handed, the other is right handed. Our features are identical because we're twins, but on the opposite sides. Even our birthmark is identical, but on different sides."
"Oh, Yeah," he replied looking down closely at them both to see the difference in their features. "You mean the beauty mark." Starsky saw that Tina had a little beauty mark just on the outside of her right eye and Gina had one on the left.
"No, she doesn't mean that one and no, you can't see it." Tina smiled evenly at him and Gina laughed. "At least, you can't see mine yet, if ever and you are never to see hers."
"Oh," Hutch chimed in with a smile and a leer. "One of those, huh?"
"Yes, but the same goes for you too," Gina replied, taking Hutch's arm possessively. "And we've got a walk ahead of us, so if you don't mind, we'd better be on our way."
The detectives locked up the camper and gallantly took over the flashlights for the walk down the trail. Gina explained that there were several trails that led to Captor's Cove, but the closest way by foot was at the end of the gravel road. They made their way past the quiet Dobey RV and Tina pointed out the tree-sheltered path. It had been kept cleaned but had overgrown a bit with wild brush, which kept them on their toes for a ways. They then came to the lake's shoreline and they could see the bon-fire in the distance. They all four slowed, enjoying the play of lights on the still water.
Hutch felt wonderful and was glad the pace was slow. He figured the rest of them had slowed their pace to match his and he appreciated all the company. No use making it any worse than it has too. He knew he would have to rest his foot most of the evening. But sitting and talking sounded wonderful. The flicker of the firelight on the water was like a starscape, complimenting the reflection of the waxing moon. Full moon in a couple more days, then the wildness runs free. He smiled at the thought. Many scoffed it, including him, but there did seem to be more craziness during the night of a full moon. Even cops saw and commented on it.
"Penny," Gina said quietly, hugging his arm closer.
"For my thoughts?" he replied with a chuckle. "Hey, I ain't cheap."
"Well, a dime maybe, but that's my limit." She smiled up at him. "Going.... going...."
"Gone," Hutch finished, smiling in the darkness. "I was just thinking about the craziness a full moon brings out in people." He eyed the bon-fire and the apparent gathering that drew closer with each step. "So how weird are you people anyway?"
"Well, that's a nice question." His partner snorted behind him. "The least you can do, Hutch, is pretend you didn't notice."
"Oh, no, Dave," Tina broke in, a grin in her voice. "Ken was apparently given fair warning. The group actually is here for the full moon." Her voice grew quiet and took on a haunting quality. "We're all going to turn into werewolves and terrorize the trailer park in a couple of nights and if you're good, we'll let you live!"
Hutch stifled a snicker, wishing he could see his partner's face behind him. Starsky was like a kid, loving horror movies and never quite convinced that there wasn't a monster hiding in every closet.
"Werewolves?" Starsky asked with a forced laugh. "I'm actually more fond of vampires myself. So what is this weird group we're going to spend the evening with?"
"Tina and I are members of ESPRIT. We had the pleasure of setting up the convention this year."
"Esprit?" Hutch repeated. "As in 'esprit de corps'?"
"Yes, silent 'T' and all," Gina replied. "It stands for 'ESP, Ramifications In Technique'. We're a loose group, mostly getting together for fun, but we all have one thing in common. We've all been tested in one way or another for extra sensory perception."
"You and Tina have ESP?" The darker detective asked, incredulous.
"Yeah, in some way or another I guess," Tina answered with a bored shrug. "Most twins seem to have some kind of connection. Gina and I have our peculiarities." She smiled at the two men. "We've been tested at universities and different clinics, mostly for free, with room and board included. We've always volunteered for studies and kept running into the same people. A group was formed a few years ago when we all became friends. Then everyone started inviting new people. The crowd gets larger every year."
"We're not a serious group." Gina waved toward the nearby gathering. "We talk and gossip, compare test sites and projects. We encompass all kinds of people and all different kinds of religions and beliefs. There are people who are into things like telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, second site, telegnosis, paragnosis...."
"....fortune telling, prophecy, scrying, divination, Ouija boards, palmistry, planchette, healing," Tina continued with a yawn, "to go on and on. This year the park was selected and Gina and I set up the reservations for it all. It's fun and kinky and the full moon get everyone going." She smiled wickedly. "If we can't kick up our powers into overdrive with a full moon, we can at least have some great parties."
