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Heaven with Blue Eyes

Written by Valerie Wells

 

I first noticed them one day on the beach. Usually I don't pay much attention to individual men. I just look at them all generally, you know, like "Oh, there's a cute one" without really singling them out. That's not why I go to the beach. I go there because it's peaceful and I love the ocean.

But that day, for some reason, I noticed these two. Really noticed them. They were jogging. That's not unusual. A lot of the health nuts jog in the sand because they think it makes them work harder. I think they're really doing it because they like looking at girls in bikinis, but these guys weren't doing that, either. They were running along the sand, side by side, and I heard this whooping yell, "Hutch!" I looked up from my book, and they were only about 50 yards down the beach from me. The yell had come from the curly-haired one. He was wearing the tightest denim shorts I'd ever seen, and nothing else. His friend, "Hutch," was wearing red shorts and a white tee shirt. The curly-haired one had stopped and run a little way into the water. He turned on a grin, the likes of which I'd never seen before, so big and bright it lit up his whole face, and shouted again to his friend, "Hutch! Come on, buddy, let's take a break. Let's cool off."

Hutch stopped jogging, put his hands on his hips, and glared at the other man as if he wanted to beat hell out of him, but I could see, even from 50 yards away, that he was only play-acting. "Starsky, for crying out loud!" he called. "We've only been jogging about five minutes. We're never gonna make two miles if we stop every five minutes so you can wade!"

I hid my smile. They were like a couple of kids pretending to argue. They were also magnificent. Hutch, tall and blond, with the sunlight catching his hair and making it glow like a living thing. Starsky, with the wind stirring his curls, and a body guaranteed to make a girl think impure thoughts.

Wow, I thought. Now how do I get their attention?

At the moment, they had eyes only for each other. Their standoff ended with Starsky reluctantly coming back to the beach, muttering something about Hutch not being any fun, while Hutch gave him a playful poke in the ribs and pretended to kick him to get him moving again. They were both laughing as they passed me, and Hutch happened to glance in my direction at that moment. I gave him my best smile, which he returned with a pretty nice smile of his own, almost tripping over some kid's toy bucket because he was looking at me and not where he was going. I saw his blush, and he looked over at his buddy Starsky as if to see if he'd noticed. He had.

"Damn, Hutch, why doncha just take a header into the sand?" Starsky teased, giving me a wink and one of those blinding grins. "How ya doin', Schweetheart?" he added to me.

"Terrific," I answered him.

By this time, Hutch had recovered, gave me another embarrassed smile, grabbed his friend's arm and hustled him off down the beach.

I sighed. So much for that. I'd probably never see them again.

I was wrong.

I'm a labor and delivery nurse at Memorial Hospital, usually a wonderful job because we don't see much illness or death on the maternity floor. Usually all we have is joy as a new baby comes into the world and into the arms of a loving family. Not always, of course. We have the teen-age moms, more often than not scared out of their minds, not only at the birth process, but scared about what's going to happen when they go home and this tiny person depends on them for everything. And we have the occasional mother who never wanted the baby. The families that you can see are breaking up even as you watch. The couples who dread the birth instead of welcome it.

But most of the time, I love my job and I don't usually even mind working the four to midnight shift. That's when a lot of the babies come, and I stay busy and it leaves my daytimes free to run errands and do things I love like going to the beach.

We had an especially busy shift one night a few weeks later. Really busy. Memorial's a big hospital anyway, and we also get a lot of the welfare cases. It's not unusual to have four or five births in one shift. That night we had twelve. I was exhausted when it was over, and I admit I wasn't paying much attention. I was just thinking how I couldn't wait to get home, take a nice hot bath, and go to bed.

I always looked into my backseat before getting into my car before. It's something my mother told me to do, along with not taking rides from strangers, and looking both ways before crossing the street. Automatic, you know.

That night, I didn't do it. I was too tired to notice my car wasn't locked, too. I just got in, started the motor, and started home. I was maybe halfway there when I felt the cold metal against my temple.

"Do as I say and you won't get hurt," a scratchy voice said in my ear. I gave a little scream because it was so sudden and I was so terrified, and then I heard the click as he cocked the gun. "No screaming," he hissed. "Just drive. Drive where I tell you."

I didn't have any choice. He directed me to a dirty, dark alley in a part of town where a lot of the businesses are boarded up and abandoned. We saw a few winos and street people, but they didn't pay any attention to us. When we got there, he raped me. It was horrid and ugly and painful and terrifying. He had foul breath and greasy hair and when I turned my head and tried to pretend it wasn't happening, he slapped me so hard I saw stars. Then he decided he liked hitting me, and in the end my face went numb from the slaps and punches.

Afterward, he shoved me out of my own car into that alley and drove away.

For a long time, I just sat there, shivering and crying and afraid to move. I was afraid of the neighborhood and afraid he would come back and afraid that if I stood up and tried to walk, I'd injure something. I hurt all over, so bad.

But I knew I couldn't stay there, and so I finally did manage to get up and walk -- only it was more like staggering. I got out of the alley into the silent street. I didn't have any idea where I was. He'd had me take so many turns and strange streets that I was completely confused. So I just started walking. No other choice.

It seemed like hours, but it was probably only about 20 minutes before I found an open bar. It wasn't the kind of place I would ordinarily have dreamed of entering alone, but on that night it looked like the warmest, most beautiful place I'd ever seen.

I didn't know how I looked, of course, but as soon as I came through the door, the bartender, an older black woman only about five feet tall, came running around the bar and put her arm around me.

"Good Lord, honey, what happened?"

I opened my mouth to answer, and instead burst into tears. It was just so wonderful to have somebody touch me in a kind way, to hear a concerned voice, after what I'd just been through.

"Sshh," she said soothingly. "Here, sit down, I'll get you something to drink." She gently led me to a seat, hurried back behind the bar, and came back with a soda. She handed it to me and I took a couple of sips and pulled myself together.

"Call the police, please," I said to her, my voice still shaking, but under control. "I've been raped."

She gave a little gasp and reached out to touch my hair. "Poor baby. Of course. Be right back. Will you be all right?"

I nodded, and she went to the phone. While we waited for them to come, she sat with me and held my hand. God bless her; without her presence I would have fallen totally apart.

In a few minutes we heard a siren, and two men burst through the door.

It was them. Starsky and Hutch from the beach. They were cops? I was so stunned I just stared at them.

"Hi, Nellie," Starsky said to the bartender, who still held my hand. "Is this..."

"Yes," she said, giving my hand a little squeeze. "This is her. And if you boys aren't gentle with her, Starsky, so help me--"

"We'll be nice, Nellie," he said, turning to me and taking a chair next to me. Hutch stood beside him, looking down at me with a slightly puzzled expression. I could see he thought I looked familiar but didn't know why.

"The beach at Venice," I said to him, glad for the distraction. "You almost tripped over a kid's bucket."

"Stuff like that happens to Hutch all the time," Starsky said. "He can't keep track of every incident." But his eyes were kind -- blue eyes, he had, striking with those dusky curls -- and his voice was gentle. "I remember you," he went on. "Sorry we had to meet under these circumstances. I'm Dave Starsky. This is my partner, Ken Hutchinson. Can you tell us what happened, Miss --"

"Benton," I said. "Jenny...Jennifer."

By now, Hutch's face had cleared and he only looked sympathetic. Nellie got up and went back to the bar after giving both of them a warning look, and Hutch took her chair. He produced a little notebook and a pen from his pocket and waited for me to start talking.

I told them what had happened, but the farther I got into it, the harder it was to tell. I hated to describe how that greasy man had touched me and what he'd done to me, and my voice got lower and lower until I kind of just trailed off.

Hutch put a hand on my arm. "Would you like us to take you to the station? You could tell your story to a policewoman instead of us."