"Hey, I'll join," Hutch volunteered quickly. "Sounds like fun."
"Yeah, you are weird enough," his friend threw in. "But you don't have a trick."
"Little you know. I can tell my fortune in the cards."
"When? I've never seen you do that?" Starsky asked seriously.
"Yes you have, last month when I told you not to press your luck by upping the ante at that poker game."
"But that was poker. That doesn't count."
"Sure it does. I told you I was going to win and I did." Hutch grinned at his partner's irked expression. "I saw it in the cards."
Both ladies laughed and Hutch got the impression that the other detective was rolling his eyes at him.
They came upon the gathering and Hutch could see there were quite a few people there. A large bon-fire had been set ablaze on the sandy beach, away from the tree-line. A couple of hundred or so people were milling around it and the various picnic tables and lawn furniture. Hutch spied a couple of kegs over in one corner and a couple of tables nearby loaded with snacks.
Before he could offer to fetch beer, a very, very large women in a brightly colored moo-moo and salt-and-pepper hair piled haphazardly on her head, flew toward them, her speed belying her size.
"My dears! My dears! Everything is just wonderful! I can just feel that this year is going to be so much fun!" she spouted, obviously delighted.
The woman was not just large in body, but in personality. Even out in the open, Hutch felt as if she was taking up all the room there was.
"Here are your name tags, all done and ready and I'm so glad you're here now," The large lady continued. And with her words she deftly planted a tag on Gina and Tina's chests.
Hutch noticed they both said 'telepathy' underneath the girl's names. But his attention was jerked back to the large lady as she stepped up close to inspect him and Starsky.
"Oh my! Oh my! I don't know how to label you two." She giggled, delighted with what she saw.
"Augustine! Auggy!" Gina raised her voice, just catching the large woman's attention. "I'm glad everything is going well. But these are our dates, dear. They aren't one of us, they're just here to have some fun." Gina patted the large woman's arm kindly, as if she knew this would be a major disappointment for her. "And we really don't need name tags. If we need to...."
"Oh, no." Augustine giggled again. "We all need to know dear, in case we want to get panels set up by the full moon. I think there is going to be a lot going on that night and not everyone has met yet."
Augustine turned to stare at Hutch again, squinting her eyes, then doing the same thing to his partner. Hutch glanced at his partner, who was smiling uncomfortable under the direct scrutiny.
"And of course your friends belong here," Augustine continued with a laugh. "They're extra-crispy. All connected and everything. You know what that means!" Augustine directed her last statement to Starsky, reaching out to pat his arm.
"We're fried chicken?" Starsky replied with and uncertain smile, looking as if was dealing with a lunatic.
Augustine broke into gales of laughter. Hutch smiled and tried to sidestep the lady but Augustine got a good grip on his wrist and he quickly realized he was not going anywhere without drastic counter moves and maybe a choke hold. Hutch was resigned to smile and nod politely to an apparent friend of the girls.
"Oh, you're good," Augustine replied to the darker man delightedly, giggling like a five-year-old. She finally caught a breath and surveyed both detectives again. "It's your aura's, dear. I see auras. You know the colors and shapes of your life force."
"What do you see, Augustine?" Tina asked, looking interested.
Augustine gathered herself and squinted her eyes at them once again, unexpectedly looking serious. "They've got twin auras, my dear. They both have a deep blue aura. There's a golden corona outside of that." She took the arm that was still captive and pulled Hutch away from the group slightly, watching the air between him and the group. "Their base colors are different but are of the same tone and intensity. The golden corona is what connects them." She moved her left hand, as if drawing a line leading from Hutch to Starsky. "It's free flowing, going from one to the other." She let Hutch go and stood back, her laughter returning. "And they sparkle, the extra-crispy part."
"I know what most of that means, Augustine," Gina replied, voice quiet and soothing. "But you've lost me again. What are the sparkles?"
"They're like energy vampires." With this, Augustine covered her mouth in glee. "They draw from their environment and the energy around them. The wilder the environment, the more loose energy they can catch and absorb. The sparkles are their auras absorbing the loose energy around them." Augustine sighed at the invisible site . "Well, I'll get them figured out by-and-by. You must let me know what you both do, my dears and I'll get you tagged correctly." Augustine turned suddenly and headed speedily back into the crowd where she had come.
"Who was that?" Hutch asked in astonishment. Gina had said 'weird', but there was one level of weird, then there was another. "And what was she talking about?"
"Augustine Greenfeld," Gina answered, laughing at the look on the men's faces. "She's one of the more, uhm.... energetic group members. She's harmless, but she's been living with visible auras all of her life. People tend to brush her off at first, but when she analyses the auras of those around her, she's more often than not right. Guess it's official and you two are one of us now."
"But what was she talking about?" Starsky asked. "I mean, I know what auras are supposed to be, but what's with the colors and the sparkles? I mean, not that I believe all this..." He drifted off and shrugged a bit embarassedly as if afraid to hurt feelings.
"Auggy sees auras on everyone if she looks at them the right way," Tina answered, smiling at what was Starsky's obvious confusion on the issue. "Most people who see auras see different colors and they mean different things to each person. To Augustine, the blue aura is your life color. The corona is the active part of your life force and yours is gold. That means you're involved and active in life. But the sparkles I hadn't heard of before."
"What did she mean by a 'twin aura'?" Hutch asked. "And how they be called 'twin' if our base colors are different?"
Tina gave Gina a strange look and both shrugged. "You'll have to ask Augustine that question," Gina responded, a bemused smile on her face. "She's a bit hard to follow at the best of times and I've only heard her use it in two situations. One is the real 'twin' aura, which means the aura's are identical. Since Tina and I actually started out as one cell and have the exact same DNA, then we're actually one person as far as our aura's are concerned."
"But Hutch and I aren't exactly twins," Starsky said, looking a little concerned. "What was the second situation?"
"Well," Tina answered with a slight giggle, "Auggy has only mentioned it in one other way that I know of and that's with old married couples. You know, like when two people have been together so long that they start looking like each other."
Hutch found himself joining in the laughter at the worried look on his partner's face.
"Just think of it this way, Starsk," Hutch nudged his friend with a laugh, "you couldn't help but look a little better with some blond in you. You know, a little more WASPish...."
"And you...." Starsky replied with a mischievous glare, stabbing at Hutch's chest with a forefinger, "...you keep your aura to yourself. You're really starting to worry me, you know that?!"
And with the renewed laugher they all headed toward the snack tables and kegs.
Plate filled and drink in hand, Starsky followed the other three toward a corner picnic table. He had been really impressed with the snack layout. Someone sure has collected a lot of money for goodies, he thought. I wonder just what all these people do for a living? He chuckled to himself at the slightly suspicious thought. Time to turn the cop mode off, Dave. We're on vacation, remember?
"Nice sized gathering," Hutch commented, settling down with a plate Starsky noted contained little more than cut vegetables and some kind of lumpy dip. No taste testing there. "How many actually belong to ESPRIT?"
"Around 500 or so," Tina answered. She was sitting across from Hutch and next to Starsky. "But it fluctuates. Some are in it for serious self research and some for fun, so there's no fixed number. It's quite a mixed crowd."
Across from him, Gina nodded her head enthusiastically, swallowing a bite of dessert. "You wouldn't believe the kind of people who've joined. We have all nationalities and religions. We have Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Satanists, Wiccans and even an Indian Medicine Man, and those are just the ones I know. Mostly we're all from North America, but there are a few from England and a couple from Japan and Africa. They are mostly people living in the states while on Visas."
"So, what? You get together to compare notes and kibitz?" Starsky ask around a drink of beer. "Or do you all have the same tricks in common?"
"Tricks? Ah, an unbeliever," Tina grinned toward her date. "I can hear it in your voice, Dave. Don't you believe in ESP?"
"Nope," Hutch interrupted with a grin. "He just believes in spooks."
"I happen to have my doubts, yes," Starsky replied with dignity, glancing sternly toward the blond. "I mean, I've never seen anything that would rule out everything but ESP."
"What about Collandra?" Hutch looked a bit surprised. "He helped us find that Haymes girl, uh,... Joanna wasn't it? Remember the 'pretty dead horses grazing in the sun'?"
"Joe Collandra?" Gina asked in surprise. "I've heard of him, but never met him."
"Look," Starsky replied. "I'm not sayin' that Collandra didn't help us 'n all. But there wasn't a thing he told us that he couldn't have found out by bein' in on the whole deal, or from his own connections."
"Come on!" Hutch replied around his vegetable dip. "Who would he have known that would have told him all that?"