"No," I said, and damn it all, I started crying again. I couldn't help it. Hutch put his arm around the back of my chair and patted my shoulder, and I saw Starsky's jaw tighten and a spark of anger ignite in his eyes. I could see the anger wasn't directed toward me. He was angry at what had happened. At that moment, I realized, maybe for the first time, that cops are human, too. He felt the same frustration and anger that a thing like this could happen that anyone else would feel. I felt a little stupid, myself, for thinking cops were cold and detached. When I could, I said, "No, I don't want a policewoman. I sort of feel -- it's silly, but I feel like I know you guys a little. I'd rather tell you. Is that okay?"

"Sure it is," Starsky said, very gently. "Go on. You said he slapped you when you turned your head away..."

I nodded, bit my lower lip, and went on. When I finished, with my getting to Nellie's bar, Hutch said, "Can you describe the man? Did you get a look at him?"

"Yes. I knew I might have to describe him and he actually wanted me to look at him," I said, shuddering. "Every time I tried to look away or close my eyes, he hit me. He kept saying stuff like, 'I want you to think about me.'"

Hutch looked pained at that and gave my shoulder another squeeze. "Okay, Jenny. What did he look like?"

I'd never forget the man, I knew that. He was about 45, five-ten or five-eleven, greasy black hair, almost black eyes, and a pale, unshaven face. He had a scar that went through his left eyebrow and was missing his right eyetooth. But the smell was what I would remember most. He reeked of cheap cologne and cheap whiskey.

Starsky and Hutch exchanged glances as I described the man and it was as if they were talking without words. When I finished, Hutch closed his notebook and stood, holding out his hand. "Let's get you to the hospital, now."

"The hospital?" I don't know what I was thinking; I knew rape victims had to go to the hospital so physical evidence could be collected.

Hutch explained in a soft voice and I nodded as he talked.

"I know that. I'm just...upset."

"We understand that," Starsky put in. "Come on. We'll drive you over there and wait until they're through with ya, then we'll take you to the station to sign the complaint. And after that, we'll give ya a ride home."

I sighed. "Okay. God, I'm tired. I wish I could just go home."

"I know," he said, opening the door for me. "We'll get ya there just as soon as we can."

They took me to Memorial, of course, because it was closest. But I hated having to go there where everyone knew me. I worked in the emergency room for four years, until there was an opening in the maternity ward. A lot of the nurses I'd worked with were still there, and the moment word got around that I was there and why, I was surrounded with worried co-workers. Starsky and Hutch faded quietly away into the waiting room.

My friends were very careful and sympathetic as they took the samples, gave me the rape treatment, and took Polaroid pictures of my injuries. After the photos, they cleaned me up and bandaged my bumps and bruises. One or two of them were holding back tears, but I think at that point I was all cried out. I just felt cold and tired, bone-tired.

It was over at last, and I went out to the waiting room where Starsky and Hutch were waiting. Both stood as I entered.

"Are you okay?" Hutch asked me, putting a hand on my back and steering me to the door.

"Yeah. I guess so."

"Just one more stop at the station, and you can go home," he promised. "Is there anybody you want us to call for you? Anybody at home who'll be worried that you're late?"

I shook my head and tried to smile at him. "Nope. The only one there is Dorothy, and I fed her before I went to work."

"Dorothy?" Starsky inquired.

"My cat."

He grinned.

"No boyfriend? Parents? No one?" Hutch persisted.

"My parents live in Sacramento, and I absolutely refuse to call them in the middle of night and scare them to death," I said firmly. "I'll call them myself tomorrow. No boyfriend. And most of my friends know now, because I work here," I made a gesture back toward the hospital.

It took another hour at the station for Hutch to type up the report, while Starsky got me a cup of coffee and offered me half of his candy bar. He sat with me and tried to keep my mind off things by telling me wild stories about Bigfoot sightings and flying saucers and things of that nature he'd read in some book. I didn't pay much attention to his stories, but I appreciated his sitting there with me and talking to me. It did help.

Finally, Hutch read my statement back to me and I signed it. He put it with his report and put both in a wire basket on top of a filing cabinet. "Your description was so good," he said to me, "that I think you could pick this guy out of a mug book. Want to try?"

"Right now?" I said bleakly.

"No," Starsky said, glaring at Hutch. "Can't ya see she's worn out, Hutch? Let's take her home, and she can look at pictures tomorrow or something."

Hutch nodded. "Of course. I'm sorry."

"No, it's okay," I said, and this time I did manage to smile. "But I really would rather do it tomorrow."

"All right. Let's get you home then, okay?" He smiled back at me.

They drove me home, and Hutch got out with me and walked me to my door. He even came in and poked around, making sure no one was there and that all the windows were secure. Thank God my mother had also told me to never carry house and car keys on the same ring. My apartment key had been in my pocket instead of hanging from the ignition when that horrid man drove away with my car.

Dorothy was sleeping on my couch and she woke up and yawned in his face when he leaned over the couch to check the windows behind it. He stroked her head and she allowed it -- which she doesn't always do with someone she doesn't know -- and she even purred for him.

"Sure you're going to be all right here? He took your purse, didn't he?"

 "Yes," I said, puzzled.

"He'll have your license. He'll know your address," Hutch said, looking sorry that he had to say the words. "Maybe you should stay somewhere else tonight."

"No," I said, a little angry. "I'm not going to let that son of a bitch drive me from my home. You checked the windows. He can't get in."

Hutch looked uncertain for a moment, then reached into his pocket for a card. He wrote something on the back and handed it to me. "That's my home number and Starsky's. If you need us, call, okay?"

"You take your job home with you, Officer?" I asked, though I was touched that he was that worried.

He gave a little, embarrassed grin. "I don't live too far away. If he does bother you, I could probably get here faster than a squad car."

"Thank you," I said, and I meant it.

He smiled. "Lock the door behind me," he said. "We'll see you tomorrow to look at the mug books, okay? Good night."

"Good night, Hutch," I said before I thought. And when he turned and gave me a surprised look, I felt myself blush. "Excuse me. I've been hearing your partner call you that, and it just slipped out..."

"It's okay," he said, and smiled again. "Good night, Jenny."

~*~*~*~

I locked and bolted the door and even propped a kitchen chair under the knob. Then I went into the bathroom to take that hot bath I'd been looking forward to, and for the first time, got a look at myself in the mirror.

I was horrified. Both eyes were black and I had cuts and bruises all over my face. My cheek had swollen up and I could see if I didn't put some ice on it, and fast, my eye might swell, too. The sight made me start crying again, and I cried all the way through my bath and was still crying when I crawled into bed. Dorothy curled up beside me like she always does, and I buried my face in her soft fur and listened to her purring until I couldn't cry any more.

I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep, as tired as I was. Every time I closed my eyes, I could see -- and smell -- that man. In vain I tried to banish his face. It didn't work. I don't know how long I lay there in the dark, eyes wide open, before the phone rang.

I jumped as though I'd been shot. It was after 3 a.m. Who would call at that hour?

"Hello?"

"Did I wake you? It's Hutch."

"No," I said, relieved and touched all over again at his concern. "I can't sleep. I keep seeing that creep's face and I'm too wound up to sleep, anyway."

"I just wanted to make sure you were okay," he said, sounding embarrassed. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize how late it was. Working the night shift, you kind of, well, you forget...."

He stammered. For some reason, I found that endearing. "I work nights, too," I said. "I'd probably just now be going to bed on a normal night."

"But this isn't a normal night," Hutch said quietly. "Is it?"

"No."

"Maybe I shouldn't have called, but I was worried about you there by yourself, and..." he paused and I thought he cleared his throat.

"It's okay," I said. "I'm glad you called. I was feeling pretty nervous and it's nice to hear a friendly voice."

"We're going to catch this guy," he said, his tone suddenly determined.

"You sound confident."

"I am. With your testimony, we can put him away. You will testify, won't you?"

"You bet your ass I will," I said, then blushed at my choice of words. That's a nice way to talk to a strange man. My mom would be horrified. She didn't even think "nice girls" ought to smoke in public.

But Hutch chuckled softly. "I like your attitude. We go on at four tomorrow. Can you meet us at the station to look at mug shots?"

"I'm supposed to be at work at four," I began, but then I remembered that they'd told me not to come in, after they'd heard what happened to me. Personally, I think I'd have rather gone to work so I'd have something else to think about, but at that point I hadn't seen what a mess my face was, either. Maybe by the next day, the bruises would have faded a little. So I said to Hutch, "But they gave me tomorrow off because of...well, this...so yeah, I'll be there."

"Do you need a ride? Starsk and I could come by and pick you up."

I'd forgotten I didn't have a car any more. "I guess I do."

"Then we'll come and get you." He was silent for a moment, then he said, in a gentler tone, "You sure you're all right? I mean, I know you don't really know me, but we've had cases like this before, and it helps to talk to someone about it."

"That's sweet of you, but isn't it a bit above and beyond the call of duty?"

He chuckled again. "Starsky and I don't exactly go by the book. Ask our captain."

I laughed, too, and it felt good. I also noticed how every remark he made seemed to include his partner. "Starsky and I" seemed to be one unit rather than two. But that was kind of sweet, too. "I'm still kind of in shock, I think," I told him. "I'm not sure whether to be angry or upset or frightened or what."

"You're probably all of those things," he said. "I hope you're not going to blame yourself or wonder how you could have prevented it. Some women do."

"I didn't check my backseat before I got in the car--" I began, but he interrupted me.

"That's what I mean. Don't. If you had, he would have just got out and maybe hurt you worse. Believe me, I've seen these things before. There was nothing you could do. You did everything right, in fact. You got a good look at him, you called us right away, you're pressing charges. And the most important thing is, you survived."

"I guess you're right."

"I am," he said, and that confidence was in his voice again. "Now I think you should try to go to sleep. I'm only a phone call away if you need me."

"Thanks, Hutch," I said. "I think I'll have to change my opinion of the police department if they're all like you."

This time he laughed outright. "If they were all like Starsky and me, our captain would quit. But I appreciate the thought, anyway. Good night, Jenny."

"Night, Hutch."

~*~*~*~

It surprised me that after I hung up, I didn't feel like crying anymore, and when I closed my eyes, I saw Hutch's face, not the creep's. I snuggled down under my blankets and laid my head next to Dorothy so she could purr me to sleep, and had no trouble at all falling asleep.

I woke up around noon. Dorothy had long since given up on me and moved to her favorite sunny spot on the window seat in the living room. I stretched, but that hurt because the creep had beaten me up so badly. My face hurt, too. But I got up and took a quick shower, drank my coffee and read the paper -- I was startled that my story had made it into the early edition, but it was only a couple of paragraphs and my name wasn't mentioned:

~*~*~*~

BAY CITY -- Police report that a woman was abducted and raped early this morning by an unknown assailant.

The 30-year-old victim is a nurse who had just left work. The assailant was hiding in her car and forced her to drive to another location, where he assaulted her. The victim was treated and released at Memorial Hospital.

The assailant is described as a white male in his mid-40s, 5'10", 150 pounds, with greasy hair, dark brown to black eyes, a scar in his left eyebrow and a missing right eyetooth. The assailant also took the victim's car, a white 1974 Ford Galaxie 500, license plate 531 WGO

Anyone with information on the crime should call the Bay City Police.

~*~*~*~

"That was sure quick," I said to Dorothy, who opened one eye to look at me, then promptly closed it again. But the description of the creep and my car might help put the pressure on him and at least now he'd know I'd reported him. That would maybe scare him enough to stay away from me.

Without my car, I couldn't go to the beach or anywhere else unless I walked, and frankly, I didn't feel like walking any further than the kitchen. So I stayed home and did some cleaning and puttering around until about 3:30, when I heard a knock on my door.

I froze, terrified.

"Jenny? It's Hutch," his voice called from the other side.

Breathing a sigh of relief, I moved the chair and undid all the locks and opened the door. He smiled at me and I realized again just how magnificent he was. You wouldn't think I'd be thinking of something like that, not under the circumstances, but maybe it was a relief to my mind to have something else to focus on instead of how scared and vulnerable I felt. His hair was soft and golden and his eyes were so blue and altogether he was...well, he was beautiful. I smiled back at him.

"How do you feel today?" he asked.

I stepped back to motion for him to come in, and said, "Sore all over. But otherwise okay. How are you?"

He paused mid-step and looked surprised, but then his face relaxed and he gave me a little grin. "Fine, thank you."

"Where's Starsky?"

"Waiting in the car. We didn't want to overwhelm you. We thought...I mean, I thought...well, that you might feel...um, that you might not want both of us in your apartment..."

He was stammering again. It made me smile. "I'm certainly not afraid of the two of you," I said. "Aren't you guys the knights in shining armor who came to the aid of the damsel in distress? Unless you need to take off right away, call him up here. I'll give you both a glass of lemonade."

He looked even more surprised at that, then gave a shrug and poked his head out the door and bellowed, "STARSKY! Come on up!"

I couldn't help laughing and he grinned at me. In a few moments, Starsky bounded up the steps. When he saw the two of us standing there, quite calm and composed, he looked confused. "I thought somethin' was wrong," he said.

"The lady has offered us a glass of lemonade, partner," Hutch told him. "I could use one, myself."

"Oh." Starsky still looked confused, but he accepted my gesture to come in and both of them sat on my couch, shoulders touching. I got them the lemonade. While they drank it, Hutch explained mug books to me and warned me that the creep might not be in there, not if he hadn't been in trouble in Los Angeles County before.

"But that's doubtful," Hutch finished. "Somebody his age doesn't just haul off and start raping women, especially since he obviously planned it."

"Planned it?" I asked.

Starsky gave him a jab in the ribs and Hutch looked embarrassed and uneasy. "Well, um..."

"What do you mean, planned it?" I demanded. I didn't like the way they were looking at each other. I was sure that whatever it was they didn't want to tell me was something I needed to know.

They kept looking at each other and I could see they were talking without words again. Finally, Starsky sighed and turned his eyes to me. Clearly, he'd been elected to deliver the bad news, whatever it was.

"We think he might've been stalkin' you for a while before he struck," Starsky said, his eyes so full of sympathy and an apology that I couldn't get as angry as I wanted to. "Y'see, Miss Benton--"

"Jenny," I corrected him.

He gave me a pale version of his blinding grin. "Jenny," he acknowledged. "For him to be waitin' in your car like that, we think he must've known which car was yours and what time you get off work."

Of course. Why hadn't I thought of that? Because I'd been too upset and shaken by what had happened, that's why. But it made sense. I nodded. "I think you're right."

"He's not somebody you know, is he?" Starsky asked.

I shook my head. "No. I don't remember ever seeing him before, not even in passing."

"Not the kind of guy you'd notice, I don't s'pose," Starsky agreed. "Not if your description is accurate."

"It is."

He nodded. "We think it'd be a good idea if you had somebody walk outside with you when you leave work for a while, till we catch this guy. Don't let yourself be alone if you can help it."

"Considering I don't have a car to drive home, I may have to take the bus," I said, a little tartly.

"Ain't there anybody at work who could give you a lift?" he asked.

I thought about it. Nobody lived in my neighborhood, but surely somebody could spare a few extra minutes to drive me home for a few days. "I'll figure something out," I said.

They exchanged yet another look. Finally, Hutch said, "We'll give you a ride home tomorrow night when you get off. That'll give you time to make other arrangements."

I raised my eyebrows. "Taking your work home again, Officer?"