"Hey, we get info from Huggy all the time and we don't know where he gets it from." Starsky shook his head. "If Huggy had claimed to be a mind reader and was a better actor, we'd be hard pressed to say he wasn't pullin' facts from thin air."
"A healthy critic," Tina smiled at him, helping herself to a chip from his plate and eating it with a mischievous grin. "A man after my own heart. But the fact is, my dear, that we can't prove anything. Never could."
"Starsk, I just don't see how you can discount the unexplored powers of the human mind and then turn around and wonder if there really is a vampire running around killing people and drinking their blood." Hutch shook his head in disbelief.
"That's different," Starsky shrugged. "So, no one has proven to me that they have special powers. But I've seen enough to know that I believe in evil. We've both seen it in people. And whether it's the evil sprits and demons that my grandparents believed in, or because of a sick mind, the results are the same. I mean, what's the difference between Nadasy thinking he was a vampire and him really bein' one? If he thinks he's a vampire, then he's gonna eat, breath, sleep, live and have the morals of a vampire. There wouldn't be any difference."
"Sounds like some guy," Gina interjected quietly, eyes wide. "Did he really think he was a vampire?"
"Yeah," Hutch replied thoughtfully. "And he did take one hell of a jump..." The blond drifted off quietly behind his own thoughts.
"Well, Dave," Tina said with a sly grin, "we have all kinds here and maybe someone'll change your mind. Besides, Augustine says you two are one of us. Maybe we can find out what your trick is."
"I noticed that Augustine has you two labeled as telepaths," Hutch threw in. "Is it a twin thing?"
Tina and Gina nodded, both at the same time. "Besides the fact that we're able to finish each other's sentences, there are a few strange things we can do." Gina smiled good naturedly. "And don't worry. We don't believe everything that is claimed here either. But Tina and I have always had some kind of connection and we've spent years trying to find out the how and why of it."
"Although," Tina continued, "it would have been better if we had started when we were younger. Gina and I live in different cities during the winters, so we're separated during half of the year. We usually come back to help Uncle Sid with the RV park, but we really have separate lives. As we've gotten older, I think we've lost a lot of whatever it was we had."
"So, what is it you two can do?" Starsky asked, finding himself very interested. "Read each other's thoughts?"
"Something like that." Tina shrugged. "I seem to be empathic. I can usually tell what Gina is feeling. Mostly it's really strong emotions, like hate or fear. Or..." Tina smiled evilly at her twin, "...when she's having a really good time."
"Tina..." Gina almost growled her warning. "I'd watch it if I were you." The warning was mild and only rated Tina sticking out her tongue at her sister in return. "I seem to be able to pick up what Tina sees." Gina added, almost off-handedly. "Like I can see through her eyes sometimes."
"What she sees?" Hutch asked with great interest. "How clear a picture do you get?"
Gina shrugged. "It's never very clear, no matter what we do. But I can see the structure of her surroundings, such as if she's in a room or outside. Sometime it's with colors here and there and sometimes it's all black and white. But I have to work at it and it comes randomly. All of it's so dream-like that it really doesn't seem real at the time."
"Not a lot has ever been discovered about any of it," Tina added. "We've even been wired to one of those brain wave machines, but they never saw anything."
"That's the problem," Gina chimed in. "Unless you know what brain wave you're looking for, you can't tell the machine how to look for it. They're pretty specific in what they do. I don't think anyone in that study actually expected anything to register."
"That's really interesting," Starsky remarked. "I thought there was just a few things people could do. You know, like read each other's thought and stuff. I didn't realize it could cover things like that."
"That's just it. What makes it so hard to study." Tina shrugged and eyed the goodie table again. "Most manifestations of any form of ESP or 'powers' are rarely controllable, can't be measured and very few, if any, can be proven beyond a doubt. All I know is what I 'feel' coming from Gina and compare it to what she says she feels. Other than that, I'm not much convinced in anyone else. Anybody for a second round?"
The rest signaled that they were finished with food for awhile, but decided another free beer wouldn't hurt.
"I think it's time we introduced the guys around," Gina told her sister with a wink. "Let's see if we can get these budding miracle workers pinned down to Augustine's satisfaction."
Oh, thrilling, Starsky thought with a sigh. Now all they need to do is to send in the clowns and the geeks.