He grinned a little. "I told you Starsky and I don't go by the book."

I couldn't resist teasing him a little. "I'm beginning to think you and Starsky don't even own a copy of the book."

Both of them laughed -- and looked at each other while they did it. Then Starsky glanced at his watch. "We'd better go or Dobey'll have a hissy fit because we're late again," he said to Hutch.

At the station, Hutch brought me three or four huge, thick books full of mug shots. It was daunting, to say the least. I looked at page after page of photos and none of them looked at all familiar. By the third book, I was getting a headache. Starsky sat quietly across from me, watching my face as I looked at the photos. Hutch sat beside me.

But in the middle of the third book, I finally found him. Even looking at a photograph of him made my knees tremble with fear and revulsion. Both of them saw the expression on my face and knew I'd found him before I said so. I pointed at his picture. "That's him."

Hutch put his head close to mine to look at the photo I was pointing at. Starsky leaned over to look at it upside down. They lifted their eyes to each other's for a moment before Hutch said to me, "Are you absolutely sure?"

"Yes."

His name was Walter Hicks. Starsky made a phone call, and in a few minutes, a policewoman came in carrying a file which she handed to Starsky. He opened it and read silently for a moment before making a face and looking up at me and Hutch. "Nice guy," he said, disgust in his voice. "Got a rap sheet as long as your arm. Rape, assault, agg battery, all kinds of shit that must make his mother real proud."

Hutch took the file and looked at it himself. I looked over his shoulder. "Could one of you please explain to me why this character is running around loose?" I demanded after looking at the list of prior convictions. "He ought to be locked up."

"Yes, he should," Hutch agreed readily. "That's one of the frustrations of this job, Jenny. We find these assholes and put 'em away, and somebody lets 'em loose again. Then they do something else, we find 'em again, and somebody lets 'em out again. Last time he got five years. Served eighteen months. Got out about four months ago."

"That's just wonderful," I said angrily. "So I testify against him and he goes to prison for maybe a couple of years, then he's going to get out and rape some other girl? What's he got to do to get put away for real? Kill her, too?"

"Jenny," Hutch began, but he trailed off and didn't finish whatever he was going to say. He took a deep breath. "I'm sorry. It's the way things are. We don't like it, either."

"You aren't the one who was raped," I said evenly.

"No." He looked so ashamed of himself that I felt bad for taking it out on him.

I sighed and put my hand over his. "I'm sorry, Hutch. It's not your fault. Friends?"

He smiled, but it didn't reach his wonderful eyes, which were still clouded with shame. "Sure."

They dropped me off at home as they headed out to start looking for Walter Hicks. Hutch didn't walk me to my door this time; it was broad daylight, after all, and the neighborhood was full of kids playing and people working outside. I waved at the red Torino as they drove away and went into my apartment. I'd already cleaned and there was nothing on television and I'd read all my books, so I was kind of at a loss for something to do. I'm so used to fitting my free time around work. I finally put on a Bee Gees album and did some disco dancing by myself, with Dorothy for an audience. That's the way I get my exercise and I wasn't about to stop doing it just because that greasy-haired Hicks character had raped me. I simply refused to let him make me stop living.

But as it got dark outside I began to get nervous. Every sound made me jump. And Dorothy was having one of her spooky days. That's the thing about cats. They'll suddenly sit up and stare at nothing and it makes me feel as if they're seeing things I can't see. It never fails to make the hair on the back of my neck rise.

"I wish you were a dog," I told Dorothy. "A big, mean, protective dog. Then I wouldn't feel quite so alone."

Dorothy yawned and began to wash. Apparently the thing she'd been staring at -- whatever it was -- hadn't been interesting enough to keep her attention long. I turned on the TV and watched "Maude," even though I never saw much that was funny about that show, just because I had to do something to keep my mind off the sounds from outdoors. Those sounds had always been there: The wind making the tree rub the window, the dog down the street that barks at everything in sight, the downstairs neighbor's stereo. I'd learned to tune those sounds out, back when I had nothing to be afraid of. Now those sounds were amplified, and every one of them seemed to hold a secret threat.

I watched TV for hours, until I finally began to get sleepy, and I'd just gone to bed after the late news when the phone rang. I let it ring three or four times before I got up enough courage to answer it.

"It's Hutch," he said, his voice such a welcome sound after the nerve-wracking evening I'd had that it made tears come to my eyes. It took me a moment to swallow the tremble in my throat so I could answer, long enough that he sounded a bit anxious when he said, "Jenny? Are you okay?"

"Yes," I said when I could speak. "Sorry. It's just so nice to hear your voice."

"Why? What's wrong?"

"Nothing. I'm just nervous. The apartment seems so empty tonight," I told him, then regretted it. Way to be cool, Jennifer. Good job.

"I thought you might feel that way," he said, bless him. "That's why I called. Part of why I called. We found your car."

"You did?"

"Well, not me and Starsky. Some other cops. It was abandoned downtown in a parking lot. The attendant noticed it was still there after all the downtown businesses had closed and when he looked inside and saw a purse on the seat, he called us -- the cops, I mean -- and a couple of the uniforms went and checked it out and realized it was on the hot sheet."

"You want to translate that into English?" I asked, feeling better already.

He laughed gently. "They knew it was stolen. It's in the impound lot now. You can come and get it tomorrow if you'll fill out some forms. Did you have much money in your purse?"

"No. Twenty or thirty dollars."

"Hicks must've taken it. But he left everything else. You can get that tomorrow, too. I guess when he realized we had him made, he figured he'd better ditch everything that could implicate him."

"But you haven't found him?"

"No, I'm sorry." And he did sound sorry. "But we will, Jenny. Don't worry. We will. Starsky and I hit up every snitch we could track down today, and somebody'll turn something soon."

It was a good thing I was a big fan of cop shows on TV. Otherwise I wouldn't have understood a damn word he was saying.

But I found it odd that he had called me in the middle of the night just to tell me they'd found my car. Surely that could've waited until morning. And his offer to pick me up at work the next day was certainly not usual behavior for an officer of the law, no matter how seriously he took his job or how concerned he was for a citizen's safety.

Maybe he liked me. He hadn't exactly seen me at my best, but...

"Jenny?"

"Yes?"

"Are you sure you're okay? I asked the cops who patrol your neighborhood to keep an eye on your place tonight. They're good guys. You don't have to worry."

I smiled, even though he couldn't see me. "Thank you. I'll sleep better now. That was sweet of you."

There was a short silence, then he said, in a low voice, "I was worried about you."

He did like me. Now what? I didn't want to blow everything by being what my mother would call "forward," but maybe he needed a little boost to get him going. Maybe he thought I wouldn't be interested in dating a cop, or that I was still too shaken up by Hicks and what he'd done to be interested in any man. Okay, I'd encourage him a little. That wouldn't be "forward," would it?

"Hutch?"

"Hmmm?"

"I really appreciate everything you -- and Starsky -- are doing. You've been awfully sweet about this."

"That's our job," he said, but he didn't sound very convincing.

"No, taking my statement and hunting for Hicks is your job. Calling me to make sure I'm okay and asking the neighborhood cops to watch my house is not. Thanks."

"It's okay. I...." he paused for a long moment and finally gave a little embarrassed chuckle. "I'm going to look like an idiot now. Starsk is always telling me I'm a blond blintz, whatever that is, but...well...I..."

I covered the phone so he wouldn't hear me giggling at his stammering. It was just so cute.

"Would you, um, could I...take you out to dinner?"

Should I pretend reluctance? No. What was the point in that? "I'd love to," I said truthfully. "I would like to wait until I look a bit more normal, though. How about I make us dinner instead?"

"I can't ask you to do that," he protested.

"You can take me out later," I said. "After the bruises fade. In the meantime, let me make dinner for you. I don't mind, and I'm not a bad cook, if I do say so myself. When's your next day off?"

"Friday."

"Good. I'm off Thursday and Friday, too. How's seven?"

"Seven's fine," he said, sounding relieved.

~*~*~*~

In the morning, he called again to see if I needed a ride to the impound lot to pick up my car. I said I did -- which was simply the truth -- and he turned up in this beat-up tan Ford. I couldn't believe it even ran. But I didn't say so. I just got in and gave him a smile and he gave me one back.

My car didn't seem to be harmed except for an empty gas tank and the memories that clung to it of what had happened to me there. I refused to let that bother me...well, okay, it bothered me, but it wasn't going to keep me from driving my own car, damn it. My purse and its contents, except for the money, were also intact. Hutch stood there quietly, his hands in his jacket pockets, while I checked everything over.

"Is it all there?" he finally asked when I closed my purse and tossed it back onto the seat.

"Yeah. Seems to be."

Hicks hadn't left the keys behind, but I had an extra set. Something else my mother had taught me. Keep a spare set of keys.

"Don't you need to get any evidence from the car?" I asked Hutch.

"We already did," Hutch said. "Yesterday, when they brought it in. It's all ready to go."

"What'd you get from it?" I asked curiously.

"Fingerprints. One set is his. We assume the other set is yours, but if you don't mind, we'd like to get your prints for comparison. Just in case somebody else had the car, too."

"Sure, that's okay," I said. "How's now?"

He took me inside the station and turned me over to a policewoman who took my fingerprints while he watched. It felt really strange having my fingerprints taken as if I were a criminal, too, but Hutch made an occasional joking remark while it was going on, and that put me at ease. While I was washing my hands afterward, a heavyset black man came down the hall, trying to drink out of a styrofoam cup and juggle a couple of donuts at the same time. He stopped dead in his tracks when he caught sight of us.

"What are you doing here, Hutchinson?" he demanded with a frown. He kind of intimidated me, but Hutch only gave a shrug.

"This is Jennifer Benton, Captain," he said. "Our rape victim from last weekend. We recovered her car and we're taking her prints for comparison with the ones we found in the car." To me, he said, "My captain, Harold Dobey."

I offered my hand, and Dobey changed from gruff to charming in a heartbeat. "How do you do, Miss Benton?"

"Nice to meet you, Captain," I said.

 

Before we parted ways in the parking lot, Hutch asked me, "Are you going to work tonight?"

"Yes. Shouldn't I?"

He looked a little uneasy. "Well, I know you have your car back now, but...be careful coming out tonight, okay? Unless we're tied up somewhere, Starsky and I'll be there to make sure you get home safely."

I smiled at him and reached out to squeeze his hand. "That's sweet, Hutch, but--"

"No 'buts.' Have somebody walk out with you just in case we can't make it. Promise."

"I promise." I wanted so badly to kiss him just then, but we hadn't even had a date yet, so I restrained myself.

Unless I missed my guess, he had the same impulse and restrained himself for the same reason. He looked at me uncertainly for a moment, then kind of awkwardly touched my hair. "See you tonight."

~*~*~*~

Some of the bruises had faded a little and a careful makeup job downplayed the rest. But still, I found myself doing paperwork and running errands for the other nurses for a whole shift rather than upset the mothers-to-be with my appearance. My supervisor was sympathetic when she gave me my work assignment. I told her it was okay, that I understood, but I could tell she felt really bad about it all. And all my co-workers were so gentle and careful with me you'd have thought I was made of spun sugar. It was sweet, but it got a little wearying, too.

"I'm fine. Really," I insisted to Greta, one of my closest friends, as we were eating our...well, we call it "lunch," but I suppose at 9 o'clock at night it's more like "supper."

"I know you think you're fine," Greta said, "but that had to be a godawful experience, Jen. If you want to talk about it--"

"I don't," I said shortly.

"See there?" she said. "You're not okay. I'm your friend, honey, that's what friends are for!"

"I know, and I appreciate it, but really, I'd rather just forget it." I sighed and poked at my salad. I wasn't really hungry, and this conversation was destroying what appetite I had. "I'm going to have to relive it all at the trial when they catch that slimy creep, anyway. For now, I'd like to just go on with my life."

"Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating? You're not eating now," Greta said, indicating my untouched plate.

"Yes, to both questions. And Hutch calls every night..." I stopped myself, but it was too late. Greta hadn't known me for five years for nothing.

"Hutch?" Her eyes lit up with interest.

I felt myself blushing but there was nothing I could do about it. Besides, maybe he'd get her mind off the rape. "He's one of the officers who's investigating this whole thing. Ken Hutchinson."

She grinned evilly. "Is he, now? And he's concerned enough to call you and make sure you feel all safe and protected? Is he cute?"

I laughed. "Yes. He's definitely cute. Tall, blond, blue eyes."

"Wow. I want to meet him. Does he have a friend?"

"As a matter of fact, he does. His partner, Dave Starsky. But I don't know if he's attached."

"Is he cute, too?"

She was relentless. But she was also distracted, so I gave a mental shrug and went with it. "Yes, he's cute, too. Dark curly hair and blue eyes. And a body to die for."

She frowned. "If his body's 'to die for,' why are you so interested in the blond one?"

"His body's 'to die for' too," I said with a grin.

"I see." She shook her head and laughed. "Amazing. Simply amazing. How'd you draw two cute cops?"

"Just lucky, I guess," I said, realizing too late how stupid that sounded. How lucky could I be when I'd been raped? Fortunately, Greta didn't pick up on it. But she was the one who walked out with me at the end of our shift, and true to their promise, there were Starsky and Hutch, leaning against Hutch's car, waiting for me.

"Is that them?" Greta hissed to me.

"Yes," I said, waving. They waved back, and Hutch came to meet us. I introduced him to Greta and when Starsky sauntered up, I introduced him, too.

I could tell from Greta's reaction that she thought he was pretty cute, but the last I'd heard, she was dating some ex-college football player. Starsky gallantly offered to walk her to her car while Hutch walked me to mine, and she accepted.

Hutch put his arm casually around my shoulders as he accompanied me to my car. I hadn't been able to park very close to the door, and I was very, very glad he was there. The dark parking lot made me nervous and brought back the fear I'd been pushing away ever since Sunday. And Hutch picked up on that.

"I'm right here," he said quietly, tightening his arm a little. "And I've got a gun," he added with one of those beautiful smiles.

I tried to smile back, but it was a lost cause. My heart was thudding and my palms were sweaty and my knees were trembling so hard it was a wonder I could even walk. He stopped me just short of my car and turned me to face him.

"Do you want us to give you a ride? Instead of taking your car?"

I shook my head. "No. I've got to get over this. It's stupid."

"It's not stupid," he said firmly, tipping my chin up so he could look in my eyes. "You had a horrible experience and I'm proud of the way you're handling it. But don't pretend it doesn't bother you. Nobody expects you to be Wonder Woman."

I did manage a little bit of a smile at that. "They don't?"

"No." He looked at me very steadily for a moment, then drew me against him in a gentle hug. "It's gonna be okay. We're gonna find him and put him away and then you can breathe easy again."

I put my arms around his waist and breathed in the scent of his aftershave, grateful for the feeling of strong arms around me. I felt safe now, with Hutch nearby. And gradually, my heartbeat settled down to something approaching a normal speed.

"Let me at least drive you home in your car," he said softly. "Starsky can follow us in my car."

"But what about your job?"

"This is part of our job," he said, drawing back to look down at me. "Sort of," he added with a grin. "Anyway, we're off in a little while. Okay?"

I glanced toward my car and felt a little tickle of fear again. "Okay."

Starsky was coming toward us by now, and Hutch called to him and told him what was going on. Starsky raised one dark eyebrow and gave a grin, but he didn't say anything. He threw Hutch a mock salute and turned back toward Hutch's car, pulling a set of keys from his pocket and whistling.

"He has keys to your car?" I asked Hutch as he took my keys and unlocked my doors, glancing into the backseat and giving me a look which said "It's safe."

"Sure he does. He also has keys to my apartment and knows my locker combination at work," Hutch said, in a tone that suggested this was a perfectly normal state of affairs.

So I'd been right that "Starsky and I" were one unit instead of two. I hid my smile and said, "You must be good friends."

"We are." Hutch got into the driver's side and started the car. "We're partners," he added, as if that explained everything.

He drove me to my apartment and came in with me to look in the closets and under the bed and check the windows -- things I would have done, frightened to death every minute, if he hadn't been there. When he finished, he handed me my keys and smiled. "Okay?"

I nodded.

"Still got my number, in case you need me?"

"Yes."

He looked at me for another moment, then very gently kissed my cheek. "Good night." He left before I could react.

What a sweet guy.

~*~*~*~

By Friday, I was feeling a lot less nervous. I didn't know what he liked to eat, but I assumed that if he was like most men, steak would be acceptable. And when he arrived, the first thing he said after "hello" was "Something smells terrific."

"I hope you're hungry."

He took his jacket off, and I saw he was still wearing his holster. He saw me looking at it and a slight flush rose to his cheeks. "Does this bother you? I could take it off."

"No, it makes me feel like I have a personal bodyguard," I said teasingly, and he laughed a little and sat down. But he did take the holster off, anyway.

During dinner, we talked about all kinds of things, just getting to know each other. I told him about my job and he told me about his, though I got the impression he was downplaying the danger of it. I read the papers; I know cops put their lives on the line every day. He said he had a sister and a niece in Minnesota. I told him I had a couple of brothers who were very overprotective because I was the baby of the family. He said he played the guitar, and I asked him to sing for me after dinner. I play, too, and I wanted to show off the old Gibson that had belonged to my grandmother.

By the end of the meal, we were comfortable with each other and I hadn't thought about being afraid even once.

When I brought out the old Gibson, those wonderful blue eyes lit up. "Wow," he said, taking it almost reverently. "This is a beautiful guitar."

"It was my granny's," I told him. "She used to sing professionally."

He strummed it very gently and carefully, and finally sang, something soft and pretty I'd never heard before. When I asked him where he'd learned it, he flushed and said, "I wrote it."

"It's beautiful," I said.

"Starsky always says I'm the big hit at the police barbecue every summer," he said, still a little embarrassed. "But I'm not. I get stage fright."

"You shouldn't. You have a beautiful voice."

His flush deepened. "Thanks." He handed me the guitar. "Your turn."

One thing about me, I don't get stage fright. Granny'd had me on stage since I was barely big enough to get both hands around the microphone. But with those blue eyes resting on me there in my apartment that night, I found my hands shaking as I took the guitar and tried to think of something to sing.

I finally settled on a John Denver song, one you wouldn't know if you weren't a big fan, called "Daydream." It's one of my favorites, but it wasn't one of his hits. It's kind of sad, but it's pretty, and I like singing it. When I finished, he applauded, very seriously.

"I like that song, too," he said, surprising me. "His music captures emotions so well. You know just what he means and you feel it, too, through the music."

That's exactly the way I felt about John Denver, but I was amazed to hear someone else express my feelings so perfectly. I guess I must have looked as surprised as I felt, because he laughed.

"You didn't think cops liked John Denver?"

"I didn't think anybody else would understand how I felt about John Denver," I said.

"I understand more than that," he said, his eyes saying a lot more than his words did. I'd laid the guitar aside when I finished the song, and he leaned toward me and kissed me very gently on the lips. It was sweet and soft, like butterfly wings. He put his hand on my hair and stroked it while he kissed me, and I reached for him, too, wanting to be closer. He was warm and strong under my hands and I finally found the courage to touch that golden hair that shone so brightly in the lamplight. It was as soft as it looked, fine and silky to the touch.

We simply kissed each other for a long time. I'd forgotten how nice it could be just to kiss somebody, with no pressure. Because he didn't push. He didn't touch anywhere but my face and hair and there was no urgency about him. It was as though he had nothing else to do but kiss me. Finally, we pulled back for air. He put an arm around my shoulders and I leaned against him and felt so safe and comfortable. "Are you okay with this?" he asked after several moments.

"Mm-hmm."

I felt the rumble of his chuckle. "Okay, that answers that question." He kissed the top of my head. "I don't want to rush you," he said after another pause. "I know you might be...well, uncomfortable with men right now, and..."

"Hutch," I stopped him and looked up into those amazing eyes. "In a way, you're right. But in another way, you're wrong. I'd like to take it slow, but that's only partly due to..." I couldn't say it, but I could see he understood anyway. "It's also because I like you and I want to get to know you."

"Fair enough," he said.

We sat there together and just talked for the longest time, and it's silly, but I don't remember much of what we talked about. It was just nice to sit there, cuddled up against him with his arm around me, feeling safe. He kissed me again every now and then while we talked.

"Hutch, what did you mean a little bit ago?"

"When?"

"When you said 'I understand more than that,'" I said.

He wet his lips and looked away, as if he were looking at something I couldn't see. I swear it was just the same expression as Dorothy gets when she does that, and it made me feel just as spooky. So I jiggled his arm a bit, and he came back to the present.

"I know how you feel, in a way," he said at last. "Helpless. Angry. Frustrated. And frightened that you couldn't stop him and that it might happen again."

I was astounded. That was exactly how I felt. "How do you know?"

He flushed a little, and dropped his eyes to our joined hands. "I've been through a similar experience. A couple of times."

"Can you tell me?" I asked quietly.

He drew a breath. "Not in detail. It's police business. I can tell you I was abducted and held for four days. Tortured. Drugged. They were going to kill me, but I got away, and Starsk found me and took care of me." His voice trembled a bit, but he steadied it. "Thank God for him."

I stroked his hair away from his face. "It sounds horrible. How'd he find you?"

"He always finds me," Hutch said. "Just like I always find him."

"'Always?' Good God, you mean that's not the only time?"

He shook his head. "No. Starsky was abducted once, too. Remember the Simon Marcos cult? The freaks with the upside down crosses on their foreheads?"

I nodded with a little shiver. I remembered reading about it, and the picture of Marcos that had been in the paper. Even in a photo, the evil in his eyes had sent a cold chill down my back.

"They took Starsky to try to keep the judge from sentencing Marcos. That was a close call," Hutch said, with a little shiver of his own.

"And you found him."

"Yeah."

"You love each other a lot, don't you?"

His eyes softened and he gave a little grin. "Yeah. You think that's weird?"

I shook my head. "Not at all. You depend on each other. Complete each other, even. Anybody could see that. I think you're lucky."

"Lucky?"

"To have somebody like that. Somebody who loves you that much. Who'll move heaven and earth for you if necessary."

Hutch's eyes got a bit distant again and he said, "That's what he's done. Many times. Moved heaven and earth. I'd have died, more than once, if not for Starsky and his stubbornness." He was silent for a moment, then repeated what he'd said earlier. "Thank God for him."

 Around midnight, when my cuckoo clock sounded the hour, he said, very softly, "I'd better go before all my good intentions go up in smoke."

I laughed. "Mine might go up with them."

"Later," he said, and there was a promise in his eyes. He gave me a long, slow, sweet kiss good night, put his holster and jacket back on, and paused at the door, looking back at me. "'Night, Jenny."

~*~*~*~

I went to bed after he was gone, sleepy and tired in a good way for a change, and fell asleep almost as soon as my head touched the pillow.

But something woke me a little while later, and I saw that Dorothy was sitting bolt upright on the other pillow, every hair standing on end, and she was hissing. Then I heard it. A quiet scraping sound coming from the kitchen. My heart leapt into my throat and began beating so hard I could hear it. Somebody was trying to get in through the balcony door. I was absolutely frozen in terror, hearing that sound. And I knew without a doubt who that somebody was. My balcony door isn't very secure. I'm on the second floor, so I never worried about it. The balcony is all but inaccessible from the ground unless you're a bird, but obviously Hicks had found a way up there.

Dorothy hissed again, and that broke the spell. I grabbed the phone and dialed the number I had, thankfully, committed to memory. It took several rings and my heartbeat sped up another notch. Good God, was he gone, or just a sound sleeper? But he finally answered, groggy and barely coherent.

"Hutch!" I hissed into the phone, trying to be quiet in case Hicks could hear me. "It's Jenny! He's here! He's trying to break in!"

"Jenny?" Suddenly his voice sounded wide awake and alert. "I'll be right there. Hang on. I'll be there in five minutes." He hung up and so did I, and I wished, for the first time, that I kept a gun in the house. And then I heard a crash.

Footsteps -- and he wasn't trying to be quiet -- came toward my bedroom. Dorothy took off like a shot and hid in the bathroom. I was too terrified to move.

Then he was there, standing in my doorway. I was sitting up, so he knew I was awake. I couldn't really see his face, but I recognized his form.

"You went to the cops," he said, that same scratchy voice I remembered, that I would never, ever forget.

I couldn't speak. I seemed paralyzed.

He took another step and the nightlight in the bathroom illuminated his face just enough to make those evil eyes glitter. "I told you not to go to the cops."

Had he? I didn't remember. All I remembered was the terror and the pain and that horrible voice saying "I want you to think about me."

He moved his hand and I saw he had a knife. That made my blood run cold. I had one chance, and that was Hutch. Hurry, Hutch. My God, please, hurry!

I found my voice at last. It shook, and I couldn't steady it, but I said anyway, "The cops are on their way right now. They'll be here any second. You still have time to get away if you hurry."

"Sure they are. It'll take 'em twenty or thirty minutes to get here," he sneered. "And I'll be all done with you by then."

Oh, God. He came closer and reached out with his knife and ripped my nightshirt open, leaving me exposed and barely missing my skin with the tip of the knife. I had a few bruises there, too, and he seemed to enjoy the sight.

"Marked you, didn't I?" he said, very softly, almost gently. He reached out again with the knife and drew the smooth side across my breasts. "It'd be real easy to leave more permanent marks, Jennifer."

Where the hell are you, Hutch?

It suddenly hit me that Hutch wouldn't be able to get in when he got here. I'd locked the door. Would he think of the balcony?

Hicks grabbed a handful of my hair and gave it a hard enough yank to bring tears to my eyes. "Do the cops know my name?"

"Yes," I gasped.

"Shit." He yanked my hair again. "Why the fuck did you do that?"

Anything I said would only make things worse, so I didn't answer him.

He turned the knife over so the sharp edge was against my skin. "I asked you a question."

"I didn't give them your name," I said desperately. "I didn't know your name. They knew it. They figured it out from your fingerprints in my car."

"God damn it!" He kicked my bedside table so hard the lamp fell off and I heard it break. I couldn't turn and look because of the grip he had on my hair. "I should've worn gloves. But I didn't want to miss feeling this," and he let go of my hair to touch my breasts with his filthy hand. I shrank away and he slapped me.

And then I heard it. A siren. He heard it, too, and glared at me, pressing the knife against me so that it drew blood. The siren stopped outside and he swore again and let go of me, taking a desperate leap through my bedroom door and heading out the way he'd come. But I heard a crash as my door was kicked in and Hutch's voice: "Freeze, asshole. Police!"

Hicks must have fallen over something, I don't know what, because I heard a thud. And another siren which stopped outside. I recovered enough to realize I was all but naked, and I grabbed for my robe, lying across the foot of my bed, and threw it on and swung my legs to the floor.

I had just reached my bedroom door when Starsky flew through my front door and dove toward Hutch and Hicks, struggling on the floor. He didn't hesitate for an instant, simply threw himself into the fray and I saw the dull flash of the knife blade and heard a sound of pain, but I couldn't tell who it came from.

Then Hutch drew his hand back, the hand with the gun in it, and I heard the impact as he hit Hicks, hard, with the gun. Hicks slumped, and Hutch reached into his hip pocket for handcuffs.

"Starsk?"

"I'm okay," Starsky said, sitting up and holding one hand against his body. It was too dark for me to see how badly he was hurt, but the way he was cradling that hand with the other one, it must've been causing him pain. He looked over and saw me and scrambled to his feet, swaying just a little. "Are you okay?"

I nodded and burst into tears. It had all just been too much for my unstrung nerves. Starsky glanced over his shoulder toward Hutch, apparently decided Hutch had things under control, and put his gun away. He came to me and wordlessly put his good arm around me and let me cry on his shoulder for a few moments. By the time I could speak, Hutch was there, too, dragging Hicks, in handcuffs. Hutch wasn't treating him too gently, either.

"What are you doing here?" I asked Starsky, who had reached for the box of tissues I keep beside my bed. He handed me one and gave me a grin.

"Hutch called me on his way over. Thought he might need a backup."

"Are you hurt, Jenny?" Hutch asked, concern all over his beautiful face.

"No, I'm fine," I said.

"You're bleeding," he pointed out. He gave Hicks' arm a yank. "Did you hurt her, you son of a bitch?"

Hicks sullenly refused to answer. I looked down and saw blood seeping through my robe and remembered Hicks cutting me with his knife. And in the light from the bathroom, I could see Starsky's right hand was covered with blood.

"It's only a scratch," I told Hutch. "I'm mostly just scared. But Starsky-- "

Keeping one hand on Hicks' arm, Hutch reached out and took Starsky's hand and examined it. He glared at Hicks for a moment, then turned back to his partner, and in the instant it took to turn his head, the expression on his face changed from fury to compassion.

"It's enough to add 'assault with a deadly weapon' to this turkey's charges," Hutch said with anger in his voice. "Maybe we can even make that 'attempted murder.'"

"And 'breaking and entering,'" Starsky added cheerfully, though his eyes were pinched with pain. "Not to mention 'rape,' 'kidnapping' and 'grand theft, auto.' I'd say you're gonna to be going on a nice, long trip, Walter."

Another siren approached and a couple of uniformed cops arrived and took charge of Hicks. As soon as he left with them, Hutch turned all his attention to his partner, gently putting his arm around Starsky's back and leading him into my bathroom, where he sat him down on the closed toilet and proceeded to take care of the nasty cut on his hand as professionally as any nurse. I offered to help, but Hutch shook his head. Clearly he wanted to do it himself. And just as clearly, he knew how, so I backed off and let him.

It was fascinating to watch. Murmuring words of comfort, Hutch washed the blood off in the sink. He poured peroxide over the cut -- which was obviously painful, but not bad enough to require stitches -- and when Starsky winced and swore, Hutch stroked his partner's curly hair with a look of such deep concern it was as though he felt the pain, too. Then he dried off the hand, very, very gently applied ointment, and wrapped it in gauze, handling that hand so delicately that I could see his very touch was healing to Starsky. Their attention was riveted on each other, and the love between them was a living presence I could almost touch. This wasn't the first time one had tended the other's wounds -- and I'd be prepared to swear all the wounds hadn't been visible ones.

Once Starsky was taken care of, Hutch turned to me. He put his arm around me and gave me a hug.

"You sure you're not hurt?"

I nodded and clung to him for a moment. "I'm fine. Thank God you gave me your phone number. If I'd had to wait for the cops..."

"Hey, we're cops," Starsky said, pretending to be insulted.

"You know what I mean," I answered him, and actually managed to smile.

He grinned back. To Hutch, he said, "I'm goin' in to book Hicks. You comin' or stayin' here?"

"I'll come with you to book him," Hutch said. "But I'm coming back afterwards," he added to me. "I don't want to leave you here alone with your door broken."

I hadn't even thought about my door. When I went to look at it, I saw that Hutch had made quite a mess of it.

"Sorry," he said, a little shamefaced.

"Are you kidding?" I demanded. "I was so glad to see you burst in here I could have kissed you."

Hutch took that as an invitation and leaned over to kiss me. He did that pretty thoroughly, then touched my cheek, smiled at me, and said, "I'll be back in a little while. And Starsk and I'll fix your door tomorrow. That's a promise."

~*~*~*~

He shut my door as well as he could, considering it was pretty mangled, and I got dressed and made some coffee for when he came back. It took awhile, but I had anticipated that. Dorothy finally reappeared and sat on my lap and stared at me as if she also wanted to be sure I was okay.

"You're no watchdog," I told her, "but you did warn me and give me enough time to call Hutch. Remind me to buy you some tuna tomorrow."

I'd bandaged the cut on my chest -- it really wasn't very deep or serious -- and by the time Hutch returned I was feeling almost calm again. But it sure did help to see his face.

He sat next to me and put one arm around me and petted Dorothy with his free hand. "Hicks won't be going anywhere for a while," he said. "His bail's going to be so high it'll make the national debt look like a kid's weekly allowance. So you can relax."

I let out a deep breath and I felt like I'd been holding it for weeks. And I smiled up into those blue eyes. "I don't know how to thank you. Will undying gratitude do?"

He grinned. "Sure. That'll be fine."

~*~*~*~

When I heard his knock on my door the next Friday, I was actually ready to go. It was the first day I'd looked into the mirror and seen my own face looking back, instead of the black eyes and bruises and scratches I'd had to look at for days that seemed endless. So I'd taken some trouble with makeup and hair and I was pretty well satisfied with the result. I opened the door -- fixed, as promised, by Starsky and Hutch, with a lot of amiable arguing while they worked.

He looked pretty good, himself. He was wearing an off-white shirt with a blue denim vest that made his eyes positively glow, and a pair of brushed-denim bells that fit exactly right. He smiled at me. "Wow. You look terrific."

"Thank you, Sergeant," I said. "Want to come in or do you want to head right out?"

He leaned against my door frame and let his eyes travel up and down very deliberately before he answered. "I think maybe we'd better go, or we might not get there. And I made reservations."

I recognized the look in his eyes and tonight...well, I didn't intend to let him leave tonight. So I picked up my purse and jacket and slid my hand through his arm.

We had a wonderful dinner at a nice place where the lights are a bit dim and the music is hushed and nobody bothers you.

And when we came back to my place, I made us coffee and turned on the stereo, low, to keep the mood. Hutch had taken off his vest -- apparently he'd left the gun at home for a change -- and was on the couch waiting when I came back. I snuggled up next to him.

He put his hand under my chin and turned my face toward him so he could kiss me. "How're you feeling now? Better? Not scared anymore?"

"Scared?" I smiled at him and stroked his hair away from his face. "Of what? I have my own personal cop."

He smiled back and kissed me again. And this time, unlike before, I could feel the urgency behind the kiss, an urgency he was struggling to hide. I tried to let him know it was okay, that I was ready for more, but I didn't quite know how without just coming out and saying it. His breathing had quickened -- so had mine -- and his hands on my shoulders were damp enough I could feel it through the thin material of my blouse.

"Hutch," I said at last, pulling away just enough to look into his eyes. "It's okay."

He raised an eyebrow. "What's okay?" His eyes had dilated until there was only a bit of blue showing around the black pupil.

"Don't be so careful." I took his hand and kissed the palm. "I'm not afraid to..." I felt the blush that rose at what I'd almost said. Still my mother's daughter, trying to be a lady while seducing a man.

A slow smile started at his eyes and lit his whole face, but when he realized what he was doing, he stopped. "Are you sure?"

"I'm sure." To prove it, I leaned forward and kissed his chest where his shirt was open. He had only buttoned it about halfway, anyway. He took a sharp breath when I did that and stroked my hair so gently it made my heart speed up. I unbuttoned another button or two while I was there and laid my palm against his chest. I could feel how hard his heart was beating and his jeans were getting tighter by the minute, I noticed. I lifted my eyes to his.

He said no more. Instead, he wrapped his arms around me and I could feel the change in him. His kisses grew more urgent and he let his hand travel down and touch my breast. His hand shook a little -- he was trying so hard to hold himself back. It was sweet.

But when his hand made contact, I couldn't hold back the little gasp that came to my lips and I tightened my arms around him and buried my hand in his soft golden hair. It wasn't long before both of us were breathless.

Hutch's shirt was all the way open now and I could get a long look at his chest, so smooth and lightly tanned and rising and falling with his breath. I couldn't help touching it and laying my cheek against it with a kiss. He drew another sharp breath and said, "A little more of that, honey, and I'm not going to be able to stop."

"Who asked you to stop?" I said, rising and holding out my hand. "Let's move to somewhere a little more comfy, shall we?"

He looked at me blankly for a moment before his eyes softened and he rose, took my offered hand, and we went to my bed. I'd changed the sheets and prettied up the room in anticipation of this moment. I don't know if he noticed exactly what I'd done, but he did pause and glance around the room for a moment before turning his eyes back to me and very, very carefully undressing me. I waited until he was done and had stepped back to look at me as if I were a present he'd just unwrapped. Then I did the same for him -- and found his gun, strapped to his leg. I couldn't help grinning up at him.

"Do you go anywhere without this?"

He reached down and pulled me to my feet and said in a husky whisper, "What the hell good is a 'personal cop' without his weapon?"

Instead of answering, I wrapped my arms around his neck and pulled him against me and it felt so nice, skin to skin, with nothing in between, that I didn't think of anything else. He backed us up to the bed and we lay down and he was so sweet and gentle and caring that at first I thought I might cry. Such a difference from the way Hicks had touched me. But that thought was the only time I thought of Hicks and what he'd done to me for a very long time.

Hutch touched me with soft caresses and went slowly to give me plenty of time to get used to his touch before he took the next step. When he lowered his head to kiss my breasts, he really kissed them. A lot of men just grab on like a kitten suckling, but he didn't do that and his breath tickling me sent a shiver up my spine. He looked up with concern, but I stroked his hair and let my fingers comb through it to encourage him and he smiled, mostly with his eyes.

And when he lowered his body onto mine, he paused just before entering me with a question in his eyes. By then I was too far gone to do much more than whimper and reach for him and with a long breath, he and I were joined. It was exquisite. There are no words to describe how delicately he loved me that night, whispering into my ear, kissing me, stroking my hair with much the same gesture I used to stroke his. And we came together, me with almost a sob of gratitude at how wonderful it felt, and him with an unselfconscious moan that would have sent me over the edge even if I hadn't already been there.

As I lay there with my head on his shoulder afterward, I reached up to touch his hair again and he smiled. "First girl I ever knew with a hair fetish," he teased gently.

I smiled back. "I love your hair. You're my first blond, you know. And it's so soft and smells so good, I can't help myself."

"Your first blond?" he said and laughed so hard it shook the bed. "I'm honored, I'm sure," he added when he could speak again.

I giggled, too, mostly because it was so nice to lie there in someone's arms, someone who was sweet and gentle and caring. It was too early to say "I love you," but I wanted to say something, so I kissed his cheek and snuggled my face into his shoulder where his hair curled against his ear and said, "Thank you."

"For what?"

"Just for being here. For being you."

His arms around me tightened a little, and we fell asleep like that, and all my dreams that night were sweet ones, of a blond knight with blue eyes and a smile that lit up the darkness like a beacon.

The End

 

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